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Staff Picks: The Albums and Songs We Loved in 2021

Best music of 2021

The late, great Lester Bangs once wrote that we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. And he was basically right until Lil Nas X came sliding down the stripper-pole to Hell. Oh, 2021. You rocked us like a damn sociopath.

What an insanely exciting, emotional, and reinvigorating year for music. President Biden took office and made Olivia Rodrigo an ambassador. We had Hot Vax Summer and Sad Girl Fall (Taylor’s Version.) Live music came back and Dave Grohl never left. Noobs ruled songwriting. Doja Cat ruled the planet. We brought back the electric guitar (all the rumors are true, baby), 2000s pop-punk, and Adele. We freed Britney. Halsey freed the nipple. And we all somehow found out about a Baltimore rock quintet called Turnstile.

It’s all in SPIN‘s lists for Best Songs of 2021, Best Albums of 2021, and Best Concerts of 2021. But before we close out the tab, here are the staff’s personal picks and final arguments about the best music that came out this year.

Sarah Grant, Contributing Editor: Top 20 Songs and Top 15 Albums (Unranked)


  1. Lucy Dacus, “Brando”
    Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Thin Man” reads F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dacus’s “Brando” subscribes to the Criterion Collection.
  2. Taylor Swift, “All Too Well (10-Min. Version)(Taylor’s Version)”
    Here you come again. Just when I’ve begun to get myself together.
  3. Charlie XCX, “Good Ones”
    “Blue Monday” synths, a Kylie Minogue groove, RuPaul hair. Whatever this new Charli era is, I love it.
  4. Machine Gun Kelly, “Papercuts”
    If I’m being completely honest, no song cheered me up like “Papercuts” — not even close. In a year that has often felt like one long doomscroll through other people’s “pandemic accomplishments,” this little misanthropic thorn of a song offered me a warm place by the fire and a comforting middle finger to shake at problems beyond my control. Colson said it best: “Hello, world? You fucking suck.”
  5. Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olson, “Like I Used To”
    The coasting FM radio guitar, the wistful harmonies with a twinge of self-loathing, the matching Heart haircuts. I love this song for all of those reasons, but most of all for the way it reminds me of Stevie Nicks singing “The dream keeps coming even when you forget to feel.” This song feels like a long-lost bonus track from Bella Donna. And in a way, it is.
  6. Future Islands, “Peach”
    Please if you see my hand, just pull me out.”
  7. Diane Warren, LP, “Domino”
    No one writes for big voices like this legend. “Un-break My Heart,” “How Do I Live,” “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” — all Diane. So with a vocal dynamo like LP, the result is, as predicted, crack for the ears. LP’s swagger makes it soar. Maybe don’t try this one at karaoke.
  8. Lana Del Rey, “Arcadia”
    “America, I need a miracle.” Hail, hail, Elizabeth Grant.
  9. The Hold Steady, “Heavy Covenant”
  10. Saweetie, feat. Doja Cat, “Best Friend”
    If this wasn’t on your list, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself why you weren’t at drag brunch this year.
  11. Natti Natasha, Becky G, “Ram Pam Pam”
    After blessing us with “Sin Pijama,” Latin divas Natti Natasha and Becky G reunited on yet another sexed-up reggaeton banger.
  12. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This”
    The one male country singer who really does just look like a regular guy has a voice so stupefyingly powerful, it is as though it emanates from some deep crack in the Earth’s crust.
  13. Avril Lavigne, “Bite Me”
    The pop-punk OG, whose sound launched a thousand the Kid Larois this year, rose again to tell us just how brutal it is out here.
  14. Carly Pearce feat. Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted to Be That Girl”
    A classic country duet, two powerhouse belters, and the timeless warning that nothing good ever comes from a Citgo parking lot.
  15. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
    Fairly certain Use Your Illusion II was on the mood board.
  16. Katy Kirby, “Juniper”
  17. Stromae, “Sante”
  18. Yves Tumor, “Jackie”
  19. Brandi Carlile, “Broken Horses”
  20. Spoon, “The Hardest Cut”


  1. Madlib, Sound Ancestors
  2. Torres, Thirstier
    I’m addicted to everything about Mackenzie Scott’s voice. The punk intensity, wacky intonation, the way it reminds of Suzi Gardner singing “Andres.” “Drive” is not to be overlooked. “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes In My Head” is a close second. My favorite is “Hug From A Dinosaur,” Scott speaks in Dali metaphors (“Clock is sinking into quicksand disappearing fast”) and the punk guitars never stop.
  3. Mustafa, When Smoke Rises
  4. Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun
    When you first heard “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” did you think “this pretty much describes my life”? If that’s a yes, might I suggest “Back of My Hand” or “Sick of Spiraling.” Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Palehound’s Ellen Kempner have a knack for sublime pop-rock that’s honest, wry, and a little dark. “The danger is in my phone, in the drug of an endless scroll.”
  5. LP, Churches
  6. Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
  7. Japanese Breakfast, Live at Electric Lady (EP)
    The quixotic string-quartet rendition of “Be Sweet” — one of the most critically acclaimed songs of the year — pulls me into Michelle Zauner’s mind in ways I’ve secretly wished the original would. The violin-acoustic guitar accompaniments on “Kokomo, IN” and “Boyish” (from her 2017 album) are equally stunning. And on “Lindsey,” a song from her old band Little Big League, Zauner’s vocals are still beguiling after many listens.
  8. Bleachers, Live at Electric Lady (EP)
    This unassuming little EP is packed with treasures. The sax solo on “Big Life.” The sumptuous, string-laden “Drive” cover. Bruce Springsteen on “Chinatown.” Antonoff channeling Springsteen on “45.” But for me, the jewel is Antonoff’s duet with St. Vincent. Sparse yet elegant, “What’d I Do With All This Faith” caught me off guard in the best way this year.
  9. Natalie Bergman, Live at Electric Lady (EP)
    Bergman, formerly of the indie-pop band Wild Belle, suffered an unspeakable tragedy in the recent past that informed her first solo album Mercy and this EP that somehow pulls back even more layers of emotion. “Home At Last” moves me in a way I only thought Patti Griffin and Roy Orbison were capable of. Both versions are worth your time. I’m recommending the latter because it includes the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel.” On it, Bergman sounds quiet, holy, and complete.
  10. Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses
    Everyone, including Barack Obama, knows Jenn Wasner is a musical genius from her work in Wye Oak. But I’ve been quietly rooting for Flock of Dimes, her experimental side project, ever since 2012 when I purchased their tee-shirt that says “Fuck the haters” in frilly cursive. I stan, but still I’m amazed this staggering, poetic, multi-dimensional album exists at all. Don’t miss “Price of Blue.”
  11. Des Rocs, A Real Good Person In A Real Bad Place
  12. Shannon and the Clams, Year of the Spider
  13. Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview of Phenomenal Nature
  14. Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime
  15. Bomba Estereo, Deja

Ryan Reed, Contributing Editor: Top 10 Albums

  1. Leprous, Aphelion
    Prog-metal is basically the niche-est niche of all modern music, so I don’t expect readers to take my advice. But listen to this album. It’s a masterpiece.
  2. Seafoam Walls, XVI
    I recently interviewed this Florida “Caribbean jazz-gaze” quartet, and their out-of-nowhere debut hasn’t left my listening rotation since. These “discoveries” make me thankful to do this job.
  3. Greta Van Fleet, The Battle at Garden’s Gate
  4. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
  5. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3000
    They did it again! (They always do it again.)
  6. Really From, Really From
  7. Darkside, Spiral
    A lot of people slept on Darkside’s long-awaited second LP. Perhaps the expectations were just too high, following the left-field jolt of their lightning-bolt 2013 debut. Anyway, I love everything about Spiral: It’s creepy and dense and atmospheric but more song-like — my single favorite sonic element of the year might be the funky distorted bass on “The Limit.”
  8. Mastodon, Hushed and Grim
  9. Squid, Bright Green Field
  10. Ghost Rhythms, Spectral Music
    Compiling year-end lists is super fun but also stressful — you can’t hear everything, and lots of albums disappear in that November/December Bermuda Triangle. (If music is released after list season, does it make a sound?) On that note, I present November’s Spectral Music, the second Cuneiform release from this indefinable French 10-piece. For a sampler, check out “Thoughtography // Toughtography,” a collision of minimalist piano motifs, big-band brass, jazz-fusion grooves, and prog-friendly orchestrations. It sounds like the main theme to a Martian superhero film. 

