Should this list be considered SSP’s be-all-end-all die-on-this-hill standings for 2021 music? I cannot say that in good conscience — I sincerely believed half the entries below came out pre-COVID, so I’m sure there are others from this year that I missed as well due to a Pokémon “it hurt itself in its confusion” style error. But with the brain power I have left after another year from hell, I’ve forged ahead to bring you what I think (key word: think) are the 30 best rock/alt albums of 2021. And god, if this year gave us anything good, it was rock/alt albums. We can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for us.
Virginity – POpmortem
I think this album would have ranked even higher if I’d had more time with it this year. Power punk at its most pure, the songs make me dream of a future where I’m at concerts again, pointing my finger at the stage and screaming these lyrics back at the band. Also they do that thing I love where they speak a line of the lyrics instead of singing them, and I just think that’s neat.
The Zolas – Come Back To Life
One of my long-time local indie faves, The Zolas’ new album has… a 90s Britpop feel? I’m actually shocked more bands haven’t brought this sound back, and Come Back To Life leaves me hoping they do next year. It’s flashy, fun, and probably the album I’ll be blasting tonight at midnight.
You Me At Six – Suckapunch
It freaks me out to think about how long I’ve been a Sixer for. Over a decade?? Absolute madness. Seeing them thriving as an independent band feels so good, and getting roaring rock hits that rival those on Sinners Never Sleep or Take Off Your Colours this far into their career feels like absolute victory.
JULIEN BAKER – LITTLE OBLIVIONS
I always know where to go when I want to be in immense emotional pain, and it’s directly to Julien’s musical doorstep. Little Oblivions does nothing to distract me from the pain of this year, instead allowing me the space to feel absolutely devastated for 42 minutes, which can be equally helpful if used sparingly.
JAMES BARRETT – A SERIES OF… MOSTLY NOTHING
“Mostly nothing” my ass. James proudly steps forth into the stadium rock spotlight he so deserves, with an album that’ll be appreciated by your dad (he rocks), your mom (he seems like a nice boy), and yourself (his lyrics are emo but not noticeably enough to raise concern in public). Potentially a little before its time, just gotta wait for the U2 renaissance. Should be here soon.
SAVE FACE – ANOTHER KILL FOR THE HIGHLIGHT REEL
I love — LOVE — bands whose music could easily be turned into a gigantic Broadway production. Save Face is next up in my daydreams about set design and storyline with their latest album (the visuals already give me a lot to go off of). The spirit of 2006 MCR lives in this band, I’m sure of it. The theatrics, the horror, the… everything.
THE MAINE – XOXO: FROM LOVE & ANXIETY IN REAL TIME
In recent years, The Maine must have had an epiphany or some sort of awakening that let them know they could write radio pop rock with the best of them. It’s been a nonstop upward trajectory ever since. While I do sometimes long for the less structured albums of the past, I could never deny how great they sound or how well their current decisions are paying off for them.
MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA – THE MILLION MASKS OF GOD
I love a good concept album, so Manchester Orchestra’s latest exploring death and the afterlife is right up my alley. It feels grandiose and all-encompassing, becoming the atmosphere we live in. In the same measure, it’s real and tangible and speaking directly to me like an old friend. What an album.
THE DIRTY NIL – FUCK ART
Straight forward rock n roll!! The Dirty Nil know their way around writing a perfect rock chorus, to a point where it almost seems impossible to get it right that many times in a row. I can’t believe Master Volume came out as long ago as it did — I thought this album came barrelling out 6 months after but it seems it’s been like 3 years. I guess that means it’s timeless? Timeless!!
DUCKS LTD. – MODERN FICTION
If there’s any genre I often associate with the GTA, it’s indie rock. Bands like Tokyo Police Club soundtracked my moving-off-to-college independence, and I feel like Ducks Ltd. is going to be that for this generation. It’s fun and a bit quirky, but in a way that makes you feel a little more grown up, a bit sophisticated.
POPPY – FLUX
I’ve been so thankful that Poppy shifted away from pop and into metal/rock, but I’m especially grateful with the release of Flux. This album has a blanket of pop that gently covers the darker, louder elements she’s been folding in over the past years, for a really unique combination.
BETWEEN YOU & ME – ARMAGEDDON
A soundtrack about the end of the world feels fitting for 2021. BYAM’s latest is honest and fun and a little self-loathing and upbeat and hopeful and everything I’ve felt — everything I’m sure we’ve all felt — over the last 365 days.
CHASE ATLANTIC – BEAUTY IN DEATH
Simultaneously meeting the lyrical content requirements for both my introverted and extroverted qualities, Chase Atlantic have been so consistent with the quality of their alt-RnB releases for the last half decade. Every time they flip from driving cars & doing drugs to an existential crisis about feeling lonely… it hits me full force.
UPSAHL – LADY JESUS
Taylor Upsahl — the new queen of catchy pop songwriting. I thought it was hard to think when I had each of her singles stuck in my head one at a time. I haven’t had space for a single thought in my mind since she released an entire album’s worth of radio hits.
SATE – THE FOOL
I’m so glad SATE and her music came into my life this year. A hurricane of howling vocals and rumbling bass lines, The Fool took my playlists and my heart by storm. “IV: #sfc” is the calm in the storm and not an introspective moment you want to miss. This album is best heard chronologically — it’s all about the literal journey, not the destination.
PONY – TV BABY
Everything PONY touches turns to gold (or maybe sickly-sweet pink) and debut album, TV Baby, just proves that maybe you can’t have too much of a good thing. Ten tracks of grungy power pop that celebrate the introvert lifestyle and the uncertainties of growing up through the lens of a 2010s movie soundtrack. I listen to “WebMD” every time I google my symptoms and find out that, once again, I am dying!
CLEOPATRICK – BUMMER
I think cleopatrick draw me in every time because… there’s just something about the fuzzy quality of the instrumentals that clashes with the clarity of the vocals. It makes me feel like I’m listening from between worlds, or tuned between channels picking up two different frequencies. I feel like I have to listen harder or I’ll miss the hard rock signal from deep space that’s coming through.
KIWI JR. – COOLER RETURNS
Kiwi Jr. feels like they dropped out of another era. Even the quality of the recording feels a touch vintage. Maybe like if the Beach Boys moved to Toronto and decided to make a soundtrack for a Wes Anderson movie? In the absolute best of ways. And anyone who writes about crying at the Dufferin Mall is good in my books.
TRASH BOAT – DON’T YOU FEEL AMAZING?
I was expecting more of a pop punk album from Trash Boat… so you can imagine my absolute euphoria when pressing play on an industrial rock album a la Nine Inch Nails. It’s heavy and raw and vulnerable, and a great testament for what can be achieved when you’re not afraid to take things in a wildly new direction.
SPIRITBOX – ETERNAL BLUE
Watching Spiritbox become one of the most loved bands in metal this year has been beautiful (especially as a Canadian). Hearing the smooth, gentle sounds of Courtney’s vocals compared to the deep growl of her screams… it seems impossible to switch between them so fluidly. No wonder we’re all obsessed.
CHLOE MORIONDO – BLOOD BUNNY
Chloe’s sophomore album is another one I expected to be a pop punk album, based on the reviews I read before listening. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Their album dips into so many sounds that aren’t even pop punk adjacent — “Strawberry Blonde” feels like a folk song recorded to sound more electronic, and half of the album feels more indie pop than anything else. There’s a whole range exemplified on this album, and it makes me so excited for what could come next.
HOLDING ABSENCE – THE GREATEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE
I can’t release an accurate estimate yet, but I think the number of times I’ll lose my voice screaming along to this album… is gonna be embarrassingly high. It’s heartbreaking hard rock. Whether I’m listening to the lyrics or not, I get a feeling like I’m about to start crying, helpless as the world ends around me. I love an album that can trigger real feelings in such a visceral way.
SUPER AMERICAN – SUP
I originally believed that as I got older, I was growing out of pop punk. Now, I just think I’m becoming pickier. Super American created a sophisticated, interesting release that feels familiar without being reductive or sounding like one of my fave 2014 albums re-imagined. Every track makes me smile.
PACKS – TAKE THE CAKE
One of my fave discoveries this year, PACKS condenses everything I could want from fuzzy, grungy indie rock into 23 minutes of like… the sonic equivalent of being pushed around the crowd at a show and giving up on ever regaining your footing… just letting the crowd take you wherever while your head bobs around like it has a tenuous grasp on your own spine.
CITIZEN – LIFE IN YOUR GLASS WORLD
I genuinely can’t believe Citizen released this album in 2021, I feel like I’ve had it for years. I never realized there was so much discourse around their discography (I’m an As You Please fan, myself) but I think this one is hard to find any fault with. It takes the best parts of past Citizen releases and adds a little dance punk, a little new wave, and a lot of heart.
BAD WAITRESS – NO TASTE
Bad Waitress’ brand of art punk makes me feel alive and unstoppable. No Taste is under a half hour, but packs such a punch in its short run time. It’s fiery and electrifying, and listening to it makes me the most outspoken version of myself. “Strawberry Milkshake” is a top contender for song of the year as well.
EVERY TIME I DIE – RADICAL
Keith Buckley’s lyricism can inspire me to do anything. I think he must be aware of this power he wields over us, as it feels he set his sights on starting a revolution with Radical. Ego death and not accepting the status quo as it’s passed down to us, alongside the soul-ripping metalcore we’ve spent two decades knowing and loving.
FOXING – DRAW DOWN THE MOON
It feels like the world was divided on this album from Foxing, but I couldn’t be more in love with it. They got it all right — the lyrics keep their emo journey alive, the music takes an unexpected but delightful turn into 2010s alt-pop, and the visuals are otherworldly.
HALSEY – IF I CAN’T HAVE LOVE, I WANT POWER
Watching an artist grow into a phenom like Halsey is cool; watching them grow to be capable of creating the albums they dreamed of making in their career infancy is even cooler. And as someone also obsessed with NIN, this release could not have been any more catered to my interests.
TURNSTILE – GLOW ON
No other album in 2021 affected my life with the same ferocity as GLOW ON. When I say it had me in a chokehold, I am still underselling it. An absolutely glorious recipe — calling for root of hardcore, a dash of pop sensibility, and unbelievable bass riffs (to taste). Then add in your mixture of what makes it equally at home for dancing and moshing… and voila. Album of the fucking year.
Check out tracks from each of these albums on our Spotify: