Best of 2013

Standard

best of

This year’s End of the Year list will look a little different from previous lists. For 2013, I’ve asked a few folks to contribute their lists, including Billboard Magazine’s Bill Werde and music technology pundit Jason Herskowitz. Included on this list are some close friends of mine including Mike Caroleo and Andrew Bodenbach.

Bill Werde

10.
Tegan and SaraHeartthrob
Buy It Stream it

9.
Nine Inch NailsHesitation Marks
Buy It Stream it

8.
Kasey MusgravesSame Trailer, Different Park
Buy It Stream it

7.
DisclosureSettle
Buy It Stream it

6.
Pearl JamLightning Bolt
Buy It Stream it

5.
Ashley MonroeLike A Rose
Buy It Stream it

4.
Capital CitiesIn a Tidal Wave of Mystery
Buy It Stream it

3.
Kanye WestYeezus
Buy It Stream it

2.
Davie BowieThe Next Day
Buy It Stream it

1.
LordePure Heroine
Buy It Stream it

Jason Herskowitz
In No Particular Order

Portugal. The ManEvil Friend
Buy It Stream It

Half Moon RunDark Eyes
Buy It Stream It

HousesA Quiet Darkness
Buy it Stream It

DaughterIf You Leave
Buy it Stream It

The NationalTrouble Will Find Me
Buy it Stream It

Volcano ChoirRepave
Buy it Stream It

The Head & The HeartLet’s Be Still
Buy it Stream It

Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
Buy it Stream It

TyphoonWhite Lighter
Buy it Stream It

Lady Lamb the BeekeeperRipley Pine
Buy it Stream It

Mike Caroleo
These are in no particular order, with the exception of #1, which is listed last.

Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
Buy it Stream It
I didnʼt catch on to this release until later in the year, but wow, it is solid. Ezra Koenig has many interesting things to say about God and religion here, and the music does a notably fantastic job of enhancing his lyrics. Excellent release that should not be looked over.

HaimDays Are Gone
Buy It Stream It
These three sisters from California have written an album that wouldʼve made Fleetwood Mac proud. Itʼs fun, infectious, refreshing indie pop. Iʼve tried turning this album off before, but it never really works because it never stops playing in my head. Haim will definitely be one to watch develop over the next few years.

Twenty One PilotsVessel
Buy It Stream it
As someone that was so utterly blown away by the single, “Holding On To You,” I was at first extremely disappointed by the full LP. After later seeing Tyler Joseph & Josh Dun perform these songs live however, my disappointment turned to toleration, and eventually, enthusiasm. With time, Iʼve come to really, really like this album, even if that single still overshadows it.

The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow
Buy It Stream it
This Brooklyn-based three-pieceʼs debut is overflowing and exploding with raw talent. Iʼm going to carry a copy with me everywhere I go in 2014, just in case someone asks me to define the term “good music.” Seriously, if you donʼt know what Iʼm talking about, you need to stop what youʼre doing and listen.

Frightened RabbitPedestrian Verse
Buy It Stream it
Iʼve been a big fan of these Scotts since The Midnight Organ Fight, and theyʼve outdone themselves with this one. Being a Christian, it hurts to listen to the strong current of anti-Christianity that runs through this album, but Scott Hutchisonʼs genuine honesty and the bandʼs musical prowess remind me I donʼt need to agree with the subject to appreciate the art.

The Wonder YearsThe Greatest Generation
Buy It Stream it
Listen, ever since I “grew up” and got married, I havenʼt paid much attention to “the scene” that The Wonder Years represent. That said, I couldnʼt ignore this album. Itʼs an emotional monster, from the first song to the finale. The finale, by the way, is one of my favorite songs of the year because….well youʼll just have to listen for yourself. (Tip: Listen to album straight through for full effect)

The Front BottomsTalon of the Hawk
Buy It Stream it
Started listening to these guys when I saw they were opening for Manchester Orchestra. You wonʼt find any grand production or fancy marketing surrounding the bandʼs two members, but you will find some unique, raw songwriting on an album that pleasantly surprised me from first listen.

