AQ’s Staff Picks for the Top Albums of 2021

A lot has changed in the last decade – too much than we can count and too many things we hope to never relive, if we’re being honest. One thing that has changed, hopefully for the better, is the downfall of strict categorization of music. The Aquarian has spanned more than five decades with its roots in rock and roll, but as the 2020s continue to prove, the mindset, influence, and stylings of rock and roll are everywhere. There are variety of genres being intertwined in the mainstream, more pathways than ever before for those hoping to get their songs heard, and an increased assortment of acts deserving to be covered by outlets big and small. (That’s us!)

Because of the many ways we can learn about new, distinctive artists and their subsequent album releases, our tastes are shifting and expanding. The Aquarian is evolving right along with it, sharing music, news, and stories these days that come from all different walks of life and even more contradicting artistry; all in hopes of sharing them with both our longterm readers and new friends.

Take 2011’s “Top Albums of 2011” as an example.

Just one decade ago nine of our writers dished out their own Top 10’s – and there were only a handful of female artists or female-fronted bands named. 90 albums were ranked and yet one could count the female-based acts mentioned on just a single hand. To be fair, Lady Gaga was mentioned three times and Adele twice (rightfully so), but that still only leaves three other female stars or female-fronted bands. This year we have many more than that taking up spots on our lists (once again including Adele). You would actually need more than the average amount of fingers and toes to count the women lead albums out of this year’s 110 ranked releases, not including duplicates. Talk about girl power, diversity, and inclusion!

More than half of the albums listed ten years ago could very easily and very accurately be considered metal. Little outside of that style realm were highlighted in the overarching listicle, making for a very heavy-handed, one-sided ranking. (It really was all great music, though.) 2021 does feature stellar heavy metal releases, but also velvety R&B, quick-witted pop, progressive punk, and so much more. There are indie rock sprinklings and hints of Top 40 radio throughout, but nothing is ostracized anymore. Life is too short not to experience all the music that a new year has to offer.

We can’t help but note that the record that won for Best Rock Album at the Grammys in that year didn’t get a singular nudge from us. (It was Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light, but don’t worry, we’ve got them covered this time around with their once again Best Rock Album nominated Medicine at Midnight.) The underground did get their love, as well as the rising stars and budding bands, but life is a toss up and so were the records we dove into this past year. Indie releases, self-titled records, chart-toppers, fan favorites, and many others took over our 2021 Staff Picks for the Top 10 Albums of the Year.

Debra Kate Schafer – Managing Editor

  1. The Pretty Reckless – Death by Rock and Roll (Fearless Records)
  2. Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic (Aftermath / Atlantic)
  3. Lilith Czar – Created from Filth and Dust (Sumerian Records)
  4. jxdn – Tell Me About Tomorrow (DTA Records / Elektra)
  5. Dee Snider – Leave A Scar (Napalm Records)
  6. Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun (Aly & AJ Music LLC)
  7. The Driver Era – Girlfriend (The Driver Era / BMG)
  8. Angels and Airwaves – Lifeforms (Rise Records)
  9. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour (Geffen Records)
  10. Inhaler – It Wont Always Be Like This (Polydor Records)

Anthony Vito Cosentino – Photographer & Contributing Writer

  1. Rise Against – Nowhere Generation (Loma Vista Recordings / Concord)
  2. The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll (Wabi Sabi Worldwide / Concord)
  3. Volbeat – Servant of the Mind (Universal Music)
  4. Tash Sultana – Terra Firma (Lonely Lands Records / Mom+Pop
  5. Garbage – No Gods No Masters (Garbage Unlimited / Infectious Music / BMG)
  6. Death From Above 1979 – Is 4 Lovers (Everything Eleven / Universal Music Canada)
  7. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Sanctuary Records / BMG)
  8. Scarypoolparty – The Act of Forgiveness (Hollywood Records / 19 Recordings)
  9. Marissa Paternoster – Peace Meter (Don Giovanni Records)
  10. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions (Matador Records)

Sherry Thomas – Contributing Writer & Lead Book Critic

  1. Ra – Intercorrupted (Wake Up! Music Rocks)
  2. Ryan Hamilton – 1221 (Wicked Cool Records)
  3. Duran Duran – FUTURE PAST (Tape Modern)
  4. Volbeat – Servant of the The Mind (Republic Records)
  5. Myles Kennedy – The Ides Of March (Napalm Records)
  6. Danko Jones – Power Trio (Sonic Unyon Records)
  7. Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic (Atlantic) 
  8. DIAMANTE – American Dream (Anti-Heroine)
  9. Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight (Roswell)
  10. Marc Ribler – The Whole World Awaits You (Wicked Cool Records)

Mike Greenblatt – Rant ‘N Roll Columnist

  1. Eric Bibb – Dear America (Provogue/Mascot)
  2. Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra – Bernstein Reimagined (MCG Jazz)
  3. Gov’t Mule – Heavy Load Blues (Fantasy)
  4. Memphissippi Sounds – Welcome To The Land (Little Village)
  5. Jake Shimabukuro – Jake & Friends (Mascot)
  6. Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra featuring Cyrille Aimee – Petite Fleur (Storyville)
  7. James McMurtry – The Horses And The Hounds (New West)
  8. Damon Fowler – Alafia Moon (Landslide)
  9. Dion – Stomping Ground (KTBA)
  10. Joe Bonamassa – Time Clocks (J&R Adventures)

