The 40 Albums We're Most Excited About in 2021

Featuring St. Vincent, Kendrick Lamar, Shame and more

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The 40 Albums We're Most Excited About in 2021

Though 2020 brought many fantastic albums, we’re throwing the rest of the year in the trash. As we look forward to 2021, we’re cautiously hopeful that live music will return by the year’s end, but trying to predict what will happen these days is a fool’s errand. At the very least, there’s an impressive slate of records due to drop this year, like the triumphant return of tear-jerking indie singer/songwriter Julien Baker, the barreling second album from U.K. punks Shame, the charming debut from promising new artist Katy Kirby and so much more. Here are several dozen albums we’re excited to hear in 2021, both confirmed and rumored.

Madlib: Sound Ancestors

January 2021

After a prolific 2020, acclaimed MC and beatmaster Madlib is releasing an album this year with Four Tet. It’s called Sound Ancestors, and it’s set to drop some time in January. Four Tet (aka Kieren Hebden) says that the album has been in the works “for the last few years,” so this could very well be a special album. They’ve already shared two songs from the album, “Hopprock” and “Road of the Lonely Ones.” —Lizzie Manno

Cheekface: Emphatically No.

January 11

One of rock’s funniest bands are back with their second album, Emphatically No. Cheekface nail the art of surreal, deadpan one-liners, and they’re also attentive students of classic punk, power pop and devilishly fun indie rock. That mix of familiar comforts with a brand of humor so distinctly current it hurts, makes for essential listening. They’re positively meta (“We are writers! Creatives! We work remotely! / I am furiously Juuling on the coffee shop patio!”), depressed, but working on it (“Due to personal reasons, I said nothing in therapy”), trying to appreciate the finer things in life (“Quick, touch all the dogs”), and painfully aware of their audience to the point where laughs turns to tears (“No late capitalism while I’m talking”). They may be outwardly memeable, but they’re not without substance—Cheekface tap into real anxieties and the shared understanding among their peers that the present is spectacularly stupid, which only warms the heart. —Lizzie Manno

Shame: Drunk Tank Pink

January 15

When Shame released their debut album, Songs of Praise, back in 2018, they became one of the easiest bands to root for. Their songs embodied the crippling self-doubt and rowdy shenanigans that come with young adulthood, and their endlessly quotable lyrics and ferocious energy turned their live shows into ceremonies of sweat and glory. Now back with their follow-up album, Drunk Tank Pink, Shame are noticeably sharper—their guitars are more nimble, and they express much-needed restraint, while still vigorously springing into action when needed. With well-rounded pacing and a more imaginative sound, Shame are still figuring out how to balance their grip on reality with their penchant for letting loose every now and again. They don’t pontificate, and they aren’t too self-serious, but there’s a palpable desire to carve out a space for something precious—and one that can be sustained. But how do you cope when everyday contradictions and decisions are getting heavier and heavier? Shame try to wade through these waters while kicking out the jams, and that’s all we could ask for, really. —Lizzie Manno

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams

January 29

A young Arlo Parks sees herself as “a black kid who can’t dance for shit, listens to emo music and currently has a crush on some girl in my Spanish class”—fast-forward to today, and we see the London singer/songwriter as one of the most exciting new artists out there. Her music draws inspiration from everyone from Otis Redding and David Bowie to MF Doom and Julien Baker, with honeyed vocals dripped over lush folk instrumentation and delicate boom-bap beats, while her evocative lyrics (modeled after the fiction of Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, etc.) tend to linger in your mind; “I had a dream, we kissed / And it was all amethyst,” she sings in the opening moments of “Eugene,” one of several stellar singles she’s released this year ahead of her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams. —Scott Russell

Sun June: Somewhere

February 5

Sun June’s brand of spacious, country-tinged rock songs feels like a gentle, caressing breeze. Their second album Somewhere, out on Feb. 5 via Run For Cover Records and Keeled Scales, compliments the twinkling lights of the city and the magnificence of bucolic solitude alike—these songs would echo wonderfully in virtually any backdrop. Laura Colwell’s voice has a timeless veneer, and Somewhere communicates the lasting sentiment that for better or worse, nothing lasts forever. —Lizzie Manno

