2021 — what a year it’s been for new artists, recreational style and unapologetic creativity. From Olivia Rodrigo to Doja Cat, there’s been no pause for talent in pop. But from Silk Sonic to Wolf Alice, we’ve heard our share of reinvention, whether it’s through syrupy-sweet soft retro, or a rowdy blast of reverb. Below, Brig’s listed the top ten greatest albums of 2021, beginning with the best of upcoming R&B.
10. Sensational — Erika de Casier
Heavily inspired by ‘90s and ‘00s R&B, Portuguese-Danish de Casier quietly came into her own on her second album.
Since her debut, the 31-year-old has tiptoed into her most comfortable vocal style — the seductive, intimate breathy purr on Sensational coaxes you in and sneakily requires the listener to pay attention. With feathery percussion taps and woozy vocal layering, the album reimagines R&B as experimentalised ‘00s soul.
9. Happier Than Ever — Billie Eilish
Back in summer, the world was reeling on its toes, bursting for Eilish’s big reveal. She’d been teasing a do-over since the start of the year, hinting she’d changed her signature black-to-green hair and was finally breaking free of the chains society held her by. She was going to be truly, unapologetically, honestly, herself.
When she swapped the baggy hip-hop t-shirts for platinum blonde locks and even corsetry for a British Vogue shoot, her message was clear — Eilish would wear what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted. And other than a few misleading chorus bars which slightly underestimate her capabilities, Eilish presented a daring message with bold, curve-balling vocals which transcribed as, “You don’t own me, my choices, or any other woman’s.”
8. Daddy’s Home — St Vincent
It’s no secret the industry’s taken a swift U-turn back to ‘70s disco. In fact, the psychedelic colours and kaleidoscope beams of St Vincent’s ‘Pay Your Way In Pain’ music video might convince us we’re there in full.
Otherwise known as Annie Clark, the guitarist and singer brought a mesmerising flashback album full of disco grooves and calm, delirious hysteria founded on the mother/daughter relationship and fathers in prison.
The album is a creative story in which Clark refuses to be nailed to one character. She won’t be tied to being the mother or daughter — in her lyrics, her character exists as someone amongst the women who watch over their children. A true test of narrative, with deep personal meaning and reinvented grooves.
7. Promises — Floating Points, London Symphony Orchestra and Pharoah Sanders
Made over the span of five years, Promises beautifully captures the genres of all three collaborators, making an enthralling collection of discipline and grace. Not quite electronic, jazz, or classical, British artist Sam “Floating Points” Shepherd became an anchor on an other-worldly, cinematic masterpiece.
Tiny details on the recordings, such as the thud of keys, tiny rustles or even electronic birdsongs cast listeners into an Alice in Wonderland-type deliria that requires a comfy couch, generous speakers and a hot mug of tea.
6. Typhoons — Royal Blood
As the rock duo’s third studio album, Royal Blood flung out a dancefloor, light groove collection to fans to help “fight the demons”, as frontman Mike Kerr often said. Luckily, it worked well, and the elemental bass, stoner blues and angsty drums that worked so well for their previous jet-black records didn’t have to leave. Rather, for this shimmery glitterball album, they simply ramped it up a few notches.
As an album which doubled with a sensory purpose after Kerr’s struggle with addiction, it allowed the pair to be vulnerable for once, but decorated by the confidence and flair of the album’s flawless genre switch.
5. Collapsed In Sunbeams — Arlo Parks
The 2021 Mercury Prize went to Arlo Parks her debut album, which transcended everything cool, pleasant and confident about the 20-year-old singer. After releasing her debut single ‘Cola’ in 2018, Parks caught the attention of everyone from Michelle Obama to Hayley Williams.
Parks gained clout when she performed a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” with upcoming star Phoebe Bridgers. Her performances, similar to her writing, are never strained or forced, but rather collected and effortless and she emits ease and acceptance from her stage presence. Nearly every song on Collapsed in Sunbeams has a message of comfort, and she’s quickly becoming a role model to young writers climbing the ladder.
4. Love For Sale — Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett
For 95-year-old Tony Bennett, Love For Sale will be his final album. But as unlikely a duo as Gaga and Bennett are, their collaboration brought silk-soft Cole Porter covers. Their first album together, 2014’s Cheek to Cheek, was a charming collection of jazz standards, but Love For Sale condenses sashaying, swinging and boldly assertive covers.
The pair’s chemistry is palpable, fluttering around ‘I Concentrate on You’ with grace and fun whilst dealing with the sobering reality of Bennett’s Alzheimer’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2016. But rather than a flat good-bye, the album signifies a fond farewell to much admired jazz singer.
3. An Evening With Silk Sonic — Silk Sonic
Icons Bruno Mars’ and Anderson .Paak’s loving relationship with ‘70s R&B paid off when they united to form Silk Sonic, the duo inspired fully by vintage wardrobe, groove and rhythm.
After Mars’ globally successful 2016 album 24k Magic, it was clear he could write R&B as well as catchy pop tracks. But he set himself a challenge after founding Silk Sonic, even seeking specific drum skins to better replicate the vintage sound of Gamble and Huff. But with their popped collars, beige suit jackets and tinted glasses, the pair take us on a smooth ride of cheeky, exultant tracks with undeniable groove.
2. Blue Weekend — Wolf Alice
In short, the inventive guitar band continue to grow, particularly in this reverb focused, daring third album. Polished, enormous and emotional, it’s the equivalent of a contemporary rock festival performance.
Quite simply, not everyone has the energy to produce a consistently energetic, confident album that’s fluent in alt-rock. And perhaps most impressively, the band can effortless repackage classic rock into their own, eyerolling their way through The Beatles, Bowie and Pink Floyd references as they mock the male genius that wraps the genre. Cinematic but precise, the album doesn’t miss.
Sour — Olivia Rodrigo
The teenage pop sensation rose to stardom in January after Sour caused a whirlwind global takeover. With style amped up from classic rock icon Alanis Morissette as well bands like Paramore, Rodrigo shocked the world with her emotional maturity, even at seventeen years old.
Much like Morissette’s era-defining Jagged Little Pill, the album comprises controlled chaos through catchy tracks with a tinge of muted ‘90s guitar licks. A collection of melancholy mischief, the album reflects the contours of her public breakup in beautiful storytelling, heart-breaking ballads and snarling, wise-cracking teenaged angst.
Featured image cred: NY Times