Top 20 Records of 2021
Part 2: The Top 10
Here is the 2nd part of my favorite albums of 2021 (see the first part here). This one contains my top 10.
10. A Good Year to Forget - Joey Cape
Here is another repeat offender. Joey has made several appearances on these lists. Twice on the 2015 list with One Weekend at #9 and Stitch Puppy at #2. He also appeared twice on the 2019 list. Once with his band Lagwagon at #6 with their album Railer and again with his solo album Let Me Know When You Give Up at #2. A Good Year to Forget, released August 13th via Fat Wreck Chords, is the follow up to his 2019 LP. An absolute product of this pandemic generation, this record was recorded in a bedroom of his parent’s house. It is a personal chronicle of the tumultuous year that the previous year was for him. Tackling themes of his 2020 experience such as his divorce, his battle with COVID-19, and the loss of his father, this was a very personal record for him. Lyrically, Joey is holding nothing back on this album. And musically, this is classic solo Joey Cape in all of it stripped down splendor. Stand out tracks include the opening title track, “The Poetry In Our Mistakes,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Under the Doormat,” and “Come Home.”
9. Mid-Century Modern - Talk Show Host
I can’t remember where or when I first heard of the band Talk Show Host or this album but considering it is another entry on the list from the Wiretap Records family, I have to imagine that their association with Wiretap is the reason that I know about them. This trio from Toronto, Ontario released the single “Crisis Actors” earlier this year. It was so good that I kept the band on my radar for future releases, which came on June 4th with Mid-Century Modern, their first full length release. With this album, the Canadian-natives have all of the makings of a great pop-punk record. Its catchy melodies, incredible guitar riffs, and occasional explorations into indie rock territory give you an enjoyable album with a good variety of material. Check out the tracks “You Asshole,” the previously mentioned “Crisis Actors,” “Blood in the Sand,” “Warmest Condolences,” “Sorry My Mistake,” “Syntax Error OK,” and “Lame Duck."
8. Bless My Psyche - Sincere Engineer
This band appeared on my 2017 list with their LP from that year titled Rombithian. Sincere Engineer is a Chicago-based project that is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Deanna Belos. Bless My Psyche was released on September 10th via Hopeless Records. Much like its predecessor, this album is full of songs that are stripped down and honest. There is nothing elegant or lavish about what Deanna and the band does here. They have a message and they just put it out there. That is what I like most about this band. That, and Deanna’s voice. It is simply just pleasant to listen to. I would go so far as to say that she is one of the greatest vocalist of all time or that she is, from a technical standpoint, a remarkable singer. I just like the sound of her voice and how she presents her material with said voice. Also, the messages that she is conveying. A lot of times you just can’t help but say, yup, been there. Instrumentally speaking, it’s aforementioned simplicity is what makes it great. It complements the messages and Deanna’s vocals so well. The pairing of the music and the vocals is made for each other. My favorite songs from the album are “Trust Me,” “Tourniquet,” “Recluse in the Making,” “Hurricane of Misery,” “Come Out for a Spell,” “Dry Socket,” “Coming in Last,” and the acoustic only title track.
7. Refuse to Lose - Sam Russo
This EP was released on April 23rd via Red Scare Industries. It is three songs that were originally released on the Haverville, UK-based singer/songwriter’s 2020 album Back to the Party. That album appeared on last years best albums list. In an era where most punk rock artists are going the acoustic route, Sam Russo has done a complete 180 and released punk versions of his previously released acoustic tunes. While the originals carry a punk energy to them, these versions take that energy up a few notches. The bass guitars on this EP were provided by Alkaline Trio’s Dan Adriano. Highlights on this album are all three of them: “The Window,” “The Basement,” and “Young Heroes.”
6. Escape Velocity - Dan Vapid and the Cheats
Chicago-based Dan Vapid and the Cheats is a repeat offender on these favorite albums lists. Their sophomore album, Two, was #4 on the 2013 list and its follow up, Three, was #4 on the 2019 list. Ditching the numbered album titles, Escape Velocity is the follow up to the 2019 release. It was released on November 5th and is the band’s second full length to be released via Eccentric Pop Records. For the benefit of those of you that aren’t familiar with Dan Vapid and the Cheats, here is some background information. Dan Vapid was a part of the unquestionably best lineup of Chicago’s Screeching Weasel. He was also a member of The Riverdales, Noise By Numbers, and The Methadones. If you aren’t familiar with any of those bands, I’m not sure what else to tell you about Dan Vapid except he is a Chicago pop-punk icon. But, if you have listened to previous efforts by any of Vapid’s projects, you will know what to expect. Escape Velocity follows the tried and true formula of highly effective use of vocal harmonies, energetic melodies, solid rhythms, and catchy choruses. Lyrically, the album explores everything from social media and modern technology to navigating relationships. A straight up banger as the kids would say. My favorite tunes on this album are “Burning Questions,” “Middle America,” “Cyber World,” “Tears Are Falling, “ “Maybe Tomorrow,” and “Runaway Jane.”
