The Best Albums of 2018

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

Let’s face it: 2018 was not a great year. Fortunately, amidst the constant deluge of infuriating news, the year provided us with a flood of incredible new music. It was a year in which old friends returned, sounding better than ever. A year in which new artists made their mark with exciting debuts. A year in which some of our favorite artists delivered some of the best music of their careers.

Most importantly, the best music of 2018 offered us a much needed reprieve from the noise, and in many cases, provided helpful commentary and a voice for the marginalized. Whittling the list down to 15 wasn’t easy, but we think these albums best captured our ears and our hearts. Take a look below to read more about the albums that the It’s All Dead writing staff found to be the best and most important releases of 2018.

15. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past

I’m Only Dreaming… Of Days Long Past is a reinvention of an album barely a year old and one of the best albums of 2017. This new take on the record adds a moodier, dreamier landscape to an already ethereal album. Relying heavily on the majestic voice of Sherri Dupree-Bemis and the simplest melodies, this take on one of Eisley’s best albums somehow feels more honest, heavier and emotional in all of the best ways. Songs of beguiled confidence and love like “Defeatist” and “Louder Than a Lion” carry more weight and atmosphere than most songs have any right to. Eisley don’t need to reinvent themselves to be their very best – they just need to keep dreaming. – Kyle Schultz

14. Real Friends – Composure

My choices for end-of-year-lists are very personal. They’re chosen because I like them musically, thematically, lyrically – you name it. Composure is here because of how important of a story it tells. We see a firsthand account of someone dealing with mental illness. It’s a perfect picture of the way people process mental illness in their lives and has become a staple of how I get out of my own slumps and bad days. It’s a great album through and through, but I think, for me, its relevance is what brings it to the top for me this year. – Nadia Paiva

13. AFI – The Missing Man

AFI are meticulous with their releases. The Missing Man EP is looser than any of their full albums are allowed to be and dips far into their punk rock roots. The Missing Man treads a fine line between the dark conceptual stories of AFI’s best recent albums and the quick skate punk that helped raise the group to prominence 20 years ago. It’s a taste of everything that makes AFI. The Missing Man shows that not only are AFI constantly striving for something new with their music, they’re constantly updating their history. – KS

12. mewithoutYou – [Untitled]

I think [Untitled] is mewithoutYou’s best release to date. It’s lyrically exciting and delves into a lot of new territory for the band, without ever losing what makes the band so unique and special. It’s musically exciting and they’ve proven that they’ve still got what it takes to create something new. This album is a constant in my rotation and I doubt that will change any time soon. I love an album that takes some effort to work through and this was the perfect project and challenge for me this year. – NP

11. Underoath – Erase Me

A band that spent its heyday pushing genre boundaries and shifting the notion of what modern heavy music could sound like returns eight years after its last release to continue its evolution. Fans can argue until the sun explodes about which Underoath album is the best – and there are several great ones to choose from – but consider this: With Erase Me, Underoath chose not to live in the past, creating an unexpectedly accessible and divergent release that carries on the spirit of a band that would never settle for stagnation. It’s just about the most “Underoath” thing the band could have done, and the fact that it resulted in their second-ever Grammy nomination makes things just that much sweeter. – Kiel Hauck

10. Pusha T – Daytona

In 2002, Pusha T helped soundtrack my freshman year of college atop percussive beats from The Neptunes on Clipse’s smash release, Lord Willin’. Sixteen years later, at the age of 41, King Push may have unpredictably created his masterpiece. Daytona is a perfect exercise in minimalism, finding Push flexing his crisp and surgical delivery atop sample-heavy beats that allow his voice to drive the songs forward. At seven tracks long, there is no filler – just 21 minutes of canvas for one of the most underrated rappers of our time to finally stake his claim as one of the greats. If Yeezus showed us what modern hip hop looks like when stripped down for parts, Daytona displays the beauty of rap as a timeless art form – no-holds-barred, no tricks. Just one of the best lyricists of our generation writing his long-overdue coke rap thesis. – KH

9. Panic! at the Disco – Pray for the Wicked

When Brendan Urie transitioned Panic! at the Disco towards pop superstardom, I was hesitant. Death of a Bachelor felt somewhat forced to me, though I eventually came around. Pray For The Wicked is a masterpiece that cultivates the best aspects of every one of Panic!’s past releases and merges them into a mini concept album about the glamour and steep price of stardom (“Hey Look Ma, I Made It”). Each song has a unique flair, style and message that dances toward a larger story about fame. Pray For The Wicked is arguably Urie’s potential opus. It solidifies him as one of the biggest pop stars in the world as much as it honors everything that has ever made Panic! at the Disco beloved. – KS

8. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

Sister Cities is a special album for The Wonder Years. It seems like it could be the last major release we get from the band for a while, with Dan Campbell’s pending fatherhood and the band’s other ventures, including their new subscription service. The album is quintessential Wonder Years material, yet showcases that the band is still heavily focused on musical growth, and at their stage in the game, it’s important that their love for what they do is still present. Sister Cities proved that The Wonder Years are far from running out of creativity, and I look forward to how they’ll channel that in the next season of their existence. – NP

7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Even before the release of her debut studio album, Cardi B was ascending to rap legend status – an uncategorizable and unpredictable figure, harkening back to days when rappers like Biggie and 2Pac seemed larger than life. That Invasion of Privacy actually lived up to the ungodly hype built on viral sensations like “Bodak Yellow” is a testament to her drive and talent. The album is deeply personal, truly funny, and wildly entertaining. But more than that, it’s the story of self-empowerment and standing firmly confident as a rapper in a genre that has for so long marginalized women. Cardi refuses to be quieted or sanitized to fit a mold or play a part – with Invasion of Privacy, she’s snatching the game without asking for permission, with no intent of backing down. As she states on album closer, “I Do”, “My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?” – KH

6. Justin Courtney Pierre – In the Drink

In The Drink is an album equally familiar and adventurous beyond its comfort zone. Justin Pierre proves himself to be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, something few already doubted. With the opportunity to create a sound truly his own, the fact that In The Drink sounds like an extension of Motion City Soundtrack adds credence to how honest his writing has always been. Whether toying with orchestration in “Undone” or diving face first into punk songs like “Ready Player One”, In The Drink is an unapologetic rock album filled with self-depreciative humor, inner turmoil and anthems of confidence. In The Drink delves as far into Pierre’s past as it does his future and is all the better for it. – KS

5. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

There’s no doubt that this has been an exhausting year in terms of our current social climate. The 1975 wrote a whole album about it and released it right at the end of the year. I generally never choose an album that’s been too recently released because I don’t feel like I get enough time to really pick it apart and find all of its pros and cons, but I felt at home with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships almost immediately. It’s beautifully composed and full of good conversation starters. Maybe we can take some of the advice offered to us within it and make 2019 a better year. – NP

4. Architects – Holy Hell

On the surface, one might find metal to be the perfect genre for processing the stages of grief. But what about ponderances on the mere idea of grief and loss and what it means to move forward with a quiet understanding of our fate? With Holy Hell, Architects created one of the most powerful and purposeful metalcore releases of our time. Part lament of fallen comrade and key songwriter Tom Searle, part meditation on existence and death, Holy Hell pulls no punches when tugging at some of the hardest questions we rarely speak aloud. From the technical, brutal brilliance of tracks like “Death is Not Defeat” to the more gentle introspection of “Royal Beggars”, Holy Hell is both a sonic and thematic masterpiece that finds ways to let hope glimmer through the wreckage, just as Sam Carter delivers during the album’s closing track: “Love comes at a cost, but all is not lost”. – KH

3. Fall Out Boy – MANIA

MANIA is one of the best albums Fall Out Boy have ever released in a discography already stacked full of career-defining records. MANIA is an album that forces listeners to earn its respect. It hones the sound of modern pop music to a razor’s edge, blurring the lines between genre and takes risks that would ruin lesser artists. Fall Out Boy are at the height of their ability by pushing back against anyone hoping for just another pop punk record. Stadium anthems like “Last of the Real Ones” and rock songs like “Champion” are new staples to live shows as much as they are battle cries of rock music in an era when the genre seems largely ignored. MANIA is the result of two albums’ worth of experimentation and adventure, and it’s now hard to argue that Fall Out Boy’s best days are behind them. – KS

2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Wait for Love

On Wait for Love, there isn’t a spot where I say to myself, “Eh, that could’ve flowed a little smoother,” or, “There’s too much of a lull in the action.” This fourth full-length album is perfect from front to back, and probably from back to front. Lyrically, it’s meaningful and relatable in a way that a lot of rock music isn’t. It’s a beautiful display of how a band can mold and shift to fit in with their changing personal lives. I think I’ve listened to the album at least once a day since its release, and I haven’t done that with an album since 2013, so you know the love is real. – NP

1. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

It’s easy to be distracted by the many narratives swirling around Golden Hour, the fourth studio album from Kacey Musgraves. Stories of acid trips during writing sessions and outspoken support of the LGBTQ community from one of country music’s rising stars. Yet underneath it all is a warm and affecting collection of songs that take time to look for beauty wherever it can be found, even within the most imperfect of us. In a year like 2018, it’s a 45-minute exercise in relief.

