2021 Albums of the Year; 42–31.
42. Soul Blind — Third Chain
This is a three track EP that doesn’t even span a full ten minutes, but each of these songs hits heavily, the guitar tone hitting an absolutely legendary tone, sounding like the tanks crawling into the french village towards the end of Saving Private Ryan. The riffs are heavy, the distortion is unforgettable and the vocals sit on top of the churning sprawl like a flatly reasoning tone. All three tracks sound like they’re from the prime of the torn jeans era. Can’t wait for more from these guys.
Check Out: Phantom Pool
41. Jayla Kai — Epitome
Something I love about records by people under, say, 24? 25? is that the songs are written with such earnestness that there is no time to be spent cringing, no time to reflect upon it. The feelings are so raw and so authentic, so stretched from floor to ceiling that I can’t help but believe in it. The love on this record is real, the principles(?) on this record are real. The songs here try a lot of things; a personalized locket of an indie rock song, a stripped-down ASMR-adjacent soundscape, songs of a few different shapes and sizes. They all hold the same spotlight directly on Jayla’s vocals which remain layered, though mostly untainted. The economy of background music is deliberate, making the use of the swirling comets, dancing fireflies, and needling feedback stand out all that much more.
Check Out: Old Town
40. Fletcher McDermott & Kyle Woodworth — I Am Bits and Pieces
This is a record of solitude and relic. Strings steam up from streams, long piano tones hover like a mist across quiet untouched mountains. This is an experience as much as it is a collection of songs, one that is best experienced while sitting still in a comfortable place with your eyes closed and all distractions packed away and left behind. I find it difficult to illustrate what I like musically about a record like this, as I think it’s far more akin to enjoying a painting or a film. I like the way it makes me feel, I like the way it exchanges thought for nostalgia.
Check Out: Alone at the Top of Texas
39. Crumb — Ice Melt
Amidst a dark and windowless tunnel is this record, an audio-forward experience of pulse and pull, a calming and reassuring aural float towards a comforting violet light. It’s such a chill record, one that engages in a meditation, a communing between audience and artist able to collectively get them into a very mellowed out headspace. The record flows together as one consistent hum, and while the songs are all different layers of the sphere, all in all, they work as one mantra to get you zeroed out by the end of it.
Check Out: Trophy
38. yuragi — For you, Adroit it but soft
This album looks a certain way to me. It’s open air, standing on the beach, everything black and white. There’s a heavy wind, and there are dozens of people standing seaside, each of them in separate solitudes, their hair being whipped in the air. This record has such an introspective quality to it. There’s a thoughtfulness to the long stretches of repetitive drums and synths, which gives way to bigger and weightier guitar parts. Everything seems to have a home, everything has a purpose. The songs feel like postcards. Very personal in content, conversational in ways. Certainly an intimacy can be indicated between the soaring musical meanderings and the delicate vocals that lay lightly along the top of it.
Check Out: Underneath It All
37. Dying Wish — Fragments of a Bitter Memory
Tossing the Kill Switch
This is a record that delivers on a promise that it makes from the very first notes, from the very first song. The leads are crispy and kinetic. The chugging is heavy and satisfying. The screams tug you into quality breakdowns. China cymbals and palm mutes straddle pathways that bring you exactly where you want to be when you’re listening to a record like this. What a fucking blast this record is. “I seal this message with my blood and a fucking bullet” is, for people of a certain age, the exact image of the peak of a certain style of music, album artwork with sketchy X’s across the eyes of 1920s family photographs, and manila folders and typewritten fonts with lyrics. So good
Check Out: Hollowed By Affliction
36. John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas, Greg Coates — Witch Egg
The Underground Connection
This is one of John Dwyer’s two appearances on this list and for good reason. His ability to get a team together and create experimental songs that swell into waves of hallucination is above reproach. This sounds like an active vision quest in the streets of your favorite city, psilocybined into a fine mist, and floating in a hundred directions at once, melding with the lights, with the voices, with the pavement, with the bustle. It’s tough to explain exactly why these big sonic sound records really get into me. I think a lot of it has to do with the idea that it tells me a grander story than records with voices, with ones that give you a directed path to follow. An album like this, one that gives you the brushes and the colors and allows you to freefall for a little while, I think I see a lot more that way. These feel more like films than records. And I think every once in a while it’s nice to get a little unglued and mindmeld with an experience like this, to see what kinds of places I can go by becoming a psychonautic tourist.
