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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

TILT: Masked Intruder- Masked Intruder (1/22/13)

Artist: Masked Intruder
Album: Masked Intruder
Label: Red Scare (2012)
Key Jams: "25 to Life", "Heart Shaped Guitar", "Stick 'Em Up"

The Skinny: Masked Intruder are a pop-punk band who blend Ramones-core with elements of doo-wop and whatever the fuck you wanna call the Grease soundtrack. The premise of the band is that they're love-lorn petty criminals who are equally unsuccessful with the ladies and the legal system. Anonymity is part of the shtick, so they all wear masks on stage and talk in fake Queen's accents. If that sounds goofy to you, don't worry-- I'm pretty sure that's the point.

Pros: Melodies are catchy as fuck, lyrics contain plenty of hilarious one-liners, 50's shtick is done well.
Cons: Lyrical subject matter gets grating quickly, standard issue pop-punk with funny gimmick.

The Verdict: Worth a listen, not worth the hype.

I saw these dudes play with Teenage Bottlerocket months ago and they were pretty impressive, but for whatever reason I didn't listen to them on record until recently. I don't usually go for "gimmick" bands, but these guys do their thing well enough that it isn't immediately dismiss-able. If the singer was born in a different era, he could have made young women swoon with his coy crooning and impeccable sense of melody, but I guess he'll just have to settle for making beardos laugh with his sharp one-liners instead.

Unfortunately, no amount of catchy melodies or hilarious jokes can really save 13 songs about essentially the same thing from getting monotonous by the end. I wish they'd included more fast songs about petty crimes (a la "Stick 'Em Up) because you can only listen to so many crooning ballads about a pathetic dude breaking into a girl's house before it starts to get a little weird. I dunno, it's usually hard for me to make it through an entire pop-punk album without getting bored due to the lack of variety in the music, and this album is no exception. When Masked Intruder is on point, it's really on point (the song "Heart Shaped Guitar" is done particularly well) but a lot of it is also forgettable. Maybe people who are really into this kind of music can appreciate the album a lot more, but I just don't get the hype surrounding it.

Monday, 21 January 2013

TILT: Rescuer- With Time Comes the Comfort (1/21/13)

Artist: Rescuer
Album: With Time Comes the Comfort
Label: Rise Records (2013)
Key Jams: "Shame", "Locked Inside"

The Skinny: Rescuer are a "melodic hardcore" band from Tampa, Florida. Their press releases describes them as (I'm paraphrasing here) "reminiscent of early 2000's screamo like Silverstein, but with the passion and drive of bands like Envy and Pg. 99." However, I feel like that description is both inaccurate and cringeworthy, so I came up with my own: "Rescuer sounds like a cross between Pianos Become the Teeth and Modern Life is War, played by dudes who are definitely still into Rise-core, but don't want to admit it for fear of losing punk points." This is their first full length.

Pros: Really unique amalgamation of "tr00" hardcore with elements of whatever you call For the Fallen Dreams, etc.
Cons: Songs get a little boring/formulaic at times, very heavily indebted to its influences.

The Verdict: Quite a pleasant surprise.

To be honest, when I first read Rescuer's description on Punknews I threw up in my mouth a little bit; but in the name of journalistic objectivity, I figured I'd give them a shot anyways. I'm glad I did, because With Time Comes the Comfort is worth a listen or two. If I may speculate on the band's formation for a moment -- I wouldn't be surprised to hear these dudes were in swoop-haired bands together like two years ago, until one of the guitarists heard Travels, decided he'd seen the light, and recruited four of the most competent musicians he could find to start a "serious hardcore band." I say this because, despite the Rescuer's best efforts, With Time... has undeniable structural parallels to Rise-core. (Let's get real here guys, those "atmospheric" parts are way more reminiscent of Like Moths to Flames than Pianos Become the Teeth.)

That ain't no dis though. In fact, I think this album would have benefited on more than one occasion from some clean singing/heavy ass breakdowns to stir up the monotony of "youth-crew beat into melodic noodling" formula they have a tendency to rely on when they're out of ideas. Still, when these dudes show their true colours they have the ability to create some pretty interesting music, and I wouldn't be surprised if With Time... makes it into my listening rotation. Furthermore, I look forward to hearing the record Rescuer makes in a year when they realize the dudes on the B9 board pose just as hard as the scene kids they've turned their backs on.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Gorilla Biscuits = Emmure: A Stream of Conscious Rant About Metalcore

Since I've spent time ripping on metalcore today, I thought I'd show you people a fair and balanced approach in my music snobbery. Here's something I wrote as a stream of conscious rant one night after I'd seen some hardcore kids shit-talking some Rise Records band on the internet. I used to be one of those douchebags who stuck his nose up at metalcore for being "untr00" or whatever, but then I turned 11 and realized it wasn't such a big deal anymore. Sure, I still think a lot of metalcore is boring and derivative, but so is a lot of hardcore. So yeah. Whatever. Just read it...

Hate all you want; it's still a #jam

So I recently got kicked out of my metalcore band. Well maybe kicked out isn’t the right word, we mutually decided that I wasn’t the best fit, because I’m not big on metalcore. They wanted somebody who could run with the direction they were going, and I wanted to do something that was more emotionally fulfilling to me, so we parted ways. I learned a lot being in that band, and I feel that perhaps the most important lesson was that I should stop looking at metalcore with disdain and start looking at is as a difference in opinion.

I basically look at metalcore the same way I feel my normal friends look at the music I listen to. I can stomach it, I understand some of the references, there are even some parts I enjoy; however the self-referential nature of it makes it impossible to grasp completely because I wasn’t brought into that scene before I became too old to justify spending my time trying to crack some subculture code just so I could fit in (which is essentially how I got into punk and hardcore). I compare the current state of that scene to Hardcore circa 1987 – the market is oversaturated to a point where the voices of the legitimate artists have been drowned out by shitheads simply due the fact that if you throw a lot of people into a room, most of them will be idiots by default.

But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean the metalcore scene has an absence of legitimate artists. In fact, since that route seems to be the new entry point into the underground, I bet a lot of the next wave of good underground music will come from kids who listened to emmure, much in the same way so many of our favourite bands were introduced to the scene by Thursday or Rancid or The Killers or whatever “untr00 bullshit” it was cool to rip on in 2002. What I can’t wait for is to see 20 years down the road when the same insufferable poser-types who pretend to like Gorilla Biscuits now will be jocking Emmure while ferociously picking apart the “nu-metalcore” of the day, whatever that may be (completely failing to mention the fact that they loved those “shitty” bands a mere six months earlier).

Shit, didn’t emo and screamo take a beating ten years ago from hardcore “purists”? Now all of a sudden we have like a million basement skrammers and kinesella tribute acts because a decade later somebody finally had the balls to admit they enjoyed that shit when it came out. Now, queue the revival scene; queue the entrance of seventeen year olds; queue the tailspin into the self-reference pit; queue the “tr00 kvlt purists” dismissing the entire scene while untagging pictures of themselves wearing a La Dispute shirt from facebook – fuck, do you people not notice a pattern here? Whatever; every time I try and make sense of the hardcore scene I end up pushing myself one step closer to an aneurism, so I’m not gonna do that anymore tonight. I’m just gonna listen to La Dispute on my iPod then go to bed. Fuck you.

TILT: The Plot in You- Could You Watch Your Children Burn (1/18/13)

Artist: The Plot in You
Album: Could You Watch Your Children Burn
Label: Rise (2013)
Key Jams: "Shyann Weeps"

The Skinny: The Plot in You are a Rise Records metalcore band from Ohio. That last sentence doubles as both a band bio and description of their sound. They aren't extremely heavy, but they aren't one of those Jonny Craig bands either; they kind of find that middle ground between chuggishness and clean parts. Could You Watch Your Children Burn (no question mark?) is their second full length album. According to Wikipedia, the band's singer plays all the instruments (except the drums) on the record.

Pros: Cool riffs, well produced, not a lot of boring ass chugging, lyrics are good for a few laughs.
Cons: Not a whole lot of structure going on here, this guy might be a serial killer.

