The Best Songs of 2018

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2018 here.

In 2018, the idea of what one song can accomplish and the story it can tell outside the context of an album continued to evolve. Certainly, songs on this list work best within the overarching narrative of the album they exist on, but many others told us a story worth unpacking in a variety of intriguing ways.

Some offered commentary that put previous works by the artist in a new light. Some were driven to new heights by an accompanying music video that expounded on the story within. Others were just fantastic songs to help chase away a year of bad news. They all had a part to play and all proved worthy to make our list of Best Songs of 2018. Take a look – and a listen.

15. mewithoutYou – “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)”

This was the perfect single for mewithoutYou to release as a taste of [Untitled]. It fits the tone of the album perfectly and is a wonderful showcase of both Aaron’s vocals and the band’s musicianship. It breaks new ground for the band, but sounds like it could be a B-side on [A→B] Life. I love the intensity of the crescendo. I love the honest call for social unity in the lyrics. The video is super fun. This song has everything we expect from the band and more. – Nadia Paiva

14. Pronoun – “Wrong”

Pronoun were one of the biggest surprises for me this year. Opening for Justin Pierre, Pronoun hypnotized a full theater into believing that they are one random Tuesday afternoon away from being the biggest band in the country. “Wrong” is an emotional song about the conflict of being angry at someone and the turmoil of coming to terms with conflicting feelings. Simple guitar melodies and drums balance soft vocals and a bouncing synth before exploding towards an unleashed pop guitar. “Wrong” is a perfect introduction to a band that is still finding their footing in the world. – Kyle Schultz

13. The Wonder Years – “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me”

This was undoubtably my favorite track on Sister Cities. I wrote a lot about it in my review of the album but I feel it’s worth mentioning again just how important this track is to the album. It ties together the entire theme: being away from home when you should really be there. Dan Campbell has to rely on the fact that the only thing he and his loved ones have in common at the moment is the ocean that’s between them to make himself feel better about being away at such a pivotal point in time. It’s heart-wrenching in a way that only The Wonder Years can pull off.– NP

12. Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”

Did Kacey Musgraves write a song about me? Listening to the lyrics of “High Horse”, it’s hard not to feel the culprit, because haven’t we all been a jerk sometimes? “’Cause everyone knows someone who kills the buzz / Every time they open up their mouth”, she sings during the track’s irresistible, radio-ready pre-chorus. “High Horse” is the gateway drug (haha, get it?) to Golden Hour by infusing dance and disco into this uniquely country track and serves as the showcase of how Musgraves is driving the genre into a new era. So maybe “High Horse” is actually directed at all those staunch and rigid country music gatekeepers? Or maybe it’s just about me after all. – Kiel Hauck

11. Saves the Day – “Suzuki”

While 9 is an album full of off-beat, meta songs, “Suzuki” is arguably the most honest. At barely over a minute long, “Suzuki” is not only aware that it is a song, it knows what album it’s on (“I played on Can’t Slow Down so many years ago / Writing album number nine right now”). If Saves The Day is known for anything, it’s a legacy of rock music with vivid imagery painting honest emotions. Not only does singer Chris Conley give the address of where he is, he reflects on the couch, the room and his friends who inspired his career. Equal parts raging and restrained, “Suzuki” is a reflection and acknowledgement of 20 years worth of music, and appreciative of his career. With cool refrain, Conley finishes with, “So in love with life, sometimes it’s all too much / Thank you all forever and always”. – KS

10. Pianos Become the Teeth – “Love on Repeat”

This song makes the list because of how it’s made me feel since it was released and because of the fact that I’ve probably heard it at least once a day since February 15th, which means I’ve listened to it at least 293 times. The whole album always hits the spot for me, but something about this track stood out to me immediately from the first listen. The music drives with such fervor and feeling that you almost can’t help feeling something when it starts, and then all the way through till the end. – NP

9. Fall Out Boy – “Church”

On an album full of epic pop songs, “Church” is a stand-out. The soulful song rages with deep drums and bass tracks and a choir backing one of Patrick Stump’s best vocal performances to date. “Church” manages to be dark, moody and romantic all at once. The conflicting experiences of isolation (“I love the world, but I just don’t love the way it makes me feel”) and romance (“My sanctuary, you’re holy to me”) describe the experiences of religion that many feel. Pete Wentz’s ominous bass lines tread against Stump’s uplifting voice to create an experience equally judgmental and hopeful. – KS

8. Vince Staples – “Feels Like Summer”

At first blush, Vince Staples third studio album, FM!, plays like a radio broadcast serving as soundtrack to a summertime Long Beach barbecue. Listen closer and you’ll find Staples telling stories of the mundanity of violence in his neighborhood. It’s another blunt and beautiful release from one of the most subversive artists of our time, and album opener “Feels Like Summer” sets the stage perfectly. Atop a bass-heavy summery beat, Vince begins with the lines, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon’ party ‘til the sun or the guns come out”. The cues are easy to miss on a track this smooth, highlighted by a chorus for the ages from Ty Dolla $ign. After a second verse reflecting on friends and family lost, Staples coolly states, “Moved on, life fast like that”. It’s an appropriate aside for a song this affecting and complex that clocks in at a mere 2:29. – KH

7. Watsky – “Welcome to the Family”

I’m not usually one to turn on hip-hop…I leave that to Kiel, but this song is too good to ignore. I’ve been listening to Watsky for years and I feel that this is his best release to date. “Welcome to the Family” came out just before my wedding and it’s become a special track for my husband and I. It’s all about facing things together and making it work even though life is hard. It makes me cry pretty much every time I hear it because it’s so relatable. We all deserve love and this Watsky song is a great reminder of that. – NP

6. Brian Fallon – “Little Nightmares”

“Little Nightmares” scared me so much upon first listen that I simply turned off the music and left my apartment to seek friends for a reassuring drink. Decorated in bouncing guitars and an energetic keyboard, Fallon’s warbling voice tells a story about a couple unraveling with the same inner demons while they tell each other that it will all be okay. The song is told from the shy narrator’s perspective (“All my life, I was the quiet kind / I just kept to myself and my dreaming”) as they attempt to find the courage to reassure their partner during a breakdown (“My words get lost and haunt the back of my throat / And little nightmares keep telling me you’ll go”). The energy of the song hides the darkness, much in the same way that the narrator tries to shield their partner. But there is hope that pours through as they find their courage, and a sense of security finally permeates as Fallon sings, “Don’t you know there’s an ocean of hope / Underneath the grey sky where you’re dreaming”. Fallon is at his emotional and storytelling best during “Little Nightmares” as he manages to break our hearts and then let us know that it will all be okay in the end. – KS

5. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next”

During a year in which Ariana Grande stood at front and center of the pop culture zeitgeist, it wasn’t her high profile relationships or even the success of her fourth album Sweetener that stood as her signature moment. Instead, it was a standalone single in the aftermath, a song so full of hope, given the circumstances, that it was impossible not to enjoy. And oh yeah, it’s one hell of a pop song. “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now I’m amazing”, Grande tells us, knowing full well of our encyclopedic knowledge of her private life. Here, she invites us to look past it all on a song of self-love and empowerment. With her eyes set forward, “next” could mean anything for Grande – the pop world is hers and she is intent on letting nothing hold her back.– KH

4. Childish Gambino – “This is America”

In many ways, “This is America” is the quintessential 2018 song – existing not just as a song itself, but as a multi-media experience of cultural commentary meant to provoke a wide range of emotions before leaning into the continued conversation around race and violence in our country. Donald Glover is a genius in that way, far too coy to meet our general expectations but driven to create something that makes us question them. The brilliance of “This is America” lives largely in the music video – a kind of short art film that teases out and expands upon the song’s minimal and ambiguous lyrics, giving us a grander picture of statement. It’s a stark and affecting display of the black experience in America, fading into a haunting ending – a prolonged shot of a terrified Glover running for his life. Don’t let the weight of it all stop you from unpacking – the progress is meant to begin when the music stops.– KH

3. Senses Fail – “Double Cross”

“Double Cross” is one of pop punk’s most heartbreaking songs, even though Senses Fail are known primarily for hardcore music. It is a memorial to the punk scene Senses Fail started in, and possibly to past members of the band itself. Singer/ songwriter Buddy Nielsen reflects on being one of the last of his generation still active after watching his friends fall off this career path. Almost mocking the pop punk scene of the early 2000’s, “Double Cross” is the poppiest song of the band’s career, even as Nielsen rages, “I’ve been spilling my guts out on the stage / I’ve spent the best years of my life / Drinking myself to sleep at night / And now the glory days have all but faded”. Nielsen comes across equally angry, sad and apologetic as he sings, “Where is the passion that you used to have when music was the only thing that you had”. Making it as a musician is the dream of countless people, and “Double Cross” expresses the regret of ‘making it’ but discovering you stand upon the sacrifice and broken dreams of countless friends, as well. – KS

2. The 1975 – “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

This is without a doubt the best song The 1975 have released. I said it about “Robbers” from 2013’s self titled, and about “Somebody Else” from 2016’s I like it when you sleep, but those have been pushed aside for this epic of a track. It’s pretty unassuming at the start, but by the end of it, you’ve been swept into a whirlwind of some of Matty’s best vocals and some of the band’s most well-composed guitar work of their career. The strings at the end totally make it even more perfect. I could listen to it all day. – NP

1. Drake – “Nice for What”

As Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation turns 20, Drake’s “Nice for What” samples “Ex-Factor” while creating a female empowerment anthem. It’s the song that 2018 needed and hip hop itself needed even more. Not only is the track infectious (note the timeless brilliance of Lauryn Hill), but it flips the typical hip hop club anthem on its head, dropping degrading references to women in favor of an impressed observer, noting everything as worthy of praise.

In the lines, “With your phone out, gotta hit them angles / With your phone out, snappin’ like you Fabo / And you showing off, but it’s alright”, Drake makes note of even the most mundane of activities. Here, selfies and social media posts are earned – rewards for hard work and a deserved night out with friends. Leave it to Drake to turn toxic notions of a digital culture inside out. Leave it to Drake to usurp navel-gazing tendencies for an honest and deep look at women, who have remained one-dimensional in this context for far too long. – KH

Honorable Mention:

As It Is – “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)”
Pusha T – “If You Know, You Know”
Underoath – “On My Teeth”
Bring Me the Horizon – “Mantra”
Cardi B – “I Like It”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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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.

Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

Brian-Fallon-1

I watched Brian Fallon play “A Wonderful Life” on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah the other night, and although Trevor’s questions after the song seemed shallow and awkward, Fallon’s performance was anything but. Painkillers, his first solo album, can seem at times slightly off-putting considering how fleshed out The Gaslight Anthem can be. But seeing Brian standing at the mic, the fire in his eyes as he sang, with three other guitarists behind him, it became immediately clear that Painkillers is a work of passion and deeper than what appears on the surface.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

By “off-putting,” I don’t mean any harm, but rather that on first listen, it sounds like Brian Fallon played it safe: simple beats, xylophone melodies, Americana-esque guitar ballads that tip-toe the line between folk and indie rock. Essentially, The Gaslight Anthem stripped of the heavy guitar.

But Painkillers is an intricately woven fabric. With the essential pop songs, such as “A Wonderful Life”, the songs are created in a fashion that helps the music tell the story with a touch of country-infused pop. The central melody for “Painkillers” is a simple guitar riff that repeats throughout the song as though you’re staring up at the ceiling and watching the room spin in circles as Fallon sings, “And we wanted love like it was a drug / All we wanted was a little relief, and every heart in between / They were painkillers to me”, hiding the chorus of backing vocals and intricate slashes of the guitar.

Similarly, “Smoke” is essentially centered on the crisp beat light taps of the drum, and a swell of hand claps that diminish the guitar and punctuated piano as though lost in a foggy room. The slides of the electric guitar over the hand claps has a wonderful country-esque touch that seems to lift the fog as Fallon sings soberly, “And the black clouds came and darkened all our insides / There were newspaper clippings with horrible headlines / Of doom and despair and your name and my name said / ‘Who will save you from the truth of the matter, that your love, though like gold, is gone?’”

Not everything sounds like an experimental indie song though. “Steve McQueen” is a heartfelt acoustic ballad, with the gentle tap of the snare and egg shaker almost louder than the guitars and somber piano, as Fallon reminisces of faltered dreams. “Open All Night” is a bluesy country song that finds the conclusion of a loose story woven throughout the album of returning to the lights of large cities and the realization that the girl he’s been chasing is gone, for the better of both of them. “And I will never know the town where you finally settled down / With the top back on a Cadillac and your sunglasses on/  And you can’t make me whole, I have to find that on my own”.

“Rosemary”, one of the album’s true highlights and one of the best songs Fallon has ever written, is a rampaging rock song with sweet xylophone spread across the bridges. It is a back and forth story of a couple essentially discovering that they’re falling apart, and lead character Rosemary finding her self worth through the experience amidst garage rock shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

What Brian Fallon has done with Painkillers is pull off the best aspects of what was accomplished with The Gaslight Anthem and strip it down to a minimum. The guitars are quiet, the beats simple and the lull of the shaker takes precedence over flashy guitar solos. But what it makes room for is emotional storytelling. Anyone used to Gaslight’s rock might need a little coaxing into the softer tone of the album, but the passion on this album is something that couldn’t have been done any other way: Springsteen inspiration blasting at full force.

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 saw Brian Fallon live for the first time outside of The Gaslight Anthem. He sold out the House of Blues without even having a record out. The man is a talent.

Review: AM Taxi – Bastards of the Deep Blue Sea

am-taxiFollowing their departure from Virgin Records, Chicago’s AM Taxi was relatively quiet for a couple of years. Bastards of the Deep Blue Sea is their second EP of 2014. At only four songs, the release is short, sweet and succinct where the earlier King of the Pond EP felt a bit uneven. AM Taxi don’t quite expand their sound as much as they play to their strengths to dominate the release.

Bastards of the Deep Blue Sea shows AM Taxi at their best with loud guitars, stadium style choruses and professional hooks. “Frostbit” is a fast song that fits in amongst the band’s most energetic works, while the more somber “Reckless In the Moonlight” sounds like a low-fi dance song ala’ Bloc Party.

One of Adam Krier’s (Lucky Boys Confusion) main strengths as a songwriter is crafting colossal hooks and chord progressions leading up to an incredibly powerful chorus (“I Don’t Like Your Neighborhood”). This time around is no different as he and Jay Marino’s guitars wield a healthy mix of punk and alternative sounds that take the current scene bands to task even though they would’ve fit in perfectly anywhere in the last two decades. Krier is also behind the newly implemented keyboards that feature prominently throughout the first couple of songs.

Jason Schultejann’s (LBC) bass is slightly hidden under the production but isn’t held back from waging incredible melodies to bounce the song along. Although he doesn’t venture too far out to steal the show, Chris Smith’s drumming and percussion is thunderously hypnotic as I often found myself drawn into just the beat alone.

Krier’s vocals are an addicting mix of Brian Fallon’s (The Gaslight Anthem) scratchy vocals and fellow Lucky Boys Confusion member Stubhy Pandav’s timing and emotional outpour. It does sound like he has two volumes that he likes to fall back to (quiet almost spoken-word and loud shouts) but they’re put to effective and rigorous use. Krier’s voice was made for rock music, and his shouts are highlighted with swarming gang vocals.

Lyrically, Krier leans on the anthems of rebellion and inner strength. On “Reckless in the Moonlight” he sings, “The kids on Center Street are reckless in the moonlight/ We stay together, we’re drinking through the night we are nothing if not brave, we’re stronger than before/ But hey, We’re not afraid to be afraid of anything anymore”.

Bastards of the Deep Blue Sea is a nice taste of the band back in action. Although they’ve been actively touring the Chicagoland area, it took four years for a proper release of any kind from the band. The main downside to the EP is that it’s over before you’re able to really bite into it. If the writing is any indication though, their next LP is going to be phenomenal.

3.5/5

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 has seen LBC almost a dozen times over the last five years. It’s not creepy obsessive, it’s love.

Review: The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

the-gaslight-anthem

The Gaslight Anthem have always felt a little out of place in the scene that they find themselves in. They’re a little too influenced by Americana and just a tad too little punk to really fit nicely where you want them to compared with their peers. But that difference is what guarantees their talent; each and every record is very much worthy of your attention.

Get Hurt is another example of their ever growing talent at song writing. Instead of infusing their music with energy just to stay on par with past records, Get Hurt steps down and paces itself to ensure that you’re paying attention.

With exception to the first track, Get Hurt sounds like a Gaslight album. It sounds like an electric folk record, with just a taste of punk. This is at once the heaviest and softest album of the band’s career. The mixture of sounds can be unsettling at first. The guitars are savagely fuzzy and rough, in the same vein as Weezer’s Maladroit, and not nearly as neat and trim as anything from American Slang or The ’59 Sound. But the hard guitars are cut to size with soft tracks held together with the soft thump of the pedal drum and soft strumming every few songs.

While breaking the energy isn’t anything new for The Gaslight Anthem, the focus has never been this heavy on it. Often times, it sounds like a loving mixture of Brand New’s more somber moments and The Get Up Kids circa On a Wire, held tight with Brian Fallon’s scratchy vocals. While the off and on bouts of energy can seem neurotic at times, the switches keep the songs from sounding too similar and gives each its own chance to ignite at any second.

The greatest asset to the sound of Get Hurt is drummer Benny Horowitz’ steady beat throughout the album. He never seems to go crazy at any point, instead maintaining the restraint that is key to the style of the record. Even as the guitars lose their energy, the drums stay strong, dampening just enough to set the pace.

Alex Levine’s bass lines ride the beat wonderfully, playfully bouncing throughout the album. Alex Rosamilia and Brian Fallon’s guitar work are the biggest differences in sound, as they are constantly shifting from the deep crackle of distorted power chords to the jangling pop of acoustic folk. The way that they test and toy with genres is endearing.

Title track “Get Hurt” is as soft as a song can be as it opens with almost a minute of just soft drumming and the guilded bounce of the bass propping Fallon’s voice before breaking out into a chorus equal parts subdued Brand New and Jimmy Eat World. “Helter Skelter” finds a more traditional sounding Gaslight song in the loud rock and hypnotizing guitar notes overpowering chords and bass lines as Fallon shouts back. “Selected Poems” starts off quiet against the click of Horowitz’s drum sticks before breaking into a frenzied chorus reminiscent of Weezer (especially the addicting guitar solo).

Lyrically, Fallon sounds similar to past Gaslight albums; a healthy mix of storytelling, regret and lost love. That not a dig by any means. As a lyricist, Fallon is able to tap into a manner of storytelling that feels authentic and classic without coming off as generic or boring. One of the best examples is in “1,000 Years”, as Fallon sings, “’Don’t look back,’ I heard a voice. In velvet I couldn’t see. The pictures were black and white, and the details were in between. I heard about a woman once who did everything ever asked of her. She died last week and her last words were, ‘It wasn’t worth it’”.

There are few happy endings to these songs if any, but that should be expected with an album titled Get Hurt. But instead of a depressed theme, the album abounds in the maturity and understanding of pain that accompanies growing up. Though the record is steeped in regret, it’s not bitter, such as during “Red Violins” when he sings, “Twenty pounds of curses came to visit me tonight. Salt for all the cuts, blankets for the cold, prayers to keep the devil far away from those I love. And there were red violins playing in my dreams. One for me, and two for me, and one at Jesus’ feet. And one I only reach to for sympathy”.

Get Hurt is in many ways a concept album exploring pain and regret, and in others the reconciliation and understanding of it. Though I can’t truthfully say that any of the songs have become my new all-time favorites from the band, there are significant staples to their discography that will be necessary for live shows. Regardless, Get Hurt is a powerful record of sublime skill.

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.