Well gather round folks, because it’s that time of year again and we all know what it means: lists. A whole mess of ’em. In fact, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the various Top 25 or Top 50 lists already provided by our friends at Heavy Blog is Heavy and Mathcore Index if you’re looking to round out those year end playlists. We can think of at least three records that wouldn’t be on this list if it weren’t for blogs like them… maybe you can guess?
We cast a way wider net this year – you demanded it, and we were all too happy to oblige. We’ve mentioned it in a lot of our 2021 coverage, but the math rock community in general just really grew the eff up this year. It spread its wings. It took risks. It left the roost to journey on to the distant shores of… well, a lot of places, and we did our best to keep up. So sit back, congratulate yourself on making it through another round of the Kali Yuga, and nurse your New Years hangover with a Top 25 on us.
But wait – there’s more! At the end of the list, you’ll find a playlist featuring our favorite songs, and a few honorable mentions as well. Anyway, back to the Top 25. In no particular order, except for #1.
#25 Narrow / Arrow – Asbestos Weak Hood
Narrow / Arrow’s dizzying blend of anthemic math rock and jazzy emo reached a fever pitch with Asbestos Weak Hood. Somewhere between TTNG, Circa Survive, and Clever Girl, it’s dreamy sound is intimately familiar, but smart, and their use of space and atmosphere establish the band’s unique place in the midwest pantheon.
#24 Deerhoof – Actually, You Can
Deerhoof, without question, rank among the most consistent when it comes to modern psychedelic San Francisco royalty. On Actually, You Can, the band’s effortless flair for innovation is on full display, but also stands as one of the most accessible moments in their discography. Deerhoof effectively embrace a DIY-baroque aesthetic that’s heartwarming and visionary at the same time, and conjure up one of their finest records yet.
#23 Mylets – M. Rueff
Mylets’ second post-major label offering is a cybertronic safari through progressive drum ‘n bass. Obviously M. Rueff is a far cry from the hyperactive tap-dancing, pedal stomping sound often associated with the project, but the loop wizard’s distinct style still lurks in the background. The album’s complex melodies shift around a variety of percolating textures, which occasionally feature Kristen Dunn of El Ten Eleven. With all the bells and whistles though, one still gets the sense that this is actually the most relaxed we’ve ever heard Mylets sound, and it’s something to be celebrated.
#22 Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
Watching Deafheaven reinvent themselves on Infinite Granite just might take the cake when it comes to their numerous career highlights. The band transcends some of their more polarizing tropes to remind fans and detractors alike that they’re still a force to be reckoned with on songs like “In Blur” and “Mombasa.” Part of what made landmark album Sunbather so special was how of-the-moment it was, and Infinite Granite shows that same spark in a new, more vulnerable context.
#21 Monobody – Comma
We were stoked to find that Monobody’s follow up to Raytracing had once again struck a unique vein of progressive jazz gold with their signature complex, dual-bass guitar madness. Comma maintains the melodic dexterity of the band’s past and doubles down on exotic, freewheeling vibes. The acid funk drops of “Mimic” and the future fusion solos of “Phaon Crescent” might sound worlds apart on paper, but Monobody easily make both, and a whole lot more, a part of their lexicon without hesitation.
#20 Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
This lidless post-punk firestorm shamelessly burns its way through countless adjacent territories without the slightest regard for expectation. Like a zombie in a leather jacket, Drunk Tank Pink smugly strolled it’s way to the top of our Fall playlists earlier this year with its infectious attitude and never really left. It’s not all fun and games through – “Snow Day” is especially brooding, but it’s also one of the records most rewarding tracks.
#19 Physics House Band – Incident on 3rd
Like Monobody, Brighton’s The Physics House Band have mostly taken a modern fusion angle on jazz and electronic music up to this point, albeit from a slightly more aggressive angle. Incident on 3rd, the band’s surprise album released earlier this month, won us over once again with a haze of emotive Neo-noir themes and exceptional grooves. The record’s progressive edge is an achievement in dynamics for the band, but it’s also a visceral style of storytelling, and it’s an angle we hope they continue to explore.
#18 Floatie – Voyage Out
Floatie dropped the feel-good hit of spring reverb with Voyage Out in March, with playfully off-kilter songs and winding, whimsical moods. Playful but dissonant, the band’s take on noise rock is occasionally shaken up with indie, shoegaze, and psychedelic pop. When the last bit of uneasiness is rung from the end of “Lookfar,” you can’t help but wait for a resolution. That moment never comes, but perhaps that’s just one of the many reasons we kept coming back to the record.
