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”

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Spell Songs, Full Bush, Eva Gardner, Mary Wilson and a Bonus Book

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Spell Songs II: Let the Light In (Quercus Records), the second album by the Spell Songs ensemble, is a magical release. The performers first came together to create a musical accompaniment to the book The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris; the new album is inspired by their subsequent book, The Lost Spells. The books celebrate the wonder of nature, and the performers are drawn from the cream of the British-based folk scene.

In “Bramble,” Karine Polwart’s cool, precise vocal depicts a city slowly becoming engulfed by “thorn arches;” in “Moth,” her recitation of moth names becomes a kind of poetry (she describes the lyric as “a moth mantra for banishing fear, and conjuring delight”). The light-hearted harmonies on “Daisy” take you back to childhood days of making flower chains. The haunting “St. Kilda Wren,” sung by Julie Fowlis in the original Gaelic, is a poignant yearning for the return of the bird to the Scottish archipelago. The song titles reveal the simplicity of the subjects: “Barn Owl,” “Silver Birch,” “Oak.” The performers (also including musicians Kris Drever and Jim Molyneux, cellist Beth Porter, harpist Rachel Newton, and Senegal-born multi-instrumentalist Seckou Keita) create sublime music to reveal the beauty within.

Philadelphia foursome Full Bush return with the EP Movie Night (Brutal Panda Records). They’re the kind of post punk that’s reminiscent of Throwing Muses—raucous enough to have an edge, but with decided pop underpinnings that draw you in. Which means that while the opening track “Spooky” might start off in a quiet, even eerie fashion, the melodic hooks are so strong that by the time the raging chorus kicks in, you’re more than ready to go along for the ride.

The EP’s five tracks are something of a study in contrasts. An especially nice juxtaposition comes when the murmuring end of “Sweet and Low” — “Tell me how to love you, tell me what to say” — is abruptly followed by the snarling opening line of the next song, the EP’s title track: “You don’t understand shit!” There’s some wonderful lyrical imagery, such as the line “I’m not drunk, I’m just speaking in cursive,” from “Wild Heart.” They finally let loose on the final song, “One Second,” a coolly contemplative number that builds to an explosive finish. More, please!

Eva Gardner began her career in Mars Volta, and went on to play bass with the likes of Veruca Salt, Moby, Cher, and Pink. But the multi-instrumentalist steps out on her on her second EP, Darkmatter (self-released). “Is Love Enough” muses about the vagaries of romance against the backdrop of jangling guitars. Conversely, “California Bliss” is keyboard-based, an ode to escapism (“I want to stay here/away from the trouble”), with the kind of laid-back beat that conjures up visions of waves gently lapping at the shore.

Pop hooks abound; the playful “London Nights” has the lush sound of Dream Police-era Cheap Trick. There’s also an upbeat breeziness to the songs, even those expressing some trepidation about love (“Anywhere But Here”). The dreamy harmonies of “High Moon” lead into the tougher rhythms (and more jangling guitars) of “Let’s Call It a Day,” a call to lay down one’s metaphorical arms, bringing things to a conclusion on a conciliatory note.

The Supremes were one of the most successful all-female vocal groups of all time, and Mary Wilson was the only member who was there for the entire run, from the days of pre-Supremes group the Primettes in the late 1950s to the final days of the Supremes in 1977. Mary Wilson: The Motown Anthology (Real Gone Music/Second Disc Records) is the first set highlighting her work, right up to the present day.

The first track goes back to the Primettes era with “Pretty Baby,” the B-side of the group’s first single, “Tears of Sorrow,” released in 1960. “Pretty Baby,” which features Wilson’s lead vocal, is very much in the style of other “girl group” records of the period (the Chantels, the Shirelles). There are four previously unreleased Supremes songs featuring Wilson on lead, the best of which is her spirited take on “Son of a Preacher Man.” Other unreleased gems include two previously unreleased songs from the penultimate concert of the Diana Ross-Mary Wilson-Cindy Birdsong Supremes lineup in Las Vegas on January 13, 1970, sublimely smooth versions of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Falling in Love.”

The two-disc set also features her underappreciated 1979 Mary Wilson album, making its debut on CD. You’ll also find what sadly turned out to be her last single, the reflective “Why Can’t We All Get Along,” released this past March, a month after her sudden death on February 8, 2021. This well-annotated set will likely stand as the definitive package of Mary Wilson’s musical accomplishments.

Looking for a way to educate younger listeners about the music of Black female artists? Take a look at She Raised Her Voice: 50 Black Women Who Sang Their Way Into History (Running Press Kids) written by music journalist Jordannah Elizabeth and illustrated by Briana Dengoue. It’s a fun, lively series of portraits of singers and musicians from Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, Leontyne Price to Poly Styrene, Tina Turner to Angélique Kidjo. It’ll surely inspire you to revisit the music of your old favorites, and seek out the tunes of the artists you’re not as familiar with; a great way to spend the holidays.