The 15 Best Albums of 2021 - Men's Health Magazine Australia

The 15 Best Albums of 2021

Our favorite music from the year that was.

2021 was an odd year, wasn’t it?

Not “odd” in the bizarre sense or “odd” in the cataclysmic sense, but “odd” in the disbelief sense. 2021 felt like it contained as many moments of hope, joy, and peace as it did despair, frustration, and fear.

Our list of the best albums of 2021 reflects that, we hope. There’s the pain of loss, but also the freedom of independence. There’s the rage of forces outside our control, but also the acceptance of the small moments in our lives. And then there’s also the music that screams ENOUGH OF ALL THAT LET’S JUST DANCE.

There were exactly 235 albums that didn’t make this list (approximately), but because 2021 was such a complicated year, we kept it simple. Here are the 15 best.


15. Fuubutsushi — Setsubun

Even though the band members live in three different states, Fuubutsushi records the music together virtually, and despite that geographical challenge, the band made threealbums this year. Setsubun, the frontrunner from their all-excellent trilogy of concept albums about the seasons, focuses on winter, but also plays well whenever. They sound like doing a crossword puzzle in bed: relaxed, yet contemplative.


14. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra — Promises

Take any of the individual components from this collaboration on their own and you’re in for a treat. But bring together a world-class producer, legendary saxophonist, and world-renowned symphony for this 46-minute record and it’s closer to a religious experience. If you’re the crate-digging type, a project like Promisespushes you to research all the precursors and inspirations underpinning this composition. Beyond the grand ambition, it’s easy to lose yourself in the virtuosic playing of a master, serving as a late-career milestone for the inimitable Sanders.


13. Maxo Kream — WEIGHT OF THE WORLD

When was the last hip-hop album that made you tear up? (And, no, not Donda, due to sheer disappointment.)

Maxo Kream, in his powerfully personal WEIGHT OF THE WORLDproduces a triplicate of songs that tug at the heartstrings and yank at the tear ducts. “CRIPSTIAN” sets the emotional tone as the opener, Maxo spends the next 12 tracks building up his backstory, and then hits you with the one-two punch of “MAMA’S PURSE” and “TRIPS.”


12. Lingua Ignota — SINNER GET READY

How do you follow up an album where you invoked the power of Satan to fortify songs about the terrors of domestic violence? If you’re Kristin Hayter, you move deep into Appalachian Pennsylvania, learn the banjo and cello, and immerse yourself in a concept album about the evils of religion gone awry.

SINNER GET READY will terrorize you from the first haunting buzzy synths of its opener to the murderous “IT IS I WHO BENDS THE TALL GRASS” to the first chill-inducing lines of “MANY HANDS.” They’re not the good kind of chills, either—more like the shiiiiiiit-what’s-about-to-happen-next chills of a good horror movie.


11. Flock of Dimes — Head of Roses

Great art devastates and as Flock of Dimes, Jenn Wasner displays her mastery of devastation. The record is an exercise in extremes, encompassing both ecstatic, distortion-drenched breakdowns and delicate, sparsely produced balladry.

But that variety doesn’t jerk you around—Wasner understands tension and release better than most other songwriters working today. You’re enveloped in sound and held rapt by Wasner’s rich and textured vocal delivery, acutely absorbing every regret, heartbreak, and moment of joy along the way.


10. Cassandra Jenkins — An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Sometimes an album transcends being a mere compendium of songs. This record from New York artist Cassandra Jenkins is more of a trip, but one where you’re less focused on the destination than simply allowing yourself to enjoy the journey.

One of the album’s most endearing qualities is Jenkins’ ability through her songwriting to make specificity seem universal. She’s created a record that feels both at home in the pandemic era with its ruminations on grief and isolation, as well as untethered from any current moment. It’s expansive, spiritual, and unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.


9. serpentwithfeet — Deacon

There’s a sensuality that only Josiah Wise seems able to capture as serpentwithfeet. There’s gospel, there’s synths, there’s groove, but each beat feels infused with eroticism, lust, and romantic love. The best moments are when the lush production takes a backseat to Wise’s soulful vocals, reeling you in with sultry precision.

8. Brandi Carlile — In These Silent Days

After a streak of excellence that not only includes her solo work, but also collaborations with artists like Tanya Tucker and the members of her supergroup the Highwomen, expectations couldn’t have been higher for Carlile’s most recent album. But she was able to surpass those expectations with panache, excelling with burn-the-house-down ballads like “Right on Time” and as a rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse on tunes like “Broken Horses.” As a songwriter’s songwriter and a singer’s singer, Carlile’s working with all the tools in her tool belt—and we’re all better for it.


7. Yasmin Williams — Urban Driftwood

For an album recorded during the lockdown stages of Covid-19, Urban Driftwood may just be the most freeing album of the year. Each track is vibrant and rich, glass-half-full meditations that leave you feeling like the world is a grand a wondrous place. It’s all instrumental—guitar, with a lil kora, kalimba, cello, and hand drums thrown in—and it’s all so, so good.

6. For Those I Love — For Those I Love

After musician David Balfe’s best friend, Paul Curran, took his own in 2018, Balfe began to work on what would eventually become this 9-song ode. The album is about deep loss, yes, but also growing up, and recklessness, and connection—all spoken word and set to wildly danceable beats. If there’s a single it’s “Birthday/The Pain,” but the album is best experienced as one gutting whole.

5. Tyler, The Creator — CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

With CMIYGL, Tyler Okonma cements his legacy as his generation’s David Bowie, channeling his artistry through his latest enigmatic alter ego—Tyler Baudelaire—and elevating his craft to a place where genre seems irrelevant. Sure, he raps (“MASSA” is a career standout), but it feels woefully inadequate to label this solely as a hip-hop album. It’s a whole damn vibe, start to finish, replete with guest appearances, thoughtful sequencing, and first-rate production that has you hitting the play button to start it all over again as soon as the record reaches its conclusion.


4. Katy Kirby — Cool Dry Place

This Texan’s debut is a too-short, awfully sweet collection of songs that ping-pong around heart-aching (“Portals”) to giggle-inducing (“Traffic!” and “Fireman”) to fist-shaking (“Cool Dry Place”). The whole album sounds like it was recorded in someplace very peaceful, which makes Kirby’s voice sound almost reverent in places, and refreshing to those who have suffered (another) weary year.


3. Turnstile — GLOW ON

Open up the damn pit. In the drudgery and claustrophobia of pandemic living, you may have begun to forget what it’s like to commune in physical spaces with sweaty, moshing compatriots. The Baltimore band’s third studio album bottles up that feeling and unleashes it upon the listener in the form of raw energy and passion.

At just a shade over a half-hour, this collection of 15 songs is urgent and lean without sacrificing depth and substance. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a well-earned holiday, this record takes you far, far away from your present circumstances.


2. Lucy Dacus — Home Video

“In the summer of ’07, I was sure I’d go to heaven/But I was hedging my bets at VBS.” It’s songwriting like this, coupled with energetic, vibrant performances, that makes Lucy Dacus’ latest album such a towering triumph. Songs like “Triple Dog Dare” and “Thumbs” imprint themselves on your consciousness, and you carry them around like the memories Dacus has used as fuel for creative expression. It’s her best record so far, and that’s truly saying something.


1. Japanese Breakfast — Jubilee

Infectiously catchy pop single? Check. Confessional, conversational lyricism? Check. A song that produced and unforgettable music video featuring Michael Imperioli? CHECK. Michelle Zauner’s third album builds a world filled with joy, lust, and mystery that only gets more interesting and layered with each new listen. It offers something for everyone without veering into people-pleasing populism, and it might not even be Zauner’s most impressive artistic achievement of 2021. All that’s to say: Japanese Breakfast remains a force to be reckoned with.


This article was originally published on

By Nikolina Ilic

Nikolina is the former Digital Editor at Men's Health Australia, responsible for all things social media and .com. A lover of boxing, she has written for Women's Health, esquire, GQ and Vogue magazine.

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