2013 was the year of my great return to really paying attention to the punk rock scene, as opposed to just waiting for major releases and hoping for the best. I’m not going to try to pretend I heard even a fraction of all the punk music that came out throughout the year, but still, I heard enough to be able to say with confidence that it was a pretty decent year for punk music. Case in point: my top ten list below.
I’ll cut short the ramble about the obvious subjectivity inherent in attributing ranks to records. I stand behind my number one. I think my number one should be number one for everyone who knows anything about punk music. That’s as dogmatic as I’ll get. The other ranks are loosely based on how much I personally enjoyed a particular record, how long it stayed in my rotation, how often I returned to it, and other impossible to determine criteria. So yeah, it’s all pretty arbitrary.
10. Dutch Nuggets – Nervous Wreck
9. Ellesmere – Bail City
I know, it’s just an EP. I know, they’re recently signed right here at DS Records. I know, the darn thing just came out two weeks ago so how can it be on a top ten list? Well: I can’t stop listening to it, and each of the five songs keeps getting better and better, so there’s that. It’s poppy and catchy and melodic and it’s got great riffs and it’s by a long shot the best EP I heard this year. In fact, the only discernible problem with that EP is that it’s an EP. Couldn’t these guys find five or six more similarly good tunes and come out with a whole record? Mark my words: if they come up with a full-length in 2014, it’ll be on my list again.
8. Implants – From Chaos to Order
With members of Pulley, Strung Out, and Ten Foot Pole, the supergroup Implants seemed to have the manpower to deliver a knock-you-off-your-feet-extraordinary melodic punk record. “From Chaos to Order” is very much that record, as it is indeed hard to find fault either in the execution or delivery. It’s a series of great punk songs that flow well and are all enjoyable in their own rights. But, however excellent it is, I have to admit it didn’t knock me off my feet, hence its place near the bottom of my top ten. Still, for fans of any of the aforementioned bands, it’s as good as it’ll get, until Strung Out has a new record out, that is.
7. RVIVR – The Beauty Between
I found myself enjoying this pop-punk record more than I thought I would. Erica Freas has a great punk rock voice and the back and forth dual vocals with Matt Canino works really well. All in all the record has a fun energy that’s very contagious.
6. The Flatliners – Dead Languages
“Calvacade” was such a memorable record that we all had great expectations for the follow-up. On the first listen-through of “Dead Languages” it was hard not to be just a tad bit disappointed. The short of it is that it’s got some really strong tracks, with a few more ordinary ones thrown in the mix. It’s an honest and fair album. Not one for the ages, but still well worthy of its spot on my year’s best list.
5. Face to Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth
Every time this band veers away from “Don’t-Turn-Away-style” fast punk, fans complain, and the resulting record is never appraised on its own terms. Well, on its own terms, “Three Chords and a Half Truth” is a wonderful punk-infused Rock & Roll record, not unlike what Social Distortion would come up with on their best days. They’re old, experienced punk musicians, and they feel like going for a more classic, layered, mid-tempo sound. No complaints here: it sounded great in my car all summer, and the few songs they played when I saw them this fall sounded great live as well.
4. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
As long as Frank Turner gets coverage—and has credibility—in the punk rock community, whatever he puts out will end up on my “best of the year list.” This is a certainty. This guy is such an exceptionally gifted songwriter, he couldn’t write a bad song if he tried (give or take a few forgettable bonus tracks). His song-crafting prowess is all over Tape Deck Heart, on “Losing Days,” on “Plain Sailing Weather,” on “Polaroid Pictures;” it’s simply a consistently satisfying record.
But the thing is, he’s not like all the other great singer-songwriters I enjoy. The difference is that on each of his records he was able to find the right words to express something I felt, but couldn’t quite put my finger on. Whether he talks about growing older, dealing with family, or just living life a certain way, he speaks to my soul in a way I find almost uncanny.
It is where it is on this list simply because it isn’t a punk record. On my all-categories 2013 list, it is much, much higher.
3. Adrenalized – Tales From the Last Generation
It seems to me like this album flew under the radar a bit, but I’ve been listening to it non-stop since I heard the first single “The Tarkin Doctrine” a few months ago, and I still think it’s the best record of melodic hardcore punk that came out this year. It’s fast, it’s technical, it’s angry, catchy and melodic, and well, they’re Spanish guys so the English lyrics aren’t always syntactically sound, if you know what I mean, but who cares really? Did I mention how fast it is?
2. Off With Their Heads – Home
Is it better than 2010’s “In Desolation”? I won’t commit to an answer, but “Home” should definitely be a contender for Punk Record of the Year, with “Nightlife” a strong candidate for best punk song of the year, so that’s kind of an answer. It’s all in the angst of the lyrics, the loud distorted guitars, and the sincere, heart-wrenching delivery of Ryan Young. It’s a true punk rock record.
1. VA – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute
Song for song, this is the best punk record that came out in 2013, bar none. It’s got nothing to do with why the record came out, what it represents, or the emotions and feelings we attach to it. All these things are there of course, but all they do is add an emotional layer to what is, even without it, an objectively brilliant record.
It’s a testimony both to Tony Sly as an exceptional songwriter, and to the uniqueness and talent of each band that made his songs theirs, that this album sounds so goddamn perfect from beginning to end.
Oh, and it’s important to get the bonus tracks, as my personal favorite—Miracles’ version of “Coming Too Close”—is one of them, and anyway the album isn’t complete without these seven songs.
If you have listened, do listen, or will listen to punk music and don’t own this album, then go ahead and give yourself the best Christmas gift you’ll get this year.
Add Tony Sly to My Radar