2020 sucked. I mean, it didn’t start off sucking, but it sure wound up that way. Within the first 45 days of the year, I had already been to more shows than all of 2019, and crossed off a few bucket list shows, as well as interviewing Days N Daze, a band that I hold near and dear. Plus, I had tickets to some amazing festivals and shows that basically had me seeing music nearly every weekend from January to June. Then it happened. It started off as a joke, in some of my friend groups. Someone coughs and you hear jokes “Oh no, you got the Rona!” Then bands started dropping from Folk Shit Up, the festival that was putting 50 bands that I was dying to see on one stage. Just a few at first, but as days went by, and the show approached, more and more. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like I was willing to go, not with the changes in the news from a mysterious spectre to a fucking demon staring down anyone who dared leave their house. It was scary times. No toilet paper was only the first concern, followed quickly by no jobs for almost half the country. I didn’t leave my house for over 75 days. Then the live streams started coming (Shout out to Coping with Dystopia for over 20 of them since this started), and various stores began opening. While it didn’t feel “normal” it was closer. Then George Floyd, and our world was shaken up again. For good damn reason. Then protests, more shootings, and election that made me believe we were about to have a civil war. Now we’re here, heading to 2021, with a new president, a potential vaccine, and questioning disposition regarding what “normal” will be in the near future. The only thing that kept anything “normal” for me, was the music. We still got some killer releases from killer bands. This year, I specifically lowered the number of artists and releases that I included, as I wanted you all to know that these were THE releases of 2020 for me. It seemed every week we got a single, or an EP or an album, with artists trying to grab any income they could, from anywhere they could, without their normal touring income, and because of that, I included more independent/underground bands as well, and I definitely recommend you supporting bands like this, so that we don’t lose them. If you like any of the bands here, definitely throw them a few bucks for their art, and try to do it on Bandcamp Friday. Without further ado….
Top 5 Eps of 2020
Below are my top 5 EPs and/or Compilations of 2020. There were hundreds of EPs I could have included, but these were extremely special to me, and because of that, I wanted to limit it to these 5.
Folk Punk Archivist
Luke, the Folk Punk Archivist, a one man project dedicated to cataloguing and archiving the underground folk punk scene, brought us an old recording of Pat “The Bunny” Schneeweis under his moniker, Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. While this was recorded over a decade ago, it is the first time that near anyone was able to hear these tunes, as it was a first release save a CD-R that was only handed around the Rhinelander, WI scene. Pat may have left the scene after Ramshackle Glory called it quits, but his legend lives on with this release, and last year’s re-release of the Wingnuts album and the original Johnny Hobo recordings. It still amazes me that one person could leave such a legacy, and then just disappear, but it almost makes it more special.
Yet another disappointing reminder of what could have been if this crazy world didn’t get a bit more crazy in 2020. The record is a soundtrack of all the bands I thought I might get to see in 2020, but couldn’t because they just DIDN’T PLAY. Argggh! Oh well, we did get a hell of a lot of cool live streams, and some interesting drops from bands we all love, like this one!
3. NOFX: The Decline Live at Red Rocks
Fat Wreck Chords
This is my all time favorite song, and likely will never be displaced. I was out on my own, being an “adult” when the original released, and there is something about the time and place that make this song so fucking special to me. Take that, add a couple decades and an orchestra, throw in a deadly virus thats spreading like wildfire and shutting everyone and everything down, and the result is this one song release that happens to my 3rd favorite EP of the year.
Tent City Records
Escape from the Zoo are by far my favorite band of this modern era of music, and happened to be the last band I got to see before the world decided to shut down, so its no surprise that this release finds its way into my year end release, even with a reduced number of records being included. Jesse Sendejas has a direct line into my emotional triggers, and it seems every release he drops opens something new up within me. Oh, and the Public Serpents side shreds as well!
Michigan’s Rent Strike are fucking amazing. I can’t put it anymore plainly than that, and following their seminal Folk Punk Masterpiece IX, this EP really saved my sanity more than a few times during the pandemic. Dark, witty, and beautiful, this record is a must listen for anyone calling themselves fans of the genre.
Top 10 of LPs of 2020
And now below, my top 10 LP’s for this obnoxiously depressing year we’ve called 2020. While the year sucked, these 10 records definitely DO NOT SUCK!
Angry and Anxious
Off with their heads has been an inspirational band for me for some years. When I need to remind myself why I don't drink anymore, I throw on "Nightlife", and suddenly the urge to get hammered fades away. Character hasn't cemented itself into my rotation, but its their when I need it, and I'm sure it will be needed before this pandemic finds its way to a close. Their music and lyrics just have a way of putting things into perspective like few other bands can, and while I definitely loved the record, it did eek onto my top 10.
9. Nana Grizol: South Somewhere Else
Nana Grizol was shared with me by a friend of mine, Zara, who I regularly discuss both Folk Punk and Anarchist political views, and it was the greatest gift she could have ever given me. It took me some time to really get in to all of their stuff, but I had an immediate soft spot for this, their newest, record. I had always been a fan of Defiance, OH, so one would think it would be an easy step, but it wasn't until I heard this record that I "got it", and boy and am I happy that I did. Definitely check these guys out when you have some free time.
Big Noise Music Group, LLC
What can I say, I'm a sucker for 90's skate/ska punk legends. The album was no where near a perfect release, but it was fun, and sometimes all you really want. It would take Goldfinger literally recording themselves sleeping for an album to not get me going, and they did a whole lot more than that, brining together their years of punk rock royalty with just a splash of pop, and a whole lot of fast paced tunes to keep your head bobbing, or skanking when the track calls for it.
I'm likely cheating the rules by putting this album in my top ten, but if I'm being honest, there wasn't enough AMAZING new and original stuff that released in this shithole of year, and I feel like this album was original enough to be recognized. Plus, I'm a fucking NOFX Stan, so try telling me I can't find a way to include them in my top ten for the year, and I'll tell you all the ways you can screw yourself. This was a fun record, and all original recordings, so there.
Rosenstock is great. This album is great. Probably even deserves to be ranked a little higher than where I'm putting it, but with some of the releases that really shook my world this year, he was edged out of my top 5. That said, he doesn't need the attention of Punknews's Folk Punk obsessed writer who tends to like bands that NO ONE else likes (save the cool kids, you know who you are), and I do believe him not needing my attention played an important role in where he ended up. That said, it was a killer record, with amazing timing in its secretive release. If you haven't yet, give it a spin.
5. HappyHappy: L'appel Du Vide.
HappyHappy is an artist constantly reinventing themselves, and while I prefer the their self-title work, this album was a bit of a shocker. Veering away from the grief, angst, and rage that existed on their prior works, and actually writing something "Happy" took a moment for me to accept, but when I did, I couldn't get enough. While I will always gravitate to the darker side, it was a good feeling to know that this artist grew out of his dark period and didn't lose the sarcasm, wit, and pop sensibilities that had been such a driving force in the music delivered prior. Lyrically, I don't think anyone touches Daymon in the current folk punk scene, and this release left little to be desired.
Crow Cavalier appear for the 2nd time in as many years on my end of the year lists, and I'd be shocked if they didn't appear here with every future release, as it seems they've been able to decimate every expectation with every new step they take. While they're a more morbid side of the Folk Punk spectrum than I am drawn to in most cases, the sheer musicality that they've made their brand keeps me coming back. The band makes you want to grab your partner and start waltzing to their tunes, and then with flawless adjustments, you're ready to break anything in sight as you thrash along to next tune that hurls its way at your eardrums with violent audacity. It's fucking great!
3. Days N Daze: Show Me the Blueprints
Days N Daze are such an important band to me. I discovered this band as I was, unknowingly, driving to see my sister for the last time before she passed away, and I didn't know why at the time, but I ended up having an unhealthy obsession with a few of their earliest tracks for the entire time I was mourning. After reflection, upon this release several years after her departure, I realized that the lyrical messages provided by Whitney and Jesse were the same conversations that she and I had been having for years prior, as she battled with her own demons in the shape of alcoholism; the demons eventually won with her, but with this album we see Jesse and Whitney, metaphorically, beating their own demons. It showed real growth from the pair, and while it is no where near their best record ever, it is definitely one of the best records of the year.
Get Dead blew me away this year with their newest release. I had been talking to Sam for a few weeks prior to the release, in preparation for my interview with him, and I think all of that communication, and getting to know him, built this record up for me in ways that I wasn't expecting, and the album FUCKING DELIVERED! Only the second LP I've ever reviewed that I gave 5 stars to, and I don't regret the distinction one bit. They continue to grow with every release, and I cannot wait to see them when live shows start happening again!
It's easy to get caught up in a release that has been on your wish list for YEARS, and generally, it ends one of two ways. A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT, which almost always happens, or in this case, and extremely rarely, the masterpiece that you've been waiting 7 years for. Chatterbox delivered with this masterpiece of folk punk orchestration and has left me with one album playing anytime I have music playing since its release, and I foresee this one going down in history as a genre defining album. For fans of folk punk, this is a can't miss album!