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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Top albums of 2021

Staff picks highlighting the year of y2k cyberpop, femme fatale anthems…and Jack Antonoff?
Collegian File Photo

Astghik Dion, Head Arts Editor

“Ghost With Skin” – Corbin

No one knew of the impact one Minnesota native could singlehandedly have on the melancholic R&B world when he released his amateur mixtapes to SoundCloud in 2013. Most chalked down the triumph of his viral hit “Without You” as merely being successful due to the controversial contents of its music video. Yet, as time went by it became inarguably clear that Corbin (f.k.a Spooky Black) has paved an entire sub-genre, he has rewritten what it means to be a hip-hop artist and doesn’t need anything but his discography to prove it. It had been four years since the release of “Mourn,” the captivating, glacial studio album from the man that has been modifying the landscape for dismal, self-hating sonics. As a long-time fan, I had accepted the fate of replaying all his previous projects and not expecting him to drop anything new – merely being grateful to have heard him at all. Yet on Oct. 31, the king of icily depressing production accompanying heart wrenching lyrics had returned. “Ghost With Skin,” the third studio album from Corbin, tackles familiar subject matter of painful love – both internal and romantic, and the self-doubt that envelopes the victim of said love. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia of getting a new release from one of the artists that got me through high school, maybe it’s the fact that 2021 has been an incredibly draining year and the only medicine that can do me any favors is music that matches the mood or maybe it’s just because this is simply put an insanely consistent album that I will praise to anyone that will listen.


Ana Pietrewicz, Editor in Chief

“Call Me If You Get Lost” – Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, The Creator’s seventh album was released in June of 2021, to a glowing reception from fans and critics alike. It was a difficult task to top 2019’s “Igor,” but CMIYGL might have done just that. The album is inspired and quintessentially Tyler, taking the lyrical and production chops of albums like “Igor” and 2017’s “Flower Boy” and adding the in-your-face attitude and storytelling prowess Tyler has been known for since “Bastard.” CMIYGL showcases Tyler’s maturity over the last decade of his career. It feels penultimate, in a way, as though he’s finally found his voice. There’s something for everyone: tracks like the freeform jazz of “HOT WIND BLOWS” with Lil Wayne and the brassy, boppy “RISE!” feat. DAISY WORLD highlight Tyler’s musical genius and attention to production detail, while “LEMONHEAD” feat. 42 Dugg and “LUMBERJACK” are more likely to resonate with older Tyler fans who expect heavier rap verses. With its eclectic mix of features from artists like NBA YoungBoy and Pharrell Williams, tied together with narrations from the legendary DJ Drama, the album sounds like an older, more sophisticated cousin of “Cherry Bomb.” The entire album plays out like the perfect summer day: it’s carefree, sunny and a breath of fresh air. CMIGYL is nothing short of a triumph. Tyler is only going up, and it’s exciting to imagine what might come next.


Sara Abdelouahed, Assistant Podcast Editor

Something for Thee Hotties” – Megan Thee Stallion 

Megan truly delivered something incredible for her hotties on her latest mixtape. Her enormous success in 2020 cemented her as one of the top rappers in the music industry today. From winning a Grammy with Beyoncé to dominating the trending audios on TikTok, Megan is undoubtedly an icon. In her latest compilation album, “Something for Thee Hotties,” she throws things back to her early days for her longtime listeners, drawing on the same sounds and styles that she rose to fame on. The album features multiple freestyles that had previously only appeared on YouTube. With 21 tracks, it goes through Megan’s eras over the last few years, a gift to her loyal fans. Packed full of catchy bars and witty lines, her Houston roots shine through in this archival release – which also features the hit 2021 single “Thot Shit.” “Something for Thee Hotties” has a little something for all of Megan’s fans, new and old.


