Top 10 Albums of 2014

Another year, another ten fantastic albums. My top 5 I was pretty confident on but the back 5 shuffled to and fro for a good couple of weeks. But after much internal deliberation I have arrived at my 10 favorite albums of 2014. This year started with some strong releases in January and never really let up. Much of my list this year is made up of releases from the first half of the year.

I bought a ton of music this year making this one of the hardest lists to whittle down in a long time. After each album I’ll include a link so you can listen to it on Spotify and at the very end I’ll include my top 10 of 2014 mixtape link. I’d love to hear what you think and what albums you loved. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

10. Code Orange – I Am King (Deathwish)

Code Orange

2 years ago Code Orange Kids, now just Code Orange released their debut album Love is Love//Return to Dust and broke new ground in hardcore. I had said that I thought they were trying to blaze their own trail in the genre and would become torch bearers for a new generation but instead on their second album I Am King they decide to break new ground in a different genre. This album is metal and as heavy as it gets. I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as the previous album but you can’t deny they have once again marked their territory and taken over another music scene. This album is worth listening to at least once just to hear a band at the top of their game.

Spotify Link: Code Orange – I Am King

9. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All (Run For Cover)

modernbaseball

Every year one pop-punk album burrows its way into my head and since Mixtapes didn’t release an album this year Modern Baseball takes their place. Equal parts Blink-182 and Brand New this band takes the catchyness of Pop-Punk and fuses it together with the heart on your sleeve angst of Emo. So basically The Get Up Kids circa 2014. If all of that sounds good to you this albums deserves your attention.

Spotify Link: Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All

8. Self Defense Family – Try Me (Deathwish) 

SDF

You either love or hate Self Defense Family. Well, or you don’t know anything about them. In which case its time to get caught up. Self Defense Family or just Self Defense or End of a Year(yeah….its a long story)are a collective of musicians who when they get asked if they’d like to release something for a record label will almost always say yes. When it comes time to record whoever is around is who creates the music.

Try Me, their latest full length album is their most uncohesive yet. But don’t take that as a slam because its what makes the band so great. Think of this as less of an album and more of a….greatest hits of songs that were never released. Songs jump genres frequently one minute you’re listening to what could be a Jesus Lizard b-side and then all of a sudden they’re going female fronted alt-country on you. And on the digital versions the music is interrupted by two 20 minute interviews with 80’s porn star Jenna Fine(on vinyl its a second LP). These interviews helped inform the lyrics of the album.

By now you’ve probably made your decision you’re either going to give it a listen or stay far far away. Like I said….love or hate there’s not much in between with this band.

Spotify Link: Self Defense Family – Try Me

7. Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)

perfect

This album features a lot of feedback and when I finally saw the band live over the Summer they actually had a guy in the band who’s function was to create all that noise. And that’s the best way I can sum up this album. They need a guy to create the noise. Yet, underneath that are incredible lyrics, catchy hooks, I mean almost straight up pop songs in places. There’s hasn’t been a pop album this damaged since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and that’s the highest compliment I can think of.

Spotify Link: Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love

6. Dads – I’ll Be The Tornado (6131 Records)  

dads

Dads should be all over the radio right now. Their second album I’ll be the Tornado is full of crushing catchy radio ready alternative rock. In the early 2000’s some bands that were on the radio were called “Emo” but by then the term had morphed to mean the way you dress or the way you do your hair. Dads is an Emo band but they bring with them an album’s worth of songs you’ll want to listen to in your car….loudly. After just a couple of plays you’ll wonder why everyone isn’t listening to this album. Here’s to hoping 2015 continues to elevate this band to the stages they belong on.

Spotify Link: Dads – I’ll be the Tornado 

5. Pianos Become The Teeth – Keep You (Epitaph) 

pianos

Its one thing to try new things in a couple of songs on an album or 7″ but it’s another thing entirely to change your sound completely between albums. In 2011 Pianos Become the Teeth released the screamo masterpiece The Lack Long After. Three years later they’ve returned with a subdued yet still intense new album. There’s no screaming to be heard anywhere just singer Kyle Durfey’s incredible singing voice. Did he always knew he had this in him? And the band? On point almost the entire time. I don’t love every moment on Keep You but I was consistently blown away by the craftsmanship on display and the band’s willingness to completely alienate their fanbase. Maybe that’s why this album is so high on my list because I know what came before and I can’t believe what I’m hearing now.

Spotify Link: Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You

4. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines) 

hotelier

I’m a sucker for a well crafted album. Something that feels like every second was planned out in advance. The Hotelier(formerly and still pronounced The Hotel Year)waste no time opening this album with one of the most spine-tingling, explosive songs released this year. If this song doesn’t put its hooks into you on first listen and drag your through the rest of the album I’m not sure what’s wrong with you.

The most impressive thing is the way the songs eat their own tail. The album opens and closes in a very similar way and the middle tracks mirror each other. Its a touch that elevates this from merely a collection of songs to one of the best albums of 2014.

Spotify Link: The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace is There

3. Tigers Jaw – Charmer (Run For Cover)  

Tigersjaw

Tigers Jaw broke up. I mean….well they did. Kind of. Maybe? Well, not really. This album is born of some strange occurrences. Before even stepping into the recording studio 3/5 of the band quit. Then as not to be dicks they decided to record the album with the other 2 members. They should have phoned it in. They should have sabotaged it. But like I guess they really aren’t dicks because Charmer is one of the strongest collections of indie-pop to be released this year.

If you’re looking for nothing but great catchy synth tinged pop songs you have found the right album. It only takes one listen for you to get addicted to these songs. The pacing is excellent moving effortlessly between ballads and faster paced songs and back again. Charmer definitely took me by surprise as….I along with a lot of people thought the band was done for but instead they resurrected themselves better than ever.

Spotify Link: Tigers Jaw – Charmer 

2. United Nations – The Next Four Years (Temporary Residence) 

Unitednations

After a six year hiatus Geoff Rickly’s satirical hardcore band has returned. Now featuring a fully fleshed out lineup including 2 members of the as seen earlier on this list Pianos Become the Teeth the band spent a year building up a new mythos for themselves. Saying they had been releasing music in other countries since they were banned from doing so in the United States. The album was originally released as a box set full of these fake releases and artifacts from the intervening six years.

While that may sound interesting and all…how’s the music? Absolutely incredible. United Nations takes aim at everything from politics to their own existence and mocks it at a million miles per hour. The most amazing part is that even as they make fun of their peers and themselves they left every other hardcore band in their dust. Heavy music just didn’t get better than this in 2014. Here’s to the next four years.

Spotify Link: United Nations – The Next Four Years

1. La Dispute – Rooms Of The House (Better Living/Workhorse Music Group)

LaDispute

2014 is the year I fell super hard for La Dispute and it is most definitely because of this album. Sure, I liked them before but now I’m infatuated. La Dispute released one of the best debut albums in the history of punk/hardcore and then followed that up with the sometimes hard to sit through Wildlife. It was obvious that the band needed to take their grandiose ideas and reign them in a bit.

Rooms of the House accomplishes that goal expertly. It was as if they threw their first albums in a simmering pot of water and what emerged was La Dispute stock. It is their vision perfectly executed with never a wasted moment. Every musical twist and turn the album takes feels epic, feels necessary, but never overstays its welcome or fades too soon from your ears.

La Dispute has crafted nothing short of a touchstone album for this generation of hardcore kids. Bands will be formed because a group of kids listened to La Dispute. Rooms of the House is the shape of punk to come.

Spotify Link: La Dispute – Rooms of the House

Honorable Mentions and EPs/7″ etc

Self Defense Family Duets EP
The Felix Culpa/Foreign Tongues split
Moose Blood I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time To Time
Rescuer Anxiety Answering
’68 In Humor And Sadness
Adventures/Pity Sex split
Adventures/Run Forever split
Newmoon Invitation To Hold
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die Audiotree Live

Well, that’s it. For those of you who want to hear a taste of each album this is my Spotify playlist featuring a track from each. I hope you enjoy.
Top 10 of 2014 Playlist

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2014 – Sunday

2 down 1 to go. Here are the four bands I think you need to see and the one band you absolutely must see.

1. Blue Meanies – 6:00pm Rock Stage

blue meanies

I remember a time in Chicago when Blue Meanies would headline over Alkaline Trio. Yes, that’s how old I am. Its been nearly 10 years since Blue Meanies has played a show. And looking over the rest of the lineup I’m not sure you’ll see another ska-punk-hardcore mashup this weekend. And even if there was they aren’t going to be as good as these guys.

2. Dads – 5:00pm Rock Stage

Photo by Andy Johnson
Photo by Andy Johnson

I’m going to be honest with you guys I’m not even a huge fan of these guys. But a couple of months ago I saw them open for Touche Amore and Tigers Jaw and these dudes can command a stage. They seem primed for a festival audience and could easily walk away being one of the most talked about performances of Riot Fest 2014.

3. The Front Bottoms – 1:10pm Rebel Stage

Photo by Maclyn Bean
Photo by Maclyn Bean

I’ve never seen The Front Bottoms live but I’ve heard its nothing short of a gigantic party. A shame that they play first on one of the side stages I would love to see them whip a main stage crowd into a frenzy. Regardless, if the weekend hasn’t ground you down by Sunday morning you should do everything in your power to get through the gates in time to see these guys perform their party-folk-punk.

4. La Dispute – 3:30pm Rock Stage

Photo by Dave Summers
Photo by Dave Summers

La Dispute is THE BAND YOU NEED TO SEE AT RIOT FEST. These guys have been playing festivals all Summer and knocking crowds on their asses. This is the one band I am most anticipating seeing this year. La Dispute is making genuine important rock music and you all need to bear witness.

5. Mineral – 4:45pm Rock Stage

Photo by Bryan Parker
Photo by Bryan Parker

I probably won’t be catching Mineral at Riot Fest as I’ll have seen them the night before at Double Door but if you aren’t catching their after show you better be there to see them at Riot Fest. Mineral helped define a genre of music and by all accounts their reunion shows have been just as incredible if not more so then when they were around the first time. If you want a history lesson in what Emo music is or…was catch Mineral.

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2014 – Saturday

Here are the bands I think you should see at Riot Fest Chicago on Saturday.

1. Saosin – 3:30pm Rock Stage

Saosin

I told you Anthony Green would show up on this list again. For those who don’t know, when Saosin first emerged around 2003 they were fronted by Green. They found success on a self-released EP called Translating the Name. They were being courted by major labels and Anthony got cold feet and split. After years of do they like each other, do they hate each other we finally have a reunion. This could be a once in a lifetime event I wouldn’t skip it.

2. Say Anything – 4:45pm Rock Stage

Photo by Chris Martin
Photo by Chris Martin

Say Anything was supposed to play Riot Fest last year but had to back out. I imagine that if you’re a fan and you went last year this is a must see set for you since it’s a make up. For everyone else these guys know how to command a stage and have a huge back catalog of catchy songs. They also have a new album out that features……no guitars. I for one want to see how they pull them off live.

3. Taking Back Sunday – 8:45pm Rock Stage

Photo by Brenna Rushing
Photo by Brenna Rushing

Last year Taking Back Sunday played one of the smaller side stages and amassed a crowd just as large as anything on the main stages. This year they play on what appears to be another one of the “smaller” stages but with Riot Fest’s new layout there may not be much of a difference seeing as how dozens of acres have been added. Either way they put on a hell of a performance for one of the largest audiences at Riot Fest 2013. No reason to believe this year will be any different.

4. The World is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die – 3:00pm Revolt Stage

world is a beautiful

The World is a Beautiful Place… put out one of the best albums of 2013 Whenever, if Ever. They also do whatever they want however they want live. They are a constantly rotating group of musicians. Sometimes there’s a spoken word dude with them, sometimes there isn’t. This is going to be one of the most spontaneous and heartfelt sets of the weekend and I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

5. Wu-Tang Clan – 6:15pm Roots Stage

wu tangWhile they will most likely be the most ironically watched set of the weekend how do you not catch at least a little bit of Wu-Tang? After listening to nothing but rock music all afternoon you’re going to need a palate cleanser and I can’t think of anything better than the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. Maybe they’ll even let us look at that 1 of 1 edition album they made.

 

The 5 Bands You Must See At Riot Fest Chicago 2014 – Friday

The 10th annual Riot Fest Chicago is about a week away. This will be the third year it is held in beautiful Humboldt Park. The lineup is as strong as the previous two years and I wanted to highlight a few of the bands I think you should check out.

1. Circa Survive – 4:00pm Riot Stage

Photo by Jeff Farasi
Photo by Jeff Farasi

This won’t be the last time I mention Anthony Green in these Riot Fest posts and with good reason. He’s one of the best frontmen in the scene. His stage presence and vocals combined with the band’s incredibly tight playing will make this one of the highlights of the weekend. The fact that this won’t be the only time we see him on stage at Riot Fest is beyond a treat.

2. The Hotelier – 5:00pm Revolt Stage

Photo by Allison Newbold
Photo by Allison Newbold

The Hotelier, pronounced The Hotel Year have released possibly the first touchstone album in the age of the “Emo Revival”. This year’s “Home, Like No Place is There” runs a range of emotions so wide you’d think you need a bridge to find your way back. Luckily the album ends in cyclical sort of way. I know this might be confusing but you should really just listen to it. I expect their performance at Riot Fest to leave me feeling the same way.

3. Failure – 5:15pm Riot Stage

Photo by Brian Esquivel
Photo by Brian Esquivel

I first heard Failure while working at a College radio station. Their songs got stuck in my head but I wasn’t in love. But every once in a while I would think of those songs and before I knew it the band had disappeared. I never thought I would get to see them live but at Riot Fest dreams come true. If you’ve never heard “Stuck on You” there must be something wrong with you. Go listen to it, now!

4. Pianos Become the Teeth – 7:00pm Revolt Stage

Photo from Bear Trap PR.
Photo from Bear Trap PR

One of the most intense bands on the planet. To miss this set would be to miss almost the entire point of going to a music festival. Seriously.

5. Title Fight – 3:30pm Roots Stage

Image from Bear Trap PR
Image from Bear Trap PR

Title Fight isn’t quite a hardcore band. Not quite an alternative rock band. I’m not quite sure what they are. I don’t think they do either. Either way they’re a passionate band that is sure to bring a great performance to Riot Fest Chicago.

Top 10 Albums of 2013

This was a great year for music, I felt like no one genre dominated. It also seems like the mainstream media and even some mainstream listeners were crossing boundaries and listening to musical styles they would typically ignore. There was so much music this year that even artists I really like I didn’t get a chance to fully listen to their albums. This top 10 evolved more than any top 10 I’ve ever worked on. I eventually had to remove albums with songs I really really loved because I didn’t love them as albums. There’s a lot of great stuff missing so at the end I’ll include an expanded honorable mention section.

After each entry I’ll include a Spotify link so you can listen to the album but if you’re lazy I also made a playlist of my 10 favorite songs from my top 10. I’ll leave that link at the end of the list. Feel free to leave some comments and share your favorite albums with me.

 

10. Venna – Third Generation Hymnal (Broken Cricles) 

Venna

Third Genration Hymnal blew 2013 wide open by releasing in the first couple weeks of January. It wasn’t going to take me much convincing to like an album made by ex-members of The Felix Culpa but I was enamored with this release even after the first listen. Venna know exactly when to let a song breathe and when to let it exhale. The songs shift from soft ballad to rollicking acoustic number effortlessly. Unfortunately the band hung it up in August but at least they left us with this incredible album.

Spotify Link: Venna – Third Generation Hymnal

9. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Columbia/Tan Cressida/Odd Future Records)

Doris

We all know the story of Earl Sweatshirt and his hotly anticipated 2nd album Doris. The only real question was would it deliver. It did, without a doubt. Earl raps over the dark twisted beats that Odd Future was known for when they were just kids making music on their own terms. Doris is a completely unorthodox hip-hop album. He routinely lets the guests rap first, segues are bizarre dark interludes, and the content is often in the vein of traditional hip-hop. The result is kind of genius, like a fun house mirror version of mainstream rap. Hopefully we don’t have to wait 4 years for the next album from Earl Sweatshirt because he has a lot of game changing to do.

Spotify Link: Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

8. Defeater – Letters Home (Bridge 9)

Letters Home

Defeater’s last album featured a 4 song acoustic epilogue and dare I say it some catchy tunes. They could have gone soft, made something even more accessible instead they got more aggressive. Letters Home is a blistering love letter (pun intended) to the genre they came up in. Singer Derek Archambault’s vocals are set to full grit sandpaper and the band almost never relents. Your ears rarely get a chance to relax during the album’s quickly moving ten tracks. Don’t expect an acoustic epilogue, don’t expect a catchy chorus, just expect one of the best hardcore albums of 2013.

Spotify Link: Defeater – Letters Home

7. The Front Bottoms -Talon of the Hawk (Bar/None Records)

The Front Bottoms

Once you get passed their silly name, you’ll find their mostly silly music. Talon of the Hawk is 12 tracks of instantly unforgettable folk-dance-pop-punk. These songs bored their way into my head and never left for weeks. I spent whole train rides to and from work playing this album front to back. If you’re looking for an album that you can throw on and not think about too hard while the world passes you by you could do a lot worse than this.

Spotify Link: The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk

6. Deafheaven – Sunbather (Deathwish) 

deafheaven-sunbather

No other album this year crosses genres harder than Sunbather. Do you like metal? Do you like instrumental post-rock? Do you like good music? Stop what you’re doing and give your ears the sonic treat that is Sunbather. Give yourself an hour and a good pair of headphones you’re about to take a trip and you don’t want any distractions. Deafheaven has crafted an absolute crowning achievement in whatever weird genre they have carved out for themselves. This album is absolutely worthy of all the accolades it has received from all across the music press.

Spotify Link: Deafheaven – Sunbather

5. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence (No Sleep Records)

Mixtapes

Last year Mixtapes put out my 4th favorite album “Even on the Worst Nights”. It was their debut album and was a fun giddy blast of male-female dual vocal pop-punk. Well, honestly that’s exactly what you get on their second album. But they have matured perfectly. The songs are better, the lyrics are better, the musicianship is great, the band has upped their game in every way. There’s no reason these guys shouldn’t be huge especially if they keep this up on their next album.

Spotify Link: Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence

4. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (Island-Def Jam) 

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There was no way in a million years one of the biggest rock bands in the world was going to come back from a self-imposed hiatus and make a good record. Especially after putting out 2 messy albums. Anyone who listened to Folie a Deux could tell that Fall Out Boy was headed towards an implosion. The album tried to merge genres but it was clear this was due to infighting in the band. On Save Rock and Roll, Fall Out Boy sound like the most confident band in the world, like they were always supposed to be a dance-rock band. It may not sound like old Fall Out Boy, but it sounds like the best Fall Out Boy for the year 2013.

Spotify Link: Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll

3. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf (Odd Future Records) 

Wolf

You either love him or hate him, but Tyler, the Creator released the most creative hip-hop album of the year. That is as long as you went into this knowing it was the final part of the trilogy Tyler started with this 2009 debut “Bastard”. This is by far Tyler’s best work. His production work is at a point where I’m sure some rappers would just wish Tyler would quit rapping and produce beats for them. The lyrics range from his silliest to his most deadly serious. And of course Wolf is part of the overarching narrative that has permeated all 3 of Tyler’s albums. And when you get to the end of  Wolf and you realize exactly what has happened and where this album fits into the trilogy you kind of just have to sit down and shake your head. How did this kid get so smart?

Spotify Link: Tyler, The Creator – Wolf

2. The World is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever, if Ever (Topshelf Records)

whenever if ever

It took these guys 3 years to create and release their debut album and every second of it feels like its been meticulously planned. Its nearly impossible for me to start at the first track and not listen all the way through to the end. This was very very nearly my album of the year because its just fucking perfect. While this isn’t my number 1 album I can’t recommend it highly enough. Call these guys indie rock, post-hardcore, emo revival whatever just give this album a chance. Whenever, if Ever is an emotional ride that hasn’t been attempted since emo rock’s heyday. It blows me away every time I listen to it. Every piano key tickle, every lyric, every drum beat is placed so deliberately I find myself listening with my jaw open. These guys are incredible and if it takes them 5 years to make another album I won’t care as long as they do.

Spotify Link: Whenever, If Ever

1. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By (Deathwish) 

Touche

Touche Amore is my favorite band. This was my most anticipated album all year. It lived up to all the hype and then some. While its not nearly as cohesive as “Whenever, if Ever” the lyrical content hit me in a perfect place at the right moment in my life. The band’s musicianship is at all time high. It’s produced and mixed perfectly. These guys could be a huge huge heavy rock band based on this album. Is Survived By is all at once sweeping, epic, aggressive, and emotional. No band is bending the hardcore genre to their will like Touche Amore and they are gaining fans by the thousands every day. See these guys on their next tour because next time it might be in an arena, or while standing in a huge field.

Spotify Link: Touché Amoré – Is Survived By

Honorable Mention:

Balance and Composure “The Things We Think We’re Missing”
Kanye West “Yeezus”
Dowsing “I Don’t Even Care Anymore”
Sainthood Reps “Headswell”
The Wonder Years “The Greatest Generation”
Justin Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience Parts 1 and 2”
Into It. Over It. “Intersections”
Shone “Heat Thing”
The Fold “Moving Past”

Top 10 Albums of 2013 Playlist: Top 10 of 2013