Wow! What a Show!
If 2020 was the year that melted my brain then 2021 was the year that completely evaporated it. The year was marked by a seemingly endless seesaw between good news and horrible news. Time either moved at light-speed or at the pace of a three-toed sloth. The COVID-19 vaccine was developed and brought with it a sense of relief, some hope, and a lot of division. The rise of Delta and Omicron has been (and continues to be) extremely worrying. There was a seemingly endless amount of ska. One of the upsides to this year was I was able to do more with Punknews. Searching for news, doing the podcast, running features (check out cool new bands and hidden gems/overlooked albums if you haven’t yet!), and doing the occasional interview (Lande Hekt!) have all been highlights of my year. I am extremely grateful that I get to work with lots of amazing people who care deeply about punk music and look forward to doing even more in the new year. Words cannot fully express how much it means to me to be a part of Punknews. Thank you all.
Even though I was fortunate to get my two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, I still haven’t been able to see friends in person or go to shows so this year was also filled with a good deal of isolation (here’s hoping to 2022 is full of shows!). During the continued isolation I was able to reflect and realized that I had lost a good portion of myself to what I felt was expected of me and how I should act. Music is one of the many things that has been helping me reconnect to who I am. I was extremely grateful to have a strong internet connection that allowed me to keep in touch with my friends, work on Punknews, and access lots of awesome music. One of the songs that I listened to the most this year was Like A Motorcycle’s cover of The Screamers’ “122 Hours of Fear”. The band captures the danger and tension of the original while somehow making it sound heavier and even more ominous. At one point my day was not complete unless I had listened to the song at least twice. I had the same repeat listening pattern with "Girl Clout" by Fresh and NOBRO's "Better Each Day". My friends also recommended over video call to check out Bo Burnham’s Inside special and album. I have been singing “Bezos I” almost non-stop.
There were lots of great LPs and EPs that I couldn’t fit on this list so here are some of my Honourable Mentions for 2021: Death of A Cheerleader by Pom Pom Squad, Model Citizen by Meet Me @ The Altar, Cyst’s excellent four song DEMO, Between The Richness by Fiddlehead, Empty Plinths by Grand Collapse, Our Hell Is Right Here by Drones, Sinner Get Ready by Lingua Ignota, The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All by New Pagans, Mid-Century Modern by Talk Show Host, Nice One by Catbite, Welfare Jazz by Viagra Boys, Casual Drag by Totally Slow, CHRISTFUCKER by Portrayal of Guilt, Amygdala and Listless’ split LP, I Won’t Reach Out to You by Hot Mulligan, Keep on Truckin’ by Surfbort, Bless My Psyche by Sincere Engineer, Mushroom Death Sex Bummer Party by Wine Lips, Division in the Heartland by Bruce Lee Band, A Blessing But With It A Curse by SNFU, Failed State by Action News, Freedom Dreams by MOVE, Two Step To Hell by Chain Whip, All Roads Lead To The Gun I & II by Militarie Gun, Strike Back by Punitive Damage, Perfect by Mannequin Pussy, For The Lovers by Piss Kitti, The Summer I Got Good At Guitar by Fresh, and 9th and Walnut by Descendents. Quick warning: if you expect any Turnstile you will be disappointed. Let’s get into the list below!
Top 20 albums of 2021
Bad Time Records
We Are The Union’s Ordinary Life grew on me like a moss over the course of this year. I found myself humming “Pasadena” and “Morbid Obsessions” countless times and when I went to listen to the songs I ended up listening to the album in full without fail. The songs are filled with heart-felt, honest, and deeply personal lyrics that deal with dysphoria, identity, and heartache. The band are tight and play upbeat ska punk mixed with pop and a hint of indie rock that complements the feelings in the lyrics perfectly. This album has made me cry, has been a source of joy, and has made me dance. Ordinary Life takes you on a journey every time you listen to it.
19. Pupil Slicer: Mirrors
Mirrors was one of the most interesting and arresting albums that I listened to this year. The band utilize elements of mathcore, hardcore, deathgrind, extreme metal, and powerviolence together to create impressive rhythms that are at times disorienting. The album opener “Martyrs” contains sounds that sound like computer glitching that made me check my computer to make sure all was well (it was!). The band knows how to keep you on your toes and on the edge of your seat. Pupil Slicer are definitely going places and I’m looking forward to hearing more from them in the future.
