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The five 2021 albums you need to hear

On November 10, 2021

BY RYAN RUTKOWSKI / VN STAFF WRITER

2021 has been another remarkable year in the music industry and, as we all anticipate our Spotify Wrapped, it is time to look back at some of the best albums of the year.

Many people expected artists to use the pandemic to create exceptional works of art.

Despite an overabundance of incredible music this year, not every great album can make it into my top five (obviously), and some well-known ones did not make the cut, including “Donda” by Kanye West, “Azalea” by Airospace, “Vince Staples” by Vince Staples, “Scaled and Icy” by Twenty One Pilots and “Nurture” by Porter Robinson.

The following five albums stand out for me as the five that everyone should listen to at least once before the end of the year.

Number 5 comes from British singer-songwriter Robin “Cavetown” Skinner, the EP “Man’s Best Friend.” Skinner has always been known for his honest and often heart-breaking songwriting and does it again with this project.

The EP opens with the track “Idea of Her,” the story of a hopeless crush and the battles of knowing what it means to love and how to feel.

The project continues, brimming with warm vocals and soft indie instrumentals that blanket his signature standout lyricism through a journey touched by stories of love and mental health and finally closing with the track “Sharpener.”

“Sharpener” is undeniably the heaviest and most emotional song on the EP.

It covers the topic of self-harm and self-destructive coping mechanisms.

“It’s an ‘if you know, you know’ kind of song,” said Skinner in an interview with Dork Magazine, “but regardless, I am very proud of it, and it’s one of my only songs which actually moves me to tears a bit.”

“Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” from British-Nigerian rapper Simbiatu “Little Simz” Abisola Abiola Ajikawo comes next at number 4.

If your mind is even half as blown as mine by this project, we will get along great.

“Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” is an incredible self-examination of the duality between her extroverted celebrity self and her introverted personal self.

The introductory track “Introvert” is an incredible experience that foreshadows where the rest of the album is heading.

“I hate the thought of just being a burden,” she sings. “I hate that these conversations are surfaced. Simz the artist or Simbi the person?”

These lines show her own conflicted feelings about being a public persona.

This album reveals Little Simz at her most vulnerable and relatable, opening her life to us bystanders.

The former bedroom-pop queen Claire “Clairo” Cottrill holds the number 3 spot with her second album, “Sling.”

It was a surprise, sonically, to many fans used to her lo-fi, bedroom-pop sound.

“Sling” is more of a folk-pop album with incredible production. She takes a softer, more depressive route on this project.

The track “Blouse” contains some of the best songwriting of the year. It tackles the issue of continued sexualization in the workplace and her feelings of being fed up and defeated.

“It’s an experience I didn’t necessarily wanna talk about but I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” Cottrill said in an interview with Vogue. “It’s a song that I really needed to write, and doing so made me recognize some strength that I have in myself.”

This album evinces growth for the Atlanta-born singer, especially from her first album, “Immunity.”

With production by Jack Antonoff, it does a remarkable job giving Cottrill creative freedom and room to mature.

One of the most talked about celebrities of the year, potentially of the last five years, is Montero Hill, better known by his stage name, Lil Nas X.

Headline after headline, controversy after controversy, Lil Nas X created a buzz not only in the music industry, but in the average household, so his debut album had to be something to remember.

“Montero” does not disappoint.

Lil Nas X exudes confidence in the variety of topics and themes presented on this project. He proves on this album that he can not only sing and rap but shift tones and deal with heavier themes of depression and loneliness.

The first half of the LP has fan favorites “Montero” and “Industry Baby,” where Hill showcases his ability to create incredible pop-rap songs that reach an extended audience.

As the album heads into its latter half, songs such as “Void” and “Am I Dreaming?” elaborate on his struggles with parental abuse, sexuality and his time in the spotlight as a celebrity.

“Montero” acts a precursor for an artist who could become one of the greatest influences on modern media.

The final album on this list comes from an artist who has already staked himself as one of the greatest artists of our generation.

“Call Me If You Get Lost” is another masterpiece in an already critically acclaimed discography from California native Tyler, the Creator.

The project shows Tyler’s command of the creative process through his production and lyrics that vividly paint the themes of romance and newfound fame.

In the song “Lumberjack,” Tyler explains how he is hungry for success and willing to chop down anyone who gets in the way.  The track explains how his success and wealth matter to him because not-so-long-ago, people of color were merely slaves to white men.

The album continues to be engaging with each track as he incorporates features from Lil Wayne and Domo Genesis that almost overshadow Tyler’s own performance.

The album takes a somber turn with the two-part track “Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance,” where Tyler addresses his infatuation with a girl who ultimately chooses another man.

The story of this girl is explored deeper in the rough and honest track “Wilshire.”

Tyler expresses how conflicted he is with the feeling of love and his regret for creating such a difficult situation for him and his friends.

“Call Me If You Get Lost” is an amalgamation of sounds and styles that Tyler has used before.

The experimental R&B of “Igor” and the more bare-bones hardcore hip-hop of “Wolf” come together to create music like no one else has in 2021.

Tyler has continued to open a door to his inner thoughts, with each of his albums raising just one question: Where can he go from here?

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