Friday, 24 December 2021

CPRW Top Ten Albums of 2021: Part 5

Has 2021 been a vintage year for punk rock? Genuinely, I can’t remember a year where there was so much anticipation over new releases; especially concerning debut albums or sophomore releases. Inevitably, some great albums have missed out on my top ten. Established acts such as The Ship Thieves (Irruption) and Rise Against (Nowhere Generation) have produced their finest work for many a year; whilst a couple of great hardcore albums from Fever Strike (Spin) and Dare (Against All Odds) have also missed out but should be investigated as they are phenomenal; as is the Hot Water Music meets Dogleg post hardcore of Stars Hollows (I Want to Live My Life) which narrowly missed my top ten. In light of that, I have to conclude that 2021 has been a brilliant year for new music and hopefully we can go into 2022 with a renewed sense of hope that we’ll soon be able to enjoy these bands and albums in live settings.

On to my top ten albums and top five EPs / singles of the year. Personally I think they are all excellent for a variety of reasons and I’d be really keen to hear what you think of my picks so please hit me up in the comments!


10. Axiom by Harker (Disconnect Disconnect Records, Fixing A Hole Records, Shield Recordings, Wiretap Records)

If debut album No Discordance was a gruff punk banger, its follow up Axiom draws further on the emo / post-hardcore influences that simmered under the surface in its predecessor, melding the sound into something that whilst familiar is also extremely unique and forward thinking. The dynamism and range of the album is astounding, covering straight up hard rock such as ‘The Beast Must Die’, to nice throwbacks to their punk rock roots on ‘Helion’, with ‘Flex Yr Head’ sounding like classic Get Up Kids style emo.

The culmination of this creativity and the album’s crowning glory is its concluding track ‘Antenna’, a six minute epic marathon of post hardcore noise. It’s a gargantuan song that epitomises the shift in Harker’s approach from that of blue collar punks to genuine innovators and ones to watch. Where they go next will be genuinely be exciting!

9. Ultrapop by The Armed ( Sargent House)

With Ultrapop, art-hardcore collective The Armed have created a huge sprawling, bombastic epic of an album that constantly surprises. Take the sheer bonkers-ness of songs such as ‘Masunaga Vapours’, that could prove inaccessible on initial listens yet quickly become addictive earworm on repeated spins; or the big hitters of ‘Bad Selection’ and ‘All Futures’ which are just incredible from the outset. Ultrapop is simply the most apt name for the album given its penchant for OTT melody coupled with Converge-esque metal flourishes. The Armed are one of the most important and creative groups operating in hardcore, demonstrating its artistic merit and value; whilst finding new boundaries to push. It’s a genuine 10/10 album and deserves to be heard by a wider audience than the traditional hardcore devotees and Kurt Ballou aficionados; even if it’s just the once to appreciate its truly bizarre amalgamation of colliding styles and inspirations.

8. Our Hell Is Right Here by Drones (Lockjaw Records)

Whilst hardcore has had a renaissance this year, the same can’t be said for skate punk which seems to have hit a bit of a lull at the moment (CPRW resident skate-punk expert Brett may take exception to this statement); thankfully Brighton’s Drones haven’t got that memo and unleashed an exceptional follow up to their 2018 debut. Our Hell Is Right Here is a pumped up, exhilarating rollercoaster of an album that’s rammed with excellent musicianship, smart lyrics and a vocal performance by Lois that is truly fantastic, adding greater depth and range to a sound that can appear at times very single paced.

In particular, attention should be paid to the stellar ‘Josephine’ (a song about alcohol dependency) that hits all the feels; whilst title track ‘Our Hell Is Right Here’ is just a straight up banger, showing they can mix it up. Drones have clearly delivered on their early promise and they are now one of the most essential British bands on the circuit.

7. Life In Your Glass World by Citizen (Run For Cover Records)

On their fourth album, Citizen have really found their stride and voice. Life In Your Glass World feels at times reminiscent of the UK’s Indie Punk movement of the 00s (think Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party at their most punk – Bloc Party’s ‘Helicopter’ in particular feels like a great touch point for many of the songs on the album). As a result, Citizen have created an album that whilst retaining their roots feels fresh and vibrant. 

‘Death Dance Approximately’ is a great opener, one that’s funky, rhythmic and massively danceable; whilst the obvious single ‘I Want To Kill You’ is a monster of a song that characterises Will Yip’s classic style of production (in fact the whole album sounds incredible). Finally, closing trio of ‘Glass World’, ‘Winter Buds’ and ‘Edge Of The World’ is a triumph, demonstrating how to close an album effectively. To date, Citizen haven’t quite reached the heights of their peers or that which their potential would suggest; preferring to tread their own path, however Life In Your Glass World is hopefully the album that will help break them out of their cult status and into a much wider audience.

6. This Place You Know by One Step Closer (For Cover Records)

Sitting in that perfect sweet spot between traditional youthcore, melodic hardcore and emo, the Wilkes-Barre rising stars have stepped up with a rip-roaring introspective, angst ridden debut that will catapult them to the pinnacle of the hardcore scene. Blending a sound that is very reminiscent of both Bane and As Friends Rust (particularly early era AFR such as ‘Encante’ or ‘Ruffian’), it’s massively accessible and melodic whilst at the same time capable of delivering bone crunching riffs and explosive screaming vocals.

Lead single ‘Pringle Street’ is a notable high point, however where the album really stands out is in its sequencing and it has a real ebb and flow to proceedings. It’s also worth discussing the risks that the band take on ‘This Place You Know’; whilst many young bands may be content to hammer out songs of a similar style, save alienating their audience, One Step Closer have taken a mature approach to things to showcase their range and versatility. Both ‘Chrysanthemum’ and ‘Hereafter’ demonstrate they are a cut above many of their peers. Closing track ‘As The City Sleeps’ echos Bane’s ‘Swan Song’ perfectly and is every inch the hardcore epic it set out to be. This Place You Know is quite simply one of the most essential albums of the year. 

5. Fuck Art by The Dirty Nil The Dirty Nil (Dine Alone Records)

Continuing their development from scuzzy basement punks to genuine stadium loving rockers, The Dirty Nil’s third album is an absolute triumph of singalong anthems, upbeat melody and sharp, self-deprecating lyrics that are firmly delivered with a tongue wedged in frontman Luke Bentham’s cheek.

Anyone lucky enough to see the Nil rocking out on stage will know they owe as much to Bowie and Hendrix as they do NOFX and Blink-182 due to their musical talent; however at no point does the album deteriorate into guitar noodling nonsense (although I have no doubt Luke could nail a Satriani style guitar led prog rock masterpiece). Instead, each song is a mini-story (‘Done With Drugs’ about exciting the party scene or ‘Doom Boy’ about dating a metal loving fella). They often come across like a juvenile delinquent Weezer and, let’s face it, that’s something the world needs more of at the moment!

4. How Flowers Grow by Scowl (Flatspot Records)

Clocking in at an impressive 10 songs in 16 minutes, How Flowers Grow is a frantic, angry and essential assault on the senses. Led by the sneering and righteously pissed off Kat Moss, Scowl produce some of scuzziest, nastiest hardcore around. It’s the kind of album you’d imagine festering in a gutter of its own filth… and it’s all the better for it. Equal parts Black Flag meets No Reply meets Striking Distance, it’s a brilliantly aggressive album rammed with social commentary from a feminist slant. With content concerning abuse, struggling to be heard and standing your ground, it’s an album that takes the traditional tropes of hardcore into a personal and reflective space; and lyrically it is probably one of the strongest releases of the year. 

Production wise, despite the gritty aesthetic, it sounds incredible and the vocals really shine. ‘Bloodhound’ promises to be an absolute beast of a song in a live setting (the introduction alone is enough to build anticipation of the chaos that is likely to ensue); whilst the most surprising song on the album ‘Seeds To Sow’ is more Link 80 than the Dead Kennedys and it comes out of nowhere with Kat’s singing voice really shining. This is just enough to tease how vital Scowl could become to the scene in terms of their writing and creativity! All in all an incredible album from a band that might just be your new favourites… catch them in the UK in the new year with hardcore giants Comeback Kid and Brian McTernan’s Be Well, in what promises to be one of the tours of the year.

3. Glow On by Turnstile (Roadrunner Records)

If Time And Space showed hardcore could bridge crossover to the punk and rock audiences, Glow On is Turnstile reaching for the mainstream with a truly incredible pop album. Sure it’s still got the crunching riffs and grooves but it’s brilliantly packaged with a sheen of pop gloss, catchy melodies and more hooks than the crew of a pirate ship. ‘Holiday’, ‘Mystery’ and ‘Blackout’ are the clear standout tracks but the creativeness of ‘Underwater Boi’ and ‘Alien Love Call’ shows the potential the scene has when it looks outside of its rigid confines. 

Given the success of predecessor Time And Space, and the fact that was a slow burn of an album, it’s clear expectation for Turnstile’s follow up to be special was through the roof and clearly they have stepped up to the plate and hit a massive home run. It’s inevitable that this album will be one of the must see tours over coming months and likely still be on active rotation into the festival season where you can expect it will really shine! 

2. I Won’t Care How You Remember Me by Tigers Jaw (Hopeless Records)

Since taking forward the Tigers Jaw name, Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins have taken huge strides; the kind of emo-pop masterpiece that previous album Spin hinted at has been fully realised with IWCHYRM. An album driven by heartbreak and relationship collapse, set to fantastic melody and told through a collection of immense ear worms. Each song has the potential to be a favourite at one time or another; however ‘Commit’ with its 80s Madonna vibe really stands out, showcasing Brianna’s vocal range and allowing Ben’s guitar playing to take centre stage. 

Other stand outs include the opening ‘I Won’t Care How You Remember Me’ which really ties all the threads and connections together on the album and closer ‘Anniversary’ which provides a satisfying conclusion and leaves the listener wanting more. As with all Will Yip albums, it sounds amazing and I’d go out on a limb and say it’s the best work he’s done to date. IWCHYRM is a huge album and one that should launch Tigers Jaw to a much larger audience when they can finally get it in front of people, where you can really see these songs resonating.

1. Between The Richness by Fiddlehead (Run For Cover Records)

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a huge fan of the latest creative renaissance hardcore is undergoing… Drug Church, Turnstile, La Dispute, Touché Amore and Citizen have really helped push the envelope whilst staying true to the principles of hardcore and maintaining their integrity. This increased creativity coupled with the experience of notable leading lights of the scene (in this case Have Heart’s Pat Flynn) has created an environment where strong narrative driven, introspective albums can truly flourish. Between The Richness is a monumental, cathartic release of emotion; even more so than its predecessor and songs like ‘Heart To Heart’, ‘Million Times’, ‘Down University’ and ‘The Years’ will enthral and captivate as much as they will excite.

One thing that is abundantly clear with Between The Richness is that, like Springtime and Blind, it’s a mature album that only gives up its secrets on repeated listens. It’s not inaccessible by any means but the depth and detail in each song come to the fore with repeated listens. Much like The Armed’s Ultrapop, it’s the addictiveness of the album that really takes hold and gets under your skin with its personal and reflective lyrics coupled with the desire the album creates in wanting to belt out these same lyrics in a room full of strangers. It’s clearly going to be one of those albums people fall heavily in love with – personally I already have! 

EPs / Singles

5. II by Loud Love

Belgium emo-core / hardcore crossover troupe’s second release is as essential as their first. Brimming with pop and fizz, Loud Love have again produced an collection of classic sounding Silverstein / Grade style emotionally driven hardcore songs. ‘VoxPopuli’, ‘Quichote’ and ‘Last Party’ really stick in the head and, whilst their self-titled debut showcased a full on assault, this follow up is much more layered and confident. Absolutely ones to watch!

4. Tawney by Drug Church

Continuing their evolution into a hardcore Pixies, Drug Church’s 4 track stop gap ahead of next year’s Hygeine is a brilliant representation of their development. Far more nuanced than previous releases, both ‘Bliss Out’ and ‘Tawny’ are exceptional songs. Throw in a brilliant cover of Arcwelders ‘Remember To Forget’ and you can see why they are now one of the most vital bands in rock music!

3. In The Ground by Timeshares

Few bands unite us here at CPRW quite like those lovelies in Timeshares. Their final EP in a series of releases is arguably their best (and considering how great both Out There and On Life Support are, this is some achievement). In The Ground has a really mature heartland rock feel to it. Equally melancholic and anthemic, it’s Timeshares doing what they do best – hitting all the feels!

2. Bear Away / Custody split

Split releases are the best! Whether it’s established acts taking new acts under their wing (such as Hot Water Music showing their chops alongside the established Leatherface) or mutual appreciation between peers (Signals Midwest / Worship This!) so many of my favourite releases are splits. At just one track each you can’t help but feel short changed with this one; however the caveat is that both songs are INCREDIBLE.

Finland’s Custody offer up Running In Circles; it’s an anthemic gruff punk banger with the type of epic guitar driven conclusion you can only dream of; whilst Scarborough’s Bear Away deliver another exceptional slab of heartfelt singalong punk rock that they’ve built a following on. This is everything great about split singles, distilled into two genuinely proper A-side releases; and anyway what’s wrong with leaving people wanting more!

1. Perfect by Mannequin Pussy

If the jump from Romantic to Patience was big; this is a leap of Evil Knievel proportions by the Philadelphia troupe. Opening track ‘Control’ is a gorgeous ballad; as is ‘To Lose You’ which may just be the best song they have written to date – Marisa’s vocals really shine and carry the song which is just a spine-tingling triumph.

Showing they haven’t lost any of their vitriol, ‘Perfect’ is a ranging, angry banger; yet contains far more light and shade than they would have previously displayed through such songs. It’s also great to see Bear taking centre stage on ‘Pigs Is Pigs’ and again this adds further layers to their arsenal. They’ve retained their level of social commentary whilst expanding their sound into something incredibly marketable… Their next full length may just be a boundary pushing, career defining masterpiece.

Final Words

Looking forward then to 2022. A new Drug Church album is already on the horizon, with its lead singles showing even more development in their sound, whilst my heroes Hot Water Music will be dropping their 9th studio album. However on the back of their work over 2021, the must-have release of 2022 is looking like German emo-punks Shoreline’s Growth – every song they have teased us with this year has been incredible and I’d urge everyone to get on board with them now as it has the potential to be a game changer of an album!

Finally, this year I’d like to throw some thanks and shout outs to labels and distros. End Hits Records have again outdone themselves. The quality of the products they produce are outstanding, and they are always creative and sympathetic; especially with the represses and their work with the Shelter albums (When 20 Summers Pass and The Purpose the Passion) in particular stands out. Also huge thanks to Nuclear Family and Land Of Treason for keeping me supplied with good old fashioned hardcore albums; you guys rock! Finally to the team (and wider family) at CPRW towers – it’s been a pleasure talking all things punk rock with you all this year and can’t wait to hear about your new favourites throughout 2022!

It’s been another strange year in the “new normal” – I’ve almost resigned myself to accepting that this is just how shit’s going to go down from now on. Life isn’t going to get any better, only worse. More types of Covid, but no more travel, no more new experiences (except for new Covid). Always showing my vaccination status before necking a pint. Feeling frustrated with people who argue about having to get vaccinated or show said status to neck a pint. 

On a personal level, it’s been a year of ups and downs – this is the year that I kept it punk, got a mortgage and bought a house in my favourite area of Swansea (contrary to popular belief, there are some nice areas here), but it’s also the year that I lost the one person who really understood me and always had my back – my dad passed away. His cat came home to live with me and she’s amazing, but I don’t eat meat, and cat food smells really bad. So yeah, swings and roundabouts.
So, with so much going on, it’s been good to sit down and reflect back on the year when compiling this list. Life is full of ups and downs, but music is a constant I think we can all appreciate, and always helps make things a little easier.

Here are my top ten albums from this year.

10. As The Love Continues by Mogwai (Rock Action Records)

Despite having 9 other studio albums, this is the first of Mogwai’s I’ve ever owned – or listened to. I was way too cool (obviously), and listening to Blink-182 and Less Than Jake in the late 90s/early 00s, to even entertain the idea of listening to Mogwai. Come on, it’s boring stoner music, right? At least that’s what I thought (to be fair, all of the people I knew who listened to them did smoke a lot of pot). I wasn’t about to wear a blim-hole riddled Soulfly shirt and sit under a ramp in the skate park looking in amazement at the size of my hands – I was too busy wearing a knock-off Green Day Dookie hoodie and falling off skateboards when trying to ollie.

Like the rest of their discography, this beautiful album is atmospheric and moving – the musical arrangement of this album is stunning. There aren’t any lyrics until you get to track 4, Ritchie Sacramento, but when they do make an appearance they aren’t intrusive, and don’t take over the track or the flow of the album. They add to the music rather than pushing their way to the front, like tall people at gigs always seem to do. This album doesn’t need any more lyrics, the music speaks enough and provides plenty of emotional charge. This album is a fantastic example of how music tastes change over time, and why we shouldn’t shut out a band just because they weren’t to our tastes when we were younger.

9. Waste My Heart by The Raging Nathans (Brassneck Records, Dead Broke Rekerds, Rad Girlfriend Records)

Raging Nathans haven’t let the quality slip, even after releasing their third full length just last year. Catchy melodies, strong vocals, creative lyrics, solid drumming – the album grips you from the get go with opening track Waste My Heart, reminiscent of the 90s skate-punk sound we all hold so dear. While I Could Never Fall In Love With You leans more on the ‘pop’ side, it still has that incessant skate-punk style of drumming with just enough palm-muting to pass as a 50s-style pop punk song. New Direction is a straight-up punk rock song with a top-tier chorus and first-rate harmonies. Another solid instalment from the mid-west four.

