Below is a way too long list of my thoughts on the 2009 year in music. It features my Top 10 favorite records, inspiring records released by my friends, not so awesome records released by otherwise reputable artists and then records that I feel I should’ve checked out, but never made the time to. You’re not going to find a lot of stuff – actually almost nothing – that Rolling Stone, SPIN, Pitchfork.com or any other more popular media outlets noted as their favorites, but you will find some info on a bunch of artists that I truly believe are worth taking some time to check out. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in any further info and enjoy!
Oh, and P.S. I made some music this year as well. I’m working on an acoustic based project called Correspondents. If you’re interested in checking out the first song I’ve recorded feel free to hit me up at [email protected]
TOP 10 RECORDS OF THE YEAR
After The Fall
[Raise Your Fist Records / Mightier Than Sword / Ass-Card]
While this should probably fall under the “Friends Who Rocked” section below, I feel it better fits into this one, only because it’s my favorite record of the year. And the reason for that is two-fold. One, this record is one of the most slept on melodic punk records possibly ever. Kids are starting to warm up to it / the band, but it’s still not enough. To put the record into the words of a more formal record review, below is the one that I submitted to Alternative Press (though it never ran)…
“Do you remember when this was all still new and exciting / When new bands and records weren’t lame, and skateboarding meant everything?!” belts Mike Moak, ATF’s frontman, on Fort Orange’s closing track, “1994.” If you were into punk rock back then you probably know what he means. If you weren’t, after hearing songs like this and others like it off of Fort Orange, you’re going to wish you were. Moak masterfully shreds while leading the bands punk rock ‘til death rallying cry throughout the record, almost sounding as if he were Chris Hannah of Propaghandi’s protégé – yes, really. Even beyond the technical prowess showcased here, the hooks alone are enough to fall in love with. And with Bill Stevenson at the helm, these underdogs really start to bark.”
With that said, my second reason for being in love with the record is that while I no longer officially work in the music business, I can’t help but to help these guys along however I can. This led to our touring Europe together earlier this year (where the band was even gracious enough to let me play a few songs every night.) The shows weren’t packed, but they were by no means a bust either. They were filled with people such as a couple that traveled from Croatia to Austria to see them play a show in a band’s practice space; pro-active music enthusiasts who live for it. It was beyond inspiring and completely deserving of a band that fights tooth and nail for every inch of progress it makes.
If you’ve ever had a conversation about music with me, you’ve probably heard me bring up this band. When I first heard them, which was circa 2004 when they dropped their second full-length, Exit English (my second favorite record of all time, next to Appetite For Destruction), my body vibrated to the sound of the record. I was either being touched by the hand of God or just having one of the most intense surges of emotion that I’d ever experienced. Everything from the dynamic of the band’s political views to the song structures to the chords they used to the downright rageful yet uplifting passion with which singer, Thomas Barnett, delivered his vocals resonated with me like a nuclear explosion in my heart – I was shaken to the core. I immediately got into the band’s first full-length, Change Is A Sound and first EP, Chorus Of One, and have followed everything the band has done ever since, which brings us to this, the band’s fourth full-length, Iron Front.
They’ve easily become one of if not the most consistent punk bands on the planet today. The feeling of listening to this record is just as raw as the first time I heard them. I can go on forever about it, but if you really want to understand me and the sound that moves my soul, then check out both the songs, “First Will And Testament” and “Postcards From Home.” They both make me want to cry. A friend of mine once mentioned an author (that was pretty vague, huh?) who once said, “poetry is the efflux of the soul.” If that’s true, then let’s just call Strike Anywhere’s Thomas Barnett punk rock’s Tennessee Williams.
What makes Iron Front most special for me is that you have a band of atheists taking on spirituality and their in bold form. Also, this is that fact that this is the band’s first full-length sans their super-star songwriter / guitarist, Matt Sherwood, and it still holds up to anything they’ve ever created. Keeping your sound consistent, yet tweaking and re-inventing it so that’s it’s fresh with each new effort is one of the greatest challenges in music, but each time Strike Anywhere does it, it sounds effortless.
This is the band’s most personal work to date and it’s not that they’re skimping on the politics, they’ve just never known their place better – nor voiced it more intimately – in this big fucking socio-political mess of a planet as they do now. It’s the type of record that wants to make you fight for something better and to resist any of the numbness that’s often synonymous with getting old. They demand that you don’t sleep on any and every opportunity to act in accordance with what you believe in.
