It’s not every month that seven (!) of our 10 favorite records arrive on the same day, but then again, June 25 wasn’t your average release day—far from it. Lucy Dacus; Tyler, The Creator; Faye Webster; and The Mountain Goats, to name a few, all shared career-highlight albums on that same date, while elsewhere in June, Japanese Breakfast and Backxwash released their own much-anticipated and -acclaimed LPs. What a start to 2021’s latter half—though they may have missed the cutoff for our mid-year list, don’t be surprised to find many of the albums below among Paste’s favorites of 2021 once all is said and done.
Listen to our Best Albums of June 2021 playlist on Spotify here.
Backxwash, noted for her groundbreaking 2020 album God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It, which won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize, can capture the ears of even the most metal-averse listener. Her new album I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses, released June 20, expands upon her chaotic blend of heavy metal, punk and hip-hop that pays homage to horrorcore pioneers such as Three 6 Mafia and Esham, as well as her modern-day inspirations such as clipping. (who contribute production to “Blood in the Water”) and Danny Brown. In the midst of her lush wall of sound is an attempt to make sense of who she is, why she is here and other philosophical questions that rest within the crevices of our psyches that she dares to explore. —Jade Gomez
Following his last proper album, 2020’s Zushi, Dean Blunt returns with some of his most candid and gorgeous songs on Black Metal 2. A sequel to 2014’s Black Metal, Blunt’s new album scales back the volume of his vision in favor of sparser instrumentals, with his low hum accompanying soft horns, his clean acoustic guitar strumming, and muted bass. The eerie strings of opening track “Vigil” evoke a similar ambient darkness as the works of artists like Burial or Scott Walker, with brooding lyrics to match. Black Metal 2 is a clear maturation for Blunt, stepping up his arrangements, his use of space, and his lyrical talents. —Jason Friedman
In conversation with Paste about her 2019 standout Atlanta Millionaires Club, Southern singer/songwriter Faye Webster told us, “I think what makes it nice is that there are songs on this record that could have been on my self-titled or could’ve even been on Run And Tell, my 16-year-old album. Every album has been like the small gateway to something new, but it still all makes sense.” That holds true on the 23-year-old’s fourth album (and second for Secretly Canadian), another lovely collection of loping, lap steel-laced Americana-pop that’s as nuanced, yet charming as Webster herself. An ATL native with ample ties to the city’s sprawling hip-hop scene, the singer/songwriter reunited with frequent collaborators including producer/mixer Drew Vandenberg and pedal steel player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel to create I Know I’m Funny haha, her most thoughtful and self-assured effort yet. Webster has carved out a stylistic niche entirely her own, and it’s only a matter of time before a far wider audience catches up to her. —Scott Russell
One of our most-anticipated albums of the year, let alone the month of June, Michelle Zauner’s third album as Japanese Breakfast finds her shedding the sadness and trauma of her past, embracing joy and celebrating Jubilee. Upon its announcement, Zauner said of her follow-up to 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet in a statement, “After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow-up to be about joy. For me, a third record should feel bombastic and so I wanted to pull out all the stops for this one.” The soaring, yet densely layered Jubilee lives up to that billing: Zauner’s palette boasts more colors than ever—the yearning strings that conclude “Kokomo, IN,” the regal horn outro on “Slide Tackle,” the noise-rock crescendo of closer “Posing For Cars,” so much more—and her new masterpiece is abundantly vivid as a result. —Scott Russell
On Fatigue, the second album from Brooklyn singer and multi-instrumentalist Taja Cheek (aka L’Rain), the artist presents lush, textural music that encourages deep, emotional change. Each song its own sonic universe, the sprawling compositions are matched with introspective lyrics that guide the listener towards individual catharsis. Songs like “Two Face” experiment with dark themes and conversational misunderstandings atop an extremely lively, jazzy-sounding beat, while “Suck Teeth,” a song meant to evoke “a very Black sound of disapproval, annoyance and disappointment,” is groovy and unsettling. Several short interludes scattered throughout the album offer glimpses into its creator’s mind, pulling the listener deeper into Cheek’s creative vision. Fatigue, with its ever-shifting soundscapes, illuminates the magical aspects of change, and how it can shape us into the best versions of ourselves. —Jason Friedman
