DS Staff Picks: Carson Winter’s Best of 2018

There was no greater highlight in my year than going to Fest. Folks like me, the unpaid soldiers of DIY fortune—we write about punk rock all year around. We talk about what we like, what we don’t like. We wrap it all up in superlatives; we conjure up images of sweaty clubs and throat-shredding anthemics. Sometimes we use the right weapons for the job, sometimes it’s perfunctory dialogue—the punk rock journalist’s toolbox of favorite words. But, Fest was something special. It brought all those things we say to life, it made good on all of the promises of punk and then some. For one wonderful weekend, I found myself howling Menzingers’ lyrics in the arms of new, sweaty friends; caterwauling from body to body over beer-soaked floors. There were a lot of great albums released in 2018, but make no mistake: for me, The Fest made music vivid again. 
 
It reminded me that punk is a stone that’s ever rolling, and it’s the community that does the pushing. The best-of’s last year inspire the best-of’s this year, and the cycle continues in perennial inspiration as audience becomes artist and artist becomes audience. The notion of DIY keeps the punks creating, and it means that there will always be fresh, exciting takes on our favorite genre. In 2018, tons of new or at least new-to-me acts caught my ear and a good amount of them ended up on this very list. Whether it was rollicking mental health ballads or blue-collar fuck-yous, there was something to love.
 
So, here’s to more music, dive bars, and sweaty singalongs. Another year in the books, and another to look forward to. Click here for my picks.

10. The Drowns – View From the Bottom

Based on the strength of Success’ last album, I’m down for anything vocalist/guitarist Rev has a hand in. The Drowns are something of a supergroup with members from the aforementioned Success, as well as The Shell Corporation, Time Again, and Madcap. View From the Bottom feels like an album written for the now—as if all of its members dropped what they were doing and formed the Drowns as pure, volatile reaction. The songwriting is top notch, and the sound is a contemporary melodic take on Cock Sparrer. In these restless political times, The Drowns prove that street punk is still a viable weapon of expression for the working class.

 

 

 

9. Throw – I’m Very Upset

I try not to let my local scene over-influence my year-end picks, but dammit, Throw are legit. I’m Very Upset is the sort of record you hope comes out of your crop of local bands. I don’t know if I can talk about this album anymore and say anything intelligent I haven’t already said, but if you haven’t heard: Throw is an amphetamine directed amalgam of confessional emo and old-school fast-as-fuck punk rock. Yeah, it’s sad. Yeah, it’s fast. It’s also catchy, tight, and fun. Check out I’m Very Upset for what is sure to be the best album not enough people will hear.

 

 

8. The All Brights – The White Album EP

An EP with six songs, six of which are good, will always be better than an album with twelve tracks, six of which stick. The All Brights White Album EP brought more joy to me in 2018 than any other. These are funny songs about living in Ohio, paddle-boarding, and buying boats. They’re expertly delivered pop-punk songs, better than any joke bands needs to be—but moreso, better than most pop-punk bands are, period.

 

 

 

7. Graduating Life – Grad Life

I love finding new bands. For me, the joy of music is really the joy of discovery. It’s finding the echo to your own voice, something that carves out a personal, resonant, relatable human experience. Graduating Life is a young band on their second album; they’re fiery open books with a knack for putting their perspective to melody. 

Grad Life is a scream-along emo-pop-punk album that pulls from cool and un-cool influences alike (shades of My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, anyone?). The result is a bright, youthful, and visceral listen.

 

 

6. The Penske File – Salvation

If I could spot a trend this year in punk rock, it was the resurgence of a blue-collar perspective. The Penske File is folksy in a way that doesn’t try too hard; the way they sing about churches and bars hint at a down-to-earth perspective that has its roots in commonality. I would call it authentically folk, in that it’s made authentically by folks. It’s about music, it’s about people, and it all comes together in its title: Salvation. Proof, that for at least a few, rock ‘n roll is still a valid savior.

 

 

5. The Creeps – Beneath the Pines

I never listened to the Creeps before Beneath the Pines, so if you need some sort of validation that this is the same or different from their previous albums, I can’t offer anything substantial. All I can say is that on Beneath the Pines, I discovered a new favorite. The Creeps are mellow, introspective, and melancholy—their distinctive mood provides ample atmosphere for their incredible songwriting. Songs like “Bottom of Things” and “Bodies” are humble masterpieces, with some of the best vocal melodies of the year.

 

 

4. Red City Radio – SkyTigers

As Red City Radio gets older, they become a more ridiculous behemoth. What once was a Hot Water Music-lite, gruff punk band that seemed hell-bent on re-writing “Trusty Chords” to a Bad Religion beat, has morphed into this soulful, rootsy, and shreddy melodic punk monster. And truthfully, they’re all the better for it. The songs on SkyTigers (yeah, SkyTigers) are the best they’ve ever written, incorporating 80s synths, dusty-road minor melodies, and fist-in-the-air guitar solos. They’ve gotten more ambitious with age, and with songs like “In the Shadows,” it shows.

 

 

3. Dollar Signs – This Will Haunt Me

It’s hard to ask for more than a unique perspective, at least when it comes to songwriting. For me, a strong editorial voice grabs me as fast as any chorus. Enter: Dollar Signs, a scrappy punk band that writes recklessly catchy songs about crying, the fruitlessness of DIY, and how Avatar kinda sucked. Their songs are funny and ironic, yes, but they also feel conversational and vulnerable—and therefore: incredibly real. This Will Haunt Me is a fantastic album that works as a meta-treatise on what it means to be punk in 2018, all the while supplying plenty of parts to shout along and dance to.

 

 

2. Mercy Music – Until the End of Your World

Vegas’ Mercy Music was a total surprise to me. I hadn’t heard of them, they were playing my town, and they were doing so with one of my favorite bands of the year. I popped on the album and was instantly floored. The melodies across Until the End of Your World are stunningly adhesive, and singer Brendan Scholz’s lyrics are head-turningly confrontational. This is an album about dealing with shit—and from the first line (“Am I too afraid to kill myself?”), no punches are pulled. This is gooey, musical pop-punk with open veins and a beating heart.

 

 

1.Spanish Love Songs – Schmaltz

Schmaltz connected with a lot of people. I saw this first hand when they played an early matinee show at Fest, where a line of anxious devotees snaked around the block. Standing in the packed crowd of true believers, I knew I wasn’t the only one who spent the summer learning their songs by heart. Spanish Love Songs is the sort of band that can tap into the zeitgeist like a big, fat purple vein. With their anthemic songs about depression and anxiety (pushed softly through a personal political lens), they capture the feeling of being youngish and punkish in 2018 better than anyone else.


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