2021 Year End Top Tens, Part Two
Welcome to part two of MRR Year End Top Tens!
Part one is here, part three to follow next week.
Alex Howell is an Indianapolis-based punk, comics, and basketball appreciator. He’s been reviewing records for MRR for a little over a year and hosts the bi-weekly punk podcast/radio show Garbage in My Heart.
Another weird year in the books! Generally there are at least a handful of records that you know will pop up on multiple lists, but 2021 has produced such an excess of cool music that I honestly have no idea what others are gonna pick. Stoked to find out! Here’s my list in alphabetical order.
ARTISTIC DECLINE – Four Song EP reissue (Meat House Productions)
Meat House continues to dig up the best records from some of the more overlooked bands in the early SoCal scene, and this 1983 7″ from L.A.’s ARTISTIC DECLINE is one that deserved to be unearthed. Four bratty tracks from some dudes who heard those early SST records and were just like, “Nah, we’re good,” then continued playing trebly straightforward punk like it’s 1979. Great!
CDG – Unconditional EP (Domestic Departure)
If there was a company out there collecting data from my turntable that allowed me to market for them under the guise of reporting out my listening habits (preferably via cool internet slang), you’d get to see that this Portland project lived in my head rent-free this year. I’d almost certainly be in the top .05% of CDG listeners, with “Living Between” as my most listened-to song. My audio aura would be something like “academic but funky and kinda mean,” with one of my top genres being “UK DIY act paying tribute to that period of no wave where it hadn’t quite fully evolved into dance-punk.” Alas, I’m stuck just telling you. But trust me—CDG understood the assignment, and the tea is you should buy their record…and stop giving dumb companies free advertising!
GG KING – Remain Intact LP (Total Punk)
PREDATOR – Spiral Unfolds LP (Total Punk)
This is a joint entry because these records were released by the same label like six weeks apart, feature a lot of the same players, and can be covered by the same blurb: “Atlanta punk lifers drop their first LP in seven years and it’s just as essential as anything they’ve released!”
MESH – Mesh cassette (Born Yesterday)
Debut cassette from these artsy Philly punkers. Five tracks of garage-y post-punk that slot in somewhere between the FEELIES’ bookish jangle and the A FRAMES’ mechanical monotone. One of the smartest and most listenable releases of the year!
PARANOIAS – Napalm Springs EP (Helta Skelta)
Perth’s PARANOIAS are basically taking what I loved about that ARTISTIC DECLINE record, cranking up the treble and reverb, then playing everything faster and meaner. Just an incredible debut. Every punk record should sound exactly like this!
PRINT HEAD – Happy Happy & Hardcore Pop cassette (Discos Peroquébien)
Twenty-five no-fi DIY recordings that touch on nearly every niche sound that’s been explored in sub-underground rock’n’roll. One minute this guy, prolific Canadian weirdo Brandon Saucier, is giving you some boombox post-punk à la early INTELLIGENCE, and the next it’s trash-can TOM TOM CLUB. His approach is that no idea isn’t worth exploring for 30 to 120 seconds. In a lesser artist’s hands, this would end up a schizophrenic mess, but this dude’s knack for pop craftsmanship makes this one the year’s most compelling listens.
REARRANGED FACE – A Rare Caged Fern 12″ (Tomothy)
Two of my friends liked this record so much that they felt compelled to let me know. One called it great DEVO-worship, and the other said it sounded like a mix of GANG OF FOUR and DEAD MILKMEN. I didn’t really agree—to me it’s more RICHARD HELL and PERE UBU—but they weren’t totally off base. Regardless, the record is fantastic, and that it inspired such a wide range of comparison points is a testament to how these guys are wielding their influences to create something new rather than simply aping existing sounds.
THE SOCIAL LIES – Fuck the Scene / Kink Boy 7″ (Hovercraft)
Likely the punkest record to have come out this year and certainly the punkest thing recorded back in 1999—a surprise lost 7″ featuring one of my favorite artists, Brontez Purnell (YOUNGER LOVERS, GRAVY TRAIN!!!!). I can’t improve on Robert’s review of this, so just go read that!
SPODEE BOY – Rides Again… EP (Goodbye Boozy)
Connor Cummins (aka SPODEE BOY) shelved his egg-punk records, hopped onto his horse with a Silvertone slung across his back and a sack of peyote buttons in his poncho, and drifted out into the desert to find himself. He came back with this EP, which I assume he recorded at a seedy roadhouse on the edge of some salt flat. It sounds like a mix of COUNTRY TEASERS, CHEATER SLICKS, and DEMON’S CLAWS. It rules.
SPREAD JOY – Spread Joy LP (Feel It)
In a year where most independent labels struggled with major delays at pressing plants due to supply chain issues and a national mandate to crank out ADELE records, Feel It managed to have a banner year. My dude put out sixteen records. That’s nuts! Even more nuts—all of them are good, and a decent chunk are excellent. Like this SPREAD JOY LP—holy shit! Ten sub-two-minute tracks of nervy punk that’s equal parts Pink Flag-era WIRE, SUBURBAN LAWNS, KLEENEX, and ESSENTIAL LOGIC. It’s perfect!
I played guitar in Madrid’s Oi! and punk bands RUDE PRIDE, KIDS NEXT DOOR, and METRALLA, and bass in BRUTUS’ DAUGHTERS. Also, I write and coordinate content for Undergrounz Zine, even if this year we’ve been kind of lazy. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus regarding the punk scene this year, and with work, COVID, and all of that, I couldn’t follow new releases as much as I’d have wanted to. So this is really a list of the records I’ve listened to the most this year, listed in alphabetical order:
13SEGUNDOS – IV digital EP (self-released)
For me, 13SEGUNDOS is one of Madrid’s greatest hidden gems. I’ve always respected their commitment with their music and the local scene. And they can also play like crazy. Imagine a crossover between Spanish hardcore legends EL CORAZÓN DEL SAPO, RKL, and Swedish rock’n’roll bands in the vein of the HELLACOPTERS or the first TURBONEGRO. The guitar riffs are vertiginous and really well written, and the voice glues everything together. However, my favorite part is that you can tell how much they enjoyed recording it, and even when they are old as hell, when you listen to IV you can picture the teenagers they once were, listening to HIPERKORË for the first time, drinking cheap beer in a Moratalaz’s park, and talking about starting a punk band.
ATAQUE ZERO – Ataque Zerø 12″ (Static Shock)
Bogota’s Rat Trap house is always putting out new and original bands. ATAQUE ZERO is one of the recent ones, and I’ve really enjoyed their first EP. While most groups of their scene play unhinged hardcore, they’ve found a different sound, with a more ’90s punk rock approach. The Static Shock Bandcamp page compares them with HÜSKER DÜ and LEATHERFACE, and they have those kind of nostalgic, cold melodies, but they also remind me of Bay Area bands such as PELIGRO SOCIAL or RULETA RUSA. A killer album.
BOOTLICKER – Bootlicker LP (Neon Taste / Static Shock)
I love their previous releases, but this, their first LP, brings their music to a new level. I don’t know how to label it. For me, it’s a blend of the UK82 strength, a lot of D-beat, and also some Oi! attitude thrown in there. Like a more unhinged, on-amphetamine version of RIXE. The strongest part of the album is probably that gritty, raw, vintage texture in the sound. A hammer to the head.
CHAIN WHIP – Two Step to Hell 12″ (Drunken Sailor / Neon Taste)
If you love 2000s Canadian hardcore punk, this is your band. They have inherited the styles of SCHOOL JERKS, BRUTAL KNIGHTS, and CAREER SUICIDE, with their own approach. It’s fast as fuck, has a vintage sound, and the riffs can rip your head apart. What else could you ask for?
THE CHISEL – Retaliation LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
They were already in my top ten records from last year. This record has all of what the music of Oi! has been missing in recent years. It’s an album to listen to at the pub, just before going right into the picket line at the factory. The sound of a poorly-lit pool room in Peckham. There’s hardcore and UK82 thrown in there, but you can also hear a lot of BLITZ (that fucking riff in “Not the Only One”) and COCK SPARRER in the guitar licks of “Tooth and Nail,” with all the punch and attitude a record like this demands. A must.
FAZE – Content EP (11 PM)
This is the punk equivalent of the moment after an explosion: repetitive sounds, pure maelstrom, a sonic mess. But everything has a meaning, everything has its place. Simple riffs, rawness and a howl for a voice. They’ve hooked me since the first listen. In times of overproduced, artificial hardcore, this vein of primitive punk make me feel alive, it appeals directly to your guts. For fans of the almighty S.H.I.T.
GAME – Legerdemain 12″ (Quality Control HQ)
GAME is back with an EP that sounds like a cry of agony. The strong personality of Ola’s voice provides the band with a unique touch. She sounds like a true maniac shouting in the street with a megaphone, warning humanity that the end is near. The guitars are heavy and the production gives the sound a ’80s texture that I really enjoy.
NIGHTWATCHERS – Common Crusades LP (Lövely)
French punks have developed a really peculiar and recognizable sound these last few years. Like bands such as YOUTH AVOIDERS, SHORT DAYS, or SPORT, NIGHTWATCHERS play a clean style of punk: really fast, but with almost no distortion. That allows them to experiment more, make more complex compositions, and write great guitar riffs and sticky melodies. The first time I played Common Crusades, I listened to it in a loop four or five times. Give it a try.
RATA NEGRA – Una Vida Vulgar LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
The first time I ever listened to RATA NEGRA, I hated them with all my guts. But with the years, they grew on me, and now they’re one of my favorite bands from Madrid. Dark post-punk, with catchy melodies, bleak lyrics loaded with an obscure irony, and simplicity in the compositions, but in the best way possible. When I listen to Una Vida Vulgar, I feel nostalgic, like transported to a Madrid’s cold winter night, burned out street lights around me, smoking while I come back home from a punk concert.
TAQBIR – Victory Belongs to Those Who Fight for a Right Cause EP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
I think this was one of the most breakout bands of this year. I had the privilege to listen to their first rehearsal recordings, and I thought they sounded incredible, but I didn’t expect they would become so relevant so soon. I was wrong. There are just four songs in there, but it’s more than enough. A manifest against religion and fanaticism sung in Moroccan Arabic. Raw, weird hardcore punk, for true hardcore freaks.
Hi, I’m Billiam. I’m a dude in Naarm/Melbourne. I play in too many bands, which include DISCO JUNK, TOR, VERMINATOR, and my own solo stuff. I run Under Heat Records with my mate Lachie, and sometimes write a zine called Magnetic Visions. 2021 was awful and I hate myself more, but hey, I like punk rekkids and here are the ten that instantly popped out to me as the best.
CHERRY CHEEKS – Cherry Cheeks LP (Total Punk)
Watching Kyle slowly chip away at this record through audio clips on Discord and ironing out his sound from his 2020 demos, it was clear this was gonna be good, really fucking good. And by god, it is. This is the new standard to which all internet punk nerds should compare music made with a drum machine. Completely bouncing off the walls after consuming a cocktail of mushrooms and cockroaches, it’s the perfect soundtrack to roll around on the floor to while you fall apart at work.
TWOMPSAX – Disgusting Me Out cassette (Manic Noise)
TWOMPSAX is the most important band currently inheriting Earth. Cher says more in 20 words than I can say in 500, with her lyrics of unrequited frustration and self-loathing. Complete punk catharsis drenched in an analogue world of pure riff pleasure. Eight minutes of no-bullshit perfection. This is why I scour YouTube channels and put all my income into punk (I’m not putting Cher’s unbelievable solo album on here to avoid repeating myself, but if Disgusting Me Out didn’t come out this year, it would be riiiggghhhtt here).
DOG DATE – Child’s Play LP (Pop Wig)
After five years of teasing us with their full potential with demos and short albums, DOG DATE came out and made maybe the best pop record the punk rawk’n’roll world will see for a long time. Melodic bliss in screeching guitar harmonies and mind-melting drums, DOG DATE rocks out a hard-hitting and teeth-gritting example of why pop ain’t bad. Maybe if this record came out in ’94 and Geffen Records had pressed it to CD, it would be a conventionally classic album, but I’m glad It’s hiding among us freaks.
