I mean, I thought that by this point, I was supposed to "mature" or "age out" of punk into indie or even just straight up mainstream Pop and Hip Hop. It hasn’t happened yet and for some reason, I’m even more jazzed about punk rock now than I ever was before!
In fact, I was aiming to slow down this year on the punknews front- planning to throw maybe two shows and cut back on the news. Bizarrely, I ended up throwing SEVEN shows and let me tell you, they were REAL jammers! Danbert of Chumbawamba played his first Philly gig in almost 10 years and it was magical. World/Inferno and Joe Jack Talcum teamed up to play Summer Soiree 3 and, dare I say, it rivaled soiree 1! STZA and Crazy and the Brains did a full crack rock steady set and it was wild and mean and nasty and fun as hell and the show ended with balloons being dumped on everyone. Droogettes, Catbite, Trash Knife, Qwam and many more each played AMAZING sets!
On top of that, I did more news than ever! The downside was, that in sharp contrast to my end of ’18 plans, I did not do as many long form interviews as I would have liked. In fact, this was my slimmest year for interviews yet, which did bum me out. I’ll do better in 2020. What that means, for me, at least, is that it’s not that I have to choose what I do, it’s that I have to choose what I’m not going to do. That’ll be tough.
In the meantime, I did check out A LOT of really cool records. Here’s my favorites:
The 20 best LPs of the year (Non-Melvins Division)
BurgerI'll let you decide if this soundtrack is "real" or not. But, one thing's for sure- it's real rockin' and real hilarious. In fact, this album is so amusing and so self aware, I thought for a hot minute that I might actually like honky tonk. Well, after digging into that genre following this album, I quickly learned that I do not, which, makes it all that much more impressive that I loooove this album. The album follows the story of a trucker and a chimp, and just monkeys will often imitate humans in hilarious ways, this album does Kenny Rodgers and Hank Jr. better than they do themselves.
SireTegan and Sara dug up a bunch of demos (from high school!), reworked 'em, and put out a composite album of moldy oldies done in their modern style. And, hot damn, this record jumps! It's mostly built around their modenrn-ish indie-new-wave sound with coffee shop lyrics tied throughout making this jam as snappy as it is moving. If you ever want to fell bad about yourself, listen to how good Tegan and Sara were at writing lyrics at like age 15. Then, if you want to feel even worse about yourself, listen to how good they are at writing music right now.
ZafioNot only are they catchy, but they're damn good! Composed of bay area veterans, The Pathogens cut a record that isn't so much a "bay area record" as it is people from the bay making pop-ish punk as good as it can be. My favorite part is that for every fierce (and necessary) political blast, there's a silly, self-deprecating chaser that makes the band as salient as they are easy to digest. This is probably the first disease that, not only will people want to get, but it will dramatically improve their (mental) health!
Stupid Bag/Drunken SailorThis band can do no wrong... we'll, they probably can, but being that they haven't, it's a testament to their taste and style. Must Be Nice finds the band doing what they do best- taking the Ramonescore bubble gum pop and using that to express some very, very negative points of view. Yet, the key is that despite the frequently bleakness here, there's usually some hope reserved at the end. See, "Do you dream," as an example. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Mark would each see something awesome in this album, and let me tell you, THAT is an accomplishment.
Violated RecordsThe BZ boys came out roaring on their debut LP. Composed of Philly punk veterans, BZ know every inch of street punk, hardcore, oi, and crossover and they use that to blast out an aggressive record that hits the hallmarks dead on. There's no artifice here, just a true love of the genre. This record is P-U-N-K.
