Year In Review: Rajan Lakhani's Top Albums Of 2021

on Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Words: Rajan Lakhani

I’m doing things a bit differently this year and writing a general review of the music I listened to in 2021, instead of doing short reviews of my top 10. Rest assured, you can still see my top 10 below, and I’ve curated a best of 2021 playlist that starts with songs from my top albums before moving into my favourite songs from the year.

2021 was a mixed year for music. There were some blockbuster releases (Adele, Ed Sheeran) but many artists held back albums due to vinyl supply chain issues and the backlog of releases from 2020. I don’t think there was a landmark album that I’d go back to regularly from the year but there were still naturally some excellent records released that deserve praise and many outstanding singles.

While it didn’t quite make my favourite albums of 2021, Self Esteem’s album was the closest to capturing the cultural zeitgeist and 'I Do This All The Time' is one such outstanding single that will last the test of time.

Talking of pop, one of my favourite records from 2021 came from the much-hyped Easy Life. After the challenging year that was 2020, it was wonderful to hear a new band releasing a record so full of life, fun and hooks. Successfully blurring the lines between RnB, indie and dance, 'Life’s A Beach' is a truly joyful record.

I love finding new artists like Easy Life, and sometimes I’ll discover them on a soundtrack to a TV show. Lord Huron was one such discovery, hearing the band first on 'Community'. Indie-folk has become such a ubiquitous genre even though there are only a handful of genuinely outstanding bands, such as Fleet Foxes. Yet Lord Huron stood out for me, with their harmonies and slightly off-kilter arrangements. The song 'Love You Like Me Used To' was one of my very favourites from the year.

Other new discoveries included Natalie Bergman and Geese, both of whom releases their debut albums. The former’s 'Mercy' was probably the most powerful album I heard in the whole of 2021, a spiritual, inspiring release that’s made all the more memorable with its excellent vocals and melodies. Geese’s 'Projector' takes inspiration from the art-punk movement of the late 70s and early 80s, fusing it with prog to create a compelling album that shows new guitar music that can still excite.

Goat Girl similarly take inspiration from post-punk and their sophomore release 'On All Fours' finds its brighter sound contrasting with the discomforting, weightier lyrical themes to form a compelling record.

My other favourite albums were from from established artists who arguably released the best of their careers. While the influences on The War On Drugs can be obvious - Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead - their music is so good that you forget those legendary bands and listen to the record on its own terms. 'I Don’t Live Here Anymore' is a superb, well-crafted record that finds a band on it’s fifth studio album showing no let-up in quality.

Deafheaven has been a group that I can appreciate but struggled to really enjoy given many of their songs are too heavy and dark for me. But 'Shellstar' is a far more welcoming release, bringing their shoegaze influence further to the surface, to create their brightest, most compelling and cohesive album to date. Folk artists Passenger and The Weather Station released sophisticated, fully-fledged records that showed the depth of their musicianship, with the latter successfully drawing on jazz to create at atmosphere that recalls 80s era Fleetwood Mac.

And that brings me to my favourite record of 2021. Iceage have been a consistently good band, releasing quality, hard-hitting post-punk rock record after record. But on their latest record 'Seek Shelter', they’ve shifted up a gear. Similar to Deafheaven, they’ve let go of some of the darkness and murkiness from their previous records to make something more accessible.

Yet while it might be an easier album to engage with, it’s no less ambitious than the previous output, in fact it’s arguably even more ambitious, covering the big themes of love and life. The sound is correspondingly bigger and bolder, almost verging on stadium-rock at times. There isn’t a single weak track on the album, and its swagger suggests a band at the top of their game who’ll hopefully progress to even greater heights.

Albums Of The Year (2021)

1. Iceage - 'Seek Shelter'

2. Lord Huron - 'Long Lost'

3. Deafheaven - 'Infinite Granite'

4. Easy Life - 'Life’s A Beach'

5. Natalie Bergman - 'Mercy'

6. The War on Drugs - 'I Don’t Live Here Anymore'

7. Passenger - 'Sword From The Stone'

8. The Weather Station - 'Ignorance'

9. Geese - 'Projector'

10. Goat Girl - 'On All Fours'

Listen to Rajan's favourite tracks of 2021 Spotify playlist.

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