Hello friends, well-wishers, and people reading this just to subtweet me later. This year has been, uhh, a rough one, as I'm sure it's been for a lot of you reading this. That's kept me from feeling inspired to write much here, but I figured I'd drop back in with a list of things I've enjoyed listening to this year in the hopes that I'll put someone onto something they've not heard before. This is by no means comprehensive, as I'm sure I'm missing something I really liked just because I'm an idiot and forgot. But these are the albums I've revisited a bunch of times and keep going back to. Hopefully, you'll feel the same about some of them.
40 Watt Sun, Perfect Light
Starting things off with a very sad record that I listened to a lot at the start of this year. Perfect Light is absolutely a winter album, the kind that hits best when it's cold, dark, and probably raining or snowing a bit, but, even now, it still hits. Patrick Walker was previously the driving force behind Warning, a doom metal band that was basically American Football for guys who owned a denim vest with a Black Sabbath back patch on it, and that vibe is still present here, though in a much more folky way. If you want long, lumbering songs to get lost in, here you go.
Bad Heaven Ltd., In Our House Now
Keeping the sad vibes going here, we've got the latest release from John Galm. I've been a champion of John's stuff for a long time, and I've always found it frustrating how people basically ignored his music after Snowing broke up. Don't get me wrong, Snowing was a great band, but his solo albums are just as good. In a way, In Our House Now feels like late-2000s Death Cab For Cutie songs but with a dour, lo-fi presentation. John may hate that comparison, but if you like sad, melodic indie, there's something for you here and that felt like a good way to sell it to you. Oh, and he also released this on my birthday, so bonus points for that.
Cloakroom, Dissolution Wave
I feel like I'm obligated by law to rep anything from Northwest, Indiana, but this latest Cloakroom album might be my favorite thing they've released. That's really saying something because when they put their first two songs on Bandcamp before the release of Infinity, I listened to them on an endless loop for months. Dissolution Wave is the perfect mix of heavy, stoner-ish metal, twangy Americana, and shoegaze-adjacent pedal worship. It all works, and I'm excited to see these songs live someday. And we have the second album to have come out on my birthday. I promise that kind of cosmic nepotism is not influencing me here.
Drug Church, Hygiene
Shocking absolutely no one, I like the new record from a band Patrick Kindlon is in. Do I think it's as good as Cheer? No. But I'm talking, like, less than a half-step down. A quarter-step, maybe? This thing is great even if the band didn't release the album's best song (which is right above these boring words) as a single or play it live on tour. Fools.
The Flex, Chewing Gum For The Ears
I've had a touch-and-go relationship with a lot of the new wave of British hardcore stuff. Arms Race? Love it. Chubby and the Gang? Hate it. The Chisel? Really love it! (Trust me, this contradiction is not lost on me) The Flex? Well, love would be coming on strong, but this is pretty great, too. (I know, I know, there are a lot more bands in this scene, but I'm doing a bit here so just go with it). It's fast, raging hardcore that doesn't gussy things up too much and that will always be a thing I'm going to love. So yeah, I guess I do love The Flex. Glad we could sort that out together.
Mutilatred, Determined To Rot
I have to say, I was surprised by Determined To Rot. Mutilatred sits more on the brutal side of death metal, a sound that isn't always my bag, and, worse yet, I was seeing some people throw around the phrase "hardcore-inspired death metal" which is almost always a turnoff for me. That phrase is the same red flag I see when a punk band says they've gotten into country music or an indie-rock artist is making a turn toward pop—usually, it misses the intended mark and removes what made that band good in the first place. Preconceptions aside, Determined To Rot is a death metal record that feels like a hardcore record. It's heavy, fast, and gross with some tasteful breakdown moments that don't feel cheap. Good stuff.
Negative Plane, The Pact
I gotta say, I didn't expect the long-awaited third album from Negative Plane to sound like a black metal album recorded in 1978, a time before that genre even existed, but here we are. When this one clicks in, I really love it. But the record starts to feel a little tedious if I'm even slightly in the wrong mood for it. This isn't meant as a diss, because I respect the fact The Pact locks into a vibe to such a degree that it really feels like its own unique thing. I may not reach for it as much as their other two albums but, even then, it still has riffs that keep me coming back.
Nechochwen, Kanawha Black
Up until this point, I never really "got" Nechochwen. That kind of folkNe-tinged black metal can be incredibly hit or miss for me, and Nenchochwen's previous albums have basically gone in one ear and out the other. For that reason, I didn't rush to check out Kanawha Black, but, when I did, I was pretty impressed. This fully integrates the quieter passages into the more metal moments in a way that few bands attempting this style have been able to fully pull off. There are a couple of spots where the clean vocals get a little too 2000's-radio-station-butt-rock, but I can forgive that given how good the rest of this album is.
Pharmacist, Flourishing Extremities On Unspoiled Mental Grounds
I wrote about Pharmacist at the end of last year and here I am doing that exact same thing again. Full disclosure: this is probably my least favorite Pharmacist release so far, but it's still really good. I'm a sucker for people trying to recreate classic-era Carcass in literally all forms and I hope Pharmacist keeps it coming.
Supergroups are always a dodgy proposition. Unless, of course, it's the kind of supergroup where it's just people who play in a lot of bands, some of which just so happen to be popular and influential, and those folks decide to start a new band together. To me, Plosivs sounds like Rob Crow wanted to start a punk band but he has such a distinct riff-writing approach and rhythmic sensibility that it ended up sounding nothing like a punk band. There's something charming about that to me.
Praise, All In A Dream
Initially, I wasn't as hot on this record as a lot of other people because, and this is not meant as a diss, Praise's vocalist has always felt a little lacking to me. I liked their previous material well enough, but something about the fuller production on All In A Dream really highlighted that weak spot for me, at least initially. After my first couple of listens, I was still on the fence when, suddenly, it all clicked. I have a soft spot for bands that try to recreate the Revolution Summer sound without trying to be an emo band and Praise nails that here. Glad I came around on this one.
PUP, The Unraveling Of PUPTHEBAND
PUP's last album, Morbid Stuff, was easily my least favorite in the band's catalog. I know this is an incredibly unpopular opinion, as people love that album passionately, but it just missed the mark for me. It wasn't bad, but it felt front-loaded and, by the midway point, I always wanted to circle back to those early tracks instead of finishing the album out. That's not the case with The Unraveling Of PUPTHEBAND, which takes some big creative leaps and I think nails each and every one of them. A real grower of an album, and I love those so much.
Undeath, It’s Time…To Rise From The Grave
The exact opposite of a grower, Undeath's second record builds so cleanly off their debut that I couldn't help but love it from the first time I heard it. The production sits perfectly on the axis of cleanly produced and charmingly dirty, sounding like a modern death metal record without getting sucked into the trap of becoming sterile. Plus, this band writes hooks, the kind that surely will get some people riled up, but whatever, I just have fun singing along to a song called "Human Chandelier." Which, as you can probably guess, is about turning dead bodies into a chandelier.
Okay, look, I know this came out in 2021 but I am fudging the rules here. Sorry State Records re-released their demo this year and this seven minutes of music has been on repeat for me ever since I got the tape in the mail. With touches of Finnish hardcore, early American fast hardcore, and insane double bass parts that somehow work in this context, Valtatyhjiö is the band that every into punk and hardcore should be talking about, and I'm going to keep yelling about it until more people take notice.
Track of the Year So Far: Dazy & Militarie Gun, "Pressure Cooker"
Yes, I've written about both of these bands in this very newsletter before, so it comes as no surprise that their collab single "Pressure Cooker" was very much my shit. Hooks so huge that anyone who is hating on this is just jealous they can't get their choruses to sit in their songs the way they hear them in their head. A classic track that I've already listened to hundreds of times and have somehow not gotten sick of, and I surely never will.