Welcome to another god damn new year and the mea culpa/house cleaning edition of this here column. A bit of housekeeping, first. I’ve decided to make this thing a bit more compact for the new year. Gone are long-winded descriptions of albums and the multitude of links to individual songs. Instead, we’re going a bit more compact in describing these albums that you need in your earholes. Additionally, every month we’ll be updating the What’s Up Punks playlist over on the Spotify. We’ll see how it goes.
On with the show. Now that it’s January, I’ll address albums and some tracks that I completely spaced on including in my year end list as well as getting us all set up with some new favorites to look out for in the coming months. Things are already shaping up to be another bumper year for all things punk rock but we’re going to kick things off with some killer records you should grab now that we’re a month out from Christmas and we’ve shoveled the last bits of dirt on 2019’s coffin. Even if some (a lot… most) of them came out in December.
2020. Let’s go!
“When I die, just keep playing the records.”
Ramona – Deals! Deals! Deals!
Clearly my most egregious miss from the end of year business but, hey, now Ramona are getting top billing as we start 2020. Trade-offs. Deals!x3 is exactly the kind of album you and all your punk rock friends are going to excitedly tell each other about, if you haven’t already. “Not Your Token” is a slice of snotty, confrontational punk in the spirit of so many East Bay bands that you could swear it actually appeared on a split 7” with Crimpshrine in the ‘90s. The band also expertly apply the use of their dual vocal approach over top of an insanely tight and compact pop-punk style that leaves the listener wanting more. It’s 10 songs that don’t even clock in over 30 minutes insures that you’re going to be listening to these tunes worth the brilliance of their titles (“Panama by Van Halen”, “Shit, We Broke Up”, “Are We Having Fun Yet?”, and “Mambo 69”. Tell me you’re not curious.) on repeat well into 2020 and beyond.
Downpresser – The Long Goodbye
This might be some of the straight up angriest, most pissed off sounding hardcore I’ve heard in years. In fact, I reflexively found myself repeatedly checking to make sure that this band is, in fact, from Southern California and not the feral breeding grounds more familiar to this style in the Northeast U.S. The title track and “Two Stood Last (See You Around)” are so good, in that tradition of hardcore that the Cro-Mags initiated, alongside the likes of Sick of It All and Judge, that it’s actually pretty shocking that the band hasn’t met with more success. From start to finish this is a classic example of “tough guy” hardcore and possibly an artifact of a scene that still thrives in some corners of the world despite a diminishing spotlight… for now.
Citysick – Give Back the Love You Borrowed
Chico, CA’s Citysick do compact versions of Mineral by way of Dream Academy, taking liberal doses of the former’s ennui and semi-mumbled lines while putting it in a blender with the latter’s more ethereal pop sound, particularly on album opener “Sink”. These guys share the same general space in the current emo/pop punk scene with the likes of promising bands, Sunsleeper and Kayak Jones. One of the coolest things here is the way the band weaves influences into their own unique style like the wedding of Joy Division and Fall Out Boy that is “Glass Gun”. Other standout tracks include “Reunion”, “Manresa”, and “Gasoline”. The band still seem to be trying to define exactly what their sound is but the palette they’ve given themselves to work from points to a bright future.
The Carolyn – This Will Begin to Make Things Right
Somewhere between Tim McIlrath’s (Rise Against) more relaxed vocal stylings and Makewar’s jangle and thump is where Atlanta’s The Carolyn live. For those who have been pining for something to scratch that Gaslight Anthem itch, I would offer you ample evidence in the form of “A.M.”, “Rot”, and “News”. This trio of songs hit the same kind of high notes that Brian Fallon has become famous for. If there’s any justice, this band will get their shot. The overall production here is good but on the lower tier. It’s never too glossy but it suits the band’s profile as a band on the verge of breaking out for now. The album is particularly consistent with the band varying their approach just enough in places to evoke the sounds of bands like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. Other highlights include: “Every Move”, “Heavy Eyes”, and “Old Habits” but this is definitely a cover-to-cover album that rewards listening all the way through. Repeatedly.
Upset – S/T
This is a revival of the ‘90s sound done correctly, as one could expect by the presence of two veterans of that period in Patty Schemel (former drummer of Hole) and Amy Koehler (former Best Coast). They went six years between albums which leaves this sophomore effort feeling a lot more like well-rounded debut than a follow-up to its predecessor. The album leads of with an absolute banger in “Holy Basil” and raises the stakes on the Pixies-tinged tracks “Over My Head” and “Brighton”. However, the real stars of the show are the various melodic hooks that litter the album. “The World is Bigger Now”, “Degenerate”, and “Tried & True” each have their own unique facets but their strongest feature is the penchant for those delicious, delicious hooks. Overall, Upset have created a taut package of ‘90s revival that invokes the best of the punkier aspects of bands like the Lemonheads, the Pixies, the Breeders, and Superchunk among others.
NOTCHES – New Kinda Love
Shoutout to my colleague, Scott Murphy, for bringing this one to my attention. This is another of those bands performing that “back when it was still kinda punk” ‘90s college rock style where it appears Mac McCaughan has become their patron saint. “Room Upstairs”, “Museum of More Dumb Art”, and “Crystal Ball” all bear more than a passing resemblance to the stalwart North Carolina band but the fingerprints of prime Bob Mould are all over these tracks as well. “Keep My Name”, “Twist the Knife”, and “Passing Phrase” turn things up a notch or five and are full blown pop punk songs that recall the Doughboys and early Samiam. If the early returns from this album are any indication, NOTCHES will be up to big things this year.
Singles, EPs, and Things We Don’t Understand
fats’e – “Won’t Let This Go”
A strange yet intoxicating blend of shoegaze, American Football-esque emo, mumbled lyrics, some easycore shouted bits, and a heavily layered production.
The Great Heights Band – “Clutter”
Heavy Bowling for Soup, etc. vibes here. Full of sunshine-y hooks over self-effacing lyrics.
We Struck Gold – “December”
Straight up hardcore a la heaviest Comeback Kid with some interesting melodic underpinnings in the frenetic guitar parts that could be somewhat gaze…core?
Adjust the Sails – “A Lifetime of Bad Habits”
Really sweet and catchy acoustic punk vibes with big, BIG singalong opportunities. Ideally paired with a side of Walt Hamburger.
Bacchae – “Hammer”
2020 is only beginning and already got something to track for best of year honors with this band’s blend of indie rock with the well-worn D.C. sound. March 6. That’s when their full-length drops so get hype with us. FFO: Gouge Away, Nation of Ulysses, stuff.
Hot Mulligan – “BCKYRD”
Firmly in that territory of “nerdier” punk rock with lots of shouty singalongs and general hijinx in the vein of Devon Kay and the Solutions.
Worriers – “PWR CPLE”
If you’re not already on the Worriers hype train now is a good time to get onboard with their quirky melodic punk that’s lies in the Menzingers/Weezer continuum. New full-length drops on March 6.
Nathan Gray – “Refrain”
BOYSETSFIRE’s singer is now trying on that Dave Hause, Springsteen-ian rock and roll to great effect.
T.S.O.L. – “Ghost Train”/”Never Go Home”
A rousing rejuvenation of Jack Grisham’s legacy act with a pair of songs that plumb the depths of a punked up version of the Psychedelic Furs.
Snash – “Mind Control”
IDLES-style smash and grab grooves out of Glasgow. Another band that we’ll be keeping tabs on throughout 2020.
Shybits – “Bruce Lee”
A throwback to the late 70s/early 80s new wave revivalism that seems to be taking root all over the place recently.
LOSER – “Golden Things”
Back in the “golden era” of college rock during the ‘90s before the Goo Goo Dolls and Soul Asylum became bonafide pop acts they made songs and albums that sounded a lot like this, when punk still found its way into the mix.
Chupa Cabra – “Violent Urges”
Two minutes of garage punk at its finest in the mood of the Stooges and, later, the Hives.
THICK – “5 Years Behind”
There was a period in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s where Lookout Records cranked out jangly, punky bands at a ridiculous pace. THICK fit right in with that but thankfully are here, now and part of a great March 6 record release day.
Cable Ties – “Sandcastles”
This band is so fucking good and, thankfully, Merge is putting out their new album on March 27th. Until then, enjoy this little nugget of angsty goodness that’s like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but awesomer.
Dragged Under – “Chelsea”
Promising stuff that reads a lot of Pennywise, Comeback Kid, and hints of Sum 41. We’re going to have more soon on their debut album that just dropped.
Aim High – Garnet Eyes EP
Up and coming band from my old stomping grounds with a sound largely grounded in the style of The Story So Far and New Found Glory.
fredo disco – “never tell u”
This is the not-so-serious iteration of Billy Liar. That’s a compliment. Energetic and downright addictive.