Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Year in Music 2010

“My heroes / I have forgotten them” – The Menzingers, “Home Outgrown”

This year meant growing up. I’ve been gainfully employed all of 2010, living on my own health insurance and saving up to move in with my girlfriend of four-and-a-half years. We traveled through Europe together. Her love keeps me going, I think she’s the best person in the world, ew gross, and so on. I finally got another band together, called Science Club. Our influences include ice cream, Star Trek and anything Ted Leo likes. The band exists for fun. We legitimately like our songs, but we have no claims to or expectations for success. We have real lives to worry about.

That’s why I don’t care when I get hate mail for my writing or my music (even if it’s from Tom Gabel himself). Those problems are inconsequential; I care more about death and taxes.

This year I had to say goodbye to my cousin Michael. “Cousin” doesn’t sound right. It’s technically right; he’s the firstborn son of my father’s brother. But really he was my brother. He was only a year younger than me, but he somehow ended up being my big brother, or at least the most important tastemaker in my youth. Over the years, Mike turned me on to plenty of bands. He was always ahead of me when it came to music, from punk to emo to indie and back. We were both in love with music, which means we also argued about music a lot.

But Mike also harbored a drug addiction. He went in and out of rehab and halfway houses over the years. He got kicked out of home plenty of times. But he was still family, which is why it hurt to talk to him.

I reconnected with Mike a week before he died, however fleetingly. We talked about music, about the Gaslight Anthem show he had just attended, about how good the new Arcade Fire record allegedly sounded. He got titles wrong. He forgot what school I attended and how long I had been dating my girlfriend. Little details showed his brain had maybe faded. But his eyes burned.

A week later he overdosed.

The night before he died we talked online about the Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire. The next day he was gone. His last status update on Facebook was “Hey Ray, I never went down. You never got me down, Ray.” It’s a quote from Raging Bull. I’m going to analyze those lines for the rest of my life and try to find a hidden meaning, like he knew he was going out on his own, like the day of his death was significant. Or maybe he put it up there because Mike was a big Scorsese fan. I’m never going to know. All I have left behind are fragments, like this essay he wrote for my blog. It’s about the Get Up Kids, but also his desire to stay clean.

There are a handful of records that will always remind me of Mike. Bear vs. Shark’s Right Now You’re in the Best of Hands… was the last record Mike and I listened to together. TGUK’s discography will always bring back his ghost, especially the first two albums. Green Day. Springsteen. The Promise Ring. I listened to The Cure’s Pornography, a record about drug addiction and despair, for the first time when Mike got out of his first stint in rehab. I listened to it on my roof as the sun came up, delirious and despondent from lack of sleep because I didn’t know what to say to him anymore. It’s always reminded me of his demons, and now it’ll always be that way.

I want to hope that Michael achieved some sort of peace. But he was never particularly religious and neither am I. All I know is he’s gone and nothing I say or do will make that fact easier or better or refutable. Sometimes I think the grieving process is profoundly fucked up, as the goal is to one day be comfortable with the concept of someone I love no longer existing, and that the world will go on, not because it has an opinion on my family’s pain, but rather because it simply does not care. I am the tiniest of cogs. I am replaceable. Is that nihilistic?

And I’ll take what is given to me
And I’ll realize I'm not going home
And after a while, when all of your currency’s gone
And after a while, when all your mistakes have been made
You’ve tasted the carbon dioxide.

I think about Mike every day. He probably would’ve hated most of my favorite records from 2010. And I definitely know he disagreed with my...

Most Disappointing Records of 2010

10. Hans Zimmer - Inception soundtrack

I honestly thought the entire score would consist of that part from the trailer where the music goes “BAAAHHHHHMMMM, BAAAAAHHHHMMMM.” Instead I got a lot of formless orchestral atmosphere. While I think Zimmer’s score is incredibly effective within the context of the film, the music does not hold up on its own, whereas his work for The Dark Knight sends shivers through me every time I listen to it.

9. High Places - Vs. Mankind

The first High Places full-length was this strange Caribbean shoegaze mix. The follow-up, however, aimed for a more traditional electronic style, and it was just plain boring. I’ll give HP a mulligan, but I just don’t see them recapturing their glory days or concocting something new that’s worthwhile.

