Justin August is a news editor and reviewer here at Punknews.org -ed
Another year in music. Another year full of online bickering and pointless squabbling. Whatever. I'd like to highlight the good things this year:
- Outpouring of help for J and Cal Robbins
- Fat Wreck and Punknews raising a couple thousand dollars for the AIDS Walk
- Bands turning heartbreak into hope for others.
- Bands helping those when they can.
I had a good year personally, switching jobs again, building some houses, teaching some kids, riding some bikes, getting hit by some cars...the usual. I moved over to Oakland and decided to cohabitate. Weird. Come visit, I'll make some tofurkey and we can sit on the rug and watch "LOST."
Before we go any further...
I'd like to say goodbye to a couple people.
This year we lost one of the biggest influences on my adult life. Mr. Vonnegut was a shining inspiration for so many people, young and old; his absence will be sorely felt in the coming years. An authentic voice of dissent and critique, the world needs more people like you. Perhaps minus the mustache.
I said goodbye to a good friend of mine earlier this year. Chris Johnson died in a motorcycle crash earlier this year at the age of 21. He was a good guy: smart, witty, handsome and full of endless hope and joy. He was an inspiration to me especially since at five years my junior he had already done nearly all I had in life and was quickly preparing to surpass me. His presence encouraged me to do more and be more than I already was and I'm sad that more of you won't be able to meet him.
My Opinion is Very Important
#13. The Copyrights - Make Sound
Lifting a line from my review: "The best pop-punk album of the year goes to the Copyrights." Simply put, there are very few bands that approach the Copys in terms of pop-punk songwriting prowess. This isn't "gritty midwestern" pop-punk, this is born of cheesy leather jackets and too many listens to the Queers and Screeching Weasel pop-punk. While my taste for neither of those bands were ever well-developed, Fletcher and company have that special something that keeps me coming back for more. And it's not just an embarrassing story about my birthday last year.
#12. The Gaslight Anthem - Sink or Swim
Brian and the boys in Gaslight had a great year, which will culminate with opening for my favorite band of all time. For that, I hate them. I mean that in the nicest way possible, too. This album was worn out by me -- I love nearly every inch of it. At times the lyrics are a little reaching but the band has their sound nailed to a "T" and I expect that we've seen the launch of a new bright light of the independent music world this year.
#11. Sidekicks - So Long, Soggy Dog
self-released /Red Scare
Ohio had a truly terrible local music scene for the four years I lived there. We were pummeled with openers like Waking Kills the Dream and other mindblowingly bad bands. Then, I hear this band from Cleveland that blows my shit away. A wise man once said that this band truly believes they are the best band in the world when they're playing and I think he's right. The full speed assault of songs like "Slight Sting" are a bit too much to handle at times and the lyrical content is a force to be reckoned with. I fear for their next album because they've built up a lot to compete with in a short time.
#10. Andrew Jackson Jihad - People Who Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World
Loads of beards and unkempt men in this album. Loads of off-key melodies and loose production. It's charming, it's uplifting without being obnoxiously positive, it's essentially Kurt Vonnegut in musical form. A humanist album if there every was one. God bless you Mr. Jihad.
#9. Defiance, Ohio - The Fear, The Fear, The Fear
Genre wars be damned, the smelly kids in Defiance, Ohio know how to write amazing songs together. Shorter and a little less adventurous than The Great Depression, The Fear (x3) is a romp through darkness and light that is, as per usual with them, inspiring and enjoyable all at the same time. I'm glad to be listening to music when an album this great lands so low on a list due to the huge amount of great music released.
TIE - #7. Attack in Black - Marriage / The Curve of the Earth
Marriage is a fantastic album and deserves to be at the top of a number of "End of" lists this year. Combined with The Curve of the Earth, the band released two seemingly unrelated albums that compliment each other perfectly. Canada's favorite sons in the Weakerthans could have contenders to the throne on their hands given a couple more releases.
#6. Chuck Ragan - Feast or Famine
Los Feliz was featured prominently in my life this year, as you'll see. Feast truly wanted to be but part of the charm of Feliz was taken away when Chuck entered the studio. A host of guest musicians and production flourishes seemed to drown out the best thing about this music: the intensity of his voice, which often felt distant and undercut. Having said that, the album is still better than 90% of what currently exists in music form. Ragan is a true songwriter, moving from post-hardcore and punk rock to country to folk and back again without losing a breath. Thank God people like him exist.
