What a year. A psychic grease fire of impossible proportions: like Tim Allen watching Jill and Mark die in a fire that started on his in-house grill, the complete destruction of reality and social norms we've mostly long lamented but needed in order to think we were above something, a brutal force-feeding of a rancid combination of Soylent and soiled adult undergarments in every possible electric avenue - a great time to find refuge in the reprobate musical world… a great time to put on a record and stare at the god damn ceiling. The unleashing of the great white KKKraken has broken any objective sense of contrast, so I feel sort of free to explore hyperbole as I look back on the year that so unfortunately was. Fittingly, my favorite release came from France and Western Sahara - the out-of-nowhere brilliance of the Group Doueh/Cheveu collab on Born Bad. Dakhla Sahara Session is a stymying confluence of styles - Cheveu's timeless synthetic hook mastery somehow jibes perfectly with the avant world psychedelia of Group Doueh. Finally, we now know what happens when you inject Sublime Frequencies with La Grande Triple Alliance de l’Est. I had no idea it was coming, it totally leveled me when I heard the first released track, this was absolutely my most listened to record of the year. Elzo Durt's artwork is incredible, pushing this into the upper tier on its own merits, equally as beautiful as the music it speaks for. Of course, I can only give it the highest possible recommendation. "Tout Droit" ("Straight Ahead") is probably my favorite track Cheveu has been involved with and is precisely as tough as the Houston airport brisket that crippled Bastard's bass player at Chaos in Tejas 2010. It's also a great chance to look into the culture of Western Sahara, abandoned by almost every colonizer in the abominable Scramble, the only universally recognized occupied territory, and home to some of the most interesting culture in the world - despite being one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet.

I've droned about Protomartyr with every release here, to strangers, to my friends, to the annoyance of many. I am constantly awed with and happy to chart their rise in popularity, and await each album with the eagerness of that youtube Nintendo 64 kid on ~Holiday~, ready to dig into the labyrinthine lyrical references of Joe Casey and the impossibly endless hooks they layer in on every other instrument. Imagine my negative shock when Relatives in Descent also blew me away in ways I couldn't have expected. "A Private Understanding" was the preview track, it knowingly meanders like Madoff on a tottering escape from a nursing home in 2025, like a shark faking drunkenness at a poker game. The lyrics seem prophetic or ancient, the arrangement poignant and complexly simple… this goes for the whole album. To avoid writing an essay and because i've read enough reviews where someone had a word count to hit, I'd just like to point out that "Windsor Hum" is their new highest point, an absolutely murderous combination of riffs and delivery (exponentially moreso in person) and timely disowning of what's expected of so many of us. "Night-Blooming Cereus" is an ode to what we all waste our time on in the best way, framed around the horrendous tragedy at the warehouse fire in the Bay, and every way they branch out on this is so effective that I can't help but feel like a juggler as I type this out. They continue to be the best band, undisputed champions of making bleak adeptness beautiful and addictive. Of course, every aspect of Casey's artwork is ridiculously on point, and he's coined terms a plenty. The winds are humming. He continues to be America's greatest lyricist.

PC Worship's 'Buried Wish' is their finest release, anchored by their best live lineup yet. Justin Frye has perfected catchy, endearing disaffection in vocals only matched by Erick Sermon & Parrish Smtih. The record as a whole is their essence perfected, particularly "River Running Sideways" and the disturbingly chromatic solos on "Back of My $$$$". As is always the case, they are the people with the most inventive take on interdimensional post-human grunge alive, realizing what My War was probably supposed to be and making it sound like fucking Kiss. New York also blessed us this year with two other stellar outings: Kaleidoscope's Volume 3 - tougher than ever before, with room for Shiva to shred tastefully on top of disgustingly powerful drumming and riffs that could out-level gentrification waves - and Haram's ?? ????, ???? , which is leagues better than their demo/ep, in spite of or due to a lot of political bullshit/oppression/cop heat fueling and following their existence. The layout, calligraphy, and packaging on this thing are all incredible, Nader's vocals have gone full Ishiya, and the songs have become wildly intoxicating (in addition to pummelingly hypnotic). Any time LVEUM and Toxic State are co-releasing, it's gonna be the nuclear option.

Atlanta has recently become known for a haven for interesting nihilist punk - caustic and melodic - and the usual players brought their visions to total fruition in 2017. Mutual Jerk, my favorite live band and favorite people alive, hit one out of the fucking park with "He's Harmless", the relentless a-side to their debut single. Tyler Roberts tells a tale as old as time more eloquently and pointedly than arguably anyone before, B. Michaud earns the disdain of many with an ability to play guitar that matches his brilliance at drums, Sam Camirand meditates on nastiness with Rob Sarabia enunciating only when necessary - an ode to horrible regular-ass people the world round. Something truly special. On that drumming note, the Uniform No Trending LP - years in the making, yet somehow sounding ahead of its time - combines Josh's massive Australian and Ohioan influences somehow equally with the sounds of a spacecraft in Venusian orbit ca. 1978. Nirvana shrunk up in the microwave. Sterile anxiety, a faith in the void.

At this point I'm as much a UK office as Southern as far as what I digest and regurgitate, and accordingly I'm pleased to report that La Vida es un Mus has had another banner year - Anarquía Vertical's Sistema Total de Liberación is a deconstruction of punk a la Wretched by very young fellows that gave me hope when it seemed like there shouldn't be any in the world. Insanely genius artwork by Orriol Roca, who also provided all of the art (and all of the drums) for Barcelona - their Un Último Ultrasonido Nació Y Murió En Barcelona is free-form incendiary Spanish hardcore at its purest. It isn't their catchiest release, but is their most interesting. Angela continues to espouse venom like no one else. Una Bèstia Incontrolable finally released their second opus, Metamorfosi, which suffers from less than great production, but the songs are a grand evolution from their great first LP, and I highly recommend their KEXP set, recorded after that record and informed by it, as their definitive release. They mine a territory that has never existed, and while they don't sing or particularly seem to care about Catalan independence, it's a relevant listen to hear soliloquies about power spoken in Catalan. They are powerful in a way so unique that it defies description and encourages one to espouse their virtues. I still think they hit their high point with "Nou Món", an unassailable song about adjusting to one's world, with melodies strangely endemic to Spain, endemic to Guillem after his years of duty in Invasión and Destino Final, and particularly effective as he and the rest of the band deliver them on that KEXP video (in 2017). Guillem (AKA Muro) is also a gifted artist (he does UBI's artwork, Destino Final's artwork, Invasión's artwork) and a nascent tattooist. Bad Breeding (well-mannered guys who provided a new take on complete crasher obliteration with fucking riffs from one of the worst towns in England), Slender (a NY side project that feels like a throwaway in the way that you'd accidentally throw away your keys in a gas station trashcan while keeping the taco bell bag of trash in your other hand), Permission (the latest Ralph project that outshines DIE and NO, in my opinion, while staying faithful to the style of the latter), and Limp Wrist (creating what is absolutely my favorite of their releases) all found a home (or second, or third, or fourth) in Paco's grand experiment this year. Tangentially related only through distribution and camaraderie, Piñen's Vida is a mindful followup from Spain's greatest two-piece, following in the steps of most of Teo Hernández's bands in lyric and purist execution. On the Spanish punk note - Byllepest Distro ("black plague" in norsk) in Norway has some sort of conduit to a burgeoning scene in Colombia (really check out their store, it's fucking loaded) - the Fuerza Ingobernable Punk Colombia comp is a view into a world I'd have no idea about otherwise and an absolutely destructive document of raw hardcore. Muro and Final are particularly exceptional. Elsewhere in the UK, Sarcasm - fronted by London's premier Fred Schneider lookalike (my favorite live singer of 2016) - released a total banger of both title and content in Malarial Bog on Static Shock. That label is also responsible for the Idiota Civilizzato EP, a band fronted by the Nikola Tesla of our times, except he chose to use his powers for good. A sweet ode to the seemingly infinite little-known but brilliant releases of the glory days of Italian hardcore, they evoke and expand on the style in a furious way.

The Orion LP takes late Factory, post-Low Life Aussie downer vibes into a more positive and pretty direction, like if Morrissey was properly educated in life experience and cool bands before his time as he started the Smiths. A massive record. The Shifters, fellow denizens of the nation of criminals, return with a hot single - distilling their approach to something quaint and extremely chartable. I'm wildly eager to hear more, and insanely excited that their demo is getting the 12" treatment in 2018. As I told the purveyor of the label, "Algeria" is a song so great it should have been included on the LP Voyager has now taken beyond the known limits of the solar system. We were also anointed to receive an undeserved return from the Danish punk deity PJ Bonneman (of Gorilla Angreb, No Hope for the Kids, Amdi Petersen's Armé fame), whose previous "Hey Ronni" is a total classic on every front, a guy who wrote both "Astma" and "På Patrulje", both of which I play on guitar almost weekly. Mig og Henriette delivers even harder than anything else he's written, with guitars that sound genuinely like a Stones single ca. "19th Nervous Breakdown", nonchalant lyrics that make it seem unimportant, and an overall product that I could only directly compare to and clearly evokes the Fe Fi Fo Fums' invincible, indisputably G.O.A.T. track "You Might Get Me". While we weak Americans (lo, how this phrase should become international canon) don't understand English, let alone Danish, the man clearly can't write anything but hits. On a similar but barely more poppy front, the Mick Trouble single is some undeniable heat. Every song is a banger, but "Shut Your Bleeding Gob You Git" is absolutely bound for all mixtapes for the foreseeable future. They nailed the fake backstory, replete with illegitimate TVP's Discogs references and multiple fake storylines in the press - truly the Ean Eraser of the 2010s. A flawless exercise in fraud.

In less typically punk directions - David Nance's Negative Boogie is the best Cheater Slicks record this year, the whole thing sounds like you slowly changed the speed and direction of Refried Dreams into other great things that came out around the same time. Genius at work. Exploded View mines the historical German-Mexican connection to great result, sounding like the introverted sons and daughters of Broadcast. SIDA out-Brainbombs the Brainbombs on a record with knitted cover art (!), and I'm not sure if CUBE released anything this year, but he had the greatest performance I saw all year. Stalking a stage filled with smoke that obscured his twin cathode monitors displaying some kind of oscilloscope mixed with static, he started his set by playing the vocal track to "Hotel California" on tape while slowing it and removing/replacing inputs elsewhere to create the most disturbing experience I've ever felt at a live gig.

Things that I couldn't find a narrative for: The folks at Negative Insight deserve some words for their great Gothenburg/Scandinavian punk issue and repress of the complete classic Shitlickers 7" - a truly superb work of zinemanship. Wire's Silver/Lead is surprisingly very very good, a heartwarming addition to their catalog. Long live everyone in Wire, we owe almost everything interesting to them. Realizing a Wire interview is possible for this publication right now (rn for younger viewers). LUCKY was my favorite film of 2017 - an ode to America's greatest achievement: Harry Dean Stanton. Rest in power. Twin Peaks: The Return was more important to me than anything else in this column. Kyle MacLachlan should have been nominated for immortality, or whatever he wants. Massive respect to the folks behind the Tokyo Flashback, High Rise, and Keiji Haino/PSF reissues on Black Editions, the Come On reissues, and Superior Viaduct for putting The Fall records that everyone should own on New racks again.

Finally, some attention to my old home state - North Carolina had a great year. The dipshit pig McCrory was deposed after holding out hope for a recount, the owner of the Panthers was exposed as a gravy hog grabass, and ISS delivered Endless Pussyfooting, the follow-up to their ingenious debut. It would be hopelessly pedantic to describe all of the hopelessly pedantic sampling on this thing, but I can say that the two best tracks are a) a song about buying studs on the internet bolstered by a flagrantly ingenious usage of an X-Ray Spex saxophone solo and Sakevi's "nnnyyahhh" and b) a sly recreation of D.A.F.'s "Der Mussolini" with a drop of a modem dialing into the network. Other Charlotteans like Ghost Trees capped their year of insane performances and installations with a great new LP, The Fascination, it's sorta like Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures with just a tenor sax and drummer, or the sounds I miss the most from the heart of the Piedmont. While Patois Counselors didn't release anything publicly, every time I got to see them, they vaporized the audience (new LP is forthcoming on the great Ever/Never records), and Bo has another new band in TKO Faith Healer, whose demo lands somewhere between Exile on Main Street, the first Hunches record, and Royal Trux ca. Hand of Glory. Wildly promising debut, and powerful as hell live. Das Drip, featuring 3 Whatever Brains members, is right between Confuse, Lebenden Toten, and Wrangler Brutes - the best direction these guys could have taken with stringed instruments after closing the door on Whatever Brains. Josh and Rich from Whatever Brains also started Bodykit, and their debut LP is a perfect continuation of where WB was when they called it - just more dancy, rhythmic, and somehow more clever. It's a nice time for the Most Military Friendly State. I'll continue to vomit about that sign in 2018. (NG)

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