Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Best Of 2017


Are you sitting down? Probably...right? I doubt you're one of them fitness nerds who stands at their computer. Although, maybe you're reading this on a phone, standing on a bus or something. So in that case, Rosa Parks, get your fanny in a chair and prepare yourself for the whiplash inducing rear-ending of a year-ending Best Of countdown extravaganza.
It's go time!


30. '68 - Two Parts Viper



I know you guys (and that one girl) worry about my mental health, so I want to come clean and alert you to the intense consternation this particular album has wrought me with over the past few months. 
You see, I’d never heard of the band ’68. Even though they are from the same city I am from…I had just never seen the name or nothing. Then Whores announce a string of dates opening for them, and I get all, “say who?”, and I do the appropriate thing, I do my due diligence and look into just who and what ’68 is.
First listen and I’m hooked. It’s a very well executed blend of blues damaged sludge, hardcore, and noise rock. Like if Dead Low Tide and Refused and Every Time I Die and Black Cobra all got together and went at it. 
But then I start to second guess it. Is this too well executed to be authentic? Are they a bit too sassy? Are they wearing suits? Is the two piece lineup a gimmick? The lead singer was in a Christian hardcore band, should that give me pause? I even sent the record to trusted musical peers with the question, “is this good, or am I being duped?”. My brain was saying one thing and my gut something else.
I kept listening though…I kept liking it. Then the Whores show rolls around, and I make the “hey, I’m not sure about the headliner, can we stay and give them one or two songs? If they suck we can head out to continue drinking beers elsewhere”. Forty five minutes later, myself, and my two friends were awestruck with ’68. They blew the roof off that place (in the unenviable position of playing after Whores even), and impressed me beyond expectation. Yes, they were still a bit too sassy, but whatever, They backed that shit up with one of the most powerful sets I’ve seen in a long time. So well played, so entertaining, so heavy, such interesting song development.
Am I wrong?

29. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE - Villains 



I should know by now to trust Josh Homme and the Queens Of The Stone Age. Cause with each successive album I listen to it the first time and get all, "I don't know man...seems a little soft". Which, for the record is not something I've ever heard in regards to my personal person...just, getting that out there. But just like each album before it, I'm drawn back into the songs, and before you can say "where's Nick Oliveri?" the record has it's teeth sunk into my lizard brain. Those crazed hooks and cycling riff patterns, just will not let you walk away. Maybe sashay away...but not walk. This album takes their desert robot rock and feeds it more of the glammy groove jet fuel that has been hinted at the last few releases, while still casting a long dark shadow of dread across the dance floor. Weird, but it works. By god, it works.
I'm not getting soft, I'm just going to let QOTSA do what they need to do, cause they doing it right.

28. USA NAILS -Shame Spiral



Tightly wound, taut, and quick to strike. English all the way. You can tell by the repetitive building of the song over a concise post punk rhythm section, and the vocal delivery that is as literate as it is smarmy. Abrasion all over the place, needling you, taunting you, goading you into confrontation.

27. HUNGRY MAN - Kind



Not the record I was expecting, and maybe not the record I deserved, but it transported me back to living in a college town in the early 1990s and seeing really talented local bands open for whoever was passing through and thinking, "damn, those guys are really fucking good". Hungry Man would have been one of those bands. They have all the hallmarks. They probably have record collections with Tar, and Portostatic, and Bitch Magnet, and Honor Role, and stuff. I mean, if my weird mental version of them is anywhere near true.

26. BUILDINGS - You Are Not One Of Us



A three piece from Minneapolis who can make a snarling, antagonistic, battering, not unlike an older three piece from Minneapolis (via Fargo). The ugly punch of hardcore, with the sharp bite of post punk, and the lumbering bear hug of noise rock. It's all there if you want it. Or think you can take it.
I have faith in you though..I think you can take it.

25. CELLOS - The Great Leap Backward



I'm going to try and not dwell on the fact that there is nary a cello anywhere in the vicinity of this album. Zero cellos. Not a a one. So, if truth in advertising is going to be a nonstarter for you as a listener, then you'll just have to skip ahead to the next entry, because these Canadians are obviously bald faced liars. 
If you can get past their deceitful nature (what happened to Canadians being so nice?), then you will be treated to an overdriven batch of noise rock that careens from fuzzed out sludge to (relatively) buoyant (also fuzzy) rock tunes. It's nice. It's not a monochromatic album in the least, it has an underlying (there they go lying again!) current that holds it all together, but from song to song plenty of variation (to your educated ears...not to your mother's ears) to keep it interesting.  I was really surprised by this one (and also furious about the cello thing).  

