[Adam White is the managing editor of Punknews.org]
I just sat down and wrote a gloriously self-important intro to this yearâ€™s recap, only to read last yearâ€™s and found that it essentially said the same thing. Yes, being a good father, husband and provider tends to get in the way of writing about music on the Internet. Itâ€™s so tragic. Someone really should build a monument to my inability to show myself the door after 14 years of diminishing returns. Bla, bla, bla, bla.
Anyhoo, two amazing and related things happened this year. First, the band you were sick of hearing me talk about seven years ago, the Constantines, got back together and started playing shows again. Outside of the Clash, this is as good as it gets for me. This is the band thatâ€™s made all the difference in my life, and now I had the chance to see them together again. I managed to do this twice.
One of those two times was on a last-minute weekend rush up to Ottawa for the last day of the Arboretum Festival, and itâ€™s that single event that seems to have dominated my musical explorations this year. Outside of the Cons so many of the artists I loved in 2014 either played that event or were somehow related. The Dirty Nil, Greys, New Swears, Weaves and the Steve Adamyk Band all took part. Weaves and Greys together exposed me to Buzz Records and the Toronto noise-punk scene, whoâ€™s entire output this year would have made an entirely respectable list. The Ottawa Explosion sponsored the New Swears release party that capped Arboretum, and in the roster of that festival you find Average Times, Odonis Odonis, TV Freaks, Sonic Avenues and many more. This single event, one I nearly avoided attending due to the aforementioned "real life" commitments, ended up being the connective tissue for my entire year in music. It deserves mention.
As always, thanks for sticking with us through thick and thin. Next year promises some dramatic changes around Punknews and we can't wait to unveil them. Also cheers to everyone who writes in or listens to the Punknews Podcast week after week (all 12 of you). It's been an absolute delight to share that conversation with you.
5 EPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2014
Weaves: Weaves & Shithole
An Arboretum find for me, Weaves are a messy art-pop act that turns out nervous, danceable gems that are just a few steps too weird to be hits. Bands of this persuasion tend to normalize and get lost in toothless traditional song structures as they age (Hot Hot Heat, looking at you), but at this point Weaves are too noisy and frenetic to fall into that trap. The earworm single "Shithole" that popped up later this year keeps them on the right track.
Teenanger: E P L P
While unsure of exactly what format it is, the new set from Teenanger bops wildly from pop-punk to new wave to crunchy garage to late '70s snarl. That inability to stand still makes for an incredibly fun listen. Melissa Ball's turn on the vocals in "Mild Survivor" is like a great lost Pixies track.
Mexican Slang: Inside the Velvet Castle
Tightly wound garage punk with one foot in the psychedelic era, Mexican Slang lead the pack of incredible short form releases to come out of Buzz Records this year. Low-fi guitar freakout music for strange people.
TV Freaks: Leeches
Nasty punk rock with a bit of a sped up Hot Snakes vibe, TV Freaks have two full lengths under their belts but I think they're more interesting in short doses. Leeches is three mean little songs in five and a half minutes and that's the perfect amount for a quick kick in the head. I play this frequently as the glue between longer full lengths.
The Dirty Nil: Smite
My favourite local-ish band made a few waves Stateside this year as they gear up for a proper full length debut. After catching Fat Mike's ear they put out a 7-inch on Fat, but it's a song I've known and loved from a years old IndoorShoes compilation. This five song 10-inch is a much better look at where the Dirty Nil are now, as it's both their longest format release (nothing but singles to this point) and a nudging of their hooky, raw-throated garage-punk sound down a few new roads. It's almost too late to urge you to get on this bandwagon before they're huge, but you really should. (full review)
The Elephant in the Room
20 LPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2014
Average Times: Average Times
My 2 year old just demanded we dance to this entire record, and each time a song ended: she got angry. If Richard Hell & The Voidoids mostly sang about partying it would probably sound like this. Average Times aren't going to win any awards for originality, but my overall sanity requires three or four solid records in this vein every year.
The Steve Adamyk Band: Dial Tone
Fast, short, loud, low-fi power pop that's spending a bit more time in the garage than Adamyk's previous efforts. This is the type of reliably solid punk rock that Dirtnap serves up with starting regularity, and it's close enough to the spirit of the genre that it never gets tiring for me.
Spoon: They Want My Soul
I know absolutely nothing about Spoon outside of a general awareness of their reputation and popularity. I've heard absolutely zero songs from their back catalogue. Yes, even that one. With that as a disclaimer, I really enjoy the groovy They Want My Soul and find myself replaying it far more than I could have predicted on first listen. Your mileage may vary if you've been following this band for years.
Spencer Burton: Don't Let the World See Your Love
All Canadian singer-songwriters eventually become Gordon Lightfoot, it's the way of things. Spencer Burton, ditching his Grey Kingdom moniker, has come a long way from those early Attack In Black records. While I've found the solo work of his former bandmates more impactful, this is as strong as anything Daniel Romano or Ian Kehoe have released.
Needles // Pins: Shamebirds
Sneering, snotty, lovelorn and endearingly dumb, Vancouver's Needles // Pins are plunging sonic and thematic territory well explored by the Dead Boys, Ramones and Screeching Weasel, but it's a style that I find easy to love, particularly in the hands of a band I'm not overly familiar with. Shamebirds has the urgency and huge power-pop hooks necessary to stand out. A brisk, fun throwback.
World/Inferno Friendship Society: This Packed Funeral
My conversion to World/Inferno fandom has taken an unexpectedly long time given the affection the Punknews community's always shown them. I've been bafflingly distracted since '06's Red Eyed Soul, and while I've definitely missed a few steps I'm returning to find the band's trademark punk/cabaret mix at a wonderfully mature stage. Jack Terricloth's use of Eastern European music, musical theatre dramatics and his classic crooner style are delightful as ever.
Wayfarer: Sleep Through To The Light
Heavy. Emotionally so. Instrumentally Kitchener's Wayfarer still show a lot of love for mid-tempo post-hardcore and No Idea-style gruff punk of the type people seem to breathe on Punknews, but damn, this record just floors me. The songwriting maturity Kyle Krische previewed on that split with The Decay has advanced beyond even that, and his lyrics (both in the delivery and subject matter) have this weary, tortured quality that just leave me a raw mess of a person by the time the record's through.
The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers
I'm incredibly possessive of the New Pornographers. 2000's Mass Romantic arrived in my last year of high school. It was a record that dominated my first year of university. The history of this band has mirrored my time at Punknews, so despite their status as a supergroup or how much mainstream ink has been spilled on them, I refuse to believe they exist outside of my own pocket universe. I've found Brill Bruisers more immediately appealing than Challengers or Together, and will definitely end up listening to it more than most other things on this list come a year's time.
Bry Webb: Free Will
Given their reunion, this was an incredible year to be a Constantines fanatic. If there was one downside to that joyous return, it's that frontman Bry Webb's second sophomore solo effort was a bit overshadowed. The follow up to Provider stands tall though, delivering another batch of beautiful, subtle and affecting songs from one of the greatest songwriters this corner of the Earth's produced. This is the perfect counterpart to the noise and fury of the Cons' resurrection.
Carpark / Buzz Records
Odonis Odonis: Hard Boiled Soft Boiled
Delivering the dichotomy it promises on the label, Hard Boiled Soft Boiled juxtaposes one side of noisy industrial/punk numbers with a slab of droning shoegaze tracks. For everyone introduced to Toronto's noise-rock scene through METZ last year, this is a natural. Far from a gimmick, the sequencing of this record evokes a real sense of space, from the tightly wound claustrophobia of "Are We Friends" through the dreamy soundscapes of songs like "Highrise." This is a journey. One of the year's absolute coolest records from start to finish.
New Swears: Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever
I rarely see shows with as much crowd enthusiasm as the over-capacity release show for Junkfood Forever, Bedtime Whatever. The die-hard Ottawa locals packing this Arboretum afterparty collectively lost their shit in a way I haven't witnessed in at least a decade. New Swears' raucous blend of party-punk with alt-country flourishes takes a few sonic cues from early Black Lips, but little of that band's recent attempts at artistic validation. It's easy to see the appeal, and incredible to see it land so perfectly. Back at the release show, the set ended with the crowd chanting the refrain to the Junkfood's closing "No Fun" for at least 5 minutes after the band had left the building. "I'd rather be fucked than be myself. I'd rather be fucked than be myself. I'd rather be..." Goofy and obnoxious? Sure. It was also disarmingly emotionally raw. Catharsis through dumb punk rock.
Sonic Avenues: Mistakes
There are plenty of fun, uncomplicated bands doing the Buzzcocks/Adverts/Voidoids thing competently, and with Mistakes Sonic Avenues proves better than most of them. There's some elusive unifying element that elevates this particular set of power-pop and `77-style punk to a level that's far greater than the sum of its parts. It may be the warm fuzz wall production, it could be the multiple vocalists taking the harmonies really fucking seriously, or it may simply be great songwriting. A criminally underexposed record in 2014.
Undermining my Credibility with Statistics
- Percentage of Canadian bands I've shamelessly endorsed: 76% *
- Percentage of bands from Ontario alone: 64% â€
- Top cities: Toronto (6), Ottawa (3), Hamilton (2), London (2), Vancouver (2), Philadelphia (2) â€ â€
- Top labels: Buzz (4), Hosehead (2), Dirtnap (2), Dine Alone (2) Â§
* As I get older I'm finding the local shows I go to, and the connections between the bands playing them, tends to dominate my what I explore in a given year. I'm surprisingly ok with this, as the world doesn't need me to evaluate the greater universal state of music. Shout out to the IndoorShoes guys for booking so much of my life.
â€ My next tattoo may involve a trillium or two.
â€ â€ I still hate Toronto, mind you, I'm not a monster. Just two weeks ago I spent three hours stuck on the 401 trying to escape. It's like a black hole.
Â§ Take 20 minutes and go watch Untold Noise for a great primer on the cool noise-punk scene that's blowing up out of Toronto, at which Buzz seems to be at the epicenter.