Many artists have used the pandemic time to get creative and crank out an album within the course of a few months. Some have used this time to revisit projects that they have previously abandoned, and it is those releases that dominate the list of The 42 Best Power Pop records of 2021.
Of course, there is also a Spotify playlist with the best song of each listing (41 songs because Have A Cool Summer! is not on Spotify).
I asked the makers of all this beauty, ‘Why has this become such an excellent record?’.
You can read the answers, in addition to the short comments from myself, below.
01. Underwater Sunshine – Suckertree
The most beautiful release of 2021 appears to have been recorded in 1996. Underwater Sunshine’s Suckertree takes you back to the heyday of Modern Power Pop and sounds as fresh and exciting as the records released that year by the likes of The Posies, Fountains of Wayne, and Superdrag.
Johnny Nikolic: “Like a fine Burgundy wine, it’s had twenty-five-plus years to age. Also, we had the amps turned to eleven.”.
02. Tuns – Duly Noted
Chris Murphy: “What I like about TUNS is that the songwriting process consists of making up jams out of thin air and once we lock into something interesting, we record a voice memo of that idea, and we do that for a few days until we have at least 50 jams and we have a voting process to arrive at 15 from which 12 songs have songwriting chops applied to them, and we have an album.
We did this process for both LP’s. The first one used only nine songs, so we put the 10th, and 11th song on a 7” single, and the 12th went on a digital-only soundtrack compiled by a friend to help promote a book he wrote.
We really didn’t know what we were doing when we made the first LP, but we knew better the second time around, and I’m really happy with the results. Every song starts with a catchy bit of music, and I get to work with these two fantastic singers who put great melodies overtop and sing great background parts.
The whole process is also without any of the pressure of a band that is responsible for paying the mortgages of those involved or anyone else in an extended organization. It’s pretty ideal.”.
03. Lolas – All Rise
Tim Boykin has already produced some Power Pop classics, and All Rise is as good as Something You Oughta Know or Doctor Apache.
Tim Boykin: “I was sad and depressed when I wrote it, and as we all know, sadness and depression makes for the best power pop. LOL”.
04. Caddy – Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1
If no one had told me that Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1 consisted of only covers, I probably would never have found out. Tomas Dahl didn’t just choose obscure songs; he made them all his own and gave them the, so specific, Caddy treatment.
Tom Dahl: “Many people were surprised this is a cover album as it’s basically a collection of unknown songs from unknown bands/artists. It sounds like a Caddy album, but at the same time, these bands/artists are introduced to a new crowd. If someone covers Caddy 30 years from now, that will be the ultimate compliment.”.
05. Daniel Romano – Cobra Poems
Daniel Romano is the new Tom Petty, and Cobra Poems is the record Petty would have made if he had accepted Stevie Nicks as a member of The Heartbreakers back then.
06. The Summer Holiday – B-Sides Stories, Volume One
If the mystery has been solved in the meantime, then it has passed me by. I have no idea who the members of The Summer Holiday are. However, the quality of what’s on offer is so high that I wouldn’t be surprised if some well-known grandmasters were involved. What Happens When You Lose might be my favorite song of 2021.
07. Sorrows – Love Too Late … The Real Album
Love Too Late was first released in 1981. A record full of beautiful songs that were killed by a wrong production. Forty years later, Sorrows reworked the songs, and if this version had been released at the time, this would have been a classic from the golden age of Power Pop. And now it’s a Modern Power Pop classic. Easy as that!
Arthur Alexander: “Well, first off, you DO realize that by asking me this question you are forcing me to agree that this is indeed an excellent record!… OK, I am forced to wholeheartedly agree! LOL That said.
When Sorrows went to England to record this album, we KNEW we were going in to make something special. All the pieces were there. We had a bunch of great songs, not a piece of fluff among them; a band which by that time was one hell of a well-oiled rock ‘n roll machine, and we had Mr. Legendary Producer at the helm to make sure this would be a great record.
The cluster fuck that followed and the resulting sham of an album left us devastated. But ultimately we were determined to do it justice, no matter how long it took.
And it took a loooong time to pull it off, but pull it off we did in the end. It was our determination to do right by our music and the legacy of the band that was what, in the end, resulted in the album it was always meant to be.
So yes, an excellent album it is, and we always knew it was. It was taken away from us… and we took it back!”.
08. Ward White – The Tender Age
Ward White describes himself as an art-rock crooner. An accurate description, I would say.
On The Tender Age, Ward reminds me of David Bowie and Parthenon Huxley but he is also, quite rightly, compared to Bryan Ferry and Elvis Costello. What an overwhelmingly beautiful record.
