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My Top 10 Favorite Albums of 2021

It's that time of the year again. While this year's highlights weren't as high as last years in my opinion, there's more albums that I wanted to put into the list this year. Now onto the important disclaimer: This is only my opinion. Even my own SLOTH-SOUND-Ratings don't match up with the ranking itself as this list is all about my personal enjoyment of the albums.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mention: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – "L.W."

Release date: 25th February
Genre: psychedelic rock
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 42 minutes; 9 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 7.5 / 10

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's third exploration into microtonal rock makes for another entertaining and lovely album, but it never surprises you like its predecessors K.G. and especially Flying Microtonal Banana did. In-line with this, it features about the weakest and most straight forward rock material they have written in their microtonal journey. Yet, L.W. is a good album as is nearly every King Gizzard album. Nevertheless, with it, it became even more apparent that the band were in need for another change-up which they eventually would go on to deliver with Butterfly 3000.

Check-out-tips: "O.N.E."; "Pleura"
More highlights: "If Not Now, Then When?"; "Static Electricity"; "Supreme Ascendancy"

Honorable Mention: King Buffalo – "Acheron"

Release date: 3rd December
Genre: stoner rock
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 40 minutes; 4 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8 / 10

Scene approved American stoner rock outfit King Buffalo recorded their new album Acheron live in a cave. Its lyrics are interspersed with Greek/Roman mythology and the sound the cave recording brings to the table is perfectly fitting. The recordings have a natural reverb and feeling of space to them. This makes the songs even more mysterious, dark and to an extend psychedelic. I've never cared much about King Buffalo before because of some production and recording quality aspects, but also because they mostly only offered large instrumental passages that weren't particularly innovative, catchy or intriguing in my opinion. On Acheron though, they deliver some beautiful performances and all the songs carry a strong vibe, not to mention the unique recording process (again). 
Acheron is the second album from King Buffalo this year and its predecessor The Burden of Restlessness already showed a new twist to their sound with shorter songs, more vocals and heavier riffs reminiscent of TOOL. Acheron takes these new things and mixes them with the style of their older albums. The result is beautiful and takes you on a journey through some of the darkest parts of Greek mythology, with the exception of the song Zephyr which, for the better, brings some brighter moments.


Release date: 12th November
Genre: post punk
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 47 minutes; 14 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8 / 10

CRAWLER is my favorite IDLES album thus far, not because it's their best, but because it's their first work that appeals to me from a stylistical standpoint. I'm generally not the biggest fan of post punk or even punk as a whole which is why their weird British hard rocking sound didn't connect with me despite them having some admittedly great lyrics and fucked-up aesthetics. But with their last album Ultra Mono, released in 2020, they became a bit stale and comfortable sound-wise and consequentially many fans and critics anticipated a switch-up from them. CRAWLER is exactly that as it sees IDLES move into a post rock direction mixing punk with indie rock and krautrock. The first single The Beachland Ballroom is without a doubt the highlight from the record as IDLES presaged themselves. The Beachland Ballroom is also featured on my 2021: My Top 25 Favorite Songs list. The songs MTT 420 RR, Car Crash and Progress are three more spectacular, experimental pieces. Generally, CRAWLER is at its best when IDLES challenge themselves and present these indie- and krautrock aspects. In return, it can get a bit redundant on their more standard songs like Stockholm Syndrome or The End. But because of the exchange between these two types of tracks, CRAWLER is a fairly balanced album overall. The punk songs rock and the rest is fascinating to hear from IDLES.

Check-out-tips: "The Beachland Ballroom"; "The New Sensation"
More highlights: "Car Crash"; "MTT 420 RR"; "Progress"; "The Wheel"

9. black midi – "Cavalcade"

Release date: 26th May
Genre: experimental rock; progressive rock
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 42 minutes; 8 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8.5 / 10

black midi are a British experimental rock band that blow even the most ingrained music listeners' mind – and Cavalcade is only their sophomore effort. It's easily my least listened to album on this list in relation to its release date because it certainly isn't easy to not get stressed out by the experimentation and level of chaotic noise sometimes. Throughout Cavalcade, black midi play with the contrast between loud and calm, staccato and smooth, chaotic and subtle. They go for a more straight progressive rock attempt overall than on their debut SchlagenheimCavalcade is orchestrated, either in a beautifully filigrane (Diamond Stuff) or unsettling (John L) way, features insane and unique drumming everywhere, has an excellent inclusion of jazz instruments (Dethroned) and some funky grooves (Chondromalacia Patella and Dethroned). With Marlene Dietrich, black midi even put a soul inspired cut about a German actress on this album! And the best thing, all of this works out perfectly as Cavalcade stands as a coherent, united collection of tracks that is meticulously sequenced giving the listener the room to breathe and thus the ability to build an appreciation for the silliness and experimentation. This release is a must-hear for every fan of rock music who likes to challenge himself (and can take a fair amount of noise). 

Check-out-tips: "Slow"; "John L"
More highlights: "Dethroned"; "Chondromalacia Patella"; "Marlene Dietrich"; "Diamond Stuff"

8. Billie Eilish – "Happier Than Ever"

Release date: 30th July
Genre: pop; alternative
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 56 minutes; 16 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8.5 / 10

2021's most anticipated record for sure was Billie Eilish's sophomore release Happier Than Ever. I think Billie Eilish doesn't need any introduction anymore. She recently scored the new James Bond movie, she won five Grammy's in 2020 and two more this year and her debut WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? dropped some massive hits, most notably the song bad guy. Happier Than Ever isn't quite as hit-packed as Eilish's debut, but in return, it is more versatile and lyrically exciting with Eilish being very honest and self-reflective about her dealing with fame and a past toxic relationship. Consequentially, Happier Than Ever is at its best when it comes to songs where her lyrics are upfront like Halley's Comet and Getting Older which are easily her best songs from that very perspective so far. On the other hand, the 16-track album comes off as a bit unfocused. The first half clearly overshadows the second half but none of the material on both sides can rival the hit quality, boldness and musical passion of some highlights from Eilish's first work, e.g. xanny, when the party's over or bad guy. The one song that has this potential, title-track Happier Than Ever, is very hit or miss. Most of the world loves it, but then again, my bubble of people and some journalistic websites rate the twist at the half-way mark as a generic pop punk climax with some of Eilish's undeniably worst lyricism ever. I know it's very early to say this, but in my opinion, Happier Than Ever overall didn't age as well as listeners, me included, expected. It is still a quality record with some amazing pieces though as a placement on this list showcases.

Check-out-tips: "Therefor I Am"; "Oxytocin"; "Billie Bossa Nova"
More highlights: "Getting Older"; "GOLDWING"; "I Didn't Change My Number"; "NDA"

7. Puma Blue – "In Praise of Shadows"

Release date: 29th February
Genre: indie rock
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 51 minutes; 14 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8 / 10

Puma Blue's debut record In Praise of Shadows released at the end of February was an important soundtrack of my life this year; a period I look back on nostalgically as I was in my last weeks of school and had a great, holiday-esque week with my girlfriend. Especially the latter is strongly connected to In Praise of Shadows. The album is perfect for winter evenings and late night music sessions at any season with its lo-fi-sound, shoegaze- and jazz influences. Jacob Allen, the person behind Puma Blue, is also noticeably inspired by Jeff Buckley. All of these influences result in a unique style further complemented by the distinctive production. At 51 minutes, In Praise of Shadows is kind of long though with some less compelling tracks appearing along the way, like the repetitive Silk Print, the short Sleeping, the overly long Is It Because or Sheets which doesn't offer much besides a remotely interesting guitar loop and a pretty good string arrangement. None of these songs are bad though and overall the album has a great flow and vibe to it; a vibe that when it fits the situation elevates In Praise of Shadows to one of the best albums of 2021. 

