No. 1 – Ceremony – Rohnert Park

Rohnert Park
Bridge Nine Records

Look, I know how good my life is comparatively speaking to like 99.8% of the world. I really do realize how lucky I am to live where I live, to have access to what I have access to, and that I have the free time to rant like a moron on the internet day after endless day about a bunch of stupid bands made up of a bunch of stupid boys that no one cares about. But my life is damage. Something went wrong in my brain during my formative years. Maybe it was falling off my skateboard. Maybe it was the fighting. Maybe it was the stupid shit me and my friends did that knocked something out of place forever, but things upstairs are not right. There is a part of me that craves a sort of violence. It’s not really physical, I don’t get off on action movies or seeing people get needlessly hurt. But I respond to a certain type of psychic violence and I find, more often than not, that I can get my fill through music.

When I stumbled upon the arguments about Ceremony on the internet and whether their new album Rohnert Park was punk or hardcore or amazing or terrible, something in the argument, moderated in broken English, struck me. I sought the record out in an effort to solve the argument. I am happy to say the detractors lost, Rohnert Park is flawless from beginning to end and excited me in an unexpected way. This is what music is supposed to do in our lives, rile us up, fray the nerves, make us twitch, move, shift, stomp and feel good. We connect with the music that centers in on our nervous system, our psychosis. The music we respond to is not drowning out the demons in our brains, but echoing them and Ceremony did this completely for me.

Rohnert Park was a reminder to me of why I love punk rock. It is music of an almost arrested development. It occurs to the listener at that moment where we are too old to live in the comforts of childhood but know that the world of adults is totally fucked and we’ve been lied to. Ceremony’s response to this was to create a schizophrenic album off twangy guitars, one-two drum beats and vocals of desperate wanting.

Musically, Ceremony is dangerous. The sound is stringy and scathing. The album actually lacks a certain amount of physical matter one would expect from a hardcore or punk band. I don’t want to call it thin, because it packs a hell of a punch, but the songs on Rohnert Park exist at the frayed ends of being. They are bodies tattered by too much violence and are crawling across the pavement, blood and bits of bone being lost in a trail. Vultures circle over head waiting for them to die.

Beyond all of that though, the song writing is precise. Each track drills into your ears, swirls around in the frontal lobe and then smacks against the back of your skull with metal pots. All of this clangy, clatter has to contend with barked vocals from a man who sounds like he was just strangled. This is not the empowerment, hyper anger we are used to. Nope, Ceremony are just clawing up the walls in an attempt to stand upright, propping themselves against drywall that is replete with holes. They can’t win.

In 1998, Refused released The Shape of Punk to Come to an unsuspecting public. That album bent and reshaped the genre of hardcore forever. To this day, no band has done within the genre of hardcore what Refused did. They didn’t just create their version of hardcore, they redefined it in a way that neither their contemporaries nor future bands influenced by them could accomplish. Ceremony has done something quite similar. The core values inherit in punk rock exist on Rohnert Park but it is done so in a musical vernacular that is specific to the  people responsible for writing and crafting the music. It is not an album that could have been made at any other time or in any other place then where it was. It is the unique response to the environment, so violently pushed down our throats. I’ve never felt so comfortable.


No 2. High on Fire – Snakes for the Divine

High on Fire
Snakes for the Divine
E1 Music

Metal is totally awesome. I am 33 years old and listening to metal makes me feel like I am 14. I want to grab my skateboard and hoodie during these dreary months, put on some headphones and just push all around the ‘hood while blazing guitars and thrashing drums pound and squeal in my ear drums. Metal totally gets me psyched. If I’m working on shit that sucks and I get stressed out but need to power through, I put on a metal album. This year I went to Snakes for the Divine by High on Fire several times and it definitely got me through.

On Halloween, 2009 I was all set to go see Mastodon and Converge open for a Death Metal Cartoon in an arena at my old college. It was gonna be a weird day. I couldn’t get anyone my age to go with me. I don’t think any of my friends like metal any more. Most of them have nice houses or apartments, steady jobs they kind of like or kids they have to look after. Most people my age are fucking boring. So, to get my self stoked for the show I decided to check out the opening band High on Fire and purchased their Death is this Communion album. To be honest, as I drove through the grey drizzle on my way to George Mason University, I wasn’t too psyched. It just felt like rehashed Motorhead, which I guess High on Fire get’s compared to a lot because vocalist Matt Pike sounds like a former throat cancer patient, growling his way through his lyrics. But, when this trip hit stage in that enormous, impersonal rock hall, I was pretty impressed. They sped through about five songs in 35 minutes and definitely got me excited. Upon returning to Death is this Communion I realized the band was playing material not on that album.

