Welcome to our annual recap of the best the previous year had to offer. Those of you who listen to our radio show (Saturdays 1-3 PM returning January 23rd) will already know this, but Donald, Madison, and myself, Craig Ismaili, compile a list of our favorite emo, pop-punk, and post-hardcore albums of the year every December. Below we have the list for this year’s show as well as some writeups for each album. In the coming weeks, we’ll also have several posts for our own individual recaps including each of our individual lists, some awards given out by Donald Wagenblast, and my Top Songs of the Year. But for now, check out our favorites below (including listening to the spotify playlist we attached below) and remember to bang your head and open your mind.
20. Title Fight – Hyperview
Released way back in the dog days of early February, Title Fight’s Hyperview continues in the interesting sonic direction belied by their previous EP Spring Songs, as well as Floral Green standout Head In a Ceiling Fan. Producer Will Yip make his first of several appearances on this countdown, as his success in bringing out the best iteration of what a band wants to accomplish continues here. While the Pennsylvania band has come a long way from the scrappy pop-punk of The Last Thing You Forget, the songwriting is still as intricate as ever, and the layers of soundscapes do them well here.
19. The Saddest Landscape – Darkness Forgives
The Saddest Landscape combine the frantic nature of Touche Amore with the vulnerability of the late 80s emo progenitors for an album that feels just as much at home in the modern hardcore ecosystem as it would alongside Lifetime in a New Brunswick basement. A vital listen for fans of emotional hardcore.
T17. Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep
Enter Shikari continues to be remarkably unpredictable. Their particular blend of political hardcore is still endearing even 10 years into their career. On The Mindsweep, they continue their assault against pharmaceutical companies who put their bottom line above the safety of their constituents (“The Anesthetist”), rail against extremists on both sides of the coin who wage war for their ideologies (“The One True Colour” and “The Last Garrison”), and their repeated admonition of those who refuse to acknowledge the threat of climate change (“Torn Apart”) . Musically, their influences continue to evolve as well, from the System of a Down-esque “There’s a Price On Your Head” to the delicate piano arrangement of “Dear Future Historians” to the bombast and circus whirligig of “The Appeal and The Mindsweep Pt. 1 and 2,” this is an album of a band who has decided that status quo isn’t good enough.
T17. Donovan Wolfington – How To Treat The Ones You Love
There is an endearingly old-school pop punk sensibility to the way Donovan Wolfington crafts a song. They’re refreshingly back-to-basics punk songs, a 13 track album that lasts just a shade over thirty minutes and doesn’t wear out its welcome. Quite the contrary, even at 13 tracks, How To Treat the Ones You Love leaves you wanting more.
16. The Money Pit – The Money Pit
Vocalist Nic Newsham just has a knack for writing melodies that will stick in your head for days on end after you hear them. Whether it is the delightfully wordy chorus of “Blackout” that is reminiscent to me of the chorus of Misser’s “Time Capsules,” or the emphatic, yet resound “Fuck that shit,” that closes the chorus of “Killing Time In Hawaii.” In more ways that one, this album reminds me of The American Scene’s Haze from last year, an album that went critically underappreciated by many, including this very site upon its release last year. Perhaps the pbest comparison is to “Control Everything,” similarly dancy to Haze, but at least 50% more nihilistic.
15. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle
Perhaps the most vocally talented entrant on this list, Julien Baker takes us on a journey into the vulnerable depths of her soul on her debut full-length. It’s one of the most emotionally crushing and heart-wrenchingly honest releases of the year, as Baker posits, “I’m a pile of filthy wreckage, you’ll wish you’d never touched.” And at times it’s also the year’s most self-aware and ironic records, with Baker giving a wink and a nod as she begins a song about being on her deathbed by crooning, “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death.”
14. The Early November – Imbue
I for one and just simply glad that The Early November is still making music. It seemed not too far-fetched that after a disappointing run of Warped Tour following their reunion album (the stellar In Currents) that The Early November would float down the River Styx back into the Underworld. But sometimes bands don’t follow the path of the Greek legends. Occasionally, they coming roaring back from the undead like Odysseus on his path back to Ithaca. The Early November luckily is one of those bands, and their triumphant return is highlighted by opening tracks “Narrow Mouth” and “Better This Way,” two of the best songs of their careers.
