Best of 2021 - Eric Rosso's Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2021

Eric Rosso's Picks (2021)

Staff Picks


When I first started thinking about this list, it was sometime in October. I was rounding out about my 25th concert of the year - an impressive feat considering live music didn't return in earnest until August. As I finish typing out my last edits on this, it's now December, concerts are being cancelled again, and a new covid variant has left the country and world at the edge of another global lockdown. Bleak shit folks and hard to fucking believe it's going to be this way for the foreseeable future in 2022. In fact, I fucking refuse to believe it's going to be 2022 and have instead to chose to think of 2021 as 2020B. It was just a year ago that I was starting my own recovery from covid and finishing up my 2020 list thinking I was on a glide path back to health after surviving the plague. Little did I know that my recovery would end up taking another 7 months, have numerous health complications, and I wouldn't actually begin to return to normal until the vaccine started to resolve some of the dozens of symptoms I faced without really any explanation as to why from medical professionals. I got to imagine there's a few people out there reading this today who are also either currently suffering from long covid or can relate to this and I just want to say I see you. 

But I don't want to dwell on the negative because I did the most to make the most of 2021 and that included going to as many concerts as humanly possible. I'm here to report today that as of December 18th, I attended what is likely my final concert of the year via The Starting Line and The Movielife at the former's annual holiday show dodging omicron like an ex at the show. In total, I attended 43 concerts and three musical festivals (Furnace Fest, The Fest, and The 7th Annual War On Xmas) seeing well over 100 bands. It meant the world to me to be back doing what made me feel like a full person and I'm thankful for every band that did what they did putting themselves at a not inconsiderable risk to return live music to us.

To just shout out a few of the shows that meant the most me this year: Soul Glo for bringing the The Darkside of Da Moon Tour to Philly which was quite frankly the best show of the year hands down, I Am The Avalanche at Fest for fucking killing it because Dive means the world to me, Philly Hardcore and Mindforce and Year of the Knife for jump starting this motherfucker off this year in June shortly after Madball opened the pit up in NYC, The Bouncing Souls for putting together an amazing Stoked on Summer line up, Laura Jane Grace and Brendan Kelly for the surreal show outside of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, Hate5Six for being at nearly every hardcore show I was at although I think they out did me by a few hundred, and Slipknot for putting together one of the most real deal spectacles of a rock show that I have ever seen. Here's hoping to do it again in 2022, or 2020c, or whatever. 

Now without further ado, I submit to you my top 21 albums of 2020B which is what I believed to be the assignment? 


21. The Armed: ULTRAPOP

Sargent House

ULTRAPOP is likely the most original album on this list. Taking influence from seemingly no one and everyone, The Armed have delivered an album equal parts punk, metal, experimental pop, and electronica. If someone were to ask me what this band sounds like, I think I'd respond with something like if Animal Collective and Dillinger Escape Plan formed a supergroup. It's not that off base given The Armed's penchant for iconoclast performance art and spazzy musicality. If that description interests you, I'd immediately check out "MASUNAGA VAPORS." If perhaps you're looking for something more melodic, check out "ALL FUTURES." Either way, there's plenty of sounds on here to get lost in through your headphones. That's how I came to ULTRAPOP

20. Spirit of the Beehive: ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH

Saddle Creek

When Philly emo luminaries Glocca Morra dissolved, I never kept up with what the band members did next despite immensely enjoying their few releases. It wasn't until I saw a write up of Spirit of the Beehive's new album referencing Zack Schwartz's involvement with Glocca Morra that I made the connection. Not knowing anything about Spirit of the Beehive, I put on ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH expecting something similar to Glocca Morra. That was wrong. Dude, this album is fucking weird and in the best way. I should've known right from the first sight of the cover art, my favorite of the year, that I was in for something different. I don't even know how to describe ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH. Every time I throw it on the record player, my lady always comments on how weird what I'm listening to sounds. The songs don't necessarily take shape as much as they just drift in and out of each other as if in a listless 40 minute dream. While I can't pick out a stand out track I'd recommend to check out, I definitely think this is worth a spin all the way through. 