Catherine Hurley, Assistant Arts Editor

Home Video” – Lucy Dacus

With her third album, “Home Video,” Lucy Dacus shares an array of memories from her childhood in Richmond, Va. Each song is specific and sharply written — a conversation with her younger self (“you were always stronger than people expected, underestimated and overprotected”), days at Vacation Bible School (“in the summer of ‘07, I was sure I’d go to heaven”) and a relationship with a pretentious cinephile (“you called me cerebral / I didn’t know what you meant / But now I do, would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?”) The standouts are “Thumbs,” a fantasy of killing a friend’s abusive father, and “Triple Dog Dare,” a nearly eight-minute tale of friends itching to run away.


Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Reverie” – Ben Platt

It’s been clear since Ben Platt’s days starring in “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway that the singer has an undoubtedly beautiful, elegant voice. This is especially true through in his most recent album, “Reverie.” The album is headlined by two soothing songs, “happy to be sad” and “imagine,” which in my opinion are two of Platt’s best singles to date. Yet, there is a lot more depth to “Reverie” than just peaceful vocals. “Dance with you” and “Chasing you” have upbeat components perfect to dance along to, while still retaining Platt’s signature sound. In my opinion, one of the most underrated songs released all year is “Dark Times,” which is also on this album. “Dark Times” is a sad but beautiful ballad with so much power and meaning behind it, telling a story of love and heartbreak in a unique way. “Reverie” went under the radar of new music released this year, but it’s worth a listen top to bottom, either to indulge in Platt’s beautiful voice or to hear his vulnerable story.


Ben Connolly, Staff Writer


“LP! (OFFLINE)” is a sonic experience like few others. An instant classic of the experimental hip hop genre, the flow, samples, and narrative of “LP!” immediately differentiate itself from everything else I have heard this year. The album has two versions, the standard one named “LP!” that can be listened to on Spotify, and “LP! (OFFLINE)” which can be found on YouTube. The OFFLINE version sounds a bit different as it is not held back by copyright. So many tracks hit on this album, it’s hard to choose a favorite. “REBOUND!” is an emotional force of bent up aggression while “HAZARD DUTY PAY!” has one of the best beats I’ve heard all year. Overall, it without question deserves a spot in the top albums of 2021.


Caitlin Reardon, Staff Writer

Sol” – ¿Téo?

Mateo Arias, aka ¿Téo?, released his sophomore album June of 2021. “Sol” takes listeners along for a warm, breezy getaway through Arias’s masterful combination of bossa nova, rap and R&B. It is apparent in this project that Arias wants to distinguish his voice in music, as he is still somewhat an up-and-coming artist. “Sol” truly proves his versatility, as shown through the album’s production quality, lyricism and instrumentals. “Buena” heats up the album’s energy with chanting vocals, Latin-styled percussion and still incorporates Arias’ calculated verses; all of which melt into a triumphant track made for dancing. “Buzzed,” featuring Willow Smith, is the perfect feel-good summer song that hits the sweet spot between relaxation and excitement utilizing magical lyrics that illustrate the beauty of the natural world, as it is fully appreciated once you reach that special headspace. The album closes with “¿Do You Wanna Leave?,” a beautiful conclusion that transcends mundane reality, teasing listeners with the tempting idea of dropping all responsibilities and leaving to travel somewhere far away, full of sunshine and clear blue waters. “Sol” is a sweeping work that feels like one joyous celebration of all things beautiful, succinctly exemplifying Arias’ pure artistry.


Molly Hamilton, Assistant Arts Editor

Blue Banisters” – Lana Del Rey

No stranger to breakup albums, Lana Del Rey’s latest release is her most nuanced take on failed relationships yet. What begins as a bittersweet, almost regretful record ends as a triumphant reclamation of oneself. Her sound is polished, with many tracks being more stripped down than her earlier work, and her lyricism is both mature and playful (“you name your baby Lilac Heaven after your iPhone 11.”) There are enough hints of Del Rey’s younger self, particularly in the jaded grit of “Dealer” and the seductive confidence of “Black Bathing Suit,” to keep this album from feeling wholly unfamiliar. The unpredictable electricity of her previous albums has been replaced with a deeper, calmer and more well-rounded outlook on life and love. She knows how to move on and isn’t afraid to do it unapologetically. On “Violets for Roses” she comes to a simple yet profound realization that could be seen as the thematic focal point of the whole record: “Ever since I fell out of love with you, I fell back in love with me.”