5. Rebel Songs - Nathan Gray
Nathan’s Rebel Songs takes the honor of being the album on this list that was released the latest in the year. It was released on December 17th via End Hits Records. His last release, Working Title, which was released in 2020 was the #1 album on that year’s best albums list. For those unfamiliar with his work, Nathan was the frontman for Newark, Delaware-hardcore band Boysetsfire, a band with strong political overtones. This third solo outing of his is probably his most political. However, don’t come into this album expecting his band’s hardcore sound. Well, lyrically perhaps, but certainly not with the instrumentation and music arrangement. By no means is that statement meant to be a negative because there is nothing negative about the style that Gray presents on his solo outings. The music isn’t something that can be tied down to one genre. While there are some songs that have a good rock feel, such as when he joins forces with Rise Against vocalist Tim McIlrath on the title track, Gray dips his hand into other styles. He plays around with some reggae and ska on some of the tunes and even tries his hand at a rap song. If I’m being honest here though, as pleasurable as the music is to listen to, the album’s message really takes center stage. Rebel Songs is a clear affirmation of the issues what he stands for as a person: human rights for all. This is, in some ways, very much a protest album. Protesting against police brutality, systematic racism, and overall oppression is the theme of this record. A wonderful blend of modern-sounding music with politically charged lyrics, if you care about what is going on in the state of the world and are looking for some motivation, this is the album for you. My favorite songs on this album are the title track, “Radio Silence, “Million,” “Lost,” and “Don’t Wait Up.”
4. Van Weezer - Weezer
This Los Angeles-based power-pop/geek rock quartet released two albums this year. OK Human was released in January and this one, Van Weezer, was released in May, both via Atlantic Records. OK Human was not impressive. To be honest, Weezer’s mid-2000s discography has been largely hit or miss. The last good album that they released, as far as my opinion goes, was 2014s Everything Will Be Alright in the End, which was #4 on that year’s favorite albums list. Although it was released in 2021, it was actually recorded between 2018 and 2020. It was originally scheduled to be released in May 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic because its release was meant to coincide with a large arena tour. Its delay due to wanting to support it in such a large fashion makes sense given that it draws inspiration from big rock bands such as KISS, Van Halen (as obvious from the album title), Black Sabbath, and other heavier bands. The album has been described as a love letter to 80s metal fans and a tribute to hair metal. On Van Weezer, you will find metal-esque guitar riffs, licks, and solos. Enough to give it an overall hair metal aura. Despite that, the band still maintains a favorable, catchy pop-punk feel throughout the record. Highlights from this one include “Hero,” “All The Good Ones,” “I Need Some of That,” “Blue Dream,” and “ Sheila Can Do It.”
3. Alone in a Dome - The Copyrights
The Copyrights have been a favorite band of mine ever since I first experienced this Carbondale, Illinois-based band several years ago at a club show where they opened for...actually, I don’t remember. I think it was Masked Intruder. Alone in a Dome, released on October 22nd via Fat Wreck Chords is their first full length release since 2014s Report, which was the #1 album on that year’s favorite albums list of mine. Alone in a Dome picks up where Report left off, setting the album’s tone off perfectly with the opening track “Part of the Landscape.” As I mentioned in 2014, The Copyrights play pop punk the way it was meant to be: fun, catchy, and quick. Once you listen to this album, you won’t be able to keep from singing along and pumping your fist. It’s solid rhythms, prominent vocal harmonies, and catchy choruses are flawlessly wonderful. This is a perfect, fun, pop punk record for 2021. If you have never listened to them but you like the Descendents, The Methadones, The Bouncing Souls, or Teenage Bottlerocket, this could very well end up being one of your new favorite bands. Highlights from this album include “Part of the Landscape,” “Halo,” “Stuck in the Winter,” “Pretender,”
2. When God Was Great - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
I have to be honest here. I have not enjoyed an album from this Boston-based ska-punk band since their 1997 album, Let’s Face It. But this new one is just really great. I probably would not have even bothered listening to it had it not been for hearing a song from it on an episode of Dave Brown’s One Band, 5 Songs podcast. When God Was Great was released on May 7th via Hellcat Records. Up until the last week, this one had secured the top spot on this list since I had first listened to it. It was not until the release of another album very late in the year that I had not even known about until just before Christmas. The way this album closes, with “The Final Parade” is just amazing. The song is on the long side, clocking in at just under 8 minutes but they fill that song with so many awesome musical cameos such as Aimee Interrupter (The Interrupters), Tim Armstrong (Rancid), Karina Denike (Dance Hall Crashers), and a crap ton more. When God is Great is 15 tracks that, at least to me, inspired hope in these crazy times. The song that represents this feeling the most, to me, is “Bruised,” which states “We might be bruised but we’re not broken. We might be down but we’re not out.” Highlights on this album include the aforementioned tunes “The Final Parade” and “Bruised” but also “I Don’t Believe in Anything,” “Certain Things,” and “Lonely Boy.”
1. Blood Harmony - Dave Hause
Although this album was released on October 22nd, I did not find out that it had even been released until practically the end of the year, when I was well into writing this end of year list. Dave’s last three albums have shown up on my previous end of year lists. 2013s Devour was #2 on that year’s list, 2017s Bury Me in Philly was #5 on that year’s list, and his 2019 release Kick was #1 on that year’s list. So, if you can’t tell, Dave is one of my favorite artists. So, listening to Blood Harmony, which was a no brainer, caused me to completely rearrange my previously arranged list. If you are not familiar with Mr. Hause, he is a singer-songwriter that previously was the guitarist/vocalist of the punk band The Loved Ones. After releasing a couple of full-lengths and a handful of EPs he switched to his current folk punk/Americana style and after performing at some shows with Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan on his Ragan Revival Tour, he began recording and releasing solo material, starting with the 2010 EP Melanin. With influences including such great songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, among others, Dave has cemented himself as one of the great Americana artists of present day. Blood Harmony is yet another example of this fact. Dave’s voice fits perfectly among the folk and country influences that run rampant throughout this album. This fifth full length of Dave’s is next notch in what I hope to be a long musical career for him. Highlights on this album include “Sandy Sheets,” “Carry the Lantern,” “Surfboard,” “Gary,” “Northstar,” and “Hanalei.”