This list is not genre or market specific. This list reflects the diversity of my interests. This list is not based on listening to any radio, podcasts, or influencer pundits. My appreciation for music is relatively broad, but you'll find a heavier edge to recent lists - reflective of the seasons of my life.
This list is my 11th attempt to catalog, track, and recommend the best music of the previous year. If you're interested in what I've ranked in previous years, check out this page where all years are available.
This year features the sweet return of trip-hop greats Sneaker Pimps and Morcheeba. It also includes two artists that inspire me greatly and put out two albums with different projects in the same year. Releasing one record is hard enough - releasing two awesome and individual albums in the same year is truly inspiring. This list features the return of some legends and greats and highlights some brand new discoveries.
Please spread the word and share this guidance with your network, and pay forward these suggestions of high quality, relatively underrated music and musicians.
Check out my YouTube playlist featuring clips from every album, linked at the end of this list.
And if you're feeling bold, drop a comment on this blog and let me know what you think. What's on your list of favorite albums for 2021?
I appreciate your interest in my Art and music opinion. Enjoy!
NOTE: I reserve the right to revise this list as necessary. I know I've probably missed some great albums in 2021, and will be sure to update this list to accommodate those next year - as I have done and will do with lists from previous years. Check back for updates!
12/28/21 Edit : Swapped Pop Evil - "Versatile" (6) with Spiritbox - "Eternal Blue" (13). I misjudged how good the new Spiritbox album is, and have updated my list accordingly.
Hushed & Grim
I have a feeling that future spins of this album will drop it closer down my list. Mastodon has great vocals, great guitars, great flows, but for some reason, I'm not completely inspired by their sound. Still, their talent and production are undeniable. They're one heavy, hairy band, not much hushed nor terribly grim. But powerful and great.
Live from the Apocalypse
I'm not usually drawn to live albums, but this album has the live feel without the live sound. Well produced and vibrant variations of their original tunes, this is a great album by long-time favorites Lacuna Coil. Cristina Scabbia is always a treat to listen to, and her voice is aging very well. I only wish this live album covered some of their earlier works, such as tunes off of "Unleashed Memories".
In the Court of the Dragon
I have a soft spot for all things Matt Heafy. Trivium is an awesomely tight and progressive band. I love the sound and fantasy concepts woven throughout this album. In time, I feel like this will end up being my favorite Trivium album, but in a year dotted with other amazing albums, this one will be easily forgot by most.
This is one diabolical and brutally fast album, a throwback to my early years of metalheadedness and my exploration of dark metal bands like Dark Angel, Helstar and Obituary.
Fear Factory may be a shadow of the beast they were in the 2000s, but this album proves they can still punch with style and consistency. Evidently, Burton C. Bell left the band after this album, so this will most likely be the last time they make this list.
Every Morcheeba album over the last 15 years has made this list. Some albums have soared higher than others, but "Sounds of Blue" reconfirms why this talented band continues to produce some of my favorite music. They're still ethereal, still mesmerizing, still part of the Sea in me. As Sneaker Pimps have proven, trip-hop isn't necessarily dead; it has just matured.
Servant of the Mind
There are many of my American friends that don't get my appreciation of Volbeat. Having grown up in Europe, I get the beer-hall style sound and harmony. I get some of Volbeat's barfy enthusiasm that comes through in their music. I get their sing-songy sensibilities. I get it. They're still 14th on the list because they can lay down an unforgettable groove and story with rage and fire.
Like Blacktop Mojo, these guys are mainline rockers with sounds straight out of the 90s. From "Let the Chaos Reign" to "Survivor" to "Breathe Again" to "Fire Inside", their rock diversity and ability to inspire are evident. They're another band that have been flying under the main wire for a long time, even though they've been around for two decades. "Versatile" finally displays their dynamic power and punch perfectly.
The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy
There was once a time that Rob Zombie inspired me endlessly. Growing up with White Zombie, his unique disco-metal style and voice stood out amongst a sea of sleepy rockers and headbangers. Turns out that I haven't liked everything that Rob Zombie does - I haven't really liked much of his Rob Zombie directorial work. I haven't loved a Rob Zombie album since "Educated Horses". And this one isn't perfect. There aren't standout hits like "Blood, Milk & Sky" or "More Human than Human" on this album. But the Conspiracy cranks out consistently entertaining horrorfunk and hellspaces.
IAMX "Machinate" +
Sneaker Pimps "Squaring the Circle"
The first of two artists in my list that had pushed out awesome works in 2021, Chris Corner shines with both his avant-garde project IAMX and his old-school return to trip-hop with Sneaker Pimps. If you've followed my music blogs for any length of time, you know my love and admiration of the art and artist that is IAMX. While Sneaker Pimps' new album has touching and beautiful music, it sounds more like a new IAMX album than it does an old-school Sneaker Pimps album (either pre- or post-Kelli Ali). With every output, Chris Corner pushes the envelope of activism and I appreciate how he's able to carry a consistent voice and approach, regardless of label he publishes under.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM
Blood in the Water
Did you know that the band Flotsam & Jetsam is 40 years old this year? They started making music when I was 8. I didn't full start appreciating them until I was 15. At 48, I'm happy to report that their 15th album is some of the best work of their catalog. While not the same revelation that previous album "End of Chaos" was, "Blood in the Water" shows they're still rockers to be reckoned with, even if they're old enough to be your Grandad.
