Scott Brown is a staff reviewer at Punknews.org - ed.
Introduction2009 was another great year for music, but really, every year is good if you're just paying attention. As I noted last year, the real value in year-end lists is to discover new music and as fun as it was to make my own list, I'm looking forward to poring over all the other reviewer and editors lists for gems I might have missed over the year.
On a side note, congratulations to the Aubin and the other editors on the site redesign and continued success of the site. While I was a devoted reader long before becoming a staff reviewer, I still think this is the best site for punk news and reviews and I'm proud to be a part of it.
Top 20 Albums
Owen: New Leaves
Mike Kinsella gives us another low-key feel-good record made for lazy Sunday mornings. This time around, he expanded the instrumentation, but the all of his trademark moves are still there -- from the out-of-context f-bombs to the skillful guitar flourishes.
All Teeth: I Am Losing
This album is a barrage of non-stop intensity from these northern California hardcore underdogs. Extremely pissed and unafraid to say what's on their minds, this record sounds like the solution to the worst day of your life.
The Rival Mob: Raw Life
This band has a bit of throwback sound with equal parts punk and hardcore. It has high energy with '80s style production that actually sounds fresh in the current landscape of over-produced computer bands. Also, you've got to love that cover art.
Touché Amoré: ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse
This record features guest appearances from the singers from Thursday and Modern Life Is War, which is fitting because that's exactly the mix of bands Touché Amoré sounds like. An apologetically emotional record, it still has tons of energy beneath the intense spilling-your-guts vocals.
Rise and Fall: Our Circle Is Vicious
While not as punishingly heavy as 2006's Into Oblivion, this record still retains some of the band's mix of Cleveland and New York styles, but applies a heavy dose of pacing. Rather than just punching you in the face for 25 minutes, there's a newfound attention to building tension and outside-of-the-box playing. It's still heavy, though, don't worry.
Iron Age: The Sleeping Eye
Iron Age was a "hardcore" band at one point, but this is a metal record. The guitars are straight from 1985 and expertly played while the vocalist lays out stories of epic fantasy conquests. That sounds like it could be cheesy, but it's not at all. Bang your head.
Gallows: Grey Britain
This isn't as immediately pleasing as Orchestra of Wolves as it's overloaded with too many songs and interludes, but there are some seriously great tracks on it. This is as melodic and catchy as you can get while still being a hardcore band. With lyrics like, "Go on and kill yourself, cuz there ain't nothing left...," I can't believe a major label put this out.
Polar Bear Club: Chasing Hamburg
I guess the guys in Polar Bear Club are human after all. Their debut EP and album were both unbelievably fantastic, and while this is still a good album, it's not the classics their previous releases were. Still, they did a good job of mixing it up as the highlight of this record might just be the stripped-down track "Drifting Thing."
The Sidekicks: Weight of Air
This band came out of nowhere. These songs showcase some seriously sophisticated songwriting that is sometimes fun and catchy, and sometimes somber and poignant. There's a ton of depth here and while this is a nice record, there are definite flashes of greater things to come.
Sabertooth Zombie: And Your Fathers are Dead in the Ground
This is a challenging band that still knows how to have fun. While every other hardcore band is trying to be heavy and show how angry they are, this band is mixing disparate styles and painting apocalyptic pictures of the decay of modern society. It's an effective mix of high intelligence, insanity and core punk rock identity.
Delay: Plain Language
For me, Delay invokes the nostalgic feeling of growing up in the Midwest where your only escapes are going to shows and falling in love. On this record, they step up their songwriting with more sophisticated melodies, but still retain their fun basement-show vibe. This is real pop-punk at its most emotionally affective.
Pulling Teeth: Paranoid Delusions / Paradise Illusions
This is an ambitious work for a band with its roots in straightforward fast hardcore. The styles are all over the place, but always seem to make sense. On another note, there was a lot of great vinyl packaging this year, but the hologram cover version of this LP easily takes the cake.
Fat Wreck Chords
This is my favorite NOFX full-length since So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes. All the classic NOFX ingredients are there with political songs, hilarious songs and odes to drinking too much. If you stopped paying attention to them at any point over the last three-to-four albums, it's worth picking this one up.
Doomriders: Darkness Come Alive
Doomriders finally deliver on the promise of their collective members' respective pedigrees. This record is an insanely enjoyable mix of dark and dirty rock with catchy hooks and great lyrics. The title track is probably my favorite song of the year and should be on the radio. Hey mainstream radio, you're missing out on this one.
