Who Rocked The Casbah In 2004
Ever since the leaves started to change I've been hyping "list making time" around the proverbial Punknews office like it was the coming of the Christian apocalypse. There's a zeal us music geeks have for this that I can't quite explain, comes with the occupation I guess. So let's all just sit back and breathe in for a moment, appreciating the sheer mount of nerdy obsessing that's gone into this collection of articles. It was truly a majestic waste of time.
My whole outlook on this exercise has changed in the past few years. I've come to realize that despite the ebb and flow of influences in young punk bands, my personal tastes have never really extended to metal or emo and no amount of hyphenised genre names are going to change that. I've spent more money this year on 60s Jamaican ska and catalog Neil Young releases than I have on anything that starts with "post" or ends in "core." There's always some pressure to give accolades to those few bands that "the scene" has united around, but more often than not these bands aren't the ones I've been interested in.
So, my friends, this really shouldn't be an effort in populism and I make no claims of being any sort of zeitgeist. This is purely an exposition of what music had me singing and dancing like an idiot when no one else was around. So who's breaking new ground? What's shockingly original? Who has the most punishing breakdowns or the most earsplitting emotional screams or the darkest eyeliner? Who deserves to be on this list?
Hell, I couldn't tell you. My name's Adam and I'm a news editor and reviewer for Punknews.org. Welcome to my headspace...
#20. Detonations - Static Vision
April 13 on Alive Records (Bomp)
Spazzed out, feedback drenched, dirty rock'n'roll somewhere on the map between The Stooges and Crime. This New Orleans three piece kicks through a collection of dirty blues and sleazy rock with an unconventional lineup (no bassist but bass strings on a Tele hooked into a bi-amp that's wired through the flux capacitor, or something like that). The bottom spot on the list is always the most contested spot, as it's the last place where the decision is made between who gets mentioned and who doesn't, but Detonations show so much potential that they swaggered right past the competition.
[ ...read the review
#19. Jeffie Genetic and his Clones - Need a Wave
January 20 on Dirtnap Records
The solo side project of Jeffie Pop of Vancouver's New Town Animals is a geeky 27 minute blast of hyperactive new wave punk that should appeal to fans of the Epoxies or The Spits. Jeffie's Ramone-monotone zips along atop a batch of Undertones / Buzzcocks inspired bubblegum. I've read so many reviews of this that have said "fun, but not essential" and in some ways that's true, but I can't deny the fact that this weird little album has been spun far more times this year than most other things.
#18. The New Breed - Off The Beaten Path
October 26 on Thorp Records
I'm really more of a traditionalist when it comes to punk rock, and an honest band playing an old formula with passion will always win me over before a something on the bleeding edge. The New Breed embody that description and with Off The Beaten Path
they deliver the some of the best working class punk rock since McColgan-era Dropkick Murphys. The social and cultural roots of Halifax bleed through the music and give the port city rebels a regional voice that we don't often hear. [ ...read the review
#17. Tangiers - Never Bring You Pleasure
April 27 on Sonic Unyon Records
I've been torn on this record for most of the year. After their rocking garage-punk debut Hot New Spirits half of the band quit, leaving the remaining songwriters with far more freedom to pursue their own ideas. What results is a record that's more eclectic, sounding less like the effort of a full band and more like a raw indie side project. Yet the stellar songwriting of Josh Reichmann and James Sayce shines through, and this year's model Tangiers proves to be just as exciting and memorable as the prior.
#16. Ted Leo / Pharmacists - Shake The Sheets
October 19 on Lookout Records
I wasn't as immediately taken by Shake The Sheets as I was Hearts Of Oak, but it was only a matter of time before Ted Leo's huge hooks and undeniable tunes worked their way deep into my head. Ted's formula of writing honest mod / punk infused rock songs seems pretty obvious on paper, but for whatever reason nobody else is doing it quite as well. With such a steady output of quality material, it's a wonder that Mr. Leo and his ever-able Pharmacists are still being ignored by the larger rock mainstream.
#15. Million Dollar Marxists - Give It A Name
September 7 on Gearhead Records
High octane punk rock'n'roll in the lineage of the New Bomb Turks, Devil Dogs and The Pagans, but out of Ottawa of all places. Beneath the high energy punk emerges a sinister streak that gives the band a range that their style often lacks. It's always nice to find a band so tight and focused on their debut full length, and the Marxists are certainly that. [ ...read the review
#14. The Futureheads - The Futureheads
September 7 on 679 Records / Sire (WMG)
So let's say The Jam were horribly injured in a NASA accident and a crack team of scientists lead by Gang Of Four's Andy Gill boasted "Gentlemen, we can rebuild them. We have the technology..." and thus they installed some crazy robotic time signatures and a cappella harmonies. Soon this new bionic Six Million Dollar Jam went out fighting crime and rocking out in style, only to realize they needed a new moniker for a new millennium, and thus they would be dubbed The Futureheads.
