Monday, December 12, 2016


Man, what a year.  In so, so many ways this year was unfathomably awful.  However, I have a hard time feeling really bad about it.  I saw and heard a lot of great stuff.  I traveled a bunch.  I put out some records and played a bunch of shows.  How can I be upset about that?  And while the rest of the world may seem like it's going to hell if I, or anyone else for that matter, spends 24 hours a day focused on all the bad then it's really easy to forget that there is good present.  So I'm going to talk a bit about the good.

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”
This is a right time, right place sort of record for 2016 for so many reasons.  It came out right after a lot of people felt disheartened by the state of the nation, and Tribe rolls in with songs that are both fiery and positive to bring people back up.  It comes upon the untimely death of founding member Phife’s untimely passing and it offers him a beautiful eulogy.  It brings me back to my personal peak interest in hip-hop all those years ago when nothing else in the world sounded quite like this and sparked my imagination, while pushing the genre forward at the same time.  Put simply, Tribe came roaring back in a wonderful way and at just the right time too.

The rest in no particular order:

UXO, s/t
Two of the most influential people in ‘noise rock’ circles get together to make a record.  It sounds exactly what you would think Today Is the Day and Unsane together would sound like.  UXO record + my ears= musical wet dream.

NULL, “Sleepwalking Days”
Brooding.  That’s the best way to describe this group from Birmingham, Alabama.  Sturdy repetition like Lungfish; simplistic, yet darkly heavy tones akin to True Widow; haunting vocals like… whoever.  Null have a sound I adore that may move slowly, but it’s the heaviest mellow record- or mellowest heavy record- I checked out all year.

WRONG, s/t
This was easily my most anticipated record to come out this year   It’s close though.  The band that does an early 90’s Helmet impression better than Helmet comes out swinging after a lone EP that introduced their sound.  Pieces of “Strap It On”, “Meantime” and “Aftertaste” all show up here in equal measure, and I have no issue with that.  Apparently, neither does the band as they are well aware that someone had to take Helmet’s mantle since they don’t seem to be up to the task anymore.

CHILD BITE, “Negative Noise”
Another highly anticipated record for me and this one delivers, though not precisely in the way I thought.  It has more to do with the production values that come off a little less metal than their last outing and more in line with 80’s Black Flag recordings.  Child Bite are one of the most unique punk bands going with their total SST guitar skronk worship, Jesus Lizard style bass, Voivod otherworldliness, and Jello Biafra-meets-Neil Fallon vocal delivery.  It’s a heck of a strange combo, but I friggin’ love it.

I feel like this list is mostly ‘highly anticipated records’ that ended up paying off.  I guess this year was good for that (if anything).  I’d been following this band for a couple years now already and am always blown away by the weird mish-mash of styles they cobble together to make a very cohesive whole.  However, compared to previous records this is a little more stripped down overall.  There’s not as much massive guitar feedback/wall of sound going on (minus the huge closing track “Everything”, quite possibly my favorite song of the year), as the band flexes their post-punk/gothy side a bit more.  The record was a big undertaking- from the expansive M.C. Escher-esque artwork, to the dual singles that accompanied the LP- it’s a great package from an exceptionally interesting band.

OK, last ‘highly anticipated’ record, I swear.  I’d been a big fan of vocalist/bassist Meaghan O’Neill Pennie from her utterly ferocious scream in Punch.  There was so much fury in that voice.  So when I heard her 7” debut with this band it was cool to hear her try some variations in range and style, not to mention the more direct punk feel of this new group.  The 7” kind of hinted at what was to come.  This record goes all out though- songs with a more rock-y/post-hardcore feel, some more fast and aggressive, plenty of interesting leads and riffs, and atop it all O’Neill Pennies vocals that have quite a dramatic range more than ever, going between Bikini Kill-style bratty shouts to the familiar throat-shredding scream, to somewhat spoken and delicate crooning.  It’s an excellent debut.

RED HARE, “Lexicon Mist” 7”
Look, I love Swiz, or basically anything Jason Farrell has lent his guitar playing to and I happen to think Joe Gorelick (Garden Variety, Retisonic) is one of the best drummers of the last 20 years.  So get all these cats together and they spit out a 7” after their phenomenal debut in 2013 (finally).  It may be only two new songs and a Lungfish cover, but I’ll take what I can get because these dudes don’t have the opportunity to do stuff all that much.  Loose and off-the-cuff hardcore punk with an excellent sense of melody and rock swagger, done the way they helped establish as the ‘Dischord style’.

