Tuesday, 29 December 2020

CPRW Playlist: Best Of 2020

CPRW Playlist: Here's what Brett, Chris, Dan#2, Emma, Lara, Marcus, Richard, Robyn and myself have been listening to in 2020.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Robyn's Top Ten Albums of 2020

There is no doubt that this has been a difficult year, filled with uncertainty, frustration, trauma, and a strange sense of unreality. But what it has also shown is the vitally important role that art plays in our lives. It was the film and television producers, the writers, the content creators, and the musicians who kept us company, provided escape, gave us something to share in, and buoyed our spirits when we couldn’t see friends or family and felt increasingly frustrated by everything happening on the news. So it feels even more fitting to take the time to pay tribute to the albums that I really enjoyed this year.

10. Folklore by Taylor Swift

I’m sure that this is going to be a controversial choice for my top ten, but I truly love this album and it simply had to make my list. While I don’t regularly listen to a lot of music that falls outside of punk or its subgenres, I follow a lot of popular artists and I’m generally interested in keeping up with what’s happening in other genres. So when Taylor Swift dropped a surprise new album that sees her collaborating with The National’s Aaron Dessner, I was immediately interested. What I found is a beautifully-crafted storybook of an album, brimming with wistful imagery and outstanding lyricism. As a literary student who essentially reads for a living, it’s perhaps unsurprising that I am drawn to the exceptional storytelling on Folklore; but I also love its indie sound. The album is stripped-down, giving a sense of intimacy and increased emotion, but also layered and well-produced. My favourite track is “Epiphany”, which compares Taylor’s grandfather’s act of service in WWII to the frontline healthcare workers serving during the pandemic. It compares the sense of loss and daily trauma encompassed by these events, simultaneously honouring those who place themselves at risk (both physically and mentally) in helping others and mourning an international tragedy. This album captures so much of the mood of this year, and it’s certainly deserving of being named one of 2020’s best releases.

9. Sad In The City by Broadway Calls

I’ve never met a Broadway Calls album I didn’t like, so it’s unsurprising that I’ve really enjoyed the band’s latest offering. The opening line asking “if my country collapses, can I crash on your couch?” captures the dystopian energy of the last year (or four in America), and sets the scene for some joyful catharsis. So even while you sing along, chanting “everyone’s sad in the city”, you can’t help but have a huge smile on your face. These are high-quality pop-punk bangers, and would seriously have scored higher on my list if it weren’t for the other exceptional albums released this year.

8. Death In Venice Beach by The Bombpops

The Bombpops are a band I’ve always liked but never fully committed to. But after just one listen to the new album, I was totally hooked. Death In Venice Beach delivers a stream of ultra-catchy pop punk jams with clever lyrics and great production. There is also a hidden seriousness to this album, since it details Poli van Dam’s battle with addiction. A song like “13 Stories Down” is really fun and upbeat, even as it describes the lowest points of alcoholism. This personal side of the album and the light it shines on the problem of addiction give the songs a little more heft, and the quality of the songwriting shines through the entire album. This is some of the best music The Bombpops have put out and certainly some the best music produced this year.

7. Wonderful Hell by War On Women

War On Women’s call to “raise some wonderful, beautiful hell” is the perfect rallying cry for a year that saw a major resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement and where the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing social inequities. I enjoyed War On Women’s previous release, Capture the Flag, but this album just hit differently in the current moment and I think the band’s songwriting is just getting better with each release. The album is full of heavy guitar riffs, big melodies, and Shawna’s unmistakable vocals. A triumphant combination of righteous anger and defiant positivity.

6. 20/20 Vision by Anti-Flag

Back in March, South Africa went into a hard 3-week lockdown (which of course ended up being extended). We weren’t allowed to leave our property, not even for short walk around the block, and just one family member could make the weekly trip to the grocery store to stock up on essentials. I had a large stack of marking to get through and many student concerns to deal with, and the new Anti-Flag album became my refuge. This is the band’s answer to Trump’s America: the hate it fostered and the deep divisions it widened. It’s full of the anthemic choruses you would expect from Anti-Flag, providing high-energy social commentary and calling for sustained resistance. The quality does not lag across the 11 tracks, which are full of great hooks and catchy lyrics. It’s an excellent addition to an already impressive music catalogue of a band who have been playing together for almost thirty years.

5. Revolution Spring by The Suicide Machines

It’s been a very long time since we’ve had a new Suicide Machines album, but hot damn it was worth the wait. The incredible bass tone on this album alone would be enough to make it a contender for my top ten, but it also delivers a delicious mix of punk and ska, with a few hardcore elements thrown in for some added flavour. Actual conversations Brett and I have had about this album include simply saying “it’s so good”, “yeah, right?!” to each other over and over again. A bop from start to finish.

4. Seamless by Pardon Us

Less than a year after their first album, Pardon Us dropped a new release absolutely packed with fun melodic-punk tunes. There are so many things I love about this album: the gruff lead vocals, the background harmonies, the incredibly catchy melodies, the thoughtful lyrics, and the sheer danceability of these songs. The band have really built upon their previous success and delivered a tight and polished sophomore album.