8. Empty Plinths by Grand Collapse (TNSRecords)

Empty Plinths is as unapologetic as it is angry, aggressive, and honest, with a fitting tribute to Icons Of Filth as a hidden bonus at the end of the record. Most of this album was written during 2020, with many of the social tensions experienced during that year being projected through the writing. It leaves you with hardly any time to catch a breath between songs – this itself reflecting many of the themes explored in the album, such as race and class divide, as well as animal and human rights. There is a hint of the melodic guitar from previous albums, though with a more thrashy, metal sound to it, which can clearly be heard on Without Let or Hindrance and Empty Plinths. An unforgiving, merciless album from the lovely lads at Grand Collapse.

7. Radical by Every Time I Die (Epitaph Records)

This is the first time I’ve really listened to ETID. They’re one of those bands that I always heard about, but never got round to listening to. It was actually my boss who kept on at me to listen to them, and when Radical was released, he borrowed me his copy on vinyl. I had an idea of what it would be like… But I wasn’t expecting to like the album as much as I did.

It’s urgent, brutal, and ferocious from the get go. While it absolutely is heavy as fuck, there’s also enough melody throughout the album to keep you engaged, with the album weaving hardcore, metalcore, and punk together into the 16-track long Radical pot. Songs like Thing With Feathers and White Void are prime examples of melody-strong, palate-cleansing songs showing just how good this band are at songwriting. 

I’ve bought my own copy of the record now.

6. Mid-Century Modern by Talk Show Host (Disconnect Disconnect Records, Wiretap Records)

The first full-length from the Toronto pop-punk trio, released in the UK by the very excellent Disconnect Disconnect. The range of the pop-punk sub-genre is pretty wide – I’d definitely stick this in as pop-punk, but it’s a bit different from the others on the list. Excellent songwriting, catchy as fuck melodies, great choruses, gang vocals, layered arrangements. I bought this record before listening to it, because I really liked the album title and artwork. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it turns out that you can definitely do that with albums.

5. On The Brink by Mark Murphy And The Meds (Brassneck Records, Bloated Kat Records, Horn & Hoof Records, All In Vinyl, Cat’s Claw Records)

Riffs aplenty from Mark Murphy And The Meds – fast, fun pop punk riffs with the added extra kick of rock ’n’ roll licks. Think Teen Idols or Green Day, with a bit of The Wildhearts thrown in for good measure. This album is wildly catchy, and you’ll find yourself singing along before the opening track Stuck Inside has finished playing (it’s a potential for my Song Of The Year). I’ve had this album on repeat since it was released. Mark Murphy And The Meds – it’s good for what ails ya.

4. Mikey Erg by Mikey Erg (Brassneck Records, Rad Girlfriend Records)

Starting off with Can’t Be Too Careless, the album keeps pumping out that classic 90s garage pop punk sound, with catchy melodies over distorted guitars. From the more straight up punk rock Spin The Black Circle reminiscent of Graham Coxon’s album The Golden D, to the more pop-punk Hey Marissa and Rumblestrip, this album has a bit of everything over the course of the 10 songs.

For Green Day fans, there’s a nice surprise with a great cover of Going To Pasalacqua, and as the album closes we are treated to Give Up. The heavier guitars, distortion, and noise on the closing track reminds me of the last songs on early Weezer albums (long, drawn-out, noisy outros are my favourite type of outros). A solid album from the pop punk veteran.

3. Alone In A Dome by The Copyrights (Fat Wreck Chords)

Another worldie of an album from the Illinois pop-punk four. Straight in there with crisp, catchy guitars and melodies, and soaring choruses you can’t help but get reeled in by. The album hits the ground running with Part Of The Landscape (as if we expected anything less) and pretty much continues straight through to the finish line hitting first-rate markers including Pretender, No Such Thing As Grownups, and Enemies. The album doesn’t slow down, with banger after banger of fast-paced pop-punk rock. Can this band do any wrong? 

2. Nice One by Catbite (Bad Time Records)

Ever since I started to really get into music I’ve had a soft spot for ska punk, and this album has been a refreshing take on the sub-genre. With more of a focus on two-tone rather than just upstrokes and trumpets over punk riffs, it stands out against the rest in the ska punk game, certainly at the moment. It can be hard sometimes to get ska punk to be taken seriously – it’s not the genre’s fault, trumpets and upstrokes just sound so silly sometimes – but nothing is overdone on this album. There’s a perfect balance of punk, two-tone, and engaging vocals reminiscent of The Selector, early No Doubt, DHC, and other greats of the genre from back in the day. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve listened less and less to ska as I’ve dived more in to punk, emo, and (gasp) indie. But if more ska bands take note from Catbite, I’ll be heading back down the black and white brick road, and won’t cover up my ska tattoo anymore.

1. Emphatically No. by Cheekface (New Professor Music)

Easily my new favourite band. I was convinced that this was Stephen Malkmus in disguise; the new, improved Pavement for the modern age. A fabulous reflection on modern life, easy going but catchy music jangling behind clever, tongue-in-cheek writing that you can easily relate to (“sometimes I wonder if a single good thing exists on Earth … And then I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch”). The nonchalant, sarcastic delivery of the lyrics is what caught my attention when I first heard their 2019 album, Therapy Island, and I’m very happy to confirm that Emphatically No. keeps this up. Everyone should listen to this band.

Honourable mentions (EPs)

Our Boring Lives by Dog Eared

Dog Eared know that you don’t need to fix what isn’t broken – they put the ‘power’ in power-pop, playing fast, fun, pop-punk with influences from the greats like Green Day and Blink-182. Hailing from Dundee, I love that you can hear the Scottish accent busting through the bouncy melodies and harmonies. This catchy as fuck EP will have you singing along in no time.

Sick Day by Rest Easy

This 8-minute punch in the face is the debut EP from the Canadian four-piece. It’s fast, furious, and is packed full of melodic hardcore bangers and high-energy vocals. You don’t have time to come up for air from the second this EP begins, but with just four songs, you won’t be ready to resurface when it’s over.

Believe In Forgets by Homeground

The second EP from the French punk rockers, on KROD Records. More of that lovely melodic beard punk, and a mix of lyrics from positivity in Mountains, to reflections on the pandemic in Circles, and (what I think is) a tongue-in-cheek poke at the French habit of protesting everything, with the very catchy tune Constant Protest (“here we come with this French song, to protest like everyone complains about the weather”). I could be well off the mark there, though. Constant Protest was the first song I heard of theirs, it was on a playlist from KROD Records, and I went to listen to the whole EP straight after. 

Bone Idl by Bone Idl

Technically this was right at the end of last year, so probably wouldn’t have had much of a chance to make it onto last years’ lists, but it was also released on Brassneck Records in September of this year, so I’m counting it. High energy, melodic punk rock from Wales, with something a bit different. It’s beard punk, but not as you know it. Released on Brassneck so you knows it’s a good one innit butt.

The Lockdowns by The Lockdowns

This fun EP instantly screams Screeching Weasel with the opening track Dirty Mouth, whereas
Duck Tape and Super Glue is reminiscent of early Green Day mixed with Teenage Bottlerocket. Skeletons (probably my favourite track on this EP) gives off massive Alkaline Trio vibes, both musically and lyrically (again, with a touch of Teenage Bottlerocket). The EP finishes with a pop-punk belter Monsters.

I hope everyone has had as good a year as they could have, and that we’re all looking forward to Christmas and hopefully a more positive year in 2022.

A massive thank you to everyone who reads this list, and to everyone who reads and contributes album reviews and articles to the blog. I also want to thank Colin and Emma for not only wanting to involve me in CPRW, but also for being fantastic friends, excellent music libraries, and all-round great people. I can’t stress enough what a wonderful community Colin has built up with CPRW.

If you’re interested in the DIY punk scene, whether that’s UK or further afield, check out the rest of CPRW. There’s podcasts, album and gig reviews, articles, and more. Don’t forget to check out the socials – @colinsprw on Instagram, and I’m @lara_robs (beware, I post cat photos too).

Thursday, 23 December 2021

CPRW Top Ten Albums of 2021: Part 4

2021 was supposed to be the light at the end of the 2020 tunnel. There was some optimism for the worldwide vaccine rollouts (albeit at frustratingly slow rates in the non-First World) and news of some shows and festivals starting to take place, creating hope that things could return to some kind of normal. But ultimately new variants and travel restrictions eventually led to more of the same for many of us, except with fewer live streams this time.

Despite the difficulties of the past year, I am still super thankful to have made it through with my health, family and friends, and I’m hopeful that 2022 will bring with it better vibes and more live shows that I can actually attend.

I did not make it through the year on my own, so thank you to my favourite wife, Robyn, for all the support throughout the year and to the good folk here at CPRW for regularly providing me with a much-needed dose of reviews, as well as great playlists introducing me to a bunch of fresh music. As always, taking up the task of whittling down the list of releases to ten of my favourites has not been an easy one but it has been fun and I’m excited to see what everyone else picks as their favourites.

10. Nowhere Generation by Rise Against (Loma Vista Recordings)

Nobody is more surprised by this entry than me. I’m one of those Rise Against fans who considers The Unravelling and RPM to be some of the best hardcore melodic punk albums ever and pretty much most of what they’ve put out since then only serves to remind me of how good they used to be. Maybe I’ve grown up a little (probably), but something about Nowhere Generation just made me happy and brought me the kind of joy I haven’t felt with a Rise Against release in a long time. Sure, it’s less hardcore and more melodic, and the production is just as slick as you’d expect from Rise Against at this point, but none of this takes away from the dynamics and emotion put into some super catchy head-bopping songs.

9. We’re All Doomed by Avenues (SBÄM Records, Wiretap Records)

The latest addition to this list, Avenues, is a band I discovered while browsing the Wiretap Records webstore looking to buy some records. Even though it was unavailable on the site, I was convinced by the description of “classic skate punk singalongs, social justice, love/loss, and even nerdy video games” to add the album to my library and give it a listen. I was reminded of bands like Enemy You and The Fairmounts and was hooked from the very first listen. It’s only been in my library for a few weeks, but it has had a lot of play time already and as soon as circumstances allow, I will be putting in an order for the vinyl.

8. Noise Noise Noise by The Last Gang (Fat Wreck Chords)

Noise Noise Noise is the second Fat Wreck release for The Last Gang, and no matter your opinion on Fat Mike or his label, he does have a talent for picking bands and making them sound great. Brenna Red’s raw and distinct vocals sound better than ever. The tone of the bass guitar is one of the best I’ve heard all year and the production is just right. The Last Gang have essentially kept the ingredients that made their 2018 album, Keep Them Counting, so good and added more groove and reggae-ska into the mix to create a dynamic album that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

7. Dreamers by Chaser (SBÄM Records, Thousand Island Records)

If you listen to punk and need an injection of positive energy into your life, look no further than Chaser and their latest album, Dreamers. In spite of all the negativity we experienced in 2020/1, Chaser manages to deliver a message of optimism and resilience. Musically, the songs are still filled with the tight melodies, big hooks, punchy guitars, and speedy drum beats you’d expect from Chaser. The influence from 90s “EpiFat” punk bands is unapologetic throughout the album and the last song, in particular, features a number of references and serves as a tribute to the bands of that era.

6. Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense by Belvedere (Lockjaw Records, Thousand Island Records)

After being in the game for almost thirty years and a few line-up changes, Belvedere are still one of the bands that set the benchmark for skate punk against which all other bands are measured. The benchmark is moved a little higher once again with Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense. The complex melodies and lightning-fast riffs are perfectly executed and the crisp production showcases the talent of each individual band member. There are also some great guest spots from members of Less Than Jake, Wolfrik and Protest The Hero. Throw in the impactful and topical lyrics and you have close to the perfect skate punk album.

5. Fuck Art by The Dirty Nil (Dine Alone Records)

I don’t know what I expected when Robyn told me to listen to this new song ‘Doom Boy’ by a band called The Dirty Nil and played me this hardcore-esque intro, but after hearing the melodic verse (including the Turnstile namedrop) and catchy chorus I immediately wanted more. Fuck Art is packed full of melodies and lyrical hooks that are begging to be sung/screamed back at the band on stage. There is something for a fan of almost any guitar driven genre of music here, and will have even the most timid of fans bobbing their heads, singing along or shredding the air guitar in no time.