The Verdict: Hmmm...

Let me preface this by saying after playing in a metalcore band, I've come to appreciate this kind of music when it's done well. Unfortunately, this is not done well. Somebody needs to sit down with these dudes (this dude?) and explain to them the importance of song structure, because apparently they missed that part of "Being a Musician 101." The first five songs sound like the band rehearsing by playing a bunch of unrelated riffs in succession. Also, it's a good thing I have no intention of ever moving to Findlay, Ohio, because judging by the lyrics the singer is the kind of guy who would call his exes' new dude at three in the morning crying and pleading with him to "treat her better than I did, maaaan..." before killing a squirrel and sending it to him in the mail. 

All that being said, the producer must have busted some Adderal into the studio when they were recording the end of the album, because a couple of the later tracks are worth a listen. My favourite is "Shyann Weeps"; The lyrics are goofy as fuck, but the song has traces of discernable structure, which is nice. Selling point: the white nerd version of the "Hit 'Em Up" call-out at the end: "fuck you/fuck your family/fuck any of your friends/and fuck your dumb tattoos." Fucking classic.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

TILT: Kendrick Lamar- good kid, m.A.A.d city (1/16/13)

Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
Label: Aftermath/Interscope (2012)
Key Jams: "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", "Sing For Me/Dying of Thirst"

The Skinny: On GKMC, Kendrick Lamar tells the story of LA's most infamous suburb through the eyes of a sometimes shady but ultimately well meaning young man, highlighting the dizzying heights of street life as a means of underpinning his reflections on it's sobering realities. The smooth, soulful beats and Lamar's penchant for creative flows reminds me a lot of Aquemeni era Outkast, but with a distinctly modern edge to it. 

Pros: Creative lyricism, surprisingly experimental for a major label rap record, those fucking beats, maaaan!
Cons: Songs have a tendency to get too long/weird.

Verdict: Would recommend to anyone slightly interested in rap music.

This is easily the best new rap record I've heard in a long time. That may be because the only new rap music I've heard is either of the Two Chainz "radio thug" variety, or that incomprehensible gibberish hardcore kids pretend to like (*coughwakaflockaflamecough*), but I digress. Lamar's versatility on GKMC is outstanding -- "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", "Backseat Freestyle" and "The Art of Peer Pressure" couldn't be much different from each other stylistically, yet somehow the three don't sound out of place on the same album, let alone back to back to back. I also love the beats, but that might be 'cause Aquemeni is mah favrite cd that I play in mah crib. The only flaw I can find is that sometimes the songs run on for too long, or go off on these weird tangents that don't necessarily add anything to them. However, that's to be expected from a young artist finding his groove, and more often then not, when Lamar steps outside his comfort zone the results are promising. As long as he can stay grounded and continues to work on his trade, Kendrick Lamar will be a name to watch in hip-hop.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What I learned (or failed to learn) at Sandy Hook P.S.

I once had a faint glimmer of hope for a silver lining in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.

For a while there, it looked like something was about to happen. Remember the frustration in Obama's voice when he gave that speech in the high school auditorium and spoke about how something needed to change in the American social landscape? It wasn't the loud, "this will no longer be tolerated" frustration that comes with feigned outrage, more the "parent meets arresting officer" kind. The one where you're so crushed with disappointment you can't even process what the hell just happened.

For me, that was a genuine moment -- it was exactly the way I felt. It was the way we all felt. How else are you supposed to react to the news that a regular looking dude, in a regular American suburb, went into a regular American public school and killed 20 regular American children, in cold blood, two weeks before Christmas? For a brief moment, nobody was "pissed off and not going to take it anymore;" nobody had all the answers; nobody was distractd by the best MNF game of the entire season -- we were sitting in our living room, stunned and disappointed at how something like this could happen in a society where it had no reason to happen.

Yet oddly enough, there was a cautious optimism that snuggled its way into my cozy living room on that cold December night. For some reason, I genuinely believed in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, we as a people were perhaps ready to put away our petty grievances and finally have a reasonable discussion about contentious yet pressing issues like mental health and firearms legislation. I smiled -- as I witnessed the '49ers thwart a Tom Brady comeback to beat the Patriots, it seemed everything was right with the world. I went to bed that night with a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach.

Maybe things were finally going to change.

Well, it's been a month. Where are we now? Let's see... my living room is freezing, the Patriots are favoured to win the AFC Championship, and the international Sandy Hook discussion has devolved into a gun control debate between Midwestern PTA moms who will never see a gun in real life (yet think they're somehow qualified to legislate gun specs based on how scary they sound), and crazed rednecks whose superiority complexes are so uncontrollable they've deluded themselves into believing guns weren't designed for the sole purpose of killing things.

One thing hasn't changed, however; there's still cause to be heartbreaking-ly disappointed in our society. That's where I'm at right now; I'm President Obama giving that speech in the high school auditorium. I'm your mom after you come home in handcuffs, covered in puke. I'm your super-sweet girlfriend who will have another shitty Valentine's day because you put your rent money on black again. I feel let down. I have so many questions I don't even know where to begin:

Like, "how do we continue to ignore the overwhelming absence of support for people with mental health issues and their families?"

Or, "is it not clear to everyone that people like Adam Lanza aren't in the right frame of mind to be wandering around the streets like the rest of us without some sort of professional help?"

I could go on for hours:

Does it ever occur to anyone that violent video games and a lack of spankings haven't turned the vast, VAST majority of our generation into school shooters, and instead maybe, just maaaaaybe, there's something wrong with these people's brains that makes them do fucked up shit?

Does it not make more sense to deal with somebody who displays violent tendencies before they commit a crime instead of throwing them in prison after the damage has been done?

Do people actually think these violent criminals are "losers who snap one day" and there were no signs to suggest the capability of deranged, violent behaviour?

Doesn't it seem a little ironic that school boards are spending so much money on security, when the vast majority of people affected by gun violence are introduced to it not by catastrophic acts of violence, but through a lack of education and subsequent poverty?

How can the NRA continually act in the most cruel, ignorant, insensitive manner at the least appropriate times and still have a growing member base?

How can CNN continually give the NRA and other groups like them a platform to spew their deranged, tin-foil hat theories in the wake of such gut wrenching tragedies?

Does it never occur to anyone that assault rifles and handguns aren't the only way to kill people?

Does it never occur to anyone that assault rifles and handguns are designed specifically for killing people and therefore it might be a good idea to have a licensing system/background check/holding period to screen people before they buy one off the shelf at their friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart?

Like shit, I don't even know. I don't have any answers, and since nobody seems to be interested in having a civil discussion about this whole incident, I don't think I ever will. The only thing we've learned from Sandy Hook P.S. is that we're not in any position to have a mature discussion about anything, any time soon. Oddly enough, I'm fine with that -- if a mentally unstable man killing two dozen women and children in a Connecticut public school doesn't get us to engage each other in a civil, respectful manner, I have no fucking desire to find out what will.

So, I'm done. I'm not angry anymore; I understand how this works, Society. We're different people -- you're not going to change and that's fine. I'm not going punch holes in the drywall, I'm not going to throw your shit on the lawn, and I'm not going to call dudes you hang out with and leave angry voice-mails at three in the morning. I'm taking my stuff and I'm gonna go chill at my parents place for a couple of weeks. Don't call me, I'll talk to you when I'm ready. Good bye.

Friday, 11 January 2013

TILT: Early Graves- Red Horse (1/11/13)

More Metal. \m/

Artist: Early Graves
Album: Red Horse
Label: No Sleep (2012)
Key Jam: "Quietus"

Sounds Like: Entombed worship, basically. Red Horse is a textbook example of fast, riff-y metal that straddles the hardcore border a fair bit, complete with tons of d-beat and a vocalist who sounds like Jacob Bannon. It's also fairly straightforward, forgoing any of that Kurt Ballou produced thrashing for riffs, riffs, and more riffs (read: no blast beats). There are also guitar solos.

Pros: Lots and lots of sweet riffs, solid musicianship, songs are all well written.
Cons: Production is pretty bad, relies too heavily on its influences.

The Verdict: Not AOTY material, but I can fuck with it.

