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”

Politics, Medieval Forests, and Russian Aerobics Hits Inspired New Jane Weaver LP Flock

Credit: Nic Chapman

Manchester, England-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jane Weaver considers her latest LP Flock a departure from her previous 11 albums, not only because she delved into exploring personal and political issues beyond the abstract concepts that typically inspire her songs, but also because she drew from influences as diverse as 1980s Russian aerobic records, recent UK political events, and the Medieval French town where she wrote the album’s lyrics.

“Normally, I do more conceptual albums about other people and films and stuff like that,” she says. “So for this record, I just wanted to sort of hone down and make it about nothing in particular, but just concentrate on a group of pop songs that were all different. It was like a smorgasbord of pop songs; that was kind of the intention of the record.”

With poetic lyrics and airy vocals, the 10 tracks span the dreamy, synthy “Stages of Phases,” the upbeat, danceable “Sunset Dreams,” and the chill, funky “Pyramid Schemes.” The first track, “Heartlow,” documents her journey to a town in Brittany, France where she goes every year only to realize almost everything was closed — not because of COVID, as this happened before the pandemic, but because she went there off-season. Against guitars and drums that give off a psychedelic rock vibe, the lyrics capture the feeling of loneliness in the town, which can be applied all over the world right now: “I thought the bells would be ringing/when I walked home/I thought that people would be singing/where did they go?”

On another single off the album, the glam-rock-inspired “The Revolution Of Super Visions,” she sings about Brexit and the toxic masculinity celebrated in world leaders, repeating, “You look good/you look good/do you look at yourself and find nothing?” She was initially taken aback by the contrast between the lyrics’ cutting critique and the fun, happy-go-lucky melody, but decided to lean into it. “When I wrote that, I was thinking to myself, this is an odd song — and then I thought, I can’t sing that; it just sounds too cheesy. Whatever I’m saying, it sounds too wrong,” she says. “But then I was just kind of inspired by that idea that it doesn’t really matter — you’ve just got to let the song go.”

Indeed, each song on the album – released March 5th via Fire Records – has a life of its own. Beneath the title track’s haunting layered vocals, for instance, are several medieval-sounding instruments inspired by her surroundings in the French town she visited, where she wrote the album. She lived in a building made of medieval-looking stones and walked through forests full of Arthurian folklore, inspiring her to buy a medieval wood instrument called a bombard and play it “quite madly,” as well as a string instrument called a marxophone, which did not exist in medieval times but gave off a sound reminiscent of a medieval wheel instrument called the hurdy-gurdy.

“I was exploring sort of an enchanted forest, and I was hearing all these flutes and these bombards and all these weird sounds,” she remembers. There were also lots of birds in the trees, which inspired the song and album’s title.

Another unexpected influence behind the album: a YouTube rabbit hole Weaver fell down involving 1980s Russian aerobic songs — that is, music written specifically to soundtrack aerobic exercises. Much of this was really electronic music disguised as exercise tapes in order to evade Soviet censorship.

Weaver first wrote the lyrics for the album in December 2019, using this process as a form of therapy. “Over the time I was writing it, I wasn’t in a particularly good place,” she says. “So I was trying to write myself out of it. I felt miserable and had all these happy pop songs in my head. It was very strange as well, wanting to convey a positive pop message and that kind of unification you only get when you’re on stage and you play one of your singles or popular songs and everybody’s got their hands in the air.”

She began recording the music in the studio in March 2020, then had to take a break because of the pandemic. This allowed her to revisit the songs and revise the lyrics and melodies until she was truly happy with them.

For the recordings, she played her usual guitar and moog synthesizer, but used them more in a “pop way,” rather than a space or kosmische album, as she’s previously explored. “It is still kosmische — it’s cosmic pop; that’s what I feel it is — but I think my main aim with the record was to just have 10 songs which were each pop songs in their own way,” she says. “It wasn’t like I was doing deliberately 10 funk songs or 10 guitar pop songs. I was just going to let each song be what it was going to be, whether it was uncool or whatever.”

Weaver has had a long and acclaimed musical career; she played in Britpop group Kill Laura in the ’90s, and folktronica project Misty Dixon in the early 2000s, releasing her first solo album Like An Aspen Leaf while in the latter band in 2002. In addition to making her own music, she runs a record label, Bird Records, an offshoot of Twisted Nerve Records focused on female folk artists.

Her desire to support female artists stems in part from experiencing firsthand what they’re up against in the industry. “The entertainment industry and all that happened with the #metoo movement, it’s still ongoing,” she says. “So much gaslighting and abuse can go on because of the people in charge, and it’s heartbreaking to see and feel it and to know it goes on.”

With all the problems the world is currently facing, it’s an odd time to release an album, but also a potentially fruitful one. “I feel crass putting a record out now because it seems so wrong,” she says. “But I’ve decided to go ahead with it because I want this record to bring joy to people in a unifying way.”

Follow Jane Weaver on Facebook for ongoing updates.