This edition of 'In Defense of the Genre' looks at 18 early 2000s punk albums that were too gritty for the bubblegum pop punk TRL was playing but too tuneful for the depths of the hardcore underground, and still sound vital today.
The first major mainstream pop punk explosion happened in 1994 with the release of landmark albums like The Offspring's Smash and Green Day's Dookie, and it only got bigger from there with the 1999 release of blink-182's game-changing Enema of the State, which helped make punk bigger than ever throughout most of the 2000s. As the genre reached new mainstream heights, a lot of really interesting stuff was happening just beneath the surface. There was a real spotlight put on punk overall, and with the increasing popularity of Warped Tour and punk compilation CDs, smaller bands were often able to be right there alongside the giants of the genre. Punk labels could also presumably give their bands a little more money for recording in the 2000s than in the previous decade, so it's no surprise that some of the best sounding punk records came out of this era.
Among the many prevailing trends in punk at the time was a new wave of melodic punk and hardcore that was too gritty for the bubblegum pop punk TRL was playing but too tuneful for the depths of the hardcore underground (and usually released on labels like Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords, No Idea, Asian Man, Jade Tree, etc). There's not really a widely agreed-upon word for this sound (though you may know it as Orgcore, which gets its name from punknews.org favoring a lot of these bands), and even "melodic punk" and "melodic hardcore" are vague descriptors with definitions that differ depending on the era or the person you're talking to, but whatever you call it, there's a definite thread that ties together Against Me! to Hot Water Music to Strike Anywhere to The Lawrence Arms, and this article is about the bands tied to that thread.
Of the hundreds of good records in this realm that came out in the early/mid 2000s, I've picked 18 essential ones from the years 2000-2005 that hold up especially well today for this edition of In Defense of the Genre. A lot of these bands have great new music out this year or in recent years, so several of these classics are by bands who are still shaping punk today. And even for the ones that haven't released music in a while, every album on this list is an album that still sounds impactful in the year 2020. Whether it's because of a message that resonates right now, or a sound that remains influential, or both, there's a lot to be gained from revisiting (or discovering for the first time) all of the albums on this list.
The list is in chronological, unranked order, and I stuck to one album per band. Read on for my picks and let us know your favorite early/mid 2000s melodic punk and hardcore albums in the comments...
Kid Dynamite - Shorter, Faster, Louder (2000)
After the 1997 breakup of Lifetime -- who were a huge influence on a lot of the bands on this list -- guitarist Dan Yemin formed Kid Dynamite, whose 1998 self-titled debut remains one of the finest melodic hardcore albums of the '90s. In 2000, they got ahead of all the fans and critics who would've surely called their sophomore album "shorter, faster, louder" by naming the album that, and this 18-song, 24-minute collection very much lives up to its title. Their label Jade Tree called it an "album so straightforward, precise, and skillfully executed, it probably had to be their last," and it's hard to disagree with that too. Dan Yemin would go further in a hardcore direction with his next band Paint It Black, while vocalist Jason Shevchuk would get even more melodic with his next band None More Black, but Shorter, Faster, Louder sat right on top of that fence between pop punk and hardcore, leaning over towards one side and then back to the other but never jumping fully onto one side. It has all the grit and attack of a true-blue hardcore record, but within Jason Shevchuck's gravelly shouts were bright melodies that any of the major label bands would've been jealous of.
Alkaline Trio - Maybe I'll Catch Fire (2000)
These days, Matt Skiba has a bigger platform than ever as Tom DeLonge's replacement in blink-182 (though Alkaline Trio also have a solid new EP out), but back when the "All the Small Things" video was ruling TRL, Matt was the co-frontman of the burgeoning Chicago punk band Alkaline Trio, who made good on the promise of their 1998 debut album Goddamnit with their 2000 sophomore LP Maybe I'll Catch Fire. It was their last album with original drummer Glenn Porter and last for Asian Man Records before the Trio signed to Vagrant, polished up their sound, and released 2001's breakthrough From Here to Infirmary (their sole album with drummer Mike Felumlee before recruiting Derek Grant). As good as the Vagrant era is, there's a charm to the rawer Maybe I'll Catch Fire that you can't get from any of the Trio's other albums. Compared to the rougher, faster Goddamnit, Maybe I'll Catch Fire saw Skiba and bassist/co-frontman Dan Andriano getting more dynamic, experimenting with slower tempos, and writing catchier songs, but they were still in much less radio-friendly territory than they'd be a year later. With dark lyricism, imagery, and tones, but anthemic, irresistible hooks, it's not easy to pigeonhole Maybe I'll Catch Fire. It's too grim for pop punk, too punk for emo, and too ambitious for straight-up punk. Really it just sounds like Alkaline Trio; distinct within their discography, but not mistakable for any other band.