18. The Chisel: Retaliation
La Vida Es Un Mus Discos
The Chisel have hit upon something special on Retaliation. The band deliver extremely catchy, ferocious punk songs that blend pub rock, oi, and hardcore into a great mix that makes you want to dance, mosh, and rise a glass all at once. “Retaliation” is one of the catchiest title tracks in a long time and I find it going through my head with increasing frequency along with “Tooth and Nail”, “Crocket” “Force Fed”, and “Common As Muck”.
17. Cluttered: The First Pandemic
Cluttered released two exceptional EPs this year and they collected them into a full-length album called The First Pandemic. The songs are extremely catchy and melodic while retaining a punk edge. The band is dynamic and plays like they’ve been together for years. It is incredibly easy to start singing along (especially on “Burn All of It” and “Don’t Hold Your Breath”) and near impossible to stop. I have listened to this album more times than I can count and I really want to see them live. Hopefully in the new year this will become a reality.
16. Bootlicker: Bootlicker
Static Shock Records/Neon Waste Records
Bootlicker’s self-titled album is a masterclass in hardcore punk. The band are ferocious and attack their instruments and vocals with relentless raw energy. Each song has an intense feeling of urgency and makes me want to start moshing. The chaotic atmosphere that they are able to create is filled with absolutely insane energy that makes you feel borderline invincible and makes you want to punch an authority figure. Bootlicker are primed for world domination.
Exploding in Sound Records
The first time I listened to Thirdface I was blown away, the thirtieth time I listened to Thirdface I was still blown away. The band’s brand of aggressive, metal-influenced hardcore punk comes out with full force on Do It With A Smile. The band are extremely cohesive and create a layered sonic assault that is perfected with superb lyrics and Kathryn Edwards’ excellent forceful, shredding vocals. Thirdface are relentless on Do It With A Smile and each song makes me feel like I can tackle anything.
14. Candy Apple: Sweet Dreams of Violence
Candy Apple are one of the most exciting new bands that I listened to this year. From the first spin of Sweet Dreams of Violence, I found it hard to stop listening and found the songs going through my head long after I unplugged my headphones. Each song on the album is razor sharp and filled with dynamic energy, an awesome amount of fuzz, and interesting songwriting. If I had a dollar for every time I started singing “The Cowboy” out of nowhere this year, I would be very, very rich. Sweet Dreams of Violence is nothing short of hardcore punk perfection.
13. The Muslims: Fuck These Fuckin' Fascists
When it was announced that The Muslims had signed with Epitaph Records and were going to be putting out a new album I was extremely excited because their 2020 album Gentrifried Chicken was a home run. Fuck These Fuckin’ Fascists did not disappoint. The band delivers energetic catchy as hell punk songs that aren’t afraid to get political and also bring in some humour and fun. They also have some of the best song titles of the year with “Crotch Punch A Cop” and “John McCain’s Ghost Sneaks Into The White House And Tea Bags The President”. The album goes by in what feels like seconds and I can’t wait to see what they do next. The Muslims came to kick ass on Fuck These Fuckin’ Fascists and oh man did they succeed.
12. Neighborhood Brats: Confines of Life
Dirt Cult Records
Neighborhood Brats are a force to be reckoned with on Confines of Life. The songwriting is superb and tackles systemic oppression, the environmental crisis, the housing crisis, and impossible beauty standards among many other things. The songs are fast, angry, and full of melody and great hooks. Confines of Life is a great album all around and if Neighborhood Brats tour Canada I will be one of the first ones in line for a ticket (COVID permitting of course).
11. Vial: Loudmouth
Get Better Records
Loudmouth is without a doubt one of the most vital punk records that was released this year. Vial are full of ferocious energy and aren’t afraid to rip into what is pissing them off. They tear down misogyny in the punk scene most notably on “Piss Punk”, “Planet Drool”, and “Roadkill”. Vial also have a great range and have several insanely catchy love songs along with dealing with the existential nature of life. I found Loudmouth to be very cathartic and it always makes me feel great when I listen to it. Vial have quickly become one of my favourite bands and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
10. Backxwash: I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
Backxwash is a fucking tour de force. The Montreal rapper and producer comes out swinging on I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses. She blends horrorcore, industrial metal, and hip-hop together to create an intense atmosphere that never lets up. The songs are visceral and explore mental health, pain, self-destruction, and identity. The songs are filled with an intense, gorgeous chaos that will envelop you every single time you listen to I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses.
