The Alternative’s Most Anticipated Albums of 2021

Posted: by The Editor

Every year, our most anticipated list is one of our most popular articles, and I totally get it. Looking ahead and hoping for great things to come is always fun and super positive. Each of the albums on this list has the potential to be an Album of the Year contender in 11 months. I guess that’s what makes the start of every new year so exciting. This year could be a BIG one, and this year especially we at The Alt staff really believe that. Great music, good times, and an even stronger The Alternative are in our future.

Our staff put together our list of our most anticipated albums of 2021! Take a look and start to get hyped for all of these sick albums we have coming this year. If you like our picks, support us on our Patreon page, so we can continue promoting music all year and into the future.

42 Dugg 

Ever since I heard his marble-mouthed drawl on Lil Baby’s “Grace”, I’ve kept my fingers crossed that 42 Dugg has a classic in him. The Detroit rapper who seems to be more closely associated with Atlanta dropped a solid mixtape in 2020, but it’s his verses on “Grace”, Meek Mill’s “GTA”, and he and Lil Baby’s legendary “We Paid” that give me cause to believe that if he’s matched with the right beats and harnesses his maniacal energy, 42 Dugg could put out the most exciting rap record of 2021. – Eli Enis

Photo by Julia Leiby

Another Michael – New Music and Big Pop (2/19)

“New Music”, one of Another Michael’s most recent singles, is so woven into my brain that I recently had a dream where the song didn’t exist and I had to go searching for it. It’s pretty fitting as the Philly-based three-piece creates introspective indie-pop songs that thoughtfully capture moments with a great amount of detail. While “New Music” is a slow builder, “I Know You’re Wrong” is upbeat with a big, sweeping hook. Their 2018 EP, Land, has been a long-time favorite of mine and their debut LP, New Music and Big Pop, is sure to join it when it comes out in February. – Lindsy Carr


Bellows is maybe one of the most underrated indie rock bands in the game right now. Their last two records, Fist & Palm and The Rose Gardener, shimmer and sparkle with Oliver Kalb’s big, gorgeous bedroom pop. Kalb has never shied away from a heady and immersive topic—The Rose Gardener, in particular, follows a winding path that the liner notes describe as “a story of self abnegation and self deception, at war with the monstrosity of life in the public eye.” But you don’t necessarily have to follow Bellows down their philosophical rabbit holes to get something great out of their music. Songs like the muffled mini-epic “Housekeeping” are absolutely beautiful of their own accord, but it’s Kalb’s voice awash in vocal effects that make these unique pop songs feel both spectral and oddly close. Whatever Kalb is working on in the studio is sure to carry the same existential effervescence. – Jordan Walsh

Birds In Row

After their 2018 release, We Already Lost the World, I was blown away by the attention to detail, production and authenticity of Birds In Row’s sound. The French hardcore band continue to push their melodic and emotional dense sound further with each release. Although they have not made any plans to our knowledge about releasing anything new, they left us with a flavor and intensity that is polished and unique — something that I hope they explore and experiment with more in any upcoming releases. With many bands taking this time to reflect and search within their sound, I hope that Birds In Row do the same. – Sarah Knoll

The Callous Daoboys 

The Callous Daoboys released the best metalcore album in 2019 with their debut Die on Mars, and there’s a damn good chance they’ll do the same in 2021. The Georgia seven-piece are picking up where their forefathers in The Chariot left off, crafting jittery, left-field math-influenced metal that feels entirely their own. While a number of good bands are playing metalcore now that draws on bands from the late 2000s and early 2010s, none are doing it quite like the Callous Daoboys; “Flip-Flops at a Funeral,” in its opening seconds, feels like Every Time I Die worship before the violin comes in and the song morphs into a slinky jazz track. Not every hardcore band features a violinist, after all; even when the band is playing more straightforward metalcore, their chaotic and blistering interpretation is just so much fun. The Callous Daoboys have been pretty clear that their sophomore album is coming this year, and if it’s half as good as Die on Mars, it’ll be an absolute barnstormer. – Zac Djamoos

Calyx – Stay Gone (2/12)

Calyx is the first new discovery of 2021 that really got me excited. Their music is unapologetically fast and loud, yet has layers and a dynamic range that reveals itself upon repeated listens. Stay Gone shows the band sounding the best they ever have, recreating a live atmosphere in your headphones. It’s game over when shows come back – Calyx is here to take over. – Scott Fugger

Celeste – Not Your Muse (2/26)

