Another year is gone and a new one is already here and, as tradition has it among list-makers, music-lovers, record collectors and obsessive freaks like me, the yearly Top 10 beckons. I had originally said to myself I wouldn’t compile one – most of these records have already been written about a lot (they deserve it after all) and I can’t say I had the time or mental capacity to keep track and listen to every new release like I used to other years. That’s also because I mainly jammed Molly Nilsson’s “Mountain Time” and this song on repeat. However, the lovely Lughole punks asked me if I wanted to write a few words for a retrospective zine they’re putting together (stay up to date on that here) and, well, I couldn’t say no. So, for the record, here are eleven (because life is too short to confine yourself to ten) records I got most excited about in 2016; an extended ‘Punk in 2016’ playlist will soon follow with many more bands that came near and dear to my heart. Thanks to all the bands and labels that made 2016 a bit more tolerable. Fully biased reviews in alphabetical order.
ANXIETY – S/T MLP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Seriously, what can I say that would be worthy? Call me weak or a weirdo, but I physically had trouble listening to this record without falling into a neurotic pit of existential angst followed by breathless euphoric nihilism – it’s that good. It’s a challenge from start to finish and I love that in a record, even if it does mean locking myself in the house for the day as a result. It’s angular and uncomfortable, musically uncompromising, emotionally confrontational, psychologically haunting, crudely honest, manically unafraid while introspectively reflective and I feel the meta image of a broken mirror within a mirror within a frame fits in somewhere here but honestly… I don’t feel I can write about this record, my jumbled stream-of-consciousness just doesn’t do them the justice they deserve and there is surely a lot that can be written about this band – their sound and imagery, their outlook and output – and there have been numerous, better written pieces about them and you should read those. However I feel the ingenious band name encompasses and compounds it all much better. Their choice of name alone, and an analysis of their lyrics, could easily spawn a 2,000-word essay on the meaning, use, decomposition and reconstruction of language in post-modern underground music counterculture. They push buttons and boundaries, exploring new ground while staying true to their inner freak power that fuels this stunning, beautifully unnerving concoction of stress-and-release. I first saw them live in March and to this day remember how utterly inspiring they were, how energized I felt, it was like a revelation. Call me slow, but months later it’s still sinking in how phenomenal this release is – it will ripple and go down in punk history, I swear.
BARCELONA – Pueden Ser Ellos 7” (La Vida Es Un Mus)
One of the Barcelona greats. Growling vocals, frenzied, trance-inducing drumming with crashing cymbals, and relentless, screeching and blown out chords carry you through four tracks in five minutes of pummeling, primitive, insurrectionist hardcore musick. Opener “Caudillo” is flawless in all its monotonic, blazing, 47-second glory, crashing into “Infierno de Cobardes” that sounds like it’s literally falling over itself with power and passion. The guitar on “Quien Coño Manda” scorches like fire, seamlessly shifting pace and hurtling into closing stomper “Dios Te Salve.” Stripped down in structure but glowing red hot from within, this is the naked, ugly, angry spirit of punk and it’s perfect. The artwork by drummer Oriol Roca – a brilliant artist in his own right and defining factor of the band’s sound and aesthetic – is tailored for the release and is of course superb.
CHAIN OF FLOWERS – S/T LP (ALTER)
New favourite band of the year for sure. I saw them live before listening to the record and, while they sound different on both occasions, Cardiff’s CHAIN OF FLOWERS do both magnificently well. The record is a well-produced mix of shoegaze and post-punk, with catchy and melodic vocals, soaring and evocative chords, dreamy and melancholic keys, and tight, passionate drumming. The songs seamlessly mesh with one another, making you push the needle back to the start again and again before flipping to repeat. Live, I saw them in the UK on a mini-tour with DIÄT a handful of times, and every time I fell for it even more: dynamic and intense playing that’s powered by their tight-knit connection and captivating collective energy. When we got back to Berlin, to make it through post-tour blues, Iffi and I jammed this record on repeat every single morning for a week both at home and the record shop. “Crisis” became the aptly titled personal anthem of my year.
DHK / MAQUINA MUERTA – split 12” (Metadona)
I got this record on the 30th of December 2015 when I went to Barcelona for the first time and saw a bunch of wicked local bands at a squat now sadly evicted (RIP Transformadors). Maquina Muerta played (now based in Mallorca by way of Mexico) and were as powerful as the record. I love the speed and intensity, the steamrolling, nightmarish sound, the reverbed vocals totally blowing me away. DHK from Peru play unpretentious, raw D-beat with an urgency and despairing aggression that seeps through every aspect of the band: the grating guitars and vocals, the violent, bleak realism of the lyrics, the shambolic clatter of the drums, the flooring bass. A poignant collaboration with haunting artwork linking everything together.
EFIALTIS – S/T 7″ (Static Shock)
I think this might be one of the bands I spoke most about in 2016 – definitely year of the NIGHTMARE. Pulling three tracks from their demo plus one new one, London’s EFIALTIS sound even more powerful on vinyl – and their second 2016 EP on LVEUM is only further proof. Opening self-titled track “Efialtis” is their pièce de résistance, their Imperial March, and is the definition of a banger if ever I heard one, stomping right in, dominant and unafraid, forceful and disruptive. For me this record is a giant finger to all the men who can play the fuck out of their instruments but still choose to make boring ass music with no soul or attitude, two things EFIALTIS possess in abundance. With members now scattered across the globe, it’s a darn shame I never got to see them live, as I know their abrasive energy translates differently on stage. Check out the interview I did with them for MRR. The EFIALTIS is dead. Long live the EFIALTIS.
GUTTER / ΧΩΡΙΣ ΟΙΚΤΟ – split 7″ EP (Scarecrow)
NWGHC: A great release and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the current Greek hardcore landscape, this split features two of the best bands in Athens right now. On the one side, newcomers ΧΩΡΙΣ ΟΙΚΤΟ (read horís íkto, meaning ‘without mercy’) unload three tracks of brooding hardcore, with despairing, gravelly vocals in Greek, burning riffs and up-beat D-beat drumming that give this a defining edge and distinct texture. On the flip are GUTTER, a solid hardcore band that’s been going strong for half a deacde or so, with tight, straight but catchy hardcore with ’80s infuences – my fave vocals in Greek HC right now. Between the two bands, members also play in (also worthy bands) ANTIMOB, CUT OFF, SARABANTE, ARHI TOU TELOUS and more.
HEAVY METAL – LP LP (Static Age)
The oddest of them all, this Berlin-based wildcard took everyone by surprise. Running like a drugged up mixtape, flying all kinds of freak flags, each track marches to a different beat – with rock beats alternating with dance beats – while still sounding distinctly HEAVY METAL. They don’t confine themselves to any one genre, giving their sound a seemingly limitless range of options, from noisy beat experimentation and mean-riffed post-punk explosions, to stripped down rock’n’roll and spite-dripping noise-punk. “Don’t Call Me Brother” is guaranteed to get the bodies moving, while closer “Total Bullshit,” the record’s crown jewel, is a flawless punk manifesto for the modern age. Insane or ingenious, does it really even matter?
LUST FOR YOUTH – Compassion LP (Sacred Bones)
Quite the sensation, Denmark’s LUST FOR YOUTH are more than music – they’re a brand, a lifestyle, an artifact of decadent indulgence. LFY create a haven to go back to again and again – like a magic hotel room in a world through the looking glass, full of fabulous people, expensive drugs and an unlimited supply of bottled desire/despair sponsored by Dom Perignon. It could have been the best of times, it could have been the worst of times, LFY create a cinematic, stylized soundtrack to what otherwise might have been painful or ugly memories, capturing and coating them in deep beats, dreamy vocals and delicate melodies, adding their distinctively chic sonic filter to everything they touch. Music for lovers and losers, for elevator sex, hotel room sex, sex with strangers, your emotions on drugs, dancing high at the club with tears in your eyes, leaving the show without saying goodbye, kissing in Ubers and crying on planes, falling in love and mixing pleasure with pain and cocaine.
NARCOESTADO – S/T 7” (Going Underground)
I played this record so many times this year I think I know all the lyrics by heart (best way to improve my poor Spanish). Mexico’s NARCOESTADO made a record that’s like comfort food to me – reliable and nourishing for the soul. Every track is catchy and familiar-sounding, like someone you just met but feel you’ve known your whole life. There’s just enough melancholy to the vocals, lyrics and riffs to speak to my rotten heart, while still sounding aggravated and rough enough to match my angry disappointments. It’s the soundtrack to those confused and lonely nights, after the party has ended and the fight is over (you lost), and you’re left walking home alone in the cold wondering what the fucking point to any of it is. So you turn the music up and keep walking.
