Best of 2011: Sloane's picksSloane's picks (2011) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: JeloneSloaneDaley (others by this writer | submit your own) Sloane is a staff reviewer. - ed.
Cherchez Le Sloane or Forever Got Shorter
Face front, True Believers! This is your faithful watcher, Sloane Daley, and I will be your vainglorious guide on this journey into the depths of the most notoriously notable musical machinations in the eleventh .
Sloane is a staff reviewer. - ed.
Cherchez Le Sloane or Forever Got Shorter
Face front, True Believers! This is your faithful watcher, Sloane Daley, and I will be your vainglorious guide on this journey into the depths of the most notoriously notable musical machinations in the eleventh year since the terrifyingly tumultuous cross-over event known as Y2K. Unlike the excellent efforts of Another Publication, this will be an objectionably objective affair whose agile aversion to personal opinion will offend olfactory senses with the stench of its sensibilities. So strap yourselves in for another spine-tingling, bone-chilling affair that only Punknews.org can bring!
The brief nature of hardcore often makes it seem difficult for bands to recapture the magic of their singles in the LP form but Deep Sleep's Turn Me Off is every bit as satisfying as their initial short form releases. There seems to be more conscious nods to an early '80s Orange County/Oxnard sound, finding new ways to incorporate melody into their fierce and frantic hardcore punk for something not entirely new but special never the less. I couldn't think of a better way to spent 13 minutes.
The Barreracudas: Nocturnal Missions
Despite their awful name and the ridiculous album art, the Barreracudas' Nocturnal Missions is one of the best power pop full-lengths to hit speakers in quite some time. Nocturnal Missions takes elements from the New York Dolls' '70s glam, the Hellacopters' larger-than-life hard rock and the pop sensibility of Joe Jackson and Nikki and the Corvettes, to tell infectious tales of late night backseat misadventures. The guitars sneer and the keys pound but the vocal melodies and hooks make you smile the entire time.
Crusades: The Sun Is Down And The Night Is Riding In
More often than not, when a pop-punk band tries to imbue their music with a darker tone it comes off as schlocky or cartoony (see: Alkaline Trio, Misfits wannabes, etc.). However, Ottawa's Crusades have crafted The Sun Is Down And The Night Is Riding In in such a way that no other descriptor except "dark" would be accurate. Anyone familiar with other acts the members have spent time in, such as the Creeps or Year Zero, it should be no surprise that at their core these are catchy and driving punk songs. However, the truly creepy sound clips, the disembodied shoegaze of "Serpentine" and the metal edge of a song like "Remedy" (think Planes Mistaken For Stars) tie the lyrics of religion, fath and lack thereof in such a unexpectedly complete way. A truly unique gem.
Shotgun Jimmie's third LP, Transistor Sister, finds him continuing his Sebadoh-by-way-of-Neil Young guitar pop just a little more polished and much more self-assured. Yet, there is enough vulnerability and and simplicity that Transisor Sister allows you to dance like no one is watching but any eyes that may fall upon the proceedings would be instantly invited in. The simplicity here is deceptive because on the surface the album doesn't come off as particularly clever but there is a lot of ingenious subtle turns. "Suzy" for instance, sounds like it is a straight up Cars ripoff but when you listen to the lyrics of confused teenage lovers, you recognize that the nostalgia of the narrative is probably recalling a time when confused teenage lovers really did listen to the Cars instead of Brokencyde or whatever. Also there is whistling on this record which makes it essential.
A lot of reviews I've read call Joyce Manor's debut a pop-punk record and compare them to Jawbreaker and I'm not going to say they are wrong, but they are wrong. The quickly changing rhythms, the bass-centric compositions, simultaneously abrasive and jangly guitars and the warbley crooned vocals recall '90s alterna and indie rock more than pop-punk. In fact, I initially wrote Joyce Manor off because it reminded me of something fellow Californians Shinobu might write if they had less varied songwriting. That was a bit unfair of me but it just reinforces the fact that any immediate jump to calling them a pop-punk band seems a bit silly. At the end of the day songs like "Famous Friend" and "Constant Headache" are such lovingly awkward and memorable songs that comparisons to genre or artist don't seem to matter much.
