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The Top 50 Albums of 2021

There were a whole lot of great albums released in 2021. Actually there are a whole lot of great albums released every year, so one could argue that 2021 wasn’t particularly unique in that aspect. But compared to 2020, which was a little lighter than usual on releases due to the pandemic and artists generally holding back until they could tour again, this year seemed much more normal. A lot of records came out from a number of big names, and things like touring and music festivals returned this past summer. It felt good to get back to basics! At the same time, things were still slightly off. Along with those big names and big albums came a lot of disappointment. Adele fared well, but Lorde did not. Kanye and Drake gave us new LPs, but the general reactions to them weren’t much more than a shrug. It provided the perfect opportunity for some artists to step up and make a real impact with fresh, exciting, and groundbreaking records. Many delivered, even if they didn’t always reach the widest audiences or establish a broad consensus to help certify their brilliance. The lack of a crystal clear frontrunner for the #1 album of 2021 among music websites and publications might imply that nothing was quite good enough to make a massive critical impact, but I would argue such a diversity of opinions is a huge positive. It gives a wider array of artists more of a chance to shine. A Jazmine Sullivan or Indigo De Souza or Arooj Aftab may now be on your radar when they might not have been otherwise in a more “standard” year. So embrace that difference, and dig into some music that challenges and inspires you. My Top 50 Albums of 2021 has no shortage of that. I’ve even included another 10 “Honorable Mentions” of records I genuinely loved that just barely missed the cut. In all sincerity, everything listed below is absolutely wonderful and worthy of your time to listen through at least once. Give them a shot if you haven’t already – I’m certain you’ll find something new to love.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Amyl and the Sniffers – Comfort to Me
The Armed – ULTRAPOP
Dave – We’re All Alone in This Together
Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Hand Habits – Fun House
Home Is Where – I Became Birds
Iceage – Seek Shelter
Lost Girls – Menneskekollektivet
Rosie Lowe & Duval Timothy – Son
SPELLLING – The Turning Wheel

The Top 100 Songs of 2021

If you listen to enough new music in any given year, it becomes exceptionally difficult to pick your favorites once December arrives. Much of it blends together into one beautiful blur, and there’s so much to remember that sometimes you end up forgetting tracks that are truly great. Then on occasion you’ll also discover a song on somebody else’s year-end “best of” list and want to include it on your own, but it’ll either be too late to add it or you’ll be unsure of how much weight to give it because there’s no real way to tell if it hold up against something else you’ve loved for the past six months. So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that any “Best Songs of 2021” list, no matter how long or short, is imperfect. We’re all just doing the best we can with our personal tastes and fractured memories. The list below could have easily extended to more than 250 songs. It would have been many hours long and vast to the point where you’d get lost after a while and just give up on trying to listen to everything. Narrowing all of 2021 down to 100 songs may not fully encapsulate all of the music that made this year great, but at the very least it gives a nice snapshot of some amazing tracks you can enjoy and revisit whenever the mood should strike you. The best of the best. All killer, no filler. Just a whole lot of bangers, even when they’re ballads and sad folk songs. Before we begin, let me quickly run through the “rules” behind the creation of this list. First, no artist may be included on the list more than once. This is in an effort to showcase a more diverse collection of artists instead of having, say, three songs from the latest Japanese Breakfast album taking up slots that could have gone to others. Second, all songs on this list must have been released on a 2021 album/EP or as a standalone single. That’s why you won’t see any Mitski, Spoon, Charli XCX, Amber Mark, Beach House, or Big Thief on this list, even though they’ve already put out tracks from full length LPs due in 2022. Don’t worry, given their past histories I can almost guarantee they’ll end up on next year’s “best of”. And that’s it! Not sure what else I can say about this collection of songs other than I sincerely hope you enjoy them. Some may trigger fond memories, and others may introduce you to something incredible and inspiring that you’ve never heard before. It’s all pretty fantastic. One of the broader themes from my favorite tracks this year is that of healing and recovery. We’ve all been forced to face so many challenges these last few years, and it’s often felt overwhelming and detrimental to our overall health and well-being. Portions of 2021 managed to restore some semblances of normalcy, and that (often temporary) reprieve from suffering gave just enough leeway to allow some light back into our lives. So please feel free to use this list as you try to put your heart back together. Close your eyes, I’ll count to 100. Take a deep breath. Count with me. Let’s begin.

