Robyn’s Top 10 Records of 2014

Another year is over, and what a bloody great one it’s been for music. This year has seen records that I know will stand the test of time. Records that are innovative, playful, punk-as-fuck and just plain catchy. Normally, this list is comprised of just albums – I tend to find I sink my teeth into those much more readily – but this year, I’ve had to alter my expectations and a few EPs can be found here too. Here’s my snapshot of 2014 – grab a cuppa and get stuck in.

Leaving is Bristolian punk rock at its finest. Brutally honest, charmingly melodic and just damn good. The perfect antidote to blustery winter days, Leaving is truly quite wonderful, and the kind of record that finds itself clinging on hard to your stereo. As it’s an EP, it’s not that long, and inevitably ends up leaving you craving more. It also happens to be the finest record that Caves have done to date – check out our review for more.

A glorious return from the queen of punk, Diploid Love is a far more mature record than any of Brody’s previous outings. Main single ‘Meet the Foetus/Oh the Joy’, featuring Shirley Manson, is probably good enough to enter this list itself, but there’s plenty of fantastic moments threaded throughout. Even the bizarre Casio keyboard. There’s a definite QOTSA influence cropping up in the guitar tones, but that just serves to make Diploid Love even sharper and cleverer. We headed down to the Birmingham show earlier this year and had our minds blown.

NFG’s eighth record, and their first without founding member Steve Klein, is an absolute banger. A fantastic return to form, this record proves exactly why pop-punk isn’t dead. I’ve been a huge NFG fan for years, but it’s not all been plain sailing. However, Resurrection harks back to those early days, with songs reminiscent of the incredible Sticks and Stones, but with a much older and wiser feel. It’s still all about girls and staying posi, but it’s damn catchy. It also makes it impossible to forget who really invented the pop-punk beatdown.

Have The Lawrence Arms ever brought out a bad record? The answer, is of course, ‘no’. Another solid entry to the discography, Metropole has a more down-to-earth feel than some of the band’s earlier records, but it still has that same great storytelling capacity that The Lawrence Arms are famed for. It’s also crazy that this is the first full album since Oh! Calcutta! in 2006, but it was more than worth the wait, if only for ‘Drunk Tweets’ alone.

Imagine if Justin Timberlake and Architects got together and jammed. Got that ridiculous notion in your head? You know, if that ever happened, you’d probably end up with the debut album from Issues. IT’S METALCORE MIXED WITH R&B. The how and why are so far past being relevant right now, you just need to know that it exists and that it’s brilliant. Tyler Carter’s vocals are sublime, the songwriting is surprisingly intricate, and truth be told, I’ve never had so much fun listening to a metal record.

Bangers had the mental idea that they were going to write and record a whole bunch of songs in 48 hours, then put whatever they came up with onto a tape. And you know what? It turned out more than okay. Mysterious Ways is classic Bangers, through and through, but it’s also a lot more spontaneous, as one might expect, and it ends up being a whole lot of fun. If you missed out on purchasing this, just try and find a YouTube upload of ‘Mosquito’ somewhere. Totally worth it.

Hebrews is bizarre. Not content with the usual guitar-bending, synth-melding pop-rock bonanza that usually forms a Say Anything record, Max Bemis decided to enlist a string orchestra and went analogue, baby. Even so, half of the riffs on here (coming from violins) are still some of the punkest sounding things I’ve heard in a long time. Also, in true Say Anything style, Max pulls in all of his buddies to guest star, with some pretty surprising results. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but Hebrews is one of the most mind-blowing records of the year.

Andrew McMahon’s first ‘solo’ album proper is one of the most beautiful pop records you’ll hear this decade. After deciding that it was time to move on from Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew decided to travel from studio to studio, practice space to practice space, and came up with ten incredible tracks. Each song has its own personality and identity in a way that most major pop artists struggle to achieve, and the record as a whole is a perfect example of highly emotionally intelligent songwriting. We were lucky enough to interview him earlier this year, and that’s possibly the coolest thing I’ve done with this zine.

Nervous Like Me totally knocked me for six. I’ve been following Cayetana since their first demo was released and they got picked up by Tiny Engines, but I didn’t expect an album that was so clever, so raw and yet so polished, and ultimately, so incredible. The Philly trio have become masters of melody in just a short time, having formed in 2011 while hardly ever having touched an instrument in their lives. We gave this 5 out of 5 earlier in the year, and wouldn’t hesitate to give that score all over again.

Bold. Brave. Beautiful. That’s what Transgender Dysphoria Blues is. There probably wasn’t any other way an Against Me! record could have gone, after Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, but the result was a cathartic, vitriolic and ultimately enthralling record. Laura’s always been one of the best songwriters in the business, and the sheer variance of sound and style on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, while still sounding like a coherent whole, is testament to that. Everything sounds so good. Even if you can only really sing along to the line ‘you’ve got no cunt in your strut’ in the car on your own. Is it the best Against Me! record? To be honest, I’m going to hazard a yes – no other Against Me! record has ever felt this free, and it’s glorious.

Records of the Year – 2013

I have been avoiding this list like the plague. In a year of such incredible music, especially from our own fair United Kingdom, putting a list together seems completely arbitrary and not really a celebration of the year at all. But convention dictates that I really should do something. So, in the traditional fashion, I’ve gone for a top ten. Except for the top spot, all of these could be fairly interchangeable as to how fantastic they are. In their own way, each of these records represents a perfect moment in time, whether it was a great return or a truly exciting debut. So, without further ado, I give you my top ten albums of 2013. Now go and have yourselves a bloody good Christmas and a cracking New Year.

Heartthrob was completely different to the usual Tegan and Sara style. Instead of mysterious indie-pop, they went full-on with a bunch of synths and explicit lyrics. And it was good. There are places that are so 80s, you’d swear you were wearing frilly sleeves and more eyeliner than is good for you, until it breaks into a pounding chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place at your local nightclub. Totally unexpected, highly irreverent, completely fantastic.

It was a big year for comebacks, and Fall Out Boy had one of the biggest ones yet. I’ll admit, I was wary of the FOB reunion to begin with. But Patrick Stump’s time crafting R&B hooks was put to good use and combined with a few pop-punk sensibilities, Save Rock And Roll is a complete progression. A necessary one, some might say, and it showed the world that Fall Out Boy were back in full force and ready to take your radio by storm. Also, the bass riff to ‘Where Did The Party Go’ is one of the best things they’ve ever done.

“THIS. IS. SEMPITERNAL.” That gang chorus was a sign. Bring Me The Horizon were not taking any shit. Also, it’s a remarkably uncommon word, very clever in its usage, and that’s what Bring Me The Horizon’s fourth album is – extraordinarily clever. It’s not necessarily intricate, there’s nu-metal influence everywhere, but it completely bends and breaks previous expectations of the band and creates a sonic journey like nothing else. From the vitriolic ‘Antivist’ to the beautiful ‘And The Snakes Start To Sing’, nothing about Sempiternal is imperfect.

Hey You Guys! are an amalgamation of some of the Worcester scene’s heroes, and these dudes have brought together an unmatched sense of humour, savvy lyrics and catchy-as-fuck hooks into one mindblowing record. Our interview with Hey You Guys! explains further why we love them, but Gasp Shock Horror is 28 minutes of sheer joy.

This record came at the perfect time for We Are Fiction. With bands like Mallory Knox, Young Guns and Canterbury making it big, it’s only a matter of time until We Are Fiction are massive, and they absolutely deserve it. One of the hardest working bands in the UK scene have brought out a record that echoes the glorious post-hardcore scene of the early 2000s while still remaining fresh and relevant. The dual vocal approach from Phil Barker and Marc Kucharski works so well, and it’s one of those records that has you hitting ‘repeat’ the second it’s done. Kate’s review of One For Sorrow says it all.

Let’s be honest, apart from In With The Out Crowd which was a bit iffy, Less Than Jake always deliver the goods. See The Light is no exception. From start to finish, it’s filled with ska-punk bangers. As sunny as a Floridian summer afternoon, no other album has made me smile so much this year, or want to dance as much, and I look forward to blasting this out in the summer at all the barbeques.

An absolutely solid effort from Bangers this year, Crazy Fucking Dreams is the kind of record other punk bands dream of making. Although they’re sticking with the tried and tested ‘big riffs, big rants’ formula, there’s still plenty of innovation here, and their story-telling skills are in full swing, with tracks that can’t help but speak to you. If you like your punk honest and raw, but actually listenable with wonderfully gruff vocals, Bangers are the band for you. And Crazy Fucking Dreams is brilliant.

Again, this was a record I was slightly wary of. Lead single ‘Miss Jackson’ didn’t impress me much, but as soon as ‘This Is Gospel’ made an appearance, I knew that Panic! were back on track to an absolute hit. Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! is ten straight tracks of pop glory. Every song has a totally different feel to it, but all of them carry something wonderful to the front, whether that’s a catchy chorus or a beautifully poignant melody. Continuing post-Ross is one of the best things Panic! could have done – this is exactly why.

It was clear from the days of Reuben that Jamie Lenman was an almost unnaturally talented songwriter – how was it possible for post-hardcore to be so good and yet maintain a distinctly British voice? It just hadn’t been done before. Like Muscle Memory hasn’t been done before. The first side, Muscle, is the most gut-wrenching hardcore record of the year, with crushing, dirgey riffs abound. It’s utterly glorious. However, second side, Memory, is a folky, poppy, acoustic-y, big band-y foray into something completely genius. Separately, they’d both be incredible records, but together, they combine to create something phenomenal. Not to mention, releasing two records like this together is punk as fuck.

A predictable entry into the list, but an extremely important one. Burials is the best thing AFI have done since The Art Of Drowning. It’s not to say that their efforts in-between have been bad, but Burials was outstanding. A raw, emotional journey juxtaposed with some of the most intricate songwriting that AFI has ever exhibited? Sign me up. Twice. You can read my full love letter to Burials here, or better yet, you can go and buy it and remember why you fell in love with music to begin with.

Review: Bangers – Crazy Fucking Dreams

When Bangers release a new record, you always know what to expect. Big riffs and big rants. Crazy Fucking Dreams is no exception. Like a gruffer, British Descendents but with more references to the ocean and the government, Bangers rip through ten absolute… well, bangers.

That’s not to say that Bangers don’t have a few surprises up their sleeve. From the strange, psychedelic solo filled with weird panting in ‘Part Animal’ to the unexpected horns in opening tune ‘A Curious Mix’, Bangers are stepping into new and dangerous territory. However, it all comes together smoothly and it’s barrels of fun. Not enough bands incorporate horns in some way or another these days, but that’s a conversation for another time. Possibly my favourite thing about a Bangers record is that it always feels like a conversation. They’re brilliant storytellers, and ‘The Woods’ is the perfect example of this – in the muted verses, Roo embarks on a story about existence and being before they all launch into an absolutely massive chorus. But even throughout the story, there’s always a question to be asked, a thought to be probed, and you can’t help but give in. Lyrically, the record’s as great as you’d come to expect from Bangers – my personal favourite being the entirety of ‘Blind Hindsight’, as in its message to ‘fuck nostalgia’, the song itself sounds like a complete throwback to 90s skatepunk, and Bangers’ keen sense of irony and self-effacing humour is well and truly in play. And of course, there’s a lot of bloody good rants all over.

What else is present is gleeful, unabashed punk rock fury. I told you there were big riffs, and I wasn’t lying. If there was one track that could sum up the whole record, ‘Captain’s Log’ pretty much does it. It’s got some punk-as-fuck bass, furious drumming and about a minute of vocals before the instrumental takes over and they take it down a notch. And this is why Bangers are better than most people ever, because they’re unafraid of kicking out sweet jams and killer solos while still maintaining an enviable freneticism. Good stuff indeed.

