303 Magazine’s Top 11 Albums of 2021 (In No Particular Order)

2021 may have been a whirlwind of high heat, glass shortages and COVID variants but one constant persevered: music. Live shows reemerged with vigor and the new music we’d been craving arrived exquisitely experimental. Whether out of quarantine madness or stillness, the fruits of our favorite local musicians’ labor did not disappoint.

To music and the artists behind it — thank you for keeping us sane. Without further ado, here are our top local albums of the year (in no particular order).

The Velveteers. Photo by Roxanna Carrasco.

The Velveteers — Nightmare Daydream

One of the most exciting releases this year, a drumming forward motion propels Nightmare Daydream through its 12 indie-rock anthems. Lead singer Demi Demitro entices the listener with vocals that drip with attitude and daydream. Grisly guitars provide an alluring cadence, gripping and grounding each track to the album’s narrative. The Velveteers have created an aural treasure that plays out like a movie in the mind while listening. Nightmare Daydream is music that piques more than one sense, establishing itself as art worth paying attention to. The band has carved into the depths of emotion and come back with excavated gems — rough around the edges in the most heartbreakingly beautiful way.

despAIR Jordan — Before Your Wings Gave Out

Before Your Wings Gave Out is a true, to-the-point album of alternative rock. It’s not overly cluttered with instrumental static running over itself, nor is it repetitive in nature. The drums on the tracks familiarize and connect the listener to alternative rock themes but it’s the guitar and vocals on the track that differentiates the band into something more modern. It’s a culmination of alt, indie, emo and shoegaze all in one and deserves more credit than it has received thus far.

The Grand Alliance — The Grand Alliance

The Grand Alliance self-titled album is easily one of the best albums of 2021 by Denver musicians. Born from quarantine, the album ascends the listener to neo-funkadelic and soulful bliss. It’s as much of an album as it is a cosmic meditation to prepare for a new wave of funk inspired by a collective spiritual awakening. It’s an other-worldly voyage of transcendental beats to awaken the soul and move the body outside of itself and into another realm.

Grand Alliance

Kayla Marque of the Grand Alliance by Blake Jackson

The Mañanas — Cheers

A stripped-back, lighthearted indie record, The Mañanas debut tape is a delightful 21 minutes of catchy guitar riffs and choruses, combined with a definitive sound that never strays too far from the indie-tropes that have made the genre so popular over the last 15 years. And that’s not a bad thing. The tracklist is made to make you smile, regardless of when and where you decide to listen to it. It’s a celebration of life that never takes itself too seriously and begs you to dance and sing along. Cheers to that.


Rising stars N3PTUNE and Rusty Steve paired up for an electrifying EP of dizzying highs and lows, loud guitars and soft whispers. Despite the varying energy of each individual track, they all fit coherently into a tightly packed demonstration of pure artistic creativity and confidence. N3PTUNE is showing off. No doubt about it. Whether he’s rapping his ass off or singing to the heavens, every moment is saturated in style and artistic talent. Even better, the production is some of the best this year’s music has to offer, period. It’s wild, unexpected and dripping in charisma. This is the stuff superstars are made of.

N3PTUNE. Photo by Kori Hazel.

That Kid — Comedown

That Kid’s long-anticipated sophomore album, Comedown, was a monumental hyper-pop release. The seven-track album stays true to his raunchy and rowdy sound, delivering the signature pop, glitter and synthesized excitement his fans know and love. Simply put, it’s music for hot people who like driving fast cars and talking shit.

bellhoss — Hiding

Bellhoss is a gift to the soft-spirited Denver folks who might have made a routine of crying on their birthday. Hiding, released in July, takes you on a dream-like escape through your wandering thoughts. Hiding works in overdrive to cement Becky Hostelter’s heartfelt songwriting and grunge-indie reverie. And to boot, there was an experimental visual accompaniment released shortly after, to aid in your sweet daydream.

Photo courtesy of bellhoss on Facebook.

Tenth Mountain Division — Butte La Rose

The ski-rock jam band Tenth Mountain Division released Butte La Rose in June to the delight of adoring fans. Tenth Mountain Division is a group that is rapidly growing as the band’s musical career continues to blossom. Their fourth studio album, recorded in just one week, saw the band take their music and lyricism to the next level and push boundaries that were meant to be toppled.

Envy Alo — The Ranch

In October, Envy Alo released their second full-length album, The Ranch, boasting the band’s stupendous funk abilities. At only seven tracks long, what the album lacked in numbers it made up for in smooth jams and lengthy collaborations that highlighted just how well the five musicians play together.

Envy Alo

Envy Alo. Photo by Seth Jacobsen.

Ellsworth — Ellsworth

Ellsworth injects the heart with raw emotion from the opening note in her self-titled work. The album chronicles life in college and the rush of emotions that come with the new chapter. Ellsworth’s delicate vocals soar over folky instrumentals — perfect for a chill night in. With every note sung, it feels only a matter of time before Ellsworth will begin to cry. The raw presence hits to the listener’s very core. To be human can be tough but Ellsworth makes it sound oh so beautiful.

The Sickly Hecks — Try and Fail

Try and Fail is an album surged with energy and emotion that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The Sickly Hecks deliver a unique sound that is influenced by punk, alternative and rock. With this being the band’s first full-length album, The Sickly Hecks showcased their talent in writing songs that range in sound and emotion while maintaining cohesiveness throughout.