3. Life, Death And Everything In Between by Stöj Snak

The latest album from Danish folk punks Stöj Snak opens with an intense and haunting call to life that hit me like a physical force the first time I put this album on. Niels Højgaard Sørensen’s vocals are unlike any other singer out there: powerful, textured, and highly emotive; and the music brings together a brash punk energy with more soulful and folksy elements. The album really has ‘everything’: want to dance even while the world’s burning? Put on “Trees”; want the most perfect singalong about sticking it out even when life gets hard? “Bliss Point” has got you covered. It closes with a ballad about identity, change, and the journey of life that is beautifully expressed and incredibly moving. Just perfection.

2. You or Someone You Know by Worriers

Worriers’ previous album, Survival Pop, made my top ten list in 2017; but for some reason the first couple of times I listened to You Or Someone You Know I just didn’t connect with it. Then one afternoon, it finally all made sense and I marvelled once again at Lauren Denitzio’s fantastic songwriting and vocal skills. Despite the first track dealing with living through what often appears to be the “End Of The World” and many of the songs tackling difficult personal issues, the mood of the album is self-assertive and uplifting. And between the big melodies, deep grooves, and gorgeous guitar flourishes, the lyrics are direct and honest. A fantastic new release from Worriers that I’ve come to love more and more.

1. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

Little did we know back in February when this came out that “Brave Faces Everyone” would become the perfect slogan for this year. I already knew then that this would take the number one spot on my list, and no matter how much I have listened to the other albums on this list, I have still listened to this one more. This is an album about facing up to daily fears and struggles, and choosing to try. This is something that I think everyone can relate to, whether that’s dealing with the drudgery of your job, mental health issues, or major life changes. Although the previous releases from Spanish Love Songs have been excellent, I think this is their best album to date. With its soaring choruses, flawless vocals, and a sound so big that it feels wrapped around me, it may possibly be one of my favourite albums of all time.

* Entries 3 and 4 on this list came to me via endorsements from Emma. This is not the first time I owe Emma thanks for an excellent recommendation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last (but thanks once again!)

This top ten was written by Robyn Pierce.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Dan#2's Top Ten Albums of 2020

This year has been a bit of a slug fest for myself with lockdown taking a huge impact on concentration levels and motivation, which might explain my lack for creative output in terms of these reviews for CPRW but I couldn't leave 2020 without giving credit to a few of my favourite releases from this year. These records, at times, have provided inspiration to get up off my ass or the emotional support that I needed to keep myself together… So on that positive introduction let’s get into it!

10. Attention Economy by Launch Control

This was the best political punk rock release this year for me hands down. Launch Control continue to paint a perfect picture of our political discourse. The whole EP strikes a haunting tone, talking about the consumerist society which we have become who are quick to pick up narratives or a product without questioning why we’re being sold, who suffers as a result and the long term conditions it creates. It is suggested these things are not done by accident but by corporations and frankly evil political figures for their benefits. In each of the songs we go into detail into some of those created conditions or into ways we have been monetized. These themes crafted carefully with hand stitched detail is exactly why I love Lee's lyrics. The production also creates a fresh feeling punk rock record that almost feels like an electric dream which fits the haunting atmosphere. Each song is a tightly packed package with riffs and drum fills galore that never overstay their welcome. The most interesting song for me is "Marketing For Martyrs" which is the first longer song from the band and really demands attention with some of the best lyrics from this year. The only reason this EP is not higher on the list is I might be super bias towards them as they are my friends but more importantly their refusal to release a full length always feels to me like they hold back showing their full potential.

9. This Land Is Your Landfill by The Homeless Gospel Choir

In February I managed to see Derek Homeless Gospel Choir playing a tiny club in London after seeing him with Anti-Flag the previous night. I was blown away by the pure honesty in his set, it made everything special and on this night he played a few of the best songs I had ever heard. Those songs then ended up on this record. It's political, personal and the most honest thing you will hear this year. "Don't Compare" is the best reminder to be yourself and to stop measuring yourself against social media and "Young And In Love" might be the song that every young person needs to hear. I can't wait to support them coming over to the UK as a full band because this record really felt like a ray of happiness this year.

8. Dream Nails by Dream Nails

For the past 2 years every time dipped my toe into listening to a Dream Nails song, I thought ‘I need to really get my teeth into this band’ but never progressed further than a quick listen! But this year I'm glad to report I took the plunge and bought their self-titled record! I'm super stoked and shocked about how blown away I was by it! As a band they have defined an unique sound which is hard hitting without being overpowering with an abundance of amazing hooks, fun subject matters and hard hitting truth that you won't be able to stop listening to. "Text Me Back" and "Corporate Realness" being my personal favorites, I honestly can't wait to see these guys live and I will be looking to book them for show in Reading the first chance I get!

7. Dancing With The Curse by Get Dead

When "Pepperspray" dropped with its video I thought it was the perfect song released at the perfect time with everything happening in America but it also kept us in the dark to what this Get Dead record was going to sound like! So when it turned out to be a punk rock record with lighting fast rap vocals in a few songs I was sold. This might be some of the most interesting songwriting of this year, that you can really get your teeth into and keeps you guessing with lighter acoustic songs like "Glitch", slow swanky punk songs like "Disruption" or full rapid pace punk in "Fire Sale". With all of them sounding tight, this gives the band a really wide but solid sound that sets them apart from the other Fat Wreck bands.

