SloaneDaley is a staff reviewer for Punknews.org - ed.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Chodes
Well, this year was a real Hallmark year for Sloane Q. Daley (The “q” is for “Queer as Fuck,” lizard dicks). Y’know, I became a big wheel down at the cracker factory. I’m a wanted man. I have a death sentence in 12 systems. Real talk: I met some great dudes and dudettes; the label I’m part of released our second record; traveled to exotic places like Detroit and Philadelphia; and found pop-punk love amongst the PBR and jorts in Gainesville. I learned a lot about forgiveness this year. And above all else: everything passes—the good and the bad. So what you’re about to read is my personal picks with my personal tastes of the best records of 2010. So continue reading, but be aware that you will find no zingers, male or female, no outmoded forms of light fixtures, no declarative statements about oppression, and no riots at any time. Stay classy Punknews, and picture me rollin’...
Our Fathers is able to combine muscular post-hardcore riffs and bright hints of roots rock to reflect the contrasting extremes of the Southern Ontario Wayfarer calls home, a certain unmistakable yet elusive Canukishness. This tension provides the perfect backdrop for Our Fathers' passionate and nuanced ruminations on life. Where a lot of punk/hardcore music can tend to use ideology as a barrier between people, Our Fathers does the difficult task of allowing the listener to actually perceive a dialogue between ideas, characters and perspectives. When you combine this with some great sing-along moments and memorable riffs, Our Fathers comes out as one of the essential albums of the year and one of the finer debut LPs in recent memory.
Eli "Paperboy" Reed: Come and Get Some!
Revival can be quite a dirty word in music circles. It can be read as synonymous with derivative, and also can apply to a premature death to a genre or sub-genre when there was no need for resuscitation in the first place. This is the murky waters we find Eli “Paperboy” Reed, a young soul “revivalist,” in. What does this mean? Simply that Reed has a great appreciation for Stax and Motown records from the '60s and early '70s and his music wears its influences on its sleeve. While his last album, Roll with You, was only able to step out of the shadow cast by those that came before him ever-so slightly, Come and Get Some! makes some serious statements for Reed as an artist. Sure, the topics cover familiar love lost and found territory but all of them feature great songwriting—and more importantly for soul music—a 100% authentic performance. It all results in Eli Reed making what is perhaps the summer album of 2010.
Nightmares for a Week’s Don’t Die masterfully combines the pop-rock/alt-country fusion of later Get Up Kids with the earnestness of their earlier records, throws in some gang vocals, Jawbreaker guitar crunch and angst for good measure. “Lightning Rod” even features what sounds like a clarinet and does so without sounding corny at all, which is quite a feat, as wind instruments and rock music go together like peaches and gravy.
Good Old War’s bouncy instrumentals and dreamy vocal harmonies continue to build something that is both laid back and upbeat on their sophomore album—usually the kind of contradiction that is reserved for annoying middle management. Good Old War make meddling bureaucracy fun again! Well, not really, but they sure make one hell of a record. It is a fun and breezy album on the surface and something that when you have time to sit and pay attention to, is a really thoughtful piece of music both lyrically and sonically. What we have here is a tighter, more focused Good Old War but also shows the band unafraid to take a few risks, which gives this pop record tons of depth.
Ariel Pink’s Before Today is a weird record in the best way possible. Not many people would think to take clear songwriting elements from the 1980s—an era in pop music marked by its studio excesses—and filter it through modern lo-fi aesthetics. That being said, fewer people would be able to pull it off, but Ariel Pink does that and more. Some music is perfect for a warm summer day, some for a bad break-up, but Ariel Pink’s Before Today is the soundtrack to a late-night orgy flush with gimp masks and moustaches. If that doesn’t sound like one of the best albums of the year to you, you’re probably doing it wrong anyways.
Merchandise: (Strange Songs) in the Dark
Katagora Works/Drugged Conscience
Merchandise’s (Strange Songs) in the Dark LP could be summed up as...some strange songs in the dark. (Strange Songs) in the Dark takes bits of shoegaze, post-rock and post-punk in order to wield them for their own evil (-sounding) and perverse (my thinking, not theirs) machinations. With all the weird sounds, distortion and other spooky malarkey going on you might expect some muddiness, but the dynamic nature of the vocals help pull the whole record together into something sultry and with an added edge of beyond-obscure-mysterious-guy cool.
Punch: Push Pull
625 Thrash Records/Discos Huelga
Punch are fast becoming my favourite hardcore punk band; releasing a followup to the band's debut LP only a year later when plenty of hardcore bands don’t even last long enough to record two albums is quite impressive. On the surface, Push Pull plays by similar rules to their debut: fast songs showing a debt to powerviolence and thrash with shrill, pissed-off vocals. However, there are spots that flirt with more complex rhythms, and tempos aside from the usual breakdowns and blistering riffage. The album closer “Positively God Free” manages to display what makes this record really stand out, combing disparate elements of hardcore such as Revolution Summer and powerviolence into one aggressive shot.
Allo Darlin': Allo Darlin'
Allo Darlin’ might make you a bit skeptical. You see, they feature the ukulele as a prominent part of their sound—an instrument which is usually reserved for children and novelty, along with the kazoo and recorder. But you would be a judgemental prick who hates children if you did that, and would pass up a stellar indie pop album. While there is a straightforward catchiness that is sure to appeal to to anyone that likes a good pop tune, there is an irresistible charm found throughout that isn’t as easily qualitative like the “El Scorcho” interpolation/breakdown in “Kiss Your Lips.”
Conversions are a truly unique band. When trying to describe them to people, I’m thoroughly at a loss for easy comparisons. There is the angular sharp turns of early post-punk and the gritty immediacy of '80s hardcore punk, but there is also catchy sing-along moments that leave me at a loss as to how to simplify the awesome sounds coming from my speakers into puny words.
Slices’ Cruising LP relies on cohesive diversity for success. Like “I’m a little bit country and I’m a little bit rock ‘n’ roll,” except more like “I’m a little bit fuck you and I’m a little bit fuck you more.” For all that is going on here—straightforward hardcore, noise rock, drone-like dirges, garage-esque stomps—you can just sit back and let the record play and it flows perfectly without ever sounding forced or overly contrived.
This album was a huge surprise for me, much like the Sidekicks’ Weight of Air was for me last year. I always enjoyed Fake Problems, but there was something holding me back from getting behind them all the way. They have really embraced their poppier side, eliminating any elements of forced experimentation and the over-the-top carnival quality they have sometimes been known to dabble in (whether they intended to or not). This record changed all that, stepping out to release an album far superior to the bands they always seem to get compared to (I’ll give you a hint: Against Me! and the Gaslight Anthem).
While the name Frankie Stubbs will always signify Leatherface to most people, the return of second guitarist Dickie Hammond on The Stormy Petrel highlights how sorrily his contributions were missed over the last two LPs both as a writer and a player. Stubb’s gift for weaving obscure references into beautiful little lumps of diamond and coal nuggets is still intact. He is still one of the best lyricists to grace the mic. Stubb’s voice also sounds like he has lived each and every moment of his life; people can strain and throw out their voices all they like, but they just don’t make ‘em like his anymore. I’m gonna put myself out there and say that other than Mush, this is the band’s best album—which is quite impressive for a band to release their best works almost 20 years apart.
The title Empty Towers gives you a sense of broken promise or wasted potential, and a lot of the lyrics deal with that stunted feeling: a certain displacement. The thing is, everything else about the album is some of the most absolutely fun and catchy music you’ll hear all year. Perhaps it is a product of the generation I’m a part of: the fallout of being the children of the chosen ones, the aging boomers, and things not being quite what you’d expect. Or maybe not. All I know for sure is this is a fucking ace record.
It will probably be disputed, but I think the Arrivals have finally found the perfect mixture of their two major sounds in Volatile Molotov: 2000’s Midwestern pop-punk and ‘77 poppy UK punk. Although those are the two biggest touchstones for the band here, the melodies intersect a bevy of origins, from Americana to '90s power-pop. I’m not sure of too many other ‘merican pop-punk bands that would try a song like “Blank State” and succeed.
Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Cee Lo Green has spent the past decade-and-a-half conquering all music that lay before him, whether it be hip-hop with the Goodie Mob and the rest of the Dungeon Family or pop with Gnarls Barkley and R ‘n’ B on his previous solo albums. The Lady Killer sees Cee Lo triumphing in the soul arena as well, using traditional elements like string, key and brass arrangements for that classic big soul sound, but also incorporates funkier basslines and synths that recall late '70s/'80s acts like Johnny Kemp or Patrice Rushen for amazing results. I dare you to listen to “Fuck You” and “Cry Baby” and not sing along. I double dog dare you!
I always enjoyed history classes in elementary through high school, but for those of you that didn’t, Titus Andronicus have sought to make it fun by delivering a concept album dealing with the U.S. Civil War. I don’t recall any of my lectures or the Ken Burns docs we watched ever getting my blood boiling like this anthemic collection of ditties does. It could be the rousing sing-alongs or the fact that they are able to use such a distant point in history to reflect American (or at least Jersey) life today. Throw this album on and no one will be trying to sniff glue or figuring out how make snowballs inside the room; it commands attention.
Dead Mechanical are the most important pop-punk band doing it right now. Why are they so important? Because when you throw on one of their albums you don’t say to yourself, “Oh! This is great! It sounds like Tiltwheel!” or “The Ramones sure had a big family!” or “Man, it’s like Leatherface released a 10th album and no one told Frankie.” When you listen to Addict Rhythms, the only thing you can really say is, “This sounds like Dead Mechanical and they rule very hard.” The band’s lyrical style is their own, their playing is unique and their melodies are their own, which is, sadly, something rare.
Much like Crime in Stereo did with Is Dead, Hostage Calm have released an album that will make you say, “Wait a minute, this is that rather average melodic hardcore band I used to listen to?” Because while this is definitely hardcore-influenced and there is melody, it is quite unlike anything the band has done previously. In fact, it is much different than any band I have ever heard. It is like a hardcore band playing '60s pop, having a dalliance with Morrissey, and maybe even some Hall & Oates or something I might otherwise be embarrassed to listen to.
Expanding on the momentum of last year’s Learn to Surf EP, Superchunk really came out swinging with their first album in nine years. As the EP hinted, Majesty Shredding takes all of the band’s previous output and runs it through a ringer, cutting out the excess, mixing the sophistication of their later recordings with the edge of their early '90s material for the best indie pop album of the year. The lyrics are odd and progressions dart off unpredictably, but it is all held together by one of the most original senses of melody in modern independent music.
Protex: Strange Obsessions
Part of me feels guilty for enjoying this album so much. You see, Belfast’s Protex recorded this, their sole LP 30 years ago, but it was shelved. Not to detract from any of the currently active hard-working bands out there, but this shit rips that much more. It is mind-boggling that this hasn’t even been bootlegged as it is some of the best ‘77 punk/power-pop these ears have ever heard. Very much in the same tradition as the Boys or the Pointed Sticks, you’ll be singing along to these bright little earnest shards like you’ve known them for years.
After the legions of bands with high-pitched squeaky vocals that are influenced by Lifetime, it is great to hear a band that uses this sound to inform their pop-punk whose vocals don’t sound so pre-teen. Although their demo seemed a tad more diverse, I can’t knock a band for focusing and tightening up their sound like !ATTENTION! have here. Also, “Charmical Drive” has to have one of the finest gang vocal moments of the year.
It is extremely telling that Brian Fallon is featured on the B-side of this Chamberlain reunion single—in that the Bruce Springsteen-by-way-of-'90s-punk sound that Gaslight and so many other bands use—was already done by Split Lip/Chamberlain over a decade ago. That being said, this is a great single that picks up right where their final collection left off.
Now THIS is the Dead to Me I’ve been missing. Another release and some more new band members later, this in some ways feels like more of a proper followup to Little Brother than African Elephants ever did. This isn’t simply Cuban Ballerina Part 2 either, though. There is the band's signature ‘77 influence, but these songs are more frantic and aggressive than anything they’ve done before. I am once more a fan.
About Last Night is a near-perfect pop-punk 7”. Four fast, frill-free pop-punk songs with male/female vocals that give off a heavy East Bay vibe like This Is My Fist! or Pinhead Gunpowder. This is one record I picked up this year that I always listen to every song every time I listen to it.
On their debut 7”, Night Birds provide a really potent mix of early '80s California hardcore punk with dark lyrics and minimalist melody akin to T.S.O.L. or Adolescents, and really fun surf-inspired leads. With a lot of early '80s-influenced hardcore out there, Night Birds are able to stand head and shoulders above most of it.
No Problem: Your Eyes
No Problem are ex-members of a number of bands, most notably Wednesday Night Heroes, but this 7” doesn’t really resemble that band’s mid-tempo punk rock. Instead, there is a hardcore style more in common with Deep Sleep or New Mexican Disaster Squad with an underlying thread of UK ‘77 in the vocals. Some of the best sing-alongs of the year right here.
Mockingbird tease us again, following up last year’s phenomenal Goodbye Debris EP with this brief but exciting two-song 7”. There is a slightly cleaner guitar sound on Branches that reveals the band’s lyrics and melodies in a more satisfying and accessible way. This 7” reminds me a lot of one of my favourite LPs of the past decade, Attack in Black’s Marriage, but Mockingbird are far from copycats.
Bloody Gears: End Of The Line
Some might disregard this as simple early Wipers worship, but there is more going on to this 7” than just that. What you get is a complex combination of many things from that era, including a distinct Chicago sound that you won’t really find anywhere else this year.
I always love it when I see a band capitalize on their potential, and after releasing one of my favourite demos last year, Weed Hounds have returned with a pair of 7”s and a split. But this is, in my opinion, the best thing they’ve done so far. Though surf-related pop really seems to be the sound du jour, Weed Hounds’ smokey melodies are hard-pressed to be beat.
“Who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock & roll could save us all.” With such a simple line, Frank Turner has a way of getting inside your head and staying there for days. And the Rock & Roll EP is full of little moments like that. This album really does remind me of how I fell in love with guitar-based music—specifically rock ‘n’ roll—to begin with. In the past I’ve seen Frank as a poor man’s Billy Bragg, but I think this EP could give Braggy a run for his money.
GIVE uses D.C. Revolution Summer-era as a clear foundation on Heaven Is Waiting. They have introspective lyrics, clean-shouted vocals and melodic breakdowns, but they often maintain a tempo on the a-side of hardcore punk’s forebears for something a little different.
This pop-punk supergroup is back with more of the same. Thankfully, more of the same means some of the catchiest pop-punk songs you are likely to find this calendar year. It is nerdy, frustrated, desperate and you will find it extremely hard not to sing along.
While Junior Battles’ debut reminded me a lot of Chicago pop-punk and some of the vocal parts are still reminiscent of Much the Same or the like, their self-titled 7” shows a lot of growth. With more sophisticated compositions, catchier melodies and the kind of harmonies you don’t normally find in a pop-punk record, it stands out far and away one of the best little pieces of wax this year. All we need now is an LP.
For those of us who consider ourselves fans of Blake Schwarzenbach’s music, it has been a long eight years between bands and any releases. forgetters’ double 7” was well worth the wait, falling somewhere between Blake’s work on the last Jawbreaker album and the first Jets to Brazil release. This record finds a perfect balance between indie pop and punk rock.
P.S. Eliot score big points once again with their followup to last year’s Introverted Romance in Our Troubled Minds. They keep the same formula of ‘90s guitar fuzz, loose melodies and thoughtful lyrics about love and life, but the compact format cuts out any possibility of filler, making it ultimately their most satisfying release so far.
If I had a section for “Best Band of the Year,” Mixtapes would get it. Every single release (one LP, two EPs and one split 7”) this year has been fantastic, fun bursts of pop-punk goodness, and this particular release is my favourite, like sunshine in audio form. Anyone not down with this shit probably doesn't like candy, or puppies or kittens or breathing very much.
True fucking story: This album teaser is better than most albums this year. While there are still touchstones of Hot Water Music-based post-hardcore to Red City Radio’s music, there is a pop sensibility that a lot of bands that play similar styles of punk just don’t have. You’ll remember this like it was your wedding night...awwww yeeeeeahhh.
Like I said in my review for the record earlier in the year, this 7” was in the works for a number of years and now that it has finally come, it rules. Two extremely catchy ‘77/power-pop jawns that beg to be screamed out of a car window at your future ex-husband. Great final document of a band that left too soon, like when you find a piece of food stuck in your teeth from an awesome meal you ate earlier that day.
The Creeps have been doing their thing for awhile, but this 7” really stands out from their back catalogue, mixing creepy lyrics with a sound that I might describe as a bathhouse meeting between the Ramones, Danzig-era Misfits and Sink or Swim Gaslight Anthem. I use the word catchy a lot because it is how I like to describe things that get stuck in my head; this 7” has been the most sticky of any album I’ve heard this year.
This stuff isn’t proper albums or all-new material, but they were released this year and I feel they are essential listening in this three hundred and sixty-five days, or any other and sixty-five days.
Top 10 Collections/Compilations
Direct Hit!: The Essential Direct Hit! Anthology
Samiam: Orphan Works
Fucked Up: Couple Tracks
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise
Smoking Popes: It’s Been a Long Day
Shared Arms: III Sessions
OFF!: First Four EPs
Black Tambourine: Black Tambourine
Thrush Hermit: Complete Recordings
Top 10 Demos
Womb Raider: Demo
Over Stars and Gutters: Demo 2010
Spells: Demo 2010
No Class: Demo
Wax Phantom: Don’t Fool with a Phantom
The Heat Tape: Raccoon Valley Demos
Bad Banana: Crushfield
Sacred Love: Love Songs Demo
Natural Law: Spring Trash
Top 5 Reissues
Screeching Weasel: Television City Dream
Buzzcocks: Another Music in a Different Kitchen
Buzzcocks: A Different Kind of Tension
Banner Pilot: Resignation Day
Top 5 Live Shows
The Suicide Machines, The Code, We Are the Union, Bail Bondsman, Saint Andrews Hall,
July 24, 2010, Detroit, Michigan (Suicide Machines and Code reunions).
KOI Music Festival, Various Venues, September 18, 2010, Kitchener, Ontario (Orphan Choir,
Wayfarer, Mockingbird Wish Me Luck, !Attention!, Lemuria, Blacklist Royals, Junior Battles).
The Ergs! & Hunchback, December 5, 2010, Asbury Park, New Jersey (The Ergs! and
Career Suicide, Urban Blight, School Jerks, Useless Eaters, Total Trash, The Poor Alex
Theatre, January 22, 2010, Toronto, Ontario (Attempted Suicide LP played in full, first Total
The Fest 9, Various Venues, October 29th-31st, Gainsville, Florida, (Red Collar, Dear
Landlord, Paul Baribeau, Failures’ Union, Red City Radio, P.S. Eliot, Punch, Paint It Black, Fake