If I was going to listen to anyone play an album of Entombed covers, it would be Early Graves. As far as musicianship and songwriting go, these guys have got it down pat; there are no awkward transitions or uninspired moments, and the musicianship (especially the guitar playing) is above average in skill to say the least, so I guess I can't really complain about Red Horse. Unfortunately, however, I can't really give it a ringing endorsement either, because the only thing that stuck out from my listening experience (aside from the end of Quietus) is how many times I thought "holy shit, it sounds like I'm listening to that Converge cover of 'Wolverine Blues' through a tin can." Yeah, the production on this bad boy is nothing to write home about, unless the subject line of your leader reads: "list of good albums tarnished by piss-poor production." Still, this just a first(ish) impression, and I'll hopefully grow to appreciate Red Horse more with time. I also hope the band puts out an album of stuff that's more in the experimental direction they take at the end of "Quietus" in the future, because that shit is sick.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Today I Listened To: No Zodiac- Population Control (1/10/13)

I'm gonna start doing something new to get content up on this bad boy. Since I already spend at least 45 minutes a day listening to music, I figured I might as well take an extra 15 to write about what I've heard. Today I'm going to write about an album called Population Control by Chicago beatdown band No Zodiac.

Artist: No Zodiac
Album: Population Control (2013)
Label: ???
Key Jam: "Nonexistent"

Sounds Like: If I'd never heard of deathcore before, this is what I'd imagine it sounding like. Picture Despised Icon with less shredding and more focus on dat heavy shit. No Zodiac is a hardcore band through and through, but you can tell by the drumming/vocals that these dudes spent a lot of time listening to shit like Morbid Angel as well. If I had to sum the record up in one word it would be "unrelenting."

Pros: Heavy as fuck, mixes hardcore and death metal tastefully.
Cons: Songs tend to devolve into "riff soup", not a lot of variance in terms of structure or dynamics.

The Verdict: Meh.

I can see what these guys are trying to do, and I commend them for doing it, but this isn't really my thing. If you wear mesh shorts and flat-brim hats, or if you're a deathcore kid who's getting tired of open note chugging and all your fave bands jumping ship to the land of radio rock, I'd suggest checking this out as you'll likely vibe to it. For me, however, the songs are a bit lacking in dynamic/structural variance to really get behind. I can only listen to that slow-moving beatdown riff so many times before I lose interest. Also the production is a bit sketchy, which doesn't really hurt the record, but it doesn't help either. If you're not huge on this kind of music but still feel like punching holes in your bedroom wall, I'd suggest listening to Xibalba instead; it's a bit more palatable for squares like us.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

End of a Year Volume 2: Albums (10-1)

Such Gold
2012 was a great year for music. Old bands proved they've still got it; new bands made excellent first impressions, and a couple bands released records that will shape the future of music to come. I'm sure this is the first year any of that has ever happened, right? 

This is the second part of my top 20 albums of 2012. Part one can be found here. Let's get this shit rollin'

10. Such Gold- Misadventures (Razor & Tie)

So, is it cool to call Such Gold a pop-punk band, or what? Ever since the wave of assclownery that swept in with the "Defend Pop-Punk movement" misappropriated any band who may have once owned a Lifetime CD into their ranks, (good) bands are exercising a bit more caution before openly embracing their pop tendencies. So it's with the utmost respect that I label Misadventures a pop-punk record -- not (entirely) because of lazy classification, but because it neatly ties together a decade and a half worth of the genre's highlights. 

Musically, the album is a perfect blend of Through Being Cool and Today's Empires..., mixed with hardcore's chunky rhythms and a fair bit of modern emo noodling for something that -- while entirely familiar -- never sounds recycled. So as "tr00 pop-punk" ironically begins its tailspin into a metalcore-esque pit of self reference, Such Gold stand out by offering us something that really, truly has roots. It also doesn't hurt that Ben Kotin's lyrics are on point to an almost painful degree, as he carefully disassembles our narcissistic, persona-driven generation with honesty as his only weapon.

9. Every Time I Die- Ex Lives (Epitaph)

Leading up to the release of Ex Lives, Every Time I Die were touting the album as their best to date. I wasn't surprised by that statement; every band in the entire world thinks their newest shit is their best, especially when they've just recorded it. What I was surprised by, however, is the fact that ETID were actually right-- Ex Lives makes a pretty compelling case for the best album in the band's storied catalog. Compare and contrast: Gutter Phenomenon has some really sketchy moments, The Big Dirty gets boring after a while, and Hot Damn! hasn't aged all that gracefully. Ex Lives is, in my opinion, the most complete thing ETID's ever done. 

Fueled by a(n apparently) much needed personnel change, the band dropped their twangy party-boy gimmickry for Ex Lives, in favour of a much more sober, straightforward approach and experimental songwriting. If that sounds boring to you, don't worry; despite singing the remorse of a life wasted in bars, the band hasn't sounded this energized on record since they were signed to Ferret. If that still sounds boring, kill yourself. Ex Lives is all the proof you need that sometimes, things do get better with age.

White Lung
8. White Lung- Sorry (Deranged)

I can't say from personal experience, but I'd imagine getting your ass kicked by a girl would be a little reminiscent of listening to Sorry. Nowhere on White Lung's sophomore effort does the band try to one-punch you and take you down with overt physicality; instead, you're left with a 19 minute endurance match that slowly but surely pummels you into the ground. Kenneth William's frenetic guitar playing creates the freak-out like sense of urgency while Anne-Marie Vassiliou's relentless kick-snare combos punch you in the chest until you can't  breathe; all the while vocalist Mish Way is up in your face; taunting you, chiding you, begging you to hit back.

The thing is, you can't -- not because you won't -- but because Sorry doesn't leave you any room to retaliate. Opener "Take the Mirror" gives you about eight seconds of nervous energy before blowing up in your face, and from there it's pretty much a race to the finish -- a race you won't win. There's no room for navel gazing. Even if you try your best to admire William's brilliant guitar work or wander around in Way's pop-friendly melodies, you won't stray a foot before the rhythm section firmly reminds you of the task at hand -- moving straight ahead as fast as possible. My advice for listening to this album: hold tight, breathe deep, and try your best to enjoy the ride.

Listen to "Glue"

7. Hot Water Music- Exister (Rise)

In the eight years between The New What Next and Exister, a countless number of bands have tried to emulate Hot Water Music's signature style of "really pissed off dad punk". The results have been varied -- a lot of those bands have been pretty forgettable; a few of them have been pretty good; yet as hard as they tried, not a single one of those bands could fill the chasm in our flannel-clad hearts. The reason why -- as this album so confidently reminds us -- is that none of those bands were Hot Water Music.

The biggest thing (aside from Jason Black) that separates HWM from their imitators is quite simple -- Hot Water Music have never tried to sound like Hot Water Music. For Exister the band could have simply phoned in 12 "Trusty Chords" knock-offs, slapped a Sinc. piece on the cover, and hit the road to a packed house every night. But what's most endearing about this album is that it doesn't try to sound like HWM circa 2004 -- opting instead to sound like HWM circa 2012. Sure, these songs sound more like they belong in a Wrangler's commercial than a Punk-O-Rama comp, but if you've been keeping tabs on the band's extracurricular activities (let's face it, you probably have), Exister makes perfect sense. That acute sense of self awareness, mixed with an outright indifference to any external expectations -- not just on this record, but throughout their entire career -- has cemented Hot Water Music's place as the best punk rock band of the last 20 years.

Listen to "Paid in Full"

The Menzingers
6. Title Fight- Floral Green (SideOneDummy)

In three short years, Title Fight have transformed from a gang of fresh-faced, unassuming high school kids with a lot of unpolished potential into arguably the biggest band in contemporary hardcore. But if the band's almost-meteoric rise to prominence has worn them down in any way, you wouldn't be able to tell by listening to Floral Green. The album is bolder, more confident, and  more focused than anything they've released to date, and while it may not be as important to me personally as Shed was, there's no denying that objectively, Floral Green is a better record. 

While it may be more reminiscent of Slowdive than of Saves the Day, it's not entirely fair to call Floral Green a "departure record." Every strength Title Fight displayed on Shed has simply been cultivated further; the songs are more structured, the melodies are catchier, and the warm blankets of noise are used far more effectively. These songs are, for lack of a better term, a lot more patient than anything the band's done previously. Whereas Title Fight once seemed content with banging out two minute-long blasts of straightforward pop-punk energy, Floral Green finds the band a lot more confident and willing to explore both their songs and their ability as musicians. The result isn't as immediately gratifying, but it's certainly a lot more interesting. This album has proven why Title Fight receive accolades from both 16 year-old girls and the dudes who made the records they grew up on -- because they bloody well deserve it.

5. The Menzingers- On The Impossible Past (Epitaph)

Like their friends and former tour-mates in Title Fight, the Menzingers come from an area of Pennsylvania that has been particularly promising for punk music over the past couple years. Geographical proximity to both Philly and New York, along with a passionate local scene and a lack of anything else productive to do have turned the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area into a hotbed of new music. Many of the bands in that area are quick to champion their scene, but On the Impossible Past takes it one step further, drawing much of it's lyrical content from time spent growing up there.

Fortunately for those of us who grew up elsewhere, Scranton, PA might as well be Santa Clara, CA or Scarborough, ON, or any other middle class suburb where kids don't have much to do except go to school and get in trouble. Greg Barnett and Tom May are both excellent story-tellers, spinning seemingly mundane moments of their youth into rallying points for beer soaked sing-alongs, simply by pouring themselves into every moment of the album. Many people enjoy music because it brings back the memories they associate with it; what I think made OTIP resonate with so many people was it's uncanny ability to induce nostalgia without any context. There are countless moments on this album -- from car crashes to summer flings to drunken debauchery -- where I feel as if the Menzingers are telling my life story, not theirs. I could chalk that up to coincidence, but OTIP's reception from the punk community makes a much stronger case for good songwriting.

Listen to "Nice Things"

4. Whirr- Pipe Dreams (Tee Pee)

Since I don't feel like a complete authority on shoegaze or dream-pop or whatever the hell you people call this music, I've been a bit hesitant to write a comprehensive endorsement of Pipe Dreams. I mean, there's no way I'm gonna be able to geek out on this review, because most of what the album (supposedly) draws from doesn't interest me much at all. In retropsect, that's probably all the endorsement this album needs; Pipe Dreams doesn't rely on history or context to impress you, it's just good -- really good -- on it's own merits.

If listening to music in 2012 was a meal, Pipe Dreams can be considered a really tasty dessert. It's distinctly flavourful and rich in texture, yet always light on the pallette and never overbearing. It's melodies are sweet, but not annoyingly so. It's the perfect album to jam if you're on the bus home after blowing your eardrums out at a show, or passing out on a strange couch after a long night of substance induced revelry. It's somber, even dark at some points, but still somehow relaxing and uplifting. After a night of partying, lie down in a dark room and listen to "Wait" on your headphones. If you don't have goosebumps by the end of the song, there's a good chance you don't have a soul either.

Listen to "Junebouvier"

3. Teenage Bottlerocket- Freak Out! (Fat Wreck Chords)

It seems a bit odd that a band who writes songs about Top Gun and masochism would inspire a profound personal revalation in anyone, but that's exactly what happened when I went to see Teenage Bottlerocket this summer. Somewhere between watching a drunk girl lose her mind over Masked Intruder and jumping along with a room full of people while a dude in a grim reaper costume stood on stage with a sign that said "pogo party" during "Bottlerocket(?)", something occured to me; music doesn't necessarily have to be "serious" in order to be taken seriously. Exhibit A: TBR's latest release, Freak Out!

Reading reviews of Freak Out! when it dropped kind of bummed me out. A lot of people half wrote the album off by calling it "the record we all expected TBR to put out." While that's not entirely untrue (it's certainly not a departure by any stretch of the imagination), it doesn't really give this album the props it deserves either. Teenage Bottlerocket aren't concerned with being anyone but Teenage Bottlerocket, but that's because they're focused on being the best they possibly can be. Freak Out! is a definite new high for the band; the melodies are catchy as hell, the song structures are insanely well thought out, and the lyrics have never been funnier or more relatable. You can try and write TBR off as a one trick pony or a novelty act, but you'd be missing the point entirely. Sometimes you need to quit moping around at hardcore shows so you can pogo party with drunk weirdos and cute girls -- and nobody pogo parties harder than Teenage Bottlerocket.

Listen to "Headbanger"

2. Violent Bullshit- Adult Problems (Violent Responsibility)

[Taken from my review]

At first glance, Adult Problems appears to be nothing more than old-school dudes playing older school hardcore for the hell of it; but upon closer inspection the album reveals itself to be a rather well thought-out artistic statement. Although its foundation rests upon a blend of Born Against style riffing, Bad Brains-esque stop and go rhythms, and all the noisy thrashing you'd expect from ex-members of Ebullition bands, the album maintains an infectious sense of melody and a youthful exuberance not usually associated with dudes in their mid-to-late 30's. But perhaps what's most impressive about the album is just how cleverly constructed the aforementioned foundation is. While most "____-revival" bands come up short by limiting themselves to one frame of reference, VBS have succeeded in weaving a tapestry of creative influence into something undeniably fresh but easily traced back to it's roots [...]

What I find most endearing (and given the album's title/lyrical themes, most fitting) about Adult Problems is how invigorating scope and songwriting experience can be when injected into a genre that forgets most of it's heroes by the time they've turned 26. I'm not saying this is the best hardcore record ever, but you'd be hard-pressed to find something in today's scene that manages to be this on-point while still "staying true to its roots" so to speak [...]

TL;DR: the fact that the dudes in VBS have been listening to this kind of music since I was still in diapers probably has something to do with their ability to execute it so undeniably well. With that in mind, maybe it's time us "hardcore kids" recognize the adults could be onto something.

Listen to "Getaway"

1. Xerxes- Our Home is a Deathbed (No Sleep)

Every year I find one album that hits so close to home, I don't even really know how to describe it. I mean, I could throw adjectives at Our Home is a Deathbed all day; the musical arrangements are orchestral, the dynamic changes are explosive, Calvin Philley's vocals are throat-shredding, Evan Peak's drumming is pulvarizing -- you get the point. Thing is, no group of adjectives I can string together will do my relationship with this album any justice. Deathbed is simply flawless; from the eerie ocean harp-fueled build-up on "Wake" to the catharthic ringing chords of the title track/closer, there isn't a second of this album I don't absolutely love.

To be honest, I have no idea why this album didn't receive the attention it deserved in 2012. These guys take Touche Amore's musical concept and actually back it up with good musicianship and fresh ideas. The band is more challenging/dynamically interesting than the vast majority of their contemporaries, which you can probably credit to the fact that these guys met at a performing arts high school. I'm pretty sure Will Allard is some sort of musical protege who just happened upon hardcore and made it his personal mission to write the best music the genre's ever seen. This band is still very young, but if Deathbed is any indication of what's to come, he (and his band) might do just that.

Listen to "Funeral Home"

Honorable Mentions:

Gaza- No Absolutes in Human Suffering
Japandroids- Celebration Rock
Ghostlimb- Confluence
Tragedy- Darker Days Ahead
Apollo Brown & Guilty Simpson- Dice Game
Cattle Decapitation- Monolith of Inhumanity
Joie De Vivre- We're All Better Than This

Shit I Didn't Get to Jam Enough:

Cloud Nothings- Attack on Memory (may have been AOTY had I not heard it for the first time last week.)
We Were Skeletons- Blame and Aging
Pig Destroyer- Book Burner
Dikembe- Broad Shoulders
Mutilation Rites- Empyrean
Kendrick Lamar- Good Kid, m.A.A.d City
Xiabalba- Hasta La Muerte
Gifts From Enola- A Healthy Fear
Bison B.C.- Lovelessness
Masked Intruder- S/T
Forgetters- S/T
P.O.S.- We Don't Even Live Here
Strife- Witness to a Rebirth
Birds in Row- You, Me & the Violence