British singer-songwriter Celeste first caught my attention at the start of 2020 with single “Stop This Flame,” an invigorating soul and R&B track that samples from Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” Celeste’s voice is like a mix of Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse, it evokes feelings of melancholy and enthusiasm, and I can’t wait to feel all the emotions when Not Your Muse drops Jan. 29, a month ahead of its original Feb. 26 release date. – Jordan Snowden

Photo by Miriam Brummel

Cheekface – Emphatically No. (1/15)

Cheekface is an absolutely unhinged Los Angeles trio that sounds like Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, but whose lyrics read like excerpts from a raucous-yet-vulnerable drunken group text with your four closest friends. Building upon the neurotic humor-core they pioneered on 2019’s Therapy Island, their sophomore endeavour, Emphatically No., will make you dance and cry and laugh all at once. With lyrics like Think you could fall on that grenade? / It’s your internship… and there’s no pay” on “‘Listen To Your Heart.’ ‘No.’’’ or “Dr. Dre, not Dr. Seuss / No tenants and no trees / No snowmobiles and no skis / Call your doctor immediately if you faceplant in the salad bowl” on “Don’t Get Hit By A Car,” the tracks on Emphatically No. flaunt a manic attitude that is equal parts Dismemberment Plan and Weird Al Yankovic. When they aren’t busy trolling my Twitter mentions, the band are quickly carving a place for themselves as the goofiest cynics in Southern California. For every prolific and zany Cheekface Internet antic, there’s a moment in one of their songs that is so unwavering in its realness that it stops you in your tracks. If you aren’t already a fan, hop on the Cheek Freak train now before the band takes over the guitar rock world. – Ted Davis

Cloud Nothings – The Shadow I Remember (2/26)

If the singles are any indication, the new Cloud Nothings album is going to hit all the sweet spots their earlier albums targeted while showcasing a new sense of emotional vulnerability in their lyrics. “Am I Something” is an existential crisis with angular guitars backing questions like “does anybody living out there really need me?” and “The Spirit Of” swims in thoughts like “who am I to be living and learning?”. This is a more personal Cloud Nothings, but also a return to the noisy, barely contained sound that hooked us in the beginning. Add in the reunion with Steve Albini (producer of Attack on Memory) and this becomes an album to be very excited about indeed. – Jami Fowler

Danny Brown

Danny Brown has remade his rap flow many times, going from the drug fueled club rapper he started as, to the experimental lyricist that he is today, but with every iteration he brings creativity, energy, a variety of flows, and witty songwriting. It is this high level skill that has placed him on the cutting edge of the genre, in the same league with lyricists like Earl Sweatshirt and performers like Denzel Curry. He can do it all, and there is no other 2021 release that I am as intrigued by as the album that Danny has been teasing. – Henderson Cole

Photo by Alex McLaughlin

Dollar Signs

Dollar Signs recently made the jump to Pure Noise Records to release a follow-up to their excellent 2018 record, This Will Haunt Me. If the recent single “Negative Blood” is any indication, the band has not abandoned their fun, frenzied style of shoutalong punk full of sardonic lyrics and big horns with this new batch of songs. The group seems to hone their sound and improve with each release, so their forthcoming record should be a must-listen for punk fans. – Aaron Eisen


Downhaul have made a name for themselves with their unique emo twang, steadily improving and refining their sound with each new release. This culminated with 2019’s debut full-length, Before You Fall Asleep, which fully realized their heart-on-your-sleeve lyricism and the muted positivity found in sharing your struggles with others. It’s hard to know exactly what the next Downhaul album will sound like, but it’s sure to be a heavy hitting soundtrack for 2021 and I, for one, am just glad to be along for the ride. – Scott Fugger


Foxing doesn’t make music in a hurry. They allowed more than two years to elapse between their second and third albums, Dealer and Nearer My God, and another two years have passed since the latter. This builds anticipation and makes us wonder: what causes them to take that much time? If their body of work is any indication, it seems like excellence cannot be rushed. Nearer My God burst at the seams with grandiosity, marked by crisp production and range in its sound. Rather than instant gratification, the songs built towards outpourings of sound. The band tweeted that their upcoming record “is about holding on with the ones you love while the world around you crumbles.” Okay, time to cry. – Bineet Kaur

