It’s been a huge year for music in 2021, with many of the world’s heavyweight artists returning after a long time away to make their comeback and a load of new artists gave us their debut records for the first time. Here are The Tab’s choices for the 25 best albums of 2021:
25. Ashnikko // Demidevil
Ashnikk0’s debut record Demidevil followed up what was an excellent 2020 for her – a string of viral hits that made her an artist on everybody’s lips. With Demidevil, she created a short but sweet record that forgoes niceties for personality, audaciousness and flair. Every track on Demidevil has something exciting going on, with the excellent Cry, featuring Grimes, being the highlight.
24. Laura Mvula // Pink Noise
Laura Mvula has been in the biz for a while, but 2021 signalled her true arrival. Pink Noise is an absolute triumph, a main pop girl rebirth into 80s synth pop where her voice and talent can soar higher than they ever have before. There’s so much to love here – the snarling and popping Safe Passage, the Prince-esque title track, the bombastic hit Church Girl and the crowning centrepiece Got Me – Pink Noise is the Laura Mvula the world was waiting for.
23. Aly & AJ // A Touch Of The Beat Gets You Up On Your Feet Gets You Out And Then Into The Sun
Aly & AJ are that rare pop success story that break away from the Disney mold and successfully manage to make extremely great indie pop. Their recent EPs were laying to footwork for the ridiculously long titled A Touch Of The Beat – their first album in 14 years. The sisters blend synth sounds with a laidback California open road sound that made this an absolute essential for the summer, and easily one of the best albums of 2021.
22. Tinashe // 333
Tinashe was always a talented artist, but it was once she decided to go independent and self release her music that she truly became a superstar. 333 is her most exciting record yet – a record that flounces through genres with ease but never stops making you groove to its trackless. Whether she’s bouncing on Bouncin or coupling her verses with chants of “hey, hey, hey” on Pasadena, or taking you to pop heaven on the stunning Undo (Back To My Heart) – 333 is assurance that the best of Tinashe is always yet to come.
21. Yebba // Dawn
Yebba’s debut album is one that feels like it’s been arriving for a millennia – with so much hype centred around her clearly sensational vocals. It finally dropped in 2021, and it didn’t disappoint even slightly. Tracks like October Sky and Boomerang are amongst the best of the year, and it’s one of those 2021 albums that you can’t help but keep revisiting, letting her vocals grow into your comfort blanket.
20. Magdalena Bay // Mercurial World
Magdalena Bay arrived with their stunning debut so confidently you’d think they were on their eighth record of bangers. They’ve got a lengthy discography of mini EPs and singles, but with Mercurial World they make an arrival that jolts you out of your seat. The anthem You Lose, the swirling Chaeri, the 90s swaggering funk of Secrets (Your Fire) – there’s so much fun to be had here. The Miami synthpop duo absolutely crushed it here on one of the best albums of 2021.
19. St Vincent // Daddy’s Home
Annie Clark is a reinventor and an innovator, never more so on the woozy, 70s rock inspired Daddy’s Home – an album that feels nostalgic and postmodern simultaneously. Jack Antonoff and St Vincent come together nearly as greatly as they did on 2017’s outstanding MASSEduction – creating a rambling album bursting with personality and vigour. Pay Your Way In Pain is easily one of the best songs Annie has ever done.
18. Slayyyter // Troubled Paradise
Slayyyter followed up her wonderful debut self-titled mixtape in 2021 with Troubled Paradise – a hyperpop galaxy melting pot of genre, inspired by The Wizard of Oz and Gwen Stefani’s Love, Angel, Music, Baby. The result? An album that takes you on a rip-roaring ride of blowjobs, self destruction, cowboys, serial killers and soaring amongst the clouds. The record that establishes Catherine Slater as not only a hyperpop online enigma, but as a fully fledged pop star with the vocals to back it up.
17. Danny L Harle // Harlecore
Danny L Harle made a concept a vivid reality on Harlecore, a virtual club experience fronted by imaginary DJs Mayhem, Ocean and Danny himself. The result? The kind of album your older siblings got to go to iconic early 00s clubs and dance to – British dance at its most chaotic. It’s glorious, weird, and feels like the future and the recent past all in one. On A Mountain is an earth shattering epic, Boing Beat is back of the bus insanity, Take My Heart Away is clubland classical. AJ Cook might be the god of PC Music, but Danny L Harle will always be right beside him.
16. Doja Cat // Planet Her
Doja Cat saw huge success for her 2019 album Hot Pink in 2020 thanks to the success of Say So, and following it up with Planet Her nobody was disappointed. Kicking things off with the astounding and entrancing opener Woman, Doja lets you know from the off that its going to be a breezy album full of tropical beats, excellent bars and star quality like no one else.
15. Halsey // If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Halsey’s journey from annoying cursive vocal singer on her shambolic first album to incredibly exciting concept artist on If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is absolutely triumphant. This album, building on the rock stylings of her iconic song from 2019 Nightmare, sees her collaborating with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to make a weird rock album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and motherhood. The resulting record is clearly one of the best albums of 2021, a concept album accompanied by a horror film that shows Halsey off as a true artist and superstar. I Am Not A Woman, I’m A God is the thumping electro lead and every time I listen to it I feel like I’ve been injected with adrenaline. Superb.
14. Bo Burnham // Inside
Bo Burnham’s Netflix special that he created fully inside his house during the pandemic is a feat on its own, but couple that with the music being some of the most exciting of the year is what makes it a masterpiece. The jazzy intro on Content (“Daddy made you your favourite open wide” has me feeling some kind of way”), the viral hits Bezos I and II, the apocalyptic That Funny Feeling and the emotional crescendo of All Eyes On Me – the songs from Inside are a joy from this year that I’ve spent endless hours revisiting.
13. Jazmine Sullivan // Heaux Tales
Whilst technically an EP, Heaux Tales has been described as a concept album and has wangled Grammy noms in the albums category – with good reason. To call Heaux Tales an EP does it a disservice – it’s Jazmine Sullivan’s opus. It achieves that thanks to the work of the absolutely jaw dropping single Pick Up Your Feelings, the kind of R&B song that feels like you’ve known it your whole life the first time you listen to it. Heaux Tales’ reflection on feminism, body image, classism and sexuality make it one of the richest listens and best albums of 2021.
12. Faye Webster // I Know I’m Funny haha
I’d never listened to much Faye Webster before the iconic title of her fourth album I Know I’m Funny haha. The breezy haha and confidence had me hooked from the go – a country album that is filled with so much richness that I don’t think I’ve been so instantly enamoured with one since Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves. Better Distractions is an absolute dream, the title track perfectly psychedelic and single two In A Good Way sounds like the sun setting on the best holiday of your life. A wondrous record.
11. Lana Del Rey // Chemtrails Over The Country Club
How do you follow up Norman Fucking Rockwell!, arguably the most acclaimed album of the last decade and one widely considered to be Lana Del Rey’s magnum opus? With the quietly stunning Chemtrails, of course. A record already completely underrated by Lana fans – some of her best ever work can be found here. The title track is my personal most played song of the year, a swirling piece of cinema that feels like you’re in the grips of the tornado from its video. White Dress? Nobody but Lana could do that. Chemtrails is her soft, singer-songwriter record. Her flirtation with Joni (and dancing with Shaun!).
10. Arca // Kick ii, iii, iiii and iiiii
Arca releasing the next four parts of the Kick album series that she started with 2020’s Kick i over the space of one week in December is one that is entirely in keeping with her ethos and track record as an artist who refuses to play by any rules. All four chapters of Kick in 2021 do something different but feel like the next page of a book you know and love. Nobody is making music like this in the world right now, and if you haven’t listened you need to. Kick iiii, with the excellent Queer on it, stands tall as the greatest of the four records – but all are worth your time. The most unique releases and some of the best albums of 2021 by a mile.
9. Lil Nas X // Montero
Lil Nas X’s debut can only be described as a triumph. It’s a look into a world occupied by only him and his artistry, with the bops and bangers to back it up. Every track a delight, every song begging for a single release. The excellent Megan Thee Stallion assisted Dolla Sign Slime is an absolute highlight, and more collabs from the two in the future is not a want but a need. The rock tracks bang and the ballads like Sun Goes Down hit just the way they need to. On Montero, Lil Nas X doesn’t put a foot wrong and is probably the artist of the year even before he released one of the best albums of 2021.
8. Lorde // Solar Power
Solar Power is a polarising album, but one that I think is an absolute delight – the soundtrack to a hazy summer that’s nothing like any Lorde music before it. And that’s okay, in fact, it’s what makes Solar Power such a rich experience. The low, sassy intro on The Path, the George Michael Freedom 90-esque title track lead single, the bloody gorgeous Stoned At The Nail Salon, the satire of Mood Ring. There’s so much good to be found here, and the two new tracks Lorde added onto the deluxe version are truly some of the best. Ignore the mixed critical reception and soak in the rays.
7. Olivia Rodrigo // Sour
Sour is the most Taylor Swift album an album not released by Taylor Swift has ever sounded, and that’s what you get with an artist like Olivia Rodrigo who was raised listening to one of the best writers in music history. Sour is an outrageously good debut album, one for the ages, an iconic one like Billie Eilish’s 2019 debut that people will be reflecting on for years. Drivers License, a chart dominating breakup ballad put her on the map but it was Good 4 U that hammered home how much Olivia Rodrigo was here to stay. The deep cuts are just as good. Brutal is one hell of a thumping intro, all snarl and wit. Traitor is devastating, Happier a woozy tearjerker. More of this with album two please, we beg.
6. Wolf Alice // Blue Weekend
On their best ever album, Wolf Alice spend Blue Weekend constantly keeping you guessing. Blue Weekend is soft when it wants to be, screaming when it needs to be, but manages to impress at all times. Ellie Rowsell’s vocals have never sounded better, and god she does a lot with them. Surf rock, art pop, metal, riot grrrl punk – all of life is here. Blue Weekend is an album you want to sit with for days.
5. Clairo // Sling
On her second and best album, Claire Cottrill and Jack Antonoff got cosy in the woods and crafted a record that feels like the audio equivalent of a winter blanket. It’s so beautiful at all times – whether Clairo is merely cooing her way through some dreamy orchestration or whether she’s funking it up on the toetapping Amoeba. Sling is Clairo’s Folklore and Evermore moment, and its one I hope she keeps up with in future releases. It’s an album you just completely lose yourself in, and one of the best albums of 2021.
4. Adele // 30
With 30, Adele really had a body of work to back up how great of an artist she is. All Adele albums are good, but 30 is spectacular. It’s an open, no holding back divorce record that devastates as much as it impresses – the writing is heartbreaking and the vocals stratospheric. Easy On Me was a slight red herring, the most simple song on the album but one that is still excellent. But it’s when she switches things up that 30 takes on a reign of its own. Can I Get It and Oh My God are pop bangers, I Drink Wine is a momentous centrepiece and To Be Loved is the best song of her career. Sublime.
3. Self Esteem // Prioritise Pleasure
Rebecca Lucy Taylor showed the world who she really was with her second Self Esteem album, and it’s an absolute masterpiece from start to finish. So uniquely her, but so relatable in its empowerment and its reflections on heartbreak and toxic relationships. I Do This All The Time is in many ways the song of the year – an odyssey of spoken word and gospel vocal. The title track, with its iconic “Shave my pussy, that’s just for me” is sheer euphoria. Moody, a synth pop banger, opening with “Sexting you at the mental health talk seems counter productive” is just exemplary songwriting. A joy of a record from beginning to an end. Self Esteem is the future, and Prioritise Pleasure is one of the best albums of 2021.
2. Lana Del Rey // Blue Banisters
Lana’s second album of 2021 sits comfortably amongst the best albums of the year and her career. It’s completely left field, experimental, written often like strange diary entries and filled with wordy choruses that have no right working as well as they do. The title track sounds like a family home coming to life, Arcadia shapes Lana’s body into a geographical map of Los Angeles, Black Bathing Suit is a lockdown weight gain reflection that rings true for so many of us. The Miles Kane collab Dealer has a screamed chorus that’s completely jarring but fascinating – and Living Legend features Lana wah wah wahing along like a guitar riff to the instrumental. It’s not an album that’s an easy listen for everyone, but it’s a stunning body of work from an artist who never fails to wow.
1. Billie Eilish // Happier Than Ever
I thought I knew everything when it came to Billie Eilish, but Happier Than Ever told me to shut my mouth. Every track on Billie’s second album feels impressive and exciting, a risk taken, a thoughtful and calculated move made. The opening track leads you in with a hand holding, sounding not unlike tracks from Lily Allen’s No Shame, before switching it up with the pig snorting intro to I Didn’t Change My Number. Billie Bossa Nova flips the record on its head once again – a seductive sway to the dance floor that gets shattered by the filthy and pulsing Oxytocin.
The album ramps up, adding great to greatness, before hitting its crescendo with Happier Than Ever, the biggest and most surprising song Billie has ever dropped. The shakeup at the midpoint of that song will leave jaws on the ground for the rest of time. For Billie Eilish, the only way continues to be up
Listen to the Spotify playlist of our best songs of 2021 here.
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• Presenting the 40 best songs of 2021 – the soundtrack to a chaotic year
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