Top 10 Songs of 2014

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Making a list of the top 10 songs of any year is a challenge. Each of us journeys through 12 months filled with highs and lows, challenges and dull moments. The soundtracks that fill those times are often created by our need for a particular sound or feeling in any given instant.

Does ranking these songs require us to distance ourselves from the emotions that helped them resonate? That’s debatable, but perhaps the true measure lies somewhere in between a relatable song that offered purpose or aid and a well constructed, perfectly executed track that showcases a band’s talent.

Needless to say, a lot went into the creation of this list. We did our best to break down what we feel were the best moments of 2014 – the songs that not only defined our lives this year, but the songs that made us perk up with rapt attention. Take a look and let us know what you think in the replies!

10. Merriment – “Backwards”

Perhaps best known as the younger siblings of the DuPree’s of Eisley fame, Merriment has certainly carved their own path with their debut album, Sway. The highlight comes in the form of “Backwards”, perfectly blending the band’s acoustic pop sensibilities with a folk sound that sets them apart from their peers. Christie DuPree’s vocal range is stunning here, especially on the song’s beautiful chorus. Dupree opens the song with the haunting lines, “Holding high your little head / Walking backwards in your steps / Nobody knows you’re dead”. The song is just as mysterious as it is charming, but catchy enough that you can’t listen to it just once. – Kiel Hauck

9. I Can Make a Mess  “Deciduous”

On an album of delicious pop songs, “Deciduous” stands out as one that has every ingredient of a good ICMAM song; gorgeous hooks, minimal production, Enders’ working every note of the vocal scale and the themes of finances and that love will overcome any problem. The song is at once a love song about being a musician, but acknowledges the fears that come along with it, including a singled out line where he quietly worries, “I hope one day my kids think I’m cool / Didn’t sell the farm to be the mule / I’m a fool”. – Kyle Schultz

8. Anberlin – “Stranger Ways”

Fans of Anberlin were fortunate to receive a final goodbye from the band in the form of 2014’s Lowborn. The best moment from the album comes on the 80’s inspired “Stranger Ways”, weaving the band’s tried-and-true songwriting formula with eerie electronics and synthesizers. In truth, it sounds like the best song Depeche Mode never wrote. Vocalist Stephen Christian opens with the chilling lines, “Locking eyes, a waning glance, mistook chance / Of adding meaning to the words forever”. The song climaxes during the bridge as Christian pleads, “Would you say with me, here in my dreams / If I promised you this heaven?” Alas, there will be no staying for Anberlin. Even so, we’re thankful for the fond farewell. – KH

7. XTRMST – “Conformist”

XTRMST are a welcome return to form for straight edge hardcore. The new project from Davy Havok and Jade Puget is what fans of AFI’s hardcore days have spent years hoping for. The guitar work is loose, hypnotically dark and as heavy as a physical attack. “Conformist” shows Havok in perfect form, swooning between spoken word and nightmarish screaming. The song is one of the few singles for an album that highlights the record succinctly. Each lyric is an attack on the listener, critiquing not only their way of life, but their tolerance of any other type of subculture with the repeated accusations of “You are conformist”. It’s an uncomfortable listen, but demands your attention for the rest of the record. – KS

6. Childish Gambino – “III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”

Perhaps it’s odd that the best track on Because the Internet fits into the context of the album’s overarching story as a song sung by someone else. It opens as we hear the main character climb into his car and turn the key. The radio comes on, introducing the track, sung by “Lloyd”. Childish Gambino channels his inner-Drake on the track – it’s silky smooth as he sings of the confusion tied to romantic commitment. It’s background noise for our main character as he drives, but it’s speaking both to us and to him. “Everything you won’t say, you tweet it”, sings Gambino. It’s commentary on our internet culture – and an indictment on us all for our willingness to dive head-first into it. – KH

5. Say Anything  Judas Decapitation

Max Bemis’s most ‘Say Anything’ song is about how blogs, fans and the music industry criticize him for not making ‘Say Anything’ music the way they want. It couldn’t be more meta if he mentioned your name in the middle of it. Like the rest of Hebrews, “Judas Decapitation” forgoes the guitar work in favor of a hybrid mesh of flaring pop synth and intense percussion. The song is a scathing attack on the industry and his own fans about their interpretation of his music, which is one of the things that made his music so well respected to begin with. Lyrics like, “I hate that dude now that he’s married / He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherri”, and “Spike his fifteenth espresso with drugs / So he’s convinced it’s a manic delusion to know true love / Be nineteen with a joint in hand / Never change the band”, show that not only is Bemis aware of every criticism of his music, he’s attacking them head on. – KS

4. Yellowcard – “Lift a Sail”

The title track on Yellowcard’s triumphant Lift a Sail is quite possibly the best song the band has ever written. Gone are the pop punk riffs the band was so well known for – “Lift a Sail” is an anthemic rock song, born from a painful, traumatic event. There’s certainly a sadness here, but the track itself is about rising above the wreckage. It’s something we can all connect to, because in one way or another, we’ve all been there before, struggling to make the choice to press on amidst the pain. When vocalist Ryan Key cries out the song’s massive chorus of, “If a cold wind starts to rise / I am ready now, I am ready now / With the last sail lifted high / I am ready now, I am ready now”, it’s undeniably the most chill-inducing moment of the year. – KH

3. Against Me!  “FUCKMYLIFE666”

This is easily one of the catchiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues due to the melody alone. The bouncing guitars and opening strings tear against the throbbing drums to make a fast, energetic hell of a song. Each verse bleeds into the chorus, hiding the fact that the song is a traditional styled pop song elegantly layered in harmony. It also contains one of the strongest verses on an album full of memorable lines as Laura Grace sings, “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? / Silicone chest and collagen lips / How would you even recognize me?” The song is short, brutal and incredibly memorable. It manages to stand as one of the best songs in Against Me!’s infamously great catalogue. – KS

2. PVRIS – “My House”

On their debut album, White Noise, synthpop trio PVRIS have promptly destroyed any notion of what a Rise Records band should sound like. Originally formed as a post-hardcore act, PVRIS made the surprising and wise choice to turn pop, littering their landscape of atmospheric synthesizers with bouncing drums and pulsing bass. “My House” is one of the most powerful pop songs you’ll hear this year, thanks in large part to the vocal work of Lyndsey Gunnelfsen. During the track’s massive, dance-worthy breakdown, she howls, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not yours anymore, I’m not yours anymore!” The song is ferocious as it is infectious, making it the most captivating pop song of 2014. – KH

1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”

On an album whose theme is caving in, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is the lynchpin for Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties that sees our main character breaking down in his mother’s kitchen. It’s a powerful acoustic epic fueled by the slow burn of electric guitar and the tortured cry of a steel guitar yowling in the background. Dan Campbell’s vocals mimic the story perfectly, sounding on the verge of breaking into tears as he describes Aaron’s walk home, eventually building to screams of “Take the car and run!” The descriptions alone would be worthy of being one of this year’s best songs, but the true gem is what should be an impossible feat: Aaron and his mother having an actual conversation. Around a kitchen table, they lean and cry on each other’s shoulders as Campbell sings, “I know things ain’t been good since dad died, I know you don’t need this from me / But mama I’m breaking, there’s no light in the dark, Diane left this week / She said, ‘Son look at me, I know we ain’t been this low before and I’m sorry Aaron / I know this year has been hard’”. – KS

Honorable Mention:

Emarosa – “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”

Kendrick Lamar – “I”

Architects – “Gravedigger”

Fall Out Boy – “Centuries”

Taylor Swift – “Style”

 

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.

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Top 10 Albums of 2014

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Look, we don’t like this any more than you do. These end-of-the-year lists are tedious, obnoxious, self-indulgent…

Aw, who are we kidding – we love it! Even though it’s technically impossible to subjectively rank this year’s best albums, we took our best stab at it. This year was chock full of fantastic releases, many of which won’t be mentioned here because there simply isn’t enough room (or time) to spotlight all of them.

Nevertheless, senior editor Kyle Schultz and I put our heads together and came up with 10 worthy suitors to be a part of our second-annual Top 10 Albums of the Year list. Take a gander, then let us know what your favorite records of the year were in the replies!

every_time_i_die10Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown

From Keith Buckley’s repeated opening shrieks of, “Blow your fucking brains out!” on “The Great Secret” to his final desperate cries of, “All I want is for everyone to go to hell / It’s the last place I was seen before I lost myself” during the final crushing breakdown on “Idiot”, From Parts Unknown is unforgiving and unrelenting. Who knew a band 16 years into its career could craft what may be their most punishing and challenging album? With From Parts Unknown, Every Time I Die don’t just want to carve their name into the stone temple of metalcore lore, they want to burn the whole damn thing to the ground. – Kiel Hauck

fireworks9Fireworks – Oh, Common Life

Oh, Common Life is the type of album that reminds you of an intimate conversation with a close friend. Fireworks’ distinct pop punk style is softened to allow for more melody while vocalist David Mackinder sings a hypnotic tale of maturation that comes with the bigger life changes during your twenties and the isolation that the world can impose on you.  While it starts off very poppy, the album slowly branches and touches on styles of playing that Fireworks have never tackled before as the lyrics grow more somber and accepting of life (“The Hotbed of Life”). It’s hard to say that Oh, Common Life was what fans of the band were expecting, but it’s what they deserved. – Kyle Schultz

copeland8Copeland – Ixora

Parting was sweet sorrow for fans of indie rock act Copeland, who closed up shop in 2010. Their surprising return is more than a mere nostalgia trip, it’s a return to rare form with their new album Ixora. The band is more playful than ever, sending listeners into a dream-like trance throughout the album’s 10 tracks that include haunting electronics, prancing pianos, and even a saxophone solo. Frontman Aaron Marsh is still on top of his game, adding to his vocal repertoire during the silky-smooth chorus of “Like a Lie”. From front to back, Ixora finds Copeland better than ever – here’s hoping there’s more where this came from. – KH

new_found_glory7New Found Glory – Resurrection

Resurrection is the first New Found Glory album in several years to sound like a classic. The new four-piece rebuild their sound to be more succinct and brutal, mixing their signature pop with much heavier guitars and a thundering bass. Each member pushes their musicianship to their limits with lyricism and themes that are significantly angrier than past work. While the songs are undeniably catchy and easy to sing along to (“Selfless”), they can make the listener uncomfortable (“The Worst Person”), which may have been the point given how much the band went through in the last year. As a longtime listener of the band though, it’s easy to see how much passion and energy went into creating a record that would rise above the trials that hit them all at once. – KS

emarosa6Emarosa – Versus 

The loss of lead vocalist Jonny Craig appeared to spell disaster for Emarosa after the band released their stellar self-titled record in 2010. Not so fast. Emarosa roared back in 2014 with Bradley Walden at the mic, releasing the best album of the band’s career. Versus is rife with conflict, but it’s a struggle that produces something beautiful. When Walden flips the script just over a minute into opening track “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”, it feels like the sort of sonic shift that not only changes the course of the band’s trajectory, but one that slams the door shut on the past. – KH

weezer5Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Say what you will about Weezer, there’s no denying that when they feel like it, they can put out a masterpiece of an album. The aptly titled Everything Will Be Alright In the End is the band’s answer to years of criticism regarding their constantly evolving sound. The new album sounds like a lovechild between Blue, Green, and Maladroit, blending the respective sounds of fuzzed guitars, catchy pop songs and thrashing rock. Rivers Cuomo tagged the album as a ‘classic’ in the press leading up to its release, and he couldn’t have been more correct. It’s the first release from the band that doesn’t necessarily break new ground for their sound, but it recaptures the magic that made the band an international mainstay. – KS

against_me4Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Gender confusion and transgender identity are topics that have been at the front of people’s minds this year, which makes it all the more appropriate that Transgender Dysphoria Blues arrived just a couple weeks into the New Year. Not only is it Against Me!’s best rock album, it’s one of the most daring in that it follows the story of a transgender prostitute that mimics Tom Gabel’s transformation into Laura Jane Grace. The album is a tight series of fist-pumping songs that are just as heartbreaking as they are catchy. In the opening title track, Grace sings, “Your tells are so obvious / Shoulders too broad for a girl / Helps you remember where you come from / You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot”. The album is a powerful and ferociously angry statement about transgender issues in this country, as well as the struggle for people dealing with them. – KS

yellowcard3Yellowcard – Lift a Sail

Born from a tragic skiing accident that left vocalist/guitarist Ryan Key’s fiancé paralyzed from the waist down, Lift a Sail is a painful song of triumph. The band drops what was left of their pop punk roots and forges ahead with powerful, anthemic rock tracks and explosive piano ballads. Violinist Sean Mackin has never sounded better, adding texture and layers to the songs that don’t overpower, but instead compliment the entirety of the band’s new sound. Lift a Sail is encouraging as it is aching, as determined as it is vulnerable. Just when you thought it couldn’t be done, Yellowcard has topped themselves once again. – KH

aaron_west2Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other

Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties is more than just another side project. It’s one of the few concept albums to not only have a tangible story, but a character that garners genuine sympathy. The acoustic songs mix enough new elements to sound unique, and enough of The Wonder Years’ brash style to show the versatility of their music. Dan Campbell weaves a vibrantly real, dark and heartbreaking story that never feels cliché or forced. As Aaron cracks more and more with each song, Campbell’s vocals are pushed to their limit as he jumps from soft whispers, to screams, and then singing the words of a conversation, sounding as though he’s on the brink of tears. The range of themes and universal fears crammed into the album are absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s easily one of the most emotional pieces I’ve heard in years and is unlike most anything else out there. There is little doubt that he is on a level of lyricism his peers can only hope to achieve. – KS

architects1Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together

How did a modern metalcore album land our number one spot for 2014? By rattling the well-worn conventions of the genre and spitting at the notion that the music is beyond redemption. Lost Forever // Lost Together is the best album Architects have crafted, surpassing even 2009’s mammoth of a record, Hollow Crown. Vocalist Sam Carter is full of fire from the outset, roaring across tracks of technical guitar riffs and skull-rattling breakdowns. The album is angry, sure, but you can hear the band searching for something more – something deeper. Lost Forever // Lost Together is a metalcore album that makes you think, challenges the scene’s apathy, and forges a new path for any heavy band that dare follow. When Carter bellows, “You said we’ll never make a difference / Maybe this battle is to fight indifference” on “Naysayer”, you feel the sentiment pouring from every fiber of his being. – KH

Honorable Mention:

PVRIS – White Noise

Merriment – Sway

I Can Make a Mess – Growing In

Anberlin – Lowborn

Taylor Swift – 1989

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.

Against Me! release video for “Black Me Out”

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Against Me! have released a new video for their song “Black Me Out”. The song is from their recently released Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Check out the video below:

The band is currently gearing up for a European tour this June. If you haven’t had a chance to snag Transgender Dysphoria Blues yet, do it – you’re missing out on one of the best releases of 2014. You can buy it on iTunes.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

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“Even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save me.” – “Unconditional Love”

Against Me! are back after a rather lengthy absence. The most notable aspect of the band since their last release has, of course, been Laura Jane Grace coming out as a transgender. Despite these personal changes, Against Me! have come back with everything they have, delivering a powerful and honest grunge pop album in Transgender Dysphoria Blues that more than makes up not only for the amount of time between albums, but for 2010’s rather lackluster White Crosses.

If you were a fan of the band’s first major label record New Wave, then you know what to expect in terms of sound. The guitars are rolling hills of punk, with subtle traces of the rockabilly sound of earlier Against Me! albums mixed with the crisp chord structure of early Green Day. While the general sound hasn’t changed much from the last few albums, the songs are without a doubt at a much higher standard, equal parts memorable anthems, incredibly catchy lyrics and heartfelt honesty.

Lyrically, the album is astounding; there’s simply nothing else like it out there thematically. Technically a concept album about a transgender prostitute, I found myself listening over and over again to the lyrics. Laura Jane Grace’s voice is loud and impossible to ignore, but slightly monotonous save for pitch. Despite this, the pain of being someone confused about their gender and the fear of disclosing it and facing society bleeds through.

Laura held nothing back lyrically, using the harsh language usually avoided by most artists trying not to accidentally get a reputation for being homophobic. However, there is no other way the lyrics could’ve been written. They dig painfully deep, but retain a sense of playfulness that stands out where it needs to. “You’ve got no c*nt in your strut / You’ve got no hips to shake / And you know it’s obvious / But we can’t choose how we’re made”, she sings on the albums opening title track. It’s an example of how she’s able to use arguably the most offensive language in today’s language to illustrate the frustration and despair of being transgender while maintaining pride and a general sense of humor.

“Drinking With the Jocks”, a straight up punk song, stood out to me as one of the most demonizing on the album. It describes the most basic form of misogynistic and bigoted men looking at women and homosexuals, attacking with a growl as each lyric is delivered in rage, while the chorus continuously repeats “All of my life, all of my life / Wishing I was one of them”. It’s endlessly ironic and sad; quite possibly the only hard punk song I can think of that made me want to cry.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues isn’t a perfect album, and fans of the band’s early catalog will find the same complaints with it as they have the last few albums. While each song is good, there are a couple that aren’t as memorable as the others (“Dead Friend”), but the songs that stand out are among the best in the industry and demonstrate why Against Me! have such a loyal following. However, it’s incredibly short, clocking in at just under half an hour.

Against Me! have planted one of the most unique and honest albums in the scene while retaining their signature sound. If White Crosses chased you away, Transgender Dysphoria Blues will win you back. Almost every song demands to be sung along to and could become new staples at all live shows. This album won’t just be remembered because of the debut of Laura Jane Grace, but because of the incredibly memorable songs it houses.

4.5/5

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.