23 punk & pop punk albums from 1997 that turn 23 this year
This edition of In Defense of the Genre looks back on 23 albums from punk and pop punk's pivotal year of 1997 that turn 23 this year. Surely *somebody* likes them.
1997 was a banner year for pop punk. Green Day discovered ballads, blink-182 got their first taste of fame, The Offspring released their major label debut, and it seemed like almost every key band within punk, pop punk, skate punk, etc released something worth hearing that year. 1994 was the year pop punk broke and 1999 was the year it exploded, but right in between-ish 1997 was doing its thing, birthing a handful of good to great albums whose sounds still resonate today.
All the 1997 albums turn 23 this year (you get the joke) and to celebrate their birthdays, I've picked 23 albums from that year to write and reminisce about. Most of them are pop punk/skate punk, though a few are "just punk" and would probably be offended by me calling them "pop punk," but they're at least melodic and/or were influential on poppier punk records to come, so that's why they're on a mostly-pop punk list. The list isn't ranked (alphabetical order) and it's not necessarily the 23 best, just the 23 that most stand out to me today. It's a mix of obvious classics, underrated records, scrappy debuts by bands that later got famous, big budget records by bands who already released breakthroughs, and one or two oddities that seem more important/influential in hindsight than anyone could've guessed they would have in 1997. Maybe you'll discover something new from this list, or maybe it'll just induce a rush of nostalgia. Either way, I hope it's as fun for you to read as it was for me to dive back into these records and to write it.
Read on for the list, in alphabetical order...
blink-182 - Dude Ranch
Once blink-182 hooked up with drummer Travis Barker and producer Jerry Finn, they became the force of nature most people know them as today, but as I've gone on record saying before, they made their best record before all that. Dude Ranch, their final album with original drummer Scott Raynor and only album produced by Drive Like Jehu drummer/Jimmy Eat World producer Mark Trombino, is rawer and simpler than the Travis-era records and Mark and Tom can barely sing, but all the ideas they'd later finesse are laid out here, and it's still their most wall-to-wall consistently great record. It's one ripper after another and you'd be crazy to skip a track.
Dude Ranch's biggest claim to fame is "Dammit" (and to a lesser extent, "Josie"), but it's the record as a whole that makes 1997 such an important year in blink-182's career. On the surface, this short, fast, and loud album sounds like a lot of the other skate punk records on this list, but when you listen more closely, you hear melodies and harmonies and thoughtful lyrics that suggested blink-182 were destined to have the mainstream breakthrough they'd have two years later. (You also hear a lot of dumb lyrics and dick jokes, but, y'know, it's blink-182.) "Pathetic" is the best album opener in blink's discography and one of the most ferocious songs they ever wrote, while songs like "Waggy" and "Lemmings" and "Dick Lips" and "Emo" find blink-182 at their most yearning. For such a seemingly straightforward album, Dude Ranch has got it all.
Green Day - Nimrod
blink-182 would eventually eclipse Green Day as the mainstream pop punk band, but the same year blink-182 had their first taste of minor fame, Green Day were still on top of the world and they released what -- at the time -- was their most ambitious album yet. They pretty much perfected their brand of Americanized, Buzzcocks-ian pop punk on 1995's Insomniac (their best record), and they churned out a few more songs like that on Nimrod ("Nice Guys Finish Last," "Scattered," "Jinx," and the best of them all, "The Grouch") and even dipped their toes into harder, faster, hardcore-tinged punk ("Platypus [I Hate You]" and "Take Back"), but even those songs were produced in a warmer, milder alternative rock way than the tightly wound pop punk they became famous for. And elsewhere on the album, Green Day started drastically expanding their palette, dabbling in pre- and early rock stylings on "Hitchin' A Ride," "King For A Day," and "Last Ride In," dishing out punk balladry on "Redundant" and "Walking Alone," and most significantly of all, they released the acoustic song "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the song your mom who didn't want you listening to "Longview" could like and the song that would be played at graduations for the next two decades. Billie Joe might've sung "I was a young boy that had big plans, now I'm just another shitty old man" on "The Grouch," but no song represented Green Day's transition from snotty punk kids to regular ol' adults like "Time of Your Life." I'm being a little backhanded, but like, kudos to Green Day for bringing in a whole new audience with that song and having a rock-solid album to back it up.
