The Best Albums of 2020

Mercifully, 2020 is winding to an end. Not that a simple turn of the calendar will solve all of our problems, but as we reach the end of the year, there is a lot to process and reflect on – and maybe even learn from. One thing that has been a constant for the team at It’s All Dead this year is music. Music as a reprieve, music as a distraction, music as a friend. So we take a moment away from the dread to focus on some albums that brought us joy and helped us through the toughest moments of the past year.

A quick note before we dive into the list: Our goal each year is to give a clear representation of the music that mattered to us the most while also reflecting the music that simply mattered. The larger the area in the middle of that Venn diagram, the higher it ranks on the list. Noticeably absent on this year’s list is the album that arguably mattered the most: Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

During our team conversations as we began working on our end-of-the-year features, we realized that none of us had spent enough time with the album to warrant it making the list without it feeling extremely disingenuous. Right or wrong, we made the call to leave it off while acknowledging the impact of the album. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen.

So here we go. Take a look – and as always – let us know your favorite albums of the year in the replies!

15. Hot Mulligan – You’ll Be Fine

I feel like I often end up pulling some wild cards into our year-end lists, and this year my wild card is You’ll Be Fine. I meant to write about it when it released in March, but this year took a lot out of me which translated to a lot more listening than writing. For me, that meant returning to this Hot Mulligan album again and again, especially over the summer. It’s quintessential pop punk, which is both right up my alley and easy to get into. They explored more thoughtful songwriting on this album compared to their previous projects, moving closer to a Wonder Years level of consideration in their production. Even though I enjoyed their first album Pilot, this album makes me truly excited for the trajectory of this band: Up. – Nadia Alves

14. Knuckle Puck – 20/20

Though Knuckle Puck have been a growing force within the scene for years, the ominously named 20/20 is their most cohesive and well-structured album to date. Somehow finding the magic of normalcy, the album stands in contrast to the year it was released in and breathes fresh life into a genre that can quickly sound redundant—the midwest pop punk scene. 20/20 reminds the listener not to back away from the problems in their life, but instead reflect and learn on the experiences. Weaving traditional emo punk against some experimental tracks on the band’s signature sound, 20/20 finds Knuckle Puck forging ahead with a fire behind them that can only see the good even when it stares into the everyday horrors we all face.  – Kyle Schultz

13. Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

When pop punk is at its best, it allows us to lower our inhibitions, feel our feelings, and join a safe community chorus of fellow voices caught in the fray. Depending on who you ask, it’s been a while since that experience rang true, but Sydney, Australia, act Stand Atlantic are intent on reviving the spirit. Pink Elephant, the band’s sophomore effort, is everything a great pop punk release should be while constantly stretching its wings into new territory. Vocalist Bonnie Fraser unravels the tangles that hold her back, singing “My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I’ll carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that” on the album’s opener. Call it a lament if you want, but it works better as a thesis statement on forging ahead. – Kiel Hauck

12. Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

This is the first and only album on my list that is truly escapist. A concept album about fulfilling our emo dreams in a world where we truly care about others is a necessary course of action that could make true change if we implemented it in the real world. Easily one of the most positive and thought-provoking albums to come from the pop-punk genre this year, All Distortions Are Intentional is another addition to Neck Deep’s maturing discography, and a project by a band that has truly come into their own form of activism and wave-making. – Nadia Alves

11. New Found Glory – Forever + Ever x Infinity

New Found Glory albums are mostly easy to predict: loud, catchy and filled with easy sing-along choruses. Forever + Ever x Infinity excels in that it acts as an album filled with fairy tales. The band lean heavily on their roots of writing songs about relationships, but through a lens of maturity and humor. The result is an album that both reflects on the band’s roots in pop punk, as well as presses forward with an easycore crunch and shining pop choruses (“Greatest of all Time”). Sometimes cheesy, sometimes hopelessly romantic, New Found Glory’s 10th album acts as a perfect followup to the much celebrated Self-Titled album by reflecting on the themes of that record with a middle-aged point of view and the sobering reality that only time can grant. – Kyle Schultz

10. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Hip hop fans waited patiently for the fourth installment from rap duo Run the Jewels, but RTJ4 actually arrived early. With the release date suddenly pushed forward in the midst of protests against police brutality due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery, Run the Jewels owned the moment and captured the national outrage. Like all previous Run the Jewels albums, RTJ4 is rife with rattling bass-lines and rapid fire lyrics from Killer Mike and El-P, but this installment feels like pointed protest music right from the jump (“Yankee and the Brave”). Maybe revolution music is a more apt descriptor. – Kiel Hauck

9. All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

Wake Up, Sunshine is All Time Low’s best album in a decade, perfectly balancing the pop sensibilities the band have been striving for with the punk rock buzz that earned them an adoring audience. The album is mature and reflective, but also looks confidently forward with a style that hopefully comes to define the band moving forward. A thematic sister album to fan favorite Nothing Personal, Wake Up, Sunshine highlights the growth of the band (“Some Kind of Disaster”), as well as emphasizes their storytelling ability (“Wake Up, Sunshine”) and features the best song the band has written in years (“Sleeping In”). – Kyle Schultz

8. Halsey – Manic

Manic shouldn’t work. The third full-length album from Halsey is a mess. But like paint crawling itself across the canvas, the idiosyncrasies begin to intertwine, giving unique views of mental illness and the weight of fame as you zoom in and out of the portrait. Halsey’s greatest strength as an artist has always been her vulnerability and willingness to display her deepest fears in a way that feels more than relatable. With Manic, she somehow delivers her most cohesive work despite there being no clear genre. Simply change tracks to switch between country, rock, R&B, and more. The navigation of it all feels as honest and messy as any great therapy session should. – Kiel Hauck

7. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Many of the albums that ended up sticking out to me this year dealt with the heavy things. That is in part because I’m a heck of a pessimist, and also because the year we’ve had has been made for us pessimists. With Color Theory, Sophia Allison showed us contrast. With the color triad of yellow, blue and grey, she artfully wove a true story about loss, illness and grief – something too many of us have experienced in some way or another this year. I’m a sucker for her lo-fi sound, and it definitely added some variety to my music this year. Hopefully, Sophia Allison should be in for a great next couple of years as she rises in the indie pop sphere. – Nadia Alves

6. The Weeknd – After Hours

We were merely one week into quarantine and fear when The Weeknd dropped After Hours, an album that eerily captured the feelings of isolation so many of us were (and still are) feeling. On surface level, the album reads like textbook Tesfaye, but closer examination reveals deep and fascinating artistic maturity. After Hours studies remorse and self-reflection on the other side of a hedonistic ride. Here, the blinding lights and shimmering boulevard are blurry and distant – something to long for, but not before a winding back road of questioning and self-loathing. – Kiel Hauck

5. KennyHoopla – how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//

KennyHoopla is the type of artist all musicians dream of being. His newest EP,  how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//, perfectly blends elements of R&B, emo, new wave and pop, among other genres, to create a bridge across the realm of music. Although just a few songs in length, KennyHoopla takes advantage of each moment by weaving an intensely honest record filled with admissions of inadequacy and fantasticism (“dust//”). Delivered with emotional depth and the intensity of a superstar, KennyHoopla sounds vibrantly original and deeply nostalgic. In just six songs, his EP accomplishes more with its time than some musicians do in their entire careers. – Kyle Schultz

4. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

When I preordered my copy of Petals for Armor on vinyl, I did so with the expectation that it would be both a great album and my top album of the year. While it didn’t quite top my list, it felt like an album that truly mattered – an album she wrote for herself rather than for a mainstream audience. I love Petals, and I think it’s the most important project to come from Hayley Williams. She truly explored and processed a lot of things through the album, and she took us along for the ride and prompted us to be more introspective and openminded when it comes to taking care of our mental health. She brought up a lot of personal feelings regarding loss for me, and in turn, I ended up dealing with some of the things I had pushed away. I’m grateful for that. – Nadia Alves

3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

English singer and songwriter Dua Lipa showed flashes of what was to come with her 2017 self-titled debut, but chose to shed away any preconceived notions of powerhouse pop with Future Nostalgia, an album bubbling with disco and dance spirit. Everything about it works, specifically because Dua Lipa takes full control of her art in every way without the slightest hint of restraint. 

