‘In Defense of the Genre’ February 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.
2022 continues to be a great and very busy year for new music. Before I get to the best punk/etc songs of February, here are all the punk-related features we ran in the past month:
* The road to Glow On - a guide to Turnstile's back catalog
* The Menzingers' On the Impossible Past turns 10
* Thrice's The Illusion of Safety turns 20
* 25 newer bands every 2000s emo fan needs to know
* p.s.you'redead offer a remarkable, chaotic hardcore debut LP with Sugar Rot
* Dissidente interview: ska-core band talks Anti-Flag comparisons, protest music & more
February album reviews: p.s.you'redead, Avril Lavigne, Dashboard Confessional, Circa Survive, Foreign Hands, Ghost Fame, Redeemon, Dissidente, Rolo Tomassi, In Angles, Perennial, Swami John Reis (Rocket from the Crypt), and Bitter Branches (mem Deadguy, Lifetime).
Newly added to our store: the new Eichlers album (on limited electric blue vinyl, or in a bundle with Dissidente and Abraskadabra exclusives), the new These Arms Are Snakes rarities comp (green/pink splatter), the new Kill Your Idols/Rule Them All split (limited ultra clear 7"), the new Soul Glo album (blue/red splatter), the new Vein.fm album (black smoke/green splatter), the new Camp Cope (clear/pink), the new Audio Karate (white/pink), the new Slackers album (orange/yellow galaxy vinyl), Terror's Sink to the Hell 7" (green vinyl), New York City Hardcore: The Way It Is (red vinyl), Mannequin Pussy's Perfect (yellow/black vinyl), Anxious' Little Green House (violet vinyl), Paramore's All We Know Is Falling (silver vinyl), two limited-edition Rocket from the Crypt classics, a bunch of Pedro the Lion albums (on color vinyl), new and old PUP albums (color vinyl), and more.
Read on for my picks of the 12 best songs of February 2022 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella, in no particular order...
Riverby - "Baseless"
Riverby's 2020 debut LP Smart Mouth was one of 2020's indie-punk gems, and their upcoming sophomore album Absolution is shaping up to be even better, judging by the two singles including the especially powerful album opener "Baseless." The song finds band leader August Greenberg confronting sexual assault and abuse without mincing a single word (August posted a statement with a content warning, alongside the song's release), and it's both full of purpose and extremely catchy. "You're fucking lucky I let you walk out alive," August shouts at one point, and later: "I wanna be an asshole, I wanna get even, I wanna hear you scream." It's full of genuine rage, and that rage is pointed in all the right directions.
Excide - "The Portrait, Now Perceived"
In January, we included Excide in a list of bands that we think could benefit from Turnstile's success, and this band in particular has a hardcore/alt-rock crossover sound that's cut from a very similar cloth as Turnstile (and their likeminded Roadrunner labelmates Higher Power). You can also hear bits of Snapcase, Glassjaw, Jawbox, and Quicksand in their sound, so they're not just channelling one specific thing, and their upcoming debut album for New Morality Zine is shaping up to be one of the best debuts of its kind in recent memory. Two songs are out now, both of which are a massive step-up from Excide's already-great earlier singles, and my favorite of the two is "The Portrait, Now Perceived." It starts out with the kind of chunky riffs and shouted vocals that defined this band's first couple releases, but then it brings in soaring, harmony-laden hooks and ends with a coda that recalls Title Fight at their most atmospheric. It suggests there's even more to this band than we already knew.
Oceanator - "Bad Brain Daze"
I don't know if it's just because Oceanator just covered Sponge's "Plowed" from Empire Records, but "Bad Brain Daze" sounds like the best '90s teen movie alt-rock soundtrack song that never was. (It also could be the name of a '90s teen movie.) It falls somewhere between Dinosaur Jr's slacker rock and Green Day's hooky punk, and Elise Okusami has the soaring voice, bright melodies, and memorable lyricism needed to have made this song a hit. It gets even more '90s from the ska-adjacent horns that sneak in (including a sax solo by Jeff Rosenstock), and it gets even more anthemic when Elise brings the chorus back with gang vocals from a chorus made up of members of Groupie, Bad Moves, Maneka, The Sonder Bombs, Long Neck, Late Bloomer and Alright. It's nearly impossible to hear this one and not be humming it to yourself by the time it ends.
Pick up the new Oceanator album on pink vinyl.
Ithaca - "They Fear Us"
Ithaca's 2019 debut album The Language of Injury came just as the metalcore revival was starting to break out of the underground, and now that it's in full swing, the UK band is finally set to return with their sophomore album They Fear Us on 7/29 via Hassle Records. On the lead single/title track, they prove their knack for fusing harsh screams and melodic riffage is sharper than ever, and when Djamila Yasmin Azzouz bursts into soaring clean vocals in the chorus, Ithaca sound ready to take over the world. The song not only rips, it's also got a powerful message about "discovering and harnessing inner power, strength, revenge and retribution; challenging masculine power structures both in a general but also deeply personal sense," which is reflected in the song/album title. "They may have hurt us before," the band adds, "but now they fear us and you should too."
Pupil Slicer - "Thermal Runaway" (ft. Cara Drolshagen of The Armed)
UK mathcore band Pupil Slicer and US anti-punk collective The Armed were both on our list of the 50 best punk albums of 2021, so needless to say, it's very exciting that Pupil Slicer now have a song with Cara from The Armed. It's a little slower and more melodic than Pupil Slicer, but still more metallic and caustic than The Armed, and it really sounds like its own beast, totally separate from what either band has done previously on their own. It's an example of a collaboration truly being greater than the sum of its parts.
