At the year's half-way point...

2021 is shaping up to be a year of recovery.

After the trauma and loss that punctuated 2020, we're now left to pick up the pieces; restrictions are being relaxed, the vaccine roll out continues, and life - somehow - goes on.

Yet it's never simple. Each of us feels on edge, as though the progress we've made could be dashed at any moment - a lingering paranoia that is perhaps justified by the actions of those in power.

Music remains a powerful source of comfort, a world to immerse ourselves in as the headlines continue to roll pass.

The Clash team have spent the past few weeks collating personal favourites from 2021 (so far...) and it's served as a powerful reminder of the creativity that has burst open during this frenetic era.

In the end, we collected a list of 42 albums: 2x21. It's also the meaning of life, after all.

Dig in below. Did we miss your favourite? Join the conversation on social media.

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Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales

A divinely contoured, wonderfully precise experience, ‘Heaux Tales’ is an exquisite listen. Taken as individual elements, the songwriting her ranks among her finest to date, but there’s an over-arching sense of purpose which allows ‘Heaux Tales’ to search for its place as one of the finest modern R&B albums to emerge in the past decade. // REVIEW

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Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

‘Jubilee’ may be the sound of one person’s desire to chase after sunnier horizons, but after the horror show we’ve all been through, it makes damn fine accompaniment for any listener looking forward. She’s landed three knockouts and is only getting stronger. // REVIEW

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Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend 

A record of sonic and lyrical renewal, ‘Blue Weekend’ takes the lessons learned across Wolf Alice’s nigh-on perfect one-two punch – ‘My Love Is Cool’ and ‘Visions Of A Life’ – while adding subtle differences.

Definitely not a reinvention, it plays to the band’s strengths while amplifying new qualities, a record as bruising as it is subtle. Working to their own passions and desires, ‘Blue Weekend’ places Wolf Alice beyond the reach of their peers. // REVIEW

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Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club

A record that thrives on the most miniscule of details, ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ is a project that rewards patience. Lana Del Rey seeks to slow down time, and lower the temperature of the air; it’s a world away from the chart-bound fireworks of her glossy peers, but its no less creative. An enchanting listen, her world-building remains absolutely undimmed on this triumphant, bewitching project. // REVIEW

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Migos - Culture III 

A huge undertaking, ‘Culture 3’ is marked by its dense array of sonic reference points. It’s a huge record, a panoramic thriller that places three incendiary MCs against a digital orchestra – an ambitious, lavish, and extraordinarily successful release. // REVIEW

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Celeste - Not Your Muse

The standout album track is undeniably Celeste’s previous single ‘Strange’. The track’s simplicity is impressive despite the sorrow it contains. The beautifully melancholic piano accompanies the quiet string instruments to create a hauntingly sad instrumental backing.

For a singer with such powerful and full vocals, Celeste’s ability to soften and pacify her voice seemingly adds to the immense misery of the track. It’s a song that comes extremely close to rivalling Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ – a track that anyone who has gone through heartbreak can relate to. // REVIEW

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Claud – Super Monster 

Following a relationship through it’s natural ebb and flow, the development of the protagonist (clearly Claud) and the album’s muse mirrors their growth as an artist. With the debut not only demonstrating with confidence that they have every right to be backed by such a newsworthy label, but also being a manifestation of the potential they hold as an artist. // REVIEW

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Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg 

A record that exists on it own distinct terms, ‘New Long Leg’ feels a world apart from the staleness of so many groups tagged with the term ‘post punk’. Indeed, as a complete aesthetic statement, the debut album from Dry Cleaning hardly merits contemporaries at all – suffocating, surreal, and exploratory, it takes chances other groups could scarcely envisage. // REVIEW

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Goat Girl - On All Fours

‘Sad Cowboy’, the first single, leads us a walk through disorientation before synth swiped straight from an 90s banger lifts us to ravier lands - though it sounds like there’s tears on the dance-floor. Bittersweet abounds in the everyday details (‘P.T.S.Tea’) while ‘Anxiety Feels’ is the first song I’ve heard vocalise a panic attack from the inside: both vulnerable and strong in its admissions. This is proper modern pop music: fierce and intelligent in its explorations, defiant and cool in its tone. Wondrous. // REVIEW

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For Those I Love - For Those I Love

A nine-track song cycle, David Balfe’s debut album ends with ‘Leave Me Not Love’, his voice echoing the very first lyrics on the project. Coming full circle, he finds much has been learned but nothing has changed; the system hasn’t altered, but then he hasn’t either. It’s a story of survival, a project remarkable in its completeness. ‘For Those I Love’ is a truly exquisite achievement in which the redemptive hope that love and friendship provide is never allowed to sink beneath the waters. // REVIEW

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Armand Hammer, The Alchemist - Haram

However, the record’s true vice lies in its choppy final third and most obtuse ideas, such as the nauseating chokehold of horns on ‘Peppertree’ or the obnoxious half-singing on ‘God’s Feet’. Another outlier is ‘Stonefruit’, a last-orders soul track whose raspy babbling treads a thin line between endearing and exhausting. The faults are nonetheless part of the experiment, and we can be grateful that Alchemist’s collaborative spirit managed to reach the depths of Armand Hammer’s lair. // REVIEW

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Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams

After being crowned BBC’s Sound of 2020, Arlo Parks has returned with her debut album proving she can be folk’s finest star in any year. ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ shows steady growth from Arlo’s previous EP’s, whilst still remaining authentic to her sound. Melodically, the album feels as though it may have been better suited to a summer or springtime release but the tracks offer a homely, warm feeling to guide us through the winter. // REVIEW

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Squid - Bright Green Field 

Squid aren’t an easy band to pin down. Live, they’re a mesh of arms and legs working in semi-unison – perhaps that’s where the sub-aqueous name comes from? – a group of musicians who yearn for spaces new, and ideas hitherto unexplored.

On record, too, they’ve proved continually that resting on their laurels isn’t an option. Debut album ‘Bright Green Field’ encapsulates this, eschewing their prior works – that stellar EP, or 2020 singles ‘Sludge’ and ‘Broadcaster’ – in favour of wiping the slate clean, and starting anew. // REVIEW

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Ghetts - Conflict Of Interest

It makes sense that, at 36 years old and with two kids, Ghetts is ready to look back on his life so far. Luckily for him (and us), that backwards glance has helped deliver his strongest album to date, and one of grime’s true classics – even if there is a not-very-good Ed Sheeran feature slapped in the middle of it. // REVIEW

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Mogwai - As The Love Continues

Over their 25 years as a band, Mogwai have grown self-assured in both their abilities and their limitations, and while some bands struggle to fit all their influences into a distinct whole, Mogwai confidently defy post-rock conventions and stick to what they're good at; taking simple melodies and rhythms and garnishing them with an epic grandiosity. // REVIEW

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St. Vincent - Daddy's Home

If ‘MASSEDUCTION’ was too arch for some – and its following projects too-clever-by-half – then the humanity at stake in St. Vincent’s new record will soothe those fears. Doffing her cap to the likes of Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, and Stevie Wonder’s imperial run, ‘Daddy’s Home’ reaches for the classic while analysing the flaws and failings of those we love. It’s a record about growing up, and playing it straight; a more open, rounded experience than we’ve come to expect from St. Vincent, it’s a brave, fascinating record. // REVIEW

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Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR

Brought to a close with the demo-like intimacy of ‘Hope UR OK’, this is a bravura pop experience. Marked by excellence from front to back, ‘Sour’ is the sound of a bold talent operating on their own terms – potent in its execution, revealing in its lyricism, it’s a record that finds Olivia Rodrigo effortlessly claiming her status as pop’s newest icon, and one of its bravest voices. // REVIEW

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easy life - life's a beach

A refreshing and natural exposition of their musical buoyancy, ‘life’s a beach’ is the perfect summation of easy life’s outsider charms. A record you’re sure to fall hopelessly in love with, its immediacy taps into the endless zen of those long summer days. // REVIEW

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Smerz - Believer

‘Believer’, the debut album from Nordic duo, Catherina Stoltenberg and Henriette Motzfeldt, merges the folkloric and mythic with interconnectedness and intimacy between two friends who can read each other’s minds and sing each other’s lyrics. ‘Rain’, sung in their native Norwegian and ‘Max’ sung in English, thrum with uneasy foreboding, organic and sampled violins backdrop the duo’s glazed, mesmeric vocal. On ‘Flashing’, Smerz deconstruct and unravel classic euro-pop conventions underpinning Copenhagen’s status as the epicentre of pioneering electronic music.

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Mr. Mitch - Lazy 

Mr Mitch has come a long way from his 140 BPM grime days. His fourth solo album ‘Lazy’ crystallizes the arcane persona he established on 2017’s ‘Devout’; reimagining club tropes, this is his nocturnal paean to rave culture. ‘Did We Say Goodbye’ is peak melancholy with it’s the trilling synths and looped guitar strum; ‘Sleep’ morphs from an eerie “I can hear voices” lullaby to a demonic clanger. ‘Lazy’ is a weird and wonderful offering soundtracking a year of oddities, a personal reminiscence of what it means to come alive at night.