19. St. Vincent: Daddy's Home

Loma Vista Recordings

Ironically enough, both St. Vincent and Sleater-Kinney are on my list this year. As I discuss later on in the Sleater-Kinney blurb, the St. Vincent produced The Center Won't Hold was my first real introduction to the band. It was also my first introduction to St. Vincent who played an integral role in shaping that album leaving many fans and a drummer in their feelings. Untangling where St. Vincent began and Sleater-Kinney ended on that album was pretty clear with their separate releases this year. You hear it in the sound of the new Sleater-Kinney album and Daddy's Home. Daddy's Home leans more heavily into the chamber pop elements that St. Vincent excels at. The album finds the musician bringing rich harmonies, 70s psychedelica, and barroom blues influences to her signature sound. If you, like me, liked the direction The Center Won't Hold found Sleater-Kinney going in, Daddy's Home might scratch that itch for you this year in a way that The Path To Wellness won't. 

18. Willow : lately i feel EVERYTHING

Roc Nation Records

Alright, alright. I know it's easy to hate on Travis Barker's recent collaborations. Hear me out though. Willow's lately i feel EVERYTHING is more than just a Travis Barker production. This is an album and an artist that clearly has depth. The Barker featured efforts "t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l," "Gaslight," and "G R O W" are just great pop-punk songs that wouldn't sound out of place on a Paramore effort. It's the other seven songs though that really bring a more personal touch from Willow mixing in some of her Roc Nation foundations. "F**k you" and "¡BREAKOUT!" show Willow is equally as versed in Le Tigre and riot grrrl as the pop-punk revival. The ladder has an appearance from Cherry Glazzer. "XTRA" featuring Tierra Whack demonstrates how seamlessly Willow is able to intersperse hip-hop into these rock songs. Not an easy feat that more and more bands are trying and failing at these days. If any of this sounds interesting to you, give this a spin. 

17. Gravesend: Methods of Human Disposal

20 Buck Spin

Dropping in the dead of winter 2021 on death metal label of the year 20 Buck Spin, Gravesend unleashed Methods of Human Disposal at just the right time for me. Feeling the dregs of winter, suffering from long covid, and waking up to an uncertain future everyday with my own health, this album lined up with that. The band blends black metal and hardcore with an affinity for blast beats into big doomy movements. It's a perfect record for a bleak winter and given the way things are going currently, ripe for a return to frequent listens in the beginning of 2022. It's worth noting 20 Buck Spin put out a lot of great records this year proving to be of the most consistent of 2021, but Gravesend top the list for me. Huge shout out for the cover art as well which was one of my favorites of the year. 

16. Pass Away: Thirty Nine


Real punk rock and pop-punk are out of fashion. I don't mean that in the way that bastardized takes on it being produced by Travis Barker are topping Billboard charts every week, but in the way that even within labels like Epitaph and Fat Wreck bands playing more traditional takes on the genre are not being signed. Case in point: Pass Away's Thirty Nine. Singer and guitarist Mikey Ireland has cut his teeth playing in punk and hardcore bands for the last 20 years and all of that is built into Pass Away. There's no reason this album had to be self-released and if I'm doing A&R for one of the two labels above, I'm looking into this immediately. In 2018, Ireland put two releases out, one under Pass Away and the other under his acoustic moniker Spirit Houses. Both highlighted different aspects of the songwriter does best and with Thirty Nine he's managed to combine them under one album. Thirty Nine is a collection of dark punk rock songs, immensely sad bastard lyrics, and gritty three chord efforts that would have Alkaline Trio asking Pass Away if they are doing ok. If you're looking for something akin to Good Mourning-era Alkaline Trio, immediately check out Thirty Nine. 

15. Julien Baker: Little Oblivions

Matador Records

The first time I listened to Little Oblivions I was sitting down over a morning coffee. "Hardline" came on and Julien Baker unleashed a set of lyrics that sent chills down my spine. "Blacked out on a weekday / Still something I'm trying to avoid / Start asking for forgiveness / For all the future things I will destroy." It sent chills down my spine because I saw myself in those lyrics. Addiction runs in my family and I have struggled with my own alcohol use. Little Oblivions is one of a not insignificant amount of albums I've seen in recent years by artists who grew up in the punk scene, where substance abuse is too often encouraged, reconciling the days they've wasted hungover with what it means to age and grow up gracefully. All throughout Little Oblivions, there are lines so directly cutting on substance abuse that if you, like me, find yourself sitting in your own discomfort it's probably worth wrestling with why that is. Little Oblivions also finds Baker fleshing out her sparse arrangements with a full band which made this is an overall more enjoyable listen for me than her past efforts. This is Baker at her most punk rock and I'm here for it. 

14. Fiddlehead: Between The Richness

Run For Cover Records

I saw Fiddlehead sometime in 2019 when they were touring for Springtime and Blind. I thought the record was ok, but was mostly going given Pat Flynn's ties to Have Heart, a band I've never been able to catch live. I had a really miserable time not through any fault of the bands. I was in a bad mood. It sort of soured me on Fiddlehead in general and I wrote them off. Funny how live music can work like that. Fast forward to 2021 and the band's new album Between The Richness. On a whim I gave it a chance not expecting much. I was immediately drawn in. The album is a perfect mix of emo and post-hardcore including enough sing alongs to make me forget that I have never got to sing along with Have Heart. This time, when Fiddlehead returned to Philadelphia in tow with a lineup of up and coming hardcore bands in September, I had a fucking blast. 

13. Kacey Musgraves: star-crossed

UMG Recordings, Inc.

It simply wasn't going to be an option if Kacey Musgraves released a record this year that I would leave her off my list. I'm a huge Kacey Musgraves fan and most days you can find me ranting on Twitter about politics and punk rock under my Twitter name kacey musgraves fan account. But the thing is, I actually believe this album is worth inclusion on this list not just because of my fandom. star-crossed is a confessionary album finding the country cum pop star very thoughtfully litigating her recent divorce. However, star-crossed isn't some cast off pop record mining heartbreak for headlines as other lesser contemporaries do every album cycle for attention. Honestly though, who gives a shit about your decade old relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal. star-crossed is a thoughtful, emotional, and multi-dimensional look at the pain, heartache, and healing that comes with divorce. The golden hour has definitely passed, but songs like "good wife," "breadwinner," and "camera roll" are sure to resonate with anyone who has grappled with a devastating break up. 

12. Section H8: Welcome to the Nightmare

Flatspot Records

I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty jealous when those videos of underground DIY L.A. hardcore shows started making the rounds on social media in May. While Madball in NYC and Year of the Knife in Philly were the first to welcome live music back on the East Coast very early in 2021 as the vaccine began to rollout, nothing compared to the fucking chaos that was the L.A. shows. Fireworks, cops shooting rubber bullets, and moshing underneath abandoned highways all amplified by a year plus of human stagnation. Section H8 were among those West Coast bands forcing live music back to the masses without the approval of The Man. Welcome to the Nightmare shows why. Combining the best elements of tough guy hardcore, metallic guitars, and street smarts, Section H8 delivered a quintessential 2021 hardcore record. I think it's also impossible not to mention the Tim Armstrong feature on Welcome to the Nightmare that had the Rancid vocalist sounding more inspired than he has in at least two decades. 

11. Lovelorn: What's Yr Damange

6131 Records

I spent a lot of time last year with Lovelorn's Deep Breaths. It was a calming release in an otherwise hellish year, but I knew underneath the atmospheric vibes was a drugged induced party ready to breakthrough. What's Yr Damage is one of the most original sounding albums I heard this year mixing electro-pop, punk rock, and lacquered in different strains of indica and sativa. I was already hype for this release given couple and band members Anna and Patrick Troxwell's other bands, but their record release show at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly confirmed that hype was not misplaced. It was exactly the fucking party I hoped it would be and What's Yr Damage has not left my 2021 heavy spins since. Go see this band. Bring weed. 

10. The Dirty Nil: Fuck Art

Dine Alone Records

This was not an album originally going to make my list. I've always liked The Dirty Nil. They are one of those bands that have always been on my periphery since Fat Wreck put out some of the early stuff, but not a band that I'd seek out. Lead single "Doom Boy" was infectious and I immediately loved the song, but it wasn't until their run of Philadelphia shows over November and December that I was sold. In the span of two weeks, The Dirty Nil opened for The Menzingers twice at Underground Arts followed by their own headlining show a week later at the same venue. I attended all of them and my excitement to see The Dirty Nil specifically increased with each date. Since then, the songs across Fuck Art are ear worms in my head. Numerous mornings waking up with "Done With Drugs," "Hang Yer Moon," "Ride or Die," "Blunt Force Concussion," and "Possession" have convinced me this is one of the best albums of the year and maybe one of the most consummate rock bands currently touring. Hail Satan, rock 'n' roll forever! 

9. Angel Du$t: YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs

Roadrunner Records

I wrote the review of YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs for Punknews and I gave it three and a half stars. The album didn't connect with me the way 2019's Pretty Buff did - which I also wrote the Punknews review for and gave four stars to. However, when my Spotify Wrapped list dropped in December, there was Angel Du$t's YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs. They weren't just in my top played artists, but in my top three. Can't deny that. I don't know where this album will land with more time in my listening habits, but despite not really being grabbed by it initially, it's very clear I listened to this a lot. There are very good songs on here! "All The Way Dumb," "YAK," and "Turn Off The Guitar" all stand out to me. YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs is definitely a weird ass combination of influences ranging from brit pop like Squeeze to the new wave of The B-52s. I think I would've preferred they still incorporated some of their hardcore roots into the album. But maybe not...?

8. Portrayal of Guilt: Garden of Despair

Closed Casket Activities

I feel like albums released in January are always at a bit of a disadvantage in landing on best of lists. By the time these things begin to get drafted, there's 10 more months of new shit to consider and looking back that far crashes into whatever the most recent hyped about albums people are generally listening to. At least for me anyways. But Portrayal of Guilt's We Are Always Alone was always going to be a contender. It's impossible to ignore the incredible evolution the band brought to the release and the sheer heaviness I forgot screamo could convey. This is not a record for the faint of heart. Without fail, every time I hit "My Immolation," the second to final track on We Are Always Alone, I bask in it. The black metal-esque vocals, swirls of discordant guitars, and buried melodies made this one stick. It also probably didn't hurt Portrayal of Guilt also released Christfucker in November, but it's We Are Always Alone that stands as the band's best release. 

7. Thirdface: Do It With A Smile

Exploding In Sound Records

Do It With A Smile is probably the most creative hardcore record released this year. What starts off as intense, short slabs of metallic and sludgy hardcore quickly evolves into something completely different throughout the album. While a lot of hardcore bands can get away with just open riffing and breakdowns (and I don't mean this as a criticism), Thirdface bring a more artful approach to the fold. Drummer Shibby Poole interplays extraordinarily with bassist Maddy Maderia which brings new dimensions to Do It With A Smile. Interludes of spacey jazz transitions into shredders all rounded out with vocalist Kathryn Edwards brain rattling screams. If you are still waiting around for Gouge Away to announce their next release or Ceremony to get back on their heavier bullshit, do yourself a favor and immediately check out Thirdface. With an opening slot on Touché Amoré's headlining tour next year, Thirdface is a band many will be seeing great things from in 2022, I'm sure of it. 

6. Sleater Kinney: Path of Wellness

Mom Pop Music

As polarizing as The Center Won't Hold was for Sleater-Kinney fans, it served as my first real introduction to the band (I know, I know...). I loved it and because I had nothing to compare it to upon first listen, it stood on its own for me making my best of list in 2019. As everyone knows about the fallout to the record, the center didn't hold. Longtime drummer Janet Weiss left in part blaming the new musical direction. Likely put the former iconic trio in a pretty tough spot! That's why I was surprised to see Sleater-Kinney bounce back so fast with Path of Wellness. The album sounds like Sleater-Kinney went back to the garage simplifying the approach they took with St. Vincent the last time but not denying it. That's what makes it work. Songs like "Worry With You" and "Complex Female Characters" are perfect examples. Also not for nothing, when Sleater-Kinney opened for Wilco in Philly, they asked everyone to rush the barricade in one of the biggest outdoor venues in the city. I got to see them front row and it was incredible. Pretty punk rock. Security was not stoked. 