As I said in my review of the album not that long ago, Worthless finally finds Weekend Nachos stepping out of their often dizzying and samey power violence-esque model to make a record that is simply a hardcore album and find success in ways they haven't before. While it is "just" a hardcore album there are a lot of smaller subgenre influences thrown in to give it a lot of depth while one is getting their mosh on. Worthless is thoroughly pissed off, it lashes out against the willfully ignorant and the haters of this world and makes you realize how good it can feel to be angry some of the time.
This may not be the best punk album of the year but one thing is for sure: It is hell of crisp. While these Oklahoma boys have often garnered comparisons to forebears Hot Water Music, I think that is simply due to both taking some similar influences, there is some '90s emocore, some classic hard rock and beefy East Bay pop-punk, the difference lies in what Red City Radio do with those influences. Some bands write songs, some bands puke in broken televisions and some bands create anthems and while I can't say with 100 percent certainty that the members of RCR don't do the former two things, they most definitely do the third on The Dangers Of Standing Still. Songs like "Too Much Whiskey, Not Enough Blankets" and "50th and Western" just pop right out of your speakers like a mixture of pop rocks and a can of soda. One might even say Red City Radio is urban legendary.
I know it isn't exactly cool to talk about musicianship when referring to punk rock but I'll be hot diggity damned if Night Birds' The Other Side of Darkness doesn't feature some of the finest geeter, low end and skins this year. The surf-influenced hardcore punk is brief but haunting, like a sexual encounter with me, but far more enjoyable. You get the feeling that at any moment this train could fall off the rails but it is just so frenzied it just might keep going with the wagons busting out a chaotic circle pit. Trains woman, trains.
I consider myself a pretty lyric-centric listener, so the very fact that the words on Tan Bajo aren't in a language I can understand and it still ends up being one of the better rock records I've heard this year is a testament to how truly fantastic it sounds. Some old burnout might say rock 'n' roll is a language of its own and they might find me on the rare occasion I'd be inclined to agree. Then again, what sort of salty wiener listens to the Sonics or Stooges primarily for the lyrics? You don't; you listen to the riffs, the melodies and energy behind the songs. In that way Tan Bajo wins on every front, a few seconds into "Yo Seria Otro" I feel primed to strip off my clothes and have a naked sweaty dance party but last time I did that I was asked to leave, but that is neither here nor there. Listening to this album you can start to see why parents got so up-in-arms when guitars and distortion went on their first date.
Maritime have spent nearly a decade of time honing their sound through a slow development of hooky pop rock that tries to balance homey and organic with studio experimentation, and I think the band has finally found that perfect balance on Human Hearts. Anyone familiar with their past LPs won't immediately recognize the sharp shift; the catchiness of "Peopling of London" wouldn't be out of place on Hersey and The Hotel Choir, but the delicate layering of sound and pop hookiness of "Air Arizona" shows an almost Pet Shop Boys desire recorded perfection that Maritime has previously only glimpsed.
Bandera: Bandera II
Bandera II brindges the gap between early Revolution Summer post-hardcore and early 2000s screamo. It takes sharp-angled rhythmic turns, and jabs of noise featuring a vocal delivery that alternates between throat shredding shouts and restrained pseudo-spoken word, and every once in awhile the guitars will make room for some melody and sung vocals. This is a delicate give and take that threatens to become tedious if each aspect isn't introduced at the exact appropriate moment but then there it is. That slightly off-kilter feelings permeates the entire record and proves that sometimes uncertainty is a good thing because the payoff is that much more enjoyable.
Trips serves as both a literal return for Samiam and spiritual return of sorts for the band. After five years between this and their last proper LP, Whatever's Got You Down, Samiam has created a generally upbeat collection that is perhaps their most immediate release since You Are Freaking Me Out. Trips continues exploring thoughtful and mature melodic punk in a way that only a band who has been around for 20 years can, but expands upon a foundation of more traditional guitar pop like they never have before. Lyrically the themes of perseverance through life's trials and tribulations might not be complex but they really ring true both for the band and hopefully the listener. Maybe these tricks aren't entirely new but they are more focused and inspired than anyone might expect. This should be everyone's go-to "feel good" album of the year.
