‘In Defense of the Genre’ April roundup (best songs of the month included)
In Defense of the Genre is a column on BrooklynVegan about punk, pop punk, emo, post-hardcore, ska-punk, and more, including and often especially the bands and albums and subgenres that weren’t always taken so seriously. Here are The Genre’s best songs from April.
April is a wrap! Here are all the punk/etc features we ran in the past month:
* Thursday's Full Collapse turns 20 - a look back on the pivotal post-hardcore classic
* Members of Touche Amore, Deafheaven, La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth, Saves The Day, Texas Is The Reason & more discuss Thursday's Full Collapse
* Manchester Orchestra interview: Andy Hull talks creative rebirth and The Million Masks of God
* Bone Cutter (mem Heavy Heavy Low Low) talk debut EP, upcoming LP, favorite new bands & more
* NOLA ska-punks Joystick on making their most personal, honest album yet
* Chicago pop punks Action/Adventure break down every track on their new Pulling Focus EP.
* Pinhead Gunpowder's Jason White discusses 10 of the band's biggest influences
April album reviews: Origami Angel, The Armed, Spirit of the Beehive, Pinkshift, Remember Sports, Jeff Rosenstock, Manchester Orchestra, Joystick, Bone Cutter, Action/Adventure, Fresh, Vientre, Hit Like A Girl, Incisions.
P.S., today (5/3) is the 10th anniversary of Title Fight's Shed! We recently looked back on the album and others from that year in our retrospective on the early 2010s wave of post-hardcore and I also contributed an essay on Shed to a new zine that benefits the AAPI Community Fund.
Read on for my picks of the best songs of April 2021 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella, in no particular order...
We Are The Union - "Morbid Obsessions"
Just after Jeff Rosenstock helped remind you that yes, you do like ska, one of the most anticipated ska albums of 2021 was announced: We Are The Union's Ordinary Life. The album finds vocalist Reade Wolcott sharing her truth that she is a trans woman for the first time publicly, and new single "Morbid Obsessions" is as personal and powerful as it is infectiously catchy. "Once I decided okay, this is gonna be my coming out, this is going to be my moment to really live my truth," Reade told SPIN, "that was the moment that I started to be a lot more free about songwriting." The band's previous album (2018's Self Care, their first with Jer Hunter as a member) already felt like a creative rebirth, and "Morbid Obsessions" sounds even more vital.
Snag - "Heirloom"
Some screamo bands sound tailor-made for basement shows, and others have a grander, cleaner sound that could fill arenas if presented with the opportunity. Milwaukee's Snag fall directly in the middle of that. Their new song "Heirloom" (off upcoming LP Death Doula) is as raw, intimate, and lo-fi as the basement bands but it's bursting at the seams with the melody and ambition of genre giants like Envy. It's a breathtaking song, and the power of the music is matched by a timely message. "The song 'Heirloom' is about community and remembering friendships in a pandemic," drummer Bryan John Wysocki said. "Amid the inexorable parade of horrors, mostly at the hands of an alternately cruel, violent, neglectful, and incompetent state, we could at least draw some comfort from the mutual aid efforts that arose in lots of places," adds bassist Peter Murphy. Impactful songs like this one can provide some of that comfort too.
Kaonashi - "An Evening of Moving Pictures with Scooter Corkle"
The over-the-top sounds of the mathcore/chaotic hardcore/sasscore/Myspace/scenecore/whatever-you-call-it era are coming back in a big way, and Kaonashi have just stepped to the forefront of this revival. The self-proclaimed "emo mathcore" band are gearing up to release a concept album called Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year on 5/21 via Equal Vision/Unbeaten Records, and lead single "An Evening of Moving Pictures with Scooter Corkle" is absolutely fucking batshit. Across its three and a half minutes, it can seamlessly bounce between manic screams, discordant fury and almost-cloyingly catchy hooks, and it's full of progressive post-hardcore sized ambition. (This is a band who once said "Coheed is essentially the glue that binds us all together.") The song's video was directed by The Number Twelve Looks Like You vocalist Jesse Korman, and it's no surprise that he sees something in this band. Kaonashi carry the torch that #12 helped light.
