The Wicked Sound favorite / best Soul, Neo-Soul and R'n'B albums of 2021:
01. Jon Batiste We Are [Decca]
WE ARE is a masterfully constructed and visionary album that represents a completely new sonic chapter for Jon Batiste and a new direction for music culture as a whole. Writing, traveling, painting - all while inviting some of the most esteemed creative minds to assist in birthing the album - he reached the finish line smack in the middle of the first wave of the worldwide pandemic and volatile social unrest. At the end, a masterpiece of Black Pop Music characterized by the consciousness of Marvin Gaye, the grounded optimism of Stevie Wonder, the iconoclasm of Thelonious Monk and the swagger of Mannie Fresh was born. I'm publicly known for some things already, says Batiste. But there's so much more to know about me. It’s always been there. Now is the time to show the world my full artistry.
WE ARE is a message of love for humanity, of humble reverence for our past, and of a hopeful future, in which we are the ones who can save us. Jon said The art reveals it’s motive to you. You just have to wait for the Spirit to tell you what it wants.
Skin is the debut studio album by singer-songwriter Joy Crookes, released through Insanity Records. Primarily a modern soul-jazz record led by orchestral string arrangements, Skin is an autobiographical body of work inspired by Crookes' British-Irish-Bangladeshi heritage and identity, as well as her experiences of young adulthood and heartbreak. The album was met with widespread acclaim upon release, with critics praising the subject matter, production and Joy's vocal performance. Skin is my debut album and the proudest work I have made to date. It is an autobiographical body of work covering subjects from casual sex to generational trauma, abuse of power and mental health, said Crookes.
03. Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson.Paak) An Evening with Silk Sonic [Aftermath]
American singers Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak met in 2017 while touring together on the European leg of Mars's 24K Magic World Tour (2017–18). The two were seen in the studio working with Nile Rodgers and Guy Lawrence of Disclosure. They quickly became friends and decided to collaborate on a project together. The duo "bonded over their love of classic soul", influenced by Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and Prince, and Philadelphia soul. They had recorded an album together under the band name Silk Sonic, featuring Bootsy Collins as a special guest host.
Aaron Frazer is the singer, drummer and songwriter with Durand Jones and the Indications. Soft-spoken with the look of a slightly disaffected 1950s matinee idol, Aaron Frazer possesses a unique voice that’s both contemporary and timeless. On Introducing... - his debut solo album produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, co-released on Easy Eye Sound and Dead Oceans - Aaron melds mid-‘60s soul with Auerbach’s particular sensibilities (Over You), songs with a message in the key of Gil Scott-Heron (Bad News), and uplifting tales of love told through a blend of disco, gospel, and doo-wop (Have Mercy).
05. Curtis Harding If Words Were Flowers [Anti]
If Words Were Flowers is Curtis Harding's first new music since 2018, a follow-up to his critically acclaimed Face Your Fears album. It features songs like Hopeful, where Harding croons with devotion over a classic soul groove, textured with infectious horn playing, background singers and modern psychedelic flourishes. Harding fuels his psychedelic sound with the essence of Soul but isn't bound by it. Instead, his songs convey an eclectic blend of genres leaping from the many musical lives he has lived from following his evangelical Gospel-singing mother on tour around the country as a child to rapping in Atlanta, forming a garage band with The Black Lips' Cole Alexander to singing back-up for Cee Lo Green. Through these experiences he fully embraces life's darkest intricacies and conjures dynamic, addictive melodies
06. Celeste Not Your Muse [Universal]
The debut album from the alluring soulful Celeste. The 25-year-old British-Jamaican, who grew up in Brighton, started singing around 10 years ago when she was inspired by hearing Elton John's Your Song. She showcases a melting pot of influences ranging from soulful greats Aretha Franklin, Minnie Riperton etc to the cosmic sounds of jazz experimentalists Kamasi Washington, Thelonious Monk, Sun-Ra and Alice Coltrane, via the raw urgency of Amy Winehouse’s early releases. The soul-drenched songs match her raw, expressive vocal tone that cascade the listening ears like hot butter over a fresh slice.
07. Rosie Frater-Taylor Bloom [i2i Music]
21-year-old Londoner, singer, songwriter & guitarist Rosie Frater-Taylor blurs the lines between jazz, folk, pop & soul. Think Joni Mitchell meets Pat Metheny or a female version of John Mayer. On BloomRosie blends adventurous songwriting with a whimsical pop sensibility, multi-layered acoustic soundscapes and virtuoso guitar skills. While preserving her trademark luxurious vocals and unique guitaristic song-structures, Rosie’s sound has been elevated through a collage of experiences and connections, be it through navigating the London jazz and folk scene or collaborating with musicians such as Snowpoet’s Chris Hyson on two songs.
08. Durand Jones & The Indications Private Space [Dead Oceans]
Durand Jones and the Indications’ Private Space, the group’s third album, is creatively explosive and delights in upending expectations. Pushing beyond the boundaries of the funk and soul on their previous releases, Private Space unlocks the door to a wider range of sounds and launches boldly into a world of synthy modern soul and disco beats dotted with strings. It’s an organic, timeless record that’s as fresh as clean kicks and familiar as your favorite well-worn LP. Its 10 tracks are both an escapist fantasy and a much-needed recentering after a tumultuous 2020. Throughout, The Indications highlight a collective resiliency – as well as the power of a good song to be a light in the darkness.
09. Hiatus Kayote Mood Valiant [Brainfeeder]
Mood Valiant is the new album from the twice Grammy-nominated, Melbourne-based group Hiatus Kaiyote released via Brainfeeder Records / Ninja Tune. The band comprised of Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield (guitar, vocals), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keys), and Perrin Moss (drums), the new album is the follow up to their 2015 album Choose Your Weapon, which Rolling Stone described as "a stunning step up". The new project comes after being sampled on songs by The Carters (Beyonce & Jay-Z), Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Chance The Rapper, and Drake—with whom Nai Palm collaborated on his Scorpion album. The new album has been in the making for six years, but that interval reflects more hustle than hiatus. The result is an album that relaxes into a groove: sunlit, sublime, masterful. Behind everything is Hiatus’ familiar sense of musical adventure, their knack for making the complex sound simple.
The second album from SAULT vocalist and solo artist Cleo Sol. Following on from debut album Rose In The Dark, her new project titled Mother, sees Cleo journey into motherhood. The album is produced by Forever Living Originals label founder, and her longtime collaborator Inflo (Sault, Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz). The 12-track offering, which includes a few hidden tracks, contains very intimate, beautiful and spacious orchestral jazz and soul tracks.
11. Oliver St Louis Matters Of The Heartless[First Word]
Oliver St LouisMatters Of The Heartless is essentially a classically structured selection of soul-funk with a rock edge, and a touch of jazz. Each track is laced with Olivier's sweet harmonies and fuzzed-out guitar licks throughout and mixed down with a little 2020 boom-bap thump. A prime example of Olivier's unique talents and a set of quality contemporary alt-soul. Olivier embraced his newfound love for blues, rock and funk, a series of late-night sessions saw him engulfed in new soundscapes and reverting back to his birth name, Olivier St.Louis. This saw him release two critically-acclaimed EPs with Berlin-based label, Jakarta, and the release of The Serious EP with Bibio on Warp Records.
12. Dominique Fils-Aimé Three Little Words [En Soul Records]
Three Little Words concludes Dominique Fils-Aimé's album trilogy exploring the roots of African-American musical culture. Her 2018 acclaimed debut full-length blues-tinged Nameless saw Fils-Aimé boldly confront historical silences and sorrows while her sophomore JUNO award winning album, Stay Tuned! delved into the civil rights movement of the 60s through jazz. Now with Three Little Words Dominique embraces the emotional lushness of soul music of yesterday and tomorrow.This final album is Fils-Aimé's adaptation of soul music in the truest sense of the term: music that comes from the depths of her soul and is meant to challenge and enrich the souls of her listeners. Perhaps her most musically diverse and eclectic album to date, Fils-Aimé's distinct brand of incisively-delivered vocals resonates throughout Three Little Words.
13. Greentea PengMan Made [AMF Records]
Greentea PengMan Made was executive-produced by long-time collaborator Earbuds, Greentea Peng worked with an incredible roll-call of producers; the likes of Swindle, long-standing collaborators Samo and Kiko, and Mala (part of the legendary dubstep production duo Digital Mystikz and the founder of the iconic DMZ dubstep label). The album was then mixed by the legendary Commissioner Gordon. The record seamlessly weaves genres from Hip-Hop to Jazz, Neo-soul, Trip Hop, Ragga, Rock, Dub and Drum & Bass, all anchored by signature sage vocals. A true opus, a fluid and transportive listening experience, channelling deepest inner-thoughts and exploring different states of being, segued to be enjoyed in full. It encourages repeated revisits to fully explore the magic at work.
