Best of 2013: Bryne Yancey's picksBryne Yancey's picks (2013) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: BryneBryne (others by this writer | submit your own) [Bryne Yancey is a contributing editor for Punknews.org.]
If you'll pardon the brief bout of navel gazing: Being a "rock critic" has never been weirder. Many in this "profession" in this day and age use their stature and access to elevate their own personal brand and little else – I'v.
[Bryne Yancey is a contributing editor for Punknews.org.]
If you'll pardon the brief bout of navel gazing: Being a "rock critic" has never been weirder. Many in this "profession" in this day and age use their stature and access to elevate their own personal brand and little else – I've certainly been guilty of that "essentiality" or "elitism" from time to time – and as a result, it can make the consumption of the music itself something of an afterthought. Not only that, but rock critics love to talk about themselves and their peers ad nauseum. It can be more than a little exhausting, and it's something I've actively tried to do less of this year, especially in the past six months or so. Snark and smarm have their place, but so much of the Internet is caked in it now that it's become difficult to rise above the noise.
I didn't get into this to write thinkpieces on topics that don't actually warrant any deep thought, or to win any popularity contests on Twitter; I was just one of those kids who had their life saved by punk rock and wanted to give back in some small way. Hopefully it's cyclical, and the movement becomes more about the music again soon and less about What It All Means.
With that, this will be my final best-of list as an active staffer of Punknews.org. It's been mostly fun, but my interests have shifted and it's time for me to do something else. Nothing personal, no bad blood, nothing but good vibes. If you care (it's totally OK if you don't), I'll be blogging somewhat regularly here and tweeting about stuff here. I also have plans in the works for an entirely new site which should launch in the late spring or early summer. Thanks to Aubin and Adam W. for allowing me the platform, and for letting me come back in the first place. Thanks to the Johns, the Britts, Adam E., Amelia, Kira, Andrew and Armando for their insight, collaboration and jokes. Huge thanks to Joe Pelone and Brian Shultz for showing me the reviews editor ropes. Thanks to all the staff reviewers and users for volunteering their time to tell you and me about bands they like or dislike. Most of all, thanks to you for reading. Punknews has been the most fulfilling part of my creative existence thus far, and you, the readers, are the ones who keep it going. As annoyed as I get with the commenters sometimes, I try to never lose sight of that. So, thanks!
AFI lost their way somewhere between the curdling, bland metalcore-leaning Decemberundergound and the shiny pop-rock of Crash Love. Burials, with its huge choruses, darker disposition and just plain improved songwriting, is the band's best work since Sing The Sorrow. Good self-aware goth-rock schlock.
After the exhilarating pop-punk darkness of The Sun is Down and the Night is Riding In, no one would've faulted Crusades for repeating the excellent formula on its follow-up. Instead, the band delved even deeper into their own fascination with the macabre on Perhaps You Deliver This Judgment with Greater Fear Than I Receive It, crafting a captivatingly textured and occasionally heavy concept album about executed anti-Christian philosopher Giordano Bruno that's sort of like a less intentionally goofy Misfits.
Swamp metal innovators Kylesa just keep on innovating. Pushing the boundaries of extreme music, the band–with dual male/female vocals, two drummers and seemingly equal doses of sludge and psychedelia–reached their high point thus far on Ultraviolet. There's good reason Kylesa get crossover love outside of the metal community: They're simply one of the most interesting bands in the genre.
After an excellent diversion into mariachi music, the Bronx are back doing what they originally came to the party to do: Write blisteringly anthemic rock songs that are equal parts AC/DC and the Stooges. The band's punker tendencies from earlier albums are more or less gone, but what they've become is far more fun.
Weiss writes bitingly straightforward, wholly relatable and accessible indie-pop about love and relationships. The earworm-like ability to stick in one's head on Say What You Mean is sneaky at first, but ultimately extremely welcoming.
Every Russian Circles record is very much of its era. While Empros was by far, the heaviest, riffiest output from the band by a long shot, its follow-up Memorial retains that heaviness while trading in straight breakdowns for more ambiance. The end result is chilling and exhilarating at the same time, and speaks to the band's ability to reinvent themselves on every album.
20 minutes of lightning-speed, no-frills, no-bullshit party metal. American Sharks take the brashness of Motorhead and the immediacy of New Bomb Turks and converge it into something that sounds totally familiar, but not unoriginal in any way. Catch on now, because this band will only improve.
After the fan service of This Addiction and the whatever-that-was of Damnesia, Matt, Dan and Derek are on top of their game on My Shame Is True. This record sounds like the proper follow-up to the underrated Agony & Irony, with its massive melodies, punchy energy and glossy production.
Heaviest record of 2013 by a long shot. The slightly crustier tendencies Nails had on Unsilent Death are mostly gone here, traded in for a wall of riffs, fiery drums and sadistic vocals. If this doesn't get thee to the pit, nothing will.
Sometimes, "hype bands" deserve the hype. Major Arcana feels like a relic from the indie rock halcyon days of the early to mid 1990s, with feedback-laden hooks, crunchy guitars and Sadie Dupuis' subtly confident vocals and uncompromising, ripped-from-the-diary lyrics. If you've been ignoring this band because of what mags have been covering them, fix that right now.
The demise of PS Eliot was an unfortunate event for underground punk fans–seriously, check out their final album Sadie, it's fantastic–but it proved to be a masterstroke. That band went out at the top of their game, and the Crutchfield sisters have gone on to bigger and better things like Swearin' and in this case, Waxahatchee. After the austere, demo-esque American Weekend, Katie Crutchfield goes full-band, with sharper production (though the album was recorded in a West Philly basement), a better sense of melody and bitingly vulnerable songwriting.
Following up the absolutely excellent Separation wasn't going to be easy, but fortunately Balance and Composure took what worked on that album–its three-guitar heaviness, palpable vulnerability and Jon Simmons' now-recognizable wail–and injected vibed-out guitars and other noise where all the empty space used to be. The hooks are still there; they're just dirtier. That ultimately makes The Things We Think We're Missing a more rewarding listen.
In the end, Comadre proved they were far weirder, more innovative and more willing to take chances than any of their hardcore contemporaries. This album–with its theremin parts, keyboards, and completely triumphant, instrumental untitled track–is so off-the-wall perfect that it's hard to imagine how the band would follow it up had they stayed together.
After a basically-major-label stint with Fueled By Ramen that yielded two pretty good albums but otherwise felt like not the best fit for the band, the Swellers recorded the rawest, most terse and direct album of their career. The Light Under Closed Doors still incorporates the band's punker tendencies with outlier influences like Weezer and Nada Surf, but feels like a necessary reset button. Good for them.
Any band who name-check Snapcase, then borrow their guitar tone while declaring themselves a "pushpit" outfit will raise the eyebrow of this writer. Anchored by Patrick Kindlon's yelp and unadulterated lyrical depictions, Paul Walker is as straightforwardly nihilistic and vociferous as hardcore gets in 2013.
Surfer Blood seemed to take forever to follow up Astro Coast, but the wait proved to be well worth it. Pythons abandons a lot of the reverb and heavier Pixies worship of the band's earlier work in favor of cleaner, incessant melody and an impressive amount of brevity. This was the summer record of 2013, and "Say Yes To Me" was the catchiest song of the year, period.
Jimmy Eat World have tried (and mostly failed) to hit reset after each album since the genius of 2004's Futures. Perhaps it's partially due to low expectations after the disappointing Invented that Damage feels so vital and hits so hard, but it's mostly because the band sound re-energized, more direct and affecting than they have in a decade.
This album is ridiculous. It's the huge sound of a trio of old metalheads trading sharp riffs for heavy distortion, thunderous drums and matter-of-fact vocals. It sounds like a washed-out Joy Division, a heavier Mission of Burma and an exercise in classic-but-contemporary goth-rock worship that's perpetually astonishing.
