Top 20 Albums of the Year So Far
We are now officially at the halfway point of the year so far. The Traklife team has joined together to rank what we believe are the top 20 albums of the year so far.
20. Dayglow - Harmony House
19. Ashnikko - Demidevil
18. Slowthai - Tyron
17. chloe moriondo - Blood Bunny
16. Noga Erez (נגה ארז) - Kids
15. Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
14. Madlib - Sound Ancestors
14: Madlib- Sound Ancestors
13. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats - Unlocked 1.5
12. Sad Night Dynamite - Sad Night Dynamite
11. Guapdad 4000 & !llmind - 1176
10. Menahan Street Band - The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band
Outside of a few samples, not a word came from The Menahan Street Band themselves. All you hear is the vibrations of the guitar, hypnotizing keys, and the snappiness of the drums. The instrumentation on this album is engaging, varied, and full of texture. The album lived up to its name of being compelling at its surface but having a level of depth beneath it.
9. Mac Ayers- Magic 8 ball
Mac Ayers started off 2021 with such a smooth vibe with his January release of Magic 8ball. The 8 track project (hence the name magic 8ball) is a minimalist project perfect for any coffee house. It’s blend of hip-hop, indie, and pop is done in such a way that it feels like it creates a staple sound that is Mac Ayers. The album gives rainy day vibes with songs like “Nothing Else” that feature cascading arpegiated piano samples with groovy basslines and simple kick hat snare boom bap drum patterns. Maintaining its minimalism and aesthetic, sunny day vibes are offered on songs like the extremely groovy closing track “Almost Home” where each layer of this song glimmers.
8. Black Country, New Road- For the First Time
6 songs, 41 minutes long. Black Country, New Road (BCNR) asserts themself as a force to be reckoned with in the modern post-punk scene. Many compare this young band to the 90’s post punk band Slint. Although this is understandable as they replicate many staple post-punk tropes such as gory vibrato lyrical narratives and spacious guitar passages, BCNR has a unique edge about them that takes these ideas and adds to them. Lyrically, the narratives on songs like Science Fair read like comic book stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. Instrumentally, this 7 person band is able to work so cohesively bringing such variety in each long song. They perform in a way where each band member can shine without ever being overbearing. This album caters to musicians looking to be impressed by musicianship, but is undoubtedly enjoyable for the average post-punk fan.
7. Erika De Caiser - Sensational
When the dust settled, and cooler heads prevailed, Sensational landed #7 in our top list. Its placement is well deserved as Erika created an atmosphere that makes an organic, lush, and bare production supported by her soft voice. A callback to the Y2K era due to its guitar lead melodies, Erika added her own flair to stand out from the past. With the implementation of Bossa Nova, sultry piano keys and the brief but ear grabbing bells that accentuates every word, Erika made a R&B album that sounds like no other.
6. CHAI- WINK
Japanese indie pop female empowerment band, CHAI, released their third album in late May of 2021. WINK continues CHAI’s path of cutesy self affirmation fun, but here they deliver with such unremarkable production. I personally haven’t heard production that is this sonically pleasing since Kaytranada’s 2016 album 99.9%. Although you may not understand every word if you are not bilingual speaking both japanese and english, that is not a concern as the magic of this album is truly in the sound design. The second track, “Maybe Chocolate Chips,” features a remarkably soothing chord progression on a synthesizer that glides these chords seamlessly up an octave after each chord hit. “ACTION” may be one of the cutest house pump-up songs I have ever heard. This song swirls with impressive sound design as vocal effects, synthesizers, and bass licks bounce off each other in a way that moves this song forward. Listening to CHAI’s WINK is nothing short of experiencing an eargasm.
5. BROCKHAMPTON- ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE
The boys are back! This album is the one that finally reassembles BROCKHAMPTON’s dynamic. Since Ameer Vann’s departure from the group in 2018, BH dropped 2 albums where they seemed a little lost without the edge that Ameer brought the group. Now, Brockhampton has found themselves again, making real hip-hop that combines influences from Wu-Tang, and Kanye, but still has that Xanny edge that will always just be “so BROCKHAMPTON.” Ideas off Ginger carry over as band members get introspective on cuts like THE LIGHT pt. I & II. Songs like OLD NEW, COUNT ON ME, and WHEN I BALL sonically deliver like Ginger melodic guitar hip-hop/pop elements. The ideas that were arguably executed poorly on Iridescence are perfected on this album with glitchy, bass heavy songs like BUZZCUT and BANKROLL. The greatest asset of this album is the features. The edge that may have been lost in the recent years is executed on this album as the band members step back for room for featured artists like Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA, A$AP Rocky, and A$AP Ferg. As a long time BROCKHAMPTON fan, it is exciting to see them going in this direction.
4. Armand Hammer - Haram
The cover art tells you everything you need to know about this album. Its environment is filthy, like eating at Waffle House past 1 AM. Billy Woods and ELUCID trading rhymes at a rapid pace but calm in delivery. Ruthlessly dismantling capitalism, homophobia, gentrification and other plights to society with the precision of a sniper. The great Alchemist provides the mucky backdrop that drenches the project in filth. Smearing us with keys that have mastered the art of hypnotism alongside drums that demand your attention. Basically, another day in the office for this dynamic trio.
3. Paris Texas- Boy Anonymous
Genre bending has been pursued by many artists as of late. South Central rap duo, Paris Texas, genre bends like no other. Calling them a rap duo does not deem them a hip-hop group, as this is only part of their sound. Nonetheless, Boy Anonymous starts out with 3 songs that range from an ethereal cloud rap sound on “CASINO,” to alternative pop rap on “BETTER DAYS.” However, Paris Texas is known for their more grunge aesthetics that showcase itself in songs like “HEAVY METAL,” and “FORCE OF HABIT.” Their ammature musicianship truly shows that ignorance is bliss, as they are creating blends of genres when they pair punk guitar chord progressions with funk basslines. All the while, the imperfect performances breed a charming human-like feel to their songs. This is quite refreshing, especially when paired with rap vocals on songs like “FORCE OF HABIT.” This is also true on dancey songs like “AREA CODE” where the unquantized bass brings a unique flair to what feels like an alt pop dance song.
2. J. Cole - The Offseason
In his documentary, Applying Pressure, J Cole’s main goal was to convey to listeners the danger of comfort. With one of the best rap albums to release so far in 2021, The Offseason is a warning that his reign of terror is coming to an end but with a different method of attack. The first track “9 5. s o u t h,” the legendary Cam’ron speaks as a lieutenant who is agitated by the lack of respect. Cole rhymes are calculated to start, systematically going off on different sections of the rap game. His rage becomes more evident the more he raps, before Lil Jon blesses us with a nostalgic outro to end Cole’s declaration of war. The Offseason isn’t all violence, “pride. Is. The. Devil” displays Cole’s self awareness of the source of trauma and the sin that allows it to prematate. “Let. Go. My. Hand” is vintage Cole rapping on his reluctance to instant gratification, his son yearning to be a man and his altercation with Puff Daddy over animated horns and dense percussion. Mixtape Cole returned with a vengeance, but its a reminder that his reign at the top is coming to an end.
1. Genesis Owusu- Smiling With No Teeth
Genesis Owusu is a Ghanian artist from Australia who refuses to be put in a box. Owusu’s latest album, Smiling With No Teeth, is the epitome of a coloring book. The elements of jazz, neo-soul, funk, 80’s rock, RnB and Hip-Hop united to make each song into a singular piece of its own. Skillfully mixing and matching each genre, bending the lines of their individual tropes until the line becomes blurry. Sequencing each page to fit sonically and narratively with one another. This album is an instance where one artist has a wide variety of many influences that all come together in the artist’s music to create something unique and new. Having the album start industrial, go through waves of bedroom and psychedelic funk, and end melodically somber is not an easy feat. Nonetheless, this album’s cohesion is impeccable. Describing the range tackled on this album makes cohesion seem impossible. However, what this album accomplishes is something that you have to experience to believe.
Nothing explains the seamless flow of this album more than the transition from “Waitin On Ya,” “Don’t Need You,” to “Drown.” The former is a sedative coated by the unity of its jaunty keys and sunny bass, aided by a creamy guitar and trumpets roaring its victory of love. Only for “Don’t Need You” to start by saying “Once I left your crazy ass, I took a therapy session.” The bass is heavy, and drums are prevalent, raising the tempo. It’s more pop-like with its more conventional syncopation, spacious verses with texture filled choruses and bridges. “Drown” once again changes the sound and goes full fledged rock. The electric guitar is harsh, responding to Genesis and Kirin J Callinan calls. On the surface, it signals a relationship that has gone terribly wrong. The woman of his dreams becomes the source of his pain. However, the black dog –being a metaphor for depression throughout this LP– wanders in all three. Three different sounds, creating an elegant book filled with brightness, shaded in nothing but black and blue underneath. That’s what Smiling With No Teeth is, and is why it’s our album of the year so far.