Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
Lakes – Start Again
A great year for emo can be best encapsulated by Lakes’ Start Again, serving almost as a playbook for everything this genre can do at its best. The production is beautiful and crystalline in weaving those classic Midwestern twinkles with a nice bit of Britrock muscle underneath, all while sounding organic to a fault and perfectly melodic. Even as a British take on this particular sound, nothing feels lost or undercut, or has any of the lushness of its original form tampered with. It’s undeniably easy to like, with a lyrical set chronicling mid-pandemic ennui that only deepens and enriches the pool further. There’s just a self-evident goodness that stands so high, one whose DIY adoration could definitely afford to ripple out further.
Kali Masi – [laughs]
Feeling a bit disillusioned with where The Wonder Years have been going lately? Dunno why you would be, but if that’s the case, Kali Masi’s [laughs] is the perfect cure. More layered and cerebral than a lot of alt-punk fare but no less accessible, this is exactly the next steps this scene should be taking, just as The Wonder Years did the same for pop-punk before them. That’s a comparison that only gets more pertinent upon listening, but Kali Masi have their own style to set them apart from basically anyone else. They’re raw and lived-in without sounding beholden to the downbeat air around them, making for an album whose additional personality unfurls more upon each subsequent listen. This was a real treat within punk this year that’s only gotten better over time; get them on a bill with the right company, and Kali Masi will be flying high in no time.
Teenage Wrist – Earth Is A Black Hole
Only a few years ago, Teenage Wrist were barely more than another name in a swollen class of indie-rock bands; now, they’re in a class of their own. By trimming the fat, embracing poppier colours and dialing up their hookiness by a considerable amount, Teenage Wrist made the album that should’ve made them superstars this year. It really is what more pop-rock should be striving for, evidence that a firm coat of polish and purposeful rock music don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Why this went basically ignored since its release is one of the year’s great mysteries, and something that Teenage Wrist emphatically don’t deserve. Their stunning metamorphosis deserves more attention than it got, for certain.
The Hyena Kill – A Disconnect
With a bit of time and the right platforms to make themselves known, The Hyena Kill could completely dominate in no time at all. The current climate of alt-rock is basically already shaped around what they offer, the sort of heavy, progressive but unflinchingly listenable rock that just works on every creative level. There’s definitely potential for more outside of their scene too, with a Deftones-esque ascent not seeming out of the question when considering what A Disconnect offers. The heady highs and grungy lows could’ve come directly from one of ‘90s alt-metal’s best-kept secrets, only touched with modern fidelity to crispen that innovation. Perhaps it’s been overtaken by some of the year’s flashier releases, but that’s by no means a black mark on A Disconnect in itself; the primal creative force of The Hyena Kill does plenty on its own.
The Sonder Bombs – Clothbound
The Sonder Bombs’ Clothbound came out all the way back in January, and ever since, it’s been incredibly disheartening to see it not get the attention it deserves. It’s one of those cases where the right push is all that’s needed, because this is as ready for prime time as artistic statements get. A sparkling, passionate coalescence of DIY mindset with pop-punk spirit, Clothbound continues to dazzle with each listen on virtually every level. It’s got richness to the writing and performance, and delicacy to outline an enormous heart beating underneath. This mini-wave of super-endearing indie-pop-punk has produced some real gems in the last few years, and this is chief among them, even when it’s not hugely out of The Sonder Bombs’ typical remit by any stretch. That just shows how good this band is and how much more love they should be getting, especially off the back an album that’s only gotten better and will most likely only continue that way.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
Tigers Jaw – I Won’t Care How Remember Me
Plenty of bands from the mid-2010s pop-punk and emo boom have tapped out with their glory days behind them, but that’s not to say that those still going aren’t worth listening to anymore. Tigers Jaw have been consistently putting out great records for nearing a decade and a half now, their usual formula always a comfort and a guarantee of quality. This year’s I Won’t Care How You Remember Me is no exception, the dual vocals always providing just the right level of sweetness, and the breezing through punk, melancholy acoustic and indie so naturally that nothing ever feels boring or like Tigers Jaw are deliberately treading the same path. Even if you aren’t missing the 2010s scene Tigers Jaw came from, they’re the perfect warm hug in a song band.
Lonely The Brave – The Hope List
Losing a band member is never easy, but losing a singer provides its own set of challenges. The voice people associate with everything your band puts out is gone, replacing them often meaning listeners have to completely reacclimatise to your sound. Lonely The Brave had to face just that, but The Hope List, their first record featuring Grumble Bee’s Jack Bennett on lead vocals, bests anything they’ve put out thus far. Soaring choruses add a nice tonic to the band’s atmospheric intensity, and Bennett not only fits in but takes the pre-existing blueprint and elevates it. This record is one of the few surviving continuations of the Britrock scene, and maybe it’s the interest in that scene having long dwindled or this record’s January release date, but Lonely The Brave definitely deserve more flowers for what they’ve put out.
Bleachers – Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night
Jack Antonoff is known for being the producer passed around pop’s most elite stars, but his solo project Bleachers is the most clear cut vessel for his talents in the way he himself wants to display them. This year’s Take The Sadness Out Of Saturday Night puts more classic influences at the forefront, baroque pop, rockabilly and full-on Bruce Springsteen worship (hammered home by the man himself featuring on Chinatown) all prominent sounds on the record. Antonoff is fantastic at sad/happy songwriting, making some of the most poignant and meaningful lyrics some of the most euphoric to scream back with him, particularly on songs like Stop Making This Hurt which make the most of the pop side of things. Take The Sadness… shows Jack Antonoff’s encyclopedic musical knowledge and collates them to make relatable, intimate songs as well as huge choruses not enough people are singing.
Big Red Machine – How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
The latest project from The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon was well-liked by critics, but didn’t get the buzz the sheer amount of skills it showcases should get. How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? doesn’t just show off the two’s talents for singing, playing instruments and songwriting, but for curation too, characters from all over the Big Red Machine cinematic universe dropping in to collaborate on the record. What it results in is some really loveable songs (Phoenix, Mimi, Renegade and Brycie all sticking out in particular), with layers upon musical layers of things to appreciate. Certainly one of the most rewarding listens of the year.
Holding Absence – The Greatest Mistake Of My Life
There’s blood, sweat, tears and heart at the core of this record (and everything Holding Absence do in general), but the pure unadulterated drama everything is steeped in makes every single song exhilarating. Lucas Woodland continues to be one of the best frontmen in the rock scene, completely selling every single feeling and word that comes from him. It makes the brain-spinning philosophicals delved into in these lyrics feel that bit more eased, discussing how ritualistic people can be, spending a lifetime with the wrong person, losing religious faith in ways that can only make hearts burst and be screamed along to. Holding Absence are incredible at what they do and the feelings they can conjure up from both themselves and listeners deserves much more praise.