Podcast: The Best Albums of the 2010s

With the 2010s about to come to a close, we recently took on the task of ranking what we believe to be the Best 30 Albums of Decade. But of course, the written word can only convey so much about how we feel about these albums, so Kiel, Nadia and Kyle hopped on a podcast to break down their choices and discuss the sounds that defined the decade. The trio discuss their parameters for making the list and share the albums that just missed the cut. They also debate between albums from The Wonder Years, Paramore and Kendrick Lamar that could have made the list instead of the actual choices and give a nod to a few bands that made a splash in the 2010s but didn’t land in the top 30. Take a listen!

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What is your favorite album of the decade? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The 30 Best Albums of the Decade: 1-10

Check out part one and part two of our Best Albums of the Decade feature.

10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

If the prevailing sentiment of the last half of this decade has been one of dread, Kacey Musgraves certainly delivered a dose of warmth and comfort at just the right time. Golden Hour captures the confessional, revealing songwriting that only the best country albums seem to harness. Musgraves looks for, and actually finds, beauty in common places, reminding us that the world around us is still full of magic and wonder. She also makes a clear point to bend the rules set by country music gatekeepers, effectively opening the door to those that have traditionally been uninvited. In doing so, she created an album with a heartbeat designed to comfort all who come close. – Kiel Hauck

9. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde has been one of the defining artists of the past decade. She brought a refresher to pop music with 2013’s Pure Heroine, but her showstopper is 2017’s Melodrama. Written alongside her friend Jack Antonoff, the album is the about the woes of the end of adolescence. It’s wrapped up into a beautiful, cohesive experience and was absolutely robbed of Album of the Year at the Grammys. And that’s the tea. – Nadia Paiva

8. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other

Aaron West is a truly unique artist. The autobiographical album, We Don’t Have Each Other traces the course of a man breaking in every conceivable way until the only recourse is to pick himself up. Throughout the album, Dan Campbell’s attention to detail is astounding. Steeped in Springsteen-esque Americana, the album plays like a living novel to the point where Aaron feels almost too real. We Don’t Have Each Other is an insanely depressing album, but ends with hope for redemption. Accepting his own faults and ready to finally fight back, We Don’t Have Each Other explores the extremes of humanity, and the will to make things right. – Kyle Schultz

7. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

No album this decade captured the state of America so poignantly, purposefully and powerfully as To Pimp a Butterfly. During a three-album stretch that simply feels peerless, it’s hard to call the album Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece, but you wouldn’t be wrong to do so. To Pimp weaves jazz, soul and hip hop together, winding us through the black experience and shining a piercing light on our country’s deepest flaws and scars. It’s a deep, spellbinding work that can’t be unpacked in one sitting, but has moments of obvious illumination like “Alright” – the album’s centerpiece and a protest anthem for the most important movement of the decade. – KH

6. Beyoncé – Lemonade

The 2010s were a decade of basically pitting artists against each other with who could release an album in the most viral way. Beyoncé pioneered this with not one, but two surprise album releases, including Lemonade in 2016. The album revolves around the concept of Jay-Z’s infidelity and I think that was what made it stick with us. While the dramatic delivery of the album certainly contributes to its inclusion here, it’s the expression of feminine beauty, grace and empowerment that has made Lemonade stay in our minds. – NP

5. Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a groundbreaking album in many ways. It pulls no punches in terms of sound or language, and dives face-first into the material to have the most impact. While Transgender Dysphoria Blues harnesses a sound reminiscent of the band’s earlier records, it sets itselt apart in just how brutal of a concept the album is to people who don’t understand the struggle of someone preparing for or going through body dysphoria. The album is astonishing in many ways and it leaves a legacy as one of the first true trans-positive records in punk rock. That is does so without blinking, hiding a single hateful emotion, or sidestepping painful language is to be admired. – KS

4. Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION

The greatest and most dazzling pop album of the 2010s came from someone who had embodied the fleeting nature of pop stardom early in the decade. Instead of chasing the rush of “Call Me Maybe”, Carly Rae Jepsen seized a place as an unexpected indie darling with Emotion and ushered in a new wave of 80s-inspiration that infected nearly every pop release that came after it. Aside from its delightful sonic execution, Jepsen succeeds throughout Emotion by being relatable, without a hint of irony. From the blissful shoulder-brushing of “Boy Problems” to the sultry desire of “Run Away with Me”, Jepsen runs the gamut of relationship experiences, transforming herself into the best friend with whom everyone can share their secrets. – KH

3. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The 1975 have seamlessly combined electro pop with moody alternative rock through their past few albums, but with their latest, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, they’ve taken a different lyrical path. Gone are their days of singing about partying and recreational drug use, and here to stay are heavier songs about the decline of humanity, climate change and the toll the aforementioned drug use has on life. The 1975 are obsessed with bettering their audience’s critical thinking skills, and that’s something that is desperately needed in today’s world. – NP

2. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

During the first part of the decade, The Wonder Years somehow tapped into the exact emotions that seemingly an entire generation were feeling in unison. Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing perfectly captured the sensations of fear, hope and wonder of finding yourself at the crossroads of adulthood and forging your own destiny. 

Suburbia taps into the loneliness of leaving the comfort of college, the taxing labor of minimum wage jobs, and the nostalgia of pure joy found with old friends. Although The Wonder Years initially gained attention for music that looked at the world in a positive light (The Upsides), Suburbia didn’t try to hide itself behind this monicker. Instead, the album took a real look at struggling to find your place in a world that seemed brand new to a young adult. The warcry lyrics of, “It’s not about forcing happiness / It’s about not letting sadness win” made the band eternal. 

Suburbia somehow pays homage to pop punk throughout the last decade while forging its own identity. It showed us, for the first time, who The Wonder Years were and set the bar higher for their peers. – KS

1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The best album of the 2010s not only laid the foundation for everything that was to follow this decade, it completely re-contextualized its creator and led us to question our own presumptions and beliefs. At its core, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is rumination on fame and celebrity, scratching and gnawing at the grim truths often covered by limelight. Track after track, Kanye West tunnels deeper into his own psyche, leaving no stone unturned and no train of thought unexplored, no matter how repulsive or gaudy it may be. Does he want us to lean closer or run away in distress? West seems to leave the choice to us.

From a strictly musical standpoint, Fantasy is a kitchen sink album in which every detail has been painstakingly placed and scrutinized over. The album is as grandiose as any hip hop or pop release in memory, and is specifically built to tower to a height of instability. This fact seems negligently bold when one remembers what was at stake. After a year of exile, West’s public standing was at an all time low and it seemed wholly possible that his career as a respected artist was hanging in the balance.

But that’s what makes Kanye West the defining celebrity of our time, for better or for worse. His nagging insistence on chipping away at his own essence and persona, leaning into his worst tendencies as a heel, have led to both demise and nirvana. It’s that ugly predisposition that led to the creation of this masterpiece and defined a decade of artistic explorations into dark recesses and uncomfortable introspection. – KH

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

I first heard Minnesota’s Tiny Moving Parts when they opened for The Wonder Years in 2016. I was a very casual listener until they released Swell last year. Swell became one of my favorite albums and one I consider to be among 2018’s best. When they announced that there would be a new album this year, I was psyched. They’re one of the most creative bands in the scene at the moment, and they bring some much needed positivity to a genre that is often a beacon of the opposite. 

You can buy or stream Breathe on Apple Music.

Their new album Breathe features artwork by guitarist Matt, and really it couldn’t be more fitting for they album it belongs to. While being their softest album, it’s also arguably their best. With each release, the band keeps refining their sound, and I feel like they’ve finally hit the sweetest spot. I was never a math rock fan until I found Tiny Moving Parts, and now it’s one of my favorite subgenres, and they’re at the forefront.

The album opens with “The Midwest Sky” – one of my personal favorites. It’s a peppy start and definitely a great opener and would also make a pretty great single. Breathe is the perfect mix of what was so cool about Swell, with some new aspects, like the banjo found on “Vertebrae” thrown in for good measure. 

In the lead single, “Medicine”, lead singer Dylan regards death as something that helps us grow rather than something that should tear us down. He doesn’t ignore the fact that it’s painful, but he prefers to give us a reminder that we can grow through the things that hurt. That’s something that’s been prevalent across all of their albums, but here in Breathe, the band tells us to do exactly that — breathe. It’s refreshing in comparison to both their previous albums and the scene in general. I think that’s what made the album stand out to me so much. 

My biggest crisis regarding the album is that there’s not a track where I’m like, “Eh I could skip this.” Some people would say that this review is too positive and lacks critique, but I would say that the album deserves no critique. It’s wonderful from front to back. It’s got fluidity, fantastic musicianship, and they’ve still managed to keep the aspects that have made them a staple in my playlist for the past couple of years. Breathe is a treasure. 

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.

Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Review: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.

4/5

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 TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

 

Most Anticipated of 2019: #2 Aaron West Roars into 2019

We Don’t Have Each Other was one of the best albums of 2014, and one of the most unique albums of the last decade. With only a handful of songs released over the last four-and-a-half years to keep the story of Aaron West moving, a second album is long overdue. Fortunately, it’s looking to be coming sooner than later.

With a steady touring schedule and The Wonder Years in between album releases, it’s an ideal time for Aaron West to grab the spotlight. Also, the official Aaron West Twitter account claimed Dan Campbell to have been in the studio as recently as November 2018. With over four years since their last release, there is a plethora of story for Campbell to cover and room for the character of Aaron to grow.

If the band’s second album can even remotely come close to the intensity of the first album, it will already be a contender for album of the 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 could not be more excited for new music to tickle his ears in 2019.

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!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: The Wonder Years Strike Again

On our latest podcast, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz are joined by It’s All Dead writer Nadia Paiva to discuss the latest release from The Wonder Years. During the discussion, the trio debate the merits of Sister Cities and dialogue about where the album lands among the band’s best releases. They also share their favorite songs from the album and talk about the band’s knack for human stories and connecting with listeners. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What was your favorite song on Sister Cities? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

One evening, I returned home from my mundane office job to find a postcard in my mailbox. I analyzed it and thought about it for an hour or two, employing the opinions of friends on what it could mean. It had a line drawing of a dog on the front and a simple message on the back: “I’m laying low / A stray dog in the street / You took me home / We’re sister cities”. I pulled back a post office label to find the logos for both Hopeless Records and Loneliest Place On Earth. The Wonder Years were back.

You can buy Sister Cities on Apple Music.

A day or two later, the band tweeted a link with an album title, release date, and single. Needless to say, their hype worked. I’ve been a huge fan of The Wonder Years for what seems like forever, and No Closer to Heaven came just when I needed it to when it released in 2014. Given my growing affection for the band, it was natural to highly anticipate what they’d do next.

Surprisingly, Sister Cities abandons much of what made The Wonder Years’ brand of pop punk so recognizable, while still managing to remain true to the band’s heart. The subtle changes are felt from the moment the album begins. The first track, “Raining in Kyoto”, is abrupt and not what I expected. I figured they’d put “Pyramids of Salt” (the second single) as the opener because of how they built up the energy. Instead, it’s track two.

In contrast to their previous releases, Sister Cities doesn’t seem to have a cohesive theme or sonic continuity. From what I understand, the album was written while the band was on tour and I think that’s the reason every track is a different experience, as well as lyrically alluding to visiting new places and seeing new things. Despite the missing aspect of “let’s get out of this town”, Sister Cities is still decidedly The Wonder Years.

I’m impressed with Dan Campbell’s vocal style on this album. I think his side project, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, has really helped him tap into the softer, more melodic side of his vocals rather than just the rough punk sound so associated with their past work. Musically, it’s about what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from The Wonder Years: powerful, guitar-based punk with strong drums and soaring vocals.

Two stand-out tracks for me come right in the middle of the album. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” show both sides of the band. The former is an example of growth – a song about love through the hard times that is stylistically different from anything the band has done before. It reminds me the most of Aaron West. The latter track, however, is classic Wonder Years. It feels the most like their past and is almost a reassurance to listeners, implying, “Hey, we’re artists who’ve grown, but we’re still the band you fell in love with”.

It’s obvious that The Wonder Years have grown a lot as a band over the years, and I think it’s a combination of both life experience and band experience. With Sister Cities, specifically, it’s obvious that their travels impacted their writing and opened up a new direction to pursue. I’m always a fan of band growth, and that’s something The Wonder Years really deal well with. They never change so much that they lose fans, but they change enough to keep things fresh.

That’s what Sister Cities is. It’s new and exciting and covers ground that Soupy and the guys have never walked on before, but it still feels familiar, from the first track right through to the end.

Sister Cities closes with an outstanding final track. The band always manages to tie up their albums perfectly and “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me” is no exception. Just the title alone is beautiful, but the final lines are what really got me: “When the sutures start to split / I trust the current to pull you back in / I miss everyone at once / But most of all, I miss the ocean”. The ocean holds a special place in my heart, and after the (seemingly) endless winter we’ve had, I’m ready to go sit in the sand and reflect on some things.

The Wonder Years have always known exactly how to voice dealing with loss and grief and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to the art they create. There’s not a person on earth who won’t experience these feelings, if they haven’t already. Where No Closer to Heaven dealt with anger and blame, Sister Cities focuses on sorrow, feelings of abandonment, and how we eventually find the strength to move along. We always remember the things we’ve lost, but there’s a point where we find a way out and get back to the ocean. I think I’m at that point, personally, and The Wonder Years have simply come up alongside me to help with the healing.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

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

The Wonder Years Release New Song, “Sister Cities”

It’s finally here! After coyly announcing their new album, Sister Cities, last week, The Wonder Years have now released the album’s first single, which also happens to be the title track. You can watch the music video for “Sister Cities” below, which was directed by Josh Coll.

The new track certainly treads new sonic ground for The Wonder Years and will be fascinating to hear fleshed out over the course of a full album. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long to hear more. Sister Cities is set to be released April 6 via Hopeless Records. You can currently choose from multiple pre-order options on the band’s website.

What are your thoughts on the new song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck