Hi my name is Mike Elfers and I have been stuck in a small house with a psychotic bored three year old since March, amidst all of the horribleness, we got to enjoy some very good music this year. Cheers to the rad Punknews crew and stay safe everyone, here are my favorite releases of the year.
Top 20 of 2020
Maryland's All Time Low continued to stray towards pop with Wake Up, Sunshine,
and the result is a fresh forty-six minute breath of relief and celebration. Frontman Alex Gaskarth owns the layers of production and polish, and the band squeezes in their instrumentation seamlessly. The four piece doesn't turn around every album with some promise that they are "returning to their punk rock roots," either, and the honesty resonates. As usual, ATL's secret weapon is Rian Dawson, who manages to squeeze expert Motion City drummer level rudimentary rock beats and fills into radio music, his patience and taste could run circles around Travis Barker.
Coral Springs, Florida's New Found Glory had a delightful effort in Forever And Ever x Infinity,
the quartet's expert conclusion to keep things simple really raises the full length far above some of the more recent releases. There are places scattered around the band's discography where the branching of hardcore, radio pop, and other stylistic variations just weren't as cohesive as they are on this record, and the lyrical content, mimicking the sharp cheese of the album title, shamelessly celebrate why these four guys are still winning over pissy hardcore kids after 21 long years.
Eminem crept back into our lives in a quite exceptional return to form with Music To Be Murdered By,
executed by one profound detail that seems to have been missing as of late: Marshall Mathers' incredible talent for fast delivery. The production is sprinkled with competition rate bpms, and revisits from a sneering punk kid Eminem that the listeners have missed since the angry/serious adult Yellinem pushed the character to the wayside. Highest point of the record is "Darkness," a soliloquy of an artist relapsing in a hotel room, with a mid-song reveal that it is actually a POV from the Vegas country show massacre shooter. Em's still got it.
So yes, Alestorm is a band of heavy metal pirates that write as if pirates actually exist. It is stupid as fuck, but god damn it is fun, and the low-end and overall mix of Curse of the Crystal Coconut is outstanding. Titles like "Shit Boat," "Pirate Metal Drinking Crew," and "Wooden Leg, Pt. 2 (The Woodening)" are hilarious, and these mother fuckers have the chops to pull the joke off effortlessly.
The Archenemy Record Company
Boston synthpop champions Freezepop finally delivered on a kickstarter record release, and the result is a 13 song journey of ambient depths and top notch writing. Staggered moog tones, moods, and a lot of fun percussion present the listener with something that is incredibly easy to return to time and time again, all under the commanding vocals of Liz Enthusiasm. "Yes."
15. The Vandals: Live Fast, Diarrhea [reissue]
I'm going to exhaust my raging desire for a new full length (sixteen fucking years?!) to bend the rules a little bit, as the 1995 masterpiece from Orange County's the Vandals celebrated a 25 year anniversary this Summer. Complete with a "diarrhea poo splatter" vinyl repress of the 15 song LP, that took the "new guys" beyond Fear of a Punk Planet
, and into Quackenbush, Freese, Escalante, and Fitzgerald claiming the rewarded title of "permanent lineup" for me. The collaborative efforts of the four band members not only stick out like sore footage of a naked Mutant Boy in his prime(est,) but what makes Live Fast, Diarrhea
untouchable is the fact that all four of them were able to establish staple Vandals standards simultaneously on one release.
Much like many other Fat releases this year, Western Addiction's Frail Bray
was tossed out in the cold with no release shows or tours, thankfully for the San Francisco four piece, the album packs the same punch of any live show, gutting banger after banger, with the average song length around 2:45. The authenticity of the mix, guitar tones, and heavy hitting drums are as timeless as they are unique, directed under commanding direction from vocalist Jason Hall. The band plays with their signature blend of aggressive hardcore, while melding into straight fucking rock and roll riffs that hoist the group far above the bottomless pit that is hardcore. Fantastic record.
It feels so damn good to hear new, unfamiliar riffs from East Bay Ray, and Raising The Stakes
is filled to the brim with them. The record also strips bassist Greg Reeves and Ron "Skip" Greer of their requirements of representing the new lineup of Dead Kennedys, and you can hear the collective sigh of relief, along with a lot of bottled character from the two shining throughout the LP. This is a very fun listen, and EBR's haunting reverb and delay has never sounded better.
Sound Speed Records
Poland's CF98 blew my fucking mind with Dead Inside
this year, I'll break it down. Drummer Adrian Majcherek turns you into his backpack on a fucking roller coaster of skate punk under break-neck vocals from Karolina Duszkiewicz. Gold-rate high leads, rhythm guitars, and bridges zoom you from start to finish and then Ishay Berger of Useless ID high fives you and is like, "I produced these cats, fuck you." 69 word review. Fantastic fucking record, much recommend.
Omaha's Dummy Head Torpedo captured something incredibly special in Dead Set On Malevolence,
an energy level that carries the same taste-your-gums reflexes after a punch to the face, and the self-released album has absolutely no boundaries. Frontman Travis O'Malley fucking howls over progressive punk rock, ragtime, indie rock, rockabilly, and countless other sounds and genres, hanging eleven songs soaked in eerie dramatics up to dry after a shattering outro. The four piece is accompanied with a tasteful collection of auxiliary instruments, horns, keys, and clever post production that overflow the sonic mix with character and singularity, this record kills and you should check it out.
Pittsburgh PA's Anti-Flag owed it to the growing history of punk rock music in sharing their take of a glimpse into the damage that hasn't even peaked regarding four years of Trump, and their twelfth studio album surprisingly carries more themes of hope than anything else. Eleven anthems are baked into the glossiest, most overproduced and pop sensible material in the band's collection, and the big risk pours with reward. It is the same dueling vocals, political themes, and sick bass leads to be expected from the veterans, but with a newer flavor profile that will drag in new listeners to their activism, and stand out significantly in their mighty discography.
The quartet of Bad Cop/Bad Cop took the way of labelmates PEARS, Western Addiction, and others this year, rushing home as international airports were shutting their doors, cancelling months of gigs and preparation, leaving fans with nothing left but a brutal, kickass new record. The Ride
transforms into a quintessential Fat release in minutes, BC's three vocalists at the height of their songwriting, clever song swaps, and acrobatic harmonies. As a straight white father who found out his daughter, a granddaughter of Vietnamese immigrants, would be joining our burning world the same day as "Grab 'Em By The Pussy"-Gate went viral, Bassist Linh Le's "Pursuit of Liberty" shakes my core, such an important song, and a great, great record.
8. NOFX: White Trash, Two Heebs, And A Bean (Live at the Weekend at Fatty's Live Stream)
Turning 37 soon, this is my first live stream review, and this was also the only thing remotely resembling live music in my life since February so bear with me. I found it incredibly fitting, that the best executed NOFX set I would ever watch live, would be from a computer. Fat Mike practiced his bass parts on Instagram in preparation, (NOT normal,) NOFX played FIRST at their own house party, (also not normal,) but what made this incredibly special for me was the look on the member's faces, as they cut from shit-banter to one song after the next, taking a moment to look up at each other and their friends in Fatty's yard like, "Well, this is where we're at right now."
I Surrender Records
Vinnie Caruana of Brooklyn's I Am The Avalanche has had an incredible ability of blending conversational reflection and vivid imagery with both lyrics and delivery since his old band the Movielife was still touring, but Dive
is beyond reproach. The hits seem to pang harder as the album progresses, with the intro of "Earthquake Weather" knocking you completely on your ass, before resolving with the ambient ender "The Morning." "Tokyo" is Caruana's best writing to date, dragging the listener through tragic news, grief, rage, and triumph, fucking epic.
The debut collaboration from Brian Wahlstrom of Scorpions, Joey Cape, One Week Records, and Zach Quinn of PEARS reads like the first time I stumbled across Bad Astronaut, there are these familiar vocalists and song structures, but with no pressure, rules, or general expectations. The result is a hodge-podge of songs written amongst friends, with a lightning bolt of energy to back it up, I'm Separate
swings from new wave to alternative rock, from piano ballad to yacht dance punk, and beyond. Big ups to engineer and ex-Gamit Chris Fogal, who also engineered Quinn's newest PEARS record, and is proving to rise taller than many go-to punk rock engineers in regards to clarity and overall sonic quality.
5. NOFX & Frank Turner: West Coast vs. Wessex
There are boundless benefits to NOFX covering artists that they adore, for one: They simply try harder. Fat Mike has a nasty habit of rushing to "Meh, it's punk!" resulting in questionable songwriting at times. West Coast vs. Wessex
is also the first collection of NOFX songs in two decades where Mike doesn't sing the lyric "O.D." once, and spares us of a few tired chord progressions that always seem to sneak into a song or two. Enter Frank Turner, who pounds out NOFX standards, offering soul and depth in ways that remind us why we fell in love with NOFX when we did, dissolving into the darkest cover of So Long
's "Falling In Love" imaginable, fucking haunting. Great split.
Nothing quite sums up the uncertain beginnings surrounding the Spring of 2020 better than Apathy Cycle bassist/vocalist Gregg Armen's ripped intro to "Premium Healthscare," the first number on a spectacular release riding on a completely cancelled album release tour, all accompanied to aggressive skatepunk about how fucked Americans can expect to be if they get sick. You can't make a story like this up, and the self-titled album is perfect from start to end, pulling nods to everything that has ever been great about Pennywise, Propagandhi, Suicide Machines, and others, mixed squeaky perfect by Andrew Berlin and Bill Stevenson, leave repeat listens and a desire for more Apathy Cycle.
I (like everyone else) was very pleased to find out Chicago's Lawrence Arms would be releasing their first full length in six years, and Skeleton Coast
has proven to be some of the best music the band has presented to date. From the moment the LP kicks in on a razor worn, but tastefully familiar Chris McCaughan TLA intro with "Quiet Storm," the trio slams into standard after standard from the 21 year running group of friends. The juxtaposition of McCaughan's solemn themes and delivery, sew up to bassist Brendan Kelly's sneering track-swaps better than ever, leaving Neil Hennessy to fill in the empty sonic real estate with his heavy hitting and particular drumming.
The Suicide Machines popped out of nowhere with one of their top three-ranked contenders clenched in their fists with Revolution Spring
, a record birthed from a fucking awful fifteen year hiatal storm of negativity, political divide, police body cams, public racism, economic collapse, and worse. Frontman Jay Navarro took a short recess from literally feeding the homeless in Detroit, to writing nearly 30 songs with the quartet, this would later narrow down to the 16 song tracklisting, and the energy does NOT stop. 35 minutes, (engineered by Roger Lima of Less Than Jake and Marc Jacob Hudson of Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers,) stand as proof that our mentors are as involved, necessary, and still dominating an ever-pressing need for activism on this burning planet.
This is a no brainer, Nola's PEARS didn't just release the best punk album of 2020, this album stands with the top contenders of Fat Wreck's discography. The development of flavor and execution is off the charts, Brian Pretus and Erich Goodyear's Descendents level cohesion on guitar and bass, break apart and unify seamlessly, these riffs anchor to the bottomless creativity and organization of drummer Jarret Nathan. Vocalist Zach Quinn's incredible variation in delivery and tone allow the record to bob between heavy thrashers, stupid jokes, and the darkest pockets of his brain in such an honest way that you feel that you've gotten to know him, AND his family (Memaw and Pepaw anyways,) more and more after each return. All underscored by fourteen brilliantly crafted punk rock instrumentals. Instant classic, untouchable fucking record.