#13. Hot Snakes - Audit In Progress
October 5 on Swami Records
The John Reis / Rick Froberg war machine marches ever forward, proving that there's still unique and exciting music to be made in a stype so content with rehashing past. Audit In Progress shows a sharper, more concise version of the band, but still one that has the energy and drive of a swarm of angry hornets.
#12. Social Distortion - Sex, Love and Rock'n'Roll
September 28 on Time Bomb Records
Not that they're exactly getting soft with age, but Social Distortion shows a lot of heart on their much anticipated comeback album. Mike Ness sounds a little wiser, a little more introspective, and while he's still playing the outlaw greaser, his lyrics hint that he's made some peace with his demons. Sex, Love and Rock'n'Roll
, a remarkably brisk record considering it's hype, sidesteps just about every pitfall that plagues the "comeback album." [ ...read the review
#11. Bedouin Soundclash - Sounding A Mosaic
April 27 on Stomp Records (Union Label Group)
Kingston and reggae go together in most people's minds, but Kingston Ontario probably isn't what they're thinking about. Bedouin Soundclash's mix of dub, reggae and ska is given an eerily captivating treatment by Darryl Jenifer's big spacious production and Sounding A Mosaic
proves to be one of most unique and soulful albums of the year. [...read the review
#10. A.C. Newman - The Slow Wonder
June 8 on Matador Records
Zumpano / New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman proves why he's my favourite songwriter of recent years with a collection of wonderful power-pop songs. Outside of the Pornographers' collaborative environment Newman explores his more eclectic side, but no amount of experimentation can overpower his skill at writing simply classic tunes. Back as a sole vocalist his unique staccato soars and helps make The Slow Wonder as memorable and accomplished as his band's acclaimed work.
#9. The Marked Men - On The Outside
May 18 on Dirtnap Records
Ex-members of The Reds and a current Riverboat Gambler prove to be the heirs to the high-energy punk popsound of the late Exploding Hearts. On The Outside is comprised of tightly wound bursts of classically minded punk rock with soaring vocals. Not a record I expected to rank so highly, but one that's rarely out of my stereo.
#8. The Ponys - Laced With Romance
February 17 on In The Red Records
Chicago's The Ponys clearly share influences with the Pacific-northwest's new wave revivalists but Laced With Romance relies more on hypnotic rhythms and off-kilter vocals then it does hyperactive pop. This is a nervous yet groovy collection of garage-punk, packed with a guitar sound that came straight out of the 60s (in terms of both garage and psychedlia) and a shy weirdness the Buzzcocks would have killed for.
#7. The Frenetics - Grey Veins To The Parking Lot
May 18 on Union 2112 (Union Label Group)
This is the year's best record that you've never heard of. Earnest, textured and wonderfully personal punk rock is what you can expect from this Montreal three piece. There's a very typically Canadian slow-burn happening with this release, but while notoriety has been slow coming fans of the Ted Leo / Elvis Costello vein heartfelt rock music will adore this. Punk rock for adults. [ ...read the review
#6. Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
September 7 on Last Gang Records (Canada) / Vice Records (US)
A two-piece bass and drum combo turned out to make more noise this year than most others. DFA79's debut is bitter, aggressive and sexual, playing a theme of wounded love against a hard rocking, fuzzed out cacophony. This is one of the most distinctive, original and confident debuts in recent memory. [ ...read the review
#5. The Hives - Tyrannosaurus Hives
July 20 on Interscope Records (UMG)
So the Hives released a new record and the public didn't really care, but those of us who were waiting for new material since 2000's Veni Vidi Vicious
were rewarded with a razor sharp batch of the band's trademark garage-punk. There's nary a misplaced second on Tyrannosaurus Hives
and just enough fantastic songs to make it worth the wait. The Hives may jokingly boast about their own greatness, but they're not giving us a lot of reasons to argue otherwise. [ ...read the review
#4. Green Day - American Idiot
September 21 on Reprise (WMG)
I've tried to remain objective about American Idiot, but its coronation by the larger music press is hard to avoid. Still, Green Day wins points for having grandiose ambitions and actually pulling them off. Not that I doubt Green Day's history or ability, hell they were instrumental in introducing punk rock to a generation of kids, but concept albums are shaky ground even for the best bands. American Idiot is a sprawling, playful, socially conscious record that stands as a high point in Green Day's career.
#3. The Libertines - The Libertines
August 31 on Rough Trade (BMG)
I publicly damn NME for the rampant overexposure they gave this band, but I'm secretly hanging on every morsel of gossip and rumor that surrounds them. If you go back and read much of the rock journalism from the 70s you get a real sense that something was happening, that music lived and breathed and inspired. Compared to that, today's mechanical cycle of overblown press releases and business oriented music news seems woefully stale. The Libertines broke that pattern for me. Here is a band with an incredible talent barely holding their lives together. In those few weeks of stability they took a romanticized mix of Clash and Jam influences to oh so brief moments of brilliance, only to be torn apart by pride and vice soon after. There's no story
in most modern rock, but there's story to The Libertines. This is a flawed record, yet one of the most interesting of the year. [ ...read the review
#2. Bad Religion - The Empire Strikes First
June 8 on Epitaph Records
It's been said that a Republican administration is good for punk rock, as nothing quite stokes the fires of confrontation like social conservatism. In Bad Religion's case, the more public officials lean towards theocracy, the more relevant the lyrical message becomes. The band's Process
line-up has solidified and grown tighter, and while I adored that comeback record this one is far more focused and consistent. Bad Religion's a band that demands context, so while over the years they've maintained a high level of quality it takes that external societal factor to really set them off. For better or worse, 2004 provided that in spades. [ ...read the review
#1. The Briefs - Sex Objects
June 29 on BYO Records
The Briefs are one of the best punk rock bands in the world right now. I'm not talking about hardcore- or metal- or pop- or any other hyphenated subgenre, I'm talking about punk as back-to-basics rock music that manages to be simultaneously political, absurd, snotty, confrontational and fun as hell. To call The Briefs simply `77 revivalists is a gross oversimplification, for while their music calls to mind classics by the Adverts, Rezillos and Buzzcocks, their energy and lyricism is firmly directed at the here and now. Despite claiming the same influences, through intelligence, wit, and near perfect hooks The Briefs' songwriting is worlds better your run-of-the-mill street punk nostalgia act. With the fantastic Sex Objects
and re-releases of Hit After Hit
and Off The Charts
, no band has spent more time in my stereo this year. [ ...read the review
The bottom third of my list from last year looks pretty flimsy in retrospect, but this year there are so many other records that I'd like to give their due. This includes hard rocking discs like SNFU's In The Meantime and In Between Time
, Leatherface's Dog Disco
, Les Hell On Heels' self titled debut, Descendents' comeback Cool to Be You
, The Bellrays' finally released Red, White & Black
and A Wilhelm Scream's breakthrough Mute Print
. There's been a few really satisfying roots / Americana releases as well, notably The Sadies' Favourite Colours
and The Weight's Ten Mile Grace
. The new self-titled album from The Cure
was better than I expected, as was Who Killed...
The Zutons, The Cinch's Shake If You Got It
and the Von Bondies' Pawn Shoppe Heart
Of course, special mention must be given to Brian Wilson's finally realized opus
. While I enjoy it immensely, I haven't had it long enough to really place it in this year's list. This is one of those rare projects that has so much history and rumour surrounding it that it's something I truly can't place in the context of any one year. Needless to say, this is an essential listen.
Top 5 Eps
#5. Controller.Controller - History
February 24 on Paper Bag Records
Female fronted death-disco. I'm not sold on the idea that Public Image Ltd is suddenly so damn influential, but this is my favourite band of the "dance punk" batch.
#4. The Slackers - International War Criminal
June 8 on Thought Squad
Political protest and reggae has a fine history and The Slackers make their most overt attempt at it. I've always found political pop far more interesting and influential than political hardcore, and the Slackers have delivered in fine form.
#3. Unsacred Hearts - Unsacred Hearts
on Serious Business Records
New York City garage-punks deeply in love with their late 70s forbearers. Unsacred Hearts' debut has more character, range and potential than most. A strong first effort if there ever was one. [...read the review
#2. Greg MacPherson - Maintenance
February 10 on G7 Welcoming Committee Records
This acoustic EP is a collection of Springsteen-by-way-of-Strummer working class protest songs, featuring variations on Greg's past studio material along with a Clash cover. Contained is the only official recording of the phenomenal "Company Store." [ ...read the review
Top Live Records
#1. The Lashes - The Stupid Stupid
August 3 on Lookout Records
There must be something in the water in Seattle lately. The Lashes craft four of the most perfect punk-pop songs in recent memory. At times sounding like a revved up version of The Cars, The Lashes prove every bit as infectious and memorable as their influences with tunes like "Death By Mixtape" and "It's Your Party." If the band maintains this level of quality on their upcoming full length, they'll be atop the main list come December `05. [ ...read the review
The Slackers & Friends (with Glen Adams and Susan Cadogan) - Upsetting Ernesto's
on Music Machine Records
That this is pretty much available as an import only just boggles my mind, as it's easily one of the best releases of the year and should be a part of any ska fan's collection. The Slackers return to the location of their earlier live album, only this time with The Upsetters' Glen Adams and lovers rock star Susan Cadogan. The collaborations are golden, as are the band's reinterpretation of some of their best-loved songs.
Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken
October 9 on Mint Records (Canada) / Anti- (US)
Alright, I admit it: I've been in love with Neko Case for a good three or four years now. This collection of live recordings from her tours supporting Blacklisted features the ever amazing Sadies as her backing band and 11 brisk but wonderfully performed originals and covers.
The Clash - London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition
September 21 on Epic/Legacy (Sony BMG) originally December 14, 1979 on Epic
This needs no explanation. I've purchased this record at least 4 times now in it's various incarnations, but this set makes it worthwhile with the fascinating Vanilla Tapes and the DVD of studio footage. Epic's Legacy line has a history of remarkable packaging and liner notes and this is no exception. That I can ponder over early versions of my favourite songs and watch footage of Guy Stevens throwing ladders at Mick Jones makes me happy to no end.
2004 Mix Tape
Various Artists - CBC Radio 3 Sessions Vol 01
June 15 on CBC Record
The first collection of studio sessions from CBC Radio 3 is a knockout. This features incredible otherwise unavailable tracks by The Constantines, The Weakerthans' John K. Samson, Hot Hot Heat, The New Pornographers, The Sadies, Rheostatics, The Organ and other luminaries of the Canadian indie scene. With beautiful packaging and insightful liner notes this is an essential release.
Top Word I've Overused In Reviews This Year
- The Smugglers - Pirate Ships
- The Briefs - Orange Alert
- Green Day - Saint Jimmy
- The Slackers - Keep It Simple
- Unsacred Hearts - Stuck Inside a Mobile Home with the Mansion Blues Again
- The Hives - is for Brutus
- Your Enemies Friends - Back Of A Taxi
- Beastie Boys - An Open Letter To NYC
This also wins the award for "Best use of a Dead Boys sample in 2004." "Sonic Reducer" has one of the all time greates openings, so to hear it looped here is a lot of fun.
- The Lashes - It's Your Party
- The Libertines - The Man Who Would Be King
- Detonations - See You Ride It
- The Von Bondies - C'mon C'mon
- Chris Murray - Let There Be Peace
- The Marked Men - Gone Away
- John K. Samson - Utilities (CBC Session)
- Tangiers - Ro Ro Roland
- Bad Religion - All There Is
- The Ponys - Virus Human
- Greg MacPherson - Company Store
Greg's song about his ancestors in the Sydney Nova Scotia coal mines. My own great grandfather worked in the same area laying explosives in the tunnels under the Atlantic. It was just about the most dangerous and horrible job I can imagine, so Greg's lyrics resonate with me.
- The New Breed - Smoking Gun
- Leatherface - Hoodlum
- The Ends - Pucker Up
- Million Dollar Marxists - Le Shake
- Death From Above 1979 - Blood On Our Hands
- Despistado - A Stirstick's Prediction
- Morrissey - The First Of The Gang To Die
- A Wilhelm Scream - The Rip
- SNFU - Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump
- Jeffie Genetic and His Clones - Records Go Round
- The Clash - Heart & Mind
The material on the Vanilla Tapes is obviously of lesser quality than what ended up on London Calling, but to hear unreleased Clash tunes is a rare treat.
Hey, I've got a thing for album length and sequencing. If your album's much more than half an hour long you better have a damn good reason for it.
Top Word That Should Be Banned From Use
Pretension / Pretentious / Pretentiousness
I'm guilty of using it too, but I've read far too many reviews and comments by folks that just pull this word out of their ass as a synonym for "I don't like this record" regardless of the presence of any real ostentatious qualities or not. You're ruining a perfectly fine word, you bastards.
What I'm Looking Forward To In 2005
Next year's looking good already with releases like Turbonegro's Babylon Forever
, Queens Of The Stone Age's Lullabies To Paralyze
and Mando Diao's Hurricane Bar
. Members of the aforementioned Marked Men have a project coming up called High Tension Wires and the available demo from the record Send A Message
is excellent. I'm also anticipating releases from The Dead 60s, The Constantines, The Epoxies, The Bellrays and Cuff The Duke among others.
Of course no retrospective effort would be complete without some respect paid to those we lost, and this year I wrote far more obituaries than I ever anticipated. So many of the folks who passed on this year were those who laid the foundations of the scene we're following. These were legends who supported and fostered non-mainstream music in times or locals where it had no champions, men like ska/reggae producer Clement "Sir Coxsone'' Dodd, Bomp Records founder Greg Shaw and BBC DJ John Peel. Among the musicians we lost were incalculably influential figures like Ray Charles and Johnny Ramone. We've also seen the loss of many members of the early punk scenes, including Brittley Black of Crime, Robert Quine of the Voidoids and Arthur Kane of the New York Dolls among others.
Contend upon a rail of pain for just a pail of rain
Well that's my view of 2004, I'd like to thank all of you for sticking with us and participating in the site. Without your submissions, reviews and comments none of this would be possible.