CWHT's Top 10 Alt-Albums of 2021
10. Molly Lewis––The Forgotten Edge––Jagjaguwar
Molly Lewis’ The Forgotten Edge, is, in a word––timeless. Just eighteen minutes pass and this snazzy, hypnotic, operatic, and fair-share-of-whistling-full record is over before it starts. The title track is a thing of Haunting Beauty. The horns on "Satin Curtains" are downright delicious when paired with the near-operatic vocals. Just six tracks makes me long for more, as I find the end of the album and re-entry into the real world to be an encounter with the Forgotten Edge itself.
Choice Cuts: ”The Forgotten Edge”, “Satin Curtains”, “Winds Lament”
9. The Heritage Orchestra, Jules Buckley and Ghostnote––The Breaks––Decca
Jules Buckley is a Grammy award-winning composer, curator and conductor who has linked up with long time collaborative partners Chris Wheeler, Heritage Orchestra and percussion collective Ghost-Note for this lively full-length. The record was two years in the making and pays homage to the pillars of hip hop and mainstays of the breaking scene, but with plenty of added flair. There are plenty of dance floor ready breaks, as well as more airy and upbeat soul groovers like the excellent 'Space Funk.' Though the backbones of these tunes follow familiar genres rules, the flair on top is what makes them so special.
Choice Cuts: “Get On The Good Foot”, “The Mexican (feat. Mattiel)”, “X Breaks (feat Mr. Switch)”
8. Shannon & The Clams––Year of the Spider––Easy Eye Sound
When an already established band cuts a record with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, it can really go only one of two ways. Does it sound like a Black Keys album or can it stand on its own? I reckon we got lucky with Year of the Spider, the sixth studio album from Oakland college-radio mainstays Shannon & the Clams. Since forming in 2009, Shannon and the Clams have infused garage rock with flourishes of ‘60s doo-wop and neo-psychedelia; their last record, 2018’s Onion, was especially indebted to that era. On Year of the Spider, they dig even deeper into their old-school repertoire and its various off-shoots: “All of My Cryin’,” written and sung by guitarist Cody Blanchard, struts with a disco flair before bursting into ABBA-lite harmonies. The atmospheric synths of “Midnight Wine” approximate those of Alan Vega’s Suicide, while the eerie “Snakes Crawl” feels like a take on classic country. By incorporating a wider array of subgenres without losing their core identity, Shannon and the Clams create music that’s familiar without feeling redundant.
Choice Cuts: “Midnight Wine”, “Godstone”, “Leaves Fall Again”
7. Turnstile––GLOW ON––Road Runner
In an age where everything old is new again, a fresh helping of the best pop-punk in years is just what the doctor ordered. Lo and behold, the sophomore record from Baltimore’s Turnstile is an album that had me wondering Why are Green Day, Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy still making music? Oh , yeah. Something-something-stadium-ticket-prices-and-superbowl-performances.
Beyond having premeditated and well thought-out music gutters that contribute to its overall cohesion, the entirety of GLOW ON is delivered with a confidence and righteousness that is reminiscent of the Clash, Arctic Monkeys, and Violent Femmes. The scuzzed-out and often bristly recording furnishes in their favor. Turnstile in 2021 have the kind of sound that must’ve made the bandmates turn to one-another and say “Hey, I think we’re really onto something here”.
Choice Cuts: “UNDERWATER BOI”, “HOLIDAY”, “DANCE-OFF”
6. Viagra Boys––Welfare Jazz––YEAR0001
Swedish punks Viagra Boys’ sophomore record, Welfare Jazz, is noisy, derisive, and takes aim at capitalism, classism, and toxic masculinity. On Welfare Jazz, Viagra Boys are as explosive, gritty, and tongue-in-cheek as ever. “For bands like Stockholm’s Viagra Boys, whose values are basically progressive but whose presentation is brutalist and debauched, those shifting mores pose a challenge: how to provoke without offending or trolling,” Evan Rytlewski writes for Condé Nast®. “Theirs is a delicate satirical walk; everything about the band is an exercise in insinuating bad taste without crossing the line into it.”
Choice Cuts: “Ain’t Nice”, “Creatures”, “To The Country”
5. GOJIRA––Fortitude––Road Runner
French-metal outfit GOJIRA gave us one of the cleanest and well-produced albums of 2021. FORTITUDE stands out as GOJIRA’s first album in five years and the follow-up to 2016’s Grammy® nominated LP MAGMA.
Recorded and Produced by Joe Duplantier at Silver Cord Studio - GOJIRA’s Ridgewood, Queens, headquarters – and mixed by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine), FORTITUDE is a collection of songs urging humanity to imagine a new world—and then make it happen.
The band initially laid the foundation for FORTITUDE last year with the surprise release of the 2020 single “Another World.” NPR hailed the track as “an apocalyptic banger,” while STEREOGUM declared, “Gojira are one of this century’s most important underground metal institutions.” Voted by fans as the #1 release on REVOLVER’s “5 Most Anticipated Albums of 2021,” FORTITUDE continues GOJIRA’s career-long tradition of harnessing their music as a vehicle for environmental activism with songs like “Amazonia” and “The Chant” not only surveying critical cases, but also catalyzing listeners to take action.
Choice Cuts: “Another World’, “Fortitude”, “The Chant”
4. Amyl & the Sniffers––Comfort to Me––ATO
Australia’s Amyl and The Sniffers’ hotly anticipated sophomore album Comfort To Me follows up to the band’s 2019 self-titled debut album, which received high praise for its “pure, uncut rock’n’roll fun” (Pitchfork) and its modern update on ‘70s punk. Taylor and her bandmates (guitarist Dec Martens, bassist Gus Romer, and drummer Bryce Wilson) - wrote Comfort To Me during the pandemic while quarantining in the same house, spending more time refining the songs than they had ever previously. The result is a collection of 13 songs - mixed by Nick Launay (Nick Cave, IDLES, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and mastered by Bernie Grundman (Prince, Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, OutKast) - that amp up the band’s infectiously chaotic energy.
Choice Cuts: “Choices”, “Hertz”, “Maggot”,
3. Night Beats––Outlaw R&B––Fuzz Club
A quivering, psychedelic garage rock extravaganza (you don’t find a better name than Outlaw R&B in my opinion). It’s probably their best (?) album (?) I think? Anyway, it’s a dry heat jam. Made during the height of the California wildfires, rioting in the streets and a nation in lockdown, Outlaw R&B deals in a psychedelic and R&B-infused garage-rock sound that's “bathed in post-apocalyptic bliss”. With four albums now behind them – their self-titled 2011 debut, 2013’s Sonic Bloom, 2016’s Who Sold My Generation and 2019’s Myth of A Man – Night Beats have garnered a reputation as one of the finest purveyors of contemporary rock’n’roll hedonism around.
Choice Cuts: “New Day”, “Hell In Texas”, “Ticket”
2. Nick Shoulders––Home On the Rage––Gar Hole
Nick Shoulders is a 30 something Ozarkian renaissance man with an undeniable and unabated yodel. Home on the Rage is his third and best album. Punk and borderline anarchistic tendencies fuel his subversive honky tonk.
The two instrumental cuts “Loathsome Whistle” & “John Brown’s Nightmare” display both technical range and a love for early American sound. “John Brown’s Nightmare” is exactly one-hundred seconds of none other than good ol’ oral lamellophone, A.K.A. the Jaw Harp.
The title track finds Shoulders reflecting on the tragic and disturbing past of the region that raised him and it’s contemporary implications:
“10 generations on land that they stole—torched the prairie for plantations // they broke the mountains for coal.”
”Our heritage is hate though there's plenty to say // how can the Land of the Free be the home of the Slave?”
“Home on the Rage” & “Don’t Write This Song” are easily the most beautiful numbers on the album. The haunting warble of the latter reverberates in the skull and gives the lyrics more punch. Don’t Write This Song also features the most pleasantly pungent yodeling on the record.
Though “John Brown’s Nightmare” and “Empty Yodel, No. 2” are jarring on account of the respective jaw harp and harmonica, Shoulders’ coarseness contributes to his favor overall. Given their pace and ferocity, there’s no denying that recording those tracks was a great deal of fun. I mean––he goes in on that Jaw Harp.
Nick Shoulders cut a great contemporary folk record and inso dong gave credence to mullets at large.
Choice Cuts: “Rise When The Rooster Crows”, “Home On The Rage”, “Don’t Write This Song”
1. King Woman––Celestial Blues––Relapse
The word “catharsis” is used widely in music criticism––I myself am guilty of assuming catharsis. From the bottom of my un-hyperbolic heart, catharsis remains the motivating force behind the shoegazing doom of King Woman. A tall order to follow up an album like 2017’s Created In The Image of Suffering. Alas––lead vocalist Kris Esfandiari had more spiritual healing to do.
Esfandiari, (along with drummer Joey Raygoza and guitarist Peter Arsendorf), achieve something truly spectacular on Celestial Blues. With the trio’s third full-length project, the band takes a different approach to refuting the weight of the cross. This album is a further exercise in outplaying the creator at their own game by turning the darkness they create against itself; “This Hell / I’ll see you again with the skulls, my friend,” Esfandiari croons through the folk-metal ether of “Golgotha”. If the torture never ends, you might as well learn to love your own doomed prophecy. “Golgotha”, The violin-aided fourth song, remains a high-point and favorite on the album.
After looking at it from a lot of angles (i.e. waiting until late-December to start organizing my year-end lists), Celestial Blues is my favorite album from 2021. No other metal album has been able to conjure up such palpable emotion for me before. Whether intentional or vicarious, King Woman encourages one and all to Hail Thyself.
Choice Cuts: “Celestial Blues”, “Boghz”, “Golgotha”