8. Devo - Something For Everyone

Part of the joke with Devo is that their music is supposed to represent the worst of humanity - the de-devolution. That’s why their songs sounded like jingles for the apocalypse. But Something For Everyone is so slick that it just sounds like all the other radio filler getting pumped out these days. Without the humor or ferocity of classic Devo, the record fails in its attempts at irony.

7. Brian Posehn - Fart and Weiner Jokes

The title was a little too accurate. C’mon man, try harder!

6. Fake Problems - Real Ghosts Caught on Tape

It’s Great to Be Alive’s songs were punky but vapid, and too many of the tracks tried to get by on kitsch. In a sense, it was a dishonest record. Real Ghosts has the opposite problem. The lyrics are too earnest. Frontman Chris Farren means everything so dang much this time. But the music is limp. The band just can’t seem to nail the sweet spot of honest, witty, fun folk-punk exhibited on the amazing How Far Our Bodies Go.

5. Kaki King - Junior

This one was a huge disappointment considering Kaki King’s last record, Dreaming of Revenge, was her best album. Junior attempts to continue that record’s pop successes, but King is running out of ideas lyrically and is still developing vocally. The result is a record filled with middling mid-tempo numbers. King is still one of the best guitarists in indie rock today, but she dumbed down her strengths too much here.

4. Minus the Bear - Omni

Minus the Bear made a fucking yacht rock record.

3. The Hold Steady - Heaven is Whenever

Chalk this one up to getting older, but I can’t get behind the Hold Steady’s latest release. The songs are too slow. I miss Franz Nicolay’s piano and back-up vox. And frontman Craig Finn is running out of ways to sing about drunks and junkies. Mike loved this album. Some of the songs, like “Hurricane J” and “Rock Problems,” show the old THS brilliance, but overall this record is stuck in a boring holding pattern.

2. The Extra Lens - Undercard

John Darnielle put out a record and it didn’t blow my mind. What the fuck?

1. Against Me! - White Crosses

Sooner or later, our favorite bands let us down. But White Crosses failed me on just about every level. It has enough good songs to warrant keeping for now, but the lyrics are embarrassing and graceless compared to what Tom Gabel used to write. Butch Vig did a solid job with New Wave, but I wish he had the sense to steer the band clear of all the little flourishes they added here. Every auxiliary instrument and supporting vocal cheapens the song, with the now infamous “chick-uh ah” from “Ache With Me” being the standout. I say “infamous” because when Gabel read my review for, he threw a hissy fit on Twitter, which in turn caused his followers to throw their own fits. For an hour or two, I was greeted with a sea of “chick-uh ah.” This band belongs to people much younger than me, and I don’t begrudge them that, but I was disappointed by these songs, and hurt by Gabel’s behavior. Grow up.

Man, talk about Bummer City, U.S.A. Let’s forget the bad and talk about the good, the great, the...

Very Honorable Mentions of 2010

Banner Pilot - Resignation Day re-release

Banner Pilot is one of the best up-and-coming punk acts today, blending Dillinger Four’s hooks with Jawbreaker’s lyrics. The Resignation Day re-release realizes the great album it was always meant to be.

Black Tambourine - Black Tambourine

Fuzzy, moody tunes that are too twee to really be goth - that could be any of hundreds of indie bands today, but Black Tambourine did it first. This complete-ish discography argues why they did it better too.

David Bowie - Station to Station deluxe edition re-release

While he began moving away from hard rock on Young Americans, Bowie emerged with a completely new sound on Station to Station. He hadn’t quite invented post-punk yet, but he was getting there. This deluxe edition comes with a remastered classic and a solid two-disc concert bootleg.

The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come DVD

It’s a live/acoustic performance of my favorite album of 2009. Hell yeah it’s getting mentioned here.

Various Artists - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Stellar indie rock tracklisting for a stellar movie about fightin’ and kissin’. Nearly half of the album consists of new tunes written by Beck, Broken Social Scene and Metric for characters in the movie, and they capture each fictional band perfectly. They also blend in well with older cuts from Frank Black, T. Rex and, again, Broken Social Scene. Go read the comics.

Top 25 Bestest Records of 2010 According to Joseph. T Pelone

25. High on Fire - Snakes For the Divine

2010 is the year I got back into metal for the first time since high school, and High on Fire is my Motorhead. I know exactly what I’m getting when I put them on, which is fast, punk-tinged metal with lyrics about whatever. Sometimes they get slow ‘n’ sludgy, but generally speaking, Snakes For the Divine is a record that pummels me as quickly as it can. I’m so bummed I missed out on HoF’s tour with Kylesa and Torche. As you’ll see from this list, I’m a big fan of all those bands. More bands need to write kickass songs about blood, fire and “Frost Hammer.”

