The Mic's Albums Of The Year 2021

We've almost reached the end of 2021, which means it's the perfect time to look back at some of the musical highlights of the year. So, The Mic's writers have each picked an album to form a collective list of our Albums of the Year! In no particular order, you can read a bit about each album here. Enjoy!


Glow - Alice Phoebe Lou

I didn’t have to think twice about my favourite album of the year. I instantly knew it would be Alice Phoebe Lou’s Glow. As with all of her albums, she created yet another transcendent musical experience. Listening to this album feels like the moment on a cloudy day when the sun momentarily appears, beaming down on you, warming your skin, through to your bones. You can feel the album completely wrapping you in a ray of light, leaving your body weightless whilst you are entirely consumed by Alice’s celestial voice. The album weaves through deeply personal and emotive journeys of self-empowerment, love, friendship, and resilience. It is difficult to pick a favourite song, as they are equally magical, but 'Dirty Mouth' is a particularly fantastic song. Unapologetic and honest, it is a declaration of self-determination and bravery. A few lines which stand out are: “Don’t touch me // Don’t even look at me // I’ve got laser beams coming out my eyes”. I believe this album to be a testament to her genius and poetic excellence. It will not disappoint. Millie Hopcott


Fortitude - Gojira

Gojira: Modern metal masters. Hulking arena behemoths. And now eco warriors, with the magnificent $150,000 raised off the back of the campaign attached to the single Amazonia off of their latest musical offering, Fortitude. It is a triumphant return for the French metal masters, mixing sweeping grandiosity with grinding riffs and tribal drums. The album is primarily a call to arms for the planet, screaming to the world to pay attention to the global issue of climate change, most notably on the same single that spawned the campaign, 'Amazonia'. The Sepultura-esque drumming and groovy, bouncy riff that introduce the song bely the astounding heaviness of some of the later moments of the song, and the whole album runs in similar fashion, with a song like ‘The Chant’ showing a positively melodic side, complete with delightful riffs, calming singing and, yes, a chant. However, songs like 'Grind' and 'Sphinx' showcase the old Gojira, complete with beautifully abrasive pick scrapes and growling vocals that harken back to the From Mars To Sirius era, making this album arguably the most cohesive showcase of the band to date. All in all, this is an utter success, and is a vengeful promise for the future of this brilliant group. Jake Longhurst


FLOWERS for VASES/descansos - Hayley Williams

Pop-punk’s princess and Paramore powerhouse Hayley Williams dropped her sophomore album in February. FLOWERS for VASES/descansos acts as a predecessor to her previous successful solo effort, Petals For Armor, delving deep into the realms of solitude, self-reflection, and picking up the pieces after heartbreak. Williams truly lays herself bare, both lyrically and instrumentally. From an instrumental perspective, she played all the instruments herself, including piano, bass, guitar and drums. This is her reiteration (although, does she need any introduction?) that she is a versatile artist, capable of leading an acoustic-led album, alongside being well known for her acrobatic vocals, spunky attitude and being an exhilarating live act. She also champions her impressive vocal range in this album, by offering the listener velvety tones of her lower octaves, particularly in 'Over Those Hills'. In a similar vein, 'My Limb'is an alluring amalgam of moody humming, brooding beats and witchy chants. Lyrically, FLOWERS for VASES/descansos gives a more mature narrative compared to the angsty Paramore albums of the early 2000s. ‘Why do memories glow the way real moments don’t? My altar is full of all love’s delusions’ (taken from opening track 'First Thing To Go') is an example of Williams’ ability to pen earnest and incredibly touching sentiments. We are witnessing here the growth of an artist (paralleled by the overt floral imagery) who, as previously mentioned, has perhaps a very different public image from her days with Paramore. Retaining her famously honest lyrics, we see a different, softer side to Williams. However, she does at times cleverly and subtly reference her older words, such as ‘truth is all I ever wanted was somebody to want me’ (Trigger), which echoes fan favourite titan track All I Wanted from 2009’s Brand New Eyes album. Beautiful, serene, and heartbreakingly honest, FLOWERS for VASES/descansos is a different Williams to the one that we used to know; and yet, is still as incredible. Jodie Averis