[Smallman Records / G7 Welcoming Committee]
Propaghandi is legendary. They’ve been at it since 1986, doing what they do with a DIY passion all their own – like the type that starts riots at shows, literally. They’re by no means the type of band to drop records yearly or even bi-yearly, so you know that when they do put something out every few years that the material has been marinating for some time and that the quality control is high. Supporting Caste is no exception. The album’s first track, “Night Letters,” is one of the most beautifully scripted depictions of the trials, tribulations and downright misery and tragedy that refugees often face in the name of evacuating their homeland as a result of the decimation of war. While the lyrics alone without the crushingly visceral vocal delivery of bassist / vocalist Todd Kawolski (also held in high regard for his impassioned performance in “Fuck The Border” off of Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes) don’t necessarily do the song justice, I’ve included them below in hopes of at least enticing you, the reader.
Your world was blown right apart on a night of sickening death. You went running for your life and never went home again. I spend sleepless nights as my head spins worrying about you. You work the night shift so you won’t be alone. I am adept and cold. You have traveled so far from home. Sorrow has followed every step of the way. You’re caught between this life and the one left behind. I see it’s burning you inside like some exploding sun. Your mind constantly returns to a place that’s not so fucking cold, but on fire with war. You’re starting over from scratch, sending your money home. You’re working as hard as you can while life hangs in the air. I see distant lights up ahead, but I’m worrying about you. It’s all taking its toll and you can’t concentrate. You are being crushed by the world. I have gotten lucky so far. We sit at the end of this night dialing. An answer finally reached through a long distance line. News of threatening night letters. Stones passed over the fence. Your loved ones taunted by murderers. Tell them three years that they’ll have to wait as their whole world implodes.
And I repeat, there are virtually no words to describe they type of conviction that these lyrics are delivered with. They come from the mouth of a man who volunteers at a local refugee center near his hometown of Portage la Prairie in Manitoba, Canada. I may be getting a little carried away focusing on only the first song of the record and all with so many other choice tracks, so let it be known that the rest of this album rocks, too. The downright truculence of the album is only matched the band’s search for redemption within it. It’s probably best put in the final lines of the record’s credits, “Psychopaths run the world, but there are good people everywhere working to keep total madness at bay. Keep on truckin’, eh?” Fuck, yeah.
[Side One Dummy]
If you’ve ever seen me play out acoustic, you’ve probably heard me play more of this guy’s songs than any of my own. The reason for that is that he’s done a way better job and saying the things that I wanna say, all while keeping three or four chord song structures interesting. Playing his songs unties that knot of stress and tension in my chest. They’re cathartic.
Chuck Ragan was formerly one of the two frontmen (the other being Chris Wallard who also released a notable solo record this year, the self-titled Chris Wallard and the Ship Thieves) of the legendary post-hardcore act, Hot Water Music, who’s album No Division blew the brains directly out of the back of my head and changed my approach to writing and performing music forever. A more popular version of the type of passion with which they played would probably be best illustrated in At The Drive-In.
Far past the days of the teen angst that often fuels punk rock, Ragan has become a folk-ish troubadour of sorts. Each year he now assembles and headlines The Revival Tour, an event that takes it’s show to a new city or smaller town each night showcasing the works of modern folk artists, most of whom in their past played in seminal punk or post-hardcore bands as well. The man is a true workhorse and his soul has been the guiding light for a new movement of acoustic guitar wielding storytellers.
Gold Country is his second full-length. While the songs individually don’t quite have the personality of those on Feast or Famine, his first record, the record as a whole has a more dynamic flow to it. He’s also brought more players into the fold this time around. You have guest singers, slide guitarists and banjo players amongst others spicing things up and heightening the impact of the songs. To really get a glimpse of this man’s passion check out “For Goodness Sake,” “The Trench,” and “Get ‘Em All Home.” These whiskey drenched tales, dirges, romps or whatever you wanna call them will warm your frigid bones this winter.
Crack The Skye
This band completely fucking rocks. They’re then best metal band of our generation hands down. They live what they do. All I really want to say is please, if you don’t listen to this whole record, just check out the album’s opening track, “Oblivion” and wait for the “Fallen from grace…” line to sideswipe you with the force of a Paul Bullwinkle-manned Mack truck. But please note that it’s more like a Mack truck of awesomeness that makes you feel really awesome. I’ll leave it to Andy Marino to really tell you what’s really up with the record. He’s a much better writer than me. He also loves the band more than anyone, ever.