Check-out-tips: "Opiate"; "Velvet Leaves"
More highlights: "Bath House"; "Oil Slick"; "Sweet Dreams" / "Cherish (Furs)"; "Super Soft"

6. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – "Butterfly 3000"

Release date: 11th June
Genre: synth pop; neo-psychedelia
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 44 minutes; 10 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 7 / 10

It was my summer album of 2021: Butterfly 3000 is King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard's first album that is not guitar-driven. Instead, an infectious blend of analogue midi synths combined with piano, bass and acoustic guitar takes over the band for a 44 minute psychedelic pop suite that is just as cohesive as King Gizzard have ever been. They don't offer a whole lot of stylistic variety inside of their albums, where they rather focus on one concept. To make up for that, their discography is, in the larger scheme, one of the most prolific and variable. Hence, Butterfly 3000 could be labelled one-dimensional and even repetitive, if you're not into it. If you are, well, it takes you on a unique journey which is even improved upon with the Ocular Edition: Every track on Butterfly 3000 has a music video that expands on the themes and the feeling with stunning, weird, disturbing, trippy or just hilarious visuals. All the while, King Gizzard deliver some of their best hooks and melodies to date on the songs Shanghai, Interior People and Catching Smoke. The opener Yours serves as the perfect entry into Butterfly 3000's atmosphere. It is a beautiful song that frontman Stu Mackenzie wrote for his daughter from the perspective of a third-person narrator: Did you know he's yours? / Your security / Tomorrow, still yours / You can count on him / Forever, he's yours

There's things to critique though. After one of my personal favorites 2.02 Killer Year, the second half of the album falls flat a little. This is where you could find the album getting repetitive even if you were enjoying it so far. Black Hot Soup is the least memorable song on the record and Ya Love doesn't bring anything new to the table. The finale and title track Butterfly 3000 has a cool ending, but the climax and pay off undoubtedly could have been bigger. Nevertheless, I really love this record a lot. It's always a blast to hear it. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard includes some of the coolest musicians out there right now – and, on top, they just don't stop releasing at least two solid albums a year.

Check-out-tips: "Catching Smoke"; "Interior People"
More highlights: "Shanghai"; "Yours"; "Butterfly 3000"; "2.02 Killer Year"

5. Olivia Rodrigo – "SOUR"

Release date: 21st May
Genre: pop
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 35 minutes; 11 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 7.5 / 10

I had this list ready and thought-out, then she came around: Olivia Rodrigo. I didn't bother giving her a listen earlier because I'm just not into mainstream pop mostly, but after a video by TheNeedleDrop on the Grammy nominations of this year, I decided to give her music a listen – and now here we are: All december I was obsessed with her debut album SOUR which she wrote at age 17! Seven-fucking-teen! Surprisingly, she has more guts than most other songwriters in the mainstream as she is brutally (pun intended) honest and doesn't give a shit about that little "PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT" sticker. She also wears a wide variety of influences on her sleeve. These factors make SOUR a phenomenal debut and a unique break-up album that makes you feel exactly what Rodrigo must've felt which is prove of her masterful songwriting. Furthermore, Rodrigo appreciates the art of making an album. SOUR doesn't contain a bunch of randomly listed songs, but it has 11 tracks presented as part of a carefully arranged tracklisting. The result: SOUR tells a captivating and detailed story about the break-up of a 17-year-old teenager that is approachable for people every age.

Check-out-tips: "jealousy jealousy"; "deja vu"
More highlights: "traitor"; "brutal"; "good 4 u"; "driver's license"; "happier"

4. Parcels – "Day/Night"

Release date: 5th November
Genre: indie rock; progressive pop
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 96 minutes; 19 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8 / 10

Parcels sophomore work is an ambitious double album. The first disc of Day/Night starts as the last disc ends building a circle that represents the endless change from day to night and metaphorically from light to dark, happiness to regret, hope to hopelessness. While Day provides the catchy tunes, Night is an experimental odyssey of filigrane string arrangements and soundtrack-ish compositions. But of course, the border between the two is fluid. 
Day/Night takes its time and thus challenges the listener to be patient as it has long intros, instrumental passages and interludes. In return, Parcels reward you with great grooves, beautiful vocals and harmonies and attention to detail. The neutral production takes away the power of some instrumentals on the digital master streamed via Bluetooth though. This is slightly improved on the superb vinyl pressing. The neutral sound has its positives though as it presents Parcels' masterful compositions purely; in all their richness of detail and beauty. The songs don't need the widest sound-stage or powerful bass and mids because they're mainly about transmitting emotions to the listener.
The only complaint I ultimately have is Day/Night's length of 83 minutes which is the problem even the best double albums in music history have and the reason the format is criticized in the first place. In that context, Day/Night still does well enough successfully switching between atmospheric breaks, intros, experimentation and emotional as well as instrumental highs. Many of the songs are among my favorites of the year with Somethinggreater, the climax of Day, even occupying the top spot! Yet, the lenght remains the only thing keeping this whole album from the top spots on the album's list as well...

Check-out-tips: "Somethinggreater"; "Theworstthing"
More highlights: "Thefear"; "Reflex"; "Free"; "Neverloved"; "Once"

3. Black Country, New Road – "For the first time"

Release date: 5th February
Genre: post rock
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 41 minutes; 6 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 9 / 10

Black Country, New Road – a seven-members-large group of British students – began teasing their promising first studio album in 2019 with the two singles Sunglasses and Athens, France which have since been reworked into today‘s grandiose and more mature album versions. From the start, the group has been polarizing because of their frontman‘s lyricism (and vocals) incorporating seemingly random pop culture references as well as cryptical (some would say borderline gibberish) and anxious, sexually loaded lines. All the while, his performances are theatrical, whiny and were initially pretty non-melodic. Musically, Black Country, New Road always were acclaimed though. The line-up includes – along with the typical rock cast – a saxophonist, keyboardist and violinist which the band utilizes creatively and equally. They’re not shying away from dissonance and experimental genre influences like free jazz, math rock and – according to Wikipedia – klezmer.

On the debut record we got, the music is as good as ever but improved production, mixing and engineering make the songs – concretely the vocals and instruments – sound exactly as they should sound. And even when the disorienting jazz fusion breakdowns happen, it’s still quite manageable for the ear.
Isaac Wood’s vocal performances are more integrated into the mix than on the singles. He sings more, added melodies, dynamics and extroverted passion, while his talking style is kept.
The lyrics are still difficult to decipher and unsettling and sometimes vaguely sexual, albeit in a more moderate, fitting and relatable way. In the album context, everything ties together. Wood tackles daddy issues, paranoia, regret, toxic relationships, social anxiety and insecurity in the most interesting way possible.

Putting aside all the controversy surrounding lyrics and vocals, Black Country, New Road open For the first time with an instrumental track, simply called Instrumental. Fittingly and funnily, this was the song that got me into the album. The instrumentation intrigued me which ultimately lead to me enjoying the hell out of Isaac Wood’s vocal performances on the following tracks. Instrumental sums up what Black Country, New Road sound like instrumentally without giving too much away.
Athens, France is one of my two favorite songs from For the first time. It is on the fence between Black Country, New Road’s more reserved, beautiful side – shown on the accessible and gorgeous lead single Track X that contains these beautiful female backing vocals – and their blistering, dark and arranged but chaotic side which is most present on Science Fair. The climax of that track goes really hard, after it build great tension through a menacing synth.
The standout song on For the first time is Sunglasses, a two-parted, 10-minute track. The first part breaks down in dissonant free jazz and from the ashes arises an epic riff underlaid by a great drum performance build around one simple beat. The instrumentation perfectly reflects what’s described in the lyrics: I am invincible in these sunglasses / Cars are going "beep, beep, beep" / And there are so many roadmen on this street / And they cannot tell that I am scared.
The final masterpiece of the album is fittingly called Opus. Especially remarkable in this song are, apart from the perfectly orchestrated build-up and pay-off, the Middle Eastern horn lines in the instrumental chorus.

To sum this up, if and once you get used to the sound of this band, their debut album can only be labeled as a masterpiece. As I described, every songs brings something to the table and the band’s sound is incredibly creative and detailed. While there are bands and projects that have played in a similar styling, Black Country, New Road are unique in their own right and – what makes them even more sympathetic – they wear their influences on their sleeves. The lyrics’ themes are dead serious and they are performed in this way, but through perfectly placed pop cultural references, Black Country, New Road spice it up with a lot of humor without killing the vibe. For the first time is as good as a debut album can get.

