The 10 Best Albums of April 2021

Featuring Dry Cleaning, BROCKHAMPTON, Spirit of the Beehive and more

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The 10 Best Albums of April 2021

One third of 2021 is already off the calendar, unbelievably, and the year is only getting more surreal as things return to “normal” Stateside. The past month has seen the live music dam burst, at least on paper, with bands announcing tours all over the place. But for now, we’re still focused on music in recorded form, specifically the best albums of last month. It’s never easy to pick just 10, but stellar releases from Dry Cleaning, Spirit of the Beehive, BROCKHAMPTON and others simply would not be denied. Take in the Paste Music team’s top picks of last month below, and stay tuned for the best April songs and most-anticipated May albums.

The Armed: ULTRAPOP

Everything you read about The Armed’s latest album ULTRAPOP will mention the mysterious nature of the Detroit-based band’s true lineup. They’ll cite made-up names and untrustworthy interviews, falsified press releases and photos featuring models standing in for whoever’s behind such an uncommonly catchy and charismatic strain of hardcore punk. Here’s what we do know: Whoever is pulling strings and pushing boundaries for The Armed is doing a hell of a job. What’s most impressive about ULTRAPOP is not necessarily the killer riffs, the pummeling rhythms or the plentiful melodies, though all of those are consistently thrilling. What’s most impressive is the way this band brings together different, disparate styles in a way that sounds seamless and natural and new, even if others have done it before. When The Armed announced ULTRAPOP last winter, de facto leader Dan Greene was quoted as saying the album “seeks, in earnest, to create a truly new listener experience. It is an open rebellion against the culture of expectation in ‘heavy’ music. It is a joyous, genderless, post-nihilist, anti-punk, razor-focused take on creating the most intense listener experience possible.” With ULTRAPOP, they’ve done exactly that. Whoever “they” are. —Ben Salmon

Arooj Aftab: Vulture Prince

A Lahore, Pakistan-born graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music now based in Brooklyn, composer and singer/songwriter Arooj Aftab’s new album Vulture Prince follows her 2018 collection Siren Islands, but is in direct conversation with her 2015 debut, Bird Under Water. Vulture Prince opens with “Baghon Main,” a new reimagining of her debut’s fourth track that replaces the original’s subdued harmonium with bright, beautiful strings, as if assuming a newly accepting outlook on a painful past. This act of looking back on days gone by is central to Vulture Prince, which is dedicated to the memory of Aftab’s younger brother Maher, whom she lost while writing it—she explains that the album “is about revisiting places I’ve called mine, places that don’t necessarily exist anymore. It’s about people, friendships, relationships—some relationships that were unexpectedly short term, and how to deal with that.” Among Aftab’s most compelling explorations of the liminal space between love and loss is “Mohabbat,” which finds her breathing new life into a decades-old example of an ancient poetic form, the ghazal. With Vulture Prince, Aftab not only connects her songwriting to time-honored artistic traditions, but also makes music with the bittersweet beauty to echo through the years in and of itself. —Scott Russell

BROCKHAMPTON: ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE

On ROADRUNNER, BROCKHAMPTON don’t try to reinvent the wheel as much as they pay homage to it. The album itself is soaked in the kind of gritty percussion and verbal intensity synonymous with hip-hop. But this time around, BROCKHAMPTON brought a few friends outside of their crew along for the ride. “BUZZCUT” kicks off things with a hearty vehemence against rip-roaring production and dangerously accurate one-liners from Kevin Abstract like, “A platinum record not gon’ keep my Black ass out of jail.” BROCKHAMPTON spit bars with laser-like precision on the JPEGMAFIA-assisted “CHAIN ON,” and the theme of success continues on “BANKROLL,” where cameos from both A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg remind listeners of the unapologetic bravado the pair specialize in. In typical BH fashion, there are moments on “THE LIGHT,” “WHAT’S THE OCCASION?” and “DEAR LORD” that lean into vulnerability, tenderness and slight existential dread. It’s easy to pinpoint BROCKHAMPTON’s growth as evidenced by their latest project, but deeper parts of their creativity are tapped when outsiders—who happen to be insanely talented—are allowed to infiltrate their unit. As the band continues to map out their progression, they also showcase their deep knowledge of and reverence for rap as a whole. This particular album reaffirms an element of hip-hop that the boys have earnestly embraced: There is nothing more important than brotherhood. —Candace McDuffie

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg

British quartet Dry Cleaning extract the profound from the mundane and the meaningful from the nonsensical. On “Viking Hair” from the band’s 2019 EP Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks, frontperson Florence Shaw’s everyday sexual fantasies stood in for the arbitrary guidelines determining acceptable and shameful desires; as she surreally rattled off “traditional fish bar, chicken and ribs, bus pass” and more on “Traditional Fish” from the band’s other 2019 EP, Sweet Princess, she scorned the very idea of commerce. And she did it all in a bone-dry, comical sing-speak set to rollicking, if not straightforward, post-punk courtesy of guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard and drummer Nick Buxton. New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning’s debut album (and first release for 4AD), is all of that and none of that. Shaw’s semi-accidental revelations about the ridiculousness of being alive when we live in a society are sharper than ever, and her voice newly takes the tone of a psychic waking up from a 70-year nap. Dowse, Maynard and Buxton have massively upped their game, too: The EPs’ post-punk foundation remains, but atop it come stomping glam riffs, dream-pop arpeggios and razor-sharp melodies that loosen Dry Cleaning’s prior tension without entirely taming the mania. —Max Freedman

Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses

Last spring, Jenn Wasner was faced with a now-familiar dilemma: what to do with all this newfound free time. For perpetually touring artists like Wasner, the sleepy days of 2020 quarantine were likely even more of an adjustment. And like many of those grounded musicians, Wasner used the abundance of solitude as an excuse to look inward. She got to writing, and those balmy weeks between March and June of last year resulted in Head of Roses, Wasner’s lush second album under her Flock of Dimes solo alias. A habitual collaborator, the Baltimore-born musician is probably known to most as one-half of experimental indie-pop group Wye Oak, who released their most recent stunner The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs in 2018 on Merge Records, and as a touring member of Bon Iver. On Head of Roses, Wasner entrusts another stalwart indie label (Sub Pop) with her complex-yet-approachable rock stylings and assembles a different group of collaborators, but she sounds more confident than ever in her own voice. —Ellen Johnson

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END

For the entirety of its existence, the Canadian post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor has eschewed interviews, choosing instead to communicate collectively through terse, unsigned (and uncapitalized) statements. “this record,” reads the one accompanying the band’s new album G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END, “is about all of us waiting for the end.” The truth is, Godspeed’s entire body of work over the past three decades has felt like a prelude to an end—an end that feels closer than ever before. It is surely no coincidence, then, that G_d’s Pee arrives now, its 52 minutes stuffed with forbidding drones, symphonic despair, eerie found sounds and vast swaths of epic, instrumental rock befitting the apocalypse and whatever comes after. —Ben Salmon

Gojira: Fortitude

Gojira have slowly strayed from their death-metal roots, but on their latest effort Fortitude, the French metal pioneers embrace a more mainstream approach to their enchanting songwriting. There is no shortage of chugging guitars and frontman Joe Duplantier’s war cries, but the way that the band continues to innovate with their slow-rising melodies and silky echoes is exciting and mesmerizing. The subtle nods to blues-rock, as well as Indigenous and African drumming, make Fortitude a necessary protest album. —Jade Gomez

Moontype: Bodies of Water

Friendship, water and glass have a lot in common. For starters, they’re essential for modern life, and they can be beautiful, life-affirming and often long-lasting. Similarly, they’re all powerful and capable of wreaking havoc. But most interestingly, we can see our reflection in each of them, whether it’s a storefront, a pond or even a friendship. These three things also inform Bodies of Water, the impressive debut album from Chicago trio Moontype. The record is full of references to water in various states of matter, cherished quality time and glass as a symbol of perspective—all devices to highlight the tender, wholesome moments that keep us going. It’s a sweet, intimate record, bolstered by the love each band member has for each other. Soaking up their album really is a healing experience given its universal search for love, understanding and identity. Whether songwriter, lead vocalist and bassist Margaret McCarthy is pining for a friend she hasn’t seen in a while, feeling disconnected from someone who’s near, or trying to cope with being alone, Bodies of Water cherishes the special moments when connection comes easy, and we truly feel seen by ourselves and others. —Lizzie Manno

Remember Sports: Like a Stone

Despite their youthful sound, Philadelphia rockers Remember Sports have already lived a musical life or two. Forming as simply Sports in 2012 while their members were attending Ohio’s Kenyon College, the self-described “basement rock band” caught the attention of Father/Daughter with their 2014 self-released debut Sunchokes, going on to put out their 2015 album All Of Something; break up; reform with a new lineup, home base and name (adding “Remember” to avoid being mistaken for Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Sports, among other acts); release 2018’s Slow Buzz; and reissue Sunchokes. The road to their fourth album Like a Stone found Remember Sports as we now know them—vocalist Carmen Perry, bassist Catherine Dwyer, guitarist Jack Washburn and drummer Connor Perry—calling on their hard-fought continuity and cohesion, swapping instruments with a sure-handed skill fit to break them out of the basement. Frequently characterized as indie-punk, Remember Sports’ sound has more than a little of Philly’s own Hop Along in it (Carmen’s spirited vocals are similarly striking), but their nuanced indie rock folds in everything from explosive emo to warm Americana, containing the multitudes of a band who’ve grown to know exactly who they are. —Scott Russell

Spirit of the Beehive: ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH

Shapeshifting. If there’s one descriptor for Philadelphia rockers Spirit of the Beehive, that’s it, so we figured we’d get it out of the way early. Transformation surrounds their fourth album and Saddle Creek debut ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, affecting the band itself—founding members Zack Schwartz and Rivka Ravede are now joined by Corey Wichlin—as well as their recording process and, of course, the music itself. While the band recorded their breakout 2018 album Hypnic Jerks in only a week, they took four months for ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, self-recording and producing their most adventurous album yet. Just take “I SUCK THE DEVIL’S COCK,” the record’s near-seven-minute third single, which they describe as “our take on ‘a day in the life’”: The song begins as glitchy, drum machine-spiked jangle-psych, but quickly devolves into borderline ambient noise, eventually reconstituting itself as dreamy indie-pop with the oddest refracted textures. It, like all of ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, is thrillingly unpredictable from moment to moment, and a mind-expanding exploration of the innumerable forms rock music can take. —Scott Russell