Wax Music’s Top 50 Albums of 2021

I don’t think anyone particularly needs reminding of how we’ve had to endure yet another crazy year in 2021. With the world still looking like a dishevelled mess trying to shake off a two-year hangover, many of us have turned to the loving embrace that the world of music has generously offered, and thankfully this annus horribilis has actually been a vintage year for sounds across the genre spectrum. With that in mind, like virtually all publications before us, the team at Wax Music have merged their minds together to assemble a list of our top 50 albums of the year, dabbling in as much pop as there is post-punk, and featuring everything between ambient and country (sadly not merging the two yet). Dive into a half-century of stellar releases below…

Low: HEY WHAT Album Review | Pitchfork

50) Low – Hey What

Sometimes, after years of persistence, some art can suddenly fall into place for the consumer. Having often admired Minnesota stalwarts Low from afar but never really been able to dig beneath the surface of their back catalogue, it took an album of such impressive magnitude for me to finally crack and fall head over heels for their work. The balance that Hey What strikes between gorgeous harmonies and disorienting textural noise is staggering, and pushes everything the band offered on 2018’s Double Negative to its logical extreme. After almost three decades, Low remain firmly in their own lane, taking cues from nobody and sticking firmly to what they believe in – a true testament to their artistry. Reuben Cross

Bladee: The Fool Album Review | Pitchfork

49) Bladee – The Fool

Bladee’s 13th album is another flawless entry into the 27-year-old experimental/alt/hyperpop star’s canon. The album plays like lying on a beach on the edge of the water; you just have to let it wash over you wave by wave. The Fool is definitely a shift for Bladee – a more mature take on his style, and a less chaotic, more streamlined collection of tracks in contrast to his earlier work. Having worked with Yung Lean, Thaiboy Digital and Charli XCX previously, Bladee’s style is constantly evolving and changing. His output is less like music and more like art, and The Fool is a perfect addition to Bladee’s already enormous body of work. Willow Shields

Black Acid Soul | Lady Blackbird

48) Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul

In September, Marley Monroe released her debut album as Lady Blackbird, ‘Black Acid Soul’; a stunning 11-track journey harking back in time to the likes of 60’s icons Nina Simone and Irma Thomas. Having heard opening track ‘Blackbird’ on Gilles Peterson’s 6 Music show in late 2020, I was instantly captivated by her masterful and evocative voice.  A year later, still entranced, it is my top choice for winter Sunday listening – often eerie, and always mesmerising in lyrics, vocals and the respected jazz musicians selected to play alongside her. Lady Blackbird establishes herself here as an artist with a lifetime’s love of music presented with no frills in this impressive, often heart-breaking body of work. Rachel Mercer

Beta | Beige Banquet

47) Beige Banquet – Beta

As the world entered a new work-from-home arrangement, isolating us from our friends, collaborators and simple pleasures, it became clear that a Pandora’s box of oddities had opened. One such oddity that hatched out into the world was egg-punk outfit Beige Banquet, who from nowhere came bearing one of the year’s best albums. Motorik drum-machines and a bugged-out vocal delivery underpin the entirety of the project as sharp guitars and considered percussion dictate the momentum of this addictively strange LP. Now a fully fledged band of five, Beige Banquet’s trademark stylings are conquering the stages of the nation, bringing Beta to riotous heights. Varun Govil

If You Could Have It All Again | Low Island

46) Low Island – If You Could Have It All Again

Being from Oxford I have a special place in my heart for Low Island. There’s a sense of the plucky underdog about them that I can’t quite explain but appreciate hugely. Their debut is brimming with a kind of honest sincerity about the romantic and professional wreckage of a 20s poorly spent. But however poorly Low Island spent their 20s, it’s got them here, so was anything really wasted? Being from Oxford, it would also be Bad Journalism to ignore the palpable reverence for the instrumental palette of an In Rainbows/King of Limbs Radiohead that treads that delicate tightrope between homage and pastiche. Nowhere is this clearer than on ‘In Your Arms’, but this is not a stylistic debt nor a cause for concern. Low Island uses their sophisticated electronica and oftentimes stunning production as a tool of infectious earnestness in contrast to Radiohead’s hammer of confusion, sadness and pain. In an era that expects the artist to do everything for themselves, the band’s success is testament to the growing possibilities afforded by this independence. Ed Hambly

Mush: Lines Redacted Album Review | Pitchfork

45) Mush – Lines Redacted

If there’s one way the pandemic has been eye-opening in a positive sense, it’s that we’ve become able to find out which bands are willing to work at an immesurably quick rate. Barely a year on from their stunning debut 3D Routine, Leeds art-punk surrealists Mush not only followed up with a new record, but entirely stepped up a level on Lines Redacted. With knotty guitar work that would sit comfortably on a later Stephen Malkmus record and satirical stabs in the lyrical content, the record is a refined display of the oddball jaggedness that made their early work so appealing, and serves as a wonderful final nod to their late guitarist, Steven Tyson. RC

