The time has come once again for a year-end top 10 list! As we did last year, we’re highlighting the albums, EPs, and singles that may have gone under your radar, were released early on/late in the year, or just plain deserve more listens. Multiple artists in our 2020 list went on to release an album with 1 million+ streams in 2021; more on them later! Several releases were delayed from 2020 so we got a steady supply of jams this year – let’s shine a light on a wide array of records that are worth your time:
- NinDjent0 – Sonic The Shredhog
The mesh of music and video games is always seamless – whether it’s the relaxing Animal Crossing hours, the terror of a Silent Hill song, or a soaring Dragon Quest track, music is arguably one of the most important parts of video games. To see games emulated in the music world is a thrill, too – Nintendocore was a mainstay in my iPod in the 2010s, so I’m always keen for a video-game inspired joint. NinDjent0 brings something fresh to the table with their renditions of VG soundtracks in a polished, punishing djent delivery. His output is bonkers – four albums in 2020 and four in 2021. My childhood was Sonic the Hedgehog so hearing these tracks with a flashy spin both reinvigorates the aging genre whilst bringing a delicious slice of nostalgia pie to your ears. You can find NinDjent0 streaming on Twitch all the time here!
2. nightlife – new low
Without a question, the debut of the year goes to nightlife and their single “new low”. Dubbed as “soul punk”, the trio has an it factor with their infectiously-groovy tunes produced to perfection. Frontman Hansel Romero has undeniable golden pipes and utilizes them with splendor in the single that also features song “all i know” and a cover of Rob Thomas’ “Lonely”. With just this trifecta of a catalogue, the band’s caught the attention of many, securing a management spot with the revered Roc Nation and joining in on a long-awaited Issues livestream. If any band on this list is set to explode in the coming years, it’s nightlife – and it’s well-deserved.
3. least – Folding My Hands, Accepting Defeat
I knew least was a special act from my early writing days, taking a chance on randomly listening to single “Another Living Room” in 2020. When it came time for their EP release in Folding My Hands, Accepting Defeat, my hopes for the band was surpassed. The word “angst” is overused in covering emo releases, but that’s the centerpiece of this offering: trans frontwoman Taylin Wills covers their journey into affirming their gender identity throughout these songs. All of the anxiety, doubt, and strength takes center stage in Folding My Hands and it’s delivered gracefully with a succinct, catchy 11-minute EP. Even Wendy’s likes least – check them out!
4. Wide Eyes – Oneironaut
Two hours is a long time. It’s longer than most modern movies – so imagine listening to the same band for that long at once. For Wide Eyes, it’s an honor and a privilege to listen to instrumental majesty for such an extended period. Filled to the brim with complex time signatures, ghost notes, and features from Charles Caswell/Stephen Taranto, the four-year wait for an album was more than worth it. Whether you’re chugging along for 121 minutes or throwing it on in the background to stimulate your mind with polyrhythms, Wide Eyes is one of the least-listened to bands on this list and that deserves to change.
5. Gold Necklace – Gold Necklace
Eternity Forever released four songs in 2016 and that was that. The team-up from Kurt Travis, Brandon Ewing, and more was a flash in the pan and it was a shame to never hear more from the group. So when Gold Necklace formed with these gentlemen, I was over the moon. On the newly-formed kill iconic records, the duo recruited Royal Coda drummer Joseph Arrington to revive the sensational, hip-swinging jams akin to EF. Past that, though, Gold Necklace comes into their own in their 10-track debut with my favorite riff of the year in “You and Me in Oceanside” and the noteworthy tempo-change in “Tootsie Roll”, amongst other earworms that coat the record.
6. pulses. – Speak Less
A group who earned a spot on our 2020 list, pulses. truly came into their own in their 2021 offering Speak Less. Exuding screamo influences and injecting experimental, frantic short bursts in this companion piece to 2020’s Speak It Into Existence, the average runtime for each song on Speak Less is about a minute – but pulses. makes the most of this, sounding massive and focused in this varied, distinctive record. There’s no question that this >20-minute expedition warrants a listen, but fans love questioning if this is an EP or an album. Regardless, it’s an immersive, alluring release from early in the year that is always good for a revisit.
7. Sink With Me – Low Spirits
My introduction to the heavy scene was in the early 2010’s with bands like I See Stars, That’s Outrageous, and Secrets dominating my iPod. While a lot of bands from this span have moved on to a different sound, it’s refreshing to relive this age of synth-infused, call-and-response post-hardcore. Sink With Me capture these elements in their 2021 EP Low Spirits, with a “don’t-fix-what-isn’t-broken” approach paying off with insatiable choruses, throwback breakdowns, and excellent features from Tyler Tate/Tom Kiely. Spin Low Spirits if you’re missing the wristband-wearing, straightened-hair days that built the foundation of this genre.
8. Siamese – Home
It’s typically a death sentence for a band to release a record this late in the year, but Siamese have done just that with their 12-track Home releasing in December. My friends and I were under the impression that their seventh single, “Sloboda”, was the final song in an EP, but then I received a promo invitation for a full-length for Siamese. It’s an interesting choice to release more than a handful of singles ahead of an album, but Siamese’s star power gets away with it thanks to hype-as-hell build-ups, gargantuan production, and soaring clean vocals mixed in with sharp uncleans. Denmark’s best export needs to tour the U.S. ASAP.
9. Good Terms – Turning Point
In this ultra-serious world of music, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a band not take themselves too seriously. Good Terms injects a sense of humor in each of their several music videos covering their debut album Turning Point. Aside from the fantastic album art that visually-represents each song, the “friendly neighborhood emo band” displays a refined, steadfast presentation that stacks up to greats like Neck Deep and State Champs. These underdogs have star potential and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pop up on a worthy label such as Pure Noise or No Sleep Records.
10. Nevertel – everything in my mind
New Fury Media’s kept Nevertel on their mind since their debut single – so it’s a thrill to see another record from the band after several years. Everything Nevertel releases is auditory gold, matching the best the industry has to offer in terms of quality, presentation, and execution. Stretching the binds of multiple genres in each song, everything in my mind brings new ideas to the table around every curve and cements the band as kings of the mix of R&B and post-hardcore. Despite their DIY approach, they’re finally catching some eyes and ears, deservedly earning more than a million streams on everything in my mind in 2021.
PALESKIN – Joy is Temporary, Pain is Constant
PALESKIN is a newer band that got their start just a few years ago, but have managed to craft one of the most emotive releases of 2021 in Joy is Temporary, Pain is Constant. A record you must be immersed in a listen to, it evokes a rush of deep-seated despair usually reserved from the likes of Being as an Ocean or Casey. It’s hard to compartmentalize the delivery of this album into words, so go give PALESKIN’s debut a listen and hear for yourself.
Berried Alive – The Mixgrape
We mentioned Berried Alive last year for their unrelenting Fuego, but 2021’s offering from the Caswells is truly a mixed bag. Showing a more tender side from the usually-brutal fruitcore fun, The Mixgrape will crush your skull in heavier-than-the-sun “Blood Orange”, then lull you into sadness with “Preserves”. Versatility is This record amassed tons more streams than the rest of the list, so we’re thrilled to see Berried Alive flourish and look forward to more!
The Safest Ledge – What Have You Done
Runner-up for single of the year goes to The Safest Ledge for the landmark “What Have You Done” released earlier this year. Seeing the band come into their own here, octave-layered vocals atop an echoing instrumental backdrop craft the best chorus I’ve heard in ages. This local Ohio band is on the come-up and I’m dying for more from this talented group.