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Nick Cave, Warren Ellis - CARNAGE

Closing with ‘Balcony Man’, ‘CARNAGE’ is a record that occupies a singular realm. Everything feels poised, curated, and contoured, an album that expresses itself over eight tracks and no more; it’s succinct without leaning into brevity, a beautifully intense song cycle that thrives on the closeness of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Indeed, throughout you’re put in mind of those voiceless moments in 2016’s One More Time With Feeling, the offering of a hand on shoulder, the side glances to ensure the others emotional security. ‘CARNAGE’ renders the unheard in pristine audio. // REVIEW

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Erika de Casier - Sensational 

With her wit and impeccable lyricism, it comes as no surprise that de Casier is a woman of many talents, recently directing the video for ‘No Butterflies, No Nothing’. Incorporating the romanticism of period drama and imperfections of soap operas, de Cassier and her team tied the ribbon on an already immaculate package of a nostalgic tale of grappling with the realities of relationships. Everything she touches turns to gold. Her creativity knows no bounds. And with her European tour seeing her travel to Berlin, London, Paris and beyond, it’s clear that she is prepared to make her mark. // REVIEW

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Gojira - Fortitude 

Despite its title, 2016’s ‘Magma’ was actually pretty cold and stark (totally appropriately for a meditation on grief inspired by the passing of the Duplantier brothers’ mother). ‘Fortitude’, on the other hand, has fire in its belly and lava coursing through its veins. Though it might overreach itself from time to time, this is a record with real purpose and drive to it. Only Gojira could make an album so suffused with positivity and faith in the human spirit, and then wrap it all up in the most earth-shattering package of heavy metal you’ll receive this year. Très bien! // REVIEW

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Sons Of Kemet - Black To The Future

It is, by some margin, the most musically diverse record that Sons or Hutchings have put out to date. Featuring more collaborators than anything the group has done before - from D Double E, to Lianne La Havas, to Moor Mother and beyond - the first thing to point out is just how well it manages all of those features, ensuring none of them feels redundant, whilst not moving too far away from the sound that has made Sons such an exciting outfit in the past. // REVIEW

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The Weather Station - IGNORANCE

Toronto songwriter Tamara Lindeman beautifully offers musical arrangements that once again reinvent the tonality of The Weather Station. Since their last album in 2017, there is a new urgency in their overall rhythm that feels impactful, but still centres at the emotional. The methodical drumlines and pseudo pop melodies build throughout, but the music remains positioned in their folk tradition. // REVIEW

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Griff - One Foot In Front Of The Other

Indeed, what’s remarkable about this seven track mixtape is the sheer consistency of pop ideas on offer. The title song opens with a sonic nod to her Chinese ancestry with its delicate plucked notes, offsetting this with punchy digi-pop production; rolling from sound to sound, Griff is able to merge this into something coherent, distinct, and utterly unique. // REVIEW

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Rochelle Jordan - Play With The Changes

“I would say to them that this is the sincerest I’ve ever been. My fans know me for the classic R&B records I’ve made; I don’t want them to feel that I’m removing myself from that world. This record is true, honest, the part of me they haven’t seen but that I want them to see. This is the just the next phase.” // INTERVIEW

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Serpentwithfeet - Deacon

‘DEACON’ is a triumph because it realises and relives love’s quiet, archived moments, be it romantic or spiritual. It’s a triumph because it reminds us R&B exists on a vast continuum, forever a source of inspiration and innovation. serpentwithfeet created ‘DEACON’ to celebrate companionships that bind the Black queer community together, but its message is universal; ‘DEACON’ celebrates love that is benevolent and bountiful and ultimately, restorative. // REVIEW

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Jevon - Fell In Love With Brasil

‘Fell In Love In Brasil’ is a sonic celebration of Jevon’s roots and culture that simulataneously illustrates the struggles faced growing up, having been sent to Coventry at 15 for his troublesome antics. The project kicks off with ‘Forest Fire,’ a dazzling track filled with infectious rhythms and sweet melodies that births an overwhelming urge to get up and dance. The self-proclaimed “Bad Boy From Inglaterra” weaves between Portuguese and English with his blazing bars and vocals, showing off his versatility as a musician. // REVIEW

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Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

This is an album produced by an artist that is taking stock of where he is right now. On ‘MASSA’, he dismisses his hit earlier record ‘Cherry Bomb’, “That’s really why Cherry Bomb sounded so shifty”. There are also brief references to the year that has just passed; on 'LEMONHEAD', 42 Dugg raps “You said pandemic? / Oh you wanna see a pandemic?” and on 'MANIFESTO' Tyler opens by dismissing a “Lil white bitch” who wants him to speak on BLM. It’s a record that feels varying levels of close to Tyler, the Creator, moving from straightforward rap to intensely personal moments. // REVIEW

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Children Of Zeus - Balance

Expanding their palette just a little, Children Of Zeus manage the delicate art of the follow up. Placing their artistry in a fresh context, ‘Balance’ feels just right, merging the sound of their debut with fresh elements, without losing the innate character that makes them feel so special. True trailblazers of a very specific strand of UK soul music, Children Of Zeus are way out in front of the pack. // REVIEW

