Before getting into the stuff that everyone cares about (records/music) I’d like to touch upon some of the best stuff of the year in terms of the stuff outside music. My wife and I were very adamant about moving out of Syracuse this year and for a few reasons we decided not to. And they were due to good things. At my day job a position came up that I had been after for a couple years and it finally came my way, and that was the prime reason for staying put. My wife also did a little activist-related jail time that actually was a positive because of all the negative attention it brought to the place that brought action against her (in short, foie gras is evil and is probably on it’s way out as a thing that exists in the U.S.). As a result of her jail time she also got a kick-ass job and is now doing activism full time and getting paid for it. How inspiring is that?
I also got to put out 4 incredible records this year by bands that totally rule and are great people to know both on a musical level and as friends. Bleak bring inspiration to this town as a band that works and tours harder than most anyone I know. They are unstoppable. Ex-Breathers bring a breath of fresh air to hardcore and introduce all sorts of wonderful influences people may have forgotten about, and do so in an exciting and energetic way. Grizzlor may try their hardest to expound upon the miserable aspects of life, but I see right through it because I can’t help but smile at how awesome their riffs are. And Dialysis… well, it’s my own band. But we made a record that I’m really proud of simply because of a bunch of crazy ideas we had were executed exactly how we envisioned them and how the art and packaging came together that I was able to oversee every step of the way.
And I have more plans for 2016 that I’m excited about.
And there was loss this year as well. It’s not positive, but it must be acknowledged. To Chris Jennings, who battled numerous health issues his entire life, struggled with trying to maintain himself through it all, and got 46 years out of this life… it was honestly more than I expected. So he will go down as a fighter in my book.
And to my dear cat Firecracker who was claimed by cancer. She was a loving animal companion for the entirety of her 14 years on this earth in my home. It’s a hard loss, but I always tried to give her the best life I could.
OK, NOW THE RECORDS (in no particular order):
GODSTOPPER, “Lie Down”
This band clearly gives a lot of love to The Melvins. But The Melvins give a lot of love to Kiss, which a lot of people don’t put together. It’s as if Godstopper picked up on that connection and punched a glammy, singing hole right through their concrete wall-thick sludge metal leanings to deliver their best material to date. The only crime here is that this album was released only digitally. Don’t let that keep you from allowing Godstopper to smash your skull in with love, baby. (self-released)
KRILL, “A Distant Fist Unclenching”
In comparison to past stuff Krill moved light years ahead in terms of songwriting and a very nice recording with this album, toured some, and then promptly broke up in the fall. Take three guys, playing with minimal gear, and making some of the best damn racket that shares equal amounts quirky indie rock and voluminous amounts of ‘where the heck did that come from’ musical dexterity and you get this incredible record. I guess if they had to break up this is a great way to go out. (Exploding In Sound)
COLISEUM, “Anxiety’s Kiss”
Each new Coliseum album that comes out these days tends to be a grower for me. I’m a little apprehensive about whatever new approach they take (and they are a consistently evolving band that still manages to retain the spirit that makes them who they are in a wonderful way). They took a huge leap into less bluntly aggressive and more post-punk territory with “House With a Curse” and after some time I found it to be my favorite album of theirs. “Sister Faith” never quite caught on with me as much as I’d hoped. And this one here… well, I thought I’d be left hanging for awhile. But man, it caught me right away. It’s nothing short of stellar. The first two songs alone are a couple of the most anthemic tunes the band has ever penned. The addition of minor, textural synths to their love of things Dischord and Killing Joke just completes the post-punk pile. The rage is still there, it’s just translated into something a bit more thoughtful and I love that about this band. (Deathwish Inc)
CLOAKROOM, “Further Out”
All slow, no go. Morrisey on downers on the vocals (I dislike Morrisey but love this dudes vocals), sub-sub-sub level tar-thick tones through the bass, and plenty of spacey static and crisp melodies on the guitar. Call it shoegaze, or whatever, I don’t care. There’s definitely elements of that but a super heavy bottom end that drags all these awesome songs through the muck. I just wish there were more songs on this thing because the ten or so they dish out aren’t enough. (Run For Cover)
Some people have stated that this album is only so-so because it’s essentially exactly like their first LP. To that I ask, “and what’s so bad about that?” The first Metz LP was fucking awesome. There are minor differences here- a little more use of vocals to add a hook, a bit sharper production, establishing a riff a bit more and riding it out (“Kicking a Can Of Worms” and “Spit You Out”). But their fierce three-chord hyperactive mania, mixed with some serious early Nirvana worship, is in full effect on songs like “The Swimmer” and “Wait In Line”. (Sub Pop)
SWEET COBRA, “Earth”
How this Chicago group had devastating loss (guitarist Matt Arluck succumbed to cancer several years ago) and came back as a trio to make the strongest (and most different) record of their existence is truly a wonderful thing. Their past material was cool, but most of it never stuck with me too much. Every song on this record is a winner. It’s an amazing mix of QotSA’s sense of melody and some of Cave-In’s less metal, yet still jackhammering, riffs thrown together with a truly rocking spirit. (Magic Bullet)
BEAUTY PILL, “Describes Things As They Are”
A late entry to the field this year, but I found it incredibly surprising that this DC collective came out of hibernation to not only re-issue their breakout EP “Cigarette Girl From the Future” (originally released on Dischord in 2003), but also release a new LP. A large part of this break had to do with main collaborator Chad Clark dedicating a great deal of time to production/engineering work, and a life-threatening heart condition that slowed the man down for a few years. But ever since his and multi-instrumentalist Devin Ocampo’s work with Smart Went Crazy way back when I’ve been obsessed with every project they work on. Beauty Pill came back strong, having recorded this album over the course of quite a long while in a museum (more or less) open to public scrutiny and adding numerous contributors and various instrumentation to their already exciting sound. Chad Clark’s gently smug voice and wry, devilishly-detailed lyrics accompany a good deal of electronics, lots of studio effects/dissection, synth, stringed instruments, regularly-occurring soft female vocals, and somehow it all comes off as an incredible post-punk record. Heck, they even do a glitch-riddled Lungfish cover on it too. (Butterscotch Records)
I heard a lot of people say they weren’t really into this record. Well, they have a screw loose. That’s all I can say. This is just Torche through and through. It’s a perfect representation of what they do best, which is write incredibly catchy songs that are ridiculously heavy. It’s their formula and no one does it better. Simply stated, Torche put out a really good Torche record. “Bishop In Arms” and “Loose Men” bring the upbeat, poppy aspect to their sludge. “No Servants” is the slow burner. “Annihilation Affair”, “Undone” and “Barrier Hammer” all bring the bomb string (and boy does “Barrier Hammer” ever bring it. It’s probably the year’s heaviest song by a long shot) to those longing for Torche’s heavier side. (Relapse)
CHERUBS, “2 Ynfynyty”
I’m not going to pretend like I knew about this band all along and own an original copy of “Heroin Man”. All I can attest to is that in the early 90’s I was aware that there was a band called Cherubs, and that’s about it. They were not very well known and split for 20 years. And now, for whatever reason, they decided to make a new record this year. It sounds like the result of three guys who did too many drugs, dusted off all their weird amps, and made one of the most awesome noise rock records of 2015. It’s the combination of tripped-out Manson Family psychedelia, buzzing guitars, high-pitched howling vocals and some of the most raucous bombed-out riffs and sludgy distortion pedals making sounds that are ultra catchy for five seconds before they trip and fall in weird timing, only to come back again for more abuse. From the bombastic bliss of “Monkey Chow Mein” to the absolutely smashing riffery of “We Buy Gold” I’m displeased with myself for waiting so long before getting this. (Brutal Panda)
GREAT FALLS, “The Fever Shed” (Init)- I still haven’t got my LP. I’ve been jamming this since the spring. Totally fucked up mathy noisecore.
WILD MOTH, “Inhibitor” (Iron Pier)- Great energetic indie rock. Basically just an awesome rock record.
BLACKLISTERS, “Adult” (Smalltown America)- UK lads understand why it’s awesome to mix The Jesus Lizard and Unsane. Thank you.
“Talia”, by Self Defense Family
Definitely in the top 5 songs the band/collective has ever done… and they have a shitload of songs.