From the first time I heard this dude I was in love. Man love. It was circa his second record, 2003’s Make The Clocks Move, the first of two records that I worked for him during my three or four year stint at Triple Crown Records. His ironic and self-deprecating lyrics about drinking too much, not really caring too much about finding a stable job and constant “I’m in love with this chick, wait, no I’m not, wait maybe I am… I give up…” caught my ear immediately. And much like Mr. Ragan’s work, reviewed just above, I’m often found playing Kevin’s songs when performing as well. He’s doing a really good job at describing the ups and downs of your late twenties and now, early thirties.
Four albums later, I’m still in love. Brother’s Blood is his most accomplished album to date. Someone once said that if you took all the really good songs off of the first four Kevin Devine records, then you’d have an incredibly sweet Greatest Hits package. I have to agree, but Brother’s Blood proves that he’s now got it in him to crush from start to finish. And you can’t help but cheer for a guy like this who’s worked for well over a decade to get to where he is, which is a point in his career where he’s at the very least making a living off of what he does. Accomplishing that as a singer-songwriter without mass media attention these days is like trying to drive a motorcycle up a wall.
I suggest starting with “Another Bag Of Bones.” It’s just about as depressing as songs get, but you get some serious insight as to what this guy is capable of. Then check out “All of Everything, Erased” and “It’s Only Your Life.” If you’re not crying at that point then go soak yourself in a hot bath until your cold and calloused heart starts to melt.
Poetry Of The Deed
I was first introduced to Frank Turner when I saw him live on The Revival Tour last year. He was touring in support of Love, Ire and Song a highly superb record featuring songs like “Photosynthesis,” “The Queen Is Dead,” and “The Ballad Of Me And My Friends” (which was only on the bonus version of the record, but was formerly on his first full-length, the also very notable, Sleep Is For The Weak). Later that year he was signed by indie powerhouse, Epitaph. The label’s head, who also doubles as guitarist and songwriter for Bad Religion, Brett Gurewitz, declared Frank Turner’s music, “a revelation.” He couldn’t have been more dead on. Turner’s songs about growing up, yet not growing cold and are as insightful as a mofo. Assembled with biting wit his every line keeps you on your toes wanting more. I would say this guy is going to be huge, but it’s not much of an insightful declaration considering he’s already well on his way. In the past year alone he’s been out with Flogging Molly, The Offspring, The Gaslight Anthem and Chuck Ragan. He’s also headlined some of the most prestigious venues in his native, England. To get some idea of how special this guy is check out a two part interview I did with him a few months back…
Ghosts On The Boardwalk 7” Series
To be honest, I wasn’t totally into this record, but my undying support for this band and my respect for how they do things is reason enough for them to make this list. In celebration of their 20 years as a band, they released a new 7” inch every three months containing the songs that would eventually comprise of their full-length. They also released the record a song per month via digital download and now that the year has come to a close, as a standard full-length record. Their method going about this wasn’t so much of a gimmick as it was them keeping things interesting. And they did it through their own label, Chunksaah. You just can’t take the fight out of these guys.
This was may be the year’s most pleasant surprise. I’ve only listened to this record twice because it was only brought to my attention by my roommate two days ago, but it was one of the most pleasurable listens of the year. I have to admit that I was never into Dinosaur Jr. before this, the band’s 25th year together, but I now I plan on get myself acquainted with the band’s back catalog. What’s perhaps most impressive about this band / record is that you see where everyone from Nirvana to Pearl Jam to the Foo Fighters to basically any other alt-rock band that reached critical mass in the 90’s was inspired by / blatantly ripped off. What’s most special about this record though is that it doesn’t sound throwback-ish, but instead, refreshingly vibrant and invigorating.
[Universal / Favorite Gentleman / Procrastinate Music]
Again, here’s a record that I really wasn’t all that into, but it made the list because of a special connection that I have with the band. They’re from my hometown, Merrick, NY, and just one month ago, they headlined Nassau Coliseum, the arena where I first saw Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt and Metallica, to name a few. It’s located just 10 minutes from the house I grew up in. It was pretty wild to see some kids that I first saw play in basements and bars sell out a 12,000 seat room. While I never made it a fraction of that far with my own music, I did play a small part in the band’s career as I worked for the label, Triple Crown Records, that released it’s first two records, Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu (which I actually received a gold record for). I also got a chance photograph the show (http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankiebos), which was the biggest arena I’ve ever shot in. And though like I said I wasn’t crazy about the album as a whole, tracks like “At The Bottom” and “Bought A Bride” are definitely worth checking out.
