New York is home to the world’s premier punk scene, and has been for a while now. The spectrum of the sound and aesthetic are continuously warping; we see the lines of punk extending to hardcore and noise blur. New bands are born, the go-to bands keep on writing new material, and the nothing lasts just for the sake of lasting. As we pass from one January to the next, let’s take a look back at the best that this great genre in this great city offered us this year. I would not say that 2014 was the strongest year in recent memory for recorded output. But it still killed, because New York punk is that good. Here are the 10 best releases, in no particular order.
Ajax – Bleach for Breakfast 7″ (Even Worse Records) The first time I heard the recordings that would become the Ajax demo, repressed onto vinyl here, I was legitimately pissed off. We were in the vocalist’s apartment in Ithaca, and I had just started a hardcore band of a pretty similar vibe; and then Ajax had to come along and do it way better. A 2014 New York take on Negative Approach-meets-Poison Idea, although the vocal delivery sounds like it’s coming from someone closer to the weight of Pig Champion than Jerry A. Featuring the two most academically driven members of New York’s best young hardcore band from five years ago, Nomos, and the two toughest-looking members of Albany’s best young hardcore band from five years ago, Coughing Fit. This is better than their new self-titled EP, which came out this month. One word: riffs.
Hank Wood & The Hammerheads – Stay Home!! 12″ (Toxic State) The Hammerheads follow up one of the best modern punk records, Leave Home!, with another 12-inch of keyboard punk bangers. While Go Home! delivered hit after hit of gritty street anthems, Stay Home!! takes a step back and a look around. A band aware of its songwriting prowess is opening everything up here, and leaving it all out on the table. This record really hits its stride when it gets slow, particularly with the closer of side A, “I Thought I Was a Good Man.” And the production is even warmer than the baby-blue scarves that they brought on their recent European tour. Curious to see what comes next.
La Misma – La Misma 7″ (Toxic State) I was kind of shocked that this record came out in early 2014. I thought it was a year older than that, but I guess that just speaks to the pure power that is La Misma. Four of New York’s most punk women play in this upbeat, near-classic outfit with catchy-as-hell guitar licks and lyrics yelped/whooped in Portuguese. The band quickly rose to the top tier of New York’s punk scene, and this release definitely cemented their status as A-team. When you listen to this record, you will move your head in a straight-ahead circular nod, similar to the way a pigeon’s head moves when it walks. And you will not be able to stop.
Warthog – Exterminate Me 7″ (Katorga Works) Another raging hardcore release from a band that started as a supergroup/joke called Chain Wallet, this is their most solid front-to-back effort so far. I want to say that this record has the coolest-looking artwork, too, but I can’t, because that honor has to go to the bootleg fan art that some kid sent them in the mail and that ended up on their West Coast tour tape. If there is one thing that Warthog excels at, it’s tempo changes! And this record is no different! It’s hard! It’s good!
Nandas – Demo cassette (self-released) “When you die, I’ll spring for flowers,” “first dates make you nervous, your hand disappears below the surface,” and “toilet water’s sweet on a holy tongue” is the type of gold that only someone who learned the English language by watching The Simpsons could come up with. (Nandas’ singer is Armenian!) It’s hard not to be stoked on this ragtag, zeroes-turned-heroes four-piece. Sloppy, straight-forward punk rock with the perfect amount of snot and swagger. And they look great while they do it.
Ivy – Ivy 12″ (Katorga Works) This is a tough release — and band, for that matter — to describe. Ivy play choppy, at times almost psychedelic punk that is near impossible to paint into a box. About the only reference point is that the scratchy, wailing vocals sound pretty similar to vocalist Eduardo’s previous band, Brown Sugar, an amazing freak-punk outfit formerly from Buffalo. Standout tracks include “Arch-Foe,” “20′ Oh’s Willin 2.0,” and “Antsy.”
Nancy – (Get the) Revvup 7″ (Eat the Life) This single from two dudes who spend a lot of time in their basement playing music, and who both have mothers named Nancy, builds on their demo, which was some straight Ramones/The Spits worship. Well, the B-side, “(Why Am I) Crying?” is in that same vein, but “(Get the) Revvup” definitely turns the rock up to 11, while still feeling consistent with their other tracks. More and more people are finding out about this band, but they’re still one of New York’s better-kept secrets. A truly rocking single from some champions of rock.
Sheer Mag – Sheer Mag 7″ (Wilsuns Recording Company) Sheer Mag is power-pop perfection through a DIY-punk-played-in-gross-basements lens, all with the sensibility of Thin Lizzy devotees. If there is one record this year that has been universally liked by people who are into underground punk music, this has gotta be it. Another cool thing about this record is it’s great for making up your own lyrics. Like on “Hard Lovin,” I like to sing, “Hard loving makes me hard on you.” Those probably are not the real lyrics. Is this band from New York? No. Do I care? Not really. South Philadelphia is pretty close.
L.O.T.I.O.N. – First Audio Document 2013 (Burn Books) L.O.T.I.O.N., or Leaders of Tomorrow Ingest Only Noise, remind us that the dystopia is here and now, and worse and more pervasive than any mid-20th-century conspiracy theorist could have ever imagined. This cassette is an indictment of modern technology, war, and, of course — THE COPS. Blending industrial music with “noise-not-music” punk, the sound perfectly matches the philosophy, and breathes a cold breath of fresh, digital air into 2014 punk. Plus they recently put out a split thumb drive earring with Sadist from Boston, so there’s that.
Vanity – Vanity 12″ (Katorga Works) My roommate told me that the music on this record sounded like early stuff from Skrewdriver (a polarizing band for punks because of their blatant white-power leanings later in their career). After I listened, I got “Boots and Braces” stuck in my head all day, so I guess he was right. An amazingly catchy oi! rock full-length from two guys who played in bands like the Rival Mob, CREEM, and Nuclear Spring. Evan goes back and forth on his vocal styles, which makes this all the more dynamic. I saw them play a one-off live show awhile back, but they will apparently be getting a proper band together in the near future.
Editor’s Note: Reed Dunlea is a frequent contributor to the Voice, formerly one-half of the team that put on New York’s Alright, the city’s annual spring punk festival, hosts Distort Jersey City on WFMU and sings in New York-based bands Missionary and Dipers.