Adam White is the managing editor of Punknews.org. - ed.
Canadian ClubBy this time next year I'll be over 30. That milestone doesn't really matter to me but it does cause me to reflect on how my priorities have shifted, particularly in regards to music. I'm now past the point where I care to maintain the illusion that my opinion somehow represents a holistic and complete view of what's happening in punk. I may have spent over a decade editing Punknews.org, but my opinion's as myopic and incomplete as anyone's. If you find that your personal list isn't dominated by Canadian alt-country bands, I wouldn't be all that worried. If your list isn't fixated on groups who've played recently at the Mansion House in St. Catharines, Ontario: don't panic. I wouldn't at all feel inadequate if your list somehow features less than three You've Changed Records acts. You'd be wrong, of course, but perfectly normal.
Of course if my proclivities were to overtly influence Punknews we'd have a pretty major problem. Thankfully we've accounted for that with the biggest ever expansion of our volunteer editorial staff. The new writers and editors are bright, ambitious, young, and from a variety of backgrounds. I have every confidence your Org is in great hands going forward that no matter how strange, slow and old us veterans get.
5 EPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2011
Call it teenage nostalgia or blind nationalism (and you can level that criticism at me 10 or 15 times in this article), but I become irrationally overexcited whenever anything to do with Calgary's Chixdiggit is announced. Everyone has room in their soul for one dumb pop-punk band who can do no wrong, and this is mine. It's fantastic to finally to hear some new stuff from them after a few years of radio silence.
Hot Water Music's "down years" were hardly that, as we've been treated to an avalanche of projects from the band's principle songwriters. I can't deny though, that as much as I loved the Draft and the Ship Thieves and the whole Revival Tour phenomenon, it's great to hear the old gang back together under their proper banner. Hot Water Music is one of our community's rallying points and I can't wait to celebrate a new full-length with my friends.
Sound Study Recordings
If I controlled the world bands would sound this shitty and lo-fi for at least their first two full-lengths. EPs such as the Post Teens' debut are the great palate cleansers of modern music. They clear away all the bullshit and pretension you've surrounded yourself with and remind you what's important: blistering fast, fuzzed out, rock 'n' roll played by abandon.
The debut four-song EP from London, Ontario's Single Mothers is a wonder. The vocals, half spoken at times, deliver sneering commentary like it's `77 London while the band churns out sinister post-hardcore. It's like Craig Finn fronting Black Flag in early '90s DC, yet not at all.
For better or worse Against Me! continues to retain the Clash's title of The Only Band That Matters. The modern punk scene has found it impossible to ignore this group at any stage in their career, and it seems that they're about to pull off the rarely successful "post-major underground resurrection," at least if this seven-inch is any indication. Blame the awesome new drummer. Blame the fact that they're no longer (overtly) singing songs about the record industry. Blame us for being forgiving suckers with no punk conviction. Whatever. Against Me! sounds great here, and I'm first in line for the new record.
20 LPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2011
The Decay / Wayfarer: Decayfarer
Juicebox Recording Co.
This is the feel good local release of the year for me. I know people who worship Wayfarer. It's a name spoken in hushed tones with the utmost reverence. Here the KW punks easily prove why with some soaring, anthemic tracks. It's the Decay who really surprise though. I, and I suspect others, had written them off as a so-so street punk act some years ago. That's no longer the case. I have no idea how the band stepped up their songwriting but it's years ahead of where they were. Go grab the download from Juicebox and see for yourself.
If there's a fault in Arabia Mountain, it's that it sounds exactly as you'd expect a latter-day Black Lips to sound. The formula's not a bad one by any means, as this band maintains their rare ability to cut across genre lines with sleazy garage punk as a starting point. Still, for a group once heralded for their general chaos and unpredictability, it would be nice to see that spirit recaptured.
What is it about Dead To Me that causes punk reviewers to painfully over-analyze their output? For all the humming and hawing about lineup and stylistic changes, this band's delivering what they always have: track after track of high energy, crowd-pleasing, shout-along tunes that only get better live. Like every other Dead To Me release, Moscow Penny Ante finds the band playing their heart out and that's all I really care about.
This 12-inch is 11 minutes long. It contains nine sneering, lighting-quick songs, with the longest five seconds short of the dreaded two-minute mark. It's also the punkest record on this list. Vancouver's B-Lines have enough velocity and liveliness to them they they're never going to be mistaken for some nostalgia act, even though that '80s hardcore is clearly the driving influence here. These are gritty songs about the inanities of city life, and they'll be over (and on repeat) before you know it.
