Scott Brown is a staff reviewer here at Punknews.org. Check back next week for year end lists from the Punknews editorial, and soon after the lists decided by your votes. - ed
I'm one of the newer reviewers here and a law student in the Midwest. I've been a devoted reader of the 'Org since the beginning and am excited and honored to share my list with you. Personally, I had a good year made only better by this year's music.
Like a lot of people, I get excited about the year-end swarm of best of the year lists, but I have to admit that "best of" lists of are getting out of control. From the pure lies of the big magazines like Rolling Stone (look at that list -- no one thinks those are the best records of the year) to the absurdity of Pitchfork (no parenthetical side note necessary), and everybody and their mother publishing a list (and taking it way too seriously), the whole thing is losing meaning. The only thing I really ever got out of it was discovering new music I hadn't heard. Hopefully by you reading my list, you might give something a shot you wouldn't have otherwise. Case in point -- did you know that the Dismemberment Plan's Change and System of a Down's Toxicity -- were Spin's top two records of the year in 2001? I subsequently bought both and guess what...one became one of my all-time favorite records and the other is a nÃ¼-metal record.
So, remember, a personal list is just that: a personal list. These may not be the "best" records (what does that mean anyway?) or the "most important" records (how can you measure importance just months after release?), but these are the records I enjoyed the most in 2008. If something I write piques your interest then by all means check it out. If you disagree, remember -- it's just like, my opinion, man.
Lastly, as a law student I spend most of time experiencing the time-suck of law books. Because of that I've begun an appreciation and search for the best study music. I've included a list of my favorites in the past year and why they help studying. School is punk rock.
Top 20 Albums
Five One, Inc.
Too-smart-for-their-own-good genre-jumpers put out half an amazing album. Sounds like an updated Steely Dan after catching a Dismemberment Plan show.
Caleb Scofield has never made a misstep from Cave In to Old Man Gloom, which ultimately morphed into Zozobra. This is where the heavy side of Cave In came from and this dude has an awesome voice as well.
This record isn't fooling anyone. They're a joke and most of the songs are about partying or the after-effects of partying. The title track is all about food shaped in a circle for god's sake. The verse to that track is a list of round foods ("pizza, bagels, chips, pie") but they make up for it in the chorus: "When we meal, we keep it real." This should be terrible, but it's got great riffs and I love it.
self-released / Gobias Industries
This just came out and is a last-minute addition to my list. There's a ton of great hardcore riffs and it sounds like a band that doesn't give a shit what you think, just playing what they want.
Island / Def Jam
I love Elvis Costello, and besides his guest spot later in the record, when I put this on I thought I was listening an EC record. Hate Pete Wentz and his band all you want but Patrick Stump is a great singer and you have their songs in your head. Really though, I hate them too, but I listen anyway.
Tight hardcore with a serious literary bent. In many ways they're taking the Modern Life Is War template in a new direction. Also, they tour in a veggie oil van, which if you aren't into you probably voted for McCain/Palin.
I'm no Fucked Up superfan, but this is another difficult yet somehow totally accessible record from these Canadians. There's a lot that's been written about this band and it's mostly garbage. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.
Diwphalanx / Southern Lord
A more mainstream (as much as they get) record from this Japanese noise-drone-stoner-whatever trio. They have some of the best tones of any band I can think of.
This band is kind of popular with the hipsters but still worth a listen. It reminds me of a stoner band that all of a sudden got really good.
Too bad this band broke up, as every release just got better and better. This one features some great lyrics and always catchy songs with a frontman that sounds like he's going to lose it any second.
Fat Wreck Chords
Sure, this doesn't have "Jane" on it, but I like it better than Keep Your Heart. I like when bands branch out and take chances, and how many bands could pull off a track like "Louisiana"?
I just wrote the review of this record a few weeks ago (where I compared its effect on the listener to Rambo) and don't have much more to say. This record is heavy with great riffs and never clichÃ©.
What a cute record. I just want to grab this band and cuddle them while I watch reruns of "The Golden Girls." Seriously though, some great indie pop songs with great guitar playing and occasionally profound lyrics. Lemuria, thank you for being a friend.
I lost faith in Thursday a long time ago, so the quality of this material blew me away. As far as Envy, I think these tracks are some of the best stuff they've ever done. Bonus: the packaging on the LP/CD is awesome.
Another winner from PIB. Dan Yemin is in his thirties and still sounds more urgent that 99% of the frontmen younger than him. I think he has played in other bands too.
- ...Don't Laugh
This three-piece Ohio band is a direct descendent of Lookout!-era Green Day and is fronted by two identical twins that both sing all the time. Every song is a hit and the lyrics are great. They're too hip to have a MySpace page but can be tracked down on the internet. Totally worth it.
Another band that broke up this year. This record is probably the best-kept secret of the year in hardcore and is one of the most desperate sounding albums I've ever heard.
Fat Wreck Chords
I guess I wasn't expecting it to be this good. They always wrote catchy hooks but they stepped it up into straight-up amazing songs that can stand on their own against anyone. It's nice to actually see a band (and people for that matter) age gracefully; check the lyrics to "A Jingle for the Product" for proof.
- Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God
I will admit I went overboard on the review for this record, but it really is a profound piece of heavy music. They are hands down the best hardcore band out right now. If you don't like the record at first, catch them live and they will win you over.
Top EPs and 7"s
This one was a grower for me after the EP, The Redder, The Better, featured five tracks that were all classics. With the longer format they took some chances with subtlety that paid off in the end. This is the record of the year for me. I highly recommend checking out this record and seeing them live.
This is really on here for the Brainworms side. The singer writes the best stream-of-consciousness post-adolescent musings on punk rock and life experiences that I've ever read. Plus, a cool Fugazi-ish sound from the band doesn't hurt.
4. War Pigs
- No Hope, No Faith, No Point
This band hits a lot of different styles without sounding forced or corny. I'm interested to see what they do next to see if they stick it out as a hardcore band or just let loose and go crazy with it.
This is really punk for a hardcore band. The lyrics were either written by a genius or a deranged lunaticâ¦maybe both. This is one of the few modern bands that actually has something to say about the world.
I like Envy for their heavy parts, but I love them for their atmospheric parts. This is just another entry in their already amazing catalog.
Oh man this has a lot of great riffs. I almost want them to break up and never release anything else because this is so good. Really smart and tough grooving hardcore with zero chug bullshit.
This is kind of a collections record of never-released material, and is so good would've made my proper list if the rules allowed it. A lot of this shows a bit of a `90s emo influence not readily apparent on their proper full-lengths. I listened to nothing but this for weeks after it came out.
Best Of Vinyl Reissues and Packaging
This band should have been the biggest band in the world instead of Joey Erg having to sending out MySpace bulletins looking for a roommate. Seriously, so many classics on this including some new material. I've had "Introducing Morrissey" in my head for months now. Their break-up is the biggest loss of the year. Wah.
I'm a vinyl nerd and 2008 was a great year for vinyl reissues. I was introduced to vinyl rather young so to see a lot of my favorites released, especially ones I never got ahold of myself, was awesome. Top vinyl reissues for me were:
- Alkaline Trio - Goddammit, Maybe I'll Catch Fire, Alkaline Trio
- Megadeth - Rust in Peace, Peace Sellsâ¦But Who's Buying?
- Crime in Stereo - The Troubled Stateside
- The Ergs! - Dorkrockcorkrod, Jersey's Best Prancers EP
Inherent in my love of vinyl is a love for the packaging. Labels have been putting more effort into vinyl this year and enhanced detail in packaging makes owning a physical product that much more enticing, something that the industry can capitalize on. There were three releases that stood out to me just in a packaging sense. I'm sure there were more, but these were the ones I liked:
Most Anticipated Of 2009
- Trap Them - Seizures in Barren Praise; a triple gatefold that folds out into one huge image plus a vinyl pressed on matching colors.
- Thursday/Envy split; putting a CD in the LP is nice, but they actually work it into the art and packaging. The 180 gram record with straight-cut edges is gorgeous.
- J. Bannon - The Blood of Thine Enemies; one-sided 7" with a beautiful etching on the other side. Then inserted inside, a hand-assembled custom envelope featuring more of Bannon's striking artwork.
Study Music Section
- Converge - new full-length and DVD
- The final Ergs! releases
Study music can be a huge aid when you're just sick of it and don't want to do it anymore, or any time for that matter. After spending so much time at the library this year, this became a big part of my listening regimen. For me, there are two types I like: light and atmospheric background music, but also high-energy intelligence-inducing abstract stuff that can keep my energy up.
- Miles Davis electric-era releases -- especially Bitches Brew, Dark Magus, and Live Evil. This is my go-to to spark my mind into overdrive.
- Chick Corea - ECM Best Of; Chick Corea is one of the great jazz piano players and this collection is mostly him playing electric keyboards -- not cheesy synths but the real kind from the `70s. I swear listening to this makes you smarter.
- Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks; modern minimal classical music. It's really simple and really well-done. Very relaxing.
- Phillip Glass - The Hours Soundtrack; Phillip Glass is the king of modern minimalism and this one is the best for studying.
- Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else; this is a really low-key jazz album from when jazz meant something to the world.