Impact’s Top Albums of 2021


Impact 89FM | WDBM

After counting down our staff member’s top albums  of the year, we’re passing them the mic one more time. From black midi to Silk Sonic, our staff members break down their album of the year and what makes it so special to them.

Luke Adams, host of Terminally Online

Nurture by Porter Robinson

Nurture is a breakthrough for pop music. After waiting seven years since his last full-length release, Porter has shed most of his EDM stylings in favor of something infinitely more dynamic. This album buzzes with glitchy electronics but also has a rich, organic side as Porter brings out new layers of piano and guitar arrangements. The songs that do embrace EDM — like on “Something Comforting” — start off like ballads before bursting into bright synth climaxes. Even then, there are some outliers: a glitch-hop song that crushes Sarah Bonito’s vocals into dust; a minimalist piano piece with Japanese composer Masakatsu Takagi; even a solo acoustic ballad to his partner. Every single note sounds belabored upon, which makes sense given that some of these songs took upwards of five years to complete.

This is, by all means, a very corny album. However it’s also one completely devoid of ill intent or pretense. My favorite song on the album, “Sweet Time,” is one of several songs where Porter sings about finally feeling alive after a long emotional winter. Nurture was conceived at a period where Porter didn’t think he had anything left in him. With this project, he’s purged any sort of grief in order to come through with something far beyond the old boundaries of his work. The result is some of the most uplifting music I’ve ever heard.

Matt Anikiej, host of The Vibe


Wow, there is too much to say about this album! JPEGMAFIA has always had a knack for making very experimental and out-there music that works, but more so on this album than his others, he is unapologetically himself. This can be heard not only in the music, but in the offline version of the album he released on Bandcamp, which contains songs his label wouldn’t let him put on the actual album. LP! contains some of JPEGMAFIA’s hardest tracks like “END CREDITS!” and “REBOUND!” — which contains an insane beat switch. To me though, the highlights were his more mellow tracks. “DAM! DAM! DAM!” and “THE GHOST OF RANKING DREAD!” have made heavy rotations in my playlists. Earworms like “TRUST!” and “WHAT KIND OF RAPPIN’ IS THIS?” are sure to have you up and dancing. This is definitely the most creative and exciting album I’ve listened to this year and easily my favorite!

Cameron Crawford, volunteer

Lifeforms by Angels & Airwaves

After nearly seven years with a complete drought from Angels & Airwaves, their eclectic space rock, synth-friendly and pop punk sound is back and probably better than ever. Imagine a studio in which U2, Boxcar Racer and The Cure all meet up, and then a singular entity emerges with an absolute gem. That gem is Lifeforms.

Despite the strange release schedule of the album — multiple songs were released prior to the full album, not just singles — Lifeforms has a little bit of everything for everyone who has been following frontman Tom Delonge’s efforts since blink-182’s untitled album. Although AVA has certainly always been Delonge’s brain child and served its purpose as his creative outlet, there’s loads of substance here. Delonge has often wanted to push the boundaries on the stagnation of what he writes. When asked on Apple music show After School Radio — hosted by former bandmate and current frontman for blink, Mark Hoppus — about what he thought were the most meaningful lyrics that he’s written, Delonge stated that it often comes back to whether or not he’s “writing a song that should probably be for a girl” or if he’s wanting to implement something more substantial and meaningful. Although there’s some of the former on Lifeforms, there’s also plenty of the latter. Take for instance, “Losing My Mind,” a song about Tom’s viewpoint on 2020-2021 and the world he sees crumbling around him. From The Rockpit, Delonge sarcastically states that he “wanted to write a song about a totally insane idea that would never happen, like, what if our country was being torn apart by racists, or pandemic, or domestic terrorism, but all at the same time… you know, just normal stuff that would never happen.” These deeper themes aren’t, however, exclusive to “Losing My Mind”: There’s themes of infidelity, domestic abuse, struggles with mental health, vulnerability, gun violence in America, the list goes on. It’s authentic, it’s genuine, it’s thought provoking and it’s catchy as hell; so for all those reasons and more, Lifeforms is my favorite album of the year.

Matt Cruz, media librarian

Downfall of the Neon Youth by Parannoul, Asian Glow and sonhos tomam conta

2021 has been a wild ride for the indie scene at large. During the tail-end of winter, the Internet decided to miraculously come together and rally around To See the Next Part of the Dream, the project of anonymous South Korean musician Parannoul.

At that time, Parannoul was seemingly alone at the forefront of DIY, with a sound that was miles ahead of his contemporaries in both execution, influence and originality. However, the year would later show that Parannoul was not a lone actor in expanding the boundaries of DIY.

Seoul’s Asian Glow and São Paulo’s sonhos tomam conta each put out exceptional records encompassing a distinct and original sound; with Cull Ficle and Hypnagogia both brazenly challenging the textural and compositional limits of emo music.

