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Staff Pick


Best of 2009 (2009)

staff picks

Who We Are

Punknews.org is staffed by volunteers, writing when they have time and largely of their own individual motivations. There is no editorial mandate here, no bands that we collectively plan coverage of, and likewise none that we collectively plan to praise or pan in reviews. It's fitting then that this overall site list is first seen by most of the editors when the public sees it.

Thus this overall list is determined entirely by math, scoring the albums on the individual Punknews.org writers' lists and running the totals. Once again, we believe you'll find a nice cross-section of the tastes of the Punknews editors and reviewers here.

Of course, the real meat of our yearly retrospective can be found in the individual staffers lists. Make sure to check them out, there are quite a few this year. Also, don't forget the most important list of all, which is yours, the top 20 releases of the year as voted by the Punknews community. That list should be posted shortly.

Without further ado...

Punknews.org's Top 20 Albums of 2009


Strike Anywhere: Iron Front

Bridge Nine

From Jade Tree to Fat Wreck to Bridge 9, Strike Anywhere hasn't lost a step and prove it on their latest LP. Melodic hardcore at its finest. GlassPipeMurder


Neko Case: Middle Cyclone


Less dark than Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, the engrossing Middle Cyclone maintains Neko's ranking as my absolute favourite vocalist. This is classy, classic stuff that's going to age beautifully. Although I might be in the minority here, I enjoy this record so much more than its much-acclaimed predecessor. Neko Case is one of those artists that completely transcends my current listening habits and will likely be in my rotation for the rest of my life. Did I mention she's standing barefoot on the hood of a muscle car wielding a sword? Oh, and there's a song here from the perspective of a love-smitten tornado. Damn. (Adam


Dinosaur Jr.: Farm


Post-reunion albums are supposed to be tired, hackneyed and embarrassing, so why are Dinosaur Jr. continuing to put out ever better albums and maximizing every one of their strengths? Aubin


Joel Plaskett: Three


This is a triple record packed with 27 songs and each of them further proves the point that the former Thrush Hermit frontman is among the greatest songwriters that Canada has ever produced. Three is sprawling but it has a level of focus and sincerity that's just so inviting and captivating. Plaskett writes immediately likeable tunes, be they rock or folk, that are always clever and hook-laden and sometimes even quite funny. Yet for all the technical merits you could give Mr. Plaskett there's something deeper at play here, something that I doubt has any sort of resonance outside of this country. When I listen to Three I feel Canadian in the absolute best way possible, as if the identity of this land and the people have somehow been wrapped up in these simple little tunes. That may sound a little corny but I've made my peace with it, and there's nothing I've enjoyed more in 2009. Adam


Castevet: Summer Fences

Count Your Lucky Stars

A powerful mix of emo, post-rock and beard punk. It was my biking soundtrack until my bike got stolen. mikexdude


Polar Bear Club: Chasing Hamburg

Bridge Nine

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." OverDefined


Banner Pilot: Collapser

Fat Wreck Chords

Go buy Collapser. Because it's gonna be a while before those drunks in Dillinger Four drop another gravelly, Midwestern pop-punk masterpiece. This Minnesotan gang of band sluts' Fat Wreck debut is arguably their strongest release to date. Sound engineers Jacques Wait and Dave Gardner buffed out the band's rough edges a bit. Vocalist Nick Johnson still sounds gruff, but Banner Pilot doesn't resemble the Lawrence Arms and Jawbreaker circa Unfun so much anymore. What's left is not unlike D4 circa their Fat years -- catchy and rocking. The album opens with a perfect two-hit combo -- "Central Standard" and "Pensacola" – and then just keeps churning out hits. Jelone


Fake Problems: It's Great to Be Alive

Side One Dummy

Fake Problems make me feel 10 years younger, excited, and terrified of what the world holds for me. The band avoided becoming an Against Me! clone that many had pegged them destined to become. Instead, they've tirelessly crisscrossed the country as a hard-working band, and the dirt under their nails has worked its way into their songs, most of which are an off-balance mix of alt-country, punk and folk. Ben


Blacklisted: No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me


"Mike, it's not that good." "Mike, it's too slow and pretentious." Don't give a fuck; this album rules. It's got influences coming from everywhere and in a world where the "album" is slowly dying, Blacklisted really establishes an atmosphere and mood throughout. You kind of need to listen to the whole album in sequence to "get it." mikexdude


The Swellers: Ups and Downsizing

Fueled by Ramen

The Swellers boast some serious symmetry on what one may as well call their major label debut; Ups and Downsizing tiptoes that line between the band's melodic skatepunk roots and the alternative rock landscape they may be destined for with stunning aplomb. Vocalist/guitarist Nick Diener somehow causes the saccharine from lines like "Don't fall asleep tonight, because I won't fall asleep tonight" in "Sleeper" to sap with some sincerity, yet the band mix those FUSE-pop jams amongst speedier, carefully technical material like "2009," "The Iron" and "Dirt." Brian


Propagandhi: Supporting Caste


While a lot of people tapped into Supporting Caste right away, it took me a few months to get into it. Maybe it's because I define the band so much with their first two records. But while I wasn't that interested in Caste after the first listen, I did take away some choice picks -- "Dear Coach's Corner," "The Banger's Embrace" and hidden track "Come to the Sabbat" are awesome. Over time, I found myself putting the record on more and more without really thinking about it. Caste became a natural pick for me a few months after its release, and right now I feel like it's the best Propagandhi record of this decade. It's got the best jokes. It's got frontman/guitarist Chris Hannah's best lyrics. And dang it all, it knows how to rock me. Jelone


Teenage Bottlerocket: They Came from the Shadows

Fat Wreck Chords

If a fan of Teenage Bottlerocket knows anything, they know that the band is totally reliable. The flip side of that might be that they are totally predictable, which would be a fair complaint about most bands accurately described in such words. But who in their right mind would want or expect anything else from the best writers of Ramones-core since the Ramones? They Came from the Shadows is fun, fast and catchy as hell. Ben


Dear Landlord: Dream Homes

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. Bryne


Frank Turner: Poetry of the Deed


While it's become quite popular for members of hardcore and punk bands to pursue a solo project, few have approached it with the vigour and energy of Mr. Turner. The sentiments are genuine, the songs are rocking and the spirit is infectious. Aubin


Shook Ones: The Unquotable A.M.H.

Paper + Plastick

It has taken their third full-length (and numerous EPs and splits in between) to allow Shook Ones to finally step out of the shadows of their influences and create a highly addictive melodic hardcore/pop-punk record. While songs like "Silverfish" make this album immediately enjoyable in with their catchy sing-alongs, the economical yet extremely thoughtful lyrics of songs like "Birds on Ice" and "They're Very 'Yes'" will be what makes this a record that you come back to time and again. SloaneDaley


Converge: Axe to Fall


Can anyone match the intensity of Kurt Ballou and Jacob Bannon alongside Nate Newton and Ben Koller? No one can. No one can even come close and that is a scientific fact. GlassPipeMurder


The Thermals: Now We Can See

Kill Rock Stars

One of the tightest pop records ever written. Rough-edged, great attention paid to form, and fun lyrics. It's hard to hate this album. Jesse


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart


They don't reinvent the wheel but I'm a sucker for Big Muff-guitars mixed with sweet vocals. These songs are way too addictive to deny. Greg0rb


Bomb the Music Industry!: Scrambles

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. Bryne


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. Justin

Past #1s

2001: System of a Down: Toxicity
2002: Bad Religion: The Process of Belief
2003: The Weakerthans: Reconstruction Site
2004: Green Day: American Idiot
2005: Paint It Black: Paradise
2006: Brand New: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
2007: The Weakerthans: Reunion Tour
2008: The Gaslight Anthem: The '59 Sound

Honorable Mentions

Social Circkle: City Shock (No Way); Trapped Under Ice: Secrets of the World (Reaper); The Mountain Goats: The Life of the World to Come (4AD); Silversun Pickups: Swoon (Dangerbird); Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains (self-released); Baroness: Blue Record (Relapse); Dead to Me: African Elephants (Fat Wreck Chords); Brand New: Daisy (Interscope/DGC/Procrastinate! Music Traitors); Punch: Punch (625 Thrash); Paramore: brand new eyes (Fueled by Ramen)

