Straight Hedge! The Best Punk Of 2021

Noel Gardner looks back over 2021 and selects ten albums from his tQ column, plus another ten that got away

Taqbir by Ben Houdijk

The trope, invariably employed mockingly, of being ‘punk on the internet’ is practically as old as Web 1.0 itself. You know, even if you don’t know you know: guy who accumulates a bloated Discogs wantlist, downloads rarities from file-sharing sites, has the right opinions on message boards (hey, I didn’t say all the reference points were fully up to date) – everything except actually attending shows. Then it came to pass that everyone was mandated to be ‘on the internet’ or else nowhere at all: cue a worldwide kicking of heels until flesh could again be freely pressed.

I myself, at the time of writing, have seen maybe five ‘punk bands’ play live in 2021, so substantially less than in 2020. This is partly down to personal circumstance and geographical misfortune, but even so it feels like the postwar rationing era out there, as regards hot punk shit sanding your ears off RIGHT THERE.

(Unwittingly, I think I watched many more video clips of new blood in faraway lands – Indre Krig in Copenhagen, Unidad Ideológica in Bogotá, Ilusión in some Mad Max version of Canada, Stingray in London, although you seem to have to pay to watch this now – than I’d ever felt the need to before. Hmm!)

This year’s collected Straight Hedge columns included 14 new UK underground punk and hardcore releases, which isn’t too bad in context but drawn from what remains a decidedly small pool. There’s only one in my self-selected/self-indulgent top 10 (from the columns), and another in my second top 10 (of things I didn’t review for whatever reason). Switching to a global mindset, I prefer to think this is because of the steady supply of utter ragers that kept popping out the pipe. Oh, and my actual favourite hardcore release of 2021, At Death’s Door by Goodbye World, isn’t otherwise mentioned here because I wrote something for tQ’s overall top 100 on it instead. Hopefully 2022 can offer as much if not MORE fine musical filth and also make it more readily available to witness in meatspace.

A Top Ten Of 2021 UK Releases

10. Dollhouse – The First Day Of Spring
(Toxic State)

“An unusually wretched and depressing entity. In a good way, like.”

9. Ignorantes – Larga Vida A La Inconsecuencia
(Iron Lung)

“Chronically infectious pogo-friendly shit-fi that doesn’t totally spurn melody.”

8. Indre Krig – Demo

“A trio of no-brakes thrashers and then a closing number, ‘Hollow Eyes’, that starts out slow and then turns into a no-brakes thrasher too.”

7. Mentira – Nada Es Sagrado
(Iron Lung)

“Not positive of all the gluey freakery here’s source instrumentation, but there’s a whole lot of gluey freakery.”

6. Aihotz – Matar Al Superhombre
(Discos Enfermos)

“Is this a free festival in 1975 with more LSD than toilet paper or what? No, because even the proto-est of punx weren’t banging ‘em out at the sort of tempos heard on ‘Lunula’.”

5. Chain Whip – Two Step To Hell
(Drunken Sailor / Neon Taste)

“Dig the big dogs of early wave USHC but can’t imagine being arsed about a contemporary take on it? Try Chain Whip!”

4. Special Branch – Lethal Force

“Andy McSharry’s lyrics are truth-to-powerful stuff, Eddie Kenrick’s arrangements simmering, murky streetpunk-meets-hardcore.”

3. Pest Control – demo + Infestation / Rat Race

“A 2020 Bandcamp demo last year, combined with two more songs onto a self-released tape of sizzling crossover thrash mania.”

2. Luz De Gas – Luz De Gas
(Iron Lung)

“I love this tape so much it’s got me seeking penance for the times I acted like I wanted ‘more’ (whatever that is) from punk music.”

1. Taqbir – Victory Belongs To Those Who Fight For A Right Cause
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

“Exhilarating, fuzzy pogopunk, their Arabic lyrics about Islamic patriarchy belted out with stirring desperation.”

