Christopher Owens ðŸŽµ savours the cream from the past year's music scene. 

Horns up.

Due to the hangover from last year, music occupied a very strange place for me in the last twelve months. I didn’t consume as much of it as I would normally do, probably because the lockdown on live performances in Belfast was not lifted until the summer. And also, because I had become acutely aware of how the fragmented landscape can keep one locked into a particular groove without the need to explore other avenues. Something I bristled against but kept falling back into.

Nonetheless, I loved these records. And so should you.

20. Devils Teeth – La Leggenda Di Chong Li

Milwaukee isn’t the first name that springs to mind when we think of great new music, but Devils Teeth are doing their utmost to put Milwaukee on the map. This, their follow up to 2018’s raw Suki Yaki Hot, is a different beast. While retaining the surf/garage rock as the basis of their sound, there are elements of exotica and even post-rock (‘Psychopath’ bears a heavy Swans influence) now in the mix. The end result is an album that may lack the grit of their previous album, but shows the band have the imagination and ability to transcend their roots into something else entirely.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

19. Turnstile – Glow On

For their third record, Turnstile leaned further outside their hardcore circle and into the alt-pop landscape (hence why Dev Hayes appears on two tracks), thus perfecting their sound into something a little closer to the alt-rock stylings of Quicksand and Jane’s Addiction. Although the album was overhyped in certain circles, there’s no denying that the immediacy and imagination on show here will linger long in the memory.

The album can be streamed here.

18. Nadja – Luminous Rot

Once, ludicrously, described as a polite Jesus and Mary Chain, Canada’s Nadja have been incredibly prolific since their formation in 2002. This, their first for underground stalwarts Southern Lord, has been described as their most accessible. However, that still means layers of fuzz, doomy guitar lines and an air of ethereal menace that blurs the line between doom and shoegaze. One to play when walking home in the rain.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

17. Chrome – Scaropy

Supposedly the final album from these San Francisco pioneers of industrial/space rock, this is an album that sees Helios Creed and co. in fine form, mining their particular sound with exemplary results. Creed’s guitar still inspires awe, tracks like ‘New Happy Fortune’ add some krautrock into the mix and ‘H of Spades’ demonstrates a sense of humour not always present to onlookers. If this is the last album, they’ve went out on a high.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

16. Every Time I Die – Radical

A band I have never paid much attention to (mainly due to being derisory namechecked in Brian Posehn’s ‘Metal by Numbers’), ‘Radical’ blew me away due to the ferocity of the songs and how it never once let up. A few have said that it’s on a par with Converge’s best work and, while I’d disagree with that assertion, I think it’s safe to call this the finest hardcore release of the year.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

15. Dead Mammals – S/T

Possibly the only two-piece noise rock band from Rochester, UK, this is one of the finest releases of the year. Dubby, yet driving basslines compete with guitar more akin to a saw than a riff maker and vocals that are hectoring, confessional and maniacal. You can tell this was recorded during lockdown! ‘LS-51’ is the standout tune, due to adding a little post rock into the musical dynamic and vocals that accentuate the paranoid atmosphere on display.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

14. Lip Critic/Omnibael – Split LP

Electro-punk and noise-rock join forces on this split LP to deliver an unsettling, at times inarticulate, but never dispassionate listen. Lip Critic throw in everything from drum n bass, grime and house into their sound, a sound which accurately captures the eclectic, yet disconnected feel of modern life. Omnibael employ a more industrial/noise rock take on their music, but it’s no less confrontational. Indeed, both sides pulverate the listener into submission. Great cover as well.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

13. Madlib – Sound Ancestors

On this, his eleventh solo record, noted producer Madlib collaborates with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) in crafting a record that (once again) blurs the boundaries between hip hop, funk and jazz. The record has already garnered press for sampling post-punk act Young Marble Giants, but it’s on tracks like ‘Hopprock’ and ‘The New Normal’ where you can hear Madlib attempting to make sense of the direction hip hop has taken by going back to basics (hence the title) and beginning again. Although it doesn’t, the end results are still exotic and beat driven enough to make it an exciting record.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

