No month this year since February has been "normal," but June was an especially unprecedented time, and writing articles for my punk column 'In Defense of the Genre' was just not really in the cards. Usually the end of the month means I round up all the "Genre" articles in one place and include a list of the five best punk/emo/etc songs. This month, there's really just one: my interview with Strike Anywhere's Thomas Barnett about the protests, punk's intertwined history with activism and racial justice, and the band's upcoming EP, which will be their first release in 11 years. We also premiered the video for new song "Frontier Glitch" off that EP this month. The song is a fired-up political punk anthem that resonates very strongly right now, and the video is made up of footage of recent protests, police violence, a confederate statue being pushed into a river, and more.
Bad Religion guitarist/songwriter and Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz recently spoke to AltPress about punk's role during a time like this too:
The biggest thing I’ve learned is how many of my peers in the punk-rock community have remained silent when this great and noble cause has arisen. I think silence is complicity. I think many punk and hardcore bands, not all, are doing the right thing. But too many of them who are a part of this scene, a scene that is rooted in social justice, have remained silent. And to me, silence in this moment is complicity. It’s an important moment. It’s an important moment of social change that people will look back on and see their behavior in that moment was pivotal and revealing. It’s a pity.
What I’ve learned is that many people were attracted to punk because of the violence and anti-social aspect, and I guess they never understood the ethics of punk. But for me, and I’m one of the original guys from the original punk scene who’s still around, the ethics of punk were always the ethics of social justice. It’s always been about speaking truth to power. The ethics of punk is shocking people in order to change social norms, hopefully for the better, but not merely for shock value. And yeah, the pit is violent and cathartic, but that’s for dancing. What’s fueling the music and the need for cathartic dancing is anger and outrage at the injustice in the world. That’s what punk is about. And that’s for our Black brothers and sisters. The future is multicultural. The future is all-inclusive. There’s no future in racism at all. Me and my friends who were doing punk rock—we were progressive. There was nothing conservative about us. And the ugly aspects of the punk scene that have always been there have come to the forefront and just really made me feel bad.
When I see Bad Religion fans coming out and saying, “Well, you know, Blue Lives Matter,” it just makes me feel shame that these kids listen to my music. They’re not kids anymore. These guys are like 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds. But luckily, the true message of my band has withstood the test of time. We’ve had social justice lyrics going back to 1981. I put together a playlist, actually, of Bad Religion protest songs that span several decades, and it’s up on Spotify and Apple [Music]. People can listen to it, and the lyrics that relate to the values that we felt then—the values of social justice, racial justice, inclusion—they’re more poignant today than they’ve ever been. But what I’ve learned is that a lot of people who got into punk rock had no idea what punk rock is about.
You can listen to that playlist Brett made here:
As Brett said, silence is complicity, and it's been amazing to see the many punk bands and labels step up over the past few weeks and launch fundraisers to help out in the fight against police brutality and racism. We also made a list of resources if you're looking for ways to help out. There's still so much to be done, even if the topic is no longer trending or your timeline starts going back to "normal."
Though I didn't do any of my usual lists/guides/retrospectives/etc this month, here are some other punk-related stuff we ran on BV in the past month that I'd like to turn your attention to:
* Bad Cop/Bad Cop give a track-by-track breakdown of their excellent new album The Ride, out now on Fat Wreck Chords.
* The Chinkees' Mike Park and Steve Choi discuss 10 songs that influenced their first EP in 18 years, out now on Mike Park's Asian Man Records.
* Members of Pedro The Lion, Minus The Bear, mewithoutYou, Frodus, and more give track-by-track commentary on the new Unwed Sailor album.
* New Equal Vision Records compilation released to benefit EVR artists financially affected by COVID-19. EVR also turns 30 this year, and earlier this year we celebrated with a list of 10 of the label's overlooked releases. We also asked 5 Equal Vision bands to discuss their favorite classic EVR album.
* Every Scar Has A Story (aka Rob Fish of 108 and Tom Schlatter of You and I) give track-by-track breakdown of debut EP, out now on Equal Vision.
* Watch Ho99o9 and blink-182's Travis Barker cover Bad Brains on the Black Power Live stream.
* Watch members of Coheed & Cambria, Piebald and Cave In cover Tom Petty on Two Minutes To Late Night.
* Our metal sister site Invisible Oranges also did a Coheed feature this past month.
* Dead Cross (Mike Patton, Dave Lombardo, Justin Pearson, Mike Crain) covered Black Flag's "Rise Above" and released it with a video "created in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and staunchly opposing police brutality and systemic racism."
