15 Albums That Turned 15 This Year (Part 1 of 2)

1.) Piebald- If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds, It Would Be Curtains For Us All

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The odd time signatures and creative song compositions that characterize this album make it one of the more memorable, compelling releases from the late 90’s emo era. Piebald were always different than other bands who got lumped into that amorphous “emo” category in that they never seemed to take themselves too seriously. Although they definitely did show us their serious, emotive side at times, their lyricism and delivery were generally more playful and humorous than that of their “heart on your sleeve” confessional emo peers, which provided a refreshing counterbalance to the emotionally heavy stuff I tended to listen to in my high school years.

2.) Saves The Day- Through Being Cool

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Full of incredibly catchy riffs, soaring choruses, and impassioned teenage poetry-style lyrics, no other album captures that angsty, youthful essence quite like Through Being Cool. From the power chords that kick off the album’s opening track “All Star Me,” to the “Whoa!”s of “Banned From The Back Porch” that bring the album to a dramatic, crash-and-burn close, this is an album that relentlessly rocks out all the way to the finish line. With this legendary LP, Saves The Day provided a blueprint for the waves of of pop punk and emo bands that would follow in its wake.

3.) The Get Up Kids- Something To Write Home About

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Combining irresistibly catchy melodies with powerful, pensive lyrics and sprinkling in some sweet, synthy ear candy to boot, Matt Pryor and company came up with a winning formula that made this album truly live up to its title. It seamlessly transitions between emo anthems that rock out with a gloriously bouncy fervor and tender ballads that leave an even more poignant imprint on teenage hearts everywhere. I challenge you to resist tapping out the opening drum beats to “Ten Minutes” and “I’m A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel,” and to keep a dry eye throughout the closing track, “I’ll Catch You.”

4.) Jimmy Eat World- Clarity

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Revered by longtime fans from the band’s late 90’s heyday as well as a whole host of younger fans and countless bands who emerged during emo’s “third wave” and beyond, the influence of Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity spans wide and far. This is somewhat odd for an album that was considered a commercial failure upon its release and which led to the band getting dropped from Capitol Records; it’s a little like Weezer’s Pinkerton in this way. And because I tend to place Jimmy Eat World and Weezer in the same listening category (super catchy, melodic, power pop-style rock), I equate Clarity with Pinkerton and Bleed American with “The Green Album.” The former albums are somewhat more rough around the edges and confessional in nature, whereas the latter offer more polished, straight up power pop with at least one obvious radio hit. I’ll listen to tracks from Bleed American when I want something fun, uplifting, and amped up, but I’ll play on Clarity from start to finish when I’m feeling the need to become completely immersed in a tenderly melodic, melancholic album.

5.) American Football- Self-Titled

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If I were asked to nominate one piece of work as the quintessential melancholic/contemplative emo album, American Football’s self-titled debut (and only full length album) would get my immediate vote. More nuanced and subtle than most of the work being produced by their peers at the time, this album was a bit of a departure in terms of my listening preferences during my high school days. I was accustomed to the more driving power pop and pop punk influenced sounds of all the aforementioned bands in this list, so the more delicate, but still raw and angsty stylings of American Football came as a pleasantly alluring surprise. Their combination of jazzy dissonance, ornately sparkling melodies, and roughly hewn vocals that shifted from sweetly lulling to intensely anguished captivated me like nothing I had heard before. Aside from getting all nostalgic and teary every time I hear the album’s opening tracks, “Never Meant” and “The Summer Ends,” I hear hints of its influence in several “modern emo” bands, from Into It, Over It and You Blew It! to Prawn and The Hotelier.