Call it genre-bending if you like – Musgraves boldly grafts in disco and indie rock elements to balance out the twang – but at its core, Golden Hour is a perfect pop album. Songs like “High Horse” and “Lonely Weekend” effortlessly find the perfect balance of sound that so many mainstream country artists have been aiming at for years. Musgraves makes it seem almost too simple – just be yourself and write songs from your heart. That the resulting album feels so counter to our expectations could very well amplify the point she’s trying to make. As Musgraves so eloquently puts it during opener “Slow Burn”, “I’m alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn / I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright”. – KH

Honorable Mention

Vince Staples – FM!
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Lydia – Liquor
Black Panther: The Soundtrack
As It Is – The Great Depression

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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Raise Your Voice: Warped Tour 2018 Review and Photo Gallery

Walking through the crowded grounds of Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana, on a hot July day, it’s nearly impossible not to reflect on Warped Tours past. It was here, nine years ago, where I baked in the sun watching bands like Saosin, Underoath, and Chiodos while screaming along to every word. A year prior in Cincinnati, I stood on the main stage watching Norma Jean bring down the house before singing along to The Academy Is, Anberlin, and Cobra Starship.

Over the years, the Vans Warped Tour is where I met some amazing friends, discovered some of my favorite bands, and truly felt part of a community for one of the first times in my life. As the longest-running touring music festival in North America comes to a close, I’ve felt it necessary to remember those experiences while acknowledging that the experiences have others have not always been so pleasant. For a myriad of reasons, it is time for Warped Tour to end.

There were things to feel good about and music to be excited about during this final trek, yet the staggering lack of gender and racial diversity across the lineup served as a reminder of why it must come to a close. With any luck, whatever takes its place will provide a more balanced and honest view of the underground music scene in years to come.

For now, we take a look at a few of the bands on the 2018 Vans Warped Tour that made some noise and made the tour’s final run worth the price of admission. Take a look below and feel free to share some of your favorites from the lineup in the replies!

Mayday Parade

For a band that made a name for itself by following Warped Tour around the country in 2006, selling CDs to those standing in line, it’s appropriate that Mayday Parade take part in the festival’s final journey. The band has come a long way since those early days, having just released their sixth studio album, Sunnyland, earlier this summer. Per usual, Derek Sanders bounded across the main stage singing fan favorites like “Jamie All Over” and “Jersey”, making for the perfect summer sing-a-long session.

Check out our podcast interview with Derek Sanders of Mayday Parade!

Mayday Parade

As It Is

The band’s second stint on Warped Tour has brought a new sound and a new look. Making light of the obvious changes in between songs, vocalist Patty Walters introduces the band as “My Chemical Romance.” Even if As It Is haven’t quite hit the heights of the aforementioned emo legends, the early signs from upcoming album The Great Depression seem to be promising. From “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” to “The Wounded World”, these new tracks sound even better live than on tape.

As It Is

Doll Skin

While watching Phoenix, Arizona, rockers Doll Skin tear through their set, I was reminded of watching letlive. just a few years prior. The band harness the same amount of energy and passion in their performance, with vocalist Sydney Dolezal even climbing into the crowd mid-song to unleash her powerful scream. For as exciting as the band’s set was, it was disappointing to find it on a side stage. This is the kind of band deserving of the biggest platform available.

Doll Skin

Real Friends

Real Friends feels like our best current example of what it’s like to watch a band grow up on Warped Tour. Having just released their third full-length album, Composure, the band’s main stage set was one of the highlights of the day. Dan Lambton’s energy, even this late into the grueling tour, provided a spark for the crowd as he lit into “Get By” to kick off the band’s set. Having put together the best album of their career, it will be exciting to see where they go next.

Real Friends

Issues

Tyler Carter has the kind of voice that you have to hear to believe. Even when taking on an early set on a hot day late in the tour, Carter still manages to croon his way through eight songs at full tilt. The band, now a four piece, is in the process of putting together their third album, this time minus Michael Bohn. Nevertheless, Carter handled both sides of the vocals beautifully throughout the band’s set, with help from Adrian Rebollo.

Issues

Waterparks

It feels like the stock for Houston pop punk powerhouse Waterparks just keeps rising. With the release of Entertainment earlier this year, the band has cemented their stay as one of the genre’s hottest acts and have ascended to Warped Tour’s main stage. Awsten Knight carries the band’s vocal duties and helps wake up the morning crowd with performances of “Blonde”, “Take Her to the Moon”, and more.

Waterparks

This Wild Life

While standing at the front of the stage to shoot This Wild Life’s gentle set, I couldn’t help but feel good for the security guards, finally relieved of flying bodies and crowd surfers for 30 minutes. The Long Beach duo’s quiet set is the perfect intermission for a day of loud noises, especially as their catalogue of songs continues to grow. The band performs tracks from their new album, Petaluma, while still finding time to throw in some oldies like “History” and “Concrete”.

This Wild Life

Frank Turner

Yes, THAT Frank Turner took the stage for a few Warped Tour dates this year. Each year on the tour, there are always a few surprises on the lineup that should be labeled required viewing. The English folk singer took to the main stage for an eight-song set that felt all too short, while still providing plenty of moments for sing-a-longs and even a few laughs. His closing performance of “Get Better” proved to be one of the highlights of the day.