So, fast forward a few months and I’m at the record store and I see Snakes of the Divine on the shelf for the nice price of $7.99. Remembering how awesome that band was live I figured, what the hell, and picked it up. Boy am I glad I did. In the three years since Death, High on Fire worked on making a totally awesome metal album. I am sure the dudes feel that way about all those albums, and maybe at the time Death just wasn’t what I needed in my life, but 2010 proved to be a trying year with lots of change and Snakes of the Divine definitely powered me through some of the tough times.

Powering through is actually the phrase I think that best describes High on Fire. They throttle through their songs, never letting up. Just when you think you can catch your breath between songs, they put down the gauntlet and let the shit fly. The songs are fast, bitingly so, and fly at you with precision speed. And it’s heavy as fuck. Every note is drenched in iron, steel and forged in blazing fires. When they lay off on the gas, High on Fire just hits you with gritty, dirty exhaust that just chokes and pummels you like a dirty victim, which you now are.

I truly believe that the best people are the ones that respond to art, music things of that nature. The genre of metal for me, is a part of an ongoing narrative of my life. It’s not just a part of my past and though there have been long stretches of it that metal was absent, such is no longer the case. I think the various forms of Heavy Metal finally caught up to my interests and desires for music. High on Fire are a true beast of a band. The fact that this is three dudes from San Francisco creating this powerful, hard-hitting music that gets me psyched is all the more reason for me to love them. Snakes of the Divine is filled with fast-as-fuck riffage, driving, unapologetic double bass drumming and crushing, evil bass thudding. The vocals are filled with black soot and spit with piss. There is no way I wasn’t going to love this album. Just thinking about how psyched it gets me makes me want to punch something.

No 3. New Idea Society – Somehow Disappearing

New Idea Society
Somehow Disappearing
Shiny Shoes Records

I’m not going to lie to you dear readers. I say that quite a bit on this blog, don’t I? Anyway, I am biased towards this record. I fought really hard with myself as to where to position this record in my top five for 2010. Ultimately I decided that the middle of the five records I picked to focus my year-end review on was the best place. Not because this is some middle of the road best of the best record. It’s just that I love Mike Law, singer, guitarists and main shaker and mover of New Idea Society. Seriously, the man is a kind-of-heart, beautiful, nice guy who I find endearing and he’s also a better musician the most of the other musicians out in the world and this album totally rocks my brain out of the damaged skull that has helplessly tried to hold all the madness in.

The true fact of the matter is, even though I’ve been wanting this album for a while and even though I am much endeared to the life and times of Mike Law, Somehow Disappearing is just a great album. There is no disputing this statement. I don’t say it lightly and I don’t say it just because I want it to be so, I say it because in all honestly I feel it is true. The music crafted here is Mike’s best and the band that went on this adventure are totally amazing.

New Idea Society has been a rather odd band. Their first proper album, You Are Awake or Asleep was a Beatlesesqupade of quirky pop rock, informed by Mike Law’s great song writing and then musical partner Steven Broadsky’s pop sensibilities. This was followed up by the raw The World Is Bright and Lonely which was filled with so many of Mike’s personalities, that despite the crisis of cohesion was a pretty excellent album with great and diverse song writing. But none of these albums can be held to Somehow Disappearing for this is the greatness that Mike Law has been only hinting at since his days in spazzcore band Eulcid, which was all things powerful and melodic and schizophrenic and pounding. But right here and now we have a totally fantastic collection of great music that is open and breathing and totally engaging.

