[John Gentile is the features editor at Punknews.org]
YO YO YO YO PUNKNEWS!!!!!!!What is up Punknews? 2014 is the year that I became more visible on the 'Org. Really, the sole reason that I am more prominent now is that at the end of 2013, a few long-time editors left the site, leaving gaps in coverage. So, I stepped up to the plate. In doing so, I was able to more freely craft daring pieces that I wanted to write, but also, started to get some heavily blowback. Que sera, sera, I suppose, but I certainly want to thank all of you readers that appreciate the hard work that we put into the site (for free). I'm not saying you have to like everything we do, but I truly appreciate those of you that understand this is a labor of love. I'd thank each of you, but you know who you are and this isn't a phone book.
So, with that in mind, this year I got to work on some of my most challenging, daring and fun pieces. I got to speak about psychological warfare with that strange entity known as Dwid Hellion, I learned about computers with A STOOGE, I tracked down a proto-punk legend in Morocco, and had an extremely revealing conversation with Blag Dahlia. As for my interviews in the future, I'll probably be doing fewer as a whole, but the pieces that I do write will be more in-depth, profile pieces. I look forward to investigating the old legends and the newest of the new. On top of that, it has been a true pleasure growing and shaping the Punknews Podcast with Editor Adam White. It might be my favorite Punknews outlet right now.
I also go to see some killer shows. Hallowmas was amazing. I got to see the proto-Mischief Brew band Kettle Rebellion. Nik Turner of Hawkwind blew my mind And frankly, I did my best to give Black Flag 2014 a fair shot.
As for new music this yearâ€¦ well, 2014 ruled. Here's what really got me excited this rotation:
TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2014 (NON-MELVINS DIVISION)
What does a 35 year veteran of punk do when his last record was one of his best and exemplifies everything that makes him great? Answer: draft Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies and Scott Mackay into his band. And quite bafflingly, the album really does live up to its potential. Hard, swinging, Stooges-influenced rock (including one of the Stooges) with the sleaze and darkness of New York City. This is exactly what I want from Vincent.
Judas Priest: Redeemer of Souls
Priest doing what Priest does best. Killer riffs, songs about monsters from the future, and Halford howling. This isn't the best Priest record, but after the foundering Nostradamus, this should be considered a comeback album. Priest seems to be in their winter years and there's no shame in this final(?) statement.
Try to pick apart Cassie Ramone and not only will you have no greater understanding of her than before, but you will have even more questions. Her anticipated solo record was released with a whisper, but it's the kind of record that washes over you. Huge, overarching, almost shoegaze backing. Songs about being abducted by aliens. Simple love songs. This record and Cassie Ramone remain a mystery, but it's a damn interesting mystery.
Call it grindcore, call it powerviolence. Call it "not tru grindcore" or "not tru powerviolence." I don't care. This album kicks ass. ACxDC know that just as pure repetition gets boring, so does pure chaos. Masterfully, the band sets the stage, making their songs seem like tinges of order. Then, just as you get settled in, they flip out and destroy the room. Also, the lyrics are actually extremely poignant and thoughtful. The fact that this album pisses on the rules of extreme music sub-genres means it's really what punk rock is all about.
Ariel Pink: Pom pom
Pom pom is a sprawling, massive record that has three songs squished into every one. At times it sounds like goth, at others surf rock, and at others, a stretched VHS recording on an early 80's cartoon show. It's constantly shifting, twisting, jumping, and spiraling off in weird directions. At almost 80 minutes, it's too much to take in one sitting, but that's sort of the point. This is the kind of record that I'll be crawling through twenty years from now.
King of Spades Records
Songs about giants eating people, feline-women seducing spacers, and slave planets -- Chrome had no parallel in the '70s and they still have no parallel. These songs are dark, trippy, scary and they rock. Helios Creed's guitar sounds like a Harley rumbling through mud while aliens are in hot pursuit. I feel like this album was written just for me.
The fact is, I used to be an AJJ hater. In fact, I once saw Sean Bonette do his solo-guy-with-a-guitar-being-gentle routine and left genuinely pissed. "This is not what punk is supposed to be about!" But then, I heard Christmas Island. Bonette sings about suicidal gods, blowing up atom bombs in the nude and ghosts that lure you to your doom. I was converted. This approaches the dark realm of Rudimentary Peni, but sounds like it could be played on the radio in a namby-pamby coffee shop. Fair enough. It's doubtful that the devil announces himself when he enters the room.
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2
Killer Mike and EL-P return with a sequel to last year's breakout success. RTJ2 is more political, more somber and more angry than its predecessor. "Blockbuster Night Part 1" is a straight up banger, but it's as much Public Enemy as it is Geto Boys. The world needed new kings of political hip hop. It would seem that the jewels that Mike and El-P ran with were the crown jewels.
Triptykon: Melana Chasmata
Tom G. Fischer is metal incarnate. Every release he puts out is more doomy, more evil and more daring than the one before it. Tryptykon's third release follows this dark design. Fischer puts his experimental leanings on the forefront and it works so well that it doesn't feel experimental. It just feels like what Fischer was born to do. And that low, rumbling, buzzing, growling guitar tone. I just want to swim in that tone for days.
Pushin' It 2 the Limit: Pushin' It 2 the Limit
Super revved up punk rock. Battle cries that introduce songs. Team uniforms. This album is so fun I can't even handle it. Plus, it rocks the hell out. How can three people smash along with more ferocity than most five-piece hardcore bands?
Peter Murphy: Lion
Finally, 31 years after the end of Bauhaus, we get the Peter Murphy solo album that we've all been waiting for. Teaming up with producer Youth, Murphy creates his heaviest, darkest and most energetic release to date. Gone is the stale, dry instrumentation from Murphy's earlier solo work. Instead, we finally get the massive roar that can compete with his doom-laden voice. This is not the Bauhaus-aping that everyone thinks they want. Rather, it's the step after Bauhaus that everyone needs.
Morrissey: World Peace is None of Your Business
World Peace exemplifies Morrissey's wonderful contradictions in all their glory and also shows him cutting his second best record ever, helped in part, by the experimental, Eno-like production of Joe Chiccarelli. Morrissey attacks meat-eating. He spits on media-proposed concepts of manhood. He cheers at the death of a bullfighter. Look at bands who sing about whiskey and girls and then look at Moz. One is much closer to Crass, and even the Clash, than the other.
After 14 years underground, Kettle Rebellion is exhumed from the crypt by its progeny, Mischief Brew. But, while Kettle Rebellion birthed the long running Philly-anarcho-punkers, it's startling as to how different they are. Where Mischief Brew swings, Kettle Rebellion charges. Where Mischief Brew revels in dynamics, Kettle Rebellion KEEPS IT AT 10 ALL THE TIME. It may have taken 14 years for this album to see release, but age and decay have only made it that much more fascinating.
MG frontman Ezra Kire always swings for the fences. But, whereas the band's last LP was a sweeping two-LP set, this one is a compact 40 or so minutes. But, despite being short and sweet, the band still sounds grandiose. There are smashing guitars and soaring piano lines. Ezra Kire is the punk rocker who's not afraid to dream big and we need more of that. The result is an album that is Queenish, but doesn't forget to put on its backpatches.
On his first album of original music in 18 years, Tesco Vee declares "We're the motherfuckin' men o' meat!" He's brash, cocky, and arrogant, but he never loses that twinkle in his eye. It's that je ne sais qua that makes you want to join the party instead of being threatened by it. Also, it helps that this album just frickin' rocks, man. I mean, really, it rocks.
Katy Goodman has talked about how she felt pigeonholed by both her established style and even her own voice. So what does she do? She links up with shredder Todd Wisenbaker and cuts her fiercest album yet. At times it emits the same charge as the Avengers, at others it wallows in the depths of Siouxsie Sioux and still at others, references Game of Thrones. This might not be her only masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece. Energetic, compact, sometimes nice, sometimes mean. This is how you break out of established framework.
Oh, baby! Brad Logan starts a new band, and if you ask me, it's his best one yet. Classic, West Coast hardcore on one side, driving, rumbling, crust-punk riffage on the other. Two vocalists that scream about the horrors of the modern world, songs about subverting government spying and a Zounds cover! Hardcore is not supposed to sound this fresh in 2014, but going off this record, it sounds like the concept of screaming while a guitar blasts away was invented this past June.
The third part of a trilogy? While the band's first album set the theme, and the second whittled the theme to its bare essence, Wasted Years blows the songs up into jagged, vicious, multi-part epics. The band just smashes out killer riff after killer riff and Keith Morris, astonishingly, is the angriest he's ever been in his almost 40-year career. This band is amazing. Morris is the champion of punk rock.
The World/Inferno Friendship Society: This Packed Funeral
I'll admit, I was a little afraid for World/Inferno. After the last album, it seemed that they might be petering to a halt, at times down to a measly five members. Ever the tricksters, not only did the band regroup, but MAN DID THEY REGROUP! Triumphantly returning with their most complex, most mature, and frankly, most daring release to date, they have elevated themselves. Certainly they are a punk band. But, with this craftsmanship, this cleverness, this skill, this creativity, they have elevated themselves to the Valhalla of music. Freddie, Frank, other Frank, make room on the table, WIFS are titans.
While Are Born Again is a sprawling epic, demonstrating almost every trick in the Dwarves' bag o' tricks, Invented Rock and Roll is an exhibition of the two things that they do very best: Mean as hell, nasty, slamming hardcore and sweet, sweet pop goodness. But, that's just where it starts. When you start peeling back the layers on tracks like "Kings of the World" and "Sluts of the USA," you realize that, sure, there's stuff about fighting and fucking, but there's commentary on war, discussion of sexual politics, and obscure references to the golden age of rock that if you catch makes you feel like you're part of a secret club. (Anyone else catch that Screamin' Jay reference?) The Dwarves make it look so easy, when really, this is probably the most difficult art to make. THE DWARVES ARE TRUE ROCK LEGENDS. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL. HAIL.
TOP 10 EPS OF 2014 (NON-MELVINS DIVISION)
Kicker / Submachine: Split 7-inch
Kicker just keeps getting better and better. They're hilarious, but also, so authentic. These really are tru-punx. Also, the news tunes are a little wilder and more frantic than before. Kicker is taking punk forward by remembering it's past and building off of it. Meanwhile, Submachine just blast out some straight-up American crust. Punk rock is alive and well, even if it will be able to apply for social security in a few years...
Night Birds: Monster Surf
Night Birds cut four instrumentals, including a Mel Brooks cover. This isn't meant to be anything grandiose. It's just wild and wacky fun. Night Birds do often make their trade in sinister songs, but here, it's just straight up surf's up. Get me a board.
Funeral Cone: Havin' a Party With Funeral Cone
I stumbled on Funeral Cone as an opening act at a house show. Fortune favors the bold. This band is out there. I'd call it punk-party-goth-hardcore. Like many of the best bands, it's hard to put one's finger on what is going on it, but whatever it is, it's daring and it shreds.
Hoo boy! After 20-some years, Dwid Hellion reunites with the Melnick brothers and cuts a single to celebrate their reunion show. This release proves that it's not all about nostalgia. This single is KILLER. But, it's not a retread and it doesn't even "pick up where the band left off." It's almost if the band never split and this is what they would have unleashed after 20 years of touring. The Melnicks turn in blues-based, twisting licks that are soulful and metallic. And Dwid? I think he is singing about astral projecting oneself to see beyond this realm of existence as a way to destroy the material world? I love all of this. Also, read Dwid's lyrics. He is a poet of T.S. Elliot proportions.
Stig Miller: I Go Dark
Do you know why Stig Miller is an absolute genius? Because he can merge the dark, menacing, and horrific with the calm and make it completely unsettling. "I Go Dark" is a masterpiece of suspense and pacing. It starts off with a pin drop of a sound. Then, ever so slowly it builds, and builds, and builds until at the end it sounds like a thousand trumpets blazing. But, it was one guy all along. If anyone knows how to tap into the deep wells of the human psyche, it is the brothers Amebix.
There is no reason this release should be as good as it is. The band hasn't recorded a note of music since 1996. Their breakup release, Dopesmoker, was a pinnacle of metal music -- a single, 60-minute, massive rumbling tune. But, "The Clarityâ€¦?" it's amazing. A paltry ten minutes, it blends Matt Pike's swinging, thrashy guitar with Al Cisneros more modern guru meditative chant. This feels like classic Sleep all while being completely new to them. PROCEED.
Mischief Brew are masters of both song composition and performance. While so many bands would either just thrash away at the same tempo or settle into a mediocre, middle-of-the-road rhythm, MB take the famous quote from Guy Stevens "All rock n roll speeds up" and make it their mantra. "O' Pennsyltucky" swings and lashes and grows and falls. This is punk rock charged by the early English anarcho-scene and warped by the minds of guys who have a weird fixation with colonial art. If Ben Franklin listened to punk rock, this would be his go-to band.
My favorite Fucked Up tracks are the super short ones and the super long ones. But, whereas the long ones lately have trucked more in ambiance and texture, finally, on Dragon they get mean again. This rivals the ambition and nastiness of Year of the Pig and that means it rivals all of the bands 85 or so records as being my favorite by them. Punk is not about fitting into a box. Punk is about having the cojones to make something new. Though it helps if that new thing is about dragons and sounds like a cross between Sabbath, King Crimson and Negative Approach.
Oh. My. Word. Bad Canoes are absolutely marvelous. Instead of having a guitar, they have a keyboard. They have songs about picnic snacks and others about having sex with Satan. They literally roll around on stage and hit the audience when playing. They sound vicious and whimsical at the same time. (No easy feat!) This is the freshest punk I've heard in a long time. This is in the same league as The Slits, X-Ray Spex and the Screamers. I am so excited.
Just when I thought I had an understanding of what Gnarboots is, they pull back the curtain and show me I know nothing. While their mixtures feature a weird and wonderful (though occasionally dark) world, this EP is of Lovecraftian proportions. This is as dark as Bauhaus, as menacing as Skinny Puppy and as twisted as Swans. Some of the most horrifying lyrics ever recorded are frontman Adam Davis whispering, "God knows what's in your heart." That's not a reassurance, it's a warning. WE ARE ALL GNARBOOTS. GNARBOOTS IS FEAR.
TOP 5 MELVINS RELEASES OF 2014 (MELVINS DIVISION)
Melvins / Hepa Titus: How Chow Now Dead Cow?
The Melvins cover the Cows. Then, a former Cow covers the Cows with the Melvins' Buzz Osborne on vocals. Uncoiling this is the "Hellraiser" box. The more you pick it apart, the more fascinating (and dangerous) it becomes.
The Melvins: A Tribute to David Bowie
First, the Melvins cut a mind-blowing version of what everyone knows is the best Bowie song ("Station to Station"). Then, on the flip side, instead of covering an obvious choice they cover "Breaking Glass." The original is weird, off kilter and demented. In other words, perfect for the Melvins. How could they not make an amazing version?
Dale Crover: United Fruit
Dale busts out two jams that salute classic hard rock rumbling. There is so much boogie-woogie here that it should illegal. The fact is, if this was released in 1975, Dale would be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by now.
Only one man could make me enjoy an acoustic solo album. That guy is Buzz Osborne. Taking a cue or two from Dylan, Buzzo cuts nearly 20 sparse, spry mean-spirited tracks. He calls people idiots and saviors over the panicked desperation of others, and I thought "Ballad of a Thin Man" was harsh.
The Melvins team up with the Butthole Surfers and make one of the greatest albums of their career. Slow, heavy, rumbling tracks. Tunes that sound like they were written via Neil Young's Trans. Ten minute whacked out instrumentals. At this point, the Melvins are a perpetual motion machine. With their high rate of output, I was worried that the band would eventually run out of ideas. But, the more energy they expend, paradoxically, the more they have in reserve. Yes, the Melvins are so awesome that they bend the laws of physics themselves. May they reign forever.
MY FAVORITE JOE PELONE MOMENT OF 2014
Every year, editor Joe Pelone and I go to about four shows together. Every time we go, something wacky happens. The best one from last year was when we both stared at Greg Ginn so much that he got so creeped out that he left the room.
This year was another classic. We went and saw Buzz Osborne of the Melvins do a solo acoustic show. Halfway through the show, this really weird, super-high pitched voice starts heckling Buzz. The whole audience turned around and this drunk dude marches to the front of the room. but, the thing was, he must have had a medical condition or something, because he sounded like a cross between Urkel and the parents from "Peanuts." It was really weird because if I had a weird voice like that, I definitely would not spend my time heckling people.
Anyways, this guy marches to the front of the stage and literally stops the show from proceeding because he is so disruptive. Bouncers were absent. So, get this. After five minutes of the rant, Joe Pelone storms to the front of the stage and snaps at the guy, "Now see here! We are all trying to enjoy a fine evening of music and entertainment!" (He actually phrased it like that.) "If you don't like it, mister, you can just leave!"
Then, the guy with the high-pitched voice squeaked, "Or what?!" Then, Joe Pelone didn't even speak. He just glared at the dude and crossed his arms. The high-pitched voice guy was so terrified of Joe Pelone's gorgon stare that he tripped over his feet, landed ass on the ground, dropped his drink all over himself and then, on all fours, scrambled out the door and up the stairs.
If you ask Joe Pelone about this, he'll deny it, because that's how badass he actually is. He doesn't need to let people know what a Herc he is. He just is!
As is every year, we lost some absolute titans. We lost Scott Asheton which was a major blow to punk rock itself. Then, not too long after, we lost Dave Brockie, a man who I consider to be one of the very greatest artists to ever have lived. It's a terrible loss and, for me at least, music will never quite be the same. Honestly, Jello said it best. As I say every year, appreciate the legends while they are still aroundâ€¦ they won't be around forever.
On the positive side, 2015 already has some cool things a brewing. A new Mischief Brew record is on the way, which is mega-exciting. Also, a new Jello Biafra record is rumored which will be amazing. I'm also really looking forward to the Really Red and Rudimentary Peni reissues, a bunch of Melvins stuff, Crazy and the Brains' new EP, NEW BAD CANOES and maybe even a new GWAR album.
Until then, do what you want to do (without hurting other people), be creative, hit up shows, see the legends, go on adventures, ask out the pretty girl or handsome guy, snatch up them rare records and as alwaysâ€¦