The Age of QuarrelThe chaos of 2017 spun straight into 2018 and amplified itself. Here’s to hoping that 2019 will be a bit more chill. But, in times of trouble, there is ALWAYS great art, and music was KICKING in 2018. There were an amazing mass of fantastic albums, more awesome live shows than I could make it to, and really, most of the punks I know have been nicer to each other and have cut down on he petty squabbles and oneupsmanship that often hobbles the punk scene. Good for all of us, man. Maybe this punk thing is kind of cool?
For me personally, I continued to chase my own personal goal of doing crazier and new punk rock stuff. I threw the Spring Slamdown which was a concert of four lesser known bands and it was a blast. I really had a lot of fun by making that a show very invested in it’s “theme” and even got to put out a really cool exclusive tape to cojncide with the show! On the even riskier tip, I threw The Summer Soiree 2 with Stza Crack, Joe Jack Talcum, Crazy and the Brains, and Pushin It Limit in the back of a record store. It was jam packed, frantic, and should not have worked, but everyone, EVERYONE, including the bands and the audience, were cool as hell and it really was a special evening, for me, at least! I finally got to see the REAL Misfits and it was noisy! Meanwhile Lee Scratch Perry is one of the most amazing human being I have ever seen. I say it every year: SEE ‘EM WHILE YOU CAN, PEOPLE!
I got to be a guest on the 3 gigs podcast and talked about my first, my best, and my worst concert experience. I even got to spin records on FM radio! But, the question in the back of my mind, as it ha been for the past 5 years or so, is that all this stuff is really fun, but does it matter in the long run, both for me personally and for everyone else. That is, are these fun diversions actually cutting into energy that could be used towards bigger long term goals. I’ve got a lot to think about over the next few months.
Interview wise, which is always my number one joy in the context of Punknews, I hope to do much more in 2019. This year I did have some really cool chats, though. Dwid Hellion taught me how to appreciate Japanese hardcore. Boots Riley once again proved that he walks the talk. Steve Ignorant of Crass talked about saving people’s lives while Brian of Night Birds mused on the concept of death. Dave Vanian of The Damned was a gentleman and a delight and, not to pat myself on the back, which is exactly what I’m doing, but I think Blag of The Dwarves gave one of his most insightful interviews ever. Oh, also, Danbert of Chumbawamba is totally cool!
Oh my God, that is a lot of hot wind. Here are my favorite tunes of 2018:
The Top 10 EPs of the year (Non-Melvins Division)
Self-releasedBetween the growls and yaarrgggs and the snarls, I have no idea what this band is singing about, but I know it's something bad. In fact, on their second release, Devil Master have realized that cosmic terror doesn't come from fancy lyric writin', it comes from speaking at the subconscious level. In a world of "evil bands," Devil Master have crafted an EP that is truly spooky, which considering the current state of the world, should probably freak you out.
9. QWAM: Feed Me [EP]
self-releasedQWAM shift focus a little bit and incorporate a little college rock into their punked up sound. This album is a bit more mature than before, but they keep that mischievous teenaged spark between the heavier moments with tracks like "Glitter Paint," which blasts like the Weirdoes and the Avengers. The band now has all the bases covered- Give us an album already!
MVDHarley at his most Harley-iest, this EP is all about fighting your way out of a bad situation. Instead of issuing zen proclamations telling you "how to live your life," he throws up his hands at the chaos of the universe and declares, "sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail." There is no more profound wisdom than that.
Flightless / ATOHOLY SNAP. This band is so incredibly fiery that I hit the deck the first time I heard this single. With the riff power of AC/DC and a singer that pulls from both Debbie Harry and Hannibal Lecter, this is a dangerous combination! Amyl and crew touch on human emotions without simplifying into good guy v bad guy, and instead, like many of the great soul singers, somehow present the very complex nature of human relationships with but a few simple words. Also, "Woof woof!" is the best interjection in any song this year by a factor of ten.
self releasedThey did it, they finally did it! A lot of people were betting against the TBs in their new incarnation (which as I point out, includes the earliest, original band members including the mosh-and-mascara Oobliette), but the proof is in da wax. This single is a JUMPER. "Lullaby" is one of the band's catchiest numbers ever, and it's damn heavy too. New singer Kate has got Gwen Stefani level pipes and bassist Dom has brought back a more violent sound to the band. Don't call it a comeback, call it the precursor to a frikkin awesome album, baby. YES.