Lucy Dacus: Home Video Album Review | Pitchfork

44) Lucy Dacus – Home Video

Lucy Dacus is a champion for many: the anxious, the underdogs, and those who are still coming into their own. The secret weapon of supergroup Boygenius, Dacus has somehow lived all our lives and relayed them back to us continuously across her catalogue. Now on her third album, Dacus has once again captured clearly the feeling of growing up in a beautifully tragic world. With a sound that recalls Bruce Springsteen with needed sensitivity, Home Video takes delicate experiences and puts them into one of 2021’s most compelling packages.  VG

Zuzu - Queensway Tunnel Album Review | DIY Magazine

43) Zuzu – Queensway Tunnel

Zuzu’s long awaited debut sees her being totally herself and showcasing her undeniable sonic genius. Queensway Tunnel is such a personal album to Zuzu and it shows, you can feel it when you listen to it. ‘Lie to Myself’ is the standout of the album, making me want to run through the rain and scream. She takes you by the heart and brings you to the brink of heartbreak and leaves you with her words stuck in your mind until you revisit them again. Zuzu is totally herself – authentic and truthful – and that’s what makes her one of the best musicians out there, embracing you with her songs. WS

Magic Mirror by Pearl Charles Reviews and Tracks - Metacritic

42) Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror

Pearl Charles’ album arrived at the top of 2021, kicking down the door to an unforgiving third lockdown, in western style boots and confetti cannon in hand. Her infectious, disco-infused country style is 70s inspired soundtrack to the modern gal, mucking through and learning to accept life’s challenges. Bursting with brightness, and with no shortage of thoughtful observations and self-discovery, this record has fed my optimism over the course of the year. RM

Julien Baker: Little Oblivions Album Review | Pitchfork

41) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

A woman hurt by addiction, spoiled faith, and cruel heartbreak, Julien Baker has a worn soul filled with stories that would break most. Nonetheless, time and time again the Tennessee singer has proven an unparalleled strength as she translates devastating sorrow into grand catharsis. Experimenting with electronic textures, Baker’s famously powerful voice and slowcore songwriting is at its most awe-inspiring on Little Oblivions. Still coming from a place of intimate vulnerability, the collection of twelve tracks is one of the year’s most masochistic yet entirely necessary experiences. VG

Madlib: Sound Ancestors Album Review | Pitchfork

40) Madlib – Sound Ancestors

Madlib’s work ethic never fails to impress: an expansive career since the early 90s, working with the likes of MF DOOM,  Freddie Gibbs and J Dilla, he is comfortably nestled into the canon. On his album Sound Ancestors, he celebrates the mastering of his craft. The album demonstrates his boundless knowledge and skill as both a producer and composer. It was then finished, in a sense, by electronic producer and friend Four Tet, with both producers sharing an encyclopedic knowledge across genres and a fascination with experimental jazz music, as they illustrate on this album. The record showcases the ease and control at which both artists work in a multitude of spaces – just compare the soft 90’s hiphop beat of ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’ to the punchy Spanish guitar of ‘Latino Negro’. Sound Ancestors is a necessary addition to Madlib’s already impressive catalogue. RM

39) Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – HARAM

Over the course of the last half-decade, we’ve seen a somewhat seismic shift in the presentation of hip-hop, as demonstrated by a number of records on this very list. However, it could be argued that two artists that have stood at the forefront of rap’s abstraction are billy woods and Elucid, the duo behind the Armand Hammer moniker. Accompanied by producer du jour The Alchemist, HARAM is a confounding concoction of jazz, electronic and industrial influences, capped off with jarring bars that cover brutal themes. Far from being an easy listen, this is a powerhouse of a trio coming together at their creative peaks to create an overwhelmingly trippy listening experience, and one that rightly holds a candle to contemporaries such as album guest Earl Sweatshirt and Injury Reserve. RC

Faye Webster: I Know I'm Funny haha Album Review | Pitchfork

38) Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha

Another eleven flawless alt-country ballads from Faye Webster, a niche she inhabits so singly and so impeccably. The main character is Webster’s entrancing vocals – smooth like buttermilk but rippling with the loss, tension, ennui, heartache or joy her songs radiate. Here though, Webster is content to let her gorgeous arrangements play out for long after the last words are sung and as a result, you’re quite often left with an extended coda that you can wear like a blanket. Supporting companions in these moments and throughout are her heavily reverbed slide guitars and some beautiful watery keys, and the result is eleven lush and shimmering examples of a songwriter and guitarist at the top of their game. EH

