"My heroes / I have forgotten them" â?? The Menzingers, "Home Outgrown"
This year meant growing up. I've been gainfully employed all of 2010, living on my own health insurance and saving up to move in with my girlfriend of four-and-a-half years. We traveled through Europe together. Her love keeps me going, I think she's the best person in the world–ew gross–and so on. I finally got another band together, called Science Club. Our influences include ice cream, Star Trek and anything Ted Leo likes. The band exists for fun. We legitimately like our songs, but we have no claims to or expectations for success. We have real lives to worry about.
That's why I don't care when I get hate mail for my writing or my music (even if it's from Tom Gabel himself). Those problems are inconsequential; I care more about death and taxes.
This year I had to say goodbye to my cousin Michael. "Cousin" doesn't sound right. Well, it's technically right; he's the firstborn son of my father's brother. But really he was my brother. He was only a year younger than me, but he somehow ended up being my big brother, or at least the most important tastemaker in my youth. Over the years, Mike turned me on to plenty of bands. He was always ahead of me when it came to music, from punk to emo to indie and back. We were both in love with music, which means we also argued about music a lot.
But Mike also harbored a drug addiction. He went in and out of rehab and halfway houses over the years. He got kicked out of home plenty of times. But he was still family, which is why it hurt to talk to him.
I reconnected with Mike a week before he died, however fleetingly. We talked about music, about the Gaslight Anthem show he had just attended, about how good the new Arcade Fire record allegedly sounded. He got titles wrong. He forgot what school I attended and how long I had been dating my girlfriend. Little details showed his brain had maybe faded. But his eyes burned.
A week later he overdosed.
The night before he died we talked online about the Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire. The next day he was gone. His last status update on Facebook was "Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down, Ray." It's a quote from Raging Bull. I'm going to analyze those lines for the rest of my life and try to find a hidden meaning, like he knew he was going out on his own, like the day of his death was significant. Or maybe he put it up there because Mike was a big Scorsese fan. I'm never going to know. All I have left behind are fragments, like this essay he wrote for my blog. It's about the Get Up Kids, but also his desire to stay clean.
There are a handful of records that will always remind me of Mike. Bear vs. Shark's Right Now You're in the Best of Hands... was the last record Mike and I listened to together. TGUK's discography will always bring back his ghost, especially the first two albums. Green Day. Springsteen. The Promise Ring. I listened to the Cure's Pornography, a record about drug addiction and despair, for the first time when Mike got out of his first stint in rehab. I listened to it on my roof as the sun came up, delirious and despondent from lack of sleep because I didn't know what to say to him anymore. It's always reminded me of his demons, and now it'll always be that way.
I want to hope that Michael achieved some sort of peace. But he was never particularly religious and neither am I. All I know is he's gone and nothing I say or do will make that fact easier or better or refutable. Sometimes I think the grieving process is profoundly fucked up, as the goal is to one day be comfortable with the concept of someone I love no longer existing, and that the world will go on, not because it has an opinion on my family's pain, but rather because it simply does not care. I am the tiniest of cogs. I am replaceable. Is that nihilistic?
And I'll take what is given to me
And I'll realize I'm not going home
And after a while, when all of your currency's gone
And after a while, when all your mistakes have been made
You've tasted the carbon dioxide.
I think about Mike every day. He probably would've hated most of my favorite records from 2010.
Top 20 Bestest Records of 2010 According to Joseph. T Pelone
Gatorface is definitely a throwback to â??90s-era Fat bands, but their full-length debut, Wasted Monuments, still goes beyond mere idol worship. Tunes like "Not Scientists" and "Kids Stealing Kids" burn with hooks and political barbs, and that's always been my favorite kind of punk. Gatorface was started for fun by Alex Goldfarb and Richard Minino from New Mexican Disaster Squad, and by the sounds of it, they're having a great time.
A lot of the records on this list look backward as much as forward, which certainly describes Screaming Females' Castle Talk. The album has an appreciation for â??80s new wave/punk crossover and â??00 back-to-basics rock, but Screaming Females do it better. Frontwoman/guitarist Marissa Paternoster drops playful lyrics and loud guitar histrionics as she pleases, and she does it better than most bands from yesteryear. This is how I wish Yeah Yeah Yeahs had turned out.
The short answer for Bars of Gold's placement on this list is: "It's Bear vs. Shark with more keyboards." The long answer: Marc Paffi is very good at the following things: yelling and making his instruments rock the heck out. He put those talents to very good use for BvS, and he's doing it again with Bars of Gold. While I hate comparing him too much to his old band, Paffi sounds like he's picking up where BvS might have gone had they stayed together after Terrorhawk.
Spiral Shadow found Kylesa expanding beyond metal into a more alt-rock direction, by which I mean Kylesa just made their most accessible record. That means a bigger, melodic, radio-friendly presentation, but somehow Shadow manages to still be Kylesa's most experimental record too. This is their most psychedelic release so far, with tons of interludes and atmospheric bits floating around. Either way, the metal faithful have deemed this record underwhelming, but it's their loss. Spiral Shadow rocks.
Castevet writes shimmering post-hardcore/post-rock mash-ups that find the midpoint between Hot Water Music and Mogwai, successfully. I have both versions of The Echo & The Light, the original version completed last year and the re-recorded final, and they're both great. Maybe it's just the high from their '90s emo/post-rock revivalism talking, but Castevet could easily be huge with their cross-genre style.
The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle took a break from writing serious songs about the deaths of loved ones to hang out with his buddy Franklin Bruno. Being the best of friends, they decided to write some songs. These songs were about adultery, doom and Elder Gods. See, Darnielle has this knack for matching big hooks with depressing lyrics. While it's a little disappointing coming off of a string of emotionally intense, personal works, Undercard is still stuffed with some of the best short stories of 2010.
Daft Punk: TRON: Legacy
This is not an album for Daft Punk fans per se, unless those fans also love science fiction and especially love TRON. Because these French robots totally get TRON. TRON: Legacy was never meant to be a sequel to Human After All, so it shouldn't be regarded as such. But as a sequel to the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (with some help from Journey!), it's stunning. Carlos blended orchestral and electronic music to great effect for the original 1982 soundtrack, marking a milestone just as important as the early works of Kraftwork or the birth of post-punk. Daft Punk develops those ideas further, wedding their danceable electronic vision to more traditional orchestral movements, resulting in a flowing, emotionally stirring work.
I love Envy because they remind me of so many bands I love–Deftones, Jesu, M83, Mogwai, Thursday–yet satisfy a very specific need that no one else can handle. Of all the records on this list, Recitation probably took me the longest to appreciate, simply because the songs are so epic. The material slowly builds in intensity as it grows from spoken word to post-hardcore fury over the course of 20 minutes, then destroys and rebuilds itself over the course of an hour that is alternately haunting and powerful. Recitation is not an immediate album for parties or driving. But it's so satisfying once you crack it.
If it weren't for the fact that their albums still tear up the Billboard charts, I'd call Deftones underrated. Ten years ago, the group was unfortunately lumped in with nÃ¼-metal mooks, even though they had more in common with My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand and the Cure than they ever did with Limp Bizkit. So to that extent, the band has never gotten the full appreciation they deserve, even though, a decade later, music has finally gotten hip to the "tones" sound. Deftones have always been a band of meeting points–metal, goth, shoegaze, and post-hardcore are in the mix–and Diamond Eyes may very well be the best distillation of this sound. Maybe it's because they've been away for a while, but Deftones sound awfully vital in 2010.
Some days, it's just good to know that Ted Leo is out there, ever vigilant, and Brutalist Bricks reminds me that we need him, like a punk rock Batman. The record is more concise than the double-album length of Living with the Living and less indebted to Thin Lizzy's guitars than The Tyranny of Distance...which I guess puts it in league with the similarly stripped-down punk fervor of Shake the Sheets. Rank it however you want; it still has "Bottled Up in Cork." That song opens with a furious intro, gets softer/poppier, drops a few verses about traveling through Europe and meeting family, and then drops an insanely catchy guitar solo before closing out with a long, infectious intro. Leo could have broken the ideas in that song up into an album. Instead he combined them all to make one ridiculously great song.
