Yes- our yearly roundtable chat has arrived. Myself, Paul and Rene had a good chinwag over a bunch of tracks (sensibly, a few less than time…) one evening in late December, most of which came out in 2018.

-Dave

The Discussants:

Dave, Keep Track of the Time

Paul, Jersey Beat, Razorcake, New Noise, Keep Track of the Time

René, Keep Track of the Time

 

The Songs Discussed

The Beths- “You Wouldn’t Like Me” (Future Me Hates Me)

Werecats- “Julian” (Destined for the Outside)

Jeff Rosenstock- “Yr Throat” (POST-)

Vacation- “Like Snow” (Non-Person)

Rumspringer- “Hindsight is 20/20, Foresight is $200 an hour” (Stay Afloat)

Muncie Girls- “Bubble Bath” (Fixed Ideals)

 

Song #1: The Beths- “You Wouldn’t Like Me” (Future Me Hates Me)

Dave: Cool, so the first song up for discussion today is The Beths- “You Wouldn’t Like Me”. I really enjoy the whole record by this band and this song is definitely in the top 3 off it. Wonderful melodies and I love the New Zealand vocals.

René: I think I listened to this song on a daily basis a few days ago. It’s rare to hear a song that I love everything about. From the handclaps to the vocal harmonies to the leading vocals to the lyrics. I’ve started to really like the entire album, but in the beginning I was so focused on listening to this song that I forgot the rest of the album.

Paul: I sort of relate to the lyrics – I see this being a song about having low self-esteem, so you don’t put yourself out there, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the simple melody and lyrics that are repeated over and over are sort of like the things that we tell ourselves in our own minds repeatedly, whether accurate or not. I do really like the melody and especially the harmonized backing vocals

Dave: I thought something similar actually, Paul, in regards to the repeated  line and I sort of interpreted the back-up vocals in the chorus as how things may repeat in our heads and how we can’t escape the idea of ‘you wouldn’t like me’. There is a deep vulnerability on this song for sure.

Paul: Yeah, it’s like, “I know nobody will like me, so I’m not even going to try”

René: I also really like the rhyming scheme in the verses.

Dave: Yeah and I love the way that the verses are delivered as well.

Paul: Right now, I’m also wondering if the happy sounding melody isn’t sort of like when we pretend to be happy and well-adjusted when the opposite is really true.

René: The melody in the chorus reminds me a bit of “Back on the Chain Gang” by the Pretenders. That’s that first thing I thought when I heard it.

Dave: It absolutely has that contrast. One of the first things I noticed about the song actually. I feel like the content of the song is actually similar to what is in a bunch of Off with their heads lyrics (about being scared to open up to others and feel that they wouldn’t like you if they could see the true ‘you’ or see inside you), but delivered in a totally different way.

Paul: Yes.

Dave: The bridge is great as well and the mini guitar solo that follows. Was this your first listen to the band Paul?

Paul: Yes, it was.

René: “I’ve been had before (I’ve been had)/ But I’ve never gotten back/ And it feels so much like being in love/ That I thought you should know”. How do you interpret this part? These lines makes me think that the song is about someone who is entering a relationship and is having doubts about it.

Paul: I agree – but I also think it’s the person thinking that no one else could possible like or love them and setting themselves up for the disappointment that’s sure to come.

Dave: Yeah, this is a really interesting line actually. What is it that ‘feels like being in love’? I interpreted that as their internal struggles. Based on that, I kind of understood that line as suggesting that their struggles are as all encompassing as being in love and that their judgement/way of thinking has been somewhat clouded. I dunno, though, the relationship interpretation makes sense too…I did roughly understand the lyrics as a whole as being about talking to someone that you are about to enter a relationship with.

René: I have two possible meanings. 1) It’s about unrequited love and the protagonist is worried that it’s not actual love or infatuation, but obsession and worries if they tell the “you” person how they feel and that it’d creep them out. 2) They are entering a relationship with the person, but they are afraid to show what they are really like because they don’t think the other person would like them anymore or afraid to show that they aren’t sure if it’s “real love”

Dave: Rene- how do you think the lyrics in this song fit in with the rest of the record?

René: Well, I find the entire album to be very self-deprecating, I mean it’s called Future Me Hates Me.

Dave: Yes, I haven’t delved enough into the lyrics yet but that was my initial impression. As well as self-deprecating, a sense of anxiety and worry about the future and if they are doing the right thing, too…

 

Song #2: Werecats- “Julian” (Destined for the Outside)

Paul: OK – so my impressions – the simplistic pop punk, slightly loose feel, and female vocals remind me of Jabber, a band from the Oakland, CA area. The lo-fi recording made it hard for me to make out the lyrics, too, but from what I can gather it’s a downbeat topic?

René: I really like the low-fi sound of it. I really get the Jabber-vibe too!

Dave: It is a very infectious song that definitely recalls the vocals and hooks of Jabber, but also I get some hints of British ’77 punk.

Paul: The looseness makes it feel more like a group of friends jamming together, rather than a professional band – and that makes it more fun I think.

Dave: For sure, it has a certain charm about it.

René: That it was a downbeat topic was my initial thought as well and wrote in my review, but the band corrected me.

Paul: What are the lyrics about, Rene?

René: From their facebook page “It’s the second time we’ve been told that ‘Julian’ is a sad gritty and deeply depressing song. It’s not supposed to be. In fact, I wrote it when I worked in a building next door to where Julian Assange was living and as it was his 3rd year anniversary there I thought a cheery upbeat song about his incarceration in a plush embassy instead of her maj’s hotel would be nice. ”

Paul: Interesting – I didn’t know it was about Julian Assange. I wonder how they feel about him now, knowing that he was working with the Russians and the Trump campaign to manipulate the US presidential election.

Dave: Yeah, that came as somewhat of a surprise….

René: I’m not certain whether I love this song/album so much because it is low-fi or if I would love it even more if it sounded more professional. I think the melody is really good, maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. I kind of wish they’d put the lyrics on their bandcamp page though.

Paul: Yeah, for sure. I do think the lo-fi is part of the charm, though.

