AF 2021 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

If you went into 2021 with high expectations, you weren’t alone. Even if it was hard to feel optimistic this time last year, it certainly seemed as if things could get no worse. Live music did return, after all – though with the appearance of Delta, and now Omicron, the joyful noise comes with a caveat. After sixteen months of having to livestream shows (fun, but not the same) little could stop me from attending shows in person; wearing a mask as an extra precaution felt like no big deal, even if no one else was doing it. But luck (and vaccines) feel like the real reason I emerged unscathed from dozens of risky experiences, and with performances on the horizon canceled once again, maybe it’s wise to enter 2022 with slightly lower expectations.

There’s always recorded music, anyhow. Maybe the tumult of the year just has me personally feeling a bit unfocused, but it seems as though I barely scaled the mountain of this year’s musical offerings without getting a bit buried in the avalanche of releases – ones that had been pushed back, ones that were created in lockdown. I’ll be playing catch up well into the new year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems I connected with almost immediately, and very deeply. And that’s what I’ve heard across the board, from those in the industry as well as casual music fans – is that our favorites this year stayed on heavy rotation, as we latched onto music that accurately reflected our moods, which evolved moment to moment and of course happened to be different for all of us at any given time. What does that mean for year-end lists? Audiofemme has always compiled an eclectic list, including favorites from each of our contributors without overall rank – consider any repeats to be the best of the best. But this year, the list seems even more diverse, meaning there’s a wealth of weird and wonderful music below to discover, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with us through another wild year.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
      3) Low – Hey What
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
      6) Dawn Richard – Second Line: An Electro Revival
      7) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      8) aya – im hole
      9) Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses
      10) Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
      2) Loraine James (feat. Eden Samara) – “Running Like That”
      3) Hand Habits – “More Than Love”
      4) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      5) Julien Baker – “Faith Healer (Half Waif Remix)”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Low – Hey What
      2) Tirzah – Colourgrade
      3) Nana Yamato – Before Sunrise
      4) Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
      5) Jane Weaver – Flock
      6) Tonstartssbandht – Petunia
      7) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      8) Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
      9) Veik – Surrounding Structures
      10) Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      2) Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
      3) Squid – “G.S.K.”
      4) Julien Baker – “Bloodshot”
      5) Mandy, Indiana – “Bottle Episode”
      6) Remember Sports – “Pinky Ring”
      7) Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
      8) Gustaf – “Mine”
      9) June Jones – “Therapy”
      10) MAN ON MAN – “Stohner”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)
    • Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
      Spellling – The Turning Wheel
      King Woman – Celestial Blues
      Macy Rodman – Unbelievable Animals
      Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds
      Kinlaw – The Tipping Scale
    • Top 3 Singles (in no particular order):
      Often – “Deep Sleep”
      Mannequin Pussy – “Control”
      Spice – “A Better Treatment”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Wye Oak – Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
      2) Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
      3) Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
      4) Fawn Wood – Kåkike
      5) Carmen Q. Rothwell – Don’t Get Comfy / Nowhere
    • Honorable Mention: Mike Gebhart – Co-Pilot 
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Doja Cat (feat. SZA) – “Kiss Me More”
      2) Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
      3) DoNormaal – “Baby May”

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deap Vally – Marriage
      2) Mod Con – Modern Condition
      3) Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson
      4) Joan As Police Woman – The Solution is Restless
      5) Black Country, New Road – For the first time
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Black Country, New Road – “Sunglasses”
      2) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      3) jennylee – “Tickles”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Hackedepicciotto — The Silver Threshold
      2) Saint Etienne — I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
      3) L’impératrice — Take Tsubo
      4) Pearl and the Oysters— Flowerland
      5) Nuovo Testamento — New Earth
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Midnight Magic – “Beam Me Up” 
      2) Jessie Ware – “Please”
      3) Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time (Kerri Chandler Remix)”  

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dolphin Midwives — Body of Water
      2) Sarah McQuaid — The St. Buryan Sessions
      3) Low — Hey What 
      4) Witch Camp — I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be 
      5) Full Bush — Movie Night
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Maggie Herron — “Sweet Lullaby”
      2) Sleater-Kinney — “High in the Grass”
      3) ONETWOTHREE — “Give Paw” 

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jetty Bones – Push Back
      2) M.A.G.S. – Say Things That Matter
      3) Lyndsay Ellyn – Queen of Nothing
      4) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      5) Christian Lopez – The Other Side
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Hayes Carll – “Help Me Remember”
      2) Jake Wesley Rogers – “Middle of Love”
      3) Adele – “To Be Loved”
      4) Carly Pearce – “What He Didn’t Do”
      5) Kacey Musgraves – “what doesn’t kill me”

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O​.​K.
      2) Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
      3) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      4) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
      5) Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Blonder – “Ice Cream Girl” 
      2) Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker”
      3) Kristiane – “Better On Your Own”  

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Polo G – Hall of Fame
      2) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Sessions
      5) blackbear – misery lake
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – “Thanksgiving”
      2) Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)  – “INDUSTRY BABY”
      3) 24kGoldn (feat. Future) – “Company”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      2) Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies 
      3) Lil Nas X – Montero
      4) Darkside – Spiral
      5) Blu DeTiger – How Did We Get Here EP
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kaytranada (feat. H.E.R.) – “Intimidated”
      2) Kacey Musgraves – “simple times”
      3) Snoh Aalegra – “In Your Eyes”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun
      2) Julia Wolf – Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko
      5) Destroy Boys – Open Mouth, Open Heart
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) daine – “dainecore”
      2) Julia Wolf – “Villain”
      3) Doja Cat – “Need To Know”

  • Sam Weisenthal (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      2) Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
      3) Mega Bog – Life, and Another
      4) Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
      5) Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charlotte Cornfield – “Drunk For You” 
      2) Dora Jar – “Multiply”
      3) Joe Taylor Sutkowski, Dirt Buyer – “What Luck, Goodbye”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Summer Walker – Still Over It
      3) Erika de Casier – Sensational
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Adele – 30
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      2) Liv.e – “Bout It”
      3) SZA – “I Hate U”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      2) CL – ALPHA
      3) My Life As Ali Thomas – Peppermint Town
      4) Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
      5) Remember Sports – Like a Stone
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) FKA twigs (feat. Central Cee) – “Measure of a Man”
      2) Sabriel – “Pulse”
      3) Lexie Liu – “有吗炒面 ALGTR”

Cassandra Jenkins Grapples With Tragedy and Change with An Overview On Phenomenal Nature

Photo Credit: Wyndham Boylan-Garnett

There’s no better time to have been gifted with the elegance of An Overview of Phenomenal Nature – the sophomore album from NYC-based musician and artist Cassandra Jenkins – than the current skewed reality the world has been thrown into. Wrapped up in the midst of a pandemic and released last week via Ba Da Bing Records, the album candidly addresses the reality of unanticipated life changes and how to come to grips with their rather uninvited side-effects. Though that notion seems all too familiar to the lost and weary humans of today, the parallel occurred almost accidentally. Taking her listeners on a journey intertwined with poetic and metaphorical rhetoric, Jenkins offers solace where it’s most needed.

Jolted by upheaval in her own life, Jenkins had no other intentions in terms of making an album but to pick up her guitar and write, building a strong lyrical foundation resonant with an ambient folk approach. She wrote lyrics spontaneously, whenever and wherever she felt the calling – even on the subway en route to the studio. “The record is from a very windowed period of my life. I didn’t walk into it with a concept of ‘this is what it’s going to mean,’” she describes. “I walked into it with a set of lyrics and experiences from a very particular point in my life. I just decided I was going to show up, and it was going to be like ‘come as you are.’”

The most shattering event propelling Jenkins to turn to her music was the death of David Berman in August 2019, just weeks before she was set to tour with his Purple Mountains project. “I had a really hard time relating to my older material, and it felt almost impossible to get on stage and sing those songs,” she says. “I basically wrote 25 minutes of music [in two weeks]. It was out of necessity. That happened to be the form of expression it took.”

Jenkins had to cancel a planned trip to Norway to tour with Berman, and in the wake of her grief, she rescheduled it. She translated that experience into “Ambiguous Norway,” perhaps the most heart-wrenching tribute to Berman on the record, though the journey was formative to her writing process in other ways, as well. “I thought a lot about my travels in Norway. It can be very uncomfortable to be completely thrown into a new environment, place or culture,” she says. “The act of throwing yourself into an unknown territory requires you to put down all of your assumptions about the world and about the way that you fit into it. It’s one of the most psychedelic experiences you can have without a substance.”

On her return to NYC, the “afterglow” of this experience brought on a new kind of curiosity as she was “hit really deeply” through every human interaction and conversation she encountered; then, the pandemic threw her into isolation before she’d had time to fully reflect on the beauty and tragedy of the previous year, and songwriting took on yet another cathartic function. “I think it was the first time that I outwardly addressed my anxiety. I don’t even think I was intentionally doing that, but now that I’m here and COVID is happening, anxiety has been a really serious problem for me,” she says. “It’s about going through changes and suddenly going through more changes before I even had time to process the first one.”

Jenkins resorted to the desolate, ghostly pathways of Central Park, finding comfort in the tranquility and in the art of walking solo. Inspired by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, who provides immersive experiences through recorded video and audio walks, Cassandra transformed the physical activity of walking into a means of creative expression. Alas, a song entitled “The Ramble” was born. “I wanted to provide that sanctuary for the record, to give the record that place,” Jenkins explains. “I’m actually going to take you on a walk with me and hopefully give people a place to rest their minds on that.”

Tracks like “Hard Drive” have a similarly immersive, intimate approach. Through Jenkins’ lens, we encounter a cast of characters portrayed with a mix of spoken-word vignettes, lyrical phrases and jazzy ambient tones: a security guard, a bookkeeper, a psychic. Each character’s story unfolds, one after the other, though Jenkins’ dialogue with them, ultimately revealing striking observations on humanity. “I found these connections and meaning between all of them that made a lot of sense, and through the filter of my lens, they became a set of tarot cards,” Jenkins says. “When you look at them side by side, they start to have meaning.”

Turning to her own perspective, Jenkins gives a diaristic account on what it means to be human on album opener “Michelangelo.” She revisits past trauma in order to make sense of life’s by-products: that moment of processing current trauma, falling into abeyance, attempting to understand the cards that have been dealt while moving forward simultaneously. Here, Jenkins investigates “the human tendency to dwell on the things we’ve lost,” illustrated with a powerful metaphor: “I’m a three-legged dog, working with what I’ve got/And part of me will always be/Looking for what I’ve lost.” The track arrives at no grand finale, but instead oscillates with the distorted strumming of a wild guitar solo in lieu of a chorus – quite fitting for a song heavily meshed with themes of trauma and loss.  

Providing an intimate account of her own reflections, Jenkins wants listeners to witness “someone being okay with not being okay” for themselves. Through her eloquent formulation, ethereal vocals, and gnarly guitar riffs, she hints that unexpected change is unfortunately out of our control. “I think we all have the opportunity to go through these changes, but sometimes it’s forced on us, sadly, by tragedy. It can be any number of things that can knock us off of our feet,” she warns.

But perhaps more importantly, Jenkins hopes the album can provide others with a blueprint for productive, healthy coping mechanisms. “I hope that I can also emphasize prioritizing mental health as much as we prioritize other aspects of our health,” she says. “I want [listeners] to find a sense of peace within themselves just knowing that we’re all in moments of great transition, all the time.”

Follow Cassandra Jenkins on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.