Opinion: Top Five Favorite Albums of 2021

A look back at some of the most noteworthy albums of 2021.

Joseph Krebaum, Staff Writer

Another year of being in a pandemic calls for another year of great music! Only this time, the music became much less of a distraction from tough times and more of a soundtrack for the progress the world has made. Whereas 2020 was the year where we all reminisced and relished our memories through music, 2021 has been the year that people set out to make new memories. 


Live in-person concerts are back now, giving artists an even greater incentive to create material and giving us an even greater incentive to listen to it and connect it to the experiences still fresh in our minds. With the year-end list season approaching, I’ve decided to revisit some of what I thought were the top albums of 2021. Hopefully, there’ll be something here for everyone. Check them out if you haven’t done so already!                   

  1. Coldplay, “Music of the Spheres”    


“Pop” tends to be a dirty word among original Coldplay fans. To say that people who enjoyed their first four albums were let down by this interplanetary effort would be a massive understatement. But to be fair, Coldplay’s overt pop sensibilities have always played a role in their biggest hits. So it’s no surprise that after the experimental but commercially disappointing “Everyday Life,” they would go back down this path. 


Indeed, the standout song, “Let Somebody Go,” a shimmering duet with Selena Gomez, drips with the same tenderness as some of their finest singles, such as “Yellow” or “Fix  You.” Even more impressive, though, is when Coldplay sounds truly spacey on the record’s most ambient track, “Infinity Sign.”  


The biggest strength of “Music of the Spheres,” however, is that it doesn’t sacrifice cohesion for texture, whereas “Everyday Life” was rather layered but thematically uneven. At the end of the day, let the internet say what they want to say about “Music of the Spheres,” because Coldplay were never concerned with being cool. They are the ultimate mood ring band, and their ability to shift from one color to the next throughout the album is still impressive no matter what critics say.              

  1. Chevelle, “NIRATIAS”


Illinois-based hard rock band, Chevelle, named after Chevrolet’s antique car, have been putting out consistently enjoyable albums for two decades now. This time around, however, it’s a little different. After all, this is Chevelle’s first album as a duo rather than a trio (their long-time bassist left the band in 2019). And unlike their previous LPs, “NIRATIAS,” (Nothing Is Real and This Is a Simulation) is framed as if it is an outer space expedition, complete with their trademark lyrical enigmas. That alone makes it seem as if “NIRATIAS” is a novelty project, and one that’s actually quite campy and fun!  


Take for instance,  the bouncy, zero-gravity “Mars Simula,” or one of the hardest rocking songs on the album, “Peach.” But like with all Chevelle albums, there are some serious, more melodic moments, too, like “Endlessly” or “Remember When,” with the latter being the most beautiful song on the record. 


Whether you gravitate (pun intended) towards the melodic or the delightfully weird, this journey out to space ends up being an exhilarating one.                                  

  1. Rise Against, “Nowhere Generation”


Politically charged metaphors? Raspy vocals? Traditional punk rock instrumentation? Yeah, that’s a Rise Against album, alright! On their ninth studio album, this Chicago melodic hardcore four-piece band continue to follow their ethos of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And what better way to win back the crowd than to return with co-producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore? They and the band work their magic on 11 solid tracks, including the titular anthem, “Nowhere Generation,” the explosive “Sudden Urge” and passionate “Middle of a Dream.” 


Sure, it may sound exactly like a Rise Against album should, but what separates this from the rest is just how cohesive and consistent this collection of absolute firecrackers is. And at a lean 41-minute runtime, the album never lags, not even with the obligatory acoustic number, “Forfeit.” Commercially speaking, this album hasn’t done as well as their previous LPs, at least not on the U.S. Billboard 200, where it didn’t even crack the Top 10. Perhaps you can make up for that by supporting what is not only Rise Against’s best album to date, but one of the greatest albums of this year!

  1. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”


Embracing the irony of recording some of your most depressing work for an album titled, “Happier Than Ever,” would normally seem like an odd thing for a pop artist to do, but not for Billie EIlish. For her sophomore effort, Eilish takes quite a lot of creative risks. Assuming the persona of a 40s lounge singer? Check. Adding in a scathing spoken word track? Check. Keeping a sultry downtempo vibe throughout most of the album? Check! There are so many interesting things that Eilish does on her second LP that it honestly becomes a challenge to encapsulate them all into one bite-sized paragraph. Perhaps the most notable aspect of “Happier Than Ever” is its production and mixing. Everything is mixed so softly that listening to it with headphones on would be the most ideal. It’s definitely not one to be played on party speakers (unless you have really good speakers)! Even with the “pop” tag, “Happier Than Ever” still doesn’t exactly sound mainstream, aside from its raucous title track, and that’s probably how Eilish had intended it to be in the first place.


  1. Chvrches, “Screen Violence” 


After releasing their rather lackluster third album, “Love is Dead,” Chvrches came out all guns blazing this time around! While “Screen Violence” follows the same formula of their first two studio efforts (“The Bones of What You Believe,” followed by “Every Open Eye”), Chvrches make it quite clear they’re not ones to repeat themselves. The band switched it up a bit by adding some hazy guitars to the mix, a shift not previously heard too much on prior albums, as well as some truly dazzling arpeggios. But what really makes this effort stand out from their past three releases is the threatening undercurrent of horror in both the lyrics and the compositions. “Screen Violence” is blissful indie pop, but with a slightly darker twist. By experimenting with horror, toxicity and despair in their lyrics, bigger beats, and more prominent guitars, the group has finally managed to make something that doesn’t just replicate the sounds of the 2010s, but transcends them, which ultimately makes “Screen Violence” the top album of 2021!

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order by artist name): 

  • Lil Nas X, “MONTERO”
  • Gary Numan, “Intruder”  
  • Ed Sheeran, “=”
  • Sleigh Bells, “Texis” 
  • Teenage Wrist, “Earth is a Black Hole”