Frank Turner

Senses Fail

One final run of Warped Tour just wouldn’t feel right without one of the screamo scene’s old guard in tow, and Senses Fail make for the perfect choice. Over 15 years in, vocalist Buddy Nielsen is still a sight to behold on stage, whether he’s playing old standards like “Bite to Break Skin” and “Calling All Cars” or even a few cover songs. The band’s latest release, If There is Light, It Will Find You, is one of the most underrated albums so far in 2018, and the band’s Warped set proves to be a reminder that Senses Fail still have plenty of life left.

Senses Fail

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: Real Friends – Composure

It’s been just over two years since Real Friends came out with a full-length album, and while this isn’t an abnormally long period, I held firm belief that the band was in the process of creating their best work yet. It turns out, I wasn’t wrong. Composure is one of the best releases you’ll hear this year and is built as a story about the impact mental illness has on our relationships and our lives.

This is an album with a title that is vitally important to the context of the record. The very concept of composure itself is centrally woven through every song on the album, creating a continuity and arc that is impossible to ignore and a story that is liable to hit home for nearly everyone who listens.

You can buy or stream Composure on Apple Music.

As the album kicks off with “Me First”, there’s no composure present. Vocalist Dan Lambton bares it all, singing, “Why don’t you put me first for once / And spare me the bad news / Why don’t you put me first for once / We might need to slow down / Cuz’ I’m not going anywhere”. If you’ve ever been in a place where you don’t feel appreciated, it’s difficult to hold back your frustration once you reach your limit. Straightforward and biting, the character has voiced his concerns and now he can focus on working through it.

The bridge in “Stand Steady” is a continuation of the feelings in the first track. “Here I am / Showing every worry / To the world”, is a short but telling phrase that shows he’s still not cool with what’s going on. However, he’s decided to work on being the stronger person in the situation.

The story truly unfolds in “From the Outside”, which was a very fitting single for the band to release in anticipation for this album. Here we find that the person he’s struggling with is himself. Lambton has often spoken of struggling with bipolar disorder, and this song talks about his prescriptions and his constant need to save face. He’s in the public eye and has an influence. This idea continues on in the next song, “Smiling On the Surface”.

I took “Hear What You Want” to be referencing either a relationship with someone else or another way that he’s talking about himself. “I can’t leave you / You can’t leave me”, could refer to a toxic relationship or it could be talking about his mental illness. You can’t always get rid of what’s going on in your thoughts, and by hearing what you want, Lambton could be saying that the intrusive thoughts are a lot louder than he wishes they’d be, and even though one part of him knows he should ignore it, he can’t.

The next song, “Unconditional Love”, led me to believe that the past song is about a relationship. “You let me down / But you never let me go”, is saying that the relationship wasn’t beneficial, but they’re still trying to make it work despite knowing that it’s only a matter of time before things really go south. The last line of the song is “So let me go”, making clear that our character knows that what’s best for his mental health is to drop things that aren’t fulfilling and healthy.

On the title track, Lambton sings, “I’m reclaiming my composure”. He’s learning how to work through some of the tougher moments in his life. The second verse is where a lot of the darker ideas reside, quite literally. “I never told anyone / But the truth is I see / The shadow hanging over me”. I think this song is about not keeping cool, but losing it. He’s trying his absolute best to keep up with the meds and the preventative measures, but he still feels off.

The biggest thing about mental illness is how it makes you feel closed off from the rest of the world. Being in a crowded room and feeling like you’re the only one there. Doing something you love to do or being with people you love and, right in the middle of it, thinking to yourself that you don’t want to be there anymore.

“Get By” carries on the theme from “Hear What You Want” and “Unconditional Love”. This is the part of the story where our character decides to do something about the weight of this relationship. He breaks it off. An important note here is that it’s never implied that it’s any kind of romantic relationship. Mental illness messes up all kinds of friendships and family ties that, when they fall through, have that emotional attachment that is hard to get over.

A lot of pop punk is based on dating and breaking up (even some old Real Friends songs), but I feel like this album is trying to strike a different chord. The band’s character here is in a tough spot with someone, but not necessarily who we think. I think it’s important to remember that the impact of mental illness isn’t just something to romanticize, but it’s something that tears people apart. It’s hard to look back on your life and replay the conversations where something wasn’t quite over, but being able to notice signs that things weren’t right. Hindsight is 20/20.

The second-to-last track on Composure is “Ripcord”. In the vein of “Get By”, we see this situation from the opposite perspective, looking purely at the other side of this conflict. The other party feels like the character is using them for their support and only calls out when it’s convenient.

This is another facet of mental illness people don’t really talk about. It’s true that someone with a mental illness often fails to see past their struggle and watch the impact it’s having on others around them. Sometimes, though, it’s a protective measure for the person themselves. If they’re not getting the support they need from those around them, their last resort can be just focusing on making themselves able to cope and function. This isn’t an excuse, it’s a fact. So yeah, maybe in “Ripcord” other people in the character’s life are having trouble dealing with the way things are going, but our character himself is also having trouble.