You Signed Up for This - Wikipedia

37) Maisie Peters – You Signed Up For This

Maisie Peters, with her debut album, is already a pop sensation. Praised by Jimmy Fallon and signed to Ed Sheeran’s record label, her songwriting is so heartfelt and intimate, she makes you think of all of your lost loves and growing up and everything that’s ever gone wrong or right in your life. With the two singles from the album being my favorites over any others, ‘Psycho’ and ‘John Hughes Movie’ are both utterly perfect and have taken up a permanent residence in my ‘on repeat’ playlist. You Signed Up For This is a rollercoaster of emotions and an insight into a young woman’s emotional battle with life. WS

WPGM Recommends: BROCKHAMPTON – Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine (Album  Review) - WE PLUG GOOD MUSIC


Rewind back to the summer of 2017 and you would find boyband/hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON absolutely everywhere and it’s no surprise why. Their exhilarating array of voices and finely honed chemistry was one of the most exciting developments popular music had seen in a long while. As the group faced complex struggles in the years following, though, they marched on, struggling to quite capture that initial magic that they had. Luckily, on Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine, the group have returned with an unmistakable mojo and needed alluring swagger. In both its nostalgic worship of hip-hop’s past and forward thinking pop sensibilities, the 2021 LP somehow tops the iconic albums that put the collective on the map in the first place. VG

Rare, Forever | LEON VYNEHALL

35) Leon Vynehall – Rare, Forever

Rare, Forever flits between club-ready stompers and brooding ambience. Vynehall’s production is pretty unhinged, using warped synths and explosive beats to create visceral and transportive techno cuts. These are offset by heady jazz-infused tracks who’s sound defies category, but certainly compliments the floor-fillers. The record often harks back to early 90s rave and industrial techno, but remains innovative and forward-thinking in its splintered production and dystopian soundscapes. Leon continues to show why he is so highly regarded as a producer and DJ, but subverts expectations enough to tread his own artistic path. Dan Webster

Spare Ribs | Sleaford Mods

34) Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs

You don’t ever press play on a Sleaford Mods record expecting pleasantries. Never the ones to shy away from confrontation, the Nottingham duo have acted as a pivotal voice over the past eight years, lampooning any injustices with cut-throat volatility and razor-sharp wit. They have never been everyone’s cup of tea, and they are more aware of this than anyone. But love them or hate them, there is no denying their contribution to British music & culture with consistently relevant social commentary, over the seemingly endless backlog of Andrew Fearn’s productions. Fresh highlights on the album include their openness to collaboration, namely in the form of the fantastic Billy Nomates on one of the standout tracks ‘Mork & Mindy’, & Amy Taylor (Amyl & The Sniffers) on ‘Nudge It’. Williamson’s lyrical placement has become more fluid in line with more advanced beat making, as Andrew Fearn experiments with different sounds and styles, particularly the acid house influenced title track ‘Spare Ribs’ which works really well for them. Matty Dagger

Dear Laika: Pluperfect Mind Album Review | Pitchfork

33) Dear Laika – Pluperfect Mind

A truly calming gem amongst the storms this year has produced, Isabelle Thorn’s second full-length record as Dear Laika has every right to be hailed as a new important voice in ambient pop and experimental music. Taking cues from choral music and neo-classical styles, but with a contemporary flair, Thorn’s breathy vocals almost float from one bar to the next in a weightless manner while pianos and strings coalesce to form stunning soundscapes. As seemingly influenced by the likes of Utopia-era Björk as much as it is modern day troubadours of the underground such as Kiran Leonard, Pluperfect Mind really does stand as a singluarly sublime example of pastoral electronic wizardry, seamlessly flitting between gorgeous and glitchy to devastating effect. RC

Czarface & MF DOOM – 'Super What?' review: riotous superhero hijinks

32) CZARFACE & MF DOOM – Super What?

The tail end of 2020 was of course when the world lost MF DOOM. His final musical contribution was recorded in April 2020, and released in May 2021 – Super What? is a collaboration with CZARFACE (the supergroup comprising of Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck and DJ/MC double act 7L & Esoteric.) It could be said that MF Doom had always been an enigmatic cult hero (or villain) within hip-hop circles. Unafraid of experimentation or confrontation in his output until the end – Super What? is no different. Lounge jazz breakbeats and stunted, considered lyrical rhythms litter the ten tracks that could be seen as something of a concept album. Relying heavily on superhero/villain comic themes and kablow-like sample effects that Czarface specialise in, it’s larger than life and quite simply clever as fuck – which in light of tragic circumstance, has become more than this and transcended into the posthumous celebration of raw talent, creativity, and life. MD

Smiling with No Teeth - Wikipedia

31) Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth

It’s a bit of a modern cliche to describe something as genre-bending considering how many have strayed from the confines of a single style. With Genesis Owusu, it’s difficult to even know where he even began. The Canberra-based artist’s chameleonic tendencies culminate on Smiling With No Teeth to deliver one of the most arresting and engaging debut albums of the year, effortlessly splicing together aspects of neo-soul and R&B on tracks like ‘Waitin’ On Ya’ and ‘Gold Chains’ alongside the new-wave tinged highlights of ‘The Other Black Dog’ and ‘Drown’. The overarching theme of struggles with depression are frank and honest, but these are counterbalanced by the immensely bouncy summer vibes of the record. This selection of 15 tracks is an astoundingly confident first offering from someone quite clearly on the brink of stardom, and if future releases can match this energy, the world is his to conquer. RC

As The Love Continues | Mogwai

30) Mogwai – As The Love Continues

Mogwai aren’t necessarily doing anything new in As The Love Continues, but can we really blame them after 25 years of success? What they do deliver is still more than worthwhile; slow-building songs that leave you feeling a sadness you didn’t even know you had in you before. Maybe something we could relate to even more at the time it was released in lockdown – when things seemed a bit bleaker than usual. Clara Bullock

BR047 West Country | Langkamer | Breakfast Records

29) Langkamer – West Country

I’m going to say it – I don’t know if an album has ever summarised a time in my life more appropriately than Langkamer’s debut. While I am prepared to concede that this is a vacuously specific accolade to lay at the feet of a record, I am not prepared to withdraw or modify it. At a comfortably breakneck pace – it’s a brisk 33 minutes – Bristol’s own Langkamer manages to address growing up, memory, optimism, ennui, body image, and clarinetist Acker Bilk, and wraps this all up in the familiarity of place. The songs exude an alt-country flair – all barely restrained heaving guitars and ripper harmonica solos – but it’s in the album’s quieter moments that you can make out its heartbeat, such as the captivating ‘Polly, You Should See Me Now’. Suffice to say that this record will be queued whenever I feel far from Bristol, and I will collapse into nostalgia for my time there when things were likely just as shit as they are now except I was 23. EH

Viagra Boys: Welfare Jazz Album Review | Pitchfork

28) Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz

Welfare Jazz, the second album from Swedish post-punk outfit Viagra Boys opens with the brilliant lead single ‘Ain’t Nice’, which is accompanied by the equally brilliant music video. Frontman Sebastian Murphy assumes his role as the tatted up, peace shattering, GTA character-channeling madman. I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke really. Following on from the opener, there are a lot more prolonged, chaotic, instrumental parts – the heavily present free-jazz saxophone complements the mindset of finding art and beauty within the vitriol, which it seems, give or take the jibes of dark humour which are there to amuse, is a pretty accurate summary of what Viagra Boys aim to do; and do very well. Alongside the music, Sebastian appears in different ways vocally throughout the album. Sometimes he’s the monologue reading ringleader à la Alabama 3. Sometimes he appears more open, and it can be hard to differentiate whether he is assuming a character or if he’s lifting the lid on real vulnerabilities. Or sometimes he’s the half-satirical, half-pissed moonshine-sipping American cowboy. Overall, Viagra Boys give off a general feel of the vintage Punk age, almost in the way that The Stooges elbowed their way to becoming ‘Kings of the Slag Heap’ in the 70s. MD

Tyler, the Creator: Call Me If You Get Lost Album Review | Pitchfork

27) Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost

Tyler, the Creator is an artist who needs no introduction. One of this generation’s most defining artists, his albums have soundtracked many a formative experience as his audience grows alongside the eccentric rapper. On his sixth solo album, we’re treated to an eclectic array of influences as worldly new persona Tyler Baudelaire takes center stage. From synth-pop to reggae, Tyler travels across an impressive gamut of styles while still retaining everything that made us fall in love with him in the first place. As many of us felt stuck at home, the unavoidable fun of Call Me If You Get Lost helped us move past the confines of our own isolation. VG

Turnstile: Glow On Album Review | Pitchfork

26) Turnstile – GLOW ON

Turnstile is probably one of the biggest hardcore bands right now, and for good reason. Their new album GLOW ON is a genre-bending triumph, full of power chords, a whole host of compelling two-liners such as “If it makes you feel alive/Well then I’m happy to provide”, and a more than convincing performance by frontman Brendan Yates. People could fight about whether this album leans closer to alt-rock than hardcore or punk, but that’s what makes this album great – Turnstile are exploring the boundaries of their sound and we are all the richer for it. CB

Strange Time | MF Tomlinson

25) MF Tomlinson – Strange Time

It felt inevitable not too long into this ongoing plague that we would be subjected to some horrendously hackneyed and stuck in time musical nods to the terrible years we’ve had to endure, but one record that was sadly swept under the carpet that managed to perfectly capture this period in sound was MF Tomlinson’s Strange Time. The albums’ title bluntly refers to an emotion and certainly a phrase we’ve all found ourselves uttering since early last year, and instead of utilising every toe-curling cliché, Tomlinson favours an honest and poetic series of acknowledgements of a rough patch in history to immortalise the peculiarity of a world trapped indoors. Sometimes sombre, but generally offering a warm embrace in how we’ve all been united in the titular Strange Time, there’s a charm deep within, and it’s incredibly hard not to let this record resonate with you in some way or another. RC

