Top 20 Records of 2021: Part One
Issue #1: Top 20 Records of 2021 Numbers 11-20
Well, here we are at the end of another year. 2021 has come to an end. Its older brother 2020 was a big giant pile of dog poo and we were all hoping to be done with it. Unfortunately, 2021 was largely reminiscent of what we dealt with last year. Although many of the pandemic restrictions were either relaxed or outright eliminated, the year still felt like we have not completely weathered the storm yet. Mostly because we haven’t. Covid numbers seem to be spiking and even with vaccinations widely available, there seems to be no end in sight. And naturally, 2021 was no stranger to celebrity deaths. This year we lost actor Christopher Plummer, rap artist DMX, Meatloaf writer Jim Steinman, actor Ned Beatty, musician Don Everly, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, actor Ed Asner, actor Dean Stockwell, actor/comedian Norm MacDonald, and author Anne Rice, among many others.
But much like 2020, there was a bright side in the world of music. A lot of good music was released music. So much, in fact, that many albums that had been released throughout the year got overlooked and I hadn’t discovered them until the last few weeks of the year. This year’s list contains a mixture of new material from bands very familiar to me and music from bands that I had never heard of before.
This email will be broken up into 2 parts. This first will include #20 through #11 on my list, with the second one containing the top 10 albums of the year.
So without further ado, here are my favorite albums released in the 2021. Enjoy!
20. Working With God - Melvins
Well, what can you say about the Melvins other than, you either like them or you don’t. The Melvins were formed in 1983 in Montesano, Washington, a little town about an hour and a half southwest of Seattle, Washington. They are considered one of the pioneers of grunge rock. To be fair though, they are more sludge metal than grunge these days. Their albums, to be honest, are really hit or miss. Sometimes they put out a really good album and sometimes they put out a record that is just bland. Their 2013 album Tres Cabrones, for instance, made that year’s favorite albums list of mine but that is the only album of theirs since I started doing these lists that have appeared on one. Their mid-1990s run of albums such as Houidini, Stoner Witch, Stag, Honky, and the trilogy of The Maggot, The Bootlicker, and The Crybaby, are my favorite studio albums of theirs. My absolute favorite release of theirs was a 1997 compilation of singles that the band had released through Amphetamine Reptile Records simple called Singles 1-12. This is the first of two albums that the Melvins released this year. In addition to Working With God, which was released on February 26th via Ipecac Recordings, they also released an all-acoustic album called Five Legged Dog in October, also on Ipecac. This band, however, is not suited for acoustic music in my opinion. Working With God, however, is an album that I kept going back to all throughout the year. The album starts off with a obscenely titled and awkward but fun reworking of the Beach Boys song “I Get Around” and continues its barrage of noise closing with an odd attempt at do-wop with “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Nobody does noisy, sludgy, rock the way that the Melvins do and they have, for the most part, stuck to formula on this 33rd full length album. Few understand the allure of the Melvins but if you do, with Working With God, you get what you expect, weird songs with powerful, crunchy guitar riffs and a gritty bass-heavy eruption of fuzz-laden noise. Like I said, you either like them or you don’t but if you do, you will not be disappointed with this album. Highlights on this album include “The Great Good Place” and “Negative No No.”
19. Catspaw - Matthew Sweet
I can’t say with 100% certainty that I am a hardcore Matthew Sweet fan. I enjoyed his early 1990s material, especially the 1991 album Girlfriend. But after 100% Fun, I couldn’t get into the stuff he was releasing so I stopped listening for the most part. Earlier this year, I heard the song “Best of Me” from some random playlist on Spotify that I was listening to and it intrigued me so I started listening to the rest of the album. Catspaw was released very early in the year, on January 15th via Omnivore, so I had a lot of time to decide whether or not it would make the list. Originally, I wasn’t sure if this album was going to make the list but I kept going back and listening to it so when it came time to pick the albums for this favorite albums list, this one jumped on there. The thing about Matthew Sweet’s music that I gravitate toward is his guitars. I enjoy not only the overall tone of his guitar sound but the way he plays. He isn’t fancy, per se, but what he does really complements his vocals. I personally feel like he lost some of that with his post 100% Fun material but it seems like he has gotten back to it with this album. Highlights of this album include the aforementioned “Best of Me,” “Blown Away,” “Come Home,” and “Coming Soon.”
