The Class of 2021: 25 Favorites This Year
Not that anyone asked, but it’s never easy to wrap up a year’s releases. This is especially difficult when the volume of music being put out increased multifold, perhaps aided by the pandemic-related lockdowns or just the artistic spirit of those who wanted to a sonic snapshot of the times.
Year-end lists will always have a few misses and while we can’t include every standout album, EP or song in this list, this time around we take a different approach that’s not just about ranking. Check out our favorite releases of 2021, spanning across genres as well as Indians abroad.
Dhee, Arivu, Santosh Narayanan – “Enjoy Enjaami”
After several, repeated explanations from the internet, it’s only right to call “Enjoy Enjaami” Arivu’s song. With Dhee and Santosh Narayanan, the powerful song is not just an instantly memorable earworm, but also a reminder of India’s caste society and how we must listen consciously.
Prabh Deep – Tabia
An introspective album like no other in Indian music, the Punjabi artist made moves from his familiar hip-hop territory to more R&B, soul and pop vibes, all the while making us look deeper in our quest for meaning and self-acceptance.
Smokey the Ghost – The Human Nation
From talking about baldness to getting nostalgic about Orkut to Kannada rap and bearing several references to the hip-hop circuit in India, the seasoned MC lined up a host of collabs – Vishal Dadlani, Raftaar, EPR Iyer and more – for a resounding record.
Rawal x Bharg – Sab Chahiye
As far as journeying records go, the New Delhi rapper and producer combo crafted an insight into young, carefree-yet-burdened attitudes of modern India on their debut album. There were bruising bangers as well as affable bops, showcasing a great range.
Irfana x Taslina – Ko-Lab
A fixture on several year-end lists, the Kodaikanal friends Irfana Hameed and Taslina Nazar’s debut EP was straight fire, mixing intoxicating beats with resolute rap, touching upon everything from national crises to partying down.
RANJ, Clifr, Issamood – 593, Vol. 1
Friends first and later musicians working together, the chronology arguably helps the bond that singer-rapper RANJ and producers Clifr and Issamood shared with each other. There’s a smoothness to the whole EP, which borrows from funk, soul and R&B to make infectious, cheery music.
Yungsta – Mehfil
There’s something so confident and unwavering in New Delhi’s hip-hop scene and it’s arguably captured best by Yungsta. His album hits all the right spots in terms of collaborations as well as balancing the modern and timeless hip-hop sound that can catch you in that 100-yard stare, deep in thought in the club.
Hanumankind, Kalmi – Surface Level
Although there were several other hard-hitting singles released through the year – including “Genghis” – the EP format still showcased a lot of concentrated power of Hanumankind’s verses, whether he was going at it in under two minutes (“No Hook”) or aiming for something deeper (“Catharsis”).
Rock and Metal
Moral Collapse – S/T
Two Bengaluru artists – Arun Natarajan and Sudarshan Mankad – called on one of metal’s most insane minds – Hannes Grossmann – for a rattling, horrifying debut album that made for the most resounding statement from the country. The avant-garde meets death metal album is faultless from start to finish.
Bhayanak Maut – “MLMSML”
Although they’re not as regular as we’d like, Bhayanak Maut continue to fly their flag high. Spry riffs and chaotic grooves dominate the band’s lone single this year. Come for the metallic precision of a seasoned band, stay for the takedown of internet cancel culture.
SundogProject – 1999
If you ever felt the visceral nature of heavy music was being pushed away in favor of more polished music, SundogProject proved otherwise. The incendiary, seething record was more or less unfiltered (at least vocally) and brought pummeling riffs as a total surprise from the artist who has previously delved into industrial rock and electronic music.
Pacifist – “Against the Tide”
One of two singles released early this year by the Mumbai band – the other being the mosh-ready “Resolve” – there’s a brightness and confidence instilled in the midst of chaos and darkness on “Against the Tide”. Shouted proclamations and heavy-footed rhythms lead up to a tingling guitar lead as the message comes through – “Keep on fighting the good fight”.
