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Vocalo’s Top 10 Albums Of 2021

Written by on December 16, 2021

Pictured above: Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars of Silk Sonic at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021. By Jordan Strauss, Invision/AP.

Albums can show an artist’s truest feelings from the time it was made. Whether it’s cohesive, jumbled, emotional, inspiring or all of the above, these 2021 albums delivered stories that hit all the feels…

Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour proclaimed in November that “Silk Sonic is the opposite of sexy, but still fun,” which truly highlights the old adage committed to wax by Sly & the Family Stone: “different strokes for different folks.” It makes me wonder, what is sexy from their vantage point? Because from mine, An Evening With Silk Sonic, like the best soul albums of the 1970s, contains a multitude of moods, wrapped around a slinky, sexy core. And that complexity, that imperfect humanity, is sexy as hell.

As I told NPR Music for their Top Spins of 2021: “Leave The Door Open” by Silk Sonic sounds more like polyester satin than silk, exactly, the loftiest compliment I can give. “We both make feel-good music and I think it’s because we’ve been through pain and tragedy,” .Paak shared with Rolling Stone. Evoking the real, dusty rose McCoy: it’s well-worn music to soothe the weary soul.

But it’s also a well-studied slow jam homage: equal parts Delfonics, B-side Gap Band and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Other highlights of An Evening With Silk Sonic include the quiet storm-ready “Blast Off” and “Smokin’ Out the Window” (a jam that expertly toes the line between gallows humor and earnest lamentation for a triflin’ lover). Bruno Mars’ polished soul homage is better for being paired with Anderson .Paak’s blend of the sacred and profane. The resulting product rightfully contains as much satin as it does grease.

– Ayana Contreras

Cautious Clay – Deadpan Love

I’ve had this album on repeat for so much of this year. Though Deadpan Love is his debut full-length release, Joshua Karpeh, AKA Cautious Clay, has been active in and around the music industry for years; with songwriting credits for Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and John Mayer, it’s no surprise Karpeh flexes his expert lyricism with ease for the album’s entirety. Deadpan Love centers on online relationships and navigating life in a modern digital world, with catchy instrumentals, rich vocal tones and a feature from Chicago rapper Saba. I can’t get enough of it and can’t wait to see what else he comes out with in the future.

– Morgan Ciocca

Makaya McCraven – Deciphering The Message

Deciphering The Message is a bold reinterpretation of jazz classics from Rogers Park beat scientist and jazz drummer Makaya McCraven. Employing live musicians in the remix process of Blue Note recordings, McCraven creatively fuses contemporary with classic, embracing the cycle of musical innovation. He creates new meaning from these juxtapositions and continues his journey at the forefront of jazz innovation.

– Erik Anderson

Kanye West – Donda

After a bizarre and controversial recording and rollout process, the public finally heard Donda, the highly-anticipated tenth studio album from Kanye West, on Aug. 29. A massive project with 27 songs and top-tier features, Kanye reminds the world he does not care what anyone thinks — except, of course, Kanye.

– Erik Anderson

Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales

Vocalo fan-favorite Jazmine Sullivan hit a home run with Heaux Tales. Earning awards and accolades from BET, Soul Train, NPR and Pitchfork and two of Jazmine’s Grammy Award nominations, Heaux Tales is as critically-acclaimed as it is catchy. Jazmine’s voice and layered harmonies are interspersed with features from Ari Lennox, H.E.R. and Anderson .Paak, and recordings of personal narratives from six women in her life. “Pick Up Your Feelings” and “Girl Like Me” were in heavy rotation on our airwaves this year, two tracks which exemplify the album’s theme of women owning their power.

– Morgan Ciocca

Tasha – Tell Me What You Miss The Most

Chicago artist Tasha gives the world an intimate view of her deepest emotions on Tell Me What You Miss The Most. Delicate instrumentals and mesmerizing harmonies draw the listener under Tasha’s spell and are a testament to her evocative songwriting.

– Erik Anderson

Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound

With a matured sound and honest, sensual lyrics, Gold-Diggers Sound is a step away from the Coming Home era Leon Bridges many people know him as — and, in my opinion, his best work yet. Muted guitar picking sparkles on tracks like “Motorbike” and rich, yearning vocals on songs like “Why Don’t You Touch Me” make this album a standout among this year’s releases.

– Morgan Ciocca

Vince Staples – Vince Staples

This self-titled album shows you who Vince Staples really is. Over low-key instrumentals produced by Kenny Beats, the music focuses on Staples’ lyrics and raw talent.

– Milo Keranen

Helado Negro – Far In

I could listen to this album any time of the day. Its soothing lead-off track, “Wake Up Tomorrow,” has soft vocals over an instrumental with a calming harp and steady drums. The album starts to pick up from a lullaby to almost gentle house music. This album could be the soundtrack to my daily life, and I still don’t think I’d get tired of it.

– Milo Keranen

Stream Ayana Contereas’ interview with Helado Negro from

James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart

A traditional James Blake album with subtle hints of innovation. The collection of songs on Friends That Break Your Heart feels like a rollercoaster of emotional ups and downs. Sometimes friends break your heart more than lovers.

– Milo Keranen

Introduction written by Milo Keranen

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