FRIENDS WHO ROCKED
Anchors Of The Armless Gods
[Old Souls Collective]
Anything Tom Anderer is musically involved with is worth checking out. If you don’t know Tom, get to know him. If you don’t know Buckshot, check it out and prepare for face melt. The band is comprised of a very special cast of characters who are legitimate as the f curse. And the etching on the vinyl version of the record (http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewImage&friendID=44901341&albumID=2748716&imageID=58380819) alone makes it worth purchasing.
The Number 12 Looks Like You
Worse Than Alone
I managed these guys and they took me around the US. We shared something very special over the year or so that we worked together. I can write for a long while about the whole experience, but it’s really not the point here. They recently broke up which marks an end to not only their career or time as a band, but symbolically, a period of my life. Over the course of our time together I saw them progress from one of the most revered grind bands on the planet to one of the most experimental and creative acts in heavy / weird / innovative music today. If you dig Mr. Bungle, The Blood Brothers or Frank Zappa, you’ll probably find something you love on this record. You will see members of this band go on to do great things in the world of music. Trust me.
The Blackout Pact
Wolves In The Lazerette EP
[Eyeball Records / Tired Owl Records]
I managed these guys as well. A lot of what transpired on the business end of my and the band’s relationship with the music business was a total bummout, but it’s really good to hear them writing music for the sake of writing music again. We shared some really special times together though, and these songs bring my back to some very surreal (in a good way) memories of some of the most exciting days of my life. There was something priceless and utterly magical about who these guys are. Together we chased a dream and to a large degree it came true.
Blind Faith 7″
Not so into Jesus or the dogma of the Church? Neither is Capital. And they’re port-hardcore stylings do a really sweet job of conveying their message.
We’re On Drugs EP
[email protected] (Email them for the MP3’s and tell them Frank sent you.)
This is the best band that I’ve heard that’s meant to be a joke, but is actually really legit since Tenacious D. It’s comprised of 3/5’s of the Long Island Hardcore outfit, Capital (above) and is a complete 180 when compared to the subject matter in Capital’s music. Aptly packaged in a plastic baggy that resembles a dime bag, every dimension of this release is near perfect. Please get a copy of this and blast it next time you’re out heavily abusing substances with your friends.
SEMI LET DOWN-ISH RECORDS
[Fat Wreck Chords]
There’s really only one sincere song on this record, “My Orphan Year,” but it’s uber-sincere and uber-worth checking out. Otherwise, there’s some stuff that rocks, but not really. Fat Mike is a drunk and his humor is starting to get old. Most people that listened to NOFX stopped following them years ago, but I stuck around, because they’re basically still legit as hell in a lot of ways. But this record made me not even want to check out their new EP.
No Line On The Horizon
U2 still has that certain magic, no doubt, but I bounce back in forth between finding the band awe-spiring and kinda cheesy and lame, yet by and large I still back ‘em. This record hand it’s moments, but nothing they’ve done since 2001’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, my favorite record by the band, has really hit home since.
Agents Of The Underground
[Fat Wreck Chords]
This band is so nasty and that’s undeniable, but their last record, Blackhawks Over Los Angeles, set the bar a little too high for a legit follow-up. The band’s punk-metal stylings still rock, but I was either just not in the right place to receive this record or it’s just not as good as a lot of their previous work. “Black Crosses” is a pretty cool song though.
The Mars Volta
Here’s a review (that also never ran) that I submitted to Punknews.org.
“There are two extremes of Mars Volta fans. The first, those who long for the glory days of De-Loused, the triumphant return of At The Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. It was a near perfect specimen of risk taking musical ingenuity grounded by hooks that made hairs on your arms stand on end. The second type are the space rock fanatics. They’re the ones that faithfully followed as the band drifted farther and farther from their orbit around planet Earth. They also do as many drugs as the members of the band.
I have to say that I associate myself with the De-Loused crowd, though I respect the band’s continued efforts to do it’s own thing. Still, I find myself longing for tracks like “Eriatarka,” with parts that stop your fucking heart like the one 3:56 min in where Cedric delivers the, “If you only knew the plans they had for us,” line. If you don’t like that part then we can probably never be friends. No, scratch that, we can definitely never be friends. But, without Rick Rubin’s lasso it seems like the Mars Volta are fated to constantly wander outward, slightly beyond the realm of my musical interest.
