Back again for 2021 are my picks for the best music albums released this past year. It seems we got a lot more music this year than a normal year since literally everyone was quarantined during most of 2020. I have a theory that many music artists forced themselves to make music with all that down time which resulted in large quantities of music, but not the best quality.
My picks for the best 5 albums of 2021, ranked not by best to worst, but by release date. These albums were selected for their overall enjoyability. It is becoming more rare that albums are enjoyable from beginning to end.
Dangerous: The Double Album by Morgan Wallen (January 8, 2021)
This feels like it was released more than a year ago, but with the pandemic and Morgan’s racist slur controversy it feels a lot longer than it has been. Putting the video of drunk Morgan aside, this album is great. I attribute this album to my re-interest in modern country music. I think the genre is being redefined again and moving back towards its roots instead of trying to be pop. Because this album came out so early in 2021, I’ve logged the most hours listening to this than any of the others on this list.
Sob Rock by John Mayer (July 16, 2021)
The long-awaiting eighth studio album by John Mayer is a throwback to 80’s yacht rock and it’s intentional. While his last couple of albums were good Sob Rock feels like the most complete package since Continuum. My favorite song as of writing this on Sob Rock is Wild Blue, an upbeat mellow track with two great guitar solos. This album, like others on this list, was made to be listened to on vinyl. I wonder if that trend will continue in 2022 and beyond?
Heartland by Nelly (August 27, 2021)
Nelly finally released a country album! Sort of… After the commercial success of Over & Over featuring Tim McGraw Nelly fans have been clamoring for more country-ish songs from Nelly. The 2009 remix of Cruise with Florida Georgia Line increased that appetite even more. This album features some great guests including the aforementioned Florida Georgia Line, but my favorite is the track with Darius Rucker named ‘Ms. Drive Me Crazy’. I hope Nelly continues down this road as he may have found his niche in his second career in music, must like Hootie and the Blowfish’s Darius Rucker.
= by Ed Sheeran (October 29, 2021)
The first solo album from Ed since 2017 and we get another math symbol and he says he has one more coming (minus?). This may mark the first departure from pop music Ed has given us and that’s not a bad thing. As he matures he’s finding his artistry and that’s not always being at the top of the charts. This is a solid complete album, while not his best, is still one of the shining spots in year 2 of the pandemic.
I’ve been waiting and waiting for new music from Bruno Mars for years and we finally got it! Much like his last album 24K Magic, his latest album has some sort of a theme and a guest, Anderson .Paak. The duo does a good job of being cheesy enough to fit their vibe without becoming an Andy Samberg/Justin Timberlake SNL tune. Smokin’ Out the Window is by far my favorite song on this album with its funky sound, catchy chorus, and funny concept.
Sucker by Katastro (July 16, 2021)
A small independent album from a band I was mostly unaware of that came out over the summer and provided perfect summer driving music. If you’re a fan on the alternative/reggae genre, give this album a listen. It’s great from start to finish.
30 by Adele (November 2021)
How could I make this list and not include Adele? While this album is good, on my first three times through, I haven’t had enough time with for it to make my top list. The later tracks on the album hit hard emotionally and sometimes aren’t great for a casual listen.