2021 was great year in music! Solid release after solid release made this year’s list one of the hardest to put together in TFN’s 15 year history. 2021 brought us plenty of surprise entries, more psych rock, an excellent new London scene, modern soul, good old indie rock and simply something new and interesting for everyone to check out. Thanks again to our writers and readers for another stellar year on the web and we hope everyone stays safe and has a nice holiday season.
Mesmerised is the eighth long-player to date from the Japan based groupThe Routes. The band is exactly why the quote “rock n’ roll can never die” exists. Mesmerised is a blast of sixties-influenced garage beat rock that has a DIY approach with its brashness, high octane energy and raw delivery. Stomping drum beats and rhythmic riffs fill these tracks and The Routes are always in high gear. Mesmerised wears its heart on its sleeve and it is a better album for it as The Routes easily provided one of the best sounding garage rockers this year!
David Settle was on a hot streak for releasing music this year as the Philadelphia musician is responsible for The Fragiles back in February and the excellent Psychic Flowers album in July. Settle returned in November with another established moniker of his with Big Heet. Playing The Bug moves in the post-punk direction and is much different from the earlier releases. There is tons to like in the records 19 minute runtime as Playing The Bug highlights why Settle as an indie artist should be followed. Big Heet is another big exclamation point why!
You need to take Melbourne’s Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters temperature from the opening riff on their new and fifth album, Waiting In A Corner, because this band comes in hot, stays hot and never simmers. Jackson Reid Briggs’ punk style has plenty of classic rock running through their veins and back in the day would have been tapped to open up for AC/DC while also being able to support The Stooges. The band pushes their songs with longer structures as several tracks cruise by the five minute mark. This time frame lets everything hang loose with the group as it allows plenty of call and response moments, mini guitar jams and ultimately just drives the point of the song down your throat! Waiting In A Corner highlights that Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters have done their time and have evolved into this intensely tight punk rock group that has delivered one of their best albums to date.
Brooklyn’s The Muckers delivered one hot steamy rock n roll album with Endeavor that was inspired by The Strokes but at times sounded like it is right out of the 70’s arena rock era. Their debut maintains a modern flare but does include a throwback approach that has bits and pieces of past rock gods like Rush, Led Zeppelin and prog masters Yes, while also mixing a Frank Zappa type of free-form psychedelic improvisation. The band gives plenty of foot tapping experiences with a consistent beat that gives The Muckers their identity. Any fan of psych or classic rock can easily attach themselves to The Muckers for 42 minutes and come out the other side feeling a whole lot better!
LA’s Hooveriii (pronounced Hoover 3), was another band in 2021 that you could add to your psychedelic rolodex. Their sophomore album Water For The Frogs finds the six member group transcending you to a different musical landscape that simply lies within your own brain! Hooveriii’s fresh take on the psych genre with their combination of Germany’s Krautrock scene from the late 60’s-70’s with modern day rock keeps the overall mood lighter but yet produces many bursting moments that will keep you coming back for more.
Cooler Returns is Toronto’s Kiwi Jr. sophomore album and Sub Pop Records debut. The album returns the band right where they left off in the jangle indie pop world with a bit of maturity. The band truly at times has the punch of The Strokes while staying more mellow like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. You blend that style with vocals that are hard not to hear a youthful Stephen Malkmus and you have painted an accurate picture. The record came out way back in January so it was easy to overlook but it only took one revisit of Kiwi Jr.’s creative tempo changing riffs and light hearted indie rock to land firmly in the Blazin’ Top 50!
Chime School is the project of San Francisco musician Andy Pastalaniec. His self-titled debut is a solid slice of indie jangle pop that has plenty of upbeat and pleasant song structures that will get your foot tapping throughout the entire record. Chime School plays to the strengths of classic more straightforward indie out of the 80s which truly is its charm as there are no big guitars, no big drums and no big bass. Chime School charges through each song with the same hopeful pop which is never dull as the lyrics are easy to hear and connect with. Chime School have a familiar sound but their delivery feels fresh and new. Indie pop fans for sure should check this album out as each track can become your new earworm.
