I'm not writing a big intro this year because I haven't earned it. The struggle to somehow raise a family and pay our bills, yet still be useful for Punknews continues and nobody here has taken the responsibility for showing me the door yet. Cowards.
Thanks for sticking with us as we reconstruct and rebuild after so many years. Thanks for contributing your news tips and reviews. Thanks for listening to our dumb podcasts, because we love making them. Punknews only works because a bunch of people volunteer time to it, and you people are all my favourite people.
5 EPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2015
5. Fake Problems: Strange Emotions: Holy Attitude
With Chris Farren seemingly everywhere these days, performing in what seems like 20 different projects while still finding time to be, well, @chrisfarren, I still miss plain old Fake Problems and have a ton of affection for Real Ghosts Caught On Tape. These tracks are from the aborted post-Ghosts full length and they're a charming reminder of how far this band had grown from their roots as yet another folk punk act. Maybe one day, once Twitter's bankrupt and Jeff Rosenstock ascends to heaven, we'll get this band back.
4. Greys: Repulsion
Carpark Records / Buzz Records
Go read my review of the last Greys full length. In it, I muse on what kind of band these guys could grow into if they followed the path hinted at by that record's final song, and took their foot off the gas to exploring some contrasting tempos. Here we are, and the future's blown wide open. This band's next full length is suddenly really important.
3. Century Palm: Valley Cyan
This is a very cool, era-authentic new wave 7-inch from a handful of veterans from some much loved cult Canadian bands (the Ketamines, Tough Age among them). The A-side's a bright pop song full of clean guitars and synths. The brass-filled b-side alternately drones and rages. I can't wait to see what this band does in the long term.
2. The Dirty Nil: No Weaknesses
I've been somewhat dreading this moment. The Dirty Nil in 2015 crossed from a band we in Ontario cherished as our personal hidden gem to a band that gets write-ups from the hip, moneyed New York blogs. They went from a band exclusively releasing super limited EPs to a band signed to a successful label with a professional LP in the works. In 2016 we'll be on the other side of that hump, but if the "No Weaknesses" single is any indication we might not have anything to fear when we get there.
1. LIDS: Sarsfest
Alex Edkins of Metz, Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck and Doug MacGregor of my beloved Constantines team up for a quasi-industrial, hypnotically rhythmic post-punk single that sums up so much of the amazing noise that's come out of Toronto in the past two years.
20 LPs that Rocked The Casbah in 2015
20. TV Freaks: Bad Luck Charms
A few releases in, the scuzzy Stooges-indebted TV Freaks return with an insane amount of Canadian indie pedigree helping out behind the boards, including the Sadies' Dallas Good and Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet's Don Pyle. The band's unrelenting garage punk turns up the reverb and turns a few clever corners under their watch, but the core of why TV Freaks are so urgent live remains unchanged.
19. The Libertines: Anthems for Doomed Youth
I had a long, complicated infatuation with the Libertines the first time around, but after their (I'd still argue) fascinating second record I dropped out. After too many years, all that tabloid drama and the half-firing side-projects this shouldn't have been on my radar at all, but lo and behold curiosity got the best of me. There are few bands since the Smiths who've have captured the public gutter romanticism of a disintegrating rock'n'roll band in quite this way.
18. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color
Who am I to argue with just about every other music critic. It would be hard to invent a band with the cross-genre likability of Alabama Shakes and I'd be entirely fine with the mainstream rock world crowning Brittany Howard as their new go-to spokesperson, it seems like Dave Grohl and Jack White need a break anyways.
17. War On Women: War On Women
War on Women, much like their tour-mates Propagandhi, are precariously balanced between their roles as ideologically pure activists and the fact that they're a really exciting hardcore act. Their uncompromising moral position, whether you agree with it all or not, makes this a fairly heady listen and definitely not the type of thing I'm spinning to relax. When you're in the right mindset though, this'll tear your head off.
16. Ben Caplan: Birds With Broken Wings
There's a CBC Music video of Ben Caplan and his band doing a live cover of "Uptown Funk" that surfaced this year, and it's not only better than the ubiquitous original but it really showcases how much skill and range the singer-songwriter brings to the table. "Birds" continues the Tom Waits meets Eastern European folk bent of Caplan's first outing. Even if the some of the second-side crooners have less teeth than I prefer, this is still pretty distinctive and wonderfully written.
I'll admit my rating of this album is GREATLY buoyed by the veteran band's triumphant, life-affirming live show. My love of Lydon's been pretty out in the open on Punknews for years now, but the current incarnation of Public Image Ltd.'s proven themselves worthy of the band's early legacy and there's a lot of fun stuff on What The World Needs Now that fits right into their deep catalogue.
14. Soupcans: Soft Party
Soft Party is fucking insane. I can't listen to a song like "Siamese Brutality," with its disarming introduction, without a huge smile on my face. Soupcans oscillate between frenetic traditional hardcore and louder, faster moments I can't quite stick a genre on. The whole mix feels vital, dangerous and unpredictable but never self-important or humourless.
13. Joel Plaskett: The Park Avenue Sobriety Test
Joel Plaskett's consistency in writing and delivering crowd pleasing, nigh-perfect Cancon guitar pop is somewhat infuriating in that it's all so consistently great. Each record, without fail, delivers a too-generous helping of instant classics just screaming for a summer road trip. Not punk at all folks, but it sure makes me happy. I do take a certain amount of perverse pleasure in ranking this right next to, but below, B.A. Johnston though.
12. B.A. Johnston: Shit Sucks
This was playing in my car as we made the 3 a.m. dash to the hospital while my wife was in labour with our second child. B.A. Johnston's slovenly loser shtick is of course most often played for comedy, but it frequently touches on something very wounded and poignant. This is also rife with super-specific Ontario references that I revel in, from grocery store names to horrible commutes on the QEW to the love/hate affair us in the rest of Canada have with the Big Smoke.
11. The Beverleys: Brutal
While a tad less noisy and distortion-washed than the band's live shows, the debut full length from the Beverleys is a wonderful set of uncomplicated, compromise-free garage punk songs. With crunchy tunes like "Hoodwink" and "Bad Company" kicking around my playlists all year, to finally have those and more together in a long player is a great deal of fun. I revisit this album more often than most things, and it's climbing my list on replayability alone.
10. Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv
I refuse to acknowledge the sticker on this 12-inch that claims it's an EP, so here we are. Ben Cook's of course a regular in Fucked Up and his hardcore act No Warning made a big loud return this year, but on the sparking AM radio ready Ripe 4 Luv he really lets his songwriting muscle flex. It's abundantly clear why the less talked about side of Cook's career is writing hooks for huge pop stars.
From that same Toronto cohort that's all over my list, Metz is clearly the band with the biggest profile and perhaps the best claim on crossing over into the wider punk and indie scenes. While their second record builds on the strengths of the first they've consciously avoided doing anything too friendly here, and the band remains loud, dark and uncompromising this go-around.
8. HSY: Bask
The Toronto noise-punk scene hit me hard this year and I've been digging up as much as I can from labels like Buzz and Telephone Explosion. HSY have long been spoken of as the standard bearers of this sound and on this long player they don't disappoint. Bask is abrasive, unhinged, loud as fuck and pretty damn adventurous in its diversions.
Joe Casey's proven to be one of the most enigmatic, distinctive frontmen going and with The Agent Intellect he's written one of darkest, moodiest post-punk records I've heard in years. This just has an incredible amount of gravity and feels awfully deep. It's absolutely worth spending a good deal of time re-listening and unravelling this one and I'm going to be doing so for months to come.
Everyone loves Night Birds and that's how it should be. Personal sub-genre preferences aside, to be at all a fan of punk rock and to not adore records like Mutiny at Muscle Beach means there is something fundamentally broken inside you. You are wrong, and you should feel bad. This is fast and fun and, as it was on past releases, delivers some of the best surf-guitar undertones since the Dead Kennedys.
Radioactivity's second record is as good as their first, which means the legacy of the Marked Men continues strong. It's insane how effortless it all sounds and how quiet the reception's to this has been. It's not that Radioactivity's particularly obscure it's more like the fact that this is an incredible garage punk record is such a given that it's not even worth mentioning. The sun is bright. Snow is cold. Radioactivity is peerless. Duh.
4. Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy
It's one thing to make a 29 song three-LP rock opera, it's another to make one that anyone would care to listen to. While the format seems inherently self-important, in execution Titus Andronicus somehow delivered a tightly wound firehose for Patrick Stickles' various neuroses without needing a lot of padding to make the length. Nothing about this should really work, yet it's filled with bangers like "Dimed Out" and engaging 9 minute (!) tracks like "(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID."
This my 2015 comfort record. If I start listening to it, I'll inevitably finish it and I'm in a great mood the entire time. There's an endearing simplicity to songs like "Wishing Well," "Empty Head" and the title track that falls really close to what I'd consider pure, idealized modern rock'n'roll. I reach for this LP so often that I'm worried I'll actually wear it out.
Ignoring their untimely split and the euphoria that came with their return, all Sleater-Kinney had to do to deliver one of the year's best rock'n'roll records was maintain. No Cities to Love walks back from the ambitious, polarizing loudness of The Woods to something more familiar, but Sleater-Kinney's baseline is so high that familiar is good enough to be better than most.
1. Dilly Dally: Sore
Buzz Records / Partisan Records
Is it part of the '90s / grunge revivalism that's crept into indie rock these past few years? I suppose. But regardless of trends there's been no band I've followed as fervously as Dilly Dally this year. Each and every single, 7-inch or random digital release that came to light I poured over and played into the ground. I'd been waiting anxiously to finally hear these moody, tortured, gloriously slurred teasers assembled together as a full length and to finally have it in my hands I'm euphoric. This just oozes with a certain teenage "fuck you" attitude that so many punk bands can go their entire careers without ever getting right.