Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2021

Note: I’ve gone back through and have linked the Bandcamp listings for all the albums on the list below – just click on the heading for each. When checking out these artists, please consider purchasing from those you really enjoy. These are artists who work hard to make music you love, and they aren’t mainstream, making a bunch of money off of it. Please consider supporting them so they can continue to make amazing music.

Here we are again – I haven’t finished this until the first day of year next. I hope that my efforts here will reveal some great music to any and all interested, albeit an incomplete list – there were several others worth mentioning, but I don’t want to make this already huge list too daunting! May all who read this find some amazing music for their own journeys into 2022.

EPs
Note: I will highlight several EPs. I feel these are a bit different journey than longer albums and should be highlighted as such.

  • Summer Wars – Lesotho
    This is an exploratory post-metal album that lives up to the band’s claim to follow no rules. It has crushing metal power interspersed with some of the most poignant moments of the year. The ebb and flow, soft and hard, slowness and intensity of this album are amazing.
  • Ljusår – Plog
    There’s something soulful in this 2 song EP. The first song opens with an organ that grows into an intense post-rock crescendo. The second has a very pensive exploratory solo guitar that grows into something more robust before becoming another exploration via guitar that sounds like a straight up classic ballad, revealing depths of heart with a final crushing bit of energy to wipe all of that away. There’s something profound about this entire album, as the description puts it on Bandcamp: “targets heavier subjects in life such as, anxiety, the perception of time, the loss of close ones and the thoughts of a potential afterlife.” Give this one some time and let it bore into you.
  • The Insomniac – Wisp
    The slow, plodding repetition of shoegaze doesn’t usually do it for me, but the first song really made me understand the “doomgaze” joy that I read in others’ descriptions of music. It really does feel like standing before the sky in some sort of epic sense with all the judgment and strength that might imply.
  • Negative Apex – Solars
    This album is perfectly executed post-rock that edges on post-metal. I can’t overemphasize that. It’s a gem. My only problem with it is it’s too short! the 17 minute run just feels like it’s over in no time.
  • Species of Amnesia – Molecules to Minds
    This is an amazing post-rock album that captures the intricacies of softly plucked guitars with crescendos that explode with metallic destruction. The first song, “After All This Time? Always”, has meant a huge amount to me recently both from the idea in the title and the related sound of the song to express that idea. It feels like dedication and courage in heartbreak, love after loss, and the power to be the best version of yourself with an always get back up kind of attitude and all the smooth onward motion that might require while also just letting loose a obliterating reverb of strength mid-song. It has quickly become an addition to my list of all-time faves.

Live/Studio Live
Note: I’m combining albums that are a live recording or a “live studio” recording as one similar idea that is somewhat different in execution than other, non-live albums. I feel this deserves a separate category because there are a few good entries in it. Two of the albums here are live versions of two of my top five albums of the year, but despite that, they deserve listings here because they are so good even as live versions. They are equally as good or maybe even better, so if that sounds interesting, try both!

  • El Tall d’Escil•la Live in Eliseu Theater – BLAK
    This live version of one of my top five albums of the year blew my mind because it only came out about two months afterwards and yet is possibly even better than the studio version. It’s simply amazing. I have and listen to both, but I might, honestly, listen to this one more often. The live energy really sizzles. I’d suggest comparing the two.
  • Snake Behind the Sun (Live in Richmond, VA) – Shy, Low
    I didn’t think two of my favorite albums of the year would both have live versions that were as good or better than the studio versions, but that was the case. This album was a late joy of the year that provided warmth and determination while driving through ice, snow, and a broken heart. I can’t recommend this and the studio version of this album enough.
  • In The Era of Isolation – Live at Kulturkirche Liebfrauen – kokomo
    Kokomo has become a steady source of solace in this year of difficult emotional terrain for myself, and this album is a great mix of songs from their albums. Furthermore, it has just as much punch and beauty as the album versions. If you haven’t heard them before, start here.
  • Live @ Opium Dublin – GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT
    This is a fantastic mix of GIAA’s new release, Ghost Tapes, as well as some songs from Far from Refuge. Something about the new order of songs and energy of the live performance pulled me into really enjoying and revisiting their new album more than when it was first released early year, much like Transmission Zero’s live album last year. This album showcases their energy and ability and deserves your attention.
  • Beyond the Past – Live in London with the Platinum Anniversary Orchestra – MONO
    If I had to pick one live album here to recommend, I’d pick this one. It’s basically the live set I last saw of MONO before the pandemic with the added excellence of an orchestra and a guest appearance of AA Williams for their haunting collaboration. It’s truly a celebration of their beautiful body of work, and the album is incredibly well-done.

LPs
Note: Somehow this became a Sweet 16. The first 5 are my top 5 of the year without any particular order, as it’s too hard to pick, ultimately – each having given me deep solace and invigoration in the challenges of this year. All of the others are great listens as well. I’ll give descriptions of each to point you towards some new faves.

  • Snake Behind the Sun – Shy, Low
    I got into Shy, Low in the last year when I stumbled upon their previous album, Hiraeth (the song Saudade is still one of my favorite post-rock songs ever), and as such, I was very excited to see that they were releasing a new album late this year. This album is simply amazing. It has the energy I’d expect from that previous release throughout balanced with a lot of heart. It feels not only a journey through space around the sun but a journey into the depths of life. Do not miss this one.
  • El Tall d’Escil•la – BLAK
    BLAK popped on my radar last year when I listened to their Between darkness and light. They have both their own unique style but also are the closest soundalike to MONO. As MONO is my favorite band, it’s therefore no surprise I like BLAK deeply as well. I recently wrote a post on my favorite song from this album, “Contra nosaltres quan siguem forts”. It speaks to standing strong from some mythical inspiration. This whole album is deep, beautiful, and to some extent, tragic. It’s a masterpiece and should be explored if it sounds intriguing at all.
  • Pilgrimage of the Soul – MONO
    I was concerned at first that MONO’s new album was described as drawing more inspiration from techno and disco than their previous albums. I was wrong to be concerned. The first two songs fit this bill a bit more than the rest of the album, and they are both amazing. Furthermore, the album is deeply inspired by Blake’s famous poem, “The Auguries of Innocence”. Several of the song titles draw from lines of the poem. The result is a journey that feels more like a Pilgrimage of the Soul than any of their previous albums. The penultimate song, “Hold Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand”, feels like a spiritual epic, one of their best long songs throughout their great catalog of epically long songs. They are now past the 20 year mark but show only further growth rather than stagnation or slowing down.
  • Bridges – Transmission Zero
    This amazing band returns with a haunting journey. I don’t think any other album this year made me feel as accompanied in crossing the abyss. Something about this feels like a deep understanding of getting through the greatest challenges life has to offer with a unique beauty that fits this band alone.
  • No Feeling is Final – Maybeshewill
    This is the concept album of the year – an exploration of changing our attitudes to the challenges of climate change, and it’s a fantastic return of a post-rock great which broke up a few years back. Their ending wasn’t final, just like the feelings described here. Their incorporation of strings and piano/synth in the songs make this album really stand out as unique, while still maintaining a lot of energy, sometimes even crushingly so, as is to be expected from Maybeshewill. I’ve encountered few songs as vibrant as “Invincible Summer”. When listening to it, I can’t help but jump on the roof of the world and scream out a barbaric YAWP, as it were. I wrote about it recently. May this album empower you as well.

  • Kingdom – A Reason to Travel
    This album is a soothing beauty much like their previous. They ride a line between ambient and some crushing energy. I return to this album when I need the soothing calm of feeling the sound of the waves, along with the crashes of the strongest of them.
  • Another Second Chance – Baulta
    Like the album above, I find a lot of soothing and beauty in this album, some of the most beautiful songs of the year, actually. It’s a fantastic album. It’s pretty much that simple.
  • The Stuff of Legends – Challenger Deep
    This album is where post-rock meets math-rock. It’s fast and playful, with a feeling of diving into the oceans deep like reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There are even some sampled clips that enhance this feeling. There’s a playful and empowering joy to this album that are unique to this year, maybe every year of post-rock releases. It’s a lot of fun.
  • Istok – Trna
    I got into Trna early this year when I found their previous albums. They are a fast post-metal, a genre I’m not as into as post-rock. However, their clanging drums and rush of guitars is powerful and pulls you along throughout. Each album has it’s own flavor of this rush, and this one continues that. I recommend digging into their entire catalog.
  • Chasm – When Waves Collide
    This album took me by surprise. It’s simply solid. Every song feels like a well-planned post-rock effort. “Chimera” has particularly haunted me for months. It’s one of those songs that will linger in your head long after hearing it and make you feel like your heart is overflowing while listening to it. That crash is the Chasm of the energy evening out When Waves Collide, and it’s the whole album: reaching an equilibrium of absence in the ebbs and flows of life.
  • Agape – The Color of Cyan
    I was so happy to have stumbled upon this album recently. This is precisely what I want more of in post-rock – the positive major key feelings of Explosions in the Sky with the intricacies of an addition of violin and cello that adds subtlety while still keeping a crushing edge. This album is beautiful and holds a lot of promise for future compositions.
  • Adrift:Abyss – Driving Slow Motion
    This album really does feel like driving slow motion adrift in an abyss. I’ve put it on when I need that feeling of continuing onward with a kind of beautiful poise in hardship. There’s something both soft and strong in it, reserved and resolved. That might sound like some of the other descriptions here, but that speaks only to my poor ability to express a soundscape rather than a lot of overlap. This is its own journey and is a perfect one in the right moment.
  • Sirens – Glasgow Coma Scale
    I’ve been really into Glasgow Coma Scale this year and was excited for this release. It has a huge amount of metallic strength – blaring out into the night, like Sirens. It has a post-metal crunchiness that will energize and tear down. This dynamic album is a welcome return from a unique band in the genre.
  • Ghost Tapes #10 – GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT
    GIAA is a mainstay in post-rock for a reason, and this album is yet another excellent offering from them. There’s droning despair, almost Radiohead-sounding electronic elements, and their crushing destruction and creation through rock all making this haunting album.
  • Gran Telescopio – Mekong Airlines
    There’s something incredibly smooth to this album. I listened to it a lot in the first couple months of the year, and it simply feels groovy somehow. Even though it came out in the first days of the year, it was the album to beat for quite some time and pushes post-rock into different experimental directions.
  • The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again – BRUIT ≤
    This album fuses some electronic and sampled clip elements with more standard post-rock to great effect. The first song, “Industry”, is a standout of the year and shows just how much this style can achieve. I remember driving around with a friend who generally barely notices whatever music I’m playing when I drive, and she was astounded, and asked who this band was. That in itself should speak to how much of an attention-grabber this album is.

All right… I hope this list leads to a lot of musical joy for readers out there. Thanks for reading!

Rock on!

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