Aubin is a news editor and reviewer at Punknews.org -ed
It was a pretty remarkable year in a lot of ways, good and bad. Lots of smaller labels have been really taking chances and signing genuinely exciting bands; there is more than one release on my list this year coming from a label that I didn't expect a year ago and I know next year will feature a host of bands and albums that I had never heard of. Punk will only die if it stagnates and with that in mind, I don't expect to be yelling "punk is dead" for a good long time.
While I don't fault Against Me! and Anti-Flag for joining the majors this year, it seems a little sad to see MBA's and CA's thinking of those bands as a "sound investment" rather than something personal. The problem with signing to major labels is not about money or success, it's the idea that you've admitted that your friends can't serve you well enough. In the end though, it's the music that matters and I have faith that as long as they're given room, both band's will continue to impress.
That said, I had some truly memorable musical experiences this year; while the rise of soft-rock-masquerading-as-emo has certainly taken root, it was truly refreshing to see the groundswell's at shows by Bad Religion, NOFX and Against Me! this year; it may seem like soft rock has taken over every label, but clearly there is still a large and vocal audience for music that you can't listen to with your parents. The fact that Kid Dynamite's reunion set message boards ablaze didn't hurt either.
A few too many great bands quit this year; Rocket From The Crypt, The Hot Snakes, Bear vs. Shark, Q and Not U, Troubled Hubble but a Lifetime reunion, however temporary does lessen the blow a little. A semi-new book from Kurt Vonnegut made me smile too. The Best Albums of the Year (As Read By Children)
Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
Despite being burdened by endless comparisons to Gang of Four and Mission of Burma, Bloc Party set their own path with the rhythmic, eclectic Silent Alarm; one of the few times where hype undersells a band.
Dark Tranquillity: Character
Melodic thrash that narrowly beat out Darkest Hour release. Strong melodies, tasteful use of electronics and an all-out assault make this one of the most exciting Swedish metal releases since Slaughter of the Soul.
Propagandhi - Potemkin City Limits
G7 Welcoming Committee / Fat Wreck
Intense, instigating and incisive. Another compelling reinvention from the Canadian masters.
Modern Life Is War - Witness
A seething, vicious demonstration of the power of restraint in hardcore.
Killing The Dream: In Place, Apart
September 27 on Deathwish
The other insanely great release from Deathwish; intelligent and thought-provoking hardcore.
Sleater-Kinney: The Woods
How do they rock so hard? Bursting with energy, wailed vocals and memorable hooks. If this isn't rock'n'roll, I don't know what is.
Pelican: The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw
July 26th on Hydra Head
Stepping out of the shadows as Isis' major-chord-loving little brother; Pelican crafts an athmospheric and compelling listen. This is what you should listen to on the way home from a show.
The Evens: The Evens
While not-being-Fugazi is sometimes claimed as a fault of this band, Ian Mackaye shows why he is one of the most intringuing figures in punk rock; it doesn't matter what style of music he plays, it's always Ian and it's always great.
Latterman: No Matter Where We Go‚?¶!
Finally, a band that isn't afraid to call themselves a punk band and mean it. Anthemic, and crowd-pleasing, one of Deep Elm's best finds since Planes Mistaken for Stars.
Against Me!: Searching For A Former Clarity
Too much attention is given to the band's political beginnings and label ties and every positive step they've taken has given fuel to detractors. If the music is what matters though, then Against Me! matters a lot.
Beecher: This Elegy His Autopsy
The best new hardcore band in England; their Earache debut, produced by Kurt Ballou is a rivetting mix of Refused and Isis.
Paint It Black: Paradise
Jade Tree Records
If there was a lifetime achievement award for contributions hardcore, Dr. Dan Yemin should have won it five years ago. And again this year.
Darkest Hour: Undoing Ruin, Comeback Kid: Wake The Dead, Bob Mould: Body of Song (Deluxe), Ephel Duath: Pain Necessary to Know, Art Brut: Bang Band Rock & Roll, Death Cab for Cutie: Plans, Public Enemy: Power to the People and the Beats: Public Enemy's Greatest Hits, Shook Ones: Sixteen, System of a Down: Mezmerize, Marathon: Marathon, Cursed: Two, Gang of Four: Return of the Gift. Better Late than Never
Rehasher: Off-Key Melodies (2004)
Missed it when it was first released but absolutely love it now; while Less Than Jake is clearly the main avenue from these boy's creative pursuits, this is about the most fun I've had from their camp since Hello Rockview.
Children of Bodom: Hate Crew Deathroll (2003)
Shamelessly over-the-top melodic metal with ridiculous keyboard and guitar solos and perfect shout-along vocals. The new one isn't quite as good, but this one is flawless right down to the Slayer cover.
In the new year, Equal Vision has a smoking lineup of releases planned, with updates from Boy Sets Fire and The Hope Conspiracy. Fat will deliver new records from NOFX, Good Riddance, Randy, Dillinger Four and The Lawrence Arms. Epitaph will open the year with new releases from Bad Religion and Some Girls.
Victory, the fastest growing label in terms of sheer numbers is still the wild card; while some of their bands are not to my taste, Tony has shown himself to be both a master of understanding "the kids" while taking chances on truly wonderful records that might not sell as much as Hawthorne Heights, but will have a place in my player for years to come. 2005 brought Comeback Kid, With Honor and an astounding Darkest Hour release and I'm sure 2006 will be just as much of a roller coaster.
Ferret and Trustkill should be interesting to watch as well; Ferret's coup, the signing of In Flames should be exciting, and Trustkill's This Is Hell equally so.
Burning Heart has some big releases out in 2006 as well; the one-two punch of Refused and Raised Fist in the spring should empty a few wallets, and the domestic release of Randy's wonderful Randy The Band should send some people digging through their back catalog.
While their major label debut didn't move me, I'm still holding out hope for the next full length from AFI, which should be out, well, some day.
Last, but definitely not least is the upcoming Mr.Beast from Scottish instrumentalists, Mogwai. In similar territory, a new full length from an artist that appeared on my 2004 list, Mono. Metal from Yakuza, a DVD from Dillinger Escape Plan and new records from Mission of Burma, The Distance, Planes Mistaken for Stars, Less Than Jake, Riverboat Gamblers, Shook Ones, Ted Leo, Anti-Flag and many others.
As always though, some of the best releases are ones we haven't even heard about yet; small labels taking chances is the heart of this music and I've gratified to know that I'm bound to be surprised next year just as I have been every year.