20 punk, emo, hardcore, etc albums not to miss from winter 2021
It's hard to believe but we're already a quarter of the way through 2021... and over a year into life without live music as we once knew it. Without the ability to see bands/artists live, albums are more important than ever (and buying albums is a great way to help support the bands you love in these tour-less times), and fortunately we've gotten a lot of great records this year across various genres of music. As spring approaches, I've put together a list of 20 albums from 2021 that fall somewhere under the "punk" umbrella, including but not limited to punk, pop punk, emo, hardcore, post-hardcore, metalcore, and ska-punk -- the kind of stuff I cover in my In Defense of the Genre column. If you're into this kinda stuff, I can't recommend the albums on this list enough.
The list is unranked and in no particular order. Read on for my picks and check out a playlist with even more great punk/etc songs from 2021 at the end of the list...
For Your Health - In Spite Of
The 12-song album functions as one grand statement where each song bleeds directly into the next, making for a record that towers over everything For Your Health did beforehand. The production is clear and refined without toning down the attack of the band's earlier, rawer recordings, and the music is far more ambitious. The earlier releases fit somewhat neatly into "screamo," but In Spite Of is more of a screamo-infused, genre-defying post-hardcore album, incorporating a vast array of sounds from under the umbrella of heavy music.
The new album exists somewhere around the halfway point between early Daughters and the experimental late period of Fear Before the March of Flames -- both of whom vocalist Hayden Rodriguez cites as influences -- with the former's discordant fury and the latter's collage of vocal styles. Across In Spite Of's relatively short running time, the band can go from violent grind to shimmering post-rock passages to chugging metalcore riffs to mid-tempo emo-pop, and they frequently switch from one extreme to another at the drop of a hat. They're impossibly tight, and all the little mathy, off-kilter intricacies are executed with extreme precision. As guitarist Damian Chacon, bassist Johnny Deborde, and drummer Mike Mapes shred away, Hayden tops it all off with stunning range, going from the harsh shrieks of their earlier material to soaring cleans to the sarcastic sneer of mid-2000s post-hardcore.
You can read much more in our recent feature, including an interview with Hayden and a full album review.
Portrayal of Guilt - We Are Always Alone
Closed Casket Activities
Not that I would usually advise arguing about a band's genre, but when it comes to Portrayal of Guilt, don't even bother trying. From the start, they've been just as much a screamo/hardcore band as a black/death metal band (and even those are too limiting), and as they continue to evolve, the lines just get even blurrier. Their sophomore LP We Are Always Alone follows their already-killer discography of one album, two EPs, and other miscellaneous releases, and it manages to stand out as the best thing they've done yet. Their approach on this album reminds me of the way Deafheaven broke down barriers between screamo and metal on Sunbather, or the way Inter Arma fused together as many styles of heavy music as they could on that same year's Sky Burial. But while those records were sprawling, lengthy offerings, Portrayal of Guilt get it all done in like 25 minutes. Like their debut LP, We Are Always Alone often squeezes three or four drastically different ideas into songs that clock in at around two minutes, and they've gotten even better at it in the two years since that first LP. They've pushed all aspects of their sound even further to the extreme -- the melodic parts are catchier, the heavy parts are more callous -- and yet, they blend everything together even more seamlessly. Like on the debut, Majority Rule vocalist Matt Michel lends his voice to We Are Always Alone, and this one features another legendary screamer as well: pg.99's Chris Taylor (who also designed the artwork for both PoG full-lengths). It makes sense that these are the kinds of artists who want to collaborate with Portrayal of Guilt; they both pushed heavy music to new limits two decades ago, and now Portrayal of Guilt is doing the same.
