KANYE WEST— DONDA
genre - hiphop
I wouldn’t argue that DONDA as a stand-alone record is one of the best records this year. It is stuffed with unnecessary tracks and severely lacks production refinement — certainly, there are other records released in 2021 that succeeded in the areas in which DONDA fails. That being said, the three-part livestream listening events leading up to the record’s drop were hands down the most interesting thing to happen in music this year, thus landing a spot in this year’s top 10 list.
Ultimately, my feelings on Donda are fairly mixed: half of the material on the record works while the other half leaves me cold. I will say, the highs are remarkably high and are some of my favorite moments since Yeezus, but the lows suck the momentum from the overall flow of the record leaving it feeling unfinished and overly bloated. Excluding those duds still leaves a generous album length with a powerful tracklist. However, for a project that seemed so personal, Donda is surprisingly scatterbrained and lacks coherent sequencing or a greater narrative arc apart from occasional motifs like the road to redemption before a higher power, the fallibility of prison culture, and Kanye’s sustaining love for his children.
If there is anything to expect from Kanye it is the unexpected, and DONDA is no exception. Whatever the Chicago native’s next move will be I’m sure it will be a spectacle that gives DONDA a run for its money.
Read full critique in the August Issue >
favorite tracks - heaven and hell, come to life, believe what i say
THE ARMED — ULTRAPOP
genre - anti-punk
While it may not be the best record of the year, The Armed 4th studio record ULTRAPOP certainly may be the loudest. This 12 track record seamlessly sprawls across man genres like black metal and synthpop, though The Armed prefer to describe their sound as “anti-punk.” Regardless, this group featuring an arsenal of four guitarists and multiple rotating drummers defy expectations with one of the most unique albums of the year.
favorite tracks - an iteration, bad selection, the music becomes a skull
PARANNOUL — TO SEE THE NEXT PART OF THE DREAM
genre - emo, noise rock
To See the Next Part of the Dream is the second album by the Korean shoegaze musician Parannoul — though their sound is less like shoegaze more like an impression of a dream-like emo record, consistent in level of emotion and noise, at times sounding like it’s being held together by duct tape. Each track on this ten track record is astonishingly lush with melodies to match. The heaviness and depth of this album isn’t for everyday listening but it is worth the experience. Don’t be intimidated by the language barrier as the vocals are fairly low in the mix, and besides, music is the universal language.
favorite tracks - beautiful world, excuse, white ceiling
THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE & I AM NO LONGER AFRAID TO DIE — ILLUSORY WALLS
genre - post-rock
TWIABP demands much of the listener’s attention with their fourth studio album, perhaps their most expansive album to date. As they fuse elements of genres like art rock, post-rock, and post-hardcore to demonstrate the innate technical proficiency that reveals themselves through close observation. Though Illusory Walls lacks a level of intimacy present in previous records, it doesn’t lack emotion or positivity as TWIABP looks past the perceived horrors of modernity to focus on mankind’s resilience.
favorite tracks - afraid to die, queen sophie for president, infinite josh
EVERY TIME I DIE — RADICAL
genre - metalcore
Radical is well-executed unexpectedness. With its persistent density and spontaneity, this 16 track record is the sonic equivalent of a relentless roller coaster that leaves one slightly whiplashed and shell shocked upon listening. While trying to recover from one riff, Every Time I Die will smash another mathcore breakdown or some post-ironic lyrical absurdity over the listener’s heads. That being said, Radical features some of the heaviest and most chaotic moments of the band’s career between sustaining brutalist guitars and the fervent anger behind lead singer Keith Buckley’s vocals.
Read full critique in the October issue >
favorite tracks - post-boredom, desperate pleasures, thing with feathers
L’RAIN — FATIGUE
genre - experimental pop
In the most genre-defying record of the year, L’Rain explores elements of art pop, R&B, jazz, psychedelia, electronic, and ambient, but to categorize Fatigue as any of the above would be dishonest. L’Rain creates a sonic atmosphere that is simultaneously comforting and unnerving, an avant-garde journey with no particular destination in mind. With stellar production, experimental songwriting, and versatile vocals, Fatigue is an otherworldly creation that is well worth the listen.
favorite tracks - find it, two face, suck teeth
IDLES — CRAWLER
genre - post-punk
A year of soul searching did IDLES well — their new sound, though more of a slow-burning post-punk now than previously an immediate punk, suits them brilliantly. CRAWLER builds upon the momentum of Ultra Mono while expanding past their old tricks to strike a good balance between the “new” and the “familiar.” That, combined with the most intimate display of emotion we’ve seen from the band thus far results in some of the most memorable tracks of their career. IDLES aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and based on the conceptual departure of CRAWLER, I’m more excited than ever to witness the remaining artistic trajectory of this killer band.
Read full critique in the November issue >
favorite tracks - the beachland ballroom, progress, car crash
LANTLOS — WILDHUND
genre - post-metal
Wildhund may be a slight stylistic departure for German post-metal band Lantlos, but they maintain their accessible sonic range and precise production nonetheless. It shines best in the essence of each individual track, each of which contains its own perspective and flavor. Throughout this record, Lantlos throw math-rock curveballs, interject unexpected metalcore breakdowns, and steer into shoegaze riffs atop impressive vocal melodies. Highlights include track four, “Home,” with lyrics expressing a welcomed emotional earnestness, and track eight, “Cloud Inhaler”, a surprising misty minimalist shoegaze ambient interlude. The beauty of this record reveals itself in between the noise, and there is merit in the way Lantlos stay consistent in quality while transforming conceptually.
favorite tracks - home, magnolia, chould inhaler
LOW — HEY WHAT
genre - ambient pop, post-industrial
LOW’s expansion into glitch industrial hymns is the logical trajectory for a band with such an intuitive sonic perspective. Throughout their many years making music, they’ve perpetually pushed themselves beyond their conceptual boundaries as they have developed their creative output to distill the current cultural mood into high-quality music…It’s rare that a veteran band like LOW can keep reinventing themselves with such vibrancy. Their commitment to an ever-evolving uncompromising vision is second to none — it’s one skill to be innovative and avant-garde but it’s an entirely different, more difficult skill to consolidate that avant-garde messiness into a cohesive and digestible sound, something that LOW have mastered on HEY WHAT.
Read full critique in the September issue >
favorite tracks - hey, days like these, more
Deafheaven — Infinite GRanite
genre - metalgaze
You know a record is good when you have no words to describe it. I’ve always found that the most personal records are the most difficult to write about since those records become so resonant that it is somehow beyond language. Infinite Granite is that something intangible, something dreamlike, something that you will want to listen to from here until eternity. I keep returning to tracks like “In Blur,” “Villain,” and “Other Language” for their captivating songwriting, and the song “Great Mass of Colors” distills a transcendent essence that is mesmerizing, but there isn’t a single skip on this nine-track record.
Read full critique in the August issue >
favorite tracks -great mass of colors, in blur, villain
lana del rey - blue banisters
turnstiles - GLOW ON
black midi - clavacle
dean blunt - black metal two
japanese breakfast - jubilee
TOP TRACKS OF 2021: