Okay, ummmm, wow. 2017 was an interesting one, to say the least. I’m gonna go ahead and ignore the state of the world and try to stay on topic here. Listed below are my top 10 records of the year. I’ve had a dismal year output-wise, so please excuse the rust. As I look at this list, I realize how surprising this year was. I didn’t even know 4 of these bands last year. It also looks like I leaned in harder to more aggressive sounds this year than normal, but with everything that’s been going on, I don’t think you could blame me.
An aside: So, 2017 saw the release of Brand New’s long anticipated 5th LP. It had been 8 years since their last. It was a surprise release. Everyone went insane. Then it came to light that Jesse Lacey, Brand New’s frontman, had previously solicited nudes from a 15 year old girl. Other women have since come forward citing his predatory behavior. So that’s that. I have my opinions about it. You have your opinions about it. I can no longer sanction Brand New and you will not see the record on this list. That said, up until the allegations came to light, it was undoubtedly my #1, and for me, not mentioning all of this would be tantamount to sweeping it all under the rug, which can’t happen. There.
10. Crisis Man – S/T CS
i’m sorta dead
I was oblivious to this release until December 28th and have listened to it in full over forty times since. It’s January 1st. Granted, it’s only a 5-track demo cassette that doesn’t break 10 minutes, but that only adds to its beauty. Crisis Man is comprised of members of Acrylics and Violent Change and is fronted by Ross Farrar of Ceremony, so yeah, sold. I only had to hear the first 10 seconds of the opening title track before I threw my money at Bandcamp. I think it’s the closest thing to another Ronhert Park LP I could hope for. This is pure hardcore punk – fast, slipshod, lo-fi aggression. Expression at its most utilitarian. It’s not for everyone, but for those of us it is for, it’s everything. Here’s the whole thing. Slam around. Get it out.
9. Pears/Direct Hit! – Human Movement
devotion is keeping me clear / i’m far more happy than i might appear
When this split LP was announced, I could actually feel fellow Fat Wreck Chords fans all around the world reaching for their credit cards, and together we achieved a global moment of Zen. There aren’t enough split LPs being made anymore, a crying shame considering how many punk bands’ careers were mapped by landing a split with a bigger band. Hell, I didn’t give Alkaline Trio the time of day until their split with One Man Army on BYO Records. Okay, I digress. This is an awesome record. The Direct Hit! songs are as excellent as we’ve come to expect from them, though I personally will always go back to their Brainless God LP. I’m really here for Pears, who released my #1 record of 2016. When I sent my friends the link to the Pears song attached to this record’s announcement, one replied saying, “I think they might be the best living punk band.” And he might be right. They can flip from crushingly fast and abrasive to delectably catchy on a dime, and make it seem easy. Like, stupid easy. Frontman Zach Quinn’s hooks are next level here as he delivers several of my favorite choruses of the year (“Arduous Angel,” “Never Now”). Pears are seemingly unstoppable, and based on how prolific they’ve been over the last few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up on my list yet again next year. Here’s a thing.
8. Converge – The Dusk In Us
you outshone the best there was / rewrote who i could be
I’m an infant when it comes to Converge. I can walk, talk, go to the bathroom by myself, but I definitely don’t know as much as I think I do. I didn’t take the dive into Converge until my friend played me “Dark Horse” from their Axe to Fall LP, which made 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind my first “new” Converge record. It’s been 5 years, and now The Dusk In Us is my second, and I can’t decide which one I love more. A new Converge record is an event. All good bands care about it, or at least know about it, regardless of genre. Each one feels like a lesson, a new path forged for heavy music to explore until Converge deems it necessary to return and change everyone’s trajectory again. The Dusk In Us is impeccably crafted as both a long-playing listening experience and as a collection of standout singles. Songs like the emotional opener “A Single Tear,” the plodding single “Under Duress,” and barn-burner “Arkhipov Calm” instantly joined the ranks of the band’s best songs. The first time I heard “Arkhipov Calm,” I spit out a little bit of my PBR. Here it is. Learn something.
7. The Smith Street Band – More Scared of You Than You Are of Me
I am someone in your passenger seat /
I’m your punching bag /
I will let you kick the shit outta me /
And I’ll hold your hand /
I’ll be whatever you tell me to be /
And I’ll understand
Anyone who knows me well knows I love The Smith Street Band a little too much. Wil Wagner is simply exactly what I’m looking for in a songwriter – passionate, confessional, brash, and a bit wordy (see: record title). MSOYTYAOM (christ) is Smith Street’s fourth LP and easily their best. It’s their most cohesive and consistent, making it my “start here” recommendation for anyone new to the band (even though Sunshine & Technology will always be my favorite). These songs find Wagner at his most vulnerable and reflective, looking inward with lyrics like “and the realization shatters through me / that I’m the villain in this movie” and “just because I’ve got a lot to learn / does not mean that I am inherently a piece of shit.” While the lyrics are Wagner’s best yet, it’s Smith Street’s ability to effortlessly weave from rousing gang vocal sing-alongs to quietly devastating intimate moments that keeps you coming back. Every song is an emotional rollercoaster worth the price of admission. Here’s maybe my favorite one because it starts with “Tell Jesus he’s a fucking loser!”
6. Propagandhi – Victory Lap
all remorse, no rebel / a shell of my former shell
The Canadian punk kings (and queen) have returned to discourage us all from pretending that we can play guitar. As expected, this album absolutely rips. It’s been 5 years since Failed States, and these socio-political heavyweights had a lot of ground to cover. While the word “Tr*mp” is never actually uttered, this record positively drips with lamentations and critiques of Tr*mpist society, each more sumptuously apropos than the last. Take the title track, for example, which references “The Wall:” “When the flames engulfed the Home of the Brave / the stampede toward the border was in vain / faces palmed, faces paled / as the wall they said would make them ‘great’ could not be scaled.” Ooooof, that’s good. Or perhaps my favorite, “Comply/Resist,” in which Chris Hannah sides with Black Lives Matter by satirizing the asinine and downright deplorable “slavery turned out good for you” argument dicknoses like Richard Sp*ncer spout: “Where is your gratitude / for all we’ve done for you? / This paradise / Eden / Empire / Kingdom / This boundless epoch we’ve bestowed upon your savage, empty lands / well of course mistakes were made! / But as far as human progress goes, welcome to a slightly higher plane / of innovation / and opportunity / for your trampled communities! / The treaties that we broke / The lands that we filched / The settlements put to the torch / The children we abused / all for your own good, of course!” Yeah, that’s how well Hannah writes, and why all other punk bands bow to Propagandhi. Perhaps their most harrowing and impressive song to date, closer “Adventures in Zoochosis,” opens with the laughter of Hannah’s sons, which is soon drowned out by Tr*mp’s “Grab ‘em by the pussy” recording, which then bleeds into a crowd chanting “Build the Wall!” While it may seem a little on the nose, it’s incredibly emotionally effective considering the song ends with Hannah imploring his sons to leave his generation behind: “Boys, I’ve bowed to the keeper’s whip for so damn long / I think the sad truth is / this enclosure is where your old man belongs / But you, your hearts are pure / so when the operant conditioners come to break you in / I’ll sink my squandered teeth / You grab your little brother’s hand / run like the wind / And if I’m not there / don’t look back / Just go.” I honestly well up every time. Here it is.
5. The Menzingers – After the Party
where we gonna go now that our 20s are over?
The pride and joy of Philadelphia returned to form this year with their second best record to date. While I’ll always hold 2012’s On the Impossible Past (too) closely, After the Party may be an even more formidable and accessible LP that best represents their sound and skill as a whole. For more on After the Party, check out my full review here.
