Best 0f 2019 - Tom Trauma's Picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best 0f 2019

Tom Trauma's Picks (2019)

Staff Picks

When I joined the staff of Punknews in 2014, I had a lofty goal. I wanted to write 250 reviews. At the time, that was how many it took to be considered one of the greats. Five and a half years and something like 420 reviews later, I’m somehow still at it. While I’ve been threatening to slow down for years, in 2020 it’s actually going to happen. I’ll still occasionally write about my adventures at live shows and cover the random classic punk or thrash album, but the days of me churning out 70 or 80 reviews a year are over. There are other things I need to spend my few precious minutes of free time on. There are other avenues I need to explore. The most exciting project is always the next one, the strange one, the one I haven’t experienced yet.

The new project I’m most excited about is Punk Till I Die, a new podcast featuring myself and my pal Liverpool Neil. We hope to cover all the old man punk topics that don’t fit into the format of the normal weekly podcast. You should definitely check it out. Don’t make me beg! So I’ll still be around. I still plan to be a regular on the weekly podcast, and even hope to step up my interview game. The truth is, there are a bunch of new, hungry young writers and reviewers that make me feel a whole lot better about stepping back a bit. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my sixth year end best of list might be my last. Anyway, I’ve never really been the sentimental type, so let’s get started.

Before I get into my top 20 LPs, I’d like to mention a few shows that stirred my soul. Sloppy Seconds headlining the Record Farm’s 3rd anniversary party in an old, restored theater in small town Indiana was a real treat. Seeing The Damned play the whole Machine Gun Etiquette album in Chicago, with X as support, was an old punk’s dream come true. Dummerfest in Milwaukee was a full day of fun from all across the punk spectrum. Overkill and Death Angel finally teaming up for a tour that made a stop in Grand Rapids was another headbanging highlight. I got to see a minor bucket list band when Sacred Reich played GR with GWAR, Toxic Holocaust and Against the Grain.

On to my top 20, but first, a brief disclaimer. This is not an attempt at a definitive best of 2019 list. I didn’t have time to listen to everything, and I’m sure I missed I missed plenty. This is based solely on my opinions and tastes. As usual, it’s midwest heavy. There are a couple bands each from Wisconsin, Indiana and my home state of Michigan. If two albums were about the same, quality wise, I always erred on the side of supporting the more obscure of the two. I’m sure that Direct Hit and Lagwagon will be on plenty of other lists. Let the arguing begin!

Top 20

20. Bad Religion: Age of Unreason

Epitaph Records

Another solid, if unspectacular album from one of the most important bands in punk. Bad Religion has been so good for so long, that they're entitled to the occasional clunker. This album took a while to grow on me, but ultimately I'm glad I gave it that chance. They've earned the benefit of the doubt. Check out "End of History".

19. The Darbs: The Darbs

Plaza 8 records

These three old dudes from Wisconsin made a straight up punk record that this old dude from Michigan really enjoyed. You can tell when people are making music for the right reasons. Check out "Give it to the Man".

18. Teenage Bottlerocket: Stay Rad!

Fat Wreck Chords

Teenage Bottlerocket have been so consistently good that it's easy to take them for granted. They just keep cranking out wonderful, three chord pop punk. Their 8th album can hold its own against any of the seven that came before it. Check out "I Wanna Be a Dog".

17. The Mound Builders: The Mound Builders

Failure Records & Tapes

The Mound Builders are a heavy band from America's heartland. The sound on the band's self titled LP is a rumbling hellfire that will keep you warm on a cold winter's night. Check out "Hair of the Dogma".

16. Downtown Brown: CaliFlorida

Failure Records & Tapes

This has got to be the most eclectic record on my list. Funk, punk, ska and metal are all combined in Downtown Brown's soup of the day. Detroit meets LA and the result is sometimes baffling, but always entertaining. Check out "Outta My Mind".

15. Benny and the No-Goods: Nothing's Cool

self released

Benny and the No-Goods is actually a one man punk band from Indianapolis. Benny's catchy songs have something for everyone. Pop culture? Check. Nerd stuff? Check. Politics? Check. Check out "Saturday".

14. Pissed Regardless: Imperial Cult

Creator Destructor Records

This is probably the most unpleasant record on my list. That's not an insult! It's heavy, fast, and the vocals are about as raspy as anything I've loved in recent years. Let Pissed Regardless melt your face. Check out "Hell's Coming With Me".

13. Sacred Reich: Awakening

Metal Blade Records

Tremendous comeback record from Sacred Reich after a 23 year studio absence. Passionate, political and very listenable thrash from one of the most underrated bands in the genre. Check out "Manifest Reality".

