meta-scriptOn Militarie Gun's 'Life Under The Gun,' Ian Shelton Invites You Inside His Hornet's Nest Of A Mind |
Militarie Gun - 2023 - Hero Image
Militarie Gun (L-R): Waylon Trim, Ian Shelton, Will Acuña, Vince Nguyen, Nick Cogan

Photo: Noah Kentis


On Militarie Gun's 'Life Under The Gun,' Ian Shelton Invites You Inside His Hornet's Nest Of A Mind

Reared on influences from the Beatles to indie rock, Ian Shelton crafted his band Militarie Gun's debut album as a missile against his enemies, both internal and external. The result is like no punk album you've ever heard.

GRAMMYs/Jun 23, 2023 - 05:41 pm

There's a part near the end of Militarie Gun's debut album that Ian Shelton wishes he could fix. But he can't.

The band's lead singer and songwriter didn't notice it until long after said album, Life Under the Gun, went to print. It's in the penultimate track, "See You Around" — a keys-and-vocals breather reminiscent of '67 Beatles.

"He doesn't sing/ He doesn't sing to me/ When it used to be/ Something I'd like to see," croons Shelton — who in Militarie Gun and his grind band Regional Justice Center, has mostly screamed and barked until his melodic breakthroughs on Life Under the Gun.

"The very last line, I keep doing the same resolve on," he tells "I did the same resolve on every line on that verse, and I hate it. I've listened to this a thousand times. I can't believe I'm just now realizing this sucks." Right then Shelton's voice shifts; it's like his inner critic has seized the controls. 

"You f—ing idiot," he tells himself out loud, his breath quickening behind a black Zoom screen. "You thought that was good?"

Such is an interview with Shelton that clocks in at nearly two hours, with a full-band follow-up and many intense texts before and after. Talking to him at length is exactly like listening to his music — it's a hilarious, unvarnished, galvanizing, occasionally harrowing experience. But one that never feels like a put-on.

One minute, he's chewing on his wounds. "One of my main desires in life is to escape the embarrassment that I feel all the time," he says five minutes in. "For some reason, I feel like there's an invisible enemy on my heels at all times."

Another minute, he's scheming and enterprising like a young rapper — which makes a certain amount of sense, as Militarie Gun just signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation for management, on top of landing a record deal with Loma Vista.

All this self-flagellation and slightly deranged ambition — and a whole lot more — made it into Life Under the Gun. But it's far from bluster and noise: Shelton, whose background is in face-punching hardcore, has blossomed as a singer, composer, lyricist, and performer in an incredibly short time.

On Life Under the Gun — out June 23 — Militarie Gun is filled out by guitarists Nick Cogan (also of Drug Church fame) and Will Acuña, bassist Max Epstein and drummer Vince Nguyen; the live lineup has shifted to include bassist Waylon Trim. In the co-producer's chair, alongside Shelton, was Taylor Young.

Militarie Gun is named after an inside joke that Shelton says "I'm unfortunately stuck with for the rest of my goddamn life." Their first three EPs, 2020's My Life is Over and 2021's All Roads to the Gun I and II, put them on the map as a band nominally in hardcore, but that bristled at its conventions and wore its orthodoxy like a bunchy suit.

In that sense, they're not dissimilar to Turnstile, the GRAMMY-nominated hardcore crew who augmented their sound with genre traversals and block-rocking beats.

But Militarie Gun have expanded beyond hardcore's boundaries in a much different way — via their sheer melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and emotional content. (The album that broke Turnstile into the mainstream, 2021's Glow On, didn't even exist by the time Militarie Gun completed the final demos for Life Under the Gun.)

From chord voicings to lyrics to performances and sheer attitude, advance singles "Do it Faster," "Very High," "Will Logic," and "Never F—ed Up Once" — along with inspired album tracks like "Think Less," "Big Disappointment" and "Sway Too" — are lightyears past their already appealing early material.

How did Shelton evolve so quickly, so profoundly? It happened while delivering weed.

For a solid year, Shelton — a Washington state native — drove around his adopted home of Los Angeles for eight to 12 hours a day, dropping off buds. "I was trying to put 10,000 hours into studying the blade," he says. "I was delivering weed, but the full-time job was studying music."

The artists doing spiritual work on Shelton: the Beatles, the Strokes, Gorillaz, Guided by Voices, Built to Spill… the list goes on. Between it all, he absorbed more than clever hooks or catchy melodies — he developed a knack for compositions that breathe and hold together with integrity.

"That's all just about observing the sonic real estate and going, 'Oh, that's empty,'" he says. "And then putting something there, because the instrumentals are completed before I even write a vocal part."

All this led Shelton to explore the neck of the guitar, unpacking melodies in an open and untutored manner. This jump between instruments puts Shelton in league with any number of drummers turned successful singer/songwriters, from Iggy Pop to Panda Bear to J Mascis — Brendan Yates from Turnstile, too.

One early morning — upon hitting the practice space before weed delivery — Shelton stumbled on what would become the galumphing "Will Logic." For "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time," he identified the essence of Built to Spill's "Carry the Zero" and wrote his own white-knuckled, mid-tempo ballad in response.

"A strange occurrence/ This train is on the rails," Shelton sings in his pained, raspy, yet incisive tenor. "How long until it f—s up and fails?"

In conversation, Shelton's train of thought leads to "Think Less," which happens to follow "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time" in the tracklisting. He'd cited that song earlier, in the same breath as his evocation of his "invisible enemy."

"I'm on some old-school beef," Shelton announces. "The people that I wrote [early Militarie Gun song] 'Ain't No Flowers' and 'Think Less' about, they talked s— about me to one of my friends a couple days ago and I just heard about it yesterday."

Said people are in a band Shelton won't name, but he'll allow this: "The song I wrote about them got 600,000 streams as of yesterday. More than triple anything they've ever done in their life. So, I'm like, 'We're good.'"

Despite being the most out-and-out hardcore moment on Life Under the Gun, "Think Less" is a musical marvel — from the fake-out guitar intro reminiscent of Doug Gillard-era Guided by Voices to the radiant chorus, where he's augmented with harmonies via James Goodson from the fuzz-pop band Dazy. (Mat Morand, a.k.a. Pretty Matty, also contributes backing vocals to the album.)

In stark juxtaposition, Shelton's vocal performance in the final verse sounds like he's peeling off his own skin: "List of people I f—ed over/ Do they think the same of me?" he howls. "List of people I've f—ed over/ Think less of me/ And I agree!"

"For some reason, I will believe whatever they say," Shelton says of those dispensing the haterade. "I wish that I had a really hardened ego to be like, Uh-uh. Instead, I find the kernel of truth and I stick on it."

"Seizure of Assets" is about when Shelton's car was towed by the city of Los Angeles. "I had too many parking tickets, and I literally didn't have the money to get my car back, so I just had to let them keep my car," he relates, deadpan.

With that in mind, it's clear who the "biting bastard leeches/ [that] keep suckin' on me" are. But in Life Under the Gun, those leeches are everywhere. They're most definitely in the sadistic cancel mob in "Never F—ed Up Once."

"Never F—ed Up Once" is about someone in the punk community who committed an indiscretion that went public; once the social-media bear was poked, he was summarily thrown out of his livelihood and craft.

This led to a shamelessly hooky song permeated with empathy, extending a hand to someone past the point of drowning: "When you wish you could stay, but you've been vilified/ When the bloodthirsty mob, it expects a life."

"I grew up going to AA meetings with my mom, and that fundamentally shapes the way that I see the world," Shelton says. "Which is through a lens, ultimately, of forgiveness. I've grown up around nothing but terribly flawed people. You are going to make terrible mistakes, no matter how you carry yourself."

With the album's centerpiece, "Sway Too," Shelton reached new heights of emotional and compositional complexity. What's more, he evades the binary between poppiness and extremity that tends to box in critical perception of Militarie Gun.

"I just couldn't be more proud of that song," Shelton glows, connecting it to the concept of trauma bonding. "What do you trust when your brain flips in trauma and lust?" he ponders at song's end. "What do you trust when it's love as smut?"

Accordingly, "I've never been more proud of a lyric," he says. "Sometimes, you don't even know that you're lying about things. My own brain, at least, is one that gets obsessed and tapped in on something, and then for a period of time, I feel a way and then all of a sudden it just dissipates, and it's one of my biggest flaws. And that song was really trying to take myself to task for that tendency."

If all of this sounds irreducibly heavy and ponderous, it doesn't come off that way; Life Under the Gun's sparkling melodies and production help all these bad feelings go down easy, and the first two singles distill these corrosive emotions into friendly doses.

In the power-popping "Do it Faster," Shelton drives himself up a wall waiting for word about the band being signed; in the equally sticky "Very High," he escapes a depressive spiral by getting absolutely ripped.

"Honestly I think there's something instinctual about writing truly catchy music, and whatever that is. Ian just has it," James Goodson, who sang backing vocals on the album, tells "I also think the thing that really makes Militarie Gun click is that he's got this knack for combining the sweet with the sour. If one element is super melodic, he'll add another element that's really raw."

Life Under the Gun concludes with the triumphal, Who-like closer, "Life Under the Gun." "A life of pursuit," he summarizes, "Ends up pursuing you." After that ouroboros of a line, the song, and record, cut out right then, as if there's nothing more to add: Shelton's laid it all at your feet.

Militarie Gun - Ian Shelton - Embed Image

*Militarie Gun. (L-R) Vince Nguyen, Nick Cogan, Ian Shelton, Waylon Trim, Will Acuña. Photo: Noah Kentis*

Life Under the Gun can be enjoyed in two concurrent ways: it works as a voyage into Shelton's fractured emotions, maniacal aspirations and fever-pitch personality, and as a document of four or five men playing music.

"He definitely knows exactly what he wants the outcome to be," Cogan tells of Shelton. "I think he is a really good tell of people, and people being genuine, and people being honest. I'm not sure that matters to a lot of people. I think it matters a lot to Ian, which I think is the coolest thing in the world. He's just an incredibly real person."

Life Under the Gun's press cycle is Shelton's first heavy go-round in the music industry. It's been occasionally hairy, but on the main, he's happy and intact. He promises a few people are "getting destroyed" when this is all over.

It remains to be seen what will befall Shelton's adversaries — as he warned in "Will Logic," "You're standing on my neck/ For something you'll never get."

But most of Life Under the Gun deals with that disparaging voice inside — the one that underlines your unworthiness, and promises everything you love will fall apart, and soon. Each of Shelton's professional and artistic leaps and bounds seem to be in the service of proving it wrong.

"It took me a long time to shake my fear of this cool-guy sense and being jaded. And instead, being really open creatively and saying things that I might find embarrassing, and I try to stick to that," he says. "Every lyric I'm embarrassed of is the lyric people love."

All of this boils down to the grand artistic tradition of getting away with something — which is half the fun of all great rock music. "I literally walk around rubbing my hands together like a villain because it's how I feel," Shelton says.

From their stoner joke of a name to Shelton's second-to-none drunk tweeting to a Taco Bell ad to their promotional "Ooh Ooh" emoji — a play on Shelton's pet vocalization — so much of Militarie Gun's rise has been about gleefully stirring the pot.

But that's all window dressing; it'll fade, and soon, just as all press cycles do. The real impact of Militarie Gun is this: a creative, insecure, enterprising young man with a couple of screws loose took inventory of his life under the gun, opened his mouth and told the truth.

"A Joyful Burden": How Ian Shelton Of Militarie Gun & Regional Justice Center Makes Art Out Of Negativity

Turnstile (L-R): Brendan Yates, Franz Lyons, Pat McCrory, Daniel Fang

Photo: Austin Ciezko


Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Turnstile On Mainstream Attention, Touring With Blink-182, Repping DOMi & JD Beck

By pouring fresh melodicism and imagination into hardcore, Turnstile have raised their subculture's flag on the world stage — and been nominated for three GRAMMYs for their efforts.

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2023 - 05:30 pm

Turnstile have deeply entrenched roots in hardcore, a genre and subculture as diametrically opposed to mainstream awards shows as you can possibly get.

But when you ask them about their first set of GRAMMY nominations, they dispense no punk-like opposition — just humility and gratitude.

"It's cool to be just honored from our circle," says Brendan Yates, vocalist for the Baltimore punks, who are up for Best Rock Performance ("Holiday"), Best Metal Performance and Best Rock Song ("Blackout") at the 2023 GRAMMYs. "But [the GRAMMYs represent] a whole other world of musicians, and recognition for things that the music industry does."

Read More: 2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

This broad-mindedness tracks with the overall aesthetic and vision of Turnstile, who expand the often monochromatic palette of hardcore to include all manner of vivid hues. Their breakout 2021 album GLOW ON contains everything from synths ("Mystery") to spacey balladry ("Alien Love Call," with Blood Orange). It  even receives signals from Sly Stone on "T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection), which interpolates "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)."

From separate locations in Baltimore — guitarist Pat McCrory, bassist Franz Lyons, and drummer Daniel Fang outdoors in one Zoom window, and Yates in his cozy-looking house in another — Turnstile opened up to

Topics included strange bedfellows of punk and the mainstream, the fellow GRAMMY nominees they're thrilled about, their upcoming arena tour with a reconstituted Blink-182, and why "selling out" is for the birds.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What was the Turnstile fan community's response to the GRAMMYs news? Obviously, perceptions of prestigious awards shows can wildly vary when it comes to subculture.

Daniel Fang: You know, it's wild, because it might be a selective thing, but I feel this unconditional support that surrounds our band — where they'd still be so happy for anything we could receive, or do. It was full-blown love, and it feels like no matter what, they've always got our back anyway. 

But it was one of those things where you're kind of rejoicing together. When you actually look at the people, anyone at the show,  and see what they're saying or feeling — especially when we made these videos for that whole last tour — it feels like unconditional love somehow. 