Top 10 EPs


Capital: Blind Faith 7"

Iron Pier / Just a Audial

Capital had played these songs live so often by the time this 7" was actually released I'd already known them like the back of my hand. Fair enough, though -- these tracks were originally recorded forever ago for a split with Crime in Stereo that never saw the light of day. The two originals here are well-conceived blasts of the band's signature gruff melodic hardcore, and their cover of Dag Nasty's "I've Heard" kills it every time. Brian


A Wilhelm Scream: A Wilhelm Scream 12"

Paper + Plastick

Another worthy entry from one of the most consistently entertaining and musically challenging punk bands around. Aubin

TIE - 7

Transit: Stay Home

Run for Cover

Transit's only been around for a couple of years, but they've already ascended to the top of the melodic hardcore heap with Stay Home. The title track is absolutely massive. Bryne

TIE - 7

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Higher Than the Stars


Instead of sitting around while the accolades for their full-length rolled it, the Pains kept working and expand their sound here with dancier, more keyboard-centric tracks and a couple expected and welcome blasts of distortion. Greg0rb


Paint It Black: Surrender 7"

Fat Wreck Chords

The first of two Paint it Black EPs on this year's list, the only thing worse about this was its shorter length. GlassPipeMurder


Defeater: Lost Ground

Bridge Nine

It feels weird raggedly shouting back "We ain't seen no Germans today" in a crowded furnished basement in 2009, but this is more or less the precedent Defeater is trying to set with their aesthetic. Lost Ground is a linear, cohesive tale of a World War I-era soldier backed by forward-thinking hardcore compositions, ranging the gamut from impressive, nearly mathy procedure ("The Bite and the Sting") to hoarse anthems ("A Wound and a Scar"). And the storytelling slant feels real -- all the while Defeater somehow sound more passionate than most hardcore bands singing about things they've actually experienced first-hand. Brian


Make Do and Mend: Bodies of Water


I got this on a DIY CD-R in December of 2008, subsequently reviewing it and being blown away. I told everyone in that review that you could download it for free, but by that time, they had already gotten a deal with Panic. One of the most sincere live shows I've ever seen. Make Do and Mend, thanks for giving me a friend on one of the loneliest winter nights of my life. mikexdude


The Menzingers: Hold on Dodge 7"

Red Scare

Some of the best melodies I've heard in ages came from the Menzingers' full-length, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and this EP. The opening harmonies of "Lillith Avi" are so flawlessly composed and performed that no pop-punk band this year even came close. Aubin


The Lawrence Arms: Buttsweat and Tears 7"

Fat Wreck Chords

The Hold Steady didn't drop anything major this year, so I'm glad the Lawrence Arms picked up the drunken anthems baton. I keep singing "The Slowest Drink at the Saddest Bar on the Snowiest Day in the Greatest City" like it's a mantra, which would be sad if the song wasn't so catchy. Jelone


Paint It Black: Amnesia 7"

Bridge Nine

Paint It Black has managed to cram both one of their heaviest songs in "Salem" and far and away their most melodic/poppy moments in "Bliss" into the same EP and still make it sound like it is the same cohesive album. The songs themselves are what the band is known for: bleak hardcore punk that recalls both '80s and '90s generations, and always thoughtful lyrics. Truly the highlight of the band's career. SloaneDaley

Honorable Mentions

The Loved Ones: Distractions (Fat Wreck Chords); This Is Hell: Warbirds 7" (Think Fast!); Classics of Love: Walking in Shadows (Asian Man); Portraits of Past: Cypress Dust Witch (Excursions Into the Abyss); Tigers Jaw: Spirit Desire 7" (Tiny Engines)

Writers Whose Lists Incidentally Had the Most Top 20 Contributions

Ben (11), Bryne (9), Adam (8)

Writers Whose Lists Incidentally Had the Least Top 20 Contributions

Jesse (2), OverDefined / Brian / Greg0rb (4)