Wait, what? Seriously? July 1st was yesterday? Goodness gracious, my mom was right: the years go by so much quicker when you get older. 2014 is already off to a blazing start, thanks to a half-year of music that has produced more top-notch releases than any of the last three years, and possibly more. The year began with a few metalcore darlings’ highly-anticipated new albums (Of Mice & Men, Issues), a few upsetting disappointments (Taking Back Sunday, Foster the People), and more good albums than I’m used to. In the last few years, I’ve kept my mid-year top albums lists to five albums; this year, I have ten bonifide albums that have made making this list exceedingly difficult. Somehow, I’ve forced myself to not be so indecisive, and now I’m ready to share with you my top 10 albums of 2014 thus far. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am!
(Author’s Note: In order to truly mark the “half-way point” of the year in music, only albums scheduled for release before July 1 were considered for this list.)
10. Tigers Jaw – Charmer: An album that many thought would never see the light of day, Tigers Jaw return with their fourth and final full-length with their original lineup. Thankfully, they went out gracefully with an eclectic, moody, and consistently good album. Tigers Jaw may never be the same again, but they’ve proven that no matter the circumstances, they’ll be able to write great grunge-tinged emo songs.
9. Seahaven – Reverie Lagoon: Music for Escapism Only: When a band elects to alter its sound, it’s usually just to tweak things a little to stay fresh in their listeners’ minds. That is not the case for this new Seahaven album. Opting for a much more mellow, laid-back sound, the band have proven that they’re talented enough to make any type of sound work, and Kyle Soto’s lyrics and vocals are both as powerful as ever. What Reverie Lagoon‘s greatest accomplishment may be, however, is that it sets up Seahaven as a band who’ll be known for their unpredictability in anticipation of every new release they put out going forward.
8. Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield: A full four year’s removed from the release of their buzzworthy sophomore album Champ, Tokyo Police Club returned on their own terms this year, armed with their most ambitious work of their career. With album-opener “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” clocking in at over 8 minutes, as well as songs like “Toy Guns” and “Beaches” straying away from their signature indie rock/pop sound, the band’s creativity is on full display, while still showing their ability to write great pop hooks on songs like “Hot Tonight” and “Miserable”. Tokyo Police Club have truly reintroduced themselves to the world, and I think I can speak for us all when I say it’s great to hear from them again.
7. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All: They’re basically the most adorable band in the scene, but don’t let those boyish faces fool you: Modern Baseball have grown up right before our very eyes. The proof of that is overflowing from You’re Gonna Miss It All, the band’s sophomore effort on Run for Cover Records. Thanks to the monstrously successful “Your Graduation” and jams like “Fine, Great,” “Broken Cash Machine,” and “Charlie Black,” the album has something that can appeal to any 20-something who decides to give it a spin.
6. Bayside – CULT: Can anything stop Bayside at this point? They’ve been around for so long that they have fans as old as their band, they’ve endured just about every label issue imaginable, and yet here they are, still killing it. CULT is yet another assertion of how consistent the band have become, and how talented they’ve become. Tracks like “Big Cheese” and “Stuttering” show the band still have the same punk-rock bite, while “Time Has Come,” “Transitive Property,” and “Objectivist On Fire” show off their ability to write catchy, hard-hitting tunes as well. There’s something for any Bayside fan on this album, and that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from this band. The fact that they’re still able to deliver is just another testament to how important Bayside are to the scene.
5. La Dispute – Rooms of the House: Still filled with elaborate storytelling, still genre-bending, and still emotionally devastating, there’s not much La Dispute changed from their proven winning formula (see 2011’s Wildlife for evidence). Rather, the band have improved and expanded their scope, incorporating twanging, bluesy guitars with slowed-down drum and bass sections, but still with plenty of moments of loud, crashing breakdowns. Jordan Dreyer’s vocals maintain their signature sound throughout all of the sonic shifts, and he expertly tells his intimate stories over the songs with an expertise unparalleled in the scene today. La Dispute’s throne atop the emotional hardcore is constantly being challenged, but Rooms of the House shows us that anyone trying to take that throne is going to have a tough battle ahead of them.
