ThisIsHowYouMusic’s Top 5 Albums of 2021

Todd Rundgren said it best, “Hello, It’s Me”.

Yes it might be the “end of the year” and I might not have “posted since March” but look, I’m here to tell you about some of the best music you might have missed out on in 2021 and that has to count for something. Anyways, enough with the formalities; let’s get into the heart of it all.

5. Sour – Olivia

Wow oh wow; Olivia Rodrigo.

I always say I’m glad that I didn’t listen to Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette when I was in high school because I would have set some guy’s car on fire but if kids are doing that after listening to Sour, listen I get it.

While I don’t think any song, from any album, truly does compare to the magic of Ironic or the anger of You Oughta Know; Sour is a fantastic debut album that allows the teenagers of today to feel a sense of vindication that’s apt and quite honestly, a rite of passage. I think what makes the album so, so good; is that while her target demographic is people in their mid to late teens; my peers and I were able to find a semblance of understanding as we’re still trying to understand this big, scary world ourselves.

The opening track, “brutal”; while quite obviously written from the point of view of a teenager; still carries the voice of someone in their mid 20s trying to figure things out. It really is brutal out here. “good 4 u” and “happier” both give us the voice of resolve but also the reprieve of still being upset.

Carving an album out of a body of spite and being able to layer it with anger, melancholy, optimism and self-awareness isn’t easy to do; but Olivia Rodrigo has done it.

Favorite Track: deja vu

4. Girlfriend – THE DRIVER ERA

Call me late; well actually, no; don’t call me at all, I prefer to text.

THE DRIVER ERA (I’m not yelling at you, that’s how it’s stylized) released their second studio album, Girlfriend, this year and I was still reeling from how much I loved their first one, X. Singles from this album promised me an album that was going to be on heavy rotation and, boy, was it.

I first heard of Ross and Rocky Lynch when they were in their family pop rock Radio Disney friendly band, R5. Earlier work of the band wasn’t my cup of tea but then they turned to a funk rock sound and let me tell you; that was my cup of tea, cream and sugar. Inevitably; THE DRIVER ERA was born and I personally think it’s one of the best creative decisions they’ve made so far.

Girlfriend is a body of work that really displays the artistic complexity of Ross and Rocky Lynch as well as the versatility. With songs such as “Heart of Mine” and “Take Me Away” giving me the nostalgia of a John Hughes soundtrack and songs like “A Kiss” taking me back to mid 2000s indie rock; it felt like this album was made with me in mind. Heck, I loved it so much, that “Take Me Away” was my number one song of the year. I played it a reasonable 294 times.

Girlfriend is an album that shows us that good indie/alternative rock is not gone; and it’s never really been missing. It’s still a mix of hidden gems of magnetic bass lines and aptly used synthesizers.

Favorite Track: Take Me Away

3. 30 – Adele

Adele is That Girl, plain and simple.

My first introduction to Adele was through the medium of a department store leisure listening. Chasing Pavements was blasting through the speakers and I did what everyone who was 14 years old did at that time; wrote down the lyrics so I could Google them when I got home.

Anyways, after her release of 25, I didn’t really know what to expect for her next album. Between you and me, 25 let me down a little bit. Was it good? Of course it was, it was Adele. However, in comparison to 21, the body of work left me wanting more overall. I’m so happy to say 30 didn’t make me feel the same way at all.

The lead single, Easy on Me, got a healthy amount of replays from me but I didn’t listen to, To Be Loved, because Adele is one of the few artists that I still want to surprise me. On its initial release date, it was all you could hear in my apartment. Starting with somber song, “Strangers by Nature” and ending with the self aware almost anthem like song, Love is a Game; 30 is a cohesive body of work that is compelling, heartbreaking and inspiring.

I’ve never experienced the type of heartbreak Adele sings about; but she’s such a great writer that you can hear your voice in her words. We’ve all experienced something that leads us to “crying our heart out so we can clean our face” or asking things to “go easy on us, we were still a child” because she’s still in touch with the thing that makes her easy to relate to. She lets you know, she’s still human.