Going insane, losing one's mind or becoming a lunatic is often depicted as a quick and precise break from "reality," when frankly it is much more of a slow process that goes undetected by many until it the mind has already been lost for some time. It is lost because the origin point has slipped away; if we knew where the point when things went "wrong" was we'd just go back and reverse engineer the "right." While slow and incremental are not generally the gods that sway hardcore punk, Montreal's Omegas depict losing control on Blasts of Lunacy in manic bursts that rush by like puking coming out of a passing car window. This is clever, streetwise, early NYHC-influenced hardcore punk done at it's finest. The best straight-up hardcore longplayer of the year, ya heard?
And now for something completely different...well not really. The Steve Adamyk Band's sophomore effort Forever Won't Wait is a straighforward collection of power pop/punk. If you want a frame of reference here, there is a great cover of The Dickies' "X-Eyed Tammy." What makes you stop and take notice is how each song is a concise singalong-inducing tribute to how much Steve Adamyk loves the genre. The leads and hooks are simply aces. You can't help but stop what you are doing and pogo to "Landslide" when it comes on with a big smile on your face. Don't believe me? Throw it on and see what happens.
If you thought that this Leave Home was going to sound anything like the Ramones album of the same name you'd be sorrily mistaken. Unlike the Ramones' economical punk songs, Brooklyn's the Men play noise rock with the heart of a hardcore punk band that is at once shambling, psychedelic and breathtaking. The opening track "If You Leave..." is perhaps the best example of the entire album, starting off with various bits of jilting noise creeping in until a wall of feedback hits you layered with some really pretty guitars and minimalist lyrics that build an atmosphere rather than beat you over the head with a concept. There is a certain intangible quality that leads me to believe Leave Home may one day be regarded as a classic in its own right, stepping out of the shadow of its common associate much like the Replacements did with Let It Be.
The mid-western emo revival that sprung up around 2005/2006 has seemed to crawl to a yawn and the problem isn't inherently with the genre at all, it is the fact when there is a concentration of bands mining the sounds of very few predecessors there is bound to be stagnation but there is also room for possibility. That is where Prawn's You Can Just Leave It All comes in, sure there are easy comparisons to be made with American Football's pretty build and release aesthetic but there is also a heavy debt to delay heavy post-rock. Generally, both these influences focus on the instrumental aspect almost exclusively but You Can Just Leave It All makes a concerted effort to craft memorable lyrics and bring in more traditional song structures that refuse to let the album amble into meaninglessness.
It is pretty simple why Tenement's Napalm Dream is such an awesome album, it is a simple pop-punk record. The songs deal with the frustrations of growing up and dying in the mid-west and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere over a sound-scape of poppy melodies coupled with distortion and feedback. What makes this record rare is the fact that the melodic parts could rival that of Bob Mould himself and the band throws a curve ball every once in awhile like the shaker laden "Dreaming Out Loud." Far and away the best pop-punk album of the year.
Watching Fucked Up's progression as a band, one thing is certain: They know exactly what they are doing, even if what they do from release to release doesn't seem to have much in common. Despite contrary remarks by band members and intentional obscurities like pseudonyms and fake managers they are fully self-aware of every project they undertake. Despite not releasing a proper LP well into their life as a band they have managed with David Comes To Life to put out the third in a serious of completely standalone full-lengths that all still manage to work within the overarching context of what they are doing. When the subject of "rock-opera" comes up the chorus of groans and skepticism is fully understandable; I love the music that falls under the spectrum of rock but the highfalutin concepts of an opera bore me to tears. Still, a concept "rock-opera" is what David Comes To Life is, and it is marvelous. Set in a fictional British town detailing the exploits of would-be lovers, this is Fucked Up's big pop masterpiece, a champion of the LP format. While it might be a chore to sit through the album's hour-and-seventeen-minute running time, it deserves not only a single listen but multiple repeated listens to follow the narrative properly, as well as full explore the sheer delight of the music that propels the story. Even if you didn't listen to it all in one sitting and pay that much attention to the story, there are absolutely brilliant moments sprinkled throughout, check the guitar work on "Turn The Season" to see some of the most memorable songwriting you will find this 365.
Much like another album on this list, Kite Party's Baseball Season is a gleeful celebration of the LP format. From beginning top to end the band expands upon the concept of what a "baseball season" entails. All the fleeting expectations, joys, and disappointments of the exploits of a few summer months slowly descending into fall. Baseball Season ends up sounding somewhat like if Titus Andronicus had found twinkly mid-western emo instead of folk records; it is grandiose, in your face and beautiful. Kite Party proves that you can work within a genre but it doesn't have to mean aping the sounds that came before you, you can take those influences and create something new as well that adds to a story.
