Back again, kiddos! While everyone was recently obsessed with posting their Spotify year-end reviews (me included), I was busy taking notes and making hard decisions with regard to what I would include on my top 5 lists this year (the fourth year in a row that I’ve done it!). This first paragraph is merely the boilerplate preface to inform the reader that this is a three-part series where I follow in the footsteps of my favorite music blogs and present my favorite music of the year. As per usual, it will be broken down into three parts: 5 Favorite New Releases of 2021, 5 Favorite NOT New Releases That I Rocked Hard in 2021 and 5 Songs I Made My Ears Bleed With — Both New and Old — in 2021. With a few close calls worth mentioning, I’ve chosen to provide a few honorable mentions at the end of each post as well.
All three sets are in no particular order unless otherwise noted.
This is Part 1 of 3.
TOP 5 NEW RELEASES OF 2021
Morgan Wallen – Dangerous: The Double Album
Released: January 8, 2021
My Favorite Tracks: Somebody’s Problem; 865; Wasted on You
Okay, so in last year’s songs post I mentioned Morgan Wallen — the 20-something country music singer with a horrible haircut, questionable COVID awareness and maker of bad judgement calls regarding racist speech — but that was only because of that one song, 7 Summers. Shortly after I wrote that post, however, Wallen released Dangerous: The Double Album complete with 30 tracks (over 90-minutes worth) of top-notch country music. Granted, the titles of the songs could easily be Track 1: Drinking Whiskey Thinking About A Girl I Could’ve Had, Track 2: Drinking Whiskey Thinking About A Girl I Broke Up With But Am Still Not Over, Track 3: Drinking Whiskey Thinking About The Girl I’m Currently Dating And Will Probably Marry repeated 10 times but they’re still just so, so good. Wallen is unapologetically Southern in a way that’s more authentic than a lot of other pop-country stars I tried getting into in the last year. While this list is not in any particular order, I’d be comfortable saying this is my favorite new record of the year.
Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Released: March 19, 2021
My Favorite Tracks: White Dress; Dance Till We Die; For Free
Y’all know that if Lana releases a record, it’s going to be on this list! Last year’s Norman Fucking Rockwell is hard to beat … and I don’t think she did it with this record, but it’s a beautiful record in its own regard. Lana does some things on Chemtrails that she either has never done before or is a much-appreciated return to what made her such a beautiful singer in the first place — just relying on her pouty, soulful voice. The album’s opening track White Dress has Lana using a vocal style rarely heard on previous releases while Let Me Love You Like a Woman depicts the strong-yet-submissive femininity that only Lana can make work so well. I think what I love most about this record is that the guest spots don’t feel out of place like they do (in my opinion) on previous records. Singer-songwriter Nikki Lane lends her talents to Breaking Up Slowly — a tear-jerking jam about being better off after a breakup while both Weyes Blood and Zella Day join Lana on album closer For Free, which is a touching ballad about how Lana plays for thousands at top-dollar while a musician who is equally talented is satisfied performing on the streets just for the joy. I think the storytelling element of this record really shines and makes this one of Lana’s strongest releases to-date.
Beartooth – Below
Released: June 25, 2021
My Favorite Tracks: Below; Devastation; The Last Riff
I said it last year and I’ll say it again — Hardcore Punk is alive and well. Beartooth has popped up on random playlists for me the last year or two but I never took a dive into them until the release of Below this year. On this record, you’ll get everything you want out of Hardcore and then some — the music is heavy, the breakdowns can cause injury, the lyrics are empowering and the vocals are easy/fun to sing along with (aggressively, of course). What Beartooth has done here is unique in my experience with Hardcore in that they’ve created something melodic and enjoyable while also adhering to the intensity of the genre — a genre that is admittedly not for everyone.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Carnage
Released: February 25, 2021
My Favorite Tracks: Hand of God; Carnage; White Elephant
Several years ago I got to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds featuring the great Warren Ellis at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen and I’m chomping at the bit to go see them again. One of the things that made the show so memorable was the chemistry between Cave and Ellis onstage. You could tell they were both musical geniuses who played off each other rather than competing. What they’ve done with Carnage is nothing short of provocative and thought-inducing. The instrumentals are stripped down yet very different on each track. And if you’re already a fan of Cave’s lyrics, you’ll be satisfied here with lyrics such as I’m a 200-pound octopus under a sheet dancing ’round your world with my hands and feet and I’m a Botticelli Venus with a penis riding an enormous scalloped fan; I’m a foam woman rising from the spray and I’m coming to do you harm with a gun in my pants full of elephant tears and a seahorse on each arm.
Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
Released: July 30, 2021
My Favorite Tracks: Getting Older; Oxytocin; Therefor I Am
This time last year I was only recently turned onto Billie Eilish thanks to my beautiful fiancee. Now I’m a pretty big fan and her recent effort Happier Than Ever kills. The things that make you love Billie are all here — the drowsy vocals, lo-fi beats and intellectual subject matter. At 19 years of age, Eilish shows a maturity that most teenagers can’t even comprehend as she sings about the loopholes she has to jump through to be in relationships (and presumably have sex) and the struggle of being a young woman whose fashion sense runs counter to the desires of modern culture. The buildup and finale present in the album’s title track is one of my favorite things she’s ever produced. I can’t wait to see where her career goes.