24. COUCH SLUT - Contempt



The grossest. Music for amateur criminals and professional dickheads. Music for the kind of guy who would wear a Couch Slut t-shirt to Christmas dinner with family. Dirty and completely devoid of anything remotely resembling “happiness” or “harmony”. Dedicated to the fine art of ostracizing oneself from society. 

23. WAILIN' STORMS - Sick City



Wailin’ Storms set up their blood red tent revival knee deep in the swamp to deliver their fire and brimstone paranoid chants in the dead of a pitch black night. Sinister shadows lurk at the edges of the assembly breathing a cold fog into the hot, humid sermon. Wailin’ Storms have not come to save your, but to take it in the name of evil. This congregation of the damned is only theater of pain. Black eyes, black hearts, black minds.

22. WEED - Born Wrong Love



I’ve really become a sucker in my old age for this style of music. A fuzzed out, blown out form of indie rock that takes a catchy song and drags it through a mud puddle of punk snarl, or smokes it out with a lethargic stoney shoegaze drawl. I love it. It means I can enjoy “fun” music that is loud and fucked up enough that my family stops calling me a pussy for once.
If you can get down with Solids, Ovlov, Happy Diving, and Wild Moth, then you should mos def be getting down with Weed. Not the jazz cigarettes drug. I mean the band. Stay off the drugs.

21. CLOAKROOM - Time Well



Shoegaze that shimmers, and swells, and brings the thunder when you’re ready. You know, all the things you want a shoegaze band to do. This one also adds the benefit of weaving in some mid-90’s style Midwest emo into the mix. The same way Hum did. Which means Cloakroom bear more than a passing resemblance to Hum. Which is not a “bad thing” for the record. They also weave in some early 90’s drone-y big guitars. The same way Bardo Pond did. Which means Cloackroom bear more than a passing resemblance to Bardo Pond. Which is also not a “bad thing” for the record. They manage to inject some modern noisy pop/post hardcore attitude into the mix. The same way Nothing did. Which means Cloakroom also bear more than a passing resemblance to Nothing. Which is still not a “bad thing” for the record.
Mood music for bum-outs.

20. DEAD HEAVENS - Whatever Witch You Are



This album soaks you in a warm blanket of hazy stoned psych boogie that recalls the chooglin’ foundations laid by Cream, Leaf Hound, and Groundhogs, and layers on the natural melody that Walter Schreifels specializes in. Flows so naturally from song to song and keeps a consistent groove that pulls a low end swing. Effortless bliss.

19. OLD MAN HARDCORE STAMPEDE: BLOODCLOT, FIREBURN, LET RAGE, HARLEY FLANNAGAN, SHINERS CLUB, DEAR FURIOUS, THE EULOGY, DISTANT BEDS



Yeah, so ok, this might seem like a lazy copout, but I thought a clearinghouse was needed for the sudden influx of bands that popped up this year made up of dudes (always) who have been responsible for a lot of really great music from our collective youths, who decided to get up off the couch and get back to doing what comes naturally. And yeah, sure, some of these guys never stopped, but even those folks managed to pull off some career highlight material in 2017.
BLOODCLOT were rebooted this year with an all new lineup (save JJ), and came roaring out of your speakers with a serious contender for best new Cro-Mags record. It's teeth gnashing and ripping throughout, all classic hardcore fist pumping and chock full of the John Joseph self-help beat downs you know and love (or hate...that's fair too). Features: John Joseph (Cro-Mags, Both Worlds), Joey Castillo (Danzig, Queens Of The Stone Age, Bl'ast!, Goatsnake, Wasted Youth, etc.), Nick Oliveri (Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age, Bl'ast!, Dwarves, etc.), and Todd Youth (Warzone, Agnostic Front, Murphys Law, D Generation, Danzig, etc.).
FIREBURN delivered the Bad Brains record you were hoping for after 'Quickness', but never got (including the hackneyed and ill fated reggae track). When they are going full throttle, there isn't much you can do but smile and enjoy it. It's a quick ride, only three songs (plus that goddanm reggae bullshit), but they pack a lot of punch. Features: Israel Joseph-I (Bad Brains), Nick Townsend (Knife Fight, Deadbeat, Catholic Spit, etc.), Todd Youth (as mentioned above), and Todd Jones (Nails, Terror, Betrayed, Knofe Fight, Carry On, etc)
LET RAGE let Timmy Chunks let loose in a Token Entry meets East Bay kinda way. There's some NYHC stomp, there's some gutter punk grit, and there's one pop punk misstep. But whatever, it's fun, and that's the point. Features: Timmy Chunks (Token Entry, SFA, Redemption 87, etc), Deana Montoya, Herman Ibarra (Los Creepers), and Byron Miller
HARLEY FLANAGAN has never stopped making music, but it's safe to say last year's 'Cro-Mag' album (subtle title) was a welcome return to form after a run of average-at-best (and sometimes worse) outings. 'Cro-Mag' was exactly as advertised, a brutal revisiting to the caustic NYHC of his origins. Take no prisoners, fuck it all. And it worked. This past year he toured constantly on that record and began assembling the next batch of bruisers for his forthcoming record. Now if only...
Features; Harley Flanagan (Cro-Mags, White Devil, Harley's War, The Stimulators), Gabby Abulrach (Voodoocult), Al B. Romano (McCoy, Sun Red Sun), Sean Kilkenny (Murphys Law, Dog Eat Dog, Harley's War, etc.), Pete Thompson, and Pablo Silva (Rata Negra, La Fe, etc.)
SHINERS CLUB might be the most exciting of all these dusty ole farts, because they've taken a tour of southern California hardcore (starting at Black Flag and moving forward from there) and amalgamated that collective experience into a chaotic, frayed version of classic OCHC. It's loud and burly, with no smooth edges. All fucked, which is all you want. Features: Dan O'Mahony (No For An Answer, Carry Nation, 411, God Forgot, Voicebox, Done Dying, etc), John Coyle (Outspoken, Yuckmouth, Kill The Messenger, etc), Colin Bius (Mean Season, Revolution Mother, The Twilight Transmission, etc.), and Doug Mackinnon (The Vandals, Ignite, etc.)
DEAR FURIOUS come out of the gate swinging the ugly stick. It's big, loud metallic hardcore that growls and menaces, and does not disappoint. Features: Issac Golub (A Chorus Of Disapproval, A18), Mike Hartsfield (Outspoken, Freewill, Against The Wall, Drift Again, Done Dying, etc.), Matt Horwitz (Adamantium, Mean Season, Dawn Of Ashes), and Marc Jackson (Throwdown, Wrench).
THE EULOGY take their cues from bands like Sick Of It All and Wrecking Crew, who could balance (of terror?) a bouncy mosh-heavy singalong hardcore with thrash-y metal. Just read their resume, I think you'll understand. Features: Kevin Norton (Eye For An Eye, Straight Faced, Big Block 454), Sergio Chavez, Matt Henderson (Madball, Agnostic Front, etc.), Marc Jackson (also in Dear Furious above), and Pete Reilly (Mouthpiece)
DISTANT BEDS resurrected Swiz and toke them to Pokez for a burrito. They play a fairly convincing harDCore style that only hints at their San Diego roots, but however you slice it, shit is fucking rad. Very excited for this band to release something official...hopefully soon? Features: Steven Andrew Miller (Unbroken, Julia, Kill Holiday, Gehenna, etc.), Matt Anderson (Heroin, End Of The Line, Crossed Out, Rice, Spacehorse, etc.), Sam Stothers (Narrows), and Oscar Paz (Impel, Kill Holiday, Adult Crash).

18. METZ - Strange Peace



This record breaks down the front door, with a Wipers-meets-Nirvana-meets trucker speed attacking posture. Careening across the house, scuffing walls, breaking windows, and knocking your bric-a-brac all cattywampus. Eventually they do settle into a more methodical rummaging through your drawers, but they're always twitchy...unsettled, and you know that at the drop of a hat, they will snap again. And they do. And your home owners policy won't cover the damage.

17. PISSED JEANS -Why Love Now



"I used to play punk, now I'm just singing the blues". Precisely. Some fucked up, damaged blues. Bulldozing negativity that stops for no man, and clears a path of all life. Super gnarly, full throated pig fucking. Gross, but...true.

16. WAR BRIDES -Regrets



The best Coextinction Records release not actually released by Coextinction. If that makes any sense. It's got that big city blackened grit, like Pigs, and that fucked up relentless bug-eyed drive, like KEN Mode. It's basically everything you want to hear in a noise rock band, but were afraid to ask for. Knotted rhythms with slicing guitar, and bellowing vocals that all combine for a sand storm of biting discord.

15. UNIFORM - Wake In Fright



Killing Joke, Godflesh, and Ministry walk into a bar...brandishing knives...and proceed to open the throats of every patron there before emptying the tills, stripping the back bar, and setting fire to the owner's sports memorabilia. Total grinding industrial strength hardcore noise pummel. So good.

14. WU TANG CLAN - The Saga Continues



This album has no right to be as good as it is. Wu-Tang has been either too scattered, too boring, or simply too diluted for a long time now. Long enough that they were off my (admittedly not the most finely tuned) radar awhile back. But The Saga Continues is a testament to back to basics grimy big beat production by Mathematics. And if while this isn’t as good as the first couple albums (like, jettison the corny R&B hooks next time, and maybe get the whole [surviving] Clan on a couple tracks as opposed to one or two members), but it satisfies a certain itch in a world of monotone mumble rap. 

13. BURN - Do Or Die



As long as Gavin Van Vlack wants to write his weird version of deformed noisy hardcore, I will listen. And as long as Chaka Malik feels like he's got something to say, I will listen. It's worth listening to. Of the bands that took NYHC off the rails and into expanded directions, Burn was the most urgent and exciting. Still feels like they want to pay homage to what makes hardcore so enduring, while still pulling the edges a little further from the middle. That balance is perfect in hands this capable. 
Now if we can just get a Die 116 reunion...

12. BLACK ANGELS - Death Song



Hands up if for the first couple albums you thought Black Angels were fronted by a lady. How Alex Maas channels Grace Slick the way he does is wild. I love it. And I love this band super hard. Every record has been perfectly formed psychedelic rock that straddles the line between historic homage (they are named after a Velvet Underground song after all) and contemporary powerhouse who have synthesized years of trolling record stores for the most out-there droning masterworks. It all comes together and pulls you unwittingly along for the entirety of the album, and I'm telling you, there is no place you would rather be than in front of the speakers (at high volume) going on that trip. Fuzz beyond driven.

11. PART CHIMP - IV



Another glorious return to form from another band that breaks from their amber cast and strides the earth once again. Part Chimp bring to bear some of the biggest, thickest, meatiest riffs, and then casually stomp across your face with them. They give stoner rock the much needed kick in the pants that genre has been begging for by taking the formula running it through Melvins discography for a bit of off-kilter fuckery. 
Beyond thrilled to know these gentlemen are back among the living and making the sweet sweet sounds of a half speed volcanic eruption again.

10. THE KNEADS -When Nothing's Going Right, Go Left




I was pretty clear the last time we talked about The Kneads, that they are the North Carolina indie rock glory days incarnate, and that couldn't be more satisfying to me. Personally. 
This new record continues on the same trajectory as the previous one, wrestling new gratifications out of the old girl. Not just any group of Superchunk fans can pound out this kind of material. You really "had to be there" to channel the DNA that made the first wave of NC indie rock bands so special. And The Kneads were. They were making music back then, and it shines through in the music they are making now. It's unmistakable. Perfect.

9. PILE - A Hairshirt Of Purpose



I didn’t expect this record to bowl me over the way it has, or have as lasting an effect on my ears. The previous records they released were all really really good, but this one has such a cohesive narrative that you can’t stop listening until the final track comes to a close. Here they have taken some of the smoldering dread of Black Heart Procession, and animate it with deftly paced post punk indie rock (think The Fall meets Pavement) that occasionally steps on the gas, but mostly lays back and lets the song unravel at its own pace. 
The elegance with which Pile deliver this album is impressive. The maturity, and restraint, and songwriting acumen this band are employing are at such a high level, it really is a joy to experience. Not everything has to be fart jokes and kicks-in-the-balls, right? Sometimes you get dressed up and you lavish in the finer things. That’s growing up.


8. PLAQUE MARKS - Anxiety Driven Nervous Worship



In case you needed a new favorite band in the category of “Abrasive Punk Noise Rock”, I think we might have found it. This Philadelphia kill squad has amassed a convincingly ugly album, full to the brim with all the things your girlfriend hates about the music you choose to listen to when she’s in the car. Membership culled from A Life Once Lost, Ecstatic Vision, Creepoid, Fight Amp, Gunna Vahm, Pale Shelter, and The Powder Room (fuck yeah!), so you can rest assured you are in good hands. Calloused, weathered hands with grease under their fingernails…but good hands. This band is not going to half-ass anything. It’s all going to be in-the-red loud, full tilt, get fucked or get out of the way, kinda shit. The good shit.

7. UNSANE -Sterilize



There is no band ever that is more befitting of the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Unsane have been drilling the same basic song into our hearts and minds for over 28 years, and oddly, nobody has gotten sick of it yet. The song is THAT fucking good, that if they want to continue finessing that thing for another couple of decades, that’d be just great. Their pure distillation of “noise rock” has been the bedrock for countless bands to try and build upon. Some have taken the Unsane formula had run with it. Those are the more successful bands. There are others who feel they can merely attempt to ape the formula. They think, “how hard can it be?”. Turns out…real hard. It ain’t easy being as lean and mean as Unsane. 

6. QUICKSAND -Interiors



As a distinguished man of a certain vintage, you had better believe the prospect of a new Quicksand album had my vintage parts all a twitter (in a distinguished manner) in anticipation. Walter Schreifels has been rightfully lauded in this space for as long as anyone will listen to me ramble on his contributions to the American Underground Songbook, but it is of course Quicksand that stands as the shining star in the Wally Biscuits universe (Uranus joke pending). So, when they took their victory lap reunion tour, everyone was (not so) secretly whispering into their dream catchers for the band to dust off the chugging groove machine and get down to getting down. And praise be, they did!
Also as a distinguished man of a certain vintage, you had better believe that upon first listen to the new material I was...confused. Wondering when Fazer II was going to come on. And it took me awhile to come to grips that this record is a much a "Walter" record as it is a "Quicksand" record. There are moments of the vintage Quicksand, but just as many moments of Rival Schools, and some Vanishing Life, and a little Dead Heavens, and even some of the solo Walter feel. It took a minute to come realize that all of those elements are fucking great...I love all those other bands, and fuck it. If that's what is powering Quicksand in 2017...I'm down. I'm fucking stoked! It's not as immediately gratifying as 'Slip', but damn if it isn't as ultimately gratifying as anything these guys have done. 
Then I saw the three piece version run through a handful of these songs within the context of a career-spanning set, and it all fell perfectly into place (although I will say that I felt the three piece band brought an unexpected shoegaze-y vibe to the show...which isn't a complaint...just not what I was anticipating). In long run that's way more interesting to a fan of Quicksand, and that gives the band the ability to twist and turn however they are inspired, which is super exciting, because it means we might not have to wait another 20 years between albums.
Also...get well soon TC3.

5. JEREMY ENIGK - Ghosts



Shiny Grey Monotone superfans (I see you Mom!) will no doubt recall that on last year's Best Of list, we praised the continuing benefaction afforded to us by the lustrous catalog of Eric Bachmann. You remember that, right? Well, right next to Eric Bachmann on my Monument To The Greatest Songwriters Of My Generation is this man, Jeremy Enigk. His mercurial spirit has been a consistently beguiling voice since he appeared on the second Sunny Day Real Estate 7" in 1994, and ever since he has doggedly chased an beautifully earnest expression of his life and loves. Vunerable, unique, powerful and instantly recognizable, there is no one else that sounds like Jeremy Enigk (no matter how many times my wife will compare him to Robyn Hitchcock), and to me at least, it cuts straight to the core of me.
The accompanying video is a gut wrenching live version of album highlight 'Ancient Roads' and I take particular pride in sandwiching it here, among Iron Monkey and Godflesh and Unsane. Please enjoy.