MAINFRAME – Employee / RIP 7″ (Goodbye Boozy)
Ya wanna talk supergroups wit me? Wanna talk about collaborations??? Why? We already figured out the best possible one. Shaun from DUMMY on the geetar and drum machine, Ishka from every Sydney band on bass and synth, and Billy from RESEARCH REACTOR CORP. on vocals. You wanna see the scientific proof? MAINFRAME. In four minutes, MAINFRAME blasts through an album’s worth of ideas, frantically bouncing off the wall as Billy has a panic attack on the mic. It’s a headache of sound with a sweet sense of pop that just boggles my mind.
EAT MAN – 1-800-EATMAN 10″ (self-released)
As many religious figures tend to do, EAT MAN died for your rock’n’roll sins to deliver their final breath in a record so good it justifies being on a 10″. Hyper CRAMPS worship in a pointy and thorny seductive tone, EAT MAN bangs out quite possibly their best songs followed by their incredible 2018 EP on one insane disc. Works equally well in a pleasure dome and a cage fight in the middle of a post-punk-run city, if that makes sense.
IT THING – Syrup LP (Marthouse)
Maybe the last great hoorah out of Tasmania we will ever get, IT THING takes the best elements of your parents’ AUS rock’n’roll discs and plays them at 500 RPM and tries to translate that onto a stage (in this case, a record). Charlotte’s vocals are spine-chilling and speaker-destroying, as the band cranks out sickness after sickness on the strings and tubs. At times oddly beautiful and at times strikingly angry, It just fucking rocks, man.
GHOULIES – Reprogram EP (Goodbye Boozy)
“No. Short. Songs.“ is the motto of Perth’s GHOULIES, and they make a compelling case for that philosophy with this wind-tearing record. I’m surprised the band members’ hands weren’t turned to dust from the sheer Mach-5 speed on here. Seven no fat, no filler tracks populate this absolutely monstrous alien-themed record, as GHOULIES grow into their own distinctly Perthian sound with teeth-tearing tunes about Rugrats and shitheads. What more could you want?
BLONDE REVOLVER – Red Ruby EP (Rack Off!)
Is BLONDE REVOLVER the ideal band? Probably. The first time I saw them I cheered so loudly I lost my voice before a gig and regretted absolutely nothing. Their debut EP allows me to continuously relive that day with their driving and crashing sound flipping up and around the tempo and emotional spectrum. It’s power, it’s energy, it’s the best damn thing. “I’m an alpha baby, and you’re a beta bitch. Ha.”
DR. SURE’S UNUSUAL PRACTICE – Remember the Future? Vol. 2 & 1 LP (Erste Theke Tontraeger / Marthouse)
Too many people got caught up trying to editorialize the political statement of this record, which is awesome. I want to violently murder Scott Morrison with a dull blade as well! But records are more than poetry, and Remember the Future? Vol. 2 & 1 backs up the statements with some of the best post-punk there is around. Violently stabbing and continuously building, Dougal is able to craft songs that build on one idea while throwing in another on the back, and stacking them up and up towards some sort of productive high whilst keeping the track moving forward in a daze of fury and fire.
2021 saw the return of live music for some lucky people. Not me—I broke my ankle just as venues started opening back up here in Philadelphia. So much like 2020, I spent a lot of time in 2021 cooped up at home listening to music and watching documentaries about cults. Here are just ten of the releases that caught my ear this year, listed in alphabetical order. A lot of these were recorded during plague times (not that the plague has left us yet), a period that feels all the more surreal to look back on. Here’s hoping better days are still ahead.
FAMOUS LOGS IN HISTORY – An Antenna for the Water Bottle Generation cassette (Fuzzy Warbles)
According to Bandcamp this came out on January 1st, so I’m going to say that counts. Anyway, I’m a sucker for that UK DIY sound, the shambling Messthetic aesthetic, and somehow I find it even more charming when it’s an American band pulling it off. “Wrong Tom,” the highlight, comes off like a Yankee version of the COOL GREENHOUSE.
HITS – Cielo Nublado LP (Paisley Shirt)
This Oakland group first appeared on my radar last year with their cassette Sediment Seen. Their full-length is softer, warmer than that was—it’s delicate, understated DIY pop along the lines of MARINE GIRLS or GRASS WIDOW or BONA DISH. If you’re inclined towards that kind of sound, Paisley Shirt put out a lot of great lo-fi bedroom pop records this year that made me want to pack up and move to the Bay Area (if there was any universe in which that’d be possible for me).
MARAUDEUR – Puissance 4 LP (self-released)
The second LP from this Swiss group (now located in Leipzig, Germany). Lots to love here. Detached vocals sung in English, German, and French; quirky stop-start rhythms; buzzing synths. Cool, angular, and occasionally sinister, reminiscent of KITCHEN AND THE PLASTIC SPOONS or their Swiss foremothers KLEENEX/LILIPUT.
MESH – Mesh cassette (Born Yesterday)
This is the second release from these Philly hometown heroes, who recently expanded to a four-piece and sound all the better for it. Smart and snotty and infectiously catchy. And shoutouts to singer/guitarist Sims Hardin for running the @u2_is_a_government_drone music review Insta and guitarist Allison Durham for hosting an excellent show on WKDU. Their recommendations make my life as a college radio DJ that much easier.
QLOWSKI – Quale Futuro? LP (Feel It / Maple Death)
Fierce, mesmeric post-punk out of London, where post-punk of that ilk is having a moment. Warm synths and propulsive bass lines create an expansive atmosphere reminiscent of classic ’80s bands like SAD LOVERS AND GIANTS or the CHAMELEONS. As one of two singers in the group, Michele Tellarini’s distinctive voice brings to mind Lawrence from FELT or perhaps Mark E. Smith—maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but it meshes wonderfully alongside Cecilia Corapi’s breezier vocals. I know I’ve cited a lot of ’80s groups here, but everything about QLOWSKI sounds modern and urgent.
