Rosy Overdrive’s Top 100 Albums of 2021 (75-51)

Part two of the Rosy Overdrive year-end list! All the pertinent info (not that there is much, I mean, it’s a year-end list from a music blog) is in part one.

See also:
Part One (100-76)
Part Three (50-26)
Part Four (25-1)
Spotify playlist of all the selections available on streaming

75. Mope City – Within the Walls

Release date: April 30th
Record label: Tenth Court
Genre: Slowcore
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The third album from the Sydney, Australia-based Mope City is a record of subtly beautiful electric slowcore. Vocalists Matthew Neville and Amaya Lang frequently trade off between each other or harmonize together in ways that recalls Low at Within the Walls’ most gorgeous moments, or Unwound at its thorniest ones. Shimmering bursts of melody abound, particularly in lead single “Don’t Understand the Shorthand”, but they also explore claustrophobic acoustic textures in “Trapped as a Child” and late-night jazz in “A Mannequin Head Smiled (A Mannequin Smile)”, and a few songs towards the record’s end trend toward Bedhead-esque post-rock slowcore. Mope City aren’t afraid to evoke some of the genre’s greats, but Within the Walls backs up the band’s ambitions with a memorable collection of songs. (Read more)

74. The Fragiles – On and On

Release date: February 12th                      
Record label: Living Lost
Genre: Fuzz rock, lo-fi rock
Formats: Cassette, digital

David Settle continues to keep busy. Last year he released two albums as Psychic Flowers as well as another solid record from his longer-running band Big Heet, and 2021 matched his output in volume and quality. This time Settle kicked off the year with The Fragiles, whose second record On and On continues the pop songwriting Psychic Flowers explored but also allows itself to stretch out a bit more than that project’s ramshackle nature. The album is still fairly lo-fi and fuzzy, but Settle wrings twists and turns out of these tools, like opening On and On with the slow-burning title track only to then let loose with the fuzzy power pop of “Kaleidoscope”. That song’s title evokes The Chills and the Dunedin sound in general, and “Garden of Cleaners” nods to another influence, Martin Newell—but songs like the lumbering “Success Is…” confirm that On and On is more than just hero worship. Whatever the moniker, it’s another worthy effort from Settle and his collaborators. (Read more)

73. Jodi – Blue Heron

Release date: July 16th
Record label: Sooper
Genre: Indie folk, slowcore, alt-country
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital

The debut full-length from Jodi, aka ex-Pinegrove guitarist and wading bird appreciator Nick Levine, is a beautifully sparse indie folk record that’s a pretty convincing argument for a songwriter to watch in the genre moving forward. Even coming in at under a half-hour in length, Blue Heron has plenty of transcendent moments—there are certainly shades of Levine’s former band throughout, but the deployment of empty space in these songs reminds me a lot more of Songs: Ohia’s shades-of-grey alt-country, or even slowcore bands like Idaho or Red House Painters at times. In Blue Heron’s more upbeat numbers, like “Hawks” or “Get Back”, Levine’s suitably weary voice sings over music evoking a twangier take on the new Americana of Trace Mountains or Told Slant, but even these songs have a delicate barebones feel.

72. Angel Du$t – YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs

Release date: October 22nd  
Record label: Roadrunner
Genre: Power pop, indie rock, indie pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

I’ve been intrigued by indie rock/power pop side projects of hardcore dudes lately, so I was drawn to Angel Du$t, and subsequently hooked after one song. The band is fronted by Justice Tripp, the vocalist of hardcore group Trapped Under Ice, and he’s backed up by the majority of hardcore/jock jam revival act Turnstile on YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs. The album, which Tripp refers to as more of a “playlist” than a thematically-grouped collection of songs, is very good, and it has no hardcore in it whatsoever. And other than a cameo from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, there isn’t much punk either. This is pure Rob Schnapf-produced guitar pop rock—they cite the Lemonheads as an influence and they aren’t fucking with you there at all. One bite of “Big Bite” or “Cool Faith” and these songs will be in your head all day.