12. Throat – Smile Less

Although I was disappointed with their debut LP, the subsequent years have obviously led Throat to not only harden their sound but also to add post-punk elements as well. As a result, ‘Smile Less’ is an utter triumph. Fantastic bass sound, thumping drums, baritone vocals and guitars that can properly soundscape and be heavy at the same time. Listen to ‘Home is Where Your Hurt Is’ as an encapsulation of the record and marvel at its power. Brilliant cover as well.

The record can be streamed and purchased here.

11. Scorn – The Only Place

Lockdown served Mick Harris well, as he was able to bring out another Scorn record in quick time and make it tougher and darker than 2019’s ‘Café Mor’. Unlike some records released this year which operated in similar terrain, ‘The Only Place’ manages to operate as an alternative soundtrack to a world ravaged from fear and mistrust of authority as well as grooving like a bastard. Mick Harris is a genius.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

10. Pop 1280 – Museum on the Horizon

On the go for nearly 15 years, Pop. 1280 have never been given the recognition they deserve. Consistently delivering 7/10 records that blur the line between noise rock and industrial punk, this new album sees them pushing synthesisers further into the mix. While it takes a few listens to get used to, songs like ‘Right Hand Man’ and ‘Brennschluss’ more than justify the new direction.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

9. Tomahawk – Tonic Immobility

One of Mike Patton’s most celebrated side-projects (thank to having the likes of John Stainer, Trevor Dunn and Duane Denison backing him), Tomahawk return with a record that is just as accessible as 2013’s ‘Oddfellows’ but, arguably, much more direct (most of the songs average 3 minutes). Similar to Oxbow’s ‘Thin Black Duke’ LP, this is an adventurous modern alternative rock album that balances the flat-out rockers with numbers that PJ Harvey and Nick Cave would be envious of.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

8. The Armed – Ultrapop

A little overshadowed in the ‘end of year’ polls by the Turnstile record (which operates in similar terrain, ideologically speaking), ‘Ultrapop’ was a noisier and trippier record that blurs the boundaries between hardcore punk, noise rock and pop music. While plenty of rock acts have attempted this in recent years, ‘Ultrapop’ pulls it off effortlessly. Just listen to ‘Faith in Medication’ as an example.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

7. Naked Raygun – Over the Overlords

The revived Chicago punk legends releasing a new LP on the revived Chicago industrial/dance label Wax Trax was a dream come true for me, and what was even more life-affirming was just how great the album is. Melding the best of their melodic hardcore with the angular noise rock of their earlier material, ‘Over the Overlords’ is a glorious reminder of what a genius Jeff Pezzati is. And check out ‘Soul Hole Baby (Robert Mitchum)’.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

6. Demons – Privation

The second album from these noisy bastards, this ups the ante in terms of blending post-hardcore intensity with noise-rock riffing and straight up punk rock melody. Because of this, it feels like a spiritual sibling to Comply or Die’s 2011 album ‘Depths’ (no bad thing, of course), but tracks like ‘Hosanna’ (which feels like Einsturzende Neubauten collaborating with Unsane) keep the listener on edge with the metallic percussion and choral effect run through the keyboards.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

5. Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

Described as “…an abrasive, unsettling portrait of devotion and betrayal, judgment and consequence, set in the severe and derelict landscape…”, this new release from Lingua Ignota sees her draw on rural blues, gospel and folk, all filtered through her propensity for overwhelming intense vocals akin to Diamanda Galas. The results are explosive, taking the power of tradition and religion, heightening the messianic elements of the latter and the suffering tales of the former.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

4. FACS – Present Tense

Alongside The Body and Uniform, FACS are my favourite American band of the last few years. Embodying the post-punk ethos of experimentation within the confines of a conventional rock format, each record they’ve produced takes me on a journey with them. This new release is a little spacier, a little dubbier, but still taking chances like on the nine minutes of ‘Alone Without’ where the groove and repetition keeps you hooked throughout.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

3. Big Paul Ferguson – Virtual Control

The first solo LP from the Killing Joke legend sees him preoccupied with the dumbing down of society and the ever-pervading grip that Big Tech has on our lives. Musically, it’s very in line with the more adventurous side of Killing Joke, with the drumbeats driving the songs and guitar/keyboards being used as ways to add differing colours and shades to the song. Ferguson’s righteous anger spills out in his lyrics. ‘Plausible Deniability’ is the standout track, due to its wistful melody and weary vocals.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

2. EyeHateGod – A History of Nomadic Behaviour

The notorious NOLA sludge/doom crew are back seven years after their slightly underwhelming self-titled LP. And they mean business. Everything’s been turned up (including Mike IX Williams’ once indecipherable vocals) and the band come running out of the gate to bludgeon the listener into submission. Songs like ‘Current Situation’ and ‘The Trial of Johnny Cancer’ showcase a more hardcore direction for the band, while still retaining the nihilistic sludge/doom feel that made them such a proposition. Immediate, brutal and satisfying, EyeHateGod mean business once again.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

1. Frack – Accelerant

Describing themselves as ‘A loud lap-steel guitar wielding alt punk/sludge/rock trio from Sacramento…’, which is a pretty accurate description, Accelerant is a perfect blend of riffing influenced by Bl’ast, ZZ Top and the Jesus Lizard, all of which flies by in 20 odd minutes. No frills, no fucking around, FRACK! are the real deal. Originally released as a digital only release last year, Forbidden Place Records have issued it on CD and vinyl, with a cover of Black Flag’s seminal ‘Rise Above’ as a bonus track. What’s not to love?

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

Predominance 🥁 Best of ‘21

Christopher Owens ðŸŽµ savours the cream from the past year's music scene. 

Horns up.

Due to the hangover from last year, music occupied a very strange place for me in the last twelve months. I didn’t consume as much of it as I would normally do, probably because the lockdown on live performances in Belfast was not lifted until the summer. And also, because I had become acutely aware of how the fragmented landscape can keep one locked into a particular groove without the need to explore other avenues. Something I bristled against but kept falling back into.

Nonetheless, I loved these records. And so should you.

20. Devils Teeth – La Leggenda Di Chong Li

Milwaukee isn’t the first name that springs to mind when we think of great new music, but Devils Teeth are doing their utmost to put Milwaukee on the map. This, their follow up to 2018’s raw Suki Yaki Hot, is a different beast. While retaining the surf/garage rock as the basis of their sound, there are elements of exotica and even post-rock (‘Psychopath’ bears a heavy Swans influence) now in the mix. The end result is an album that may lack the grit of their previous album, but shows the band have the imagination and ability to transcend their roots into something else entirely.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

19. Turnstile – Glow On

For their third record, Turnstile leaned further outside their hardcore circle and into the alt-pop landscape (hence why Dev Hayes appears on two tracks), thus perfecting their sound into something a little closer to the alt-rock stylings of Quicksand and Jane’s Addiction. Although the album was overhyped in certain circles, there’s no denying that the immediacy and imagination on show here will linger long in the memory.

The album can be streamed here.

