The 50 best albums of 2021: 50-41 | Culture


This list is compiled from the votes of the Guardian’s music critics – each reviewer votes for their top 20 albums, with points awarded for each rating. Check in any day of the week to see our next picks and share your own favorite 2021 albums in the comments below.

50

Agnes – Magic still exists

The Swedish pop star’s long-delayed fifth album embodies the platonic ideal of disco pop, imbued with Gaga (invigorating and stern vocals to free her mind and body), Abba (piano and trills), Donna Summer (the 24 hours battantes) and Queen (melodramatic ballad). It transcends pastiche thanks to the strength of its writing (you can swap almost anything here for Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia) and the overwhelming intensity of it all. LS

49

MØL – Diorama

Faith no more … the surviving cult singer Kim Song Sternkopf (center) with the band MØL. Photography: Sébastien Apel

Blending the explosive rhythms and tangy glottic chaos of black metal with the uplifting, even sentimental guitar dynamics of shoegaze, ‘blackgaze’ has become a vibrant corner of heavy music – and Danish quintet MØL has become one of its finest. representatives with his second album. Cranky breakdowns allow the explosive choirs to land all the more upright, with singer Kim Song Sternkopf – a survivor of the faith cults in his childhood – letting off steam majestically into the mic. Songs like Serf bring a sensibility to groove metal to help swing the whole thing. BBT

48

Some of the best musical narratives of the year lived in the songwriter’s third record from Virginia, his writing newly amplified by subtle notes of pop propulsion and grain that evoked the way Elliott Smith broadened his sound. Dacus reflects on his teenage years – of church and Bible camp, of nascent queer desire amid a culture of shame and damnation, fantasies that allowed him to escape those limits – with such curiosity. tend that these vignettes look less like fixed memories than a forensic crime. reconstitutions of scenes. Read the full review. LS

47

Chai – SNAP

Really confident people rarely make noise about it, and so it is with the third album by Japanese girl group Chai. On a dreamy and enchanted synth-pop that sweeps you along like a lazy river – sometimes embellished with flashbacks of classic rap and arcade game electro – the quartet dreamily sings the joys of food, self-acceptance. and protest, feeding theirs. a relaxed approach to fun activism. LS

46

Stephen Fretwell – Busy Guy

Melody maker ... Scunthorpe singer-songwriter Stephen Fretwell.
Melody maker … Scunthorpe singer-songwriter Stephen Fretwell. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

Beloved songwriter-songwriter of Elbow and the Arctic Monkeys, Stephen Fretwell was washing pots and pans in a Wetherspoon’s pub, his musical career ending in the midst of fatherhood. He pulled himself up and gave music another chance, apparently at the cost of his marriage. So these songs are the work of a truly die-hard musician, and it shows – Fretwell has such a natural facility for a touching melody turn, her simple finger-picked guitar made eerie by the subtle ambient tones behind her. . BBT

45

For those I love – For those I love

The poignant memories seem to lengthen and soften as we get older, but this album is a reminder of how irregularly they weigh when you look back after a few years or months. David Balfe, 30, reflects on a deceased best friend, poverty, trauma and the intense dynamism of young friendships and creativity, in long recitations to music that leans toward techno and house. “You are told you have to be cold to get old,” Balfe says, but he remains loaded with human warmth on these songs. Read the full review. BBT

44

Black Country, New Road – For the first time

'Timeless tenderness' ... Black Country, New Road.
‘Timeless tenderness’ … Black Country, New Road. Photography: Max Grainger

You don’t tend to get a lot of Top 5-rated albums from bands that mix klezmer, post-punk, jazz, and prog with lyrics about a failed romance at a science fair, but Black Country, New Road succeeded. This success is a testament to the uniqueness and freshness of their sound among ordinary British indie boys, further aided by a truly striking frontman, Isaac Wood. Whether it’s really him or a character, he’s haughty, easily hurt, lewd, awkward, and incurably romantic – a wonderful and flawed character. Read the full review. BBT

43

Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt – Made Out of Sound

For this album, released remotely last year, guitarist Orcutt improvised on Corsano’s drum tracks, observing the waveforms as he recorded “so I could see when a crescendo was coming or when to do it.” lower, ”he said. It’s reminiscent of a surfer’s mentality, and Made Out of Sound resembles the faithful unpredictability of approaching the sea: an absurd guitar breeds calmer contemplation; browned riffs harden and soften, then crumble. Throughout, the open sense of beauty is intact. LS

42

Gojira – Strength

Metal’s potential for booming anger makes it the most naturally expressive music for venting the fear, confusion and even shame of the climate crisis. “The greatest miracle burns to the ground,” laments Joe Duplantier with perplexity and urgency, singing about the Amazon but perhaps also the entire planet. Other songs are direct rallying cries to save Earth (Into the Storm, Sphinx); Another world becomes jaded and escapes, but is offset by The Song, whose warm chorus is the sort of thing a group of post-apocalyptic survivors would sing about as they rowed through a flooded city. Fortitude is an album that questions the idiocy of humanity, but also its tenacity. BBT

41

The joyous ecclesiastical energy of house enriches your soul as you listen to this feature film from the American producer, which also rings with the desire for optimism and sociability in the midst of the waning pandemic. Like many of the best underground dance artists of recent years (Skee Mask, Anz, etc.), she firmly embraces the breakbeat sound of the early ’90s – Ride Free even has the same Peter Fonda sample as Primal Scream’s Loaded – and further enriches these loaded and heavy cymbal rhythms with spicy details: rave melodies, declarative vocal samples, penetrating bass notes. Read the full review. BBT


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