Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, but it won’t do you any good. It’s out of my hands. Like a resentful young runaway to its parent, my Top 10 list has fled the nest and now ekes out a meager existence of its own in the cold, windy byways of the internet. If you cross paths with it, give it a read, and maybe some money for the bus.
(I’ve attempted to avoid redundancy with the other writers as best as possible, but a few we just unavoidably agree upon. Therefore, I give shouts to PUP, Hostage Calm (RIP), and The Menzingers for their efforts this year. Further honorable mention to Angel Du$t and 10,000 Blades, oh my god.)
10. United Nations – The Next Four Years
Released July 15 on Temporary Residence
United Nations is a band I am glad exists. They fill the gaping hole of political punk rock almost single-handedly, earning the ire of the actual UN and their hordes of legal eagles. They propagate their anti-establishment message by amplifying with unrestrained hardcore that at times feels like black metal. And they’re just as likely to slay you with wordplay as they are to melt your face off. Six years since their debut album, Geoff Rickly (formerly of Thursday) returns with members of Pianos Become The Teeth to point out everything wrong in the world. The title borrows from Black Flag’s The First Four Years compilation, but turns it on its head to refer to the length of term for a newly elected president, and all the failures promised ahead. This record has all the fury of their first, but it is more distilled and focused than ever to sarcastically highlight their disdain and disenchantment with the world, something they share with #8 on this list…
Favorite tracks: “Serious Business,” “F#A#$,” “Music For Changing Parties”
9. Pianos Become The Teeth – Keep You
Released October 28 on Epitaph
Pianos’ crowning achievements up to this point are the songs “I’ll Get By,” the closer to their last LP The Lack Long After, and “Hiding” off their split with Touché Amoré. Those songs demonstrated glorious instrumentation and presence, but also allowed singer Kyle Durfey to show off the versatility of his vocals, featuring a pleasantly tremulous delivery punctuated with the screaming style he is best known for. Pianos shared some members with United Nations for their latest release, and in doing so may have siphoned off some of the excess rage. Keep You, therefore, is a gentler album, but is in keeping with the qualities this band has been honing. Here, post-hardcore bleeds beautifully into The National. It ultimately feels like their most refined and memorable material to date.
Favorite tracks: “April,” “Repine,” “Late Lives”
8. Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business
Released July 15 on Harvest
My dearest Steven can do no wrong. This album got a lot of negative press and accusations of self-parody; so did older works of his like Kill Uncle and Maladjusted, which are among my favorites. To level such a charge indicates to me that you’ve not been paying attention to the maestro of misery for the last 25 years. Therefore, everyone can kindly step off. World Peace is a decidedly worldly record, drawing on many international tastes, while condemning the cavalier species that has done so much to ruin it. Morrissey is in excellent form here, and the songwriting contributions from Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias are very able and innovative. It is too much to ever expect wide acclaim free of nit-picking for Morrissey, but I hope he knows our love for him is eternal.
Favorite tracks: “I’m Not A Man,” “Staircase At The University,” “Kiss Me A Lot,” “One Of Our Own (bonus)”
7. Restorations – LP3
Released October 28 on SideOneDummy
How many guitars do you need? The answer is all of them. Restorations certainly know how to use them. On the opening track, they give us the Fugazi feels they are wont to claim more clearly than ever. Elsewhere, they create dazzling atmospherics that feel like The National, owing in part to Jon Low’s production. Throughout, singer Jon Loudon’s gruff voice spits with earnestness. If you are keen to let loose, and you have the opportunity, do not hesitate to see them live.
Favorite tracks: “Wales,” “Misprint,” “Tiny Prayers,” “It’s Not”
6. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Released January 21 on Total Treble
Don’t mention Dom Pérignon, but Against Me! ages like a fine wine. Transgender Dysphoria Blues was only just uncorked, but it’s already among their best. Musically, it’s a return to form that was never actually gone. The vestiges of all those shitty AM! fans – probably the subjects of “Drinking With the Jocks” and their like – are successfully shed in one fell swoop. Though it’s as brash a punk record as ever, Laura Jane Grace’s addressing of the struggles related to her gender dysphoria and transition prove to be some of the most emotionally wrenching songs Against Me! have ever done. Generally speaking, I don’t feel that art should be held to quotas of politically correct representation. However, I am tremendously encouraged by the consciousness of this record. It makes the personal political in an honest and not at all overdone way. As such, TDB is undoubtedly a landmark record for trans visibility.
Favorite tracks: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” “Fuckmylife666,” “Paralytic States,” “Black Me Out”
5. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There
Released February 25 on Tiny Engines
A ‘wow’ isn’t very meaningful in a review, but I feel a need to drop one here. Wow. This album impressed me. The Yoda-speak title purposely obfuscates what’s really going on here – an exposition of sincerity that can only happen in one’s mental inner sanctum, however dilapidated the structure of that home might be and however disheveled its contents. The irony that this is a band named for the manager of a sort of temporary home is not lost. This is top-notch emo pop, never veering into melodrama, but ever urging you to spill your guts.
