How did we get here? Seriously, how is it the end of 2014 already? It seems like just yesterday that Craig, Madison and I began having the discussions that would end up resulting in this brand-spanking-new website you are currently reading from, and now I’m left with the always difficult task of putting into words what my experiences in 2014 sounded like. It’s arbitrary and self-indulgent, yes, but I do at least try to do this with a purpose. If you do wish to read this, think of it as a list of recommendations, with the #1 album of the year being an album you need to listen to immediately after reading, and the #25 album being an album that would help you pass the time on a lazy evening. Maybe I’ll succeed in helping you find a new band to fawn over, maybe I’ll cause you to close the tab in anger because I have the new Gaslight Anthem album higher than I should. Either extreme is fine, I’m just glad you invested enough of your attention in this list to read and feel something in reaction to it. Without further ado, here are my top 25 albums of 2014.
25. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
Dan “Soupy” Campbell of The Wonder Years has a lot on his plate. He’s reached Souper-hero status in the pop-punk community, as he’s one of the genre’s most gifted lyricists, pours his heart into each of the band’s performances, and is one of the most socially conscious band members on social media. Even in a year when The Wonder Years had a light touring and recording schedule (for them, at least), Soupy took the time to step into someone else’s shoes and create a concept album for his first venture outside of TWY. The result is the punishing We Don’t Have Each Other, a gutting story of how one man (Aaron West, the band’s fictional namesake) saw his life unravel around him. Despite not being based on any real-life experiences, Campbell’s lyrics are as personal and biting as ever, and the pain in his voice haunts you throughout.
24. Emarosa – Versus
Emerging from the depths of the impossibly unpredictable Jonny Craig’s spirals, Emarosa finally found their footing and their frontman in 2014, and released what ended up being the sensible follow-up to their sophomore self-titled album. Newcomer Bradley Walden’s smooth, versatile vocal range softened the blow of Craig’s departure, as he is able to connect the dots and allow the band to continue to create emo-flavored post-hardcore, with the band’s talented instrumentation finally able to expand and profound listeners. Emarosa’s comeback isn’t complete yet, but after a seemingly neverending wait, they’re on their way.
23. Yellowcard – Lift a Sail
After losing iconic drummer LP before recording their 3rd full-length since coming back from hiatus, Yellowcard needed a big move. That move came in the form of newly-unemployed drummer Nate Young, whose band Anberlin had already announced its retirement earlier in the year. Young proved to be the perfect choice to provided the percussion for an album that saw Yellowcard take quite a few more chances (GASP, electronic sounds!) than they normally do. Lift a Sail still has that typically big-sounding feel to it, but with more focus on the guitars (provided expertly by Ryans Key and Mendez), this isn’t quite your older brother’s Yellowcard anymore.
22. Modern Baseball –You’re Gonna Miss It All
They were the cute little brothers of your favorite pop-punk bands (like The Wonder Years and Man Overboard), but now Modern Baseball have ascended to the forefront of the new wave of emo, thanks in large part to the success of You’re Gonna Miss It All. Teeming with angst and awkward feelings for those around you, the album is the perfect snapshot of what it means to feel like an outsider in 2014, with topical references to Instagram and the Planet Earth series. In a year where many bands made bold statements that altered the way we look at their career and their potential, Modern Baseball’s shift may have been the most drastic of all.
21. Seahaven – Reverie Lagoon: Music for Escapism Only
Expansive, sleek and suited perfectly for summer, Seahaven’s latest offering is a complete shift for their sound, but the band prove that they have the chops to pull it off in style. Gone are the aggressive guitar riffs, which are replaced with more delicate tones to better suit Kyle Soto’s infectious crooning. Soto’s lyrics are still as morose as ever, with tracks like “On the Floor” and “Love to Burn” plucking constantly at the hearstrings of its listeners. It’s a step in a completely different direction that what you’ll likely be expecting from Seahaven, but the album’s depth is a testament to the band’s creativity, and sets up Seahaven as a band who we’ll never quite know what they’ll come up with next.
20. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
After undergoing a complete transformation, Laura Jane Grace got back to the business of writing the Against Me! album that would end up becoming the most important of the band’s career, and one of the absolutely essential listens of 2014. Transgender Dysphoria Blues follows the journey of a transgender individual’s struggles to cope with the transformative process, the reactions from the public, on top of the everyday struggles life continues to throw at us all. This album is angry, speculative, poignant, relevant, genuine, and above all else, important. In other words, it’s everything a punk album should be.
19. Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown
Metalcore hasn’t been the same since Every Time I Die exploded onto the scene, and over a decade since they’ve arrived, they’re still finding ways to redefine what the genre is capable of. Partnering with Kurt Ballou, guitarist of hardcore legends Converge, seems to have brought out the brutality the band strayed from on Ex-Lives. What that has resulted in now is an album that feels as though the band is trying to exorcise their demons as quickly and relentlessly as possible, seen from the blaring open to the album, “The Great Secret.” Every Time I Die have already proven their staying power many times over, but From Parts Unknown shows that the old dogs are still young and angry at heart, and they’ve still got some new tricks hidden up their sleeves.
18. La Dispute – Rooms of the House
Stripping things down after the overpowering Wildlife took them to the next level, La Dispute’s sound has evolved to a nearly indescribable blend of hardcore, emo, post-hardcore, blues, and nearly countless other influences. The result is an album that contains many songs that feel completely different from one another, earning a name that implies diversity like Rooms of the House. Where the true success of this albums lies, however, is in how Jordan Dreyer and company are able to blend each of these diverse tracks into one another to make an album that focuses on its differences that still has a great flow throughout. La Dispute are now the trailblazers of the emotional hardcore movement that’s been gaining momentum in recent years, and they prove this time around that they’re more than capable of carrying the torch for other bands to follow.
17. Transit – Joyride
At a crossroads due to poor reception from Young New England, Transit were fighting an uphill battle even before Tim Landers left the band to pursue other projects. Somehow, though, the band were able to rally and release Joyride, the follow-up Listen and Forgive deserved. The album is teeming with some of Joe Boynton’s best lyrics and vocals, as he combines the heartfelt lyrics of Listen and Forgive with the melodies he experimented with throughout Young New England in an attempt to highlight the strengths of each release. Landers’s departure is an undeniably big loss for Transit, and the fact remains that they may never be able to recapture the magic they once had, but Joyride proves that they are still capable of writing interesting and enjoyable pop-rock/emo.
16. Bayside – Cult
Finding a new home at Hopeless Records for their sixth full-length, Bayside sound more confident than ever on Cult. The album is basically everything you’ve come to expect from Bayside at this point in their career: lyrics riddled with angst provided by Anthony Raneri, soaring guitar solos from Jack O’ Shea, and an excellent rhythm section from Nick Ghanbarian and Chris Guglielmo. The eleven tracks on this album will remind listeners of each release Bayside has come out with over the course of their 15-year career. Listen closer to the songs, and you’ll hear that the band is still improving and perfecting that sound, and their consistency combined with their work ethic has allowed them to continue to release rock-solid punk anthems for longer than some of their fans have been alive.
15. Gates – Bloom and Breathe
When you’re able to provide pummeling post-rock crashes and pulverizing introspective lyrics, you’re onto something special. That’s exactly what New Jersey natives Gates have accomplished on their debut full-length Bloom and Breathe. Though the post-rock formula of quiet-build-crash can grow old quickly, the band are creative enough to change things up throughout the album, giving the listener an experience where they have no idea where the songs will turn, dive into melancholy, build to a boiling point, or crash uncontrollably. This unpredictability is a great asset for Gates to build upon moving forward, and Bloom and Breathe is a stellar debut because of it.
14. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield
Give credit where it’s due: Tokyo Police Club sure know how to keep their fans guessing. They were practically silent and nonexistent since 2010’s sleeper hit Champ. When they did finally announce their next album, Forcefield, they did so by releasing the epic 8-minute first single and opening track “Argentina (Parts 1, 2, and 3),” throwing all best off for a band who typically dabble in sub- three-minute tracks. The entire album is a schmorgasboard of evidence that Tokyo Police Club have finally fully unleashed their creativity, as they take on countless different sounds throughout the course of the album, from dance tracks (“Hot Tonight”) to thoughtful examinations of society (“Toy Guns”), from the exciting opening of a relationship (“Argentina”) to its remorseful demise (“Feel the Effect”). It could have been argued that Tokyo Police Club weren’t even a band at the beginning of 2014, but Forcefield ended up proving that the band was better than they’ve ever been.
13. Manchester Orchestra – Cope/Hope
In speaking with Craig, we had a difficult time placing this album, simply because we weren’t sure if we should count Manchester Orchestra’s heavy-hitting Cope and the stripped-down Hope as two separate albums, or a complete set of songs with two different interpretations (a double-album, if you will). What eventually decided, thankfully, was that these songs are so great on each album that they may as well be judged together. The aggression and power behind Andy Hull’s voice on Cope is contrasted starkly by his near-angelic croon on Hope, and each interpretation of the songs carry a different emphasis, meaning, and impact with each listen to either series of songs. The two simply cannot exist without one another, because they combine to show how talented Manchester Orchestra have become.
12. From Indian Lakes – Absent Sounds
From Indian Lakes boisterously entered the scene with 2012’s Able Bodies, but on Absent Sounds, they chose to focus more on their melodies. The result is a melancholy album that shows off the musical talents of the band’s wunderkind, Joey Vannucchi. As a lyricist, Vannucchi is as bitter and jaded as ever, focusing on an introspective approach that reeks of regret (“Ghost” and “Sleeping Limbs” are key examples). The vocal melodies are perfectly executed throughout, though “Am I Alive” and “Awful Things” are clear standouts. The band’s music takes an interesting turn as well, opting for more indie-rock sounding guitars, which end up melding well into Vannucchi’s emo-leaning lyrics. Though it is a distinct departure from the sound on Able Bodies, Absent Sounds is an album that will go a long way towards proving the talent and potential From Indian Lakes have.
11. The Menzingers – Rented World
The Menzingers were one of many bands that released an album this year who had massive shoes to fill following their previous release. On The Impossible Past will likely end up on everyone’s list of the best albums of the last decade, but those who were preparing for a letdown need not worry, because the band’s new album Rented World is just as good. The songwriting tandem of Greg Barnett and Tom May have clearly hit their stride, as they capitalize on Impossible‘s strengths, with tracks like “In Remission” and “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” seemingly ready for arenas right now. The band stays true to their punk reputation as well, with riotous tracks like “Rodent” and “The Talk” to even out the emo musings on “Where Your Heartache Exists” and “Nothing Feels Good Anymore.” While On The Impossible Past finds the band perfecting the punk genre, Rented World sees the band reaching out of their comfort zone, and yielding an energetic chimera of punk, emo, and pure rock-n-roll in the process.
10. Bleachers – Strange Desire
If there’s anything 2014 has taught us, it’s that fun. has an embarrassment of riches in the singer-songwriter department. The band’s guitarist, Jack Antonoff, stepped into the front of his own band in 2014 to release Strange Desire, and the result was likely the soundtrack to your summer (and if not, it should be the soundtrack for your next summer, instead). Spanning a variety of topics, Antonoff’s ability to write a chorus as big as Nate Ruess’s on Some Nights helps this album soar on nearly every track. Collaborations with hipster queen Grimes and Yoko Ono (yes, that one) show that Antonoff isn’t afraid to take risks, either. He’s said in interviews that Bleachers is its own band and not a “side-project,” and I’m hoping it’s true, because I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.
9. Anberlin – Lowborn
The scene shook on the day that Anberlin announced that they were disbanding. It’s one thing when a band doesn’t get their fair shake, but when they break up after one of their best albums in years (2012’s Vital), it stings that much more. Lucky for us, though, Anberlin decided to give us one final album, in the form of Lowborn. The album spans all of the sounds the band have experimented with over the years, from the headbanging-friendly “We Are Destroyer” to the somber, nostalic “Atonement” and album-ender “Harbinger” to the industrial-rock crusher “Armegeddon.” Stephen Christian’s signature voice turns in possibly its best performance ever, while drummer Nate Young gives his expected stellar performance behind the kit. Yes, it’s awfully sad that Anberlin left us in 2014, but Lowborn will now serve as a final reminder that they were one of the most sincere, unique, and talented bands to ever grace the scene with their presence.