If you’ve paid any attention to the Dayton/Cincinnati music scene over the last two decades, you’ve probably encountered the music of Andrew Gabbard at some point. He’s played garage rock in Thee Shams, explored cosmic American psych with Buffalo Killers, and released several solo projects under various guises throughout the years. Homemade is Gabbard’s first LP since joining the Colemine/Karma Chief roster of artists and his first release under the name Andrew Gabbard (rather than Andy). That subtle change matched the flavor and direction of the record which is primarily drawn from the 60s and 70s. With Homemade, Andrew Gabbard created an album that hits just the right balance of warm intimacy and extroverted pop songcraft.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is one of TFN most reviewed artists. Some of that is because the King Gizzard is one of the more prolific bands in music today. They also never stay in one genre and Butterfly 3000 was no different. The album is an obscured and mesmerizing synth psych journey that takes arpeggiated loop influences from the bands first concert film, 2020’s Chunky Shrapnel. Butterfly 3000 had the band working within the confines of a box as the group agreed to limit the use of guitars. The approach works for Butterfly 3000 as it is Gizzard’s snappiest and quickest effort to date. King Gizzard has been a band that has worked in two spaces, a band that loves to make music and a band that loves to flirt with interesting concepts and themes. Butterfly 3000 is a nice 50/50 split that has the group sounding tight and light while balancing an overall concept.
Atlanta’s psychedelic vintage soul champion Curtis Harding returned with his third LP which found him sounding like a long term veteran and career act as each song here is delivered with passion, strength and purpose. If Words Were Flowers does not have a bad track on the album. Its foot tapping beats and multiple styles keep things fresh as you can hear garage rock, R&B, hip-hop, pysch and of course soul within all of its eleven tracks. The record is the most technical and sonically precise album Harding has released to date. If Words Were Flowers offers a very positive focus for these days while creating a timeless appeal with a style only Harding can deliver.
For the past 10 years, Parquet Courts have been pushing the limits of indie rock. Their music is always unpredictable, a bit angular and always seems to dabble in several genres without ever settling on one form. Sympathy For Life once again pushes Parquet Courts in new directions that now includes more tempo and dare I say “dancey” music. Many long time fans struggled with this album but Parquet Courts new groove here rubbed elbows with great indies like Primal Scream or Animal Collective while still bringing the guitar with them at times that gives a modern day Clash vibe that replaces the reggae with beats. Sympathy For Life was a grower of an album fore sure but more repeat listens uncovered a sonic groove which connected. Plenty of songs still rocked out like Parquet Courts of the past as Sympathy For Life was a curve ball that keeps on moving.
Four People In An Elevator And One Of Them Is The Devil
Exploding In Sound Records 
Mister Goblin is the solo project of Sam Goblin (formerly of Two Inch Astronaut) and his sophomore album, Four People In An Elevator And One Of Them Is The Devil, is the best recording he has released to date. The record is a nice balance of an occasional throwback big hook emo alt rock like Jimmy Eat World while also showcasing Goblin’s softer vocal chops that at times has the Elliott Smith vibe. It is this combination that makes Four People… completely engaging from front to back. At 30 minutes long, Four People In An Elevator And One Of Them Is The Devil is an easy record to play and then hit repeat. Goblin’s songwriting confidence soars on each track as the album flows by you effortlessly as it tackles real feelings like disappointment, empathy, and gratitude. It is this honest delivery that raises Mister Goblin to another level on the indie scene and makes Four People… a Blazin’ Top 50 album.
Durand Jones & The Indications is easily one of the first bands I would point someone to if they wanted to hear some quality modern day retro soul. The Indiana five-piece has quickly rose to the top and the group’s third LP, Private Space, finds the band experimenting more with sounds than their previous albums. The overall result is an album that is the smoothest release to date in their catalog. With up-tempo disco grooves and plenty of sonically gorgeous 70’s sounding soul, Durand Jones & The Indications are hitting on all cylinders as each of the ten songs here are easy on the ears. The group represents an old sound but with the hopeful message on Private Space, as they once again prove to be at the top of their game and their contemporaries.
Australian five-piece Mt. Mountain’s fourth album, Centre, is a sprawling, psychedelic rocker that rides the edge of quiet waves right before they crash. More music and less vocals is Mt. Mountain’s style as they use lyrics to highlight movements within tracks but not to dominate the songs. Centre was recorded live to capture the bands free vibe and Mt. Mountain are completely confident on each of the nine tracks. The band never once falters on their psychedelic direction as they move between quieter lulls and blown out explosions! Mt. Mountain should be on your radar and in your playlist as Centre represents some of their best work to date!
Toronto based Motorists have released one of the more interesting debuts this year. Surrounded covers an array of genres that swims in post-punk, jangle indie rock, power pop and a classic raw college radio sound from the 80’s. What works is that Motorists successfully combine these different approaches together for a modern 2021 take with sequencing that keeps the album fresh at every track. Surrounded succeeds because Motorists come at this album from a very simplistic instrument approach. You get isolated running guitar lines as the drums give that foot tapping beat while the vocals always stay out front. Motorists are a solid band with a solid debut in Surrounded.
Indie rock is alive and well with the Asheville, North Carolina band Wednesday. On their sophomore album, Twin Plagues, the quintet turns up the amps and make a glorious guitar fueled album that is driven by vocalist Karly Hartzman. The band still used their shoegaze skills found on their debut but takes the distorted fuzz to a new level as both the guitar and Harzman’s vocals get a much brighter spotlight. Twin Plagues has a new indie feel to it with lyrics that pull you in as Hartzman fits into a contemporary bunch like Stef Chura, Katie Crutchfield and Courtney Barnett. The guitars can be crushing at times as Wednesday can flex some serious muscle and the album is better for it. Wednesday shows a bridge between shoegaze and indie rock on multiple tracks here as they are an easy band to get behind if you like your guitars to crunch. Wednesday is extremely confident on all 12 tracks and leave you with the exciting thought that there is more where that came from!
Melbourne-based five-piece The Murlocs always will be tagged with an asterisk that describes them as having two members of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Along with those two members the group is bubbling with other talent and you can tell the band is one the same page. Bittersweet Demons represents their fifth long player as The Murlocs show a new maturity in their music that they have only touched on before as the group is now in their 10th year as a band. The Murlocs laid back delivery gives a memorable pace for Bittersweet Demons‘ entire 43 minutes which pulls you into each track. All of this cohesion and experience raises the bar for Bittersweet Demons which is now one of The Murlocs best releases to date!
Chicago-based singer-songwriter-pianist Neal Francis released one of the most warm retro groove records of the year with his sophomore album In Plain Sight. The entire record is a faithful nod to everything that was good about late 70s rock, as its songs could sit in a playlist beside the likes of Elton John, Billy Joel and Hall & Oates. Of course, Francis has a modern flare here that shines as his passion for playing the piano, hitting the high notes and and keeping your feet tapping is on full display. This album will instantly hook you on “Can’t Stop The Rain” as it is a fun and catchy as hell track that seriously sounds like it could land in a soundtrack for any movie. Compared to Neal’s debut, Changes (2019), you can hear a wider instrument dynamics as its 9 tracks swirl you with a consistent saturated bass and keyboards that have an older analog vibe which hit the sweet spot on the low-mids. When you combine that with some carefully placed funk beats, layered harmonic vocals and solid songwriting, In Plain Sight scores big and leaves you with a record that is really hard to put away!
There is nothing better than a killer power pop record and TUNS sophomore album, Duly Noted, may just be one of the best ones you could hear this year. TUNS members Chris Murphy (Sloan), Mike O’Neil (The Inbreds), and Matt Murphy (Super Friendz’s) have a combined resume that not only speaks volumes on their talent but honestly has always set the bar quite high for TUNS. Duly Noted takes the trio’s decades-long friendship and harnesses all of their synergy into strong songwriting, impeccable song structures and most importantly – perfect catchy Canadian harmonies! TUNS make Duly Noted a fun experience for everyone that clicks play. Duly Noted showcases the talents of all three individual musicians involved but truly offers up one united long player!
I Don’t Live Here Anymore came with tons of anticipatory buzz for The War on Drugs. The War on Drugs, known for Adam Granduciel wearing his classic rock influences on his sleeves, are not reinventing the wheel here on their fifth studio album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, but rather continued to hone and develop the band’s now signature, atmospheric sound. As expected, I Don’t Live Here Anymore continues The War on Drugs’ legacy of pristine studio recordings, delivering lush, picturesque soundscapes in compelling songs with lyrics that stand out. There’s something reassuring and comforting in The War On Drugs reliable chord progressions, piano melodic phrasing and soaring guitar sounds. This is an easy record to just push play and sit back as The War on Drugs continues to triumph.
Acid Dad has evolved since TFN first started covering them back in 2016 with their EP release, Let’s Plan A Robbery. The Brooklyn group has always carried the genre label of psych-punk and alternative-rock but with the release of their sophomore LP, Take It From The Dead, Acid Dad have taken a much straighter trajectory into the world of modern psych. Much of this transition is subtle from their previous work but Acid Dad now makes the inclusion of slower tempos an expectation which pulls you into the music with a hypnotic sway. At times, Take It From The Dead has the classic indie rock sounds of The Jesus And Mary Chain or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club but also goes back even farther to Velvet Underground and T. Rex. Take It From The Dead showcases all the hard work Acid Dad has been putting into finding their sound and should be the perfect stepping stone to bigger things in the near future!