6.) Dismemberment Plan- Emergency & I

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In many ways, this album changed the way I listen to and think about music. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before, but it recalled elements of the Pixies and Weezer, among other bands. In fact, I think I described them to a friend in high school as “The Pixies meet Weezer, on speed.” As a kid raised almost entirely on pop punk and emo, Emergency & I might have been the first truly “genre defying” album I purchased and subsequently fell in love with. From the oddly intriguing synth bass and falsetto vocals that kick off the opening track, “A Life of Possibilities,” to the beautifully frenetic mess of sounds and rhythms that is “Memory Machine,” to the hypnotically pulsating, Talking Heads-esque closing anthem, “8 1/2 minutes,” this whole album is a relentless tour de force of delightful, otherworldly sonic pleasures. And fifteen years later it still manages to sound surprisingly fresh, relevant, and unrivaled in terms of its quirky innovation.

7.) Pinback- Self-Titled

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I discovered Pinback shortly after I became a huge fan of the Dismemberment Plan. They were another band that appealed to my “emo” sensibilities, but managed to sound different from almost everything else I was listening to at the time. They were like Sunny Day Real Estate’s more lighthearted, playful cousin or a more chill, melancholy counterpart to bands like Modest Mouse and The Dismemberment Plan. And their self-titled debut album was what I would listen to when I needed to chill out during my teenage and college years. Its songs were uniquely structured, layered and compelling enough to be considered catchy, but carefree and breezy enough to also be considered soothing. Much like Emergency & I, this album continues to sound fresh and innovative fifteen years after its release. It manages to draw me so deeply into its bittersweet abyss of darkly soothing vocals and simple but otherworldly beats and hooks that I discover something new to latch onto with every listen.

8.) Modest Mouse- Building Nothing Out Of Something

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Well before Modest Mouse scored a not-so-modest radio hit with “Float On” in 2004, they were putting out messy, angst-ridden gems with cryptic lyrics like “Never Ending Math Equation” and spaced out, sprawling, contemplative indie-rock-punk jams like “Interstate 8,” the first two tracks on Building Nothing Out Of Something. This collection of tracks is less of an album and more of a collection of B-Sides songs from previously released EP’s, but the songs are of such a high caliber and flow so well that I’ve always considered this my favorite Modest Mouse album. The songs span the spectrum from super Lo-Fi and bleak (“Grey Ice Water”) to insanely catchy, repetitive, and sophomoric (“All Nite Diner”). Even the seemingly quieter, more introspective tracks are tempered with the playful, angsty intensity that makes this band so unique. While I have a deep appreciation for the band’s entire catalog and still enjoy listening to their more commercially successful later albums, this wonderfully sloppy collection of earlier tracks has always remained my go-to selection when I’m in the mood for some Mouse.

“Something To Write Home About” still hits “Close to Home” after 15 years

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As soon as the churning cavalcade of guitars and synths that so grandiosely kicks “Holiday” right into full gear hit my headphones, I knew what I wanted for Christmas that year: a Moog synthesizer. Sadly, that wish went unfulfilled, as did my dream of becoming a synth player in a super cool band and getting signed to Vagrant Records. But for a brief moment, when I was finally able to acquire a used synth on eBay a few years later, I turned some random knobs, hit some keys, and could almost hear Matt Pryor encouraging me along as I used my rudimentary knowledge of the piano to clumsily play some of the synthesized notes on my favorite tracks from an album that had made a tremendous impact on me during my teenage years.

Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids has definitely stood the test of time in terms of albums from emo’s “second wave” in the late 90’s, and it’s one of few albums from that era and scene that I still listen to with any sort of regularity (The others that come to mind right away are Through Being Cool by Saves The Day and If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds… by Piebald). Bookended by the punchy, promising, but still rough-around-the-edges Four Minute Mile and the sadly misunderstood foray into alt-country and more contemplative musical realms that was On A Wire, STWHA remains the band’s most cohesive, impactful album to date both lyrically and sonically. Longtime fans who came of age during the height of the scene when that album reigned supreme still reference it with a certain reverence and fondness usually saved for albums that reach a Pinkerton-level legendary status. I was lucky enough to see Matt Pryor perform an intimate acoustic set to about 40 people this past spring, and it was the songs he played from STWHA that instantly changed the energy in the room and united fans ranging in age from early-twenties to maybe mid-thirties in an unspoken bond for a few spellbinding minutes. His solo acoustic versions of “Valentine,” “Out Of Reach,” “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel,” and “I’ll Catch You” sounded just as fresh, passionate, and genuine as they did on the record nearly fifteen years earlier, and he sent them out to this intimate gathering of fans like love letters sealed with a sense of true appreciation for following and supporting the band so faithfully throughout the years.

