Punknews Comes to do BattleYo, yo, yo, yo Punknews!!!!!
What is happenin'?!!!! For me, 2015 is the year Punknews swung for the fences, and not to pat myself on the back (which is exactly what I'm about to do), but I think we did some really, really, really cool stuff this year. We debuted a record by the Flames which was recorded in 1980 and lost ever since! It was doubly amazing for me since it all sprung from a record I found in the cheapÂo bin that happened to have telephone number marked on the back! I interviewed one of the weirdest, craziest new punk bands in an abandoned bank and they are now one of my all time favorites. I did a long form piece on Mischief Brew to see what's really going on with that surprisingly mysterious, and unsurprisingly wonderful band. We rumbled with a fallen pop-punk icon to a hilarious result. Shawna Potter of War on Women told me how awesome Danzig and Dolly Parton are. I got to see Arnocorps fight the Terminator and a drug-addled manÂbunny in a wrestling ring.
But, without question, this year's highlight for me was the release of what essentially was the culmination of my first decade of music journalism THEE MIGHTY PUNKNEWS MY ORG MIXTAPE!!!. Seriously, we had Jello, Blag, Mischief Brew, Jesse Michaels, KRS-ÂOne, Lee Perry, Tesco Vee, Amebix, Integrity, the Dead Milkmen and so many more all on the same tape! Insane! I was pretty proud of how it came out and I think it's a pretty unique and special release. To all of you that bought one, thank YOU! Without you, we literally could not have done it. So, thanks again, you wonderful people.
This year, my favorite records were...
The Top 20 Albums of 2015 (NonÂMelvins Division)
L-ÂShaped Man is a challenging record. Sure, it's influenced by the '80s sadness champions Joy Division, Bauhaus, Modern English, and Sisters of Mercy Â but who isn't? What a lot of people missed is the incredible level of skill and craft in these lyrics and melodies. There are little notes and messages hidden throughout these melancholic howls. Ceremony is getting weirder and more detached from their hardcore roots. Isn't that what punk is kind of about? A launching pad for unbridled artistic expression and daring? Ceremony are using that platform like few others.
19. High On Fire: Luminiferous
It doesn't matter that all High on Fire albums kind of sound the same because they all sound like a clan of bloodthirsty vikings storming off their ships, burning down villages, and chopping' off kings' heads with double sided battle axes. Luminerferous is a little louder, a little more fractured and a little weirder. Despite the multiple 7Â8-minute songs here, this feels like the band's most compact set. So few bands can't walk the fine line between weird poetry and goofy fantasy, but Matt Pike sprints down that strip with confidence, style and wild abandon. This must be Odin's favorite band.
Yessss! Gimme some of that bluesÂ-based punk riffage! Gimme some of that Iggy style selfÂ-destruction! Gimme some of that NYC "I hate you all" attitude! What could have been bland posturing, what could have been a routine exercise in influence, what could have been a nostalgia act, is forged into one of the most vibrant records of the year. Yeah, these guys love to rock and they love to roll. If you don't like it, eff you! This is true, honest, punk destruction. Let's destroy everything, baby.
17. KRSÂ-One: Now Hear This
Everyone from the world's most famous emcee (JayÂ Z? Kanye? Nicki?) to the most street level backpack rapper drops to one knee in tribute to the Blastmaster. Frankly, this man IS hip hop. Now Hear This, which was produced by Kris' son DJ PredatorPrime, finds the Teacha still attacking the government, still reciting the tenants of Hip Hop and still scoffing at financial success as a measure of worth. He could have sounded tired. He could have sounded like he was on cruise control. Instead, KRS sounds as huge, as hungry, and as dedicated as ever. KRS-ÂOne... ROCK ON.
Titus Andronicus swings for the fences every single time. Their latest album was almost too big to fail. Three LPs. A Pogues cover. A blank section in the middle of the record. A story about a doppleganger traveling through the universe. A cool new Dead Kennedys style punk symbol. This should have been a huge messÂ and it sort of isÂ the most glorious, burning, spiraling, exciting, confusing, intriguing mess that you've heard this year.
