Adam White is a news editor and reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
If my efforts this year seem a bit abbreviated, I moved into the house I've been renovating for the past month on December 27th. To say this has been a busy, stressful month is an understatement, and it caps off yet another frantic year for me. We're still beaming with pride over at PNR because of Ryan's Hope's fantastic Apocalypse in Increments and Punknews.org continues to grow and thrive with the addition of some hard-working, passionate writers and editors. I have to personally thank everyone for upping their game and picking up the slack I've left while refinishing floors and painting walls.
2006 was too easy a year for music and that ultimately made it boring. In the punk scene, and particularly the narrow slice that Punknews' readership really responds to, we saw record after record that more or less delivered on expectations. The Lawrence Arms, the Draft, the Bouncing Souls, the Loved Ones, NOFX: all these bands released fine records this year, quality releases I'm happy to own and would recommend without hesitation -- however you won't find them on this list. Tell me if you're hooked by this story: "band with decent track record releases yet another decent album that fans agree holds up well with their catalogue." I didn't think so. It's too episodic.
We started calling it "Orgcore" and maybe that's part of the problem. Did we really start taking the in-joke seriously? It all feels too much like complacency to me. We can't be triggering the bullshit detector ourselves.
I know it's a frustrating criticism, as the bands I'm excluding I consider myself a fan of. Perhaps those are just the "meat & potatoes" of my listening habits. They're the givens, the necessary foundation, and as such they just don't seem very provocative to me. Successful formulas don't quite make the same splash as unexpected finds.
I'm Adam White. I've been an editor and reviewer here at Punknews.org for about six years and I'm based out of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Here's my look at `06.
Who Rocked the Casbah in 2006
20. The Modern Machines - "Take It, Somebody!"
May 30 on Dirtnap Records
I think I used the term "immediately likable" in my review. The Modern Machines make it quite clear that they're out to revive the ghosts of Replacements long gone, and they do it with such life that you can't help but be won over. This is the sort of band that should be releasing a full-length every six months, if for no other reason than to maintain that loose, effortless, warts-and-all charm they've achieved here. [...read the review]
19. The King Khan & BBQ Show - What's for Dinner
October 10 on In the Red Records
Mark Sultan is the real deal, and it was a tossup between this and his punk band the Mind Controls for inclusion here. BBQ reunites with fellow Montréal punk veteran King Khan for a ramshackle set of low-fi garage, soul and bastardized doo-wop. What's for Dinner is a riot -- wildly spontaneous and never once taking itself seriously.
18. SSM - SSM
May 23 on Alive Records
You keep seeing the word "reinvention" pop up in reviews of SSM's work. The Detroit trio is ostensibly a garage rock band, but they're far from revivalists and take the basic tools of the genre in all sorts of wild directions. I don't think the band's as much as a high art concept as their PR states, and they're clearly having too much fun being a great, innovative rock'n'roll act to fall into such traps.
17. Neil Young - Living with War
May 9 on Reprise Records
Completely divorced from context this isn't close to Young's best work, but context is everything with this release. Angry with the Bush administration the veteran rocker hits the studio for three days of breakneck writing and recording, cranking out a full blown protest record (backed by a hundred-piece choir) before his label even knows what to do with it. Taking full advantage of the Internet, the record was released online leaving the label running behind to play catch-up, and the accompanying website is a wealth of content, videos, and user-submitted protest music. Neil's blunt, vicious, and unlike so many political punk bands is able to reach a huge audience.
