Year End List: 2021
50 albums I enjoyed my time with throughout this cursed year.
OK, here we go. You know I’m going to start this with my same ol’ spiel. I don’t like “best of” lists, personally. I mean, I love reading them and absorbing them but I don’t know how to make them any more. Once upon a time, I had the ability to hunker down and analyze 20 - 50 records, but now I use these as a way to say: what did I listen to a lot? What had me reaching for the repeat button?
It’s not perfect - EPs often get pushed aside because of raw data reasons (not as many songs, not as many last.fm scrobbles, so they don’t bubble to the top unless I am addicted to them.)
As always, I’m using Bandcamp links as much as possible. I’ve also created a Spotify playlist with 1 song from each record if you’re into that kind of thing too. It should be noted, the spotify list is incomplete since there’s no Old Nick LP on there. Just a heads up.
I know this is a lot to scroll through and every year I say “I’ll write a tiny blurb for each record… one or two sentences at most!” and that just… well, it’s always nice to think I will be able to edit myself down like that, but hey this year-end list is 50 albums long so that should tell you something about me.
One last thing: if you’re reading this in the email, it’s too long so you should click through and read it in-browser to see all the albums! also, sorry about any spelling errors. I always miss some.
Anyway, enough talking, here’s some music. I hope you had a good year. I hope you’re doing OK. I hope you have a good New Year.
50 albums I listened to a lot in 2021 starts… now:
Really From - Really From (Topshelf Records)
Terrific indie-rock with horns and lots of intriguing quirks to the songwriting and production; there’s a jazzy touch to their orchestrated indie-rock that is as math-rock influenced as it is emo. Of all the albums on this list, I felt like Really From’s takes you on a fully formed emotional journey - and because of that, it packs a wallop.
Rosie Tucker - Sucker Supreme (Epitaph)
Rosie Tucker ya done it again. When I heard Sucker Supreme, it was an instant year-end contender. I struggle to think of another vocalist/lyricist who can weave such powerfully emotional imagery from everyday material. It’s some Aesop Rock-level shit, where every word and every syllable is pulling weight, adding up not only on a storytelling level but building damn-near tactile level of emotional mood and atmosphere. That’s not easy. And it never once sacrificed melodic gratification either.
Reymour - Leviosa (Knekelhuis)
An album of minimal synthpop sans-wave bouncing off cavern walls and ultimately burrowing earworms straight into your brain. One spin and you’ll be hooked.
Cassie - The Light Shines On (Reminder Records)
1970s Isle of Wight act gets their due with this compilation of demos and recording session tracks. Debbie Barker shoulda been a huge star and these songs co-written by guitarist Nigel Hayes are so good I’m surprised they didn’t get there. Thank god for Reminder Records who put this together and stopped their legacy from being a footnote.
Hélène Barbier - Regulus (Michel Records & Celluloid Lunch)
Off-kilter bilingual spaced-out pop tunes. As the kids say, a major vibe.
Fievel Is Glauque - God's Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess ("la Loi")
What if the coolest indie-rock kids you knew holed up in your friend’s mom’s living room to jam out lo-fi jazzy, lounge-y kaleidoscopic landscapes of pop-music stretching off into the horizon over 20-odd tracks? What if they did that and the songs fit together perfectly to build a beguiling little groove of an album? I love this album so much.
Desacatyl - License to Dive (Self-Released)
Fuzzed-out, blown-out mega-pop hooks from Joseph A. Ziemba (Taken By Savages, The Like Young, American Genre Film Archive). Sick moog-y synth lines and crunched-to-hell riffs. The Rentals are jealous. Weezer wishes. Crank this album all summer long (OK, next summer.)
The Hirs Collective - The Third 100 Songs (Get Better Records)
Three brand-new songs sit atop this stack-o-traxx from the essential grindcore/punk act. Compiled from splits, compilations, unreleased and bonus stuff. Make your ears bleed for 1 hr 15 min how about? In a good way, though.
Thirdface - Do It With a Smile (Exploding in Sound)
This Nashville hardcore-punk band’s unrelenting debut LP was one of my most anticipated of 2021 and they did not disappoint. This shreds.
Enforced - Kill Grid (Century Media)
This Virginia-based thrash metal/crossover band’s first album of all-new material Peep the singer’s Demolition Hammer shirt in their music video too eh? Just the right amount of death metal sits right on top of this potent blend of throwback thrash.
Water From Your Eyes - Structure (Wharf Cat Records)
Water From Your Eyes have been putting out fantastic records at a one-a-year (not counting cover albums and singles) pace; 2018’s All a Dance landed on my year-end list, 2019’s Somebody Else’s Song was a fantastic follow-up, and now Structure lands and continues their knack for turning beautifully varied genre-busting records into cohesive wholes. Dig how the Beach Boys-esque opener proceeds the texturally noisy and repetitive but effective “My Love’s”.
Old Nick - A New Generation Of Vampiric Conspiracies (Grime Stone Records)
For a while I have bemoaned my fatigue with black metal, as I have fallen off in my appreciation of the genre lately. Obviously, a stupid thing to do: hand wave away an entire genre. I hate when people do it, and yet here I am saying “I’m just tired of this genre it seems.” But unfortunately, the vocals in particular on most black metal records I’ve heard have not been doing it for me.
And then my good friend Greg comes in and shares with me the output of Grime Stone Records and that all changes for me. Gasp! Inventive black metal that is able to fuse in melodies and, what??!? Have some FUN while doing it?! This album - and record label in general to be honest - blew me away. (Don’t sleep on Bloody Keep’s Bloody Horror EP either!)
RXKNephew - Slitherman Activated (Towhead Recordings)
This year I was behind on keeping up with hip-hop, but Slitherman Activated was easily my most-listened to rap record this year. Something about the dark, dnb/industrial-esque beats and rambling, all-over-the-place and unpredictable Detroit horrorcore bars just landed for me again and again. Like the best horrorcore rappers, it can be completely off-putting and yet RXK Nephew will make you laugh a line or two later.
Beach Bunny - Blame Game (Mom+Pop)
I enjoyed 2020’s Honeymoon as much as most people who heard it, but Beach Bunny’s four back-to-back indie/pop-punk bangers on this EP is just immense; I couldn’t keep these songs out of my head, they’re just too catchy.
Comfy - Volume For (Dadstache Records)
Comfy’s Volume For was definitely my most-spun album of the year - the last.fm stats do not lie. This was just a huge one for me, wildly addictive and sprawling indie-pop from track one to track 14. This was on repeat, all year. If you haven’t heard Comfy, get this and don’t forget to circle back on their previous LP too.
Nanny - Can't Remember, Can't Forget (Self-Released)
Nanny’s Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget was something of a sleeper hit for me; I believe I stumbled upon it in my Spotify home page sitting in the “recommended for you” section and I dug it upon first spin. But soon, I was coming back for more and more, putting it on in the car multiple times a week. It just settled into my life this year like it always belonged there. A wonderful album of fizzy, effervescent indie-rock power-pop.
Jeff Rosenstock - SKA DREAM (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Imagine putting out an all-ska cover of your acclaimed album and it’s just as good, and in no way just a tossed-off goof? This is every bit as effective as the original, and I couldn’t put it down.
Itemfinder - Hall of Fame (SilphScope)
Another one that was a sleeper for me, this kind of popped up on my radar and checked a lot of boxes that I generally go for: that kind of progressive pop-punk thing where hooks and catharsis are stretched out but remain very effective and hooky, as heard best on opener “U-Haul.” It’s all stacked with noisy indie-rock and hooks, but slathered in that pacific northwest grey day je ne sais quoi that I dig. Has a little bit of 764-HERO and Built to Spill hiding in there if you ask me, but it's filtered through a modern heart-on-sleeve indie/punk energy in an honest way that works for me. A hard balance to strike, but Itemfinder seem to be hitting it just right.
