Best of 2018 - Mike Musilli's Picks (Cover Artwork)

Best of 2018

Mike Musilli's Picks (2018)

Staff Picks

Interestingly, last year’s best records came from a lot of well-established acts like Propagandhi, Iron Chic, and Incendiary. But this year has (mostly) been about newer bands offering up some amazing first efforts. I think that’s a great large-scale balance. I also think it’s great for the smaller labels that released some of this year’s best records. The growth is awesome.

Some of the records on my list this year are also a testament to the diversity that continues to germinate in the underground. There are releases here that defy singular genres, and that’s a great thing.

Top 5 EPs

5. Discourage: S/T


This EP is a great reminder of what makes hardcore such a monstrous musical and social force. Discourage capture a sound at once reminiscent of the Revelation Records heyday and of the Bay Area hardcore style. I can’t help but think they are what In My Eyes may have sounded like had they been from the Bay Area. Their lyrics are intellectual and aggressive too, combining literary allusions with scathing socio-political commentaries. “Thoughts and Prayers” will give you a good sense of what Discourage is out there doing, and they’re doing it really well.

4. No Idea: Break Through

undertone records

As their first proper release, “Break Through” was a great effort by No Idea. The band’s sound draws on the best aspects of Outburst’s grooving thrashiness and VOD’s chopping heaviness. For such a young band, they’ve carved out a pretty ingenuitive sound for themselves. “Straitjacket,” the EP’s closer, is the release’s best track and shows off all that No Idea has to offer by combining traditional hardcore verses structures with a mixture of screaming and singing all ending a really clever breakdown. A well-written and well-produced first effort from this young hardcore band.

3. By the Grace of God: Above Fear

State Of Mind Recordings

”Above Fear” was By the Grace of God’s first release in over a decade. And the band was able to deftly stay to the truth sound that made them so powerful in the 90s while also adding new elements to their music. The lyrics are as political as ever. They’re heavy without sounding at all caveman-ish. This was a great return for a hardcore band whose socio-political commentary as is poignant as ever. “Spikes to McConnell” leads this great six-song EP.

2. Spirit Houses: Two Passing Ships

Suburbia Records

On his debut EP, Mikey Ireland gave us an introspective, painfully honest, and extremely well-written batch of songs. An all-acoustic release, Ireland (as Spirit Houses) lays out some great anthematic and melodic folk rock. What makes this EP so great is how many bases Ireland covers with losing continuity. There are songs with full instrumental accompaniments. There are songs with just him and his guitar. There are sing-alongs. There songs that seem best played alone. “An Open Letter to My Future Self” is a great primer to hear the acoustic strength of Spirit Houses.

1. Rule Them All: An Alignment of Polarity

A New morality

Rule Them All (yup, it’s a Lord of the Rings allusion) have certainly ridden a bit of a hype train this year in the hardcore underground. But that hype is very well-deserved. What they deliver on “An Alignment of Polarity” are five high-quality melodic hardcore anthems. At one level, the band draws on the best melodic sensibilities of Dag Nasty and Silent Majority. And at another level, the band offers deep lyrical content with allusions to physics, politics, and existentialism. What makes this EP so powerful is that a listener can appreciate the music for either or both of those aspects. Give “When Presented with Circumstances” a spin, and tell me the guitars won’t get you head-bopping. The EP is fun, it’s thoughtful, it’s melodic, it’s quirky, and it’s definitely the year’s best.

Top 10 LPs

10. Terror: Total Retaliation

Pure Noise Records

The record isn't just another solid effort by Terror, it's really more one that shows how dependably great they are. The LP doesn't have any filler, and the sonic tension that makes Terror's music so energetic is there in every song. The guitar tracking is really dynamic, Vogel is as angry as ever, and the recording captures all of it. The LP's closer, "Resistant to the Changes," is an absolutely great hardcore anthem.

9. Gouge Away: Burnt Sugar

Deathwish Inc.

Gouge Away seems to be a constant work in progress. They continue to move in different directions with each release, and this LP is their best contribution yet. There are certainly some elements of their more traditional hardcore roots here, but they've stepped way up into the more ingenuitive arena of Jesus Lizard and Fugazi. While this is really well-produced, there's nothing here that comes off as hokey or disingenuous. They've grown as musicians, and I like the direction they're on. "Only Friend" and "Stay/Burnt Sugar" are wonderful introductions to where Gouge Away is at on this LP.