4. GODFLESH - Post Self



Am I a dummy, cause I had zero warning that there was going to be a new Godflesh record this year, and then all of sudden, whammy, this monolith of grinding pummel appears fully formed and ready to put a hole in my skull from the opening warped note. I was thinking the reunion album from 2014 was a one-off gift, and Justin Broadrick would go back to his 25 other projects, having played Godflesh a well 'Reveille'. At no time did I expect to be celebrating more crushing bombast from these two guys (much to my daughter's chagrin...she seemed to bear the brunt of the Godflesh listening parties as I ferried her to and from ballet five days a week...it wasn't nice of me, but that's one of the perks of parenthood, forcibly imparting your good taste onto your unsuspecting offspring when all they want to do is hear Sean Mendes and Migos [they will come around...one day]), but celebrate I did. We should ALL be dancing in the streets(weeper) to the dystopian soundtrack of our world's implosion that Godflesh have thankfully provided us.

3. IRON MONKEY - 9-13



The Nottingham Eyehategod come roaring back to life after an 18 year blackout, and they got out swinging wildly and anything and anybody unlucky enough to get between them and their next drink. Who would have ever thought that a slimmed down, older version of Iron Monkey would deliver not only the best record of their tenure, but arguably the heaviest? Ever single song on '9-13' is a grotesque stomach churning head banger of the highest order (but lowest culture). Much like the aforementioned Eyehategod's return last(?) year was far more caustic than it had any right to be, so is Iron Monkey. They channel Buzzov*en, Capricorns, 16, Grief, Cavity, and a lifetime of disappointments into about 50 minutes worth brutal bludgeoning. 

2. MEAT WAVE - The Incessant



Hard pressed to find any band that can play as satisfying an indie rock melody buried under some post punk/post hardcore grit like Meat Wave. PLUS they name a song in homage to Kenny Powers?! I mean, shit, save some for the rest of us. 
Or maybe don't. Maybe the rest of us can't be trusted with the responsibility of entertaining my ears, and maybe Meat Wave should just be doing that full time. I'd listen. I have been listening for a few years, and they don't seem to be losing a step at all (not my ears...my ears are starting to sport a wizard-ish sprig of course hair around the edges...my ears are totally losing a step...they're letting me down with each passing day), I'd be happy listening to them each and every day into the foreseeable future. Regardless of how unattractive my ears are.

1. HAWKS - No Cash Value



Rest in power to one of the greatest to ever do it. Hawks call it after this album was released, and the world is an ever darker, more decrepit place for it.
Atlanta (and surrounding environs) has been spoiled with a long lineage of bands that mine the underbelly of loud, caustic, distorted music. There have been myriad groups trolling the dark club stages and basements of this town for years, deafening, thrilling, and genuinely upsetting any and all who knew where to look. But among that cadre of musicians Hawks stood out from the crowd. Their version of noise rock was truly something special to behold.
At once dense, prickly, heavy, combative, and detailed, the band managed to anchor it all together with a mean swing. Songs that in a lesser band’s hands would have been a wall of impenetrable scree, were delivered by Hawks so expertly that no matter how brutal, they maintained a memorable undercurrent or hook. They knew that by subverting the caterwaul with a well-crafted “song”, they could pull you in closer. For the kill, no doubt.
‘No Cash Value’ ends their reign of terror in a manner befitting their talents and secures their legacy as an indispensable resource for getting truly fucked up. The musicianship is a study in balance, the songs swell and crest naturally, shards cut through the din that jolt you back to attention, and when they decide to drop the hammer, it’s truly a thing of glory. Lyrically this record builds off previous Hawks’ releases, a tent revival preacher three days deep on mescaline, weaving end time predictions into cautionary tales of woe. And the whole thing is recorded and produced with a bright clarity that allows the punches to land exactly as intended, nothing muddy, no need to compensate poor performance with high volume distortion…this record jumps out square into your face.
Sad to wave goodbye to Hawks, but so thankful that they left us with one more volume of their perfectly executed assault. See you on the other side…or under side?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

some solid specimens, and a few that i had no idea they had new albums out, so thank you for adding to my "to buy" list. bless you. love phil.

 
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