I’m Pulling the Plug

As of May 27, 2017, Jacksonanderson.org will be no more. This website was something of an experiment, and I consider it to be a successful one. By the end of its days, I received an average traffic of about 5 users per day, each looking at such a wide variety of articles that the mean is not worth stating as it seems that some of them looked at nearly everything I had ever written. It wasn’t much, but it was something. When I did post something I tended to get a wider influx of traffic in the early days, sometimes garnering up to 60 users per day, but by now that seems to have absolutely no influence.

 

I also feel constricted by the combination of the website’s tagline and URL. It is a personal blog about music, which was what I wanted it to be when I created it, but that has become a very limiting label for something that costs over $100 a year to maintain. I would like to collaborate with other writers interested in writing about the intricacies of the entertainment industry, and the personal URL is a narcissistic detractor for that. Additionally, while the personal URL is suitable for all sorts of personal writing –which is something else I would be interested in– I feel that I am in too deep in writing solely about music. Simply put, it is time for change.

 

I have archived every article I have written for personal use, but it will no longer be available as of May 27. Thank you to everyone who took interest in this project, especially my mother. Expect more from me in the near future, although as to from which venue, only time can tell.

Remembering Derrick Plourde

By Jackson Anderson

There are a plethora of punk drummers that have their fair share of fame, both inside and outside of the community, a fairly atypical phenomena for the instrument. Blink-182’s Travis Barker is perhaps the most well-known member of the band despite being the only member to not have vocal duties, and to be on the ordinarily backseat position of the drummer. Terry Roberts invented a drum beat so distinctive and infectious that a new subgenre was created to chase the subtle genius of its intensity. Punk staples such as The Descendants’ Bill Stevenson and Bad Religion’s Brooks Wackerman are lauded as masters of their craft and are appreciated as cornerstones of the punk scene.

 

Despite all of these successes, there was one drummer who was distinct amongst even them for his influence in the punk community. Playing percussion in Lagwagon, Bad Astronaut, The Ataris, Mad Caddies, Rick Kids on LSD, and Jaws, Derrick Plourde touched and influenced every edifice of the many different facets in the diverse and at times warring punk scene, lending his gentle and constructive hand, yet pulsating and enduring beats. Derrick united and brought joy to many disparate groups and did so with a humility that begged no desire for the spotlight; he simply made excellent music because he was an excellent musician, and that was what he was meant to do.

 

Derrick passed away on March 30, 2005, 12 years ago today. Even today his presence is still missed and the words of his former bandmates sorrow still echo through eternity, and are just as gut-wrenchingly relevant and real as ever. Following Derrick’s passing, Lagwagon created a tribute album titled Resolve to commemorate Derrick’s life and death. The album is one of the most difficult listens in existence. You can taste the pain on vocalist Joey Cape’s lips, and hearing him encounter it is troubling in its authenticity and rawness. You can tell that Cape wanted to get this one perfect for Derrick, and he did.

 

The last verse from “Sad Astronaut,” a song that singles in the last moments of Derrick’s life, and commemorates the end of Bad Astronaut as Cape  –who also fronted that band– stated in an interview “Without Derrick, there’s no Bad Astronaut,” is a poetic and anguished summary of Cape’s struggle to understand the tragedy that was Derrick’s passing, and his belief that he will continue to live through his lyrics.

 Looking through the spyglass in a punctured sky

While your garden died

You couldn’t see the sky for your fallen stars?

Endless in your arms

You were still alive even as a sad astronaut

The album’s closer, “Days of New” is perhaps the biggest tearjerker in music; a naively questioning song that deals with Capes own frustration with the tribute itself, feeling that no matter what he can say is inadequate in expressing what he feels. The final verse is a beautiful sendoff that pleads that perhaps Derrick may be aware of all the good he has done in the world, and may be able to see the enduring pulchritude of his art.

But we may never have met if it weren’t for him.

Hey Derrick, maybe somehow you’re listening.

Today’s mantra is gratitude.

You’ve changed my life

I’m sure you knew I’ll never forget the words you said

The life that you led

I’ll never forget

I’ll never forget

I’ll never forget

Twelve years later this song is still a staple of Lagwagon’s set. Cape hasn’t forgot you, Derrick. Neither has NOFX frontman and Fat Wreck Chords owner Fat Mike, in his tribute Doornails, another song that still sees live play, and neither have I.

