Top Ten Albums of 2021

With the hours ticking away until we usher in the new year, it’s finally time to take a look back at the finest albums released in the past twelve months. 2021 is a year that left a lot of us feeling tired,  confused and frustrated; reflected I think in what feels like a rather lacklustre roster of new releases compared to the past few years. While not quite the hotly contested category it normally is, there were still some absolutely spellbinding albums vying for the top spot. Here are the ten records that burned brightest, touched our hearts, and breathed the most life into this past year.

10. Maisie Peters – You Signed Up For This

Home to some of the biggest bops of the year, the long awaited debut from Maisie Peters exceeded all my expectations. Striking a superb balance between polish and sincerity, it’s packed to the brim with irresistible hooks and earworm melodies that stay with you and make you smile all day long, like butterflies after a first date. Full of personality, thanks in no small part to Maisie’s unique style of down-to-Earth songwriting, You Signed Up For This is one of the most charming and refreshing pop records of recent years. (Review)

9. All The Luck In The World – How The Ash Felt

A late contender for the list, and an album which I’ve struggled to tear myself away from since it released. How The Ash Felt is the kind of record that feels like your own little safe haven. The first thing you click play on, almost without even registering it, when you need something to fill the silence or clear away the cobwebs in your mind. The kind of album that you blare through your headphones on a busy commute in order to drown out the world, making your life feel like a movie scene as you gaze wistfully out the window. (Review)

8. Frost* – Day And Age

There’s an electricity in the air with Day And Age, a palpable sense of the band feeling inspired and rejuvenated. The incredible show-stealing percussion, the use of light and engaging melodies, the fantastic fusion of prog and new wave, the way each track offers new surprises, even the striking and memorable artwork. It all culminates in making this both the band’s most ambitious, as well as their most accessible, body of work to date. Frost* tapped into a rare and precious creative vein here, one I hope they’ll continue to explore on future records. (Review)

7. Lonely The Brave – The Hope List

The introduction of a new vocalist can often prove to be a make-or-break moment for a band, and against all the odds we find Lonely The Brave standing tall on The Hope List. New frontman Jack Bennett brings with him a fresh spark of life for the band. This cathartic third outing is the most mature and assured that they have ever sounded. Their earnest brand of alternative rock is still full of fire, but with more expressiveness and nuance rounding out the rougher edges. It’s an album that feels greater than the sum of its parts, and gets better with every listen. (Review)

6. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

Home to the most lush and dreamy soundscapes of their career, there’s a deep expansive atmosphere that weaves the tracks together to make this Wolf Alice’s most cohesive work, even while they push their sound to explore new horizons. There’s a greater sense of scope and grandeur to their softer side this time around, and Ellie Rowsell’s vocals feel more assured than ever. Blue Weekend is the album that most felt like an escape this year. The kind of album whose cinematic swells whisk you away to some vibrant and otherworldly place as soon as you hit play. (Review)

5. Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks Of God

Capitalising on the creative epiphany that was A Black Mile To The Surface, The Million Masks Of God is another magnificent triumph for Manchester Orchestra. With an incredible attention to detail, effortless flow and considered sequencing, and utterly immaculate production, the album is simply a piece of master craftsmanship. Its more subdued approach places a greater emphasis on melody, alongside giving the lyrics and Andy Hull’s vocals room to shine. With this record, at this milestone of their career, the band just feel unstoppable. (Review)

4. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

Living up to hype is one hell of a minefield to navigate, especially after experiencing a meteoric rise from obscurity to superstardom faster than any other artist I can think of, but Olivia Rodrigo most definitely stuck the landing with her debut album. Polished yet personal, varied and versatile, full of sincerity and conviction; this brilliant break-up record is nothing short of a pop masterclass. From its fiery pop punk, off-kilter rockers and lush bedroom pop, to its stripped-back folk and bittersweet piano balladry, SOUR is an assured and eclectic first outing that never seems to stumble or falter. (Review)

3. The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

The band’s most purposeful and streamlined outing. This record sees The War On Drugs moving their signature dreamy haze back a few steps, in order to place bright melodies and anthemic choruses at centre stage. Adam Granduciel feels far more present in the moment here, rather than a musical architect hiding in mist, and both his lyricism and his vocals have really stepped up a gear. I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a warm and engaging record that sees the band touch upon that rare feeling of universal appeal, while also cementing their place as one of the most important and influential bands of recent years. (Review)

2. The Amazing Devil – Ruin

Hot on the heels of The Horror and the Wild, our favourite album of last year, The Amazing Devil return with another spellbinding record. We find Madeleine Hyland and Joey Batey weaving much the same bewitching web as before; impassioned gothic grandeur, sparkling off-beat wit, touching moments of tenderness, and uplifting hooks to make your spirit soar. But where Ruin differs, and excels best, is in its sense of candour and sincerity. Espousing the wisdom that sometimes one profound connection to cling on to is all it takes to survive being a broken person in this broken world. And with that in mind, for two years running now, The Amazing Devil have been the first name on my lips when recommending new music. (Review)

1. The Killers – Pressure Machine

Out of nowhere The Killers have hit a real renaissance over the last couple of years, and it seems like the arena-ready grandeur of last year’s Imploding The Mirage was just the warm up. I have no hesitation whatsoever in calling Pressure Machine their finest album. It explores every facet of Americana – from expansive, wanderlust inducing heartland rock, to stark and intimate stories told through stripped-back folk, and everything in between. Every disparate track connected within an introspective concept album, one which explores the reality of small town life with astounding maturity and empathy. The tales it tells of folks just doing their best to get by, when it feels like the silver lining they’re hanging on for is slipping away, perfectly captures the spirit of 2021 in my books. (Review)