WSUM’s Executive Staff’s Top Records of 2021

The time has come for WSUM’s executive staff to release their coveted lists of their favorite records of 2021! Take a look, take a listen!

Arthur Machado, Traffic Director

  1. Underscores, fishmonger
  2. sonhos tomam conta, weird
  3. Hey, ily!, P.S.S.U.S.S.P. / Internet Breath
  4. 8485, Hangar
  5. :3, Axolotes Mexicanos
  6. Parannoul / Asian Glow / sonhos tomam conta, Downfall of the Neon Youth
  7. I Became Birds, Home is Where
  9. Depression Sonora, Historias tristes para dormir bien
  10. That same street, the truth about hatsune miku

Honorable mentions

  • Origami Angel, GAMI GANG
  • patchymate, Avian
  • Sophia Chablau e Uma Enorme Perda de Tempo, Sophia Chablau e Uma Enorme Perda de Tempo
  • Weezer, Ok, Human
  • Lupe de Lupe, Lula
  • Lil Ugly Mane, volcanic bird enemy and the voiced concern
  • Alice Gas, Hardcore Heaven
  • Siouxxie, witchpop

It took me a long time to finally understand the hype behind hyperpop. No, I was not at the 100 gecs gig at The Sett last year. Nor had I heard of terms like PC Music, digicore or, surprisingly, neo Shibuya-key. This disdain towards the genre only changed in May, as “Spoiled little brat” came up on my Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist and its controlled chaos swept me off my feet. The debut album from underscores, fishmonger, perfectly encapsulates the ethos of modern gen-z aesthetics. This album draws upon the silly, chaotic fun of hyperpop classics like “stupid horse” and “Ferrari” and molds into a three-arc narrative about growing up, all while pushing the boundaries of the genre-defying art movement hyperpop turned into. 

The first few tracks of the LP are unapologetically hyperpop. The vocals thread the fine line between the autotune obnoxiousness of 100 gecs and the monotone delivery of your favorite cloud rappers. In “Second hand embarrassment,” the lead single for the album, underscores experiments with harmonies landing for a beautifully anxious tune, introducing the listener to the emotional world of underscores. Another standout aspect of fishmonger are the relatable lyrics that particularly resonate with folks that spent the majority of their childhood on the digital world (like me!) Bozo bozo bozo’s “Why you so sad? Nothing’s gonna change / Oversharing to the friends I made by lying on the internet” or “I let admiration get to my head / Fuck celebrities, I might as well just copy my friends” serving as the perfect example of underscores’ lyricism.

The entire Side-A builds up to the emotional catharsis within “Spoiled little brat.” Arguably the track that presents the most hyperpop tropes represents underscores at their best. Catchy bubblegum lyrics about Internet fame blend in together with danceable beats, making this the quintessential hyperpop party song. From this point onwards the album takes an introspective tone, in a way I never thought possible in a genre known for its carefree fun. Who knew a Phoebe Bridgers-like track about a depressed Filipino fish could make me cry? Yet, “The fish song” has done this multiple times. The album’s closer “Del mar country fair 2008,” has a “summer’s end” feel in a way where each distorted 808 comes as a bullet to the heart. This break-up track not only represents a moment from underscores’ life, but also as the end of this magnificently nostalgic 30 minute journey. fishmonger is what 1000 gecs dreams of being. The genre-defying producer seamlessly blends folkish acoustic guitars with nightcore vocals in what I believe to be not only the best record of the year, but also the best display of gen-z art so far. I couldn’t be more thankful to fishmonger for introducing me to the wonderful world of hyperpop in such a personal album. 

Matt Jarosinski, Program Director 

  1.  Lil Ugly Mane, Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern
  2.  Ovlov, Buds 
  3.  black midi, Cavalcade 
  4.  Parannoul, To See the Next Part of the Dream
  5.  Able Baker, Spiral Bound Songs 
  6.  Gash, Leftern
  7.  Subsonic Eye, Nature of Things 
  8.  Soumbalgwang, Happiness, Flower 
  9.  Horsey, Debonair 
  10.  Injury Reserve, By the Time I Get to Phoenix 

Honorable mentions

  • Squid, Bright Green Field 
  • Danny Elfman, Big Mess 
  • Low, HEY WHAT
  • Parannoul / Asian Glow / sonhos tomam conta, Downfall of the Neon Youth

I’ll have to admit, I was not familiar with Lil Ugly Mane, also known as Travis Miller, before hearing this album. What I can tell you is that the collection of sounds found within Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern are by far the most eclectic and mesmerizing I’ve heard all year, with every song on the album providing a unique look into Miller’s vision for the album. The album bounces back and forth between many different genres and approaches, for a sample of this, the album jumps between the dixieland stylings of “Styrofoam,” the shoegaze-fused “Headboard” and “Porcelain Slightly,” the colorful instrumental hip-hop of “Beach Harness,” and the hazy neo-psychedelia of tracks like “VPN” or “Benadryl Submarine.” Ultimately, what is on display in Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern is a sort of mastery over songwriting, every song is filled with substantial hooks, captivating lyrics, and a vivid atmosphere that grabs your attention immediately. Don’t miss out on this one. 

Zack Cherney, Sports Director 

  1. G-Eazy, These Things Happen Too 
  2. OneRepublic, Human
  3. NF, Clouds
  4. Lil Durk and Lil Baby, The Voice of the Heroes
  5. Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album
  6. Florida Georgia Line, Life Rolls On 
  7. Belly, See You Next Wednesday 
  8. Don Toliver, Life of a Don
  9. mike., the highs.
  10. Baby Keem, The Melodic Blue

Honorable mentions

  • Jason Aldean, Macon
  • Lil Skies, Unbothered
  • Darci, Long Days Away
  • Yung Pinch, Washed Ashore

Since G-Eazy released “I Mean It” off his debut album These Things Happen all the way back in 2014 I have been hooked. Some of his albums since then have been rather underwhelming, but the songs that were good were ones to be set on repeat. Yet, I always had confidence he would make an album that would amaze me from start to finish. This new album was exactly that: amazing. It took until his fourth true album, but he finally released his masterpiece led by great vocals, beats and features. 

Izzi Bavis, Music Director

  1. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
  2. Indigo De Souza, Any Shape You Take
  3. Spirit of the Beehive, ENTERTAINMENT DEATH
  4. Faye Webster, I Know I’m Funny haha
  5. Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augistine, A Beginner’s Mind
  6. Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, Her (Original Score)
  7. Katy Kirby, Cool Dry Place
  8. Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun
  9. Girlpuppy, Swan (EP)
  10. Grouper, Shade

Honorable mentions

  • Mitski, “Working for the Knife”
  • Yameii Online, “Baby My Phone”
  • Sza, “I Hate U”
  • TV Girl and Jordana, Summer’s Over
  • Moontype, Bodies of Water
  • Macie Stewart, Mouth Full of Glass
  • The Ophelias, Crocus
  • Wednesday, Twin Plagues
  • Black Country, New Road, For the First Time

Ranking this list was difficult, and ultimately I settled with Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee as my number one for a few reasons. First, the album production is flawless. I love the instrumentation and creativity behind each track; it takes the experimental notion of Soft Sounds From Another Planet and combines Michelle Zauner’s raw vocals. Second, the lyricism is spectacular. Zauner’s world play is clever and leaves the listener wanting more. Songs like “Savage Good Boy” and “Be Sweet” are more upbeat and light while tracks like “In Hell” and “Posing In Bondage” are more serious. Furthermore, the lighter songs still have deeper meanings. Issues of class, comfort, femininity, masculinity and power are all present on “Savage Good Boy.” Zauner doesn’t leave anything out on this record. Lastly, and perhaps the most important, Japanese Breakfast’s live show in Madison this past fall sealed the deal for me. I’ve seen the band twice now at the Majestic and both times they put on one hell of a show. It was a good year of music, and I will cherish this list for a long time.

Kalina Larsen, Administrative Specialist

  1. Porridge Radio, Every Bad  
  2. Julien Baker, Little Oblivions
  3. Marisa Anderson and William Tyler, Lost Futures 
  4. Emma Peters, Emma Peters (Remixed)
  5. Mata, Młody Matczak 
  6. Tommy Genesis, goldilocks x 
  7. PinkPantheress, to hell with it
  8. Videoclub, Euphories
  9. WILLOW, lately I feel EVERYTHING
  10.  slowthai, TYRON

This album is everything! Disc 1 is your classic indie rock, with poetic female lyrics and a strong guitar, drums and bass, but Disc 2 brings on collaborators to remix the songs with hyper-pop and techno influence. Perfectly synthesizes these two sides of 2021, from my first listen, this album immediately spoke to me. The half of me that was studious, stayed home because of the pandemic and filled with introspective thought. And the other half, the one that was making up lost youth. One of my favorite aspects of this album is the repetition in the montra-like lyrics. I connected to the feeling of constant repetition, like I’ve already done this. This year has been full of deja-vu, returning to a life I had forgotten, yet somehow everything about it has been new, unprecedented. That is how I feel about this album. I hear the classic indie music I recognize, but the album still surprises me in how it transforms the style. Each song in the album fits a different aspect of my life yet it is still a coherent piece. Porridge Radio somehow made the exact album I needed this year. 