From the onslaught of swirling guitar and synth-driven sounds that propel the listener headfirst into “Holiday” and powerfully mark the album’s opening with an angsty call to action, all the way to the much softer and more tender closing lines of the final track, “I’ll Catch You,” this album definitely keeps you on your toes. It’s full of shifts and surprises; the ballads and downtempo songs that immediately follow more turbulent, energetic tracks still kind of catch me off guard in a good way, and even the quieter songs that seem like they’ll remain subdued and gentle until the end (“Long Goodnight,” “I’ll Catch You”) take an unexpectedly glorious turn and crescendo with a sudden swell of emotion and noise. As a teenager schooled mostly in punk and post-grunge bands, I was able to develop an appreciation for those quieter, more poignant moments along with the easily accessible, uptempo tracks that were more in my musical comfort zone at that time. In many ways the album became a gateway for maturation and for exciting new musical discoveries that have led me to where I am now. It provided a direct pipeline to other Vagrant bands like The Anniversary and Reggie and The Full Effect, and from there, I was well equipped to navigate this nebulous new territory known as “emo” and would quickly fall head over heels in love with not only the explosive melodies and confessional lyrics that defined it as a musical genre, but the vintage t-shirts, Chuck Taylors, and Rivers Cuomo style glasses that became its accoutrements.

Like pretty much every 90’s kid who owned the album and listened to music that could be labeled as “emo,” I spent countless hours in my room poring over the self-conscious, angst ridden lyrics to songs like “Action & Action” and “Red Letter Day,” which were tinged with a bitterness and dejection that validated my adolescent woes like none other. But petulance and self-pity aside, it was always just plain fun to rock out to the album’s especially driving, tightly crafted, poppy moments. I’d rarely make it through the entire disc without hitting repeat at least once on both “Ten Minutes” and “I’m A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel,” both of which were songs that almost inspired me to actually start taking drum lessons. Those two songs in particular kickstarted my then tenuous sense of appreciation for catchy rock music that I don’t think I had felt since listening to Weezer’s “Blue Album” as a much younger kid. Aside from Weezer and Blink-182, not to mention the onslaught of teen pop stars and boy bands that had become hugely popular in the late 90’s, I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite as infectiously “poppy” as some of my favorite tracks on STWHA. As someone who had always been more drawn to the dark, downcast corners of music, art, and literature (I was also a huge Smiths fan at the time and remain so to this day), it was a rare occurrence for me to become completely captivated by melodies and vocals as spirited and punchy as those in the aforementioned tracks. This newfound love of pop-infused rock and punk led me down a long path of bands and artists I still listen to regularly, from Saves The Day to The Swellers, and after many years of intrepid traveling, I still see no visible end in sight.

Fifteen years later, I can’t help but still hear the influence of the style that The Get Up Kids perfected on STWHA in several of my more recently appointed favorite albums. When I heard The Greatest Generation by The Wonder Years for the first time last year, the lyricism, musicianship and vocals were so strongly evocative of The Get Up Kids circa ’99-‘02 that I described them to a good friend as “The equivalent to The Get Up Kids for kids today.” The album’s influence spans far and wide, from third wave emo bands like The Early November and the synth heavy Motion City Soundtrack that rose up right in its wake, to modern pop punk bands like Driver Friendly and Light Years, and also to the increasingly popular so-called “emo revival” bands like You Blew It! who harken back to that signature late 90’s sound.

So while my halfhearted dreams of becoming a drummer or keyboardist in a Vagrant-era emo band went completely unfulfilled, Something To Write Home About had a powerful, lasting impact on me nonetheless. These twelve songs that Matt Pryor and his bandmates crafted fifteen years ago with such heart-on-sleeve genuineness and passion have also had a long lasting impact on countless kids and young adults who were finding their voice and discovering their purpose right around the same time that I was. Some have kept that inspiration and passion alive by going on to write music that draws from a similar well, and some like me have simply developed a deep, continued appreciation and reverence for music of many genres that can all be traced back to the spark ignited by the awe-inspiring fusion of bright, swelling chords, synth drenched hooks, and thoughtful, relatable lyrics that make Something To Write Home About truly live up to its title.

Ryan Adams (Self-Titled) album review

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One never knows quite what to expect from a new Ryan Adams album. He has definitely thrown his fair share of curveballs throughout his prolific career, from 2003’s all-out rock album, the aptly titled Rock N Roll, to a trilogy of three very different albums all released within months of each other in 2005, and most recently, a more acoustic-based return to form with 2011’s Ashes And Fire. Adams’ new self-titled LP picks up where Ashes and Fire left off, and builds on his newfound sense of clarity and cohesion, drawing upon elements of the sounds and styles he so beautifully crafted on several of his previous albums.

While the album’s overarching style is most similar to the early-mid 2000’s portion of his catalog- one can definitely hear pieces of Demolition, Love Is Hell, and Cold Roses in much of the composition and delivery- it seems more to be the product of an artist who, with his refreshed perspective in the wake of some transformative life experiences, has taken the best elements of his varied body of work and built upon them quite skillfully and impressively. Several of the songs, most notably “Trouble” and “Gimme Something Good”, rock out with all the glory of the best moments on Demolition and Rock N Roll, while others like “Am I Safe?” and “Stay With Me” recall the lush, sprawling qualities that made Cold Roses such a standout album. One can also hear hints of his seminal solo debut Heartbreaker in what is perhaps the album’s strongest track, “My Wrecking Ball.” And it seems that Adams has laced this somewhat retrospective journey through the strongest phases of his multifaceted catalog with a common unifying thread of the same poppy-yet-melancholic quality that made Love Is Hell such a standout body of work. But rather than simply being a forced attempt to recapture his glory days, this collection of songs conveys a more refined, carefully honed version of the genre-bending genius that has finally emerged after weathering a long storm of substance abuse, health problems, and other personal demons.

What’s especially impressive about this latest album that has been missing from his work for quite some time is a true sense of cohesion and flow from beginning to end. Instead of being patched together unevenly with parts that don’t quite fit within the whole, this piece of art has been thoughtfully sketched out and detailed to create harmony, complements, and beautiful contrasts among its many elements. Now that Adams has stepped back from the insanely prolific, drug-fueled writing and recording habits he came to be known for a decade ago, he has truly hit his stride and is now able to create albums that feel fully formed, intelligently designed, and altogether both fascinating and pleasant to listen to.

Desert Island Albums

Here are the first couple of entries in Jukebox Breakdown’s first collective project. It asks music aficionados to list their five essential “desert island albums,” explain why they chose each album, and/or speak about its personal significance and the impact it has had on their lives.

If this project sparks your interest and you’d like to participate/submit a list, feel free to send it to michaelbmann@gmail.com.

Michael Mann

It’s always hard to choose just 5 albums that you would take with you if you somehow managed to become stranded on that proverbial desert island, especially when you’re a huge music geek like me. So I thought long and hard about these selections, making lists and crossing things out until I finally came up with a near perfect mix of albums that have made a lasting impression on me over the years and are varied enough to ensure that I’d never be bored or overwhelmed by just one musical style or set of emotions while essentially listening to them on repeat.