There seems to be a bit of an unspoken rule amongst pop-punk aficionados that if a band takes influence from any records made after about 1998 they must stink and even anything between when Green Day and the Offspring broke and then is pushing it. Junior Battles' Idle Ages stands as an affront to such ridiculous sensibilities, as it unabashedly relishes in the works of pop-punk in the last 30 years. You get your early Green Day and Jawbreaker but you also get shades of mid-career Alkaline Trio and the Movielife popping up and all of that is ground up so fine Junior Battles create something all their own. These are a bunch of guys who grew up listening to all those records and seeing shows probably everyone from someone's kitchen to large clubs and they aren't ashamed to admit both and you can hear it in every second of "Seventeen" and "Birthdayparties vs. Punkroutine." The lyrics paint a similar picture dealing with how one fits into something that is supposedly based on unity but can seem alienating over minute things like how many chords you play, how you play them and where you choose to play. Take heed all you pop-punkers out there because this is the type of album you should be aspiring to make or, better yet, make something better than. My stupid words don't do it nearly enough justice.
Top 20 Singles/EPs
Ascetic Parade / Beat Noir: Split Extended Play [7-inch]
Each side of this split shows a heavy debt and promise to the respective band's region. Ascetic Parade's side plays with a slightly more cerebral punk rock take, adding a heavy dose of '90s alternative/indie that their native North Carolina helped originate for something familiar in a slightly grittier lo-fi context. Beat Noir's side is a more immediate mix of scrappy street-level pop-punk with a contemporary Southern Ontario slant shared by bands like Attack In Black and Mockingbird Wish Me Luck that reflects an influence of Canuck musical pioneers like Neil Young and Thrush Hermit. However, where Young was dismissive of the southern (white) man, Beat Noir welcomes their friends to the south with open arms; if you think about it this record is a little like the black and white cookie. Anyhow, both bands show a lot of potential for greater things but Beat Noir's "Yours" is one of the best tunes this year.
Great Apes: Three Piece Demo
Great Apes play pop-punk in the vein of early Jawbreaker or a more refined Crimpshrine with songs about frustration of their everyday lives, which at this point is far from a novel concept. So why is this one of the best releases of the year? The two songs here are probably better than any two of their kind done in the past few years. Not much else to say really (then why did I just say that?).
The Haverchucks is an exercise in gruff-voiced Screeching Weasel/Ramones-influenced punk rock, which you may already be tired of. However, if you like the genre as I do, this little EP has a lot to offer. While being pissed about things in a gravely voice can be hard to swallow over the course of an album, some genuine vocal melody instead of constant shouting and clean backups help to really give these songs some room to breathe. Far from a classic but I find myself listening to this record more than a lot this year so that must mean something.
Outdoor Velour's debut EP, Don't Panic, deals with the struggle of achieving adulthood and the resistance of the idea. Armed with the stylings of the Elephant 6 collective, '60s pop with a healthy dose of dissonance and Dinosaur Jr. guitar crunch, the duo manages to be forward thinking and nostalgic, in some ways musically answering the lyrical ponderings of Don't Panic. It is a really impressive first offering and there is quite the compelling Weakerthans cover if that is your sort of thing.
While there isn't much of anything new for Punch, either musically or lyrically, on Nothing Lasts, they still continue to be one of the more interesting and consistent acts currently in hardcore. You get a mix of thrash, NYHC, D-Beat, and even a little bit of skramz synthesized into a coherent whole. Nothing Lasts really works as a title because Punch has always worked on iconoclasm, the idea that nothing is sacred and is in fact rubbish meant to be deconstructed and torn to pieces with the only things surviving the carnage being the only things worthy of survival.
Fact: Long Island's Broadcaster are the type of band whose hooks and melodies get stuck in your head for days. With thoughtful lyrics and a guitar pop sound that finds company in the likes of Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom, with songs every bit as good as their predecessors. Rather than relying purely on the strength of their knack for a strong melody, there is also some fantastic guitar work on display here that some current acts of the genre are sadly lacking. As we collectively find ourselves more bummed out by the fading sun, Joyride provides that essential shot of musical vitamin D.
