What a difference a year makes. In 2009 I quit a cushy, high-paying job, sold my car, moved to a new city, was struck by a car on my bike which left me wheelchair-ridden for nearly a month, collected a massive amount of debt, and most importantly, slid into a news editor position here at Punknews.org. It's really been the best and worst year of my life, but I don't know where else I would be without this website and the opportunities it's given me, as well as the sense of community it has fostered over the past decade. Writing and editing news articles for Punknews.org has been really fun and extremely rewarding so far, and everyone on our staff has been extremely helpful to the 'new guy,' and most of the commenters have been okay, too. Thanks, buddies.
On another bittersweet personal note, my webzine/podcast What We Hate effectively ended in 2009, making way for my latest project, Overheated, which is slated to launch on January 4. It's going to be more Florida-slanted than my previous work, and I hope you'll check it out, even if you're not a resident of The Sunshine State.
As you'll read, 2009 was an awesome year for music. Put it this way: When I wrote my first draft of a list, it had sixty-five full-lengths on it. That's more than one release per week that I found to be at least decent. Cutting said list down to twenty was extremely difficult, and there isn't much of a gap from 1-20 here. Nevertheless, the mathletes on staff insisted that they be ranked, so here we go.
The Best 20 Records of 2009 (so says I)
Hellmouth: Destroy Everything. Worship Nothing.
January 6 on Ferret
If you thought Jason Navarro sounded pissed on the final two Suicide Machines records, his vocal work in Hellmouth brings to mind a man possessed, driven by nihilism and misanthropy, and most importantly of all, reborn. I'm a sucker for well-executed thrash-punk, and DEWN has it in spades.
Red Collar: Pilgrim
Red Collar's sound on Pilgrim takes the boisterous bar rock 'n' roll of the Hold Steady and fuses it with the angular guitar trappings made most famous by Fugazi, and it sounds awesome. These guys are definitely one of the most unique, innovative and thoroughly exciting bands in the underground today.
Broadway Calls: Good Views, Bad News
August 18 on Side One Dummy
Hooks aplenty, glossy production and heartfelt lyrics help Broadway Calls display a ton of focused growth with Good Views, Bad News.
Riverboat Gamblers: Underneath the Owl
March 10 on Volcom
Simply put, this is the Gamblers' potential fully realized. The production, the songwriting, the vocals, it's all amplified and improved on Underneath the Owl. See this band live if you ever have the chance; Mike Wiebe is the most entertaining frontman in punk right now.
Austin Lucas: Somebody Loves You
March 10 on Suburban Home
The barren wasteland that is country music still has hope, and it rests solely on the vocal chords of Austin Lucas. Somebody Loves You is fun for the whole family, and definitely the only record on this list that my grandma (or yours) wouldn't yell at me to turn down.
Banner Pilot: Collapser
September 1 on Fat Wreck Chords
Better production, a stable home in Fat Wreck Chords and a year of maturation did Banner Pilot quite a bit of good. Collapser has all the elements of Midwestern punk that many of us have come to enjoy -- gruffness, fuzzy melodies and plenty of heart -- but the genre has become so saturated in the past couple of years that it's doubly refreshing when a band does it right.
Castevet: Summer Fences
June 9 on Count Your Lucky Stars
I'm anxious for the band's supposedly shorter, more direct material, but despite a good amount of wanky musicianship, Summer Fences hits far more than it misses.
Shook Ones: The Unquotable A.M.H.
June 15 on Paper + Plastick
Every list like this needs at least one 'fun' record, and for this one The Unquotable A.M.H. is it. Tons of melodies, tons of "whoa"s, tons of fun. What more do you need?
City of Ships: Look What God Did to Us
July 21 on Translation Loss / Sound Study Recordings
No band this year did a better job of pairing sweeping, heavy, chaotic compositions with massive, throaty vocals than City of Ships. Here's to hoping they get out from under the radar soon.
Dear Landlord: Dream Homes
June 30 on No Idea
While the Copyrights -- the best pop-punk band in America, for those of you keeping score at home -- didn't release a full-length this year for the first time since 2005, Adam and Brett (along with Brad and Zack, formerly of Rivethead) helped ease the pain with Dream Homes, a quick listen meant to be played loudly and snottily sung along to in the room of one's choice.
Cheap Girls: My Roaring 20s
October 6 on Paper + Plastick
Another year, another awesome record from Lansing, MI power trio Cheap Girls. This time around, the band's on a more visible label, but their sound -- '90s-influenced alternative rock rife with unbelievably catchy melodies and Ian Graham's distinctive croon -- remains intact.
June 24 on Kiss of Death
A last-minute addition to this list, Guiltmaker and this record, Dilemmas, have flown completely under the radar. It's a shame, too, because this is how good post-hardcore should sound. It's chaotically beautiful, dramatically engaging and the best record none of you have heard this year. Those disappointed in the surprisingly direct and somewhat derivative nature of Moneen's The World I Want to Leave Behind should sell back that record and use their store credit to buy Dilemmas instead.
Cobra Skulls: American Rubicon
July 14 on Red Scare
These guys were right to ditch the 'Cobra in every song title' gimmick. American Rubicon is an impressive collection of folk-tinged punk rock that never drags despite its large number of songs and somewhat long running time.
Frank Turner: Poetry of the Deed
September 7 on Epitaph
Frank Turner is the Mack truck on the road of punk-influenced Americana-by-way-of-England, and Poetry of the Deed is an unstoppable force of heartfelt, poignant folk that confirms the importance of Mr. Turner's voice in the scope of the scene.
Fake Problems: It's Great to Be Alive
February 17 on Side One Dummy
Naples, FL's favorite sons largely abandoned the folk punk tendencies of their earlier work and made an undeniably weird record in It's Great to Be Alive. What's even weirder is how well it worked.
My Heart to Joy: Seasons in Verse
June 30 on Topshelf / Asbestos
The band's decision to ditch their screamo leanings and embrace melody really helped them craft one of the year's best and most interesting records. Seasons in Verse will be difficult to top, but something tells me My Heart to Joy hasn't shown us all they're capable of just yet.
October 13 on Vagrant
Thrice's thoroughly interesting career arc continued with Beggars, a cohesive, heavy, bluesy, dissonant record that, surprise, sounds like nothing else in the band's catalogue. This band's refusal to remain stagnant and fall into a pattern perpetuated by a small, yet vocal number of fans (which a lot of bands can't escape) is admirable.
Bomb the Music Industry!: Scrambles
February 15 on Quote Unquote / Asian Man
Those who have dubbed Jeff Rosenstock the voice of a new generation aren't as misguided as one might think. No one in the scene does poignant commentary -- be it personal, political or otherwise -- as well as Rosenstock right now, and it doesn't hurt that his compositions are always original, engaging and throughly interesting, not to mention catchy.
The Sidekicks: Weight of Air
September 15 on Red Scare
Folks in my generation are just now beginning to hit that age where the '90s nostalgia rears its head, and the Sidekicks took all the best parts of that criminally underrated era and wove them into a sound all their own, replete with heartfelt sentiments and enough charmingly off-key yelling to excite anyone who remembers rock 'n' roll radio.
The Swellers: Ups and Downsizing
September 29 on Fueled by Ramen
Naming another band that made bigger strides this year than Flint, MI's the Swellers would be difficult. The group's relentless touring schedule (including a willingness to play anywhere with anyone) and hard work paid off huge dividends in the form of a deal with massive indie label Fueled by Ramen and an album, Ups and Downsizing, that saw the band refine their sound into something less wanky, more anthemic and more memorable overall.
Honorable MentionsThere were so many good records released in 2009 that could've easily cracked the top 20 in any other year. Here's just a sampling:
Heartsounds - Until We Surrender; Polar Bear Club - Chasing Hamburg; Dead to Me - African Elephants; Person L - The Positives; Teenage Cool Kids - Foreign Lands; Andrew Jackson Jihad - Can't Maintain; American War - Rhetoric; Teenage Bottlerocket - They Came from the Shadows; Used Kids - Yeah No; The Thermals - Now We Can See; Tegan and Sara - Sainthood; The Takers - Taker Easy; Strike Anywhere - Iron Front; Soul Control - Cycles; Shark Speed - Sea Sick Music; Set Your Goals - This Will Be the Death of Us; Russian Circles - Geneva; Red Fang - S/T; Paramore - brand new eyes; Orphan Choir - S/T; The Only Sons - Steel Hearts; O Pioneers!!! - Neon Creeps; Nothington - Roads, Bridges and Ruins; North Lincoln - Midwestern Blood; Noise by Numbers - Yeah, Whatever...; No Friends - No Friends; Nakatomi Plaza - Ghosts; Lucero - 1372 Overton Park; Low Red Land - Dog's Hymns; Jon Snodgrass - Visitor's Band; Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown; The Golden Age - Unlock Yourself; Doomriders - Darkness Come Alive; Converge - Axe to Fall; Dave House - Intersections; Cursive - Mama, I'm Swollen; Mariachi el Bronx - Mariachi el Bronx; Brand New - Daisy; Attica! Attica! - Napalm & Nitrogen; Annabel - Each and Everyone; American Steel - Dear Friends & Gentle Hearts; Alexisonfire - Old Crows/Young Cardinals.
