Exclaim!'s 31 Best Albums of 2021 So Far
Published Jun 15, 2021
20. Japanese Breakfast
"When the world divides into two people / Those who have felt pain and those who have yet to," Michelle Zauner sings during the aching ballad "Posing in Bondage." It's clear that she falls into the former camp, but Jubilee, her third album as Japanese Breakfast, dances the pain away. Whether it's the fashionable funk of "Be Sweet" and "Slide Tackle," the stately Beirut horns of "Paprika," or the honeyed pop classicism of "Kokomo, IN" and "Tactics," Jubilee is always tinged with melancholy but never defeated by it.
19. Cadence Weapon
Always an astute, observational lyricist with a penchant for weird beats, Cadence Weapon ups his game to challenge listeners like never before on Parallel World. The production can be noisy, skittering into electronic and even old-school video game flavours, making each track vibrantly mind-bending. But the focused rhymes — speaking out on indifferent governments, oblivious urban planners, nefarious advertisers, ahistorical Canadian anti-Black racism and evil social media companies — are a compelling cry for sanity in a world gone wrong.
18. Mdou Moctar
Following 2019 breakthrough Ilana (The Creator), Afrique Victime is Mdou Moctar's most fully realized recording to date. Here, an even tighter group effort is marked by mesmeric melody and skillful groove, as the Tuareg guitarist and his band stir mind and heart with songs of love, devotion and protest. Whether acoustic or electric, they are led by Moctar and his six strings, taking flight on the frets for mantric licks and scorching solos alike.
Progressive death metal band Gojira are back with a new triumphant and regal-sounding record. Incorporating sensibilities of classic progressive rock without losing their crushingly heavy sound, Fortitude embraces the immense majesty and menacing intensity that Gojira's exploratory musicianship affords them. Tight guitar work and hard, driving rhythms contrast soaring vocal atmospheres in a way that's as awe-inspiring as it is ferociously pummelling.
The debut album from Montreal's new Francophone dream pop sensation came out in the dead of winter, but with the sun finally shining, there's no better time to give it a spin. Soleil '96 features gauzy hooks, shimmering guitars and Rachel Leblanc's ethereal vocals, exuding plenty of warmth perfect for these summer months. But it's not all clear skies — Vanille's slower tempos (compared to contemporaries' breezy pacing) helps Leblanc's wistful poetry hit even harder, using its pacing to let listeners consume every heartbreaking detail.
15. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END! blends the pre-hiatus hallmarks of the Godspeed sound with what has come since their 2012 comeback LP, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! The Montréal troupe have reinstated the samples to their pivotal position, brought back the movements-within-songs structure, and rolled out melodies with a sense of pomp arguably absent since Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. Yet, this new collection achieves something you'd not necessarily expect from a band known for whiplash vacillation between explosive peaks and lulling valleys. This is the band's most balanced effort yet.
14. Genesis Owusu
Smiling with No Teeth
(House Anxiety / Ourness)
In what is one of the year's most righteous and eclectic albums of the year, Genesis Owusu's staggering debut displays his impressive genre-blending capabilities. While his sound is rooted in hip-hop, Smiling with No Teeth sees the Ghana-born, Australia-based songwriter incorporate elements of funk, soul, indie rock and electronica, as he lyrically tackles themes of personal growth, mental health and racism. There's something for any music fan to enjoy.
Bright Green Field
The frantic energy contained in Squid's debut LP Bright Green Field finds the band breaking from the anxiety-inducing mould of their post-punk forebears, and instead settling comfortably into a sleek-but-sassy niche overdue for live performance. Without their usual gigging haunts to test out their latest batch of quotable lyrics, experimental instrumentation and chonky runtimes, the band afforded themselves time for a deeper dive into their creative subconscious, resulting in a virtually un-skippable album.
12. Joyce Wrice
Joyce Wrice couldn't have picked a more fitting title for her debut. Overgrown is a studied effort that feels more like the contribution of a seasoned R&B vet than a relative newcomer. Wrice, along with producer D'Mile, prove themselves to be students of the game with cohesive songwriting, warm beats and nostalgic vocal arrangements that could easily tuck themselves in the bygone '90s but are modern enough to stand out in 2021.
When Smoke Rises
(Regent Park Songs)
Nearly all music talks about love. But grief, love's most heart-wrenching by-product, is a challenging sentiment for even the most skilled artist to capture. On When Smoke Rises, Mustafa mourns his fallen friends with raw honesty, humanity and heavy doses of tenderness. His gripping blend of unvarnished lyricism and dulcet folk exposes the beauty that lies in grief and establishes Mustafa as peerless. It's a courageous debut that will surely prove to be evergreen.