This year, the San Fransisco Bay Area has revealed itself as a hardcore punk engine, churning out some of the best hardcore within the last decade. Many new bands keep punk music fresh and engaging, producing short albums, some not even 20 minutes long but full of heart, kinetic energy, and exceptional songwriting. Still, as you’ll see, great punk and hardcore punk bands have been sprouting from unexpected places.
Sonically, punk has been wandering beyond its comfort zone of power chords and fast tempos. Much like hardcore progenitors Bad Brains and Rage Against the Machine (who had a foot in the hardcore scene when they started), many contemporary punk and hardcore groups are folding and kneading in other musical styles, diversifying and extending the possibilities of what these longstanding genres can sound like.
Conceptually, punk has been avoiding cynicism and nihilism, opting for life-affirming messages and promoting a sense of community. Additionally, punk culture’s ethnic diversity is widening, and genders beyond the binary are making more of a presence, solidifying that punk culture has always been a welcoming community for outcasts and marginalized people. Furthermore, the toughness of punk and hardcore punk culture can manifest in the form of disaffected groups of people making noisy, fast, and brash music to express discontent. Punk has always been and will always be a vehicle for outsiders to focus their angst.
Bands like Scowl and Anklebiter have made an impression with the release of their EP, which couldn’t be included on our list. Other honorable mentions for groups that released albums are Gumm, Loma Prieta, Militarie Gun, Koyo, SPY, Mil-Spec, Paint It Black, Samiam, Pain of Truth, Sunami, Year of the Knife, and Harms Way. Although these artists didn’t make the list, all of their records are worth listening to if you’re hungry for new punk and hardcore.
Editor’s Note: Click on the album covers to listen to the music.
10. Initiate – Cerebral Circus (Antagonize)
A hardcore band from Orange County, California, highly active in the Bay Area, Initiate delivered us their sophomore album this year via Triple B Records. Frontwoman Crystal Pak’s screams are as sharp as banshee shrieks, and her singing is just as powerful. Half-Chilean and half-Korean, Pak is one of a handful who represents a more comprehensive multi-ethnic presence within hardcore culture. Lyrically, she explores feelings of cultural and familial displacement, searching for meaning and a place to lay her roots.
Initiate’s often mid-tempo instrumentation recalls mid-to-late 1990s alternative rock and metal, such as the early Smashing Pumpkins, Jane’s Addiction, and other post-grunge acts. Regarding the band’s sophisticated instrumentation, Guitarists Alec Riley and Jack McTomney go beyond chugging power chords. Despite the band’s heavy sound, they can often be caught strumming full chords, and aren’t afraid to let higher register notes ring, complimenting their strong bass and wailing riffs, a sonic dynamic you rarely hear in hardcore, making initiate stand out.
9. Angel Du$t – Brand New Soul (Pop Wig)
Originally consisting of Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice members, three members of Angel Du$t recently left the band to focus on Turnstile, leaving lead songwriter and remaining original member Justice Tripp to assimilate his touring musicians into the band and adopt new musicians, including lead guitarist Daniel Star and bassist Zechariah Ghosttribe. The resulting album comes to us from Pop Wig Records, with the Baltimore, MD, band producing more accessible punk jams and staying consistent with their silly vibe. Angel Du$t doesn’t take themselves too seriously, yet they’ve fallen into the groove of staying active, making and releasing music regularly since 2013. But the point of Angel Du$t has always been to enjoy themselves and ensure their fans are having fun, too.
Tripp’s vocal style is gentle and friendly, and Brand New Soul features guest spots from his personal friends list, including Loosy, Mary Jane Dunphe, and Matt Kerekes of Citizen. Tripp is straightforward with his principles regarding love and respect in his lyrics, so it makes sense for the band to write songs like “Love Slam” and “Very Aggressive”, the latter of which critiques unnecessarily cruel people. He isn’t subtle about his simple humanitarian perspective, which may not be artful, but it does illustrate his values of honesty and truth, and Brand New Soul fits neatly into these values.
8. Drain – Living Proof (Epitaph)
Another burgeoning Bay Area hardcore outfit, Santa Cruz’s Drain, released their blood-rippling sophomore LP earlier this year via Epitaph Records. Living Proof is rowdy and full of the sportive, wholesome fun of playing heavy music in front of supportive, youthful audiences. Like most hardcore bands, Drain doesn’t employ personas, yet their natural, cartoonishly boyish charisma is almost a persona as it is. They have a teenaged energy around them, and their excitement for their music and community is endearing.
In the same vein as Suicidal Tendencies, Drain represents metal’s influence on hardcore, applying a groove metal tinge. They could almost be a metalcore band, but structurally, their songs lean more towards hardcore punk with stomping breakdowns. Vocalist Sammy Ciaramitaro unleashes screams that recall the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, and his clean melodies on the surprising pop-punk single “Good Good Things” sound natural. Guitarist Cody Chavez’s slick, technical, thrash metal guitar work is immediately apparent in the opening track,” Run Your Luck”, and runs all the way through Living Proof, bringing a sense of metallic technicality to a genre founded on reckless instrumentation.
7. MSPAINT – Post-American (Convulse)
The best punk today comes from bands that embrace their eccentricities. MSPAINT’s debut LP fits the bill with a prominent use of synthesizers and no guitarist. Along with the synth progressions are a mix of acoustic and electronic drumming and vocalist Deedee’s half-rapped shouts that make for a fascinating iteration of punk. Deedee shouts lyrics riddled with carefully chosen, Digital Age diction in sportive syncopation that matches MSPAINT’s synth-punk sound, particularly on tracks like “Information”, “Hardwired”, and” Delete It”, the latter featuring vocals from Ian Shelton of Militarie Gun. It’s a techno-organic aesthetic that thematically comes close to sci-fi but stays grounded in reality.
When the Hattiesburg, Mississippi group aren’t in defiant mode, they’re encouraging, like on “Think It Through” and “Titan of Hope”, the latter of which Randy Riley’s bass fills in all the necessary heaviness that would be lacking for other punk bands that don’t have a guitarist. Nick Panella’s synth work buzzes harshly at times, and at other times, it glides like a specter. These stylistic aspects make MSPAINT one of the most unique punk bands in recent years.
6. Buggin – Concrete Cowboys (Flatspot)
Following their rambunctious 2020 EP, Buggin Out, Buggin brings us their feisty debut LP through Flatspot Records. The Chicago-based hardcore outfit pride themselves on their groovy breakdowns and playful, audacious disposition on full display in songs like “Snack Run” and “Kick Rocks”. Their instrumentation is tightly coordinated with aggressive power chord progressions layered over thick, enthusiastic basslines. Concrete Cowboys consists of heavy, upbeat, hardcore punk songs that grab your attention. For Buggin, it’s all about keeping hardcore fun.
Along with artists like Zulu, Soul Glo, and Franz Lyons of Turnstile, frontwoman Bryanna Bennett contributes to the growing black presence within punk culture, which has virtually disappeared after bands like Death and Bad Brains faded away. Bennet dishes out a killer scream and delivers some spoken word and call-to-action shouts with a gutsy grin across her face that can be felt in their music. Bennet employs a braggadocious, bullshitting casual banter in her lyrics and vocal style that highlights the form of fun that Buggin intends to inspire.