The Sound of September 2021: This Month's Essential New Releases

Must-hear music from Lorde, Drake, Cartel Madras and more

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Sep 14, 2021

The elusive "fall album" is a quality bestowed to a rare few records, ones that merge the jubilant abandon of its summer counterparts with the contemplative edge of something more wintery. It's a quality that fits many of these recent releases, whether long-delayed works by international superstars or early statements from emerging talents. Here are the essential new releases of September 2021 — best experienced on Sonos.

a l l i e
Tabula Rasa


Four years removed from breakout debut Nightshade, a l l i e's Tabula Rasa is a testament to taking time for creation in a world that now often demands the opposite, gathering a trusted group of Toronto collaborators old and new for an even more enthralling look at her R&B artistry.

Standout track: "Coop"
While laidback vocals and darting keys work to detail a state of "fight or flight mode," rich vocal arrangements and understated drums make for a meditative musical environment.
Calum Slingerland
Amyl and the Sniffers
Comfort to Me
(Rough Trade)

Amyl and the Sniffers are caustic and joyful, and their new record splits the difference between emotional exorcism and blistering rave-ups, never once dropping in BPM or spirit. They tackle shitty bar politics, guardian angels, misogyny, sex, violence and love in an endlessly entertaining burst of punk fury.

Standout track: "Guided by Angels"
The album's opener is also its crowning glory, a rager with all the emotional heft of a glacial ballad. Hearing Amy Taylor sing of the angels on her body, you'd swear you feel them too.

Kaelen Bell
Bad Waitress
No Taste

(Royal Mountain)

Toronto four-piece Bad Waitress fill their noisy tracks with punk fury, as squalling guitar distortion goes toe-to-toe with thundering drums and singer Kali-Ann Butala's blood-curdling howl. And yet, as the band display in some of the quieter moments in the album's back half, they're as comfortable in quiet reflection as they are in circle pits. Read our recent interview with Butala about cannabis, and check out our full No Taste review.

Best track: "Strawberry Milkshake"
Lyrics like "Straw, strawberry shake / Put it in my mouth" and "Sweet, sweet ice cream / Dipping down my chin" have never sounded so ominous as on this thundering garage rock banger.
Alex Hudson

Big Red Machine
How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?


It's not so much that Big Red Machine add up to more than the sum of their parts — it's that all of the parts are so good. Bon Iver's Justin Vernon lends his impassioned falsetto to songs anchored by the National member Aaron Dessner's mournful piano chords, while Taylor Swift and Fleet Foxes bring their all to their guest appearances. Read our full review.

Best track: "Renegade" (feat. Taylor Swift)
Aaron Dessner largely produced both of Swift's 2020 albums, and she returns the favour by contributing a tenderly scathing love song that channels the crossover appeal of folklore or evermore.
Alex Hudson

Only Up

(Hand Drawn Dracula)

Toronto artist, producer and Candle Recording Studio co-founder Josh Korody's sophomore album as Breeze — he's also one half of the duo Beliefs and releases gritty electronic music as Nailbiter — relishes in its own disarray. Using Madchesterian roots to find direction, it collaboratively envisions a technicolour future for the local scene. Read our full review.
Standout track: "Come Around (feat. Cadence Weapon)"
"You really did a number on this one," Korody repeats over the howl of synths, psychedelic guitars and spitfire percussion only matched by the featured MC.
Megan LaPierre

The Bug

(Ninja Tune)

Fire is an incredibly crushing effort from UK producer Kevin Martin: an immense, burning set of songs for a world that increasingly feels ready to burst into flame. Leading the way through his monstrous, menacing electronics are a skilled group of vocalists — Moor Mother, Flowdan among them — who all torch the mic.

Standout track: "High Rise (feat. Manga Saint Hilare)"
Militaristic drums and unsettling synths score stirring verses of lower-class life in UK tower blocks: "They don't understand us down here / They can't step one foot down here."
Calum Slingerland

Cartel Madras
The Serpent & the Tiger EP

(Royal Mountain/Sub Pop)

The third and final instalment in the Calgary sister duo's Project Goonda EP trilogy finds Contra and Eboshi fully realizing their hip-hop vision, packing 10 tracks with so many well-executed ideas, the only way they could possibly go bigger is if they finally drop that highly anticipated debut album. Read our full review.
Standout track: "DRIFT"
Throw the old idiom aside — this high-flying hit is all about sex, drugs and hip-hop. Both sisters absolutely demolish Dom Dias's beat, and a list of best lines would look identical to the full lyric sheet.
Matt Bobkin
Indigo De Souza
Any Shape You Take
(Saddle Creek)

Indigo De Souza makes music that embodies the clear-eyed glint and warm embrace of a good friend. On Any Shape You Take, the Asheville-based songwriter's vibrant, grungy sophomore album, tough love and genuine tenderness go hand in hand — it's an album about breakups and breakdowns that's never anything less than kind and understanding. Read our full review.

Standout track: "Darker Than Death"
"Darker Than Death" moves steadily, a slow burst of feeling that pulses with thick, fuzzy guitars and icy keys. It's as honest and emotionally rich as any hot-blooded punk anthem.

Kaelen Bell

Certified Lover Boy


Drake has long been too big to fail, and his sixth official album doesn't stray from his well-worn blueprint for success: lyrical barbs for contemporaries, an enjoyable group of guest features and a dazzling production palette. However, a seemingly mended relationship with Kid Cudi and responsible co-parenting raps are welcome surprises. Read our full review.

Standout track: "7am on Bridle Path"
On his latest named for time and place, Drake is "aimin' straight for the head, not aiming to please" in dressing down a rival believed to be Kanye West.
Calum Slingerland

Dry Cleaning
Bug Eyes/Tony Speaks! EP


Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg is one of the best things to come from the UK in recent years, and the band's spoken-word post-punk hasn't lost any of its delight on this two-song single. The two tracks lean into the slower side of the band's oeuvre, as Florence Shaw calmly speaks magic into the everyday. 

Standout track: "Bug Eggs"
The single's A-side is where the real wonder lies, an effect-warped riff falling across the steady beat like willow branches as Shaw sings of being a "toasted teenage peanut."

Kaelen Bell
Stunning and Atrocious


The Montreal art rockers have been in their current four-person formation for years, and the first album from the not-so-new lineup finds their well-honed live chemistry sounding just as alchemical in the studio. Stunning and Atrocious is an experimental concoction of psychedelic textures, bedroom pop yearning and arena rock payoffs. Lead singer Matt Rogers recently showed Exclaim! his favourite music T-shirt.

Standout track: "Losing Time"
On an album bursting with ideas (at a whopping 14 tracks), "Losing Time" ends the collection by finding power in post-breakup self-sufficiency, moving from skulking verses to jubilant choruses with a kaleidoscope of shimmering instrumentation.
Matt Bobkin
Orla Gartland
Woman on the Internet

(New Friends)

Irish singer-songwriter Orla Gartland continues to embrace a DIY approach by releasing her long-awaited debut LP on her own label. She co-produced the record to highlight her insistent rhythmic sensibilities (comparable to the likes of HAIM) with a penchant for 5/4 time signatures and raw delivery of insights from the chaos of her twenties.
Standout track: "More Like You"
Gartland tackles parasocial relationships and Instagram-induced envy with a starkly bright, anthemic approach — driven by spacious, glistening synth loops and wistfully echoing vocal stacks.
Megan LaPierre
If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power


Halsey (née Ashley Frangipane) has always resisted the pop star label with their sprawling concept albums but probably remains best-known for featuring on that 2016 Chainsmokers earworm. Collaborating with Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, they get what they want — and extravagantly explore the heavy repercussions of it.
Standout track: "I am not a woman, I'm a god"
While this entire fourth LP serves as Halsey's rightful artist statement, the propulsive "I am not a woman, I'm a god" is its titular summary.
Megan LaPierre

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Neil Haverty
Wildhood (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)


In soundtracking the coming-of-age story of a two-spirit Mi'kmaw teenager in TIFF-selected film Wildhood, Bruce Peninsula's Neil Haverty recruited the likes of Status/Non-Status, Ansley Simpson, Zoon, Melody McKiver and more for a series of hearty, ambient folk sketches. The result is a score so warm and tender, it's hard to believe it was largely recorded remotely.

Standout track: "Wildhood, Pt. II"
On a first listen-through of the album, "Wildhood, Pt. I" stands out with its Broken Social Scene-esque communal atmospherics, but is far too brief at 75 seconds. Thankfully, this album-closing reprise stretches it out to a much more satisfying three minutes.
Matt Bobkin

Danko Jones
Power Trio

(Sonic Unyon)

If you've listened to Danko Jones at any point in the past 25 years, you probably have at least some idea of what awaits on Power Trio: ass-kicking, no-nonsense rock. The album title reminds listeners that the group is more than just one man, as the titular singer-guitarist comes backed by pounding rhythms from drummer Rich Knox and bassist John Calabrese. Jones recently took the Exclaim! Questionnaire.

Best track: "Flaunt It"
If you've got it, you might as well flaunt it — and that's exactly what Danko Jones does on this crunchy power chord rocker, which is delivered with a strut and a lip-curling sneer.
Alex Hudson



Halifax has long been a source of unheralded, experimental hip-hop, and the many members of collective Let Dreams Be Noticed (LDN) are anxious to finally put their scene on the map with their eponymous mixtape. Its 13 tracks are a jam-packed journey through all modern rap trends, weaving trap, R&B and emo rap into an engaging package, with some iconic sample flips for good measure.

Standout track: "SKIPPING CLASSES"
Whether via Nelly2Drippy's laidback hook, Kye Clayton's hard-hitting rhymes or mano.sos's rapid-fire flows, the collective members get real about where they really got their education — teachers and authority figures be damned.
Matt Bobkin
Little Simz
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert


While Ye and Drizzy were busy in a veritable pissing contest over their respective releases, Little Simz was quietly releasing a top contender for hip-hop album of the year. It's a woefully fitting scenario for the London phenom's fourth album, whose title indicates the artist's more timid tendencies. On Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Simbiatu Ajikawo wrestles with the balance between her personal and public expressions, which fuel sociopolitical tirades about identity and confessional bars that present some of her most vulnerable material yet.

Standout track: "Rollin Stone"
After sprinting through the song's ostentatious front half, exhibiting a talent for breathless flow and witty lyricism ("Wanna talk about P's / Wanna talk about wage / But can you do the job though?"), Little Simz makes way for her "evil twin," who takes over in the second verse, twisting the track into a queasy reckoning of self: "Bad bitch say that she wanna know what's underneath / I can show you things in private, know I hate to cause a scene."
Allie Gregory

Solar Power

Lorde isn't trying to electrify you with her third album. But the Kiwi artist isn't so much as relinquishing the intensity that has marked her work since she was 16 as she is expressing it otherwise, finding an organic restraint in grief's dull ache and the gnawing dread of climate anxiety. Learn more in our September 2021 cover story.
Standout track: "Big Star"
The tender tribute to her late dog Pearl bends time, elongating its gradual layering of subtle nuances into a slow-motion run through the amber light.
Megan LaPierre
Meet Me @ the Altar
Model Citizen EP

(Fueled by Ramen)

Fueled by Ramen's first record from a group comprising entirely women of colour, MM@TA's self-branded entry into "heavy easycore," Model Citizen, packs more ambition, power and energy into its rapid-fire 20-minute runtime than any pop-punk release in recent memory. The trio unapologetically channel the ethos of mid-2000s Warped Tour, tossing out the era's misogyny, homophobia and racism in favour of platforming their own multi-hyphenate identities and lived experiences.

Standout track: "Feel a Thing"
Between Ada Juarez's breakneck drumlines, Téa Campbell's distorted guitar riffs, frontwoman Edith Johnson's clean, inspiring lyricism and the undercurrent video game sound effects on "Feel a Thing," there lies the band's foremost uniting bond: making music so fun it'll make you cry.
Allie Gregory

Men I Trust
Untourable Album


Following the epic sprawl of 2019's Oncle Jazz, Quebec trio Men I Trust go in the opposite direction with a tight collection of concise, moody soundscapes. But what Untourable Album lacks in length, it makes up for with the rich sonic details stuffed into into these spellbinding, dreamy slices of pop perfection. Read our full review and our recent interview with Men I Trust.