H2O - Thicker Than Water
H2O came out of the NYHC scene (frontman Toby Morse was a roadie for Sick Of It All before H2O formed and most of their early tours/shows were with NYHC bands), and though H2O didn't forget their roots, they always had poppier tendencies than most of their local peers and influences, and it's no surprise that they quickly became Warped Tour regulars and affiliates of the pop punk scene and even signed to a major label. There are hardcore bands who clearly influenced pop punk, like Gorilla Biscuits (who H2O pay homage to on "Talk Too Much" on Thicker Than Water and whose frontman CIV appears in the video for this album's "Everready"), but H2O were (and still are) more like chameleons who could hang with hardcore bands and pop punk bands and appeal to fans of both. That was very much on display on their killer 1997 sophomore album (and Epitaph debut) Thicker Than Water, 16 tracks (including a Marginal Man cover) of catchy, no-frills anthems that split the difference between hardcore and pop punk. There were other pop punk bands indebted to classic NYHC (Saves The Day, The Movielife, New Found Glory), but H2O were in a more unique place than those bands, more directly tied to NYHC than any of them but too catchy to stay in that niche forever. It was probably blinkmania that eventually got MCA interested, but H2O didn't need a major label feeding frenzy to cement themselves within pop punk's upper echelon. Thicker Than Water already did that.
Hot Water Music - Fuel for the Hate Game
Hot Water Music never really fit in easily with any genre -- they're part punk, part emo, part post-hardcore, but never neatly any of those things -- and they pretty much figured out their unique, signature sound from the start. Fuel for the Hate Game was their first full-length but not the first time they left their mark (they had a handful of early EPs, splits, etc, all compiled on 1995's Finding the Rhythms), and even the very early recordings are great, but if there were any kinks, they were all worked out by Fuel for the Hate Game. Casual fans may know the album as the home of "Freightliner," the excellent Hot Water Music rager that was also on the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 soundtrack, though Fuel has a lot more to offer than that. The tighter, more concise sound of 2002's Caution made for Hot Water's major breakthrough and most-loved album by many, myself included, but the looser sound of Fuel for the Hate Game is just about as great in a totally different way. The songs are always kind of hanging by a thread, with competing guitar and bass lines all trying to take lead of the song at once, but everything always manages to culminate in a cathartic chorus, led by fist-raising, shout-along-able choruses by one or both of the band's two gravel-voiced frontmen (Chuck Ragan and Chris Wollard). Save for a couple brief hiatuses and Wollard's current leave from the band, Hot Water Music have remained a force for 25 years, and at this point it feels like an understatement to say no one else sounds like them. Looking back on Fuel for the Hate Game reminds you that was true from the start.
Lagwagon - Double Plaidinum
When Enema of the State started blowing up, blink-182 were on tour in Europe opening for Lagwagon. That's now one of those all-time classic fun-fact stories like Nirvana opening for Sonic Youth when Nevermind came out, but it wasn't weird at the time -- Lagwagon had already long-perfected the type of skate punk that blink helped bring to the mainstream and 1997's Double Plaidinum was just one of many examples of that. Lagwagon often stayed true to the young, loud, and snotty side of pop punk/skate punk, but Joey Cape's impassioned, distinct singing/songwriting always helped Lagwagon stand out from the pack of similar bands. Even at this point in their career, they briefly hinted at the folky sounds Joey would explore further in his solo career ("One Thing To Live"), and it was the late '90s so obviously there's a brief flirtation with ska-punk ("Today"), but mostly these songs are straight and to the point, with a breakneck-speed rhythm section and catchy hooks for days. (Also fun fact: The Posies' Ken Stringfellow was Lagwagon's guitarist for this record.)
Lifetime - Jersey's Best Dancers
Lifetime probably count more as "melodic hardcore" than pop punk or emo-pop, but neither of those genres would've sounded like they did during their early/mid 2000s mainstream boom if not for the influence of Jersey's Best Dancers. Lifetime are sort of the exact middle point between bands like Gorilla Biscuits and bands like Saves the Day and The Movielife, rooting themselves in the hardcore fury of the former and informing the melodicism of the latter, and their influence also extends to gigantic bands like New Found Glory and Fall Out Boy. Lifetime clearly weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves or to write songs that qualified as "pop songs," and though it might've been a risky move within hardcore at the time, it sounds massively ahead of its time now. Jersey's Best Dancers was their last album before breaking up (and then reuniting in the mid 2000s and releasing a self-titled comeback album on Fall Out Boy's Decaydance Records), and for my money it's their best. This wasn't the sound of 1997 pop punk as defined by the big West Coast bands like blink-182 and Green Day; this was the sound of like 2003. Listening to it today, it's about as timeless as this kind of stuff gets.
