To be honest, 2021 was a rather disappointing year for full-length albums. Oftentimes, I found myself liking a few songs here and there but never the project as a whole. This is why, while I usually have around 20 albums on my favorites of the year, this time I decided to downgrade to eight. However, let’s count quality over quantity and see what 2021 had to give, music-wise.
First, let’s start with some honorable mentions, in no particular order:
- “SOUR,” Olivia Rodrigo
- “Planet Her,” Doja Cat
- “Teatro d’Ira – Vol. I,” Måneskin
- “TYRON,” slowthai
- “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,” Halsey
MONTERO, Lil Nas X
Without any doubt, Lil Nas X was the most talked about rapper of 2021, not only thanks to his sound but also to his strong persona on and off social media, where he shared clever promotional material ahead of dropping his debut album MONTERO.
I would have a lot of things to say about this project, but to avoid repeating myself, I recently wrote an article for Unpublished Magazine reviewing the album and giving a thorough analysis of Lil Nas X’s evolution from the early days of “Old Town Road.”
I will link the piece here so you can go read it.
FRIENDS THAT BREAK YOUR HEART, James Blake
No tears were left to cry after James Blake dropped his latest album, marking the tenth anniversary of his career. What stands out the most about the project is, without any doubt, James’s amazing falsetto, which conveys the pain, numbness and heartbreak of the situations he’s singing about. But not only that.
With collaborations with SZA in “Coming Back” and rappers JID and SwaVay in “Frozen,” Friends That Break Your Heart is memorable for its incredible production–the perfect blend between acoustic piano arrangements and electronic beats–accompanying James’s even more incredible vocals.
Oh, and if you haven’t yet, listen to the live acoustic version of the title track, which he performed on Instagram in July 2021. The studio version is great, but the live version is just… Woah! Especially with those vocal melodies perfectly matching the chords at the end.
WE’RE ALL ALONE IN THIS TOGETHER, Dave
After his amazing first album PSYCHODRAMA, Dave returns with a just as exciting second project. We’re All Alone In This Together, a clear reference to the phrase “we’re in this together,” which became so popular during the first outbreak of the pandemic, sees the British artist continue his lyrical and musical journey with a variety of tracks spanning from melodic ballads to straight-up bangers.
And it’s this contrast that makes this album so varied and never boring: songs like “We’re All Alone,” “Three Rivers” and the unforgettable “Both Sides Of A Smile” offer an enjoyable counterbalance to danceable tracks featuring other artists like Stormzy in “Clash,” Wizkid in “System” and Boj in “Lazarus.”
“Both Sides Of A Smile” featuring James Blake–the best song of the whole project–is the “Lesley” of We’re All Alone In This Together. I know I’ve just finished rambling about how much of a genius Blake is, but his talent didn’t fail to show even in his collaboration with Dave: his piano accompaniment and–as if I didn’t mention it enough–vocal melodies offer the perfect background to the story told in the song by the British rapper.
With a clear gift for storytelling, Dave continues wowing us with his music and words, proving that PSYCHODRAMA wasn’t but the first chapter of a long, successful series of projects that I hope will have a third follow-up soon.
SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT, Little Simz
Little Simz and Dave sure have a lot in common: they’re both Brits, they’re young, emerging rappers representing the black community in the UK, they both came out with a conceptually challenging follow-up to their debuts.
However, as a woman, Little Simz had something more to prove: that she is not a forgettable voice in the British female rap scene. This is especially true in the UK, where female rappers are not gaining as much popularity as it’s happening in America, with acts like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat, to name a few.
With a combination of fairy-tale-style narration, sounds recalling the genres that made black music so great–from jazz to Afrobeats, from soul to R&B–and powerful lyrics about her climb to fame, 2021 saw Little Simz dropping one of the most complex and colorful projects to date, so different from the black-and-white aesthetics of her debut Grey Area.
GREATEST HITS, Waterparks
If you have no idea who Waterparks are, you are not alone. Before listening to their latest album, Greatest Hits, I expected them to be the typical indie pop-rock band whose songs vaguely sounded the same and whose lyrics expressed the constant trauma of being alive (kind of like Fall Out Boy, to be clear). But once again, I was wrong.
Although pop-rock and similar genres might not be my cup of tea anymore, I absolutely enjoyed this project, especially the energy that the three Texas-born musicians bring to the project. Among my favorite tracks, “Fuzzy,” “Lowkey As Hell,” “Violet!,” and “Just Kidding” absolutely stand out for their catchy sound and relatable–but not at all lame–lyrics.
Not to mention the self-explanatory “You’d Be Paranoid Too (If Everyone Was Out To Get You),” written about the trauma of living I was talking about but with an irony that doesn’t make it obvious or boring.
If you wish pop-rock and pop-punk had stayed in the 2000s, make sure to listen to Greatest Hits and you’ll change your mind after the first two or three songs. Guaranteed.