FDHThis is a band made for the JG- goth meets hardcore meets a sense of self-awareness. The singer is carried onto stage in a coffin, after which, he jumps out and starts whipping people with chains. Castle of Death summarizes what the band is all about with tales of existential terror, intergalactic travel, and dancing with demons, and despite it all, it's kind of funny. Scary music isn't supposed to be funny!.. which makes this all the more funny and the more effective when it does cut to the jump scares. And if that's not threatening enough for you, just try to avoid the chain whip!
4. Stig Miller / Excruciation: Split [7-inch]
AURIC RECORDSThe Amebix brothers are so insanely talented it is ridiculous. On his first physical release since the end of the 'Bix. Stig once again channels the old ones and uses that as a tale of rising up from one's own challenges. Stig says he's reborn on the new track and, between the crescendos, rumbling guitar, you better believe he is. Really, you have to classify this as "worship" music- worshipping at the human's spirit's cosmic ability to grow and channel beyond itself. Damn, this is good. Excruciation, for their part turn in some kick ass modern-metal-crust that highlihts the hallmarks of the genres that they have made their own. A fitting pair like few others!
3. Integrity / Krieg: Split [7-inch]
2. Pushin It 2 the Limit: Pushin' it 2 the Limit Knocks Your Fuckin' Socks off Turkey
Self-releasedThey are crazier than before, deeper than before, and wilder than before. Pi2tl is one of the most fun punk bands and one of the most thoughtful. While so many punkers are grimacing about international issues while putting photocopied skeletons on album covers, Pi2tl address those same issues, but use neon colors and Siberian tigers. Nobody rocks like this gang, nobody dresses like this gang, and nobody starts songs with battle cries like this gang. Also, their EP has the best name for anything released anywhere, this year.
Hovercraft RecordsYES! THIS is what I'm talking about. THIS is what modern punk is. THIS is what great music is. THIS is the EP of 2018 and it sums up everything great and terrible about this year. Mental is covered, wrapped in a simile of food and flora. Politics is covered, but you have to see it, as is love and straight up horniness. "Candied Yamz" needs no explanation. Things are dire, and instead of running to escapism, Catb offer stark reality by morphing into something bizarre, beautiful, and weird. And most importantly, they prove that you can deal with the troubles at hand while still having fun. THIS is life in 2018.
The Top 20 Albums of the year (Non-Melvins Division)
Black Widow RecordsNik Turner of Hawkwind and Helios Creed of Chrome team up to blast out a massive double disc platter of dark space rock with songs that break the half-hour mark. Is it is sensory overload? Yes. Does it test your endurance at points? Yes. Is it the farthest out thing that either of these two weirdoes have recorded? YES. Like acid, Space rock was never meant to be easily digestible, it was meant to expand your mind. But, at least this album won't make jump out windows- your own brain maybe, but not windows.
19. Lee Scratch Perry: The Black Album
UpsetterAt 82(!) the mighty Upsetter is still cutting super dread, super heavy, super weird tracks. On this bad boy, Perry is backed by producer Daniel Boyle who once again conjures the rumbling power of Perry's long deceased Black Ark studio. The Black Album exhibits Perry at his most metaphysical and whimsical, and in Perry's world, these things are often one in the same. This isn't the first album called The Black Album, but it says more about Blackness, in all its forms, than all the others combined. May Jah grant another 82 years and then a hundred more for the Mighty Upsetter!
18. Dark Thoughts: At Work
Stupid Bag RecordsRamones-core done right- that is, extremely quickly and extremely negatively. Second albums can be backbreakers for most bands, but the DTs, like their four patron saints, didn't overthink LP#2 and sprinted into their second platter by juicing up everything that made the first great- faster songs, harder hits, and more sinister lyrics. The Leave Home cover homage only underscores how, like the Ramones themselves, this band might seem like a bunch of knuckleheads at first glance, but there's much more here than leather jackets and cool haircuts... though they've got that, too.