4. Manchester Orchestra – COPE: Manchester Orchestra certainly took their time with COPE, their fourth full-length, but boy was it worth the wait. Driven by some of the heaviest guitars this side of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me and featuring Andy Hull’s signature crooning of his highly introspective lyrics, COPE is a powerhouse from the opening notes of “Top Notch” to the pounding jam at the end of the album-closing title track. It’s an album that builds and builds with each song, with a back half that won’t let you catch your breath until you’ve finished the album. And then, you’ll want to do it all over again.
3. The Menzingers – Rented World: When you’re The Menzingers, and you just put out an album that was so beloved and iconic, how do you back it up? I’ll admit, I had my doubts if they would be able to recapture the magic their concept album about being young in America. But then I heard the bridge of “In Remission,” and every fear I might have had would be quelled. As it turns out, The Menzingers are quickly becoming one of those bands you can bank on releasing great, not good material each time they step into the recording studio with new material. The darker lyrical matter offered by Greg Barnett allows tracks like “Where Your Heartache Exists” and “Nothing Feels Good Anymore” to shine, while Tom May’s ever-energetic style gives an old-school punk vibe on tracks like “The Talk” and “Bad Things.” The tandem are both on their game, and because of that, they were able to not only match the instant-classic On The Impossible Past, they may very well have exceeded it.
2. Fireworks – Oh, Common Life: For all the attention their contemporaries are getting, it’s almost criminal how many people overlook Fireworks. All they’ve done is mature and develop over the course of their three full-lengths to the point where their unique sound and songwriting are unmatched in the pop-punk/emo communities. Frontman Dave Mackinder’s songwriting has gone from friendship-focused to deeply introspective, to the point where the listener almost feels as though they’re committing a serious invasion of privacy. Tracks like “The Hotbed of Life” and “One More Creature Dizzy With Love” are prime examples of how far the band has come, while “The Sound of Young America” and “Flies on Tape” show that they can still write a catchy, upbeat pop-punk track screaming to be played on Warped Tour. Oh, Common Life is as complete an album as Fireworks have ever made, and there simply isn’t a song on there that you’ll want to skip when you’re listening.
1. The Hotelier – Home, Like Noplace is There: From out of nowhere, a band has taken the emo world by storm, emerging from seedy basement shows to write some of the most heart-wrenching, tear-jerking songs you’ll ever hear. The Hotelier’s music is loud, fast, and unhinged, and frontman Christian Holden’s lyrics tell such intricate stories and paint such vivid images that you won’t be able to avoid feeling the pain you hear in his voice on “An Introduction to the Album,” “Your Deep Rest, and “Dendron.” Holden’s lyrics are also explorations of the human psyche, as he analyzes the struggles of someone struggling with their gender identity (“Life in Drag”) and a housewife who’s on equal footing with the family dog, according to her husband (“Housebroken”). With such a broad lyrical scope, it would be easy to lose a listener in a story they can’t connect with, but that’s the chief accomplishment of the Hotelier: the lyrics, vocals, and instruments all combine to form a listening experience that demands to be experienced, understood, and pondered over. The Hotelier have created an album that, a few years down the road, people are going to talk about as one of the best of this so-called “emo revival” we’re in the midst of. So if you haven’t done so yet, it’s time you hopped on the bandwagon. I’ll gladly make room for you.
There you have it, folks. These are the ten albums that have defined my year musically, or at least the first half of the year. There are certainly plenty more albums of high interest (helloooooooo, Gaslight Anthem) due out in the second half of 2014, so it will be interesting to see where these albums hold up when the dust settles in December. Until then, what did I miss? What albums do I need to take another good listen to? What’s your favorite album of 2014 thus far? Leave your response in the comments, and let’s get a discussion going!