2015 was an awesome year for music; that much is undeniable looking at this year’s lists of the best albums, singles, and music videos, but the crop of punk records released this year was particularly insane in quality (as you will see from the following list, I use “punk” as more of a catch-all term for bands with a DIY culture and connections to the underground hard music scene and not necessary as indicative of a specific sound).

Punk music has been going strong for decades, but 2015 was a banner year for the genre. Check out my favorites below, and let me know in the comments if I missed any of your favorites.

The Top 10

#10: Haste The Day – Coward

Haste the Day is somewhat of a legacy act. They may fall below the tier occupied by the early-00’s cream of the crop (Underoath, Thursday, Glassjaw, Poison the Well), but that second tier is just as memorable, if lesser known (Zao, Hopesfall, From Autumn to Ashes). Haste the Day’s approach, however, has always been unique.

Despite a change in vocalist mid-career, the band has always embraced their material and history, often incorporating both vocalists for shows and live albums (including their farewell live record, Haste the Day vs. Haste the Day). Coward takes that approach to the next level, using both vocalists in a way that transcends simple nostalgia or uniqueness. This is a band utilizing two strong, different-sounding vocalists with similar registers in a new, dynamic, and conscious way.


#9: Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Around the time Deafheaven dropped their first demo, I started expanding my metal musical wanderings. Prior to “Libertine Dissolves,” I stayed pretty clear of metal in general, but that single was a gateway drug. One of my first leaps was to the neo-folk/metal/pop of Chelsea Wolfe.

What I heard was dark, dangerous, sultry, sexy, and terrifying. I had never heard anyone create an atmosphere that was downright witchy in that way before. I didn’t like it at first, but I knew Wolfe’s music was important somehow. Once the pop influences started shedding light on the impenetrable darkness, with Pain is Beauty and Unknown Rooms, that’s when things started to click for me. Gloomy, angular, and yet inexplicably accessible, Abyss takes that to the next level.


#8: Counterparts – Tragedy Will Find Us

What a monster. From the opening drum trill of “Stillborn,” Tragedy Will Find Us goes right for the throat.

At this point, Counterparts is the standard-bearer for melodic hardcore. Where Hundredth’s Free, It Prevails’ Perdition, and Being As An Ocean’s self-titled were strong but unmemorable, TWFU is a different beast. Not only is this album the most aggressive Counterparts has ever sounded, it takes the group’s melodic roots to a whole new stratosphere, utilizing harmonics and melodies in the most crushing, punishing moments. It’s a total treat from start to finish.


#7: The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven

This album came out of left field for me. Ever since The Upsides, my interest in The Wonder Years has been gradually fading. I thought The Upsides was a high mark that would be tough to replicate by any measure, but the group’s last few releases have been particularly inconsistent affairs, with some of the best songs they have recorded placed next to total filler tracks. 2013’s The Greatest Generation followed that pattern; I go back to listen to some tracks on repeat, but rarely do I go back for the whole record.

No Closer To Heaven breaks that pattern decisively. From the opening bars to the closing ones, it’s heartbreaking, jubilant, hopeful, and hopeless. Where detractors can call pop punk sophomoric, no band better encapsulates how the genre can speak to and speak for adult punks in their twenties and beyond. I am fortunate that I’m about two years shy of Soupy Campbell because I’ll have the soundtrack to each successive mid-twenties obstacle ready for me as long as The Wonder Years keep churning out music.


#6: Beach Slang – The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us

Beach Slang delivered one of the best live shows I saw this year and have been critical darlings almost since their inception. The Things We Do… is a stellar debut record, easily living up to the hype created by the band’s show-stopping EPs, and it leaves you not only wanting more, but pretty convinced that Beach Slang is going to be something huge in the near future.


#5: Coheed and Cambria – The Color Before the Sun

God bless Coheed and Cambria. For all the nerdy, prog-emo weirdness that people harp on them for, few bands are as unique or unrepentantly fun. The Color Before The Sun helped me rediscover fun, not to mention their near-perfect back catalogue (with that one noticeable blemish we shall not mention).


#4: Dance Gavin Dance – Instant Gratification

Yes. Just so much yes. It’s tough to know where to begin with this record. Instant Gratification is exactly what it says it is: immediate musical satisfaction.

DGD’s newest vocalist, Tilian Pearson, finally appears totally comfortable in his role. Rather than filling a space, he is key to the whole affair, hitting nigh-inhuman notes and instilling in the album a melodic counterpoint to Jon Mess’ much-improved screams, which simply must be mentioned. (I mean, really? Did he go to screaming camp or something? Until now, his vocal contributions have been minor but appropriate, and now they are very suddenly a highlight.)

If Dance Gavin Dance can hold it together for their next record, it will be the longest stretch the band has had with a single lineup, and if that next album is even half as amazingly fresh and vivacious as this record, it’s going to be something special.


#3: Gates – Bloom and Breathe

Do you like Thrice? Do you miss Moving Mountains? Good. I feel you, dude. Now go get this record because it’s gonna just about fill both of those needs perfectly.


#2: The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise

Yet another band that put on an incredible performance this year. The Dear Hunter’s Act IV is endlessly catchy and more rewarding the more times you listen to it. It feels strange that somewhere between Broadway show tunes and post-hardcore is often where I find myself feeling the most badass when singing to myself, but if the place where those two influences intercept is as consistently satisfying as almost anything The Dear Hunter touches, I can continue to blissfully enjoy this odd pairing.


#1: Turnover – Peripheral Vision

Peripheral Vision dominated my listening this year. From the moment of its release, it’s been nearly constant in my rotation. A lot of bands experimented with new sounds this year (former pop-punk bands, in particular), but none did it as seamlessly or expertly as Turnover.

Where similar sounding act Title Fight’s Hyperview was a Smiths-aping mess (I truly, dearly hate The Smith’s sound more than just about anything else, including commercial country music and EDM) and The Sidekicks’ Runners In The Nerved World was decent but largely forgettable, Peripheral Vision managed to transition Turnover from a pop-punk hopeful to something new. It’s a testament to the fact that a band can move from pop punk to indie rock and maintain its authenticity.

“Cutting My Fingers Off,” “New Scream,” “Dizzy On The Comedown,” “Take My Head,” and “I Would Hate You If I Could” all became my emotional anthems this year, filling the voids and gaps in my heart and soul since 2014 came to a close and vibing perfectly with how I felt this year as a whole. It’s a puzzled, reserved, and quietly intelligent affair. Circumspect in its own emotional tenderness, yet equally as resonant, Peripheral Vision is the best it got this year.


Honorable Mentions

Murder By Death – Big Dark Love

Murder by Death is on record as my favorite modern band. I bought tickets to their New Year’s show in Pioneertown over six months ago, and I couldn’t be more stoked. Big Dark Love is yet another unbelievably quality record from one of the most unique acts in the entire music business. Where it suffers is only in that it is painfully short and tough to compare to Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, their last record and maybe my most played album ever. If the only negative thing I can say about an album is “give me more” and “you’re not my favorite album ever,” there’s really not much to complain about.

murder by death

City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You

Dallas Green has been making us all swoon for close to 15 years now. First in Alexisonfire (who had a brief, somewhat failed return this year…whatever did happen with that?) and now with his even more popular City and Colour, Green has been absolutely dominating the acoustic-rock scene. If I Should Go Before You is at times tender, fervent, and heartbreaking. It’s everything you want from Green’s delicate voice, which hits some new, welcome low registers on this LP.


No Devotion – Permanence

No Devotion’s next record needs to be called “Resilience.” Few bands have been through what Geoff Rickly of Thursday and the former members of Lostprophets have been through. From the latter band’s ignominious end, to Rickly’s Collect Records’ unfortunate connection to infamous hateful human Martin Shrkeli, to all the various tragedies that populate the content of all of Thursday’s records, it has been a constant battle for these gentlemen.

I can say from experience that Rickly is one of the most lovely men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting (and, god, isn’t it nice when your heroes are downright amazing people?), and he desperately deserves a win. Permanence could easily be that if the band can get out from under the black cloud following it. It’s a moody harkening to the days of New Order, My Bloody Valentine, and Joy Division, but done better than any of those bands ever could. But maybe that’s the inner Thursday fan boy in me talking.


Tesseract – Polaris

I really loved Tesseract’s last album, Altered State. When I heard the band was switching vocalists again (the position is something of a revolving door of talent), returning to a former vocalist, I was cautious in my anticipation. Polaris, however, has turned out to be a progressive rock masterpiece. Catchy and edgy at all the right times and bits, it’s like Tool and Karnivool started a Djent metal band with Anthony Kiidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yeah, it’s that cool.


Deafheaven – New Bermuda

I am fairly certain there isn’t anything I can say about New Bermuda that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll leave it to the pros.