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The 50 Greatest Albums of 2021

For the second year in a row, music has provided solace and was the saving grace in contrast again to the weird world outside. And what a year of music it was! Once again, our musicians, our songwriters, our bands and artists picked up where the political heads dropped the ball, addressing their own feelings, observations and opinions on a time that will go down in history as our most bizarre.

We've not included any album without a physical vinyl presence - sorry Ye, Tyler, Lil Nas X, et al - nor The Avalanches. Their masterpiece We Will Always Love You was released on December 11, 2020, and we have already included it (at #1) of last year.

And with that, here are the 50 best albums of 2021 from us, the team at Waxx Lyrical, based on their impact on us, our beloved club members and our inner circle.

50. Goat Girl - On All Fours

49. Julien Baker - Little Oblivions

48. Benee - Hey u x

47. girl in red - If I Could Make It Go Quiet

46. Deafheaven - Infinite Granite

45. The Bronx - Bronx VI

44. Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club

43. Halsey - If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

42. Parquet Courts - Sympathy For Life

41. Black Country New Road - For The First Time

40. Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

39. Flight Facilities - Forever

38. Clairo - Sling

37. Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

36. Hiatus Kaiyote - Mood Valiant

35. Quivers - Golden Doubt

34. James Blake - Friends That Break Your Heart

33. Snail Mail - Valentine

32. Tyne James-Organ - Necessary Evil

31. J. Cole - The Off-Season

30. Shame - Drunk Tank Pink

29. Turnstile - Glow On

28. Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg

27. The War On Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore

26. St. Vincent - Daddy's Home

25. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - Carnage

24. Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under

23. Client Liaison - Divine Intervention

22. Black Midi - Cavalcade

AND THE TOP 21 OF '21.....

21. Courtney Barnett - Things Take Time, Take Time

If at all possible, Courtney Barnett's tentative third album cements all her trademark traits even further. Her wry wit, lyrical sharpness and penchant for a left of centre hook are all present and accounted for on Things Take Time, Take Time. It's decidedly more laidback, but that doesn't deter shrewd guitarwork and songs that would make any indie post-pink proud. She led with first single 'Rae Street' and it has a chorus so good, it's probably already awarded 'Hook Of The Year' somewhere.

20. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and London Symphony Orchestra - Promises

In one of the most glorious collision of worlds in recent memory, Promises a modern day masterpiece, a collaboration event out of this world between an electronic producer, a symphony orchestra and an 81 year old saxophonist who steals the show. Pharoah Sanders impressively provides the lead and the album is broken into movements, but is intended to be consumed as piece for the consummate impact, its intensity ebbs and flows -- it is an investment of time and attention that rewards slowly and consistently.

19. Gretta Ray - Begin To Look Around

On a normal year, this is an album that would rank much higher. The depth and breadth of Gretta Ray's debut should never be questioned. She fuses heartbreak, life lessons and personal growth with modern production, lyrical superiority and expertly crafted pop melodies. 'Bigger Than Me' addresses the creative process itself, while the tormented 'Cherish', assertive 'Love Me Right' and bleak 'The Brink' reveal all sides to a young woman while still being delivered with an underlying optimism.

18. Ngaiire - 3

A full circle moment for Ngaiire, her appropriately titled third album sees the artist embrace her native Papua New Guinean culture and wrap it around contemporary R&B-fused electronic pop. Confidently restrained, beautifully soulful, lyrically raw, percussive and modern, it is perhaps even a little ahead of its time. Definitely underrated. While listening, you get the sense that Ngaiire isn't hiding anything of herself any more and the deeper you get, the more rewarding and appealing she becomes.

17. Idles - Crawler

A latecomer in 2021 which sparked obsessions and furthered our belief in Idles as the consummate forefathers of the current crop of post-punk. On their fourth album, they broaden their sonic scope and dig deeper on the personal. Once again working with hip hop producer Kenny Beats, the production is brutally minimalist yet more redolent. Song-wise, it's difficult to settle on highlights, that's just how heavy the album hits as a whole.

16. Parcels - Day/Night

Parcels never did quite approach their career typically or with an eye for rolling with the sounds of the moment. Instead, their love seems to lie on the AM station focussing on 1970's hits and memories with impressive flexibility. Their rich and ambitious second release is a double concept album - one record for 'Day', the other for 'Night'. Features the euphoric 'Free' which is more Supertramp than the disco tag that are typical assigned. 'Somethinggreater' is there for that and it slays. Just two of the highlights on this brilliant journey.

15. Amyl & The Sniffers - Comfort To Me

In direct contrast to the isolation in which it was recorded, the Melbourne punk quartet went bigger and heavier for their second album. They recorded it with Dan Luscombe, of Courtney Barnett fame, who adds something accessible to the sound, while the band's fierce AF front Amy Taylor drags you kicking and screaming into her mind and external thought process. She ain't an extrovert and doesn't need anything from anyone and that's what makes everything she does so damn intriguing.

14. Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

With one of the most perfect indie-pop moments of 2021, it would've been simple for Japanese Breakfast to kick back on the momentum created from it and her previous albums. Instead, she steps forward with a stylish and sophisticated record that isn't shy to pose an eclectic offering, brimming with indie sensibilities and perfectly penned songs. In an ideal world, a better world, Japanese Breakfast's unique view on the world and music would be the one informing the zeitgeist.

13. The Jungle Giants - Love Signs

Australia has no shortage of incredible artists and songwriters, but none seem to come as close as the music The Jungle Giants are currently making. Another lively iso record, this time with frontman Sam Hales literally taking on all writing, recording and production duties, the project delivered a perfect set of upbeat pop that is as big in heart as it is good vibes. A long lead timeline of single releases ensure familiarity was at the forefront upon first spins, but the remaining tracks are, surprisingly, just as good.

12. RÜFÜS DU SOL - Surrender

Another late-year release that quickly leapt to the top of the year's list, the incredible RÜFÜS DU SOL's 4th release provided more of that familiar energy with their trademark fullscreen electronic production still remarkably relevant. Surrender appeared to bring more heart to the surface, the vocals yearn more than usual and the lyrics are more honest, raw and real. There are no shortage of bangers though - single 'Next To Me' might be one of their best songs ever, while the gospel tinge of the title tracks suits them just fine.

11. serpentwithfeet - DEACON

The romantic second album from the sinfully-gifted serpentwithfeet focuses more on the happy ending than his dark debut. Its production is airy and sunny and its songs are tales of joy and love. His unique approach to modern electronic R&B is the key and his personality beams through. Angelic harmonies (every harmony hits like a choir) and clever beats which are reminiscent of the '90's R&B jams he grew up on.

10. Holy Holy - Hello My Beautiful World

The members of Holy Holy will tell you they didn't intentionally make the one of the best albums of the pandemic, and that its themes were more a product of their environment. But if there's one album this year that makes you grateful for the weird world in which we live, it's Hello My Beautiful World. It's as introverted as it is upbeat, sentimental as it is enticing and as lovable as it accessible. The band has always been one of our finest, now they seem to be making sounds that is not only clever and diverse, but opens many more doors for a bigger audience.

9. Jungle - Loving In Stereo

Heck! Yes! Jungle have always been the captains of the dancefloor, but something changed this new album. Growth seemed to occur and extra confidence seemed to ensue. They seemed to be looking outwards for the first time, they showed their faces and introduced some new voices to their decidedly nostalgic sonic palette. 'Romeo' added rap from UK MC Bas while their use of other voices on the likes of 'All Of The Time' and beats on 'Talk About It' are sonic dopamine hits.

8. The Weather Station - Ignorance

Full of calm and organic beauty, The Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman has reached new levels of creativity. Now playing with a full band, her songs are moving from strength to strength while her lyrics here on Ignorance are drawing parallels between love and the climate crisis. The intricate beats and layered stabs of brass and strings tend to make her seem more versatile and distinctive than ever before. A perfect set of songs from an important artist.

7. Sufjan Stevens & Angelo de Augustine - A Beginner's Mind

A collaboration album between veteran Sufjan Stevens and protégé/labelmate Angelo De Augustine, the songs from A Beginners Mind would be written every afternoon after watching a film together, some of these films were classics, others woeful. The result is a collection of gentle duets that sees the effervescent Stevens looser and sounding most inspired in years. It's arguably his finest work since Carrie & Lowell. Not all the films make it directly into the lyrics, but instead the two uncover something brilliant and even mystic.

6. Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams

Britain has a new superstar and her name is Arlo Parks. The UK loves to indulge hyperbole over a promising new talent and, thankfully, Arlo seems to not only live up to it, but humbly rise above it. With a voice reminiscent of Lily Allen above a jazz-infused R&B hybrid, Parks is primed to dominate, especially given her compassionate approach to making music. Her lyrics are full of stories, diatribes, struggle and, most importantly words of empowerment.

5. Baker Boy - Gela

Baker Boy's debut album was always going to be an event in Australian music. Thankfully, it not only lived up to expectations, it leapt beyond them in an all-singing, all-dancing, all-smiling array of huge songs. He covers everything, from the political ('Survive', 'Somewhere Deep'), the romantic ('My Mind'), the sexy ('Butterflies') and the confident ('Cool As Hell'). But he mostly just wants to dance and there's more than enough here to get down to. A big highlight of the Australian music year.

4. Middle Kids - Today We're The Greatest

<sigh> Middle Kids. On their second album, they've challenged perfection and delivered a set of songs that tend to evoke a full spectrum of emotions while listening. It's modern and contemporary, but has an old soul and the remarkable Hannah Joy is a revelation both onrecord and on stage. The songs here aren't just good, they are levels of all-time greatness going on here, classic writing at its finest across every single song here. Unsure what was going on when this record was written, but hoping they can capture the feeling time and time again in the future.

3. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz has sat poised on excellence of this calibre for sometime now. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sees her move more out of the grime category that she came up in, this one features a more cinematic approach from the get-go that takes in huge orchestral arrangements and marching band drums. Lyrically, she's wrestling with identity and the blurry line between her public and privates self. She's investigating and ask the good questions about self-validation and the craving that comes with it. It's remarkable!

2. Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth

A transcendent, conceptual magnum opus of a debut album, Genesis Owusu that has shifted the landscape of Australian hip hop. Hip hop? It's a hotbed of genres, from jazz and laid back R&B and soul to punk and funk. It's as schizophrenic as ill mental health can feel like, the album's concept. But he doesn't appear to let any kind of thought get in the way, as there is so much innovation and forward-thinking going on here. It's cartoonish, but real and there isn't anything that sounds like this.

1. Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend

What do you do when you're already one of the best bands in the world and you've dazzled constantly, won a Mercury Award and spent years upon years plugging your wares on the road? Well, you make an album like Blue Weekend. It is utter perfection and would be the #1 album if released in any year. The lyrics are, again, intriguing and mystifying while the production shines brighter than ever on some of their most accessible songs to date. Ellie Roswell is becoming dangerously good at what she does and seems to be letting go of everything that may have held her back in the past. This is a huge album from one of the best bands in the world today,


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