9 / 10

Check-out-tips: "Track X"; "Instrumental"
Highlights: "Sunglasses"; "Athens, France"; "Opus"; "Science Fair"

2. Pond – "9"

Release date: 1st October
Genre: neo-psychedelia
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 38 minutes; 9 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 7 / 10

I definitely underrated this record in my initial review. Not that I didn't like it more than a 7 out of 10 indicates at the time, I just felt this was an accurate rating. Now I know, it's not. 9 is definitely Pond's best record yet – their most passionate, energetic; just as emotional as its predecessors. This album wouldn't go out of my head when it first came out. It fits for nearly every mood you'll ever be in. It has tragic, optimistic, danceable, laughable, bittersweet, romantic and rocking moments – and still manages to feel coherent and whole, despite lacking an over-arching concept or theme.
I still think the second half has the weaker tracks, but they've all grown on me so much. I loved Czech Locomotive's calm build-up with these clever lyrics from the start, but the odd climax took its time to understand. Rambo makes a great statement on poetry while the drumming goes absolutely insane. And the awkward melodrama of Gold Cup / Plastic Sole makes for a grandiose climax. The closer Toast was my favorite song and I still love it for its beautiful lyrics, strings, guitar lick and saxophone solo, but it got outmatched by Take Me Avalon I'm Young which is – I hate to say it – a perfect piece of music. We don't need to talk about the rest of the first half, I think. All of the tracks you'll find there are brilliant. So, I'm done gushing now. Pond's 9 is phenomenal. They never were this good before. But, I figure, they still got some more in them! 

Check-out-tips: "America's Cup"; "Toast"
More highlights: "Take Me Avalon I'm Young"; "Pink Lunettes"; "Human Touch"; "Song for Agnes"

1. Steven Wilson – "THE FUTURE BITES"

Release date: 29th January
Genre: progressive rock; alternative
Length; number of tracks: ≈ 42 minutes; 9 tracks 
SLOTH-SOUND-Review-Rating: 8 / 10

This is the newest album by elitist prog rock fan's favorite artist of the 21st century, Steven Wilson, and it is hated by that very group of people. Funnily enough, THE FUTURE BITES is simultaneously critically acclaimed across the board. Even Anthony Fantano of TheNeedleDrop, who gave Wilson's arguable solo career masterpieces The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) and Hand Cannot Erase a hard time, says, THE FUTURE BITES was not bad. And I got to agree. But what is it that "fans" hate about the album? And why is it my album of the year?
THE FUTURE BITES is very much a synth pop album strongly influenced by the post punk movement although Wilson's prog roots are very much present in every second of the music. There's less guitars and guitar solos, no shiny drum performances and you'll find only one longer composition while the album overall "only" clocks in at 42 minutes of runtime. The songwriting is odd too as many of the songs don't care for climax or linear development. This is done on purpose though and works out perfectly fine in my opinion. And, finally, as typical for Steven Wilson, the lyrics mostly are very on-the-nose to a point that could be called "cringy". But you did notice, I said "typical". So this isn't a new phenomenon and Wilson fans should be familiar with or even appreciative of his lyrical style. And it works better than ever before with THE FUTURE BITES to be honest because the whole marketing and context of the album is edgy and cynical. On the song SELF the text is perfect though only spitting out key words and pithy phrases, KING GHOST not only is Kid A-esque in sound but also super mysterious lyrically and FOLLOWER is hilariously literal and hyperbolical. Strangely, these are also my three favorite songs on the record. The mellow and melancholical MAN OF THE PEOPLE and COUNT OF UNEASE are beautifully subtle and PERSONAL SHOPPER, the 8-minute epic from THE FUTURE BITES makes for a great centre point of the album although it isn't really all that great on its own.
Now, we didn't even talk about the loads of bonus material featured on the deluxe versions of THE FUTURE BITES which contain songs that are on par with the album tracks such as EYEWITNESS, HA BLOODY HA, WAVE THE WHITE FLAG, I AM CLICHE and the epic Lonely Robot cover IN FLORAL GREEN. Generally, everything surrounding the main collection of music is perfectly made – from the artworks to the music videos, from the physical deluxe editions (one even is a singularity sold for 10,000$) to the marketing. The thing is, THE FUTURE BITES is a concept album about modern consumerism of luxury goods and social media and its effects on self perception and behavior. The album mostly critiques consumerism in an exaggerating and sarcastic way, but Wilson also says that he wanted to incorporate the good sides of capitalism. THE FUTURE BITES is a critique and an indirect "love letter" to our modern society. And yes, it is shallow and vague and simplified more often than not, but that is the fun of it – and it probably is done on purpose. Either way, the music and emotion is spot-on.

Check-out-tips: "KING GHOST"; "FOLLOWER"