The Best Albums of 2017

You can view our list of The Best Songs of 2017 here.

Another year is in the books, and while it’s easy to dwell on the negatives of one of the strangest years in recent memory, 2017 was certainly not wanting for incredible music. In fact, 2017 produced so many great albums, it’s hard to show end-of-the-year love to all that deserve it. But we’re going to try anyway.

Our list of the best albums of 2017 touched on a variety of powerful and important topics, from social injustice to mental illness to the strength it takes to shift power imbalances and overcome abuse. The artists below not only thoughtfully tackled important themes, but did so in a way that made us move and forced us to find hope in the mist of brokenness. Without further ado, take a look at some of the best albums of the year.

 

15. New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

When New Found Glory release an album, there is a certain expectation for how it should sound. When they release an album that manages to branch out enough to rank as one of their more unique releases, it is something to pay attention to. Makes Me Sick is a true summer album that delves into cavity inducing pop while maintaining mosh-ready guitars (“Call Me Anti-Social”). The synth that make its way into the album make each song instantly recognizable, especially as the band take stabs at the world around them (“Party on Apocalypse”), and rarely has the band sounded so inspired (“Barbed Wire”). Makes Me Sick is the reason that after 20 years, New Found Glory are still as important as they were when they helped found the modern pop punk scene. – Kyle Schultz

14. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

The spirit of Eisley moves onward on I’m Only Dreaming, even in the absence of DuPree sisters Stacy and Chauntelle. In their stead, Sherri DuPree-Bemis carries the vocal load across an array of tracks that harken to the ambiguity and innocence of Room Noises. At once melodically gorgeous and sonically curious, I’m Only Dreaming offers the dream-like soundscape that put Eisley on the map well over a decade ago. DuPree-Bemis floats above her cousin Garron’s shoegaze guitar licks that range from grungier affairs “Louder Than a Lion” to indie pop numbers that stand as some of the band’s best work to date “Always Wrong”. – Kiel Hauck

13. The Early November – Fifteen Years

It’s hard to imagine an acoustic ‘best of’ album being one of the best of the year, but Ace Enders has always defied expectation. Fifteen Years not only finds a way to hit all of the band’s best songs, but in many ways, it surpasses the originals. Enders has always impressed with his acoustic songs, but the stripped-down versions of some of their biggest hits allows his vocals to truly shine like they never have before. What were some of the band’s biggest rock songs (“Decorations”, “In Currents” “Boxing Timelines”) become emotional ballads. It’s apparent that The Early November have spent their career deserving more credit than anyone ever suspected. – KS

12. Palisades – Palisades

Call it a progression, but reinvention works just as well. Palisades’ self-titled release finds the New Jersey post-hardcore act shedding the electronicore leanings they embraced across their first two records. On Palisades, the band finds a new voice within grunge and nu metal elements that serve as the perfect playground for vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. to display his new, commanding delivery. With the absence of party gimmicks, the band is free to cover fresh thematic territory, adding a welcome dose of levity to match their new style. It’s the kind of 180 turn that opens a variety of doors for a band that has a chance to make a splash in the alt rock waters. – KH

11. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

Neck Deep are an endlessly fascinating band. They have managed to harness the best aspects of pop punk and continuously remind us why the genre matters. The guitars are harsh but sway with rich melody that make easycore bands envious. Every song on The Peace and the Panic demands to be sung along to as the band tackles every topic from rebellion against the government (“Don’t Wait”), depression (“The Grand Delusion”), or telling a story of romance (“19 Seventy Sumthin’”). Neck Deep are a shining example of what makes pop punk such a brilliant genre, and they do it with a sound that marches forward as much as it honors the bands of yesteryear. – KS

10. PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

Shedding any notion of a sophomore slump, PVRIS delivered with their anticipated follow up to White Noise. All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell zeros in on the best parts of the band’s debut and expands on both sonic and thematic levels. Making use of dark synthesizers and deep, grooving basslines, the trio build dread-infused soundscapes that allow Lynn Gunn to explore an array of fears and regrets. Whether she’s powering through anthems like “Heaven” or growling across the chorus of “No Mercy”, Gunn has become one of the most exciting voices in the scene, and PVRIS appears to have the legs to reach the next level. – KH

9. Kesha – Rainbow

To use a most tired cliché, Rainbow is a roller coaster, driving us through the turbulent aftermath of abuse and the will and strength of a survivor. The album is varied and messy, but works beautifully as a therapeutic outlet of the highest order. From the fist-pumping fury of “Woman” to the tear-jerking pleas of “Praying”, Kesha provides a voice for the broken and a song for the redeemed. Amidst tears and laughter Kesha weaves the story of life on the other side and embraces the freedom in letting go. Rainbow is truly the brilliant comeback everyone was rooting for. – KH

8. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) risked becoming irrelevant by releasing her sophomore album three long years after her debut. “Melodrama”, however, is an absolute masterpiece and refuses to be ignored. This album meets even the highest of expectations that led up to Lorde’s second release. She used the past few years to grow vocally and artistically, and with help from another pop mastermind, Jack Antonoff, Lorde has (once again) completely changed the face of alt-pop. – Nadia Paiva

