Another year is in the books and it’s time to engage in that long-standing music nerd tradition of the “best of” list. While the list format seems to imply there is some sort of science or coherent method, I shot from the hip. I flipped through the records I bought this year and if it felt right, I added the title to my (eventually very long) short list. Then I took that short list and narrowed it down to 10 titles that felt the most important to me. The 10 records below are the ones I spent the most time listening to, but it feels like there’s something else to it. This collection of records seems to speak to this historical moment. I’m struck by the fact that, while I like to think I have a pretty broad palette for music, noisy punk and hardcore dominates this list. Obviously, that’s a style I gravitate toward, but that music also feels important right now because we’re living in such fucked up times. The Tower 7, Horrendous 3D, and Fairytale records are the sound of the giant machine we all live within grinding its gears, teetering on the edge of breakdown. I can’t bear to listen to anything that sounds slick to me in these times because it feels like a farce… how can you live on that surface level when we are surrounded by so much death, sickness, and pain? Not that there isn’t beauty too, but the records that felt the most beautiful were fashioned from rougher, bleaker material.
Tower 7: Peace on Earth 12” (Roach Leg)
If I had to pick one record from 2021 as my favorite, it would either be the Tower 7 or the Morbo LP. Tower 7’s gritty, gnarly hardcore was the perfect music for this year. Yes, the record is currently hard to get, but that isn’t because they’re some kind of record collector hype band… it’s just because this is the music that everyone wants and needs to hear right now.
Morbo: ¿A Quién Le Echamos La Culpa? 12” (Cintas Pepe)
When you listen to Tower 7, you wander into the shit. When you listen to Morbo, you crack open a beer while sitting atop the rubble. While it’s gritty as fuck, it’s the one record on this list that gives me something like pure joy.
Horrendous 3D: The Gov. And Corps. Are Using Psycho-Electronic Weaponry To Manipulate You And Me... 7” (Whisper in Darkness)
Fast and fucked will always be cool, but slightly less fast and extremely fucked sounded great to me this year. No one did it better than Horrendous 3D.
Yleiset Syyt: Umpikujamekanismi 7” (Open Up and Bleed Recordings)
Like Morbo, Finland’s Yleiset Syyt has a classic sound that makes me feel like I’m young again, taking my first plunges into the depths of 80s hardcore.
Quarantine: Agony 12” (Damage United)
A record that hits you like a 300-pound linebacker.
Electric Chair: Social Capital 7” (Iron Lung Records)
Electric Chair rules so fucking much. Very stoked I got to see them live a couple of times too, because as good as their records are, you gotta see them in person to get the full experience.
Illiterates: S/T 12” (Kill Enemy Records)
This young band from Pittsburgh came out of nowhere and dropped this catchy, punky take on 80s hardcore.
Amyl & the Sniffers: Comfort to Me 12” (ATO Records)
This record is the outlier on my list, but I listened to it so much I had to include it. I’ve loved Amyl & the Sniffers since I first heard them, and I remain befuddled by how many people hate on them. Perhaps Comfort to Me clicked with me because the Sniffers have essentially turned into a hardcore band without losing any of the swagger or catchiness of their earlier records.
Fairytale: S/T 7” (Desolate Records)
Like a lot of the bands on this list, Fairytale plays noisy hardcore, but their music has this ethereal mystery about it I can’t get enough of.
Nervous SS / Ratcage: Skopje Vs Sheffield 12” (La Vida Es Un Mus)
This is an ideal situations where a split is greater than the sum of its two sides. I always start with Nervous SS’s assault of intricate, explosive riffs, for which Ratcage’s equally ferocious but more anthemic songs provide the perfect chaser.
As always, I bought a lot of reissues this year. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most. Many of them are as notable for their packaging as for the music (Neos, Neon Christ, the Worst, Partisans), some of them are pretty straightforward repros that arrived at the perfect time to take over my turntable (English Dogs, the Clean, Burning Image), while others introduced me to bands I never would have known about otherwise (Karma Sutra, Burning Image, Glitter Symphony).
- Spike in Vain: Death Drives a Cadillac 12” (Scat)
- Neos: Three Teens Hellbent on Speed 12” (Supreme Echo)
- Karma Sutra: Be Cruel With Your Past And All Who Seek To Keep You There 12” (Sealed Records)
- Hated: 4 Song EP / Pressure 7”s (Meathouse Productions)
- Nog Watt: Fear 7” (Final Doomsday Records)
- English Dogs: To the Ends of the Earth 12” (Bomb All Records)
- Neon Christ: 1984 12” (Southern Lord)
- Assault & Battery: The Complete Session, May 1981 12” (Alonas Dream)
- Burning Image: The Final Conflict 7” (Going Underground)
- The Clean: Tally Ho 7” / Boodle Boodle Boodle 12” (Merge)
- The Worst: The Worst of the Worst 12” (Radio Raheem)
- Glitter Symphony / Sizon: In Green Furs 12” (Meat House Productions)
- Artistic Decline: 4 Song EP 7” (Meat House Productions)
- The Partisans: Anarchy in Alkatraz / No Future Demos 80 82 12” (Sealed Records)
- Pyhäkoulu: In Retrospect 12” (Svart Records)
Make a zine! This list should be longer.
The “Short List”
Here is my “short list” of artists whose work I enjoyed this year. I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting and this list is already way too long, but here it is anyway:
Straw Man Army, Urin, Vivisected Numbskulls, Hologram, Algara, Suffocating Madness, Chain Whip, Mujeres Podridas, Sial, Psico Galera, Knowso, Slant, Smirk, Imploders, Gauze, Erik Nervous, 80HD, Canal Irreal, Headcheese, Reek Minds, Children with Dog Feet, SQK Fromme, Prision Postumo, Spread Joy, New Vogue, Collate, CDG, Reckoning Force, Personal Damage, GG King
I usually think of buying expensive old records as a source of shame rather than pride, but since everyone else is doing it, here are some items I acquired in 2021 that I think were pretty cool: