More about: St VincentTaylor SwiftWolf AliceSquidblack midiGreentea PengCHAIOlivia RodrigoDu BlondeBROCKHAMPTONSons of KemetDry CleaningMARINA
In March, Gigwise collated all of the best albums from 2021's first quarter. There, we rhapsodised on the pure originality of the self-titled debut by For Those I Love, the sheer fun of Ashnikko's DEMIDEVIL and the way that slowthai made his second effort (TYRON) such a blast.
See the list of the very best from January, February and March here, and then read on to find out what April, May and June have given us...
Arab Strap - As Days Get Dark. Mogwai - As The Love Continues. Shame - Drunk Tank Pink. The Pretty Reckless - Death By Rock And Roll. Sleaford Mods - Spare Ribs. Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz. Black Country, New Road - For The First Time. Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth. Ashnikko - DEMIDEVIL. Arlo Parks - Collapsted in Sunbeams. Madlib - Sound Ancestors. slowthai - TYRON. Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club. For Those I Love - For Those I Love.
Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
Key Track: 'good 4 u'
“God, it’s brutal out here,” remarks Olivia Rodrigo on the opener of her debut album, SOUR. There are plenty of ways to interpret this statement, but as much as anything else it could represent the struggle for a Disney kid to be seen as a Serious and Legitimate Artist™ - despite still being on Disney’s books, she’s definitely succeeded in that regard.
Yes, ‘drivers license’ was a worldwide sensation, but it’s just one part of an exceptional album. A mixture of powerful pop-punk (‘brutal’, ‘good 4 u’) and indie-pop ballads (‘favorite crime’, ‘traitor’), SOUR is an emphatic statement of intent from someone who just half a year ago was best known by an audience of tweens.
There are undoubtedly going to be people who’ll write Rodrigo off as a manufactured Disney star or an industry plant, but the message to these people is simply this: you’re missing out. (Adam England)
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Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Key Track: 'SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE'
As the years have gone by, Tyler has moved on from being a maverick just for the sake of being a maverick. 2017’s Flower Boy and 2019’s Igor saw the aggressive rapper do what, at the time, was completely unexpected when he introduced us to a sensitive, thoughtful and melodic side we never knew he had. With his sixth studio album Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler turns everything up-side-down again, resulting in one of the most dynamic and interesting entries in his discography so far.
Call Me If You Get Lost is, and does, a lot. Already a master of the art of breaking genre boundaries, the album sees Tyler effortlessly move between Wolf-like beats, Flower Boy-esque soul, Goblin-levels of energy, Cherry Bomb-inspired flows and Igor-style synth melodies. The album is in a lot of ways a bag of well-curated pick-n-mix, a selection of contrasting moments of brilliance put into one big melting pot. (Sofie Lindevall)
Du Blonde - Homecoming
Key Track: 'I'm Glad That We Broke Up'
A testament to the independents. The success of Du Blonde’s album Homecoming remains bittersweet as it’s a reflection of what musicians can achieve when they’re allowed creative freedom, whilst reminding us there are plenty of musicians out there who are restricted creatively.
As the first album away from a label, Du Blonde came through to create this pop-grunge mash-up that is a treat to listen to from start to finish. With a stellar line-up of features to assist exciting track after exciting track, everything about Homecoming makes it one to go all of the way and easily qualify as one of the greatest albums of 2021.
It’s genuinely moving to see this album be so well received by fans and critics alike as making it was clearly a risk, but one that was clearly 100% worth taking. We look forward to seeing what other projects Du Blonde comes up with now that she is allowed complete freedom over the work she produces. (Dale Maplethorpe)
SAULT - Nine
Key Track: '9'
We still don’t know a huge amount about the (most likely) London-based music collective and, apart from writer and producer credits pointing us in the direction of Ivor Novello Awards winning producer Info, Kadeem Clarke, Cleo Sol and Kid Sister, the group has remained completely anonymous throughout. With powerful statements often surrounding Black-centric issues and racial inequality, the group has with their prior albums let the music be a force that speaks for itself - and Nine is no different.
Fluent in soul, RnB and funk, SAULT move freely between a range of different styles and tempos throughout the record. Musically, a lot sounds familiar if you have been following the group over the last couple of years, but SAULT has again done what SAULT does best – created something beautiful that carries an ever so important message. (Sofie Lindevall)
black midi - Cavalcade
Key Track: 'John L'
If you ever come across one of those people – and we all do on a regular basis – who argues that modern music is suffering from arrested development, merely recycling the past, and that nothing genuinely new exists, then simply slap on a copy of black midi’s second album Cavalcade and watch them humbly eat their words.
The South London crew may have scaled down their core membership from four to three, but their musical vision has gone from the sharply focussed post-punk of their debut ‘Schlagenheim’ into something way more kaleidoscopic and fantastical, embellished with the kind off apocalyptic jazz instrumentation hat falls somewhere between Miles Davis at his most experimental and prog wig-out kings King Crimson.
