‘In Defense of the Genre’ December roundup (5 best songs of the month included)
I started the 'In Defense of the Genre' column in the beginning of 2020 to talk about punk and its many offshoots (including and often especially the ones that weren't always taken so seriously), and it's been a lot of fun using this column to dive back into old favorites, and talk about the countless great new songs and albums that came out all year. If you read, shared, and/or interacted with any of it, I really appreciate that and I look forward to doing even more in 2021.
Before we move forward into the new year, I wanna take a second to look back on some of the 'IDOTG' stuff we ran in 2020. We looked back on classic ska-punk albums and also published a feature on the new ska/ska-punk scene, including interviews, a playlist, and more. We looked back on 2000s post-hardcore, '90s/'00s screamo, '80s proto-pop punk, early 2000s melodic punk/hardcore, overlooked Equal Vision albums, punk songs with great acoustic versions, covers of classic punk songs by '90s/'00s bands, classic pop punk bands' "mature" albums, and punk albums from 1997.
We also dug into AFI's discography, Paramore's discography, Straylight Run's discography, blink-182 side projects, The Offspring's best deep cuts, and we reviewed all 101 songs on Short Music For Short People. With no live music happening this year, we posted some of our favorite live videos from '80s hardcore, modern-day hardcore, and '90s punk.
Each month, I picked my five favorite punk (umbrella term) songs, and as 2020 came to a close, we ran lists of the 45 best punk/hardcore/emo/etc albums of the year, plus separate lists that dove deeper into this year's screamo and ska albums. (BrooklynVegan also ran a multi-genre, staff-wide list, and we also ran lists of rap, reggae, jazz, metal, and "lost" classic rock).
We also asked tons of artists about their favorite albums of 2020, including several punk/etc musicians. If you haven't already, check out lists by Jeff Rosenstock, Thursday's Geoff Rickly, Converge, Laura Jane Grace, Fat Mike, PUP's Stefan Babcock, Strike Anywhere, I Am The Avalanche, JR of Less Than Jake, Good Riddance's Russ Rankin, Cave In's Stephen Brodsky, War On Women's Brooks Harlan, Infant Island, Teenage Halloween, Sharptooth, Western Addiction, Glacier Veins, Be Well, The Casket Lottery, Hopesfall, The Bombpops, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, MakeWar, Greet Death, PEARS, Mad Caddies, Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Brutus, Sincere Engineer, Frail Body, Sundressed, Gleemer, Jesse Malin, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Mansions, LIMBS, Days N Daze, Mundy's Bay, Charmer, Hundredth, and Wiretap Records bands.
Last but far from least, read on for my picks of the five best songs of December 2020 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella...
Every Time I Die - "A Colossal Wreck"
The big heavy rock comeback stories of 2020 were Deftones and Hum, and it looks like in 2021 it just might be Every Time I Die. The Buffalo band have spent two decades and eight albums crafting a style of hard rock-tinged metalcore that doesn't really sound like any other band, and they've never really gone anywhere -- they've actually remained impressively consistent -- but LP9 will close a five-year gap, their longest between albums yet, and it's arriving as the band enters a new stage of importance and influence. Like Deftones, they were initially lumped in with one of the turn-of-the-millennium mainstream metal booms (for Deftones it was nu metal, for ETID it was metalcore), but have long outlasted their genre as a trend, forged their own path, and are now currently impacting a whole new crop of bands. (Also like Deftones, they put on their own festival with amazing, eclectic, multi-genre lineups that remind you ETID are not just in one "scene.") ETID are an obvious forebear to the metalcore resurgence that's been growing over the past few years, frontman Keith Buckley lent his voice to one of the new wave's best albums (Knocked Loose's A Different Shade of Blue), and ETID now frequently work with the producer who's been essential in shaping the new sound of metalcore, Will Putney. LP9 will be their second album with Will, following 2016's Low Teens, and judging by the two singles they just released, this could be one of the band's best albums.
"Desperate Pleasures" finds ETID exploring their dark, brooding side, while "A Colossal Wreck" is the heaviest thing they've done since 2014's Kurt Ballou-produced From Parts Unknown and on par with the aggression of their 2003 classic Hot Damn!. It's an adrenaline rush of a song -- fast, in your face, and cuts like a jagged blade -- and it sounds as fresh and inspired as the band did when they were first breaking through. And at least part of that inspiration came from looking at the world around them. "'A Colossal Wreck’ looks around at the current state of the world and says ‘life is a punishment and only the worst of us thrive,’" Keith said, and that despair comes through loud and clear. This is not the sound of a veteran band coasting on past success; it's the sound of a band who already proved themselves but genuinely have more to say.
