My Favorite 10 Albums & EPs of 2021: Halsey, Taylor Swift, Alexander 23, Amy Allen, and More

It's that time of year again when all the Best Of lists come out, and I've already started my favorites' series here with my Favorite Live Shows of 2021 list earlier in the week. Now it's time to talk about all the albums and EPs that got me through this year and stole my heart. Music is always what keeps me together, so all of these albums on the list are extremely important to me and who I became this year. What was your top album of 2021?

by Halsey

Halsey's album was the first of 2021 that totally took my breath away. 2021 was a weird music year for me where I really struggled to fall head over heels in love with many of my most anticipated albums. If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power is an entire experience. Halsey is the queen of concept albums, and this felt like the culmination of everything they've learned in the process of creating Badlands, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, and to a certain extent, Manic. Every song serves a purpose and is loaded with an emotional intensity that makes every track striking. 
The themes of motherhood and childbirth are present and can be found if you look for them, but as proof of Halsey's strength as a songwriter, if those are themes you can't relate to, every song easily remakes itself to fit into your particular life circumstances. 
Themes of uncertainty and self-doubt, especially in the realization that you're arriving at your dreams but still scared and discontent really resonated with me. This is an album I frequently reach for to listen all the way through, and I'm still slightly in shock that this album exists. I love that the release came nearly as a surprise drop with no singles to muddle its presentation as a singular body of work. The film solidifies the overarching narrative that Halsey was pulling from far more and is a well made short film, though not at all a necessary part of soaking in the album. IICHLIWP is not getting enough love on year end lists in my opinion (except for from Brittany Spanos who always comes through).

2. Oh No, Not Again

by Alexander 23

Alexander 23 is one of my favorite artists I discovered in 2021. His two LA shows were among the highlights of my year, and his music has been a slow burn favorite for me. I stumbled into this EP after I saw a friend tweeting about going to his shows. When I checked my Spotify, I realized I had liked 2 of his songs ("IDK You Yet" and "Cry Over Boys") already, and I dug into this EP from there. I added a few songs from this EP to my road trip playlist for when I moved to LA. Then, in the weeks leading up to the show and the weeks after, I would listen to the EP on loop on my walks to and from school and marvel over the incredible songwriting contained in this body of work. Coming in at just under the threshold to still be an EP, this project has the weight to stand up with the year's albums. 
As a collection, the Oh No, Not Again is a bundle of introspective songs that flow well. From witty musings on the weirdness of dating in the internet world to longing for a person you haven't met to illustrating the untouchable isolation of depression, these songs are relatable with a fresh perspective and a funny spin on songs about love and the loss of that love. "Nothing's the Same," the duet with Jeremy Zucker, very subtly nods towards lockdown in a way that makes you feel deeply seen instead of perturbed by the reminder of that season of life. "Track 9" breaks the fourth wall to end the album specifically addressing one potential listener in a show of vulnerability that perfectly caps off the album. It is a body of work I never get sick of. 

by Jeremy Zucker

If the list was of comfort albums, this one would take the top spot. Usually, I fall into the music as I also fall into the world of the artist as a person. I started listening to Jeremy Zucker's 2020 album, Love Is Not Dying, after hearing his feature on Alexander's EP, and it quietly played in the background for the first half of my 2021 without it ever occurring to me to look up Jeremy at all. He was on my radar, though, as he started releasing singles for Crusher. Then, that album got folded into my life, and much like Lauv's Modern Loneliness did through 2020, Crusher became my go-to when I wanted to feel calm, fill the space, or have a soundtrack to the write the mountains of essays this semester required. It became my constant companion. 
I think Jeremy's work stands out best in complete albums. They are sonically cohesive in a way that everything flows exquisitely and everything makes sense together. It needs to be presented as one moving, breathing body of work - a complete story about feeling helplessly caught in a relationship with no right answers. It paints a striking portrait while still feeling effortless. 

by Taylor Swift

Even as only a partially new album, Red (TV) was still one of my favorite musical moments of the year. The rollout was exquisite, and the vault tracks revealed an entirely different side of Red that wouldn't have made sense in 2012 but fit perfectly into 2021. These songs revealed a somewhat darker, sadder, doubtful, and increasingly self aware side of Taylor that clashes with her 2012 persona but proves the Taylor we know today was this way all along. Tracks like "Forever Winter" and "Nothing New" offer worries and doubts that go far beyond the context of romantic relationships. There are a couple sparkly moments of pop Taylor fighting through that are pure fun, and getting to hear "Babe" and "Better Man" in Taylor's voice is as delicious as I always imagined it would be. Even with the existing material from Red aside, these new tracks create a standout album all on their own that is worthy of note and recognition. 

5. This Is What It Feels Like

by Gracie Abrams

Both not an album and not an EP officially, This Is What It Feels Like is a slightly confusing project to present. Still, it is a thoughtful, introspective, and important body of work to follow up Gracie Abram's first EP Minor. Offering a bit more variety in sonics and subject matter, this project makes way for a new look at Gracie when her debut album finally emerges. Intensely personal, she never holds back on these intimate tracks that at certain times feels like whispers from a best friend and at others feels like echoes ripped from your own mind. Gracie has a capacity to articulate the nuances of depression and anxiety in words that I've never found in any other artist. While a few tracks could've possibly been left behind in the name of making it a proper EP for clarity's sake, Gracie put forth a strong collection of songs to cap off a major year for her career. 

6. Dangerous Levels of Introspection

by JP Saxe

JP Saxe released an album that completely lived up to its already iconic name. Dangerous Levels of Introspection offers a truly comprehensive introduction to JP Saxe as an artist. There's his signature witty, smart, sometimes funny lines, but there's also a burning sincerity to every song. With stories that traverse letting go of past relationships, discovering a deeper level of love than you once thought possible, and grappling with transitioning from young adulthood to a more stable picture of it, JP's album creates a near perfect snapshot.

7. Optimist

by Finneas

I think Finneas's album suffered in my original estimation from expectations that just didn't match up with the direction the album ended up going. With many of the albums farther down on this list, I struggled to get into this album because it felt like it was forcing itself too far into a glossy pop box at times that felt less than authentic. The album has grown on me, and there are truly stunning songs that dot the album like "Only a Lifetime" and "Love Is Pain". While it's definitely not skipless, Optimist attempts the extremely weighty task of capturing the reality of living in the internet era, which is a feat that is extremely hard to traverse perfectly. 

8. Solar Power

by Lorde

Lorde albums are usually a total gut punch, but Solar Power landed more like a feather. The album washes over slowly like an ocean, and you have to absorb it overtime like rays of the sun. Melodrama calibrated my expectations in the wrong direction, so it was hard to receive Solar Power for what it was. Over time, I've come to embrace this breezy new iteration of Lorde as it's whispered in the background, but it still just left me wishing there was a little more. 

9. Not In Chronological Order

by Julia Michaels

Julia Michael's debut album was one I had to warm up to. Going into it, I really just wanted a third Inner Monologue EP. I loved those two EPs so deeply, and I wasn't ready for the poppier turn that Not In Chronological Order took. I still stand by the fact that some of these songs just feel deeply out of character for Julia and a bit of an awkward fit without the lovely, quirky details that make Julia's work so special, but after the surprise wore off, I was able to settle into the album more. There were a few striking songs from the beginning and a few more I settled into overtime, able to appreciate them for what they were instead of what I wanted them to be.

10. AWW!

by Amy Allen

Amy Allen has been a major name in the songwriting world for years now, but 2021 was the year she fully stepped into the role of artist. This EP seems to only be a tiny taste of what Amy is capable of, and she's spent the better part of the fall on tour with a variety of acts from JP Saxe to Alexander 23 to Mt. Joy. Each of these songs is absolutely fantastic and serves as a short but sweet introduction to what makes Amy, Amy. With an indie rock edge that's still smooth and easy to loop, Amy is paving a lane that's purely her own, even with the small handful of songs. 

Honorable Mentions:

You Signed Up For This

by Maisie Peters

I'm super super excited that Maisie is finally getting the recognition she deserves through TikTok! I've been a fan of Maisie for a number of years now, and I'm always swept up in her Swiftian lyrics and folky sound. Again, this album took more of a turn for the glossy pop, and it felt like her new label head, Ed Sheeran, pushed Maisie in a similar direction as he went with his own album, leaving behind some of what makes them unique artists to cater to radio trends. There are songs I love on this album, but I never find myself specifically wanting to listen to it all the way through. 

Del Water Gap

by Del Water Gap

This self-titled album is an absolute indie movie soundtrack. Each song blurs into the next in the most wonderful soundscape to lose yourself in. "Perfume" definitely stands out as the dopamine rush of the album. If you love sonic cohesion, this is an album for you. 

Happier Than Ever

by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish has ushered in a brand new era this year that accompanies the changes that she's made growing up, and that has translated into her sound. While I was hoping that more of this album would connect with me, the second half of the album is exquisite, particularly "Happier Than Ever" and "Male Fantasy" which are some of my favorite songs of this year. If anything, this proves that there's no way to predict where Billie will go next with her music. 

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