Exclaim!'s 50 Best Albums of 2021

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 1, 2021

After 2020's many delays and cancellations, 2021 was a year of blockbusters. Pop superstars returned after several years of silence, the world's biggest rappers went head to head, and rock icons continued their historic runs.

And yet, most of those huge albums didn't make our year-end list. Instead, the best albums of 2021 were more of a mixed bag: surprising debuts from new talent, the career pinnacle of a beloved Canadian indie songwriter, and rising rappers whose artistry reached new heights. No one could have predicted the events of 2021 — so it's only fitting that the best albums of the year are just as unexpected.

Scroll down for Exclaim!'s top albums of 2021.

50. Rochelle Jordan
Play with the Changes
(Royal Mountain)

It may have taken years for Rochelle Jordan to finally unleash her debut album, but all that anticipation paid off with the results. Play with the Changes is a testament to Jordan's eclectic tastes anchored by her measured vocals, always pitch perfect and never showy. Alongside her core producer trio of KLSH, Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, Jordan travels through genres — many embedded in UK dance culture — without ever sounding like a visitor.
Scott Simpson

49. Dry Cleaning
New Long Leg

This was the year that everything came apart. Florence Shaw, unblinking in the eye of the storm, gave words to that unraveling. In the crabwise post-punk of Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg, every simple thing is shredded and stuck back together in unwieldy patterns, gummy with glue and heavy with possibility. The exact meaning of Shaw's papier-mâché of mundanity is rarely clear, but the record's great gift is that it invites you to find your own.
Kaelen Bell 

48. PinkPantheress
to hell with it

On PinkPantheress's debut, to hell with it, she nearly perfects the art of making short songs ideal for the TikTok generation. Across 10 bite-sized tracks, she infuses UK garage music with modern R&B soundscapes to make an album that's both sticky and intimate. She sings with a tenderness that's never outmatched by the speed at which each song ends. Songs like "Passion" and "Nineteen" barely edge out the two-minute mark but evoke more emotion than many other than her pop contemporaries.
Louis Pavlakos

47. Ducks Ltd.
Modern Fiction
(Royal Mountain)

Few albums this year sound as buoyant without verging into ignorance as Modern Fiction. Toronto jangle-pop duo Ducks Ltd. aren't afraid to dig into murky emotions — "I'm dumb as shit, yet I persist," sings Tom McGreevy during opening number "How Lonely Are You" — but the upbeat, guitar-driven arrangements turn disappointment and isolation into springboards for growth. Striding knee-deep into life's many frustrations with smiles on their faces, Ducks Ltd. use engaging songwriting as a means to keep moving forward, couching each morose sentiment in plenty of charm.
Matt Bobkin

46. Illuminati Hotties
Let Me Do One More
(Snack Shack Tracks)

Crackling with energy and caustic humour, the second official album from LA's Illuminati Hotties is full of great songs, but mostly it's full of the hilariously charismatic Sarah Tudzin, who delivers plenty of memorable vocal performances. The product of a fresh start after a period of label woes, the feeling of joyful renewal on this album is palpable — and relatable; we've all had our label woes lately.
Luke Pearson

45. Yu Su
Yellow River Blue
(bié/Music from Memory)

Yu Su's debut LP takes its name from the world's most sediment-laden river, also known as "The Cradle of Chinese Civilization," which has devastated cities like her hometown, Kaifeng, with fatal floods. Lacing dubby, dewy techno prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, luminous pop and menacing clatter with traditional Chinese instruments like the pipa, Yellow River Blue taps into the calm and strife of life while expressing Yu Su's anxieties about her dual identity as a Chinese national who's lived in Vancouver for nine years.
Leslie Ken Chu

44. Shad
(Secret City)

Like few others, Shad continues to be a rapper who can make you think deeply and laugh hard within the same verse. On TAO, he surveys the decline of Western civilization, which is so mired in distractions of our own making, our bloodshot eyes have long lost sight of the prize. And yet, Shad still mines hope and humour from our collective malaise, and frames his observations within a stunning, energetic hip-hop expression.
Vish Khanna

