(continued from part 1)
6. Viet Cong – Viet Cong (released January 20th)
These days, one rarely encounters a “post punk” band in the purest sense, although you can barely throw a stone without hitting an indie band influenced by the genre (and hey, I ain’t complaining). The original post-punk movement peaked somewhere around the late 70s-to-early 80s and was reflected in pioneering bands like Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Bauhaus. Later, it evolved into bands like The Cure, Fugazi, and Sonic Youth, all of them immensely influential for the later emergence of indie rock. While post-punk enjoyed a brief revival in the 2000s through bands like Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs (AKA the music that got me into music), the indie scene as a whole seems to have trended away from harsher sounds over the last decade, although the distant post-punk influences are still present.
All of this is to say that when I first heard Viet Cong’s noisey, impenetrable self-titled record, I didn’t really know what to make of it. Here’s a band that doesn’t care a whit about catchy hooks or song flow; instead, they layer distant, Joy-Division-esque vocal harmonies over driving drum beats and then ride the dark wave. “Continental Shelf” is probably their most melodic offering, and as a result probably the most memorable individual song, but this album is really more meant to be experienced as a whole. (Warning: video slightly NSFW)
Viet Cong draws directly from post-punk in its original form, but never feels like a full-on tribute either, since they layer in more sonic complexity than bands like Bauhaus ever did.
After giving it a few listens, Viet Cong has become one of my favorite albums of the year, if nothing else because it’s so unlike anything I’ve heard in recent memory. The experience is certainly worth 37 minutes of your time.
Recommended Tracks: “Continental Shelf” ; “Bunker Buster” ; “Death”
7. Bully – Feels Like (released June 23rd)
One thing that bothers me about modern indie rock music is it’s obsession with ironic detachment. Trust me, I love a good metaphor as much as the next guy, but sometimes it gets tiring to listen to songs that could mean literally anything. In this age of unprecedented music availability, I would argue that the bravest musicians aren’t those most willing to experiment, but instead the ones who aren’t afraid to say exactly what they mean (even if they themselves are unsure what that is). I don’t blame artists for preferring irony to sincerity; if someone criticizes the former, it’s easy to write the critic off as “not getting it,” but a criticism of the latter is in many ways a criticism of the artist as a person.
So it’s refreshing to see a band like Bully come down the pike. The Nashville quartet, led by guitarist/vocalist Alicia Bognanno, does an excellent job exploring unfiltered feelings without being overly gratuitous or overly guarded. Bully tackles topics ranging from an inability to let go of the past (“Milkman”) to losing track of one’s own identity (“Trying”), all backed by catchy, crunchy garage rock and delivered with a raw, punkish edge by Bognanno.
How can you not love a band with lyrics like “Invisible handcuffs locked on me / Been prayin’ for my period all week?” It’s so nonchalant, you almost forget that Bognanno is singing about something too socially taboo for most songwriters, especially female, to touch. Well, fuck that, man.
Feels Like is only the band’s first full album, so keep a close eye on them going forward. Being sincere is risky, but Bully does it anyway, and I love them for it.
Recommended Tracks: “Trying” ; “Milkman” ; “Too Tough” ; “Brainfreeze”
8. Title Fight – Hyperview (released February 3rd)
I’ve been a big fan of Title Fight ever since a close friend offhandedly suggested 2012’s Floral Green to me; nowadays I would consider them one of my top 10 favorite bands. So you can probably imagine the level of hyped I was upon learning they’d be releasing a new album in 2015 called Hyperview. There are plenty of other post-hardcore acts out there, many of them excellent in their own right, but part of Title Fight’s appeal is their musical and lyrical complexity. The band’s sound has changed a lot over the years, moving from raw pop punk to a more nuanced, clean sound, but two things that have always remained constant are the pleasantly dischordant chord progressions and Jamie Rhoden’s gruff yelp.
Then I listened to lead single “Rose of Sharon”, and it became immediately clear that Title Fight had decided to make some major changes on the new record. The same basic chord structures are there, but the rough edge is mostly gone, instead replaced with dreamy shoegaze melodies and a smoother vocal style.
That’s not to say there’s no punk left in them; “Mrahc” showcases the best of both worlds, combining Rhoden’s newly melodic voice with the uptempo crunch that Title Fight fans have come to know and love. After the initial shock of the changes wears off, it becomes clear that Hyperview is an incredibly well-made and evolutionary record. These guys knew exactly what they were doing, and they’re going to make the music they want to hear whether you like it or not. Really, that’s the most punk thing they could have done.
This record is a must-listen for fans of post-hardcore in all its variations. If you’re not so much into the gruff stuff, give it a shot also, because it’ll surprise you.
Recommended Tracks: “Rose of Sharon” ; “Mrahc” ; “Murder Your Memory” ; “Trace Me Onto You” ; “Your Pain Is Mine Now”
9. The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ (released April 7th)
What else can even be said about the Mountain Goats at this point? Founder/singer John Darnielle is a true musical legend, and perhaps the best lyrical storyteller of our time. His lovable, nasally voice has made us laugh, cry, gasp, and stare blankly off into space many times over the course of the Mountain Goats’ 24 year, 15 album career, and Beat The Champ is yet another solid addition to the band’s lore.
This particular album seemed to fly a bit under the radar; I wasn’t even aware that the Mountain Goats were working on anything new until I happened to catch “Heel Turn 2” on a recent episode of “Welcome To Night Vale.” The song stands up on its own with beautiful instrumentation and evocative lyrics, but takes on even more meaning knowing that the whole album is about the private lives of professional wrestlers.
A “heel turn” is wrestler-speak for the moment when someone becomes the villain of a storyline. “Throw my better self overboard, / Shoot at him when he comes up for air” sings Darnielle, stepping into the shoes of a man who’s willing to do what it takes to survive, even if it means hurting others in the process and loathing oneself as a result. It’s a powerful thing, knowing you’re going to let everyone down, but Darnielle is a master of evoking powerful, complex emotions. He continues to do it deftly here.
Don’t sleep on this album, especially if you’re thinking “Wrestling? I won’t understand any of that.” It’s not about wrestlers. It’s about human nature. You’ll feel feelings, even if you don’t know exactly why. It’s what the Mountain Goats do best.
Recommended Tracks: “Heel Turn 2” ; “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” ; “Foreign Object” ; “The Ballad of Bull Ramos”
10. Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool? (released March 3rd)
Jeff Rosenstock is downright prolific. As the former frontman of underrated ska-punk outfit The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, as well as the genre-defying Bomb The Music Industry!, the guy is a bonafide DIY legend by this point. Not only has the Long Island native toured tirelessly throughout his career – always all-ages shows, mind you – he’s also started and maintained the only donation-based record label in the world, called Quote Unquote Records. Seriously, all of the label’s music can be downloaded for free on Quote Unquote’s website.
Rosenstock exemplifies the concept of “punk” as school of thought more than a style of music. All of his bands have shared classically punk sensibilities – raucous vocals, frantic drums, political themes – but the music’s energy tends to be focused inward rather than outward, an expression of self-betterment rather than self-destruction. He’s also never been afraid to experiment, at times throwing in Anamanaguchi-esque synth melodies or an entire brass/woodwind section. The result is always refreshing, thought-provoking, and above all else, fun.
His latest effort, We Cool?, is as introverted as anything he’s ever done.
For example, “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” is a literal apology letter to an old friend, describing an awful tragedy to which Rosenstock responded poorly to at the time. Sonically, the entire album tends more towards early-Weezer garage rock than punk, which is a seamless transition for Rosenstock and helps to lighten up some of the more serious moments. Still, some songs, if you listen carefully to the lyrics, will leave you with a thousand-yard stare by the end.
Of course, there are plenty of fun moments to go around as well, even if they’re rooted in unfortunate circumstance. “Nausea,” the album’s official single, is an uptempo romp with a hilarious music video, despite the subject matter: isolation as an escape from anxiety. Rosenstock’s music always seems to have this kind of bittersweet tone, as if he’s asking you “Hah, life sure is fucked up, ain’t it?” and you’re answering “Sure is, buddy!” If you’ve ever kicked yourself for a stupid decision, felt like a child in an adult’s body, or wondered why there are so many assholes in the world, We Cool? is here to tell you that you’re not alone.
Recommended Tracks: “Nausea” ; “I’m Serious, I’m Sorry” ; “You, In Weird Cities” ; “Beers Again Alone”
Dion Hubble is a second-year Ph.D. student in Molecular Engineering. He’s been doing this weird radio thing since 2011, starting with KANM Student Radio at Texas A&M University. You can catch his show, Bears Downloading, every Monday night from 8-10pm.