Top 10 Songs of 2014

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Making a list of the top 10 songs of any year is a challenge. Each of us journeys through 12 months filled with highs and lows, challenges and dull moments. The soundtracks that fill those times are often created by our need for a particular sound or feeling in any given instant.

Does ranking these songs require us to distance ourselves from the emotions that helped them resonate? That’s debatable, but perhaps the true measure lies somewhere in between a relatable song that offered purpose or aid and a well constructed, perfectly executed track that showcases a band’s talent.

Needless to say, a lot went into the creation of this list. We did our best to break down what we feel were the best moments of 2014 – the songs that not only defined our lives this year, but the songs that made us perk up with rapt attention. Take a look and let us know what you think in the replies!

10. Merriment – “Backwards”

Perhaps best known as the younger siblings of the DuPree’s of Eisley fame, Merriment has certainly carved their own path with their debut album, Sway. The highlight comes in the form of “Backwards”, perfectly blending the band’s acoustic pop sensibilities with a folk sound that sets them apart from their peers. Christie DuPree’s vocal range is stunning here, especially on the song’s beautiful chorus. Dupree opens the song with the haunting lines, “Holding high your little head / Walking backwards in your steps / Nobody knows you’re dead”. The song is just as mysterious as it is charming, but catchy enough that you can’t listen to it just once. – Kiel Hauck

9. I Can Make a Mess  “Deciduous”

On an album of delicious pop songs, “Deciduous” stands out as one that has every ingredient of a good ICMAM song; gorgeous hooks, minimal production, Enders’ working every note of the vocal scale and the themes of finances and that love will overcome any problem. The song is at once a love song about being a musician, but acknowledges the fears that come along with it, including a singled out line where he quietly worries, “I hope one day my kids think I’m cool / Didn’t sell the farm to be the mule / I’m a fool”. – Kyle Schultz

8. Anberlin – “Stranger Ways”

Fans of Anberlin were fortunate to receive a final goodbye from the band in the form of 2014’s Lowborn. The best moment from the album comes on the 80’s inspired “Stranger Ways”, weaving the band’s tried-and-true songwriting formula with eerie electronics and synthesizers. In truth, it sounds like the best song Depeche Mode never wrote. Vocalist Stephen Christian opens with the chilling lines, “Locking eyes, a waning glance, mistook chance / Of adding meaning to the words forever”. The song climaxes during the bridge as Christian pleads, “Would you say with me, here in my dreams / If I promised you this heaven?” Alas, there will be no staying for Anberlin. Even so, we’re thankful for the fond farewell. – KH

7. XTRMST – “Conformist”

XTRMST are a welcome return to form for straight edge hardcore. The new project from Davy Havok and Jade Puget is what fans of AFI’s hardcore days have spent years hoping for. The guitar work is loose, hypnotically dark and as heavy as a physical attack. “Conformist” shows Havok in perfect form, swooning between spoken word and nightmarish screaming. The song is one of the few singles for an album that highlights the record succinctly. Each lyric is an attack on the listener, critiquing not only their way of life, but their tolerance of any other type of subculture with the repeated accusations of “You are conformist”. It’s an uncomfortable listen, but demands your attention for the rest of the record. – KS

6. Childish Gambino – “III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”

Perhaps it’s odd that the best track on Because the Internet fits into the context of the album’s overarching story as a song sung by someone else. It opens as we hear the main character climb into his car and turn the key. The radio comes on, introducing the track, sung by “Lloyd”. Childish Gambino channels his inner-Drake on the track – it’s silky smooth as he sings of the confusion tied to romantic commitment. It’s background noise for our main character as he drives, but it’s speaking both to us and to him. “Everything you won’t say, you tweet it”, sings Gambino. It’s commentary on our internet culture – and an indictment on us all for our willingness to dive head-first into it. – KH

5. Say Anything  Judas Decapitation

Max Bemis’s most ‘Say Anything’ song is about how blogs, fans and the music industry criticize him for not making ‘Say Anything’ music the way they want. It couldn’t be more meta if he mentioned your name in the middle of it. Like the rest of Hebrews, “Judas Decapitation” forgoes the guitar work in favor of a hybrid mesh of flaring pop synth and intense percussion. The song is a scathing attack on the industry and his own fans about their interpretation of his music, which is one of the things that made his music so well respected to begin with. Lyrics like, “I hate that dude now that he’s married / He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherri”, and “Spike his fifteenth espresso with drugs / So he’s convinced it’s a manic delusion to know true love / Be nineteen with a joint in hand / Never change the band”, show that not only is Bemis aware of every criticism of his music, he’s attacking them head on. – KS

4. Yellowcard – “Lift a Sail”

The title track on Yellowcard’s triumphant Lift a Sail is quite possibly the best song the band has ever written. Gone are the pop punk riffs the band was so well known for – “Lift a Sail” is an anthemic rock song, born from a painful, traumatic event. There’s certainly a sadness here, but the track itself is about rising above the wreckage. It’s something we can all connect to, because in one way or another, we’ve all been there before, struggling to make the choice to press on amidst the pain. When vocalist Ryan Key cries out the song’s massive chorus of, “If a cold wind starts to rise / I am ready now, I am ready now / With the last sail lifted high / I am ready now, I am ready now”, it’s undeniably the most chill-inducing moment of the year. – KH

3. Against Me!  “FUCKMYLIFE666”

This is easily one of the catchiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues due to the melody alone. The bouncing guitars and opening strings tear against the throbbing drums to make a fast, energetic hell of a song. Each verse bleeds into the chorus, hiding the fact that the song is a traditional styled pop song elegantly layered in harmony. It also contains one of the strongest verses on an album full of memorable lines as Laura Grace sings, “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? / Silicone chest and collagen lips / How would you even recognize me?” The song is short, brutal and incredibly memorable. It manages to stand as one of the best songs in Against Me!’s infamously great catalogue. – KS

2. PVRIS – “My House”

On their debut album, White Noise, synthpop trio PVRIS have promptly destroyed any notion of what a Rise Records band should sound like. Originally formed as a post-hardcore act, PVRIS made the surprising and wise choice to turn pop, littering their landscape of atmospheric synthesizers with bouncing drums and pulsing bass. “My House” is one of the most powerful pop songs you’ll hear this year, thanks in large part to the vocal work of Lyndsey Gunnelfsen. During the track’s massive, dance-worthy breakdown, she howls, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not yours anymore, I’m not yours anymore!” The song is ferocious as it is infectious, making it the most captivating pop song of 2014. – KH

1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”

On an album whose theme is caving in, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is the lynchpin for Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties that sees our main character breaking down in his mother’s kitchen. It’s a powerful acoustic epic fueled by the slow burn of electric guitar and the tortured cry of a steel guitar yowling in the background. Dan Campbell’s vocals mimic the story perfectly, sounding on the verge of breaking into tears as he describes Aaron’s walk home, eventually building to screams of “Take the car and run!” The descriptions alone would be worthy of being one of this year’s best songs, but the true gem is what should be an impossible feat: Aaron and his mother having an actual conversation. Around a kitchen table, they lean and cry on each other’s shoulders as Campbell sings, “I know things ain’t been good since dad died, I know you don’t need this from me / But mama I’m breaking, there’s no light in the dark, Diane left this week / She said, ‘Son look at me, I know we ain’t been this low before and I’m sorry Aaron / I know this year has been hard’”. – KS

Honorable Mention:

Emarosa – “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”

Kendrick Lamar – “I”

Architects – “Gravedigger”

Fall Out Boy – “Centuries”

Taylor Swift – “Style”

 

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: XTRMST – XTRMST

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Three seconds after the song “Conformist” ended, my friend in the backseat felt the immediate need to defend himself. The line “Inhale, Hold it in. Inhale, hold it in / Let the deterioration begin” hit him hard as he held an e-cigarette. “I don’t smoke to be cool,” he said sadly before trailing off with, “I just…” and the conversation ended there.

Davy Havok and Jade Puget have touched every musical genre available to them, from punk rock, to metal, to electronica and arguably pop punk. But XTRMST is something else entirely. It’s an album that will make the listener as uncomfortable listening as they are bobbing their heads. It’s possibly the only band I can think of that not only attacks the listener, but challenges them directly on their lifestyle choices.

XTRMST is a straight-edge (no alcohol, no drugs, no meaningless sex) hardcore band. It sounds simple, but it’s a complex union that is without a doubt the most controversial album the Havok/Puget collaborations have released. On the one hand, it’s more in line with what fans of older AFI have been clamoring for: an extraordinarily dark album in line with Black Sails and Sing The Sorrow. On the other, there is little of Puget’s hypnotic guitar melodies, or Davy’s poetic rage. This is a record that aims directly for the face, ruthlessly attacking for thirty-one minutes.

XTRMST is designed from the ground up to cause a reaction, so much so that even the most diehard fans of the duo may have difficulty enjoying it. Musically, the album is a violent vortex of hard power chords and dark melody cut with rough breakdowns and twistedly haunted squeals (“Words For the Unwanted”).

Jade’s guitar work is either the most technical of his career or the most sloppy depending on who is listening. There is little of the melody and precision that his work in AFI is known for, replaced instead with deep and dark searing riffs that sweep the album. His musicianship straddles the line between perfection (“Swallow Your God”) and amateurism so much so that it sometimes borders on ‘noise rock’. “Merciless” is one of the most melodic songs on the record, jumping between Chiodos-esque guitar riffs to a chorus that plays a counterbalance to Havok’s building vocals.

While the drums and bass are appropriate, they aren’t quite up to par for what one would expect of Puget. However, the distinct sound of the album allows for the instruments to work. The bass keeps pace with the guitar work, and often finds its way to the forefront, but the drumming sounds like an amateur punk band turning hardcore. The beats are simple and sharp, combining with crashing cymbals before giving way to savagely fast attacks. It definitely does the job, but it might be the weakest aspect of the album.

While the music is almost inaccessible to anyone not into this subgenre, the lyrical themes are even more vicious. Davy Havok is relentless in his attacks on concepts taken for granted within pop music. There is no hiding behind poetic verse or imagery; he’s blunt and angry. Each song is an aggressive question about the listener’s lifestyle choices and way of life. Mixed with the piercing screams (the hardest he’s ever screamed, by the way), it’s almost uncomfortable to listen to.

Any fan of AFI knows of Davy and Jade’s straight-edge lifestyle, and for all of the dark lyricism in AFI’s 20 year career, this is the most vicious. Opening track, “Words For The Unwated” starts with Davy attacking faux straight-edge lifestyles, as he screams, “You’re not one of us, don’t speak of us… You never used to be, if not now you never were / Yet you marched with the pure and still besmear our name / No, you will never be true to anything”.

“Conformist”, the album’s lead single, more or less calls out the punk culture in general of being a machine of conformity, pointing to straight-edge as a true subculture to be looked up to. In direct opposition to most of the album, the first few lines are delivered in cynical spoken word; “Oh you’re so wild / You think you’re so wild but your counter culture falls straight in line”. Havok jumps straight into throat shredding screams of, “You want resistance? Then look to mine”.

In true Davy Havok fashion, he can’t let the opportunity to attack religion go to waste. “Swallow Your God” might be his most brutal attack since Crash Love’s “Sacrilege”. As Jade ravages through the most traditional guitar riffs on the record and thunderous drums, Havok relates religion to drug use as he screams, “I will destroy the King of Kings / I will never swallow your God / Until you bring your eyes down to the Earth you cannot claim this sight / Your faith is a disease, another poison I deny / I deny the high of Heaven”.

XTRMST is a remarkable album. It’s at once the answer and the worst enemy to those annoying fans who have been ranting for a dark album since Sing The Sorrow. While fans of Havok and Puget are sure to enjoy the album, there is no denying that it will force you to start mentally defending yourself to some degree. This album will mean something different to most anyone who listens to it, either satisfying the hardcore fans or making casual fans uncomfortable. Regardless, Havok and Puget have constructed a masterpiece of rage and defiance.

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 during AFI’s Crash Love tour, followed them across the Midwest to a half-dozen shows like a creep. At a show in Indianapolis, Jade Puget winked at him and tossed him a guitar pick. His girlfriend was jealous.