The best albums and EPs of the year 2021 so far

Welcome to Mixmag's guide to the best albums of 2021 so far.

Much like our best tracks of the year so far list, we'll update this page every month with the most innovative, interesting and downright banging dance music from across the world – in LP (or EP if we're feeling cheeky) format.

That's it, that's the deal.

Read on for the words, the audio and those very important buy links.

Happy listening!

See also: The best tracks of the year so far and the best mixes of the year so far

​V/A ‘CLUB CHAI Vol. 2’ (Club Chai)

This compilation marks the close of the CLUB CHAI label, but the quality of the music featured - alongside the game-changing impact of the Oakland-based curatorial project, record label and event series since its formation in 2016 - means its legacy will live on strongly. Founders 8ULENTINA and Lara Sarkissian deliver the first two tracks, the former getting the compilation off to an emotionally affecting start with ‘patch of sunlight’ while the latter submerges the sound of Armenian folk music prodigy Miqayel Voskanyan in an atmospheric fug. Other contributions in the 18-track release comes from artists such as DJ Plead, Bored Lord, quest?onmarc, Authentically Plastic, BONAVENTURE and Jessika Khazrik, with sonic corners spanning gripping techno fuzz, vocal-infused experimental, irresistible drumwork, and more. Buy it here

​Octo Octa ‘She’s Calling’ (T4T LUV NRG)

We featured the incredible lead track from this EP (‘Find Your Way Home’) in our January tracks round-up, and the full EP that followed this month did not disappoint. It combines rave-ready production with ritualistic exploration, making it feel like an entire world of transcendent possibility is contained within its three tracks. Buy it here

​Maya Q 'I just wanna' (All Centre)

All Centre hit the quarter century release mark with this three-tracker from Maya Q. ‘I just wanna’ is the highlight, brilliantly blending UKG influence with beaming chords and graceful vocals that take the track to cloud nine. ‘Saunton Sands’ employs similar drum patterns into a more melancholic framework, while ‘Are my close (for Joe)’ brings a harder edge with breaks crashing underneath fey mechanics to round out an impressive debut EP with a distinct artistic voice from the Co-Select resident. Buy it here

​Grove 'Queer + Black' (Memorials of Distinction/Spinny Nights)

On Grove’s debut EP, lyrics take aim with a gullotine blade at landlords and make bold expressions of their ‘Queer + Black’ identity, while the accompanying music is a heady concoction fuelled by scuzzy bass and chopped up, crashing percussion. It’s dripping with attitude and politically-charged vigour - a thrilling introduction to the Bristol-based artist that marks them out as one to watch closely. Buy it here

​Jimmy Edgar 'Cheetah Bend' (Innovative Leisure)

Jimmy Edgar’s never allowed himself to be pigeonholed, working across a variety of styles and sounds, and tending to own whichever direction he takes. On his newest album ‘Cheetah Bend’, his first in nearly a decade, he works with 10 collaborative artists across the 14 track runtime, adding an even greater depth of variety to his masterful range. ‘METAL’ has that unistakeable SOPHIE stamp with its angular and popping synthesis, Semma’s vocals bring warmth to the crunching beat of ‘CHEETAH’, Rochelle Jordan’s smooth tones brighten up the woozy ‘CRANK’, and Danny Bron’s dextrous bars perfectly complement the molten beat of ‘GET UP’. Buy it here

​Danny L Harle 'HARLECORE' (Mad Decent)

Several years in the making with a host of featured collaborators and an entire virtual clubbing universe developed alongside it, Danny L Harle’s ‘HARLECORE’ is one of the most ambitious releases of 2021 so far. The project’s broad scope is matched by the sounds within, which ranges across the blissed-out ambience of ‘Ocean’s Theme’, pounding hardcore of ‘Interlocked’, transcendent trance of ‘On A Mountain’, frantic, makina mania of ‘Boing Beat’, and more. Get stuck into the eternal rave of for the full experience. Buy it here

​Amandra x Mattheis ‘Lettre Ouverte’ (Nous'klaer Audio)

Dance music has suffered a bit of an identity crisis over the past year with no clubs open taking away that important context for new releases. Of all the styles in the spectrum, you might think techno is most susceptible to falling by the wayside with the dominance of floor-focused and soundsystem shaking sounds. But this collaborative release from Amandra and Mattheis disproves that - it’s a techno release that’s well suited to home listening and facilitates drifting away into blissed-out zones, exploring the dreamy, melodic avenues of the genre in a sea of tranquil sounds. Buy it here

​Calibre 'Feeling Normal' (Signature Recordings)

Calibre's dabbled in the 140bpm world prior to this, but 'Feeling Normal' is his first fully 140 record. I'm asking myself 'why has it taken him so long?' It's a weighty peach of an album travelling through dub, UKG, dubstep and more. Regular collaborator DRS contributes to standout track 'Badman', Cimone provides vocals on bass-from-the-cosmos track 'Time To Breathe', and then you get the skippy 'Change With Me' and insane, screwface-inducing 'Good Times'. It hits the sweet spot on home speakers, for sure, but just get me next to a huge soundsystem to experience these tunes in their full glory. Buy it here

​Ghetts 'Conflict of Interest' (Warner Music)