“Moon Funeral”, by Cloakroom
Heaviest riff with the coolest lyrics all year. Probably my most listened to song this year.
“Torturer”, by Krill
Basically any song from this LP could qualify but I think this was the catchiest song on the record and introduced me to this group that called it quits too soon in my opinion.
“Blue Rose”, by Sweet Cobra
The punkest song on their new LP that rips by in a brief two minutes while throwing equal doses of rage and melody in a riffy little nugget of awesome.
“We Buy Gold”, by Cherubs
An absolute mess of weird timing and gargantuan riffs thrown like your decrepit grandpa down a flight of stairs or the rhythmic pumping of an oil drilling rig malfunctioning and spewing crude all over the landscape. You choose. Deal with it.
ROLLINS BAND, “Lifetime”- There’s no added benefit here, no overhaul in the packaging, or big re-mixing. It’s just totally essential that more people own this record.
JAWBOX, s/t- Yeah, Dischord rules on the re-issues here because they have always had the best bands. They took this one back from a major label. A brilliant final album getting some love again
UNWOUND- In general. Those box sets they have been releasing are insane. And for what you’re getting the price is extremely reasonable. Holy fuck on toast.
Coliseum/ Child Bite/ Psychic Teens @ Asbury Lanes, NJ 6.12.15
The last time I was at this place was a few years ago to see Rorschach and it was just as awesome of a venue back then as it was for this show. Yeah, it’s an old run-down bowling alley on the edge of the beach next to the ocean. It was blazing hot out this day, but being that close to the ocean, with the breeze, made everything a comfortable cool. I got to check out the town and pick up some excellent scores at a few record stores. I got to catch up with my man Ryan from Coliseum over dinner. I got to witness Child Bite for the first time and see first-hand their bizarre insanity, as well as talk to them a bit regarding old Detroit stuff. Psychic Teens were a little sloppy, but even on their worst day they are an incredible band that I’d watch anywhere. And, last but not least, I got to see Coliseum play all their new stuff for the first time and it all sounds so awesome. They are definitely one of those bands that can break out all new stuff live and I won’t be upset that they didn’t pull out the well-known jams. Forever forward with enthusiasm with them and despite a small crowd they played incredibly.
One Fest Ithaca @ The Haunt 7.25.15
So my band played this show, and it was by far one of my favorite sets we ever played. There were a bunch of people, a ton of great bands, a lot of friends, and the sound at The Haunt is always great. We got to pal around with our friends in Bleak, Twin Lords, and Fucking Invincible, who all put on awesome sets. Got to finally see Full Of Hell and they brought some serious intensity. And the standout band for me was Empty Vessels, who made more racket playing on the floor as just a duo than most of the bands combined, on stage, mic’ed. It was a great surprise to go along with a great day with friends both old and new.
Torche/ Nothing/ Wrong @Mohawk Place, Buffalo 3.23.15
This is one of my favorite venues in the region. Mohawk is pretty small, pretty punk, but always gets great shows. I was beyond excited to see Wrong after playing their EP non-stop for months. They definitely did not disappoint on my first time seeing them. The heaviness was beyond compare and I think everyone walked away that night surprised at how good the opening band was. Nothing was up next and they brought the hype with them. They did put out a good record though, so seeing them deliver the goods live was fun. I know others appreciated it more than I did, but it was a nice in-between to Wrong and Torche. And speaking of which, I hadn’t seen Torche in a couple years so catching up with their musical bombast was nice. They picked out the best stuff from the new record and killed it. They played for a really long time, but I sort of got lost in it and didn’t quite notice til it was all over, so I suppose that makes for a good set.