SMIRK – EP 12″ (Total Punk)
This was a big year for SMIRK, the solo project of Nic Vicario (PUBLIC EYE, CRISIS MAN). He released an LP on Feel It in March, a compilation of their two 2020 limited-run cassettes. This EP of all new-to-2021 material was put out on Total Punk, and it rips accordingly. Anxious, wiry art-punk made especially for these times.
SPLLIT – Spllit Sides LP (Feel It)
Yet another Feel It release (I could have populated this entire list with records put out by Feel It this year). Possibly the most outré one they put out this year. Art-punk for true freak weirdos out of Baton Rouge, LA (home of the ZOOMERS). Spllit Sides is experimental through and through, but has a sense of liveliness and joie de vivre that makes for a fun and engaging listen. Brings to mind a friendlier version of the RESIDENTS or THIS HEAT.
SPREAD JOY – Spread Joy LP (Feel It)
Tight! The debut LP from this Chicago-based group, featuring members of NEGATIVE SCANNER and HUMAN BEAT. Vocalist Briana Hernandez shrieks and wails to great effect along slicing guitars and ticking drums. “Unoriginal” is aptly titled, as the main riff is purloined from WIRE’s “Three Girl Rhumba” (and I love them for this). Ten tracks in fourteen minutes, and not a second wasted.
THE UMBRELLAS – The Umbrellas LP (Slumberland)
Gorgeously crafted indie pop from (unsurprisingly) the Bay Area. They’re not reinventing any wheels here, but they do what they do excellently, hearkening back to classics like HEAVENLY, the first handful of PRIMAL SCREAM singles, or their early labelmates on Slumberland. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy and wistfulness here that’s present in all of the best jangle pop.
WOMBO – Keesh Mountain cassette (Fire Talk)
Upside-down technicolor avant-pop out of Louisville, KY. All four tracks here are perfect, bouncy and sugary sweet and effortlessly cool. Their 2018 LP Blossomlooksdownuponus was also reissued this year on Fire Talk.
Other artists that released something this year and could have easily made this list: THE TUBS, FAMOUS MAMMALS, THE WIND-UPS, THE SERFS, CHILD’S POSE, COCHONNE, FREAK GENES, GEO, PALBERTA, COLLATE, ALIEN NOSEJOB, POSITRONIX, PRINT HEAD, M.A.Z.E, WHY BOTHER?, FAKE FRUIT, SILICONE PRAIRIE, SNOOPER, + many more!
I’m from Monterrey, México. I play in some punk bands like CREMALLERAS and ROSAS ROTAS, and used to play in HETEROFOBIA and MÁXIMO FRACASO.
- DISTANCIA – Distancia digital (self-released)
When thinking about my top ten punk releases of the year, this was the first one that came to my mind. This band from Madrid has really fast/catchy songs and I also love the voice—sometimes it happens when you are listening to a band for the first time, you kinda expect some kind of voice, but this one is totally different from what I was expecting. Also, I have to be honest, one of the things that makes me love them more is that they are only two people, just guitar and drums, and I have a special thing for duos, cause I play in one, too.
- INYECCIÓN – Demo cassette (Discos Enfermos / Educacion Cinica / Planeta Destrozado)
This is seriously one of the best bands that I have listened to in a long time, a band with people from Argentina and Chile doing what I think punk should be like. Just to add more interesting facts to this band: they also play in other amazing bands like FÁRMACO, IGNORANTES, and ARGH.
- MONOBURRO – Vol. 3 digital (self-released)
This is the solo project from Pako Ramírez, a really great and talented friend from my city. He also used to play in REPTOIDS and some other great punk bands from Monterrey, México. I love that the sound and the lyrics of his songs totally make you understand what his art and drawings are all about; also it kinda reminds me of the SPITS and I fucking love them, too.
- HYSTERIC POLEMIX – Demo cassette (Roachleg)
This new band from New York just dropped this amazing tape some weeks ago, and it is so fucking great—it reminds me of a lot of things I love about anarcho-punk/post-punk bands from the ’80s.
- BARRERA – Visiones Nocturnas 12″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Most of my favourite punk and pop bands are from Spain, I think they have a really special touch when it comes to music and this band has all the stuff that makes me fucking crazy about Spanish bands: it’s obscure, it’s crude, it’s punk.
- TAQBIR – Victory Belongs to Those Who Fight for a Right Cause EP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
I’m just gonna say this record should be in every top ten of this year.
- ALGARA – Absortos en el Tedio Eterno LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Another band from Spain that just put out their first record, and it’s brilliant from the first til the last song. I love how every song is totally different from the other, I just fucking love them.
- ARGH – El Silencio de los Cromagones EP (Planeta Destrozado)
Planeta Destrozado kills it again with this release. You just need to look at the art of this record to know it’s gonna be incredible. Four great hardcore punk tracks from Temuco, Chile.
- ¿LA PREGUNTA? – Prototype CS (self-released)
Weird punk band from L.A. I really love the five songs on this EP—one of my favourite things in a punk band is when you can dance while screaming things that you can relate to. If you love synth punk, electro-punk, and electroclash, I’m sure this one is for you.
- NUOVO TESTAMENTO – New Earth LP (AVANT!)
I remember I was at a party, and then my friend put on a song from this band and I didnt know them at that time, so I asked her who they were and after that day, I started listening to this record almost every day. Total ’80s vibe, a perfect album, definitely one of the best releases of this year.
EHIMA AND KAI
Ehima and Kai are two Londoners from different sides of the Thames. Ehima plays in ELECTRIC FIRE and KISS CRAZY NIGHTS, and Kai plays in NEKRA and CHILD’S POSE. They do a radio show together for Maximum Rocknroll.
GAME – Legerdemain 12″ (Quality Control HQ)
Best in the world. I love this band. People were crazy, dancing too much at Damage is Done. I interviewed Ola for our radio show. She wears crazy clothes on stage.
K-DOG – She Miss Me digital (Heart n Soul)
K-DOG is my friend. He’s good. His music makes me happy. I like the song with Dean Rodney Jr.
