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In Review: Top 10 Albums of 2021
My favourite records of the year—with a few honourable mentions to boot.
Alright, we’re here folks. After almost 100 newsletter entries, 400 songs, and over 27 hours of music (and that’s just for the regular playlist), we’ve finally arrived at my hallowed Albums of the Year list for 2021.
This year’s crop is about as bi-polar as musical taste can get. Dense Russian post-metal sliding up against UK skinhead bootlace anthems. East Coast melodic hardcore and West Coast alt-rock crashing into mid-2000s metalcore revivalism. Norwegian post-punk cosplaying as Brit-pop flirting with French progressive, Grammy-nominated eco-metal. Weathered road dogs coming in hot with their latest efforts and new groups on the block dazzling with scene upsets.
It’s all here and it’s all worthy of a top spot. Enjoy!
Top 10 Albums of 2021
Duvel – S/T
“It might be difficult for those uninitiated to buy into Duvel’s self-proclaimed top-dog bluster when the group’s members scarcely look old enough to sit at a bar. With Holldorff’s charismatic delivery and sleek vocal melodies as their focal point, the quartet pull from a creative wellspring of influence and stylistic verve that appears to belie age altogether. At its core, Duvel plays out as a lush homage to post-2000s indie and Brit-pop, a sound indebted to the legacy of acts like The Stone Roses and Echo and the Bunnymen, alongside nods to Bloc Party, Elbow, and Razorlight.” (New Noise)
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)
Spiritbox – Eternal Blue
“Courtney LaPlante, vocalist and resident hype beast for Canadian metalcore juggernaut Spiritbox, has lived with depression throughout her life—so much so that she’s given it a name. As the affable frontwoman explained to Rock Sound late last year: ‘I find that naming a thing can shape the product.’ Taken in this way then, it’s easy to see how LaPlante’s depression shapes and informs the vast sonic texture of Eternal Blue, the band’s highly-anticipated debut album. It’s an expansive record that stresses fluidity and internal struggle in virtually every aspect, merging crushing dissonant lows and instrumental heaviness with ethereal ambience and aching melodies, simultaneously defying genre conventions while embracing the confidence of stylistic shifts.” (New Noise)
Turnstile – GLOW ON
For Balitmore punks Turnstile, hardcore has always been a communal project. Going into their third LP, frontman Brendan Yates stated that the band wanted to “build something that is a little bigger than us.” On the transcendent GLOW ON, recorded with producer Mike Elizondo during months of lockdown and quarantine in mid-2020, Turnstile finally captured the restless energy of their legendary liveshow, elevating their groove-laden hardcore from the moshpit to the mainstream in the process.
Tracks like “Blackout” and “Holiday” make the most of infectious ‘90s grooves and firestarter riffs. “Mystery” infuses their throwback sound with warbling synth layers and lyrical themes that tackle chronology and indecision, while “Underwater Boi” mixes things up with Latin percussion and the adventurous “Alien Love Call” is bolstered by featured guest Blood Orange’s smooth R&B inflections. And yet, while the album has unsurprisingly dominated AOTY lists for 2021, the proof is in the sweat. To truly catch the vibe, watch the band’s record release show and get your GLOW ON.
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Illusory Walls
“In my discussion of Illusory Walls back in August, I mentioned how TWIABP&IANLATD’s name (and its similarly unwieldy acronym) had always been somewhat of a barrier for me… Fortunately, I had no such reservations about diving into Illusory Walls. The pre-release singles sounded like an entirely different band altogether: expansive, proggy, somewhat metal at times, and devastatingly earnest in their potent lyrical poeticism… If you want more than just music—a narrative journey of self-discovery, a transportive experience filled with emotional highs, lows and labyrinthian twists—then this LP comes highly recommended.” (Substack)
Conway The Machine – La Maquina
“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. With booming production from Murda Beatz, album standout “KD” lets Conway duck and weave around the pocket of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” flow with electrifying results. The track has an incredible groove and is stacked with plenty of quotables with Machine dropping wisdom on hood affirmations and street authenticity.” (Substack)
Every Time I Die – Radical
“Adding to Every Time I Die’s already impressive list of coveted guest features (including My Chemical Romance, the Gaslight Anthem, Alexisonfire, Panic! at the Disco, Glassjaw, Fall Out Boy, the Bronx, and more), ‘All This and War’ allows ‘68’s Josh Scogin to exorcise himself over the top of a nihilistic party anthem, powered by stop-start transitions and larynx-shredding screams. With versatility in mind, Radical immediately pivots into the sweeping grandiosity of the plaintive ‘Thing with Feathers,’ as Buckley and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull croon over ruminations on eternal life and divine light... Rather than fix what isn’t broken, Radical finds the group doubling down and levelling up their expansive, swaggering metalcore in every way possible.” (Exclaim!)
Iceage – Seek Shelter
“Prior to the release of their latest album, Iceage released the standalone 2020 single “Lockdown Blues.” ... From our position now, one year on, in a slightly less-troubled reality, it comes as little surprise that Seek Shelter, the band’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)
Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell
“On LP#6, Hooded Menace make death-doom as exuberant and entertaining as possible. This isn’t some bleak, sorrowful elegy. It’s a collection of electrifying ragers played at rumbling half-speed, suffused with an atmosphere of macabre fantasy and skeletal horror. Opener ‘Chthonic Exordium’ runs for barely a minute but it’s more than enough to act as a fitting mood piece. The title conjures up thoughts of some excavated subterranean lair, unearthed for the first time and ready to reveal long-hidden secrets. Sonically, however, Lasse Pyykkö’s delicate solo licks radiate out into the dark of night with clean guitar lines cast against pouring rain and rolling thunder. Squint really hard and it’s almost like you’re listening to Ride The Lightning.” (New Noise)
Lantlôs – Wildhund
If you were cooking up a band in a hypothetical lab somewhere through the brash genre-matrix alchemy of “Hum, Deftones, and Alcest,” then blackgaze innovators Lantlôs would be the desired result. After discovering the German alt-metal outfit on a Twitter whim earlier this year, my 2021 has been infinitely better for it. In terms of introductions, Wildhund kicks off just right with the dazzling one-two punch of “Lake Fantasy” and “Magnolia.” Both tracks incorporate core songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Markus Siegenhort’s penchant for lush atmospherics and serpentine post-metal grooves. Yet the former ripples with delicate shoegaze moments and eerie background synths, while the latter finds Lantlôs at their most blood-pumping and propulsive, threatening to burst through the stratosphere at any moment off the back of lofty layered hooks and pummeling percussive fussilades.
Heavy Sentence – Bang To Rights
Fiddlehead – Between The Richness (New Noise)
Gojira – Fortitude (New Noise)
Wristmeetrazor – Replica of a Strange Love (Substack)
The Chisel – Retaliation
We Set Sail – Ritual & Ceremony (Substack)
SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance of Affliction (Substack)
One Step Closer – This Place You Know
Ekulu – Unscrew My Head
WOWOD – Yarost’ I Proshchenie (Killyourstereo)