Teenage Bottlerocket continue to amaze me with how they can create something out of nothing. Seriously, who would think that the same three or four chords could produce so much happiness? The bouncy title track is sure to be a standout song in their catalog for years to come, as the vocal harmonies in the chorus feature some of the best trade-offs we have heard between Ray and Kody. The B-side "Punk House of Horror" is admittedly a bit of a...well, it sounds a little more like a Lillingtons obscurity; it is fun an enjoyable but mostly serves to highlight how good "Mutilate Me" sounds. Their cover of Bad Religion is another example of why Teenage Bottlerocket do it better than most of their genre. While it honestly isn't that different from the original "Henchmen" there is subtle enough difference that they make it their own. They take a song by a relatively serious band about a potentially shallow existence and turn it into a fun Ramonescore romp, few bands of their ilk would successfully be able to pull it off.
In some ways Russian Spies feels like the turn Against Me! would have taken after Searching For A Former Clarity rather than New Wave. "Russian Spies" and "Occult Enemies" are both political in a sense but rather than specifically tackling a current issue which can date things a bit, they are pragmatic tunes about paranoia and casting off ghosts of the past. This all makes sense considering the band is once again an independent band and the Bush administration they rallied against on Searching... has been out of office for some time (even if their policies still linger and the new government isn't all that better). The songwriting is still as hook-centric and power pop-influenced as New Wave, but with much more energy behind the songs thanks, in part I think due to new drummer Jay Weinberg and a better recording technique used by Butch Vig. These songs also lack any of the mainstream hard rock, misadventures in disco cheese and heavy handed sentiments that bogged down New Wave. They are fresh while still sounding more like "old" Against Me! than White Crosses. At the end of the day, love them or hate them, Against Me! are still probably the biggest punk act currently going and they keep people talking. This single will rightfully continue to do just that.
Cheap Girls / Noise by Numbers: Under the Influence Vol. 15 [7-inch]
Aside from a tour only/bootleg version of this seven-inch (which featured older recordings of two of the songs here), Career Suicide has remained relatively quiet in the past four or so years til this EP was released. Cherry Beach is a logical extension of the band's last LP Attempted Suicide, fast snotty hardcore heavily influenced by '77 punk and '60s garage. However, CS has never sounded as "big" as they do here, with "Means To An End" featuring some frenzied guitar work that recalls Fucked Up's Hidden World (by guitarist Jonah Falco's other band). Cherry Beach just further proves everything Career Suicide puts out is a must-have release.
It is kind of shameful that on Old Flings' 2011 Demo there are more memorable songs than on some bands' entire full-length releases this year. The Gin Blossoms meets Knapsack adventure that is "Merry-Go_Round" is a perfect example of this: Fuzzy guitars juxtaposing a sweet and polished vocal performance revelling in the gutter and the vulnerability therein. It has a hook that just won't quit, and even if it did you'd still be humming along filling in the gaps but then you'd miss those outstanding vocals
Red City Radio / The Gamits: Split [7inch]
Paper + Plastick
The pairing of a veteran band like the Gamits and relative newcomers Red City Radio is a great idea because it presents the concept of punk rock as a continuum rather than something that is isolated in time and space that needs reviving every few years. Each band provides one original and one cover and while the originals are great in their own right and serve as great additions to each band's catalog, the real treat are the covers. I've said before that Red City Radio are a band that creates anthems like few other bands and their completely un-ironic punked up cover of glammy heavy metal band White Lion's "Little Fighter" shows exactly where they get that quality from. I don't know about you but that completely blindsided me by how supremely "uncool" that came across. the Gamits on the other hand have always had a very unique sense of melody and their cover of the Nerve's absolute classic "Hanging On The Telephone" shows where that comes from. The original version isn't really known as a guitar hero's dream as I've always found the guitar to play second fiddle to the vocals and bass but the Gamits' take on it throws the guitar to the front and adds unmistakably original flair.
While Cheap Girls' contribution is just more of the same standout guitar pop like their previous work, the real highlight and what makes this standout above the rest is Lemuria's side. Lemuria's most recent full-length found the band expanding their sound but left me feeling like they are still trying to find their footing. "Single Mother" and "Lemons" are fully realized concepts that explore relationships in a sophisticated way that most bands don't even approach. Musically, they have a more down-tempo pace like Pebble but have a much brighter mood akin to Get Better. Lemuria at the top of their game deserves the peak of a year in music and they reach it.