Check Out: Baphomet
35. Drug Church — Tawny
So, much like anyone around my age from NY, I follow @selfdefense. Patrick Kindlon is a fantastic follow and has some excellent and down to earth insights about music and culture while providing advice on how to carry yourself and treat others, but I got into him as a person before I got into his bands. There’s a distinct sound to his voice, a gritty, blown out, exasperated bellow that, on this four track, blends beautifully with the wavey guitars to create a sound that, for some reason, I love in just this measure. Something about the guitars and the way the drums are produced remind me more of Interpol than the Hyperview-era Title Fight that I think more accurately describes this sound. And similar to his instagram stories, there’s an actuality to his lyrics, a recounting of verifiable events that just seems to resonate more than someone who wrote lyrics to match a rhythm. Great little EP.
Check Out: Head-Off
34. The Body & Big|Brave — Leaving None But Small Birds
Chants From Below the Moon
As you’ll see down the list I already fawn over Big Brave, but The Body is another one of those bands that I greatly admire for their ability and courage to experiment in broad and languid form, reaching far and wide within the noise spectrum to create music and to exhibit vicious sound, to bottle it and then release it in whatever form they find in the middle of its metamorphosis. This record here finds both bands portraying forms that I wouldn’t picture either taking on, Big Brave coming a bit closer to their natural guise. The songs found on this record feel a bit like folk horror psalms mixed with the influence of delta blues. They sound like they could be sung around a bonfire, in a huge communal hall. Each track boasts a rustic quality as if sapped from the earth itself from a gaping and steaming geyser. There’s a caravan personality to it, some kind of roving band of bards with instruments to play and omens to portend. The album, much like the two bands’ discography, is sonically challenging and not often an easily digestible collection, but there is no question that it will leave an indelible mark.
Check Out: Once I Had a Sweetheart
33. Kowloon Walled City — Piecework
Container Ship Wail
The sound that comes from Kowloon Walled City is grey, fogged, and detached. Grunged guitars pulse and ricochet out into tinted spikes. Vocals yell and negotiate in desperate scales, wagering for peace from a tightening snare. Much of it sounds like the same note, the droning letting of a singular voice, denoting and describing the moors of their allotted penance endlessly through synonyms we’ve already unknotted, but the further you sink into the parables, the more nuances they reveal. This music is heavy but not aggressive. It stares at the rubble its destruction has rendered and finds poetry in the deconstruction.
Check Out: When We Fall Through the Floor
32. Hand Habits — Fun House
Longings of a Bare Heart
Hand Habits’ output has always intrigued me. There were singles here and there, one-off songs that I adored, but never quite found a full record that I loved. It only makes sense that when they released this one I had no idea it was coming. And what a lovely surprise it is. Sunbeams and intimate one-on-one sessions are riddled throughout, as it feels like they are spontaneously releasing their longing piece by piece across the space between. There is a confessional quality to some of these tracks, firmly worded metaphoric communique handed directly to its subject to reckon with the longing. The songs have an organic quality to them at times. The woodwinds, the plucking guitar, the flutes building in the final track, Control as the song warms and settles like a sunbeam in a clearing.
Check Out: No Difference
31. Dreamwell — Modern Grotesque
This album is exactly the type of record I imagine I would listen to if left to my own devices, picking an album from a switchboard of styles and sounds. There are reverbed and drifty high treble guitars married with scatterstorm snare hits, building into a horror chord frenzied assault, razorblade shredded vocals screaming above the pensive instrumental. Influences are distinct as we can find some Pianos Become the Teeth, some Touche Amore, some La Dispute, a bit of Mewithoutyou, but all of these ingredients deconstructed and repurposed to create a brand new animal, a hybrid machine of its own accord. This record works as a vessel of a thousand letters that seem to be written and never sent, confessions and interrogations that have yet to be reckoned with, ones that aren’t able to take place, ones that seem to be a fuse best left unlit. I love this style of aggressive music. While it doesn’t allow you to engage with your inner violence and escape into a reptilian state with wild abandon, it instead peels back layers of distress and puts the emphasis on reflection in a deeper state. I’ve always loved going to shows of this distinct style, seeing some people many heads away with their limbs flailing, but many more people staring intently at the stage, heads bobbing in unison, having a shared moment of catharsis.
Check Out: Painting Myself a Darker Day