Josh Chesler, Deputy Editor: Top 10 Albums and Songs (Unranked)

As someone who generally finds journalists’ “This is what I wrote this year” lists super fucking self-indulgent and stupid, I genuinely didn’t believe that I would be doing a list about my favorite music from 2021. I mean, sure, it’s not quite as masturbatory as saying “Hey, these are the best things I wrote this year,” but it’s close.

I didn’t feel like I’d even listened to enough music that came out in 2021 (that I didn’t have to listen to for work) to meaningfully contribute to the discussion, and even if I did, who really gives a fuck about what I thought was good? I mean, I’m the deputy editor of SPIN, which means that my preferences only even remotely matter when editorial director Daniel Kohn is out interviewing Perry Farrell at Lollapalooza or hanging out with Japanese Breakfast in Mexico City or some shit.

But in the end, I’m susceptible to peer pressure and I feel like SPIN editor, Sarah “Mad Dog” Grant, is probably absolutely fucking terrifying when she’s angry. Plus, it’s a great excuse for me to include some profanity in an article because I generally write like a fucking Sunday School teacher these days, which couldn’t be further from how I actually speak.

Anyway, here are some of the things I enjoyed listening to this year that actually came out this year. This also works for my list of what I wrote this year, since I wrote about most of these things in an effort to primarily write about the music that I actually like. Read it and/or weep, motherfuckers.

  1. Turnstile, Glow On
    This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me and/or regularly reads the things I write for SPIN, which I presume will make up most of the handful of people reading this piece as well. Glow On absolutely fucking rips from beginning to end. If I was important enough to have an Album of the Year, this would be it. Is it as perfectly catered to my individual tastes as my favorite album from 2020 (the self-canceled/hiatused Dogleg’s Melee) was? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less of an absolutely flawless display of hardcore/punk/shoegaze/whatever the fuck we’re calling Turnstile’s music these days, and it has a weirdly universal appeal even for people who would never otherwise listen to stuff like this. Seriously, stop reading this shit and go listen to Glow On from front to back. Thank me later.
  2. Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing Else Matters”
    That’s right, we’re going from Turnstile to Phoebe Bridgers covering motherfucking Metallica in this bitch because I contain multitudes. Look, that Metallica covers album was super fucking weird, and a large swath of it just didn’t work like the artists probably thought it would on paper. But Phoebe Bridgers (who’s one of those people whose full name rolls off the tongue so well together that it seems wrong to just write “Bridgers”) is one of the most talented artists today, and the fact that she always sounds like an angel who would also murder the fuck out of you in your sleep works perfectly on this song. I thought about including the Tom Waits cover she did instead, but I’ve always been way more of a Metallica guy than I am a Tom Waits guy, so you get what you get. Phoebe Bridgers is basically what I’d hoped Hayley Williams’ solo music would sound like, or maybe if Taylor Swift made an album that was just for me. If you didn’t already leave to listen to Turnstile, get the fuck out of here and go check out last year’s Punisher, for which I really should’ve written a lengthy feature.
  3. Mannequin Pussy, Perfect
    What’s that? I can’t even agree on a single fucking format for this list, so the first three entries are an album, a cover song, and now an EP? You’re goddamn right. Sometimes, you don’t need more than five songs to show the world you’re one of the best punk bands out there right now, and that’s exactly what Mannequin Pussy did on Perfect. The inner terrible music journalist in me really wants to use the word “mature” to describe how Missy and her band evolved on their new EP, but that sounds real fucking lame. Instead, I’ll just say that they refined their sound, cut down on some of the unnecessary elements, and released their best work to date. In other words, it’s Perfect. Boom. I got jokes. But really, Mannequin Pussy is one of my favorite current punk bands, and not just because I always get a good laugh at all of the different ways their publicist has to work around their name to not get caught up in email spam filters. I’m not going to tell you to go listen to Perfect, because if you’re still here, then you’re clearly just not fucking listening to my advice.
  4. A Giant Dog, “Suddenly Seymour”
    Oh, you thought we were done with cover songs? Well, guess again. While I was thinking about all of the ways to say that a punk band that’s not really “new” is among my favorite “new” punk bands, I thought of one of my other favorite “new” punk bands that isn’t really “new.” Holy fucking shit that was an awkward sentence. But you know what’s not awkward? How incredible A Giant Dog is. I’ll be honest, I was late to the party. I only discovered them either late last year or early this year (I don’t remember because time is a flat circle and we were in the middle of a fucking pandemic), but A Giant Dog is pretty fucking amazing. After doing a full-album cover of one of the most overrated albums of my junior year of high school (Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, which I swear that people only really liked because Funeral is goddamn incredible), they came back with a cover of “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors. It’s no surprise they do so well with weird shit like this since they also do some of the best offbeat punk love songs (see: “Photograph” or “Ghostcest”) out there as well. Does the world need more punk rock show tunes? I don’t fucking know. But if A Giant Dog does them, I’m in.
  5. Laura Jane Grace, At War with the Silverfish
    There are few artists out there who mean more to me personally than Laura Jane Grace, but that’s a story for another time (early March, most likely). She’s the fucking best, and when my editor said “Mike Ness has never made a bad album,” LJG was the only other person who was even in that conversation. Even though it’s technically an EP or whatever, At War with the Silverfish is her pandemic album (because “pandemic EP” sounds dumb as shit, although “COVID EP” has a decent ring to it) and continues the tradition of the Against Me! singer releasing the music that I would like to imagine I’d write if I were way smarter and better at conveying my emotions. For someone who’s arguably as big of a rock star as can possibly exist in 2021, LJG remains both an otherworldly songwriter and a relatable presence within music. Next time we have a pandemic (you didn’t really think this was a one-and-done thing, did you?), I’m immediately going back to this album.
  6. Citizen, Life in Your Glass World
