Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Max's Top 30: A Year of Metal, Pop Punk & Everything In-between

Brace yourself.

When making my list, I went back and forth over how to rank albums that I felt had an impact on me this past year. I considered the importance of each release and how it influenced or changed it's relative genre or scene. I judged the musicianship, songwriting and lyricism that each album was made of but ultimately, the albums that made my list are the ones that I've listened to the most – the ones with staying power. I've listened to this pile of songs an ungodly amount, and it's only fair that their playability is a testament to my enjoyment this year. I present to you my top 30 albums of the year.

30. WOLFxDOWN - Stray From The Path
Euro-hardcore guys (and gal) WOLFxDOWN released an awesome heavy record that I enjoyed merely for it's heaviness. It has a catchy, groovy hardcore feel but with a slight metallic edge. A good driving record.

29. After the Burial - Wolves Within
The recently released Wolves Within offers up a handful of great new tracks in the djent/technical metalcore genre, though as a whole it seems a bit…repetitive. Some songs sound like carbon copies from past Rareform efforts, and that's disheartening.

28. Cults - Static
The dreamlike reverb that hangs over most of Static is so smooth and esoteric. Love it. Definitely a sleeper album that needs more attention.

27.The Front Bottoms - Talon of the Hawk
Not as good as their previous album but still a quirky pile of sing alongs, Talon of the Hawk is definitely a strong release from this year. I only wish it had the same feeling as the self-titled release.

26. The Ground Is Lava - Bottle Rockets
Another emo record that swung under the radar this year. It's got some pretty cool guitar tapping that is both tasty and technical. Jump on TGIL, now.

25. Allison Weiss - Say What You Mean
This album is super catchy. "One Way Love" is infectious to the point that I sometimes wake up and it's the first thing in my mind. Nothing fancy, just some honest pop wrapped up in folk, rock and punk wardrobes.

24. Chimaira - Crown of Phantoms
Chimaira used to be my favorite band. Once 5 of the 6 original members left, I had lost all hope in the Cleveland groove metal legends. Honestly, Crown of Phantoms suprised me. It still has that trademark Chimaira sound, though it is lacking Rob Arnold's masterful guitar solos.

23. NOFX - Self-Entitled
It's nothing new or special, but Self-Entitled is a great listen. I think NOFX's music gets better with age (I'm in the minority, I know) and despite a few cringeworthy hiccups ("72 Hookers" and "I, Fatty") it's good.

22. Daylight - Jar
The grunge revival is best epitomized in Jar, the newest Daylight album. Every song seems plucked from a 1994 alternative rock album, and that's awesome. Somewhere between Alice in Chains and Nirvana, Daylight hit the top of the Billboard charts in an alternate universe.

21. Deafheaven - Sunbather
This has been a huge record for many this year, though I just haven't spent as much time with it as I want to. It's solid, and I'm sure you've heard enough about it to fill a book. Go read what someone else has to say - I've got nothin'.

20. A Day To Remember - Common Courtesy
Honestly, I'm surprised that Common Courtesy was released this year, let alone make it into my top 30. It evokes all the feelings of my late high school years, and that's a good thing. The pop punk songs have sweeping hooks, and the metalcore tracks have huge breakdowns. What more could a fan want?

19. August Burns Red - Rescue & Restore
I didn't care for Leveler, but I love Rescue & Restore. I'd have to say that it's ABR's best work, with tracks like "Spirit Breaker" and "Beauty in Tragedy" perfectly blending super technical melodies in with the unexpected. Truly a metalcore masterpiece.

18. Old Gray - An Autobiography
I never listened to Old Gray before An Autobiography, and I can thank Casey for giving this album to me. It's a perfect blend of screamo, post-hardcore, emo and post-rock that will make you want to cry. Be sure to catch them on their winter tour with Lovechild.

17. Silverstein - This Is How The Wind Shifts
Sometimes, a band can come back full-force out of nowhere with new album that reinvigorates interest. For me, that band is Silverstein. This record is much better than the lackluster Rescue, and may be on par with Discovering the Waterfront. There's a lot going on in this record, and if mid-2000's post-hardcore was your thing, definitely listen to this.

16. Calvaiire - Forceps
It's chaotic. It's raw. It's in French. It's brutal. Seriously, this album will shred your ears off. RIYL the best screamo/powerviolence-esque band you've never heard of.

15. Brave Bird - Only You, No One Else Worth It
I didn't expect to have this album stick with me like it did, but well…it did. Brave Bird really have their own brand of emo that's not too punky, yet not too diluted. The dual-voice approach reminds me of early Tigers Jaw songs, which is obviously a plus.

14. Pity Sex - Feast of Love
Perfectly melding tender fuzz with somber croons, Feast of Love is a magical journey through a shoegaze-twisted alt-rock universe. The album is so good, but it's so short. I guess I have to live with that.

13. Rotting Out - The Wrong Way
The Wrong Way is a traditional hardcore record that sounds like a traditional hardcore record. With such obvious influences like Suicidal Tendencies, it's like an 80's punk band warped into the present. Your predictable hardcore lyrics push the album out and into the pit - in a good way. This is definitely a headbobber, and as a result Rotting Out should be showing up on many more tours and fests next year.

