The 30 Best Debut Albums of 2021

Featuring Magdalena Bay, Home Is Where, Pom Pom Squad and more

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The 30 Best Debut Albums of 2021

Music contains so many multitudes that sweeping generalizations about it rarely ring true, but this one still does: There are few things more exciting than an excellent debut album. It’s a thrill to recognize a vital new voice making a compelling introductory statement—an artist announcing not only that they’re here, but also that they’re here to stay. Many of the albums below were much-anticipated, while others were pleasant surprises—some of these artists flew under the radar in 2021, while others were inescapable. There’s rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop and even “dariacore.” There’s something for you, whoever you are.

Listen to Paste’s Best Debut Albums of 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

Alien Boy: Don’t Know What I Am

Portland, Oregon’s Alien Boy—guitarist and songwriter Sonia Weber, drummer Derek McNeil, and a rotating cast of PDX scene mainstays—make punchy West Coast guitar rock aglow with a sense of yearning that will make your heart ache, in a good way. Their debut album Don’t Know What I Am is riddled with “Dreams and Queer Feeling,” the motto the band spray-painted on a banner they hung onstage during a series of defining 2018 shows. “Dear Nora” is a passionate, overwhelmingly earnest expression of affection and gratitude: A melodic lead riff surfs waves of whammied shoegaze fuzz, only receding to make space for Weber’s lovesick vocals: “You’re everything, you’re everything,” she sings, gushing, “I adore you so, you adore me in the way I always wanted.” Alien Boy wield these emotions with an urgency that emanates through your speakers, like on opener “The Way I Feel,” when Weber sings, “The way you love me hurts too much / The way I feel / The way you make me feel, won’t come around again.” The intensity of feeling on Don’t Know What I Am would be almost too much to bear if Alien Boy weren’t so adept at shredding through the heartache. —Scott Russell

Another Michael: New Music and Big Pop

Describing Philadelphia trio Another Michael as an indie-pop act is accurate, but it’s also a serious oversimplification. Vocalist/guitarist Michael Doherty, bassist Nick Sebastiano and guitarist/keyboardist Alenni Davis combine a disparate set of influences—including everything from Damien Rice, Bright Eyes, Kanye West and Radiohead to R&B, dance, videogame and classical music—into a compelling debut album. The full-length follow-up to a pair of EPs, 2016’s Sans and 2018’s Land, New Music and Big Pop is the work of a hungry, young band still figuring out what exactly it is they want to say. But it’s also the sort of album to drop the rap airhorn into a somber, Fleet Foxes-esque acoustic number, or to take its title from two of its most dissimilar tracks, one a hushed slow-burn (“New Music”), the other a jangling, upbeat strummer (“Big Pop”). There’s something undeniable about music so clearly animated by both a spirit of exploration and pure passion for the art form. —Scott Russell

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams

Arlo Parks has already accomplished one of her biggest goals. The 19-year-old British musician, born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, has said that she writes her songs “to feel both universal and hyper-specific.” The high-profile fans—Phoebe Bridgers, Billie Eilish, Michelle Obama—whom Parks has accrued since her 2018 emergence certainly attest to her music’s broad relatability, and her music itself displays her talent for intimate, you-had-to-be-there details and unyielding, wise-beyond-her-years empathy. On Parks’ long-awaited debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, her narratives remain vivid and often crushing. Likewise intact is her vibrant fusion of rock, jazz, folk and hip-hop, a combination both dedicated to her idols Frank Ocean and Radiohead (she namechecks Thom Yorke on “Too Good”) and sprinkled with a blueness distinctly her own. Her sound is compelling enough that, even when her lyrics regress into platitudes, her music remains stirring and intense. —Max Freedman

Baby Keem: The Melodic Blue

At only 21 years old, Baby Keem is one of rap’s brightest. Following 2019’s infectious Die For My Bitch, Keem finally offered his breathtaking full-length debut The Melodic Blue in 2021. With a keen ear for melodies that can live both on TikTok and party playlists, charming lyrics (such as the very honest “I need a girlfriend” on “range brothers”), and a fine grasp of the delicate balance between the intimate and the surface-level, Baby Keem has laid out an exciting groundwork for a career marked by longevity and experimentation without losing sight of a larger pop audience. —Jade Gomez

