Jon Daley 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
So how's your girl?
Hello friends, and welcome to Jon's 2008 year in review (drum roll, please). This past year was my first full year as a staff reviewer and as such I got the chance to hear some fantastic and not-so-fantastic stuff. It was a remarkable year that saw the passing of George Carlin; the community here incur the wrath of Say Anything's Max Bemis; some high-profile albums leaked; and I found out that I'm basically a less punk rock version of George Costanza. Looking back, it is remarkable how one's own personal tastes can shift from year to year and day to day. For instance, this year I listened to quite a bit less hardcore punk than I had the year previous, not out of any conscious motive but in a time of personal and professional shifts in my life it just wasn't the sort of thing that seemed to stay with me. Here is what I was paying attention to this year, as I grew more strange, slow and oldâ¦
Top 20 Albums
As soft and tranquil as their name would imply, Papermoon's debut full-length is a confident and polished indie folk-pop offering. What sets this release apart from middle-of-the-pack albums is its rigorous maintaining of a consistently mellow approach, while truly unique melodies are able to keep the listener focused on the delicate intricacies of the band's sound.
It is always satisfying when a band delivers on its promise and this album does just that for Bridge and Tunnel. With a dense wall of sound that perfectly marries the aggression of hardcore with '90s Midwestern emo, each time you listen to it there is a bassline or guitar part that you didn't notice before.
Bridging the gap between modern hardcore punk and indie/post-punk, Suicide Note has created an experience of an album. In terms of content and musical style it explores alienation and paranoia in an exhaustively thorough manner, and is able to produce something that can be both enjoyed as something that rocks hard and is emotionally and intellectually engaging in ways that few modern hardcore records can.
I'll admit to owning and enjoying Latterman's discography but not being a huge fan due to the overtly "posi" sentiments. It was therefore a huge surprise at how much I've enjoyed the dirty pop-punk of this post-Latterman project of singer/guitarist Matt Canino and ex-Jawbreaker bassist Chris Bauermeister. I attribute this to the more succinct songwriting found here and the more realistic outlook conveyed in the lyrics, but maybe I'm just crabby.
For all the layers of noise, punk aesthetic and unusual musical excursions, No Age, at their heart, remains a solid pop band. While Weirdo Rippers didn't do much for me, Nouns manages to capture all the band's manic energy into a focused beam.
While true-school screamo/emocore (skramz? Whatever.) has continued to exist in the underground, few seem to take their cues from bands like Moss Icon and Native Nod. This record tackles the territory of those bands but with a much more full and pretty guitar style that references modern post-rock as much as the vocals establish this as a hardcore album.
In the Red
When I saw Vivian Girls live this fall the band looked as if they were having the time of their life on stage and without knowing any songs I was still having a great time. Their self-titled debut's shoegazey post-C86 pop fully reflects that unabashed sense of fun for one of the catchiest albums of the year.
New Romance for Kids
As I said in my review for the album, it might be straightforward but it shows a band that has studied their craft of Cruz Records-inspired pop-punk well. It is completely void of filler, with each of the 10 songs full of great guitar lines and criminally addictive hooks.
Ida is a band that has been around for a long time and Lovers Prayers sounds like a band that has been reinvigorated with new energy. The basic features of their sound remain in their achingly beautiful indie/pop/folk rock but there is an unusual upbeat quality to these arrangements that makes the listener uncharacteristically present in this album. This ends up being the perfect soundtrack to a lazy winter Sunday.
With Stay Positive, Craig Finn solidifies his place as one of the finest storytellers in modern rock music. These are perfect, Springsteen-inspired anthems of disillusionment and discovery, which teeter on the brink of the last days of youth, referencing disperate acts such as Dillinger Four and Youth of Today. Besides, the opening pair of "Constructive Summer" and "Sequestered in Memphis" is one of the finest I've ever heard on any album.
Bermuda Mohawk / Quote Unquote
Cheap Girls were one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the year for me, with the muscle of Sugar and the smooth vocals of the Lemonheads or Smoking Popes. The sweetness of music belies the band's ability to eloquently reveal how unexpectedly fragile situations can be.
Mr. Love & Justice is a vast improvement of Braggy's last effort and shows he still has a knack for blending the personal and political together into his music. While he may have smoothed out some of his rougher edges over time there is still a sharp enthusiasm that come across perfectly in these recordings. FYI: If you get the deluxe edition there is a solo version of the album included that is superior to the already fantastic band version.
On the surface, Get Better is a '90s power-pop throwback to bands like Superchunk. Yet, there is more to it than just a collection of catchy tunes about relationships; the compositions are more complex than your average power-pop band and the dual vocals of Sheena's high-earnest delivery contrast well with Alex's Calvin Johnson-esque mellow.
