2001 best punk albums
[Photo by Chapman Baehler]

How the year 2001 unfolded must’ve deeply disappointed Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, director and co-author, respectively, of 1968’s masterly sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey. For one thing, the space race had petered out aeons ago, and NASA had walked back its most ambitious dreams. In the meantime, we discovered there were bigger villains to contend with than HAL 9000. As it turned out, some of them came from within.

Yes, this is the year of 9/11, when al-Qaeda attacked the Twin Towers at New York’s World Trade Center and The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Following the tragic events, the Bush administration turned its sights on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and argued he’d somehow masterminded the attacks. A war was built on lies and the graves of everyone unduly died at 285 Fulton St., Manhattan, NY that day. Our nation swung rightward politically and has not returned since.

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The good news? Punk was making a return to the charts. Perhaps this was the best time for rebel rock to return, with a war-drunk administration whipping up the masses? Pop punk was behind the charge. Sum 41 released debut All Killer No Filler, featuring hit single “Fat Lip.” blink-182 followed up the massive Enema Of The State with the even more successful Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, the first punk album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Excitingly, 2001 was the first year garage dominated rock’s landscape since the ‘60s. Many of the albums that ushered in millennial garage punk were issued that year. Whether they assaulted radio and MTV in 2002 or not, they were birthed this year.

Welcome to Alternative Press’ top 15 punk albums of 2001. Please enjoy our custom playlist of select highlights as you read.

The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

The third White Stripes album was issued by the influential Sympathy For The Record Industry label July 3. Recorded in a few days’ time at Memphis’ Easley-McCain Recording, it was thus far the best-produced distillation of Jack and Meg White’s complex stew of American roots music with a garage-punk base. Then they went to England, where John Peel broadcast a special live session from them, and select club dates had the U.K. rock press frothing at the mouth.

Back in the States, they were getting all the media attention predicted by the album’s sleeve art. Major label V2 picked up White Blood Cells, giving it a serious push. (An eventual ugly legal battle with Sympathy over legal rights becoming the first of a series of black eyes for Jack. Which is another story.) Tracks such as the Ramones-y “Fell In Love With A Girl,” with it’s Lego-animation video from French film director Michel Gondry, and the country-ish “Hotel Yorba” caught the American imagination. The White Stripes were now Rock Stars, in capital letters, the public curious about this red-and-white duo, whether they were really brother and sister and their primitive-yet-artful rock ‘n’ roll. The first decade of the 21st century’s musical landscape just seismically shifted.

Anti-Flag – Underground Network

Invading the 2000 edition of the Vans Warped Tour led to ferocious Pittsburgh political punks Anti-Flag encountering NOFX supremo Fat Mike. Impressed with what he saw/heard, he offered a two-album deal from his Fat Wreck Chords. While it did not mean Justin Sane and crew were now going pop punk, they could now afford the production services of Mass Giorgini. He gave Underground Network a clean, smooth sonic environment that elevated Sane’s increasingly tight, melodic songwriting. It hardly blunted Anti-Flag’s Clash-goes-screamcore attack, but it made them a household name. Songs such as the title track, “Bring Out Your Dead,” and “Stars And Stripes” remain in Anti-Flag’s gold standard.

The Hives – Your New Favourite Band

Creation Records founder Alan McGee was alternative rock’s supreme kingmaker. The Jesus And Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Oasis — you name it, McGee’s golden ears caught them first and brought them to the world. A chance sighting of Swedish garage powerhouse the Hives’ typically cheeky “Hate To Say I Told You So” in a German hotel room gave him his next discovery. Signing Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and crew to his new Poptones imprint, McGee dropped this compilation of the Hives’ two LPs’ best tracks and highlights from the A.K.A. I-D-I-O-T EP Oct. 22. It soared to No. 7 in the U.K., with singles such as “Hate” and “Main Offender” becoming radio smashes. In 2002, Gearhead Records joined forces with Sire to reissue Veni Vidi Vicious in the U.S. American surrendered to the Swedish invaders, like every other territory. The Hives conquered the world.

Fugazi – The Argument

Fugazipost-hardcore’s founders, for all intents and purposes — had no idea when they began working on their sixth studio album in 1999 that it would be their last. They took an exceptional amount of time crafting The Argument. Extensive jam sessions led to the songs’ gradual development, followed by careful recording and production in the band’s native Washington, D.C. at Inner Ear Studios and Dischord House, Don Zientara again helming. When the results are as gorgeous as dynamic punk basher “Epic Problem” or the intense, rumbling “Full Disclosure,” it’s hard to argue with their methodology. They’ve never officially broken up, going on what they term “indefinite hiatus” since their 2002 U.K. tour’s conclusion. But Fugazi could not have picked a better note on which to exit.

The Dirtbombs – Ultraglide In Black

The Dirtbombs began in 1995 as a side project for Mick Collins, former leader of boss-hoss Detroit garage-sters the Gories. By the time of their second studio LP, Ultraglide In Black, Detroit neo-garage was becoming an international sensation on the White Stripes’ backs. They took the Dirtbombs on tour with them, Jack White acknowledging to journalists the Gories’ influence.

But singer/guitarist Collins and his sprawling cast of two drummers (including Ben Blackwell, Jack’s nephew) and two bassists (including Jim Diamond, Detroit garage’s producer of note, and Tom Potter on fuzz bass) had a spectacular, ambitious album of their own to proudly offer. Ultraglide’s 13 tracks were all obscure soul and funk covers of everyone from Marvin Gaye (“Got To Give It Up”) to Barry White (“I’m Qualified To Satisfy You”) to Stevie Wonder (“Livin’ For The City”).

U.S. Bombs – Back At The Laundromat

Southern California punk fundamentalists U.S. Bombs appeared to be the last band on American soil preserving 1977 pogo rock. Reduced to a trim trio backing skate legend singer Duane Peters, Back At The Laundromat was not only their fifth studio recording but their penultimate release under their contract with Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat Records. Peters must have heard the war drums beating all the way down in Orange County as they were recording. Anti-war or anti-jingoist lyrics fueled most of these Clash city rockers. It was certainly good to hear someone push back the misguided hawkish mood of the day.

The Strokes – Is This It

Their stardom was presented as a fait accompli by the U.K. rock press before it actually happened: NME splashed them all over their cover just as spring melted into the summer that year, declaring the Strokes “NYC’s next big thing” at a time when few Manhattanites had heard of them. While they may have been toiling in the local clubs, they were getting an English push via the newly resurgent Rough Trade Records, who’d issued a brief demo as The Modern Age EP. A bidding war erupted Stateside, RCA winning the honors to issue Is This It one month after 9/11.

The label nixed the cover pic of a naked female backside in profile for what looked like an ancient map and excised the song “New York City Cops” for fear of post-WTC-attacks reprisals. Something about looking like rumpled versions of all the male members of Blondie and perfecting a sound reminiscent of mid-’70s post-Velvet Underground Lower East Side faves such as Television gone pop proved refreshing to large numbers of young people. “Last Nite” soon blasted from every radio in earshot, as the video saturated MTV. The Strokes opened a door for punk-ish bands to cross into the mainstream. Garage acts such as the White Stripes, the Hives and England’s the Libertines soon followed.

Alkaline Trio – From Here To Infirmary

Chicago pop-punk aces Alkaline Trio moved from Asian Man Records to bigger indie Vagrant for their third studio full-length. The self-produced From Here To Infirmary was recorded amid much drumming instability: Former Smoking Popes beat master Mike Felumlee replaced Glenn Porter, with ex-Rocket From The Crypt skin-smasher Atom Willard deputizing for the subsequent tour and appearing in the “Private Eye” video. Better distribution and a bigger budget meant Matt Skiba and co. could afford the mixing services of Jerry Finn, already a first-call pop-punk engineer and/or producer for Green Day, Rancid and blink-182. Finn gave AT a radio-friendly sonic sheen that gave them their first Billboard chart placings — No. 199 on the Top 200 and No. 9 on the Independent Albums list. 

Toilet Böys – Toilet Böys

Before the Strokes’ ascent, glam punk had been the sound of the Lower East Side for the ‘90s. Following the 1999 dissolution of scene kings D Generation, Toilet Böys were the clear inheritors of the throne. Centered around club DJ Miss Guy and fire-breathing lead guitarist Sean Pierce, they’d cleared lots of turf with their catchy KISS-goes-punk sound and a highly theatrical stage show. Spark-showers, smoke, lasers, strobes, synchronized flame-columns, cheerleaders, confetti cannons, burning guitars and Pierce shooting flames from his mouth — gigs were a visual blitzkrieg. Their fourth and final studio album was their most slickly-produced, owed to extensive use of Pro Tools. Tracks such as the anthemic “Another Day In The Life” should have decimated radio, especially given MTV’s fondness for the latter’s video.

