Scott Heisel is the former reviews editor for Punknews.org and the current music editor for Alternative Press - ed.
Now that I've set the record straight, this is my holiday.Hi, and thanks for taking the time to read my year-end list. I haven't been spending as much time on Punknews.org lately due to a small but incredibly vocal minority of trolls who would rather focus on tearing me down for silly things instead of trying to build up this thing we all have called a scene. Regardless, I hope that the jealous and petty words of a few semi-anonymous users won't stop you from reading on and perhaps checking out an album or song from my recommended selections below. This is the music that helped get me through 2009; I hope it did the same for you.
Two Tongues: Two Tongues
With Saves the Day's Daybreak still without a release date and Say Anything's self-titled album being a pretty big dud, Two Tongues was the only place this year to get quality pop-rock from two of contemporary emo's finest songwriters.
Frank Turner: Poetry of the Deed
Poetry of the Deed wasn't as big of a coming-out party in the U.S. as Frank Turner followers had hoped, with less of an emphasis on the folk-punk that won him thousands of fans in the U.K. and more of an emphasis on piano, traditional instruments and song styles, and full-on crooning. It might not be what people expected, but it was still great, if surprisingly mature.
Thursday: Common Existence
The godfathers of modern screamo return with a solid, at times downright adventurous fifth album. It falls a few steps short of 2006's magnificent A City by the Light Divided, but is still an incredibly strong showing from a band who have overcome pretty much every set of odds in the book.
Broadway Calls: Good Views, Bad News
If you removed every lyric on this album regarding touring and/or playing basement shows, you'd be left with an all-instrumental record. Still, the youthful exuberance this Oregon trio display is incredibly contagious; this album lived in my car stereo for a good two months this fall. Outside of the over-the-top pro-Obama song (which I suspect they'll regret writing in a few years), it is one solid pop-punk record.
P.O.S.: Never Better
What other rapper can reference Fugazi and Paris Hilton in the same song (and Law & Order creator Dick Wolf a few tracks later) and still have it all come off as sounding like a cohesive record? While Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander kills it on his own throughout this album, it's the guest vocals from Dessa ("Low Light Low Life"), None More Black's Jason Shevchuk ("Terrorish") and the Velvet Teen's Judah Nagler (the title track) that really steal the show.
Passion Pit: Manners
For as much enthusiasm and excitement that Broadway Calls bring to the pop-punk genre, Passion Pit deliver the same levels to the quickly fading electro-pop movement. Children's choirs, falsetto vocals, thick '80s synths and disco beats come off as an absolute blast recorded, and will get even the most jaded of beard-punks' heads bobbing.
While it's regrettable when any band's record leaks in advance, it's supremely unfortunate that it happened to Thrice -- being such a visually driven band who have always put a premium on their album artwork and packaging, to have Beggars' songs ripped from their womb nearly three months ahead of its planned release showed a distinct lack of respect for this endlessly progressive California quartet. Lucky for them, it truly is their best and most refined album to date, an exciting document of four guys getting in a room together and banging out music on their own terms, with no half-baked concepts floating over their heads.
Polar Bear Club: Chasing Hamburg
This one was a tough sell for me at first, because Sometimes Things Just DIsappear was my No. 1 album of 2008, and initially, I just couldn't click with Chasing Hamburg's deliberate attempts at shorter, catchier songs. After a few listens, though, my reservations slowly began disappearing as each spin would unearth another intricate layer of songcraft that didn't come across in cursory plays. What I'm trying to say is, this album's no Disappear, but that's okay -- it's the sound of PBC coming into their own.
Fake Problems: It's Great to Be Alive
Give these Floridians the Most-Improved Band Award of 2009: I couldn't get behind their previous albums at all, but everything clicked into place perfectly on their SideOneDummy debut. It's like a punk-rock Modest Mouse with pieces of Cursive and Murder by Death sprinkled on top for good measure. Throw in some truly genius music videos (have you seen "Diamond Rings" yet?) and you have a band poised to break big in 2010, if the world has any sense.
Lucero: 1372 Overton Park
Horns, horns, horns! At first listen, 1372 Overton Park is a bit jarring to longtime Lucero fans who have gtown accustomed to the band's whiskey-soaked vocals. twangy guitars and four-on-the-floor drumbeats. But a little bit of Memphis soul never hurt anyone, least of which Ben Nichols, and his band's major-label debut is by and large an artistic success.
