Best of 2019 - Julie River's Picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2019

Julie River's Picks (2019)

Staff Picks

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year this year. On the one hand it was the first full year living my life as a woman full-time. On the other hand I had a friendship-breakup with the most important person in my life which absolutely broke my heart. So my list this year reflects both joy and sorrow and the emotional turmoil of my year. To quote from Sage Francis, it’s been a hell of a year...

Top 20 of 2019

20. Royal Trux: White Stuff

Fat Possum Records

It may seem strange to call a heroin-soaked cacophony of an album like this a 'triumphant return,' but for Royal Trux that's precisely what it is. For all the sloppiness on this album, there's an earnestness that only comes from a genuine love of making music. Hagerty and Herrema don't sound like a thing has changed in the nearly 20 years since their last album, but I would hardly expect anything from those two. White Stuff is just down and dirty rock 'n' roll like it should be.

19. Mean Jeans: Gigantic Sike

Fat Wreck Chords

I've been trying to tell you for years that Mean Jeans isn't a dumb band. Their humor is soaked in so many layers or irony that requires some real cleverness to come up with. Also the fact that they put their own phone number in the opening track so you can call or text them for the funniest conversation you will have today is just further proof of how brilliant these guys are. I hope they keep putting out music for a very long time.

18. Masked Intruder: III

Pure Noise Records

Masked Intruder just keep getting better with every album, making III their tightest, slickest, and funniest album to date. They really nail the harmonies in a way that outdoes almost every pop-punk band out there (only Bad Cop/Bad Cop have better harmonies) and their pop hooks are some of the absolute catchiest in the business. It's 50's pop meets pop-punk meets postmodern pastiche and parody at its finest.

17. Pkew Pkew Pkew: Optimal Lifestyles

Dine Alone Records

I was a little disappointed at first with this album because Pkew Pkew Pkew's greatest strength on their debut album was their micro level of scope and focus, with such oddly specific songs as a song about ordering (but not eating) a pizza. But as Optimal Lifestyles does start to get deeper, they show that their actually quite capable making those deeper dives in their music. Also this album still has some great songs about nothing like 'The Polynesian' or 'I Wanna See a Wolf.' I also got to see them live this year and was very impressed. This band is going places.

16. Radar State: Strays


It's been a good year for the members of The Get Up Kids. Not only did they put out their first album in eight years (and their first good album in 15 years) but both of their lead singers, Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic, teamed up with The Anniversary's Josh Berwanger to produce Radar State, easily the best Get Up Kids side project to date. (And no, I didn't forget about Reggie and the Full Effect.) Radar State shows off the members' talent for upbeat, punchy, Replacements-style pop-punk making for one of the most fun records of the year.

15. Blink-182: NINE


I don't think a single person who commented on my four-star review of this album agreed with me, but I stand by it. Yes it's overproduced to all hell, but it's hard for anyone, even John Feldmann, to get in the way of the partnership between Matt Skiba and Mark Hoppus, a partnership that seems to bring out the best in both frontmen. While I still object to any band without Tom DeLonge in it being called blink-182, I think this new project of Hoppus, Skiba, and Barker is an improvement over the DeLonge era of the band, and this is the second album in a row to prove that.

14. The Follow Ups: ...Don't Like You Either

Punk and Disorderly

I'm always going on about innovation and sounding original and unique and moving the genre of punk forward. I'll be honest with you: even I get tired of hearing myself sometimes. My dirtiest little secret is that sometimes it's just fun to hear someone do something you've heard before but execute it so perfectly that you might as well be hearing it for the first time all over again. The Follow-Ups aren't doing anything outside of the box, just some basic Ramones-core pop-punk, but they write such fun and clever songs that you can't help but fall in love.

13. Priests: The Seduction of Kansas

Sister Polygon

One of the bands I meant to review but never did, I was first turned onto Priests because my roommate was friends with their drummer in high school. Their diverse soundscapes on their sophomore album create some really fun and original post-punk/indie rock tunes. They're on a clear upward trajectory with all the buzz around their first two albums, and it's very well deserved.

12. Nervus: Tough Crowd

Big Scary Monsters

Nervus returns with their third album in four years, and their prolific output hasn't done anything to diminish their talent. Frontwoman Em Foster is churning out some dynamite lyrics and the hard rock guitars merging with the beautiful melodies of the keyboards makes for an album that's both powerful and gorgeous at the same time.

11. Angel Du$t: Pretty Buff

Roadrunner Records

Switching from hardcore punk to folk punk in the course of one album is probably one of the greatest risks ever taken by a band, but Angel Du$t not only did that, it paid off with a gorgeous folk punk record. Anyone can radically change genres, but not everyone can do it and still produce quality material. Pretty Buff sounds like a record from an artist that's been putting out folk punk their entire career and they execute it masterfully.

