As summer draws to a close and we can finally start looking forward to falling temperatures (soon, please, we need this), we’re looking back on another month of music, arriving at August’s 10 best records after a long series of difficult decisions. The month was full of records we couldn’t turn off, but newly melodic breakthroughs from TURNSTILE and Deafheaven, the stark, yet epic new record from Lingua Ignota, and immersive efforts from a pair of recent Best of What’s Next picks, Provoker and Wednesday, were among the albums that had us the most hopelessly lost in our headphones. See what we saw (and hear what we heard) in August’s best albums below, as hand-picked by the Paste Music team.
Listen to our Best Albums of August 2021 playlist on Spotify here.
Detroit rapper Boldy James has gone from underground sensation to mainstream success following the steady rise of Griselda Records as one of rap’s most exciting collectives. Alongside The Alchemist, a living legend in the genre, James’ lackadaisical delivery over the stripped-down boom-bap beats position him side by side with the main players in the golden age of rap. His menacing bars open themselves up more with each listen to reveal a vivid portrait of street braggadocio painted with care. The chemistry between James and Alchemist becomes stronger with each release as the two bring out the best in each other to create love letters to a time in hip-hop that is seeing its resurgence. —Jade Gomez
Deafheaven have made two albums since Sunbather: 2015’s New Bermuda and 2018’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. Both are very good, and each one inches away from black metal and toward post-rock and shoegaze. Infinite Granite ditches the inching and dives into the deep end of Deafheaven’s softer, prettier predilections. Gone, mostly, are the blast beats and gone, mostly, are vocalist George Clarke’s howls and growls, which appear most prominently in the last three minutes of the album’s stunning final song, “Mombasa”—a classic closing number that begins with quietly intertwined acoustic and electric guitars, and evolves into a dream-pop lullaby before crescendoing into chilly calamity. “Travel now where they can’t let you down,” Clarke screams, delivering Infinite Granite’s most unintelligible lyrics. “Where you can’t fail them now.” The road to “Mombasa” is paved with eight tracks of buoyant and beautiful post-rock and shoegaze that, even with the context of their past material, paints Deafheaven in a whole new light. —Ben Salmon
Asheville, North Carolina, singer/songwriter Indigo De Souza clears the sophomore slump by leaps and bounds on Any Shape You Take, the follow-up to her 2018 self-released debut, I Love My Mom, and her first LP for Saddle Creek. Any Shape You Take, a fitting title for the multitudes that De Souza and her new songs contain, is about the difficulties and joys of pushing through the growing pains of change: “I’ll be here to love you / No matter what shape you might take,” De Souza sings on “Way Out,” an all-encompassing declaration of unconditional love. De Souza and her co-producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Waxahatchee), who recorded Any Shape You Take at Sylvan Esso’s Chapel Hill studio, couch the album’s confessionals in vivid, dynamic sonic rollercoaster rides, from the vocoderized synth-pop of opener “17” and the palm-muted harmonics on “Darker Than Death” to the peaks and valleys of “Late Night Crawlers” and the explosive emotions of the closing cut, “Kill Me.” De Souza’s singular voice is the invaluable core running through it all: She can do pure pop on “Die/Cry,” get downright operatic on “Bad Dream” and slip into an effortless falsetto on “Pretty Pictures,” taking any shape she likes. —Scott Russell
Chicago footwork producer Jana Rush transcends the euphoria found within dance music to express intense feelings of arousal, sadness and conflict. Saxophone samples are chopped up with jittery hi-hats. Porn clips are manipulated underneath a warping ambience. Rush’s abstractions of humanity through her usage of a music so intertwined with her city makes Painful Enlightenment a stunning case study. Each sample is repeated, looped and manipulated until it becomes uncomfortable, forcing listeners to sit with the lingering feeling of anxiety prevalent throughout the project. Much like the jazz samples used, Rush’s improvisational, syncopated approach to footwork requires a little extra time to understand. Rush asks for your patience, and the rewards are plentiful. —Jade Gomez
Following her titanic, devastating mesh of metal, opera and noise, Caligula, Kristin Hayter (aka Lingua Ignota) retreated to the desolation of central Pennsylvania for her new album, Sinner Get Ready. Steering in the opposite direction of her previous work, Hayter embraced the isolation of her environment for a comparatively sparse, minimalist album that loses none of its emotional potency. The songwriter’s lyrics are dark and calamitous, foretelling hellish prophecies and painting brutal pictures almost as a form of worship, frequently recalling familiar religious icons in devotion. Sinner Get Ready thrives in these profound feelings, achieving something hauntingly beautiful. —Jason Friedman
Written in the wake of divorce and the burgeoning stages of a PhD in musicology, Ramona Gonzalez’ excellent new album as Nite Jewel, No Sun, puts pain and lament at the forefront. Rituals surrounding grief and mourning take the form of lush, ambient textures paired with electronic beats and Gonzalez’ commanding voice and sorrowful, blunt lyrics, imbuing each track on the album with a tender, vulnerable emotionality. Opener “Anymore” introduces the album’s themes of loneliness with a slow-building song that makes dynamic use of space and silence as a sonic element—a move that heightens the feelings of isolation. The more pop-infused tracks like “Before I Go” and “To Feel It” offer more levity in the form of dance, but lose none of the songwriter’s gift for emotional potency. No Sun is an impressive ode to the transformative power of suffering as a means for finding greater truths within ourselves, and the irrevocable effects it can leave behind. —Jason Friedman
The third album from Birmingham-born, Cincinnati-bred, Los Angeles-based artist Pink Siifu, GUMBO’!’s guiding principle is the same multiplicity that defines both its namesake and its creator. It’s as if Pink Siifu, who produces a handful of tracks himself under his iiye alias, set out specifically to disprove that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” All 18 GUMBO’! tracks are collaborations, from de facto title track “Gumbo’! 4 tha Folks, Hold On,” featuring Big Rube, Liv.e, V.C.R, Nick Hakim and producer DJ Harrison, to “Play On’! Inshallah,” with Liv.e, Kamilah and producer Notwolfy. The record is just as protean from a genre standpoint, as Pink Siifu’s tireless explorations span the entire spectrum of Black music, from in-your-face hip-hop (“Wayans Bros.,” “Big Ole” feat. BbyMutha) to electro-soul (“Doin Tew Much. [In My Mama Name]”) and borderline-ambient R&B (“Living Proof [Family],” prod. The Alchemist). It’s a rich, complex concoction, bold and subtle at turns, a feast for the ears. —Scott Russell
The act of leaving one’s self behind to inhabit a fictional character is key to Body Jumper, Bay Area four-piece (and Paste’s July Best of What’s Next pick) Provoker’s debut album. Lyricist and vocalist Christian Petty told Paste he finds “songwriting so much easier” when he can seek emotional truths through the eyes of fictional characters—he estimates he does so on about half of Body Jumper’s 13 tracks—but as founder Jonathon Lopez points out, “with any kind of writing, a portion of the person writing it comes out anyway, little parts. So in a way it is relevant to what’s happening within our lives.” That frequently manifests as what percussionist Kristian Moreno calls “a common emotion in goth music [...] ethereal love mourn,” with Provoker’s characters animated by powerful feelings for another, but dreading the dangling axe of rejection—Petty’s smoky R&B vocals, set to the band’s doomy, yet propulsive instrumentals—menacing and danceable, part post-punk, part R&B and part synth-pop—perfectly reflect this in-between state of impossible passion and inevitable pain. —Scott Russell
One of the most conspicuous musical trends of 2021 has been quiet introspection. Across genres, artists have folded inward. Clairo relinquished the indie-pop of her 2019 debut in lieu of a softer style that evokes ‘70s singer/songwriters like Stevie Nicks. Vince Staples deserted his high-energy delivery (and producer Kenny Beats abandoned his frantic arrangements) for something more lo-fi and muted. Though records such as these are captivating in their own rights, it’s also interesting to hear artists go against that current. That’s exactly what the Baltimore-based hardcore band TURNSTILE have done on their latest album, GLOW ON. With production from Mike Elizondo and co-production from TURNSTILE’s vocalist Brendan Yates, GLOW ON is the group’s most fully realized work yet. They use the full-throttle blueprint of their sterling sophomore album, 2018’s Time & Space, and expand upon it. —Grant Sharples
Famed novelist and poet Richard Brautigan was best known for his blurry, fragmented writing style. The scenes he describes are ephemeral—almost painfully so—but they’re so specific and meaningful that they resonate long after your eyes leave the page. Karly Hartzman, vocalist and lyricist of Asheville five-piece Wednesday, writes in a similar manner. Like Brautigan, she captures the pain and surreal nature of reality, and she writes with a rapidly shifting focus and no sense of chronology, imprinting a sense of longing on their songs. Unsurprisingly, Hartzman cites Brautigan as an influence on the band’s new album, Twin Plagues. Brautigan’s work predates shoegaze, but Wednesday’s distorted, wailing guitars pair perfectly with this style of writing, which is just as blustery and powerful as their triple guitar barrage. Wednesday aren’t a straightforward shoegaze band by any means—they also fold in elements of slacker rock and country—but they harness a considerable amount of force from their rugged guitar roars and quiet-loud dynamic. Simply put, Twin Plagues is one of the best and most consistent records you’ll hear this year. It’s a stunning body of work for many reasons—the way it grapples with trauma, the way it captures suburban melancholia, the way each hook somehow sounds better than the next, the way they manage to spark something inside the listener with such specific lyrics—but more broadly, it’s because every song feels like a cathartic explosion. —Lizzie Manno