2019 was a tough year for me to get through. I've unfortunately lost more people to the opioid epidemic than I'd care to admit. Each one getting a little tougher than the one before to deal with. It hit home especially hard when one of my family members, who survived by getting clean, lost their child only 30 days after finding their way out of the misery of addiction.
Despite all of these losses, I've been amazed at the scene's ability to come together in times of tragedy, to support one another, and fight against this seemingly unbeatable enemy: mental illness and addiction.
That said, I've been a part of some very special shows/projects that have come out of the tragedies, and have been able to make it, almost solely, because of the music in my life. Music can, and will, save lives.
I recommend everyone research and carry Narcan, as you never know who might be struggling, and where they might take a bit too much. It could happen at your job, on your commute, or at the next punk show you attend. I don't personally know anyone who uses opioids, but I've first hand witnessed two potential overdoses that could have left another hole in this world, that were stopped due to members of our scene being cautious, and carrying Narcan.
Now that I've bummed everyone out, let's remember that life is something to celebrate, and with it, let's take a journey through my year in music! It has been a wild ride, joining Punknews as a contributor, rather than one of the commenters, has changed my outlook on the site as whole, and has definitely given me a lot more music to listen to!
I hope you guys enjoy the albums on my list half as much as I did, and here's to a healthier, happier 2020!
Top 20 albums of the year
I hope you enjoy these albums as much as I did.
20. Mary Wander / Local News Legend: No Boyfriend November
As seen above in my top 10 EPs of 2019, Local News Legend has blown me away with everything they've been releasing throughout the year. This album would likely rank much higher, but they released so late in the year that I had already written most of my top 20 and didn't think it was wise to try to re-rank all of the albums because I'd probably end up struggling worse than the first time, second-guessing myself, and eventually, just out of time. Thus, it sits at the only spot that was left when it was released. It's so new that I don't have a favorite track, but I will say that unlike their split in my EP's, Mary Wander shined a bit brighter on this album, to the point where I would honestly have trouble deciding which artist of the full-length split was better.
Like an album or two below, this one just brought me back to a time when all you really had in Punk was Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords (the epi-fat days). Sure, there were other punk labels, but these two stood atop the masses and orchestrated the soundtrack for my teens and early 20's. I honestly didn't listen to this album much when it first came out, but after the Lagwagon album was released, I went back to it, and found myself enjoying it more than I had first thought. Don't expect the greatest album of all time, but if you dig Strung Out, you shouldn't be disappointed. My favorite track is "Daggers", as it just brought the feel of my youth out in an overwhelming fashion.
Not the most traditional release from Fat Wreck, but right up my alley, Tommy and June, cloaked in Fat Mike's mysterious description of his attempt at making a "Beatles", has been in and out of my playlists since its summer release. At times it was ranked much higher, and at other times, not even on the list, but as I was finishing this project, I couldn't get "Adulthood" out of my head, and alas, it fell here, low on the list, but still present. The album lacks the aggression that I most of the Folk Punk artists bring to their acoustic music, and that alone is my only real complaint with the album.
17. McCafferty: The House with No Doorbell
McCafferty is a total guilty pleasure of mine, and one I generally don't share with many people, but they blew me away with this year's release. I've always been a fan of their chill, yet poppy, punk sound, but with this album came a maturity that I have yet to hear. Sadness, guilt, rage, and overcoming each of them, resonate through not only the lyrics, but sonicly as well. From the opener, and title track, all the way to its ending track, "Scarecrow", McCafferty delivers a beautiful piece of art in what may be their best album yet.
16. Stop N' Shop: Time Wasted
Stop N' Shop, and this album in particular, have been on my list of bands/albums to review for quite some time, but every time I sit down to write it, I end up getting side tracked, and move onto something else. Despite my ability to stay focused long enough to write a full review of this album, it does deserve the attention and ranking in my top 20 of the year. I hear quite frequently that Stop N' Shop sound a lot like the Front Bottoms, and perhaps that is some inside joke I'm not privy to, but in my mind they sound like a unique fusion between melodic pop punk and some of the late 80's/early 90's power pop bands. My favorite track on the album is the opener "All for One", but "IDPM" with its intro bass line is a very close second.
The Bridge City Sinners (BCS) are brilliant in their own right, despite having a few thousand side projects that can sometimes overshadow their horror-based brand of Folk Punk. The instrumentalists that make up this band, all of which who have one or more side projects, are what blow me away. Each one of them excels in their own way, and when it is blended together, it makes for a symphony of terror, led by Libby's unique vocal styling. My current favorite track is "Through and Through", with its blend of good ole country, complete with an amazing fiddle display by Lightnin' Luke, and horror punk.