Pick up Pupil Slicer's 2021 LP 'Mirrors' on translucent pink or red/black swirl vinyl.
The Linda Lindas - "Growing Up"
The Linda Lindas previously appeared in this column last year when their killer live performance of "Racist, Sexist Boy" went viral, and since then, they've announced their debut album for Epitaph, Growing Up. The newly-released title track proves that not only was "Racist, Sexist Boy" no fluke, it's also not even representative of everything that this band is capable of. That song was easy to compare to Bikini Kill (who The Linda Lindas covered in Amy Poehler's movie Moxie), but this one's much more of a poppy, punchy punk song -- it should fit in well when they open for Jawbreaker later this year. And the song may sound upbeat and lighthearted, but it's about the frustration of growing up in isolation during a pandemic, at a time when friends matter more than anything. "I was like, 'Oh my God, we're at this point in our lives where we're supposed to be figuring out who we are and what we want to do with our life and stuff,'" vocalist/guitarist Lucia de la Garza recently told Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, "but it sucked that I wasn't able to do that with some of the people that are most important to me."
Glacier Veins - "Embers"
Since releasing one of the best punk albums of 2020, we've called Glacier Veins one of 10 bands you need to know from the current pop punk revival and one of 25 newer bands every 2000s emo fan needs to know, but new single "Embers" takes them into territory that defies either of those categories. It's a mid-tempo song that blends jangly acoustic guitars with shoegazy electric guitars, and Malia Endres gives a celestial vocal performance that really makes this one stick. Her underlying sneer still makes it emo/pop punk-adjacent, but "Embers" makes it clear that Glacier Veins are dead set on eventually transcending this genre, if they aren't doing so already.
Black Matter Device - "Sewer Slide Pact"
Richmond's Black Matter Device are fronted by Michael Toney, who provided guest vocals on metallic screamo band Infant Island's great 2020 mini-LP Sepulcher (and who's also in the queer metalcore band Mattachine with Infant Island's Alexander Rudenshiold), but Black Matter Device take a different approach than their screamo pals. In just about two minutes, their new song "Sewer Slide Pact" touches on sassy, discordant hardcore, bludgeoning '90s-style metalcore, spoken word-tinged post-hardcore, and blasty grindcore. It's a lot, especially for such a short running time, but it somehow never bites off more than it can chew. BMD will combine it with 13 more new tracks on their upcoming album Autonomous Weapons, and if the rest of the LP is gonna be this crazy, start preparing yourself now.
Avril Lavigne - "All I Wanted" (ft. Mark Hoppus)
Avril Lavigne's new album Love Sux is not just a return to her pop punk days, but the most full-on pop punk thing she's ever done. Travis Barker drummed and co-produced, and every song feels like it was created in a pop punk lab to appeal to aging millennials (hi). The millennial fan service is most blatant on "All I Wanted," a duet with Travis' blink-182 bandmate Mark Hoppus. It's not the most groundbreaking thing in the world, but it's one of the best and most undeniable songs that either Avril or Mark have sung on in years. It's easy to get cynical when a song sounds like it was designed to make thirtysomethings feel young again, but when it's this fun, who cares?
Inclination - "A Decision" (ft. One Step Closer & Magnitude vocalists)
In addition to playing guitar and providing the death metally backing vocals in Knocked Loose and producing bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy and Wristmeetrazor, Isaac Hale also plays guitar in Louisville hardcore band Inclination, who just dropped a two-song single on Pure Noise. The A-side ("Thoughts and Prayers") is a metallic hardcore rager with a very topical message, but my personal favorite is the B-side, "A Decision." It's a straightedge anthem that features guest verses from One Step Closer's Ryan Savitski and Magnitude's Russell Bussey about their own decisions to lead a straightedge lifestyle, and after starting out as another chugging headbanger, it does a 180 and goes into a hypnotic, atmospheric part with airy, clean backing vocals, and it also ends with some far-out guitar soloing. Like last year's One Step Closer album, it's a reminder that you can be a straightedge hardcore band and still push the genre's usual musical boundaries.
Drunk Uncle - "Punch"
When the members of Austin emo band Drunk Uncle were putting together their upcoming debut album Look Up (due 3/11 via Count Your Lucky Stars), they were nervous to include "Punch." "It's a song that takes its time, structurally, and that’s something I’ve never had the confidence to do," guitarist/vocalist Peyton Heinig told us. Well, "Punch" is a risk that was worth taking. The five-and-a-half minute song is fueled by clean, mathy guitar that recalls Mike Kinsella at his prettiest, and it also brings in some soaring, yearning vocal melodies that remind me at various points of EndSerenading-era Mineral and Formlessness-era TWIABP. Noodly, post-rocky '90s emo is a sound that's been revived one too many times, but when you have as much heart as Drunk Uncle do on "Punch," one more time can't hurt.
So Much Hope, Buried - "Rose Eyes"
If you miss the early 2010s new wave of post-hardcore, you should not be sleeping on Wilkes-Barre band So Much Hope, Buried. Vocalist Bart James has a speak-screaming style that's understandably gained comparisons to La Dispute's Jordan Dreyer, but SMHB fuse that with heavy Bridge-9 style melodic hardcore and an atmospheric post-rock side, and what really changes things up is that one of SMHP's core instruments is piano. A lot of bands in this scene use piano as an accent instrument, but SMHB keep it going throughout most of their songs, and it really gives them a vibe of their own. (They're like, the Something Corporate of modern post-hardcore.) Pianist Derek Nowak is also the band's clean singer, and his rich vocal melodies add yet another layer to their sound. If you like when the aggressive meets the beautiful, this band is for you.
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 2022.
Browse our selection of hand-picked punk vinyl.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.