Upon noticing the name of Octahedron’s lead track, “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” I couldn’t help but wonder if this were some sort of apology or admittance of mal behavior. Are they sorry for their overindulgence in prog rock? Have they reconsidered what’s transpired with their music over time? Should I be expecting the sequel to De-Loused or at least a sibling of Frances The Mute? There was a lot riding on my pressing play, and when I did, it went something like this…
“Okay, okay, this is nice…” as the record faded in with some soft acoustic guitar picking and what sounded like some modulated synth. Enter Bixler-Zavala’s soft croon. “Mmmmm, alright, sounds like we have a little ‘intro to Frances The Mute’ action going on here…” But, to my surprise the track never really took off. The pace never quickened and there wasn’t any shocking bombardment of instruments. Some electric guitar seeped in while the drums eventually queued the rest of the band (The Mars Volta Group, which is the name for all the players on the record apart from Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez.) And so began the Cedric Bixler-Zavala show.
He’s omnipresent on the record. He consistently hovers over a mostly tranquil and tempered band, which makes for a complete 180 from Amputechure and especially Bedlam In Goliath, it’s last two records that hinged on chaotic song structures and complex instrumentation. The two albums were Mars Volta mastermind and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s playground – and it was after dark. Unless you were willing to put the effort in, you probably weren’t going to fully digest them. They were no doubt impressive works of art and we definitely got some serious perspective on what these guys are capable of as musicians, but if that wasn’t enough for you, your copies most likely found their way to a used CD rack somewhere. Don’t fret though, things have shifted very noticeably on what Rodriguez-Lopez has termed the band’s “acoustic” record.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Octahedron is still way weird and tranced out, but it’s Bixler-Zavala’s continuous singing that seems to keep the band from drifting into it’s less awesome segments of dissonance or unwanted noise. Whether it was a responsibility officially bestowed upon him by the band or not, he handles the role dutifully.
Songs like “Teflon” and “With Twilight As My Guide” benefit greatly from his efforts as his vocals play snake charmer with the guitar riffs. The vibe is soft and dreamy, and, yes, I’ll run the risk of saying this, kind of erotic.
“Cotopaxi” is the halftime show. The pace quickens as Rodriguez-Lopez riffs on scales while Bixler-Zavala gets his call and response vocal game on. The chorus rocks as Bixler-Zavala successfully reaches for some high notes while the band backs him up with some solid rhythm work. It’s a nice little smack to the mouth to keep you focused for the rest of the album.
The second to last track, “Copernicus,” is slow and haunting. Rodriguez-Lopez and what sounds like John Frusciante’s (who’s a part of The Mars Volta Group) guitars intermingle while Bixler-Zavala sings tenderly amidst the ambiance.
The album’s closer, “Luciforms,” is the most erratic song on the record. The last few minutes find Rodriguez-Lopez getting his rocks off with some furious guitar soloing. He’s like a man possessed while the band gets a little loopy as well. I guess I should have known it was coming. It’s alright, though. I’m okay with it in small doses.
So, the question remains, on which end of the spectrum does this record fall? One for the De-loused fanatics or the astral travelers? I’m going to have to say that it fits somewhere in between. It’s not as catchy as their earlier work, but it’s a lot more accessible than their later work. It’s a cool late night ride home record, definitely if you’ve been smoking pot and without a doubt if you’re tripping balls. All joking aside though, I’m glad to see the band having returned to a more likeable form and while I’m no longer waiting on the next De-loused, I think I’ve learned to accept the Mars Volta for what it is.”
RECORDS THAT I HAVEN’T CHECKED OUT YET, BUT THAT I’VE HEARD ARE GOOD
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
[H20 / EMI]
Axe To Fall
[Epitaph / Deathwish]
I actually just heard this and it’s brutal. I only checked out side A, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Drag The River
Bad At Breaking Up
[No Idea Records]
1372 Overton Park
[Universal Music Group]
The Lawrence Arms
Buttsweat and Tears EP
Fat Wreck Chords
I actually have (passively) listened to this one as well and it also sounds really awesome. Kind of Mastodon lite-ish, but supposedly after a few listens it takes on a vibe all it’s own. Just not a vibe as cool as Mastodon’s – obviously.
Shitty Rambo EP
Napalm & Nitrogen