The Best Albums of 2019

With our Best of the Decade lists in the books, it almost feels anticlimactic to look back on just 2019. But that would be unfair to a year that provided us with a breadth of music that broke molds, reinvented artists, and introduced us to some of the voices that will surely define the next decade.

We previously talked about 2019 as a year that saw the end of genre as we know it. And sure, that’s probably an overstatement, but it’s clear that this year saw a very real blurring of the lines. The best hip hop album of the year could hardly be categorized as just that. Much of this year’s pop music felt fresh and starkly different than what we’re accustomed to. So let’s look back at a year full of surprising and fascinating albums. And as always, share your favorites in the replies!

15. blink-182 – NINE

I am of the camp that believes that 2016’s California was the moment of blink-182’s true re-birth. An album that captured at least some of the spark of the band’s early days without feeling like it was set in the past. But I wasn’t expecting NINE – an album that sounds like a band (finally) growing up and expanding their sound in all of the ways that make sense. And look, I’m aware of the need for eye rolls upon seeing an album like this on a list like this, but when I listen to NINE, I hear an album that feels fresh and relatable. And that’s not normal for a band that saw its heyday flash before its eyes two decades prior. – Kiel Hauck

14. New Found Glory – From the Screen to Your Stereo III

Anyone can make an album of covers, but it takes talent to make them sound unique and worth covering. From the Screen to Your Stereo III is not only the best of New Found Glory’s series of songs from movies, these songs sound as though they were made for the band from the start. Fast, playful and emotional, From the Screen to Your Stereo III is a joy to listen to and a masterclass on turning what should be a gimmick into art. – Kyle Schultz

13. Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

This album may come as a surprise because of the albums I’ve waxed poetic about in our podcasts and other reviews this year. Breathe is the perfect math rock album the scene needed to cement the subgenre as a staple part of the pop punk family. All of Tiny Moving Parts’ albums are great, but Breathe is incredible. There’s not a track out of place, and it flows seamlessly. Tiny Moving Parts are the perfect band to start a math rock journey with, but you may just stop there, because they are truly the best in today’s scene. – Nadia Paiva

12. Bring Me the Horizon – amo

Unlike much of the old metalcore guard that has begrudgingly adapted their sound to something much more mundane and unimaginative, Bring Me the Horizon have spent the better part of the decade crafting their future as artists. Amo is an album unlike any other in rock this year, and maybe ever. A genre-bending affair the finds the band dipping their toe into electronica, pop and alternative, the album twists and turns, sonically and thematically, throughout, keeping the listener off-kilter, but fully engaged. Amo isn’t an album for the fans, but it’s an endeavor that sets them apart from their peers and opens new doors of possibility for a band that is dead set on sticking around. – KH

11. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

Considering it is a sequel album, Routine Maintenance manages the seemingly impossible task of meeting the cavernous emotional depths of its predecessor. Creator Dan Campbell shows real growth of Aaron West’s character, who has led quite the life in the five years between albums (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). Having put Aaron through absolute hell, Campbell successfully shows the resolve and determination of a person building a new life for themselves in a fully realized and vibrant world. Routine Maintenance is an album about rebirth (“Runnin’ Toward the Light”) and the strength of family (“Routine Maintenance”). – KS

10. From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit

Another album from the DIY, lo-fi world is the latest offering by From Indian Lakes. He released this, his fifth album, independently, and created magic. I love when artists get to truly express themselves and Dimly Lit is one of the best examples. It takes twists and turns, but Joey Vannuchi holds all the strings in his hands, never letting them get tangled. Borrowing plenty of support from the outside, the album is filled with gentle lyrics and a swelling soundscape that will make you fall in love. – NP

9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

It isn’t easy to follow-up one of the most heralded pop albums of the decade, but Carly Rae Jepsen has never been one to dwell on past success. Frankly, it’s unfair to compare Dedicated to E-MO-TION, but if you have to split hairs, the former is a more grown-up style of pop music. Jepsen leans into her seductive side without losing the more relatable elements of her lyrics and personality that draw her fans in. From the quirky synthesizers that open the album on “Julien” to the funky beat of “Want You in My Room”, Jepsen finds new tools to add to her arsenal without losing sight of the elements that make for a great pop record. Put plainly, Dedicated is a delight. – KH

8. The Early November – Lilac

Lilac is easily the most diverse album in The Early November’s career. Effortlessly juggling new stylistic choices with the group’s renowned emotional sensibilities, Lilac is ambitious, unpredictable and sweeping. Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes himself to a career-defining high across an album that is ultimately about finding the strength to save yourself from a number of addictions and vices. The instrumentation from each band member is intricate, lavish and astoundingly gorgeous. After a career of refining their sound, Lilac is the album that The Early November were always trying to write. – KS

7. Wallows – Nothing Happens

While I didn’t formally write about this album this year, it quickly became a favorite. I’ve long been a fan of lo-fi pop rock and Nothing Happens is the best of the best. It’s packaged in soft, melodic ribbons and bows but there’s plenty of punch – glitter in the card, if you will. The members of Wallows wrote a great album about dealing with the end of adolescence and being forced into the big adult world. – NP

6. Tyler, The Creator – Igor

Tyler, The Creator began the decade as one of the most divisive artists in the country, seemingly driven by shock value and an outdated, misogynistic approach in a genre that was trying to shed that label. Things began to shift around the time of Tyler’s surprisingly vulnerable Flower Boy, and Igor seems to capture his full metamorphosis. A venture more inspired by funk and neo-soul than rap, Igor finds Tyler sensitive and gentle as a singer, but more than anything, it solidifies him as an artist willing to take risks. And in doing so, he has become one of the most fascinating producers and songwriters in hip hop. – KH

5. The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

How Do You Love? Is an album that immediately makes a name for itself by being loud, fun and sincere. A collection of songs about falling in love, The Regrettes manage to take the most generic topic in music and make it completely their own. The album is a playful mixture of  sincere sweetness (“Coloring Book”), emotional conflict (“Dead Wrong”) and sarcastic confusion (“How Do You Love?”). The guitars expertly weave indie pop and garage surf rock into an explosive sound. This album also includes one of the year’s best singles and music videos, “I Dare You”. – KS

4. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana del Rey released Norman Fucking Rockwell to a fanbase ready for a new direction from the alt pop princess. She tells tales of the harder parts of fame here, highlighting personal insecurities, making the album one of her more relatable projects, but wraps it all in a fresh take on Americana that made the wait worth it. A jazzy cover of a Sublime song and a poignant closer make this album one of the best of the year. – NP

3. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Billie Eilish has been on a collision course with this moment for a while now. A moment in which genre lines have become almost completely blurred and artists are no longer confined by industry gatekeepers and the major label machine. No matter how you feel about it, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has to be considered one of the year’s defining albums, simply because of its impact. At age 17, Eilish may have broken pop music, being much more interested in making something that interests her than making something that comforts our expectations. Funny thing is, Eilish is an undoubtedly great artist, and this thing she has created will be now be mimicked by many, creating a new pool of music that is quite unlikely to hold a candle to its inspiration. – KH

2. Taylor Swift – Lover

A highlight in a career of high points, Lover is a powerful album drenched in romanticism. Every story told throughout the album reflects a hopeful future, even in the darkest moments. Gloss pop mixed with deep R&B beats and hints of Swift’s country roots peek through the cracks to create a sound that is as intimately familiar as it is diverse (“Cruel Summer”). However, Lover still finds time to highlight an anti-patriarchy anthem (“The Man”) and a commentary on the current state of politics (“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”). Lover celebrates Swift’s past by somehow poising her future to shine ever brighter. – KS

1. Copeland – Blushing

Blushing is at the top of my list because of how it has stayed in my mind since Valentine’s Day. Along with the unconventional Thursday release date to fit with the album’s themes, the album was one of my most anticipated at the end of 2018, and my first five-star review of 2019. It continued Copeland’s musical journey in the same vein as 2014’s Ixora, and brought back a lot of the whimsy we’ve seen in their earlier releases. Blushing is set to stand the test of time as a beautiful piece of art, and a gem in the crown that is Copeland. – NP

Honorable Mention

Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!
Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate
Queen of Jeans – If You’re Not Afraid, I’m Not Afraid
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Making Sense of Blink-182’s “Nine”

It’s been three weeks since the release of Blink-182’s new album Nine, so Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz hop on the podcast to break down the release. The two discuss their opinions on the new album, break down their favorite tracks, and attempt to rank it within the rest of Blink-182’s discography. They also share their opinions about the band’s music since their 2009 reunion and discuss the band’s legacy after two solid outings in Nine and California. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Come join the conversation on Flick Chat and subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts.

What is your favorite Blink-182 album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Blink-182 – Nine

Blink-182 were my first musical love. Over 20 years later, I remember hearing “What’s My Age Again?” for the first time, and the shockwave that it sent through my life, as well as the aftershock of obsession with pop punk. As Blink-182 continue to forge their second identity, it’s easier to see who they are and where they are going. If California (2016) was meant to reassure fans that they were the same band fans fell in love with, Nine is the album that reassures us that Blink-182 aren’t ready to settle on the merits of their past.

You can buy or stream Nine on Apple Music.

What stands out the most about Nine isn’t the new ground that it forges, but how it reaffirms what they have already done. If there is any of Blink’s past albums that this most resembles, it is the often neglected Neighborhoods (2011). Much like their first comeback album, Blink-182 are still searching for an identity years after creating a bedrock for the modern pop punk genre. As much as it takes a step forwards to test the boundaries of modern rock, Nine takes just as many backwards.

Nine suffers from an identity crisis. While a song like “The First Time” calls back to staples such as “Feeling This”, others such as “Happy Days” reflects the mediocrity of rock, and “Run Away” attempts to find a middle ground. Nine isn’t a bad album, it just doesn’t know what direction to lean into. Years after adding Matt Skiba as a permanent member, Blink-182 somehow sound less cohesive than ever. Some songs sound like they were included as an excuse to show off Travis Barker’s insane drumming (“I Really Wish I Hated You”).

Where Nine shines is how well it melds the legacy of Mark Hoppus’ high marks with the new sounds the band have forged over the last few years. “Heaven” provides Hoppus the chance to shout one of the catchiest choruses on the album, or meld so effortlessly into the anthemic verse and chorus sing-a-long of “Blame It On My Youth”. The signature pop of his bass is refreshing to hear, like seeing a family member again after a long time (“Happy Days”).

The effort Matt Skiba unleashes is astonishing on this album. Skiba manages to somehow make his guitar parts sound reminiscent of Tom DeLonge’s crisp style while still creating a sound different than that and of his work in Alkaline Trio (“No Heart to Speak Of”). However, while his vocals are amazing, Nine attempts to cut the difference between him and DeLonge by adding filters over many of his singing parts. These help bridge the gap between Skiba and DeLonge’s vocal pitches, but do not allow Skiba to shine through the way he should given how powerful of a singer he is.

Drummer Travis Barker erupts through each song, as he should, given he is one of the best drummers currently working and Blink-182’s long-time secret weapon. Oftentimes, Nine feels like it is designed around letting Barker shine through more than anything (“Black Rain”). Barker never stops moving and elevates what would otherwise be a mediocre rock song to become something great (“Blame It On My Youth”).

In many ways, Nine feels like a second attempt to make Neighborhoods, complete with a sequel to “Heart’s All Gone” (“No Heart To Speak Of”). Nine is catchy, fast, and melds rock with R&B drumming in a way that seems to stem directly from the Self-Titled (2003) album, but with less cohesion. Where a song like “Black Rain” pushes Blink-182 to the brink by relying on a post-punk guitar riff and near-EDM style drumming, a song such as “Hungover You” relies on tired guitar heavy choruses and lazy vocals to push it to the finish line. However, something like “On Some Emo Shit” works brilliantly by being a callback to songs from the early 2000’s, complete with a guitar solo pulled straight out of a Get Up Kids song.

Blink-182 have never been known for the weight of their lyrics, but rather for the precise catchiness of them. A Blink-182 song should make you want to sing every time you hear it, no matter what the words may be. In that regard, Nine succeeds in spades. However, if there is one song that actually says something of significance, it is the single “Blame It On My Youth”. Hoppus and Skiba reflect on the path that led them to be who they are today (“I was raised on a rerun / I was bored to death, so I started a band / Cut my teeth on a safety dance / My attention span never stood a chance”).

Other times, small lyrics cut canyons the longer you listen to them. This is especially prominent in “Generational Divide”, which uses about 30 unique words over 49 seconds of raging guitars and drums (“Are we better, are we better now?”).

Nine sees Hoppus, Skiba, and Barker testing the waters of what they want to be as a band and how deep Blink-182 fans can swim. The album pushes boundaries beyond past releases, but still settles in patches that feel far too safe. The combined talents of Blink-182 have earned the right to push themselves and forge new ground. However, Nine finds only hints of what is possible. Much like Neighborhoods, it faces the possibility that it will be forgotten in the shadow of brilliance of whatever follows it.

3/5

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 loves The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yeah, he said it and he’ll say it again to your mother.

Most Anticipated of 2019: #8 Blink-182 Go Back to Move Forward

Blink-182 have been extraordinarily prolific since acquiring Matt Skiba on lead guitar. After an impressive first release in 2016 with the new lineup and a re-release double album in 2017, the band is due for a proper new record. Fortunately, Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker have been teasing for the better part of a year that a new Blink-182 album is in the works.

On top of that, Hoppus has claimed that the new music sounds similar to their legendary album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Although I doubt anything could be as seminal as that album at the time of its release, a return to the band’s roots is always welcome given the talents of all involved.

After proving that they were able to reinvent with California, a chance to reflect might be what is needed to propel Blink-182 to the next level of their already storied career.

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 could not be more excited for new music to tickle his ears in 2019.

Review: Blink-182 – California [Deluxe Edition]

blink_182_matt_skiba_2015

When California released last year, it was easily one of the year’s highlights, as well as a landmark for Blink-182. With the recent release of California [Deluxe Edition], the band have put together a full disc of addition songs, more or less as an unofficial sequel to the album.

Consisting of B-sides to the original release and some new recordings, California [Deluxe Edition] was one of my most anticipated releases this year. After waiting so many years for music from Blink-182, the decision to release bonus content is a welcome surprise that marks one of the few re-releases of an album that is actually worth the (second) price of admission.

Under normal circumstances, a record’s re-release is a passing of the baton to a new record label that wants to cash in with a couple of extra songs, or something that makes it more of a collector’s item than essential listening. California [Deluxe Edition] is something else entirely. While the Deluxe Edition isn’t a true album, nor a sequel to California, nor does it even relate the the original album in almost any way, it gives insight into the process of the band’s re-invigoration.

The Deluxe Edition is far more experimental than Blink-182 allowed themselves to be on the initial release. The pop and punk rock edge are apparent in spades, but the rhythms and emphasis on softer melodies harkens to a style of song writing reminiscent of +44 and, to an extent, Boxcar Racer. The themes are darker and more brooding. If this second disc truly originated from a surplus of B-sides, then the evolution of the true California is incredible.

California isn’t a happy record, but it acknowledges the problems the band has faced over the last few years while having still having fun. While I don’t know which of the new batch of songs originally were unused B-sides and which are new recordings, I have a good guess.

There are a series of songs that sound less fleshed out, and are lyrically darker than their companions (“Don’t Mean Anything”, “The Last Train Home”). Lyrics such as “Adrift at sea with no one left to rescue / Tonic and a fifth of gin / She said goodbye and left again / These rooms are deafening without you”.

Other songs aren’t joyful by any means, but retain the edge of classic Blink-182 that tackle the same issues without losing the playful nature of the songs (“Parking Lot”, “Wildfire”). It’s this second batch that feel written by a band more comfortable writing together and know what they are aiming for.

“Parking Lot” especially captures the magic, making constant references to older punk bands and good times. It’s a classic Blink-182 song celebrating teenage angst and the love of music as Mark shouts, “I’ll meet my friends at the Target curb / I rolled my ankle, Matt just broke his wrist / I climbed through your window at 3 a.m. / We listened to The Smiths and the Violent Femmes / We both sang ‘Why can’t I get one kiss?’”.

The Deluxe Edition is fascinating in that it shows how Blink-182 toyed with their sound while writing their comeback album and how much the band was willing to experiment without the pestering of Tom DeLonge constantly pushing for something new. “Bottom of the Ocean” is a raging rock song that almost sounds like a Britney Spears cover. “6/8” is a demented take on what Blink-182 would sound like if they tried to be Brand New.

Oddly enough, one of the album’s highlights is an acoustic version of “Bored to Death”, recorded live with a crowd singing in the background. After being the first single back from the brink, this version is much more subdued, as it no longer needs the spectacle and flash to draw back their fans. Instead, the intimacy gives the song a deeper and darker take on the world, and highlights just how perfectly Mark and Matt’s voices meld together. And the moment when the audience begins clapping along is breathtaking.

The California [Deluxe Edition] is something rare. It isn’t a full album nor is it a collection of demos. It’s at once apparent why these songs didn’t make it to the final version, and fascinating that at least half led to the creation of California, while others were spurred on by the fact that the band enjoyed writing the album so much.

While it isn’t essential to enjoy California as a whole, it’s easy to see many of these songs becoming fan favorites. This was never meant to be a record that flows along. More importantly, it’s a look into the mentality of a band reacquainting itself with making music, determined to once again conquer the world.

3/5 (Just the Second Disc)

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 has been listening to California since last July. It will be nice to have something new to spin. These really are good songs.

Most Anticipated of 2017: #9 Blink-182 Return to California

blink_182_matt_skiba_2015

Your eyes did not deceive you. News of an album’s potential re-release just cracked our top 10. California was one of the most anticipated albums of the last decade, and for everything going against it, it exceeded my expectations in almost every way. It marked the long-awaited return of a band many had thought were lost for good.

When news of California getting a re-release with bonus tracks broke last year, I looked forward to the idea of hearing a couple tracks that would have been lost in b-side purgatory but didn’t give it much thought beyond that. However, over the last couple of weeks Blink-182 have come out to say that while some b-sides are definitely in the mix, they’re also actively writing new material as well. It’s turned what would essentially be an almost forgettable re-release into something else entirely, offering one of last year’s best albums in a completely new light as a double-album.

California delivered on the promises the band made going into it. With their recent comments that the new songs for the deluxe edition being better than what was one the original release, there’s more than enough reason to be excited.

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 was introduced to pop punk by Blink-182. No matter what, new Blink-182 is always a much needed prospect.

Top 10 Songs of 2016

best-songs-of-2016

Check out our Top 10 Albums of 2016 here.

Perhaps more than ever, our top 10 songs of the year ran a gamut of emotions: heartbreak, social outcry, bittersweet, hopeful. In a year as up and down as 2016, it only makes sense. These songs cover an array of subject matter, but each one showcases the brilliance of the artist involved.

It’s always hard to pull 10 songs out of the context of a greater narrative and subjectively place them on a list. Nevertheless, we found ourselves reaching for the repeat button on the regular when these tunes graced our speakers. Take a look (and a listen) below to some of our favorite tracks from 2016.

10. Emarosa – “Helpless”

Smack-dab in the middle of the most smoldering and delicate album of Emarosa’s career lies “Helpless” – a bounding track chock full of energy and pop sensibility. On 131, a broken Bradley Walden fights for a lover with gentle pleas and fragile reflections before boiling over in this moment of heat. “If your body’s broken, love, your heart is helpless” he belts on the track’s chorus, using every inch his heralded range. Emarosa has made a career out of defying expectations and battling against the grain of vanilla song structures, but on “Helpless”, they dive headfirst into the most accessible song of their career – and the payoff is delightful. – Kiel Hauck

9. Honeyblood – “Ready for the Magic”

Although I just discovered Honeyblood within the last month, “Ready for the Magic” is a song that utterly captured my attention and hasn’t let go. It’s a perfect punk rock single – aggressive, loud and hypnotically catchy. For a garage punk song from a two-member act, it has more heart and energy than most bands with a fuller roster. A practice in simplicity, “Ready for the Magic” proves that punk rock doesn’t need to constantly redefine itself to be relevant; it just has to be good. – Kyle Schultz

8. Architects – “Gone with the Wind”

Less than three months after the release of All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us, the scene received the terrible news of Tom Searle’s passing. As lead guitarist and songwriter for British metalcore giants Architects, Searle left us with one final masterpiece, which took on a completely new and powerful meaning in light of his three-year battle with cancer. “Gone with the Wind” is a powerhouse of a song, relenting ever so slightly for the brittle lines of, “A sickness with no remedy except the ones inside of me”. Not only is the track a lesson in mechanical metalcore perfection, it’s a heartbreaking gaze inside a terrible one-sided fight. “I remember when you said to me, ‘My friend, hope is a prison’”. – KH

7. Green Day – “Bang Bang”

“Bang Bang” is easily the best single Green Day has put out in over a decade, as well as the most aggressive. The entire song is a tip of the hat to the band’s style at the beginning of their careers. It’s also one of the most controversial in the genre, as it tackles the subject of being a mass shooter. A hybrid of classic punk and 20 years of writing the most aggressive rock known to man, “Bang Bang” managed to silence anyone who has complained about the band’s evolving sound over the last decade while still pushing the band to new extremes. – KS

6. The 1975 – “Somebody Else”

Once you dig past the shiny surface of self-deprecating satire and proverbial winks at the camera, I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It is truly an album filled with a deep sincerity. Perhaps no track on the album embodies Matt Healy’s candid struggle as well as “Somebody Else” – a syrupy, synth-driven slow jam straight out of the George Michael playbook. Not only does “Somebody Else” solidify The 1975 as the leaders of the pack in an age of throwback pop influence, it covers subject matter with which we’re all painfully familiar. Even so, Healy takes it one step further, digging deep into the bitterness of seeing your lover with another: “Get someone you love / Get someone you need / Fuck that, get money”. – KH

5. Blink-182 – “Los Angeles”

The most experimental song on California, “Los Angeles” is a bridge between Blink-182 and vocalist Matt Skiba’s other love, Alkaline Trio. Meshing the sounds of ska, R&B and alternative punk , “Los Angeles” is a distinct track that begins as an Alkaline song before exploding into one of the most Blink-182 sounding bridges ever written. It’s proof that Blink-182, though making a return to their original sound, are still pushing themselves sonically. The result is one of the most memorable songs of the band’s career. – KS

4. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People”

Released on the very week of one of the most startling and terrifying presidential elections in memory, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service not only served as the acclaimed return of one of hip hop’s legendary acts, it served as the perfect protest music for the moment. Highlighting the affair is “We the People”, which finds Q-Tip mocking the despicable notion that anyone classified as “other” doesn’t belong, beginning a chorus for the ages with, “All you black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go”. It’s an anthem of dissent in a moment that left so many speechless, while simultaneously serving as a beautiful hello and goodbye to a dynamic duo. R.I.P Phife. – KH

3. Brian Fallon – “A Wonderful Life”

The lead single from his solo album, Painkillers, “A Wonderful Life” is the essential thesis for an album tracing the edges of the American Dream. The song is immediately memorable, linking the distance between Gaslight Anthem’s rock sensibilities and Fallon’s solo acoustic direction. The drum’s never ending march, the uplifting guitar, Fallon’s hopeful lyrics and the gang “Oh oh oh oh” vocals never become tiring. Though Fallon’s past work would never be described as dark or depressing, “A Wonderful Life” makes a distinct mark as a song about dreams and hope while cherishing its own bright sound. – KS

2. Kanye West – “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”

You could easily argue “Ultralight Beam” as the track from The Life of Pablo deserving of this spot on our list. A wave of gospel accompanied by the verse of the year, courtesy of Chance the Rapper, showcases Ye as the elevator of new voices. It’s the album’s following track, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” that displays his more complicated and troubling side. Future’s intro of “If Young Metro don’t trust you, I’m gon’ shoot you” immediately crashes into Kid Cudi’s opening chorus of “Beautiful morning, you’re the sun in my morning, babe”. The track is the ultimate display of West’s duality, morphing from a tasteless story about meaningless sex with a model into a fast-paced confessional booth just moments later. Before we can react, Kanye has already predestined our response: “Everybody gonna say something / I’d be worried if they said nothing”. – KH

1. Yellowcard – “Rest in Peace”

The last great Yellowcard single, “Rest in Peace” is perfect in construction. A straightforward rock song, the track was released alongside a statement that Yellowcard would be disbanding after the release of their self-titled album. Featuring a music video highlighting their career and inviting fans to see them off with one final tour, “Rest in Peace” will always be a symbol of the band’s love of what they accomplished and their loyal fans. With Sean Mackin’s violin leading the charge, Ryan Key’s sprawling vocals, and a swelling guitar solo, “Rest in Peace” tackles everything that made Yellowcard one of the best bands in rock while marking one of the most memorable send offs in music. – KS

Honorable Mention:

Halsey – “Colours”
Frank Ocean – “Pink + White”
Chance the Rapper – “No Problem”
Letlive. – “Good Mourning, America”
Future featuring The Weeknd – “Low Life”
Blink-182 – “Built This Pool”

Posted 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.

Top 10 Albums of 2016

best-albums-of-2016

Check out our Top 10 Songs of 2016 here.

In 2016, the concept of an album became more ambiguous than ever. For some, it meant a collection of songs not for sale, but presented as a streaming mixtape. For others, it was a full multimedia experience across multiple platforms. In some cases, it was an unfinished product, subject to revisions as time passes.

Still, the concept of absorbing a musical experience, and the wonder that experience brings, remains constant. There’s little argument surrounding the many downfalls and frustrations that 2016 brought our way, but even in the midst of disturbance, we found solace in the music below. These albums not only spoke to our hearts and made sense of the world around us, in some cases, they provided a much needed escape.

Without further ado, the top 10 albums of 2016:

10-revolution-radioGreen Day – Revolution Radio

Revolution Radio restored the legacy of Green Day. Cohesive, poetically political and loud, Revolution Radio is the ultimate summation of the band’s last decade. Leading the charge with one of their biggest and best singles in years (“Bang Bang”), Revolution Radio forgoes the rock opera format, but maintains the political defiance that only Billie Joe Armstrong can pen. A masterful mix of aggressive punk and some of the poppiest songs the band has written (“Youngblood”, “Still Breathing”), Revolution Radio masks the undertones of classic rock that made 21st Century Breakdown so distinctive and makes each track feel like a callback to their entire career. – Kyle Schultz

9-lemonadeBeyoncé – Lemonade

In the spirit of making Lemonade from lemons, Beyoncé used 2016 as an opportunity to speak on life’s ills. Lemonade is at once deeply personal and relatable – an album that speaks to a very specific situation while being unafraid to reach beyond, becoming something political and powerful in the process. From the deep burn of “Pray You Catch Me” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to the mighty declarations within “Freedom” and “Formation”, Beyoncé delivers catharsis in a variety of vehicles. Lemonade is not only her most diverse collection of songs – it’s also her boldest artistic statement, embracing her identity in the face of affliction. – Kiel Hauck

8-home-inside-my-headReal Friends – The Home Inside My Head

Though Real Friends have been a very well collected and open band for years, The Home Inside My Head is their first great record. Establishing the band as one of the defining pop punk acts of the day, vocalist Dan Lambton’s open lyricism not only makes emo cool again, it takes a brutal look at the struggle with depression and loneliness in ways most of their peers will never touch. Though The Home Inside My Head features songs about girls, the thematic setting of coping with and understanding mental battles paints them in a light that finds Lambton trying to discover if his relationships are, in fact, crumbling apart, or if he’s disillusioned enough to not recognize that everything might be okay outside of his own perception. This is the record that marked Real Friends as one of the great bands of the pop punk revival. – KS

7-along-the-shadowSaosin – Along the Shadow

It only took 13 years for Anthony Green to reunite with his original brethren in Saosin, but boy, oh boy, was it worth the wait. The post-hardcore giants had plenty of time to craft what very well may be their final effort, but Along the Shadow puts to shame every band that attempted to follow in their footsteps. From Alex Rodriguez’s fury behind the drum kit to Beau Burchell’s squealing guitar riffs, the album truly feels like the perfect homecoming for Green’s signature croon. The band tries their hand at a few new tricks, but by and large, this record is about perfecting an already impeccable craft. “Our days it pays to keep from burning out / You used to care so much”, Green wails on “Control and the Urge to Pray”. If it’s a subtle nod at our collective need for nostalgia and comfort, so be it. Along the Shadow is a damn fine record, even without the history. – KH

6-materialBlaqk Audio – Material

Material is the Blaqk Audio album I’ve waited nine years for: Though Bright Black Heaven was a good album, it sounded dated by the time of its release. Material makes its mark as the most cohesive Blaqk Audio release, and Jade’s most diverse sounding in terms of writing. Thematically, one of Davy Havok’s darkest, Material manages to find the band’s poppiest moments (“First to Love”) and their most exploratory (“Annointed”). Where many electronic groups run the risk of sounding too similar to themselves, much less their peers, Blaqk Audio have forged their own stake in the genre deeper than most anyone else. – KS

5-i-like-it-when-you-sleepThe 1975 – I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It

Spurned by boy band comparisons, Manchester’s The 1975 went all in on their pop-drenched sophomore effort, I Like it When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It. What was once black and white is now awash in pink, fluorescent light. What was once aloof is now center stage and pleading for attention. Matthew Healy has become one of the most brilliant frontmen in rock, with his flair for the dramatic eclipsed only by his deep sincerity. Just as quickly as tracks like “Love Me” cause you to smirk, “If I Believe You” and “Nana” trigger a gasp. I Like it When You Sleep is deeply troubled and full of existential dread, but damn if it’s not an absolute blast to listen to. – KH

4-painkillersBrian Fallon – Painkillers

One of the biggest surprises of the year, Painkillers managed to completely revive Brian Fallon in ways most artists never see. Though Gaslight Anthem are easily one of the best bands of the last decade, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t sound tired on their last album. Fallon’s solo debut manages to capture the essence of a classic record while pushing a unique sound blending Americana and pop. Most importantly (and especially if you see him live), you can feel how much Fallon enjoyed himself writing the record. It’s one of the most impressive solo debuts of any artist, and one of the few albums where nearly every song should be a single. – KS

3-coloring-bookChance the Rapper – Coloring Book

“If one more label try to stop me / It’s gon’ be some dreadhead n****s in the lobby”. Chance the Rapper needs not what labels have to offer, paving his own way in his own way in 2016. What began with the most breathtaking verse of the year on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” quickly turned into a coming out party for the ages with the release of Coloring Book. From indie darling to hip hop royalty, Chance battled against a year of frustration by celebrating the joy of being alive. “Man, I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it / If I die, I’ll prolly cry at my own service” he gleefully proclaims on “All We Got”. Chance’s positivity (and smile) is contagious – one spin of Coloring Book and you’re hooked. – KH

2-californiaBlink-182 – California

California is everything I’ve wanted from Blink-182 for over a decade. It embraces the fun aesthetic of pop punk, experiments with itself and tackles the more uncomfortable moments of the band’s last few years (“San Diego”).  Most importantly, it sounds like the band themselves love it. The classic throwbacks (“She’s Out of Her Mind”) stand as tall as the more experimental moments (“Los Angeles”) without sounding as displaced or divisive as some of the past few albums. Matt Skiba makes an almost perfect debut sharing vocal duties with Mark Hoppus. Most importantly, for a band rediscovering themselves after such a tumultuous decade and learning to move forward with a new member for the first time, California marks a defiant line in the sand that gives faith to a loyal fanbase who has waited for something like this. In what might be one of the great comeback stories in music, Blink-182’s future, for once, is inexplicably exciting. – KS

1-blondeFrank Ocean – Blonde

In a year in which album releases were anything but traditional, Frank Ocean struck like a thief in the night. First, it was the streaming audio/visual experience of Endless, followed shortly by pop up shops selling Boys Don’t Cry magazines with hidden CDs inside. By the time Blonde finally hit the masses in late August, it was hard to know what to expect of an album four years in the making.

At its core, Blonde is a meandering blend of sexuality and existential philosophy that moves at its own pace. Frank’s intoxicating voice couples perfectly with his own sense of melancholy, inviting us into his most personal meditations without fear. Blonde is brave, to be sure, but it’s also the collective therapy session we needed in the wake of 2016. Who knows when Frank Ocean will return – for now, we’ve got plenty to chew on. – KH

Honorable Mention

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Architects – All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Yellowcard – Yellowcard
Emarosa – 131
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled Unmastered

Posted 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.

Blink-182 Caps Off Summer in Style on California Tour

blink182-tour-splash

As the cool nights and crisp air of autumn arrive, there’s really no better way to celebrate the passing of another summer season than with one last night of pop punk bliss. Fortunately for us all, blink-182 has provided just such an affair with their latest tour.

Not many expected one of 2016’s biggest tours to involve blink-182, especially after another messy fallout with Tom Delonge early last year, but the band has rebounded in a way that seems to defy logic. Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba hasn’t just filled Tom’s shoes – he’s elevated the band to another level with his stellar performance on blink’s latest release, California.

As the band embarks on yet another trek through the country’s biggest amphitheaters, they’ve brought out the big guns in support. All American Rejects and A Day to Remember warmed the stage for the California Tour’s recent stop in Indianapolis – two bands you wouldn’t typically expect to find on an opening bill.

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All American Rejects

All American Rejects

It’s been a minute since The All American Rejects have found themselves at the forefront of the pop culture ethos, but there’s no denying their credentials. While 2012’s Kids in the Street didn’t match past commercial and critical success, the band seems as strong as ever onstage as they prepare for their fifth full length release.

Tyson Ritter sounds every bit as much of the showman he was when the band broke through to the mainstream just over a decade ago. In addition to a taste of what’s to come with “DGAF”, the band rips through fan favorites like “Move Along”, “Swing, Swing” and “Gives You Hell” with ease. Here’s hoping for a return to the pop gold that made past releases from the band such a treat.

Having watched A Day to Remember play club shows and side stages at Warped Tour over the past several years, I actually got choked up seeing the band take the stage in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. For all of the hard work the band has put in, for all of the relentless touring, for all of the label battles and determination to stay true to their craft, this feels like a rightful reward for A Day to Remember.

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

Jeremy McKinnon has always had a stage presence worthy of large crowds, and his confidence was on full display in Indianapolis. McKinnon struts from side to side, riling the crowd and effortlessly transitioning between his signature growls and clean vocals. The band devoted one song of their set to their latest release, Bad Vibrations, choosing to play a variety of fan favorites, including the obvious opener, “The Downfall of Us All” and crowd-pleasers like “Right Back at It Again” and “All I Want”.

The set is punctuated by typical ADTR fare: beach balls bouncing atop the massive crowd, synchronized head-banging to supplement the band’s breakdowns, and one of the most colorful and playful stage set-ups you’ll ever see. The entire production is spot-on, offering gratification to long-time fans and a worthy introduction for newcomers. Just to show that time hasn’t worn the band thin or softened their delivery, A Day to Remember offers the night’s most pulse-pounding moment with “2nd Sucks”.

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I’ll admit that the opening moments when blink-182 took the stage felt slightly odd – it took a few seconds before Skiba’s presence sunk in. Opening with “Feeling This”, Skiba immediately was pushed to the forefront, belting out the verses of the song and then harmonizing with Mark Hoppus atop the song’s chorus. As one of my favorite blink songs came to a close with the track’s swirling conclusion, I was fully immersed. Matt Skiba belongs on this stage.

blink-182

blink-182

The band played a 25-song set full of old standards and new songs from this summer’s California. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that not a single track from 2011’s odd, uncomfortable comeback album Neighborhoods was present on the setlist. Instead, blink-182 showed off their return as the fun-loving carefree pop punk band we all fell in love with.

Amid exciting new songs like “Bored to Death”, “San Diego”, “Kings of the Weekend” and “Los Angeles”, blink offered up a variety of delightfully juvenile throwbacks like “Family Reunion”, “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” and “Dysentery Gary”. Is it weird or problematic that we’re all still singing and laughing along to these songs? Who cares.

Per usual, Travis Barker shines behind the kit, getting his usual drum solo portion of the set to show off his skills. The trio feels more in sync on stage than blink has in years. Not to slight Delonge, but it’s clear that Skiba is a better fit for the band in nearly every at this point in their career. We’ll always be able to cherish the Mark, Tom and Travis days, but 2016 is all about moving forward.

It’s delightful to see blink-182 having fun again, especially when it seemed possible that the band might be done for good as little as 18 months ago. Instead, they’ve capped off another summer with a tour for the ages and their best album in years. We’re glad to have you back, guys.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Blink-182 – California

blink_182_matt_skiba_2015

Blink-182 has long been an institution of music. The burden of reinventing themselves to reassure fans who have been through a decade of drama and disappointment is a heavy one. California is not a new Enema of the State, but it adds something that hasn’t seemed to be in their recordings for quite some time: they sound like they want to be there.

California is a fun record. There are no “First Date” or “The Rock Show” mega-anthems, and there shouldn’t be. What could have been a disaster of replacing a primary songwriter after 20 years, Matt Skiba is still getting his footing to live up to a band that, essentially, brought pop punk and skatepunk to the mainstream.

California is not a serious record, a notion we get straight out of the gate during “Cynical”. After a meaningful message of Mark Hoppus addressing everyone who questioned moving on without Tom, (“There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up / You said everything you’ll ever say”), just as the guitars take off and a massive drum solo from Travis Barker rages, the music pauses ever so slightly for someone to make an irritated noise as though they just messed up the song during recording to start over.

That is what differentiates California from what Blink-182 had become – it’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s simple, it’s loud and it will have you attempting to sing along on the first listen. Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba’s call and return vocals, and the trade off of verses is seamless. Barker’s drumming phenomenal. Per usual, Hoppus’ bass lines are crisp, deliberate and deep.

Skiba, taking the reigns for guitar, weaves himself into the worthy successor we’d have hoped for. The riffs are light and pop perfectly. He understands what Blink-182 sounds like and differentiates that style of songwriting so that, for the most part, it doesn’t sound like it was pulled from an Alkaline Trio record (the one exception arguably being “Los Angeles”). Some of the guitar riffs sound like they could have been written by Tom at any point (“The Only Thing That Matters”), which seems like more of a tip of respect than ripping off an idea.

As the second singer, Skiba is terrific. His vocals seem a bit higher and pronounced that they do with Alkaline Trio, and at certain pitches, he sounds like Tom. More often than not though, his deeper pitch blends eerily with Mark Hoppus and creates a rich harmony, occasionally accented by Skiba’s whimper between notes.

The trio experiments lightly on songs like “Los Angeles”, relying on Barker’s drumming and a shaky guitar to produce a song that has light R&B flavors and drops into a dark rock chorus. This is the one song that sounds like it could have been an Alkaline Trio song before exploding completely into a bridge that is pure Blink-182 under Hoppus’ vocals.

Some of the more somber notes and spacey synth (“Left Alone”) feel like an homage to Tom, and sound like something he would have written himself. “Bored to Death” already feels like a staple for the band, and if you haven’t heard it already, it has already lauded itself as the most successful single for the band since “Miss You”. The temperament between soft verses to a loud chorus and sweeping backing vocals is fantastic work of cooperation between each band member.

For the most part though, California is a collection of good-to-fantastic pop punk songs that fit perfectly in-sync with the rest of their discography. “Teenage Satellites” is a fast jam with a soaring chorus and is perhaps the song that best focuses solely on Matt Skiba. It’s fun, romantic and demands to be sung aloud. “Kings of the Weekend” charges in a slow build before throwing itself headlong into the chorus, celebrating punk rock music as the savior to boring nights.

“She’s Out of Her Mind” might be the most ‘classic’ song on the album, as it sounds like a spiritual successor to “The Rock Show” in its build up, punctuated chorus and raging guitar. Each element is perfectly written to stay stuck in your head for-fucking-ever.

On my first listen, there were a few songs that I thought could have been pruned or worked on a bit more to make the album flow a bit better, but after listening to it a few times, I’m happy for everything that is on it. Fans who enjoyed any part of Blink-182’s career will find something on here to satisfy them. Though I love the joke songs (“Built This Pool”, “Brohemian Rhapsody”), they don’t flow as well with the larger picture the way that “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” did.

If there is one critique of the album that I have, it is that Skiba and Hoppus sound identical at times. I took me several listens to be able to differentiate them from time to time from certain songs (“Bored to Death”, “Sober”) but it may just be me writing when I should be paying attention. Mark Hoppus has always been my favorite member of the Blink team, but the lack of high pitch vocals made me realize how much I missed Tom’s voice. When Skiba hits the higher notes, it makes it all the more pronounced. That said. I wish that Skiba got more solo songs with Hoppus taking backing vocals.

California is a welcome return to form for a band that has seemed lost for a years. Without the infighting and drama, this is easily the best work Blink-182 have put out in over a decade. It’s cohesive, memorable in an instant, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a reminder of how damn much I’ve missed  Blink-182 at the highlight of their career. It is the reason why the band has refused to give up, but why we as fans have clamored for more releases for years. California is the sound of a band rediscovering itself, and the promise of what the future holds for a group that most believed were trapped in the past.

To new beginnings.

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 got into pop punk because of Blink-182. He has spun Enema of the State more times than he’s told his mother he loves her.