The 2014 Halftime Report

Seeing as how we have passed the halfway mark of 2014, I thought now would be as good a time as any to take a step back and analyze the state of the year’s music, both how it has been thus far and how things might turn out in the second half. What follows is a list containing my five favorite releases of the first half of 2014 and another list containing the five albums/EPs due out sometime in the second half of the year that I am most looking forward to. Enjoy!

-Joe MacPhee

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5 Favorite Releases of 2014 Thus Far:

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1) Rose EP – The Front Bottoms

The Front Bottoms constitute about 80% of the reason why I had to change my list to top “releases” rather than the usual top “albums” (for the other 20%, look towards the end of this post). Rose is a collection of six old Front Bottoms tracks re-recorded in honor of drummer Mathew Uychich’s grandmother. These songs all have that very simple, yet deeply personal songwriting style of the Front Bottoms’ early years, but with an updated quality that matches the band’s hugely successful 2013 album, Talon Of The HawkRose‘s purpose is twofold: pleasing longtime fans who knew these tracks when they were first recorded in basements, while also pleasing newer fans of the band who would have never guessed these songs were actually written six or seven years ago. By appealing to two very large groups which compose an enormous Front Bottoms fanbase, Rose has found its way to the top of my list of favorite releases thus far.

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2) Dirty Rice – Mad Caddies

If you had asked me about a month and a half ago who the Mad Caddies were, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. After seeing them at Pouzzafest in Montreal this summer, I can now tell you that they are currently one of the greatest ska bands around, and certainly my favorite. It’s a bold statement, I know, but giving Dirty Rice (the band’s first full-length album in over seven years) a listen through helps support my argument. The record – as well as the entire Mad Caddies discography – blends together a whole wave of influences ranging from punk rock and reggae to hardcore, swing, and even jazz. The fact that Dirty Rice is as diverse as it is is what makes it so fun and easy to listen to, even for a guy who has a pretty narrow selection of ska bands he actually enjoys.

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3) Rented World – The Menzingers

The Menzingers are one of those bands who will always put out consistently solid records, and Rented World is no exception. Chamberlain Waits may still be my personal favorite Menzingers album, but I believe On The Impossible Past was what really put them on the radar. Rented World could be seen as completing the trifecta of successful Menzingers records. I certainly see it that way. Songs like “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” and “In Remission” demonstrate how the band has retained their hard-rocking essence and continue to write songs that are instantly infectious. Having two very talented songwriters certainly helps too. Like I said before, the Menzingers have been on a roll since 2010, and Rented World has kept that streak alive and well.

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4) Lazaretto – Jack White

When Jack White released his debut solo album, Blunderbuss, in 2012, I had a feeling it would be the start of a long and fruitful series of solo albums. Naturally, nothing has made this more clear than Jack’s 2014 follow-up, Lazaretto. It takes you on a wild ride of twists and turns through folk, blues, country, and White’s trademark alien-sounding rock and roll fuzz. You never know where it’s going to take you next until you get to the final bars of the album’s soft, solemn closer, “Want And Able.” And those of you who have seen Jack demo his Ultra LP version of the record know another reason why Lazaretto makes the cut. Wicked!

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5) Hebrews – Say Anything

I’m sure fans of Say Anything have heard by now: the band’s latest studio album, Hebrews, does not contain a single guitar track. However, it is still a serious piece of pop punk goodness. Tracks like “Judas Decapitation” and “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid” are reminiscent of old Say Anything hits, while “Six Six Six” and “Hebrews” help demonstrate how strings and synth have been woven into frontman Max Bemis’s old songwriting style to create something very ambitious. The new concepts Max writes about now (coming to terms with being a father, religion, disgruntled fans, etc.) are still as emotionally gripping as various subjects on his earlier albums. After the mixed reviews of Say Anything’s previous record Anarchy, My Dear, which was pretty hit-or-miss, Hebrews is definitely a breath of fresh air.

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5 Most Anticipated Releases for the Remainder of 2014:

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1) LP 8 (Sonic Highways) – Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl has certainly been up to a lot these days, even after he announced the Foo Fighters would be going on hiatus after releasing their hard-rocking, hugely popular last album, Wasting Light. Since then, the frontman has directed a fantastic music documentary, he was inducted into – and performed at – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame via his last band, Nirvana (you may have heard of them), and he has announced that he will be directing a new HBO series called “Sonic Highways.” The show is an eight-part mini-series in which Grohl will visit a different legendary recording studio in each episode. The Foo Fighters will record a new song at each studio, and the resulting collection of recordings will be released as the band’s eighth studio album. If that doesn’t sound like a rock and roll masterpiece, I don’t know what does.

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2) LP 6 (Untitled) – Motion City Soundtrack

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Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Pierre has been posting a lot of pictures and videos on the band’s various social media sites showing the process of recording the band’s upcoming sixth studio album. Although the album has no official release date yet, the picture above was posted to the band website with a caption declaring that recording for LP 6 had officially wrapped. MCS recently acquired ex-Saves The Day drummer Claudio Rivera, which has moderately changed their overall sound. Their latest single, “Inside Out,” is the first recorded song with this fresh lineup change, and if it’s included on the new record, then it’s an exciting indication of good things to come.

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3) Get Hurt – The Gaslight Anthem

Handwritten, The Gaslight Anthem’s fourth studio album, was an enormous success as expected, and it launched the band into sudden New Jersey stardom (they’re headlining the PNC Bank Arts Center for goodness’ sake!). What will be even more interesting is where the band plans to go from here. Their next studio release, titled Get Hurt,  is slated for release on August 19th and will surely be an album to remember. The band announced on their website a few days ago, “Get ready for some things you’ve never heard this band do!!!!!” As an accompaniment, a recent YouTube teaser showcased some audio of Gaslight that was heavier than anything I have ever heard them play. They put out a complete song on YouTube shortly thereafter, called “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” which was a bit closer to classic Gaslight. Nevertheless, I expect Get Hurt could be a big game-changer for these New Brunswick natives.

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4) Remember When EP – Allison Weiss

Allison Weiss is another artist that I haven’t heard of until recently, since my co-host Matt introduced me to her music after he saw her in concert. Her debut album, Say What You Mean, is raw emotion and pure punk rock, which are some of my favorite things when it comes to songwriting. I instantly got hooked on the album, which is why I’m more than excited for Weiss’s upcoming EP, Remember When. It’s due out on July 22nd, and a song has already debuted on YouTube (“Giving Up”). It’s more of the same, but with a slight ’80s throwback feel, which is very cool. Allison Weiss has yet to write a bad song, which means Remember When has some serious potential.

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5) Everything Will Be Alright In The End – Weezer

OK, say it now. This might not be so good. The only reason that may be the case is because Weezer’s last studio album, Hurley, is probably the band’s second weakest album, just ahead of 2009’s Raditude. However, sometimes it’s good to root for the underdogs. Plus, if you read between the lines, there are actually a lot of details to indicate Everything Will Be Alright In The End might be a pretty surprising record. First of all, Ric Ocasek is the album’s producer, and he also produced both the Blue Album and the Green Album, two of Weezer’s greatest records to date. Second, Weezer has been posting a lot of “mysterious” clips on YouTube, and the most recent few contain snippets of audio from the new album. If what is featured there is any hint of what to expect from the rest of Everything Will Be Alright, then it could turn out to be a pretty great release.

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These are just my personal favorites and predictions for 2014, and I would love to hear your input! What do you think will be the best release of this year?

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