Really From - Really From
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I really can't think of another band like Really From. The Boston four-piece -- who used to be called People Like You and include former members of I Kill Giants -- are equally indebted to Midwestern-style emo, vintage jazz, math rock, and post-rock, and they make it all sound a lot more seamless than seems possible. The term "jazz" gets tossed around loosely in the rock world when horns and atypical chords show up, both of which this album does have, but Really From's instrumentals can genuinely go up against the Blue Note catalog, while their hook-fueled choruses rival anything in the emo canon. The band is led by the dual vocals of Michi Tassey and Chris Lee-Rodriguez, who sing very differently but complement each other perfectly, and it allows them to cover a wide range of vocal styles, from hushed singer/songwriter stuff to airy dream pop to shouted punk. They're also both incisive lyricists, and as they spoke about in a lengthy interview with Ian Cohen for Stereogum, these songs tackle culture and identity and blend the personal with the political and they're as impactful lyrically as they are musically. The album is dizzyingly complex and is always doing so many things at once, but it remains accessible throughout. You don't need a jazz degree to be interested in what they're doing; for all the intricate, twisted patterns on this album, these are just great, tuneful rock songs.
Calyx - Stay Gone
Stay Gone is Calyx's first album, but they've been around for six years, released two EPs and a single, and built up a reputation as one of the best newer bands in Pittsburgh's punk scene, so Stay Gone is less an introduction and more a culmination of everything they've spent a half-decade building towards. However, if it is your introduction to Calyx, it's a damn good introduction. It's by far the best thing they've released yet, with much better production (by The Superweaks' Evan Bernard) than their EPs, along with even stronger songwriting and tighter musicianship than they had in the past. Guitarist/vocalist Caitlin Bender has a soaring voice and she writes indie/punk songs with a folky quality, sort of the vein of early Hop Along. Her words and melodies are impactful, and her songs are distinct enough to make Stay Gone stand out in the crowded indie-punk subgenre. Bassist Jon Ahn and drummer Garrett Cassidy (who both also play in the post-hardcore band Edhochuli) contrast Cailtin's songwriting with a heavier rhythm section. Garrett's razor-sharp snare rolls are as attention-grabbing as Caitlin's choruses, and Jon -- who fronts Edhochuli -- brings his own gravelly punk roar into the fold a few times, making for a nice complement to Caitlin's cleaner voice. The result is an album that's grittier than your average indie rock record and more tuneful than your average punk record. It's constantly pushing and pulling itself in different directions, from folky singer/songwriter stuff to raging post-hardcore to anthemic punk, and its inability to ever fit neatly in one place is a big part of what makes it so unique.
Dreamwell - Modern Grotesque
Earlier this week, I looked back on the 10th anniversary of when the new wave of post-hardcore made its mark with seminal albums by Touche Amore, La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth, Defeater, Title Fight, and more. At the end of the article, I listed off some new bands who are keeping that sound alive, including Dreamwell, whose excellent sophomore LP is out today. The band do indeed cite Pianos Become the Teeth and La Dispute as influences, and you can definitely hear both coming through in the music, but Dreamwell make it their own, and they make this genre of music feel new and exciting again, just like those bands did a decade ago. As I wrote in my track review of the song "Sayaka," Dreamwell's screamo can be metallic and aggressive as much as it can be soaring and post-rocky, and it feels big enough to fill stadiums. "Sayaka" is one hell of a single, and Modern Grotesque is an album where every song is like that. It exceeds expectations right off the bat and just gets better with every listen.
Regional Justice Center - Crime and Punishment
Closed Casket Acitvities
The buzz for Regional Justice Center has been building over the past few years, and with their second full-length and first for Closed Casket Activities, it's about to explode. There's a reason why one reviewer recently called them "modern hardcore's most compelling band" and why another said "At the moment, this [album] is resting atop the hill… awaiting contenders. Essential and fucking tremendous." Crime and Punishment really might turn out to be one of the year's very best hardcore records. Like past releases, it pulls from a mix of hardcore, powerviolence, grindcore, and other metal/punk hybrids, and while Crime and Punishment is as raw and grimy as anything this band has ever put out, it feels a little more focused and accessible too. Maybe that's due to producer Taylor Young pushing main RJC member Ian Shelton to "find even more dynamics in the songs," or maybe it's due to this album's much-publicized Beatles influence. It never actually sounds like The Beatles, but it makes sense to learn that Ian looks outside of hardcore and takes influence from a band where literally every song is memorable. He also mentions that the song cycle on side B of Abbey Road was specifically an influence, and you can kinda hear that on Crime and Punishment too. Only one of these 10 songs reaches the two-minute mark, and the whole thing blurs together as one greater whole. It's also worth noting that this is frequently a personal and introspective album, and even if you can't always understand what Ian is shouting, you can always feel the very tangible emotion.