The album never slows down, even as it veers between lanes, blurring the lines between its influences and Dua’s own original, melodic concoctions. “You want a timeless song / I want to change the game”, she tells us mere seconds into the album. A factory-made pop star she is not. What a fabulous invitation to lean into the experience and dance away the aches of the shittiest year in recent memory. – Kiel Hauck

2. Taylor Swift – folklore

Releasing one career-best album is a crowning achievement for any artist, but to deliver two within a year is something special. Swift’s surprise album folklore perfects her ability to tell a story by blending personal stories and fictional characters in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Folklore excels as the perfect representation of who Swift is as an artist by stripping away everything that we thought made a Taylor Swift album—the glamorized production values, over-the-top choruses and the electrifying pop elements that have punctuated her recent albums. At its base level, folklore is an indie album of sweet songs (“mirrorball”), but the songs are intimate, intricate pieces of art with as much depth and scope as a fleshed-out pop hit.

Unafraid of the silence between notes, folklore puts the melody and story first and foremost. The album strips away all expectations fans had of who Swift is as an artist by showing them something better. Soft, sincere and honest even when fictional, Swift has reinvented her career by stripping her music to its essentials and finding just as much, if not more, meaning in each song (“mad woman”, “betty”). – Kyle Schultz

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

This year’s top album was actually quite a difficult and personal debate for me, but after a lot of reflection and back and forth, the bell rang and I lifted Phoebe Bridgers’ hand as Punisher was declared the winner. Her gentle delivery and poignant writing was a welcome break for me this year, a year when I’ve been so up in arms about — well, just about everything. It gave listeners something to direct their sadness and confusion at for 40 minutes and 37 seconds.

Phoebe didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of her life and her past in Punisher, and the raw honesty is what has kept me coming back throughout the latter half of the year. It takes a lot for me to consider an album as the best, and not only is it the best album of the year, it’s the best in Phoebe’s discography. She’s showed her maturity and individuality here, and that counts for everything in my book. – Nadia Alves

Honorable Mention

PVRIS – Use Me
Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Blaqk Audio – Beneath the Black Palms
The Bombpops – Death in Venice Beach

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

In these dark times in which we live, from racial tensions peaking in the U.S. to the decline of the music scene due to pandemic closures, it’s more important than ever to find some time to distract ourselves with something else. Neck Deep’s latest album All Distortions Are Intentional (and for some, Taylor Swift) has provided that for me this past week. While the albums tends to be more pop than punk, once I spent some time with it, I found myself not being able to get enough.

You can buy or stream All Distortions Are Intentional on Apple Music.

I was in love with 2017’s The Peace and the Panic; I thought it was hard hitting and meaningful. When I heard with first single from All Distortions are Intentional, “Lowlife”, an ode to marijuana, I was a bit disappointed. I felt as though the band has backslid into a lesser version of themselves, when I had been so impressed with the maturity of their last offering. Little did I realize that they have further matured, and that Distortions is a concept album. 

The album begins with “Sonderland”, a very strong opener and sure to be fan-favorite (if live shows ever freaking come back). It introduces us to this alternate universe where there is a self-awareness among inhabitants of not being the only person that matters. It continues with one of my favorites, “Fall”, then heads into the controversial aforementioned track that now makes perfect sense when taken with the context of the two characters, Jett and Alice. The concept outlined here is that Jett and Alice are your general emo teens who love being outsiders and shun those who long to fit in. 

In this day and age where it has become so important to stand out and be ourselves, we focus so much on our originality and forget to be present in the world around us. “Telling Stories” draws our eyes upward to the world around us and introduces some new characters and the hardships they face in Sonderland. Ben sings “It’s not the things you know / It’s the friends you make,” and that’s so true. At our funerals, those who love us will talk about how we spent our lives, and if we only follow the “me me me” culture that’s thrown at us and don’t stop and truly care for those around us, our life will have been wasted.

The album is light and airy and just the breath of fresh air I’ve been craving. Tracks like “What Took You So Long” and “Pushing Daisies” are bound to become songs that I return to when I need a pick-me-up. The album brings us from taking the time to regard those around us and make a difference, and by the end, we are reminded that, try as we might, we can’t fix everything. It’s cathartic in a time like this. 

I used to think Neck Deep was one of the generic douchebag pop punk bands with crappy guys who didn’t care who they bowled over to further their career. It was a completely unfounded opinion with no evidence to back it up, but I felt it nevertheless. With these past two albums, I realize that we’ve all grown, whether it was of our own volition or the shifting culture has made us see the wrong ways we view things around us. I’m glad I gave them a second chance, because they’ve become one of the most effective bands in the scene — right up there with The Wonder Years. The alt scene has always been hallmarked by the way we deal with injustices through artistic expression, and even though no one is perfect, the way that Neck Deep have embraced the difficulties of the past years and produced art that’s made it easier to handle is another reason to hold on and support the scene.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

A Half-Assed Theory on Discovering New Music

Over the last several years, I have been been improving myself mentally. I heard new music but wasn’t listening. Now in a better place, I am revisiting some albums with fresh eyes to see what it means to me now. Cheers.

Finding new music is easy, but loving new music is a chore. When I think of the bands I love the most, it’s because I discovered them during a transition in my life. Going to high school (New Found Glory), first girlfriend (Saves the Day), college and first apartment (Panic! at the Disco, Lucky Boys Confusion), and discovering the real world (The Wonder Years), led to me listening to this music nonstop for decades, as well as other bands that cropped up in the same eras.

However, stagnation and depression hamper the joy in personal growth. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such memorable moments imprint themselves in the music we listen to. But seeing it in action in real time is a special moment everyone should experience. Thus, I have developed a theory!

I recently started a new day job, which is the biggest change to my life in years. It required spending two weeks in Wisconsin by myself for training. I tried to prep music for the trip, but felt bored looking over my usual soundtracks. Instead, I prepped a bunch of music I’ve reviewed for It’s All Dead in years past or bought for my collection and then (for no reason at all) never listened to again: Neck Deep, State Champs, We Are the In Crowd, Superet, Honeyblood, and many more.

There are many ways to connect to music, whether that be a connection with the lyrics or the music filling your veins with energy. Oftentimes, music means so much to us because of the nostalgia and memories we associate with it. My theory on falling in love with music is obvious, but is proposed as such: the most direct appreciation to new music is during a new life experience.

The first nerve-wracking day of my job, I played Neck Deep’s Life’s Not Out to Get You twice throughout the day, as it seemed appropriate for someone who waits for the worst to happen and then adjusts accordingly. Checking into my hotel, “Threat Level Midnight” played as I walked through the halls. As vocalist Ben Barlow sang, “I’ll see your face down here real soon / A welcome home to a swift farewell”, I opened my door and found another family staying in my room. Dirty clothes, pool toys, suitcases and children’s toys were spread across the room, so I panicked and quickly shut the door.

The hotel told me that there was a family refusing to leave and squatting in the room; they had torn the phone from the wall and refused to respond to maintenance knocking on the door as “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” rang through one ear bud (“Yeah this place is a shipwreck / But this shipwreck, it is mine”). Although a misunderstanding all around, it took an hour to get me a room and Neck Deep kept me company at the counter during frenzied calls and panicked looks from the staff in my direction after being told, “Everything is under control.” Ironically, Neck Deep was also playing when the keys to my room didn’t work the second week and the entire staff recognized me as I told them I was locked out (“All eyes on me, but that’s not reality /… claustrophobic in my own skin / From holding it all in” – “The Grand Delusion”; The Peace and the Panic).

There is a massive public pathway that traces the lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My first night there, I found myself alone in the dark, walking a treacherous path with only the moon lighting the lake to my side as I hurried back to the hotel with Superet jamming away in my head (“And when the lights go out / Will you be having fun alone? / I need revolution / It’s you, only you” – “Bone Bag”; How To Work a Room).

I discovered smoking in bars is still acceptable in Wisconsin, as I stepped into a pub and saw 20 locals starring at me with suspicion with We Are The In Crowd blasting away through my phone (“I guess it was wishful to think / I was different from the rest / Now I’m red in the face / I don’t think I’m impressed” – “Better Luck Next Time”; Best Intentions). I fell asleep to State Champs playing quietly, vividly aware that I didn’t have to worry as much about money for a while (“Wash away all the thoughts that come at you like monsters at night / I don’t wanna live this way / Strong enough to break these chains / Broken pieces can mend…This is our time, our time to go” – “Our Time To Go”; Living Proof).

This massive life event has spawned moment after moment that I will never forget, each accompanied by bands I should have been in love with years ago. I can blame depression for hampering my ability to connect to the music before now, but the truth is I should have been listening regardless. The fact that I felt a connection to so many bands the last couple of weeks means I should have enjoyed them before now. Using a life event to listen to them finally feels like a crutch, and I wish I had spent more time loving them on my own. However, I will never forget these bands or the memories I made listening to them during these two weeks that changed my life.

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 just watched a framed picture fall off the wall of his hotel room for no particular reason while writing this. He blames earthquakes for it so that he doesn’t have to think about ghosts before bed. What a fool!

Neck Deep Take “The Peace and the Panic” on the Road

Neck Deep have been on my concert bucket list for a while now and I finally got to check them off. They’re one of my favorite bands, and every time they’ve come to my area, I’ve been busy. So when they took The Peace and the Panic tour to The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts, I got tickets as soon as I could. I wasn’t missing out this time. So far, this is the best show of 2018. (It’s only the second I’ve gone to so far, but let’s forget about that for a little while, guys.)

The show opened up with Creeper, and like Neck Deep, they’re from the U.K. I listened to them a little bit on the way to the show and I liked the fact that the lead vocalist’s voice was so unique. A lot of times, I feel like punk music can be a bit sonically redundant, but the lead singer has such an original vocal style that I can’t mistake a Creeper song for a song by any other artist. I experienced my first circle pit during their set, so that was mildly frightening, but interesting, nevertheless. A fun fact I learned about this band is that they’re on Roadrunner Records, the same label that used to host the meme-famous Nickelback.

Creeper

Next of the four bands was Speak Low If You Speak Love, who were the self-professed “mellow” band on the tour, but they still held their own. They were also the only band from the U.S. on the tour. Unfortunately, I spent most of the show in the merch line, but I actually thought it gave me a better idea of what the band sounded like live. A lot of times I’m focused on being close to the stage, which definitely muddies the sound, and it was kind of nice to have a fully cohesive idea of each band’s style. They released a new album a couple of weeks back called Nearsighted. They played a seven song set, four being from the new album. I’d strongly suggest everyone check it out, as I love the sound of it.

Speak Low

Finally out from the endless merch line, I slipped back into the crowd for Seaway. They’re from Canada, which anyone could guess from the fact that they have a song called “Keep Your Stick on the Ice”. Seaway continued the opening excellence with a fantastic set, proving once again: Always get to the show early, kids. You never know where your new favorite band is hiding. The band’s energy was great, they sang a lot of (what seemed to me) classics from their discography, and really enjoyed their time on stage. I love to see that authenticity from a band, it really helps me get into it regardless of whether I know the band or not.

Finally, after waiting for a long time, Neck Deep got on stage. For their set-up, they covered the stage in a huge white sheet, to provide an air of mystery, I suppose. They played what could only be called an explosive set. It was totally worth the wait to see them in an indoor venue, rather than at Warped or another festival like that. It’s more personal and there are less distractions.

Neck Deep

They opened with “Happy Judgement Day” from their latest album, then proceeded to play a well balanced mix of their new and old stuff. They also played “December” from their 2015 release, Life’s Not Out to Get You with the full band, rather than the original acoustic recording. They released the full band version on a deluxe version of that album, but I was surprised that they played it that way. I figured it would be the start of the inevitable acoustic part of most of these shows. They ended up playing “Head to the Ground” acoustically, a song with a chaotic and angry original recording. I thought it was a cool twist.

Something I really liked about The Peace and the Panic is how mature it is from a lyrical standpoint. Both Ben Barlow (lead vocals) and Fil Thorpe-Evans (bassist) sang “Wish You Were Here” and you could’ve heard a pin drop. The moment felt so genuine, the crowd waved lighters in the air instead of cell phones. The band took the opportunity to talk about mental health and how their hope as a band is to help people see the value in their lives. It was a really wonderful time and something that’s much needed in the alt scene.

They played a two song encore and ended the show with “Where Do We Go When We Go”, which was honestly the perfect song to end such a great show with. It was high energy and the final track on the album, so it tied everything together nicely. It was a great night and I hope I’ll get the opportunity to see them live again.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Best Albums of 2017

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

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

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

 

15. New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

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

14. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

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

13. The Early November – Fifteen Years

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

12. Palisades – Palisades

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

11. Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

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

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

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

9. Kesha – Rainbow

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

8. Lorde – Melodrama

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

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

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

6. Glassjaw – Material Control

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

5. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

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

4. AFI – The Blood Album

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

3. Paramore – After Laughter

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

2. Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

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

1. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

In the last few years, Neck deep have grown exponentially. When I listened to their first album, I remember thinking about how I was aware that they were a band starting their career. Only within the last year have I heard their sophomore effort, Life’s Not Out to Get You, which was a sizeable leap forward in song writing skill and kept my attention for quite some time. The Peace and the Panic, the third album from the band, is not only their best work to date, it is a near perfect blend of the best aspects of pop punk with a personalized edge to it.

You can buy The Peace and the Panic on iTunes.

Neck Deep have found their groove in the scene, with a perfected mix of New Found Glory’s pop and memorable lyrics and the harsh guitars of A Day To Remember and Four Year Strong. There is an argument that the tracks might be over-produced (depending on your preference), but there is a satisfying edge to the tempered guitars.

This is a band who is unapologetically pop punk, but carving their own path through what could be an otherwise stagnated genre. “Don’t Wait” is a heavy pop song that wouldn’t have felt genuine on an earlier album as it delves into questioning the government and gaining enough perspective on the world to create your own decisions. “19 Seventy Sumthin’” is sonically caught somewhere between The Early November’s “Driving South” and Polar Bear Club’s “Drifting Thing”. It’s a beautiful mixture that shows the talent behind the band and how far they have come.

Guitarists Matt West and newcomer Sam Bowden seem to relish in the simplicity of pop punk power chords while still finding the harder edge that has been missing on the band’s last two releases (“Motion Sickness”, “Heavy Lies”) while also striking a crisp power pop melody throughout (“The Grand Delusion”). Bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans provides a heavy spine to keep the songs propped up with bucking lines (“Parachute”). Drummer Dani Washington is at his best, finding a solid mix of beats ranging from hard punk (“Motion Sickness”) to 90’s alternative (“Parachute”).

Vocalist Ben Barlow showcases his best performance yet. He is experienced enough to test his range and write some incredibly catchy and memorable hooks. The directions he takes songs into are notable as well, as they delve deeper than any of their other records. The confidence of youth is on full display, such as in “Parachutes” as he sings, “I’m done with small town politics / I need to make my way to where the action is / I’m done with it, so the question is / are you coming with?”

Lead single, “In Bloom” is a reverberating pop jam, reminiscent of Brian Fallon’s swirling guitars as Barlow asks for a chance to recover from his own sadness to help pick up the pieces of a broken relationship. “Don’t Wait” begs the listener to look further for the truth in government and politics, with a backing threat of Sam Carter screaming behind the chorus. “Disrupted they keep dividing / the government is lying / I’m not going to be a pharisee of this society / Turn off your TV station, that’s not real information”.

Perhaps most satisfying is “19 Seventy Sumthin’”. The song traces the story of Barlow’s parents from the beginnings of their relationship through his father’s death. The song is light and cheery, as a happy marriage should be, before delving into heavier guitars during the eulogy of his father. “We made it here my dear, grandkids and the mortgage paid off / Is this what dreams are made of, cuz baby we made it / Yeah, baby, you saved me / But nothing could save him from the ambulance that day”.

The Peace and the Panic is an album about finding the best in life, even if the path there is littered with road blocks. This is best expressed through closing track “Where Do We Go When We Go”, as Barlow sings, “Pain, pain, go away. Come back another day / I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me”.

Neck Deep have cemented themselves as a cornerstone of modern pop punk with this album. They haven’t redefined pop punk, because they haven’t had to. Instead, they have found the lifeblood of the genre and pumped it alive again like all great punk albums do – with ferociously uplifting music, lyrics hoping for the best despite the odds, and a guarantee that you’ll be singing along on the second listen.

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 is just the worst. He stepped on a pile of tomatoes yesterday. Who does that? Who doesn’t notice a hillock of tomatoes on the sidewalk and at least make an attempt to dodge? This idiot, that’s who. Boo him to his face.

Review: Neck Deep – Wishful Thinking

neck-deep

As the first LP from a relatively new band, Neck Deep’s Wishful Thinking is a record that will securely mark their place in the scene. It’s a fiery mixture of emo and pop punk, like a blend of the best elements of the early iterations of Taking Back Sunday and Blink 182.

There are many elements at play here, for better and worse; for every gorgeous guitar riff, Wishful Thinking also never quite lets me forget that I am listening to a band’s first record, as it tends to tread familiar territory.

Neck Deep’s debut album is a rocket of work, chugging out strong hooks and catchy lyrics. While it tends to adhere to the standards we’ve come to expect from the pop punk genre (fast drums and popping guitars) there are enough elements of the slightest crunch of hardcore to give the songs a darker edge.

The guitar work, though, is simply beautiful. Song after song is impressively written as the lead guitar chokes through smooth lines atop a bed of rough chord work. It reminded me of the poppier aspects of Circa Survive balancing itself against Blink 182’s ferocious punk.

If you need proof, look no further than “Staircase Wit”, as the fluid guitar work opens the song and weaves its way through the chorus, dancing off of the rippling rhythm and working similar to backing vocals. Lead single “Crushing Grief (No Remedy)” is quick and instantly recognizable, with racing guitars and thunderous drumming.

While the album feels above par lyrically, it does manage to sound somewhat generic. While they maintain a fierce punk stand of defiance and harness damaging choruses that are begging a crowd to shout them, they also tend to be vague in terms of content. Nonetheless, while vocalist Ben Barlow does a tremendous job taking the music to task, his singing style is similar for each song, rarely pushing himself as far as it seems he might. He adds a staggering power to the songs, but it’s unfortunately less varied than it could be.

Wishful Thinking is a memorable debut meant for impressively loud live shows and delivers on everything you want from a pop punk album. Every hook is well written and energetically crafted and nostalgic. While it tackles the scene with the energy necessary to turn heads, it feels like Neck Deep are straddling the line of what we expect from the genre instead of attempting to break into new territory all their own. However, whatever the faults may be, this isn’t an album to be missed, and will absolutely keep you listening again and again.

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