HALFWAY into 2021 and we've heard the creativity forged in COVID-19 lockdowns rise to the surface. The results have been impressive. We've seen legends reinvigorated and new talent emerge. Here's some of the best albums, so far, in 2021.
Olivia Rodrigo - Sour
Without a doubt the debut album from the 18-year-old Disney Channel star is the biggest record globally at the moment. Songs like Driver's License, Good 4 U and Deja Vu have dominated charts and playlists and have become the teen soundtrack for these uncertain times.
However, what sets Rodrigo apart from her pop contemporaries is Sour is actually a sophisticated pop album about heartbreak and teen angst delivered with intelligence and heart. Look out Tay-Tay.
Hiatus Kaiyote - Mood Valiant
The third album from Melbourne's Hiatus Kaiyote was only released a fortnight ago, but it's already nestled its way into our consciousness through its delectable blend of neo-soul, R'n'B and psych. Mood Valiant arrived six years after the four-piece's last album and during that period vocalist Nai Palm overcame breast cancer.
Palm's vocals are stunning. On Chivalry Is Not Dead she even makes the mating ritual of sea horses sound sensual. There's multiple layers to enjoy on this virtuoso record.
You Am I - The Lives Of Others
For the past 20 years You Am I have released solid albums, but nothing comparable to their golden '90s period of Hi-Fi Way, Hourly Daily and #4 Record. Until this year. The Lives Of Others might have been recorded in isolation - Tim Rogers and Davey Lane in Melbourne and Andy Kent and Russell Hopkinson in Sydney - but it's a cohesive rock album brimming with energy.
Rogers embraces '80s heartland rock on The Waterboy, while there's psych flourishes on Rubbish Day. Passionate and heartfelt, this is the call to arms You Am I needed.
Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
The dichotomy between vocalist Florence Shaw's monotone spoken-word delivery about the banalities of life and her Dry Cleaning bandmates' explosive and rhythmic brand of post-punk, is central to one of the year's most intriguing releases. New Long Leg is the debut album from the London band who came to prominence declaring their love for Meghan Markle.
The angular guitar and metronomic drums carry a Joy Division vibe, but Shaw's witty sense of exasperation and acceptance makes New Long Leg an amusing listen.
Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
Another London band leading the English post-punk resurgence is Shame. Their second album Drunk Tank Pink explodes with tension and a declaration of "are you ready to feel good" on the opener Alphabet.
Drunk Tank Pink was written after frontman Charlie Steen worked himself to exhaustion touring their debut Songs Of Praise. However, stand-out track Nigel Hitter would be the most energetic song written about monotony. The Talking Heads-inspired tune perfectly captured lockdown vibes.
Liz Stringer - First Time Really Feeling
Sobriety at the age of 36 brought the Melbourne singer-songwriter new-found clarity in her life and her relationships, and the positivity spread to her music.
First Time Really Feeling is easily the best effort of Stringer's acclaimed six-album career.
The title track, Dangerous and Big City embrace a more muscular heartland brand of folk-rock, while The Metrologist is an epic and scathing assessment of misogyny within the music industry that Stringer delivers with equal parts rage and charm.
Middle Kids - Today We're The Greatest
On their second album Sydney indie-rockers Middle Kids scaled back their anthemic tendencies to showcase a more nuanced side of their songwriting. There's still plenty of torch-waving moments in R U 4 Me?, Questions and the '90s-inspired Cellophane (Brain).
Hannah Joy's vocals continue to be the centre point of Middle Kids' appeal and it doesn't get any more captivating then on the closing tracks Stacking Chairs and the Britpop-influenced title track where she sings the poignant line of "the world is a silent place, where talking never stops."
Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend
Expectations were high for the English rockers after their Mercury Prize-winning second album, Visions On A Life. Much like a diamond, pressure has only spawned more beauty from Wolf Alice.
Blue Weekend is their most expansive record, delivering elements of bratty glam rock (Smile), shoegaze (The Beach), synth pop (How Can I Make It Ok?) and pop balladry (The Last Man On Earth). This is the moment that Wolf Alice solidified themselves as Britain's next major stadium band.
St Vincent - Daddy's Home
The American musical chameleon Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, shifted her sound yet again on her sixth album. Whereas the excellent Masseduction seduced listeners with a bombast of electropop, Daddy's Home is a cruisy journey through '70s psych soul.
Inspired by her father's incarceration, this is St Vincent at her most personal and adventurous.
What's yet to come in 2021?
When it comes to major pop releases, 2021 hasn't even warmed up yet.
Tones and I - Welcome To The Madhouse (July 16):Dance Monkey made Toni Watson Australia's biggest global superstar as it topped the charts in 20 countries. Can she deliver the pop goods across her first full-length album? The singles Fly Away and Cloudy Day suggest she can.
Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever (July 30): The 19-year-old's more adult image has created a buzz recently, but her second album is expected to build on the incredible success of When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The slinky Lost Cause and acoustic vulnerability of Your Power suggest a cerebral album of pop is coming.
Lorde - Solar Power (August 20): Kiwi pop princess Ella Yelich-O'Connor has promised her third album will be a celebration of the great outdoors. The first single Solar Power is certainly the sunniest and most playful we've heard Lorde, who began her career singing broody electro-pop.