Future Teens

Future Teens is such a consistently stellar group that utilizes incredibly relevant word play on every release. Given the seemingly endless list of iconic historical moments and movements that 2020 has provided for us, I’m pretty psyched to see what emotions and symbolism the band will pull to shape. I think that Breakup Season has a very similar theme and mood to Hard Feelings, which is great, but I’m looking to see the variation with a new release. I definitely still hope there are rocking solos and that familiar satirical, fun energy. I just want to see what Future Teens can do when they challenge themselves to break borders and I doubt they’ll disappoint. – Luke Ferrara

photo by West Smith

Great Grandpa 

Great Grandpa are one of my favorite bands, full stop. Their 2016 debut EP, Can Opener, was one of my favorite indie rock EPs ever and contained “Mostly Here” a slow burner that is a 10. Their 2017 debut LP, Plastic Cough, followed that up with somehow even better songwriting, tighter vocals, more interesting instrumentals and song topics that varied from relationships to zombie attacks, so yeah another 10. And then their 2nd LP, Four of Arrows, was even better reviewed and was our staff’s consensus one of the best records of 2018. Over this long shitty pandemic, Great Grandpa have been working on a new record, and the hopes couldn’t be higher. – Henderson Cole

Photo by Aubrey Trinamen

Hand Habits

Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy has something planned for 2021, that’s for certain. Based on dispatches from Instagram, the LA songwriter has been working with Sasami Ashworth and King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas. Duffy’s 2019 album, Placeholder, was gentle and swaying, an aquamarine vision, and one of that year’s best releases. At the time of writing, they have hinted that we may be hearing new music from them as soon as next week. Fans of quiet music to sob to, rejoice! – Eric Bennett

Hotel Etiquette

Hotel Etiquette is the quarantine project from Pentimento’s Mike Hansen. With three releases in 2020 (each better than the one that came before it) and another coming on Valentine’s Day, Mike has not been resting – and he isn’t letting you either. As with his other project, the lyricism is what truly stands out. It is poetic, meaningful, and feels like he’s somehow pulled them right from your own head. The guiding principle behind Hotel Etiquette is simple: You’re a human being and you can do anything. – Scott Fugger


Hurry’s breezy and infectious power pop is perfect for the thawing winter—when Every Little Thought came out in 2018, the record was a mainstay on my turntable as the weather gradually tiptoed into a careless spring. Matt Scottoline’s (also known for his work in early aughts-emo essentials Everyone Everywhere) sunny pop project is a fixture in Philadelphia DIY, and with good reason. Listen to a song like “When I’m With You” and just try not to do a little dance along to that bopping little bass line. It’s not all danceable, but it’s almost always warm and pleasant—Hurry’s most recent single, “Frustrate You,” shows off a slower, dreamier side of the band to great success. I can’t wait for Hurry to thaw my cold little heart in 2021. – Jordan Walsh

Photo by Zachary Chick

Japanese Breakfast

It’s been a rough four years without a Japanese Breakfast album since her last release Soft Sounds From Another Planet. So, when Michelle Zauner quote tweeted Pitchfork’s tweet of their list of most anticipated albums of 2021 with a simple “LP3 coming” it sent everyone into a tailspin. Even though we haven’t received new music from the project since 2019’s “Essentially,” she did keep creating as she collaborated with Crying’s Ryan Galloway to release a quarantine EP that was full of nothing but easy-going pop tunes last September. It seems like the record will drop somewhere after her highly-awaited memoir Crying in H Mart graces the shelves in April— based off Zauner’s wistful yet moving 2018 essay found in The New Yorker. I’ve definitely missed contemplating life interwoven into her lyrics and feeling the weight of the world around me while dancing unabashedly to her records. Whenever it drops, there’s no time like the present to fill the Japanese Breakfast void in our chests as a dose of the best medicine for 2021. – Hope Ankley


Multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Hunter has been one the biggest advocates for ska music lately and built an audience with their unabashedly fun ska covers as Skatune Network. They made their debut as JER with the track “Breaking News! Local Punk Doubts Existence of Systemic Racism” on the Ska Against Racism compilation last fall, which was followed up with two more singles (“R/Edgelord” and “A Message To My Future Self”). The JER songs are a creative, unique take on ska, pulling from a grab bag of genres to create an unforgettable sound. No matter what you think your opinion on ska music is, the JER record will not be one to miss. – Aaron Eisen


John the Ghost

It was a pleasant surprise to see John O’Callaghan from Arizona alt-rock band The Maine announce his debut album, I Only Want to Live Once this past week. No stranger to dabbling into side projects, John the Ghost (a moniker O’Callaghan used for his poetry to split his identity from the group) officially gained traction as a musical presence back in 2014 with the release of his self-titled EP. Featuring six tracks that felt as though the listener was flipping through his haphazard journal, the project grew limbs that wrapped themselves around the listener in the most personal of ways. The lyrics seemed to etch themselves into your skin. The simplistic soundscape seemed to wade in and out of your mind. Yet, the energy that emitted from your chest after a full listen was burning warmth that kept you coming back for more. O’Calaghan released a single from JTG back last spring, “Rolled Down Window,” which sprinkled elements of the 2014 EP into the track with brighter pop sensibilities that look to be heading in the direction of the album’s due date on February 21st. To quote my tweet when the news dropped, “tbh John knew we all needed a full John the Ghost album going into 2021 to get us through. thanks so much.” – Hope Ankley

