As I sit here looking at a blank page, pondering about how I’m going to approach writing about The 1975’s gargantuan third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, I turn to my dear friend procrastination and flick open Twitter on my iPhone. After a few minutes of scrolling through an endless timeline, disgusted and amused simultaneously, I had the belated (and probably way too obvious) realization that A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships is an exploration of our codependency of the things – whether it’s drugs, sex, the internet – we use to temporarily numb the sting of loneliness.
Much has been written about The 1975’s leader Matty Healy decision to spend six weeks in a rehab facility in Barbados to fight his addiction to heroin – a stint that helped Healy reflect not only on his life, but the lives he was affecting. His decision to get clean came shortly after the band started writing A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, so unsurprising a lot of the lyrical content is derived from the recovering addict’s time spent in therapy.
I hate voicemail. I hate leaving it. I hate receiving it. I always expect the worst and/or I think I sound like a total goober on the other end. Basically, it’s the one technology that gives me the most anxiety. So it’s fitting that the latest from Antarctigo Vespucci, Love in the Time of E-Mail, would begin with a song called “Voicemail,” kicking off a record that encompasses all the anxiety-ridden excitement and nervousness that comes with exploring personal relationships in a digital world.
It’s the second full-length release from the dynamic duo of Chris Farren and Jeff Rosenstock (the first on Polyvinyl Records). As the frontmen of two beloved underground punk bands – Fake Problems and Bomb The Music Industry! respectively – the two musicians’ profiles have risen considerably over the past few years due to incredible solo albums and headline-stealing performances. So despite having a little more buzz surrounding this release than their 2015 debut Leavin’ La Vida Loca, Antarctigo Vespucci decided to keep doing what they do best – dissecting the pop songs that defined its genre and integrating those moments into 3-minute bursts of intoxicating rock songs. The album offers a terrific mix of Rosenstock’s fuzzy punk energy and Farren’s honey-sweet melodies, resulting in the band’s best release in their 100-year career.
After the release and touring of 2015’s revelationary Pale Horses, mewithoutYou needed to find some space before the apocalypse turned inwards. Vocalist Aaron Weiss relocated to Idaho with his family, a makeshift home studio rig and MIDI keyboard while the rest of his bandmates (including his brother Mike) remained in Philadelphia workshopping new ideas with producer Will Yip. There’s that one saying, you know, that distance makes the heart grow fonder? Well for the genre-defying quintet, distance also made the creativity flow more freely than every before, while some inner-band tensions and relationship strife served as the impetus to untapped creativity and fueled the [Untitled] recording sessions with Yip, yielding 19 new songs (spanning one EP and one LP, both sharing the same name) that showcase the duality within mewithoutYou’s dazzling soundscape.
On the propulsive opener “Fever Dreams,” Emma Ruth Rundle breathlessly declares, “Fear, a feeling, is it real?/So nostalgic too, it just puts the dark on you,” immediately setting the tone on her fourth solo album, On Dark Horses, before the guitars can even come thundering through. Following up the wounded vulnerability on 2016’s Marked For Death, On Dark Horses features a restless Rundle picking up the pieces and moving forward all while creating her most visceral and personal piece of art yet.
While Marked For Death was written in isolation in the desert, Rundle collaborated with Jaye Jayle’s Evan Patterson and Todd Cook and Woven Hand’s Dylan Nadon to help flesh out her new record, giving On Dark Horses a relentless dynamic between Rundle’s intoxicating vocals and the ominous yet electrifying guitar work. The blackened folk of “Control” begins with a slow smoldering of sound before being engulfed by jolted guitar riffs, while the bluesy “Dead Set Eyes” emerges with hazy, dueling guitar interplay that Rundle’s vocals cut through like a knife.
Conor Murphy is not fucking around – the end of the world is coming soon or at least it feels like it is every single day. Murphy carries a sense of impending dread throughout his band Foxing’s spectacular third album, Nearer My God – as if all of this could collapse at any minute. So if you’re gonna square up with the apocalypse then Foxing figured they might as well throw their best punch and create a stone cold classic. And, almost out of necessity, Nearer My God is exactly that.
Yes, it’s been six years since Birds In Row unleashed their devastating Deathwish debut You, Me, & the Violence. Listeners were given a taste of what the band was up to with 2016’s frenzied EP, Personal War, which only left us salivating for more. But in an industry currently dominated by quantity over quality, it’s refreshing that the French trio (operating as single entity under a veil of anonymity just as before), took their time in releasing We Already Lost The World, one of the most punishing hardcore records in recent memory.
After a storm comes the calm. Yes, the violent winds and heavy rains of a ghastly disaster will disrupt the life surrounding it, but the calm always follows and prevails. Deafheaven’s fourth full-length album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, is that reprieve following the pulverizing storm of 2015’s New Bermuda. Unforgiving in its scope, New Bermuda was a devastating album that encapsulated all of the darkness surrounding the band after breaking through with 2013’s Sunbather. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love sets out to find the humanity within that devastation. So then maybe it’s not incredibly surprising that OCHL opener “You Without End” begins not only with striking grand piano flourishes but also with actress Nadia Kury sober reading of a short story about Oakland. In fact, George Clarke’s simmering vocals don’t enter until three minutes in, taking a backseat to Kerry McCoy’s arena-ready Queen-sized soaring guitar riffs. It’s a proper reintroduction to Deafheaven in 2018, a band that’s wiser, kinder, and more grateful than ever.
“Be kind to the bees, be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs,” recommends Culture Abuse’s vocalist David Kelling on “Bee Kind To The Bugs” before offering up this important reminder: “Be kind to yourself, even though it gets hard, don’t let the distractions stack up to the stars.” It’s that kind of mindset that flows throughout the band’s second full-length (and first on Epitaph) Bay Dream. While the band’s 2016 debut, Peach, garnered a passionate fan base, the actual events surrounding the recording were less than ideal for the band. But the continuous touring on Peach opened Kelling’s mind to how cathartic and positive and that he would be loved just by being himself.
I think I say this every year but fuck it – the music 2018 has blessed us with in its first six months has been extraordinary. With all the insane shit happening around us and to us in this day and age, it feels like music is the only sane thing we have. So below we have our top 20 favorite releases of the year thus far. If you can’t find something to love on this list then you just aren’t trying hard enough – this is an eclectic list that encompasses multiple genres and styles. I can’t wait to see what the next six months brings to our ears.
Note: You can share your own list in our music forum.
People often (mistakenly) interpret the Father John Misty persona as being cover for Josh Tillman to be some sort of “holier-than-thou” troll, thus missing the bigger picture on his third album, the 76-minute opus Pure Comedy. The follow-up to Comedy, however, is the polar opposite – God’s Favorite Customer is a concise ten track effort that clocks in under 40 minutes and peels back the Misty avatar to reveal a wounded, introspective Tillman. It takes courage to be this vulnerable – especially when Tillman has spent the last three albums examining and critiquing the world and culture around him. But on his fourth album under the Misty moniker, Tillman takes a step back from that macro view of everything around him and turned his gaze insular, resulting in the most heartbreaking record of 2018.
When Underoath announced in 2015 that the band was getting back together with original drummer Aaron Gillespie in the fold, it was announced as a “rebirth,” as the band knocked out a couple of reunion shows over the following years. It’s an appropriate way to describe Underoath’s return since it’s been eight years since Ø (Disambiguation) and nearly a decade since the band’s last release with Gillespie in the fold. And obviously so much has changed within the metal scene and music community as a whole during the band’s hiatus; Underoath found themselves at a crossroads between pleasing older fans and drawing in a generation of listeners that may have never heard Define The Great Line. So while a level of musical reincarnation was expected, the extent of that remained unknown. Recorded in 2017 with producer Matt Squire, the band looked to deconstruct the idea of Underoath while incorporating all the moments of anxiety , betrayal, and struggles of the past decade. And ultimately these sessions resulted with Erase Me – the most polarizing heavy rock album of 2018.
