Best of 2018 - Julie River’s Picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2018

Julie River’s Picks (2018)

Staff Picks

This year has been an amazing one for me. My transition took huge steps as I started on hormones and came out at work, so that I now life my life full time as Julie. That’s been both exciting and absolutely terrifying, but I managed it and it’s been amazing. There are some new people in my life who have changed it drastically in a good way. I’ve struggled a lot financially, but managed to survive with, as the song says, a little help from my friends. I’m excited to see what comes next in 2019.

As for music, I think it’s been a great and exciting year for music. Now, if you’ve followed my top 20 lists over the years, which I’m sure you haven’t, you might remember that in 2016 my top two albums were Shape Shift with Me by Against Me! and Wasted Mind by Direct Hit!, with Direct Hit! taking the number one spot, winning the battle of the exclamation points. As I said at the time, when a trans girl ranks something above Against Me!, then you better pay attention. Well, this year it’s a rematch, as Direct Hit! put out a new album this year, and so did Laura Jane Grace’s Against Me! side project, Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers. Will history repeat itself with Direct Hit! taking the top spot on my list? Or will the trans queen of punk be taking the number one spot on my list and in my heart? Or is there another contender that knocks them both out of the top spot? Honestly, it was a really hard decision to pick my number one this year, but in the end I think I made the right decision. So read on to see who I picked!

20. The Interrupters: Fight The Good Fight

Hellcat Records

The Interrupters labored in mediocrity for their first two albums, but for their third they suddenly advanced light years to put out one of the best ska albums of the summer. The lead single, "She"s Kerosene," was a slick pop-rocker that blew me away, and the album as a whole turned out to be a knock out. Aimee Allen establishes herself as one of the great punk front women of this generation, although a guest appearance from Rancid certainly went a long way towards making this the memorable album that it is. It remains somewhat low on my list because I don"t pretend that it was somehow groundbreaking or anything, it"s a pretty conventional third-wave ska album, but it"s a great example of a conventional third-wave ska album that truly shows an understanding of how to write great pop songs.

Favorite Track: "She"s Kerosene"

19. Mean Jeans: Jingle Collection

Fat Wreck Chords

I don"t care what anyone says, including Mean Jeans themselves who insisted that this album is not a joke whatsoever, but Mean Jeans" Jingle Collection was absolutely hilarious. Like I said about Tight New Dimensions a few years ago, Mean Jeans are operating on levels that people don"t entirely understand. It doesn"t make much intelligence to write dumb music, obviously, but it takes a lot of intelligence to write intentionally and ironically dumb music, which is what Mean Jeans always is. To write them off as silly or dumb is to miss so many levels of what Mean Jeans is actually doing. That they made an entire album of commercial jingles that they wrote themselves is bizarre and hysterical and somehow a meta commentary on commercialism and punk"s relationship to commercial culture.

Favorite Track: "1-800-69-SHRED"

18. Alkaline Trio: Is This Thing Cursed?

Epitaph Records

Okay, okay, I poo-pooed this album in the comments section when it first came out. I called it a mashup of their last three albums, and said that the last time they did anything that felt fresh and new was on Crimson. I still kind of stand by that, but a stagnant Alkaline Trio is still better than most pop-punk bands out there. The lyrics are as strong as ever, and Matt Skiba doesn"t sound tired for his splitting his time between Alkaline Trio, Blink-182, and Matt Skiba and the Sekrets. Is This Thing Cursed? plays to every one of Alkaline Trio"s strengths, even if it"s treading in well-worn territory for the band.

Favorite Track: "Little Help"

17. MxPx: MxPx

Global Enterprises

Okay, I continue to eat my words after bashing MxPx for 90"s week a few years ago, as their 2018 self-titled album is actually really, really good. At the same time, I went through an MxPx phase in my youth before growing out of their terrible lyrics, so I"m glad to see that MxPx has also grown out of their terrible lyrics and graduated to a smart, mature pop-punk band. It"s not an album that"s going to change the world, or change punk for that matter, but it"s a lot of fun and deals with some heavy issues at time without falling back on their former Christian identity.

Favorite Track: "Friday Tonight"

16. The HIRS Collective: Friends. Lovers. Favorites.

Get Better Records

I don"t listen to a lot of grindcore but HIRS, also known as The HIRS collective, really picks up where G.L.O.S.S. left off (despite one commenter on my review who made the easily disproven claim that HIRS has been around since the 1980"s) and continue on that tradition of extreme hardcore music with pro-trans lyrics. Add in a truly amazing list of guest stars from Laura Jane Grace to Alice Bag to Shirley Manson of all people, and you have a truly ferocious album.

Favorite Track: "What is Love Without Purpose (feat. Laura Jane Grace)"

15. Trophy Eyes: The American Dream

Hopeless Records

As of the writing of this, I haven"t gotten around to writing a review of this album yet. Maybe I will, but my schedule is pretty packed at the moment. Still, I love this album so much. Throwing off much of their hardcore sound, and even any semblance of punk for that matter, in favor of pure pop, Trophy Eyes create some utterly epic pop music on this album with hooks that will leave you absolutely floored. Now, if you don"t like the sound of a hardcore band going pure pop, then this album is clearly not for you. But if you can appreciate exquisitely crafted pop music, this is a great album to check out.

