Connect with us

Best Of

Best of 2021: Joe’s Genre Awards



We’ve reached the end of 2021, and despite my earlier protestations, it ended up being a pretty, pretty, pretty good year.

If you haven’t watched our top albums of 2021 video, please do so.

But are 10 albums enough to really show off what an entire year of music has to offer?

I think not.

So let’s expand things a little bit and take a look at what the best of the multitude of genres that make up our national musical consciousness have to offer. There’s something for every taste like music, except post-rock fans. You guys can get the hell out of here.


Ah, good old alternative. Don’t know what genre an album falls into? Chances are it’s alternative. One of rock’s most steadfast genres, alternative is almost always good for a couple of great albums a year, and 2021 is no different.

  1. Blue Weekend – Wolf Alice
  2. The Myth of the Happily Ever After – Biffy Clyro
  3. Daddy’s Home – St. Vincent
  4. Due North – Liam Kazar
  5. Sweep It Into Space – Dinosaur Jr.

Biffy Clyro have dropped their best album yet with the Myth of the Happily Ever After while St. Vincent put forth another solid effort, although the faux-70’s production from Jack Antonoff has divided some (like myself).

Due North by Liam Kazar and Sweep It Into Space from Dinosaur Jr. are Jason specials, but both have their moments. Liam Kazar is definitely an artist to watch for the future, while Dino Jr. keeps its impressive streak of good or better albums alive.


Americana is always good for some solid albums. One of the most consistent genres of the past decade or so. Throwing folk in there since it’s like the same thing.

  1. In These Silent Days – Brandi Carlile
  2. Outside Child – Allison Russell
  3. Fun House – Hand Habits
  4. Blue Heron Suite – Sarah Jarosz
  5. JT – Steve Earle and the Dukes
  6. Long Lost – Lord Huron

Brandi Carlile blew the lid off the place with her quarantine album In These Silent Days. Her most accessible and powerful album to date, she cranks up the rock and roll with Wild Horses and shows a path forward. It might be the best rock song of the year.

Fun House from Hand Habits was a late listen, after appearing on Jason’s top 10, I took a listen and was immediately taken with the songwriting. Poignant and mature. Plus it doesn’t skimp on the rock and roll.

For the stripped down folk-crowd, you can’t do much better than Blue Heron Suite by Sarah Jarosz.

Steve Earle’s touching paean to his son–he covers Justin Townes Earle’s “greatest hits” with his own band, the Dukes. It’s more life affirming than loathing. It’s a great record.

Lord Huron’s Long Lost takes Americana and wraps it in the hazy of psychedelia and indie rock. Deftly moving between slow contemplative jams and quasi-country rockers. Definitely worth a listen.


Couldn’t quite think of a single category to encompass these artists. They’re very different, but share the same emphasis on catchy melodies and synth heavy arrangements. So they’re all in one pot.

  1. Pink Noise – Laura Mvula
  2. The Turning Wheel – Spellling
  3. The Art of Losing – The Anchoress
  4. Ocean to Ocean – Tori Amos
  5. Flock – Jane Weaver

All women, and all in my top 50 of the year (and all four stars). These albums range from the 80’s heavy arrangements of Laura Mvula to Spellling and Tori Amos’ fantastic fairy tales that owe a lot to Kate Bush. The Art of Losing is another winner from The Anchoress, who had a top two album for me in 2016. Flock goes from pop to dense art/prog pop in the matter of a few songs.


Country can be shockingly good, but it can also be Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley featuring Nelly. Or regular racist like Morgan Wallen. I’m throwing in albums that would really fall under country rock as well, because let’s be honest, it’s a sparse year.

  1. Topaz – Israel Nash
  2. Heart – Eric Church
  3. Popular Mechanics – Sam Outlaw
  4. Ramble On – Charlie Marie
  5. 29 – Carly Pearce

Israel Nash’s Topaz is a country/cosmic rock lovers dream. The horns and nods to Pink Floyd and the psychedelic textures really elevate it. Plus there’s some killer guitar.

Heart is half of Eric Church’s Heart and Soul double release, but it’s far superior to Soul (for the love of God don’t listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd Jones). Heart is filled with quasi-Springsteen Born to Run bangers like Heart of the Night and he’s always good for a shot at the establishment, like on Stick That in Your Country Song.

Friend of Show (FOS) Sam Outlaw delivers a classic 80s sounding country album with the uptempo 80s-aping Popular Mechanics (one of my 10 favorite songs of the year) and a heaping helping of Eagles-esque soft country rock.


I don’t know how you define indie pop. I just know it when I hear it.

  1. Valentine – Snail Mail
  2. Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast
  3. Chemtrails Over the Country Club – Lana Del Rey
  4. Blue Bannisters – Lana Del Rey
  5. I Know I’m Funny Haha – Faye Webster
  6. Clairo – Sling
  7. 12 Songs About Loneliness – Bantug

The super ironic, heart on your sleeve female pop stars are in full force, owning the indie charts in 2021 and I’m powerless against them as Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast and Faye Webster all deliver excellent records full of bracingly honest lyrics, but also loaded with hooks.

Lana Del Rey put out two four star albums, an impressive feat in any year, much less 2021. White Dress from Chemtrails is definitely one of the best 10 or so songs of the year. Blue Bannisters is slow and seductive, a little less self-awareness, less “I know I’m clever haha” pop eccentricities, plus no Jack Antonoff.


I don’t know what people consider indie rock anymore, so here’s some albums that have rock elements with what I consider an indie aesthetic, your definition may vary.

  1. America’s Got Talons – Adjective Animal
  2. Seek Shelter – Ice Age
  3. Coral Island – The Coral
  4. On All Fours – Goat Girl
  5. Big Sky Pipe Dream – Nordista Freeze

America’s Got Talons is very weird and didn’t fall into any category, so I threw it in here. Seek Shelter gets better with each subsequent listen. Coral Island is way too long, but its first half is fantastic. Big Sky Pipe Dream’s California spirit was a nice pick-me-up in a depressing year.


You could arguably throw Silk Sonic in here, which would make them the runaway winner here too.

  1. Prioritize Pleasure – Self Esteem
  2. Dayglow – Harmony House
  3. Screen Violence – CHVRCHES
  4. Forever Isn’t Long Enough – Alfie Templeman
  5. Voyage – ABBA

None of these quite reached the coveted 4-star mark, but they’re close enough to make them worth a recommendation. Self Esteem’s album is the highest rated of the year on Metacritic… whatever that’s worth. Dayglow is fun and bright, quite yacht rocky. Alfie Templeman’s Forever Isn’t Long Enough is the best dance album of the year, and ABBA’s Voyage is definitely worth a listen as well, even if it’s not quite the same ABBA you (and I) love.


If you want brainy, no-nonsense rock and roll, metal is where to go in 2021. It’s certainly enjoyed a critical renaissance in the last decade or so.

  1. Hushed and Grim – Mastodon
  2. Senjutsu – Iron Maiden
  3. Bloodmoon – Converge
  4. Fortitude – Gojira
  5. Flux – Poppy

Hushed and Grim was firmly in my top three albums of the year. A double album masterpiece from Mastodon and my favorite from them yet. Crushing pain expressed the only way they know how, through shrieking guitars and thunderous riffs. But there are enough dynamics to make it more than just a sludge/doom fest. Check out the last track, Gigantium for a possible way forward for the band to change up their sound.

Senjutsu is Iron Maiden’s best since at least the early 2000s. The triple guitar attack sounds reinvigorated and it picks up the tempo from the overly plodding Book of Souls.

Bloodmoon and Fortitude have some death metalisms, but they also boast plenty of melodic and downright catchy guitar passages and songwriting. If it can win me over, it can win you over.

If you’re looking for metal that doubles as pop music, try out Flux by Poppy. It’s a weird one. But it has its moments.


This ain’t your daddy’s prog rock, but it still exists in a more modern and metal variety.

  1. Dream Weapon – Genghis Tron
  2. A View From the Top of the World – Dream Theater
  3. Butterfly 3000 – King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

This category is more about what’s not represented than what is. But I thought Dream Theater’s latest was their best in decades. Lots of Scenes From a Memory vibes. Super melodic and a little cheesy, which is what I’m looking for.

Dream Weapon from Genghis Tron sounds like the lovechild of Queens of the Stone Age, the soundtrack to Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and Baroness. Powerful, unique, different. It weaves a powerful metal spell without screaming or histrionics. It might be metal, but it’s dreamy and progressive enough that I threw it in with this group.


  1. An Evening with Silk Sonic – Silk Sonic
  2. Stand For Myself – Yola
  3. Fatigue – L’Rain
  4. And Then Life Was Beautiful – NAO
  5. Smiling With No Teeth – Genesis Owusu
  6. The Moon and Stars – Valerie June

It was a great year for the ladies on the neo soul and R&B side of things. Yola’s Nashville R&B on Stand For Myself is a great sound that hopefully will open the doors for other artists. Other than Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars and Genesis Owusu, not a lot of albums I liked from the males. Way too much Drake-style emo rap and autotune vocals. Without Smokin’ Out the Window, Leave the Door Open and Skate, the Billboard Top 100 would have been a bleak place (okay, bleaker place).

Fatigue from L’Rain is an album that I almost turned off after listening to about 30 seconds of, but kept going and was rewarded handsomely for my persistence. It’s one of the most interesting and gripping albums of the year, even if it’s not my preferred style.


Rock, it still exists! And it’s still pretty darn good!

  1. I Don’t Live Here Anymore – The War on Drugs
  2. Typhoons – Royal Blood
  3. Motorheart – The Darkness
  4. The Battle At Garden’s Gate – Greta Van Fleet
  5. Open Door Policy – The Hold Steady
  6. Brighten – Jerry Cantrell
  7. Million Masks of God – Manchester Orchestra
  8. Is 4 Lovers – Death From Above
  9. Medicine at Midnight – Foo Fighters
  10. Mammoth WVH – Wolf Van Halen

A surprisingly large amount of good mainstreamish rock albums came out in 2021, including top 10s I Don’t Live Here Anymore and Typhoons and honorable mentions Motorheart and The Battle At Garden’s Gate. Not all of these albums made the four star cutoff, but they’re all good enough to deserve a listen or two.

Brighten from Jerry Cantrell is arguably as good, if not better, than anything he’s done with Alice in Chains since Layne Staley passed.

Foo Fighters promised something different but then delivered Medicine at Midnight, which sounds eerily similar to all of their previous work, but still fun and catchy and Is 4 Lovers starts off great, but then devolves into some muddier experimental stuff instead of the jackhammer riffs and intricate drums that I want from a Death From Above record.

Click to comment
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Tastes Like Music in your Inbox

Enter your email address and get all of our new posts sent directly to your inbox!

Tastes Like Social

Tastes Like Facebook