15. Public Image Ltd.: What The World Needs Now
Gimme trouble on the double double double double!!! This is why Johnny Rotten is one of the greatest punkers, if not the greatest punker, ever. This is why so many naysayers have decayed into dust while Lydon is as vibrant as ever. This is why Lydon doesn't give a two cents about what you think. This is art in its truest form. This is punk rock in its truest form, even if it isn't even actually "rock" at all. What the world needs now is P.I.L.
What people forget about Naplam Death (myself included) is that they're actually the last surviving of the Anarcho-punk bands. But, if you can pull apart these nasty, nasty riffs and skull-shattering, barked vocals, you'll find lyrics that rival any Flux album that you could find. Napalm Death is still challenging musical troupes and genre ones. As mean as this music is, the core message is one of niceness. The fact that they are now in the midst of a ten year upswing just goes to show why these guys are masters of form, message, and style.
After seven years, MLE show up and blast out their tightest, most rocking set to date. So few bands are able to twist soul bearing honest into 2:30 rippers, but MLE not only make it look easy, but they make it look like this is the only way to do it. "Shadow of Death?" Straight Gang of Four meets ska and also straight pessimism meets optimism. Some people think "pop punk" is easy to do. Maybe it is, but it's nigh impossible to do it this well.
Danzig is fearless. When everyone is trying to tell everyone else what is and what is not "cool," the 'Zig cuts an LP where he covers The Young Rascals, ZZ Top, and even Elvis himself. (Of course, there is a Sabbath cover for good measure). And why? It's because the man is a true artist, because he's not scared to say what the real deal is, and most importantly, like Elvis and like the Everly Brothers, Danzig is a true singer. Danzig could be singing a Chinese takeout menu and it would be a solid 7/10. Here, he covers some of the most cherished songs in the great American songbook (and some left field picks), so the results speak for themselves.
Alice Cooper calls uphis palsÂ Brian Johnson (yeah!), Robby Krieger (cool!), Dennis Dunaway and Neil Smith(OH YES!), Christopher Lee (sweet!), Paul McCartney (DAMN!), and Johnny Depp (meh...) and straight up bangs out one of the best covers albums ever. The band treats this whole set like it is a garage party, ripping through the Doors, Pink Floyd, T. ÂRex, Hendrix and a lot of other classics and because they are so irreverent, the whole tribute seems to be actually completely reverent. Forget the mushy stuffÂ the best way to pay tribute to your dead drunk friends is by cranking it up to ten and doing the best versions of their tunes that you can. "I love the dead," indeed.
10. War On Women: War On Women
The problem that I have with a lot of hardcore bands is that they sound more like they are reciting a doctrine than they are speaking from their hearts. Maybe it's because a lot of the members come from outside the hardcore community, but War on Women sound frikkin' righteous. When Shawna Potter screams into that mic, you can tell she means it. Instead of this music degrading into a continuous rumble strip of feedback and blast beats, this is the kind of music that makes people shut up and listen. And their troll takedown track? Finally, a band telling jackasses that they are jackasses and the trolls' only possible retort is to admit they are jackasses through their subsequent jackass actions. MASTERSTROKE.
Teresa Suarez is Xipetoltec given flesh. She snarls and hisses and coos and winces and screams and barks. She'll seduce you and cut you in half in the same line and you'll be happy she did. A Raw Youth is the band's most focused and most varied released to date. There's some avant Âgarde sludge punk, some Alice Cooper style gothic rock, some Iggy Pop collaborations and some new wave bounce (about the international sex trade no less). If it's good enough for Iggy, it's good enough for me,Â but to tell you the truth, even if this record wasn't IgÂ-sanctioned, I'd still be trumpeting its virtues because this is a straight up spooky, soulful masterpiece.
