Joe’s Top Ten Releases of 2014

10) The Dream Walker – Angels & Airwaves

TheDreamWalker

Every year, there’s always a battle for who can sneak their way onto the very end of my top 10 list. This year, Angels & Airwaves were able to beat out both the Foo Fighters and Gerard Way; the latter of the two had his album sitting on my list for a good portion of the year. Nevertheless, A&A frontman Tom DeLonge surprised me with The Dream Walker, an album with the same electronic/synth undertones as on the band’s previous albums, but with lyrics that discuss down-to-earth subjects other than space and extraterrestrials for a change. “The Disease” and “Anomaly” are two big emotional standouts about love and loss. Overall, it’s a great alt rock album all the way through, especially for a band that has really only survived on a few big hits.

Favorite Song: “Bullets In The Wind”

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9) Get Hurt – The Gaslight Anthem

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Get Hurt is a triumph because it demonstrates that New Brunswick locals the Gaslight Anthem haven’t let their recent shoot to stardom change their songwriting. Their newest release almost feels like a continuation of their previous album, Handwritten, with a bit more experimental freedom. “Stay Vicious” is the dirtiest the band has ever sounded, while “Break Your Heart” could be the most peaceful thing frontman Brian Fallon has written since “Blue Jeans And White T-Shirts.” The best tracks, however, are the ones that sound like classic Gaslight. “1,000 Years” and “Rollin’ And Tumblin'” are some key examples of this. Get Hurt shows how a band can experiment with an old sound just enough to keep it fresh without sounding like a completely different band. Solid effort.

Favorite Song: “1,000 Years”

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8) Turn Blue – The Black Keys

8 (DONE)

It doesn’t take long to discover all of the pain and anguish guitarist Dan Auerbach has gone through that he has channeled into the Black Keys’ new album, Turn Blue. Auerbach’s recent divorce is evident on tracks like “Weight Of Love” and “In Our Prime,” even in the track titles themselves. The duo’s foray into psychedelic rock, when mixed with this new, dark lyrical content, gives Turn Blue a very haunting feel, even though many of the tracks are incredibly catchy and single-worthy, just like on the band’s last album, El Camino. The majority of the record has this vibe, but the big standout is the album closer, “Gotta Get Away,” which ends things with a powerful vintage classic rock flourish. If you can look past the obvious Pink Floyd rip-off within the first few minutes of Turn Blue, you’ll discover a very well-crafted album from a band that can’t seem to stop churning out hits.

Favorite Song: “Gotta Get Away”

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7) Die On Stage – Hostage Calm

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Hostage Calm is one of those bands that has been balancing right at the edge of punk rock territory that I can’t seem to get into. This year, I decided to finally give them the shot that they deserve (which is very unfortunate considering they announced their breakup just a few months ago). Die On Stage is essentially a mash-up of east coast rock groups, both old and new. You can hear Bruce Springsteen in the twinkling intro of “Love Against!,” Ramones in the speed punk chorus of “Fallen Angel,” and Balance And Composure in the slow, brooding track, “Raised.” The list goes on, but frontman Chris Martin (not the Coldplay one) ties up all the loose ends with his distinctive vocals. Despite Hostage Calm’s slow demise – they still have some farewell shows lined up – Die On Stage is a very solid, very catchy punk rock record.

Favorite Song: “Love Against!”

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6) Hebrews – Say Anything

6 (DONE)

When Say Anything frontman Max Bemis mentioned his new album wouldn’t have a single guitar track on it, I was right there with the rest of the fans, thinking that this record couldn’t possibly be any good. Then, when the album’s first single, “Six Six Six,” was released, I began to realize Max’s ambitious little project might not actually crash and burn. With the release of Hebrews, Say Anything has demonstrated that you can still have catchy and powerful songs, even without something as crucial as a guitar track. In standard fashion, Bemis has again recruited an army of guest vocalist for Hebrews, including Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, Blink-182/Angels & Airwaves’ Tom DeLonge, and Saves The Day’s Chris Conley. But as always, it’s Max’s devilishly clever and relatable lyrics that really take the cake. Whether he’s singing about being a father, being persecuted for religious beliefs, or being tormented by bloodthirsty fans, Mr. Bemis makes Hebrews a wildly entertaining ride from start to finish.

Favorite Song: “Nibble Nibble”

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5) Dirty Rice – Mad Caddies

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Last summer, I attended the Canadian punk rock festival known as Pouzzafest for the second time. While there, I was able to catch a magnificent set by the Mad Caddies, an awesome ska punk group from California. Dirty Rice is the band’s first full-length album in seven years, but they haven’t lost their touch, even in all that time. A lot of the tracks on the record have reggae undertones (“Little Town,” “Shot In The Dark,” etc.), but you wouldn’t know that listening to only one or two songs, like the New Orleans swing of “Brand New Scar,” or the ’80s throwback sound of “Back To The Bed.” Dirty Rice is one of those albums that must be listened to in its entirety in order to fully appreciate the body of work as a whole. I’m very glad I caught the Mad Caddies’ set that night in Montreal. Both the set and Dirty Rice have solidified the Caddies as my favorite ska band, hands down.

Favorite Song: “Brand New Scar”

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4) Cope – Manchester Orchestra

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This year, the award for most boring album cover art is a tie between this album and Gaslight’s Get Hurt. Despite its simplistic cover art, Cope is definitely a return to form for Atlanta, GA rockers Manchester Orchestra. They disappointed most of their fans with the experimental indie rock of their last album, Simple Math, but they came back guns blazing with Cope. The beginning and end of the record are completely doused in over-the-top distortion, while the core tracks in the middle are filled with a combination of this crunch and catchy hooks and harmonies. Cope has eleven tracks, coming in at a grand total of roughly 38 minutes – shorter than any other Manchester Orchestra album – but it packs just as much of a punch. Definitely a must-listen for any fan of raw, uncompromising rock.

Favorite Song: “Every Stone”

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3) Lazaretto – Jack White

3 (DONE)

Jack White is at it again. Lazaretto has many of the same features as White’s solo debut, Blunderbuss, but with a few added bonuses. For example, the singer/guitarist makes his influences more evident this time around, like his love for folk and country on tracks like “Temporary Ground” and “Want And Able.” He also writes catchier, straighter rock tunes in some respects (“Just One Drink”), while staying just as weird as always on the other hand (“That Black Bat Licorice”). And while the music on Lazaretto is excellent, the physical record itself is a treasure to behold. Just be sure to check out the instructional video if you plan on buying Lazaretto on vinyl. Jack White is one of those musicians who always keeps his fans on their toes, and his latest record is no exception.

Favorite Song: “That Black Bat Licorice”

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2) Rose [EP] – The Front Bottoms

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Technically, the Front Bottoms’ new EP, Rose, doesn’t belong on this list since it’s not a full-length album and since it’s a collection of songs that the band has already recorded. However, this EP is simply too good to pass up, and it is the sole reason this list is a list of “releases” instead of “albums.” Rose takes several of the Front Bottoms’ hits from the days when guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich would record the songs themselves, and it gives these old songs a much more updated, better quality sound, similar to the Front Bottoms’ latest LP, Talon Of The Hawk. “Twelve Feet Deep” and “Flying Model Rockets” remain two of the best songs the Front Bottoms have ever written, and even their less well-known songs (a.k.a. the other tracks on this EP) are undeniably catchy. Rose was a huge success for yet another Jersey band whose popularity has recently skyrocketed. And if Rose is indeed the first in a series of “grandmother EPs” as online sources claim, then I can’t wait to hear what other deep cuts the Front Bottoms plan to unearth in the coming months.

Favorite Song: “Twelve Feet Deep”

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1) Rented World – The Menzingers

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Although the Menzingers are not Jersey locals, they are joining the Front Bottoms and the Gaslight Anthem in the group of punk rock bands on this list who are finally getting the recognition they deserve. The Menzingers were able to get a head start on their critical acclaim when they released On The Impossible Past back in 2012, which earned them “Album of the Year” for both absolutepunk.net and punknews.org. Now in 2014, Rented World solidifies the Menzingers as the best punk band of the 2010s. Guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May both continue to write the same type of infectious, raucous hits that made the band successful in the first place, even though Greg’s songs were the ones that caught on with fans more. “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” and “In Remission” both showcase the band’s unwillingness to change a formula that has been proven to work for so many years. Seeing every single fan at a Menzingers show singing along to every single word of every single song demonstrates both Tom and Greg’s talent as songwriters. Rented World wins best release of 2014 by a long shot.

Favorite Song: “Where Your Heartache Exists”

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Well, that’s all folks! Occupy The Airwaves is taking a well-deserved break this holiday season, but be sure to catch our show when we make our triumphant return in early 2015! Happy Holidays!

          -Joe

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