Don't You Feel Amazing? - Trash Boat

Trash Boat’s 2021 album Don’t You Feel Amazing? steps away from their traditionally pop-punk sound and steps towards various new directions. With a sound that is punchy and energetic, mixed with anecdotal and emotional lyrics, both old and new fans are connected to the band in a really special way. Featuring rising stars Milkie Way (from WARGASM) and Kamiyada+, the album creates a journey of different influences, some of which include the likes of Nothing But Thieves, Nirvana, and Taylor Swift. Songs like He’s So Good and Alpha Omega capture some of the personal struggles of lead singer Tobi Duncan; as a result, the album unforgivingly turns pain into headbanging anthems and urges emotion to run through the veins of alternative rock music. After a successful UK tour in the Autumn, the band have now released a documentary trailer for an album worthy of that success. The year is not over for St Albans boys who will be back on tour in 2022 to make sure we all still feel amazing! Roxann Yus


times - SG Lewis

Since the 2010s EDM movement lost its steam, the world has been awaiting innovative new electronic artists, to retake the territory that dance music has lost in the world of pop. SG Lewis is one-such artist, who released his debut album, times, in February. Sam Lewis had already showcased his production talent on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, before he released times; a rollercoaster of 70s Disco nostalgia, that glitters with the sleekness of modern production and poignant themes of 2021 nights-out. So many instruments on this album; like the frenetic bassline of Feed the Fire or Nile Rodgers’ fantastic rhythm guitar part in One More, are placed perfectly and so precisely in the song, so as to give you maximal Disco-serotonin. Sam’s vocals sit comfortably alongside the guest-vocalists, whose talents are magnified by the glittery electronic production, like in Impact; California rapper Channel Tres mutters "I felt your impact", as the lead synth ‘impacts’ your very soul, before we soon hear Robyn’s stunning vocal acrobatics. It’s a hugely exciting song, and a small example of the near-perfect arrangement and eye for detail that went into the production of times. This album certainly signals thrilling new horizons for electronic music. Caradoc Gayer


Sling - Clairo

Graduating from the bedroom pop of her early days, Sling sees Clairo take a new path, experimenting with a rich, 70s-esque sound to create a fusion of jazz, soft rock and folk. Despite the new style, it’s Clairo’s familiar vocals and melodies which make Sling so intoxicating. Sling sees Clairo take complex subjects such as unrequited love, starting a family and the viciousness of the music industry and contrast them with her soft, celestial vocals. You may not always know what Claire is singing, but her voice always sounds pretty. Softer sounding songs such as Blouse and Harbour are balanced by the livelier, guitar-driven Zinnias and the funky Amoeba. It’s best listened to in its entirety as Sling tells a story both musically and lyrically. Clairo’s first words on the album are “I’m stepping inside a universe designed against my own beliefs” as she begins the 45-minute journey into her mind. Every track on Sling comes together to create a sublime listening experience, making it my album of the year. Lucinda Dodd



Blue Weekend - Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice’s third album Blue Weekend stunned and captured me, undoubtedly becoming my favourite album of the year immediately upon its release in June 2021. The genre-shifting nature of the album takes listeners through a musical study of imperfect friendships and relationships which, as a young adult, I could relate to. Wolf Alice have truly shown a new certainty and conviction in their artistry, track by track- I found Blue Weekend volatile and exciting. With 90s rock influenced Smile, followed by melodic Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love), synth-dream How Can I Make It OK?, to punk track Play The Greatest Hits displays how Wolf Alice have accomplished a portrayal of vulnerability and emotional story-telling through a series of unique song styles. Finally, lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s sharp and melodic vocals on tracks such as ballads The Last Man On Earth, Feeling Myself and Lipstick On The Glass are beautiful and haunting, which makes this my standout album of the year. The exhibition of confidence, instrumental extravagance and lyrically challenged tracks, makes Blue Weekend as a multi-faceted masterpiece that I could not help but fall in love with. Kira O'Boyle


Under Twenty-Five - ENNY

I treasure ENNY’s Under Twenty-Five for a multitude of reasons. Not only is it a touching album, but she inspires artists and fans alike. South East Londoner, rapper, and singer, ENNY produces soulful and head-bopping tunes, and is on the rise in the UK scene. This album discusses Black British identity and the phase of growing out of adolescence - themes which I resonate with and ENNY musically encapsulates. The viral Peng Black Girls uplifts and 'gasses up' Black Women, and eloquently explains the discourse of the stigmatisation and suffering of Black Women in society. Her South London dialect compliments this ode. It imprints a ‘homey’ and mutual effect. The lyric “We gon’ be alright ok” emphasises this discourse, and that Black Women will still outshine discrimination. Every song on the album has a personal significance to ENNY. It is as if she is telling us thoughts from her diary; wanting to escape from pressure and escape London- a city, she argues, fuelled with gentrification and poverty. These thoughts are intertwined with elements of dance music, gospel, RnB, and alternative hip-hop. My favourite track on the album, Under 25, is a song that has touched me. It talks about reaching a new and confusing chapter in one’s life and struggling through adversity. Being tied down by parents, working, being at university, wanting to chase our dreams. ENNY reassures listeners that everything will be fine no matter what path is chosen. The last song of the album, Revision, may have been an early recording and features ENNY freestyling amongst a supportive congregation; demonstrating how her musical career is only just beginning. ENNY’s soundtrack of adolescence is thrilling. It is comforting yet upbeat, and something I will genuinely cherish. Fidji Gomis Mendy


Ska Dream - Jeff Rosenstock

There’s really only one word that captures Ska Dream - exuberant. Although it’s a covers album with somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek concept (and punny song names to boot), the album lands far from being a joke but still strongly in the category of good fun. Rosenstock makes a real attempt at ska- punk here, deliberately trying to avoid any suggestion of “NO DREAM with trumpets”. The retooled instrumentals, with a largely similar-sounding set of vocals, turns the original up-tempo punk tracks into chilled-out, summery songs that transform head-nodding into head-banging in the final chorus rendition. The background adlibs and the multi-layered vocals in the chorus, as well as the album's tendency to bring in rock instrumentals under ska tones established in the verses, creates a brilliant sense of community. The final product is an album that takes the best tendencies of Rosenstock's approach to punk and reapplies them to an oft-overlooked subgenre with gusto. It's almost enough to make me forgive the rap section on SkrAm! - almost. Hal Hewlett



Begin Again - Ben Böhmer

Ben Böhmer has soared to the upper echelons of deep electronica since the release of debut album Breathing in 2019. A poster boy for Anjunadeep events worldwide, Ben has crafted one of the scene's most recognisable and revered sounds. The release of sophomore album Begin Again has only raised the bar. From the outset, Begin Again radiates euphoric melodies and beautiful soundscapes, curated by a producer at the top of his game. Despite being born in the midst of the pandemic and being torn from his fiancé, the album is far from cliché. In fact, rarely has a deep electronica album felt so cohesive, so introspective and so personal. An immersive experience for the listener, tune into any one of the eleven masterpieces to find yourself whisked away to another world. Böhmer lays his emotions bare throughout, yet leaves the melodies to do the talking. From the chilled Revelation, elevated by an outstanding feature from PBSR to the energetic Escalate, Begin Again is not only an album of range, but a powerful, enriching and uplifting piece from start to finish. Ben set out to create a project that "tugs on the heartstrings of listeners". He has gone above and beyond. Tristan Phipps


Queensway Tunnel - Zuzu

The defining feature of Queensway Tunnel is the emphasis on Zuzu's Scouse dialect. Not only that, but her immense pride to be Scouse. From naming the album after the tunnel between Birkenhead and Liverpool, to refusing to mask her strong accent whilst singing, Zuzu is the only artist who could have made Queensway Tunnel. For me, that’s what marks her out as a standout artist. It is an album that captures themes of growth, acceptance, closure and embracing your imperfections and emotions, even if these feelings are sometimes irrational. Queensway Tunnel is one of the most honest albums I have ever heard, and on top of that, it might also be one of the best debut albums I've ever reviewed. Gemma Cockrell