#17 Undo K From Hot – G.A.S. Get A Star
It’s still shocking that Nick Reinhart and Zach Hill are behind this. In one of the most twisted listening experiences we had this year, we explored the dark underground of Los Angeles noise rap and glitch with… we’re gonna go with sheer terror. G.A.S. Get A Star feels like an assault on a number of levels, and might just be too much for some. But beneath the crusted surface are some really interesting moments.
#16 SEIMS – Four
Folk, prog, and classical shine through in SEIMS’ epic fourth album. We’ve seen the band cover a plethora of territories, and would have been content to hear them explore any of them further. But we should have known better – of course they were going to try something new. Tracks like “Showdown Without A Victim” and “Nuance Lost in Translation” see band takeing string arrangements and keys with progressive film-score grandeur.
#15 Black ShapeS/T
If you’ve been looking for something between Vasa and Tool, look no further than Salt Lake City’s Blackshape and their crushing debut. The band’s melodic, alt-metal inspired riffs are coated with dark, sludgy atmospheres, and they sound extra sweet here with a mastering job from Matt Goldman of Underoath and The Chariot fame.
#14 standards – Yumm!
Standards’ best produced and most alive sounding album yet, Yumm! experiments with a ton of different textures compared to their past work to slick results. Right off the bat “Strawberries” and “Lobster” show the band mixing in a variety of influences, from Tiny Moving Parts to Kero Kero Bonito. It’s a great refresher for the band, but it’s also one of the strongest examples of the growth and evolution math rock experienced in 2021.
#13 Hiatus Kayote – Mood Valiant
One of the smoothest records of the year, Mood Valiant cruises through Neo-soul, future beat, and jazz in dream-like fashion. There’s also a lot of virtuosic performances in the background. We say background because the record is densely layered – some of this year’s greatest bass lines lie deep beneath layers of percussion, vocal harmonies, and synths, but they’re never lost. Mood Valiant tosses around key, dynamics, and tonality like playthings before landing tightrope choruses and tribal, polyrhythmic bridges.
#12 Delta Sleep – Spring Island
Delta Sleep combines the immediacy of Younger Years and the wide open, experimental side of Ghost City to make one of this years most consistent math rock jaunts. Perhaps it helped that the narrative so heavily alludes to the confusion and anxiety of the pandemic in early 2020. But it also goes a long way that the band challenge themselves with such restraint on tracks like “The Detail” and “Planet Fantastic” while retaining their signature charm.
#11 Mandark – Loose Ends
You can tell there’s a lot going on from the first thirty seconds of Loose Ends, when the band goes from a polyphonic acid breakdown into pop-punk inspired existential crisis. It’s a skyrocket of growth from the band’s last record, and an emotional one at that – the album came with a self-destruct hard drive that contained unused songs, album notes, and live rehearsals. But even without all this, Loose Ends entertains from start to finish with it’s bombastic sense of structure and shredding guitars.
#10 Legos – Polytropics
Legos dropped Polytropics just a couple weeks ago, and it’s lush, experimental flourishes made it an excellent last-minute candidate for our list. In one of the most therapeutic listens of our year, songs like “Irreversibility Boundaries” and “Hadal,” put a transportive amount of aqueous space into the listeners’ headphones. For some it might just come across as a sort of aural palette cleanser, but give it a shot if you haven’t yet. You just might find yourself booking a trip to the keys.
#9 Fire-Toolz – Eternal Home
If you’re new to the world of Fire-Toolz, you might want to sit down before throwing them on for the first time, or pull over if you’re in a moving vehicle. Eternal Home sent a shockwave through our morning commute with righteous fury and unthinkable Nintendo chords. It’s a fascinating journey through the wild, digitized forests of Angel Marcloid’s mind, and it’s one of the boldest, most refreshing things we’ve heard in a long time.
#8 Vildjharta – Masstaden Under Vatten
The legends of long-form riff returned this year with a spiritual successor to the band’s seminal album Masstaden, and the results are undeniable. Though Måsstaden Under Vatten heavily flirts with the same inverted, down-tuned Meshuggah tropes the band explored in the past, it’s also their most experimental. From the melancholic beauty of “Lavender Haze” and “Paaradiso” to the flickering cleans of “kaos2,” you can tell the band has been hard at work. Vildjharta throws in a couple reworking of older tracks too, with “Heartsmear” finally getting the mind-bending facelift it deserves. Måsstaden Under Vatten is the heaviest record in our Top 25 for sure, but we’re confident that the record’s incomprehensible THALL belongs here due to sheer complexity.
#7 Mogwai – As The Love Continues
Another massive return that really pushed this year into overdrive – Mogwai’s As The Love Continues is an explosion of warmth, space, and light. The post-rock stalwarts take a more direct approach than they have in over a decade with songs like “Ritchie Sacramento” and “Ceiling Granny,” leaning more on grunge and indie instead of the electronic aspects they’ve explored for the better part of a decade. We love both sides of the band though, and As the Love Continues is a record where best of both worlds coexist and create a singular, cohesive vision.
#6 Bent Knee – Frosting
Bent Knee once again reinvent their sound with a style and attitude all their own on Frosting. It’s a gaudy, vivid, hyperspace rainbow of melodies and moods that challenges convention in every way that it can. It’s unmistakably Bent Knee, but fully inhabiting another dimension. They’ve always been experimental, but it’s almost like this time they’ve created an album as alter egos of themselves. Frosting is bubbling and sweet, yet sly and terrifying. It’s a confident and endlessly creative joyride through yet another side of the band. It retains the esoteric qualities of records like Say So and Shiny Eyed Baby, but creates something new at the same time, and it just might stand as their best record yet.
#5 Black MIDI – Cavalcade
Seeing as they’re of London’s most lauded progressive acts in the past few years, we tried to be ready for anything when Cavalcade crashed into our playlists halfway through the year. But as soon as we heard the opening hits of “John L,” we knew it was apparent – there wasn’t much we could do. The band once again skewed expectations with diabolical precision, at times making one wonder how the same group might have come up with 2019’s ubiquitous Schlaagenheim. But not because it isn’t enjoyable in a similar way, far from it. Singles “Slow” and “Chondromalacia Patella” showed us the album had plenty of punch, but tracks like “Marlene Dietrich” and “Ascending Forth” display an affinity for smooth, progressive lounge, and if that’s not a winning combination, we don’t know what is.
#4 Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne Suffit
France’s writhing mass of violent mathcore bursts from the seams on Rien ne Suffit, which translates to ‘Nothing is Enough.’ The quintets harrowing gauntlet of industrial, jazz, and death metal plays like The Dillinger Escape Plan had a baby with SUMAC and Behemoth. That’s how babies work, right? Songs like “Part Maudite” “Jouis, Camarade” flail like short-circuiting machines drenched in acid rain. It’s hard to listen to at times, but the spectacle is worth it.
#3 Squid – Bright Green Field
One of post-punks strangest modern commodities, Squid put out a genre-despising odyssey this year with Bright Green Field. To some, Squid might come across like a hopped up Radiohead trying their hand at punk, and you know what? It’s a bit of a generalization, but it’s not entirely wrong – even if that kind of simplification does a disservice to the record. From the mysterious, heavily effected krautrock of “Boy Racers” to the claustrophobic angst of “Peel Street,” Squid find themselves in a league of their own this year when it comes to getting weird, and our playlists were all the better for it.
#2 Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon
Genghis Tron returned from the dead with one of 2021’s most majestic, larger than life records. At first, Dream Weapon might come across as subdued when compared to the frenetic electric-hardcore sound the band was known for back in the day. But after a couple spins, we found the cinematic, borderline psychedelic approach to the material even more rewarding. Dream Weapon is also home to the what is most likely the greatest / greatest sounding drum performance of the year courtesy of SUMAC’s Nick Yacashyn.
#1 The Armed – Ultrapop
There was only one record this year that got so deep into people’s heads, it made them question whether or not they were actively participating in the band or one of their experiments. That record was Ultrapop. The Armed’s already ambitious take on chaotic, futuristic hardcore is taken to a new level of extremes on their latest masterpiece, but the results are surprisingly human, making Ultrapop the ultimate contender for 2021’s most impressive and/or important aural experience.
And there you have it. As promised, here’s that playlist featuring our favorite songs and some honorable mentions as well. If you wanna help us keep the site up to date or buy us a coffee, you’re more than welcome to do so here. But for now, it’s back to scanning the distant horizons (as well as our various inboxes) for new and exciting mat rock. Talk to you soon and best of luck in 2022!