James Campion – Reality Check Columnist & Associate Editor

  1. Elizabeth and the Catapult – sincerely e (Elizabeth Ziman / Compass Records)
  2. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions (Matador Records)
  3. Counting Crows – Butter Miracle Suite One (BMG)
  4. Matt Sucich – Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself (Matt Sucich)
  5. Roan Yellowthorn – Another Life (Blue Elan Records)
  6. Eric Hutchinson – Before & After Life (Let’s Break Records)
  7. Brick Briscoe & The Skinny – iloveyousomuch (Brick Briscoe)
  8. Wild Pink – A Billion Little Lights (Royal Mountain Records)
  9. The Suitcase Junket – The End is New [2020] (Renew Records / BMG)
  10. The Beatles – Let It Be (Super Deluxe) (Universal Music Group)

Taylor Adzima – Contributing Writer

  1. Zac Clark – Holy Shit (True Wizard)
  2. Circa Survive – A Dream About Love (Rise Records)
  3. Fuckin Whatever – Fuckin Whatever (Born Losers Records)
  4. joe P – Emily Can’t Sing (Atlantic)
  5. The Maine – XOXO: From Love & Anxiety in Real Time (Photo Finish Records / 8123)
  6. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions (Matador Records)
  7. Lucy Dacus – Home Video (Matador Records)
  8. Beach House – Once Twice Melody (Sub Pop Records)
  9. Tash Sultana – Terra Firma (Lonely Lands Records / Mom+Pop)
  10. The Used – Heartwork (Deluxe) (Big Noise Music Group)

Vincent Bennett – Contributing Writer

  1. Lisa Bouchelle & The Bleu – Jump In! (BFD / The Orchard / Sony Music)
  2. Gary Moore – How Blue Can You Get (Provogue)
  3. Wanda Jackson – Encore (Big Machine)
  4. Nancy Wilson – You And Me (Carry On Music)
  5. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – The Future (Stax / Fantasy)
  6. Cheap Trick – In Another World (BMG)
  7. Yola – Stand For Myself (Easy Eye Sound)
  8. Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight (Roswell)
  9. Kitt Wakeley – Symphony of Sinners and Saints (Independent)
  10. The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll (Fearless)

Raymond Romanski – Contributing Writer

  1. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime (Matador Records)
  2. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Dead Oceans)
  3. The Weather Station – Ignorance (Fat Possum Records)
  4. Far Caspian – Ways to Get Out (Tiny Library Records / Allpoints)
  5. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY (Sargent House)
  6. Prince – Welcome 2 America (NPG Records / Legacy Recordings)
  7. Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (Century Media Records)
  8. Ty Segall – Harmonizer (Drag City)
  9. Rise Against – Nowhere Generation (Loma Vista Recordings / Concord)
  10. Nas – King’s Disease II (Mass Appeal)

Haddie Lyons – Graphic Design Intern

  1. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour (Geffen Records)
  2. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Dead Oceans)
  3. Lorde – Solar Power (Universal Music New Zealand)
  4. Doja Cat – Planet Her (Kemosabe / RCA Records)
  5. Adele – 30 (Columbia)
  6. Pink Pantheress – to hell with it (Parlophone Records)
  7. Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red (Deluxe) (AWGE / Interscope)
  8. Willow – lately i feel EVERYTHING (MSFTSMusic / Roc Nation)
  9. Royal Blood – Typhoons (Warner Records UK)
  10. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever (Darkroom / Interscope)

Jason Boyle – Contributing Writer

  1. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Dead Oceans)
  2. Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (Luminelle Recordings)
  3. Slayyyter – Troubled Paradise (Fader)
  4. The Armed – Ultrapop (SargentHouse)
  5. The Marías – Cinema (NiceLife / Atlantic)
  6. Silent Planet – Iridescent (Solid State Records)
  7. PinkPantheress – to hell with it (Parlophone)
  8. Bachelor, Jay Som, Palehound – Doomin’ Sun (Polyvinyl)
  9. Porter Robinson – Nurture (Sample Sized / Mom+Pop)
  10. Swiss Portrait – Familiar Patterns (Z Tapes)

Readers’ Votes

  1. Sammy Hagar and the Circle – Lockdown 2020 (F.W.O. / Mailboat Records)
  2. Midnight Syndicate – Bloodlines (Midnight Syndicate)
  3. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version) (Republic)
  4. Gojira – Fortitude (Roadrunner Records)
  5. Every Time I Die – Radical (Epitaph)
  6. Trivium – In The Court of The Dragon (Roadrunner Records)
  7. Nirvana – Nevermind (30th Anniversary Super Deluxe) (Geffen Records / UMG)
  8. Palm Ghosts – The Lost Frequency (Ice Queen Records)
  9. Ultra Q – Get Yourself A Friend (Royal Mountain Records)
  10. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home (Loma Vista Recordings)