It’s hard not to love end of the year list season, no matter how hard I try. Its a big pat on the back that we give ourselves for liking the right stuff and summing up a year in one of most vital and interesting music genres in ten albums. Its not possible, I tell you. But, when we strive for the impossible we can at least fall short onto something unlikely, but probably good all the same. We can’t define an entire genre, but we can at least gain a little perspective. And if nothing else, that’s what I’m looking forward to.
I’ve lived in the Portland metro area for a year now. I’ve gone to more shows in the last year than I had for the previous entirety of my life. Its an amazing and beautiful thing seeing punk rock on the ground level– watching local bands thrash chords and scream like the art they make is the only thing keeping their heart thumpin’– whether there’s eyes to watch it or not. That’s probably colored my list a little more than it used to. I never had the opportunity to be exposed to this much music up close and personal before. The ringing in my ears is just an extra harmony to the song of the local level punk rocker, and I’m happy to sing it.
10. Mischief Brew- This Is Not For Children
Mischief Brew was one of those bands I used to swear by, and I guess I still kinda do. They were one of the ones that kept folk punk in my daily rotation, and added a handful of songs I’ll probably love for the rest of my life. I managed to catch them live this year, and while I downgraded my status from devotee to casual fan, I was in love all over again. The anarcho posturing and street life romantics could come off as vapid in the wrong hands, but in Eric Petersen’s, they’re treated with a winking smile and hopeful longing. This is probably Mischief Brew’s most straight up punk recording in their lifespan, with lots of electric guitar and full band arrangements, but it never loses the spirit that made them the rapscallions we all loved in the first place.
9. Spraynard- Mable
I didn’t realize how much I was going to love Mable going in. I hadn’t heard of the band and I didn’t get their name. But their music was loud and heart wrenching. Singer Pat Graham doesn’t come off as anything more than a real dude, perpetually going through some shit. It’s this kind of authenticity meets great songwriting that makes Mable a strong and lucid record.
I missed out on The Monitor and Local Business, but with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, I finally jumped on board. A good concept album is an achievement, but a good rock opera is almost a feat. I was surprised and smitten by their latest album, with its unwieldy length and grand ambition, it could’ve been a remarkable, almost Caligula-esque disaster. Instead, it doesn’t lag for a minute. It engages the listener in real time and delivers a masterpiece.
Portland’s Fools Rush play an angular and cagey style of melodic punk that I would best describe as early Against Me! on amphetamines. This is teeth grinding, open throated music where the chords are as sharp as the lyrical content. It’s slice of life anthemics brought to life by a decidedly urban take on folk music, resurrected with athletic strumming and indomitable energy
6. Western Settings- Yes It Is
Dying Scene Records lended a hand for the digital distribution of Western Settings’ latest album. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that’s how Yes It Is first appeared in my life. But, what kept it on rotation was seeing their live show. Western Settings play the kind of heartfelt and rowdy punk rock that ignites singalongs wherever they go. There’s something immediate and cohesive about Yes It Is that makes it more than just another record of melodic punk, above all the big choruses and tight arrangements it has the bare bones of something that feels crafted.
5. Success- Radio Recovery
I love my Pacific Northwest punk. So, when a band from my corner of the States makes it to Red Scare, you know I’m stoked. Better still, their album Radio Recovery, turned out to be even better than I could have hoped. Geographical affiliations be damned, this is some good music. Anthemic and positive, it’s a sweet spot combination of 90’s skate punk and Red City Radio beard punk, all topped off by one of my favorite albums covers of the year.
4. Sorority Noise- Joy, Departed
Sorority Noise is dripping with purple. Everything is written with the self-congratulatory air of an English student trying his hand at poetry. But, it works. Somehow, the grandiloquence of the words reach the same heights as the melodies, and together they form a big and triumphant achievement in pop punk soaked emo.
3. NOFX and Friends- Home Street Home
I didn’t warm to the self-titled like I did Titles. This wasn’t immediate for me. I gave it a listen, shrugged my shoulders and moved on, mildly bummed that a band I liked so much put out something that wasn’t a gut punch of immediacy. I put it on again months later and had a change of perspective. It’s rightfully self-titled, codifying the band into a movement, sound, and idea deftly and confidently. Red City Radio writes some of their best songs to date with some of their best hooks and some of their strongest instrumentation. Guitars thump and noodle, all in the thick and golden tones of rock ‘n roll yesteryear, and to front it all is Garrett Dale’s unmistakable growl– the rare punk vocalist that makes punk writers type the word soulful. But, that’s exactly what Red City Radio is: all heart and thank god they wear it on their sleeves.
1. Jeff Rosenstock- We Cool?
Jeff Rosenstock is the artist whose internal tuning fork vibrates in perfect pitch to my own. I can’t fight it, every time I wonder if he can do it again– if he can get that sweet and perfect resonation for the eighth or ninth time– I’m left wondering at my own wondering. Jeff’s that good. We Cool? is a hodge podge everything I love in punk rock: it puts the songwriting upfront and doesn’t stray from a massive hook, and when it wants to get weird and nasty? Well, it gets weird and nasty. It’s punk rock strained through the inherent vision and taste of a navel gazing mad conductor, and its self absorption and singular voice makes it all the more striking.