We are heading toward the end of 2021 and it has been…real. As Shakespeare said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The following records have kept our bellies full and our hearts pumping. Listen in hopes of better times. In no particular order, here are our top ten rock albums of the year.
Wolf Alice – ‘Blue Weekend’
Blue Weekend is Wolf Alice’s third album and they have never sounded more like themselves. Singer Ellie Roswell explores themes of loneliness, addiction, and loss, all, unfortunately, are powerfully relatable, especially now, with tender beauty. Even a 1977 era sounding stomper like “Play the Greatest Hits” just serves to make the wistful folked-up shoegaze that much more lovely.
Radiohead – ‘Kid A Mnesiac’
Why would you include a reissue in a year’s top ten? Well, ordinarily you would not. Except when it is absolutely necessary. Releasing Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead is reminding us that they put our collective post-millennial tension to the music. The third disk, “Kid A mnesiac” contains unreleased tracks like the creepy “If you say the word”, Radiohead is telling us sonically the future belongs to them.
Pom Pom Squad – ‘Death of a Cheerleader’
The first full-length studio joint by Brooklyn’s Pom Pom Squad, headed by Mia Berrin (daughter of 3rd Base’s Mc Serch) is just good. You can hear some Riot Grrrl influence, some Dance Punk, some Fugazi. Sometimes things are just good, without being overly complicated. Like this album.
Liz Phair – ‘Soberish‘
Soberish is rock icon Liz Phair’s 7th album, but first in 10 years. Begun as a reaction to death, the deaths of Prince, Bowie, and Lou Reed, “Soberish” is very definitely a celebration of life. From the playful adoration for the departed aforementioned Reed with “Hey Lou” to the raw bawdiness of “Bad Kitty”, this album is a seminal return to form.
IDLES – ‘CRAWLER’
How could we leave Idles off this list? CRAWLER ( all caps, right?) is IDLES’ 4th album and is more angular, more Radiohead, more grime influenced than their previous work, Joe Talbot positively spitting bars at points. IDLES have continually rejected the punk rock label and this album proves them right. CRAWLER is the sound of angry young men attempting to get well.
The Bronx – ‘Bronx VI’
From a band that eschews the punk rock jacket to a band that embraces it wholeheartedly. LA’s Bronx does not half step and from their first album, through their alternate personality as Mariachi El Bronx, this band has embodied the rebel sounds of California’s oddest city. You can hear X, The Blasters, the Weirdos and smell the smog on their latest joint. Cop it.
Creeper – ‘American Noir’
Imagine Bruce Springsteen moved to London in 1976, befriended The Damned, and started dressing funny and reading Rimbaud. That is what this album sounds like. Notionally a rock opera, interesting enough considering the year and the times, American Noir is theatrical goth-rock in flawless makeup.
Mannequin Pussy – ‘Perfect’
Technically not an album, but the EP Perfect, is perfect. Riotous (“Perfect”) and beautiful (“Darling”) by turns, Mannequin Pussy lets the listener know that punk is not dead, it’s just different now. Perfect proves Philly’s got it.
Melvins – ‘Working with God’
This is Melvins 24th album. 24th. Only Black Flag is arguably more important in terms of influence but Flag isn’t still whinnying with us at present. Not really. If you know Melvins, you know what to expect from this album and you won’t be disappointed. King Buzzo and his team give you the sludgy sounds of a 7-11 parking lot at 3 a.m. you need. If you are unfamiliar with this Washington state institution, que up “I f*ck around” on your Spotify playlist and sit back and enjoy.
Parquet Courts – ‘Sympathy for Life’
Like all the albums discussed, like all of the artists who made them, and like everyone else in the world, our shared pandemic experience has marked us. Sympathy for Life Parquet Courts 7th album echoes every flavor of the past couple of years. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has all the exuberance of an NYC that believed the worst was over and it was time to dance and enjoy substances in groups. “Marathon of Anger” could be the covid-19 chapter in a future history textbook. Sympathy for Life has every song you need for your modern dance party.