And I think it goes both ways, so it's like: Right on, they'll celebrate.

Through a punk lens, what's your relationship to the GRAMMY organization and show?

Franz Lyons: First and foremost, getting any sort of recognition and accolades from something so giant and formal is amazing. 

When you start in a band and your parents are driving you, and you get the van and the trailer, and then you get a bigger van, and then you get the Sprinter — once you've taken all these steps and made it, being recognized on that grand scale is awesome.

And it's sweet that [the Recording Academy] took the time to watch someone do their thing, and then actually put them on a platform to be celebrated along the same lines — these are larger-than-life perks.

Brendan Yates: I feel like I always watched the GRAMMYs growing up, because the only TV I was really watching was music-related things. I was watching music videos all the time — MTV and VH1. 

When the GRAMMYs came on — especially because I didn't have the internet much — I was like, Oh, I can see all these people that I love that are doing music. I could see them act as humans — sitting in the chair and stuff like that. That was kind of cool. And then, as I got older, I always paid attention just to see what was going on — seeing performances. 

When I was younger, if I was playing drums, my mom was like, "Alright, it's 9 o'clock. You have to stop playing drums." "Come on, please, 10 more minutes!" And she'd be like, "Alright, you can play for 10 more minutes, but when you go to the GRAMMYs, you know who you're bringing, right?" I was like, "Yeah, OK, fine, I'll bring you."

She said that believing it, but also, it was kind of a joke. To see that actually come to fruition is kind of a shock, and really just cool all around.

How do these GRAMMY nominations color or frame your goals in the music business, now that they've upped the ante for what you can be recognized for on a global scale?

Pat McCrory: It's kind of wild, because it does seem like one of those things that you never really feel like you'll actively be able to attain. And then, after you're getting nominated for something, you're like: Whoa, OK, hold on. I don't know what's possible.

That's a cool feeling. It busted another door open. I don't even know what's on the other side, but there's no door now.

Fang: First of all, we never had any goals as a band other than to pursue the creative impulses that we all have, and work together and collaborate and make something that we all love, and then share it in as many ways as possible.

We keep having these new doors open, so to speak, and having really fun and fulfilling experiences of being able to make certain kinds of art and tour and play in all these different countries for all different types of people.

And then with the GRAMMYs — it's exactly like how Pat said it — we didn't expect it. I just think it's really exciting to know that unexpected, beautiful things can happen. That sets an unhealthy bar of expectation, but we're looking forward to [the ceremony] and  all the experiences we can share together.

Lyons: A great friend of mine phrased our band as "We like to move forward, not upward."

Yates: There are never expectations for great things — opportunities like that. I think we have had so many amazing opportunities. Sometimes, you play a festival and you're playing to 100,000 people — a sea of people. It's not necessarily that at that moment, everything changes. Since day one, I've always kind of felt the same, even up to this point.

And as Daniel was kind of touching on, the acknowledgements and opportunities are amazing, and I think it's cool to see. I don't think it necessarily changed the trajectory or intention behind the original goal of just creating music we love, and creating environments where we can play the music, and touring, and doing whatever feels right to us.

Read More: Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

"Selling out" used to be heresy in guitar-music circles; now, that concept has eroded to borderline nonexistence. Can you talk about that shift in your world?

Yates: I think things have become so accessible with the internet, and the idea of selling out is something that is so transparent. At the end of the day, I feel like the general idea of it is doing something against your will — selling yourself to do something against what you would want to do, for fame or recognition or money or whatever it is.

As it still exists, when you see someone doing something that's genuinely themselves, any sort of recognition or opportunity is almost more celebrated. You can really see genuinely if someone truly cares about what they're doing and has a lot of intention behind it, and is in touch with what they're doing.

So, I think with the accessibility and transparency of everything, you can see a little bit more about what's going on and decide whether you support it or not.

Fang: I think that's a larger, logical kind of observation of what "selling out" means in the context of punk, especially. But like Brendan was saying, things are so accessible. You can put something on YouTube, Spotify or Bandcamp; you can create with really minimal barriers to access.

So, I think what that results in is people being motivated and inspired by things, rather than seeing this inaccessible platform that seems so far away. I can understand why that can result in resentment or feeling detached from something that felt so intimate and underground and subcultural.

I don't think those ceilings exist anymore, in the same way. People's perception of something they love is because they see it growing, or individuals do something that they like to do. Now, I just think people are inspired by that [more] than anything, and that's amazing.

Lyons: Originality is celebrated, bro.

**Speaking to Rolling Stone, Franz mentioned he's ready to "kick it" for a bit after your tour-intensive 2022. Once you're recharged and reset, what's on the table for the year?**

Yates: Our 2023 definitely has plans. We definitely have plans touring — not as much as [last] year, but there's some select touring. And there's time at home just to be making and living and existing. But, yeah, I think we'll just kind of take it day-by-day.

McCrory: It'll be a nice, busy year, but it will also buy us some time to do what we want. Write music or just sit on your ass, or go out and sit at the beach or in the woods or something. It's been a long couple of years since the world opened back up. 

It'll be a nice combo. I feel like it'll be a traditional mode, where we're out there and doing it a lot. And then there's also the affordable time where you can focus on anything you need to focus on.

What about you, Franz?

Lyons: Uhhh… skate. [Laughs.] Chill back in Ohio. Play music with Dan. Tour with Blink next summer! I mean, it's kind of like the year is going to be some playing shows, some creating. Finding our balance is to do that, but also maintain a healthy standard of living here as well.

Not being shoulder-to-shoulder for six months in a row.

Lyons: I mean, these are my guys. I'm down with the shoulder!

Fang: We all love spending time with each other. But it does have the sacrifice of seeing people at home and maintaining certain relationships. So, I have a lot of rainchecks to attend to — a lot of people I'd like to see, a lot of quality time I'd like to spend with my partner and family.

So, I'm really, really happy we're finding a better balance with that [this] year. It's a good problem to have, but I think it's really good for us to strike a balance.


*Turnstile. Photo: Alexis Gross*

That tour with Blink-182 will be a watershed achievement. What do you think about that, now that it's on the immediate horizon?

Lyons: I'm actually so incredibly down. But they [points to Daniel and Pat] really love that. Obviously, playing a big, giant show is sweet, but playing a show with the band that resonated so hard with my people, and playing with them all summer…

Not to mention that you get to see Blink every night, get to see Travis Barker play drums every night, and you get a whole venue to run around and just be crazy and do whatever — just completely soak up that environment.

Fang: We're pretty gassed up about it. For me, that was the first show I'd been to, so it's another full circle that'll be pretty surreal. Because you get another, different stage to do some wild stuff on, and be yourself for a sector of people, and also be inspired by one of the bands that changed the game.

Yates: It'll be our first arena tour as well. We always love accepting the opportunity to play in different environments — whether it's some field outside, or a basement, or a big festival, or a club venue. So, this will be checking off new territory, in that we're able to play in that environment for a full tour.

Before I let you guys go, what have you been listening to lately?

Lyons: I've been rocking the new SZA record lately.

Fang: JD Beck and DOMi. We're all really excited about them receiving GRAMMY nominations. We really want the world to see them and hear them. I think all of us are really looking forward to seeing how they blossom, because they're both really serious and phenomenal artists.

Yates: Fiddlehead. I've been listening to the new Caroline Polachek song; I'm excited for her album. Our friend Mary Jane Dunphe has a new album coming out; I'm really excited about that. The new Paramore album. [Editor's note: Yates directed a music video for the title track to Paramore's upcoming 2023 album, This is Why.] I'm also excited to see IDLES at the GRAMMYs.

McCrory: I was watching this Netflix documentary about drums last night, so I listened to a lot of Deep Purple yesterday. It's not a new band to shout out, but… shout out!

Brendan Yates On Turnstile's Vibrant New Album Glow On: "The Goal Was To Breathe As Much Imagination Into These Songs As Possible"

10 Hardcore Bands To Know
(L-R) MSPAINT, SPEED, End It, Zulu, Buggin, Militarie Gun, Drug Church, Soul Blind, Regulate, Scowl

Photos (L-R): Libby Zanders, Jonathan Tumbel, Kenny Savercool, Alice Baxley, Arturo Zarate, courtesy of the artist, Danielle Parsons, David Mitchell, Rebecca Lader, Magdalena Wosinska


Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

GRAMMY nominees Turnstile and Code Orange may be the two acts from the hardcore scene that have gotten the biggest mainstream push, but the story doesn't begin nor end with them. Here are 10 more current acts you should know.

GRAMMYs/Nov 18, 2022 - 06:28 pm

When it comes to hardcore's intersection with the mainstream, it's hard to remember a week like this.

On Nov. 15, it was announced that Turnstile — the high-flying, shamelessly hooky, stylistically rangey Baltimore punks — had been nominated for three golden gramophones at the 2023 GRAMMYs, for tracks from their 2021 breakout album GLOW ON.

Coupled with their sound, their story — of rising from cramped vans and vet's halls to become triple-GRAMMY nominated, and about to support Blink-182 on a national tour — has placed them at the forefront of hardcore for very good reasons.

But with that can arise reductive thinking: that from an industry standpoint, Turnstile, somehow, are the lone, self-contained ambassadors for the entire hardcore scene.

The same goes for Code Orange, who came up as authentically punk as anyone. The Pittsburgh band rapidly expanded their palette to become breathtakingly heavy and experimental, scooped up two GRAMMY nominations for Best Metal Performance, then went on to open for Korn across the US.

The notion that Code Orange and Turnstile somehow are hardcore is spurious. It diminishes the larger community, and its matrix of creative interchanges, that are responsible for these breakout acts' very existences.

For those unfamiliar with hardcore: think the original punk-rock sound of ‘76 or so, with the tempos and intensity cranked to the nth degree. Acts like Minor Threat, Black Flag and Circle Jerks were its early pillars; forward-thinking stylists like Bad Brains expanded its boundaries.

In the ensuingdecades, hardcore spawned innumerable subsets, like powerviolence, beatdown, youthcrew, and D-beat. It also engendered a network of communities that can act both as nurturing subcultures, and philosophically and creatively arid spaces.

But a cursory look at the contemporary hardcore scene reveals that what was once a rigid, defensive, hyper-masculine subculture — think basketball shorts, beatdowns in the pit and message-board flame wars — is changing rapidly.

Today, hardcore and hardcore-adjacent bands are full of women and people of all racial backgrounds; all gender expressions and walks of life are welcome to rock or just watch. Traditional orthodoxies are crumbling as a slew of fresh acts rewrite what hardcore can be — and sound like.

The ideological purism is becoming more porous; musically, bands are bringing in elements from big-tent indie, synth-rock and 2000s radio hits. Big melodies and big choruses are in. The songs are funny, intelligent and thought-provoking. Hearts are often on sleeves.

Turnstile and Code Orange demonstrate how hardcore has expanded and continues to flourish as an art form for everybody, not just an unbending few. 

And if you love either of those bands, maybe you'll love these too.


Kat Moss' route to punk as personal salvation was like that of innumerable young outcasts in her position: she needed a counterweight to stifling, conservative suburbia. (In her case, the Gold Rush waystop town of Rocklin, California — a half-hour drive from Sacramento.)

"Sacramento was like hick-town suburbia, and I was around people who didn't think like me and didn't get me," she told Revolver. "I felt very alone. I'd dye my hair and play my music loud when I'd drive through the neighborhoods. I just felt so 'f— you' about everything."

Once she met her future bandmates in Scowl — guitarist Malachi Greene, bassist Bailey Lupo and drummer Cole Gilbert — she found an outlet for that displaced rage and alienation: a bracing scream that slices you up, backed by thunderous hardcore.

Still, she approached this mode of self-expression on her own terms, embracing a subversion of stereotypical femininity as a visual aesthetic, from onstage bouquets to floral dresses and album art.

Musically, the Santa Cruz-based Scowl were combustible from their earliest demo, released back in 2019. But their 2021 debut LP, How Flowers Grow, is where their artistry took, er, bloom: where their earliest work was an invitation to a knife fight, Scowl now sounds like they're compelling you to dig your own grave.

But the heaviest, most uncompromising moments (like the eponymous closer — good heavens!) truly land because of the moments of levity. Case in point: "Seeds to Sow," where Moss switches to clean singing over percolating, sax-inflected pop.)

All of this together has made Scowl fans out of Post Malone and Fred Durst; the latter picked them as support for Limp Bizkit.

Soul Blind

If you're looking for a list of carbon copies of Minor Threat and the like, look elsewhere. Because hook-filled, genre-blurring, slickly-produced bands like Soul Blind are bellwethers as to where the music at large is going.

In this case, the blend is of hardcore-adjacency with post-grunge and post-hardcore — imbued with a mesmeric twist of shoegaze like Swervedriver and Hum. 

Hailing from New York's Hudson Valley, mononymous bassist/vocalist Cen, guitarists Finn Lovell and Justin Sarica earned their bona fides — their last strictly hardcore project being God of Wine.

When they added Juan Espinosa (later replaced by Steve Hurley) to the mix, they headed in a much more melodic and radio-friendly direction, without sacrificing an iota of intensity.

"Bands like Failure, Hum, Sunny Day Real Estate, My Bloody Valentine, and Deftones all influence our sound," Cen explained to No Echo. "We wanted to make music that captured the sound of our youth while adding our own modern touch to it."

Soul Blind released their latest LP, Feel it All Around, this fall — and it uncannily sounds like 2002 and 2022. Mainstream emo rubs against visceral post-hardcore; songs like "Seventh Hell," "Stuck in a Loop" and "System (Failing)" simultaneously bruise and uplift.

Drug Church

A comic book writer and podcaster when not "singing" in Self Defense Family and Drug Church, Patrick Kindlon is one of the most irascible and compelling voices in alternative music.

Whether he's articulating his individual-over-collective philosophy on the page, ranting about the confused state of comics in his newsletter, or offering fact-damaged celebrity journalism on the podcast "Worst Possible Timeline," his perspective hooks you; you can listen to the guy talk for hours.

While the mellower, rangier Self Defense Family's last album, 2018's Have You Considered Punk Music, showed Kindlon exploring his relationship to craft and creation, Drug Church's latest is a blow to the jaw.

Building on Cheer — their slickly produced and highly memorable third album from that year —  Hygiene is a masterclass in dynamics; its performances and arrangements deftly push and pull the listener.

Granted, Kindlon doesn't write the music: guitarists Nick Cogan and Cory Galusha, bassist Patrick Nguyen and drummer Chris Villeneuve do. But as the mouthpiece, Kindlon is impossible to ignore.

In "Super Saturated," he castigates those who spend "Nights spent inside/ Gifted with endless foresight"; in "Million Miles of Fun," he's at wit's end with the news cycle. But following that tune is arguably the band's key song, and monument to humanity first: "Detective Lieutenant."

With an economy of language, Kindlon lays out the supremacy of pure artistic feeling: "If I do a double murder/ What this song did for you doesn't change an iota." When the chorus detonates, it amounts to a death-blow for those quick to cancel, unperson and vilify: "We don't toss away what we love/ I won't toss away what I love."

Militarie Gun

The most hardworking man in punk business is right in Drug Church's orbit: Ian Shelton has played in Self Defense Family, and co-hosted a cheeky hustle-and-grind podcast with Kindlon called "I Don't Care If This Ruins My Life."

Shelton established himself as the drummer and screamer in the grind-y punk band Regional Justice Center; when he got vocal about the band's conceptual roots in the prison system and his then-incarcerated brother, he found himself widely misunderstood — to his chagrin.

"People say I sing about the prison system. It's not even true!" he told in 2021 while hoofing it to an L.A. recording studio. "What I've done with my space in the press is that I've talked about it."

In interviews, Shelton may readily reference Securus Technologies and JPay, both for-profit prison firms that have had a deleterious effect on his family life. But the music he makes strikes a subtler, more personal note.

In both Regional Justice Center and his slightly more melodic, pop-centric band, Militarie Gun, Shelton grouses and howls about day-to-day anxieties and his Robert Pollard-like compulsion to continually create. (He's just over 30, but his Discogs page is getting frightening.)

While his Militarie Gun bandmates — guitarists Nick Cogan (also of Drug Church) and William Acuña, bassist Max Epstein, and drummer Vince Nyugen — weave jagged, colorful lines behind him, Shelton is gruff and immediate.

At a recent, sold-out gig at St. Vitus in Brooklyn, with fellow hardcore-adjacent acts Sugar Milk, Dazy, and MSPAINT, Shelton howled the chorus to "Don't Pick Up the Phone": "I want money/ I want love!" Suffice to say, bodies flew.


Are MSPAINT hardcore? Are they dance-punk? Are they post-punk? They're none of it and all of it.

Along with Taylor Young of Twitching Tongues and God's Hate, Shelton co-produced their 2022 single "Acid" — the perfect entryway to these intriguing purveyors of synth-inflected heaviness. The ambiguous opening keyboard lines offer few clues of what's about to hit. Then it hits.

"We're beyond peace at this point/ It's just another ploy/ A marketing scheme tranquil and enjoyed/ By a network of demons yelling at the sky," singer Deedee howls, as the synths continue to churn, underpinning their slamming, declamatory punk.

Named after the infamous freeware, the Hattiesburg, Mississippi quartet of Deedee, synthesist Nick, bassist Randy, and drummer Quinn is relatively new on the scene; their self-titled EP dropped the week the pandemic hit.

But given the startling freshness of their young discography, it's tantalizing to wonder where they could go from here. Because this particular permutation of hardcore — one that meets electronic textures and block-rocking beats — has never been done quite this way.


Initially called Buggin' Out before being compelled to change their name due to trademark infringement, Buggin is an excellent next stop if MSPAINT's Beastie Boys-style inflections are your thing.

Back when they were named after Giancarlo Espocito's character in Do the Right Thing, the Windy City hardcore crew slugged out an excellent self-titled debut EP, with plenty of '90s-style bounce and face-peeling performances from vocalist Bryanna Bennett.

The renamed band returned in 2021 with the heart-racing and profoundly fun Brainfreeze, a two-song single bundling the title track with a cover of the Beasties' Check Your Head cut "Gratitude" — previously interpreted by Rollins Band, the Transplants and Refused.

Buggin plans to release their debut album next year; in a 2022 interview with CVLT Nation, Bennett took their ever-swelling buzz in stride.

"For me, it's still crazy how much people like us all over," Bennett marveled. "In my mind, I'm just some guy that was tryna have fun with the homies and diversify our local scene." Sometimes, that's all it takes to breathe new life into a form of expression.

End It

Ah, the old heavy-music go-to — a sample of a quaint tune of yesteryear that melts and slows, before the band crashes in and steamrolls it.

In this case, poor Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" is summarily shattered by End It in their track "BCHC" — or "Baltimore City Hate Crew." 

"What's shaking, you f—ing chumps?" exhorts frontman Akil Godsey in the galloping 58-second opener to their 2022 EP Unpleasant Living. "You don't like us, and we don't like you/ Use your 24 to mind your f—ing business, and I'll mind mine, b—!"

From there, End It turn in some ferocious, dyed-in-the-wool hardcore, aided and abetted by another hardcore-crossover lynchpin: Justice Tripp from Trapped Under Ice and Angel Du$t. He appears on the class-struggle batterer "New Wage Slavery"; in the video, Godsey plays Omar from "The Wire."

Thanks to the deft writing of guitarists Johnny McMillion and Ray Lee, bassist Pat Martin, and drummer Chris Gonzalez, Unpleasant Living relays a coherent, cohesive statement in all of eight minutes.

After the acerbic scene commentary of "Hatekeeper," the Baltimore crew goes for the throat with crushing closer "The Comeback." You won't want End It to end it.


Representing the burgeoning hardcore scene Down Under are Speed, who dropped their latest EP, Gang Called Speed, last June. And the lead single, "Not That Nice," unflinchingly addresses one of the most reprehensible blights on society in recent memory.

"We wrote 'Not That Nice' in reaction to the Asian hate crimes born from the pandemic. The sad stories of innocent, good civilians falling victim to racial violence," vocalist Jem explained in a press release

"I found myself thinking, 'This is someone's grandma, grandpa, mum, dad, child…' Unfortunately, much of this stems from the often perverted portrayal of Asian stereotypes in the media," he added. "To the scared and uneducated few, the sad reality is that this rhetoric translates to oppression and real-world violence."

Coming from Speed — three of its five members are of Southeast Asian descent — "Not That Nice" lands with brute impact. "We're breaking through/ Set fire to a f—ed up truth," Jem snarls in the tough-as-nails video: "Bite my tongue? They're racist/ My story ain't told by fools."

