Obligatory line about what a terrible year 2021 has already been. Obligatory counter-argument that there's still been some very good music released. But really: while the world might be dragging its feet into spring at an unusually slow pace, new music has at least been more forthcoming in delivering some joy to us directly.
Already this year has welcomed the hypnotic R&B of Jazmine Sullivan, powerful rock from Julien Baker and one of last year's most popular albums flipped into a remix record courtesy of Perfume Genius.
With 2020's best albums still yet to grace music venues and festival stages, there's every chance that your playlist is in need of an update. As such, here's the best albums released this year so far, for sunshine-soaked Friday afternoons and grey Monday mornings alike.
Perfume Genius – Immediately: Remixes
Mike Hadreas's 2020 album, Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, was one of the very best of the year, capturing the hyperawareness of our bodies and reflection on emotional and physical pain that that whole world felt at that moment. In this follow-up remix record he finds a way to collaborate during an isolated time, handing over deeply personal records to artists like Jenny Hval, Actress and Westerman for remixes which feel familiar and yet excitingly different.
Skip to: 'One More Try' (Actress remix) – A spiritual sister to the original in which you can't quite put your finger on what is different. As Hadreas told Esquire: "It’s sort of unsettling that remix, and really satisfying in a harmonious way. He dug into one little portal in the song and really elegantly elongated it."
Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
Perhaps best known for being part of Boygenius alongside Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker's angst-ridden and powerful rock music under her own name has been gathering steam in recent years, all leading up to this impressive latest release. On Little Oblivions, Baker's emotive vocals set are set against towering guitar riffs which linger with you after listening.
Skip to: 'Hardline' – The album's second track sets the tone for the mixture of intimacy and expanse that comes after , beginning with Baker's voice alone singing, 'Nothing to lose 'til everything's really gone / It's worse than death, than life compressed', before the band kicks in dramatically.
Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
On Cassandra Jenkins' arresting 2017 album, Play Till You Win, the New York songwriter cast a spell with tracks like 'Hotel Lullaby' and 'Tennessee Waltz', which conjured the idea of faraway places but never told you where they really were. Her follow-up is a seven-track collection of country rock which again feels poetic in its emotional specificity while still staying vague about what she really means.
Skip to: 'Ambiguous Norway' – Jenkins's voice enters a lower, more hushed tone in this intimate track which has a haunted and gorgeously sedate quality to it.
Slowthai – TYRON
Since disgracing himself at the NME awards last year, English rapper Tyron Frampton has been doing some soul searching, and in his second record, aptly given his own name, he shares a little more of himself. This isn't always apologetic, as he rails in a track with Skepta where he asks 'How you gonna cancel me? / Twenty awards on the mantelpiece / Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury', but arrives at something more authentic as a result of its contradictions.
Skip to: 'nhs' – Childlike voices garble against a lullaby in this dark moment in which the chorus sadly repeats 'I was in my head, feelin' dead, feelin' microwaved'
Django Django – Glowing in the Dark
Three years since the release of their 2018 album Marble Skies, the London psych-rock outfit return with a record that reminds you why people fell in love with their quirky sound in the first place. Glowing in the Dark is a zany hotpot of rattling drums, chiming cowbells and miscellaneous doorbells, creating a playful and weird world which feels fun to wander through.
Skip to: 'Waking Up' – Charlotte Gainsbourg's sultry vocals pair surprisingly well with Django singer Vincent Neff, giving this track about life on the road a sense of longing during a time when we're stuck at home.
Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
The fourth album from the Philadelphia-raised singer is her best and most personal, meditating on the ways intimacy and love changes women. Interrupted with dialogue about male ego and feminine sexuality, Sullivan's smooth vocals are a guide through this brilliant R&B record, in which collaborations with Anderson .Paak and H.E.R. are two of many highlights.
Skip to: 'Pick Up Your Feelings' – With shades of a Beyoncé's rousing vocals, this bouncy pop track has an infectious groove to it.
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