Best of Punk Albums 2020

2020 was the absolute worst year for concerts and festivals since all every single event was cancelled this year. So what do we even have left to savor? Just media and merch for this year. Some bands really stepped up and brought us their best within the worst year to date for music. There were many diamonds in the rough across several genres of punk and here’s our top picks of 2020.

WEAR A DAMN MASK. SOCIAL DISTANCE. TAKE THE VACCINE. YOUR FAVORITE ARTISTS WANT TO PLAY, SURVIVE FINANCIALLY, AND BE HEALTHY WHILE DOING IT.

Pears: Pears

It is no secret I am a fan of this band. The quality of how Pears has continually built up their sound up from their first album is impressive. This album definitely sounds like the classic Pears sound we have grown to love. Thrashy, fast, and tongue in cheek lyrics. There are some experiments with different sounds for certain songs such as Traveling Time and Daughter. I also enjoy the small musical jokes they put in songs for example in Dial Up. I don’t think I could have gone any further without a Pears album. Also Naptime is my new anthem.

NOFX/Frank Turner: West Coast vs. Wessex

If you are in the Venn diagram of liking these two artists like me, this was a surprise album this year. My initial thoughts were they might be too different in styles to make this work. Frank Turner is a true singer/songwriter and it would seem too polished for NOFX to cover. Not that Frank Turner can’t get gritty when he wants with his musical background but NOFX has some lackluster covers in their catalog. I think they both picked songs that weren’t the hits and made them their own. I still can’t get over Frank Turner making Bob sound so beautiful. NOFX gave new life to Ballad of Me and My Friends. Plus the video for Bob for this album is truly funny and tribute to the original video.

The Drowns: Under Tension

This band grows on me more and more I listen to them. I am a huge fan of Pirate Press bands and this is no exception to that rule. What I appreciate about this album and sound of The Drowns, is that they take the best parts of the classic punk sounds and breathe new life into them. They sound like several other band stylistically but you distinctly know when you hear a Drowns song though. The lyrics are smart and political in the right ways, which is needed in this current age. This album is great front to back. I really also enjoyed the video for “Them Rats” and “Black Lung” which added to this release.

Idles: Ultra Mono

This band is not for everyone. It is honestly one of my favorite music debates of this past year due to people thinking it either being too mainstream, not punk enough, or just outright hate their sound. I love it and I wish I had a better explanation of why. I think what I love about this band is the main point is to scream about positivity and be chaotic. There is not much more to it. If you overthink it, you could over complicate who they are overall. Their lyrics are funny, well thought out, and politically charged in all the right ways. I really enjoyed Joy as an Act of Resistance but I honestly didn’t think they would top that album since I wrote them off as a one-trick pony. I am eating those words now and Mono just picks up where they left off with even more energy. Grounds and Mr. Motivator give me anxiety in the best way possible.

Laura Jane Grace: Stay Alive

This albums is a collection of songs that might had not seen the light of day and it took a pandemic for them to see the light. It is a stripped down album but has all the essentials needed to demonstrate the song writing talents of Laura. I have been a long time fan of Against Me! since the Crime EP and have been hooked ever since. I was afraid some of the magic would get lost in translation without the band and the punk rock crowds in venues. The songs are hopeful even when it seems bleak, it has some poppy pieces, and is very clever lyrically. This album was also recorded by Steve Albani, which automatically makes this an album worth hearing because he has created so many classic albums. Laura, much like her fans are just trying to stay alive and make it work the best way we know how.

The Chats: High Risk Behavior

The Chats are something missing from the American punk scene. Australia has been killing it the last two years with amazing club style punk. They take playing shitty venues and made that translate to their album. It is raw punk at its finest. Songs are short, funny, and to the point. This was also done on their own label and they probably drew this cover. Which is as punk as it gets. “The Clap” reminds me of the song from Get Him to The Greek but if The Chats wrote it originally. Which is pure genius.

Bad Cop Bad Cop: The Ride

Bad Cop Bad Cop is the crown jewel of the current punk genre. They are a group of extremely talented musicians and added a much needed sound to Fat Wreck Chords. I have enjoyed their previous albums but there is something special about The Ride. It is raw, personal, and very sophisticated songwriting. It talks about going through it and coming out stronger on the other end. Whether it is a battle with cancer or being a child of immigrants, these things change our life perspectives and make us ultimately stronger individuals. It’s about the journey or “the ride”. It still has the classic Bad Cop Bad Cop sound with poppy hooks and beautiful harmonies among the band.

