Since punk is a wide-ranging umbrella genre saturated with numerous subcultures, styles, aesthetics, and attitudes, making a list is more like trying to super-glue together a ripped and torn fanzine. Punk bridges the folklore of rebellion with the modern hive of consumption, evoking the historical hooks of pop attacked with distress or artful aggression. Think of this list as a glimpse into the material that rose to the top, not just because of pointed polemics or proper bile and distortion but due to qualities that are hard to feign—solid songwriting, a knack for indelible musical twists, and overall rhythmic punch. This past year has been especially rich in re-issues, reunions, and lost sessions rebooted and given new life. Therefore, in the name of melding the new and the old, the political and the personal, the feisty and the rather thoughtful, PopMatters presents the best punk of 2010.
While most underground hipsters are well aware of the onslaught and belligerence of Midwest hardcore, art-noise comrades like End Result and Fuckface remain forgotten. Avoiding humdrum rock’n'roll routines in favor of something more atavistic (banning cymbals and snare drums, like a foul disease), three drummers coil around each other rhythmically, producing a wave of Burundi meets Black Sabbath pounding, all syncopated to the heavy crunch, power rage, and ear-curdling thunder of former members of both Die Kreuzen and Boy Dirt Car. Recorded in 1995 and buried since, this remains primitive, mutant, and distressing.
9The Riot Before
With a healthy and sometimes heavy inclination towards local heroes like Avail and Ann Berreta, the Riot Before deliver humming punk that is equal parts a storytelling device and a whirlwind sonic assault. They offer plenty of variation as well. “Uncharted Lands” is rootsy and rockin’, narrating about reaching dark spots on the map to mitigate unfulfilled dreams, while the polka-faced “Answers for Change” taps into a wrecking ball analogy to capture emotional rollercoasters. Meanwhile, the quietude of “Things I Hate”, which tackles both the church and corporations, is like a willowy pause before the storm of marshaled beats in the whiskey slur recounts of “Oregon Trail”.
With deranged but calculated punk à la Hot Snakes, this crüe produce a ruckus with brittle hooks and hard-ass art. Lyrically, tunes like “High Tides It’s Inside” use back-to-back metaphors to explore titanic inner tension—“I am a fuse. . .a missile in my mind.” If you can’t feel the recoil and resolution, you ain’t listening. On the equally phlegm-drenched “The Expense of Flight”, with its ricocheting bass and flagrant guitar abrasions, the narrator yearns to “feel the family inside” to offset solitary, difficult, and barren moments. The lyrics are elliptical, but the desire is packed in tight, marking the poetry of dreams deferred.
Don’t Go Swimming
With well-aimed tunefulness, like a U.S. teenage version of the Clean or Maximo Park, these lads deliver pop-centric fare for a guilt-ridden age. The harnessed speed of “Might Be Broken” is insistent and urgent. The theme focuses on being “broken and unemployed, depressed and a total mess,” though the vibe is neither hostile nor hollow. It reeks with hopefulness, concentrated into miles of memorable melody. They shift, too, outfitting “Wrecking Ball” with cowpunk credibility. “Considering” returns to puncturing guitar and Buzzcocks-like gusto as they desire to leave the cluttered adult world behind. Let’s join them, one song at a time.
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6This Moment in Black History
TMIBH deliver abrasive angst with defoliated deftness, not unlike 1960’s garage ruckus breeding with whiplash soul music. “Panopticon” feels like a song echoing Foucault’s “panoptic eye” with its worrisome concerns about spy satellites: we all become guilty under the gaze. “Forest Whitaker” is indebted to abstract art-punk gyrations rather than a Hollywood homage. “Pollen Count” is danceable: bass-in-the-face calculus and hard-ass space-rock vibes conjoin. The roiling “MFA” launches an attack on “fake metropolitan segregated river towns” and “assembly lines” that rob people of feelings and hope. As such, they offer rust-bucket town deconstruction. For those seeking frenzied rock’n'roll with a dollop of punk-laced free jazz.