24. Dillinger Escape Plan - Option Paralysis

Speaking of ass-kickers, howsabout that new Dillinger Escape Plan record? In metal terms, these guys are like Prince in his prime - they can do whatever they want, weave whatever ideas and styles they like into their songs, and it comes out to great success. Opening track “Farewell, Mona Lisa” packs an album’s worth of dynamics into five-and-a-half minutes. The first two minutes prove that the band still has the technical hardcore game mastered before segueing into alternative rock for a bit. Then back to the ass-kickery.

23. Devils Brigade - Devils Brigade

Devils Brigade is a Rancid/X supergroup. Fuck yes. Sure, I wish the band wrote more psychobilly songs like “Vampire Girl,” but instead the album provides tunes about motorcycles and cowboys, as sung by Matt Freeman and his deliciously gravelly throat. Last decade, when Freeman battled throat cancer, it seemed unlikely that he would ever sing again, so I treasure every song he fronts. Besides, I will listen to any and all detours Rancid takes. Well, besides Transplants anyway.

22. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire

Disconnect From Desire found School of Seven Bells streamlining their sound a bit, at times recalling the quasi-goth dance floor qualities of Ladytron. Twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza coo enchanting, haunting melodies while Benjamin Curtis doodles in the margins. This second go-round is definitely more dance-oriented, but there’s plenty of appeal for those looking for something more ambient. Overall, Desire was a huge improvement over the group’s debut, and I’m hoping for even better things on LP #3.

21. Smoke or Fire - The Speakeasy

At this point, Smoke or Fire has developed a style that needs little deviation. Rapid-fire drum beats feed angry vocals and socially conscious lyrics. Joe McMahon’s songs are fast and straightforward. Speakeasy, in that sense, feels very much like a continuation of This Sinking Ship. The production hits a sweet spot, though. I love the band’s full-length debut, Above the City, but it sounds like ass. Ship went too far in the other direction; it’s an overproduced record that still wins based on its musical content. Speakeasy eases up on the gloss without sacrificing clarity. It’s the record that most accurately depicts Smoke or Fire’s live show. And have you heard freaking “Sleepwalking?” That song is catchier than any pop hit of 2010.

20. Gatorface - Wasted Monuments

Gatorface is definitely a throwback to ‘90s era Fat bands, but their full-length debut, Wasted Monuments, still goes beyond mere idol worship. Tunes like “Not Scientists” and “Kids Stealing Kids” burn with hooks and political barbs, and that’s always been my favorite kind of punk. Gatorface was started for fun by Alex Goldfarb and Richard Minino from New Mexican Disaster Squad, and by the sounds of it, they’re having a great time.

19. Screaming Females - Castle Talk

A lot of the records on this list look backward as much as forward, which certainly describes Screaming Females’ Castle Talk. The album has an appreciation for ‘80s new wave/punk crossover and ‘00 back-to-basics rock, but Screaming Females do it better. Frontwoman/guitarist Marissa Paternoster drops playful lyrics and loud guitar histrionics as she pleases, and she does it better than most bands from yesteryear. This is how I wish Yeah Yeah Yeahs had turned out.

18. Bars of Gold - Of Gold

The short answer for Bars of Gold’s placement on this list is: “It’s Bear vs. Shark with more keyboards.” The long answer: Marc Paffi is very good at the following things: Yelling and making his instruments rock the heck out. He put those talents to very good use for BvS, and he’s doing it again with Bars of Gold. While I hate comparing him too much to his old band, Paffi sounds like he’s picking up where BvS might have gone had they stayed together after Terrorhawk.

17. Kylesa - Spiral Shadow

Spiral Shadow found Kylesa expanding beyond metal into a more alt-rock direction, by which I mean Kylesa just made their most accessible record. That means a bigger melodic, radio-friendly presentation, but somehow Shadow manages to still be Kylesa’s most experimental record too. This is their most psychedelic release so far, with tons of interludes and atmospheric bits floating around. Either way, the metal faithful have deemed this record underwhelming, but it’s their loss. Spiral Shadow rocks.

16. The Extra Lens - Undercard

The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle took a break from writing serious songs about the deaths of loved ones to hang out with his buddy Franklin Bruno. Being the best of friends, they decided to write some songs. These songs were about adultery, doom and Elder Gods. See, Darnielle has this knack for matching big hooks with depressing lyrics. While it’s a little disappointing coming off of a string of emotionally intense, personal works, Undercard is still stuffed with some of the best short stories of 2010.

15. Daft Punk - TRON: Legacy soundtrack

This is not an album for Daft Punk fans per say, unless those fans also love science fiction and especially love TRON. Because these French robots totally get TRON. TRON: Legacy was never meant to be a sequel to Human After All, so it shouldn’t be regarded as such. But as a sequel to the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (with some help from Journey!), it’s stunning. Carlos blended orchestral and electronic music to great effect for the original 1982 soundtrack, marking a milestone just as important as the early works of Kraftwork or the birth of post-punk. Daft Punk develops those ideas further, wedding their danceable electronic vision to more traditional orchestral movements, resulting in a flowing, emotionally stirring work.

14. Envy - Recitation

I love Envy because they remind me of so many bands I love - Deftones, Jesu, M83, Mogwai, Thursday - yet satisfy a very specific need that no one else can handle. Of all the records on this list, Recitation probably took me the longest to appreciate, simply because the songs are so epic. The material slowly builds in intensity as it grows from spoken word to post-hardcore fury over the course of 20 minutes, then destroys and rebuilds itself over the course of an hour that is alternately haunting and powerful. Recitation is not an immediate album for parties or driving. But it’s so satisfying once you crack it.

13. Deftones - Diamond Eyes

If it weren’t for the fact that their albums still tear up the Billboard charts, I’d call Deftones underrated. Ten years ago, the group was unfortunately lumped in with nu-metal mooks, even though they had more in common with My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand and The Cure than they ever did with Limp Bizkit. So to that extent, the band has never gotten the full appreciation they deserve, even though, a decade later, music has finally gotten hip to the ’tones’ sound. Deftones have always been a band of meeting points – metal, goth, shoegaze, and post-hardcore are in the mix – and Diamond Eyes may very well be the best distillation of this sound. Maybe it’s because they’ve been away for a while, but Deftones sound awfully vital in 2010.

12. Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

Some days, it’s just good to know that Ted Leo is out there, ever vigilant, and Brutalist Bricks reminds me that we need him, like a punk rock Batman. The record is more concise than the double album-length Living With the Living and less indebted to Thin Lizzy’s guitars than The Tyranny of Distance… which I guess puts it in league with the similarly stripped down punk fervor of Shake the Sheets. Rank it however you want; it still has “Bottled Up in Cork.” That song opens with a furious intro, gets softer/poppier, drops a few verses about traveling through Europe and meeting family, and then drops an insanely catchy guitar solo before closing out with a long, infectious intro. Leo could have broken the ideas in that song up into an album. Instead he combined them all to make one ridiculously great song.

11. The Roots - How I Got Over

I hate when music writers show their lack of credentials before engaging in a review. It’s tantamount to saying, “Here’s why you shouldn’t care about my opinion.” That said, um, I don’t know much about hip-hop. But I do love soul music, and the Roots’ How I Got Over has plenty of it. The record starts off quite cool and smooth with songs like “A Peace of Light” and “Dear God 2.0,” but it’s James Brown throwbacks like the title track that keep me around. I’m not an expert on rap, but I recognize a good groove when I hear it.

10. Kyle Kinane - Death of the Party

Every year, the fates deliver on to me a comedy record stuffed with one-liners and personal stories about failure that really hit home. This year, that record was Death of the Party by Kyle Kinane. His humor can get crass at times (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom), but also tells tales about the triumph of the human spirit (like when he talks about the first time he pooped in a bar bathroom). He also gave me my favorite cop put-down: “How did you get your job? Did you win a raffle?”

9. Museum Mouth - Tears in My Beer

Some of the best music these days is coming from the American South. Witness Museum Mouth, an unsigned lo-fi punk band from North Carolina that pretty much wrote and self-released a better record than any critical darling without much support. I get why people like No Age and Dum Dum Girls - hell I like some of their songs - but Museum Mouth does it better, without any pretentious imagery. I can’t pick a lone standout track from this record, so what’s say you just download it now?