Mastodon: Crack the Skye
There was a lot of hype and talk about the theme and new direction of this record. Even though I was a fan of their previous work, I was skeptical after everything I heard. However, I finally listened to it and realized all that talk was total BS. I always preferred their heavy songs to the atmospheric ones, but they finally meshed it all into one enjoyable and original sound.
Propagandhi: Supporting Caste
This is everything you want in a Propagandhi record: It shreds; it's got thought-provoking lyrics; there are catchy moments; and it showcases just how incredibly Canadian these guys are. And that's just in one song ("Dear Coaches Corner"). There's also a song about killing, dressing and eating a pro-meat activist -- all designed to promote the idea of veganism. Not counting NOFX, this is the only '90s Fat Wreck band that still matters.
Trapped Under Ice: Secrets of the World
This band writes great riffs, has interesting lyrics, and knows how to construct a song. The first side of this is perfectly written and executed NY-style hardcore. It might be a style that the typical 'Org reader hates, but as Ocho says, "haters are just confused admirers."
Nails: Obscene Humanity
Six Feet Under
With no artwork and no marketing, most people are going to skip over this one. That's unfortunate, because this release features some of the heaviest and most disgusted hardcore released this year. Tuned down and way over-driven, this one will make the paint peel off the walls. The track "Lies" is one of my favorites to come out this year. Seriously explosive and unrelenting.
Baroness: Blue Record
Baroness does everything right. From the guitar tone to the songwriting, even to the well-performed acoustic track, there's nothing they don't excel at. Overall, it's hard to describe this album, but it sounds to me like what the alpha cave man would put on to seduce a cave woman. It's primal and sexual, but also very sophisticated and intelligent.
Converge: Axe to Fall
Nobody mixes intensity and aggression with such a high level of musicianship and sophistication. Pitchfork said they were the Black Flag of this generation, and while that might be flattering, it is way off-base and actually discounts Converge's true value to modern music. Converge is its own band and exists for now. This release takes their approach to a new level adding a more metallic-shredding influence to the guitars and features a ton of guests that all add to each song rather than just sounding like a novelty guest appearance.
Top 5 EPs and 7"s
Paint It Black: Amnesia 7"
The track "Salem" was enough to get on this list. It features Yemin's best vocal performance to date and maybe his best lyrics. When it came out I just listened to that song over and over.
Until Your Heart Stops: We Are Not Coming Down 7"
Heart in Hand
This is a small band from California that is just about to go out on their first U.S. tour. Disregard the name, because this is some expertly performed straight-forward hardcore. It says a lot about this band to make my EP list when considering the releases it is surrounded by.
The Hope Conspiracy: True Nihilist 7"
Already a hardcore mainstay, this band just keeps getting better. As far as content and style goes, the title of this EP says it all. This release also has some of the best cover art of the year.
Cave In: Planets of Old 12"
Out of nowhere, Cave In is back, playing shows and putting out this EP. As a further highlight, their new approach adopts all of the aspects of their varied and tumultuous history. While each member has had success with other projects, Cave In is a perfect example of when a band or team is better than the sum of its parts.
Make Do and Mend: Bodies of Water
While this release just barely qualifies for inclusion in the 2009 lists, it still stands out over the entire year. Every song on here is a hit and sounds like a more literary and introspective take on the Hot Water Music template. This is very emotional and original, and has amazing and relatable lyrics.
Honorable MentionsLPs: Blacklisted - No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me; Broadway Calls - Good Views, Bad News; Lewd Acts - Black Eye Blues; Purple Mercy - Purple Mercy; Say Anything - Say Anything; Alexisonfire - Young Cardinals/Old Crows; Dear Landlord - Dream Homes; Hear the Sirens - Rebel Hearts Lost
EPs: Defeater - Lost Ground; The Menzingers - Hold On, Dodge
Most Anticipated of 2009
- Hostage Calm full-length on Run For Cover Records
- Crime in Stereo full-length on Bridge 9
- Capital full-length
- Alkaline Trio full-length on Epitaph.
- Alpha & Omega full-length on 6131
Mix TapeSide A
- NOFX - We Called It America
- Trapped Under Ice - Believe
- The Rival Mob - Raw Life
- Doomriders - Come Alive
- Hope Conspiracy - Greed Taught, War Driven
- Baroness - The Sweetest Curse
- Blacklisted - Palisades
- Paint It Black - Salem
- Nails - Lies
- Dear Landlord - I Live in Hell
- Say Anything - Do Better
- Company of Thieves - Oscar Wilde
- Polar Bear Club - Drifting Thing
- Make Doe and Mend - Our Own Ebb and Flow
- Broadway Calls - Be All That You Can't Be
- Delay - Move Here
- Sidekicks - Looking for Love
- Make Do and Mend - TL