[Adam White is the Managing Editor and head cheerleader of Punknews.org]
The Other F Word
As I sat down to finally write this year's list, 17 days past my deadline, my wife interrupted from our living room "Adam! Emergency!"
I bounded to the couch where she was holding our newborn daughter. "Her diaper leaked! Take her!"
I write this with a three-week-old staring at me. I'm not even sure what she can see at this point, to tell you the truth. One thing I'm pretty sure is that she can hear, and I'm using On The Impossible Past as a lullaby. It's our thing. She likes the noise.
Sometime earlier this summer I re-launched my professional life. At some point earlier I spent a riotous weekend in Montreal with some of my favorite people. Peppered in between I spent a lot of time at the Mansion House taking in shows organized by my local heroes at IndoorShoes. The rest of my year is a baby-shaped blur. I have no firm recollection, at this point, of much else that's taken place. Apparently we're not punk and someone's telling everyone, as they do. I'm entirely certain I have better things to worry about.
5 EPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2012
Sunparlour Players: Sunparlour Preserves
A nice handful of songs from one of my favorite bands on the Ontario alt-country/esoteric-indie-folk spectrum. Befitting the rural theme that Andrew Penner's made into a career, the set ends with poet Hugh Oliver reading the band's recipe for Ginger Bourbon Apple Butter, but of course.
Hang Up Records / Red Scare
I'm a bigger fan of this than the full-length. Even the songs which were re-recorded for the latter sound better to me here. While I get that the â??50s pop sweetness is part of the band's shtick, it's more balanced here.
Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots): Glory Days
My favourite part of S.C.E.N.E. Fest in St. Catharines two years running, this Toronto punk act hides the fact that their writing absolutely amazing hooks by painting themselves as some crazy party punk act. I'm on to them. "Glory Days" is one of the year's best songs.
Am I right to assume that with their recent label jump we're at the point where we no longer need to convince people of Restorations' brilliance? This band continues to carry the banner of us awkwardly aging punks, very much taking up a sound and feeling that the Constantines left on the table when they split.
The Dirty Nil: Little Metal Baby Fist
My favorite live band of 2012, and perhaps my favorite overall musical anything of the year. This Dundas, Ontario three-piece never ceases to amaze with live sets of charging original garage punk tunes and brilliant covers, all played with almost comically unreal energy and swagger. This 7" pairs two fine new songs with their take on "Moonage Daydream," and I'd rather listen to it on repeat then most things on my top 20.
20 LPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2012
The problem with NOFX records is the couple of songs which end up annoying the snot out of you tend to be all you can remember a few months after your first listen. Self Entitled absolutely has those, but it's also a great sounding record with a ton of energy and a couple of absolute gems. It's on this list solely for "I've Got One Jealous Again, Again."
The Holy Mess may have yet to reach the heights of their Philadelphia neighbors in Restorations and the Menzingers, but they're absolutely on track to astonish us one day. Cande Ru Las Degas is a great set of moody punk rock tunes that keep growing on me. This is a slow burn of a record that's worth revisiting.
Sonic Avenues: Television Youth
With buzzsaw guitars, gang vocals and a mindset firmly in the late â??70s there's probably not a lot that separates Sonic Avenues from a few other bands on this list (The Dopamines and Teenage Bottlerocket, I'm looking your way). That said, Television Youth is one of those beauties of a 30-minute post-Buzzcocks pop-punk record that I never tire of. I'll take 100 more.
The Pinkerton comparisons that Awkard Breeds has garnered are fairly apt, if nothing more for the learning curve this record throws the listener into. This is most assuredly not Weight of Air, and anyone expecting the breezy, uplifting tunes of that record are going to find this a much more difficult nut to crack. Put in the work to wrap your head around the pivot, and the Sidekicks' latest delivers far more satisfying tunes than its predecessor. It's worth the effort.
The Dopamines: Vices
Vices provides another solid, hooky set of pre-bullshit pop-punk from Cincinnati's finest. This is the sort of baseline punk rock which serves as the foundation for all good playlists. Tune in next April Fools and maybe we'll actually review it, but probably not.
Fuzzy, frenetic punk under a sea of heavy distortion, Toronto's power trio METZ manage to kick a fairly substantial amount of ass with their first proper studio full length. Under all that noise there's some pretty savvy pop songwriting that emerges upon subsequent listens. Thoughtfully brutal.
The Snips: Highs of Low
Rival Party Records
If Highs of Low doesn't break the Snips' streak of unfortunate obscurity outside of Southern Ontario it won't be for lack of quality. This is a wonderfully written record, it's a grower months after your first spin, and they can pull it off live. I suspect there's some segment of the Niagara music scene that's driven crazy by the audacity of today's Snips to be playing anything but metal riffs with a horn section. That's not me. There's a reason this band fits in perfectly at the Fest these days.
I feel that I missed the boat on Toys That Kill when they were forging their legend, and I'm aware of them mostly due their absolutely rabid fanbase which has some somehow persisted without a record in nearly six years. This is the first record of theirs which has hooked me to that degree. One of my favorite straight-ahead punk records of 2012.
Sorry tops White Lung's previous material and proves why they've emerged as one of the most vital and important modern punk voices. The "Poly Styrene fronting Hot Snakes" vibe I get from this is wild, as the band's speedy, angular buzzsaws are as much in the spotlight as Misha Way's howl.
This is pretty much what I wanted. The degree to which I've enjoyed this record in no way lines up with the amount of disappointment read online. For my entire How Water Music listening life I've never seemed to understand the alternating waves of discontent from this or that segment of their fan base. I'm not ready to start now. Exister kicks ass.
I don't have the musical vocabulary to explain why Harmonicraft is so enjoyable. All the terminology used in Torche reviews and press is somewhat foreign to me. I'm not a stoner. I can't say that much of my music library can be described as sludgy. I'm not sure what prefixing a genre with the word "doom" actually means. "Droning" sounds totally unappealing to me. Those are all the words they use though, so there you have it.
Titus Andronicus: Local Business
This record infuriates me. I hate it because it's not The Monitor, which is a desert island disc for me. I hate it because it's not even The Airing of Grievances. I can't square the songwriting approach taken on this record with Patrick Stickles' public statements regarding its inception. I can't figure out if the recording here is admirably raw or disappointingly flat. I can't figure out why I keep listening to this thing, which I assure you I'm incredibly disappointed with, over and over and over and over.
Ladyhawk: No Can Do
Triple Crown Recordings
I'm convinced this is the best Sunday morning band in the world. Let's say you were out at a great punk show on Saturday night. You've had a few beers. It's the day after, and your major ambitions are now to be sitting lazily in the morning sun with a coffee. That's what Ladyhawk evokes for me. I'm not even sure why. After four years they've returned with a set of songs that alternates from weary psychedelics to fuzzy punk, and I can't stop listening to it.
Every punk band should aspire to have their shit together like Teenage Bottlerocket does. This is, once again, stripped down Ramones worship at its most basic. The magic trick here is that the band's managing to improve and refine their songwriting while still maintaining that appealing, unpretentious minimalism.
As the token Canadian stereotype on the Org editorial team, I'm usually the one dragging Canuck into our coverage while everyone else shrugs. Celebration Rock was different. I still have no real idea who this band is. I'm not sure of their story. I'm not even really sure what province they represent (which is absolutely critical in our regionalized, sparsely popular Dominion). I came to know Japandroids because everyone else on the Org staff wouldn't stop talking about them. This is the most aptly titled record of the year, simply an uplifting, noisy joy of an album.
In retrospect I think I appreciated Common Rider more for its pedigree than what the band was. This, however, is the best Jesse Michaels has sounded since Operation Ivy. Aggression suits him. Classics of Love's set at Pouzza Fest in Montreal this past May was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. My friends were jumping all around me and I just stood there, completely transfixed. Was that hero worship? Absolutely. However the material on record finally, gloriously, reaffirms it.
I keep forgetting about Provincial. I was so familiar with the songs which were originally released as singles that this album's had a hard time standing out as a singular object in my head. The entirely new material, however, particularly the uptempo tunes like "When I Write My Master's Thesis" and "Longitudinal Centre," are as strong as the best Weakerthans material.
Baby Eagle and The Proud Mothers: Bone Soldiers
You've Changed Records
Back when the Constantines were still an active concern, guitarist Steve Lambke was always the more polarizing of the band's vocalists. His often-whispered, warbling voice was perhaps too stark a contrast to Bry Webb's growl. His solo outfit Baby Eagle has a few releases out but it's this one where Lambke's been best realized: as the anchor in a sea of distortion and punk discontent. This is firmly in Rust Never Sleeps territory. The rest of the band is pretty much tailored to tug at my heartstrings, with the Cons' Will Kidman, Attack In Black's Ian Kehoe and Spencer Burton and Peterborough alt-country gem Nick Ferrio. So many musicians I appreciate elsewhere are hanging out on this record, and it's pretty indicative of the kind of shows I'm attending these days.
Joel Plaskett Emergency: Scrappy Happiness
One of my favorite shows, nay concerts, this year was Joel Plaskett and his two partners in the Emergency performing in an entirely un-rock 'n' roll auditorium at Brock University in St. Catharines. I'd seen Joel before, solo, and he was amazingly entertaining, turning his charming Canuck indie rock into raucous, often hilarious, one-man band. This was different. Frank Turner opened the show, which set the tone for a VERY rock 'n' roll incarnation of the Emergency. These are big, muscular road songs. These are HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ namedropping anthems that are among Plaskett's best material. Succinct and refreshing after a few albums of experimenting. Joel's the best songwriter in Canada.
More than any other band today, the Menzingers feel less like performers or artist and more like peers to me. I'm not certain why, perhaps it's just the artificial intimacy created by the Internet. Perhaps it's that this hooky yet melancholy set of melodic punk has been influenced and borrows from by pretty much everything I've come to love in music. In any case, this is the record that, more than any, I'm coming back to this year. I just want to shout along with these songs live, over and over.