Podcast: Our Favorite Summer Soundtracks

Summer is almost over! What better way to hold onto the season than to reminisce on our favorite summer soundtracks. Kyle Schultz and Nadia Paiva join Kiel Hauck to break down some of their favorite albums to spin during summer and discuss what makes for great summer music. As follow-up on our Summer Soundtracks series, the trio chat about great releases from bands like Cobra Starship, Lydia, Jimmy Eat World, Paramore, and much more. Listen in!

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What are your favorite albums to listen to during the summer season? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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A Night with Paramore on the After Laughter Tour

I have a concert bucket list. This may not be a surprise to anyone, but it’s true. Bands like Turnover, Pianos Become the Teeth and Switchfoot all made the cut and have been successfully crossed off. The band at number one? Paramore.

I’ve been unsuccessful in catching a Paramore show ever since I can remember, but I finally made it. I have now seen virtually every band I’ve ever wanted to see except for bands that are no longer active (My Chemical Romance *sigh*) and the new bands I find and become obsessed with (Off Road Minivan). I’m hoping to catch a Death Cab show later this year.

I don’t really know why I had never made it to a Paramore show. They’ve played Boston plenty of times since I’ve gotten into them but I’ve just always missed it. Usually it’s because of other shows or, if I’m being honest, because ticket prices are sky high. Well, June 20th rolled around and my schedule was free and tickets were approximately $35 (which, when Paramore is involved, is basically free). So I drove two-and-a-half hours to Gilford, New Hampshire, with lawn tickets in hand, prepared to have the best night of my life.

Soccer Mommy and Foster the People were the opening bands, but as stated above, the long drive caused me to miss Soccer Mommy and most of Foster The People’s sets. I got my ticket scanned to the sultry bass tones of “Pumped Up Kicks”. While we were waiting for Paramore to start playing, we heard through the pavilion grapevine that they were upgrading tickets for free. Instead of our lawn tickets, we ended up finding seats closer to the stage to watch Hayley and Co.’s set.

Paramore was incredible. Their concert experience is legendary, akin to fellow Fueled By Ramen acts Twenty One Pilots and Panic! at The Disco. Don’t know what that label is doing, but whatever it is, it’s right. Paramore opened with “Grudges” from their latest full length, After Laughter. It set the tone wonderfully and it was almost tear-jerking to hear Zac Farro, prodigal drummer returned home, sing the background vocal, “Why did we wait so long?” to Hayley’s reply of “To stop holding on”.

The setlist was a really great range of old and new tracks. Noticeably missing, per the usual post-2015, were any tracks from their first album All We Know Is Falling. A highlight was a re-imagined version of “crushcrushcrush”. I actually texted Kiel while they were playing it, saying they’d “After Laughter-ed” it. It had less of the punk sound and they added some 80s synths, which brought a cool new feel to what must be, at this point, an overdone track for the band to perform.

The acoustic portion housed another great set of choices. They played their BBC One cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit”, then “Misguided Ghosts” from 2009’s Brand New Eyes, and finished with “26” from the new album. It was, in a word, poignant. A lot of After Laughter’s songs are full of heavy content, and even though they disguised that aspect with energetic music, it was hard to ignore the evident pain Hayley feels when singing “Forgiveness”.

Another interesting choice was the addition of “No Friend”. This was a spoken word track on After Laughter performed by Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou. Paramore used it as both a jam session and a water break and it was basically epic.

There were several traditions that were kept. One was Zac’s performance of one of his side project songs, which is definitely worth checking out. The other was the choosing of audience members to finish “Misery Business”. These were things I’d only heard about and they were just as wonderful in real time. The band had a three song encore and ended with the lead single from After Laughter, “Hard Times”.

In short, it was the best night of my life. Completely worth the wait, but I left wondering why I hadn’t just gone for it sooner. I can’t wait until they come around 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.

Hayley Williams Reflects on One Year of “After Laughter”

On Saturday, Paramore’s fifth studio album, After Laughter, turned one year old. The year passed quickly and the album still feels just as fresh, painful, and meaningful as it did upon its release. With After Laughter, Paramore worked through painful trials to new wave and synth-pop sounds that expanded the band’s repertoire.