Home Is Where - I Became Birds
Florida band Home Is Where's I Became Birds is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about fifth wave emo albums of the year, and it's one of the most unique too. Dedicated "to anyone & everyone who has struggled / is struggling with their gender identity," I Became Birds is only six songs long, but it feels complete, and it covers more musical ground in its brief running time than albums that are four times its length. Each song flows right into the next, as the album moves seamlessly between Neutral Milk Hotel style chamber folk, Dylan-esque harmonica-fueled folk, TWIABP-y post-rock, raw '90s-style screamo, driving Midwest-style emo-punk, and more, and it sometimes does two or three of those things at once. Tying everything together is vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brandon Macdonald, whose unique, emotive voice and conversational yet contemplative lyrics add even more depth to these songs, and make for rewarding repeated listens.
The Sonder Bombs - Clothbound
Take This To Heart/Big Scary Monsters
The Sonder Bombs released one of the most promising indie-punk debut LPs in recent memory with 2018's MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR. It's one of the only albums in this genre that I can think of where ukulele is the main instrument, but that's not the only reason the album stood out. Willow Hawks has a powerful, versatile, unique voice, and when you hear it, it draws you right in. The band is now back with their second album -- their first with their current four-piece lineup and first produced by Hop Along's Joe Reinhart -- and it raises the bar, making good on the promise of their debut and pushing their sound in new directions. As revealed on the early singles, The Sonder Bombs continue to master indie-punk, while pushing their sound towards '50s/'60s pop "ooh sha la la la"s on one song ("Crying Is Cool") and towards gnarly post-hardcore on another ("k."). Those two songs are at the total opposite sides of Clothbound's spectrum, and there's all kinds of other stuff happening within the album's appealing middle ground. It's a tighter, fuller, and more spacious album than its predecessor, and Willow continues to capture a range of emotions in her lyrics, from introspective self-doubt to finger-pointing anger to playing back a reel of old memories. The songs are casual and plainspoken yet poetic, like they were ripped out of a diary or a real-life conversation and just so happened to roll off the tongue and rhyme. Willow wraps them in compelling melodies that prompt repeated listens, and the songs seem to reveal an even greater depth every time you come back to them.
Lande Hekt - Going To Hell
Get Better Records
The album channels a whirlwind of emotions, but ultimately it's a celebratory record, and the songs sound as hopeful and triumphant as the messages within them. They're also some of the best songs Lande has ever written. Her voice soars on this album, her melodies get stuck in your head, and the overall feel is warm and welcoming, making repeated listens feel both requisite and rewarding. It's not a punk record like Muncie Girls, but it has the rawness, honesty, and DIY values that come with spending a decade in the punk scene. You can tell that she really means every last word on this album, and that's what makes it so powerful.
You can read my full review here.
The Best of the Worst - Better Medicine
Bad Time Records/Choke Artist
NJ ska-core band The Best of the Worst have been a band for 14 years, but they've only released one full-length (back in 2013) and they haven't put out a proper studio release of any kind since 2017. In the time since then, there's been a lot of increased attention on the ska scene, thanks in part the 2018 foundation of Bad Time Records, which has really helped bring together today's best ska-punk bands from all around the world and helped shine a light on how much the genre is thriving. Better Medicine is TBOTW's second-ever full-length and first for Bad Time (who are co-releasing it with the band's own Choke Artist label), and with all this momentum behind the genre and the label right now, there's been a lot of anticipation for this LP. Not only does Better Medicine deliver on that anticipation, it marks a clear step forward for the band and just might be the best thing they've ever done.
Following in the footsteps of bands like Folly and The Flaming Tsunamis, The Best of the Worst make ska-core where the "-core" part pulls from the chugging, throat-shredding sounds of hardcore and metalcore, and TBOTW have fully mastered the art of going from extremely heavy music to light, upbeat ska at the drop of a hat; their horn-lines are as fiery as their breakdowns. But Better Medicine does much more than just carry the torch for 2000s ska-core. The album has also has warm, indie rock-friendly production that makes it fit in with today's indie-punk scene, and there's a lot of poppier indie and punk in the music too. There's an array of vocalists and vocal styles on the album, and as with many bands associated with the New Tone ska movement, there's a real purpose to these songs. Better Medicine is an album concerned with bettering yourself and bettering the world around you. It's as progressive lyrically as it is musically, and it's a reminder that both this band and ska in general are still pushing forward.
Flying Raccoon Suit - Afterglow
What's happening within ska right now is called New Tone, and not a "ska revival," for a reason. The bands who are defining this current era of ska are of course influenced by the previous generations, but they aren't really "reviving" anything; they're doing something new. And if you need proof that new and exciting things are happening within the genre right now, look no further than the new LP from Mississippi's Flying Raccoon Suit. They have releases dating back to 2012, but they didn't solidify their current lineup until 2016, and it's with this lineup that they've written their best album yet, Afterglow. You can probably safely call it a "ska-punk" album, but outside of one or two songs, Afterglow doesn't sound like '90s ska-punk. Throughout the album, they experiment with lumbering metal riffs, throat-shredding hardcore, DIY indie rock, surf rock, explorative jazz, upbeat Klezmer, and more, and Flying Raccoon Suit have a firm grip on all of these styles of music. It never sounds like they're biting off more than they can chew, and it comes together a lot more seamlessly than you might expect. You can hear all of these different sounds when you dissect it, but when you just sit back and listen, it's just an enjoyable rock record with big hooks and a ton of energy. If you don't think you like ska, Afterglow probably has a song or two that will prove you wrong.
Tigers Jaw - I Won't Care How You Remember Me
While spin was recorded entirely by Ben and Brianna, I Won't Care How You Remember Me is the first album recorded with their now-permanent rhythm section of drummer Teddy Roberts and bassist Colin Gorman, who have developed a lot of chemistry with Ben and Brianna after touring with them for the past few years. You can feel the added benefit of getting a full band together to play these songs over and over before recording them; it's some of the tightest, strongest, most concise material the band have ever released. Longtime collaborator Will Yip's production is bigger and cleaner than ever before, which perfectly suits the more power pop approach that Tigers Jaw take on this album. It reminds me in spirit of Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American, an album that found a long-running emo band cleaning up their sound and coming out with big, anthemic songs that were inspired by -- and rivaled -- the American rock canon. I don't know if today's music industry will allow Tigers Jaw to score a hit as big as "The Middle," but it won't be surprising if this album gains them some new fans. It's their most accessible yet.
You can read my full album review, and a track-by-track breakdown by the band members, here.
Citizen - Life In Your Glass World
Run For Cover
At this point, a handful of the major new wave of post-hardcore and emo revival bands that Citizen were associated with have gone on hiatus, and of the ones that are still kicking, nobody sounds like Citizen do in 2021. Having done all three of their previous albums with Will Yip, the band recorded this one themselves in frontman Mat Kerekes' garage, and Mat says these songs "were mostly built from drums and bass first," which they hadn't done before. Even if Mat didn't say it, you might guess it from listening to the dance-punk beats that fuel this record; not that Citizen ever had a weak rhythm section, but it's doing more of the heavy lifting on this album than ever. And the post-punk influence didn't stop there; once the rhythms influenced the direction of this album, Nick Hamm followed suit with punchy guitar riffs that recall the post-punk revival era, and Mat's percussive, flamboyant vocal hooks seal the deal. Certain parts sound like direct homages to the bands who brought post-punk to the mainstream 15-20 years ago, but they also haven't lost their post-hardcore edge one bit; if anything, this is a noticeably more aggressive record than As You Please. They end up sounding like an alternate version of the early/mid 2000s where the emo explosion and the post-punk revival were one and the same, and, impressively, they always sound unmistakably like Citizen.
