Most Anticipated of 2019: #10 The Weeknd Keeps Us on Our Toes

Last year saw the music of The Weeknd take a stark turn. The dark, moody vibe of My Dear Melancholy shirked the celebratory pop vibes of Starboy in favor of the sounds that made Abel Tesfaye’s early mixtapes such an underground success. Personally, Melancholy was an unexpected treat, with my own tastes leaning more in the direction of the experimental alternative R&B that has made the Canadian singer such a unique outlier compared to his peers.

Nevertheless, The Weeknd is back in the studio working on a new full-length album, tentatively titled Chapter VI. Tesfaye has hinted that Melancholy was a necessary exorcising of hard feelings and that his new music would move back in a more positive direction. Whatever the case, The Weeknd has proved his ability to make music that fits the vibe of both dark, smoky clubs and explosive, ear-rattling arenas.

The Weeknd’s continuing ability to shape-shift, keeping listeners on their toes while using his signature croon to match any mood has made him one of the most essential pop artists of the decade.

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.

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The Weeknd Sets New Streaming Record with “My Dear Melancholy,”

Amidst all of the release buzz over the past few weeks, we’d be remiss not to mention The Weeknd’s surprise EP My Dear Melancholy,. Arriving on streaming services on March 30, the release has scored the largest EP streaming debut of all time and provides The Weeknd with his third consecutive No. 1 Album on the Billboard 200 chart.

My Dear Melancholy, strips away the celebratory pop vibe of 2016’s Starboy and returns to the darker vibes found on Beauty Behind the Madness. Melancholy is a cohesive set of six tracks, intertwined with pain and self-loathing that feels familiar. Whether it’s ground you want to retread with the bleary-eyed singer is of personal preference. For me, it’s a welcome return to form – especially in moments like the sultry, crooning chorus of lead single “Call Out My Name”.

Next up for The Weeknd is Coachella 2018 – and with any luck, another tour and potentially a full album will follow. In the meantime, the new EP will be available for purchase on April 13.

What’s your favorite track on My Dear Melancholy,? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Predicting the Song of the Summer

Today marks the first day of summer, and you know what that means – time to sing along to the Song of the Summer! But wait, where did that term come from? And what does it even mean? And does any of this even matter?

Richard Clark joins Kiel Hauck to discuss the history of the “Song of the Summer” and reflect on some of their favorite summertime tracks. They also break down the elements that make a summer song successful and even offer up some guesses for 2017’s song of the summer. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What is your favorite song of the summer memory? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Attempting to review a Kanye West album requires a certain level of detachment. We’re far past a place of simply appraising a body of art – reviewing a Kanye record in 2016 is an all-encompassing exercise in exhausting dialogue and debate about pop culture, social issues, ideological stances, and the purpose of art itself. One may find it wise to leave their baggage at the door before entering the conversation.

As hard as it is to believe, the events surrounding the release of The Life of Pablo, formerly known as Waves, formerly known as SWISH, formerly known as So Help Me God, have been the most explosive and divisive yet. A disturbingly tactless tweet. The leaking of a tasteless lyric that opens old wounds. A fog of confusion surrounding the release itself, leading to larger debates about the rights of an artist and the suspicious motives of the involved parties.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

You can stream The Life of Pablo on Tidal.

As tedious as the ensuing shit storm proved to be, there were several critical conversations in which appropriate voices were elevated, not the least of which included the ongoing debate surrounding misogyny in hip hop, with West standing at ground zero. In the weeks and months to come, those conversations will continue, and some may find it wise to listen far more than they contribute.

Aside from those necessary discourses, two very elemental questions seem appropriate to ask regarding The Life of Pablo. “How good is it?” and “Does it even matter at this point?”

Sonically speaking, The Life of Pablo is one of the most robust and inventive releases we’re likely to hear this year. It’s much too soon to place the album appropriately within Kanye’s discography, but rest assured, Pablo is another rousing chapter in an ongoing career of musical excellence. Although slightly unfocused at times, the record is dense, full of variety, and perhaps unsurprisingly, full of surprises.

In the weeks leading up to its release, West revealed that The Life of Pablo would be a gospel album. While you could certainly argue against the album’s classification as a whole, there’s no denying that this is the latest chapter in a continuing story of the Gospel According to Kanye. Pablo is rife with religious imagery and worship that stands right alongside egotistical rants, sexual exploits and general revelry. Much like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, though, West’s psyche seems to crack and crumble underneath the weight of it all. Those moments of vulnerability once again prove to be Kanye’s most impactful.

The Life of Pablo opens with “Ultra Light Beam” – a track that truly lives up to West’s aforementioned billing, featuring a full gospel choir and even a short sermon from pastor Kirk Franklin. The track is breathtaking from start to finish, as West chooses to let a convoy of voices carry the song. Chance the Rapper is gifted with the spotlight for a full 32 bars, highlighted by the line, “I made ‘Sunday Candy’, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”.

That five-minute primer leads into “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2”, two connected tracks with rich beats and a dazzling chorus from Kid Cudi. It’s here that West first addresses the audience, singing, “Everybody gon’ say something / I’d be worried if they said nothing”. “Pt. 2” finds West sadly connecting his own mistakes with those of his young father. It’s one last sobering dose of reality before a windfall of braggadocio and macho escapism.

“Famous” will certainly be one of the most talked about tracks on Pablo, if only for his cheap Taylor Swift line. Unfortunately, Kanye’s own crudeness overshadows one of the strongest tracks on the record. Swizz Beats lays down a track for the ages, accompanied by a killer chorus from Rihanna. “Feedback” plays out in similar fashion, with a thumping beat that Kanye rides to perfection, spitting, “I been outta my mind a long time / I’ve been saying how I feel at the wrong time / Might not come when you want but I’m on time”.

“Highlights” grooves deep with soaring vocal lines from West, Young Thug and The Dream. It’s another rousing anthem in a string of tracks that make the 18-song album fly by. Repeated listens to this section are required to discover new textures and hidden gems underneath the surface. Whereas Yeezus tested our patience with spacey industrial sounds and grating screeches, Pablo is pleasing to the ear and full of movement without becoming overcrowded or bogged down. Think the poppiest moments of 808s and Heartbreak crossing paths with the thick production of Twisted Fantasy.

As the album makes its final turn, shit gets real. The party comes to an abrupt halt with the startling transition from “Waves” to the minimalist “FML”. In an updated version of “Welcome to Heartbreak”, Kanye reflects on his lifestyle, ego and disruptive behavior yet again, singing, “I been thinking / About my vision / Pour out my feelings / Revealing layers to my soul” right before The Weeknd chimes in with, “I wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up / Can’t let them get to me / And even though I always fuck my life up / Only I can mention me”. It’s a duet of epically broken proportions.

On “Real Friends”, Ye laments the chasm that exists between himself and his friends and family, longing for relationships founded on honesty and trust. The album’s proper ending lies in “Wolves”, a previously performed track that loses a slight amount of its original luster with the loss of Vic Mensa and Sia. This new version still finds West tearing at his inner wolf, ashamed of the thought of his mother discovering how he “turned out.” Newly recruited Frank Ocean now carries the song to its conclusion, sharing in the descent before closing with the poignant line, “Life is precious, we found out”.

The odd addition of five more tracks that do little to add to the album’s overarching themes or sonic direction are somewhat clarified when West declares them to be “bonus tracks” during an ad-lib section near the end of “30 Hours”. Since most were a part of the Good Friday releases leading up to the album, their inclusion here remains odd. If nothing else, we’re treated to a properly mixed version of “No More Parties in L.A.” featuring Kendrick Lamar.

The Life of Pablo is a sprawling epic – one that is perhaps Kanye’s most manic and enigmatic creation and one that’s difficult to digest if you’re sitting in the front row. It’s possible that the record is the least cohesive of West’s career, but as the sum of its parts, it’s another shining example of Kanye’s genius as a producer and engineer of sound. Ye leans heavily on the album’s guests, each of whom are allowed to bring their own personality to the mix. That he once again has managed to orchestrate a project at the center of the hip hop zeitgeist in a way that elevates his own genius is a thing of legend.

Even so, we’re left once more to deal with the aftermath once the record stops spinning. Kanye’s desire for admiration is constantly usurped by a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we, his audience, are supposed to hate him. Upon the release of Yeezus, I discussed the frustration of Kanye apologists who wish nothing more than to validate West in his artistic brilliance, but feel alienated by his cantankerous nature.

Perhaps no artist in recent memory has more openly battled his demons and confessed his sins than Kanye West. His journey of self-deprecation and self-improvement is chronicled throughout all of his work and in countless interviews. Nevertheless, there are still more mountains to climb, none more daunting than that of his continued misogyny. In order for the wound to heal, he’ll have to stop digging deeper, an act that is unfortunately his fatal flaw. How much longer you’re willing to deal with it is a personal decision. Me? I’m still undecided, but The Life of Pablo has me wondering, even as I nod my head to the beat.

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.

Podcast: The Best Music of 2015

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Just when you thought those end of the year breakdowns were over – Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz return for one final discussion on the best music of 2015. During the chat, the duo break down splendid albums and singles from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, The Wonder Years, The Weeknd. The Early November, Carly Rae Jepsen and much more! What are you waiting for? Listen in below!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Top 10 Songs of 2015

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Choosing the top 10 songs of any given year is difficult. Each track serves as a building block within its given album, proving to be a chapter in a larger story. While context certainly provides meaning, there’s a reason why certain songs and moments resonate with us more than others.

The tracks below are an eclectic list of songs that made us dance, think and even cry during the course of 2015. They represent excellence in artistry and story telling, and they also resonate with us in a way that will carry their relevancy well beyond this passing year. Take a look (and a listen) below and share your own favorite songs from 2015 in the replies!

10. Bring Me the Horizon – “Happy Song”

In this new post-grunge incarnation, Bring Me the Horizon truly channel their inner Nirvana on “Happy Song”. Complete with loud, thrashing guitars, Oli Sykes’ gravelly delivery and even a backing choir of cheerleaders, the track toes the line between a desperate cry for help and an anthemic call to rise above the undertow. Creepily uttering the lines, “I’ve had enough / There’s a voice in my head / Says I’m better off dead”, Sykes turns a violent corner just in time for the chorus, shouting, “If I sing along / A little fucking louder / To a happy song / I’ll be alright”. With the band forgoing crunchy breakdowns in favor of tasteful programming elements and rousing guitar riffs, this is a lonely, sad song meant to be sung en masse. – Kiel Hauck

9. As It Is – “Speak Soft”

“Speak Soft” seems like a fairly basic pop punk song, but it’s special to me. It’s the first song I heard from a band that truly impressed me this year. This is a song that captures the magic that originally lured me to the genre almost two decades ago. Patty Walters and Andy Westhead dual throughout the chorus, providing a fine balance between the clean vocals and deep, guttural defiance. The guitars are sharp, playing during the verses and bridges, but brutal during the chorus. “Speak Soft” sounds like it should have been there since the early days of New Found Glory. The instant memorability and hook of it capture what I love about this band. Other songs on their debut, Never Happy, Ever After are better written with deeper lyrics, but “Speak Soft” will always embody the spirit of pop punk and the energy needed to stand out in a sea of bands that more or less tend to sound similar. – Kyle Schultz

8. Fall Out Boy – “Fourth of July”

As impossible as it was to believe that Fall Out Boy still hadn’t written their biggest hits heading into 2015, American Beauty/American Psycho not only put the nail in the coffin of the band’s pop punk roots, it vaulted them to the Top 40 radio stratosphere. As impressive as “Centuries” and “Uma Thurman” are, the unsung hero of Fall Out Boy’s new arsenal is the explosive “Fourth of July”, an epic track that finds Patrick Stump reaching new vocal heights. Aided as always by the biting lyrics of Pete Wentz, Stump carries the bitter track, singing, “Wish I’d known how much you loved me / Wish I cared enough to know / I’m sorry every song’s about you”. By the time the track hits its volatile chorus, you’re wondering why this wasn’t in the background of every fireworks display across the country this summer. At the core, this is the caustic, lovelorn Fall Out Boy we’ve always loved, but on the outside, this new gleaming pop rock armor fits the band all too well. – KH

7. Empty Houses – “Far Away”

There’s no shortage of bands looking for a vintage sound, but only a few really try to replicate the spirit as well. Empty Houses’ “Far Away” manages to capture a distinct era of sound and rekindle it to meet today’s pop needs. The result is utterly beautiful. The melodies are simple, the production helps it sound as though it has been a part of our lives for decades. Singer Ali Shea belts out some of the most impressive vocal work this side of Adele, rich and soulful. The chorus of, “I had this comfort build up inside, it was a good place for me to hide / I’m hoping for a little longer ride / And I cried all night, thinking about it / I’m trying to convince myself / And I’m alright living without it” is nothing short of astonishingly wonderful. Dave Mackinder’s backing vocals and musicianship are a powerful subtlety that allows the vocals to truly shine while maintaining an instantly recognizable and memorable melody. – KS

6. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”

The opening track to Emotion serves as the perfect re-introduction to Carly Rae Jepsen, a true star no longer mired in one-hit-wonder language. “Run Away with Me” is the cherry atop a splendid ice cream sundae of a pop album, rich in throwback pop tones and complimented with a sultry saxophone, although it’s Jepsen herself that serves as the primary instrument. It’s an expertly crafted pop song that showcases Carly Rae the person and the artist in perfect duality. Not only does the track connect with the let’s get out of here desires of every young love, (“We never sleep, we never try, when you are with me”), its eager delivery feels earnest thanks to Jepsen’s on-tape flare. So. Many. Emotions. – KH

5. The Early November – “Better This Way”

The Early November have always walked a fine line between indie emo and ballistic prog rock. “Better This Way” personifies this struggle to great effect, with gentle verses and a raging, shouting chorus. The song takes its time before blooming with the harsh grit of guitarwork and crunching drums. Ace Enders’ vocals show significant maturity as he speaks softly throughout the verses before some intense shouting during the chorus. The song is moody, bristling with emotion and carries a crazy amount of energy for such a plodding tempo. The midsection scales itself back even further, as Enders whispers over the tease of guitar snaps like the tinkling of a spider’s web before launching back into the incredible chorus. “Better This Way” embodies the best of The Early November, especially the intellect and experimentation that has come to define this stage of their careers. – KS

4. The Weeknd – “The Hills”

In truth, we really shouldn’t enjoy “The Hills” as much as we do. A track laced with deceit, addiction and horror, “The Hills” worms its way into your skull with a dark, brash bassline, blood curdling screams, and a disturbingly infectious chorus from Abel Tesfaye. In the post-modern pop world of 2015, this is what passes as a love song, as The Weeknd laments “driving through the gated residential” in route to his sinfully secret mistress, having just “fucked two bitches” beforehand. Tesfaye is nothing if not frank. It’s no surprise that The Weeknd doesn’t pull punches here, using contagiously catchy pop melodies to lure us into his world, before reminding us that we’ve actually been there all along. “The hills have eyes / Who are you to judge?” – KH

3. Motion City Soundtrack – “I Can Feel You”

“I Can Feel You” is one of the highlights of Panic Stations. Pristine, lazy guitars layered over an up-tempo beat and Justin Pierre’s slacky vocals make this song feel like the inner-workings of his mind. Self-doubt slowly builds while the beat never ends its relentless push forward. As Pierre sings, “I’m starting to see / The problem with me / is everything”, you can feel the tension and panic build before the chorus offers a euphoric release. However, the most rewarding part of “I Can Feel You” is the second half. Following a dreamlike bridge, the song ramps into an explosion of sound and Pierre’s frantic, desperate vocals, pleading with someone else while fighting for his own sanity. It’s an amazing moment, and sounds like an indirect sequel to fan favorite song, “Time Turned Fragile”. – KS

2. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

To Pimp a Butterfly is such a sprawling, oddly cohesive epic that it’s difficult to cherry pick. Without proper context, each individual track loses a touch of its bite. But if you had to choose one moment that encompasses the spirit of the record and serves as the necessary outcry against a painful backdrop of racism and police brutality, it would be Kendrick’s resounding refrain of, “We gon’ be alright!” “Alright” delves deep into Lamar’s psyche as he argues against voices that seek to pigeonhole and shame him, armed with a pen and his convictions: “I write ‘til I’m right with God”. A sporadic and powerful drum beat carries the track from start to breathtaking finish. Much more than just a chapter of the story, “Alright” is a rallying cry for a community in search of hope. – KH

1. The Wonder Years – “Cigarettes & Saints”

The Wonder Years have been known for their storytelling abilities for years, but “Cigarettes & Saints” is a beast different from anything else they’ve ever put out. In four minutes, the band manages to hit every high of their abilities and push their extremes while creating one of the stand out songs of the year. Starting as a slow strum of the guitar and lovetap of a snare drum, the song expands into a full-blown rock ballad that ends as genuine, defiant punk rock. It’s the slowest, quietest music the band has ever written, with a simple, mundane, perfect guitar line sliding throughout that builds it into a raging beast. Soupy’s storytelling dances about, hitting several areas and ideas that only build off of each other, starting as a eulogy that slowly takes a stab at religion and ends as an all-out attack on the pharmaceutical industry. Not making a full-on pop punk song as the highlight of their album was a risky move for a band known for being loud, but it only added to The Wonder Years’ insane writing abilities. – KS

Honorable Mention:

CHVRCHES – “Leave a Trace”

Drake – “10 Bands”

Mayday Parade – “Hollow”

Grimes – “REALiTi”

Nate Ruess ft. Beck – “What This Wold is Coming To”

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 2015

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holidays – it’s time to subjectively rank beautiful works of art so that we can collectively decide what the “best” album of 2015 was!

As obnoxious as the endeavor sounds, it never ceases to please. Indeed, a healthy debate about some of the year’s best music helps us reflect on what we loved about the past twelve months. These albums were not only culturally relevant and intricately constructed works of art, they were the soundtrack to our lives. What you’ll find below is an eclectic mix of artists and genres, each providing a unique voice and perspective.

While the list below reflects our opinions on a year filled with great music, you may find yourself in disagreement. Never fear! We’d love to hear your thoughts – share your favorite albums of 2015 with us in the replies!

10-heavy-loveMan Overboard – Heavy Love

Man Overboard have always been a band you want to love. Heavy Love perfects their sound, creating an album that I think will be their classic. Each of their albums have been enjoyable, but this one flawlessly delivers until the final breakdown fades away in “The First Degree”. “Splinter”, “Cliffhanger” and “A Love That I Can’t Have” are genuine staples that don’t try to reinvent pop punk, but showcase the greatest aspects of the genre with sharp guitar work and frantic drumming. For a band that seemed to have been slipping a bit a few years ago, Man Overboard are at their absolute best and appear ready to conquer the genre. – Kyle Schultz

9-thats-the-spiritBring Me the Horizon – That’s the Spirit

Bring Me the Horizon can’t seem to stop reinventing themselves and smashing our preconceived notions. The English rock outfit has completely shed their metalcore-by-the-numbers past and transformed into something far more interesting. While 2013’s Sempiternal appeared to be the final step in their post-hardcore progression, That’s the Spirit is an unexpected left turn of a record, deeply influenced by post-grunge and alt-rock sounds. Oli Sykes embraces his new smoother role as frontman with a surprisingly delightful delivery, whether he’s getting gritty on “Throne” or using his falsetto to great effect on “Doomed”. Bring Me the Horizon are no longer held captive by the confines of their previous scene – in this new world, the sky is the limit. – Kiel Hauck

8-beauty-behind-madnessThe Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Abel Tesfaye has no problem whatsoever presenting himself as a complicated, damaged individual, even as he croons deep into your soul on what may be his most accessible work to date. Beauty Behind the Madness is a debauchery and drug-filled pop extravaganza to the tilt, solidifying The Weeknd as one of the most captivating artists in music today. Whether it’s the horror-laced smash “The Hills” or the dark dance of “I Can’t Feel My Face”, no song is what it seems on the surface. From moment to moment on Beauty, it’s difficult to know whether to celebrate or collapse in tears. Maybe that’s the point. – KH

7-noel-gallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Chasing Yesterday is a return to form for Noel Gallagher. While his first solo album was a refreshing acoustic based pop album, Chasing Yesterday returns Gallagher to where he reins supreme – the rock world. Each song is a highlight of the album as a whole, which features some of his best guitar solos outside of Oasis. Gallagher sounds like he had fun writing it, and it pays off. What stands out the most about this album is how timeless it feels. These songs sit somewhere between modern rock and classic Brit pop, but a song like “You Know We Can’t Go Back”, with its thundering beat and mountainous bass, feels like you’ve known it forever. – KS

6-american-beautyFall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho

Ever since their comeback a couple of years ago, Fall Out Boy have utterly dominated the industry. American Beauty/American Psycho is a perfect pop record, utilizing hooks and choruses that only FOB could write and pushing Patrick Stump’s incredible vocals to insane new heights at every turn. While Save Rock and Roll brought the band back with a stunning new sound, American Beauty/American Psycho perfected it. “Novocaine” alone features a dark, deep tempo that slowly morphs into a near-disco beat that only builds on Stump’s impossibly high vocals. “American Beauty/American Psycho” is the most chaotic song the band has ever written, drawing the listener in with a rich beat and obnoxious bass flaring over light guitars and Stump’s simple, sharp lyrics. Fans may complain that they miss FOB’s pop punk golden years, but there’s no denying that the territory they’re treading now is what they were made for. – KS

5-every-open-eyeCHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

When Lauren Mayberry sings, “Here’s to taking what you came for / And here’s to running off the pain” in the opening moments of Every Open Eye, it’s a declaration of CHVRCHES’ strongest trait. The sophomore album from the Scottish synthpop trio is an exercise in movement, providing glistening beats to compliment Mayberry’s sweet delivery, which is often rife with acidity, despite her tone. If the Bones of What You Believe was one of the most promising debuts in recent memory, Every Open Eye confirms CHVRCHES as the best band to rise from the electro-pop scene. – KH

4-comptonDr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack

It was a long, 16-year wait for Dr. Dre’s follow-up to 2001, but Compton comes just in the nick of time. Serving as a soundtrack of sorts to Dre’s journey since the inauguration of N.W.A., Compton packs a much-needed wallop. Sure, the album serves as who’s who of current and past hip hop royalty, but the voices within speak on behalf of an entire community, reaching even beyond the Compton city limits. Dre’s production once again affirms his legendary status, as each beat tells its own story. From the liquidy grip of “Deep Water” to the dirty grind of “One Shot, One Kill”, Compton is one of the most ambitious and deeply moving hip hop albums of the decade. – KH

3-imbueThe Early November – Imbue

The Early November has never been a band to shy away from bigger things, which made Imbue a welcome surprise. As a long-time fan of the group, hearing them ditch the poppier elements of their style in favour of darker, alternative sounds gave them a glow that hasn’t seemed to be there since 2003’s The Room Is Too Cold. Though emo elements are still prominent lyrically, the band sounds more relevant than they ever have. Ace Enders, a man known for his stellar song writing and incredible vocal range, pushes himself farther than we’ve ever heard him in his fifteen year career in songs like “Better This Way”. The haunting re-recording of “Digital Age” sends the band out on a high note as a rallying cry for music everywhere. – KS

2-no-closer-to-heavenThe Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven

Once again, The Wonder Years have gone above and beyond what anyone expected of them. At this point in their career, it’s hard to imagine ways for the band to push the boundaries of their style of pop punk, but they have delivered yet another genre defining performance. Writing about worldly issues for the first time, The Wonder Years took savage shots at the pharmaceutical industry, abusive parents, and police violence while maintaining the personalized storytelling that sets the band so far above their peers. From the buzzing shred of guitars on “I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave” to the soft strums and rampaging fury of “Cigarettes & Saints”, No Closer to Heaven finds the extremities of sound and the band’s innate ability to perfectly capture emotion, fear and the optimism needed to fight through. – KS

1-pimp-a-butterflyKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

How do you follow up good kid, m.A.A.d city, one of the most heralded hip hop albums in recent memory? With an unapologetic funk and jazz infused record that seems to defy classification, of course. It’s hard to tell at times whether To Pimp a Butterfly is a letter penned to Kendrick himself, or the collective outcry of the black community in America. No matter, as the album demands your attention from start to finish, leaving little room for rebuttal. Kendrick spits venom on tracks like “The Blacker the Berry” and “For Free?”, but songs like “King Kunta” and “Alright” border on celebratory. To Pimp a Butterfly refuses to go down easy and requires repeated listens due to density. It’s also the most important album of the year, while still managing to be the best, which is no small feat. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Mayday Parade – Black Lines

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

As It Is – Never Happy, Ever After

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

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.