Received wisdom says that as you get older, you get more conservative. Sure, there are plenty of possible theories as to why that might be the case – accumulation and therefore protection of wealth, changing priorities, the idealism of youth wearing thin – but honestly, I think it’s all bullshit. This year, I felt more radical than ever. Maybe it’s because we’re staring fascism dead in the face, maybe it’s because we’re watching the world burn, maybe it’s because we’re holding the match. And, like the title of this record, The Wonder Years penned it for me: “I’m angry like I’m 18 again.”

My belief in punk, DIY and community is stronger and more urgent than it has ever been. Relaunching this fuckin’ website right here (and coming on board as co-editor) has reinforced everything important in my life and pushed me to be better in every way possible. So, it’s pretty unsurprising that Proper.’s radically charming and ambitious second record has been the one in 2019. It’s sharply political, emotionally intense and pulls together elements of what has come before but expands what punk as a broad and constantly evolving genre can be. 

I’ve experienced it in a multitude of ways. I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better is incredibly full of character and straight-up funny in so many places, from the false start of almost parodical emo opener ‘Reprise’ that with a record scratch cuts into the more upbeat ‘Curtains Down! Throw in the Towel’; the opening line “Oh my god I’m back on my bullshit” on ‘A$AP Rocky Type Beat’; the cover of ‘Dancing Queen’ that closes out ‘Fucking Disgusting’. These moments of joy balance serious and difficult explorations of otherness across racial, sexual and familial lines, often in the same verse. Every song has multiple layers of sentiment and executes them with a depth that many corners of emo, as a genre, has often lacked. 

The record is unparalleled in its boldness and its hope. In ‘New Years Resolutions’, following a tongue-in-cheek radio show introduction of the band, its members and its achievements, when asked: “What’s new for Proper. in the new year?” by the presenter, the song kicks into gang vocals denouncing racism, neoliberalism and transphobia: 

“If your feminism isn’t intersectional – we don’t want it!
If only cisgender black lives matter to you – we don’t want it!
If you’re only an ally on a keyboard – we don’t want it!
We don’t fucking want it!”

It’s a statement of intent that introduces the second half of the record which, to me, feels like it has more heart than is possible to hold at times, especially in its discussions of childhood and identity in songs such as ‘Lime Green Jheri Curl’ and ‘White Sheep’. When I came off medication for anxiety that dulled the edges of my most extreme emotions, I refamiliarised myself with crying one day while stuck in traffic as the line “Hate that my earliest memories were pretending to be okay” hit like a gut-punch of childhood trauma. The journey the song takes from being viscerally angry with family but countering it with understanding and empathy in the same three-and-a-half minutes – and holding all of those feelings together – is extraordinary songwriting.

Closer and title track, I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better encapsulates everything before it, building over seven minutes to reach a crescendo that anyone who has grown up and lived with struggle, who has not been able to be their full self or have that self be truly and honestly seen, will feel with their entire body. Delivered with the fury of both punk and rap, vocalist and guitarist Erik Garlington spits – over the repeated line, “Fight for more good days than bad, fight for the life you told your younger self you’d have” – a powerful outro that couldn’t be more vital as we close out the year:

“A grand gesture to the world:
I was here, I made something, I spoke up
I got better, maybe you can too?
If that’s what you want, but what do I want?
Because I tell myself I want a mule and forty acres of land
I tell myself I want to reclaim my motherlands
I tell myself I want to be the biggest fucking band on this planet
But really though, honestly, I would settle for making those dull lights from the beginning a little more bright
I want to die knowing I made it even a little easier for every single kid like me”

  1. Proper. I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better
  2. Prince Daddy & the Hyena – Cosmic Thrill Seekers
  3. Oso Oso – basking in the glow
  4. Better Oblivion Community Centre – S/T
  5. PUP – Morbid Stuff
  6. Nervus – Tough Crowd
  7. Microwave – Death is a Warm Blanket
  8. Slingshot Dakota – Heavy Banding 
  9. Origami Angel – Somewhere City
  10. Fresh – Withdraw