You can read my full review, and a list of music that influenced by the album (written by guitarist Nick Hamm), here.
You can also pick up the album on limited galaxy blue/green swirl vinyl in our store.
Hazing Over - Pestilence EP
When the 2019 Shin Guard/For Your Health Death of Spring split took the screamo world by storm, I don't think anybody could've guessed what those two bands would end up doing two years later. Last week, FYH released their excellent debut LP In Spite Of, which is about 20 minutes of genre-defying post-hardcore that barely count as "screamo," and Shin Guard definitely aren't screamo anymore. They aren't even Shin Guard. They underwent some lineup changes and are now called Hazing Over, and they're embracing the hardcore, metalcore, and deathcore influences that got them into heavy music in the first place. The first taste of the new sound is the four-song Pestilence EP, which is a pulverizing culmination of all the music that's been inspiring them lately. When we asked them to name the five biggest influences on this EP, they named deathcore icons Job For A Cowboy, their own Pennsylvania metalcore peers Kaonashi, grindcore/powerviolence band Escuela Grind, mathcore legends Botch, and Japanese heavy shoegazers Coaltar of the Deepers. That's a pretty diverse list of bands, and honestly, you can hear all of that coming through on these four songs. There's definitely some deathcore, making Hazing Over one of the latest bands to proudly revive much-maligned Myspace genres, but they're doing it in a way that feels genuine and brings fresh perspective to the genre. Elsewhere on the EP, they work in ethereal electronics on "Jock," a riff that sounds like Bleach-era Nirvana on the title track, and some American Nightmare/Modern Life Is War-style melodic hardcore on EP closer "Ungodly." There's a lot more going on than just 2000s metalcore/deathcore revival, just like Shin Guard were really always doing more than just '90s screamo revival. No matter what this band does, they make it their own, and Pestilence has me very much looking forward to what they decide to tackle next.
Pupil Slicer - Mirrors
Mirrors follows an increasingly good run of earlier releases (a self-titled EP and splits with Death Goals and Sense Offender), and it takes the band's sound in all kinds of new directions and is easily their best and most complete statement yet. It offers up metalcore and mathcore at its harshest, interspersed with ambient/noise interludes and flirtations with black & death metal and other heavy subgenres, and it covers a lot of ground within that realm. It's chaotic and discordant at times, bone-crushingly heavy at others, and atmospheric at others, and it remains dark and intense throughout. The lyrics take on personal experiences with abuse and depression as well as societal injustice and oppression, and -- as you may expect from a band called "Pupil Slicer" -- the album is full of vivid images of pain and violence (and spiders and cockroaches), which perfectly match the intensity of the music. There's been a lot of good metalcore lately, but Mirrors stands out from the pack and feels thrillingly unique.
You can also pick up Mirrors on awesome-looking red/black swirl vinyl in our shop.
Thirdface - Do It With A Smile
Exploding In Sound
Exploding In Sound Records has gotten its fair share of comparisons to Dischord, as the label's first wave of bands recalled the off-kilter post-hardcore of Dischord's mid-'90s era (Speedy Ortiz, Two Inch Astronaut, Grass Is Green, Pile, etc), but it looks like they're operating on the opposite timeline. They started with those bands, and now a decade into the label's existence, they've finally signed their first straight-up hardcore band! And the band in question is a seriously killer hardcore band: Nashville's Thirdface. Do It With A Smile is their first full-length, following a demo and some singles dating back to 2018, and it features re-recordings of some of their earlier songs, and you can tell from listening that this is an album that's been in the works for a while. It's much tighter than anything they'd released prior, and these songs feel like they've been perfected by Thirdface playing them over and over. It's a ruthless-sounding record, and though I did call it "straight-up hardcore," it's not without its genre-defying embellishments. Drummer Shibby Poole also plays in the Relapse-signed sludge/crust/grind band Yautja, so it shouldn't be surprising that they've got a grindy edge at times, and they also work in noisy, Bleach-y freakouts, some My War-style proto-sludge, atmospheric interludes, and more. They make one hell of a racket, and topping it all of is vocalist Kathryn Edwards, whose vicious screams take on racism, sexism, and other injustices that exist within the system as well as within our own communities. Thirdface have no time for any of it, and by the sound of these songs, they've got nothing but venom for anyone who gets in their way.
