‘In Defense of the Genre’ December roundup (best songs of the month included)
2021 is a wrap! As the year came to a close, we in In Defense of the Genre land looked back at many of the year's best releases that fell somewhere under the punk umbrella (plus some classics that celebrated a big anniversary this year), and here's a roundup of all the punk lists and features we ran throughout December, followed by The Genre's best songs of the month...
* 50 Best Punk* Albums of 2021 (* - emo, hardcore, and many other subgenres included)
* 40 Great Punk* EPs, Splits & Singles from 2021 (* - ditto)
* Jeff Rosenstock talks returning to ska roots
* Q&A w/ Bad Time Records founder Mike Sosinski on new comp ‘The Shape of Ska Punk To Come: Vol. 2′
* Straylight Run played their first show in 12 years (review)
Vinyl available now in our store: Tigers Jaw's Charmer (limited pink/white splatter), For Your Health's In Spite Of (limited clear/red butterfly vinyl), Gorilla Biscuits' Start Today (yellow vinyl), One Step Closer's This Place You Know (orange galaxy vinyl), Deadguy offshoot Bitter Branches' Your Neighbors Are Failures (limited red-in-white), Anti-Flag's Die for the Government (red/white/blue splatter), and more.
Read on for my picks of the best songs of December 2021 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella, in no particular order...
Grumpster - "Crash"
Bay Area trio Grumpster stirred up buzz within the indie-punk underground with their 2019, Asian Man Records-released debut LP Underwhelmed, an album Mike Park himself called one of his favorite AMR releases of the past 5 years and compared to the 924 Gilman/Lookout! Records heyday. Now Grumpster have signed to Pure Noise (home of Knocked Loose, Drug Church, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Less Than Jake, and more), and their first single for the label is the catchy, anthemic "Crash." It does indeed feel like it could've been a hit in the Dookie era, and I think it'd make the architects of that era proud.
Kill Your Idols - "Simple, Short, & Fast"
"Simple, short, and fast" is a tried-and-true formula for hardcore, but it also undersells Kill Your Idols' first new song in 15 years. It's off the Long Island/New York hardcore vets' upcoming split with LIHC newcomers Rule Them All (due 2/4 via Flatspot Records), and it actually clocks in at over three minutes and includes a handful of exciting melodic twists and turns without sacrificing KYI's ferocity. Welcome back.
American Football - "Rare Symmetry"
American Football's 2019 album LP3 may actually be even better than their massively influential debut, so it's great news that they've finally given us another song that feels cut from the same ethereal, glockenspiel-aided cloth. Like the best parts of LP3, "Rare Symmetry" feels like it's soaring above you for its entire six minutes, never meandering and always landing on an instant-classic Mike Kinsella melody. It's also bittersweet, as it's the band's last song recorded with drummer/trumpeter Steve Lamos, who amicably left the band in July. And bonus: it comes backed with a truly great cover of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You," featuring guest vocals by Miya Folick.
Higher Power - "Fall From Grace"
Higher Power released one of 2020's best punk records way back in January of that year, before the pandemic changed everything, and they got kinda quiet once lockdown ensued. But now they're back and they sound better than ever on new single "Fall From Grace." It's not hard to spot the Smashing Pumpkins influence on this grungy banger, but before you try to pin this down as yet another '90s revival track, wait for the gnarly post-hardcore breakdown that finds Higher Power simultaneously sounding heavier and more melodic than ever.
Life's Question - "For You"
Speaking of Higher Power, I was fortunate enough to catch them in NYC in February of 2020 before shows were cancelled for 18 months, and one of the openers on that bill was Chicago band Life's Question, who were a perfect fit for Higher Power's hardcore/alt-rock fusion. They're now set to release their first full-length on Triple B Records this year, and three songs from that album were released last month, including the excellent "For You." It's powered by chuggy, '90s-style metallic hardcore and flashes of '80s thrash metal, and the slightly melodic melancholy in vocalist Josh Haynes' gravelly bark adds a little emotion to the fury.
Redeemon - "Purpose"
I probably could've picked just about any of the 20 songs on Bad Time Records' The Shape of Ska Punk To Come: Volume II for this list, but I decided to pick just one, and I'm going with a very promising newer band that I haven't talked about in this column before. Redeemon are a UK band that formed last year with former members of Beat The Red Light, Smokey Bastards, and more, and their self-titled debut EP comes out this year via Pookout Records (with US distribution by Bad Time). "Purpose" isn't on it, but it's a killer standalone track that is not to be missed. It pulls from the heavy, minor-key ska-core of bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Voodoo Glow Skulls (the latter of whom Redeemon members have recorded with), and the grit is balanced out by big hooks and harmonies as catchy as any of the radio-friendly third wave bands.
Heriot - "Near Vision"
Over the course of a series of singles (and a very cool Machine Head cover), UK four-piece Heriot proved themselves to be one of 2021's best new metalcore bands. They wrapped up the year up with the two-track stormer "Near Vision" / "Enter the Flesh," and the A-side treks through noisy metalcore, bass-heavy industrial rock, whiplash-inducing punk, and more in less than two minutes. If Code Orange and Portrayal of Guilt got together and covered Godflesh, it might sound like this.
Underoath - "Numb"
Underoath have been dropping songs off their upcoming album Voyeurist for months now, and "Numb" is one of the most instantly-satisfying yet. The band themselves calls it "a classic They’re Only Chasing Safety song done with adult minds and ideas," and that feels entirely accurate. It's got one of the band's most larger-than-life, clean-sung choruses since that era, but this is not a return to the mid 2000s. It incorporates the atmosphere and the experimental/electronic edge that Underoath picked up later on in their career, and it feels entirely current.
Pre-order 'Voyeurist' on deluxe coke bottle green vinyl.
Carly Cosgrove - "Munck"
Technically this song came out on November 30, but I didn't hear it until the next day and the November roundup was already done, so here's Carly Cosgrove's "Munck," one of the best new emo songs I've heard in recent memory. Pulling from screamy post-hardcore, knotty Midwest emo, hooky pop punk, a post-rocky buildup and more, it gets a lot done in five minutes, and Carly Cosgrove keep you at the edge of your seat for the entire ride. The song is the first taste of the band's TBA new album (due in 2022 via Wax Bodega), and if they've got more songs like this one up their sleeves, this album is gonna mean business.
In an effort to cover as many bands as possible, I try to just do one single per album cycle in these monthly roundups, so catch up on previous months' lists for even more:
For even more new songs, listen below or subscribe to our playlist of punk/emo/hardcore/etc songs of 2021.
Browse our selection of hand-picked punk vinyl.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.