Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2021 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, April 12th, 2024  

Clockwise from Top Right: Wolf Alice, Magdalena Bay, Arlo Parks, Cassandra Jenkins, Japanese Breakfast, CHVRCHES, Mdou Moctar

Under the Radar’s Top 100 Albums of 2021

The Year of Uncertainty

Jan 07, 2022 Photography by Koury Angelo (CHVRCHES), Shervin Lainez (Japanese Breakfast), Wendy Lynch Redfern (Magdalena Bay), James Loveday (Arlo Parks)
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For many in America and around the world, when 2021 began they were in a state of uncertainty. The pandemic still raged and the chaotic Trump presidency was coming to an end (even if you supported the policies of the former president, it’s hard to argue that his term wasn’t turbulent). In January 2021 vaccines were on the horizon, but not widely available yet and it was unclear how and when any of us would get a shot. It was also up to speculation as to how peaceful the transition of power from President Trump to then-president-elect Biden would be, given the former’s “big lie” about a supposed stolen election. And only a few days into the new year, January 6 to be precise, it was clear that the transition would not be orderly at all, when Trump supporters stormed the capitol in a previously unthinkable display of insurrection (a term I’d in the past thought of as simply the title of one of the lesser Star Trek movies). For music fans and musicians, at the start of 2021 there was anxiety as to when live music would be able to return, with many music venues barely hanging on. It also seemed that some notable artists were holding back from releasing already completed albums until touring was a possibility again.

Alas, when 2021 ended there was still much uncertainty. While many of us did our part and got vaccinated (and even boosted). While kids as young as five could get a shot in time for Christmas. While there was a brief period where going to a concert, a movie, and the grocery store seemed safe, even without masks on perhaps. But then along came the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and, despite it sounding like the name of a friendly Transformer, the mutation spiked everyone’s pandemic anxiety again. Is it safe to send kids to school, even if they are masked and vaccinated? The Grammys have been postponed indefinitely and will major music festivals and tours be next?

The best that can be said about 2021 then is that it wasn’t as bad as 2020, which for many in the post 9/11 generation might be considered their most trying year. We were able to get vaccinated. Kids were able to go back to school (virtual learning was tough on kids, parents, and teachers). Long delayed movies came out (Daniel Craig finally got his tear-inducing Bond swansong). Some vacations were taken. Politics in Washington got somewhat boring again under Biden. The economy was doing better. But life was far from being back to normal and fear set it in that the pandemic world was going to be the new normal much longer than hoped.

2021 was at least a fruitful year for new music. Some released albums were partially or fully recorded pre-2020, others were written and recorded under lockdown. Herein is a list of the 100 new albums we most loved in 2021, records that helped get us through another tough year. We fully acknowledge that we’re late to the best-of-2021 party. We had other considerations in the last quarter of 2021, such as finishing and putting out our special double 20th Anniversary Issue and finalizing and announcing our 20th anniversary Covers of Covers album, both of which took precedence over working out exactly what our favorite albums of the year were. Plus, we long for the days when music websites posted albums of the year lists in late December or even early January, instead of late November/early December.

For those curious about the process: each of our writers were asked to submit a list of their Top 45 albums of 2021. They had to be new albums (not reissues) first released in 2021. Beforehand we collectively came up with a nominations list and most of their choices had to come from that list, but the writers were allowed to include some other albums too. For an album to make the Top 100 at least three different writers needed to have it on their lists. Nineteen different writers and editors voted and the number one and number two albums were each picked by 17 different writers and most of the Top 75 were picked by at least six different writers. Then via a magic of math and an Excel document, it was all calculated into the list you find now.

Here’s hoping that 2022 will a much less eventful year than the last two, boring even, but that the music is just as good.

Read the full list in our list section.

Check out part 1 (#1-90) here.

Check our part 2 (#91-100 and honorable mentions) here.

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