It’s been a big year for me. I’ve gone to a bunch of shows, I made it out to my first ever Punk Rock Bowling (and finally met Head Honcho Dave), and I got my first pro-paid short story bought up by an indie publisher. 2016 has been alright by me. Now, what do we have in terms of music this year? Well, if there’s anything I learned, it was that I am essentially a boring, dyed-in-the-wool melodic punk dude. I got the beard, the glasses, the flannel; I love the Menzingers and Hot Water Music. Just look at my top three albums this year, I am a predictable beast. But, I think that’s okay. I’ve embraced my own cliches and have realized that if there’s one things I like, it’s throaty vocals and singalong anthems.
With that said though, there were a couple other genres that represented themselves for me this year that I absolutely fell in love with, so maybe those horizons aren’t set in stone quite yet. Maybe 2017 will tell a new story. Click here for my best albums of 2016.
One of the best shows I went to this year was the Falcon in Portland, where for the space between their set and the encore, they formed a conga line with the entire crowd, and then reformed as the Lawrence Arms. It was nuts. Gather Up the Chaps has a lot to offer in its skeezy, sore-covered loins– it’s the id given four chords and the truth and it’s sad, funny, catchy, but most of all, like their live show, an old fashioned good time.
Ah, NOFX, that old stalwart of punk. 2016 was a big year for the behemoths, they released a fantastic book, Fat Mike got sober (kind of), and they released First Ditch Effort— a surprisingly great record with a lot of charms, a handful of new ideas, and a pleasingly earnest and introspective Fat Mike. They still have funny songs (“Transvest-Lite” is an irreverent but sweet masterpiece, and might just be NOFX at their peak, in my opinion), but they’ve also dug deeper than they have in recent years to come out with a hard-hitting album that just drips with emotional honesty.
I had never heard of Davey Dynamite before, but he instantly became a favorite upon my first listen of Holy Shit. It’s an album born from folk punk, raised in a full-band home. It reminds me of the early days of Against Me! and O Pioneers!, and appropriately, it has a similar, but more modern political edge. On Holy Shit, personal anecdotes are woven into big ideas with the kind of talent and youthful fury that can invigorate even the most jaded of us.
Jeff Rosenstock has shifted gears and created a new album that hearkens back to his Bomb the Music Industry! days, complete with hardcore, ska, big anthems, touches of emo, and indie rock, all honed with a political edge. It’s a stylistic shapeshifter of a record that grabs you by the collar and dares you to start caring about where your culture comes from, as well as where it can go.
I love Pkew Pkew Pkew despite their awful band name. This is a band that revels in minutiae. For every tired commenter that asks, “Has every song already been sung?” I point to “Let’s Order a Pizza,” a catchy pop punk song about buddies arguing about who has to call to order a pizza. There’s a bunch of songs left to sing, folks, and Pkew Pkew Pkew isn’t afraid to have fun singing them.
I’m always looking for something new to hype. I write about music, so it goes without saying, I wanna find cool stuff, right? Well, Morrow is one of those cool stuffs. I have a casual love for crust that causes me to throw-up unironic devil-hands and try to get everyone I know to spin Tragedy. Covenant of Teeth is a fantastic record for fans of the big, bold, melodic and heavy style of neocrust. The songs build and build, as the band sublimates rage. Morrow is a one-time band, pulled together as a crusty supergroup, giving Covenant of Teeth more than just a bunch of talent, but the airs of an intentional, cohesive work of art.
Pears and PUP have a lot in common in regards to their place in the scene. They’re both bands that ascended hard and fast off the perfection of their first records, left everyone wondering what they were going to do next, then delivered fantastic sophomore records that refocused on all their strengths, while also just going a little crazier all around. Green Star is a feat. They could’ve delivered ten melodic hardcore songs and fans would’ve been happy, but instead, Pears stepped up and delivered a sprawling, frenetic record packed with influences that rear their heads in doomy breakdowns and pop punk hooks.
MakeWar didn’t write the most ambitious record this year, but they did write one of the best. Developing a Theory of Integrity is heartfelt, sing-a-long melodic punk, the kind of stuff Red Scare has codified into a movement. MakeWar sings about personal struggles, the road, wanderlust, and they do it with a sense of infectious melody. It’s an album of ear worms pumped out by a muscular three-piece that deserves more attention.
I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened to Joyce Manor if Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired had become their breakout hit, rather than becoming the weird sophomore album that no one loves but everyone thinks is kind of interesting. I think we’d be looking at a strange parallel world Joyce Manor, a noisier, less pop-blooded beast. Something right on the edge of accessibility, uncanny to the extreme. We probably won’t ever see that version of Joyce Manor, but instead we have the one that writes songs people want to hear. Since the self-titled, they’ve been honing their songwriting chops. Never Hungover Again was a rare return to form, and Cody just shows that they still have a lot more angst and chops to match. Of any album I’ve heard this year, Joyce Manor’s Cody is the one that most perfectly distilled an idea across the entirety of its run-time. In 2016, there was no better soundtrack to being a twenty-something.
When the self-titled dropped, it became the go-to punk band for fans of pop punk, hardcore, and just weird guitar-centric rock music. PUP has hooks, PUP has chops, and they don’t sound like anyone but PUP. It’s why they’re the first band to come out of the punk scene in a long while to have any cross-over appeal. So, when The Dream Is Over was announced, we collectively worried, but hoped for the best– because, PUP is that good. The Dream Is Over laid the worries to rest. PUP has gotten more bold, embracing their mathy influences, while never leaving behind their knack for big shout-a-long hooks and frenetic fretwork. Songs like “Sleep In the Heat,” “DVP,” “Old Wounds,” “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You,” and “Pine Point” are proof that no one is going to a PUP show in 2016 and complaining about the new stuff.
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