10 New Albums to Hear in 2021


Sam Coll, Music Columnist

2021 has already been a crazy year already. With so much going on, it’s easy to forget about the great music that’s already been released this year.

From what I’ve heard so far, I’ve compiled a list of ten records that you need to hear going into this new year (as of 2/12/21).

1.”Sound Ancestors” (electronic/experimental) – Madlib and Four Tet:

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The 22nd LP from the legendary producer, Madlib’s latest project does not disappoint. UK producer Four Tet is remembered by fans mostly for his excellent remix of the 2004 album by Madlib and rapper MF Doom “Madvillainy.” “Sound Ancestors” is a beat-driven trip through the many influences of the two producers. Their sampling choices range from Latin to jazz, to reggae, to traditional African music, and represent a vast history of art that has inspired the prolific careers of both Madlib and Four Tet. The album is not set entirely in the past, however. Modern-themed tracks like “The New Normal” and “Hang Out (Phone Off)” make reference to the problems of today’s world and incorporate more modern influences. These tracks heighten the relevancy of the project despite “Sound Ancestors” being a years-long collaboration between the two artists. In all, this album is a must-listen for rap fans looking to understand the influences of two of the most creative producers of all time.


2. “Heaux Tales” (R&B/soul) – Jazmine Sullivan

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Her first album in six years, Jazmine Sullivan truly shows her full artistic range on this new project. The tracks center around the recurring theme of Sullivan trying to reclaim her sexuality while maintaining emotional vulnerability. The album however does not play into the typical roles of “good girl/bad girl” that are so often enforced by patriarchal views. Rather it destroys this dichotomy by suggesting that women can be both. 8 tracks explore this struggle, glued together by candid “tales” of women similar to Sullivan sharing her struggle. While this may seem heavy, the album manages an uplifting tone and a positive message that is bound to leave listeners feeling empowered. 



3. “Two Saviors” (indie/folk) – Buck Meek

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A follow-up to his self-titled 2018 project, “Two Saviors” shows great emotional growth from Meek while retaining the best parts of his indie-folk sound. His 2018 divorce from indie rock band Big Thief’s frontman, Adrianne Lekner left a lasting appreciation for his former partner. It is this love and appreciation that fuels this latest project. These emotions manifest as a soft, sweet sound that is beautiful despite its imperfections. Meek’s lyrics and vocals have the authenticity of a love letter as every voice crack and vocal “mistake” only plays further into the notion that he is truly pouring his heart out on every track. This raw, emotional project is perfect for Valentine’s Day!



4. “OK Human” (alternative/orchestral) – Weezer

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Despite Frontman River Cuomo’s claim that he “knew this day was coming,” I don’t think that fans could have predicted the final product of Weezer’s latest studio album. The project comes as a long-awaited response to Radiohead’s 1997 masterpiece “OK Computer.” “OK Computer” was made in reaction to the increasingly digital world that frightened Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in the ’90s. The album was made with heavy electronic influences and portrayed a vision of a world overrun with technology. Nearly 25 years later, “OK Human” conveys a similar and yet opposite message. Weezer used no digital sounds on this album, they used no electric guitars, they didn’t even use a click track. Instead, the band opted to rely on a 38-piece orchestra to give a more natural or “human” feel to the LP. Where “OK Computer” warns of a digitized future and sees mankind relying on machines more than ever, “OK Human” looks at our present, where we are more entangled in technology than we’ve ever been, and seeks to pull us back to a more natural way of living. While it has so far failed in this endeavor, the concept remains admirable, and it creates an adequate companion to “OK Computer.” 

5. “Narrow Sea” (classical/folk) – Caroline Shaw

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A modern, and at times unorthodox take on classical folk songs and hymns, Caroline Shaw’s latest collection is a whimsical experience. The beautiful sounds showcased on this project give the effect of a stream of water, flowing through the five sections of a sonic journey. Beauty is really the best word for what Shaw has produced. She crafts a soundscape that has depth but doesn’t feel too heavy. Listeners can lose themselves in the dips and swells of the percussion quartet, the vocal delivery of Dawn Upshaw, and the comforting piano accompaniment by Gilbert Kalish. The work as a whole feels like a cohesive experience, filled with all the whimsy of a fairy tale.



