The Sound of December 2021: This Month's Essential Listening

Must-hear music from Adele, Taylor Swift, Haviah Mighty, Silk Sonic and more

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Nov 30, 2021

Very soon, many of us are going to start looking back to the start of the year as we evaluate the year's best music, but there's no need to crane your neck — artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, Haviah Mighty and Silk Sonic have saved some of 2021's standout albums for the very end. Here is the sound of December 2021 — best experienced on Sonos.

Also be sure to check out highlights from all these releases in our Spotify playlist, updated monthly.


Six years after the release of her record-breaking success 25, British pop chart-topper Adele has returned with 30, taking bigger risks and revealing enough hard truths to make this her most powerful album yet. Instead of playing it safe with her established tricks, her bold exploration of new terrain helps her become not only the world's top hitmaker but also a pop music visionary. Read our full review.

Standout track: "I Drink Wine"
Adele captivatingly escalates her voice on the chorus, while lyrics like "everybody wants somethin', you just want me" succinctly convey the isolation of her singular success.
Kyle Mullin

Damon Albarn
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows

Taking its title from the John Clare poem "Love and Memory," The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows finds Blur/Gorillaz songwriter Damon Albarn acting like a doomed time traveller trying to right the course of history, frequently measuring memory's transportive quality against the limitations of the physical world. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Royal Morning Blue"
Pulsing into the unknown on whispers and orchestral flourishes, Albarn's delicate introspection pivots into big blue buoyant brilliance you could file next to Gorillaz.
Tom Beedham

Bleed the Future
(Season of Mist)

The eight tracks of Archspire's Bleed the Future offer up a frenzy of dizzying speed and crushing heaviness, but with enough variation in the techniques, rhythms and song structures to keep the album from sounding repetitive. Though only 30 minutes long, to call Bleed the Future "short" would be a disservice to the musicianship and songwriting of this mind-bogglingly talented quintet — it isn't short, it's just really, really fast. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Drone Corpse Aviator"
Album opener "Drone Corpse Aviator" shows everything that makes Archspire one of technical death metal's finest, with intense speed, beautiful melodies and chaotic carnage all expertly blended.
Manus Hopkins

Lower Than Love
(No Funeral)

Featuring a similar sludgy sound as their 2017 self-titled debut record, Lower Than Love finds the Halifax trio fully matured, tackling topics of depression, loss and heartbreak while embracing atmosphere and quieter moments throughout. Lower Than Love is an ode to the emotions that come with loss, and everything else that comes with it. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Cowards"
Featuring the album's best riffage, "Cowards" starts out with some of Botfly's most technical parts and then dissolves into a Bison-esque breakdown at the end.
Mark Tremblay

Casper Skulls
Knows No Kindness
(Next Door)

Knows No Kindness finds Toronto's Casper Skulls a long way from the shoegazing rock of previous material, embracing a dreamier, more expansive — yet still grounded — sound. The album centres on vocalist Melanie St-Pierre's experiences growing up in Sudbury and Massey, ON, ranging from the soaring to the heartbreaking. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Witness"
Its evocative storytelling, conjuring strong emotion rather than gritty details — combined with its plaintively bitter ending accusation doubling as mantra — make it a breathtaking listen.
Nicholas Sokic

Charlotte Cornfield
Highs in the Minuses
(Next Door)

The beautiful thing about Charlotte Cornfield's music is how she is able to make her personal stories feel personal to you. On Highs in the Minuses, Cornfield is her usual candid self, but she sounds steadier and her experiences are even more in focus. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Headlines"
This deceivingly upbeat-sounding song about the pandemic is incredibly charming and includes a spot-on summary of the bewildering times we live in: "It's a crisis but we haven't got the words or the gall to describe it."
Laura Stanley


After the dissolution of alt-R&B duo Abhi/Dijon with Abhi Raju, Los Angeles-via-Baltimore artist Dijon Duenas wrote and produced for the likes of Brockhampton and Charli XCX ahead of releasing his Americana-enthralled debut. With an open-door collaborative policy, the experimentalism on Absolutely feels more organic and off-the-cuff than previous genre-hopping efforts.