TAQBIR – Victory Belongs to Those Who Fight for a Right Cause EP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
This record takes you on the wildest of rides. I’m so glad it has got the vinyl release it deserves, even though I missed out on picking up a copy. “Aisha Qandisha” is my favourite song.
ELECTRIC FIRE – Rehearsal in South London, November 2021
So good. I felt really comfortable, and we played some new songs that we had made on Zoom during the pandemic. Alicia wrote the lyrics, and they’re really good. It felt good to see my friends, and we will go on tour again soon. It’s fun music, you can dance to it and feel happy. Tomas, Richard, and Kai were dancing, and I had Jamaican food for lunch.
CHILD’S POSE – Eyes to the Right EP (Thrilling Living)
This is Kai and Richard’s band. Richard can play drums and guitar, and in this band, he plays guitar. I like the way they make me feel so happy, and the singing voice sounds funny.
SIAL – Zaman Edan 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Two new songs from these Singaporean legends. I think this is my favourite release of the year. I’m not good at talking about music so I can’t tell you why in a succinct and poetic way, but just trust me on this. This record really moves me, and I’m so happy that these people make music together.
SPECIAL BRANCH – Lethal Force demo cassette (PMT Recordings)
Unbelievable punk duo from Dublin, now potentially a fully fleshed-out live band who mashed up di place at Damage is Done II. Lyrics prompted me to go down a two-hour YouTube hole to educate myself about the history of policing in Ireland and the verdict is in—the coppers are still bastards.
CDG – Unconditional EP (Domestic Departure)
On the nose, but life is too short to beat around the bush. Really fun basslines. I enjoy dancing to this while holding my cat in my arms.
V/A – Heart n Soul at the Hub Music Jams digital (Heart n Soul)
William played trumpet. They’re good songs on this album, and he’s a good guy. Lots of people worked together on different songs—Ehima, Lizzie Emeh (Rest In Peace), Alicia, Sam. Everybody come together and have a good time. I like the songs “Black Lives Matter” and “Happy Inside.”
ZULU – My People… Hold On / Our Day Will Come LP (Flatspot)
This is a compilation record made up of their two raging EPs. I’m rooting for everybody Black. Anaiah is one hell of a frontperson, and I hope I get to see them live. Ehima says he has a cool afro.
Well, my outlook since last year hasn’t changed much. I’ll just say: stay creative, and cancel everything that offends you, disrespects you, and takes advantage of you (this includes any person and any corporation). Take your free time back without feeling obligation or discomfort. Say what you mean and say it immediately. I’m in my forties and I am still learning all of this. The last couple of years have been very difficult for all of us, but I think and hope it has taught us all to be more compassionate but also a bit more self-respectful, and dare I say selfish, in the ways that build you up without stepping on anyone. And on to my essential 2021 reissues! SIEKIERA – Demo Summer 1984 LP, DOOM – Doomed From the Start LP, DOOM – The Complete Peel Sessions LP, TOTALITÄR – Ni Mast Bort! and Sin Egan Motståndare LPs, DEVASTATION – Fucking Bastards Demo cassette, MANKIND? – Discography LP, EXCREMENT OF WAR – Cathode Ray Coma LP, HEADCLEANERS discography!
My top ten of 2021, in no particular order other than as memory serves:
PERVITIN – Demo cassette (self-released)
Classic dual-vocal, crust-as-fuck existence from Tampere.
TAQBIR – Victory Belongs to Those Who Fight for a Right Cause EP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
SLANT – 1ì§‘ LP (Iron Lung)
A grooving gut-punch from Seoul.
SVAVELDIOXID – Första Dagen Efter Sista Bomben LP (Phobia)
Proper ScanD-beat Vevarsle.
G.A.Z.E. – Sielun Tuli demo CS (Young Guns 2)
Super Dimensional Hardcore from Helsinki. Pysch-punk terror insanity.
HORRENDOUS 3D – The Gov. and Corps. are Using Psycho-electronic Weaponry to Manipulate You and Me EP (Whisper in Darkness)
Portland spaced-out cruster outsiders.
SISTEMA EN DECADENCIA – Nuestro Legado 12″ (Hardcore Victim)
Australian raw noise in Spanish. LP supports Colombian civilian prisoners and decries brutality by the police.
NERVOUS SS / RAT CAGE – Skopje vs. Sheffield split LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Who won? How does it end?? I’m still not sure.
CLOSED MOUTH – Before The Dream Faded LP (Icy Cold)
Coldwave gloomy ambiance from France. Speeding up to a dance pace for no one.
RUDIMENTARY PENI – Great War LP (Sealed)
They do not care if we like this record, and it shows.
GOLPE – La Colpa É Solo Tua LP (Sorry State)
Milan activist punk Dis-honorable mention / Italian D-beat hardcore fire.
SCIENCE MAN and @SwimmingFaith in Buffalo, NY.
In alphabetical order:
ALIEN NOSEJOB – HC45-2 EP (Iron Lung)
I loved ALIEN NOSEJOB’s Once Again the Future Becomes the Past LP last year, and this EP is a direct continuation of that. Fun as fuck, fast as hell, and played with a smiling, reckless abandon that makes you think Jake (sole member of ALIEN NOSEJOB) musta been having a goddamn blast writing and recording these jams. Loaded with unexpected turns and truly original guitar shredding.
CHAIN WHIP – Two Step to Hell 12″ (Drunken Sailor / Neon Taste)
Nasty, high-flying, hard-hitting punk with a wink and a mischievous grin. Like having fun doing bad kid stuff. I was trying to tell my friend Biff why I liked it so much and I realized it’s because I think their singer sounds exactly like Roddy Piper going off during a pre-match hype interview… but, ya know, fronting a ripping hardcore band.
THE DRIN – Engines Sing for the Pale Moon cassette (Future Shock)
Experimental music that didn’t just throw traditional songwriting out the window and assume the hard work was over. Being able to present a sonic smorgasbord of styles over the course of one album and still sound undeniably like yourself is an impressive feat. Krautrock, post-punk, coldwave, dub, industrial, synth-whatever. They throw it all into a blender and not only avoid having it turn into a boring brown sludge, but make it glow unique and new. Go buy the tape and pre-order the new SERFS LP.
