2016 was a bad year for pretty much everything besides music, and frankly, I don’t think 2017 is going to be much better, so in music we must trust. Since President-Elect Butthole’s win, there’s been a lot of “Make Punk Great Again” horseshit going around. I get it, it’s been 8 years since the “Rock Against Bush” days when punk had a major adversary, but Propagandhi had studio time booked for 2017 before the election took place, so that theory is bunk. Besides, both NOFX and Against Me! put out excellent records in 2016, so bite me. 2017 is already looking up for me with new AFI and Menzingers records coming within the next month. I’m also looking forward to a new Manchester Orchestra LP, whatever Converge is teasing, that Brand New record maybewhoknows, a new ’68, The Bronx fucking 5, Crime In Stereo’s impending return, Dead To Me’s American Son of Cholo now that Jack Dalrymple has rejoined, Fear Before’s return, that He Is Legend record I paid for on Kickstarter like 2 years ago, and The Smith Street Band’s 4th LP. I’d also do awful things for The Blood Brothers to get back together (I mean, if the fucking Misfits can reunite…) and Horse the Band to make a record. Oh, and by the way, fuck that buttrock Thrice reunion record 2016 gave us. Okay, I’m done. Onward and upward. Here’s what affected me most last year.
10. Culture Abuse – Peach
Wish your life was a beautiful life / Well, dream on
This band has an uncanny ability to excite me. Culture Abuse’s Spray Paint the Dog 7” was only two songs and was still #10 on last year’s list. Peach is the band’s debut LP and finds them slightly more subdued. Well, “subdued” may be the wrong word. Let’s go with “streamlined.” With Peach, the Culture boys have eschewed their more hardcore roots and adopted a catchier, beachier garage rock sound that really, really works for them. Not to mention that Peach is a how-to guide for keeping a positive mental attitude, opening with the spoken phrase, “Let there be peace on Earth. Let love reign supreme.” Culture Abuse is about letting go, community, music, friends, and fun. How much more punk can you get?
9. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
You have no right to be depressed / You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Of all the records to make my list this year, this one is by far the most unexpected. I was uncharacteristically late to the game with Car Seat Headrest. Teens of Denial was released in May, but I didn’t take the dive until late November. Idiot. This record is what all indie rock should aspire to. It’s denser than lead with music (71 minutes over only 12 tracks), lyrically goddamn genius, grungy, varied, yet entirely accessible from all angles. For fans of: guitars and drugs.
8. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat
Know I am with you / Know I forgive you / Know I am proud of the steps that you’ve made / Know it will never be easy or simple / Know I will dig in my claws when you stray
When the news broke last year that The Weakerthans were, in fact, kaput, a symphony of breaking hearts echoed throughout the punk scene. Sure, maybe they weren’t a punk band per se, but they occupied this odd, special little space in the scene that may never be filled. The Weakerthans were for dreary afternoons, for waxing lyrically at twilight, and for really, really loving your cat. Their records were the closest a listening experience could be to reading a rich piece of literature. Luckily, Samson saw fit to give us Winter Wheat, his second solo offering, which coincidentally features accompaniment by much of The Weakerthans rhythm section, so it’s kinda like a new Weakerthans record. If your interest in music doesn’t rely heavily on lyrical content, Samson may be unfortunately lost on you, as many of his songs read like fictional prose. You may, however, still be able to tap into the calming peace this record can impart. It’s like an antidepressant, like lying on your back in the grass watching the clouds. Here’s a taste of his wholesome obsession with academia:
7. Camp Cope
I wanna do whatever you wanna do / I wanna make fun of cops with you
It’s incredibly hard to believe that this is Camp Cope’s debut release. Even at only 8 tracks, this record is an emotional powerhouse of the highest degree. What started in Melbourne as a solo endeavor by vocalist/lyricist/guitarist Georgia Maq transformed into something truly special when she teamed up with drummer Sarah Thompson and bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich (the bass on this thing is incredible, by the way). Camp Cope is now one of my go-to recommendations when it comes to punk’s new wave of subdued, indie-tinged, late-afternoon tones.
6. Jeff Rosenstock – Worry.
It’s not like the love that they showed us on TV / It’s a home that can burn / It’s a limb to freeze / It’s worry / Love is worry / Yeah
First off, it’s batshit that Jeff Rosenstock has landed at #6 on my list 2 years in a row…both times for full-length LPs. What’s even more batshit is that Worry. is even better than We Cool? which, frankly, I didn’t expect. This thing is getting extremely high praise everywhere (it’s even been called “the Abbey Road of punk”), and for good reason. Worry. is 17 songs in 38 minutes that touch on nearly every punk subgenre and societal woe you could come up with. Take, for example, the dancy, gang-vocal-friendly, pop-punk “Festival Song,” which brutally rails against music festival culture and the damage it’s doing to real, audible art: “Take a long look at the billboards that smother the air ‘til you can’t ignore ‘em / and glamorize department store crust-punk-chic ‘cause Satan’s trending up and it’s Fashion Week / but this is not a movement, it’s just careful entertainment for an easy demographic in our sweatshop denim jackets / and we’ll wonder, “What just happened?!” when the world becomes Manhattan / where the banks steal the apartments just to render them abandoned.” I can confidently say that including all of his work under the moniker of Bomb the Music Industry!, this is Rosenstock’s best work. If you haven’t started, start here.
