Shit I Actually Liked in 2016 – Part Two

redemption and self-love that are not always easy and proof that we are all much more complex than we let on.


It’s 9:03 on a Monday morning. I don’t have work for a while. The bank account is quickly draining. I should pay bills this week too. The world is literally a mess and it’s not just in Exene Cervenka’s kiss, though we should all be so lucky. Right? Whatever. America is a failure and all we have left is escapism, which is probably going to be abandoned en mass is we don’t all want to live in a fascist regime. Shit. We’re so fucked.

As such, I am truly afraid that enjoyment of making and in taking art for the sake of art is now gone. 2016 is the last gasp of a trend we’ve been on since World War II in terms of consumption for consumptions sake and production for production sake. Which isn’t to say people should stop creating what they feel and believe or tell the stories they want to tell no matter how cosmetic they may be. But who’s really going to have time for the superficial when the fuck heads are shouting everything down with fear tactics?

Which is hard because for someone who likes sadness music more than the battle hymns of revolution, I really enjoyed the depressed adults making music arc that 2016 was. Maybe it was all these people tapping into a darker fear and bleak reality lying under the surface, but a lot of sad shit came out this year and I was way into.

Creative Adult is one of the most Joy Division bands out there that doesn’t really sound like Joy Divison. There Fear of Life LP is simply brilliant. It’s also British as fuck with out feeling derivative. The classic Marshall tones, the distinct, mournful bass lines and drums that sound like they were taken from a Lush album make Fear of Life perhaps one of the best albums to sink into before the end of the world comes. Singer Scott Williams haunting voice, buried just at the perfect Steve Albini levels and nearly indistinguishable are the perfect cry for help.

As a Washington DC expat I am always pleased when new bands from there tickle my fancy. I’m totally stoked that there is a great burgeoning hardcore scene once again in the nation’s capital but it’s old friends who really blew me away. I had the pleasure of hosting Big Hush this summer and our little dusty town was not disappointed. Also washed out in fuzz their new EP Whose Your Smoking Spirit is aptly titled and beautifully executed. All of the instruments and vocals sound like they are being played behind a wall with the occasional wailing guitar. Vocals and harmonies are so fragmented and well placed as to sound almost accidental but heavenly at the same time. Bad Moves has also won my heart with their self titled 4 song endeavor. Both bands have left me wanting more. DC’s never been a town known for its singing, but the harmonies and supplemental vocals on this enrich the great pop song writing. I can’t stop listening to “The Verge”. Four songs is just not enough, but these two EP’s together makes for an enjoyable and extended listening experience.

It pains me how much of a fan of Self Defense Family I am. But it’s true. Patrick Kindlon has been one of my favorite lyricists over the last few years and on the last several singles and EP’s he’s been exceptional in his personal, confessional narratives. On Colicky, their final offering of the year, he gets supper into letting himself loose on the wax and behind him is a band unhinged from their past. The repetitiveness and Lungfish worship is still present, but form and exploration have also taken over. And fuck if the epic ender “Brittany Murphy in 8 Mile” isn’t about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Benny and Chris are both dicks though.

On the heavier side of things veterans Darkthrone released another banger in Arctic Thunder. Black Metal as a genre was rather humorous and never really reached the levels artistically and aesthetically that it should have. But the duo from Norway, one of the early progenies of the scene are still making great records. They have largely abandoned tenants and rules of the Black Metal Coven and instead just tried to make great metal albums. This year’s work is no different and it even has traces of their original sound.

The return of Planes Mistaken for Stars is one that also personally warmed my heart. The Denver quartet remains one of the most haunting bands I listen to. So when Prey finally emerged this year, I could not have been more pleased. The band hasn’t skipped a beat in their ten-year hiatus. Prey stacks up to their legacy and in many ways even exceeds some of it. Gared sounds just as desperate and broken as always and the songs are punishing to fatal degrees. Bands who reunite or reemerge for a second go rarely capture their former glory, but hopefully this is the beginning of another trip back to hell that we can all be dragged along with.

My final entry for music in 2016 is of course the great voice of Canada, John K. Samson. His Winter Wheat album is the perfect soundtrack for these cold mornings as fall descends into winter and the world crumbles underneath us. But don’t listen to “Virtue at Rest” because you will cry. But thanks John for another album to give me some sense of comfort that sadness doesn’t always have to be a struggle and we can do beautiful things to get by.