Millencollin - For Monkeys
When most people think of '90s skate punk, they think of the US and specifically California, but thanks in part to California label Epitaph's Swedish sister label Burning Heart, we know that Sweden was killing it on this front as well. Burning Heart/Epitaph helped bring the world such now-iconic bands as Refused and The Hives, and it also brought us one of Sweden's most consistently solid skate punk (and sometimes ska-punk) bands, Millencolin. Their 1997 offering was their third album For Monkeys, which is as much a classic as just about anything Millencollin released during their '90s / early '00s heyday. As with most great skate punk bands, the instrumentals aren't gonna change much from band to band so standing out is all about having a great frontman, and Millencollin very much had (and still have) one in Nikola Sarcevic. Nobody sounds like him, and he writes songs that just beg to be sung along to. For Monkeys is home to a handful of longtime fan faves ("Lozin' Must," "Random I Am," "Twenty Two"), and the deeper cuts are just about all on par with the better known songs.
NOFX - So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes
'90s pop punk and skate punk wouldn't have been what it was without the influence of NOFX, whose career dated way back to their days as a hardcore band in the mid '80s, and whose Punk In Drublic was part of the class of 1994 that helped bring pop punk to the mainstream. And the very prolific band dropped an LP in pop punk's pivotal year of 1997 too. By '97, you pretty much knew what to expect from NOFX, and they gave you exactly that: short, fast, catchy songs that were as snotty and bratty as possible. (And, again, it was the late '90s, so there's some ska on this too.) It didn't necessarily bring anything new to the NOFX table, but you don't want new from NOFX, you want reliable. NOFX were doing what they do best all throughout the development of pop punk; whenever you entered that world, there was probably a new NOFX album waiting there for you. In 1997, it was the super fun So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes.
No Use For A Name - Making Friends
Similar to Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape, No Use For A Name's late frontman Tony Sly (who has a few collaborative releases with Joey Cape) helped set his band's mile-a-minute skate punk apart from the rest with a songwriting style that looked beyond mile-a-minute skate punk. (This album has a cover of traditional Irish folk song "Fields of Athenry" [later covered by Dropkick Murphys], and other NUFAN albums included covers of The Police, Bob Marley, The Pogues, and Sinéad O'Connor.) NUFAN's finest hour is 1995's ¡Leche con Carne!, but its 1997 followup Making Friends is nothing to scoff at either. With a little help from their friends Dickey Barrett of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (on "Growing Down") and Karina Deniké of Dance Hall Crashers (on "On the Outside"), Tony Sly & co churned 11 rippers (and that "Fields of Athenry" cover) that established them as a continued force in this very busy year for pop punk. It's an extremely 1997 sounding album, one you might call "dated" today, but "dated" doesn't have to mean bad. If you wanna get transported back to this thriving era of singalong-able punk music, Making Friends always does the trick.
Pennywise - Full Circle
Pennywise were one of the first bands signed to Bad Religion's Epitaph Records, and they were probably the one who sounded most directly influenced by Bad Religion. Jim Lindberg shares Greg Graffin's knack for a delivery that's both hard-hitting and melodic, both bands were in tune with their hardcore roots, and both bands knew how to work in harmonies and a good "whoooah-ohhh-ohhhh." (They pull a lot from Dag Nasty too.) If I'm picking one Pennywise album, it's always their 1991 self-titled debut, but like Bad Religion and NOFX, they remained a prolific and reliably consistent band who pretty much released a worthwhile album throughout all eras of pop punk's '90s and '00s evolution. And a lot of people call Full Circle their favorite, so as loyal as I am to their debut, I've got plenty of respect for this one too. Compared to some of their snottier, poppier peers, Pennywise were always darker and angrier and this album is no different. As a hard-hitting and often political record, Full Circle is really just one degree of separation from hardcore, but true hardcore bands didn't write soaring vocal harmonies like this. Get you a band who can do both.
Shelter - Beyond Planet Earth
As mentioned a couple times in this article so far, classic NYHC bands like Gorilla Biscuits played a major role in the development of pop punk despite not being pop punk themselves. That was also true of GB's pals Youth of Today, who were even less pop punk, but post-YOT band Shelter eventually became a major label band with a video on MTV, and though the Krishnacore band probably rejects the "pop punk" label, there's no denying they wrote punk songs that were both popular and poppy. (Also, not even these guys were immune to ska-punk by the late '90s!) Following their 1995 mainstream breakthrough and Roadrunner debut Mantra came their second album for Roadrunner, 1997's Beyond Planet Earth, which was the poppiest thing Shelter ever released. They're probably the only band on this list who sang about Hare Krishna, and Ray Cappo and Porcell's previous band is one of the realest hardcore bands there ever was, but Beyond Planet Earth doesn't sound all that different from the pop punk and skate punk records that were coming out around the same time. Especially for a major label album, Beyond Planet Earth feels kind of obscure these days (it's not on Spotify and Amazon only has used copies... reissue it, guys!), so I don't know if Shelter actually landed in the hands of people listening to like blink-182 and NOFX and stuff. But if you've read this far on the list and haven't ever listened to Beyond Planet Earth, listen to it!!
Sicko - You Are Not the Boss of Me
Seattle pop punks Sicko are one of those cultishly loved bands who have a relatively small fanbase but one that's full of diehards, and all it takes is one listen to hear what their longtime fans heard in them. They helped pave the way for bands like The Ergs!, The Marked Men, and Joyce Manor -- bands who did pop punk in a distinctly lo-fi, indie rock way, and who pull the "pop" in "pop punk" from classic power pop. You Are Not the Boss of Me was their last album before breaking up, and listening to it is always a reminder that Sicko threw in the towel too soon. It's a rock-solid record of lean, one-to-two minute, quirky, catchy pop punk songs that sound as fresh today as ever. Some of the albums on this list were very of their time, but You Are Not the Boss of Me could've come out yesterday and it'd probably get the punk-friendly corners of the music internet going nuts.
Silent Majority - Life of a Spectator
Your favorite (Long Island emo) band's favorite band, and probably the most underrated band on this list given how influential they were and still are. Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, The Movielife, Glassjaw (whose frontman Daryl Palumbo was in Silent Majority for a minute), and Bayside (whose bassist Nick Ghanbarian was also in Silent Majority) may have brought Long Island emo to the mainstream, but all of those bands were influenced by Silent Majority, and Silent Majority's influence extended outside of Long Island too. (Upstate NY's Polar Bear Club probably would've sounded different without the influence of the Silent Majority song they were named after.) Similar to New Brunswick's Lifetime, Silent Majority took the sounds of NYHC and added in a greater emphasis on melody, and though the LI bands were surely listening to Lifetime too, it was Life of a Spectator that you heard clearly resonating throughout the Long Island-centric emo boom of the early 2000s. Silent Majority sadly broke up before they themselves could taste fame (this is their only full-length album), and the bands they influenced all eventually took these sounds in other directions, but Life of a Spectator is more than a necessary stepping stone in the development of 2000s emo. This is one of the best Long Island emo/hardcore albums of all time, period, and these songs still have major impact today.
Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out
Dig Me Out was the third album by feminist indie-punk heroes Sleater-Kinney and first with their beloved drummer Janet Weiss (who recently left the band after 20+ years), and it was a significant breakthrough for the band and it's still one of their best records today. Too tuneful to really be riot grrrl and too riotous to really be indie rock, Dig Me Out wasn't easy to pigeonhole but it was very easy to like, thanks to its mix of off-kilter riffage, punchy hooks, and powerful lyricism. Sleater-Kinney were always more profound and cooler to like than a lot of the skate/pop punk happening a few thousand miles south of this Olympia, WA band's hometown, but today their influence has showed up in a lot of the same places as those bands. When you look at today's punk, pop punk, and indie rock bands, it's not unusual at all to hear music that sounds influenced by S-K and blink-182. It's impossible to talk about 1997 punk without this crucial album, and in a just world, S-K would've been dominating MTV too.
The Ataris - Anywhere But Here
Before they were a major label pop punk band whose biggest song was a Don Henley cover, The Ataris were skate punk regulars signed to The Vandals' Kung Fu Records and recording with Lagwagon members (Lagwagon's former drummer, the late Derrick Plourde, played on Anywhere but Here, and Joey Cape produced their two subsequent albums). A far cry from the polished punk and emo-tinged pop rock that made them famous, Anywhere but Here is a scrappy skate punk record that fit right in with their Kung Fu labelmates. (This one's got faithful Jawbreaker and Pinkerton covers, not a 'Punk Goes...' style Don Henley cover.) Frontman (and sole constant member) Kris Roe was already a pro at sugary melodies, but at this point in his career he was applying to them to short, loud, fast, and relatively raw punk songs. A lot of the popular "punk" bands in the early 2000s had no punk roots at all, so Anywhere But Here is a nice reminder that The Ataris really did pay their dues.