5. AJJ – The Bible 2
No more shame / No more fear / No more dread
It’s relieving to finally have a favorite AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) record. 2014’s Christmas Island came in at #11 that year for its foray into a more pop-driven, fuzz-rock sound, which AJJ has come to perfect on The Bible 2. Sean Bonnette is as playful as ever here, with his trademark oddly-funny-yet-simultaneously-affecting lyrics on full display (see “Junkie Church” below to see what I mean). The Bible 2 is just that, a replacement for the useless fire-and-brimstone original that touted shame and dread as positive attributes. “No more,” says AJJ, and dare I say, it is a much better Bible.
4. Pup – The Dream is Over
I don’t give a shit / I just don’t wanna die and I don’t wanna live
A good friend of mine turned me onto Pup’s debut self-titled LP in 2013 with the qualifier, “This is good, but I’m interested to see where they go on their next record.” Well, Queppet, you were right (again). The Dream is Over takes the best parts of Pup and amplifies them – more driving guitars, more gang vocals, more technicality, more speed, more nuance, more everything. It’s lyrically superior as well, with vocalist/guitarist Stefan focused on navigating the nihilism and frustration of life in your mid-twenties – “It feels like I can’t win / I’m growing up and I’m giving in / and it’s starting to hurt / It feels like I can’t win / I couldn’t wait to be alone again / and I’m getting worse.” Watch the video for one of my favorite songs on the record, “Sleep in the Heat,” below, starring Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard in his second Pup video. Full disclosure: this video made me cry.
3. The Hotelier – Goodness
I don’t know if I know love no more
Well, I’m nothing if not consistent. The Hotelier’s sophomore LP Home, Like Noplace is There was my #3 record of 2014, and here we are again. I didn’t expect another LP so quickly, so when Goodness was announced, I tried (and failed) to temper my excitement. Its first single “Piano Player” confidently embodied the completely different approach The Hotelier took to writing and recording Goodness that some initially found polarizing. It sounds how it looks – natural. The snare is oddly loud and piercing, the guitars are jangly and unproduced, the vocals are sometimes mixed to the back. It sounds like The Hotelier are playing in your back yard and there are daisies and dandelions and shit. There’s something inherently pastoral about its sound, and I absolutely love it. Bassist/vocalist Christian Holden’s lyrics and delivery are as poetically impressive as on Home… and, at times, even more so. Check out “Piano Player” below.
2. Every Time I Die – Low Teens
Untimely ripped into this world / I was born again as a girl
Every Time I Die is my favorite band and this is objectively their best record, and while I don’t know whether or not it will end up being my favorite ETID record, that much will remain true. Not only does Low Teens encompass every single sound the band has mastered over their 8-record career, it is without a doubt one of the most lyrically devastating works I could think of. In the winter of 2015, vocalist/lyricist Keith Buckley learned that complications had arisen with his wife during the birth of their first child and that both of their lives were in jeopardy. He left tour immediately and spent the following weeks at her side, uncertain if she or their newborn daughter would pull through (“The longest winter I have ever seen / from hospital to hospital, repeat”). Thank freaking God they both did, and what we’re left with are some of the most harrowing lyrics I have ever heard in my life. Keith Buckley has always been one of my favorite lyricists, but holy shit, I tear up at least once every time I spin Low Teens. Take, for example, the unrelenting “Petal,” in which Buckley concedes that if they go, he goes, too – “If I have to walk alone, I’m giving up / I can’t stay here knowing love is not enough.” Low Teens is a man on a ledge baring his soul and thus one of the emotionally rawest pieces of music you’ll ever hear. Whether you like heavy music or not, this will affect you, and I implore you to experience it.
1. Pears – Green Star
From my mangled form, my heavy heart begins to lift / Ribs are built for breaking by design
The simplest way I can express just how much I love this record is that not only am I very aware that The Hotelier’s Goodness should probably be my AOTY, my number one favorite band, Every Time I Die, put out the best record of their career, and I STILL place it second under Pears’ Green Star. And the reason, too, is simple. This is my dream music. It’s the exact mixture of my favorite subgenres I would concoct in lab if I could. If I were to Weird Science a record, it’d come out like this. It’s aggressive, but highly nuanced. Heavy, but dynamically, not constantly. It’s fast, but uncannily melodic from beginning to end. These guys mastered punk on their second record – well, I guess so did Pup – but this is the specific kind of Fat Wreck Chords punk I was raised on. This is Bad Religion meets NOFX meets Strung Out meets fucking Sick of It All. For never having completed high school, vocalist Zach Quinn’s lyrics are unbelievably intelligent and challenging, and he’s developing quite the unique ability to aggressively address complicated emotions through melody. Check out the title track. Is that intro not a Bad Religion part on steroids or what?