Justin - Best of 2009 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Best of 2009 (2009)

staff picks

"There's nothing to be gained from passive observance, the simple documenting of conditions, because, at its core, it sets a bad example. Every time something is observed and not fixed, or when one has a chance to give in some way and does not, there is a lie being told, the same lie we all know by heart but which needn't be reiterated."
- Dave Eggers


Hey. It's another year. Good year for me. Rough year but good. I spent a lot of time during the first half of this year preparing for the second half of this year. See, I enrolled in a Masters' program in Philadelphia and had to get my ducks in a row. This consequently almost caused me to quit the Org. But I can't quit you guys. So instead I transitioned to being the "Social Media Editor" or "Community Manager" or "Guy who handles Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.". It's what I can do while balancing my schoolwork, student teaching and the rest of my life and still stay sane. I'm trying to change the way we talk and communicate at the Org. Have you noticed how overwhelmingly positive the Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr talk is? It's crazy. I wonder sometimes if that has to do with the immediate connection to people's personas -- it's as if the inherent anonymity of the internet doesn't exist there. These things I think about when I'm not thinking of how to create a classroom based on a pedagogy of equity for the next generation of critical thinkers.

I fucking love music. I love it in all its forms. I listened to a lot of older favorites this year. I listened to a lot of new stuff. I bought a lot of records at Stevo's shop in Oakland before I moved to Philadelphia. I hope everyone out there loves music too. I mean really loves it. Loves it so much it transcends petty bickering and posturing. Loves it in a way that makes you want to make the worl look like all your favorite songs make it look. Loves it in a way that you think "What Would Joe Strummer/Ian MacKaye/Your Favorite Musician Do?" when you see a problem. And I hope that everyone loves it so much that you don't take yourselves too seriously. Remember to laugh, to sing and to have fun -- and make sure everyone else can do the same thing while you are having a good time.

The Future of Music


I actually just meant that in the future I think we'll see more lists biased towards EPs and other shorter forms of release. I also believe there's a lot of young bands ready to shake things up and get us out of a rut.


Defiance, Ohio: Songs for the Icarus Project



Chuck Ragan and Anderson Family Bluegrass: Split

Ten Four / Stowaway


John K Samson: City Route 85



Andrew Jackson Jihad / Cobra Skulls: Under the Influence Vol. 6

Suburban Home


Kudrow: Lando



Chuck Ragan, Fake Problems: Daytrotter Sessions



Bad Friends: Demo

Barely Released


Ben Nichols: The Last Pale Light in the West

Rebel Group

Given the way that Lucero has gone, I'm surprised that Ben still has this glorious, self-loathing kind of music in him. While the band never disappoints live their studio material has gone downhill. This is Nichols where he belongs, behind a guitar and some bottles singing sad songs about the South.


The Constantines: Too Slow for Love

Arts & Crafts

These alternate takes are fantastic. The Cons are a band who wreck the curve for everyone else. If you are a fan in the slightest these are crucial cuts and if you're Cons-curious its a great place to start and see the soul of an act that only gets better with age.


Ringers: Hurry Up and Wait 12"


Why do bands break up after releasing their best material? This was supposed to be a full-length but they ditched a bunch of songs. Where are they? Why lord, why? Why did I miss them at The Fest? Damn son.


Iron Chic: Shitty Rambo

Dead Broke

Had the Menzingers not released something this year, Iron Chic would be the reigning kings. It all comes together perfectly on this release, reminding us that you don't have to leave and move to Brooklyn to keep your dreams of punk rock progression going.


The Menzingers: Hold on, Dodge

Red Scare

What can I say about these dudes that I haven't said a million times? They are the best punk band out there, period. This is my favorite release of the year hands down. It's the perfect mixture of harmony, punk riffs, introspection and "get fucking rad" mentality. Chamberlain Waits is going to be a knockout and everyone is going to be in love with these South Philly bums.

Play On, (Long) Player

I still love albums, obviously. I just wish they'd come out quicker. There have been quite a few bands that have broken up because they couldn't get their albums out quick enough. It can kill a band's momentum. Embrace change, folks.


Neko Case: Middle Cyclone



Bomb the Music Industry!: Scrambles

Quote Unquote / Asian Man

God bless you, Mr Rosenstock. For several reasons Jeff is on my list of "people I need to see more" even though I've missed two of his bands in Philadelphia in the past month. Scrambles is the most "mature" album he's put forth and perhaps the most mature album with ska on it, ever. It's honest to a fault without falling into the "he's such a good dude" trope you see on the internet so often. I think if you distilled the modern underground punk rock "scene" into a single collection of songs this would be it.


