2014. The Year of the Unknown. Will we get a new album this year from Brand New? Unknown. What’s the name of the new ripper of an album from Every Time I Die? From Parts Unknown. Why did Taking Back Sunday disappoint so much with their new album? Really unknown. But the greatest unknown of 2014 is how a tiny little band from Worcester, Massachusetts released perhaps the best record this scene has crafted in years. One thing that is a known entity is that 2014 has thus far been a tremendous year for music, and it’s only shaping up to be even better in the second half. However, here at the mid-way point of the year, I offer you my mid-year top 10 albums.

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10. Kaiser Chiefs- Education, Education, Education, and War

Though the Every Time I Die record mentioned earlier was technically ruled ineligible for this list on account of being released one day too late (it was released yesterday, July 1), it would have been a top 5 record. Instead, I have slotted this record from the British punk rockers that brought you “Ruby” and “Never Miss a Beat.” Though the cleverly titled record doesn’t have a huge standout single like those two aforementioned tracks, it is a smooth, well-written record with catchy melodies galore.

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9. Against Me- Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Laura Jane Grace sure has a lot to say. And, wow, is she powerful when she says it. Whether it’s the uproarious “Drinking With the Jocks,” or the climactic, cathartic “Black Me Out,” this record is filled with anthemic, emotional bursts of honesty. There may not be a more important statement record in punk rock this year.

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8. Modern Baseball- You’re Gonna Miss It All

What do you get if you take The Front Bottoms, but rear them on Weezer and Jawbreaker records instead of Moutain Goats records. Well, you have Modern Baseball- a band who combines quirky and self-deprecating lyrics with surprisingly gratifying songwriting. A lot of the younger bands on this list have tons of potential- but Modern Baseball may be the most likely to reach their highest ceiling.

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7. Seahaven- Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only

This record’s title is a mouthful to say out loud, and it’s also a load to take in in one sitting. Clocking in at a substantial almost 53 minutes, the songs on Reverie Lagoon often meander on longer than they have to, or just simply don’t know when to end. But underneath the rough edges is a goldmine of hazy, shoegaze-driven rock with just enough swagger to latch on. Think Silversun Pickups- but with more of a beach lounging feel.

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6. Bayside- Cult

One of the most consistent bands in punk rock… remains consistent. This shouldn’t come as a huge shock to people who have followed Bayside’s career but, although they haven’t released many bad records (perhaps none outside of Shudder), they also haven’t particularly changed up their sound much. Vocalist Anthony Raneri seems particularly attuned to this fact here, saying on their track “Stuttering”: “Cause I’m the voice of the depressed / And that’s what everyone expects / Give the people what they want then it hangs over your head.” It’s a formula that is successful, but also is getting pretty stale- mix it up a little bit next time (maybe write a happy record?)

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5. La Dispute- Rooms of the House

One band that is seemingly incapable of writing a happy record, La Dispute, come back yet again with a pseudo concept album. The narrator seems to be looking at different items he has amassed and organized into a timeline of his relationship with a significant other, and noting how that object has had an effect on their relationship with one another. It’s an interesting trick- one that isn’t quite as successful as the “struggling author” narrator of the band’s last record Wildlife, but is fun to track none the less. I never get tired of hearing Jordan Dreyer meander his way through a story, circling back as necessary, and then cutting to the bone with a vicious line of prose.

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4. Tides of Man- Young and Courageous

One of the best post-rock albums in recent history, and it comes from a band which is just getting its feet wet in the genre. If this is what we can expect from Tides of Man going forward, than we could be in for one of the great genre shifts in music history. The poise at which the band handles the sweeping, powerful crescendos, the grace of the punchy, polyrhythm drum fills, and the multilayered approach to mixing the record all display a command of the art form of music. It’s a real thrill to watch Tides of Man develop right in front of me.

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3. Fireworks- Oh, Common Life

It would be easy for me to point out here- like I did in my review- that vocalist Dave Mackinder channeled a combination of Saves The Day’s Chris Conley and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump to draw you in an catch you attention. But in hindsight I feel that was wrong. Mackinder brought to the table on Oh, Common Life a voice and a vocal delivery that was entirely his own. To put it simply, this is a great band making great songs, with huge choruses and one of the single best vocal performances you will hear this year. Get on board, or risk missing out on the best pop-rock has to offer.

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1b. The Menzingers- Rented World

Ah, yes. For the first time in my career, I’m going for the cop out tie placement at the midway point of the year. This is not because I can’t decide which I like better than the other- but because I think both records are near perfect and are perfect representatives of the diversity that 2014 has to offer. The Menzingers provide earnest, heartland punk rock. Rented World continues that trend as vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May provide a slice of their life experiences to the listener in the form of carefully crafted and powerful anthems like “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” and “In Remission”- the latter of which has the single greatest lyric of the entire year in its bridge (If everyone needs a crutch, then I need a wheelchair…” Just as the record at number 3 had to live up to its predecessor, the highly regarded Gospel, Rented World had to live up to the juggernaut that was On The Impossible Past, a seemingly unmanageable task- except The Menzingers were able to pull it off- a testament to their ability and unyielding potential.

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1a. The Hotelier- Home, Like Noplace is There

When your record has the Song of the Year (“Your Deep Rest”), and then crafts eight other excruciatingly beautiful and heartwrenching tracks around it, it’s hard to argue that you don’t deserve the top spot. The Hotelier earns it- or at least a share of it- because they are not afraid to bear their souls to the listener. There is a freeness about this self-expression. They become one with the listener or the audience- as someone who has seen their live set can attest to- and their problems almost become your own, while their candidness seems like the band would actually share in your own if given the opportunity. This type of shared experience is something I have not oft-seen in any kind of music, but it’s the thing that makes this relatively young band from Worcester, Mass so unbelievably special in my eyes- and the thing that has earned them a share of my top spot on the mid –year list.

What albums did I miss? What albums do I need to give a re-listen to and reevaluate. What’s your favorite album of 2014 thus far- or what are you excited to hear that is coming out in the second half of the year? Let me know in the comments, and be on the lookout for more great mid-year reflection pieces.