It’s been a stellar year for the ole medium of art that we call “music.” The shortlist of albums that I had considered for my top 25 was well over three times as large as the number I eventually ended up with. I’m very happy with my choices this year, but I do have to issue the usual statement about how the order of the albums is very tricky, and nuanced, and it will most likely change minute by minute, but this is about as official as it’s going to get as of Friday December 31, 2021 at 4:23 p.m. I’ve made a fun little playlist with one of my favourite songs from each record (here) and I’ve embedded links to stream each album on Spotify if you’d like to listen to the albums as you read. I hope you enjoy the list and feel free to contact me on Instagram or Twitter if I’ve broken your heart by not including your favourite album (sorry Drake fans). Happy New Year everyone, hears to 12 more months of bops.
Love, Jimmy Gibson
25. Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under
The second record from English singer-songwriter combines bombastic, Springsteen-esque heartland rock production with intimate, wise and witty lyricism. Equal parts post-teenage desperation and young-adult existential questioning.
Favourite tracks: Seventeen Going Under, Long Way Off, Spit of You, Angel in Lothian
24. Angelo De Augustine and Sufjan Stevens – A Beginner’s Mind
One of Stevens’ best collaboration decisions in years, A Beginner’s Mind, revels in the duo’s love for cinema. The concept of basing each on a film the pair watched together plays beautifully to both artists’ aptitudes for kaleidoscopic and sometimes sprawling storytelling.
Favourite tracks: Back to Oz, Olympus, Cimmerian Shade
23. Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha
Woozy and wobbly grooves saturate the latest release from Faye Webster. Her hypnotic, golden-brown voice meshes with watery synth and guitar layers leaving the listener floating in a vat of smooth, thick jelly.
Favourite tracks: Better Distractions, In a Good Way, Both All the Time
22. Big Red Machine – How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
The glitchy indie-folk collaboration between Justin Vernon and the National’s Aaron Dessner is back with a slightly smoother, and less electronic-based record. The record is full of an unexpected assortment of featured artists from recent Dessner collaborator and pop icon, Taylor Swift to hip hop up-and-comer, Naeem to indie darlings like Anaïs Mitchell and Sharon Van Etten. How Long… basks in colourful combinations of styles and visions without seeming scattered or bloated.
Favourite tracks: Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift), The Ghost of Cincinnati, Easy to Sabotage (feat. Naeem), Hutch (feat. Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan & Shara Nova)
21. Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth
There are quite a few debut albums on this list, but Smiling With No Teeth definitely wins the award for “Holy Shit, This is His Debut Album?!” The Australian rapper has been seemingly on the come-up for half a decade now with his distinctly grimy and emotionally charged sound. His first-full length LP is a master class in combining dirty — yet somehow also immaculately produced — electronic loops with impassioned and deeply human storytelling.
Favourite tracks: Waitin’ on Ya, Gold Chains, Black Dogs!, A Song About Fishing
20. Boy Golden – Church of Better Daze
I can guarantee that Winnipeg’s own Boy Golden is not what anyone pictures when thinking of a country singer, but maybe he should be. The Church of Better Daze is hazy and charismatic. An easy-going, tune about relaxing and living life in a chemically-altered state is not a rarity in the world of country music, but Boy Golden’s humble, earnest and often hilarious delivery is a breath of fresh air in a country music landscape too-often dominated by braggadocio and frat culture. Get your fix today.
Favourite tracks: KD and Lunch Meat, Church of Better Daze, Smoke on the Breeze, To Be You Tonight
19. The Antlers – Green to Gold
The Antlers have never been a flashy band. They excel at tightly-interlocking minimalistic grooves, and it’s done so perfectly that the concept of the passage of time becomes largely optional. This is maybe a little ironic of me to say because the lyrics throughout the album poignantly paint a picture of ageing and its peaceful but stubborn inevitability. Green to Gold is as autumnal and warm as the name would imply. It’s the perfect record for eating an extra-crunchy apple while wearing a loose-fitting, cable-knit sweater.
Favourite tracks: Wheels Roll Home, Green To Gold, Equinox
18. Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic
Silk Sonic wins my made-up award for “most apt band name.” After a hype-up introduction from funk legend, Bootsy Collins, the unexpectedly perfect duo Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak launch into a string of funk and soul bangers that pay homage to the legacy of Parliament-Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield and other giants of the 70s. What the record might admittedly lack in groundbreaking elements, it makes up for tenfold with its performers’ otherworldly charm and talent. The track list is the textbook definition of all-killer, no filler. The sublime chemistry between Mars and .Paak is on full display here, and the world (including me) is already eager for more from them.
Favourite tracks: Leave the Door Open, Fly As Me, Smokin Out the Window, Put On a Smile
17. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
Even as one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Happier Than Ever still managed to surprise me as one of the most musically-dynamic love letters to pop music I’ve heard all year. I also didn’t expect my understanding of pop music in the previous sentence to be so Tin Pan Alley-adjacent. Wild. It’s hard to find something that hasn’t already been said about Eilish’s vocal prowess, so I’ll leave it at this: I don’t think I expected to be so in favour of her someday releasing an entire bossa nova record. Fingers crossed.
Favourite Tracks: my future, Halley’s Comet, Your Power, Happier Than Ever
16. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Verson)
I also liked Red (Not Taylor’s Version). But that Red didn’t have “Nothing New,” so fuck that Red. At this point in the absolute world domination of Taylor Swift, I’m a little doubtful anyone is reading this and thinking “hmm, Jimmy Gibson has really convinced me to finally give this woman a shot. I was on the fence before, but now I’m ready…” However, if such a person does exist: it’s kind of a stunningly gorgeous record; get off your fence and listen!
Favourite tracks: State of Grace, I Almost Do, Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers), I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton), All Too Well (10 Minute Version)
15. Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time
Things Take Time, Take Time takes time. This absolutely not your usual psychedelic / garage rock inspired Courtney Barnett. This is “I listen to a lot of Stereolab and early Mercury Rev” Courtney Barnett (I assume, I didn’t ask her her influences). All that to say this album has some of Barnett’s most stripped down, bare-bones work to date. For anyone who loves her unique ability to turn the simple and the everyday into the most stunning subject matter, this album has a way of taking its time to sneak its way into your brain.
Favourite tracks: Rae Street, Turning Green, Write a List of Things to Look Forward To
14. Remi Wolf – Juno
Juno is pop music for anyone who can’t decide whether they should eat breakfast or drop out of school and join the circus. Remi Wolf laughs in the face of anyone who thinks they have her understood, fully embracing the colourful aesthetic potential of pure chaos.
Favourite tracks: Guerrilla, Quiet on Set, Grumpy Old Man, Sexy Villain
13. Lil Nas X – MONTERO
The album is so good that I kind of forgot he made “Old Town Road” for a little while, and that’s an impressive feat. MONTERO represents hip hop entering and embracing its glam era and Lil Nas X is the perfect ambassador. I can’t wait for his Berlin trilogy.
Favourite tracks: MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), THATS WHAT I WANT, ONE OF ME (feat. Elton John), DOLLA SIGN SLIME (feat. Megan Thee Stallion), VOID
12. Deerhoof – Actually, You Can
Like any good Deerhoof project, Actually, You Can contains multitudes. Within any one song, you’re hit with vocal lines that border on saccharine paired with riffs that would either make Slayer reconsider career paths or outdo even the Grateful Dead’s windiest noodlings. It’s playful, it’s abrasive, and it’s decidedly not for everyone, but that’s rock and roll for you.
Favourite tracks: Be Unbarred, O Ye Gates of Hell; Department of Corrections; Scarcity is Manufactured; Ancient, Mysteries Described
11. Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Following up Tyler, the Creator’s 2019’s opus Igor is quite the undertaking, but CALL ME… manages to maintain the unpredictable, in-your-face atmosphere of its predecessor while leaning on a crisp, jazzier production style. Musical ideas are thrown out faster than the listener can process them. It’s the kind of record that rewards both first impression listens as well as explorations into the layers of samples and frenetic beat switch-ups.
Favourite tracks: WUSYANAME (feat. Youngboy Never Broke Again & Ty Dolla $ign), LUMBERJACK, HOT WIND BLOWS (feat. Lil Wayne), SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE (feat. Brent Faiyaz & Fana Hues)
10. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
Nigerien singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire, Mdou Moctar, was my introduction to assouf music with the complex and mesmerizing rhythms the dominate his latest release, Afrique Victime. It’s rare to come across an album that works equally well for dancing as it does for somber reflections on the ongoing, fucked-up legacy of colonialism throughout Africa. But if you’re looking for such an album, Moctar has just the thing for you.
Favourite tracks: Chismiten, Ya Habibti, Layla, Afrique Victime
9. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Jubilee is twinkly indie-pop at its peak. Japanese Breakfast delivers finely-crafted musical gems one after another, each one wafting through on Michelle Zauner’s gloriously aching vocal delivery. The duality of sugary hooks-for-days mixed with teary-eyed atmospheric synth passages makes this a classic comfort album in a year that demanded it.
Favourite tracks: Be Sweet, Slide Tackle, Posing In Bondage, Sit
8. Squid – Bright Green Field
Despite being only the second most influential Squid-based intellectual property (see the world domination of a certain South Korean Netflix show), and bizarrely one of about half dozen stunning British post-punk albums released this year, Bright Green Field commanded attention and respect for its singular, and flawlessly executed vision. Jagged and intricate guitar work meets hyper-emotive spoken word vocal passages to create a wondrously frantic and distinctly Squid-y sound. They’ve cornered the market on sounding like themselves. It’s a hard thing to do and I absolutely need to hear more.
Favourite tracks: G.S.K., Narrator, Paddling, Documentary Filmmaker
7. Sleater-Kinney – path of wellness
Over two decades of punk dominance still hasn’t lessened the power that Sleater-Kinney brings to each new release. On path of wellness, the Olympia band repackages their usual fluttery, yet angular guitar riffs to create a constantly jittery, claustrophobic atmosphere on the LP. Despite the departure of legendary longtime drummer, Janet Weiss, this album is one of the most driving, and immediately thrilling releases of the year.
Favourite tracks: Worry With You, Method, Tomorrow’s Grave, Complex Female Characters
6. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR
I’ll be honest. When I first heard “driver’s license,” I didn’t expect an album like SOUR to come from it. I didn’t even really like the song. But… I’m a big enough person to admit that this is the most wrong I’ve been all year (at least). SOUR knows exactly what it is, and what it wants. It’s punk when it needs to be, it’s a muted piano ballad if that’s what it takes, but it’s always singularly Rodrigo. She knows what she’s doing and we’re all just along for the ride.
Favourite tracks: brutal, traitor, deja vu, good 4 u
5. Islands – Islomania
These Montreal indie darlings came to 2021 with their bubbliest, summer-y synth jams yet. The perfect blend of New Order bouncy electro-pop mastery and classic Strokes swagger, Islomania is the brief moment of levity that I (read everyone) needed this year.
Favourite tracks: (We Like To) Do It With The Lights On, Closed Captioning, Never Let You Down, Marble
4. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
This album was marketed as St. Vincent’s love letter to the soul music of the 70s, and while that’s absolutely true, I’m not sure that description does this masterpiece of an album entirely enough justice. While it owes much its basic aesthetic to the Young Americanses and the Talking Bookses of the world, it brings out St. Vincent’s now-signature post-modern musical flavour arguably better than any of her previous records. Alternating between claustrophobic, heavy mixes and whispery folk escapades, Daddy’s Home is turbulent in ways that can’t be pinned down to a single decade. It’s a timeless statement about redemption painted with a rich brown 70s colour palette.
Favourite tracks: Pay Your Way In Pain, Down and Out Downtown, The Melting Of The Sun, …At The Holiday Party
3. Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams
Arlo Parks writes music like a novelist. Collapsed in Sunbeams is rich with visceral imagery, brutally honest dialogue and beautifully flawed character portraits. Musically it’s one of the year’s warmest neo-soul and singer-songwriter projects. The combination of Parks’ incomparable musical and lyrical talent makes this an absolute must-listen.
Favourite tracks: Hope, Caroline, Green Eyes, Eugene
2. Fleece – Stunning and Atrocious
This is the sound of musicians at their creative peak and at their most playful. Even the darker and sadder tracks on Stunning and Atrocious resonate with unyielding love and gratitude for music. The band is tight as hell when they need to be but they still manage to find the perfect moments to let loose and make themselves heard. This is the most instantly gratifying listen of the year for me, and I can see myself coming back to this one again and again for the foreseeable future.
Favourite tracks: Like It A Lot, Upside Down, My Type (I Don’t Mind), Why Can’t We Be Alone
1. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
This album was released on the same week as both Ye’s Donda and Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, and in terms of quality the competition was not even close (note the conspicuous lack of Ye and Drake on this list). Little Simz is unquestionably one of the greatest rappers of her generation at this point in time and Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is another enormous jewel on her ever-growing crown. The record shifts effortlessly between massive, dramatic orchestral production and subtle soulful beat-work while still feeling focused and perfectly paced. Simz’ flow is unmatched and her storytelling capabilities must be heard to be believed. This unquestionably is my favourite album of 2021, and to be perfectly honest, it’s not particularly close. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an instant classic in my books. Listen to it!
Favourite tracks: Introvert, Woman, Little Q, Pt. 2, Miss Understood