[John Gentile is a staff reviewer, interviewer, podcaster and/or mascot.]
YO YO YO PUNKNEWS!!!!!!!I'll tell ya, what a year it has been. Profession-wise, I'm pretty proud of myself. I was able to stop over 50 foreclosures and bring the respective loans current. Even more so, my firm took action against several banks for doing some pretty nasty things to some very nice people and got some really good results for some people that really deserved it. Punk rock wise, I was a little slower on the uptake. Still, I did manage to have an in-depth talk with Boots Riley about his album, hang out with THE Lemmy Kilmister, see Yellowman just completely destroy the house, witness crust punk legends Antisect suddenly appear out of nowhere, talk to Pete the Roadie about 30 years of lifting amps and even have what might be called a touching moment with the horrid, unfeeling, interstellar butcherers known as GWAR.
For me 2010 was all about the newbies and 2011 was all about the old dogs, but 2012 was a mix of the new and the old. It's so exciting to see veterans coming back from the ether and just blasting their old work out of the water. But, it's equally exciting to see the interesting new music being made by the kids. Punk is getting experimental again and I think that is wonderful. Also, Kicker. Sometimes good punk rock is just straight up good punk rock.
TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Rarely has a sound so mature come from a fellow so young. Joe Astle, the main man behind the band, still can't buy beer but he sounds like he's had more heartbreak than Morpheus. It's the perfect intersection of youthful inexperience and aged melancholy, of Beach Boys and Nuggets. Plus, behind the whole thing are some hella weird sound effects. Heart wrenching and creepy.
Donkeys screaming! R&B vocal solos! Twisted hardcore riffs! I'll admit that I've been one of the foremost punk rock boo-hooers whining that "No one does anything new anymore." Chotto Ghetto proved me wrong with this sprawling, eclectic masterpiece that references Damaged as much as Hot Rats. This is probably what Greg Ginn envisioned in 1982 before he got distracted by...other things.
Vampires singing punk rock through a Motown filter. It might sound like a random connection, but this group of weirdos finds the string connecting all three disparate sources–PAIN. Call it sadism, call it schadenfreude, call it perversion, but the more these guys suffer, the more I like it. Ink and Dagger would be proud.
One part Rudimentary Peni, one part UK Subs, one part Amebix(!!!!) and five helpings of a death fixation and you get Cross Stitched Eyes. This is as ornate at is it is gruesome. The band explores death with a cold calculation much like a scientist, proclaiming with dry, non-emotion that you, too, will die and that might be all there is. Fear incarnate birthed by cold, hard fact.
Tragedy gets slower, heavier, meaner and DARKER. In fact, this album is so gargantuan that it's almost death metal. It's not the most upbeat listen, but here, Tragedy stretches punk rock to its utmost regions of intensity. The music is so beastly that it almost stops being music and approaches pure dread.
First, let's point out the elephant in the room. Zoo was divisive. But you know what? Props to Ceremony for taking some pretty big musical risks while their contemporaries trod ground that was perhaps harsher, but much, much safer. Zoo isn't perfect and perhaps some songs are overly long. But when the band hits the previously unknown sweet spot where Joy Division and Black Flag intersect, the album is transcendent.
The best thing about Enjoy is how unrepentant it sounds. Sure, it sounds like â80s pop at some points, but it also sounds like morose goth at others. There is no effort to connect the disconnect nor should there be. This isn't a band that is trying to be weird. This is a band that IS weird. And wonderful.
Misery succeeds where 99.9999% of other crust punk bands fail. Sure, Misery is heavy, dark and features neo-paganish lyrics, but it also ROCKS. Not since Amebix and Antisect has a band been so incredibly black, but also kick out smashing riff after smashing riff that would make Lemmy (and even Angus Young) proud. These songs are about nuclear apocalypse, but if Armageddon is this much of a party, bring on the bombs, baby!
The greatest emcee of all time teams up with his brother for a full album for the first time in over 20 years. Just sparse, cold, hard beats and the Teacha spitting out battle rap after battle rap. KRS is on the top of his aggressive game. No skits. No overblown orchestral intros. No mention of Vuiton, Gucci or Prada. Just Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap! Boom! Bap!
OM: Advaitic Songs
I'll admit it. Although Pilgrimage blew me away, its follow up, God is Good, left me underwhelmed. Well, Advaitic Songs merges the high points of both. "State of Non-Return" features that patented heavy-metal-trance-chant that only bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros can do while Sinai finds the band further exploring their trippier and more spacier textures of the band. Who knew heaviness could float like a feather?
Out of nowhere, Unsane suddenly re-appears and drops the best album that they've ever recorded. Sharp, energetic, crushing riffs. Lyrics screamed in a mix of anger, frustration and hate. Everything is in shambles except for when it isn't–but then, it's just a half second from shambles. There's a bloody hand on the cover. But, it's unclear if the image is one of of defeat or victory.
HOLY MOLY. The CD6 make good on the promise of their pedigree. Of course, Dukowski himself is in top form, chopping out nasty bass lines like he's a butcher. But also, vocalist Lora Norton flips from wailing like a banshee to cooing like a song bird and back again. Guitarist Milo Gonzales bends the guitar strings like Hendrix and Ginn while drummer Ashton Slater drives the thing forward in a messy, but wild mix. This is punk meets â70s acid rock and it is amazing.
Yet again, the Vivian Girls try to make me pick favorites between them. Well, I STILL won't do it, ya hear! This time around, Katy Goodman went for the more immediate and direct. While her debut was a lush, thick statement, Sees the Light is more angular and diverse as much punk and new wave as it is girl groups and twee. The result is a record that is harder, faster, and meaner, but just as sweet. Dangerous!
The Babies: Our House on the Hill
Meanwhile, Cassie Ramone and Kevin Morby got darker. While the Babies debut sifted through a warm melancholy, this release is harder and darker. They still retain their garage rock base, but draw in harder and gothic textures. The band explores misery from a removed distance, coldly assessing its facets. I'm scaredâ¦and I like it.
What do you get when you combine one member of Neurosis, one member of Dystopia, one member of Filth and a guy that has been roadie-ing for over 35 years? You get the best possible classic punk-sounding album possible. This album is so damn snappy that it should come with thumb splints. With Pete the Roadie's humor at the top and Dave Ed's avant garde metal hidden at the bottom Kicker is both immediate and timeless. Plus, the LP version comes with a literal plane ticket to Crusty Island. Blimey!
Although Gnarboots thrive on the unexpected, A.L.B.U.M. featured Gnarboots pulling the one feat that no one would have ever expected them do to–they made a compelling, tight, focused LP in the classic sense. While their live show and mixtapes feature the band flying across the musical map like a dodo on PCP, A.L.B.U.M. found the band hunkering down and crafting songs that fit together as well as any "'70s concept album" or "indie masterpiece" that you like. But, the real kicker is that upon closer inspection, these songs are actually really, really, really weird. Song about omnivores? Check. Minute-long hardcore basher dedicated to ear damage? Check. Goth heavy meta-metal breakdown. Check. This is Frank Zappa masquerading as Weezer. This is a little girl with the voice of Baphomet. This is chaos.
Poets Were My Heroes is a victory in every sense of the word. It's frontman Ezra Kire's victory over heroin. It's the band's victory over semi-obscurity and malfunction. It's substance's victory over style. It's innovation's victory over the secure. But most importantly, it's performance's victory over promise. Finally, the band has capitalized on their vast reservoirs of talent and have used every once of it to perfect use.
I don't think anyone expected this album from the Coup. While their last LP was a dense swarm of intricate beats and even more intricate raps, this album is sparse, simple, and powerful. Lead emcee Boots Riley blasts out punk/stax records refrains while the band whips out new-wavey beats that are catchy and fresh. I think this is how riots get started.
Oh, you think your band rocks? Keith Morris is better. Oh, you think your band has clever lyrics? Keith Morris is better. Oh, you think your band has explosive sound recordings? Keith Morris is better. Oh, you think your band tears it up on stage? Keith Morris is better. Oh, you think your band has cool dreadlocks? Keith Morris is better. No one beats Keith Morris at punk. No one. Long live the King.
Jesse Michaels and Hard Girls doing hardcore punk. Oh, you didn't catch that? Here, let me say it again. Jesse Michaels and Hard Girls doing hardcore punk. You still didn't catch that? I know, I know, the pure awesomeness IS hard to perceive. JESSE MICHAELS AND HARD GIRLS DOING HARCORE PUNK. The sheer lyrical genius of Michaels backed by the uncompromising viciousness of Hard Girls combines like a sledgehammer to the head. No band has ever combined deep musings with berserk energy like this before. Also, there is a little bit of ska.
TOP 10 NON-ALBUM EPS AND SINGLES OF THE YEAR
This single represents GWAR saying goodbye to guitarist Corey Smoot, who died tragically shortly after recording this song. Only GWAR could make a song about murder this touching.
The Disconnects / Crazy and The Brains: Are on the Other Side [7-inch]
Crazy and the Brains and the Disconnects combine to make an EP of straight up kickin' rock tunes in the classic sense of rock. Driven by Chuck Berry but alternatively fueled by the weirdness of west coast punk and the nihilism of east coast punk, this is the best side of a two-sided coin.
A bunch of current and ex-Mormons record Mormon Sunday School songs in a crust/d-beat style without any hint of purpose, context or level of sincerity. Is it just a lark or a comment on the ambiguity of religion? Either way, this is punk rock taken to its highest concept.
After his two LPs which were choked full of pop-punk garage goodness, the question was, what's left for Nobunny to do? The answer is: Write the two best songs of his career. Side A is everything that's great about classic Nobunny–the pop melody, the spastic refrain and super sharp hooks–and the b-side is a creepy, classical side where Nobunny stretches out into brand new territory. Now, instead of having few roads before him, he has limitless.
