Quick question: What is punk? No, seriously, I’m asking: Can you really define punk? Is it a type of music? A fashion sense? Is it an ideology? A persona?
If you’re asking me — and I know you didn’t ask, but you’re reading something I wrote, so just hang on a second before you judge — I would say that the true definition encompasses all of the above. All these parts of the equation work together to create something beautiful, something that exists outside the pipeline of the mainstream, something that speaks to people who might feel alienated in their community for one reason or another.
When all of the aforementioned characteristics are put together, punk becomes a genre of relatability, one that bolsters a sense of community. While the actual aesthetics of the word are difficult to define, punk scenes around the country and the world are often comprised of like-minded individuals working toward a common goal.
2018 was no exception to the rule, and saw the release of a lot of incredible albums that can be categorized under the umbrella of punk rock. So get ready to scream along, dance with reckless abandon, and/or open up the pit (these are not mutually exclusive) along with these 10 must-hear albums.
10. The Longshot, Love Is For Losers
Perhaps it’s the lack of the name “Green Day” that makes these songs so enjoyable, but it becomes abundantly clear from the first lines of opening track “The Last Time” that The Longshot’s debut album Love Is For Losers is the most fun Billie Joe Armstrong has had on a record in the 2010s. As he should have — by changing the name of the project, there are no expectations to match a “Welcome To Paradise”, or “Jesus Of Suburbia” or, hell, even “21 Guns.” As such, Love Is For Losers is packed with anthemic numbers that might not have been appreciated by your average Green Day fan. Tracks like “Taxi Driver” and “Kill Your Friends” seem to have been designed specifically for drunken singalongs with rowdy intimate crowds. That’s exactly what Armstrong did with the Longshot’s summer tour, playing bars and small clubs across the country, all with capacities of under 600 patrons. All told, Love Is For Losers (and the existence of The Longshot at all) is an entry in Armstrong’s successful practice in forgoing the fortune he made on punk rock and revisiting the spaces that gave him room to find himself in the first place.
9. Tiny Moving Parts, Swell
With just three members, Tiny Moving Parts manage to perform some of the most mind-bogglingly intricate instrumental work in modern punk-leaning music. Swell is no exception, with guitarist/vocalist Dylan Mattheisen’s vocals overpowered by his explosive tapping guitar lines on tracks like “Feel Alive,” but anchored into beautiful emotive tracks with the massive rhythm support from his cousins, drummer William Chevalier and bassist Matthew Chevalier. The strengths of the rhythm section can really be heard on tracks like album opener “Applause” and “Caution,” the latter of which also has an unbelievable video. Though they started just five years ago as a twinkly bare-bones emo band, Tiny Moving Parts have expanded their musical repertoire to fill out their sound on Swell, incorporating synth lines and strong melodic vocal hooks to supplement the incredible instrumental intricacies. Each subsequent release from this midwestern group since their 2013 debut has undoubtedly been their strongest delivery to date, and Swell is another entry in a trajectory that doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon.
8. Kississippi, Sunset Blush
For Kississippi, the process of Sunset Blush was a long one. The first full-length effort from the Philadelphia band, the album was finally released nearly two years after work began on the project. The final product is an intensely personal document of a songwriter at their most vulnerable, with very impressive results. Tracks like “Cut Yr Teeth” play offense in the game of standing your ground, while “Easier To Love” turns the focus inward, allowing songwriter Zoe Reynolds to examine herself through the reflection in a waterfall of lush harmonies. Sunset Blush is especially interesting because it is not a strictly guitar-driven collection of songs: Reynolds also incorporates electronic drums and synthesizers to elevate her vocal style. Whether conscious or not, these songwriting choices emphasize the fact that Kississippi is not just another rock band, and that Reynolds has something to say and she is ready to say it.
7. Oliver Houston, Mixed Reviews
Last year, we named Oliver Houston’s debut album Whatever Works to be our second-best underground indie release of 2017. In the time since, the members unfortunately went their separate ways, marking the end of one of the modern midwestern emo scene’s staple acts. But the band’s dissolution didn’t come without the release of fresh tunes in the form of Mixed Reviews, a wonderful collection of tracks that serves as a fitting swan song for the Michigan four-piece. The highlight of the record comes at its center “Waste,” which sees the band experimenting with tempos. Brief shifting in the drumming patterns leads the band in several different directions, making for a constantly-evolving track that moves seamlessly throughout several different paces and moods, before breaking into an acoustic outro accented by claps from the band. Sonically, Mixed Reviews continues where Whatever Works left off, showcasing the band’s musical versatility, accented by Kyle Luck’s faltering, yet emotive vocal melodies, resulting in a beautiful farewell note from a beloved group.
6. Joyce Manor, Million Dollars To Kill Me
When I spoke to Joyce Manor frontman Barry Johnson in the wake of their 2016 album Cody, he told me that the band had no interest in breaking into the mainstream. But the band’s latest output Million Dollars To Kill Me tells a different story, revealing a group really hitting their stride as songwriters with a growing knack for pop-rock structures. Sure, there are a few tracks that harken back to the band’s scrappier days (album opener “Fighting Kangaroo” sounds like it could have been taken from 2014’s Never Hungover Again), but for the most part, Million Dollars To Kill Me is filled to the brim with anthems perfectly fit for popular rock radio. Of course, some of Joyce Manor’s early fans might — and have/will — take issue with the band’s growing mainstream appeal, but Johnson and co. are fully aware of this reality, hence the tongue-in-cheek, extra-melodic take entitled “Up The Punks.” When debates over Joyce Manor’s current holdings in the Punk Rock Stock Exchange (PRSE) fade to just background noise, there is no denying that tracks like “Think I’m Still In Love With You” and “Big Lie” are representative of some of the band’s tightest and most all-around impressive performances to date.