Clearly, "Not That Nice" and the other tracks landed: their set at Sound and Fury Festival in Los Angeles the following summer went so hard, the footage of the gonzo, seemingly bone-snapping pit went viral.

When the Instagram account @viralclipz posted it with the caption "Who's going to this concert lol," none other than Shaquille O'Neal responded "me."


If you connect with the sound of Drug Church's Cheer and Hygiene, partly thank Jon Markson; he produced and engineered both albums. Also in his swelling portfolio is New York punks Regulate's 2022 self-titled album — their first in four years and a signal of swelling evolution.

That's partly because — much like the acclaimed Turnstile — vocalist Sebastian Paba reaches for influences far outside the scope of hardcore.

Listing the influences on the record for Brooklyn Vegan, Paba cited artists as divergent as James Brown ("a template for performers on stage and in the studio"), Bloc Party (calling Silent Alarm "a perfect record that builds drama and anticipation"), and Santana (praising their self-titled debut's "undeniable groove and swag.")

Paba's evocation of Santana is telling, as Regulate incorporates Latin sounds in innovative ways — as on "Ugata," which toggles from a diaphanous daydream to twisted riffage.

Identity-related themes pop up in the lyrics as well: "Hair" faces down racialized beauty standards, "C.O.P." reflects the age of reckoning with racist police killings, and "New York Hates You" positions the city in opposition to vampiric gentrifiers.

"This place will chew you up/ This place will spit you out," Yaba threatens. "Time to go home now/ We won't see you around." The NYHC kings have spoken.


When it comes to hardcore's positive developments regarding unorthodoxy, adventurousness and inclusion, is there a band that ticks as many boxes as Zulu?

Hailing from Los Angeles, the all-Black powerviolence band — vocalist Anaiah Lei, guitarists Dez Yusuf and Braxton Marcellous, bassist Satchel Brown, and drummer Christine Cadette — deals heavily in themes of Black identity; when it comes to genre distinctions, they maintain an omnivorous muse.

"A lot of the influence comes from soul, and it comes from R&B, and it comes from reggae, and it comes from funk and jazz," Lei told Kerrang in 2022 of their two EPs, Our Day Will Come and My People… Hold On. "Somehow, it worked out really well." (Their next album, A New Tomorrow, due in 2023, promises to continue in that vein.)

As Lei went on to explain, this often manifests in interstitial samples that provide dynamism and contrast — both on record and in their live show. The opening track on My People… Hold On — which features the cover of a weeping Black mother and child — is a recitation of a poem by Alesia Miller.

"When I cry over the limitations put on my humanity, when I am scared of what age my nephew will be perceived as a threat, when I desire to be held and handled with fragility,"  Miller declares in the poem, "it only translates as bitterness to the ears that hear me."

When Zulu then barrels in with "Now They Are Through With Me," the effect isn't of one-size-fits-all, one-dimensional rage, but of a riveting spectrum of feeling.

"They got me caught from every angle/ Not just the white, blue and red/ It's my own blood and flesh," Lei screams. That viscera is unforgettable to behold.

Drill Music Is On The Rise Around The World. Can Latin Drill Take Over Next?

Jami Morgan of Code Orange in performance
Jami Morgan of Code Orange

Photo courtesy of Code Orange


As Code Orange Wraps Up Tour With Korn, They Look Ahead To Headlining Stages & Making New Music: "We Really Want To Take A Big Swing"

The Pittsburgh hardcore executioners are finishing up a tour with Korn and gearing up for a headlining run. Code Orange recently unleashed a new single, "Out for Blood," and bandleader Jami Morgan has some intel on upcoming music.

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2022 - 08:09 pm

Code Orange's new song "Out for Blood" is nothing if not a blunt instrument. By fusing the most immediate parts of 2000s radio-friendly metal — and pairing it with a viscera-spattered video — it pushed the beloved hardcore band further into the airwaves than ever before. But Code Orange has a fascinating and complex essence that goes past mere riff-mongering.

"We don't subscribe to the idea that you're either a punk-metal band or a 'smart metal' band or a 'dumb, push-people, Monster Energy' band," vocalist and drummer Jami Morgan tells He goes on to remember the old days as Code Orange Kids, where they threw down everywhere from airless punk-squat living rooms to meathead fests and crepuscular harsh-noise covens.

"That's hopefully our imprint on heavy music — to take different pieces from different scenes, because we've been part of all of them," Morgan continues. "We've done it all and we are it all."

This hydra-like multifariousness is what enabled the Pittsburgh hardcore band to make Underneath, arguably their most realized album to date. Commensurately experimental and brutal, the album garnered near-universal critical acclaim and a nomination for Best Metal Performance ("Underneath") at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards. (Three years prior, they'd been nominated in the same category for "Forever.")

So what do Morgan, guitarists Dominic Landolina and Reba Meyers, keyboardist Eric "Shade" Balderose, and bassist Joe Goldman get to do when they've existed in so many spheres? They can become the most arcane space-rock band in the world if they want. Or, they can write shameless bangers like "Out for Blood" and tour with Korn — which they're wrapping up now. 

At the tail-end of those dates and on the cusp of a North America headlining tour kicking off April 3, Morgan caught up with to discuss Code Orange's roots, stylistic philosophy and road ahead — which includes new music in the not-too-distant future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In these final dates with Korn and your upcoming headline tour, what do fans have to look forward to? 

In terms of supporting Korn, if you're a fan of the band, you're going to see the biggest version of us in a setting that's different than they're used to. We're getting to play a record we worked really, really hard on that wasn't able to get the roadwork that it deserved over the course of the pandemic.

In terms of our headline tour, we're hoping to be able to bring the fullest version of Code Orange there's been so far. We haven't done a headline tour in four years at this point, and we're bringing a visual element to it. A lot of what we do is visual — if you follow the band, you know that. Hopefully, the more we're able to step it up, the more we can show that. 

Was Korn part of your heavy-music immersion growing up? 

I wouldn't say they were necessarily part of our initial heavy-music experience, because we come more from of a hardcore and punk background. That's where we learned about heavy music, and that's where we learned about metal — through punk and hardcore. 

But as we've gone on — obviously, Korn has always been everywhere. Korn was actually, technically, the first concert I ever went to. I went to a concert when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It was Linkin Park and Korn and Snoop Dogg.

I think they're inspiring in their longevity and in their push forward. They definitely try to keep it creative, and they keep it moving. They don't sit there and wait five years in between records. They keep pushing. When you look at Korn, you've got to understand there's not many heavy bands left that can draw in the way Korn does. It's kind of an anomaly, you know?

So, I've got nothing but respect for them. They influenced many of the things that influenced us.

Who were the bands that got you going early on?

We got into this really young. I booked my first show when I was about 14 years old. We've technically been a band — in different incarnations, but with the same four people — since we were 14.

My parents are pretty young, so when I was a little kid, I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and rock. Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy, but my dad was also into Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains. Your basic ABCs of punk and hardcore. It kind of sprung off from there and we fell down the metal rabbit hole. 

We don't subscribe to the idea that you're either a punk-metal band or a "smart metal" band or a "dumb, push-people, Monster Energy" band. We take pieces from all that stuff. We can go as experimental as anybody and push people on the ground as well! That's hopefully our imprint on heavy music — to take different pieces from different scenes, because we've been part of all of them. 

We've paid as many dues to the hardcore scene as you can, but before that, we were playing roll-on-the-ground punk shows where the singer was naked and all the bulls***. We've played the experimental noise dungeon. We've played the push-someone-on-the-ground festival. We've done it all and we are it all.

Did you guys ever play to an audience of zero early on?

Yeah. We've probably played more shows to an audience of zero than anyone. We toured the U.S. 10 times before we were in a magazine or coming out of anybody's mouth that wasn't under the level. 

That's helped us a lot, honestly. That helped us win fans. I find it tough to grow when there's so many bands and artists. Everyone gets attention, but it feels so spread out, especially in heavy music. There's not a linear path like there's been in previous years of heavy music, I would say. 

That has taught us a lot. We've played in many basements; we've slept on many floors; we slept on the same floors we played on, right after. We've done it all.

At what point did you feel Code Orange became a unique entity and not just the sum of your influences?

I think we've always had a sense of ourselves. That sense has developed over the years. To me, I can chart it aesthetically. At one point, when we were young, the band was on a certain aesthetic path and kind of came to the end of that path. We had the fortitude to reboot that a couple of records ago because we wanted to go in a different way that would pay off long-term.

I think [2020's Underneath] is definitely a record that you can't say sounds like anybody. You can say that sections and parts sound like certain influences, but I don't think there's a record that sounds like Underneath. It's the most encompassing of that vision. Where do we go from here? We'll see.

Can you drop any hints about the music you're currently working on?

We've been working hard on it. We have many, many more songs than we've ever had. Normally, we'd kind of plot them out for ebbs and flows. But for me, I'm a heavy music fan, but I'm also a big hip-hop fan. I love electronic music. I love rock. Everything

I get bored going on that same ride. I love metal, but it's hard to sit through these albums all the way through. It can be painful at times. So, the way we try to plot these things out is like a rollercoaster. Up and down. "OK, what are our downs going to be? How do we bring the adrenaline back? How do we [stick] the landing?" 

So far, stylistically it's a big departure from anything we've done so far. But that's why we keep working on it. We want to get it right. We really want to take a big swing on it.

I've found that most heavy musicians listen to far more than just heavy music — or sometimes no heavy music at all. What are your listening habits like?

I just get into specific things really hard. Our guitarist, Dom, is an insane metal encyclopedia. He's unreal. Joe, our bass player, is a huge metal/hardcore guy. Shade, our keyboardist, doesn't really listen to it, but he does understand what makes it tick. Reba's really into alternative music and rock. So, we're able to pick these different things. 

While I don't always sit around listening to metal all day long, I understand what I think makes it great. My goal is to try to suck the best moments out of it, the fun moments, and make that as many of our moments as possible. Hardcore is always the pit, the mosh part, but you can use that philosophy for whatever. 

So, we try to make the songs fun in that regard while hopefully being interesting. We are a rock, metal, hardcore band at the end of the day, and everything else is things we're pulling in. You're not going to hear a record from us that doesn't have a heavy element, but if you've been following our stuff, you know we like to mix it up.

To drill a little deeper, what are you listening to this week?

Let me look. I opened up Spotify. I was listening to that new song by the Game that Kanye produced called "Eazy." That's a killer song. I'm listening to Drakeo the Ruler.

I'm listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails — they're my favorite band of all time. It's constant. I try to get away from it, to escape it, but I just can't. They're my favorite band because it mixes a lot of elements we're talking about. It doesn't lean on the metal side, but it's just heavy. For the most part, the music I want to make is dark. I'm into the dark arts! Aesthetically, musically, that's what I like.

George [Clarke] from Deafheaven has that new group, Alto Arc. I've been listening to them. I've got a song from that. I thought that was absolutely awesome.

Read More: George Clarke On Deafheaven's New Album Infinite Granite, Finding His Voice & Breaking Out Of Underground Memeification

As a relative outsider looking in, I feel like we're in a really fertile period for hardcore. But as someone who's been truly in it for many years: what's the deal? Are we in a boom or bust period? 

I think it doesn't really work that way, because most of what's good about it — 95 percent of the bands that are good — is because of that environment. And if it grows beyond that environment, it doesn't work. And it shouldn't work, and it's not supposed to work. It's like taking a character out of a movie and putting it in another one. 

There are a small amount of bands that are built in a different way. You can already see Turnstile or Power Trip — rest in peace to Riley — there have been and are bands, and I believe we're a band like that, that can exist and appeal outside of that because of the type of thing they do.

Read More: Brendan Yates On Turnstile's Vibrant New Album GLOW ON: "The Goal Was To Breathe As Much Imagination Into These Songs As Possible"

That's the type of thing we've always done. We've never went from being a straightforward hardcore band. We started really f***ing weird and we're still really f***ing weird in different ways. There have to be elements of your sound and vibe that reach out from those things. And sometimes, when the ball gets rolling — like maybe what you're describing — it forces other bands out of that box as well.

And that doesn't make sense. To me. It's best in that environment. So, in terms of a boom period in quality, I'm sure: there seems to be a ton of amazing bands, and people are going, and it's exciting.

In terms of bands that are cutting through that cloth, we'll have to see. But I definitely feel like Turnstile is built differently than whatever other band you do like, and is killing in that environment.

But for me, I can already see where it starts and ends. That's what hardcore is, and there's nothing wrong with that. And for most people in hardcore, that's exactly what they want. They don't want things to grow outside of that bubble, because it would literally make it not hardcore.

There's a lot of good stuff, it seems like, and there's always been a lot of good stuff. But we'll have to see what direction bands go. I don't know if a lot of hardcore bands' goal is to take risks. I think their goal is just to be in the hardcore scene and have a blast and play hardcore.

That's not really our goal, and never really has been our goal. We've been screaming that from the rooftops since day one.

Patrick Kindlon Can Be A Controversial Figure In Underground Guitar Music. What Does That Say About Underground Guitar Music?


Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for MRC


2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Rock

It isn't just not dead; it's thriving. In 2021, rock became less male, less straight, more genre-fluid and further enshrined modern-day elders — all with a healthy reverence for the past

GRAMMYs/Dec 29, 2021 - 10:37 pm

By the looks of the 2022 GRAMMY nominations, rock in 2021 was about looking backward.

There's some credence to this idea: AC/DCFoo FightersPaul McCartney, Wolfgang Van Halen, WeezerKings of Leon and the late Chris Cornell had banner years. Even Black Pumas' twice-nominated Capitol Cuts was something of another permutation of their 2019 self-titled debut — to say nothing of their retro-soul sound. But the real story is more complicated than that.

Beneath the stratum of these legacy acts (and, in Black Pumas' case, an up-and-comer), rock expanded in a multitude of directions. For one, the idea of it being a straight, white male's game was put to pasture: women singer/songwriters from Olivia Rodrigo to Lucy Dacus — as well as a host of acclaimed LGBTQ+ artists — took the wheel.

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And when it comes to the sound of rock in 2021, things got more exciting than inclusion alone. Just beneath the mainstream and big-box indie, Turnstile blended floor-punching hardcore with wavy R&B and electronic textures, thanks in part to forward-thinking guest Dev Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange. Hardcore-adjacent bands like Fiddlehead and Militarie Gun wove the angular indie and emo of the '90s into their strongest songs to date.

Certainly, some cultural currents from prior years washed into 2021's rock sphere — namely, classic rock proving as sturdy as ever, pop-punk and emo riding high and Foo Fighters saturating all media. But here are a few other happenings more-or-less squarely in the province of 2021.

Women Stepped Forward

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Female talent was uncontainable in 2021 indie and rock: Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Bachelor, Courtney Barnett and Pom Pom Squad all had strong showings.

Most importantly, their perspectives were front and center. And while Olivia Rodrigo's Sour was saturated in heterosexual breakup woes, women wrote songs about everything this year, from grief to joy to sobriety to solitude.

If the Bechdel test — which ascertains whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man — applied to guitar-based music, 2021 would pass with flying colors.

Representation Expanded Beyond Gender

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Two-thirds of rising pop-punk trio Meet Me @ The Altar — who released their Fueled By Ramen debut, an EP titled Model Citizen, in August — identify as LGBTQ+, but that's hardly where queer representation in 2021 rock ended. 

Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan, who is openly gay, put out her acclaimed album ValentineSt. Vincent's Annie Clark, who once said "I don't really identify as anything," released Daddy's Home to widespread praise. 

And Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner, who is bisexual, had a massive year with her new album, Jubilee — which contained the hit single "Be Sweet" — and bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart

Plus, the half-Asian, half-Latinx, all-female band the Linda Lindas (of "Racist Sexist Boy" fame) signed to Epitaph Records in 2021 — which bodes well for a women-first 2022 in punk.

The Old Became New

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On Glow On, Turnstile interpolated Sly and the Family Stone lyrics and their aforementioned punk peers whipped up a noise akin to Unwound or Sunny Day Real Estate. But those and other bands didn't just dig around in music's past; they made sounds from the past new again.

Across the pond, English duo Royal Blood's Typhoons brought back a bass-and-drums stomp reminiscent of the White Stripes or Death From Above 1979, reminding listeners the world over that rock is rightfully dance music.

They're not the only ones mining the past to new ends — a tidal wave of nervy bands in the U.K., like Squid, Dry Cleaning and Fontaines D.C., are recalling the sounds of post-punkers like Wire and the Fall.

Plus, Olivia Rodrigo's interpolation of Paramore's "Misery Business" into megahit "Good 4 U" showed the new guard is bringing back Myspace-era emo. (Machine Gun Kelly did a lot to weave that connection, as evidenced with his successful 2020 album Tickets To My Downfall.)

Then, there's Måneskin's summoning of Bowie and Queen signifiers — but that's a whole other story.

International Sounds Resonated

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Måneskin's ascent in 2021 seemed to come out of nowhere.

Led by conspicuously codpieced singer Damiano David, the Italian rock band managed to lodge Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' 1967 hit "Beggin'" into youngsters' imaginations via a big win at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest and, eventually, TikTok virality. This year, they dropped their second album, Teatro d'ira: Vol. I, to critical applause.

And the year-end critics' polls featured another geographic outlier: Nigerian guitarist Mdou Moctar's new album Afrique Victime burned an indelible impression of Tuareg desert-blues into rock fans' consciousnesses.

Genres Became Elastic

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Weezer tested the boundaries of their tried-and-true power-pop on 2021's OK Human, and it paid off — especially on the single "All My Favorite Songs," which swapped buzzsaw guitars for chamber orchestration.

There's also a separate discussion to be had about how emo — originally a rock subgenre — has come to subsume almost everything from hip-hop to pop to trap, from Juice WRLD to The Kid Laroi and beyond. (Pop-punk, its sister style, turns up in K-pop bands like ENHYPEN and Tomorrow x Together, too.)

A whole article could be dedicated to Glass Animals' genre fluidity — something they've been known for since their start with 2014's Zaba. But their psychedelic smash, "Heat Waves," launched the UK indie-rock group onto pop radio and beyond.

The track made Glass Animals arguably 2021's biggest rock success and scored them their first hit on the Billboard Hot 100, where it reached No. 7. (Spin its parent album, 2020's Dreamland, and Glass Animals' 2021 single, "I Don't Wanna Talk [I Just Wanna Dance]" for several other permutations of their sound-bending stylings.)

Finally — to bring up Turnstile's Glow On one more time — has a hardcore album ever veered so close to Arthur Russell or PinkPantheress territory without betraying its roots?

Bands Embraced Traditional Song Structures

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Is this exactly a 2021 rock phenomenon? Maybe not, but it arguably reached a new apex this year.

After years of "vibes" in indie rock — from slacker-songwriters like early WAVVES and Best Coast to the noise storms of No Age and Bass Drum of Death — it seems like songs are back in style.

Check out pretty much any of the 2021 offerings cited above — they offer verses, choruses, bridges and/or legible lyrics. Is it possible that while textures and references are an integral part of memorable songs, listeners are demanding a little more meat to the bone?

A Rock Veteran Mentored The Next Gen

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Travis Barker is precipitously becoming far more than Blink-182's drummer. These days, he's nurturing young rock talent left and right.

After high-profile collaborations with Post Malone and Machine Gun Kelly in 2020, he partly spent 2021 mentoring the 24-year-old rocker KennyHoopla (the pair collaborated on SURVIVOR'S GUILT: THE MIXTAPE) and helping Willow Smith transition from alt-R&B to pop-punk by featuring on three cuts from her album lately i feel EVERYTHING.

In addition, he hopped on tracks with MOD SUN and grandson, and furthered the emo rap craze with features on songs from blackbear, Trippie Redd, Sueco, LILHUDDY, and Jack Kays, among others.

The rock veteran also helped a fellow longtime punk star begin a new chapter, too: Barker signed Avril Lavigne to his label, DTA Records, in November, also featuring on her first single on the imprint, "Bite Me."

These Rock Heroes Saturated Everything

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Even after decades of making influential rock music with Nirvana and Foo Fighters, how does one encapsulate the year that Dave Grohl had?

Grohl was just about everywhere this year. Not only did Foo Fighters release their 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight; they performed at Biden's inauguration, entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the first-ever global icon award at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. (Plus: a bestselling memoir, an upcoming horror-comedy… the list goes on.)

If it's possible to ascertain a future classic rock artist, Grohl is probably your safest bet. And even if Foo Fighters want to take it easy after such a whirlwind year, the irrepressibly enthusiastic hitmaker clearly isn't going anywhere in this decade.

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