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

Coming back from the dead, Lucky Boys Confusion have rarely sounded better. Stormchasers exceeds expectations for a band that hadn’t written a song together for a decade. Biting into the personal tragedies that have plagued the band for the last few years, LBC manage to make some of the most inspired rock songs of their career. “It’s After Midnight” picks up directly off of the sound of their last EP (released in 2006), while “Stormchaser” taps into the sounds of the band’s career to honor fallen band member, Joe Sell.  “Sun In My Eyes” looks towards a brighter future and “Good Luck”, celebrates the band’s past and tells the story of making it as a band. Lucky Boys Confusion is a continuous story of perseverance and honoring a fan base that refuses to quit. – KS

6. Glassjaw – Material Control

Fifteen years have passed since Long Island’s post-hardcore kings released an album, and yet, somehow, Material Control feels like the most Glassjaw record ever put to tape. Material Control is the visceral blend of aggression and melody that put the band on the map nearly two decades ago, yet sounds as fresh as any heavy record released in 2017. The dirty bassline on “Shira” will cause you to break a sweat while Daryl Palumbo’s vocal acrobatics on “Golgotha” will make your jaw drop. Material Control is the kind of relentless record that hard rock desperately needed, and a worthy successor to Worship and Tribute, even if the wait was far too long. – KH

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

With Big Fish Theory, Vince Staples remains one of the most coy (koi) rappers around (get it?) Across the album’s 12 tracks, Staples wrestles with the fame that has lifted him from his home and threatens to numb him of the pain and struggle that still plagues those around him. Doing it all atop beats that embrace club and house leanings, Staples invites his listeners to dance, even as the themes force you to stop and think. It’s a juxtaposition as profound as the rapper himself, and just another reason why Staples may be one of the most underappreciated artists of our time. – KH

4. AFI – The Blood Album

AFI (The Blood Album) was one of the first records released in 2017 and it is still among the year’s top contenders as the year comes to an end. The Blood Album picks up where the band left things on 2013’s Burials, and pushes forward to make the record one of the best they have ever released. Jade Puget’s dark guitar lines still manage to impress and blaze with the power that other bands require multiple musicians for. Having been the second of three albums that Davey Havok sang for within the span of a year (Blaqk Audio and DREAMCAR), the intensity of his voice is mesmerizing. AFI’s dark pop songs are a masterclass in musicianship. As an amalgamation of everything they have released over the course of a 20+ year career, AFI (The Blood Album) is worthy of being the band’s first self-titled effort, and standing among their best releases. – KS

3. Paramore – After Laughter

Paramore’s long-awaited return came with a release defining some of the most overarching topics plaguing young adults today: mental illness, hopelessness, loneliness, and the idea that we can find the light we’ve lost. Taking a sharp turn from their alternative roots and moving into an ‘80s synth direction, Paramore provided a dose of reality packaged in both fun and reflective ways. We’ve watched Hayley Williams and co. grow up and face some difficult times and, somehow, they’ve always portrayed it gracefully. “After Laughter” is no different. – NP

2. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

On Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker does more than tug at our heartstrings, she dives deep into the crevices of depression without pulling punches. Whether accompanied by just her guitar or surrounded by organs and strings, Baker’s voice fluctuates from crackling despair to cries of strength, voicing a struggle familiar to many. What makes Baker’s songs so meaningful is her painful honesty – there is no sugarcoating – and when she searches for hope, she does so with every fiber of her being. At the end of the journey, her powerful final cry of ,“I wanted to stay”, is enough to shake any listener to the core. – KH

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

How do you follow up one of the most heralded and important hip hop releases in recent memory? Like this, apparently. Whereas To Pimp a Butterfly stretched outward into the systematic oppressions of our society, DAMN. worms its way into Kendrick Lamar’s psyche, revealing the inner workings of one of the most important artistic voices of our time. Oscillating between “Pride” and “Humble”, “Love” and “Lust”, “Fear” and “God”, Kendrick fights for truth and hope amidst brokenness.

From the rumbling bassline of “DNA” to the throwback samples and drums of “Duckworth”, Kendrick paints a canvas that opens new possibilities for his own rhyme schemes and vocal delivery. At once timeless and fresh, DAMN. is the new bench mark for modern hip hop. There is little room left for debate: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. – KH

Honorable Mention

Bleachers – Gone Now
Halsey – Hopeless Fountain Kingdom
Jay-Z – 4:44
Tigers Jaw – Spin
Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy

Posted by Kiel Hauck

10 Halloween Songs to Bump in the Night

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October is in full swing, and soon, we’ll all be clad in our favorite costumes, celebrating the spookiest of holidays. To get you ready for your next Halloween bash, we’ve put together a monstrous list of the most terrifying pop punk and post-hardcore songs to ever walk the earth.

Throughout the years, several bands from the scene have taken the opportunity to tell chilling tales set to the sounds of squealing guitars and drum fills. We think it all makes for the perfect brew – a frightening soundtrack of Halloween terror. So go ahead and listen, if you dare. These songs are so good, it’s scary.

Showbread – “Dead By Dawn”

What better way to indulge in Halloween revelry than with a screamo portrayal of “Evil Dead 2?” Showbread, forever a band with a flair for the dramatic (and a love of horror movies), unleashes a terrifying tale of the Book of the Dead and the subsequent mayhem that ensues.

Sleeping with Sirens – “Dead Walker Texas Ranger”

Sleeping with Sirens made their entry into the post-hardcore Halloween canon with a song inspired by “The Walking Dead.” Here, the band advises us to run for our lives and “Watch as your greatest fears return to life.” Look out! They’re right behind you!

The Devil Wears Prada – “Outnumbered”

Speaking of the undead, The Devil Wears Prada have something to say with their five-song Zombie EP. On “Outnumbered”, the band depict a fallen world overrun with the living dead, backlit by brutal breakdowns. If the frightening tale won’t crush you, the music will.

Panic! at the Disco – “This is Halloween”

Want something a touch more light-hearted? Brendan Urie and co. are here with a rendition from everyone’s favorite Tim Burton tale. Panic! capture the mischief and magic of Jack Skellington on this frightfully fun track.

He Is Legend – “Attack of the Dungeon Witch”

Another band with a knack for scary stories, He Is Legend tell the tale of a violently vile antagonist that appears to cast a spell of charm. “I drank with the dungeon witch / Left my ring on her night stand / I woke with the dungeon witch / Now she’s got the upper hand”.

My Chemical Romance – “Vampires Will Never Hurt You”

For a band that made a living off of dark stories of revenge and death, it’s hard to pick just one song by My Chemical Romance that fits the Halloween mold. Before he shouted Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge or marched along with The Black Parade, Gerard Way sang of the allure of bloodsucking monsters.

The Maine – “Forever Halloween”

With Forever Halloween, The Maine took a lighter approach to the spooky holiday season. On the album’s title track, we’re told that the bumps in the night are nothing to be afraid of: “And darling, don’t you start to scream / It doesn’t mean anything / It’s just make believe”.

AFI – “Halloween”

The Misfits were certainly a band custom made for Halloween and AFI beautifully encapsulates that spirit on their cover of “Halloween”. Another band that knows their way around the darkness, AFI rip through this track for their All Hallow’s EP as Davey Havok sounds like a man on fire.

Fall Out Boy – “What’s This?”

You could argue “What’s This?” as more of a Christmas song, but its inclusion as a vital piece of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” soundtrack makes it eligible for this list. Plus, who could resist the sounds of Patrick Stump crooning, “Instead of screams, I swear / I can hear music in the air”.

Showbread – “George Romero Will Be at Our Wedding”

Our list wouldn’t be complete without one more song from Showbread as they pay homage to horror genius George Romero. Here, Josh Dies sings from the perspective of a man-turned zombie in search of his love. “If true love lasts forever, then love doesn’t die / It just becomes the living dead”. How romantic!

BONUS! Kanye West – “Monster”

What’s scarier than “Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong, Loch Ness”? How about a dark track in which ‘Ye, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj all embrace their inner monster? In fact, if Nicki’s blood-curdling shriek at the end of her manic verse doesn’t send chills down your spine, you may want to literally check your pulse.

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.

Podcast: The Best Music of Autumn

Another fall season is upon us, which means it’s time to break out the hoodies, crack open a few Oktoberfest beers, and enjoy some of our favorite autumn music. On our latest podcast episode, Kiel and Kyle chat about the favorite albums to spin when fall rolls around and why they’re so nostalgic for the season. They also discuss what makes for a great autumn album and share some of their favorite seasonal activities. Bands included in the conversation include: Mayday Parade, The Early November, Anberlin, AFI and more!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite album to listen to in autumn? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2017: #2 AFI’s Resurgence

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This may be the busiest year AFI have ever had as a band. Notorious for long delays between albums, there are hints of three possible releases related to the band on the way. Their 10 album, AFI (The Blood Album) is coming out in just a couple of weeks, preceded by two very strong singles and a national tour following not long after. While AFI’s discography is phenomenally strong, the singles indicate one of their best endeavors in several years.

If that weren’t enough, there are at least two side projects on the way: Blaqk Audio have recently announced that there are over 40 songs demoed for their fourth album. Considering that Material released less than a year ago, it seems like Davy Havok and Jade Puget are still riding that wave of creativity to make good on their promise of trying to get new Blaqk Audio releases out quicker.

Additionally, DREAMCAR, the super group of the No Doubt band with Davy Havok on vocals are set to release their debut album this year. There’s no indication of what their collaboration will sound like, but I know enough about Davy Havok to know he wouldn’t be a part of a project he didn’t believe he could make magic happen with. While I don’t know that much about No Doubt personally, people sure seem to like them.

Either way, the prospects of more than one project from a group of artists known to taking their time is something in and of itself to be excited for.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #6 AFI Reignite the Fire

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The Sorrow is Sacred

It’s been a tradition for the better part of a decade and a half that AFI releases a new album every three years. The only album to buck this trend was Burials, arriving four years after Crash Love. With their last release arriving in the fall of 2013, the band’s new project should be either done or nearing completion by the end of the year.

AFI’s releases are relentlessly ambitious and each record unique. It defines a certain part of the band’s career. And their fans are ravenous for anything new. AFI have tread ground through goth metal, hardcore, rock and the biggest ‘fuck you’ to pop music ever created with Crash Love. Trying to predict what comes next is near impossible, which is just part of the band’s charm.

If nothing else, the band hasn’t been on a proper tour since 2014. Even if the album itself doesn’t quite fit into 2016, the band should be gearing up in the fall to start a wave of shows across the country in some form or another. AFI is one of the best live bands anyone can get a chance to see. Jade Puget’s guitar work is next to godly on stage, and Davy Havok’s ability to switch between one of the best singers in the scene to one of the best screamers is breathtaking.

With a new Blaqk Audio album finished and ready for release, Havok and Puget are free to focus on their main project. There’s no telling what their new album will sound like, but it will be a reinvention and reinvigoration, guaranteed to have fans combing the songs lyric by lyric until 2019.

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 chased AFI to half a dozen different cities on the Crash Love tour. Ugh, obsessive fanboys, amiright?

Review: XTRMST – XTRMST

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Three seconds after the song “Conformist” ended, my friend in the backseat felt the immediate need to defend himself. The line “Inhale, Hold it in. Inhale, hold it in / Let the deterioration begin” hit him hard as he held an e-cigarette. “I don’t smoke to be cool,” he said sadly before trailing off with, “I just…” and the conversation ended there.

Davy Havok and Jade Puget have touched every musical genre available to them, from punk rock, to metal, to electronica and arguably pop punk. But XTRMST is something else entirely. It’s an album that will make the listener as uncomfortable listening as they are bobbing their heads. It’s possibly the only band I can think of that not only attacks the listener, but challenges them directly on their lifestyle choices.

XTRMST is a straight-edge (no alcohol, no drugs, no meaningless sex) hardcore band. It sounds simple, but it’s a complex union that is without a doubt the most controversial album the Havok/Puget collaborations have released. On the one hand, it’s more in line with what fans of older AFI have been clamoring for: an extraordinarily dark album in line with Black Sails and Sing The Sorrow. On the other, there is little of Puget’s hypnotic guitar melodies, or Davy’s poetic rage. This is a record that aims directly for the face, ruthlessly attacking for thirty-one minutes.

XTRMST is designed from the ground up to cause a reaction, so much so that even the most diehard fans of the duo may have difficulty enjoying it. Musically, the album is a violent vortex of hard power chords and dark melody cut with rough breakdowns and twistedly haunted squeals (“Words For the Unwanted”).

Jade’s guitar work is either the most technical of his career or the most sloppy depending on who is listening. There is little of the melody and precision that his work in AFI is known for, replaced instead with deep and dark searing riffs that sweep the album. His musicianship straddles the line between perfection (“Swallow Your God”) and amateurism so much so that it sometimes borders on ‘noise rock’. “Merciless” is one of the most melodic songs on the record, jumping between Chiodos-esque guitar riffs to a chorus that plays a counterbalance to Havok’s building vocals.

While the drums and bass are appropriate, they aren’t quite up to par for what one would expect of Puget. However, the distinct sound of the album allows for the instruments to work. The bass keeps pace with the guitar work, and often finds its way to the forefront, but the drumming sounds like an amateur punk band turning hardcore. The beats are simple and sharp, combining with crashing cymbals before giving way to savagely fast attacks. It definitely does the job, but it might be the weakest aspect of the album.

While the music is almost inaccessible to anyone not into this subgenre, the lyrical themes are even more vicious. Davy Havok is relentless in his attacks on concepts taken for granted within pop music. There is no hiding behind poetic verse or imagery; he’s blunt and angry. Each song is an aggressive question about the listener’s lifestyle choices and way of life. Mixed with the piercing screams (the hardest he’s ever screamed, by the way), it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to.

Any fan of AFI knows of Davy and Jade’s straight-edge lifestyle, and for all of the dark lyricism in AFI’s 20 year career, this is the most vicious. Opening track, “Words For The Unwated” starts with Davy attacking faux straight-edge lifestyles, as he screams, “You’re not one of us, don’t speak of us… You never used to be, if not now you never were / Yet you marched with the pure and still besmear our name / No, you will never be true to anything”.

“Conformist”, the album’s lead single, more or less calls out the punk culture in general of being a machine of conformity, pointing to straight-edge as a true subculture to be looked up to. In direct opposition to most of the album, the first few lines are delivered in cynical spoken word; “Oh you’re so wild / You think you’re so wild but your counter culture falls straight in line”. Havok jumps straight into throat shredding screams of, “You want resistance? Then look to mine”.

In true Davy Havok fashion, he can’t let the opportunity to attack religion go to waste. “Swallow Your God” might be his most brutal attack since Crash Love’s “Sacrilege”. As Jade ravages through the most traditional guitar riffs on the record and thunderous drums, Havok relates religion to drug use as he screams, “I will destroy the King of Kings / I will never swallow your God / Until you bring your eyes down to the Earth you cannot claim this sight / Your faith is a disease, another poison I deny / I deny the high of Heaven”.

XTRMST is a remarkable album. It’s at once the answer and the worst enemy to those annoying fans who have been ranting for a dark album since Sing The Sorrow. While fans of Havok and Puget are sure to enjoy the album, there is no denying that it will force you to start mentally defending yourself to some degree. This album will mean something different to most anyone who listens to it, either satisfying the hardcore fans or making casual fans uncomfortable. Regardless, Havok and Puget have constructed a masterpiece of rage and defiance.

4/5

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 during AFI’s Crash Love tour, followed them across the Midwest to a half-dozen shows like a creep. At a show in Indianapolis, Jade Puget winked at him and tossed him a guitar pick. His girlfriend was jealous.

No one in the sky: The ideology of Fireworks

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Fireworks may just be the most underrated band in the scene. Not a whole lot is said about them, but they tour relentlessly. Two years ago, fresh off the heels of their amazing album Gospel (the only album able to go toe to toe with The Wonder Years Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing), I saw them play the smallest stage on Warped Tour.

They’re a relentless band that is at a constant battle within: Don’t rely on religion to be the best you can be; you’re capable of being great.

Fireworks are one of the most positive bands writing today and one of the forefathers of the new generation of pop punk; matured lyrics, incredibly catchy melodies and loud guitars. They’re not afraid of quieter music as well, playing as much of the New Found Glory-esque spastic punk as they do the quiet shade of Saves the Day. It’s a beautiful sound that can either rip through your speakers or act as the soundtrack of the evening darkness.

One of their most powerful assets though, is their presentation. Lyrically, they’re nostalgic, mystical and relentlessly optimistic. The self-awareness of their records is something that most of their peers lack, and draws up battle lines within their records.

As much of a force for positive thinking as they can be, there is an adamant war cry against fundamental religion in their music. Anti-religious music isn’t anything new by any means; AFI is known for it. The difference with Fireworks is that they aren’t writing angrily. They’re fighting to show that you don’t need to rely on religion to be guided into being a good person.

“I Locked My Time Capsule” has one of the most memorable choruses that illustrates what the band tries to preach: “Just do what you can to do what you love / And be mindful when someone out there gives a shit / I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s where I want to be”.

The optimism of making yourself happy is often at the forefront of their lyrics, but what’s interesting is that it’s constantly emphasized that you’re capable of it. There are hidden sniper shots at religion throughout their records, attempting to tear away reliance on a higher being to do the work for you. In the same song, singer David Mackinder shouts, “My nativity scene would be the people shaking this floor”.

It’s a unique route to relate the positive messages found in pop punk these days. While the overall tone is usually for good, if not looking back on memories, good and bad, the mention of religion is usually a short jab. The song “I Support Same Sex Marriage” is perhaps one of the most damning, the title intended to cause the first strike.

Lines like “When you spend all your time with your eyes to the sky, you end up looking down your nose just to look me in the eye”, and “When you open that book you close your mind, so trust yourself and no one else” are incredibly self-aware for being on a band’s debut LP. But even this early on in their career, their message is clear.

Despite the intended venom towards this type of ideology, the band maintains the positive thinking needed to live successfully, rather than rely on religion. Oh, Common Life is a brutal look at finding yourself as an adult and the harsh world you were never quite ready for; finding yourself on the other side of a parents’ death and lost loves married to someone else.

Amongst the depressing imagery though, there are lines like, “I’m the greatest book read to the end / In those last lines you’ll find my friends like flies on tape, I keep them close / We may look dead but move our soul” from “Run, Brother, Run”.

Fireworks helped forge the new wave of pop punk with the brutal honesty that comes with picking fights with ideology. It’s an edge that stands apart from bands that just write angry punk songs against religion, in that it’s meant to unapologetically encourage anyone listening. It’s a powerful idea that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Regardless of your beliefs, Fireworks message is something that is needed more in the scene.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

The top 10 songs of 2013

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There was certainly no shortage of awesome songs this year to sing along in the car to, cry alone in your bedroom to, or reflect on the meaning of life to. That’s a good thing. The curious and awesome part about this year’s plethora of great songs is how many played a role in making the album they appeared on complete. It’s one thing to write a great song and a completely different thing to make that song tell part of a greater story.

Many of the songs on our end-of-the-year list are songs that told a chapter of their album’s story or helped tie it all together. They dug deep and spoke to something greater. Check out our list, take a listen to the songs and share your own favorite songs of 2013 with us in the replies!

