I fucked up. Sometime in March I stumbled and found myself unable to continue writing this column. Every month, I’d fire up the ol’ word processor and just stare at it for a couple minutes before resigning to try again the next month. This was partly due to my depression and anxiety, which has been triggered ten-fold by the absolute garbage-fire year that we have called 2016. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough one. But there was another reason too, one that’s a lot more relevant to this column.
This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to start organizing and booking with a collective-run DIY space here in Bloomington, an experience that’s reminded me why I started giving a shit about punk rock or music in general in the first place. And in the process of actually creating that intentional community, I lost sight of how writing about it could matter. When I found a new band, was I going to spend 300 words writing up a song or spend 100 inviting them to come play in town? Both projects are a lot of work and, to be honest, one just felt a lot more crucial to me for a while, and I was having trouble coming to terms with that.
Working that space led to me staffing the seventh Plan-It-X Fest in Spencer, Ind. It was a fantastic, open environment—DIY and run by volunteers with such a brilliant energy shared among the bands, staff and show-goers alike. And there were lots of younger punks there who had reached out into the void and found something they’d really cared about, just like I did when I was their age. A lot of them had t-shirts (go-figure) and a lot of those t-shirts were for bands I’d written about in this last year. Bands that not way too many people know about. I’m 99 percent sure none of those young punks had read this column, but it still made me feel like I had been participating in something, and that maybe it was worth it to fire up the word processor for real this time. (OK, AND a member of one of my favorite active bands told me they missed the column, so maybe that helped.)
So I’m committed to this column again, but I’m also aware that there are reasons that I fell away from it in the first place. So I’m making some changes. For starters, I’m gonna focus on songs. The album recs section of this column was always an afterthought, so I’m just gonna focus on digging up the best five songs possible. This is partially to make the most of my time, but it’s also informed by a shift back toward shorter releases. It’s likely that I’m also going to shift the monthly columns to be more community focused and plan to include more interviews in them. And, while this column has always been focused on DIY and diversity, both in terms of performers and what constitutes as “punk,” I’d like to take it further in that direction. Part of my struggle as a writer the past couple months has come from balancing journalistic ethics when most of the best new bands I’m seeing are nice enough people that I’m simultaneously becoming their friends. After a lot of thinking I’ve decided that—as long as I don’t personally play on the songs—I’m going to promote the best new songs I hear every month and not fret too much about it otherwise.
So that’s the plan. But this time, I don’t really want to be doing this in a vacuum, so I’m starting a small community to help crowd-source some of this. Share your favorite new song from a band you see on tour, respond to the article, tell me I suck; whatever. Just thought it would be nice to set aside a space for us to grow this thing back up together.
Thanks for talkin’ me back into this, y’all. Here’s some jams.
Five finger discount
In depth rundowns of the best punk tracks of July 2016.
G.L.O.S.S. - “We Live”
O.K. this one’s a June release, but I had to pull at least one of the crushing tracks I missed over half a year. From their Trans Day of Remembrance EP, released the Monday after the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, “We Live” was most certainly written before that catastrophic night, but is still a fitting response to that and other violence experience by queer and trans folk, as well as just about anybody else who isn’t a straight white cis-man. “We Live” is an anthem of queer pride, but one that acknowledges the suffering alongside the love. Sadie & Co. keep making it onto my lists because their songs are sincere, ruthless and biting and this is one is no exception: “We fight/ against the urge to die/ parched for love/ and cast aside.”
[from Trans Day of Remembrance, released June 13 via Total Negativity]
Nostadogmus - “Progressive Segregation”
One of my favorite discoveries from this year’s Plan-It-X. These Florida pop-punks write short, earnest songs with riffs and solos to spare, and this little jam rocks hard while tackling the issue of gentrification and “how the things we think are nice aren’t always that nice.” As Jordan Stokey croons between breakdowns, “we don’t need another bar/ or any more student housing/ Could use another drop-in center/ and a rehab facility.” Well said![from Nostradogmus, out July 15 via Analog For Dogs Records]
PWR BTTM - “Projection”
Queer, glammy pop-punk duo PWR BTTM made quite the splash with last year’s Ugly Cherries, and for good reason. But while that album relied on moderately paced catharsis and jovial hooks that played a foil to melancholy lyrics, their new track “Projection” shifts most of the elements over to that latter space. But this gloomy track rocks hard, with a brilliant build up and disruptive lyrics that deal with the difficulty of challenging others’ perception when they don’t quite match up with how you see yourself.[single, released July 21 via Father/Daughter]
Whelmed - “Double”
Some songs demand to be replayed as soon as they are through, and Bloomington buddies Whelmed write those kind of songs without sacrificing their punk spirit or ethos. Somewhere between east-coast pop-punk and classic post-hardcore, “Double” mixes infectious melody with hard truths, frothing into a sing-along worthy jam. It’s a delightful highlight from the band’s first EP (a benefit for Bloomington relief and outreach group ISTOP). You’ll be hearing more about these folks when they release their first 7-inch on Salinas Records this November.[from ISTOP Benefit EP, self-released July 21]
Pill - “100% Cute”
Pill’s no-wave is noisy, weird dissent at it’s finest and “100% Cute” is a beautifully sardonic display of discontent. Over the band’s persistent wall of noise, Veronica Torres spits acid more akin to Bikini Kill, her vague words teasing the listener’s desire for something firmer to stand on. All in all, the track feels like a small part of something bigger, so I’m pretty excited to hear the full record in a couple weeks. “We can’t predict the feelings of others/ but we can make it soft.”[from Convenience, out August 19 via Mexican Summer]