For us list-making, taste-making, coffee-drinking, taco-devouring, unpaid-punk-curators— end of year lists are a time to shine. We spend a lot of time listening to the hottest, freshest tracks and occasionally liking some of them too. 2017 was no exception, and for me actually, I thought it was one of the better years in recent punk history. Old bands I loved released new material, I found new bands I’d never heard, bands I thought I didn’t like released music that I did. It was a varied, interesting, and eclectic year for punk rock. And at the same time: almost too varied, interesting, and eclectic. Unfortunately, being spoiled for choice goes hand in hand with writing articles that shouldn’t take that long to write. Oh well, as said by a million tattoos and a guy named Vonnegut, “So it goes.”
Without further ado, here are my top ten picks for the best punk of 2017.
Like any straight white male with a beard and an affection for sad-sack melodic punk, I also have an inexplicable love for crust. When bands do it right— make it big, raw, and emotive, couple it with dirty guitars and soaring leads— it can be transcendent. Direwolves is one of those random revelations I discovered this year. The French crusties do something with the sound I haven’t heard anyone else do. They combine the emotional vomiting that makes bands like Touche Amore so captivating with the big neo-crust riffs of Tragedy and The Fall of Efrafa. With a sound like that and the songs to boot, The Great Year is a fitting name.
Is it weird to say I never really got into Iron Chic? You’d think they’d be right up my alley. Big choruses, self-reflective lyrics—the kind of stuff beardo-punk dreams are made of. But for one reason or another, they just never caught with me. Well, I gave them the ol’ college try with You Can’t Stay Here, and what do you know? This time it stuck. Iron Chic had some of the best singalongs of the year and getting to see them live really helped put the hype in perspective. This is a drunken, singing with friends sort-of band. All this time I was just waiting to know the words. With You Can’t Stay Here, Iron Chic brought me into the fold.
I hadn’t heard of Deforesters before this year, but they’ve become household names for me since. This is the type of no-nonsense melodic punk that most everyone can get behind. Yeah, it’s got a bit of that heart-on-the-sleeve mentality (Remember when Against Me! Was big and every reviewer ever was saying shit like this? I’m bringing it back.), but it never becomes an exercise in pure confession. Leonard is all about big, fat melodies and meaty instrumentation. It hits hard, has fun, and has been spinning the entire year.
I like local bands the way I like local beer. I can get a Bud Light anywhere, but something handcrafted and down the street will always taste better. Throw is a band from Portland who surprised me this year with an amazing record. They sound kinda indie, kinda punk, a little snarky, and very catchy. Their album Real, Real Nice captured that punk spirit of doing what you want, as weird and personal as you can make it. It sounds like brutal honesty, low ambition, and an ache of the soul.
Everything Crusades does is breathtaking in its vision. If you want an album that feels like a whole, look no further than these intentionally difficult, poetry quoting masters of cohesive punk rock. This is a Sickness and Sickness Will End brings some new sounds to the table, as well as emphasizing some old ones. This time, the ‘satanist pop punk’ has settled into something darker, heavier, and more intense than its predecessors. For bonus points, I got to interview frontman Dave Williams for one of the best pieces I’ve ever been a part of. Check it here.
Emo isn’t a genre I really engage in, but it is one I keep an eye on. You won’t see me at a Foxing show, but you might be able to find me reading comments on Reddit about Mom Jeans. The truth is, while the sounds don’t necessarily capture me, they inspire a lot of intrigue. There’s an intense and quirky youthfulness to a lot of the music coming out from the self-described emo. And for me, a person who likes to see punk rock pushed to its limits, I’m not sure anyone else is doing that with the same glee and determination as the latest wave of emo devotees. Sorority Noise’s output is more along the lines of pop punk than other, more noodly contemporaries, but they’re lyrical content does all the heavy lifting. Speech-like cadences lend themselves to melodies, purple lyrics become anthemic rallying cries, big electric guitar riffs make it all sound so urgent, you can’t help but wonder if it’ll be the last thing you ever hear.
I love Hot Water Music, and still, when it came time to listen to Light It Up, I kept my expectations in check. This is their, what, eighth album? How many punk bands stick around that long, let alone release new material that’s worth more than a courtesy listen? Not many. But, Hot Water Music managed to do something I didn’t think they could do– they wrote an album that I’d be happy to hear mixed in with the rest of their catalog. Light It Up references their earlier sound, but doesn’t copy it, it instead represents perfectly where they’ve been, and where they’re going.
I saw The Homeless Gospel Choir open for Anti-Flag forever ago. I was enraptured by the performance. Just a dude, a guitar, and some songs. Derek Zanetti made my balcony position feel just as intimate as a front row mosh pit. He was funny, clever, and when he finished you wanted more. To this day, I can’t think of a better opener. He played “Everyone” that night, a song that shows up on Normal amongst a lot of other perfect folk punk songs. For awhile, I wondered if I’d ever hear that song again. Lucky for me, Normal was worth the wait.
What can I say about Dead Bars that I haven’t already said? Dead Bars are my favorite Northwest punk rock band. They’ve got grit, heart, and great songs. What else do you need? Dream Gig is their first album, but it feels like the latest in a long line for fans who’ve been following their EPs and singles. Dead Bars make slices of life feel as big as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, whether it’s sharing an earplug, walking home sad, or just trying to make it in this world. Minimalistic, catchy, and so goddamn scrappy– Dead Bars is everything you’ve ever felt pushed through an amplifier.
I’m pretty sure I knew this would be my number one album of the year the moment I listened to it. Other albums come and go, a lot of them stuck, but when it comes to the Menzingers, few of them compare. In 2017, this was my event release. Mark the calendar, buy the pre-order, anticipation and despair— all that jazz. When it comes to punk rock storytelling, the Menzingers can do things other bands only dream about. With the new album, they continue down the road they’ve been traveling and deliver a bunch of great songs made for screaming along to with new friends in sweaty pits. While I’ve got a couple years to ponder what I’ll do when my twenties over, I already know the Menzingers will continue to travel along-side and a little ahead, providing the soundtrack every step of the way.
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