17. The Damned: Evil Spirits
Search and DestroyThe Damned at their most Damnedest- a ton of soul, a ton of garage rock, a ton of goth, and a pinch of that trademark schoolboy humor. Tony Visconti helped the band to make a slick, high clarity album, and where that approach has washed away most bands, for the Damned, it allowed them to do what they've wanted to do all along- make a David Bowie meets T-Rex album. That being said, this album isn't strictly misappropriation. If anything, it shows that no matter what the Damned do, they'll always be the Damned, and that no one else can do it like they do.
16. Judas Priest: Firepower
Burger RecordsThe Peacemaker knows his way around the '80s, that's for sure. Tinny synths abound, he wears full body track suits, a robot pal teaches him to "believe in himself." But, the trick is that, while this is a love letter to the most plastic parts of the 80s (with the occasional elbow jab thrown in), it's really using the neon colors to paint a realistic picture about human socio-politics. If that all sounds too grad school for you, check this- this album is hilarious, has a song about being a submissive furniture shopper, and beats most synth-pop albums that were actually recorded in the '80s.
13. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
AtlanticThe Archandroid steps back from her robotic persona and summons an album that is as human as it gets. Whereas many musicians are (rightfully) expressing rage these days, in true Stevie Wonder style, Ms. Monae expresses infinite love and uses that the burn away the jerkwads."Screwed" is a modern masterpiece that blends Talking Book Stevie with Purple Rain Prince in that purely inimitable Monae way.
Brat MusicThe Giles sisters come roaring back with their SIXTH album and it is their best. The tunes are punchier. The melodies are catchier. The riffs are snappier. The drums are meaner. They've been working towards that perfect Ramones/Patsy Cline balance since their beginning and they've built that up into their own strike which hits like a mack truck and then runs you over despite the fact that these are mostly love or love-lost tunes. A decade of work pays off for these gals.
BurgerA daddy-daughter duo that merges jangle garage rock with punk and Sun style country that sings about Hercules: the legendary Journeys and homicide. What else do I need to say? Even though this band wins on the pitch alone, this music is both silly and dead serious in equal turns, presenting viewpoints not often heard in punk rock through styles that are beaten to death, but somehow, here, sound brand spankin' new. Bands of four dudes singing about being "Sad" are over. THIS is the new punk, thank Zeus.
9. The Coup: Sorry to Bother You [soundtrack]
7. Sleep: The Sciences
Third ManSoooooooo heavy! What made The Sciences so interesting is that, to me, it seemed as though the band wasn't influenced by Black Sabbath directly, but by their former selves, which found them doubling down on their trademarks and cranking out one of the few "comeback" albums that not only stands up with the band's original run, but gives the o.g. releases a run for their money. The band has mastered thee mighty riff, distilled atmosphere into a specific sound, and has document weed from every angle- worms eye view to that of the eagle. When discussing disciplines, skills are usually broken down into either a science or an art. This album proves that those fields are one in the same.
ViolatedOne part 77 punk, one part oi!, one park Kubrick, the Droogettes rock like few other bands this year. From the sobering message of "Keep on Drinking" to the hilarious "Tiki Bar" (complete with lovelorn drunk) the band have kicked out a captivating releases that is capital P-U-N-K. As of this writing, the band has mostly ditched the white hat and bowler look for something a bit more organic, but as this release proves, being an vicious Droog doesn't come from a set of clothes, it comes from within (...though all four of these ladies are actually pretty nice... don't tell them I said that, they might might smash my head in with a baton)
self releasedHere it is: the fruition of seven or so years work by the Catbs... and it paid off. With their xylophone, songs about going insane and liking salami, New York Dolls meets Pee Wee vibe, there is NO band like Crazy and the Brains, which is something very rare in 2018. But not only are they unique, on Into the Ugly, the band has create da bold statement about the human condition by couching it in a series demented vignettes. And surprisingly, sometimes, there is downright sadness on this LP. The human being is a complex, sometimes beautiful, sometimes gross, machine and like few bands before them, Catbs have presented human emotions in all their ugly glory... and somehow, made that daunting task really, really, really, really fun.