Black Country, New Road: For the first time

Born of the same South London scene that’s produced the likes of black midi, PVA and Squid, skyrocketing septet Black Country, New Road found their band name using a random Wikipedia page generator. With singles like 2019’s “Athens, France” and “Sunglasses,” and last year’s “Science Fair,” the U.K. up-and-comers are growing and changing before our eyes. On their debut album For the first time, frontman Isaac Wood’s hypnotic speak-singing shifts subtly away from “speak” and towards “sing” so as to more effectively meld with the band’s mercurial instrumental outbursts. Their thunderous post-punk, spiked with discordant jazz and bookended by klezmer squalls, feels both explosively raw and carefully, ingeniously crafted. —Scott Russell

Bruiser Wolf: Dope Game Stupid

Bruiser Wolf has garnered significant buzz as one of the newest signees of Bruiser Brigade Records, a new label founded by Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Wolf’s debut album, Dope Game Stupid, is a whimsical and introspective introduction to the rapper, complete with metaphors that range from genius to outright ridiculous. The album’s title track’s hypnotizing psychedelic loop serves as a funhouse mirror reflection of Wolf’s biting recollections of his illicit activities. His distinct delivery dances between a whisper and a sermon as he raps, “Stupid, when you get indicted by the feds / Those stories get made up like beds / And oh yeah, the game starts where it end / So if you get caught, don’t you talk, like an imaginary friend,” painting vivid portraits of his fascinating life straight out of the beginning stages of a film script. —Jade Gomez

Dijon: Absolutely

Baltimore-bred, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and producer Dijon Duenas has been releasing music for nearly a decade, from his early output with Abhi Raju, as Abhi//Dijon, to his first solo singles in 2017 and his subsequent releases as simply Dijon. All those years inform Absolutely, his special full-length debut, which exists somewhere between early Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and late Bon Iver. Dijon conjures puffy clouds of heartbroken alt-R&B, propulsive funk (“Many Times”) and lush neo-soul (“The Dress”) coexisting with deconstructed balladry (“Noah’s Highlight Reel”) and slow-burning, Americana-tinged emotional epics (the stunning “Rodeo Clown”). Absolutely has all the ache of an exposed nerve, yet manages the communal warmth of a half-hour house party—Djion recorded its 12 tracks across a few weeks in close quarters with “a close-knit group of collaborators and friends,” per press materials, and listening to it feels like being swathed in that same intimacy, held close somewhere your problems can’t touch you. —Scott Russell

dltzk: Frailty

Subgenres come and go. New waves and scenes emerge to replace old ones, making genre a generally ephemeral concept. Genres both splinter off into new shapes and dissolve into oblivion, which makes the new ones all the more intriguing to listen to. So when teenage producer dltzk (pronounced “delete Zeke”) referred to their debut album, Frailty, as “dariacore,” it only heightened that sense of intrigue. Fortunately, it pays off. The New Jersey artist came up with the genre’s name while working in FL Studio after finishing the animated television show Daria. Thus, dariacore was born. Sonically, though, dltzk’s music is a masterful amalgam of myriad other subgenres: digicore, hyperpop, emo, bedroom pop, EDM, Nintendocore, the list goes on. If such an extensive list makes Frailty sound like a meandering mess, then it simply speaks to dltzk’s impressive skills as a producer. Nothing sounds disjointed or out of place. Frailty, clocking in at nearly an hour with 13 tracks, is coherent yet ambitious, focused yet towering. —Grant Sharples

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg

British quartet Dry Cleaning extract the profound from the mundane and the meaningful from the nonsensical. On “Viking Hair” from the band’s 2019 EP Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks, frontperson Florence Shaw’s everyday sexual fantasies stood in for the arbitrary guidelines determining acceptable and shameful desires; as she surreally rattled off “traditional fish bar, chicken and ribs, bus pass” and more on “Traditional Fish” from the band’s other 2019 EP, Sweet Princess, she scorned the very idea of commerce. And she did it all in a bone-dry, comical sing-speak set to rollicking, if not straightforward, post-punk courtesy of guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton. New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning’s debut album (and first release for 4AD), is all of that and none of that. Shaw’s semi-accidental revelations about the ridiculousness of being alive when we live in a society are sharper than ever, and her voice newly takes the tone of a psychic waking up from a 70-year nap. Dowse, Maynard and Buxton have massively upped their game, too: The EPs’ post-punk foundation remains, but atop it come stomping glam riffs, dream-pop arpeggios and razor-sharp melodies that loosen Dry Cleaning’s prior tension without entirely taming the mania. —Max Freedman

Ducks Ltd.: Modern Fiction

The full-length debut of Toronto multi-instrumentalist duo Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis (formerly known as Ducks Unlimited), Modern Fiction is a must-listen for fans of The Feelies, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and everything in between. An ideally paced, 10-track, half-hour listen, the record is replete with robust jangle-pop guitars, cheery melodies and clever lyricism—all of which belie the darkness at its heart. Indeed, Ducks Ltd. spend much of their first album examining the lies we tell ourselves and the emotional corners we cut, distorting the world around us in our attempts to better deal with it. The band’s generous and accessible sound is the sugar that makes that medicine go down. —Scott Russell

Dummy: Mandatory Enjoyment

Several of 2021’s most beloved and interesting albums feature a cerebral, textured chaos that sparks a wide range of emotions—including records by Spirit of the Beehive, The Armed and TURNSTILE—and Dummy’s debut Mandatory Enjoyment certainly accomplishes that same feat. Their blend of noise-pop and new age music works on multiple levels, especially because both subgenres thrive on the fascinating intermingling of electronic and organic components. But what’s arguably most satisfying about Dummy is that their thrumming instrumentals evoke crisp lines, while their free-flowing, tangential textures color outside those bounds—their songs always feel like the perfect painting. —Lizzie Manno

Emma-Jean Thackray: Yellow

British jazz musician Emma-Jean Thackray makes music that’s transcendent, with an album that explores spirituality in all of its variations. On her debut album Yellow, Thackray’s dance-aligned interpretation of jazz is a psychedelic foray into the subconscious, guided by her incredible vocals that nestle deep into the crevices of our minds. Her intention is written all over the album as she dances around her skilled backing band in a gentle unification of their ideas, digging deep into the meanings of dualism and human connection. This pursuit is something to be reminded of, and Thackray nudges the audience with care. —Jade Gomez

Fake Fruit: Fake Fruit

Post-punk lovers have a new act to follow in Fake Fruit, a Vancouver-bred, Bay Area-based quartet whose self-titled debut is out now on Rocks In Your Head Records. The band cite Pink Flag-era Wire, Pylon and Mazzy Star as influences, and Fake Fruit bears that synthesis out: You’ll find the first two acts’ versatile, hard-edged, bright- and fast-burning guitar rock (“Old Skin,” “Yolk”), as well as the last one’s engrossing quiet-loud dynamics (“Stroke My Ego”). But that specific stylistic fusion is only a jumping-off point: “Keep You” finds singer and guitarist Hannah D’Amato’s melodic vocals overlaying hypnotic shoegaze guitars (courtesy of Alex Post on lead) and a clattering low end (Martin Miller on bass, Miles MacDiarmid on drums), while album closer “Milkman” finds D’Amato sharing vocal duties over deft guitar harmonics and a motorik backbeat. And an X factor in all this is Fake Fruit’s mordant lyricism: “My dog speaks more than you did tonight,” D’Amato sneers on “Keep You,” a laugh line on an album that shows serious potential. —Scott Russell

Floatie: Voyage Out

Chicago quartet Floatie make brain-wrinkling rock that wouldn’t be possible without their close interconnection. Though Sam Bern, Luc Schutz, Joe Olson and Will Wisniewski have only just released their debut album on Exploding in Sound, Voyage Out is the product of a creative relationship that dates back nearly a decade, lending the band’s introductory effort a hard-won unity of vision you rarely see on a debut album, with Floatie writing and performing as one. There’s math-rock precision aplenty here—like on the arpeggiated riffage of “In the Night,” the elusive time signatures of “Lookfar,” or the title track’s dueling guitars—but where that kind of calculated instrumentation can sometimes feel sterile and joyless, Floatie’s is rich in emotional texture, specifically a dream-pop softness that provides a critical counterbalance to their meticulous constructions. Lead single “Catch a Good Worm” finds both these elements colliding to sublime effect, with pinpoint shifts between math chug and dreamy sludge as Bern imagines “A pretty worm, alive inside / Another name, another try.” —Scott Russell

Geese: Projector

Teenaged Brooklyn rockers Geese grabbed our attention with their stellar first single over the summer and, with the release of their much-anticipated debut album Projector, show zero signs of letting it go. The quintet’s sound fits most comfortably in the post-punk bucket, but placing any one descriptor on it is a mistake—Geese’s raison d’être is stylistic multiplicity, and their songs never occupy a single space for long, shifting fluidly between angular precision and psychedelic sprawl, all while remaining perpetually danceable and energetic. Frontman Cameron Winter’s lyrics inhabit the perspectives of various shadowy characters, spinning tales of anxiety and annihilation that imbue the band’s mercurial instrumentation with a gripping darkness. All told, Projector is an exhilarating first statement from a preternaturally talented band, bottled rock lightning with roots in decades of compelling musical influence. —Scott Russell

Genesis Owusu: Smiling with No Teeth

Genre classifications can be a helpful shorthand when it comes to understanding and engaging with new music, but nowadays, more and more artists are leaving them entirely in the dust. Just take Ghana-born, Australia-based musician Genesis Owusu, whose thrilling debut record Smiling with No Teeth is consistently difficult to pin down in a way that feels nothing less than vital. The avant-garde, yet undeniably accessible album spans glitchy, Death Grips-esque electro-hip-hop, lush dark-pop and R&B, lusty synth-funk and new-wave rock, with Owusu as the charismatic presence in the eye of the stylistic cyclone. On lead single “Gold Chains” and the album as a whole, Owusu exposes “the flaws of being in a profession where, more and more, you have to be the product, rather than just the provider of the product,” emphasizing the human being under all that gold, whose peace of mind may be the price he pays. —Scott Russell

Gustaf: Audio Drag for Ego Slobs

There’s a distinctive charm to bands like Brooklyn quintet Gustaf, who craft a slickly stylish, fully realized rock sound while flatly rejecting pretension and self-seriousness. Like DEVO or Talking Heads before them, Gustaf deal in clever, irresistibly upbeat art-rock that’s as playful as it is thoughtful, with an LCD Soundsystem-esque dance-punk edge to keep the energy and intrigue up. Tine Hill (bass), Vram Kherlopian (guitar), Melissa Lucciola (drums), Tarra Thiessen (vocals, percussion) and Lydia Gammill (lead vocals) recorded their debut album with Carlos Hernandez (Ava Luna, Sneaks, Mr. Twin Sister) at Brooklyn’s Honey Jar Studio, with co-production from Gammill and Hernandez, and its singles made Gustaf a fixture on Paste’s top track roundups this summer. Their potential is plain to hear, particularly in full-length form. —Scott Russell

Home Is Where: I Became Birds

Palm Coast quartet Home Is Where make an indelible first impression with I Became Birds, a debut release that blurs the bounds of not only the album form, but also of emo as a genre: Its six tracks and 20-ish minutes are packed with surprising, gratifying moments that incorporate both hard rock and Americana, from the harmonica bridge on “Long Distance Conjoined Twins” to the delightful refrain of “I wanna pet every puppy I see” giving way to crashing screamo on “Sewn Together from the Membrane of the Great Sea Cucumber.” The record’s peak is its de facto title track, “Assisted Harakiri,” on which vocalist Brandon MacDonald’s explosively passionate delivery imbues both simple suburban imagery and deep internal struggles with the same emotional potency: “Moths confuse / porch lights for the moon / Over and over / Oh, the treachery / of anatomy.” Poetic and powerful in equal measure, I Became Birds punches far beyond its weight, placing Home Is Where at the forefront of the Sunshine State’s suddenly buzzing emo scene. —Scott Russell

Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place

The inevitable messiness of life is what makes it so painful, interesting and enjoyable, but learning to be okay with it all is much easier said than done. Nashville-via-Texas singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is well on her way in that journey. On her debut album Cool Dry Place, Kirby tries to decide what’s worth holding on to and what’s worth seeking, but also allows herself the freedom to pause and just revel in precious moments, like a drunken walk home (“Peppermint”) or the fantasy of protecting someone you love (“Eyelids”). Whether slipping into playful metaphors or arriving at an important realization, Kirby sounds, at once, comfortable and uncomfortable with the fluidity of interactions and situations, which is what makes this record more than just an incredibly pleasing collection of songs. Wants and needs are blurred, relationships shapeshift, but more than anything, a human desire for intimacy and understanding underpins it all. After dropping in and out of school, religion and recording music, Kirby is searching for a sustainable source of warmth—whether a person, a plant, Target lingerie or “a secret chord that David played.” —Lizzie Manno

Lil Nas X: Montero

Lil Nas X is a star. That’s all there is to it. On his newest album Montero, he takes his charming brand of pop-rap to new heights, getting personal about desire, relationships and sex. From viral rap sensation to one of the biggest artists across both pop and hip-hop, Nas defied the odds of disappearing into a one-hit-wonder abyss and stepped up into longevity, thanks to his ear for hooks and his refreshing sense of humor found throughout his presence and visuals. Montero is a chance to see the man behind the memes and radio hits, and he more than proves he is capable of handling the tricky balancing act of his characters.—Jade Gomez

