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The year in music: Top 10 albums of 2021 include Japanese Breakfast, Tyler the Creator, St. Vincent

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 23, 2021

Japanese Breakfast performs at the Railbird Music Festival on Aug. 28, in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Japanese Breakfast performs at the Railbird Music Festival on Aug. 28, in Lexington, Kentucky. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

For the second year in a row, woman’s got the power. Fiona Apple and Phoebe Bridgers were among the female artists who delivered the best albums of 2021, and they didn’t made my top-tier list. Seven of the 10 albums on my 2021 list are ladies.

1. Japanese Breakfast, “Jubilee”

What a year for the artist also known as Michelle Zauner! There was “Crying in H Mart: A Memoir,” an exploration of her Korean heritage after the death of Zauner’s mother, and “Jubilee.” Zauner dug deep during the pandemic and crafted a collection of poignant, melancholy and melodic songs. “Paprika” and “Be Sweet” are two of the finest songs of the year. Fans can’t wait for the next project by the prolific Zauner.

2. Tyler the Creator, “Call Me If You Get Lost”

Urgent, fiery and literate, Tyler the Creator has emerged as a master storyteller. The stylish and free-wheeling album is Tyler the Creator’s third exceptional album in a row.

3. Lucy Dacus, “Home Video”

Revealing first-person narratives highlight the aptly named “Home Video.” Dacus lays it all out as she looks back at her coming of age in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a warts-and-all collection of catchy indie rock. Dacus’ revealing take on deadbeat dads, sexual awakening and general awkwardness is worth indulging in for hours.

4. St. Vincent, “Daddy’s Home”

The unpredictable Grammy Award winner reveals how much of an impact her father’s record collection had on the daring singer-songwriter. Each of her albums features eclectic tunes, which are full of twists. St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, goes contemporary country with the gorgeous “Somebody Like Me.”

Clark surprises with a tip of the cap to Sheena Easton and takes the bouncy route with the 1980s pop queen’s “My Baby Takes the Morning Train” during the soulful “My Baby Wants a Baby.”

The title track is revelatory. The tune provides details regarding her father, who was recently released from prison after serving nine years for fraud. Clark always has her fans on their toes since who knows what will be next?

5. Jazmine Sullivan, “Heaux Tales”

A half-decade passed since Sullivan’s last album, but it was worth the wait. Sullivan, who has an extraordinary voice, nails it with tales of love, sex and all-around good times throughout this sonic escape. Sullivan can be funny and flirty and always inspiring.

6. Playboy Carti, “Whole Lotta Red”

Urgent, swaggering Southern rap, Playboy Carti is a rare larger-than-life figure who is quirky but grabs the listener with inventive hooks. Tracks such as “New Tank” and “Stop Breathing” are surprising and menacing. Playboy Carti fills a void with his swagger, and it’s refreshing how the Atlanta rapper swings for the fences. “Rockstar Made,” the leadoff track, indeed!

7. Low, “Hey What”

An album that takes several spins to digest. Low created their masterwork nearly 30 years after forming in Duluth, Minnesota. After creating 16 mostly under-the-radar albums, Low releases an album that screams for considerable attention. The ethereal, autumnal soundscapes created by vocalist-guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer-vocalist Mimi Parker are perfect for a seemingly endless winter.

8. Morgan Wade, “Reckless”

Whatever Wade belts out in her raspy, twangy soprano is worth checking out. The rising star’s voice is that special. The content of “Reckless,” Wade’s strong debut, matches her set of pipes. Addiction and mental health are some of the issues Wade explores as country and pop are combined in an uncompromising manner.

It’ll be difficult for Wade to top her debut.

9. Snail Mail, “Valentine”

Lindsey Jordan, aka Snail Mail, nails it with the intensely personal “Valentine.” The lo-fi indie rock album is filled with dreamy, baroque and melancholy gems such as “Mia” and “Headlock.”

10. Carly Pearce, “29”

A terrific country album inspired by loss. Pearce receives a huge assist from ace Nashville songwriters Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, who complement her heavy lyrics with their sonic ability.

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