My Most Anticipated Albums of 2021

Though the year is nearly halfway over, there are still a lot of releases that I’m looking forward to in 2021. While a few artists have actually announced records to be released this year, there are many who have only hinted at the possibility of future projects. As such, this list will include both artists who have set details for their upcoming releases, and those that I’m just keeping my fingers crossed will put out something.

St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home (5/14)

As I’ve already talked about in this column, lead single “Pay Your Way In Pain” did not give me high hopes for this record. It was just too weird, and not in a good way. Second single “The Melting Of The Sun” is actually pretty cool, though! The background vocals are a bit overbearing at times, but overall it’s a groovy, well-written piece of old-school pop. The production is warm and clear, and it sounds like it could be an interesting new direction for her. It definitely appears like she’s going for a full reinvention of herself on this album, as seen in her new look complete with blonde wig and vintage fashion, and I’d love to see how that might be shown in the new sounds she’s working with. That being said, I admittedly didn’t love her last project Masseduction, so I’m nervous about her working with Jack Antonoff again (who seems to work with just about every female pop artist these days). I guess all I can do is trust in her immense talents as a songwriter and musician, and hope for those talents to be realized.

Black Midi – Cavalcade (5/28)

While not entirely familiar with experimental rock band Black Midi, I’d heard a lot of buzz around their 2019 debut Schlagenheim but never quite got into it. However, by the recommendation of a friend, I checked out the singles for their album Cavalcade due out at the end of the month. My feelings on the three songs (one of which is a b-side not included in the tracklist) are pretty mixed, to say the least. Lead single “John L” is, put simply, absolutely insane. The track is characterized by a squawking, stuttering melody, ominous spoken word vocals, uncomfortably long moments of silence, and each instrument making as much noise as possible. I certainly can respect the raw talent and creativity of the members, but I can’t say I fully “enjoy” it, per se. On the other hand, b-side “Despair” is a gorgeous alt rock ballad akin to something off Radiohead’s In Rainbows with its yearning vocals and twinkly arpeggios. It’s a real shame it didn’t end up on the album. The most recent single, “Slow”, features a sharp, panicked melody similar to the one on “John L”, but it’s pulled off a bit better here due to its variations throughout the song. It’s not my favorite track of the year, but it’s a great piece of supremely off-kilter rock music complete with strings, horns, and incredible drumming. Despite having mixed feelings on the tracks so far, the idiosyncrasy of the music as well as the colorful album art have me looking forward to see what the rest of the album has to offer. If nothing else, it’ll be an experience.

Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (6/4)

Wolf Alice have never fully wowed me with an album, unfortunate as that is. Earlier this year, I heard their popular single “Don’t Delete the Kisses” and was floored with how one song could capture adolescent angst and yearning so beautifully and succinctly. I checked out their two records, My Love Is Cool and the Mercury Prize-winning Visions Of A Life, and was only somewhat impressed. There were certainly great songs, like “Bros”, “You’re A Germ”, and “Yuk Foo”, that showed there’s some real genius present in the band, but I couldn’t get into many of the songs from either album. I pretty much forgot about them after that, until they released the lead single from their upcoming record Blue Weekend, “The Last Man On Earth”. I listened to it out of mere curiosity, and can now say it is easily one of my favorite songs of the year. The song shows so much growth from the band, as if all of the potential I’ve heard only in small parts from them has finally been fully realized. It swells from a somber piano ballad to a swaying rock anthem, with some of the best vocals and lyrics I’ve heard from singer Ellie Rowsell as she bemoans the arrogance of people who act passively in their lives with the expectation that God will “shine his light on [them]”. The following single “Smile” isn’t quite as mature with its half-spoken, half-rapped vocals and muscular riffs, but it’s a strong song. The performances are energetic, and I like that the band sounds like they’re having fun, something I’ve always admired about their music. If the band keeps things as well-written and engaging as the singles, they just might release an album I love from front to back.