Mocaine – The Birth of Billy Munro
Armed with a love for the grunge movement and a story that’s been fleshed out into a novella, Delhi artist Mocaine traverses (and then confronts) an inner voice through the course of 11 tracks. We’re treated to psychedelic, razor-sharp riffs as well as despairing sonic terrain, reflecting a gruesome story.
Project MishraM – Meso
For all the prog-fusion fans in the house, there was something truly unguessable in store with the Bangalore band’s debut full-length album. From Carnatic compositions to madcap djent, hip-hop and everything in between, Project MishraM proved they could do most of it all.
Blackstratblues – Hindsight Is 2020
If this year ever needed a balm for the soul, we’re glad Blackstratblues was the provider. His mesmeric guitar playing continues to tap into life’s experience, kind of making his guitar talk in a way that none of us would have even thought. There’s heavy, there’s wistful and there is, of course, bluesy parts to this lengthy yet deep album.
Meewakching – Thengmankhre Hee Ado Lakpa, Eikhoidi Sikhiba Kuire Erolnungda
Bands who aren’t afraid to sing in their own language are among those who best fit the definition of independent. Manipuri act Meewakching (whose name doesn’t even mean anything) are clearly singing about deeply-held thoughts and feelings on their full-length album, anchoring it in dance-y, sparkling indie rock arrangement.
Madmast – “Ae Dil”, “Aaj Phir Tera”, “Kaisi Ye Maaya”
The first three releases from the Mumbai band conveyed a variety of moods, one that they executed with top-notch attention to detail. There was heartfelt, emotive songwriting on “Ae Dil”, a playful yet romantic lead on “Aaj Phir Tera” and socio-politically conscious metaphors and realities brought into the picture on “Kaisi Ye Maaya”.
Mali – Caution To the Wind
From melancholic pop to trip-hop and nostalgia-soaked tunes, the Chennai/Mumbai artist’s full-length album is a labor of love every step of the way. As much as it may draw from the glossy era of The Carpenters or ABBA, Caution To the Wind is routed in the present in terms of emotion.
Tejas – Outlast
The Mumbai singer-songwriter’s signature croon stays and powers through a wholly different level of arrangements on his sophomore album. There’s breathtaking pop, electro-funk and even all-out EDM passages, which proves Tejas is all about taking leaps and landing just fine.
Dhruv Visvanath – The Book of I
Although it was released as singles over the course of 2020 and 2021, the entire offering that is The Book Of I is very much cohesive. That’s perhaps the beauty of Visvanath’s inimitable abilities as singer and songwriter. He can sing about memories, about death and even get all metaphysical about the creative process and tie it all together with a wonderful pop sensibility.
Shantanu Pandit – Milk Teeth
It’s been a minute since the New Delhi origin singer-songwriter released music under his own name and this roving album lives up to his emotive composing strength. Between sparse, atmospheric sonic elements and his experiments as a producer, there are songs of reflection and stories that will likely stay with you.
Osho Jain – Saar
Indore-bred, Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Osho Jain ushered in a different movement in the singer-songwriter space India and his full-length album sees him lead us into a different world – one of straightforward musings around relationships, situations and a poignant, haunting spoken-word tale about urbanization.
Dot. – Khamotion
After a while away from the world of releasing music, U.K.-based Dot. returned to form brilliantly (certainly like she never left) on her debut record Khamotion. Her whimsical, piano-driven world and way with words makes for upbeat pop, one that now carried with flourishes of a string section, backing vocals and a full band sound.
Shubh Saran – inglish
There are lessons of history told not through words but with sound on the New York-based artist’s regal, groovy, jazz-centered album. Traversing multiculturalism and globalization and the roots of our being, Shubh Saran arrives at gripping songs that employ a myriad of instrumentation from around the world.
Cartel Madras – The Serpent & the Tiger
The South Indian siblings from Canada tap into a no-holds-barred sound and lyrical flow on their first ever full-length project. They are chill, they are lethal and best of all, they’re having fun all the way through. It confidence oozes on every track, aided by deft production.