The biggest and best in hardcore this year is coming from bands that embrace the more melodic tendencies of other styles of music while maintaining the spirit of hardcore. Many bands are taking the genre in different directions and amassing various degrees of notoriety as a result; the hype for seasoned group Turnstile this year has been incredible, while newcomers like Glean arrived on the scene with great new releases that are also deserving of a huge audience. However, there is a common thread that runs through all of these albums and EPs that came out in 2021 as they each push the boundaries for hardcore without straying from the genre.
Serving as the poster child for 2021’s trend in hardcore, Turnstile’s GLOW ON has been widely revered in the punk world and beyond for making the historically harsh genre as accessible as ever. As illustrated by the cloudy pastel pink sky on its album cover, the band incorporates dreamy soundscapes and pop hooks throughout an album that still contains the shouted vocals and pummeling breakdowns that established them in the punk scene over the past decade. While Turnstile now paint with a wider sonic palette and welcome in many new fans with GLOW ON, they do so without letting go of hardcore as their music’s foundation.
In the supergroup’s touching album Between the Richness, frontman Pat Flynn draws a through-line between the lasting grief from losing his father a decade ago and the joy of welcoming his young son into the world. It takes the emotive and tuneful hardcore of their previous album Springtime and Blind and levels up on every level. Most of its songs are even more addictive than Springtime’s hit “Lay Low” and there are countless melodies that make it impossible to resist singing along. The record begins with a reading of an E. E. Cummings poem, “I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart. I am never without it, anywhere I go, you go”, before exploding into its pulsing, intense, heartfelt, and catchy opener, setting the tone for all the tracks that follow. It flows directly into “The Years”, which perfectly exemplifies the beautiful turns of phrase that Flynn uses to reflect on this deeply emotional time in his life: “And all the years have changed, ten folded like a day. Old death’s dulling sting, to new life blooming”. If you asked me what a perfect hardcore show looks like, it would resemble this clip of the band and their fans shouting those lines.
The Last Mile
On their first full-length, Montreal-based band The Last Mile fit alongside the infectious hardcore punk of legendary group Hüsker Dü and modern melodic punk bands like The Lawrence Arms. The content of Respect The Frequency sees the band undoubtedly living up to their descriptor for themselves as a “Hardcore punk band striving for positivity and good times in a dark world”. Songs that confront religion, racial prejudice, and isolation are danceable as hell despite their heavy subject matter. The band even ventures into ska-punk territory on “SCCS”, an endearing track about always sticking together through hard times. While dabbling in a variety of sounds across the record, The Last Mile remain firmly planted in hardcore punk’s ethos.
Ian Shelton of powerviolence group Regional Justice Center explores his more melodic side with his new hardcore band Militarie Gun. 2021 saw the band putting out their two-part EP All Roads Lead To The Gun with each of its eight songs clocking in at two minutes give or take. Many of Militarie Gun’s tracks maintain a traditional hardcore sound with loud and distorted power chords and Shelton’s gruff bark. Though he never abandons that vocal style in favour of carrying a tune, the jangly guitars of “Don’t Pick Up The Phone” and the angular riff in the first two choruses of “Disposable Plastic Trash” wouldn’t seem out of place on an indie rock record. With these subtle additions to a more classic sound overall, Militarie Gun should definitely be a top pick this year for hardcore purists.
Glean’s EP Things We Must Embrace is made up of 3 solid songs that each showcase a different side of the new group and illustrate their potential. Substantial opener “Caspers Park” is a fuzzy emotional hardcore (emphasis on the “emo”) track that ends up devolving into a spacey outro that shares a brief moment comparable to the dreamier sounds on Turnstile’s new record. “Deep Dive” is quite the departure, with a chorus that sounds like a distortion-soaked version of a song that could be poised for alt-rock radio. Glean sound most like a straight-up hardcore band on “Faceless”, a track that spends half its runtime in a frenzy before slowing down to close out the EP. Considering the range this band was able to display in just 3 songs, the prospect of a whole record from them is intriguing and exciting.