There were an awful lot of really solid releases for a year that spent as much time feeling like hot garbage as 2018 did. Rather than reiterate how great Dollar Signs, War on Women, Jeff Rosenstock, or The Sidekicks are, here are an additional 20 albums that I never got around to writing about this year. I’ll save you the trouble of asking and say yes, all of these bands you haven’t listened to since high school can be found in the “New Releases” section again. These aren’t in any particular order of preference as much as when I thought to write them down.
AFI – The Missing Man: Rise Records – I had so much hope for AFI’s first EP in years. Some of my favorite songs of their’s like “3 1/2,” “Total Immortal,” or “Now the World” are all from EPs. The speedy opening track, “Trash Bat” will definitely take its place as a new favorite song. But, not so much the other four. They all sound like AFI and that’s fine. But, like with most of The Blood Album, I did not find them terribly engaging. I don’t wish they would go back to “sounding like they used to”, I just think it would be nice if they wrote more songs like “Trash Bat” that can actually hold my attention. I really wanted this to workout, but every single time I sat down to listen, I lost interest by the third song and felt like the fifteen minute EP well overstayed its welcome.
Authority Zero – Persona Non Grata: Self-Released – Authority Zero wrote some cheesy skate punk songs in 2004 that high school me found irresistible. Not much has changed in fourteen years. Somewhere along the way, the band became exceptionally skilled at making exactly the same music. Now, 30s me can’t seem to get enough. Like their last couple of releases, this latest album manages to feel fresh and engaging while hitting every single red flag cliche that would have me passing hard on any other band. There’s absolutely no reason for this album to be as good as it is, but Authority Zero have managed to write the best Green Day/No Doubt/Strung Out record in years. I love it.
Antarctigo Vespucci – Love in the Time of Email: Polyvinyl Records – I’ve been hooked on Chris Farren’s music for a long time and this is my new favorite thing he’s released. It’s weird to think that there was ever a time he wasn’t making music with Jeff Rosenstock; they make so much sense together. This time around, the two of them paint a brutally honest portrait of modern anxiety set to the most fun Rock ‘n’ Roll beats you’ve ever danced to in order to keep yourself from crying. This album is loaded with hooks and feelings, often hitting way too close to home. It feels like culmination of everything Chris and Jeff have been working towards with this project and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Tiny Moving Parts – Swell: Triple Crown Records – When it comes to bands who aren’t afraid to push themselves to their limits, Tiny Moving Parts is at the head of the pack. Whether it’s their explosive live shows or the intensity consistently showcased in their writing, this band has it going on. Swell is their latest effort and picks up the all the fury where Celebrate left off. I will always be excited about this band if for no other reason than no one is having more fun with this music than these three. Go to one of their shows and tell me if the singer ever stops smiling. He won’t. That energy is infectious as all hell and shines throughout Swell.
Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers – Bought to Rot: Bloodshot Records – I’m so glad that this album is out. It’s not the acoustic folk approach most punks take for their solo career. Rather, Laura gives us a gritty, heart on its sleeve, all or nothing look into what’s going on in her life lately. I love how it reeks of the levels of weird Against Me! approached with Shapeshift With Me while feeling like a completely unique perspective. Laura has quite a range and watching her showcase it throughout this album is so much fun. Getting to hear most of the songs for the first time at her birthday show added an extra level of anticipation to go home and get started digesting it. As a fellow transplant, “I Hate Chicago” rings a little too true sometimes.
The Decemberists – I’ll Be Your Girl: Capitol Records – Eight albums of weird, pseudo folk music and it’s about time The Decemberists start getting experimental. I wasn’t initially a fan of the synth-laden, poppier tone of lead single “Severed,” but it eventually started to grow on me. The rest of the album is a series of mostly successful experiments and re-visitations of their tried and true formula. One thing that makes this album stand out is every time I think about how it did come out in 2018, I let out an exasperated groan about how long this year has felt. Thankfully, Colin Meloy’s soothing voice is a known cure-all for the blues. This album feels far more coherent than their previous effort and that plays to the band’s strengths. The new approach to the old makes for a refreshing experience from a longtime favorite.
Lettering – S/T: Forge Again Records – Lettering is a great band. I didn’t expect any different, but their album is just as captivating as their live show. They remind me of what Sparta would have sounded like if they weren’t so boring. This is the raw, fierce, and emotionally fronted sound needed right now. The album is short, sweet, and deserving of multiple listens any time you need a pick-me-up. I hope things keep working out for them because Lettering deserves nothing less than success for the music they make.
Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?: Epitaph Records – This wasn’t supposed to be this good. My Shame is True was uninteresting at best. With so much of Matt’s time being in blink-182, there was no reason for me to expect anything but another disappointing Trio full length. Oh, how wrong I was. Kicking the album off with one of the stronger Dan songs in recent years was a great way to change my expectations. Song after song kept delivering constant surprises as I found myself actually anticipating what would be next from an Alkaline Trio record for the first time in a long while. The three of them sound like they are having the most fun working together on an album since Good Mourning. Everything from the production values to the song structures resonate with the intensity that made this band so alluring in the first place. As long as you don’t take Alkaline Trio as seriously as they seem to, you’ll easily be able to find something to love about this new record.
Carly Rae Jepsen – E.MO.TION: Interscope Records – I can hear you about how this came out in 2015 and let me assure that I don’t care. Whatever curse that has kept this gem out of my life previously, was finally lifted in 2018 and that’s what matters. I don’t listen to a lot of pop music, but occasionally someone comes along and is everything I had no idea I was looking for until I found it. That was Carly Rae Jepsen for me all year. E.MO.TION is one of those magical records that has me discovering a new favorite track every time I listen to it. The opening riff of “Run Away With Me” gives me life and that alone is worth starting the album over again for the fifth time in a row. My wife pointed out to me how much it feels like a love letter to 80s pop and that seems to be the best summary of the album I can come up with. At its highest points, I want to dance and sing along at the top of my lungs. Other times, it simply makes me feel all tingly. This album is perfection front to back and just talking about it makes me want to put it on right now. That’s actually a really good idea.
Camp Cope – How to Socialize and Make Friends: Run for Cover Records – If there’s one release on this list that I would not so subtly suggest that I loved more than the rest, it’s Camp Cope’s new one. Georgia McDonald’s voice is a force to be reckoned with and she’s got a hella talented band to back it up. Her ability to transition from quiet and restrained to full on meteoric in the same song is something to behold. The lyrics are sad, hopeful, empowering, outraged, and vulnerable all at once. Camp Cope is not shy about expressing their feelings and nor should they be. I find myself uplifted and inspired every time I listen to this album. Few things this year cut right to core of me like this album did. It’s admirable what this band sets out to accomplish here and I am on board for the ride 100%.
Mighty Mighty Bosstones – While We’re At It: Big Rig Records – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were never my favorite band, but they were impossible to miss growing up in the 90s and I like ska. Unlike Reel Big Fish’s hell-bent attitude on becoming an imitation of their former selves, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have no issue demonstrating their value in 2018. I heard this record for the first time a few days before going to see The Bosstones over the summer. I found myself putting it on again as soon as it ended to ensure there was no mistake and that I liked it as much as I thought. Sure, the cheesy lyrics in “Wonderful Day for the Race” are easy to scoff at, but they actually come off as a great live sing along. More than anything, While We’re At It is a ton of fun for both the listener and the band. It’s diverse instrumentation heavily encourages dancing along and that is never a bad thing.
Muncie Girls – Fixed Ideals: Buzz Records – I don’t remember the last time I fell for a band as fast as I did with Muncie Girls. When I say their music is infectious, I’m talking plague levels. From Caplan to Belsize was an instant classic that stuck in my head for days after one spin. This album took a little longer to grow on me, but is well worth the effort. It won’t take long before you find yourself singing along and dancing in your chair to the pop-punk hooks and proudly feminist ideals the band is so well versed in. Struggling with mental health issues is all too common and Muncie Girls open up about their experiences. This vulnerability allows for some particularly visceral reactions to go along with wavering highs and lows laid out by the instrumentation. Fixed Ideals is the perfect album to enjoy with people you want to celebrate life with along with all its quirks. It’s rough out there for everyone. Knowing there are those who have your back feels good.
The Interrupters – Fight the Good Fight: Hellcat Records – There was a time not long ago that Rancid commanded the kind of influence that could support an entire record label of bands that wanted to sound just like them. Now, in the era of Troublemaker, the label is down to a small handful of bands still paying tribute. Since the downfall of Time Again, one of Tim’s favorites has clearly been The Interrupters. I rented a car with satellite radio for a few days this summer and that was more enough time for this album’s single, “She’s Kerosene,” to burrow into my brain. Once the eggs hatched, I had heard the rest of the album and couldn’t get enough. Like any good Rancid tribute, themes of unity and personal empowerment can be found woven throughout bouncy guitars and saucy keyboard licks. Tim Armstrong himself even makes an appearance and brought his buddies Matt and Lars along for a few words. I’m pretty sure the latter two have more parts on this album than the last proper Rancid release. The Interrupters have risen head and shoulders above their predecessors by doing what they used to, only better. As long as Rancid refuses to, if the Interrupters want to continue writing proper follow ups to …And Out Come the Wolves and Life Won’t Wait, I’m not going to stop them.
The Living End – Wunderbar: BMG Records – Do you like surprises? I know I do. Well, imagine my surprise when word reached my ear of a new Living End album dropping in 2018. Another old favorite resigned to the back shelf of my attention looking to keep their momentum going after recent string of lackluster releases? Woo… This time felt different, though. There was a little extra oomph in the singles coming out that eventually had me excited for a new Living End album like it was 2003 again. I have to say, Wunderbar delivers on its hype in spades. While the whole thing checks off just about every Rock ‘n’ Roll cliche with some occasionally cringe-worthy lyrics, that can all be overlooked because of how well executed everything else is. “D.E.A.T.H.” is the best example of a song with the lyrical complexity of a high school freshman saved by a strong performance instrumentally. Thanks to stellar mixing with extra emphasis on the stand-up bass, it feels like a refreshing take on what is often worn out territory. The best thing about a new Living End album is the possibility they will be going on tour again I’ll have another chance to hear “Uncle Harry” and that’s what really matters in life.