13. Pentimento – I, No Longer
While at times it seems like Pentimento are just a little too on the nose with their attempts to appeal to the next generation of emo fans lyrically, working so hard to assure that their lyrics so dripping in sentiment that they don’t even stop make sure they make sense syntactically or grammatically, I, No Longer is still a rewarding listen because it recalls the very best musical cues of early Jimmy Eat World at times, including a closing track (“Tell Me”) that could fairly easily have been a Clarity B-Side.
12. Sorority Noise – Joy, Departed
While Pentimento seems too preoccupied with trying to appeal to young fans by being overbearingly sappy with their lyrical output, Sorority Noise does so by making every track on their record feel like it should be the album closer. While Joy, Departed feels like an immeasurably oddly paced record as a result (you really feel like the albums should be over 4 or 5 times over the course of the back half of the album) it still makes this countdown on the strength of its stellar song construction (a step up in every conceivable way, especially in the production, from their debut last year) as well as the ever-relatable and not overly sentimental lyrics of Cam Boucher.
11. Citizen – Everybody Is Going To Heaven
Everybody Is Going To Heaven is another brooding, downright dark, and abrasive record from the Run For Cover staples. But Everybody is Going to Heaven is one that has more in common with the sludgy post-grunge and industrial genres of the 90s than it does with their emo contemporaries. Still there are incredibly moments of stunning beauty, even on an album with as many rough edges of this, such as the exposed poetry of “Yellow Love” and the kinetic, sinister pulsating of “Weave Me (Into Yr Sin).”
Also for those keeping score at home, this is now album number 2 on our list which Will Yip, Pennsylvania producer wunderkind, produced. And that number, I promise you, will not stop at two.
10. The Front Bottoms – Back On Top
The Fueled By Ramen, and thus major label debut of the New Jersey based pop-??? duo has all the familiar trappings you’d expect from a major label debut: a gratuitous hip-hop guest verse (GDP on “Historic Cemetery”), a vaguely unsettling, over-the-top sexually charged number (“2YL”), and a complete sonic shift. But, as I touched upon in my interview with the band for Absolutepunk, the album was written entirely before the band ever signed with Fueled By Ramen. Thus, this architecture under which lies the “new” The Front Bottoms was constructed solely on their terms. Such devil-may-care attitude and a fitting amount of self-deprecating humor (See “Plastic Flowers”) is really the only way a band of any stature can maintain a devoted and engaging fan base, even after you align yourself with a mega-corporation.
9. Better Off – Milk
As we have said on numerous occasions on the show, though it cannot be stated enough. Better Off has crafted the very best album cover of the year. The peanut butter-and-jelly quad-stack sandwich on the cover belies just how mature this sophomore release from the Tennessee band is, however. The band examines a number of topics, including mental health and anxiety (“Bella Disorder”), chemical dependency (“You’re Alright”), and the failings of modern relationships (“A Lesson In Loving”). While it’s at times a hopelessly bleak record, there are lighthearted jams like single “Whatever, I Don’t Care” which help to keep the album perfectly balanced.
8. The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven
While it is no The Greatest Generation, No Closer To Heaven continues The Wonder Year’s recent trend of looking outward for lyrical influence, instead of inward. Vocalist Dan Campbell and company comment on several social issues, including racial inequalities, employment and opportunity based societal glass ceilings, and gun violence, as well as re-examining several issues they’ve discussed in the past in more individual terms, such as drug abuse and suicide, on a more societal scale. The best moments on the album, like the bridge of “Cigarettes and Saints” or the wordless choruses of “A Song For Patsy Cline” are when the band take a break from the safe, traditional song structure and experiment with different constructions and soundscapes. There is still much they could do to expand these influences further, and overall the album comes across as somewhat safe and a bit of a retread, but even a bit of a retread from The Wonder Years is still better than what 99 percent of the bands in the genre are even capable of anyway.
7. Defeater – Abandoned
Unflinchingly raw and unceasingly emotive, this is almost certainly the very best hardcore had to offer in 2015. Defeater has an intriguing blend of traditional storytelling and elegiac poetry here which suits the songs and gives them an extra burst of drama and color. The album continues their career-long concept record series, and takes the characterization at work into previously untreaded ground, providing a scathing take of the failings of the church and the people who devote their lives to it in the form of the titular abandoned Priest.
6. meWithoutYou – Pale Horses
Album of the year countdown appearance number 3 for producer Will Yip, Pale Horses is a sprawling, hyper-literate canvas upon which meWithoutyou populates a rich, dense world of political musings, coarse introspection, and polemic statements about the state of the world. It’s at times a messy and invective adventure to follow along through, but repeated listens are rewarded, with new, subtle references being gathered on each subsequent playthrough.
5. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid To Die- Harmlessness
2015 was a rather unpredictable year for emo music. The bands that were supposed to show up with new music either didn’t (Brand New) or disappointed when they did (All Time Low, Four Year Strong, and many others). But few albums captured the unpredictability of the entire year better than The World Is… with their newest album. Harmlessness is a captivating release not just because it is remarkably well-composed, but because you never quite know what you’re going to get next, not even from song to song, but even within individual songs. Songs like “January 10th, 2014” move into several different movements and genres within their all-to-brief runtimes. But the songs, and the band that crafted them are a breath of fresh air in a way that is not commonly seen within a genre.
4. Take One Car – Everyone You Know Is Here Right Now
I will come right out and say it, and I will probably say it again when it comes time to write my own individual albums list in the coming days: Take One Car’s Everyone You Know Is Here Right Now feels like it was an album created in a lab from the DNA of all things I love about music. The album combines one of my new favorite genres “talk-rock” a la La Dispute, Listener, and meWithoutYou, with perhaps the musical genre I listen to more than any other, post-rock. There are uplifting moments, but not in a way that feels cloying or overly sentimental, there are moments of pure cathartic release. And it’s the kind of album that feels like it was deliberately made for the late night drive. I really love everything about this record.
3. Petal – Shame
We need more artists like Petal. We need more powerful, absurdly talented songwriters and vocalists in this scene. Perhaps even more importantly, we need a greater balance of those supremely talented artists to be women. It’s imperative that young women have role models in front of them, women who inspire them to be creative, expressive, and expository. We can’t possibly hope to expand our musical and cultural horizons in the music scene if we are excluding 50 percent of the population from being a part of that dialogue. If I was giving out an artist of the year nominee this year (which hopefully Donald is able to write up his award blog in the coming weeks) I would nominate Petal, because what Kiley Lotz is doing as a performer and songwriter is inspiring, vitally important.
And that doesn’t even begin to discuss the music, or the sheer masterful work Lotz does here to create a specific atmosphere during listens of Shame. Expertly produced, yet again, by Will Yip (#4 out of 18, and he’s not even done yet!) Shame is work of art in the purest sense.
2. Foxing – Dealer
A lot of sports writers talked about athletes and teams that are just on the cusp of superstardom. They cite a multitude of examples: those 2013-14 Golden State Warriors, led by a still developing Steph Curry, who went on a double-digit game win streak at one point in the season, but were eliminated by the Clippers in game seven of the first round of the post-season, or a 1994 New Jersey Devils team who were just beginning to learn how to win, being eliminated from playoff contention by a Stanley Cup bound Rangers squad, or LaDanian Tomlinson battling through broken ribs for 1800 scrimmage yards on his way to a record 31 TDs the following season. These above examples describe Foxing circa The Albatross-era, a band who perhaps has not fully come into their own, but shows unrelenting potential. Dealer-era then, is Foxing doing their best “defending champ 24-0 to start the season, 1995 Stanley Cup-winning, 31 total TD” performance. It’s an astounding musical achievement, one that feels remarkably self-assured, as if the band already knows they are great an no longer need to prove it to anyone.
1.Turnover – Peripheral Vision
In the five years we’ve been doing the show, we’ve only had a unanimous choice for album of the year twice. It just so happens, however, that both of those occurrences have come in the past two years (with The Hotelier’s Home, Like Noplace is There being the other to accomplish the feat). That speaks to the caliber of album at play which prompted this unquestioned support and praise from all three of our hosts. It seems difficult to ascertain what makes Turnover so special on first listen. As I said in my initial review of an album (one I still hold is remarkably accurate to my feelings on the album to this day): “Other records have come out that sound like Peripheral Vision, and, if we’re lucky, more records will come out in the future that sound like Peripheral Vision. But not too many records will ever be released that feel like Peripheral Vision.”
Peripheral Vision is an album that helped me through a particular moment in time where my future seemed uncertain. As I said in my initial review: As I stand at the crossroads of my life, I look to music to find the answers to things I don’t yet know. To quote High Fidelity again, “I’m very good at the past. It’s the present that I can’t understand.”
Peripheral Vision has helped me understand the present a little bit better, and perhaps it can even help me to carve out the future. I look forward to hitting repeat again and again to find out.” That’s still true now. I believe fully that I will be hitting repeat on this album for years to come. That alone is what makes it our album of the year.
Thanks for tuning in to the show and to the blog in 2015. Below you can find a Spotify and Apple Music Playlist of all 20 albums!