8. The Flatliners - Cavalcade

Banner Pilot and Loved Ones didn’t drop anything new this year, so Flatliners flew in to fill my need for huge choruses, gruff vocals and lyrics about drankin’ and stankin’. Cavalcade feels like it was calculated to satisfy my every punk desire. This record knocked me out the first time I played it. Judging by the reviews it’s gotten, everybody else had the same experience.

7. The Corin Tucker Band - 1,000 Years

Sleater-Kinney is still on hiatus, but with Wild Flag and the Corin Tucker Band, that’s not such a bad thing. CTB’s 1,000 Years should satisfy many a Sleater-Kinney fan. While it gets a little mom rock in places, songs like “Half a World Away” and “Doubt” still revel in buzzsaw guitars and rock ‘n’ roll histrionics. Tucker still knows how to belt ‘em out, and I’m still listening.

6. Fang Island - Fang Island

I was skeptical of Fang Island at first, but it turns out I was just being a dick. Someone put on Fang Island’s self-titled full-length debut during the triumphant drive home from the first Science Club show when a lightning storm tore through the Philadelphia air. The record slowly revved into attacked position, setting itself up with “Dreams of Dreams” and “Careful Crosses” before exploding with the triumphant “Daisy.” And then insanely fun arena guitar rock synced up with fucking lightning. In a perfect world, Andrew W.K., Torche and Fang Island would tour together. And they’d play my backyard. And we would be friends forever.

5. Torche - Songs For Singles

In an alternate universe, Torche is the biggest radio rock band in America. No one has heard of Nickelback, but they sure as hell know all the words to Songs For Singles. While it’s certainly a bummer that this is not the case here on Earth Prime, hopefully this Floridian metal act will garner a few new fans with their latest effort. The songs roll off of each other so well that one could easily get in three or four listens in a row without stopping. Torche doesn’t sound like any one band, but they sure vaguely recall ’90s alternative rock as a whole, to great success.

4. Black Tusk - Taste the Sin

In my original review for Taste the Sin, I was slightly dismissive of Black Tusk. They’re a great metal band, sure, but they didn’t push boundaries like Kylesa or Baroness. But that same dedication to simply writing ass-kicking metal tunes is what brought me back to Sin over and over again. The band is almost punk in their assault, keeping their songs tight and focused while delivering massive riffs and throaty growls, and they really grew into their sound on this album. Sure, the lyrics are a little silly (“Rip your face off / Thrash around” is both really dumb and really metal), but the songs kept me going. When I needed something aggressive, Sin was my go-to record for 2010.

3. Crime in Stereo - I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone

Ignore the dubious title and got-damn horrendous artwork, and you’ll find a slinking, atmospheric juggernaut awaiting. In some ways, Crime in Stereo’s I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone outdoes Is Dead’s ideas, becoming more atmospheric, more dissonant, more willingly un-hardcore. I remember a lot of people calling CiS too experimental circa 2007. Three years later, the band makes seemingly “experimental” numbers like “Choker” and “Third Atlantic” sound like outright pop songs. I’m still bummed about CiS breaking up, but like my friend Nate and I always say, “Drugwolf forever!”

2. The Menzingers - Chamberlain Waits

I saw the Menzingers open once for Smoke or Fire on a Valentine’s Day show at Siren Records in Doylestown. I was hooked. They had the anthems and passion of early Clash, which is fitting since they did a riveting cover of “Straight to Hell.” I bought their record, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and became obsessed. I tried to make it out whenever they played nearby, as their shows were always revelatory, jubilant and just generally sweet. It didn’t even matter if they messed up; one time, co-lead singer/guitarist launched into a perfect rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” to kill time while they dealt with technical issues. Lesson is a record I hold in high esteem; it meant so much to me for three years.

Then the Menzingers dropped Chamberlain Waits, and I pretty much left Lessons behind. Outside of when I listened to it for review purposes, I have not gone back to it this year. Instead, I’ve poured all of my energy into Chamberlain Waits, a record about growing up, feeling kind of lost and trying to find a way in the world. It’s about being stuck in Pennsylvania. It’s about late nights with old friends and the importance of music. It became my “Shit Sucks But This Song Rules” record. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less excited by punk music, as I suppose this list indicates. But then when bands like the Menzingers come around, I become a believer all over again. This genre thrives on insularity, but honestly, I want everyone to listen to this record. Disaffected teens, old school punks and rock enthusiasts in general all need to live inside these songs.