PRINCESS GOES TO THE BUTTERFLY MUSEUM
Thanks for Coming
The multitalented Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") fronts this fantastic act. With a very Bowie-esque sound and 80s electronica vibe, Princess is a touching and charming experience. Their cover of Phantogram's "Cruel World" is spectacular, like Dexter's Dark Passenger given resonant voice.
"Wicked Woman" crept into my playlist this year and became one in my regular rotation. A callback to pure rock n' roll with themes of sacrifice and loss with tight production and classic heavy metal sound. Full on fun and rock talent.
The Bitter Truth
It's always a pleasure to showcase the work of Amy Lee. I've been an Evanescence fan since their earliest days. While their popularity has waxed and waned throughout the years, their lack of production and talent hasn't. We've faced a few years of bitter truths now that have forced much reflection. Lee said this about the album: "A lot of this album is about facing the truth, facing the bitter truths of our world and of my life and of heart. Whatever the cost of that might be on the inside. So then we can start talking about climbing out. Then we can start talking about getting to a better place. You can't appreciate the beauty of life, you can't fully experience all the good moments in life if you don't also fully experience the challenging ones, the tough ones, the painful ones."
I found this album consistent on many top album lists of the year and thought I'd give it a try. I'm sure thankful I did, because this is one adventurous and unexpectedly spectacular album. The lead singer and guitarist were formerly in a band named "iwrestledabearonce" (put in quotes because it looks strange without them). I wasn't a fan of that band, but they've sure built something special with Spiritbox.
Shoutout to friend Dennis Curran from the band Semtex for turning me on to this brutal and beautiful album. Reminded me of the first time that I listened to "Blackwater Park" with the ominous and horror-oriented tones. This is my first encounter with Whitechapel and am now determined to dig in further, tug at the roots of this bloody family.
The Dead Channel Trilogy in total is a dreamy mix of rock, dubstep, electronics, guitars, piano, and other adventures across a sonic landscape that stretches three albums with unique hues and moods to each. "Obsidian" is the final work of Stahli's Dead Channel Trilogy (("Quartz"(2020), "Copper"(2020), "Obsidian"(2021)) and is the darkest, most contemplative of the three.
Tom Morello & The Bloody Beetroots - "The Catastrophists EP" +
"The Atlas Underground Fire"
Tom Morello has created a great concept of teaming with other artists to create tunes for his Atlas Underground albums. The first Atlas Underground album was my #4 album of 2018. This time around I'm honoring Tom Morello not just for his work with Atlas Fire, but also his EP with the Bloody Beetroots, which also includes team-ups with other amazing musicians and artists and serves as a brilliant extension of his already-inspiring Underground Fire. Tom Morello is more than just the guy from Rage Against the Machine and Prophets of Rage; he is a master of music.
Grammy-nominated "Amazonia" punctuates the extreme and amazing range capable of these French masters of metal. "Another World" was highlighted on last year's list as tune to watch for in 2021, and it turned out that the whole "Fortitude" album is one of the best in the already amazing catalog of Gojira.
(Nothing is Real and This is a Simulation)
The first time I heard "Remember When" I was blown away. I've discounted Chevelle for a really long time, chalked them up as radio candy for a different audience. But the harmony, the rhythm, and the message all hit me really hard. As someone with solid chronophobia, the questions of legacy and reckoning of the passage of time are core to my existence.
With greater listens, I discovered NIRATIAS is also a concept album connected through sci-fi themes and imagery. There is an interesting interplay between questioning reality and simulations that can pose as real. I also discovered amazing hits across the whole album that expand the story. "Piistol Star (Gravity Heals"), "Peach", "Mars Simula", and "So Long Mother Earth" are some of my favorites, but I could easily include a few more on this list and... would be listing the whole album.
Throughout 2021, I spent more time going backwards in the Chevelle catalog and found many gems that I missed throughout the years. I'll be updating my previous Best of Lists to include them where appropriate. But the power of one album had me reconsidering a legacy. I can only hope someone interacts with my art someday and feels such inspiration.
To remember when we were great, lively, vibrant and innocent. To be remembered and honored for creating artistic outputs that rise above the others. I can only hope to create something something as resonant as "NIRATIAS" to be remembered by.
2021 Honorable Mentions
I had a long list of albums to choose from for my 2021 list. Here are ones that were considered, but not chosen for the top 20. They make it there someday.
Behemoth - In Absentia Dei
Converge - Bloodmoon: 1
Death Angel- The Bastard Tracks
Dee Snider- Leave a Scar
Every Time I Die - Radical
Helstar - Clad in Black
Swallow the Sun - Moonflowers
Turnstile - Glow On
Starset - Horizons