Varsity Music Albums of the Year 2021


Photography: Lauren Engel, Atypikal Creative, Jim & Idle Cook of Cookhouse Media, Mark Nesbitt, Alex Kurunis; Graphics: Matthieu Cavallini

November may seem a little premature to announce our list of albums of the year, but in the vein of short stays in Cambridge, we are announcing our favorites a bit in advance. This list of albums, compiled by our Varsity Music team, seems to all engage with vulnerability and honesty, offering different versions of a year that has been unpredictable and ever-changing. In their authentic portrayal of relationships and the human condition, we hope that some of these albums may offer you strength and comfort. With their multiple references throughout the preselection, we also hope you enjoy Wolf Alice as much as the Varsity Music team clearly does …

Note on content: Mentions of suicidal ideation, self-harm, police brutality

Wolf Alice – Blue weekend

(Joe Bray, editor)

Wolf Alice has impressed me before, but never stunned me. “The Last Man on Earth” was a cinematic single, but I pressed play on the album with resigned hesitation. Still, Macbeth’s lyricism in “The Beach” intrigued me, muted guitars teasing a goosebumps-evoking climax. Suddenly, I felt that the album could be significant. As the tracklist progressed, I was more and more stunned. Ellie Rowsell’s sensational vocals and elegant lyricism seasoned cinematically sharp but lo-fi instrumentals. Combined with the diversity of genres, from folky “Safe From Heartbreak” to teen-punk “Play The Greatest Hits”, it’s fascinating that all of these directions work. I would say this album is perfect. “No Hard Feelings”, a perfectly short respite from anxiety and my most listened to song of the year, illustrates why. Blue weekend has “bangers” and “ballads”, variety and scope, but conciseness at 40 minutes. No second is wasted or wasted.

Honorable mentions: James Blake – Friends who break your heart, Nao – And then life was good

Arlo Parks – Collapses in the rays of the sun

(Josh Osman, columnist)

Arlo Parks released their debut album Collapses in the rays of the sun early in 2021 in what has been one of the most unpredictable and confusing times of the pandemic, let alone the past decade. At times like these, her reassuring and representative voice seemed more timely and necessary than ever. With his talent for poetic storytelling with simple words, the themes of intimacy, pain and trust hit even harder, but the upbeat rhythms keep the album from being too pessimistic, even in its moments. the darkest. Setting such a high bar with such a stellar debut at just 20 years old, Arlo Parks shows wisdom and maturity in his words, articulating Gen Z’s issues in a way very few could.

Honorable mentions: Loup Alice – Blue weekend, Saint-Vincent – daddy’s house

Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall – The bands of Marfa

(Sianna King, columnist)

No song in 2021 made me cry like “Ghost” from The bands of Marfa – and no, I might not be Miranda Lambert, and I haven’t been through a celebrity divorce since the last time I checked out, but the heart-wrenching lyrics of that rooted lo-fi record have me make each emotion feel to the bottom of the heart. It consists of fifteen songs that these three singer-songwriters have written together over the past five years, and were recorded spontaneously in the depths of the pandemic in the desert on the Texas-Mexico border, and it’s at about as raw as it gets – the wind blows, the cows moo and the border patrol flies over in the background. 100 words can’t do it justice, so you’ll have to take my word for it and give it a spin: The bands of Marfa is something special.

Honorable mentions: PJ Harding & Noah Cyrus – People don’t change, Brandi Carlile – In these days of silence

Madison Beer – Life support

(Matthew Cavallini, music editor)

“How should I phrase this? I was about to write you this letter, but it was just curses in cursive “ opens “Emotional Bruises,” one of the many laments that make up Madison Beer’s Life Affirmation Life support. It’s a word that quite sublimely sums up the pain it took to make this album. Madison Beer’s debut album was revolutionary in its exploration of mental health themes: “Effortlessly” addresses self-harm and burnout following her diagnosis of BPD; “Stay Numb And Carry On” alludes to unhealthy coping mechanisms; “Default” and “Homesickness” deal with suicidal thoughts and feelings of not belonging. Her honesty is an incredibly heartwarming listen to anyone who fought these battles as well. She also artfully oscillates between emotional movement and physical movement, with the inclusion of “Baby” (perhaps the sexiest song ever made, no exaggeration). Life Support not only points out that Madison is one of the most technically skilled singers today (see “Selfish,” a song that would be a highlight of any artist’s career), but also highlights highlight the fact that there isn’t a feeling she can’t invoke.

Honorable mentions: GFOTY – FEMMEDORM, C. Tangana – The Madrilenian

Shungudzo – I am not a mother, but I have children

(Maddy Fisher, music editor)

2020 looked like an endless onslaught of crisis, protest, and breaking points, and there were perhaps fears that in 2021 the public would fall back into a state of blissful ambivalence. Shungudzo, in his exploration of police brutality, fetishization, activist exhaustion, and wealth inequality, tells his listeners that there’s no good time to stop talking about it. Although this is Shungudzo’s debut album, she is already established in the music industry, writing for Little Mix and Jessie Ware. This mastery of her craft is surprisingly evident throughout the album, as she excels in its rock, soul, pop and witty offerings. She is resentful and exhausted by the violence endemic to American society, yet the overall message is paradoxically heartwarming: even if nothing changes before we die, it is for our future children that we are fighting. Moreover, it is resistance alone that sets us free. Listen to this album now and revel in all its beauty. Then play it in the megaphone on your next rally.

Honorable mentions: Self-esteem – Focus on pleasure, Wolf Alice – Blue weekend

Listen to the highlights of these albums handpicked by our team on our Spotify playlist


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