Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out, hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine and as a columnist for Off Shelf with Shadow-Plays. Here are his top ten albums in no order.
“Hail and welcome, young dieties and Elder Gods. The Abremelin Working has been completed, the erstwhile and Stygian have ascended, and I have been lost in the Gnostic Meditation of listening. Intently so… Tomfoolery aside, I’ve labored tirelessly, whittling away at my most treasured of sonic explorations, and arrive at 10. My criteria? E.P.s longer than 6 songs, to Full Length affairs. I’m omitting a phenomenal single by Catholic School, another by the almighty Lycia, all in service of a top ten albums of the year, in no particular order, as I am unable to discern a favorite.”
The triumphant return of NYC Post-Hardcore/Indie Rock stalwarts, Pilot to Gunner! A record that works as both a nod to their records of yore, but also a massive piss-taking on an era that the now middle aged men couldn’t have foreseen, and in kind must comment on. Hail Hallucinator is a thumb in the eye to Vocalist Scott Padden’s former self. A revitalized and dead sober approach. A deadly serious sound. A sardonic grin mouthing a dry wit that can only be attributed to a life lived in a pugilistic exchange with one’s self. A dead 10/10. The exact record I’d needed at the exact time I’d needed it.
One man maudlin machine, Tom Weir, has been saddled with the Post-Punk, retro 1980’s tag from the release of his first cassette. I would argue that, yes, Tom does utilize certain aspects of the likes of Many Mope Maestros of yore, he is equally as indebted and in thrall of Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen as he is Robert Smith. Each of his recordings are a lo-fi affair, allowing missteps and minor flubs to remain in the finished product. I’d once told him his approach was “Direct To Ear”, and that is evident here, but only slightly so. This record is a last goodbye to a sound he’s perfected, and one he has been evolving into something more sparse and iconic. This is a creative milestone that I won’t soon forget.
Ah, the intrepid Stephen Brodsky. A songwriter and guitarist that has basically been a part of my life since his Metallic Hardcore beginnings. His collective brain trust, Cave In, have transcended expectations, album to album. From brutal Hardcore, to scathing and literate Metal, to Failure influenced Space Rock, and finally combining all styles into that unforgettable sound. This is their second release since the untimely passing of the incredible Caleb Scofield, and the first with Converge bassist Nate Newton. This album is the perfection of every style they have ever employed, with songwriting and musicianship light years beyond your favorite metal record’s. Not only my favorite metal album of the year, but my favorite Cave In record. Ever!
Dez and the boys from Texas came screaming from the underground with a record so fully formed and realized that the underground absolutely fell on bended knee before the glory that is Underneath, Beside Me. The shimmering delayed guitars, the lilting synths, the rock solid percussion, and gorgeous vocal delivery all add up to an album that would be a Grammy contender in a perfect world. Bridging the gap between Joy Division and New Order, Christian Death and Shadow Project, Punk and Post-Punk… 9 songs of manic catharsis and joyful abandon. Imagine a buff, Carhartt clad intellectual singing broken love songs to rooms full of sad Punk aficionados the world over. Sound ludicrous? Here it is, in all of its gloomy gestalt.
This year’s dark horse, Wane Into It finds us, once more, in single member project territory. At the outset, Kyle Bates’ Drowse have ever offered a bleak and uncomfortable glance into a personal emotional journey that most care not to acknowledge, let alone experience. Wane… is less of a personal affair. This is Drowse examining the external, the taciturn, and the tactile effects of other’s choices. At turns a more organic record, and a more electronic one, the guitars are cleaner sounding, more stark and precise. The synths are the agitating factor, the vocals pointed and virulent. This side of Kyle’s psyche is one we’d not seen until this album, and one I look forward to experiencing again.
To preface, there has been a palpable connection between the No Idea?/Gainesville Fl. Scene since the 90’s, via Hot Water Music and it’s offshoot bands and my core group of friends in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. We have ever been aligned with the caustic and melodic, dual vocal, bass virtuosity displaying, Post Hardcore demons that make up our Floridian favorites. Chuck Ragan had once changed our car’s tire on a cold night in Philadelphia after having positively annihilated the crowd at the Trocadero on the Sick Of It All “Life On The Ropes” tour with Indecision and AFI. A relationship spanning almost 3 decades would presuppose that my attuned ears would balk at an album containing a new guitarist and voice…. I must admit, I entered this record with trepidation, as I am also fond of new member Chris Cresswell’s band The Flatliners. Each track on this record contains the absolute best aspects of the HWM of old, with a few new tricks. The deciding factor would be the cut that Chris sings on solo, “Turn The Dial”. Fully expecting it to be an olive branch to the new guy, I girded my loins and lowered my expectations. To my delight… to my utter jubilation, it is my absolute favorite on the record. So well executed, so full of exuberance and abandon, so beautifully sung, this song is everything HWM always has been, with a reinvigorated B-12 shot in the arm! This will unlock the vault of every long since forgotten teenage heart in the most grizzled of us.
The spastic, Metallic Hardcore supergroup, comprised of members os The Locust, Slayer, and Faith No More (among many many more) serve up an maniacal second helping of ferociously political ire and snide social commentary set to the soundtrack of a freight baring locomotive losing its brakes and careening, headlong, into a munitions facility 9 songs in 32 minutes of an album that explores space in a more succinct manner than the former. In essence, this album feels vastly more mood oriented in the most mind bending way possible. Mike Patton has never sounded more deranged. Dave Lombardo is more jazzy and utilitarian. Justin is predictably fleet footed in his bass guitar abuse, and Michael Crain is in effects laden bliss on tracks as trippy as “Animal Espionage”. Other choice cuts, like “Nightclub Canary”, let their Stooges flag fly. An A+ in taking the Shape of Punk that never came.
Kenny Elkin has taken the personal arsenal he’d honed in his previous punk band and garnished his compositions with influences gleaned from his father’s rather robust record collection. Vali S.C‘s formidable, dreary onslaught percolates with New Wave dance Punk and shoegaze that owes as much to Gang of Four as it does to Failure and MBV or The Legendary Pink Dots. Add one cup of lyrical content exploring his recovery from the obsession of addiction, simmer, and serve ice cold.
The group that single handedly reinvigorated Industrial Music for the post 2000s have seen fit to bless us with another entry into their lauded Disco Series. I’ll address the elephant in the room… the collaborative song with 90s Industrial gods Nine Inch Nails, “Isn’t Everyone “ is included here, and it Is just perfectly both bands, fully balanced. Collaborations with disparate acts, from Poppy to The Body, The Neighbourhood to Lamb Of God, HO99OR to Perturbator, all coalescing here In ecstatic fury. A must own clash of multiple titans.
Having been described as a “Departure Record”, a “Reinvention“, a “Tectonic Shift”, I call it the next logical step in Soft Kills journey to alt rock glory. Do the Post Punk leanings of “Choke” and “Savior” and the gallop and balladry of “Dead Kids…” remain? Certainly. Have more elements reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins and Chavez appeared? Absolutely. This is not a departure, this is an addition to the sound that had garnered them praise. This is Tobias reaching into his earliest sphere of influence and culling most tantalizing bits to integrate into his compositions. A curve ball or two comes in the form of Ruth Radelet singing the entirety of ballad “The Line”, and the ultimately upbeat, power pop gem with the most bleak lyrics, “Domino”. An unforgettable record. A awe inspiring journey.