Across the Margin concludes its rollout of the Best Albums of 2021 with the Top 10 Albums of 2021…
10. Wild Pink — A Billion Little Lights
To say that Wild Pink wowed us with their recent album, A Billion Little Lights, would be a massive understatement. The third album from the New York City based rock band is absolutely loaded, a ten song journey that incorporates fiddles, violins, wurlitzers, saxophones, accordions, pedal steel guitars, and a variety of richly textured synths and keyboards. Where should you start with this outstanding album? At its top of course, and then simply let it ride. However, the apple of our eyes among this stellar batch of songs is, “Family Friends,” a song that the band describes as “musings on day-to-day stasis.” It’s a delightful tune whose dreamy feel and uplifting chorus of “Hold on tight, Stay right here, Blood sisters, Dazed and pure, Lights spin around, Like stars that fall down, Come back home, Dream all night,” is all-encompassing and wholly invigorating, as too is the entirety of their brilliant new album.
9. Isaiah Rashad — The House Is Burning
It’s been a difficult few years for the outstanding rapper from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Isaiah Rashad. For years, Rashad has been one of the most consistent and exciting voices in all of hip-hop, but personal struggles with alcohol and depression have crippled his output. This rough patch in the artist’s life has included stints of near poverty and time in an Orange County rehab facility. These difficulties are explored throughout Rashad’s latest album, The House Is Burning, one which finds him ruminating on his rehab, depression, and his eventual mortality. While introspective and rife with thoughtful, personal rhymes, the fact of the matter is The House Is Burning also bumps. It’s an album overflowing with that bounce that gets the party started while offering profound insight into Rashad’s complicated headspace.
8. Dave — We’re All Alone In This Together
David Orobosa “Dave” Omoregie is a British rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor whose second album, We’re All Alone In This Together, presents an artist gifted in crafting sharp, thought-provoking rhymes. But what impresses us the most is Dave’s cutting social commentary present on the album. Take for example, the deeply affecting “Three Rivers,” where the talented rapper rhymes about the experience of the Windrush Generation, a generation of people who travelled from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1973 following World War II to fill labor shortages. In time, many of the Windrush Generation were falsely deemed as “illegal immigrants” by the UK government and they began losing access to housing, healthcare, and bank accounts. Many were placed in immigration detention centres or deported to countries they had not lived in for decades. Dave tells the story of those who came to a country as heroes, and whose lives were destroyed eventually by racism in an entirely engaging manner, displaying the sort of narratives and insight you will find throughout We’re All Alone In This Together.
7. Mdou Moctar — Afrique Victime
Mdou Moctar, for those unindoctrinated, is a Tuareg songwriter and musician, one of the first musicians to perform modern electronic adaptations of Tuareg guitar music. His rise to fame is a fascinating story, as he was raised in a family disapproving of electronic music, yet this didn’t hold Moctar back from chasing his passion. He began to concoct makeshift guitars using strings made from bicycle wires. In time, as his talents blossomed and his equipment modernized, he recorded songs on mobile phones and memory cards to be distributed throughout West Africa, and he was finally discovered by Sahel Sounds label founder Chris Kirkley. Years later, we find a fully formed, awesomely talented Moctar releasing one of 2021’s most impressive albums, Afrique Victime, one you have to hear firsthand to understand Moctar’s gift. The opening track, “Chismiten,” is the perfect introduction to Moctar’s jaw-dropping talents, a song that starts out in fifth gear, and never lets up.
6. Brockhampton — Roadrunner: New Light, New MachineThere is no better song, in our humble but emphatic opinion, that represents who Brockhampton is, and what they are capable of, than “WINDOWS,” an album off their sixth studio album Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine. The reason being is that “WINDOWS” is the only track on the album to feature contributions from all seven of the famed hip-hop collective’s main vocalists, as well as uncredited vocals from frequent Brockhampton-collaborator Ryan Beatty. The song is produced by all three of the groups’ main producers, Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Kiko Merley. Add to that mix, “WINDOWS” marks the band’s first collaboration with SoGone SoFlexy, who is signed to Brockhampton members’ Kevin Abstract & Romil Hemnani’s record label VIDEOSTORE. Yup, the whole team is in the mix, and the results are phenomenal, and so is the entirety of Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.
5. Big Red Machine — How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
The second full-length release for the collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner under the moniker Big Red Machine features guest appearances from Fleet Foxes, Lisa Hannigan, Ben Howard, Ilsey, La Force, Anaïs Mitchell, Naeem, Shara Nova, Taylor Swift, This Is The Kit, and Sharon Van Etten. Yet the artists recruited to help bring this magnificent work of life fit so seamlessly into the fold of what makes Big Red Machine’s sonic charm so special that it’s more apt to look at the project not as a band but as a community. Or as Dessner puts it, “it’s like a laboratory for experimentation and also a vehicle to collaborate with friends and try to grow.” The ethos of the band appears to be that the door is always open for collaboration, and with Vernon and Dressner working in concert with such remarkable musicians, so much magic is born. But it is very much worth noting also how deeply personal How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? is to Aaron Dessner. “This is Aaron’s record,” Justin Vernon plainly starts in a NY Times feature, exemplified in the three songs found on that album that Aaron’s tackles vocally alone: “Magnolia,” The Ghost of Cincinnati,” and “Brycie,” the latter of which persists as heartfelt ode to Aaron’s twin brother who helped him through his battles with depression in life. Dessner has documented how music has helped in guiding him through his struggles, and a vast variety of gorgeous musical catharsis can be experienced throughout the entirety of How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, a gorgeous, calming, and heartfelt melodic adventure.
4. Tyler, The Creator — CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
One would think that following up on the success of 2019’s Grammy Award winning album Igor would be a challenging feat for the renowned, and oft-controversial, rapper Tyler ,The Creator. But step up to this task is exactly what Tyler did as his sixth full-length studio album finds the artist at his most potent. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is crowded, and it may be months before we fully unpack it, but we will enjoy every minute of trying. Melding his brand of ferocious, introspect, and always honest hip-hop with jazz, funk, soul, and even an eight-and-a-half minute song (“Wilkshire”) of breakbeats funk guitar where Tyler waxes poetic about a failed relationship and his fluid approach to sexuality, Tyler leaned into this one with all he had. A complex work of art, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST introduces listeners to Tyler’s newest persona, one Sire Tyler Baudelaire, a nod to prominent French poet, essayist and art critic Charles Baudelaire. The album is hosted by the legendary master-of-ceremonies / hype man DJ Drama, whose interludes continuously set the table aptly. With appearances from 42 Dugg, Daisy World, Domo Genesis, Brent Faiyaz, Fana Hues, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne, NBA YoungBoy, Teezo Touchdown, Ty Dolla $ign, and Pharrell Williams. While 2021 was another distinguished year for hip-hop releases, we can assuredly state that CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is our pick for the best hip-hop album of 2021.
Essential tracks: “Corso,” “Lumberjack,” “JUGGERNAUT (feat Lil Uzi Vert, Pharrell Williams),” “WUSYANAME (feat Youngboy Never Broke Again, Ty Dolla $ign).”
3. St. Vincent — Daddy’s Home
St. Vincent’s (Annie Clark) latest album, Daddy’s Home, is an expressive triumph. The sixth full-length release for Clark is an album inspired by her father’s 1970’s record collection, hence the name, and is co-produced by accomplished producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey). There is a broadness of depth across the album, finding Clark exploring her past in a deeply personal and emotional way. The musical soundscapes, nuanced and potent, and the splendid power and emotion present in Daddy’s Home make it clear that St. Vincent has fully arrived as one of this generation’s most extraordinary acts. There isn’t a song on the album that doesn’t touch us in one way or another. They are all impactful in their own way. One of our favorites, “Down,” is a thick and funky, yet sexy stunner — that will get you started, but don’t stop there. We highly recommend you circle back to the top of the album where the equally sultry, Prince (or Bowie?)-inspired funk fest that is “Pay Your Way in Pain” resides. After that we suggest you just sit back, dive deep and let what remains of Daddy’s Home wash over you.
2. Valerie June — The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
Memphis-based singer/songwriter Valerie June’s latest album, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, is a melodious adventure through the lessons of love and loss, and the most impressive release yet from an extremely talented songstress. June’s ability to seamlessly blend a mélange of blues, gospel, African rhythms, folk, delicate soul, and country, is awe-inspiring. Co-producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys) has helped June craft The Moon and Stars into an album that is conceptually deep, featuring a lush tapestry of compelling songs woven together with strings, flutes, and chimes while a well-crafted narrative promotes perseverance and believing in oneself. A great place to immerse yourself on this album is the bewitching track “You and I,” an alluring, and outright uplifting song that soars on the wings of June’s divine vocals.
1. Adia Victoria — A Southern Gothic
The aptly titled A Southern Gothic, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Adia Victoria’s third album, magically transplants listeners far below the Mason Dixon Line on a haunting, melodious, and flat out gorgeous journey. “I wanted you to get that ethereal feel of the South. The humidity of it, the heat. I wanted this record to encapsulate the extremes of the South”, Victoria said of the record. Executive produced by the great T Bone Burnett, A Southern Gothic is replete with deep blues and evocative soul music, and and the expressive narratives found within each song shine a light on a truly gifted storyteller (see “Dark Water Blues” about a Black woman refusing to help a drowning white man in a flood). The guest contributions on the album are choice, including a gorgeous duet with The National’s Matt Berninger on “South for the Winter,” and fellow Nashvillian Jason Isbell who lays down a soulful, fiery guitar solo on “You Was Born To Die” (both songs also feature backup vocals from Margo Price!). A Southern Gothic is a mighty tribute to the South, its troubled history as well as the wide-ranging abundance of harmonious beauty that can be found there.