18. Nadja – Luminous Rot

Once, ludicrously, described as a polite Jesus and Mary Chain, Canada’s Nadja have been incredibly prolific since their formation in 2002. This, their first for underground stalwarts Southern Lord, has been described as their most accessible. However, that still means layers of fuzz, doomy guitar lines and an air of ethereal menace that blurs the line between doom and shoegaze. One to play when walking home in the rain.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

17. Chrome – Scaropy

Supposedly the final album from these San Francisco pioneers of industrial/space rock, this is an album that sees Helios Creed and co. in fine form, mining their particular sound with exemplary results. Creed’s guitar still inspires awe, tracks like ‘New Happy Fortune’ add some krautrock into the mix and ‘H of Spades’ demonstrates a sense of humour not always present to onlookers. If this is the last album, they’ve went out on a high.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

16. Every Time I Die – Radical

A band I have never paid much attention to (mainly due to being derisory namechecked in Brian Posehn’s ‘Metal by Numbers’), ‘Radical’ blew me away due to the ferocity of the songs and how it never once let up. A few have said that it’s on a par with Converge’s best work and, while I’d disagree with that assertion, I think it’s safe to call this the finest hardcore release of the year.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

15. Dead Mammals – S/T

Possibly the only two-piece noise rock band from Rochester, UK, this is one of the finest releases of the year. Dubby, yet driving basslines compete with guitar more akin to a saw than a riff maker and vocals that are hectoring, confessional and maniacal. You can tell this was recorded during lockdown! ‘LS-51’ is the standout tune, due to adding a little post rock into the musical dynamic and vocals that accentuate the paranoid atmosphere on display.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

14. Lip Critic/Omnibael – Split LP

Electro-punk and noise-rock join forces on this split LP to deliver an unsettling, at times inarticulate, but never dispassionate listen. Lip Critic throw in everything from drum n bass, grime and house into their sound, a sound which accurately captures the eclectic, yet disconnected feel of modern life. Omnibael employ a more industrial/noise rock take on their music, but it’s no less confrontational. Indeed, both sides pulverate the listener into submission. Great cover as well.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

13. Madlib – Sound Ancestors

On this, his eleventh solo record, noted producer Madlib collaborates with Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) in crafting a record that (once again) blurs the boundaries between hip hop, funk and jazz. The record has already garnered press for sampling post-punk act Young Marble Giants, but it’s on tracks like ‘Hopprock’ and ‘The New Normal’ where you can hear Madlib attempting to make sense of the direction hip hop has taken by going back to basics (hence the title) and beginning again. Although it doesn’t, the end results are still exotic and beat driven enough to make it an exciting record.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

12. Throat – Smile Less

Although I was disappointed with their debut LP, the subsequent years have obviously led Throat to not only harden their sound but also to add post-punk elements as well. As a result, ‘Smile Less’ is an utter triumph. Fantastic bass sound, thumping drums, baritone vocals and guitars that can properly soundscape and be heavy at the same time. Listen to ‘Home is Where Your Hurt Is’ as an encapsulation of the record and marvel at its power. Brilliant cover as well.

The record can be streamed and purchased here.

11. Scorn – The Only Place

Lockdown served Mick Harris well, as he was able to bring out another Scorn record in quick time and make it tougher and darker than 2019’s ‘Café Mor’. Unlike some records released this year which operated in similar terrain, ‘The Only Place’ manages to operate as an alternative soundtrack to a world ravaged from fear and mistrust of authority as well as grooving like a bastard. Mick Harris is a genius.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

10. Pop 1280 – Museum on the Horizon

On the go for nearly 15 years, Pop. 1280 have never been given the recognition they deserve. Consistently delivering 7/10 records that blur the line between noise rock and industrial punk, this new album sees them pushing synthesisers further into the mix. While it takes a few listens to get used to, songs like ‘Right Hand Man’ and ‘Brennschluss’ more than justify the new direction.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

9. Tomahawk – Tonic Immobility

One of Mike Patton’s most celebrated side-projects (thank to having the likes of John Stainer, Trevor Dunn and Duane Denison backing him), Tomahawk return with a record that is just as accessible as 2013’s ‘Oddfellows’ but, arguably, much more direct (most of the songs average 3 minutes). Similar to Oxbow’s ‘Thin Black Duke’ LP, this is an adventurous modern alternative rock album that balances the flat-out rockers with numbers that PJ Harvey and Nick Cave would be envious of.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