Favorite Track: "Friday Forever"

14. The Dirty Nil: Master Volume

Dine Alone Records

Two years ago, The Dirty Nil ended up on the Punknews Top 20 list and I had never heard of them, so when Master Volume came out I was interested to check it out. I was impressed with its dirty grunge punk with a taste of southern twang to it. Nothing about this music should be called upbeat or bouncy, but yet they still manage to work in some infectious pop hooks into the music. It"s an unusual formula that manages to work unusually well, and I look forward to checking out the rest of their material.

Favorite Track: "Pain of Infinity"

13. Antarctigo Vespucci: Love in the Time of E-Mail

Polyvinyl Records

This was my first time checking out Antarctigo Vespucci, but I was a big fan of Jeff Rosenstock"s Worry and POST-, as well as Chris Farren"s Like a Gift from God or Whatever and Can"t Die, so I was curious to see what the two of them can do when they team up. The result is a delicious blend of lo-fi electronic, indie rock, and power pop. Rosenstock and Farren bring their pop, punk, and indie skills to the forefront along with some cleverly crafted lyrics. This was the latest addition to my list, which was fine because it just kicked Teenage Wrist out of the 20 spot and I didn"t think that was a huge loss, but at number 13 with a bullet, you should know how much I loved this album if I felt the need to shove this on my list at the last minute.

Favorite Track: "Kimmy"

12. The Last Gang: Keep Them Counting

Fat Wreck Chords

If you read enough of my writing on this website, you know that I"m more likely to reward a band that"s innovating and doing something a little outside of the punk norm than a band that"s just recreating a classic sound. The Last Gang sound very conventional when you first listen to them, but when you start to listen more closely you can hear all the ways in which this band is very subtly innovating. The biggest thing is that, despite playing pretty classic punk style, a la Rancid, their songs often fail to follow a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. There"s also a lot of playing with studio effects in unusual ways, such as pushing frontwoman Brenna Red"s voice into the distorted range to give her vocals a pretty extreme quality. The album is rife with memorable hooks with a very classic punk style that just switches things up a little to encourage some innovation. I can"t wait to see where this band goes.

Favorite Track: "Believe in the Poet"

11. Jeff Rosenstock: POST-

Polyvinyl Records

Greg Simpson predicted that this album would be missing from most people"s end of the year lists, not because it isn"t good but because, having been released as a surprise album on literally the first day of the year, nobody would remember that it came out this year. POST- may not be what 2016"s Worry was, but damn is it an amazing album with Rosenstock"s trademark quirkiness and catchiness. Don"t let its very early release make you forget how important this album was to the landscape of 2018"s music.

Favorite Track: "USA"

12. Nervus: Everything Dies

big scary monsters

I"m always on the lookout for queer punk, particularly trans punk, which, despite the presence of Against Me!, remains sadly rare. But Nervus, with trans frontwoman Em Foster, is one of the best out there for those who want their trans punk a little lighter than Against Me! or HIRS. The piano parts really make Evertyhing Dies that rare punk album that has a classic beauty to it. Lots of the songs deal with the tough realities of being trans, but none more so than the phenomenal opening track, "Congratulations." If you don"t listen to this whole album (you should, though), at least listen to "Congratulations."

Favorite Track: "Congratulations"

9. The Infested: Raw Ensemble


Whoops! Here"s another one I meant to review and never got around to. Maybe I will by the time this list comes out. What I like about this album is that I think my favorite kind of music is really what lies in the intersection between pop-punk, hardcore, and experimental, kind of like Direct Hit! or PEARS. The Infested occupy that intersection, and, while they"re not as ska-heavy as they"ve been on their past releases, they still throw in a healthy dose of ska for good measure, which makes for a really unique record.

Favorite Track: "SSRI or Die?"

8. War on Women: Capture the Flag

Bridge Nine Records

Feminism is awesome. That"s pretty much all you need to know about this album. War on Women are the most fierce, most intersectional, and loudest feminist punk band out there right now. Where the riot grrrl movement focused primarily on lighter pop-punk, War on Women is a brutal musical assault of hardcore punk in the name of gender equality. This is basically the most exciting thing happening in hardcore right now and, if you"re sleeping on this band, what"s wrong with you?

Favorite Track: "YDTMHTL" (feat. Kathleen Hannah)

7. The Brokedowns: Sick of Space

Red Scare

Sometimes you just need some raw, free range, rough-around-the-edges pop-punk, and that"s exactly what you get with The Brokedowns" Sick of Space. The catchy punk side is mixed in with a furious chord pounding and a good amount of fuzz for an album that will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The lyrics are nothing to sneeze at, either.

