*Smooches Andy Bernard on the mouth* ...It's been a great year.
Hi my name is Mike Elfers and I am a lowly software developer located in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. 2021 saw a lot of eager artists race from vaccination sites to the studio and stage to do what they love, CREATE, and I couldn't be happier to hear what was stewing out of the shit-mess that was 2020. Cheers to my Punknews colleagues, my bandmates in THIRST THINGS FIRST , all of the punk rock dads, and everyone else, thank you for letting me be a part of something so LEGENDARY. Here are my favorite releases of the year, keep it rad!
Mike Elfers' Top 20 of 2021
Born Losers Records
This one is fucking weird, Anthony Green of Circa Survive, Adam Lazzara, and John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday, and Benjamin Homola of Grouplove joined forces under the moniker Fuckin' Whatever, a self described "therapy group" of backstage and tour bus collaboration over the years. The resulting self-titled EP fits somewhere comfortably between an emo drum circle and those Pure Moods compilations that were advertised at 3:30am on MTV in the early '90s. Fuckin' Whatever is exactly what it is called, it is a group of brothers that love creating music and appreciate the long journey they have endured together, and is really, really, fantastic.
On the subject of post-pop-punk personalities, Tom Delonge pumped out a killer LP with his Angels & Airwaves project this year, taking his space-ace atmospheric love songs to new levels with Lifeforms. There is a humble tone and sudden drop in ego that really hoists this release for the outfit, as well as simplistic pop/new wave hooks and nuances that promise repeat listens. Whether or not Delonge is finally seeing himself as his followers have for a few years is in question, but a terrific release nonetheless.
18. NOFX: Single Album
I am, and will remain a NOFX loyalist, and while the release of Single Album deems plenty worthy of my top 20, it could have been much higher on the list. The legendary punk band has received a bit of scrutiny about their writing or song quality as of late, but as a studio geek and longtime fan, I see only a stray from the formula the band followed in their glory days. Beginning around 1996's Fuck The Kids 7", Fat Mike and his bandmates would pump out a pile of songs, release them quickly in cool collector methods, and I believe it was the later reproduction of these "demos" that would grow and breathe new life for the official release. Single Album is full of great songs, but it all sounds under-evaluated, and lacking the personality of the quartet that shines on previous LPs. Listen to the 7" of the Month Club release of "Leaving Jesusland," then listen to the Wolves version, "The Big Drag" is such a good song, and I only dream of hearing a rerecording of it under a similar methodology.
Boston's magnificent Bosstones returned with an absolute thesis statement of 2020 with When God Was Great, drizzled with reflections of swollen East Coast hospitals, Black Lives Matter, the death of George Floyd, and Trumptonian America. The entire legacy of the thirty-nine year old band on full display, and with a horn section sounding as great as ever. The eleventh studio album from the group also features their own "love letter to ska music," a giant eight minute marathon entitled "The Final Parade," featuring guest cameos from just about every ska legend you can think of. Great, very positive record.
16. Josh Freese: Just A Minute, Vol. 1
Super-drummer Josh Freese of the Vandals, DEVO, Danny Elfman, the Offspring, a Perfect Circle, etc, etc, again, etc, took a moment to document his own grasps of a crazy reality with Just a Minute, Vol.1. The twenty track hodge of songs is the usual bizarre collection of Freese originals found on 2011's My New Friends or 2009's Since 1972, but every song has been shaven to 60 seconds or less and stuck on the artist's Instagram account with accompanying wacky videos. Freese's range is as random as his Hollywood glam riffs are secured, and the spooky album is an incredibly fun reminder that we all went a little crazy over the last few years. So pitted.
15. Bracket: Requiem [Reissue]
PEOPLE OF PUNK ROCK RECORDS
Long standing punk rock friends in Bracket dusted off their Requiem release, a complete visitation of every song they have written in the last 25 years to share the name "Warren" in their titles. The result is the most monotonous tracklist of all time, and seventeen anthemic Bracket classics. Their usual abnormal chord progressions and harmonies really shine from opener "Warren's Song, Pt. 16" and album closer "Warren's Song, Pt. 13" (I told you it was ludicrous.) Bracket is an expert of their craft, and their lovely discography just keeps getting better with age. Must listen.