The Top 50 Albums of 2020


I love albums. In my mind, they are the perfect way to digest music. Sure, a great song can change the world, but a great album requires artists to do the same thing over several songs in a row. It’s a high wire balancing act; choosing the right collection of songs and ordering them in just the right way to achieve a desired response from the listener. Not only do albums require careful focus from the artists, but in a similar fashion to a movie, the audience has to give it their full and undivided attention for an extended period of time to grasp messaging, subtext, and intent from the notes and lyrics. If you lose focus or find it unpalatable the whole experience can be ruined. Albums become classics when they transcend the acceptable and inspire a rapturous response from start to finish. In 2020, we needed great albums more than ever.

As the world consistently teetered on the edge of peril, we leaned on music like a crutch to stay upright and sane. Confined to our houses with nowhere to go, albums made those never-ending days seem just a little bit shorter and the voices offered comfort and company when it got too lonely. As people took to the streets to protest injustice and support important causes, albums relevant to these times got us fired up to push for change. While the bright moments this year came few and far between, some records provided joy for our celebrations. It could easily have been a terrible year for music as a whole, particularly since live music and touring has been nonexistent for most of it. Musicians could have curled up on the couch with the rest of us and stayed there for nine months without ever producing a single note. That would have been completely understandable! Yet so many chose to flex their creative muscles either pre-pandemic or right in the middle of it, and the results were nothing short of astounding.

We are so incredibly lucky to have more quality music in our lives than we could ever hope to listen to. This year’s Top 50 Albums list fully reflects that, along with the additional 10 honorable mentions because it was tough to stop. I’m thrilled to share it with you, because while we might not agree on everything, my hope is that you’re inspired to continue seeking out new music whether it’s mentioned here or not. While not every album can be as great as the ones listed below, each one does set out to inspire us in one way or another, even if it means helping us figure out what we don’t like. The kindest sentiment I can offer about 2020 is that maybe someday we’ll be able to look back and say it was a shit year for just about everything except for music. The fact that we got so many wonderful records amounts to a small miracle, so let’s treat it as such. Here are the 50 albums (+10 more) that kept me sane throughout one of the most insane periods of our lives to date.

The Top 100 Songs of 2020

Selecting and ranking 100 songs as the “Best of” any given year is a fool’s errand. There’s simply too much music to choose from and the notion that any of these lists can truly encapsulate what it was like to listen to music in 2020 inevitably leaves some important things out or places too much importance on certain artists or genres. In the end it’s all subjective anyway, and what captures one person’s imagination might leave another in the cold. Plus, with so much music available there’s no way you can listen to everything. I know I’ve discovered plenty of songs and artists weeks, months, or years later, only to wish I had known about them sooner so they could’ve been included in a year-end roundup. It’s the way life goes sometimes. But that’s also the benefit of any list like this! For anyone to tell you these are songs that meant something to them in 2020 automatically elevates those tracks above your standard fare. If you’re looking to put your music listening in focus, a list like this can help to some degree.

Honestly, outside of the top 30 or so, the order of the songs in this list are somewhat arbitrary. They were ranked in large part by gut feeling, which is to say that I weighed each one and placed it into the spot that seemed most accurate. This actually could have been twice as long, given how many cuts were made to keep this whole thing manageable. It makes me think the best approach and listening experience would be to use the “shuffle” function on this Spotify playlist quite liberally. Alternatively, if you’re anti-Spotify, I’d encourage you to click around and listen to these songs in a very random way. Give each one at least 30 seconds of your time to get an idea of what it sounds like. That should be enough to determine if you’re interested in hearing more. Maybe next year I’ll get rid of the ranking system altogether. The top 100 songs should be good enough without needing to tell you if one is “better” than another.

The overall criteria for qualification on this list was pretty simple: each song must have been released as a standalone single or as part of an EP or album from 2020. No artist was allowed to appear more than once, though exceptions were made for featured guests (looking at you, Megan Thee Stallion & Ariana Grande). That opened things up a bit to enable more artists to be included and represented on this list. Some Chicago favorites too! And not to spoil any surprises, but you might not find some of these names on other “Best of” lineups so it’s just great to show them some (deserved) love. There’s so much fun and catchy stuff I can’t wait for you to discover, so take your time and please enjoy!

Halfway There: 75 Songs From 2019


It’s easy to get the impression that 2019 has been a relatively quiet year for music so far. There haven’t been quite as many high profile album releases, and few things have really captured the cultural zeitgeist beyond Lil Nas X and perhaps Billie Eilish. We’re in a pretty weird place, right? If you were to ask me point blank what five of my favorite albums were this year, it’d take me a few minutes to come up with a clear answer. I haven’t been listening to less music overall, there’s just less things managing to grab and hold my attention. Or so I thought.

In reflecting on the first half of the year, I wanted to assemble and share a playlist of about 50 songs that I genuinely enjoyed and/or frequently returned to over these last six months. The rules for the list were simple: only one song per artist, either released as a standalone single or as part of a 2019 LP/EP. The goal was to spread the love around, but I had to reach 50 songs first. It was tougher than I expected, until it wasn’t. What started out at barely 50 songs quickly ballooned to nearly twice that amount after taking a closer look at some release lists. A 100 song playlist would have been too much, but 50 ultimately felt like too little.

So here’s the final compromise: 75 great songs from the first half of 2019. They’re arranged in alphabetical order by artist, because official rankings are best saved for a year-end wrap-up. Please enjoy this five hours of music! Play it at your BBQ or just in your car while driving around on a hot day. I hope you discover some tracks and artists you missed earlier this year, or rediscover some fun songs you may have forgotten about over the last few months. Listen through the Spotify embed below, or follow this link. You can also listen to every song (minus Julien Baker & Thom Yorke) on the playlist individually via YouTube by clicking on the title.

The Top 50 Albums of 2018

Time to close out 2018 on a high note. While it’s been a pretty rough year overall for a number of different reasons, I’d like to think this was one of the better years in recent memory for quality music. There’s been a really rich array of artists coming into their own by exploring new ideas and sonic territories, while some of the “old guard” either took a break or released material that might best be regarded as sub par. It’s been a thrill watching brilliant songwriters like Mitski and Janelle Monae hit new career highs in terms of acclaim and popularity, while Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, Cardi B, and Kali Uchis all came out with strong debut albums that fulfilled their early promise. If you didn’t find a whole lot of new music to love this year, you weren’t looking hard enough. Maybe this list of Top 50 Albums can help! My sincerest hope is that you discover at least one new artist or record below that you hadn’t heard of or listened to before today, but even if you don’t, feel free to hand write me letters about how wrong these rankings are and all the great albums I somehow “missed” this year. Seriously though, I do love your feedback, so feel free to comment, email, or use the old social media to get in touch and share your thoughts! Oh, and before I forget, here’s some other year-end list things you might want to check out:

Honorable Mention: Albums and Songs
The Top 50 Songs of 2018
The Top 10 EPs of 2018

Drumroll please…
Faronheit’s Top 50 Albums of 2018 are:

The Top 50 Songs of 2018

There were a lot of really great songs released in 2018. Actually, there are a lot of great songs released in any given year, and definitely more than a list of 50 can fully contain. But I’ve got to try anyway. The 50 songs in the list below feel like a relatively comprehensive chronicle of what it was like living through 2018, though I suppose if it were truly accurate there’d be a lot more depressing shit that’d turn most people off. Overall I’d say this is a strong balance of mood, tempo, style, and genre I sincerely hope will leave you feeling satisfied. The most fascinating thing to me about this year’s list is that the top two songs are not currently part of any full-length album. As for the unofficial “rules” behind the selections for the Top 50 Songs, there are only two: the song must have been officially released by an artist or band in 2018, and no artist is allowed to be featured more than once (for diversity’s sake). While there are audio streams and in some cases videos to accompany each song (apologies for the couple of live videos, as album versions were unavailable), you can also stream the entire list (minus one song) via the Spotify embed at the bottom of this post, or by going to this link. Please enjoy these Top 50 Songs of 2018, and feel free to share your favorites in the comments or let me know on social media (@faronheit).

The Ten Best EPs of 2018


In today’s culture of increasingly fractured attention spans, a fair number of people either can’t or won’t devote the time to listen to an entire album from start to finish. As somebody that places a very high value on spending quality time with artists and taking longer musical journeys with them, the recent focus on single songs leaves me just a little bit frustrated. But sitting in that neat little pocket between a single song and an album is the EP, A short (but not too short) statement from an artist just hoping to make an impact early or bide some time until they can do something more expansive, the EP has its merits and flourishes when you’re short on time or attention or both. 2018 saw the rise of some very promising new artists, the debut effort from a supergroup, and some established names trying out some new things – all via the medium of the EP. Here are ten of my absolute favorites, which I hope will lead to some new discoveries that expand your musical palate and strike at your emotional core.

