The Best Albums of 2021

Dec 29, 2021

12 min read

Qrion, PinkPantheress, GRiZQrion, PinkPantheress, GRiZ

The return of long-form listening is something we can rejoice in. In 2021 as artists began releasing their quarantine anthems, we saw an explosion of innovative talent from both established and emerging artists. The time spent in isolation produced incredible works of art that elevated the emotional reverence of dance music to new heights.

We tapped the Festival Insider team to give us their top albums of 2021, and they took the opportunity to dig deep. The list represents to immense breadth of dance music from glitchy funk to disco to emotive progressive and genre-defying experimental, 2021 gave us some incredible long-form listening.

Godford - I YOU SHE [Unity Records]


Godford is an enigma. While many continue to speculate about the producer’s true identity, Godford remains as mysterious as ever, and they prefer it that way. Their latest LP, I YOU SHE, is a uniquely introspective dance album that features transcendental rhythms, driving basslines, and a detailed composition from start to finish. 

Stand-out tracks include “The Beast,” “Downtown,” “Do What I Feel,” and “The Hill,” which feature resounding, chopped vocal loops, thumping beats, and a cloying lofi-ambiance that enchants.  -Melisa Yuriar

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Keys N Krates - Original Classic [Last Gang Records]


Toronto trio Keys N Krates made their pivot into danceable world music with their 2018 album Cura and haven’t looked back since. This year, they released their latest, Original Classic, jam-packed with heavy-hitters like Juicy J, Bibi Bourelly, and Haviah Mighty, to name a few. 

We named “Take It Off” one of the best dance tracks of 2021, but there are so many gems in this record. From the playful vintage vibes in “Chopped Soul” to the sexy sounds in “Brazilian Love Song” to “Bollywood Bounce' where they return to their trap roots—Keys N Krates checks all the boxes in Original Classic. And it’s incredible how the group melds so many genres in one cohesive album. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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late year - late year [Alpha Pup Records]


Beat scene icons Dilip and otxhello came together to create the duo late year. As two of the most respected producers in the underground scene, the project was highly anticipated. The seven-track album boasts the beatmakers’ ability to manipulate sound in a cinematic, enthralling way. Despite being void of vocals, late year still evokes feelings deep from within. “make it count +={}” caught our attention due to its Dilla-esque flow. And for the only feature on the album, they bring on another underground legend, chromonicci. for “sinking @@!” to showcase the latter’s signature niccibounce. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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camoufly - The Giant [Self-Release]


camoufly is living proof that betting on yourself and your artistic vision can lead to success. The Giant is a follow-up to the mysterious musician’s critically acclaimed Apotheosis EP and succeeded with just as much hype. The project landed a premiere on Forbes and the cover of the Spotify editorial playlist, Creamy. “Pyramids,” “Sakura,” and “Possibilities” all served as singles for the EP, but the opening track “Rituals” is one of the most beautiful songs we’ve ever heard. Both bubbly and bouncy, The Giant is a motivating 5-song project that embodies the highs and lows of life, and anybody can relate to it. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Qrion - I Hope it Lasts Forever [Anjunadeep]

Qrion at Soundcheck Washington DCQrion at Soundcheck Washington DC


Japanese DJ-producer Qrion has had an incredible year. After releasing music on several big name labels Mad Decent and Last Night on Earth, the artist made her LP debut on Anjunadeep with I Hope This Lasts Forever. The album is a thoughtfully curated production of tech house and fast-tempo techno. Songs like Your Love and 11-11 are progressive house homages to the fond memories she has of when she lived in Sapporo with her family. Stand out track “Proud” features emotional vocal loops and an oscillating bounce—it’s classic house music updated with a contemporary groove. Stunning synthy techno tunes “Pitch Dark” and “Waterfalls” round out the artist’s best body of work to date and demonstrate Qrion’s adeptness in electronic music production.