Back in July 2020, Ghetts tweeted "Tbh, man's new album is the hardest thing you're ever gonna hear, favourite this tweet for future reference." Listening to 'Conflict Of Interest', now it's out, you really understand why he felt so confident putting those words out to the world. The album is the grime MC's most personal, honest and introspective work to date as he goes through just over an hour of storytelling, touching on trouble with the law, a long-lost ex-girlfriend from his teenage years and his life in general. This will be one of the strongest grime and rap albums you'll hear all year, with a hefty bunch of features with appearances from Stormzy, Pa Salieu, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Giggs, Dave and loads more. Buy it here

Yu Su 'Yellow River Blue' (bié Records)

Shoegaze, new wave, luscious downtempo, mutant trip hop, dub and bubblegum synth-pop come together on Yu Su's debut full-length LP 'Yellow River Blue'. That's quite a concoction of sounds from the Kaifeng, China-born producer, but whoever said chucking it all in was a bad thing? You get to experience the hefty low-end bass of 'Futuro', the glistening, glowing and beaming sun rays of 'Melaleuca', the blanket of distortion of 'Klein' and the gliding delicacy of 'Dusty'. It's just an absolute beauty from start to finish. Buy it here

DRS 'Light Language' (Space Cadet)

You can always rely on DRS to bring sweet drum 'n' bass vibes whenever he releases a project. The ever-present Manchester MC's bars in his deep Manny drawl are iconic in the d'n'b world, so 'Light Language' is a saviour for those that were missing them. His prowess on the mic is complimented by a bunch of classy productions by the likes of Dogger, FD, Need For Mirrors and Redeyes. He even pulls in the vocal might of Maverick Sabre on the Vangeliez-produced 'Save Me Now'. Buy it here

Galcher Lustwerk 'Information (Redacted)' (Ghostly International)

Galcher Lustwerk's blend of creamy house and suavely delivered rap bars and vocals is like a gift sent from house heaven. 2019 album 'Information' was the last big project Galcher treated us to and he followed it up with a stripped back, instrumental version called 'Information (Redacted)'. The vocals might be taken away, but the instrumentals on their own kinda bring even more to the table, giving us yet another album of pure deepness and smooth flavours from the New York producer. Buy it here

V/A ‘Illegal Data compilation #2’ (Illegal Data)

Illegal Data are the Bristol club kids who are providing sanctuary for one and all who are into unpredictable club music that bounces between the hard, fast, sensual, deconstructed and hyper. This’ll have you more gassed than when you’re picking cola bottles and fried eggs and the pick ‘n’ mix stall, a big bucket of sugar highs from one of the smartest crews in the game. Buy it here

Pauline Anna Strom ‘Angel Tears In Sunlight’ (Rvng Intl.)

Ambient legend Pauline Anna Strom passed away in 2020 so this album, which she made after years away from music, arrives as a posthumous release. Lovingly released by the good people at Rvng Intl. (there are a bunch of vinyl editions to check out), this serene yet often dramatic record will hopefully serve as a portal into the rest of Strom’s work as well as a highlight from the current ambient renaissance. Don’t sleep on this. Buy it here

OCTUBRXLIBRV 'Negro In Negro' (TraTraTrax)

Any EP that comes backed by remixes from AYA and Florentino is sure to pique our interest. Then there’s the Rudnick-esque artwork (a theme for the short discography of Colombia’s TraTraTrax label) and the promise of “perrero violento”, a concept from Venezuela’s OCTUBRXLIBRV that continues Latin America’s intoxicating influence on underground club music. Bingo, need we say more? This is pure catharsis for fans of the aforementioned remixers as well as Kamixlo and the rest of the Bala Club stable. We want to hear this destroying basement parties asap. Buy it here

QOQEQA 'AxuxA' (Kebrada)

This'll be one of the best underground club music albums of the year, no doubt about it. QOQEQA delivers deep, winding, tense-as-well-as-sensual productions that draw from the rich lineage of South American music. A beautiful trip, it comes in a tidy vinyl package and will work on the dancefloor as well as those headphones you've got very well acquainted with during lockdown. Can't wait to hear more from QOQEQA. Buy it here

LD 'Who's Watching'

UK drill OG LD delivers the goods on 'Who's Watching', an album that sees him explore personal strife and turmoil. An intimate snapshot of his life, he does most of the lyrical work himself with just a couple of guests joining him in the dank surrounds of the minimalist productions he's chosen to accompany his vocals. That's all good though, given the introspective nature of the record and the fact that he gives himself a platform to truly shine. Buy it here

Diessa 'Between Rooms' (Edited Arts)

The excellent Edited Arts comes through with more forward-thinking club music, this time from Sheffield's Diessa whose 'Between Rooms' gets better with each track. This is all low-slung beats, distorted bass and wailing samples that'll have you drawing the curtains and pretending you're on the dancefloor of Janus, Trance Party or GHE20G0TH1K. Buy it here

Muqata’a 'Kamil Manqus' (Hundebiss)

Muqata'a comes through once again with soundsystem-decimating sonics imagined in awesome new ways. Here his hypnagogic dub expands and contracts, at times cavernous and minimalist, at others full of breakbeats and psychedelic charms glistening in the dark. Proper exploratory business, with some moments that would destroy a Deep Medi dance. Buy it here

Giant Swan 'Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness' (Keck)

The Giant Swan appears again as a majestic force of nature. This three-tracker of course delivers the Bristol duo's pummelling improv techno on 'Silkworm' but the other two cuts offer excursions into weirder, wonkier territory that's left us fully intrigued to hear more. Saddle up! Buy it here