Favorite Track: "Sick of Space"

6. Mad Caddies: Punk Rocksteady

Fat Wreck Chords

I know what you"re thinking. "It"s a covers album! It"s a novelty! It"s not an important album!" Well, you"re wrong on all three points. I mean on two points. It is a covers album, that part"s true. But other than that, you"re wrong. It"s a covers album, but man is it an amazing covers album. I always say that, if you"re going to make a cover song, you have to find a way to make the song distinctly different from the original. For example, my favorite cover song of all time is probably Hot Water Music"s cover of Alkaline Trio"s "Bleeder" because it transforms a mediocre pop-punk song into a haunting acoustic track with a cello thrown in for effect. I"m not a huge Mad Caddies fan, but they understand my philosophy about making covers, as each of the songs on here is definitely different from their original in that they literally change genres. Even "Sleep Long," which already had a touch of ska to it in the original, is completely transformed on this album. So many of these songs I never would have expected to be translatable as reggae or ska songs, and I still have my doubts that their cover of The Misfits "Some Kind of Hate" technically counts as reggae, but by and large this experiment pays off in a very big way and was one of my favorite albums of the summer.

Favorite Track: "Sink, Florida, Sink"

5. Eminem: Kamikaze


I know what you"re thinking, and fuck you. Okay, I didn"t mean to be that harsh, but when talking about Eminem, it seems appropriate to say fuck. For all the naysayers who discredit Eminem for being white, for being old, for being a sell-out, for being the most mainstream of mainstream rappers, Eminem, on his surprise 10th album, shows himself to be the best emcee in the game whether you want to admit it or not. Kamikaze is an album that"s just about showing off, and show off he does, delivering rebuttals to his biggest critics and haters at a mile-a-minute pace with flamboyant verbal acrobatics. For fans of pure, technical rap skill, you can"t do better than Kamikaze.

Favorite Track: "Not Alike" (feat. Royce da 5" 9")

4. Turnstile: Time & Space

Roadrunner Records

"You know what this hardcore song really needs to complete it? Piano." "You mean like keyboards, a sort of synth sound." "No! Undistorted, old-fashioned piano." Who thinks that way? I mean, sure, the piano sounds on "High Pressure" were probably made with a keyboard, but how creative of a hardcore band do you have to be to come up with the idea of an undistorted piano sound in a hardcore track? People talk about how Time and Space dialed back the funk elements of Turnstile"s earlier work, but the funk element isn"t gone completely, giving a little bit of extra flavor that sets it apart from other hardcore acts, and makes them a little bit more fun to boot. It"s the most fun, upbeat, and exciting hardcore album of the year, without a doubt.

Favorite Track: "High Pressure"

3. Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face

Get On Down

While I bestow pretty hyperbolic praise on Eminem, the one hip-hop album I rank about him wins out largely for the vastly superior production by the group"s producer 7L, but that"s not to discount the phenomenal rapping of Inspectah Deck, Esoteric, and MF Doom, who bring three very different rap styles together to create the best collaboration in hip-hop this year. Add in guest appearances from Open Mike Eagle (who I incorrectly identified as Open Mike Kelly in my review for some reason) and Vinnie Paz, and you"ve just got a parade of incredibly talented people on this album.

Favorite Track: "Phantoms" (feat. Open Mike Eagle)

And now for my final two! Who will win the battle of the exclamation marks? Well, at number 2 it"s:

2. Direct Hit!: Crown of Nothing

Fat Wreck Chords

Direct Hit! are one of my two favorite bands in the world right now. They do everything I love. They create catchy pop-punk, they incorporate elements of hardcore, and they experiment more than any other band in pop-punk. The words "pop" and "innovation" are practically opposites, so it"s hard to come up with really radical new sounds while still providing slick pop hooks. Crown of Nothing isn"t as good as my favorite album from Direct Hit!, Wasted Mind, but, to me, Wasted Mind is a six-star, once in a lifetime, game changer of an album that few things are going to be able to live up to. Crown of Nothing is a deeply artistic and intellectual concept album with more to discover on each listen. It was almost the most mind-blowing album of the year for me, with the exception of my number one album, which is...

Favorite Track: "Different Universe"

1. Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers: Bought to Rot

Bloodshot Records

Go ahead, call it recency bias since the album just came out in November. Call it trans girl nepotism. Call it what you want, but Bought to Rot is the best album I"ve listened to all year. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did I was head over heels for the bluesy, roots-rock style of Laura Jane Grace"s latest project. Laura Jane Grace"my personal heroine whose journey to find herself was a big influence on my own decision to come out as trans"demonstrates how eclectic her own influences are as she pays tribute to, amongst others, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. There"s so much to love about this album, and the more times I listen to it, the more I love it. Laura Jane Grace proves herself, once again, to be the greatest songwriter, not just in punk, but in music today, regardless of what genre she"s writing for. It was really hard to choose between my top two albums this year, but when I get right down to it and really put my mind to it, it couldn"t be anything but Bought to Rot.

Favorite Track: "Apocalypse Now (& Later)"

So that"s my list this year. First year not giving my number one spot to a Fat Wreck album, but there"s still four Fat Wreck albums on my list this year, and Laura Jane Grace"s other band used to be on Fat Wreck so it kinda counts. I look forward to what"s to come in 2019 in music, in my life (hoping to make a career change), and in my own personal journey of gender transition. So it"s time to dive head first into the new year. I have high hopes for this one.


Happy New Year!