‘In Defense of the Genre’ July 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 July.
July is a wrap, and for many people, this month marked a return to live music, especially in outdoor venues. (Though with the rise of the Delta variant, the future of live music once again seems uncertain. Get vaccinated!) I saw Rise Against, Descendents, and Spanish Love Songs at NYC's Rooftop at Pier 17 last weekend, and I can't tell you how much I missed being at a punk show.
In In Defense of the Genre land, I looked back at two major album anniversaries -- Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American (which turned 20) and Bomb the Music Industry!'s Vacation (which turned 10) -- and we also debuted a chapter from Kenneth Partridge's upcoming book Hell of a Hat: The Rise of '90s Ska and Swing. The chapter focuses on four ska-punk bands: Less Than Jake, The Suicide Machines, Blue Meanies, and Mustard Plug. You can read it here.
Browse the newly-added punk vinyl in our store, including The Damned, The Clash, Germs, Crass, Quicksand, Thrice, Unwound, Crimpshrine, Modern Baseball, Gulch, and more.
And not exactly punk, but rest in peace to Slipknot's Joey Jordison, one of the most unique drummers of his generation and a massive influence on many of the heavier bands that regularly appear in this column.
Read on for my picks of the best songs of July 2021 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella, in no particular order...
Catbite - "Call Your Bluff"
There's so many different, great things happening within ska right now, and one band who really stand out with a truly original sound is Catbite. They recall the '70s/'80s 2 Tone era but they sound like a modern DIY band, and they mix in infectious power pop hooks and just a bit of punk grit, but not enough to qualify as "ska-punk." Their new record Nice One arrives 8/6 via Bad Time Records, and its lead single "Call Your Bluff" is a prime example of their sound. The hook gets stuck in your head on first listen, and the song is deceptively simple. It's an easygoing pop song on the surface, but beneath that, there's so much attention to detail.
Wild Red - "Cheap Divorce"
In addition to making emo-rap as Fantasy Camp, Jonah Kramer fronts the Wilkes-Barre lo-fi pop punk band Wild Red, whose lineup is rounded out by members of hardcore bands One Step Closer and Choice To Make. Their new EP Brain Squeeze sounds like Weezer's Blue Album by way of Wavves' King of the Beach, and one of its best songs is opener "Cheap Divorce." It's classic, no-frills pop punk at its finest, and the coat of lo-fi distortion only adds to its sugary charm.
A Great Big Pile of Leaves - "Beat Up Shoes"
A Great Big Pile of Leaves released one of the most underrated albums of the 2010s with 2013's You're Always On My Mind, an album of smooth, mathy, super catchy indie/emo songs that picked up where early Minus The Bear left off and breathed new life into the niche subgenre. At the time, the Topshelf-signed band seemed like they were on their way to the forefront of the still-emerging emo revival, but as the revival progressed throughout the decade, AGBPOL fizzled out. Now, eight years later, they're finally set to return with new album Pono (due 8/13 via Topshelf), and lead single "Beat Up Shoes" makes it feel like no time has passed since 2013. It channels the same charm as You're Always On My Mind, but it doesn't feel outdated, as very few bands attempted to fill the void that AGBOL left. And if they did try, they didn't do it like A Great Big Pile of Leaves.
Common Sage - "Think About the Desert"
One of last year's very best emo albums was Viewing by Brooklyn's Stay Inside, and an emo album I'm currently very excited for is It Lives It Breathes by fellow No Sleep-signed Brooklyn band Common Sage, whose current lineup also includes Stay Inside's Chris Johns on guitar and bass. And though the bands share a hometown, a label, and a member, they're quite different. It Lives It Breathes' lead single "Think About the Desert" reminds me of that moment in the mid 2000s when a handful of the biggest emo bands started experimenting with art rock. It gives you all the catharsis you want from melodic post-hardcore, but in a way that's entirely dark and devastating.
Crash The Calm - "My Nowhere"
2021 continues to be a great year for Long Island emo, with bands like Koyo and Stand Still holding down the Silent Majority/Movielife-esque side and bands like Crash The Calm carrying the torch for LI's anthemic post-hardcore. They also pull influence from outside of their hometown (I hear some of Manchester Orchestra's grungy Atlanta rock in there), and their upcoming LP A Town Named Nowhere is an ambitious concept album set in the drought-stricken Southwest of the 1930s, which is being released in EP-sized installments. This band really goes for it, and that comes through in each individual song, even if you didn't know about the larger concept. One great example from the newly-released Volume I is "My Nowhere," a song that's totally unafraid of big, clean production and even bigger hooks. It's a song that knows how to be accessible without sacrificing any artistic value or aggression.
Underoath - "Damn Excuses"
The frustrations of 2020 and 2021 have resulted in a lot of great art, one of the latest examples being Underoath's first song in over three years, "Damn Excuses." Keyboardist Chris Dudley says the song "probably stems emotionally from the anxiousness that a year of isolation will give you, and that ‘wanting-to-explode’ feeling came out with zero effort." That 'wanting-to-explode' feeling is very tangible; this is one of the heaviest Underoath songs in a minute. It hearkens back to the Define the Great Line and Lost in the Sound of Separation days, an era that's been very influential lately (you can hear it coming through in bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Wristmeetrazor, Static Dress, etc). But even with a handful of great new bands breathing new life into that sound, Underoath themselves still know how to make it feel fresh too.
Spanish Love Songs - "Phantom Limb"
In the past, shaky-voiced melodic punks Spanish Love Songs have reminded me at various times of The Wonder Years, The Menzingers, and Restorations, and they kind of still do, but the more they go on, the more they combine their influences into something entirely their own. That's very much the case on "Phantom Limb," a mid-tempo anthem that sounds like lyrical heartland punk at its finest.
Also, I just caught Spanish Love Songs opening for Rise Against and Descendents this past weekend, and their live show rips.
Telethon - "Positively Clark Street"
Telethon's upcoming album is called Swim Out Past The Breakers, but you don't need to know that to know they like Everclear. Their new single "Positively Clark Street" channels that same kinda-country, kinda-punk version of alternative rock that Everclear crafted on their classic '90s albums. And Telethon do it in a way that owes just as much to '90s alt-rock as it does to Jeff Rosenstock-y indie punk. It's a song that sounds so classic that you almost can't believe it hasn't been written already, and the icing on the cake is the coda with a triumphant horn section that reminds you of this band's love of ska.
Face To Face - "No Way Out But Through"
What a long, strange trip it's been for Face To Face. They went from being poised to be the next Green Day with their early '90s single "Disconnected" and subsequent (and ultimately short-lived) major label deal, to confusing fans with the darker, emo-tinged (and underrated) 1999 album Ignorance Is Bliss, to making a return to form with two Vagrant Records albums in the early 2000s, but then breaking up before they could ride the wave of Vagrant's success. With nothing left to lose, they made a comeback in the 2010s, and they've since remained an active, prolific band, and solidified themselves as reliable, consistent punk lifers. Now, Face To Face are set to release their 11th album, No Way Out But Through, in September via Fat Wreck Chords, and the title track finds them staying true to their '90s punk roots and doing what they do best. There's still nobody in the world with a melodic rasp like Trever Keith, and this band still knows how to churn out timeless punk rippers.
Pick up a Face to Face "Don't Turn Away" tee in the BV Shop.
In an effort to cover as many bands as possible, I try to just do one single per album cycle in these monthly roundups (hence no Turnstile and Dying Wish this month, for example), 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.