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The best albums and EPs of the year 2021 so far

Mixmag's guide to the best albums of the year

  • Mixmag
  • 2 February 2021

Welcome to Mixmag's guide to the best albums of 2021 so far.

Much like our best tracks of the year so far list, we'll update this page every month with the most innovative, interesting and downright banging dance music from across the world – in LP (or EP if we're feeling cheeky) format.

That's it, that's the deal.

Read on for the words, the audio and those very important buy links.

Happy listening!

See also: The best tracks of the year so far and the best mixes of the year so far

Bicep 'Isles' (Ninja Tune)

One of the defining dance music albums of 2021 has landed early on in the year, a potent blend of euphoria and melancholy that captures the very essence of rave perfectly. Rescheduled due to the pandemic, a January release date has turned out to be the just the right time to unleash this colourful, emotive, journeying beast, lifting us all out of the deep winter doldrums and riding a wave of grassroots support that's taken 'Isles' to number two in the UK albums chart. It's crystal clear that Bicep have written themselves into the canon of great British dance music artists. Buy it here

Madlib ‘Sound Ancestors’ (Madlib Invazion)

When Madlib dropped the majestic ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’, we should have known the album it’s part of would please us in a way only the masterful beatmaker can. The sampling supreme dips into psych rock (‘The Call’), dub (‘Loose Goose’), jazz (‘Duumbiyay) and more across ‘Sound Ancestors’, which Four Tet helped out with in terms of editing and arranging, also paying tribute to close friend and collaborator J Dilla on the uber cool funk of ‘Two for 2 - For Dilla’ and utlilising the much-sampled ‘Think (About It)’ by Lyn Collins on penultimate track ‘Chino’, flipping it into a glorious downtempo hip hop tune. It’s the kinda album you just know you’ll be revisiting all year long. Buy it here

Special Request & Tim Reaper 'Hooversound Presents Special Request & Tim Reaper' (Hooversound Recordings)

Special Request was in outrageous form in 2019. He made four albums, none of them faltering in quality. The last one was ‘Zero Fucks’, self-released on Bandcamp, and some of the tracks from that have been remixed by LDN producer Tim Reaper on Hooversound Recordings. It’s a devastating combo. Tim turns opener ‘Elysian Fields’ into a gurgling jungle monster and dips into industrial hardcore on the remix of ‘Straight Off The Block’, the EP’s final track. In between there’s a remix of ‘Pull Up’, which combines bold, rolling jungle and calmer, ambient-leaning breakdowns, and a glittering remix of ‘Quiet Storm’. If you’re struggling for motivation, this is proper kick-up-the-arse energy. Buy it here

DJ Earl 'Bass + Funk & Soul'

This was released in December as list season was in full swing, so we're dropping it here just to remind you of this fierce dose of footwork. Earl already proved himself to be a solid album artist with 2016's 'Open Your Eyes' and he sounds totally at ease here, lashing out 9 tracks in 24 minutes in hot, speedy, spontaneous style. The beats are warm and soulful, laced with choice samples that'll have you jukin' in no time at all. Buy it here

Logic1000 'You've Got The Whole Night To Go'

This four-tracker summons the butterfly-tingles of a long weekend spent with friends on dancefloors. The title hints at all of the wonderful promise of a BNO while the music wiggles around deep house, Detroit electro and breaks. An excellent statement from the Berlin-by-way-of-Melbourne artist who counts Four Tet, Annie Mac and DJ Python as fans. Buy it here

Elias Mazian 'All Night' EP (DGTL)

Elias Mazian’s ‘All Night’ EP oozes with class. Opener ‘Don’t Break It’ is an elasticated house track, pinging and flexing all over the place, with mischievous synth chords crawling in and out. The Dutch-Moroccan producer keeps that workout-friendly ethos going on ‘Don’t Break It’, packed with whomps, delicate keys and entrancing vocal loops. Just in case that wasn’t enough, he called on the talent of Shanti Celeste to up the tempo and turn in a lively, clapping remix. Buy it here

Echo Brown 'Struggles' EP (The North Quarter)

North Carolina producer Echo Brown is the latest recruit to Lenzman’s label The North Quarter. The label’s got a reputation for drum ‘n’ bass spiced with soulful seasoning and the ‘Struggles’ EP sticks to that ethos. We recently premiered ‘Love Won’t Do’, a growling, tech-y tune powered with emotive vocals. ‘So Good’ is one of those laidback d’n’b tracks oozing with class, while there’s also the skittering ‘Affirmations’ collaboration with Manchester rapper KinKai and Abnormal Sleepz-featuring ‘Tug O War’ which showcases Echo’s versatility on the downtempo cut. Pre-order it here

Jaymie Silk ‘The Legend Of Jack Johnson’ (Shall Not Fade)

Jaymie Silk has been thinking about the concept for this EP for a long time, and when the opportunity came up for his debut vinyl release, he saw it as the perfect time to bring it to the world. Themed around boxing legend Jack Johnson - the first ever Black man to be crowned heavyweight champion of the world in the peak of the USA’s racially segregated Jim Crow era - the depth of thought and time dedicated to the release shines through in the fully-formed sounds of ideas. It opens with the energy of a fraught round in the ring as tension-fuelled textures are underscored by hard percussive hits on ‘Knock You Down’. Although a comforting towel is thrown around you with the smooth and jazzier sound of follow-up cut ‘Jack Johnson’, samples of speech discussing the oppressive and racist society Johnson flourished in spite of are a reminder of the powers Black people have to battle against to showcase their gifts to the world. As this EP affirms, Jaymie Silk’s musical gift is well worth your attention. Buy it here

Tomu DJ ‘Fruit 2’

Tomu DJ’s ‘Fruit 2’ is a double shot of full-bodied textural techno. ‘apricot’ is doused in a cosy haze, riding a subtly euphoric pulse through the aural mist. The opening bass throbs of ‘nectarine’ hints at something darker, but it gradually eases in a transcendent melody that takes centre stage, producing a feeling of mellow bliss that’s reminiscent of Roy of the Ravers’ ‘Emotinium’. Buy it here

Andrew Ashong & Kaidi Tatham ‘Sankofa Season’ (Kitto Records)

Clocking in at 31 minutes, the six-track ‘Sankofa Season’ is a mighty opening statement from this new partnership between Andrew Ashong and Kaidi Tatham. It’s out on the freshly minted Kitto Records and, Tatham says in the release’s PR, is just the first taste of music from the pair, who met at a club night in Belfast fairly recently. As you’d expect from the pair, ‘Sankofa Season’ is full of irresistible broken beat and smooth, soulful UK jazz and the vibe is warm, wonderful and utterly blissed out. Buy it here

Ziúr 'Now Now'

Club experimentalist Ziúr wrote a five-track EP in 27 hours during lockdown and decided to start a new label to release it on. We very much stan this energy and are here to support 'Now Now', a dark, swirling journey where nothing is quite as it seems. More inventive writing from the Berlin producer who's currently working on her next LP. Buy it here

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