The Best Music of 2021


Some of my earliest memories involve repeatedly slamming a sticky forefinger onto the Rewind and Play buttons of a two-tone Fisher-Price cassette player. Long before I was able to respond to music as anything other than a sensory stimulus, I was an obsessive listener. I don’t mean “obsessive” in a cavalier, tossed-off way, either. I routinely shredded my favorite tapes via exuberant overuse. I floated off to sleep while attempting to re-create whole songs in my hungry little mind. Music was air. It was omnipresent, necessary, alimental.

This past year, for the first time ever, my listening habits shifted. The act itself—putting a record on to fill the room—felt significantly less compulsory to me. I had a baby, in June, and took several months of maternity leave; surely those events played some part in the decision not to have new releases blaring at all hours. Or perhaps it was a delayed reaction to the psychic tumult of 2020—my wounded spirit forcing me to account more quietly for what we’d collectively endured (and are still enduring). I thought often about something the saxophonist Pharoah Sanders said, after my colleague Nathaniel Friedman asked him what he’d been listening to: “I haven’t been listening to anything.” He eventually elaborated: “I listen to things that maybe some guys don’t. I listen to the waves of the water. Train coming down. Or I listen to an airplane taking off.”


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