Billy Pettinger – I Have to Do This – 2016

billy pettinger

What did I used to have before I had nothing?” ~ Fucked Up, “Glass Boys”

Billy Pettinger gives insight into the (un)making of this album: after Frank Turner produced her last album (Billy the Kid’s Horseshoes & Hand Grenades for biggie-indie label Xtra-Mile), Laura Jane Grace and Ryan Adams blipped in and, disappointingly, out of the picture as potential producers on this one; Xtra-Mile passed, as well. With a batch of songs that deserves the wider distribution and the notoriety of those producers, Pettinger committed them to record herself. That is the limit of this tragedy–that the songs are handicapped in distribution when they should be pandemic. The tragedy does not extend to the actual product, which Pettinger hoped to be demos on their way to full production, but which turned out as surely one of the best albums of the year.

There’s no lonelier sound than a sole electric guitar and a drum machine*. Knowing the backstory going into the album (a story Pettinger shares openly on the Bandcamp where you can buy this), that loneliness amplifies. But like all Pettinger’s work, there is such gratitude and insistence and, somehow, faith, that the loneliness candies into head-rushing, sternum-crushing pop. There’s 15 songs here, all of them well lyric’d. For instance,

the bridge of “Architects”:

We’re always making plans, not redesigning
Something that was likely never even supposed to last
But I would pick up the pieces again, if you asked,


and the pre-chorus of “I Ain’t Dead”:

It only makes it feel like they were all fucking with us when we were kids
The only reason I’m alive right now is because I didn’t have the same dealer that she did,

but the album succeeds as a perfect blend of tones. That stranded guitar. That receding, far-away drum sound. Those fugal lyrics. That voice that worries nobody wants to hear it. I’m so happy I heard Billy Pettinger opening for Tim Barry four years ago. Whatever should’ve happened between now and then, I Have to Do This is exactly what I have to hear. Essential Listening.

*Pettinger has drummed in bands before, so she very likely played live drums here. Either way, they serve the songs so well.

FFO: Cyndi Lauper, Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks, Tim Barry, Kendl Winter. Steam and buy from Pettinger’s Bandcamp. Follow her on Facebook.



I wrote about Billy Pettinger a few years ago when she was duetting with Joe McMahon as Billy + Joe. Since then, she’s forged forward with her solo career as Billy the Kid, releasing DIY long players each of the last few years. Even with all that momentum, this year’s Horseshoes and Hand Grenades still registers as a major step forward. It’s her first album backed by the mighty Xtra Mile Recordings; it was produced by Frank Turner; it sounds ecstatic to exist.

It’s a contagious ecstasy, a record that appeals effortlessly. It’s consistently interesting across fourteen songs; fun to spend forty minutes with an artist who’s happy for the opportunity to reach you. To me, it sounds like a badass Cyndi Lauper record. Definitely worth further investigation for fans of recent stuff by Ryan Adams, Frank Turner, Lydia Loveless, Amanda Shires.

Phone Bills
Lord Let Me
Walkin’ Around Hotel Blues

Snag the album on digital and CD from Xtra Mile Recordings.


There were so many good albums this year that I couldn’t make the decision to rank them, and I know that’s not the most important decision anyway, so this year’s best-of list is in groups with no internal order. This is the art I spent my cherished/wasted time consuming this year. Hope everybody’s upcoming year is full of growth.

Albums, Best of the Best:

Albums, Rest of the Best:

EPs, 7″s, Demos:

Reissues, Lost Albums

  • Tony FlaminioThe Grim Repair – from the head of the Failures’ Union, reissue of 2003 cd-R
  • Karen Dalton – 1966 – haunting voice and banjo recorded over porches and kitchen tables at her cabin in Boulder CO
  • Michael Hurley – Back Home with Drifting Woods – unreleased 1964 sessions from the freak folker and gorgeous yodeler
  • Jawbreaker – Bivouac – the glory

  • Padgett Powell – You & Me – nothing has to be as shitty as everything is; read this for energy
Reasons to Stay Alive Next Year
  • Drag the River, Lenny Lashley, Billy Bragg, Sebadoh,Tin Armor, and Failures’ Union full-lengths. Freakwater playing shows again.
Stay free,



Billy + Joe is the duo of Vancouver-based songwriter Billy the Kid and Richmond’s Joe McMahon, who fronts the rock band Smoke or Fire. Their first collaborative project was a youtube onslaught of 31 cover songs in 31 days this past January. Now, they’ve released their first batch of original songs–the Breathe EP. You should listen to it.

They make such interesting partners–Billy’s songs sound a little like a Smoke or Fire singalong anthem, and Joe’s songs seem to owe a lot to Billy the Kid’s bedroom chorales. The back-and-forth between them isn’t cheap lust, it’s total respect–like a Gaye/Terrell duet. They bring out the best in each other, they make riskier choices on this EP than in their solo work. It’s rare to hear a duo wherein both the male and female voices can be both muscly and vulnerable. It makes for a balanced album and a ton of great choruses. Listen to this if you like Archers of Loaf or Aimee Mann or if you know what’s good for you.

Billy + Joe – Blood
Billy + Joe – Falling
Billy + Joe – Whiskey

Buy Breathe on iTunes, keep up with Billy + Joe on Facebook, and watch all their videos, including the 31 cover songs (which prove to be one hell of a punk rock oral history), on the billyplusjoe youtube channel.