pulses. - Speak Less
Oh Word? Records
It's an in-your-face blend of post-hardcore and metalcore that whips by (12 of its 13 songs are under two minutes, many of them are under one minute) and it interjects the heavy, screamy stuff with bright mathy/tech-y leads and bursts of clean vocals that recall the mid 2000s heyday of The Fall of Troy. (They tag themselves "swancore," which The Fall of Troy sort of paved the way for.) They also remind me of about half the bands on the Ferret and Trustkill rosters in the early 2000s, and they also find time for string-laden acoustic emo ("I Meant It") and a randomly inserted Hot Topic pop punk song ("As A Treat"). If you liked the balance between mall-punk sugar and metallic fury on the new For Your Health album, you'll like this too.
Hayley Williams - FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
While Petals For Armor is an ambitious art pop album that finds Hayley experimenting with everything from synthpop to dream pop to R&B to psychedelia to '80s dance-pop and beyond, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos more closely resembles Self-Serenades. Hayley recorded it at home, and it's mostly made up of quiet songs that are based around little more than a piano and/or acoustic guitar and Hayley's voice (though there are a few bigger-sounding moments, like the explosive rock at the end of album closer "Just A Lover"). With Hayley having played everything herself, it's a more literal "solo album" than Petals For Armor, and Hayley sounds just as commanding with these somber songs as she does when she's fronting Paramore.
You can read my full review here.
Glitterer - Life Is Not A Lesson
Title Fight remain on hiatus, but luckily co-frontman Ned Russin has stayed prolific with his solo project Glitterer, and his new album Life Is Not A Lesson (recorded with his TF bandmate/brother Ben Russin on drums) is his most Title Fight-like Glitterer album yet. In fact, some of the energetic punk songs on this record sound even more like classic Title Fight than most of the band's shoegazy swan song Hyperview. That's not to say Ned is looking backwards or anything, not at all. These songs share some traits with Title Fight's fan faves, but it's clear that he continues to progress as a songwriter, and so far he hasn't repeated himself. And it's easy to focus on the TF-style songs because it's been a while since Ned's put out that kinda thing, but this is still a Glitterer record, with a handful of cool synthy indie pop songs too. It's a good mix of the last couple Title Fight records and the usual Glitterer sound, and it's pretty unique stuff. Ned's songwriting style is increasingly unmistakable, and I can't think of too many other songwriters that fuse together the variety of sounds that Ned does. (If you want a deeper look into what those sounds are, Ned spoke to us about some of the album's musical and literary influences.)
Porcupine - The Sibyl
New Morality Zine
Since forming in 2017, Chicago band Porcupine have released a few EPs, splits, demos, and a Suicide cover, and The Sibyl is their latest and quite possibly best EP yet. If it feels like the culmination of everything they've been doing over the past few years, that might be because a couple of these songs surfaced in rougher forms on their early releases, but these are their best-sounding recordings yet and this EP as a whole is so musically diverse. It pulls from all across the heavy music board, with bits of screamo, hardcore, black metal, sludge metal, grindcore, metalcore, noise rock, post-rock, and more. It kind of reminds me of a cross between Portrayal of Guilt and Regional Justice Center, with the seamless genre-hopping of the former and the primitive rawness of the latter. Sealing the deal is vocalist Dawson, who sounds impassioned and desperate and human, matching the chaotic aggression with cathartic emotion.
For much more, listen below or subscribe to our playlist of punk/emo/hardcore/etc songs of 2021, which gets updated regularly.