SloaneDaley: Best of 2009Best of 2009 (2009) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: InaGreendaseSloaneDaley (others by this writer | submit your own) Slloane Daley is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org - ed.
Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads
Hey! I'm Sloane, and this is my third year as a staff writer here. You might notice a name change, and that's part of a lot of changes going on in my camp. My grandfather passed away at the beginn.
Slloane Daley is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org - ed.
Where We're Going We Don't Need Roads
Hey! I'm Sloane, and this is my third year as a staff writer here. You might notice a name change, and that's part of a lot of changes going on in my camp. My grandfather passed away at the beginning of this year and I broke my ankle about a month later, which put me out of commission for much of the first half of the year. That sucked as you might imagine; I didn't get out to many shows, but it gave me time to listen to some music.
It wasn't all doom and gloom as I also took my first trip down to the annual "meeting of the beards" in Gainesville, Florida this year for Fest 8. It was an extremely rewarding experience and I'm so grateful that such an amazing event exists with so many great bands and good people. The record label I helped start, Loose Charm Records, also put out our first release. A lot of folks walked out of my life this year but a wise band once said: "When the music's running through my soul, I've got no place to go but my own private radio. I've met a lot of people that make me feel alright and their music's got me through the night." Indeed, so let's meet some of this year's people:
Top 20 Full-Lengths
House Boat: The Delaware Octopus
What happens when ex- and current members of the Steinways, the Ergs! and Off with Their Heads come together like Voltron? House Boat, apparently. The Delaware Octopus is a front-to-back catchy record, filled with short songs and melodies so sweet you'll almost feel guilty listening to. That is, if it wasn't for the cuss-filled clever lyrics aching with desperation. If you don't find yourself singing along to "Alonelyonlyone" and "My Life Hurts" we might have to check your pulse, except we won't because we'll already know you are a mindless freakish zombie.
P.S. Eliot: Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Times
Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Times combines K Records-style power-pop with slivers of 1950s rock 'n' roll, Riot Grrrl and even Ani DiFranco, condensed into something that ends up sounding quite unique in the end. The really great part about this record is that P.S. Eliot are just as concerned about making you hum along as they are with making you think.
Reigning Sound are living proof that sometimes simple is better, creating one the best pure rock 'n' roll albums I've heard since the Deadly Snakes decided to call it a day. Love and Curses explores the darker side of love with barn-burning rockers and soulful ballads. While a certain band is noted for their love of The Boss, this album actually sounds like the soul and blues-influenced rock heard on The River, and should satiate anyone disappointed with Bruce's latest offering.
Age Sixteen: Open Up Finders, Please
Age Sixteen strike the perfect balance between chaotic and melodic on their debut full-length, Open Up Finders, Please. The guitars rush into each other frantically, mixing with the collectively shouted anguished vocals, taking breaths just long enough to let the listener appreciate the twinkling guitar tones shimmering above the surface.
Can't Maintain represents AJJ's first full-length foray into the electric world and the results are just as heartbreaking and challenging as anything they have done before. The band has cloaked much of their bite in a sarcastic wit, and is great at recognizing and utilizing what the punk community has known for a long time: that satire and humor can be powerful weapons. The added production values, fuller arrangements and electric sheen add another layer that cleverly contrasts the gripping and often depressing narrative of the Jihadists for one of the finest records to come out of the folk punk scene in awhile.
Something that has always impressed me is how a television show can have multiple writers yet still maintain a relatively consistent characterization. Maybe that isn't such a feat since I'm easily impressed by the likes of chocolate bread and pretty smiles. Either way, Shinobu's latest full-length, Strange Spring Air is like a wacky sitcom in that way because rather than having a single songwriter, all the band members contribute to the writing process (even while residing in different cities) and in the end it all flows together really well. It is also like a wacky sitcom in that it is wacky and provides its audience with a highly enjoyable activity for about half an hour.
Vivian Girls have a certain no-frills-fuzzy-guitars-and-catchy-hooks approach that resulted in less than a year between albums. Although, their formula remains largely the same: punk speed, reverb and the occasional nod to surf, yet things seem much tighter and focused this time around. Everything Goes Wrong finds the band in a more sober mood but even the gloomier numbers like "The End" can't mute the raw kinetic energy the band exudes. While the progression is well within the band's comfort zone, it is a real treat to see them doing something different with their style and it makes for one of the best listens of 2009.
Early-to-mid-'90s alternative is back in style again. Don't believe me? Just pick up the new Cheap Girls or Failures' Union albums, or look at what reunions are afoot. Dino Jr. comes in to prove you can do it good but can't quite do it better than the original. Although a little more laid back than what you might be used to from them, Farm is probably the slow burner of the year.
