Okay, time to look back and reflect on the musical year that was 2021. Even though I’ve always spent most of my listening time on new music, I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time browsing, scanning, and prowling for it as I did in 2021. I did not keep track of the exact numbers (Dennis is our stats guy as he showed in his Top 50 of 2021 post last week – make sure to check that one out if you haven’t already!), but trust me, it was a lot. The focus on new releases came at the cost of not spending as much time as I may have liked with some 2021 records which are decidedly great. The list below reflects the records I ultimately played and enjoyed the most.
Overall, I think 2021 was a really strong year for music, with many of the bands in my list releasing their best work yet. Like always, my list is heavy on punk, powerpop, garage and indie rock. But I’ve also included many indie and jangle pop records, a genre that had a particularly strong year. My number one album of 2021 in some way is an outlier, but I believe it is a modern classic.
Final thought: while working on this list, my mind frequently wandered to Jan Kooi who suddenly died this year. Jan was a record store (co)owner who had impeccable taste in anything music related and whose taste I, and I speak for Dennis as well, blindly trusted. I didn’t know Jan personally, but his curiosity and generosity in sharing new music was one of the main inspirations for starting Add To Wantlist. His top 31 records of the year list was consistently great and his legacy will not be forgotten. So long Jan, and thank you for the tunes.
Check out my Top 50 records (and 50 additional notable records!) below. Here is a convenient playlist with my favorite tracks of the 100 albums (98, because two records are not on Spotify).
1. Turnstile || Glow On
I already loved Turnstile’s fresh and modern take on hardcore on their previous records. But this year, they took that to a whole different level. Glow On has the looks and feel of a classic hardcore album, one that kids twenty years from now will still go crazy for. In a year that showed us many shades of grey and brought us pandemic dread, this was the record that provided the most color and excitement for me. Turnstile did everything right in 2021, and like the ten minute video below featuring four songs from Glow On shows, they looked insanely cool doing so.
2. Quivers || Golden Doubt
Speaking of modern classics, but from a completely different sonical direction, Golden Doubt is about as perfect an indie pop album can get. I lost count of the amount of times the sheer honesty of the lyrics on Golden Doubt, combined with the gorgeous melodies and strong songwriting broke my heart and mended my soul. The tension building, cathartic Gutters Of Love was one of my favorite tracks of 2021.
4. Liquids || Life Is Pain Idiot
My favorite punk record of the year! 27 songs of snotty garagepunk hits (including not too shabby covers of Kiss and Meatloaf), with hints of Exploding Hearts but faster and more intense. Getting impatient for that vinyl release though.
5. Sam Coffey And The Iron Lungs || Real One
Sam Coffey And The Iron Lungs sound bigger, more confident, more diverse and more ambitious than ever on Real One, channeling their inner Springsteen and Thin Lizzy. It’s a massive record that still sounds more powerful with each play.
6. Civic || Future Forecast
Late ‘70s punkrock with awesome guitar riffs and solo’s, and the intensity of bands like MC5 and the Stooges. Whenever the shuffle function finds a song from this record, I automatically turn the volume all the way up.
7. Holiday Ghosts || North Street Air
Three albums in, Holiday Ghosts are still refining their songwriting chops without surrendering any of the appeal of their previous stuff. Another mighty fine batch of ramshackle and energetic lo-fi underground pop hits.
8. The Telephone Numbers || The Ballad Of Doug
In what has to be the best year in jangle pop in recent history, this was one of the best. Like the colorful album art, the nine songs on The Ballad Of Doug are vibrant, exciting and a joy for the senses. In a musical landscape ruled by playlists, The Telephone Numbers show that there is still value in writing a great album. There is not a song on this one I don’t like.
9. The Reflectors || Faster Action
One of those power pop records that sounds like a classic from 40 years ago. The Reflectors may be a tad too polished and smooth for some, but their songs are too good to overlook. I think this one is even better than their debut.
10. The Exbats || Now Where Were We
Scrappy and honest ’60s pop rounded out by influences from ’70s powerpop and punk, garage and bubblegum pop, and blue-eyed soul. What’s not to like? Daughter-father duo Inez & Kenny McLain (supported by Bobby Carlson Jr.) at their best yet.
11. Bobby Ramone || Rocket To Kingston
I considered excluding this one from my list, because it essentially is a mashup of older songs. But the Bob Marley fronting The Ramones idea could not have been executed better. We still get about 200 visitors every month looking for more info on the project that remains surrounded in mystery. And that is fine by me. BOBBY RAMONE FOREVER!
12. Pist Idiots || Idiocracy
Pist Idiots knows exactly where the sweet spot between aggression and melody lies. Their brand of indie rock’n’roll is gritty, vibrant and full of swagger, and the amount of memorable lines and hooks on this record is staggering. I keep returning to this record, and it’s always better than I remembered.
13. Chubby And The Gang || The Mutt’s Nuts
Speed Kills, one the most exciting debuts in the past decade, topped my AOTY list last year. That record was a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. Its follow up is more like a surprise seven course meal where you never know what is coming up next. Chubby And The Gang do whatever they feel like on The Mutt’s Nuts and will kick your butt in doing so. I am beyond excitement that this band will support Turnstile on their European Tour!
14. Local Drags || Keep Me Glued .
Lanny Durbin of Local Drags is a master in building up anticipation towards his ear worm choruses. Those delayed rewards create such a dopamine inducing listening experience that it becomes addictive. I played this record A LOT. Keep Me Glued is the kind of record to make you relax, sit back, and bop your head to that snare drum again and again.
16. Hurry || Fake Ideas
Safe bet: If you like one Hurry album, you’ll like ‘em all. Fake Ideas offers more of the upbeat yet melancholic power pop of Hurry. It’s a tad punchier than the previous output of the band though, and I frequently found myself returning to this record that is full of empathic lyrics like: “If you’re feeling bored || I feel that way all the time || I don’t mind”
17. Sweet Soul || So Far No Further
I took a lot of walks this year. On the walks where I didn’t listen to workrelated podcasts and audiobooks, my go to song was Sweet Soul’s Noises Drown, which kind of sounds like Big Drill Car playing a Lemonheads song. So Far No Further has more to offer, of course. If you are nostalgic for those ‘90s hardcore bands that incorporated pop punk elements (or vice versa), give this one a try.
18. Night Court || Nervous Birds! One
We had the honor to premiere this short but sweet lofi indie/punk/pop masterpiece a couple of weeks ago. Night Court’s goal is to only retain the good parts of songs. It’s a winning concept: Nervous Birds! One is filled to the brim with hooks and earworm melodies.
19. Massage || Still Life
Another really (really!) good underground pop record. Massage strike the perfect balance between instantly likeable hits and growers on Still Life. I still discover new parts I like about this record with each play.
20. The Chisel || Retaliation
With Retaliation, The Chisel step out of the shadow of Chubby And The Gang. Mixing aggression with melody, and working class urgency with gang mentality, Retaliation offers cathartic release in times of frustration.
21. The Laughing Chimes || In This Town
Like Dennis mentioned in his post on this record: it’s for sharing discoveries like these why we started this website. I think we both ordered it as soon as it became available. In This Town is an easy record to overlook, but it’s another example of the awesome jangle the year 2021 was.
22. Geoff Palmer || Charts & Graphs
On his solo debut Pulling Out All The Stops, Geoff Palmer showcased his talent for writing infectious pop punk classics. On Charts And Graphs we see him expanding his sound, trying out new directions and instruments. What remained? HITS! Charts And Graphs is a generous record where Geoff Palmer celebrates his love for music and shares that passion in a contagious manner.
23. The Umbrellas || The Umbrellas
Fans of Sarah Records and bands like Comet Gain, Tullycraft and The Pastels likely will embrace the twee punk of The Umbrellas within ten seconds of album opener Lonely. Despite the dark undertones of the lyrics, this record is a blast.
24. Real Sickies || Love Is For Lovers
Real Sickies unleashed an earworm pandemic with their excellent brand of bubblegum pop punk on their latest (and greatest). Still haven’t found a cure to for this onslaught of hits
25. Blunt Bangs || Proper Smoker
The emergence of this Athens (Georgia) supergroup featuring Reggie Youngblood (Black Kids) was a pleasant surprise. Blunt Bangs blend indie rock with classic power pop influences, and Proper Smoker from the get-go sounds fresh and fun.
26. Cherry Cheeks || Cherry Cheeks
Cherry Cheeks plays hyperactive and spazzy pop songs disguised as punk that are bass, riff and synth heavy. Who knew cathartic release of boiling frustration and boredom could sound so damn catchy.
27. Cheekface || Emphatically no.
Another strong collection of songs by this offbeat indiepoppers. Cheekface write extremely catchy songs with huge choruses, a talksinger and smartass lyrics that’ll put a smile on your face.
28. The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness || Songs From Another Life
The strummy, jangly and delicate powerpop of TBWTPN frequently sounds like straight up Teenage Fanclub worship, but in a good way. Songs From Another Life was my soundtrack to Spring 2021.
29. Brad Marino || Looking For Trouble
Major League songwriter Brad Marino hits another one out of the park. Looking For Trouble is a strong batch of powerpop’n’roll hits that sounds like a celebration of rock-‘n’-roll history. Even The Score may be my favorite Marino track yet!
30. Ducks Ltd. || Modern Fiction
Ducks Ltd. showed a lot of promise on their Get Bleak EP, and with Modern Fiction they took their bright and powerful janglepop to another level. Did I mention the amount of quality indie pop records in 2021 was INSANE?
31. The Courettes || Back In Mono
Probably the least “2021 sounding” band in my list: Aesthetically and musically, The Courettes offer a time capsule to a different era. Any of the songs on the record would fit on those Girls from the Garage compilations we all love.
32. Fake Fruit || Fake Fruit
Prediction: The next Fake Fruit record will be released on a much bigger label than (the admittedly great) Sonny Smith’s Rocks In Your Head. Fake Fruit’s self-titled debut sounds chaotic yet focused, messy yet confident and is full of cool guitar riffs. RIYL: Sleater-Kinney pre The Center Won’t Hold
33. 2nd Grade || Wish You Were Tour Revisited
The songs on Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited have their origins in the summer of 2018; A year in which 2nd Grade’s Pete Gill listened to the Beach Boys all day every day, and wrote a staggering amount of 150 songs. This record features the remastered, reworked and rerecorded versions of the best songs. And these best songs are short and catchy, like Beach Boys minus the surfvibes.
34. Chime School || Chime School
The jangle pop on the self-titled debut LP by Chime School will be gobbled up by any fan of ’80s indie pop and twee. But I expect the classic underground pop feel and the upbeat tunes likely will appeal to fans of power pop and college rock as well.
35. Rural France || RF
In a similar fashion to the 2nd Grade record (#33), the songs on this one were written in the summer of 2018, in this case “spurred on by Beach Boys bootlegs and a World Cup.” And similar to 2nd Grade, it took Rural France three years to release. RF is full of ’60s pop disguised as ’90s slacker indie rock and is one of the many fine releases of Meritorio Records in recent years.
36. Down By Law || Lonely Town
Down By Law was a crucial band for me in the nineties. The band made a strong comeback with All In in 2018, but I believe Lonely Town is even better. Featuring vintage Sam Williams III guitar work and that unique heartfelt Dave Smalley voice, Lonely Town showcases a fresh, energized and inspired punkrockband 30 plus years in its career.
37. Mikey Erg || Mikey Erg
Mikey Erg’s latest dispatch from his pop punk heart to our ears was another win for me. His 1-2-3 punch of Rubin Hall, Hey Marissa, and Rumblestrip has everything I love about this kind of music.
39. The Bug Club || Pure Particles
The Bug Club may very well prove to be the prototypical Add To Wantlist band. Their music is catchy, energetic, unrefined, full of energy and straight from the garage. Oh and most importantly, straight from the heart.
40. Dazy || MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD
Dazy is the one-man band of artist/music publicist/podcast host James Goodson. This digital/cassette compiles all of 24 songs Dazy has recorded so far. What stands out even more than the quantity of Dazy’s output is the consistent quality of his hook filled fuzzy ’90s altpop tunes.
42. Come Closer || Pretty Garbage
Under the moniker Come Closer, J. Wang trades punkrock for laidback indierock in the vain of Superchunk, Jets To Brazil and the Promise Ring. Pretty Garbage is an understated record that is a grower, and worth the effort of multiple listens.