8. Walk the Moon – Talking is Hard
Initially powered by monstrous single “Shut Up and Dance” before its early-December release, Walk the Moon’s sophomore full-length will leave a very quick and very good first impression with anyone who listens and is ready to, well, shut up and dance. Many of these tracks feature synth lines straight out of the 80s glam-metal era, but with Walk the Moon’s own indie-rock/pop twist on everything, it makes for an album that has more charisma than any other to come out this year. Though “Shut Up and Dance” seems destined to break through to mainstream pop radio stations, the depth of Talking is Hard is the story here, thanks to tracks like the fast-paced “Avalanche,” the boisterous “Portugal” and heartfelt closer “Aquaman.” They’re likely the least emo band on this list, but Walk the Moon’s new album got me off my couch and onto the dancefloor (okay, fine, I was just dancing around my room) more often than any other, and it’s an album that is impossible to not enjoy.
7. PVRIS – White Noise
If you’re looking for the next big band to take the scene and possibly all of rock radio by storm, here they are. PVRIS combine an aggressive brand of pop-rock with atmospheric production, catchy synths, and a whole lot of talent that is unrivaled for other bands their age. “St. Patrick” and “My House” are destined to be monster singles, and when they’re backed up by tracks like the slow-burning “Smoke” and the one-two album-ending punch of “Ghosts” and “Let Them In,” White Noise feels like a complete, well-constructed effort. Buoyed by Lynn Gunn’s distinguished voice and budding star-power, PVRIS are a sure bet to rise through the ranks of the scene, and if they keep writing songs like these, that ascension won’t take very long at all.
6. Have Mercy – A Place of Our Own
Have Mercy’s debut album The Earth Pushed Back came out just last year, but the band seem hellbent on proving their mettle as one of the most emotionally-jarring and talented bands in the genre. The proof of that lies in A Place Of Our Own, an album that contains even more of the things you loved from The Earth Pushed Back. Brian Swindle’s croons and shouts are in perfect harmony with one another yet again, readily seen on the riotous opening track “To Convey” and the subsequent “Two Years.” Andrew Johnson’s guitars take on an expanded, as he provides great complementary sounds to Swindle’s vocals on “Spacecrafts” and “Nails and Teeth in Pavement.” Swindle’s lyrics are as devastating and relatable as ever, and his storytelling has gotten even better (use “Howl” and “The Place You Love” as evidence of that). Paul Leavitt seems to be the perfect fit to produce for this band, as he is able to highlight the band’s many strengths at separate and perfect times, while allowing the band to stay close to their already proven songwriting formula. A Place of Our Own is an excellent progression for Have Mercy, who are already well on their way to becoming one of the next consistently great bands of this scene.
5. The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt
Bludgeoned over the head by the Bruce Springsteen comparisons far too long, The Gaslight Anthem were at a crossroads. Promising a “different” sound this time around, they released Get Hurt. While the sound is certainly different from 2012’s Handwritten, the differences in sound are subtle when compared to the rest of the band’s discography. There are plenty of moments that harken back to previous releases, which ends up making Get Hurt feel more like an amalgamation of everything that came before it than a departure from everything we’ve come to know about the band. The key ingredient of the band’s recipe, Brian Fallon’s songwriting, is still well intact, and while he implements his same storytelling style throughout, the songs feel even more personal than ever, giving Get Hurt a very intimate and vulnerable overtone. The album may not be Gaslight’s best ever, but the band’s expanded scope shows their versatility and ambition haven’t faded at all.
4. Circa Survive – Descensus
While no frontman in the scene has beared his soul as much as Anthony Green has, that has certainly come with a price. The embattled singer’s addiction nearly derailed Circa Survive before they even began writing Descensus, but once he recovered, the band were able to rally and write their most aggressive album to date. Headlined by the screeching, relentless first single “Schema,” the album is truly a journey through the darkness that nearly claimed the band, with “Nesting Dolls” providing a barren, defeated look at the past (the only line of the chorus: “I don’t want to feel like this ever, ever, ever again”), and “Always Begin” and “Quiet Down” providing even more of the progressive post-hardcore the band have become known for. Green’s lyrics continue to be painfully honest, and the band around him have never sounded better, especially on the explosive ending to “Child of the Desert” and the droning, epic title track that closes the album. Circa Survive have already proven to be one of the most talented bands of this generation, but on Descensus, they’ve proven that they can weather any storm and still create some of the most compelling music of their career.
