Punk is fraught with black humor and irony; hardcore focuses on imparting power. With stress and anxiety as the status quo for artists and other marginalized demographics in a Bay Area that's increasingly unhospitable to all but the wealthy, local punk's satirical sneer has been sharpened and hardcore's rage intensified. It's impossible to divorce music from sociopolitical conditions, and, to say the least, the bands on this list are aggravated and nervous. Shorter formats are essential to these genres, and we ran a list of the year's best local punk and hardcore EPs a few months ago, but this list compiles five of the year's best full-length albums from local acts.
Scraper, Scraper (Cut-Rate)
The lyrical world of Scraper's Billy T-shirt is a delirious fever dream where the social climate and geography of San Francisco is cast in the amorphous forms of a surrealist nightmare. His stage banter exposes the process: spontaneous absurdity tumbles off his tongue, and while the entire audience might not understand it in concrete terms,they can certainly feel it. Scraper speaks to the experience of being a San Francisco punk band more than any other record this year -- disorienting, visceral, and desperate. T-shirt's serrated but intelligible vocal approach extends to unwieldy guitar riffs that impulsively lash out and lacerate. The first time I interviewed the band, we met in the converted meat locker where they rehearsed, a few stories beneath ground-level in the Mission District. Phantom carcasses of yesteryear lent the scrappy thud, wallop, and savagery that the rhythm section tracked to tape on Scraper.
Wild Moth, Over Again (Asian Man)
Wild Moth tempers structural technicality with aggression on its full-length debut. It also balances melancholic resignation with assertiveness and presence. There are trebly post-punk, shoegaze sheen, and towering post-rock crescendos, but Over Again is a testament to the uselessness of all that terminology. It insists that listeners reckon with the album not as an example of some niche genre, but on Wild Moth's own terms. In that case, Over Again is an engrossing nine songs where dissonance wrestles with beauty and impassioned dual vocals vie for attention with one of the punchiest, most inventive, and dynamic rhythm sections in town.
Stillsuit, Sillsuit, (Self-released)
Oakland act Stillsuit's skittish grooves give way to ritual chants and incantations or dissonant notes arranged in jittery rhythms. Stillsuit's music is a seething piece of machinery that screams and wheezes and gasps, drawing listeners closer to its strange circuitry. Though each guitar and vocal track is separated in the mix, Stillsuit's latest album resists deconstruction. It acts upon listeners as a whole, as one clamorous unit that extracts power from the detritus and damage of West Oakland's broken industrial cityscape.
No Statik, Unity & Fragmentation (Iron Lung)
The maximum perceived loudness of recorded music is constrained by physics -- things that mastering engineers worry about, like decibel levels and compression. No Statik's third album defies those limitations, as if the performers' physicality reaches out through the entire recording and manufacturing process to squeeze the maximum impact out of listeners' speakers. It's relentless and burly -- No Statik is one of few hardcore bands with enough structural diversity and original riffs to create an entire album (or three) of totally consummate material.
Violent Change, Violent Change, (Catholic Guilt)
Violent Change's eponymous debut sounds like it was recorded live in one take inside an elevator plummeting to its doom. Violent Change plays out like it's constantly verging on collapse, like the songs had to be recorded that very moment or they never would. Its immediacy is palpable, wafting out from speakers and infecting listeners with a credo that must go something like, "everything must be absolutely necessary and urgent all of the time." It's also very catchy, especially on the closing ode to a big-box store massacre, "In a Wal-Mart Parking Lot" and on "Wasted Poets Overflowed." Bandleader Matt Bleyle sets guitar leads and sensible chord progressions to conventional song structure, but for every step forward towards pop, Violent Change lunges backwards into chaos, and that's the record's charm.