6. The Ride by Bad Cop/Bad Cop

The three-part harmony machine that is Bad Cop/Bad Cop hit the ground running with their third LP The Ride which strikes a perfect balance between the sounds of the last two albums by being a punk rock as all hell while still retaining their unique style. It contains the best harmonies across the board this year, with some themes not normally covered in the genre. For example, songs like "Breast Less" talk about Stacy fighting breast cancer and maybe losing part of her identity after having to have part of her chest removed. While songs like "Pursuit Of Liberty" discuss the disgusting way refugees are treated now vs how they were treated in the past. Getting to see some of these songs live was the icing on the cake in February and just made me more hyped for when we finally got them. This record solidifies BC/BC as one of the biggest bands for me in punk rock.

5. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

Do I really need to talk about why this is going to be on almost every pop punk fan’s top 10? This perfect follow up from Spanish Love Songs is a hard hitting real deep dive into mental and social issues that leave you feeling full despair with a little bit of hope. The stand out song for me being "Optimism (As a Radical Life Choice)" which talks about catastrophizing over everything going wrong in the world and it preventing you from functioning as a normal human being – just describing that gives me shivers. Super stoked that they lived up to the hype when I saw them live. This record is every bit as perfect as everyone is making out it out to be!

4. Death In Venice Beach by The Bombpops

This one kicks so much ass. It has been the soundtrack every time I put my foot down in my little Clio but it might as well be a super car with The Bombpops blasting through the speakers. Every track is a simple hard hitting punk rock song that is catchy, upbeat and rad as they come! My personal favorites have been "Blood Pact" and "13 Stories Down", the latter being one of the best songs this year – about addiction with a pop hook. I think this record deserves a lot more attention than it got and I can't wait to hear these songs live.

3. Placement by Watsky 

Another year, another Watsky record breaking up my all punk list by being the only rap album on it! When he announced that Complaint was one of three connected records I got immediately excited by the idea of this project. Placement delivers a fantastic follow up to its predecessor, adding further context to it and adding speculation to what's coming next to fill in the gaps. I think "Dreams And Boxes" might be the best core of a record that I have heard with its seamless sticking two songs together with a spoken work piece in the middle resulting in 8 minutes of pure perfection. The emotional cuts dealt by the lyrics have only grown on me as the year progressed, songs like "Savage" and "Black Hole Eyes" really connect with me now on a personal level that I can see bleeding into all my playlist from years to come. Those strong feeling are only toppled by the next two bands on this list.

2. Triceratops / Stegosaurus by Me Rex

When I grow up I want to be Me Rex. Their songs are perfect dissections of emotional issues and events that manage to touch my soul. Normally emotional slow indie pop punk isn't my thing but every single thing they write is nothing less than perfect, bringing me to tears of joy. I have bundled both of these EPs together as they are both equally deserving of attention, one being their first release as a full band with none of their energy or emotion being lost in the bigger sound. They are going to be one of the UK's best bands in the near future and I'm sad I didn't get to see them at MPF this year but I'm going to see them at the first opportunity, even if I have to drive a few hours for it. They are worth it, go and listen to them.

1. Show Me The Blueprints. by Days N Daze

I had only ever heard good things about Days N Daze but it took their record to be released on Fat Wreck for me to pick it up and, honest to god, it is perfect! Infectiously catchy, lighting fast, amazing lyrics, the whole thing fits around its theme and sounds like a complete package. Its song form depiction and framing of addiction, anxiety and depression is some of the best music I have heard. "Show Me The Blueprints." is so well written with its tempo changes and heavy sections. Most importantly this record feels real and authentic, I couldn't help but connect with it. So peace out, farewell to Days N Daze, thanks for the record, I'll catch ya down the line!

This top ten was written by Dan #2.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Brett's Top Ten Albums of 2020

To describe 2020 as a rollercoaster year would be an understatement. Although the cancellation of our plans to travel to MPF and Fest due to well-justified lockdowns and restrictions were difficult blows and put us through all the stages of grief, I am very grateful that we were able to get through the year where the worst thing happening was some inconvenient travel plan changes, others have not been so lucky.

There were some good days though. I think in the very beginning of our lockdown there was a live-streamed event almost every weekend, which was fun; and I’ve really enjoyed watching some of my favourite bands perform live from a “venue” with a comfortable couch, clean bathroom, and shared with cats. I do hope that some of the smaller bands were able to get the support that was really needed through the various community initiatives.

During the lockdown and self-isolation, I found it very difficult to listen to new music and instead leant into bands and albums that were comfortable, like nostalgic hugs via my ears; so, I think if I had to pick my 10 most listened to albums this would be a very different list. As a consequence, my list is mostly made up of bands and labels that I’ve known and loved for a long time. Make no mistake, there were still a really long list of albums to pick from this year. 2020 may have sucked for the most part but the music was still top notch and the albums on this list are amazing in my opinion. They’re the kind that by the end make me want to flip the record or click play and start over.

10. Skeleton Coast by The Lawrence Arms

The Lawrence Arms have been around for over 2 decades now and have earned their spot in the upper echelons of the punk scene with a consistently brilliant back catalogue of releases. Their last album, Metropole, was released 6 years ago and with only a “greatest hits” compilation to satisfy fans since then, the anticipation surrounding Skeleton Coast was high. Luckily the band completely smash all expectations with 14 tracks featuring the trademark shared vocals from Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan, some beautiful storytelling lyrics, expertly crafted melodies, and of course a few doses of humour thrown in for good measure.