6. “For the First Time” (post-punk/alternative) – Black Country, New Road

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Certainly, a fresh sound, Black Country, New Road manages to imbue the gloomy, Slint-esque sound of the post-rock genre with a youthful twist. The record is far lighter and more playful than other post-punk hits like Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures.”Black Country, New Road’s sound, driven by Isaac Wood’s wavering, operatic vocals, and filled in with a wealth of unique instruments, seems to breathe new life into post-rock, a genre that has been dying since the early 2010s. Despite its more modern tones, “For the First Time ” is a great place to get started in the worlds of both post-punk and post-rock. That said, new listeners may want to start with a more approachable cut, like the track “Sunglasses.”



7. “Revolutionary Love” (folk/jazz) – Ani DiFranco

Album CoversIt takes a special kind of love to overcome the year that was 2020, and the year that 2021 has turned out to be so far. This “Revolutionary” type of love is the sole focus of Ani DiFranco’s 22nd studio album. Looking at a world filled with revolution, turmoil, and pain, DiFranco advocates for an almost aggressive type of love, strong enough to overpower all the hate in the world. The concept seems ambitious at best, ludicrous even, in today’s world, but DiFranco backs up her ideas with a masterful production. A myriad of influences from folk, to jazz, to even orchestral sounds back DiFranco’s vocal delivery, which comes across as crystal clear and entrancingly deep. Those who feel overwhelmed by the hate in the world can turn to this project for a refreshing taste of the revolutionary love that Ani DiFranco is spreading,


8. “Collapsed in Sunbeams” (R&B/soul) – Arlo Parks

Album CoversThe second excellent R&B album on this list, Arlo Parks truly hits a home-run with her first studio LP. The record conveys a great sadness and world-weariness but doesn’t ever feel too heavy or dark. The balance is reflected in the name of the project. “Collapsed in Sunbeams” is a celebration of the light that can be found in collapse. The collapse of society and collapse of oneself have unfortunately become increasingly relatable in 2021. Parks showcases the beauty that she’s found in a collapsed world through a sound that is almost hypnotic in its soulfulness. 



9. “Drunk Tank Pink” (punk/alternative) – shame

Album CoversWhat starts with all the heat and roughness of 80’s punk bands like Agent Orange soon turns to a more mellow, even experimental sound on shame’s second studio album. Despite its creative freedom, the project is darker and more introspective in its exploration of the concepts presented in shame’s 2018 LP, “Songs of Praise.” Even while new sounds are being introduced to shame’s arsenal, quiet, slow moments on the album remind listeners of the growth that this band has gone through in finding their sound. The sheer diversity of influences that shame can pull under the “punk” umbrella makes this album worth a listen.



10. “Dead Hand Control” (alternative/electronic) – Baio

Album CoversLast but not least, Vampire Weekend bassist, Chris Baio’s side project released their fourth studio album this year. Those familiar with the sound of Vampire Weekend will surely recognize the Afro-pop influences ingrained in the sound of Baio’s indie-pop. Inventive and fresh, “Dead Hand Control” is perfect for anyone looking for a synth-heavy pop record that at times even hearkens back to electronic sounds of the ’80s.

Honorable Mentions:

“Blame Game” – Beach Bunny 

The Chicago indie surf-pop group truly settles into their own sound with this quick but catchy pop-punk EP.

“Demidevil” – Ashnikko

On her debut mixtape, Ashnikko finds a surprising balance between the darkness in her life, and the bright, poppy sound that garnered her notability in the first place. 

“Dangerous” – Morgan Wallen

Fans should research Wallen’s past and current controversies before diving into his ambitious country double album.

“Nobody is Listening” – ZAYN

The former One Direction member takes his sound to new places with an obvious R&B influence but fails to deliver a level of depth on this pop project.

“New Fragility” – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

An album not fully released yet, “New Fragility” offers a polished alternative rock sound. Catchy tracks and truly emotional vocal delivery should leave fans wanting more. The full album releases today.