Deafheaven (2021)

While nothing’s been officially announced, Deafheaven’s management Sargent House confirmed in a tweet last month that they will be releasing new music in 2021, along with labelmates Lingua Ignota and Detroit band The Armed. They’ve received acclaim for just about everything they’ve released so far, including their most recent and arguably most accessible album Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, and I’m excited to see how they continue advancing the sound of modern metal.

Lorde (unannounced)

The world needs another Lorde album. It’s been nearly four years since her incredible sophomore record Melodrama, and she’s remained largely out of the public eye since touring in support of it. She’s given occasional updates to fans through her mailing list, detailing her time mourning the loss of her dog Pearl,  working with Jack Antonoff (again), and a trip to Antarctica documented in a new photo book. She says the new album is “so f**king good”, and I’m inclined to believe her. I just hope I can verify that claim sooner rather than later.

Beach House (unannounced)

There are no set plans for a follow-up to 2018’s 7, but Beach House have remained busy since, most recently soundtracking a Las Vegas art exhibit by the collective Meow Wolf. In an interview on the exhibit in Rolling Stone, the duo claimed to be working on new music, but “without any set endpoint in mind”. I personally would love to hear them explore a bit sonically, despite loving how consistent their sound has been throughout their career. I thought was a decent record, but it just didn’t have the same otherworldly quality present in their best work (and some of my favorite albums of all time; more on that next week). Nonetheless, they’re one of my favorite artists for a reason, and they’d have to do a lot to disappoint me.


Albums for Your Springtime Enjoyment

Since it’s starting to become a little nicer outside and the semester’s ending soon, I figured I would talk about a few records I enjoy listening to in spring. Feel free to check ’em out and give some feedback if you feel so inclined. I hope y’all are doing well out there.

Congratulations – MGMT

I heavily associate an album’s artwork and the actual sound of the music, as well as with what time of year it reminds me of (as you’ll see in the other records on this list), and there’s not really a better example of that than MGMT’s Congratulations, the followup to their debut Oracular Spectacular. You know, the one with “Kids” and “Electric Feel”. As much as I love those early singles, I’m happy Congratulations isn’t just another helping of that sound, though many fans and critics don’t have the same feeling (that lukewarm 6.8/10 score from Pitchfork is still a surprise; they normally lose their shit over artists subverting expectations and all that). But, all early 2010s context aside, this album is full of bright psych pop and rock, as colorful as the cover. Across the nine songs, you can hear the a variety of inspirations the band is pulling from: 70s prog rock, Brian Eno (see: “Brian Eno”), British post-punk band Television Personalities (“Song for Dan Treacy”), surfing in the Arctic Circle (the 12 minute, multi-faceted “Siberian Breaks”). If that all sounds a bit silly and all over the place, that’s because it is. Yet, it works. It’s genius, in my mind, a shining example of combining experimental ideas with pop songwriting, and deserves a spot in your spring album rotation.

Brand New Eyes – Paramore

What a classic. I’m not exaggerating when I say every single song is a hit. I mean, come on: “Ignorance”, “Playing God”, “Brick by Boring Brick”, “Turn It Off”? What more do you want? Even the Grammy-nominated single “The Only Exception” and emotional powerhouse of a closer “All I Wanted” are on here. Hayley Williams sounds incredible as usual on this album, proving why she remains one of my favorite vocalists in music. It’s just a super solid emo / pop punk album, with great hooks, great lyrics, and great performances. It might sound cheesy, but just listen to the bridge of “Where the Lines Overlap”, when Hayley sings “I’ve got a feeling if I sang this loud enough, you would sing it back to me” and try not to shout along, or at least smile. And, yes, it’s over a decade old, so it sounds fairly dated, but I’m okay with that. It’s one of the few records I listened to in middle school that I can come back to and still enjoy the hell out of. If you’re looking for an album to sing along to in the car, this is it.

Francis Trouble – Albert Hammond Jr.

