Friday, December 31, 2021

F & L Best of 2021

Well that sure went fast! It seems like only yesterday that we were all so eager to push 2020 out the door. And now another whole year has come and gone! I was so busy with real life in 2021 that I completely overlooked this blog reaching its ten-year anniversary in June. I can't tell you exactly how long I envisioned Faster and Louder lasting when I first started it. But the idea that I'd still be doing it after a decade would have been unfathomable at the time. Yet here I am compiling my 11th annual end-of-year best-of list. I attribute such longevity entirely to the thriving state of the music scene I promote in this space. This blog has always been about the music. If there weren't tons of great bands out there making amazing punk rock, power pop, and rock and roll records, I'd literally have nothing to write about. So tonight I will drink to another fantastic year of tunes and look forward to more of the same in 2022. Let's get to it! 

Top 30 Albums of 2021

30. Night Court - Nervous Birds! One
Vancouver punk super group debuts with 13 catchy tracks of lo-fi post-punk pop goodness.

29. Randells - Kicks
Bubblegum punk & power pop extraordinaire from the south of Sweden.

28. Real Sickies - Love Is For Lovers
If you like pop, punk, or any combination of the two, this album is for you!

27. The SUCK - Boris Sprinkler
Somehow as I become increasingly bored with Ramonescore, I become increasingly enamored with the SUCK. All hail the Mid-Atlantic street rock champions and esteemed founders of the Fantasy Beer League!

26. Goin' Places - Save The World
How can pop-punk music grow up and still sound like pop-punk? Goin' Places have discovered the secret. The lads who once aced Girl Songwriting 101 are now teaching the master class.

25.  Jackson Reid Briggs & The Heaters - Waiting In A Corner
Powerhouse rock and roll that's got The Saints and Radio Birdman embedded in its DNA yet still sounds right at home in the modern-day world of garage and punk.

24. The Peppermint Kicks - self titled
Co-fronted by Dan Kopko (Watts, The Shang Hi Los) and Sal Baglio (The Stompers, The Amplifier Heads), The Peppermint Kicks rock like the '70s never ended.

23. Friends of Cesar Romero - War Party Favors
I know almost every band I write about could qualify as "underrated". But the lack of attention for J. Waylon Miller's long running solo project Friends of Cesar Romero is truly criminal. If you like power pop with a punk influence, War Party Favors belongs in your music collection.

22. The Bambies - Summer Soon
When I started this blog, Canada seemed to be the world's epicenter for the garage/punk/power pop sound. Seems like nothing has changed!

21. Mononegatives - Apparatus Division
This instant synth-punk classic is the soundtrack to our modern-day dystopian nightmare.

20. Amyl and the Sniffers - Comfort To Me
I've seen all the hot takes on social media about how this band is overhyped and overrated. Nonsense!

The greatest '70s arena rock record of the 2020s.

18. Dany Laj and The Looks - Ten Easy Pieces
A feelgood summer release that holds up just as well in the dead of winter. The best release yet from Northern Ontario's most beloved power poppin' singer/songwriter and his truly excellent band.

17. The Pulsebeats - Lookin' Out
From Santander, Spain comes this fresh mix of '77-style punk, power pop, garage punk, and straight-up rock and roll. American release on Rum Bar Records coming in one week!

16. Civic - Future Forecast
Following a handful of great EPs and singles, Melbourne's Civic delivers a full-length debut for the ages. The vintage Aussie sound with a modern garage punk edge.

15. Beebe Gallini - Pandemos
While not originally recorded with the intention of being released, Beebe Gallini’s '19-'20 winter demos became a proper album in the wake of the unexpected cancellation of 2020. And the world is better for it! A great mix of '60s garage classics and similarly-styled original songs.

14. Neighborhood Brats - Confines of Life
The first album since 2018 from this California punk rock powerhouse does not disappoint! This is music with passion!

13.  Indonesian Junk - Living In A Nightmare
Fourth album from Milwaukee's glam/punk/power pop/hard rock sensations is a stone cold ripper. "Livin' In The USA" is the greatest protest anthem of the year. 

12. Autogramm - No Rules
While still obviously obsessed with late '70s/early '80s new wave, Autogramm successfully expands its sound on this excellent sophomore long player.

11. The Smart Shoppers - DORKWAVE
So is it punk rock, or is it new wave? It's DORKWAVE!

10. The Missile Studs - With Love From The Missile Studs
You know I'm a sucker for a pure '77 punk sound, and nobody pulls off that style better than The Missile Studs. Great snotty fun from down under! 

9. Los Pepes - The Happiness Program
Fifth album from London's punk/pop/rock and roll powerhouse is all killer and no filler!

8. Geoff Palmer - Charts & Graphs
If you were expecting more fun poppy punk rock from Geoff Palmer, Charts & Graphs will not leave you wanting. But it also features a bunch of fantastic songs in a variety of musical styles. This guy's just a damn good songwriter, period!

7. Radio Days - Rave On
Another classic-style power pop album from Milan's finest!

6. Rich Ragany & The Digressions - Beyond Nostalgia & Heartache
With a little help from his friends, Rich Rags has delivered his masterpiece. This 12-song release is built around a theme of finding strength and celebrating life throughout heartbreak and loss. What could be more relevant these days?

5. The Airport 77s - Rotation
This album came out last New Year's Day and has been in constant rotation (pun fully intended) in my home ever since. Inspired by '70s power pop and featuring some of the smartest and funniest lyrics you'll ever hear, Rotation is a must-own debut. It features the should-have-been #1 single, "(When You're Kissing On Me Do You Think Of) James McAvoy".

4. The Reflectors - Faster Action
You know what you're getting with The Reflectors: vintage 1980 power pop with a touch of old school punk/pop influence. First Impression was a debut that seemed impossible to match, but Faster Action is every bit as good.

3. Brad Marino - Looking For Trouble
If any of you require proof that rock and roll is alive and well today, just go buy everything that Brad Marino has ever released.

2. The Exbats - Now Where Were We
Always a really, really good band, The Exbats have become a truly great one on the remarkable Now Where We. They’ve delivered a classic '60s pop album that somehow feels perfectly in place in 2021. This is that rare pandemic record that I can honestly characterize as life-affirming, and already I can't wait to hear what this band does next!

1. The Control Freaks - Get Some Help
The third album from The Control Freaks is everything I've loved about all of Greg Lowery's bands combined into one perfect garage punk album. It's got the catchiness of the Rip Offs, the '70s punk feel of The Infections, and the attitude of Zodiac Killers. The press release for this album hailed it as a "future classic", and I feel as if it would be rude (and wrong) to argue. If you don't own this record, you need to...get some help.

Top 25 Singles of 2021 
I usually just do a top ten for this category, but the singles action was hot this year! So here's my top 25 -- presented without commentary. 

25. Rabbit - "Gone"

24. Hayley and the Crushers - "Click and Act Now!"

23. JENNY - "Trajinero"

22. Sister Suzie - "Don't Want To"

21. Slow Faction - "Bubble Gum For Josh"

20. Midnite Snaxxx - "Contact Contamination"

19. Kid Gulliver - "Boy in a Bubble"

18. canine 10 - "Real Fake Love"

17. Natalie Sweet - "Video Phone"

16. Miss Georgia Peach - "You Blow My Mind"

15. Nick Piunti - "Heart Inside Your Head"

14. The Chelsea Curve - "Top It Up"

13. The Airport 77s - "Losers Win"

12. The Prostitutes - "Shapeshift"

11. Nasty Party - "People On The Street"

10. The Dictators - "God Damn New York"

9. Hayley and the Crushers - "Cul-de-sac"

8. The Dogmatics - "Automat Kalashnikov"

7. Andrea Gillis - "Leave The Light On"

6. The Shang Hi Los - "Plymouth Rock"

5. The Sorels - "Spring Break"

4. Hayley and the Crushers - "She Drives"

3. The Cheap Cassettes - "She Ain't Nothin' Like You"

2. Lee Harrington & Lynda Mandolyn - "Real Love"

1. The Chelsea Curve - "Drag"

Top Ten EPs of 2021 

10. Vista Blue - Stealing Signs
I always feel like I'm betraying the pop-punk side of Vista Blue when I praise the band's more power pop leaning releases. Well, Stealing Signs is an example of a pure pop-punk release from this band that I totally love. And no, this is not a baseball-themed release!

9. Alvilda -  Négatif
Debut release from this Paris foursome features four tracks of classic style punky power pop with '60s pop and girl group influences. More, please!

8. The Jacklights - Drift
'90s style melodic punk done right!

7. The Cudas - Alien Vacation
Inspired by an actual vacation to the Space Coast region of Florida, Alien Vacation is the perfect summertime outer space pop record!

6. Linnea's Garden - Nowhere Friday Nights
Extraordinary debut EP from Boston band fronted by Linnea Herzog, formerly of PowerSlut. Great hooks and great lyrics! If music saved your soul during COVID lockdown, "Friday Night" will give you chills.

5. Neon Bone - I Wanted You To Know
Sometimes I wonder if I'm losing interest in pop-punk. But then I'll hear Neon Bone, and those doubts go away.

4. Dead Meat - II
Second and final EP from this London punk supergroup delivers four blistering tracks that meet at the intersection  of '70s punk and early hardcore.

3. The Speedways - Borrowed & Blue
One of my favorite bands decided to cover a bunch of its favorite songs, and the resulting EP is a blast! Borrowed & Blue features songs by Hanoi Rocks, ABBA, Kirsty MacColl, Billy Ocean, and Roky Erickson done Speedways style!

2. Kid Gulliver - Gimme Some Go!
On this exceptional EP, Kid Gulliver covers the Bee Gees (brilliantly) and delivers original songs in styles ranging from indie pop to ska to power pop.

