All year long we look forward to this moment of looking back, escaping the continuous flow of new releases for a while, taking the time to recap what really stood out these 12 months. In 2021 I took my FOMO more seriously than ever: I’ve checked out 2,200+ new albums, twice as many as last year (this hobby is getting out of hand). The disadvantage of this is that you don’t get any sleep, but still it isn’t possible to give anything that looks promising the attention it deserves. Anyway, along the way I built up a longlist of 120+ LPs that are wantlist-worthy, which I now have brought down to a Top 50.
In any post on this website, we try to put into words which artists are involved, how their instruments and vocals sound, whether their songs are catchy or dreamy or energetic or dark, where their inspiration for lyrics came from, etc., but I have my year-end list compiled as I always have, simply in order of what I loved and played the most – personal taste preference as the debatable deciding factor. My choices are all about guitar-driven, authentic indie rock, power pop, garage rock, roots, and jangle pop, plus a little bit of soul, country, folk, and alternative rock.
So here’s my Top 50 (you can also find most of it in this playlist on Spotify). Links point to Discogs or Bandcamp (the headings), and to previously posted reviews (in the body text) – add to your wantlist (or collection) what you like! Let’s start with what deserves the most attention: the number 1 is at the top.
1. Henrik Appel || Humanity
[Indie Rock, Sweden || PNKSLM Recordings] Ultimate Gray was Pantone’s Color of the Year, and there appears to be a subtle link to my album of the year. Swedish musician Henrik Appel played in Martin Savage Gang and Lion’s Den, and released his first solo record Burning Bodies in 2018, but with his sophomore album Humanity he rose above himself, although that realization has slowly grown on me. A lot more happens in the 9 guitar-driven songs than you initially hear. The combination of surprising song structures, added instruments and harmonies, the artist’s pleasant sneering voice and the poetic lyrics have an addictive and hallucinatory effect. “Gray is a feeling too”, he sings in standout track Outside, which is not only a striking recap of 2021 (and the mentioned link with Pantone’s choice), but also something I somehow can’t seem to get enough of.
2. The Laughing Chimes || In This Town
[Jangle Pop, US || Tiny Shed Recordings/Pretty Olivia Records] Inspired by the jangle pop from the 80s and early 90s, teenage brothers Evan & Quinn Seurkamp have added a new pinnacle to the genre with their strong songs full of fresh melodies. Discovering their debut album about life in a small, old town felt like a great moment of happiness, one that just goes on and on.
3. The Blips || The Blips
[Garage Rock/Power Pop, US || Cornelius Chapel Records] Five experienced frontmen share lead vocals, guitar, and bass duties, and that works out really well. These are ten energetic, catchy rock songs – far from pretentious – that always evoke a good time. Hits!
4. Pokey LaFarge || In The Blossom of Their Shade
[Folk/Jazz/Swing, US || New West Records] The sympathetic songwriter/musician/entertainer may live in a musical past, he knows what this time needs. The 10 diverse, exotic tracks on his 7th studio solo album have been created with great care, and are literally and figuratively a step forward from his previously released work. This LP showcases the positivity of coming out of the darkness and into the light. Fine fine tunes.
5. Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs || Real One
[Anthem Rock, Canada || Dine Alone Records] Ever since I heard them sing Do Ya Feel It Too (2012), I’m a fan of this six-piece rock n’ roll band that values maximalism. Everything about their sound is colossal – potent gang vocals, heavy riffs, scream-along lyrics – but now it’s more diverse, more intelligent and more ambitious. Their most recent album is their best sounding yet, and I definitely feel it for these new songs too.
6. Southern Culture On The Skids || At Home With Southern Culture On The Skids
[Garage/Surf/Country Rock, US || Kudzu Records] The trio has been playing together for 30+ years, recording and touring around the world. They’ve managed to capture their experience and mutual chemistry in an awesome new album, arguably their most consistent so far. It evokes a rewarding living room concert feeling, like experiencing a cozy and laidback rock ‘n’ roll party with memorable songs that make you smile, dance and sing along.
7. The Courettes || Back In Mono
[Garage Rock, Brazil/Denmark || Damaged Goods] Their previous work was already good, but with these 14 new original tracks – all killer – Flávia & Martin Couri outdo themselves. Their soulful, fuzzy, 60’s girl group-echoing music is irresistible.
8. Radio Days || Rave On!
[Power Pop, Italy || Screaming Apple Records/Ammonia/Rock Indiana/Sounds Rad] Perfect 3 minute guitar songs with Beatlesque melodies and vocal harmonies. In a better world, at least 3 tracks from this tribute to rock ‘n’ roll blasted out from the radio every day.
9. Kiwi Jr. || Cooler Returns
[Jangly Indie Rock, Canada || Sub Pop Records] These four guys don’t suffer from a second album syndrome. On Cooler Returns they do what they did on their debut LP Football Money, but just a bit smarter, richer, and er…cooler.
10. Skegss || Rehearsal
[Garage/Slacker/Surf Rock, Australia || Loma Vista Recordings] “Some people think that they are slaves to society // Others make themselves slaves to sobriety’”, Ben Reed sings in Picturesque Moment. Anyone who is a little familiar with the trio’s love for beer and stuff knows that this is not the case for them, but they do sound more mature and laidback on their sophomore full-length album, which is strong, fun and varying in tempo.
11. Made Violent || Wannabe
[Alternative Rock, US || Sakers] This record rocks hard and old-fashioned, at the same time it rolls smart and melodic in a modern way, convincingly played and sung – like The Strokes on speed.
12. Reigning Sound || A Little More Time with Reigning Sound
[Garage Soul, US || Merge Records] The sound of the band here is warm and intimate, the witty lyrics are sung sincerely and with an edge. The 12 new songs that emerged from the reunion of “the original Memphis line-up” are as good as you’d hope for as a Greg Cartwright fan, no more, but also no less than that.
13. Melissa Carper || Daddy’s Country Gold
[Country/Jazz, US || Self-Released] These 12 original songs about love and a desire for the simple life, recorded in Nashville, combine melancholy and humor and sound both musically and vocally like a mix of Dolly Parton and Billie Holiday. It’s different from what I usually listen to, but very enjoyable, especially late at night.
14. Les Grys-Grys || To Fall Down
[Garage Rock, France || Norton Records] The sophomore full-length album by the French five-piece is a bit heavier and imho even better than their awesome debut. Too bad it seems to be their last record – the band announced its demise just after this release – but luckily we still have the music. So Long!
15. Bones Owens || Bones Owens
[Garage Blues/Swamp Rock, US || Black Ranch Records/Thirty Tigers] Strong debut album with a full sound – powerful, uplifting songs with swinging rhythms, swaggering riffs, and brooding vocals. Great music for a sunny road trip or a party with beer and a barbecue (and big speakers).
16. Ricky Warwick || When Life Was Hard And Fast
[Arena Rock, Northern Ireland || Nuclear Blast] The sound, the vocals, the guitar solos, the riffs, the drumbeat – everything on this album is as big as the smile on my face as I listen to it.
17. The Murlocs || Bittersweet Demons
[Garage/Blues/Psych Rock, Australia || ATO Records/Flightless] To be honest, at first I put this album aside, but slowly but surely I’ve come to love it more and more, and now I can’t live without it. The distinctive vocals, harmonica, melodies, and lyrics are mouth-watering. Bluesy rock ballad Skewiff may be my favorite song of the year.
18. Swansea Sound || Live At The Rum Puncheon
[Jangly Indie Rock, UK || Austin Town Hall Records/HHBTM Records/Lavender Sweep Records/Shiny Happy Records/Skep Wax Records] This indie supergroup stands in the C86 tradition with its discordant, jittery guitar rock, but even then it’s not that easy to write such compelling songs. So many appealing and smart things have been incorporated into this album, which, contrary to what the title promises, isn’t a concert registration. The indie attitude of the musicians is serious business: except for the track Corporate Indie Band, you won’t find this one on Spotify, Apple Music, or other corporates.
19. The Bug Club || Pure Particles
[Indie/Garage Rock, UK || Bingo Records] Catchy guitar songs, rattling and naive, energetic and raucous, with humorous lyrics about the most important side issues of the first world’s life. What’s not to like?
20. The Exbats || Now Where Were We
[Garage Pop, US || Goner Records] More delicious earworms rooted in 60s psychedelic and bubblegum pop, more entertaining smartass stories from singing drummer Inez along with her dad Kenny on guitar, more fun to sing along to.
21 Daniel Young || The World Ain’t Gonna Wait
[Country, US || Orchard Studio] A wonderful piece of work in which Americana, alt-country, folk, and rock merge. Pretty good songs, with pretty good musicians, and pretty good instrumentation.
23. Robert Finley || Sharecropper’s Son
[Blues/Soul, US || Easy Eye Sound] Oh man, this voice, so gritty, aged and heartfelt it almost hurts to listen to, but at the same time it is very beautiful – majestic.
24. Silver Synthetic || Silver Synthetic
[Country Psych, US || Third Man Records] For fans of quality music with a 70s stamp on it, this is a triumphant combination of relaxed glam rock, wayward country licks, classic pop harmonies, and driving psych. Timeless and satisfying with every spin.
25. Night Beats || Outlaw R&B
[Garage/Psych Rock, US || Fuzz Club Records] Sole permanent band member Danny Lee Blackwell has returned to Night Beats’ fuzz roots, but he’s added the best of his more recent soulful work. That has led to a raucous technicolour rock ‘n’ roll LP, with tightly produced, uplifting songs, which in my opinion is worth buying.
26. David Menke & Lionel Liminana || The Devil Inside Me (OST)
[Garage Psych, Germany/France || Because Music] With DJ/producer Laurent Garnier, The Limiñanas delivered 2LP De Pelicula this year, but that one didn’t make it to my longlist. However, the male half of the French garage rock duo created – together with German composer David Menke – the fascinating soundtrack of the Netflix series Monsters inside – The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan, and imho that one is the best soundtrack of the year. Thanks to their driving rhythms I can’t get these 16 songs – partly instrumental – out of my head. Unbelievable that this great song collection has only been quietly posted on Spotify and no further attention has been paid to it (the publisher also did not respond to my request), because a physical release is desperately needed.
27. Acid Dad || Take It From The Dead
[Psych Rock, US || Greenway Records/The Reverberation Appreciation Society] To be honest, it took me a while to appreciate these songs – dreamy, colorful, hypnotic – but it was worth giving this record some time to mature.
28. Still Corners || The Last Exit
[Dream Pop, UK || Wrecking Light Records] “I’m drifting off to nowhere // The past an echo on my mind” – the lyrics of the title track pretty much sum up what to expect. These are songs that are dreamy, cinematic, atmospheric, and hypnotic, songs that got under my skin.
29. The Hold Steady || Open Door Policy
[Heartland Rock, US || Positive Jams] Another four star record for Craig Finn and his bandmates, with great stories, strong compositions, and captivating talk-singing.
30. Ike Reilly || Because The Angels
[Roots Rock, US || Rock Ridge Music] This is rebellious punk rock in a country blues package, dark and uplifting at the same time, with a greasy sound but perfectly produced. In fact, everything about this LP is beautiful.
31. Holiday Ghosts || North Street Air
[Indie Rock, UK || Fat Cat Records] Just like their first two, the third long player by drummer Katja Rackin and guitarist Sam Stacpoole is also on my year-end list. Their primitive rock ‘n’ roll spirit and wonky sound are once again irresistible.
32. Ducks Ltd. || Modern Fiction
[Jangle Pop, Canada || Car Park Records/Royal Mountain Records] Convincing, original jangly pop/rock songs with haunting melodies and cultivated lyrics (“Fear I am uncovering a latent paraphilia // Blistering hangover in La Sagrada Familia”). Highly recommended for fans of Rolling Blackouts CF.
33. Teenage Fanclub || Endless Arcade
[Indie Pop, UK || Pema/P-Vine Records/Merge Records] Despite the departure of co-founder Gerard Love (shared songwriting and lead vocals), the 12 new, well-crafted guitar songs still sound like Teenage Fanclub – honest, warm and melancholic – and this record should not be missing in the collections of fans. The band has a dubious history of cover art, but you can put this one at the front of your record rack.
34. Geoff Palmer || Charts & Graphs
[Power Pop, US || Stardumb Records/Rum Bar Records] You read the term “catchy melodies” more often in this overview – that’s what I like – but I can’t describe this release (which also applies to the next one below) better. All 10 new songs by pop-punk hero Geoff Palmer are a party in their own right.
35. Brad Marino || Looking For Trouble
[Power Pop, US || Beluga Music/Ghost Highway Recordings/Spaghetty Town Records/Rum Bar Records] If you want to continue your rock ‘n’ roll celebration, and why not, put this record on. Just like the LP mentioned above: hit after hit. This guy never disappoints.
36. Jeb Loy Nichols || Jeb Loy
[Folk Soul, UK || Timmion Records] Gritty grooves and mellow melodies, carried by recognizable, raspy vocals, performed together with Timmion’s magnificent rhythm section Cold Diamond & Mink.
37. The Shop Window || The State Of Being Human
[Indie Pop, UK || Spinout Nuggets] First class jangly guitar pop songs with influences from 80s Creation Records bands and 90s indie pop, with nods to power pop and alternative rock – a familiar sound, but far above the average.
38. Grady Strange || Getting Stranger
[Slacker Rock, US || Perpetual Doom] Another impressive debut album, a DIY project recorded on a 4-track that once belonged to CBGB’s Hilly Kristal, with intense guitar songs with surprising tempo and instrument changes, and vocals that enhance the feeling of courage to be free in the moment. Strange is really good.
39. Spit City || Long Dark Night
[Folk Punk, US || Self-Released] Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sean Rose turned the hardest years of his life into really good rock songs, which he sings and plays convincingly. A debut that hits hard.
40. The Kryng || V
[Garage Rock, The Netherlands || Bickerton Records] Behind the primitive, fuzzy and raucous sound, quintessential beat songs are hidden. It’s unbelievable how easily these guys can pull off some delicious hooks. Releases December 17.
41. Velvet Starlings || Technicolour Shakedown
[Garage Rock, US || Sound x3 Records/Symphonic Distribution/Golden Robot Records/Kitten Robot Records] Thanks to the raucous sound, gritty vocals, and enthusiastic lyrics, this was my favorite new band for a while. For fans of the Teenage Shutdown! compilations.
43. Jack Droppers & The Best Intentions || Dad Rock
[Heartland Rock, US || Self-Released] I enjoy this album so much more than I expected based on the cover art. This is infectious true American rock ‘n’ roll that deserves packed stadiums.
44. Western Threads || Cowboys in Montmartre
[Indie Folk, US || Self-Released] I don’t know how the music and harmony vocals of husband and wife duo of Jacob Lewis and Ainsley Richter manage it, but every time I hear one of their songs my heart beats faster.
45. The Umbrellas || The Umbrellas
[Jangle/Two Pop, US || Slumberland Records] I think we could put together a chart with only jangle pop albums this year, because the level was insanely high. In any case, this one (and this label) shouldn’t be missing – timeless pop gems that you can play for all your guests.
46. Lake Artifik || Dream Park
[Indie Folk, Switzerland || Self-Released] While these kinds of songs aren’t part of my usual musical diet, I’ve been listening to them regularly. They are mysterious, acoustic guitar compositions merged with layers of textures and ambiences, with intimate and cryptic lyrics. I called it the ultimate DIY project, because Carlos E. Cordero wrote, produced, recorded, mixed, mastered and designed the album and its art all by himself.
47. Boy Golden || Church of Better Daze
[Cannabis Glam, Canada || Six Shooter Records] This is a quirky record, with positive lyrics and mellow melodies, which came about under the influence of weed fumes. Musically it’s a potpourri of indie, garage rock, alt-country, glam and gospel, but miraculously it turned out well.
48. Molly Hanmer & The Midnight Tokers || Get Loose
[Blues Rock, US || Self-Released] Swinging, bluesful soul (or: soulful blues) infused with psychedelic folk, roots rock, and even gospel, both musical and lyrical highlight after highlight.
49. TEKE::TEKE || Shirushi
[Garage Psych, Canada || Kill Rock Stars] This is a mix of classic Japanese balladry, surfy post-rock and folky psychedelia, with poetic Japanese lyrics melodically and conjuringly sung or whispered. Listening is an explorative and spiritual psychedelic trip, for special occasions.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of the list. Although… In addition to the Top 50 above, these are 50 honorable mentions that fell just off my list (in alphabetical order):
Adult Books || Grecian Urn [Jangle/Indie Rock, US || Taxi Gauche Records]
The Airport 77s || Rotation [Power Pop, US || Self-Released]
Alternative Radio || To Hell In A Handbasket [Garage Rock, US || Self-Released]
Astro Chicken || Different Town [Indie Pop, US || Self-Released]
Bacon Fat Louis || Bfl#3 [Party Blues, The Netherlands || Self-Released]
Baits || Never Enough [Indie Rock, Austria || Numavi Records]
Barmudas || Every Day Is Saturday Night [Glam Rock, Italy || Area Pirata Records]
Boogie Beasts || Love Me Some [Blues Rock, Belgium || NAKED]
Borito || What we Have Now [Indie Pop, Israel || Self-Released]
Joe Bourdet || Meadow Roc [Folk, US || Self-Released]
The Brothers Steve || Dose [Power Pop, US || Big Stir Records]
The Catenary Wives || Birling Gap [Indie Pop, UK || Skep Wax/Shelflife Records]
David Christian And The Pinecone Orchestra || David Christian And The Pinecone Orchestra [Folk/Indie Rock, UK/France || Tapete Records]
Cold Beverage || Hot Wax [Garage/Blues Rock, US || Self-Released]
Death By Unga Bunga || Heavy Male Insecurity [Anthem Rock, Norway || Jansen Records]
Electric Looking Glass || Somewhere Flowers Grow [Baroque Pop, US || We Are Busy Bodies]
First Boy On The Moon || First Boy On The Moon [Indie Pop, US || Manic Records]
The Foreign Films || Starlight Serenade [Chamber Psych, Canada || Self-Released]
French Girls || French Girls [Garage Rock, US || Rum Bar Records]
Full Power Happy Hour || Full Power Happy Hour [Indie Folk, Australia || Coolin’ By Sound]
GA-20 || Does Hound Dog Taylor – Try It…You Might Like It! [Blues Rock, US || Karma Chief Records/Alligator Records]
Gap Year || Flat Out [Jangle Pop, Australia || Self-Released]
Goodbye Honolulu || Goodbye Honolulu [Garage Rock/Power Pop, US || Stray Dog Records]
The Grease Traps || Solid Ground [Funk, US || Record Kicks]
Ryan Hamilton || 1221 [Power Pop, US || Wicked Cool Records]
Robert Jon and the Wreck || Shine A Light On Me Brother [Southern Rock, US || Continental Record Services]
Lewsberg || In Your Hands [Indie Rock, The Netherlands || Self-Released]
The William Loveday Intention || The Bearded Lady Also Sells The Candy Floss [Garage Blues Rock, UK || Damaged Goods]
Miko Marks & The Resurrectors || Our Country [Country/Soul, US || Redtone Records]
Modern Amusement || Modern Amusement [Alternative Rock, US || Self-Released]
Elli de Mon || Countin’ The Blues [Garage Blues, Italy || Area Pirata]
The Natvral || Tethers [Indie Folk, US || Kanine Records/Dirty Bingo Records]
Neilson Family || Be Normal [Indie Rock, US || Jigsaw Records]
No Yonder || Autofocus [Indie Folk, US || Self Released]
The Parrots || Dos [Slacker Rock, Spain || Heavenly Recordings]
Quivers || Golden Doubt [Jangle Pop, Australia || Bobo Integral/Ba Da Bing!/Spunk Records]
Rats On Rafts || Excerpts From Chapter 3: The Mind Runs A Net Of Rabbit Paths [Indie Rock, The Netherlands || Fire Records/Kurious Recordings]
The Rebel Set || Modern Living [Garage Rock, US || Outro Records]
Refrigerator || So Long to Farewell [Indie Rock, US || Shrimper Records]
The Reytons || Kids off the Estate [Alternative Rock, UK || Scruff Of The Neck]
Nick Shoulders || Home on the Rage [Country, US || Gar Hole Records]
Pontus Snibb’s Wreck of Blues || Homebound [Blues Rock, Sweden || Rootsy Music]
Sweet Pete || Say Hello [Rock ‘n’ Roll, US || Self-Released]
Teddy’s Hit || Painters [Indie Rock, The Netherlands || I Love My Label]
The Umbrella Puzzles || A Slowly Dawning Realization [Jangle Pop, US || Subjangle]
Violet Cheri || Sölvesborg [Indie Rock, Sweden || Svart Kaffe Records]
Volk || Cashville [Cowpunk, US || Romanus Records]
Winds || Look At The Sky [Psych Folk, US || Natural Music]
Women Of the Night || Sub Rosa [Alternative Rock, US || Declared Goods/Heavy Soul Records]
Oliver Wood || Always Smilin’ [Soulful Folk, US || Thirty Tigers]
From 99 of these 100 albums you’ll find a track in this Spotify playlist (1 track per album).
If this isn’t enough for you: Niek will publish his list next week. with completely different choices. What you’re missing above, you’ll hopefully find there.