Do They Owe Us a Living?
You don’t need me to tell you what a chaos whirlwind this year was. You don’t need me to tell you that the fight isn’t over. You don’t need me to tell you how to get through. You know it already.
So, here’s what I will tell you. Punk rock is the best. Punk rock is the frikkin’ best. Punk rock RULES, baby! It’s the thing that speaks to my heart and my mind, and frankly, I listened to more punk this year than anything else by far. How many people’s plans were laid waste this year? How many tours were scrapped? How many recording sessions were postponed? How many people lost a lot of cash? And despite all of that, how much awesome punk made it through the meat grinder. Like, a lot, man. I’m not saying it was worth the pain to get here, but at least a silver lining is we got so much killer music that was a result of Chaos 2020 and music that simply slid right into this years soundtrack perfectly. The new stuff, the old stuff- punk rock is the steel of art and it survives, and even gets stronger, with each passing year. Just check out the list below.
And like a lot of you, my plans for this year were thrown into disarray. Things did NOT go exactly a planned. it sucks, but that’s life. For like the fourth year running, I did not make good on my commitment to do more long form interviews and more in-depth pieces. ARG! However, I did get to do some really cool stuff. I got to sit down with Jello and have a VERY wide ranging conversation. I got to dive into the inner works of World/Inferno Friendship Society. It was a real highlight for me when I got to walk through the entire Crass discography with four members of the band. We also got to do a massive episode of the punknews podcast for episode 500 where we talked to many, many artists including Keith Morris, Jesse Michaels, Blag, and, um, Daryl Hall, and, um, Jackie the Jokeman! Also, on that tip, we did another fun Christmas episode which is always a blast.
Anyways, enough of that. Here are some cool records:
The 20 Best LPs of the Year (Non-Melvins Division)
Static Shock recordsI'm not gonna lie. I was, and frankly still am, on the fence about Chubby and the Gang. On one hand, it's basically just a mix of 999, Cocksparrer and Uk Subs... but on the ther hand- what a mix! I can;t deny it. This album rocks from start to finish and highlights everything that was great about the second wave of UK punk. You can either lie to yourself and try to be too cool for school (like I was) or you can give into three-chord perfection (like I did).
Captain Crook RecordsSometimes a record is so astoundingly bizarre, you can't help but include it on some sort of list if only because it's so whacked out that literally, no song in the history of music has any provenance with regards to such a confounding specimen. This cassette, which is an entire Ramonescore concept album about a grown man being enraged because he doesn't like the latest version of My Little Ponies, is just that kind of release.
Static Shock RecordsDaaaang! This band is hella jacked up and hella pissed off. Fowling in the great tradition of the bands on the Crass label, this Aussie band is savage, sometimes discordant, and always ripping out the throat of the modern political system. I also like how they pronounce "sooper-marr-kats!"
17. Clear Channel: Hell
Self-releasedClear Channel's hell is very cold. Echo-y bass, spaced-out drums, and ghostly wails fill every crevice of this haunting release. This is masterful post-punk that never gets too artsy for the message. Also, not only is "Bad Bitch International" a slammer, but it is mega funny. Interesting that a release named after the netherworld is so focused on earthly concerns.
Self-releasedBi-Product are obviously influenced by the first wave of West coast punkers, but their music is resoundingly immediate. "Up my skirt" kicks forward like Angry Samoans but its about dudes being creepy at the shopping mall. The twist is, though, the band often takes serous topics and puts a funny twist on them all while keeping the core message serious- except, when they drop into songs that are dreadfully serious,like "I got raped," which not only wipes the smiles off everyone's face, but really makes you sit down and think about what they have to say.
15. Danzig: Danzig Sings Elvis
Cleopatra RecordsAfter literal decades of rumors, the King of Horror punk finally pays complete homage to the King. But more importantly, Danzig takes some real chances here. Where he could have just whipped out 10 muzak versions of Elvis hits, he digs deeps and pulls out some semi-rarities and then completely deconstructs them into sparse piano ballads. Even when you think you have Glenn pinned down, he jumps out from under the track and sides down yet another twist of cain. There are rumors that this may, in fact, be the final Danzig LP. It's not a bad way to cap off one of the greatest legacies in music.
14. Soft Palms: Soft Palms
Everloving RecordsThe project of Julia of the Coathangers and Scott Montoya, Soft Palms are decidedly trippier than the punk as hell CHs. Instead the band crafts star-scape music that often approaches the astral texture of Pink Floyd. This is all while Julia cuts her surrealist lyrics that paint ornate, but oft freaky, pictures. And that doesn't even mention "Baddy" which reminds me of Tattoo You, which would put them on this list in of itself.
LBH RecordsAt this point, we should stop referring to Duncan Reid as "formerly of the Boys," because, at this point, his newest band stands on its own with no problem Don't Blame yourself is 14 tracks of power-pop-punk-perfection. It's the group's catchiest, and deepest, release to date. Somehow, this gang has made divorce and death sound as whimiscal as the town fair.
12. Bacchae: Pleasure Vision
Get Better RecordsNow here is a record for me! A nice chunk of straight up punk rock, some dance-y post punk, a little CBGB's pop by way of Blondie, and voila, an maaaad excellent album. The best part is that Bacchae lock some heady concepts into sing-along bubble gum rhythms so that I'm groovin' only to find out that I am also contemplating the ramifications of living outside the norm in the contemporary world. Like, whoa! Like WHOA.
Bargain bin recordsHere's the thing about the Chats- I don't trust 'em. If you look carefully enough, the band is actually a major label band hat has a shell "indie label" acting as their backer... to give them some credibility, I guess? And don't get me wrong- I am not anti-band-on-major-label. (Chumbawamaba are the greatest) But, I am anti-major-label-trying-to-hide-in-the-shadows... the fact that they feel that they have to hide is enough to make me suspicious. So, you would think that I'd just write this band off. And, I sort of wanted to to, except... well... this band ROCKS. This band really, really, really rocks. They rock so hard that I have to ignore my gut instinct and give into the pure power of Aussie riffage. I just can't help myself.
10. Run the Jewels: RTJ4
Jewel RunnersIn the most fiery year of politics since who knows when, Killer Mike and El-P come out blasting. Yet, this isn't a straight political screed. The duo blends jokes, diversions, and straight up style around their commentary on socio-political conditions. Also, the beats hit hard as hell and the lyrics hit harder. (The Animaniacs reference is cool, too). There was a fear of RTJ running out of steam but album number four- but shame on us for doubting them. This record is their hottest one yet.
Def JamI mean, what with the Chuck D/Flav battle, and what with the disappointing Enemy Radio album, I thought PE was done and worn out. Shame on me! PE is NEVER down and out and just as the band was on the brink of destruction, they rallied, converted the digital Desert album into a new beast, and released what is simply their best album since the early '90s. There are few groups as powerful as PE at full strength, and apparently, just before the grid goes down, PE is sure to power up. What a comeback!
EtienneIn what might be his most Moz move yet, Morrissey titles his album in reference to the last five controversial years of his career and then... aside from the title track, cuts an album that focuses in abstract tales of love, heartbreak, and counter-culture. Moz keeps dodging the wrecking ball - narrowly, and each time it gets closer and closer- but you can't deny that his voice and song craft are in top form. Dog is among his best LPs to date, which was quite refreshing following the last two run-of-the-mill releases. Still, the dude has been saying some whacked out stuff lately, and yet again, we face that eternal quandary- if an artist is really messed up, can we still appreciate his art in that lens? It's no doubt on purpose that the cover of the album is a blurry photograph of the crooner himself.
Burger RecordsThe ExBats are the perfect band and this is their perfect album. The bands sums up their love of AM pop, punk, and garage rock and cut a record that projects their wonderfully askew vision- a song about being horny for Charlie Watts? Check. A song about rumbling with the doorman at a club? You bet. A song about reveling in the tears of someone who dumped you? Oh yeah. The band is funny and honest at the same time. This band just keeps getting better and better and better. Kick ass.
Thrift Store RecordsI knew the new Spits record was going to be good... I just didn't expect it to be this good. This is pure robotic nihilism, fury, and depression. The Spits get in, wreck the place up, and then cruise to the next demolition zone. It took the band 9 years to record 17 minutes, and every second was worth it.
Mission Two EntertainmentWell, it's settled. Harley Flanagan is the champ. The first Cro-Mags album in twenty years is astoundingly succinct, compact, punchy, and moving. It's packed with Harley's blind rage- it's almost all driving bass and Harley's bark... except for the few times when he reflects inward, instead spitting outward. Though, I'm glad he spits outward, too. This is the exact Cro-Mags record fans have wanted since AoQ and, frankly, this record is among the best comeback albums in all of music history.
3. KRS-One: The Block Party
Self-releasedOnce again, the blastmaster proves that he is the most dangerous emcee. This mixtape is KRS just going crazy for twenty minutes straight while Kid Capri provides golden era beats and sharp scratches. There's no pause, no guest spots, no meaningless ad-libs- just raw lyrics and hard beats. THIS is the real Hip Hop.
2. Danbert Nobacon / Kira Wood Cramer / Axis of Dissent: Mesmerica - Expect a Circus
Self-releasedHOLY MOLY. LIKE WOW, MAN. You can tell Danbert has had this spinning around his dome for a while and frankly, it's one of his greatest works to date. Roughly speaking, it's a complex concept album about a future where untethered capitalism has destroyed the world. Scary that most of the songs could fit in the here and now. That being said, despite the gloom, the album itself is a whimsical ride that drops into the heavy duty here and there. "Building a Wall," the celtic-turns-to-reggae epic might be the best track Danbert has ever done. Kira and the rest of the Dissent crew help create this version into a massive powerful, fantastically intricate album. There's a reason when you bring up Danbert at an anarcho-punk show, everyone goes silent before whispering "...Danbert!" like he's some kind of deity (A position which he would surely reject.) This record alone would cause that reaction. And then, when you facotr in his entire career... it's like, Damn, dude, DAMN!
The 10 Best EPs of the Year (Non-Melvins Division)
10. L.A. Machina: Welcome to the Machina
9. Joe Jack Talcum: Word Salad
This and That TapesJoe Jack Talcum goes on a space-y trip! While he maintains his warped sense of humor and acoustic melodies, this EP is supported by a galactic feel that approaches the mind expansion of Pink Floyd at points. Joe Jack has mastered the off-kilter singer songwriter vibe, so it's thrilling to hear him push his unique view point out to more distanced regions.
8. TI-83: Demo [cassette]
self-ReleasedShort, savage, synth-punk. TI-83 have great promise, merging a frantic slash of hardcore with the weirder edge of the classic No Wave bands. That's a combo that does, in fact, compute.
Giving GrooveThe Dead Milkmen take on the synth-pop hit by Heaven 17 and, surprisingly, morph it into a ska jam half way through. This release underscores everything that is great about this band: political commentary, humor, a willingness to do whatever the hell they want, and we-don't-care-what-you-think-we-should-do attitude. Honestly, it seems like the band is rejuvenated and revved up and ready to rock. I DO need the Milkmen's groove thang, now more than ever.
6. OCDPP: 7" LP
self-releasedCassie Ramone and pals kick out a straight up punk frickin' rock EP. The tracks are sort, hard, and self-destructive. Yet, as with most Cassie works, there is a sort of cosmic contemplation underneath the seemingly simple songs. I don't if this was a one-and-done kind of deal or not, but let's hope this band records a twelve-inch LP to accompany the 7-inch one here.
5. L.O.T.I.O.N.: Alphabrain
4. Catbite / Omnigone: Catbite x Omnigone [EP]
Bad TimeSka newbies Catbite team up with ska vet Adam Davis (as Omnigone) and the pair each other's tune and do another cool cover. The ouroboros on the cover of this release really is true. There is no second, third, or fourth wave ska- ska exists in all times, in all dimensions, in all phases at once, as an unwavering force of goodness. This EP is just a piece of that mighty power.
3. Noun: Crucified [EP]
Let's PretendMaissa Paternoster latest Noun maneuver is big, and loud, and textured. She paints her psychedelic worlds on top of soaring and thundering guitar lines. Music just explodes out of some people. Paternoster is one of these supernovas and Crucified is the resulting stardust. If that's all too frilly-dilly for you, I'll just say this- this EP rocks, it's just weird enough, and Paternoster sings good.
Crash Assailant RecordsWhenever I think Crazy and the Brains have reached their height, they top themselves. Juice is one Juuuiiccccyyy release. The band rocks, has killer riffage, and abstract. At one point, singer Christoph Jesus opens up and talks about how quitting his pizza delivery gig was his stairway to truly living. At another, guitarist Ernest and Bassist Brett lock together in a Johnny Thunders smash. At yet another, xylophonist Jeff and drummer Jon just beat the hell out of everyone else in the room. This is one of the greatest punk bands of all time and they're not even a decade old. TRUTH.
1. Classics of Love: World of Burning Hate
Self-releasedJesse Michaels returns with a distinctively Negative Mental Attitude mindset. The world is messed up really bad right now. It looks like the ultra-rich and massive corporations are siphoning up power at an alarming rate. There is no sunny picture here. There is no "love conquers all" here. There is just rage and howling. Jesse Michaels brilliantly expresses this to some of the best hardcore in ages. The man is able to condense multitudes of shades of feeling shitty into five hard hitters that are gone in a blink of an eye. And yet, through the bleakness, the feeling of pure, negative rage almost feels good, like it could be transmuted into something useful... THIS is the real punk rock. THIS is what makes me feel alive.
The 5 Best Melvins releases of the Year (Melvins Division)
5. Dale Crover: Piso Mojado
Joyful NoiseDale records five experimental noise tracks on a "five sided record." I don't need to say anything else.
4. King Buzzo: Six Pack
Amphetamine ReptileBuzz Osborne covers Black Flag. I don't need to say anything else.
3. King Buzzo: Gift of Sacrifice
2. Melvins: White Lazy Boy
Amphetamine ReptileThe Melvins and Mudhoney cover Black Flag's "My War" and Neil Young. I don't need to say anything else.
1. Melvins: Mullet
Amphetamine ReptileThe Melvins warp the Beach Boys' "I get around" into "I fuck around." I don't need to say anything else.
Other Rad Stuff from this Year
5. Trash Knife: EP/EP
FDHOne of the greatest modern Philly punk bands releases a comp that has all their fiercest tracks. This is raw punk at its most barbed. I can't wait until live shows start again so I can see tis band just destroying the stage again.
Pine HillThe nearly forgotten post-Amebix band Zygote gets its first proper North American release. This excellent reissue shows that the band was unfairly overlooked and also shows how they predated the thrash/crust combo that would continue through to this day. It's fantastic to have this album restored to its proper glory.
Zagava booksAn extensive overview of Blinko's stunning visual work. You will not find more pen strokes per inch anywhere else, guaranteed. To view this book is to gaze into the maw of madness itself. Also, it looks really, really cool!
Perhaps the greatest hardcore record ever gets its best presentation to date. The sound is spectacular. The liner notes are fun and informative. The bonus material gives an idea of what early CJ sounded like live. If Keith had just recorded this record and nothing else, he would have been on punk's Rushmore. The fact that he ALSO recorded Wild in the Street, Golden shower of Hits, Nervous Breakdown AND OFF! is nearly incomprehensible.
Crass / Southern
Finally Finally Finally! One of the greatest bands ever gets a complete, skillful, informative reissue. This is the best presentation of Crass' music ever and it is done with an amazing level of skill and care- as overseen by Penny Rimbaud himself. This not only one of the most important catalogues in usic, it is now also one of the best, if not the best, reissue series ever released. COMPLETELY ESSENTIAL.
Well?… Do They?Well, who knows what’s in store for 2021. But, at least, there are some really cool releases to look forward to- Melvins will release a new album in their 1983 incarnation and the tracks released so far are some of their punkest tracks in years. Meanwhile, Melvs’ Dale Crover also has a solo album ready to be released and what I have heard sounds excellent! Blag of the Dwarves has hinted at a solo LP and I am psyched for that- it could sound like anything! DFL has hinted at new recordings, so I am pumped for that. Philly’s Dark Web has a new LP coming up it’s sure to be a raging slab of robo-punk rage. Alice Cooper has a new album out next year, centered on Detroit and the few tracks have been rough and dirty. That’s sounding good to me. They’ve been quiet murmurings of Rudimentary Peni recordings and that would be AMAZING. Fucked Up has hinted at stuff here and there and they are about due for some awesomeness. Hopefully, the excellent Rolling Stones and Bowie archival releases continue as those each have been ace. Also, Crud is a Cult announced a reissue and I will snap that up as soon as it becomes available. Also, Dead Milkmen…?! How about some stuff, ok?!
Otherwise, I don’t have much advice for ya. Do what ya gotta do to get through. If you have spare time, make the most of it. If you’re having a hard time, just keep going. Let’s all do our best to make this new year an amazing, awesome year. Let’s all do our best to be cool about COVID, get those numbers down, and finally get some live music again. Listen to your heart and mind. Don’t listen to anyone who has it “all figured out” because they don’t. Do what you think is right. Let’s get this ship righted so I can see you all at Circle Jerks and Madness in Vegas! Punknews, HEY!!!! HOOO!!!!! LEEEET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!