Victoria Ruiz is a goddamn box of dynamite packed into a five-foot-two package. When she performs, it likes the inside of her body is trying to tear through her muscle and skin as she snaps around, clutches at her own face, and rolls on the floor. What makes the band's first full length so exciting is that this manic live energy is sealed inside a 12-inch piece of wax. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Joey Defrancesco's guitars sound like a train flying off the tracks and could rumble with pretty much any first wave punk riff you could find. Add in a double dose sax attack and what you have is a perfect punk record -- politics as delivered through a goddamn shotgun blast.
Yes, yes, yes. We all know that the Screamales can shred. They've been doing it a decade. Put Jimmy Page next to 'em and ol' curly hair's frizz will be blown clear off. Put Joe Satriani next to 'emÂ and baldy will be so embarrassed by his own work that he'll grow his hair back to try and hide his identity. But, for me, Rose Mountain is where the band masters the art of the shred and the art of the spirit. Dig "Wishing Well," man. That is the kind of song that makes you feel like you are floating three feet above the ground. My soul was moved. For real. Apparently this album is about breaking up with your own ache ridden body. Music like this can only come from pain and call me a sadist, but I'm glad the band is suffering if I get to hear tunes like this.
Leftover Crack... now that's a name that I have not heard in a long time... Constructs of the State feels like the third part of the trilogy. Whereas Mediocre Generica was the whimsicalA New Hope, and Fuck World Trade was the dark Empire Strikes Back, Constructs is where everything comes to a head a la Return of the Jedi. It's harder, it's more claustrophobic, it's sprawling and we revisit a bunch of faces that we've seen before. This isn't a victory lap so much as the band proving themselves once again through reinvention. Great shot, LOC, that was one in a million.
5. Jello Biafra: Walk on Jindal's Splinters
Mr. Biafra goes to 'Nawlins and with a crew of eleven, ELEVEN, musicians, flies through a set of garage rock, soul, and blues classics. First of all, Biafra is the king. Who else does as many radical projects as he does and they come out so awesome?! And so fun? Second of all, by the way J.B. howls, grunts, and rolls through these tunes, he proves a thesis through his art. The berserk, spastic soul of punk is in all forms of music, you just have to know where to find it and how to tap into it. Biafra, more than anyone else, has bit into the pulsating source and each year he must suckle more from that nectar, because each year, he gets crazier, wilder, and straight up better.
4. The Garden: Haha
Complete punk chaos channeled through minimalist 90-second bangers, avant- garde synth Âconstructs, and a descent into utter spastic cacophony. A lot of people had trouble wrapping their minds around this weird record. Why is the band so fixated on putting on sunglasses? Why does the jester archetype reoccur throughout the album? What is this pulsating power called Vada Vada? The reason this was difficult for a lot of people was because a) this record smashes down boundaries left and right,Â something punk has sorely needed for the past 20 years or so and b) this record is so far ahead of its time people can't even see its glimmer in the distance. Check back in say... 25 years. History will prove that this band is genius... or at least, really, really, really, really good.
First of all, not only does this record have one of the greatest titles ever, not only is it the band's tightest release to date, not only does it have secret Seinfeld references coded into it, not only is it non-Âstop punk rock action, but it is a frikkin' modern day classic. No fat. No filler. No "pretty good" songs. This album is punk banger after punk banger after punk banger. And, while the band is clearly influenced by the first wave of leather jacket rockers, this ain't no retro record. This record is as fresh as it gets -- as wild as it getsÂ, as exciting as it gets. There's been too many midÂ-tempo selfÂ-pity records around these parts these days. I want tunes about cutting people up with sharp implements which are then shoehorned into some sort of political statement. That's Night Birds. Just let me know when the mutiny is going down. I'll bring the knives.
