Matt Whelihan is a staff reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
I debated how to start this list for a couple of days, even going so far as to type out some options. I thought of discussing the idea that a comprehensive statement about a year in music was a pretty ridiculous endeavor for one person to undertake, considering the amount of music I, as a single person, am limited to hearing, but then realized I said something like that last year. So then I thought about attempting to have some sort of narrative arc to my intro where I discussed the contradictory nature of my first and last reviews of this year, the first being a Dillinger Four live review where I said openers Fucked Up weren't bad, "but after a few songs it seemed you knew all the band's tricks." While in the last, which is this very list, those same Canadian punks are resting comfortably at the top of the heap. Finally, I decided lengthy discourses (which I may still be threatening to achieve with this disclaimer) were not going to cut it, and so instead I would simply like to quote "The Big Lebowski" and say that what comes below is "just like my opinion, man."
So the quote may be a little reworked, but the point is don't take this list as a decisive statement, instead use it as a way to check out some great records you may have missed in the past 365 days; I know that's what I do. Top 20 Albums of 2006
20. The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
August 22nd on 4AD
Most breakup albums focus on maudlin moments and hyperbolic emotional responses, but for John Darnielle it is the minutia of post-breakup life that garners his attention. This may not be one of the best Mountain Goats albums, but it is surely one of the most uncomfortable to listen to as Darnielle's laconic descriptions of waking up alone, making coffee for one, and sullenly walking around town are disturbing in their haunting realism.
19. Envy - Insomniac Doze
September 12th on Temporary Residence
With Insomniac Doze Envy show why they are still the hardcore band most likely to score a film. While they have always incorporated elements of post-rock -- quiet, repetitive passages leading to crushing hardcore crescendos -- they have never made them feel as organic and epic as this.
18. Pink Razors - Waiting to Wash Up
January 10th on Robotic Empire
Sometimes you just need an archetypal pop-punk record, one that is fast, short, and playful. One that reminds you of who Lookout! Records used to be and where squeaky voices fit in the spectrum of music. Well, the Pink Razors have got one of those on their hands. With 15 songs each clocking in under two minutes, and a non-stop peppy approach, Pink Razors have accomplished the always difficult pop-punk feat of creating an album full of both distinguishable and outstanding songs.
17. Armalite - Armalite
February 14th on No Idea
Atom Goren of Atom and His Package plays guitar and sings and Dan "I've been in three bands punk kids give a shit about" Yemin plays bass. Now that we got that out of the way let's talk about what's important here. Like Challenger did a couple years back, Armalite pay homage to past greats like Dag Nasty and DC post-punk bands while adding their own modern flavors. The lyrics are witty, the guitar playing packed with clashing riffs, and the band hyped up like they just downed ten pots of coffee and then chased it with a case of Red Bull. And the best part? The whole thing sounds spontaneous, like you just walked in on some old friends jamming on some classic punk tunes.
16. Oxford Collapse - Remember the Night Parties
October 10th on Sub Pop
Indie rock and pretentiousness have had a long and fruitful relationship, one full of ostentatious lyrics, artistic "statements," and pouty-faced boys in fashionable threads. Still, it hasn't always been that way. There was a time when indie could be seen hand in hand with fun, unassuming, and mischievous. Oxford Collapse harkens back to those days with an album full of jangly guitars, running bass leads, powerful drumming, and memorable melodies. This is a band that just wants to have a good time, something that indie seems to have forgotten about.
15. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
June 19th on Wichita
Music writers have been making comments about this album title being quite ironic, considering it is the band's best album to date, and perhaps even the best indie pop album of the year. But if it is making reference to everything besides bass, drums, and vocals, it may be true. While other indie artists are piling on the instrumentation and arrangements, PB and J (I still smile every time) are content to let the rhythm section and some killer melodies carry their amazing songs.
14. Latterman - ‚?¶We Are Still Alive
August 22nd on Deep Elm
While every review I read of this record brought up that it was anthemic, passionate, and all around Latterman-esque, there are two things that were never mentioned. One is that Brian Crozer replaced Mike Campbell on guitar and, whether related or not, the band's six-string delivery is at its most elaborate, incorporating finger tapping, noise guitar bits, and even a dose of delay. The second is that the opening notes of the album were played on a vibraphone in my basement. Eat that, fan boys.
13. The Evens - Get Evens
November 6th on Dischord
A living room show can be a beautiful thing and Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina know this, or at least that is what the intimate and laidback sound of Get Evens would suggest. The drumbeats are intricate and precise, the baritone guitar playing a loose frame holding the songs together, and the vocals down right comforting. Still, let's not forget this is Ian MacKaye, and dude does need to let out one of his signature shouts every now and then. You better just hope the neighbors don't call the cops when he does, cause you're going to want to hear all of this.
12. The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
October 10th on V2
The Blood Brothers stopped pushing the envelope years ago and are now merely staring back at the tattered scraps they've left behind after blowing it wide open. They've always combined a bratty neglect for restraint with avant experimentation and Young Machetes only continues that tradition. Shrieky freak-outs and noisy bombast seamlessly glide into organ-driven grooves and smooth bass lines. The Blood Brothers know how to make contradictions work for them, and I think I finally know why all those other reviews refer to them as "post-everything."
11. Pretty Girls Make Graves - Elan Vital
April 11th on Matador
When a band that is known for its interweaving riffs loses a guitarist it doesn't bode well. Yet, Pretty Girls Make Graves came to this hurdle and, instead of tripping while trying to jump over it, merely knocked it down and moved on. The result is a band with new instrumentation and the fearlessness to tackle new sounds. Sure, there are still some of those post-punk explosions here, but there are also lo-fi, brooding indie, rhythm-heavy anthems, and the type of synth-driven pop that doesn't make you want to gag.
10. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
March 28th on Def Jam
Ghostface took back his "Killah" moniker and proceeded to slay a batch of raucous soul and funk-tinged hip-hop on Fishscale. Whether unloading imagery -- rich tales, mastering wordplay with nonsensical verses, or just spitting pure battle rap assaults -- he once again showed why he is the most entertaining member of Wu-Tang and one of the most precise and consistent rappers today.
9. Strike Anywhere - Dead FM
June 7th on Fat Wreck
Strike Anywhere's debut knocked me on my ass, but Exit English seemed to be lacking the same ferocity and melodic presence. Dead FM shows that the band may never quite come off as raw as they did on their first album, but by incorporating more of their Oi! And `77 punk influences they have crafted their most tuneful album yet. The songs are shorter and more direct, the choruses more memorable, and the political messages still alive and blazing. It seems like the band's music is now doing what singer Thomas Barnett's vocals have all along, moving between aggressive and melodic with an impressive effortlessness.
8. The Futureheads - News and Tributes
June 13th on Star Time International/ Vagrant
The Futureheads debut saw them lumped in with bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, and the Rakes, yet what set them apart from their jagged post-punk peers were their harmonies and detailed vocal arrangements. Thankfully News and Tributes possess those same killer four-part vocal acrobatics, but also shows that the band have figured out that slowing up or toning down gives them a much more diverse songwriting pallet, one that is sure to keep from being pigeonholed in the future.
7. Maritime - We, the Vehicles
April 18th on Flameshovel
Davey von Bolen has been trying to shed the childish charm of his early Promise Ring work for years, but never has his maturation sounded as good as it does on We, the Vehicles. The band are relaxed and confident as they deliver an engrossing indie record full of detail and charisma. Just be warned though, this record conjures up so many toe-tapping moments, you may end up with shin splints.
6. Rocky Votolato - Makers
January 24th on Barsuk
When you name your album after a brand of whiskey, you better be able to back it up with the kind of rough-edged romanticism that liquor invokes, and thankfully Rocky Votolato does. On his latest he has further embraced the Americana storytelling found on his earlier records and gone for more sparse arrangements, two moves that sound fully appropriate for his raspy, desperate vocals and clunky acoustic. Many musicians attempt the blue-collar folk/country sound found on Makers, but not many sound as sincere and convincing as Votolato does.
5. No Trigger - Canyoneer
March 21st on Nitro
Even though I could name bands in every sub-genre of independent music that I enjoy, skatecore was my first love when it came to punk, and when I listen to No Trigger I think the same thing may be true for its members. Yes, they are a melodic hardcore band, but for every Kid Dynamite-like sing-along there is a Strung Out-like riff. They may have the crunchy guitars and shouted vocals, but they also have the galloping drums and stuttered strumming, and that is what makes them noteworthy. By reaching outside of a genre that often becomes repetitive No Trigger have established themselves as an original act with songs that are infectious, fervent, and inventive.
4. The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!
March 7th on Fat Wreck
It is albums like this that demonstrate that pop-punk does have plenty of room left to explore. What at first may sound raw and even sloppy (see the band's dirtiest guitar tones in years, Chris now shouting along with Brandon, and fragmented sounding songs) are actually signs of a band unwilling to merely continue down the path they established with their last two albums. Sure, the catchy meets snotty elements that have gained this band their notoriety are still here, and a song like "Are You There Margaret? It's Me God," show that they can still craft tunes that lean more towards pop than punk, but it is their ability to break their own mold, rearrange the pieces, and still sound so damn good that makes Oh! Calcutta! one of the best albums of the year.
3. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
October 3rd on Vagrant
You probably know the Hold Steady's deal by now: they play classic-sounding rock songs while a literary vocalist spouts poetic diatribes about drinking, drugs, and the human interactions that come in between. But that isn't necessarily what gets them on a lot of year-end lists. What does is the fact that, unlike most bands, the Hold Steady create music that is both social and personal. You want to hear it played on jukeboxes over the clinking of pint glasses, or in dark and sweaty venues coming from a cramped stage, but you also want to hear it in the solitude of your own room or with a pair of headphones on, so you can dissect the lyrics and focus on the various instruments. So yeah, it may only be rock and roll, but I like it.
2. The Thermals - The Body, The Blood, The Machine
August 22nd on Sub Pop
The Thermals have always been known for their simplicity. They've made basic melodies, terse lyrics, fuzzy tones, three chords, and frills free drumming their hallmarks. So it may come as a surprise that the band's third album is a concept record about a fascist Christian state that employs organ, a variety of rhythms and tempos, and even (gasp!) guitar solos. Still, despite these changes the band's other staples -- an endless supply of energy and extreme catchiness -- are also present making the record just as easily memorable and as difficult to sit still during. Turn it up, shout along, and watch as your hands, feet, and head move to the beat, cause honestly, simple never sounded so good.
1. Fucked Up - Hidden World
October 10th on Jade Tree
There are plenty of bands inspired by `77 punk and old-school hardcore, but how many do you know that also site Pink Floyd as an influence and get the violinist from the Arcade Fire to play on their album? That's what I thought. Well, with Hidden World you now have one. Fucked Up are most definitely a hardcore band, one with deep-throated shouts, pummeling drums, and massive guitars, but what makes their debut album so impressive is how they work in very non-genre affiliated ways. Their songs typically clock in at over four minutes, as their driving punk tirades give way to building instrumental interludes that show a well-refined sense of space and restraint. The band are experts at deconstructing, using everything from a choir and mandolin, to whistling and the aforementioned violin cameos to layer their sound and lift the songs back up from their pensive halts. In the process Fucked Up show that sometimes hardcore can have just as many brains as it does brawn.
Off with Their Heads - Hospitals
Yeah, I was just as disappointed as everyone else that the Dillinger Four album didn't drop this year, but the eight songs here take the same loud, drunken, and well-crafted approach to pop-punk that we've come to expect from the boys in D4. Just add some backing vocals and ex-members of Rivethead and you should have a pretty good idea of how this sounds: pop-punk done right.