The annual fool's errand that constitutes an attempt at quantifying what cannot truly be judged and/or proves that I have "good taste". We have collectively arrived at the second annual Best Of List from Shiny Grey Monotone (as I see it, and I'm currently the Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost of this demolition derby, so you're going to see it my way), and just as soon as it's committed to writing, I can think of at least three records I forgot.
And as tradition dictates, there is at least one record included here that was not even released in this year, but I can't be held accountable to calendars or lunar phases or whatever. That's square shit.
This year I could only narrow it down to 30. And that's not counting the list of "Almost's" that we posted a couple weeks ago...which should count, cause those are tits too.But that's the nature of the proverbial beast. You forget shit, you miss it altogether, or you're simply lazy. I'm sure someone will let me know that I am guilty of all.
Enjoy. Congratulations(?) to the bands and labels. You can look forward to a significant sales bump in the coming weeks. You're welcome.
Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us
Label: Nuclear Blast
Who would have thought that His Hero Is Gone’s reboot of Amebix meets Entombed crusty hardcore that they were stinking up basements with (in the best way mind you) circa 1996, would have set in motion a whole subgenre of overdriven HM-2 blasting pummel-core? Granted, my personal opinion is that it wasn’t until Cursed got ahold of the HHIG formula, and ramped it up to an unholy din of dense heaviness that it really became a “sound” that dudes who were not born yet when the Hellbastard demo came out latched onto.
Neither here nor there though. Nails have run with the “formula” and shifted into overdrive; faster, harder, more intense. A quick and cathartic listen that I returned to a hundred times this year.
Nocturnal Habits – New Skin For Old Children
Label: Glacial Pace
A grower, and having been released fairly late in the year it’s still worming its way around my ear holes, hasn’t quite settled in. But it’s Justin Trosper, and Sara Lund…and...well…that’s enough. Not as immediate a thrill as Survival Knife, Nocturnal Habits (that name…) seems to be the band actually continuing the trajectory Unwound were forging before their untimely demise, layering on a lush haze of early morning mountain mist. I imagine this is an album I will be revisiting often, constantly discovering new stories in the sounds.
Burn – …From The Ashes
Label: Bridge Nine
Gavin Van Vlack and Chaka Malik together are magic (no disrespect to the rhythm section here, or back when Alan Cage was on drums). Gavin’s twisting and turning version of a hardcore riff and Chaka’s free form back pocket vocals combined…I’m a sucker for it. It’s a mutation that breathed new life into hardcore way back when, and somehow this year they resurrected the ghost and rode its back across three vintage jams that sound like no other.
Probably helps that some of this material actual IS vintage, but hey, I’ll take it.
Rhin - Passenger
It’s not rocket science, but if a record can punch you square in the teeth straight out of the gate, that’s pretty much all can ask of drums, guitars, bass and vocals sometimes. Like, it’s a noble pursuit to just fucking go for it and play flat out. These three dudes have managed to take noisy rock and tuck some stoned grooves way back in there, and then have the gall to make the whole affair come off catchy and upbeat. There’s a bit of La Gritona and Milligram here, some Fu Manchu, and somebody like Hammerhead holding it all together. Something. But it works.
UXO – UXO
Old buddies Steve Austin (Today Is The Day) and Chris Spencer (Unsane, Celan, Cuttthroats 9) decide to write some new songs together? Yeah, ok. Perfect. Let’s do that.
More on the Today Is The Day end of the spectrum, this album maintains a bummer high for its duration of lurching washes of riffs. Unsettled dudes with a compulsion to play loud. You should stay out of their way.
Nothing – Tired Of Tommorow
Relapse is putting out shoegaze? Ok. Works.
Not the My Bloody Valentine style of shoegaze, but more the Slowdive style. With a dose of Chapterhouse kind of proto Brit Pop catchiness. And maybe even a pinch of grunge rock? Is that what it is?
There are lots of elements kicking around from about 1986-1996 in this record, and they have managed to coalesce them into something that doesn’t feel derivative in any way. Which is tough. And I mean down to the production, the guitar tones, the vocal cadence….all of it. Nothing have pulled off a spectacular record.
Davidians – City Trends
Label: Sorry State
Couple things going for Davidians right off the bat: one, they are from my dear sweet North Carolina (the only Carolina worth a god damn), and two, they got Brian Walsby, (Double Negative, Snake Nation, Shiny Beast, Polvo, Patty Duke Syndrom, Scared Straight and Wwax), Justin Gray, and Cameron Craig from Double Negative. So, right from the get-go, we’re feeling pretty good about this one. And then you get to the music and it’s a ripping blast (nee, B’Last!) of frantic hardcore damage with a nervous trigger finger. From the school of Void, C.O.C., Black Flag, (the aforementioned) B’Last!, and Die Kreuzen…the miscreants. Ugly and essential.
Death Pedals – Meat House
Label: Hominid Sounds
A propulsive charge that brings to mind …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Ikara Colt, mid-period Fugazi, and moments of Trans Am, but with the welcomed addition of some nasty snarl (which I think is the result of their English-ness). Shouty and punchy and full tilt, and what’s not to like about that?!
Pants Exploder – Pants Exploder
Label: self released
There is always room in my heart for the grimy lurch and stomp of a good heavy sludge band. Which, is not even doing Pants Exploder justice, as they aren’t “sludge” as a singular sensation. Their version of loud music draws from noise rock, and hardcore, and straight metal. It’s just that all those elements are dragged through a swamp of distortion pedals and low rumbling bass tones.
If you liked the first Fight Amp record, or if you were a big fan of Old Man Gloom, or even a band like Floor (the more recent Floor, minus the vocal) then this one should also appeal to your delicate sensibilities as it did mine.
Bloody Knives – I Will Cut Your Heart Out For This
Label: Saint Marie
The trouble with most modern shoegaze is that the tell tale laconic drone of the O.G. shoegaze is all that’s offered. But Bloody Knives play their version of shoegaze at maximum volume and maximum density to fill all open space with an unfurling billow of warm smoke, but then they drive it into the back wall with speed and power, a blinding strobe light rendering the smoke a pulsing cacophony. Like the big noise of My Bloody Valentine as interpreted by the noise noise of A Place To Bury Strangers, as interpreted by the undulating groove of Ride.
Super unexpected find, and super glad it turned up.
Worse – Rubber Burner
Brooklyn based three piece that features Rob Davis formerly of the criminally underrated Grids coming correct (I mean, they are from Brooklyn, so I can say “coming correct” and it be culturally appropriate) with a blasting dose of noise rock grit. All frayed around the edges and messy and sweating, trying to hold itself up against the wall as it lumbers down the hallway towards a locked door.
Best appreciated very loud and in mixed company.
Multicult – Position Remote
Consistently reliable in their collective ability to fuck your shit up. If being “classically trained” as a noise rock band means that your record collection has every Touch & Go release from the years 1987-1994 and you have managed to imbue your songs with the same chemical compounds found there, then…Multicult are classically trained goddamn maestros.
KEN Mode - Nerve
I’ve been enjoying the evolution of KEN Mode from street fighting grapplers to heavyweight contenders over the course of the last few years (I think they were #2 on last year’s list [they must have been very proud]!). Each release gets a more nuanced version of a left-right combination to the jaw. I mean, you end up laid out regardless, just now you’re not entirely sure where the hit is coming from.
Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity
This style really has been front and center for me as of late. Maybe it’s the ever increasing specter of my own mortality that has mellowed my ears? Am I getting old?
I’m not sure, but this sweet spot of fuzzy indie rock with moments of punk, moments of post hardcore, and moments of grungy glory has a hold on me. Like a witchy woman I just cannot resist her beckoning call to rock out with my 1992 out. This absolutely could have been released on Merge Records circa when I was 18 years old (which is sadly way more than 18 years ago [again with the old age trip…]).
Vomitface – Hooray For Me
Label: Help Yourself
Well, you went and named your band Vomitface, huh? Oh boy. Have fun at Thanksgiving dinner…”yes Grandma, it’s called ‘Vomitface’, but, you know, it’s kind of a joke and….awww…Grandma, please don’t cry, it’s just a stupid name…”.
Moniker aside, this album does not sound like what I thought a “Vomitface” would sound like at all. This has a very ramshackle post-grunge approach, with a kinda-sorta Pavement-playing- Nirvana-cover- using-a-bass-guitar-as-the-lead-instrument vibe. You know that vibe, right?
Works though. Works real good.
Eric Bachmann – Off To The Races
My love for Eric Bachmann knows no bounds, and you should know that by now. I find great enjoyment in his songs, even the sad bastard ones, and I’m not quite sure how he isn’t considered the greatest American songwriter alive. So, this year we (humans) were graced with TWO Eric Bachmann joints, one being an instrumental collaboration with Jon Rauhouse that has a distinctly Western theme (a very beautiful record in its own rite), and this album which draws from a few different genres to flesh out his pieces. It’s a slow burn for sure, and it wasn’t until I saw him perform most of these songs in a little room in Atlanta that it “clicked”. But damn, as long as he wants to put out records, I’ll be a happy man. He’s a legit treasure…no shit.
Greys – Outer Heaven
More of the noisy indie rock I’ve been gorging on of late. This band has the elements you’re going to want to synthesize together to manufacture a successful catchy rock song, but I dare say they are slightly more brain than brawn. Which could be due to their polite Canadian childhoods, or it could just be that they’re a bunch of eggheads. I can’t comment on their test scores or anything, but I can tell they have plenty of pop records buried between the Jawbox and Superchunk and Drive Like Jehu and Nirvana albums on their shelves. The songs open up and allow for a sense of vulnerability between the bombast. I like that about them. I just wish they would spell their name right.
USA Nails – No Pleasure
Another fuck up on my part…another 2015 release. But I reiterate, who gives a shit?
The world’s a big place, and sometimes you don’t hear the USA Nails album that came out in November of 2015 until sometime around April of 2016…we’re just going to have to live with that.
Listen and you will understand. This record is in that grand tradition of British noise rock which counts Todd, Hey Colossus, Part Chimp, Mclusky, Blacklisters, and I’m going to include Fudge Tunnel, Godflesh, and Terminal Cheesecake as well. Bands that pull from a wide spectrum of source material (industrial, hardcore, rock, noise, gothic, post punk, sludge, and psychedelic) but much like British teeth, the results are gnarly. USA Nails are gnarly, and they want you to know. And now you do. A year late.
Future Of The Left – The Peace and Truce of Future Of The Left
This record wins the distinction of being the only recording on this list that my wife actually took note of and actually commented; “I don’t know this one, who is this? I like this one.”
Two thirds of Mclusky. Also, case closed.
More hyper literate pulsing noise rock from the mind of Andy Falkous that delivers full cathartic release. Pretty near a perfect album.
Drug Church – Hit Your Head
Label: No Sleep
So in the continuing tradition of me missing the boat on everything, here is this year’s entry of “a record that actually came out last year, but I didn’t hear of it until this year, and I listened to it into the ground, so…fuck it, it’s on the list” record. Apologies to other qualified 2016 releases who got bumped due to my tardiness. I’ll get you next year.
The best vaguely melodic, but charged, hardcore band with hyper literate vocals you will hear or see anytime soon. Kinda sounds like…that one band, or maybe it’s that other band…but I just can’t put my finger on it…and maybe they just sound like Drug Church.
Vincas – Deep In The Well
Label: Learning Curve
The steady lurch of ominous footsteps approaching down a darkened hallway, Vincas are the shadowy visage lurking just out of focus.
This album takes their sound further into the hazy murk of early 80’s post punk death rock stomp-and-roll. Like Christian Death covering Samhain covering Bauhaus covering Gun Club. Sunglasses at night kind of stuff. All black everything.
Great record out of the gate, and it gets better with each successive listen. Essential swamp boogie.
Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
Was not expecting to get blown away by a Dinosaur Jr album this year, but then this Dinosaur Jr album came out, and here I am being blown away by Dinosaur Jr for the first time in a long time. The opening one-two punch of ‘Goin Down’ and ‘Tiny’ is damn near perfect. It’s the combination that the band perfected two and a half decades ago, that I thought maybe had been lost, but with the reconvened OG lineup that deceivingly laconic delivery hides a driving chug of pure rock perfection. Always love to hear quality Dinosaur Jr, and this is it.
The Powder Room – Lucky
Label: Learning Curve
We (I) loved the last record from Powder Room because it was a big, raucous take on rock songs pulling from across the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but slowly driving over them in their car to grind them into the earth. It was heavy but accessible.
This year, the band has returned and sharpened the formula. You still hear 70’s big rock groove, 80’s post hardcore tense energy, and 90’s grungy lurch. This time around those elements are less reliant on a dusky heaviness to pull the common thread, and instead the rhythm section holds the song together tightly so the guitar can shimmer a bit, or groan, or push and pull into and out of the washes of noise. Still heavy…just not always a distorted heavy…but plenty heavy. Plenty good.
16 – Lifespan Of A Moth
There are few things more dependable than the misanthropic percussive churn of a new 16 album. You can basically set your watch by their bulldozing riff-fests of a song. It’s Helmet with fucked up teeth and a nagging girlfriend…and who just lost their job…and the water was cut off three days ago…and you’ve tried calling, but they haven’t answered the phone in a week.
Tune down, turn up, bum out!
The Dirty Nil – Higher Power
Label: Dine Alone
Took some lumps from cooler friends than I for admitting to this one. Especially when I made everybody show up early to the Flag show to make sure we caught The Dirty Nil opening…sheesh. I believe it boiled down to, “when did you start acting like a 15 year old girl?”, as if to say a man of my advanced age and station in the world is not allowed to like good time catchy rock-n-roll with a healthy punk spike and sugary sweet big time hooks? Is that a crime?
Don’t listen to my friends dude, listen to me.
This band take classic rock bravado, dresses it in a punk’s leather jacket (I’m guessing Articles Of Faith logo painted most prominently across back), and takes it to an alternative rock band show circa 1994. Checks a lot of boxes, and it sounds fantastic…you can almost hear their tongues push out against their cheeks.
Vanishing Life – Surveillance
Label: Dine Alone
The blessings of Wally Biscuits joints is like manna from heaven! The live outings with Gorilla Biscuits and Quicksand were stellar. The psych damaged skuzz rock of Dead Heavens was stellar. And then this band shows up and brings a confident swing and big rock guitar sucker punch. Stellar once more!
Not exactly fair to call this album just a Walter Schreifels project, because the other three members are no slouches, so let’s give credit where credit is due.
What are the chances that they take this band out on a proper run of shows, and not the “one week around New England and then one week in California”? Slim?
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here….Thank You 4 Your Service
I am well aware that this was the “safe for white folks” hip hop record of the year, but you can’t blame Tribe Called Quest for whatever honkies are getting up to, can you? Plus, it’s not like Black Sheep have a reunion on the horizon, so for now, this is the best Native Tongue Family album going.
Not quite on level with the unfuckable-with run on the first three early 90’s records, but pretty goddamn close. All the pieces to the puzzle are present and accounted for, even the guest spots by ex-Leaders Of The New School alumni. It’s all there.
Truth be told, I probably listened to this record more than anything else on this list, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Culture Abuse – Peach
The ramshackle positive nihilism of this band has been a ray of light this year. The California baked “do whatever” attitude and deceptively upbeat bounce of their catchy punk belie a sinister undercurrent to their approach. For example, singer David Kelling regaling the audience between songs at their show in Atlanta with feel good “love each other”, and “be cool to everyone around you” platitudes then abruptly shifting into how he would gladly kill a cop if he knew he could get away with it. Like, yeah, everything is cool until you fuck with me and my friends. Then I’m going to fucking slice you open.
Dig this psyched out version of punk hardcore that sucks you in with a hummable chorus. Just, watch your back.
Solids - Else
Label: Dine Alone
My eternal question of “where’s the indie rock today that speaks to me like the indie rock of olden days?” was answered this last couple of years. Either because a group of bands have come around who have tapped into that late 80’s/early 90’s Chapel Hill DNA, or because I pulled my head out of my ass long enough to notice that there has been a steady stream of quality rock music this whole time. I guess we’ll never know, huh?
Last couple years it’s been The Kneads, Meatwave, Wild Moth, Low Fat Getting High, Creepoid…a whole slew. But this year I (belatedly…as usual) figured out Solids and have been smitten ever since. Smart, substantial, and layered songs that balance a catchy melody with a post-punk angled groove. Infinitely enjoyable, as it harkens back to something familiar without being a Civil War re-enactment trip. Love this band very hard and can’t wait for what is next.
Whores. - Gold
You had to have known this one was coming, yeah?
Whores music is the muscular murk of King Snake Roost as covered by the sawed-off battering of Chris Spencer, with an “everything louder and more distorted than everything else” backing band of Volt. Pure primal savagery, with no shelter. Overdriven overdrive that careens across anything and everything with a pounding rumble and jackhammering riff damage.
You think this shit is easy? You should try and write a collection that sounds this compelling and cathartic. Go on…I’ll wait.
“can’t you see we’re closing in on end time?”. Indeed.