14. Harley Poe: Have a Great Life
Harley Poe is a controversial group in the Folk Punk scene, due to their lack of filter when it comes to lyrical content. For me, I see the artist using certain metaphors as a sardonic view on the world, and the writer's inner demons, while others feel as though their use of said metaphors can be a trigger. Either way, this album, absent of most of the "problem" lyrics, has Harley Poe right back where they are comfortable: Horror mixed with Folk Punk and Sarcasm. The intro guitar to "Eat Shit and Die" really takes the cake for me, musically, and the washboard compliments it so well, which blend together for a perfect base for Joe's intelligent, yet controversial, lyrics to blend into my favorite track of the album.
I'm sure this album ranks up there on a lot of the Punknews staff's top 20, but quite frankly, I was mildly disappointed with this release. I have been a fan of these guys since near day one, and I think I hyped this album up a bit too much in my head before it was released, expecting so much more. Despite my disappointment, the album is still worthy of a top spot on my albums of the year. Their smooth vocals have always been a high point for me, which shines brightly throughout the album. My favorite track was probably "Strain your Memory," though I wouldn't rank it much higher than any other track on the album, as all of the tracks were... Good. That may be why they ended this low on my rankings... the tracks were just good, not great.
Fake four inc
Ceschi's sequel to Sad, Fat Luck comes in at number twelve on my list. I really enjoyed this album when it first came out, but as time went on, I found myself listening to Sad, Fat Luck much more. That's not to take anything away from this album, as it stands tall in its own right, but its hard not to compare two albums that are meant to be parts one and two of the artists "Final Trilogy". Ceschi, like always, blends his flavor of hip hop with elements of punk, folk punk, reggae, reggatone, electronica, and basically anything and everything else. While his cover of Britney Spears was memorable, I have to say that my favorite track was "Animal Instinct".
11. Grumpster: Underwhelmed
I made fun of these guys quite a bit when the album came out, before I had even listened to it... I guess this is me eating crow. This young band (with a name I stand by is just not great) out of California scene deliver an album that is anything but underwhelming. The lyrics are not, in my opinion, at the level of any of the bands I've got in my top ten, but they seem to be very young, so they can grow into something a bit more interesting (hopefully), but that said, the album is just fun. It's a bob your head, tap your foot, and have fun kind of album, reminiscent of early Tsunami Bomb (think "Lemonade"). Favorite track is "Roots", for no real reason other than I generally dig songs about self-destructive behavior, but the album as a whole should really be given some attention.
10. Ludlow / Fire Ant Season: Capitalisn't
Worm Food Record Collective
This full length split by two great (and up and coming) bands in the Folk Punk scene comes in at number ten for me. I definitely prefer the Fire Ant Season side to the Ludlow side, but I will say that Ludlow's tracks have grown on me over the course of time. Their opener "Window Shopping" is a lot of fun, but it seems a bit overshadowed by Fire Ant Season's "Steal from Walmart" (also my favorite track on the album). Either way, definitely a fun album to check out, and of course, I'm extremely partial to bands from Texas, so Fire Ant Season deserves all the love I can get them.
I know not everyone enjoyed this album. I know a lot of people hated this album, with a passion. That said, I put it at the top of Fat Mike's writing for the decade, and I liked both of the last two NOFX albums. It's sad, scary, personal, and really, really hard to listen to, at times. While being a difficult listen, the writing alone puts this album in my top 10. I'm a NOFX super fan, and with that comes a bit of Fat Mike fanboy, but I have tried to be as fair as possible with this ranking. A large part of me wanted it at number one, for no reason other than it was Fat Mike, but that would have been unfair to the artists who really deserve those spots. I don't have a favorite track, but the one that made me sick to my stomach, while tears welled in my eyes, was "Bathtub". Opioid abuse is obviously something very important to me, so when I heard Fat Mike sing about it, and the personal affect its had on him, I couldn't help but bond closely with it.
I feel a bit like I'm cheating with this choice, but I also feel like it would be against everything to leave it off. It's a bit of a "Greatest Hits", with one small difference...well, actually, a pretty major difference: they went from acoustic to electric, and doubled the members of the band. If it sounded as close as I was expecting it to sound to their previous works, I would have left it out, but this album is insanely brilliant, and completely different than their acoustic sounds. I loved this band before, but now I am becoming a bit obsessed. Favorite track is the re-imagining of "Neurotic Decay". To really appreciate it, go back and listen to its original version, and then this rework, and tell me they aren't two completely different songs!
Lagwagon was a favorite for me back in the Epi-fat days, but I have to admit that they fell off my radar over a decade ago. If it were not for all of the other writers at Punknews going crazy about this album, I probably would never have even thrown this one on. That said, as soon as the opening track played, I felt like I was back in high school, driving my '86 Z28 with the T-Tops pulled out, cruising my conservative Texas college town with mix-tapes of all the Epi-Fat bands, all of which were sing-alongs (at least it felt like). This album seems to have Joey in perfect form with his writing, and in my opinion, rivals what in my opinion is his best work, Bad Astronaut's "Houston: We have a drinking problem". Ripper after ripper on this album, and I'd definitely put the opener "Stealing Light" at the top of the tracks, mainly because it was the track that brought me back those memories, but also because its damn good!
Rib Fest Records
HappyHappy was the first punk band that I got to take my son to see, so there is no question that every release its brainchild, Daymon, is on will forever be special to me. That said, I'm pretty sure Zozobra deserves acclaim on its own accord. Daymon brought in more instruments with the assistance of multi-instrumentalist Makenna of Rib Fest, and with it came a fuller sound, with his ever-present intelligent, yet sarcastic, lyrics. Daymon blew me away with his S/T album (which is at the top of my list for album of the decade), and this follow-up stayed true to what made me fall in love with his music to start with. My favorite track is definitely "Panic Attack", and as usual for all of Daymon's works, it is the lyrics that really stand out for me with this one.
5. Ceschi: Sad, Fat Luck
Fake Four, Inc
Ceschi (pronounced Chess - Key) makes it on my list for the second time this year, with the first of his "final trilogy". For some time, I had his 2nd release of the year ranking above this one, but as time went on, I found myself going back to this album more and more. He has a raw ability to fuse his own brand of hip-hop with folk punk, reggae, and electronica that is unparalleled. Watching him perform several of these songs, on an acoustic guitar, stripped down, raw, and unrelenting, was probably my number one music video of the year (See Punk with a Camera - DIY Sessions - Ceschi on youtube if you want to catch it). If I had to pick a favorite song on the album, I would go with "Take it all back (Parts 1 - 4)". Part one hits you with a gut punch of lyrical content, and he follows with hit after hit, swinging from beat to beat, and leaving you breathless as you try to keep up.
4. Lightnin' Luke: Vol 2
Lightnin' Luke spent the better half of the year sitting atop my top 20 in the comfortable seat of No. 1, until a bunch of albums dropped in November and shook up my rankings like a 15 seed winning the first round of March Madness. The album is smooth, well-written, full of emotion, and most of all, perfectly orchestrated to be an amazing sophomore release from one of the BCS side projects. Luke also produced one of my favorite EP's of the year, Folklore, by another BCS brother, Clyde and the Milltailers, whilst also supporting King Strang. The man is a legend when it comes to musicianship, and honestly, might still be number one if you asked me in 5 months, but I have a habit of latching onto the new tunes hard when they are first released. His music is pure soul, and it pours out of his old country singing voice, and resonates with the guitar sounds that take you back to a time when life was simpler. I really couldn't pick a best song off this album, but if you're only going to listen to one, check out "The Only Cowboy Bar in Portland".
What do you get when a prominent folk punker switches to electric, gets a backing band, and decides to do a concept album about a kid who burns down his entire town? A damn good folk/pop punk/emo hybrid that delivers on every cylinder. Skyler put his heart and soul into this album, and now with the fuller backing band sound, he's able to deliver emotions that bleed out of the music and into your soul. Favorite track is "We don't die alone". While I never really had an "emo" phase, this track, and its surrounding album, give me an idea of why so many kids were into music that purposefully makes you nothing but sad.
2. The Window Smashing Job Creators: Full Unemployment
This was a tough one for me. I had it in first one day, tenth the next, and then back to second, first, fourth, third. This album is so amazing, but I couldn't really place where it deserved to go against a long list of amazing albums this year. It ended up in a close second, and even as I type this, I'm wondering if it should have gotten first. It was manic, abrasive, endearing, direct, determined, and completely insane. These guys are new band to me, only having been familiar with them for about 6 months, but man have they invaded my ears repetitively in that time. Their sound is a mashup of New Orleans Brass meets Kentucky Bluegrass, with lyrics written by an amalgamation of Steve Ignorant, Jello Biafra, and Chris Hannah. Like I said, it is insanity, but in the best possible way. Favorite track is definitely the simple, yet catchy, "Communism in Space", but this album really should be heard from start to finish to really enjoy it to its fullest.
Apes of the State take the cake for me this year. Their album was perfectly constructed from start to finish, and the growth that I saw out of these guys in their sophomore album was beyond all expectations. My personal favorites are "Dear Mom" and "Fun and Games", two completely different tunes, but both hitting me upside the head with truth, as April is apt to do when writing her lyrics. "Dear Mom" chronicling the apes rise to the level they have reached, over a 9 plus minute ballad, that brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, while "Fun and Games" aptly addresses our scene's need to talk trash, cancel, and belittle its own. I cannot wait to see these guys at Folk Shit Up 2020, where they are appropriately headlining.