Sell The Heart
California's M Section is a growing homage to the classic Lagwagon/NOFX ragers that got me into punk in the first place. 3 Bangers is an immaculate performance from a hungry outfit that has done their homework, and hats off to drummer Matt Jones, who carries the hyper-fast double time tunes on his back. Decent Criminal's own Brian Gellman and guitar-mate Brandon Stolp also deliver pitted riffs and solos with a precision and expertise that are fucking next level, keep an eye out for this band, absolutely recommend.
13. Danny Elfman: Big Mess
Award-winning composer Danny Elfman mulled over years of racism, uncertainty, and a global pandemic to such a breaking point that his double solo album Big Mess has moments that are absolutely terrifying, yet remarkable. Channeling textured guitars, drum-recruit Josh Freese, and an arsenal of psychotic industrial instrumentals, Elfman created an incredible production. Most notably the composer's delivery ranges, from low-register goth, to sneered shouting, spoken word, and eerie falsetto, Danny holds your hand as he drags you through a sonic Wonka psycho boat tour of his brain. Absolutely brilliant release.
One of my personal favorite things about writing for Punknews is solicitation on social media from bands and labels, no sarcasm! I have a real soft spot from doing the grind myself in my youth, and I'll never forget when trombone player Andrew Heaton asked me over Facebook to review his upcoming release. I, drunkenly isolating with my family, responded dickishly with, "Yeah of course, Flying Raccoon Suit huh? So you're obviously a ska band?..." While I was right, I ate my words as I finally got around to listening, Afterglow is really, really, special. Showcasing a wide range of edgier ska-core, two-tone, shoe-gazer, and more, all under the immaculate direction of a gigantic precise horn section, an expert performance from drummer/engineer Derek Kerley, and the spectacular range, timbre, and personality of vocalist/melodica player Jessica Jeansonne. FRS is a fantastic band, and proof that great music can even lurk in the swamps of Mississippi.
New Orleans' PEARS were finally able to pick up this year and give their self-titled masterpiece some setlist time, and in Vegas heat the quartet didn't skip a beat. In a short-but-sweet, (and fucking sweet) set, the band sailed through much of their discography, from "Sycophant," "Green Star," and killer renditions of the newer bangers "Zero Wheels," "Comfortably Dumb," and "Rich to Rags," you would have no fucking clue the band was stuck in their homes for so many months following their album release. As usual, vocalist Zach Quinn and guitarist Brian Pretus gelled together prominently, as bassist Erich Goodyear and drummer Jarret Nathan held down the razor sharp metrics of what makes PEARS better than most modern punk bands. Fucking killer show.
Not much can be said about Empires that hasn't already been said, but a remix and reissue is reason enough to tout the band's legacy yet again. Twenty-five years later, the birth of the ultimate Propagandhi sound is bigger than ever, and the remix sounds great, most notably the added clarity of the guitars. There are some oddities, most notable is a removal of the powerful speech opening the album with "Mate Ka Moris Ukun Rasik An," which can thankfully be heard in its entirety with the "Original Guitar Mix" version amongst the album's four bonus tracks. The two bonus demo songs are an interesting dive, as "With Friends Like These" offers some insight into how dogshit demo quality was twenty-five years ago, and how a very interesting alternative cadence from "brand new Propagandhi member" Todd Kowalski was very thankfully revised. This is an important piece of history, a really fun listen, turns out there was a lot of mud covering up things on the original mix, absolutely worth checking out.
Southern California's the Descendents held onto a fucking time capsule, offering 40 year old songwriting that was recorded over 20 years ago with 9th & Walnut. Stemming from a showcase of the "original trio" at drummer Bill Stevenson's Stockage festival in Fort Collins, Bill, joined with bassist Tony Lombardo and late guitarist Frank Navetta thought the show was enough fun to enter the studio and record some of the band's oldest material. The result, bringing in vocalist Milo Aukerman, was a crystal clear mix of 15 songs that shed light into the band's earliest origins. "We recorded a whole bunch of songs, mostly Frank's songs," Lombardo stated previously. "He was a great songwriter, he had such a unique EQ out of his amp." "Nightage" is a great example of a tune that would have fit anywhere in their official releases, and we thank the band for letting this see the light of day. Great piece of the Descendents' long legacy, and a must listen.
