#1 Silver Crane by Fly By Midnight
Here's yet another case of a band that I never knew existed somehow ending up reaching me and I become consumed with their music. Not only did I listen to Silver Crane over and over and over again... I had Alexa playing through their entire catalog for many, many days in 2021. There's few missteps in their body of work and I love most everything they've released. But focusing on my favorite album of 2021 (by a wide, wide margin) for a minute... there's a well-crafted pop sensibility that threads its way through every track, starting with the mellow beauty of Borrow Your Time... working it's way through lush tracks like Be Right There, Tomorrow, and When She's Dancing... then ending with the wonderful North... a dozen fantastic tracks that made my 2021 a little more bearable.
And because, like me, you may never have heard of Fly By Midnight before, here's more tracks that aren't off of Silver Crane, but might encourage you to look at their back-catalog...
And here's the first song I ever heard from Fly By Midnight the day after my birthday in the Year of Our Lord, 2021... originally released back in 2015!
#2 = by Ed Sheeran
It was Overpass Graffiti that got me. Lord what a beautiful song. — I have never been able to get into Ed Sheeran. I like a few tracks here and there, but his albums just don't appeal to me for some reason, even though he builds the kind of music I should like. But then I took a ride on = and ended up digging it. No idea if this is because he's changed... or I've changed... but there's an old-school pop undertone that's gone through a modern filter that hit just right for me in 2021 (and Overpass Graffiti is such an amazing track).
#3 Star Crossed by Kacey Musgraves
And she's back. One of the biggest surprises (to myself) when it comes to these lists was the fact that her previous album Golden Hour ended up being my second favorite album of 2018. I don't know that I like this album more... it's difficult to replace your first love... but it's sure got some beautiful tracks on it. Taking a page out of Taylor Swift's book, Kacey seems to be working through her divorce and taking us along. Or maybe I'm just reading that context into it, but regardless of where it came from, the music here is every bit as lovely as Kacey herself.
#4 Good Things by Dan + Shay
Country pop is not exactly a genre I seek out... but after hearing Dan + Shay provide the incredible Christmastime track Take Me Home for Christmas to the film Dashing in December last year, I've been all over their music... including their latest release, Good Things, which is exactly what the name implies. Track after track of good things. Highly enjoyable hopeful music that is just what 2021 needed.
#5 Times by SG Lewis
Disco is not dead, apparently. And maybe if it stayed as creative as this album, it wouldn't be dead at all? Interesting to note that while SG has been sneaking around for a while... releasing EPs and collaborating with, well, everybody... this is his first full studio album. Once again collaborating with a who's who of music (including Nile Rodgers, Robyn, Lucky Daye, and more!) this welcome release is a total treat from start to finish.
#6 Screen Violence by CHVRCHES
CHVRCHES was the opening act for a couple tours I saw, and it was always a pleasure to listen what they were up to... even if I didn't play their music when I get home. All that changed with Screen Violence. Lauren Mayberry rips through track after track with a sublime dedication to the lyrics that you can feel. The songs are an eclectic mix of pop-rock with a bit of an edge, and listening through the album is a rollercoaster of feels that you don't want to end.
#7 Montero by Lil Nas X
Nothing quite like an entire album of "fuck you" to all the people who made your entire life hell, and nobody did it better in 2021 than Lil Nas X. People told him he was going to hell for being gay? Fine, he'll take you to hell in a banger track with a video to match. People told him he belongs in jail for his subversive music and videos? Find, he'll take you to prison in all the ways they fear. But the album isn't just a kiss my ass dis release, there's some really good songs to be found that stay with you in the best way possible. And to those people mad about his success? GOOD!
#8 Music Of The Spheres by Coldplay
Say what you will about Coldplay, but they know how to construct a song that gets stuck in your head. They also know how to create killer videos that take what you think you know about their music and push it into a different direction entirely. Music Of The Spheres isn't revolutionary... it isn't even evolutionary... for the band, but it's filled with one terrific song after another, including a banger collaboration with South Korean sensation BTS (no idea how in the heck that happened!).
