Blacklisted - Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God (Deathwish)
As far as hardcore goes, this LP was probably one of the most looked forward to records of the year and to say that it wasn't a let down would be a bit of an understatement as it certainly exceeded most expectations of it. Adding a sense of melodic vocal work to fast and heavy hardcore can really be an exercise in playing with fire. There are quite a few bands attempting it these days in an effort to bring something new to the table but no band has succeeded at making it work like Blacklisted has on this album. To be clear, I'm not talking about some modern rock sound like Linkin Park, Staind, or other faux-heavy bands like those. Think more along the lines of Pantera meets early Alice In Chains with a touch of the loose and chaotic riffage of Nirvana. A combination that works eerily well. Esoteric lyrics about finding your way through today's world add a layer of purpose amidst the discord. Blacklisted continue to lead the way amongst hordes of mediocre heavy hardcore bands.
Brat Pack - Hate the Neighbors (Crucial Attack)
This was one of two releases in my top ten that really took me by surprise as I'd never even heard of this band before seeing them live while on tour in Germany and being completely blown away. I gotta say, at 32 years old those kinds of things become fewer and farther apart. This Dutch band is full of an energy that is often mimicked but rarely genuinely achieved. This is snotty punk rock without the affected British sneer, as bitter and disaffected as it should be, full of spiteful songs about rejecting the values of the boring, walking/working dead, mindless citizens they're surrounded by. It's got the fast and melodic elements of older SoCal bands like Adolescents and early NOFX amped up by doses of modern but classic sounding bands like Government Warning and Career Suicide. I might have to call this a perfect record.
Dead Mechanical - A Great Lie 7" (Sex Cells)
Here we have more of what I've come to love from this Baltimore band who's origins were steeped in the East Bay punk of early Jawbreaker and have come to showcase some more of their influences to help them settle into their own sound. Sounds reminiscent of bands like Superchunk, Jawbox, and Archers of Loaf bubble up to keep things peppy and bright amongst lyrics of poorly planned social situations. Lucas Carscadden's vocals range from longing to spitefully annoyed, while Matt Dorsey's drumming remains energetic without being overstated, which is just perfect for Dan Bress's bouncing bass lines. Matt's vocals seem more sure of themselves here then they did on Medium Noise as well, so if this 3 song EP is even just a bit of a tease of what we can expect on their next album, we're assuredly in for a treat.
Deep Sleep - Manic Euphoria 7" (Grave Mistake)
The second showing from a Baltimore band in this list and tied with Dead Mechanical at the top of my list of my favorite current Baltimore punk bands. On this EP, Deep Sleep continue their foray into rarely trekked avenues of classic sounding late 70s/early 80s punk rock blended with early - mid 90s pop-punk. The cross-pollination breeds a unique sound that drives you to slam and bounce at the same time. Nick Vance's lead guitar lines add a dazzling effect to his manic rhythm work. Mike Stern's blazing fingered bass lines are not at all a far reach from the almighty Karl Alvarez, and if you don't watch Darick Sater on drums and immediately have Bill Stevenson come to mind then you haven't seen the Descendents or All enough times. Tony Pence continues his path among the misanthropes through his lyrics to help to create what is easily one of the best punk EPs of recent memory.
Dillinger Four - C I V I L W A R (Fat Wreck Chords)
This release has been referred to as the "Chinese Democracy of punk rock" long before that ill-fated album that should have never seen the light of day actually fell upon the grumbling masses. It's been six years since D4's last full-length, and talks of this one being worked on have been going on for almost half as long. Some thought it might never actually come to fruition but boy am I glad it did. Understandably, some see the maturing of their favorite punk bands as an affront to everything they'd done in the past, but as I enter the final stages of my early 30s I find myself being able to appreciate such evolution in previously unthought of ways. While bands like NOFX and Lagwagon continue to hurl adolescent humor at audiences of increasing age gaps, bands like Avail, None More Black, and Dillinger Four have learned how to age gracefully yet still feel as urgent and impassioned as ever. Some of the blazing tempos have been traded in for more of a mid-paced feel, but all of the sarcastic and bitter wit and intelligent social critique is still there in spades, and more well thought out than ever. Songs like "Gainesville" introduce a positive vibe lyrically than is typical for this troupe from the bitterly chilly lands of Minneapolis. "Like Eye Contact In An Elevator" brings Erik and Paddy together, sharing vocal duties and complimenting each other well. Evolution: Dillinger Four makes it happen.
Frank Turner - Love, Ire, and Song (Xtra Mile)
Here's that second surprise of the year for me, and lemme tell ya, I can not stop listening to this album. Aging hardcore/punkers gone acoustic soloists has become a bit of a modern cliche these days, but thankfully there are quite a few doing a remarkable job of it: Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry, Austin Lucas, and now England's Frank Turner, all immediately come to mind. I caught him as the opening act on the Revival tour, along with Chuck, Tim, and Lucero's Ben Nichols, and his upbeat punkrock campfire songs had me hooked instantly. Many have made reference to Billy Bragg when describing Frank's music, and that element is certainly there, but I've got to give Mr. Turner more credit than that as his songs do not completely occupy the same space as his British compatriot. One might compare the two lyrically as they both tend to write about women and love as much as they write about their political and social leanings, but Frank's songs tend to seem a bit more well thought out and fleshed out, even on the strictly acoustic ones (he's got a back up band on the majority of his tunes here). None of it feels trite, forced, or like he's aping any of his influences. He is able to go from revved up anthemic rockers to solemn and sparse guitar and piano tunes so seamlessly you would think he's been doing this for decades as opposed to just half of one. Like Chuck and Tim, he's able to keep his connection to punk's ideals while learning from the mistakes of youth. I could easily see him on the same bill with Avail, Dead To Me, The Lawrence Arms, or the Gaslight Anthem as I could with Drag the River or even Noble Lake. If you're still unconvinced, do yourself a favor and download a couple tracks. "Reasons Not To Be an Idiot" and "St. Christopher Is Coming Home" would be good places to start. You're welcome.
Gentleman Jesse and His Men - s/t (Douchemaster)
Pure. Pop. Perfection. I think I may have used that same phrase in my review of this album a few months ago. Seriously though. This is beauty in simplicity. There's nothing fancy here, just really great, catchy songs. Like a simpler Elvis Costello or a more interesting Joe Jackson. It's a crime that this guy is not at the top of the pop charts the world over. I simply can't get enough of this.
Lemuria - Get Better (Asian Man)
If you long for the days when Velocity Girl records always hung out near your turntable and never got filed away then this is the record for you. Plain as day lyrics hold hands with perfectly pleasant indie-pop for the duration of this Buffalo band's first full-length. Sheena's earnest vocals lead the way, while Alex's baritone fills in the background and takes the lead from time to time, as the music sparks memories of the best of the early to mid 90s alt rockers: Buffalo Tom, Veruca Salt, Superchunk...gotta love it. This record is spring time in musical form.
Sleepwall - Come In From the Cold 7" (Toxic Pop)
Let me start this off by saying I can not be impartial here because I put this EP out, but I wouldn't have done it if I didn't love it. I don't know if there's any other record that came out this year that I listened to more often than this. I never tire of it. Comparisons can be made to a lot of the great late 80s to mid 90s stars of post-hardcore like Sugar, Hum, the Replacements, and Husker Du. These guys have an energy and a creativity that I haven't come across in years. How anything can be this thick and this melodic at the same time is beyond me. Easily one of the most impressive debuts I've heard in some time. Expect great things to come from these Long Islanders in 2009.
My list of honorable mentions for 2008 would have to include Polar Bear Club's Sometimes Things Just Disappear as it was so much more raw, honest, and interesting that I was expecting. The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound would be on there as I've definitely spun it a bunch lately, but I really don't think it compared to their previous two releases. It's like even they're getting tired of the pop-rockers pay tribute to the Boss schtick. Therefore, their Senor and the Queen EP would outrank it on my best of 2008 list. All the way from England come the Down and Outs, and while their newest LP, Friday Nights, Monday Mornings, didn't grab me as immediately as their previous releases, the more I listened to it, the more I couldn't stop. Great catchy raw poppy punk meets Cocksparrer or the Business. Solid stuff with some great singalongs. The Loved Ones' Build and Burn and the Copyrights' Learn the Hard Way were also solid LPs, but neither of them excited me as much as those bands' previous material. Certainly worth checking out though if you dig the melodic and poppy side of punk rock.
If I wanted to cheat and include collections CDs, then both Jay Reatard singles collections, the Ergs - Hindsight Is 20/20, My Friend, and Statues - Terminal Bedroom would most certainly make my list. Further cheating of listing vinyl versions released in 2008 of CDs that came out in 2007 would include Cloak/Dagger's We Are... LP on Grave Mistake Records and the Dead Mechanical - Medium Noise LP that my label, Toxic Pop Records, released a few months ago.
My favorite EPs, 7"s, and demos that didn't make my top ten list were the Psyched To Die demo (new band featuring Mikey Erg, Mike Hunchback, and Brian from Forward To Death/For Science), the Marked Men's Fortune 7" on Dirtnap, The Ergs' That's It...Bye 12" EP, which brought to life the final three songs they ever recorded, Cheeky's Choke On a Cheeseburger 7", Pinhead Gunpowder's Westside Highway 7", all three Marvelous Darlings 7"s, the Tranzmitors' new 12" EP on Deranged Records, and the Carbonas' Euro tour 7" on Douchemaster. All fine examples of why the EP is the perfect format for punk rock.
The Radio Silence book from Nathan Nedorostek and Anthony Pappalardo kept itself glued to my hands and face while I spent many hours perusing all of the amazing photos and layout mockups for some of the best records ever. Dave Brown's Adult Crash photobook also got me really excited this year.
The winner for most atrocious movie pertaining to punk rock goes to What We Do Is Secret, the story of Darby Crash and the Germs. The acting turned the main players into cartoon characters and the dialogue seemed like it was written by someone working for Chips in the 80s. Don't even bother with it.
The best things to happen to me this year were:
3) touring Japan, Europe, and the US (twice)
2) buying a house
1) getting engaged
Life is good.
So that's my top nine for 2008. Check out the upcoming Beatbots' staff number one picks in an upcoming feature. Here's looking forward to a great 2009.