Yarrow | photo via yarrowphl.bandcamp.com

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, Key contributor Yoni Kroll recaps his favorite bands that started in 2018.

What we want from bands is at times a very amusing catch 22: they need to be perfect but not polished, experienced but with a youthful electric energy permeating everything. It’s why you hear people talk crap on new bands. They’re young, they’re inexperienced, they’re doing something new or different or maybe not different at all. It’s why my roommate when I was 20 couldn’t stop talking about how every band I was getting into wasn’t as good as NOFX. True story.

But you know what? I’d rather see a bunch of new bands trying to figure it out than a bunch of old people going through the motions. It’s generally more fun and more interesting. Sure, you might not be able to sing along, but is that really your only criteria for enjoying a band? This year I got to see a bunch of bands that were either just starting or recently coalesced from ‘project’ to actual performance. That includes groups formed for the First Time’s the Charm 2018, a biennial concert held last July “made up of entirely new bands that must include women, people of color, queer, trans and gender non-conforming people, and those with disabilities” all playing their first sets ever.

The goal for the event, which I helped organize, was to create a space for those who have been marginalized in our music communities. It was a resounding success, we donated $1500 to music education non-profit Beyond the Bars, and most importantly eight brand new bands were unleashed on Philadelphia. While continuing past that initial performance is not necessarily a goal of the event, a number of bands from this year and past First Time’s the Charm concerts are still playing out regularly. That includes Teenage Bigfoot and Marge from the 2013 edition, Aster More, Taxes, and Full Bush from 2016, and Babe Grenade, Pritty Gritty, and GRIT from this past year. And yes, those are two bands with ‘Gritty’ in their names well before it was cool to do so. That’s how awesome First Time’s the Charm really is.

Without further ado, here’s some of the best new bands that I saw in the past year. Most of them don’t have any recordings yet, so keep an ear to the ground for that. Think of this also as a list of bands to look for in the coming year because I’m sure they’ll all be doing cool stuff.

In no particular order:

Yarrow – This three piece band includes members of Great Weights and King Azaz. I’ve seen a bunch of different descriptions going around, from doom-gaze (whatever that is) to post-rock, but really they just sound like they’re channeling Slint and Unwound but in a perfectly pissed off kind of way. It’s great stuff and you owe it to yourself to give them a listen.

The Stutter – Speaking of pissed off, The Stutter is pissed off. What are they upset about? You name it, they got it. This Japanese-style hardcore band just played their third show recently, opening up for actual Japanese hardcore band Forward at Boot & Saddle. It was awesome. Loud, angry, and fast. Very fast. They have no recordings yet but will be playing the last good gig of 2018 with Warthog from NYC tonight at Everybody Hits.

The Ire – Goth music is great but most goth bands are just kind of…lacking. This is especially true live, where an actual exciting goth band is a bit of an aberration. Thankfully The Ire are anything but boring. This brand new band is made up of members of another fantastic Philadelphia post-punk act The Guests and Ramones-core rockers Dark Thoughts. They’ve recorded a demo and were kind enough to share one of the tracks with us.

Babe Grenade – This funky five piece has been the most active of the 2018 First Time’s the Charm bands. Tapping into everything from hip hop to punk rock, Babe Grenade has played on bills with bands including Full Bush, Material Girls, Thee Glitterbombs, and Revolution, I Love You. They have nothing released yet, but were recording back in October, so look for that next year.

Wildflowers of America – While they’ve technically been together for a few years, it wasn’t until 2018 that Wildflowers of America keystone Perry Shall – you know him as ‘Perry from Hound’ or ‘That dude with all the t-shirts’ – took the band off the perpetual backburner. He went out to Wisconsin to record a soon-to-be released album with members of Tenement as the backing band and also put together a local lineup that’s been performing regularly. I’ve gotten to see them a couple times this year and if you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, The Plimsouls, or anything else in that part of the pop world you’re going to flip out when you hear this stuff. Go see them open for Mike Krol (no relation) in March at Boot & Saddle.

Carnivorous Bells – When Leo Suarez (ex-Merchandise, Taiwan Housing Project) told me he had a new band, that they sounded like Oxbow, and that they were opening for DC post-punks Priests, I was agog. Leo is a fantastic drummer with great taste in music, I love Oxbow, and Priests are amazing. I went to that show earlier this month at PhilaMOCA and here’s my truncated report back: 1) They sound a lot more like Nomeansno and the Minutemen than Oxbow but that’s pretty cool, too. 2) He didn’t tell me that other members were in Cult Ritual, Salvation, and Latishia’s Skull Drawing, all totally weird and fun hardcore bands. 3) He really is a very excellent and imaginative drummer. No recordings yet, unfortunately, but look for Carnivorous Bells on everything from hardcore shows to weird post-punk bills in 2019.

Juice – Juice rules, OK? Totally freaky party punk from the people who brought you Ursula, Dark Web, Louie Louie, and Cavemen, this four piece band is totally and obviously from another dimension. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’ll make you shake your ass. What more do you want from a band?! See them play with The Guests, Madalean Gauze, and Jesse D at a benefit for the Philadelphia Tenant’s Unit on January 5th at Boot & Saddle and pick up their tape which will be released soon on Get Better Records.

GAZ – I haven’t seen GAZ yet but I’m pretty sure they’ve only played one show. Still, that’s no excuse. This is some excellent and incredibly pounding hardcore punk that leaves you wanting more. Unfortunately I don’t know when that more might come since they have no shows booked right now and I think half the band lives in NYC. Still, you need to check out the demo they put out last month because it’s amazing.

700 Bliss – Like Camae Ayewa wasn’t busy enough already. The sound artist, poet and musician has been touring nonstop both for her solo project Moor Mother and as the lead singer of “liberation-oriented free jazz collective” Irreversible Entanglements. But still she found the time to join up with the always great DJ Haram and put together 700 Bliss. That industrial hip hop duo played their first couple shows last year but didn’t release anything until this February when Spa 700 came out jointly on Don Giovanni Records and Halcyon Veil to absolutely rave reviews. This is seriously one of the best things to have come out of Philly in the past year and I’m excited to see what’s next for 700 Bliss.