Alright, so my “official” Music Top 30 of 2008 will be up next week on the crazy awesome CJLO Magazine (and can also be seen below), however while I did not want to get into too much detail on that list, I still want to take a minute (or five….time is relative on here anyway….) to wax poetic on my two top picks from this past year: Paint It Black’s New Lexicon and The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound.
Philadelphia’s Paint It Black are by no means a new name amongst the worldwide hardcore scene (and I do mean worldwide, though that has more to do with the unprecidented accessibility of music thanks to the internet than the band’s actual tour itinerary or Jade Tree Records’ distribution despite both of those things being large and impressive), however I would say that before this year my love of them remained within in relatively healthy parameters, always overshadowed by frontman Dan Yemin’s other band that absolutely NO ONE has heard of called Lifetime. Then came New Lexicon.
As far as the songwriting goes, it is certainly no better or worse than your standard east coast hardcore fare: driven by a pounding drum beat and bassline with the guitar work filling in the gaps where needed. While the cast of characters making up the musical instrument noise (Josh Agran and Andy Nelson (Affirmative Action Jackson) and Jared Shavelson (The Hope Conspiracy, None More Black)) are certainly top notch, its the voice of the band that truly defines what makes it great. Yemin (a fully certified and praticing Child Psychologist) is a frickin word ninja. No matter what subject he chooses to tackle (everything from God to vegetarianism to anonymous insulting assholes on the internet), he manages to mold his thoughts on them into the most biting, straightforwardly honest lyrics I’ve heard since I discovered Minor Threat and delivers them with one of the most unique, raw voices in hardcore today. His frustration and anger is completely on the table in tracks like “White Kids Dying of Hunger” and “Gravity Wins” just like his hope and love of life is on point in “Past Tense, Future Perfect” and “We Will Not.” However, the track that takes the cake for me is “The Beekeeper” with its incredibly quotable breakdown of “live fast but dont die young, slow down but never ever stop.” Words to live by if I ever heard them.
The production on this record is also notably unique. While all the sounds were recorded by the unfuckwithable J. Robbins, the entire record was mixed and mastered by what most would consider an unlikely party (unless you’re familiar with his origins) within the hardcore scene: The Oktopus (one half of the similarly unfuckwithable New Jersey Hip-Hop duo Dälek) However, the layering of sounds as well as the ambient, found-sound interludes present on the record add a dimension that was heretofore unseen on a hardcore record and adds an air of both mystery and urgency to the record that ultimately proves to be an entirely effective addition to the proceedings.
Simply put, this record and its decidedly motivational/confrontational message got to me exactly when I needed it to and reminded me just how powerful music in general and hardcore in particular can be. When I saw Paint It Black in March and again in April and July, Yemin openly declared that they had created the most important hardcore record of 2008 and while there were certainly a lot of great hardcore offerings this year, none of them came anywhere close to this.
This leads us to the other record that I found so good this year that I actually had to split my Top 30 into two seperate lists so that I could have two number ones, the sophomore release from New Brunswick, New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem. While New Lexicon was essentially my musical therapy/anger release tool of the year, The ’59 Sound was my musical prozac.
I first discovered The Gaslight Anthem when they opened for Florida’s favorite folk-punks Against Me! in 2007. While this statement might imply that I had actually SEEN them open for Against Me! I feel I should specify that I was only AWARE that they had done so…but that was more than enough for me to actively seek out their 2007 full length Sink or Swim. While I certainly enjoyed that record a great deal, it was ultimately trumped by the debut full length from Hertfordshire, England’s Gallows for best record of 2007. However, my love of the band continued on through their first release of the year, the Senor and the Queen EP and their signing to SideOneDummy records. However, as rumours began to swirl about the record leaking to the internet a few months prior to its scheduled release, other rumours about the record’s inability to please also began. These rumours admittedly had be worried, since while New Lexicon was a pleasant surprise, I was actively anticipating this record to be nothing short of amazing. I had already been let down by one release this year (Protest the Hero’s shit sandwich of a third record), however once I finally managed to hear The ’59 Sound in its entirety I could proudly label those who spread those early rumors as “complete retards.”
This record arguably delivers something for all fans of country, the blues, early rock n’ roll, punk rock and, to up the already high name drop quota of this post, Bruce Springsteen. While the comparisons to The Boss were made in response to their first record, this is probably only because singer/guitarist Brian Fallon had repeatedly listed Springsteen as a personal influence and music reporters are dumb (since that record had way more in common with Hot Water Music and Lucero than it ever did with Springsteen.) However, that established influence took center stage this time, as everything from the production to the packaging to the songs themselves actively emulated The Boss and the musical era he came from. While many would view this as a negative thing, I choose to see it as incredibly positive thing based on the simple principle that no one, especially no one as old as the members of The Gaslight Anthem, writes music like that anymore. The kind of songs that could make you laugh, cry, shiver and shake your body, almost despite yourself, like the works of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan could are slowly becoming extinct or relegated to oldies stations and mail order record catalogues while the artists themselves are becoming shadows of their former selves both artistically and commercially (that last Springsteen EP was okay, but seriously Bob? Shilling for Victoria’s Secret? Selling your record exclusively at Starbucks? COME ON MAN! Elvis did some stupid things too, but you are really pushing it.) However, Fallon and crew (drummer Benny Horowitz, bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Alex Rosimilia) haven’t forgotten how powerful songs like “Born to Run” and “Glory Days” could be (even if they’re all far too young to have been around when those albums were released) and have opted to bring that feeling to a new generation with absolutely stellar results.
The haunting, jaded defeat of “Here’s Lookin At You Kid,” the playful joy of “Casanova Baby” and the stoik rememberence of the title track, The ’59 Sound, all resonate as incredibly powerful emotions that are at the same time both relatable to pretty much everyone while still remaining somewhat neutral for those who like their music that way (not everyone needs their music laden with personal messages and relatable plot points after all…those people are most likely soulless,but I’m still pretty sure they exist nonetheless.) Another plus to this record is that while most of the tracks stand perfectly well on their own, the record still manages to create an entirely listenable package that most artists who write singles completely fail to create (if that’s even their goal…which we all know it isn’t…coughfloggingmollycoughcough………wait I love Flogging Molly what the fuck am I talking about?….ANYWAY…)
Essentially, these guys manage to prove, despite the music industry standard to separate people into genre specifications, that universally enjoyable music can still be created (its rare, but it does happen.) This fact can’t be illustrated better than by the crowd that turned out for their record release show at The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts this past August. There were the jaded music connoisseurs but also the “appreciators-in-passing.” You had the punks and the jocks, the nerds and the “cool kids,” all united in a sweaty singalong. While this phenomenon is not altogether uncommon these days as more and more cult bands receive mainstream attention, which in return varies their audiences, I’m not entirely sure The Gaslight Anthem are THAT big quite yet (though they will be very very soon), which probably means all those people managed to discover and enjoy them on their own based only on the band’s music and without the assistance of mainstream marketing, which is ABSOLUTELY more rare of an occurrence.
Alright there ya go, another long-winded diatribe about why good music still exists. Go buy both of these. Do it.