Backyard Babies – Making Enemies Is Good

Swedish sleaze rockers Backyard Babies had become globe-trotting rock ‘n’ roll vets by the time they cruised into the studio to cut their third LP. Now signed to RCA/BMG worldwide, they now had a larger recording budget. So metal producer Toms Skogsberg gave Making Enemies Is Good a huge FM rock production filled with in-your-face guitar crunch and lots of sparkling midrange. The results were some big hit singles in their homeland, including “Brand New Hate,” source of the album’s title, co-written with Ginger of U.K. raunchmeisters the Wildhearts. While not as gonzoid as 1998 masterpiece Total 13, it was as solid and hard-rockin’ a Backyard Babies set as you’ll find.

Dropkick Murphys – Sing Loud, Sing Proud!

With former Bruisers growler Al Barr firmly gripping the vocal mic since 1998’s The Gang’s All Here, Boston’s Celtic street punks Dropkick Murphys saw plenty of lineup shake-ups during their third LP’s making. Founding guitarist Rick Barton cut bait and ran after completing only three of Sing Loud, Sing Proud!’s tracks. He handpicked Ducky Boys six-stringer James Lynch as his replacement, with the band also adding then-teenage lead guitar whiz-kid Marc Orrell. Additionally, they recruited full-time bagpiper Robbie “Spicy McHaggis” Medeiros and mandolinist/tin whistler Ryan Foltz. And this is only a fraction of the record’s sprawling cast! Pogues legend Shane MacGowan lends his charred-and-ravaged pipes to “Good Rats,” while Cock Sparrer’s Colin McFaull fronts the Motörhead banger “The Fortunes Of War.” Which illustrates just how seamlessly Dropkick Murphys stitched Irish folk influences into their boots-n-braces punk rock.

The (International) Noise Conspiracy – A New Morning, Changing Weather

Swedish leftist garage outfit the (International) Noise Conspiracy — otherwise known as “what Dennis Lyxzén did after Refused” — couldn’t have picked a better time to have unleashed their second album. A New Morning, Changing Weather emerged just as the latest wave of garage punk was kicking over the barricades and storming the mainstream. Which was perfect for a self-styled revolutionary mod outfit. Interestingly, ANMCW saw the (I)NC fucking with the form as much as Refused did with hardcore on The Shape Of Punk To Come. Jazz influences permeated the soul and fuzzbox-rock sounds, especially in drummer Ludwig Dahlberg’s staggering beats and off-kilter time signatures. Post-garage, anyone?

Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American

The third LP from Mesa, Arizona’s Jimmy Eat World had a fraught history that would have mortally wounded lesser bands. 1999’s Clarity practically snuck out, for the scant attention Capitol Records gave it. Between labels, the band all took on day jobs as they worked with blink-182 producer Mark Trombino in a piecemeal fashion on what became Bleed American at Los Angeles’ Cherokee Studios. Finally issuing the results via DreamWorks in July, the label second-guessed the title two months later, in wake of the 9/11 attacks. The label re-released it with an eponymous title in December. Then “The Middle,” with its Latin-tinged guitar break and pep-talk lyrics born of the trying experiences marking the album’s genesis, broke out as a single in October and became a chart monster. Reaching No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it vindicated the previous two years’ struggle.

Rocket From The Crypt – Group Sounds

Following their six-year dalliance with the majors at Interscope Records, San Diego avant-garage-ists Rocket From The Crypt went on a brief hiatus. Mastermind John Reis took the time-out to launch his Swami Records label, as well as new bands Hot Snakes and Sultans. Hence the emergence of sixth album Group Sounds via Vagrant caused necks to snap everywhere. Once the neck braces were snapped in place, it became apparent it was as solid a set of RFTC tunes as they’d ever crafted. “Savoir Faire” in particular seemed an immediate entry into that Rocket From The Crypt greatest hits playlist anyone who loved the band had been compiling since Paint As A Fragrance.

The Donnas – The Donnas Turn 21

It had already been a long evolution for Palo Alto teen punks the Donnas. In eight years, they’d gone from junior high school metallicists as the Electrocutes to Ramones-worshippers, then Runaways avatars as the Donnas. The metal influences gradually surfaced more and more, until The Donnas Turn 21 was a full-fledged hard-rock crusher, right down to guitarist Allison Robertson’s post-Ace Frehley fretwork and a faithful Judas Priest cover (“Living After Midnight”). Except they composed 13 male-objectifying anthems for the album, in a clever feminist reversal of metal misogyny. Cringe when you hear dumb come-ons such as “Are You Gonna Move It For Me?” or “Do You Wanna Hit It?” Imagine how your mom must have felt, hearing “Plaster Caster” or “We’re An American Band” way back when. Suck it up, dude.