Best of 2010: JohnGentile's picksJohnGentile's picks (2010) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: JohnGentileJohnGentile (others by this writer | submit your own) JohnGentile is a staff interviewer for Punknews.org - ed.
...IN WHICH I WEAR A LEATHER JACKET OVER TOP OF MY FRENCH COLLAR AND CUFFLINKS...
Whew! What is up my dawwwgggsss!!! What a year it has been! I gained tons of street cred and punk points by being in more touch with the underground. But,.
JohnGentile is a staff interviewer for Punknews.org - ed.
...IN WHICH I WEAR A LEATHER JACKET OVER TOP OF MY FRENCH COLLAR AND CUFFLINKS...
Whew! What is up my dawwwgggsss!!! What a year it has been! I gained tons of street cred and punk points by being in more touch with the underground. But, I also made it even more evident to the world that I'm really just a poser because my "mainstream" life advanced at an equally rapid pace.
I got to interview the greatest of all punk frontmen, Keith Morris! I was in my first for-real-deal punk rock/police crackdown riot at a show! I also got jumped into the Punknews gang by becoming a "staff member" because I regularly interview bands. What an honor! Thanks guys!
On the other hand, I used TURBO TAX™, throughly enjoyed The Jersey Shore and interviewed Joe Jonas.
You can check out my freelance writing site at: musicinink.com. Also, I regularly contribute Interviews to AOL's "The Patch" Santa Cruz and Mountain View. Check me out.
Although the mid-2000's saw a string of overloaded hardcore albums, with some reaching the 70 minute mark, Trash Talk know that less is more, and way less is way more. At just 17 minutes, Eyes & Nines busts in the place, rips it up, and gets out in a time span shorter than a single rush song. Plus, they stick in just enough of a hard rock edge to keep the songs varied, which is impressive when most of them start and stop in the time it takes to say "start and stop."
What if Stevie Nicks was backed by a punkish new wave band instead of a bunch of drugged-out hippies who were having sex with each other? Well, that would be awesome. It's no coincidence that Castle Talk is awesome as well. While Screaming Females might not quite have the frantic explosions of their earlier recordings, they have refined their ability to write fully fleshed songs that offer depth in sonic palate as well as lyrical interpretation.
When this record was first heard, exhibiting its contrast of muted dark passages to its visceral, charging wails, people were quick to call it the new indie by way of former punks. But, once one reflects on all the whispers, bells and chains that rattle through this album, it becomes apparent that goth music is alive and well in 2010... It's just not calling itself goth anymore.
While "Ramones-core" can get old (I mean, why not just listen to the Ramones?) for some reason, on Back to the Basement the Queers create a sharp, simple, catchy album that is obviously inspired by those guys from Queens, but doesn't use them as a precise blueprint. While Joe Queer himself referred to classic punk bands when talking about the recording of this album, it seems he wasn't quite able to get the Beach Boys out of his system. This contrast is what makes this album so intriguing: from one angle it's a sunny slam dancer, but from another, it betrays an underlying sense of melancholy.
Ice Cube: I Am the West
Although a part of me will perennially wish Ice Cube still rapped over Bomb Squad-style beats, he's made the transition from early '90s boom bap to Pro Tools-style beats better than most. On I Am the West, he continues to re-assert that he is first and foremost a social and political commentator, as he did with his last two albums. Those of you that think Cube is synonymous with Are We There Yet need to look no further then "No Country for Young Men," where he attacks the police, media coverage of Tiger Woods, and gets in a pretty darn good dig at Oprah.
I love everything about this band. I love their name. I love their gothic imagery. I love how their music sounds like a flood of thick, black tar that smashes down dams and pulls you to the bottom. While variety of sound might not be on their resume, sometimes if a band does one thing really well, each time they do it it feels like the first time.
Man, I was down with this group when they were called "The Muslims" and sold their albums riddled with bullet holes. Although they may have toned town their edginess in both their image and sound, their S/T release follows the path of its predecessors by kicking out snappy jam after snappy jam. Although we're reaching garage rock overkill (in my opinion), the Soft Pack keep it interesting by hiding weird elements under classic sound structure as well as having some truly distinctive tones to their instruments that makes this four-piece sound like a nine-piece.
