NEXT’s Best Albums of 2021

While we were locking down, wasting away the time glued to Bridgerton, Selling Sunset and Yellowstone, our favourite artists were hard at work.

With new friends Omicron and Delta, 2021 treated us to yet another uncertain year. But while we were locking down, wasting away the time glued to Bridgerton, Selling Sunset and Yellowstone, our favourite artists were hard at work. They blessed us with everything from in-your-feels R&B we cozied up with to the disco dance bops we needed to finally Get Up Offa That Thing!

Here are our top albums of 2021 in order of preference.

Julien Baker's Little Oblivions Remixes album cover

1. Julien Baker

Little Oblivions

If indie-rock artist Julien Baker’s conversational, earnest debut was a whispered sleepover confessional, this year’s Little Oblivions feels like growing up and graduating to screaming your feelings across a crowded club. The layers of bass, synth and pounding drums on Oblivions are a sonic revolution for Baker, who’s always seemed most comfortable with nothing more than her voice and a guitar — but she’s entirely at home here. The emotional intensity she’s brought since Day 1 has found its aural equal.

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Collapsed in Sunbeams album cover

2. Arlo Parks

Collapsed in Sunbeams

Possessing wisdom beyond her years and prodigious poetic chops, West London’s Arlo Parks floated her way into our hearts and minds this year as Gen Z’s Dear Abby. Inspired by troubled vintage icons like poet Sylvia Plath, Parks’s simple yet stunning ballads calmly stare down the shitstorm of young adulthood while grooving to clean drumbeats and clear basslines.

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Jazmine Sullivan album cover

3. Jazmine Sullivan

Heaux Tales

Heaux Tales is more than an album: It’s a storytelling masterclass, a therapy session and a no-holds-barred thesis on women’s experiences with sex and love all in one. Sullivan’s voice soars across soulful refrains and smart, quick-talking bars that feel like a late-night dish session with your coolest friend, and her tracks are connected by intimate spoken-word interludes that elevate the songs around them into gospel.

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We’re All Alone in This Together album cover

4. Dave

We’re All Alone in This Together

Arguably the most thrilling and meticulous rapper in the U.K.’s burgeoning scene, 23-year-old Dave slips through issues of immigration, love and personal struggle with the agility of a much more experienced artist. A master of double and triple entendres, this beautifully crafted sophomore record is sharp on the pen, classical in instrumentation and weighty in feel.

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Album cover for AN Evening With Silk Sonic

5. Silk Sonic

An Evening with Silk Sonic

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak came through with the good vibes at the end of yet another uncertain year. This sexy and stanky, fun and funky album beckons into a night of smooth, 1970s slow jams inspired by legends like Bootsy Collins, who features on the record.

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I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses album cover

6. Backxwash

I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and my Dresses

This 2020 Polaris Prize winner’s third full-length album left us speechless the first time we heard it. Pushing the already impressive boundaries of her earlier work, I Lie Here… is a horrorcore masterpiece that’s aggressive in instrumentation, vocal delivery and lyrical messaging. It delivers an anger that sticks with you long after the synths fade out.

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I Don’t Live Here Anymore album cover

7. The War On Drugs

I Don’t Live Here Anymore

American rockers The War On Drugs had us waiting several years for their fifth album, but we weren’t left disappointed. This record is both dreamy and driving, with a balance of softer synth-piano tracks and foot-stomping jams. It possesses a timeless quality, making lyrical reference to Bob Dylan and drawing inspiration from ’80s heroes like Bryan Adams and Simple Minds.

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Album cover for Weather Station's album Ignorance

8. The Weather Station

Ignorance

For its clean rhythms and urgent, emotional precision, The Weather Station’s Ignorance features on both our Canadian and Best Album of the Year lists, and it landed on the Polaris Prize longlist. Toronto talent Tamara Lindeman conjures introverted, lush folk soundscapes with virtuosity.

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SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT album cover

9. Lil Simz

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Dazzlingly talented U.K. rapper Lil Simz’s latest album is her best yet. Her bars are clever and unrelenting, and her beats are eclectic, danceable and soulful. The introspective tracklist, which deals with the divide between Simz’s public persona and her real, interior self, is equal parts heady and headbanging.

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Glow On album cover

10. Turnstile

Glow On

It’s been a pretty big year for Turnstile. The Baltimore hardcore group garnered a lot of love and attention with a third studio album, most recently earning a performance slot on late night television. Glow On is a wonderfully versatile album, with sci-fi-inspired synth lines, heavy guitar riffs and a daringly groovy R&B track with Blood Orange.

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