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Sam Gellaitry - IV [Parlophone Records]


We’re glad to see Sam Gellaitry get his flowers. After laying low in the underground for a spell, the UK producer has experimented with different sounds and now adds singer-songwriter to his growing list of talents. He recently hinted at a future project with PinkPantheress. After dropping “Duo,” everyone was interested to see what direction he would take his project, and IV didn’t leave us disappointed. These four tracks show four different sides of Sammy G, but we enjoyed hip-hop-leaning “Games” and ‘80-inspired “Assumptions.” -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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PinkPantheress - to hell with it [Parlophone Records]


UK vocalist PinkPantheress took the world by storm after blowing up on TikTok earlier this year, and we’re so glad she did. Her sweet talk-singing over DnB and UKG beats creates an eclectic sound that resonates with even mainstream audiences. to hell with it is only 18 minutes long, which is shorter than most EPs but indicative of our generation’s short attention span. Two of her longer songs that sit nearer to the end of the album, “Reason” and “All My Friends Know,” overflow with emotion that will put you in your feels.  -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Louis Futon - Couchsurfing [4th Level]


Louis Futon is one of those producers who expose emerging artists with his thoughtful collaborations. On Couchsurfing, he brings on a wide range of artists from rapper Armani White to soul singer Lavance Colley and beat producer Bad Snacks. The one thing in common in all of these tracks is Louis Futon’s ability to infuse jazz, soul, and r&b into electronic music. In addition, he shares some insight into his life, reflecting on his personal experience moving to LA and house-hopping as he pursued a full-time career in music. Check out “Ms. Intentions” to hear both his production and vocals. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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We might be cheating a bit here with Aminé’s TWOPOINTFIVE, but we could argue that the album qualifies because of its use of dance beats produced by Lido. The Portland rapper randomly dropped D&B-injected “Charmander” before releasing the whole LP. Both the hip-hop and dance music communities were hyped for the spotlight on the UK dance genre. After his more serious 2020 album, Limbo, this album was fun and playful and an exciting follow-up to his 2018 ONEPOINTFIVE. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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SG Lewis - times [PMR Records / UMG]


Shining the light back on disco and going on a world tour are just two of the things SG Lewis has done in 2021. The London artist is arguably the biggest name contributing to disco’s boom in recent years. times get a spot on this list for being one of the grooviest, most danceable records of the year. SG Lewis brings on massive names like Channel Tres, Robyn, and Lucky Daye for the album, crossing over seamlessly from the underground to the mainstream. “Chemicals” is a seductive song that everyone dropped in their live sets this year, and we can’t get enough of what SG Lewis has to offer. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Chet Faker - Hotel Surrender [Detail Records]

Chet FakerChet Faker

Multi-talented Melbourne musician Chet Faker is unstoppable. Aside from dropping the sonic odyssey that is Hotel Surrender, he also got co-signs in the form of remixes from heavy-hitters Boys Noize, A-Track, and Soulwax in 2021. “Whatever Tomorrow” is a standout for its passionate vocals and production. During the seemingly never-ending pandemic, the track reminds us that the future isn’t promised and holds today close. But, Hotel Surrender wasn’t the artist’s last hurrah of the year. He just dropped a new album, Take In The Roses. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Lamorn - Encore [mau5trap]



After being taken under the wing of (and touring with) dance music legend Deadmau5, this recent mau5trap signee delivered incredible song after incredible song. Lamorn has rightly earned his reputation as an 18-year old prodigy. He charges his tunes with his rock roots in Encore, infusing impeccable instrumentality into his art. The album resembles MGMT and Ratatat, matching superterrestrial synths with an energetic electric guitar. “Physical Layer” is on the LP and was also the musician’s mau5trap debut. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Rome In Silver - Makeshift Moon EP [bitbird]


Rome In Silver has steadily grown as an artist of the highest caliber. He recently returned home from touring with San Holo and CloZee and announced more tours and major festivals in the new year. While he gained notoriety for his trap-adjacent sound, Rome In Silver has defied being pigeonholed with his ability to explore every type of dance music. Makeshift Moon satisfies every craving. Fans who appreciate his experimental side will love “Mosaic,” “Never Be The One,” allows you to sing along, and “Colorblind” is the perfect blend of the two. -Arielle Lana Le Jarde

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Zeds Dead - Catching Z's [Altered States]


