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.
The year of our lord 2023 has dwindled to mere days left to live. The songs we’ve sung in revelry are damned to become anachronistic, though still in the cannon of our collective memory, they are irrevocably in our rear view. As we prepare to hail the new flesh, let us take one final, backward glance at the songs that made the year tenable.
The new wave of post-punk, an embarrassment of riches to say the least, has served as a conduit between what once was and what now is within genre. It is an open road, by which entities of every sort may place their unique mark upon it. In this bustling cosmopolis, Lathe of Heaven stand with the distinction of imbuing goth and death rock with Bound By Naked Skies. Theirs is a space that revels in a maudlin so symphonic yet gully that it summons visions of Chopin in PVC bondage gear, a Mohican hair cut, and a Marlboro red between his pursed lips. A juggernaut of dark pop grandeur.
The indie rock cum post-post-punk lilt and bombast machine that is Palm Ghosts have been deploying torpedos of well wrought songcraft for over a decade, steadily growing more mature and gaining more accolades as they push onward. Finding themselves in need of a label to call home for this, their latest full length, upstart PR firm Sweet Cheetah acted as not only the band’s publicist, but management, A&R, and label in order to commit this weighty tome to wax. In doing so, they amassed an independent label Voltron to bring this incredible collection to life. The end result Palm Ghosts finest recording to date, with beautiful physical media to commemorate the blessed union!
Dynamics. If one were to attempt to conjure a one word explanation of the superpower Michael Gira is possessed of, it would ultimately be dynamics. At the fore of New York’s No Wave scene, Swans began by producing the most atonal, loud, and challenging music ever written. 40 years after their album Filth terrified the club going punks in NYC, Swans deliver a recording that culls from the varied styles and modes that inhabit their massive recording career with a narrative that places it’s orator in the maelstrom of a time and place that still does not fully understand him. A call to the cosmic center, the God of the Old Testament and his sacrificial son, Buddha, Allah, and all godheads to look upon me. To hear me. To reckon with me, the me that is us all. There is elemental, spiritually weaponized power in this recording. Swans are still terrifying, gorgeous, revolting Young Gods, and all shall look upon their mighty visage in solemn awe.
The sophomore slump be damned. The True Faith, a band comprised of physicians, have devised the cure to the second album malady with a defining recorded moment. From the opening, wistful lilt of track 1, side one, “Assimilation” is an apt primer for an album brimming with resplendent guitar washes, heartfelt vocal melodies, and bombastic uplift. The dark hues are darker, the bright lines more clearly defined, and the song craft… bulletproof. A La Carte Records have consistently released music that sits at the pinnacle of modern underground music, and this record is the tree that tops the end of a building’s erection.
In the 1990s, on the fringes of the hardcore scene, the psych-freakout-screamo outfit The VSS challenged the thuggish breakdowns and vegan metal that dominated that landscape with formidable intensity that burned so brightly that it consumed the entity. After their demise, Sonny Kay formed Subpoena The Past, and the remaining members formed the unclassifiable cool engine that is Pleasure Forever. Awash in impeccable musicianship and dark atmospheres, the labels that had the foresight to recognize the new what’s next took notice, and none other than Sub Pop signed our reluctant heroes. Twenty years after their last recording together, Pleasure Forever return with their most challenging, most “gothic” yet soulful entry. This is the soundtrack to a Kafka nightmare, and it’s riding us all the way.
Fronted by Discharge vocalist Jeff Janiak, with Stig of Amebix, Roy Mayorga of Nausea/Amebix/Ministry, and J.P. Parsons, one would imagine a record of tribal, d-beat crust, and that is in the mix… This record aligns the sum of it’s creator’s parts and builds an album that harnesses doom, death rock, primal hardcore, and Neo-gothic folk. The record that no one knew they had desperately needed. A perfect soundtrack to a society in decline. In a world burning to cinders, False Fed are a light to guide us. A mystical, shamanic psalm, a defiant thumb in the eye of the ruling class. 35 out of 10 stars.
In the mid 1990s, while kicking around Manhattan, there was a vibrant goth scene brimming around The Bank, a club that sat within a repurposed (you guessed it) bank. It was there that indie guitar rock group The Julies really found their audience. With a demo produced with the help of MTV’s Matt Pinfield, they were poised for greatness. The legendary Lovelife E.P. soon followed. Then, as it happens so often with promising young bands, crickets. 28 years later, The Julies have graced us with an epic resurgence. Always & Always opens with the achingly haunted Symmetry, and continues through the following nine tracks of meditations on parenthood, loss, love, and eternity. The perfect album for Gen Xers and appreciators. Gorgeous and sadly moving.
After a slew of singles on various physical and digital formats (and other bands/projects), Mr. Moyal returns as Damien Done for his second full-length record. Having been accused of post-punk leanings, this record contains his first “on-the-nose” goth club banger with lead off single “Pray For Me”, a track that colors Billy Idol green with envy. The entire record is emblematic of myriad moods and modes, all anchored by Damien’s sweetly affected, natural baritone and musical oeuvre. How is it at all possible that one person can accomplish so many releases of merit in one 12 month period? One may never know. Suffice to say, we are thankful.
Burial Clouds first released this recording in instrumental form some time ago, an album of mystical, doom laden, and gothic grunge metal miasma. They had a fan in one (actor, singer-songwriter) Michael Malarkey, who had committed to recording vocals unlike anything he’d done with his Emo-Core band of old, Shadyside, or his solo work. The resulting five song, 44 minute epic of torment took full shape, calling to mind Layne Staley and Chino Moreno fronting Neurosis, Isis, and Eyehategod all at once. A truly dark, cathartic experience that cannot be undervalued.
Grave Babies – “Death Will Kill Us All” (self-released)
The low-fi death rock gods Grave Babies had gone silent after the release of 2015’s “Holographic Violence” on HardlyArt, and the underground at large have been at odds with themselves and the industry over just what had happened to their dark heroes. Murmurings began to swell on the horizon as word of a fully independent, self-released cassette was to be released. What was received, a nine song in under 30 minute affair, recorded in a minimalist manner. A truly underground effort, executed in true bleak punk fashion. They hadn’t sounded this gritty and urgent since the Pleasures 7’, and the spokes and specters rejoices in a baritone sigh, in unison. The death rock world was, once again, at graven peace.
Honorable mentions (E.P.s, big label affairs, and non-postpunk offerings of note): ttt (Crosses) “Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete”, Violet Silhouette “Feverblue”, Mensa Deathsquad, Toilet Rats, The Dwarves, As Friends Rust “Any Joy”, Shadyside “Higher Plans”