An excerpt from 2014: A Year In Review
By Nathan G. O'Brien on Scene Point Blank
If you haven't done so, please check out previous installments of our 2014 year-end best-of coverage:
The Best Albums of 2014
The Best Cassettes of 2014
The Best Reissues of 2014
Another year has passed and another million punk & hardcore records have been ingested. I find it interesting how my tastes within the genre have altered over time. This past year I shifted slightly away from the thrash, crust, D-beat, and blown-out raw punk that had been ruling my turntables for several years; instead becoming increasingly interested in post-punk revivalism and stuff that's a little bit more, for a lack of better term, experimental. In addition I've allowed myself to enjoy some of the more melodic, poppy punk that I'd all but sworn off a more than a decade ago. (I'm not totally comfortable admitting that last part actually.)
While this list isn't comprehensive by any stretch, I am confident that those who like their music loud, fast, dirty, and totally fucked up will find plenty to identify with here.
I encourage you to share your thoughts. If I missed something, tell me what it was. If you don't agree with me, tell me why. But before you question my validity know that I wrote this in the middle of the night while wearing pajama pants and an Aus Rotten tee shirt that I found in the gutter after a giant rainstorm in 2000. So I'm pretty much an authority on this stuff.
Acid Fast – Rabid Moon (Protagonist)
Angst-y, bouncy punk rock from Oakland. Melodic male-female vocal tradeoff gives it a sense of charm that’s hard to ignore. Close your eyes and let the fuzzy basslines, driving drums, and spirited guitar transport you to some damp basement party in 1993.
Boston Strangler – Fire (Boston Strangler)
One of the more anticipated albums of the year that nobody knew about. And by nobody I mean me, until I heard about it on Twitter, at which point I began anticipating it being sold out everywhere.
All the angry, punishing hardcore mosh from Primitive is still intact, but they've expanded their overall sound somewhat. These songs are more melodic (think Blood For Blood) and there's even a touch of Oi! in there, which is likely the result of being from the same area as legendary groups like The Bruisers. This is tough guy stuff but not in a shoving-kids-in-lockers-y way.
Good luck finding this one. Maybe sell plasma or something so you can pay collector scum prices on Discogs.
Brain F – Empty Set
Same as Acid Fast, except the amps have been cranked, the riffs are harder, and the cocaine guy just showed up.
Condominium – Thug 7” (Condominium)
The latest from this Twin Cities veteran trio, and the first offering since their Sub Pop excursion a year ago. Pounding pissed-off hardcore and art-damaged creepiness that has you grinding your teeth so hard you need a mouth guard just to listen to hit. My friends are probably really sick of hearing me talk about this band, but I’m sorry, I just can’t stop. Totally essential.
Creative Adult – Psychic Mess (Run For Cover)
Moody, reverb-heavy post-punk/post-hardcore with flourishes of goth and garage rock. Underneath everything lays a pulsing rhythm that allows them to hop in and out of genres while maintaining a cohesive tone.
Cross Examination – Dawn of the Dude (Organized Crime)
Sometimes I just want to eat a bunch of pizza, drink a 30 pack of Special Export Light, smoke one million doobies, make out with chicks in a swimming pool, stay up all night tripping on mushrooms while watching hippies swirl glow sticks and eat fire, and then make out with more chicks in a tent as the sun comes up. And sometimes I’m way too old and way too married to actually do those things anymore, so I just want listen to a record that reminds me what it was like to do those things.
Dark Blue – Pure Reality (Jade Tree)
This Philadelphian trio traverse in the dark-punk/post-punk/gothic style that's risen in popularity in the last few years. John Sharkey III nails the Ian Curtis/Andrew Eldritch harrowing baritone style in a way that will make you forget a band like Interpol ever existed.
So if I understand this right, this dude John moved his family from Philly all the way across the world to Australia where he worked as a night watchman on a college campus. It was cool kinda cool. After two years he moved them back to Philly where he hates his neighborhood and his life, which is not cool. Somewhere in the midst of all of this he wrote this really fabulous album about it.
Eastlink – Self-Titled (In The Red)
Featuring members of Total Control, UV Race and other Melbourne acts, these guys bring fuzzed-out, droning punk weirdness to the forefront and then slather it in laborious riffs and monochromatic dual vocals for maximum LSD brain burn.
Ex-Cult – Midnight Passenger (Goner)
Like the majority of the bands on this list, this Memphis crew—led by Chris Shaw of Vile Nation on vocals—understand that the best punk is a result of mashing a whole bunch of styles together to create something uniquely original. They take Krautrock, post-punk, psych, anarcho-punk and whole bunch of other stuff and throw it all in a blender. Then they pour it in a turkey baster, jam it in your ear, and force it deep into the recesses of your brain. You’re totally fucked but you feel kind of tough. Like a lanky punk walking down the street in the dead of winter, smoking a cigarette and wearing an open leather jacket with no shirt underneath.
Gas Chamber – Hemorrhaging Light (Iron Lung)
I think I like this mostly because it confuses the shit out of me by combining genres of music I don't normally listen to, and often times, don't even like. It's like some bizarre amalgamation of tech metal, prog, and grindcore. I took a nap to this once and had the most messed-up dreams ever.
Gas Rag – Beats Off 12” EP (Beach Pediment)
With a title like that, do I really need to say anything here? Snarling, hurtful, thrashing, D-beaten, and dumb as shit. Basically the best punk rock ever. Saw 'em this summer at Extreme Noise's anniversary bash and I instantaneously got twice as drunk as I already was, which was already questionable.
Institute – Salt 12” EP / Giddy Boys 7” (Sacred Bones / Katorga Works)
This year saw two more solid releases (in addition to the 12" vinyl reissue of their 2013 demo cassette) from this Austin, TX-based group. Anarcho-influenced post-punk is the name of the game. If someone told me this stuff came out on Crass Records in the '80s I would have no reason not to believe them. I totally dig the dejected teenage loner vibe the singer puts forth, even if it is a bit contrived. One of the better new bands of the last two years.
Iron Hand – Injected Fear (Safety Meeting)
D-beat hardcore that swims in the Scandinavian / Portland epic crust end of the pool; in the instrumentation at least. The vocals lend it some tough-guy-metal-core vibes, but not in a way that conjures up images of varsity logos, sXe calf tattoos, and Nike Cortez’s. Nike Cortez’s are dope though.
Kontaminat – Self-Titled 7” (Lengua Armada)
Another in a long line of great releases from Martin Sorrondeguy's Lengua Armada label. Angry USHC with flourishes of Oi! mixed in. Call it working class hardcore if you will. I call it badass. Red, unlabeled vinyl and a jacket and liner notes that are printed on tracing paper makes for a really nice package too.
Legendary Wings – Do You See (Dirtnap)
Anthemic poppy garage punk. There's a nice amount of distortion, especially on the vocals, that keeps the sound from veering into straight '90s pop-punk. Take any Dillinger Four song, add an extra shot of whiskey, and ramp up the pop sensibilities. I dislike a lot of similar-sounding stuff but this shit's A-OK by me.
Now let's all go to the bar—somewhere in the Midwest preferably—have some drinks, sing along to the band, and then get sentimental about some stuff and maybe send a few texts we'll regret/not remember in the morning.
The Murder City Devils – The White Ghost Has Blood On Its Hands Again (Murder City Devils)
Off-stage Spencer Moody is a quiet, awkward if not unassuming man. But when he takes center stage for The Murder City Devils he transforms into a rascally, howling maniac. On this album, the Seattle-based band's first full-length since 2000, he's more hoarse-throated and irate than ever before. The White Ghost, in all its eerie, emotive garage punk glory, is quintessential Murder City Devils.
Nots – We Are Nots (Goner)
I'm kind of sick of the term "weird punk" because punk by nature is supposed to be weird. That being said, Nots is weird punk (i.e., they have a keyboard player and wear sunglasses indoors.). Also, I predict Nots will blow up and become a band that's not supposed to be cool to punks anymore. And oh boy will that ever be a shame for those silly punks.
Obediencia – El Angel Exterminador 7” (Solo Para Punks)
Spanish language female vocals that are melodic and urgent. Garage-ish punk that's played a little bit faster than mid-pace. You pretty much have to dance to this or risk having your punk membership card clipped yours truly. Reminds me a lot of the Weird TV demo from a few years ago. Also of a band that would play an in-store performance during the day where you'd sneak a beer in.
Oblivionation – Cult of Culture 7” (Hardware / Man In Decline)
Ex-Out Cold dudes doing their thing. Loud fast rules. Super strong build-ups, mean riffs, and throaty vocals that remind me a bit of DS-13. Really tough-sounding hardcore that vibes intelligent rather than meatheaded.
Priests – Bodies and Control and Money and Power 12” EP (Don Giovanni / Sister Polygon)
A lot of people have a lot of things to say about this Washington DC band. I am not one of them. I have only a few things to say about them and they are this: This EP totally reminds me of Bikini Kill’s first EP and that’s never a bad thing. I saw them play early in the year and they totally killed. That is all.
Puff – Indentitatsverlust 7” (Slovenly)
Classic-sounding punk punk. Albeit a little bit faster than they were doing things in the '70s and with enough erratic synth tossed in that it also makes it kind of new wave-y. The oddball vocals and German lyrics really give it that old-school punk effect I was talking about two sentences ago. Probably not as difficult to describe as I'm making it but oh well.
Replica – Beast 7” (Prank)
Take menacing bass lines; mash them against blast beat drums (the kind that predate grindcore) and mean-sounding guitars; top it all off with Dharma Moony’s pissed-off snot-tinged vocals, and you’re left with this erratic little monster.
S.H.I.T. – Collective Unconsciousness 7” / Generation Shit 7” / Feeding Time 7” (Iron Lung / Lengua Armada / Static Shock)
Big year for these Torontonians. Same as with Lumpy & the Dumpers, everyone from Maximum Rocknroll to DIY fanzine writers to Noisey/Vice is singing their praises, and not for lack of reason. They have all the style and grace a punk band could ask for. Leather jacket-clad front man who sings with nasally, echo-y vocals and puts forth creepo energy galore, backed by skilled players that bring the hardcore noise.
Teenanger – E P L P (Telephone Explosion / The Orchard)
More Toronto folks here. Weird nasally vocals and Gang of Four/post-punk-driven garage rock. They toss in a bit of saxophone on one track which lends it some fringe punk/no-wave mileage. Soft female vocals on another for the '90s alt effect. Love the album cover pic of them posed inside a mall food court, taking pics with their cell phones. Also kind of want to try that burrito place they're standing in front of.
Teledrome – Self-Titled (FDH / P. Trash)
How many hardcore bands screaming about “until the day we die” can you take, am I right? When some super ’80s style digi-punk comes along, it gives my eardrums a boner and my actual boner a hard-on. Dark, moody, and synth-heavy one man gig out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The Estranged – Self-Titled (Dirtnap)
The Estranged’s members are associated with crusty hardcore acts like Hellshock, From Ashes Rise, Lebenden Toten, and Remains of the Day so it might come as a surprise that they play post-punk, death-rock, and other subgenres that require hyphenated descriptors that sounds textured, un-cold, and, well, fun.
Lumpy & The Dumpers – Collection (Space Ritual)
Like S.H.I.T. these St. Louis dirtbags have had a prolific couple of years. Thanks to a handful of slimy demos and singles and noteworthy live shows they've caught the attention of purest-of-heart punks and taste-making culture vulture media conglomerates alike.
This LP brings together all of their recorded material to date, including the Total Punk 7", which features the punk song of the year, “Gnats in the Pisser." It's hard for me to continue talking about this band without using the F word multiple times a sentence, so I'll fucking quit right the fuck now.
Vexx – Self-Titled 12” EP (M’lady’s / Upset The Rhythm)
This has all the fury and forwardness of hardcore but with a healthy dose of Pacific Northwestern rock 'n' roll punk attitude shot all up in its guts. Lead vocalist Maryjane zig-zags between rugged soulfulness and abrasive wailing, bringing to mind revered throats like Mia Zapata and Kathleen Hanna. It’s enchanting and terrifying all at the same time. These guys are from Olympia, so like, duh.
White Lung – Deep Fantasy (Domino)
Word is White Lung singer Mish Way doesn't like when you compare her band to a certain other now-defunct PNW-based band, which is weird because it's pretty much undeniable and usually meant as a compliment of the highest regard.
If there's one album from this year who's songs I walk around humming even when it's not on it's been this one. This is this Vancouver punk’s third and most spirited album to date. Chock full of anthemic melodies and pulse-manipulating guitar work that sticks with you long after the tone arm has returned to its resting position.
Watery Love – Decorative Feeding (In The Red)
Aside from rap music, this is probably the one record that annoyed my wife the most this year. And that's usually a pretty good indicator that it's the best punk. Shit, this record is so damn good I can hardly stand it myself. They're from Philly, and much like fellow Pennsylvanians Pissed Jeans, they play loud, heavy punk that's driven by an unsettling vocalist who screams scathing admonitions.
On "Face The Door" Richie Charles (formerly of Clockcleaner) repeats the line, "unlike you dickheads, I welcome death" so many times that by the end of the song I'm like, yeah me too! The first few times I heard it I thought he was saying "I like you dickheads", which was funny. But either way is cool to me because he's using a childish, derogatory term and welcoming death at the same time, which is so punk I can barely handle it.
I didn't put any compilations on here, but one that's worth mentioning is Maximum Rocknroll Magazine's 2xLP international punk comp, Sound The Alarms!! Do yourself a favor and track that one down.
Follow Nathan on Twitter at: @OMG_NOB