14. Redd Kross: Beyond the Door
Purple PyramidWith it's freeform sections, off-kilter, improv sax solos, and abstract contemplation of acid-space, The final Frontier is probably Turner's most Hawkindian album since he left the band. No one understands that space-rock isn't just songs about flying silver machines more than Turner (although it's that, too) and he's sure to add in the introspective meta-contemplation as much as the tales of time warping. Nicky Garratt's slamming axe gives Turner the power he so much deserves. Together, these two are making some of the best music of both of their careers. Great Pyramid, please don’t let this record be the final frontier…
toxic StateJon Connor is dead and we're all screwed. L.O.T.I.O.N. makes this point repeatedly on this dense, crust-synth-punk platter, and they seem to revel in mankind's imminent destruction more than anything else. If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em, and L.O.T.I.O.N. seem to have thrown their lot in with our new computer overlords. You can't say we weren't warned about computers turning us into their servants instead of vice-versa, so we only have ourselves to blame. Though, as consolation, it's nice that we got one of the most daring, most weird, and most rocking punk records in decades out of it.
Bad Time RecordsAdam Davis of Link 80 ( though he'll always be Adam Davis of Gnarboots and Flat Planet to me) recruits his friends a makes the best third wave ska record in DECADES. But, that's also probably because he plays some hardcore and metal on this album, too. Also, he contemplates death throughout. This record feels like Davis being more direct, and more honest, than he's ever been. The big revelations are his preoccupation with death and bubbling anger beneath the surface. But, the biggest revelation is that, somehow, Ska has grown to be more powerful than it ever was before... at least for those that know how to wield its awesome power responsibility.
8. Kicker: Pure Drivel
TankcRimesThe "theme" of punk rock is that after your twenties, or thirties if yer lucky, you get jaded and move onto other genres. Thank the Lord for Kicker. Composed of four ultra-veterans (including singer Pete the Roadie, an actual roadie, who is an og first wave punker!), Kicker's enthusiasm makes them seem like a group of teens just discovering the genre despite that this is their third album, ninth release overall, and tenth year of being a band!... Also, collectively, they have over two hundred yeats of punk between them. Not only is this record an inspiration, but it is cranked full of kicking riffs, rocking beats, rumbling bass, and Pete's wonderfully blustery quips. Some people are just funny inherently and Peter is inherently a riot. The secret trick, though, is that despite the fist pumping and yuks here, there is some truly deep insight. There's more to Pete and crew than meets the eye... as with all great punk rock.
War FeverOh my God, I love this band... it's too bad that they broke up just after putting out this album, thereby proving that they must HATE me! Still, what a way to bow out. Their sole album seesaws between punk charging and indie-rock stomp all while lead singe rElena Barrio offers skewed viewpoints, such as the part where she proudly declares that she's a literal trash person or the part where she spends more than two minutes yelling at someone for not being her friend. This is the same art-punk mentality heard on those esoteric Talking Heads and No waves lyrics and somehow, this band's shifted perspective seems distinctly relatable. The brightest flame burns the shortest, as they say, and EatD were BLINDINGLY GOOD.
6. Vivian Girls: Memory
ATO/FlightlessAmyl and the Sniffers had A LOT of hype before dropping their first album, and like so few before them, the debut record SURPASSED the hype machine. Daringly sacrificing their earlier catchiness for speed and raw power, Amyl and crew blasted out a fierce record that stormed like a hardcore attack, but rocked like classic era AC/DC. It's not easy to keep the swing when you're going 300mph, but this band knows how to ride the wind. Also, lead singer Amy Taylor brute honesty and barbed wire wit cuts as sharply as the riffs here, which is to say, pretty much every slash could easily be a mortal wound.
Bad Time RecordsShut your mouth. Ska is redeemed. While Catbite tag themselves as "Philadelphia Ska," they know, and we know, they're not strictly ska revival and that's what makes them so effective- well, that, and every single member is really good at what they each do. Harkening back to the golden two-tone age, Catbite draw that forward into a timeless context, all while picking up some other genre hallmarks here and there for effect- 50's rock n roll, anyone? maybe some '77 punk? This is a record made by people who truly love ska. And to love something, you have to let it go free, which is exactly what Catbite does. This is the only record of the year that can scratch back.