Smol Data - Inconvenience Store (Open Door Records)
I heard Smol Data's previous EP and I recall thinking it was pretty good but it didn't totally stick with me. This debut full-length though is great stuff, it feels very of the moment in terms of that melting pot where indie-rock and pop sits beside bleepy synths, acoustic jangles, crunchy riffs, skittering drum machines and third wave ska detours - basically anything is on the table when the songs feel like taking the scenic route. I like that a lot about this record.
Mister Goblin - Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil (Exploding In Sound)
Nostalgic sounding indie-emo-pop-folk kind of stuff; reminds me in moments of the best of early Pedro the Lion or even one of those vaguely Country-ish slowcore indebted indie bands like Nap Eyes. Can hit pretty hard emotionally at times too. Some effective riff-heavy moments (like on “At Least”) can hit you when you don’t expect it.
CFCF - memoryland (BGM Solutions)
I loved CFCF's Liquid Colors, and memoryland just confirms that CFCF is wildly successful at putting on different nostalgic coats of paint while still retaining an interesting point of view and avoiding the pitfalls that many artists succumb to when trying to blend a disparate set of influences into something wholly their own. This album has been described as being as equally influenced by Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth as it is Basement Jaxx or Chemical Brothers, and that honestly goes a long way in getting you close to understanding what CFCF is trying to do here. I love this album.
Moontype - Bodies of Water (Born Yesterday Records)
Chicago trio Moontype deftly splits the difference between spiky power-pop indie-punk and quirky art-rock with ease on Bodies of Water. Opener “Anti-Divinity” sets the stage with piles of slashed chords that let you know their hook-based attack is sharp, and later “When You Say Yes” chugs along contently before devolving into a kind of controlled jazzy chaos. It’s a tough act to pull off, but Moontype do it twelve times with ease.
Vacation - Existential Risks and Returns (Salinas Records)
I kept noticing this year that there seems to be a genre on Spotify that has been labeled “GBV-fi,” I guess for bands who embody the grab-bac shaggy pop band aesthetic it has been named after. VACATION seem to fit right there, and with “Existential Risks and Returns” they have a stack of rock tunes worthy of many-a beer-soaked windmill.
Waste Man - One Day It'll All Be You (Feel It Records)
It’s hard for me to review bands like this, because my initial instinct - always - is to say that there’s still life in the glut of post-punk bands these days, you just have to look for it. Waste Man have a sneakily potent ace up their sleeve, and it’s their seeming love of SST records that lurks in the corners of their barbed post-punk tunes. You’ll hear it when “Proofreaders, Singles, And Philosophers” kicks into its high-gear finale, or on the Descendents-esque “Willie’s Wet World.”
Helvetia - Presents Sudden Hex (Joyful Noise Recordings)
I was torn whether I should put 2021’s Essential Aliens or Presents: Sudden Hex on here. The former sounds to me like a return to pre-Nothing in Rambling era (Junkshop, On The Lam, etc.). Much weirder, more sprawling and kind of all over the place with a bric-a-brac feeling. That's what I fell in love with when I first found Helvetia, coming off a Duster bender, so I loved that record of course. And then Presents: Sudden Hex dropped, and what the hell? Such a wild, weird experiment of an album. A delightful curveball.
Bachelor - Doomin' Sun (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
If you haven’t already heard, Bachelor is a collab between Palehound (who I’ve loved since 2015’s phenomenal Dry Food LP) and Jay Som (who I’m slightly less familiar with, but I do remember digging 2017’s Everybody Works LP.) Members of Big Thief and Chastity Belt show up here too, so it’s basically a supergroup spectacular.
There’s a nice mix of throwback midwestern indie rock / slowcore textures with modern indie/dream/etc.-pop hooks going on that I can get behind here.
Closer - Within One Stem (LAUREN RECORDS)
Great follow-up to the phenomenal All This Will Be in 2018; more post-hardcore/emocore/screamo stuff with a huge impact. Big step up on production imo - All This Will Be was raw and had a lot of high-end edge to it, but there's a deep, cavernous atmosphere behind the raucous emo/punk aggression that I connect with. The bass performance/production in particular is doooope.
SLANT - 1집 (Iron Lung Records)
This straight-up rules. Not much else to say. Fast and aggressive punk-rock / hardcore kind of stuff with a throat-shredding vocal performance from singer Yeji. So sick.
