Albums of the Year: 2021 Update

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed using this blog as an outlet to write about some of my favorite music. And lately, this has been a great conversation with my youngest son, Jackson (who has his own blog here; it seems he loves to write about music, too).

So he and I have been talking about the music of the past few years — he’s an indie / pop fan, while my tastes run more along the indie / Americana / rock direction. But there’s still quite a bit of overlap. Anyway, it got me to thinking about my album rankings. My picks for the 90s are pretty much locked in (I’ve been living with this music most of my life), but I’ve revised my rankings somewhat from the last twenty years.

Here are my top three albums for each year from 2000-2020:


  1. Third Day, Offerings: A Worship Album
  2. Radiohead, Kid A
  3. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind

The last time I wrote about my favorite albums, I had Kid A in this spot; and I still think it’s a great album. But I gave Offerings a listen a couple of months ago and I was reminded of its greatness. I probably listened to this record more than anything else in the year 2000. “King of Glory” holds up as one of my favorite songs of the past 20 years.


  1. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  2. Ryan Adams, Gold
  3. The Strokes, Is This It

I can’t get away from the masterful Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I had Adams in the top spot for a while, but Wilco’s masterpiece is the superior recording. I’m putting it here because it was recorded and initially released in 2001.


  1. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head
  2. The Chicks, Home
  3. Bruce Springsteen, The Rising

For a long time, I really struggled to identify a winner for 2002. I’ve finally settled on A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay (a.k.a., the one with all the hits). But Home is also a fantastic record. This may have been The Chicks at the peak of their commercial success, but this is great music.


  1. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
  2. Third Day, Offerings II: All I Have to Give
  3. The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music

Explosions in the Sky is a staple of my study music playlist.


  1. Johnny Cash, My Mother’s Hymn Book
  2. U2, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
  3. Arcade Fire, Funeral

My favorite of Cash’s American Recordings era.


  1. David Crowder Band, A Collision Or (3 + 4 = 7)
  2. Doves, Some Cities
  3. Calexico and Iron & Wine, In The Reins

The first year I ever selected an Album of the Year on this blog was 2005 and Crowder was the winner. This album still holds up as my favorite recording from that year.


  1. Michael Giacchino, LOST: Season One
  2. Josh Ritter, The Animal Years
  3. Johnny Cash, American V: A Hundred Highways

Giacchino’s score is transcendent. One of the best things about my favorite show.


  1. The Avett Brothers, Emotionalism
  2. Radiohead, In Rainbows
  3. The National, Boxer

These are three killer albums. It’s almost unfair to have to pick just one. But in the end, Emotionalism is the music I was listening to the most during this time of my life. One of my all-time albums from a band that, for a moment, was my favorite.


  1. The Gabe Dixon Band, The Gabe Dixon Band
  2. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
  3. Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

I think I found Gabe Dixon on eMusic back in the day. This remains one of my favorites, although I’ll always remember the way my kids danced around to Vampire Weekend’s “Mansard Roof” when they were little.


  1. Tie: Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More and U2, No Line on the Horizon
  2. M.Ward, Hold Time

For now, I’m splitting the 2009 award, kind of like the 1979 N.L. MVP award. I simply can’t choose between Mumford’s debut and U2’s No Line. I may be the only person who considers No Line to be a classic, but it’s so strong. For now, I’m good with this one being a tie. Maybe by the next revision, I’ll have settled on an official winner.


  1. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  2. The National, High Violet
  3. Vampire Weekend, Contra

I’ve been listening to High Violet quite a bit lately, but the top spot for the year still belongs to Arcade Fire.


  1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  2. The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart
  3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

In recent months, Jackson has really gotten into Bon Iver. Justin Vernon’s collab with Taylor Swift put the band on Jackson’s radar and it’s given us a chance to talk about how Bon Iver pretty much just makes classics. Although I’m not quite as fond of 22 A Million and For Emma, it’s pretty undeniable that i, i and this sophomore self-titled album are near perfect.


  1. Bill Fay, Life is People
  2. Mumford & Sons, Babel
  3. Beach House, Bloom

I’ve probably had a half dozen different records tabbed for 2012 over the years. I’ve just struggled to find the definitive music for that particular year. Until now. I’ve recently come across Bill Fay’s masterpiece, Life Is People. 41 years after his previous album, the London singer-songwriter bursts back onto the scene with a collection of songs that are resplendently hopeful without being naive. I absolutely love this recording.


  1. Jason Isbell, Southeastern
  2. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
  3. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

The National and Vampire Weekend are constant bridesmaids, never brides on these lists. Southeastern is still my favorite album ever.


  1. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
  2. Augustines, Augustines
  3. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

I know I’ll look back on this period as “the golden age.” So much of my favorite music was recorded from 2013-2017. This Augustines record is probably my favorite one NOT to win AOTY.


  1. Chris Stapleton, Traveller
  2. Adele, 25
  3. James McMurtry, Complicated Game

Can you believe it’s been six years since Adele put out new music? She and George R.R. Martin are in the world’s worst race to put out new content for their fans. This was the year I was introduced to Stapleton.


  1. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
  2. Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
  3. Michael McDermott, Willow Springs

Radiohead’s second AOTY win for me, although I would consider this their fourth masterpiece (OK Computer, Kid A, In Rainbows).


  1. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
  2. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound
  3. Chris Stapleton, From A Room, Volumes 1 & 2

A Deeper Understanding is the only record that rivals Southeastern as my all-time favorite. It is so sonically rich; I could literally listen to it all day long. (In fact, I’ve done that on a couple of occasions.) The Nashville Sound remains Isbell’s finest 400 Unit record to date. And I know I’ve combined both Stapleton records into one here, but I simply can’t pick between the two. Three of my all-time favorites put out all-timers in 2017. What a year.


  1. Khruangbin, Con Todo El Mundo
  2. Lauren Daigle, Look Up Child
  3. Leon Bridges, Good Thing

As great as 2017 was, I also struggled to identify my favorite album in 2018. But I eventually found Khruangbin’s Con Todo El Mundo, a great jazz fusion record. Another study music essential.


  1. Bon Iver, i, i
  2. Daniel Norgren, Wooh Dang
  3. Peter Brutnell, King of Madrid

I found Brutnell earlier this year. Really like his sound.


  1. Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You
  2. Taylor Swift, folklore
  3. Chris Stapleton, Starting Over

Jackson has been trying to convince me that Taylor Swift’s folklore is the better record, and he may be right. I’ll admit, it has a lot of staying power. But for now, I’m not ready to negotiate off of my Springsteen pick. But Taylor is closing the gap. I’m sure Jackson will keep trying to persuade me. 🙂

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1 Response to Albums of the Year: 2021 Update

  1. Jackson Bybee says:

    folklore all the way!!!😂 I absolutely love the two bon iver albums that you’ve chosen for your album of the year. can’t wait to see what music we’ll get it 2021.

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