KZ is the vocalist from the fantastic post hardcore band Dreamwell and they are here to share their top 10 picks for 2021. Follow Dreamwell on twitter here. And check out their new album Modern Grotesque. you’ve surely seen on other people’s end of year lists already. It’s very good.
10. Yautja – The Lurch
This album is what Remission era Mastodon would sound like if they cut their teeth on the mathcore wave of the late 90s, which is to say it shreds. Thick, sludgy riffs, snarling vocals, blast beats where they absolutely do not belong, this record is bloated with everything I could have hoped for after listening to single “The Spectacle” for the first time. More than anything, I think this record has my favorite drumming of the year, really elevating these songs to new heights that a more theoretically fitting caveman style of playing simply couldn’t have. I do tend to love really simple, spacious drums, and drummer Tyler Coburn certainly knows when to ease back a little bit and slam, but his real genius is being able to tastefully meander into these fills that would absolutely be tasteless in the hands of a less intelligent drummer.
9. The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need to See
It wouldn’t be a list of mine if I didn’t mention The Body at some point. After a bizarrely quiet 2020 (I have to assume it was tricky to make the pilgrimage to Pawtucket, RI’s Machines With Magnets from Oregon during the absolute height of the pandemic), The Body showed up very early this year to remind us they’re still making noise. And with this release, they really put noise front and centre in a way that even they haven’t quite done in the past. On I’ve Seen All I Need to See, there are points where the music is made up of sound that doesn’t register in our ears, that only exists as a shape or a feeling instead of a sound. On songs like “A Pain of Knowing” and “They Are Coming”, it feels as though what we are hearing isn’t the instrument itself being played, but the amplifier desperately overloading itself in an attempt to produce whatever low, horrible sound is being fed through it. Chip’s voice is deeper in the mix than usual, nightmarishly high even for him and wailing through a layer of distortion that all combines to make it sound like he’s stuck in the television in Poltergeist and trying to be heard. This is their noisiest, most industrial album since I Shall Die Here, and might be my favorite of their solo releases since that album as well.
8. Armand Hammer – Haram
Haram is an album that gets heavier and more potent the more often I listen to it. It’s a record that needs to be sat with, because the combination of The Alchemist’s sometimes abstract and formless beats, the shifting flows of rappers Billy Woods and Euclid, and the poetics-rich almost puzzling lyrics need time to settle together and unravel in the listener’s head. It’s an album that really rewards attentive listening, focusing on where the rhyme schemes change, where the flow interacts with the awkward loops in songs like “Sir Benni Miles”, “Indian Summer” and “Peppertree”. Once it all comes together, it’s easy to see how masterfully crafted and carefully considered this album is, and it creates so many moments of beauty and power. The end of “Stonefruit”, and thus the end of the album, is one of my favorite musical moments of the year. Woods’ powerful delivery of his final line is moving and haunting, especially when one arrives to that point from listening to the album in a single sitting.
7. Mountain Goats – Dark In Here
Indie legends the Mountain Goats, lead by celebrated lyricist and Dreamwell’s #1 fan John Darnielle, have released my favorite album of theirs since Heretic Pride. As the title suggests, there’s a certain somewhat uncharacteristic darkness about this whole album that in my opinion we haven’t seen used this dominantly on a release since maybe Get Lonely. John also tells some stories in these songs that are a bit outside of his usual, songs like “Lizard Suit”, “Let Me Bathe in Demonic Light” and “To the Headless Horseman” particularly standing out. Darnielle’s bandmates come together to provide hooky grooves that sometimes feel like they are synthesizing elements of being a lounge act with passages that you could get away with calling almost psychedelic, which gives some of the tracks a bright-yet-somehow-ominous disorienting feel that really makes this album stand out in the extremely long Mountain Goats catalog.
6. The Body + Big|Brave – Leaving None But Small Birds
Like any decent year, there are at least two The Body albums to talk about. This is without a doubt one of the most surprising records of the year. What’s most surprising is that somehow The Body, in collaboration with Big|Brave, have managed to make a folk country album one of the most disquieting and sinister albums of their discography. By this point in their career, anyone who has been following The Body have an idea what to expect. It always comes in different flavors, but their material is always overwhelmingly loud, harsh and grating. So, when one sees their name attached to this project, that is what is expected. What begins as slightly more psyched out country is surely going to dissolve into a heavy wall of shrieking noise eventually, right? On this record, The Body still delivers on the promise of discomfort and unease that comes with all their projects, but this time they use your own expectations as the vehicle.
Songs like “Hard Times” and “Polly Gosford” carry the listener right up to the edge of what they think is about to happen, but never quite cross that threshold. You’ll spend your first listen practically dreading the moment that the songs will turn, and that anticipation will be teased and taunted without ever offering you the relief. While there are certainly moments where the thick, distorted guitars swallow everything else (see the end of “Hard Times”), never once does the album become the noise drenched doom one expects, nor do you hear even a single trademark wail from Chip King.
To me, this album is about the defiance of tradition. It builds itself on being something of a scrapbook of Appalachian and Canadian folk song, cutting and pasting fragments together to tell a new story. And in a way, The Body and Big|Brave are also playing off of tradition to tell a new story of what it means to be a The Body album. This finally fully clicked for me when the album was finished and Spotify started playing “My Will” by Primitive Man. Usually that would feel like a logical follow up to The Body, but in this instance there are almost no similarities between the two to draw. It was the suggested follow up only because of a tradition that was being defied by this album.
5. Death Goals – The Horrible and the Miserable
Call it nepotism if you will but the homies deserve this spot. Any time I find myself wanting wall to wall shameless breakdown fueled bangers, this is what I reach for. Death Goals have a sound that they certainly anchor themselves in, unrelenting panic chord drenched metalcore with some skramz sensibility in the lyrics, but songs like “Exit Wounds” and album closer “Nothing Left to Give” offer up some refreshing surprises just when you think you’ve got your finger on their formula. If you’re like me and you sometimes wish all those early 2010s metalcore bands were actually any good, this album will do you some favors.
4. Thirdface – Do It With a Smile
This has got to be, if nothing else, the most unique hardcore release of the year, right? Every element of Do It With a Smile is completely incomparable to anything else I can recall. I’ve never heard a vocalist sound quite like Kathryn Edwards. I’ve never heard a bass tone in hardcore quite like Maddy Madeira’s. Down to their approach to song structures and breakdowns, everything stands way, way out in one of the most oversaturated markets imaginable. This is what I imagine it would have sounded like if Bad Brains wrote I Against I with the help of Converge. I have massive hopes for the future of this band.
3. Black Sheep Wall – Songs For the Enamel Queen
Six years after the release of their previous album I’m Going to Kill Myself, Black Sheep Wall comes back bigger and meaner than ever. This is one of the most dynamic and versatile albums I’ve heard in ages, staying firmly planted in its sludgy doom foundation while shifting through various styles to bring the band to previously unreached creative heights. Everything from the horn section of “Ren” to the cavalcade of vocalists all teetering closer and closer to the brink of collapse over an instrumental that refuses to find its footing until you are miles past uncomfortable on “Mr. Gone”, Songs For the Enamel Queen is an album that refuses to be listened to in the background, but instead commands your attention by feeling like a boot on your throat.
2. Amenra – De Doorn
I still remember the first time I heard Amenra. It was a moment in my life that didn’t feel real. I was violently sleep deprived, having woken up after two hours to drive my cousin to the airport at an unforgivable hour, and as I was heading into a tunnel on my way home, the highway nearly empty, the sunlight too bright, Pandora (yeah) started playing “Dearborn and Buried.” I remember feeling like my soul left my body. I remember feeling like something had changed. Despite several attempts to really sink my teeth into a full Amenra album, they never made me feel like that again. Not until De Doorn, anyway. I’ve never really loved an Amenra record, just parts and pieces here and there. But this album is something fuckin’ else. They strike the balance between the looming, cavernous doom sequences and the soft, mournful clean passages perfectly, giving the entire album a sense of movement that demands it be listened to in one sitting every time, and it always pays off when you do so. The high screamed vocals toward the end of the penultimate track “Het Gloren” make for maybe my favorite vocal performance of the entire year, but in a sense I almost feel like they are earned by everything that comes before them. They are powerful on their own, but they are at their full power when you arrive there by way of letting the album lead you to that moment.
1.Keaton Henson – Fragments EP
I understand that it’s technically an EP but I don’t care. Come and See by WORLD PEACE almost made this list and that’s 11 minutes long, 31 minutes is an album as far as I’m concerned, okay? In my opinion, Fragments is Keaton’s strongest offering of sad bastard ballads since 2013’s Birthdays, and it delivers on all fronts. Setting the tone with the dreary, listless “Interlude” which features lines like “I am more than all the fears I’ve spoken of” delivered with a tired sort of distance, as though Keaton is talking in his sleep, Fragments stays somber and cold for its entire runtime without feeling one dimensional. “Marionette”, which features a stellar duet performance from Julien Baker, builds into a massive crescendo which helps give the project a sense of pacing and movement. I think this is some of the strongest material, especially from a lyrical perspective, Keaton has ever put out. The only song I don’t adore is “New Kid”, whose narrative doesn’t really grab me. But the reveal in “For Kiran” will put just about anybody out on their ass.
0. Botch – We Are the Romans
Rereleased by Sargent House in 2021, it counts, cry about it, We Are the Romans is the best album.