With a year off and nothing to do, 2021 unleashed a torrent of new music as many bands used the forced lockdown of 2020 to write new music.
Veteran bands were especially prominent this year as aging rockers rolled back time and dropped new music. In fact, every decade – that featured the beginnings of a prominent band – as far back as the 60s found new life in 2021.
In past years, I did not write an extensive number of new album reviews thus my “Best Of” lists perhaps were limited to those bands that I had a history with or interested me. This year, a totally different story as I wrote 28 reviews of new album releases. Some bands I overlooked, Cheap Trick and The War on Drugs come to mind, but more than enough filtered through my ears to deliver a genuine Top 10 Best Albums of 2021. And, a breadth of genre’s too – rock, pop, Christian, metal, alternative, roots rock and any number of those blended into one.
Of the 28 new albums reviewed I filtered out live albums and covers which dropped the number to 25. From there a few stood out, but not in a good way, reducing the list to 21. I already had several shoo-ins in mind for the Best Albums of 2021 list but ultimately most records were listened to again to determine inclusion and order.
Best Albums of 2021
10. Duran Duran – Future Past
A squeaker, the hardest spot to fill, but Duran Duran gets the nod with their 15h album coming 40 years after their debut and 20 years after the gang got back together, for good (well except for one), continuing to move forward with inventive songs that sound like Duran Duran yet not so much proving the new Fab 4, who now have more albums together than their heyday, offer a lot more than pop trash.
From the review: Don’t expect the immediate results that propelled Duran Duran into existence 40 years ago for their debut album with songs like “Girls on Film” and “Planet Earth” on Future Past. Instead, first enjoy the handful of songs that require just a few spins to appreciate while letting the rest marinate for however long it takes.
Read the Review: Duran Duran – Future Past
9. Samantha Fish – Faster
Samantha Fish – singer, songwriter, guitarist extraordinaire – took a more rock approach to her seventh solo album which arguably ranks as her best. The roots rock, country rock, bluegrass artist still flies under the radar but that’s OK because those of us who found Samantha get her all to ourselves.
From the review: A well recorded, mixed and produced album, Faster seems to help Samantha Fish step out of her comfort zone, not that she even had one. So, perhaps more like taking off the creative handcuffs and nudging her in a direction she’d eventually arrive, only faster.
Read the Review: Samantha Fish – Faster
8. Toad the Wet Sprocket – Starting Now
An album that got better with every listen and even better after some time away.
From the review: Nothing cutting edge nor an album likely to ring throughout college dorms this fall, but Starting Now serves as a reminder that Toad the Wet Sprocket once contributed to a soundtrack for our lives and has a few more songs to add.
Read the Review: Toad the Wet Sprocket – Starting Now
7. The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll
The Orange County pop punk rockers have grown up but still know how to have fun and their youthful immaturity still intact on this thoroughly enjoyable album.
From the review: The long break served The Offspring well as Let The Bad Times Roll displays variety and continuity in keeping with the band’s commitment to fun and quick paced song filled with energy but a change has begun with these now old-school rockers, an evident change, refreshing and most welcome.
Read the Review: The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll
6. Greta Van Fleet – The Battle at Garden’s Gate
Greta Van Fleet has fully harnessed the tone of the 70s, sounding dated and modern at the same time, showing this band has nowhere to go but up. An ambitious second album, The Battle at Garden’s Gate quells any concerns about the loss of true rock music but singer Josh Kiszka needs to restrain his vocals and stop relying on that sensational octave.
From the review: The Battle at Garden’s Gate keeps Greta Van Fleet fully in the 70s, continues the phenomena that is Josh Kiszka’s vocals but establishes this quartet from Michigan as their own band separate from any comparisons to their peers of half a century ago.
Read the Review: Greta Van Fleet – The Battle at Garden’s Gate
5. Athey Music – Goodness & Mercy
Athey Music, a local Portland band dropped their debut Christian music record Goodness & Mercy, but after numerous listens for the album review, concert review and just pure enjoyment, I have yet to hit the skip button on any of the songs to get to the next. An astounding achievement and most certainly the Best Christian Album of 2021.
From the review: Expressive and tranquil, Goodness & Mercy integrates multiple music genres for a broad audience and while the purely gospel centric lyrics certainly will serve the faithful well, even the irreligious looking for something different should find some joy in Athey Music.
Read the Review: Athey Music – Goodness & Mercy
4. Styx – Crash of the Crown
Nearly 50 years after their debut album, Styx drops Crash of the Crown, an impressive prog rocker that reignites the tail end of their career.
From the review: Crash Of The Crown shows Styx in their element, an album easily produced in their heyday that would have topped the charts, because it holds on to a formula that works but without adhering to it.
Read the Review: Styx – Crash of the Crown
3. Dream Theater – A View From the Top of the World
High octane hard rock with elaborate guitar solos and drum fills, Dream Theater didn’t stray too far from their brand with A View from the Top of the World.
From the review: Mesmerizing scale type chords followed by intricate guitar playing accentuated by well-placed drum kicks smother the album serving only to crush the spirit of any beginner player while aficionados will savor the varying long solos and instrumental jams in between bars of vocals that create musical mansions.
Read the Review: Dream Theater – A View From the Top of the World
2. Eclipse – Wired
I put Wired on my Christmas list on vinyl and CD if that gives you any idea of this album’s pure awesomeness. Every song delivers and if not for a young man who played all the instruments on his debut album Eclipse would get 2021 Album of the Year.
From the review: So many delicious hooks and energetic melodies, a few ballads but not too sappy, guitar solos that beg for an audience, even a double bass drum or two. All of this and more fill the entire album from start to finish with songs that never feel too long. Just right actually with fully developed consistency.
Read the Review: Eclipse – Wired
Best Album of 2021
1. Mammoth WVH – Self-title
The debut album from the son of Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang Van Halen wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on this record. Filled with melodies and mostly hard rock songs complimented by some softer sounds this self-titled record offers an amazing start for Mammoth WVH, I just hope the flash wasn’t captured in a bottle.
From the review: Wolfgang Van Halen arranges his Mammoth WVH album near flawlessly with memorable harmonies, polished phrasing and striking rhythms inside an intricate mix of soft melodies and driving melodies, hearty and intricate guitar, and well-done rhythm changes, sometimes all in one song.
Read the Review: Mammoth WVH
Best Albums of 2021 Honorable Mentions :
- Phil Thompson – Lion of Judah
- Foo Fighters – Medicine at Midnight
- Jeremy Camp – When You Speak
- Alice Cooper – Detroit Stories
- Weezer – OK Human
- Weezer – Van Weezer
- Imagine Dragons – Mercury – Act 1
- Thrice – Horizons/East
- Daughtry – Dearly Beloved
- Third Eye Blind – Our Bande Apart
- Switchfoot – Interrobang
2021 Live Albums and Covers:
- Megadeth – Unplugged in Boston
- The Black Keys – Delta Kream
- New Order – Education, Entertainment, Recreation
2021 Albums That Didn’t Have a Chance:
I could make this the Worst Albums of 2021 list but plenty of rap “music” “albums” no doubt came out this year that could fill out a Top (fill-in-the number) list.