Most Anticipated of 2022: A New Album from Paramore (Please?)

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This is my wild card album that I always toss into the Most Anticipated. I got it right with Lorde last year, but I doubt I’ll have the same luck with Paramore. My actual prediction is next year, but it only feels right that they would come back and grace us with another Paramore album after Hayley and Zac have had such blockbuster years with their own solo albums. My other bold prediction is that this will be the final Paramore album. As much as I don’t want that to be true, as Paramore has been a true constant in my life, it feels like a natural ending for what has been an incredible movement in both the scene and modern music as a whole. 

I think that Zac and Hayley will move on to do illustrious things on their own, and they’ll let Paramore rest easy very soon. As for an album? I want it to head back to their scene roots and give us some headbangers, but I know this is almost impossible given the moves they’ve made artistically since 2017’s After Laughter. But at this point, I’m willing to latch on to anything they offer me.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Best Songs of 2021

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You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2021 here.

There were so many great songs this year that we honestly had a hard time narrowing it down. Tracks that put the finishing touches on some of our favorite albums (“traitor”, “Justified”, “That’s What I Want”) and songs that stood alone as brilliant moments of hope, pain, and resolve (“Silk Chiffon”, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”. We even had our first track from a comedy special crack the list. Although it’s admittedly hard to have a laugh while listening to “That Funny Feeling”.

While we wait on a new year of tracks to fill our playlists, we’ll finish out the remainder of 2021 jamming along to these. Take a look at our list below and let us know what songs stood out to you.

15. Royal Blood – “Typhoons”

One of the lead singles from the UK rock duo’s album of the same name, “Typhoons” is a dance-ready track that explores the damage of living with thoughts constantly swirling in your head. As someone who lives everyday reliving scenarios and ideas and hoping for better outcomes, Royal Blood manage to find the hopelessness and ecstasy of the situation against a steady beat and garage rock guitars (“I need waking up, I should face the truth / I could calm the storm if I wanted to”). – Kyle Schultz

14. Bo Burnham – “That Funny Feeling”

I would consider anyone who says they didn’t like Inside by Bo Burnham to be lying a little. It was an incredibly versatile representation of how crazy everyone went in quarantine, and offered a fresh take on almost any genre we could think of, including the campfire song with “That Funny Feeling”. When the theaters opened up again, a friend and I saw Inside on the big screen, and what could be a better example of the song than seeing the Netflix logo at a theater? Every track in the special is devastating in one way or another, but somehow the juxtaposition of “A gift shop at the gun range / A mass shooting at the mall” hits so much closer than any of us want it to. Top it off with the Phoebe Bridgers cover and you have not only a perfect picture of both how timeless singing songs about how messed up and sad society is, but also how deeply Inside touched culture this year. – Nadia Alves

13. Holly Humberstone – “Scarlett”

I first heard Holly Humberstone while driving alone at night, which turns out to be the perfect setting to experience her latest EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin. “Scarlett” is Humberstone’s best track to date, tapping into a soft but serious indie rock sound that lets her explore themes of hurt and heartbreak with  a sense of melancholy and resolve. “‘Cause I cried all the summer away / Oh, you left me waiting on a heartbreak”, she sings to launch into one of the year’s most memorable choruses. But “Scarlett”, and the EP as a whole, aren’t meant to wallow in the pain so much as use the songs as a way to process and move forward, made ever so clear by the track’s final line: “I don’t need you now”. – Kiel Hauck

12. Graduating Life – “Crushed & Smothered”

On a base level, “Crushed & Smothered” is a standard emo rock song from Graduating Life. What sets it apart from the genre is the raw, excruciating energy behind it. The song demands the listener unleash their inner torments (“Show me what angers you / Ball up your fist show me why you exist, fight back / Don’t be defined by the cuts on your wrist / Go!”) before unleashing an orgasm of sound and guitar solos at differing tempos. “Crushed & Smothered” is a melodic release of emotion, rage and angst that pull the lyrics describing an anxiety attack under the rug, if only for a moment. – Kyle Schultz

11. Silk Sonic – “Leave the Door Open”

I would call this the yummiest song of 2021. When this song came out I was instantly enamored. It brought me back to a time i wasn’t even around for. The way it equally brings us back to Motown and keeps us in the modern age is not an easy feat, and only doable by artists with an intense knowledge of music history. Enter Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak. Every song on An Evening With Silk Sonic deserves to be on top lists this year, simply because of how smooth they are. The hardest part of ranking them would be picking the best song on the album. For me, this single perfectly encapsulates the album as a whole, and ushers us into another era. – Nadia Alves

10. Kacey Musgraves – “Justified”

“Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line”. That simple, yet powerful line that serves as the heartbeat of Kacey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed is what sparked an hour-long podcast we recorded on why the album is the perfect encapsulation of the experience of divorce. “Justified” is inarguably the best track from Star-Crossed, in part because it most closely resembles the sonic excellence of Golden Hour, but also because it reveals the thematic and artistic next evolution of Musgraves, both as a musician, and more importantly, as a human. Throughout the album, she mines the feelings of grief and confusion that accompany such a traumatic event, but a track like “Justified” offers Musgraves the space to explore the sometimes prickly feelings and motivations that are necessary to move on. – Kiel Hauck