Soundtrack Review: Nier Automata

By Jackson Anderson

Nier: Automata is a video game by the critically heralded niche developer PlatinumGames, masters of the spectacle fighter, or, in other words, games in which a protagonist (or antagonist, it doesn’t really matter) adventures through comically exaggerated worlds destroying everything in their path with an array of comically exaggerated attacks. Publisher Square Enix recently contracted the developer to reawaken the dormant series Nier, a bizarre cult classic that subverts genre tropes and has overt and covert commentary on the artificially of human life. In Nier: Automata you are B2: an android constructed by a small group of humans exiled in the moon with the task to –alongside a small flotilla of other androids– to retake the Earth from an army of non-sentient (or are they) machines.

 

That is all that you need to know about Nier: Automata the video game, because what really blew me away about it –and made me realize how incredible it was– was its adaptive and expansive soundtrack. Composer Keiichi Okabe outdid himself in spectacular fashion, employing an array of classic string instruments such as pianos, violins, and acoustic guitars during calmer, more cerebral moments in the game, before adding mechanical and industrial sounds through synthesizers for more intense spots and boss fights.

 

What is really incredible about Nier: Automata’s soundtrack, though, is how many minute and tailored tracks the game has. Minor spoilers for small side quests ahead. One example is there is a side quest in which the player is instructed to retrieve a music box for a friendly resistance member that belonged to their old friend. Once you find this box, it is revealed that this old friend perished at some point. If the player chooses to return the box and tell the resistance member that their friend is dead, the resistance camp theme –usually a calming and spartan acoustic guitar ballad– switches into a minor key on the xylophone: the music box that the player has just returned to the resistance member. Two incredibly minor characters that make no reappearance come to life through music, and the music box resounding through the camp as you exit makes for a bittersweet and touching experience.

 

A more light-hearted example of these specifically tailored tracks is another optional side quest in which a player has to escort a little girl safely back to her sister in a small village. It’s a happy return if you succeed, the entire village singing praises as you do, with rewards abound. The most beautiful and heart-warming change, however, is that the village’s theme, usually played by a flute, switches to a little girl singing it in la’s. It was so sweet and perfect that I didn’t want to exit the village. It perfectly encapsulated the feeling of reunification and hope that the villagers were experiencing better than any dialogue could have, and added an emotional layer to a video game that is difficult to achieve.

 

Not all studios can afford to have massive soundtracks like Nier can, unfortunately, but when the budget is there to go all-out, Okabe and PlatinumGames have set the new standard for soundtracks. Every single track on the expansive track list for Nier feels like it serves a purpose rather than to simply fill the silence. Instead, they complement what is happening on the screen and make each scene 3-Dimensional and lifelike in a way that not enough video game soundtracks do. Okabe and his team deserve high praise and recognition for a resounding success in one of the best video game soundtracks ever created.

Nothington’s In the End – Album Review

By Jackson Anderson

It’s quite a pleasant phenomenon, being graced with new releases completely out of the blue. It’s like a surprise birthday party. When I saw Nothington’s In the End appear on my spotify feed, I was astonished. I wondered if there was another band that called itself Nothington, or if there was some sort of mix-up. In my mind, Nothington had ceased to exist. With there being a now six-year gap between their last release, and former guitarist Ryan Donovan joining Red City Radio to replace Paul Pendley, I figured that the orgcore legends known as Nothington had quietly dissolved. Then In the End unceremoniously released. I went to see if any of the usual news sites had written any reviews on it, and absolutely none of them had, so I decided that I had better remedy that.

 

Nothington, along with The Lawrence Arms, Red City Radio, and Hot Water Music is a poster child of the piss-taking sub genre of pop-punk that is orgcore. Characterized by rough, throaty vocals, apolitical subject matter, worn flannel, beards, and pretentious folks such as myself discussing these bands on the internet (hence the org), orgcore is a somewhat disputed sub genre as to whether it even exists, but no matter who you ask, Nothington has always been one of its forefathers, whatever it is. Fronted by Jay Northington (I wonder how they got the name), a good ol’ boy from the south with a voice rough, throaty, and low as they come, Nothington have always dealt with another classic orgcore trope: the struggles of the middle-class white American. I don’t say that with any disparaging intents, but simply as a statement of fact. Everyone has struggles, and the orgcore demographics and artists feel a desire and venue to voice their own unique struggles as well.