Planet Her - Wikipedia

24) Doja Cat – Planet Her

Her third studio album sees Doja Cat grow into her already flawless style, with the album art giving us a cue to her development from previous monochrome pinks and nudes into swirling, magical purples, greens and blues. This album soundtracked the summer, and saw her joined by equally iconic names like Ariana Grande, SZA, The Weeknd, JID, Yung Thug, Eve and Gunna. Commanding the most influential social media of the moment, TikTok, and weaving its way into everyone’s lives, hearts and brains, Doja Cat takes us on her tour of modern divine feminine energy, exploring sexuality, heartbreak and yearning in one of the year’s most stunning records. WS

Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend Album Review | Pitchfork

23) Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend

Shortlisted for this year’s Mercury Prize, Wolf Alice’s Blue Weekend is an obvious choice for this list. Not many bands manage to get continuously better without repeating themselves, but Wolf Alice have evolved their sound with each album. Blue Weekend borrows its sound from shoegaze, alt-rock and bedroom-pop to bring us a very well-rounded record which includes songs for every kind of mood we could possibly be in. CB

Un canto por México vol. 2 by Natalia Lafourcade (Album, Ranchera):  Reviews, Ratings, Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

22) Natalia Lafourcade – Un canto por México, Vol. 2

Bursting with colour, Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade’s Un canto por México, Vol. 2 is the second installment of a series celebrating traditional Mexican and Latin American music. The first volume won album of the year at the Latin Grammys and took home the award for Best Regional Mexican Music Album in 2020. Her latest offering continues this celebration with an impressive list of guests, all experts in their various fields and well-loved throughout Latin America. She weaves together the past and the present in this tapestry of Mexico’s musical history. The esteemed Rubén Blades, an artist who was hugely influential in the salsa and latin jazz spaces in the 70’s and 80’s, features on ‘Tu Si Su Sabes Quereme’, alongside the iconic rapper Mare Avertensia Lirika. She captures the kaleidoscopic essence of her culture with an authenticity that might make you forget the damp winter evenings outside. RM

21) For Those I Love – For Those I Love

Grief is an unavoidable entity in all our lives, consuming and spreading in an unforgiving manner. But, nonetheless, when wrestled and transformed, the emotion can be a thing of  beauty. For Those I Love, both the moniker and the debut solo album of Irishman David Balfe, somehow manages just that herculean task. In transforming the passing of a close friend into an emotive LP, the dance floor is repainted into a solemn altar. Many albums deserve long lengths of prose dedicated to them, but when it comes to For Those I Love, the only fitting tribute is empathetic listening and the understanding that there is a burning beauty in every tragedy. VG

Stream Robbie & Mona | Listen to EW playlist online for free on SoundCloud

20) Robbie & Mona – EW

EW is an ethereal trip through glitchy pop and indie, where sounds and ideas drop in and out chaotically, but beautifully. The instrumentals are in one moment sparse, the next densely packed with layers of vocals, synths and 808s. Robbie & Mona are a couple duo, and there is a tangible sense of romance to the album in its swooning instrumentals and yearning vocals. The atmosphere of the record is intimate, but it is often broken by grand crescendos or dissonant glitched-out passages that sets EW apart from the current sound of dream/bedroom pop. DW

Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time Album Review | Pitchfork

19) Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time

Courtney Barnett returned this year with more of what earned her success during the previous decade. Things Take Time, Take Time doesn’t stray too far away from the style that she is known and adored for, and this is perfectly fine by all accounts. The style in question infuses an extremely skilled garage/country/blues backdrop with deadpan lyrics that are always so full of descriptive brilliance, poetically colouring in the most quotidian of occurrences. If there are any nuances in this album when compared to her previous work, it would be that it feels a little more lo-fi, even bedroom pop thanks to the use of drum machine beats and dreamier audio. She has always been known to fly the flag for introverts, but it’s almost as if she’s recoiled into an even more introverted and thoughtful artist than she already was, which could have possibly been brought on in isolation. It’s always a pleasure to hear new material from Australia’s favourite garage country blues star, and here’s hoping that she’ll tour it around the UK at some point soon. MD

SAULT: NINE Album Review | Pitchfork


London’s most elusive collective have returned with another bunch of sharp and potent tracks. These tracks however, were only available to be bought or streamed for 99 days. For many, this will have meant the album came and went unnoticed, but it will have added great value to those who were enjoying it upon its initial release. Sault’s anonymity sets people wondering about who may be involved in the creation of the eclectic and powered tracks on NINE, with slices of Afrobeat, soul and breakbeat coursing through the album. What is known is Little Simz features on playful banger ‘You From London’, one of a handful of tracks where issues of race, identity and violence are explored over bittersweet instrumentals. DW

Uppers | TV Priest

17) TV Priest – Uppers

Uppers is an album so good Sub Pop merely had to get a sniff of it before they wanted to sign the band on the spot. In reality the story is more complicated, featuring a gig at an industrial freezer unit in Hackney Wick and several rounds of Zoom meetings, but I think we all know by now that reality is awful. Uppers isn’t, though – it is a self-produced masterpiece of thinking-person’s-post-punk, replete with prescient literary plague references and a vulnerability that comes ever into focus as the album shakes and roars itself to its conclusion. More wholesomely, it’s the project of four old friends – merely the most recent coagulation of a band that has existed in previous iterations for years – and because of this it is filled to the brim with the kind of sonic confidence only possible after years of knowing the musician next to you. EH

The Turning Wheel | SPELLLING

16) SPELLLING – The Turning Wheel

If you were in search of an album that has a truly magical aura surrounding it, you need look no further than SPELLLING’s The Turning Wheel. Los Angeles songwriter Chrystia Cabral’s third effort is an hour of compositional mastery, full of effervescent charm without ever going too far overboard with its extravagance. Invoking Joanna Newsom, but reimagined as a theatrical pop superstar, there is a certain cinematic quality to these twelve songs, constantly transporting the listener to fantastical faraway lands, despite existing in a world not too different from the one we live in. Sure, some may say that elements of this record can come off as a little highfalutin, but if you choose to immerse yourself in its intricacies for long enough, it’s impossible not to feel enchanted by it. Truly spell(l)binding stuff. RC

No Feeling is Final | Maybeshewill

15) Maybeshewill – No Feeling Is Final

Post-rock group Maybeshewill chose the perfect time to release their new album No Feeling Is Final – just as gloomy autumn set in. It sets itself in a time for reflection, which is something this album invites us to do. The second song on the record, ‘Zarah’, named after Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South, samples the first speech she gave to parliament, passionately calling the climate struggle a ‘class struggle across borders’, which seems to be the overarching theme of the album. While it gets quite dark at points, the album ends in hope with the song ‘Tomorrow’, looking towards a better future. CB

Arooj Aftab: Vulture Prince Album Review | Pitchfork

14) Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince

Arooj Aftab’s second album Vulture Prince is a beautiful ode to her Pakistani heritage, not only exploring South Asian poetry and music but also her journey from grief after the death of her brother in 2018. The album is hypnotic and haunting as she plays with instruments and floats between genre, language and time. Singing in both Urdu and English, she performs a mesmerising rendition of an ancient Persian poem – Rumi’s ‘Last Night’ – and we transported back in time by the literature of her youth. The track builds into an unexpected reggae beat, which brings an unexpected warmth to the track. Poignant, unpredictable and tender, the album has resonated with many and Aftab is now the first ever Pakistani woman to be shortlisted for a Grammy. RM

Goat Girl : On All Fours Album Review | Pitchfork

13) Goat Girl – On All Fours

You know when a song has those moments? Those deeply affective points that make you shiver or say “fuck yeah” or break into a wide grin on the Thameslink? These will henceforth be known as “Bits”, and a Bit could be a transition, an instrumental entrance, or a particularly uplifting lyrical couplet. In many respects, Bits are why we listen to music, as they make us feel a certain type of way. How is this relevant? On All Fours is an album studded with Bits, like precious jewels in a crown. It is a Bit factory. Their second record following their 2018 self-titled debut, each of the record’s thirteen songs shoots off in a different direction on a conveyor belt of Bits. It’s the first “badibadiba” in ‘Badibaba’, it’s the doom-synth in ‘Jazz (In The Supermarket)’, it’s the 90s club piano halfway through ‘Sad Cowboy’. The result sees a band soaring to heights far beyond the highly competent but conventional post-punk of their debut. It’s bands like Goat Girl with albums like On All Fours that are pushing the boundaries of what can be considered post-punk into new and compelling frontiers, but there’s only one Goat Girl and only one On All FoursEH

Bull - Discover Effortless Living – Crash Records

12) Bull – Discover Effortless Living

Bull’s effortless and perfect debut propels them into the ever-growing scene of bands who have managed to shine on their first outing. An album that you make memories to – in the best way ever, it sounds like a coming of age movie soundtrack. Discover Effortless Living forces happy memories into my brain. This album is like dancing around your kitchen in summer, sun streaming through the windows, alone but happy to be. In my opinion, Bull are one of the most exciting bands on the circuit at the moment; they’re honest, fun, and easy to dance (or cry) to. WS

Parquet Courts: Sympathy for Life Album Review | Pitchfork

11) Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life

Ahead of the release of Sympathy For Life, Parquet Courts described the album as a mixture of inspiration by New York clubs, Primal Scream and Pink Floyd, which fueled excitement for many listeners. True to their word, the album’s debut single ‘Walking At A Downtown Pace’ adopts the baggy indie hedonistic style that blanketed the UK. Being Manchester-based myself, it’s a style that has been saturated almost to death around these parts, but hearing Parquet Courts adopt it while staying true to their New York roots offers a refreshing spin, as Andrew Savage gives his point of view while walking around the Big Apple, embracing the busy crowds “that once made me act so annoyed.” Following the Danger Mouse-produced stylistic sandwich of Wide Awake!, they have continued to explore the injection of dance music into their previously guitar heavy pallet. It might have turned off some of their fans who love them for the raw academic indie-punk that propelled them into cult popularity and media darling status; but the route of artistic development is rarely ever a predictable one, particularly for the most insurgent and creative of artists. MD

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams Album Review | Pitchfork

10) Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams

It’s hard to believe that Collapsed In Sunbeams is Arlo Parks’ debut album, it seems as if she has been around forever. Her songs have a kind of familiarity to them – almost like she’s in your bedroom, talking about that artsy couple she saw arguing at the bus stop. Maybe that’s why her album was instantly successful: it was released in the middle of lockdown in January, a time when a little familiarity and a chat with as friend was something we all longed for. If that feeling threatens to overwhelm you – this album is the one to listen to. CB

WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear | LICE

9) LICE – WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear

A lot has been written about “the state of contemporary guitar music”, and this label is usually stretched beyond comprehension to describe anything released that features a guitar. In response to this (and other contentions), LICE’s Wasteland skewers and decries the state of modern music journalism and the wider conceptual relationships between art, artist and audience by creating a collapsing liminal border-world, inhabited by shapeless blobs and subject to the machinations of an evil committee that seeks to destroy the world. In how completely it seeks to challenge our basic understanding of what an album is supposed to do and be, right the way down to what noises we can reasonably expect a guitar to make, Bristol’s own LICE have created something more conceptual than a concept record – it’s a creative practice manifesto, a polemic, and a pristine example of everything achievable through sonic fiction. In a year of much-hyped debuts this one stands head and shoulders above anyone else through the power of sheer ambition. EH

self esteem cover art

8) Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

She who must be obeyed, Rebecca Lucy Taylor, returned in 2021 with her pop sensational album which bursts with self-acceptance and feminine rage. Self Esteem explores what it is to be a woman today, confronted by misogyny, social pressure, and the unforgiving search for pleasure, interlaced with her oh-so-charming, often droll sense of humour. The album is a cathartic experience as the moments she narrates apply to us all, and this shared experience is emphasised with her use of orchestra and choirs throughout. She has just finished off her first UK leg touring the album, which received rave reviews for her unmatched energy, choreography and a lot of what felt like audience members cleansing. The album is a modern masterpiece, and any artist that can get the over-60s to a live show shouting “shave my pussy, that’s just for me!” (because yes, I saw it with my own eyes) has my full attention. RM

Shame: Drunk Tank Pink Album Review | Pitchfork

7) shame – Drunk Tank Pink

The widely anticipated sophomore album from South London hard-hitters shame received rave reviews when it finally landed on our laps. For those who saw shame grow from their debut or knew them before even that, it was definitely a shock to the system. In the three years between Songs of Praise and Drunk Tank Pink, shame expanded into their sound and matured. Drunk Tank Pink exposes cracks in their coolness, embraces intimacy and sadness, bringing with it a sly sensuality, in contrast to the brashness of Songs of Praise. shame have gone from writing about getting fucked for a handbag and gynaecology appointmens to sonically placing a hand on your lower back, making their discography perfect for every occasion. WS

Squid: Bright Green Field Album Review | Pitchfork

6) Squid – Bright Green Field

Another debut album forced to contend with huge hype, though this time more gradually gathered after the release of the Town Centre EP in 2019, Bright Green Field spends a lot of its time propelling the listener along motorik rhythms intertwined with guitar lines and various synth embellishments. Lyrics take the ordinary and subvert it, with grand and surreal imagery, often in phrases that repeat for minutes as tracks wind towards their finale. Some other-worldly guitar sounds and ambient passages separate this album from its ‘post-punk’ contemporaries, contributing to the gargantuan identity Bright Green Field possesses. By piling together jazz, electronic, ambient and post-punk sounds together under the crazed vocals, Squid present an brilliantly ambitious and accomplished debut album. DW

Cavalcade | black midi

5) black midi – Cavalcade

It must be so hard being black midi – you’re hot on the heels of having released one of the most hyped debut records of the last decade, you’re all shit-hot musicians with pedigrees far beyond your years, and have made a name for yourselves for having the most jaw-droppingly impressive live show. It must be so tempting to cash in and aim for the stars, right? On the contrary – Cavalcade is anything but a cash grab. This record is dizzyingly chaotic in the most fascinating of ways, bounding from anxiety-inducing jazz-punk songs about cult-leaders on opener ‘John L’ to tender ballads about 30s starlet ‘Marlene Dietrich’ that have been exposed to far too much Scott 4. By far the most maverick band of the ubiquitous South London/Windmill scene, black midi may well have followed the already-impressive Schlagenheim with their magnum opus, but then again it wouldn’t be beyond them to confound us all over again in a year’s time with an even more grandiose headfuck of an album. It’s polarising, baffling and impenetrable in places – but by heck I’m floored every time I hear it. RC

Pom Poko: Cheater Album Review | Pitchfork

4) Pom Poko – Cheater

Fun for the whole family, Pom Poko’s sophomore offering Cheater is an unquestionably standout treat for everyone. Whether you just want to dance manically to bright Scandinavian pop or whether you want to feel intensely stimulated by jazz school noise, the Bella Union-signed band have exactly what you need. Helmed by singer and performer extraordinaire Ragnhild Fangel, Pom Poko lead with infectious melodies and impress with tightly knit blasts of mind-bending noise. Indulging in Cheater has proven to be one of the year’s most rewarding activities as every track fits snuggly stuck in your ear. VG

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg Album Review | Pitchfork

3) Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

2021 was, by all accounts, the year of British post-punk with guitar band after guitar band rising to astonishing heights conquering every playlist in the nation. While many blended into an angular wall of janky sounds, London’s Dry Cleaning stood strong with an unwaveringly distinct sound and lyrical styling. Taking the energy of self-assured rock and roll and smashing it into a wide-eyed view on the absurdity of social dynamics, the four-piece’s debut album is a chiseled masterpiece. Tranquil when needed, soaring and free when able, New Long Leg is a perfect picture of what post-punk should be: personable yet oddball, exhilarating yet accessible, observant yet imaginative. VG

Black Country, New Road: For the first time Album Review | Pitchfork

2) Black Country, New Road – For the first time

Black Country, New Road’s For the first time exudes confidence and competence that is truly remarkable of a debut album. It’s insane how much hype for this album was generated mostly off the back of the single ‘Sunglasses’, and perhaps even more insane how BC,NR managed to deliver on the lofty expectations of their relentless fanbase. In just 6 tracks, the band cram a huge amount into the runtime, playing wild instrumentals off of serene and sparse moments. The intrigue doesn’t just lie in the musicianship however, as the vocals are enough on their own to evoke dichotomies of wonder and dread in the listener. It’s all just really impressive, and from what we’ve heard of the band since, there’s plenty more on the way to beguile us. DW

Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert Album Review | Pitchfork

1) Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

In 2019, Little Simz’ album Grey Area was released, resulting in a whirlwind trajectory for the London raised rapper/singer/songwriter. While the albums and mixtapes before this saw her labelled as a very promising up and coming talent, Grey Area took her to a whole new level. With sold out tours around the UK, appearances at Glastonbury Festival, an Ivor Novello award for best album, and a Mercury Prize nomination; it was the kind of “success” that many artists dream of. But alongside this trajectory, there were naturally questions posed towards her longevity. Not for any reason in particular, it’s just the treatment that artists are subject to once they face the public eye. The public and critics alike love to see how an artist handles their pedestal, and what their response will be once they have had success at the highest level of British music. There are countless cases of it changing an artist, as they develop more of an interest in the tabloids than the art that got them there, and their output from then on resulting in watered down indifference. But for Little Simz, the pedestal has only made her more humble, more transparent, more creative and more intuitive than ever before. Reflective of this in even the title itself, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a huge statement. There is a clear course of strength to strength progression in her work, as the album seamlessly combines soul, hip-hop, R&B and much more over her lyrical monologues full of wry wit and confrontation towards personal vulnerabilities and social issues. Produced by her frequent collaborator Inflo, the musicians on the album nail all kinds of infectious grooves and orchestral string work that are commonplace throughout the 19-track LP. While the aforementioned hip-hop and R&B are common genres that you’d place Little Simz in, there are so many more subtle influences and styles across the album as she explores a vast musical spectrum. ‘Introvert’ makes use of the stringwork to give it the magnitude of an epic film score. ‘Point and Kill’ taps into her afrobeat heritage, with danceable calypso rhythms and guest vocals from Obongjayar. ‘Speed’ uses syncopated, driven bass patterns with synths and an offbeat guitar riff in arguably the coolest song on the album. ‘Protect My Energy’ is like it just stepped out of an 80’s nightclub. It’s all done to an amazing standard too, with none of it added in as filler. There’s a lot to get your head around. With this smooth transcending of styles, Little Simz has opened up doors to a wider audience, while remaining unphased by the accolades which will likely multiply off the back of Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert. So now with two critically acclaimed albums in the bag, the ever standing question will be what’s next? Is Sometimes I Might Be Introvert Little Simz at her peak? At just 27 years old, and with an ever-evolving, level-headed understanding of her success as an artist as well as a down to earth approach to the human condition, chances are that we might not even be anywhere close. MD


Reuben Cross // Rachel Mercer // Clara Bullock // Matty Dagger // Varun Govil // Ed Hambly // Willow Shields // Dan Webster

Dig into Wax Music’s top 50 albums of the year in the playlist below.

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