My Top 12 Albums of 2014
12. Bayside - Cult
In following up my personal favorite Bayside record, Killing Time, the band promised something of a return to form or an amalgam of their previous work. From the get-go, it's apparent that Cult lacks in beauty, it makes up for in sheer energy. Songs like “Hate Me,” “Stuttering,” and “Bear With Me” brim with the force of a band with half the longevity of Bayside. The only qualm I have with this album is that the last two tracks lack the same punch. Though the lyrical content of “Something’s Wrong” uniquely tackles the lead singer’s problems with the generation of today, the hook is weak and the song underwritten. Despite that, Cult is a very consistent listen from one of punk's most consistent bands.
Yellowcard had a lot to live up to after the release of Southern Air, the band’s prior newest (and best) album. In the interim, drummer LP departed and Nate Young of Anberlin took over drum duties in the studio. Is Lift A Sail as good as Southern Air? No, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s a different album. At first glance, there seems to be a lack of charisma in the songs, but repeated listens reveal they are in fact carefully calculated. Electronic flourishes permeate the album and Ryan Key pushes his vocals to new, unforeseen heights. There truly is something for every Yellowcard fan on this album. Quicker songs like “My Mountain” and “The Deepest Well” exist to please fans of older, more energetic songs, while other highlights like “One Bedroom” and “Transmission Home” suffice to please fans of the more subdued, melodic side of Yellowcard. And that’s one thing this album has no shortage of: perfect melodies.
Though I did genuinely enjoy most of Say Anything’s loathed previous album, Anarchy, My Dear, Hebrews is actually a better and more well-rounded album. While Anarchy found lead singer/lyricist Max Bemis creatively spinning his wheels, Hebrews finds his passion renewed and it’s clear that the birth of both internet forums and his daughter have given him something to sing about. He also recruits some of the most talented vocalists both in and out of the scene. Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die turns in a great cameo on “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid,” but Aaron Weiss from MewithoutYou claims the best offering: a spoken-word bridge to lyrical highlight “Push.” Hebrews is a cathartic album, but it finds a previously unstable artist discovering stability and putting out good music at the same time.
Taking Back Sunday finally grew up. Previous offerings from the band has found them drowned in pretentious, immature lyrics and whiny vocals. But Happiness Is… stands as the most consistent collection of music from the band to date. The two singles, “Flicker, Fade” and “Stood A Chance” start the album off with a bang, but the second half is where it truly excels. “Better Homes And Gardens” might be one of my top 10 Taking Back Sunday songs and “We Were Younger Then” features remarkable restraint from the musicians. The lyrics about Arabs and deserts present on the latter song are a tad quizzical, but the song doesn’t suffer for it. Throughout its run time, Happiness Is… displays the maturity that TBS has achieved and if you’ve matured faster than the band like I have, this is a very welcome development.
I’m as surprised as every one else that Taylor Swift has a spot on this list, but damn, is this album a pop gem. There’s no denying the firepower of “Shake It Off” and the soon-to-take-over-the-word single “Blank Space.” The best part about this album, however, is that it doesn’t just coast off the strength of its singles. T. Swift is a smart girl and she teamed with some of the foremost pop songwriters in the world to compose this album. Jack Antonoff of Fun. and Bleachers fame lent his hand to “Out of the Woods” and “I Wish You Would,” two of the albums highlights. But of course, this entry wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the surprising strength of “How You Get the Girl.” I fell in love with this song because it finds T. Swift with her sleeves drenched in heart and because it just seems so earnest. Mark my words, the song is an under appreciated gem.
My love for Weezer developed at a time in my life when I was young enough to see past many of the obvious flaws of much maligned albums like Make Believe and Ratidude. I’ve always stuck up for Weezer, but so much time had passed since Hurley, that I found myself readying up to not like the next Weezer album. Thankfully, the band didn’t let me down. This album is filled with cheesy lyrics and hokey vocal stylings, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. The songwriting is solid enough to withstand a few questionable lyrical passages, and frontman Rivers Cuomo is back on the guitar solos, a fact that becomes notably apparent when comparing this album to the last few years of Weezer’s back catalog. It’s a good collection of songs, and I’m still jamming it through my car stereo. Thank you Ric Ocasek.
Though this album has not really entered my regular rotation outside of a few songs, I must furnish it with the number six spot because of its sheer emotional intensity. Lyricist Dave Mackinder’s father passed away during the writing of this album, and it heavily influences the lyrical content. It is very powerful and even happy-sounding songs like “Bed Sores” have a dark underbelly. “Play “God Only Knows” at My Funeral,”” and “Run, Brother, Run” find Mackinder struggling to discover himself as a man after his father’s passing, and it is haunting to listen to. The following is a lyrical passage from “Run, Brother, Run” that sums up the sheer force of this album: “I was twenty-five when my dad died. My arms fell weak, my heart grew tired.” Heartbreakingly delivered, it's the kind of line that can resonate with any listener.
Anberlin just finished up their last tour as a band and they went out with a bang. Before they embarked on the tour though, they decided to release one final album for the fans. Though more subdued than their previous works, Lowborn finds Anberlin in fine form. The first half of the album contains some of the best tracks of the band’s discography, with “Stranger Ways” and “Atonement” being highlights. A lyrical theme not very many songwriters get to draw from, lead singer/lyricist Stephen Christian wrote several songs about the band’s impending break up. It’s a sad listen, but Lowborn reminds us all why we like Anberlin in the first place.
There is a stigma attached to The Gaslight Anthem that The '59 Sound is their best album. Well, I’m tired of that. I like Handwritten and their newest offering, Get Hurt, more. Brian Fallon seems to have written an album of Gaslight Anthem greatest hits, except these songs are all originals. Sure, there are a few tracks that show some experimenting (and they’re all the better for it), but for the most part, this album just straight up rocks. Album highlights “1,000 Years” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” provide the backbone of the album while deeper cuts are free to wander. The album is incredibly lopsided, but tracks 1-8 are good enough to coast through the lackluster final quarter. I’ll be watching out for their next album, because it could be something even more special.
I’ll admit that I was not on The Menzingers train when their acclaimed previous album came out, nor have I heard it yet. I really don’t want it to spoil my appreciation of this album. From front to back, this album just does not stop. It gets loud, it gets quiet, but it always hits hard. The almost heartbreaking delivery of every almost heartbreaking lyric is enough to make a guy want to scream and sweat along. Album highlight “In Remission” is posed to become one of my top songs of the year, though no song is a slouch. This is the perfect punk album for the modern age, and I’m glad The Menzingers are proud to fly that flag, because this year in music would’ve suffered without it.
My sister occasionally finds a diamond in the rough and several years ago she introduced me to Fun. On my first listen of Some Nights, I was blown away. Their albums were such perfect pop I was inspired to pick up both Format albums and the two most recent Steel Train albums. Fun and Steel Train. guitarist Jack Antonoff’s newest project, Bleachers, finds just the right amount of playfulness and maturity, blending a throwback 80’s soundtrack with lyrics about love, loss, and mental illness. What’s truly remarkable is how consistent the album’s melodies are. With the exception of one negatively notable cameo from Yoko Ono, Antonoff’s voice carries each song like a car speeding down the interstate. I would not be surprised if, in the future, we see epic tracks like "Rollercoaster" or "Like a River Runs" scoring film trailers. One last note is to check out the jam session that occupies the last two minutes of the final track, “Who I Want You To Love.” Some great bass riffing and a chilled out guitar solo feels right at home and sends the album out on a high note.
It’s not often an album makes you a better person, but Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues has done just that. Lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman in 2012, and this collection of music is a concept album about a transgender prostitute. It is heavy, very important material delivered in the catchiest way possible. Throughout the 10 tracks, the listener is taken on a heartbreaking journey cleverly disguised through both sing and shout-along songs. Compositions like “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” and “Black Me Out” are raw in the best way possible, combining anthemic choruses with pure, unbridled anger. Not only does this album stand up on its own musical merit, but it also has an important message behind it. I’ve only in the past year lived on a college campus, a place where all sorts can come together and display an outpouring of love. This album and college has done wonders for turning me into a rational, empathetic human being. Absolutepunk’s senior editor Drew Beringer put it very well in his review, “I’ll never face the prejudice and hate that the trans* community faces on a daily basis and it’d be disingenuous of me to act like I understand any of that. As a straight male, I really have no authority to write at length about trans* issues, despite my continued attempt to further educate myself on the subject." Also being a white male, I know that I’ll never have to go through the suffering that so many people do, but I feel it is a person’s duty to understand we’re all dealt a different hand in life. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is important and I believe everybody should listen to it at least once. After all, art is supposed to make us think and remind us that in the end, we’re all human.