Ward White: “I don’t know if it’s an excellent record; hopefully it’s a good one. Like kids, you just hope each record inherits your best qualities, surprises you from time to time, and doesn’t embarrass you down the road.”.
09. LOVEBREAKERS – Primary Colours
LOVEBREAKERS sounds like a group of cheeky brats. Simply irresistible.
10. The Reflectors – Faster Action
If you loved The Beat in the early ’80s and your musical taste hasn’t changed much, there’s a fair chance that Faster Action is your favorite record of 2021.
James Carman: “This record is very special because around the time this was recorded, the world was on lockdown, and those moments of playing music and writing, it gave us our platform to write songs that were coming from our hearts.”.
11. Andy Bopp – AB
Until this year, I was sure that Myracle Brah’s Life On Planet Eartsnop was Andy Bopp’s masterpiece. I know better now.
Andy Bopp: “It was made during the pandemic over a one-year period. It’s special because disc 1 is more of a “pop” album, and disc 2 is noisier”.
12. Local Drags – Keep Me Glued
Keep me Glued is a master class on how to put the power back in the pop.
Lanny Durbin: “Keep Me Glued is pretty special to me because it turned out exactly how I wanted it. Not a lame riff or lyric or melody (in my opinion). I’m proud of every song on the record. I’m my own worst critic, but this was the first time I was able to say, “wow, every song is pretty cool!” I used to worry that my style wasn’t PUNK enough to be a punk/pop punk/whatever band, so I tried to write a “punk” song on my first record, and now it’s the worst song on there!
I used to worry my voice wasn’t good enough, etc. This time I just said to myself, ok, then sing better because who cares! To quote John Prine: you are what you are, and you ain’t what you ain’t. The songs are my best work; the boys played their parts just right, the packaging is sick too. Basically thought to myself, what is the exact record you’d like to listen to? And this is it!”.
13. Scott Warren – Shadow Bands
Shadow Bands sounds like a record made by kings like Neil Finn or Elvis Costello. Yes, Scott Warren is that good!
Scott Warren: “I think this particular batch of songs came together really well writing/production-wise. When releasing a record out into the world, you never know what to expect. It’s nice to see that it has resonated with folks.”.
14. The Brothers Steve – Dose
If I were to make a list of records that I sing along the loudest, Dose would have been #1.
Steve Coulter: “Making ‘Dose’ was a lot of fun and an interesting challenge given the state of the world. Without the ability to be in a room (or on stage) bashing out the songs as a band, we were forced to experiment more—which I think contributed greatly to the end result. It doesn’t hurt that the members of The Brothers Steve are some of my oldest friends and partners in crime. It’s always a blast to rock out and make music with those guys.”.
15. The Easy Button – Lost on Purpose
“Lost On Purpose” reminds me of “Welcome Interstate Managers”. In my world that is the greatest compliment imaginable.
Brian Jones: “Our new record “Lost On Purpose” is our most daring record to date! The most songs we’ve put out at one time – 22 in under an hour eight minutes, consistent in theme and hook and full of surprises. The songs came quickly during the lockdown and took us on new melodic paths. We were overjoyed when friends and a few of our music heroes guest performed on the album and took it to even greater heights. “Lost On Purpose” is also the first release where we made a vinyl version companion to the full CD and Streaming version.”.
16. Even – Reverse Light Years
Reverse Light Years is the best guitar-record of the year.
17. The High Strung – HannaH or The Whale
HannaH or The Whale was also lost to the flow of time, recorded in 2002, only released this year. As good as any Sloan record released around the turn of the century.
18. Caper Clowns – Abdicate The Throne
Abdicate The Throne is full of very well-made, mature pop songs, played by a group of young dogs. The Danes deviate several times from the Power Pop template on this third, making it completely irresistible.
19. Jim Trainor – Staring Down The Sun
Jim Trainor’s Staring Down The Sun is incredibly easy to listen to, but it took me a while to recognize that there weren’t many better records produced in 2021 than this one. Twelve stunning Power Pop songs.
Jim Trainor: “Staring Down The Sun” is my first full album as a solo artist, and to me, that’s very special. I was encouraged by the warm reception of last year’s EP “Glass Half Full” and wanted to continue that momentum into a full project. I was overjoyed how “Staring Down The Sun” was embraced by pop/rock lovers in general, as well as the airplay it received and still gets from radio hosts. Plus, on both albums, I had the honor to work with some very talented artists, some of whom are at the top of my favorites list.”.
20. The Legal Matters – Chapter Three
Chapter Three is a triumph, a master class in songwriting and harmony singing.