You Signed Up For This - Maisie Peters

On her debut album, Maisie Peters perfectly sums up what it means to be traversing young adulthood in the 2020s. You Signed Up For This feels like it was handmade for university students, as the singer-songwriter pours her heart out over distinctly young-adult based issues, from young love and heartbreak on tracks such as John Hughes Movie and Outdoor Pool, to jealous exes on I’m Trying (Not Friends) and Psycho. All the while, this lyricism is supported by irresistibly catchy instrumentation, as well as the slick pop production one would expect from an album released on Ed Sheeran’s record label Gingerbread Man Records. Perhaps the best example of these qualities exist within the album’s title track. As the opening song on the record, it acts as a manifesto for what to expect throughout the album’s runtime. As the opening lyric of the song suggests, this is an album for being “20 and probably upset right now”, and Peters can rest assured knowing that she has successfully conveyed that set of emotions, at least in the opinion of this 18 year old. Ali Glen



Collapsed in Sunbeams - Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams has been a real comfort album for me this year. Released in January, the masterpiece grew to be my most loyal companion on otherwise bleak lockdown walks. Her honest depiction of mental health, for instance, seemed to come at the perfect time. Single Hope proved to hold an unanticipated relevance when released, and the chorus’ repeated "You’re not alone like you think you are" soon became an encouragement that I clung to. Fast-forward ten months down the line, I am still infatuated with this iconic debut. The album’s interweaving of spoken word really sets it apart from the rest for me; the singer-songwriter’s stunning way with words is evident straight from the poetry recital that opens the album. Parks’ sincere lyrics are a true asset to Collapsed in Sunbeams and her depiction of lived experience continues to be appreciated by many. It is no wonder Arlo took home the Hyundai Mercury Prize with this masterpiece earlier in the year. Rhianna Greensmith


For the first time - Black Country, New Road

For the first time is the debut album and masterpiece of London seven-piece Black Country, New Road. The album is predominantly made up of long, emotionally intense tracks with multiple contrasting sections. The band differentiate themselves from their rock contemporaries in their klezmer influenced instrumentals and tortured vocal delivery. They’re frequently dubbed as this generations’ Slint, a 90s ‘anti-rock’ rock band, but I believe Black Country, New Road are doing something altogether more special. On For the first time, climaxes like that of Science Fair, Opus and Sunglasses are so intensely energising, you’ll wish you could play more than one air-instrument at once. It’s been far too long since music was this exciting. Sunglasses is, for me, the finest of an incredible run of tracks. Both a twisted coming of age story and an anthem for the introspective, lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s lyrics on the track are a combination of specific, absurd and relatable. “I'm looking at you and you cannot tell I am more than the sum of my parts” says so much in so few words - capturing a longing for deeper relationships and understanding so beautifully. Yet, this is just one poignant moment of one track on an album crammed with genius. It’s simply immense. Elliot Fox


Black to the Future - Sons of Kemet

This is an album that reaches far beyond the world of jazz. The message is compelling, and the music is hypnotic and exhilarating. Sons of Kemet are a group formed by London jazz musician Shabaka Hutchings, consisting of two drummers, a tuba and a tenor saxophone. The rhythmic grounding of the tuba and drums creates an infectious base for the songs, on top of which Shabaka can play free flowing melodies and powerful staccato blows, which create a frantic and helpless sound. Sons of Kemet’s music has always had hip-hop undertones and here, those sounds are more visible than ever before. The features from D Double E, Kojey Radical as well as the spoken word poets Moor Mother and Joshua Idehan really force the listener to acknowledge the message of the album. This is a concept album focusing in on the oppression felt against the black community, as well as exploring themes of harnessing anger, sorrow and Afrofuturism. Written in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death and the BLM protests, it is clear to see where a lot of this passion and anger came from. While being progressive in many ways, this album still manages to be accessible and enjoyable. The music is matched perfectly with the strong message that is being conveyed. Sons of Kemet have made one incredible album, but no words will do it justice, so I urge you to give it a listen. Leo Bungay