Favorite Track: My Little Love

2. Juno – Remi Wolf

If you’re familiar with this blog, you’re familiar with Remi Wolf. If you’re not familiar with this blog, get with it.

Now, onto my most anticipated album of the year and wow what a stellar debut album this was. Remi Wolf was an artist that appeared on my radar after listening to her single, “Doctor”, a couple of years ago. Her vocals were powerful, gripping and just plain fun to listen to.

Her debut album displayed not only those beloved vocals; but also her skills as a songwriter. Remi Wolf has a discography that never ceases to surprise me due to the fact her sound is here, it’s there, it’s a little bit of everywhere but, she makes it work. My three favorite tracks on this album, “wyd”, “Volkiano”, and “Sexy Villain” could not sound more different to each other but she’s so good at creating a cohesive body of work that they make sense together. Finding albums today that tell a story through production as well as lyrics isn’t all that easy to do, but I’m glad I was able to find that in Remi Wolf’s debut.

Not only that; but she provides a visual aesthetic that also, well, makes sense with the audio aesthetic she gives. It’s almost as if she’s creating a character that is both authentic and out of this world. If you haven’t given yourself a chance to listen to the wonderful, colorful, trip that is Juno, make it a point to.

Favorite Track: Sexy Villain

1. Planet Her – Doja Cat

Yes, that’s right. Your favorite little indie niche music blog is listing a Top 40 album has her favorite of the year. What can I say? Good music, is just that, good music. While we’re at, just go ahead and call me old and put me in a Rick Riordan book because I think it’s safe to say I’m a little bit of a music oracle.

In 2019, I listed Doja Cat as someone to watch out for. Before then, I was only extremely familiar with her work on her EP, Purr, and the infamous, “MOO!” meme song that was heavily making rounds. That said, whenever I showed someone that meme, there was a chuckle here, a giggle there, but there was always the same follow up; “I listened to the rest of her stuff and she’s really good.” Stick me with kid, you’ll go far.

After having what I think was a spectacular debut album and a sleeper hit second album, I didn’t know what to expect from Doja Cat’s third album, but I knew it had to be good. After seeing the virality of Hot Pink with singles such as Say So and Streets; the world would be having its eyes on Doja Cat and she always seems like the kind to deliver. Delivered is exactly what she did.

The lead single, Kiss Me More feat. SZA, was cute, it was fun and it was more pop influenced than some of her other work had been sans songs like Say So. I liked the song, I did, but it was more of a passive listen for me, personally. Her second single, “Need to Know” was the one that caught my attention and was on a, let’s say, healthy, repeat throughout the rest of the year. As someone’s who’s always respected Doja’s artistry and her production; Need to Know was a song that felt out of this world. It was still Doja, clearly, but it was a sound truly encapsulated what would soon be known as Planet Her.

After “Need to Know” was released, the album soon came after. “Woman”, the first track, lets you know exactly what you’re getting into with the rest of the musical story of the album. It’s going to be a powerhouse of sound, pen and something that is unapologetically Doja. Something authentic, unabashed but also still refined and down right good.

Musically; the album does a fantastic job of telling story and reminds me a lot of Sweetener by Ariana Grande in that regard. The songs make sense together; and while that seems like it should be the standard, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Planet Her does a fantastic job with consistent storytelling without getting boring. With songs like Get Into It (Yuh) followed by Need to Know that is then followed by I Don’t Do Drugs (feat. Ariana Grande); nothing ever stays the same.

I listen to music, a lot, and I mean, a lot; and I never allow myself to be confined to one genre, style or artist because where’s the fun in that? That said, when you’re constantly listening to different artists, you’re also finding yourself let down by sophomore albums or tired compilation CDs.

Finding myself still impressed with an artist’s work on their third album is such a rare thing, but I’m happy Doja Cat was the one to do it.

Favorite Song: Options (feat. JID)

So yes, this will wrap up 2021 over here at ThisIsHowYouMusic. It wasn’t the most eventful, but you can’t tell me you didn’t get a good bit of learning out of it? If not, then hey, at least we had fun. This year was a medley of exciting debuts, anticipated returns and new discoveries; and I’m so happy I got to share them with you.

See you in 2022, everyone.

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