top 10 albums OF 2021
Another year has come and gone. We're already well into 2022, yet we are still trapped in this pandemic. It means, no more live shows, it means no public gatherings. But, it also means that home studio musicians have had a lot of downtime, and you folks were busy!
Hop On Power Pop wasn't going to put out a Best of 2021 list. Personal changes (Selling and buying a house, loss of job, etc.) made it necessary to step back from album reviews. We're still on that break, but there are benefits to putting out a Best Of list and giving accolades to the exceptional releases from last year.
Sure, other lists have already gone out, so by some accounts we're late to the game. But, the Oscars doesn't happen until late March, and since I'm a film girl, I think that's going to be my excuse this year.
While there were 100's of albums that would appreciate a call out, Hop On Power Pop wants to narrow it down to our Top 10. We also pick our favorite album of 2021 so that means ELEVEN albums (LP) get awarded.
And unfortunately Hop On Power Pop is limited to albums that are predominately Power Pop in style. If we could, we would expand it to include amazing folky-psycho-pop-prog albums like Novelty Island's How Are yOu Coping With This Century? (One of the best albums from 2021) but then the list would go up to hundreds of albums. We want to show folks that there's still great Power Pop albums being made today. It's one of the only genres that's lasted through so many decades.
So, lets get to it:
HOPP Best Albums are based on the following:
Albums released in 2021*
LP (Long Play 7 or more songs) and not an EP (6 or less)
Power Pop genre (Hop On Power Pop's style of Power Pop)
One album per band/artist
Albums NOT on a major record label, or promoted by a huge industry. Weezer, Green Day, those guys don't need our help.
No best of or various artist compilations
Cover albums not eligible
AND MOST OF ALL!
Positions on this list cannot be purchased!
* Re-issues / Re-masterings count especially if the album was not widely known upon it's initial release, or the quality has been markedly improved upon.
Hop On Power Pop's
TOP 10 ALBUMs of 2021
(In Alphabetical Order)
2021 album of the year
The Red Locusts The Red Locusts
Favorite Track: Another Bad Day For Cupid
HOP ON POWER POP'S 2021 ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Who knew that Rick Springfield still had so many great Power Pop songs in him? Sure, 2008's Venus In Overdrive had Power Pop gems like "What's Victoria's Secret?" And 2012's Songs For The End Of The World had songs full of angst, like "Wide Awake," that would be at home on a punk album. Rick then returned to form win 2016's with Rocket Science, pumping out great, mainstream rock numbers, like "Down." But then he slowed things down by revisiting his catalogue with a 60 piece orchestra in 2019. It's not unusual for a 72 year old to slow down, revisit his catalogue and go the big orchestra route.
So, when The Red Locusts ST album came out last year, with wall to wall, Beatle inspired Power Pop songs...everyone asked, "Who the hell are The Red Locusts?" The liner notes left zero clues, listing song titles and a morose bible sounding quote about the Lord and locusts. When the band members' names were finally released, they sounded in the same style as another supergroup, The Traveling Wilburys.
Paul Ramone (Guitars, Vocals) -aka- Rick Springfield
Scotty Skuffleton (Bass, Vocals) -aka- Matt Bissonette
Skippy Skuffleton (Drums, Vocals) -aka- Gregg Bissonette
Duncan Sweets (Keyboards, Vocals)
Beau weevil (Guitar, Vocals)
It was finally revealed that Paul Ramone (Paul McCartney's once used pseudonym for a Steve Miller song) was in fact, 80's darling Rick "Jessie's Girl" Springfield. The songs on this album are hook-filled, harmony-rich, jangly guitar songs that are like love affairs with Beatle DNA. It was an instant favorite here in the Hop On Power Pop camp. "Miss Daisy Hawkins" song could be called Eleanor Rigby Part 2.
In a way, The Red Locusts album was unfair to any other Power Pop album released in 2021. Rick Springfield obviously is a seasoned pro, ever since he hit with Jessie's Girl back in 1981. In my opinion, "Jessie's Girl" is right up there with The Knack's "My Sharona," in the world of Power Pop. The Red Locusts shows that Rick Springfield has always been a Power Pop all-star from the very beginning.
Abdicate The Throne Caper Clowns
Favorite Track: CAPS LOCK ON
It was obvious that any Caper Clowns release would be in serious contention for our Top 10 Best Album list. Both 2016's The Buca Bus and 2018's A Salty Taste to the Lake were packed full of wonderful songs. Take "Pockets" from The Buca Bus, and "Pretty & Underwear" from A Salty Taste To The Lake for example.
Some albums are like friends you don't realize you're forming long, loving relationships with until you see them again. That's how a Caper Clowns album is to me. I'll listen to it, and I know I like it and that it's catchy. Then a few weeks go by, one of their songs comes on again, and I feel a sense of familiarity, a pleasure to the ears. Caper Clown songs are like Tom Hanks, you know them and you like them, they feel like old friends after one listen.
"Pineapple Songs" reminded me of another loveable song that uses the word PINEAPPLE, "Pineapple Head," by Crowded House. These songs make me want to make a FRUIT-themed Power Pop mixtape, throw in some XTC, Orange Humble Band and The Lemon Twigs and you're on your way. And you can't tell me that Four Letter Season didn't bring to mind Crowded House's Four Seasons In One Day? Crowded House must be big in Denmark!
Bonsai Tree has late Paul McCartney vibes to it (Think Jenny Wren), The Club Of Humanity had driving lyrics that made "I Want You" a hit for Savage Garden in 1996. (Although, in this case, replace the Cherry Cola with bathtub gin)
Sure, comparing Caper Clowns to Savage Garden doesn't give one a sense of Power Pop, but while many of the tracks step into 90s friendly, radio pop, they somehow manage to push enough of the Power Pop cues that they earned inclusion on our list. Keep it up boys, whatever you're doing in Denmark is working. Don't change a thing.
ALL RISE THE LOLAS
Kool Kat Musik
Favorite Track: Pain In My Heart
I feel sorry for bands who release albums in the same year that bands like Lolas or The Toms release albums. You know a release by either of these bands is going to be good. So, immediately, there go two slots on our Top 10 Albums list.
When All Rise came out, it had that familiar, hard-driving, Power Pop sound that picked up right where 2019's Bulletproof left off. Lolas are the brainchild of North Birmingham (Alabama) Tim Boykin. They've been doing this since 1998, and show no sign of slowing down. It's amazing that the band has continued to hold up a high caliber of sound and songwriting when they've gone through so many changes in personnel. (A testament to Tim Boykin and the musicians he befriends/hires?)
I like that Lolas manage to keep things light with titles like "I Can Hear Your Beard Through The Phone," and "All Rise The Sneaky Snakes Of Kudzu." (I'd like to see a cartoon of these snakes!)
All Rise is a mix of Power Pop, punk, sunshine, bubblegum, and rock. There's not any filler on this album. Don't lie down, don't sleep...everyone should, in fact, rise to Lola's newest release.
Earworms Nick Frater
Big Stir Records
Favorite Track: Buggin' Out
Nick Frater is another one of those musicians who continue to pump out consistently great music. Hot on the heels of 2020's Fast & Loose, Nick Frater continues to deliver for Big Stir Records with another smash hit album.
Picking up from where Paul McCartney and Wings left off with "It's All Rumors," it's like Nick Frater is letting us know that the clay's been removed from his head and it's time to let the worms sink into our ears. "It's All Rumors," has heavy "Junior's Farm," DNA and despite flashback nightmares from watching Ricardo Montalbán's character Kahn insert a Ceti Eel into Checkhov's ear, Nick Frather's "earworms" aren't painful at all. But, heed this warning, both worms will certainly wrap themselves to any subject's ears! (Hopefully, Nick's "earworms" won't eventually lead to death, unless you're allergic to wonderful Power Pop)
I'm very into album art, and a good album cover can make the difference between a Top 10 album decision when it's on the fence. The artwork on Earworms seems to be an obvious nod to Klaus Voorman's Revolver cover for The Beatles.
There's a definite 70's easy listening vibe to Earworms, as evidenced by songs like "It's All Rumors" and "Star Crossed." "Not Born Again," bristles with late-period Posies with its unique use of melody in chorus and verse.
Now, Nick Frater didn't create Earworms alone. He had help from Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Darian Sahanaja, Jamie Wellingan, Dana Countryman, Paul Ryan, Nick Berling, Emily Davies, and a few others. But, the prolific Nick Frater didn't stop with Earworms. He also put out an additional 8 song album The Solo Years: Vol 1 under the stage name The Rebutles. (Great timing with the recent Get Back documentary)
The Rebutles album is an obvious take on Monty Python's creation, The Rutles. Picking up from where the fab Rutles left off, The Solo Years: Vol 1 is filled with songs that are easily identifiable as "lost tracks" from the solo work from John Lennon ("The Lost Weekend"), Paul McCartney (Baby, I'm Amazing) and George Harrison ("Hah Hah"). (Sorry, no Ringo tracks). I loved The Rebuttals album so much that Nick Frater almost had 2 slots on H.O.P.P.'s Top 10 list until I realized that was quite unfair to all the other bands. (The Rebuttals is only available as a free bonus when you purchase a vinyl copy of Earworms)
MANIA AT THE TALENT SHOW DAVID BROOKINGS
David Brookings Music
Favorite Track: Mania At The Talent Show
David Brookings has spent a lot of the pandemic playing live, home shows for us. They aren't big concerts, most folks aren't doing that much these days, but they connect. I suppose that's why his latest album, Mania At The Talent Show, has him continuing to perform solo...forget about those other guys, they were average-looking anyways, right?
All jokes aside, Mania At The Talent Show, shows both a continuation of what we have come to expect from David Brookings, plus a mellower side. But, the easy-going melodies disguise lyrics that hit hard. I love "Keep It Real," with its ukulele driving engine. (I'm a sucker for a ukulele song) and David Brookings keeps it real. There's no holds barred here, folks.
Whether he's (not so) passively-aggressively calling someone crazy, telling someone to hide their crazy, telling a girl to get off his mind, or pointing out how materialistic and superficial the women of Los Angeles are (It's true, I lived there!)...David is aiming his ax with a kill shot. I certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a David Brookings argument. Taylor Swift's got nothing on Mr. Brooks songwriting vitriol.
I think this album actually shouldn't have made the list, because while the songs are great, they don't scream Power Pop. However, David Brooking's songwriting is so emersed in Beatle's rich melody that his songs can't help but feel like it belongs on a Power Pop list. At least, Mania At The Talent Show doesn't have any heavy country-flavored tunes. Maybe moving to Southern California is taking its toll on Mr. Brookings. Another title for this album could've been Mania At The Crazy Show.
But, as the finish line for this, seemingly, never-ending pandemic starts to show itself, more and more people seem to be acting out, driving like maniacs and losing their minds. Based on that, maybe the tone of this album is EXACTLY what our society at this time is calling for? The album ends with anguish called "Mystery Of Time," a song about missing friends and warning folks about long and winding roads.
Mania At The Talent Show reminded me of the way Natalie Merchant would clothe heavy, hard-hitting subject matters in soft, gentle, gorgeous melodies. Welcome to year two of the global pandemic, where the fire red, California sunsets are gorgeous because of a polluted sky.
STRANGE TIDE ANC4
Kool Kat Musik
Favorite Track: Make Up Your Mind
I was so confused by this album. Ok, not from the actual album, but because I purchased a physical CD of Strange Tide, was listening to it in my car, on my drive to and from work (My favorite place to assess a new album), and had picked out a few of my favorite songs. I knew this album was good enough to make H.O.P.P.'s Top 10 List. But when I went to write the review, I was confused that the first track, "Struck Gold," had the same lyrics as the first track to their 2019 album Anc4. I thought, geez, these guys love the phrase "easy way out," so much that they used it again!
You see, Strange Tide is the first album that I've heard from Anc4. I had not familiarized myself with their 2019 self-titled album. However, I was familiar with Roger Arvidson's release Arvidson & Butterflies which I absolutely love. So, I started listening to the songs and comparing them to their song titles. Not a single song title made sense. Of course, one could site songs like Bob Dylan's “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” or Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or even The Beatles' "A Day In The Life," for examples of song titles that never appear in the song lyrics. But an entire album?!?
So, I reached out to Ray at Kook Kat Musik to see if I was crazy. I wasn't. A mistake had been made at the duplication plant and I was one of the few who got one of the screwed-up copies. Lucky me!
I finally received the actual album (Thanks to Ray) and it's good. After the mix-up, there wasn't a guarantee that Strange Tide would make the Top 10 cut. But, it gave me a great opportunity to compare the two albums. Side by side, they're both fantastic, there's no fluff here. I think Anc4 (1st Album) has a slight edge over Strange Tide, I just like it more. Strange Tide often sounds like Bubblegum with power, it's still gum but maybe it's that special kind of gum you chew if you want to quit smoking. It's bubblegum that packs a punch.
If I had one criticism of Anc4 it's in their name. Anc4 stands for Arvidson & Nilsson Combo Four. It's confusing at most, silly at least. Do you spell it out? "A-N-C-4?" Or do you pronounce it? "Ank four?" Maybe "ankfour" carries a different meaning in Sweden, where this band hails from? I'm glad we don't know The Beatles as LMHS4.
Strange Tide delivers much the same as their last album, a mix of Beatles and Byrds, but this time it's weighted a little more towards the Byrds jangle side. It's another great album by Roger Arvidson and Tomas Nilsson. Not sure what they're putting in the water of Sweden, but when you add ANC4 to The Tangerines, Mellowmen, Popsicle, The Genuine Fakes, The Merrymakers, Hazy Weekends, and The Wannadies, one begins to wonder. Great job guys.
Suckertree Underwater Sunshine
Favorite Track: Rusty Crown
Suckertree by Underwater Sunshine is a perfect example of why an album makes our Top 10 List. First, the overall quality, professionalism that comes across in the overall sound of this album puts it in the upper echelon of albums released in the past year. It has to start there. Many albums suffer from sounding like they were recorded in an inexpensive home studio. While most albums released today, especially in the Power Pop and indie circles, are in fact recorded in bedrooms or basements around the world. Very few artists splurge for an actual professional studio, very few could afford such a luxury if it's necessary these days. But, it can't sound like a cheap, home studio. Suckertree simply doesn't sound like it was, in fact, it sounds like they went to Abbey Road studios and laid everything down there.
The second qualifier is that the songs (Writing, hooks, lyrics, playing, and singing) all have to be good. Not just good...memorable. It's Power Pop and it has to hook me in, it cannot be forgettable the minute the song ends. I need to want to keep humming the tune long after it ends.
What makes the songs on Suckertree so amazing is that they were recorded back in 1996, using the technology available at that time. But, after they were dusted off, the band took advantage of today's modern technology to add the final polish to these great songs.
When I first heard Suckertree, I thought I was listening to a lost Posies album, especially the songs by Jon Auer, when I hear a song like "Shelf." In fact, the influence of The Posies is evident throughout Suckertree. If Underwater Sunshine was still going strong today, given the current situation of The Posies, I'd recommend that Jon Auer look no further than this band for his next collaboration. But, unless the time machine is invented, I doubt that's ever going to be a reality. Plus, I'm sure Jon Auer isn't at any loss for work.
I was relieved to discover that Suckertree was recorded back in the 90s. Underwater Sunshine reminded me of so many great live shows by (then) bands categorized as alternative or punk bands (Everclear, GBV, Presidents of USA, Sponge, Redd Kross, and Sloan to name a few). This album has that 90's, MTV would've loved this, feel.
My favorite track is "Rusty Crown," which unless I didn't know better, even sounds like Jon Auer's singing style. While a few folks may argue that Underwater Sunshine is a more 90's alternative (Or melodic grunge) than Power Pop, I want to remind them that you could easily categorize the Posies in the same vein and most music folks happily place The Posies in the Power Pop category. I think it lies somewhere in their all too easily accessible songwriting, something that wouldn't have been possible without the British Invasion of music a few decades prior.
Thank doG for that!
Favorite Track: Televangelist
Dolour is Shane Tutmarc, and Shane Tutmarc is Dolour, he's also Shane Tutmarc and The Traveling Mercies (Alt Country), but mostly he's just Shane Tutmarc. So, who is Shane Tutmarc? He's been putting out music for many years now, and Televangelist is a follow-up to 2020s The Royal We. If I'm counting correctly, this is his 6th album under the moniker Dolour, apparently a take on the word "dolorous/ˈdōlərəs/adj meaning feeling or expressing great sorrow or distress." But, there's nothing distressful or sad about Dolour's music, especially with Televangelist. This album is upbeat, lovingly retro, and dare I say it, "almost a moving religious experience!" Ok, maybe I shouldn't go that far, but it's a damn good time and Shane isn't on television begging for my money, though he could and I'd gladly put it in the collection plate if it sounds like this album.
Even a dolorous-sounding song title like "The Day Tom Petty Died," isn't dour and depressing, but it's an upbeat, Monkee's sounding track whose lyrics betray the melody. Shane Tutmarc has written music that spans genres, but much like The Royal We, Televangelist has enough pop strokes to easily qualify it for Power Pop. The songs are easy to sing along to and the hooks stay with you. Don't expect Cheap Trick style Power Pop, but it's more on the melodic side, reminiscent of bands like Matthew Sweet, Rooney, or Wing's era Paul McCartney.
There's no sign of Baroque pop songs like in the past, but songs like "My Sweet Darlin'" make me think of the days of Tin Pan Alley, where you could buy a meal for a song. (OK, maybe a song and a soft shoe dance). I am sad that Shane no longer lives here in the Pacific Northwest and I never got a chance to see him, or any configuration of his bands perform live. (He now resides in Nashville, TN). To think he was right down the street at the famous Seattle venue The Crocodile makes me want to kick myself in my butt. I'll just have to hope this pandemic (really) ends and Shane comes home again.
Three Apples In The Orange Grove The Mergers
Favorite Track: Better Days
The Mergers remind me of a very specific Oasis. I'm not talking about late Oasis, I'm talking about Oasis when they had something to prove. Better yet, I'm talking about a pissed-off Liam Gallagher who is spitting bullets at his older brother. On that note, they remind me a bit of Miles Kane, someone whom I found out when he opened for Liam Gallagher. I absolutely love the Liam Gallagher-sounding song, "Better Days."
Three Apples In The Orange Grove is The Mergers on Red Bull. There was a bit of that on 2016's With A Carrot And A Stick, but putting them in the Orange Grove seemed to make them even more bitter. (I'm thinking it's a Blood Orange Grove!) WACAAS leaned heavily on the Fab Four, while TAITOG has dialed up the garage rock moniker. Take "Mauerpark" for example, the grunge of the garage drips off that song.
Not that the entire album is full of rockers, they slow things down along a dreamy psychedelic path with songs like "Seekin' for the Light" and "Right As Rain." There are a lot of Brit Pop sounds that would make a perfect soundtrack if Mike Myers ever decides to make another Austin Powers movie. (Hey Mike, give these guys a listen, would you?)
One of the things I like best about this album is the album cover. If albums were based on the cover art alone, Artist Michael Schreiber has delivered my favorite album of 2021. Outstanding! Not only is it a gorgeous painting, but you will also have fun trying to play "Where's Waldo," and find the three apples hidden amongst the Orange trees.
With Germany pumping out albums like this, and Sweden giving us Anc4, the USA better watch out.
Tomplicated The Toms
Favorite Track: It Doesn't Matter To Me
Just like The Lolas, other bands might have shuddered when they heard that there was a new album by Tom Marolda under the band name, The Toms. Following on the heels of the 2020's 1979 Sessions album. Of course, 1979 was the year that The Toms released their self-titled The Toms album, launching them into Power Pop legend. That album made John Borack's Shake Some Action book, landing them originally at position #13.
Some musicians simply know their way around the recording console, and Tom Marolda is one of them. He's the equivalent master of the mixing board that Akira Kurosawa was with a movie camera. It's like an extension of their arm, it comes naturally and they make it look easy. But, we know it's not.
Not every song on this 16 track album is gold. "Too Many Yesterdays," has an unfinished demo feel to it. And the title track, "Tomplicated" sounds like John Lennon collaborated using his experimental Beatle song "Revolution Number 9" with George Harrison's experimental album Electronic Music, it too sounds unfinished. When most Power Pop albums are lucky to have songs into the double digits, (Or more likely to be EPs), The Toms packs in a lot of songs. That number of songs is a little bit like The Beatles White Album. Critics have said that The Beatles shouldn't have released a double album, but instead they should have narrowed it down to a single album's worth of songs, making a solid album instead of a mediocre double album of songs. The same could be said for Tomplicated. Sure he could have narrowed it down from 16 songs to a solid 10 songs. Yet, as Paul McCartney himself has said to this critical suggestion of the White Album, "It's The Beatles bloody White Album!" Hey, when you have to wait 42 years for a new album by the legendary The Toms, then we'll take everything we can get.
I was relieved that "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," wasn't simply a cover of the Wizard of Oz song, but a love song to the book/movie itself. love the bass playing on "Hang On," and any mistake of song inclusion is made up for by the closing track "It Doesn't Matter To Me."
The Webstirs The Webstirs
Favorite Track: Long Way To Go
I always think it's funny when bands have released a lot of albums and then decide to call their next album by their band name. (A self-titled). In my mind, a band's first album should be an introduction to their band, so album #1 should be their self-titled album. And that's how it happens most of the time. Yet, it's not the rule and bands are free to name their album whatever the heck they want. But, I do a picture that they're sitting around the practice room and it hits them like a brick, "Wait, we've never called an album by our band's name!"
So on The Webstirs sixth studio album, The Webstirs, we find the boys giving us more of what we've come to know them for, good Power Pop rock music, with great singing, great harmonies, and solid musicianship. Even though the band's lineup has changed over the years, their vocals have always been one of the best things about the group. Take one listen to "Lowest Of The Low," and you'll hear some of the best lead and backing vocals on any Power Pop genre album. It's strong with a lot of power, but also so full of emotion that can easily handle everything from ballads to stadium rock numbers. Let's hope they never end up on the stadium rock lineup like bands such as Imagine Dragons. But, seriously if they did vocals by childhood friends Preston Pisellini and Mark Winkler could easily handle it.
The album is full of great songs, but they really come together on songs like "Long Way To Go," which blends excellent guitar playing, singing, catchy melodic riffs and easily hummable chorus. It's like the perfect meal of a song. Even the lyrics are hopeful:
We all have our reasons to try
We all believe what we need to get by
You can start a brand new song
And never know what key you're in
You can be right and still be wrong
Sometimes you can never win...
Still got a long way to go
In 2022, if that doesn't ring true, then you haven't been paying attention.
TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2021
Congratulations to all the musicians who made the list.
If we overlooked your album or song, it's not personal. We tried to distribute the songs on this list across the board, not focusing on one label or one artist in particular, but mainly to shine some light on some of the great music that was released in 2021. You all deserve applause and sales.
Stay safe everyone and KEEP ON POWER POPPING!
Hop On Power Pop
And as always, DON'T STEAL! BUY and SUPPORT ARTISTS by purchasing their music. (Links included above!)