10. Squid – Bright Green Field
Never thought they would release this. Comprising of all-new tracks, Bright Green Field by post-punk racket makers Squid, is an intriguing, sometimes bizarre, never boring and always evolving beast. The centre point is really the 8 and a half minute odyssey that is Narrator, a song that morphs into a squealing caterwaul of screams, noise and the sound of a possible nervous breakdown or demonic possession, whilst the excellent Pamphlets and the off-kilter GSK and experimental noodling on Boy Racers hold it all together for fear of collapse. Intriguing and expansive, a brilliant and weird debut you will keep returning to in order to discover more.
Top track: Pamphlets
9. Black Midi – Cavalcade
Where to start with this one. Ideas aren’t so much chucked at the wall, as blasted through the wall with a huge fucking cannon. The talent Black Midi exude on Cavalcade is staggering to behold, from the bonkers horn-led John L, to the technical lurch of Chondromalacia Patella, which feels like five songs mashed into one, whilst Slow is a crooning, jazz-rock fusion of meandering elegance and unhinged chaos. It’s absolutely wonderful as tracks meld seamlessly into each other to create this sprawling hydra of overpowering, exciting, terrifying, soundscapes and imaginative patterns.
Top track: Slow
8. Mogwai – And The Love Continues
Veterans of the post-rock, or whatever you would class them as are dazzling on this, their 10th studio album. Emotion bleeds heavily throughout, with Ritchie Sacramento as a goodbye song for departed friends, whilst tracks like Fuck Off Money and Ceiling Granny are certified bangers. For me though, it’s all about the penultimate track, Supposedly We Were Nightmares that really hits home, the subtle glitching electronics and muffled vocal loops, gorgeous guitar work and pure radiant emotion it exudes is an absolute joy. Astonishing work, genuinely moving and utterly essential.
Top Track: Supposedly, We Were Nightmares
7. Turnstile – Glow On
Whether Glow On is as good as 2018’s Time + Space needs some thought and a deeper dive, A+B of both albums and lots of critical and constructive analysis. However, it has to be said, Glow On by Turnstile is one hell of a special record. Through their promotional material, style and videos they’ve weirdly captured the 90s hardcore and even pop-scene spot on. Through the bruising and incredibly fun, hardcore riffs, they slam in moments of spoken word, ambient synth soundscapes, hip-hop and 80’s rock to further push boundaries and develop their hybrid sound. Tracks like the breathless fury of Turnstile Love Connection, the punk rock Blackout all the way to the weird trip-hop of Alien Love Call and the alt-rock jam of New Heart Design showcase why everyone is banging on about this band in 2021 and rightly so.
Top track: New Heart Design
6. JOHN – Nocturnal Manouveres
Crystal Palace duo JOHN have honed their sound perfectly on this, their 3rd album and it sounds so fresh, exciting and an utter delight to listen to. Drum John’s vocals bring to mind the unique bark of Father Damian from Fucked Up; whilst the riffs from guitar John are a menacing scythe, ripping through the airwaves. On Haneke’d they sound pure evil, with this distorted, overlapping duel-vocal menace, whilst Sibensko Powerhouse is a pure punk rock barnstormer in just under 3 minutes. Jargon Cutter is this dark, moody rock ‘n roll thumper of a track, with the repeated roar of “she sold the seashells, on the seafront” and closing track, Non-essential Hymn might be one of the best tracks they’ve recorded, a 6 and a half minute rager that builds and builds with furious grace and squealing feedback.
Top track: Haneke’d
5. Demons – Privation
Holy shit. This is the sleeper hit of the hardcore underground. Demons get in and get out in around 30 minutes on this boiling, venting slab of barbed punk rock. Slow Burn might be one of the best punk rock songs of 2021 and will twist your head right off, whilst Full Stop is a bludgeoning stomp of seething, Mastodon-lite alt-metal. In places, it’s disgustingly fast, as though they can’t wait to finish, whilst on the flip side, songs lurch, stagger and vomit a splurge of angry noxious bile. Good on them.
Top track: Slow Burn
4. The Armed – Ultrapop
Genre-spanning and also genre-less, the unknown collective that makes up The Armed make music that can only be described as “The Armed” really. Layers of bending electronics, punishing blastbeats, hardcore, punk, metal, pop, dance, noise and the sound of a million computers all blue screening at once make up the 12 tracks on Ultrapop. The most accessible being the title track and even that’s nuts. Everyone needs this album, everyone needs to hear this album. Revolutionary exhausting through layers upon layers of sound deserves to be lauded and revered in the same breath as The Shape of Punk To Come or Dose Your Dreams.
Also, when I saw them live 2 years ago, they had a fella dressed as a tree with croissants on a table in the fucking mosh pit. They sounded like the world was ending.
Top track: All Futures
3. Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz
The ugly swagger of Welfare Jazz by Viagra Boys is as infectious as it is bizarre. The tone switches from posturing, slovenly post-punk (Ain’t Nice) to 80s Matchbox soul (Toad) with elements of western-aping instrumental rock (6 shooter) and country thanks to the ramshackle cover of In Spite of Ourselves that closes the record. Welfare Jazz will make you grin, it’s big, stupid, packed full of tunes and surprises and you’ll be singing Into The Sun under your breath before you’ve realised how much the lyrics and those bass lines have ingrained themselves in your brain.
Top track: Into The Sun
2. Sugar Horse – The Live Long After
Opening a cold, desolate, cavernous portal into a realm of despair, Bristol miserable satirists Sugar Horse, bring the sad in absolute slabs of crushing noise and beautiful fluidity on this debut album. A lot of this will strike moments of fear and trepidation thanks mainly to the insane dynamics, atmospheric journeys of wonder (Phil Spector in Hell) claustrophobic walls of thunderous feedback (I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…) the ominous bass-heavy pounding (see Fat Dracula) and the punishing feeling you’re being stalked. If you’re after something that flitters between the emotive wrought and heaviness of Deftones, the melancholy of The Cure and an amp-destroying smoulder of caustic noise, ala Mogwai at their most antagonistic, then this is the band for you. Staggeringly good, both beautiful and horrible in equal measure.
Top track: The Great British Death Cult
1. New Pagans – The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All
As debuts go, this is a thumping cracker of a record. The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All by New Pagans is a stunning collection of breathtaking songs bursting with huge pop-rock hooks, powerful vocals and choruses that will burrow into your subconscious and never leave. You could pick any of these as a single, from the vibrant dream pop of Yellow Room, the anthemic Bloody Soil, the gorgeous emo-pop of Ode To None to the crunching diatribe that is Christian Boys, there’s loads to love, cherish and admire about New Pagans and this wonderful collection of songs and my album of 2021.
Top track: Christian Boys