Thursday, June 5, 2014

Punknews 100

I wrote a couple things for the now-announced Punknews 100. It was an attempt to do a top 100 albums of the years 2000-2010, and it almost came together. This being 2014, people in my ear tell me this thing may finally see the light of day.

I'm mostly posting this to shame the Punknews hivemind to continue to collate the list, because I want to see the discussion that will come of it. If I had the opportunity to write up a list again, it would be very different, but I suspect that's the trouble with lists. There's large swaths that remain the same, but it changes and mutates (or ought to) with breadth of experience and age.

Spelling errors and other things are left intact because, well, that's how they went out.

I was initially bummed that I didn't get a couple of my all-time favorites, but found out later that Jordan got the truly important ones and I'd end up with my personal favorite, Career Suicide, a couple months down the line.

It was an honor to be thought of and included. Thank you, gents.


There's something disarming about Jeff Rosenstock's "inclusive alienation" lyrics that matches the frantically played (and excellently composed) music on Scrambles. The economy sucks, I lost my job, NYC is too expensive, my friends are all successful are turned from self-pitying wankery to a unifying celebration of the freedom and terror of 20-something modern life. The ska-punk framework makes it easy to throw in little touches that humanize the record, whether it's far too many syllables in "(Shut) Up the Punx!!!" or the ODB sample at the end of "25!"

Released for free digitally in early 2009 (and for money physically later that year on tentpole Asian Man Records), Scrambles set punkews commenters on fire not because of how it was released, but because of the content: the synthesis of unapologetic ska-punk, dead on lyrics, overwhelming heart and PBR-lubricated camaraderie. Other records on this list might be more technically proficient, more carefully recorded, more deftly worded, but you know what? Scrambles captures the essential soul and the grimy spirit of punk rock and that comes out crystal clear.

I Am the Movie

In 2003, everyone was incredibly serious. Mall screamo was small enough to drown in the bathtub, Drive-Thru Records approached the height of their ubiquity, Bad Religion was back with a bullet and finally Rise Against, Thrice and Thursday looked at major label waters after Less Than Jake gave the all clear with their most sobering record.

I Am the Movie then, blew up because of its neon colored soul. It was as sincere as anything released that year, but brighter, stranger and more intimate. "The Future Freaks Me Out Out" finally perfects the bedeviling Weezer cum Get Up Kids alchemy, complete with now-mystifying pop-culture references (Will and Grace?) . "My Favorite Accident" is as morose today as it was back then "Don't Call It a Comeback" still breaks land speed records with moog flourishes intact, while "Modern Chemistry" slyly cops to Justin Pierre's half-measures at sobriety.

In its bipolar about-faces between despondent and thrilled, Motion City Soundtrack proved that authenticity comes in more than shades of gray; it also comes in Day-Glo.

the Troubled Stateside 
The Troubled Stateside was Crime In Stereo's Long Island hardcore disc, the moment when they first began to calibrate their own filter through which to view the world.

Vocalist Kristian would stretch his range on later records, but here Crime In Stereo plays with the trappings of the LIHC genre and found there was room to grow and stretch, like the "dying in a hospital"-aesthetic of "Gravity/Grace." But the jewel in The Troubled Stateside crown is the all-encompassing final track, "I, Stateside". In five and a half minutes, the band blitzes through the themes of the last 11 songs, with the chorus, a fevered, supercharged hosanah, "God, please save these troubled states."

The Troubled Stateside is a record that is influenced by living in Bush's America, but remains important today because it could go from macro to micro and back without losing intensity or focus. It's about growing up in a country you thought you knew and not liking what you found, played with nothing held back or close to the vest.


One of Rob Dobi's bleakest design jobs, Ruiner is as straight-forward as its title and "birds attack boy" art would have you believe. Buoyed initially by the release of "Me Vs. Morrissey" on the that year's Warped Tour compilation (like He-Man going through a Chinese phone book, as one critic put it), the question at the time was, the forthcoming Ruiner couldn't be better than Mute Print, could it?

About that: Yes.

The instrumental intro to the opening track, "The King Is Dead" was just a tease: It simply got faster and maintained the intricacy, a display of virtuosity meant only to show the listener they didn't know what's coming. That song's first words are a reference to autoerotic asphyxiation, and the song itself is about committing suicide by hanging from the garage.

The rest of Ruiner was almost equally humorless, most songs memorializing a disintegrating romance with a vulgar, pitiless focus that emitted little emotional light. It's a bummer of a record that way, but the only way you can slow down enough to tell is long after Ruiner finishes and that just means you should play it again.

Career Suicide

Sincerely believed histrionics in bullet points:

-Vulgar without being trite.

-Virtuosity without ostentation.

-Weary, but not exhausted.

-To skate to and to be held by.

-Bad Religion being recorded by Kerry King.

-The final, towering shot in Nitro's brief, nearly unfuckwithable salvo of career making records.

It ain't magic, kid. It's as pedestrian as the culmination of hard work, talent, relentless touring, learning from mistakes, willingness to be in debt and leave lovers. A Wilhelm Scream aren't miracle workers.

Mundane as it is, those are the reasons Career Suicide is so good.

 (Well, that and the Blasting Room.)

 Career Suicide is more intricate because they dared to write the songs they thought would one up Ruiner. It's faster because they had the personnel to sustain it.  It’s surprising because A Wilhelm Scream broke, again, what we thought was their ceiling.

What makes Career Suicide so special is how evenly it blends speed, technical prowess and metric volumes of compressed, focused, gotta-get-it-off-my-chest emotion. The balance of those elements is flawless and the recording sprightly enough to capture it all.

Yeah. Nitro went out on a good one.

The '59 Sound

It starts with the crackle of vinyl, for fuck's sake.

It's really tempting to view The '59 Sound as reactionary, or as if it must be an opposing party to whatever surrounded it in the pop landscape. It isn't. It's a record about girls, Saturday nights, driving, Maria and records. They're dudes that like Springsteen, Miles Davis and Otis Redding more than Rancid and produced a record that reflected those influences.

It really is that simple. The ’59 Sound wormed its way into listeners’ hearts the way hardly anyone ever talks about: great songs played without shame or a knowing wink at the listener at a time when the style isn’t in favor.

There's telling details like the diner staff comping Fallon a side dish with his coffee, waiting for a woman that won't come. With a lyric like "Broken Bones Matilda left a note and a rose…" one simply understands "Film Noir" was titled not only correctly, but also as an aspiration.

Their earnestness paid out beyond their wildest dreams. Springsteen didn't just let Gaslight Anthem kiss his ring, but went one further and joined the band for the title track in Europe during 2009. There are subtler influences and it’s ultimately what makes this uncomplicated record so surprising and resonant. Anyone can get Springsteen, but the Cure on "Old White Lincoln?"

Listen again...

A fully enumerated list of which songs on these records broke my skull open and forced me to think differently about music would keep me here forever, but man, I've been partial to the cane sugar sweetness of Motion City Soundtrack for years, so have the sub two minute banger "Don't Call It A Comeback." WE DON'T LIKE ENDLESS CYCLES...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.