12. Lady Gaga- Artpop
I've always been a fan of Lady Gaga, but Artpop really drew me in like none of her other albums could. The first half is just so strong that I can't help but have it on repeat. "Venus" and "Aura" are my go-to dance jams, but I still can't get into the title track. "Applause" is, of course, fantastic.

11. The Swellers - The Light Under Closed Doors
Flint's own pop punk heroes released their best record to date this year, and I'm glad to see them getting the reaction they deserve. "Got Social" is probably my favorite Swellers song now, and "Designated Driver" is the heaviest Alkaline Trio homage I've heard. It's a great album, through and through.

10. Stray From the Path - Anonymous
I totally forgot about this album until it was released. One listen, and man was I hooked. It has a groovy, processed edge that's somewhere between the band's previous effort Rising Sun and traditional alternative rap rock influence by bands like Rage Against the Machine. My neck aches from how much I headbang to it.

9. State Faults - Resonate/Desperate
This is another album that wasn't on my radar until it landed in my inbox. Simply put, it's phenomenal. I can't find one thing to complain about. The transition from "Spectral" to "Incantations" might be one of the most crucial points of music in this entire list.

8. The Story So Far - What You Don't See
Since What You Don't See came out, I haven't touched TSSF's previous material. I've listened to this album a countless number of times and I still love it. Sure, there wasn't much progression. Yet, I still love it. "The Glass" and "All Wrong" are some of my favorite pop punk tunes of the year.

7. Light Years - I Won't Hold This Against You
Speaking of pop punk, Light Years unleashed this full-length this year. Billed as "pop punk for grown ups," it strays from common genre cliches and instead hits poignant relevancies. I'm very proud for them for this record, and they definitely deserve to see a leap in popularity in the new year.

6. Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal
Musically, Sempiternal is a wonderful leap in influence and progression. Lyrically…not so much, although Ollie Syke's did seem to try harder, and I give him props for that. Yeah, these flaws should probably knock Sempiternal down a few notches. But I don't care. It's great.

5. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Due - Whenever, If Ever
Cathartic, epic and emotional, TWIABP really go all out on their first full-length. If you haven't listened to this record yet, there's something wrong with you. Enough said.

4. Balance & Composure - The Things We Think We're Missing
B&C has been gaining steam lately. After the extremely well-received Separation, the band has gone on several tours that have been very successful in drawing in new fans and keeping the older ones engaged. Separation may still be a fan favorite, but there's no denying that The Things We Think We're Missing is a superior record in almost every way. Will Yip's fingers have christened the production, creating a glaze of alternative rock braised in determination and steeped in perseverance.

3. Touche Amore - Is Survived By
Though I just received my deluxe vinyl a day ago, Is Survived By was released back in September and it's easily one of my favorites of the year. Featuring longer songs that allow for a more fleshed out dynamic, Is Survived By is everything that Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me should have been, and I damn well loved that record. The last four songs on here are the best of their career, and the succession makes them all that much more powerful.

2. The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation
What can I say. The Greatest Generation is an evolutionary step up from Suburbia, and it's stuck with me since the first listen. Every song seeps something that I can relate to, and it's very hard to find another record in the genre that has impacted me like the Wonder Years has. From the first second of "There, There," I was hooked. It's a depth that other pop punk bands rarely explore, and it's one of the reasons The Wonder Years deserve all the recognition that they deserve.

1. Norma Jean - Wrongdoers
Okay, this was a toughy. Norma Jean has been in my top three favorite bands throughout most of the past eight years, and I never thought they could top Bless The Martyr and Kiss The Child. With Wrongdoers, I may be eating my words. Over the course of the 11 songs, Norma Jean unleash a hell of gnarly metal that will make you forget their past two records ever existed in the first place. With a few new members on board, Norma Jean are back in the game with a passion I haven't seen since Redeemer. Please, indulge in the furious "If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty" and the circularly buzzing "Triffids". This release has some of the best Norma Jean choruses and repetitious lines of all time. Searching for a problem within this record is like trying to find issues with a million-dollar diamond - it's something great, so why try and fault it? It's a brilliant banger. Respect the Almighty Norma Jean!

But wait, there's more! Rather than debate over my top songs of the year or muse over EPs as I flip through my iTunes library, I'd like to touch on two other albums that are worth noting.

Biggest Upset: Transit - Young New England
I was so excited for this album, and I don't think I've ever been so let down by music in my life. Transit's discography was flawless up until this point, and this is now such a huge blemish scar on their career, I'm not even sure what to think. The songs are hollow, seemingly devoid of energy that resonated on their previous releases. The production also sounded like the musical quality of a cardboard cutout at a grand symphony.

Most Overlooked: Into It. Over It. - Intersections
I enjoy Intersections, though I didn't fall head over heels with it like most others. The notable change in sound towards a more subdued emo and away from pop punk may be the cause that I didn't latch on to it, too. Despite this, it's a great record. I didn't have a digital copy until recently so I'm sure I'll come around to it. Evan Weiss is the man – I have faith.

Thanks for reading! Looking forward to a

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