Luke Nuttall (Editor / Writer)
Boston Manor – I Don’t Like People (& They Don’t Like Me)
Boston Manor’s self-evident greatness has only been growing into itself more and more, and while they’ve not been as active this year, they’ve been making waves regardless. Fully coming into their metamorphosed harder edges yields a track like this, embracing the seedy, blackened prowl that comes through being suffocated simulations by urban decay and crippling pandemic, and slinking back into the mind’s antisocial recesses to simply just escape. It’s got the hard-bitten bleakness that’s characterised so much of Boston Manor’s later work for the better, in the creep and shudder that surrounds Henry Cox’s worn-down drawl but also accentuates the fatigue within it. On top of that, it’s just Boston Manor’s most melodically satisfying track in a long time in just how insidious the catchiness is. Great stuff from a great band that only keep finding new avenues to show off that greatness.
Times Of Grace – Cold
The return of Times Of Grace in itself was a shock this year, but the long-lasting effect of a track like Cold has been simply flooring. Outside their metalcore remit (and even further outside that of Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz’s Killswitch Engage) comes a metal power-ballad that’s just so perfectly formed in its intent. The build from gentle acoustics to its titanic, full-band crescendo is tremendous in its execution, as is the vulnerability in Leach’s voice, embarking on the path of moving on post-divorce while haunted by the niggling embers of love that are yet to be snuffed out. Even just in moments like the swaddling of vocal harmonies across the choruses or clean rings of guitars, there’s a sense of purpose that comes from this decade-removed return that’s shouldering a creative and personal weight, but powering through all the same. Perhaps a final chorus to really hammer it home would’ve bumped it up a couple of spots even higher, but even still, no song this year was more of a flooring beauty than Cold.
Save Face – Another Kill For The Highlight Reel
Putting Another Kill For The Highlight Reel in this list just feels right, because even for as blatant as the My Chemical Romance worship on it is, it’s most likely better than what they’d come up with if they were to make new music. That’s because this is pulling from the early days; Tyler Povanda has the convulsing, bug-eyed intensity, paired with the razor-wire riffs and piercing gait that works on an instantly visceral level alone. There’s really no deep reason to have this here beyond that, inasmuch as this sort of throwback sound has been sorely missed, and Save Face are by far the best at pulling it off. More so than that though, it has the feel of the genuine article, in how blatantly and deliberately stylised the writing is, and how there’s clearly some hamming up going on in the performance that does hit that sweet spot pretty efficiently. Save Face’s Another Kill For The Highlight Reel was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, and songs like this are exactly why—a ton of unbridled fun that just keeps on giving.
Ice Nine Kills – Welcome To Horrorwood
In what should rightly be an example of how far metalcore disposability has gotten, to where Ice Nine Kills are now on their second album draped over the gimmick of songs based on horror movies, it’s actually one of the strongest offerings to come from the genre all year. In no way is Welcome To Horrorwood a song that’s built to last long term, but as a showcase for how undeniable Ice Nine Kills’ way around a chorus and melody is, this is second-to-none in its field. It’s loud and bombastic in how it injects pop colour into a stagnant metalcore frame, but also keeps running with it for some utterly steamrolling presence. It’s the combination of the sugariest chorus imaginable with the maximalist surge of the theatrical and the macabre, tied together by a tongue that’s first planted in cheek, but revels in its own ridiculousness throughout. For all the po-faced bores clogging up the genre, Welcome To Horrorwood is a foolproof antidote and then some. Absolutely great song.
Creeper – Ghosts Over Calvary
Well, here we are again—Creeper squatting at the very top of the deep cuts list with Hannah Greenwood taking the reins and spinning gold as a result. This does feel decidedly different to Crickets in 2017 though; where that song was a pared-back lament on escaping a toxic relationship, Ghosts Over Calvary takes the approach of burning through the sky with a devil-may-care radiance, embracing the darkness in its most exalted form and totally owning it. It helps that Greenwood can sell the hell out of something like this, calling back to someone like Pat Benatar in indomitable presence but also standing uniquely as herself. And as she does so, there’s the coursing instrumental behind her, eking the most out of Creeper’s current Americana bent with a hard rock flair and a hollowed, middle-of-nowhere gothic sensibility. It’s hard to pin down the minutiae of how this song works so well, but when everything falls into place with such ease, it just does, every single time. Creeper have nothing left to prove, but they keep doing it anyway; songs like this feel like broken-in classics and exciting reinterpretations at the same time, and on the American Noir EP—and indeed, for 2021 as a whole—Ghosts Over Calvary is its brightest glistening jewel.
