Crossfader’s Folk Punk Primer
To check out the complete “Crossfader Folk Punk” playlist, click on the Spotify link at the top of the page or scroll to the bottom.
Punk is dead, and depending on who you ask, it’s been dead from some point between November of 1977, 1984, April 5th, 1994, or when Fugazi went into hiatus in 2003. Luckily, for all fans of rebellion through DIY music, folk punk has emerged in the 21st century as a vital breath of fresh air to a genre that easily could have become as irrelevant and kitschified as disco. From house shows played in basements, to the re-utilization of DIY creative spaces, to community organized activism, folk punk has been taking back punk rock’s radical roots while simultaneously offering a new perspective and sound to the genre. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with folk punk already, below are the essential folk punk albums to cut your teeth on. Many of the albums and artists featured in this list are connected to the incredible Plan-It-X records, the label that has served as the backbone for the subgenre since 1994. For a great introduction to so many of the great folk-punk artists drifting from squat to squat across America, check out the YouTube channel A Fistful of Vinyl.
Ramshackle Glory – LIVE THE DREAM
Pat the Bunny is arguably the most important voice in folk punk. With a catalog spanning back almost a decade with his first band Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, Pat has been the loud, slightly screechy, enormously passionate and defiant singer/songwriter to so many incredible albums. Mixing the immediate and personal with the political, he phrases things simply yet profoundly in a way that articulates the frustrations of a person living in a society that is fundamentally flawed. He manages to combine complicated concepts from anarchist and post-modern theory and make them simple, direct, and immediately accessible.
LIVE THE DREAM is Pat’s most well-rounded album, created in 2011 with his band Ramshackle Glory, a year after going to rehab and getting clean from heroin and alcoholism. It’s a lucid and passionate record about overcoming self-loathing and self-destructive beliefs in favor of actually working towards making the world around you a better place. The banjos and violins that accompany Pat give a sweetness and a ferocity to his music that makes this album truly shine. The track on this record that is most famous is “Your Heart is Your Muscle the Size of Your fist”, an anthem that transcends the genre of folk punk with its chorus: “your heart is a muscle the size of your fist, keep on lovin’, keep on fightin’, and hold on for your life”. Other tracks that really shine include “We Are All Compost in Training”, “From Here to Utopia”, “Vampires Are Poseurs”, and “First Song, Part 2”.
Other albums to hear by Pat include the solo version of LIVE THE DREAM, entitled DIE THE NIGHTMARE, BURN THE EARTH, LEAVE IT BEHIND by his band Wingnut Dishwashers Union, and his solo albums THE MARK INSIDE and DEPARTURES (in addition, we just reviewed his most recent solo effort).
Andrew Jackson Jihad – PEOPLE THAT CAN EAT PEOPLE ARE THE LUCKIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
Andrew Jackson Jihad is the band that may have attained the most mainstream success of any folk punk band, and for good reason. In many ways, their style of shaky-voiced honesty and focus on personal pain over political activism has defined the subgenre. What makes them so powerful is their combination of morbid and obscene lyrics, with a quivering, enduring hope that one day things might just get a little better. The opening track to PEOPLE WHO CAN EAT PEOPLE ARE THE LUCKIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, “Rejoice”, perfectly encapsulates what makes them such a fantastic band. Singer Sean Bonnette implores you to “Rejoice despite the fact this world will hurt you, rejoice despite the fact this world will kill you, rejoice despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds, rejoice because you’re trying your best”. The record is a roller coaster of emotions and a call to find joy in a dark world, and eight years after its release it still holds up as a masterpiece in the subgenre.
Other albums to check out by AJJ include CANDY CIGARETTES, CAPGUNS, ISSUE PROBLEMS!, AND SUCH (that’s all one album, not multiple albums), and LIVE AT THE CRESCENT BALLROOM.
Defiance, Ohio – THE GREAT DEPRESSION
A fantastic, direct, and dirty record, THE GREAT DEPRESSION is a great example of the sound of folk punk and how distinct it is from traditional punk rock. Violins, washboards, and stand-up bass give this record a sound and ethos separate from the electric noise of hardcore punk. That’s not to say that this album doesn’t rock; there’s more tracks to mosh to than you can shake your defiant fist at. What makes THE GREAT DEPRESSION still hold up almost a decade after its release is the focused and varied ways it eviscerates complacent suburban America: it’s an angry record with several passionate voices coming together to howl against a dying culture. Tracks like “Oh, Susquehanna”, “Calling Old Friends”, and “Condition 11:11” provide a cathartic release for every punk kid desperate to escape their parents’ house. The songs also have a structure and style similar to the political folk anthems of Woody Guthrie, giving the album a sense of timelessness.
Jeffrey Lewis – TWELVE CRASS SONGS
One of the most interesting contributions to folk punk, anti-folk New York musician Jeffrey Lewis dips his toes into punk rock by covering the enormously influential anarcho-punk band Crass on TWELVE CRASS SONGS. What really makes it such a phenomenal album is how Lewis manages to take Crass’ harsh music and make it melodic and enjoyable, while still bringing out their incredibly powerful lyrics. It’s a fantastic way to introduce people who may have been turned off by Crass to their message and ideas. The whole album is a musically eclectic and rich arrangement of instrumentation, giving each track its own interpretation and sound. What’s particularly impressive is how the passion and anger are retained despite the more soothing sound of the music: just listen to tracks like “I Ain’t Thick, It’s Just a Trick” to hear the fury still present in Lewis’ voice. It’s an album that can be listened to over and over again due to its perfect combination of righteous anger and amazing lyrics. Other tracks worth specifically checking out include “Systematic Death”, “Big A, Little A”, and “Where Next Columbus?”.
Days N Daze – Rogue Taxidermy
One of the most impressive artists to have emerged in the last few years from folk punk, Days N Daze delivers an addictive combination of acoustic guitar, mandolin, trumpets, and death metal screams. Their ultra fast-paced, bluegrass-tinged music is exciting and passionate for both the first time you hear it and the fortieth time. The music is reminiscent of lonely hikes, drunken camp-outs, and vicious hangovers, but combined with the sweetness of male and female vocal harmonies, it makes for deeply comforting music to take in. Tracks to check out to get a sense of the band include “Misanthropic Drunken Loner”, “Fuck It!”, and “Day Gaunts”, but absolutely go from there and give the whole album a listen.
Blackbird Raum – SWIDDEN
One of the darkest and most haunting bands in folk punk, Blackbird Raum utilizes a more traditional folk sound, combined with abstract, image-driven lyrics. However, the anger and raw passion that carries through from track to track on SWIDDEN is in an undeniably punk fashion. On the most famous track from the record, “Honey in the Hair”, the band promises : “One day this will all come down, all come crashing right down, so go on with your life, we will bring you down”. It serves as a thesis to the whole album; the righteous defiance from track-to-track is intoxicating and exhilarating as the band tears through one song after another, making it an essential folk punk record.
O’Death – BROKEN HYMNS, LIMBS, AND SKIN
If you asked O’Death, they probably wouldn’t categorize themselves as folk-punk, and their sound has certainly diverged considerably on the records following this one. When I try to explain this record to people, I usually end up saying that it’s like someone introduced a bunch of hillbillies deep in the Ozarks to Black Flag and Bad Brains. It’s awesome, in other words. Lyrically, this album mostly consists of disturbing descriptions of body parts found amongst dirt and chickens, but musically it takes on the ferocity of thrash and hardcore punk, with banjos and screeching violins. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re in a circle pit behind a log cabin, drinking moonshine and listening to the strange sounds of the forest around you, this is the album for you. More than any other folk-punk album on this list, BROKEN HYMNS, LIMBS, AND SKIN captures the chaos and energy that can be felt when you get lost deep in the outdoors, stripping away civility and modernity in favor of the primal and unforgiving forces of nature. Tracks to check out include “Fire on Peshtigo”, “Legs to Sin”, “Vacant Moan”, and “Lean-To”.
Sledding With Tigers – A NECESSARY BUMMER
Sledding with Tigers is the sweetest, gentlest folk punk band in the whole wide land of folk punk. Lead singer Dan Faughdner is a silly, sometimes sad, always endearing lyricist; his confessional style draws people in an absolutely infectious way. I’ve seen them twice now, and their preferred method of performing is to stand in the center of a crowd circled around them, like they’re being hugged by their fans; it’s a sincere form of presentation that matches their music. While all of their releases have noteworthy tracks, A NECESSARY BUMMER is the culmination of the sound they’ve built up over the last few years. The opening lyrics of the album are “if self-loathing was a sport, well I’d finally be good at a sport”, and the self-deprecating humor carries out swimmingly from there. Tracks like “Oasis by Wonderwall”, “Not So Body Posi After All”, “Handshake (Never Take Relationship Advice from the Lead Singer of a Pop-Punk Band”, and “That One Limp Bizkit Song” are the stand outs, but the whole album is a funny, charming, and melancholic listen well worth your time. It’s also worth noting that they recently released a concept album revolving around the movie SPACE JAM, our review of which you can read here.
Mischief Brew – SONGS FROM UNDER THE SINK
A fantastic combination of personal and political anthems, SONGS FROM UNDER THE SINK is a musically diverse and consistently engaging record. It’s a focused, angry, but eternally hopeful record that marches against the corrupt powers that be, with incredibly strong songwriting backing the whole thing. This is also an album that understands the full power and majesty of coffee, two of my personal favorite tracks being “Gimme Coffee, or Death” and “Coffee, God, and Cigarettes”. There are so many other tracks that stand out as deeply exciting and moving songs: “Thanks, Bastards!”, “Gratitude and Thanks”, “Love and Rage”, and “How Did I Get Out Alive” immediately come to mind. Of all the patches you’re likely to see at a punk show these days, Mischief Brew have established themselves as the band the most punks feel the need to adorn parts of their clothing with, and for good reason; this is an album that makes fighting the good fight feel entirely worth it.