A look back on the best albums 2021 had to offer - from Sam Fender and Joy Crookes to Dave and Little Simz and more.

"Seventeen Going Under" by Sam Fender

Sam Fender, Newcastle’s own Bruce Springsteen, returned this year for a second album of nothing but bangers. Within the anthemic tunes and epic saxophone solos (Clarence Clemons would be proud), Fender dives into poignant personal subjects like the fragility of male mental health and his relationship with his dad. It’s stadium rock with the emotional intimacy of reading someone’s journal. That you’re allowed to read.

"We're All Alone In This Together" by Dave

Dave is one of the hottest names on the British rap scene right now, and he only cemented his status with his second album, 'We’re All Alone In This Together'. Headlined by a memorable collab with Stormzy, Dave fuses together the personal and political for a thoughtful exploration of the struggles faced by young Black men in modern British society. Did you know he’s only 23?!

"Sometimes I Might Be Introvert" by Little Simz

Finally, an album for the socially anxious homebodies out there (there are dozens of us!). Little Simz’ 'Sometimes I Might Be Introvert' sees the acclaimed rapper dig deep into her whirling imagination and paint a stunning picture of individual artistry. Given she’s selling out Brixton Academy, it’s clear this introvert is ready to show herself to the world with pride.

"Collapsed in Sunbeams" by Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks bagged the Mercury Prize earlier this year on her very first album, and it’s hard not to see why. 'Collapsed in Sunbeams' is a compelling mixture of chilled-out vibes and strikingly personal revelations, letting you into Parks’ emotional world at her own pace. She’s only starting to get started, but she’s already setting the musical world alight.

"Skin" by Joy Crookes

The first album is a chance to show who you really are to the world, and Joy Crookes understood the assignment perfectly. The Notion 90 cover star's debut album 'Skin' encompasses tunes written from when she was 13 through to 22, proudly mixing and matching genres to capture the compelling patchwork that is Crookes.

"Sour" by Olivia Rodrigo

“I’m not cool and I’m not smart and I can’t even parallel park.” Us too, Olivia. Perhaps 2021’s biggest rising star, Olivia Rodrigo absolutely burst out of the blocks in January and culminated her efforts with her brilliant solo album 'Sour', which nimbly hops from nostalgic pop-punk to starkly open ballads exploring her heartbreak and back. Not only is she an immensely talented addition to the music scene, she’s also singlehandedly justified the existence of High School: The Musical: The Series.

"Blue Weekend" by Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice simply don’t miss. Saddled with four years of mounting expectations, the band’s third album rose above to become their most accomplished effort yet. 'Blue Weekend' is a neon-soaked cinematic adventure, weaving in and out of different stories and themes yet never feeling anything less than cohesive. It’s a selection box of everything the indie kings are brilliant at, from gnarly punk shouters to soft-spoken ballads.

"Montero" by Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X sprang onto the scene a couple of years back with the mega-popular “Old Town Road”, but it was this year that really cemented him as an essential face of the new rap scene. His tunes – mischievous, witty and proudly personal – are precision-engineered to wind up his foils in the oversensitive American right, but there’s real poignancy too in seeing this proudly gay Black artist so publicly showcase his self-acceptance and pride.

"if i could make it go quiet" by girl in red

girl in red’s solo album was a long time in the making, delayed – as so many things were – by the pandemic, but it arrived just when it needed to. Embracing her status as a queer icon and musical ambassador for mental health, girl in red created with 'if i could make it go quiet', a soundscape that was totally hers.

"Planet Her" by Doja Cat

Doja Cat has long since transcended her origins as an Internet meme queen, and her third album, 'Planet Her', was yet another compelling reminder of the uniqueness of her voice. Staying tied to the playfulness of her musical roots, Doja Cat dips into utopian futurism with her trademark confidence, creating a perfect fun summer album for that time we were just about to head back into the world.

"life's a beach" by easy life

‘Song of the summer’ is a hard fought-for title, but perhaps it’s a little too small-time. How about album of the summer? Notion 90 cover stars easy life were angling for that with their debut album 'Life’s a Beach', and there’s a very good argument that they succeeded. Looking self-doubt and loneliness right in the eye and offering that soothing dose of positivity we all needed in mid-2021, it’s a bold debut from an act with plenty more to give.

"times" by SG Lewis

2021 saw the return of the nightclub, and debutant SG Lewis was more than willing to step up to the plate to offer a soundtrack. 'times' is a timely exploration of what it means to seize the day and hold onto our present feelings, with Lewis calling in assists from the likes of Nile Rodgers, Frances and Robyn to join in on his party.

"Mother" by Cleo Sol

Cleo Sol followed up the insights of last year’s “Rose in the Dark” with another impressive effort in 'Mother', which delved into the close relationship that the songwriter possesses with her mother, while using those feelings as a basis for a larger meditation on what it means to take care of someone, and to take care of them in turn.

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