Law moves your feet and your heart. His desire to get people’s bodies in motion is as tuned in as his want to convey sweeping emotional tides. If it’s a sock hop you want, put on “Sing It Right”. If you want warm, romantic waves, “Autumn You” will do you just right. If you want quirky, cute and infectious, “Summer Lions” is the song you’re looking for. All of this is created by the same band and it all sticks together so perfectly well. New Idea Society puts on big, dark sweeping sounds too. If you love the best of the Cure, you’ll love “Desolation Tongues” or “Disappearing”, which are tracks moved with resonating bass, soft, but playful drums, and fantastic piano work crafted by Chris DeAngelis. In truth, it is the pairing and obvious trust between Law and DeAngelis that truly brings New Idea Society it’s  just due. Law’s guitar takes a backseat on much of this album for DeAngelis to take lead as the melodic driving instrument. The resonance of bass and treble from this instrument perfectly propel Law’s beautiful, lispy vocals into brand new heights, giving it the sonic space that his clangy chords often took away from in the past.

New Idea Society is a reinvented beauty on Somehow Disappearing. Law has left me breathless since day one that I encountered him. He continues to craft and create and consider carefully not only what he wants to say, but how he wants to say it. The teaming with DeAngelis has only exemplified and enhanced an already wonderful foundation and we can only hope that this is a musical collaboration that continues for many more albums and many more years to come. It is criminal in my opinion that this album is not getting more attention. I feel a twinge of guild even now for holding back. It’s the reason why I don’t like adding numerology to music at the end of the year. But Somehow Disappearing and New Idea Society have gotten a lot of words dedicated to them from me this year. I am not sad at all about dedicating more space to them, in hopes that maybe a few people will use their iTunes gift cards this holiday/capitalist season and show Mike Law and New Idea Society some love. You need this album in your life. The music contained within is moving, fascinating and beautiful. You’re ears and soul will thank you for it.

No 4. Slices – Crusing

Iron Lung

In 2010, I discovered a very weird movement. It was the open sharing of music on small blogs, not unlike this one, from bands on very small labels all over the country. One of the two great finds I came across (the other being Raw Nerve who did not garner any mention on KYS which is kind of lame) was Slices. I don’t exactly remember how Slices came to be discovered in my sonic forest of noise, but man, what a shocking surprise.

Slices, and many other bands that I found in this blog culture, harness a type of punk rock hardcore that predates grunge. It’s a combination of wanting to capture the sonic face fuck of Black Flag, but not quite having the full understanding of how exactly it was that Ginn and Co did this. There are a few other notable bands, (Fan Death’s Twin Stumps come to mind) as well, but there was something palatable about Slices effort Crusing that really shone through.

This is brain-damaged music to say the least. In their softest moments, they resemble a worn out car belt, screeching slowly as the last bits of life leave. At their loudest moments they are an onslaught of broken tunings and poundings with a singer that sounds absolutely murderous. Slow or fast or even at a mild, drudging tempo Slices delivers a savage, hostile environment in which they troll around looking for victims.

So why is this violent, off-putting noise so appealing? Because it is the essence of the disenfranchised. So much of today’s so-called pop music is created by self-indulgent, self-serving, boring ass man-children who believe the world is out to get them. The music of Crusing is about people who realize the world has forgotten them, and that of course is so much worse. This is not the desperation of the hunted or wanted, but the ghostly cries of the forgotten.

There is an over abundance of over produced, slick, pretty music fronting to be made by angry young white boys that is just boring as fuck and sounds like a unicorn smiling. There are no fairy tales in Slices world view. There is plenty of hip-hop corroding American airwaves that is all about a struggle to obtain money, a mere shadow of the same capitalistic tendencies that leave us all disenfranchised and disengaged. But there is no want or desire or any immediate comfort to be found in the groves of Crusing. This is the horrors of being left behind in a town that has all but dried up and died. There is no one to hear the terrible screams, so why not just scream louder?

No 5. Imperial China – Phosphenes

Imperial China
Sockets Records

I can think of three bands from DC that Imperial China reminds me of but don’t sound like; The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U  and El Guapo. I could also name Frodus and Black Eyes. Hell, even Fugazi would not be too far off as I listen to the opening song “All That Is Solid” with the chugga-chugga riffs and dub style bass. But Imperial China are none of these bands. Yes, they are a DC band and arguably have the “DC Sound” if we define that term to mean, they don’t sound like any of their fellows residents, but clearly they have been taking cues.

All of this was welcomed to my ears and would signal a year in DC that I had not had in sometime. Imperial China was one of a half-dozen bands that I came across this year in the Dead City that make me a bit more than just sad that I am leaving this town. DC was once had an unending supply of amazing bands that not only were big here, but toured the United States and were making waves. They all had intricate, unique and energetic approaches to making music and they all did it on their own terms. DC was a big deal, and then that shit stopped being the case and for the last half of the first decade living in DC kind of sucked.

