The Phoenix’s Top Albums of 2021

Courtesy of Universal Records, Interscope Records, Aly & AJ Music AWAL Records, and Atlantic Records2021 brought scores of new music to the scene, ranging from indie emo to country pop and everything in between.

The music scene continued to pop out modern classics in 2021. Here are five albums from this year The Phoenix thought stood out.

Courtesy of Aly & AJ Music AWAL

“A Touch of the Beat…” – Aly & AJ

With their 16-word album title, Aly & AJ claimed “A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet and Then Into the Sun.” They were absolutely right — even if they could’ve capped the title at “A Touch of the Beat.” 

Evolving from the teeny bopper pop they mastered with “Potential Breakup Song,” the album throws back to 1960s and ‘70s California rock with blissful tracks of boisterous instrumentals and soaring vocals.

Anthemic pop shines with “Symptom of Your Touch,” a song designed for blaring late at night and screaming along to. “Pretty Places” is the definitive song for a summer walk, a track nostalgic at first listen. “Listen!!!” comes straight out of a coming-of-age film opening scene.

The album is an instant classic and true “Paradise” — another track that radiates amongst the greats. Like a long drive down a familiar road or a sunrise coffee with a longtime friend, “A Touch of the Beat…” is an escapist, euphoric journey. 

From the instrumental bliss within “Lost Cause” to the psychedelic “Lucky to Get Him,” the album proves Aly & AJ are here to stay. 

“A Touch of the Beat…” is available on all streaming platforms and for vinyl purchase

Alec Karam

Courtesy of Interscope Records

star-crossed” – Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves ended summer 2021 with “star-crossed,” a long-awaited heartbreak anthem. The album followed suit with her discography, with the familiar combination of eccentric guitar tones and eccentric beats.

The 15-track album explores Musgraves’ grief of her recent divorce through each song. She incorporates themes such as regret, sorrow, longing and hope throughout her guitar riffs. Musgraves first song “star-crossed” sets up the story she is telling her listeners.

“Let me set the scene / two lovers ripped right at the seams / they woke up from the perfect dream,” Musgraves sings.

The colorful album ends the sorrowful tunes on a positive note, “I won’t cry / When the cold wind blows / Gonna let it shine / ‘Cause now I know” Musgraves passionately asserts on “there is a light.” The song is accompanied by an upbeat flute solo that makes listeners want to get up and dance.

“star-crossed” solidifies Musgraves hold on the world of country-pop and gives fans hope for new music in her iconic fashion. 

“star-crossed” is now available on all streaming services and on vinyl.

Raven Walters

Courtesy of Universal Records

Solar Power” – Lorde

“Come on and let the bliss begin,” indie-electropop artist Lorde encourages in her third studio album, “Solar Power.” The Aug. 20 release mimics the lingering sun-kiss of summer placed onto the cool breeze of early fall.

Unlike the teen angst of her 2013 debut album “Pure Heroine” or the young adult heartbreak permeating her 2017 release “Melodrama,” “Solar Power” shocked fans with surprising upbeat tones. The New Zealand-based singer uses the title track to motivate listeners to unplug and meditate on hopefulness. 

In true Lorde fashion, the album maintains the emotional and existential-crisis-inducing lyrics typically associated with her songwriting. The record’s fourth track, “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” emphasizes the inevitable changes and fears that accompany growth.

“Cause all the music you loved at sixteen you’ll grow out of / And all the times they will change, it’ll all come around,” the singer remarks.

“Solar Power” is 43 minutes of introspection, navigating feelings of being lost and the bittersweet acceptance of growing up. While 2021 held moments of darkness and gloom, Lorde’s album transports listeners to a picturesque beach paradise that inspires self-reflection and self-exploration. 

“Solar Power” is available on all streaming platforms and for vinyl purchase.

Ella Govrik

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

An Evening with Silk Sonic” – Anderson .Paak & Bruno Mars

The moguls of funk are back in business: Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak had the world waiting on the edge of its seat for an album release way back in March when they released their instant soul-pop hit, “Leave The Door Open.”

Their long-awaited studio album “An Evening with Silk Sonic,” was released in November 2021. Produced by Bruno Mars, D’Mille and The Stereotypes, this album is a soul-pop-funk-R&B combination with a 1960s and ‘70s ambiance.

As if 2021 couldn’t be any more of a rollercoaster, Silk Sonic sealed the deal with a heartbroken love ballad that quickly shifted the album’s mood from “I hope your triflin’ ass is walking around barefoot in these streets” (“Smokin’ Out The Window”) to “Out here smilin’ like a fool / When the only thing worth smilin’ for was you” (“Put On A Smile”).

It’s the kind of song that makes you wish that you went through a breakup just so that the lyrics hit home a little harder.

With a total of eight songs and a run-time of 31 minutes and 19 seconds, the album itself is criminally short.

“An Evening With Silk Sonic” is available to be blasted at full volume on all streaming platforms as well as on cassette and CD.

Angela Ramirez

Courtesy of Counter Intuitive Records

GAMI GANG” – Origami Angel

In another year of injustice, plague and suffering, people needed a positive message that they could dance around their bedroom to — and Origami Angel delivered that with their sophomore double album “GAMI GANG.”

Fans of this sort of pop punk are used to a hefty dose of self deprecation, but Origami Angel lacks this and stands out for it. While their debut focused on escapism, this follow up sets its sights on a more confident voice in spite of what life throws at the listener — in addition to some honest struggle.

With a nod to Regina Spekter and acne medication, “Neutrogena Spekter” is a look at self-image, with singer and guitarist Ryland Heagy pushing back at the idea of looking like a movie star. 

“I’m never gonna look that way and I think that that’s okay,” Heagy sings at each chorus, a simple message made potent by the intensely fun music the duo put behind it.

During its 20-song run, the album’s themes bounce between other positive subjects like loving one’s friends and more earnest looks at self-doubt while the music shakes it up just as much. The jazzy “Bossa Nova Corps” and stripped down “Greenbelt Station” stand out just as much as more typical Gami songs like “Self Destruct” and “Noah Fence.”

All of it is part of the next step in Origami Angel’s evolution, something to eagerly await in the years to come. 

“GAMI GANG” is available on all streaming services and for CD and vinyl purchase

Zack Miller

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