The Procrastinator's Mid-2021 Music Guide
Some songs I've liked from the first half of the year, now that we're well into the second half. Oops.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s almost August. Everyone else got their “midway through 2021” lists out the door last month.
Time’s acceleration has really been kicking in hard for me as I approach 30, especially having spent the last year-plus mostly isolated and skipping over every traditional landmark that I use to measure the passage of time.
So, you’ll forgive me that I’m a little bit late with this list of songs and albums that I’ve enjoyed so far in 2021, right?
It’s actually worked out pretty nicely. A few things have come out since June that have really stuck with me, so I’m glad that I can include them in this.
This is not a ranking, this is not a review, this is just a little check in to 1) Keep myself honest about publishing this more regularly while I balance a full time job and the hope of increasing my freelance output and B) talk about some music I like.
And isn’t that the reason any of us do this? That and the riches.
Tigers Jaw - “Cat’s Cradle”
I wrote in August of 2020 that this iteration of Tigers Jaw is capable of creating their best work. After hearing “Warn Me,” which didn’t even end up on 2021’s “I Won’t Care How You Remember Me,” I was certain that this was a band that had found its footing after a few personnel changes, and was on the cusp of something special. “Cat’s Cradle” was the first actual single off the album, and got my expectations even higher than when I heard “Warn Me.” It got to the point where I was like, “If I don’t listen to this song every day I might die.” I’m listening to it right now!
The Dirty Nil - “Blunt Force Concussion”
I joked on Twitter after this single came out that it sounds like a really good Simple Plan song. And, now more than 6 months since the album’s release and even more since the single came out, I still kind of stand by that. It’s just a really solid mid-tempo pop rock banger. It’s got the acoustic intro, it’s got guitarist/vocalist Luke Bentham really giving those vocal chords hell in that sort of dizzy, warped “trust me” bridge.
Beach Bunny - “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used)”
As far as hooks go, I don’t think a song this year will top this. That sort of schoolyard rhythm will get gummed up in your brain’s gears for days. It did for me. It’s a saccharine anti-fuck-boy anthem that we all need as the world opens up and we welcome people back into our lives and are forced to be in others’.
The Armed - “ALL FUTURES”
I was late to the cult of The Armed. This video was actually my first exposure, and I didn’t fully get it, if I’m being honest. It struck me as a jacked up (and literally jacked) The World Is… But after a few more listens and a few more interviews I read, I started to buy into the mythology. Then, when “ULTRAPOP” came out, I was all in. If you have any brick walls that need run through, toss this album on.
Superbloom - “Mary on a Chain”
This song also landed in that territory of “I need to listen to this every second I can afford to have headphones in.” The Brooklyn band’s full length debut “Pollen” teeters between Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains and just about every other 90s grunge royalty you can think of, but to simplify it down to its obvious influences would do it a disservice. The album still has the identity of young kids in New York City now, rather than any band trying to convince you they were born in the wrong generation, you know? It’s acknowledgement and torch carrying, not cosplay.
Japanese Breakfast - “Be Sweet”
“You haven’t watched ‘The Wire?’ Oh my for dude it’s so good you have to.” Yes, I know.
That’s kind of how it felt for me when people talked about Japanese Breakfast. I knew it was good, I just never actually took the time to fully jump in. (For what it’s worth, I have watched “The Wire,” though.)
When “Be Sweet” came out, I saw it compared to “Let’s Dance”-era Bowie, and that’s pretty spot on. Add to that the fact that it was getting really warm out when the song came out, and it became one of my go-to songs for riding my bike around town.
Foxing - “Go Down Together”
Foxing has always been a tough band for me to pinpoint, and I mean that as a compliment to them. Sometimes they’re one of those bands that I feel like I’m too stupid to fully appreciate (though I do appreciate them a lot), and then eventually it clicks. Like a movie you know is great beyond your own takeaways even. This song wasn’t one of those, though. But that’s not to say it’s simple or easy. It appeals to all of the kids who went to college and got really into Passion Pit, but you still don’t fully trust that you can just let loose and be happy listening to it. Also the video rules.
Hurry - “Keep Being Yourself”
Hurry’s Matt Scottoline has such a knack for writing power pop gold. I’ve said it already, but “Fake Ideas” might just be Scottoline’s finest work to date, which says a lot given how consistently good the Philly (woo!) band has been over their career. “Keep Being Yourself” stood out to me on an album crammed full of earworms. That galloped beat, and the way Scottoline plays with dynamics across the song, it’s an attention-grabber.
Anika Pyle - “Prayer for Lonely People”
My sense memory of listening to this album (the fantastic “Wild River”) is making coffee in that early March morning cold/semi-light. That’s because that’s the first time I listened to it. “Prayer for Lonely People” hit right at that point where I started to wake up, and added a little bit of upbeat energy after slowly dragging me into the album, giving me a second to wake up first.
Origami Angel - “Neutrogena Spektor”
The kings of portmanteau song names first teased their expansive and fun-as-hell double album “GAMI GANG” with this one that comes hot out of the gate. It’s a sprint through superficial insecurities, the value of friendship and self-love, all culminating in a nice lil breakdown.
McKinley Dixon - “Bless the Child”
A masterfully slow burn with so many moving parts. Worthy of so many listens like a good movie where you know you missed a detail or two, and want to make sure you got everything out of it so you start it over.
Pet Symmetry - “Pet Sympathy”
Pet Symmetry is one of the most recognizable bands in indie/emo/whatever. Not because it’s anything super intricate. You just know it’s them. Like how every house has a particular scent. PS has that sound – beyond the fact that by now Evan Weiss’s voice is so recognizable in the genre. The beginning of this is pretty much par for the course for PS, until it lets up into a weave of auxiliary percussion and bossa nova vibes. Just when I thought I had figured them out, they show me they have a few more tricks up their sleeves. I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I was right at first. And then I looked like an ass while the bongos taunted me.
Pom Pom Squad - “Head Cheerleader”
After a year of forced self-reflection, it’s pretty easy to relate to lyrics about “learning how to be someone I could put my faith in” and also “squirming out of my skin.” Pom Pom Squad’s “Death of a Cheerleader” defies genre barriers, but the opening track starts on a distorted note.
illuminati hotties - “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA”
Listen to the song and you’ll figure out how to say the title. It’s not that complicated, really. Sarah Tudzin is just so good. This shit is so fun. She can make something confusing make sense, peppering in the absurd and bringing it all home with a radio-friendly chorus.
2nd Grade - “No More Parties”
Another one I wrote about (for Stereogum). Philly’s (woo!) 2nd Grade partially re-recorded this album, which was originally a solo effort and recorded in a carpeted bathroom. The whole album is a patchwork of references to other songs and artists that stand in as shorthand for emotions, but the straight-forwardness of “No More Parties” always sticks with me and makes me chuckle. It’s fun, man. Unlike when you have a party and it gets out of hand and people steal your shit, and you have a whole day of cleanup ahead of you.
Johnny Football Hero - “Cap’n Oblivious (Deficit)”
This song is one of the reasons I’m glad I waited to publish this. The Philly (woo!) three-piece goes all over the place with this one, touching on Midwest emo worship, stadium rock, proggy interludes, and heavy-ass drum hits that sound kind of like Chad Smith on “Mother’s Milk” or “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” At least it does to me in my dumb-dumb brain forever tainted by RHCP. Emo Writer of Record Ian Cohen called it “bonkers” on Twitter, and I can’t think of a more apt description.
The War On Drugs - “Living Proof”
I kept waiting for a big finish. That big finale after the buildup. And then I remembered that The War on Drugs is not a “big finale” band. They are all about consistency. But the Philly-(woo!)-but-mostly-LA band’s new album cover is a turn in a new direction, trading a grainy photo of frontman Adam Granduciel in a dimly lit room for a bright and colorful one. So, maybe there will be some surprises on the way.
Thanks for reading and listening. There are certainly some things I’ve forgotten, so maybe follow me on Twitter to see how I amend this list after it hits your inbox. You can also check out this handy Spotify playlist I made, which includes all of the songs listed here AND MORE.
In the meantime, here’s to another few months of good music coming out in 2021. Then it’ll be 2022 and I’ll turn 30 and maybe get really into Wilco or something. Then this will be a Wilco blog.
Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is sun god. (Woo!)