This year will go down as a “massive downer”™. Too many great musicians and actors were lost and weird quibbles happened around us. You know all about it, so instead of wallowing in this stained sheets of 2016, let’s recall some of the positives. Plenty of amazing things happened—not just in albums, and not all fully-ordained punk, but moments worth celebrating. There are countless great moments I couldn’t include, so get angry. Otherwise, I present to you the top 16 punk chunks.
#16 Pup – The Dream Is Over (Side One Dummy)
Endearingly sloppy and whiny, PUP have worn their way into my faves this year with rambunctious Canadian rhythms. It’s energetic to the point of being A.D.D. with an unbound smattering of meltdown tempos and bonfire harmonies. The result is a blissful ride with friends.
#15 Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein Stranger Things Soundtrack (Lakeshore)
You didn’t watch Stranger Things on Netflix? Well stop reading this and start your binging already! You’re back now? Ok, cool. Did you notice how the show had a way of making your skin crawl even in the quietest moments? It’s the result of eery work by Dixon and Stein setting a mysterious alien-probing mood in the background soundtrack where you’re not paying attention, it just finds a way to seep in.
#14 Caroline Moore – Punk Rock Entrepreneur (Microcosm)
This little book is a valuable resource to anyone with a dream. Starting a label? Building a brand? You want to start a band? Get in the van my friend, this gem holds some realistic advice for whether you’re picking up a guitar for the first time or aiming to reach new audiences in a foreign land. It’s relatable and full of solid advice.
#13 The Dirty Nil – Higher Power (Dine Alone Music)
The Dirty Nil have declared themselves “not punk.” Their raw, layered effort this year shows more depth than a traditional Ramones track as they’re picking and pulling from influences spread across the genre’s heritage. The hooky riffs slathered in distortion pedals paired with Luke Bentham’s soaring, throaty vox are well suited as “garage.” I’d agree with the band, the label isn’t so important, but the sound needs to hit. And they’re on point here.
#12 Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)
Johnny Ramone said that he and Joey didn’t really get along as friends, but they were a career band and loved to make music. J Mascis and Lou Barlow have a similar disposition—you might not catch them at Disneyland together, but they recognize there’s a deeper level of musicianship between them. Since their 2007 recording comeback as the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup, they continue to produce head-bobbing noise-rockers. Go bury the hatchet with someone.
#11 toyGuitar – Move Like a Ghost (Fat Wreck)
Six songs? If that’s all I can get from these San Francisco dynamos I’ll take it. Whenever I refer to what makes this band so good, it boils down to some sort of knee-jerk reaction analogy. There’s an undercurrent of fun vibes and swaying rhythms that just creates a visceral reaction. This EP holds true, making me want to howl along and shimmy.
#10 Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph)
Are you serious? The Descendents put out a new album and it’s good enough to land multiple year end lists? Well put on another pot of coffee, friend. No one may have seen this one coming, but these certified legends have innate talent for pop-punk concoctions. The lyrics push forward with reality—They know they aren’t snot-nosed kids that can pound burgers and milkshakes on the reg—that’ll cause heart problems! The humor is just as sharp here as the seamless snare thunder transitions.
#9 Pascal Pinon – Sundur (Morr Music)
Okay, yell at me. This isn’t punk, but it can’t always be brash beats, especially in a year like this. Sometimes your soul needs some taming, to be held in a warm blanket and feel reassured. This album does just that. Living in some of the harshest elements, the Icelandic know how to be somber and subtle. Twin sisters Ásthildur and Jófríður Ákadóttir are quiet and calming, allowing the ashes of 2016 to settle as you listen in.
#8 Dead To Me – I Wanna Die In Los Angeles (Fat Wreck)
This year Jack Dalrymple has been busy with EPs. toyGuitar is his newest band, but Dead To Me is in his roots. Reuniting with Tyson “Chicken” Annicharico, this three song set is a tease, on the impact level of catching your high school crush with a thigh master. Explosive and tender all at once, it’s addictive.
#7 NOFX w/ Jeff Alulis- Hepatitis Bathtub (De Capo Press)
NOFX had a tremendous year between their excellent new album First Ditch Effort and this (mostly) tell-all biography. Digging up old bones and untold stories of their early days, this book is a page-turner for any reality reader. And if you’re a NOFX fan? Well damn, you gotta check it out! Largely delving into early demons of drummer Erik “Smelly” Sandin and transitioning into those of “Fat” Mike Burkett,” this book is funny, sad, and outrageous for all members of the band—and is an excellent precursor to their new album with similar themes.
#6 Laura Jane Grace w/ Dan Ozzi – Tranny (Hachette)
It was also a big year for Laura Jane Grace as Against Me! released Shape Shift With Me around the same time as her biography. The life story is an incredible outline of her rise to fame with the band while battling substance abuse and transgender dysphoria. Riding the ups and downs of it all makes for a very profound narrative.
#5 David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia Records)
Each year brings its own heartache from too-soon deaths, and just a couple of weeks into this cycle we lost a big one. David Bowie was a profoundly creative, unique dude. Never one to rest on his laurels, even his parting album treads new water. It sums up the life experience in a celebratory, curious way that only Bowie could muster.
#4 Misfits – REUNION SHOWS
Perhaps all of the early passings of their peers inspired the original Misfits to reunite, but this is a show absolutely no one would ever have predicted. Decades of lawsuits between the original lead singer Glenn Danzig and bassist Jerry Only revealed bitter fights over the rights to the band. When Riot Fest announced they’d be wrapping up both the Denver and Chicago dates with the original band playing their coveted classics—endless hype surrounded the unfathomable occasion. But you know what? They 100% lived up to it with unforgettable performances.
#3 The Falcon – Gather Up The Chaps (Red Scare)
Another great reuniting this year rose in Chicago. A punk super group, if you will (and you should), came back and added in more muscle on guitar with Dave Hause. A four man dynamo of excellence was stripped down to the essentials to keep this album fresh and fast. With Brendan Kelly’s lecherous approach to lyrics, Chaps is a jovial jaunt of ditties.
#2 Fucko – Dealing With The Weird (Black Numbers)
An okay band name and an unbelievable debut are what you get from Fucko. It’s an album I’ve turned to over an over this year. Bringing in massive harmonies, slick bass lines, and muted emotions, Dealing With The Weird fits any situation. They wrestle sounds and rhythms with a grungy haphazard charm.
#1 Bleached – Welcome The Worms (Dead Oceans)
It’s rare to catch a live band without previous knowledge of them and be bowled over. When it happens, it’s a euphoric moment to savor. Seeing Bleached open at the House of Vans in Brooklyn for Shannon and the Clams struck this nerve. Tracks like “Wednesday Night Melody” channel slumbering rock riffs and crisp harmonies between sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin. The sloping bass lines of Micayla Grace connect the dots with smoothly grooved transitions while other segments find Nick Pillot picking up the pace on drums. It’s a bright, fluid album with unavoidable prowess and subtle grit with all of the pieces falling right into place.