Chicago’s Spread Joy are an intensely tight post punk band that gives everything they got on their 14 minute debut in exciting and short packages. The needling guitar and pacing stop short drums keep every song from Spread Joy in a perfect sequence and create a seamless experience from track 1 to track 10. When you add in the edgy vocal style from Briana Hernandez, which oscillates between narrative and riot grrl, you hear the full impact of Spread Joy. It’s important to know that even though this is Spread Joy’s debut it has members that played in Negative Scanner and Human Beat which should tell you to expect more before even hitting play. The tracks are ridiculously simple but are so clean. You can almost see the sweat from the intricate guitar work and feel its connection to the drums. Then when you tie in Hernandez’s breezy and spontaneous lyrics it makes this debut memorable.
With the fifth album from her band The Weather Station, Canadian singer/songwriter Tamara Lindeman expanded her band’s sonic palette that includes a richer, jazzier sound carried in the percussion and the increased textures achieved by the addition of saxophone, flute and in places lush layers of strings. Musically, The Weather Station has evolved into a bigger, more complicated and compelling full-band sound, while Lindeman’s consistent vocal and poetic sensibilities maintain her connection to previous efforts. Her pop and rock inclinations suggest Fleetwood Mac’s sophistication, the rich orchestration hints at Joni’s jazzy collaborations, and prog-rock band Renaissance’s singer Annie Haslam. Ignorance is a mature artistic expression for Lindeman and her cohort of supportive players, one that leaves lots of doors open for further experimentation, growth and expansion.
La Luz continue to refine their sound with every record they release and when their drummer left the band, reducing the group to a trio, it set up a perfect scenario for change for their fourth LP. This self-titled album slows down their surf psych rock and expands their reach as it offers a much more sonic journey that not only wraps a more surreal haze around its twelve tracks but also finds singer Shana Cleveland exploring and expressing a more personal side in her lyrics. Instead of jumping right into tracks with guitars, La Luz now turns up the warmth in all their instruments as they expand the range of their keyboards and find a new strength in their harmonies. When you talk about the modern day psychedelic movement you need to put La Luz in your “must hear” list of bands. This record creates such a cool atmosphere with just the right amount of reverb and harmony that it is very hard to walk away from.
It’s always exciting to find an album that takes indie rock to the next level. That is the one line I would use to describe San Francisco’s Pardoner and their third LP, Came Down Different. The band takes a slacker rock formula that has been used plenty of times in the past and electrifies the experience with witty lyrics, melodic lulls and break out punk rock moments. This is an album that has more energy than can be contained within its 31 minutes. Pardoner offers a fresh take on existing indie rock framework that brings an edge to each of their new tracks. Came Down Different never wears out and with repetitive listens you either catch a new memorable lyric or riff that sticks with you longer and becomes a favorite moment later on. Pardoner highlights that indie rock is not dead and their album easily should inspire more kids to pick up a guitar, start a band and just let it rip!
Ty Segall’s Harmonizer dropped on world without any notice. The record represents his first solo LP in two years and features Ty covering all the instrument duties minus his familiar contributors from The Freedom Band with Ben Boye, Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelly, and Charles Moothart which all play on several tracks. Additionally, his wife Denée Segall co-writes and appears on two tracks. Like every Ty outing, Harmonizer has its own parameters as it dives deeper into the world of synths, beats and groovy gloss. This side of Harmonizer had some long-time fans opting out but with his guitar still in the mix this record easily grew on us. Harmonizer is an easier album to dismiss because it was dropped out of the skies but there is a fresh innovation circulating within the album’s 10 tracks that will stick with you. The heaviness of the guitar, bass and drums truly balance the synths and modulation of the song structures and of course Segall’s vocals and well placed harmonies keep the record bouncing in your head.
Odd, quirky and catchy is a good way to describe the indie rock found on Media Jeweler’s third LP, The Sublime Sculpture Of Being Alive. This album has many parts here that feel “experimental,” but the reality is that Media Jeweler are in a pedal to the floor drivers seat with an unlimited amount of gas in the tank that now includes a spotlight on frontman Sam Farzin’s croon. The Sublime Sculpture Of Being Alive is a game changer for Media Jeweler. From an epic over 7-minute ballad to an amped up screeching sax and a pleather craze fest of other instruments, Media Jeweler will consistently surprise you.
Los Angeles band Cheekface returned with their sophomore album Emphatically No. and it is an entertaining listen from front to back. It wins completely on its lyrics as guitarist/talk singer Greg Katz provides a swagger mix of humor and honesty as the band tackles all kinds of relatable subjects like mental health, politics and simple facts of life. All killer and no filler is a very tongue in cheek way to describe this record but totally fitting. The sound of Cheekface is simplistic but super catchy as the trio is in sync. Think a modernized groove of Cake and Ben Folds type delivery with the punk spirit of Dead Milkmen fronted by Jonathan Richman or Stephen Malkmus. Emphatically No. keeps you in Cheekface’s mindset and will have you cracking a smile around every corner. The album cranks out 13 tracks in 35 minutes so Cheekface never wear out their welcome and this is an easy record to revisit just to make sure you have heard every line!
The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries have one of the best indie rock resumes in the game and they completely flex a high level talent on their new album Suns Out Guns Out. The group features bassist/vocalist Bob Weston (Volcano Suns, Shellac. Mission Of Burma), drummer/vocalist Chris Brokaw (Codeine, Come, New Year), and guitarist/vocalist Elisha Wiesner (Kahoots). If you take any one of those bands you get a very good sense of the direction The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries take you today. Right from the beginning you can sense the smoldering indie rock that is about to engulf you. The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries are much more about building a song to its boiling point and then letting it burst only to swoop it back up in a very controlled structure. Even though the record took seven years to create it is a cohesive listen that hits you with wave after wave of sonic guitar goodness. The group lets you absorb the lyrics, every guitar strum, every bass line and every drum beat. The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries and reminds you of why their past projects were so good. All of this album gels and makes Suns Out Guns Out a can’t miss experience!
Sometimes records exist outside any conventional genres and challenge your ear around every corner. These albums also can produce some of the most intricate and addicting moments that you just really can’t capture with words. L’Rain’s sophomore record, Fatigue, is one of those albums. Brooklyn artist Taja Cheek, aka L’Rain, looks all around her world as the title of this album is literal. The recording of Fatigue was during this never ending pandemic, seemingly never ending violence against Black people and the never ending struggle from groups of people that need help the most. Lots of heavy lifting but L’Rain is the guide and with plenty of ethereal interludes, pop up orchestration and the graceful voice of Cheek, Fatigue shows a path forward. What takes this album to another level is that L’Rain creates special moments throughout Fatigue that sound very precise and calculated as the vocal loops surround you but the entire time the listener really has no idea where they are taking you next. That is the exciting part about this album. L’Rain has made an album that takes you through plenty of emotions but leaves you hopeful and wanting more.
Black Country, New Road came into 2021 with their debut, For The First Time, being one of the most highly anticipated records of the year. The critics picked up on their Black Midi vibe early and quickly crowned this London band as the next big thing with the 7-piece collective’s youthfulness and forward thinking post-punk song structures. Black Country, New Road perform up to the expectations as their music is engaging, moving and at times borderless. This quick thinking, turning and evolving type songs is what makes Black Country, New Road exciting and with just six tracks blowing out this album to 41 minutes. This deconstructed jam style from London sets the tone for the album as you also get more post-punk combined with math rock twists and improvised jazz that then is sewed together. With a new album already planned to release on February 4, 2022, I would make sure that we keep an eye on Black Country, New Road because I don’t think we have heard their best material yet!
Ryley Walker has walked an interesting musical path since his last solo release of Deafman Glance in 2018 but more importantly he is celebrating a new beginning of sorts in 2021 with sobriety after a long time of addiction and a suicide attempt in 2019. Walker’s fifth solo album Course In Fable could take us anywhere but now with a new appreciation and look on life this album actually feels like a natural progression right down to the cover art. Walker comes off here masterful at his trade as he shows off his guitar skills with song arrangements that are artful, prog like, psychedelic and back to the basics from his earlier years. Course In Fable is a record that successfully takes what has made Walker the artist he is today and uses those experiences to create an album that is one of his best to date. Course In Fable finds Walker producing high level output but you can hear the healing on every track. Gone is the overall dark tone that surrounded Deafman Glance and in its place the guitar strums bring enlightenment and exciting anticipation for what is next. Course In Fable only scratches the surface of Ryley Walker and keep listening because he has plenty more to play and say!
UK’s black midi, had a fantastic debut with Schlagenheim so expectations were high on this sophomore outing Cavalcade. Calvelcade gets off on the idea that it’s a musical performance museum. Each track is a room with different moments of drama, comedy, or art installation. Cavalcade really only dabbles in structure compared to their earlier work. This album is black midi pushing the boundaries of the space. This album is ridiculously confident and it only makes it better. Cavalcade walks a stylistic tightrope between odd and genius and it really is a perfect blend. The record was not only a grower but black midi have earned even more respect as 2021 comes to a close!