43. Motorists || Surrounded
The Motorists debut album Surrounded is a throwback to the jangly powerpop of the ’80s but also to other guitar-oriented genres from that era. Surrounded is by no means a perfect album, and the fact that Motorists do not try to hide their imperfections is part of the record’s charm. I especially like their power pop oriented songs, and Through To You is one of my favorites of the year.
44. Jakob Mind || The One That Got Away
Speaking of hits of the year, Jakob Mind (Rotten Mind) most definitely hit the sweet spot between garage, punk and power pop with several irresistible nuggets on his solo debut. Listen to Watch The City Burn for example.
45. The Wind-Ups || Try Not To Think
The multitalented Jake Sprecher made good use of his Covid-induced boredom by purchasing a TASCAM 388A and recording a 19 minute powerpop masterpiece that sounds like a lo-fi garagepunk record. My favorite part of this record is its middle where Sprecher relentlessly piles up hit upon hit, that are all extremely short and all extremely contagious.
46. Neigborhood Brats || Confines Of Life
Ten years in, Neighborhood Brats still sound intense yet melodic and still have that dangerous edge of old school punk. Confines Of Life my be their most accessible record to date. It’s a kickass record by a kickass band that cares as much about their music as they do about societal issues.
47. State Drugs || Live. Love. Laugh
One of those records I dismissed at first listen. Like the Come Closer record, its quality takes time to reveal itself. But the midpaced punkrock, with fine guitar work and songs that increasingly get under your skin, definitely is worth discovering. State Drugs operate somewhere between the altpop of the Lemonheads and the melodic punkrock of Samiam, and that’s a good place to be!
48. Los Pepes || The Happiness Program
Released late in the year, but I already feel The Happiness Program is the best and most fun record by this excellent international powerpop and garagepunk hybrid.
49. Mystery Girl || Mystery Girl
The music of Albany’s (NY) finest garagepoppers Mystery Girl is like a death match between sleazy guitars in one corner and pop hooks in the opposite, with one clear winner from the fight: the audience. RIYL: Dirty Fences, Tough Shits and Barreracudas.
50. Waste Man || One Day It’ll All Be You
On their second album, Waste Man take punk and hardcore in new directions without losing any of its intangibles. They constantly keep you on the tip of your toes with the unpredictability in their songs. Proofreaders, Singles, And Philosophers was one of the most exciting songs released in 2021.
50 additional notable records from 2021:
Autogramm || No Rules
Bambies || Summer Soon
Brent Seavers || BS Stands For
The Brothers Steve || Dose
The Control Freaks || Get Some Help
Descendents || 9th & Walnut
Drip-Fed || Kill The Buzz
Evening Shadows || Evening Shadows
The Feeders || Kerchoo
Fortitude Valley || Fortitude Valley
Freedom || Freedom
French Girls || French Girls
Friends Of Cesar Romero || War Party Favors
Harker || Axiom
The Hold Steady || Open Door Policy
I Feel Fine || The Cold In Every Shelter
Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters || Waiting In A Corner
James Sullivan || The Light Years
Komet || Komet
L.A. Exes || Get Some
Liquid Mike || Stuntman
Lisasinson || Perdona Mamá
Matt Ellis || Full Moon Fever
Max And The Martians || All The Same
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones || When God Was Great
Mononegatives || Apparatus Division
Monty Vega & The Sittin’ Shivas || CLOSED (No Fun)
Needles//Pins || Needles//Pins
The Needs || Special Needs
Neilson Family || Be normal
Nightwatchers || Common Crusades
Nuevos Hobbies || Monstruoso
Pardoner || Came Down Different
Pep Talk || Live, Laugh, Lobotomy
Petite League || Joyrider
The Planes || Eternity On Its Edge
Pogy Et Les Kéfars || Dans Ton Rétro
Proud Parents || At Home With…
Randells || Kicks
Roselawns || Songs For Christina Argentina
Semi Trucks || Vs California
The Shivvies || The Shivvies
The Smashing Times || Summer Inside
Smirk || LP
Sonny & The Sunsets || New Day With New Possibilities
Spread Joy || Spread Joy
Spud Cannon || Good Kids Make Bad Apples
The Sueves || Tears Of Joy
UltraBann || Big Trouble in Little Haiti
Vacation || Existential Risks…