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”

hackedepicciotto Renders Tumultuous Pandemic Year on The Silver Threshold

Photo Credit: Sven Marquardt

If there’s one song that truly encapsulates the frustration of life right now, it’s “Babel,” from hackedepicciotto’s latest album, The Silver Threshold. Over music that rises and falls with cinematic tension, Danielle de Picciotto tells the story of the Tower of Babel, of the construction of a building intended to reach heaven, of a God who splits their one language into many and of a people divided when they can no longer communicate. 

“All of our songs always deal a lot with our situation and the situation that we feel confronted with, in general, around us,” says de Picciotto, who is joined by Alexander Hacke, on a video call from the duo’s studio in Berlin. Since The Silver Threshold came together in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of global upheavals that happened in 2020, that certainly played a part in the album’s evolution. 

“When we were writing it, I had the feeling for quite some time that people don’t seem to understand each other anymore,” de Picciotto explains. “As the pandemic progressed, that feeling got stronger and stronger. You had the feeling that you were talking to friends that you had known for your whole life and they just didn’t understand you anymore and you didn’t understand them.”

That situation reminded de Picciotto of the Tower of Babel story told in the book of Genesis (though there are parallels to the story throughout a variety of cultures). “I wasn’t raised religiously, but there were a couple of Bible stories that I always thought were interesting,” she says. “I very often have the feeling that we’re actually experiencing that which, in the Bible, was mentioned being in the very beginning.” She points out this is intended to be a contemporary commentary reflective of current global situations, asking the rhetorical question: “Do we realize that somehow, for some reason, we are in this state where we do not understand each other anymore?”

“That doesn’t mean enemies or people from different countries, but even your best friend,” she adds. “There’s something wrong in our communication and we have to figure that out again.”

When the pandemic hit, hackedepicciotto, as de Picciotto says, considered themselves “touring nomads,” though the couple had long been associated with Berlin. De Picciotto is a U.S. born multi-disciplinary artist who moved to Berlin in 1987 and co-founded the city’s infamous Love Parade. She’s also released a number of solo and collaborative albums, written multiple books, made several films and has had her art shown in galleries and museums in Europe and North America. Hacke was born in Berlin and was just a teenager when he joined Einstürzende Neubauten, who would go on to become legendary force in underground and experimental music. He’s also played with Crime and the City Solution and composed a number of film scores. 

The two have been collaborating on music together for 20 years now and, about a decade ago, they gave up their home and hit the road, mastering the ins-and-outs of checking gear onto planes as they played in various parts of the world. Their last album, The Current, was released in early 2020 and they had just begun a tour in support of that when the pandemic hit. Hacke recalls that he had planned to cancel the lease on their recording studio for that year, but had missed the deadline. It was “a very lucky coincidence,” he says. “Otherwise, if we hadn’t had that, we would have no place to hang out and work.” 

Their final pre-COVID gig was in Frankfurt. Back in Berlin, they caught up on sleep. “We weren’t jet-lagged for the first time in years,” jokes de Picciotto. They also gave virtual performances a chance, although it wasn’t really their thing. “We missed the interaction with the audience, so we didn’t go on doing that as long as we planned,” she says. 

“It is very different performing for an iPhone and a tripod than for people,” adds Hacke. 

Meanwhile, de Picciotto wrote another book and Hacke worked on film music. “We don’t participate in the Berlin nightlife as much as we used to anyway. We don’t go out drinking or anything like that, so we did not miss that,” says Hacke. “It was really a time to immerse yourself into things that you were only talking about doing in previous years.”

In the late summer of 2020, they started writing new material as hackedepicciotto. They also earned a grant to fund their work and were signed to Mute. “The stars were aligned in a good way,” says de Picciotto. 

Before they began recording at the end of 2020, they posed for a photo shoot with Sven Marquardt, an old friend of de Picciotto who is also well-known as the doorman at Berghain. “I always wanted him to take photos for our album, because I’ve done other shoots for him, but not of music,” says de Picciotto. While they don’t normally take press photos before recording the album, they did this time because of concerns of another lockdown. 

“It really influenced us,” says de Picciotto of the film shoot, which became the basis of the music video for “Kirchhain.” “He works with analog cameras and only works with daylight. In that way, his pictures have this incredible aura and that really helped us with our music.”

“Also, he projects this authority,” adds Hacke. “You cannot bullshit him. He looks straight through you and that’s what makes the pictures great, because you have to be yourself.”

Photo Credit: Sven Marquardt

The Silver Threshold is designed so that each song goes up a key in the scale, beginning with D. The music is as reflective of the tempestuousness of 2020 as the lyrics. Take “Babel” as an example. “We work with strategies to illustrate conflict, like rhythms counteracting to each other and stuff like that,” says Hacke. “It gives you a feeling of uneasiness or a feeling of [being] out-of-whack. Rhythmically, I like to do these things, stuff that makes you lose your balance or something.”

The album also includes hackedpicciotto’s first love song, “Evermore,” a duet that came as a result of the lockdown situation and sounds as if the couple are singing to each other while caught in the midst of downpour. “We had that feeling that this pandemic was a storm that came upon mankind and we were all standing in this storm,” says de Picciotto. “We felt that the most important thing during the storm was to keep in contact with your friends and loved ones… because everybody was so separated. It was us two and, during the whole time of the pandemic when lockdown was really heavy, we felt like it was us two standing in this tiny little nutshell, which was our studio, and the storm raging around us and the only thing that kept us alive in the storm was our love.”

With “Evermore,” they brought the connection that they share into the lyrics. Says Hacke, “This is the first time that we also actually speak to each other lyrically, rather than describing something or proclaiming something to the outside world.”

The Silver Threshold, and “Evermore” in particular, taps into a chemistry that has always been part of their collaboration as hackedepicciotto. “I think that what makes this project work so well is that we are so confident and we trust each other so much,” says Hacke, surmising that it’s this kind of honesty that appeals to fans. “It’s a different set up than a regular band in that way.”

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