A good hardcore punk song should make you want to tear down everything in sight, pee on inanimate objects and tell authority figures to stick it up any place they don't want things stuck up. That is exactly why Hoax's "Fagget" is the single best hardcore song released this year. With simplistic lyrics that repeat throughout of, "I'm a fagget you told me so / I'm a fagget you let me know and when I die you'll know why," seeks to reclaim the negative connotation of the homophobic slur. It makes the word uncomfortable and jarring as it should be despite the casual way idiots will throw it around. The rest of the EP contains great slices of noisy hardcore but that one song is what is on repeat all day.
Although Two Hand Fools released an LP this year, Believeland is a much better representation of the potential they have with their brand of folk-punk meets pop-punk, and the recording is so much better than their House Parts album. After a glut of folk-punk in the 2000s there really didn't seem like there was much left to do in the genre but Two Hand Fools prove that honest and well constructed songs can still be made within the subgenre. The maturity shown between releases with such short time apart on "American Dreaming" is exactly what makes this record so great and the reason Two Hand Fools are a band everyone should keep an eye in 2012.
I can't really explain why this single is essential listening better than I already have in my review here .
The Sidekicks / Tigers Jaw: Split [7-Inch]
Shout Out Loud Prints
I am essentially going to plagiarise myself here: While the Sidekicks and Tigers Jaw both occupy the poppier side of the indie/punk spectrum, they have very different approaches to their craft. The Sidekicks' upbeat power-pop has soaring vocal melodies and catchy hooks that are so immediately satisfying they do little to betray the beautiful lyrics and sophisticated guitar work contained within that you only discover upon repeated listens. Tigers Jaw, on the other hand, have a more intentionally obscure path they take you on with their music, having a heavier debt to '90s Midwest emo and alterna-rock, and yet there is something localized rather than universal about their music. Their lyrics are more abstract, their tempos are slower, and their guitar parts shift just enough so they make you wait for that one sweet spot in a song rather than delivering right away. Putting these two bands together proves to be an interesting and overall successful experiment. The Sidekicks' cover of of Elvis Costello's cover of "(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" not only respects the original but builds upon it, which is an extremely rare feat for such a classic song transforming this from a great seven-inch into something really special.
In case you didn't know Black Crosses is a collection of sessions of demos and alternate recordings done prior to the band's last LP, White Crosses. It is notable for featuring longtime drummer Warren Oaks' final recordings with the band. If you are a fan of the band there is something comforting in hearing Warren's trademark hi-hat heavy percussion even if he never had the technical proficiency of George Rebelo, who replaced him. These versions are generally less studio-centric than the finished product on White Crosses and those seeking something more akin to the band's older material may enjoy it. The outtakes are the thing that really makes this collection important, the garage-y "Strip Mall Parking Lots" reminds me of "Americans Abroad" and the John Gaunt-assisted "Hot Shots" sounds more like an As The Eternal Cowboy-era recording than anything. These are the songs you wished they had placed on White Crosses' initial release. the acoustic versions also serve to make the listener wish White Crosses had taken a more traditional route but the big studio budget did actually help some of the compositions here.Black Crosses ends up enriching the original White Crosses in such away that makes this essential where the proper album was just good.
Various: City Limits: Down And Out In Toronto & Montreal
High Anxiety / No Idea
I think compilations in today's music scene are best served when they have a specific intention. The intent behind City Limits: Down And Out In Toronto & Montreal serves to bring the current hardcore punk scenes of Toronto and Montreal into the spotlight. With a strong collection of material from DIY bands that operated in both scenes in the past five years from veterans like Career Suicide and Unruled to newer bands like Naughty Girls and Total Trash (who I personally think have one of the best songs on here), the only sad part about this album is that six of the Toronto bands on this collection were basically broken up by the time of its release and at least one of the Montreal bands has since gone the way of the dinosaur (R.I.P. Bad Choice, Snakepit, Mature Situations, Mad Men, Brutal Knights Molested Youth and Inepsy). Which is all the more reason why a release like this is so important; hardcore scenes live and die on an average birth cycle, the only band this is missing as an official document of this scene is McBain but upon closer inspection, these appear to be loafers.
This is the second Against Me! collection I have on my list and much like the first it is a collection of demos recorded for one of the band's LPs. While most of the songs are missing much of the charm of the studio versions, the brass on "Miami" and Genevieve Tremblay from Fifth Hour Hero's unmistakable backup vocals on "How Low," there is an immediacy that makes Total Clarity feel like it has much more in common with As The Eternal Cowboy than Searching... did. Their cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Money Changes Everything" also reveals an influence for the distinctly poppier direction Against Me! would subsequently take and reveals the thought process the band had taken dealing with scene politics. The two outtakes from these sessions, "Exhaustion & Disgust" and "Lost and Searching In America," make you wish they had given them proper studio recordings to substitute the now dated "Justin" and "From Her Lips To God's Ears." Searching For A Former Clarity is still one of the best punk rock albums of the last decade and I cannot recommend something enough that gives it additional context like this collection.
While Night Birds' latest full-length is an obvious step forward for the band, their collection of demo and seven-inch material Fresh Kills Vol. 1 just has a kind of unbridled energy throughout that is hard to recapture. I guess hardcore is a dish best served hot? Either way it is a wonderfully dark assemblage of music that is snotty and sinister but still manages to pack a clever sense of melody. Probably the next best thing to seeing the band live and seeing the band live is one of the best showgoing experiences you are likely to have.
Various: Run For Cover Records Presents Mixed Signals
With only one real misstep Run For Cover Records has put together one of the best compilations I have heard in a long while. They do this by focusing on new material with some of the best bands the current crop of post-hardcore bands have to offer. These aren't throwaway songs either as Balance And Composure, Tigers Jaw and Hostage Calm all produce songs that are up there with some of their best. They even are kind enough to tack on the only real dud near the end so you can get an almost uninterrupted listening experience before the record ends. If you miss the bygone era when compilations were a source of new music and extra material by the bands you already love you need look no further.
Is it possible to make one of the best albums of the year and turn around and produce a second collection of all-new material that stands up even remotely as well? Fucked Up have an answer for you and that answer is yes. David's Town is all new songs written and recorded as Fucked Up and it sounds like Fucked Up except instead of Pink Eyes singing every song, the number of guest musicians and the other band members handle vocal duties, with each song acting as a piece by a new "fictional" band. The songs cover almost the entire spectrum of 1980s British punk offshoots from post-punk to power pop to Oi! and every one is as enjoyable as the other, especially "Redstockings" and their "Unrequited Love." When telling a story, it is important to provide a context; that is exactly what Fucked up is doing with David's Town in conjunction with David Comes To Life, but this an extremely nerdy and fun compilation of punk songs on their own.
John Henry West: Door Bolted Shut [12-inch]
Door Bolted Shut is a discography collection from pioneering emocore band John Henry West, whose guitarist/vocalist Mike Kirsch also played in other prominent East Bay bands like Navio Forge and Pinhead Gunpowder. This is required listening for anyone that considers themselves a fan of the genre or anyone who would like to know more. It contains everything the band ever recorded, including two previously unreleased songs as well. The importance of this collection is difficult to put into words so I'm not going to continue to try, just listen to it.
The Beach Boys: SMiLE Sessions
Some scholars have argued that William Shakespeare's Hamlet helped define modern man as we know ourselves. I'd give the same importance in terms of defining modern pop and rock music to the Beatles' Rubber Soul and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Unreleased since 1966, SMiLE was intended to be the Beach Boys' follow-up to the triumph of Pet Sounds but ended up being its aborted fetus instead. Yet, now that I've finally heard it there isn't enough hyperbole in the world to describe how wonderful this album sounds. Probably the third or fourth best rock album of that entire decade and if there is any justice in this world it will end up considered one of the greatest albums of all time. It is a crying shame it has taken this long to see a proper release.
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Seriously though, I want to thank everyone that helped make Punknews have another successful year, from my fellow staff writers, to the editorial staff, to the contributors and readers. Special thanks to Adam White and Joe Pelone for helping get this list published. I'd also like to thank all the people out there that are making a real difference in the world inside and outside the punk community because it is so so easy to sit behind your computer and be an armchair critic and complain about bands, politics, the scene and your love life or lack thereof. It is another thing to go out there and be the world you want to be. I should heed my own advice more. As always, make mine punknews!