Most Anticipated of 2022: Taylor Swift Keeps the Momentum Rolling

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If I’m being completely honest, I am okay with Taylor Swift taking time off. The woman has been arguably the most prolific artist in the world, having released three new albums and two re-releases of past albums in the last two years. While it would be natural to assume she has to be near the point of burning out, there is still always reason to be excited. With four more re-releases scheduled, if she keeps at the same pace she has been going at, the next Taylor’s Version may be only a few months away.

These re-releases made her older material somehow nostalgically refreshing and relevant again despite being listened to thousands of times already. Her “From the Vault” B-Sides would be worthy of a release all on their own, but in this context we can see how she evolved as an artist between albums and how she tested the waters with genre and style before fully jumping in. Whatever her next Taylor’s Version album is, it can’t come soon enough for fans who already know every note by heart.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Mitski Opens a New Chapter

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I remarked to my husband at the end of 2021 that I was officially entering my indie sad girl years, not to be confused, of course, with my emo sad girl years. I said this after spending a particularly emotional week in the world of The Mountain Goats, and I kind of moved away from the notion as I looked at my Spotify Wrapped and realized I’m still very much emo. And then I listened to the (now three) singles from Mitski’s upcoming album Laurel Hell. And unlike my other most anticipated projects, it’s real and tangibly close to being in my hands.

Not only is this album coming very soon (February 4th), but it is proving to be my favorite Mitski project so far. She is so consistently good at what she does, and for a lot of artists, we would see “sixth album” and write it off as a has been or a reach. But Mitski gets better with age. Her lyricism improves, her confidence in using new instrumentation or new influences improves. Based on the singles so far, I am already placing Laurel Hell in my running for favorite album of the year.

Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Dashboard Confessional Moves On

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I truly wouldn’t have imagined myself including Dashboard Confessional on a most anticipated feature like this in the year 2022. And nothing against Chris Carrabba – his music has meant the world to me since he joined Further Seems Forever for The Moon is Down all the way back in 2001. But I guess that’s the point. He’s delivered so much that’s felt so meaningful over the years. There really isn’t anything else I could imagine touching me quite so deeply at this point.

But then he released first single “Here’s to Moving On” from his upcoming album All the Truth that I Can’t Tell. Before my first play of the song was even finished, I reached out to It’s All Dead senior editor Kyle Schultz to tell him to drop everything and listen. It’s the kind of nostalgic throwback that hits every note perfectly without feeling forced. It took me back to those college nights listening to Swiss Army Romance and all of the emotions that only Carrabba can invoke with the strum of an acoustic guitar.

So here we are. It’s 2022 and I’m more ready than I realized to shed some tears to the sounds of Dashboard Confessional.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: My Chemical Romance Deliver Another Dose

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In late 2020, My Chemical Romance announced a return to form with a worldwide tour that set the scene rampant with excitement at not only seeing the band again, but hope that after so long there might be new music on the way. Just as the band began their tour, complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic paused the reunion entirely, with the band postponing dates around the world, including a headlining gig at Chicago’s Riot Fest.

A year later, it looks like MCR may be preparing to get back into the world’s collective consciousness. With the 2022 tour dates still on the docket from March through October, My Chemical Romance is going to be busy. As one of the most anticipated reunions in the rock world, an active and energetic My Chemical Romance offers a universe of possibilities, stories and concepts that are ripe for the taking. With the band back in full swing, there is always the possibility that new music is one tweet away from being announced.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Hozier Returns to Form

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Hozier has given us crumbs since the release of Wasteland, Baby! in 2019. He released a dance song with Meduza in October, and recently posted on his Instagram story that we will receive a project called Unreal Unearth at some point this year. Whether that’s an album, an EP, or just a single remains to be seen. I liked Wasteland, Baby!, but it’s not an album that remained in my rotation much longer than the year it released, unlike Hozier’s first self-titled album.

With Unreal Unearth, I’d like to see a return to form from Andrew, and based on the title, I think that’s what we’re in for. Please Hozier, give me the tunes of a Celtic god who has just awoken from his hundred-year slumber. I want “In A Week” part 2, please and thanks. Oh and I want a collab with Florence Welch. Of course, we know Hozier will do what he wants, and we will still sit at his feet and ask for more, and then he will retreat back into his songwriter’s cave and emerge again when he sees fit.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: The Weeknd Breaks the Dawn

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Okay, so this is kind of a cop out. Dawn FM, the latest album from The Weeknd, dropped last Friday. But I did anticipate it in the week between its announcement and release, so there’s that!

Honestly, my first reaction upon hearing the news was to think, “Didn’t he just drop After Hours?” But then I had the sad realization that it had been almost two years and that this pandemic has now lasted a full album cycle.

But nevertheless, Dawn FM is another stroke of genius from Abel Tesfaye, an artist who continues to paint an unexpected narrative and blur the lines between The Weeknd as a character and Abel as a real human being. Created as a radio broadcast of music and existential ponderings after the events of After Hours, Dawn FM is oddly reflective and pensive as it explores the idea that, just maybe, there is peace to be found in this life, which feels like a completely new note for The Weeknd.

Here in this new context, recent single “Take My Breath” feels alive in new and unexpected ways. Tracks like “How Do I Make You Love Me?”, “”Best Friends”, and “Don’t Break My Heart” carry the kind of longing and questioning we’re used to but inject each track with a stroke of humor. It’s another masterclass in pop excellence, and what I anticipate most at this point is playing it again and again throughout 2022.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: The Rejuvenation of Real Friends

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Ever since the addition of lead singer Cody Muraro to the band’s lineup, Real Friends have been on an absolute tear. Shortly after release of the stellar Torn in Two EP last year, the band embarked on a full autumn tour. Not only are the band preparing for another full tour with Mayday Parade and Magnolia Park, they’ve been in the studio all winter recording new material.

Real Friends seem to be utterly rejuvenated and at a creative peak in their career that many bands seem to lose after their first couple of releases. If their new music even remotely compares to the quality of emotion and blazing guitar riffs of Torn in Two, Real Friends are preparing for a release that will be known as a career highlight for the band.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

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 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