 

As time went on, Jay adopted a sidekick in the form of Chris Matulich, a nasally second vocalist evocative of Green Bay’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Chris proved to be the upbeat and optimistic yin to Jay’s at times negativistic and dreary yang. Chris did always feel like just that, though, a sidekick. Jay usually split the vocal duties with Chris at a ratio of about 75/25, allowing Chris 3 or 4 songs an album. It was a decent balance, but sometimes it left people confused as to who that other guy even was.

 

With In the End, it feels as if the apprentice has finished his training. For the first time ever, Chris has the majority of songs on the album. It is, I concede, a small majority, with Chris singing in six of the eleven songs on the record. As for the album’s sound as a whole, it may be the best and most refined that the band has ever produced. Aging is always a difficult thing for bands, but for Nothington, a band whose shtick is rough and throaty vocals, age has a similar effect on them as it does on a fine wine. Both Jay and Chris exhibit a maturity in their vocal talents, and a rough growliness in their vocal styles that longtime fans of the band should eat right up.

 

Sonically, In the End is Nothington’s darkest record. While they have always been a bit of a doom and gloom band, they did it with an upbeat devil-may-care attitude and a southern charm. In In the End they sound decidedly weathered. The album art, as you can see, features a minimalist depiction of a bird falling to the earth. Songs like Jay’s “Already There” and “End Transmission” have an almost apocalyptic tone to them. These downers are balanced out by anthemic songs of nostalgia and motivation, both courtesy of Chris, “Cobblestones” and “It Comes and Goes.”

 

Overall, I believe that In the End will become a classic, highly regarded entry in Nothington’s discography. It has both the familiarity of Jay’s throaty desperation with a tinge of hopeful ambition to it, and a newfound bit of energy and newness in Chris’s added bit of spotlight. It features some of the best work from both vocalists, driving anthems, and even a fleeting melody in “Nothing but Beaches.” They done good.

Songs About Places

By Jackson Anderson

Punk music has an intrinsically tangible and physical quality to it that is one of the most characteristic and unique aspects of the genre that I have done a disservice to by failing to address up until this point. While it’s true that everyone is from somewhere, the importance of the roots and the lineage of punk artists is more important than any other music genre. Punk fans know where the procurers of their art come from because it is important to them. They know which bands are a part of the Midwestern punk scene or the East Bay punk scene or the Seattle punk scene. One might think that this has to do with punk elitism and the desire to stick to music within one’s own clade. There is some truth to that, –and 80’s punk gangs that roamed the streets of Los Angeles are a testament to that– but ever since the internet age this interest in the history of artists has become equivalent to that of the “about the author” section of a novel.

 

Knowledge about punk authors also tends to be much more necessary than authors of literature due to the simple fact that most punk music tends to be nonfiction. Unlike a memoir, however, punk listeners only get vignettes and snippets into the lives of their favorite musicians. In a memoir the about the author section becomes the jurisdiction of the department of the redundancy department, but additional clarity can be sought when only tantalizing bits of story are given.

 

With the advent of this new global age and fascination with the experiences of others, many punk artists have embraced the individuality and localization of their music. This, however, is not necessarily a novel concept. Seminal punk bands sang about their individualistic and particular regionalized experiences during the birth of the genre both as a tool of community building with people inside those specific regions, and to help spread the word that the struggle was real and the same throughout the world. The major shift in recent years has been the focus on how sometimes its different in different places rather than the same, and yet these differences have lines of similarity that everyone can relate to.

 

Additionally, while everyone loves to write about home, the exotic has always had an allure. From proto-punk bands through to the modern day, everyone loves to sing about what it’s like in other places. This creates a particularly interesting line of comparison when different bands talk about the same place and wildly different stories emerge. I can think of three songs titled “Montreal” that range from both capital and lowercase “r” romantic to depressing and desolate. Which begs the question, does the place shape the experience, or does the experience shape the place?

 

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One of the many classics from The Lawrence Arms collection of b-sides includes “Nebraska” a desperate pleading of a song that is a direct dialogue from vocalist/guitarist Chris McCaughan to some guy named Mike in which Chris nearly gets down on his knees and begs Mike to break off not only the shackles of depression and self-loathing, but also the titular Nebraska.

Let Nebraska disappear

In golden flames of grain.

I know you can’t imagine

Having company right now.

There’s a world of tired faces

Who understand this pain.

There’s a better life.

Waiting on the outside

Of these decaying walls.