Favorite tracks: “The Scope of All of This Rebuilding,” “Among The Wildflowers,” “Life In Drag”
4. Wovenhand – Refractory Obdurate
Released April 29 on Deathwish
I used to struggle with whether, as an atheist, I could enjoy or even approach music featuring overtly religious content. But I came to understand none of that truly matters – listening and enjoying does not make one a convert. On this record, singer David Eugene Edwards whips up the frenzied delivery of a preacher over a minaret bullhorn, and it’s more than welcome in my ears. A comparison to earlier mewithoutYou might feel go-to, but actually isn’t far off; Retribution Gospel Choir given over to galloping metal also comes to mind. This record is packed with obvious biblical references and riffs of matching proportion. It is among the most energetic and complex records I’ve encountered in a long while.
Favorite tracks: “Corsicana Clip,” “Masonic Youth,” “Good Shepherd”
3. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Released March 18 on Better Living
The dwelling-related concept album was popular this year, it seems. La Dispute is able to take to a level much wider in scope, as a span of half a century is traced through the mementos of ordinary objects. The alternation between harder and softer songs does well to echo the varying intensity of otherwise omnipresent despair. Jordan Dreyer’s lyrics and delivery consistently fuck me up, as he is able to inhabit the minds of his characters, shout talking of bitterness and collapse. If you ever need to practice your memorization skills, this band is where you need to look. You’ll find it more rewarding than a cheesy mnemonic device, and definitely more emotionally ruinous (in the best way possible, of course).
Favorite tracks: “SCENES FROM HIGHWAYS 1981-2009,” “Stay Happy There,” “Extraordinary Dinner Party”
2. Single Mothers – Negative Qualities
Released October 7 on Dine Alone/Hot Charity
I eagerly awaited the release of this record, from the lackadaisical hints the band would post to the day it was finally released. It did not disappoint. Single Mothers’ Negative Qualities was the subject of one of my earlier reviews. Weeks later, it is still the record I am listening to the most, and anticipate will remain as such for quite a long time. I was fortunate enough to receive a bonus 7″ with the track “Brand New City” as well; it’s the conceptual setting for the whole record, the universal corner where Drew Thomson spits at all he walks by, where the whiners and spoilers all reside, trying to make your life a living hell. Extreme measures are the only escape. Negative Qualities is frustrated and furious, but its cleverness and honesty leave you in a state of righteous fulfillment.
Favorite tracks: “Marbles”, “Half-Lit”, “Patricide”, “Ketamine”
1. Self Defense Family – Try Me
Released January 7 on Deathwish
This is technically Self Defense’s fourth LP, though it is the first since changing their name from End Of A Year. In the short time since it debuted, the band has released enough material in the form of singles, splits, and EPs to constitute another full record over again, with sounds and styles as varied as some bands’ entire careers. Owing to this, it is hard to contextualize this record to anything else the band has put out. But that may not matter; Try Me stands alone if it likes and dares you to question it (“Enjoy or don’t,” the liner note reads).
It’s most obvious deviation from convention is the inclusion of a ~40 minute interview with former porn actress Jeanna Fine, recounting her life experiences up to the time she began appearing in adult films. It is as intensely personal – almost uncomfortably so as tears come on – as many of the actual tracks. The trio of songs “Turn The Fan On” (which primary vocalist Patrick Kindlon has declined to play live at times), “Mistress Appears At Funeral,” and “Apport Birds” all seem to tie into a multi-perspective saga of infidelity resulting in a trip to an abortion clinic, an awkward memorial service encounter with the ‘other woman,’ and the reflection and attempts to cope thereafter with lust and mortality.
Kindlon’s self-admittedly horrible singing voice can be jarring if you don’t know what to expect. With time it becomes perversely enjoyable however. Vocals from Caroline Corrigan and Kai Stone also help to balance it out. The music and lyrics often build upon a single portentous riff and refrain, repeating and meandering to abrupt ends. Elsewhere, guitars can present themselves chiming and polished, in a way reminiscent of classic Interpol.
Self Defense Family make it abundantly clear that feedback – positive or negative – is inconsequential to them. Bluntly expressed, it’s a purity of creativity that’s hard to find, as many artists to some degree compromise for fan appeal and dreams of success. It is exactly this that gives the band the necessary space to experiment and come up with a truly unique record such as this.
Favorite tracks: “Nail House Music,” “Turn The Fan On,” “Mistress Appears At Funeral,” “Aletta,” “Fear of Poverty In Old Age”