In October, these three trailblazing acts coalesced on a split album, Downfall of the Neon Youth with each contribution showcasing not only their best material to date, but just how experimental and kaleidoscopic DIY can be. From the Sweet Trip-influenced shoegaze blossoming in “Colors,” to discordant saxophone puncturing the backdrop of angst in “One May Be Harming,” and the effortless ballet between noise and ambience in the ferocious “vento caminha comigo,” Downfall of the Neon Youth is the unlikely mission statement for the future of emo, shoegaze and the possibility of human determination.

Paige Drob, training director

An Evening With Silk Sonic by Silk Sonic

There was an intense battle for my No. 1 album this year. In 2021 I had the privilege of releases from some of my favorite artists like Luke Hemmings, Brockhampton and Tyler, the Creator. The crown jewel to me however, was the release of Silk Sonic’s debut album An Evening With Silk Sonic. I had been begging for new Bruno Mars content for years. I felt like in all of this turmoil the world was going through, we needed Bruno Mars to bring some light as he always does. Needless to say, when this new collaboration was announced I was ecstatic. The album lived up to all of the hype it had in my mind. There is not a single skip on this project. It is short but every song is just so good that it makes up for it. The project is unapologetically nostalgic and glamorous. My favorite tracks are “Fly as Me,” “Smokin’ Out The Window” and “777” — you can find my “Smokin’ Out The Window” Jam of the Day here. “Fly as Me” is just such a vibe. If you need a confidence booster, I recommend strutting around to it for as long as you need. “Smokin’ Out The Window” is just so dramatic and funny, I find it virtually impossible not to be happy when I hear it. “777” is just very unique, and I find myself listening to it when I need to hype myself up too.

Sam Kurtzman, event DJ

The House is Burning by Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah Rashad’s fantastic return to the hip hop world after nearly five years of battling alcoholism and depression is a cathartic love letter to Memphis hip hop that also evolves his blend of southern hip hop and R&B. Rashad does not shy away from tackling the hefty struggles he endured during the past five years, but he does not let them shackle the album to this dark place either. Isaiah acknowledges his flaws and struggles, but also shows that he has overcome them and is a more confident and energetic rapper than he ever has been. The production on The House is Burning is consistently incredible, with samples from Memphis classics like Three 6 Mafia’s “Ridin N’ Da’ Chevy” and Project Pat’s “Cheese and Dope” that are flipped to create songs that are entirely new and unique while also paying homage to these legendary tracks. Isaiah brings together an all-star cast of featured artists to accompany this production, along with his own standout vocals. Rashad styled himself as the director of the album in pre-release interviews, and that comparison could not be more apt. Rashad brings artists onto beats and provides the build up for some incredible moments on the album. Highlights include fellow Memphis rapper Duke Deuce’s bombastic verse on the high energy “Lay Wit Ya,” Smino’s gorgeous vocals on “Claymore” and Jay Rock’s hungry rapping on “True Story.” The final component that brings the album together is Isaiah himself. His rapping has only improved since 2016’s The Sun’s Tirade; His new delivery is a slightly slurred but energetic drawl that adapts to both in-your-face bangers and laid back somber moments. The range that Isaiah demonstrates is so impressive that sometimes I wondered if it was even the same artist.

Coming in at 48 minutes, The House is Burning is an all-killer no-filler journey into the mind of one the most talented and emotionally vulnerable hip hop artists of this generation, and it is a must listen for both casual and die-hard hip hop fans.

Mike Merucci, volunteer

Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra

Jazz, classical and electronic — what an absolutely beautiful, serene combination. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra have come together to make an album that truly brings me peace. And so many times throughout this year that’s all I needed: to be able to close my eyes, slide my headphones on and fall gently through the kind soundscapes of Promises. Here, the minimal electronic compositions of Floating Points craft a lovely stage for jazz legend Pharoah Sanders’s saxophone to dance and dance and dance across, and when the London Symphony Orchestra becomes the focal point, I feel separated from the rest of the world entirely. It is the music and the listener alone together. Time is lost and thoughts are carried away by saxophone whispers and a soft, repeating wave of synthesizer, piano and harpsichord that runs throughout the entirety of the record. It is peace, unabated peace: a gentle wind that has carried me across the calendar and to the doorstep of a brand new year. I feel lucky to have Promises by my side going into it. 

Ean Montague, host of The Flashback 

Cavalcade by black midi

In the past year, no album has challenged my ideas of what music can be more than black midi’s followup to Schlagenheim (2019). Call them math-rock or post-punk or whatever other labels you might use in futility to try and wrap your head around them, black midi pushes the boundaries of possibility. Their live performances are proof enough of that — they’ll be at The Majestic on March 25, 2022. But in just the two albums they have produced so far, this English band has shown that they can compose. Cavalcade is a freaky record and I mean that as the highest compliment. Once you think you’ve adjusted to it, you are shaken out of your comfort with some harsh guitar chords or maybe a wild, screeching saxophone. It cycles from serene calmness to extreme anxiety — just the transition between the first two tracks, “John L” and “Marlene Dietrich” is night and day. In addition to the instrumentation, there is vivid lyrical imagery throughout that is chock full of literary references. With Cavalcade, black midi have created a record that empathizes with the perils of modern life while also providing some hope for the future — of music at least. One of the greatest things music can invoke is curiosity, making you think, “Wow. What was that?” and then feel compelled to immediately listen to it again. That’s what Cavalcade does — it issues a challenge to the listener to stop and try to comprehend what they are doing before rejoining the ever-marching procession of modern life. I think that is pretty neat.

Nick Sanchez, volunteer

Iridescent by Silent Planet

Silent Planet holds a distinctive place in the world of metal. Their albums house genre-conventional moments of metal brutality, flashy guitar riffs and downtempo breakdowns. On the flipside, they frequently utilize unconventional song structure, high-register melodic choruses and ambient passages and interludes. They defy labels and buck stereotypes at every turn, carving out a unique position in the scene that no one can fill but themselves.

Silent Planet is a band that made its foundation on telling the stories of others. Their first album tracked the atrocities of war; their second, the terrifying reality of living with mental illness; their third, they told of “little apocalypses” of people they saw in the world around them. On their fourth LP, Iridescent, Silent Planet turns the lens on themselves, telling their own stories. The result is their most personal, passionate, and technically sound work to date. From the emotionally wounded chorus of their third single, “Terminal” to Garret Russell’s scathing view of a bigoted and blinded American society in “Alive, as a Housefire,” this LP pairs songs about self with songs about how they see the world. The album culminates with Silent Planet continuing their streak of emotionally devastating closing songs with an ode to the dead on the title track, “Iridescent.” Describing a hospital room in haunting detail, the song conveys the difficulty in saying goodbye to someone you love, perfectly encapsulating the album as an emotional experience that cannot be fully understood without hearing it for yourself.

Mason Vore, music director

Letting Go by Hayden Pedigo

A slight detour from most sounds in 2021, one of my favorite albums this year was Letting Go by Hayden Pedigo. The American Primitive-style fingerpicking guitarist’s latest album showed his skill at it’s absolute peak. The sparse, yet rich and powerful arrangements dance across the plains of the Texas panhandle and into the hearts of listeners. Pedigo’s ability to hold two separate ideas together and examine their relationship without saying a word is immensely special. These songs equally fit the desert and the dorm room as Pedigo admits in a Texas Monthly interview, guessing his audience is a combination of “stressed out college kids” and “Forty something record-collector types.” The instrumentals in tracks like “Tints of Morning” and “I Wasn’t Dreaming” gently curl around you like the steam coming from a cup of coffee on a cold fall morning and can fill canyons in a sonic landscape you can’t help but come back to. Pedigo gained recent acclaim after running for city council to upend tradition in his hometown Amarillo, Texas in what started as a joke and turned into a documentary shown at SXSW. He also was seemingly randomly selected to walk in a Gucci fashion show this year which was just sort of mind bending. However, it’s still the music that makes him so special. One of my favorite songs of the year, “Carthage,” gets to a state of solitude and peace that’s truly endearing and worth a listen for anyone wanting to take a step back for a second.

Ethan Youngblood, promotions coordinator

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST by Tyler the Creator

Every time Tyler, the Creator makes an album, I always wonder how he will top his last one and he never disappoints. I don’t know if there are many Marvel fans out there, but listening to this album was like that scene from Doctor Strange when Steve Strange gets knocked into his astral body for the first time. The instruments, vocals, features and beat changes really made this album stand out to me. I was playing Pokémon Blue for the first time when I listened to this album and it gave me the strength to beat Misty and her godforsaken gym. I believe the ultimate message of the album is to show the listeners to follow their dreams in life no matter how hard they seem, but to call loved ones if they get stuck or lost on the way to their goals. At his concert at Lollapalooza, Tyler often talked about how people believed in his dream of being a musician, but now he’s bigger than he ever imagined. The goal of this project was to emphasize the journey through life, not just being at the destination.

Wyatt Zwik, media librarian

Twin Plagues by Wednesday

Asheville, North Carolina band Wednesday had a breakout year in 2021 with the release of their newest effort Twin Plagues. Combining elements of indie, shoegaze and gothic influences, the band — led by singer and guitarist Karly Hartzman — encapsulates the anxieties of a fleeting time in life while dissecting the memories that shaped it. Despite these anxieties, which are perhaps best reflected in the ennui-drenched track “Cody’s Only,” it’s the memories that are only distantly remembered that are held the closest. Harztman expertly conjures these images of past relationships and childhood memories, whether it’s reminiscing holding a crossbow in a family photo or her dad picking a Dallas cowboys urn to put someone’s ashes in. The southern gothic feel to the album can be attributed to lap steel player Xandy Chelmis, whose contributions shine brightest on the achingly beautiful “One More Last One.” The band is perhaps strongest when delivering the stories of this bygone age, such as on personal highlight “Birthday Song.” It starts with hushed tones, telling the tale of a high school psychedelic adventure gone awry, to eventually build to a crushingly blissful, effects-laden ending. This album has held a special place in my heart since seeing them perform it live, and if the new material they performed is any indication, they’re definitely a band you’ll want to keep your eye on in the near future.