The theme of many of this year’s best punk releases seems to be a call for total destruction of the world as we know it—a necessary step for building systems that are actually just. “Welcome to the countdown, countdown to the burndown,” Croatia’s Mižerija declare on “Kraj.” “Death to all the powers that be,” screams NYC’s Persona on their debut album. Let these records, most of which are new to this column, bring a galvanizing energy into the new year. In the words of New Orleans trio Malflora: “Imagine the possibilities.”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
On their sophomore album, UK trio Big Joanie build a lush, expansive world in which to explore the idea of home, from the comfort of a relationship to the uncertainty of one’s life path. Playing with repetition and catchy melodies, Big Joanie uses layers of vocals and instrumentation to create a moody, melancholic vibe. Over the course of almost a decade, Big Joanie have forged their own unique Black feminist punk path, undoubtedly making it easier for bands to come through their organizing efforts with the Musician’s Union and Decolonise Fest. That sort of encouragement to stand in solidarity seems echoed here in the lo-fi “What Are You Waiting For?” with vocalist Stephanie Phillips urging you to “give into it,” singing “There’s no time for standing on your own/ So what are you waiting for.”
Mama I’m Bad
“Imagine the possibilities, redefine the barriers,” Malflora chants on “Emergent,” a trippy incantation that calls into being “Black and Brown achievement” as both a visionary future and a threat to anyone who dares stand in the way. One of New Orleans’s finest punk outfits, Malflora plays heavy dirges and weirdo no wave jams, channeling the breathy deadpan of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Using gasps and barks, repetitive riffs, and bass so heavy it seems to reverberate in one’s chest, the trio excels at unsettling. The album was released by Thrilling Living, and recorded with Alphabet Sound Observatory, “an audio engineer library for Black and Indigenous women and LGBTQIA+ artists of color” which also provides audio engineering training.
Before the internet, stumbling upon music you really liked often felt magical, particularly if you weren’t into radio-friendly fare. Listening to The Hazmats, a project from members of Chubby and The Gang, Big Cheese, and GAME, feels like you’re back in that time period, discovering a new favorite band on a mixtape. They perfectly conjure the fuzzy, jangly pop sound of ‘80s UK acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain, with bright, infectious hooks and understated vocals. The title track is romantic power pop that’s full of yearning, while the B-side is more urgent, with tight drumming. I’ve been hoping all year for a full-length!
On this follow-up to 2020’s self-titled release, Leeds trio Nape Neck are more keyed up than ever. On the Lithics-esque opening track, the guitar sounds like it’s being pumped up and then deflated. Nape Neck doesn’t play no wave–influenced post-punk so much as they build cacophonous layers of sound, all with just a bass, guitar, drums, and their own voices. “Warm Air” is built around the bass, which the guitar sometimes wraps itself around, at other times it’s just adding dissonant shards of sound. Claire Adams’s impressive, punchy bass brings to mind Kira Roessler’s daredevil lines on The Process of Weeding Out. On several songs, the band members sing or shout over one another, as on “Kiss Me Boy, I’m Dying.” The result is vital and energizing, a reminder of how far the limits of punk can be stretched.
The stripped-down offbeat punk spirit of K Records lives on in Vienna, Austria quartet Lime Crush. The band has been finding joy in the collective act of songwriting for nearly ten years. Their latest 7-inch is glinting art punk, filled with cool, grooving basslines that have a jazzy, ‘90s feel. “Téléphone” is part spoken word, part sing-song, with a chorus whose intensity builds up and then subsides, and a guitar that cuts in with jagged flourishes. The band’s lyrics have an idiosyncratic storytelling aspect to them, as on the jammy closing track “Park.” By its end, the lead vocalist is ecstatically shouting her lines on top of sweet girl-gang style backing vocals; the devil-may-care attitude and energy of this band are irresistible.
Free Your Mind!
Any record that starts with a clip from Desperate Living (1977), which is arguably John Waters’s most bonkers film, has got my attention. It’s a fitting intro for “Race to the Bottom,” the brutally unhinged opening track on PersonⒶ’s debut record. The NYC five-piece plays thrashing peace-punk at lightning speed, with lyrics that are politically brash enough to back up all that noise. Whether calling for the death of America or warning that you’re gonna leave a worse world than the one you were born in, Persona isn’t worried about causing offense. “Getting Fucked,” which starts as a slow dirge, is full chaos, with echoing, scratchy vocals and a loud wall of distortion and noise. But it’s not all hopelessness here. Closing track “Moment of Silence” calls for burning the current world down, rightfully noting that there’s “Nothing to lose but a desolate future.”
Vinyl LP, Cassette
Self Improvement have the chops to play spotless, Pylon-style angular post-punk, but instead they’ve opted to do something much weirder. No song here is straightforward—indeed the fare seems to get further out there as the album progresses. Formed during the pandemic as a long-distance project, the four-piece is now based fully in Long Beach. Frontperson Jett Witchalls has a breathy speak-sing vocal style, with irregular phrasing, sort of like Algebra Suicide; it’s captivating enough to keep this music interesting. The buzzing “Fear and Power,” which ends with psych guitar futzing, and the garagey, rocking “Filling Time” are two of the strongest songs here. But don’t overlook the slowed-down, minimal Prodigy cover, a sort of mash-up of “Firestarter” and “Smack My Bitch Up.”
Songs for the Solstice
NYC quartet Hysteric Polemix play a distinctive blend of aggressive peace punk, with elements of emotional post-hardcore and post-punk. The vocal style harkens back to the finger-pointing attitude of ‘80s NYC hardcore, but the lyrics are lengthy, poetic ruminations a la Crass. Half the tracks here are sung in Portuguese, such as the melodic closer “Fortaleza de São Miguel,” which has a bouncy bass and a jangly, phaser-laden guitar. Named for a fort in Angola that’s centuries old, dating back to when the Portuguese first began laying claim to the area, the song instead hints at the Angolans’ long struggle for liberation.
Parece que Tuvimos Demasiados Hijitos
Compact Disc (CD)
Made up of tracks previously released on a variety of cassettes and singles, the debut album from Chile’s long-running Ignorantes hits hard. With a fat, steady bassline and pissed-off vocals, these tracks are noisy and raw; production is beside the point. This is pogo punk with relentless fury; the vocal style switches between low growls and strained shouts. “Shit” is undeniably heavy, while “Vida Aburrida” opens with a fiery yell. “Tiempo de Destrucción” is one of the most interesting, with the distorted guitar a bit more audible as it rises above the fray in a piercing solo.
Once in a while, a band bursts onto the scene fully formed, ready with a fresh, cohesive sound. Croatia’s Mižerija is such a band, playing a singular sort of anarcho-pop with dark, post-punk hooks. The higher-register vocals crucially tie the sound together, from the infectious opening track to “Gradski Cvjetovi,” with its bratty shouts and matter-of-fact spoken word. The band tackles politics, from ecological devastation to the chains of patriarchy, with vociferous energy. “This is not the end,” they declare on the noisy closing track, “Youth is bringing a new world/ World that wants the change!”