1. Venice is Sinking - Sand & Lines: The Georgia Theatre Sessions

Chamberlain Waits and Venice is Sinking’s Sand & Lines have battled it out over the course of the year for my affections. They don’t sound anything alike - one is punk with a folk tinge and the other is an alt-country record - but they both satisfy very basic needs for me. I listen to music, partially, for catharsis. Chamberlain makes me think about the things that went wrong for me this year - settling for a less-than-ideal job, accepting that I’ll probably never live in Philadelphia again, my cousin’s death - and turned those things into energy I could use. Sands & Lines makes me think about everything that went right.

It shouldn’t, though, given that the album’s best moments are about failure and break-ups. Somehow, though, my girlfriend and I really latched on to this record, and it scored our most intimate moments. The quiet resignation of “Sidelights” and “Tugboat,” the panic of “Jolene,” the cool beat of “Falls City,” these parts wrapped around me like a blanket, and I took the record with me as I traveled around the East coast, and then over to Europe. When I listen to this record, I think about watching the love of my life undress in Paris. I think about love itself. The Georgia Theatre offered such a warm and lived-in sound quality; it’s the exact opposite of AZAR. It’s fitting that the band is donating money from the record sales towards rebuilding the theatre; it’s like an unofficial band member in terms of shaping the album’s style. I’m still down with the punks - I was spinning Government Issue something fierce earlier today - but Venice is Sinking makes me feel comfortable, safe, alive. It’s perfect for the cold and the close contact of winter, but it’s cool and breezy enough to bring out during the summer. It’s my album of the year because it sums up my year.

Ah, but this year isn’t just defined by full-lengths. Lest we forget, the year also saw some great short form releases. So pour yourself a delicious, refreshing glass of soy milk and strap the fuck in for the...

Top 10 Extended Players of 2010

10. The Get Up Kids - Simple Science

Just gonna throw this out there: Simple Science is where the Get Up Kids should have gone after On a Wire. It’s still moody, a little more indie rock and not nearly as pandering as Guilt Show. Although it’s belated, Simple Science was a return to form for TGUK, and I look forward to their eventual full-length.

9. The Holy Mess - Benefit Sesh

Philadelphia drunk punk with some soul. That’s what you get with the Holy Mess, and gosh dang did they deliver on the Benefit Sesh seven-inch. Keep ‘em coming.

8. The Flatliners - Monumental

Yes it’s a single. Fuck you, I’m counting it. This seven-inch opens with “Monumental,” from the Flatliners pretty thoroughly awesome Cavalcade, and the B-side offers up two new tunes, “Christ Punchers” and “Cut Your Teeth,” that deliver just as much crunch and punch as their punk rockin’ full-length. 2010 was a great year for the Flatliners creatively, and based on the hype they’re getting, I assume commercially as well.

7. Mean Jeans - Tears in My Beers

Mean Jeans followed up their super catchy Ramones tribute Are You Serious? with a mini-concept album about drankin’. “Tears in My Beers” sounds like exactly like its title suggests, but B-side “Cool 2 Drive” is the winner, with an infectious chorus about the aforementioned drankin’.

6. How to Destroy Angels - How to Destroy Angels

Nine Inch Nails + Lady vox = How to Destroy Angels. I worship at Trent Reznor’s altar, so I’m stoked to have some new tunes. As much as I miss his bark, Mariqueen Reznor’s cleaner vocals fit the music nicely and give it a different spin.

5. Smoke or Fire - Prehistoric Knife Fight

Joe McMahon was all up in punk’s business in 2010. He dropped an acoustic split with Brendan McMahon and a solid new Smoke or Fire full-length in The Speakeasy. In between the two, SoF dropped a nice teaser seven-inch, featuring a stripped down version of “Speak Easy” and a catchy supporting track called “Modesty.” Say it with me now: This is the new Avail.

4. Castevet - The Echo & The Light

Castevet writes shimmering post-hardcore/post-rock mash-ups that find the midpoint between Hot Water Music and Mogwai, successfully. I have both versions of The Echo & The Light, the original version completed last year and the re-recorded final, and they’re both great. Maybe it’s just the high from their ’90s emo/post-rock revivalism talking, but Castevet could easily be huge with their cross-genre style.