LordePure Heroine
Buy It Stream it
Everyoneʼs heard her smash-hit single, “Royals.” Not as many have taken the time to listen to what is one of my favorite mainstream pop albums of the last 5 years. An album of this quality should never be written by someone so young. Itʼs not fair to everyone else.

The Get TogethersHome As In Houston
Buy It Stream it
Though theyʼve flown under the radar, The Get Togethers have gotten together 12 songs (one for each month) that really stand strong. And letʼs face it, not many girls that are in bands with their husband can come away with comparisons to Death Cab For Cutie after writing an album about the lesbian teacher-student affair they had in high school, am I right?

The 1975The 1975
Buy It Stream it
Iʼll say it: If I had to pick an album of the year, this is it. Iʼm not gonna lie to you and tell you I know what each songʼs about, or that I can even understand every word Matthew Healy sings, but wow. Every song is different from the next, while all still managing to entertain and provide a fresh combination of pop, R&B, 80ʼs rock, and nu gaze. Iʼve literally had to take this album out of my car so that I can listen to something else, but somehow it always finds its way back to my ears. Top to bottom, I absolutely love it.

Listen to Mike’s Favorite Songs of 2013 here.

Andrew Bodenbach

10.
Despicable Me 2
Because Minions.

9.
The Bling Ring
Because it’s beautifully shot (not to mention Emma Watson) and nails the moral and social depravity of this generation.

8.
The Place Beyond The Pines
Because for the first 2/3 it was what the perfect movie would look like.

7.
Frances Ha
Because it’s a great look at the anxiety of millenials and it’s very enjoyable to boot.

6.
Much Ado About Nothing
Because it’s Joss Whedon and Co. doing Shakespeare. What else do you need?

5.
The Counselor
Because it’s absurd and transcendent at once. And has the most unforgettable scene I’ve ever seen. (it’s not this one)

4.
All Is Lost
Because it’s Gravity, but on the ocean and it’s better.

3.
Gravity
Because I’m still in awe. It’s beyond comprehension. And also, Clooney’s voice.

2.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Because there is no one who is better at their craft than the Coen Brothers. And this might have been them at their best.

1.
Fast & Furious 6
Because how can it not be? But seriously, all the talk about movie in the films actually made you feel like you were a part of the family. Which makes the loss of Paul Walker feel like the loss of a real brother.

Matthew Moore
10.
The 1975The 1975
Buy It Stream it

9.
Andrew BelleBlack Bear
Buy It Stream It

8.
Tegan and SaraHeartthrob
Buy It Stream it

7.
Kacey MusgravesSame Trailer, Different Park
Buy It Stream it

6.
Kings of LeonMechanical Bull
Buy It Stream It

5.
Hillsong UnitedZion
Buy It Stream It

4.
The Civil WarsThe Civil Wars
Buy It Stream It

3.
The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow
Buy It Stream it

2.
Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the Modern City
Buy it Stream It

1.
Little CometsLife is Elsewhere
Buy It Stream It

Album Review: Jimmy Eat World – Damage

Standard

Jimmy Eat WorldDamage
RCA Records
June 11th 2013

Recommended if you like: Yellowcard, Third Eye Blind, Taking Back Sunday

When a recognizable artist releases a new album, it doesn’t take much to get everyone’s attention. Occasionally though, we tend to just look at the press releases, the interviews, and the liner notes at surface level. We write our review, post it online, and you click and skim through it all to get a general idea of whether or not we liked the album. But we’re not just talking about another recognizable artist today, we’re talking about Jimmy Eat World.

So what’s so special about Jimmy Eat World? If you want to look at accolades, you’d be hard pressed to believe they’re the spokesmen of a generation. Only one single out of a dozen released has reached number one on the Billboard charts, and their highest charting album only reached number five. If you talk to a fan of Jimmy Eat World and ask them why they’re such an important band in their life, the answers you’ll get will all sound just about the same. For the fans, it’s the way that the music and the lyrics get past that first layer and reach you in a way a song never has before. If you ask them their favorite song, they probably won’t tell you “The Middle.” For most, they’ll tell you about “23,” “Goodbye Sky Harbor,” or “Dizzy,” and would be able to recount where they were the first time they listened to it. Only a band with relentless fans would be able to do a ten date national tour playing a ten year old record from front to back and sell out every date. This, among countless other reasons, is why a band like Jimmy Eat World releasing a new record is a great thing for rock music.

From the strumming of the first riff of “Appreciation,” you get a goofy little smile on your face and say to yourself, “Yeah, this is going to be a great record.” With producer Alain Johannes behind the wheel, the album provides the familiar feel of past records. Growth can definitely been seen lyrically for the band, as Adkins’ songwriting has seen tremendous development. The lead single “I Will Steal You Back” offers a look back at love lost with the chorus crying out, “How slowly we built the walls/years they pile up/I will steal you back/Funny how the smallest lie/might live a million times/I will steal you back.”

The standout ballad from the album is the heartbreaking song “Please Say No.” Told from a lover in the middle of an affair, the song tells of the destruction the act has done not only on the ones being cheated on but also the ones doing the cheating and their relationship. The lyrics say, “If all you’re really hoping for is peace of mind/Don’t come to me with questions, you’ll just waste your time/exactly what you’re looking for is what you’ll find/All I see around me is a losing battle.”

The overall feel of the album emits a very nostalgic emotion, taking you back to the good old days where guitars and lyrics reigned supreme and production took a back seat. For people who have an love for raw rock and roll, this album will feel like home. For those who prefer the more polished sound, odds are you’ll have a hard time with this one. If you can get past that fact, Jim and company offer up one of their most poignant and honest album in their career.

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Album Review: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

Standard


Justin TimberlakeThe 20/20 Experience
RCA Records
Release Date: March 19, 2013

Recommended if you like: Miguel, Bruno Mars, Usher

For nearly a decade, 1993 until 2002, male harmony groups dominated the world of pop music. You may have even secretly listened to one the internationally famed “boy bands” when no one else was looking. Their tremendous success is absolutely undeniable; The Backstreet Boys have sold over 130 million records worldwide and *NSYNC has sold over 50 million. All of this fame went away almost as quickly as it appeared, and the jury is still out on why exactly they disappeared the way they did. There was certainly not a shortage of former members trying to make it on their own; nearly every member from Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, Dream Street, and countless other tried their hand at solo careers with a high percentage failing to have any commercial success. One did make a very successful name for himself in his attempt, and that was Justin Timberlake.

In 2002, just months after the “temporary hiatus” of *NSYNC, Timberlake released Justified as his attempt to shed the “boy band” image and try his hand as an R&B artist. It was a huge success. As of 2011, the debut release has sold over 7 million records worldwide. His follow-up FutureSex/LoveSounds was an even bigger success, selling over 10 million records worldwide. However, after 2004’s Super Bowl appearance with Janet Jackson and the infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” Timberlake decided to put his musical career on hold to try to move into the movie industry. After seven years, Timberlake has made a return in an attempt to change the status quo of pop music again.

The first thing most people will notice about The 20/20 Experience is the length of each song. Every one of the 10 tracks on the album clock in over 4:30 with the longest one at 8:06. This unorthodox song arrangement style may throw off most pop listeners, but the long songs are hardly noticeable after just a few songs.

“Pusher Love Girl” opens up the album with a stunning  R&B influenced orchestral intro followed quickly by the flawless vocals from Timberlake fitting right into the mix. The lyrics tell the metaphorical story of his love affair with a pusher girl , and the drug she is dealing to him is love. The chorus belts out “So go on be my dealer babe. Cause all I want is you baby.You’re my little pusher love girl.

The lead single for the album is “Suit and Tie,” with a guest vocal appearance by future tour mate Jay-Z. The introductory chorus comes in at a slow pace, preparing the listeners for a laid back song, but the ad lib bit from producer Timbaland leading into the verse helps push us forward into the dance-worthy tune. Throughout the song, Timberlake sings about the high-class lifestyle of dancing around in suits in a way that makes you want to go out and buy a suit on the spot. The pace of the song kicks back to the first chorus with the introduction of Jay-Z, and the half time feel helps the song feel more versatile.

With the song “That Girl,” we are formally introduced to Timberlake’s backing band, “JT and the Tennessee Kids.” The band definitely does not disappoint with their incredible brass section, jazz guitar sound, and of course JT. Even though the song is pretty simple lyrically, it certainly has the capability of being a future single.

The second single from the release is “Mirrors,” and sonically is the song closest to his former releases. Lyrically though, the song tells a story of completion and wholeness thanks to his wife, which puts him in a much different place than his earlier albums. The song has a very epic feel to it, with an opening guitar riff, some beatboxing to help keep the rhythm, and Timberlake’s vocals doubled over to give a bigger presence. The song builds up to the halfway point in the track where the chorus is repeated a cappella to show off his tremendous vocal talent. In the last two minutes of the song after the instrumental breakdown, Timberlake goes into a laid back verse singing “Baby, you’re the inspiration of this precious song. And I just wanna see your face light up since you put me on. So now I say goodbye to the old me, it’s already gone, And I can’t wait to get you home.

This 10 song opus is an album that has the potential for a lot of polarity. Traditional pop music fans will have several barriers to overcome in order to fit this into their 4:00 or less music attention span, but many people, including Billboard and Rolling Stone, are up in arms about the potential this album has to change the landscape of the pop music scene in 2013.

Rating: 7/10

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Throwback Album Review: Relient K – Mmhmm

Standard


Relient KMmhmm
Capitol Records
Release Date – November 2, 2004

Recommended if you like: Switchfoot, Anberlin, Yellowcard

If you were an avid fan of the “Christian Rock” scene in the late 90s and early 00s, then you were very familiar with the witty, pop-culture drenched lyrics of Relient K. Whether it was “Sadie Hawkins Dance,” “Maybe It’s Maybeline,” or “Mood Rings,” you couldn’t help but swoon over Matt Thiessen’s cunning lyrics and the band’s power chord heavy music. However, the release of Mmhmm marked quite a few milestones for the CCM heart throbs. First of all, this was the band’s debut release on a major record label, Capitol Records. Secondly, it was the last record with founding member Brian Pittman. It also marked a pretty big step in a more mature direction both lyrically and musically for the band.

The lead single for the album, “Be My Escape,” sets the tone for the new grown up sound with the prominent piano playing throughout the verse and chorus of the song. “Be My Escape” also provided the band with their first mainstream single, being certified Platinum in November 2005.

“High of 75” follows next in line on the album and is credited as the only Christian single. This song certainly harkens back to their former albums with lyrics formed around the weather. The introduction of some synthesized drums and beats also make their way into this song, offering another new element in Relient K’s new sound.

As well as bringing in some new pop-friendly sounds into the new record, Relient K also used this album to experiment with a heavier punk sound, first shown off in their song “I So Hate Consequences.” In the second chorus of the song, you even hear some screaming vocals, which is unprecedented musically with Relient K. The most impressive part of this new release is how well the band moves from the heaviest chorus they’ve ever written to a bridge filled with piano and cello. The move back and forth from the chunky guitar chords to the piano chords make this arguably one of the best written songs on the album musically.

In the song “Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet?” the new sounds continue to come into play with the addition of a banjo. While Thiessen never releases the true meaning of the lyrics, many believe that this song was written in regards to the ending of his relationship with Katy Perry. The weight of the lyrics is very poignant, especially in the quiet parts of the song. “What happened to us? I heard that it’s me we should blame. What happened to us? Why didn’t you stop me from turning out this way?

“Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” is undeniably Relient K’s biggest hit, reaching number 58 on the Billboard Top 100. The song is the epitome of what the album is trying to accomplish: a great mix of the rocking guitars and drums, the arpeggiated piano chords, and Matt Thiessen’s lyrics at their best.

It’s hard to believe that after nearly 8 1/2 years, this album has really stood the test of time in the Relient K discography and really served as a turning point in their career as more than just a quirky Christian rock band. Thiessen and company have since proved that they’re one of the best pop-punk bands writing music today.

 

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Album Review: The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

Standard


The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow
Descendant Records
Release Date – January 22, 2012

Recommended if you like: The Civil Wars, The Lumineers, Dawes

Some of you may have heard from prior sources like Billboard and NPR, but The Lone Bellow has the potential to be the next breakout artist in 2013. What you may not heard about is the catastrophic road that lead to lead singer Zach Williams’ singing career. Several years ago, Williams’ wife was in a near-fatal horse riding accident which left her a quadriplegic. In a desperate attempt to cope with the situation, Williams began writing entries in his journal. After sharing his entries with some friends, they encouraged him to put music to these poignant entries and sing them at a local open mic. Shortly thereafter, his wife miraculously recovered and they decided to move New York City so he could try his hand at music. Now joined by mandolin player Kanene Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, The Lone Bellow are on their way to becoming the new indie darlings of the music world. With the help of legendary producer Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars, Jon Foreman), this is definitely an album that will be on countless “Top Albums of 2013” lists.

From the opening notes of “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold,” the three part harmonies hit you in a way most modern music cannot. When the first verse arrives, Williams’ voice breaks into the forefront and belts out the lyrics behind a bed of lap steel guitar, rolling bass notes, and the drum kit pounding like a roaring train. “Two Sides Of Lonely” is a heart wrenching song about betrayal and tragedy. The ebb and flow of the song makes the song so much more powerful, with the soft intro, the heavy middle, and the soft outro.

The first single from the album, “You Never Need Nobody,” is a great selection and arguably the most accessible song on the debut. A song about love and rejection, the chorus sings out “You never need nobody, you never been alone. And I try to get your affection, and all I ever do is wrong.” The song certainly reminds you of the country your grandparents listened to, with a modern spin put on it. The final chorus with the banjo, piano, and guitar ringing out chords while the trio cries out in perfect harmony with a sound that is sure to give you chills. The rest of the album is filled with one tremendous song after another, ranging from the next great country hit “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” to the incredibly catchy “Bleeding Out,” to the rock and roll tune “The One You Should’ve Let Go.”

The story of The Lone Bellow is one that every aspiring independent artists is dying to have written about them, and it’s wonderful to see another great band seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can only hope that many other great artists like The Lone Bellow will have their day in 2013.

Rating: 9.0/10

You can listen to the entire album streaming on NPR’s website and you can pre-order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Top 12 of ’12

Standard

As usual, I’ve compiled my list of top albums from the year. This is one of my favorite posts to make every year, so I hope you all really enjoy reading along. If you’re interested, here are the lists from the last few years:

Top 10 of 2009
Top 10 of 2010
Top 11 of 2011

It’s interesting to note that several of my top albums are self-released albums. Artists are definitely still making good records with or without the record labels, but those doing it without need your support.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)


Bruno MarsUnorthodox Jukebox
Atlantic Records
Favorite Tracks – “Young Girls” and “Locked Out of Heaven”


Delta SpiritDelta Spirit
Rounder Records
Favorite Tracks: “Empty House” and “Tellin’ The Mind”


Justin BieberBelieve
Island Records
Favorite Tracks: “As Long As You Love Me” and “The Beauty and the Beat”


Macklemore & Ryan LewisThe Heist
Self-Released
Favorite Tracks – “Can’t Hold Us” and “Same Love”


Phillip PhillipsThe World From the Side of the Moon
Interscope Records
Favorite Tracks – “Man on the Moon” and “Home”

#12

Of Monsters And MenMy Head Is An Animal
Universal Republic

The opening fingerpicking of “Dirty Paws” sets quite an ominous tone for the debut LP for Icelandic indie pop quintet Of Monsters And Men. The eerie male/female harmonies, the gang vocals, and spacey choruses are the blueprint to My Head Is An Animal, but you really wouldn’t want the album any other way. Nanna (female lead singer) and Raggi (male lead singer) have quite an impeccable way of meshing their vocals together, whether
in octaves or in perfect harmony. Their most notable single was “Little Talks,” which went Platinum in Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United States (strangely enough, not in Iceland.)

#11

Paper RouteThe Peace of Wild Things
Self-Released
To say that Paper Route’s last three years has been tumultuous would be an understatement. A lot happened between their major record label release Absence and their latest release, including the loss of guitarist and vocalist Andy Smith. In an interview with lead singer JT Daly, he speaks about the pain of losing a lot of really foundational pieces of the life they knew as Paper Route. Through this pain, Daly and company wrote their 2012 self-released The Peace of Wild Things. The familiar synth/pop feel is present, with strong influences from the likes of Peter Gabriel, ELO, and Genesis. Their single “You and I” has received lots of attention on the likes of Sirius XM Hits 1 despite the help of a big record label to help promote the song.

#10

Imagine DragonsNight Visions
Interscope Records

In 2011, Imagine Dragons quietly self-released an EP titled It’s Time, but thankfully their music didn’t remain quiet for very long. In November 2011, Interscope Records signed the quartet and put them in the studio immediately to work on their first full length, Night Visions. The result was a very unique album, bringing in hints of electronic dance music, rock guitars, and even some rhythmic hand claps. Their hit song “It’s Time” will get stuck in your head in a matter of seconds with it’s catchy melody and mandolin line, the song “On Top Of The World” features a earmworm-worthy whistle melody that keeps you hanging until the big chorus hits. While the band certainly has a good amount of growing to do, it’s very encouraging to see major record labels still pulling in excellent talent and growing it.

#9

BarcelonaNot Quite Yours
Self-Released
“Being told that your label doesn’t want to make a record with you at first felt like the rug was being pulled out from underneath us,” says Barcelona’s Brian Fennell. “Since we simply sold our first record to them, we were stoked to actually make a record with them. And that feeling of the floor falling out from underneath us was quickly replaced with hysterical laughter and going to get whisky.” While it’s hard to know all the details of what it took to make Not Quite Yours, it’s clear that fans were excited to hear what they had to offer.Barcelona created a Kickstarter to help raise funds for the album and within a month nearly doubled their goal. It was pretty clear that Barcelona was inspired by the response they received from their fans. With an acoustic guitar strumming lightly and a persistent floor tom pounding, Barcelona opens up their 2012 record with a subtle yet powerful song “Hanging in a Void.” Fennell’s vocals pierce through the music on every song, lyrics constantly in the forefront. While Fennell’s lyrics are usually about heartbreak, there’s always a small sense of hope that comes at the end of the album.

#8

Andrew OsengaLeonard, The Lonely Astronaut
Self-Released
In March of 2011, Andrew Osenga launched his Kickstarter announcing a bold plan: he wanted to write a concept album “to tell the story of a man named Leonard Belle. He lives 300 years from now and loses his wife in a sudden accident while their divorce is being finalized. In his rage and grief he takes a gig driving a long-distance space freighter for a year. (Due to relativity, by the time he returns to Earth everyone he knows will be old or dead.) He decides to bring along some antique instruments and recording equipment and will make a record.” Over $18,000 later, fans bought into the odd idea and waited patiently for the album to be released. The album was officially released September 18 2012, and it certainly did not disappoint. The musical stylings are all over the spectrum, ranging from acoustic guitar driven ballads like “Smoke Signals,” to synth heavy/screeching guitar solo weeping songs like “We Never Said Goodbye,” to catchy-bass-line rockers like “Tower of Babel.” While the genre may be hard to pinpoint, the lyrics follow the rise and fall of Leonard’s life and loss of a loved one he experiences through his time traveling. Although some may have initially seen this album as a comical/odd/unrealistic concept album, it is easy to fall deep into the story of poor Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut.

#7

Mumford & SonsBabel
Glassnote Records

There are some artists who musical stylings change drastically with the release of every album. Then there are some artists who know what works perfectly for them and stick to it. Mumford & Sons certainly fits into that last category. Their signature percussion style acoustic guitar, rolling banjo, and persistent kick drum make their presence known in nearly every song in some form. Marcus and company have taken their bluegrass tunes, alongside their gorgeous harmonies, and have brought a once forgotten genre into the forefront of Top 40 radio. The album peaked at 7 on the US Billboard Top 200 albums, number 3 on the US Digital Albums Chart, and number 1 on the US Folk Albums chart. While some critics may complain that it is far too similar to Sigh No More, many think that they have found their niche and know exactly how to write their style of music. Regardless of it all, these songs in their own right are a terrific collection of well-written tunes.

#6

A Silent FilmSand & Snow
Self-Released
When listening to A Silent Film, it’s easy to try and make comparisons to similar English piano-rock bands like Keane, Snow Patrol, and Coldplay. However, their new album Sand & Snow sets them apart mostly due in part to lead singer RobertStevenson’s strong vocals. Songs such as “Reaching the Potential,” “Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well,” and “Anastasia” lay a terrific foundation for the rich layers of vocals, synth and keyboards, and the rest of the instrumentation. Although the band is independent, having self-produced this album in Arizona, they have had a few songs receive some radio success on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation, as well as earning 200K downloads as iTunes’ Discovery Download.

#5

AnberlinVital
Universal Republic Records

Fans of Anberlin are not afraid to tell you which album is their favorite and which album is their least favorite. Regardless of which era of Anberlin you prefer, it’s undeniable to see the progression in the right direction with their latest release, Vital. It’s perfect blend of rock guitars and drums, a more pronounced synth and keys presence, and their signature soaring falsetto vocals featuring Stephen Christian. When the first single “Someone Anyone” was released in late August, it was quite evident that there was a new energy that the band had never had before. When describing the new album, Christian describes it as “the record I want them screaming back at me every time we play live.” Anberlin should get exactly what they ask for with catchy tunes like “Self-Starter,” “Someone Anyone,” “Desires,” and “Orpheum.” And what Anberlin album would be complete without a final opus. With the help of Eisley’s Christie DuPree, “God, Drugs & Sex” ends on an epic note. The album had plenty of success on the charts as well, including reaching 16 on the Billboard 200, 3 on the Top Alternative Charts, 1 on US Christian Albums on Billboard.

#4

Punch BrothersWho’s Feeling Young Now?
Nonesuch Records
Since Nickel Creek’s breakup in 2006, Chris Thile has been quite a busy man. His side projects have included working with Michael Daves, Edgar Meyers, and most recently the Goat Rodeo Sessions. However, he spends the majority of his time working with the Punch Brothers. In February, Thile & Co. released Who’s Feeling Young Now? on Nonesuch Records, deciding not to over-complicate the music and make it a little more accessible than their previous work. Those facts, however, do not take away from the true bluegrass feel you get with this album: mandolin front and center, rolling banjo not far behind, guitar and violin shining through occasionally, and the bass laying the foundation and rhythm of each song. Even if you’re not a huge fan of bluegrass music, it’s hard to deny the catchiness of songs like “This Girl,” “Who’s Feeling Young Now?” and “Clara.” The only thing more entertaining than listening to Who’s Feeling Young Now? is watching the quintet play live. The Punch Brothers recorded a live set performed for Austin City Limits that aired live on November 3rd that included a number of songs from the latest album. The members’ shirts and ties certainly did not set a precedent for their behavior on stage; their excitement playing live shone through on each song.

#3

Anchor & BrailleThe Quiet Life
Tooth & Nail Records

In 2008, Stephen Christian started Anchor & Braille as a side project for Anberlin after the release of their major label debut New Surrender. The first release, Felt, was very laid back and significantly different from anything anyone had heard from Stephen Christian. The response was quite positive, but fans were unsure if the project would simply be a one-time-thing. Three years after the debut, Christian and new partner Micah Tawlks collaborated and essentially reinvented the sound of Anchor & Braille. Gone are light acoustic guitars and weeping pianos; they’ve been replaced with sampled drums and heavy synth to supplement his vocals. From the opening measures of “Goes Without Saying,” you know that something is very different. After adjusting a few songs in, the album becomes mesmerizing. The haunting chorus of “oohs” during “In With the New” draws you in, while the raspy guitar on “Kodachrome” jars you once again. Probably the most powerful song on the album is “Hymn for Her,” a song written for Tawlks’ soon to be born child. When listening to the song from such a perspective, it’s tough not to fall in love with it.

#2

House of HeroesCold Hard Want
Gotee Records

There were two foreseeable routes House of Heroes could have taken with their latest release: keep following the rock opera/concept album route that they did with The End Is Not The End as well as Suburba, or write a straight up rock album with killer songs. The band chose the latter, and it turned out to be a great decision. Each song on the album was loaded; hooks flying everywhere, harmonies galore, powerful lyrics. After spending years trying to make it big, they’ve said enough is enough and laid it all out there. “Out My Way” lays it out plain and simple: “It took a whole lot of blood and sweat to get what I got. It took a whole of cold hard want to get what I got.” Each song on the record is fantastic in its own right, whether it’s the Muse-esque “Remember The Empire,” the jangly acoustic driving “We Were Giants,” or the epic ballad “I Am A Symbol.” The boys pulled out all the stops on this record, and it certainly shows. The album peaked at 3 on the Top Christian Albums chart on Billboard.

#1

LovedrugWild Blood
Self Released

There are many bands who claim to be known for their unique singer’s vocal style. Then there’s Lovedrug’s Michael Shepherd. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny the fantastic melodies Shepherd brings to life with his range and style of singing. After nearly 4 years without a proper LP, Lovedrug decided to self-release their latest, Wild Blood. Opening with the title track, Shepherd gets right to business singing out “We’re crying out honestly, this wild blood will set us all free.” The drums set the tone in nearly every song, heavily dictating the emotion of every song. During “Dinosaurs,” the bass and drums drive the melody to ring out. The four-on-the-floor kick drum with rolling snare in “Preminition” make the song one that’s just begging to be belted. Chorus after chorus comes, each one bringing a feeling stronger than the last. The acoustic guitar takes lead on “Girl,” a gorgeous love song about spending the rest of your life with the love of your life. The chorus belts out “Spent thirty years not knowing you. I can’t afford to waste more time running ’round the world, when all I know is you’re my girl.” The final song makes for the perfect finale to the album. The opening pad followed by the slow guitar solo provides a mood of near desperation. Shepherd cries out “I’ll be your drug if you need it, I’ll be the one who will chase you so hard. I will be there when you need it, I’ll be the love that you’re chasing so hard.” By the end of the song, you feel like you’re the one crying out for her to just stop looking for drugs and abuse and want her to come running into your arms. The lyrics are poignant, but hit exactly where he wants them to hit.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, hope you enjoyed my reviews and list. Stay tuned for more musical suggestions, recommendations, and reviews in 2013!
-matthew