43. Thierry Larose
(Bravo Musique)

Thierry Larose's debut album is gloriously lush and eclectic, with roaring guitar and sweeping orchestral arrangements that create a vibrant, varied, cohesive soundscape. Paired with Larose's throaty voice, the songs create a sense of bittersweet joy that feels nostalgic, making it wonderfully unsurprising how Larose finds songwriting inspiration in the romanticism of Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. As we continue to navigate collective uncertainty, there's something deeply comforting about an album like Cantalou that incites that special sensation of warmth and goodness while still being electrifyingly fresh. 
Yasmine Shemesh

42. The Armed
(Sargent House)

In the world of the Armed, everything is one giant art project. But as ULTRAPOP makes clear, the mystery behind revolving band members, farcical videos and legendary live shows comes secondary to what they've managed to lay down on wax. Pushing together prancing guitars, metalcore drums, harmonious vocals and layered synths, the Detroit band deconstruct what hardcore means in 2021 — it may even make you question why you ever cared what it meant in the first place.
Daniel Sylvester

41. The Zolas
Come Back to Life
(Light Organ)

On their fourth LP, the Vancouver trio feel the compression in their infectious, rib-sharp hooks: end-weighted lines steeped in pop culture quips and sociopolitical commentary (from governmental abuse of First Nations communities and the HIV epidemic to the climate crisis and wealth disparity), revealing themselves anew with continued attention. Britpop nostalgia finds modern urgency in eclectic, lurid textures alchemized from '90s cult classics — and not a frame is wasted, unspooling both timely and timeless.
Megan LaPierre

Click "Next" to continue reading.40. Big Brave
(Southern Lord)

The unbearable weight of racial and gendered violence comes crashing down on Big Brave's fifth album, Vital. Shockwaves of drone ring out from the fission of titanic, head-splitting metal riffs. In rare moments, the Montreal trio sink into pure, wary silence. But the dreadful quietude offers no repose; it's a suctioning silence that swallows everything around it. Vital is living, breathing, raging — essential listening for these destabilized times of upheaval.
Leslie Ken Chu

39. Nas
King's Disease II
(Mass Appeal)

Following in the footsteps of its Grammy Award-winning precursor, King's Disease II sees legendary rapper Nas collaborate with acclaimed producer Hit-Boy for an elegant sequel. Nas's lyrical maturation, accompanied by Hit-Boy's sophisticated production, proves an excellent formula that has heartened the Queensbridge native's songwriting. The 48-year-old entrepreneur calculatedly raps about his personal development, his savvy business ventures, and African history. It's an eclectic body of work that continues to breathe new life into the lungs of Nas's lauded career. 
Papa Minnow

38. Faye Webster
I Know I'm Funny haha
(Secretly Canadian)

The New York Times called "languishing" the dominant emotion of 2021, and that sense of listless aimlessness is the driving force behind the unhurried, lounge-y mood of Faye Webster's fourth album. Pedal steel lingers like dense, humid air as the actually-funny 24-year-old Atlanta singer-songwriter molds observational humour and devastating revelations from the complexities of that blunted emotion into her most direct R&B-infused alt-country yet — an irony worth the want for crying (in a good way).
Megan LaPierre

37. Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Life After
(Distorted Muse)

Snotty Nose Rez Kids' fourth full-length album sees Darren Metz and Quinton Nyce reclaim power and pride in the wake of crisis. On Life After, the Haisla duo grapple with themes of kinship, intergenerational trauma, pandemic disillusionment and spiritual resilience in a voice refined by total self-assuredness. Sonically, it's their most contemporary work yet, as they embrace synth-driven soundscapes and gritty, futuristic production. The pair deliver uncompromising confidence, asserting what it means to be a warrior with bold vulnerability.
Safiya Hopfe

