In Defense of Anniversary Tribute Albums

In the last few years, there has been a flood of “reimagined” versions of classic albums and songs. Some might see this as a waste, since it’s not technically new material. But in recent years, the ante has been upped in many ways beyond a basic acoustic cover. Acoustic versions of songs are always a welcome addition to a band’s catalog, but complete re-recordings offer a chance to reevaluate the journey, and analyze not only why the album meant so much in the first place, but also how the listeners and the bands have matured in the years between.

The Wonder Years were the first band to really catch my attention with reimagined versions of their songs. Burst & Decay Vol. I slowed down tempos, revitalized the lyrics of songs like “Don’t Let Me Cave In” to be conversational and somber reflections. “Cardinals”, a song already heavy in terms of regrets over a failed friendship, becomes even more burdensome when every single lyric has time to resonate. Though the reimagined versions of songs never quite match the scale or eccentric hype of the original, the new attention serves as a reminder for why these songs resonated so well with fans.

All Time Low’s It’s Still Nothing Personal tribute album may be the best example of a re-recorded release. Nothing Personal helped cement All Time Low as a permanent fixture in the scene. In the decade since, their sound has morphed to the point that it’s hard to see them as the motley crew standing on the stage of the “Weightless” music video in a small club anymore. This updated version of Nothing Personal hardly surpasses the original, but it shows listeners just how starkly the band has grown since then. 

Singer Alex Gaskarth’s voice is much more rich and mature, compared to the autotuned vocals of the original release. The guitars are more relaxed, and the production tighter. The addition of harsh vocals during “Lost In Stereo” changes the dynamic of the song when compared to the poppier lyrics. It’s also a stark reminder of the chances the band are willing to take that never would have appeared on earlier albums. The addition is minimal, but it’s a curve that makes the song instantly different, especially when paired with the vocal twists of Gaskarth. Even the closing track “Therapy” benefits from the restraint of the full band.

We the Kings’ Self Titled Nostalgia does the same by removing the guitars entirely and rewriting every song as a piano-driven, semi-electronica experiment. Though the original songs were seminal pop songs of their era, these reworked versions sound less like emo-pop songs and more like the soothing anthems of romance that they were always meant to be. 

In contrast, Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s Sol-fa 2016 is strikingly similar to the Sol-fa album released in 2004. AKFG, one of Japan’s most famous rock bands, are well known in the States for “Rewrite,” one of the opening songs to the original “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime. The version on 2016’s release features singer Masafumi Gotoh’s with slightly more matured vocals, and the instrumentation tighter and closer to the sound the band plays during live shows. “Re:Re:” includes a new instrumental opening that vastly improves the song, as live show performances had proven for over a decade. 

These types of anniversary albums feel different from other reworked albums, such as Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming and I’m Only Dreaming… Of Days Long Past. Part of this is due to both albums being released so close together. A decade between re-workings gives space to appreciate the alternate versions of songs, whereas these albums feel more akin to two halves of the same piece. 

This is the case as well for Dashboard Confessional’s Alter The Ending, which released a full band and acoustic album together. These types of albums are extremely welcome, and gives the artist the opportunity to stretch and not feel restrained when the sound they hear is so much wider than a single song. However, it still doesn’t hold the same affection to something like Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic, which was in part a celebration of the band’s reformation.

It’s hard to say that any band has fully found the best way to honor a fan-favorite album, but re-recording them with 10 extra years of experience, insight and creativity is something that more bands should embrace. It’s a way to show appreciation to the fans that have stuck around for so long. It also allows bands the opportunity to show how much they’ve grown when tasked to rewrite the songs they created as kids.

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 doesn’t understand why the birds won’t come to his window to say hello. It’s just a new birdhouse! There’s still seed, so why won’t this HOARDE OF SPARROWS lay siege to the windows once more?! Cowardly birds!

10 Sappy Songs to Share with Your Valentine

It’s Valentine’s Day and, take it or leave it, love is in the air. I have searched far and wide for the scene’s sappiest offerings to bring you this – a playlist perfect for a candlelit dinner.

1. Anchor & Braille – “Summer Tongues”

This track was on my shortlist of choices for the first dance at our wedding. It showcases Stephen Christian’s sentimental writing style at its best, and is a highlight on Anchor & Braille’s first album, Felt. The idea for this article actually came to me as I was listening to the album recently and realized what a lovely song this is. Its gentle tones will make you dream of sunnier days.

2. Panic! at the Disco – “Always”

“Always” from 2011’s Vices and Virtues is an ode to the great literary classic The Great Gatsby. For those who either skipped the reading or forgot the plot, the book centers around Jay Gatsby and his endless pining after the married lady across the water and the destruction that brings to his life. But I digress. Brendon Urie drew a lot of early Panic!’s writing inspiration from literature, and this track is a wonderful tribute to a great love story of the past.

3. Copeland – “Have I Always Loved You”

This is one of Copeland’s many offerings in the relationship department. Between “Coffee”, from Beneath Medicine Tree, to basically the entirety of 2019’s Blushing, Copeland doesn’t let a chance for a thoughtful love song pass them by. This track opens Ixora (2015) and is a reflection on (presumably) Aaron Marsh’s marriage. It begins with him reminiscing on their wedding day and moves to just doing life together, always remembering the way it began: with a white dress.

4. House of Heroes – “If”

The End Is Not the End might not seem like your top Valentine’s choice for background music but this concept album about war and relationships was one of the first albums my husband and I bonded over. He was just as surprised as I was to learn that we both knew and loved House of Heroes. This is his favorite song from the album, and ties into the theme of pop culture references with the “Bride of Frankenstein” line.

5. A Day to Remember – “You Had Me At Hello”

Here’s another song I wouldn’t have known about without Jeremiah. I pride myself in being the audiophile out of the two of us, but he has made some important contributions to my roster, including adding “You Had Me At Hello”, from A Day to Remember’s 2005 album And Their Name was Treason, to a playlist during our dating years. They’ve never been my favorite band, and the bridge to this song is pretty awkwardly written, but you can’t deny it’s cute.

6. The Wonder Years – “You in January”

Of all the songs on No Closer to Heaven, this is the one I find myself returning to again and again four years later. It’s got the trademark attention to detail writing from Dan Campbell, and as a bonus they remixed it for the first Burst and Decay EP. I like the original better, but I might be biased because of how much I liked it when the album came out. I love the personal aspects of the song, like in the bridge where he sings about how they’ve traveled together, and I love the fact that he called back to “Passing Through a Screen Door” by ending the song with “I’m glad that you stayed”. It’s The Wonder Years at their best.

7.  Say Anything – “I Want to Know Your Plans”

Another track from our wedding playlist is this surprise from Say Anything’s magnum opus …Is a Real Boy. I say “surprise” because of how unorthodox the rest of the album is compared to this almost-Shakespearean ballad. It’s always been one of my favorites from the album, simply because it is such a stark difference from the way he deals with other subjects on the album (“Every Man Has a Molly” comes to mind). It has become almost a theme to my marriage as I work every day towards keeping our relationship harmonious.

8. Mike Mains and the Branches – “Stop the Car”

Mike Mains and the Branches are a band that was largely anonymous until they signed to Tooth and Nail in 2018 to release their third album, When We Were In Love. I didn’t choose one of their new songs, but rather one from their first album called Home from 2011. This is a playful song about young love that packs a punch in the bridge. Mike sings about love, “It’s when you give and give of yourself / Until your tank runs on empty / Just to be with the one you love”. It’s an album worth your time for this song and more.

9. Mayday Parade – “Jamie All Over”

No list about emo love songs would be complete without Mayday Parade. They were undoubtedly the kings of the moody love song and the best example is “Jamie All Over” from A Lesson In Romantics. Even if you’re not a Mayday Parade fan, chances are you still jam and maybe cry to this song. If only all dreams were this great, and the fact that Derek and his girl are (probably) on a break outside of the dream world is non-existent for eight hours. If they weren’t on a break who would he have written “Miserable At Best” about, amiright? It’s a total cliché to say that this is my favorite Mayday song, but who cares, it’s a classic.

10. Fall Out Boy – “I’m Like a Lawyer With the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)”

Last but not least, my favorite Fall Out Boy song to close us out on this Valentine’s Day. This was probably Fall Out Boy’s best candidate for a love song up until they released “Alone Together” in 2013. This is also in the running for longest Fall Out Boy song title as well. The optimism in this track is unparalleled in early FOB and is always a breath of fresh air when it comes through the shuffle, and Patrick’s vocals are easy to get lost in. It’s not a perfect relationship, but they’re trying. Thanks, Pete.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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 Music of 2020: The Interrupters Become the Title Holder

The Interrupters have slowly become the most famous band no one has heard of. Early in 2019, I discovered their album Fight The Good Fight (2018), after it had been out for almost a full year. Not only did this album set off a four-month spree of listening to nearly nonstop ska music, I also found out that I was the last person to discover them. Friends who don’t even listen to music were fans, teaching their children to sing along to songs like “Title Holder” and “She’s Kerosene”.

In the two years since the release of their third album, The Interrupters have made a brazen name for themselves. Their brand of music is reminiscent of the golden age of ska punk from the early 90’s, especially with the backing and blessing of Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.

In 2020, The Interrupters are opening for Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer on The Hella Mega Tour. As the flag bearers of a modern take on classic punk music, The Interrupters are in a prime spot to capture the attention of the last few people who have yet to fall in love with them. If their next album captures even half of the magic of Fight The Good Fight, The Interrupters will have released two of the best rock albums in recent memory.

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 somehow got chocolate….. just… EVERYWHERE. Who gets chocolate on a TV screen?! He wasn’t even near it! Did it teleport there or did he blackout during an onset of of “brownie madness” and try to pet Tina Belcher’s cheek?! The world is weird.

Reflecting On: Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

“I stall before I start.”

Motion City Soundtrack is a band that is loved by different people for different lyrics, different sounds, and remarkably distinct albums. There is an argument to be made that any one of their albums is the highlight of the group’s career, but none offers more evidence than My Dinosaur Life (2010). While earlier albums danced around the pop punk scene by testing the boundaries of pop and rock music, My Dinosaur Life unabashedly amplified every aspect that made them great. The result is a loud neurotic mess of sound that defined who Motion City Soundtrack are and cemented their legacy in an overcrowded Warped Tour field.

You can buy or stream My Dinosaur Life on Apple Music.

As this album turns 10, I find myself in a position where I can relate to its themes more than ever. Feeling left behind by a world you’re still a part of, trying to improve yourself for the benefit of all, and realizing it took you way too long to do it. If My Dinosaur Life has one message to offer, it’s that it is never too late to be your best.

My Dinosaur Life is the album that made me feel okay for having a mind that jumps from topic to topic, seemingly beyond my control. Even in my most uncomfortable and heartbroken moments, I make jokes to ease the oncoming sense of doom. From song to song, singer Justin Pierre jumps from one thought to the next with grace, humor, and the humility to ask his audience to forgive him for being all over the place.

My Dinosaur Life was a statement on the idea of feeling left behind. After gaining some moderate success with the release of Commit This To Memory (2005), the band seemed to take noticeable backlash for just how poppy Even If It Kills Me (2007) was, even though the album is highly regarded now. For a brief moment, Motion City Soundtrack seemed like they had outlived their longevity in the music scene. My Dinosaur Life revitalized the band both in career and spirit.

“The things that used to mean so much to me /

Have gone the way of dinosaurs /

Hopes and dreams and everything”

My Dinosaur Life plays off of the theme of improvement. Every song feels like a short story about admitting one’s own faults and, maybe for the first time, asking for help to become better. “A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help)” states this most directly (“I think I can figure it out / But I’m gonna need a little help to get me through it”).

“Her Words Destroyed My Planet” is one of the best songs written in the last decade. It’s a raw confession of someone admitting that their significant other’s frustrations with them being an underachiever have finally been realized. The song is an admission that despite trying to improve themselves in a variety of ways, it was still too little, too late, even if they like who they are now better than before.

These pleas for help and proclamations of improvement are interwoven with the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness that often coexist when we seek to be better. “Skin and Bones” asks the void an absurd amount of questions, as though trying to relieve themselves of a panic attack (“What if consciousness can expand / And we fool ourselves with absurd demands? / What if there is no point at all? / We just grow up to fade away…”).

Although My Dinosaur Life seems to dance back and forth with the idea of admitting one’s own faults and promising to be better (“Stand Too Close”), it balances itself taking pride in hard work and emotional health (“Worker Bee”).

It’s important to work to be better. But it’s just as important to do it for the right reasons. In “The Weakends”, Pierre reflects on a life spent wasted on not being his best, of dreaming about the future when he could be living it. “As the years go crashing by / I think of all I’ve pondered / So many minutes wandered / So many things undone / I’ve tried to figure out / How many lives I’ve wasted /  Waiting for the perfect time to start”.

My Dinosaur Life is as close to a perfect album that I can think of. It passes a message that everyone learns at some stage of their life with a mix of humor, self immolation, and hope. But most of all, it asks you realize when you’re not the best you can be. That’s all it takes to deserve a gold star.

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 hates olives and everything that looks like an olive. He bit into a chicken salad sandwich expecting the sweet taste of cranberry and instead was betrayed with a mouthful of these poison grapes. If you know anyone who eats olives out of a jar, he asks you to pray for them, as that is the only way they can be saved now.

Most Anticipated Music of 2020: Hayley Williams Introduces Petals for Armor

It’s no secret that the past album cycle for Paramore has been a rollercoaster. Between the highs of re-becoming friends with Zac Farro and the lows of her divorce from Chad Gilbert, Hayley Williams has really been put through the wringer. Like any artist, she’s taken these experiences outside of Paramore and transformed them to release her first official solo project, “Petals for Armor.”

We have only a project title, no single, no album confirmation, but that’s all right with me. We have a release date of ~something~ for January 22, 2020, along with some very cryptic posts on the Petals for Armor Instagram account she made for the occasion. The title for the project seems to refer to an interview Hayley did where she recalls being in a session and envisioning “flowers growing through her”.

As much as I’d love Paramore to continue on until the end of time, I’ve learned as I’ve grown up that it’s more important for artists to be healthy and that the art they create be honest and something they’re proud of. And more than ever, that’s something Hayley Williams deserves.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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 Music of 2020: Kendrick Lamar Continues His Streak

In case you missed it, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar spent the 2010s crafting one of the greatest three-album stretches in recorded music history, capped in 2017 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN. So essentially, it was a pretty great decade for Lamar – and hip hop music in general. But what comes next?

Rumor has it that he has put the finishing touches on album number five, which will likely drop this year. Lamar has explored a variety of sounds across his previous work, at times blending a variety of genres, such as jazz, funk, and soul. A tweet from one Billboard columnist suggests that rock could be added to the mix on this latest effort.

No matter what it sounds like, one can rest assured that Lamar has plenty left to say. In 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly became a piercing exposition of institutional racism, full of deep reflections on the black experience in America. DAMN. followed suit while taking an internal detour into Lamar’s own pysche. Whatever is to follow is sure to kick the decade off right and continue the artistic trajectory of one of the most powerful voices in music.

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 Music of 2020: My Chemical Romance Emerge from the Shadows

It was Luna Lovegood that said, “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” I’ve found this to be rather true when it comes to some of my favorite bands. There was a time in the not too distant past when it seemed like all of my most beloved bands were calling it quits: Underoath, Saosin, Anberlin, blink-182, Fall Out Boy. Yet all of these bands (and more) resurfaced in some fashion over the course of the past decade, many with a completely new look and sound.

Not to be outdone, My Chemical Romance re-emerged late in 2019 with a massive reunion show just before the close of the decade. It’s been over 10 years since the band released their last album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and if I’m being honest, I kind of expected the band to stay gone, seeing as several key members have found success in new ventures. But here we are on the cusp of what will likely be a large 2020 tour announcement and, if we’re lucky, new music.

I’ve written and talked extensively about the impact Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge had on my life when it dropped in 2004, and the effect the band had on my musical tastes. My Chemical Romance is a band that defined an era and created some of the most memorable sounds to come from the scene we love. Whether 2020 is simply an overdue victory lap for the band or a full re-entrance into the pop culture zeitgeist, I’m here for it. I can’t wait to see what Gerard Way and company have in store.

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 Music of 2020: Another Dose of Anchor & Braille

It’s been a very long time since we’ve heard anything new from Stephen Christian’s side project Anchor and Braille. The past three albums from the band are the other side of Stephen’s musical coin. In Anberlin we have the heavy-hitting rock, but with Anchor & Braille we have a softer, sultrier, synth-ier side. They’ve released three albums since 2009, and 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home has been a staple for me. I’ll admit I’m ready for something new.

We first got an inkling some things were moving around when Stephen posted on the Anchor & Braille Instagram for the first time since May of 2018. He then posted three consecutive photos with the distinctive Anchor & Braille use of the French language, as well as something that said “Frank Ocean” and a photo of the record deal. Stephen stated in his podcast, The Art Collective that he’d like to make another album with Aaron Marsh, which leads me to theorize a return to Tooth and Nail à la Copeland?

Whether it’s an EP, an album or a film, I’m excited to see Stephen Christian come back into the music world. Seeing Anberlin play live again was a dream come true and renewed my faith that we would hear new music from the guys again. Even though it might not be Anberlin-proper, and that may be something we never get, I’m so looking forward to new music from my all-time favorite side project.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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 Music of 2020: The Killers Aren’t Done Yet

Only a few who are reading this were subjected to my 2018 challenge to rank all of The Killers’ albums. This was in response to seeing the band on what was to be their final tour/album cycle for 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful. Surprise, surprise, just like Coldplay, The Killers changed their minds and are back with a new album they are calling Imploding the Mirage.

I ended my Twitter thread prematurely and never officially ranked them, but as they moved closer to the pop phase of their career I found myself falling out of love with the band. In listening to Wonderful Wonderful now though, I’ve gained a new appreciation for The Killers in what I will put affectionately as their “dad phase.”

Based on the single released in January of last year, “Land of the Free”, the band seems to be heading in the vein of politically charged pop-rock – not to be confused with punk. I doubt it will be another Hot Fuss, or even another Sam’s Town, but I trust that this latest offering will be full of the same spirit they’ve put into their past albums.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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 2019

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2019 here.

As the decade comes to a close, one thing is for certain: The way I consume music and media has changed drastically over the past 10 years. We’ll (probably) always lead our end-of-the-year lists with albums, because there is still power to be found in that full body of work. But I certainly find myself most often jumping from track to track these days.

Thus, our Best Songs of 2019 list is full of tracks that can be fully enjoyed within the context of the album that contains them (if one exists) or completely on their own. This year found each of our writers diving into new sounds and exploring new artists, leading to an eclectic list of songs we hope you’ll enjoy as much as we have this year. Without further ado, take a look – and a listen.

15. Say Anything – “Sediment”

“Sediment” makes the list because of the spoken word at the end. The entirety of Oliver Appropriate focuses on Oliver and his conflictions regarding his sexuality. A confliction that ends up with a murder/suicide. This track is regarding the suicide half, but it’s a peek into Oliver’s mind, and how lonely his self hatred has made him. It’s a show-stopping final track, and an epilogue to Say Anything’s career. – Nadia Paiva

14. Blaqk Audio – “Summer’s Out of Sight”

“Summer’s Out of Sight” is a wickedly hypnotic song. Vocalist Davy Havok croons through a tale of passion and fleeting love. Jade Puget’s bright synth melodies and rich bass express the playfulness of being in love (“I had to crawl the halls to ask when we might meet before you left / You said, ‘Maybe tomorrow or never again’ / But you said, ‘Right now I’m yours”). Although Havok’s chorus is a devastating description of a broken heart (“Hearing you leave out my name makes me want you / You personalize pain”), “Summer’s Out of Sight” is a message about the impact of a relationship and the draw it leaves on someone to find it again. (“I’m searching for the one that tore me to pieces”). – Kyle Schultz

13. Bring Me the Horizon – “medicine”

“Some people are a lot like clouds, you know? / ‘Cause life’s so much brighter when they go”. With that opening line, Oli Sykes at once references his own messy past while serving as a kind nod to a band that has fully transformed into a new entity. In many ways, “Medicine” is a zero sum game that fans of the band’s deathcore past were always bound to hate while opening the door to a new audience and new beginnings. Whether you love or hate this new incarnation of Bring Me the Horizon, there is no denying their ability to craft great songs, genre be damned. And the dirty little secret that has gone largely unmentioned is that pop sensibility was always at the root of the 2010s metalcore explosion. Most bands just aren’t brave enough to bring it to the surface. – Kiel Hauck

12. Wallows – “Remember When”

This is a track that Wallows wrote for another project and scrapped – and yet it ends up being, lyrically, the most poignant track on Nothing Happens. We hear about a past love, and how the good times outweighed the bad. Wallows wishes they could go back and fix every mistake they made, but because they can’t they focus on the better memories. It’s the second to last song on the album, but really ties everything together. “Remember When” is what the end of youth is about – sitting with your friends talking about all the trouble you used to cause. – NP

11. Grayscale – “In Violet”

“In Violet” is an ambitious, beautiful song about life and love. It is a song that describes a funeral as a colorful celebration. Vocalist Collin Walsh finds himself at his lowest point (“I’m out of hope, guess that’s the way it goes / When you burn dark and slow”), but still asks listeners not to grieve a life lost, but be thankful for a life lived (“I’m sick of funeral black / So when I don’t come back / I want you to celebrate / Sing and laugh”). Ultimately, the song is an uplifting message dancing amidst a cloak of intense instrumentals. Heavy drums, shimmering guitars and joyful trumpets set the tone by setting up a dreary atmosphere early on before exploding into waves of expansive, envious sound. – KS

10. Travis Scott – “HIGHEST IN THE ROOM”

Travis Scott could have easily ridden the success of last year’s Astroworld throughout the entirety of 2019, but instead found new ways to own the moment. “Highest in the Room” captures what makes Scott such a unique voice amidst the Soundcloud rap era, with every turn of phrase adding a new angle and keeping listeners on their toes. Delivered as a dark sort of love story, Scott keeps his partner at a safe distance, singing, “You say you love me, don’t you lie / Won’t cross my heart, don’t wanna die”. It’s rather poetic then that Scott and Kylie Jenner, the subject of the song, parted ways just two days prior to its release. – KH

9. Queen of Jeans – “Not a Minute Too Soon”

“Not a Minute Too Soon” is an unassuming track, which is why it makes the list. The album itself is a great study in vintage 60s rock, but this track stands out for its crescendo. It sits as a surprise ballad about three quarters through If you’re not afraid, I’m not afraid, an album about love and loss. Queen of Jeans’ Miriam Devora’s vocals really shine here, specifically, her falsetto driving home the emotion and the guitar gently guiding us through ending a relationship. – NP

8. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – “Just Sign the Papers”

“Just Sign the Papers” is the type of song that country artist storytellers dream of. It’s slow, uncomfortable, rich with visual poetry and is a vortex of emotion. Every small detail shows the stress of main character Aaron West as he finalizes a divorce from his wife. While the music is playful as he reflects on the marriage’s good times (“You were the tail lights, like a lifeline, when the storm arrived”), it slows to a crawl as he pleads to his wife, “C-come on, just sign the papers”. The swell of music embraces the gut-churning pressure of the event, as Campbell portrays West screaming at himself, “Come on, just sign the papers” just to end the event. As depressing as it may be, “Just Sign the Papers” offers the briefest glimpse of hope, as the couple decides to put an end to their gloom. – KS

7. Maggie Rogers – “Light On”

Maggie Rogers’ debut album Heard it in a Past Life arrived early in 2019, nearly three years after her viral introduction to the public at large. It must have felt like both an eternity and a matter of moments for the music student swooped up into a major label whirlwind. Yet for all of the hype, Past Life is nothing if not authentic, peaking with the track “Light On”, which finds Rogers dealing with that rapid rise to fame and the loss of control that comes with such an event. Was there a more emotionally affecting moment in music this year than when Rogers’ channels here inner Alanis as her voice breaks near the end of the second verse? “With everyone around me saying, ‘You must be so happy now’”. – KH

6. Lana Del Rey – “Mariners Apartment Complex”

This was the first taste we got of the new Lana Del Rey album prior to its release, and maybe that’s why it stuck with me all the way to my best songs list. Another reason could be the way she chose the first single so specifically to target the difficulties she’s had with her fame. The song revolves around an interview gone awry, and it’s a jab at the industry as a whole, but it also ends up being a song about putting yourself first. And that’s more important when you’re faced with fame than any kind of criticism you can give the biz. – NP

5. Radar State – “Victims of Fashion”

“Victims of Fashion” is a generational battlecry by Radar State, a super group of members from Kansas emo groups The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary. Both bands gained notoriety in the late 90’s and forged the fledgling emo movement of the early 2000’s. “Victims of Fashion” takes a defiant stance against the emphasis on youth in music and feeling forgotten (“If we don’t go out tonight, we might as well stay out of sight / Kids in line will gladly take our place”). Radar State takes a chance by calling out stagnancy in musicians that don’t evolve (“And if you think that we’re so strange, keep telling us to change / I’m not taking orders from someone half my age / … / This whole scene is getting old / We moved on, but they’re on hold”). Radar State embody the philosophy of punk rock by challenging the status quo with an elegantly melodic, yet brutal piece of garage rock.– KS

4. BTS featuring Halsey – “Boy With Luv”

I joined the K-pop party a bit late, but all it took was one SNL performance to finally capture my attention. I won’t pretend to have a deep connection with the lyrics of “Boy with Luv”, but it’s impossible to not feel enraptured by the sound. BTS have a way of commanding your focus by transitioning between style and delivery throughout their songs without it ever feeling jarring. “Boy with Luv” embodies everything I love about the way I feel when I listen to a great pop song, which means that even with a language barrier in place, I’m inclined to hit the repeat button with abandon.– KH

3. Copeland – “As Above, So Alone”

Even though any and all tracks from Blushing could justifiably be included on this list, “As Above, So Alone” was instantly my favorite track on one of the best albums of the year. Copeland vocalist Aaron Marsh talks straightforwardly about how tough his relationship is, but it’s easy for the sadness of the track to get lost in the bassline that cuts through the middle. It’s imaginative, devastating, and surprisingly easy to keep on repeat. – NP

2. Taylor Swift – “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince”

“Miss American & The Heartbreak Prince” is one of Taylor Swift’s most ambitious songs. It is a story about the upsetting state of American politics told through a story of young love. The gloomy beat and tinkling piano offer a somber and fearful atmosphere amid lyrics that continuously get darker (“American stories burning before me / I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed / Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?”). However, the song is an anthem of defiance. Even as the picture it paints is a dreary one, peppy shouts of  “Go! Fight! Win!” punch through the song brightly. “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” is ultimately a song of overcoming the worst of situations by strength of will in almost any circumstance. – KS

1. Halsey – “Without Me”

We didn’t get a new album from Halsey in 2019, but we got plenty of new songs, none of which were more riveting than “Without Me”. Break-up songs are nothing new, but Halsey took this particular opportunity to craft something deeply personal, leaving nothing to the imagination. “Name in the sky, does it ever get lonely?” isn’t necessarily a line we can all feel on an existential level, but throughout the track, Halsey drills in on the quieter kinds of emotional abuse that too often go unspoken.

When she sings, “Just running from the demons in your mind / Then I took yours and made ‘em mine / I didn’t notice ‘cause my love was blind” it’s a powerful kind of moment that deserves our attention and self-reflection. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Turnover – “Much After Feeling”
Neck Deep – “She’s a God”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “Want You in My Room”
Drake featuring Rick Ross – “Money in the Grave”
Issues – “Tapping Out”

Posted by Kiel Hauck