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In Review: Best of 2021 (So Far)
A half-yearly roundup of my favourite records of the year.
Well, folks, I guess it’s that time once again. I’ve seen plenty of similar lists doing the rounds already, recapping and highlighting some of the best records of the year. So, it only feels appropriate to throw my subjective hat into that digital ring.
Now, normally I’m a little OCD when it comes to lists. I keep various spreadsheets and tabs and playlists going at any one time, cataloguing all of the artists and albums that come across my desk. However, for this list, I really tried to go ‘off the cuff,’ so to speak, and only focus on the records that I’ve returned to frequently. You know, the ones that sear their melodies into your brainpan and have you mumbling to yourself in your quiet moments of solitude. Enjoy!
WOWOD – Yarost’ I Proshchenie
“While I can’t speak to the group’s origin or back catalogue, there’s certainly more going on under the hood of Yarost’ I Proshchenie. For one thing, there’s that title, which, loosely translated to English, reads as ‘Fury and Forgiveness.’ Two concepts that don’t scream out at me as standard subject matter for a blackened hardcore outfit or a European black metal project—at least not together, or as components of a holistic enterprise. The former is the product of anger and rage, a violent outward expression of hostility; the latter is a process of acceptance and reconciliation, the internal act of ‘letting go’. As it turns out, understanding the contrast between these concepts is the emotional key to unlocking WOWOD and their sprawling sonic labyrinth.”(Killyourstereo)
Teenage Wrist – Earth Is A Black Hole
“For L.A. alt-rockers Teenage Wrist, their second LP drops in a time of chaos and crisis. The old way is gone, and the nu-normal doesn’t look much brighter. Conversations that used to contain shades of optimism or outright pessimism now fall back on a grim sense of realism and resignation. And it’s this pervasive sense of existential malaise that makes an album title like Earth Is A Black Hole feel less like an artistic metaphor and more of an accurate assessment of collective mood. It’s a record that speaks to how the little things in life—your family, your relationships, your job, your place in the world—can weigh heavy on your psyche and well-being, dragging you down and blacking out your innermost thoughts.” (New Noise)
We Set Sail – Ritual and Ceremony
“2016’s Feel Nothing incorporated a more streamlined approach to songwriting that yielded tighter and more impactful storytelling, propelled along by massive hooks and guitarist/vocalist Paul Voge’s delivery taking central focus with notable self-assurance. It’s been a hard four-year journey since, but We Set Sail’s next chapter is finally here. The format remains unchanged: long, overly wordy song titles, ubiquitous film and pop-culture samples, album covers made expressly for vinyl packaging and a guitar-heavy approach to noise that playfully references the last thirty years of underground sounds.”(Substack)
Conway The Machine – La Maquina
“For years, I’ve been waiting for Conway The Machine to emerge from the shadow of his closest peers…. On the grandiose “6:30 Tip Off,” Conway spits the central thesis of this anxiety: “They say Wes is the brains behind it, and Benny is the star / But let’s not act like Machine ain’t the silliest with the bars.” Conway and his cousin, Benny The Butcher, had stellar projects last year, both of which featured as Honourable Mentions on my Top Albums of 2020 List. But Conway has always had the hardest punchlines in the Griselda catalogue, and on his newest full-length, La Maquina, he finally gets to flex those muscles.” (Substack)
SeeYouSpaceCowboy / If I Die First – A Sure Disaster
“On their five-track split EP, A Sure Disaster, Los Angeles scene collaborators SeeYouSpaceCowboy and If I Die First take this neo-punk ethos and smear it with blood, mascara, and saccharine gloss. One group is named after a popular anime, the other sports an emo-rap success story as frontman. Both acts wield a form of weaponized mid-00s nostalgia—think MySpace, flip-phones, white studded belts, not dying in a global pandemic—to power their dextrous and volatile compositions, approaching this cultural nexus from different angles.” (Substack)
Heavy Sentence – Bang to Rights
“Take NWOBHM influences, chuck in some Thin Lizzy sleaze, then mix with a dash of Lemmy’s leftover powder stash, and you’d have something approaching the rollicking thrash ‘n’ roll exploits of UK outfit Heavy Sentence. Stuffing ten tracks into 37 minutes, the band’s debut album, Bang to Rights (out May 28 through Dying Victim Productions) is here for a good time, not a long time. This is full-throated metal-punk in all its messy, sweat-drenched, adrenal glory.” (Substack)
Iceage – Seek Shelter
“It comes as little surprise that Seek Shelter, Iceage’s fifth LP and first for new label, Mexican Summer, focuses on the search for a sanctuary outside the self. Advancing the degenerate grandeur captured so perfectly on 2018’s sprawling Beyondless, Seek Shelter finds the Copenhagen four-piece working towards redemption and salvation by spitting in the face of chaos, turning disintegration and despair into high art in the process.” (New Noise)
Ekulu – Unscrew My Head
“NYC crossover act Ekulu have released their debut full-length, Unscrew My Head, out now through Cash Only Records and the whole thing totally rips. This album has everything for your inner thrasher: electric solos, hardcore stomp, headbang swing, and searing lead riffs. The band are clearly inspired by the look, sound, and feel of the late 80s, but the riffage on show is memorable and all-too present to be passed over.” (Substack)
Fiddlehead – Between The Richness
“On Springtime & Blind, the band’s 2018 debut, Flynn wrestled with the death of his father, using the band’s yearning synthesis of post-hardcore, post-punk, and classic ‘80s emo as a form of indie-rock therapy. In contrast, by putting Flynn’s own journey and worldview under the microscope this time around, Between The Richness feels more insular and interrogatory. Now older and wiser, the former Have Heart frontman lays his inner anxieties bare on their new album, reflecting on his fervent youth, the unknowns of adulthood, and the seismic shift in perspective that comes with fatherhood.” (New Noise)
Wristmeetrazor – Replica of a Strange Love
“It would be easy to denigrate Virginia’s Wristmeetrazor as merely a throwback band, rehashing a done-to-death sound for the cheap nostalgia kick. Listening to their sophomore effort, Replica of a Strange Love, one finds all the hallmarks of mid-2000s Ferret/Trustkill Records metalcore: bludgeoning breakdowns, guttural vocals, staccato chug sections, overly dramatic spoken word breaks, melo-death inflected lead riffs, throat-shredding screams, and dissonant panic chords.” (Substack)
Listen to these records and more on the TPD Best of 2021 playlist.