Francis Trouble is the 2018 solo album by Albert Hammond Jr., the musician best known for playing guitar in The Strokes, one of my favorite bands. Put simply, this is just a super fun rock record. It somehow takes all the most melodic sensibilities of The Strokes and distills them into some of the catchiest music I know. Hammond Jr.’s voice is quite different from that of Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas, though that’s not a bad thing. His more nasal, carefree tone is perfect for the pop and garage rock on this album, as evidenced by tracks like “Dvsl”, “Far Away Truths”, and “Strangers”, which each have some of the best hooks of rock songs in recent memory. The album is admittedly front-loaded, with the first four songs being the most immediate, and some of my most-played songs of the year. Still, there are still some late album highlights like the aforementioned “Strangers”, which is pure genius in pop songwriting, as well as the dark, groovy “Rocky’s Late Night”. It’s a quick, easy 35 minute listen worth throwing on at a party or if you just feel like doing some air-guitar alone in your room.

Mia Gargaret – Gia Margaret

To close things out on a chill note, Mia Gargaret is a gorgeous ambient album, and one of my favorite releases of last year. Gia Margaret, a purveyor of what she calls “sleep rock”, caught my attention with some of the ballads from her 2019 debut There’s Always Glimmer, but this record features a largely different approach, with her vocals only appearing on the final track, “lesson”. Instead, it sounds just like the cover suggests: buoyant, textured, serene. I love the gentle electronics that dominate much of the record, but arguably my favorite moments on the record are when Margaret utilizes live instrumentation. Two great examples of this are “lakes”, made up of warm acoustic guitar and sounds of waves crashing, and “3 movements”, which, as the title suggests, is a series of three stunning, pensive piano movements. I think what connects this album to spring for me is just how organic it sounds, like it was created both in and for nature (funnily enough, the opening of “sadballad” sounds right out of Mother Earth’s Plantasia). It’s perfect for an afternoon spent daydreaming, walking, having an out-of-body experience, or all of the above.

March Album Chart

Here are all the albums I listened to this month. I was in a musical rut and mainly listened to a few albums over and over (looking at you, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning), so I don’t have as many as I’d usually like to. That aside, I did listen to two albums that aren’t too popular in their respective artists’ discographies, Angles by The Strokes and Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie, and had some fairly positive results. Angles was about as good as I thought it would be, with no real bad songs but none quite as good as lead single “Under Cover of Darkness”. Codes and Keys, however, I actually really enjoyed. It’s one of their most disliked albums, with critics calling it boring, lazy, and predictable, and lead singer Ben Gibbard even ranking it lowest out of their records in a 2018 Vice article. It’s no Transatlanticism, or perfect by any means, but it’s an admirable set of songs full of piano, strings, a tight rhythm section, and some of Gibbard’s brightest melodies.




Hidden Gems: Fashion Nugget by Cake

This week’s Hidden Gem is a deep cut from 1996 by the relatively obscure band Cake. If you don’t recognize the band, you might recognize one of their most popular songs, I Will Survive. To most people, Cake is a one-hit wonder, which might even give them more pop culture credit than they deserve; however, I’ve recently rediscovered their work and won’t hesitate to say that they are grossly underappreciated. Cake is the perfect combination of humor, experimental musical ideas, and genuinely good instrumentation, all of which are perfectly displayed in their sophomore album Fashion Nugget. Each track on the album is a unique experience with its own personality, but all related by the charming charisma of the band’s aesthetic.

The Distance was my first introduction to the band and immediately became one of my favorite songs. It starts out with an incredible intro: the lead singer gives an intense and understated vocal delivery as a throbbing bass drives the song forward. Then the drums and lead guitar come in, simple yet effective, perfectly accenting the lyrics and atmosphere. There’s an incredible buildup, an awesome drum fill, and then a heavy strumming guitar that is absolutely brutal and driving. Brass accents are sprinkled throughout, giving the song a dramatic and charismatic feeling. The plot of the song is extremely interesting and well-written, with a central character who is racing even after the race is over and therefore “going the distance”. These lyrics summarize the theme of the song the best:

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up
And long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s striving and driving and hugging the turns
And thinking of someone for whom he still burns

Cause he’s going the distance
He’s going for speed
She’s all alone
In her time of need

These words really resonate with me; I can understand what it’s like to be pursuing something to the ends of the Earth when it’s actually in reach the whole time, but is neglected in the heat of the pursuit. It’s easy to extrapolate these feelings to important things in life, like love, success, and happiness. The theme of the song is incredibly tragic, in that the protagonist aspires to some unreachable, yet noble ideal. It’s easy to think that they’re misguided and over-ambitious, but if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you can recognize and appreciate the narrow-sighted drive to “go the distance”. I think the song is surprisingly interesting to say the least, and the high quality instrumentation and charisma make it a great example of what Cake does well.

There are a lot of other songs off the album that are similarly exciting, with some of my favorites being I Will Survive, Friend Is a Four Letter Word, and Nugget. Each one drips with the same charisma, while also showing off the different aspects of Cake’s musical talent. They dabble in every genre of music with a surprising amount of success, which makes this album a thrill to listen to from start to finish. The entire album is a perfect mix of classic alternative rock and more experimental and odd ideas; none of the songs take themselves too seriously which prevents them from sounding pretentious or overbearing. Overall, Fashion Nugget is the prime example of a hidden gem: it’s underappreciated and overlooked, but full of surprises that make it an incredibly unique piece of art.

Hidden Gems: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

If you’ve never heard of the band before, their name alone might cause some hesitation, but I promise you that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is the perfect example of a hidden gem. The Australian rock band was first formed in 2010 and has slowly grown a cult following with their bizarre and experimental rock music. They’ve been a breath of fresh air for the stagnant rock genre by exploring new musical territory with amazing success. More impressive than their musical range is their commitment to concept albums with authentic instrumentation and gripping narratives. I’ve mentioned in the past how concept albums hold a special place in my heart; they’re the perfect example of how different artistic elements can be incorporated into one project. They usually feature thoughtful narratives over multiple tracks, musical themes and callbacks throughout the album, and a unique aesthetic that is developed in every aspect of the project. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a master of this medium, to the point where they have developed an entire musical universe. Each album is a unique immersive experience, but with enough distinct elements that the band is consistent and easily recognizable. Since their discography is huge (and I mean HUGE, they released 5 album in 2017 alone), I can only cover some of their material, but I think these two albums represent what I love most about the band.

Infest The Rats’ Nest

Infest the Rats' Nest

Infest The Rats’ Nest is by far my favorite thrash album; the narrative is crushing and perfectly complemented by some of the most heart-pounding instrumentation I’ve ever heard. I’m not usually a fan of the thrash subgenre, mostly because it tends to be overwhelming and headache-inducing, but King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard knows what they’re doing. The instrumentation is clean and concise throughout the entire album, with some parts even sounding symphonic, like they were composed by a heavy-metal Mozart. Along with this, the band is not afraid to experiment with a variety of instruments: many songs feature electronic glitches used to great effect, while they also employ choirs, microtonal instruments, and heavily distorted guitars. The entire sound of this album can be summed up as an army rising up in rebellion, it’s absolutely visceral. If the instrumentation wasn’t enough, the narrative of Infest The Rats’ Nest is just as gripping. The core message of the album is environmentalism (believe it or not), with the first half detailing a science fiction hellscape that used to be Earth, which is now decimated by climate change, plague, and poverty, while the rich have left to live on Mars. The second half of the album details the perils of an escaped spaceship of refugees looking for safety in the vastness of space. Both halves are equally well written and developed, but I especially love the environmental themes of the first half and how well they’re conveyed through the music. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this great concept album, you can read my previous post here which dives more into the lyrics.

