Best of 2021

Note to the Reader: I started writing this post back at the end of 2021, with intention of posting it in early 2022. However, I never got around to finishing until much, much later in 2022, when you see this actually getting published. Sorry about that. In the areas I had to go back and finish up my thoughts, I tried to keep the writing voice appropriate to when I started this article. Grammarly did its best to help. Notes from my future self are noted in italics.

As I noted in yesterday’s post (future me note: lol), part of the reason I chose to switch up my format for 2021 was that there was just not a ton of stuff hitting for me this past year. Even still, there were some great releases that I did enjoy. That said, here’s what the jampocalypse brought to my ears this past year.

7. Camp Trash – Downtiming (EP)

This Floridian foursome hooked me when I saw a post on about the band. It had a strange marketing campaign, asking if they were even a real band, but I saw one of the members wearing an Oasis shirt and knew we’d get along well together. On the opening track, “Bobby,” they name-drop Michigan towns Port Huron and Livonia, and you know I appreciate some Michigan love. This is a super well put together, cleverly written, and fun EP. It’s four songs, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and lasts just long enough to hook you with its jangly guitars and melodramatic melodies.

Standout Tracks: “Bobby,” “Sleepyhead”

6. Sincere Engineer – Bless My Psyche

The moment you press play on this album, the opening track smacks you across the face with “This is my grand introduction,” it definitely makes its presence known, blasting through a three-minute banger (which ends up being one of the longer songs on the album). I was familiar with some of Sincere Engineer’s tracks from her 2017 album, Rhombithian, as they would often come up on Spotify stations, but this album was the one that got me hooked on her sound. Singer/songwriter for Sincere Engineer, Deanna Belos, has a grit in her voice that conveys to the listener that these are real emotions from a real person. These aren’t just songs for song’s sake; they’re lived experiences told in two to three-minute musical confessions, ranging from soft emotional takes to punk rock blasts. I’m really bummed that someone in Sincere Engineer’s band got hit with COVID and they had to drop off the tour I was supposed to see them on. Looking forward to whatever she puts out next.

Standout Tracks: “Trust Me,” “Tourniquet,” “Coming in Last”

5. Pet Symmetry – Future Suits

This review is written entirely in the future (he said with a certain sense of irony). Even when I started writing this in 2022, I couldn’t put into words what I liked about this album. It was a Pet Symmetry album, it had some bangers on it. However, looking back at it, there is nothing about this album that I can hang my hat on. Even now, sitting here, thinking about it, I couldn’t name a single song from this release. Neat QR code cover, but that’s about it. Even though I put it at number five back then, retroactively I would say this probably ranks at the end of the list.

4. Future Teens – Deliberately Alive (EP)

Future Teens continues their trend of producing catchy “bummer-pop” songs with this year’s brief little EP. With a small handful of tracks that cause the listener to time travel back to the times when they were sad, awkward, or embarrassed, the band solidifies its position as the band that writes songs you can best relate to when you’re sad. It’s not afraid to take a new step or two, including some more lush instrumentation accompanying its crystal-clean vocal melodies. The thing I loved most about this EP was its cover of Cher’s 1998 mega-pop classic, “Believe.” Yes, the auto-tuned, dance-pop renaissance single from the ’70s pop music icon was covered by a band who labels themselves as “bummer-pop,” and all I could say when I first heard it was “what the fuck?” Unless you are familiar with the original, and I am very familiar with it because it’s one of my mother’s favorite songs to vacuum the house to, you might hear this song and not even realize that it’s a cover. They take ownership of the cover, especially by Future Teening up the song’s outro. They nailed this cover so well, hitting all the right notes you expect from the band.

Standout Tracks: “Believe,” “Play Cool,” “Guest Room”

3. Origami Angel – Gami Gang

I often find myself questioning if I should retroactively flip-flop my top two albums of 2019. At the time, I truly loved my number one pick, Oso Oso’s basking in the glow, and to this day think it is a wonderful album. However, my runner-up that year was something truly special. Since then, Origami Angel’s debut full-length album, Somewhere City, has climbed higher and higher on my list of all-time favorite albums. The energy, urgency, emotion, and fun within that album make it such an enjoyable listen that is worth returning to over and over again. With such a strong debut, Origami Angel was staring down either a sophomore slump or comeback of the year. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re following up on an album that many people already consider a seminal piece of modern emo music.

Enter: motherfuckin’ Gami Gang. Billed as a double album full of all the ideas that the two-piece band came up with while trapped in lockdown, the band attempted to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.

Before I go into how successful I think that was, I want to say that it’s hilarious to me that Gami Gang dropped as a “double album,” clocking in at an absolutely epic *checks watch* um, 51 minutes. I had to laugh when I saw that. When a band that puts out sub-three-minute bangers drops a double album, its full runtime takes an amount of time that is fairly normal by literally any other album. Also, in a world where most music is played on a streaming service, the term “double album” couldn’t mean anything less. For all intents and purposes, this is just one 20 track album.

So, were they successful? The fact that they’re this high on my list is probably a good indication that they mostly were. Showing growth in both songwriting, instrumentation, and lyrical content, it’s easy to say that this album is a step forward for the group. New tracks such as “Self-Destruct,” “Noah Fence,” “Footloose Cannonball Brothers,” and “Neutrogena Spektor” are some of Gami’s best. While the first album had diversity among mostly in-your-face and upbeat songs, there’s a wider range of dynamics and vibes on this album, ranging from instrumental breaks like the intro track to softer songs like “Greenbelt Station,” or a surprising bossa nova track, aptly titled “Bossa Nova Corps.”

The album suffers from some of the same issues that many double albums do, namely tracks that aren’t as strong as others, mostly making up the second half/album. Tracks like “/trust,” “[spoons rattling],” “Tom Holland Oates,” and “Dr. Fondoom” are fun during the initial listen, but ultimately not as strong as the rest of the album, and I didn’t feel too compelled to come back to them too often. When I’m listening to the album as a whole, I don’t mind them, but I feel like it would be a tighter package with fewer moments that have me checking the clock if they shaved off four or five songs.

Overall, Gami Gang shows plenty of magic left in the duo. They make music that keeps you interested, keeps you guessing, and is always a great listen. Whatever comes next from them will probably break genre barriers again in some fun and exciting way as they continue to grow and evolve.

Standout Tracks: “Self-Destruct,” “Noah Fence,” “Footloose Cannonball Brothers,” “Neutrogena Spektor”

2. Hot Mulligan – I Won’t Reach Out to You (EP) + Acoustic Vol. 1 (EP)

I’m on record saying I didn’t love Hot Mulligan’s sophomore effort you’ll be fine. I liked parts of it, but it felt inconsistent and lacked much of the dynamic range that their debut Pilot had. Maybe it’s because it’s a smaller, tighter package, but their six-track EP I Won’t Reach Out to You addressed a lot of those issues and concerns I had about their sound, and when coupled with their Acoustic Vol. 1 EP, retroactively made me appreciate you’ll be fine a lot more. These 2021 releases showed that the band still has so, so much potential to grow and evolve.

I Won’t Reach Out to You, which the band dropped in the spring, showcases a lot of steps forward in their songwriting that shows them growing as artists but still retaining the spirit that gave them such a spark on Pilot. This is demonstrated the most clearly on the album’s biggest track, and my personal new favorite Hot Mulligan bop, “Featuring Mark Hoppus” (which, in fact, does not feature Mark Hoppus), as the band’s vocalists “Tades” Sanville and Chris Freeman demonstrate excellent range going from the emotional chorus of the song, with Tades belting out lines like “I can’t get past the fact I drag almost everyone down” to the bridge where Freeman soulfully pleads “I don’t even know who you are, memories faded out just like a dark room lesson” before they join in unison to sing “Maybe I’m just thinking too hard, rather let it dissipate than face my conscience, call it ‘faking progress.'”

Later in the year, the band released an acoustic EP in the fall, appropriate for gatherings around a bonfire. One of my biggest concerns with you’ll be fine was the amount of screaming on the album, and this EP took one of the screamiest songs, “BCKYRD,” and gave it a chill acoustic version. Alongside that, there were a couple of acoustic versions of tracks from the previous EP. The most interesting pick for an acoustic track was “SPS” (from you’ll be fine) because the original is largely driven by a constant guitar melody, synths, and a drum machine. However, the band was smart in reworking the song for this EP, and it came out beautifully when stripped back to just some acoustic guitars and a keyboard.

I didn’t expect these two releases to totally reaffirm my faith in the band, but I came out of 2021 loving Hot Mulligan more than I did before. I am definitely ready to get back behind my 2019 statement that this is the next big band in the scene, if they’re not there already. Their shows are electric, and the crowd is so into them it’s easy to see them continuing to get bigger and better as they move forward now.