Georgia Jackson (Deputy Editor / Writer)
Maggie Lindemann – Crash And Burn
Maggie Lindemann’s jump to making pop punk was documented on EP PARANOIA this year, the highlight of the whole project being Crash And Burn. It’s probably the closest the record gets to full-on cosplay of bands like Paramore but in the best way possible, everything turned all the way up,and still distinctly Maggie Lindemann. This song is assertive, it’s high drama with enough different levels to give the weight that added punch and a complete adrenaline rush, striking a chord with anyone who’s ever been frustrated at a one-sided relationship. It’s the best kind of pop punk that fully allows you to exorcise your own demons through screaming its chorus, and concrete evidence that this is the music Maggie Lindemann should be making.
Creeper – Ghosts Over Calvary
Creeper have long been known for their punk anthemia, this year’s American Noir EP further deepening the narrative of last year’s Sex, Death & the Infinite Void. On it, there’s a long overdue star turn from Hannah Greenwood, whose vocals have always been widely loved but vastly underused, often only being given main billing on ballads. On Ghosts Over Calvary, she’s every bit as exquisite as everyone knew she could be given material like this—the subtle rasps in her voice are delicious and the theatricality and camp of the never close to undersold. When the killer solo kicks in the urge to start the song again from the beginning does too; hopefully it makes for more Hannah lead vocals leading the cavalry in future.
girl in red – Did You Come?
There were some major flaws with girl in red’s debut album, but the thing Marie Ulven did get right was the emotion at the core of every track. Did You Come? takes the catchy cadence of Ulven’s manic TikTok anthem Serotonin (actually the exact same cadence, inexplicably) but uses more organic instruments as a background instead of booming programmed drums and synths. Cutesy-sounding as this song is, it’s a song about pure unadulterated rage, and she’s done a fantastic job at translating that boiling blood into a rollercoaster stream of consciousness, sang in her more severe-sounding lower register and soaring up an octave as her thoughts come out more and more fervently. Did You Come? is a wonderful emotional case study told through the medium of 2020s pop, and definitely one of the better things about girl in red’s debut album.
Teenage Wrist – New Emotion
Some bands are just as comforting as they are impressive, and Teenage Wrist are one of them with their journey to replace pessimism with cautious optimism. New Emotion from this year’s Earth Is A Black Hole sounds like it’s dwelling on the negative but radiates hope, both in its lyrics and its music. Guitarist Marshall Gallagher’s super clean vocals take the driving moments further than they’ve ever gone for the band before, the instrumental pushing it all forward with a glorious fuzzy vigour. The instrumental bridge feels like a perfect encapsulation of Teenage Wrist’s sound, oscillating between a soaring riff, continuing on the anthemia of the chorus and harsher chords that make listeners snap to attention without ever snapping them out of the whole vibe of the song. New Emotion is one of the best examples of what Teenage Wrist do, and that’s provide a pick-me-up that lets you exorcise your innermost demons too.
Halsey – honey
There are plenty of surprises on Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power record, tracks that are uncharacteristically tense or do complete 180s partway through their runtime. But the album’s highlight is one of the most straightforward. honey makes a dive into the rock music Halsey has loved since youth, the singer, producers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and enlisted drummer Dave Grohl making something of an ultimate supergroup. That said, this is rock the way Halsey does rock. Yes, there’s bite here but it’s still controlled, the vocals on top adding a sweetness and bucketloads of character on top. The production and aura surrounding If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power has made Halsey flourish into the rock superpower they’ve always had the potential to be, and honey is a glorious monument for that.