4. Twistin’ The Knife Away by Heart & Lung (Red Scare Industries)

I can’t remember how I came across Heart & Lung, probably through a CPRW playlist or recommendation, but it was well after the release of their 2017 album You Wanna Know The Truth. I thoroughly enjoyed that album and discovering them so late meant that I didn’t have to wait too long for a new full length. Twistin’ The Knife Away has at least as many catchy melodies and Fest-worthy sing-alongs as their previous outing, but with better production and tighter musicianship. There are hints of Dead To Me, The Dopamines and The Copyrights, so if you are a fan of any of those bands then I highly recommend Heart & Lung.

3. Glow On by Turnstile (Roadrunner Records)

A late introduction to Turnstile with Time & Space in 2018 made me an instant fan of their unique brand of hardcore and I eagerly anticipated the release of anything new from the quintet. Glow On is a natural progression for Turnstile but it also feels more bold, with genre-blending experimentation that is also in-keeping with the band’s hardcore roots. I’m pretty sure this album is going to be high on many end-of-year lists and I’m not ashamed to admit that my list is no exception.

2. Radical by Every Time I Die (Epitaph Records)

For the longest time, it felt like I just didn’t get the love for Every Time I Die. I had heard of them and listened to a few songs here and there but never really enjoyed it enough to commit to a full album. I decided to give Radical a try on its release day and now I can’t seem to get enough of it. The songs are so well crafted that you can’t help but feel the pure passion and intense aggression put in by the band. Becoming a fan so late also has the added benefit of allowing me to discover the band’s entire back catalogue, which is well worth the hype.

1. Ordinary Life by We Are the Union (Bad Time Records)

I have been a fan of We Are The Union since 2011 and have loved all of their previous releases. Ordinary Life, however, takes the band to another level and has ushered in the best sounding WATU so far. Reade and the rest of the band were able to find a new level of introspection with the lyrics while staying relatable and optimistic about self-acceptance. I knew from the moment I listened to this album back in June that it would be high on my end-of-year list. The songs are catchy and sincere, with enough ska, pop, and punk to keep this album in constant rotation and to make this my favourite album of the year.

If you liked my top ten, here are some other really great bands that released new music this year and which nearly made this list: Our Darkest Days, Catapults, Gibberish, On A Hiding To Nothing, and Douglas Firs.

If you’ve got this far, thank you! You might be interested in some other things I’ve enjoyed from this year:
One of the only live shows I attended with two of my favourite local bands Monday Morning Justice and Fuzigish.
EPs from Meet Me @ The Altar, Beach Bunny, Rest Easy, and American Thrills.
The Enemy You tribute by The Lillingtons. 
Propagandhi’s Today’s Empires Tomorrow’s Ashes reissue.
The Monday Morning videos and surprise live album from MXPX.
Mare of Easttown.
Watching Breaking Bad with Robyn.
The Formula 1 season but not the FIA.

To quote The Burnt Tapes, this year’s been a weird one…

Gigs came back eventually this year and live music reminded me once again how much I love and appreciate having music in my life, which was especially important for me as I spent much of this year just not really being all that into music. I do feel like this year has not had nearly as many releases as other years – of course, we all know why that is – but those that I have enjoyed, I’ve enjoyed a lot. My list doesn’t feature as many UK (or European) artists as previous years but I fully expect 2022 to make up for that. Also, there have been a lot of good US albums released this year, so I guess that’s just how it goes…

10. Death Of A Cheerleader by Pom Pom Squad (City Slang)

I know very little about Pom Pom Squad, but what I do know is that I discovered them at some point early this year (it might even have been last year) on one playlist or another – and I instantly loved what I heard. I didn’t know if Pom Pom Squad was a band or a solo project – I’m still not entirely sure – and I only just found out that they are based in Brooklyn, NYC. In June, I happened to see that they had a whole new album out and quickly added it to my listening library. Death Of A Cheerleader is a perfect blend of exhilaratingly raw riot grrrl energy and catchy pop sensibilities. It’s well thought out as an album with a smattering of electronic interludes and sample snippets that make the whole thing feel like it could be a soundtrack – about a badass feminist cheerleader who’s out to tear down the patriarchy, obviously.

9. To Bloom Is To Grow by Passionflower (Self-released)

This album would make my list for the track Neverland alone – which might just be my favourite song of the year – without even considering the rest of it (which is also very good!). Passionflower were a new discovery for me this year and they’ve fast become a band that I’m very excited about. Based in Warrington (UK) and fronted by Kyle Richardson-Nickle, Passionflower’s music is a wonderful combination of melodic emo and energetic post-hardcore. When I first heard them (with the aforementioned Neverland), I was instantly reminded of Funeral For A Friend who are probably my favourite band from the 2000s emo era, but that’s not to say that To Bloom Is To Grow is just a nostalgic rip-off. There’s definitely a freshness to Passionflower’s interpretation of emo and I’m all for it.

8. Matador by Burning Flag (Self-released)

I am not usually much of a hardcore fan, particularly on recording, but when the band is fronted by someone as inspiring and relatable to me as Holly in Burning Flag, I can’t help but pay attention. Matador is as ferocious and cathartic as it is thought-provoking, with songs tackling subjects of toxic masculinity and misogyny as well as the general dire state of Britain and its politics. Standout tracks for me are Man Up, Toxic By Design and Eat The Rich but the whole 30 or so minutes album is intense – in the best way. Hopefully 2022 is the year I get to see Burning Flag live, assuming I’m brave enough for a hardcore show!

7. Graceful Rage by Harmony Woods (Skeletal Lightning)

I almost forgot about this album when it came to putting together my shortlist but as soon as I hit play on the first track, Good Luck Rd., again it all came flooding back to me and I knew this had made my top ten. This is an album of heartache but instead of making you feel sad, it makes you feel empowered – particularly if you are a woman. The album is about processing grief and trauma but it feels like Harmony Woods are coming to terms with these feelings throughout the album and those experiences have just left them feeling stronger. Vocalist Sofia Verbilla’s voice is absolutely incredible, like jaw-dropping-ly good – they’re undoubtedly the ‘best’ vocalist of any on my list. It’s only when I’ve come to write about this album that I’ve realised just how apt its title is. ‘Graceful Rage’ really is the best way to describe these songs.