This might possibly be the best Bangers record yet. But I still maintain they should have named it Miley Cyruz.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

The Darlington Sessions

(click to be taken to Cats Aye Records’ bandcamp)

The Darlington Sessions is truly a lovely little surprise. Recorded at the tail end of last year at Darlington Road Studios, it’s nine tracks of pure acoustic bliss from some of the UK’s greatest punk rock performers at the moment; Roo Pescod (Bangers), Giles Bidder (Great Cynics) and Kelly Kemp (Livers and Lungs). Each performer contributed a couple of their own tracks and the rest were worked on collaboratively; at least, that’s what it says on the tin. Everyone lends a hand and makes appearances on the tracks throughout. Although each of the ‘solo’ tracks have their own distinct style, you can definitely feel the presence of the others and the rest of the musicians who have helped them out in the studio and along the way. It’s precisely that feeling of community that makes The Darlington Sessions so wonderful. Take Bidder’s ‘My Babylonian Wheelie Board’ – an ode to the simple joys of skateboarding. Without Pescod’s gruff rasp and Kemp’s soft tones, it’d feel as empty as the landscape it describes. Instead, it takes on the warmth of a summer evening on the South Coast. Great stuff.

Much like in their main projects, each one of these little gems has a story to tell. Most tracks are short – all less than three minutes – but that’s ample time for a brief snapshot into a troubled relationship, a confession of hometown blues or a rousing affirmation of punk rock camaraderie. There’s plenty of lyrics that resonate deep within your core and put a smile on your face at the same time, like Kemp’s charming line about becoming a scratchcard millionaire in ‘Homes and Castles’, and Pescod’s fantasies of smashing up H&M in ‘Hammerwhammer’. There’s a certain honesty to the whole affair; not one that’s missing in their full-time bands, but one that’s amplified through the really beautiful simplicity of the tracks at hand. There’s a distinctly British voice throughout too, one that’s often lacking but sorely needed in our alternative music scene today, but it wouldn’t be alienating to an international audience at all – these are songs about the kinds of things we all go through at some point.

Although each track is as well constructed as you’d expect, there’s a huge sense of play that runs abound throughout the sessions. Tracks like ‘Under The Table’ utilise dark and discordant rhythms and violins and pianos add extra, understated layers to really bring out the potential in songs such as ‘Bedtimes’ and ‘Earth Abides’. The Darlington Sessions are fun, born out of good times and good hangs, and it just so happens that good musicianship comes into to mix as well. If that’s not worth four of your English pounds, then I don’t know what is.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Bangers – Good Livin’ [EP]

(Click to be taken to Bangers’ Bandcamp page)

Good Livin’, the latest EP from Bangers clocks in at about 11 minutes. It doesn’t seem like a long period of time, but it’s just enough. The Cornish trio are set for big things, recently scoring a support slot with Blink-182 at their upcoming show at the Eden Project, but is Good Livin’ able to measure up?

The short answer is a huge, resounding yes. Bangers have certainly crafted a fine release. Upon first listen, it’s impossible to not smile. Every track sounds uplifting and yet, unrelenting. In particular, opening track Good Good Livin’ achieves this with the definite potential for a massive singalong chorus and some cheeky palm muting. The Borrowers is slightly more aggressive in its tone but still features some great lead guitar at the start and a clever, intricate instrumental section towards the end. As I said in my review of Crash Doubt, Bangers are excellent musicians – living proof that punk rock doesn’t need to be three chords and some shitty distortion. The Mitigation Committee features yet another brilliant instrumental section and some sweet tempo changes, as well as some nicely done dual vocals that almost become like gang vocals because they sound so impassioned. A Man Like Jack McCall takes a slight change in direction – a much slower pace – but still features some killer woahs to create a superb ending track.

But upon a second listen, Bangers hit a totally different mark. Economic crisis, the problems of working yourself to the bone, feelings of inadequacy and rising above those feelings, as well as feeling like an outsider and an overwhelming fear of succumbing to the idiocy of the masses. All of this bubbles under the surface, the lyrics often hidden under the power of the vocals. While Bangers can craft a decent tune, they also write songs that resonate deep within. The metaphors they use mean that these songs will be relevant for a long time to come, not just within our current climate. It’s seriously clever stuff, but not alienating in any way – at the heart of it, it’s just good honest punk rock.

If you in any way, shape or form, love melodic punk rock, then it’s certainly a crime not to check out the new Bangers release. If you love good music, then it’s even more of a crime not to pick it up.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!