Punk Year in Review 2005

Punk Year in Review 2005
Potemkin City Limits (G7 Welcoming Commitee)
Propagandhi don't really write songs or make records so much as they write essays and release them as collected works set to music. Since their 1996 sophomore release, Less Talk, More Rock, the Winnipeg trio have distinguished themselves as the last truly great punk rock band on the planet. But this year's Potemkin City Limits took the band's political ranting and progressive thrash to a whole new level. The songs are longer and more complex. while the mood is darker and the lyrics angrier and more focused. You can thank George W. Bush and his Yankee imperialism-run-amok foreign policies for that. PCL is the first time since 9/11 and the beginning of the so-called "War on Terror" four years ago that Propagandhi has released a record (yes, they like to take their sweet time) and the result is more purpose-driven. Other records have been political, but usually about many different things. This one is a 40-minute shot directly across the bow of the USS Superpatriot. Propagandhi are punker than ever and Potemkin City Limits is the punk record of the year because of it.

But don't try and tell that to the band's most recent acquisition, Glen Lambert, the hockey brawling metal-head singer/guitarist who was brought in to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Chris Hannah. When informed of the honour being bestowed upon the band, he seems almost offended at both the punk label and the fact his band was entered into such a pageant.

"We're a punk band?" Lambert queries. "We reject the nomination. Compelling art is a subjective experience and when music is treated as a competitive sport, part of what makes it truly important dies. Besides, [with the state of punk rock] these days it's akin to picking the best piece of crap out of a porta-potty, so it's not exactly the Nobel Prize. Stop the madness; listen to NoMeansNo and SNFU if you want to hear how it's done, son."

The fact that Green Day's much-heralded concept disc, American Idiot, occupied this very space last year leaves Lambert even more unimpressed. "My favourite moment on the abysmal MuchMusic was when the singer from Green Day tried to make fun of the way the guy from Nickelback sings," he recalls. "That's like a pile of human feces making fun of the bum that it just fell out of." Uhhh... okay.

But the fact remains that PCL is more thematically focused than any of the band's previous three records, making it a concept record of sorts too. But Lambert is not convinced they got it right. "If wanting to wrap one's lips around a sour gas flare is a concept, then yes, it's a concept record," he offers. "Whenever I think of what a good record should feel like, not necessarily sound like, but feel like, I think of Sacrifice's Soldiers of Misfortune. I don't think we managed it and it might not be sonically apparent, but it's a benchmark for me personally. The same could be said for a number of Razor and Voivod recordings." Stuart Green

Terrorhawk (Equal Vision)
The Michigan natives progressed and evolved; their sophomore effort propelled their latter-day post-hardcore buzz to dizzying new heights. Building on the Fugazi/Constantines/Sonic Youth-inspired angular squeal of their debut, they incorporate more complex and challenging math rock time signatures and freeform jazz anti-structures juxtaposed against big-sounding classic rock anthems and delicate piano-soaked power ballads. It's a startling and jarring dichotomy to be sure, but every note on this disc is delivered with such intensity and purpose it all makes sense in the broader context of their dense, full-frontal, multi-instrumental wall-of-sound assault. Stuart Green

Kezia (Underground Operations)
Protest the Hero improve on the thrashy prog-core punk that established this Southern Ontario outfit as one of Canada's most promising bands with this full-length. Where Protest's debut EP, A Calculated Use of Sound, had a staggered, asymmetrical, though still compelling, sound, Kezia is a full-blown, aggressive mind fuck laden with solid, dynamic stylings. There is not only a bigger sense of musical maturity, but a new artistic confidence demonstrated here. Of course, the band's left leaning, anti-capitalist lyrics are just as loud and clear as ever. Protest's Kezia is a testament to the band's immense, multi-dimensional talent. Liz Worth

Searching For a Former Clarity (Fat Wreck)
Against Me!'s Searching for a Former Clarity is more of the same throaty, anti-folk punk that these Gainesville natives have become known for. This time around, Tom Gabel's signature shouts are pampered by a far slicker production, thanks to knob tweaking by producer J.Robbins. Whether it's the political disdain in the lyrics for "Miami" or the danceable handclaps in "Mediocrity Gets You Pears (The Shaker)," Against Me! bridge politics and pop-punk better than almost anyone else. As if that wasn't enough, the album's first single, "Don't Lose Touch," will get both mall brats and punk anarchists singing along. Jasamine White-Gluz

Songs Not to Get Married To (Vagrant)
Almost completely abandoning the tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery of his past releases, James Dewees, the man behind Reggie's synth-pop-punk madness, lets out his personal demons on the band's fourth full-length. Working through the dissolution of his marriage with songs like the caustic "The Fuck Stops Here," Dewees took his listeners to a much more personal, intimate place while maintaining his musical chops and ear for a killer hook. Never one for too much self-involved wallowing, the record still has a few great joke tracks, most notably the horrendous techno train wreck that is "Deathnotronic." Sam Sutherland

The People Of and Their Verses (Jade Tree)
What should have been one of the most ambitious and exciting releases of the year turned into frustrating disappointment as soon as Despistado's debut full-length saw the light of day. This young, vibrant band from the prairies of Saskatchewan, of all places, split on the eve of this record's street date, causing not only disorder for its label, but also sorrow for anyone looking forward to experiencing their magnificent live show. Instead, what we're left with is a melodically jerky and danceable post-punk eulogy for a fantastic band that might one day give a good name to the word "reunion." Cam Lindsay

Doppelganger (Equal Vision)
Jerky and melodic all at once, leaving you simultaneously feeling like throwing yourself around the dance floor and curling up in a foetal ball and screaming for home, Fall Of Troy's second full length, Doppelganger, is full of juxtapositions: the soft moments melded with the frantic and the melody intertwined with the scattered screams. This is music to conquer the world by, to stand on the cusp of realisation — sword in hand and raised towards the dark grey sky — and let yourself be entirely absorbed and swallowed into this raucous, melodic sound. Ariana Rock

Trainwreck (Ferret)
After two years of touring that culminated in the departure of two founding members, Boys Night Out opted to completely reinvent themselves in the face of screamo's commercial onslaught. Tired of their own songs and the kinds of cookie-cutter bands they were forced to share bills with, the band buckled down to produce one of the most interesting narratives ever put to music. The story that unfolds over Trainwreck's 12 tracks is one of dementia and epic sadness, and the reflection of that madness through a challenging mixture of hardcore, prog, and emo made for one of the greatest musical left turns in recent memory. Sam Sutherland

Shake Your Body Politic (Underground Operations)
On their first full-length album, the Toronto-based quartet did what few other punk bands are able to accomplish: they made a record that is both subversive and accessible. The band's Avail-inspired melodic hardcore tunes and cleverly crafted, socially aware lyrics are meant to be danced to, sung along with and thought about in equal measure. BOP are a band that are so supremely confident in what they're doing that when they stray from punk formula on this record it's with good reason. Music with a message rarely sounds this smart or this good. Stuart Green

Hard Grace (Insurgence)
Hard Grace, the debut release from Montreal hardcore band Union Made, is one of the late-breaking reasons why this has been a good year for independent hardcore. As unconventional as it may seem for a band in this genre to issue a full-length as their initial offering, Hard Grace has been attracting major attention in the short span of time since its release. It's good to know that in spite of all the over-hyped tough guy acts out there, a genuine hardcore scene with the brains to match the boots continues to thrive and spawn gems like this. Davey Jones

Another Reunity Song
As if it wasn't bad enough to have a fake version of the Dead Kennedys suing their old singer and parading around like some sort of punk rock karaoke band, 2005 saw even more punk bands jumping on the reunion bandwagon. While New Jersey legends Lifetime provided the blueprint for a successful, meaningful return to form with a series of killer small shows in the Northwest and the recent announcement of more shows and music in the future, most reunions do little more than tarnish the legacy of a once-mighty band.

The massive organisational snafu that was this year's cancelled Hellfest was to include reunions by such notable bands as Coalesce, 108, Youth of Today, and Lifetime, whose reunion would go on despite the insurance problems that resulted in thousands of pissed-off hardcore kids. While the fest may have been a massive failure, the promise of seeing the complete line-up of a band that broke up before they even knew what a "youth crew" was will keep kids coming back should there be a next time. With money going to charities chosen by the bands, Hellfest almost got the reunion thing right. Almost.

Teaming up with a Jim Morrison-less Doors to prove once and for all that reunions just aren't punk was a concert known as "Waking The Dead." On October 29, Flipper, Fear, Marky Ramone, the Germs and Suicidal Tendencies took to the Grand Olympic Auditorium stage in L.A. in an attempt to make money and destroy their own credibility. While the knife fight that occurred during Fear's set may have been a fond throwback to the days of T.S.O.L. and L.A.'s dark past, the Shane West-fronted Germs were anything but. In a move that insulted everything the band once stood for, A Walk To Remember star West, who was cast as iconic lead singer Darby Crash in the upcoming Germs biopic, did his best impression of the very dead Crash, spitting and writhing up a storm. As if a solo Marky Ramone playing "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" wasn't enough, Shane West has literally become Darby Crash.

Punk's not dead. It's just waiting for its shot at a reunion.
Sam Sutherland