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe

Murder of the Universe is an even more obscure hidden gem, and is even unpopular in the King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard fanbase. Many criticize the spoken word passages, the overall aesthetic, and some of the more experimental parts of the album, but all of these features make this one of my favorite albums. The first third of the album is a fantasy inspired nightmare about a man transforming into an Altered Beast, and from the first notes of the first track you know you’re in for a wild ride. I think this is one of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s most developed compositions, both thematically and musically. The entire narrative is incredibly cohesive and gripping from start to finish, with the listener experiencing pure chaos as the protagonist descends into madness. I also love how the main musical theme is developed throughout this portion of the album; just as the protagonist is altered into some monstrous beast, the musical theme is altered into a beast of its own, ultimately culminating in an explosive climax on the last track of this portion of the album.

The second third of the album is just as insane as the first, but now with a story featuring The Balrog and the Lord of Lightning. Again, this is an absolutely electric part of the album, with many of the same features that made the first portion so great: incredible musical motifs, fantasy storytelling that is dark and chaotic, and an overall aesthetic that is reminiscent of Greek mythology and epic battles. My only complaint is that this is the shortest section of the album and seems to be the least developed as far as the narrative concept.

However, the last third of the album makes up for what the second part was lacking in a narrative concept. Right from the start of the introduction track you can tell that there is something different; a monotone and robotic narrator welcomes the listener to “an Altered Future”, and suddenly you’re in a science fiction horror story, detailing the murder of the universe. This portion of the album follows the cyborg Han-Tyumi as he tackles what it means to be half-human, half-computer in the most unsettling and imaginative way. I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite part of the album, both because of how experimental the instrumentals are and because of how outrageous and mind-bending the story is. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, so all I’ll say is that it is a completely unorthodox take on artificial intelligence and what it means to be human, and could only be thought up by a band called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Overall, this is an incredible album that lives up to the high expectations of a concept album. It has something for everybody and is a testament to the versatility of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Infest The Rats’ Nest: Environmental Thrash

One music genre that I struggle with is new rock and metal. There’s usually just too much noise and screaming and it gives me a headache, not to mention I have no idea what is going on lyrically or even musically half the time. On the other hand, I really WANT to enjoy heavy metal; the aesthetic is so raw and emotional, and great heavy metal music (think Iron Maiden) can be extremely motivational and profound. So I’ve spent a long time searching for new metal that I can actually enjoy, and that long and tedious journey finally led me to Infest the Rats’ Nest, a thrash metal album conceived by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (don’t ask me about the name, I have no idea). Immediately this album set itself apart: it was clear and concise, with real musical composition that was understandable, it featured an environmental theme focusing on humanity’s destruction of the Earth, and although it was still more aggressive than I was used to at first, it was so catchy that I couldn’t stop listening, and it’s one of the most insanely energetic albums I have ever been able to listen to.

Surprisingly, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard usually produce psych rock and noise rock, which shares a lot of commonalities with thrash metal: it’s loud, over-the-top, energetic, and features a lot of interesting instrumentation. However, I can’t seem to enjoy any King Gizzard project as much as Infest the Rats’ Nest, and I think it’s because it’s the only album that strikes a great balance between the actual music and the content. This album in particular features a great concept that is executed flawlessly, unlike other albums that are all over the place, both in ideas and composition. The story of Infest the Rats’ Nest starts with a burned out planet Earth, largely destroyed by the unsustainable and destructive practices of the human race, portrayed best by these lines from the opening track Planet B:



Population Exodus

There is no Planet B

Open your eyes and see

Not only do these lyrics hit close to home in the current day and age of environmental concern, they are so raw and accurate that it takes you by surprise. I never would have thought that thrash metal was the place to convey an environmental message, but listening to this song for the first time was mind-blowing: it makes perfect sense that the destruction of Earth, our home, should be portrayed with cynical clarity and thrashing aggression. These lines are especially powerful due to the perfect delivery by the lead singer and the accompanying gut-wrenching guitars and drums.

On the next track, Mars for the Rich, the perspective is that of a farmer left on a scorched Earth, poor and doomed to die a horrible death, while he watches the rich traveling to Mars on TV. The irony is strong after the haunting message of Planet B, and shows how although there is no planet B for the human race, there is for the rich and privileged.