Fake Problems: It's Great to Be Alive

Side One Dummy

It's hard to like the people in a band more than their music. Up until this release I'd say that was true of me and Fake Problems. Now they've upped the ante and you can tell they have grand plans for their mixture of punk, folk, post-hardcore and Americana. This year has given them plenty of great material for a new album and I cannot wait for it.


Frank Turner: Poetry of the Deed


Mr. Turner, what happened to the folk? You faked us all out, thankfully. I loved the turn he took here. It's the general feeling of getting over not knowing what the hell to do with your life and embracing your late 20s in a glorious fashion. Long live the aging punks.


William Elliott Whitmore: Animals in the Dark


Mr. Brett knows just what he's doing: embrace the PUNX with Hellcat, grab the mainstream with Epitaph and get the old folks with Anti- Records. Mr. Whitmore fits in just perfect with his deep crooning and boot-stomping anthems. It's hard to believe this guy is just three years older than me given the deep, rough nature of his voice.


Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson: Break Up

Rhino / WEA

I might be the only person in the world to absolutely love Scarlett's voice and I generally have a distaste for Mr. Yorn but this album is so much fun. It's easy, light and breezy. The bouncy rhythm of "Relator" is too much to pass up. A great pairing, simply put.


Dead to Me: African Elephants

Fat Wreck Chords

Dead to Me had the deck stacked against them with this release. Constant rumors, the departure of a key member, a side project with a telling name... On African Elephants, Chicken, Nathan and Ian decided to go their own way mixing up reggae, rock and punk into a very unique sound. Does it still sound like One Man Army without Jack? Not really, but if that's all you saw in Dead to Me, you didn't really get it in the first place.


Nothington: Roads, Bridges and Ruins


A fantastic sophomore release from four dudes who I love. There was 100% more Matulich on this album, which falls into the "win" column and 100% more earnest Jay songs. It's just good, solid punk music made by good, solid punk rock boys. I hope to see them shortening their release cycle soon and hitting the road even more.


Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves: Chris Wollard and the Ship Thieves

No Idea

Digitally, this came out last year (look at the copyright on my iTunes files!) but Adam felt it could work in 2009 due to its physical release in February. I'm game. I love it. Wollard and Ragan seem to have gone their own ways with the more mellow music, one embracing roots with the other pushing forward an interesting mix of '90s alternative rock and singer/songwriter malaise. Fantastic.


Chuck Ragan: Gold Country


Mr. Ragan continued 2009 in standard fashion: a slew of quality releases pushing his craft further, a slew of tours covering a few continents and a whole host of incredible music. Gold Country captures the range of Ragan's abilities perfectly, from the sparse guitar and vocals to the full onslaught of fiddles, bass and drums. "Get Em All Home" is another in a long list of songs that he has written that should be chronicled in the halls of Congress next to Woody Guthrie's original protest folk anthems. This is a man fully in touch with roots music and fully in touch with the reality around him. Here's to another year of him doing what he does best, Bless his heart.


The Sidekicks: Weight of Air

Red Scare

Toby was afraid his new albums wouldn't get reviewed. He sent us/me the new albums in question.

I listened. I was hooked.

Seriously, this takes everything good about life and condenses it into an album. And it doesn't sound remotely "punk rock" in any way that pigeonholes them into a genre. You would think that this is either a band's first album or their midlife crisis and it's neither. It's just a great band making great music without worrying about what everyone else is going to think. Punk fucking rock.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Every year is my last "Best of" list. I always feel bad because I don't want anyone to think I didn't enjoy what they contributed to music this year. I love (mostly) everyone out there. Sorry to those who meet me at things like The Fest and think I'm a doink. Sorry to those who I forgot from my list. Thanks to the Menzingers and Murph for making Philly feel like home. Thanks to life for all that you've given me this year -- West Philly rules and I'm glad I landed there. Thanks to Oakland for being a great home for so long.

Next year there'll be more good music, more mediocre music and more more. Less plastic, more vinyl and more digital. There'll be another "social media" I'll have to learn how to master and by the end of it I'll be in charge of 20-30 elementary school students. You'll see my name around a lot less and I'll look more stressed and have more grey hairs when you do see me. The Menzingers' album will be #1 in our staff "Best Of" list. The Revival Tour will again be fantastic. Tim Barry will get another album out and he'll continue his unabated war on sleeves. New labels will spring up and old ones will go into hibernation. The cycle continues and we'll do our best to get you involved while you help us document it. We need more reviews by you folks, people. We need more news. We need more more!