Sometimes I Might be Introvert - Little Simz

Released this September, Sometimes I Might be Introvert is Little Simz’s strongest and most innovative body of work yet. Down to its versatility, productive quality and storytelling ability, Simz’s heart and soul can be felt throughout her art. It is difficult to place a singular track in the limelight, as the album as a collective piece works so well together - from the rhythmic, enthralling songs Introvert and Point and Kill, to smoother tunes accompanied with warm, melodious vocals such as I See You and How Did You Get Here. My personal favourites have to be Woman, which is nothing short of a feel-good, uplifting anthem of black womanhood, the pensive song I love you, I hate you, which Simz herself describes as one of the most conflicting yet freeing songs for her to write, and last but not least Miss Understood, a reflective, soul-stirring outro. Dubbed by listeners as the best thing to happen to hip hop since Lauryn Hill, Little Simz has rightfully claimed her throne as a “real life Queen in the flesh”, with Sometimes I Might be Introvert generating a buzz of excitement for the future legacy of the British female-dominated rap scene. Ingrid Allirajah


New Long Leg - Dry Cleaning

Of all the great music to be released over these strange and twisted past 12 months, the debut album from the eccentric post-punk outfit Dry Cleaning is my absolute album of the year. Intriguing and addictive, I’ve simply never heard anything quite like it, as the deadpan and drawling spoken word of frontwoman Florence Shaw is paired with the mesmeric, churning riffs of her fellow band members. Shaw articulates mundane aspects of British life and the unacknowledged thoughts that flit through our shared consciousnesses, her vocals used as much for a lyrical delivery as they are a rhythmic one. Her sentences are punctuated with purposeful gaps and onomatopoeic words, creating a soundscape of bizarre one-liners and nonsensical phrases, such as in lead single Scratchcard Lanyard, the chorus making perfect sense while also somehow making none at all. Hypnotic and undulating, New Long Leg is a sensory overload of words and concepts which grows in clarity as it grows in familiarity; the more you listen, the more cohesive and enjoyable it becomes as a body of music. It is perhaps not an easy listen at first, but once the dextrous combination of the music and the apathetic, meandering lyrics clicks in your brain (and in your ears), it is utterly impossible to resist. Freya Saulsbury Martin



Any Shape You Take - Indigo De Souza

Hold U is a stand-out track on Indigo De Souza's sublime grunge, pop, indie love potion of a record. “You are a good thing, I’ve noticed, I’ve seen it” is so wholesome and pure as a lyric, it sparks a Wizard-Of-Oz-like colouring in of the grayscale world that often seems to surround us. There are countless similarly sweet lyrics from this album that stick with you, they live in somewhere in your head and surface unexplainably from time to time. There are edges of pain in the beautifully composed songs, but the overall effect of this album is to submerge you with the feeling of blissful contentment with the unpredictable condition of existence. It’s hard to single out specific tracks amongst the array of melodious and unique stories told in 12 songs, because they are all just so enjoyable to listen to. Pretty Pictures particularly makes you pay attention to fuzzy guitars and gentle drums that put a beat to loss and longing but also the feeling that life goes on. More than anything Any Shape You Take captures the notion that peoples flaws are what makes them infinitely worth of love. Christi Smith


By the Time I Get to Phoenix - Injury Reserve Injury Reserve’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix is one of the most forward-thinking, dystopian post-rap albums released this year. Dedicated to lead vocalist Stepa J. Groggs, who passed away last year, the album deals with anger, loss, self-hatred and acceptance. It is truly an emotional roller-coaster and takes the listener through several stages of grief. Some tracks here give an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, whilst others feel like insights into mayhem, through glitchy beats and the broken rap style of member Ritchie. The single Knees is also one of the most emotionally intense tracks released this year. All in all, whether Injury Reserve decides to continue or not, the group have managed to create a dissonant masterpiece. Rest in power Groggs. Josh Jones