Adam Lohrbach of Orange County's Home Grown fame returned from a long hiatus from the pop punk genre with a family and a haunting chip on his shoulder that he just couldn't shake. This bout with depression would lead to months of self-discovery and reflection from the (now) 40+ year old father, who began to collect his darkest and most personal thoughts through phone-memo poetry. This poetry would grow to song lyrics that allowed I Feel Like I Want Toto practically write itself, and with Lohrbach's expertise behind the Pro Tools mixer on his own, he spent months tweaking guitars and vocal melodies, often taking breaks to recollect himself as he sang some of those negative thoughts out of his body and onto tape. The result is easily the best writing of Lohrbach's to date, and a beautiful musical journey of a man pulling himself above water. Fantastic release.
David McWane and Boston's Big D & The Kids Table hit the ground running in the creation of Do Your Art, pumping out some of the best material the group has ever written. In a complete return-to-form, the ska titans crash neck-break punk rock bangers into classic reggae, the dance-hall releases the band visited during the Fluent In Stroll era, even the (over-)sampling that made early Big D so fun and obnoxious. Track for track, no stone in the discography goes unturned, and the result is a spectacular, and fundamentally important milestone for the band, 25 years and running.
6. Decent Criminal: DC/EP
Sell The Heart
Santa Rosa, CA's Decent Criminal blew my mind with the release of DC/EP, sewing together classic California punk to tinges of alternative rock, surf vibes, and more. The result is an incredibly refreshing collection of songs that get better after every listen. Drummer Hunter Martinez's heavy hitting, wide-open drum banging leaves effortless room for anthemic vocal deliveries from guitarists Brian Gellman and Tristan Martinez. Decent Criminal have created a sound that so many people can enjoy, and the bridge to "Reap?" Absolutely untouchable. Fantastic band.
5. School Drugs: Visitation
Jersey's very best hardcore punk band School Drugs have been mopping the floor with releases since 2018's Relative Suffering, and Visitation is just the tip of the iceberg. The first of four concept records themed around singer Josh Jurk's mental health and long history of big family Catholic funerals is as creepy as it is morbidly relatable, and we are again presented with perhaps the best School Drugs songs yet coming off of the withdrawals from 2019's Modern Medicine. Jurk and company have a complete package, timeless authenticity, beautiful storytelling, and enough RX visual themes to drive any collector mad. Big fucking things are coming from School in the future.
Ex-Gamits frontman/guitarist Chris Fogal took a breather from producing killer mixes in the PEARS self-titled, and Bandaid Brigade's I'm Separate releases, unleashing the no-nonsense ripper Discomfort Creature EP. Armed with an arsenal of amplifiers, Denver music titans Dan Fox and Ian O'Doughtery on drums and bass, Fogal wove pitted riffs, fast double-time, and signature Gamits melodies into a masterpiece. This trio is GOOD, and the energy does not let up for a second, leaving listeners eager for much, much, more.
3. Belvedere: Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense
Steve Rawles and company spent the better half of five years in Canada crafting a follow up to their killer (and first album in twelve years) The Revenge of the Fifth, and they hit an absolute home run with Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense. The total fucking banger takes expert skate-punk, engineering, and songwriting to levels that completely blow most 2021 punk releases out of the water. Tinges of gnarly, squealy guitar riffs, a vocal dismantling of a fucked planet from Rawles, and an immaculate performance from drummer Casey Lewis are only a scratch on the surface. This is one of those albums to listen to immediately if you haven't.
2. Devo: Live @ Punk Rock Bowling
The New Traditionalists in Devo had just a few shows this year, and after the near COVID death of vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh amidst lockdowns, the band set out to fucking deliver. Headlining the last set on a beautiful desert evening, De-evolution erupted in Las Vegas as the quintet stormed the stage into "Don't Shoot, I'm A Man." Touting wardrobe changes from the Something For Everybody focus group tracksuits, the staple yellow hazmats, and the shorty-short knee-padded Mr. DNA attire, the band effortlessly ran through hit after hit from their magnificent discography, and in front of face-melted spuds stuck shoulder to shoulder. Fucking life-changing experience.
Joey Cape of Lagwagon/Bad Astronaut recovered from a case of COVID-19 and separation from his partner of over twenty years the best way he thought possible, by moving into a cabana in his parent's backyard with a trunk full of gear and recording equipment. His journey ahead involved not only some deep self reflection, reconnection with his parents, and the ultimate passing of Cape's own father at the time of writing and engineering. The result being some of the most incredibly raw and honest songwriting of the singer's career, who was notably very good at emoting anyways. A Good Year to Forget is next level Caper, and the eerie sadness of isolation carries this release to the top. Untouchable.