#9 Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! by Aaron Lee Tasjan
Weird. Eclectic. Interesting. It's really hard to come up with a way to describe exactly what this album is. So I won't even try. I'll just say that it's a highly listenable mix of cool tunes that seeped into my playlist many, many times in 2021.
#10 Future Past by Duran Duran
I struggled as to where this should fit on my list... or whether it should even be here at all. On one hand... it's freakin' Duran Duran. But on the other hand? Hardly their best effort. But even a middle-of-the-road album by the band is something I like better than most of what got released in 2021. There's certainly some tracks that work better than others here... Beautiful Lies is a wonderful return to form, for example... but something is lacking when compared to their previous two albums (All You Need is Now and Paper Gods) which were both amazing.
HONORABLE MENTION: Firebird by Natalie Imbruglia
It's interesting how "The Torn Girl" is so much more than that one great track, but she doesn't seem to be able to break free of it. There are worse things, I guess, but she's such an amazing artist that I wish people would give her other music a try. Firebird is a perfectly lovely album that's all the things you love about her best-known song.
HONORABLE MENTION: You Signed Up For This by Maisie Peters
If I were to sum up You Signed Up For This it would have to be something like "eminently listenable pop." Great tracks that are nicely constructed and wonderfully performed that you can just listen to on repeat while working, cleaning the house, or talking to your cats. That probably sounds like a dis, but it's really not. Maisie Peters can effortlessly engrainin herself into your everyday life in a way that it feels like it could be a soundtrack to your existence or something. Even if that doesn't apply to you, this album is well worth your time to explore.
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN: Planet Her by Doja Cat
Welp. If anybody knows how to inject their music into the social consciousness by exploiting social media, it's Doja Cat. She was everywhere, and I was hypnotized into addiction so badly that I was listening to Her even when social media was nowhere to be found. So many fantastic tracks dripping with her delicious voice. And then she put some real money into her videos that were worth a look many times over.
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN: Fast Idol by Black Marble
Gotta love it when an album is released that feels like it was dropped into a black hole in 1986 and has only now emerged! I don't know exactly where Black Marble gets their influences, but it feels like it must be a smorgasbord of 80's synth-pop acts, which is exactly why I love Fast Idol so much.
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN: Human by OneRepublic
One Republic is one of those bands that is nothing if not consistent. They have a formula. It works. And they revisit it with each new album. In many ways, I appreciate that because their formula totally works for me. On the other hand... boy it would be nice if they would push into new territory, because I'm not sure how many more albums of the same thing will keep me interested (see: Imagine Dragons, who also released an album this year). In the meanwhile though? This is another good album by a band I really enjoy.
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN: Voyage by ABBA
I've been a huge ABBA fan for as long as I've been listening to music. And just when it seemed that we would never hear anything new from them as a band ever again, here comes this gem. What I would have loved is an album that burns through a dozen dance tracks that they do so well, but that's not what we got. Sure there are tracks like Don't Shut Me Down that are great, and sweet tracks like When You Danced with Me and No Doubt About It that I played more than a little bit... but Voyage is stuffed with slow, plodding tracks that are a nice listen, but not really what I hoped for. All I CAN hope for is that ABBA isn't done yet and will give us another album so I can combine the best of both for the album I've been waiting for.
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO OF 2021: One Right Now by Post Malone and The Weeknd
It came out on November 15th and I still haven't stopped listening to it almost daily. My appreciation for both Post Malone and The Weeknd just keeps growing, and it's because of tracks like this. As if that weren't enough, the video is pretty epic...
FAVORITE SURPRISE SINGLE OF 2021: STAY by Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber
I discover a lot of music on TikTok, and one of the most inescapable in 2021 was a snippet of STAY which, much to my surprise, is actually a darn good pop single...
FAVORITE THROWBACK TRACK OF 2021: Cold Heart by Elton John and Dua Lipa
Some songs will never get old. A great many tracks by Elton John fall into this category, and when he dusts them off for a modern take like this, I'm all ears...
FAVORITE PREVIEW OF 2022: 23 by Sam Hunt
My fifth favorite album of 2020 was a rare Country artist who knows how to craft some really nice songs. This September he dropped a preview track from his upcoming album and it's exactly the kind of thing that makes me love his music.