It’s that time of year where every journalist tries to aggregate an entire year’s worth of events into one article. These items are always divisive, redundant and only relevant to those involved with said event. Furthermore, these articles cause more strife when discussing ‘top albums of the year.' Sometimes an album you listened earlier in the year sounds better because it came out during a ‘sea of shit’ and other times an album gets better with time. So writing an article of this nature is an act of futility and borderline masochistic.
Without further ado, here are my ‘Top Albums of the Year’:
1. Drunk Couples – Blasted! – Bob Records
When this album came out in June, it destroyed my earholes. The album has everything I look for in a great album: killer opening track, straightforward recording, just balls-out songs. This three-piece is at the top of their game on “Blasted!”. With their driving bass, powerful drums, and metal style guitar riffs, every song on this album is a relentless display of sonic perfection. Still, after six months of listening to other music for bands I have loved for years and bands I have never heard of before, Drunk Couples has remained at the top of my ‘go back to these’ heap and I am glad I had a chance to make sure it still holds up. It does, by the way. It really does.
2. AJJ – The Bible 2 – SideOneDummy Records
Unlike my preconceived notions of bands I have listened to in the past, AJJ’s “The Bible 2” did not meet my expectations. ON this album, AJJ have moved beyond their earlier folky-nervous breakdown sound, but they are anything but normal. AJJ is still unhinged and barely holding this together, but now with a little more body. This album is moody and dark but beautifully done. AJJ take their Punk Rock roots and spin them on their head a little more synth that is oddly infectious and full of character. AJJ’s are masters at telling a story of anxiety and depression with a smile and a wink.
3. Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate – Epitaph
Whenever the Descendents release any new music, you know it is going to be good. They are Punk Rock pioneers and masterful musicians. They are one of the most influential bands in the genre and deserve the kind of recognition received by The Ramones, The Clash, Bad Religion and Social Distortion. When a band reaches this level of notoriety, you cannot compare their latest releases to others bands. The only fair comparison is to themselves. That said, their latest release, “Hypercaffium Spazzinate,” may not be considered one of their best albums to date, but these guys are aging like champions. Their lyrical content covers bad cholesterol, health issues, and problems of living a longer life. The Descendents are always going to be a band that is super present with their songs and will bring a bright light during a period of transition. I look forward to anything they do next.
4. Chris Farren – Can’t Die – SideOneDummy Records
I first heard about Chris Farren through a shirt. The “Will Smith Family in the Style of The Smiths” shirt to be exact, which is Chris’s brainchild. From here, I started to listen to his punkish band Fake Problems. After exhausting the Fake Problems discography, I was surprised to find out Chris released a Christmas album last year. It is an odd album made by a weird dude, but I was pleased to dust this one off this time of year. When I found out he was doing a solo album, I was excited but apprehensive. As good as his Christmas album is it is a very different writing style and approach than what he produced with Fake Problems. After listening to the first two songs off his album, “Can’t Die,” I knew I was along for the ride. Chris Farren put together a terrific collection of power pop ballads that linger around after you breeze through the album. Do I wish it were a Fake Problems album? Yes, of course, they are a great band. Do I think a new Fake Problems album would sound like Chris Farren’s solo album? I don’t know. Why are you asking so many questions? Creep.
5. The Falcon – Gather Up the Chaps – Red Scare Industries
The Falcon is a band without any boundaries. For the uninitiated, this Punk Rock Supergroup embodies a unique world of over-the-top filth, excess and all-around drunkenness. Unlike their previous releases, “Gather Up the Chaps” allows The Falcon to feel like a stand-alone band rather than a place for their members to stash their C-Side material. This album is cohesive and dark. It hits hard and makes the listener feel slightly uncomfortable with each additional listen. Just like a stiff drink or a heavy drag from a stranger’s cigarette, The Falcon keeps you coming back for more. Also, Dave Hause and Dan Andriano write some of their toughest songs in nearly a decade and are real highlights of the album.
6. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost – Run For Cover Records
Modern Baseball is a band I was not too familiar with prior to listening to “Holy Ghost” earlier this year. Which produces mixed feelings, because I think if I was fifteen years old when this band formed, my 90s Pop Punk and '00 Emo Revival brain would have placed this group at the top of my favorite artists. But being a boy in his thirties, I come to Modern Baseball with a little more nostalgia for my younger years than they deserve. They do not come across as a band trying to capture some musical magic from a decade prior, they are just playing good music that happening to make me wish my hair was blue and not slowing turning grey. If you want to hear some modern (dad-pun) Pop punk, do yourself a favor and listen to “Coding These to Lukens,” “Breathing in Stereo" and "Apple Cider, I Don't Mind." These songs are some of the best things I have heard all year.
7. Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves – The Cross and The Switchblade – Wiretap Records
I had very similar feelings for Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves (Wx4) as I did the first time I listened to Drunk Couples, “This is a great album!” Even though Wx4’s “The Cross and the Switchblade” comes off as a straightforward punk album, it is more of a swampy rock record. With their catchy rhythms, open-air guitars, and hooky choruses, Wx4 manages to embody that early 2000’s Gainesville sound. Additionally, Wx4’s sequencing on this album is superb. Each song sounds cohesive and flows together nicely. In the days of playing songs on random, listening to a whole album that makes sense together is a rarity. By the time you reach the end of "The Cross and The Switchblade," you can start it over with no remorse.
8. Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY. – SideOneDummy Records
Jeff Rosenstock’s album “Worry.” is an album that did not initially grab me. However, after a few more rotations and a few more time, I see why this album is so praised. Rosenstock is a punk rock who just woke up as an adult. Still dealing with all the trapping of youth while needing to figure out how to live like a grown-up. Some of the best songs on this album tackle loneliness in the most fun way, with loud guitars and slightly of tone vocals. Rosenstock is a truly gifted songwriter; he just needs to learn the art of song list editing (17 songs, really?)
9. Masked Intruder – Love and Other Crimes EP – Pure Noise Records
There are two clear reactions when I describe a four-piece Pop Punk bands who wear different colored ski masks and sing about girls with anyone unfamiliar with Masked Intruder; What? Or I’m In! Both are correct, but Masked Intruder is a spectacle to be held. Their ‘gimmick’ could get old, but I am always surprised at how good this band is. Also, their most recent release, “Love and Other Crimes – EP,” contains six songs that are already fan favorites. I saw Masked Intruder live a month after this album came out and the crowd was going crazy during “Take What I Want,” “First Star Tonight” and “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt.”
10. Lower Automation – Maps – Self-Released
I think EPs are easy to listen to and review. You don’t have to carve out an hour of your day to give it proper time to settle in and because the typical EP is only four to six songs long you can allow it to repeat before you realize you have heard something for the second time. On the other hand, EPs may not fully represent a band’s true sound. I have listened to countless EPs that were just a place for a band to hide their garbage. Neither one of these are the case for Lower Automation’s debut EP, “Maps.” This Chicago trio’s music is too rough-and-tumble to make you forget if you heard a song a second time. Their At the Drive-In style of music feels like a car chase of guitars, bass and vocals. Every song has layers of frenetic guitars, attention-grabbing vocals, and drums that hit hard and leaves little room to breathe. Since their debut album, it is hard to see if “Maps” is the band’s true sound or if a full-length album will force them to change up their sound, but for now they have my interest and excitement for more.