8. The Armed – Ultrapop

A little overshadowed in the ‘end of year’ polls by the Turnstile record (which operates in similar terrain, ideologically speaking), ‘Ultrapop’ was a noisier and trippier record that blurs the boundaries between hardcore punk, noise rock and pop music. While plenty of rock acts have attempted this in recent years, ‘Ultrapop’ pulls it off effortlessly. Just listen to ‘Faith in Medication’ as an example.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

7. Naked Raygun – Over the Overlords

The revived Chicago punk legends releasing a new LP on the revived Chicago industrial/dance label Wax Trax was a dream come true for me, and what was even more life-affirming was just how great the album is. Melding the best of their melodic hardcore with the angular noise rock of their earlier material, ‘Over the Overlords’ is a glorious reminder of what a genius Jeff Pezzati is. And check out ‘Soul Hole Baby (Robert Mitchum)’.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

6. Demons – Privation

The second album from these noisy bastards, this ups the ante in terms of blending post-hardcore intensity with noise-rock riffing and straight up punk rock melody. Because of this, it feels like a spiritual sibling to Comply or Die’s 2011 album ‘Depths’ (no bad thing, of course), but tracks like ‘Hosanna’ (which feels like Einsturzende Neubauten collaborating with Unsane) keep the listener on edge with the metallic percussion and choral effect run through the keyboards.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

5. Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

Described as “…an abrasive, unsettling portrait of devotion and betrayal, judgment and consequence, set in the severe and derelict landscape…”, this new release from Lingua Ignota sees her draw on rural blues, gospel and folk, all filtered through her propensity for overwhelming intense vocals akin to Diamanda Galas. The results are explosive, taking the power of tradition and religion, heightening the messianic elements of the latter and the suffering tales of the former.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

4. FACS – Present Tense

Alongside The Body and Uniform, FACS are my favourite American band of the last few years. Embodying the post-punk ethos of experimentation within the confines of a conventional rock format, each record they’ve produced takes me on a journey with them. This new release is a little spacier, a little dubbier, but still taking chances like on the nine minutes of ‘Alone Without’ where the groove and repetition keeps you hooked throughout.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

3. Big Paul Ferguson – Virtual Control

The first solo LP from the Killing Joke legend sees him preoccupied with the dumbing down of society and the ever-pervading grip that Big Tech has on our lives. Musically, it’s very in line with the more adventurous side of Killing Joke, with the drumbeats driving the songs and guitar/keyboards being used as ways to add differing colours and shades to the song. Ferguson’s righteous anger spills out in his lyrics. ‘Plausible Deniability’ is the standout track, due to its wistful melody and weary vocals.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

2. EyeHateGod – A History of Nomadic Behaviour

The notorious NOLA sludge/doom crew are back seven years after their slightly underwhelming self-titled LP. And they mean business. Everything’s been turned up (including Mike IX Williams’ once indecipherable vocals) and the band come running out of the gate to bludgeon the listener into submission. Songs like ‘Current Situation’ and ‘The Trial of Johnny Cancer’ showcase a more hardcore direction for the band, while still retaining the nihilistic sludge/doom feel that made them such a proposition. Immediate, brutal and satisfying, EyeHateGod mean business once again.

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

1. Frack – Accelerant

Describing themselves as ‘A loud lap-steel guitar wielding alt punk/sludge/rock trio from Sacramento…’, which is a pretty accurate description, Accelerant is a perfect blend of riffing influenced by Bl’ast, ZZ Top and the Jesus Lizard, all of which flies by in 20 odd minutes. No frills, no fucking around, FRACK! are the real deal. Originally released as a digital only release last year, Forbidden Place Records have issued it on CD and vinyl, with a cover of Black Flag’s seminal ‘Rise Above’ as a bonus track. What’s not to love?

The album can be streamed and purchased here.

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

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