Standout track: "Talk Down"
Dijon cycles through evocative specificity with a hypnotic breakbeat — his raspy voice crackling like the radio playing Gillian Welch, Liz Phair and the Band.
Megan LaPierre

The Darkness
(Cooking Vinyl)

One sometimes gets the sneaking suspicion that North America has largely slept on British arena rockers the Darkness. Full of their usual humour and omnivorous rock acumen, Motorheart is largely excellent — and at a tight nine tracks, any fat that needs trimming from Motorheart is easily digested. This one runs smoothly. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Jussy's Girl"
If you ever need to remind yourself that the Darkness are still totally weird, scratch your chin along with Rick Springfield to this heartfelt ballad of unrequited love.
Luke Pearson

Julie Doiron
I Thought of You
(You've Changed) 

Coming nine years after Julie Doiron's previous solo album, I Thought of You finds the stalwart East Coast songwriter sounding revitalized and well-worn. Doiron defends her crown as indie rock royalty, giving listeners yet another full-band classic that equals her material with the Wooden Stars and even Eric's Trip. Read our full review.

Standout track: "The Letters We Sent"
The five-minute "The Letters We Sent" starts as a crystalline gentle lament before closing out with a scorching three-minute guitar solo, courtesy of Daniel Romano.
Daniel Sylvester

Dream Unending
Tide Turns Eternal
(20 Buck Spin)

Tomb Mold guitarist Derrick Vella and Innumerable Forms vocalist Justin DeTore play in such perfect lockstep with each other that one would never know that their debut album, Tide Turns Eternal, was recorded in different countries: Vella in Toronto, DeTore in Boston. It's funeral doom for Pallbearer fans, but more cerebral for Mortiferum acolytes. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Dream Unending"
Like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, the band named a song after themselves: the 11-minute "Dream Unending" drags out crippling doom with increasing tempos before taking an immense draught of Tiamat's Wildhoney infused with echoing voice samples, and DeTore's deeply resonating gurgles create a forlorn atmosphere throughout.
Chris Ayers

Gold & Youth
Dream Baby
(Paper Bag)

Eight years after their debut, the Vancouver quartet (Louise Burns, Matthew Lyall, Murray Mckenzie and Jeff Mitchelmore) dare to dream again. Equal parts syrupy and caustic, their cultural commentary elevates hope in alt-rock stylings — the National meets synthwave — that close the distance between bedroom rumination and arena grandeur.

Standout Track: "Maudlin Days (Robocop)"
Breathless, solipsistic sociopolitical wit piles up in a melodic "Manifesto for our age / But I got old and forgot what I meant to say."
Megan LaPierre

Curtis Harding
If Words Were Flowers

On this latest effort, the multi-instrumentalist delivers a wide range of eclectic love compositions that focus on life's more positive and hopeful elements. He also explores new territories, incorporating elements of jazz into his self-proclaimed "slop 'n' soul" mix while also embracing his gospel roots. Read our full review.

Standout track: "I Won't Let You Down"
This album-ending track slowly builds up with choral harmonies and horns that linger, pairing well with Harding's leading vocals. The song perfectly culminates the record with its many layers and sonic textures.
Sun Noor

Jon Hopkins
Music for Psychedelic Therapy

Written after a life-changing trip to the Tayos Caves of Ecuador, Jon Hopkins' latest is an ingenious record of expertly woven environmental music, always in a state of enchanting motion, drawing from classical, drone and ambient. Music for Psychedelic Therapy is a magical union of nature and creativity. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Tayos Caves, Ecuador i" 
As if floating through them, the details are vivid and tranquil. A melancholic melody trembles through the abyss like a healing heart.
Chris Bryson

Hot Garbage

The debut LP from Toronto's Hot Garbage is a fuzz-induced skydive into the sonic abyss. It's a free fall that provides the band with unlimited space to explore, experiment and test the limits of psych music. The good news is, Hot Garbage stick the landing and come out on the other end fully evolved. Read our full review and our recent interview with the band on the importance of DIY music spaces.

Standout track: "Fantasma"
Flipping between wonderfully reckless guitar solos and organ outpours, Hot Garbage indulges a lengthy and mesmerizing expedition through early Pink Floyd psychedelia. 
Myles Tiessen


JPEGMAFIA refuses to be defined or confined on LP!, while his righteous rage still burns brightly. Illustrating that point is the album's arrival in both "Online" and "Offline" versions, with creative sampling, alternate versions and additional tracks on the latter all finding a home away from restrictive music industry structures.

Standout track: "END CREDITS!"
Originally titled "SPINEBUSTER," this one is an aerial from the top rope with urgent, wound-up guitar and smackdown raps to match. If you go "Offline," be sure to play "HAZARD DUTY PAY!" and "DIKEMBE!"
Calum Slingerland


Intimidated finds Kaytra continuing to push the boundaries of his sound while never losing the essence of it. As an artist known for his singular processes and hand-picked collaborators, this three-track EP surprisingly contains the highest profile guests of Kaytra's career. The project will not only satiate fans until the next album, but will also raise curiosity about where he might take his sound next. Read our full review.

Standout track: "$payforhaiti" (feat. Mach Hommy)
Kaytranada connects with fellow Haitian-American Mach-Hommy for a fast-paced Kreyol rap track that is a fascinating rhythmic exercise in both style and substance.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo

Keys N Krates
Original Classic 
(Last Gang)

With Original Classic, Keys N Krates continue to make music in the spirit of bringing people together. Across 13 tracks, the trio link up with worldly figures like Juicy J and Bibi Bourelly, and hometown talents like Haviah Mighty and Lido Pimienta, as a palette of varied interludes break up visits. Check out member Jr. Flo's favourite Canadian album.

Standout track: "Pull Up" (feat. Haviah Mighty)
Between Mighty's breezy flows, the bombastic bass and kick drum, and the steelpan-inspired bridge, heater "Pull Up" offers all the warmth you'll need this winter.
Calum Slingerland


East Coast-born/Toronto-based pop artist Loviet sounds a bit like HAIM leaning into their '80s influences, and the godly 777 is a dispatch from synthpop heaven. While lead single "Picture" hinted at a more brooding, atmospheric sound, most of 777 is dominated by surging drum machines, funky swagger and joyful hooks. 

Best track: "Dullshine"
This album opener is all shine, no dullness. Reverb-washed textures drift across the song's synthpop thump as Loviet delivers mammoth hooks and deploys a perfect f-bomb: "Why am I so nervous? / What the fuck just happened?"
Alex Hudson

Voyage to Mars

As a stylistic statement of intent, Voyage to Mars is a triumph — though the gauzy (albeit soothing) production and reliance on same-y, mid-range tempos threaten to carry some of the lesser tracks into the background sometimes, little details full of unexpected turns and impulsive synth leads are welcome complications. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Tonight Tonight"
This masterful reinterpretation of the Smashing Pumpkins' classic forgoes (perhaps sadly) the original's gorgeous finger-picking in favour of a dusky, Parisian after-party vibe, and replacing (perhaps not so sadly) Billy Corgan's famously nasal delivery with MUNYA's own breathy tones.
Luke Pearson

Hushed and Grim

Whether it's prog/sludge concept albums or anthems ripe for WWE entrances, Mastodon have remained true to a unique vision. This vision remains intact as they drop an 80-minute double album. Hushed and Grim lives up to its name, embracing Mastodon's past and future with dark aggression and soulful meditation. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Gigantium"
The appropriately named "Gigantium" closes this massive journey with anthemic glory — the final realization of Mastodon's foray into rafter-shaking power balladry. The song just keeps getting louder, even after the rapturous guitar solo.
Max Heilman

Haviah Mighty
Stock Exchange

On the Stock Exchange mixtape, the follow-up to Haviah Mighty's Polaris Music Prize-winning 13th Floor, she isn't entirely concerned with proving her dominance as much as she is her artistry. It's all politics and growing pains; over 12 songs, she attempts to make sense of a global pandemic, unemployment and racial reckoning. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Antisocial" (feat. Old Man Saxon)
As a curator, Mighty lends the spotlight to guests based on their strengths. But even in collaboration, she maintains a solo approach: "DIY, I learn it if I know I'm not equip."
Veracia Ankrah

Cedric Noel
Hang Time
(Forward Music Group)

Much of Hang Time deals with questions of friendship and allyship, written as Cedric Noel contemplated his status as a Black musician in Montreal's mostly white indie rock community. Throughout the record, his voice commands without overpowering, thanks to his ability to build to a sense of inevitability while remaining soft, even vulnerable. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Dove"
On paper, "Dove" is a simple duet between Noel and Common Holly backed by reverberating guitar. But its sum is a cutting treatise on the relationships in our life. 
Nicholas Sokic

The Fool
(CLK Creative Works)

While SATE's sound is rooted in the blues, there are hints of electronica, ambient pop and grunge sprinkled throughout the album, and SATE's grand scope is furthered with a series of interludes that punctuate the tracklist, including soft-spoken poetry and ambient distortion sounds. In challenging herself to expand her sound and narrative as an artist, SATE has arrived at a place of personal vulnerability and musical thrill. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Howler"
Lyrically, it's a fairytale gone wrong ("Dress me up then dress me down / Pose me in the way you like"), and the arrangement keeps it real with blues-based guitar riffs and grimy licks. The subtle electronics recall St. Vincent, but the similarities stop there.
Katie Tymochenko

Louie Short
Omw 4ev

Sounding a bit like a lounge singer on a rockin' yacht, Toronto singer-songwriter Louie Short delivers a streamlined set of eight keyboard pop tunes across 23 minutes. With the crisp, dry sound of a '70s soft rock record and the songs to match, Short sings catchy tunes in his understated croon, landing in a welcoming middle ground between mellow contentment and quiet melancholy.

Standout track: "Omw 4ev"
On the album-closing title track, Short cycles through several movements in under three minutes: there's a short percussion intro, rapidly sung verses, an ambient synth break and then a gorgeous, psych-tinged chorus finale.
Alex Hudson

Silk Sonic
An Evening with Silk Sonic

Although it captures the feeling of classic soul with great accuracy, An Evening with Silk Sonic still feels current and avoids sounding parodic. Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars each contribute their own modern take on the music rather than trying to mimic greats of the past. They're expert method actors who provide less of an album and more of an experience. Read our full review.

Standout track: "After Last Night"
There's something for everyone on this album, but "After Last Night" — with its seductive soundscape, gut-wrenching vocals, and a well-placed cameo from bass god Thundercat — is an obvious home run.
A. Harmony

Taylor Swift
Red (Taylor's Version)

Taylor Swift vs. Scooter Braun feels a bit like Godzilla vs. King Kong, as two industry giants go to war and us mere mortals are left gawking on the sidelines. And while we don't exactly need a re-recording of 2012's Red — an album that was already pretty much perfect the first time around — the quality here is undeniable. The remake is close enough that nothing is lost in translation, and the bounty of bonus tracks are a perfect piece of fan service.

Standout track: "All Too Well (10 Minute Version)"
While the album version presented its breakup story as an aching, tender tribute to a relationship that ran its course, this 10-minute version resurrects vengeful extra verses, painting the breakup in a far more negative light. It's particularly biting when Swift sings, "I'll get older, but your lovers stay my age."
Alex Hudson

Hana Vu
Public Storage
(Ghostly International)

Hana Vu has had a brimming career, and she's still only at the beginning of it. The 21-year-old's DIY bedroom pop rock ranges from danceable synths to delicate folk instrumentals, where she often dissects the age-old themes of existentialism, failure and the fear of getting older, all of which are ever-present and fully fleshed out on Public Storage. Read our full review.

Standout track: "World's Worst"
Soothing strings resemble a music box and build into rousing percussion, while lyrically, Vu warns a lover of the turbulence of her life, painting a bittersweet contrast, striking a balance between childhood innocence and the quiet, casual loneliness of adulthood. 
Jordan Currie


EX PO, the debut album from Seulement (a.k.a. Mathieu Arsenault of Montreal's Technical Kidman), is an electronic collection of songs that explores the idiosyncrasies and the frenetic energies of self-perception. Using an array of samples, feedback, decay and vocals, Arsenault presents these personal themes before slowly morphing them into something unrecognizable. Read our full review.

Standout track: "EX PO"
This track sounds massive thanks to Arsenault's passionate vocal layering and his wall-of-sound approach, mixed with bass, distortion and other sonic affectations.
Stephan Boissonneault

Folarin II

Wale's greatest artistic gift has always been his ability to make hard work sound effortless, but because of this, he doesn't always get the props he deserves for the content of his rhymes. They wash over you instead of smashing you in the noggin. On the breezy and excellent Folarin II, Wale decides to give himself some flowers. Read our full review.

Standout track: "More Love"
Sentiments like "Never won a Grammy / I'm misunderstood" aren't delivered with bitterness — there is a conversational tone throughout, as if the rap veteran is working out his own thoughts and, at 37, his own place in the game. The track's hook is upbeat: "I love me, baby / You should love you more."
Luke Fox

Summer Walker
Still Over It

Still Over It, Summer Walker's follow-up to 2019 breakthrough Over It, clearly lays out its subject matter in no subtle terms. While the Atlanta songwriter's relationship reflections aren't unfamiliar territory, her demonstrated artistic progression is what elevates these themes beyond classic breakup record tropes. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Toxic" (feat. Lil Durk)
Summer Walker's unexpected collaboration with Lil Durk results in a very successful R&B/rap collab and a refreshing production turn on a more traditionally arranged album.
Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo

Wine Lips
Mushroom Death Sex Bummer Party

Every Mushroom Death Sex Bummer Party track is an unrelenting and ferocious psilocybin-infused garage rock clinic. Wine Lips bring an infectious energy to the album with their fuzzy power chords, distorted guitars, and lead singer Cam Hilborn's high-pitched screaming vocals hardly breaking through the sonic wall of drums. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Tension"
The subtle melodies and guitar riffs are hypnotic. At the song's end, you will want to hit repeat and turn it up even louder, recklessly abandoning any hope of regulating your tinnitus.
Myles Tiessen

Listen to all of these standout tracks in our Spotify playlist:

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