Standout Tracks: “Featuring Mark Hoppus” (both versions), “Pop Shuvit (Hall of Meat, Duh),” “SPS (acoustic)”

Also worth noting: The band recorded a basement show and released their cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “Bleed American” as a single from it, and aside from a weird change in the lyrics that do not make sense to me (changing “picket line” to “picket fence”), they did the original justice.

1. Jetty Bones – Push Back

Jetty Bones has made my lists a few times, starting with a couple of appearances on annual playlists (2019, 2020). Her 2019 EP “-“ came in toward the bottom of my list of top albums of 2019, where I described it as catchy indie-pop, often skewing toward the indie rock and even emo side of things. In 2020, I looked at the album’s lead teaser single, “Taking Up Space” and said that I had high hopes for the album if this is what the first track sounded like.

Jetty Bones is the project of singer/songwriter Kelc Galluzzo, and she’s been putting out music under this moniker since 2016. After stumbling across her work, which has largely been a collection of singles and EPs, I’ve wondered how she would realize her potential in a full-length album and finally got to see it come to fruition with this year’s Push Back, her label debut for Rise Records. I was not anticipating that my expectations would be flipped on their head once I heard the record. The album’s opener “Waking Up Crying” harkens back to her most streamed track on Spotify, 2017’s “No Lover,” which starts with some palm-muted chords until the drums kicked in, except this time, the drums weren’t your average drum kit. They were synthetic, electronic drum tones, which immediately gave me vibes of Taylor Swift’s 1989 (an album I would keep coming back to as a comparison while listening to this one). From that moment on, Jetty Bones was no longer just dipping her toes into the pop-music sphere, she was swimming in it.

This was most apparent in the second track and the album’s lead single, “Nothing.” This is a full-blown bubblegum synth-pop song, and I absolutely love it. The song has an incredible keyboard melody, and the chorus is an earworm in all the best ways. I honestly think the record label should have pushed this song more because it’s dripping with emotion, style, and soulful songwriting. There’s even a goddamn sax solo in the song, which absolutely rips. This was my favorite song of 2021, and it’s a shame it didn’t make a bigger impact throughout the year, considering the album dropped in January and didn’t seem to maintain steam in the PR cycle afterward.

The remaining tracks show an evolution in songwriting and emotion while still maintaining a lot of the charm that Jetty Bones established on earlier EPs like “-” and Old Women. There’s still plenty of real instrumentation throughout the album as she ties her indie/emo songwriter roots into her new pop-focused direction, and I think that makes it a release that old fans will find consistent but wouldn’t throw off new ones.

Another standout track is “Ravine,” which makes me think of another massive pop star, Kelly Clarkson. In 2004, Kelly put out My December, on which she bucked the trends and said “no” to letting pop songwriters craft her next album, which was a bold move for an artist who got her break from American Idol and whose career was essentially manufactured by those pop songwriters. The result was an album that was still a pop album but leaned more toward rock instrumentation, with songs co-written by Kelly herself (and critics panned it). However, that album had a lot of raw emotion, including the song “Sober,” which, like “Ravine,” uses alcohol metaphors to tell the story of the singer’s life. Both are beautiful songs with a hint of haunted loneliness in them.

The album is not without its flaws though, some of which I think may prevent a new listener from fully engaging with the album, such as a couple of songs that I feel don’t gel with the rest of the album: “Bad Time,” featuring Heart Attack Man’s Eric Egan, and the following track “Dolly.” They both have weird, quirky idiosyncrasies that seem out of place with the album, such as an odd talking part on the former and a fake southern accent on the latter. However, after that one-two punch of weirdness, the album leads into “Bad Trick” which is one of it’s best songs, and just like “Taking Up Space” sounds like a full realization of the previously established emo-pop sound that Jetty Bones had on her previous releases.

As a whole, I love this album, even with its weird quirks. I am astounded (edit: still, even as I rewrite this in late 2022) that this album did not have a bigger impact beyond the indie/emo sphere because Jetty Bones has an absolute shit ton of potential. I would say this is a better pop album than Olivia Rodrigo’s chart-topping success, hands down. I hope next album, Kelc is finally able to realize mainstream success because she’s been working hard for it these past few years, and this act could break out.

Standout Tracks: “Nothing,” “That’s All,” “Ravine,” “Taking Up Space,” “Bad Trick”