Pale Blue Dot sounds like if Fucked Up was a little less musically meandering and more vocally diverse with a slight Jagger pigeon-strut thrown in for good measure. I hesitate to throw the "progressive" or "experimental" tag on them because, for the most part, this is just good ol' fashioned hardcore punk songwriting.
Parasites have been in this game for a long time -- '85 to be exact, and they know their way around a two-minute pop-punk song. Solitary isn't much of anything new but as far as a pop-punk album goes it is nearly flawless, with winning hooks and sharp melodies that couldn't be approached by bands half Nikki Parasites' age.
The Hex Dispensers: Winchester Mystery House
Bands using horror/B movie themes as the basis for their lyrical content has become nothing if not boring at this point. Somehow, the Hex Dispensers move beyond the cliches and make it work with their brand of frantic garage punk. It is likely because their lyrics are actually funny/clever and their hooks mean serious business. Take the lovers-in-a-dangerous-time themed "Doomsday Romantic" or the requiem to the horror sidekick in "It's Your Funeral, Minion," both far more crafty than any Misfits cover band can come up with. Probably the most straight-up fun album of 2009.
Taking the epic proportions and soundscapes of post-rock and bands like Appleseed Cast and Issue Sixteen and blending it with raw gruff vocals has helped generate Castevet quite a lot of buzz. They are worth every bit of it, as this is probably one of the most emotionally stirring albums you are likely to hear for some time. This is everything you ever loved about "post-" anything.
In 2008, Melbourne's Summer Cats released a fantastic little EP by the name of Passion Pop on the tiny Wee Pop label. The EP was named after a carbonated wine beverage of their native Australia and was one of those delightful descriptive moments where a band's name or album title is perfectly reflective of their sound. It appears I wasn't the only one that took notice of the band's fuzzy pop gems as legendary indie pop Slumberland Records agreed to put out the band's full-length, Songs for Tuesdays.
It has taken their third full-length (and numerous EPs and splits in between) to allow Shook Ones to finally step out of the shadows of their influences and create a highly addictive melodic hardcore/pop-punk record. While songs like "Silverfish" make this album immediately enjoyable in with their catchy sing-alongs, the economical yet extremely thoughtful lyrics of songs like "Birds on Ice" and "They're Very 'Yes'" will be what makes this a record that you come back to time and again.
Rarely is a band able to change my opinion of them so completely like the Sidekicks have. When I heard their previous full-length I didn't care for it at all but Weight of Air had me hooked from the first note. The band has been able to somehow distill what sounds like '70s AM album/country rock with power-pop and punk and not make it sound like a complete mess. The melodies on this record are some of the most unique you are likely to encounter this year.
Blacklisted are exactly the kind of forward-thinking band that represents what hardcore to me is all about: doing it yourself, your way. No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me isn't as intense as some of their past efforts but what they have lost in intensity they have made up for in the added elements to their songwriting.
Honestly, I probably think this record is so good because it reminds me a lot of Rivethead, who were cut short well before their time. Dream Homes is a stupid catchy collection of perfectly articulated sing-alongs about being dissatisfied with your life and everything in it. Being depressed never felt so good.
City Shock was one of my most anticipated albums of the year and it completely delivers. Social Circkle play snotty early '80s revival hardcore and although it does seem to be the style du jour, they add in slight garage accents and simply write better songs than most of the bands out there playing this kind of music. The band has also upped the speed a little from their demo and 7"s but hasn't lost their knack for memorable lyrics ready to be shouted along, fists raised.
625 Thrashcore/Discos Huelga
San Francisco's Punch play uncompromising and brutal thrashy hardcore with nods to powerviolence. Their self-titled debut LP features one of the best vocal performances I've come across in the world of hardcore punk. That isn't to take away from the rest of the band, who provide music that is both visceral and immediate and will still make you hit the rewind button to pay closer attention to what just whipped by you.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart probably have one of the worst band names of the year; luckily, they have, in my opinion, the best record of the year. It is a potent mixture of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Tambourine and Shop Assistants. It shoegaze and power-pop meeting simultaneously at their brightest and most melancholic moments. Yes, these guys have studied their Sarah Records catalogues well, but every song on here is original, authentic, memorable and an all-around pleasure to listen to.
Top 20 EPs/Singles
RVIVR: Life Moves 7"
After the demise of Shorebirds last year, Matt Canino wasted no time in forming a new musical outlet, RVIVR. Their second 7", Life Moves taps into the same frustration that marked Shorebirds' output but rekindles a bit of Latterman's defiant spirit as well as proving Canino's voice works best in communion with other voices.
With Paranoid Futures, Deep Sleep have fully integrated their early DC hardcore influences with Descendents/early Asexuals melodic punk touches. "Out of Time" and "Need to Kill" satisfies any desire for hardcore speed, while "Static Void" has one of of the most memorable choruses I've heard in a hardcore tune in some time.
Sore Eyelids: Sore Eyelids
Stockholm, Sweden's Sore Eyelids play a style of emo that shifts between lush epic pieces that show nods to indie rock like Galaxie 500 and bouncy parts that are reminiscent of Ordination of Aaron. Often beauty is translated into snooze induction, but that isn't the case here. This is really beautiful stuff that can get you moving and can draw you in and leave you in awe.
The Floor is a great little EP chocked full of melodic hardcore tunes the way it should be done, with no silly mosh parts. There is a serious thread of dark melancholy running through the songs that give an added weight to the band's social commentary. The record even features some great guest vocals by Dag Nasty's Peter Cortner (who, in my opinion, was that band's best vocalist).
I'll go ahead and call this a post-hardcore record, but it is hard to peg and all the better for it. A distant, bluesy female vocalist over static brings to mind Indian Summer's use of Bessie Smith records but it breaks into a gang vocal sing-along which segues into some blistering straightforward hardcore riffs and then what sound like a band practice session ending with some Wu-Tang vocals repeated. A Wolf Ticket is engaging, perplexing and addictive.
Sure, Red City Radio might be playing a familiar style of music here (obvious Hot Water Music/No Idea Records worship), and they might not win any points for stylistic originality but in terms of of composition they beat just about any band playing this style of music today. Every song on here is a winner -- completely authentic, earnest and catchy.
What would happen if you tossed the sounds of current tri-state-area shout-along pop-punk/post-hardcore with the Midwestern sound of Cap'n Jazz/Braid? Well, you'd get Grown Ups' debut EP, Songs. They perfectly blend that odd clean noodling favored by bands like Algernon Cadwallader and Look Mexico with fast-paced riffs and anthemic gang vocals for something rather memorable.
Defeater is something you don't see very often: a hardcore band that weaves narratives. On Lost Ground the story they tell is of a soldier, that spans pre-deployment to his return to an unwelcoming home. Sophisticated hardcore arrangements serve as the backdrop for lyrics that read like notes from a doctor serving PTSD patients. One of the most depressing listens of the year.
End of a Year fittingly chose to self-title their latest 7", as I think it will be discovered upon further retrospect (~), that this is the point where they really start to define themselves outside of the hole they've been put in of late '80s Dischord Records homage. "Robert E. Howard" retains the emotive shouted vocals but its instrumental's rhythmic stop-start motion almost has a British post-punk overtone and the playful bassline and guitar leads in "Gray Morrow" almost recall hints of garage-y '70s power-pop. Can't wait for the next full-length.
Stolen Hearts: Heart Collector 7"
The A-side to this single "Heart Collector" is probably the best single song released this year. It is an amazing economical three-minute slice of early '60s girl group pop with a catchy-as-all-hell hook, a simple story about a girl who will break your heart. The other songs, "Fire" and a Sponsors cover don't quite live up to the title track but are both great in their own way. Now this band needs to release some more singles.
Mockingbird Wish Me Luck: Goodbye Debris
Kitchener, Ontario's Mockingbird Wish Me Luck describes their songs here as "the heart of basement songs strung together through a lot of bad times" and I'm not sure I could do them more justice. The sounds contained here are reminiscent of small towns and cold nights, with melancholic post-hardcore arrangements with just-bright accents of hope and vocals the most gravelly you've heard since Frankie Stubbs stepped on the scene.
Few songwriters out there can paint as beautiful pictures with their lyrics as John K. Samson can and the Weakerthans frontman's latest solo 7" is no exception. Although the EP follows a concept of the landscapes surrounding the roadways of his home province, in this case City Route 85, the songs could easily fit in with the rest of his solo acoustic catalogue (all of which was released a decade previously). Samson also is doing highly cohesive stuff here where the three songs here seem to travel a timeline of the seasons from fall ("Heart of the Continent"), winter ("Grace Cathedral Hill") and summer ("Cruise Night"). Samson continues to prove he is one of the finest lyricists of our generation regardless of his musical backing.
There are feelings of great hesitation with a release like this, "the comeback" record. With Small Brown Bike's final full-length The River Bed, the band had branched out using more guitar and vocal effects, showcasing a slightly mellower disposition and hinting towards what would soon become a highly popular post-rock sound. The end results tended to be polarizing amongst fans. With Composite, Volume One, Small Brown Bike return with something both recognizable and slightly new.