Days N Daze: Show Me the Blue Prints

To be quite honest my folk punk knowledge is slim but one record always makes it onto my best of lists each year. I believe Fat Wreck took a little bit of a gamble when signing this band but definitely gained a lot by doing so. It shows that their idea of punk can include folk punk, which it should because it is punk music. I feel this album carries equal parts of bleakness and optimism, so be prepared for an emotional ride throughout the album. I loved that they used more of Whitney’s voice on certain songs even though the duel singing is an impressive quality of this band. I loved tracks “Fast Tracks” and “My Darling Dopamine” from this album.

Liquid Death: Greatest Hates, Vol. 2

If this album wasn’t for a water company it probably would be album of the year. It would win all kinds of awards. Needless to say, this album is shockingly good. The original Greatest Hates is a metal classic and the punk version lives up to the same hype. Honestly, I did think this company was alcohol and not a water company, which this comment has a whole song about it. The album has punk heavy hitter such as Pinkshift’s Ashrita Kumar, Brendan Kelly of the Lawrence Arms, Anti-Flag‘s Chris #2, Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio, Jen Razavi and Josh Lewis of the Bombpops, Jer Hunter from We Are The Union and Skatune Network, Joe Principe and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and ex-Death By Stereo member Paul Miner. I wish all these artists had a real band together because it would be a hit machine.

Field Day: Opposite Land

If you are a fan of Dag Nasty and melodic hardcore punk, this release from Field Day is the EP you have been sleeping on this past year. What makes this album special is not only the members that makes up the band but I miss hearing more positive messages of unity. I know it is a common theme within hardcore but I would say in the state of the world right now we could really use this type of mindset. This album takes a lot of self reflection and looking within for the answers. Going back to these hardcore roots paid off for this EP and I love when music is passionate and really means something at the end of the day. I can’t wait for a full release and more from this band.

Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream

If anyone is winning 2020 somehow, then it has to be Jeff Rosenstock. It is beyond me that he is not a bigger artist than he is when his fans are Mike Park, Seth Myers, and other musical artists. This man made me love Neil Young even after many attempts throughout my life. My favorite album by Jeff Rosenstock will be hands down Worry. but this makes the top 3 best albums he has recorded in his career outside of Bomb the Music Industry! I don’t know how he will top himself but I alway anticipating what he does next. I also hope he does a future tour of this album because I want to hear Scram live more than anything.

Spanish Love Songs: Brave Faces Everyone

This is actually the first album I have listened to by this band. Spanish Loves Songs usually tours with other bands I really love and it was about time to sit down and really give this band a shot. I was blown away by the song writing because of its brutal honesty and being musically refreshing. I haven’t listened to album that really spoke to my generation like Spanish Love Songs has. It is a specific type of dread and worrying about surviving in a world where you are set up to fail. This album blends each song beautifully into the next, which makes it so effortlessly to listen to it front to back.

War on Women: Wonderful Hell

This is exactly the album I needed to get through this political climate and keep me motivated for the future. War on Women always hits the nail on the head when it comes to writing songs about issues and leaves no subtly about what their messages is. The album is a bit of a cleaner sound and deep dive into who they are as a band. Shawna does have a badass scream but she really gives us her strong voice in this album. This is an album that represents the winds of change and revolution. I would hold Wonderfull Hell up to any other politically charged classic albums any day of the week. If this album doesn’t give you goosebumps when you listen to it, then listen closer.

The Lawerence Arms: Skeleton Coast

The Lawerence Arms is a band that took me a while to get into. They have a lot layers, can be serious, and are musically complex in all the best ways. I think they are a band you have to sit down and really listen closely or you will miss the magic. Their style is purely their own style and they created another killer album with Skeleton Coast. I love how they steal their lyrics and really know how to pull at your heart strings. It’s a dynamic album full of fun, cleverness, and sadness which makes it worth listening front to back.

Kill Lincoln: Can’t Complain

Kill Lincoln takes the best parts of pop punk and ska, then takes it to a whole other level. I would say this album is a palate cleanser for me. The albums that came out this year were either political consciousness or attempting something new. When I wanted to escape into music, this definitely helped. The gang vocals reminded me of singing with my friends and music fans at shows. It has fun songs, a cover, and a few conscious jams. Kill Lincoln has just begun to show us what they are made of.

