The best albums of 2021 so far, from Japanese Breakfast to Ratboys


Clockwise from top left: Pharoah Sanders (Photo: Dimitri Hakke), Jazmine Sullivan (Photo: Getty Images), Julien Baker (Photo: Getty Images), Mogwai (Photo: Getty Images), Olivia Rodrigo (Getty Images)

Clockwise from top left: Pharoah Sanders (Photo: Dimitri Hakke), Jazmine Sullivan (Photo: Getty Images), Julien Baker (Photo: Getty Images), Mogwai (Photo: Getty Images), Olivia Rodrigo (Getty Images)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Who says artists have to suffer for their art? Presumably someone who never had to suffer much. Musicians, like writers, are still too often marked by this bizarre assumption that the creation of their art should require an arduous struggle with their muse, born of pain or sadness. Unfortunately, the last six months have brought with them too much suffering; it’s always difficult to talk about almost anything without referring at some point to the hardships many of us have faced over the past year, thanks to COVID-19. But thanks to a miracle of medical science and the vast majority of people sane enough to understand the need for a vaccine, things are much more optimistic than they have been for a long time.

So, let’s officially agree to give the coronavirus talk a break and fill this new silence with some of the best music you’ll hear this year. Some of these albums were created before COVID; some were learned from the day-to-day experience of the pandemic. But they all share one trait: an ability to transcend the situations that aroused them. Timelessness, in other words, the kind that the best music always has, and that grabs the listener and transports them to a new place. The following records can do just that; I hope you find something on this list that speaks to you in such a way.

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About Dawn Valle

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