The Roots: How I Got Over
I hate when music writers show their lack of credentials before engaging in a review. It's tantamount to saying, "Here's why you shouldn't care about my opinion." That said, um, I don't know much about hip-hop. But I do love soul music, and the Roots' How I Got Over has plenty of it. The record starts off quite cool and smooth with songs like "A Peace of Light" and "Dear God 2.0," but it's James Brown throwbacks like the title track that keep me around. I'm not an expert on rap, but I recognize a good groove when I hear it.
Kyle Kinane: Death of the Party
A Special Thing
Every year, the fates deliver on to me a comedy record stuffed with one-liners and personal stories about failure that really hit home. This year, that record was Death of the Party by Kyle Kinane. His humor can get crass at times (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom), but also tells tales about the triumph of the human spirit (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom). He also gave me my favorite cop put-down: "How did you get your job? Did you win a raffle?"
Some of the best music these days is coming from the American South. Witness Museum Mouth, an unsigned lo-fi punk band from North Carolina that pretty much wrote and self-released a better record than any critical darling without much support. I get why people like No Age and Dum Dum Girls–hell I like some of their songs–but Museum Mouth does it better, without any pretentious imagery. I can't pick a lone standout track from this record, so what's say you just download it now?
Banner Pilot and the Loved Ones didn't drop anything new this year, so the Flatliners flew in to fill my need for huge choruses, gruff vocals and lyrics about drankin' and stankin'. Cavalcade feels like it was calculated to satisfy my every punk desire. This record knocked me out the first time I played it. Judging by the reviews it's gotten, everybody else had the same experience.
Sleater-Kinney is still on hiatus, but with Wild Flag and the Corin Tucker Band, that's not such a bad thing. CTB's 1,000 Years should satisfy many a Sleater-Kinney fan. While it gets a little mom rock in places, songs like "Half a World Away" and "Doubt" still revel in buzzsaw guitars and rock â??n' roll histrionics. Tucker still knows how to belt â??em out, and I'm still listening.
I was skeptical of Fang Island at first, but it turns out I was just being a dick. Someone put on Fang Island's self-titled full-length debut during the triumphant drive home from the first Science Club show when a lightning storm tore through the Philadelphia air. The record slowly revved into attacked position, setting itself up with "Dreams of Dreams" and "Careful Crosses" before exploding with the triumphant "Daisy." And then insanely fun arena guitar rock synced up with fucking lightning. In a perfect world, Andrew W.K., Torche and Fang Island would tour together. And they'd play my backyard. And we would be friends forever.
In my original review for Taste the Sin, I was slightly dismissive of Black Tusk. They're a great metal band, sure, but they didn't push boundaries like Kylesa or Baroness. But that same dedication to simply writing ass-kicking metal tunes is what brought me back to Sin over and over again. The band is almost punk in their assault, keeping their songs tight and focused while delivering massive riffs and throaty growls, and they really grew into their sound on this album. Sure, the lyrics are a little silly ("Rip your face off / Thrash around" is both really dumb and really metal), but the songs kept me going. When I needed something aggressive, Sin was my go-to record for 2010.
Ignore the dubious title and got-damn horrendous artwork, and you'll find a slinking, atmospheric juggernaut awaiting. In some ways, Crime in Stereo's I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone outdoes Is Dead's ideas, becoming more atmospheric, more dissonant, more willingly un-hardcore. I remember a lot of people calling CiS too experimental circa 2007. Three years later, the band makes seemingly "experimental" numbers like "Choker" and "Third Atlantic" sound like outright pop songs. I'm still bummed about CiS breaking up, but like my friend Nate and I always say, "Drugwolf forever!"
I saw the Menzingers open once for Smoke or Fire on a Valentine's Day show at Siren Records in Doylestown. I was hooked. They had the anthems and passion of early Clash, which is fitting since they did a riveting cover of "Straight to Hell." I bought their record, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and became obsessed. I tried to make it out whenever they played nearby, as their shows were always revelatory, jubilant and just generally sweet. It didn't even matter if they messed up; one time, their co-lead singer/guitarist launched into a perfect rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" to kill time while they dealt with technical issues. Lesson is a record I hold in high esteem; it meant so much to me for three years.
Then the Menzingers dropped Chamberlain Waits, and I pretty much left Lessons behind. Outside of when I listened to it for review purposes, I have not gone back to it this year. Instead, I've poured all of my energy into Chamberlain Waits, a record about growing up, feeling kind of lost and trying to find a way in the world. It's about being stuck in Pennsylvania. It's about late nights with old friends and the importance of music. It became my "Shit Sucks But This Song Rules" record. As I've gotten older, I've become less and less excited by punk music, as I suppose this list indicates. But then when bands like the Menzingers come around, I become a believer all over again. This genre thrives on insularity, but honestly, I want everyone to listen to this record. Disaffected teens, old-school punks and rock enthusiasts in general all need to live inside these songs.
Chamberlain Waits and Venice Is Sinking's Sand & Lines have battled it out over the course of the year for my affections. They don't sound anything alike–one is punk with a folk tinge and the other is an alt-country record–but they both satisfy very basic needs for me. I listen to music, partially, for catharsis. Chamberlain makes me think about the things that went wrong for me this year–settling for a less-than-ideal job, accepting that I'll probably never live in Philadelphia again, my cousin's death–and turned those things into energy I could use. Sands & Lines makes me think about everything that went right.
It shouldn't, though, given that the album's best moments are about failure and break-ups. Somehow, though, my girlfriend and I really latched on to this record, and it scored our most intimate moments. The quiet resignation of "Sidelights" and "Tugboat," the panic of "Jolene," the cool beat of "Falls City"–these parts wrapped around me like a blanket, and I took the record with me as I traveled around the East Coast, and then over to Europe. When I listen to this record, I think about watching the love of my life undress in Paris. I think about love itself. The Georgia Theatre offered such a warm and lived-in sound quality; it's the exact opposite of AZAR. It's fitting that the band is donating money from the record sales towards rebuilding the theatre; it's like an unofficial band member in terms of shaping the album's style. I'm still down with the punks–I was spinning Government Issue something fierce earlier today–but Venice Is Sinking makes me feel comfortable, safe, alive. It's perfect for the cold and the close contact of winter, but it's cool and breezy enough to bring out during the summer. It's my album of the year because it sums up my year.
Ah, but this year isn't just defined by full-lengths. Lest we forget, the year also saw some great short-form releases. So pour yourself a delicious, refreshing glass of soy milk and strap the fuck in for the...
Just gonna throw this out there: Simple Science is where the Get Up Kids should have gone after On a Wire. It's still moody, a little more indie rock and not nearly as pandering as Guilt Show. Although it's belated, Simple Science was a return to form for TGUK, and I look forward to their eventual full-length.
Yes it's a single. Fuck you, I'm counting it. This seven-inch opens with "Monumental," from the Flatliners' pretty thoroughly awesome Cavalcade, and the B-side offers up two new tunes, "Christ Punchers" and "Cut Your Teeth," that deliver just as much crunch and punch as their punk rockin' full-length. 2010 was a great year for the Flatliners creatively, and based on the hype they're getting, I assume commercially as well.
Mean Jeans followed up their super catchy Ramones tribute Are You Serious? with a mini-concept album about drankin'. "Tears in My Beers" sounds like exactly like its title suggests, but B-side "Cool 2 Drive" is the winner, with an infectious chorus about the aforementioned drankin'.