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Greentea Peng - MAN MADE 

A project of such immense detail must be a difficult thing to bring into focus, yet somehow ‘MAN MADE’ never loses sight of its purpose. A continually engaging song cycle that tackles grief, societal prejudice, and matters of the heart, Greentea Peng’s songwriting is able to embrace both the micro and the macro, while continually seeking out catharsis. // REVIEW

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Loraine James - Reflection

"I hate things being too confined, even in general life too. I don't like things being too clean in my music. I think that also goes back to the days when I was listening to a lot of math rock bands through bandcamp from around 2012 and a lot of them were DIY and unsigned so there was a lot of roughness in the recordings which I loved..." // INTERVIEW

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Lucy Dacus - Home Video

'Home Video' is the 26-year-old American’s third solo album and it’s an emotional exploration of her youth. Her cutting lyrics combine the vividness of teenage experiences with Dacus’ adult reflections on them. "You called me cerebral and I didn’t know what you meant / But now I do, would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?" she sings in ‘Brando’, a bop about a bad friendship. Her language is often playfully subversive: the title of the brilliant opening track ‘Hot & Heavy’ is not just sexual innuendo but refers to the emotional impacts of revisiting memories; meanwhile the childishly innocent titles of ‘Cartwheel’ and ‘Triple Dog Dare’ contrast their melancholic lyrics and grown-up perspectives. // REVIEW

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H.E.R. - Back Of My Mind

In its length and scope, there’s a feeling here of witnessing H.E.R. in 360 – panoramic R&B that more than justifies the wait, a sumptuous, multi-faceted jewel that seems to reveal fresh colour with each play. Speaking to Clash last year, H.E.R. seemed to perfectly encapsulate her approach, one that wrestles with unbridled freedom and personal expression: “You can’t put a label on something that touches everybody…” // REVIEW

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black midi - Cavalcade

Actually, while listening to ‘Cavalcade’, the first few times, I keep pausing what I was doing to remind myself what I was listening to. This might seem like a slight, but it isn’t. I knew I was listening to the new black midi album, but large portions of the album didn’t sound like anything the band had released before.

This is on display on the second track ‘Marlene Dietrich’. If the opening was disorientation, then this is about focused song writing. As Greep strums his guitar and croons along it becomes evident that the grandeur that has lurking in their best songs is now coming to the fruition. It’s majestic and beautiful in ways I never expected black midi to reach, let alone attempt. // REVIEW

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J. Cole - The Off Season

'The Off-Season' is a solid project with no expiration date and can easily be digested for months and years to come. While some fans may be eager for more, The Off-Season is a great appetiser for the main dish and contains just enough for those that have been waiting for three years on The Real. // REVIEW

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Fears - Oiche

Beautifully comforting and uncomfortable raw in equal measure, 'Fears' has produced an album of great power and hope at a time when, for many, both are in short supply. Crafted through the prism of the listener’s own experience, it is certain to hold a weight others could only dare to dream of. // REVIEW

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Dawn Richard - Second Line

If there’s a defining thread running through ‘Second Line’, though, it’s the cultural and artistic homage paid to the singer’s home city of New Orleans. Those tributes arrive musically, particularly on tracks like ‘Bussifame’, but the set pieces scattered through the album’s core – conversations between Richard and her mother – tell their own story. “Don’t mess with a Louisiana girl” is the headline parental guidance on offer, and if Dawn Richard is the chant-leading, roundhouse-kicking archetype, it’s advice that would be well heeded. // REVIEW

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The Coral - Coral Island

Closing with the beautiful pairing of ‘The Calico Girl’ and ‘The Last Entertainer’, ‘Coral Island’ is huge in scope and ambition, while also remaining staggeringly consistent. The bar is set high from the off, and they never fail to reach it. A lazy comparison: it’s as creative as ‘The White Album’ and as unified as ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. A truly superb experience, it feels as though The Coral have painted their masterpiece – a one way ticket to ‘Coral Island’ is a truly an offer you can’t turn down. // REVIEW

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Marianne Faithfull, Warren Ellis - She Walks In Beauty

What makes the album so delightful is Faithfull’s voice. You can hear her experiences in every word she says. Her delivery is precise yet warming. It embraces you like a hug from a friend you haven’t seen for a while. Musically Ellis has created understated gossamer soundscapes that emphasise the emotions of the poems but don't draw the attention from Faithfull’s voice. // REVIEW

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BROCKHAMPTON – ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE

Framed by ‘THE LIGHT’, the record is cohesive, punchy, and succinct. A force renewed, BROCKHAMPTON’s return comes just as the darkness that has surrounded our lives for 18 months begins to dissipate. ‘ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE’ finds BROCKHAMPTON racing into the distance, far out-stripping their peers. // REVIEW

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