There’s a bit of a double meaning behind this verse, in which Chris is encouraging Mike to break free from his self-imposed mental torment while simultaneously physically leaving his prison of Nebraska. The only description of Nebraska the listener gets is in this verse, but by titling this song Nebraska, I don’t think it is a huge leap in logic to suggest that Chris is implying that much of the source of Mike’s depression and feelings of hopeless lack of fulfillment is due to his surrounding OR that Nebraska is a suitable metaphor for these feelings. Either way you slice it it’s not looking good for the corn husker state.

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To redeem Nebraska, one only needs to turn to Signals Midwest’s album track, “At This Age.” Touting their Midwestern locale in their name, Signals Midwest is a band that revels in the Midwestern experience, particularly in their latest album At This Age. In their title track vocalist/guitarist Max Stern lays out his desire to escape the big city with “somebody who might know how to traverse the terrain and the traffic without getting lost in the glow of a phone,” and be able to see the stars in the sky. What better destination to accomplish this than the great state of Nebraska?  Max and his companion’s actual trip to Nebraska isn’t detailed in terms of the physicality of the state, only what they said and thought, but Nebraska’s golden flames of grain are romanticized as a form of beautiful escapism from the dead droning lights of Cleveland compared to Mike’s eternal hell.

Two Midwestern punks from two different big cities have two very different views on the same place. That tends to be how it goes, though, isn’t it? What is alluring and fascinating about songs about places is how similar the differences are and how different the similarities are. Lines of symmetry can be found in foreign countries or foreign cities, and places that one has been to or lives in can sound like an entirely alien land. The magic lies in the interpretation, and that is what is special.

The Top 10 Albums of 2016: Part 2

By Jackson Anderson

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5. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

Betcha didn’t think a hip hop album was going to be on this list. Notice in my title I didn’t specify the top 10 punk albums of 2016, but the top 10 albums of 2016. When punk music was being crafted in the forges of Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders’s basements the word rock was paired with punk like Hansel is paired with Gretel. Eventually punk rock began to be referred to as punk music thanks to acts such as Andrew Jackson Jihad that espoused the same punk ethics, themes, and ideals while sonically resembling folk music. Alongside the now rebranded AJJ, bands like the appropriately titled Leftover Crack were on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, resembling heavy metal sonically while maintaining the punk credo. It became apparent that punk could be and was more than just rock.

 

One genre of music that never really took hold in the punk scene  was hip hop. While some acts such as the Wu-Tang Clan have been heralded as unintentionally punk, there has never been a large movement in the hip hop scene or the punk scene to try and bridge the gap between the two genres, where punks are claiming to be hip hop or hip hop heads are claiming to be punk. There isn’t necessarily an animosity between fans of either genre towards the other, but there has never been a forced effort to unite the two genres. There is surprisingly a lot of fans from both genres that enjoy each others music, as can be seen from musical discussion threads amongst both fanbases where a lone punk or hip hop album can be picked out of a sea of its counterparts.

 

However, if I were to pick the punkest hip hop artist, that title would undoubtedly go to Aesop Rock. He’s underground, he’s working-class, he has issues with The Man, he tells it like it is, and he’s probably the best lyricist on the planet. The Impossible Kid  is a collection of vignettes that are hard to understand to do the abstract and extremely verbose nature of Aesop’s lyrics that paint a destitute and melancholy picture of American life. The album appears to be reflective in nature, with Aesop taking a step back to look at how he got where he is. It’s bitter, clever, self-aware, and it doesn’t pull any punches.

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 4.  Cold Wrecks – Breaking

It seems like nobody has even heard of these next four albums, and they make up my favorite, most listened to, and most mind-occupying albums to be released in 2016. Breaking would most-likely be categorized as “emo” by most reviewers, but Cold Wrecks themselves have said that they just think of their band as “punk” and that sub-genres aren’t that meaningful to them. I think that’s a good attitude to have. Make the music you want and don’t care about what label it falls under.

 

Breaking is a very emotional album, but so is every one on this list, so that’s not saying much. It deals a lot with feelings. While albums such as Signals Midwest’s At This Age deal with stories first and feelings second, Breaking is the release. It talks about the chemistry of feelings, talking about the serotonin and dopamine releases in the brain, describing the physicality and causes of panic attacks, describing the action one wants to go through after a break-up, describing the downsides to feeling loved, describing the desire to be able to miss old friends. It’s all about feelings, and Cold Wrecks nail every single one of them.

 

The constrast between the clean vocals of vocalist/bassist Craig Shay and the rougher and throatier vocals of vocalist/guitarist Mike Vizzi is a great asset to the band, which they utilize to their full potential throughout breaking. They explore gentler, more intimate feelings with Shay, and more destructive and frustrated feelings with Vizzi. Of course, everyone in the band knocks it out of the park in regards to their instrumental performance, with Shay’s bass work, guitarist Matan Uchen, and drummer CJ Dunaieff’s tightness and chemistry showing particularly in “Drawbridge” the album’s closest thing to a single.

 

A special shout out should be given to guest vocalist Freya Wilcox, who is absolutely haunting in “Down.” Speaking of haunting, the album closer, “Broken” which both references the title, and features that book-endsy reprise that I love so much is a contender for the year’s best album closer. Unfortunately for Cold Wrecks –and fortunately for us– everyone else ahead of them delivered on that front as well.

 

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3. Posture & The Grizzly – I Am Satan

I had heard of Posture & The Grizzly and liked their lone effort, an album that leaned on the hardcore side of emo. The only real reason I had remembered the band was because of their name. I had no idea how much potential laid inside its three founding members –vocalist/guitarist Jordan Chmielowski, guitarist Derrick Shantholzter-Dvorak, and vocalist/keyboardist Ella Boissonault– (this band wins the award of having the band members with the most interesting names) who tapped Connecticut locals bassist Josh Cyr and drummer Brian McFarland (the latter of which is the only musician to appear on this list twice) with the intention of becoming the next big thing. I don’t know if they succeeded in their minds, but they definitely deserve to become a sensation.

 

Another emotive album, I Am Satan similarly runs the emotional gamut, but with nearly all of the vocal duties being entrusted onto Chmielowski. Chmielowski’s whiny tenor –which is very reminiscent of blink-182’s Tom Delonge– manages to cover an incredible range of emotions and song types, from acoustic modern love ballads to bass-heavy screamed indictments of some guy who Chmielowski doesn’t like. While I Am Satan is a bit schizophrenic, changing immediately from the aforementioned incitement to the album’s most intimate and tender song about the ending of relationships, each song is so gripping and intense in its own right that what surrounds it isn’t an issue outside of contextualizing the range of emotions that one can feel. It truly is all killer and no filler, even the instrumental tracks which lead up into their predecessors in a way that makes them unlistenable without them.

 

I Am Satan has an otherworldy feeling to it, from the bizarre album art to the ambient instrumental tracks –and their titles– to the unique bass-heavy timbre of Cyr’s bass to the videogamey ambiance courtesy of Boissonault’s keyboard, all while the subject matter of the songs are solidly grounded in pedestrian, everyday reality. There are bits of lyricism sprinkled into these pedistrian, everyday struggles such as “you float in your deathstar, far away” that speak to this alien nature of the album, which, in my opinion, speaks to the strangeness and incomprehensibility of everyday life. Posture & The Grizzly have created an album that seems to do everything, and begs to be listened to again and again.

 

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2. For Everest – We Are At Home In The Body

This one is perfect. I’ll just state that right at the start. I cannot find a single flaw with this album. A band that was not even on my radar, that I had never heard of, came out of nowhere and produced one of the best albums that I have ever heard. Vocalists Sarah Cowell and Nick Pitmen have the male/female vocal dynamic down perfectly, and their lyricism practically sets a new standard. We Are At Home In The Body is a concept album about… existing? Life? Death? Sex? It’s so complicated that I struggle to explain it. I feel like the intellect and depth displayed in For Everest’s songwriting almost flies over my head. They don’t do it in Aesop Rock’s manner either, they don’t say things like “Float that buttery gold, jittery zietgeist / wither by the watering hole, what a patrol” and leave you to figure out what it means. All of their lyrics are tangible, but difficult to digest. They’re like a Walt Whitman poem.

 

And yet, even if you don’t know exactly what they mean, you know what they mean. They have songs about the difficulties of everyday life, which, if you haven’t noticed, is a topic that a lot of these bands seem to tackle, and they all nail it in their own way. For Everest handles the feelings of depression specifically in the most honest and tactful manner of any band that I have ever seen or heard, though. They also address feelings of uncertainty in regards to sexuality in a way that doesn’t seem forced or weird. It’s a hard topic to tackle, and they do it in a way that doesn’t feel like a moral crusade or like it was some challenge, but like it is a genuine feeling that they are sharing with the world. Go you, For Everest. Then, they have one of the most heart-breaking songs about death that I have ever heard, especially in contrast with the rest of the album. It goes without saying, but they’re fantastic musicians, too. They also have something fairly unique in punk music, a violin! Violinist Nick Kwas also has my vote for MVP of the album, an award that I hadn’t even considered giving out until just now. Kwas and company are able to garner so much emotion through just their instruments that Cowell and Pitmen’s extraordinary vocal talents in regard to both range and emotion aren’t necessary, just an added bonus. Buy this one. Listen to it.

 

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1. Ceres – Drag It Down On You

This album still blows me away with how incredible it is. Upon every listen I still notice what an incredible display of vocal talent Drag It Down On You is. Punk music has a bit of a reputation for having less than average singers. That is somewhat deserved. A lot of punk musicians don’t have formal musical training, and sometimes it shows. It’s easy to forget about when you get used to it, then guys like Tom Lanyon come around and I remember what people who are amazing singers sound like. I don’t know the story behind Lanyon’s musical education, but he is probably the best vocalist in punk music right now. He can be tender, he can scream, and he can do everything in between. He can sound like he’s crying while singing, he can do it at all dynamics, and it still sounds good. He can also pull off sounding like he’s crying because hes sad, and because he’s happy. Who does he think he is?

 

While being an amazing vocalist in his own right, Lanyon is also a top-notch lyricist, because we all know this album wouldn’t be on this list if it didn’t have good lyrics. It’s not just the lyrics in Drag It Down On You that are special, but the build-up to them. The metallic chip-tuney sound of guitarist Sean Callahan and bassist Grant Young –this is another band that has a solid, unified, nailed-down sound– combined with the vocal work of Lanyon and the drumming of Frank Morda climax into these stunning emotional zeniths where just viewing the lyrics “I’d probably choke on you” or “If I told you I want to die, would you come then” doesn’t do them justice.

 

Drag It Down On You deals a lot with relationships. It deals with their end, their beginnings, their conditions, their good parts, their bad parts, their aftermaths, and their preludes. It deals with all the emotions that goes into them, and how that effects those involved. It explores this in both vignettes and telling how things feel. It its cake and eats it too, and manages to get away with it. It’s the best of both worlds. Ceres have created an album that I would classify as truly “beautiful.” I’d recommend this album to you if you’ve ever felt anything. Be ready to get shivers.

The Top 10 Albums of 2016: Part 1

By Jackson Anderson

There are already talks in the punk circles of the decline of the genre and how a recent outcome of a presidential election is the only thing saving it from utter collapse. 2015 and 2016 are being heralded as some of the most boring and disappointing years in punk music. It always frustrates me when I, an eighteen-year-old Utah native who has never been to a punk show, have consistently been able to find a plethora of punk releases that genuinely send shivers down my spines during these supposed end times. The very people who are instrumental in the sustenance of the genre are those who seem to be unwilling to look for the music out there that is actually good. As a counterpoint to those crying, “The end is near,” and because I enjoy making lists, here are my top 10 punk albums of 2016.

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10. The Falcon – Gather Up The Chaps

As perhaps the world’s biggest The Lawrence Arms fanboy, the inclusion of The Falcon’s much anticipated sophomore effort is most likely of little surprise. Its location at the bottom of this list, however, speaks volume to the fact that there is that much out there that I couldn’t justify saying I liked less. Gather Up The Chaps features one of the most fitting album covers in existence, a mockery of a tribute, a vulgar BDSM parody of Rancid and Minor Threat’s striking album covers of yesteryear and yesterdecade that helped define the punk genre, which The Lawrence Arms promptly acquired a cult following in for espousing the same DIY ethic and individualistic song-writing whilst being thematically very different than their inspirations.

 

The Falcon features The Lawrence Arms’ vocalist/bassist Brendan Kelly and Drummer Neil Hennessy, Alkaline Trio’s vocalist/bassist Dan Adriano, and The Loved Ones’ vocalist/guitarist Dave Hause. All semi-famous punk musicians in their own right in their own bands, all four of these men have reached a stage in their lives and careers where their age has began to show, and their status in their various bands is ambiguous. Alkaline Trio’s own Matt Skiba has been getting his share of the spotlight in Matt Skiba and the Sekrets as well as filling in for blink-182’s Tom DeLonge, leaving his band mates the dust. The Lawrence Arms’ Chris McCaughan has begun to see what was originally a side project in Sundowner as a full-time gig, and while the band still tours it seems uncertain as to whether we will ever get another album. The Loved Ones last release was in 2008, and they have, for all intents and purposes, disbanded.

 

Yet these four life-long musicians didn’t give up. While their time in each of their most successful bands may have been over this super group that refuses to acknowledge themselves as such reconvened to create a second album. And they wanted to expose the darker sides of life. Brendan Kelly reportedly threw out Dave Hause’s original guitar parts because they were too clean, and took the drivers seat as the group’s frontman. What followed was a markedly gritty, lo-fidelity effort about the dregs of society, featuring tales of drug abuse, cat calling, shady deals, social isolation, suicidal thoughts, and pointless ends to pointless lives. It’s grim, but its told with a in-your-face, tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm fit with Adriano and Hause audibly laughing in the background of various songs at the sheer ridiculousness of some of Kelly’s lyrics. Gather Up The Chaps manages to highlight the agonizing nihilism of life while simultaneously existing as a way of saying “this is what we do.” It’s far from perfect, but I think The Falcon accomplished exactly what they set out to do.

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9. Signals Midwest – At This Age

I kind of have a thing for the American Midwest. I’ve never been there. The easternmost U. S. State I’ve been to is Texas. Wordsworth was disappointed when he finally laid eyes on Mont Blanc. Having a “capital r” Romantic ideal about a place and never having gone there go hand in hand. Anyway, bands like Signals Midwest are the largest perpetrators of the reason why I idealize this area. It always imagine it being both capital and lower case “r” romantic. I imagine endless summers and fields, and not being able to see mountains, and big cities with nothing in between them.

 

At This Age takes a page out of The Wonder Years’ book of being a concept album about some guy’s everyday life that drags you in and won’t let you go. Instead of suburban Pennsylvania, we get the endless expanses of the American Midwest, stretching all the way from Nebraska to Ohio. The album takes us to both those places, and everywhere in between. It’s a slice of life, and just like that, it doesn’t resolve itself like your life or my life has resolved itself. We get little snippets and anecdotes about the speaker’s life, their successes, their failures, their dreams, their aspirations, their regrets, but we don’t really know how it all ends because it hasn’t.

 

Contrary to The Wonder Years, At This Age feels less melodramatic. I do think The Wonder Years earn their emotion, but they also really emphasize the struggle of the suburban white college student by telling you how much it sucks. Signals Midwest just say what happens, now how it feels. My storytelling philosophy has always been show, don’t tell. Thoughts are great, I love to share them, as one can probably tell, but it feels much more earnest to have things stated more objectively. Either way, it’s a nice change of pace that differentiates them from bands like The Wonder Years. I do really think this one is perfect, but there were a lot of those this year.

 

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8. Joyce Manor – Cody 

Cody is definitely not perfect, but I liked it more than the previous two albums. In fact, I’m probably one of the few in the punk scene holding that opinion. This album was largely considered a disappointing albeit a serviceable effort from a band that had the task of following up an album with near-universal acclaim. It seems like bands either change after their big album by trying harder or trying less hard. The Menzingers tried less hard and it worked out great. The Wonder Years tried harder and it worked out great. Joyce Manor took the latter approach and their results were mixed. Lost was some of their teenage spunk and attitude, (granted they are teenagers no longer; people really get worked up about people faking it in the punk scene, anyway) but gained were a greater deal of maturity and range in songwriting.

 

Joyce Manor were known for their catchy hooks, short song length, infectious riffs, and campy songwriting. In Cody they challenged pretty much each of these while keeping all of them. Cody is doubtlessly Joyce Manor’s most diverse record to date. Songs like “Fake ID” are just as catchy and corny as everything the band has ever written, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics equating Kanye West to John Steinbeck in order to impress a girl. From a punk band. I laughed. Then they turn around and feature the controversial acoustic track, for which I am a sucker, but as a consequence lose any hope of earworm. I’ll defend acoustic tracks in punk music, especially punk rock, until the end of time, but they don’t stick in your head. They also discard most of their infectious riffs that were so prominent in previous albums. Maybe they just ran out of ideas. “Reversing Machine” has a pretty good one, though, so I think it was an intention choice. Why? While I love a good riff as much as the next guy I think they convey emotions of either 1. frivolity or 2. anger, neither of which was something that Joyce Manor were going for in many of their songs on Cody. Joyce Manor also wrote a songs that are 3 and 4 minutes long, the latter of which is surely a personal record. While their songwriting maintains their distinct naive and campy tone, it has also matured. “Stairs” is a contender for 2016’s tearjerker.  “This Song Is A Mess But So Am I” is frivolous in appearance, but has underlying tones of despair and anguish that I honestly didn’t think Joyce Manor were capable.

 

Cody feels like a transition record, and I think both the before and after are going to be heralded as something great. While I was initially disappointed I found myself returning to this record more than any other on the list. The simplicity of the songs juxtaposed with the complexity of their contents so easily allowed me to turn off my brain, and I realized that while the album may be lacking somewhat in cohesion it still features 10 great songs.

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7. PUP – The Dream Is Over

I like PUP, everyone in the punk scene seems to like PUP, hell, even you probably like PUP. They combine the energy, spunk, and anger of their hardcore forefathers such as Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Black Flag, but instead of talking about politics or The Man, they talk about, well, normal stuff. They talk about happy stuff, they talk about sad stuff, they talk about silly stuff, and they maintain a driving intensity the whole way through it. A few days ago I said one of my favorite things about Minutemen was D. Boon’s enthusiasm and heart, and PUP absolutely nail that on all fronts.

 

Zack Myulka probably holds the prize as modern punk’s greatest drummer, which goes a long way for a band that deserves to be listened to loudly as you sing along. Steve Sladowski once again makes a case for himself as the punk guitarist to look for, with his aggressive, metallic chords substantially adding to the energy of the band. Bassist Nestor Chumack similarly achieves a clangy and metallic sound on his instrument. This is a band that has their sound nailed down. Vocalist Stefan Babock’s vocal intensity and prowess was at such a level that he shredded his vocal chords, leading a doctor to tell him “the dream is over.” The album of the same name is his way of showing just how wrong that doctor was.

 

I feel like there isn’t much more to say about PUP. They’ve only existed for two years, and everyone has only said, “by God, they’ve done it again.” I’d say they’re going places, but they’re already there. It’s hard to argue the death of punk music while bands like PUP show up and seem to be completely incapable of producing anything short of perfection. It’s also a refreshing bit of novelty to have one of punk’s biggest posterboys hailing from the great white north, with their songwriting frequently referencing the bitter cold and the expansive valleys that they call home.

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6. Direct Hit! – Wasted Mind

All of these albums have excellent cover art, but I think Wasted Mind is my favorite. It lets you know what you’re in for without having to know anything. Whether you make the last supper connection or not, the prospect of balls to the wall, unadulterated insanity is apparent. Wasted Mind opens with a bizarre spoken word intro declaring the album as a message to young people, before vocalist Nick Woods chimes in with his customary intro to every album: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!

 

What follows is a twelve track concept album about the world’s biggest drug binge. At first, I was tempted to keep my love for this album a secret, but the more I listened to it, the more I realized how self-aware and tongue-in-cheek Direct Hit! were. Wasted Mind is simultaneously a celebration and an indictment of the lifestyle that it describes. There are tracks that make doing all of the drugs pretty sweet, but the few that utterly destroy tthe lifestyle are the ones that stand out most to me. Direct Hit! tend to lean towards the lower end of the pop-punk scale of saccharinity; they like to use keyboards, group choruses, catchy hooks, and sugary-sweet vocals. But Wasted Mind features two completely screamed songs that may be found on crust punk albums, both of which point out the dangers of the rampant drug abuse of the speakers in the album. Even a few of the sugary “drugs are awesome” songs have a few lines that are spoken in such a sarcastic manner that makes me believe that their intention may have been to create a scathing indictment of drug abuse in the punk scene in the first place. That definitely is not what I was expecting from Direct Hit!

 

Anyway you slice the subject matter of Wasted Mind, it sounds oh-so-good. Wood’s sugary sweet vocals juxtaposed with the screamed backing vocals and treble-heavy chip-tuney guitar work guitarist Devon Kay create a psychedelic pop-punk experience that turns it up to eleven from track one and doesn’t let up until the end, where Woods screams at the top of his lungs “we know damn well we’re fucked.” It’s another weird album from a weird band, and I can’t put my finger on if its genius is accidental or not, but either way it’s fun to listen to and they have me thinking about it time and again.