Roomrunner (final show) at U+N Fest @ Ottobar, Baltimore 10.3.15
So I knew nothing about this band until earlier this year and was instantly hooked, not only because of the wild videos they had made, but by the unfuckwithable music they dished out. I made every effort to see if they were playing shows or anything, but the band had been mostly dormant for the last year as members had other commitments. Then I come to find they’re breaking up and this would be their final show (and first show in over 8 months). I said ‘fuck it’ and got my ass to Baltimore to bear witness. It proved to be well worth my time as Baltimore is a great town to chill. Good eats, great record stores (Celebrated Summer, what’s up?), comics, and so on. The show itself was really cool too. There is a great deal of variety of bands in town (and regionally) that represented on this bill, as well as a lot of wonderful people that I hadn’t seen in far too long. Roomrunner came out and played basically everything I could have wanted them to play (minus “Karn”). They were incredibly loud, tight, and full of energy that would suggest they had been playing in secret during their long absence from the live setting. And then I drove home and got back around 6AM or something.
Riotous Outburst Fest Day 1 (Die Choking, Empty Vessels, Grizzlor), Providence, RI @ AS220, 9.23.15
It was the middle of the week, five hours from home and as luck would have it my wife gave a lecture in Worcester the day before so we were already in the region. We made a day out of chilling out in Providence with friends and eating good food. I had never actually been to a show at AS220 and was very excited to check out this vibrant hub of long-running DIY culture that has excelled in this city. The show started pretty late, which was a bummer and attendance was sparse. But the three bands I came to see were a varied mess of aggressive and loud that stacked up to be a killer lineup. After a couple openers Empty Vessels once again decimated my eardrums with just a couple cabs, a single guitarist and one angry drummer. All the new stuff they played really seemed to be a great indication of things to come. This was my first time seeing/meeting Grizzlor after deciding to put out a record for them and their live set was pretty much what I hoped for. For a dirty, messy band they sure did have their sound dialed in. It was late when Die Choking started but they played so goddamned fast and aggressively that I was infused with a violent amount of energy by the time that they finished that I used to drive all the way back to Syracuse afterwards through the night.
High On Fire, Lucifer, Pallbearer @ Lost Horizon, Syracuse 8.14.15
Any time I can see high On Fire it’s going to be worth it because they are one of the best metal bands on the planet. There is no shortage of fury during their set. Even Matt Pike, looking pretty wrecked (though the fun-manchu stache was basically worth the price of admission) delivered like a man possessed. They might have played two or three songs I instantly recognized, the rest being either new or off the last couple records that I have a passing familiarity with. But it didn’t matter. They just destroyed wholly and completely. They played “10,000 Years”… need I say more? Lucifer was the first band I caught and their Sabbath worship came through wonderfully with some very incredible vocals to carry it. Pallbearer, according to most people there, were awesome, but I wasn’t feeling it. It’s High On ire though, that’s what does it. Total wreckage.
Metz/ Lightning Bolt @ Mohawk Place, Buffalo… April?
So I’ve been a big fan of Metz for awhile now and could only imagine how wild they would be live. Not only were they an incredibly energetic live band but they were insanely loud too, which is a great combination for me. I had a chance to talk to them afterwards and it turns out one of them was in a band that I had booked in the past, so it was nice playing catch up some 15 years later. I’d never listened to Lightning Bolt, but I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for and it was exactly as I had expected. The place was packed and everything else was like some crazy, tripped out freak fest. It was only the two bands, which was good because it was a weekday and I had to drive back home afterwards, so bonus points for keeping it short and sweet.
Young Widows/ Austerity Program/ Shannon Wright @ Boot & Saddle, Philly 3.15.15
Any trip to Philly is always a good trip. It’s quite possibly my favorite place to visit in the Northeast due to it’s great record stores, great people, incredible vegan offerings, awesome shows happening pretty much every day, and the fact that basically every other person you see on the street is a punk rocker. They got it good down there. This show proved to be even better due to some people I barely ever see showing up and hanging out, and catching up with old friends I see on a regular basis. Oh, and this was the first time I got to see Young Widows playing stuff off of “Easy Pain” (which was one of my favorite records last year) and they absolutely killed it. They played a nice long set full of stuff from their last three records and sounded just as good as ever, even with a semi-new gear set-up. Austerity Program was before them and I had never seen them either, but I have a couple of their records. As a two-piece with a drum machine they sounded almost exactly like their records (the stage banter was a pretty funny distraction). Big Black worship at it’s finest. Shannon Wright played as well and I think my friends were more impressed with her Nick Cave-style of noisy, sleazy swagger than I was, but it was nonetheless a good set.