3. Fireworks – Oh, Common Life
After releasing Gospel during the pop-punk renaissance of 2011, Fireworks were continually overlooked as bands like The Wonder Years, Transit, Man Overboard, and The Story So Far got bigger and bigger. Thankfully, they didn’t grow as frustrated as I clearly am by their lack of exposure and returned to the lab. What they emerged with was unthinkable, as Oh, Common Life is even better than the sleeper-classic that Gospel has become. Dealing with the death of his father, vocalist Dave Mackinder channels his anguish into the best songs of his career, with the particularly devastating pair of songs that end the album (“Run Brother, Run” and “The Hotbed of Life”). There’s still hints of the band’s pop-punk beginnings on tracks like “Glowing Crosses,” “Bed Sores,” and “Flies on Tape,” but when you hear tracks like “Woods” or “The Only Thing That Haunts This House Is Me,” it becomes very apparent that Fireworks have crossed over into an emo band. They clearly have the talent to play under either genre very well, which will continue to work in their favor, as Oh, Common Life has so wonderfully proven.
2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Keep You
By the beginning of 2014, many people had already been properly acquainted with Pianos Become the Teeth’s breathtaking album The Lack Long After, a magnum opus of emotional hardcore centered around frontman Kyle Durfey’s unexpected loss of his father. The album made waves throughout the music world, extending its reach well beyond the screamo genre the album was birthed in. In an unprecedented move, Durfey’s screams were cast aside on their new album Keep You, and the vocalist opted for only clean vocals this time around. Despite the vocal change, listeners will quickly learned that nothing else has changed with the band. Durfey’s lyrics are still painting himself as a man in mourning, but Keep You does offer more glimmers of hope than its predecessor. The band’s post-rock-meets-screamo musicianship is aided by the vocal shift immensely, as they are able to craft a focused, expansive backdrop for Durfey to paint his pain onto. Pianos Become the Teeth took a big chance shifting their sound, as it could have easily been dismissed as a band trying to fix what wasn’t broken. Instead, they emerge from 2014 as one of the most promising, versatile, and important bands in modern emo.
1. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace Is There
At its core, the emo genre is defined, quite literally, for its music being very emotional. From the minute Christian Holden shouts “Open the curtains” on “An Introdcution to the Album,” The Hotelier’s sophomore full-length, there isn’t a single moment that isn’t emotional. Home, Like Noplace is There is an exhausting listen, as each track has moments that leave you floored by the sheer weight of what Holden is singing about. From the aftermath of a friend’s suicide (Song of the Year “Your Deep Rest”), the poor treatment of a man’s wife, comparable to the family dog (“Housebroken”), or the acceptance of blame for a relationship gone south (haunting album closer “Dendron”), there are a myriad of topics covered in Holden’s harrowing lyrics, and each track’s journey is a difficult one to get through. Though the album is emotionally taxing, it does so out of necessity. Home, Like Noplace Is There will challenge you mentally and emotionally, it will ravage your thoughts, and it will urge you to re-evaluate many aspects of your life. In other words, it does exactly what a great piece of art should do. No album came close to making this level of an impact with me (or any of my cohosts) throughout the year, and each listen to The Hotelier’s landmark effort will bring on new connections, new emotions, and new feelings that you forgot about or didn’t know you had. Put simply, it is essential that you listen to this album.
Whew, what a ride it’s been! Thank you for reading what I had to say about my 25 favorite albums that I listened to this year. As good as this year was in the emo genre, I’m sure there were still albums that I missed. So I’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments, or spew your hate directly at me on Twitter @whysoserious. Stay tuned in to thegardenstatement.com for even more Best of 2014 goodies, and bring on 2015!!