For the one year anniversary, singer Hayley Williams took to Instagram to reflect on what the past year has meant – both for the band riding the wave of the album’s success and for her personal journey. In a heartfelt letter, Williams shares about her struggle to find light and her quest to love those around her well, even in the midst of hardship. You can read the full letter below:

“Sometimes I feel just as lost and confused as I did a year ago. But there is laughter now just as there was in the midst of that heavy grey cloud. And when that cloud threatens to darken every delight and beautiful color that we strive so hard to see… sometimes I let it. Welcome it, even. But I think I feel a tiny bit more hopeful that it will soon give way to something else. Maybe not even sunlight. Maybe just as laugh. A big, ugly, takes-over-your-body laugh. And I will forget to worry. Forget to care. And simply be right where I am, hopefully with someone or something that I love (still learning the art of solitude > isolation).

And when I see my dearest friends struggling to escape that cloud, I will try my best to sit with them, cry with them, and let them feel. Because that cloud will give way to them too. I believe that now. More than I did. More than I used to preach. What matters more is that we aren’t forced to sit, stand, or dance alone underneath it. And when there is laughter, someone – or many! – we love are there to witness it.

Thank you – anyone – for supporting this album. It means a lot. Of course it does. Hopefully, it has helped in some way to comfort you in times that weren’t so comfortable. Hopefully, it can continue to. Hopefully you can read this god-forsaken penmanship.

See some of you very soon where we will be able to dance – rainclouds, be damned! – and celebrate together, our life, with AL.”

Personally, After Laughter was an album that hit close to home – identifying the real and personal struggle of depression and the pressure to put on a smile, even when one is hard to find. It also solidified Paramore‘s place in the pop culture ethos and continued an incredible run of amazing music amidst continuous shake-ups.

What are some of your favorite songs on After Laughter a year later? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

10 Songs to Chase Away the Chill of Winter

Is it just me, or does it feel like this winter has dragged on and on? It’s actually snowing as I type this. Fortunately, spring is not far away, so in an effort to put up with snow boots and chapped lips, here are some songs I listen to when I think about new flowers and higher temperatures.

1. Coldplay – “Lovers In Japan (Osaka Sun mix)”

This is one of my all-time favorite Coldplay songs. Upbeat and unique, it’s always put me in a good mood. It’s also turning 10 years old this year. I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I still have fond memories of listening to this song through split earbuds with an old friend who was a Coldplay super fan.

2. Florence and the Machine – “Mother”

This is the final track on Florence Welch’s 2015 release How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album focuses a lot on nature references and this is the culmination of it all. It’s impossible to not think of spring and sunny days with lines like, “Make me a big tall tree / So I can shed my leaves and let it blow through me”.

3. Regina Spektor – “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”

Even though this song mentions winter and the whole idea is to forget that it’s still happening, Regina Spektor’s music always matches up with spring for me. Her melodies are infectious and her lyrics are quirky. I actually prefer the Russian version, but that’s just me. Both are worth a try for an instant pick-me-up.

4. Eisley – “A Song for the Birds”

This is from Eisley’s 2017 album I’m Only Dreaming. Sherri Dupree-Bemis is joined by her husband Max Bemis (of Say Anything) for what may just be the sweetest song Eisley has ever recorded. Max also plays guitar on the track (and others on the album) and as a Say Anything fan it’s totally noticeable…try to see if you can hear the difference.

5. Saint Motel – “You Can Be You”

I saw Saint Motel open up for Panic! At the Disco a year or two ago and they played this song. There wasn’t a person sitting down or looking at their phone during the performance. The drums are strong and they used a cool guitar effect toward the middle. It’s just everything I love in a track. It’s new and exciting, just like spring.

6. Marina and the Diamonds – “Shampain”

I’m a huge fan of whatever Marina Diamandis does. She’s talented and genuine and that’s a combination I love. “Shampain” is from her first album The Family Jewels. Many of her songs poke fun at the norms of pop culture and this song is no different. She takes otherwise cookie-cutter beats and pop music go-to’s and makes a sonic experience all her own. I can’t help but turn up the volume when it comes up in my shuffle.

7. The Myriad – “A Thousand Winters Melting”

One of my favorite little bands only released two albums. Their second album is called With Arrows, With Poise and includes the gem “A Thousand Winters Melting”. What better way to end winter than with this song? I love the piano and there’s just something about this song that brightens up my day. I wish they hadn’t stopped at two albums, but at least they left us with tracks like this.

8. Paramore – “Passionfruit” (Drake Cover)

Paramore is my favorite band, hands down. I’ve listened to their music for as long as I can remember. They covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” for BBC Radio 1, and personally, I think it’s better than the original. I’m obviously biased though. Lyrically, it’s a wicked depressing song, but the way Zac Farro and Taylor York play this song makes me forget about how sad it is.