Best track: "Sugar"
If Untourable Album focuses more on hypnotic dreamscapes than singalong choruses, "Sugar" is the exception that proves the rule, its funky layers of bass providing the candy-coated groundwork for Emmanuelle Proulx's honeyed hooks.
Alex Hudson

myst milano.

(Halocline Trance)

The full-length debut from the Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist, producer, DJ and rapper is their most fully realized recording to date, a clear level-up when it comes to performance, production and poise. Lyrics slide between ruminative and raunchy, while their unconventional beat selection is a perfect fit for label home Halocline Trance.

Standout track: "Oh Boy"
As the minimal beat swings along through softened synth stabs, milano. moves between cool, collected confidence and a more vulnerable mind state before a mantric outro.
Calum Slingerland

Daniel Romano's Outfit
Cobra Poems

(You've Changed)

One of the many takeaways from Daniel Romano's blockbuster 2020 — wherein he released 10 records and a bevy of other projects — was the strength of his barn-burning full-band formation, Daniel Romano's Outfit. On this latest full-length, the Outfit wear many flashy retro rock getups, each as dazzling as the last.

Standout track: "The Motions"
Romano diehards know that the Outfit are no mere extension of their namesake, but it's never been more clear on this gently twanging, trumpet-accented slow burner driven by the clear vocals of Julianna Riolino, who draws out the band's tender side.
Matt Bobkin

Shannon and the Clams
Year of the Spider

(Easy Eye Sound) 

Oakland retro rockers Shannon and the Clams return with another cinematic entry into their flushed catalogue. Their sixth studio album Year of the Spider blends the harmonic qualities of the Mamas & the Papas with the surf rock of Allah-Las and horror pop of, well, HorrorPops. The group delve into a greater variety of sonic palettes here, revealing a versatility not present in earlier works. They've traded in a measure of grit for a tad more sentimentality; while struggle and mourning influence the album's topics, the group remain optimistic — if a bit emotional. 

Standout track: "Midnight Wine"
"For I was damned the day I was born / To a daddy in a cell, to a daddy in a cell," Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard sing in vicious harmony, chronicling the desperation and cyclical structures that drive people to darkness and addiction. 
Allie Gregory



With her major label tribulations behind her, Tinashe's second consecutive self-released album takes a wonderfully varied ride into musical territory she's at home in, while also hinting at potential directions to move to next. Along with big hooks and teases of jungle and soul, the contrasting beats of the Kaytranada-produced "Unconditional" point towards undeniable progression.

Standout track: "Undo (Back to My Heart) (feat. Wax Motif)"
It's a considered build of momentum from the outset, as rubbery bass bolsters plaintive piano and soft pads in time for takeoff to a punchy pop chorus.
Calum Slingerland

Yves Tumor
The Asymptotical World EP

Yves Tumor falls headlong into their glam-rock fantasy on this 6-song EP, their sample-heavy experimental bona fides traded in for something like popular rock seen through a funhouse mirror. It's a whiplash of thrills, with punk, psych-rock, glam, electroclash and smears of electronica all finding a home on planet Tumor.

Standout track: "Secrecy Is Incredibly Important to the Both of Them"
The EP's most aggressive song is also its best, with nearly four minutes of uninterrupted, twitchy momentum as Tumor speak-sings over frenzied guitar and an unrelenting drumbeat. 

Kaelen Bell

Kanye West 

(Def Jam/Universal)

The long-delayed Donda is undeniably frustrating — the "clean" editing interrupts the flow of verses, the 108-minute runtime is double (or even triple) the length it should be, and the guests sometimes distract rather than enhance. And, yet, glimmers of the Old Kanye make this chaotic outpouring of creativity fascinating and occasionally revelatory. Check out our full review.

Best track: "Jesus Lord"
Clocking in at nine minutes (or 11:30 if you're listening to "pt 2"), "Jesus Lord" is sprawling hymn for Kanye's mom. Listeners of any religion can find solace in the choral repetitions of the title.
Alex Hudson
Listen to all of these standout tracks with our Spotify playlist.

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