Little Eden from The Bevis Frond was one of the biggest surprises of 2021. The English rock band formed in 1986 in East London and has been the moniker used by Nick Saloman for the last 35 years. He has consistently released an indie neo-psychedelic alt-rock style that has always been driven from strong writing and purpose. His newest venture in the studio, Little Eden, is a behemoth of a release with its 20 songs clocking in around 1 hour and 23 minutes. The record is a panoramic look on modern Britain that is supported by power pop melodies and more straightforward indie rock. Little Eden does not feel as long as it is because it grows on you with repeat listens and you are always bound to hear something new. The rocked up moments also keep the pacing moving and its lyrics are masterfully worded that you automatically connect and listen with anticipation for the rest. This album is a true salute to the genius of The Bevis Frond.
It won’t take you long into High Pony’s excellent third LP, All We Did Was Dream, to realize how much you miss some straightforward indie rock. The Brooklyn band is a testament to taking a step back and finding your true sound. High Pony features scorching wall of guitars that fill the air like a Dinosaur Jr. as singer Seth Goldman’s vocals have a similar inflection and energy of Mac McCaughan (Superchunk). The album is full of raw indie rock that blasts through each track and gives All We Did Was Dream an infectious staying power with repeat listens. I think you can hear other groups right now similar to High Pony but what makes All We Did Was Dream stand out is the band’s well composed song structures. The band consistently showcases their songwriting talents with themes of forgiveness, acceptance, and a strong desire to be good. High Pony can come at you strong with an all out drum and guitar attack but also can pull way back in places with just the hush vocals of Goldman. The end result is a record in All We Did Was Dream that represents the timeless energetic spirit of indie rock past glories while kicking 2021 in the ass!
TFN loves discovering bands like the Velvet Starlings from our countless daily emails. The group is a 60’s infused garage rock ‘n’ roll band hailing from Los Angeles and the beach cities of Southern California that builds its foundation from influences like early Jack White, Thee Oh Sees and Arctic Monkeys. The group takes that base and has created a debut of fresh sizzling psych fuzz with a retro UK Invasion of beats and vocals that stick in your head. Velvet Starlings offer a fresh take on garage rock with Technicolour Shakedown as it thrives with its unrestrained vocals, guitar electricity and well placed supporting organ. Basically at the end of the day, Technicolour Shakedown is a big middle finger to everyone that thinks gritty rock n roll is dead!
Here is another great surprise album in 2021. How do you ever follow up a record that is as highly revered in the indie rock world as The Wrens’ Meadowlands? The album was released in 2003 and then the band faded away for 18 years with sporadic news of fresh material every year, new album talk constantly being whispered and dreamed about, and almost every following year The Wrens potential new album landed on every “most anticipated release” list. Of course, now we have Aeon Station, which is longtime Wrens member Kevin Whelan’s new band moniker. This is his first solo record, Observatory, which features Wrens members Greg Whelan (guitar) and Jerry MacDonald (drums) in full support on the album. Aeon Station represents a fantastic energetic burst of music that feels like it was just discovered in a buried vault and all of the excitement that goes with it when it is good! Many of these songs have been in development over the last 14 years and you can hear the time spent on them in the delivery. Even though it could never live up to the high bar The Wrens left hanging, Aeon Station is a great listen and finds Keven Whelan free from the past burden of those growing expectations. That fresh breath and new focus on life gives Observatory its striking pulse!
This is one of the most tenacious records released this year! The Australian quartet, led by the fierce Amy Taylor, harnessed all of their pent up pandemic energy from 2020 and channeled it into these 13 songs of kick ass now and take names later! Rhythmic pulsating guitar with Taylor’s bursting sneer vocal delivery is a double down on guitar rock with controlled bursts of energy that contain riffs that will crack plaster on your ceiling. This blistering in your face style of music keeps coming in waves on Comfort To Me that always feels like it can be turned up one more notch. It is a punk forward album that now has more driving post-punk moments that simmer and bounce. Comfort To Me will be one of the most heavy rock albums you will hear this year. It never slows down and it is better because of it. Amyl And The Sniffers avoids the sophomore slump with ease here and has given us a record to scream “Long Live Rock!”
It is always fun to see certain musical movements take over an area of the world. TFN has got very accustomed this year to look at London as the “it” place to be for mind bending genre jumping post-punk. First black midi exposed the sound and showed the door, then Black Country, New Road walked through the door and now Squid kept the door wide open with some different tweaks on the band’s debut LP Bright Green Field. Calling Squid a post-punk band is really much easier and a simplified out when asked how to describe their sound. The reality is that Squid blend a large spectrum of music that not only has its post-punk moments but includes new wave, electronic, punk, jazz, brit-pop and Krautrock components in the creation of their unique musical landscapes. The record has so many switches of tempos and instrument transitions that it is hard to keep up and absorb with just one listen. It is also why the record is fantastic and landed at #12 on the list!
