Best of 2010: Brian's picksBrian's picks (2010) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: InaGreendaseBrian (others by this writer | submit your own) Brian is the reviews editor at Punknews.org - ed.
Impose Your Musical Tastes Upon This Immense Landscape
I made one giant leap forward and one small step backwards this year. You see, I was supposed to earn a bachelor's degree last week after toiling in various colleges for the last seve.
Brian is the reviews editor at Punknews.org - ed.
Impose Your Musical Tastes Upon This Immense Landscape
I made one giant leap forward and one small step backwards this year. You see, I was supposed to earn a bachelor's degree last week after toiling in various colleges for the last seven years or so, but one professor decided to give me a 'D' instead of the 'C' I needed—which means I'm back at my old community college, locked in for one more semester. Maybe I'll end up in wacky sitcom situations, at least. But for you, dear readers, it also means another solid five months of my obsessive-compulsive editorial regard.
Other than that, 2010 was the same old story: fueling my music obsession with shows and records and trying to keep my head above the proverbial water.
There's one Punknews thing in 2011 I'm most excited for. In June 2009 I conceived of a big feature that would take a ton of work and cracking the whip. We were hoping to unveil it in 2010, but it all stalled in the summer when certain contributors became tardy participants and the fall semester took over my life. With a little less school responsibility over my head, we should finally be able to post it next year. I see it as something that can be used as both a cool resource and an interesting read for years to come, so look forward to that.
Other than that, thanks for reading. We wouldn't do what we do if it wasn't for you, after all. You guys get a bad rap, but you've got heart, kid.
You Can Even Pick the Records You Like (Honorable Mentions)
While this isn't the direction I wanted Transit to go after their amazing 2009 EP, Stay Home, I can't deny how well the band infuse their brand of pop-punk with subtle flourishes of carefully technical guitars, diverse three-part vocal harmonies and '90s emo.
One of Envy's greatest recorded accomplishments to date is a refinement of their intense, simultaneously craggy and beautiful post-rock. It's got some of their most surprisingly accessible moments and economical songs, but the band haven't at all lost the unique contrast they've been concocting for so long.
The title of Everyone Everywhere's A Lot of Weird People Standing Around 7" could have been—and probably was—self-referential. It was a couple of songs that were rather dorky and a little bit silly, but had an earnestness and candor blessed by a wonderful sense of melody. It was like the nerd-rock Promise Ring. There are a greater variety of indie-punk influences present on the band's debut full-length (Piebald, the Weakerthans, American Football), but the point here is that the band are aurally maturing into something far greater than geeky power-pop toss-offs. Not that they were ever producing such, nor will, but there's a monolithic sense of melody and some big dynamics here restrained by modest, homegrown production tones and utter sincerity that are hopefully just the building block for a record in the future that could really be something to write home about.
No Age have always been influenced by the caustic melody of the late '80s and early '90s, brought to you by Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and Hüsker Dü. But on the band's second proper LP, Everything in Between, it's brought to the forefront. Sure, there's still plenty of the pure racket and noise the band's punctured listeners with since their early singles and EPs, but there's more of a "songs" focus on Everything in Between that's best represented by the wild swing of the aggressive "Fever Dreaming" or the muffled, surfy power-pop of "Valley Hump Crash." Still, it's there: There's an uncomfortably piercing line of feedback that laces itself through "Glitter" that will simply put you on edge, but it's something you tolerate because of how basically infectious the melody is. And that's the single.
I forgive Bethany Cosentino for her curt lyrical prowess because of how addicting and alluring Best Coast's songs are at their core. Simple, reverb-y, mid-fi indie pop songs with relentless hooks and hazy yearning.
The hype on the Republic of Wolves was mostly restricted to alternative and "emo" webzines, never reaching the radar of the hipster blogs that are seemingly responsible for the modern zeitgeist of cultural construct and critique. That's fine; they don't deserve the band, or Varuna for that matter. The Long Island act started out as a studio project, and that's rather apparent in how meticulously produced and nuanced their first full-length is. It's an hour-plus of slow-roasted alternative/indie rock burners and folk-tinged jawns, from an independent-minded band appreciative of help but knowing precisely what they're doing on their own.
It took Hot Water Music five albums to write Caution. It took Make Do and Mend one. In all seriousness, Make Do and Mend's unlikely to ever shake the comparison, but honestly, they did find a stronger, more unique identity on their first full-length. The band writes some bombastic, bellowed choruses amid their strained energy and aggression, with just the right amount of distortion, reverb and delay ringing out at all the right moments. And yet there's a sense here that they could take this so much further than basements and even ballroms while retaining the inherent sincerity that makes their songs so alluring in the first place.
Even the initially questionable reverb on Brian Fallon's voice couldn't mask the emotion resonant at the center of the Gaslight Anthem's 2008 breakthrough, The '59 Sound. So it's ironic that the band abandoned it for American Slang but scaled back the heartbreak anyway (save their most resolutely yearning song to date, closer "We Did It When We Were Young"). Still, this is an insistently strong collection of songs that softens the nostalgic tilt and punk influence, mostly trading them in for stripped-down, Americana rock songs with an air of sincerity lost on their radio peers.
From the earth-shaking stomp and beastly howl that comes six seconds into opener "Ayil," it becomes clear that Rosetta's third full-length should be an instant post-metal favorite. A Determinism of Morality is inherently straightforward compared to the band's prior releases, but the compelling plow the band command this album with makes it possibly their best effort yet. This is most certainly their Panopticon.
Warpaint are well aware of the premier alternative acts of the '80s and '90s, but they're by no means cribbing notes without forming their own thesis. The band's long-gestating debut full-length is a ghostly, desolate blend of the life-threatening dark of '80s post-punk and the boiling murmur of '90s alternative, a dreary nine-song effort that leaves no room for filler or failure...even if it sounds like Warpaint is slipping into emotional oblivion.
As Foals move further into the realm of "alternative dance" and less the math rock landscape they once seemed apparent to conquer, the band's actually been able to wield a wider variety of moods and textures. It can range from powerful post-rock experiments like "Spanish Sahara" to more accessible ventures like the hook-filled "Miami" and "This Orient."
There's a little more gloss and sparkle on Circa Survive's major label debut, but this is still by and large the same band that provided the androgynous-vocals-over-top-wintry-soundscapes on 2005's Juturna—only better. You can still hear Anthony Green's fragile ache in songs like "I Felt Free" and "Imaginary Enemy"—they're just a little bigger and more anthemic these days.
Possibly the best split full-length in punk rock since BYO was cranking them out. But we use "punk rock" here in looser, broader terms: Balance and Composure's four songs are a masterful quartet of depressive odes that wed the demonic prowl of later Brand New with the bleak, pedal-laden brood of The River Bed-era Small Brown Bike. They're dynamic, tragic and 100% infectious through and through. To get this split on the list, all Tigers Jaw really had to do was show up—but their side's not half-bad either. The band offers a new pair of humming cuts while picking up two older tracks from their sketchy 2006 full-length, Belongs to the Dead, running them through the far cleaner focus of their present-day procedure of fuzzy, Promise Ring/Saves the Day-style emo and '90s indie rock crunch.
There are times on Go, the proper solo debut from the Sigur Rós frontman, when it indeed sounds like that band's emotional epics are merely being condensed into equally effective, gut-tickling ballads. At nine tracks, that would have been just fine, but Jónsi shows to be far more versatile. More Debussy than Do Make Say Think, Go chirps and slams with naturelike and percussively wild, artful indie pop, bustling with chilling melodies in both major- and minor-key. The buzz in Jónsi's ears certainly isn't leading him to play endlessly—it's more effortlessly.
Another entry in this list that proves my soft side for progressive melodic hardcore acts. On their sophomore full-length, Hostage Calm fits this bill steadfastly. The band is pushing forward but they aren't afraid to look back—plenty of nods to the Smiths and the Clash infect this album, but there's a playful angularity and melodic manipulation respectively reminiscent of modern cult faves like Gatsbys American Dream and Crime in Stereo. It's all tied together with some of the most articulate, socially and politically aware subject matter this subgenre's seen in a long time.
As Aubin says: Yeah, they're still trying to write Graceland. You can't listen to "White Sky" and not hear Paul Simon's soft, wistful, 44-year-old voice in a 25-year-old Ezra Koenig despite the song's spry electronics and guitar taps. But Contra is as just as fun and enjoyable as its self-titled predecessor too, from the ska-lite of "Holiday" and the fussy, surprisingly tasteful Auto-Tune pop of "California English" to the precise hyperdrive of "Cousins" and confident swagger of "Giving Up the Gun." And the whole prep school thing? Sometimes a gimmick just works.
On Beach House's engrossing third full-length, the band forces artificialities to feel real. Seasick synths never sounded so warm as they do on the magnificent "Norway" and "Silver Soul," while the pulsing metronome of the drum machine in "Walk in the Park" and "Lover of Mine" pumps the proverbial blood through Teen Dream's veins. It's all harnessed by Victoria Legrand's decidedly real and musky voice, directing the band's dreamy indie pop through pastel soundscapes. I'm well removed from my teenage years, but I'll fall comatose in Neverland if it means being forever lost in Teen Dream's atmospheric breadth.
Through all the hype and accolades the National received for 2005's Alligator and 2007's more refined Boxer, I just couldn't get past Matt Berninger's baritone brood. That all changed the first time I heard "Afraid of Everyone." The haunting single—featuring fellow buzz vet Sufjan Stevens—perfectly emphasizes Berninger's frailty and quiet desperation, while a guitar strangely squiggles in the back every so often. That seems to sup up the National well: adult meandering with the occasional oddity, funneling post-punk mope through sweeping, engaging epics. High Violet bears this in every arresting track, from the incredibly sad, chilling build of opener "Terrible Love" to Berninger's barely optimistic inflection on closer "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." I'm officially on board.
Over the course of the band's last three albums, Crime in Stereo had proved to be one of the most fearless acts in punk and hardcore. It makes sense, though—some of the band's influences were never playing the melodic punk or hardcore card all that straight, from Silent Majority and Hot Water Music to Jawbreaker and As Friends Rust. Principal songwriters Alex Dunne and Kristian Hallbert were also avid readers, with allusions to works from the likes of Philip K. Dick and, especially, Kurt Vonnegut, littering their discography. It just simply happened that Crime in Stereo relied less on those bands' hallmarks over the years and, like those aforementioned writers, took an approach that put them in a class all their own.
The polarizing effect the band's farewell effort had on their fans made 2007's Crime in Stereo Is Dead seem like a fan favorite (although in many circles, that's the perception). I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone took the band further into an only vaguely classifiable realm where punk and hardcore tendencies are filtered through revered grunge and alternative influences. And effects pedals. Lots of 'em. But used smartly.
There's no denying it's a path the band's close peers in Brand New had taken themselves. The Long Island friends are intrinsically tied, from their sidestepping of industry regularities to their stark, decade-long progression. However, where Brand New found a level of commercial success that allowed them to progress respectably while maintaining a comfortable livelihood, Crime in Stereo never had that explosively popular debut that might have otherwise insulated them to the alienation their audience would feel come severe musical changes. And it's perhaps what did them in.
The ties to Brand New only became wildly apparent on Is Dead, but rightfully so: Crime in Stereo quite literally recorded the album with Brand New's instruments. But Trying to Describe broke away from the associations—at least a little bit. It's often corrosive ("Queue Moderns") and beautiful, but usually both ("Young," "Type One," "Odalisque"). It's demanding ("Exit Halo"). It's cathartic ("I Cannot Answer You Tonight").
It encapsulates nearly everything this band is capable of in an unpredictable, haunting 40 minutes that will, if there's any justice, cement Crime in Stereo's storied legacy within the punk and hardcore circles that may have confined them to some extent, but also made them who they are and pushed them to unprecedented musical heights.
The Emerald Coast continues Guiltmaker's ascent into the gut-wrenching, emotional rock that Elliott made their game on, but with a flood of complementary effects pedals and chilling earnestness. Circa Survive might have copyrighted this sound a few years ago, but this is the best—and alternately darker—band unintentionally following in their footsteps.
I like to pretend that the first incarnation of Oceana didn't even exist. The Florida band's past is sketchy, what with a generic nü-screamo/metalcore sound and some awkward pro-life songs. But after a temporary breakup in 2009, the band seemed to have reformed with, well, a clean head. Taking a similar path to where As Cities Burn went with their final release (except ACB was actually good at what they were doing prior), this EP bears virtually no aural connection to both the band's past and the awful scene they're probably still struggling to break away from.
Instead, Clean Head is a stunningly tense, structurally complex indie rock sound that's closer to the company of bands like Manchester Orchestra and All Get Out. It's a heady, bustling watermark of an EP with a few moments of big percussion and post-rock twinkle, and the rest of its brim filled with genuine emotion—something that couldn't be conveyed through over-produced barking and wanky alt-metal guitars.
For all the bands involved in the current wave of '90s emo revival, none are more depressed than Daylight. In terms of deathwishes and suicide notes, these guys make Off with Their Heads sound like the Rocket Summer. It's a heartbreaking sincerity filtered through craggy vocals and smart, dynamic instrumentation. It's too bad they'll probably have to dial activity down further in 2011, with their bassist playing in the now Bridge Nine-affiliated Mother of Mercy.
Daytrader were sick of all the bands biting Through Being Cool, so they went with Stay What You Are. In all seriousness, these current and ex-members of Crime in Stereo, Latterman, the Motorcycle Industry and Divider do dabble in a sound that hearkens back to Saves the Day's first stint on Vagrant Records, but there's a Smoke or Fire-esque desperation and grit to it all that makes this demo the best (and most suddenly developed) I've heard in the last few years.
It's a shame Killing the Dream is so inactive, because they've proven to be one of the most smartly progressive acts in hardcore. They've gotten better and more original with every release, with their newest release incorporating shades of everyone from Shai Hulud to...Anatomy of a Ghost? Yeah, it seems strange, but Lucky Me is a rather engaging release that remains hardcore through and through, only with experimental deviations (clean singing, strings) that make their howling desperation that much more dynamic.
Such Gold finds a little more aggression and guitar technicality with their second EP, Pedestals. There are a ton of hardcore-influenced pop-punk bands out there at the moment, but Such Gold is so much more than that. They have a stealthy array of influences informing their sound, and it comes out like the Movielife in their prime with subtle hints of melodicore, math emo, skatepunk and '90s hardcore keeping it consistently fresh.
It's hard to say what the highlight is here: the second half of Touché Amoré's "Hideaways" or the absolutely banging pair of post-hardcore ragers by Make Do and Mend. Either way, both sides have some of each band's best moments, from TA's scrappy, screamo-driven hardcore to MDAM's pounding rhythms.
Drummer James Phillips was in Final Fight, a band who put out a few releases of competent and semi-melodic hardcore. But when he needed to refresh his creative palette, he formed Seahaven, and the resulting band is not only miles ahead of where Phillips was, but already feels like a realized vision. The band's premiere EP is a stunning composite of modern indie rock and aughts emo, bridging the gap between Manchester Orchestra's guitar-driven, destructive emotions and Hot Rod Circuit's sardonic playfulness. One of the best debuts in recent memory.
I thought Japandroids' debut full-length—last year's Post-Nothing—was pretty good, if not a little overhyped. But the trio of 7" singles they put out this year? Fuck! All three original songs are better than anything on that album, which is weird considering these were considered that session's B-sides. It's a bummer we didn't get five 7"s as initially promised. "Art Czars" is a snarling snap to the "punx"; "Younger Us" is a wildly lively, joyous anthem; and "Heavenward Grand Prix" is a slow-burning, emotionally unsettled buildup. The Big Black, PJ Harvey and X covers are pretty ace, too. But seriously, guys—next album you record, let me pick what songs make the cut.
If you're not familiar with the brilliant promotional and distribution scheme Glassjaw teased their fans with during the last five months of the year, letting them speculate and spread theories virally, this is how it went:
The band releases a one-song 7" single on their merch store, and perhaps somewhere else. Each record, by the way, has a diecut center in the shape of the band's hallmark logo, so you had to purchase specially shaped vinyl spacers from the band in order to play them properly.
And the release schedule? 8/8 for the first; the next, 9/9; then 10/10; and so on and so forth. A month after the vinyl release, the band would release a high-quality digital copy for sale. Some of the records were sold at shows that billed a "special guest," which would end up being Glassjaw playing a short headlining set. The 7" for "Stars" was sold with a personal pizza at a Long Island restaurant near the MerchDirect warehouse. Now that's what I call marketing.
Here's where backhanded compliments abound: The Upsides is so much better than anything else the Wonder Years have produced. Granted, the band's been improving with every release, culminating with a sophomore full-length that adds a little more grit and reality to the band's healthy love for pop-punk modeled after the Starting Line and New Found Glory.
The National, now with more anxiety! This Scottish act's sophomore full-length slipped by me last year, but after giving it some attention and falling in love, it helped me get through an incredibly stressful autumn. Forget the Night Ahead swells and crashes with post-punk and shoegaze spheres, but it's got plenty of powerful, emotionally damaged hooks that keep it engaging at every turn. A powerful tidal wave of distortion and lump-in-the-throat panic.
10/9 - Sonar in Baltimore, Md.: Ruiner [final show] / Strike Anywhere / Killing the Dream / Cloak/Dagger / Defeater / Make Do and Mend / Pianos Become the Teeth
10/30 - The Fest (Saturday) in Gainesville, Fla.: Smoke or Fire / Paint It Black / Dead to Me @ The Venue; Planes Mistaken for Stars / Bridge and Tunnel covering "D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S." / Worn in Red @ 8 Seconds; Joey Cape / Iron Chic / Red City Radio @ Common Grounds; Punch / Vicious Cycle / Comadre / Touché Amoré @ The Atlantic; Caves @ Spin Cycle; Failures' Union / Born in a Cent @ 1982; Defeater / Paint It Black / Make Do and Mend / Pianos Become the Teeth / All Teeth in the parking lot of a warehouse
10/31 - The Fest (Sunday) in Gainesville, Fla.: Broadway Calls / The Menzingers / Lemuria @ The Venue; Frank Turner & Fat Mike covering "Linoleum" / Shook Ones / O Pioneers!!! @ 8 Seconds; Junius / City of Ships @ The Atlantic; Go Rydell @ Rum Runners; Make Do and Mend @ 1982; Defeater / Soul Control / Touché Amoré in some backyard/dead end
The National – Terrible Love (alternate version)
Killing the Dream – Blame the Architects
O'Brother – Lay Down
Japandroids – Younger Us
Directions – Dreamer (demo)
Title Fight – Dreamcatchers
Such Gold – Sycamore
Dear You – Strangers in My Basement
Balance and Composure – Burden
Now, Now – Giants
Underoath – Paper Lung
Colour Revolt – Everything Is the Same
The Men – Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition
The Decemberists – Down by the Water
Vampire Weekend – Jonathan Low
The Republic of Wolves – Greek Fire
The Twilight Sad – The Wrong Car
Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union
Converge – On My Shield
Coliseum – Everything to Everyone
Look Mexico – Thank You (f/ Frank Turner)
Lemuria – They Are Who I Say They Are
Best Coast – Boyfriend
The Raveonettes – I Wanna Be Adored (Stone Roses cover)
Touché Amoré – Hideaways
O Pioneers!!! – Hey! That's My Blood
Warpaint – Warpaint
Jónsi – Tornado
Circa Survive – I Felt Free
Foals – Spanish Sahara
Crime in Stereo – Young
The Gaslight Anthem – We Did It When We Were Young
The Most Anticipated Records of 2011
There are two albums in particular I'm foaming at the mouth for: the debut full-length by Balance and Composure, and Manchester Orchestra's Simple Math. The former have spent the last three years or so perfecting their unique, heady mix of indie rock candor and punk-influenced, post-hardcore arson, and their new Neutral Milk Hotel-nodding song shows this band has the chops to create a similar classic. Meanwhile, Simple Math promises extremly emotional songs on frontman Andy Hull's part, along with heavy Neil Young, Pixies and Built to Spill influence, as well as some new experiments for them (a children's choir and a string section? Color me intrigued).
What else? The Republic of Wolves' The Cartographer EP seems like it could be a reinvention in sound for the cult favorites—and they just released their first full-length a month ago!
A couple bands making their debut on new, respectively high-profile labels: Moving Mountains and Touché Amoré. Good luck, guys. I'll be listening.
It was frustrating after Lemuria's Pebble was pushed back to next year, and it may not be the best sign that I prefer the B-side on their new single, Chautauqua County. But I'm confident that just like 2008's Get Better, Pebble will at least be an album I grow to adore in time—if not blowing me away on first listen.
After the relatively forgettable, classic rock-heavy content of The Crane Wife led me to skip The Hazards of Love altogether, I'm ready to hop back on the Decemberists train with The King Is Dead after loving its R.E.M.-iniscent first single, "Down by the Water."
Bayside's last few albums have been pretty good, but haven't given me much to revisit often. That may not be the case with their Wind-Up debut, Killing Time, whose few new songs previewed sound like the band's best and most aggressive since their first LP. Maybe you should start naming all your albums after NYHC acts, guys.
I'm hoping the Wonder Years continue their upward trajectory with their Hopeless debut, as does Title Fight with their own, LONG-awaited first full-length—and that Polar Bear Club and Set Your Goals pick it back up after (relative) sophomore slumps (which were nonetheless pretty great/good albums, anyhow). New Found Glory, in the same rough category here, improved dramatically with Not Without a Fight, and you gotta think they'll do just as well after all that touring alongside hungry young bands out to steal their thunder.
Two bands I've followed closely for almost a decade now, and seem oddly intertwined through their touring history, label affiliations, fearless progression, and even placement in my alphabetized CD collection: Thrice and Thursday.
There are three beloved Long Island bands more or less due for new albums this year, but I'm not holding my breath: Brand New, Glassjaw, Agent...looking your way.
What else? Man, you guys are relentless. Well, I've already heard the new All Get Out LP (if it ever gets released) and Daytrader EP, and both are pretty great. Besides that, I'll be looking forward to new releases from Gatsbys American Dream, Directions, Moving Mountains, Seahaven, Defeater, Cave In, the Get Up Kids, No Trigger, Transit, Caravels, Such Gold, Basement, Small Brown Bike, blink-182, O'Brother, Death Cab for Cutie, Into It. Over It., Former Thieves, Explosions in the Sky, Castevet, Saves the Day, La Dispute, Reverse the Curse, Taking Back Sunday, Yuck, Now, Now, Radiohead, KOJI, Rival Schools, Stay Ahead of the Weather, the Dear Hunter, Portugal. The Man, Rise Against, Aficionado, Mogwai, the Receiving End of Sirens, Panda Bear, GDP and probably way more.
I Think We Share the Collective Fate
Again—thanks. It's nice to have an audience actually reading my endless blathering.