Gallows: Grey Britain
After delivering an underwhelming debut album on Epitaph, I didn't have high hopes when it was revealed that Gallows would be issuing their second album through Warner Bros. -- how could they keep any of the marginal bite they had on Orchestra of Wolves? Cue Grey Britain, a dark, dreary look at the depressing look of the life of a bored twentysomething living in London, waiting for something -- anything -- exciting to happen. At times sounding as heavy as Rage Against the Machine, as aggressive as Texas Is the Reason and as driving as Hot Snakes, Gallows have set the bar considerably high for themselves whenever they get around to writing this masterpiece's followup.
Ace Enders & A Million Different People: When I Hit the Ground
A rock-solid collection of Jimmy Eat World-influenced modern rock that has been sorely overlooked either to Enders' pedigree (the Early November) or his label affiliations (Drive-Thru/Vagrant). This dude knows his way around a melody.
Person L: The Positives
Academy Fight Song/Human Interest
The difference between Kenny and Kenneth Vasoli is truly night and day -- the former cranked out enjoyable if somewhat pedestrian pop-punk in the Starting Line, while the latter is constantly testing his own mettle in this prog-emo/post-punk/neo-soul quintet. It truly sounds like Jawbox being fronted by James Brown, and I mean that in the best of ways. Don't sleep on this band anymore; they're 2-for-2 in top-notch records.
Paramore: brand new eyes
Say what you will, but Paramore is the new Jimmy Eat World. While I remain unimpressed with Riot!, brand new eyes is a tour de force of emotional rock tackling one of the most difficult-to-understand human emotions: heartbreak. Hayley Williams is unafraid to expose her faults and fears, and the record benefits from her stark honesty in a scene full of empty gestures. Truly a fantastic record, and one that you should explore immediately.
Taking Back Sunday: New Again
It's hard to believe that Taking Back Sunday are not only still a band after their drastic lineup changes nearly album to album but have actually made the best, most well-rounded album of their career to date with New Again. Adam Lazzara's lyrics bite with venom unseen since Tell All Your Friends, and new guitarist Matt Fazzi (ex-Facing New York) fits in with the band's ever-evolving style perfectly. This band ain't dead yet.
Set Your Goals: This Will Be the Death of Us
It must really suck to be Four Year Strong right now.
Paper Route: Absence
A total dark horse for me this year, I saw Paper Route with Audrye Sessions live this summer and was blown away by the apparent ease which they fuse organic and electronic sounds together. It sounds completely natural and forward-thinking while having roots in '80s synth-pop and '90s alt-rock (think Radiohead, not Everclear). I haven't stopped listening to this album since I bought it that summer night, and am a better person for it. Rumor has it they've already been let go from their deal at Universal Motown; with a spring tour opening for Owl City already lined up, don't expect them to stay unsigned for long.
Bomb the Music Industry!: Scrambles
I don't know how he does it, but Jeff Rosenstock can read my mind. His lyrics -- long considered the best part of an already-great band--are completly next level on Scrambles, and makes me think he's writing these songs just for me. I know that's not true, but still: Thanks, Jeff.
Manchester Orchestra: Mean Everything to Nothing
Favorite Gentlemen / Canvasbac
One part Weezer's Pinkerton, one part Nirvana's In Utero, one part Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica and a whole boatload of Southern-rock swagger delivers what is without a doubt, the finest rock release of 2009 (and easily one of the most original and strong of the entire decade). At 23, frontman Andy Hull is already lightyears ahead of schedule in terms of songwriting maturation, and with studio time already booked for mid-2010, it doesn't look like he'll be slowing down any time soon. If the band's output is as consistently triumphant as Mean Everything to Nothing is, we're all in for one hell of a treat.
SIDE A: Punk's not dead?
- Teenage Bottlerocket - I Don't Wanna Go
- Frank Turner - Try This at Home
- New Found Glory - Don't Let Her Pull You Down
- Strike Anywhere - I'm Your Opposite Number
- NOFX - Creeping Out Sara
- Rancid - Disconnected
- Broadway Calls - Be All That You Can't Be
- Fake Problems - The Dream Team
- Bomb The Music Industry! - 25!
- The Riverboat Gamblers - Victory Lap
SIDE B: loudQUIETloud
- Manchester Orchestra - Pride
- Brand New - You Stole
- Thrice - Doublespeak
- Ace Enders & A Million Different People - Where Do We Go from Here
- Audrye Sessions - Where You'll Find Me
- Silversun Pickups - The Royal We
- As Tall as Lions - In Case of Rapture
- Taking Back Sunday - Everything Must Go
- Paramore - All I Wanted
- Cursive - What Have I Done?