The debut album from Oslo’s Porto Geese is an intense mix of shoegaze and post-punk that is filled with strategic transitions, an array of instrument mashing and a speaker destroying rhythm of sound. The detail to every note on Duck is fantastic as the extra studio time the band clocked during the pandemic is rewarded in the album’s spanning sonic aggression. Porto Geese offer incredible swirling tempo shifts that include some spazzy electro keyboard moments which then concludes with the band flexing their guitar and drum muscle. The band is very unique as Porto Geese deliver their dark wave of firing drums and guitar with the intention of trying to break down your door. Duck is a grower for sure, so it needs multiple spins to hear all of its nuances but it does not take long to hear why it landed so high up in the Blazin’ Top 50.
After illuminati hotties were stuck in a contract with nowhere to go we finally got to see the release of their proper sophomore release, Let Me Do One More. The record is full of quick indie guitar tempo, smart and creative use of satire lyrics, harmonizing chorus, group call outs and an overall catchy rhythm that makes you want to hear the song again plus makes illuminati hotties so infectious. The tracks are presented with such confidence that you can’t turn away from. Let Me Do One More could have felt like old news as these tracks have been hiding in Sarah Tudzin’s closet for some time now but that thought will never cross your mind. Tudzin played most of the instruments, sang every line, wrote the tuns and then also used her studio knowledge to engineer and produce. All of that combined with the effortless tempo transitions here makes Let Me Do One More a stand out music story in 2021 that also rocks at all the right times!
Great music always finds a way to captivate its audience and find new listeners at that for sure describes the excellent album from Seattle-based soul-jazz group Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. The group’s sophomore studio album, I Told You So, will turn your ears and erase any expectations upon hearing it as it is fair to say that the jazz charting DLO3 is not a typical artist found at TFN. With that said, we ask you take a trust fall on our word because the Organ Trio will catch you! I Told You So contains nine smoking instrumental tracks that are glued together by Lamarr’s quick organ key playing. He really never stops keeping the tracks moving but then you combine that with the complex guitar playing of Jimmy James and the backbone beats of new drummer Dan Weiss and you have something special. There is not one track on this album that doesn’t bring 110% energy. The warmth, the style and sheer soul just pours out of every note here. The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio has created an upbeat celebration on I Told You So that not only places nods to the Stax and Motown past but looks forward with their own modern flare that will flex its timelessness years from now!
Connecticut four-piece Ovlov has released two LPs and a handful of EPs over the last decade and have called it quits more times than their output but the good news is – the band has made it to full length number three, Buds. The group has kept many things the same here like recording with the same producer and engineer, plus once again releasing on the excellent label Exploding In Sound Records. Ovlov brought plenty of their staple fuzzy guitar riffs that have a 90’s indie rock vibe which will please any fans of the previous records. Like all groups though that make it to releasing a third record, Ovlov have evolved and added some new elements on Buds which builds on their solid foundation. Even though the record is only 25 minutes it feels longer in every way that is good as each of the 8 tracks sounds complete. Every song is well thought out, every track sounds better with headphones for a more immersive experience and the record’s overall density is its strength. Buds has an extremely high replay value and still will sound great 10 years from now!
The 33rd Guided By Voices album, Earth Man Blues, is one of the most in sync records that members Pollard, Gillard, Bare Jr., Shue and March have released together. Earth Man Blues checks all your indie rock boxes with fantastic transitions, inner song shifts, fearless experimentation, catchy hooks and enough hard driven riffs to keep your best air guitar busy. The album runs wild with a freedom that has not been as evident on some of the more recent GBV albums with this lineup. There is plenty to like on Earth Man Blues as its breezy and memorable execution will have you coming back after the next 10 GBV records are released. When you hear it again, there is something new and different about Earth Man Blues that brings back that initial excitement. That is a win, as Guided By Voices continue to be locked in and creatively clicking!
Philadelphia’s Psychic Flowers released their fourth album, For The Undertow, that features blow-out power-pop song structures that are filled with glorious fuzz from distorted guitars. The band is led by David Settle (The Fragiles, Big Heet) with Leo Suarez on drums and mixed and mastered by Justin Pizzoferatto (Dinosaur Jr, Krill, Halfsour). The big distorted jams will instantly hook you as the band has a very early Guided By Voices meets the guitar rock out edge of Ty Segall. When you mix these distinct sounds and add in a multitude of anathematic hooks it is very easy for Psychic Flowers to be on your radar. The album never takes its foot off the gas as the loud bashing energy has the same spastic combustion you can hear on early Superchunk records. The eleven tracks on For The Undertow cruise by in a quick 27 minutes as the band never really comes up for air. The album is a masterclass in how not to overdue distorted vocals and amps as Psychic Flowers remove the effects at just the right moment. For The Undertow is the groups best album to date and easily earned one of the top spots on this year’s Blazin’ Top 50.
