Angry & Acoustic—A Guide To Folk Punk

By Jessa Evenden, Feature Photo via Noisey

If creating a subgenre of music is like making a big, nasty stew, then the ingredient list for folk punk would be an unlikely one. You need to start with a strong stylistic base: add in equal parts mandolin, accordion, banjo, and fiddle, but make sure you add a dash of foot-stomp and hand-clap to give the sound some body. Lyrically, you want a heavy dose of sunshine and rainbows — it’s punk, but a lot of folk punk consists of aggressive, screaming vocals focused on doing your best, staying alive, and being a happy member of society (but not necessarily mainstream society). You’ll need a little more than a sprinkle of anarchy to get the right type of punk texture.

Allow the product to age for 30 years or so – folk punk was popular in the 80s, but the form it’s taken on now is better than ever. Of course, you want every step of this to be DIY. Labels like Plan-it-X and One Side Dummy Records are all about that DIY-or-Die attitude – so much so that folk punk is often called DIY punk by its artists. In the end,  you’ll have a diverse musical flavour — pleasant and light, rough and gritty, sometimes a tiny bit distasteful. It might make you cry, but it’ll probably make you puke. Here’s a sampling of folk punk for a taste of the subgenre.

Andrew Jackson Jihad – “Rejoice

Arguably the most important of introductory folk-punk songs, this is one of my personal favourites and a track that perfectly embodies folk-punk for what it is: often loudly and proudly optimistic in the punkest way possible. After midterms these lyrics might comfort you: “Rejoice despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds / Rejoice because you’re trying your best.” I’m considering getting “AJJ 4-EVA” stick-n-poke’d on my forehead.

Paul Baribeau – “Christmas Lights

This song is another great intro to folk punk, as it’s easy to listen to and is considered good transitional material: not too punk to upset the delicate sensibilities of pure folk fans. Besides, this song’s a gut-wrencher — think about your family home and give it a listen.

The Front Bottoms – “Flashlight

This song contains some of my favourite lyrics: “When I am sad, oh gosh I am sad / But when Im happy, I am happy / And theres just no place in between for us to meet.” Along with a sound that is so catchy and easy on the ears, this song is one that I find myself playing nearly daily — no exaggeration. I’m going to be honest: Brian Sella sounds a lot like Tom Delonge, which is a plus for a huge Blink-182 fan like myself. It’s another great song that pairs well with AJJ and Paul Baribeau.

Kimya Dawson – “I Like Giants

A song from Remember That I Love You, Kimya Dawson rose to mainstream prominence when her music was featured in Juno. Absolutely folk and totally punk, this song is a little more charmingly “dinky” than powerhouses like Johnny Hobo and Blackbird Raum, but it is incredible in it’s own right.  This is the kind of tune that makes any day a good day. Or, at least, decent.

Defiance, Ohio – “Im Against The Government

This band combines a lot of different elements; a punk band at heart, this song is vital for anyone who wants to take over the world, one electric car at a time. After all, it’s election season and this song will bring out the anarchist in anyone.

Ghost Mice – “Fuck Shit Up”

This song is incredibly romantic. Off of Ghost Mice’s album All We Got Is Each Other , this is sweet, endearing, and also punk. Never forget that all of this is so very, very punk. DIY or die.

Ramshackle Glory – “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist

This is one of the first folk-punk songs I’ll recommend to anyone. Ramshakle Glory released this song on their album Live the Dream. Ramshackle is also the newest band of Pat “The Bunny.” This is another prime example of that eternal, oh-so-punk optimism.

Johnny Hobo and the Fright Trains – New Mexico Song

This is the old band of Pat “The Bunny.” Johnny Hobo came before Ramshackle and is a grittier, grimier, and more rough sound. This is the kind of song you would play while you stuff your favourite three possessions into your backpack and hitchhike to Albuquerque, living the dream of being “dirty, broke, beautiful and free.”

Blackbird Raum – “Honey in the Hair”

This is essential Blackbird Raum. This song introduces their accordion-heavy, foot-stomping, and particularly unique brand of folk-punk. It seems to be a little heavy on the folk first off – that is, until the vocals come in. Then it turns into the perfect song to sing when you’re drunk and have bit of extra aggression to scream out.

Against Me! – “Baby, I’m an Anarchist”

Worth mentioning in any folk-punk round up is Against Me! Originally an acoustic punk band, their early stuff helped to define folk-punk as what it is today.  Although their sound isn’t particularly DIY or folk anymore, this is off of their 2003 album and it’s the perfect closing to this guide.

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