‘In Defense of the Genre’ October roundup (5 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 five best songs from October.
It's been another weird month, and with the presidential election right around the corner, anxieties are high right now. (It probably goes without saying if you're reading a column about punk, unless you're Johnny Rotten, but please remember to vote against Trump.) It's also been a month with lots of great punk music, and here's a roundup of that. First, some features and interviews we ran in October:
* 30 punk songs with great acoustic versions
* Q&A with Anti-Flag and director Jon Nix on new documentary Beyond Barricades
* Less Than Jake talk new album, influences, favorite new bands, Ska Against Racism & more
* Pinkshift are one of 2020's most vital new punk bands
* Rock Against Racism doc White Riot is essential 2020 viewing
* The Bouncing Souls break down every track on their new acoustic(ish) album
* Q&A with Turning Point, who are reissuing their catalog on Revelation
* I Am The Avalanche Q&A and playlist of songs that influenced their new album
* Saves The Day & Senses Fail discuss their favorite Misfits songs
* War On Women's Brooks Harlan discusses the music that influenced their new album
Rest in peace Pierre Kezdy (Naked Raygun, Pegboy).
Read on for my five picks (in no particular order) of the five best songs of October 2020 that fall somewhere under the punk umbrella...
Pinkshift - "Toro" / "Rainwalk"
It can't be easy to get a new band off the ground in a year without live music, but Baltimore punks Pinkshift have managed to deservingly become one of the most talked-about new punk bands of 2020, and they've only got five total songs. The two latest came out in October, and these are the best yet. Pinkshift kind of sound like a cross between Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge era My Chemical Romance and Riot! era Paramore, but with a modern DIY punk twist, and that comes through on "Toro" and "Rainwalk," but there's a lot of other stuff going on too. The two songs are tied conceptually and they seamlessly segue into each other with a trippy, psychedelic passage that fits right in with the anthemic punk. These songs are also their heaviest and darkest yet, especially "Toro," which nears shouty hardcore territory in a way that singer Ashrita Kumar says was inspired by Babes In Toyland. Pinkshift don't shy away from openly embracing their influences, but they swirl them together in a way that feels entirely new and refreshing. If you like melodic punk and you aren't listening to Pinkshift yet, change that now.
Bad Operation - "Perilous"
When the world wanted to proclaim ska was dead in the 2000s, one of the key bands keeping it alive was New Orleans' Fatter Than Albert, whose Daniel "D-Ray" Ray and Greg Rodrigue also founded Community Records, one of the key labels for ska (and other music) for over a decade. More recently, D-Ray and Greg had been playing in the indie rock band All People with drummer Robert Landry, but now the three of them teamed up with experimental/jazz/hip hop artist Dominic Minix (lead vocals) and Brian Pretus of Fat Wreck Chords-signed punks PEARS to make ska again as Bad Operation. Compared to Fatter Than Albert's fast-paced ska-punk, Bad Operation take a cleaner, more soulful approach to ska -- if you dig The Specials, The Slackers, and Hepcat, you're gonna wanna hear Bad Operation too. Their debut album comes out 12/18 via Bad Time/Community, and its lead single is the absurdly catchy "Perilous."
Sincere Engineer - "Trust Me"
Deanna Belos of Chicago's Sincere Engineer grew up worshipping now-classic records by hometown heroes like The Lawrence Arms and Alkaline Trio, and she turned their melodic punk sounds into her own on Sincere Engineer's great 2017 debut album Rhombithian (released on Red Scare). The Lawrence Arms themselves quickly became fans in return and invited Sincere Engineer on tour, and now they caught the attention of one of the biggest punk labels around, Hopeless Records. Their first single for Hopeless is "Trust Me," which takes everything great about Rhombithian and makes it bigger, better, and catchier. It's melodic punk at its finest, and Deanna's roaring voice keeps things gritty even at the song's poppiest moments.
156/Silence - "Vexation"
"In a world where so many bands are trying the early 2000s spastic-hardcore-panic-chord-mosh and missing the mark, 156/silence hits it perfectly," said The Acacia Strain frontman Vincent Bennett, who caught the band when they were added to one of The Acacia Strain's Pittsburgh shows at the last minute. Vincent said he always tries to make a point to watch the local openers at his shows, and it's not hard to see why this band won him over. Like he said, they just know exactly how to tap into that early 2000s hardcore/metalcore sound, but they bring something new to the table too. As metalcore got popular in that era, it quickly got overly polished and relied on things like auto-tuned choruses to reach the masses. "Vexation" -- a bonus track from the upcoming expanded edition of 156/Silence's debut LP Irrational Pull (due 11/27 via SharpTone) -- takes cues from the popular 2000s bands and the underground '90s bands; it's crushingly heavy and never once uses clean vocals, but still manages to feel widely accessible.
Mike Park & Catbite - "You Feel Like You're In Quicksand"
Mike Park has been a hero in the ska scene for three decades, and he continues to write some of his best music today. The Bruce Lee Band's 2019 album and The Chinkees' 2020 EP (their first in 18 years) both stand tall next to the '90s classics by those bands and Skankin' Pickle, as does this new song that just came out this month. It's a duet with Brittany Luna of one of the best new ska bands around, Catbite, and it was written directly in response to the chaos of 2020. "These past 7 months have been insane for me," Mike says. "It feels like groundhogs day meets twilight zone meets a bad dream. So much toxicity and anger and hatred and fighting. This song kind of sums up the way I've been feeling." The song came out just as Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and I don't know what could've summed up that day better than "you feel like you're in quicksand." It totally captures the dread of this year, and somehow, it manages to tackle that dread with a song that sounds genuinely joyful.
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.