TURNSTILE, “Move Thru Me”
First off, fuck you.  I don’t care if people think this band is too pop sounding or whatever.  The unbelievable amount of energy they display live comes through on record.  The first two songs on here sound like they could be on a Bad Brains record and overall, Turnstile come off with more of a punk vibe now than the moshy hardcore they had been known for.  They do a Give cover and it sounds better than the original (sorry Give).  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Best Live Sets:

DRIVE LIKE JEHU, Philly/DC 8.9/8.10
Of course this is going to be the best show(s) I saw all year.  I’ve only been waiting 20 years to see them.  All these guys can play their asses off so it’s no wonder that both nights I saw Jehu on this run they sounded perfect.  John Reiss pulls it all together with his ridiculous guitar sounds, his wild stage banter, and dangling his amplifier off his guitar neck like a shish kabob while he freaks out for “Luau”.  Nothing comes close.

GUERRILLA TOSS, Big Day In, Ithaca 12.3.16
What a weird fuckin’ band.  There is no earthly reason why I would normally enjoy a band that sounds like outer-space funk, but here we are and it’s been a weird year.  I like to think this sounds more like Melt Banana if they played a lot slower, so maybe that’s what I’m feeling.  Either way, their set at Big Day In this year was unreal.  It was just a big, massive, lurching sound of buzzes, blips, unbelievable drumming/rhythm, and vocalist Kassie Carlson staring down the crowd as she creeped around and spaced out.

RED HARE, St. Vitus, NYC
Myself, about 30 other old people, and approximately 6 children of said old people gather in the afternoon in NYC’s current favorite heavy music venue to see DC hardcore veterans do their (semi) new thing and still go off harder than bands half their age.  The children mosh harder than the adults.  Jason Farrell slips on a rug, Shawn Brown waxes comedic with the audience and his bandmates, and Joe Gorelick beats the living hell out of his drums.  They do not one, but four, Swiz songs as a bonus.  Life is complete, I drive five hours back home.

UXO @ KFN, Philly 2.27.16
Taking a chance driving anywhere in the Northeast is dicey at the end of February, so my plans of seeing one of the few UXO live dates was met with hesitation until about 4 days before the actual show when it was a balmy 60 degrees.  Weather gods smiled upon me, they knew I should probably make the 4 hour drive to see the team up of Spencer and Austin as they sonically pummeled a tiny venue.  And boy did they.  Both men know how to make guitars sound like a war and control a mic like it owes them money, so needless to say, UXO met all my expectations and then some.  Also, Philly rules, so any chance to go there is golden.

PILE @ The Haunt, Ithaca 4.30.16
Ithaca is a scant 50 minutes (on a good day) from where I live and is a great little town to hang around in.  They have also been bringing their A game lately and bringing in a lot of awesome bands that usually skip over this general region.  So since the only other time I’ve seen Pile it was on a recommendation before hearing any of their music.  So now that I am very familiar with all their stuff seeing them play it out was pretty excellent.  They manage to weave odd melodies and dynamics in such a way that attempts to unravel their songs is an exercise in futility, yet it all comes across as catchy and exciting.

So yeah, I booked this one.  But look at this dang lineup.  Every band was stellar and a bunch of people showed up to see it all so that makes me happy.  Blood Sun played pretty much just new stuff that absolutely slays.  Gun Candy made their Syracuse debut with a ferocious punk sound that no one could see coming.  Sound Discard played their first show and sounded wonderful.  Psychic Teens were, of course, loud, weird, brooding, and eclectic.  Multicult manages to present one of the best tones amongst all it’s members and still be louder than whatever else is out there.

108 @ St. Vitus (2 sets) 5.21.16
I’ve seen 108 a lot over the years.  They never fail to be anything short of incredible.  They have one of the most engaging and intense live presences of any hardcore band around.  And on this day they played two sets.  One was just “Songs Of Separation” and “Holy Name”.  The other was “Threefold Misery” and everything after.  Both sets were equally as cathartic and exhausting.  Not bad for a bunch of guys in their 40’s.  Their music is still untouchable.


-       It may seem a bit trite, but I think the art and packaging of a record are a big deal.  And I’d like to give a big nod to a couple of bands in my own backyard for coming up with some of the most clever packaging of the year. 
-       First off, Rochester’s GREEN DREAMS released their full length on their own.  It’s a CD that comes in a 7”-sized package that folds out into a fucking diorama complete with cut out figures of the band members you can set up.  Musically, it sounds like L7 meets fuzzy garage rock, so that’s a bonus too. 
-       Syracuse’s own OHNE KA AND THE BURNING RIVER didn’t go and just release their second full length.  They wrote a fucking book, complete with professional illustrations to go with it.  That’s ambitious.  I guess they needed all those words because their music is instrumental.  And if you like stuff like Explosions In the Sky and Mogwai, mixed with a healthy dose of stoner metal worship you’d probably enjoy them.  So you get a book to accompany a CD.  Pretty good deal huh?

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