Favourite song: Ghostwriter

9. Dancing With The Curse by Get Dead

Six months ago, I would have classified myself as a casual fan of Get Dead and their album Dancing With The Curse wasn't even on my radar of anticipated releases of 2020. That was until I stumbled through a Youtube-hole into a clip of them performing at the Weekend at Fatty's virtual concert, which featured a handful of songs from their (then) upcoming release. The performances of Fire Sale and Stickup in particular drove me to pre-add the album to my library and it has been on regular rotation since it was released in October. The 12 tracks on Dancing blend elements of hip-hop, ska, and hardcore nicely to create a listening experience where no song sounds the same as the last but which still feels cohesive and firmly rooted in the band’s California punk roots.

Favourite song: Stickup

8. Wonderful Hell by War On Women

It doesn’t feel like that long ago that War On Women made my list of top 10 albums of 2018 but maybe I’m just not used to my favourite bands releasing music more often than every 4 to 7 years. Wonderful Hell is War On Women’s third full-length with Bridge9 and the band has thankfully kept their anger and vitriol towards the socio-political environment and unjust system that the majority of the world finds itself trapped in. The crisp production and dynamic song structures feel like a natural progression for the band who have always pushed the boundaries of traditional hardcore, so even a 6-minute slow-building song like Demon doesn’t feel out of place and instead just leaves you wanting more.

If you’re a fan of the album or the band in general, make sure to check out Shawna’s new podcast, But Her Lyrics, to get more insight into the songs and the stories behind the album.

Favourite song: The Ash is Not the End

7. Ctrl Alt Del by Pmx

I was introduced to Pmx by Colin, friend and founder of CPRW, as a recommendation related to the MPF 2018 line-up and it remains one of the best recommendations anyone has given me ever. The Scottish quartet have established themselves as one of the best at combining the sound of punk from the 90s, with technical flourishes found in modern melodic skate punk. On Ctrl Alt Del, Pmx takes their tried and tested formula and improves on it with more mature song writing, tighter melodies, and cleaner production. I was looking forward to seeing the band perform these songs live at MPF 2020 before it was cancelled so I’m hoping to get the chance when live music is safe again. If you’re a fan of 90s Epifat punk and melodic skate punk, then Ctrl Alt Del should be in your record collection or digital library.

Favourite song: Tongue Tied

6. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

They’ve done it again. Everyone loved Spanish Love Songs’ sophomore effort Schmaltz in 2018 and I have no doubt that Brave Faces Everyone will be near the top of many top 10 lists this year. Instead of taking the success of Schmaltz and rehashing the same formula with new lyrics, the band have taken a big step into embracing and refining their own unique sound with trembling vocals pushed to the limit, lyrics dripping with authenticity, cracking production, and big choruses that I can only imagine people screaming at the top of their lungs with fists in the air. Brave Faces Everyone is an album that anyone (not only fans of underground punk music) can relate to and enjoy. It teaches us that it’s ok and you’re not alone if your life is not perfect all the time.

Favourite song: Kick

5. Lament by Touché Amoré

I was first drawn to Touché Amoré with their 2013 album, Is Survived By, then found myself completely floored by 2016’s Stage Four, and looked forward to Lament from the moment I heard the first released single ‘Limelight’ back in July. Touché Amoré have always been able to pull off a level of raw emotion and intensity that very few other bands can without being overly heavy or excessive. While Stage Four dealt with the devastating blow of Bolm losing his mother to cancer, Lament looks at life following such grief without putting any specific focus on it. There are lighter moments in more upbeat melodic songs like Reminders, but overall the tone remains poignant. The contrast between the powerful vocals of Jeremy Bolm and the almost clean instrumentation is captivating and engrosses you from the first song to the last. Touché Amoré recently uploaded their Lament record release live stream to Youtube and, while it’s no substitute for the real thing, it’s well worth the watch for anyone like me who has yet to witness the band perform live in person.

Favourite song: Exit Row

4. Death In Venice Beach by The Bombpops

I’ve been a fan of The Bombpops since their Red Scare days and absolutely loved their first two EPs, Like I Care and Stole The TV; so, naturally I had high expectations when they signed with Fat Wreck in 2016. Although I enjoyed their debut album, Fear Of Missing Out, I found it to be a bit “light” and never really fell in love with it. Since hearing the Death In Venice Beach lead singles Notre Dame and Double Arrows Down, my internal hype machine started working overtime and I put a lot of effort into trying to control my own expectations. Thankfully the release completely blew me away and has been one of my most played albums of the year. Poli van Dam and Jen Razavi seem to have perfected their dual vocal harmonies and the SoCal punk melodies that were made famous by many of their older Fat Wreck counterparts. The music is a little edgier, the themes and lyrics are a little darker this time around, making for an album that is just a joy to listen to from beginning to end.

Favourite song: Radio Silence

3. Sad In The City by Broadway Calls 

Sad In The City was exactly what I needed when it was released early in July during one of our strictest lockdown periods here in South Africa and only a few weeks after receiving the news of the postponement of Fest 19. Broadway Calls’ latest album was one of the few highlights during a very dark time. Sad In The City isn’t a massive departure from their trademark pop-punk sound but still stands out in their catalogue as sonically different and almost experimental at times. In my opinion, the production plays a big role here with some fuzzy guitars, driving bass, and thumping drums helping to set the album apart from the rest of the band’s catalogue. Song after song, this album proves that even after a 7-year break, Broadway Calls can still write great songs with plenty of big singalong choruses and dance-along melodies.

