Best of 2008 - Justin's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2008

Justin's picks (2008)

staff picks

Justin is a news editor and reviewer here at You can follow Justin on Twitter. - ed.

Pretty Good Year

It was a pretty good year. I honestly couldn't tell you much of what happened music-wise, though. I was enveloped in my own world -- something the other editors can frustratingly attest to. It was nice to spend some time watching our little corner of the culture unfold from the outside, with some inside knowledge. This year's Fest was different for me; while it was only my second, the whole vibe felt like a frat party. We, in a general sense, left Gainesville trashed. I saw pizza boxes all over the street and broken bottles in similar amounts. It was honestly depressing. Combined with some seriously childish antics by some of the performers I have to say I'm ready to pass next year -- same for Punk Rock Bowling, the premier destination for Punk Rock Stars in training. In 2009 I think it'd be nice to see everyone else do the same. Take some time and look at what's going on -- the egos, the drama and the overall self-indulgence -- and get some perspective. This whole "punk rock" thing could be really awesome, if we all just actually tried at it instead of taking the easy road.

This year I also found out that I'm no fun at all. See previous paragraph. No one wants to hear some over-the-hill beardboy whine about music, so go on and read your lists. It was a good year in music -- I didn't listen to much, but I enjoyed what I did.

Pretty Much the Only 10 Records I Listened to in 2008. Frank Turner

Xtra Mile Recordings
Best Billy Bragg worship album ever, probably. Beats the pants off Russ Substance -- even though I still love that guy. Glad to see that Casey Lee and Good Friends are releasing some of his stuff stateside. The title track is Turner's ode to the glory that was the punk attitude -- however failed and flawed it may be now. It's easy listening, totally non-groundbreaking and very familiar -- none of which keeps it from being thoroughly enjoyable.
Yes, it sounds like Mates of State. But it's not nearly as self-involved and overdone. It's cute and positive without being gimmicky -- the former being a trait shared by former member Jeff's new outfit that appears later on the list. For those of us who spent a large amount of time in the great state of Ohio, there's nothing but pride in the ode to the state on this disk. The "Till The I Die" series will strike a chord with anyone old enough to have had to let a friend save themself from their own vices.
Pretentious hipster shit. Derivative drivel that shouldn't have made it out of Williamsburg. Look, I like the Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel too -- but srsly? But damned if I can't stop listening to it. It's fun, it's whimsical and just as young and immature as it sounds. All in all, it's rather refreshing and that's a good enough reason to listen to it.
Second Nature
Being blunt -- at first. I was super bummed this album wasn't more Small Brown Bike. Most of you were too, or you were far too excited because you wanted it to be the band we all miss. Looking past this there's a dynamic band with a lot to say. The groove-filled songs that often take off into full-on ragers like "What Doesn't Kill You" are note-for-note perfect while the slower jams balance out the record, reminding that these guys are older than they once were. It's a damned shame that this band has played live approximately three times at this point -- they are an amazing live act and feel even more intense in that setting.
Asian Man
This is only their first LP? Really? The past two years have been insane for this band and you can hear it on the album. It sounds like they finally got a chance to slow down and spend some time just playing and hanging out. When I last talked to them, they said their songs seem to change a lot over the time that they play them and you can hear that her. Get Better has a real "sessions" feel to it. It's a complete document -- even if it isn't their best material, it's cohesive and tight and helps to shed the inevitable yet obnoxious comparisons to Discount and Fifth Hour Hero.
First impression of this album: booooooring. There are still tracks on the album that I skip out of need but overall I'm getting over the shift in sound...though I miss the fire of the first album. Brian and the boys have created an aesthetic with this album more than anything else. It's equal parts rockabilly, '90s Jersey punk and some archetypical Americana blended together. Sometimes it misses, sometimes it hits but I will say that they're going for it and being totally unapologetic about it the whole way.
Arts & Crafts
The difference between the Cons and everyone else is that they're just better than the rest. Kensington Heights is the band pushing their Canadiacana sound even further. It's equal parts post-"genre" and "insert roots hero"; attempting comparisons just doesn't work for this band. They are more of a force in independent music than a player in a genre.
3. Nobunny: Love Visions
1-2-3-4 Go! Records / self-released
Ramones worship of the worst variety: the doo-wop songs! A bunny mask? A severe lack of pants? On-stage cutting? But listen to "I Am a Girlfriend" and "Chuck Berry Holiday" and tell me you don't want to buy a jean jacket and lean up against a wall somewhere with this playing in the background. Or maybe you'd rather be in a seedy bar in Oakland with a few too many Pabsts in you dancing around like you did before you put up your "way too cool" facade. Either way, fans of Jay Reatard may see themselves jumping to a new beat after hearing this under-the-radar release. Extra scene points if you have the self-released, hand-made original version (I have two: one gatefold and one normal).
No Idea
Similar to my #1 pick, this Brooklyn band has come out of the gate swinging with an album that belies their age as a band. Equal parts Long Island punk rock (think Latterman or Hot Water Worship), '90s emo guitar lines and DIY battle cries. Frighteningly intelligent without being preachy, fist-pumping without being macho and introspective without being navel-gazing. This is the album that drummer Pat never achieved with Latterman -- positive without being clichéd, honesty without self-deprecation and fun without being over the top. It's absolutely crucial that you hear this album and scream the opening lines to "Call to the Comptroller's Office" at least once.
Most bands wish for this album their entire career. This three-piece is one of the most dynamic live acts and it translates perfect on record. Matt's incredibly noodly guitar lines and storytelling abilities mesh with Ginger's emotive bass lines and soaring voice while Mike's drumming is equal parts jazz, spazz and punk rock. Epic tracks like "1001 Open Hands" and "Stars Were Exploding" feel like a band with several more albums under their belts while "Hey Matt" and "West Wind Ride" are just wacky enough to keep the record from falling into the realm of pretentious overwraught drivel. Full disclosure: I have a huge crush on the whole band and got a Christmas card from them. This album is essential.
EPs, 7"s and Other Formats/Things
These guys are doing it the right way. They are taking all their Long Island punk roots and making it all grown up. I love the vocal styling that (intentionally?) apes [[Avoid One Thing]] and the step towards dirty old man punk rock. All their newer stuff is rad, too.
4. Chuck Ragan / The Loved Ones: Give and Take
Ten Four
Both bands do the job admirably here and thankfully my love for the Ragan cut overwhelms my recent distaste for Mr. Hause and crew. While the Loved Ones are competent, they'd never be able to pull off writing a track like "For Broken Ears" on their own. God bless you Mr. Ragan; you make the world go 'round.
3. If You Make It: Pink Couch Sessions
While not a specific "album" per se, IYMI's sessions have been fantastic. The videos from Good Luck and Bridge and Tunnel are beyond fantastical and the aesthetic, mixing Web 2.0 with DIY ethics, is strikingly fantastic. Here's to more from them.
Making garage rock the new dance-punk for the punk rock hipsters seems easy for Jay. He seems like an overnight success and even if that were true (which it's not), it wouldn't be hard to see why. A knack for songwriting that surpasses most and an ear for songwriting that sets him far above the other clichéd outfits of this scene.
To Me
Fat Wreck Chords
My favorite "Punk Rock" band finally released some new music. And it sounds like Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. Seriously, the title track from this EP could have been on Rock Art or Streetcore -- and it's damned near perfect. "Ran That Scam" is another fantastically introspective look at one of our favorite former scumbags -- and it still works. Here's to hoping African Elephants appears and the band doesn't implode.

The Vinyl Bubble

I mean really -- if you're into buying it for the money, sell high, quick. Pressing eight colors and packaging them as a deal with a pint glass, beer stein and a bottle opener is quickly killing the joy of collecting. I've fallen prey to it myself -- who wants a copy of the Falcon 10"? -- and can see how it's taking away the joy of actually finding rare vinyl. The Vinyl Collective approach has commoditized and ran into the ground the concept of colored vinyl. If you're shopping for wall decorations it's a nice, cheap way to get some pretty colored disks -- but if you're wanting to own a piece of history (in my eye, the purpose of "rare" vinyl), you're just buying the Wal-Mart version of it. Sorry Virgil, this is no offense to you and I know you love what you do, but this isn't fun anymore -- it's just tedious.

To be clear, I'm very pro- the institution of vinyl and colored vinyl as a special thing. What I take issue with is taking the fun, the danger and the hunt out of finding those rare pieces of wax -- leading people to buy still-in-print 7"'s for 10 times the cost on eBay! I think everyone can agree that shit like that is ridiculous.

Next Year

I hear that some day soon Dead to Me will have a new album -- and maybe a radically new way of interacting with the band; we'll see if that happens. I'm looking forward to seeing the egos of more frontmen relegate their bands to the sidestage while they strum acoustically in the limelight. I'm also taking odds on the possibility of the East Bay via Brooklyn powerhouse Thorns of Life actually recording something. Oh and I bet we see the vinyl bubble pop. Sorry again Virgil.

I'll be waiting to see what happens with my friends in Gaslight, Fake Problems and the crop of new torch-bearers for the microcosm of the scene that we cover here. It's nice to see your buds take off and it's nice to see them getting the recognition for being excellent musicians and songwriters -- however fast it might be.