6. Bless My Psyche by Sincere Engineer (Hopeless Records)

2021 has been another year of new musical discoveries for me but it was also the year that one artist that I was already well acquainted with, Chicago’s Sincere Engineer, would release their much anticipated second album. The wait was finally over come September and, because the band had released a fair few singles in the run up to the album’s release, I already knew that Bless My Psyche was going to be great. I was not wrong. The album is a bit of a leap forward from their 2017 debut, Rhombithian, with perhaps a bit more of a polished full ‘punk’ band sound but it still retains elements of Deanna Belos’ acoustic roots – not to mention Deanna’s self-deprecating humour. The relatability and level of emotion packed into these songs is what makes it so appealing and the melodies throughout are pretty darn catchy too. I really hope I get to see Sincere Engineer live next year.

5. Ordinary Life by We Are the Union (Bad Time Records)

Confession time: I’d not really listened to We Are The Union before Ordinary Life was announced and the band released lead single, Morbid Obsessions. It was oh so catchy – the perfect balance of ska and pop punk – and, of course, told a very personal story for vocalist Reade Wolcott, coming out as a trans woman. It’s not something that I can relate to personally but I can certainly appreciate how powerful the message of the song is – I can’t help but think that it must be a huge comfort to trans folk in the ska and punk scene. Ordinary Life is the perfect blend of honest lyrics about dysphoria and heartbreak with hook after hook and catchy choruses a’plenty. There’s been a lot of great ska punk releases this year – this is one of many on the Bad Time Records roster alone – and this is certainly one of my favourites.

4. Call In The Mess by Nervous Dater (Counter Intuitive Records)

Due to it being released way back in February of this year, Call In The Mess must be one of my most-listened-to albums of this year – and I’m not sick of it yet! After getting into Nervous Dater’s previous album, 2017’s Don’t Be A Stranger, in a big way towards the end of last year, I was very pleased when I found out that I didn’t have long to wait for the follow-up. This is an album that I fully intended to write a full album review of earlier this year but, well, life got in the way. The album is full of fuzzy indie punk melodies and some of the most wonderful vocal harmonies, thanks to all three members of the band sharing singing duties throughout. I feel like there’s a fair amount of variety throughout Call In The Mess – not just due to the different vocalists – from the country flavours of Farm Song to the crunchy upbeat pop punk of Tin Foil Hat and Red String Map. There’s a lot to love here, for sure.

3. The First One by Andy B And The World (Pookout Records)

You might not know who Andy B is (former Fandangle and New Riot bass player), but I bet you’re aware of many of musicians who make guest appearances on this album – members of Less Than Jake, [Spunge], Random Hand, Call Me Malcolm and Lead Shot Hazard, to namecheck but a few bands. The First One is an album that has been over four years in the making and features over 130 different musicians from all over the world. But that’s not what makes this album so impressive, nor why it appears so high on my end of year list this year. What makes this album so great is quite simply how good the songs are. Genre-wise, The First One is first and foremost a ska punk album but there’s an awful lot more to it than that. There’s elements of folk, reggae and straight-up punk rock on show here and no two songs sound alike. Lyrically, the album tackles themes of mental health, friendship and politics – topics that I know are incredibly relatable in the world of punk rock and beyond. Despite the amount of guest musicians involved in this project, I can’t help but feel that The First One has fallen under the radar a little bit. If you haven’t listened to it, now is the time! You won’t be disappointed.

2. Swim Out Past The Breakers by Telethon (Take This To Heart Records)

Like Sincere Engineer, the new album from Wisconsin five-piece power-pop band Telethon was one I was very much looking forward to. You might think that greatly anticipating an album could lead to disappointment but that was never going to be the case with Telethon. They’re a band who are not afraid of doing things a little differently and somehow they still managed to surpass any expectations I might have had when they released Swim Out Past The Breakers in August this year. There’s so much going on throughout the 16 track album (side note: normally I would consider 16 songs to be far too many for an album but not here) that, despite having listened to it seemingly non-stop since its release, it feels like there are always new things to discover. It spans multiple genres and features a host of recognisable guest vocalists but each and every song manages to retain that iconic Telethon sound all the same. I was a big fan of their previous album, Hard Pop, in 2019 but this definitely tops it. Now I just need to get my mitts on the vinyl…

1. Like A Stone by Remember Sports (Big Scary Monsters, Father/Daughter Records)

Like A Stone is one of those albums that just makes me FEEL things. I can’t even really begin to explain what it is about the album that connects with me like nothing else that I’ve heard this year. The album was released towards the end of April and it was a time when I just wasn’t listening to much music at all. In a way, I’d fallen out of love with music and was finding solace, that I previously would have found in music, in books and podcasts instead… But then I listened to Like A Stone by Remember Sports and something just clicked. It gives me warm fuzzy feelings from start to finish and vocalist Carmen’s lyrics just seem to speak to my soul. Every. Single. Time. Sonically it’s a flawless combination of distorted indie rock riffs, melodic hooks and subtle harmonies with a surprising amount of country twang thrown in thanks to the addition of some banjo and pedal steel guitar. I haven’t heard nearly enough people talking about this band and this album (except for CPRW Marcus!) and I don’t get it. This album is amazing and I wish that everyone I know could get that.

BONUS: Bad Operation by Bad Operation (Bad Time Records)

I have to give an extra special shout out to the self-titled debut album from New Orleans’ new-tone punks, Bad Operation, which was released on 18th December 2020. It’s one of my most played albums of this year and, even twelve months later, I still just can’t get enough. If it had been released just a few weeks later then I have no doubt that this would appear very high on my top ten albums of 2021. I am very, very excited to see what this band does next.

Other albums that didn’t quite make the cut this year include The Battle Of by Bong Mountain, Dark Hands, Thunderbolts by Crazy Arm and Heat by The High Times.

There were also a load of brilliant EPs released this year that it would be remiss to not mention. My favourites were: Attempts At Understanding by Animal Byproducts, Blame Game by Beach Bunny, Hey Tori by Cherym, The Summer I Got Good At Guitar by Fresh and Saccharine by Pinkshift.

