Ben is a news editor, reviewer, and the interviews editor here at Punknews.org. - ed.
Looking back at 2008
This week marks the end of what has been one of the best years of my life. As you read this I will be on my honeymoon with my beautiful wife. I got married on December 30th and while at press time, it hadn't happened yet, I'm sure it was wonderful ceremony. I'm also getting ready to graduate law school this year, marking the end of eight years in the post-secondary system. I think I'll quit at three degrees, though. Time to be an adult, right? 2008 was also a great year for music, and you'll see why as you read through my top 20 albums of the year.
Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read punknews.org. 2009 promises to be an exciting year for us, and we hope to have each of you along for the ride.
Top 20 albums of 2008
Like a more subdued .moneen., Papermoons were my go-to band when I was looking for low-key melancholic tunes. The mellow songs found on New Tales are full of subtle treats that present themselves through a number of listens.
19. Bad Flirt: Virgin Talk
Phantom Sound & Vision
This Montreal band's brand of female-fronted power-pop should be reason enough for anyone to say "Para-who?" The band's mix of melody and snootiness is refreshing and results in an album that's as good to listen to at a crowded house party as it is on your headphones. They might not be a household name yet, but with some luck and justice that'll change.
Experience and tragedy have helped Bayside grow into being one of the best pop-punk bands this side of Jawbreaker. Shudder took some minor steps in furthering the band down the road they started on with their first EP, Long Stories Short. They still may not have reached their full potential, but Shudder sure is one fantastic step along the way.
While I am sure many of us would love to see Avail become a full-time band, it's not likely to happen. However, that shouldn't stop people from getting into Barry's solo work. The songwriter's message of doing the right thing in the face of criticism and standing by your convictions blends wonderfully with tales of folk hero and everyday struggle. Manchester is a testament to Barry's ability to be the voice of common people without regard to generation.
Jersey Shores was the album that surprised me the most this year and got me asking "What have I been missing?" The power of this album creeps up the listener, and once it hits, does not let up. The concept of a shark that stalks the beaches of New Jersey only serves to make the album's force that much more intensified. With bands as diverse as Isis and Black Flag making influential stylistic appearances, Jersey Shores may seem at times to be all over the place, but it is certainly always in your face.
Carpenter was another band that came out of nowhere and impressed me a great deal. The band plays a more melodic version of Hot Water Music / Small Brown Bike-inspired post-punk and on Law of the Land, focus their lyrics on farming. It may sound strange, but it works incredibly well.
Hail Destroyer shows that Cancer Bats have developed a much stronger songwriting base since their first album, Birthing the Giant. The album also makes it clear that their near-continuous touring schedule has resulted in a tighter sound. Cancer Bats bring their influences of punk, hardcore and metal together in a fashion that is fresh enough to allow the band to stand out amongst their peers. Finally, Hail Destroyer is a huge ride that works as well on CD as it does live.
The band had to release Into Lake Griffy on their own, but if there is any justice in this world they will find a label to have their back on the next go-around. The band sounds like a more youthful Weakerthans, especially in the vocal department. Smart, catchy indie rock didn't sound as good anywhere this year as it does on this album.
Fat Wreck Chords
The Loved Ones could have taken an easy approach with their second album and it would have gone over very well within the punk community. However, the band took a decidedly more mature approach while writing the followup to Keep Your Heart and it has resulted in what has surprisingly become some of their best songs to date, especially "Louisiana," an ode to those struggling to rebuild New Orleans.
With their third album, the Bronx continue to be one of the most dependable bands in punk rock. The band's latest spin on huge rock-meets hardcore is their most accessible album to date and also one of their best.
Fat Wreck Chords
Dillinger Four certainly doesn't hurry into the studio, but when they come out with a new album, it's always a treat. Dillinger Four continue to write some of the most infectious and socially relevant pop-punk around. They stand out, in part, because of their experience, which has not only given them time to perfect their hooks, but also develop a sense of the world that they effectively deliver in three-minute bursts.
Who would have thought that the next incarnation of post-hardcore á la Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike would have come from New York? Sometimes Things Just Disappear's compelling mix of melody and aggression has made for a stunning first full-length, which they hinted they would make with their 2006 EP, The Redder, The Better. After spending two years on my list of most eagerly anticipated album, this one didn't disappoint.
I haven't heard punk rock played with this much passion in ages. The songs on Fists Buried in Pockets could only have been written by observant songwriters spending obscene amounts of time touring small clubs in a small van, and as far as those types of bands go, the Riot Before is the best.
Sleep It Off
What a return to form! I didn't spend a lot of time with the last two releases from these Florida veterans, but GNV FLA represents everything I have always loved about this band. There are a ton of horns, wicked hooks and lyrics that anybody who has ever questioned their station in life can relate to. Think Hello Rockview mixed with Borders & Boundaries and a few more years of experience.
When East/West's opener, "Wartime Souvenirs" kicks in, it is immediately clear that Bridge and Tunnel have earned their place amongst the best contemporary punk rock bands. While the album's cynical look at the world doesn't make it the feel-good record of the year, it does give the band a bit of substance to go along with the jams.
If it's got Dan Yemin in it, chances are it's going to make my year-end list. At its core, The New Lexicon is full of raw aggression. This, coupled with Yemin's lyrics and the band's ever-developing brand of hardcore, never fails to get me excited. Paint It Black is always changing, as can be seen with the bass-heavy production on The New Lexicon, but they are always amongst the best.
After last year's stunning Sink or Swim, the Gaslight Anthem had an uphill battle ahead of them if they wanted to impress people with a followup. Rather than re-writing the songs off their debut, the band took an obvious turn in direction and focused on fusing their punk roots with, well, the '59 sound. With just as much old soul as there is Springsteen and Hot Water Music, The '59 Sound leaves something new to be discovered with each spin, and each spin is a treat.
While some bands on my list (Fucked Up, Akimbo) made the cut because of their complex compositions and aggression, Teenage Bottlerocket makes my list because they're the best Ramones-core band I've ever heard. That these guys aren't as big as Blink-182 or Green Day continues to baffle me. Teenage Bottlerocket makes the best three-chord punk rock of any band on this planet, hands down. Warning Device is yet another great installment in an already incredible discography.
Craig Finn could very well be the voice of a generation. His lyrics seem to perfectly capture the purgatory between being young and being grown up as well as the wondering and self-doubt that goes along with that. The band continues to sound more and more like the E Street band, largely due to an increased keyboard presence. Everything falls perfectly into place on Stay Positive and its 11 songs, making it the perfect album to listen to as I stumble through my own life.
What I'm looking forward to in 2009
Toronto, Canada's Fucked Up have never been a band that has been easily understood. However, if one thing is clear with their second full-length, it is that they are hands-down the best punk band in the world. Equally appreciated by both art school students and dudes in motorcycle gangs, Fucked Up appeal to people on a number of levels. Through one listen, you pick up on their primal aggression. Through another, all that stands out is their musical complexity. Nevertheless, each listen more rewarding than the last.
- Fake Problems: It's Great to Be Alive
- O Pioneers!!!: Neon Creeps
- Thursday: Common Existence
- Rival Schools