COMING UP IN JULY: Tonight (7/1), Jeff Rosenstock is doing an all-request livestream to benefit Black Lives Matter, bail, and transgender funds. On July 30, Code Orange are doing an Unplugged-style full-band livestream.
June punk/etc album reviews: Coriky (Ian MacKaye), Hum, Owen, Phoebe Bridgers, Pay For Pain (ex-Tigers Jaw), END (mem Counterparts, Will Putney, etc), Mattachine (mem Infant Island), Covet, Casa Loma (mem Man Overboard), Nuvolascura, Protest the Hero, Trash Talk, Remo Drive, Closedown, And I didn't review it but check out the Second Arrows (mem Deadguy, ex-Every Time I Die) album.
For my picks for the five best punk songs of June, I'm trying not to repeat different singles from albums that were represented in past roundups, so I highly recommend the new Strike Anywhere and Lawrence Arms singles, as well as Bad Cop/Bad Cop's "Certain Kind of Monster" (a powerful punk protest song about the immigration system), but I'm gonna dedicate this month's list to other bands.
Read on for my picks of the five best songs of June 2020 within punk, emo, post-hardcore, etc...
Hum - "Step Into You"
The last decade of post-hardcore wouldn't have sounded the way it did without Hum, and they made a surprise return this past month with their first album in 22 years, Inlet (read our review).
About standout track "Step Into You," we said: It's powered by a punchy, addictive alt-rock guitar riff, and it just gets better from there. Matt Talbott comes in with a vocal delivery that's just as catchy as the riff before making a slight left turn and evolving into a soaring, shoegazy chorus. It's trademark Hum, but in case Hum is a band you aren't familiar with, I'd also add that this one in particular sounds like a glistening, modern-day fusion of Dinosaur Jr, Torche, and My Bloody Valentine. There are some sprawling tracks on this record that are worth all the patience they demand, but "Step Into You" finds Hum channelling the same kind of immediacy they had on their '90s hit "Stars." If alternative rock songs still became hits today, "Step Into You" could be one.
Be Well - "Confessional"
Be Well is the new band fronted by Brian McTernan (who used to front Battery and has produced classic records by Converge, Hot Water Music, Thrice, Circa Survive, The Movielife, Piebald, and many others) that also features members of Fairweather, Darkest Hour, and Bane/Converge. Their debut album The Weight and The Cost comes out August 21 via Equal Vision.
About new single "Confessional," we said: "Confesssional" is a personal song that's described as "an emotional ode to McTernan’s hopes for his daughter's future as he works on pulling his own life together," and it's another very promising taste of this album. "I hope that you never feel as lost as I do today," Brian belts on the chorus, and you can feel the honesty and the vulnerability in his voice. Musically, it covers a lot of ground. It starts out as punchy melodic hardcore, erupts into a soaring pop-friendly chorus, and ends with a dark, crushing, post-hardcore coda. Be Well fuse it all together expertly, which -- given their collective résumés -- should come as no surprise.
Tigers Jaw - "Warn Me"
Just a few weeks after 3/5 of the classic Tigers Jaw released their debut EP as Pay for Pain (read our review), remaining members Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh released the first new Tigers Jaw song in three years (and first for Hopeless Reecords), "Warn Me." It's a non-album single while we wait for more details on their next LP, and we said it's a catchy, jangly yet driving indie-punk song that's cut from a similar cloth as spin and its era-defining predecessor Charmer, but it's not just a rehash of what Tigers Jaw have done in the past. It feels fresh, and it's making us look forward to what this new album has in store.
Bob Mould - "American Crisis"
"I never thought I'd see this bullshit again / To come of age in the '80s was bad enough" is how punk legend Bob Mould begins his new protest song "American Crisis" (which was actually written last year, but hits even harder now). Bob Mould can surely relate to what Brett Gurewitz was talking about above; as a member of Husker Du and then Sugar, Mould's been a part of punk since almost the very beginning, and he helped shape punk as we know it today. So it's no surprise that he brings wisdom and perspective to this song that the current generation of punk fans can very much benefit from hearing. And it helps that the song is a total scorcher.
"American Crisis" is the first single off Mould's next album, Blue Hearts, due 9/25 via Merge.
Bully - "Where To Start"
Bully (Alicia Bognanno) has covered Nirvana, she wrote the Hole-esque songs for Her Smell, and she's signed to the label that was at the center of the grunge explosion, Sub Pop. But Bully's more than a revivalist; she does her heroes justice and a song like "Where To Start" is a grunge-punk ripper that sounds as fresh today as Nevermind and Live Through This sounded in the '90s. It's the first taste of her upcoming third album SUGAREGG, due 8/21 via Sub Pop.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.