Magdalena Bay: Mercurial World

Synth-pop duo Magdalena Bay, aka Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin, have fully embraced the secret blessing of the pandemic. Following the unfortunately timed release of their 2020 EP A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling at the cusp of lockdown, the ensuing isolation gave time for the EP to resonate with fans, leading to a growing support system that crystallized into the hype for their debut album Mercurial World. The duo fully embrace the changing tides of pop music via their take on bubblegum and electro-pop with the vulnerability of Gwen Stefani and the infectious hooks of Grimes, two influences the group regularly circle back to. Mercurial World finally offers the space for the two to sink their teeth into the ideas touched upon in their previous projects, with a newfound vigor that only a global crisis could incite. —Jade Gomez

Mia Joy: Spirit Tamer

After a breakup, Mia Joy, born Mia Rocha, decided to embark on a solo career. Her debut album, Spirit Tamer is an ethereal dream-pop exploration of her deepest secrets. Rocha is a self-proclaimed private person, and the ambient-leaning Spirit Tamer is her way of coaxing us into her secret universe—one filled with biting humor, unwelcome changes and long-awaited healing. It opens with a fully instrumental title track in which Rocha’s melotic wails float above reverberating chords, fluctuating from low hums to piercing lamentations. It’s as if she captured all of her emotions in a sealed jar and released them at once, briefly embracing the disorienting noise before it eventually dissipates. It captures Rocha’s inner loneliness, cultivates healing, and creates a safe space where she can work through her darkest moments. —Carolyn Droke

Moontype: Bodies of Water

Friendship, water and glass have a lot in common. For starters, they’re essential for modern life, and they can be beautiful, life-affirming and often long-lasting. Similarly, they’re all powerful and capable of wreaking havoc. But most interestingly, we can see our reflection in each of them, whether it’s a storefront, a pond or even a friendship. These three things also inform Bodies of Water, the impressive debut album from Chicago trio Moontype. The record is full of references to water in various states of matter, cherished quality time and glass as a symbol of perspective—all devices to highlight the tender, wholesome moments that keep us going. It’s a sweet, intimate record, bolstered by the love each band member has for each other. Soaking up their album really is a healing experience given its universal search for love, understanding and identity. Whether songwriter, lead vocalist and bassist Margaret McCarthy is pining for a friend she hasn’t seen in a while, feeling disconnected from someone who’s near, or trying to cope with being alone, Bodies of Water cherishes the special moments when connection comes easy, and we truly feel seen by ourselves and others. —Lizzie Manno

N0V3L: NON-FICTION

If you trapped an early-days Franz Ferdinand in a basement and fed them nothing but bad news and cigarettes, they’d eventually write and record something like NON-FICTION, the compelling debut album from Canadian quintet N0V3L. (They recorded it in a Vancouver tear-down that’s since been demolished, so perhaps that analogy is closer to the mark than one would think.) Dark and nervy, the record’s switchblade-sharp guitars and seasick rhythms somehow manage not to overwhelm, but rather to entrance and invigorate, with help from producer Bryce Cloghesy (Military Genius, Crack Cloud). Despite all that’s weighing on NOV3L’s minds—late capitalism, the opioid crisis, mental illness, time’s inexorable passage, you name it—they’re incredibly light on their feet, simulating danceable whimsy via penetrating riffs, hazy horns and Jon Varley’s nonchalantly blunt vocals. Impending doom has seldom felt so funky. —Scott Russell

Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR

2021 was the year of Olivia Rodrigo, full stop. The 18-year-old pop sensation made a multi-platinum entrance with “drivers license,” proved she was no fluke on “deja vu,” and put her range on display with “good 4 u.” Still, the lingering question in the lead-up to her debut album SOUR was, “Is Rodrigo for real, or just a flash in the pan?” From the record’s opening moments, it was clear we had our answer: “brutal” begins with a mock orchestral intro before uncorking a left hook in the same pop-punk revival vein as “good 4 u,” with Rodrigo confessing over chugging guitars, “I feel like no one wants me / And I hate the way I’m perceived.” From that song’s supremely relatable teenage angst (“jealousy, jealousy” is another standout of that stripe) and heartfelt ballads like “enough for you” and closer “hope ur ok,” to the hits that made this album an event, SOUR cemented Rodrigo as an artist deserving of the year’s most meteoric rise. —Scott Russell