1.) Saves The Day- Stay What You Are

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Saves The Day are my all time favorite band, and this 2001 release is arguably my favorite album of theirs. I was going to go with 2006’s Sound The Alarm, but its overarchingly dark, bleak themes and wrenchingly personal, intense lyrics might drive me to drown myself in the ocean, were I to actually listen to this on the island several times a week. So I went with something just a little more lighthearted. Stay What You Are is my quintessential “high school anthem” type of album, but it’s one that has stood the test of time and resonated with me into adulthood. Its songs alternately make me want to cry into my pillow, write teenage poetry in my journal, go for a drive with the windows down and sunroof open while singing along at the top of my lungs, jump around and do handstands in my kitchen, and sprint that extra quarter mile just when I thought I had nothing left to give. All in all, it’s a fantastic 33 minute voyage through an entire spectrum of sounds and emotions that never ceases to amaze me and most certainly never gets old.

2.) Moving Mountains- Waves

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With this sophomore album, Moving Mountains evolved beyond their decidedly post-rock foundations to create a more driving, vocally-focused sound that incorporates the sweeping, majestic post-hardcore stylings of bands like Thrice and The Appleseed Cast. Waves is a dynamic, emotionally searing album that always cuts me to the core with its downcast, heart wrenching anthems, impressively affective vocals, and flawless instrumentation. Give it just one listen and you’ll realize that the title could not be more appropriate or fitting; experiencing the album in full is much like riding a series of waves, some are calming and gentle, others have a stronger impact, suddenly cascading in an intense, almost violent rush. Be sure to seek out the deluxe version of the album, which, with its beautifully stripped down alternate versions of “Furnace Woods” and “Tired Tiger,” provides an even more sublime, poignant closing chapter to this breathtaking work of art.

3.) The Early November- The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path

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This triple LP concept album was a huge stylistic leap for The Early November, as it saw the band incorporating elements of different genres, such as folk, alt-country, and 90’s style pop-rock into their signature energetic, poppy emo rock style. They managed to pull off this more nuanced, varied sound, while also ambitiously mapping out a well crafted lyrical journey of a boy at odds with his domineering father, who runs away from home, but despite his best intentions to transcend his family, ends up repeating the same mistakes his father made when he has a child of his own. It’s a pretty ambitious project for a young band, and while it may not have been a huge commercial success and led to the band taking a long hiatus the following year, it’s a record that I can always depend upon to satiate my oftentimes odd, eclectic musical appetite.

While I prefer to listen to the album in full (but admittedly rarely make it to the third LP, The Path. I find its intriguing, but perhaps overambitious mix of spoken word dialogue and short songs to be somewhat jarring), I’ll sometimes put on The Mother (LP 2) when I’m in the mood for mostly acoustic based folk/rock that’s in turns introspective, meandering, and sprawling. Or I’ll just rock out to the tightly constructed mix of emo rock and power pop that drives the first LP, The Mechanic, when I’m in a more upbeat mood. The first two LPs have been my soundtrack to many road trips and lazy Sundays, and I’m sure that their compelling stories, catchy melodies, and the range of emotion and honesty contained in frontman Ace Enders’ voice would keep me satisfied and happy on a desert island.

4.) Thursday- War All The Time

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I don’t think I will ever come across another band as powerful, visceral, or as influential in my life as Thursday. I found them at a pivotal time in my late teens as they rose to popularity through word of mouth and message boards, and while their seminal debut LP, Full Collapse is often hailed as their best work and considered a favorite by many fans, it’s their sophomore release, War All The Time, that has stood the test of time for me in a more poignant way. The instrumentation is carefully crafted and refined, but messy and explosive at the same time, and the songwriting is deeply rooted in darkness and tragedy, born not just from personal experiences, but from a collective consciousness and political landscape that had been crying out in anguish at the time of the album’s 2003 release. Each song encapsulates emotions, ideas, and images that span a spectrum of darkness, running from cynical and scathing to despondent and desolate, with a glimmer of hope that you’ll hear if you listen intently enough. War All The Time is an album that’s best experienced alone in a dark room or during a late night drive. So open up your senses, turn up the volume, and be prepared to feel many things as you listen from start to finish.

5.) Owen- (Self-Titled)

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Owen is an artist who more people need to know about. The songs he writes are sincere, expressive, conversational glimpses into his easily relatable inner landscape and his experiences with love, loss, and personal growth. While he has certainly matured quite a bit as a musician and as a lyricist over the years, I’ve always loved his self-titled debut album the best. It’s a simple, but lushly orchestrated, acoustic experience unlike anything else I’ve heard. The dreamlike beauty contained within its nine songs is unparalleled, and it has remained in heavy rotation since I borrowed and burned the CD from an older neighborhood friend who exposed me to many a new band during my teenage years. Owen is one of my go-to albums for soothing, late night listening, and it has been a constant companion, following me from place to place through the last several years of my life, from late nights spent writing poems or last minute papers in high school to jobs I’ve had at cafes and bookstores, and most recently, to the yoga classes I teach, where he is usually on the soundtrack. The accessibility and mass appeal of the album have always pleasantly surprised me; I got frequent questions about the music I was playing when this album served as the background music in the cafes and bookstores where I worked, and my yoga students of all ages will comment on how they love the playlist when it’s Owen-themed. Also, my mom, who hardly ever enjoyed, much less tolerated, the music I played around the house throughout my teenage years and beyond, kind of liked this album, which is really saying something. Owen is an album so full of deep, personal connections and memories for me; it will always occupy a prominent place on my record shelf, and its songs will follow me well into my later adult years.

Linda Spolidoro

If you have ever been to a Spolidoro family gathering and stayed past midnight, then you know that inevitably the question will be raised “If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 albums would you choose?”

I have participated in this well-worn experience with my brothers and sisters dozens of times over the years and yet everyone still loves to pick, choose, replace, refine, and defend their albums. Scoffing at and arguing about other people’s selections is permitted.

While my choices have changed over the years (with some perennial favorites), my current list of albums are as follows:

1. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus
2. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Let Love In
3. Nina Simone- The Blues
4. The Beatles- The White Album
5. Elliot Smith- Figure 8 or Either/Or (I know I have to decide)

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The number 5 spot is always the hardest and is the album most in danger of being replaced…this is usually the time my brother suggests we come up with an ‘honorable mention” category, because it is almost unbearable to think about the possibility of never hearing all the great music that is out there ever again. I come from a family of musicians and music lovers so this is serious business!

Nick Cave is my musical, lyrical, satirical, linguistic, and writing hero and if you haven’t heard him, I would suggest you start with ‘Henry’s Dream” or “Tender Prey”. He can be a bit of an acquired taste and I find that it is the literary sorts with a penchant for melancholia who seem to like him.

As for Nina Simone, she has a voice and a soul that reaches directly into my chest. Listening to Nina is like a fearless punch to the heart.

You could lose your Spolidoro membership card if you were to omit a Beatles album from your list as it is pretty much mandatory in the Spolidoro family, and which Beatles album to chose is almost it’s own category. My brother Kevin can play a number of Beatles albums in their entirety, first chord to last, on his guitar and has done so on many occasions while the rest of us sing along. Any outsider that has been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, as the case may be), to be present during one of these marathon sing-alongs will attest to the serious nature that loving The Beatles is to our family. It is just a given.

My dear, sweet, depressive, Elliot Smith finds himself in the revolving number 5 spot, previously held by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Nellie McKay, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake…and so many other honorable mentions. He is in danger of falling off the list the next time I find myself at a family party, late at night, glass of wine in hand and a guitar at the ready when the inevitable happens…

What would be your 5?

The Best Albums of 2014 So Far…

2014 is half over already (whoa!), so here are my picks for the best albums of the year so far (in no particular order):

1.) Nothing- “Guilty of Everything”

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After seeing these guys play one of the loudest, but most blissful shows I’ve seen in a while, I fell further in love with this album. “Guilty of Everything” is a seamlessly crafted 38 minutes of hazy, shimmery, “shoegaze revival” marked by just a touch of post-hardcore influence. Frontman Dominic Palermo’s previous project was the hardcore band Horror Show, which might explain the rather heavy sound that characterizes his unique brand of layered, distorted dream-pop. Imagine a slightly darker, more sedated, but still somewhat intense version of My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins and you’ll get a rough of idea of their sound.
It’s a deep daydream-inducing sort of record that I find myself listening to in bed with my eyes closed, and it definitely makes for an interesting listening experience, as it alternates between being all warm, fuzzy and blissed out, then intense and assaulting with bursts of swirling dissonance.

2.) Taking Back Sunday- “Happiness Is”

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I’ve been a devoted TBS fan since their much loved debut album “Tell All Your Friends,” and I’ve absolutely loved everything they’ve released since. Their latest LP, “Happiness Is…” is no exception. It finds the band in a strong, confident, and nicely varied place with their sound, melding their signature soaring melodies and explosive choruses with beautiful harmonies, bouncy rockers, poignant minor key songs, and an acoustic ballad that works so well as the finale to a very thoughtfully put together album. It’s impressive how they’ve maintained the youthful sound of the summer anthems that have made them such an iconic band, while adding in the more mature, reflective and refined edge that comes with being guys in their 30′s. “Happiness Is” will take its place right up there with TBS’ other albums and with the best releases of 2014. It’s thoughtful and nuanced, it packs the punch they’ve always been known for, with a little extra wit and wisdom, and it’s just plain fun to listen to.

3.) You Blew It!- “Keep Doing What You’re Doing”

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With the resurgence in popularity of the nebulous genre known as “emo” and a Weezer tribute EP on the horizon, You Blew It! are definitely a band that will receive even more attention as the year progresses. Their latest album, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” will definitely appeal to longtime fans of old school emo in the vein of Braid, The Promise Ring, and Cap’n Jazz. It’s angsty, emotional, and punchy, but also showcases a refined, nuanced sound and lyrical style from a band who has clearly come of age. You Blew It! are a shining example of the fact that emo never really died after all, and this album shows that the genre is more than alive and well in 2014.

4.) Manchester Orchestra- “Cope”

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From its darkly powerful opening track, “Top Notch,” this stunner of an album pulls you right into its onslaught of heavy hitting rock that’s lyrically laced with themes of overcoming fear and grief, letting go, absolution, and even finding happiness. While the band’s 2011 release was more sprawling, orchestral, and varied in sound, “Cope” just hits you head on with straightforward, heavy indie rock. It’s chock full of some of the best riffs and hooks I’ve heard on a rock album in a while, and it’s a refreshing new direction for this ever evolving band.

5.) Bombay Bicycle Club- “So Long, See You Tomorrow”

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After experimenting with several genres and styles and going through quite an evolution, these British indie rockers have released their best, most cohesive album yet. “So Long, See You Tomorrow” is full of intelligently crafted indie-dance beats, and lush, eclectic arrangements that create quite a dynamic, refreshing listening experience. If you’re bored with the current crop of more popular indie rock/pop and haven’t discovered this gem of an album yet, then get on it.

6.) Tokyo Police Club- “Forcefield”

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After a nearly four year hiatus, it’s not at all surprising that Tokyo Police Club’s sound has shifted quite a bit from their excellent 2010 album, “Champ.” This latest LP, “Forcefield,” feels a little lighter and more mature than the louder, slightly frenetic sound they crafted in their earlier work. But it’s still totally fun, bouncy indiepop that you’ll want to turn way up. The band has achieved a well-honed electro-pop-meets-power-pop type of sound, and it really works. Imagine what would result if you crossed Passion Pit with The Strokes, and you’ll kind of get the idea. Standout tracks include the instantly catchy “Hot Tonight,” and “Toy Guns,” and the more chill closing songs “Through The Wire,” and “Feel The Effect.”

7.) SOHN- “Tremors”

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SOHN’s debut album is a compelling journey through a dark, moody, R&B tinged electronic landscape, with his soothing but emotionally powerful vocals to guide you through the ebbs and flows. Each song is wrapped in delicately crafted layers of sound, ranging from intriguingly catchy, poppy loops to more somber, austere, crystalline creations. SOHN navigates a musical territory that’s somewhere between James Blake and the Weeknd, and he does it brilliantly.

8.) Seahaven- “Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only”

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Three years after their pretty impressive first LP, “Winter Forever,” Seahaven have emerged quite a different band, presenting a much more subdued, stripped down set of beautifully melancholic songs. Gone is the grungy, gritty post-hardcore sound they’ve been known for, and it’s actually a welcome change that gives the band a unique edge, allowing them to stand out in a genre that has grown a bit tired. The sparse instrumentation of these slow burning songs makes frontman Kyle Soto’s achingly sorrowful lyrical material that much more poignant and fascinating to listen to.

9.) Sisyphus

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Like combining chocolate with bacon or potato chips with soft serve ice cream, this strange collaboration between Chicago rapper Serengeti, New York producer Son Lux, and the elusive, genre defying indie prodigy, Sufjan Stevens, doesn’t seem like it would work on the surface. But put aside your skepticism and you will realize that it is oddly delightful and fascinating to listen to. The variety of beats and textures and the pairing of Serengeti’s witty, unconventional rapping with Sufjan’s dreamy singing coalesce to create a diverse album that will surely satisfy music fans with slightly offbeat tastes and cravings.

While the album is marked by a fair amount of dissonance and clashing styles, it manages to come across as playful and charming rather than jarring or inaccessible. And while they present some powerful lyrical themes, the three artists make it clear that they do not take themselves too seriously at all, a stance which is evident right from the bouncy opening track, “Calm It Down.” The overall vibe of the album may be one of experimental, freestyle fun, but several of the songs soar to beautiful, majestic heights; namely (and not surprisingly) those that more prominently feature Sufjan’s vocals: “Take Me,” “I Won’t Be Afraid,” and “Hardly Hanging On.”

10.) Say Anything- “Hebrews”

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Featuring an all-star cast of guest vocalists and impressively orchestrated arrangements that use several string instruments to effectively replace guitars, this might be the most ambitious and Say Anything album to date. And that’s saying a lot for a prolific, iconoclastic musician such as Max Bemis, the frontman and brainchild behind this genre-defying band that has gone through a rotating cast of characters since its inception in Bemis’ high school days. He weaves together this wonderfully varied, intelligently crafted set of songs with his signature dramatic wit, biting sarcasm, and self-deprecation, all through the lens of a married man and new father whose 20’s are now behind him.

Honorable mention (only because it’s an EP, not an album):

My Mouth Is The Speaker- “In Focus”

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I stumbled upon this band shortly after this stellar EP was released and wrote a piece on them back in April. Since then, Alternative Press has named “Your New Apartment,” the first song from the EP, as one of the “Best Songs of 2014 So Far.” Here’s a selection from my earlier article on MMITS:

“…Aside from feeling overcome by a huge wave of nostalgia for Hot Rod Circuit and other late 90s/early ’00s emo/pop-punk bands like Piebald, The Movielife, and Midtown, I was blown away by the way MMITS seem to revive aspects of that signature sound that defined my teens and early 20’s in a way that’s completely fresh and unique. There are lots of newer bands out there whose sound is clearly influenced by that “old school” emo/pop-punk sound, but who just don’t stand out to me. They get lost in a sea of bands that sound too similar or generic. MMITS are completely different. While I hear hints of the music I loved in high school in their songs, I also hear a style of indie rock/pop-punk marked by songs that are melodic and tightly crafted and also a little raw and gritty. It’s a style of rock I wish I heard more often, but maybe the fact that I seldom find bands who have crafted this quality and caliber of sound means that MMITS are rare breed…”