People often use relationships as an analogy for bands, and in a lot of contexts it makes smashing good sense. We can all relate to getting those little butterflies listening to a new release from a band we love, similar to the feeling Marcie would get when Peppermint Patty walked into a room. If Superchunk were a relationship their breakup would have come after the couple celebrated their 13-year anniversary with the most delicious triple chocolate brownies, a Dylan Moran DVD, some edible body paints, a delightful day-sex romp and then decide it'd be best to follow that up by spiriting themselves away to parts unknown only to never speak to each other again. It doesn't make a whole lick of sense but that is what Superchunk did with Here's to Shutting Up seven years ago. The Leaves in the Gutter EP sounds like what would happen if those estranged lovers met several years later in the dairy aisle of the local supermarket and decided to relive the summer of their youth via coitus amongst the cream cheese and goats milk.
With each successive release, the Lawrence Arms has evolved their brand of thoughtful pop-punk, and this kind of breaks that, but is awesome nonetheless. Their latest 7" takes its name from an idea the band had since their inception and in keeping with this self-reflective theme, the tunes the band has crafted recall their entire career at different times -- well, maybe not A Guided Tour of Chicago. My only complaint is the lack of mic time for Chris, but I love me some beexisms.
There was something both very familiar and out of place listening to Make Do and Mend's moody Bodies of Water, and I think I've pinpointed it: It sounds like if Epitaph-era Hot Water Music recorded an EP of pre-Epitaph material with a much more sober tone. With some really outstanding guitar work, unique vocals and interesting production tricks, they really step out on their own.
Boys and Sex: Boys and Sex
With current and ex-members of bands like Boy Problems and Snowing, it is no wonder that these folks have crafted one of the finest melodic "skramz" albums of the year. Desperate and shrill vocals distantly recorded over music that oozes with odd time signatures that evokes open Midwestern fields.
Junior Battles: Hotel Bibles
Junior Battles is sort of hard to place; they have an obvious influence from dual vocal melodic punk from Chicago (the Larry Limbs, Alkaline Trio, etc.), but that is a lazy comparison because they definitely have their own thing going on in their debut EP. "Will and the Words" contains some of the best sing-along-worthy moments you're sure to find in the aught 9.
Paint It Black has managed to cram both one of their heaviest songs in "Salem" and far and away their most melodic/poppy moments in "Bliss" into the same EP and still make it sound like it is the same cohesive album. The songs themselves are what the band is known for: bleak hardcore punk that recalls both '80s and '90s generations, and always thoughtful lyrics. Truly the highlight of the band's career.
Portraits of Past: Cypress Dust Witch
Excursions Into the Abyss
It is a risky thing to say, but I'm pretty sure I like this reunion EP way more than anything hardcore pioneers Portraits of Past released in their original run. The vocals are just as intense and music is just as heavy but the rhythm section is far tighter and the compositions themselves are way more interesting. No longer are they relying on the soft-loud dynamic to carry their songs; instead, every guitar part feels as though it is written with purpose. Although they have had many imitators over the years, few have been able to do as much with their sound as the band has been able to do here. Essential.
Top 10 Demos
Pioneers' demo is a tense six songs that show a well-studied and competent understanding of screamo as Indian Summer envisioned it. There is a lot of cleanly strummed parts with hi-hat playing and then shrill screams and cymbals crashing, juxtaposed against one another with the occasional sound clip thrown in for good measure. While not highly original, they show a lot of talent and promise in the best parts, especially vocally, and I can't wait to hear what they do next.
Not Sorry: Demo 2009
Yeah, sure, Not Sorry play pretty straightforward youth crew revival but there is some awesome riffs, tasteful gang vocals and even a good solo in here. There is also a hint of the kind of melodicism that Betrayed flirted with that could go a long way if the band decides to embrace it more. I'd look out for these guys.
Weed Hounds: Demo
Weed Hounds' demo reflects the bright mid-paced '90s indie rock that Lemuria has taken as influence complete with boy-girl vocals. What sets them apart is they take that and drench it in layers of noise in a similar fashion to what No Age and the like are doing. Really great stuff.
Pink Houses: Demo
Discovering that Pink Houses share members with Defiance, Ohio might come as a surprise. They sound nothing like that band's rambunctious folk punk but take the unusual influence of Ian McKaye's short-lived post-Minor Threat outfit Embrace and add a more upbeat, bouncy quality to it for an awesome debut.