Anti-Flag: 20/20 Vision

We expected and needed an album from Anti-Flag during this election year. In a year full of political discourse, there needed to be a soundtrack to it. I think we will look back at this year when we hear this album and hopefully see how far we have come. And in true Anti-Flag fashion, they will remind us how much further we have to go. The best elements about this album is that it has optimism as well as universal truths. I revisit Anti-Flags discography to have some fun as well as to feel the unity during bleak times. They gave us songs to dance to as well as to march to on this album.

The Shell Corporation: Told Ya So

The Shell Corporation is all the things we need from a political punk band. The fast paced music, the lyrics are clever, and just the right amount of snideness. They summed up the year 2020 in this album with songs like Hot Bleach Injection and Unfollow. Why isn’t this band bigger? Seriously, give this band all your money.

Radkey: Green Room

Radkey is going to be on every alternative festival when those hopefully start back up. Mark my words. Their sound is fresh, leaves all the sweat and blood on the stage, and you can hear it on this record. This album came out this year digitally and is due out in physical media due to their Kickstarter (link above). The fact that a band this talented and are creating their own space in the music world is a very punk move in 2020. If you don’t believe me, then listen to Seize and see what the hype is all about.

Honorable Mentions: Night Birds: Fresh Kills Vol. 2, Metz: Atlas Vending, Western Addiction: Frail Bray, The Keeper Class: States Away, The Damned: The Rockfield Files , Death By Stereo: We’re All Dying Just in Time, PUP: This Place Sucks Ass, Goldfinger: Never Look Back, Raging Nathans: Oppositional Defiance, Alkaline Trio: E.P , Red City Radio: Paradise, Touché Amoré: Lament, Less Than Jake: Silver Linings, Strike Anywhere: Nightmares of the West, The Bombpops: Death in Venice Beach

Here are some videos I made about the best of list if you hate reading or made it this far:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/playlist/7KL3hX1mhAHNyMRzEWEsp8

Festivals: Riot Fest Denver 2016 Day 1

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It is said that “Riot Fest Sucks” (at least that’s what they want you think). I think setting the bar really low on expectations takes the edge off when it comes to impressing your audience. When it comes to Riot Fest, this festival has done such great lineups the past few years I am officially a repeat customer. I went to Chicago two years ago and this time I went to Denver. The Denver Riot Fest is almost a literal rodeo. Being from Texas, I understand this setting. It is almost too familiar. The festival set up was part rodeo, part Warped Tour parking lot.

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Fucked Up at Riot Fest Denver 2016

Since I got there a bit late, I went straight to see my favorite fest band: Fucked Up. I think I love this band even more as they progress into their albums. I also enjoy Damian’s podcast.They played a short set but did not disappoint. They played classics like “Crooked Head” and  “Black Albino Bones”. I learned that “Black Albino Bones” is about record collecting and I am going to revisit that song. I think Fucked Up is really well thought out music but doesn’t take itself that serious either. The highlight of their live show was when Damian carried out armfuls of water for the audience and was still screaming into the mic.

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Damian Abraham of Fucked Up

I spent the rest of the fest in the literal rodeo ring. I got to see the Aquabats! I love that they are live action super heroes of sorts. I  have enjoyed their shows and have been a fan for years. Their fan base is literally little kids and way too old adults. But we are all on the same page here. We love to party and fight villains. Their stage show was the best in the sense that 1.) their songs are catchy 2.) they had dancing sharks like Katy Perry super bowl style 3.) they had inflatable pizza slices to crowd surf on: Surf’s UP!

My favorite highlight of the Aquabats set was when MC Bat Commander taught children to circle pit, literally. Yes they literally just ran in a circle but this will be an important concept they will learn later down the line. The children are our future after all. They also had some funny musical jokes where they would play parts of other people’s song you wouldn’t think the Aquabats would know. They are a lot more hip than you think for guys dressed in costumes.

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The Aquatbats! Riot Fest Denver 2016

The rest of the festival was a perfect trifecta of Fat Wreck Chords bands: Lagwagon, NOFX, and Descendents.Lagwagon is still one of favorites. They play each song with such precision and heart. I love their last album Hang a lot and was stoked to hear “Cog in the Machine” again live. They played their classics such as “Violins” and “Making Friends”. The only thing about big festivals is that you only get mostly classics from a band like Lagwagon but each one of theirs is a gem.

I was anticipating the NOFX set. The band has had a crazy year. They wrote a book. They did a tour. Fat Mike did a detox. I feel like this show would be a bit of a regroup for this band. Once NOFX took stage that rodeo arena was packed to brim with punk fans. I had to watch from the seats since the arena was getting too full. That’s great for NOFX though. I feel they did a great set and played newish songs such as “72 Hookers” and “I Believe in Goddess”. They debuted “Six Years on Dope” from their new album First Ditch Effort coming out in October. I am digging their new release so it was cool to get a preview. Their set was mediocre but I kind of want that from a NOFX. I only come to this conclusion from other NOFX fans at Riot Fest. I eavesdropped on a lot of conversations that either loved the set or thought it wasn’t their best. NOFX is not about perfection but they still know how to entertain.

The Descendents are one of my top ten favorite bands. I don’t think I could give them a bad review since I am super bias on the subject. I will say that I loved seeing them at Riot Fest Chicago two-year ago because they did Milo Goes to College front to back and that was a real musical moment. I was also excited to hear their new release Hypercaffium Spazzinate live for the first time. I believe their new album holds up live. They played a very good mix of all their albums and I can’t wait to see them in my hometown for Sound on Sound festival in November.

I also got to check out the half of the Deftones set. I still sweat that band a lot and I am not ashamed. By the end of the night I was all rodeo-ed out.

Show Review: Millencolin/Success

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True Brew Tour 2016

Millencolin has finally done a legit U.S. tour after all these years. As a fan that has been waiting for a tour on this side of the Atlantic, this one was not to be missed. I saw them on a random date last year in Dallas but that left me wanting more from Millencolin. It was awesome that they came back to Texas and gave Austin a shot this time.

 

 

For myself, seeing a band like Millencolin was a right of passage. There are certain bands we listened to in our punk journey that we dream about seeing live. Basically, any band that was on a Fat Wreck compilation or Punk-O-Rama is on that list. Throughout May and June, they are joined by Success and MXPX, which are great additions to this tour. They are also doing tour stops during the Punk Rock Bowling Festival (Las Vegas and Denver dates).

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Millencolin 2016 at Mohawk 

 

Let’s begin with their opening band Success on this particular tour date. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what I was about to hear. I just knew they are a band from Seattle. I have read a bunch about them over the past two years since they have been on several festival lineups and have been touring frequently. I was really surprised by their sound because I was built up to believe they were more pop punk than they actually were. When I think of pop punk as a genre, it sometimes can lean on the sugary sweet side. You can tell who their influences are in the punk genre but what was truly fascinating was the overall musical influences they have. They are music nerds and not afraid to show it. They fused their set by playing their songs that would somehow end up playing “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas. These poor guys played their hearts out in the hot Texas humidity and didn’t fail to impress.

Millencolin’s set was everything I expect from them. They played a few songs from their latest release True Brew, thus why the tour is named as such. What I really enjoyed about their set is that I didn’t feel like I saw the same set twice. It consisted of their hits such as “Penguins and Polar Bears”, “Twenty Two”, and “Mr.Clean”. Also my personal favorite “Black Eye”. I know I have seen these songs at the show last year but it honestly felt refreshing rather than repetitive. Especially since this band only does so many releases over the years, it is crucial to stay fresh and innovative for your fans. I definitely feel they keep this idea in mind on their tours and their music. I hope their absence from Texas won’t be the many years it has been and we will get more great music from this band in the future.

South by Southwest: Occasionally Punk

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Every so often there is a gem of punk in the sea of South by Southwest. The 23 years of the festival have been filled with music from around the world to local artists. Depending on which wave of punk we are currently on, depends on how much of the punk genre is brought in by SXSW. The past few years we have been missing the Fat Wreck Chords showcase but it looks like that hiatus might be over. NOFX has been added as an official SXSW artist. They have two dates booked for March 17th and 19th. The venues and times are TBA but the shows are really happening. It might be due to the release of the band’s memoir called “NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories”. NOFX will also be touring with other Fat Wreck band’s Night Birds and Toy Guitar. In case you miss them here in Austin, this mini-tour will also be in Houston, TX and New Orleans, LA. See articles below for more details:

 

https://www.punknews.org/article/59997/tours-nofx-night-birds-toyguitar-texas-louisiana

http://www.fatwreck.com/news/detail/933


Sources:
Frankel, Ricky. (2016, Feb. 8). Tours: NOFX/Night Birds/toyGuitar(Texas/Louisana). Retrieved from: https://www.punknews.org/article/59997/tours-nofx-night-birds-toyguitar-texas-louisiana