Podcast: The Best Music of 2018

Part 1

As 2018 comes to a close, the team at It’s All Dead have crunched the numbers and compiled their lists of the best albums and best songs of the year. On this podcast, Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Paiva to break down some of the year’s best music, including releases from Pianos Become the Teeth, The 1975, The Wonder Years, mewithoutYou, and much more. They also discuss what made music great in 2018 – both in terms of commentary and in terms of escape. Listen in!

Part 2

But wait, there’s more! On part 2 of our Best of 2018 podcast, Kiel Hauck is joined by It’s All Dead senior editor Kyle Schultz to talk further about the year in music. The two discuss the merits of Fall Out Boy’s return with MANIA and how Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco ascended to new heights with Pray for the Wicked. They also break down releases from Architects, Justin Courney Pierre, Pusha T, and As It Is. Listen in!

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What were your favorite albums and songs of 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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The Best Songs of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

14. Pronoun – “Wrong”

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

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

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

12. Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”

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

11. Saves the Day – “Suzuki”

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

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

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

9. Fall Out Boy – “Church”

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

8. Vince Staples – “Feels Like Summer”

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

7. Watsky – “Welcome to the Family”

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

6. Brian Fallon – “Little Nightmares”

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

5. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next”

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

4. Childish Gambino – “This is America”

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

3. Senses Fail – “Double Cross”

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

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

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

1. Drake – “Nice for What”

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

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

Honorable Mention:

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

It took a long time for me to get into The 1975. I thought they were another record-company-manufactured English boy band because, if you recall, we were still in the age of One Direction when their first album, The 1975, released in 2013. It wasn’t until 2016 when their second album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it came out that the band caught my interest. Now, both albums are in heavy rotation for me, and I found myself excited for their third.

You can buy or stream a Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships on Apple Music.

According to every signal we got from the band throughout 2018, the album was slated for a release in the summer. We got a single instead, the first of several, and the album got pushed until now. They changed the title from Music for Cars to A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The album is perfectly titled.

At the crux of this album is a picture of today’s society. We’re a generation rampant with social anxiety, and science shows that this is due largely to the presence of the Internet in our lives. We’re constantly within arm’s length of what’s happening in any part of the world, whether it’s positive or negative. Matty Healy and the other members of The 1975 have taken two-and-a-half years forming an album that’s really a plea for change in these habits. Heck, Healy even sings that we should be “going outside” in the lead single, “Give Yourself a Try”. He has seen firsthand the negative effects that fame and constantly being in the spotlight has brought him and is begging us to use responsibility in our social media habits and other personal spheres of influence.

Like the other two albums by The 1975, A Brief Inquiry talks a lot about heroin and other drug use. Healy has excitedly been clean and sober for some time now, but does talk about his experiences in some of the tracks – largely, “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” and “Surrounded By Heads and Bodies”, as well as some smaller references sprinkled in others. Like any medical problem, addiction is so hard to recover from, and Healy tells us that it’s even harder when he is “…connecting with 10,000 people and then going to a hotel room by myself.”

The band prides itself in its creativity. They’re never one to do the same thing twice. Each iteration of the first track on each album, “The 1975”, is composed as an entrance into the world the album intends to transport us to. In their first album, we had songs about partying and doing drugs and other frivolous behavior. In I like it when you sleep, Healy went on a personal journey of introspection. There were songs about drugs and parties, sure, but there was also a song about losing his grandmother, and a song about fighting to find some faith somewhere. Healy had started the growing-up process.

This third album, though, is taking an outrospective look at what’s around him. He sees where he’s failed in relationships because of the intense need to be connected to the rest of the world. He looks at the political climate of the United States and is appalled at what he sees. He wrote a song about gun control.

Sometimes, an album can have such a great lyrical depth that the musical side is left lacking. Not so with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The band has equally composed a soundtrack that very well may have gotten the point across even without lyrics. Where there are many electronic and computer-y effects toward the beginning, there’s a change in the middle, followed by songs like “Mine”, which is straight-up jazz.

One might say at first glance that the constant stylistic changes don’t work, but it’s The 1975. If they don’t care about what works, why should we? It took me a little while to get used to how the album flows – or rather, doesn’t flow. Each track sits well on its own, but the way it’s all tied together lyrically is enough to counteract how strangely it jumps from both genre to genre and era to era. There are some 80’s inspired synths, and then there’s “Be My Mistake”, a song I could see being performed at a Woodstock Festival.

I would be making a huge mistake if I didn’t draw special attention to the final track. “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)” starts like it could be the end-credits track to a sappy emotional movie, but it’s a great picture of how depression can cloud everything. A person who’s deep in that mindset can feel like it’s always been that way, that there’s never been a time they’ve been truly happy. But the truth is, it’s only sometimes. Healy is reminding us to remember the “sometimes.” I think it’s the most beautiful thing The 1975 has offered us, and it’s a perfect ending to an album that is imploring us to live life to the fullest.

Conceptually, the album is wonderful. It puts forth a strong message about how the world desperately needs to change. There are hard-hitting lines about politics, climate change, and even a spoken word about a man who falls in love with the Internet (a.k.a. all of us, in some way or another).

It’s a hard lesson to learn on our own, never mind when we’re being reprimanded for all of these bad habits by a band who we’ve generally just enjoyed the music of. Now they’re asking us to put effort into being present in our daily lives? Yeah, they are. Which is what makes The 1975 so great. They’re obsessed with pushing their own creative boundaries so much, that we’re forced to grow with them. So maybe we should close our browsers, but I think we should keep our headphones plugged in.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #9 The 1975 Cruise into Another Album Cycle

Ever since their debut in 2013, The 1975 have wowed music fans everywhere with their unique expression of pop rock music. They’ve been teasing us for months now about a project called Music for Cars, and after what they accomplished with 2016’s i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, I’m psyched.

The 1975 never fail to impress when it comes to their experimental view of music and they’ve managed to grow their sound in exciting ways across their first two albums. The band hasn’t given us anything but a title and a potential release date for their third full-length, but that doesn’t mean the buzz will cease. Everyone is excited for the new soundscapes Matty Healy and company have created for us.

The album title is also the name of an EP the band released in 2013, which leads me to believe that they’re returning to their roots. Hopefully they’ll expand on that theme a bit more, because even though I loved i like it when you sleep, I enjoyed the musical direction they took in their first album.

Music for Cars is to be released on both Dirty Hit and Polydor. There’s no preorder, no singles, no videos. Just high expectations. In the meantime, you can listen to the live album they just put out called DH00278.

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.

Top 10 Songs of 2016

best-songs-of-2016

Check out our Top 10 Albums of 2016 here.

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

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

10. Emarosa – “Helpless”

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

9. Honeyblood – “Ready for the Magic”

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

8. Architects – “Gone with the Wind”

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

7. Green Day – “Bang Bang”

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

6. The 1975 – “Somebody Else”

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

5. Blink-182 – “Los Angeles”

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

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

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

3. Brian Fallon – “A Wonderful Life”

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

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

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

1. Yellowcard – “Rest in Peace”

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

Honorable Mention:

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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

Top 10 Albums of 2016

best-albums-of-2016

Check out our Top 10 Songs of 2016 here.

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

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

Without further ado, the top 10 albums of 2016:

10-revolution-radioGreen Day – Revolution Radio

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

9-lemonadeBeyoncé – Lemonade

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

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

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

7-along-the-shadowSaosin – Along the Shadow

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

6-materialBlaqk Audio – Material

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

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

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

4-painkillersBrian Fallon – Painkillers

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

3-coloring-bookChance the Rapper – Coloring Book

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

2-californiaBlink-182 – California

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

1-blondeFrank Ocean – Blonde

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

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To experience I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is to somehow concede that The 1975, the self-titled debut album from Brit rock’s hottest band, is substandard or amiss. This is, of course, not true, but everything about The 1975 in the year 2016 seems to want you to feel that way. Or do they?

On looks alone, it’s easy to view I Like it When You Sleep as the band’s big crossover moment. What was once dreary and shrouded in black in white is now buzzing with bright, fluorescent pink light. What once appeared aloof is now standing center stage awash in spotlight. For a band that in the not-too-distant past bristled at notions of boy bandom and pop celebrity, it’s hard not to view this as one giant wink at the camera.

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You can buy I Like It When You Sleep on iTunes.

All of the pieces are in place for what’s building toward an epic rock and roll fairy tale: an enigmatic frontman, sharply self-aware promotion, persistent interest from the press, and a rapidly growing fanbase that’s nearing a fever pitch. Yet for all of the pomp and circumstance swirling about this reintroduction, the music itself sounds shockingly like The 1975. So what the hell is going on?

This isn’t necessarily the metamorphosis you’ve been led to believe it is – it’s just a better, much more satisfying view of the details. You already know that humming synthesizers have replaced a few guitars on I Like It When You Sleep, but the dirty little secret is that the band’s fantastic sense of melody and pop tendencies were actually there all along. I Like It When You Sleep simply capitalizes on those strengths in delightful ways.

Go back and listen to songs like “Settle Down”, “Robbers” and “Girls” from the band’s debut to find the building blocks for “Love Me”, “She’s American” and “The Sound”. Gone is the greyed-out rock façade and in is a band basking in the glow of 80s pop pleasure. The influence runs deep on this record, but The 1975 have managed to turn a trend into something all their own.

I Like It When You Sleep is far more akin to popping ecstasy to fight off the demons than it is to chewing bubblegum. Vocalist Matthew Healy has fully transformed from detached frontman to starkly self-aware singer who appears to be fighting off his own caricature. “It’s not about reciprocation, it’s just all about me / A sycophantic, prophetic, Socratic junkie wannabe”, he slurs out on soon-to-be-smash single “The Sound”.

On this venture, Healy has exchanged many of the lovelorn barbs from the band’s debut with razor sharp commentary on fame and success. “Caught up in fashion, Karcrashian panache / And a bag of bash for passion”, he seethes on the ironically titled “Love Me”. Yet there’s still plenty of room here for self-reflection – on the jazzy “If I Believe You”, the atheistic Healy finds himself questioning: “I’m broken and bleeding / And begging for help / And I’m asking you Jesus, show yourself”.

With its constant tonal shifts, I Like It When You Sleep plays much like a cry for help, aided by the album’s constantly evolving soundscape. Here, the band’s music is just as manic as Healy’s own thoughts, refusing to be trapped or pigeonholed. Included are the obvious crossover singles we were promised, but the album’s best moments come in unexpected packages. “Somebody Else” is the sultry, yearning track we’re accustomed to from the band, but this time it’s dressed to the nines in slick synthesizers and rich programmed drums, harkening “Careless Whisper” darkness, only much more distressing . “Get someone you love? / Get someone you need? / Fuck that, get money”, Healy tells himself.

“A Change of Heart” finds the band treading in similarly gentle waters, but this track is less smooth and more defined by odd and blippy electronics, with Healy reflecting on an old flame. It’s here that the singer’s bite returns for a moment, as he sings, “You used to have a face straight out of a magazine / Now you just look like anyone”, mirroring his more delicate side from “Robbers” on the band’s debut: “She had a face straight out a magazine…” It’s the same inverse image of Healy’s take on his own mental health found on 2013’s “Heart Out” and here on “The Sound”.

It’s probably cliché to call I Like It When You Sleep a rollercoaster ride, but the psychological twists and turns are sure to delight many pop fans in search of substance, even if the 74-minute run time leaves some listeners feeling ill. The constant callbacks to The 1975 serve not only as a polite nod to original fans, but also make clear how much the band has grown in terms of songwriting ability in three short years. The depth of Healy’s wicked back and forth struggle, coupled with the new sonic territory simply makes for a superior album in every way.

The 1975 have weathered their fair share of criticism in the time leading up to this release. For anyone who still believes that selling out is a thing or that exchanging guitar riffs for dance beats is an unforgivable sin, I Like It When You Sleep will be just the fodder they need to continue their tirade. There’s a lot to love here for those ready to embrace the band as they are, but there’s plenty to hate if you’re so inclined.

When Kurt Cobain penned “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the national anthem of rebellion for Gen Xers, he was, in his own words, “trying to write the ultimate pop song.” He succeeded. That unmistakable guitar riff may have incited a collective revolt among the youth, but only by channeling the Pixies. In an unlikely twist, the bright lights, melodic musings and unmistakable smirk of The 1975 on I Like It When You Sleep is just about the most rock and roll thing the band could have done.

4/5

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.

Is indie rock starting to have fun?

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Pardon indie rock if it seems a bit pretentious, but you just wouldn’t understand. Even if you pretended to understand and started buying vinyl copies of its albums and getting floor seats to arena shows of its biggest crossover acts, well, it just makes it look like you’re trying to hard. But that’s okay – you’ll just feel dumb the next time you climb into your mom’s SUV and she’s blasting the newest CD of the band you feel cool about listening to.

Okay, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it sums up the sneer that many “outsiders’ that enjoy the music feel. For decades, indie rock has prided itself on being an exclusive club – a group that actually “got” what music was supposed to sound like and reveled in keeping it close to the vest. The recent breakout of arena-filling indie rock like Arcade Fire or any of the major folk-indie acts that have found their way onto pop radio has resulted in another knee jerk reaction away from the bandwagon for some.

But to say that the majority feels this way would be dishonest. In fact, there’s been insurgence of indie acts that are having a good time and invite as many as would listen to come have a good time, too. Last year’s Celebration Rock by the Japandroids was the perfect example of an inviting experience – one that didn’t fit the mold of pop radio, but certainly didn’t possess the exclusive attitude or wet-blanket response to positive involvement.

This year has seen an uprising of even more welcoming, fun and downright inviting bands. Below are just three of the bands that are adding a smile and a dance step to the indie scene. Don’t feel bad about enjoying them.

Haim

The all girl indie pop outfit from Los Angeles released one of the best records of the year in September. With Days Are Gone, Haim has created one of the most promising debut efforts of the past few years and has cemented themselves atop the indie pop landscape. Days Are Gone certainly has its fair share of heavy and painful content, but the band responds to this subject matter with a wink and a smile as their music exudes a hopeful bounce.

Shifting between 80s pop, 90s alt rock and even a dash of R&B, Days Are Gone hints at the band’s many influences and creates its own unique sound. Singles like “Falling” and “The Wire” are sing-a-long worthy, while “If I Could Change Your Mind” is slick and full of groove. If their upcoming Saturday Night Live performance is any indication, Haim will be recruiting even more listeners very soon.

CHVRCHES

Scottish sythpop act CHVRCHES have been bubbling on the brink since they appeared on the scene last year. After a few EP releases, the group dropped The Bones of What You Believe in September and is currently crashing dance parties around the globe. The vocal delivery of Lauren Mayberry is sweet and calm, matching the synth-laced electronic soundscape laid out by the band. But don’t be fooled – Mayberry is no pushover, singing lines like, “I will be a gun and it’s you I’ll come for”.

Like Haim, CHVRCHES has some tough subjects to deal with throughout The Bones of What You Believe, but approaches them with snarky tongue-in-cheek lyrics and some of the catchiest, dance-worthy music you’ll hear this year. It would be easy to label Bones as a guilty pleasure, but that would be to slight the intelligence of what the band is saying and how they’re saying it. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that CHVRCHES is more than a catchy tune, but a welcome and joyful response for the downhearted.

The 1975

You haven’t really danced until you’ve heard the debut self-titled record from Manchester’s The 1975. While the album’s lyrics don’t delve as far into painful past memories as the bands listed above, the band excels in its ability to enjoy the things that are worth enjoying. The indie rock four-piece has a knack for writing killer choruses and moving bodies with their funky guitar work.

The beauty of this album is that it doesn’t feel the least bit exaggerated or hollow. If you’re response to the peppy bounce of The 1975 is to guffaw or roll your eyes, you’re not doing it right. This isn’t the mindless self-indulgent American pop of the last decade. Instead, the band seems very self-aware of what it is and wants to sing and dance for all of the right reasons.  In short, The 1975 is a damn good time that’s offered to anyone that would have it.

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.