For Your Health - "Birthday Candles in the Effigy"
For Your Health and Shin Guard's 2019 split Death of Spring is already the stuff of legend within underground screamo circles, so FYH's full-length debut album was gonna be anticipated no matter what, but they didn't have to go this hard. After COVID-19 cancelled FYH's touring plans and left them with more time at home than ever, they spent "three or four months" working on their upcoming album In Spite Of, vocalist Hayden Rodriguez told Stereogum, "which is crazy to us, ’cause we’ve never spent more than a few days on something." You can hear the impact of that coming through on this new song, which is easily the best-written and best-produced song they've released yet. It's an impassioned blend of screamo and post-hardcore that finds time for dissonant, metallic riffage, soaring emo-pop clean vocals, and plenty of other stuff in between. The emotion in the band's delivery is tangible and undeniable, and the Jon Nix-directed video only drives their point home further. As the band explained:
I feel like this video, and this song, really encapsulate how we feel about In Spite Of and For Your Health as a whole. Ballerinas are people who can turn their bodies into art, but that level of commitment comes at a great physical and emotional cost to them: bruised and bloodied feet; forcing themselves to stay underweight; burning themselves out at a young age. And yet all those things are covered in satin and converted into something beautiful, cathartic, and powerful in performance. We see ourselves in that, just as much as we see capitalism, systemic oppression, and even COVID in the abusive dance instructor. For Your Health is about us and our listeners using our music as a vessel to overcome pain and create something beautiful, in spite of everything around us.
Ogbert the Nerd - "Snail"
I know it's a cliché to talk about New Jersey bands singing about New Jersey, but still, there's something so satisfying about those super specific, imagery-inducing references that place you in the shadow of a New York skyline or counting the cars on the Garden State Parkway as soon as you hear them. New Brunswick's Ogbert the Nerd carry on that tradition expertly on "Snail." "I saw A Painting of Us somewhere in Flemington, but I didn't want to just hang around," Madison James shouts, referencing the Flemington DIY scene and a fellow NJ emo band, and playing on the "I saw a picture of us somewhere in Canada" line from the first verse all at once. It straddles the line between plainspoken and poetic -- fitting for a song that also namedrops The Bell Jar within the first two seconds. Ogbert the Nerd's debut album I Don't Hate You has a fun, familiar sound that owes as much to pioneering Midwest noodlers Cap'n Jazz as it does to Long Island dramatics Taking Back Sunday as it does to '10s revivalists TWIABP, and Ogbert the Nerd bring a fresh perspective that comes across in both their yearning sound and the casual depth of their lyricism.
Clearbody - "One More Day"
In the sea of bands making Hum-by-way-of-Title Fight punky shoegaze, Clearbody's debut album One More Day stands out as a fresh new take on this sound. They have a familiarity about them that induces nostalgia on the first listen, but at the same time they feel like a new and exciting band that you've never heard before. Clearbody always have strong songwriting lying beneath the effects pedals -- as they make very clear on the album's acoustic song "In Latency" -- and every song on this brief, eight-song album is a blast. I probably could've picked any of them for this list, but I'll go with the title track, which feels like the album's centerpiece and touches on just about every aspect of Clearbody's sound: the driving punk, the hazy shoegaze, the towering post-rock, and the gentle acoustics. And like every song on this album, you can't get these melodies out of your head.
awakebutstillinbed - "Leave"
It's been almost three years since San Jose emo band awakebutstillinbed released their excellent debut album what people call low self-esteem is really just seeing yourself the way that other people see you, and they've finally released their first new music since then in the form of the stay who you are EP. Standout track "leave" (which was also included in Chillwavve Records' '12 Days of Chillmas' series) is minimal, heart-wrenching acoustic emo in the vein of early Owen or Dashboard Confessional, and Shannon Taylor has just as much a knack for this kind of thing as she does for the screamier songs on what people call low self-esteem. It's the kind of song that -- when live music finally returns -- I can picture Shannon playing with just an acoustic guitar at some house show or DIY venue with the entire room as silent as can be, listening intently to every word.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.
Best Punk/Hardcore/Emo/etc Albums of 2020
See #45-21 here.