Tracks like ‘John L, ‘Dethroned’, 'Hogwash & Balderdash' and ‘Slow’ are so dense you barely have a moment to catch your breath, but the whole album finally resolves with the much more serene, heavenly ‘Ascending Forth', where tinges of Irish folk work their way into the fried psychedelic madness. With many of the bands being touted in the current new post-punk revolution happy to rely on a sound palette that existed before they were born, it’s great to hear the sound of someone truly pushing the boat out and cutting adrift in the choppy waters of proper experimentalism. (Ben Willmott)
St. Vincent - Daddy's Home
Key Track: 'Down'
Daddy’s Home, the sixth album by St Vincent, sees her ambling through an intriguing soundscape of woozy jazz and sitar riffs, dodging the traits of the mainstream to create an engaging display of alluring lounge-pop. Similarities of tone, lyrical creativity and late-night inspired groove can certainly be drawn with Arctic Monkeys’ idiosyncratic Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, but make no mistake: Daddy’s Home transcends more than just a pastiche of the City That Never Sleeps and its smokey nightlife.
Dishing out an evocative explosion of crooning melodies, abstract coolness and an ardent passion for motifs from a seedy metropolis, St Vincent succeeds in her exquisite vision. It’s an album that’s unapologetically suave and full of excitement. It’s an album designed for repeat listens and sounds all the more magical when listened to in full. So, without further ado, take it easy; unwind. St Vincent has a story to tell. Knock knock. Who’s that at the door? Daddy’s Home. (Harrison Smith)
Squid - Bright Green Field
Key Track: 'G.S.K.'
In terms of a debut LP, Squid’s ‘Bright Green Field’ is a stellar collection. Packed full of excellently written and beautifully crafted cuts of nightmarish post-punk, Squid have proved themselves as some of the best song-writers around at the minute.
Tracks such as, ‘G.S.K’ take your preconceived ideas of what modern day post-punk is an elevates it. With guitars and drims stabbing through your speakers, allowing the Mark E. Smith-eque screaming’s of frontman Ollie Judge to push forward in a full auditory assault. Tracks such as, ‘Documentary Filmmaker’ show a softer, more mellow side to the outfit with a much softer and gentle side being displayed. Gentle guitar backs the track before exploding into a fit of explosive rage, then just as quickly coming back down again. This track exemplifies the juxtaposing and slightly unnerving sound that permeates the album.
The standout track of the album is, ‘Narrator’ blending the influences of jazz, krautrock and post-punk that are on full display throughout the course of the album. It highlights an energy within the music, be this through funk-tinged guitars, vitriolic choruses and deliciously unhinged vocal deliveries, it is non-stop and unashamed.
‘Bright Green Field’ is maybe the most close-to-perfect slice of post-punk, genre-bending music you’re likely to hear this year. Packed full of passion and drive the album pulls you down into its world. It’s scary, confusing, juxtaposing but above all else, brilliant. (Tom Dibb)
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McKinley Dixon - For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her
Key Track: 'Chain Sooo Heavy'
How often do you hear something truly new? Really, truly original? A fair amount of the albums on this list may well have given you that feeling, and Virginia jazz-musician-cum-rapper McKinley Dixon certainly does with his label debut For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her.
Spanning free jazz, nimble rap and offbeat hip-hop, this album is a special exploration of Black culture and Dixon's own life, all wrapped up in a fascinating soundscape that reveals new details - both lyrical and aural - every time you listen. Truly a special album. (Jessie Atkinson)
Brockhampton - ROADRUNNER
Key Track: 'COUNT ON ME'
Said to be the first instalment of two 2021 records that are set to mark the end of BROCKHAMPTON as we know them, Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine arrived in April after the LA-based hip-hop collective (and former boyband) had left fans waiting almost two years for new music. Two years may not sound like a lot, but having quickly followed their celebrated 2017 Saturation trilogy with 2018’s Iridescence and 2019’s Ginger, we had almost come to expect there to be no end to Kevin Abstract et al.’s frenetic creative output.
Roadrunner is in many ways a typical BROCKHAMPTON record; accompanied by melodic loops and eccentric beats, the group’s rappers and vocalists seamlessly take turns at the centre stage, each showcasing their individual skills and the diversity that has made the group unique. While maintaining a sound that can only be described as classic BROCKHAMPTON-esque throughout the album, Roadrunner also sees the collective think outside of the box. For the first time the group invites rappers and vocalists from outside the collective to feature on a record and contributions from Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA, A$AP Rocky and A$AP Freg, among others, takes Roadrunner to the next level.
Fans who have been following BROCKHAMPTON for a while might recall Saturation III being promoted as the group’s last studio album back in 2017. Three albums later we are happy they didn’t stick to their plan. Regardless of whether Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine turns out to be BROCKHAMPTON’s penultimate, the album has us excited to hear what will come next. (Sofie Lindevall)
Greentea Peng - MAN MADE
Key Track: 'Free My People'
It really feels like Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land has something for everyone. MARINA has shown us a variety of sounds over the years and there’s a little bit of everything here – from bright, nostalgic '00s pop-rock to gentler piano ballads, as well as some excellent guitar work and songwriting that’s bolder than ever. What pulls all these elements together is a resolute sense of empowerment. With Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA could easily be stepping into the summer with the album of the year. (Adam England)
CHAI - WINK
Key Track: 'Nobody Knows We Are Fun'
Wink, instead of the cute-as-balls-garage-punk-kinda sound of their previous outings, takes a big jump into cute-as-balls pop. Wink is full of sounds influenced by city pop and hip-hop, immaculately produced and insanely uplifting, it’s such a natural fit for CHAI that it’s easy to imagine they’ve always sounded like this. Opener ‘Donuts Mind If I Do’ is the mission statement for Wink. A laidback track laden with synth-horns and CHAI’s patented Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, it’s the sort of thing you’d have on repeat at the spa. Lyrically, the track encapsulates what I think is the theme of album; not letting opportunities go to waste and living life to the fullest. Free Doughnuts? ‘Donuts Mind If I Do’. The next track, ‘Maybe Chocolate Chips’ featuring rapper Ric Wilson, is a song about embracing your imperfections, held together by the chillest of instrumentals. Like a lot of songs on Wink, it’s real corny but so sincere that it’s hard not to fall in love.
We’ve all been going through some dark times the last 100 years or however long the pandemic has been going on, but that’s no reason not to take a break sometimes and just have a great time. CHAI get this 100% and Wink is a testament to the power of positivity in these trying times. (Jack Vincent)
Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend
Key Track: 'The Last Man On Earth'
As the soundtrack of our youth, Wolf Alice returned with the score for our twenties. From singles like 'The Last Man On Earth', a change in sound was evident, stepping into more refined territory. From dizzying highs on tracks like 'Delicious Things' to bittersweet melancholia on 'No Hard Feelings', Blue Weekend is mature and captivating. Keeping all the things that made us fall for the band way back in the indie heyday of the 2010s, the record still has the catching guitar foundations we love and the heavenly guide of Ellie’s voice. But after 4 years off since Visions Of A Life, Blue Weekend is realised and cohesive, reflective of the band’s growth, avoiding the stale indie graveyard that so many of their early peers have slipped into.
Without a single skip, the album flows perfectly, taking you on a journey to every corner of emotion that hazy, nostalgic weekends bring out of you. While full of subtle yearning, the record is cut through with moments of raucous euphoria on tracks like 'Smile' and 'Play The Greatest Hits', coming in like sudden reminders of what it was like to be 17 and deep in a crowd at a Wolf Alice gig. All that sandwiched in between 'The Beach' and 'The Beach II' as a cinematic prologue and epilogue, Blue Weekend is sure to be on repeat for many months and probably years to come. (Lucy Harbron)
Taylor Swift - Fearless (Taylor's Version)
Key Track: 'You Belong With Me (Taylor's Version)'
Not many artists can get away with committing to re-record the vast majority of their back catalogue, but then again not many artists are Taylor Swift. On the back of her long-running dispute with Scooter Braun, Taylor decreed that she would re-record every single song in the ownership of her previous record label Big Machine Records in order to prevent Braun from profiting off her work.
Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the first of these re-recordings to come out with classics such as ‘Love Story’ and ‘You Belong With Me’ getting the Taylor’s Version treatment alongside new(ish) bangers such as ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’. Even without looking at how ridiculously good the album is, the achievement alone of reconvening every band member and musical contributor to re-record their parts is monumental alone. Yet with Fearless (Taylor’s Version) not only has Swift managed to bring her old songs back to life and make them sound even more impressive than they did back in 2008, but she has managed to continue to blaze her own trail in an industry where so many artists get swallowed whole and end up with no say over what happens with their music. Taylor’s Versions reclaim these old songs and bring them back into Swift’s ownership with a brand new shine. Even if you don’t like Taylor Swift’s music, you have to admit that’s impressive. (Josh Williams)
MARINA - Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land
Key Track: 'Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land'
It really feels like Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land has something for everyone. MARINA has shown us a variety of sounds over the years and there’s a little bit of everything here – from bright, nostalgic '00s pop-rock to gentler piano ballads, as well as some excellent guitar work and songwriting that’s bolder than ever. What pulls all these elements together is a resolute sense of empowerment. With Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA could easily be stepping into the summer with the album of the year. (Vicky Greer)
Sons of Kemet - Black To The Future
Key Track: 'Hustle'
It’s difficult to articulate what makes Sons of Kemet’s newest album so good in a way that will do the project justice. It is essentially a testament to the history of jazz, rap and grime as all of these genres blend together to create some of the most chaotic and creative music of 2021. Upon a foundation of free jazz, Sons of Kemet use features from the likes of Kojey Radical and Joshua Idehen to layer this LP with deep lyricism, spoken word poetry and catchy hooks, whilst still not letting any of that overpower its jazz elements.
Listening to Black to the Future feels like a genuine experience and incredibly relevant, which is why there is no place it deserves to be more than on this list. (Dale Maplethorpe)
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More about: St VincentTaylor SwiftWolf AliceSquidblack midiGreentea PengCHAIOlivia RodrigoDu BlondeBROCKHAMPTONSons of KemetDry CleaningMARINA