Nigeria-born, Berlin-based artist Wayne Snow creates music for the soul. His enriching compositions bring together the soulful vibes of his homeland Nigeria with contemporary influences from his current base in Berlin. Taking early inspiration from legends such as Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, he has united a global audience, developing a contemporary take on the sun-kissed, soulful vibes of his homeland Nigeria. You can feel this warmth blooming in abundance through every song and performance. Produced by Crayon, Nu Guinea and Brandt Brauer Frick, with the participation of jazz guitarist Oscar Jerome on the track Magnetic, Wayne Snow uses a range of sounds that showcase his songwriting talent.
15. Arlo Parks Collapsed in Sunbeams [Transgressive Records]
Collapsed in Sunbeams is the debut studio album by British singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks, released via Transgressive Records. The album was released in 2021 to critical acclaim and peaked at number three on the UK Albums Chart. It earned her nominations for Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Best British Female Solo Artist at the 2021 Brit Awards.The album is a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding her adolescence and the people that shaped it. It is rooted in storytelling and nostalgia. The album is an emotional rollercoaster of heartbreak, beautiful poetry, betrayal and hope, that has been inspired by Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Jim Morrison and Fela Kuti.
The mysterious collective Sault released two incredible albums last year, including our album of the year Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise). Now they return with Nine another gem of sweet soul music and vibes that effortlessly fits with the times. It is the third album in their series of number-themed albums, following from 5 and 7 both from 2019.It features tracks with Michael Ofo and Little Simz. Nine will be available to stream and purchase only for 99 days, until Saturday October 2. Band's Instagram statement is a perfect commentary to the album: Some of us are from the heart of London's council estates where proud parents sought safer environments to raise their families. Community is the only real genuine support & the majority of us get trapped in a systemic loop where a lot of resources & options are limited. Adults who fail to heal from childhood traumas turn to alcohol & drugs as medicine. Young girls & boys looking for leadership can get caught up in gang life. It's very easy to judge. What would you do if this were you?
17. Melanie Charles Y'All Don't (Really) Care About Black Women [Verve Records]
Melanie Charles’ first major label project, Y'All Don't (Really) Care About Black Women, is a love letter to the unheralded labor of Black women, containing reimagined works by Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Abbey Lincoln, Dinah Washington, and more. It is a beautiful homage to the Black women who served as the architects of jazz. There’s a spectrum of what [jazz] sounds like, and what that looks like, which is really beautiful. Jazz (Ain’t Nothing But Soul) embodies my mission of ‘Making Jazz Trill Again’, Melanie says.
18. PM Warson True Story [Legere Recordings]
PM Warson is a musician, songwriter and producer based in London, he established himself self-releasing raw-cut 45s in thevein of the independent studios of the ‘50s & ‘60s. His debut LP True Story on Legere Recordings was recorded direct to tape with a live rhythm section, just before the global lockdown of 2020. PM Warson draws influences from some of the soul greats like Ray Charles and Booker T.
19. Jorja Smith Be Right Back [FAMM]
Jorja Smith returns with a new 8-track project Be Right Back and is the first body of work from Jorja since her 2019 critically-acclaimed, Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Lost and Found, for which she won her second BRIT Award for ‘Best Female’ and earned herself a nomination for ‘New Artist’ at the Grammy's. The project finds Jorja delivering some of the most emotive and imaginative songs of her career. She described Be Right Back as a "waiting room" in preparation for her sophomore album, the album features writing and production from long time collaborators Joel Compass and Ed Thomas, amongst others, as well as guest vocals from British-Nigerian rapper Shaybo. Written and recorded over a two-year period, Be Right Back sonically adopts experimental song structures and lyrically revolves around the complexity of ideal womanhood, relationships and self-awareness.
20. Jordan Rakei What We Call Life [Ninja Tune]
What We Call Life is Jordan Rakei’s most vulnerable and intimate album to date. Its lyrics concern the lessons that the New Zealand-born, Australia-raised, and London-based artist learned about himself during therapy, a journey that began two years ago when he started reading about the positive psychology movement. These themes manifest on songs like lead single Family, which Rakei says is the most personal he’s ever been with his lyrics. I wanted to hit my vulnerability barrier and be really honest. It’s about my parents’ divorce in my mid-teens but still having love for them no matter what, he explains.