18. Our Hell is Right Here - Drones
Here’s another band that I never heard of prior to 2021. Drones are a London, UK-based punk band with influences that include Rise Against, The Distillers, Against Me, and Anti-Flag, among others. The band’s 2018 debut, titled Exiled, was a concept album about European refugees. Admittedly, I have not heard that album. Our Hell Is Right Here was released on February 12th via Thousand Island Records in the United States and Lockjaw Records internationally. While perhaps not necessarily a concept album in the truest sense of the word, the album does carry an overall theme of how the state of affairs in the world can be taxing on one’s mental state. Before I continue, this band should not be confused with the Australian Drones that disbanded in 2016, nor should it be confused with the Manchester, England-based punk band, both which have the band name THE Drones, as opposed to just Drones. The songs lyrics were written by vocalist Lois McDougall during a very trying time in her life. She had just gone through a divorce and lost a family member so it was written from a very gloomy point of view. On top of that, the album was recorded largely without any of its member being in the same room at the same time. Due to pandemic restrictions, the album had to be recorded in parts over several months and pieced together by its producer Tim Kramer. Our Hell Is Right Here kicks off with the powerful environmental anthem “Please Vacation the Planet” that admonishes humanity about their impact on our planet while the single “Josephine” drives home the downfalls of toxic relationships. While the album contains some powerful, resonating lyrical content, let’s not forget the music. It is equally as powerful, with hard-hitting melodies, and more emphasis on the rock than the punk. A few of things that stood out to me about this album, besides McDougall’s amazing vocals, were the commanding rhythms provided by the highly effective, pounding drum work. Highlights include the aforementioned opening track “Please Vacation the Planet” and the also aforementioned “Josephine,” as well as the title track, “Learn” and “Lost in Translation.”
17. Every Second - Taken Days
Every Second is another album from a previously unknown band which I discovered through Wiretap Records. Those familiar with these lists of mine are probably familiar with the Wiretap Records label. This album is the first, but not the last, album to show up on this year’s favorite albums list. Wiretap is my favorite record label and puts out some really amazing bands. Taken Days are no exception to that rule. This debut full length by the Orange County-based band was released on March 19th. The band takes recognizable inspiration from classic 90s pop punk and punk rock. At times they remind me of MxPX but at other times there are slight hints of Blink-182, among other 1990s pop punk pillars. Highlights from Every Second include “It’s About Time,” “How’d It Come To This,” “Giving Up,” “Smile,” “I Decide,” and “Gone Nowhere Slowly.”
16. We’re All Doomed - Avenues
I have been anticipating the release of this album ever since the Milwaukee-based punk band released the single “Devious” last October. The album had been announced but I didn’t see a solid release date until later this year. Finally, it was released on November 19th via Wiretap Records. The band has been around for over a decade, having formed in 2006 and provided us with some great Midwestern punk sounds. They began releasing music in 2012, starting with the EP NoHo. Interestingly enough, We’re All Doomed is their first full length release. Prior to this, they have only released singles and EPs, in addition to their many compilation appearances. The band started recording this album four years ago in Chicago, Illinois but production halted due to not only, big surprise here, pandemic issues, but also a band member’s non-covid related health issues. The songs are reminiscent of 90s style skate punk typified by energetic, passion-fueled melodies, along with catchy choruses and sturdy rhythms. If are looking for a soundtrack to the impending apocalypse, or you are simply a fan of bands like No Use for a Name, 88 Fingers Louie, Masked Intruder, or The Lillingtons, it would do you well to check out this album. Highlights on this album include the aforementioned “Devious” as well as its opening track “Blood On the Moon,” as well as “Supersonic,” and “Transistor Radio.”
15. Old Things - American Thrills
Here’s another entry from a band I was not previously aware of. This Milford, Connecticut-based punk band is a new addition to the Wiretap Records family, releasing their first single for the label, “Alive and Well,” in early December. Their new association with Wiretap is how I found out about them. Because I am a fan of Wiretap bands, I started checking out their back catalog and found that they had released this EP, Old Things, via New School Records on April 16th. The four track release is a pleasant listening experience. Its gritty vocals, combined with its catchy melodies and memorable hooks, are right up my alley. Although they are from the east coast, their sound reminds me of a midwestern punk sound than a style indicative of most New England area punk. American Thrills has a sound that would translate very well in a live setting so I hope to see them in concert someday and I’m looking forward to see what their association with Wiretap brings us in the future. Fans of midwestern punk or bands like The Menzingers should like this one. Of the four tracks on this EP, my favorites are “Discount Casket” and “Stranger.”
14. Axiom - Harker
Harker is another band to make a repeat appearance on this list. They first appeared on my 2018 favorites list with their full-length debut, No Discordance. This Brighton, UK-based band’s Axiom, released on April 23rd is another Wiretap Records addition to this year’s list. I had been eagerly awaiting the release of this album since the release of their first single from the album, “The Beast Must Die,” which was released in February. Their sophomore effort is a slight departure, musically, from No Discordance but no so much in a way that you can’t tell that this is a Harker record. Axiom takes a slightly darker than its predecessor while still maintaining their melodic qualities. The use of electronics on this album complements their driving guitars and vocal harmonies very well and serves more as a supplement to accentuate their great songwriting skills. Highlights on this record include the opening track (and previously mentioned single) “The Beast Must Die,” “Adulthood,” “Flex Yr Head,” and the closing track “Antenna.”
13. Disappear. Reappear - Rough Dreams
I first met Jake Jones when a band I was singing for at the time opened for Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves, a band for which he was playing bass. He and I kept in touch and I have been following this Knoxville, Tennesse-based band of his every since its 2018 inception. Their 2019 self-titled debut EP made an appearance on that year’s favorite albums list. They released a covers EP earlier this year, in February, titled From the Graves of Better Days that included tunes from bands that inspired them such as Thrice, Lucero, and Saves the Day. It is this debut full length, Disappear Reappear, released on September 29th via 59 X Records, that really showcases their talent for songwriting. The album is a perfect mash up of modern punk rock and emo, with a dash of shoegazer thrown into the mix. It is raw, emotional, subtle at times, heavy at times, full of energy and melody. An incredible, solid collection of impressive catchy tunes that you can feel down to your core. If you are a fan of bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Taking Back Sunday, or The Menzingers, you should check out this record. Stand out tracks on Disappear Reappear include “Cursed at the Sun,” “Desert Ghosts,” “Challenger.86.Scavengers,” “First Life Crisis,” “Reappear,” and “Past Lives.”
12. Irruption - Ship Thieves
This is another album that was recommended to me by a friend. Before I started listening to it, I thought it was a band I had not heard of. When I started listening, I felt that it was a very familiar sound so when I looked into them I realized that this was Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves, a previously solo project for the Gainesville, Florida-based Hot Water Music singer/guitarist. The band eventually evolved into a full fledged band. Irruption, as it turns out, is the band’s fourth full length effort. It was released on March 12th via Chunksaah Records and is the follow up to their split with Atlanta-based Reconciler, which was released in January. The band also features Samiam bass player Chad Darby. Walls of guitar, along with whiskey-soaked vocals provide an overall rough but melodic sound to the album. Essentially, this sounds like Caution-era Hot Water Music without Chuck Ragan. And, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with that. This is a great album nonetheless. Highlights of Irruption include it’s opening track “Embers of Enlightenment,” “Ghost Town,” “Tangled Net,” “Hercules Stomp,” <p>
11. Pop Dreamz - The Stayawakes
The next entry from a band that I’d never heard of previously comes from the Portsmouth, UK-based power-pop five piece The Stayawakes. This album was recommended to me by my friend Dave Brown because he thought it would be something I would enjoy. He was not wrong. He knows me too well I think. Pop Dreamz, released on January 29th via Engineer Records, is the follow up to their 2018 debut full length Dogs and Cats/Living Together. The album has a nostalgic feel to it. It is not only a pop-punk record, with a heavy emphasis on the pop side of the equation, but it also includes elements of power-pop, indie-rock, and 90s rock. The bands makes a strong and successful effort to make sure that the entire album is not boring, making it a really fun record to listen to. My favorites from the album are “Lovestruck,” “You Rock My Socks Off,” “Back in 95,” “Oh Telephone,” and “Pink Wave.”
to be continued…….