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Half-year review: The 10 (and a half) best albums of 2021 so far

As we lead up to determining what the 21 best albums of 2021 will be later in the year, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on what this atypical last few months have brought us so far. From a pop punk album by a Disney icon to the hardest records some longstanding legends have put out in decades, it hasn’t been the worst half-year for music, with the caveat that we can all agree seeing one more tour postponed might make us sick to our stomachs. As we reach the midpoint of what is hopefully a year that wraps us with us all fully vaccinated and ready to mosh, here are BLUNT’s 10 and a half top picks for 2021.

1. Architects – For Those That Wish to Exist

The ninth studio album from Architects came at a time when we desperately needed it, trying to fathom how we got into a situation where so much disaster could take place in our world. Running the gamut of anger, hope, and everything in between, songwriter Dan Searle stated that he wanted all of us “to look in the mirror and ask ourselves the question of what are we going to do, as opposed to trying to point the finger at politicians.” In pursuit of encouraging the idea that “change has to start on a personal level” using the vehicle of Architects’ masterful handle on modern metalcore, For Those That Wish to Exist offers listeners an alternative to falling at the feet of the assholes currently dictating our future. “I think it’s life, isn’t it?” frontman and vocalist Sam Carter told BLUNT earlier in the year. “The record really has its ups and downs and its highs and lows and I think it sort of evens out. Some days you can feel really positive and some days you can feel really just dejected and hopeless.” Welcome to 2021, everybody.

2. Citizen – Life In Your Glass World

While we wouldn’t be surprised if this one slipped under your radar with everything going on right now, now is your chance to catch up before it flies past you. Citizen, who originally emerged as a pop punk band before dabbling in shoegaze (à la the route of Title Fight and Turnover), have exceeded all expectations with Life in Your Glass World. It’s cohesively angry, heartbroken, and empowering all at the same time, afflicted with what Jack Black would title in School of Rock as a severe case of “stick-it-to-the-man-eosis.” And that was the intention, as they would tell us, with frontman Matt Kerekes concluding: “A lot of this record is about taking control of your life.” He continues to comment that Life in Your Glass World is the manifestation of letting out his frustrations in a “passive and positive way,” adding that it’s the next best thing to going around to people and saying “fuck you” to their faces.

3. Evanescence – The Bitter Truth

“I love the beginning of this album,” Evanescence frontwoman Amy Lee told BLUNT back in April. “It’s driving, and it is coming for you – and it just feels so good when it hits.” It’s actually an apt metaphor for the record overall, as the iconic rock act embark on their first full album of new material since 2011 with The Bitter Truth. On it, Evanescence define who they are in this new decade as a band willing to take more risks than ever before, without losing what made them so special on previous records or over-replicating it either. Thematically, Lee has described the album as about facing “the bitter truths of our world and of my life and of heart. Whatever the cost of that might be on the inside…Then we can start talking about getting to a better place.”

4. God’s Hate – God’s Hate

There’s a lot to be pissed off at this year, and while slow deep breaths and a grateful attitude help, they sure are a thin fuel to run off for such an extended period of misery. What we need is a stimulant that’s as pissed off as we are – and if there’s one surefire cure to being pissed off, it’s being validated in your pissed-off-ness (inception, basically). God’s Hate do that in droves with their self-titled masterpiece. Fronted by professional wrestler Brody King, God’s Hate are about as tough as a bucket full of nails, and hit just as hard. Featuring soundbites from films, and skull-crushing beatdowns, God’s Hate harks back to the no-fucks-given halycon days of hardcore. It’s ugly as all sin, but not unlike hot yoga, this assault on the system is just what the soul needs.

5. Hayley Williams – Flowers For Vases/Descansos

Watching your heroes become human is one thing, but seeing them fall apart in front of you is entirely something else. Following her divorce from New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert, Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams transported her listeners to her destination of untethering herself from the relationship on her debut solo album Petals for Armor. But it was the surprise release of Flowers For Vases/Descansos that took us on the journey, intended to act as a prequel to Petals for Armor and drawing more on the darkness than the light. This isn’t Paramore-esque at all; it’s soft and it’s sad, and it’s Williams at her most vulnerable, sharing details that can’t otherwise be construed by vague interpretation: “Sleep with you in a sex dream,” she sings on ‘Good Grief’. “And I’m pretty sure you don’t miss the way/ I put all my demons on display to your pretty music.”

6. KennyHoopla and Travis Barker – SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE//

While this is technically a mixtape (semantics), it would be a crime against music to exclude KennyHoopla from absolutely any “best of” list this year. What the Cleveland-born musician has been intent on doing with his work is simply creating new anthems for the alternative scene to be able to live by, and that’s exactly the promise that he delivers on with SURVIVORS GUILT. Working in tandem with blink-182 drummer and collaboration legend Travis Barker, KennyHoopla takes us through fighting the LA bullshit (‘hollywood sucks//’) to the perils of falling in love (‘estella//’) to, on the titular track, grappling with a sense of guilt about being the last man standing when everyone around you has fallen down. Speaking to BLUNT on the outstanding sentiment that Kenny is heralding us into the future of alternative music, he asserts: “I know I care. I’m in a room and I know I care more than a lot of these people.”

7. Måneskin – Teatro d’ira: Vol. I

We all know Eurovision winners Måneskin by now, after the world became unanimously enamoured with them following their victory at the notorious song competition. The hype hasn’t died off and it isn’t looking to, as their second studio album Teatro d’ira: Vol. I (translating to “theatre of wrath”) continues to sit high up on the charts, climbing streams worldwide by the millions every single day despite being mostly sung in Italian. Explaining their intentions, Måneskin commented the following: “It will be a record out of the canons, we are aware of it but we screwed it up to give you the most sincere and real version of ourselves, because the music is the only thing that matters, and this time it will be only her to speak.” It sure has spoken, as Måneskin make good on their promise that “rock ‘n’ roll never dies.”

8. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

Troves of critics have equated Olivia Rodrigo’s outing on her debut album Sour with the overall sound of Paramore’s Riot!, which could or could not be perceived as true depending on how much of each record you’ve actually listened to. The mash-up floating around of Rodrigo’s smash-hit single ‘good 4 u’ and ‘Misery Business’ makes a strong case, but the similarities aren’t what’s important. What is important is that Rodrigo made a pop punk-inspired masterpiece in Sour, which is so honest in its delivery that any critique of it as sounding inauthentic or proposition that it’s a manufactured industry play should be discredited immediately. Punk has always been about making a stand, and in saying that, there’s nothing more punk than Rodrigo emerging from a longstanding partnership with Disney on opening track ‘Brutal’ and asking: “‘Cause who am I, if not exploited?”

9. Slowly Slowly – Race Car Blues (Extended Edition)

We’ve always had a soft spot for Slowly Slowly here at BLUNT HQ, but it’s not an unwarranted favour. After they released the original edition of Race Car Blues in 2020, the Melbourne rock darlings decided to round it off by issuing a second chapter of tracks this year, transmuting the Race Car Blues project into one hell of a double album. At the time, frontman Ben Stewart noted that sharing the additional Race Car Blues record feeds into the overall aim of Slowly Slowly as “to celebrate the music we love – anthemic heart on sleeve songwriting – but across a broad spectrum of genres.” And that they do, continuing to offer up emotional, top-shelf anthems release after release. Extra points if you check out Stewart’s side project Congrats, a grandiloquent body of work from one of our country’s most underrated musicians.

10. Sly Withers – Gardens

There are times for delusions of grandeur, and then there are times where all we’re looking for is something real. Sly Withers spectacularly deliver on the latter with their sophomore outing Gardens, which in the weeks since its release has seen unanimous praise (and possibly tears shed, given its heartbreaking weight). The Perth band’s emotional offerings weave in and out of rock, punk, and destroy-your-happiness slow burns, culminating in a full-length that by all accounts should be remembered as a universal snapshot of coming of age – or as we put it back in May: “Sly Withers use Gardens to wiggle edgeways through the uncertainties of early adulthood to drive towards one undeniable conclusion: we all go through pretty much the same struggles.”

And a half! Northlane – 2D EP

This is the “half” record that we were talking about earlier, but we simply couldn’t stand by this list if it wasn’t included, so here we are. 2D, which dropped back in May, was made up of acoustic versions of fan-favourite tracks from Northlane’s Alien album, a long-awaited initiative by the revered Australian act. It was first teased to an extent after the stripped-back version of ‘Sleepless’ appeared in the band’s 2020 documentary Negative Energy, with further hype attached to the prospect of Northlane doing an acoustic release after frontman Marcus Bridge streamed his heartbreaking re-worked rendition of ‘Enemy of the Night’. Needless to say, the gentlemen delivered, and damn it if we haven’t had the output on repeat since it dropped.