Ben Conoley is a staff reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
This year was a personal success for me in many ways. I didn't get arrested, and I got to French kiss a girl -- life is good.
Musically, the past twelve months were fantastic. In addition to hearing Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska for the first time, thus discovering why everyone insists on calling him The Boss, I also got to hear quite a bit of new music. I was told on more than one road trip that I had to stop claiming every song on my iPod playlist was "the best song ever" or by "the best band ever." My appetite for smart, melodic rough-around-the-edges punk rock was satisfied a dozen times over. There were also plenty of albums I didn't expect to like, yet have come to love.
It was also a banner year for me in terms of enjoying live music. I live in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada -- a city not known for its thriving music scene. A Fifth Hour Hero / Saint Catherines duet of Jawbreaker's "Boxcar" was definitely a highlight. Despite more and more bands making the trek out to my neck of the woods, I still often have to travel for a show, which gives me lots of time to digest new music.
Anyhow, my name is Ben Conoley, I'm a new staff reviewer. Here's what I was listening to this year. Top 15
15. Set Your Goals - Mutiny!
There were times this year when I thought Set Your Goals was the greatest thing I'd ever heard and there were times when I thought it was the most juvenile and blindly optimistic record I'd heard. Over time though, my criticisms of the record became reasons to love it -- endearing little faults. Mutiny! brings pop-punk and melodic hardcore together into an album that is fun and demands the listener to smarten up and follow their heart. Again, they've got two vocalists, like many of my favorite bands -- but hey, you like what you like.
14. Bouncing Souls - The Gold Record
While The Gold Record isn't the best work the Bouncing Souls have done, it's impossible to deny that they are one of the most sincere and dedicated group of musicians gracing our scene. Everything the Souls do reeks of commitment, honesty, and our ability to make our lives better. The Gold Record, much like most of their albums, celebrates life -- something not enough punk bands do. While their sound has stayed pretty much the same over the years (with the aggressive moments of Anchors Aweigh and their early work serving as exceptions), the Bouncing Souls have matured through their career. They're focused more on longevity than selling albums, and it comes through in The Gold Record in spades.
13. Ignite - Our Darkest Days
It's a shame that Ignite seems to be critically acclaimed, yet hasn't seen the kind of commercial success they deserve. Our Darkest Days marks a return for the Orange County band that has been together since 1994 but hasn't released an album in the past six years. With their latest, Ignite confidently let us know that they deserve their spot back as one of the best political melodic hardcore bands. Uncompromisingly distinguishable from any other band, Ignite bring both driving Californian hardcore and combine it with enough intelligent, socially aware, political lyrics to make your intro to make your feminist Marxist environmental theory professor blush.
12. I Hate Sally - Donât Worry Lady
Toronto's I Hate Sally are a reason to believe that not all new metallic hardcore is not complete shit. With one of the most intense live shows I've ever seen, the band features female vocals that'll leave you with a marker in hand ready to completely erase the gender divide in heavy music. Through most of the album, the band sounds plenty like Converge with enough breakdowns and pummeling bass to please even the most jaded metal/hardcore fans.
11. Strike Anywhere - Dead FM
Fat Wreck Chords
Every Strike Anywhere album has been the band's best to that point, and Dead FM is no exception. Despite using more melody than heard in their previous albums, Strike Anywhere hold all their hardcore aspects in place. Thomas' lyrics once again come through as some of the most thoughtful and politically charged being written by punk bands today. This time around they're as sharp and yet more personal as ever, providing a sense of depth not heard in pervious efforts. Those worried over any claims that Strike Anywhere may have lost some of their edge with this album can rest assured that it simply ain't true.
10. Latterman - â¦We Are Still Alive
Sure, there are some valid criticisms of Latterman floating around, but with albums as good as they put out, those criticisms are so outweighed that they lose all relevance. These guys were always my favorite band to listen to whilst riding my bike, but it got difficult to do when as soon as I knew the lyrics so by heart I kept having to take one hand off the handlebar to pump in the air. With so much youthful energy and a focus on trying to make their listeners understand that the world can be a better place, Latterman is amongst the best melodic hardcore bands making music today, and I'm confident that their best work is still ahead of them.
9. Whiskey and Co - Leaving the Nightlife
No Idea Records
Give me a front porch, a bottle of Jim Beam, and nothing else. Leaving the Nightlife is country music with female vocals full of tales of regret. Whiskey & Co.'s second album provides an ideal soundtrack for hangover mornings and post-apology hang-ups. Punk is dominated my males, with the country associated with it even more so. However, Kim Helm's got more balls than the singers of most of the bands we can talk about (but you know, in a good way). While most of the songs fall along the depressed side of the emotional divide, there are moments on Leaving the Nightlife where you're forced to lift your drink in the air such as in "Happy Hour." Not recommended for people content with alcoholism, but for everyone else -- go buy this and a round.
8. This Is Hell - Sundowning
With their first full length, This Is Hell have reaffirmed my belief that bands are still making good hardcore (I know, I know, there are lots). This Is Hell don't do anything groundbreaking, but when it comes to bands in the vein of Comeback Kid, Bane, and others, This is Hell are amongst the best. The lyrics are amazing despite being fuelled by struggle and frustration and leave room for plenty of gang vocals -- don't act like you don't love it.
7. The Draft - In a Million Pieces
I had lofty expectations for this album, and the Draft only exceeded them. Hot Water Music is probably the most important band in my days of listening to punk. The Draft aren't just a continuation of Hot Water Music despite at many times seeming to be a natural progression from the band of these dudes used to be in. The Draft sounds like four guys who are doing what they love to do and aren't the least bit concerned with what anyone else is doing. Chris Wollard's lyrics are as strong as ever and the rhythm section that made HWM so great is still holding up.
