The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 19th

Editorial: The best albums of 2021

Japanese Breakfast performs Sept. 11, 2021, during Shadow of the City on the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Matt Smith/TNS.
Buy Photos Japanese Breakfast performs Sept. 11, 2021, during Shadow of the City on the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Matt Smith/TNS.

A year marked by the rise of Olivia Rodrigo, the lackadaisical return of Lorde, the unwavering reign of Taylor Swift and the refusal by Rihanna to get into a studio, 2021 was an interesting year for music. 

Though it was mostly lackluster, here are our eleven favorite albums released this year — in no particular order. 

“30” by Adele

We never doubted Adele’s ability to deliver another classic album. Music columnist Ira Wilder recently reviewed the album, writing “I certainly won’t be leaving this album behind any time soon. Showcasing her colossal vocal talent and raw lyricism, '30' has made me fall in love with Adele all over again, like an old friend that comes around every five or six years.” Though we might be influenced by recency bias, “30” is one of those albums that you can play over and over — driving with your parents, studying in Davis Library, walking to class or while crying on the floor. 

“lately I feel EVERYTHING” by WILLOW

Is “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l feat. Travis Barker” the greatest rock song of the year? Yes. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the album is a collective of songs that highlight WILLOW’s entrancing vocal ability and musical evolution. Turning to guitar grooves and punk, WILLOW leaves behind R&B for a sound reminiscent of early Paramore and Avril Lavigne. As a generation, we have followed WILLOW from “Whip My Hair” to “Wait a Minute!” to now constant indie pop-rock excellence. 

“Home Video” by Lucy Dacus

An all too relatable album, “Home Video” is a therapy session about the past — all of it. From religious trauma to lost relationships to growing up to missing home, Dacus softly hits it all. The album is wrapped in lyrical candor comparable to that of Mitski and Dacus’ boygenius band members Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. If there exists a coming-of-age microgenre, Dacus has mastered it. 

“SOUR” by Olivia Rodrigo 

After gaining some fame on Disney’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Olivia Rodrigo blasted into the mainstream music scene in January with “drivers license,” a candid, detailed account of getting over her former boyfriend and costar Joshua Bassett. What followed were scream-along-worthy singles like “deja vu” and “good 4 u” and then an excellently curated album. Putting emphasis on relatability and coherence, every track is a slam dunk. 

“Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and “Red (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift

When Taylor Swift promised in 2019 that she would rerecord all of her albums, she was not lying. “Artists should own their own work for so many reasons,” wrote Swift in an Instagram post in April. “But the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work.”  

This year, Swift rereleased her sophomore and senior albums, “Fearless” and “Red” respectively. Together, the albums include 16 previously unreleased tracks, including a ten-minute version of “All Too Well” that topped the Billboard Hot 100 last week. Swift has been dropping subtle yet confusing hints online about which album from her back catalog will be released next — most likely “Speak Now” or “1989.” 

“Obviously” by Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive creates music unlike any other adult contemporary band. Led by the boundless vocals of Rachael Price, there’s something timeless and nostalgic about their music, particularly their most recent project, “Obviously.” Released in March, it’s an easy listener with roots in jazz, rock and R&B. It’s a cohesive album that can only be compared to eating a beachside brunch in some distant country. The bouncy sway of the bass hooks, the brashly rolling lyricism and the bluesy funk of the instrumental interplay create a breathy collective of songs that you can’t stop listening to. 

“An Evening with Silk Sonic” by Silk Sonic

Silk Sonic made the mistake of releasing their debut album on the same day as sales superpower Taylor Swift, and for this reason, the excellence of “An Evening with Silk Sonic” has been often unfairly overlooked. The recent rise of nostalgia in modern music has been refreshing, and “An Evening with Silk Sonic” is no exception. It’s a tribute to ‘70s R&B that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s reminiscent of Motown and the work of artists like The Temptations and Curtis Mayfield. 

“The Battle at Garden’s Gate” by Greta Van Fleet

Wide open, unrestrained and blissfully nostalgic, Greta Van Fleet’s junior album “The Battle at Garden’s Gate” is a rock masterpiece, comparable to early work by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s a fantastic improvement from their former album, with more memorable lyricism and sweeping vocals by lead singer Josh Kiszka. The album is a callback to psychedelic ambiguity that has frankly been missing from modern rock. 

“Jubilee” by Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast’s third album, “Jubilee,” earned them two Grammy nominations — and  rightfully so. “Jubilee” is a testament to the flexibility of indie pop. It’s a brief entrance into an eclectic, brassy world — a world built on simple candor and bright, tingly wonder. Lead singer Michelle Zauner created a style-bending, triumphantly resounding ode to happiness, and we were glad to fly along with her. 

“MONTERO” by Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X exploded onto the scene two years ago with his smash hit “Old Town Road”, so expectations for his debut album were already high, and he did not disappoint. “Montero” has features from some of the biggest names in the music industry like Jack Harlow, Elton John and Miley Cyrus, each of whom feed into the genre blending of Lil Nas X himself. The upbeat rhythms of each track keep listeners engaged. “Montero” is an expression of Black pride and queer joy that has rarely found its way into the pop culture scene, and with this album Lil Nas X ensures that messaging is set to remain in the zeitgeist for generations to come.


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