I listened to a lot of albums in 2021. A lot. So many, in fact, that I was able to put together a playlist ranking the 50 of them that I liked the most – with possibly hundreds of albums not making the cut. You can see that list of 50 here, should you fancy:
It turns out, though, that I did not listen to all the albums 2021 had to offer. Shocking, innit?
If any of you read my article about my obsession with the idea of an ‘album of the year’, you will not be surprised to learn that my addiction spreads past my own winner to that of pretty much everyone else’s. I spend every December going through hundreds of end of year lists, making a playlist of the things that intrigue me, and then spend most of January getting to know them (or not. If they’re shit).
Usually, that’s all to no avail. But to make me feel like I’m not just wasting my life, I decided that I would share the outcome with you all this time around. Here’s my Top Ten 2021 Albums That I Didn’t Hear Until 2022. There’s even a cheeky playlist with some of the best songs at the end, so that you don’t have to trawl through as much crap as I did.
10. Grouper – Shade
As possibly the biggest fan of gentle music on the Picky Bastards team, this album from Grouper is occasionally too gentle even for me. It is so sparse that it could pass you by with ease. But if you catch this album in the right mood, if you have the space to breathe and listen, it is all kinds of gorgeousness. If you’re happy with something soft and soothing, this might be the sleeper hit that you missed out on last year.
9. Remi Wolf – Juno
If any of my fellow bastards already know this Remi Wolf album, I imagine they’ll be pretty surprised to see it make my list here. It isn’t very me. It’s like a bizarre mix of M.I.A, Tierra Whack, and Daphne and Celeste. It’s raucous, crazy, and not that deep. But it’s also ridiculously infectious and a whole lot of fun and I can’t help kind of loving it.
8. L’Rain – Fatigue
Another album that totally passed my by, Fatigue by L’Rain is full of gorgeous, pared back songs that are hard to pin down to a single genre. It’s experimental, ambitious, and soulful and it is all held together by a multi-instrumentalist artist with a really stunning voice.
It occasionally drifts a little bit, but don’t give up. The moments when it shines are more than worth the wait.
7. Pink Siifu – GUMBO’!
If everything on this album was as strong as highlights such as ‘Wayans Bros’, ‘Roscoe’!’, ‘Bussin’ (Cold)’, and ‘Scurrrd’, then this album would be much higher in my top ten. The album is too long and suffers from bloat and filler but when it is at its best it is absolutely killer.
Fans of Outkast and Dead Prez will find a lot to love here – a strain of hip hop that isn’t that prevalent anymore, this is funky and dirty and downright fun.
6. Dean Blunt – Black Metal 2
This one has caused quite a bit of disagreement at Picky Bastards headquarters already, but I had completely ignored it until a few weeks ago. Hearing the less that positive remarks of my fellow editors had me feeling doubtful, but when Mr Tom Burrows defended it and I saw it popping up on a lot of end of year lists I decided to try it. And I’m glad I did.
It’s so laid back at times that I can totally understand why some wouldn’t click with it, but I really enjoyed the series of soothing and involving vignettes. Consider me part of team Dean Blunt.
5. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince
There’s a fair jump in quality as we step into the top 5, going from some albums that are patchy but full of promise into five discoveries that I will be listening to for years.
Those who know me will know how important I find lyrics, and how that can often hold albums in another language at a distance for me. But Vulture Prince is simply stunning. Drawing from Hindustani classical music, but infusing her songs with elements of folk and Jazz that us lazy Westerners might be more accustomed to, Aftab creates one of the most atmospheric and beautiful albums that 2021 had to offer.
4. Loraine James – Reflection
Dance music rarely does it for me. But when you infuse it with darkness in the way that Loraine James has, it has a good chance of doing so. Filled with dread and anxiety, this album is as likely to have you climbing the walls as it is pounding the dancefloors. It somehow manages to be tense and ultra-enjoyable at the exact same time.
3. Blu – The Color Blu(e)
To put it simply, this album is a riot. If you were a fan of hip hop in the nineties there is a fair chance you’ll find something to love on this one.
Blu’s flow is fire and he sounds like he is having so much fun, but he has plenty to say about America, racism, family, and the state of the world today. It’s half an hour of pure release. I love it.
2. Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
The most obviously on-brand album for me on this list. It has everything I so often love in my most listened to style of music. Simple but beautiful instrumentation, great storytelling, and a voice that lulls you into a state of bliss – Ada Lea has it all.
1. Cadence Weapon – Parallel World
If I’d heard it earlier, this one would have definitely cracked my top ten from last year. Possibly my top 5. It is, without a doubt, the best hip-hop album I have heard that came out in 2021
Relentless, frantic, frank, and fucking funny (this album has some of the best one liners I’ve heard in years) – I don’t know how this album isn’t absolutely massive. It’s just tune after tune and I get chills every time I stick it on. What a discovery.
And here’s the playlist I mentioned above – I’ve picked out two highlights from each of the albums mentioned to give you a taster. Let me know what you think:
Words by Fran Slater