Favourite song: Went Dyin’

2. Resignation by After The Fall 

After The Fall have always played short, fast, and loud – but never compromising melody or technical proficiency. With Resignation, 13 minutes is all the band needs to blaze through 10 of the best songs of the skate punk and melodic hardcore variety. This album is short but what it lacks in length it makes up with catchy melodies, superb musicianship, and an energy that is hard to find anywhere else; all delivered at lightning speed. The lyrical topics touch on mental health, social issues, and politics, with the usual dose of introspection that After The Fall has always been so good at. My only complaint is that I don’t have the vinyl yet.

Favourite song: Absent Minded

1. Revolution Spring by The Suicide Machines

Who knew my favourite album of the year would be ska?! Revolution Spring is good. Really good. I’m not sure what kept The Suicide Machines off my radar for so long, but I was super late to the party and only really became a fan just before they broke up when they released their 2005 album War Profiteering Is Killing Us All, which was full of aggression towards the Bush administration, with just a touch of ska. Fast forward 15 years, the band has reunited and played some reunion shows, toured sporadically and, after being unhappy to be labelled as just another “nostalgia-act”, decided to unleash some new music into the world. What a gift it turned out to be. With the help of Roger Lima at the helm of the production desk, The Suicide Machines have managed to take their history of varied music styles and unite them to make an album with the best elements of ska, pop-punk, and hardcore to create one catchy, aggressive, energetic, and relevant package that has thrust The Suicide Machines to the top of my list.

Favourite Song: Play Caesar

Less Than Jake’s Silver linings was VERY CLOSE to making my list, but I’ve only been able to listen to it once since writing this and I just can’t justify bumping any of the bands and albums on the current list based on only one listen so far. Plus, two ska albums in my top ten would have looked suspicious.

Some of my favourite “other things” this year:

Livestreams from Mike Herrera, Booze Cruise and Dream Nails.

EP’s released by The Lippies, Braincoats and Strike Anywhere (it has 7 songs… it’s an EP).

Live albums released by Fuzigish, Dillinger Four and Slick Shoes.

Netflix originals The Queen’s Gambit and Unorthodox.

Youtube videos from Mikey and his uke, Goldfinger and BKXC (riding bike when I couldn’t).

This top ten was written by Brett Coomer.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Emma’s Top Ten Albums of 2020

2020 has been overwhelming rubbish, hasn’t it? It’s been a weird ol’ year for new music although there hasn’t exactly been a lack of it. I started the year – pre-COVID but also through the beginning of lockdown and working from home (when I could listen to whatever I wanted as I worked) – being excited to discover new artists. According to my ‘Spotify Wrapped’ this year, I discovered over 600 new artists which is pretty good going, especially without going to gigs. Of course, I was also looking forward to hearing new albums from many of my existing favourite artists this year.

Unfortunately, it got to a point over the summer and beyond where I just wasn’t that enthused about listening to music in general – new or otherwise. (I listened to a lot of podcasts instead.) I also went through a period of not really feeling inspired to write reviews, even if I was enjoying an album, so I hope to rectify that somewhat with my end of year list (and honourable mentions). It’s worth pointing out that I still have albums that came out this year on my metaphorical ‘need to listen to properly list’ but I guess there’s always going to be more albums to listen to in a year and I will check them out when I can.

I’m afraid I haven’t been organised enough this year to put together a top ten EPs list as I have done in previous years. I do, however, want to give a little shout out to some of my favourites:

Ghosts, Guilt & Grandparents by Toodles & The Hectic Pity
Lobotany by Cheerbleederz
Whichever, Whatever by Expert Timing
The Bin Collection by Mitch, Please
Proper Confessions by Brightview

There are also some great albums that didn’t quite make my top ten but are certainly worth a mention here:

5 Years Behind by THICK
Cause A Stir by Charmpit
Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers
Jump Rope Gazers by The Beths
Dream Nails by Dream Nails

Now onto the really good stuff… without further ado, here are my top ten albums of 2020:

10. The Spaces In Between by Arterials

Perhaps it’s due to my increasing frustration at the state of the world, from people’s selfish panic buying to littering of single-use face masks and my overwhelming climate anxiety, but I’ve really enjoyed listening to somewhat heavier and angrier music this year than I previously would have. It’s a real good stress reliever. The Spaces In Between by Hamburg, Germany’s Arterials is certainly on the more singalong fists-in-the-air side of melodic hardcore but, whatever you want to label it, it sure packs a punch. With subject matter ranging from friendship, politics and climate change, there’s a lot of food for thought on The Space In Between and I think, particularly in 2020, having songs that really make you think and feel something are important now more than ever. I’m also gutted to have not been able to hear these songs played live at Booze Cruise Festival in the summer, maybe next year…

Favourite song: Pump The Brakes

9. Me, Myself And Something Else by Call Me Malcolm

Despite the ongoing pandemic, this year has been a big one for Kent DIY ska punks Call Me Malcolm. They returned with their third album, Me, Myself And Something Else in May – the follow-up to 2018’s CPRW favourite I Was Broken When You Got Here. It was self-released here in UK but was also released in the US through the amazing Wiretap Records. Understandably, they’ve been getting increasingly popular across the pond and I’m sure they’d have a tour booked and announced for 2021 (perhaps with Kill Lincoln) had this year gone a little differently. As for the album itself, it picks off where Broken left off with deep, hard-hitting lyrics tackling anxiety and depression that are accompanied by some of the catchiest horn lines and riffs in ska punk. I want nothing more than to dance like crazy and sing along to these new songs at our beloved New Cross Inn as Malcolm are a band best served live. Like many things, I’ll just have to wait and settle for bopping around my living room.

Favourite song: Also, Spiders

8. Untenable by Bad Moves

Bad Moves, from Washington, D.C., were a new discovery for me this year. I was intrigued to check out Untenable, which was released on Don Giovanni Records in June, when I saw several people raving about it on Twitter. The folks at Specialist Subject Records also talked about it on their podcast, Flick Through, and Erica’s love for the band was more than enough encouragement for me to give the album a listen. Untenable is twelve infectiously catchy, upbeat and feel-good – for the most part – tunes that I guess could be best described as indie punk or power pop. The vocals come from all four members of the band throughout the album and bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the table. It truly feels like a bunch of best friends just having the most fun making music together and all while managing to deliver a slick and intricate piece of musicianship.

Favourite song: Working For Free

7. The Distance Between by Arms & Hearts

This is probably the album that was most fresh in my mind when it came to deciding on this list. Arms & Hearts has been a firm favourite of mine for a number of years and their debut album was at least one thing I was looking forward to in 2020. Released in November, I knew that The Distance Between by the Manchester-based acoustic punk troubadour was certain to make an appearance here from the first time I listened to it – it was just that good. It is clearly a leap forward from their previous releases – which were by no means bad – and for a band that was essentially a solo project, the album has very full sound. At times, it feels like a melodic punk band rather than one man and an acoustic guitar. The Distance Between has some pretty dark and emotional subject matter but it’s a hugely cathartic listening experience from start to finish.

Favourite song: Kerouac On A Minimum Wage

6. Get Your Retaliation In First by 3dBs Down

What a surprise gem of an album this was! Colin and I know 3dBs Down as being Paul BeSharp’s favourite band of all time and we’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live a few times in recent years, despite not knowing them ‘back in the day’. Get Your Retaliation In First is the band’s first new music for 15 years (!) and I don’t doubt for a second that it was well worth the wait for long-time fans. I first heard this album when Colin was listening to an advanced copy in preparation for writing his review of it and I remember turning to him after just a couple of tracks and saying ‘This is really good’. It’s so distinctly unlike anything else that I’m not even sure how I would describe this album. There’s a bit of ska in there but this is not really a ska punk album, there are some super catchy melodies, singalong moments and incredibly earwormy harmonies threaded throughout but it’s not quite pop punk. I suppose it’s just a brilliant album and needs no further defining.

Favourite song: Idiot Ignorant Evil

5. Seamless by Pardon Us

Congratulations to Pardon Us for being the first band to appear on my end of year albums list for two years running! 2019’s Wait, which was also the band’s debut full-length, was a really great album and I think they may have surpassed it with the follow-up, Seamless, which was released in August this year on the always excellent Everything Sucks Music. The Liverpudlian three-piece play blisteringly fast paced pop punk music – there are twelve songs on Seamless and all of them are under three minutes long – with a strong political and humanitarian message. To paraphrase from my full review of the album, Seamless is a top notch album packed with catchy melodies and intelligent, thoughtful lyrical content that is hugely relevant to the world we live in. Basically, it has something for everyone.

Favourite song: Still Needs Singing

4. Show Me The Blueprints. by Days N Daze

I’ve always been a fan of punk music of the folk variety and one of my very favourite ‘folk punk’ albums of 2020 comes from Houston, Texas’ long-running band Days N Daze. Show Me The Blueprints. was released in May and it is the band’s eighth full-length as well as their debut release with the legendary Fat Wreck Chords. I’m not sure if it’s the label’s influence specifically but I would say that this album is perhaps more accessible to punk fans that are not necessarily likely to listen to a band with instruments such as a banjo in their ensemble. It’s still got the raw heart and soul of their previous material but is perhaps a little more well-crafted. Both Jesse Sendejas and Whitney Flynn’s vocals are brilliant throughout – often providing backing harmonies for one another – as they each sing of their own experiences dealing with addiction and their struggles with mental health. Of course, the melodies and instrumentation throughout the album are excellent but it’s the lyrics that really pulled me into this album and earned it this spot high up in my list.

Favourite song: Saboteurs

3. You Or Someone You Know by Worriers

When You Or Someone You Know by Worriers was released at the beginning of March, I didn’t know that my two (or was it three?) opportunities to see them live for the first time would soon be washed away when 2020’s hopes and dreams went down the drain. I also didn’t know that this album would come to be about so much more than just, ahem, the end of the world – or at least the climate changing, political meltdown end of the world as opposed to the global health crisis end of the world that 2020 has become. This is not a heavy, or even the most typically punk sounding, album but it has such a huge sound with hooky guitar melodies, dreamy keys and just the most incredible vocals and lyrics. Lauren Denitzio has one of my favourite voices in punk rock and their delivery is always so powerful regardless of the volume in which they are projecting. The album is on the one hand melancholic and on the other optimistic, either way it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to listen to again and again.

Favourite song: What Comes Next?

2. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

It would be a pretty fair observation to describe my adoration of emotional punk rockers Spanish Love Songs over the past few years as something close to an obsession. I was obviously excited for Brave Faces Everyone, which was released way back in February, although I was also fairly apprehensive. It couldn’t possibly live up to 2018’s Schmaltz. Could it? Well, now having listening to it an awful lot this year, I can honestly say that I think this is even better than Schmaltz. Similar to You Or Someone You Know by Worriers, this is an album that has taken on a new meaning as this year progressed – ‘“It won’t be this bleak forever.” Yeah right. “It won’t be this bleak forever.” I hope you’re right.’ Brave Faces Everyone has undoubtedly made the seemingly never ending dystopia of 2020 that bit more bearable. It’s heart-wrenchingly emotive from start to finish, not least because it’s relatable for any twenty or thirty something with a conscience, but also makes you want to throw your fist in the air and scream your lungs out. It’s an album to be listened to front to back and then all over again. And if that doesn’t make for a great album then I don’t know what does.

Favourite song: Optimism (As A Radical Life Choice)

1. Life, Death And Everything In Between by Stöj Snak

No surprises here! If you happened to read my essay of a review of Life, Death And Everything In Between by Danish folk punks Stöj Snak just a few months ago then I’m sure you saw this coming, such was my outpouring of passion for these twelve songs. Earlier this year I thought it was going to be tough for anything to top Spanish Love Songs but then Stöj Snak returned in October. Life, Death And Everything In Between is the band’s second full-length album that I’ve been waiting four long years for – to be honest, I wasn’t really sure it would actually be released this year. From the acapella opening track Reasons To Smile, through to raucous yet melodic fast-paced numbers such as Trees, This Condition and and Fire and not one, not two, but three tracks of epic proportions – Bliss Point, Songs About Beliefs and album closer and title track, Life, Death And Everything In Between – this album delivers on so many levels. Niels Højgaard Sørensen’s lyricism is so captivating that I find listening to his songs as enticing as a really, really good book. There are so many intricate touches interwoven throughout this album, it’s clear that the process of writing and recording it was not at all rushed. Everything has been considered and, I said it in my original review and I’ll say it again here, I consider this album to be a masterpiece. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Please, if you haven’t already, go away and listen to Life, Death And Everything In Between. If you have listened to it before, just listen to it again!

Favourite song: Songs About Beliefs

Thank you to all the bands mentioned above for making this year a hell of a lot more enjoyable. 2021 should hopefully be better than 2020 in many ways but it’s still going to be tough to beat some of the very best albums that this year has brought us.

This top ten was written by Emma Prew.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Richard's Top Ten Albums of 2020

It’s hard not to put 2020 into any sort of context without it touching on COVID in some way. I’d typically suggest that these lists are hard to produce due to the amount of material we listen to and in many ways 2020 is no different; and certainly I’ve got to acknowledge releases by bands such as Strike Anywhere and Silverstein as being unfortunate to miss out on this actual top ten despite them being exceptional. What I think has been different this year, and if you’ve heard us talking on the podcasts, is that many of our general listening habits have gone back to older material and bands we’ve grown up on; and this retrospection I think has translated across to musicians in some ways. Having reworked Silverstein classic in Redux II and semi-acoustic revisions of Bouncing Souls classics has been a real treat as has the From Exile collection delivered by The Menzingers. The COVID experience has in many ways given us the time to appreciate what we have and where we have come from and, whilst I’ve not included any of these reworked releases in my top ten, they should be highlighted as demonstrating what an effect the pandemic has had on us. Hope you enjoy the list; as always feel free to let us know what you think in the comments and stay safe!

10. Melee by Dogleg

The Michigan four piece’s debut is in many ways as if the twenty year bastardisation of “emo” didn’t happen. Certainly less pop ala My Chemical Romance and more post hardcore brilliance akin to Full Collapse era Thursday (or to be more accurate the wonderful but relatively unknown Prevent Falls), Melee by Dogleg is visceral, personal, angry and raw in every sense. Its complex arrangements off set by Alex Stoitsiadis’ painful yelps, turned raging howls. Whilst full of strong tracks,the imperious “Kawasaki Backflip” will be simply iconic in years to come; whilst last track “Ender” is every part the epic album closer… It’s a fantastic album full of surprises, and one that absolutely deserves its plaudits and acknowledgements.

9. Paradise by Red City Radio

It took a while for me to get Red City Radio; whilst I’ve enjoyed lots of songs, I’ve found them very much a one trick pony (although what a trick when you are throwing out songs like “Show Me On The Doll” or “Rest Easy”). Consequently I instantly got Paradise… it’s a much more nuanced album than they’ve produced previously. Sure it is not as brash as say Titles, and not as relentless as their self-titled, but Paradise has enough big hooks, gravel vocals and massive sing alongs to sit perfectly alongside their back catalogue, with “100,000 Candles” and “Gutterland” very much the equal to what are already considered essential songs. I’m confident in saying this is easily their most diverse and accessible release and the way their sound has expanded I’m sure it will broaden their appeal to the more heartland rock end of the punk rock spectrum.

8. Monuments by Fire In The Radio

There must be something in the Philadelphia water that keeps it churning out excellent bands. The third album from Fire In The Radio is stacked with huge songs that veer from a classic Menzingers inspired rock (“Rewind” / “Ex-SF”) to a more 80s UK indie vibe you’d associate with The Cure or The Smiths at their most catchy (“This Is My Document”). It’s one of those albums that really gets under your skin, driven by the excellent guitar work of vocalists Richard Carbone and Johnathan Miller and a rhythm section that is super tight, punchy and crisp (Adam Caldwell and Ed Olsen) there is plenty to love on Monuments. Personally this is one of those albums that came out of nowhere and blew me away immediately and it has only got more brilliant with repeated listens.

7. The Distance Between by Arms & Hearts

Steve Millar aka Arms & Hearts (taken from the Hold Steady B-Side of the same name) is in a league of his own. His heartfelt anthems invoke bleak Saddleworth moorland on windswept nights looking down on the bright warm lights of Manchester. Finally releasing a full length, which is a near perfect collection of acoustic fist in the air bangers. The Distance Between is stacked with excellent song-writing; endearing lyrics and a sharp attention to detail you associate with the acts namesake lyricist (Craig Finn). The album concludes with an excellent rendition of the previously released “Fortitude”, a song that is deserving of a massive audience belting out every word. Steve has delivered on the promise shown of the early EPs in abundance… an absolutely essential purchase from the Lancashire Springsteen.

6. Hide the Knives by Shellycoat

German skate-lite pop punkers Shellycoat dropped their third LP this year and it’s one that really deserves to take them to a wider audience. It’s a mature and confident album that plays with typical pop-punk tropes through a Euro-pop lens. Sure, it has some amazing straight up rock songs (“Antidote” and “Reverberation” the two stand outs), but leans into a really nice No Doubt pop territory on songs such as “Neonsomnia pt2”, or the magical “Harbour Scene”. Finally in Karen they have a vocalist with an explosive range. The first time I heard her voice I could sense the best bits of Tilt’s Cinder Block blasting from the stereo; it’s equal parts gruff and angelic. She packs so much character into the vocals that it’s easy to lose track of how talented the band are as unit. I really can’t wait to see where they go next!

5. Ways Away by Ways Away

Comprising alumni of some of punk / hardcore / emo’s most brilliant bands (just check the list: Samiam, Boysetsfire, Racquet Club, Knapsack, Paint it Black!), you’d expect the debut from Ways Away to stand out... and stand out it does. Full of anthemic, driving riffs, huge melodies and stacked with singalongs, this is a real tour de force that showcases the talent behind the band. From the opening “Die On The Vine” you’re treated to brilliant interpretation of modern punk-rock with a real emotional edge. Highlights have to include the raucous “Collarbone” or the ballad “Savannah”. Obviously if you are a fan of any of the aforementioned bands you’ll find something to love here; alternatively if you are desperate to find your new favourite band then you should definitely check out Ways Away.

4. Working Title by Nathan Gray

The second solo full length by Boysetsfire’s frontman is almost the complete opposite of his debut (the equally excellent) Feral Hymns. Where previously there was an all-encompassing darkness that permeated his work there is now a drive and positivity that shows Nathan Gray at his most forward looking and resilient. In fact I’d argue this is his most uplifting collection of songs to date and seeing him take such a personal and philosophical approach to life is just brilliant. This is absolutely one of the albums 2020 needed.

3. Skeleton Coast by The Lawrence Arms

I find that the Larry Arms only release songs when they have something meaningful to say, and as such it’s probably why their output has always been consistently (personally I’d go even further and say ridiculously) high. Skeleton Coast is no exception. From the franticness of “Planes, Trains And Automobiles” to the whimsy of “Last Last Words” (my personal favourite off the album), everything is executed with a meticulous precision and the heart and soul that only Neil, Brendan and Chris can deliver. Six years without new material may feel like a long time but if this is what they produce I’d happily, wait for six more!

2. Brave Faces Everyone by Spanish Love Songs

We’ve spoken at length at CPRW Towers about the fact that we can’t believe this album was released this year – such is the way the world has changed since this dropped in February. I can’t think of an album I’ve listened to as much and that has become as ingrained in me as this, the third long player by the Los Angeles misberalists. Brave Faces Everyone is almost like a forewarning for how crap 2020 would be, from its stoic title emphasising how we’ve all had to deal with the year alongside references to overzealous and out of touch policing of minority groups (“Losers 2”). Spanish Love Songs are fast becoming the time travelling Simpsons theory of the punk rock world, with their sharp social commentary which one would typically associate with exceptional hindsight. Brave Faces Everyone may not have the urgency or even the immediacy of the now iconic album that is Schmaltz but what it does have is an amazing personal resonance which rewards repeat listens with a more fervent appreciation for how great the album is, alongside demonstrating how a couple of years of intense touring have honed them into exceptional songwriters and musicians. I think we can now safely recognise Spanish Love Songs as our latest bona fide punk rock superstars.

1. The Weight And The Cost by Be Well

Brian McTernan’s return to the front of the stage is long overdue. The Battery vocalist turned producer extraordinaire has assembled a who’s who of punk and hardcore to deliver the most emotional and impassioned collection of songs this year; an album that touches all forms of mental health, especially depression, alongside the importance of family. It is an album that epically builds towards its conclusion which in this case is the single best song of the year “Confessional”. Be Well’s debut is a perfect snapshot of McTernan’s career with some excellent traditional hardcore moments, the kind of which Bane would be proud of, punctuated by gorgeous melody, pounding beats and proper pop punk moments that you’d associate with bands such as The Movielife. The Weight And The Cost is a masterpiece in every sense and news they are working on LP2 is incentive enough to get on board now before they blow up big time!

This top ten was written by Richard Mair.