The 50 Best Albums of 2017


Overall, 2017 was a pretty fascinating year for music. If last year was a massive dogpile of great artists releasing great albums (Chance, Beyonce, Solange, ATCQ, Radiohead, Bowie, etc.), this year was more about promising young upstarts working hard to prove their initial success wasn’t simply a fluke. In a very different way, 2017 also saw the return of the “elder statesmen” of indie, in which well-established names like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and LCD Soundsystem returned with new albums after being absent for a few years. Exciting as it was to hear fresh material from the likes of The Shins and Broken Social Scene, many of these returns resulted in a slight decay in quality, which may very well have been a sign of the times. It’s difficult to say where Arcade Fire and The National fit into today’s musical landscape, other than the fact that as long-time favorites they’ve earned plenty of trust and leeway when it comes to these matters. Some of these artists have attempted to continue evolving after a decade of trying the same thing and were met with shrugs by fans, while others have been more content to remain in their own lane and hope that fans continue to follow along.

On the other side of the coin, it often felt like fewer new artists managed to make a major impact this past year. Standouts like Priests and Charly Bliss aside, the ability to discover and cultivate fresh talent failed to impact as potently in 2017 as it has in other recent years. That left things largely up to the in-betweeners. Julien Baker, Jay Som, Big Thief, Torres, and others are known but not yet popular enough to earn things like regular radio airplay, yet their records remain deeply impactful and wholly original. Turns out that’s the sweet spot for this year. It remains exciting to hear a collection of artists figure themselves out, and connect with listeners in an interesting and genuine fashion.

Below you’ll find my Top 50 Albums of 2017. While many near the top of the list fall in line with a generally established consensus from plenty of other publications, there are still quite a few personal touches that hopefully help this list stand apart from the rest. I strongly encourage you to seek out any of the records listed if you haven’t heard them yet. All of them are worth your time and effort, though some are more challenging and impenetrable than others. So while you might not fully “get” some of these on a first, second, or third listen, the effort you put into many of them is worth the deeper rewards contained within their folds.

The 50 Best Songs of 2017


The burden of choosing only 50 songs to help define the year in music feels wrong and just a bit insane. After all, there are literally tens of thousands of tracks to choose from, and the ability to discern the difference in quality among them can often seem akin to a parent being forced to choose a favorite child. So my decision process when assembling this list was challenging to say the least. It did leave me with enough regret to compose an additional “Honorable Mention” list, which you can check out right here if you’re so inclined.

Before we get started, I wanted to briefly explain a couple of rules I implemented when making selections for these top 50 Songs. First and foremost, no artist may be featured more than once on the list. That rule doesn’t apply to guest spots or features. It’s how *spoiler alert* Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington managed to make it onto this list twice. Secondly, every song on the list must have been officially released in 2017 as part of an album, soundtrack, or single. In other words, you won’t find any leftover songs from 2016 here, nor will you find any pre-release singles for early 2018 records. There are a few tracks on this list from artists that didn’t release an album or EP in 2017, but still delivered one-off singles. Those songs may wind up on yet-to-be-announced records for 2018, and if that’s the case they will automatically be disqualified from “Best of” consideration for next year.

As for the songs featured in this post, I’m fully convinced and committed to proclaiming they’re the cream of the crop. They’ve managed to provide a guiding light for me over the course of this dark year, while also pushing back against the status quo. Their ability to excite, innovate, and comfort is unparalleled. If you don’t understand what they’re trying to do on the first listen, give them another shot, because a few of these are real growers. It is my sincerest hope that this list manages to bring back some fond memories of shows or albums you heard earlier this year and loved, or provides inspiration and discovery of artists and songs you might not have heard of before now. So please absorb these tracks into your life and let them work their magic. Click the play button on each one to hear a stream, or just scroll to the very bottom of this list for a Spotify playlist featuring every track except for one. See if you can figure out which for the 50 that is! Join me after the jump, as we take a closer look at the 50 Best Songs of 2017.

The Best Songs of 2017: Honorable Mention


Of the thousands of songs I heard this past year, narrowing a list down to my favorite 50 was exceptionally tough. There was plenty of heartbreak and disappointment upon the realization that some great songs were being left off of that final list. So in the spirit of giving attention to even more great music, please take these extra 25 tracks and give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them already. They’re listed in alphabetical order so as to not prioritize any one over another. The only rules are that the tracks must have been part of a 2017 album, soundtrack, or single release. While you can click on the play button below any song title to hear it streaming (via YouTube), there’s also a Spotify playlist embedded at the very bottom of this post should you prefer to listen that way. Cool? Cool. And make sure to keep an eye out for my Top 50 Songs of 2017, which will immediately follow this post.

The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

The Ten Best EPs of 2017


The Extended Play is a tricky beast. For many artists, it serves as an introduction – a means of dipping one’s toes into the water with a small parcel of songs and seeing what the initial reaction is. It stands to reason that if you amass lots of positive attention from fans and critics, that you’re on the right path and can safely wade into the deeper waters of a full length album. For more established artists, EPs can function as a bit of a dumping ground. Sometimes when recording an album, there are some good songs that simply don’t fit the aesthetic you were trying to cultivate, so those odds and sods wind up collected in an EP. It’s also a good stopgap measure, to keep fans engaged during the wait between full length efforts. And finally, it’s important to remember that creativity can be finite. You may head down a particular path with certain songs and themes before reaching to the conclusion after completing five or six songs that there’s nothing more you want to say or explore on the matter.

The ten artists featured on this Top EPs of 2017 list come from a variety of backgrounds and places in their careers. Most are new artists on the verge of breaking out, but there are a couple of established names in the mix too, who thankfully chose to approach their short releases with the same care as their long players. The great news is that there’s plenty to discover. Unless you’re neck deep in the hunt for quality new music, chances are you’ll see a name or two (or three) that you’ve never heard of before. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to hit play on some of the embedded tracks/videos tied to each EP on this list and get a taste of something great you might have otherwise missed. So without further ado, here are my choices for the Ten Best EPs of 2017!

The Class of 2015: 10 Artists to Watch

classof2015
It seems like I say this every year, but there’s absolutely no way that the Class of 2015 will be able to top the Class of 2014 in terms of overall success. If you’re looking at statistics and equations, it’s pretty much a mathematical impossibility. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to select artists for this year’s class who will probably not catapult to the top of the charts and get nominated for copious amounts of Grammys. It’s never been a popularity contest, even if some of the artists have become massively popular anyways. The goal of the “Class of…” project is to shine a light onto bands and musicians who are deserving and likely to receive strong raises in their profiles over the course of any given calendar year. The expectation is that they have the talent and promise to do great things, of course whether or not they actually accomplish them is another matter entirely, as a few have turned out to be duds or late bloomers. Either way, all of the 10 artists named are kept under careful watch by yours truly, and you’ll be able to find out about their latest and greatest happenings for the next 12 months right here on the site with periodic updates as to their progress.

I’m tremendously excited to reveal the Class of 2015 below. While the goal is to offer up a diverse array of talents across many different genres, I couldn’t help but notice a small theme with a majority of this year’s class. Should projections prove true, 2015 will be a big year for 70’s style folk singer-songwriters. If David Bowie’s glam rock era helped define 2014’s main sound, the intimate and personal songs of Nick Drake and Harry Nilsson may be where we’re headed next. I mean, if Sufjan Stevens can pop his head up from wherever he’s been hiding to announce a new album that’s a “return to his folk roots,” then like the groundhog it must be a signal of things to come. Rest assured though that everything below is not exclusively for bedroom headphone listening. So without further ado, let’s jump right in and meet the Class of 2015!

Class of 2014: A Look Back


It seems like with each new year, the “Class of…” project gets stronger. That’s pretty much by design, though when I first introduced the Class of 2014 I wasn’t so confident it was going to work out. The Class of 2013 had set the bar almost impossibly high, what with now household names like Haim, Chvrches, Little Green Cars and Savages all part of that universe. Yet this past year’s group of 10 artists not only managed to hold their own, but one in particular rode the train to stardom and the third biggest selling record of 2014. And to think that when I made the introduction last Januaryu nobody had any idea who this artist was, to the point where a show was booked for a tiny 350 capacity venue and it took awhile to sell out. I’ll tell you all about that, and recap how the other nine artists in the Class of 2014 did after the jump!

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