10. Charly Bliss: Young Enough

Barsuk Records

The only reason Charly Bliss's 2017 album Guppy didn't end up on my Top 20 of 2017 list is because I didn't hear the album until 2018. That album was such a delicious 90's throwback it made me want to chug some Surge and break out my Jnco jeans. Young Enough sheds the 90's alt-rock nostalgia and replaces it with 80's pop nostalgia, and it's absolutely excellent. Eva Hendricks's voice may be an acquired taste, but it's a taste that I've definitely acquired.

9. Tsunami Bomb: The Spine That Binds

Alternative Tentacles

Returning with a new album for the first time in 15 years with a different lead singer doesn't sound like a recipe for success, but somehow, for Tsunami Bomb, it paid off big time. The return of the keyboards compliments new singer Kate Jacobi as she belts out lyrics with power and melody. It's a classic punk style, but one that sounds new and invigorated with Tsunami Bomb's talents. This is the single most unlikely success of 2019.

8. Bad Religion: Age of Unreason

Epitaph Records

Bad Religion return after one of the longest hiaituses of their career with the sixth US president of their career to rage against, and boy do they have some choice words for the newest commander in chief and, more importantly, for the culture of fear and paranoia that he's created. In what's easily their best album since The Empire Strikes First, Age of Unreason is catchy, melodic, and hard as hell.

7. Refused: War Music


It feels like The Refused went a little safe on this one, as much as anything can be safe when you're an experimental hardcore band, and returned to a similar style to their 1998 classic, The Shape of Punk to Come. But if War Music is a rehash of one of the greatest punk albums of all time, I'll gladly take it, as War Music is both a powerful piece of art and a really good time.

6. The Get Up Kids: Problems

Polyvinyl Records

It's about damn time! Their first album in eight years and their first good album in 15, these princes of emo storm back to life with Problems. Forget about the My Chemical Romance reunion, this is the return that everyone in the emo world should be talking about. Yes it's a return to form, but it makes their old sound feel revitalized and new again. Unfortunately the sudden and unceremonious departure of keyboardist James Dewees is heartbreaking, but here's hoping they keep putting out great music like this for some time to come.

5. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know

Suicide Squeeze Records

For The Coathangers' sixth album the band mellows out a little, very little. It's still everything that The Coathangers have always been: acerbic, aggressive, energetic, and a lot of fun. You wouldn't expect anything less from a band that literally named themselves after a back alley abortion method. The Coathangers are a force to be reckoned with in any year, and 2019 is no exception.

4. Epic Beard Men: This Was Supposed to Be Fun

Strange Famous

Call it nepotism because I know them (though we haven't kept in touch) but Sage Francis and B. Dolan are possibly the two most talented rappers in all of hip-hop and they really bring out the best in each other, performing tag team verbal acrobatics that will leave you breathless. Their second album in two years is promising in that I hope they'll remain this prolific for years to come.

3. Proper: I Spent The Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better

Big Scary Monsters

Great album. Favorite line: 'Don't get me started on my fragile masculinity / All I heard growing up is queer men can't be manly/So I'll just overcompensate with hyper sexuality/Pick fights over little shit and call it integrity.'

2. Pup: Morbid Stuff

Rise Records

A few years ago we collectively chose PUP's The Dream is Over, and it pissed off a lot of people, including our own staff who had inadvertently voted it into first place. I was one of the few that was okay with this because I've been a huge fan of their second and third albums. (I don't know why but I j can't get into that self-titled debut.) Morbid Stuff is everything that The Dream is Over was but taken up a notch. As the album title suggests, the kings of gang vocals tackle much darker material on this album, but aren't afraid to have some fun like the track 'Bloody Mary Kate or Ashley.' It's a tour de force from a band that was already at the top of their game with their last album, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

1. Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold

Mom + Pop Music

Few artists took such radical risks this year as Sleater-Kinney, a risk so radical that it cost them a drummer. The Center Won't Hold manages to transcend punk to create a post-punk/art pop album under art-pop producer St. Vincent. This album is sleek, sexy, dark, discordant, and most of all, challenging. It's a huge risk but it pays off with probably the most layered, complex album of the year. It's easily my album of the year, and a great album to end off the decade with.

So that’s it. The big shocker of this year is that, while I usually heavily favor Fat Wreck releases, this year my list contains only one Fat Wreck release (Mean Jeans). In fact, I think the only label that appears twice on my list this year was Big Scary Monsters. Anyway, here’s to another year of Punknews. See y’all again real soon.