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What was the best album of 2021? It depends which critic you ask

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

What was the best album of 2021? Well, there doesn't seem to be a lot of consensus about that, so we asked our producer Phil Harrell to see what critics came up with.

PHIL HARRELL, BYLINE: Well, our own NPR Music team waged their usual battle over this topic, and in the end, they agreed that Jazmine Sullivan's "Heaux Tales" was the best album of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICK UP YOUR FEELINGS")

JAZMINE SULLIVAN: (Singing) So don't forget to come pick up your feelings. Don't leave no pieces.

HARRELL: Here's what NPR Music wrote. (Reading) The brilliance of Jazmine's pen game and soulfulness of her vocal performance stands damn-near unmatched.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICK UP YOUR FEELINGS")

SULLIVAN: (Singing) Put a lock on the door where my heart once was.

HARRELL: They weren't alone in feeling that way. The LA Times, Vulture and Pitchfork all went with "Heaux Tales" at No. 1.

Rolling Stone chose instead the biggest debut album of 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD 4 U")

OLIVIA RODRIGO: (Singing) Well, good for you. You look happy and healthy - not me, if you ever cared to ask.

HARRELL: That's Olivia Rodrigo. "SOUR" was the most streamed album globally on Spotify this year. Rolling Stone wrote, (reading) Olivia dropped a greatest hits album on her first try. Rodrigo pours out her heart about her awkward teenage blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD 4 U")

RODRIGO: (Singing) Good for you.

HARRELL: The New York Times asked three of its critics to weigh in, and none of them could agree. One chose "Deja" by the Colombian band Bomba Estereo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA")

BOMBA ESTEREO: (Singing in Spanish).

HARRELL: Another Times critic felt the Canadian poet Mustafa's album "When Smoke Rises" was the year's best.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAY ALIVE")

MUSTAFA: (Singing) But I'll be your empire. Just stay alive. Stay alive. Stay alive.

HARRELL: And the third Times reviewer chose this year's top-selling new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO BE LOVED")

ADELE: (Singing) Let it be known, let it be known that I tried.

HARRELL: Adele's "30" has sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. alone. And it became the year's biggest seller just three days after it was released.

Billboard magazine counts both sales and streaming when coming up with its charts and determined that the top album belonged to Morgan Wallen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WASTED ON YOU")

MORGAN WALLEN: (Singing) ...Wasted on you - all of this time and all of this money.

HARRELL: Wallen started the year in disgrace when a video of him using a racial slur leaked in February. But his album "Dangerous" never really lost support.

The culture magazine Complex said its album of the year came from Tyler, the Creator. It's titled "Call Me If You Get Lost."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANIFESTO")

TYLER, THE CREATOR: (Rapping) Black bodies hanging from trees. I cannot make sense of this. Did some protests and retweeted positive message, donated some funds, then I went and copped me a necklace. I'm probably a [expletive] for your standards based on this evidence.

HARRELL: As a rapper, Complex wrote, (reading) Tyler is already in rarefied air at this point. And albums like this prove he's a generational artist who just keeps getting better with time.

Paste magazine went with an 81-year-old saxophonist. Pharoah Sanders is a jazz legend. And this year, he released a collaboration with an electronic music producer known as Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. The album's called "Promises."

(SOUNDBITE OF PHAROAH SANDERS AND FLOATING POINTS' "MOVEMENT 1 (FEAT. LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA)")

HARRELL: Paste wrote that, (reading) "Promises" sounds like a leap of creative faith, the kind of album that can rearrange the molecules in a room. Phil Harrell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHAROAH SANDERS AND FLOATING POINTS' "MOVEMENT 1 (FEAT. LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.