"Don't write me a letter / Tellin' me that you think you're better / Don't write me another song / It's been done before / And better." Boom. There it is. The best post-breakup dis ever set to music. The dude that got this blast is probably STILL in traction.
On this sequel to last year's team up, Dwid Hellion and Kill Life write another tryptic about animals ripping people to shreds. It's either exploitative or visionary, and frankly, I think hellion sees connections that slip under our respective noses.
Chuck Dukowski Sextet / Mike Watt: My Way/ Sweet Honey Pie [7-Inch]
Chuck Dukowski and his family playing a shrieking version of "My War." Mike Watt covering Roky Erikson. Legends working on the legendary work of other legends.
Star Fucking Hipsters / Jesus Fucking Christ The Fucking: The Fucking Split [7-Inch]
Star Fucking Hipsters. Jesus Fucking Christ! Either way, this is some fucking awesome crust punk tempered by some fucking classic punk. Fucking fantastic.
Finally! Jello and crew capitalize on the promise of their pedigree. Shock-U-Py is an epic worthy of Hawkwind and "Barack Star O'Bummer" is the single most kickin' song Jello's written since "Voted Off the Island." Also, ska. Jello does ska. I'll say it again. JELLO. DOES. SKA.
Like the holy trinity, Mischief Brew exist in three forms at once. At once they are in their classic folk-punk incarnation, in another they are classic punk stimpers, and in another, Petersen slowly builds up to the threat "MAYBE I'LL CATCH FIRE!" Self immolation has always been impressive, but it has never sounded this good.
TOP 5 MELVINS RELEASES OF THE YEAR
Melvins/Unsane: Split 7
The Melvins cover Unsane. Unsane cover the Melvins. My house is covered in brain particles due to my mind being completely blown.
Melvins/OFF!: Sugar Daddy Split Series Vol. 3 [12-inch]
The Melvins cut the nastiest, weirdest, most extended version of their standard "Eye Flys" ever. It starts out in an abstract, sound experimentation before collapsing into a titanic, smashing riff. Then, on the flip, OFF! jack up a lost garage rock gem by 500% and Keith Morris screams "I've got no reason to complain!" as if he were being drawn and quartered.
The Melvins evolve so quickly that it's difficult to keep up with their multitudes of iterations. On Freak Puke, Trevor Dunn jumps in with an acoustic bass and pulls the unthinkable–he makes the non-electric instrument rival Buzz Osborne's guitar and Dale Crover's drums in volume, intensity and creepiness. Whoa.
In yet another iteration, the Melvins revert to their (sort of) original line up. But, instead of bashing out four old school punk jammers, they record four songs that ask, what if the original Melvins had evolved for 30 years instead of fracturing? The answer is a combination of punk and metal awesomeness.
Scion AV Metal
The Melvins have over 100 different releases. The band has had at least 10 distinct lineups. Somehow, they grasp their entire history and smush it into five tracks that represent the range of the band past, present and future. If only one piece of music survives the Mayan apocalypse, let it be this so that future generations can understand how great music can be.
What a year for music! Between so many great jams this year, I haven't really been able to focus on what's coming out next year. Still, I'm looking forward to new stuff by the Melvins, Jello Biafra and the GSM, KRS-One and Mad Lion, Fucked Up, Krig Blast, Rats in the Wall, Tegan and Sara, World/Inferno Friendship Society and oh...yeahâ¦
GWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!And as for my yearly preaching, I have to say, the youngest generation of punk rockers are beginning to worry me. Although punk rock always has been about defying authority, it seems that it has cost us our history. Not to be a grandpa shaking his cane, but the kids don't seem to have a perspective of their punk rock forefathers. Not only are bands such as Blink-182 and Third Eye Blind becoming the bands that the youngest generation sees as the standard for punk, but the true innovators, such as the Sex Pistols, the Germs and even the Ramones are being denigrated or ignored. Come on, people! Blink-182 over the Ramones?! I realize that music is about personal taste, but BLINK-182 OVER THE RAMONES?!!!! Worse, and most worrisome to me, is that punk seems to be getting softer, nicer, less directly confrontational and more passively aggressive confrontational. Punk is not a tool for niceness. I can't exactly say what purpose punk has, or even that it only has one purpose, but it certainly isn't meant for making people feel comfortable. Life can be nasty. So can punk rock. Do not let ennui smother your ability to feel with its soft, but malicious, embrace. Comfort can be as deadly as the most dangerous poison. Blink-182 and their ilk are not your forefathers. Four guys with the same last name are. I urge you, Punknews, seek out the earliest few waves of punk rock. Listen to Johnny Rotten's snarl. Drench yourself in Amebix's massive bass. Smash your brain with Crime's whipping riffs. Assault your senses with Black Randy's sadistic hedonism. Embrace the utter horror that is Rudimentar Peni.
Only by pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone can you expand you taste, skills, and abilities. You will come away sore, battered, wounded and infinitely wiser. Plus, you will experience the music you already know on a whole new level, seeing previously hidden bases and connections. Do it for yourself. Do it for the kids. Do it for your ol' pappy Johnny G.