Punk: Year in Review 2006

Punk: Year in Review 2006
Photo: Aubrey Edwards
1. Fucked Up
Hidden World (Jade Tree)
For nearly six years since their inception, Toronto’s hardcore darlings Fucked Up have remained one of the underground’s best-kept secrets. Playing to sweat-soaked crowds in cramped venues both at home and on international soil, Fucked Up have amassed a diehard following. But with the release of Hidden World, the band’s first full-length album, their obscurity is rapidly dissipating.

The album is a 72-minute opus, a daunting, almost blasphemous concept in the realm of hardcore; it’s also garnered Fucked Up the attention they’ve been waiting for. Hidden World descends on its listeners like a pulverising swathe of feral cries and rasping overtones. Not only epic in length but in presence, this album saw Fucked Up immerse themselves fully in boundary pushing as they embraced the cerebral and avant-garde. The move to release a full-length album marked a transition from Fucked Up’s traditional formats of seven-inches and split recordings. Though they say they were rushed in the studio (the label was "flipping out” because Fucked Up originally said the album would cost about $2,000; it ended up totalling around $12,000), Mr. Jo says it was like "night and day” from their previous recordings. Used to smaller studios, this time around they had access to a broader technological playground, and producer Jon Drew was working his magic, giving the band their first experience with "an actual producer.”
But not only is Hidden World a new direction in format, it also demonstrates the band’s impetus to create a divergent identity for each song. "Lyrically, ‘Triumph of Life’ was the song that represents our best efforts to try and ply something really sketchy into something really presentable,” says guitarist 10,000 Marbles. "When we wrote that song that was sort of the dividing line between the old and the new Fucked Up. We really stretched it out and it’s a good crossroads I think.”

The result of all these fresh directions is a masterful, evocative album that encapsulates the band’s evolutionary meanderings. "I think for all the weird stuff we did that it’s still a pretty straight-ahead record,” says Mr. Jo, pointing out that Hidden World is the most work Fucked Up have ever put into anything.

Part of what makes it so captivating is the first impression Hidden World creates, which is of a band that refuse to falter on their vision. Fucked Up aren’t afraid to transcend genres or play with tradition. Melding melodic nuances, unswervingly harsh vocals, and elaborate gleams of mid-tempo rock n’ roll, Fucked Up draw heavily on aesthetics while at the same time sticking close to early ‘80s hardcore, which has been a resounding influence throughout their career. But there is the question of whether Hidden World’s overt ambition will alienate the cult following the band have amassed over time. And as far as the fans are concerned, 10,000 Marbles says he hasn’t seen Hidden World create much of a divide. "It sort of feels like at this point we could do the most insane, weird shit and it wouldn’t make any difference. It would still be the same six nerds at the front of the stage.” Liz Worth

2. Blood Brothers
Young Machetes (V2)
Throwing children in blenders has never sounded so good. The Blood Brothers’ fifth outing, Young Machetes, is 15 bloody tracks that race through the inaugural lyrics and revolutionary antics only these Seattle monsters could write. Songs like "You’re The Dream Unicorn!!,” with its melodic slicing chants beside Johnny Whitney’s screeches, leave no question that these are the boys that wrote such the 2003’s classic …Burn, Piano Island, Burn. But they’re also visceral musicians who understand expansion; just hear how they snap metal riffage to punk-laced grit in the anguish machine "Vital Beach” like they’re the last band on this planet, and have got nothing to lose. Sari Delmar

3. My Chemical Romance
The Black Parade (Reprise)
Reinventing can be tough, especially for a band as closely associated to emo as My Chemical Romance. Yet, with the help of some musical theatrics, delightfully morbid lyrics and Liza Minnelli, MCR have escaped emo forever. Following the rock opera tradition recently reinstated by Green Day, The Black Parade is an epic circus of near death and devastation. The glamorous metal hooks on "Famous Last Words” ring like T-Rex and Queen and singer Gerard Way howls memorable Bowie-esque vocal hooks throughout "House of Wolves.” This disenchanted musical gets a standing ovation, fists pumping in the air. Jasamine White-Gluz

4. Cursive
Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek)
The latest from the beloved, scattered boys of Cursive has seen them creatively set free and this is a joyous celebration that the whole block will be at. It swarms around small town ideals with the frantic calls of Cursive to dream of escape. Thrown into the cauldron of Happy Hollow is a romp of delicate and brash sounds, horns, shouts, and whispers, with moments of gospel, big band, and their trademark carnival-esque rock. It feels like the anger and hurt of the past albums has given way to the questioning tone of growing up while still searching for something more meaningful than life has presented. Ariana Rock

5. NoMeansNo
All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt (AntAcidAudio)
All Roads Lead To Ausfarht is a return to form for NoMeansNo after a decade of lacklustre efforts. Digging into their own desires to write and record instead of "tiding people over,” that freedom makes for a raunchy effort as opener "Wake Up” kicks in and 13 songs of progressive punk fury blast forth. A sigh of relief is almost necessary; the Wright brothers deliver their best since The Worldhood Of The World (As Such) via pensive yet cheekily shocking lyrics and a confrontational push to punk’s boundaries through experimentation. Keith Carman

6. Cities In Dust
Night Creatures (Paper Bag)
Night Creatures is a devastatingly entrancing album that rides out twitchy waves of fitful, sonic emissions. Unbridled and awash in spastic assails and solid immersions into intricate layers of tattered sound, this Hamilton act’s debut writhes in time to darkened slants. Produced by Uncut drummer Jon Drew, Night Creatures captures the agitation that’s constantly scratching under the surface of every note Cities in Dust spit out while flawlessly conveying the shuddering, reactionary revelries that frontman Zach Frank is so fabulously adept at letting loose. Night Creatures is what happens when a band can snap in and out of feverish energies and trembling, climactic furies, and each twist and convulsion here is an illustration of how Cities in Dust have honed their talents. Liz Worth

7. Mission of Burma
The Obliterati (Matador)
Amidst the scores of groups that have returned from the grave lately, Mission of Burma is one of the very few who have actually breathed new creative life. On this, their second disc since returning after nearly a 20-year hiatus, Mission of Burma’s music is as powerful and accurate as an Olympic boxer. The Obliterati combines the ferocity of punk, the imagination of art rock and the tunefulness of pop to create an expansive and engaging album. Rather than bask in the safe comforts of nostalgia, the Boston-based group blasts out windows with intense songs that look fixedly forward. Rob Nay

8. Cougars
Pillow Talk (Go Kart)
Horns were never really a good idea in punk rock. Since Rocket from the Crypt are no longer, it’s all up to Chicago’s Cougars to spit with all their gob and keep hope alive. With eight tongues planted firmly in eight cheeks, the Windy City’s sleaziest punk band did so by entering Steve Albini’s domain. They came out with an even fiercer work than their killer 2003 debut, Nice Nice. Albini’s ear made their Jesus Lizard-y sludge sound even sluttier, Matthew Irie’s droll slurs made them funnier, and those horns, well they’re now as delightfully depraved as that lusty artwork. In a nutshell, Pillow Talk makes me feel dirty — in a good way. Cam Lindsay

9. The Lawrence Arms
Oh! Calcutta! (Fat)
The greatest strength of these Chicagoans has always been the presence of two distinct voices; the whiskey-soaked bite of Brendan Kelly and the Blake Schwarzenbach-inspired croon of Chris McCaughan. But where as the band’s two songwriters used to separate their unique styles on a song-by-song basis, Oh! Calcutta! brought them together on every song, forming a melodic wall full of depth, texture, and the kind of visceral honesty currently on hiatus from the pop-punk genre. Shitting on the Warped Tour, referencing Judy Blume, and playing with the kind of urgency that makes your heart race, the Lawrence Arms made one of the most exciting albums of the year. Sam Sutherland

10. Cancer Bats
Birthing the Giant (Distort)
There are no breakdowns, no rapping, just straight-ahead rock and raging from Toronto-based Cancer Bats. Their first major release combines the best things about punk and hardcore; screamo vocals, metal riffs, and straightedge balls-to-the wall. What’s killer about this album is sheer magnitude of the tracks and their unwavering dedication to their sound. With hardcore gaining more attention in the mainstream, the Cancer Bats turn traditional sounds into their own and bring their metal style, genuine DIY-attitude and Shirley Temples to the stage. Sacha Jackson

Punk As Punk Does
There will assuredly be a healthy number of readers who are perplexed by some choices the year’s best punk records. It’s fair to argue that My Chemical Romance are not a punk band, that Cursive belongs in Pop Rocks, or that Cancer Bats are better suited for the metal list. Since the debut of our punk reviews section, No Future, in June this year, we’ve constantly been forced into making educated guesses as to where any given artist belongs, and generally, it is our hope that we’ve succeeded in creating a definition of punk rock that is both consistent and wide open. Ultimately, the very malleability of this definition speaks to the strength of punk as a genre. Each of our writers possesses a unique view of the "punk rock” designation, as is demonstrated by the sonic variety heard through each of the artists featured on this year’s list. That a single genre can encompass the evolutionary hardcore of Fucked Up alongside the abrasive melodic chaos of the Blood Brothers and the crushingly slow grooves of Cougars displays the kind of openness that punk is often accused of lacking. And while it’s fantastic to see classic groups such as the venerable NoMeansNo and Yanks Mission of Burma still releasing important, great-sounding records, it’s equally vital to note the new directions being explored by groups like Cities in Dust, whose re-working of old sounds landed them a well-deserved spot on this year’s list.

No Future remains a work in progress, a beast we learn more about each month. In this way, the section reflects the evolutionary nature of the genre, its openness to change and its deeply personal nature. Even without supporting every one of our choices this year, almost anyone can agree that punk, at its core, is about accepting the things that others reject; and in at least some small way, that trait can be seen proudly in each of the artists gracing this year’s best lists. Sam Sutherland