4. Special Explosion – To Infinity
i’d like you to like me / more than you’d like to
To Infinity wasn’t released until December 15th and threw a lot of people’s year, including mine, into total disarray. It’s the Seattle “dreamo” band’s debut LP, and is packed with such impressively and delicately crafted songs that you won’t be able to choose a favorite. Opener “Wet Dream” sounds like Lydia covering Jesu while exhibiting the gorgeous instrumental atmospherics and swirling vocal harmonies of Andy and Lizzy Costello that make this album one of a kind. It’s lyrically one of the most impressive releases of the year, and ages like a fine Pinot Noir with each listen. “Cats” resembles Colour Revolt’s The Cradle in its renouncement of vocal structure, the intimacy of “Gladiator” will leave you breathless, and “Fire” has completely rendered Freelance Whales obsolete. I could go on and on, because I just can’t get enough of these songs. Here’s “Fire.” Sing it your baby someday.
3. Emperor X – Oversleepers International
cruelty has no place here / form a warmth perimeter
I felt like I was taking a risk when I ordered this record. While I thoroughly enjoyed the songs available, it just seemed too far out of my wheelhouse to maintain a lasting impression on me. I even considered canceling my preorder. What an idiot. Oversleepers International is by and far the most fun and interesting record of the year. Emperor X is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Chad R. Matheny, whose “Personal Life” section on Wikipedia simply reads, “Matheny was a former high school science teacher, and in 2004 he stopped his pursuit of a master’s degree in physics in order to dedicate his career to music. Matheny is a testicular cancer survivor and is legally blind.” That’s it. Seriously. And his music is just as immediately interesting as that description, I promise you. It’s fun, zany, unique, homemade, warm, and goddamn catchy. Somehow Matheny is able to make stories of brown recluse spider bites and overdue German cancer treatment payments entirely relatable. Don’t ask me how. I’m still trying to figure it out. Try for yourself with what is probably your favorite band’s favorite song of the year.
2. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
you were all that you were / were you all you could be?
For reasons unbeknownst to me, I had basically written off Manchester Orchestra after Cope. Which is weird, because I liked Cope. Still do. I think it was just too straightforward to keep my passion for the band alive. When they came back out of nowhere with “The Gold,” I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I dug it, which again, is weird, because I’ve always loved this band. Yet, somehow, I still remained steadfast that I probably wouldn’t be into the record and bought it purely out of loyalty. I expected an album that reeked of mainstream aspirations. Again, idiotic. What I got instead is what I believe to be Manchester Orchestra’s magnum opus. By eschewing their natural inclinations and tried-and-true gimmicks, they’ve delivered a staggeringly cinematic piece of art. Songwriter Andy Hull was initially constructing a concept album about a family in Lead, South Dakota during a harsh winter, but the narrative naturally loosened throughout the writing process, so there’s no “story” to concern yourself with. Instead, Hull uses these fictional aspects and events as a backdrop for an exploration of more overarching themes, such as fatherhood, family history, and the afterlife. The line “There is nothing I’ve got when I die that I keep” permeates the record like an ever-present prayer, appearing in several songs in different ways. The middle portion of the record is comprised of three songs, “The Alien,” “The Sunshine,” and “The Grocery,” which inhabit the same melodic space, each one rising from the ashes of another, yet are so well-defined and fleshed out that they can’t really be called a three-part song. They’re really a marvel to behold. Here’s the first one.
1. Open City – s/t
if our opinions are secondary / why are we such a threat to you?
The day I woke up to see that Philly punk god Dan Yemin (Paint It Black/Kid Dynamite/Lifetime) had suddenly dropped a record with members of Ceremony and Bridge & Tunnel was the second best day of my 2017 (I got engaged on a different day). Yemin’s guitar work is Philadelphia to me, and this record is some of his best work yet. It also doesn’t hurt that with this one record, Rachel Rubino has already ascended to the top of my favorite hardcore vocalists list. She is fucking unhinged on this thing. Here’s my favorite song of the year. It’s 53 seconds long.
There you have it. Another great year when all you focus on is the music released. 2018 is bringing us new records from Fucked Up, Pup, Foxing, Mannequin Pussy, Camp Cope, Pianos Become the Teeth, Drug Church, and maybe even Every Time I Die if they stay on schedule. Those are just the ones off the top of my head. Oh, and I’m getting married this year. Cool cool cool. Cheers.