HOLOGRAM – No Longer Human LP (Iron Lung)
I tell people all the time that I hate “tough” hardcore but looove scary hardcore, and this record is like running for yer life through the woods at night. My first listen, I basically blankly stared forward with my mouth hanging open like I was watching an alien monster giving birth. This is enigmatic, genre and mind-bending hardcore. It’s a terrifying fifteen-minute sprint that demands multiple listens to unravel. I love it.
ILLITERATES – Illiterates LP (Kill Enemy)
Because I have to periodically look these guys in the eye, I won’t crawl too far up their jeans here, but fuck…this record rules! Furious, ripping, “both arms pounding up in the air while screaming yes!” hardcore that, just like the lyrics, can only be made with pure, dumb, honesty. Chock full of memorable hooks, there is not a single wasted second in its thirteen-minute run. It is tough but blended perfectly with the manic joy that comes from releasing this kind of energy. Not some macho, posturing, tough guy jock shit energy. I’m talking about some “burning the couches out back” energy that can only be made by regular-ass idiots who have been shit on by life plenty of times. My top ten is in alphabetical order, but if you held a plate of olives (gross) up to my face, I’d tell you this is the real number one.
MONONEGATIVES – Apparatus Division LP (Big Neck)
Raw, lo-fi, and noisy while keeping the punk in synth-punk their focus. Splashes of power pop, first wave classics, and knowing damn well all about the whole “egg” thing. The fact that these scrappy jams cut through a suddenly crowded genre and make for an original record that refuses to get lost under the shadow of modern giants is the real triumph. Well done, boys. I even love the artwork.
PILGRIM SCREW – Pilgrim Screw cassette (Impotent Fetus)
Freaked-out industrial synth punk from Olympia, Washington. It feels like a side project experiment between friends, and I mean that in the best way. It takes chances, it isn’t overworked or worried about. Layers of noise, drum samples, scrambled loops, an arpeggiator with a cranked up BPM, someone just grabbed the mic and started improv howling. Think like a modern THROBBING GRISTLE raised on ’90s industrial and dark club music.
PUBLIC ACID – Condemnation EP (Beach Impediment)
A hurricane of boundary-bashing hardcore in ten minutes. Relentless, raw, maze-like chaotic riffing being propelled by explosive drums with a totally unhinged madman spewing through the storm. It’s like watching a giant black balloon inflating to impossible size, and just when you think it’s about to burst, here comes a face-melting twelve-second guitar solo to pump it up even more.
SMIRK – LP LP (Drunken Sailor / Feel It) + EP 12″ (Total Punk)
I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I didn’t wanna like this LP at first (I was very sold by the time the EP came out). Killer songwriting, full of snotty energy, with a perfect balance of jittery garage punk, lo-fi bluesy rock’n’roll, and weird solo project experimentation. Songs so instantly memorable you almost wanna jump up to check if it’s actually a cover. And you can dance to it?! Hot damn. Maybe I was just being a hater? I guess in this small world of whatever punk is these days you shouldn’t be afraid to like something just cuz it’s getting a little hype in the bubble. Instead you should be pumped to finally have more people to talk with about cool music, right? This is two of the best in one year.
5 favorite music discovery platforms:
Tremendo Garaje — The people’s champion of YouTube channels.
Sonic Overload – Al Quint’s radio show.
Sorry State Records newsletter – Yea it’s a business, but they are doing the lord’s work with those awesome write-ups.
Julian Moore – Anytime you see this guy’s icon under a Bandcamp release, you know it’s worth checking out.
You – Every time you share a band on yer Instagram account, hyping up some weird new noise you found. I love that shit.
20 Honorable Mentions / Possibly Even Better:
BABY TYLER – Vol. 2 cassette
THE BEATLES – Live From the Military Industrial Complex cassette
BOOTLICKER – Bootlicker LP
ELECTRIC CHAIR – Social Capital EP
EYES AND FLYS – Buffalo / The Right Place 7″
GIMMICK – Needle Caps EP
HEADCHEESE – Headcheese LP
IMPLODERS – Dimwit EP
JUICY CRACK MEDIA – Spatial Dee & The Yuckmyn cassette
LAUGHING GEAR – Freak Lemons LP
LITTLE ANGELS – Demo cassette
MESH – Mesh CS
NASTI – Life is Nasti LP
PSICO GALERA – Le Stanze Della Mente LP
THE SERFS – Angelic Ritualistic Cruelty EP
SLANT – 1집 LP
SPREAD JOY – LP
URIN – Afekt EP
WEREWOLF JONES – Terminal Velocity cassette
WRISTWATCH – Wristwatch LP
Luke Henley is a cinema programmer, writer, and musician based in New Mexico.
ALGARA – Asbortos En El Tedio Eterno LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
One of the most self-assured full-length debuts maybe ever. Time will tell. Destroy the state and shake your ass.
ELECTRIC CHAIR – Social Capital EP (Iron Lung)
Certainly my most listened-to hardcore 7″ of the year (and this year was full of good ones). Faster than everything and mean as hell. Perfection.
THE EXBATS – Now Where Were We LP (Goner)
One of my favorite contemporary guitar pop bands, and they just get better every record. If they could keep putting out a record a year I could live another century.
LIQUIDS – Life is Pain Idiot cassette (self-released)
This band just gets better with every release. Just lo-fi enough but scrubbed up a bit which does wonders to showcase the top-notch songwriting.
POISON RUρN – Poison Ruïn LP (Urge)
Such a smart synthesis of elements I love on their own but wouldn’t have put together myself. Long live weird blackened dungeon punk.
SARCASM – Creeping Life 12″ (Static Shock)
A beautifully packaged send-off for a band I’ll be truly sad never to hear from again. Labyrinthine and snappy songs for the apocalypse.
SMIRK – LP LP (Drunken Sailor / Feel It)
So smart and disaffected but never too brainy as to be off-putting. This is how I like to rock.
DEAD FINKS – The Death and Resurrection of Johnathan Cowboy LP (Erste Theke Tonträger / Urge)
Imaginative expansion of the punk palette, but mostly just a really satisfying listen. Great melodies, emotive singing, but hits hard when it needs to. Some of the prettiest punk songs I heard this year.
GENTLEMAN JESSE – Lose Everything LP (Beach Impediment)
I can’t believe the end of the year brought us a new GENTLEMAN JESSE record. It lacks the self-confidence that personified the other two full-lengths in his discography, but that may honestly be what drew me in. This is a record about trying to pick up the pieces and uncertainty. Gorgeous songwriting, full stop.
GIMMICK – Needle Caps EP (Sorry State)
Probably my favorite production of the year. The drums sound so bizarre and just drive the whole miserable affair along. Furious, glorious. I love it.
MICHAEL DE TOFFOLI
Michael from the North Bay has been contributing to MRR since 2015 as a columnist, reviewer, and as the host of his remote radio show for MRR Radio. xLA=>SR=>SF=>PDXx
This was kind of a lost year for me. The world started getting more comfortable going outside again, which made me self-conscious and pushed me deeper into my cocoon. The positive side is that I still got to experience the world through these records, so this year I’ll be describing them as the locations that they sounded like. The locations that I wasn’t ready to visit.
STRANGERS FOREVER – Waiting for Better Days digital (self-released)
It was really refreshing to hear a coming-of-age-sounding record during a year when it felt like the world was still struggling to start again. Waiting For Better Days is a “beers on the porch” record, as everyone rolls through so we can all go to the show together.
INDONESIAN JUNK – Living in a Nightmare LP (Spiderbite)
Living in a Nightmare sounds like how a warm Midwest bar feels. I listened to it alone in my room, but I still stood against the wall with a tall can in my hand to replicate the experience.
V.D.I. – Idem cassette (Discos Corrosivos)
It’s funny to think of a ferocious hardcore record like Idem as being “comforting,” but (especially over the summer) I felt like this record brought some sunlight back into my room. Warm 40s at the skate park kind of sunlight.
LUZ DE GAS – Luz De Gas cassette (Iron Lung / Junko)
Band practice was something that I’ve really grown to miss. LUZ DE GAS is raw and personal enough to sound like the last band practice before a show when everyone’s playing their hardest and hoping that what’s being made here in the garage will be just as good on stage.
THE MICROBES – Peace & Love cassette
Peace & Love doesn’t sound like a record I’d find. It sounds like a tape that I’d see on the shelf at a friend’s house and they’d be really excited that I asked about it. Their friend’s band. Their friend that I met once and I was impressed with how confident they were, and not surprised that their effortless genuine coolness translated to their music.
HAZARD PROFILE – Slime EP (Sanctus Propaganda)
Definitely a record that would be playing at the cool record store in town. The type of record that you’d wait and hear the whole thing before asking the person behind the counter who it is and they’d tell you that one of the members is also in PI$$ER, because of course they’d also be in an amazing band like PI$$ER.
EXIL – Warning LP (Armageddon)
Warning would absolutely be blasting out of a buddy’s car as they picked me up to go to the tiki bar in the afternoon. It feels like standing still, and then entering something moving much faster than the day has been up until this point.
ANNO OMEGA – Magia cassette (Sentiero Futuro Autoproduzioni)
ANNO OMEGA sounds like the type of band that would set up somewhere weird at the house show, like in the kitchen or the bathroom. We’d all be in the hallway during their set, trying to peek over each other’s heads to see what instrument is making those sci-fi sounds.
ALIEN NOSEJOB – Paint It Clear LP (Anti Fade / Feel It)
This would be on the turntable at the house party and one or two people would feel comfortable enough to get off the couch and start dancing on the living room rug. One of those comfortable environments where everyone’s buzzed and totally non-judgemental, so even us shy introverts could bounce around and still feel like we’ll be left alone if we want that space.
CHAINSAW GIRL (EP release show), KILL MICHAEL, RHODODENDRON – live at Honey Latte, Portland, OR, October 23rd
This was the only show that I got to go to this last year. Honey Latte shows are incredible. They use their loading dock as a stage and the crowd is in the parking lot underneath, so outdoors and open enough that everyone can give each other their six feet. I could feel that all three bands had a lot pent up and they purged it all. Definitely one of the most memorable shows of my life so far.
2021 was a weird one. Celebrated the tenth year of running Total Punk and the birth of a baby girl. After spending my entire adult life being responsible for no one other than myself, I became a stay-at-home parent and spent my days cleaning diapers and caring for a toddler. As a result, my listening habits changed quite a bit. There’s been much less cranking records and a lot more blasting headphones. Most of the stuff coming out of my phone this last year was Total Punk-related, but here’s the stuff I didn’t put out that I dug this year.
BEEX – The Early Years LP (Beach Impediment)
Excellent LP compiling the Richmond, Virginia band’s first two singles as well as unreleased tracks from both 7″ sessions, including the absolute killer “Guyana.” It blows my mind that this song sat on a shelf for almost 40 years. Christina Gibson is a top-notch belter, and if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, Beach Impediment has done a second pressing so it’s not too late.
V/A – Heroes of the Night LP (Reminder)
If you haven’t been paying attention, it’s time to put Reminder Records on your radar. Every reissue they have done in the last eighteen months is an essential purchase, and their first entry to the compilation game keeps the bar high. Heroes of the Night compiles tracks from female-fronted UK and Irish punk and power pop singles released from ’79-’83. Worth it for the GLASS TORPEDOES song alone. Here’s hoping for a Volume 2.
V/A – Standing in the Shadows, Vol. 1 LP (Mean Bean)
What can I say, I’m a sucker for comps and Mean Bean’s new series has got me hooked. Standing in the Shadows compiles tracks from obscure North American power pop singles of the late ’70s early ’80s. Mean Bean has already released a second volume, and look for a third in 2022.
GEROS – Weird Dance 12″ (Debauch Mood)
Osaka, Japan’s GEROS put out three essential KBD-style rippers over the last couple years and knocked it out the park with their debut 12″. Bummer punk vibes, jagged guitars, and killer riffs make for a total punk stomper!