Paris Texas: BOY ANONYMOUS

As a working musician, your goal, in a sense, is maximum exposure. You share your work and your story in the hopes that an audience will gather around to hear them, pouring yourself into your art so as to better connect with the listeners who make your pursuits possible. You welcome the world in and show them exactly who you are. For Compton duo Paris Texas, that kind of revelation is the exception, not the rule. Yet the gambit works: The mysteries of the duo’s genre-defying, self-produced debut project only heighten its intrigue, imbuing BOY ANONYMOUS with a sense of boundless possibility. At eight tracks, BOY ANONYMOUS is not quite an album, nor is it an EP—it’s not quite hip-hop, nor is it rock or pop, though elements of all three genres are all over it. This is exactly as Paris Texas intended: “Categories make things comfortable for our lil lizard brains,” Louie Pastel acknowledged on Instagram in announcing the band’s debut. “But this project we kinda embraced the ideal of not knowing exactly who or what we are, hence the name: BOY ANONYMOUS.” Like shadows looming large on a wall, the music is amplified by its mystery—the duo’s stylistic versatility makes them seem capable of almost anything.—Scott Russell

Pom Pom Squad: Death of a Cheerleader

Mia Berrin of Pom Pom Squad has long been an avid explorer of pop culture, though as a person of color and a queer woman, neither facets of her identity have historically been given much attention in media. She dealt with this lack of representation resourcefully, finding snippets that resonated with her. She explains in a press release, “I absorbed everything I could and tried to make a collage that could incorporate every piece of me.” Now, with bandmates Shelby Keller (drums), Mari Alé Figeman (bass) and Alex Mercuri (guitar), Berrin is ensuring that present and future generations won’t have to live on meager scraps. Death of a Cheerleader synthesizes Berrin’s various influences—aesthetic, musical, cinematic—but ends up as a creature entirely its own, telling Berrin’s story in a way that’s sure to hit home with many who struggle to see themselves in whitewashed Hollywood releases. The album is well-realized conceptually and brilliantly, viscerally executed. —Clare Martin

Provoker: Body Jumper

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

Remi Wolf: Juno

Remi Wolf is one of pop’s most exciting acts in recent memory. Following a series of EPs beginning with 2019’s You’re a Dog!, Wolf has since gone on to collaborate with everyone from Beck to Nile Rodgers, thanks to her joyfully eclectic brand of soul and funk. Her debut album Juno was preceded by a hefty amount of singles, which utilize the same palette in an ever-changing kaleidoscope’s worth of ways. Whether singing about ordering Chuck E. Cheese on Postmates or calling herself a “thrift store baddie” on “Liquor Store,” Wolf’s brand of humor is just as tapped into current culture as someone like Lil Nas X’s, if not a little more crude and surreal. Wolf has most of the pieces in place to become the next big thing, and Juno is the final one. —Jade Gomez

Squid: Bright Green Field

Toward the end of Squid’s debut album Bright Green Field comes a brief moment of liberation. “Well, I’ve always been told what to do,” the narrator of “Peel St.” mumbles, “but now, I’m free / There’s no warden following me.” Whether the prison from which this character has been released is literal or one of the mind is left for the listener to decide, and most of the details underpinning Bright Green Field’s paranoid, dystopian universe are similarly vague. More immediately apparent is Squid’s utter disregard for rock convention—where drummer-vocalist Ollie Judge’s words leave gaps in his Orwellian brutalism, his chainsaw of a shout-speak and his band’s squawking guitars fill in the blanks. Though Bright Green Field is easily Squid’s most musically varied and ambitious work yet, the British quintet—whose contemporaries include black midi and Black Country, New Road—remains thematically tethered to the pervasive anxiety and fear that have defined them from their 2019 breakout single “Houseplants” through last year’s Sludge / Broadcaster 10”, their debut for storied electronic and experimental label Warp. If anything, Bright Green Field—co-written by the entire group and produced by Speedy Wunderground mastermind Dan Carey—raises the band’s longtime stakes. Where “The Cleaner,” the highlight from 2019’s Town Centre EP, hinted at simultaneously more abrasive and hooky grooves to come, Bright Green Field delivers on that promise without diminishing Squid’s madness. —Max Freedman


Listen to Paste’s Best Debut Albums of 2021 playlist on Spotify here.