10. The Super Happy Fun Club – “Okay Okay”

Super Happy Fun Club is the newest project from the singer of Lucky Boys Confusion and includes some of Chicago’s best. “Okay Okay” is one of the band’s finest, surging forward with gritty melodic punk and featuring extremely prominent gang vocals and shouting lyrics while providing choir-like backing. Stuby Pandav’s singing pushes the vocalist to his limits with a graveled undertone that bites through the chorus. The strength of the guitar chords propels the song’s pop with slight hints towards ska in the breakdowns. – Kyle Schultz

9. Eisley – “Currents”

Eisley has been known for some time to toe the line between indie pop and rock with dreamlike sounds and ambiguous lyrics, and this year’s Currents is a return to form, kicked off by the title track. Stacey King takes the lead vocals on this opener, and sets off the course of the album, which gives an underwater, oceanic feel. Her opening lines of “I would part the waters if you said so / I would shift the currents if you had to row” blend into the fluid backdrop, creating a perfect combination. The song is melodic and light, but forceful when it needs to be, driven by Sherri DuPree-Bemis’ guitar. “Currents” is a refreshing kick-off to one of the year’s most unsung albums. – Kiel Hauck

8. AFI – “The Conductor”

“The Conductor” is a force of rock that defines the sound of Burials. Davy Havok sings the illustration of love through electricity and shows off the force of his singing ability, but the real beauty at work here is Jade Puget’s guitar. The simple melody that plays throughout the song feels effortless, as though it just slides off of the guitar. But as soon as the chords kick in for the chorus, they’re hard and vicious, standing strong against anything the band has put out amidst a wall of bass. “The Conductor” is a song that slows down the sound AFI is known for and presents it on their own terms. – KS

7. Deafheaven – “Dream House”

Deafheaven’s “Dream House” is nine breathtaking minutes – an introductory ride into their fantastic record, Sunbather. The song is simultaneously furious and light, transitioning through multiple phases, capturing the emotion of a man fighting for meaning amidst the monotony and triviality of the American dream. Sunbather excels because of its painful beauty, perhaps displayed best by this swirling and wandering track. In what are perhaps the most haunting lines of 2013, George Clark wails, “’I’m dying’ / ‘Is it blissful?’ / ‘It’s like a dream’ / ‘I want to dream’”. – KH

6. letlive. – “White America’s Beautiful Black Market”

Picking a favorite song from The Blackest Beautiful isn’t an easy task, but “White America’s Beautiful Black Market” is the song that really stood out to me. Letlive. are a viciously bitter band, based in hardcore but wreathed in tempo changes and an almost bipolar switch in sound and tone at a moment’s notice. This band is taking a stand against what they feel is unjust in the purest way possible, and “White America’s Beautiful Black Market” tackles the healthcare system of America. For most bands, this would be an impossible task, but letlive. attack the issue head on, calling out the parties they find responsible and tearing away at the issue with a hauntingly bouncy melody and vicious chorus. – KS

5. CHVRCHES – “Gun”

If you’re attracted to the bouncy, melodic vocals of Lauren Mayberry, don’t be caught off guard when you listen closer. Not only is “Gun” one of the poppiest and catchiest songs from CHVRCHES’ debut The Bones of What You Believe, but it’s also a look into the fierceness of Mayberry. Her lines of “You had better run from me / with everything you own / Cause I am gonna come for you / With all that I have” and “I will be a gun, and it’s you I’ll come for” speak of deep scars that propel the singer throughout much of this debut. What makes The Bones of What You Believe so brilliant is its ability to juxtapose the electronic pop of it’s music against the often-edgy and pointed lyrics of its frontwoman. “Gun” will make you dance, even when it hurts. – KH

4. Saves The Day – “In the In Between”

Saves The Day’s self-titled album was a return to form for the band and includes one of the best songs of the group’s career. “In the In Between” is a classic sounding STD song with an incredibly catchy melody and chorus that continuously builds to a powerful guitar solo that demands your attention. Saves The Day may be the face of emo pop, but the fact of the matter is that simply no one can write a pop song like this band. They have an established sound and style, and if you need a song to represent it, “In the In Between” does it beautifully. With lyrics curiously weaving the idea of love with a detailed car crash, this is a song that boasts the experience of one of the most respected bands in the scene. – KS

3. Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”

On Paramore’s self-titled album, the band appeared to throw out the rulebook that had defined their previous pop-punk output and opened a new chapter for the band. Nowhere else is this more obvious than on their explosive single, “Ain’t it Fun”. The song is a kitchen sink of sorts, a building rock number complete with smooth guitars, a fantastic chorus and a backing church choir. Whether the song is directed at the Farro brothers or is more generalized is up to interpretation, but the song is certainly driven by a feisty Hayley Williams, who sings, “You’re not the big fish in the pond no more / You are what they’re feeding on”. At any rate, Paramore has become a force to be reckoned with in the pop world and has outdone themselves with this instant classic. – KH

2. The Wonder Years – “Passing Through a Screen Door”

The Greatest Generation is easily one of the best records this year and filled with songs that qualify for this list, but it’s their first single, “Passing Through a Screen Door” that makes it. This is currently the magnum opus of the band’s career: absolutely perfect song writing that is both catchy and biting with incredibly intrusive and personal lyrics that stand vibrantly illustrated with a clear story of loneliness, regret and hope. This is not only the definition of The Wonder Years as a whole throughout their discography, it’s the essence of punk, emo and pop, as well as the anthem for anyone in their twenties who isn’t sure about the road they’re on. “Jesus Christ, I’m 26 / All the people I graduated with / All have kids, all have wives/ All have people who care if they come home at night / Well Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?” “Passing Through a Screen Door” is the reason we listen to music in the first place. – KS

1. Letlive. – “27 Club”

The Blackest Beautiful hits the height of its crescendo with this album closer, a raucous and passionate affair fueled by the collision of fast-paced punk rock and furious hardcore. Jason Aalon Butler shrieks and shouts, caught in a whirlwind of emotion. While the album itself fitfully storms through a barrage of socially-relevant topics, “27 Club” collapses under the weight, as Butler focuses in on his own shortcomings and his search for hope. His repeated refrain of “He talks like a Christian but walks like an atheist” becomes intelligible as emotion overtakes his voice. The song finds Butler wresting with faith and self-doubt before the final spoken words of the strength found in unity, despite our flaws. “27 Club” is a conglomeration of everything that makes letlive. so special and is arguably the best track of the year. – KH

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.

The top 10 albums of 2013

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It’s that wonderful time of year, where every blog on the internet tries to out hipster the others by sharing their uber-subjective end-of-the-year lists that are much more reactionary and attention seeking than they are honest. Well, we’re throwing our hat in the ring by slamming together the ideas of Kiel and Kyle to hash out what the best sounds of 2013 were.

There was fighting, clawing, hair pulling and mean words said aloud. They then had a good laugh and decided it wasn’t all that big of a deal and threw together their own extremely subjective list. Make no mistake – these albums are all fantastic and worthy of praise, but their ranking is up for debate.

We hope you enjoy our list and then chime in with your own lists and albums that impacted you in 2013. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.35.05 PMAFI – Burials

Burials is a brooding beast of an album that just didn’t get the recognition it deserved. AFI are known to reinvent their sound with each consecutive album, but Burials is the result of combining the lessons of the last decade into one distinct sound. The guitar licks (“The Conductor”, “Greater Than 84”) are the things that most bands hope to one day write and manages to blend the goth-punk of Sing The Sorrow into the expert pop of Crash Love in a sinister romance that only AFI are capable of crafting. Burials is a testament to not only how relevant AFI are to the scene as it stands, but why bands should strive to push themselves with each release. – Kyle Schultz 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.34.41 PMBring Me the Horizon – Sempiternal 

Who would have thought just a few years ago that Bring Me the Horizon would transform from a generic scene band and an example of what was wrong with the metalcore genre into a band breaking new post-hardcore ground? That’s indeed what has happened with the release of Sempiternal. Like them or not, Bring Me the Horizon is worthy of your attention and has stepped up their game in every way imaginable. Sempiternal picks up where Underoath left off with Disambiguation and forges ahead with ferocity. These sounds are anything but cookie cutter – lead vocalist Oli Sykes sounds like a man on the brink as his voice croons, cries, cracks and shouts. Nearly gone are the boring breakdowns and in their place lie much more thoughtful parts, creating a heavy soundscape without as much of the “chugga-chugga” tuning to deter your attention. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning of a new era for the band. – Kiel Hauck

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.34.21 PMChildish Gambino – Because the Internet

While Camp was surely a fine debut effort, it lacked in cohesiveness and purpose. How seriously are we supposed to take Donald Glover? The answer is clear with Because the Internet – very seriously. This new album is an absolute force, shifting gears relentlessly as Glover taps into a multitude of styles and deliveries, each custom fitted to the topic at hand. Where Camp excelled in its immaturity, Because the Internet grows in all of the right places and shows an incredible amount of growth for Glover as a songwriter. Childish Gambino has surprised us all and dropped one of the most unexpectedly great hip hop albums of the year. – KH

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.34.02 PMSaves the Day – Saves the Day

Saves The Day’s self-titled album is an instant classic to any fan of STD. After the incredibly dark and dreary Sound The Alarm trilogy, Saves The Day is not only refreshingly warm and poppy, but throws several nods to the style of music from Stay What You Are. Although Saves The Day have always been known for darker lyrics, the warmth of these lyrics play as a counter balance to most everything the band has put out while retaining the charm that has earned the band praise for over a decade. With some of the best songs written since the band’s inception (I’m looking at you, “In the In Between”), Saves The Day not only partially reinvents the band in the most positive light they’ve ever been in, but proves that there’s just nothing quite as amazing as a new release from one of the classic bands in the scene. – KS 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.33.46 PMTouché Amoré – Is Survived By

Is Survived By essentially encompasses everything that we all knew Touché Amoré was capable of. The spacey, off-kilter post-hardcore sound, accompanied by the desperate vocals of Jeremy Bolm create the most unique and genuine sound the scene has heard since mewithoutYou. The band’s previous album, Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me hinted at what was to come, but Is Survived By is much more patient in its movements and builds as a crescendo. There’s breathing room within these 12 frantic tracks, giving the listener time to digest what Bolm is saying, even if the reaction is a painful one. Touché Amoré has truly made their mark on the post-hardcore scene. – KH 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.33.26 PMFall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll

Save Rock and Roll is perhaps the biggest surprise of 2013. One of the year’s biggest singles, “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” was released on the day the album was announced – not to mention that the band announced that they were back together on the same day. This record sees Fall Out Boy reinvent their sound to be poppier than ever and nixes the pop punk sound the band has been known for almost entirely. Despite this, the group sound like they’re not only having fun together again, but it launched their careers to heights that they’d never known before. This is hands-down one of the most beautifully crafted records of the year, and a highlight for a band known for putting out near perfect records. Save Rock and Roll is Fall Out Boy at the top of their game with an album that sounds like every song should be a lead single. – KS 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.33.09 PMCHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe 

The great thing about Scottish synthpop newcomers CHVRCHES, is how much fun they’re having. Sure, they’ve managed to flip pop music on its head with their fresh debut album The Bones of What You Believe, but they’ve done it with wit and intelligence all while having a good time. Their debut is full of bounce and meaning, thanks in part to lead singer Lauren Mayberry, whose innocent and darling delivery is marked by words of anger, hope and wonder. Whether it’s the dance-worthy pop tracks like “The Mother We Share” and “Gun” or the more dreamy “Night Sky”, The Bones of What You Believe delivers on every front and is a sure sign of great things to come. – KH 

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.32.49 PMParamore – Paramore

After the loss of founding members Josh and Zac Farro in 2010, there may have been some suspicion of the remaining members’ ability to not only move forward, but to deliver another classic album. Not only did Paramore return to the scene in 2013, they unleashed the best album the band has created thus far. Their self-titled release departs from the innocent pop-punk of past endeavors and delves into new territory, combining a plethora of sounds and genres into a project that flows effortlessly. Whether it’s the stripped down interludes, the powerful ballad “Ain’t it Fun” or the frenzied pop sound of “Still Into You”, Paramore has shown themselves to be far more than a one trick pony. Hayley Williams sounds better than ever, officially transforming from pop star to near-diva status with her powerful vocal work.  – KH

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.32.25 PMThe Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation is arguably one of the most in depth and telling albums released in decades. The record is filled with songs with the right hooks and lyrics to stay with you for years to come, the way that any legendary pop punk song of yesteryear will. The Greatest Generation is a battle cry against using excuses to not succeed and a call to believe and trust in yourself, no matter what. Like any Wonder Years record, this is heavy, loud music with a drive, a story and an anthem that spans three records, only to tie everything together in one of the best closing songs of all time. The Greatest Generation will be remembered for years as one of the pinnacle moments for the genre as a whole. – KS

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 8.31.55 PMletlive. – The Blackest Beautiful

The Blackest Beautiful is the album that post hardcore – hell, rock and roll needed. From “Banshee (Ghost Fame)” to “27 Club”, the album never relents, never compromises its purpose. Not only is The Blackest Beautiful an ambitious sonic endeavor, with all of its twists and turns, unique guitar riffs and the most controlled form of chaos you can imagine, but it has a point. Whether Jason Aalon Butler is taking on topics like race, faith or the American healthcare system, the album itself is a document dedicated to bringing issues to light while taking a moment to reflect on our own self-worth and purpose. It’s furious, it’s fragile, it’s focal and it’s just the wake-up call that rock music needed. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Haim – Days are Gone

Eisley – Currents

Hands Like Houses – Unimagine

Blessthefall – Hollow Bodies

Deafheaven – Sunbather 

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: AFI – Burials

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Fans of AFI’s brand of punk know that the band tends to outdo themselves with each new release, and that no two records sound exactly the same. However, their newest release, Burials, isn’t so much a forging into new territory as it is a culmination of everything the band has done over the last decade. Burials is a brilliant mix of Crash Love’s sonic pop, Decemberunderground’s electronic rock, and Sing the Sorrow’s dark, gothic punk.

Burials is an exercise in craft for a band that no longer needs to prove themselves to the scene as much as they need to entertain themselves creatively. The album is a slow build up that allows the songwriting room to breathe. It’s not as loud or as punk as most of AFI’s releases, and it’s not meant to be. This is an album that toys with your expectations.

The opener, “The Sinking Night” is a return to form of the short intro songs from Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground, drawn out into a two minute ballad. Lead single “I Hope You Suffer” is a toxic rock song that sets the tone for the record: deliberate, quiet, and all at once explosive. An underlay of Blaqk Audio-esque piano floats over the bass guitar, booming at brain shattering levels, to create an exposition and atmosphere not seen too often. “The Conductor” has a haunting guitar melody that begs to lead crowds singing out loud. The last few songs though harkens back to Sing The Sorrow days with gritty guitar riffs Davy’s dark lyricism.

Once again, Jade’s guitar mastery is second to none, as he plays well enough that it seems like there are two guitarists. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is Davy Havok’s lyrics on this round, as they’re much more straightforward for the most part and lack some of the goth poetic qualities that made earlier releases so intriguing. However, Burials is a moody juggernaut that brings AFI back to their signature dark rock. Once again, AFI proves that sometimes experience is the better fuel for art than experimentation.

4/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.