9. Childish Gambino – “California”

This track from the middle of Grammy-nominated album Awaken, My Love! is fantastic. It’s fun and random and makes me think of long drives with the windows down. It may appear to be a summer song, but I think it works just as well on a spring playlist. I love the vibe it sends out.

10. Harry Styles – “Sweet Creature”

This wonderful song is from Harry Styles’ self-titled album released last year. I love this song because it’s subtle. His voice  is really the focus here and it’s one of the high points on the album. It was a great choice for a radio single and the topic of young love coincides with spring pretty well.

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.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Podcast: A Look Back at the Year in Music

As 2017 comes to a close, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz take a look back at the year in music. During the discussion, the two share some of their favorite albums from 2017, including releases from Kendrick Lamar, AFI, Lucky Boys Confusion, Paramore and much more. They also talk about what could have been and reflect on recent music news that shaped the year. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are some of your favorite albums of 2017? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Songs of 2017

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

In a year in which great albums were abundant, it goes without saying that great songs were aplenty. In just a matter of minutes, a great song can do a lot: It can take us somewhere blissful, it can make us think, it can change our perspective, it can help us forget. Our list of the Best Songs of 2017 have a little bit of everything.

Below, you’ll find songs from a variety of genres telling diverse stories. These tracks were anthems for overcoming, therapeutic outlets of emotion, ballads of love, and laments of the soul. No matter your druthers, we think you’ll find something to love. Take a look – and a listen.

15. Jake Bugg – “Southern Rain”

Jake Bugg is an extraordinary talent. Releasing almost an album a year since the start of his career, he has managed to tap into a multitude of genres while maintaining a distinct sound all his own. “Southern Rain” is a folksy ballad that manages to softly tell a story of grieving a fallen romance. However, the dreamlike soundscape and lyrics constantly remind that even in dark times, there is always something brighter just around the corner. For a song that sounds so light, it is dense with the sounds of mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, and the crisp tap of piano. Though Bugg’s lyrics stay melancholy, the music is so bright and hopeful that it promises relief. – Kyle Schultz

14. Harry Styles – “Woman”

“Woman” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Harry Styles’ self-titled solo album. Regardless of the groovy sonic choice he made, the lyrics themselves follow a thematic trend in this year’s pop music of discussing a failed relationship. Styles’ vocal prowess shines all over the album but “Woman” is smoother than any other song. Reminiscent of psychedelic ‘70s rock, this track is easy on the ears and all around well-configured. It’s a lovely and promising example of what we can expect from post-One Direction Harry Styles. – Nadia Paiva

13. Dreamcar – “All of the Dead Girls”

DREAMCAR, the supergroup of AFI’s Davey Havok and the band from No Doubt, is a surreal project of pop and new wave rock. “All of the Dead Girls” is a true summer song dripping with beach-ready drumming and a bassline that slides beneath any 80’s montage of men playing volleyball. Havok’s sassy vocals describe the make-up clad “dead girls” that will “never blush” as he stalks the beach. For a singer known for delving into the darkest aspects of the psyche, Havok relishes in taking the haunted tangles of relationships into the sunlight for a stroll. Featuring a baritone sax and a cat’s howl, “All of the Dead Girls” is a truly unique song that never takes itself seriously from two bands that always are. – KS

12. Jay-Z – “The Story of O.J.”

Fans that waited with bated breath since the release of Beyoncé’s damning Lemonade would suffer little disappointment in Jay-Z’s 4:44. There’s a lot to parse through, but Jay makes each moment count, and such is the case with “The Story of O.J.” Jay uses clever samples and poignant lines to capture the struggle of blackness in a racist society, regardless of status, wealth or complexion. It’s an artful display of Jay-Z’s success viewed through the lens of a racist America and Jay’s own battle to push his wealth and progress into something even more lasting. It just might be the highlight of his surprising second act. – Kiel Hauck

11. Palisades – “Better Chemicals”

When Palisades left their electonicore leanings in the past for this year’s self-titled release, they didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater so much as they refined the best parts of their existing sound. On “Better Chemicals”, the band forgoes cheeky electronics and samples for tastefully placed programming that elevates the track to another level. Vocalist Louis Miceli Jr. uses the opportunity to showcase his transitional ability that explodes during a chorus of, “Need better chemicals, I know / Cause nothing helps anymore, oh no”. It’s a jarring movement into serious territory for the band and a perfectly crafted track that crackles with rock energy. – KH

