2021 may have been “2020 Part 2,” but let’s not call it a total wash. For those of us desperate for a break from pandemic routines, it proved to be another good year for music discovery. Afterall, when repetitive days and current events are weighing heavy, a playlist refresh can be as good as a trip abroad.
As dedicated music journalists, the All The Alt Things writers are hardly strangers to the rush of sniffing out standout artists. There are no diminishing returns, even under normal circumstances. We absolutely revere every name that we’ve added to our scouting lists and public recommendations. Still, this week, we tasked ourselves with a particularly daunting question: What was our favorite alternative music discovery of the past year?
Read on to see which artists we started—and couldn’t stop—streaming in 2021.
Dusty Dunes: The Dirty Nil
Dusty’s Pick: The Dirty Nil are one of those bands that have been on the periphery of my “bands I should check out” radar for awhile now. But it wasn’t until nearly December of 2021 that I first gave them a listen. Not even halfway through the first song off their latest record Fuck Art, called “Doom Boy,” I already decided this band would become one of my new favorites. Vocalist Luke Bentham croons and belts sardonic lyrics with a delivery reminiscent of Dryden Mitchell (Alien Ant Farm), Tyson Ritter (The All-American Rejects), Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio/blink-182), and something else all his own simultaneously. His words are sneering and snide, yet always self-aware enough to reveal a bit of truth and humor. The band is simply a lot of fun to listen to.
The Dirty Nil is a perfect blend of punk and hard rock goodness done so effortlessly well and with so much charm that I’m surprised SPIN and NPR aren’t already obsessed with them. I think this is one of those defining special releases that only seldom comes around during a band’s career, in a similar vein to Third Eye Blind’s self-titled or The Menzingers’ wonderful After the Party.
Kay Korvid: Reliqa
Kay’s Pick: Reliqa completely took me by surprise. I had never encountered a voice like Monique Pym‘s in music before. There’s a depth and power there, and it doesn’t feel effortless—it feels heavy, in a good way. Her voice holds a weight to it and her vocals are demanding. Reliqa’s music falls broadly under the label of progressive metal. Still, it often flips between genres, constantly switching from hard rock to nu metal to hardcore and back again. Their powerful choruses and breakdowns wash over you and make you feel like you’re invincible, like you can do anything. It’s empowering, it’s addictive, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a day that I haven’t listened to them since April.
Mala Mortensa: Salem
Mala’s Pick: Okay, let it be known that I did rack my brain for an artist that I haven’t already talked about incessantly. But of all my 2021 discoveries, Salemhas been by far the most consistent on my rotations. This side project between Will Gould (Creeper) and Matt Reynolds (Howards Alias) has the exact anthemic, punk-rock energy that you’d expect from collaborators that are so well versed in the genre—but then they add a polished, goth pop twist that scratches my brain in the most unexpected way. Above all else, I’m a sucker for well-crafted (if not totally morbid) lines and that’s clearly where Gould excels. Catch me mumbling lines like, “I made concrete shoes fit for two, found a river we can dip our feet in…” under my breath literally all day everyday.
Maxwell Jeffries: Dream Tröll
Maxwell’s Pick: As a massive fan of any metal that is influenced by the greats (AKA Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, etc…), I love modern music that goes back to basics with a solid riff, a catchy chorus and no-nonsense songwriting. Dream Tröll hit that spot perfectly! Realm of the Tormentor was one of my favorite records of the year and I found that its pacing didn’t miss a beat—banger after banger. “She’s Got the Devil Inside“ is definitely a personal highlight of mine. I can’t get enough of the riff and the production is really smooth—can’t wait to see what they do next!
Sean Hoagland: Nessa Barrett
Sean’s Pick: Olivia Rodrigo had the hits, GAYLE had the angst, but the best combination
of the two belongs to Nessa Barrett. Barrett also arguably possesses the highest ceiling of the three as
her music combines teen angst with strong songwriting and a firm base in alternative rock. This should
serve her well as she gets older. Her breakthrough single “la di die” with her partner jxdn explores this
total package while “i hope ur miserable until ur dead” establishes her as an alternative artist first and
foremost. Her 2021 EP, pretty poison, serves as a solid foundation for musical growth in the future.
Stephen McGinty: Tigers Jaw
Stephen’s Pick: Tigers Jaw were always one of those bands that sat a little on the edge of my music taste. They ticked all the boxes of something I should enjoy but somehow I never seemed to click with their music. So when I made time to check out I Won’t Care How You Remember Me (2021) I was completely blindsided by what would become one of my favourite records of the year. Something about this album was just so accessible for me when compared to their previous offerings. Lush tones mix perfectly with catchy, upbeat melodies while maintaining classic pop-punk sensibilities that call to my inner emo kid. If, like me, you hadn’t given enough of your time to Tigers Jaw, this record is the springboard you need to dive into a rich back catalogue.
Todd Farrell: Netherbird
Todd’s Pick: I’ve been vaguely aware of Netherbird for some time but never took the full plunge until their 2021 record, Arete, dropped everywhere in July. I don’t know if this was the best metal record of the year, but it’s certainly the one I kept coming back to. It checks all the boxes for me. Arete is a typical melodic black/death metal album in the sense that it features a lot of lead guitar and contains quite dramatic song structures, but they never stray too far from the ever-elusive hook. Netherbird isn’t reinventing the wheel, but Swedish black/death is my favorite wheel, so it gets most of my love.
Want to hear all of our favorite tracks in one place? Listen to our writers’ picks playlist here.
All the Alt Things is a collaborative blog dedicated to the cultivation of thoughts and stories by writers existing within the alternative sphere, whose collective expertise and interests include music, books, TV/movies, video games, visual arts, aesthetics, and more.