Five albums that defined summer 2021.
With life returning to a more or less normal shape, summer 2021 was an eventful one in every sphere of society. We as fans got to reap the fruits of what artists had been creating over the past year and a half of COVID-19.
The Off-Season – J. Cole
Released May 14, 2021
J. Cole’s The Off-Season was long awaited, and it did not disappoint. As one of the most praised figures in hip hop, this album is an improvement on all fronts from his last project, KOD. With his first release since 2018, J. Cole made his return to form with this project. It leaves behind any memory of KOD, a project that left fans and critics with mixed feelings. This project is bolstered by Cole’s confident and assured delivery, appealing storytelling, and the triumphant instrumentals using many samples throughout the album. The Off-Season marks the first time Cole welcomed different artists to feature on his songs since Born Sinner in 2013. This adds a new dimension to the work that was missing from his previous records.
Trial track: “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d”
SOUR – Olivia Rodrigo
Released May 21, 2021
From a Disney star to one of pop’s most promising young talents, Olivia Rodrigo’s ascension to fame was immediate. The hype around SOUR was immense with all three of her singles reaching the Billboard’s top ten songs chart. Two of them even sat at the number one spot with the worldwide hits “drivers license” and “good 4 u.” On SOUR, listeners get a glance at a deep hurt. Tender lyrics of torn feelings towards an ex-lover make Rodrigo a compelling narrator and most of the record’s success is due to this. The instrumentals are most of the time either mellow and charming piano and guitar ballads, or Paramore-influenced bangers. As a whole, SOUR is one of the defining records of the summer.
Trial track: “good 4 u”
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST – Tyler, The Creator
Released June 25, 2021
Two years after his Grammy-winning masterpiece IGOR, Tyler, The Creator came back swinging. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST marks The Creator’s sixth studio album, and brings him back to rapping form. DJ Drama is featured all across the record with ad libs in a DJ Khaled fashion, but Drama is actually pleasant. Tyler Baudelaire, his alter ego for this record, raps mainly about travel, and pinpoints love as the main thing missing from his life now that he has reached mogul status as an artist. The production is absolutely stunning, as you would expect from a Tyler, The Creator project. Tyler surpasses himself on every beat by always adding a lot of layers to the mix. This album contains a strong mix of hard-hitting tracks and laid-back beats that see an honest Tyler rely more on storytelling. No matter what direction he decided to go in, every track on the record found a way to keep it interesting for the listener.
Trial track: “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE”
Vince Staples – Vince Staples
Released July 9, 2021
Vince Staples waited until his fourth studio album to release a self-titled record, which was most appropriate considering this new project might be his most introspective body of work to date. Staples, known for being a curious name in hip hop, has a style that stands out from your average rapper. His past release, Big Fish Theory, flirted with the lines between hip hop and house music. On Vince Staples, he continues to stand above the pack with clever one-liners and by opening up about himself, which all makes for an inviting listening experience. Production-wise, Staples plays it pretty safe here by using basic yet captivating trap flavoured instrumentals. The record’s short length makes for an album that is easily approachable.
Trial track: “TAKE ME HOME”
Sling – Clairo
Released July 16, 2021
Sling now marks the first record since Clairo’s 2019 breakout debut album, Immunity. Sling is a complete departure from the sound that got her bursting onto the scene. This new album adopts more of a singer/songwriter approach, one that builds off of the gentle and languid sounds of her debut project. The album’s production comes from none other than Jack Antonoff, a renowned producer whose influence is likely responsible for this sudden change of pace. Antonoff does a great job at making the most of a talented Clairo, with sounds that complement and hug her strengths, tying listeners into the album. A large portion of Sling is dedicated to Clairo’s dog, Joanie, which is also the name for one of the tracks. Sling’s best quality is this level of intimacy, and while it is simple and not too flashy, this is in the best way possible.
Trial track: “Amoeba”
Graphic by James Fay