5. Heart & Lung: Twistin' The Knife Away

Red Scare Industries

I love this album. As a music fan, I can sometimes forget that at its core music is meant to be enjoyed. I can dig through "serious" albums looking to identify their most pretentious parts for a self-gratifying meta listening experience to provide commentary with intentional detachment using my own pretentiousness to convey its importance or unimportance in my reviews. Blerg. What a douchey way to listen music. That's never the case for Heart & Lung and Twistin' The Knife Away. They make it impossible to be that much of an asshole. The Cleveland power-pop four piece are fun, infectious, and write incredible pop-punk songs; the type that I fell in love with at 11 and still can't deny at 34. Plus, we share a hometown! So I'm rooting for these guys. Twistin' The Knife Away is the power pop-punk album of the year and the lighthearted reminder needed in your collection that music is meant to be enjoyed. Everything about this band is enjoyable. 

4. We Are The Union: Ordinary Life

Bad Time Records

It would've been easy for this to be Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but ska. There would've been nothing wrong with that as we need more trans affirming music and We Are The Union were already a pretty well-established and liked band. That's not what Reade Walcott did though. She wrote one of the best albums of the year and one of the best ska albums of recent history. Ordinary Life will mark the fourth wave of ska. Along with the rest of the Bad Time Records roster, We Are The Union are making music that's modern, relevant, and geared towards the masses. No review of Ordinary Life should pass over Jeremy Hunter's contributions to this effort. Just go listen to "Make It Easy" and see for yourself. What makes Ordinary Life really special though is its ability to relate to almost anyone. Personally, I very much appreciated the way she wrote about the interconnectedness of mental and physical health; something I experienced directly suffering from my own bout with long covid. Plus, having worked in the labor movement for the last decade, many of my colleagues are jealous as fuck about the collection of We Are The Union t-shirts I've collected over the years even if they don't know it's a band. 

3. Turnstile: GLOW ON

Roadrunner Records

Of course this album is on here. What more needs to be said? You are fucking lying to yourself if you're denying its rightful place near the top of any 2021 best of lists across any genre. With Glow On, Turnstile brought hardcore to the masses while transforming the genre itself yet remaining firmly rooted in it! There's nothing I could write about this album that hasn't already been written about it across the internet. So instead I will reemphasize one more time that you are fucking lying to yourself if you don't like this record.

Ed. note: Turnstile's Glow On is not on Bandcamp, but it's worth giving their debut a spin to see just how far this band has come and just how much they haven't changed at their core despite their continued creative evolution. 

2. Every Time I Die: Radical

Epitaph Records

Hot Damn was one of the first metalcore records I listened to and still probably one of my favorites in the genre. Frankly, there aren't really any bad Every Time I Die records although Ex-Lives is probably the last one I paid attention to. That's why it wasn't really surprising when Every Time I Die released two bangers at the end of 2020 to begin hyping Radical. What I didn't expect though was that those songs only hinted at what an amazing record the band had under wraps. Radical is rightfully receiving tons of accolades this year and now including from me. The title comes from singer Keith Buckley's radical self-honestly in dealing with his addictions, mental health, and the general state of disrepair. While Buckley has always been a brilliant writer, there's a clear transformation on this album where he is stating exactly what he intends to. This is another one, similar to the aforementioned Julien Baker, that dealt with addiction and sobriety in a way that directly spoke to me. Thank you Keith. But great lyrics can only carry a record so far. The band also delivers firing on all cylinders as if they were still an up and coming band with something to prove. This is a band in renewal decades into their career. That's fucking rad. 

1. Cannibal Corpse: Violence Unimagined

Metal Blade Records

There is probably no scenario in which you could've told me Cannibal Corpse's Violence Unimagined was going to top my list at the beginning of this year. A band decades into their career I've never listened to releasing there some-teenth album whose only impressions made on me was there appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and their reputation for macabre imagery. As of this writing, I now sit as the owner of the majority of their discography on vinyl, three of my own macabre Cannibal Corpse shirts, and a growing affinity for all metal. Not only does Violence Unimagined completely fucking kill it and sound as relevant as any death metal release this year, but the album itself opened up a whole new world of music to me that completely expanded my palate. At 34, I could've never imagined diving into a genre so fully the way I did with death metal this year, but Violence Unimagined is that fucking good. What more could an old head music fan ask for but an album delivering the same type of excitement that my first dalliances with punk rock did? That's why this is my album of the year.