3. The Next Big Thing - Tough as Nails, Sweet as Pie

The world needs a Kid Dynamite. My pals in the Next Big Thing opted to keep the KD sound alive, complete with bass solos and throaty, catchy choruses. In the interest of complete disclosure and journalistic integrity or whatever, I should mention that I bring the gang vox something fierce on this disc, but I’m awesome, so check this out. “Girls Don’t Listen to Lifetime” is my jam - and ladies, if you do listen to Lifetime, holla at frontman Nick Gregorio at

2. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Wrecking Ball

Record Store Day came twice this year, and Bruce Springsteen delivered great finds on both days. Black Friday brought a “Save My Love” single backed with “Because the Night,” but the bigger, better release was “Wrecking Ball.” Debuted during his 2009 tour, “Wrecking Ball” was Springsteen’s ode to Giants Stadium, the song helped clear out the bad taste left by Working on a Dream. It’s full of classic E Street intensity and showmanship, and it’s so catchy that I don’t even care that Springsteen rhymes “balls” with “ball.” The B-side, a live version of “The Ghost of Thom Joad” featuring Tom Morello, is nifty too.

1. forgetters - forgetters

Like many an emotionally sensitive punk, I grew up on Jawbreaker. I committed frontman/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach’s words to memory, using songs like “Accident Prone” and “Chesterfield King” for armor. When ‘bach’s band forgetters came together, featuring Kevin Mahon (Against Me!) and Caroline Paquita (Bitchin’), I was ecstatic to hear his return to punk (Although I loved the indie-leaning Jets to Brazil. Can we finally acknowledge as a society that they were just as good as Jawbreaker?). Their four-song debut does not disappoint, issuing grainy, throaty, passionate punk rock with Schwarzenbach’s trademark hyper-literate lyrics and perhaps his best vocal takes yet. Sometimes it’s political (“Not Funny”), sometimes it’s personal (“Too Small To Fail”), sometimes it’s about vampires (“Vampire Lessons”), but it’s always great.

I say this every year, but 2010 was a great year for music. It took some digging, but art should never be too easy. 2009 was pretty great too, so much so that I didn’t fully appreciate all of the album’s released then until now. Here are...

Ten Albums from 2009 That I Didn’t Appreciate Until 2010 For Whatever Fucking Reason

-Baroness - Blue Record
-Cloack/Dagger - Lost Art
-Coalesce - Ox
-The Hadituptoheres - Wild City Honest Dancing
-Kylesa - Static Tensions
-The Menzingers - Hold On Dodge
-Paul F. Thompkins - Freak Wharf
-Tombs - Winter Hours
-YACHT - See Mystery Lights
-”Weird” Al Yankovic - The Essential “Weird” Al Yancovik

This is the year I got back into metal, as Baroness, Kylesa and Tombs reveal. I’m still a novice when it comes to this novice, but I love anything sludgy and powerful like these bands. My friend Nate thinks my new found love of dissonance is cute. I meant to hop on Coalesce’s latest album - my friend Scott and I listened to it a ton of times in 2009 - but I didn’t get around to it until it was too late. Ox is a great technical hardcore record that blends in a bunch of blues references of all things. Consider it the Option Paralysis of 2009. I remembered my punk roots, though, with Cloak/Dagger and Menzingers, while still checking out indie dance music with YACHT. The Hadituptoheres are a great garage band that I had to review - most of the promos I get sent are shit, so I appreciate the good ones quite a bit. Finally, I bought some comedy records from Paul F. Thompkins and “Weird” Al Yankovic. They were funny.

2011 is looking pretty good too, from where I’m at. Here are my top picks to watch out for:

Potential Reasons to Choose Life in 2011
-Face to Face - Laugh Now, Laugh Later
-The Get Up Kids - There Are Rules
-Green Day - TBA
-PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
-Lemuria - Pebble
-Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
-The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
-The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
-Taking Back Sunday with classic line-up - TBA
-Thursday - TBA


Matt said...

Omni was seriously disappointing, especially after how good Menos El Oso and Planet of Ice both were in their own rights.

Glad to see the Torche and Deftones love. Speaking of underrated Deftones stuff, ever check out the B-Sides and Rarities album? KILLER Sade cover.

I haven't checked out the newest Dillinger Escape Plan after being pretty disappointed in the random compilation of tracks that was Ire Works, but I did hear "Farewell, Mona Lisa", and that's one of the best songs I've heard out of them in years. Maybe I'll check out the record

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