Digging into personal history is not a new undertaking for Lucy Dacus. Historian, Dacus’ 2018 album (as well as Paste’s pick for the best of that year) and the follow-up to her 2016 debut No Burden, followed the end of a five-year relationship and the death of Dacus’ grandmother. She did a magnificent job throughout the album knitting together her own sorrows and joy with our collective strife in 2018. It’s clear on her third LP, Home Video, that the Virginia-born singer/songwriter wasn’t quite finished exploring her past and how it connects to the present. Throughout Home Video, Dacus revisits key scenes from and offers reflections on her childhood in Richmond, with the unexplainable perspective of not only someone who lived that childhood, but also—somehow—someone who witnessed it. First and foremost, Dacus is a storyteller. Home Video, recorded at Trace Horse Studio in Nashville, is just what you’d expect from such a talent. Here, her wise brand of rock music blooms into something even more palpable, relatable and beautifully messy. —Ellen Johnson
As the tale goes, John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, John Wurster and Matt Douglas, plus guests ranging from Spooner Oldham to Marie Tomlinson Lewey, gathered together on the cusp of the pandemic in March 2020 to record Dark in Here, as well as their October 2020 release Getting Into Knives. Don’t think of Dark in Here as a COVID album, though. The music is so good, so cohesive and confidently made, that the record’s relevance will live on well beyond the 2020s; Dark in Here won’t become a relic of its time, but a marker. This happened. This is what The Mountain Goats did when this happened. Maybe listening to Dark in Here will help their audience move forward, even if the band puts on no such airs. They’re straightforward. They’re even realistic about what “moving forward” even means when fucking up is fundamental to human nature: “We’ve made mistakes / Everyone spots their own mess when the dawn breaks,” Darnielle murmurs on “When a Powerful Animal Comes.” The dawn has broken and we all know the myriad “oopsies” that led us to where we are now. Dark in Here isn’t a solution to the problem. It’s just a damn good soundtrack. —Andy Crump
Mia Berrin of Pom Pom Squad has long been an avid explorer of pop culture, though as a person of color and a queer woman, neither facets of her identity have historically been given much attention in media. She dealt with this lack of representation resourcefully, finding snippets that resonated with her. She explains in a press release, “I absorbed everything I could and tried to make a collage that could incorporate every piece of me.” Now, with bandmates Shelby Keller (drums), Mari Alé Figeman (bass) and Alex Mercuri (guitar), Berrin is ensuring that present and future generations won’t have to live on meager scraps. Death of a Cheerleader synthesizes Berrin’s various influences—aesthetic, musical, cinematic—but ends up as a creature entirely its own, telling Berrin’s story in a way that’s sure to hit home with many who struggle to see themselves in whitewashed Hollywood releases. The album is well-realized conceptually and brilliantly, viscerally executed. —Clare Martin
After releasing not one, but two of Paste’s top 2020 albums, enigmatic U.K. soul group SAULT are back with a new project. Like everything they do, Nine is enshrouded in mystery and excitement alike—the band announced their new record only a week or so ago, and will only make it available for 99 days before pulling it from the web, so make sure to give it a spin before (*crunches numbers*) Oct. 2. One of the band’s slightest projects at just 10 tracks (including intro “Haha” and interlude “Mike’s Story,” featuring Michael Ofo) and 34 minutes, the nimble Nine foregrounds shifty grooves and stories of street life rendered via grippingly rhythmic vocals, featuring London rapper Little Simz on “You from London.” Though lyrically, the album is concerned primarily with cycles of violence, it gradually moves from thick-skinned resignation to resilient hope as the album progresses: “Don’t ever lose yourself / You can always start again,” SAULT sing in unison on uplifting closer “Light’s In Your Hands.” It’s the audio equivalent of flowers growing through cracks in concrete, and another powerful effort from a singular outfit. —Scott Russell
One of things that has made Tyler, The Creator’s career so particularly striking is his commitment to utilizing the album format less as a collection of songs and more as a way to develop a cohesive aesthetic vision. On his excellent 2019 album IGOR, Tyler embraced bright synths and pop structure to express feelings about a lost love. With Call Me If You Get Lost, old-school hip-hop callbacks are paired with light and jazzy flutes for some of Tyler’s most personal and reflective songwriting. Though tracks like single “LUMBERJACK” and “LEMONHEAD” sound massive, with thundering beats and Tyler’s effortless flow, the album also gets inside Tyler’s head, with songs like “WILLSHIRE” and “‘BLESSED” exploring the artist’s psyche. Featuring contributions from Lil Uzi Vert, Jamie xx, DJ Drama and more, Call Me If You Get Lost is another standout entry in the already-illustrious career of the young auteur. —Jason Friedman