SOUR - Olivia Rodrigo

With its perfect combination of teenage angst-filled pop rock and heartfelt acoustic break-up ballads, Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR has been the guilty pleasure I’ve kept coming back to throughout 2021. Of course there’s no better demonstration of the contrast between Rodrigo’s two different song styles than drivers license and good 4 u, which both became two of 2021’s biggest pop anthems, but other highlights of the album include more of her more vulnerable songs such as 1 step forward, 3 steps back and enough for you. Painstakingly relatable, and written with a beautifully conversational lyric style, Olivia’s youthful yet delicate vocals show a lot of promise, especially for her age. Furthermore, the fact that she has received seven Grammy nominations for this album alone suggests that my prior description of her record being a ‘guilty’ pleasure is a touch too harsh. An easy, albeit emotional, listen, SOUR is without a doubt a sound choice for album of the year, not only due to the great content, but also due to the massive impact it has had on pop culture! Cat Jordan



We’re All Alone In This Together - Dave

To follow up an album as emotionally raw and widely commended as Psychodrama, winner of the 2020 Brit Award for Album of the Year, would be no easy feat, but with his latest project, We’re All Alone In This Together, Dave successfully navigates this terrain. Known for his socially conscious and often political lyrics, Dave’s 2021 project is no exception, foregrounding issues concerning racial inequality, conflict in the Middle East and the Windrush scandal, providing a voice to those who are too often silenced. Sonically, while the album is eclectic in its influences, Dave’s piano characteristically shines through, providing a plaintive and often soulful backdrop to his incisive social commentary. Combined with lengthy track times, ad lib voice recordings and extensive features, We’re All Alone In This Together reinforces the musical change of pace, initiated by Psychodrama. With his roots in grime however, Dave supplements his album with the much-loved tracks: Clash and Verdansk, sure to satisfy older fans, with their hard hitting and up-tempo production, proving reminiscent of earlier work. Providing a voice to the voiceless, We’re All Alone In This Together, reflects a marked maturity to Dave’s artistry, combined with unrivalled lyricism and well considered production, this is not an album to be skipped this year. Mia Versluys


Teatro D’Ira - Vol I - Måneskin

Most known for winning 2021’s Eurovision song contest, Italian rock-band Måneskin have been the group to watch this year. At just eight tracks long, their 2021 sophomore album Teatro d’Ira - Vol I has gained widespread international success and critical acclaim, containing chart topping viral hits such as I WANNA BE YOUR SLAVE and ZITTI E BUONI. Part of a longer, ongoing project entitled Teatro D’Ira translating into “theatre of wrath” the album shows the versatility of the group to not only perform in Italian and English, but also through their exploration through themes such as the transition into adulthood, love, and the struggles of individuality. While it may be daunting to listen to an album where only two songs are in English, the Italian four-piece manage to transcend this language gap by combining the beauty of the Italian language with a unique backdrop of 70s-inspired rock, infused with contemporary pop influences. Even when you don’t understand the lyrics, standout tracks such as VENT’ANNI, LA PAURA DEL BUIO and CORALINE are easy to fall in love with, as they use not only lyrics, but drums, bass, and guitar to make a statement about youth, societal expectations, and who Måneskin are as individuals. Teatro d’Ira – Vol I in short stands as confirmation that Måneskin are no one-hit wonders and will inevitably continue to dominate the charts in 2022. Rose Hitchens


People Thought My Windows Were Stars - deathcrash

Ok, so it’s not an album – rather, an ‘album length EP’ – but I’m cheating so that I can mention this incredible and daring release from London slowcore band deathcrash (not that my friends haven’t heard enough from me about them already). Characterised by contrasting moments of distortion and downbeat guitar melodies, this introspective and cinematic piece contains some truly refreshing and original sounds. A master class in space, phrasing and sound scaping, Songs for M, i-iv will mesmerise you with its delicate guitar interplay and minimalist writing, whilst the beautiful 15-minute title track People thought my windows were stars delivers a carefully curated mix of melancholic and musical depth. On this EP, deathcrash manage to deliver two entirely different scenarios – the first, you’re laid tranquilly staring at the stars, and the next you’re being pulled relentlessly under icy, white-water rapids – in a haunting contradiction that will have you re-listening from the start in order to figure out just exactly how they did it. Tom Liversidge


If you made it this far, first of all congratulations, because it's been a long one - a sheer testament to the amount of brilliant music that has been released this year. And finally, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at The Mic. Have fun celebrating, and we'll see you after the new year!

 

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell and Joe Hughes


Featured image courtesy of Imo Kell.