9. Bad Waitress: No Taste
Royal Mountain Records
No Taste is like a really exciting, really fun roller coaster ride. Bad Waitress keeps things interesting and keeps you on the edge of your seat with innovative arrangements, fantastic songwriting, and a sound that effortlessly combines punk, grunge, jazz, indie rock, and psychedelia. There are so many highlights on the album like “Strawberry Milkshake”, “Manners”, “Delusions of Grandeur”, “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, and “Standards” that you can’t help sing along with. I really hope that I am able to see them live next year because if they are able to generate that much energy and power in a recording, imagine how they are live.
Dine Alone Records
The Dirty Nil released Fuck Art on January 1, 2021 and I have been listening to it ever since. It was one of my most anticipated albums and it does not disappoint. The band kick out catchy punk rock that allows for multiple repeat listens. “Ride or Die”, “Damage Control”, “Possession”, and “To The Guy Who Stole My Bike” were staples in my playlists this year. The Dirty Nil are an amazing live band and I can’t wait to see them doing songs from Fuck Art in person (hopefully next year!).
It is always awesome to hear new material from Rudimentary Peni. Even though The Great War was “recorded several years ago before Rudimentary Peni engaged in another mysterious hiatus” according to the label, the songs sound as fresh and as aggressive as ever. The band adapt some of the World War I era poems of Wilfred Owns and capture the anxiety, claustrophobia, and anger surrounding the pointlessness of war. The Great War puts you right in the line of fire with a relentless sonic barrage reminiscent of battle.
6. Amyl and The Sniffers: Comfort to Me
Amyl and the Sniffers are a whirlwind of energy on Comfort to Me. This album has never failed to get me pumped up and make me move. The songs are fresh, fast, and exciting with barely time to pause or catch your breath in between. Comfort to Me has made me feel recharged, lent me energy when I needed it most, and in those ways has indeed become a comfort of sorts.
It is impossible not to be moved by Celestial Blues. The album feels haunting, ethereal, aggressive, and comforting all at once. Kris Esfandiari’s vocals are unbelievably gorgeous and full of emotion. “Golgotha” is one of the most moving songs on the album and “Psychic Wound” is full of intense cathartic chaos. King Woman have put out one of the most powerful, vivid, and sonically stunning albums of the year with Celestial Blues.
The first time I listened to Every Time I Die was last year when they put out their two songs “Desperate Pleasures” and “A Colossal Wreck”. I became hooked and couldn’t wait to hear more from them. The day Radical came out I listened to it three times in a row. To say that this album blew me away would be an understatement. The songwriting is deeply personal, angry, and heartfelt and Keith Buckley’s vocals are absolutely stellar. “Thing With Feathers” feels ethereal, “Planet Shit” provides one of the most cathartic releases on the album and “White Void” is a full body experience. Radical is an amazing, cathartic album that never lets up and I am so glad I started listening.
3. Lande Hekt: Going to Hell
Get Better Records
Going to Hell is one of those perfect, rare albums where I become completely absorbed by it every single time I hear it. Lande Hekt’s voice and songwriting are top-notch and you can feel the care she’s put into each song. It is impossible to pick a favourite and I always feel the urge to listen to the full album when I have only one song going through my head. No matter what kind of day I’ve had when I put Going to Hell on I feel the tension leaving my body, my spirits rising, and my strength replenishing.
How Flowers Grow is an amazing album all around and it has quickly become one of my favourite albums of the year. Scowl are hands down one of the most exciting hardcore punk bands active right now. The pure aggression that Kat Moss embodies is awe-inspiring and her clean vocals on “Seeds to Sow” are absolutely exceptional. The album is immensely cathartic, especially “Dead to Me”, “How Flowers Grow”, “Trophy Hunter”, and “Four Walls”. How Flowers Grow has been one of the albums that has resonated the most with me this year. It has helped me focus on growth and every time I listen to it I feel more like myself.