Nine Inch Nails + Lady vox = How to Destroy Angels. I worship at Trent Reznor's altar, so I'm stoked to have some new tunes. As much as I miss his bark, Mariqueen Reznor's cleaner vocals fit the music nicely and give it a different spin.
Joe McMahon was all up in punk's business in 2010. He dropped an acoustic split with Brendan Kelly and a solid new Smoke or Fire full-length in The Speakeasy. In between the two, SoF dropped a nice teaser seven-inch, featuring a stripped-down version of "Speak Easy" and a catchy supporting track called "Modesty." Say it with me now: This is the new Avail.
The Next Big Thing: Tough as Nails, Sweet as Pie
The world needs a Kid Dynamite. My pals in the Next Big Thing opted to keep the KD sound alive, complete with bass solos and throaty, catchy choruses. In the interest of complete disclosure and journalistic integrity or whatever, I should mention that I bring the gang vox something fierce on this disc, but I'm awesome, so check this out. "Girls Don't Listen to Lifetime" is my jam–and ladies, if you do listen to Lifetime, holla at frontman Nick Gregorio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Wrecking Ball
Record Store Day came twice this year, and Bruce Springsteen delivered great finds on both days. Black Friday brought a "Save My Love" single backed with "Because the Night," but the bigger, better release was "Wrecking Ball." Debuted during his 2009 tour, "Wrecking Ball" was Springsteen's ode to Giants Stadium; the song helped clear out the bad taste left by Working on a Dream. It's full of classic E Street intensity and showmanship, and it's so catchy that I don't even care that Springsteen rhymes "balls" with "ball." The B-side, a live version of "The Ghost of Thom Joad" featuring Tom Morello, is nifty too.
In an alternate universe, Torche is the biggest radio rock band in America. No one has heard of Nickelback, but they sure as hell know all the words to Songs for Singles. While it's certainly a bummer that this is not the case here on Earth Prime, hopefully this Floridian metal act will garner a few new fans with their latest effort. The songs roll off of each other so well that one could easily get in three or four listens in a row without stopping. Torche doesn't sound like any one band, but they sure vaguely recall '90s alternative rock as a whole, to great success.
Like many an emotionally sensitive punk, I grew up on Jawbreaker. I committed frontman/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach's words to memory, using songs like "Accident Prone" and "Chesterfield King" for armor. When â??bach's band forgetters came together, featuring Kevin Mahon (Against Me!) and Caroline Paquita (Bitchin'), I was ecstatic to hear his return to punk (although I loved the indie-leaning Jets to Brazil. Can we finally acknowledge as a society that they were just as good as Jawbreaker?). Their four-song debut does not disappoint, issuing grainy, throaty, passionate punk rock with Schwarzenbach's trademark hyper-literate lyrics and perhaps his best vocal takes yet. Sometimes it's political ("Not Funny"), sometimes it's personal ("Too Small to Fail"), sometimes it's about vampires ("Vampire Lessons"), but it's always great.
Banner Pilot is one of the best up-and-coming punk acts today, blending Dillinger Four's hooks with Jawbreaker's lyrics. The Resignation Day re-release realizes the great album it was always meant to be.
Fuzzy, moody tunes that are too twee to really be goth–that could be any of hundreds of indie bands today, but Black Tambourine did it first. This complete-ish discography argues why they did it better too.
While he began moving away from hard rock on Young Americans, Bowie emerged with a completely new sound on Station to Station. He hadn't quite invented post-punk yet, but he was getting there. This deluxe edition comes with a remastered classic and a solid two-disc concert bootleg.
Stellar indie rock tracklisting for a stellar movie about fightin' and kissin'. Nearly half of the album consists of new tunes written by Beck, Broken Social Scene and Metric for characters in the movie, and they capture each fictional band perfectly. They also blend in well with older cuts from Frank Black, T. Rex and, again, Broken Social Scene. Go read the comics.
I say this every year, but 2010 was a great year for music. It took some digging, but art should never be too easy. 2011 is looking pretty good too, from where I'm at. Here are my top picks to watch out for: