It’s been a phenomenal year for boundary-pushing players. However you choose to define the (purposefully quite undefinable) 'alternative' guitarist, the sheer diversity on offer from this year’s list is inspirational in itself – further evidence of just how much life is left in the world’s most popular instrument...
1. Winner, Best Alternative Guitarist 2021: Mdou Moctar
The mighty Mdou Moctar is joint winner of this year’s poll and it’s easy to understand why. 2021’s Afrique Victime is a record that is packed full of life, wild playing and masterful melodic lead lines that seem to endlessly cascade upon each other. The seven-minute title track is essential listening and at the peak of its solo section, contains some of the most astonishing, expressive playing we’ve heard not just this year, but ever. Pain, anger, hope, confusion, love – it’s all in there.
As Moctar told us back in May: “Really it's a solo where my intention is for the guitar to be spitting out the sound of revolution.” Mission accomplished.
2. Dustin Kensrue, Teppei Teranishi (Thrice)
Thrice have long fought an uphill battle to shake the trappings of the early-00s scene that broke them. Horizons / East draws an unmissable line in the sand – spinning metal, post-hardcore, punk and progressive elements into a probing, new form – a new kind of monster.
3. Stuart Braithwaite, Barry Burns (Mogwai)
It’s fitting that Scotland’s dons of dynamics have had a career that seems to be filled with as many thrilling and unpredictable peaks as their musical output. 2021’s As The Love Continues sees Braithwaite and Burns set out from the same base camp, but exploring crisp, bit-crunched machine-like tones amid airy arrangements. A ‘very 2021’ melding of the machine and nature.
4. Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice)
Following their Mercury Prize winning Visions Of A Life, Wolf Alice’s 2021 album Blue Weekend is the sound of them confidently donning the mantle of the UK’s leading rock band. Oddie and Roswells steer an album that beautifully careens between folk guitar and grunge riots, heavenly harmony and half-cut sing alongs.
5. Amy Love (Nova Twins)
Nova Twins showed no signs of going quiet in 2021. Listen to new single Antogonist you’ll hear the next step in the evolution of their blend of grime’s energy and ear for a sample, with metal’s spike and spittle. Few can stomp that joyful line between rave and rage as convincingly as Love.
6. Kerry McCoy, Shiv Mehra (Deafheaven)
Deafheaven had almost become shorthand for a sound, such was their success in popularising an expansive, shoe gazing take on metal. On 2021’s Infinite Granite, McCoy and Mehra have cleaned-up, shaking the darker influences in favour of something fresh and invigorating – more Ride than Ride The Lightning.
7. Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney)
For this year’s Path Of Wellness, the indie icons found fresh inspiration in the harrowing events of 2020. Brownstein and Tucker have widened the palette, pulling in elements of sugar-y glam tones and country, not to mention the occasional excoriating hard rock guitar solo, as on Tomorrow’s Grave.
8. Harrison Whitford
Whitford’s day job as a guitarist to friend Phoebe Bridgers has left him a little squeezed for time on his solo material. 2020’s enforced break gave him a window to produce Afraid Of Nothing, a gorgeous collection of acoustic, slide work and shivering vocals.
9. Mark Bowen, Lee Kiernan (Idles)
Idles have never exactly held back, but 2021’s Crawler is a gloves-off self-examination, mostly documenting frontman Joe Talbot’s recovery from addiction. Bowen and Kiernan have stepped up with playing that still feels brutal, but this time we also hear the bruised and tender aftermath.
10. Geordie Greep (Black Midi)
It’s a testament to their skill, that even by album number 2, scientists are still trying to define exactly what the hell Black Midi are. On Cavalcade, Greep’s playing spans a mind-boggling expanse – from jazz, to spiky fuzz, classical acoustic through to post-punk noise experiments.