Rob Miller of Amebix recruits a crack team of heavy metal and crust Âpunk legends and then releases a modern metal classic. As the band thrashes through 12 smashers, they comment on religion, recite a pagan's outlook at the cycle of life, and kinda sorta maybe pull themselves out of their gothic imagery to scowl at Facebook. Plus, that voice. That. Voice. Sadly, thee mighty Amebix may be gone, but as both Amebix and Tau Cross would attest, nothing ever truly dies, it transmutes into another form, and this form of that ancient force is a most worthy avatar.
The Brew! The! Brew! Tha BreeeeeeeeewWwWwWwWwW! (FYI, I am 97 percent sure that Mischief Brew hates being called "tha brew.") Here is where Mischief Brew establish their greatness. Here is where Mischief Brew forge a monument to themselves. Here is where Mischief Brew ascends from "awesome band" to IMMORTAL BAND. Each of the three main Mischief Brew albums are distinct from another and I'm not gonna lie, it took a little while for this LP to sink in. But once it did... Hoo Boy! This is Not for Children is cleaner, more propulsive, and frankly, a little more melancholy than its two brothers. But, once you swim in its open spaces you start realize that no matter how Mischief Brew sounds, they sound like Mischief Brew. Few punk bands are as bold as this. They could have just kicked out 10 versions of "Thanks, Bastards!" Instead, the summoned the ghosts other friends and of the midÂ-period English anarcho titans and cast out a release that is nuanced, daring, powerful and tender all at once. This band just wows me time and time again and they always keep me on my toes. How many bands (punk or not) can really say that? Ye mighty BrewÂians, assume your station next to Crass and the Melvins, adjunct to the Clash and Black Flag, betwixt the Damned and the Dwarves, beside the Slits and the Dead Kennedys, for you are RIGHTEOUS. And to he who would proclaim this statement heresy or premature, may your dissent be engraved in the hardest marble, for in one hundred and one years, that plaque shall be spat upon, shat upon, and mocked while garlands and laurels shall be shrouded upon statues of Petersen, St. Clair, Petersen and Kulp.
The Top 10 Singles and EPs of 2015 (NonÂMelvs style)
Weird as hell, spazzy hardcore, fronted by a combustible Mother Superior. Far out. This EP is the sound of hardcore, new wave and Captain Beefheart in a blender. It's fast, it's frantic, it's ghoulish and I can't get enough.
To Live a Lie
At this point, ACxDC are just drinking blood from the skulls of their enemies. When the band first started making a racket, a million and one detractors crawled from out of the sewer with "Waah! They're not real powerviolence!" and "Waah! They're not real grindcore!" Eh, go suck a tailpipe. No one cares. The band didn't flinch or change when confronted. Instead, they upped the anti by putting out their best music to date (and ridiculous merch like kid's shirts, pencils, and ACxDC branded sex toys). The fact is, ACxDC is one of the few bands to take a fairly limiting genre and exploit it to its fullest potential and this postcardÂ, yes it's a real postcard,Â does just that. Songs about suicide? Yes. Songs about how science is cool? Yes. Sometimes they are morose and sometimes they are hilarious. All you purist grandpas have been kicked into your grave by this band doing wherever genre this is ten times better than their contemporaries and they're doing it with a thousand times more fun.
8. Flag of Democracy / Dead Milkmen: Split [7Âinch]
Two old school cronies met back up in a gag release purporting to be from 1984. But, despite the "gotcha" nature of the release, it goes to show why these veterans are as hallowed as they are. Flag of Democracy kicks out three slices of manic hardcore that could stack up net to any of the original era stuff (probably because FOD were part of the original era stuff). Meanwhile, the Dead Milkmen, as snarky as ever, tear punk rock a new one in a three minute riff on Sham 69. Why are these bands still around after some 30-odd years? Because we need them dearly.
Interstellar synth punk destruction! This band sounds like they are constantly tearing themselves apart and pulling the most vicious sounds than can from malfunction electronic equipment. I stumbled across this band by looking at a Facebook event featuring other bands. I clicked on the band's link almost by a accident. As soon as I heard the crazed vocals and Blade Runner Âon ÂPCP style music, I had to have this release.
6. Posers: Posers [EP]
This Philly punk quartet kind of came out of nowhere and just completely kicked my ass. With a dedication to that early UK art Âpunk scene and some slight hints from the first wave of West Coasters, this band takes the core components of punk and jacks it up into something completely modern. Singer Jade is captivating and the band just tears out some killer tuneage. Punk bands often embrace the genre's cliches too much, or distance themselves from the concept of punk so much that they're no longer associated with the core aesthetic (or even values.) Posers take the best parts of punk, throw out the rest, and set this 7-Âinch on fire.
Year of the Hare is Fucked Up's most fractured release, literally. The band actually chopped up the song and dropped its shards throughout the running time. While the band's LPs may be becoming more conventional, their 12Â-inchers find the band going for broke. Hare could have been a jumbled mess of discordant noise. but, due to the masterful hand of drummer Jonah Falco, it's compelling, twisting, labyrinth into the mind of a madman. Also, it sounds really good. Fucked Up, please keep getting weirder.
A companion to last year's Dwarves Invented Rock n Roll, the Fun to Try EP features alternate versions and bÂ-sides from that album. What this compact set does is demonstrate just how the Dwarves are masters of the classic pop tune and, a the same time, are turning the classic pop tune on its head. "Sluts of the USA" attacks the common perception of what a "slut" is, questions on whether that's even a bad thing, and does it all to an AM radio bubblegum beat. Likewise, "Fun to Try" is sort of the band's mission statement- they're not concerned with boundaries. They'll go wherever their muse carries them. So far, their muse has had some damn good travel plans.
Joel Tannenbaum as Bob Dylan, perhaps? Like Dylan, this record isn't afraid to point fingers and express cold, hard judgment. But, also like Bobbo, it's also not afraid to engage in impish wordplay and jokesÂ. Did you catch the running time of "Drunks and Stoners?" Tannenbaum has stated that both of these songs are about "making it through." But, by the way he sums up everyone involved with a few curt lines one wonders of he's not akin some sort of PanÂish position and just chuckling at the ridiculousness of this whole thing called life. (See also "Ballad of a Thin Man") Also, get the cassette version. It takes this great record and makes it next level. Perhaps the best modern use of the cassette format to date.
What I like about Crazy and the Brains is that they keep getting crazier. Each release is more energetic, more punchy, and more zany than the one before it. Brain Freeze feels like a Looney Tunes cartoon with the band blowing up their already outsized personalities, powered by a wonderfully whimsical xylophone, and just jumping all over, sometimes singing about girls, sometimes singing about insanity, and sometimes really just singing about ice cream. This band is getting better and better. This record distills everything that I love about both classic punk and modern punk into a two song smacker. This is perfection in 262 seconds.
Sometimes, you will see a band and they just blow your head off. I stumbled upon Bad Canoes at the famed Golden Tea House (RIP) and was a maniac Âfan from literally the very first note. Since then, I have seen them over a dozen times. I buy every piece of official merch the band releases. My Facebook "notices" let me know when the band page updates. In fact, several of the band members have sent me letters telling me that I creep them out and asking me to go away. I will not. This band is exactly what I want from punk rock. Weird as hell, super aggressive, sometimes catchy, sometimes discordant, berserk songs. I literally cannot overstate how much of a fan I am of this band. Their new self-Âtitled EP is too amazing for me to describe. All I can say, is the new EP is the best parts of the Slits, the Screamers, the Units and Kleenex. For really real, the Clash blew my mind. The Ramones blew my mind. The Misfits blew my mind. The Melvins blew my mind. Rudimentary Peni blew my mind. Bad Canoes have blown my mind to an equal degree. Did God hear my prayers and create this band just for me? Yes, yes She did.
The Top Five Melvins Releases of 2015 (Melvins division)
One of the reasons the Melvins are reigning kings of the rock is that they know ambiance is as important as composition. You can write a kick ass song, but if the soul isn't there, the skeleton falls to pieces. "Polish Trash Compactor" is an exercise in ghostly ambience. whispers and howls and clanging appear and suddenly fade away. This is tension in sound manifest.
The Melvins at both of their extremes. "Captain Comedown" is a fairly standard head banger showing that the Melvins, who do like to get weird, are equally experts at playing the part of classic rock and roll. And then, there's "Industrial Art." It doesn't get much more far out than this blast of arrhythmic sound. No matter the field of battle, the Melvins conquer.
The best part about the main course here, "Heathen Earth," is that it's not even actually a Throbbing Gristle cover. You can't get more Throbbing Gristle than covering a song that a band never wrote to begin with. I wouldn't have guessed it, but Throbbing Gristle as an inspiration for the Melvins makes perfect sense in retrospect. An that's how this band operates. They blast into the room, wreck the place, and rumble on out. After you're able to pick up the pieces, only then can you put together what actually happened.
The Melvins have long sprawling masterpieces and they have compact face punchers. This Alice CooperÂfied EP is four tracks representing what the Melvins do best. "Beer Hippy" is a classic, hard and heavy Melvins rumbler. Meanwhile, they get silly on "Shaving Cream" and reverent of a modern religion on "Take Me Out." Bands try to catch the Melvins bit they never will. Every time the band creates a masterpiece, they set it aside and race off to the next conquest. The Coop would be proud... and if he's not, well, too bad. This release doesn't need anyone's approval. It proves its awesomeness through mere existence.
The Melvins team up with Teri of Le Butcherettes and tear through an absolutely furious version of the Bikini Kill classic. This is two artists feeding off the energy of the other and in that bloom, creating art transcendent. Bowie and Eno. Coltrane and Ellington. Sinatra and Jones. The Melvs and Teri. Perfection and perfection.
DJ Johnny G speaks with his handsNext year will have some really cool stuff going down. I'm particularly looking forward to new Gnarboots, Kicker, Danzig, Rentiers, Crazy and the Brains, ACxDC, Bowie, La Sera, Melvins, Open City, more Rolling Stones reissues, more Rudimentary Peni reissues, ... and how about some new OFF!? It's time, Keith, it's time! Also, I'll be at one, or maybe both, of the Punk Rock Bowlings, so come say "hi!"
For 2016, I'd like to get back into interviews, particularly long form pieces. I think I've sort of fallen into the habit of interviewing bands I already know because 1) I like to keep up with my favorite bands; and 2)I've never felt it was fair that certain publications will interview a band once or twice and then forget about them. That being said, I think it's time to reach out to new and unexpected people again.
Sitewise, if you thought 2015 had some crazy stuff, then get ready. We have so many cool and weird ideas planned for 2016 for Punknews, We're going to be trying A LOT of new things and doing A LOT of weird stuff simply for the sake of being weird. I am so excited. Believe me, you'll know it when you see it.
And thusly, the new year approaches. My friends, my advice to you is be yourself, take risks, be bold, do what you want (without hurting other people), lay off the drugs, get an education, be kind, call your grandma, don't join the witch hunts, fight tooth and nail against anyone who would try to control how you want to express yourself or your art. Don't let the smallÂ-minded and cowardly win the fight!. There are many more of them, but you are YOU.
O glorious Dave Brockie, O resplendent Ari Up, O magnificent Tomata du Plenty, O dazzling Darby Crash, O blazing Asheton brothers, O radiant Joey and Johnny and Dee Dee and Tommy, I beseech your spirits, grant upon us your blessings and brilliance so that, in this new year, we may lay waste to this bland, milquetoast mediocrity that plagues us, so that we may burn away the hive minds, so that we may drink deep from this cup of life without fear, and so that we may forge a punk rockÂ and a societyÂ that is wonderful, intelligent, crazy, daring, strange, challenging, and weird. I am worshipping at your altar, WILL YOU HEAR ME?!
2016, HEY!! HO!!! LET'S GOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!