Be Happy! / Sars
Close your eyes and you just might imagine you've uncovered some lost Cap'n Jazz record. Sure this might be imitation of the highest order but Algernon Cadwallader's love for the Kinsellas is reflected in the music with dedication to write a record that is as good as their influences and enough of their own touches that it doesn't feel like a simple retread at all when you really compare the two.
Their first EP could have been a fluke, but with their first proper album they prove to be one of the best pop-punk bands around. The band's gruff yet superbly melodic sensibilities are juxtaposed against some of the most world-weary lyrics around on songs like "Empty Your Bottles" that few bands can match.
There is something to be said when a band can simultaneously release their most challenging album and still have their most (or one of their most) accessible songs featured on it. Toronto's Fucked Up have done this, and recall a time when hardcore punk didn't mean the same recycled riffs and tired themes. One can only imagine what is next.
Fat Wreck Chords
After six years of waiting, Dillinger Four finally release their fourth studio LP, and was the wait worth it? Yes. Like Lifetime returning off their long hiatus last year, Dillinger four have seemed to refine their pop sensibilities, albeit only slightly and actually written a happy song in "Gainesville." It is the type of album that was needed now more than ever as the public's political consciousness has been heightened around the world and this album successfully articulates the effects of institutionalized systems of oppression on the average Joe even in the prospect of hope and change.
Chad VanGaalen is an exceptional songwriter and this album brings that fact into relief. Being able to meld soft acoustics, distorted synths and found sounds into one bizarre, catchy and complex album that appears to reflect on the nature of life and death is a huge achievement and, most importantly, really enjoyable.
The Gaslight Anthem have really come into their own on The '59 Sound, being able to distil influences of classic blues tropes of self-mythology and repetition with a difference, occasional punk aggression and guitar leads that hint at British post-punk and Springsteen, without sounding exactly like either. Aside from all of that, these are just really sincere and memorable tunes.
Top Live Shows I Attended
What really sets this record apart is not only is it a solid collection of songs, but Bob Mould is able to take his entire recorded output and make an album that reflects almost his entire body of work. You won't find any early HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ but there are songs that reference the driving punk-pop of his late-period HÃ¼sker/Sugar days, reflective songs from his early singer-songwriter days and even electronic flourishes from his mid-'90s output. Few artists can capture a feeling like this record without a greatest hits compilation, and this might as well be because there isn't a miss to be found on the whole thing.
- Billy Bragg / C.R. Avery â live in Toronto @ Sirius Soundstage, June 17th
- The Loved Ones / Lemuria / Gimmie Drugs â live in Asbury Park @ Asbury Lanes, July 2nd
- Lucero / Yesterday's Ring â live in Toronto @ the Horseshoe Tavern, April 19th
- Bob Mould â live in Toronto @ the Mod Club, March 10th
- Fucked Up / Final Fantasy / One Hundred Dollars / Vivian Girls / Katie Stelmanis â live in Toronto @ Sneaky Dee's, October 30th
There was quite a few good albums that just didn't make the cut this year and I'm sure there was more but a few of the ones that deserve special attention are Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves
, My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges
, Static Radio NJ's great melodic hardcore jaunt An Evening of Bad Decisions...
, Teenage Bottlerocket's Warning Device
and last, but not least, LaGrecia's On Parallels
- The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
- Banner Pilot - Empty Your Bottles
- Dillinger Four - "Contemplate this on the tree of woe."
- Static Radio NJ - Green Hoody
- The Gaslight Anthem - Say I Won't (Recognize)
- The Ready Aim Fire! - LA
- Tom Gabel - Anna Is a Stool Pigeon
- LaGrecia - You Like Baseball I Like Ghosts
- Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves - In the Middle of the Sea
- My Morning Jacket - I'm Amazed
- Papermoons - Behind the Frame
- Sinaloa - Seek Harbor
What happens next?
- Jay Reatard - You Mean Nothing to Me
- No Age - Here Should Be My Home
- Vivian Girls - No
- Fucked Up - Black Albino Bones
- Suicide Note - Social Leper
- Bridge and Tunnel - Night Owls
- Algernon Cadwallader - Katie's Conscience
- Teenage Bottlerocket - Pacemaker
- HiFi Handgrenades - Carry On
- Lemuria - Mechanical
- Cheap Girls - No One to Blame
- Bob Mould - Very Temporary
- Billy Bragg - If You Ever Leave [solo version]
So far I'm not looking forward to too much yet for next year except maybe the Boss' new album. Try and stay happy. I'll see you again soon pals, and remember, take good care of each other!