Hey, ily - "Don't Talk About It (Your Weird Complex)"
Sometimes you have to look to the past to change the future, and Hey, ily's very unique music reminds me of a whole lot of nostalgia-inducing styles of music, but they bring it together in a way that sounds entirely new. Throughout "Don't Talk About It (Your Weird Complex)" -- one of the best songs on the new Internet Breath EP -- Hey, ily embrace chiptune-infused indie pop, melodramatic emo, lo-fi bedroom pop production, shrieking '90s screamo, and a riff that sounds like Motorhead's "Ace of Spades." It risks coming off as absolutely ridiculous, but Hey, ily are so convincing that you buy right in.
Free Throw - "Cloud Sick"
A lot of the original "emo revival" bands rejected the polished, poppy sound of the genre's third wave and spent their careers tapping (pun intended) their way back into the second, but Nashville's Free Throw have developed a knack for connecting the dots between those two eras rather than drawing lines between them. Their new single "Cloud Sick" (off the upcoming Piecing It Together) perfectly fuses the mathy, noodly guitars and raspy shouts of the mid '90s with the arena-sized hooks of the early 2000s, and Free Throw do it with an entirely fresh perspective.
Action/Adventure - "Poser"
If you're excited about pop punk's latest comeback and you're not listening to Action/Adventure, change that now. They just dropped their first EP for Pure Noise, Pulling Focus, and it scratches every single itch that you want this style of music to scratch. They sound indebted to early 2000s bands like The Starting Line as well as to the early 2010s revivalists like The Wonder Years, and despite the obviously nostalgic sound, Action/Adventure manage to sound entirely fresh. They don't just echo past eras of pop punk; they beat a lot of the genre's biggest bands at their own game. "Poser" is one of the most undeniable pop punk songs I've heard this year, and honestly, I could say the same about every other track on this EP too.
Quicksand - "Inversion"
It is fair to say, without an ounce of hyperbole, that emo and post-hardcore as we know it would not sound the way it does without Quicksand. Formed in 1990 by four NYHC kids with a shared love of The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine, Quicksand paved the way for Thursday, Glassjaw, and other greats of the 2000s post-hardcore boom, and their influence spilled over into the next generation too, inspiring bands like Title Fight (who recorded their classic Shed with Quicksand frontman Walter Schreifels), Balance & Composure, Superheaven, and other emo/post-hardcore bands with an interest in combining melody, heaviness, atmosphere, and raw emotion. As shoegaze continued to infiltrate heavy music, it became clear that Quicksand helped pave the way for that too, and since returning with new music in 2017, Quicksand have leaned even harder into their shoegaze side, coming out with music that recalls their classic material but sounds totally modern. Now they're back again with their first new song in three years, and "Inversion" might sound even more cutting-edge than their last reunion album.
The HIRS Collective - "Love"
Philly queer grindcore collective HIRS have a 109-song record called The Third 100 Songs on the way, and it compiles some previously released material with some new songs. One of those songs is "Love," which Get Better Records co-owner and The HIRS Collective member Jenna Pup says is "about us celebrating our existence and being excited to share love." It's an absolutely ferocious blast of grindcore that manages to feel crisp, accessible, and tuneful without sacrificing any of the genre's usual brutality.
Downhaul - "Standing Water"
I've spent a long time trying to figure out who Richmond emo band Downhaul remind me of. They've got some of the pastoral emo vibes of Goodness-era Hotelier, some of the expansive atmosphere and world-weariness of Restorations, but finally it hit me. Downhaul just sound like themselves. They've got a highly distinct frontman in the nasal-voiced, plainspoken Gordon Phillips, and Gordon's picturesque lyrics are as radiant as the reverb-soaked guitars. Even if Gordon didn't publish a photo essay accompanying this song, the imagery would be vivid.
Vientre - "RSGND"
Colombian screamo band Vientre quietly dropped their new LP Estado de Imago in early April, and I don't know how there aren't way more people talking about this band. They recall the intricate, majestic sounds of mid 2000s European screamo bands like Daitro and Raein, and they don't shy away from glistening production or melodic choruses. Their sound is big, clean, and -- as far as screamo goes -- very accessible. The whole new LP is a stunning piece of work, and album opener "RSGND" kicks it off with a bang.
In an effort to cover as many bands as possible, I try to just do one single per album cycle in these monthly roundups, so catch up on previous months' lists for even more:
For even more new songs, listen below or subscribe to our playlist of punk/emo/hardcore/etc songs of 2021, which gets updated regularly.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.