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

Julien Baker – Little Oblivions (2/26)

Few artists have had such massive breakouts as Julien Baker did in the second half of the last decade. What were just teenage solo demos were released as her stunning debut Sprained Ankle, and Baker’s heartfelt meditations on depression connected with listeners all across the world. Her third LP Little Oblivions is due out at the end of February, and it’s looking like it’ll be a masterpiece; 2017’s Turn Out the Lights added some depth to her sound, throwing strings into the mix, and the lead single from Little Oblivions, “Faith Healer,” fills things out even more, as Baker’s voice is backed now by a full band. It looks like Little Oblivions will be Baker’s biggest album yet. Hopefully it’ll help her reach her biggest heights yet, too. – Zac Djamoos

 Kendrick Lamar

It’s been three years since Kendrick Lamar dropped a new album. While for some artists this may not seem like a long time, it is for the prolific rapper/hip hop artist, who from 2015-2018 released a new project every year without fail. In fact, Lamar stayed relatively quiet for the duration of 2020, making an appearance for the first time in October on the track “Look Over Your Shoulder” from Busta Rhyme’s album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God. The last time Lamar took a break from releases was early on in his career after 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. He returned in 2015 with To Pimp A Butterfly, which depicted the Black American experience in a complex and impactful way. This is something Lamar has never shied away from in his music. And after the turbulent past year in the U.S., with the Black Lives Matter movement moving to the forefront of political issues, one can only imagine the powerful and poetic project Lamar has in store.  – Jordan Snowden


Photo by Kaytlin Dargen


Kississippi is skilled in evolving. Debut release We Have No Future, We’re All Doomed was subdued and emo-twinged, suitable as background music. Subsequent project Sunset Blush is also vested in emo, but with more plush, dynamic melodies. The record pulled off a difficult feat – embodying a cohesive sound without becoming monotonous. There are some constants that run throughout it, like a sense of coziness and tenderness. “Around Your Room,” a single from their upcoming record, feels indicative of yet another shift, with this one pulling them closer to shimmery, glitchy pop. But considering the talent they’ve already demonstrated, I’m not nervous about how they’ll handle change – I think they’ll do great. – Bineet Kaur


It’s a crime how Lorde swiftly dropped a complex and near perfect pop record with no-skips back in 2017 only to keep us hanging by a thread for three and a half years for something else to come from her mystical mind. But perhaps we should be thanking Antarctica as it wasn’t until her trip there back in 2019 that she came back with a fresh lens on life and inspiration for an album title. After the surge in creativity, she took some time for herself until May of last year when she announced the third album was in the works. Yet, she also commented on the direction of the new Lorde era… saying the sound is gearing more towards savory than bite-sized pop, having me believe we’re going to be hit with a beautifully melancholy space opera when we all least expect it. And, I, for one, cannot wait. – Hope Ankley

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to follow up 2018’s stellar Historian. Since her 2016 debut No Burden won listeners over with its clever songwriting, and Dacus’ smoky, powerhouse vocals, she’s been picking her projects carefully. Whether it’s her work in Boygenius, her 2019 EP, or showing up doing background vocals for Hayley Williams, Dacus does as she pleases. There’s no solid proof we’ll be hearing more from her this year, but one can dream. It has been four years, after all. – Eric Bennett


Meet Me @ The Altar

Meet Me @ The Altar’s blow-up last year was perhaps rivaled only by Bartees Strange. And with good reason! I don’t think it’s possible to listen to their music and not feel pumped the fuck up. The band puts the pop in pop punk and does it so skillfully that even genre purists can’t argue with it. Meet Me @ The Altar are unstoppable and with Fueled by Ramen now backing them, the sky is truly the limit for this band. – Scott Fugger


Parquet Courts 

I can’t think of a rock band who’s done a more eloquent job at speaking to the political climate of the last four years than Parquet Courts. Their 2018 album Wide Awake! walked a near-impossible line between academic analysis, self-aware humor, and caps-locked anger that never once felt heavy-handed, corny, navel-gazing, or awkward. The music was also fun as hell, and since it’s now been three years since that record arrived (the longest gap in their band’s history), I’m hoping that whatever they put out next is even more considered and daring. But even if it’s a retreat to the low-stakes stoner poems of their early years, I’m always game for more of that from them. Whatever Parquet Courts give us, I’ll enjoy. – Eli Enis

Photo by Brooke Marsh

Prince Daddy & the Hyena

With their last release, Prince Daddy showcased some of the best progression I’ve seen from a band in recent time. Primary songwriter Kory Gregory had been working on Cosmic Thrill Seekers for a while, and likewise has spent around two years writing LP3. If what we’ve heard from Instagram live teasers and the “Baby Blue” video from early last year is any indication, then I think we can expect another impressive display of growth hopefully within the coming year. It seems the style has relaxed a bit and the music will take on more nuanced tones and softer vocal stylings. I’m very excited to see how Prince Daddy surprises me again! – Luke Ferrara

Photo by Sam Tassey

Really From

It feels like it’s been ages since Boston’s Really From released their incredible sophomore album Verse, and 2021 feels like it’s going to be a big year for the jazzy math-emo group’s comeback. On Verse, the band felt liable to do anything their hearts desired—on “The Baker” alone, the four-piece hops from tuneful indie-pop to jittery pop-punk to mellow trumpet solo without missing a beat. Throughout that record, fizzy and dexterous guitar lines bring a vibrant energy to the whole ordeal—it’s difficult to listen to Verse and not feel your heart rate take a pleasant leap, even during their more plaintive moments. A follow-up feels like it’s a long time coming and I can’t wait to hear all of the sounds they’ve been sitting on.  – Jordan Walsh



SASAMI, the primary project of Sasami Ashworth who also plays in Cherry Glazer, massively impressed me with their debut album. Their calm, low tempo energy and emotional lyrical loops made for a meditative listen that I went back to again and again. Since that record, Sasami have released an EP and even some Christmas songs, all of which kept up their high standard of quality and made me even more excited for this follow up LP which should be arriving this year. – Henderson Cole

Photo by Katie Hovland

Sincere Engineer 

I was late to Sincere Engineer’s 2017 debut, Rhombithian, only listening to it for the first time last year, but I immediately fell in love. Their music is just what I look for in a punk band: rough, energetic, and catchy as hell. The lyrics are straightforward in the sense that you can imagine yourself shouting them back to vocalist Deanna Belos at a live show on your first listen and her delivery is what ties everything together and really brings it home. With a signing to Hopeless Records and the single “Trust Me” to hold us over, here’s to big things coming from Sincere Engineer in 2021. – Scott Fugger


Slowthai – Tyron (February 5)

A new project from the UK’s slowthai on its own is enough to get excited; his 2019 album Nothing Great About Britain was nominated for a Mercury Prize. But his 2021 album Tyron, set to drop on Feb. 5, has features from James Blake and Mount Kimbie, Skepta, A$AP Rocky, Denzel Curry, Deb Never, and Dominic Fike–a star-studded lineup that we already got a taste of with singles “feel away” and “MAZZA.” Where “feel away” is quiet and stirring, “MAZZA” is vibrant and dense with both slowthai and A$AP showing off their lyrical flow. Both are pretty relaxed, however, making the guess that Tyron will be on the more low-key side of slowthai’s musical releases. – Jordan Snowden

Photo by Natalie Piserchio

Spirit of the Beehive 

Spirit of the Beehive produce some of the headiest music of any active rock band, and I mean that as in their songwriting and instrumentals are incredibly thoughtful, but also that listening to their music makes you feel like you’ve just smoked some headies. Their use of layering of both instrumentals and vocals and obscure delicately placed samples makes for a totally absorbing listen. But this is not some experimental project that is inaccessible, the songs have genuine hooks and even more so, genuine moments that we keep you coming back again. With a new signing to saddle creek, there should be a new LP right around the bend. – Henderson Cole

A Tiger Made of Lightning 

Ten words is all you need to hear from A Tiger Make of Lightning to be hooked. “What a goddamn year this has been, I’m fucking exhausted.” Unfortunately, those lines are just as relevant in 2021 as it was in 2020, but thankfully we have a full EP to look forward to this spring. For now, you can just blast their lone single, “exhausted”, on repeat and let the dense wall of chugging guitar, explosive drums, and vocals to match momentarily take you away. – Scott Fugger 


Turnstile have been releasing music pretty consistently over the last couple of years. With each release containing more influences of old school hardcore with their own contemporary twist. 2018’s Time & Space was an explosion of heavy riffs with a touch of power-pop. Understandably the band also has their hands in other projects such as Angel Du$t and Trapped Under Ice, with the former releasing an LP in 2019. The members of Turnstile certainly know how to keep themselves busy. With no announcements or hint of a new release, it’ll be interesting to see how this group of musicians is thinking about how to make music or continue with their music under the current circumstances. – Sarah Knoll

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