Best of 2021

Ok, so this year, I’m doing things a little differently. Although many things in the world have started to open up (for better or worse), we’re still amid a pandemic. So many things were all new kinds of miserable, and I was kinda miserable for good chunks of it, so as a result, I didn’t listen to a ton of new music this year. As I noted last year, I (inadvertently) named my 2020 catch-all playlist “Before the Jampocalypse,” so my 2021 playlist was named “After the Jampocalypse,” not realizing that we’d still be mid-pocalypse by the end of the year. Oh well. Hindsight, right?

Instead of several days’ worth of diatribes musing on music, I’m going to lead with my 2021 playlist, which is a pretty short one, especially when compared to the 32 track behemoth from last year. I’ll follow up with a shortlist of albums I still managed to love this year. After that, I’ll follow up with something new(ish) for this year. I used to do a chronicle of all the video games I had played in a given year, and so I’ll do something like that for both board games and video games this year as well. It could take me a week to post them. It could take a month. Who knows? Let’s get into this playlist!

My musical tastes in 2021 were trying to prove the me of the past wrong, or at least one particular viewpoint I used to have. I am on record saying that I had never enjoyed many female-fronted rock groups, especially within the indie/punk scene, aside from some exceptions. Given the high number of dudes wearing girls’ pants in emo and pop-punk bands during the early 2000s, I’m sure you can find some form of irony there. However, this was my mindset for the longest time, and I shot down many new music recommendations from friends based on that reasoning. Over the years, I’ve found more and more artists within this niche that I enjoy, and now nearly half of my 2021 list is comprised of female artists or female-fronted bands.

This list is also like 25% covers. Again, I didn’t listen to as much new stuff as I would have usually liked to this year, so covers of things I was already familiar with tended to float to the top of the list. Alright, let’s get into it!

2021 – The Playlist.

Check out the playlist on Spotify

Heart Attack Man – “Leap Year”

Spotify is determined to get me to like Heart Attack Man, and I think it’s working. They now get the “lead track on the playlist” spot for two years running, and I believe that their EP from this November, Thoughtz and Prayerz, was the release of theirs I have enjoyed the most. I probably would have liked it if I had given it more time. If they drop a new full-length next year, I’m going to have to give it my full attention because I think I might finally get into Heart Attack Man.

State Champs – “Chicago is so Two Years Ago”

One thing you don’t expect to make you feel old is when new bands in the scene cover the bands you grew up listening to. When I saw State Champs’ cover of this Fall Out Boy classic pop up on Reddit, I felt like I aged ten years. The good news is that they slay this cover. It’s very close to the original, as you would expect from a modern pop-punk band covering a slightly-less-modern pop-punk band. Still, frontman Derek Discanio has a different enough vocal style from FOB’s Patrick Stump where you can discern the two. They at least kept all the lyrics the same, and I can’t say the same for Hot Mulligan’s cover of “Bleed American.” I enjoyed the single’s cover art, paying tribute to the cover of FOB’s Take This To Your Grave as well. You love to see the new bands showing respect to those who came before them.

Hot Mulligan – “Featuring Mark Hoppus”

If you’ve been reading my lists throughout the years, you’ve been following the chronicle of my relationship with Hot Mulligan. In 2019, I realized I had to give retroactive props to their 2018 release, Pilot. In 2020, amid the pandemic, I found a lot to love and a lot of room to grow in you’ll be fine. Now here in 2021, the band dropped a couple of EPs, and I’ve had time to think about you’ll be fine. I’ll talk more about that in the next post, so for now, enjoy this killer track which definitely does not feature Mark Hoppus.

Belmont – “Stay”

Did you think this year’s chart-topping Justin Beiber/Kid Laroi track needed an easycore breakdown? If so, I have just the song for you! The original version of this track was all over TikTok for a good chunk of the summer, and it spawned tons of cover versions. You don’t have to look hard to find covers of all genres, including acoustic, country, and metal. Chicago’s Belmont made the version that stuck with me the most. It’s a fun listen, and honestly, I think it improves on the original track a bit. It was released as a single and part of their EP Bowser’s Mixtape. I’m interested to see what the next full length from these guys sounds like. Hopefully, we get that next year.

Kali Masi – “Guilt Like a Gun”

It was tough for me to choose which song from Kali Masi’s 2021 release [laughs] to include on this playlist. It’s a diverse album that seamlessly drifts from indie rock in the style of The Gaslight Anthem, Weezer-esque power-pop, four-chord pop-punk tracks like classics from The Ataris, and even post-hardcore-adjacent tracks that invoke the spirit of At The Drive-In. I went with this track to justify linking off to its incredibly unique music video. I’ll have more on this one in the next post.

Julien Baker – “Hardline”

Singer-songwriter Julien Baker has been a favorite of the indie scene since she released her debut in 2015. Her stripped-down, emotionally raw songwriting style garnered her a lot of critical praise, and while I had given her previous releases a few listens, nothing ever stuck with me long-term. Her latest release, Little Oblivions, introduces much more lush instrumentation and makes her music more of a listening experience. I enjoyed it more than her previous releases but didn’t give it a ton of time. This track was the lead single and is an epic, soulful tale of someone leaving behind a straightedge lifestyle and finding themselves with substance abuse problems. It’s powerful, beautiful, and haunting all at the same time.

Taylor Acorn – “Jamie All Over – Acoustic”

Many songs in my overall 2021 catch-all playlist came to me from TikTok, and this one is another one of those, but it also came up again in my Spotify recommendations. Taking the Ruston Kelly-esque “Dirt Emo” route, Taylor is a country artist who released a collection of her emo song covers this year. She also gets a guest spot on a track from another pop-punk band that kept coming up on my TikTok. Last year, Mayday Parade lead singer Derek Sanders made my top albums list and playlist, and so it’s kind of fitting that a cover of one of their songs makes its way to my playlist this year. The original “Jamie All Over” is easily an all-time Top 100 track for me, despite not digging a whole lot of Mayday Parade’s catalog, and Taylor does a great cover here.

Jetty Bones – “Nothing”

I don’t know how far in-depth I want to get into this song right now, considering I’m going to say a lot more about this album in the next post. This is “nothing” (pun definitely intended) like the Jetty Bones tracks that have made my playlists the past two years, but this is easily my favorite song of 2021.

Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”

This song swept through TikTok and popular music like wildfire, and within weeks of its release, it was pretty inescapable. Some people say it’s because it shared a few similarities with a pop-punk classic (enough for Hayley Williams to get a co-writing credit on the song), which helped put it in the conversation, but it’s still a solid song on its own merits. It’s also impressive how quickly she fell out of the limelight after her second single dropped and her incredibly nervous SNL appearance. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of career trajectory this young artist has, especially if she’s ever able to get over this boy she was so very clearly sad about.

Future Teens – “Believe”

Growing up, my mom would always put music on the big living room stereo when she cleaned the house. These were usually big band hits of the 50s and 60s, think Glenn Miller Orchestra and such. However, she loved one more “modern” album, and that was Cher’s 1998 smash hit return-to-form album, “Believe,” and most importantly, its eponymous track. The sensation of waking up to a vacuum cleaner backed with Cher belting out “Do you believe in life after love?” is forever burned into my soul, so it’s very appropriate that Future Teens put a vacuum on the cover of their EP on which they released a severely scaled-back cover of this song that was a classic in my parents’ household. Like just about everything Future Teens does these days, especially their left-field meme song covers, this track is a jam.

Camp Trash – “Bobby”

This was one of the first 2021 releases that hit and is a quick little EP from this group based in Florida. There’s a weird amount of references to particular Michigan cities on this EP, which makes me think one of them has to be from the Metro Detroit area. It’s an easy listen and has a vibe that feels like a release that could have come out about 15 years ago. Give it a shot!

Pet Symmetry – “2021: A Personal Space Odyssey”

Based on the single they put out last year and the lyrical content of this album, the pandemic hit Pet Symmetry, and most likely, frontman Evan Weiss, pretty hard, and he dealt with it by putting together a bunch of fun pop-punk songs. It’s a jam if you can get over the melancholy despair within the lyrics. I’ll have more on this one later.

Sincere Engineer – “Tourniquet”

I’ve been waiting for new music from Sincere Engineer because Spotify has been putting their music on all of my curated playlists since their 2017 release Rhombithian (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce that) hit. I’ll go into a little more depth on this one in the next post, but I had a real hard time picking a song from this album to put on this list. I had two solid favorites, but there are many great tracks throughout the entire thing. This two-minute banger is indicative of the spirit the band brings in their new album.

We Are The Union – “Ordinary Life”

I know. I’m also surprised bands are continuing to release new ska music here in the year of our lord 2021. WATU has gone through various changes throughout the years, both personal and involving personnel. This year, they put out one of their most polished albums yet, mainly dealing with the life experiences of their lead singer after coming out as a trans woman. Ska rarely gets this personal, allowing WATU to craft an album with a level of sincerity that is seldom seen in the genre. It still maintains a lot of the fun, Less Than Jake-style ska spirit, even in light of some deep topics.

Taking Back Sunday – “My Name Is Jonas”

One of my all-time favorite bands, covering one of my all-time favorite songs, so of course, it’s a no-brainer that it made my playlist. They give it a little bit of TBS-flavor but largely stick to the script of Weezer’s original track. Bonus, frontman Adam Lazzara is wearing a St. Andrew’s Hall shirt on the single’s cover, which is neat.

Durry – “Who’s Laughing Now”

Here’s another TikTok pickup. Durry is a brother/sister duo formed last year during the pandemic. They’ve put out a handful of singles, which are all pretty solid classic indie-pop style songs. As the name implies, this track is about finding success even when so many people may have doubted you along the way. I’m not sure if they’re working towards an album, but from what I’ve heard, it’s worth keeping this group on the radar.

Origami Angel – “Caught in the Moment”

At one point, this playlist had no less than four songs from Origami Angel’s 2021 release, Gami Gang, but since I had a self-imposed rule to limit it to one song per artist (remember this), I had a real Sophie’s Choice situation, and finally pulled the trigger on this one. I’ll have more on this release in the next post, but I ultimately went with “Caught in the Moment” because I love the positive vibes of this song and the anthemic gang vocals in the bridge.

Meet Me @ The Altar, Dan Campbell – “Feel A Thing (feat. Dan Campbell) – Acoustic”

Meet Me @ The Altar, while having one of my least favorite names for a band, has been consistently working their way into my mixes for a while now. The pop-punk band dropped two releases this year, an acoustic EP and a full band EP, both featuring renditions of this song. I opted for the acoustic version for this playlist because I like what The Wonder Years frontman Dan Campbell adds to the bridge, and I like the pace of the chorus a bit more on this rendition. Here’s a link to the full-band version so you can check it out. Still a great song! They also just announced that their first full-length album will be dropping in 2022, so I’m interested in seeing how that turns out.

Hot Mulligan – “SPS – Acoustic”

If you make the rules, you can break the rules, right? I threw away my self-imposed once-per-playlist rule for Hot Mulligan because they came out with two separate releases this year, a full band EP and an acoustic EP. The acoustic EP featured songs from their previous album, you’ll be fine, as well as tracks from the I Won’t Reach Out to You EP earlier in the year. “SPS,” off of you’ll be fine, is one of my favorite Hot Mulligan tracks, and the acoustic version is just as good, so I had to include it here. It’s my closer for this year’s playlist, meaning Hot Mulligan is the first band to close out the playlist twice in a row, with the same song, no less.

That’s all for today. Stay tuned for some of my top albums of 2021 whenever I feel like writing that!