10. Mastodon – Hushed and Grim, [Reprise; 2021]
Mastodon’s latest project, Hushed and Grim, brings almost nothing to slake fans’ thirst for innovation. The album isn’t terrible, but it is a 90-minute exercise in patience with close to no payoff. Keeping Mastodon’s trend of memorializing loved ones through their projects, Hushed and Grim is fueled by the grief from their manager’s passing. It may be callous to say, but dedicating an album to a deceased loved one doesn’t make it any better. The album does have a few moments of reprieve from the sonic mediocrity, but they are gone just as quick as they come and leave you with the same bloated project you started with. Do yourself a favor and stick to the singles from this project, most of the good stuff’s in there anyway.
Listen: Mastodon – Hushed and Grim
9. The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here, [Merge; 2021]
By Venus Rittenberg, Staff Writer
I love the Mountain Goats, they’re my second favorite band, and perhaps that’s what makes this album so disappointing to me. The last time I truly enjoyed a new studio Mountain Goats album was 2017’s Goths. All of their output since hasn’t even been bad, it’s just been bland.
Dark in Here further solidifies that Goths will probably end up being the last truly notable Mountain Goats album. I doubt they will start to release bad music, nothing they’ve made since Goths has really been bad, in fact, Dark in Here was probably the best release they’ve had since. But it’s just forgettable. There’s no substance. No adventure. It’s lacking in the amazing storytelling that makes the Mountain Goats what they are. It’s lacking in the unique instrumentation that captivates an audience. It’s lacking in personality. In a way, I almost wish they would start making bad music, or better yet, go back to experimenting. Goths saw Darnielle trying something new. Maybe it’s time the Goats do that again.
Listen: The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here
8. RP Boo – Established!, [Planet Mu; 2021]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor’
How did the guy who invented footwork create maybe the worst footwork album? RP Boo’s Established! is truly hard to get through, and the tracks are either boring percussion sequences or boring percussion sequences alongside insufferable vocal samples. That vocal sample on “All My Life”? It’s more annoying than a Bitch Ass Darius track, and that’s really the album’s only accomplishment.
The album’s title itself alludes to a grandeur that isn’t there; Boo is certainly established, but one wouldn’t know why after hearing this. The few moments that do come together in serendipitous footwork goodness don’t come across as fresh or exciting––the album is just boring enough to make otherwise mid moments feel like a relief. Maybe it’s a matter of adjusting expectations, but it’s hard to imagine RP Boo as the one who inspired the style on albums like DJ Rashad’s Double Cup or DJ Taye’s PYROT3K. The album feels more like a rudimentary exercise in sequencing than something to dance to, and while respect is duly put on RP Boo’s name, Boo doesn’t show where that respect comes from on Established!
Listen: RP Boo – Established!
7. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club, [Polydor; 2021]
By Ethan Bloomfield, Staff Writer
Lana Del Rey’s 2019 LP Norman F*****g Rockwell! was a pleasant and cohesive album full of memorable tracks, and surely some of Lana’s best. Its follow-up, released during the height of quarantine, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, was anything but. “White Dress” is a baffling start with its breathy falsetto vocals that feel grating, and while the production does get more flattering moving into songs like the title track or “Tulsa Jesus Freak”, the actual content isn’t much more impactful. The lead single, “Let Me Love You Like a Woman” tries to capture the stripped-back emotion of a song like “Happiness is a butterfly” but just doesn’t quite get there. As a Lana album, it is completely serviceable, but looking back on NFR and even forward to Blue Banisters, there is a clear step down in quality that makes for an unsatisfying listen.
Listen: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
6. JPEGMAFIA – LP!, [Republic; EQT; 2021]
By Kiah Easton, Editorial Director
It’s true, the ACRN Editorial house is clearly divided on Jpegmafia’s latest release LP!. With it coming in at number 1 on our top 20 albums list as well as number 6 on our top 10 most disappointing albums, it is clear for some Jpegmafia is continuing a discography of quality releases but for others LP! fails to live up to Peggy’s well-deserved notoriety. Developing a sizable reputation through consistent groundbreaking experimentation and a refusal to cater to anything less than their own pure creativity, Jpegmafia’s previous releases have each brought something new to the table. LP! Struggles to continue this arc. While there are highlight tracks throughout, the project as a whole feels complacent. The passion for experimentation seems slightly less evident, with many of the tracks stretching sonic elements out longer than what they may be worthy of. This has never been a problem in the past, many of the songs on LP! feel skippable halfway through but continue on with little progression. When the level of quality is as high as it has been set for Jpegmafia it is undeniably easier to disappoint. LP! Isn’t a bad album by any means, it just pales in comparison to the consistently groundbreaking tracks on albums such as Veteran, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, and even Black Ben Carson.
Listen: JPEGMAFIA – LP!
5. Tyler the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, [Self Released; 2021]
By Evan Gallagher, Staff Writer
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is a modest shift from 2019’s IGOR with a new-ish sound and fresh faces. While it offers a new direction for Tyler, it leaves some to be desired.
The opening track, SIR BAUDELAIRE, carries a mellow vibe, but that does not set the tone for the entire record. Songs like LEMONHEAD and JUGGERNAUT have hard-hitting beats that will be played on repeat by many.
Tyler gives the sense that the album is a new sound, but there seems to be an over-reliance on classic 90’s R&B. While the references are welcomed, they seem to be taking up too much space, leaving less room for something new.
The features are what this album has going for it, with appearances from Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert and Pharrell Williams being the most notable. While Tyler is able to carry his own well, it seems that the originality comes from the features. There’s an effort at a new direction on this record, but it is not a staple like Flower Boy and IGOR have come to be.
Listen: Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
4. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite, [Self Released; 2021]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor
Deafheaven have earned their headstone and burial plot in the Graveyard of Heavy Bands Who Don’t Want to be Heavy Anymore (RIP Pianos Become the Teeth, RIP Hundredth, etc.). Many bands have tried to make the same leap as Deafheaven, and like Deafheaven, nearly all of them have landed in the disparagingly boring liminal space between post-rock and shoegaze. Without the stylistic quirks that made Deafheaven a band to care about––yanno, blackgaze––the band just sounds like a group of pedalboard snobs who went to Berklee.
While the musical aptitude and cohesiveness of the group are undeniable on Infinite Granite, the album lacks any poignance or edge. The sense of progression and structure that made Sunbather so impressive are still there, but Infinite Granite is emotionally deceased––it’s like elevator music for DIY kids. One of the most organic and moving moments on the album is the interlude, “Neptune Raining Diamonds”, and even that three-minute-long crescendo is wasted on the uninspired indie rock chords that begin “Lament for Wasps”. The weirdly operatic vocals are sterile beyond belief, and while Deafheaven should be commended for making what they want, it’s fair to mourn the cool band they used to be as they are lowered into their monotonous grave.
Listen: Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
3. Drake – Certified Lover Boy, [OVO; 2021]
By Ethan Bloomfield, Staff Writer
Drake’s newest LP was always going to be mediocre, but Certified Lover Boy goes above and beyond. We are presented with a bloated and empty album strewn with the same two songs for over an hour: either “this girl doesn’t love me” or “I have a lot of haters”. CLB is a pathetic display of Drake’s continual insecurities, lack of self-awareness and absence of effort for the past few album cycles. The vocals are uninterested, the radio singles are insulting, and all this amounts to Drake having absolutely nothing to say by the end of the record.
Tracks like “No Friends In The Industry”, “F****** Fans”, and “Girls Want Girls” feel especially whiny and void of any sort of evolving truth about Drake. With this album reaching number one on the Billboard charts seemingly overnight, criticism and souring opinion will likely only fuel the fodder for another lengthy and vapid project.
Listen: Drake – Certified Lover Boy
2. Lorde – Solar Power, [Universal; 2021]
By Grace Koennecke, Staff Writer
Lorde’s Solar Power was a highly anticipated release this year. Sadly, unlike her predecessors, Pure Heroine and Melodrama, this album was a jumble of songs that all sounded the same. Ideally, the tracks are perfect to listen to in the summer heat or driving in your car, but they don’t carry the same depth as Lorde’s previous works, nor are they sonically appealing.
The two tracks worth listening to are by far “Stoned At the Nail Salon” and “Big Star,” each actually diving deep into the true nature of living in your mid-20s, as well as tapping into the existential side of growing up. Aside from these standouts, there’s not much else Solar Power offers and I would much rather cry my eyes out to Melodrama than even consider pressing play on this album. I love you Lorde, but sorry girl.
The constant mumbling of lyrics and the repetitive use of just guitars, along with heavily layered vocals doesn’t emphasize Lorde’s creativity or vision and only causes her to stay stuck in her over reminiscence of summer days in New Zealand. Solar Power is an album that may prove to be a learning experience for Lorde and is definitely not her strongest.
Listen: Lorde – Solar Power
1. Kanye West – Donda, [Getting Out Our Dreams II; 2021]
By Adrian Woods, Staff Writer
After so much hype and constant delays, Donda has become this year’s most disappointing album. Kanye West has reinvented himself with every album he has released, but with Donda, it just feels like Jesus Is King Part 2. It just seems like Kanye was not pleased with the 26-minute runtime of Jesus Is King and wanted to add to it. It’s just a shame because the first half of Donda is actually pretty good. It’s a major improvement from Jesus Is King, which is without a doubt Kanye’s worst album. The production and lyricism are much better, and the features fit with the songs, especially songs like The Weeknd on “Hurricane”, Playboi Carti on “Junya”, and Westside Gunn on “Keep My Spirit Alive”. But the album’s main problem is that it drags on way too long and becomes repetitive. Many of the songs on the album come with part twos, and the majority of them are not needed on an already almost two-hour album and are not as good as any of the part 1’s. Not a terrible album by any means, but not very good either.
Listen: Kanye West – Donda