Teen Creeps - Forever (PIAS Recordings)
A lot of bands are doing the whole mathy guitar lines over midwestern emo inspired by American Football these days, but Teen Creeps are over here bashing through songs that more resemble the poppier side of the second wave; think TGUK or The Promise Ring or maybe even some Nada Surf and you’re getting started. They don’t feel like an exclusively nostalgic act though, thankfully, and when you roll up their influences alongside their modern approach and maturity, it’s mighty satisfying.
Floatie - Voyage Out (Exploding In Sound)
Floatie’s Voyage Out was definitely one of the most hypnotizing albums of the year, as it piles noodling guitar lines over jittery drum beats and steady basslines that circle and cycle around ever-changing melodies. It’s like an album version of a Magic Eye, you can’t look away, and the more you look at it the deeper you sink in. Soon, you’re thinking about these songs all day.
Great Deceivers - Great Deceivers (Landland Colportage)
This band is so great, and their previous album was a slept-on delight. This record rules too, don't overlook it! Great guitar-centric indie rock pop with a bit of a midwestern 90s flavour to it (but also a kind of weird, skewed undercurrent.)
Tunic - Exhaling (Atroffact Records)
2021 was clearly prolific for a lot of bands, but Tunic dropped not one but two fantastic records this year. The first of which lands on my list, mostly because I had more time to listen to it since it came first. Either way you look at it, both albums are pummelingly dope and heavy guitar-rock for disciples of The Jesus Lizard, Cherubs, et al.
Spllit - Spllit Sides (Feel It Records)
If you’ve been following Feel It Records (who are one of the most consistent labels out there right now it seems) then you might know what to expect here; something a bit post-punk, a little wirey, a bit catchy, a pinch quirky. You’d be right, and Spllit work through 16 songs in 24 minutes that range from funky jangles to psychedelic post-punk pluckiness. It’s a weird, wild good time.
Maraudeur - Puissance 4 (Peroquébien)
This is how you do synthy-anxious-nervous-post-punk! Just catchy enough, just quirkily textural enough, just discordant enough with jagged production but not in a way that obscures their songs in any way. Very good, very good.
Flight Mode - TX, '98 (Sound as Language)
Fantastic EP; shades of early Weakerthans, mid-late era Sunny Day and an overall modern emo-revival/indie-pop bag of vibes. Can't put this down lately.
Fiddlehead - Between the Richness (Run For Cover Records)
Enjoyed Fiddlehead's previous LP but this feels to me like a band hitting their stride, not exactly stretching out into unknown territories but certainly starting to expand their palette of sounds a little bit. "Life Notice" hits hard, and is followed up with a nice alt-rock strummer that simmers and fizzles instead of reaching a forced explosion finale. That's what is nice about this album, it has both the expected elements and sprinkles some unexpected moments in there too. A good balance imo.
God's Hate - God's Hate (Closed Casket Activities)
I will admit that when I heard “Finish The Job” I got worried because you never know what hardcore/metal bands might be singing about sometimes... but when I looked up the lyrics I was happy to see it's actually about murdering white supremacists!!! phew
Spirit Was - Heaven's Just a Cloud (Danger Collective Records)
Spirit Was’ Heaven’s Just A Cloud is one of two albums born from the ashes of the band LVL UP that came out this year. On Heaven’s Just A Cloud, Nick Corbo filters folk, indie-rock and country through a kind of blistering, seething and bleak aural atmosphere without overbearing or crushing the listener. Actually, the opposite happened to me, I was pulled further and further into this album with every listen. It’s just heavy enough, just catchy enough, just grey enough, just bright enough. A near perfect balancing act.
Dummy - Mandatory Enjoyment (Trouble In Mind Records)
Drone-pop in the vein of Stereolab, Vanishing Twin, The Soundcarriers and other 60s-obsessed, sophistipop-meets-motorik psychedelic-drone noisemakers. I love this kind of stuff, and so it’s no surprise this album was the perfect scratch to a very specific itch.