Frank Turner may have, willingly or not, become the poster boy for what we jokingly refer to Twitter as #oldpunx. His charming approach to folk-punk is as listenable and engaging as it's ever been, and his stature as the voice of the late-20s / early-30s former-adolescent is unequaled. There's no teenage angst here, and as with his previous album Frank paints a picture of youthful idealists now finding themselves a little older, a little wider, and (shockingly!) even a little content. It's a cool outlook, and not one we often see in a genre that be overly fixated on youth. If you weren't born between, say, '79 and '83, your mileage may vary, but this speaks to me.
Cuff the Duke: Morning Comes
Cuff the Duke's an old standard for me, and as one of the last remaining active bands from the Three Gut Records roster they hold a special place in my heart. While time has tempered some of the squelching distortion that marked their early work, it's also refined the band's approach to a point where I can comfortably say that everything here excels. Morning Comes is the alt-country act's most consistent album. The songwriting's strong throughout, and songs like "Standing On The Edge" and "You Don't Know What It's Like" are near-classics. Comfort food.
Marine Dreams: Marine Dreams
You've Changed Records
Attack In Black may not be a going concern these days, but they've never been more active as songwriters, nor more prolific as they've collectively been with their solo projects. The latest from the group is Ian Kehoe's stellar guitar pop debut as Marine Dreams. If you're looking for a certain raw and youthful exuberance, the closest thing on paper to Attack In Black's pop-punk heights, this the project to keep your eye on.
With their fifth self-titled full-length the Spits somehow manage to squeeze new life from a tried and true formula of off-kilter monotone Ramones worship. Given the number of bands endlessly reinterpreting the very same material this shouldn't feel as cutting edge or vital, yet somehow it achieves it. The band may have some level of infamy in the garage punk scene due to their stage act, but you never need to have seen it to appreciate the warped brilliance here. It seems contrary to their very purpose, but the Spits are actually getting better.
Joyce Manor remind me of past Punknews "record of the year" winners the Sidekicks, both in their raw pop-punk sound and their ability to slice across the entire spectrum of our editorial staff and please just about everyone (and probably for different reasons). There are huge hooks in these songs, but they never stick around long enough to overdo it before you're hit with the next. The majority of these tracks clock in well under two minutes and that's exactly what the makes this work so well. The first asshole producer to talk this band into padding out their songs is fired from punk.
Shotgun Jimmie: Transistor Sister
You've Changed Records
Deadpan New Brunswick indie rock veteran Jim Kilpatrick delivers an album of hooky, succinct, indie pop songs that seem to delight in how gloriously ordinary and grounded they sound. Transistor Sister never once attempts to be epic and it's all the better for it. I've been aware of Kilpatrick's output since his days in Shotgun & Jaybird but I've never been so consistently and thoroughly taken by it. Quirky, comforting and endlessly re-listenable.
Various Artists: National Parks Project
Last Gang Records
The National Parks Project, even without this soundtrack, is laudable. Celebrating the centennial of Parks Canada, 13 filmmakers and 39 musicians were dispatched to 13 national parks to collaborate on what's become an engaging set of documentary shorts. This soundtrack collects 20 of the best pieces of music that emerged from the wilderness and the credits read like my desert island albums list: John K. Samson of the Weakerthans, Bry Webb of the Constantines, Andrew Ethier of the Deadly Snakes, Andrew Whiteman of Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle, Jim Guthrie, Christine Fellows, Kathleen Edwards, Sarah Harmer, Cadence Weapon and that's not even half of them. The results range from delicate ambient instrumental tracks to timeless folk, and it's consistently evocative throughout.
Elliott Brood: Days Into Years
Elliott Brood's come a long way from their days keeping the beat on a leather suitcase. Days Into Years finds the three-piece mature and confident, so much so that the growing pains on their past few records seem all the more obvious in comparison. Rich, evocative alt-country songs like "Their Will" and "Owen Sound" are better realized than anything they've done before, and the single "Northern Air" is nothing short of classic. Hell, let's make it the new national anthem.
