The best punk and hardcore albums of 2018

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine (Turnstile), Reid Haithcock (Daughters), David Burns (Gouge Away)
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In 2018, the loose genre boundaries of punk and hardcore became more expansive than ever. For decades now, these blanket terms have encompassed a wide swath of sounds, ideologies, and aesthetics. But for most of that time, those distinct subgenres were largely walled off from one another, rarely mingling, much less embracing one another openly. While those genres once felt stratified, over the past few years, bands have been able to blow out the walls and see what happens when those limitations are removed. Similarly, fans have been rewarded with records that offer new inroads to sounds that had long been codified and complacent. While it’s nearly impossible to capture the full breadth of the year in a single list, these albums all spoke to the scene’s bigger trends in one way or another, highlighting the fact that, no matter how many “punk is dead” jokes get made, that sentiment will never ring true.

The Armed, Only Love

Only Love opens with an explosion. After a few errant notes on a keyboard, the Detroit “band” rushes in with a flurry of noise, as guitars, drums, keyboards, and vocals all dive over one another in a chaotic wash of sound. The beauty of Only Love is how, on repeated listens, those layers begin to break apart and re-contextualize the songs in bold new ways. It’s an album that never downshifts, yet by the end, Only Love starts to feel like a pop record. There are hooks baked into every song, and those moments that once felt disorienting turn into memorable riffs and sing-along choruses that few bands of this ilk could pull off. Only Love is a masterful burst of creative energy, and as the band’s videos and interviews prove, The Armed is a multimedia experience unlike any other. [David Anthony]

Candy, Good To Feel

The log line that’s routinely used when people describe Candy is that it is either this generation’s Integrity or an updated version of Trash Talk. And while neither comparison is wrong necessarily, Candy isn’t trying to recreate either’s sound as much as pull from the same well of influences. There are bits of metalcore, Japanese hardcore, and early West coast power-violence bubbling up on Good To Feel, but it’s the band’s ability to never fully adhere to any one of those sounds that makes the album so thrilling. Be it the double bass parts in “Lust For Destruction” or the mid-paced chugging in “Distorted Dreams,” Candy excels at blending these disparate pieces. But it’s the closing track, “Bigger Than Yours,” that hints at something more. Pulling from the band’s Britpop influences, the song shows a totally different side of Candy while still retaining the band’s bite, as the song spins out into a harsh noise passage just as it’s about to enter its second chorus. [David Anthony]

C.H.E.W., Feeding Frenzy

It’s exceptionally easy for fastcore bands to seem interchangeable, which is what makes C.H.E.W.’s ability to stand out from the pack so impressive. The Chicago band is cut from a different cloth, and its debut album, Feeding Frenzy, is proof of that. Guitarist Ben Rudolph plays between the gaps in the rhythm section, letting the grooves carry each song and slotting his riffs into the open spaces. Similarly, Doris Carroll’s vocal phrasing is far from standard, sounding like she’s mocking the subjects of the songs, leaving a heavy imprint on the music itself. For a style that can often feel rote, C.H.E.W. packs plenty of surprises into Feeding Frenzy and sets a new standard for the style. [David Anthony]

Daughters, You Won’t Get What You Want

The true test of a reunion record is whether or not it transcends that “reunion” qualifier. A new album from a resuscitated act often means tempering expectations, especially in the worlds of punk and hardcore, where music is so directly tied to youthful energy; it’s exceptionally hard to step back into that space and succeed. In the case of Daughters, they did so by not trying to be the same band they used to be. Instead, You Won’t Get What You Want has been discussed as an album, a cohesive artistic work, and not the successor to the Rhode Island band’s initial run. You Won’t Get What You Want feels like the start of something new instead of a continuation of past ideas, effectively rendering all of Daughters’ previous material obsolete. [David Anthony]

Fiddlehead, Springtime And Blind

One listen to Springtime And Blind may have people questioning why Fiddlehead’s debut album made this list. It’s not punk or hardcore in a traditional sense, but it’s played by people from those worlds while translating the spirit of those scenes. Featuring Pat Flynn of Have Heart on vocals, the record sees him stretching his vocal range further than ever, as he sings almost solely about the death of his father in ways that are evocative but never cloying. In a scant 24 minutes, Fiddlehead makes the kind of music that falls somewhere between post-hardcore and indie rock, finding ways to take songs about uniquely personal experiences and transform them into cathartic anthems. And really, that’s what the best hardcore music has always done. [David Anthony]

Gouge Away, Burnt Sugar

Florida’s Gouge Away made a huge leap in a short period of time. The band’s debut, Dies, was a refreshing bit of screamo-indebted hardcore. This year’s Burnt Sugar sees the band entering an entirely new space. It’s still a heavy slab of music, and Christina Michelle’s vocals remain as brutal as ever, but Burnt Sugar moves away from boilerplate production choices, falling more in line with other Pixies worshippers than the scene that bred them. It’s a risky choice, but one that pays off, as Burnt Sugar stands out from the pack by allowing the songs to feel heavy, without any distortion pedals needed to enter the mix. [David Anthony]

The Hirs Collective, Friends. Lovers. Favorites.

The long-running Philadelphia collective Hirs has a ton of releases, to the point where scrolling through their Discogs page starts to feel overwhelming. Over the past decade, Hirs have made a variety of stylistic changes, and on Friends. Lovers. Favorites., they make their most impactful statement yet. Joined by a handful of collaborators, such as Shirley Manson, Martin Sorrondeguy of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, and Laura Jane Grace to name only a few, The Hirs Collective constructs a record that’s full of chugging mosh parts and vitriolic, grind-adjacent moments that all feel revelatory. The fact that it’s the band’s most coherent statement, and emboldens Hirs’ message of queer, trans pride—as well as throat-stomping vengeance—makes it a necessary salve, too. [David Anthony]

Muncie Girls, Fixed Ideals

Glossier production and poppier songwriting couldn’t dull the scrappy edge of Muncie Girls on the band’s sophomore album, Fixed Ideals. It definitely falls more on the “pop” side of the pop-punk divide, embracing sunnier melodies and some slower tempos than their instant-classic debut, From Caplan To Belsize. Lande Hekt’s fierce vocals still manage an excellent blend of the personal and political, and few acts have as nimble a way with fills and transitions that showcase the expert songcraft at the heart of these seemingly simple tracks. It’s a record that grows in nuance and depth with each successive listen (and gets better as it progresses from start to finish), while retaining the all-important sing-along refrains that make it a raucously addictive record. [Alex McLevy]

Turnstile, Time & Space

No hardcore band in 2018 has been more divisive than Turnstile (well, save for maybe Knocked Loose). But if it’s guilty of anything, it’s being the genre’s first great gateway band. While both critics and genre purists spent years hurling disparaging 311 comparisons at the band, Time & Space doesn’t so much back off that groove-laced riffing as much as it takes that sound to another level. Songs like “Real Thing,” “Generator,” and “Moon” are perfect examples of a band making instant hardcore classics, and the fact they can bring in Rototom fills and lean on R&B interludes shows there’s something bigger happening on Time & Space. On its second album, Turnstile has built an inclusive scene in its own image, and Time & Space is proof that no amount of negative energy will dampen its glow. [David Anthony]

Vein, Errorzone

Much like Turnstile, Vein has shouldered some unflattering comparisons over the past year. Kornverge is the prevailing one, and while it’s often said as a dig, it’s not totally unwarranted. The band clearly mines Converge’s chaotic hardcore for all its worth, and maybe there is just enough nu-metal in there to warrant wearing an Adidas tracksuit to one of Vein’s shows, but Errorzone isn’t solely concerned with the past. It’s an album that falls in the great lineage of Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, as it throws aside restrictions and brings in whatever elements the band sees fit. Be it the breakbeats in “Virus://Vibrance” or the healthy heaping of guitar played like record scratches in “Demise Automation,” Errorzone highlights why this new wave of metalcore is so refreshing. [David Anthony]

Honorable Mentions

Blood Pressure, Surrounded
Pittsburgh’s Blood Pressure proves that the sound of early-’80s hardcore is still as thrilling as it was the first time around. [David Anthony]

Dark Thoughts, At Work
One of the only Ramones-core bands that doesn’t suck made a very good, and very consistent, second album. [David Anthony]

Drug Church, Cheer
The alt-rock riffing on Cheer is energetic and heavy. Patrick Kindlon’s lyrics elevate the record into a space that can feel both humorous and cathartic. [David Anthony]

Jarada, Jarada
Tel Aviv’s Jarada makes gut-level hardcore with just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. “I Love You But The Government Is Bringing Me Down” isn’t just a great song title, it’s a perfect encapsulation of Jarada’s distinct take on a classic form. [David Anthony]

Jesus Piece, Only Self
Fans of metalcore acts like Code Orange will surely love Jesus Piece, but the last couple songs take a turn into ethereal Godflesh territory that suggest the band’s best work is ahead of them. [David Anthony]

Portrayal Of Guilt, Let Pain Be Your Guide
Pulling influences from both Majority Rule and Pageninetynine, Portrayal Of Guilt makes heavy, doom-laced screamo that never feels like a boring retread. [David Anthony]

Regional Justice Center, World Of Inconvenience
A collaborative project between Ian Shelton and his brother Max—who is currently incarcerated—Regional Justice Center makes a short, powerful statement that features a perspective rarely brought to the surface. [David Anthony]

Svalbard, It’s Hard To Have Hope
Falling somewhere between Fall Of Efrafa and Touché Amoré, Svalbard’s seething It’s Hard To Have Hope is grandiose, crusty, and extremely topical, as song titles like “Unpaid Intern” and “Feminazi” perfectly display. [David Anthony]

Listen to songs from these albums and our other top picks from 2018 on Spotify.