Words by Quillen
Quillen is a friend, husband, and dog dad. He is a lover of music, horror films, television (particularly Twin Peaks), and RPGs from the 90s and early aughts (like Suikoden II and Final Fantasy V through X). He is a self-described new music junky. He has played rock ‘n’ roll drums since the mid-90s, most recently in bands called Lawnmower, Congress, and Natural Monuments. He is a co-host of the Tell Me All Your Thoughts on Pod podcast, where he gets to wax nostalgic about the music he grew up listening to with two of his absolute greatest buds. Here are his top ten albums in descending order.
Cola – Deep in View (Fire Talk)
I was bummed when the great Montreal art punk act Ought announced their disbanding. Thankfully, at the end of 2021, vocalist and guitarist Tim Darcy’s next project, Cola, was announced along with the reveal of their debut album not long after. Deep in View is winter music, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it since its release in May. Darcy continues to do what he does best: Croon while playing sparse guitar chords loosely inspired by Thurston Moore. Throw in a tight rhythm section playing around in the realm of post-punk, and here I am, hooked.
Drug Church – Hygiene (Pure Noise)
Drug Church is one of the best heavy bands going today. Sonically they sit in sweet spot between poppy, experimental hardcore heroes Fucked Up and the post-hardcore of yesteryear by bands like Quicksand. Hygiene is melodic and undeniably catchy while being punishing both lyrically and in how huge the guitars and drums sound. Vocalist Patrick Kindlon gives off a charming presence, and he really couldn’t be backed by a better band.
Mitski – Laurel Hell (Dead Oceans)
How Mitski releases these incredible, grandiose, alternative pop albums with such efficient runtimes is beyond me. On first listen, Laurel Hell was a bit underwhelming, but everything eventually clicked, and I think there is an argument to be made for it as Mitski’s best album yet. Yes there are big time hits here, but I’ve become a sucker for moodier Mitski, so opener, “Valentine, Texas,” and sneaky 2021 single, “Heat Lightning,” are personal favorites. That being said, album closer, “That’s Our Lamp,” in all its mid-tempo borderline disco glory, is far and away the best song here, and one of my absolute favorite songs of the year.
Nilufer Yanya – Painless (ATO Records)
Yes, yes, Nilufer Yanya is clearly influenced by Radiohead. Obviously. But there’s so much more than that going on with her sound. Particularly in the guitars, I hear nods to shoegaze and dream pop, as well as the 2010s Captured Tracks bands like Beach Fossils and DIIV. I also hear the smokey jazz chords of King Krule (who, conveniently, put together a fantastic remix of mega jam “Midnight Sun”). The initial hurdle for me was Yanya’s imperfect vocals, but when thrown in the context of these swirling guitars and galactic soundscapes, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom – Reset (Domino)
When the first couple singles were released upon the announcement of this, the latest Panda Bear/Sonic Boom collab (of which Sonic Boom, formerly of Spacemen 3, is more involved in than ever before), I thought it was going to be my album of the year. Not quite, but #6 ain’t half bad. With this more involved assist, Panda Bear’s Noah Lennox returns to the psychedelic collage and sample-driven sounds of 2007’s classic Person Pitch, but with more focus. I’m not saying one is better than the other (I probably still prefer Person Pitch), but Reset is a welcome, cool return to form.
Earl Sweatshirt – Sick! (Tan Cressida / WMG)
The long awaited full length follow-up to an all-time great hip hop record in 2018’s Some Rap Songs was bound to be at least somewhat disappointing. Somehow, it wasn’t, though. Sure, it doesn’t quite live up to the precedent Earl set as the previous decade was coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean Sick! Isn’t also a masterpiece. Showcasing a wider array of sounds and production styles, but still being incredibly efficient, Earl does and says a lot in the 24 minutes the 10 songs allows for. Highlights include but are not limited to: “2010,” “Tabula Rasa,” which features Armand Hammer, “God Laughs,” and the truly gorgeous closer, “Fire in the Hole.”
Horse Jumper of Love – Natural Part (Run for Cover)
2019’s So Divine was a solid introduction to this band for me, Natural Part has taken Horse Jumper of Love to a whole other level. This sounds like classic, slightly emo-y slowcore but feels just off enough that it is it’s own thing. The melodies are smart and memorable. The guitars and drums plod along but change often enough to keep my interest piqued. I notice new details pretty much every time I listen. I have a hard time describing albums like this, but it’s the type of album that I get most excited about. “Sitting on the Porch at Night” is another candidate for song of the year.
Alex G – God Save the Animals (Domino)
Will Alex G ever stop releasing the most exciting, interesting, and beautiful folk-adjacent music? Considering the current run he’s on, it seems unlikely. this isn’t even my favorite of his (that honor would still go to 2014’s Beach Music), but I think this is the highest an album of his has ever landed on one of my year-end lists. On God Save the Animals, Alex G seems to be at his most approachable, penetrable, and accessible. There are still moments with some arguably annoying autotune and other quirks, but this is his most straightforward folk/country rock album, and I am here for it, as the kids say. There are so many all-timers here, I’ll just list them: “Runner,” “Mission,” “Blessing,” “Early Morning Waiting,” and “Miracles” (which often brings me to tears).
Shabason and Krgovich – At Scaramouche (Idee Fixe)
This is the surprise of the year for me, right here. This album was not on my radar in any way. I saw a review for it on Pitchfork, recognizing the name Krgovich (Nicholas Krgovich has released a quality album of Jens Lekman-esque pop in 2018, and also has a very cool collaboration track with Phil Elverum/Mount Eerie). At Scaramouche is essentially an adult contemporary or soft rock album with modern production and devoid of any irony or corniness. Krgovich’s vocals certainly bring to mind the aforementioned Lekman and Erlend Oye from Kings of Convenience and The Whitest Boy Alive. This is pure, warm, welcoming music and is an album I could have used in my life for the entirety of the pandemic. “Soli” is a subtle yet stunning opener that expertly sets the mood for the warm hug to come. “In the Middle of the Day” is, you guessed it, another song of the year candidate, and it has made me cry many times thanks to how beautiful and perfect it is.
Alvvays – Blue Rev (Polyvinyl)
Can the album of the year be anything else? The correct answer is no. Alvvays have gotten better with each album, and have reached near perfection on Blue Rev. I know I could complain that it takes a band five years to write, record, and release a 30-minute long shoegaze-y guitar pop album (well, 38-minutes in this case). But, no one does it like Alvvays. These songs are expertly crafted and arranged, only to be pushed through a blown out filter to apply some welcome dirt. Unlike their 2014 self-titled debut and 2017’s Antisocialites, Blue Rev sounds and feels urgent in a very appealing way. I wasn’t convinced of the last few songs at first, and I still think that the album would go from near-perfect to perfect if it ended after “Belinda Says.” Blah, blah, blah. Thank you Alvvays for not only releasing the best album of the year, but also the best album so far this decade.