Bry Webb: Provider
Did I mention old punks earlier? Here we go again. The former frontman of the Constantines, more or less my favorite band ever outside of the Clash, returns with a subtle, contemplative solo record. Bry took the Cons off the road to settle down and start a family, and that perspective saturates Provider, from the yearning ballad written (and named for) his son Asa through the stomping (and brilliantly on-point) "Ex-Punks." It's been far too long since we've heard new material from Bry Webb. Here's hoping there's much more to come.
Bad As Me is like the a compilation of Tom Waits' greatest hits, only you've never heard the songs before. The story goes that Kathleen Brennan, Waits' wife, songwriting partner and producer, pushed for this approach and it's a brilliant move. The result is a set of tunes that, in short order, allows Waits to showcase each of his various personae. Here we have the bluesman, the folkie, the smoky jazz singer, the rockabilly greaser and the grumbling eccentric. The brawler. The bawler. The bastard. What better way to follow up the recent b-sides compilation which, by the virtue of time, presented Waits in a similar fashion?
Bruce Peninsula: Open Flames
Hand Drawn Dracula
Ostensibly a rootsy indie rock act backed by a gospel choir, there are few bands that sound anything like Toronto's Bruce Peninsula. It was a difficult road to this sophomore full-length, as gruff voiced lead Neil Haverty battled with leukemia before its release. With his cancer in remission this album, shelved for a year, was finally able to continue the unique path struck on their debut. Once again the incomparable Misha Bower and her choir takes what would otherwise be a great band and elevates it to something transcendent. Amazing live. Amazing on record. Bruce Peninsula deserves your attention.
Daniel Romano: Sleep Beneath The Willow
You've Changed Records
The fact that Dan Romano's solo career has been so prolific makes the absence of Attack In Black (and the indefinite shelving of their final album) much easier to live with. There's also a stark contrast between Romano's approach as a country singer/songwriter and the "Revival Tour" side-projects of other punk frontmen: there's nothing "alt-" about it. The young Welland-based musician is so steeped in his influences and so genuine in his approach that critics aren't reaching when they compare his songs to George Jones, Lee Hazlewood and Waylon Jennings. This is a great set of tunes. At times it's playful, at others mournful, but always little mischievous.
I took a long time to warm to Restorations' self-titled full-length. The Philadelphia band shares a certain aesthetic with my post-punk heroes the Constantines and that similarity made my standards impossibly high. It was a long buy-in on my part, but it was cemented with a brilliant, life-affirming set from the band at a small bar in Gainesville this October closing out The Fest. These punk-informed rock'n'roll songs are pensive, slow-building and ultimately deeply rewarding. That's a lot of what made me love the Cons, and Restorations are more than worthy of taking up that banner.
Sunparlour Players: Us Little Devils
While there are records higher on my list than Us Little Devils, I'd like to officially declare Sunparlour Players my new favorite band. I've enjoyed both of their previous records but this one takes their multi-instrumental alt-country racket to new heights. The album's wildly imaginative and playful, adventurous even for a band with a reputation of being so. Their diversions into punk, synths and soul are a bit of a gamble, as this is a band that's long celebrated their rustic roots (hell, they still sell preserves at shows), but it all works. That they can also achieve these songs live, with a dizzying round-robin of instruments on stage, is even more impressive.
If Fucked Up is truly winding down, this would be a wonderful way to go out. David Comes To Life is a career-defining record. Of course it only works as a concept album if you can follow whatever narrative established between Damian Abraham's shouts and growls, and I can't, but that doesn't matter when the songs are so good. Fucked Up remains gloriously over the top. Their sense of play is second to none. Their willingness to flaunt the conventions and pretenses of hardcore punk is no less daring now than it was early in their career. This is a monster of a record, and only a brilliant band like Fucked Up has the levity to pull it off without being consumed by it.
Ernest Jenning / Really
A grower from a band known for writing instantly likable hooks? It feels odd to describe Vacation that way now, after it's spent the better part of a year dominating my headphones, but that's how functions. Quite simply, Jeff Rosenstock's becoming a better songwriter. His work, while still at times gleeful and hyperactive, is becoming more complex. This is deeper than he's ever been. This is better than he's ever been. This band, and Jeff as the driving creative force, have entered bold new territory and they've done it largely according to their own rules. Bomb The Music Industry remains on the bleeding edge of everything from distribution to copyright to fan engagement and there's a generation to follow who will benefit from that groundwork. I'm excited that this exists, and the fact that it does gives me a lot of hope that we're, as a scene and a genre, going to do just fine in this crazy, upended, online world.