36. Arooj Aftab
Vulture Prince
(New Amsterdam)

Although Arooj Aftab draws from diverse influences on Vulture Prince, there's only one way to describe her music: arresting. The Pakistan-born, Brooklyn-based musician crafts shimmering, emotionally detailed songs that demand your undivided attention. Her exhaled vocals float among intricate and patient strings, drawing comparisons to artists like Sigur Rós and Alice Coltrane only in the sense that they come off so alien and affecting simultaneously. Vulture Prince may be delicate, but it's far from easy listening.
Daniel Sylvester

35. Men I Trust
Untourable Album

The Untourable Album is being toured: nature is healing. Montreal's Men I Trust return to the airwaves, as well as the stage, with some of their most atmospheric material to date. Written during the pandemic lockdown, the trio of Jessy Caron, Dragos Chiriac and Emmanuelle Proulx gave themselves over to exploring new soundscapes without the expectations of live performances. The result is an incredibly lush and intimate venture, akin to being soothingly swaddled to sleep by distant relatives of Boards of Canada, bound to delight in-person audiences.
Dylan Barnabe

34. Emanuel
Alt Therapy

London, ON-raised R&B singer Emanuel has one of those "could sing the phonebook" voices that sounds passionate and soulful no matter what he's singing. So even when he describes drug-fuelled hedonism on "Addiction" or fantasizes about fame on "Worldwide," it's practically heartbreaking. His buttery voice — combined with spacious, organic production full of resonant pianos and reverb-soaked guitars (evoking Frank Ocean's Blonde) — makes Alt Therapy 2021's ultimate slow jam experience.
Alex Hudson

33. Le Ren
(Royal Mountain)

Montreal's Lauren Spear bottles feelings and moments on Leftovers, a 10-track exploration of all the ways that love takes shape. Arresting vocals and stripped-down arrangements allow Spear's stunning lyricism to shine, especially on ode to her mother "Dyan," the painfully personal "Your Cup" and album closer "May Hard Times Pass Us By." Demure and poignant, the collection is humbly stitched together with delicate care by Spear, who joins the ranks of folk music's greatest on this breathtaking debut.
Allie Gregory

32. Lingua Ignota
Sinner Get Ready
(Sargent House)

Lingua Ignota's 2021 album is her most vital, experimental and somehow accessible record to date. No longer content to dwell squarely in the sphere of "noise" music, on Sinner Get Ready she weaves traditional worship music as her weapon of choice to undo trauma caused by traditional worship. There are harried, fraying vocals, but they never rise to the roar of earlier albums. Instead, discordance and harmony wax and wane as songs drift between pleas and pledges to some unseen higher power. 
Anthony Boire

31. Lana Del Rey
Blue Banisters
(Interscope / Polydor)

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey is legendary for her vintage tunes and Old Hollywood glam — but as much as her music, her enigmatic persona has inspired controversy over the course of her career. Across her eighth studio album, she slowly sheds the layers of her persona to offer glimpses of her most authentic self. A rawer sound emerges, replete with stripped-down vocals and mournful piano ballads.
Haley Bentham

Click "Next" to continue reading.30. Brand of Sacrifice
(Unique Leader)

While Brand of Sacrifice was originally started as an anime-themed side project, the Toronto band's sophomore effort made them the talk of the metal world and launched them to the forefront of the deathcore revival practically overnight. While deathcore has previously struggled to be taken seriously amongst other subsets of extreme metal music, Lifeblood proves that the genre can be every bit as fast, heavy and violent as any other extreme metal style.
Manus Hopkins

29. Lorde
Solar Power 

While some lamented how Solar Power departs from the wry melancholia that previously characterized Lorde's work, the album's unabashed optimism is its greatest strength. It's reflective of a young woman maturing, personally and artistically, delighting in newfound inspiration — in this case, the hopeful rhythms of the natural world. Understated, breezy, sun-kissed melodies mine fame ("California"), love ("Big Star") and home ("Oceanic Feeling"), together revealing real poignance beneath the luminous surface, a reminder to find bliss in the simple beauty of the world around us. 
Yasmine Shemesh 

28. Vince Staples
Vince Staples
(Blacksmith / Motown)

Vince Staples is consistent yet always manages to keep listeners guessing. On his self-titled record, the rapper offers a glimpse into his personal life through revisiting motifs that have lingered throughout his discography. Staples pays homage to the Ramona Park neighbourhood he grew up in through clever and matter-of-fact bars, squeezing in his unique sense of humour. At 22 minutes, the album — much like the summer season the album was released in — leaves listeners wanting more.
Sun Noor

27. Lucy Dacus
Home Video

In Home Video, singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus gives listeners a look through a viewfinder to her past. She reminisces on first loves ("Going Going Gone"), past friendships ("Christine") and teenage rebellion ("First Time") with maturity. Each song on the album feels like a curated vignette of a cherished memory, where Dacus looks back with nostalgia for her childhood years, forgiveness for her younger self for making mistakes, and relief that she's been able to move on and the past has stayed there.
Karen K. Tran

26. black midi
(Rough Trade)

After a debut like Schlagenheim, the follow-up will have expectations. Luckily, black midi don't care about that. On their sophomore LP, the young UK group use bold experimentation and dynamic instrumentation to craft an otherworldly, insular realm of beauty and nightmare, with startling corners and hidden gems weaved through jazz fusion, avant-prog and other offbeat styles. Melding the old and new, visceral and cerebral, and dazzling and weird with flair well beyond their years, Cavalcade is a new touchstone for adventurous modern rock.
Chris Bryson

25. Mach-Hommy
Pray for Haiti

Very few rappers have cultivated the same level of reverence as Mach-Hommy has over the last decade, and Pray for Haiti showcases exactly why. The project is filled to the brim with immaculately crafted rhyme schemes, as Mach delivers abstract and awe-inducing bars over an extremely skeletal, murky and jazzy soundscape that marries perfectly with his effortless, laidback flow. This is a masterful effort that solidifies Mach as one of his generation's great lyricists.
Wesley McLean

24. Dorothea Paas
Anything Can't Happen
(Telephone Explosion)

Anything Can't Happen is Dorothea Paas's debut album, not that you could tell from the maturity and complexity on display. Each song manages a tightrope walk between emotional vulnerability and imaginative production. The title track closes with the lyric "Anything can happen / At any time," which reflects on the many uncertainties we all face in our lives, as well as the thrilling feeling one may get listening to Paas's dreamy, ruminative folk songs. 
Nicholas Sokic

23. Charlotte Day Wilson 

When piano ballad "Strangers" begins on Charlotte Day Wilson's ALPHA, listeners are brought into an emotional world of lost queer love. ALPHA is the Toronto-based R&B singer's debut album, but Day Wilson has been releasing solo music since 2016. ALPHA is a well-constructed sonic escape, as Day Wilson finds warmth and solace in the darkness. With elements like a finger-picked guitar ("Lovesick Utopia") and a gospel choir ("Mountains"), the passion oozes out of her voice on each track, as she stays front and centre throughout the album's runtime. 
Heather Taylor-Singh

22. Squid
Bright Green Field

You can't take your ears off Squid for one second, lest they completely switch the track up on a dime. Thanks to technically impressive musicianship and boundless creativity, the UK post-punk quintet continue to blow song structures wide open on debut album Bright Green Field. And above all, in comparison to their largely tortured and morose peers, they sound like they're having a blast doing it, with enough conviction to make Ollie Judge's Fred Schneider-esque sprechgesang come off as undeniably cool.
Matt Bobkin

21. Spirit of the Beehive
(Saddle Creek)

The latest metamorphosis of Spirit of the Beehive departs from their Philadelphia scenester roots while keeping enough at hand to stay grounded. Ever redefining where a track ends and starts, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH fastens together samples of blasts, rattles and glitches to various structures. The ebbs and flows of this extravagant aura tie together nods to shoegaze, punk and electronic music with grotesque processing, evoking the melancholia of a dead mall.
Sydney Brasil

Click "Next" to continue reading.20. Japanese Breakfast
(Dead Oceans)

It's been a banner year for Michelle Zauner, a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast. The past 12 months saw the release of best-selling memoir Crying at H Mart, debut video game score Sable, and third LP Jubilee. As its name suggests, the indie rock album is a joyous celebration of life's ups and downs. Zauner wonders aloud in opening track "Paprika," "How's it feel to be at the centre of magic / To linger in tones and words?" Jubilee is her modest, yet triumphant answer.
Karen K. Tran

Talk Memory

Slow swooning flute, heartfelt piano and careening guitar help Toronto jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD speak volumes with the vocalist-free Talk Memory. Unlike their famed Ghostface Killah and MF DOOM collaborations, Talk Memory features the likes of, say, veteran Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai, whose graceful strings on four tracks instantly clarify why he is one of BADBADNOTGOOD's key influences. And with nary a lyricist in sight this go-around, BADBADNOTGOOD are free to poetically play their most heartstring-wrenching songs yet. 
Kyle Mullin 

18. Low
(Sub Pop)

HEY WHAT, Low's third consecutive album with producer BJ Burton, sounds unlike any other release this year. The experiments in distortion are once again foundational, but sound much less bleak or sparse compared to those of 2018's Double Negative. Rather, HEY WHAT is its musical and emotional foil, a record of resolve that can crush with towering walls of overdriven guitar, or carry listeners into the unknown on the infallible harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.
Calum Slingerland

17. Turnstile

On the surface, Turnstile's third album is a lot of things: a boundary-pushing hardcore record, a mainstream breakthrough, and a middle finger to scene gatekeepers. At the heart of its chugging groove, frenetic beats, and subtle pop and R&B flourishes, GLOW ON is a celebration of love, life, friendship, community and the kind of catharsis only music can deliver. 
Ian Gormely

16. DijahSB
Head Above the Waters 

Treading over dark depths sounds less like a struggle than a celebration on Head Above the Waters. Instead of woe, mental health-conscious Toronto MC DijahSB remains defiant on "Throw That Back," and triumphant on "Moving with the Tides," spitting on the latter, "It feels good to be alive." All that is bolstered by their ear for galvanizing grooves from producers like Cheap Limousine and Harrison. This isn't merely an album, but also a lyrically heartfelt lifeline.
Kyle Mullin

15. Mdou Moctar
Afrique Victime

Sometimes, difficult situations enable art to emerge in its truest and rawest form. This was the case for Mdou Moctar's stunning Afrique Victime, which was mostly produced amid extremist attacks taking place in his hometown of Agadez, Niger. The prolific Tuareg guitarist presents a collection of intricate and poetic songs that weigh in on various topics from love to revolution and fuses frenetic guitar shredding with live field recordings, poetic chants and takamba.
Sun Noor

14. The War on Drugs
I Don't Live Here Anymore

The War on Drugs have transitioned from Bob Dylan-influenced shoegaze to a more accessible and refined sound, developing what can only be described as the gold standard of modern-day guitar rock. I Don't Live Here Anymore furthers their commitment to mind-bending guitar solos and lyrical sincerity. Bandleader Adam Granduciel's vision remains obsessive, finessing the smallest sonic details until they coalesce into nothing less than transcendence.
Myles Tiessen

13. Julien Baker 
Little Oblivions

Little Oblivions marks the start of a dynamic and powerful new chapter for Julien Baker. Not only has she reimagined her sparse, heart-wrenching sound with richly layered full band arrangements, Baker's devastating confessions cut even deeper as she articulates her struggles of accepting forgiveness and second chances amid lingering self-doubt and impulses of harmful behaviour. On her third album, Baker is unflinchingly critical of herself — but with her brightly expanded sonic palette, there is a welcoming streak that loudly calls out for others to share in her experiences.
Chris Gee

12. Cassandra Jenkins
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
(Ba Da Bing!)

The second album from Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Cassandra Jenkins is a breakthrough work of dreamy Americana that's made to awaken the mind and enliven the soul. Beautifully blending old-world and new-age instrumentation along with Jenkins's hushed, weightless voice, the music floats gently along like a cloud. Taking an approach between realism and impressionism, it's rich with detail and dialogue — the spiritual musings of a security guard, the caring questions of a driving instructor, the maternal wisdom of a Long Island fisherman, the ghost of David Berman — that suffuse it with quiet vitality. Mystical and philosophical yet completely grounded, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is a gorgeous tapestry weaved ever so caringly from the threads between people that make up the fabric of life.
Adam Feibel

11. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Theory of Ice
(You've Changed)

Throughout Theory of Ice, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's gentle delivery guides listeners through haunting, impressionistic poetry and neo-noir folk instrumentation. Theory of Ice candidly maneuvers through songs of protest, community and Indigenous ancestry. Simpson proves that she is one of the most dynamic writers working today, as she effortlessly translates songs of tragedy into songs that give meaning to life beyond the harsh realities of settler-colonialism.
Myles Tiessen

Click "Next" to continue reading.10. Spiritbox
Eternal Blue

With their debut full-length album, Victoria's Spiritbox have unequivocally established themselves as a band impossible to ignore. While Eternal Blue finds them wearing their influences on their sleeves, they still don't quite sound like anyone else with their mix of downtuned guitars, mix of heavy and melodic vocals, and splashes of electronics. The album also finds Spiritbox pushing the boundaries of what heavy music can look like — frontwoman Courtney LaPlante is outspoken about letting new voices into metal, allowing it to stay relevant in a landscape where change is much overdue. These ideas find their way into Spiritbox's lyrics, making Eternal Blue a multifaceted metal record with true depth. 
Manus Hopkins

9. Olivia Rodrigo

In 2021, it was Olivia Rodrigo's world and we were just living in it. Her debut single "drivers license," released in January, was a smash hit (by April, it had been streamed over one billion times) and rocketed the 18-year-old into superstardom. But affectingly sweeping pop ballads like "drivers license" are just one side of SOUR. Rodrigo also channels her anger, driven by heartbreak, lies and betrayal into magnificent pop-punk anthems like the explosive album opener "brutal" and the sizzling "good 4 u." SOUR may have been written by a teen, but its captivating angst transcends age. Because after all, no matter how old you are, it's brutal out here.
Laura Stanley

8. Snail Mail

Valentine's Day 2022 will have a new set of gut-wrenching breakup anthems to cry over. Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail knows how to write a sad love song, as evident on 2018's Lush, where queer teen heartbreak over first loves intermingled with guitar-driven indie rock. But it's on her sophomore album Valentine where, now a little older and wiser, she grapples with the long-lasting ache of messy breakups, going to rehab and post-relationship devotion. Jordan's signature rock sound is accented by elements of pop and disco. Valentine gives lovelorn listeners a warm, understanding hug, solidifying Jordan as a master of her craft.
Jordan Currie

7. Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra
(Luaka Bop)

Promises, the intergenerational collaboration between Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders, is an engrossing listen — dynamic enough to transport listeners to the cosmos the spiritual sax legend once charted with John Coltrane, or centre them in the here and now. English DJ and electronic artist Sam Shepard — credited with playing over 10 instruments — continues to display the compositional aptitude that has defined his Floating Points full-lengths through Promises' affecting, unforgettable seven-note motif and a stakes-raising score for London Symphony Orchestra accompaniment. Sanders is the suite's stately guide, enkindling head and heart with horn and voice on his first recording in nearly two decades.
Calum Slingerland