Ben Folds & Nick Hornby: Lonely Avenue
I've sort of had a love/hate relationship with Ben Folds' music over the last 10 years or so. 16-year-old me thought it was hilarious when he cursed out a girl for having his favorite T-shirt, but 27-year-old me sort of wants to say, "Dude, you're 44. Let the t-shirt go!" While Lonely Avenue does stumble over some lyrics that seem disturbing coming from someone that could have a daughter in high school by now, there's no denying that when it hits those dreamy wave-like choruses, it reaches the same morphine-drenched heights as The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
He had me at "Fuck You." On The Lady Killer, Cee Lo creates what amounts to modern soul music. While the album was anchored by that runaway single which was as catchy as it was hilarious, he showed that on songs like "Georgia" he could write and perform songs that could stack up there with Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett without sounding like that was what he was trying to do.
Lee "Scratch" Perry: Sound System Scratch
In an age where everyone on the dancefloor just wants "the hits," it's weird to think that DJs used to make names for themselves by playing exclusives. Sound System Scratch is a collection of MIND-BLOWING dubs that were created by "Scratch" in the late 1970s either to be inventive or to make some quick cash (or both) but were never released. Now some 30 years later, we get analogue experimentation at its most extreme. Scratch pushes famous rhythms to their breaking point and the boundary between songs and sonic experiences gets *cough* *cough* *hack*.
Sort of a Bay Area prog-rock punk supergroup, Triclops! released its second album without much fanfare, letting it stand own its own. With John Geek of the Fleshies on the mic, the vocals seemed to be poppier on this release while the music would flip from accessible to unhinged. Although their debut was pretty good, by embracing their extremes Triclops! have made a masterful, psychedelic punk/metal collage.
I'll admit it, I was a Nobunny hater when he first hit the scene. A dude in a bunny mask and no pants–pfft, what a gimmick! However, after honestly giving the music a chance on its own merits, I found that his jams were both a loving tribute to early frat rock as well as pushing those tunes into daring territory. On First Blood, he cleanses up his production a little bit, but the songs are as strong as ever.
Although American V was Johnny Cash's death knell, where he openly addressed his rapidly approaching quietus, American VI is the man in black speaking from beyond the grave. WoOoOoOoOoOo!!! Although Rick Rubin ran the risk of pulling a Michael Jackson-style post-mortem cash grab by releasing this, instead we get the final hours with a legend who is aware that he has but days left to live and is prepared to meet his maker. His voice may be frail, but the persona behind it is stronger than ever.
In an age where punk, indie, hipster and metal subcultures have blended from categories into a spectrum (which is probably a good thing), ironic and joke metal bands seem to be as popular as guys that take the genre seriously. Although he sings about vikings fighting, dragons, and assassins, Matt Pike seems to treat heavy metal almost like it's a religious experience. His genuineness in a field of jokesters shines through on this thrash metal album which grinds, shreds and dices. Also, it is the perfect soundtrack to reading The Savage Sword of Conan.
In 2007, the Blastmaster released Hip Hop Lives, which was one his best albums sonically and lyrically. But since then, it seems that he's been laying down verses on anything in 4/4. Some of these tracks have been absolutely sublime and some of them...well...I'm not looking to start a beef. But, on Meta-Historical, KRS' lyrics are as good as they ever have been, with him explaining metaphysics, telling the history of hip-hop and forming mind-blowing metaphors all while flipping between his different styles, one of which is a tricky Jamaican patois. Plus, with beats supplied by TrueMaster, the Blastmaster raps over Wu-Tang-style beats, which is as awesome as it looks on paper and which shows both his influence and relevance in modern hip-hop.
Celebrating their 25th year with a two-year-long tour and two albums, it seems that urgency has been the fuel to GWAR's recent fire. Maybe deadlines have kept them from over-thinking their work on Bloody Pit of Horror, but GWAR has done what they do best and turned out 40 minutes of swinging, raw heavy metal that doesn't get lost in time signatures or over-production. People often say that to truly experience GWAR you have to see them live, which is true, but this album stands on its own as a kicking thrash LP.
On The Bride Screamed Murder, the Melvins take the energetic sludge that began with their latest lineup and get weird with it–they cover an Irish jig three times in succession, then begin the album with a military chant, and later they turn the Who's "My Generation" into a dirge. What I love most about the Melvins is that I never know what I'm going to get and here, I sure get it. A lot of fans at their concerts and online seem to complain that their newer output isn't like their classic Bullhead album, but, if you expect the Melvins to do the same thing over and over, maybe you just don't get the Melvins in the first place.
One thing that Danzig has taken with him throughout all of his bands is the ability to write a good song that would be a good song in any genre, be it metal, punk, country or doo-wop (well, except for maybe Danzig 5). Deth Red Sabaoth makes this explicit with its side A that is probably the most "rocking" music Danzig has ever done and then doubly so on Side B where he plays up goth sounds that we haven't heard since his second band, Samhain. Also, this album was recorded on analog equipment, and boy, does that make a difference in sound quality!
I first saw Ceremony this year when I went to see Paint It Black at 924 Gilman. Although I had never heard Ceremony before, as their set went on, I knew something was special. Intrigued, I picked up Rohnert Park to find a hardcore album that was undeniably hardcore at heart, but was also deft enough to add in weird elements like surf instrumentals, sampled monologues and tunes that wouldn't be out of place on a Jane's Addiction record. If this is the future of hardcore, we've got a lot to look forward to.
When rumors of OFF! began to circulate, I was hoping that it would be Morris' epic return to short, snappy, explosive punk. And you know what, it totally was. While OFF! pays obvious homage to Morris' first two bands, Black Flag and Circle Jerks, there's something unquantifiable about OFF! that makes the band clearly stand out on its own rights. Instead of replicating older punk, the band taps into the same dark well that yielded those phenomenal SoCal classics and make something that is nearly as fantastic if not as fantastic as Nervous Breakdown and Group Sex. Because the new album is only like 16 minutes long, there isn't a millisecond wasted. Every single scream, lick and drum kick drives the music, adding to the whole and making something that's timely for Morris and timeless for the rest of us. This is as good as punk rock gets, people.
TOP TEN BEST (NON-ALBUM) SINGLES AND EPs OF THE YEAR
What is it about these two girls' voices? They play off textures so perfectly, and are able to emote sadness, joy and even a haunting quality in two contrasting syllables. This live release makes that doubly apparent where the pair cuts through the best hits from their latest album, showing that while their production in the studio focuses on simplicity, live their voices show are an understated complexity.
While newer Beastie jams tend to have hilarious and clever lyrics, sometimes the beats don't have quite the kick of License to Ill or Check Your Head. But on this limited-edition release, DJ Shadow and Daft Punk took some new, unreleased songs and remixed some 2010 stomp back into wax, making two modern Beastie Boys tunes that stack up there with even the most furious moments on Hello Nasty.
With each successive release, Fucked Up seem to be saying "Can you hang with us, punk rockers, can you hang?!" "Solomon's Song," the B-side, begins with an airy, clanging guitar only to warp into a dance beat-infused thumb snapper while gruff-voiced Damian gets transfigured in the process. So basically, it sounds like an audio version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can hang, baby.
Various: Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie: Reinterpreting Black Flag
The Secret Life of Records
Although this album didn't get much notice, I thought it was clever in idea and strong in execution. Seemingly making the argument that Black Flag is the new Americana music through example, the producers of this record wrangled up the greats to show that the underlying ideas of Black Flag are the same ideas that have troubled man since he first picked up a lute. Plus, for some reason, I find Keith Morris singing "In the Jailhouse Now" hilarious. Oh, also, only Kira's Patsy Cline take on "Nervous Breakdown" could make depression sound sexy.
As a fan of the Vivian Girls, I'm always intrigued to see how they wrote when apart from each other. While Cassie Ramone seems to go towards jingle-jangle punk, Katy Goodman, who is the head of La Sera, seems to masterfully interpret '70s AM rock into a modern blend of shoegaze and pop. While the music itself is beautiful, the lyrics range from cute to you-were-a-selfish-boyfriend-so-I'm-going-to-slash-your-throat...which kinda creeps me out, man.
On their latest album, which I'm not going to type out the title of, BTMI! take everything that was great about their last album, Scrambles, and condense it into a seven-song, unified statement. In addition to mastering the contrast between bombast and whisper, they add in dozens–if not–hundreds of sonic elements that keep songs playful, but also thick with interesting quirks. On top of that, these songs are both classic sounding in their completeness, but also interesting in their uniqueness. No one else sounds like this band.
Jesse Michaels doing old-school hardcore: The formula seems so simple, yet it eluded us for 22 years! Both Michaels and the Hard Girls have the knowledge of old-school punk to make it interesting and the skills to pull it off. But, what really sets this release above is that Michaels is able to take his thoughtful, introspective lyrics and apply them to a minute-thirty slam dance, making the pairing seem natural despite the contemplative nature of one and the urgency of the other.
Although this EP is a re-recording of older material, the songs here sound more alive than ever. Apparently, the fathers of crust punk have used their two decade hiatus to contemplate just what they are, and have used their findings to sum up their multiple facets with three grinding tunes. They haven't lost any of their energy and have gained a Sauron-like focus. Plus, unlike a lot of bands, better production has throughly improved their sound, which was pretty awesome to begin with.
Drawing equal parts from their blue-eyed soul and barbed orchestral punk, World/Inferno have released a single that both fits in line with their previous efforts and pushes the band forward. Instead of just shouting"I hate the government," the band uses Philip K. Dick as a metaphor to explain that "you can't change the system / it changes you." Never has a band been able to use such complex tools to deliver a message with such simplicity.
This single takes the prize on its B-side alone. Sadly, Slits frontwoman Ari Up passed away this year and didn't seem to quite get her due for the incredible "Trapped Animal" album. But, at least she went out in a blaze of glory on her last release. On "Bed Athletes," the flip-side to this single, she dee-jay styles over a version of Lee "Scratch" Perry's song "Underground." It's fast. It's funky. It's fresh. it's genius-meet-genius.
TOP FIVE BEST RE-ISSUES OF THE YEAR
Dexy's Midnight Runners: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels: 30th Anniversary Edition
Little did I know that in the rest of the world, Dexy's are considered a highly influential band with three seminal albums instead of just the dudes that wrote "Come on Eileen." On this LP, Dexy's mastermind Kevin Rowland takes the fire from his punk days in Killjoys and adds blue-eyed soul to make snappy numbers that shake the spirit. Rowland is angry and frustrated on this album, but he does it with so much style it seems like he's having fun. The deluxe edition collects together practically every song the band recorded before the world famous "Too-Rye-Ay," making it a treasure trove culled from equal parts Johnny Rotten and Sam Cooke.
Junior Murvin: Police and Thieves [Deluxe Edition]
The album that brought reggae to punk, Police and Thieves is titanic by any measure. Horns of Jericho blare, Murvin questions and condemns in his angelic falsetto and Lee "Scratch" Perry mimics moo-ing cows throughout. The 2010 edition includes every single version, alt version and dub version of the songs on this LP, culminating with the massive 10-minute version of "Bad Weed" where Murvin and Perry team up to declare "Give a thief a long rope / and then we'll catch him!" and warn the named thieves "I and I a-gonna weed them out!"
Of course, the album itself is one of the greatest LPs of all time. But, the second disc is where things really got interesting. In order to dig up some extra stuff, Jagger and Richards went back and added new vocals and guitar parts to skeletons of songs. Although the record company tried to pass of the new additions as minimal, a careful listening shows that the extras had quite a bit of reworking...and to the Stones credit–the newly recorded material is as good as the stuff they made in their prime, showing just why they're the world's greatest rock band. (Still, with all the great bootlegs out there, a part of me wishes they had polished up a live soundboard recording for a third disc...)
Bowie created this album in a coked-up haze, but you can't really tell. It's a masterpiece of long, twisting songs. He reflects a detached coldness where Ziggy Stardust was the epitome of self-indulgence. This becomes doubly apparent on the TWO-DISC live show included with this set, where Bowie brings out most of this album for a walk around the stage and lays his new icy sheen on his formerly warm hits, showing that the ice age reached its apex in 1976.
Judas Priest: British Steel [30th Anniversary Edition]
In 1980, the greatest heavy metal band of all time (maybe second-greatest) released the greatest punk rock album that was punk by accident. Although Priest had previously released classics that were forged from heavy blues, on British Steel they discarded complex instrumentation and kicked out nine rapid bangers choked full of simple, crushing riffs and screamed choruses. But, the real treat on this edition is the live disc that includes the band playing British Steel live in its entirety in 2009. The fact that Halford can't quite hit those reeeeeally high notes makes it much better, because he replaces them with a Slayer-style growl, that when used in a live atmosphere makes the album that much more raw and energetic.
COUP DE GRACE
I'll admit that in 2009, there was so much good reggae, hip-hop and soul going around, I was listening to less and less punk. Indeed, I had thought that I was going "soft."
Boy, did 2010 ever prove me wrong, both with veterans blasting back in top form like OFF!, Danzig and the Melvins, and newer bands like Ceremony and Nails just completely making quantum leaps in hard music.
But 2011 looks pretty fierce, too. I'm looking forward to new: Dwarves, Beastie Boys, Vivian Girls, Jello Biafra and the GSM, Amebix, Star Fucking Hipsters, Classics of Love...oh and...WORLD/INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY. If even half of these releases live up to their potential, it will be one heck of a great year for music. Heck, I'm even looking forward to the new "Misfits."
One last thing that needs to be mentioned is the unfortunate passing of Ari Up of the Slits. She seemed to be someone who, although respected, never quite got her due, despite the highly inventive music she made THROUGHOUT her career. I saw the Slits live in 2009 and it was the most incendiary and original concert I saw all year–and I went to A LOT of concerts that year. Music shall never see an equal. Still, let's keep the punky-reggae party alive in 2011!