self releasedThis year was QWAM's year. The band had been building steam for the past few years and trying out various styles (a lil pop punk here, indie rock over there, noise rock a' yonder), but, by the time they unleashed their first proper LP, it was a PROPER LP. Merging all of the best parts into some dayglo drapery, the band cloaks a gleeful nihilism behind sunny stories about hanging out at the mall and killing everyone at your prom. Doing bad things shouldn’t be this fun, but as long as QWAM is in the picture, it is…
The 10 best EPs of the year (Non-Melvins Division)
10. Ramoms: Teacher's Pet [EP]
self releasedOne first wave punk guy, one melodic punk guy, and one pop-punk gal- this is a trio made in divebar and they sound like they came from the gates of Heaven themselves. Each of these hits could have been either a stone cold power-pop classic in 1977 or a stone cold beard-punk classic in 2007. Hell, they're stone cold classics right now. This band is onto something gooooood.
8. Alice Cooper: The Breadcrumbs EP
EAR MusicThe Coop pays tribute to his hometown by kicking out a couple of originals saluting the Motor City and then blasting our four more covers from those holy grounds. MC5, Mitch Ryder, and bob Seger all get well done workouts. The real gem is the Suzi Quatro cover which harkens back to the Cooper's earliest gender bending days. A Stooges cover would have been nice, but maybe even Alice would have seen that as sacrilegious... or maybe Ann Arbor doesn't count? At any rate, Alice is sounding better than he ever has and, more than ever, he sounds EXCITED to be doing what he's doing. I'm excited, too!.
7. Zorn: Hardcore Zorn
self-releasedQuietly dropped with little more than a bandcamp upload, Zorn's new four tracker is their fiercest one yet. The hardcore death rockers are becoming so hardcore that the music is almost morphing into thrash. They are as macabre and as spiky as ever and this whole tape sounds like it's about to blow out the tape eck as it runs from white line to white line. IT'S TIME FOR THESE GHOULS TO PUT OUT AN ALBUM.
self releasedOne part post-punk and one part weirdo dance music, Clear Channel is THE band to watch in 2020. So strange, so great. They as equally wont to sing about racial prejudice as they are about what kinds of fruit are good. This trio is freaky in the best possible way, and, on top of that, they are truly unique post-punkers. I expect great things from them.
5. Pushin' it 2 the Limit: Knocks Your Fuckin' Socks off Turkey
Suicide BongSo what if they already released this album last year? The NEW version has better sound, better production, and REALLYU kncoks your socks off, turkey. Pittl is pure joy in punk form and they even slip in some serious commentary here or there... I mean, I usually miss that part as I'm too focused on their hilarious battle cries that open every song. If only other bands knew the secret that PITTL knows: punk can be serious AND fun. And damn, this IS fun... and my socks were rocked off so hard they are now in ribbons.
4. World/Inferno Friendship Society: Hallowmas 2019
Self-releasedA secret treat delivered at Inferno's annual bash, this two track tape is laying the breadcrumbs for what's to come. The A-side might just be a rare, old track, but the new guy on side B is the real surprise. The band is getting both weirder and more glam and I am all about that ride. World/Inferno is always evolving and it looks like the latest evolution will take us to some unexpected places, which, of course, is expected at this point. But, it's cool that the music is so great, too.
Drunk DialThis is THE PERFECT '80s pop record... weird that it was recorded in 2019... but a Ramonescore maniac... while he was drunk. The genius of the Mean Jeans crew knows no depth and here, Andrew Bassett, lovingly embraces the formerly castigated, now celebrated genre: synth-pop. This record puts Falco, Bananarama, and Kajagoogoo to shame and gives Modern English, Human League, and Kraftwerk a run for their money. I can think of few higher compliments. Oh, also, Soft Cell style Rancid cover on the B-side? Magnifique!
2. Integrity: All Death Is Mine
Holy MountainWoo hoo hoo! Already firing it up so soon after the release of the mammoth, landmark album Howling yada yada yafa, Integrity came charging out of the gate in '19 with this erupting, thrasher. Equal parts hardcore charge and power metal intricacy, "All Death Is Mine" is a weird juxtaposition that can;t quite be defined- and that's kind of Integrity's speciality. Straight up, it can be hard for band's to follow successful, redefining albums (even Bowie, Dylan, and Judas Priest had issues here), but by all accounts, Integrity's fire is just growing and growing and growing and growing. Yowza!
The 5 best Melvins releases of the year (Melvins Division)
5. Bluewhale / Void Manes: Bluewhale / Void Manes
Rock is HellKing Buzzo and Kevin Rutmanis team up as Bluewhale for some Throbbing Gristle style noise experiments. If you need more of a sales pitch than that, yer in the wrong section, buddy.
4. Lou Barlow and Dale Crover: Father's Day
Joyful NoiseA group of dads, one being a main melv, team up for a dad-themed EP. However, most dads do not rock like these maniacs. Hell, most PEOPLE do not rock like these maniacs.
3. Melvins/Redd Kross: Escape from LA
Amphetamine ReptileBeing that Melvins and Redd Kross have basically merged into one mega band, it's fitting that they put out a split EP. It's even more fitting that the EP shows that both of these bands are as good, or even better, than they've ever been, even though they've been cranking out the jams for over 30 years! OK! They're both approved for 30 more!
2. Melvins/Shitkid: Bangers
Amphetamine ReptileThe Melvins and some wacky Europeans crank out four tracks spanning the globe or rock itself. The highlight? An extremely Sex Pistoly "Ghost on the Highway." Both of these bands rarely play by the rules of punk, which, of course, makes them infinitely punk.
1. Melvins/Flipper: Hot Fish
Amphetamine ReptileThe Melvins team up with their own heroes and cut the best Flipper tune in over thirty years! "Hot Fish" is long, mean, and nasty! And that's just the start of it! Three MORE Flipper covers make this EP just totally fierce as hell. They say never meet your heroes, but eh Melvins ignored that advice and thank goodness they did because their heroes came to rock!
The crazy thing is that 2020 ALREADY is looking packed. Perhaps the greatest band ever, World/Inferno Friendship Society will have already released their new album by the time you read this! Crazy & the Brains have announced a new LP! Oh yeah! I am really, really hoping OFF! #4 is released in the ’20 (As excited I am for CJs, I hope it doesn’t impede OFF!) Cro-Mags are scheduled to release their first album in twenty, count ‘em, twenty years! Danzig says his Elvis covers album will be out along with a theatre type tour, which could be very cool! Trash Knife says they are recording new stuff as is Dark Web. Tom Fischer says new Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Triptykon related material is on the way! Oooh boy! Born has been dropping mild hints about a full length blaster and they damn well better. KRS-One hasn’t released a new album in about two years which is like two decades for him, so I hope to hear some new rhyme from him- ditto that for Run the Jewels! Danbury says he’s working on new stuff and if that’s anything like his recent stuff, we are in for a treat. And Melvins, baby, MELVINSSSSSSS.
For me, I’ve got a plan for the new year and I want to stick to it! More features! More shows! More tapes! I’ve already got some plans in the works but I need to avoid getting side tracked by awesome side-missions. So, that means, if you want to write for punknews - news, reviews, or interviews- NOW IS THE RIGHT TIME TO JUMP ABOARD MATEY!
How is it that at 36, I am so mega psyched about punk rock?! Maybe I’m just a slow learner. I’m not trying to be Mister pose-vibes out here, because I am NOT that, but as flock of Seagulls once said, "the more you live, the more you love [punk rock]." (Also, I saw Flock twice this year, and they were AWESOOOOME).
I don’t have any inspirational quotes for ya. I don’t have any purportedly deep profundities. I ain’t got no advice for ya, except, let’s get out there baby! Let’s tear it up! Let’s do cool stuff! Let’s make art! Let’s throw cool shows! Let’s go see the punk legends while we still can! Let’s snatch up the rare records! Let’s run some cool interviews! Leet’s find weird news stories! Let’s wreck it all up! Let’s rock the hell out! LET’S GO CRAZY! LET’S GO WILD! HEY!!!! HOOO!!!!! LEEEET’S GOOCOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!