6. Mustafa
When Smoke Rises
(Regent Park Songs)

Mustafa's debut was named after his fellow Halal Gang member, Smoke Dawg, who was shot and killed in 2018. The trauma of gun violence is joined by the dangers of gentrification as central to each song, undergirded by the Toronto poet-turned-musician's still-aching grief. Its thematic core is amplified by the folk overtones that ably translate his poetry to melody. On "Separate," the 25-year-old cries out, "I'm too young to feel this pain." But by giving voice to that sorrow, he has managed to heat up a heartrending epitaph into a folk futurist jewel.
Nicholas Sokic

5. Cadence Weapon
Parallel World

This year marked Rollie "Cadence Weapon" Pemberton's third time shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, but it's no wonder he took it home this time around. Parallel World, his pandemic-era portrait of dystopia in the age of surveillance capitalism, captures this cultural moment in a jar. Deceptively simple wordplay disguises a fierce pulse of wit, as Pemberton explores everything from police brutality to the racism of facial recognition software. The stripped-down distortions and robotic loops throbbing under his poetic musings capture the essence of the record: the walls of our synthetic world are closing in, but there might be hope for us yet.
Safiya Hopfe

4. Tyler, the Creator

​​Most artists who manage to remain relevant for a decade have, by the 10-year mark in their career, already created their chef-d'oeuvre. But every time Tyler, the Creator makes the Very Best Album He's Ever Made, he returns with another that usurps the title. Tyler brings us his boldest production on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, fusing booming drums with thumping basslines that knock the paint off your walls. Then, he pairs the stellar beats with some of his most audacious, cocksure rhyming yet. It's a nod to the mixtape era that birthed him and his best effort to date. But, based on the rapper's incredible run, it'll likely only hold the throne for a limited time.
A. Harmony

3. Backxwash
I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses
(Ugly Hag)

I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses is not only one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the year, but one of the best heavy records as well. The Montreal rapper has created a sonic hellscape of metallic and industrial sounds while exploring intimate battles of mental illness, gender identity and substance abuse. With songs ranging from the Neurosis-like drone of "Wail of the Banshee" to the more melodic "Song of Sinners," Backxwash has carved out a special sonic niche. This being her most metal offering to date, there's no guessing where she'll go from here.
Mark Tremblay

2. The Weather Station
(Next Door)

Ignorance arrived like some benevolent, silvery spacecraft when it first landed in February. And in the fiery, terrifying months since, Tamara Lindeman's fifth record as the Weather Station has only felt more vital, wise and desperate. In the lush, dewy arrangements and Lindeman's sterling songcraft is the suggestion of a way forward in the fight for our world and for ourselves, proposed with a clarity and vulnerability that still feels like a gift. If the world is right and good — and granted, it often isn't — Ignorance will be remembered for a long while, as both a towering artistic achievement and a document of a time when there was still something worth saving.
Kaelen Bell 

1. Little Simz
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
(Age 101)

Rather than leaning into the introversion suggested by the title, Little Simz incites difficult and often dark conversations on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. The album is a sonic fairytale — including a series of interludes in which Simz's subconscious is narrated by a fairy godmother — with each track flitting between the epiphanies of self-discovery ("Speed," "Standing Ovation") and cathartic acceptance of self ("How Did You Get Here"). Simz paints the stories of her tragedies and triumphs with the finest brushstrokes, delving into such topics as life as a Black woman (as on the Cleo Sol-featuring "Woman"), navigating the misogynistic world of hip-hop, her Westernized upbringing in the UK (on grime ditty "Rollin Stone"), and her Nigerian heritage (heard through the Afrobeats sounds of "Point and Kill" and "Fear No Man"). On Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Simz invites others to not only witness her strife but seek refuge in her glory. 
Veracia Ankrah

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