10. The Early November – “In Currents (acoustic)”

As one of the first singles after the band’s reformation, “In Currents” was a nostalgic pop song that meshed minimalistic instrumentation before exploding in a torrent of sound in the chorus. It showcased almost every aspect of what made The Early November’s sound so iconic. The stripped-down version on Fifteen Years only features a bouncing guitar and a theremin-inspired synth line that turns the song into an inspirational ballad. The true star of the song, though, is Ace Enders. Enders pushes his voice as hard as he ever has, while maintaining an emotional weight that seems impossible. The result is an acoustic cover that not only surpasses the original, it deserves to be remembered among the top of The Early November’s achievements. – KS

9. PVRIS – “What’s Wrong”

“Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”. That crushing closing line during the chorus of “What’s Wrong” sets the stage for a sophomore follow-up from a band overwhelmed with responsibility and possibility. PVRIS harness the best of their synth-laced melodic pop rock as vocalist Lynn Gunn lays bare her fears in the face of the band’s rise to prominence. “When did I get so pitiful / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold”, she laments, vocalizing the struggle of a female lead in the midst of a misogynist scene. It is at once a monumental sonic step forward for a band full of potential and a dark look inside the mind of an artist in doubt. – KH

8. AFI –” So Beneath You”

While other AFI songs have mocked and questioned religion, “So Beneath You” is the most aggressive and militant. Punk rock at its purest, the song teases the band’s hardcore influence. Jade Puget can write some of the most mystifyingly beautiful guitar lines known to man, but sometimes he is at his best when strangling power chords as Davy Havok just shouts at the sky. Rather than mock the idea of religion, Havok instead issues a direct challenge as he croons, “I won’t kneel, I won’t bow / If you’re there God, strike me down, strike me down / You won’t”. Challenging standards and demanding more of their audience than most bands, “So Beneath You” exemplifies what makes AFI such a beloved band and manages to be one of the year’s best rock songs. – KS

7. Lorde – “Hard Feelings/Loveless”

Much of Lorde’s Melodrama is based on the toll fame takes on an artist, notably in their interpersonal relationships. One of the most poignant moments is found right at the end of the first portion of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, in which she reminisces on a past relationship, stating “I’ll start letting go of little things / ‘Til I’m so far away from you / Far away from you”. What is so impressive about this song is how seamlessly she changes from the topic of her own relationship to the topic of relationships in general in our digital world, and how we don’t always place the value on them that they deserve. It’s relatable and one of the most memorable tracks on a beautiful album. – NP

6. Halsey – “Strangers”

Amidst a brave retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Halsey uses “Strangers” as an LGBTQ love song, dropping the pretense of well-worn pronouns. Here, she and Lauren Jauregui trade lines of longing atop richly-inspired 80s synthesizers. “She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore / Cause it’s more intimate than she feels we should get”, Halsey opens, before Jauregui’s response of, “She doesn’t let me have control anymore / I must have crossed the line, I must have lost my mind”. It’s a delightfully sensual, deeply danceable track of star-crossed lovers and an example of Halsey’s feel for the pulse of modern pop. There aren’t many that do it better. – KH

5. Kesha – “Praying”

“I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing”, Kesha belts at her abuser on one of the year’s most emotionally powerful tracks. It’s a stark pivot for the artist herself, but an even more powerful statement in a year in which our culture begins to fully realize the deep claws that sexual abuse holds in our society. As the song builds towards its crescendo, Kesha finds the strength to flip the power imbalance that held her hostage for so long: “Cause I can make it on my own / And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known / I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain / And when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”. If chills don’t run up your spine, you must have held your head in the sand for the entirety of 2017. – KH

4. Liam Gallagher – “Wall of Glass”

For fans of Oasis, there will always be the eternal argument of which Gallagher brother is the favorite. While Noel has experimented with his sound on his own solo venture, Liam Gallagher’s first solo single is the best song Oasis never wrote. The rich layers in “Wall of Glass” are mesmerizing – the dance club beat, the bobbing bass line, the show-stealing harmonica, the ghostly back-up singers, and the sizzling guitar all hide beneath some of the best vocals Liam Gallagher has ever recorded. It’s a testament that the best sounds aren’t always found by pushing for something new, but by tilling what has already been laid as the foundation of expectation and kicking the shit out of it. “Wall of Glass” sounds like it aimed to be the best rock song of any year in the last two decades and pulls it off with style to spare. – KS

3. Paramore – “Fake Happy”

It’s no secret that Paramore drew inspiration from their experience with mental illness with the track “Fake Happy” from After Laughter. What sets it apart from other songs on the topic is its accessibility. Undoubtedly, many listeners will identify with the lyrical themes but also find enjoyment in the musical quality, most especially in the infectious bridge which puts a smile on even the most downtrodden of us. The music video (directed by the band’s own Zac Farro) shows that idea perfectly, and is the cherry on top of an already beautifully displayed picture of humanity. – NP

2. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. begins with a chilling short story before audio from a Fox News broadcast admonishes the message of Kendrick’s 2015 Black Lives Matter anthem “Alright”. Before the clip can reach completion, Lamar bursts through the door with “DNA”’s opening lines of, “I’ve got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”. Throughout the track, Kendrick flexes his varied vocal deliveries over a rattling bassline, juxtaposing earned braggadocio with self-deprecation as he inspects the inner workings of his soul. It’s the perfect opening to the year’s best record and an eardrum vibrating reminder that Kendrick’s talent surpasses his peers, both in execution and in content. – KH

1. Julien Baker – “Appointments”

It’s difficult to fully quantify the progression from Julien Baker’s debut to this year’s Turn Out the Lights, but if you were to point to a single track as an example, it would be “Appointments”. Atop a painfully lonesome guitar and piano, Baker lays out the private battle of depression and the strain it puts on relationships. Yet above all of the excruciating imagery is something more vital and more powerful – a will to overcome. When Baker lets loose with her belted vocals of, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright / Oh, I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is” at the song’s conclusion, it’s a reminder that some small battles can be momentarily won – a perfectly humble message from one of music’s most exciting young voices. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling”
Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
Taylor Swift – “…Ready for It?”
Acceptance – “Colliding by Design”
Haim – “Want You Back”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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

Podcast: The Best Music of 2007

It’s that special time of year again – time to talk about music turning 10! On our latest podcast episode, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz break down some of the best music of 2007. As another collection of great albums turns 10, the duo reflect on classics from Paramore, Saves the Day, Anberlin, Kanye West, Motion City Soundtrack, The Fratellis, Mayday Parade and much more. Ready to get nostalgic with us? Listen in!

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What are some of your favorite albums from 2007? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Say Anything – In Defense of the Genre

In many ways, In Defense of the Genre is the absolute time capsule of pop punk in 2007. The sounds spanning the double album run the gamut of what was popular at the time while still managing to be, arguably, the most “Say Anything” record that exists. Guest vocals appear on over half the songs in unique, significant parts. In Defense of the Genre isn’t for everyone, especially on first listen, but it is an opus that celebrates and challenges the genre in every way.

You can buy In Defense of the Genre on iTunes.

After the success of …Is a Real Boy, Max Bemis faced what seemed an impossible task: topping himself. What he produced is a masterpiece of collaboration, experimentation and craft. In Defense of the Genre brought the outward, judgmental venom of “Admit It!!!” and cast it in every direction. To counterbalance this, Bemis also provided uncomfortably reflective and humbling lyrics of himself. The colorful poetry describing drug addiction, psychosis and coming to terms with indiscriminate anger is equal parts enthralling and sickening.

In Defense of the Genre is a dark album that reflects the time of its release. The golden era of the early 2000’s had faded and the few bands that still seemed to have any traction were heavier and brooding. Nearly everyone took a stab at experimentation, and while some succeeded, this era saw a massive drop off of bands that had been big just a couple years prior.

Rather than remake another punk record, Say Anything delved to see how depraved pop punk could be. The entire album is a blur of genre. Techno, dance, ragtime piano, grunge and pop seamlessly traipse between tempo changes that would kill a song by a lesser writer. Somehow, each sound manages to survive a solid coat of production and make a cohesive sound. In Defense of the Genre is as much a masterful dark pop album as it is the sound of madness itself.

The stories about Max Bemis prior to this album are legendary. Wandering the streets before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mental hospitals, and drug abuse seemed to constantly filter in through the news sites for a while. In his writing, not only did Bemis not shy away from this, the entire album documents the process of finding himself in the midst of madness (“The Church Channel”) and crawling his way out (“Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.”)

While each song attempted something new, some of the true stand outs are the acoustic tracks. “An Insult to the Dead” is one of Say Anything’s most amazing songs. The wrangled guitar, the gentle tambourine and plinking piano, and Max’s voice, accompanied by the faint shout in the background during the chorus, create a haunted effect. More than anything, the heartbreak in Bemis’ voice as he sings, “Oh God, forgive me Moses, Jesus, Allah” is unparalleled.

One true highlight is the use of guest vocals. They’re expertly chosen and provide a snapshot of who was popular. What’s amazing is how many of them are still wildly relevant today. On top of that, their placement in songs reflects the guest’s own personality. Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara provides the evil voice of paranoia on “Surgically Removing the Tracking Device”. Paramore’s Hayley Williams is the defiant angel on his shoulder in “The Church Channel” that urges him to seek help (“You were forlorn in despair / With your drugs and your hardcore porn / Trust me, those days won’t be mourned”).

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba provides a haunting melody in the background of “Retarded in Love”. Anthony Green is the voice of alcoholism (“Hangover Song”). Gerard Way appears in the title track, a song attempting to make sense of why musicians write. The song breaks into a momentary country western jamboree as Way sings, “I’ve got an empty wallet and a record cover”, reminding himself that the best art doesn’t guarantee reward.

Max Bemis never hid his adoration of Saves The Day. I remember hearing a rumor about how the band dropped off of a tour with Saves The Day, allegedly due to drug problems. “Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.” seems to address this directly. Max asks his bandmates for help, and swears that evil shouldn’t be in their tour van. Saves The Day’s Chris Conley appears after an interlude of people offering help. Hearing Bemis’ personal hero shout, “If you want it, then come and get it /We’re all with you now”, still gives me chills 10 years later.

In Defense of the Genre is a true artistic endeavor. It was a massive risk taken at the height of Say Anything’s popularity. It’s also the last ‘classic’ Say Anything record. After this, the band’s sound became poppier and Max’s struggles less dire. What should be a hot mess of a record manages to be a cohesive concept album that finds the sound of madness itself. It’s an album that truly deserves to be celebrated on its anniversary, even though it may not be to everyone’s liking.

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 currently fighting the pesky Baratheon hordes! …..Or battling his cat to the death over small flakes of chicken.

Vinyl Spotlight: Paramore – After Laughter

Every so often, our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, takes the time to talk about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality. Here’s his latest installment.

I collect and play vinyl year round, but there’s something about the fall season that just makes records sound better. Thus, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite albums from this spring is quickly becoming an autumn staple on my turntable.

Paramore’s After Laughter was a triumphant return for the band and a perfect pivot to syrupy synthpop. While quickly being lauded as one of 2017’s best albums upon its spring release, fans of the band had to wait to hear the record on vinyl as pre-orders weren’t available until mid-summer. However, just as with the four years between the band’s self-titled and After Laughter, the vinyl release was worth the wait.

Packaging and Presentation

Paramore helped soothe the wait for After Laughter vinyl by offering multiple variants for fans to choose from, including 1,000 records on teal marble, 2,000 on orange and white available only at Urban Outfitters, 4,000 on pink marble, and another 10,000 on black and white marble available at retail stores. Because of its consistency with the album art, I chose the pink variant and was pleasantly surprised by its brightness upon opening the record.

The gatefold packaging features animated artwork of the trio that matches the scattered shapes and colors of the album cover. However, there isn’t much to look at aside from an album art-themed sleeve to hold the record itself. After Laughter certainly stands out from the rest of the band’s catalogue in terms of artwork and matches the sound of the album, but this release could have included a bit more inside.

Sound and Quality

Album art aside, After Laughter is a pleasure to listen to on wax. I was reminded of Chvrches’ 2015 release Every Open Eye with its rich, layered synthesizers and deep bass lines. Both of these pressings are great examples of what can be accomplished on non-180 gram pressings. After Laughter sounds clean and crisp in this format.

I decided to first spin the record with several friends in attendance at our house, all of whom enjoyed the album and noted how smooth the band sounded. Only one track, the Aaron Weiss-led “No Friend”, garnered somewhat negative feedback. Already an odd fit on the album, Weiss’ vocals feel even more buried on this vinyl release, creating a disjointed feel before the album’s somber closing track, “Tell Me How”.

Still, it’s hard to complain about having one of the year’s best albums finally on vinyl. After Laughter is a beautiful, painful and complex listen and is best heard in full, making this a great format for the experience. If you’re interested in snagging a vinyl copy of your own, the black and white marble variant is still available through the band’s website.

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.