Dave: Yeah, I think the lo-fi really makes the song in many ways and I’m not sure how I would feel if it was better recorded or less ‘garage band’ sounding. I like how it sounds a tad ’70s/retro, but without being too ‘on the nose’.

René: My first thought that it was about a dead pet. I still think the actual topic is a bit weird hearing the lyrics.

Song #3: Jeff Rosenstock- “Yr Throat” (POST-)

Paul: You’re both going to find this hard to believe, but this was the first Jeff Rosenstock I’ve ever listened to!

Dave: Oh wow- really?

Paul: Yeah, I know….

Dave: I found it hard to pick a clear standout from the record with their being a few clear hits and with it being such a strong body of work. I could have easily picked “9/10” or “tv stars”

René: I have really mixed feelings. Sometimes I hear it and think it’s brilliant other times I don’t like it much, but I also find it more interesting when I feel like this. Like it’s supposed to grow on me.

Paul: Well, I like this one – it’s very anthemic sounding. It seems to be a very political song, about the need to take action to fix the shit going on in the USA (Trump), or in the world at large with Brexit and the rise of authoritarianism across Europe, and how too many people find lots to say about insignificant things but won’t take a stand when it comes to important things like the state of the government

Dave: I love the urgency of the song and the way it suddenly drops into the chorus. It’s gritty and heart on sleeve but with such strong melodies. The back-up vocals in the chorus are great, too. Yes, that is more or less what the song is about, I guess, and the album as a whole really. It’s a critique of people posturing over politics but without actually doing anything/saying anything/taking a stand when it matters.

Paul: I also like the use of the organ on this – and it seems more and more punk bands are adding keyboards over the past couple years.

René: My favourite part is the “after the contest” part.

Dave: Yeah, it’s great. The record takes many weird twists and turns and I think that is what has maintained my interest since being released in Jan.

Paul: I like the reference to talking about the sound quality differences between vinyl and mp3s like it’s so important, but saying there’s nothing we can do about the more important stuff in the world.

René: I also feel like it’s about his doubts as a songwriter.

Paul: I’m not sure about doubts as a songwriter, Rene – where do you get that?

Dave: Although it’s a critique of all that stuff, about people not doing enough about the important stuff, what is super interesting is that Jeff critiques his own failings in these lyrics.

René: Do you think the tape is about the Trump/Billy Bush or a cassette tape Jeff has made or something else? I’m also not sure about what ‘contest’ he refers to.

Paul: I assumed it was the Trump/Billy Bush tape, but I can see if maybe it was his own tape that leaked it could change things.

Dave: I read that somewhere in an interview with Jeff that he wrote this record pretty much straight after Trump election, and he went to a cabin somewhere and analysed/critiqued the whole situation, incl. his own missteps. I think that the contest is the election?

Paul: That was what I thought too.

René: Yeah, that makes sense.

Dave: I’m not sure about the line, “it’s not like any other job I know? if you’re a piece of shit they don’t let you go”

Paul: The presidency is not like any other job – and many pieces of shit have remained in office.

René: I first thought it was about being a musician, but the president angle works as well.

Dave: Aha, yeah, that makes sense and fits in well after following the tape line.

Paul: Yeah, if you’re a shitty musician, people will let you go pretty quickly.

René: The more I read the lyrics, the more that I feel like he’s trying to be vague on purpose.

Paul: Hahaha! No musician has ever done that, have they??

René: I was thinking more that if a musician is a shitty human being, people will turn the other way.

Paul: Yes, but the line is If you’re a piece of shit they don’t let you go.

Dave: Yes. I think the context of the album and the context of the preceding lines suggests that it’s about the president, but there is some vagueness there for sure. There is a big dose of fatalism on this song (and record more generally).

Paul: Well, I think this song is decrying fatalism, and demanding people get off their arses and do something. I mean – the chorus is “What’s the point of having a voice/ When it gets stuck inside your throat?” Sounds to me like he’s saying “Stop being fatalistic and say something! Do something!” Especially with the line about the neighbors saying “there’s nothing we can do right now”.

 

Song #4: Vacation- “Like Snow” (Non-Person)

Paul: Man, I absolutely love the whole album this came from – Non-Person. It’s from a few years ago. This song is probably my favorite of the album. Musically, I love how they blend psych, punk, and garage, and I love the abrupt changes in the song.

René: I think this is the first time I hear Vacation! I like the contrast between the faster, punkier parts and the slow pretty parts.

Paul: YES! I agree Rene! The hard-edged guitars that punctuate the song, the bright guitars on the bridge. Love it.

Dave: Yep, agreed too! In the punkier part, I really like the urgency of the guitars and the bite of the vocals. I don’t think I’ve properly heard a Vacation album all the way through- just songs here and there, but every time I hear a Vacation song, I feel differently about it. I love the psychedelic feeling in this one though.

Paul: Lyrically, on this, I think it’s about someone who’s never been happy with themselves, and have tried to be different people through their life, and now just wants to be gone or invisible.

Dave: Yes, just ‘melt away’. The line ‘Line them up, all of my faces neatly’ certainly suggests what you say about being different people.

Paul: I also like the purposeful use of feedback in the guitars in this.

Dave: I love the line about his blood being gasoline. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I love it.

Paul: I think that verse is about losing one’s energy and enthusiasm with age, and becoming angry/sad about that.

Dave: Yes, of no longer being able to ‘produce a flame’. Makes sense….

René: I feel like he means that he had enough blood to produce flames before (because his voice was gasoline), but now he has to fake it because it doesn’t hold the same power anymore.

Paul: “I dream about distant memories/ back when my blood was gasoline/ I scream and shout all these obscenities/ because I can’t produce a flame”. The way I take that is that he’s remembering his youth hen his blood was gasoline – his life was like fire. But now he’s angry because he can’t produce a flame – his enthusiasm and vigor are gone.

Dave: I really enjoy the vocals actually and the way that the anger/angst rises up.

Paul: I strongly recommend the whole album – there’s another great short punk blast on a similar topic called “Wish I Could Be Somebody Else.”

Dave: Cool- I will do so. The album title ‘non person’ suggests that topic filters throughout.

René: I like that all that he symbolises his present self with are cold (ice/snow/sunset(?)) while what he symbolizes the past with are warm (flames/fire).

Paul: I think maybe turning to ice represents death? Could tie into the theme of that verse we just talked about. Maybe that he’s also tired and ready for death? “I’m always waiting for the day when like snow I melt away” And “yes I’ve become the setting sun”.

René: Yeah! I guess that makes the song even sadder.

Dave: I don’t know about death, but certainly not having that vigor/enthusiasm anymore- he is decomposing/has become the setting sun. I interpreted the whole thing as rotting away/melting, but not necessarily dying, but could well be…

Paul: Or that life has become unbearably unpleasant to the point where death is the same as the current state: “wipe away all of my histories/cause nothing new catches my eye”.

Dave: Yes, I like that- more of a metaphorical death perhaps?

René: The more I hear, the more I feel like it means literally.

 

Song #5: Rumspringer- “Hindsight is 20/20, Foresight is $200 an hour” (Stay Afloat)

Paul: Another one from a few years ago. When I first heard this, song I got chills. I love the unexpected rhythmic and melodic changes in the chorus. And the high level of energy and emotion.

Dave: I heard this album years ago, but had totally forgot about it, so thanks for reminding me of it, ha!

Paul: I remember hearing the first song on the record and thinking they had “blown their whole load” so to speak on that one, it was so good – and then this song came on second, I was blown away.

Dave: The verses on this one really stand out- super high energy/level of urgency.

Paul: Wes Korte (guitarist/vocalist) is such a great songwriter.

René: I don’t think I had heard this song before either. The title is pretty funny.

Paul: Yeah, the title is great.

Dave: Has Wes been in any other bands, do you know? I feel like I recognise his vocals from someplace else.

Paul: Yeah he has. His current band is called Black Paw, I believe.

Dave: Ok- I don’t know if it’s specifically the vocals or the melodic shifts, but it really reminds me of something else that I can’t put my finger on.

René: I think the back-up vocals really add to the song. I can’t make out much of the lyrics though.

Paul: I was just going to say that – thats the one thing about this is I can’t make out the lyrics and couldn’t find them online anywhere.

René: The outro is really cool.

Dave: Yeah Rene, I love the outro too actually. I think the urgency and palpable emotion in the whole thing is great.

Paul: This band was also great live. Always a great time.

Dave: They sound like they would be! Where are they from?

Paul: Tempe, Arizona (near Phoenix). But they broke up a couple years ago, sadly.

Dave: That sucks. Was this record their final release?

Paul: Yes. Though they had sort of promised me to give me a couple songs to put out on my record label, but it never happened. Wes was on hiatus from writing (he was in another band after this but before Back Paw where he didn’t write or sing), and Mike (drummer) had back surgery and had to stop playing drums

Dave: Huh. They were fairly short-lived then?

Paul: They were around a number of years, I guess. Maybe 5 years?

 

Song #6: Muncie Girls- “Bubble Bath” (Fixed Ideals)

Paul: Lande Hekt’s vocals are gorgeous!

Dave: I think so too! And really suits this style, too…

René: I really love this song!

Paul: Me too, it’s really nice indie pop, though the bubble sound effects annoy me….

Dave: This doesn’t really reflect the rest of the album- which is more guitar-based and faster, but it’s really become the standout for me from ‘Fixed Ideals’. Haha- I liked the bubble effects more at first and love the idea of them but they have become a little annoying after repeated listens I guess?

René: This line is great: “I was once good at problem solving, most of the time the solution: dissolving. ” The little piano parts before the chorus are beautiful too.

Dave: That’s a great line, yep. The lyrics in general are great in the way that they link bath/water-based metaphors with fading happiness, etc- “Sucked down the drain with the silt and the slime. Bubbles or not, it’s too hot every time”.

Paul: One thing I get from the lyrics is how, when we’re young, we think we’re going to grow up and change and be a different person, but that never happens – we’re really always the same person as when we are a child.

Dave: Yes, definitely hear that. The line ‘still fill it too high after all these years’ suggests as much.

Paul: And especially the line “now isn’t the now I had in mind. ”

René: I feel that there’s a red thread in the songs we’ve talked about longing for the past and crying over spilt milk.

Dave: There is actually…

Paul: Yes, in some of the songs, for sure.

René: Maybe not longing for the past in this song, but thinking about it. Except “Julian”, I guess.

Dave: And an overall feeling of anxiety/ uncertainty I get, too, across most of these songs.

Paul: I assume you two have seen Muncie Girls live multiple times?

René: I haven’t.

Dave: I have seem them live a couple of times, they are super tight! I haven’t seen any of the new stuff live though which in my opinion is by far their strongest material.

Paul: I was lucky to see them live once – I was in Munich 2 1/2 years ago and they opened for The Dirty Nil there. Great show.

Dave: Ah nice! The two times I have seen them has been as support, too. Would recommend a listen to the new album if you haven’t already.Thanks both of you for participating! It has been fun! A nice collection of songs and discussion again.

René: It’s been a good talk! I feel like the headline we had last year “Sad songs don’t make good lives” also applied to this year.

Dave: Yeah, indeed haha– we need a new title though. Glad it’s not just me picking the miserable tracks this time…

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KTOTT Best Songs of 2018

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Myself and Read Hard compiled a list of 20 songs we enjoyed the most in 2018. Check it out below:

KTOTT: Best of 2018

Posted: December 30, 2018 in Reviews

Another year gone, and all the shit that Jeff Rosenstock sings about on his latest record POST- is as apt, if not more so, as in January when it was released. The world is falling apart and we are all sitting back in our armchairs in the fire, like the dog from your favourite meme, saying ‘fine’. Everything, to a lesser or greater extent, sucks, as my friend Milo once eloquently put it. When you switch on the news, you might think: what’s the point? But one thing they (‘they’- think of the person you hate the most hate here) will never take away from us is music lists. The ’90s is a distant memory, but High Fidelity-bullshit-list-making is as relevant as it ever was. So, check below, for a list of what myself and Read Hard liked the most in 2018, ranked from 1 to 10, because THIS SHIT MATTERS. Right?

See you on the other side, peeps.

-Dave xoxo

————————————————————————————————————————————

Dave’s Top Ten of 2018

1. Jeff Rosenstock- POST- (Quote Unquote/Polyvinyl/Specialist Subject)

While the rest of this list was constantly in flux, there was always a clear number one record of the year for me: Jeff Rosenstock’s third, politically-charged record Post-. This is a record that builds expertly upon Jeff’s previous efforts and songwriting nous. Picking up where WORRY left off, this is vintage Rosenstock, demonstrating career-best scrappy, sing-a-long melodic punk. POST is also more expansive and experimental, with a somewhat theatrical, Billy Joel-esque ‘80s piano ballad (“TV Stars”) and two 7 minutes-plus ‘epics’ to bookend the album (“USA” and “Let Them Win”), fitting snuggly alongside the more straightforward punk bangers. It is very much a thematic-driven record, concerning itself with the state of the US in 2018 and the socio-political milieu that could allow Trump to be elected, filtered through Jeff’s anxious and insecure perspective. It feels his entire musical trajectory has been building towards the dreamy chant on “USA”: “We’re tired and bored/we’re tired, we’re bored!” Meanwhile, “Yr. Throat” is an intense, fast-paced and exuberant melodic punk banger, with a chorus that sticks in the head like nothing else on the album (“what’s the point of having a voice? When it gets stuck inside your throat”). You get the sense that POST- represents the manifestation and realisation of the anxieties expressed on WORRY and is the record that Jeff has been trying to make for a while. Jeff offers something quite unique in the current punk scene: a voice. Even if it does get stuck inside his throat.

2. The Creeps- Beneath the Pines (It’s Alive)

On Beneath the Pines, The Creeps complete the transition from early ‘00s, Lillingtons-esque, horror pop-punk band to self-reflective, mid-tempo pop-punk band having an existential crisis. The Creeps have always evidenced strong vocal melodies, but, more than ever, these can be heard on Beneath the Pines. Some of the choruses on the record stick in your head for days and just beg to be sung along: “Staring Me Down”, “Bottom of Things” and “Scared” serve up some fine, hook-filled treats, just for starters. The earworm-y melodies form part of a gloomy and almost gothic feel, in kind of a similar way to the most recent Lillingtons LP does. It is pop-punk, but not as we know it, son: it suggests a songwriter who has been brought upon The Cure and downcast ‘90s indie as much as The Ramones. I hate to describe a record as ‘introspective’ because it makes me think of some shitty singer-songwriter or something, but Beneath the Pines really does represent some fascinating navel-gazing and self-reflection on life, death and everything in between, backed by some of the highest-quality melodic punk I have heard in a while.

3. Lemuria- Recreational Hate (Turbo Worldwide)

Having been a huge fan of Lemuria for a while now, I was, safe to say, super excited when their first record in four years came out. Yes, it technically came out at the tail end of 2017 (released as a ‘secret bundle’ with no official announcement until the day of release), but screw it, I had no time to properly listen to and process it until 2018, so I’m including it. In many ways, Recreational Hate represents the classic Lemuria sound and tracks like “Sliver of Change” and “Christine Perfect” reveal as much: oft-kilter, edgy, sentimental and hook-filled poppy indie rock. The band still retain the same charm and DIY feel as they did in 2007 on the classic debut Get Better. The split songwriting duties between Sheena Ozzella and Alex Kerns work as well as it has ever done. However, there is a healthy dose of experimentation and expanded range on Recreational Hate which makes it stand out from its predecessors: notably the use of a drum machine and horns on “Wanted to be Yours” and the country-flavoured “Kicking In”. The record feels comfortable and ambitious simultaneously; it also feels timeless. I am not sure how this compares to the rest of Lemuria’s back catalogue, but I know it’s fucking great.

4. Heavy Heart- Love Against Capture (Guerilla Asso/ Brassneck/ La Agonia De Vivir/ Inhumano/ Monster Zero)

Love Against Capture, the sophomore effort by Nantes punks following last year’s Distance, is one of the best underground punk records of the last few years. There is distinct growth by Heavy Heart since the last record (only a year ago, crazily), with clear sonic and songwriting progression on display. Things feel more mature, considered and fully formed now. It is, in short, a proper fucking album. Musically, Heavy Heart retain many of the things that made Distance so damn good: mid-tempo punk melodies, vocals from the gut and gang-vocal sing-a-long choruses. At the same time, the tempo has slowed a little and the songwriting more generally feels better constructed and more mature. There remains evidence of Iron Chic, Timeshares and the like, but Heavy Heart’s musical evolution and more considered songwriting structures lends itself, at times, to an indie-punk-emo hybrid. There is a ‘posi’ vibe throughout the record: a striving for life, love and for breaking out of chains, whether they be personal or systemic.

5. Muncie Girls- Fixed Ideals (Specialist Subject)

Muncie Girls really hit it out the park with their latest effort Fixed Ideals. I have been a fan of the band for a while, but, holy shit, this is next next level shit. The melodies, songwriting, instrumentation, everything went up several notches. Fixed Ideals is a wonderful indie-pop-punk hybrid that is full of heart and ambition. It builds on the strengths of 2016’s From Caplan to Belsize to embrace bigger hooks, poppier songwriting and honest lyrics. Razor sharp melodies combine with ear-worm-y choruses, strong vocals and bubble sound effects. Muncie Girls expertly find the sweet spot between the personal and the political, dealing with the nuances and challenges associated with mental health, notably on the memorable “Picture of Health”. The record is also remarkably consistent, with not a filler in site. Fixed Ideals raised both the floor and the ceiling of what to expect from a Muncie Girls album.

6. Joyce Manor- Million Dollars to Kill Me (Epitaph)

Joyce Manor, on their fourth full-length (!), have become masters of crafting a wonderful hook-filled, crunchy indie-pop-punk track. They can now seemingly hit a home run at ease. Tracks such as “Fighting Kangaroo”, “Friends We Met Online” and “Big Lie” evidence ear-worm-y choruses, abundant melodies and intelligent lyrics, recalling ‘90s alternative as much as ‘00s pop-punk. They have got this thing down to a tee. There has always been more than a dose of power-pop and that rises even more to the fore here. While the production is cleaner and the choruses even ‘bigger’, Joyce Manor retain the scrappiness and DIY feel of basement punk. The band also stray away on occasions, like on the Smiths-esque “Silly Games”, the shoegaze-y “Gone Tomorrow”, or the gloomy acoustic “I’m Not the One”. What has always separated Joyce Manor from the pack has been the quality of the songwriting and the pure emotions bound up with the lyrics. While avoiding many of the trappings and clichés of ‘emo’ bands, Joyce Manor always make you ‘feel’. The line on “Friends We Met Online”, “How can we mis-remember such sad horrible times?” gets me every time.

7. The Spook School- Could it be Different? (Alcopop!/Slumberland)

The Spook School had been on my radar for a while, but it was only on their third LP Could it be Different? that I really ‘got’ them. And oh, it feels good. Edinburgh four-piece The Spook School play gorgeous, hook-filled indie-pop that borders on pop-punk at times. The melodies are just a joy to listen to, recalling ‘60s pop, ‘90s indie and early ‘00s teenage anthems. Dreamy guitars meet memorable vocals to produce some of the year’s best tracks: “Less Than Perfect”, “Still Alive” and “I Only Dance When I Want to”. It was seriously difficult to pick a stand-out song for the KTOTT playlist. Could it be Different? is absolutely a grower, too; since its release in January, I keep finding new things that I love about the record. For fans of dancing, Scottish accents and bittersweet self-reflections. Oh, and “Fuck you, I’m still alive” remains the chorus of 2018.

8. The Raging Nathans- Cheap Fame (Rad Girlfriend/Plasterer)

The debut full-length from The Raging Nathans combines Lookout! style blink-and-you’ll-miss ‘em melodies with a punchier and meatier melodic punk sound. Raging Nathans meet the sweet point between say The Queers and Dillinger Four. There is a snarl and bitterness here that has become prevalent in modern melodic punk. Indeed, the speed, intensity and relentless bitterness on Cheap Fame recalls lead singer Josh Goldman’s other band The Dopamines. At the same time, fans of ‘90s-era and The Queers or early Green Day lovers are going to be more than satisfied with the huge hooks and ear-worm-y choruses on offer on Cheap Fame (the album artwork is indeed drawn by Insomniac artist Winston Smith), notably the Weasel-esque “Teenage Amnesia”. I said I wouldn’t find a better lyric in 2018 than the line on closer “Holding it in” and I don’t think I have: “the light at the end of the tunnel is just an oncoming train”. Fans of sadsack pop-punk, come here and get your fix.

9. Swearin’- Fall into the Sun (Merge)

Swearin’ are back! We hadn’t heard from them since 2013’s Surfing Strange and this really picks up where that one left off. Crunchy riffs, fuzzy melodies and melancholic lyrics collide to produce a memorable indie-punk album. The outstanding point about Swearin’ is the split male-female vocals, with Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride alternating vocals and songwriting duties throughout Fall into the Sun. The two styles are divergent but wonderfully complementary. The album recalls the best of ‘90s indie luminaries such as The Breeders, Pavement and Superchunk. The production has been cleaned up a tad since their previous record, while retaining that intimate, lo-fi feel. Fall into the Sun is an achingly personal portrayal of change, moving away and personal growth. More consistent, inventive and hit-filled than previous efforts, Fall into the Sun is a record that demands your attention.

10. Taco Hell- Bad at Being Average (Circle House)

A bittersweet release, Taco Hell’s Bad at Being Average, the band’s first and final LP is full of excellent gritty, yet earworm-y ‘sad’ punk. Taco Hell sit on the boundary between modern ‘revival’ emo and Fest-esque ‘gruff’ punk, recalling the likes of Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor and Tiger’s Jaw. The latter comparison is perhaps the most apt, with harmonious male-female dual vocals present throughout Bad at Being Average. Taco Hell’s songwriting also fairly neatly fits into the UK’s indie-punk scene, alongside bands such as Caves, Doe and (the dearly departed) Bangers.  The lyrics on the record tend to be self-analytical and somewhat self-deprecating, but not in an overbearing way. I like to think that a lot of the album fairly accurately touches up on growing as a 20-something in the North of England, without a penny to rub together, but having a great time nonetheless: “This is arguably poverty, but I don’t hate it; No, I don’t hate it”. Taco Hell’s last ever released song is called “Goodbye” and leave us with an inventive, catchy and dynamic indie-punk LP.

Almost, but not quite:

Happy Accidents- Everything but the here and now (Alcopop!)

Robot Bachelor- The Second Third Houseboat Album (Self-released)

Hospital Job- Haze Like Me (Rad Girlfriend)

Don Blake- Tough like Diamonds (Self-released)

The Beths- Future Me Hates Me (Carpark)

Non-album stuff I enjoyed:

Starter Jackets- ‘Preferred Stock’ EP (It’s Alive/Brassneck/Waterslide)

Katie Ellen- ‘Still Life’ EP (Lauren)

The Murderburgers- ‘Shitty People and Toothache’ EP (Asian Man/Brassneck)

The Murderburgers/City Mouse split 7” (It’s Alive/Brassneck)

Goodbye Blue Monday- ‘Misery-punk Ruined My Life’ EP (Make-that-a-take)

 

Read Hard’s Top Ten of 2018

1. The Beths- Future Me Hates Me (Carpark)

Making best of the year lists has become a task that gets harder and harder for me each year and I feel like I get more and more out of touch with recent releases. However, choosing number one this year was quite easy. A few months ago I heard some songs from this album and thought right away that they sounded quite nice. A few days after, I heard “You Wouldn’t Like Me” on Norwegian radio of all places (they apparently play that song often) and it was stuck in my head for days. It reminded me of The Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang” a bit, and I guess that’s not a bad thing. The following weeks I had to listen to “You Wouldn’t Like Me” at least once a day and I don’t recall hearing such a good tune in years, so that I basically forgot all about the rest of the album, which is a shame, because all the songs are great. They all share the same pop catchiness and self-deprecation with crunchy punk guitars as well as jangly guitars. Another cool thing that stands out in most of the songs is that they all have female lead vocals with male harmonies, but by the last chorus the male voices join in. This might be most noticeable on the title track. The band who made this wonderful album are from Auckland, New Zealand and all the band’s members studied jazz at a university level, which might explain the amazing musicianship on the album. The primary songwriter and lead singer is Elizabeth Stokes, but I think it sounds like every member of the band is essential to the sound of the band. It’s a wonderful mix of 60’s pop, punk and modern indie rock that I feel so many bands try nowadays, but so few do it as great as the Beths. I think the album sounds timeless and that’s better than sounding like 2018. My favorites are of course “You Wouldn’t Like Me”, “Happy Unhappy”, “Little Death” and “Great No One”

2. Werecats- Destined for the Outside (Household Name)

I was delighted to get the chance to review this album by London’s Werecats. An album with kind of a dirty, yet extremely catchy punk sound that I feel is missing from a lot of punk bands nowadays, lyrics with social commentary and wit. I apparently misunderstood the lyrics to the song “Julian” and interpreted it as a sad song, when it’s not supposed to be. I remember saying in my review that it reminded me a bit of Jabber and that is a good thing! Again an album that I enjoy every track on, but my favorites are “Julian”, “Strawberries”, “Zombie”, “Mr, Boring” and “Love Song for Birds”.

3. Parasite Diet- Braindead (Self-released)

I’ve always been quite fond of this band from Paducah, Kentucky and they’ve once again handed us a pop punk album that gets far too little attention compared to what it deserves. Not only does this album have the holy trinity of bass, guitars and drums, but the keyboards add something special to the mix. The songs are kind of adorable and catchy, songs about Reese’s Pieces and freckles that will get give you the feels like the kids say these days. There are also two covers on the album that gives a salute to David Jones (After School Special/Enemy You) and Brandon Carlisle (Teenage Bottlerocket) who both died a few years ago, with “Kitty Corner” (AFS) and “So Cool” (TBR) being the covered songs. I like that they added something new to both songs, especially when it’s my favorite songs of each of these bands and now I get two new versions of these songs to enjoy. This is Paraside Diet’s best album since the self-titled in 2010 (which of course included the timeless classic “It’s Cool to Be a Cowboy”). Let’s not forget that there are many ukulele songs on here! Favorite songs: “She’s Got It” (my 2nd favorite song this year after “You Wouldn’t Like me”), “Freckles”, “What I Want” and “Hey Kera”.

4. Jabber- ‘Forever’ EP (Asian Man)

I said that Werecats reminded me a bit of Jabber and that that’s a great thing. But then again, Jabber making a record is also a good thing! It’s a band that has never failed us and we should be grateful. Forever is an EP that continues the tradition of great Jabber EP’s. It’s actually their first new music in three years. It doesn’t actually feel that long, but Well…Just Jabber was released in 2015. Favourite songs: “Breathless” and “Take Me out Tonight”.

5. Hayley and the Crushers- Cool/Lame (Eccentric Pop)

Hayley and the Crushers was a band I first heard of this year and they are a poolside glitter trash-band from San Luis Obispo, California. A style of music that borders between surf-rock, garage rock and pop punk. I enjoyed this album from the very start. Like all their albums, the album cover is also very cool and retro. This really seems like an 80s band playing 60s music and singing songs from the 90s, but actually performing in 2018. I see them often being compared to the Go-gos, but I also get some Blondie vibes. And we get an obligatory Ramones cover. Favorite songs: “Polyester Sunday” and “Before the Blitz”.

6. Cut Worms- Hollow Ground (Jagjaguwar)

I didn’t hear of this incredible artist until about 5 days prior to writing this. I immediately thought it was the Everly Brothers and according to the album description on bandcamp, I wasn’t the only one. Hollow Ground is a rather easy album to listen to. I would describe it as nice. This isn’t moshpit material, but I really like it a lot. I think the first time I heard the song “Don’t Want to Say Good-bye” I fell in love with it. Great use of sevens and jangly guitars on the album and a good deal of country. It sounds like an Everly Brothers album would sound in 2018 because it actually sounds like 2018 (with a little sprinkle of 1957), but in a good way and I didn’t think that was possible. Cut Worms is the project of Max Clarke from Brooklyn, New York. Favorite songs: “How it Can Be”, “Don’t Want to Say Good-bye” and “Cash for Gold”.

7. The Nielsens- Blurry Photos (Self-released)

This was another album I got the honor of reviewing this summer and I think I wrote then that I felt like I was being transported back to the 80s to the set of Repo Man and that it felt like the lovechild of the Adolescents and Teenage Bottlerocket. Sometimes very poppy, sometimes very punky and sometimes very pop punky, this album gave me some good tunes this year. Favorite songs: “She’s Not Coming Back” and “51”.

8. The Monkees- Christmas Party (Rhino Entertainment)

Image result for the monkees christmas album

Regardless of all the new music that has come out this year, I’ve mostly listened to The Monkees and the soundtrack to season two of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Maybe because I’ve sat glued to the tv-screen watching those shows. Along with lead actress Rachel Bloom, most of the songs from the latter were written by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to only sit and enjoy the past glory of the Monkees from the 60s, but they released a Christmas album this year, where we also got a song written by Schlesinger, the hardest working songwriter in the business. Most of the songs are covers of older Christmas classics and I couldn’t really put a Christmas album that high on my 2018 year, but I do really enjoy this album a lot. Micky Dolenz sings most of the songs on the album, but we also get some old recordings of Davy Jones and some songs by Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith as well. Not to mention, Rivers Cuomo also wrote a song for it and his Monkees songs are so much better than his Weezer songs nowadays. Favorite songs: “I Want to Unwrap You on Christmas”, “Christmas Party” and “What Would Santa Do?”

9. Jeff Rosenstock- POST- (Quote Unquote/Polyvinyl/Specialist Subject)

I found this album in Germany right after it was released. I think this is a very strange and ambitious album. I still don’t know if this really is my thing, but I guess to some degree I like it and I did have to put it in my top ten this year.  I really should listen to this album more. I remember enjoying Bomb the Music Industry quite a lot back in the day, but always forgot to listen to them and now the same is happening with Jeff. I feel like I should listen to this album way more, and so should more people probably. There’s something about this album that is brilliant, but also feels very hard to really catch. Favorite songs: “9/10”, “Yr Throat” and “Let Them Win”.

10. Alkaline Trio- Is This Thing Cursed? (Epitaph/Heart and Skull)

Image result for alkaline trio is this thing cursed

Finding the tenth spot is always the hardest part for me. I felt like I had three choices: Alkaline Trio’s Is This Thing Cursed?, the Norwegian album Nattseileren (the night sailor) by Hjerteslag whose last album did very well last year and an album I recently reviewed: 9 by Saves the Day. The latter was quite ambitious, but maybe a bit too ambitious. Nattseileren wasn’t as good as Vannmann86 from 2017, but still had some really good songs, I think “Farvel til musikken” (“Farwell to Music”) got a prize for song of the year in Bergen this year. I definitely think Alkaline Trio put out their worst album and I’m sad to see the decline for every album they release. I still have to remind myself that from their debut on, they have released some really solid albums and yet to release a very terrible one. Is This Thing Cursed? is still a very good album, it just isn’t a very good Alkaline Trio album and I think it earns the tenth spot on this list. This time I think I enjoy Skiba’s songs more compared to Andriano’s, which I haven’t for some albums now. Overall, I think it is more consistent album than My Shame Is True, but it also lacks the really great standout songs that album had. Favorite songs: “I Can’t Believe”, “Blackbird”, “Demon and Division”, “Is This Thing Cursed?” and “Krystalline”.

Wow! The band describe themselves as “post-punk,” but I think that sells themselves short. This record is so much more than generic post-punk. Neurotic Fiction, from the UK’s West Country, plays music that’s light and airy, jangly, intense, garage-like, psychedelic, jazzy, and surfy. I love the lead guitars, the way they play meandering lines, and especially the glorious surf tone. The songs are far from straightforward, with complex structures and beautifully harmonized vocals. It’s almost if there’s some math-rock influence here, as well. After the delicate opener, “Social Animal,” “Collateral” is a more aggressive, angry sounding track. The rapid pace, intricate guitars, and dark chorus make this one of my favorite tracks of the album. “Warm Spirit” is another up-tempo track, with a beautiful melodic line. The rhythm section drives this song ever forward with authority, as the surf guitar plays another dark, labyrinthine line. I really like the retro-sounding “Loose End,” with its doo-wop sort of feel, but with very English shouting of the title during the chorus. “Mediator” is another favorite, the least surf and most indie-pop sounding track of the bunch. The harmonized lead vocals and the backing vocals are just gorgeous. It’s a shame that so many music publications put out their “best of” lists so early, because some great music that needs to be considered comes out in the last couple months of the year, and Neurotic Fiction’s debut LP is one of those.

Check it out here: https://neuroticfictionpopband.bandcamp.com/

PS

Philadelphia’s Restorations self-titled their debut LP, then released “LP2” and “LP3.” Four years later, and skipping “LP4,” we get “LP5000.” The extra zeros must come from the larger feel of the record than past efforts, with chittering electronics punctuating the big guitars. Back on the Tiny Engines label, with whom they released their debut LP, Restorations deliver seven songs in twenty-five minutes, describing the struggles of coming to adulthood in a weary, depressing world where we’ve become numbed to the corruption and hypocrisy that swirl around us, and an entire generation is finding difficulty navigating life in a world of contradiction. The emotional rock roller coaster begins with “St.,” a song that succinctly describes one aspect of modern life with the line, “Another privileged, nondescript individual / Demanding order from you with headphones on.” The music blends together Springsteen ethos with emo sensibilities, yielding a huge sound without coming off as overblown. The next song is “Nonbeliever,” and I first heard it on the same day I saw a satirical video about a charity that helps millennials live the lifestyle they portray on Instagram but feel uncomfortable holding down a job. “This working thing ain’t working for you,” the song states in the opening line. There’s a fuzziness, like from a dirty record, that opens and closes the song and permeates much of the middle, that exemplifies the fuzziness of life experienced by many today. “Remains” has a line that many people these days can relate to: “And now you can’t afford to live in the town you were born in / When they ask you where you’re from, you tell them the truth / You don’t know. And who does anymore?” Living in San Diego, a constant in the news is the high cost of living that’s driving people to move away. And in the song, “Melt,” we encounter the social media generation with “Look, I read a lot these days / I read the first line of everything.” It’s a sad sounding song with a sad message of a generation that can’t be bothered to understand the issues of the day beyond the sound bites that are fed to us by a cynical media owned by the very overlords we decry. There’s something about this record that gets to me. It’s more mainstream sounding than I usually go for, but this one hits home.

Check it out here: https://restorations.bandcamp.com/album/lp5000

PS

The last time Art Brut put out a new album was a long seven years ago, with 2011’s “Brilliant! Tragic!” And this time around, these Brits have gone all out, adding a horn section for a bigger, more epic sound. The dry, wry sarcasm is still in abundant supply though, and the music is still punked-out power pop with spoken/shouted vocals. The album opens in a big way with “Hooray!” and a very celebratory sound before resolving into a dizzying angular buzz saw of guitars. Lyrics are about a breakup that was actually a blessing, with vocalist Eddie Argos claiming he’s not bitter. A less pleasant breakup is the topic of the next track, “I Hope You’re Very Happy Together.” After stating that he hopes this is the last breakup song he ever needs, the chorus comes in with, “I hope you’re very happy together / And if you’re not that’s even better.” Not bitter? Hmmm… I love the loping jangle of “Good Morning Berlin,” and how the track builds in intensity toward the end. On it, like many of the songs, Argos seems to be trying to assure someone, whether the listener or himself, that everything is going to be OK, but one can’t help but get the feeling that he knows otherwise. “Hospital” is a bouncy power pop number about looking forward to getting out of the hospital and staying healthy, because the hospital isn’t the place to be. The great line of the track references Amy Winehouse, with “They tried to make me go to rehab / And I said that’s probably a very good idea.” My favorite track may be “Kultfigur,” a very angular, harsh, edgy one. The LP as a whole is classic Art Brut, but bigger. It may not be quite up to the level of past LPs, but it’s still pretty damn good.

Check it out: https://alcopop.bandcamp.com/album/wham-bang-pow-lets-rock-out

PS

What do you get when you bring together members of some of the best bands in the West and Northwest of the United States, people from bands like Success, Coyote Bred, and The Shell Corporation? You get The Drowns, and after having seen them perform a couple of times in the past year, having this album drop unexpectedly was a real treat. The music is super melodic, more rock than punk. Think the punkness of Success mixed with the rock of Coyote Bred and a dose of Red City Radio, and you’ll have an idea of the sound. The ten songs on offer are all pretty much mid-tempo to up-tempo tracks with an easy lope to them, but with a high level of energy permeating each song. The opening track, “Eternal Debate,” opens with a piano chord, a few keys plinked, and then a big classic rock guitar chord announcing the album’s intent. Rev Peters’ big gruff vocals are a perfect pairing with the big sound from the band. But when Andy Wylie takes his turn at lead vocals on a couple of the tracks, the results are equally awesome. I really love “Time Slips,” with his vocals that are almost crooning, in a Smoking Popes or Odd Robot way. The title track is a great one, too, with elements of power pop and Americana mixed in with the high-energy punk’n’roll. And, while Americana sort of music is usually something I can take or leave, the overtly countrified “OverExposure” rages, and the harmonized vocals on the chorus are just perfect. This is a strong debut that you should get on.

Check it out here: https://thedrowns.bandcamp.com/album/view-from-the-bottom

PS

This is the debut EP for the multinational band, My Own Co-Pilot. The band was formed in 2017 by Sweden-based Michal Kosinski, and also includes U.S.-based vocalist Derrek Siemieniuk. Sonically, the band blends mid-nineties post-emo with 2000s emo-revival sounds. I hear bits of Jawbox sometimes, and other 90s DC/Dischord influence. But I also hear lots of 2000s emo, a genre that I really never got into. The smooth melodic lines and silky sung vocals that sometimes get a bit edgy are very reminiscent of the sort of music J Robbins was writing, but this is combined with an execution that includes shouted, gritty vocals and harder edged guitars, and it’s an abrasive combination. “When The Missing Return” is probably my favorite of the quartet of tunes, sounding the most like something Jawbox might have put out in their middle years, even including the interesting style of chord progression resolution favored by Robbins. “This Crying” even has hints of the slow burner style of song from Jawbox’s latter period, including the sort of vocal harmonies they sometimes used. But the track rotates between that and a couple other styles, including generic post-hardcore and quiet meandering indie. This track, therefore, gets 67% rating from me in that I like two thirds of it. The remaining tracks, the opening and closing tracks, “Exit You” and “Remembering,” to my ears are a little too generic emo revival to invoke any emotional response in me. Pretty ironic.

Check it out here: https://myowncopilot.bandcamp.com/releases

DB

Werecats is a female fronted punk rock band from South London with members from the Pukes and the Murderburgers. Firstly, I would like to say that the album cover is fantastic and fits very well with the music. The album is a rollercoaster of different styles within the punk genre with rough sounds and catchy melodies on every track. I think the Werecats sounds a lot like older British punk bands with a hint of Jabber, which can’t really go wrong. The album starts off with “Astbury”, which has the catchiness of Masked Intruder and sets the tone for a good pop punk album. The guitar riffs are great and the whoah ohs are great!

By the end of the year, I am looking for the top songs of 2018 and there are a lot of contenders on Destined For The Outside. My favorite track is “Julian”, a heartfelt song with great lyrics that seem incredibly sad and moving to be such an upbeat song. For some reason, if this was a slow acoustic song sung by a folk singer covered with candles, it could be one of the saddest songs I have ever heard, but in this way it’s actually quite uplifting. “Zombie” is another great tune with strong lyrics. The song sounds a bit like a nursery rhyme and turns upmarket shopping into a horror movie. “Strawberries” is the kind of catchy shit that makes me happy I got into pop punk. The album ends on the punker side with “Love Song for Birds”. I think the album sounded good right away, but also gets better and better. I don’t think this album sounds “new”, but it sounds timeless, and it’s usually those records that are the best.

Check it out here: https://werecats.bandcamp.com/album/destined-for-the-outside

RH

Review: Saves the Day- 9 (Equal Vision)

Posted: December 17, 2018 in Reviews

Image result for saves the day 9

9 is the ninth album from Saves the Day. With, wait for it, nine songs that tells the story of the band and the story of lead vocalist Chris Conley’s personal journey through life. The album feels a bit less polished than their self-titled album in 2013. “Side by Side” sounds like it could be a hit. There is a lot more rock ‘n’ roll doodling and hard rock influences on 9 and the band has to some degree drifted away from the beautiful indie rock of their later records. There are also no signs of the earlier emo sound here. Saves the day is definitely a band that reinvent themselves. The riff of “Kerouac and Cassidy” sounds like a mixture of Muse and Green Day, despite that I think it’s a nice song and has a strong melody. “It’s a Beautiful World” sounds Thin Lizzy-inspired with its guitar riff and I find it to be a great tune.

The single “Rendezvous” brings the album together with references to all the other songs and it’s by far the best song on the album. The last song “29” is a 22-minute-long epic that finishes the story. To finish with such a long song is a bold move, but not necessarily a wise one. “29” is also the song that sounds closest to their self-titled album to me. Conley’s voice on the album reminds me a bit of Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance and the music often sounds a bit inspired by Ash and British alternative rock. I don’t think 9 compares to the band’s two first albums or the self-titled, but I like where they went with this. It’s always refreshing when bands try something new and not just stick to a form.

Check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/savestheday

RH