Black Country, New Road: For the first time

February 5

Born of the same South London scene that’s produced the likes of black midi, PVA and Squid, white-hot septet Black Country, New Road found their band name using a random Wikipedia page generator. The transparent artifice of that is actually fitting: With only three singles to their rather unwieldy name, including 2019’s “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses,” and this year’s “Science Fair,” the U.K. up-and-comers are growing and changing before our eyes, already reimagining the few songs they’ve released for their debut album For the first time, out Feb. 5, 2021. Frontman Isaac Wood’s hypnotic speak-singing shifts subtly away from “speak” and towards “sing” on the album, so as to more effectively meld with the band’s mercurial instrumental outbursts. Their thunderous post-punk, spiked with discordant jazz, feels both explosively raw and carefully, ingeniously crafted. —Scott Russell

The Weather Station: Ignorance

February 5

Ignorance, the fifth album from The Weather Station and their first on Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records, finds Toronto songwriter Tamara Lindeman continuing to move beyond her project’s folk beginnings, like a rocket that’s left the launchpad. The more rock-oriented arc of her 2017 self-titled curves even further on Ignorance, as Lindeman gracefully embraces art-pop sounds, setting the record’s propulsive, enigmatic tone with opener “Robber”—Max Freedman called that track “a welcome left turn for Lindeman” and “a bold reintroduction” in highlighting it as one of Paste’s picks for 2020’s best songs. Elsewhere on the record, Lindeman imbues her surprisingly dancefloor-friendly tracks with nimble poise and unknowable intrigue, wielding strings, synths and keys with equal ease. She named her album for the French verb ignorer, which “connotes a humble, unashamed not knowing,” per the LP’s bio. Here on the threshold of 2021, what could be more important? —Scott Russell

Kìzis: Tidibàbide / Turn

February 12

Algonquin two-spirit artist Kìzis (who’s previously recorded as Mich Cota) is releasing what may be one of the most ambitious albums of 2021. Tidibàbide / Turn is a four-hour LP, bursting at the seams with reverent chants, throttling techno, compassionate electro-pop and amorphous, string-laden compositions. There’s even an alternate national anthem that more accurately reflects Canada’s mistreatment of indigineous peoples (“No Canada”). This album is clearly meant to be an event—one that requires listeners to plan ahead and make time for. No detail has gone overlooked, but it’s also inherently imperfect. It’s a triumphant coming together of dozens of guest musicians (including Beverly Glenn-Copeland and Cub Sport’s Tim Nelson), and though they impressively execute Kìzis’ spiritual, altruistic vision, there’s a carefree spirit where missteps are embraced. Tidibàbide / Turn has a warm glow, one that radiates with the knowledge that it may not be for everyone, but will be deeply cherished by those who connect with her ornate songs and singular psyche. —Lizzie Manno

Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place

February 19

Indie-rock songwriter Katy Kirby grew up in a small-town Texas, where her primary exposure to songcraft came via “the pasteurized-pop choruses of evangelical worship.” On her forthcoming debut album Cool Dry Place, out Feb. 19, 2021, on Keeled Scales, the still-Lone Star State-based Kirby wrestles with the indefatigably cheery spirit of the church songs she was raised on, twisting her jangle-pop sound into subtly adventurous shapes suggestive of a roving soul. “Ten segments in an orange / Only so many ways that you can pull apart someone,” she sings on the title track, effortlessly tossing off the kind of line that makes your heart ache instantaneously. Kirby thrives in the place between easy appeal and more complicated explorations, and she’s already made believers out of us. —Scott Russell

Valley Maker: When the Day Leaves

February 19

Columbia, South Carolina-based singer/songwriter Austin Crane will release his third album as Valley Maker next month via Frenchkiss Records. The follow-up to 2018’s Rhododendron, When the Day Leaves finds Crane melding folksy acoustic sounds with more entrancing electric textures, all of which evoke the unknowable natural forces that are the focus of much of his songwriting. Contemplative and serene, though never at the expense of their many tendrils of melody, Crane’s new songs are soothing in a way we all need nowadays. — Scott Russell

