The best albums of 2021 (so far)

Arlo Parks’s debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” was released January 29, 2021. Described as “kind of like bedroom pop mixed with a little bit of indie folk and a little bit of R&B” (Morning Edition), “Collapsed in Sunbeams” has been praised for Parks’s revealing, vulnerable and relatable lyrics.

It seems to be a common idea that suffering–in whatever form–is a fountain of inspiration for art. So it would make sense that a year into a pandemic that’s upended our lives and made everything a thousand times more difficult, we would have some pretty decent music coming out as a result.
The following albums are what I consider to be the best albums released in 2021 so far. And although not all of them were recorded during the pandemic, they all definitely seem to have a quarantine “tinge” to them: a sort of aura that makes it evident they were released during this time of strife.

“Collapsed in Sunbeams”: Arlo Parks

If I were asked to describe this album in one word, I would use “dreamy.” I know that’s a cliché way to describe music, but Parks’s debut studio album really is dreamy. Her singing is languid, the melodies are layered and the instrumentals are gentle and lulling. Singing with a strong British accent that frequently emerges in her more quavering, passionate notes, Parks delves into a myriad of genres–from bedroom pop to R&B–and covers all sorts of aspects of love, from dating another woman and dealing with the backlash (“Green Eyes”) to unrequited love (“Eugene”). Vulnerable and strikingly honest in its lyricism, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” manages to invoke the sweet sounds of lazy, peaceful summer in nearly every song.

“Flowers for Vases/Descansos”: Hayley Williams

If “Collapsed in Sunbeams” represents the daytime side of quarantine: relaxed, languid, and beautiful, then “Flowers for Vases” represents the nighttime aspect–dark and mysterious, yet still vulnerable at times. Williams’s second solo album is the first album where she’s ever been truly alone: she wrote all the songs and played all the instruments herself (though someone else produced the album). This solitude, along with the minimal production, folksy sound and overall low-tech atmosphere mean that this album is the true embodiment of quarantine.
Williams’s lyrics are often revealing and, at times, bizarre (the verse “Shy little rabbit, teething on a shotgun” appears in “My Limb”), and frail guitar strings and hushed melodies wrap each song up into a quiet, secretive present that you’ll feel you shouldn’t be allowed to listen to–but you’ll furtively do so regardless.

“Sour”: Olivia Rodrigo

After four months of her debut single “Drivers License” being one of the earworm-iest, most inescapable songs of 2021, Rodrigo finally dropped her debut album “Sour” on May 21, 2021. The album is incredibly sonically varied: Rodrigo dances from bedroom pop-ballads (“Drivers License”) to psychedelic pop tunes (“Deja Vu”) to angry and annoyed pop-punk bangers (“Good 4 U” and “Brutal”). It’s incredible how she’s able to fit so many genres into an album without the album ever sounding disjointed, or a song ever sounding out-of-place.
However, if you’re someone who pays attention to the lyrics (like me), the lyrics to “Sour” can get tiring occasionally. It often seems like the only thing that ever happens to Rodrigo is breakups, so it would be more interesting to see more songs that aren’t relationship related (there’s a couple on the album, but they’re few and far in between). But you can’t deny her ability to write a catchy, popular hit that still sounds good, which is why I enjoy this album so much: nearly every song sounds like it could be a single, which is rare.

“Forever Fifteen”: Mothica

This album is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Mothica (real name McKenzie Ellis) tackles a variety of darker, troubling topics in her six-song EP. On “Buzzkill,” she unleashes her fury at the youth pastor who sexually abused her (“I’m a buzzkill/Gonna kill your high/’Cause I’m pissed off/I think you know why,” she snarls in the chorus); on “Forever Fifteen,” she exposes her attempted suicide at the tender age of 15 (“When they say that it’s not that bad/You’re too young to be this sad/Makes you wanna do something that you can’t take back,” she sings mournfully); and on “Funhouse,” she confronts her dislike of her body (“Will I feel better with a new measurement?” she asks). All in all, it’s a catchy, quick cache of songs, but its haunting lyrics manage to cling in your heart and mind long after you’ve run through it.

Happy listening!

Find out which album you should listen to!