12. The Proletariat: Move

boss Tuneage

The first of two amazing comeback albums from classic Boston bands. The Proletariat were apart for over 30 years before reforming to make this record. Both their music and politics are as sharp and on point as ever. Check out "Bomb Throwing Practice".

11. Latte+: Next to Ruin

Phocomelic Music

If you are at all into Ramones worship, you need to be listening to LATTE+. For more than 20 years this Italian trio has been cranking out catchy songs in that style. They are as good at it as anybody. Check out "Lost in Berlin".

10. Toxic Holocaust: Primal Future:2019

E1 Music

When it comes to thrash in the new millennium, Toxic Holocaust is among the handful of torchbearers. On the new record, Joel Grind returns to his one man band roots. He plays all the instruments and handles every aspect of the production. The end result feels thoroughly modern while also giving a nod to fore bearers like Exodus, Overkill and Venom. It's heavy, it's evil and it's excellent. Check out "Chemical Warlords".

9. Death Angel: Humanicide

Nuclear Blast

Like Sacred Reich, Death Angel was a key player in the second wave of thrash in the late '80s. Since reforming in the early 2000's, they have released an impressive body of work. Their six post reunion records now outshine the three great ones they did during their original run. This is the third and final installment in their 'Wolf Trilogy'. Fast, technical music paired with intelligent lyrics makes for some compelling, old school thrash metal. Check out "I Came For Blood".

8. Boris the Sprinkler: Vespa to Venus

Beer City Records

Boris the Sprinkler was everywhere in the '90s. The Green Bay miscreants' albums, singles and splits were legendary. I never realized how much I missed Rev Norb and the gang until they returned earlier this year. This was their first full length in 19 years. It's as fun as you remember at a time when we could all use a little more fun in our lives. If you're as burned out on politics as I am, this will hit the spot. Check out "Gamma Ray Girl".

7. The Freeze: Calling All Creatures

Slope Records

I love The Freeze. I've always had a soft spot for Boston bands, and they're one of my favorites. This was a solid return after 20 years away from the studio. Depressing, hopeful, paranoid, and sometimes bitterly funny. Singer Clif Hanger's lyrics are as disturbing as ever, and guitarist Bill Close's riffs still drive the action. Mental illness and drug addiction have never sounded so compelling. Check out "World I Know".

6. Off With Their Heads: Be Good

Epitaph Records

On paper, Off With Their Heads doesn't seem like a band that I should like. In reality, I'm drawn toward Ryan Young's depressing, confessional music like a moth to the flame. 2019 will probably not be remembered as a great year for the band, but this should be remembered as a great album. It has the kind of cohesiveness that too many modern records lack. I hate to sound like a glass half full guy, but let's celebrate the positive. Check out "You Will Die".

5. Hipshot Killer: All This Time is Ours

Locket Love Records

Over the last eight years or so, this Kansas City, MO trio has quietly been putting an impressive discography together. It's time for more people to take notice. Hipshot Killer is fronted by Mike Alexander, one time guitarist for third wave ska heroes The Gadjits, but this is a completely different animal. The songs are melodic and nuanced and far beyond typical three chord fare. Check out "Places We Want To Be".

4. Donny Zuzula: Chemicals

Self Released

The first solo album from the long time leader of The Tosspints can be a very difficult album to listen to, but it's so worth the effort. Masterful songwriting combined with gut wrenching emotion. You probably shouldn't listen to this if you're depressed. It might put you in touch with things that you'd rather keep buried. My words can't do it justice. Just listen to it! Check out "Turn Away".

3. Overkill: The Wings of War

Nuclear Blast

In some parallel universe, Overkill is huge. They've earned it. No first wave thrash band has been as consistent or uncompromising. When their more famous (and richer) peers were chasing money and trends, Overkill stuck to the path. The Result is 20 plus albums of unrelenting speed metal and thrash. At this point, every new album just adds to their nearly unblemished legacy. Check out "Believe in the Fight".

2. Subhumans: Crisis Point

Pirate's Press Records

Subhumans are a punk treasure. We're lucky that they're still around at all, let alone making relevant records. It's been 12 long years since their last album, and the timing feels right. This record can slide right into their discography next to their great '80s LPs. The music is spastic as ever, and Dick Lucas' lyrics are political and pointed. Check out "99%".

1. This Means War: Heartstrings

Pirate's Press Records

For the second year in a row, a Dutch band (half Dutch actually) has taken the top spot on my list. In my review, I described them as Cock Sparrer meets 7 Seconds, and I still think those are good reference points. This is passionate punk rock that feels both modern and classic. All the songs mean something and are catchy enough to sing along with. What more could you possibly ask for? A wonderful, under the radar record. Check out "Off With Their Heads".

Well, I guess that’s about it for 2019. I hope everybody has a safe and happy 2020, full of good friends and good music.