ΟΔΟΣ 55 – 2 LP (Eirkti)
ODOS 55 (meaning ‘street 55’ in Greek) deliver noisy minimalism drenched in dystopian angst, and the follow up to their stellar 2013 LP is just as daunting and haunting as I’d hoped. The scarce vocals are mechanical and hypnotic, angry and yelled out in Greek, a textural collage of sounds layering slowly, creating a neurotic, claustrophobic mise-en-abyme of synths and beats. There’s a liberating kind of mania to it, with beats arising like an industrial pulse from an underground vent, and synths bleeding their way through the tightly soundscaped compositions. Excellent local and international influences inform but don’t overshadow ODOS 55’s own creative vision, making this two-piece the most interesting and original project in Greece right now. Sounds for a life of cemented dreams and shifting sidewalks.
THE LOWEST FORM – Personal Space 12” (Harbinger Sound/Iron Lung)
Sophomore albums are tricky, but the UK’s THE LOWEST FORM return to outdo themselves. Moving away from the rather general and confining ‘noise not music’ section of hardcore, they’ve created a whole new ‘noise as music’ section just for themselves – yes they basically play like a hardcore band, but the compositions and execution, the production and aesthetics behind the finished result, they all prove TLF to be so much more than a mere hardcore band. Darker and more focused, in a transcendent kind of way, they plod and gallop (literally, there are horses on this record) through two sides in less than 20 minutes – like frantically elbowing their way through a noisy crowd in search of the record’s elusive title notion (best record title of the year BTW). They change pace relentlessly, layering for perspective and density, yet everything speeds up and slows down, fades away and comes together in all the right ways and at all the right times – including when you least expect it. While the writing is still characteristically off-kilter – cerebral yet simple, never letting you get too comfortable with any one state, veering off into seizure-like strumming and burning solos, breaking out into thick beats – they seem to have given the songs more breathing room (with still no track exceeding the three-minute mark) making this their catchiest, most consistently explored release to date from start to finish. The playing is bursting with force and thanks to the production (that’s a touch less noisy but adequately textured) every twisted chord, grated bass line and signature drum-roll sounds just right (including when it’s buried or distorted), the fire-breathing vocals and heady lyrics setting the tone throughout. The negative ecstasy continues and it sounds wicked.
DAUÐYFLIN – Drepa Drepa 7″ (Erste Theke Tonträger)
Red-hot hardcore from ice-cold Iceland with a dirty and shambolic sound, furious vocals and memorable tracks. Don’t snooze on this one!
CAROL – Breakdown/So Low 45 (Weyrd Son)
Minimal coldwave with a strong dreamy pop element from the ’80s, a perfect single that captures the beauty and pain of desire.
EXOTICA – Musique Exotíque #1 Demo Cass. (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Exciting and fiery punk that’s catchy with lots of energy. Wanna sing along and pogo to this in the pit!
GOOD THROB – The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus)
Can this band outdo itself any more? Most original band of the decade, another tongue-in-cheek/gnashing teeth release.
HARAM – What Do You See? 7″ (Toxic State)
One of the most radical releases of the year, everything about it is challenging and different, from the songs and vocals in Arabic to the visual and lyrical concepts within. In this day and age bands like Haram are sorely needed and this interview is worth your time.
KRIMEWATCH – Demo Cass. (self-released)
Catchy, up-beat but sharp and pissed off hardcore – the vocal twists are some of my favourite of the year, as is the track sung in Japanese, a total 10/10!
LUMPY AND THE DUMPERS – Huff My Sack LP (La Vida Es Un Mus)
The kings of snark on what feels like a concept record for mockery and loathing. “I Wanna Move To New York” played on repeat for months.
SIEVEHEAD – S/T 7″ (Static Shock)
Tense and intense post-punk that spears right through the heart. I’m glad to say I saw them live a couple times and they take it to a whole other level, with hella tight playing and exploding energy to spare.
STRUTTER – S/T 7″ (Static Shock)
Attitude-filled hardcore punk with fire riffs, their EP was on constant rotation all summer and they were a highlight at Static Shock fest in November.
WARTHOG – Culture? 7″ (Beach Impediment)
Post-modern hardcore critique of an insidiously oppressive world. Hardcore with force and brains that works! ‘Culture?’ is a fucking anthem, current and reflective of the here and now in a spine-chilling way. Fantastic set at Static Shock festival!