71. The Dead Space – Chlorine Sleep

Release date: May 7th
Record label: 12XU
Genre: Noise rock, post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The second record from Austin’s The Dead Space is a lean effort from the power trio that’s either on the angular side of noise rock or the tougher side of post-punk, depending on one’s perspective. Chlorine Sleep, coming a full seven years after the band’s debut album, is carried by a beefy rhythm section made up of bassist/vocalist Quin Galavis and drummer Jenny Arthur. Galavis’ vocals, which can go from “unassuming” to “anxious and angry”, are not quite as immediately noticeable, but they add a dimension to these songs. In some places, like the title track and “Animal”, The Dead Space are content to build a foundation in which to let Galavis and guitarist Garrett Hadden mess around. The one outlier on Chlorine Sleep is album closer “True Shame”, which adds a violin and sounds almost like a slowcore song. It’s still crushing, just from a different angle.

70. Needles//Pins – Needles//Pins

Release date: May 28th
Record label: Dirt Cult
Genre: Punk rock, pop punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Needles//Pins’ third album, 2017’s Goodnight, Tomorrow, was one of the most underrated records of that year, a heart-on-sleeve gruff melodic punk album full of singalong choruses that should’ve launched the Vancouver band to the top of its genre. Four years later, the band’s new self-titled fourth album has picked up right where Needles//Pins left off, its only demerit being that, at 23 minutes, it feels all too short. One can’t say they don’t make the most of their limited time with us, though—several songs barely cross the one minute mark, but tracks like “Stumble” and “Baleful” are fully-formed and quite memorable. On the few songs that the band allow to stretch out a bit, like the ragged single “A Rather Strained Apologetic”, one can best glimpse the band’s signature mix of the pretty (the tasteful backing vocals and a clean arpeggiated guitar line) and the rough (singer Adam Solomonian’s, ahem, rather strained emotional vocals).

69. Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader

Release date: June 25th
Record label: City Slang
Genre: Pop punk, alt-rock, dream pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

I’ve believed in the potential of Pom Pom Squad since their 2019 EP Ow, and Death of a Cheerleader feels like a realization of something that Mia Berrin has been working toward her entire relatively brief music career. Berrin, the artist behind the Pom Pom Squad project, has created a specific kind of inter-and intra-music world that omnivorously gobbles up David Lynch, John Waters, pre-rock-and-roll pop music, cheerleading and all the cultural baggage inherent therein into a unique presentation that is all well and good, but the songs on Death of a Cheerleader are more than strong enough to back all that up. Berrin rips through pop-punk heaters like “Head Cheerleader” and “Lux” with the same aplomb as acoustic tension-builder “Second That” and the gut-spilling “Drunk Voicemail”. It’s the birth of Pom Pom Squad!

68. The Telephone Numbers – The Ballad of Doug

Release date: June 25th  
Record label: Meritorio/Paisley Shirt
Genre: Power pop, jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital

San Francisco jangle pop dean and auxiliary Telephone Numbers member Glenn Donaldson says that The Ballad of Doug “may or may not be a concept album about the rise and fall of the Gin Blossoms”. The record’s title track is pretty clearly about the events right up to and right after the tragic death of Gin Blossoms songwriter Doug Hopkins (hence, “The Ballad of Doug”), but I’m not quite sure how the rest of these songs figure into the greater picture. What the album definitely is, however, is a collection of songs that boast an instrumentally soft, vocally clear and emotional take on guitar pop that sounds closer to the late Tommy Keene than anything I’ve heard in awhile, primarily courtesy of vocalist and songwriter Thomas Rubenstein, but the contributions from the rest of the players (such as Donaldson and keyboardist Morgan Stanley) are key as well.

67. Pays P. –  Ça v aller

Release date: September 10th  
Record label: Peculiar Works
Genre: Noise rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Paris noise rock band Pays P. have built up a following primarily through their live act that includes Big Thief’s Buck Meek (who invited them to open for his main band’s European tour) and Brooklyn’s SAVAK (who ended up recording Ça v aller and releasing it on their own label, Peculiar Works), and if nothing else, their sophomore record suggests they’re a force of nature on the stage. The band’s dramatic sound, built around (amp)le distortion, pounding percussion, and a muttering-to-wailing vocal from lead singer Laura Boullic, certainly justify the mid-period Sonic Youth comparisons that I’m sure Pays P. have gotten. Ça v aller may be noisy, but it isn’t “chaotic”—the trio of Boullic and brothers Lucas and Pablo Valero are laser-focused throughout the record’s seven songs, and they know exactly what they’re doing.

66. Cub Scout Bowling Pins – Clang Clang Ho

Release date: July 2nd  
Record label: GBV, Inc.
Genre: Psychedelic pop, jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Clang Clang Ho is Robert Pollard’s most intriguing full-length record since 2016’s Please Be Honest. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t as murkily hook-centric as Cub Scout Bowling Pins’ debut EP, January’s Heaven Beats Iowa, but there’s something oddly hypnotic about these songs. The largely straightforward-ornamental music (provided by the other members of the current Guided by Voices lineup) combined with some of Pollard’s most bizarre vocal deliveries and lyrics ever is fascinating. These songs were built around a cappella vocal demos, and songs like “Ride My Earthmobile” and “Strange Walk Home” are delightfully unmoored from typical Pollard song structure. Still, the Cub Scout Bowling Pins manage some more typical Guided by Voices-esque gold, with hidden gems like “She Cannot Know” and “Roll Up Your Nose” hiding out in Clang Clang Ho’s second half.

65. EEP – Winter Skin

Release date: November 5th
Record label: Hogar
Genre: Shoegaze, dream pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Rosie Varela may be the founder and, more often than not, the singer of El Paso’s EEP, but collaborators Sebastian Estrada, Serge Carrasco, Lawrence Brown III, and Ross Ingram have made their mark on the shoegaze band’s second album in the last year and a half as well. Winter Skin feels like the work of a band working together in lockstep—which is important, because EEP’s sophomore album finds the band probing beyond their shoegaze roots in several directions. Winter Skin incorporates funk (“Stubblefield”), electronica (“Stargazer”, “Slow Down”), psychedelia (“Today I Woke Up”), and traditional Mexican love ballads (“Ángeles”) into its sound, and they pull it off in a way that slots nicely along with more straightforward shoegaze and noise pop (“A Message to You”, “Hanging on a Wire”). Nothing is out of place on Winter Skin. (Read more)

64. Corvair – Corvair

Release date: February 19th
Record label: Paper Walls/wiaiwya
Genre: Power pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Portland husband-and-wife duo Brian Naubert and Heather Larimer have been involved separately in various Pacific Northwest bands for the past two decades or so, but they’ve only just now gotten around to recording something together. Born out of COVID-19 quarantine, the project’s self-titled debut is an impressive, ambitious work of indie pop that’s both immediate and multi-layered. They cite Electrical Light Orchestra as an influence, and this is borne out by Corvair’s big hooks that come via both guitar and synthesizer. These songs also remind me of The New Pornographers—another ELO-indebted band—particularly in moments like Larimer’s melodic verse vocal for “Green (Mean Time)”. Moments like the travelogue “Focus Puller”’s relatively sparse first half let the album’s thematic undercurrents peek through, but the song’s groovy second half remind us that Corvair are going to have fun with all this, no matter what.