Get Better was one of 2008's finest full-lengths, and the sort of adorably awkward indie rock Lemuria perfected on that release is continued here.
Sakes Alive!!: Act II 7"
It always seems like the second chapter of a trilogy is superior to the other two, and while we've yet to hear Act III, the second 7" from Sakes Alive!! in as many years is another engaging slab of pissed off, raging political hardcore.
The Menzingers: Hold on, Dodge 7"
Hold On, Dodge could've been released as a one-sided 7" featuring just "Sunday Morning" and it still would've made this list, but the rest of the songs here showcase a growth for the Menzingers that, above all else, is exciting.
Red City Radio: To the Sons & Daughters of Woody Guthrie
The Independent Record Company
Get acquainted now, because once To the Sons & Daughters of Woody Guthrie sees a re-release through Eyeball Records, Red City Radio will suddenly become everyone's favorite band around these parts. Are you ready for the not-too-distant future?
A Wilhelm Scream: A Wilhelm Scream 12"
Paper + Plastick
I'm still not a fan of the production, but the songs, as per A Wilhelm Scream's usual, absolutely rip. Good luck trying not to play air guitar whenever "Skid Rock" hits your speakers.
The Lawrence Arms: Buttsweat and Tears 7"
I haven't spent as much time with this record as I would like, but it's the Lawrence Arms. It's catchy, it's gruff, it's densely intelligent, and it's a worthy addition to the band's impressive catalogue.
Defeater: Lost Ground
Engaging hardcore that manages to sound interesting and intelligent without getting too samey or wanky. It's a fine line, kids, and on Lost Ground Defeater makes toeing said line look elementary.
Farewell Continental: Farewell Continental
Paper + Plastick
Delightfully dreamy, often weird shoegaze worship from a mysterious Minneapolis supergroup that elects to use pseudonyms lifted from famous characters played by Harrison Ford.
Tigers Jaw: Spirit Desire 7"
Hyperbole aside, Tigers Jaw is the most promising young band on the planet right now. The title track of this 7" is the best song of the year. Get familiar.
Honorable MentionsThe Wild - The Wild; Cave In - Planets of Old; Iron Chic - Shitty Rambo; Lipona - Pigeonholed; Make Do and Mend - Bodies of Water; How Dare You / The Knockdown - split 7"; Young Hearts - Nowhere Kids; We Are the Union - The Gun Show Must Go On; Such Gold - Stand Tall; Small Brown Bike - Composite, Volume One; Kudrow - Lando; Psyched to Die - Sterile Walls; Only Thieves - Greetings from Levy Park, T.L.H.; Balance and Composure - Only Boundaries
My 2009 mixtape
- Tigers Jaw - Spirit Desire
- The Lawrence Arms - The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City
- Paramore - Ignorance
- Castevet - Space Jam: The Return
- The Swellers - Fire Away
- Lemuria - Ozzy
- Frank Turner - The Road
- Bomb the Music Industry! - Sort of Like Being Pumped
- Banner Pilot - Starting at the Ending
- Sakes Alive!! - The Open Maw
- Broadway Calls - The Wake Up Call
- Austin Lucas - Somebody Loves You
- Defeater - The Red, White and Blues
- My Heart to Joy - Seasons in Verse
- Farewell Continental - Do You Wanna Tangle?
- Guiltmaker - Convocation
- Red City Radio - We Are the Sons of Woody Guthrie
- Transit - Stay Home
- The Sidekicks - Small
- Thrice - Doublespeak
- Dear Landlord - Last Time I Checked
- Red Collar - Hands Up
- City of Ships - Wraiths in Flight
- Fake Problems - Heart BPM
- Riverboat Gamblers - Catastrophe
- Hellmouth - Crooked Teeth
- Cobra Skulls - There's a Skeleton in My Military Industrial Closet
- A Wilhelm Scream - Skid Rock
- Cheap Girls - Ft. Lauderdale
- The Menzingers - Sunday Morning
Records that will be out in 2010 that are verifiably awesomeGatorface - Wasted Monuments; Native - Wrestling Moves; Pianos Become the Teeth - Old Pride
Most anticipated in 20102010 looks to be a fantastic year on paper, with new material expected from Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Against Me!, Motion City Soundtrack, Bayside, Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, Tim Barry, Crime in Stereo, Castevet, Dillinger Escape Plan, the Menzingers, Murder by Death, Look Mexico, Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves, forgetters, Swingin' Utters, the Riot Before, Hostage Calm, the Thermals, Spanish Gamble and probably several others.
Thanks for reading.