I don’t know if the city’s punk scene can ever recover. As good as the bands that I found this year are, the kids are not showing up. There are all these small, broken off pockets. It feels like there is a lot of territorial bullshit going on. I don’t know, since I don’t tie my social life to my music life, I can’t full comment on what’s going on. It’s just the impression I get that DC is in a state of faction and it’s too bad because Imperial China are a strong band that could serve as an anchor to revitalize this town.

Phosphenes is filled with twinkling echoes, echo vocals, funky beats, guitars of loud exploding frenzy and all kinds of other weird tricks and turns. No two songs on the album sound similar or set out at the same speed or have the same feel. But the beauty of Imperial China and what makes Phosphenes so great is that the album is so cohesive. Ushered by the very caring hands of Devin Ocampo (Medications, Smart Went Crazy and produced the debut by Trophy Wife), Imperial China came out into the world very strong. The musical cues this band draws from is wide and that diversity is crafted into a unique whole.

My ultimate dream is that the bands from DC can somehow manage to navigate the interesting social circles, dissect the difficult cost of living and break out of the forgotten fog the city has found itself in. I want to see these bands play still. I want to see them in the new city I call home. Not because I will be homesick, but because of all the music I hear from all over this country, the new breed of music in our nations capital is the best, most creative music being made as it should be. Imperial China stepped into some vacant but much desperate dead air and created an album that is otherworldly. Now if they can just bring it to the world.

Best of 2010 – EP’s, Tapes and Singles

I am, and have always been an album kind of guy. The only time I’ve ever liked Mix Tapes was when they had a bunch of stuff I never heard that I knew the creator loved. There is something about continuity that really strikes me. For me, that continuity comes through different twists and turns. But as it is, so much great music gets released in little teasers like the EP, the Demo Tape or the 7″ single. These formats are incredibly frustrating, because almost always they make me want more. Either more music from the band, or a bigger production. They often hint at untapped or unreleased greatness that is lurking in the members or on some assholes hard drive.

2010 was a year I actually got really back into the single and buying 7″ again. It seems a lot of DIY bands are doing tapes and 7″ again. To which I say AWESOME!, especially since they have digital downloads a lot of times so the need to digitize them or collect anthologies down the line are no longer necessary. So here are the best of these formats that found their way into my lap this year.

1. No Friends – Traditional Failures – Kiss of Death
Seriously, No Friends is a pretty awesome band. The fact is, I told you this shit was free when it came out. If you don’t know how infectious this band is by now, you are living in the dark ages. This EP was pretty welcomed as I picked up their self titled LP earlier this year. It just extends the fun, playing the full discography from front to back. This is a very good thing.

2. Double Dagger – Masks – Thrill Jockey
I saw Double Dagger open up for the Jesus Lizard in their home town of Baltimore. That show would have been a lot better if the weirdo, solo guy wasn’t in between these two bands. Because it was like seeing the past and the present collide. Double Dagger make really fucking great, art-rock music. Which is hard, because that shit can come off as disingenuous. Smart music that is actually soulful and genuine is hard to come by. Masks on the other hand hints at a band that hit their stride and decided that wasn’t good enough. I really wanted this to be an album because it is so damn good.

3. The Max Levine Ensemble –  Them Steadily Depressing, Low Down Mind Messing, Post Modern Recession Blues – Asian Man
Washington DC has been in a state since 2001. Fugazi, The Dismemberment Plan and Q and Not U broke up since then. The beginning of last century gave us so much hope and it all burnt out so quickly. Little did we know that a pop punk band from Takoma Park, Maryland would emerge. It’s hard to say where the Max Levine Ensemble will go at this point. This EP is the best music they have ever made. If they put out an album building on this, punk rock will get face punched. They are ten years old now, they do not have the recognition they deserve from DC or elsewhere, this EP should be heard by more people. This band should be loved by anyone who likes music.

4. Puerto Rico Flowers – 4 – Fan Death
Fucking Fan Death Records are the real deal. They are just this small label, run by a pair of music geeks who don’t give a fuck about your band. The bands you are into (me included) are trivial. The thing about their shit talk that hit the DC internet in waves this year is that its backed up by some sick fucking bands. Puerto Rico Flowers is one of those bands. This “cold wave” (whatever the fuck that shit is) project of John Sharkey III, the instigating former front man for sludge rockers Clockcleaner, is a total head fuck. It evokes Joy Division, but resonates with a stark, dark, morose tone that would make Ian Curtis turn his head. The band refuses to tour, Sharkey having moved to Australia, and they are all but unwilling to talk publicly about the music. But what is there to say that the songs don’t already say? This is some other world type shit here. Never mind what you are listening to, it sucks.

5. Trap Them – Filth Rations – Southern Lord
Trap Them is actually better in short bursts. Probably because they are so brutal over four songs, that anymore would just cause soul fatigue. Filth Rations is the Providence band’s latest and easily greatest. They are a band that seems to shift and morph between releases, which personally has been a bit off-putting at times. Filth Rations however,  nails it right on the head. It comes on full speed and doesn’t let up. Frankly, it’s fucking incredible. Metal/Hybrid Metal/Hardcore/Post Hardcore, what ever the hell this is, it’s brutal and if you want to hate yourself, which you should because you suck, then get this, now.


1. The Gift – S/T Demo – Self released. The Gift are terrifying. They combine song writing with blistering, terrifying noise. This music will boil your skin. The demo tape is loose and crazy, remnants of a band that has grown into their own. With a full length album already on the horizon, this young band is going to ruin lives. The bands these kids were in (Exosus, Turboslut, Anchors, etc) should tell you what you are in for, but only informally. The Gift kills it.

2. Zomes – Improvisations 1 & 2 – Imminent Frequencies. I love Zomes. You can’t get this tape anymore. You should be jealous. This is meditative, universal, space music. I truly can not get enough of Zomes. Ian MacKaye, are you listening? Get Asa in the studio, put out a solid release. I love the lo-fi, but it’s time to put the music world to bed. Zomes.

3. Body Cop – S/T – Fan Death. There is a reason Fan Death are all over this blog post, because those fuckers have their finger on the pulse of the most fucked up music on the planet now. Body Cop is one of the reasons I am sad to leave DC. No shit, they totally blew me away with their fucked up sludge. Body Cop, along with the Gift are redefining and owning DC’s punk rock history.


1.Frodus – Sound Laboratories 1 – Lovitt Records. When I first heard the three songs that make up this 7″ I wanted to cry. This is such a fucking tease from one of my favorite bands as a youth. The Frodus boys were my contemporaries but they made music so beyond their years. Shelby Cinca and Jason Hammacher have finally caught up to their music as musicians and Sound Laboratories 1 is document of a musical duo that has grown up together. I want more, so so so much more than can be reasonably expected. While Liam Wilson from Dillenger Escape plan does a great job on bass, I do miss Nate Burke, who to me was the missing piece. Regardless, this was so important and amazing. FCI is back.

2&3. Give – Boots Of Faith/Going Confetti – Deranged Records, Heaven is Waiting/One – React Records. Right now, in DC, Give is the most important band in operation. That’s a tall order and one I could probably argue against on any given day. But for now, right here, I mean it. These singles, coupled with a self released EP, are a document to a band that needs to be heard more. That the globe isn’t demanding more from Give is a travesty. DC always has best kept secrets, much to my chagrin. Give is that secret now and it needs to stop.

4. Puerto Rico Flowers – 2 – Fan Death Records. No quite as strong as the songs on 4, 2 still offers some really out of earth type music. It’s slow and drowning and punishing to listen to. If you just aren’t depressed enough after listening to 4, then this single will push you over the edge.

5. Too Many Daves/Dude Jams split 7″ – ADD Records. As much as my best of lists are always replete with a lot of really damaged music, I have a soft spot for punk rock. Dudes just bashing out honest or even silly songs will always capture my attention. This single was awesome and seriously, it makes me happy there is a band in the world called Dude Jams.

Best of 2010 – Honorable Mentions

2010 was a surprisingly great year for music. It was really hard to come up with a list of top five albums this year. It’s one of those years where when I look back on it I’m not sure how well I will be able to defend my opinions. 2008 comes to mind and I’d like to say the Heathers album had more impact over the long run than Off With Their Heads. Not that the Off With Their Heads album isn’t great, but both Heathers and Pygmy Lush are much more important bands in my life and their albums still resonate with me. At the time Off With Their Heads was giving me the emotional “FUCK YOU” that I needed.

So there are some other albums that I found really great this year, many I wrote about, but I wanted to give another nod to and take a minute to explore. They are definitely bands and albums that I think are worth your time (all 20 of you) and want to make sure they are cataloged in the cosmic fabric of my stupid memory, here on the internet for anyone to see.

1. Camu Tao – King of Hearts, Def Jux.
It is fitting that Camu Tao serve as the final bookend in the Def Jux catalog, at least as long as Def Jux is in a deep coma. Camu was the guest star on so many Def Jux album and was working on his debut for years before his untimely death. This collection is a sketch book of music by an artist that was clearly a visionary. I have no doubt in my mind that were this fleshed out to the Camu’s full vision that it would be the most damaging, punishing, amazing album from 2010. King of Hearts was on its way to being a legendary debut that changed hip-hop. Sadly, we will not get that opportunity from Camu. I can only hope some young kid picks this up and takes this shit where it needs to go.

2. ONSIND- Dissatisfactions, Plan-It-X
That whole riot-folk movement seems to have ended, memories of Juno and Kimya Dawson fading from the teenage lexicon of geek cool. There is some bitter sadness you might detect from me on this topic. Perhaps this scene didn’t really get the just recognition due. But no matter, it’s still going strong and One Night Stand In North Dakota (ONSIND) make one of the most compelling “post-riot folk” music. They are amazing singers, filled with political vigor and made a really dynamic, clean sounding album. The sexual and gender politics are not surprising, but the poetic language they use to forward and express these ideas is. This is a pretty crucial bit of music for anyone that wants to learn how to write good songs.

3. Coliseum – House of Cards, Temporary Residence
Part of what I love about House of Cards is how well it presented live. The recording is fantastic, as one would expect and the songs are really strong, but Coliseum is just one of those bands that must be seen live. Unfortunately when the album that is essentially the live band’s business card can not ever capture how awesome the band is, it can easily get lost in the shuffle. This probably happened with House of Cards but it shouldn’t. It’s loud and pushing and chock full of awesome riffs and great, powerful vocals. It is flawless from start to finish.

4. Defiance, Ohio – Midwestern Minutes, No Idea
It’s hard to say really how I feel about Defiance, Ohio and Midwestern Minutes. I think it’s because they are a band I like more than I realize consciously. I really like this band. They are sincere, and honest and beautiful and politically powerful, because their lyrics and stories aren’t about vague concepts but the human condition. There is nothing abstract about Defiance, Ohio. They are truly a beautiful group that should be heard even more than they are. They also probably had the option of going the route of Against Me and making more rock oriented records, but they continue down the very difficult path of DIY punk. It is a shame that DIY equates to less professional or less authentic in our culture because Defiance, Ohio is a band I truly believe needs to be heard by more people. Not that I want to share those sweaty, crowded spaces with more people and not have those intimate shows that are totally amazing. But Defiance, Ohio are a powerful band and this is their most accessible album yet. By accessible, I mean most focus and best produced. The songs have always been this good. It’s not slick, in fact it sounds more natural and true to anything Defiance, Ohio have done previously. They are a band that are overlooked too often and having them in the Honorable Mentions category  feels like a scam on my part. But that should not detract you, this is a great record.

5. A Stick and a Stone – Opal Nightly, Exotic Fever
Perhaps one of the most exciting new artists I have heard in a long time, Elliot Harvey is a musical genius. When he told me earlier this year that he had very little formal training, I was totally shocked. Harvey makes timeless music that is inspired not so much by genres but movement in sounds. He is a capable, creative musician whose hands master many instruments. Expect great things from A Stick and A Stone. This is an artist you need to hear.

6. Jonsi – Go, XL Recordings
Some people are just too talented to contain, too creative to pigeon-hole, too intense to fully realize. Jonsi, he’s out of this world. American modern rock culture has done a decent job incorporating the lexicon of Icelandic artists. But man, I have a feeling we could do a lot better. Go is an amazing pop album, complete with Jonsi’s dreamlike vocals. I haven’t seen any of the live presentations of this album, but I am really looking forward to it, because the visuals that I have caught look amazing.