9. Real Friends – “Storyteller”

Real Friends’ stellar Torn in Two EP blasted an impressive lineup of songs that were stronger than they deserved to be, but amongst those jams was “Storyteller”, a song that duels with itself whether to be a soft emotional ballad or a hard rock emo anthem. “Storyteller” speaks to the animalistic instincts we have when someone we love lies to us, and the painful ways we it eats at us late at night (“212 degrees rushing forcefully through my veins and arteries / No chance of getting sleep, as you soundly rest”) and the cleansing way release of anguish and anger (“You’re a storyteller / What you buried deep resurfaced / You’re a liar, liar, liar”) that comes from calling this person out for how they’ve hurt us. – Kyle Schultz

8. girl in red – “Serotonin”

I had a tough year mentally. An unexpected loss at the end of 2020 basically took me out of the game emotionally all year. I’ve felt like I was just kind of existing and surviving, and one of the tracks that brought me back to myself a little bit is ”Serotonin” by girl in red. It’s fun and truthful, and doesn’t make me feel bad for the way I feel, the way a lot of songs try to make me squash the things I’m dealing with down deep inside. This is probably the song I’m most grateful for this year. Produced by Billie Eilish’s half brother FINNEAS, this is a track that will stay in the indie pop circles for years to come.– Nadia Alves

7. Lil Nas X – “THATS WHAT I WANT”

After opening track and first single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, the next track on Lil Nas X’s brilliant debut to cause your ears to perk is “That’s What I Want”. It’s the kind of infectious and instantly memorable moment that “Old Town Road” promised us when he arrived on the scene two years ago. But what makes “That’s What I Want” so brilliant is its subversive nature. As easily as you can roll down your windows on a sunny day and sing along, you could also curl up into a ball and cry. “These days I’m way too alone / And I’m known for giving love away”, he sings right before his pleading chorus of, “I want someone to love me”. To experience Montero, and Lil Nas X in general, is to turn the prism in your hand, taking note of every angle and color. “That’s What I Want” showcases the brilliance and promise of one of the most important new pop artists on the planet. – Kiel Hauck

6. Olivia Rodrigo – “traitor”

Though her debut album, SOUR, spanned across genres, one song stood out among the pack: the quiet and somber “traitor”. Consisting of mostly sober synth, exhausted drums, tired acoustic guitar and Rodrigo’s exasperated vocals, “traitor” is the epitome of the frustration and pain of a dead relationship.

The song itself is a quiet affair, but it speaks to the raw emotion of lost love. From the almost whispered, “Ain’t it funny? / All the twisted games, all the questions you used to avoid”, to the pointed emphasis of, “Don’t you DARE forget about the way / You betrayed me”, Rodrigo hammers each word with a new form of heartbreak that nails the most innate and intimate emotions for what is a shared experience among almost everyone who experiences love. – Kyle Schultz

5. Willow feat. Travis Barker – “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”

Ah yes, Willow Smith. The biggest surprise for me this year both in albums and in singles, is the jump Willow made into the sea that is alternative music. And if that jump was in the Olympics, she would win gold. I am literally in love with this song. Travis Barker is only a crutch left to the side for her. He’s there if she needs him, but everyone can see that she’s able to stand perfectly fine on her own. It’s been a while since Willow Smith has released music, but when I bought  “Whip My Hair” from the iTunes store in 2010, it wasn’t hard for me to see that she has something special musically. Not only is the video (stylized as a “performance visual”) the perfect companion piece, it affords us a view of Willow as she should be seen: a strong, young woman full of talent. – Nadia Alves

4. Stand Atlantic feat. nothing,nowhere – “deathwish”

When I handed out a perfect score to Stand Atlantic’s Pink Elephant last summer, I certainly didn’t expect that the next song they would release would be the best thing the band has ever done. “Deathwish” hit just in time for summer and further blurred the band’s lines between pop and punk, which they so excellently began smearing on Pink Elephant. A song that’s just as easy to dance to as it is to mosh to, “deathwish” finds Bonnie Fraser tapping into a new level as a vocalist. Her pre-chorus, which crescendos with the line, “If you’re leaving, could you quit saying ‘bye’” right before the guitars and synths crash through your speakers is one of the highlights of 2021. Of course, the punk elite arrived right on cue to dismiss the track as too glitzy. The band responded with the raucous and ferocious “molotov [OK]” in November, which could’ve easily made this list as well. – Kiel Hauck

3. Taylor Swift – “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”

Of all the music released in 2021, one song has seemed to stand tall amongst the competition. Taylor Swift’s 10-minute version of “All Too Well” is a behemoth of a song. While on a base level, it seems like an extended version of a single from almost a decade ago, this version of “All Too Well” is closer to what Swift originally intended the song to be.

What makes it stand out again after all this time is the fact that not only are there additional lyrics, it somehow hits and hurts more than it did upon original release. This is a feral pain that not only never quite healed, it embodies the heartbreak we all feel from our first broken love.

The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” would be easy to write off as a “cash grab” for the rerelease of Red, but the song was an overnight phenomenon. Accompanied by a short film and smashing the time limit for an SNL performance, Swift indulged her artistry in its purest form. While the original release may have been forced to scale back to a five-minute ballad, the 10-minute version not only adds more lines (“Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave / And then you wondered where it went to as I reached for you / But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame”), it managed to hit a nerve of our collective consciousness that it may not have when she originally released it all those years ago. – Kyle Schultz

2. Greta Van Fleet – “Heat Above”

TikTok’s greatest success story this year (other than Noodle the Pug) is definitely Greta Van Fleet. A band once ridiculed for being an almost identical, albeit younger, Led Zeppelin is now at the forefront of modern rock. With “Heat Above”, the band comes into their own sonically and stylistically, and is the perfect opening track to their latest album The Battle At Garden’s Gate.

Josh Kiszka’s vocals are unmatched, only closely followed by the harmony he and his siblings have musically. It’s no wonder I can’t stop listening to it. Before the release of the music video, which is simple and allows the song to do the legwork, the band said, “Thematically, we are dead center in the cult of Heaven, surreal, strange, alive, and free.” And the video does just that. It elevates what is already an incredible piece of craftsmanship and provides the perfect visual to get lost in.

I never considered myself a real Greta Van Fleet fan; the hair metal of the 70s and 80s has never appealed to me like the folk and pop of those eras do, but “Heat Above” packs just the right amount of punch to make me a believer. – Nadia Alves

1. MUNA feat. Phoebe Bridgers – “Silk Chiffon”

From the opening moments of “Silk Chiffon”, as Katie Gavin croons, “Sun down and I’m feeling lifted / Downtown, cherry lipstick” over the strum of an acoustic guitar, there’s a sense of bliss that washes over you in the way that only the most perfect of pop songs can do. The track is an anthem of queer love, full of warmth and whimiscal imagery that captures those all-too-familiar feelings of innocent and exciting love on fleeting summer nights. 

I first heard the song on the night it was performed for the very first time, as MUNA opened for Phoebe Bridgers in Indianapolis. The band’s previous work, most notably their breakthrough 2019 album Saves the World, is marked by energetic synthpop – something the band does as well as anyone. But “Silk Chiffon” feels like the opening of a new chapter in which you could envision MUNA fully crossing over into the mainstream. 

It’s a track that seems to perfectly capture the trio’s personality while grafting in Phoebe’s as well. Just listen to the crunch of the guitar as she enters the second verse with her lines of, “I’m high and I’m feeling anxious / Inside a CVS”. For all of its brightness and charm, my favorite thing about “Silk Chiffon” is that it simply makes me feel happy. And I’ll be damned if that’s not just about the best feeling a song can inspire right now. – Kiel Hauck

Honorable Mention:

Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar – “family ties”
Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”
Spiritbox – “Circle with Me”
CHVRCHES – “Final Girl”
Architects – “Black Lung”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Wonder Years (and Friends) Pack a Punch

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I’m a sucker for opening bands. Oftentimes I will leave a show with a shirt from every band, and that’s a testament to my lack of self-control, but it’s also a testament to the caliber that opening bands are at these days. Long gone are the lineups that exist to sound gross to make the headliner look good. Sometimes, the artists get added to my regular roster, and other times, I let them pass me by, just grateful for the live experience they offered. Last night’s lineup was one of those shows where everyone was incredible and at the top of their game.

The first band of the night was proper., a band from Brooklyn. The band was kind enough to respond to my Instagram message asking for their setlist – love y’all. A three-piece that packed a huge punch, and the lead singer Erik’s stage presence was great. For their first time in the city, they were able to really connect with us in the crowd and everyone fell in love with them. Musically, they have a frenetic punk sound, but there was nothing chaotic about them as a band. Everything was tight, and even though they “hadn’t practiced in the past calendar week,” their set was solid and I wish they had been able to play more. 

PRONOUN from Boston was next, and she also graciously allowed me her setlist after I sent her a DM. I’ve seen her play before, at a Turnover show in 2017, but she was a one-woman show at that point. She has added two more members to the outfit, and a whole lot of experience as well. The first time I had seen her, she didn’t really stick with me for some reason. This time around, she has a few more releases under her belt, and a lot more confidence. With easy vibes, and song titles like “I wanna die but I can’t (cuz I gotta keep living)”, it’s clear that she has found both her niche, and the perfect genre for those of us who use guitars to soothe our mental illnesses.

After a brief intermission and rousing crowd rendition of “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire courtesy of the venue playlist, it was time for band three of the night. At this point in my concert career I’ve usually disassociated and want to head home, but of course, I always push through. The sweaty people, the smattering of conversation, and the alcohol seeping through my sneakers is a lot to handle, especially after so long out of the game. But onto the stage steps Future Teens.

Another Boston native band, Future Teens was the perfect act to be third. Not only because of their acclaim in the scene, but for their ability to bring everyone back together. Everyone was dancing to these songs about Boston being overrated and crying in traffic, and the togetherness was palpable. There has been such a disconnect in the scene because of the pandemic and every time a crowd unites – old fans and newly budding fans alike – it feels like old times. Future Teens did just that. It’s always interesting to me when I get to see a band that I’ve only heard about, and sometimes I will deliberately not dive in, and just let the music wash over me that night. Future Teens has made a lifelong fan of me with their show last night. Endlessly energetic, and great music to boot. I didn’t grab a t-shirt from the merch table last night because of how crowded it was, but I have one of their  90’s inspired t-shirts coming in the mail to rep my new faves.

And of course, eventually we make it to the ones we’ve all been aching to see: The Wonder Years. This was my second time seeing the band play (the first was with Tiny Moving Parts, Microwave, and letlive.), but my third time seeing Dan Campbell play – I caught an Aaron West show in 2017. The energy in the room as they finished setting up was undeniable, and as the guys stepped out and Dan said “this is our first headlining show in 21 months,” we knew we were in for a treat. They played tracks from all of their albums, as well as their new Christmas song “Threadbare” for the first time. They pulled out “Christmas at 22” from their back pockets, and according to some fellow attendees who updated the setlist.fm page for the show, they hadn’t played that one since 2014. I’m past my pit days now, but the crowd went wild, and security let up on the no-crowd-surfing rule and let the chips (and the people) fall where they may. 

This was my second venture back into live music, and it’s one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. The Wonder Years have mastered how to put together both a perfect lineup and a perfect setlist, and it’s a joy to see them when they come in from Philly. After this run of shows, they are headed out on a tour where they will be playing both The Upsides and Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing in their entireties.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Best Albums of 2021

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This is the year that everything was supposed to get back to normal. Well, that didn’t happen. But many of us did begin to dip our toe back into this new version of what life looks like. We went to a few concerts, saw our friends and family, and clung to the things that bring us joy. It goes without saying that music is a big part of that.

Many of the albums that made our list this year share a common theme: finding the strength it takes to face adversity and rise above. Be it battling the perils of heartbreak and adolescence (Olivia Rodrigo), overcoming gatekeepers of an aging genre (Spiritbox), or standing in the shadows of who we used to be (Foxing), so many of the artists we love found their footing and crafted something that speaks to our hearts.

Wherever this year found you in your journey, we hope you found music to walk alongside you and give you life. Here are a few of the albums that did that for us in 2021. Take a look!

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15. Noah Gundersen – A Pillar of Salt

A Pillar of Salt is the definition of a piece that snuck up on me. Noah Gundersen spent time in a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest, much like his contemporary, Bon Iver, and came out with a piece of art for the ages. Of course I kept it in the back of my mind when it had released and was interested in it for my casual listening, but when I finally spent some time with it, I regretted not shouting about it from the rooftops in the way it deserves. Indie pop vibes that would make Sufjan shed a tear, religious allusions that stun seminary students, and an under-the-radar Phoebe Bridgers feature — A Pillar of Salt has it all. It’s devastating, it’s lovely, it’s gentle, it’s hard hitting. It’s perfect. – Nadia Alves

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14. J. Cole – The Off-Season

Since his arrival on the scene, J. Cole has seemingly been chasing the admiration of the rap community at large. 2014 Forest Hills Drive showed promise, but ultimately, Cole’s biggest challenge was being shadowed by so many vibrant artists pioneering new territory in hip hop. On The Off-Season, he finally leans fully into his greatest strength: rapping. The Off-Season is a masterclass in the art of technical wordplay and punchline delivery. The bells and whistles are few and there isn’t a single trend to be chased. Instead, we’re treated to a J. Cole who seems content in his standing, but driven to bend our ears back toward the sound that made hip hop such a sensation in the first place. Call him a relic if you like, but it’s impossible to deny the gravity of The Off-Season. Freed from expectation, it’s finally exciting for rap fans to dream about what Cole might be capable of. – Kiel Hauck

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13. Weezer – Van Weezer

Being a Weezer fan is to not know what to expect when new music is released. In the case of Van Weezer, the Van Halen inspired rock album was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it finally released in Spring 2021, it was exactly what a summer album should be: loud, fun and familiar. Weezer’s tribute to anthem rock simultaneously indulges in glitzing guitars while maintaining the crunchy rock that the band is known for. Having already released a stellar surprise album earlier in the year (OK Human), Van Weezer is shocking in just how fun it is to listen to. For an album paying homage to another band, it sits strong in the mountain of Weezer’s best albums. – Kyle Schultz

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12. Dan Campbell – Other People’s Lives

There is always an album toward the end of the year that blows up my year end lists and forces me to make hard decisions. This year it’s Other People’s Lives by frontman of The Wonder Years, Dan Campbell. The man is so accomplished these days, it feels pigeonholing to refer to him as the lead singer of The Wonder Years. With his affinity for Americana and his soulful voice, he brings the finer points of reality to the surface with this, his first official solo project. Each line carefully crafted and placed with the care of a jeweler, his reflections on family and childhood remind us that maybe this place we call home can be quite all right sometimes. – Nadia Alves

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11. Architects – For Those That Wish to Exist

With the release of Holy Hell in 2018, grieving the loss of fallen comrade Tom Searle, it felt like the closing of a book on one of modern metalcore’s giants. But Architects had more to give. This new chapter begins with For Those That Wish to Exist, an album faithful to the band’s roots that has its eyes set on forward motion. Who could’ve imagined a track like “Animals” sounding so full of life and fury or the infectious drive of “Giving Blood”? Architects spread their wings across these 15 tracks, experimenting with new sounds, like the glitchy “Flight Without Feathers” or the roaring horns on “Dead Butterflies”. For Those That Wish to Exist opens a new door of possibilities for the band, and the metalcore genre at large, but it’s the album’s message that is of utmost importance. “What would you do to stay alive if the planet was burning?” Sam Carter asks us on the album’s second track, “Black Lungs”. It’s a thesis statement that uncovers the true drive and purpose for the band’s new era. – Kiel Hauck

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10. Kennyhoopla – Survivor’s Guilt: The Mixtape

Kennyhoopla’s debut into the scene in 2020 was a refreshing take on indie rock and emo that left listeners wondering how he would top himself. Survivor’s Guilt: The Mixtape// answered by leaning hard into glittering power pop guitar riffs and absolutely thunderous drums that make it an instant classic. The collaboration with Blink-182’s Travis Barker is a playground for Kenny to test every aspect of his vocal range, from whispers to screamo to anthemic melodic choruses in songs that don’t take themselves as seriously as his first EP. While Survivor’s Guilt revels in nostalgia, its greatest strength is how much energy and possibilities it brings to the genre. – Kyle Schultz

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9. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

When Little Oblivions was announced in October 2020 with the heart-wrenching single “Faith Healer”, I was excited and ready to be destroyed in the way only Julien Baker can do. This album, to put it mildly, is alive. The full band sound against Julien’s gentle voice is the perfect addition to her oeuvre. It is the most natural progression we could have received. Oftentimes, an acoustic artist will take the band route and head straight for overblown synths and make a jumble of their discography, but Julien knows where to hold back. The big moments are big, and the small, intimate moments we know and love from her become somehow bigger. An album about heartbreak and the sickening way that it becomes just another feeling in the back of our minds is the perfect cultural response to *gestures to society* whatever this is. I love her for it. – Nadia Alves

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8. Lil Nas X – Montero

Montero was sure worth the wait, huh? When Lil Nas X introduced us to “Old Town Road” all the way back in 2019, it signified the unstoppable fluidity of genre for a new generation of artists. Montero, the proper debut album from Lil Nas X, feels fully liberated from labels. It’s a pop extravaganza with a kitchen sink of influences that are each perfectly painted with queer spirit, resulting in something that feels as truly enjoyable and familiar as it is unique. What elevates it to album-of-the-year discussion is Lil Nas X’s sleight of hand. Montero, for all of its glimmering and celebratory sound, is sinking in sadness. “These days, I’m way too lonely” he sings on “That’s What I Want”, a track that you could play in tandem with “Hey Ya” on a wedding dance floor. His chorus of, “I want someone who’ll love me” is devastating in the context of an album where he mines through the pain of sudden, but seemingly hollow fame and faux admiration from those close to him. As impressive as it is to behold, Montero is also wise beyond its years. – Kiel Hauck

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7. Real Friends – Torn in Two

Creating new music after the loss of a lead singer is an intimidating task for any band. To create music that not only pays homage to the former singer’s sound while crafting a natural path forward is another task altogether. New vocalist Cody Muraro’s debut not only exceeds expectations for his ability to handle former vocalist Dan Lambton’s emotional depth, he finds his own rhythm with the confidence and power of the scene’s greatest. Most bands struggle to find their sound again after such a dramatic shift, but Real Friends pull together to hone their sound for an experience far more engaging and stronger than it has any right to be. The fact that the band are already recording new songs together is only more evidence that they may be in a synchronization that most bands only hope to achieve. – Kyle Schultz

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6. Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

Last year when Hayley Williams released her much anticipated first solo album, Petals for Armor, I don’t think many of us realized what an important part of the Paramore / women in music / mental health awareness stories the album would be. When she released Flowers for Vases / descansos, I definitely didn’t see it coming. Where the first chapter was brazen and in-your-face independence, this second installment cuts deeper. It’s a story of a woman who wanted so badly to be above the noise in her personal life and simply couldn’t for a time. This is the raw side of Hayley, and maybe a side of her we won’t see again for a while. Either way, where Petals was about Hayley rising from the ashes to save face, descansos is about saving herself for herself. – Nadia Alves

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5. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Some would like you to believe that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were able to finally harness Halsey’s potential and channel it into something worthy of critical praise. But while their soundscapes certainly prove to be the perfect canvas for the story of If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, the punk spirit has always run deep in the work of Halsey in myriad ways. Here, their songwriting coalesces into one intertwined and succinct body of work. Last year’s Manic worked because of its maniacal changes of pace and genre. If I Can’t Have Love is the opposite. That both albums are a masterclass in songwriting and storytelling, providing different yet beautiful sides of one of alt pop’s most essential artists speaks volumes to Halsey’s abilities. Besides, what do Reznor and Ross know about the horrors of pregnancy and childbirth? No, they’ve simply provided another fascinating sonic playground for Halsey to stake her claim as one of this decade’s most exciting artists. – Kiel Hauck

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4. Graduating Life – II

Graduating Life is the type of band you hope every artist is: erratic, emotional and intense. The project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, II explores the conflict of fighting one’s own inner demons and stagnation in an emotional experience that mixes intense lyrical ideas with equally intense music that jumps from tempo to tempo and indulges in guitar solos at the exact moment you hope it will. II somehow manages to blaze an identity all its own while feeling reassuringly familiar. The path that Graduating Life has forged is what all bands should aspire to achieve—a unique sound that drives the genre forward while also paying homage to what came before. – Kyle Schultz

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3. Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

When I choose a top album for the year, my rubric starts off as ridiculously open and almost anything can slip through if I listen to it enough in the mindset of what’s “best.” What always surprises me, however, is that it’s the albums that I move past after their release that sneak back up on me and impress me all over again.

With Foxing’s Draw Down the Moon, I got into it almost obsessively for a couple of weeks. My Spotify algorithm was deeply affected by it, and I found myself with the title track on repeat, both in the car, out of the car, and in my head. In choosing my top album, I’ve thought a lot about what takes this one to the forefront. It’s not only the creativity that Foxing brings to everything they touch that keeps their art refreshing, it’s the relatability. Where another artist in the prog-rock scene can end up being gaudy and overzealous in their attempts, Foxing never is. Whenever they release, it’s guaranteed to be at the top for me.

There is no other band in the scene like this. Their live shows are full of energy and interesting instrumentation, and it feels natural. The chaos is part of what makes the band who they are. Conor’s vocals take listeners on a journey, and in Draw Down the Moon, it’s the most ambitious and intelligent journey the band has embarked on thus far. – Nadia Alves

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2. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

What’s that they always say about pressure forming diamonds? For well over a year, Canadian metal act Spiritbox sprinkled a rapidly growing fanbase with singles, seeming to up the ante (and volume) with each release. By the time the band’s debut was set to arrive, the bar had simply been raised too high for the band to deliver on the promise of those early nuggets. Right? Apparently not. As it turns out, Eternal Blue is one of the most electrifying debuts the genre has seen in recent memory.

Part of what makes the experience of Eternal Blue so thrilling is that it brings Spiritbox as a band fully into view, weaving multiple experimental facets into something cohesive. Be it the colossal crash of “Holy Roller” or the more subdued and simmering sounds of “The Summit”, Eternal Blue just works from every angle, thanks in large part to vocalist Courtney LaPlante. Her staggering vocal range both soothes and punishes across the album’s 11 tracks, just as guitarist Michael Stringer shifts pace at every step along the way.

The band seems fully aware of the challenge they set before themselves with those wild moments of introduction. LaPlante tunnels through her mental state throughout Eternal Blue, balancing her self-doubt with flashes of confidence. On the bridge of penultimate track “Circle With Me”, she bellows, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. Interpret as you see fit, but suffice it to say, Spiritbox have injected a much needed dose of energy into a metal scene fully in need of their kind of new blood. – Kiel Hauck

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1. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

There is little doubt that Olivia Rodrigo was a breakout sensation of 2021. The release of SOUR was one of the few actual musical events of the year, spawning not only several hit singles, but almost single handedly revitalized pop punk as a genre for a younger generation who either hadn’t heard it before or had stopped listening to it altogether. 

Rodrigo seamlessly blends genres across pop punk, emo and pop in a way that sounds startlingly fresh and familiar in equal measure. While single “good 4 u” became one of the anthems of the summer—appearing in commercials and sung in bars across the country—the highlight of SOUR is the intense emotional depth of Rodrigo’s lyricism.

Rodrigo uses SOUR as a conduit to explore not only the transition from adolescence to adulthood, but the absolute depths of emotion and heartbreak. Her vocal abilities aren’t just impressive in and of themselves, but her use of intonation of specific phrases strikes to the depth of the soul (“traitor”).

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album was one of the few modern phenomena that sent shockwaves through the music scene. If her first foray into a solo career can make this much of an impact, it’s impossible to do anything but wait anxiously for what experience and ambition bring to the table in the future. – Kyle Schultz

Honorable Mention

Kacey Musgraves – Star-Crossed
Turnstile – Glow On
Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic
Willow – Lately I Feel Everything
CHVRCHES – Screen Violence

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Reacting to “Red (Taylor’s Version)”

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It’s been a week since Taylor Swift blessed us with Red (Taylor’s Version). And we have thoughts! Kiel Hauck is joined by fellow It’s All Dead-ians Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves to delve into the nooks and crannies of all 30 tracks of this new release. They share takes on the best and most interesting re-recorded songs and weigh in some of the best “From the Vault” tracks that round out the album. Is the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” better than the original? Are there still easter eggs within the album that have yet to be uncovered by Swiftie Sleuths? Who had the best guest appearance on the album? And what album is coming next? All of these questions (and more) are addressed – listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Michelle Branch – The Spirit Room

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A couple of times a year, I find myself spending days at a time inside The Spirit Room. I’ve said it countless times in the two decades since its release, but the debut album from Michelle Branch is perfect. And as it reaches its 20th anniversary, I’ve thought a lot about its legacy, and how the album unexpectedly became a blueprint of sorts.

We’ve talked extensively this year about Sour, the debut from Olivia Rodrigo, and how it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions and experience of adolescence. One of the many things that makes Sour so impressive is Rodrigo’s ability to shape-shift within genre, often tapping into nostalgic pop rock sounds that feel both fresh and familiar. It’s hard to listen to the album and not think of Branch.

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You can buy or stream The Spirit Room on Apple Music

The story of how The Spirit Room came to be back in 2001 has been reported in detail, but it’s still fascinating to think about a teenager operating independently from major label influence and creating an album so different from what was expected from a young female artist at the time. It worked, and what followed was a new wave of young singer-songwriters following in her pop rock footsteps. Even Taylor Swift has spoken of the album’s influence in her own writing.

It was a sound that clearly caught my attention at the time, and Branch’s lonely, bedroom daydream songwriting resonated as well. When I listen to the album now, I’m transported back to a very specific time in my life in the best way. There isn’t another album that captures those feelings quite as well for me. When I hear “Goodbye to You”, I see Branch performing the song from the stage of The Bronze on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I hear “All You Wanted” I’m reminded of late night drives in my first car. “Everywhere” transports me back to my freshman dorm room.

For all of these reasons, it was captivating to hear Branch’s 20th anniversary re-recording of the album. Unlike Swift’s current explorations of her past work (which I also love), Branch has allowed the passage of time to change her approach to these tracks. Her voice sounds slightly weathered, the songs have more room to breathe and move at a slightly slower pace. If you close your eyes, you can imagine her playing these songs to a small audience in a smoky lounge room. There’s an innocence that’s missing and it gives the album an entirely new feeling. The fact that it works this well speaks to the timeless beauty of the songwriting.

Last month, I purchased a ticket to Branch’s live stream performance of the album, expecting a full band rendition of the songs I know so well. When the stream began with Branch sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar and strumming her way through “Everywhere”, I was taken aback. But by the opening moments of second track “You Get Me”, I was sold. The songs just work in every context, and in this case, some of them became even more alive with emotion and meaning. 

The early years of the 2000s were a transitional period for popular music, which is perhaps why it feels as though The Spirit Room sometimes gets forgotten in conversations around modern classic albums. It feels out of place when you think about the final gasps of bubblegum pop giving way to the oncoming avalanche of garage rock, hip hop and pop punk. But taken in a vacuum, it’s hard to poke holes in the album. It’s stellar songwriting paired with impeccable production. It moves. It captures hopeless romantic feelings you chase into your adulthood without ever feeling forced or cliché. It opened a new door for young female songwriters to lean into their own individual sounds. It invites you to get lost within it again and again.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Kacey Musgraves and the Anatomy of a Great Divorce Album

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Kacey Musgraves recently returned with a new album, Star-Crossed, which explores her divorce from Ruston Kelly. As it turns out, there’s a long history of albums reckoning with the fallout of divorce and they all share some very common threads. Area Code Network’s own Richard Clark joins Kiel Hauck on the podcast to discuss the anatomy of a great divorce album and how the concept has evolved over the decades. They also break down the highs and lows of Star-Crossed and how the album stacks up to other recently released albums that explore the concept of leaving (Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish). Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

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Every once in a while, something incredible happens. A new band begins building a grassroots buzz through a sprinkling of singles that gradually increases into a viral fever pitch. It all leads up to a debut album that could never possibly live up to expectations – but then it totally does. And it’s one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan.

For Canadian metal band Spiritbox it all began five years ago when vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer picked up the pieces after the fallout of iwrestledabearonce and began formulating their next move. The duo’s debut self-titled EP came in 2017, followed by a string of singles after the addition of bassist Bill Crook, and eventually, drummer Zev Rose. Last year, upon the release of breakout tracks “Blessed Be” and the thunderous “Holy Roller”, Spiritbox was the most hyped new metal act in recent memory.

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You can buy or stream Eternal Blue on Apple Music

With five of the album’s 12 tracks already in circulation by the time Eternal Blue arrived, it was fair to wonder if the band had actually kept something in their back pocket to tie things all together. Did they ever. Eternal Blue is album of the year material. It’s an album that reimagines what a metal band can deliver. It solidifies Spiritbox as a giant in a genre that needs them more than it probably even realizes.

LaPlante and company wisely placed “Holy Roller” as the centerpiece of Eternal Blue. From opener “Sun Killer”, the band begins climbing the mountain toward that deafening peak before descending down the other side on the album’s back half, closing brilliantly with the atmospheric and sorrowful “Constance”. The album is designed to flow together effortlessly, even as the songs themselves individually ebb and flow. I’ve gotten chills each time “Sun Killer”, with its note-bending breakdown, transitions flawlessly into the manic opening notes of “Hurt You”.

As Spiritbox began staking their claim as a metal newcomer to be reckoned with, Stringer’s knack for complex, djent-y guitar passages drew comparisons to U.K. metalcore giants Architects. And sure enough, here’s Sam Carter delivering a chorus for the ages alongside LaPlante on “Yellowjacket”, howling, “Where was the grace when I was asking for it?” That cry into the void is a sentiment that exudes from many of the tracks on Eternal Blue, with answers often coming from within.

LaPlante’s transparent journey through the tumultuous waves of depression don’t always lean into feelings of hopelessness, but rather consistently look for open doors and windows. Of the title track, LaPlante shared, “Lyrically, it’s about someone who is at rock bottom but is trying not to romanticize that.” Still, she saves space to acknowledge those moments when it’s not that easy. On “The Summit”, she sings, “I was looking for the wrong way out / Empty road is like an open mouth” before her repeated refrain of, “The venom is what keeps me alive”. 

That visceral rise and fall effect throughout the course of Eternal Blue is something that reveals itself in new ways on each repeated listen. Take “Halcyon”, which opens with the band pounding the earth beneath their feet to dust just before the music gives way to LaPlante’s effortlessly and gracefully delivered opening lines. The band then slowly winds up for the punishing outro, with LaPlante screaming, “Irrelevance is imminent / I could be one of them” just in time for what amounts to a deep breath, followed by one of the most massive breakdowns on the album.

In the end, the ultimate payoff of Eternal Blue seems almost predestined. In a rare moment of wild confidence on the bridge of “Circle with Me”, LaPlante shreds her vocal chords as she roars, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. The raucous final call to circle with her and her bandmates is one that will not go unanswered. Spiritbox have owned the moment, and their new legion of fans can now lose themselves under the waves of Eternal Blue again and again.

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Phoebe Bridgers Reunion Tour: An Experience Worth Waiting For

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It had been just over two years since the last time I had attended a concert. I was apprehensive. I wondered if that passage of time had somehow quelled my love of the setting. Maybe I didn’t need live music experiences anymore, at least not with the same frequency as before. That’s what I was thinking, but then the lights went down, a band came on stage, I raised my camera to capture the moment, and felt that familiar rush wash over me. I missed this more than I knew.

It’s wild to think about how much has changed for Phoebe Bridgers since the last time she took the stage. Pre-pandemic, Bridgers was still carving her path, building on the early momentum of her debut, Stranger in the Alps, and her collaborative projects, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community. But then came Punisher, a perfect album that changed everything, but all took place in isolation. There was Bridgers in February, in attendance at a bizarre Grammys in her skeleton pajamas, never having had the chance to perform the songs that had changed her life in front of a live audience.

Truthfully, after all we’ve endured, it has made this late summer’s Reunion Tour the perfect opportunity to finally re-connect and share our experience of Punisher together. The tour’s dates were recently moved to outdoor venues, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. It felt about as safe as you can feel these days at an event filled with strangers.

MUNA opened the night – an electro pop trio I had no prior knowledge of. And guess what; it’s still so much fun to discover a new band at a concert. Led by vocalist Katie Gavin, the band exhibited an infectious joy onstage throughout their set, making it impossible to look away. Opening with tracks like “Number One Fan” and “Stayaway” from their 2019 full-length album, Saves the World, the band’s knack for creating dance-worthy tracks ranging in emotion and energy set the tone for the night. When they debuted their new track “Silk Chiffon” (featuring Bridgers), it made clear that MUNA is on the cusp of reaching another level.

To finally experience Punisher in person was…therapeutic? Healing? Relieving? It was something. Bridgers opened with “Motion Sickness” from her debut, making a subtle nod to the idea of our collective reunion. “Let’s experience something familiar before we dive into the new stuff.” From there, “DVD Menu” led into “Garden Song” which led into “Kyoto” and oh my god every song still sounds so perfect. Every track from the album happened in sequence with various other songs from Bridgers’ other works sprinkled within.

The setting fit the mood – dark, but lit with just enough light to create a “vibe.” A backing screen featuring an opening book that visualized the chapters of the performance. And of course, Bridgers and band decked in those skeleton PJs. Highlights of the show depended on your own personal attachments. For me, “Moon Song” proved just as sad and lovely as I had hoped. But it’s hard to outdo a choir of screaming to those final moments of “I Know the End”. Every song was delivered with care. Every moment felt worth absorbing.

In hindsight, I can’t think of a better show to reacquaint myself with the setting. Punisher has meant more to me in this past year than I can put into words. Having the opportunity, after all of this time, to experience it like this? In a weird way, it almost felt worth the wait.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Grayscale – Umbra

Every once in a while, a band just finds their sound. For Grayscale, this came in the form of the single “In Violet”, a song that stood out against the rest of their album Nella Vita. Although the album itself was stellar, there is a magic to “In Violet”. The song is a vortex of moody melodies and dark lyrical subject matter that swirls around a joyful chorus and the swelling of celebratory horns. For their newest album, Umbra, Grayscale have fully leaned into the ideas that gave birth to “In Violet”. The results of this is an album that is over-the-top, stylish, fun and arguably unlike anything else currently in the scene. 

You can buy or stream Umbra on Apple Music.

For Umbra, Grayscale have thrown everything at what made “In Violet” stand out at each song. In a way, it almost sounds overwhelming. There are extensive saxophone solos (“Motown”), gospel choruses (“Live Again”), glitzy guitar solos (“Dirty Bombs”) and songs that include literally all of the above (”Without You”). While these elements could easily be overdone, they’re presented in a way that sounds modernly creative as well as like a long-forgotten soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster. Simply put, Umbra is exciting because it seems like almost anything can appear throughout the album’s 11 tracks. 

What ties these elements together and reigns them in is a retro-style guitar, courtesy of guitarists Dallas Molster and Andrew Kyne. Opener “Without You” carries a heavy vibe reminiscent of Rick Astley. However, much like “In Violet”, the energetic music hides the bitter lyrical subject matter. Amidst the roaring saxophone and guitar solos, vocalist Collin Walsh sings about the freedom he feels after leaving a toxic relationship (“How could I find love in a car crash? / I was pinned down with my hands back / I’m finally without you”). 

Bassist Nick Ventimiglia stands out most during the quieter moments (“Carolina Skies”), while percussionist Nick Veno finds a healthy restraint amidst the melody of songs, and switches up from a heavily produced sound (“Motown”), to what seems to be some nostalgic gated reverb (“Babylon (Say It To My Face)”).

Walsh’s vocals carry stories of loss and coping with darkness throughout Umbra, such as “King of Everything”, which chronicles the loss of a someone who seems to have left their marriage and friends in a type of mid-life crisis (“Yeah, you’re still a part of me / See the life you threw away, wedding bells and silver rings / No more pain and suffering / So go be the man you want to be”).

Meanwhile, closer “Light” sees Walsh mourning the loss of someone he loves as they pursue their dreams and leaves him stranded in place (“Hearts, they never heal in a straight line / Twelve weeks since you had to go and break mine / Sinking here like a stone / Sad to say, yeah, I know / It’s dark here, spinning deep into my head”). 

Umbra seems like too much, sonically, yet it works. Part of this is that all of the extravagant elements on the album are spread out, providing a taste of each from song to song. As such, the album somehow manages to weave an experience of sound that seems more fitting to mainstream pop than indie rock, but fits with the mood of the band. Umbra explores the darkness of relationships and the aftermath that haunts those stuck trying to find a new adventure. “In Violet” seems to have sprung a surge of creativity from Grayscale that heavily influenced this album, and the band is better for it.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is slowly baking in the humidity like a potato. A mighty Idaho potato.