Hi, I’m Dustin, your regular Thursday afternoon editor. Sometimes I’ll respond to your comments on Facebook and I’ll either be incredibly polite or incredibly snarky. I also do album reviews.
Here are my favorite albums of 2013. I broke the rules and went to 11. Let’s go!
Breaking rules on top of breaking rules: I couldn’t just pick just one, so they all get to share the eleventh spot. As the years have gone by, I’ve become an increasingly jaded punk rocker (who, sadly, cannot grow a beard), and these three albums all reflect various aspects of my life (mostly of the mundane and/or repetitive nature). Between Ma Jolie’s declarations of “breaking my back just to keep this smile straight!” and “I don’t want to be alone anymore!”, and lines like “I’ve been stuck in my head for way too long” and “I’m missing out on things because I thought they weren’t worth waiting” from Worship This!, these bands give me hope that one day I can also be in a band giving hope to some sad sack in a bar wishing that they could afford another drink. Red City Radio is slightly more optimistic than the other two (“I am fucking unstoppable, I am a fucking juggernaut” aren’t exactly the words of a guy who’s down in the dumps), but they clearly know the pain of working with someone who only listens to Top 40 Radio: “I never thought that I would sing along to all the songs I hated” sums up my summer after hearing Katy Perry’s “Roar” every twenty minutes or so.
Each year I’ll discover that I really enjoy a band that I had previously dismissed. This year that band was The Swellers. The Light Under Closed Doors is so full of Pinkerton-esque riffs that it’s ridiculous, and the hooks are so catchy that they almost mask how sad most of these songs are. Definitely an album to keep on hand as the soundtrack for your next break up.
Ryan Young really stepped up his songwriting on this one. Instead of just putting out another collection of gruff pop punk songs about love and misery, Off With Their Heads explore new ground, both lyrically (the fantastically titled “Focus On Your Own Family” and “Altar Boy Blues”) and musically (“Don’t Make Me Go”, “Stolen Away”). Of course, as much as things change, they also stay the same. “Start Walking”, “Shirts”, “Nightlife”, and the re-recorded “Janie” all prove that.
I like RVIVR for a lot of reasons. They stick to their beliefs, they speak up even when they’re being told to ‘shut up and play’, and they’re pretty smart about the stuff that they talk about. On top of all of that, their music is really good. Taking a cue from the Dischord catalogue, The Beauty Between is an amazingly crisp and beautiful sounding DIY record. Listening to this album just makes me want to get up and do something. Or at least be nicer to people who aren’t dicks, you know?
Another wonderful break-up album. A buddy of mine was raving about Allison on Turntable.fm (RIP… the website, not my buddy) one day and played “Making It Up” for me. It was love at first listen. Say What You Mean might sound like a collection of Warped Tour-ready anthems on the surface, but Weiss has a way with words that puts her into a category of her own (The re-imagined Say What You Mean: Sideways Sessions is a testament to her lyrics). Hey, how many people can boast that their songs are good enough for Kevin Lyman AND Lou Reed?
I said this in my review of Ordinary Silence and I’ll say it again: I wasn’t excited for this album when it was first announced. Mixtapes have released so much music in such a short timespan that I thought their second full length in two years would be when the law of averages would finally kick in. Boy was I wrong. Ordinary Silence contains some of the best songs that Mixtapes has written to date. As a band who has earned a reputation for talking shit, Ordinary Silence deals with recognizing their faults, owning up to them, and attempting to become better people. That doesn’t stop them from taking jabs at Morrissey, Brand New, or the unnamed target(s) of “Be the Speak That You Change About”… but sometimes you just have to take baby steps.
There are times when all apathy really needs is a little kick. Instead, Devon Kay and his merry band of Solutions inject it with a nice dose of Direct Hit!-energy. Losing IT is melodic, aggressive, funny, and brief and much like Polars and Tomorrow, I’ll Miss You, it’s a relatable listen on several levels (For example, once upon a time I used to work as a recruiter with multiple computers. And there was the time Mikey Erg made my girlfriend cry). Except whereas those other albums make me feel better in a way that getting drunk makes me feel better, Losing IT is more natural intoxication… like going out for a walk after being cooped up inside all day.
Between the lyrics that paint portraits of suicides, divorces, and broken homes, the instrumentation that jumps back and forth from straight-forward power chord progressions to noodling around like a 90’s post-hardcore band, and the way that vocalists Bobby Barnett and Leo Vergnetti harmonize and play off each other, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what I love most about this album. The answer is simple: it’s all of the above. But also the harmonized vocals thing.
Night Birds! These guys have done it again, creating some of the best West Coast punk tunes this side of the East Coast. Armed with their signature Adolescents-meets-Dead Kennedys sound, the band touches upon everything from covers of John Carpenter scores to the occult to WWE star Mick Foley. It’s interesting to hear Night Birds slow it down on “Nazi Gold” and “Less the Merrier” (A holiday song about airing out your grievances? Sounds like Festivus to me!). And if that weren’t enough, New Bomb Turks singer Eric Davidson makes a quick vocal cameo on “Domestic Dispute”. Everything about this album rules. Night Birds!
This band is dumb. This album is dumb. I am dumb. Everything is dumb.
Concept albums are risky, but when a band treats their music like comic books anyway it just seems to work out naturally. Direct Hit! has accomplished not only a fantastic concept album about the apocalypse, but they managed to craft a concept album where each track plays nicely with the others, but can also stand independently on its own. It’s almost as if each song was an issue of a comic book and the album was just an anthology collection… imagine that!
And that’s all she (err… I) wrote. Shoutouts to Streetlight Manifesto, Swingin’ Utters, Polar Bear Club, Saves the Day, Lemuria, Matt Pryor, and Future of the Left for also putting out stuff I enjoyed this year. If I had extended my list to a Top 20, there would’ve been room for all of them.
Okay 2014, bring it on.
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