Jarius Kidd, Assistant Social Media Editor

Jubilee” – Japanese Breakfast

2021 has been nothing short of a landmark year for Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. The release of her memoir “Crying in H Mart,” composing the soundtrack for the adventure game “Sable,” and, most notably, her 2022 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist & Alternative Music Album all took place within 12 months. “Jubilee” marks itself as a new chapter compared to her two previous studio albums. Thematically, it follows a similar journey through immeasurable loss. However, it sets itself apart both sonically and personally through the sheer range of its track list. The 80s-inspired pop song, “Be Sweet,”  conveys an unfulfilled desire for reciprocity through an upbeat synthesized backing, while “Posing in Bondage” serves as a downtempo reflection of monogamy with its gentle, drawn-out vocals. In the same vein, the fun, electric feel of the dystopian-set “Savage Good Boy” gives way to the heart-wrenching ballad of “Tactics.” Each of the tracks stand as their own individual experiences, but together they capture the full spectrum of the human experience. All three albums are tied together by poignant lyricism and instrumentals, but “Jubilee” reminds us as listeners that while pain and grief are unavoidable, there is still a chance to move forward. And that from the dark can emerge a new zest for life.


Nic Roy, Collegian Correspondent

“Sling” – Clairo

Merely two years after her musical debut, Clairo returns with a more mature and stripped-back sophomore outing in “Sling.” Choosing to ditch her previous dream pop sound allows for more of a focus on Clairo’s extremely personal lyrics this time around. On the track “Blouse” she sings, “It’s something I wouldn’t say out loud,” and that speaks to the honesty of this entire album – which feels like a collection of diary entries that instead of being locked away for no one to see, were released to the world. Even though the songs are mostly somber, the album is never instrumentally boring thanks to producer Jack Antonoff. Antonoff provides a stunning array of horns, guitar riffs and drums that have just as much of a presence on this record as Clairo’s soft vocal harmonies. It seems the two were aware of this when creating “Sling” as the track “Joanie” is an almost entirely instrumental track on the back half of the record. Never one dimensional, “Sling” is simultaneously a devastating and enchanting listen, and even those who miss when they could dance along to Clairo tracks while crying can get their fix in “Amoeba.”


Lulu Kesin, Head Sports Editor

Sour”- Olivia Rodrigo 

In May 2021, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album “Sour,” took the music world by storm. Following her breakout single “drivers license” released in January 2021, “Sour,” is filled with 11 poetic and heartfelt tracks ranging from themes of heartbreak to teenage angst. Rodrigo strays away from solely piano ballads and experiments with rock upbeat jams in “Brutal” and “Good 4 u,” depicting her range as an artist from the start. In true Rodrigo fashion, the album pulls at the heart strings with sad ballads about break ups, self-reflection, confusion, self-doubt and various other typical teenage feelings. Rodrigo has a breathtaking take on modern day teenage hood and isn’t afraid to produce catchy, clever tracks that speak to struggles. Simple yet moving lyrics such as “comparison is killing me,” from “jealously, jealously” to “I can’t even parallel park,” prove that Rodrigo can be relatable to almost anyone, heartbreak or not. Rodrigo’s praise of female anger as an emotion too often shamed in society brings new attention to the natural frustrations women face and should be allowed to express more than people say. “Sour,” captures everything about teenage years but does not fixate on one age group. This album is great for its flexibility in topic and type of song, not to mention how just about anyone can find a song or lyric that relates to them no matter how old they may be.


Megan Wong, Head Photos Editor

KG0516” – Karol G

“KG0516” is Karol G’s third studio album, and is perhaps her most accomplished work to date. Drawing its title from Karol’s initials, along with the day her parents signed her first music contract in 2006, the album is comprised of sixteen tracks and features three of the Latin Grammy-winning artist’s previously released singles—“BICHOTA,” “Ay, DiOs Mío!,” and her 2019 hit “Tusa” with Nicki Minaj. From empowering reggaetón tracks like “EL MAKINON” and “GATO MALO” to the wistful feelings presented in “EL BARCO,” Karol experiments with several different sounds and even presents her first corrido, a type of ballad, in “200 COPAS.” In “BEAUTIFUL BOY,” she samples Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls,” displaying a blend of Spanish and English in the otherwise fully-Spanish album. As a successful woman in a male-dominated industry, Karol gives rise to collaborations with fellow female artists such as Mariah Angeliq and Nathy Peluso, as well as mainstream reggaetón artists Ozuna, J Balvin, Anuel AA, and Camilo. “KG0516” exhibits Karol G’s versatility as both a musician and an artist, and observes her defying genre while still staying true to her sound.


Sierra Thornton, Staff Writer

Arcane League of Legends (Soundtrack From The Animated Series)” – Various Artists

Even without watching the recent show or the inspiring source material (the video game, “League of Legends”) the soundtrack for “Arcane” can easily be enjoyed. Since the animated show has a variety of story beats incorporated, there is at least one song that can resonate with everyone’s taste, if not more. If you’re into more energetic tracks, then the EDM-drenched song “Dirty Little Animals” and high paced “Snakes” is the perfect fit. If you’re into more mellow tunes, then somber “Goodbye” and old-fashioned “Our Love” does the trick. They even have a spin on old Western songs with “When Everything Went Wrong.” However, my favorite track has to be the theme song, “Enemy” by Imagine Dragons ft. J.I.D. – no matter how many times it appears in the show’s opening, it never feels repetitive or bland, but instead causes viewers to scream alongside the band. With a wide range of music to celebrate and reinvent, this soundtrack is one that becomes more exceptional with each relisten.


Saliha Bayrak, Assistant News Editor

Rainbow Mixtape” – COIN

Soft and stunning, “Rainbow Mixtape” is the fourth album of Nashville based indie-rock and pop band COIN. The project, which has “a song for every color” written across the cover, is a kaleidoscope of what was originally divided into three EP’s – each one reflecting a different musical mood: “Indigo Violet,” “Green Blue” and “Red Orange.” The mellow track list, a fusion of 70s R&B inspired melodies and soft rock sounds, artfully encapsulates early adulthood and it’s vulnerabilities, or as it is better described on the track “How It Feels” – what it’s like to be “young and dumb… all alone, 21.” Whether it’s describing the indecision to maintain a relationship in “Different Moons” or the inability to have a stable sense-of-self in “Turnaround,” poetic lyrics such as “I don’t know if it’s right for us to keep these two hearts glued together” and “I’m a sinner, I’m a sermon, I’m a steady-handed surgeon” mix perfectly with synthetic and traditional instruments that sway between mellow and energetic tempos. The album, which was written and produced following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, reminds us that we return to our basic instincts to love and feel in times of great desperation. This 12-track love letter to the spectrum of human emotion which was born out of a period of universal self-reflection, is painfully underrated.


Vera Gold, Head Social Media Editor

Struck by Lightning” – Sara Kays

“Struck by Lightning” is a bittersweet collection of songs by Sara Kays released in the August of 2021. Each song plays out like a nostalgic late night summer drive. It’s personal, it’s pretty and it’s going to have you lost in your feels. Kays’ soft voice is like a melancholy love letter to the past and future. The most popular track off the tape, “Remember That Night?” is an emotional story about trying to get over a breakup yet falling back into old memories. The theme of remembering the little moments with someone who is no longer in your life is heavily present throughout each song. It’s a quiet and heartbroken reflection of moments set to acoustic guitar, ukulele and keyboard. Kays even reflects on her future in a self-image lens with “Future Kids.” Lyrics like “They’ll be thinking ‘bout how they can be / Better than they are, taking it too far / Trying to change the things I love the most about them” illustrate how her past self didn’t realize how she’d grow up to dislike the way she looked and felt about her body. Mental health is another theme present in “Struck by Lightning” and it’s one that many can relate to. Although each song tells a story from Kays’ eyes, they are all stories we can connect to and reflect with.

Shannon Moore, Staff Writer

tick, tick… BOOM! (Soundtrack from the Netflix film)” – Various Artists

Released on Netflix in late November, “tick, tick…BOOM!” stole hearts and wowed audiences, with Garfield’s performance gaining strong Oscar buzz. Similarly, the soundtrack does not fall short. While this is Garfield’s first time singing in anything, his voice is spectacular; the perfect mix of talent and emotion. “Why” is particularly moving, a simple piano ballad where Garfield’s voice shines. “Sunday” pays homage to the great Stephen Sondheim, -incredibly moving now after his tragic death. Other standout performances on the album include those by Vanessa Hudgens, Robin De Jesus and Jazmine Sullivan, each bringing something fresh to Jonathan Larson’s original lyrics. Overall, the album is one of the best cast recordings of a musical in years, especially a movie musical. Andrew Garfield and his fellow costars knock it out of the park.


Amy Aguayo, Staff Writer

KEYS” – Alicia Keys

‘Grounding’ is a word to describe Keys’ 2021 album in its entirety. Keys’ newest album grants R&B and hip-hop a classical floor, including collaborators Swae Lee, Khalid, Pusha T, Brandi Carlie, Lil Wayne and Lucky Daye. The two-disc collection contains 26 tracks, with the first side labelled as “Originals,” and the second, “Unlocked.” ”Daffodils,” (from “Originals ) is laid back, yet carries eloquent lyrics that are assuring during a time of uncertainty. “Winter is here, here come the daffodils, I feel like, I can finally let it be,” sings Keys on the ninth track. Her single, “Best of Me,” (also from “Originals” , albeit a slightly different version is also on “Unlocked”) is a lyrically authentic blues mix. Keys mentioned how she had hit a rut during the pandemic, leading to her taking on multiple projects such as her autobiography, a skincare brand and the time given to write her eighth album.


Ashviny Kaur, Collegian Correspondent

Solar Power” – Lorde

Released after a four-year hiatus, Lorde’s third album is a love letter to our planet. “Solar Power” is a scaled-back work, differing greatly from her two previous albums. It’s an album that tells us, as her listeners, to take in the everyday beauty that surrounds us. Produced by Jack Antonoff, just like her previous works, this album is much gentler, with less angst and more love. Lorde’s words echo on her tracks like a smooth wave, undisrupted by heavy percussion and startling changeups. With songs that mention the sun, the ocean and every little thing our world has to offer, this album is a reprieve from the everyday radio pop we are so used to hearing. It is an album that prides itself on doing less. The album’s overarching theme of appreciating the little things symbolizes her escape from the insanity that plagues celebrities every day, as mentioned on the first track “The Path.” With lyrics such as “teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash,” Lorde reminds us that the glitz and the glamour is not all it’s made out to be. This album stands as a reminder that our world has much more to offer, untouched by society and its judgmental standards. “Solar Power” is, at its essence, a chilled-out album that appreciates the gentle beauty that is Earth.


McKenna Premus, Managing Editor

Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” – Bleachers

With “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” marking the Bleachers’ third full-length album, Jack Antonoff continues to lean into his unique genre of indie pop/80’s college rock, for which “Strange Desire” and “Gone Now” helped set the foundation. “Chinatown” honors Antonoff’s New Jersey roots, featuring one of his many inspirations Bruce Springsteen, whose gritty American rock vocals fit in seamlessly with his first lyrics “But a girl like you / Could rip me out of my head / Black tears on your cheek / I want them in my bed / I’ll take you out of the city.” With “45” being a close second, “Stop Making This Hurt” is my personal favorite, fully encompassing the essence of real, true emotion, yielding the strength to release oneself from any feelings of darkness or loss (as well as the perfect excuse to sing at the top of your lungs driving home after a long day). “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” manages to confidently embrace the raw, and occasionally conflicting emotions of heartbreak, love, loss and hope. Whether you’re grieving a break-up, feeling lost or if you just need help feeling alive again, this album is the place to start, and a musical must-have as we enter 2022.

Astghik Dion can be reached at [email protected].

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