Keith, Andy, Chris: “Chapter 3 is special to us because we feel like we’ve really evolved as recording artists. We were able to use all of our strengths to make the best record that we could make. Our harmonies have become our main instrument, and we really focused on creating the arrangements to support our vocals.”.
21. Doublepluspop – Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much
Doublepluspop made a Power Pop classic in 2002. However, the record was never released.
Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much would have certainly made “The Best Power Pop Record of 2002” lists if it had been released back then! Last year there was a digital release of Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much, and Kool Kat Musik released it on CD in 2021.
I can think of nine more reasons why Too Loud + Too Fast + Too Much shouldn’t be on this year’s list, but the record is too good to leave it out. Maybe I’ll already reserve a spot for next year.
Paul Averitt: “I don’t think of this album as anything other than “this album”. I don’t tend to qualify it in my own mind. I will say that we are very pleased that so many have found and enjoyed it. The glowing reviews are still pouring in more than a year after the digital release, and we are grateful for the encouraging attention. Thanks to anyone who has gone out of their way to check it out. We are humbled.”.
22. Yorick van Norden – Playing by Ear
With Playing by Ear, Yorick van Norden claims an even more prominent place within the very vibrant Indie Pop scene in the Netherlands. Ten extraordinarily personal and beautiful pop songs.
23. The Stan Laurels – There is No Light Without the Dark
Don’t you dare confuse accessibility with mediocrity or even nimbleness. The twelve songs on There is No Light Without the Dark are all easy on the ear but take on a new dimension with every listen. That type of record!
John Lathrop: “While I appreciate your description of my album as being “excellent,” it’s not for me to say it is such; what I will say is I worked very hard on each and every song to craft something I felt was unique and dynamic, offering a wide variety of sounds and feelings; and while each song is quite different from one another, there’s a central sound as well as an over-arching theme connecting all of the songs, making what I feel is a cohesive record. But the #1 priority was and always is melody, so within and underneath all of the soundscapes of buzzing guitars, dreamy keyboards, and pounding drums lies (hopefully) a few nice-sounding vocal melodies and chord progressions in their simplest form.”.
24. David Brookings – Mania at the Talent Show
Like so many other musicians this year, David Brookings seems to have raised the bar for himself again by emerging from the lockdown with twelve of his best songs. Warmer than his previous records, and those earlier ones weren’t cold at all.
David Brookings: “Why has this record become such an excellent record? I think it’s a strong batch of songs and that also the production on it is really great. I teamed up with my old friend Josh Scolaro (he’s in Virginia, and I’m in L.A.) to record it. We file shared back and forth for the past year, putting it all together and including cameos from a few other music friends, and it just turned out to be magical.”.
25. Radio Days – Rave On!
A Power Pop Celebration!
26. Silvertwin – Silvertwin
Pure Pop for the Power Pop people!
27. Novelty Island – How Are You Coping With This Century?
More Pure Pop for the Power Pop people!
Tom McConnell: “Thank you very much for including my little album in this mighty list! Writing and recording ‘How Are You Coping With This Century?’ was a little bit of surreal therapy for me through the dystopia of today, and I hope it is for everyone else too…”.
28. Nick Frater – Earworms
Nick Frater did stop the search for perfection but what came out sounds pretty perfect to my ears.
Nick Frater: “Thanks for the great feedback about Earworms! I wrote it to sound and feel like it was a long-lost LP from the mid-70s. Unashamedly embracing melody and harmony, combined with lyrics that touch a few emotions, seems to have come together just right on this record!”.
29. The Sails – Bang!: The Sails Best of 2006 to 2020
My introduction to Michael Gagliano’s band The Sails took place this year. Quite late when you know that the band has been active since 2006 and has produced a fairly steady stream of high-quality pop songs ever since, all gathered now on this MASTERPIECE.
Michael Gagliano: “Power Pop is more than a genre but an acclamation of taste, style, and attitude. It’s a coded way of life . Everything The Sails stand for.”.
30. Ed Ryan – Don’t Follow Where They Lead
Ed’s songs are my friends.
Ed Ryan: “Once I wrote what became the title track, the album just came together. The song was a little different from my norm and led me to experiment stylistically and to include some of my instrumental pieces as well. It was like throwing a stone in a pond and watching everything ripple out from there.”.
31. The Szuters – The Devil’s in the Details
If I needed a definition of the Power Pop genre, I would ask The Szuters.
32. Split Single – Amplificado
If Power Pop is defined for you by the music of Guided by Voices or Bob Mould, then Split Single’s Amplificado is most likely your favorite record of 2021. Jason Narducy outranks those who influenced him.
33. The Well Wishers – Spare Parts
Gathered what once seemed superfluous and not good enough, turned out to be a wonderfully incoherent whole.
Jeff Shelton: “It’s special because it gave a batch of random, orphaned songs a final home. I’m pleased to hear from some people that these tracks are as worthy as any others I’ve included on “proper” Well Wishers albums …even if the styles and sound of each are a bit disparate. My ultimate goal is to get my music out there for people, so I’m pleased to have found a home for these tracks.”.
34. Galore – Roller
“Fronted by Haligonian Barry Walsh—of the late, great Cool Blue Halo—Galore is a ballsy trip to ’70s glam and power-pop.”, The Coast wrote in 2007. There’s nothing wrong with that characterization. Although Roller also reminds me of the first Fastball record. The recordings were completed some time ago, but Roller was only recently released.
Barry Walsh: “Galore has been through many permutations over two decades, but the line-up for “Roller” is perhaps the longest-lasting, and as a result, I think it’s evident in the recordings that we had — and still have, when we’re in the same room — a chemistry that really serves the music. Even though we didn’t have an outside producer, the songs were shaped through years of live performance and rehearsal, but there’s still enough raw energy there to prevent it from being too slick. And given that it was recorded over a decade ago but just released now, it feels like a sonic postcard from a simpler, more carefree time for me… which is nice to have in these current times.”.
35. Motorists – Surrounded
Frontman Craig Fahner says (in their band bio): “We worked through feelings of isolation as a group to the tune of jangly guitars, infectious power-pop hooks, and a steady motorik beat. Surrounded is an album about modern living and isolation in a technologically saturated society, laden with romanticism around radical togetherness.”.
36. Kiwi Jr. – Cooler Returns
For those who like The Strokes and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Snotty Indie Power Pop.
37. LMNOP – whatNOP dONW7
Every time I listen to whatNOP dONW7, which I’ve done exceptionally often over the past year, I conclude that LMNOP’s music is about a hundred million miles closer to the core of Power Pop than, for example, ELO. So that you know. DIY is king!
Stephen Fievet: “This is my best and most consistent album, probably because I had 32 tracks and enough time to accurately create what was in my head. I purposely left some rough edges to avoid sounding too glossy and discarded several recordings rather than include everything. whatNOP was an experiment to learn how to use digital equipment. Now that I kinda know what I’m doing, the next album should be even better.”.
38. Stephen Chopek – Dweller
Dweller is a beauty of an EP, full of real pop songs with a soft New Wave edge. Chopek sounds like a young Ian McCulloch or Roddy Frame.
Stephen Chopek: “Dweller is a special collection of songs for me because it’s a snapshot of how I spent my time in lockdown throughout 2020 during the pandemic. I had just gotten back from tour and planned for a busy year, but those plans quickly changed. Instead of focusing on all the things I couldn’t do, I decided to put my energy into writing and recording at home. It was an important lesson in accepting things that are out of my control, and maintaining a healthy perspective. I hope listening to Dweller brings you as much enjoyment as I had making it.”
39. Steve Rosenbaum – Steve Rosenbaum – Have A Cool Summer! (4-track Gems and Summer Pop Demos: 1979-89)
Have A Cool Summer! is a collection of demos released on 8-track and reel-to-reel tape. Read that line again. Welcome to 2021. Beautiful songs are timeless, come in all formats and all styles, and appear when time permits.
Steve Rosenbaum: “I think this record became excellent because it is a real labor of love and an example of how necessity is the mother of invention. In the 80s, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to afford to go into a multi-track studio to realize my songs, I figured out how to use two cassette decks and, later, a 4-track Portastudio, to realize my vision. Although no one would say these recordings sound like they are professionally done, I hope most will see that there is something unique and personal about them. Also, I hope the songs transcend the limitations of the technology.’.
40. Fur – When You Walk Away
‘Pure Twinkle-eyed joy’, is the description of their music that Fur uses on Spotify. Did I need some of that in 2021?!
41. Warm Soda – Best of Warm Soda (2012 – 2016)
Best of Warm Soda (2012 – 2016) would be its definition if Gritty Power Pop were a sub-genre.
42. Rockets Of Love! Power Pop Gems From The 70s, 80s & 90s
There’s a lot of good Power Pop being made nowadays, but it’s nice if Ace Records sends an anthology with fabulous songs from the genre’s heyday.
Yes, I break the rules. Welcome to the modern age where the difference between EPs and albums is no longer visible, where music in many formats is released at different times, where you only discover some bands when a greatest hits overview is released…!
So much more beautiful music has been made this year. Enjoy the Sweet Sweet Music’s favorite Power Pop Songs of 2021 – Spotify Playlist. Buy the music on Bandcamp or via the Kool Kat Musik webshop!