It is officially 2022, February no less, and usually I post this top 10 in January, but end of 2021 was very busy. New job, new incoming kid, marriage, and just day in and day out busy stuff was my 2021. Finding time hasn’t been easy, and with COVID still being a thing until recently hopefully 2022 will be smoother. Time will tell if we will get back into our normal routines, but here is to hoping when things are lifted they aren’t closed again. Back to 2021, it was a good year regardless and even a better year in music. Picking a top 10 was tough this year, but I must say ska really took over with some solid releases. Surprisingly I was able to get everything on vinyl considering how backed up the plants are, and the two releases without vinyl were only because they didn’t get released on vinyl. As we head into 2022, already there has been some good releases and a few more coming up, nothing to make my #1 yet, but it is only February.
10. Fialta – Host
Fialta’s latest album actually came out in 2020, but that was just for Bandcamp. The official release date was January 1, 2021, hence why I added it to 2021 list. Also I didn’t have enough time digest it in 2020 to then add it to my list of that year. Fialta is one of those bands that constantly puts out great albums, and with this being their third independent album its crazy how no label hasn’t picked them up. Maybe they don’t want get mixed up in that scene again. However, just like their other releases this album has the fun laid back California vibes, but also more dancey numbers that could’ve been released in the 80’s. I think the best way to describe Fialta is take the best songs of any Jack Antonoff project, Weezer, and Jimmy Eat World and you have Fialta. This is a band I will always promote for they are that good.
Listen To: “Made It This Far”
9. Five Iron Frenzy – Until This Shakes Apart
In 2020 Five Iron Frenzy announced another Kickstarter to fund their album, and just like their last album, the response was extremely positive. However, the album wouldn’t come out until the end of December of 2021, but the wait was worth it. The last couple of Five Iron Frenzy albums have been their best work and Until This Shakes Apart is no exception. The biggest difference on this album is the mood. There is a lot more reggae/Trojan Records sound influence on this album and majority of songs are politically infused. Not saying their other albums weren’t, but the current state of the world was definitely an influence. Five Iron Frenzy has come a long way since those “Blue Comb” days.
Listen To: “Auld Lanxiety”
8. Mighty Mighty Bosstones – When God Was Great
Well I think I can say it really stinks that, at the time of this writing, Mighty Mighty Bosstones are broken up. There are reasons online, but the band hasn’t confirmed them. It really does stink, but we at least got one more album from them before they called it quits. When God Was Great is everything you’d expect from these ska legends. Great horn melodies, danceable songs, excellent bass lines, and Dicky’s raspy voice. There is no reason why any BossToneS or ska fan wouldn’t like this album. If this truly is the last BossToneS album, and they will never come back, this album is a great farewell album. The closing song “The Final Parade” is probably the best way to close out an album and a career. A seven minute tribute to the music and having friends participate.
Listen To: “Bruised”
7. Durand Jones And The Indications – Private Space
For Durand Jones And The Indications’ third album they took their soul roots and went full R&B/disco vibe. A different sounding album compared to their other releases, but still as good as their older albums. It is actually nice to hear a different sounding album because if they would keep putting out the same material it would get stale. The changes are what keep me intrigued, St. Paul & The Broken Bones took the same route and it always keep me interested in hearing the next release. However, if fans wanted that soul sound focus, they didn’t have to go far in 2021 because Aaron Frazer’s solo album, which I mention later, scratched that itch.
Listen To: “More Than Ever”
6. Austin Plaine – Fangs
This EP should be higher up on my list, but the only reason it isn’t is because it is a very short EP. Austin Plaine is one of my favorite artists, and anything he releases will always be on my end of the year list. Released in January of 2021, this very short EP showcases the more full band sound of Austin Plaine. I would say the drums and electric guitar are showcased more here than his acoustic driven songs. Regardless of the instruments, Austin Plaine’s music takes me to a different place, a place where I just see myself driving desolate roads either in the backroads of where I live to the Midwest to the deserts of America. He has a way of capturing that true Americana sound and feeling.
Listen To: “Dying Alone”
5. We Are The Union – Ordinary Life
I have been listening to We Are The Union for a long time, and each album has progressed more and more each time while never loosing their ska sound. This album, Ordinary Life, progressed even more where they aren’t just a fast ska band, but a mix of everything including some pop lining sounds. When I say pop I don’t mean like top 40, but more like The Hippos ska pop sound, just check out song “Wasted”. As for the album as a whole, We Are The Union never shied away from having personal lyrics in their songs. This may be why I have enjoyed them for so long, but this might be the most personal album by them. Lead singer Reade Wolcott’s lyrics focus around her transition into a trans-woman, which makes this album more powerful than any other We Are The Union album and probably their best effort yet.
Listen To: “Wasted”
4. The Violent Hearts – Everything And Nothing
The Violent Hearts are a new band that plays this sort of new wave / late 80’s punk inspired music, but as far as the members go they aren’t new to the industry. Featuring members of the band Sharks, who I was a huge fan of, the Violent Hearts are a perfect extension of Sharks. Leading up to this album there was only songs released here and there to which it feels it took years for this album to see the light of the day. The wait was worth it and what we got is a great collections of songs that if you like Sharks, Gaslight Anthem, the Clash, you will become obsessed with this album. There is not one bad song and the melodies are extremely infectious.
Listen To: “Deeply Unaffected”
3. The Wallflowers – Exit Wounds
In recent years The Wallflowers have been touring or playing one off shows, and this has been going on for awhile. One would think that they would be coming out with a new album with this new life, but nothing was mentioned nor were new songs plays. Then in 2021 a new album was announced, it has been 9 years since new Wallflowers material. I have come to celebrate all of Wallflowers discography and this album is a great addition. The material on this album is exactly what one would expect from Wallflowers, but Jakob’s solo material also bleeds through it. The album as a whole is some of their best work yet, and to get new Wallflowers material is always accepted. However, it may be awhile till we hear this material live.
Listen To: “I Hear The Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains)”
2. Catbite – Nice One
No sophomore slump here. Catbite released their second album and dare I say it is better than their first? For the record, both albums are great, but this album really shows great progress from the first album. Also the production is top notch. Catbite along with all the other Bad Time Records bands are really helping bring ska back to the mainstream, for the record ska never left, but it is really starting to see more mainstream exposure again good or bad. Catbite, especially with this album, I see really being the album that others will quote as being the album to listen to if you are just getting into ska. The songs are insanely catchy and you can’t help but sing along. If you getting back into ska or need new ska, start with this album first.
Listen To: “Call Your Bluff”
1. Aaron Frazer – Introducing…
As I said above if you miss the straight soul sound of Durand Jones & The Indications, their drummer Aaron Frazer released his debut album that scratches that itch. Aaron’s voice is very unique and when I found out he is going to have a solo album I knew it was going to be a great album. Also being a drummer, for his solo album the drums really become a focal point and Aaron’s drummer is very tight sounding. The feel of this album could be a companion to Durand Jones & The Indications American Love Call, and Aaron proves he has a lot to say. Due to the pandemic these songs haven’t been really played live, but the songs alone prove it would be a good show. Not sure if this solo career will continue, but curious what will come next from Aaron.
Listen To: “If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)”