In Defense of the Genre is a column on BrooklynVegan about punk, pop punk, emo, post-hardcore, ska-punk, and more, including and often especially the bands and albums and subgenres that weren’t always taken so seriously. Here are The Genre’s best songs from January.

The first month of 2021 is a wrap, and there's already so much cool stuff happening within the punk universe. Here are the features we ran this month:

* 18 landmark emo & post-hardcore albums that turn 25 this year

* An interview with The Best of the Worst on their long-awaited full-length, revitalization of ska-punk & more

* An interview with Flying Raccoon Suit on the genre-defying ska of their anticipated new album

* Shin Guard are now Hazing Over, talk name change, new sound & new EP

* Ship Thieves (mem Hot Water Music, Quit) & Reconciler (ex-Less Than Jake, Gunmoll) interviewed each other and released a split

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January album reviews: Portrayal of Guilt, The Sonder Bombs, Lande Hekt, Five Iron Frenzy, Terminal Bliss (ex-pg.99/City of Caterpillar), Eyelet.

Also, all 80 issues of Punk Planet are now available for free online.

Read on for my picks of the best songs of January 2021 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella, in no particular order...

Calyx - "Leslie Plain and Strong"

Calyx have spent the past few years building up a reputation as one of the most beloved bands in the Pittsburgh punk scene, but their recordings never totally captured the power of their live show. That changed immediately with the release of "Leslie Plain and Strong," the first single off their upcoming debut full-length Stay Gone. The song starts with just Caitlin Bender's voice and guitar, and it's just an instant hook. Three seconds into "Leslie was born in the place she wants to die-iiie," you just know you're hearing a song that's gonna stick with you, and it only gets better from there. The song gets kicked up a notch when Jon Ahn and Garett Cassidy's muscular rhythm kicks in and Caitlin raises her voice to a roar, and by the time they introduce the gang vocals -- with help from Chris Diehm (Thin Lips, 1994!, etc) and Melissa Brain (Amanda X, Bad Heaven Ltd) -- it just explodes.

AFI - "Twisted Tongues"

AFI aren't as world-dominating as they were at the height of their mid 2000s success, but some of that Sing The Sorrow magic has resurfaced on just about all of their later albums, and it's very much present on the new single "Twisted Tongues." Like many of that classic album's highlights, it's a driving, energetic, super catchy dose of goth-punk, and AFI sound genuinely inspired on this song. It honors the sound of their breakthrough era without feeling like a rehashed version of it, and it reminds you that nobody scratches the AFI itch better than AFI themselves. They've got a new album coming this year; let's hope there's more on that album where "Twisted Tongues" came from.

Raccoon City - "Carnation"

I feel like it's a little unfair to compare Australia's Raccoon City to Pianos Become the Teeth, because both bands formed around the same time and it's probably just a coincidence that Levi Cooper and Kyle Durfey's voices sound kind of alike, but PBTT haven't screamed on an album in almost a decade, and I can't think of anything that's filled that void for me as much as Raccoon City's new single "Carnation." This is actually kind of a comeback for Raccoon City (it's their first new music since their 2014 debut LP Nightlife), but it's also a new beginning. They have a slightly different lineup now, and they sound like an even tighter band with even better production. Like Kyle Durfey, Levi Cooper has a soaring singing voice and a ferocious scream, and he brings both to the climactic, post-rocky instrumentation of this towering, six-minute song. It's the first taste of an upcoming album, which I currently have very high hopes for.

Buggin - "Brainfreeze"

Hardcore doesn't get much more fun than this. Chicago hardcore band Buggin's (fka Buggin Out) first single for Flatspot is a massive leap forward from their already-great 2020 debut EP (released on New Morality Zine); it rips and stomps and grooves in all the right ways, and it comes backed by a genuinely awesome Beastie Boys cover which should give you an idea of where this band is coming from. It shouldn't be legal to release songs this physical in a year without mosh pits.

The Best of the Worst - "Better Medicine"

Definitions of "ska-core" vary, but in The Best of the Worst's case, the "ska" pulls from the darker side of the genre's third wave and the "core" pulls from pulverizing early 2000s metalcore. The NJ band definitely follow in the footsteps of their hometown heroes Folly, but they bring this extremely heavy brand of ska-core into the 2020s, with lyrical themes, production, and a fresh musical perspective that feel totally in the now. Their album Better Medicine drops in February via Bad Time/Choke Artist, and this fiery title track gives you a very good idea of what to expect. (For an even better idea, read my interview with the band.)

Flying Raccoon Suit - "Driftwood"

The Best of the Worst isn't the only genre-defying ska band with a great new song out this month, and Raccoon City aren't the only "Raccoon" band with one. Mississippi's Flying Raccoon Suit unveiled the first taste of their anticipated new LP Afterglow, and it's some of the best music this band has released yet. There's a little metal in the riffs of this song too, but FRS quickly take the song in a surf rock direction, and there's an indie rock quality to Jessica Jeansonne's vocals and the production quality. It sounds absolutely nothing like that TBOTW song, but both songs feel spiritually connected, and both serve as reminders that there is so much new, interesting stuff happening within ska right now. (Read an interview with FRS too.)

Dreamwell - "Sayaka"

A lot of screamo sounds like it's built to be played in basements, and that raw intimacy is a big part of the genre's appeal, but sometimes you want screamo that sounds big enough to fill a stadium. On their new song "Sayaka," Providence's Dreamwell sound like that. The song incorporates throat-shredding metallic post-hardcore, climactic post-rock, La Dispute-esque talk-singing, and more, and Dreamwell fuse it all together seamlessly, breathing new life into the genre in the process.

Anxious - "More Than A Letter"

Connecticut's Anxious usually make emo that's very in touch with the genre's hardcore roots (think, like, Title Fight meets early Taking Back Sunday), but on their new 7", they take a detour into clean, jangly alternative rock, sounding more like a cross between Gin Blossoms and Dashboard Confessional. No idea if they'll show this side of them on their anticipated debut full-length, but regardless, "More Than A Letter" proves this is a band with a hell of a lot of versatility. They've only released a total of like 12 songs and their future already feels limitless.

Justin Courtney Pierre - "Dying To Know"

Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Courtney Pierre has a new solo EP on the way, and this first single gives me that same refreshing feeling I had the first time I heard I Am the Movie. Nothing fancy, just the kind of great punk-tinged power pop that never gets old.

Citizen - "I Want To Kill You"

What were you listening to in 2004? If your answer includes Where You Want To Be *and* Silent Alarm, then this new Citizen song was made for you.

For even more new songs, listen below or subscribe to our playlist of punk/emo/hardcore/etc songs of 2021, which gets updated regularly.

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Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.