For the last few weeks I (like the rest of the world) have been attempting to come to terms with the events that occurred on November 8th south of the border. Putting my disappointment and disbelief into cohesive words hasn’t really been possible (further than shaking my head at the world in incredulation), but I was at a concert the other week and the MC summed it up more perfectly than I ever could. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “in the next four years we’re going to see more punk rock music than we’ve ever seen - and personally I can’t wait!” The system might be totally fucked up and the potential for individual lives to become equally as fucked up is even greater (and that’s a scary thing), but out of adversity comes the words of change, songs of protest, and hopefully actions that drive social justice. Oddly enough, this year saw the return of a lot of classic punk acts and some of the best new punk tracks I’ve heard in a long time, so without further ado: here’s my top 5 albums of 2016 (in no particular order, since choosing an actual favourite is just not possible)!
Green Day: Revolution Radio
They had me at the opening riffs of “Bang Bang.” If there was ever a shoe-in for the top 5 list, this triumphant return of classic punk-rockers Green Day is it. Unlike their previous multi-concept-album release in 2012, Revolution Radio returns to their roots, giving us the rock-out-inducing riffs, social commentary-heavy lyricism, and wild antics that we expect from a band that’s going on 30 years of action and expertise in their genre. The first singles and title track are expectedly catchy, but I think that as with the off-single tracks of American Idiot the entire album is packed full of auditory and lyric gems waiting to be discovered. Do I even have to mention how timely the album is, considering American political events? I didn’t think so, but I fully expect Green Day to be riding the same anti-Republican wave back to the top of the punk-arena for the next four years.
Against Me!: Shape Shift With Me
I’ve never been a huge fan of Against Me! over the years; they have some excellent tracks, but the albums as a whole just didn’t seem to add up. But this one stuck in my head and refused to leave, so it makes the list this year! The opening track’s chords and vocals left me initially sceptical (too repetitive and too potentially screamy-metal sound which isn’t my thing), but by the time I finished listening to the full album I was willing to give it time to grow. And grow on me it did. The looping melody from “Crash” is nothing if not aurally addictive and the lyrics from “Boyfriend” strike a perfect balance between harsh and beautiful (both effecting a surprisingly charm, coming from a harder-leaning punk band). It helps that the driving themes and concept behind the album seemed to reflect the specific atmosphere of the world when I was listening to it (late September and the Halloween season), so it’s not really surprising that it’s becoming a staple in my October Country collection.
Tegan & Sara: Love You To Death
The latest from Tegan & Sara is a latecomer to the list, but I figured that I should throw some synth-heavy pop onto it just to mix it up. And also because it’s full of strangely beautiful melodies, deeper-than-you-think lyrics, underlaid with a definite must-dance feeling in most of the tracks! You wouldn’t think that duplicating the oddly weird (but absolutely addicting) stylings of Heartthrob would work a second time (it’s been three years, do you think we’d forget), but the girls seem to have settled into a style that works for them and I for one am happy that they’re continuing in this direction. Ironically, I’m not really fond of the first single for the album (“Boyfriend”), but the totally dance-able beats of “Stop Desire” had me hooked. The best track of the album though has to be a tie between “U-Turn” and “Faint of Heart;” catchy beats aside, the world needs more songs that celebrate love in this troubled time. And not just simple love songs (there’s only about a million of those), but these songs embody the complexity that real love is - “It's dangerous to take this path/Everyone will tell us,” but we soldier on because love has the power to change the world.
Almost Alien: Crash Landing EP
Local bands are normally so far off my radar that they have a chance in hell of getting onto the top 5 list (I’m seriously bad at going to shows, so many bands are flatout terrible, and many of them don’t release actual albums even if they are great…), but I couldn’t not include the debut EP from Almost Alien! Sure, it’s a touch underproduced and only has a handful of tracks, but for a first effort EP it’s actually pretty damned good! Of course, the real catch is their live performances (which I’ve been able to see a handful of times this year - yay), but having an album to listen to in-between live shows means that I can relive their antics in memory. But back to the album: even though I’m quite a few years older than these young dudes (not by a lot, but enough that I feel it some days), the album is really reminiscent of being young and being wild and experiencing the hardships of life for the first time. They cover high school in the wonderfully sarcastic “Frankencharlie,” hit a bittersweet note about love and/or friendship in “I Was Wrong,” and party hard like the punk-rockers they are in the rest of the tracks. I shouldn’t even have to mention how hilarious “Hole in the Wall” is, since it always a crowd-pleaser at their shows and makes for some amusing thematic merchandise - just don’t listen to it at work (haha)! Can’t wait to see what’s next up for these guys - now where’s my signed copy Colton!
Catfish & the Bottlemen: The Ride
When I heard that Catfish & the Bottlemen were releasing a second album a mere year a half after the Balcony (and the time was even shorter for us Canadians who had to wait an extra four months for the Balcony to get to us) I was ecstatic. The fact that I found the album in HMV in Regina on the actual day it was released made me even happier, since I was scheduled to go to the UK a few short weeks later and wasn’t sure I could resist the temptation of buying it there and then having to deal with the annoying UK copyright laws that deny making a digital personal use copy. Skip the internal screaming upon purchasing the album to a few hours later - instant obsession, as fully expected. The singles for the album are great (the opening bassline of “7” is perfection, “Soundcheck” is sonically glorious, etc, etc), but the surprise hit for me was the ballad “Red.” For a song that lilts along and has such a chill mood, it doesn’t really try to hide the underlying anger, frustration, and abject sarcasm of the lyrics. It is absolutely one of those songs that arranged differently would make a killer punk rock anthem, but the dissonance between the lyrics and the melody makes the song even more powerful. It’s punk for logical grown-ups, if you will - the anger and rage is still there, but the delivery is highly controlled. If this is what the band can produce on only their second full-length release, it’s really no wonder that they’re selling out massive stadiums all over the world and are poised to keep doing so. So here’s to The Ride - may it never end!
**album artwork from Wikipedia and Almost Alien's BandCamp page