1. The Shang Hi Los - Kick It Like A Wicked Bad Habit
I had high expectations for this Boston super group fronted by Jen D'Angora and Dan Kopko after going crazy for the band's debut track "Sway Little Player" last year. Kick It Like a Wicked Bad Habit proves that The Shang Hi Los are no one-hit wonder! "Stay" is a stunning new wave pop song, and the Shangs' cover of "Saturday In the Park" is a must-hear. A full-length debut is coming in 2022, and I am so pumped!

Masters Class Album of the Year
Teenage Fanclub - Endless Arcade
I give this award every year to the best album by a band/artist that's 25 years or more into its recording career. Endless Arcade, the Fannies' tenth LP, finds these pop legends aging like the mellowest fine wine.

Top Record Label of 2021  
Red On Red Records
This was an easy call. Justine Covault launched Red on Red Records in November of last year and hit the ground running with a roster featuring some of the best punk rock, power pop, garage, and indie rock bands from Boston and beyond. In this calendar year alone, Red on Red has over 25 releases to its credit including three of my top ten EPs of the year and five of my top 20 singles. The label's first year of existence was documented on the remarkable compilation CD Red On Red Hots. A lot of labels would be happy to release a career retrospective as good as this!

Best compilation album of 2021 (Single Artist)
Kid Gulliver - Kismet
Officially the first Kid Gulliver full-length release, Kismet compiles the Boston band's amazing run of 2020-21 singles plus a few more "greatest hits" to make one dandy power pop album. It may be an an upset that The Koopas' In Reverse did not take this award, but I bet even Poppy Robbie himself will agree with this selection!

Best compilation album of 2021 (Various Artists)
XOXOXO Volume One (Rum Bar Records) 
From the always great Rum Bar comes this 24-track collection of female-led smash hits. Digital album is a name-your-price download, and no less of an authority than Natalie Sweet has proclaimed it a "disc of rippers"! 

Top Digital Reissue of 2021
I've been waiting for this album to come to Bandcamp for years, and now the time has come! Originally released in 1999, this Andy Shernoff-produced album is a classic slab of New York City punk rock. Rumor has it that a Kowalskis retrospective may be in the works for 2022!

Best Debut Release of 2021
The Chelsea Curve - The Singles Scene
I like to give an award for best debut release rather than for "best new artist" since debut releases are often the product of years of hard work. Here we have a case in point. Already an established standout of the Boston rock and roll scene, The Chelsea Curve finally introduced its music to the world at large in 2021. The band ambitiously decided to release a new single every month over an eight-month period. From "Girl Cavedog" through "Top It Up", each of these singles was a power pop/mod/punk rock gem. I was left wanting more, but luckily I will not have long to wait. The entire Singles Scene project will be remastered and comprise the core of the band's debut album due out early in the new year on Red On Red Records. I've got myself an early contender for album of the year 2022!

Best Album of Late 2020
Muck and the Mires - Greetings From Muckingham Palace
There's always that one album that gets overlooked because it comes out in the last few days of the year. If Greetings From Muckingham Palace counted as a 2021 release, it would have made my top albums list for sure. The mighty Muck and company deliver 14 sensational tracks of garage rock, power pop, and British Invasion worship!

Best music site of 2021 
Add To Wantlist is the best music site out there. Run by brothers Dennis and Niek, ATW has a passion and general musical taste similar to this blog's, but with much greater knowledge and far more content. These guys have their ears to the ground and are uncovering the best in new music. There's even an "upcoming releases" section that is always mandatory viewing. If you're into garage, punk, power pop, and indie rock, ATW should be your bible!  

Well there you have it, folks: another year is in the books. Feel free to let me know about all of the great releases from this year that I didn't mention. I'm sure there are many! I wish you all health and happiness in 2022! 


Bill Roberts said...

Congratulations on 10 years!

As a result of my daily FAL visits, you've tipped me off to many new bands, plus apprised me of new release by folks I already dig.

Please keep up the great work; it's much appreciated.

All the best in '22!


Javier Iglesias said...

I had been waiting all year for the publication of Josh Rutledge's list of the best of the year. And finally, on December 31, the F & L Best of 2021 list comes out, the truth is that the wait has been worth it, a lot of good music, some that I already knew (thanks to the blog Faster And Louder) and another that is I had escaped.
Here I am, like a little boy at Christmas opening his presents. Thank you very much Josh !!!!, you don't know what your blog Faster And Louder means to many many people from all over the world.
I am now in Spain listening to the Spanish band THE PULSEBEATS that I have discovered thanks to an American blog "Faster And Louder", life in the 21st century is like that.
Josh, a very strong hug from Mallorca / Spain and keep on rockin' !!!!

Powerpopster said...

Thanks for doing this. Keep up the excellent work for another decade!

rugrat907 said...

Curses to you for listing the Add To Wantlist site. Now I have even more reason to win the lottery!

Thanks for everything you do and keep up the great work!

Kai said...

Oh Lord! What a list. Thank you for what you do.