The Bouncing Souls - The Bouncing Souls
New Brunswick punk heroes The Bouncing Souls have been one of the most reliably great punk bands around for 30 years. Like H2O, they always kinda straddled the line between hardcore and pop punk and continue to be loved by fans of both, and they've only made subtle adjustments to their sound over the years, which is totally fine when your music is this distinct and this loved. Since 2001's cleanly produced How I Spent My Summer Vacation, the "pop" side has been more out in the open, but the line was blurrier on their rawer, harder early material, like their 1997 self-titled LP (their third album and first for Epitaph). Bouncing Souls are one of those bands where they've got so many albums that different fans consider their favorite (my personal fave is How I Spent My Summer Vacation), but the self-titled is a very popular pick, and for good reason. You pretty much can't go to a Bouncing Souls show today without hearing s/t classics like "East Coast! Fuck You!" and "Kate Is Great," and those are just two of the several certifiable rippers on this album. Whether it's a raw, hard-hitting, pogo-inducing album like this one or a ballad from later in their career, Greg Attonito's shout is unmistakable and it makes you fall in love with the Souls all over again every time you hear it. And the simple yet effective interplay between bassist Bryan Kienlen and guitarist Pete Steinkopf (Greg's right and left hand men since 1989) sounds as timeless on this album as it ever did before or since.
The Donnas - The Donnas
Here's another band who hit it really big in the early 2000s but were a scrappy punk band for years before that. These four Ramones obsessives were regulars of the legendary Lookout! Records (Operation Ivy, Green Day, etc), who signed the band shortly after they released their 1997 self-titled debut, and it's obvious from this album why Lookout! (and eventually Atlantic) wanted them. The Donnas weren't the only '90s band worshipping at the altar of the Ramones (and, by way of the Ramones, The Beach Boys, who the Donnas covered on this album), but they had the attitude and the swagger and the chops to stand out amongst all the others. Even on this poorly recorded album, Donna A's got that same sneer that she later immortalized on songs like "Are You Gonna Move It For Me?" and "Take It Off," and these short, fast songs (all one or two minutes) are just an endless barrage of driving power chords and sugary hooks. Eventually The Donnas started incorporating hair metal into their sound, but this album is straightup Ramones worship and like the Ramones, it just keeps on hitting with little or no time to take a breath.
The Get Up Kids - Four Minute Mile
The Get Up Kids' 1997 debut album Four Minute Mile combined the driving, hooky indie-punk of Superchunk and the more tangled sounds of Midwest emo and helped create the blueprint for early/mid 2000s emo-pop in the process. Whether or not The Get Up Kids wear that badge proudly is a different story, but they broke a lot of musical ground and I'm of the opinion that it should be celebrated. Their 1999 sophomore album Something To Write Home About is their crowning achievement, but the seeds were already being sewn on the rougher Four Minute Mile which was pretty influential itself too. It's more than just a dry run for STWHA; it's home to all-time Get Up Kids classics like "Don't Hate Me," "Coming Clean," "No Love" and "Shorty" that still sound great today, and it's a distinctly different album than the one that followed it. STWHA is nearly perfect but Four Minute Mile is charmingly flawed, and sometimes you're craving something rawer and punkier than the more polished-up and ballad-inclusive Something To Write Home About. For those times, there's Four Minute Mile.
The Hives - Barely Legal
When The Hives inked a major label deal and hit it big in America, they were grouped with the garage rock revival that The Strokes were leading, but The Hives were regulars of the punk scene before The Strokes even formed. They were on Epitaph's Swedish sister label Burning Heart alongside Millencollin, Refused, No Fun At All, and other punk bands, and on their 1997 debut album Barely Legal, they sounded like a legit punk band. The classic garage rock influence was there for sure, but The Hives hadn't yet become the retro-rock musical theater act that made them stars (an act I like a lot and am not dissing by any means). The Hives from 2000's Veni Vidi Vicious onwards had a meticulously crafted sound and image, deceptively simple on the surface but executed with extreme attention to detail and a big wink. The Hives of Barely Legal were more down to earth than that -- they come off more like an unpretentious New Bomb Turks-ian garage punk band than like the retromania act you saw on MTV. And though the latter is the main reason we're still talking about The Hives today, Barely Legal is nothing to scoff at. It's ripper after ripper and it's a killer record in its own right, especially if you're looking at The Hives from a punk standpoint.
The Muffs - Happy Birthday To Me
The Muffs struck a balance between pop punk and alternative rock that gave them a wide appeal at a time when both of those genres were thriving. Their first two albums (1993's self-titled and 1995's Blonder and Blonder) are stone cold classics of the era, and they kept the momentum going on their third album, 1997's Happy Birthday To Me, which didn't birth any individual singles/fan faves as iconic as the ones from their first two albums, but which still offered up 15 signature sounding Muffs songs that sound as great today as they ever did. Kim Shattuck has one of the gnarliest roars in punk, and that's on display all throughout Happy Birthday To Me, and this album is jam-packed with punchy, catchy, no-frills punk/alt-rock songs that sound like a literal sugar rush. The Muffs were a true treasure, a ray of light poking its head through a sea of often-samey-sounding punk bands. We miss you Kim.
The Offspring - Ixnay on the Hombre
Aside from Green Day's Dookie from the same year, there was probably no album that played a bigger role in first bringing pop punk to the mainstream than The Offspring's 1994 album Smash. And compared to the poppy, Buzzcocks-inspired Dookie, Smash was a darker, faster, harder album that pulled from '80s Southern California hardcore but added in massive, soaring choruses that the general public could get behind. (And in the case of the slower-paced hit "Self Esteem," it didn't sound all that different from the already-popular grunge.) After the Epitaph-released Smash (which remains the best-selling independent album of all time) made The Offspring stars, the major label deal was inevitable. They signed with Columbia and their first release for the label was Ixnay on the Hombre. It's not as flawless as Smash, but it trails closely behind as The Offspring's second best record and one of the best pop-friendly punk records of the '90s.
No matter how radio-friendly The Offspring got, they almost always knew how to start off a record with a kickass punk ripper, and Ixnay was no different. Following a sarcastic spoken word disclaimer from Jello Biafra that poked fun at parental advisory labels, The Offspring launched into "The Meaning of Life," a scorcher on par with anything on Smash. It's not the only Smash-worthy punk song on the record -- save for the more polished production, "Cool To Hate," "Leave It Behind," and the iconic "All I Want" (you know, the "YAA YAA YAA YAA YAA" one) all could've fit on that album -- but Ixnay was more than Smash part two. They dove deeper into the slower alternative rock side that they explored on "Self Esteem" with songs like "Gone Away" and "Amazed," songs that flirt with the cheesier side of post-grunge but remain too undeniable for cynicism. There's also a couple sillier sounding songs that don't hold up as well ("Me & My Old Lady," "I Choose") and the obligatory ska song that reminds you exactly what decade it was ("Don't Pick It Up"), but the highs far outweigh the lows and Ixnay remains a classic.
Useless ID - Dead's Not Punk
Most skate punk bands came from America (specifically California), and some came from Sweden, but Useless ID were a rare -- and probably the most notable -- '90s skate punk band to come from Israel. They started to break in the US after The Ataris released a split with them in 2000 and helped them get signed to Kung Fu, but before all that they released their debut album Dead's Not Punk in 1997 on their own Falafel Records, and it rips. Useless ID had a fully-formed sound off the bat -- Dead's Not Punk is catchy but raw and hard-hitting, and it's just one circle-pitter after another. Pretty much the whole record moves at breakneck-speed, and when Useless ID broke out guitar solos, they proved they had pretty fast fingers as well. As pop punk and Useless ID got bigger, Useless ID started getting a little cleaner and poppier, but their recent comeback material has had a heavier, metal/hardcore-tinged skate punk sound, and that nastier side of them actually dates all the way back to Dead's Not Punk.
Weston - Matinee
These days, James Alex is best known as the frontman of Beach Slang (whose 2014 debut EP Who Could Ever Want Anything So Broken? was one of our favorite punk/emo records of the 2010s), but James was already a vet before Beach Slang even formed thanks to his role as guitarist/vocalist in Weston, which he joined in 1992. James was first a backup singer, then a co-frontman alongside original frontman Dave Weston, and by 1997's Matinee, he had essentially become the band's frontman, handling lead vocals on all but two songs. 1996's Got Beat Up is Weston's finest hour, but if you're looking at them from the point of view of Beach Slang, Matinee is probably their most proto-Beach Slang album. That first Beach Slang EP is really when James mastered his Replacements worship, but the seeds were being sewn on Matinee, which injected a dose of sweeter, janglier alt-rock into Weston's snappy pop punk. (And James' knack for writing rock songs about the pure love of rock songs is on full display here too.) If you're a fan of the music James Alex has spent the last six years making, you'd be remiss not to hear Matinee, the album where his current songwriting style really started to take shape.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.