In terms of books, I did a piss poor job of reading this year. I didn’t read a single piece of fiction all the way through, though I started plenty of classics. But Baldwin and Rushdie and Fitzgerald just didn’t really do it for me. But it was a good year to read about music. I found a few memoirs disappointing in their execution but two tales I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed considering I was skeptical of both. Larry Livermore, the once bright and quirky king of pop punk relived his experiences of the rise and fall of Lookout! Records in How to Ru(i)n A Record Label. Once being a young, suburban punk, Lookout! played an central role in my love for the poppier sides of punk. Green Day and Operation Ivy and those damn Crimpshrine records were on constant rotation in my various Sony Walkmen. Reading the story of their simple rise and unfortunate and greedy downfall (despite putting out great Ted Leo and Pretty Girls Make Graves albums) was heartbreaking. Something that did not have to be was and pop punk suffered as a result. On another part of that spectrum is the band NOFX and their tell all The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories was easily the best book on music I’ve ever read and perhaps one of the most punctuated stories about success that’s ever been written. The California Quartet are not known for being anything other than dick head goofballs, but this biography characterizes the real people behind this band. It’s hard to have respect for Fat Mike and crew sometimes because his songs and antics are childish at best, but after reading this book I can honestly say that I am on his side, even if I can’t defend all of his choices. This is a book about hurt and pain and the attempts at redemption and self-love that are not always easy and proof that we are all much more complex than we let on.

So, that’s my 2016 in quick narrative form. There was more great shit, but this is what stood out for me. Uh, yeah, whatever. This is a terrible ending and I am going to jump ship now before I cause more damage. Peace.

Shit I Actually Liked in 2016 part one.

this weird, kind of perverted crime story about two people who fuck and then rob banks because their orgasms make time stop is pretty much one of the most beautiful comics made

Year End lists are always a favorite of mine. No one ever puts good shit on them, or at least not shit I think is worthy. It’s been several years since I compiled one of these so I am pretty excited for this. Also, to celebrate my return to blogging after what seems too long a hiatus I am going to include for the first time some short reviews of comics and a little plug for the only TV show I actually watch with any focus.

I saw exactly one new movie this year in theaters, Gimmie Danger, The Stooges Documentary by Jim Jarmusch and frankly, if you don’t see that movie or if you didn’t like it, I don’t know what to tell you. Over all I’ve lost my love for cinema over the last few years. The stories and writing in film on all levels has gotten terrible. I mean, I’ll probably go see Star Wars because I was five in 1983 and that movie is a part of my fabric, terrible or not.

TV is mostly shit as well. I know we are also supposed to love Game of Thrones and shit, but most TV just feels incredibly racist and filled with rape or domestic abuse as the only plot device. Which is terrible to think of when talking about The Affair because rape is totally a plot point last season in one episode. But damn if it isn’t one of the best written shows I have ever seen. All the details, the fact the none of the characters are trustworthy, that Dominic West is such a babe but his character is unabashedly fucked up. Season three seems to be heading in a great direction with it’s first strong female lead whose problems are not those of a rich, white woman but that with actual heartbreak. Some of the story line leaves a lot to be desired (though in Episode Two when one of the students makes a comment about West’s character’s homogenous book plots is a great breaking of the fourth wall and meta-commentary) but the writing and execution is so great. Besides, you never feel sorry for everyone because the whole story is about perception and how flawed it is. That’s what gets me the most.

I want to write more about my new found love and obsession with comic books. Overall, comics have replaced movies for me. I am still a novice and mostly a main stream reader for the most part. In fact, every comic I am gonna talk about is an Image Comic because they put out most of what I read regularly. I am not a fan of the superhero comic or troupe but the Crime Noir and weirdo fantasy set in reality type stuff really gets my goat. Just this last month issue #4 of both Kill or Be Killed and Black Monday Murders did for me exactly what I want crime stories to do which is drag me deeper into the world of the writer and leave me wanting more. Kill or Be Killed is especially intriguing now because they are distancing themselves from the premise of the devil as motivator, which is something I like. I prefer that being nebulous and undefined. My favorite mini-series this year was Air Boy. Originally printed as a four part series starting in 2014, they collected it this year. The meta nature of it was just really well done. Plus DICKS everywhere is funny. Sex Criminals is a favorite of mine though it seems to be on hiatus. But this weird, kind of perverted crime story about two people who fuck and then rob banks because their orgasms make time stop is pretty much one of the most beautiful comics made. Issue 13 was particularly awesome as well because it introduces asexuality not as separate from sexuality but as part of the sexuality spectrum. That issue was super great and the asexual monster that comes into play is super cute cuz asexuals are cute.

Hopefully as I continue to spend all of my money at the comic book shop I will expand my reading list and get some great, new authors. Though I am not gonna lie, next on my list is the graphic novel versions of The Baby Sitters Club. I still have a crush on Claudia.

Well this is Part One. Next time I’ll be talking strictly about music, both in the form of releases I loved and two books I highly recommend.

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.