Burger / GreedyThe Dwarves have never compromised. They have never bent to the mandates of the time. They have always done what they do, which is, more often than not, doing something that they haven't done before. The result is that they are a band of true integrity, that has outlasted many of their peers. The road has been rocky for them, but it has been righteous. Few other bands deserve a spot in the pantheon like this band, who has rampaged forward for over 35 years, all while cloaking a profound sense of intellectualism behind an animalistic facade. The argument perpetually is, with them, who is the true master, the brain or the brawn? The mind or the wang? And, on this record, they reach their final conclusion, that is, the opposite of what one might expect. While Dwarves are Born Again and the classic Blood Guts fairly clearly stated that man is driven by his base instincts, no matter how he may try to push against this impulse with his cerebellum, HERE the step back from carnality, and instead of reveling in destruction, ask WHY. Closing track "Trace Amounts" doesn't salute a person on a party death trip, nor does it condemn, rather, it studies and reaches out to the cosmos and the universal architect, rather than joining in on the frenzy. This album rocks the hardest in their catalogue, it's one of their snappiest releases, and most bizarrely, perhaps argues that the Dwarves have "matured." Now of course, they still like drugs and naked ladies as much as before, but instead of dancing around a phallic totem, they question man, instead of berating him. In this age of decadence, disease, and deception, how is it that the Dwarves are emerging as the voice of reason? I'm afraid that the, perhaps, ugly truth is that they always were.
The Top 5 Melvins releases of the Year
5. Jocephus and the George Jonestown Massacre: Five Minutes to Live
Saustex RecordsKing Buzzo lends his talents to the Cash cashic, "Long Black Veil." A tune about infidelity, murder, and lying bent across a frame of integrity. PERFECT.
4. The Melvins : A Walk with Love and Death (Soundtrack)
Amphetamine ReptileA different released than the album of the same name, this noise recording takes you to the furthest edges of Melvins-dom. This is abrasive, scary, weird, and disorientating. This is true art made without marketability factored in at all. Too bad that this method is so rare these days.
3. The Melvins: A Walk with Love and Death (Film)
Amphetamine ReptileA different release than the album and soundtrack of the same names, this totally messed up whacked out movie takes you to the furthest edges of Melvins-dom. This is abrasive, scary, weird, and disorientating. This is true art made without marketability factored in at all. Too bad that this method is so rare these days.
2. Melvins: Sabbath
Amphetamine ReptileThe Melvins team up with Al Cisneros, and for once, a supergroup lives up to its name. Everyone here is reverent to thee mighty Iommi, but they inject their own darkness and light as well. The Melvins have done a TON of covers over the last few years, but this might tie their Roxy Music cover as their very greatest non-original ever.
Best WishesSeriously, 2018 will be a hard year to be beat, music wise. This really was a banner year for groundbreaking music and music that just straight up RULED. Still, there’s a lot of music to look forward in 2019, so a least we’ve got that going for us. I’m very excited about the new Kicker. There have been rumblings of some new stuff from the fantastic Ellen and the Degenerates. Continuing their shotgun blast of releases, Integrity and Psywarfare have been teasing stuff and Devil Master will release a new LP as well. Of course, those perennial powerhouses the Melvins will release 1, 2, or 17 new albums which is always a treat. And how about some OFF!? Keith, I said it last year, it’s time! That marvelous trio The Coathangers posted that they were in the studio Q4 2018 so I’m really hoping for something from then because they have been on an amazing hot streak. Tsunami Bomb straight up said that they have recorded an album, so HELL YEAH. DFL has recorded some tracks so let’s hope those get a release. And how about Tau Cross #3, which is reportedly done recording? I am thinking that that will be the one to beat in the ’19. Also, Jello, how bout some new stuff, dude?!!! Also, World/Inferno Friendship Society… let’s have the jams!
For my part, I’m going to be pulling back on ground level punknews stuff and working more on larger, deeper pieces. I’m going to try to ramp up our features and interviews which I think could be a little stronger volume wise- I think our features content is some of the best punk stuff there is. Plus, I’ve got three CRAZY projects in the works and I REALLY hope that they come to fruition. Let’s ride the wave, baby!
I usually end my list with some zen-ish advice about how to “better your life”… HA! No one has the “Answer” on this spinning ball of chaos and anyone that claims to is probably trying to control you, really convince themselves, or take your money. So, listen, man, you know what to do and you know what you gotta do it. As Joey says, Talk-Action=O. 2019 is the year to put up or shut up. I’ve got stuff on the works on my end. How will YOU contribute? So, let’s do it! Let’s charge it up! Let’s blast it out! Let’s go for it, 100%! 2019… Hey! Ho! Let’s GOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!