TOTAL HELL – Total Hell 12″ (Goner)
Thrash metal supergroup featuring members of SICK THOUGHTS, STATIC STATIC, MANATEEES, and TRAMPOLINE TEAM. Four tracks of punk-edged metal riffage that lives up to the sick cover art.
VIRVON VARVON – Mind Cancer 12″ (Girlsville)
Released on tape a few years ago and finally getting the vinyl treatment in 2021. Top-notch hooky garage punk from the UK featuring members of BLACK TIME, WAKE UP DEAD, CANDY HIGHWAY, and JAZZ JUNE.
SMIRK – LP LP (Drunken Sailor / Feel It)
Wiry, hook-filled punk project from Nic Vicaro (PUBLIC EYE, CEMENTO, CRISIS MAN). Nic along with Kyle Harms (CHERRY CHEEKS) are my two favorite punk songwriters right now. One listen to “Eyes Conversing” or” N.W.O.” and you’ll be singing them for days. I think the 12″ he did for me is equally as great, but it would be tacky to include my own release in a year-end list.
WRITHING SQUARES – Chart for the Solution 2xLP (Trouble in Mind)
Absolute monster expansive 2xLP from Philadelphia’s WRITHING SQUARES. Kraut rockers, synth drippers, sax freak-outs, and STOOGE-y riffs galore.
JOHN DU CANN – The World’s Not Big Enough LP (Just Add Water)
ATOMIC ROOSTER guitarist JOHN DU CANN recorded an album of hard-rockin’ punk boot stompers in the late ’70s that was unreleased until the ’90s, and never released on vinyl til this year. Thankfully, Just Add Water put the work in, because no other record sat on my turntable more than this one. Word is there is a second LP of DU CANN stuff from the same period coming out on Just Add Water next year.
SCREAMERS – Demo Hollywood 1977 12″ (Superior Viaduct)
No-brainer here. After twenty years of listening to poor-quality boots of the SCREAMERS demos, Superior Viaduct did the impossible and released an official 12″ sourced from the original reel-to-reels and it sounds amazing.
Ryan Hertel was a shitworker and record/zine/book reviewer for MRR for a few years in San Francisco. He’s now living in Portland, OR and collecting hobbies while working as a funeral director. See him do things on Instagram @RyanRHertel and follow his weirdo movie obsession on Letterboxd @NudityExplosion.
We’re all doing somewhat better in 2021, right? Are things getting better? For a while, can we at least try to pretend things are getting better, just a little bit? Please? Here are some things:
Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution book (PM Press)
This new book companion to the documentary from 2017 is an even deeper dive into the history of queer punk rock, and I’m a sucker for anything that contains mentions of VAGINAL DAVIS. This is a history that is both fun and necessary to dive into in as many formats as you can. It will also force you to go out and grab a whole lot of records.
CALYX – Stay Gone LP (Chumpire / Ethospine Noise / Salinas)
Machine gun drums, loud-ass guitars, and strained vocals on an aggressive pop punk tune give way to cymbal heavy, lightly-strummed, and dream-vocalled slow-downs and back and forth for the length of this one. You’ll never know what you’re about to get, and you can just soak in the comfort of knowing it will be rad regardless. I needed this phenomenal Pittsburgh pop punk in my life.
NOFX – Single Album LP (Fat Wreck)
It’s a lot darker and sadder than we’re used to from NOFX, but if you’ve been feeling super fun and happy the last couple years, I am confused by you. “I Love You More Than I Hate Me” feels too right.
POTTY MOUTH – 1% Happier 8″ (Get Better / Hocus Bogus)
Of course POTTY MOUTH broke up this year. Nothing good can stick around. Latch on to this wonderful last collection of four tracks, because we’re not getting any more. You can feel the fully refined awesomeness spewing out of this swan song, a natural progression after their incredible SNAFU LP from 2019. It’s just a real kick in the mouth that we won’t be seeing what could be next.
FLYING RACCOON SUIT – Afterglow LP (self-released)
Sometimes you just want a band of seven people in Mississippi to blast ska at you. That is an acceptable mood that I felt this year. It’s okay to want that. You may even find yourself having a good time, and tapping your toes to this one, which is a state that I’d almost forgotten about after dealing with the reality of existing during the last couple years. It’s nice to want to tap your toes sometimes.
REGIONAL JUSTICE CENTER – Crime and Punishment 12″ (Closed Casket Activities)
This is just some really good hardcore that came out this year. It’s that simple. It’s very good, and it’s nice to have it around.
ON THE CINDER – Sedentary Escape EP (Flower House)
This band is the 2021 answer to melodic hardcore. This trio hits some fun STRIKE ANYWHERE and LIFETIME feelings while still feeling current. There are some very visceral urges to flail and try to have a good time that are summoned on the seven tracks of this rad EP. I’ll keep this on reserve for an antidote to the bad times.
PINKSHIFT – Saccharine EP (self-released)
I am a sucker for when bands sing about smoking cigarettes and/or have a brief moment of complete silence after the singer yells the word “stop,” which PINKSHIFT does on “Mars,” the first song of this EP. The vocalist, Ashrita, channels angst in a full and deep way, perfectly rounding out the strings and drums to form a complete sonic commotion that feels really important. Solid releases like this keep me looking forward to another year, and seeing what could top them.
PORCUPINE – The Sibyl 12″ (New Morality Zine)
This is some heavy and scorched hardcore for the person who has been holding on tightly to SEVERED HEAD OF STATE’s No Love Lost EP for the last twenty years. That person is me. I’m glad this exists. It doesn’t hurt that they dabble in doom metal on the final track, “The Kingdom of Heaven,” either.
THE HOMELESS GOSPEL CHOIR – This is a Protest Song LP (A-F / SBÄM)
We’ve gotten a lot of great records from this Pittsburghian with a guitar, but this year we finally got a home version of the awesome live show. These songs at least show that there is some humor in our despair. Hearing a mash-up of the “this is a protest song” statement that you’ll hear a dozen or so times at every live performance is also just a treat for any long-time listener.