The saying always goes that change is good. If you are a believer in that moto then the new Spirit Of The Beehive record will strike your interest. For the Philadelphia band there is plenty of “change” that runs throughout their fourth LP, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, and it yielded an album that is gorgeously disjointed right from the first track. Spirit Of The Beehive consistently pushes your listening abilities as they successfully meld different noises, rhythms, synths, samples, guitars and even strings to create a fantastic indie landscape. This record is completely different than the bands previous albums as it incorporates a much more elctro-pop element to it but still shines for its oddness that has always been a niche for Spirit Of The Beehive. ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is really an album you just need to hear. No description can do it real justice because it is such a shape shifter. Whatever your staying time is with this album the same future action will be concluded – you need to hear more!
I don’t think earlier this year you could have convinced me that a hardcore/punk band could release a more alternative rock sounding record that would turn out to be one of the best albums released this year. Well, Turnstile’s newest album Glow On has quickly changed those previous thoughts as it is a sonically bruising record that has an extreme slick style and smooth edges. It is an album that at times can float along and then quickly punch you in the face. It for sure hits the balance of styles that reminds me of older groups like Orange 9mm, 311 and System Of A Down. What defines their overall sound is Turnstile’s ability to rip riffs to a beat. Sounds a bit weird when you break it down but the fact that Turnstile creates a hardcore bounce within their songs that works well and is where the magic on this album happens. Glow On is definitely one of the better albums released this year as it just has so many fantastic and seamless transitions plus it is just great to hear an album rock out this hard with extreme style.
If I was asked to name a stand out guitarist on the indie scene today I would absolutely and confidently say Mdou Moctar. Moctar has successfully forged his own Saharan style with rock into something you probably have not heard before. His music is driven home by his guitar shredding, drum rhythms and thoughts on love, religion and women’s rights. This record never stops engaging the listener as its tracks are sung primarily in Tamasheq which are then surrounded by his band’s group chants. Afrique Victime is sharp, well planned out and sounds polished but also still has the intimate sitting around the fire vibe to it. That is the magic of Mdou Moctar because even though most of his songs are built on one or two chord riffs, his solos raise the bar for each song and you can hear the other highly talented members playing off his energy. Afrique Victime represents Mdou Moctar’s best music to date, as it is thunderous, energetic and powerful! The synergy created here easily makes Afrique Victime easily made it one of the best records in 2021.
New Long Leg is London-based band Dry Cleaning’s debut album and it easily was one of the most anticipated releases of 2021 after their pair of excellent EPs released in 2019. It is record of control as the group mesmerizes you with background guitar runs fronted by the modern spoken word poetry of lead singer Florence Shaw. It is an unstoppable combination that just oozes style, spirit and confidence. In music today, I think it is incredibly hard to hear something new. Artists try all the time but in 2021 most of us feel like we have heard it all somewhere before. Dry Cleaning will surprise you and accomplish that fresh musical awakening with New Long Leg. This album represents intelligent post-punk that is worth every hour you dissect it as Dry Cleaning have brought a unique experience that can have multiple endings with each and every satisfying listen. New Long Leg was really close to taking the #1 spot this year as its cool swagger never gets old!
#1 – Album Of The Year
Spirit Was is the excellent and surprise number one this year that most certainly earned its spot during the final week of TFN’s internal charting. The band is the new moniker used by multi-instrumentalist and illustrator Nick Corbo which found his primary music project, LVL UP, calling it quits in 2018. On his debut studio album, Heaven’s Just A Cloud, Corbo showcases his use of musical time and space as he creates an extraordinary mix of indie rock that steeps in slowcore but then expands out and at times is heavy, experimental and fantastically distorted. The album has some of the most exciting tracks that were released this year as Heaven’s Just A Cloud song’s have this brutal strength to its guitars while Corbo fuses memorable melodies and vocal harmonies. Spirit Was feels like a dense post-punk record on the surface but all of its tempo and sonic changes keep the album moving and switches genres with each track. Heaven’s Just A Cloud weaves a fantastic musical map in your head and should be experienced with headphones. Heaven’s Just A Cloud offers something new with every spin and becomes that record you tell all your friends about which is exactly why it is #1. TFN just can’t put it down!