2015 was yet another awesome year for punk, post-punk, and especially noise-rock. This year saw the return of old favorites, current bands continuing their musical evolution, and yet others debuting and making their presence known. As your host of this sonic gauntlet Thursday nights from 10pm to midnight, I present the Hex Enduction Hours best of 2015. Top ten punk/post-punk/noise-rock albums of the year, in no particular order (totally in order).
(10) The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Did you really think The Fall would be omitted from this list? Boy, you sure haven’t been listening to the show! Sub-Lingual Tablet doesn’t find The Fall exploring new sonic ground nor deviating much from the formula that makes The Fall, well… The Fall. And that’s okay. Sometimes, amid the ever changing musical landscape, you need that known comfort only Mark E. Smith’s pointed lyrical bombast can deliver. Smith is comfortable, too, having continued with this version of the band for over eight years now. It’s not essential The Fall. But it is The Fall all the same, always welcomed and well worth a damn listen.
Listen to this if: You haven’t tired of hearing Mark E. Smith’s inane lyrics after 31 albums
(9) KEN Mode – Success
Who knew Canadians are capable of such aggression? Success has everything noise-rock fans seek: soaring start-stop tempos, a pummeling rhythm section, riffs stolen from a steel mill, and berserk vocals, all recorded by – who else – Steve Albini. Even unexpected elements creep into the mix: the strings on “Blessed” and “The Owl” don’t present a break from the barrage. Want a respite? You’ll get it on the final twenty seconds of closing track “Dead Actors”. Oh, your ears will be ringing after it’s all over. Sorry, eh?
Listen to this if: You’ve ever wondered what it’s like to get punched, kicked, and knocked out in a dark alley, later to be found by a homeless man who proceeds to tell you all about his sad life
(8) Killing Joke – Pylon
Killing Joke has never cared for your complacency. Sure, there is an irony to 1980’s “Wardance” and 1984’s “Eighties” condemning lyrics being masked by the catchy and danceable music. Not so with Pylon. Any lyrical subtleness and rhythmic groove was abandoned long ago by the original line-up. Pylon finds Killing Joke at its most unrelenting, uncompromising, and downright brutal. This is music meant to assault your comfort level in a time where you consider posting a political meme on Facebook an act of resistance. Standout track “New Jerusalem” calls out the listener on this disconnect. Yes, you’re listening. But are you really listening?
Listen to this if: You’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore… hold on, going on a Starbucks run
(7) Viet Cong – Viet Cong
With a controversial name (which the band promised to change), one can’t be faulted for dismissing this release as nothing more than a cheap attempt for attention by a hack band yearning for listeners. But that isn’t the case here. Far from it. Viet Cong proves that the mantle of post-punk influence no longer belongs primarily to Joy Division and the Birthday Party. Viet Cong’s debut LP is an obvious yet worthwhile spiritual successor to This Heat, recalling the looped instrumentation, bubbling tension, and experimentation that set This Heat apart from its peers. “Well, why not just listen to This Heat?” you may ask. You could (far be it for me to tell you how to live your damn life). Or you could give Viet Cong a listen, too, and appreciate a drink from a new well.
Listen to this if: You’re a fan of This Heat. Did I mention This Heat? Yes, This Heat. This Heat. THIS HEAT!
(6) USA Nails – No Pleasure
No Pleasure is quite a misleading title for an album that delivers a joyful slab of noise rock. Well, joyful for those that enjoy their music delivered through a rusty wringer. Everyone else, look elsewhere (may I recommend The Jesus Lizard?). For veterans of the sonic wars, this album demands to be listened loudly. Yeah, the neighbors will probably call the cops. Yeah, you’ll probably get your place red-tagged. And if you do? Crank No Pleasure up; those razor-sharp guitar riffs will peel that red sticker right off.
Listen to this if: You confuse tinnitus and tetanus yet want an aural experience of both at once
(5) Heat Dust – Heat Dust
Released back in September, New Orleans’ Heat Dust embarked on a month-long West Coast album tour (including night one of Tucson’s “Southwest Terror Fest: Vol. IV”) that saw them hit Portland. Fitting, as Heat Dust’s heart lies firmly in the early 80s sound explored in the Northwest by The Wipers. There’s some Mission of Burma throughout, too, coalescing into a perfect blend on such tracks as the opener “Nothing Left to Lose” and the hypnotic standout “I Think About It Every Day”. Heat Dust is hauntingly beautiful. Who says that about a punk album?
Listen to this if: You’ve ever wanted to play Mission of Burma’s “Vs” and The Wipers’ “Over the Edge” at the exact same time on a snowy winter day
(4) L.O.T.I.O.N. – Digital Control and Man’s Obsolescence
It’s surprising that bands haven’t cited 80s Japanese hardcore punk legends G.I.S.M. as a big influence, considering the confrontational and abrasive nature of their 1983 LP Detestation. NYC duo L.O.T.I.O.N. were clearly paying attention. Digital Control and Man’s Obsolescence drips G.I.S.M.’s touch all over, from the titles, artwork, and guttural vocals. “Fukushima Fallout” makes the Japanese inspiration obvious. The hyper-furious electronic instrumentation also brings to mind Brainiac. Hell, there’s even a spell of 80s grindcore, too, to make you a believer in what L.O.T.I.O.N. has accomplished in just under twenty-five minutes.
Listen to this if: You want a take on Napalm Death’s “Scum” heard through a broken Commodore 64
(3) Cherubs – 2YNFYNYTY
When Austin’s Cherubs unexpectedly disbanded after giving us 1994’s feedback-drenched “Heroin Man” LP, little did we know the cover photograph – showing a man fully submerged face down in a dingy bathtub – would be a fitting depiction of our despair in no longer having the band around. So when the band teased new material after two decades of silence, noise-rock fans rejoiced. 2YNFYNYTY demonstrates that Cherubs’ break-up 20 years ago was indeed premature. There is no shortage of buzzsaw noise and piercing vocals as evidenced on the first single “Sandy On the Beach.” This time, the album cover is a photograph of a single star-shaped Mylar balloon, the music contained within a surge of electricity threatening to disintegrate it.
Listen to this if: You’ve got a hankerin’ for 90s Texan noise rock preserved in a vat of formaldehyde and opened after twenty years
(2) Coordinated Suicides – Life Is Beautiful
Scott Walker has gutted your state, every action he’s taken exposing a foul element threatening the only place you’ve called home. This is the reality for Wisconsin’s noise-rock trio Coordinated Suicides. Their debut LP Life Is Beautiful opens with the lurching “Transition”, leading to a throttling that recalls the best moments of 90s Unsane. The dour lyrics center the music; imagine Swans reinterpreted through a broken Midwest lens focused inward. It all threatens to unravel on album closer “Intimate” …but doesn’t. The message, perhaps then, that we can all find a shred of humanity amid the fetidness of our souls. Life Is Beautiful hides none of the ugliness (and little hope) that makes up the underbelly of America. There’s something strangely beautiful about that.
Listen to this if: You want to know what Bob Ross saw on that bleak fall night after getting lost on Boy Scout Lane, the somber moonlight casting shadows of ugly little trees
(1) Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Transistor
Phoenix’s Destruction Unit deliver another psychotropic fueled blast of noise meant to do nothing but make you lose your senses in a deafening haze. Opener “Disinfect” begins with a low hum slowly building upward. But before you can settle in, an ear-splitting note kicks. This isn’t a wall of sound surrounding you. Those walls have already collapsed. This is – to borrow from the subsequent track – salvation, meant to liberate you from boring musical restrictions you unknowingly box yourself into. You’ll be unrestrained by the end of “Animal Instinct”, with its pulsating beat cascading into a wail and rumble. There’s no turning back at this point for the uninitiated. They’re trapped. The rest of us? We’ll be in noise-rock heaven.
Listen to this if: You want to feel what it’s like to experience a face-melting Sonoran Desert summer day while concrete heat fumes warp your brain