22º Halo - Garden Bed (Sleeper Records)
This may very well be the latest addition to my list this year. 22º Halo’s Garden Bed just hit me at the perfect time; a super grey, slowcore indebted indie-rock album of which there seems not to be enough of these days. Like a soft beam of light piercing through storm clouds and onto your shag carpeted floor on a Sunday morning.
Every Time I Die - Radical (Epitaph)
I don’t know what’s going on internally with Every Time I Die, but I’m constantly marveled at their ability to just get better and better. One of those bands where it’s a treat to listen to their discography and just hear them innovate, evolve, iterate, again and again on their trademark sound.
Sevish - Bubble (Sean Archibald)
Silky smooth electronic with elements of jungle/dnb in there for good measure. Playful, but not overly cartoonish. Never fully drips into fully cheese-ball trance or techno vibes, but there's just enough moments in there to give it a fun textural quirkiness.
Oruã - Íngreme (Transfusão Noise Records)
Brazilian experimental indie-rock meets acid jazz meets psychedelia; fuzzy and hazy but catchy and immediate with elements of neo-psych-rock.
Fortitude Valley - Fortitude Valley (Fika Recordings)
Power-pop, indie-pop, pop punk and indie rock collide; press release namechecks influences such as Weezer, Belle & Sebastian, The Beths, The Weakerthans, and Pavement. Checks out to me.
Two Thumbs Down - End All Be All (LAUREN RECORDS)
There’s a joy in Two Thumbs Down’s mid-fi, everything-and-the-kitchen-sick-plus-horns indie-pop-rock that I find infectious. There’s a kind of post-BTMI thing that happens it seems where some bands are just down for whatever - segue into some ska upstrokes on the opening track? Build that into a singalong? Toss out a punk track? A jangle-pop song? Do it! Why not!?
I love when a band isn’t content with just being one okay band, they want to be every great band at once. Two Thumbs Down succeed at doing this in a way most bands probably couldn’t.
Ovlov - Buds (Exploding in Sound)
Ovlov’s highly anticipated 2021 album dropped, and guess what? It’s a sick Ovlov album! If you haven’t heard them before, they’re a Connecticut indie-rock band with major pop-chops and the kind of overdrive that gear-heads dream of.
Turnstile - GLOW ON (Roadrunner Records)
Turnstile’s previous albums never hooked me, because they felt so much like their influences I had a hard time connecting with them on their own terms. With GLOW ON though, the throwback-hardcore band truly emerged from the shadows of their inspirations and staked out their own territory with a sound that retains their love of golden era New York hardcore acts while keeping their eyes on the horizon.
Wednesday - Twin Plagues (Orindal Records)
I was a huge fan of Wednesday’s 2020 album I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone, so this was definitely another one of those hotly anticipated 2021 releases for me. Wednesday lived up to my internal hype though, and continued to mine fuzzed-out blown-out indie-noise-rock-n’-shoegaze for nuggets of gold. They get a bit country on “How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do” and it fits snugly right in the middle of the record. On a lesser album, it might stick out like a genre-experiment before moving back onto more familiar grounds, but it is so perfectly paced and sequenced that it completely works. Pacing is something I also mentioned about their previous record, and Wednesday are still showing they not only have the chops to craft a phenomenal record, they know how to wrap it up in a way to maximize impact. Such a great, great band.
Gaadge - Yeah? (Crafted Sounds)
The kind of hazy, noisy grab-bag indie rock that moves from textural dirgey shoegaze vibes to off beat angular guitar rock, skips into some acoustic-based jangly stuff before spiraling off into any number of other sub sub sub genres.
Pom Poko - Cheater (Bella Union)
It’s easy to call something “noise pop” when it’s just super blasted-out 90s rock guitars over buried power-pop hooks, but more rare when something as genuinely tuneful as Pom Poko’s Cheater also fits the label. It’s layer upon layer of electronic blorps, punchy and skittery drum beats, and guitar licks that trill and quaver with mathy intensity when required. Ragnhild’s vocals come in and completely seal the deal, fitting it all together and turning what could be a cacophonous experience into a beautiful noise.
That’s it, that’s all. Be excellent to one other.