Bring on 2022!

So, last year, during the covid times of 2020, I felt like I was mainly sinking my teeth into my traditional comfort foods when it comes to music – that being political punk rock or emotional pop punk. So it felt like I didn't do a lot of listening to new music which wasn't all a bad thing but I felt like I was missing out on some new band. This year I went out of my way to do exactly the same again this year! Whoops! Maybe next year I will manage to push that comfort zone a little further but, regardless, I'm happy to talk about my top ten records of this year! 

10. Inside (The Songs) by Bo Burnham

Like lots of people this year, I watched Bo Burnham's Inside comedy special on Netflix and fell complete head over heels for a perfect blend of jokes, songwriting and life crippling introspection like we have never seen recorded before. Then, shorty after, I ended up downloading the songs from the special and can say that I have made more connections with the darker emotions portrayed in these songs than most other music this year. It's terrifying how well these songs explore the anxiety of being an artist during a pandemic and this currently awful world we exist in. It comes across as one of the most interesting records this year that I could easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys punk!

9. Hindsight Is The Sixth Sense by Belvedere (Lockjaw Records, Thousand Island Records)

This is record is the year’s face-melter stuffed with riffs to the brim,.Belvedere's new offering is everything you could hope for from one the masters of skate punk! This one feels like it has no off switch with every song being a perfect showcase of why skate punk musicians are not humans but gods of their instruments and writing songs where all that complexity blends perfectly together. My personal favourite were "Elephant March" for one of the coolest opening hooks of all year and "Camera Obscure" for its amazing harmonies! 

8. Nowhere Generation by Rise Against (Loma Vista Recordings)

"I'm gonna skip this one, it's finally the Rise Against album that isn't aimed at me" – That's what I thought when I heard the title track. But after giving the opening track a listen, I was reminded exactly why I'm still a huge fan of this band’s tight political punk rock that is still accessible to a wider audience and that Rise Against are still the best at making. Tim's voice at this point is a honed machine belting some of the best chorus hooks of this year. The track list is varied with songs like "Talking To Ourselves" appealing to new fans while "Broken Dreams, Inc" and "Monarch" are more skate punk in sound and speed! Honestly, this one feels like it blew the doors off my expectations and I'm stoked to have it on my list. 

7. Hearts Of Gold by Dollar Signs (Pure Noise Records)

This one feels rough around the edges in all the right ways. Dollar Signs make each and every one of their gruff pop punk songs feel super personal with brutally honest lyrics that border into too much information, with the confessions of weakness and stories that don't show them in the best light but it really makes them connect! The production and writing adds to the DIY feel which adds to the charm and honesty. "I Love You" is the most real love song I have heard this year. I loved this record from the first listen and it has just grown on me even more as the year has gone on.

6. [laughs] by Kali Masi (Take This To Heart Records)

My oh my! This one is special, I would be surprised if this one doesn't top everyone else's lists! Kali Masi have created this perfect pick of gruff punk rock slow jams tugging at heart strings like losing old friends might. I'm normally the person that avoids the slower release of the year but every single verse hook held my attention and the emotion rich texture of the vocals is so good. It is a perfectly produced record with nothing sounding out of place with some of the best builds and payoffs on this list.

5. CLOUDS (THE MIXTAPE) by NF (Self-released)

As usual I'm breaking Colin's Punk Rock World by putting a single rap album on my list! NF's emotion rich rapping style and dynamic almost movie soundtrack like beats have always been the big draw but on this record his lyricism and rhymes schemes have taken centre stage, creating some of the most unique and hard hitting songs I have heard this year. The storytelling throughout in "Story" and a Tech N9ne feature on "Trust" were my personal highlights.  

4. Our Hell Is Right Here by Drones (Lockjaw Records, Thousand Island Records)

Drones’ third full length solidifies the ground work done by "Exiled" with a confident step forward. Every song is a punk rock banger with a teeth kicking chorus to match and the drumming on this record and keep the blood pumping throughout! The production is super sweet blend where the guitars and drums sound powerful without overshadowing the big chorus hooks! Also "Lost In Translation" is easily my song of the year, I must have looped it about 20 times after hearing it for the first time and I will still happily listen to it on a loop for the bass fills alone!

3. Megabear by ME REX (Big Scary Monsters)

Megabear is the most ambitious record on this list. A 32 minute 52 song masterwork which is designed to be played in any order, perfect for the streaming age! This new release from ME REX has been the sound track to every late night drive, every sad evening and every dark night long inspiration search. It is full of call backs, perfect hooks, amazing lyrics and positively chilling chords. Like last year, they have brought me to tears of joy and I barely have the words to describe why. The party is never over but I don't really mind ’cause they are playing this record from the speakers and it makes me feel safe, happy and fulfilled! 

2. Beginnings by The JB Conspiracy (Everything Sucks Music)

Not a single wasted second is how I would describe this album. The JB Conspiracy sets a new bar for UK ska punk in perfection with every unskippable song being either a powerful pulse raiser or a flawless flowing singalong. Nothing falls out of place, all the instruments play their parts adding to the fullest sounding record I have heard all year and the vocals are belted out in amazing high ranges that complement the deep and powerful sound of the instrumentation. "Egos At The Door", "Battles" and "Head/Toes" is my favourite run of 3 songs ever with the transitions from one to the next being perfection. To top it off, getting to see JB play a handful of these masterpieces live in Bristol and London made this my solid number 2 pick of the year. 

1. Rare Americans 2 by Rare Americans (Self-released)

I can name every song off this record, I can sing you every hook on this record and, until this year, I had never heard a single song by Rare Americans but I'm now one of their biggest fans. They have captured the same energy as a later Streetlight Manifesto album with the story telling through the lyrics to back it up, without ever being able to tell what is coming up next. Each note played on every instrument complements, back-ups and improves every song – I can't fault it. There is a great deal of skill in making an album that seems to contain so many different sounds and style of songs, with them all fitting together. "Brittle Bones Nicky" is the best opening song I have heard in all year and "Berlin" is the best slow song. I get inspired every time I have listened to this record and I'm sure I will come back to it every year.