16. The Futureheads - News & Tributes
June 13 on Vagrant Records
This is a much more subtle effort than their debut, almost frustratingly so for a band that won us over with angular, urgent, bouncing songs. On repeat listens however introspection suits the group. The Futureheads, despite being lumped in with so many fashionable post-whatever revivalists, were always a bit less assuming, a bit less boisterous than those contemporaries. News & Tributes just shows that the well runs deeper, the roots are stronger, and the band has the chops to make it work. [...read the review]
15. Buzzcocks - Flat-Pack Philosophy
March 7 on Cooking Vinyl
The Buzzcocks' post-post-revival resurgence continues. After the breathtaking rejuvenation that was their last record the legends don't tamper much with the formula, although more of the nervous charm that complemented their original run creeps through here. There isn't a band from the original punk era that's still creating at this calibre. [...read the review]
14. The Bronx - The Bronx
July 18 on White Drugs / Island Records
Love this band. Love the imagery. Love the sound. Love the approach they take to everything. Love the unexpected Black Flag meets Queens of the Stone Age turn this album took. They're destined to fail from a major label perspective and I highly doubt Island has a clue what to do with them, but seeing them go for the public throat right out the gates makes it a fun ride. [...read the review]
13. Milky Ways - Milky Ways
June 6 on Alive Records
This is retro low-fi garage racket that's far smarter than it lets on. Montreal's Milky Ways are as much an art project as they are a functioning band, and despite their penchant for vintage, low-budget punk you can't shake the feel there's some higher purpose at play. Maybe it's that through all the distortion and murk the record is so cohesive and atmospheric. Surprisingly rewarding when taken as a whole. [...read the review]
12. Les Breastfeeders - Les Matins de Grand Soirs
August 22 on Blow the Fuse
A mix of garage rock, punk, surf and yé-yé makes up the boundless energy of Les Breastfeeders' latest. This is a playful record carried by the dueling vocals of the raspy Luc Brien and sweet Suzie McLeLove. It may be a purely personal phenomenon, but this is one of two French-language records that rank highly in my list this year. Whether Quebecois acts are starting to break into English speaking Canada, or just simply into my personal listening realm, I can't wait to see what next year brings. [...read the review]
11. The Cuts - From Here on Out
February 28 on Birdman Records
The Cuts are most likely full of shit. One of our reviewers said as much in reviewing their live show, and more or less tore them apart for their rehashed retro imagery and classic rock revivalism. Maybe things have improved in the two years since or maybe the Cuts real domain is the studio, but regardless his warnings can't shake me from this record. From Here on Out sounds like Tom Verlain singing over extremely well-crafted psychedelic pop. While it certainly has it's head in the past not much else this year has been as tuneful and immediately enjoyable.
10. The Nice Boys - The Nice Boys
August 29 on Birdman Records
...and this is what the Cuts would sound like if they were completely sincere. Formed by members of the Riffs and the last surviving member of the Exploding Hearts, the Nice Boys come from punk roots but take an entirely different road. Glam rock influenced, the power-pop band takes the retro route but gives it some gravity. The three vocalists on the record never sound entirely confident but that meekness works to its benefit. A really interesting record, and one with enough strengths that it stands apart from the Hearts' legacy.
9. The Slackers - Peculiar
February 21 on Hellcat Records
Half of these songs are re-recorded from last year's EP and that somewhat dulls my zeal to rate this highly, but the Slackers remain the absolute best at what they do. They actually had some competition on the trad-ska scene this year, what with nice music flowing from the Aggrolites, Westbound Train, the One Night Band and the Expos, however none of them come close to the heights that Vic, Glen, Dave and company so consistently reach. Perhaps as a ska band they'll always be overlooked, but I maintain that there are few better pop songwriters working today. [...read the review]
8. The Evens - Get Evens
November 6 on Dischord Records
It's hard to look at Ian MacKaye's work from an objective standpoint, especially since he's been more or less beatified by the scene and held up as this caricature of punk morality. It's nice then that the Evens is such a low-key group and a bit of a fresh start. As someone who adored Fugazi's quiet moments (loved The Argument) this is a terrific extension on those. The Evens maintain a really interesting political dynamic: looking at Washington from both a local hometown perspective and as the symbol it is to the rest of the world. A unique wartime record.
7. The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
October 3 on Vagrant Records
It looks like everyone's hopped on this wagon, and while Boys and Girls has a higher profile it's simply doesn't have the gravity of Separation Sunday. The band sounds fantastic, mind you, and their ambition makes for an interesting ride, but after the gutter-resurrection we were gifted with last time these disjoined relationship studies make for decidedly lighter fare. Still, the band proves to be one of the more interesting indie acts to flirt with mainstream success.
6. The Adored - A New Language
July 11 on V2 Music
This is the best quote unquote mainstream pop-punk record I've heard in years. Smart, stylish, adult and carrying the torch of their `77 forbearers without ever looking back, the Adored is a band that's wonderfully hard to place. There are some brilliantly written pop songs here, but nothing that would hold the mall-scene's interest for very long. The Adored have written one of those records that at another time and place would have been a smash, but it's so out of step with today's big trends that it'll remain a hidden gem. [...read the review]
5. Malajube - Trompe-L'Oeil
February 7 on Dare to Care Records
Adventurous francophone indie pop that swings wildly from hook filled, fast moving exuberance to spacey shoegaze and hits upon every genre in between. Malajube remind me a lot of the New Pornographers when they burst onto the scene; layers upon layers of hooks stacked upon some extremely intelligent songwriting with no limit in sight. What language barrier?
4. Be Your Own Pet - Be Your Own Pet
June 6 on Ecstatic Peace
This is the punk record of the year for me. Aubin and I chat quite a bit about the New Bomb Turks, a band we both revere, and we've brought them up quite a bit while discussing this record. BYOP share in that band's sense of speed, attitude and reckless abandon. There was plenty of decent punk rock released this year, but little of it urgent or alive as this.
3. Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
March 7 on Mint Records / Anti-
So much of Neko Case's prior studio work has been frustratingly brisk. She'd be in the middle of a fantastic, moving song and right when you were gearing up for her to revisit some soaring refrain the track would end. Fox Confessor takes her songwriting somewhere entirely different, and while the tracks run longer they do so via unexpected turns. From a songwriting perspective Case never takes the easy route, and that makes this album so rewarding to figure out. Was there ever any question why an alt-country chanteuse finds so much of her audience in the indie rock world?
2. Jon-Rae and the River - Knows What You Need
October 31 on Baudelaire
Jon-Rae Fletcher. You really have to see him to understand. Here's an awkward, unassuming indie-geek who can somehow get on stage and channel a frantic preacher over a set of charging gospel fuelled alt-country. Here is the son of a Baptist minister delivering a set of sexually explicit, alcohol-fuelled and all around depraved material with a passion that borders on that of a religious fanatic. If he pushes it, Rae's voice reaches near comical levels of twang, yet for all the bravado there's heart and depth and a vulnerability that makes it believable. It's remarkably frustrating to try and describe the River, and it's that fact that's hooked me. 2006 is a year of easy releases, good records that we expected to be good, but this rises above that.
1. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
February 21 on Merge Records
I shouldn't even be talking about this, as there's a whole lore to Destroyer and I'm hopelessly ignorant of most of it. While I've followed the New Pornographers since the beginning I approached them via Neko Case and Carl Newman, Dan Bejar always served as the temperamental mystery member -- the one all the publications pegged as more difficult, stubbornly artistic and coming from less accessible roots. None of those criticisms pan out on Destroyer's Rubies, so this is either his most immediate version of the band or I've been mislead. This is brilliantly literate, lyrically clever and layered beyond belief.
Like everyone's been saying: 2006 has been a year of solid 8's. Some of the many records that were edged out of the list include the Bouncing Souls' The Gold Record, River City Tanlines' I'm Your Negative, the Draft's In a Million Pieces, the Lawrence Arms' Oh! Calcutta!, NOFX's Wolves in Wolves' Clothing, Dead to Me's Cuban Ballerina, the Mind Controls' Mind Controls, Michael Franti & Spearhead's Yell Fire!, Greg Graffin's Cold as the Clay, the Loved Ones' Keep Your Heart, Fifth Hour Hero's Not Revenge...Just a Vicious Crush, the Subhumans' New Dark Age Parade and the Gossip's Standing in the Way of Control.
Great Live Records Not from the Neil Young Archives
2. Reel Big Fish - Our Live Album Is Better Than Your Live Album
August 1 on Rock Ridge Music
I took a long drive from a wedding in Windsor back to Niagara and spun both discs of this monster back to back, having an absolute blast the entire time. This is the sound of a band that's been through so much major label bullshit finally free and simply reveling in their newfound independence. For anyone who fondly remembers the Summer of Ska this is a huge treat.
1. The Sadies - In Concert Volume 1
August 8 on Yep Rock Records
Toronto's surf / garage / alt-country / indie-pop / whatever combo hit a stride with the phenomenal Favourite Colours, but this life record simply dwarfs it in scale. The list of collaborators here is amazing: Neko Case, Garth Hudson of the Band, Jon Spencer and members of the Deadly Snakes among them. This isn't simply a live record that any band could make, you've got to cultivate a ton of good relationships to bring something like this together. Kudos to the Sadies for pulling it off.
Which band breakup hit me the hardest this year? I'd be tempted to say Death From Above 1979 if not for another fantastic Toronto-based act that called it quits. So here's to the Deadly Snakes! What a fantastic band! The progression from their early garage punk to the soulful, haunting, genre-defying final LP Porcella is something that all bands should aspire to achieve. While Andre Ethier did quickly follow up with a solo record, as great as his voice and songs are he's merely one part of a brilliantly successful formula. They'll be missed.
Not that there's been much talk about them, but new records from both the Weakerthans and Constantines are bound to arrive soon and I'd put my money on 2007. The next Bad Religion record, if anything like the last two, will be something to keep an eye on for sure. However my favourite thing about 2006 has been tuning into Radio 3 and finding tons of great independent acts I had no idea existed. More than anything established band, I look forward to the discoveries that 2007 will bring.
Happy New Year's everyone, once again it's your contributions and participation that keeps this site running and we're grateful for it. Cheers!