2011 was such a strong year for punk sounds that I've decided to devote every column this month to picking its corpse clean. I'm kicking off this retrospective stretch with lists from the guys behind three of my favorite record labels: Ken Cheppaikode (Dirtnap), Mike Crow (Inimical) and David Rose (Bulkhead). They put out some of the best punk music of 2011, and I've devoted column space to each in the past few months. I expect to spill still more music geek drool on their stuff before the year's over.
And with that, I will turn it over to Ken, Mike and David and their perspectives on 2011's best records.
-KEN CHEPPAIKODE, DIRTNAP RECORDS-
Black Lips, Arabia Mountain (Vice)
Had written this band off a while back. Was fairly lukewarm on their last album. The band was recently on the cover of SPIN. Their shows these days are douchebag central. Thought the video for the first single on this album was kinda lame. Forget all that, though--this record is actually really great! Comeback LP of the year, easy.
Sharp Objects, s/t (Modern Action)
Taut, urgent, dark, catchy PUNK. This is a late addition to my list as I just got it the other day. Seems like the last few months there's been a bit of a lull as far as killer straight-up, no-qualifiers-needed punk releases go. This fills that void quite nicely.
Midwest Beat, Gone Not Lost (Dusty Medical)
Now that the Goodnight Loving have broken up, this is my favorite Midwest jangly rock n' roll/basement punk band. Miles better than their first album. Plus they're from my hometown!
Barreracudas, Nocturnal Missions (Douchemaster)
Simply put, this is easily the best glam-punk album I've heard in years. Songs like "Don't Roll Your Eyes at Me" are absolutely perfect simple, stupid, catchy rock 'n' roll anthems.
Night Birds, The Other Side Of Darkness (Grave Mistake)
Dark tinged 1980 So. Cal style punk/hardcore/pop with surf/spy guitar all over the top. Follows a great string of 7"s and does not disappoint in the slightest. I put out this band's first single, but not this LP, therefore it's eligible for inclusion on this list!
-MIKE CROW, INIMICAL RECORDS-
I couldn't really put together a definitive top 10 for the year; I spent most of my time digging through used bins. This year will for me mark the moment when records that I had been trying to find for the last decade began showing up in the dollar bin. So here is the short list of what I loved this year, with a regional focus.
Arctic Flowers, Reveries (Inimical)
I know, it is tacky to put something you released on your year end list, but fuck it, sometimes you get to put out a record that is undeniably good. The reason I put this record here and not one by Bellicose Minds or Lost Tribe, two other bands that are rising above their peers, is that I feel that Arctic Flowers has got it right. Rather than repackaging 30 year old goth and anarcho punk, they managed to pack in hardcore sensibilities and enough punk that this will stand up after the next trend wave passes over. For those who didn't think there was enough post punk in it, there are more recordings coming, just be patient.
Bone Sickness 7-inch (Detest)
This is short and ugly. There was a lot of death metal to come out this year with roots in crust and hardcore. Miasmal and Acephalix come to mind immediately and a lot of it was pulling metal influences from the more gruesome corners of DM such as Incantation and Grave. Basically it is being done right again. The reason I chose Bone Sickness is more personal though. They remind me of the Olympia I grew up in: speed drinking fortified wine, filthy punk houses overlooking cemeteries, general debauchery rather than the indie rock posturing the city is more known for. I would take one Bone Sickness over a dozen Gun Outfits.
Criminal Code, Demo and EP (Self Released)
A big first year for this new band out of Tacoma. The demo and EP show a great sense of melody underneath the the buzz. It reminds me of a combination of Husker Du and "New Age"-era Blitz. Are they the best band in Washington? Maybe not yet, but with plans for a split tape with White Wards, a track on the next Iron Lung comp and a 12-inch on the way (full disclosure: I am doing the 12-inch), 2012 may prove to be the year they end up on top.
Iron Lung Records
I wanted to put the best Seattle record here, but I was hard pressed to think of one I loved. Maybe I am too close, maybe I need to finally start listening to the Spits. Anyway, Jensen and Jon had a hell of a year. My professional jealousy knows no limit. They played on and released one of the first power violence records I have enjoyed in probably 8 years (Dead Language) and also released what I felt was hands down my favorite of the year with the Total Control record. A completely compelling record. Live, TC was more straight forward but no less interesting. I can only hope the next record comes close to Henge Beat. And the Kim Phuc LP came in late in the year to blow me away, as expected.
B-side of No Statik, We All Die in the End (Prank)
Live tracks on Void, Sessions (Dischord)
Antisect and Zouo reissues
20 Buck Spin's vinyl output
-DAVID ROSE, BULKHEAD RECORDS-
Upon completion of this list I felt as though I owed someone an apology for its lack of diversity in genres represented. It was as though music outside of the punk/hardcore realm hadn't really made it onto my radar over the past year. Ir perhaps bands within the punk/hardcore scenes had been more prolific in cranking stuff out than other genres that I typically pay attention to. Whatever the reason, I can safely say that the bands and records mentioned are absolutely deserving and these are the sounds I grew up with and that continue to inspire me. It's nice to know some things can stay the same yet be referred to as "new."