Culture Shock’s Mandemic is without a doubt my album of the year. I have listened to it almost non-stop since it came out in February and will continue to do so even though I have memorized every song. The album explodes in energy and shows the band in top form as they kick out the best kind of ska punk imaginable complete with incredible thought-provoking lyrics. Mandemic has a refreshing, rejuvenating feel to it and quickly became my go-to when everything felt out of control and overwhelming. “Concentration Dub” became the song that I turned to when I needed to take some time and think. “War is Peace”, “Consequences”, “War On Senses” and “Wake Up Time” all turned into powerful rallying cries that never failed to pick me up and give me strength. The album has given me a boost when I needed it most and has helped me through some tough times. Words cannot adequately express how much this album means to me and how glad I am to be alive at a time when Culture Shock are releasing new music. Now all I need to do is see them live.
Top Horse-Themed Release of 2021
Year of the Horse is in a category all it’s own because I felt like it deserved it. The songs were released every Bandcamp Friday (the first Friday of the month) for four months and for each of those four months, I would check Bandcamp as soon as I possibly could to listen to the new installment. It has brought me immense joy and was definitely something to look forward to. Fucked Up are simply the best. They take all sorts of ideas and sounds and blend them together to create something spectacular. I can’t think of any other band who would be able to pull this off as well as they do. Year of the Horse mixes opera, hardcore punk, psychedelia and much more together to tell the epic tale of Perceval the horse and Blanche. The story reads like an epic poem and held my interest all throughout the four acts. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next and always notice something new while re-listening to it. Year of the Horse is easily one of the most ambitious and most well executed releases of the year.
Top 6 EPs of 2021
6. Pinkshift: Saccharine
In my introduction to my 2020 year end list, I mentioned how much I had been listening to the singles Pinkshift had put out and how much I was anticipating hearing more from the band. Saccharine collects their singles from 2020 and adds one new song. All together the songs take on a new dimension and tell a story when listened to in order. I listened to it quite often this year and eagerly await new music from Pinkshift.
5. Gel: Violent Closure
Atomic Action Records
Every time I put on Violent Closure by hardcore punks Gel, I feel like I have been transported and am at a show moshing along. The songs are all absolute rippers and leave you no time to rest. This is how hardcore punk should be and I look forward to much more from Gel in the future (their 2021 single “Mental Static” is also excellent).
4. M(h)aol: Gender Studies
Post-punk band M(h)aol pull no punches and embody the fierce spirit of their namesake (16th-century Irish Pirate Queen Gráinne Mhaol) on their Gender Studies EP. They tackle toxic gender stereotypes and gender based violence, embody the horror of the Magdalene Laundries, confront sexism in the scene, and deliver a haunting version of Irish folk song “Ó Ró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile” all within a few minutes to create one of the most powerful debut EPs of the year. I can’t wait to hear more from M(h)aol and will continue to listen to Gender Studies on repeat until that day comes.
3. Witch Fever: Reincarnate
Music For Nations
Witch Fever became one of my favourite bands this year. After doing a Bandcamp search for new bands I stumbled upon the band’s two song Bezerk(h)er single and fell in love with both of the songs. When I heard that they were gearing up to put out an EP I was ecstatic. Reincarnate is a fierce debut EP that cements them as a force to be reckoned with. They breathe new life into doom punk with cathartic songs that pull no punches and drip with pure rage. The amount of times that I have sang along to all of the songs on Reincarnate is astronomical, especially “Bully Boy” and “In Birth”. When Witch Fever releases a full-length album you better believe that I will be among the first in line and if they tour Canada I will be in the front row.
Visibly Choked are one of the most exciting bands that released music this year. Their self-titled EP is a masterclass in controlled chaos, raw energy, passionate lyrics, and experimentation done right. “Shitlord” is one of the most cathartic songs to sing along to - screaming along to “Fuck you, you piece of shit/I have better things to do/Than put up with you” is always a perfect release. I have said it before and will say it again, Visibly Choked is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and promising debut EPs of the year.
1. Sprints: Manifesto
Nice Swan Records
Sprints have put out my EP of the year with Manifesto. The band has a passionate, dynamic sound that draws from garage rock, noise, grunge, and post-punk and is guaranteed to get you moving within seconds. “Swimming” and “Manifesto” get me jumping up and down (when space permits) and singing along at the top of my voice whenever I listen to them. I have barely stopped listening to the EP since March and I have no plans to stop any time soon. Manifesto is one of the most vital releases of 2021 and I don’t think you know how much I’m looking forward to more from Sprints.
Thanks for taking the time to read my list! Stay safe, look out for one another, and continue to wear your masks and wash your hands even if you’ve had the vaccine. Here’s to a (hopefully) show-filled 2022!