2009 was quite a good year for heavy music. Unfortunately I didn't have time to listen to all of it, so my list this year is quite a mix of heavy hardcore and boring indie music. So here on the internet I'm posting my horrible taste in music. Feel free to criticize me all you want.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
"The Pains of Being Pure at Heart" (February 3rd, 2009)
Standout track: "Everything With You"
Shoe-gaze. Indie-pop. Jangle-pop. Whatever you want to call it, it's just plain perfect. For some reason the first thing I thought when I heard The Pains of Being Pure At Heart was, "This is what the soundtrack to 'Empire Records' should have been!" I guess it's got that perfect blend of noisy rock and melodic pop akin to bands of the early 90's like Adorable, and it's liberally drenched in teen angst. But it's not rebellious or violent angst, its the angst of someone quiet and bookish who pines over girls in the library ("Young Adult Friction",) yet it's still overwhelmingly optimistic and idealistic in it's approach, both lyrically and musically. Song titles like "A Teenager in Love" and "This Love is Fucking Right!" says it all. If it hasn't already, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart will soon become the soundtrack for young, introverted gents everywhere.
"Tripping With Howlies" (February 3rd, 2009)
Standout Track: "Chimera"
For a bunch of young guys from Atlanta, Howlies really know their way around surf rock and the sounds of 60's era pop. In "Tripping With Howlies" they've created a haven of vintage sounds, relying on reel-to-reel technology and ignoring the world of pro-tools to capture some seriously catchy pop songs. "Do the Natural Thing" sounds like a song off the the "Gidget" soundtrack, while "Aluminum Baseball Bat" has more in common with The Supremes than Dick Dale. Other tracks like "Angeline" have the modern sensibility of current bands like The Shins, yet Howlies stay deeply rooted in their love of music from the lo-fi era throughout "Tripping."
"White Flag" (March 10th, 2009)
Orange Twin records
Standout track: "Mountain Heart"
Me and Madeline go way back...way back to February. Yes, believe it or not we spent this Valentines Day (eve) together. We shared a pizza in an old house in St. Augustine and talked about how we started playing music. Oh what a time we had! Ok, so I just happened to be in town when she was playing a house show at my friend's house, and she didn't recognize me at The Fest last October, but I still enjoy her music a lot, and it's only partly because I happen to think she is a babe. Her first album with a full band, "White Flag" is a great collection of folk and bluegrass songs that are heavy on banjo, slide guitar and lyrics that could only be penned by someone from the south, lying somewhere between heartfelt and traditional folk fanfare. "I'm Sorry" is a particular tear jerker, and "This Train," is the gratuitous folk song about a train, but as a wise person once said, "Is there anything else to write about besides trains?" if there's a song about pizza on the next record, you know what it's really about.
"Grey Britain" (May 5th, 2009)
Warner Brothers Records
Standout track: "I Dread The Night"
This band could have made this list purely based on attitude. This summer on warped tour they played on the ground and called out every carbon copy band on the tour falsely waving the flag of punk. And to top it off, rather than go radio friendly, they used a deal with a major label to launch further and deeper into their punk and hardcore roots. Frank Carter's vocals are brash, volatile and slightly cockney'd, which is perfect when you're basically spitting in the face of the Queen. He would make Joe Strummer proud. "Grey Britain" is at its core a hardcore record, borrowing from American bands like Black Flag, but it has the voice and shared Nihilism of "God Save the Queen." Gallows could be the UK's new Sex Pistols, except without all the stupid snarling and awful music.
Paint It Black
"Surrender" EP (August 18th, 2009)
Jade Tree Records
Standout track: "Surrender"
Clocking in at less than seven minutes Philidelpia's Paint it Black latest release goes by so fast it'd be easy to miss, but these veterans of hardcore seem to put more passion and raw anger into a seven minute album than most bands manage to during their entire existence.The opening track, "Sacred" is misleading in its melodic approach, reminiscent of frontman Dan Yemin's previous ventures in Kid Dynamite and Lifetime, but when "Worms" starts off with it's yelled "1-2-3-4!" the constant assult of lightning speed punk rock riffs begins and never lets up. The ferocity is only broken up by the occasional bass driven interludes, bringing the tempo from a gallop to a crawl, slowly but surely pounding Yemin's wit and wisdom into your brain. It's seven minutes well spent.
"Naked and Cold" (September 8th, 2009)
Solid State Records
Standout track: "Revival"
Despite these guys being some of my favorite dudes in the world, Advent earned their place on the list solely by making an incredible record. Compelling lyrics, breakneck tempos, the heaviest riffs known to man. It's all here. As I've told them many times, their last record "Remove the Earth" was the only thing Solid State put out since Figure Four's last album that I actually listened to, but "Naked and Cold" blows "Remove The Earth" out of the water. Songs like "Nothing" and "Pack of Fools" are ridiculously fast while "Revival" could possibly be one of the most epic hardcore songs of the decade. I seriously tried to think of one more epic and I couldn't find one. Fatherless is a heavy instrumental that reminds me of Cursed. Name me one other Christian Hardcore band that has a song that remotely resembles Cursed. You can't. Maybe us being friends makes me biased, but Advent is seriously one of the best bands in the world.
"New Leaves" (September 22nd, 2009)
Standout track: "Good Friends, Bad Habits"
Being a pretty big fan of Mike Kinsella's solo project known as Owen, I surprisingly almost let "New Leaves" slip by me. It seemed to be released with little or no fanfare, which in some way fits it. And I don't mean it's a bad album, it's quite the opposite, but it's a little more subdued and understated compared to the previous "At Home With Owen." At first it may seem that Kinesella has "lost his edge" as a friend and fellow Owen fan told me, but after a few listens this album really grows on you. "New Leaves" is a collection of well crafted acoustic driven songs that probably holds more in common with Owen's earlier albums, but it's apparent Kinsella himself has had some dramatic life changes since then. Most of the lyrics chronicle his transformation from a single and reckless twenty-something to a full blown family man. In "Good Friends, Bad Habits" he starts to reminisce about "the bar fights/ the long nights/ the where in the hell am I?" before quickly affirming that "every time she breathes/ I embrace my routine." It's most apparent on the slightly sappy Amnesia that says "She has saved me/ from the long nights and the last calls that betrayed me/ Now I know who I am/ a house broken one woman man." Yet songs like "Ugly on the Inside" still carry the blunt force of his previous work, never missing an opportunity to humiliate someone in a song. So Kinsella may be domesticated now, but lost his edge, I think not.
"Axe to Fall" (October 20th, 2009)
Standout Song: "Dark Horse"
I've never been a huge fan of Converge. Maybe I didn't want to like them since everyone else seemed to worship them. Maybe their previous records had too much noise in it for me to connect to. I don't know what made me put aside my bias and check out "Axe to Fall," but whatever it was I'm thankful for it. The Opening track "Dark Horse" starts off with such a juggernaut of a riff you can't help but be hooked. Kurt Ballou's guitar work is amazing to say the least; it's quite technical but never ventures off into prog territory, making it actually enjoyable to listen to. Songs like "Feed the Worms" showcases the band's taste for stoner and sludge metal and it's a welcomed change. The album's production was handled by their own Ballou and I've always felt like he has built his God City Studios around what will make a Converge album sound good, which isn't always great for his other clients, but undoubtedly makes "Axe to Fall" sound perfect. With a the career that's coming up on 20 years, its evident that Converge are still just as relevant as ever, and can still even pick up a few new formally jaded fans along the way.
"Lost Art" (November 3rd, 2009)
Jade Tree Records
Standout track: "Lower Estada"
Richmond, Virginia's Cloak/Dagger has a knack for playing punk rock that harkens to the early days of leather jackets, torn up shirts and self destruction. "Lost Art" is a serious dose of rock and roll riffs and some snarky punk attitude. It's a record full of songs that could've been written before playing punk rock had any promise at all. Before the well oiled money making machine known as Warped Tour was even a twinkling in someone' eye. Back when pop punk was considered an oxymoron. A time when people played punk rock for the hell of it. It's an attitude Cloak/Dagger decided to bring back from the dead, and "Lost Art" is them playing the role of Dr. Frankenstine himself, frightening villagers with punk's grotesque reanimated corpse. It's evident in songs like the self-damning "Billions Millions" that boasts "Fat Elvis/ James Dean/ dead Ramones save a place for me/ I'll be there soon." It's an ambitious grab for immortality, and though they may not ever share a page with Joey Ramone in Rock and Roll history books, these hooks may get them pretty damn close.
"Lost Ground" double 7" (November 17, 2009)
Bridge 9 Records
Standout Track: "The Red White and Blues"
Lets face it: concept albums usually suck. Sure, Shipwreck's last album was good, but unless you climb "proverbial mountains" on a daily basis it probably wasn't too relatable. Despite the stigma of a concept album, Defeater is one band that knows how to tell a story, and what could potentially be a campy idea turns out to be a heart gripping tale amidst a background of intelligent melodic hardcore. "Lost Ground" seems to be the "prequal" to the song "Prophet in Plain Clothes" off their previous album "Travels." Our hero starts off as an innocent recruit into the army, getting ready to fight in what is most likely World War II ("We ain't seen no Germans for days"), only to end up on the streets when he comes home, realizing heroism isn't all he was made to believe. "Begging in the Slums" ties it all together bringing the "prophet" where we met him in "Travels," the strumming of his guitar fading the final song out. Defeater has created a seriously well thought album that puts them leaps and bounds above their contemporaries. The emotion behind the songs are so real, so raw you would think what they're singing really happened to them. Given the current political and economic climate, "Lost Ground" has a lot more relevance than being just another concept album.
Take It Back!: "Atrocities"
The Hope Conspiracy: "True Nihilist" EP
Mind Eraser: "The Prodigal Son Brings Death"
Lewd Acts: "Black Eyed Blues"