Genre-smashing duo Zeds Dead—known best for fusing aggressive dubstep, throttling drum’n’bass, hip hop, and airy electronic music—explore experimental music in their 13-track Catching Z’s mixtape. The texturally varied LP boasts transfixing tempos, hypnotic vocals, chilling chord progressions, sweeping 808s, soul-stirring sounds, masterful downtempo production, and serene soundscapes. The mixtape proves to be a masterful production by the duo. Highlights include “get what you need,” “i think you’re cool,” and “late night drive.” The mixtape dropped via their new electronic, chill, and downtempo imprint, Altered States. -Lisa Kocay

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Fred again... - Actual Life 2 (February 2 - October 15, 2021)


Fred again..’s second album beautifully chronicles snapshot moments of life while also examining grief following the death of a loved one. The 16-track LP proves to be complex and diverse, offering everything from sorrowful vocals to hopeful lyrics, piano, layered sonic textures, shimmering synths, unsettling soundscapes, blissful production, and more.

The body of work showcases numerous vocal samples, including the voice of a construction worker he met in Atlanta. The first half marks the mournful portion of the album, while the second half, starting at the track “Hannah (The Sun),” features the happy stamped moments of life. Track highlights include “Kahan (Last Year),” “Hannah (The Sun),” “Carlos (Interlude),” and “Catrin (The City).”  -Lisa Kocay

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Porter Robinson - Nurture 


After seven years, legendary artist Porter Robinson releases his second studio album, Nurture. The 14-track body of work showcases sounds of nature, spellbinding synths, messages of hope, raw vocals, joyful melodies, and guitar. The album proves to be like most Robinson tracks: undoubtedly by him due to his signature production. Highlights include “Something Comforting,” “Get Your Wish,” and “Musician.” The LP follows a bout of depression Robinson experienced after releasing his debut album, Worlds-Lisa Kocay

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MitiS - Lost


One of Ophelia Records’ frontrunners, MitiS, released his long-awaited sophomore studio album Lost back in April. Appearing on Spotify’s Top 10 album chart in the US, Lost is a towering representation of how MitiS’ production abilities have evolved over the past decade. This album showcases his true artistic talent as he takes listeners through a rollercoaster of emotions, such as heartbreak, ambition, and love. It features sensational tracks with collaborations from other Ophelia artists like Crystal Skies and heavenly vocals from SOUNDR, Bella Renee, and more. MitiS is a force to be reckoned with in the melodic bass scene, and we’re excited to see what he has planned in 2022.  -Kennedy Cymerman

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ILLENIUM - Fallen Embers


At the end of ILLENIUM’s sold-out “Trilogy” performance earlier this year, which commemorated each of his three previous albums—Ashes, Awake, and Ascend—he introduced the newest chapter of the ILLENIUM saga, Fallen Embers. This 14-track masterpiece offers a distinct vibe from his previous albums, with its crossover between rock, pop, and melodic bass, all flowing into one cohesive work of art.


Although bliss and happiness can be felt throughout, Fallen Embers does not stray away from deep and intense subjects. The last track on the album titled “Brave Soul” tells the story of one of ILLENIUM’s best friends and brother of the vocalist, Emma Grace, who lost his life to addiction. Written as a way to cope with the loss, listeners sit with feelings of pain and sorrow. ILLENIUM felt it was essential to experience emotions across a spectrum, for they are part of what makes us human. This year he was rewarded with his first-ever GRAMMY nomination as Fallen Embers competes for the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album in 2022.  -Kennedy Cymerman

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GRiZ - Rainbow Brain


Funk enthusiast GRiZ expresses his musical versatility, positivity, and stimulating energy through his seventh studio album, Rainbow Brain. In this 23-track LP, listeners embark on a trippy adventure as their ears fill with wobbly wubs, atmospheric soundscapes, uplifting melodies, and of course, GRiZ’s sexy saxophone. This album spans genres, featuring bass-heavy tracks, hip-hop beats, and reggae. Accompanying the album comes “Rainbow Brain, The Movie,” an immersive livestream experience that presents viewers with stunning visuals and other virtual elements. Rainbow Brain comes to life as the production reflects the album’s narrative. -Kennedy Cymerman

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