#5. The Menzingers - A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology
It's hard to accurately review and rank an album that you hold so dear to your heart and had a hand in helping to make happen. From across the Internet and the country I've watched this set of songs develop from their self-released versions last year, through pre-production rehearsals with offbeat drums and flat harmonies to their fully mastered glory and plastic pressing. A greater group of young musicians probably cannot be found in "the scene" today. They feature an average age of about 19 or 20 but play with several albums' and decades' worth of heart and soul.
#4. The Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
I'm anxiously awaiting the day that a Weakerthans album ceases to stir something in me. I await this day because it will be the day my heart has died and all joy has left my life. For a band that owes its roots as much to "melodicore" as it does indie rock, the quartet does a fantastic job of bridging the gap between the overly pretentious and the offhanded and witless.
#3. Sundowner - Four One Five Two
This is a great album. While at first I was unsure as to the outcome of it, I walk day to day humming the songs to keep my spirits up. Chris has a sense of melody and rhythm that sets his acoustic troubadouring apart from others and his sense of melancholy and self-reflection is unmatched. Also, he's a pretty rad dude. Although at times it felt less moving than some of his other compositions, spend a few rainy days with it and you'll get the full picture.
#2. Nothington - All In
It makes me happy to know that it's hard to say whether or not this album would rank so high up had I not spent that wonderful night in Vegas with the boys earlier this year. Jay and Chris put together a great album full of beard-inspired punk rock and released it incredibly early in the year. The fact that I was listening to it on repeat on my flight back to West Virginia says a lot about the longevity of the songs, especially given my predilection towards obsessively wearing out albums. Good job, guys.
#1. Chuck Ragan - Los Feliz
Going merely on plays-per-year alone this album would rule the roost. Chuck Ragan could be punk's most accomplished songwriter, having been one of the driving forces behind one of the genre's most accomplished bands, keeping a side project for a time and then moving onto his solo career most recently. This album is the definition of "live album" as it captures the essence of one night and packages it up quite nicely. It's more than a collection of live songs over a few nights, it's a document of what seemingly began as a diversion and has ended up as another career. Songs like opener "Open Up and Wail" and "Symmetry" are the most stirring tracks this year and fit well beside old classics like "California Burritos" and "God Deciding." Great job, Chuck.
This year had some bands that gave their all but couldn't crack the top ten. Everyone should definitely check out releases from Saw Wheel, Smoke or Fire, Big D and the Kids Table, 500 Miles to Memphis, the Ergs!, Bedouin Soundclash, the Failures' Union, Ringers, Bomb the Music Industry!, and more that I probably just can't think of. Oh, Derek Perry doesn't need your help but we all love Cobra Skulls.
Shorter, Louder, Faster
EP's and splits are always a great time, especially for new bands. Or bands that play 30 second songs.
Shit dude, Punknews IS stoked. Two great groupings of people put together two great groupings of songs. Fuck yeah.
#4. Shorebirds - Shorebirds [7"]
Everything one would expect from Matt Canino and Chris B-meister together. Good times, good tunes, good dudes.
#3. Short Attention - Clever, Maddening, & Annoying [7"]
29 songs on a seven-inch? Awesome. It's like if the Ergs! forgot to write verses or just decided they didn't need them. A good time for all is involved.
Two great bands team up for a great split release. Simply put, "Hey Jealousy" is one of the best pop songs ever and it's nice to hear sped up.
#1. Bridge and Tunnel - Bridge and Tunnel [7"]
Yes. Long Island's punk rock formula mixed with what sounds like Sunny Day Real Estate and other mid-`90s emo and indie rock influences. Awesome. It's powerful and moving without being cliche, yet feels so comfortable all at the same time. Hoping for more from these guys.
So we all grabbed some videos we thought were rad. Here's mine:
|Chuck Ragan and Matt Skiba - Rooftops||The Clash - Straight To Hell|
|Dead to Me - live at the Fest V|
Next year we'll have the following albums that may or may not be great: Dead to Me, Lemuria, the Copyrights, Gaslight Anthem, the Falcon, Teenage Bottlerocket, Bob Mould, the Constantines, Envy, the Loved Ones and some more that I can't think of. Hopefully it will be good.
Looking forward towards music is often so exhausting. When it comes, it's so rarely life-changing or has such little impact that you forget why you were excited to begin with. It's the end of the year; I'll wait 'till January at least to get excited about new stuff. I'm just happy to have spent another year helping out friends and bands that I love, sharing beers with amazing people, screaming out my lungs while Chicken struts around Gainesville in his tight pants and in general having a good time.