    Back in the day when concert venues were still closed because a killer virus was on the loose and we were all waiting on vaccines because people couldn’t be trusted to wear a fucking mask, I hosted a live interview/performance show with a bunch of different bands and shit on SPIN’s Twitch channel. If you didn’t watch it, that’s totally fine. Neither did anyone else for some weeks. One of the first people to join me on the show was Mat Kerekes of Citizen. It was over a month before the band would put out Life in Your Glass World, but it already seemed like Citizen was ready to do something different. They were done sounding like every other emo band of the last 10 years and ready to do something cool. And that’s exactly what they fucking did. Life in Your Glass World is some next-level shit. It still has a lot of the same heartfelt vocals and lyrics that made people like them in the first place, but it’s all put together in a way more interesting and exciting format than their last couple of albums. Much like Glow On, it’s hard to put exactly into words why it works better than the old shit (which is probably why you’ll pretty much never catch me doing a fucking album review), but it does.
  7. Fiddlehead, Between the Richness
    Remember like two paragraphs ago when I said I thought about how much I like A Giant Dog while writing about Mannequin Pussy? Well, that fucking happened again. Citizen’s labelmates (I guess I really should check out more Run for Cover bands) in Fiddlehead also released a kickass album this year. Like most reasonable people, I enjoyed Fiddlehead’s debut a few years ago. Also like most reasonable people, I pretended like I listened to Have Heart and Basement before discovering Fiddlehead since we’re all apparently supposed to follow everyone’s whole career and know their whole discography at this point — which is both fucking ridiculous and a different story for another time. But now, Between the Richness has freed us from this lie. We no longer have to pretend like we knew anything from their previous bands because now we can be smugly superior to those who only know the new album. Rejoice, my fellow Springtime and Blind discoverers! Oh, the new album also goes fucking hard. I wish I sounded as cool as Pat Flynn.
  8. Tyler, the Creator, “LUMBERJACK”
    Wow, this took a weird left turn, didn’t it? I’ve always figured if I were like a decade younger or some shit, Tyler would probably be among my favorite rappers. As it stands, he’s already among my favorite rappers who weren’t around when I was a teenager in the 2000s. Since I already admitted to not listening to the Fiddlehead guys’ previous bands, I’ll stick on that honesty and mention that I only actually made it through Call Me If You Get Lost in its entirety a handful of times. There might be better tracks hidden on the album, but I just haven’t had the time to investigate the merits of every deep cut. I also realized that the vast majority of the rap I listened to in 2021 actually came out in 2020, and I’m not going to be that asshole who includes things from previous years. In the meantime, “LUMBERJACK” is a fucking classic Tyler banger and a good reminder that the dude’s been at this as a solo artist for over a decade now and is yet to release a less-than-superb album. He has to be on the list of most influential artists of the 2010s (and possibly 2020s, but we might all be dead before anyone gets a chance to write that one), and there’s a very real chance that he can just keep churning out some of the most creative rap music and videos for as long as he wants. Stay tuned for my TED Talk about how “Yonkers” transformed an entire goddamn generation of hip-hop artists and fans.
  9. Dave Hause, “Sandy Sheets”
    When I listen to Dave Hause’s music, I feel like a fucking adult. Blood Harmony makes me think I should be able to do my own taxes or go to Costco before work or tell people how much I love Ted Lasso. It’s way more mature than the usual punk and emo shit I’ve been listening to for the last 20 years (I went through a Smash Mouth phase as a kid in the late ‘90s, so I’m ignoring the first 10), and kind of what I figure I’d be listening to when I grow up… as if that’ll ever fucking happen. It’s heartfelt Americana rock that works on a lot of levels, and “Sandy Sheets” is catchy as hell. All of Blood Harmony is pretty good, but I’m not ready to commit to having a 401k or whatever yet, so I’m just going with the standout single. If I’m ever old enough to have a dinner party or host a holiday or some shit like that, Dave Hause (and probably Frank Turner) will definitely be all over that playlist — and I bet some other old guy in a collared shirt will be like “Oh, this music is great. Who is this?”
  10. Frank Iero and the Future Violents, Heaven Is a Place, This Is a Place
    Speaking of artists who appeared on SPIN’s weekly Twitch show back when that was a thing (yep, that was a callback to like four fucking entries ago or wherever Citizen was), Frank Iero released a really good EP this year that got written off by a lot of people because jerkoff music critics think of him as “the guitarist from My Chemical Romance.” Well, sure, he’s the George Harrison of MCR (somewhere out there, a Beatles fan just got triggered), but that also means he’s got a highly underrated solo discography that’s collectively better than anything Wings has ever put out (there go a few more Beatles fans). Heaven Is a Place, This Is a Place shows that Iero can do all sorts of musical things in the punk/hardcore/emo/etc. world, and he can do them really fucking well. If you’ve made it this far into reading my bullshit, you’d probably really enjoy his music, regardless of your opinions on My Chem. Also, he gets bonus points in my book for being super fucking nice when I met him as a chubby middle schooler, and then putting up with me again as an adult when we went record shopping with a publication that no longer exists back in 2017.