Therapists, Hate Sweats (Jonny Cat)
I've been seeing these guys playing together in Portland for the past 4 years or so, and aside from an early demo, they'd yet to have anything substantial out. That just changed with this 12-inch LP, which features nearly all the songs I've loved to hear live. It does a great job of capturing their scuzzy, mid-tempo punk anthems that are littered with unbelievably snotty lyrics...a perfect example being the title track: "I'm sweating from the hatred/I should fucking vomit/And spit it in their faces."
UX Vileheads, Hardcore XI (Sorry State)
Had i been told, "check out UX Vileheads, it's a band that has members of Regulations/the Vicious/DS-13/etc," i would've flipped my shit and loved their output. What speaks volumes is that I hadn't a clue about their past/current projects and already been listening to and loving their Sorry State-released EP and this full-length. Admittedly, I'm a sucker for European hardcore-punk, but there's a good reason for that, and this record achieves what I find so enthralling about it. That is, an ability to balance the speed and angst of early American hardcore, while also allowing rock & roll and melody to exist simultaneously. It's a precarious balancing act and these guys nail it, seamlessly blending elements while keeping things catchy and fun.
Underground Railroad to Candyland, Know Your Sins (Recess)
This is some of the freshest, most innovative and diverse pop-punk (with some surf thrown in their for good measure) that I've heard in a long while. And despite having hook-laden pop gems that you can bop along to, the bands' staunch DIY ethics/roots seep into the mix and keep things firmly planted in the punk realm.
Social Circkle, Expiration Date EP (Side Two)
Apparently this is the swan song from Social Circkle, which is a real bummer. Speedy and energetic melodic hardcore that sits atop its class. Within the first couple weeks after I'd moved to Portland from Boston, I was taken to a long-standing house venue for a show. Lo and behold, Social Circkle, also from Boston, was playing at the house with the fantastic Portland band Autistic Youth. I'd never seen Social Circkle back east, and was surprised to learn a former co-worker of mine was their guitarist. Anyway...they played and i was blown away. Their records and that show, in addition to being awesome, kind of serve as a strange bridge for me between my homes. Sad to see them go.
Amoebas, s/t (Gimme Gimme/Modern Action)
This band laid waste to the audience/other bands when they played at The Know. But they didn't do it with aggression, volume or hijinks...no, they played smoldering 80's proto-hardcore (a la the Adolescents) that had everyone in the room bobbing to the familiar rhythms and tapping their toes as they gleaned pop rock & roll melodies from Buddy Holly and filtered it through the punk sieve of the Ramones and Marked Men. Holy shit is this record good! Maybe it's their location in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but I can't understand why this release isn't garnering them a lot of attention.
Career Suicide, Cherry Beach EP (Dirtnap)
This recording is insane. There's so much going on at all times (with the exception of the relatively stark final cut) but never once does it lose pulse/structure/melody. Dirtnap doesn't release bad stuff, period. This is no exception, and it's a new approach for Career Suicide, who seem to have taken a slight step away from their '80s hardcore roots and introduced some garage-y elements lend well to the longer/more advanced song structures represented on this EP.
Brown Sugar, ...Sings of Birds and Racism (Feral Kid/Feeble Minds)
Buffalo, NY lent us Brown Sugar for a weekend in Portland recently, and seeing them play live didn't prepare me for the listening experience that this record delivers. These are compositions...somewhat thematic and much less "hardcore" and a lot more post-punk than I'd imagined. That's not to say this isn't a hardcore record--it is! But it treads into territory that conjures up Rough Trade-era Wire/the Fall or other repetitive/dissonant sounding stuff from that time. It's a really exciting take on genres I love. Did I mention it's got rippin' saxophone solos littered throughout the record?
Organized Sports, I'm So Proud of Him (Bulkhead/HIV Town)
So I'm a bit biased in relation to this record--I put it out. However, let it be known that I probably wouldn't have been so eager to start a record label if I hadn't known that I'd get to work with this band. Organized Sports represent the most legitimate hardcore sound Portland has to offer. Here's how i described it on the Bulkhead Records website: "Organized Sports pays quick homage to the old school progenitors of the genre yet doesn't remain bound in its history. Punishing tempos and discerning breakdowns precariously held together by white noise....this record is relentless in its assault and purpose."
Omegas, Blasts of Lunacy (Parts Unknown)
A monster of an album. Firmly rooted in the dirge-y and plodding hardcore established by East Coast hardcore forebears, particularly X-Claim/Taang acts of the early 80s (DYS having noticeable influence). Omegas aren't attempting to re-invent the wheel, and that's a good thing, allowing them to issue a "classic" record despite it being fresh off the presses.
Male Nurses 7-inch (Deranged)
I was bummed that I missed both their shows in Portland, but given how new this band is, I figure there will be other opportunities in the future. Male Nurses are also from Boston, and will perhaps be the melodic hardcore flag-bearers for the now-defunct Social Circkle. They're definitely doing it on their own terms, however, with more jangle/swagger that makes subtle allusion to late-70s snotty punk from the likes of Dead Boys. It'll be interesting to see how these young bucks progress.