8. The Fight: The Master is Calling

Reconsider Records

Not totally sure where this release fits as it's seven songs pressed on a 12" record, but no matter. What The Fight offer up on their first proper release is an honest version of hardcore punk. The songs here as much an homage to the 1970s British Oi scene as they are to more contemporary bands like Kill Your Idols or Trash Talk. They're gritty, antagonistic, lightening fast, and bursting with energy. "Different Faces, Same Evil" and "So What's the Verdict" lead this batch of cleverly austere hardcore punks songs. A strong first effort by The Fight.

7. War on Women: Capture the Flag

Bridge Nine Records

With their sophomore LP, War on Women definitely upped the stakes in their sort-of-punk-hardcore brand of socio-political music. Jargon aside, I love their genre-bending style because it blends so well with the band’s political messages. They are not to be pigeon-holed by anything, musically or lyrically. Capture the Flag resoundingly reflects that ethos. The guitar sound is a bit more tempered here, and it works really well in allowing Shawna Potter to shine as the vocalist. The record pounds with thoughtful anger and urgency.

6. Sunstroke: Second Floor/Seven

Cointoss/new morality zine

Sunstroke sort of came out of nowhere this year. And yet Second Floor/Seven is a masterful first effort. The LP is a great balance of the angry energy typical to hardcore, and the more atmospheric melodies found in the heavier end of indie rock. The measured distortion on the guitars is really well done too. By combining the ambient angst of Touché Amore with the similarly unconventional hardcore sound on the best Dischord releases, Sunstroke deliver bigtime on this record. “Complaint Dept.” is a blistering political song that stands out on an already magnificent effort.

5. Shame: Songs of Praise

Dead oceans

I was recommended Shame by a friend whose stylings are bit outside of the hardcore punk sound. And to be clear, the band doesn’t really draw at all from that well. They, however, do play high-quality indie rock with just enough of an edge. Songs of Praise is a standout record because it’s cohesive. The band straddles between lo-fi rock and the more mainstream UK indie sound most popular in the late-90s. But the LP is infectious. Give “One Rizla” a listen, and I’m sure you’ ll find yourself looking for more from Shame.

4. Drug Church: Cheer

Pure Noise Records

Patrick Kindlon had done his damnedest to keep idiosyncratic eccentricities in the hardcore punk world. On this year’s Drug Church LP, he and the rest of the band continued to stay that path. Cheer is aggressive and antagonistic, and its quirky and dynamic. “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor,” the record’s fifth track, is one of the best songs of the year in the genre. This record is a shot in the arm to those who need a bit more out of their hardcore than what tradition dictates.

3. Mindforce: Excalibur

Triple B

So this is the hardcore record of the year. Not that we need to distinguish by exact genre here, but Excalibur is a tremendous effort from Mindforce. They not only keep to the foundational sound from their earlier EP releases, they show a clear maturation in their writing process. The record harnessed the elusive and difficult balance between metal and hardcore riffage while further showcasing the power of Jay’s sharply sung vocals. To be clear, this is the best hardcore record of the year and it has appeal that transcends the limitations of the genre. Give the title track and “Won’t Be Denied” a listen, and hear for yourself the crossover powerhouse that is Mindforce.

2. Fiddlehead: Springtime and Blind

Run For Cover Records

Springtime and Blind is about as poetic and hauntingly emotional as a release can get without stepping anywhere close to cheesiness. What Pat Flynn and co. have achieved on this record is a delivery of utterly personal lyrical content matched up with ambient indie rock. The LP is cohesive too in that one gets the sense that it’s meant to be played through in its entirety, rather than listening to a song here and there. But the mastery of this record is Fiddlehead’s ability to delicately meander through sounds that are at once aggressive, melodic, ambient, and dissonant. Churned together one might worry of producing an LP without identity. Springtime and Blind is anything but. “Poem You” is a favorite here, and a song that does well in introducing all that the LP has to offer.

1. Somerset Thrower: Godspeed

Dead Broke

Somerset Thrower has, with Godspeed, managed to bring back the indie-grunge of the early 90s while also mixing it with the modern intonations of garage rock. What’s more is that they’ve done this as musicians who’ve all cut their teeth in the hardcore underground. The album itself rocks along with lyrical sarcasm, satire, and insight that treads in front of catchy music that sacrifices little in heaviness or structure. The LP is strong from beginning to end, and it’s a testament to the potential of hardcore punk musicians to realize that their musical capabilities can lay far beyond that genre. “Burn Through Witches” is a standout on this best LP of the year.