And Ten That Got Away

Civic – Future Forecast

Let’s start with something that splashed big enough to be picked up by a ‘big indie’, because it can’t be all 30-copy runs of cassettes dubbed in someone’s living room. Well I guess it could, but this, the debut album by Civic from Melbourne, is a splendid hooky punk rattle and no further justification should be needed re: its inclusion. Future Forecast follows singles and EPs on Anti-Fade and Total Punk with 12 songs that bundle up garage, postpunk, hard rock, proto-hardcore (this mainly in Matt Blach’s drums), even a little heartland rock twang on ‘Tell The Papers’. The recording is vault door-thick but there’s very little suggestion Civic have refined their approach for any putative audience, as the dropped-tempo Stooge-sludge of ‘Shake Like Death’ should confirm. ATO Records re-releasing this LP outside Australia appears to mean that Dave ‘Dave Matthews Band’ Matthews is now Civic’s label boss, so that’s amusing.

The Chisel – Retaliation
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

Not, as things stand, one of the ‘big indie upgraders’ I’m talking about, you’re nevertheless more likely than average to hear someone repping Retaliation, the debut LP by The Chisel from London. This is mainly because it’s legitimately really fucking good! Like, they could have turned in a whole set of roughhouse Oi! like ‘Tooth And Nail’, hardcore like ‘Common As Muck’, pure-strain glitter-guitarred punk singalongs like ‘Not The Only One’, and that would have been a blast, but they do all that on here and it all hangs together plus there are a brace of wistful pub/punk tearjerkers right at the end. (‘Will I Ever See You Again’, with its melancholic harmonica, pushes the same buttons as ‘Grenfell Forever’ by Chisel relatives Chubby & The Gang.) Callum Graham’s lyrics, variously about working class solidarity, impatience towards wankers and memorable fights, are proof that escapism and reality can happily coexist.

Dye – Rules
(Noise Merchant/Dirtbag Distro)

You know how I was a bit snippy about 30-copy runs of cassettes back there? It’ll go lower! Noise Merchant are a recently founded English label whose tape releases “concentrate on bands from outside the UK” (although not exclusively) and are mostly limited to a mere 20 units. Appropriately, their dub of the debut album-or-maybe-EP by Dye from Kansas City is quite the ‘score’. It’s made with familiar hardcore ingredients – a tinny, neck-wringing guitar tone, bilious vocals, lyrics that combine self-laceration and world-weariness, tempos that jerk between alluring plod and a sprint in big boots – but does it all in a very satisfying way. Hail regional HC! As for Noise Merchant, while you’re checking Rules why not give anthemic synthpunk Argentinians Desborde and London metalpunx Final Dose a punt too?

Hüstler – Hüstler / Hüstler
(Sorry State)

That’s right – the Sorry State label released two tapes by this band in 2021, both self-titled and both blaringly maximalist in their industrial-spattered metallic punk. The first, released in winter, blows chunks of Rudimentary Peni, Christian Death and GISM across a quarter-hour of spool: it’s total schlock, but these guys have god’s-honest chops. Its shorter successor, from autumn, opens with a pomp-metal instrumental piece before a deluge of gothic snarl, near-ceaseless soloing and some almost grungy tunings tucked within the chaos. (I keep wondering, likely against my better judgement, what Hüstler would sound like with a 90s Butch Vig-type production.) Don’t know a ton about the guys in the band, in fact I am mainly familiar with bassist Mobshity’s eponymous sideline in drawing ridiculous bootleg shirts, but this sounds like music made by personable freaks with a gloomy-bright future.

Inyeccion – Demo
(Discos Enfermos)

I’m not armed with hard stats about Inyeccion, and even if I was they probably wouldn’t be that exciting to you, but this dually Chilean-Argentinian band’s album-length demo tape really rocked my shit-fi receptors in Q1 of ‘21. Their Barcelona-based label invoke UK82 and classic Japanese noisepunk styles, as well as what is termed the ‘tupa-tupa’ beat in the Spanish-language punk world: Inyeccion are crude as heck for sure, but never falling-apart sloppy (there’s a really neat nod to surf rock on ‘Vigilante’, for example), and vocalist Cromi, who also sings in the also great, metal-leaning Farmaco is one of the finest squawkers in contemporary global punk for this listener’s money. The band also released a cassingle this year, only two songs but the same basic deal and sleeve art for the ages. PUAJ!

The Moor – From Smoke And Sorrow

This Vancouver quartet have “peace punk” in their Bandcamp URL, and without doubt their music too, but there’s more swirling through From Smoke And Sorrow, a seemingly under-the-radar release which has been online for some months before the vinyl arrived. Six songs in 25 minutes, meaning they can stretch their legs with lengthy intros before the cavalry come, as on ‘Backbiter’. Even while these songs feel rhythm-driven, with basslines mixed high in that timeless goth rock way, there’s a strong melodic sensibility to The Moor, and a singsongy pop colour to the vocals; LP closer ‘Grey’ ends with a quick blast of 70s quasi-metal guitar. Heard little other music in this style in 2021, for whatever reason, but I feel like this band would have stood out in any event.

Socio La Difekta – Kreski
(Beach Impediment)

Beach Impediment Records from Virginia are one of those real ‘trademark of quality’ labels, so this being Socio La Difekta’s debut release needn’t give you pause. The Tokyo band’s three members have some form for Japanese hardcore spotters (Nanae Kakinuma’s other band Unarm are probably the most noteworthy) but like I say, you can dive right into Kreski, a six-song 7-inch sung exclusively in Esperanto(!) It’s got lethal gobs of Disclose-type noise punk whomp, wicked dual vocal tradeoffs, lightning-weird riffs and swerve-over-the-road solos, and a beast of a recording. Also, bassist Ippei Matsui seems to be quite the renaissance man: when not making this sort of din, he’s known for lush organic ambient music like this recent reissue of a private press CDR.

Spike Pit – Bastard Of No Future
(Serial Bowl/Big Spike Says Fuck You)

Fully toto suite of speed metal-smoked punk bangers from some reprobates who couldn’t sound more like they come from Cleveland if they actually did. Which they do! Certainly seems like Spike Pit could bisect a ‘local legends’ bill also featuring Midnight and Fuck You Pay Me in a delightfully continuum-ish way. On Bastard Of No Future they lean right into breakneck bass runs and wheedling guitar solos, kinda like Rich Kids On LSD or some other second wave US hardcore band who stopped short of crossover thrash but not by much. Lyrically and aesthetically, their fixations and topics tend towards the base and lurid, maybe too much so for a intellectual like yourself, but it’s not wall-to-wall goofin’, singer Ellis Coiley staking out his position as an African-American in a ‘White World’ for example. UK readers can get this on tape from the Serial Bowl label, limited to 30 copies of course.

Tower 7 – …Peace On Earth?

Musically, it’s hard to pick out what, if anything, are the big-O Original parts of this, the second release by Tower 7 from New York (not to be confused with the other, etc). …Peace On Earth? is raw-fidelity anarcho punk with much metallic chugging: Amebix, Antisect and Sacrilege are probably its oldest antecedents, but these eight grime-crusted songs could have probably found a home on, say, Profane Existence Records in the 90s. There’s just something a bit off-time and tilted about these guys, as is the case with sibling band Kaleidoscope, and it makes this LP more interesting to listen to than might have otherwise been the case. And then there’s the lyrics, dense tracts of polemic that peaks somewhere between green anarchism and outright nihilism: “The end of humans is not only inevitable but arguably ethical” (‘Green Piece’).

Violent Spirit – Fire
(Young Guns 2)

By accident rather than (conscious) design, a lot of metal seems to have leached into this glorious stragglers’ charter, and it doesn’t get more metal than the gleaming sword of an intro to this 7-inch by Finns Violent Spirit. Guitarist Jaakko Hietakangas (also of Helsinki crossover thrashers Foreseen) keeps things sounding pretty True Steel even when the band hype themselves into a Burning Spirits-hailing hardcore frenzy: hell, some of the breaks on the title track could be repurposed into a dad-during-drivetime heater worthy of inclusion on any given Top Gear anthems CD. Instead they’re on a crushing ten minutes of kingly might with typically cool Tin Savage sleeve art that really needs that second pressing promised by the band shortly after its release in February.

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