Julien Baker: Little Oblivions

February 26

In the past, singer/songwriter Julien Baker—acclaimed both as a solo act and as a member of boygenius alongside Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers—has stunned us with her ability to evoke powerful feelings using only her hushed vocals, confessional lyrics and sparse instrumentation. On her third studio album Little Oblivions, though, Baker’s self-described “bummer jams” have gained a new and arresting sense of scale, losing none of their poignance in the process. These are lush, expansive compositions, awash in everything from drum machines and synthesizers (“Highlight Reel”) to banjo and what sounds like theremin (“Heatwave”). But ever-present on Little Oblivions is the breathtaking introspection of Baker, alone at a piano (“Song in E”), pouring her whole heart into her songs. They’re more fearless than ever, with instrumental scope to match that of their overwhelming emotions. —Scott Russell

Cloud Nothings: The Shadow I Remember

February 26

“Am I older now or am I just another age?,” Dylan Baldi asks on track one of Cloud Nothings’ new album The Shadow I Remember. The band recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of their debut album Turning On, which is getting reissued later this month via Carpark Records, so it makes sense that they’re pondering the passage of time. On their latest LP, Baldi visits his old self with hindsight (“Well, it’s hard for me to say / if I would do it all again / for what purpose?”), while also looking to the future and opening a whole different set of accompanying pitfalls, namely existentialism (“Am I something? Do you see me? / Does anybody living out there really need me?”). For this heady task, Cloud Nothings reunited with Steve Albini (who produced their 2012 breakout Attack on Memory), and tried to fold in the rawness of their early works with their current emotional headspace. The result is an explosive, snappy tracklist that evokes the counteracting urgency when a fear of stasis begins to set in. —Lizzie Manno

Cory Hanson: Pale Horse Rider

March 12

Wand frontman Cory Hanson recently announced the follow-up to his 2016 solo debut The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo. It’s called Pale Horse Rider, and it’s out on March 12 via Drag City. While his first LP was beaming with dramatic orchestral arrangements, Pale Horse Rider channels drama via country-tinged acoustic ballads, bolstered by pedal steel guitar, piano and Hanson’s characteristically bewitching vocals. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill twangy psych record—Hanson’s imagery is thought-provoking and haunting, and his songs take you on unexpected sonic detours, like the sci-fi synth outro of “Angeles,” the hopeful ambience of “Necklace” and the divine, painstaking guitar wails of “Another Story From The Center of The Earth.” Hanson retreated to the desert to record this album, and it’s imbued with movement, celestial wonder and the struggle to cope in a world that doesn’t love you back. Though you can feel the mind-numbing expanse of this record, it’s also full of deeply personal and contemplative thoughts, communicated in artful, surreal terms. “Sometimes it’s so hard not to feel like a corpse dragging a soul on two broken wheels / I have often felt the edges of my body trying to escape,” Hanson coos on the dusty, relaxed “Limited Hangout.” —Lizzie Manno

Covey: Class of Cardinal Sin

Spring 2021

Back in 2019, British-born, Brooklyn-based artist Covey (aka Tom Freeman) released an album called Some Cats Live, Some Cats Die, and it brimmed with snug indie-folk tunes and killer hooks. To pass the time between his next release, he embarked on an unconventional acoustic tour last year, which was filmed on TikTok and saw him headline oddball venues like an abandoned asylum in Letchwood, N.Y. and a politics-themed puppet theater in Glover, Vermont. Following this aptly-titled Tour To Nobody, Freeman is readying his next album, Class of Cardinal Sin, which drops in the spring. Like its predecessor, it’s sentimental and sweet, and though at times overly earnest, Freeman’s touching folk-punk songwriting transcends. These are feel-good songs to pick you up when you’re drowning and yell in the moonlight when you’re with friends and had one too many. —Lizzie Manno

Arcade Fire

TBD

In April, Win Butler released two clips of new Arcade Fire material on Instagram, which were deleted, but he did confirm that a new album was on the way. Back in May, he also shared a 30-second clip on his Instagram story, teasing an early version of a new track, and though pretty rough, the clip was reposted online. The band’s latest album, Everything Now, arrived in 2017. —Lizzie Manno

Backxwash

TBD

2020’s Polaris Prize winner and horrorcore rapper Backxwash confirmed the title of her forthcoming album The Heretics and The People that Made Them, which will be out in “early 2021.” Her album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It was featured in Paste’s list of best albums of 2020. —Lizzie Manno

Big Thief

TBD

Big Thief should never be underestimated. They had a huge year in 2019 with two critically acclaimed albums, U.F.O.F. and Two Hands, and lead singer Adrianne Lenker impressed yet again in 2020 with masterful solo ventures songs and instrumentals. Considering how quickly this New York band seems to write and record, you never know when they’re going to strike next. Plus, Lenker told the New Yorker she recently spent several weeks recording with Big Thief in the Catskill Mountains, so we might just hear the fruits of their labor soon. —Lizzie Manno

Chubby and the Gang

TBD

U.K. punk outfit Chubby and the Gang had a stellar 2020, releasing one of the best albums of the year with their debut Speed Kills and getting signed to Brooklyn label Partisan Records. Thanks to their hardcore roots and love of ‘60s pop music, Speed Kills was full of urgent, timeless racket, and luckily, they’ve promised a new album in 2021. Their first U.S. tour alongside Royal Hounds was an exciting whirlwind, but for anyone who missed out, it looks like we’ll be seeing more of them soon. —Lizzie Manno

Danny Brown

TBD

Detroit’s own hip-hop oddball teased a sequel to his 2011 breakout album XXX back in October, tweeting a 30-second song snippet accompanied only by the text “XXXX.” Though it’s only a breadcrumb, the preview is promising: a pop culture reference-dense smattering of quiet, yet deadly Brown bars over a 2018 Knxwledge instrumental (“Circuitloop”). Whatever album it belongs to will be Brown’s first since uknowhatimsayin¿, one of 2019’s best. — Scott Russell

Denzel Curry

TBD

Florida rapper Denzel Curry released his latest full-length, ZUU, in 2019, followed by his 2020 collaboration with Kenny Beats, the acclaimed, MF DOOM-inspired UNLOCKED. At the end of 2020, Curry tweeted that Melt My Eyez, See Your Future is the title of his next album. He also shared that the new LP is inspired by “a combination of what’s going on right now in the world and Akira Kurosawa films with Toshiro Mifune.” —Lizzie Manno

Dry Cleaning

TBD

These London-based post-punks made a late-2020 splash with “Scratchcard Lanyard,” their first release on their new label 4AD, not to mention one of our favorite songs of last year. That single’s announcement also revealed that Dry Cleaning had completed their debut album, with “details to follow soon” (as of November). The LP will follow a pair of acclaimed EPs, Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks and Sweet Princess, both released in 2019. — Scott Russell

FKA twigs

TBD

FKA twigs released her art-pop stunner MAGDALENE in 2019 and has since confirmed that she was “just finishing” an album while in lockdown. “I ended up, in actual fact, making a whole album in quarantine,” she told the Grammy Museum during a virtual chat. “I just decided one day. It was kind of, maybe one-third of the way through and I just said, ‘you know what, I’m just going to make an album,’ and I just went and did it. And it was really amazing because I worked predominantly with an amazing artist and producer called El Guincho, and I did the whole thing with pretty much all of the collaborators over FaceTime.” —Lizzie Manno

Japanese Breakfast

TBD

Michelle Zauner has been taking her time with the third Japanese Breakfast record, teasing the album here and there on Twitter since not long after the 2017 release of Soft Sounds from Another Planet. At turns, she’s mused about making “an emo record,” “going blonde and homogenic,” writing around the theme of “please just be nice to me” and asking herself “what would randy newman do.” She even posted a screenshot of Pro Tools restricting her from adding any more audio tracks to a song-in-progress, joking, “LP3 working hard at being the absolute most.” All in all, it’s hard to know what to expect from this record, except the unexpected. — Scott Russell

Kacey Musgraves

TBD

By now, you’ve probably heard Kacey Musgraves’ 2018 Grammy-winning album Golden Hour an unspeakable amount of times. If like most, you’re anxiously awaiting the follow-up, we might be hearing more from Musgraves sooner than you think. Back in August, one Twitter user wrote, “I know damn well you have some bops just chillin in your custody,” and Musgraves replied: “I do.” —Lizzie Manno

Kendrick Lamar

TBD

We’re not exactly sure when influential and acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar will return with a new album, but there are reasons to be hopeful. With Lamar set to headline Roskilde Festival in 2021, a press release for the Danish fest claims he has “new material on the way.” In an interview with Baby Keem for i-D, Lamar also shed some light about his mindset when it comes to releasing albums: “I spend the whole year just thinking about how I’m gonna execute a new sound, I can’t do the same thing over and over. I need something to get me excited.” —Lizzie Manno

Lorde

TBD

Lorde has one of the hungriest fan bases in all of music. Though the New Zealand pop artist doesn’t have much of an online presence, fans have been digging for signs of her reemergence for a while now—perhaps most comically, they found and delighted in a less-than-one-second clip of Lorde in the trailer for Taylor Swift’s Netflix documentary. Lorde released her latest album in 2017 with Melodrama, and we know we’ll receive at least one thing from her in 2021: a 100-page photo book about her 2019 trip to Antarctica titled GOING SOUTH. She even told Newshub that the trip inspired her next album title. “I actually decided on the album name right around that trip,” she said. “Just coming back from that trip I thought, this is what it is.” She also hinted at her album progress in an email to fans: “I started going back to the studio again in December, just for something to do, and to my surprise, good things came out.” —Lizzie Manno

Lucy Dacus

TBD

Lucy Dacus released her latest album Historian in 2018, and though details are sparse on the follow-up, expectations are high. There’s been chatter online about an unreleased track called “Thumbs,” which has only been performed live, but some claim it may be her best song yet. One Twitter user has an account solely devoted to its release, and we’re hanging on their every post. —Lizzie Manno

Moontype

TBD

Moontype will make your heart feel mushy, but without the cheap means to get there. The Chicago trio just signed to Born Yesterday Records (Cafe Racer, Dummy, Stuck) and released a knockout single late last year called “Ferry,” a devastatingly pretty song that yearns deeper and harder than just about any track from 2020. With rumbling, staticky guitars, Margaret McCarthy’s compassionate dream pop vocals and their arresting singer/songwriter-like intimacy, they break and meld hearts alike. Whatever you do, don’t take your eye off this band. —Lizzie Manno

Noname

TBD

Since releasing Room 25 back in 2018, fans have been hyped about the Chicago rapper’s next release. In a now-deleted Instagram post, she floated Factory Baby as a potential album title. In another since-deleted social media post, she wrote that she would be “dropping an album 2020 if anybody’s interested,” which hasn’t seen the light of day. We’re not sure if that’s still the title or if an album is still on the way, but we sure hope so. In the meantime, check out her 2020 track “Song 33.” —Lizzie Manno

Parquet Courts

TBD

Last year, Parquet Courts celebrated the 10th anniversary of their first show, and hopes are high for their next album. The band recently played a livestream concert in Brooklyn and shared a new song “Hey Bug,” a previously unreleased track from the Sunbathing Animal sessions. Parquet Courts released their latest album, Wide Awake!, in 2018, and there hasn’t been a peep from them about new material. However, back in July, a photo was posted of the band in L.A.’s Studio City Sound with the caption: “Parquet Court’s [sic] mixing in studio A.” —Lizzie Manno

Phoenix

TBD

French rockers Phoenix have been pretty quiet lately. They released their latest album Ti Amo in 2017, and haven’t released much since, apart from a new single for the Sofia Coppola-directed film On The Rocks, which arrived last year. But Thomas Mars gave Apple Music’s Zane Lowe an update on the album in August: “Even though the album now feels like it’s all over the place, we know that in the last few weeks it comes together, and it doesn’t look like anything now, but it will come together on it. It all makes sense.” A photo was posted of the band at Motorbass Studio back in December 2019, so their forthcoming album has certainly been in the works for a while now. —Lizzie Manno

Rihanna

TBD

It’s hard to think of an album that would make more of a splash than Rihanna’s forthcoming project. When she changed her profile photo to a generic headshot last May, social media users joked that new album hopes were doomed. Throughout 2020, her record label Def Jam has been sharing new promo photos of her, which, of course, fans took as a sign, but nothing has materialized yet. Most amusingly (or perhaps painfully), in 2019, she teased fans with a clip of a dog going crazy to House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” alongside the caption: “update: me listening to R9 by myself and refusing to release it.” At various points over the years, Rihanna talked about working on dancehall and reggae material, but we’re not sure if those influences will find their way on to this album or even when R9 will surface. —Lizzie Manno

Rosalía

TBD

A Grammy winner for her 2018 nuevo flamenco breakout El Mal Querer, Spanish pop star Rosalía has been working on her much-anticipated follow-up while quarantining in Miami, with plans to release it sometime this year. “This is the moment, I think, where everything is flowing, I’m finishing the songs, and it feels different than the beginning of the year,” she told Vogue in December. “Now I’m closing the cycle of these recordings, and I’m really happy with them.” For now, all we have is rumors: a working title, R3, and a release window of Q1, 2021. — Scott Russell

Slowdive

TBD

U.K. shoegaze greats Slowdive released their latest album back in 2017 and have since shared photos from a recording studio on Instagram with the hashtag “#slowdivelp5.” The photos were posted back in September, and we don’t know much more than that, but if their new album is anywhere near as good as their 2017 self-titled LP, we’ll be very pleased. —Lizzie Manno

Snail Mail

TBD

Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan released her critically acclaimed debut album Lush in 2018, and has said she’s taking her time with her next record, after spending two years touring LP1. But she shared a few Instagram photos from the studio and also captioned one post: “cant wait to get this new shit out to yall.” —Lizzie Manno

Spoon

TBD

Austin, Texas rockers Spoon are prepping the follow-up to their 2017 album Hot Thoughts. In 2019, they released a greatest hits album titled Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon, and in 2020, they reissued a heap of albums for Matador, but now it appears they have their sights set on new material. Spoon’s Britt Daniel told Apple Music back in September, “We had about 70% of our record done on March 10th, before this all went down. And since then, I’ve written a bunch of songs that I know I want to be on there. So now I feel like it’s even a little further away, but we’re talking about finding a way to get together soon and finishing this thing up.” —Lizzie Manno

St. Vincent

TBD

St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, one of indie’s most beloved songwriters, confirmed that a new album is “locked and loaded” for 2021. Her last album, MASSEDUCTION, arrived in 2017 and embodied a shift towards bold pop music, and when talking about her forthcoming record with MOJO, she said it marks another “tectonic shift,” and commented, “I felt I had gone as far as I could possibly go with angularity.” —Lizzie Manno

SZA

TBD

SZA’s 2017 debut album, Ctrl, won over heaps of fans and critics, and she’s now received a total of nine Grammy nominations. In the past, SZA expressed frustration with her label, Top Dawg Entertainment, for the delay in releasing her second album, but she later affirmed her trust in the people around her and stressed the importance of patience. She has also repeatedly floated her desire to share unreleased material in the meantime. This January, in an interview with Cosmopolitan, SZA confirmed that her new album is coming. “I’m making all different types of shit every day from different places in my spirit,” she says. SZA formally returned in 2020 with her first solo single since Ctrl, “Hit Different (feat. Ty Dolla $ign),” plus she dropped another single on Christmas, “Good Days.” —Lizzie Manno

The War on Drugs

TBD

The War on Drugs have become one of the most celebrated bands of the past decade, achieving universal acclaim with their latest album, 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. The band returned in 2020 with a live album titled LIVE DRUGS, and back in November, frontman Adam Granduciel told Variety that he has “five songs that are pretty much done” for their new album, plus “five or six others that are very close to being done.” —Lizzie Manno

Weyes Blood

TBD

Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering left many people, including us here at Paste, in awe with her 2019 album Titanic Rising. When sharing a video for her track, “Wild Time,” earlier this year, Mering confirmed the release of her next album: “I am canceling all of my headline shows for 2020, but I’m beginning to work on my next album that will come out in 2021- a different time, when hopefully we can see each other face to face once again.” —Lizzie Manno

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