Mars for the privileged

Earth for the poor

Mars terra-forming slowly

Earth has been deformed

The next track of interest is Superbug, which is exactly what it sounds like: a virus that is immune to antibiotics and ravages the Earth, infecting the population and lasting for generations. The concept of this song is best summed up by these lyrics:

Superbug gave a shrug

And ate all your prescription drugs

and never, ever, ever stopped



Likely killed humanity

This track is almost prophetic given today’s situation, although it was bound to come true eventually given how accurate is and how careless humanity is with antibiotics, especially in relation to factory farming. One thing I love about this song is how gritty and terrifying it is; the Superbug is portrayed as indiscriminate and inevitable, while the narrator anguishes about the Superbug in his blood, knowing that he is doomed and so is the rest of humanity. Again, I think this song really emphasizes how perfectly thrash metal and environmental consciousness complement each other, using grim lyrics and devastating instrumentation to convey the looming destruction of the Earth.

The second half of the album is just as interesting, if not more sci-fi oriented, and continues on the environmental themes of the first half. I would love to discuss it more but unfortunately this post is already quite long; therefore I recommend giving it a listen yourself. Pay attention to the message of each song and how they all connect, while also noticing how well the music complements the message, then feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it further. Regardless, Infest the Rats’ Nest is a stand out metal album, the only one of its kind, due to both the quality of the composition and the effective presentation of its unique environmental message.

Thought Contagion: A Call-Out

Nearly nine months after their last single dropped, the British alt-rock band Muse finally released new content, a single called Thought Contagion. The lyrics revolve around the spread of ideas, holding that if an idea gains enough traction, then there’s no way to stop it from invading everyone’s lives, even if they don’t believe it–and even if it’s a bad idea.

Muse is no stranger to heavy-handed lyrics. Their last three studio albums–The Resistance, The 2nd Law, and Drones–relied heavily on current events for their lyrical themes, and their second-to-last single Dig Down included the line: “When God decides to look the other way/and a clown takes the throne….” It’s nothing if not overt.

At first, I was really bogged down by the heavy-handedness of Thought Contagion. Three verses of sentence-fragmented metaphors describing a dismal, apocalyptic scenario are broken by the choruses of, “You’ve been bitten by a true believer…by someone who’s hungrier than you…by someone’s false beliefs.” Not a lot of subtlety there, and it’s wrapped up in a lot of pessimism, such as, “Brace for the final solution.” Yikes.

It’s suffocating to focus on these lyrics. We all know what it’s like to have idea after idea crammed into our heads. It’s impossible to get away from hearing the ideology of people who just know they’re right. Idea after idea after idea, and they’re in our classrooms and homes and offices, in our social media and news and ads, in our movies and books and art. No one could spend a single day without at least inadvertently encountering the ideas of someone who believes they’re right with every fiber of their being. These ideas could be about religion, politics, science, philosophy, sex, art–if someone can have a belief in something for which they’d be willing to die, you can bet they’ll be yelling it loudly from all platforms of social media in an attempt to get it across to even one person.

While there’s nothing more annoying than listening to “someone’s false beliefs,” some of those false believers are getting through to other people. In a country where polarization is a driving force of media, anyone who was neutral on anything at some point has been “bitten” by one side or the other, shrinking the middle ground and forcing both sides of any issue imaginable to resort to extremes, in both beliefs and in the actions for which they call they call.

Muse can do better stylistically than the lyrics of Thought Contagion, but maybe this time they’re not going for poetic–they’re going for a call-out. They’re back on the dystopian track, taking our current situation and stretching it to its logical extreme: if we stop thinking for ourselves and let the momentous force of zealous ideologies take us over, then “it’s too late for a revolution.” Thought Contagion reminds us to take a breath, step back from the inundation of media (as much as we can), and think things through before blindly getting caught up in the storm of shouting matches before the shouting matches turn to nuclear wars.