Sean Horvath, Station Manager

  1. Injury Reserve, By the Time I Get to Phoenix
  3. Low, HEY WHAT
  4. Armand Hammer and The Alchemist, Haram
  5. Pile, Songs Known Together, Alone
  6. Hiatus Kaiyote, Mood Valiant
  7. (Liv).e, CWTTY+
  8. Men I Trust – Untourable Album
  9. Sorry, Twixtustwain
  10. Tyler, the Creator, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

Honorable mentions

  • Jordana & TV Girl, Summer’s Over
  • Bad Bad Hats, Walkman

Album go brrrrrrrrrrrrr

Anne O’Neill, Traffic Director 

  1. Little Simz, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert 
  2. Joy Crookes, Skin 
  3. Ms Nina, Sabrosura
  4. Kojaque, Town’s Dead
  5. Big Thief, Live at The Bunker Studio
  6. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee 
  7. Mon Laferte, SEIS  
  8. Alewya, Panther in Mode
  9. NewDad, Waves
  10. Arca, KicK iii 

Honorable mentions

  • Pom Pom Squad, Death of a Cheerleader
  • CMAT, No More Virgos (single, sorry)
  • Greentea Peng, MAN MADE

This album has everything. Operatic from the beginning, it only gets better with each song every time I listen to it. I remember listening to Stillness In Wonderland in high school with concerning regularity and to hear her music progress into this masterpiece has been a delight. Simz’s lyricism is unmatched. Her ability to convey complex emotions and talk through personal trauma in such a poetic and honest way makes me cry and want to punch something at the same time. But then again, when don’t I feel that way?

Will Mandel, Production Director 

  1. Vince Staples, Vince Staples
  2. underscores, fishmonger
  3. Dirty Bird, Virginia Creeper
  4. BabyTron, Bin Reaper 2
  5. Mach-Hommy, Balens Cho (Hot Candles)
  6. MIKE, Disco!
  7. PinkPantheress, to hell with it
  8. The Alchemist, This Thing of Ours 
  9. KAYTRANADA, Intimidated EP
  10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3000

Honorable mentions

  • Dirty Bird, Time Traveler
  • Tyler, The Creator, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
  • Isaiah Rashad, The House Is Burning
  • TiaCorine, The Saga of 34Corine
  • Mach-Hommy, Pray For Haiti

God, this was a hard choice. And yet, while a lot of my favorite artists reached new highs this year, none of them did so in quite as spectacular fashion as Vince Staples. On his 5th album since 2014, Staples reminds listeners that the flexibility he’s displayed over the past few years hasn’t gone anywhere. Far from the hard-hitting sounds of Summertime ‘06 and Prima Donna that catapulted him into the public eye, Vince Staples instead opts for more subdued production, giving Staples’ voice space to carry each track. It gives him space to get more intimate, too: this album is about as personal as we’ve ever seen Vince, bouncing back between memories of his childhood and nihilistic looks to the future (“I can die tonight, so today, I’m finna go get paid”). Vince Staples isn’t new to this, and it’s apparent across the album, with vocal performances ranging from perfectly-timed staccato on “LIL FADE” to smoother, more melodic delivery on “THE SHINING”. On beats that are hardly more than a hi-hat and an 808 (see “MHM”), Vince sounds just as comfortable as he did laying down bars over the late great SOPHIE’s production back on Big Fish Theory. Vince Staples, like previous project FM!, clocks in at under 23 minutes, but not a second is wasted. Further cementing himself in the upper echelon of hip-hop, Vince Staples shows no signs of slowing down. 

Ayden Schultz, Web Director

  1. Parannoul, To See the Next Part of the Dream
  3.  black midi, Cavalcade 
  4.  Kero Kero Bonito, Civilization
  5.  Ovlov, Buds 
  6.  Black Country, New Road, For the First Time
  7.  Sweet Trip, A Tiny House, in Secret Speeches, Polar Equals
  8.  Tropical Fuck Storm, Deep States
  9.  Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra, Promises
  10.  Squid, Bright Green Field

Honorable Mentions

  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
  • Turnstile, GLOW ON
  • Shame, Drunk Tank Pink

For fans of all things “post” like myself, 2021 has been brimming with disappointments. The new Parquet Courts album? Bad. The new Idles album? Bad. The new GYBE? Meh. The list goes on.

Among the rough however, myself and many others ran into this album by Korea’s Parannoul. This is one of the best Shoegaze albums I’ve heard in many a year. It’s noisy, dreamy, varied, and has an annoying alarm clock sound that lasts for way longer than it should at the beginning of one of the songs. What more could you ask for? Plus, it’s all midi controlled. The guitars, the drums, and everything else are created by pressing little buttons on a keyboard. Some may think this takes away from the musicianship, but I find it rather impressive. I don’t speak Korean, but it’s not hard to distinguish the themes of melancholy throughout this album. An excellent album for watching the snow come down.