Liza Lentini, Features Editor: Top 10 Albums (Unranked)

  1. Tori Amos, Ocean to Ocean
  2. The Mighty Mighty BossToneS, When God Was Great
  3. Dropkick Murphys, Turn Up That Dial
  4. Aimee Mann, Queens of the Summer Hotel
  5. Robert Finley, Sharecropper’s Son
  6. Neal Francis, In Plain Sight
  7. Dominique FilsAimé, Three Little Words
  8. Cedric Burnside, I Be Trying
  9. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Raise the Roof
  10. The Weather Station, Ignorance

Danny Klein, Creative Director: Top 10 Albums and Songs (Unranked)

My top 10 albums and singles of 2021. I’m not down to rank them as they are all magical gems in their own right. So here they are in alphabetical order. 

  1. CHVRCHES, Screen Violence: Director’s Cut
  2. Gone Gone Beyond, 2023
  3. HVOB, Live In London
  4. LP, Churches
  5. LP Giobbi, Kaleena Zanders, “Carry Us”
  6. Monolink, Under Darkening Skies
  7. Olan, Push
  8. Porter Robinson, “Nurture”
  9. RÜFÜS DU SOL, Surrender
  10. Yotto, Songs You May Remember From Some Parties

Eleni Rodriguez, Creative: Top 10 Albums (Unranked)

My top 10 albums for this year reflect the huge internal to external shift I experienced, transforming my perspective beyond just living for myself. I found a more solid base of my identity by getting absolutely lost within the most impeccable songwriting and soundscapes these artists blessed the world with. These albums became my fearless companions, inspiring me to keep digging and surrendering to my emotions. 100/10 would recommend again and again… and again. 

  1. Rawayana, Cuando Los Acéfalos Predominan
  2. Giveon, When It’s All Said and Done…Take Time
    So technically, this album compiles two projects that were previously released, but having them altogether told as one big story of heartbreak and love escapades, we can agree that enough is never enough when dealing with Giveon’s beautiful baritone croons.
  3. Men I Trust, Untourable Album 
  4. Mndsgn, Rare Pleasure 
    If there’s one thing to be said about this project, it’s that it’ll make you feel like a melting Van Gogh work of art in the modern jazz era.
  5. Mac Ayres, Magic 8 Ball 
  6. SG Lewis, Times 
  7. Arlo Parks, Collapsed In Sunbeams
  8. Lucky Daye, Table For Two
  9. Yebba, Dawn 
  10. Puma Blue, In Praise of Shadows 

Ilana Kaplan, Contributor: Top 10 Albums and Top 10 Songs

  1. Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
    Halsey has long been an innovator when it came to music, so everything has been leading up to this album. The way IICHLIWP tackles the complexities of pleasure, parenthood, power, and the patriarchy is sonically – and visually – stunning. Her rockstar turn has been a long time coming, but what IICHLIWP reveals is she’s one of the music industry’s biggest power players.
  2. Olivia Rodrigo, Sour
    The release of Sour seemingly gave everyone an escape – a dose of much-needed nostalgia for a time when your biggest dilemmas were high school crushes and teen angst. Listening to Rodrigo’s catchy pop-punk anthems and devastating ballads made me, a 32-year-old woman, feel like a cool teen again. But the best part was watching how deeply connected so many people felt to Sour in a year of uncertainty and isolation. That made it all the more affecting for me.
  3. Taylor Swift, Red (Taylor’s Version)
  4. Pom Pom Squad, Death of a Cheerleader
  5. Gracie Abrams, This Is What It Feels Like
  6. Adele, 30
  7. Kississippi, Mood Ring
  8. Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever
  9. Ethel Cain, Inbred
  10. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee


  1. Taylor Swift, “All Too Well” (10-Minute Version)
    This song is canon. Taylor Swift rewrote her own history by releasing the 10-minute rendition of “All Too Well” – a song that encapsulates the all-consuming heartache that is experienced when you’re coming of age. The fact that Swift wrote and never shared the lyrics “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath” shows restraint that I just wouldn’t have. A poetic genius!
  2. Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
    “good 4 u” is an immaculate kiss-off – from Rodrigo screaming “Like a damn sociopath” to its defiant melody. It’s the ultimate pop-punk anthem that showcases the singer’s range and makes you want to turn into Torrance dancing on the bed in Bring It On.
  3. Halsey, “Honey”
    “Honey” is the perfect pop-punk banger – a sapphic ode to an ex that channels the rush of a fleeting romance. And since it’s such a sticky, radio-friendly track, I am rooting for it to be a single on a daily basis.
  4. Pom Pom Squad, “Head Cheerleader”
  5. Gracie Abrams, “For Real This Time”
  6. MUNA ft. Phoebe Bridgers, “Silk Chiffon”
  7. Taylor Swift ft. Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing New”
  8. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever” (title track)
  9. Machine Gun Kelly, “papercuts”
  10. Charli XCX, “Good Ones”

Marisa Whitaker, Contributor: Top 5 Albums and Top 11 Songs (Unranked)

  1. Billy Strings, Renewal
    Truly all I listened to walking down Lexington Ave. in New York daily. On repeat. His newest record is definitely one of his best, and the musical companionship with all its musicians totally shines through. I cannot wait to listen to this on a loop on my next road trip.
  2. Lana Del ReyBlue Banisters
    As a 21-year-old, Del Rey has been in my adolescence throughout her career, and she didn’t fail us, yet again, on her newest record.
  3. St. VincentDaddy’s Home
  4. IDLESCrawler
  5. Holly HumberstoneThe Walls Are Way Too Thin


  1. Jack White, “Taking Me Back”
  2. Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
  3. Khruangbin, Leon Bridges, “B-Side”
  4. Grateful Dead, “Playing in the Band” (Live at the Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO 12/10/71)
  5. Greta Van Fleet, “My Way, Soon”
    If any song stands out on Greta’s newest record, it’s this one. It provides equal energy to the hits of their first two records like “Mountain Of The Sun” and “Safari Song,” and is a quintessential setlist addition.
  6. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
    This is my 2021 main-character-moment track.
  7. Billy Strings, “Know It All”
  8. White Reaper, “Sad But True” (off The Metallica Blacklist)
    If their newest album, You Deserve Love, were released this year, it would be my number one. But White Reaper brought the same garage-prog-hard-rock into this gritty and grand Metallica cover. 
  9. Animal Collective, “Prester John”
  10. Death Valley Girls, “It’s All Really Kind of Amazing”
    Every time I play this song, I instantly think of Death Valley Girls predecessors, and my favorite girl-rockers ever–Wendy & Bonnie, The Pleasure Seekers, maybe even Frank Zappa’s the GTO’s. I love their passion for and reinventing of ‘60s flower-power, woman rock.
  11. Alt-J, “U&ME”

Daniel Kohn, Editorial Director: Top 11 Albums

1. Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days
When I first learned that Brandi was in the studio in October 2020, my hopes were high. Knowing she was working with the same squad as her previous album meant that at bare minimum it would be strong. But what she did here, surpassed even my most optimistic of hopes. When I first heard “Right on Time” (which I was told was a banger before I heard it) reaffirmed what I’d known all along: Carlile is one of the best songwriters on planet earth. As Marissa R. Moss showed in our September cover story, the moment is Carlile’s and there was no album that showcased both range and urgency while so sounding so damn good.
2. Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg
3. Julien BakerLittle Oblivions
4. Foxing, Draw Down The Moon
5. Snail Mail, Valentine
6. Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever
7. Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
In the dark depths of the early year, there wasn’t an album that made my heart as warm as Jenkins’ breakthrough. For me, Jenkins is one of the true revelations of 2021.
8. Turnstile, Glow On
This is the album that made me feel most alive in 2021.
9. Deafheaven, Infinite Granite
10. Yola, Stand For Myself
11. Faye Webster, I Know I’m Funny haha
Webster is a terrific songwriter (no jokes there.)