Joyce Manor – Million Dollars to Kill Me: Epitaph Records – This is the first time I’ve finished one of Joyce Manor’s records and understood why people like this band as much as they do. Everything else they’ve done has been fine, but felt lacking in one way or another. The kids these days sure seem to like them. Joyce Manor has always been the wear their hearts on their sleeves kind of band, but this is the most genuine they’ve ever sounded. They seem to specialize in bombastic snapshots of the world around them and capturing the essence of an experience. “Friends We Met Online” is a perfect example to highlight a very contemporary phenomenon. I’m definitely late to the party and far from super-fan levels, but I get it. That’s progress.
Ska-P – Game Over: Self-Released – Some years ago, I was determined to discover a new band during my time abroad in Italy. Not being able to distinguish the Spanish and Italian languages at the time is how I came to leave with a Ska-P CD. What they were saying wasn’t terribly important because the music was some of the catchiest ska music I’ve ever heard and one the biggest reasons I wanted it. I haven’t thought about them in some time, but thanks to Spotify’s militant insistence that I keep up with every band I’ve ever listened to once, I found myself thrown back to the initial joy of discovering Ska-P in 2006. Sometimes I feel like ska doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. I don’t know why, because Game Over is a ton of fun. The horn section easily elevates this album above most of their dopier counterparts in the genre. It’s amazing the difference well written trumpet and trombone parts can do. I still don’t speak Spanish well enough to know what they are singing about, but if it’s anything like their previous work, most of the songs are about smoking weed. That’s fine, but the over saturation of the subject throughout the genre may contribute to why it’s so hard to take ska seriously.
Saves the Day – 9: Equal Vision Records – I think the nicest thing I can say about this album is that I didn’t hate this nearly as much as I expected to. Sound the Alarm was the last record of their’s I genuinely loved. It’s been odd listening to a band I revered for their dark and sometimes gruesome metaphors singing about how good life is, but that’s the music Saves the Day is putting out in the world has now. Musically, this is best and most compelling the band has sounded in a long time. At its best, it helps to overcome any shortcomings. At its worst, it still sounds better than whatever Weezer has been up to lately. I don’t know why they didn’t make this their self-titled album. Most of the songs are about the legacy of Saves the Day and the first song is even called “Saves the Day.” It must be awkward for the people who weren’t in the band to sing about memories they had nothing to do with. Despite everything working against this album, 9 is worth checking out. I thought it was a fair amount of fun to see played live.
Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog: Saddle Creek Records – The first thing I heard from a friend about this record was that it wasn’t as good because Frances doesn’t scream like she used to. I hope this person is content with being wrong. Even though this album shows greater vocal restraint than previous works, that never took away from my ability to enjoy it for one single second. The lyrics are bold and empowering; they are encouraging an introspective look at where you are drawing validation. At the same time, the music is poppier than previous records. There are many more synth parts that serve to enhance the experience beyond expectations. This was a particularly great album to listen to at work when I had a chance to hang out with the dogs.
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want: Ipecac Records – Back when most of the bands I listened to sounded like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fall of Troy, or the Blood Brothers, you better believe Daughters were among my regular rotation. That’s no longer the case, but every so often, they pop back up with an album that sounds almost nothing like what they previously released. I’m always intrigued to check in and see what they are up to and found myself pleasantly surprised with You Won’t Get What You Want. I’m not big on industrial metal and that seems to be the direction Daughters have settled on. The more I listened to this album, the more active my listening became as I realized how much there is to unpack. It wasn’t until I saw them performing this live that I was fully able to appreciate what they were doing on this record. It’s bizarre, technically precise, and mysterious all at the same time. The strangeness of the controlled chaos that has always hung around this band bleeds into the forefront of these songs more than their self-titled. I enjoyed the contrasts between the drawn out vocals, sludgy rhythm section’s hammering contrasting with the shredding guitar underneath more than I expected to.
U.S. Bombs – Road Case: Slope Records – I have a list of bands I’ve been waiting to return after a mysterious disappearance years ago. Much to my surprise, U.S. Bombs can now be checked off. I was really hoping the series of singles they kept releasing prior to this album were going to amount to a proper full-length. Turns out I should be more careful what I wish for. I had this on while making dinner and turned it off half-way in favor of their debut War Birth. My wife asked me from the other room if these were from the same band. I laughed because that’s exactly why I switched over. This album is slow, uninspired, and a fitting metaphor for the inevitable disappoint that comes with looking at your past through rose colored glasses. I shouldn’t be too surprised considering that’s pretty much how I felt about We Are the Problem twelve years ago. I’m tempted to just pitch this whole list of bands from my past I’ve been holding onto, but I’ve invested too much hope in an Unseen reunion to let it all go now.