6. Fifth Hour Hero - Not Revengeâ¦Just a Vicious Crush
No Idea Records
It took me a while to get into these guys, but once I did, there was no stopping them. Like many of my favorite bands, Fifth Hour Hero features two vocalists. GeneviÃ©ve Tremblay and Olivier Maguire provide perfect balance to each other's vocal styles. With Not Revengeâ¦, Fifth Hour Hero seem to be taking a stellar album and flying under the radar with it, which really isn't fair to everyone who has yet to hear their Gainesville-inspired punk rock straight out of Quebec.
5. The Sainte Catherines - Dancing for Decadence
Fat Wreck Chords
2006 was a great year for Fat Wreck Chords. The Sainte Catherines have been pumping out gritty heartfelt punk rock with more balls than an-all boys private school for some time now, but this is the first time they've really had a proper introduction to a wider audience. Hugo's lyrics are full of criticism, yet bursting with hope and youthfulness. On behalf of Canada, you're welcome.
4. Tim Barry - Rivanna Junction
Suburban Home Records
There are a few seasoned punkers turning to country these days (see Drag the River, the Foundation Band, Chuck Ragan, etc.) and many more bands fusing country elements with punk rock. The songs Barry presents to us on Rivanna Junction are gritty, yet heartfelt tales of the working class, love, and life in the South. Rivanna Junction would have made this list if the only song on it was "Avoiding Catatonic Surrender," one of the best songs I've heard this year.
3. The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!
Fat Wreck Chords
Oh! Calcutta! is the sum of every great song the Lawrence Arms have ever written. The reasons I love this album so much are nothing new. They've been one of my favorite bands for some time, in part because I always loved the differences between Brendan Kelly's and Chris McCaughan's vocals. After hearing Oh! Calcutta! for the first time I couldn't help but think, "But of course! Why weren't they doing that the whole time?" While the band's back catalogue still holds some of my favorite records, Oh! Calcutta! ushered in an era of the Lawrence Arms that is simply undeniably excellent.
2. Cancer Bats - Birthing the Giant
Abacus Recordings / Distort Records
This album is huge in every way. Cancer Bats burst onto the hardcore scene in 2006 with unparalleled energy. Every review I've read of this record (including my own) heavily lays down how Cancer Bats blend southern metal and modern hardcore to create a sound all their own, no matter how many people name drop the Bronx with them. Cancer Bats celebrate everything good about life with an energy that I haven't heard anyone else produce.
1. The Loved Ones - Keep Your Heart
Fat Wreck Chords
It was really tough deciding which album would take the number one spot, that is until one moment made it a no-brainer. While walking down the busiest street in my city and listening to Keep Your Heart, I suddenly found myself singing along at the top of my lungs with Dave Hause, pumping my fist in the air and no doubt walking with a little extra "umph" in my step. Keep Your Heart is melodic, passionate, and everything I want from a punk rock album.
5. The Hope Conspiracy - Hang Your Cross
Deathwish Inc. / Resist Records
After coming back from a breakup, the Hope Conspiracy released Hang Your Cross as a teaser of sorts leading up to their new full-length, Death Knows Your Name. While its full-length follow-up was great, Hang Your Cross was so impressive because it seemed to come out of nowhere, reminding people who might have forgotten that the Hope Conspiracy can still crush many of their hardcore contemporaries. The best songs from this 7", "Hang Your Cross" and "Dead Town Nothing" also appeared on Death Knows Your Name, but hearing them for the first time on here was as good as gold.
4. Banner Pilot - Pass the Poison
Sure, I had to download this beast since I ordered it off their website months ago and have yet to receive it, but despite that it's been another album that I didn't know about, let alone anticipated. Banner Pilot plays pop-punk with heavy basslines and rough vocals that sound more Gainesville than anything else, but they're from Minneapolis, and that city's lack of a well-known punk scene seems to have given Banner Pilot an edge over other bands playing music similar to this (such as the Loved Ones, the Sainte Catherines, etc.).
3. Chuck Ragan - 7" Singles Club 1 (The Boat / For Broken Ears) & 2 (Itâs What You Will / Symmetry)
No Idea Records
I'm going to stretch the qualifications here and count both of Chuck's 7 inches as one release. At least I paid for them at the same time -- that's enough, right? Since leaving Hot Water Music Chuck has turned to a much more stripped down songwriting style with heavy leanings towards folk and country. For those expecting these new songs to sound like Rumbleseat, you might be disappointed. The songs on his first two installments of his 7" Singles Club don't have much twang at all. They're mellow and have much darker subject matter than Rumbleseat did, but they are great nevertheless.
2. Polar Bear Club - The Redder, The Better
Triple Attack Records / Luchador Records
Are you still crying about Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike breaking up? First of all, cut it out. Second of all, check out Polar Bear Club. Upstate New York is tossing us the best gritty post-hardcore band you likely haven't heard. If there's one full-length I am looking forward to in the new year, it'll be Polar Bear Club's. With a near perfect blend of melody and aggression, these guys are hard to top, despite their unfortunate name.
1. Agent - I Wouldnât Trade That for Anything
Without a doubt, had there not been a separate spot for EPs, Agent's debut effort would have made my top 15. The latest band flying the flag of melodic hardcore out of Long Island, Agent have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. If you like Braid, Lifetime, and Save the Day but haven't heard this yet, you're sleeping on a winner.
- Kissing another girl
- Banner Pilot
- Ted Leo
- Against Me!
- Dillinger 4
- Minus the Bear
- The Weakerthans
- A Canadian election