The album ends with “Take a Hint”, where things turn around and settle down. Dan sings, “I’m learning to take a hint / Stay convinced / We’ll see the other side”. Despite the toll this whole ordeal has taken on our character, he’s still willing to find the optimism and works hard to stay in the place of positivity.

You may notice that I only talked about the lyrical merits of Real Friends’ new album Composure. I didn’t talk about how vocally dynamic it is, or how well produced it is, or how the band has matured musically. It is all of those things and more, but I think what’s important here is the message. It’s a cry for a help. It’s an explanation. It’s a warning. It’s a piece of art that highlights one of the most prevalent issues of today. It’s worth listening to not because you love the band or love pop punk, it’s worth listening to because with a little bit of effort, you might learn something.

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.

10 Real Friends Songs to Blast While Awaiting Their New Album

Like many punk fans, I’m eagerly awaiting the latest release from Real Friends. In preparation, I’ve been revisiting a lot of old favorites.

A lot of these songs were really important to me in my late teens. I’d been dealing with a lot emotionally and somehow Dan Lambton always had just the thing I needed to hear. The emotional connection has stuck with me since, and even though I don’t listen to their latest album, The Home Inside My Head, very often, I still get the same feelings of nostalgia when I do.

Real Friends’ music is almost cathartic for me, because remembering what I was dealing with and being removed from it now puts things into a lot of perspective. Songs like “Sixteen” don’t make me as deeply upset as they used to. I’ve felt the feelings and I’ve been learning to put them aside once I’ve dealt with them.

The feelings of emotional weakness that Lambton sings about really resonated with me then and they still do. I may not be in as bad of a place as I was when I was introduced to Real Friends, but sometimes stuff still bubbles up. The difference between then and now is that I recognize it and I’m able to deal with it more swiftly before it turns into a bigger problem.

I think Real Friends have really helped me figure out that process for myself. Their latest track, “From the Outside”, hasn’t really grown on me yet, but I’m getting there. I identify with a lot of the lyrics in the track, which gives me high hopes for their new album. A big trend in pop punk lately seems to be taking a lighter approach to the darker themes that are usually dealt with. Strangely enough, I’ve found myself in a place where I’m also taking a lighter approach to my struggles.

I’m excited to join Real Friends in their latest journey. I’m hoping to catch their set at Warped Tour this year and I have a feeling it will be a very emotional show for me, much in the way Neck Deep and The Wonder Years have been. There’s something strange about growing up with bands, and one of the best examples of that in my life is Real Friends.

Without further ado, here are my favorite songs by the band. I think it’s a great group of songs to dive into if you’ve never really gotten into them.

1. Skin Deep” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

2. “Colder Quicker” from The Home Inside My Head

3. “Late Nights In My Car” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

4. “Home” for Fall from the Everyone that Dragged You Here EP

5. “Sixteen” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

6. “From the Outside” from their new album due later this year

7. “I Don’t Love You Anymore” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

8. “I’ve Given Up On You” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

9. “Floorboards” from the Everyone that Dragged You Here EP

10. “Summer” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #2 Real Friends Take it to the Next Level

In the last few years, Illinois’ sad boys have come to revitalize a stagnant emo scene with hard hitting pop songs. Each new release only elevates the band’s writing as they transform what could be sappy genre songs into enormously energetic rock juggernauts.

If recent single, “Get By” is any indication, Real Friends’ third full-length will keep this tradition alive. Though topics such as loneliness and nostalgia tend to appear on every release, it never feels repetitious or without merit. Their hard work has provided an incredibly strong discography that only improves song after song.

After a session of writing songs with Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember, it seems the band may be doubling down on their energetic performance and edge. Real Friends are already a strong pop punk outfit, but the added insight from one of the biggest bands in the genre is a dream come true.

Real Friends are an honest band that has tightened their writing in recent years. The talent behind this group is enormous, and the payoff from their recent recordings can’t come fast enough.

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 Real Friends live twice. He can’t wait to sing along to their every word this summer.

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.

Warped Tour 2016: Make Some Noise

against-the-current-warped-splash

Warped Tour can be an oppressive affair. Sweltering heat, oversized crowds and a fair amount of uncomfortable controversy all make for a cruel mixture. Yet for all of the obstacles, Warped Tour still offers a platform for up and coming bands and a meeting ground for music fans of all kinds. Now in its 22nd year of existence, the country’s largest traveling music festival is a well-oiled machine.

Per usual, this year’s trek offers up a variety of acts, both new and old, that span across multiple genres. Some bands are using the tour as a chance to say “goodbye,” while others are just making an introduction.

After attending Warped Tour’s recent stop in Indianapolis, we decided to highlight a few of the bands that are shining bright this summer. Whether you’re a fan of pop punk, metalcore, post-hardcore or pop, there’s no shortage of sets you won’t want to miss on this year’s tour. Take a look below!

Mayday Parade

Mayday Parade has come a long way since their days following Warped Tour in a van in 2006, handing out CDs to bystanders in line. The Tallahassee, Florida, outfit is a full-scale rock behemoth that once again finds itself gracing the main stage. With the release of last year’s Black Lines, Mayday Parade has fully transitioned from pop punk heroes to an alt-rock powerhouse. Even with an impressive new collection of songs at their disposal, the band still finds time to play fan favorites like “Black Cat”, “Jersey” and “Jamie All Over”

Mayday Parade

Mayday Parade

Against the Current

After signing with Fueled by Ramen and releasing their smash debut album In Our Bones, pop rockers Against the Current look primed to take over the scene. With the confident Chrissy Constanza behind the mic, the band deliver loads of melody perfect for summer sing-alongs. With a solid debut under their belt and a fan base growing larger by the day, don’t be surprised if Against the Current find themselves on the main stage in the very near future.

Against the Current

Against the Current

Yellowcard

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Sure, it’s devastating to consider Yellowcard’s upcoming disbandment following the release of their self-titled album in September, but at least fans are getting another chance to hear their favorite songs. This summer on Warped, Yellowcard reaches back, playing a variety of fan favorites, including four tracks from their smash album Ocean Avenue. Warped Tour won’t be the same without Yellowcard, but we’re thankful that we get to say goodbye.

Yellowcard

Yellowcard

The Word Alive

Even though Phoenix metalcore act The Word Alive are still a relatively young band, they’re now Warped veterans, spending their fourth summer on the tour. With Dark Matter, the band has evolved from their beginnings, offering a taste of experimental rock and even nu metal sounds. Their setlist is a wild ride, especially with Tyler “Telle” Smith on the mic, working the crowd into a frenzy.

The Word Alive

The Word Alive

Secrets

San Diego’s Secrets have had their fair share of re-birth, now enlisting their third vocalist in Wade Walters to handle screaming duties. Multiple changes behind the mic have done little to slow the band down, though, with last year’s Everything That Got Us Here being the band’s strongest work to date. Walters and clean vocalist and guitarist Richard Rogers are now one of the scene’s best one-two punches, providing fans with plenty of reason to jump around in the pit.

Secrets

Secrets

Sleeping with Sirens

Sleeping with Sirens have not only climbed the Warped ladder through the years, they’ve also covered a lot of sonic ground that has kept the band fresh in the eyes and ears of their fans. Last year’s Madness finds the band experimenting with pop elements in addition to ragers like “We Like it Loud” and “Kick Me”, which elicit excitement from the Warped Tour crowd.

Sleeping with Sirens

Sleeping with Sirens

Emarosa

Moments after the rest of Emarosa takes the stage for their set at Warped, vocalist Bradley Walden shoots into the crowd, performing “Miracle” from inside the pit. It’s the kind of energy that makes this summer tour such a blast for fans, especially when you consider the heart and soul poured into the band’s latest release, 131. Walden and company have taken their game to a whole new level, which is saying a lot for one of the most captivating bands in the post-hardcore scene.

Emarosa

Emarosa

Real Friends

Considering the clamor surrounding their debut, it’s still incredible to see how much Real Friends has upped the ante with their new release, The Home Inside My Head. The band continues to come into their own, now gracing the main stage for this summer’s Warped Tour. Dan Lambton bounds about the stage wailing with passion while the rest of the band drives their set forward, much to the crowd’s delight. Sometimes singing the saddest songs can still be a joyous affair.

Real Friends

Real Friends

I See Stars

It’s possible that Treehouse is the most criminally underrated album of 2016. The latest from electronicore act I See Stars finds Devin Oliver handling full vocal duty for the first time, and his stage presence at Warped is something to behold. The band still brings the house down with hits like “Murder Mitten” and “Filth Friends Unite”, but showcase newfound potential with new tracks like “Mobbin’ Out”. On their third full trek on the summer tour, I See Stars are sounding better than ever.

I See Stars

I See Stars

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: Real Friends – The Home Inside My Head

real-friends-2016

Real Friends has been a band that toyed with my opinion of them for several years. While their early EPs simmered with energy and the youthful nostalgia of those new to learning what life is outside of school, their debut LP, Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing did not resonate with me at all. I wanted to love them so badly, but I worried that they were just another flash in the scene destined to fade before they had made their mark.

You can buy The Home Inside My Head on iTunes.

You can buy The Home Inside My Head on iTunes.

The Home Inside My Head, the second album by Real Friends, not only firmly cements them as a force to be reckoned with in the pop punk genre, it may be the single most powerful emo album in the last decade.

Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t sound like an album that came out a week ago; Real Friends wear their influences on their sleeves proudly. THIMH sounds like it may have been recorded at any point since 2000 and would have been just as powerful then as it is now.

While there is a definitive improvement in skill and writing throughout the album, there is a sentimentality and respect at points where you can hear an influence from another band (they even name-drop ‘Death Cab’ and ‘Dashboard’, just cuz). “Scared To Be Alone” sounds like it was ripped straight off of The Starting Line’s Direction. The rash guitars rival the harsh melodies that The Wonder Years made famous on The Upsides, but the softer, broodier songs and the heart breaking self-deprecating lyricism remind me of The Early November circa The Room Is Too Cold. On a side note, Real Friends have always reminded me of TEN, but that could just be vocalist Dan Lambton’s shaggy head of hair compared to the curly fro of a young Ace Enders.

Real Friends manage to enthrall the entire record with loud melody. “Stay In One Place” is a seminal opener, catchy on the first listen and an intense rocker to lead the charge. “Empty Picture Frames” is a new staple that begins with subdued power cords before unleashing a torrent of sound during the chorus, backed with soaring, multi-tiered backing vocals. The painfully soft “Mokena” pulls the emotion out of Lambton’s voice, as he shouts, “I’m fucking up and getting over it”.

One of my biggest critiques of earlier Real Friends’ music was that the songs were trying to be ‘sad just to be sad,’ or they seemed somewhat generically emo. That is still true to some degree, as there are still too many references to ‘the past’, or just the word ‘sad’ in general. However, The Home Inside My Head, a metaphor for the lonely comfort you can find in yourself while the outside world eats away at you is much more refined while staying on point. There isn’t a happy ending here, just growth.

Dan Lambton’s vocals are cleaner and more emotive than past work, and it pushes more heart into his lyrics. One constant of Real Friends is that Lambton sings about reflecting on his past, most likely high school, and how happy he used to be compared to now. The Home Inside My Head can be relentlessly harsh like that. On “Stay In One Place,” while hating how a loved one takes out their anger on him, Lambton asks himself, “Can you find your calling if nothing is calling for you?”

“Keep Lying To Me” finds Lambton still wrestling with a failed relationship as he sings, “Last night I closed my eyes and thought about someone that wasn’t you / The weight of the world slipped off my shoulders /…/ I know this isn’t where you want to be / I think I’m better off when I’m alone”.

However, there is a glimmer of hope that begins during “Empty Picture Frames” and sprinkles itself throughout. This might be the only place he finds comfort as he breaks himself down mentally. “The home inside my head has a bed for me / That no one will ever get the chance to see / A kitchen table with one chair, walls with empty picture frames / That no one will ever see”.

Through the cresting waves of depression, self doubt and harsh reflection, lines crop up from time to time that show progress pushing through the darkness, such as “Last year I was a trainwreck, now I’m just a mess” (“Mess”), or “Show me how to be something other than nostalgic / I want to feel inspired and innocent again / I just want to be worth your time” (“Well, I’m Sorry”).

The Home Inside My Head might be the essential playbook on emo for this generation, similar to the way The Get Up Kids’ Something To Write Home About was almost 20 years ago. It is brazenly open, honest and over the top in a way that reminds you why emo became such a force to be reckoned with in the first place. The tip of the hat to other bands seems like a flourish to anyone listening closely, like a musical wink to fans. Real Friends are at the top of their game, and made an album worth the time of anyone who has fallen in love with the genre within the last twenty years.

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 has seen Real Friends live twice. They were good, but he will be singing along to their every word this summer.

Kanye West Tweets Tracklist for “SWISH”

Kanye-chain

Kanye West has revealed the final tracklist for his upcoming album SWISH. Check out Kanye’s tweet below, featuring a photo of the tracklist on a notepad:

Track Listing
1. Nina Chop
2. Father Stretch My Hands
3. Waves
4. High Lights
5. 30 Hours
6. No More Parties in L.A.
7. Fade
8. FML
9. Real Friends
10. Wolves

Rough versions of a few of the tracks, including “Real Friends”, “Fade” and “No More Parties in L.A.” have been released on Soundcloud as a part of Kanye’s Good Fridays series. What are your thoughts on what you’ve heard so far? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Riot Fest 2015 – Day 2

RiotFest

Riot Fest is an exhausting weekend. Sticking with what has become a yearly tradition, Day 2 of the festival opened after a full day and night of rain and cool temperatures the day before. Thankfully, Saturday’s weather was gorgeous save for a few threatening clouds, but the rain had left its mark, and it would be felt by dozens before the night was done.

One of the trademarks of Riot Fest is how quickly the earth turns to mud once it rains. Vans shoe after Vans shoe smashes the soft grass into the chunky clay and it tends to become a mess. Everyone at the festival would experience it, but for some, it would become a nightmare.

Let’s jump back though, just a bit, to about midday, when Millencolin blazed away to a large crowd. The band looked eerily relaxed on stage, pacing gently and letting the crowd do the majority of the energetic work for them; we were happy to oblige. It was a quick startup to the day ahead.

The Movielife took the stage early on in their full 2002 glory. Vinnie Caruana paced the stage, screaming as the band blazed through their songs to a large crowd, considering the group has been mostly inactive and haven’t released any material in the last 13 years. Regardless, they carried the torch high for the generation that really launched the pop punk revolution from Drive Thru Records back in the day.

About midday, The Dead Milkmen came up, and basically split the crowd in half. On the one side, there were hardcore fans, singing along to every word, losing their shit and constantly reminding anyone who stood near them that seeing this band live was “something magical that doesn’t happen very often.” The other half couldn’t have given less of a fuck and waited it out or went to see who else was playing.

Midday, several current bands utterly slayed everything in their path. Mayday Parade took the stage by storm, delivering one of the most energetic sets I’ve ever seen, leading the crowd in choruses so strong, some people I brought with me who had never heard of the band before were humming the songs by the end. One of the more memorable moments came when the band played a new song, “One of Them Will Destroy the Other”, allegedly for the first time live. The real surprise though, was when Dan Lambton of Real Friends stormed the stage midway through and sang double vocals with vocalist Derek Sanders.

The Devil Wears Prada are destroyers of all things living and pilot the stage like they were trying to destroy Alderaan. Do you really need to know anything else? It’s an amazing show they put on, and even in peak daylight, their lightshow is perfect.

Alexisonfire recently reunited to a mad swarm of fans. The band danced around the stage to a frenzied crowd, wondering when their next chance would be to see the group live again. Although it didn’t happen at Chicago Riot Fest, a week later, the band would announce their official reunion at Riot Fest Toronto in their native Canada.

That night though, was when the true magic appeared, and for some, pure terror.

Billy Idol headlined his stage to a monstrous crowd. He carried his swagger and demanded the crowd sing along with him. He was truly enigmatic, blasting music across the hills before ending with a massive rendition of “White Wedding” that sent the crowd raging screams as Billy commanded their attention.

Taking Back Sunday helped close off the night with a massive stage show. For being one the smaller stages, they upped the ante from their headlining position the previous year. Even several hundred feet from the stage, fans jumped and sang back. With a massive catalog of older songs and their newer hits, the band blasted the night sky with a huge light show.

Then there was The Academy Is… The instant they stepped on stage, the crowd fell under their spell – the opening lines, “Attention, attention” grabbed the audience completely. Despite the incredible noise the band managed to produce, the crowd sang back almost loud enough to drown them out. Their performance was magnetic, nostalgic and hypnotizing, made all the better with the announcement of the band taking a full tour for the 10th anniversary of Almost Here before ending with one of their most underrated songs, “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands”.

Finally, System of a Down took full reign of the evening. They headlined Day 2 on the biggest stage, and were the unfortunate victims of the day’s muddied frenzy. I only saw the band from the very back of the crowd, as I am not terribly familiar with their music but wanted to see them perform. Several friends jumped headfirst into the gigantic crowd, hoping for a good view and a place to jump. It was catastrophic.

The crowd in front of the stage became too large, too quick, and the mud beneath their feet basically liquefied. Within the first few songs, all hell broke loose as waves of people fell, with more eager fans trampling them further into the mud. The band was forced to stop their set at least twice for minutes at a time to make sure people could get out, but for those in the crowd, it was utter hell. There are dozens of stories about people thinking they were going to die from suffocating in the mud, of people with a bit of space grabbing girls and smaller people and throwing them into the air to crowd surf them to safety.

Although there were officially only a few injuries, several people passed out, and one of my friends emerged with a muddied boot print across his nose and a glassy-eyed, shell shock look on his face as he just mumbled that “he saw a body, face down in the mud, not breathing,” and how the crowd closed in and started jumping before he could get close enough to pull the stranger out of the mud.

It was unfortunate, but a cost of unfortunate weather, and an enormous swarm of loyal fans willing to wade through hell to see their band. At the very least, there are some unique battle stories to be had.

Riot Fest is my favorite festival. So many generations of musicians and fans make it an event that lacks to pompous and annoying crowds that flock to younger shows. This is an event for everyone, and a generous helping of music for whatever genre or era you’re most in love with. With all of the trouble the festival faced this year in Chicago (forced to move venues, sued by a hospital, the mud, so much mud), I fear that we may not see them here again. But Chicago loves this festival, which has quickly become a yearly staple for those who have attended before. I sincerely hope that the festival survives Chicago’s bullshit to reward those loyal enough to come year after year.

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 went to Riot Fest with a man dressed like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers. He was recognized almost a dozen times and posed for photos, while I stood awkwardly to the side, hoping for the sweet release of beer to take hold.