There's a reason that so many people find difficulty in describing Restorations: It's because their music defies categorization. LP2 is harsh when it needs to be, exuberant in bursts, mostly heavy but also mostly melodic, and constantly innovative and interesting. If this is what "grownup punk" sounds like, well, we're all pretty lucky to be grownups.
I listened to True North far more than any other album in 2013 (granted it came out in January, but still). When wrestling with my top 3 on this list–it was that close initially–that's what I ultimately came back to. I realized that whenever Spotify gave me option paralysis in 2013, I would more often than not just put on this record. Bad Religion's importance to our scene and to me personally don't need to be recounted here. But the urgency, energy and bombast of True North, this from a band in their 33rd year and on their 16th album, never ceases to astonish me. They're just as important and influential a band now as they were when Suffer came out and changed punk rock forever. Though the choice seemed tough at first, it was staring me in the face all along.
Enabler: Shift of Redemption
Though a full-length is past due by now, Enabler continue to impress whenever they piece out new material. Shift of Redemption is four more songs of extra fiery, mosh-ready hardcore from Milwaukee's best (but not Milwaukee's Best).
The Bouncing Souls / The Menzingers: split [7-inch]
Very fun. Both originals (Bouncing Souls' "Blackout" and the Menzingers' "The Shakes") are worthy additions to each band's already-impressive arsenal, and the covers are mostly delightful. The Souls' take on "Burn After Writing" is particularly inspired.
Evan Weiss goes full-on, fretboard-tapping '90s Midwestern emo with the help of Mike Kinsella and Matthew Frank. This is good enough on its own, but if it helps younger Into It. Over It. fans delve into '90s emo, all the better.
Spaced-out alt-rock from members of the Casket Lottery and Coalesce, and one of the biggest surprises of the year. Chances are, Ken Andrews heard this EP and then immediately decided to reform Failure. Thanks, Anakin!
Torche's new full-length in 2014 will, in all likelihood, be excellent. Their lone recorded output in 2013, this two-song 7-inch, goes heavy on the riffage and heavy on the catchiness. You know, like Torche have more or less always done. Completely innovative, infectious and fun. TOOOOORRRRRRRCHHHHHHE!!!!!!!
All hail Shogun, the undisputed most soulful frontman in punk. These two songs, which have sharper production than the band's equally awesome 2012 LP, serve as a nice holdover until they inevitably take over the world in 2014.
Paint It Black are a goddamn powerhouse of hardcore. It doesn't matter how long they're away, or what format their music is in, it's always completely vital sounding and a fireball of reckless energy. Invisible is no exception.
With Transgender Dysphoria Blues being the most anticipated punk record in years, this acoustic two-song primer serves as a wonderful look at what's to come. Laura Jane Grace has never sounded more assured *or* more vulnerable, which makes these songs all the more captivating.
A complete triumph and worthy eulogy to a man and musician whose death completely shook this little scene we call home. It's obvious that nearly every band worked hard on their cover, and wanted to do right by Tony Sly. The end result is maybe one of the best tribute albums ever.
TITR did the whole reunion thing right. They got back together for a finite length of time and number of shows, reissued their entire discography, remastered and with two awesome, newly recorded tracks, then when it was over, it was over. No stringing along, no bullshit. Perfect.
A genre-shifting, hugely influential album more than worthy of a reissue and revisit. It's easy to forget that before they were playing Clear Channel-affiliated radio festivals, Rise Against were seen as the next great punk band.
2014 is going to be bananas
The first two months of next year are packed with awesome releases, including:
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
You Blew It! - Keep Doing What You're Doing
Direct Effect - Sunburn
Bayside - Cult
In addition to those, I'm also very much looking forward to new albums from Joyce Manor, Banner Pilot, Torche, the Menzingers, White Lung, Cayetana, OFF!, Dikembe, Masked Intruder, Hotelier, Modern Baseball, the Gaslight Anthem, Braid, Trap Them, the Copyrights and (hopefully) Descendents, Rancid, Western Addiction, Royal Headache, Teenage Bottlerocket, Burning Love and Misfits with Glenn Danzig on vocals (a guy can dream).