If you were to describe the course of The Wonder Years’ decade-plus career, you may find the word “growth” as the most fitting. The band’s breakthrough trilogy of albums (2010’s The Upsides, 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, and 2013’s The Greatest Generation) were all about growing up. Each release addressed various stages of getting older all while the band continually got better as musicians and songwriters. Which is why 2015’s No Closer To Heaven felt like such an aberration. Instead of taking the leaps that the prior three albums did, No Closer To Heaven sounded like a lateral move, an album unsure of which version of the band it wanted to be. It resulted in some half-baked, rushed ideas and were the pressure of “what’s next” might have gotten to vocalist Dan Campbell and his bandmates. That’s not to say that Heaven doesn’t feature some of the band’s best work ever (“Cigarettes and Saints”, “The Bluest Things on Earth”, and “Stained Glass Ceilings” are peak Wonder Years), but it was frustrating that the band didn’t fully dive in. Yet it’s that past frustration that makes the band’s incredible new album, Sister Cities, feel so rewarding and refreshing.
There’s a search for permanence on Hurry’s new album, Every Little Thought – each of album’s ten tracks a vital piece in the journey. And it’s really the album’s opening song (and title track) that encapsulates this desire perfectly. At five minutes long, it’s the album’s best song as Matt Scottoline (formerly of Philly emo band Everyone Everywhere) achingly sings, “Every little thought I have about you / And what the future brings / Every little thing I knew about you / Doesn’t mean anything,” over slight reverb drenched in melancholy. It’s Hurry at their very best, as the band is in no rush when it comes to creating luscious melodies and captivating hooks, letting each one breathe and build on its own until Hurry’s bittersweet pop is ringing within your ears for days.
It’s not until the final track that Turnstile reveals a mission statement of sorts on their second album, (and major label debut) Time & Space – a digitized voice explains, “We will dilute the distinction between time and space” – but if you were paying attention in the 25 minutes prior you already knew that the band set out to blur the lines on what hardcore music can be. The record’s third track, “Generator,” essentially dares you to stick with it by unleashing a bridge drenched in an acidic haze before transitioning into the jazzy waltz of “Bomb,” a 25-second featuring vocals from Tanikka Charraé. So less than 6 minutes in, you’re either in or you’re out (even indirectly calling it out on the former track – lyrics like “Don’t waste my time,” and “Gotta go my own way” serve as the song’s rallying cry of sorts) as the Baltimore quintet only delves further into the weirdness.
Dating back to their debut extended play in 2002, a certain duality has always existed in Senses Fail’s music. For perhaps the first decade of their career, that duality was mainly applied to how the band balanced its pop-punk and hardcore roots across thirteen or so tracks on an album, as frontman Buddy Nielsen’s lyrics trended more on the nihilistic side of things. But their fifth album, 2013’s Renacer, felt like a spiritual awakening for Nielsen, as that duality started to transition over to his lyricism. 2015’s Pull The Thorns From Your Heart followed that same path as Nielsen championed living and thinking positivitely over the negative.
Which brings us to Senses Fail’s seventh full-length album, If There Is Light, It Will Find You. It is the culmination of numerous line-up switches and life-changing experiences, as it is the first record to be solely written by Nielsen. Many of the band’s peers have risen and fallen (or never risen at all) over the nearly two decades of Senses Fail career, yet the band continues to not only survive but thrive, releasing their best album yet.
Despite being bruised, stitched, and severed, the hand that adorns the cover of Tiny Moving Parts’ fourth LP, Swell, is still just trying to hang loose. That image is probably the most accurate summary of the Minnesota trio’s music. After garnering a dedicated fanbase with their first two releases, the band received more attention with their very solid 2016 album, Celebrate. Two years later, Tiny Moving Parts is back with their most consistent work yet, a sizzling ten track album that flawlessly blends the ethos of midwest emo with the energy of contemporary pop-punk.
Swell is frenetic from the very start, as opener “Applause” explodes behind Dylan Mattheisen’s charging, intricate riffs. Big choruses and soaring bridges burst throughout with contagious energy, with the occasional synthesizer or trombone thrown in the background for a little extra punch. It’s reminiscent of Tell All Your Friends – those dramatic moments emphasized by synth flourishes and sleek keyboard melodies (the urgent “Smooth It Out” and the bombastic “Whale Watching” are prime examples). First single “Caution” is dynamic in a way that recollects memories of the band’s first album, while the blistering “Malfunction” features some of Mattheisen’s best tapping to date.
It’s been discussed ad nauseam in nearly every year-end review: 2017 was the pits. And those sentiments aren’t wrong! 2017 sucked! We elected the worst president in this country’s history and we have a government trying to rob its citizens of basic rights. The world is melting around us while California burns to the ground. Things are bad! And outside of my wife, family, and friends, very little this year helped take things out of the shit. The major thing that helped get me (and I’m sure countless others) was the musical output of 2017 — there was an overwhelming amount of incredible stuff released over the course of 12 months and almost impossible to notate all. So instead of boring you with a list of my 100 favorite albums, I cut it down to the 10 that most impacted my life in 2017. Enjoy this list, feel free to share and discuss with me, and hope for better in November.
There’s a moment on “Sour Breath,” one of the many highlights on Julien Baker’s second album Turn Out The Lights, where the strings swell, the guitar strums pick up, and Baker’s vocals slowly build until the floor drop outs from under us and her voice breaks through the silence – “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” It’s a jaw-dropping moment in an album that’s full of them. And stringing those moments together are cathartic confessions throughout Turn Out The Lights – an once-in-a-lifetime album that’ll leave you speechless.
Turn Out The Lights – once again self-produced by Baker – possesses a richer, fuller sound than 2015’s Sprained Ankle while still maintaining its intimate, minimal appeal. The imagery on the album is stunning and the album’s eleven tracks continues to accurately paint a picture of living with depression while struggling with the idea that she’s been rejected by romantic partners, close friends, God, and even herself. Songs like the title track, “Happy To Be Here,” and “Hurt Less” depict those thoughts perfectly.
The album’s title track is a deconstruction of what it can feel like to live with depression. “There’s a hole in the drywall still not fixed. I just haven’t gotten around to it. And besides I’m starting to get used to the gap” is an incredibly accurate look at existing with functional depression while the lyrics “So you wish you could find some way to help. Don’t be so hard on myself. So why is it easy for everyone else?” recalls the outside world’s infuriating interpretation of it. And it’s the song’s haunting conclusion that acknowledges the album’s overall battle, as Baker reveals, “When I turn out the lights there’s no one left between myself and me.”
By all accounts, Circa Survive shouldn’t be here. The band’s frontman, Anthony Green, sometimes can’t even believe that the band has survived all the demons and turmoil over the course of their career. But Green and his bandmates have continually persevered through it all, alive and thriving with their sixth full-length album (and Hopeless Records debut) The Amulet, the band’s darkest and most personal piece of art yet.
The hazy opener, “Lustration,” begins with Green’s familiar croon before erupting into an unshakeable groove provided by drummer Steve Clifford. It’s a warning of sorts (“Beneath your finger nails/they’ll find small pieces of stone/you’ll face the sun/cut with the pressure point”) mixed in with Green’s desperate pleas (“I don’t want to be the anchor on your chest“ and “I don’t want to see the moment you forget”). Elsewhere, the album’s ominous vibe penetrates on tracks like “Premonition Of The Hex” and “At Night It Gets Worse,” with the latter being a career highlight. Its glacial pace slowly picks up as the implied dread increases, leaving the listener feeling uneasy. We also get some of Will Yip’s best production work ever – the thrilling guitar riff that kicks off “Stay” is incredibly crisp and Nick Beard’s bass work across the record (especially on the Juturna-esque “Tunnel Vision” ) is thoroughly killer, providing the backbone to the vast majority of The Amulet. Colin Frangicetto and Brendan Ekstrom’s dueling guitar acrobatics are a pleasure as well – “Never Tell A Soul” never lets up the pace as Green tears through the chorus.
Before recording anything for Manchester Orchestra’s fifth album, Andy Hull aimed to deconstruct what the band was. “My challenge was whatever you’re instinctively going to want to play on the record, try and not do that,” Hull explained to UPROXX earlier this summer, “try and do the opposite of that thing.” Obviously, there isn’t anything like a simple “how-to” guide on achieving such a goal, so the band worked with multiple producers at various studios to create a record that could cement their legacy as one of this era’s great rock bands. And after a year full of obsessive detail, second guessing, and a grueling recording process, Manchester Orchestra emerged with A Black Mile To The Surface, their most majestic and challenging record yet.