ACL 2021 ~ Top Ten Rock and Post-Rock

Sorry, friends, no folk or jazz made our top ten this year ~ 2021 was the year of rock and post-rock!  With almost every major post-rock band releasing an EP or album in 2021, even some of the top performers fell short of the final cut.  In light of all we went through this year, we needed the catharsis of guitars, and these artists came through in a big way.  Blasting these albums, one could feel the cares of the world melting away ~ or in some cases, being blown away by a bank of bass, guitar and drums louder than the shouts of the evening news.  If rock was able to make such a major impact without the benefit of festivals, imagine how loud, raucous and joyful their return will be!  As we enjoy these energetic entries from 2021, we look forward to a brighter and more communal 2022.

Bell Orchestre ~ House Music (Erased Tapes)
There are a couple of thoughts that spring to mind when considering House Music. Firstly, it’s a good job Sarah Neufeld’s house is big enough to contain a sextet with all their musical and recording gear. Secondly, it’s that they hit upon the best approach for an improvisational group recording their first album for over a decade: keep the tapes running and cut it down afterwards. So it is that a multitude of sessions coalesced into a 90-minute recording session, which was then edited into a cohesive 44 minutes of a thrilling, on the ragged edge performance. Part post-rock, part contemporary classical, it channels the spirit of artists from Talk Talk to Miles Davis who have gone down this route. House Music is a worthy successor. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

BRUIT ≤ ~ The machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again (Elusive Sound)
Yes, we know, we just said that all the major post-rock players made comebacks this year; but this debut set still crashes the party.  This Toulouse band makes an instant impact with a fury of guitars, thoughtful dialogue samples and relevant topics.  Did we mention the horn and string sections?  It’s great to know that post-rock still has something to say, and that a new generation is ready to carry the torch of the old … if they ever retire!  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Camera ~ Prosthuman (Bureau B)
Prosthuman takes less than a second to begin rocking, and the energy never flags.  The propulsion of “Kartoffelstampf” is that of a horse busting out of the gate, a defensive lineman bursting from a three-point stance, a cannonball exploding from the cannon.  Is it punk?  Is it krautrock?  All we know is that this music is fast, wild, and eminently danceable, with highlight after highlight to satisfy our caffeinated souls.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Explosions in the Sky ~ Big Bend (An Original Soundtrack for Public Television) (Temporary Residence)
It’s nearly impossible to find a description of Texas-based post-rock icons Explosions In The Sky without the word cinematic sprinkled in. Their brand of sprawling, heartwrenching guitar music once reached an apex as a soundtrack to the equally emotive Friday Night Lights; 17 years later they’ve tamed that wordless grandiosity to service the quiet, hidden corners of West Texas. Big Bend (An Original Soundtrack for Public Television), recorded for a PBS special on the National Park, allows the band to indulge in the awe-inspiring mundanity of hummingbirds fighting the wind, streams trickling over smooth pebbles. The climaxes might be softer, the arrangements more playful, but something profoundly resonant grounds the project beyond either background TV static or self-serious intensity. It delicately— yet significantly— reverses the band’s tendency to look inward as a mechanism for external revelation. (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Godspeed You! Black Emperor ~ G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! (Constellation)
We posited in last year’s round-up that post-rock bands took a break in 2020 for a variety of reasons – lack of live opportunities, the difficulty of rehearsing and recording a band during a lockdown, but mainly that people didn’t necessarily want to hear apocalyptic sounds in the middle of a pandemic. This year, it feels right that many of our favourite post-rock bands have returned, often without fanfare. Pretty much everything that Godspeed You! Black Emperor warned us about on their earlier albums has come to pass since their last record, but there’s no sense of vindication here, just empathy with those experiencing such difficult times. They remain in a class of their own, creating a confidently immense record for an uncertain time. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Marisa Anderson/William Tyler ~ Lost Futures (Thrill Jockey)
Instrumental guitarists William Tyler & Marisa Anderson find common ground on Lost Futures in their indeterminate views on the slow, sad, beautiful decay of the American West. Inspired by Mark Fisher’s work on hauntology and the certain loss of possible outcomes over time, the record dovetails between nervous gallops of defeat and spry moments of thoughtful splendor. Tyler and Anderson balance out each other’s styles with the laidback poise of a front porch conversation, but one where the topics at hand incisively cut to the bone in their unassuming intelligence.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

Mogwai ~ As the Love Continues (Temporary Residence)
25 years into their career, Mogwai have inadvertently positioned themselves as the poster children of post-rock, if only through sheer consistency. As The Love Continues has all of the expected hallmarks— punishingly beautiful crescendos, oscillating synth hooks, and a dynamism that matches the sweeping grandeur of staring blankly at a distant thunderstorm. Following a series of good to great albums in the 2010s, Stuart Braithwithe and co. dip further into such specialized yet universal arrangements, occasionally delving into new wave and contemporary classical to drive home their singular vision. Having spent so long chasing some sort of tangible momentum, Mogwai only continue to accelerate. (Josh Hughes)

Original Review

MONO ~ Pilgrimage of the Soul (Temporary Residence)
Well into its third decade, MONO continues to reinvent itself: the source of its continued relevance.  The vocals are gone and the bombast is back, tempered by the titles’ references to William Blake.  Two spectacular videos bring the aural delights to the eyes.  Plucking from various stages of their extensive discography, the band brings the strings, the glockenspiel, and of course, the catharsis.  We wouldn’t want it any other way.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Tomaga ~ Intimate Immensity (Hands in the Dark)
In a year that has seen a wealth of albums tinged with death and loss, Tomaga’s record is, contrary to expectations, suffused with joy and giddy enthusiasm. Completed shortly before Tom Relleen’s death in August 2020, Intimate Immensity fairly rattles along, powered by Valentina Magaletti’s busy, bubbling percussion. The duo were, we assume, aware of Relleen’s diagnosis but this is not an album that feels like it is facing the final curtain. It’s muscular, sinewy, and surefooted, the duo operating at a level that only comes from years of creating and performing together. It’s a worthy tribute to Relleen and arguably sees the duo bow out with their finest work. (Jeremy  Bye)

Original Review

Year of No Light ~ Consolamentum (Pelagic)
For A Year of No Light, density and crushing heaviness are signifiers of extreme exaltation. When the levee hasn’t yet broken, that moment of expectation and claustrophobic inevitability becomes a heralded force to mangle and manipulate, however briefly, in your own terms. Consolamentum sees that hopeless outcome looming on the horizon and basks in the delirious excitement of getting to live at the end of the world. This is overbearing, tumultuous music for equally tumultuous times, full of pitch-black power chords and abrasively textured grooves chugging straight towards that endless dark night.  (Josh Hughes)

Original Review


  1. As always, this is for me always the most controversial part of this wonderful site. But I liked the inclusion of Marisa Anderson/William Tyler and Tomaga.

  2. Pingback: 2021 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part VIII – Avant Music News

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