Like Not Sorry, Chapters take influence from the straight-edge youth crew movement except they slow it down with more dance parts and breakdowns. I'm never one to champion the breakdown but these guys do them pretty damn well. I'm excited to hear a proper release, even though there is something charming about the authentic '80s recording quality. I wonder if they know they share their name with a Canadian bookstore chain.
Scotia Windows: Demo
Scotia Windows get the award for best song title of the year in "Amish Sluts"; it is so delightfully perplexing. The tunes of this garage/hardcore punk band aren't anything to knock either, with really standout lead vocals and backout shouts like the Soviettes did so well with some nice male/female contrast.
Daylight play the kind of gruff-voiced (bearded?)-sounding punk rock that should be familiar to anyone who enjoys Small brown Bike. As with a lot of demos, while they are somewhat derivative, the brightest moments such as the fantastic bass work on "The Best" show the band will have a lot to offer in the future.
Foreign Objects: Demo
On their demo Foreign Objects remind me a lot of sadly defunct Toronto band the Bayonettes, mining the same sort of female-fronted Avengers-loving late '70s punk. However, their vocals aren't quite as good BUT their compositions are slightly more complex with nods to British post-punk. Exciting stuff.
On Various Days: Demo
Brain Handle, as you may or may not know, is a heavy as heck (as heck!) hardcore band; surprisingly, though, their guitarist's solo project, On Various Days has released one of the most relaxing musical things I've heard all year. It is essentially shoegaze with some slight psychedelic flourishes and it is surprisingly fucking good given his day job.
Alex Kerns: Demo
You might know Alex Kerns as one of the principal songwriters for Buffalo, NY's Lemuria. This material doesn't stray too far from that band's '90s alternative/indie roots but the music behind Alex's Calvin Johnson-esque bellow sounds a bit more like something Rob Crow might do. In the end, great pop songwriting is great pop songwriting.
Top 5 Local Releases
Urban Blight: More Reality 12"
In 2005 Urban Blight put out a very promising EP; it has taken four years for them to release something else (save for maybe a cassingle). More Reality was well worth the wait because it is an exhausting kick-in-the-pants mini-LP of hardcore of the early NYC/Boston variety -- very pissed, short and fast. Apparently it was all recorded on 4-track to give it that extra ear bleed factor.
tonnn/live: split 12"
Before calling it a day this year, Toronto's tonnn released a split with lice and sadly it is the best thing they have dedicated to tape to date. It is four tracks of female vocalized melodic screamo, with complicated structures and awesome titles like "Dick Wizard II: Dick Journey." lice's side is really...strange, but very cool psychedelic hardcore is the best way I can describe it -- short songs with bizarre vocal effects and production techniques.
Chang-a-Lang (not to be confused with Shang-a-Lang) sound kind of like if all Pixies songs had the same pure pop genius of "Here Comes Your Man." "Ruth Was a Communist" is probably the most fun you've had in a political song since "Baby, I'm an Anarchist." Front to back an amazing EP of indie pop goodness, and definitely a band to watch out for.
This year Chris Colohan of Toronto's beloved Cursed returned with two bands, this being one of them featuring him on vocals. This little puppy is chock full of breakneck hardcore and in contrast to hardcore punk's forever young attitude, they focus on aging. There is some face-melting solos and even a mid-tempo semi-melodic excision in "Soylent Old" that should produce sing-alongs and fist pumps. Dare you to turn this off after you hit play.
So this year I helped start a vinyl record collective/label with some good budies of mine and our first release was the vinyl version of Red Collar's Pilgrim. Rarely do you hear something and say to yourself "holy crap! This is actually original!", but that's what I said after I heard this album for the first time. You might hear slivers of the Hold Steady's storytelling, some Fugazi-ish guitar work and Against Me!'s anthem-building choruses, but what these folks do is all their own.
* - The band self-released the cd version of the album with a slightly different track listing earlier in the year
Close But No Cigar
There was plenty of albums this year that didn't quite make the cut: Banner Pilot's Collapser; Nothington's Roads, Bridges, Ruins; Orphan Choir's Orphan Choir; Lemuria's Ozzy; Coke Bust's Lines in the Sand; The Evening Rig's Is Doin' Stuff; Iron Chic's Shitty Rambo; Tegan and Sara's Sainthood; My Heart to Joy's Seasons in Verse; Cymbals Eat Guitars' Cymbals Eat Guitars; Wasted Time's Futility; Whiskey Trench's Whiskey Trench; The Beatings' Late Season Kids; Cheap Girls' My Roaring 20's and Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate)'s What It Takes to Move Forward.
A bientott, see you soon
That's It for this year. I hope you all had as great a year as I did; stay happy, healthy and safe.