63. The Cocker Spaniels – The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You

Release date: June 4th
Record label: Self-released/Evil Island Fortress
Genre: Indie rock, psychedelic pop, power pop
Formats: Cassette, digital

Sean Padilla has deemed his first full-length record as The Cocker Spaniels in over a decade “a tribute to my spouse, our children, and our cats”, and many of The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You’s strongest moments reflect that directly. Padilla finds inspiration in more lighthearted family moments, like the cat-versus-cat turf war of “Eternal Grudge” or the self-explanatory “Family Narc”, but isn’t afraid to evoke deeper emotions with “No Steps or Halves” and “A New Hello” (which is, yes, also about a cat). Despite its familial focus, …Are Still Alive refuses to be an album that doesn’t interact with the outside world. Padilla would probably say he doesn’t have much choice: as a Black father of three in 2021, toxic masculinity, racist police violence, and white guilt all swirl around his domestic life. …Are Still Alive tackles it all head-on over nearly an hour, and has a blast while doing so, with Padilla’s twin influences of Robert Pollard and Prince leading the songs on their psychedelic-pop-rock journey through a long-in-the-tooth record that sounds like it took full advantage of its gestation period. (Read more)

62. Charlie Martin – Imaginary People

Release date: April 30th  
Record label: Grand Jury
Genre: Indie folk, folk pop, dream folk
Formats: Digital

At the end of April, Austin’s Charlie Martin quietly released his first solo album, Imaginary People—a record that slowly grew on me for months until it became a lock for this list. Imaginary People doesn’t stray too far from Martin’s work with his main band, Hovvdy, but the songwriting that’s made the Texas duo a beloved lo-fi indie folk band is no less potent when Martin is on his own. The album’s thirteen songs leisurely flow in and out of one another, creating a calming listening experience aided by Martin’s reassuring vocals, subtle but confident piano accents, and the familiar acoustic guitar backbone. Imaginary People floats various characters, places, and times across its surface—we hear about “Madison”, “Deborah”, and “Sadie” among others, and are transported to “September”, “June”, and “9 a.m.”.

61. Hello Whirled – No Victories

Release date: May 14th
Record label: Sherilyn Fender
Genre: Lo-fi power pop
Formats: Digital

The absurdly prolific Hello Whirled, the project of Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey’s Ben Spizuco, celebrated its 100th release this year with the lo-fi power pop epic No Victories, and Spizuco clearly brought his A-game to mark the milestone. Even without the long tribute album and collage cover art as evidence, Robert Pollard is a clear influence on No Victories, but Spizuco is just as likely to pull from the freak-psych Circus Devils (“Heroes Are the Best Villains”) as he is mid-fi Matador Guided by Voices (“Mrs. Matter”). Elsewhere, Spizuco (whose voice reminds me of Nothing Painted Blue’s Franklin Bruno) is in a dire mood, from the apocalyptic, “Baba O’Reilly”-esque opening title track to the cheerfully nihilistic pop of “Money Is the Death of Art”. With No Victories, Hello Whirled has put forth an album brimming with ideas and strong songwriting, and if we’re here already, I look forward to seeing where Spizuco’s music ends up over its next hundred albums. (Read more)

60. Subsonic Eye – Nature of Things

Release date: January 15th  
Record label: Middle Class Cigars
Genre: Indie/dream/jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital

Singaporean indie rock band Subsonic Eye pull away from the noisier elements of their sound to hone into something more sublime with Nature of Things, somewhere between Sonic Youth’s last couple of albums and The Sundays. They can do pure guitar pop (such as in “Fruitcake” and half of “Further”), but they’ve also got a melancholy streak to them (the heartstring-tugging “Kaka the Cat” and the other half of “Further”). The album cover is perfect—the map with the record’s song titles as fake landmarks is admittedly corny, but by making it look real enough to use for navigation and combining it with the “field guide” motif and the strange image to its left, it strikes the balance between “sweet and comforting” and “venturing into the unknown”. (Read more)

59. Refrigerator – So Long to Farewell

Release date: May 14th
Record label: Shrimper
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock
Formats: Vinyl

There’s nothing Rosy Overdrive appreciates more than a long-running, consistently strong indie rock band—let me introduce Refrigerator to you all. So Long to Farewell is the twelfth album from the Inland Empire-based band, but it functions just as well as a worthy introduction to the group’s brand of lo-fi rock. Both sides of Refrigerator are out in full force here: slow-moving, deliberate and delicate atmospheric pop rock (opening track “Broken Glass Shore”) and shambolic, guitar-distorted, classic-rock-in-the-basement (“Drink Ourselves to Death” immediately after), and most of So Long to Farewell lands somewhere along this spectrum. “David Jove the Acid King” and “Jealousy Is Gone, Grief Always Lingers” are pop songs with rowdy electric guitar nipping at their heels, partially due to the addition of Wckr Spgt’s Mark Givens as second guitarist after thirty years with just one. It’s an extra dimension to be sure, but it’s also the same old Refrigerator. (Read more)

58. FACS – Present Tense

Release date: May 21st
Record label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Noise rock, post-punk, dub
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

The fourth album from the experimental Chicago band FACS in as many years just might be their most complete effort to date. Present Tense offers up seven songs from the trio (drummer Noah Leger, bassist Alianna Kalaba, guitarist/vocalist Brian Case) that continue to probe sonic depths but still very much leave the footprint of a rock band. Most of Present Tense is grounded in Kalaba and Leger’s sonic assault, like the increasingly disorienting opener “XOUT” and the prowling industrial of “General Public”. “Strawberry Cough” is positively catchy, the FACS version of a psychedelic pop anthem with a shouted chorus featuring triumphant usage of the word “hauntology”. Of course, they follow it up with the nine-minute “Alone Without”, the one song where the band truly unmoors itself. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, following FACS there and back again.

57. Motorists – Surrounded

Release date: September 3rd
Record label: Bobo Integral/We Are Time/Debt Offensive
Genre: Jangle pop, post-punk, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

This list is something of a document of the Bay Area’s thriving jangle pop scene, but Toronto gave it a run for its money this year, especially among the “post-punk/college rock-influenced” variety of guitar pop. Surrounded is Motorist’s first album, but the members have played in a few notable local bands like Tough Age and the reunited Simply Saucer, so they’ve been around a bit. The album presents garage-y motorik post-punk (the droll title track, the stomping “New Day”), pure pop (the unabashed singalong of “Through to You”, the especially Peter Buck-esque “Go Back”) and songs that incorporate both (“Vainglorious”, which like the majority of Surrounded is jangly but also bass-heavy) in a way that justifies “Through to You”’s Sloan and R.E.M. namedrops.

56. Trace Mountains – House of Confusion

Release date: October 22nd
Record label: Lame-O
Genre: Indie folk, Americana
Formats: Vinyl, digital

We’re living in the golden age of ex-LVL UP music, and Trace Mountains’ Dave Benton has been the most generous so far of his former bandmates. Starting with his old band and blossoming with his current project, Benton’s songs have always felt like they’ve inhabited their own world, and House of Confusion is no different. The third proper Trace Mountains record continues to embrace the Americana of last year’s Lost in the Country (which also featured on the Rosy Overdrive year-end list). Songs like “The Moon” and opener “See It Coming” sound like they could’ve come from any point in Benton’s career, but with a mark of maturity and subtlety that suggest the songwriter isn’t done growing yet. Some of the best moments on House of Confusion are the biggest departures, like the propulsive electronica-rock of “Eyes on the Road”. Again, golden age.

55. Gaadge – Yeah?

Release date: March 19th
Record label: Crafted Sounds
Genre: Shoegaze, noise pop
Formats: Cassette, CD, digital

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Gaadge are a swirly rock band that started as the project of Mitch DeLong, but has since evolved into a full-band effort. The reverb-heavy sound of their debut full-length nods to, among others, the revved-up hard-shoegaze of Ovlov and Swervedriver, the chaotic noise pop of The Spirit of the Beehive, and the tender lo-fi melodies of Guided by Voices and Alex G—not to mention their heroes, My Bloody Valentine. The six-minute psychedelic rock odyssey of “Thrill” is the peak of their deeply-layered, sensory-overload streak, but Gaadge also shine on the relatively straightforward alt-rock of “Flipping Shit” and “Holy Formers”. They’ve already got a particular sound down pat, and frequently hint at a duality they could explore in the future. (Read more)

54. Smoke Bellow – Open for Business

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

The Australia-formed, Baltimore-based Smoke Bellow has consciously shaped their experimental rock into something a bit more welcoming on their first record for Trouble in Mind. Open for Business is a minimalist, almost no wave-influenced post-punk album, but a warm layer of keyboard and synthesizer blanketing helps the record come off not quite so chilly as a lot of that genre of music does. Open for Business’ front-and-center keyboard drone and frequently plain-spoken vocals take influence from the more economical side of Stereolab for a streamlined, rhythm-heavy pop album. Open for Business is a deliberate, carefully-constructed record overall, and that it’s a joyful listening experience is the direct result of Smoke Bellows’ meticulousness. (Read more)

53. Cheekface – Empathically No.

Release date: January 11th
Record label: New Professor Music
Genre: Garage rock, post-punk, pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

The lyrical and vocal stylings of Greg Katz are the unmistakable hallmark of any Cheekface song, and on Emphatically No., he’s out in full force. Like some of Cheekface’s biggest influences (The Modern Lovers, Pavement, Lou Reed), Katz and crew aim to make catchy and re-listenable pop rock music despite talking over the music as frequently as singing over it. Cheekface (also featuring bassist Amanda Tannen and drummer Mark Echo Edwards) succeed on two fronts: their knack for great hooks (“Emotional Rent Control” is the best example right now, but I could really choose any of these songs) and Katz’s put-it-all-out-there, swing-for-the-fences lyrics (“Boyfriend with a soul patch, I know, I know, it’s serious”, “I am eating like it’s Thanksgiving, but without the gratitude”, “I come from a long line of people, a long line of people who procreated”, and many more one-liners). Resistance is easy—listen to Empathically No. (Read more)

52. Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K.

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Punk rock, folk punk
Formats: Digital

The latest album from Brooklyn’s Alex Orange Drink, the solo project of the So So Glos’ Alex Zarou Levine, is about two things. One of them should be familiar to most—that of love, heartbreak, and a general frustration with the fact that humans are controlled by and addicted to chemicals created by their own bodies. The other theme is homocystinuria, a serious, life-threatening, long-term metabolic genetic disorder from which Levine suffers. Levine doesn’t shy away from getting into the specifics of how homocystinuria impacts his life—album opener “Brooklyn, Central Booking” dives right into it, and two songs titled after it look at his childhood through its lens. Everything is chemical in Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K, everyone at the mercy of reactions in our own brains. Although at one point Levin mourns that he’s subsequently become isolated to the point where he’s the only one “who’s ever felt this uniquely lonely”, maybe if Everything Is Broken, then no one truly can be that alone. As he says in “Teenage Angst Forever”: “I think there’s an army marching behind me”. (Read more)

51. Hurry – Fake Ideas

Release date: June 25th
Record label: Lame-O
Genre: Power pop, jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital

Philadelphia’s Hurry have been responsible for some of the best power pop of the past few years, and their fourth record is every bit the equal of their past work, if not better. Lead singer and songwriter Matt Scottoline’s unabashedly melodic vocals are as unabashedly melodic as ever, and the music continues to evoke the likes of Teenage Fanclub, Tommy Keene, and Eyelids. Despite creating the perfect backdrop for a starry-eyed record full of bittersweet love songs, Fake Ideas looks internally more often that your typical power pop album. From the head-on confrontation of troubled and skewed thoughts brought about by mental illness in the title track to the repressive twist at the heart of the sun-soaked “Slogging Through Summer” through to the gorgeously reflective cores of “(Sometimes I’m About It, and) Sometimes I’m Not There” and “Where You Go, I Go”, Fake Ideas has plenty of meat to go along with its cotton candy exterior.

Click here for:

Part One (100-76)
Part Three (50-26)
Part Four (25-1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: