Monday, April 7, 2014

Best Of The Year 2014: First Quarter Update

One of our favorite articles to do every year is our quarterly lists. For all you new readers out there, every three months each of our writers posts a list of their five favorite releases of that year as of that moment. This could include albums that aren't even out yet; any album that we have heard that is released in 2014 is eligible. On this edition of our quarterly updates, The Hotelier, Cloud Nothings, St. Vincent, Sun Kil Moon, The War On Drugs, Real Estate, and You Blew It! all appear on multiple lists, highlighting the diversity of our writers. We hope you discover something you wouldn't ever expect. All lists are below, and will be linked to any coverage we have done on the albums.

Casey Whitman

1. The Hotelier - Home, Like NoPlace Is There
We may as well end 2014 right now, because truly at this point there is no way any album can surpass The Hotelier's stunning Home, Like NoPlace Is There. This instant emo/punk classic is one of the most dynamic, emotional and perfectly flowing records in the genre I've ever heard, and the record is already surging towards my favorites of all time. I'm a very varied music listener, almost always switching artists up after every album listen, and rarely get to the point of overplaying an album. However, Home, Like NoPlace Is There sometimes takes up hours of time in a row, and the freshness never goes away. The record is already achieving the acclaim it deserves, and its legacy within an entire scene of music is beginning to form. Seriously, just go to The Hotelier's Bandcamp now, press play, and bask in this album.

2. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
Cloud Nothings's Attack On Memory was a gritty departure from the band's earlier lo-fi pop punk material, and ended up as one of the best records of 2012. While I wasn't personally a huge fan of the earlier material, meshing its upbeat sensibility with the fuller sound of the new material was possibly the best thing the band could have done. The much improved drumming helps drive these songs to even further heights, and the hooks are on another level from Attack On Memory. The album may have just officially come out, but I already feel comfortable saying Here and Nowhere Else is the band's best album. At least, until they kick it up another notch next time.

3. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
After nearly two years of touring with David Byrne in support of the very mediocre Love This Giant, it almost seemed like we'd never get St. Vincent back again. Luckily, while it seems part of him has seeped into her live performance and some of the horns from Love This Giant return, we still received another phenomenal St. Vincent record. St. Vincent is a very eclectic record, even for the artist at hand. Bouncy synths ("Rattlesnake"), crunchy guitars ("Birth In Reverse"), beautiful ballads ("I Prefer Your Love") and some of Annie Clark's most chaotic guitar playing ("Bring Me Your Loves") all are part of this record, and none of it feels out of place. While the highs on Strange Mercy are much higher, St. Vincent is proof that St. Vincent is a consistent force in music.

4. Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow
On So Long, See You Tomorrow, Bombay Bicycle Club successfully transformed from another British indie rock band into one that is ready to fill stadiums worldwide. The band always had a wide range of appeal, as they played catchy, yet still interesting and intelligent music that kept people on their feet. So Long, See You Tomorrow keeps all of those characteristics, but the increased sense of dynamics lend to a group of songs perfect for a huge stage. The crunchy guitars, string flourishes and drilling keys on "Overdone" are a perfect introduction to the new high production version of Bombay Bicycle Club, and come festival season, tracks from So Long, See You Tomorrow will end up being defining moments of weekends.

5. Prawn/Joie De Vivre Split 7"
There were many, many strong choices for this number five spot. Clipping's experimental noise-rap, Mac DeMarco's self-proclaimed "jizz-jazz," Frankie Cosmos's sad pop, Against Me's punk rock resurgence and Wye Oak's effort at leaving guitars behind were all contenders, but as none of them quite stood out amongst the rest, I'm putting the five song split 7" of emo powerhouses Prawn and Joie De Vivre here. These two Prawn songs are potentially their two best to date, as the band goes back to embrace their post-rock side while still being two of their catchiest and most well written tunes.  The Joie De Vivre songs, while not at the level of greatness the Prawn tracks, are very solid additions to the band's strong discography. It's nice to see a continuation of cool splits coming from the leaders within the emo scene, and even as these bands continue to gain popularity, let's hope the friendship between bands continues into even more shared releases.

Will Butler

1. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
It takes a lot of courage as a music fan to fess up and admit that you've never listened to a certain artist; especially one that has the cult following of Annie Clark. My exposure to the lurching brass stabs of "Digital Witness" was a much needed and plenty-thanked push into the St. Vincent slipstream. Equal parts chaos and sincerity drawing reference to sexuality, the intricacies of modern living and experiences beyond our reality. Clark really intwines herself, her essence, into every note of this record. One of the most authentic extensions of an artist in recent years, St. Vincent is as beautiful and menacing as the lady it incepted from.

2. The War on Drugs - Lost In A Dream
Last year Kurt Vile's Walkin On A Pretty Daze made it into my top 10 records of 2013. I was transfixed by the tumbling laxness and dreary comforts it provided; lest to say I was excited to see what psych-rock brethren The War On Drugs could pull out of their sleeve this time totally unaided by Vile. A record that requires a lot of unpacking, Lost In A Dream is encased in more layers than I ever suspected on my first listen. I'm still in the process of uncovering my favourite moments and tracks and I've invested a decent 10 listens into this record. As it stands the invigorating immediacy of "Red Eyes" and the road-trip vibes that exude from "Burning" stand out to me as some of the musical highlights of the year and I feel like I've only just cracked the surface.

3. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Never before I have heard such brutal honest from a songwriter until I heard Mark Kozelek (a.k.a Sun Kil Moon) vividly implant his sexual chronology into my brain on "Dogs," a track from his sixth full release Benji. Having no need to duck behind metaphor or contrived interpretation, Kozelek covers a wide variety of topics spanning the melancholic, the fondly nostalgic and the downright perverse. An ambitious take on songwriter that may be too blasé for some but personally I loved the bitter taste it left in my mouth.

4. Sisyphus - Sisyphus
The combination of songwriter Sufjan Stevens, the translucent rhymes of Chicago rapper Serengeti and the digital obstrusities of techno wizard Son Lux come together to form Sisyphus. A record not without distracting protrusions and imbalance, however after spending time with the album I found the rough edges to become the charming and distinct features that distinguish Sisyphus from any other alternative Hip-hop record that's been released so far as it burrowed it's way into my heart. It's an easy ride throughout and has to be in the running for the most "feet-up, grab a beer and kick back with friends" record of 2014 so far.

5. Howler - World of Joy
After what I consider to be a disappointing debut for this Minneapolis four piece on America Give Up back in 2012, I was stoked to hear Howler surface out of the shallows of misplaced arrogance and half-baked noise rock with World of Joy which makes up for lost time at a furious velocity. Tearing through the whole release at a breakneck pace with vocals, melodies and guitar lines so cut-throat it feels like mainlining gravel, Howler indulge in carelessness youth with effortless avail - like a really hyped up party, you'll kick yourself if you miss out on it.

Max Puhala

1. The Hotelier - Home, Like No Place Is There
It's difficult for me to comfortably comment on the 2014 year in music at this point, simply because very few albums manage to penetrate my skeptical exterior emotional core in such a short amount of time.  Home, Like No Place Is There, however, kicked my ass as soon as I heard it.  From my need to scream out the "whoa-oh-oh"'s in "An Introduction to The Album" literally every single time they occur, to the shattering genderfucked yells in "Life In Drag" consistently bringing me to my knees, I do feel truly blessed to receive such a pleasantly crushing sound.

2. Animals As Leaders - The Joy of Motion
I never would have thought that my favorite version of Animals As Leaders would be one of restraint.  The Joy of Motion  achieves such emotional power precisely because Tosin Abasi doesn't excessively flaunt his talents, but rather, puts them to good compositional use.  Every song's cathartic contour line can be easily tracked here, as can their consistent successes throughout. "Another Year" achieves so much more than any past inordinate noodly fretting simply because the band allows the track's melodic voice to speak on its own, unhindered and unhinged from gaudy technicality, and more affecting than ever.

3. The Lawrence Arms - Metropole
For a Lawrence Arms fan, Metropole is like meeting up with your long lost friends in some dingy bar, where Joe's going bald and John's now a size 40.  You didn't need perfect appearances to have fun back in the day, though, and nor do you now.  Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan have never felt older on Metropole, but with that age comes a new level of honesty guiding the 2014 Larry Arms songwriting.  Kelly sighs about his "sad, saggy ass" while McCaughan is painfully aware of the opposite sex's disinterest in him, all to the tune of an updated The Greatest Story Ever Told sonic palette. Even though I haven't quite reached their years yet, I'm still happy to be reminiscing right next to them.

4. Tycho - Awake
Listening to Tycho is like embarking on the most profound journey of your life, where you're a completely blank slate floating through all of the wonder of the universe.  Scott Hansen has an unmatchable knack for melody and atmosphere, and the two additional musicians backing him up on Awake happen to be pretty good at it, too.  The album's eight tracks are huge, spacious explorations into the furthest oases of the human psyche—from an endless green field to the black stillness of galactic orbit.  You're going to want to stay for a while.

5. Real Estate - Atlas
Most of my 7 AM drives to work need something soothing.  Something peaceful but thought-provoking, simple yet engaging.  Atlas has been my morning answer time and time again, as I wonder with Martin Courtney on "Past Lives" if I'll ever be able to connect with my distant home again, or if we're just "Talking Backwards," because everything is "too many miles away."  The uncomplicated lyrics wouldn't normally be big selling point for me, but Atlas proves handily that when drenched in a somber, twinkly haze, less can, indeed, be more.

Ryan Naglak

1. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
I tried to write a review of Benji, the new album from Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon, but I just couldn't fit the words into one single review. Benji deserves so much more, and I could write pages and pages about it. Mark Kozelek secures himself as the quintessential American songwriter with his brutally honest lyrics and mesmerizing guitars. By listening to Benji, you can learn more about Kozelek than any book could tell you. The album is an emotional experience and opens the door of comparison to the "great American novel." Kozelek is so much more than a musician, he is an author and an artist and Benji is one of the greatest albums I have heard in my life.

2. Beck - Morning Phase
Beck's Morning Phase can be described as a sequel to his highly rated album Sea Change. Full of flourishing acoustic guitars and his reverberating vocals, Morning Phase is a beautiful record that is calming yet stimulating. It is a magnificent semi-comeback for the regarded singer-songwriter.

3. You Blew It! - Keep Doing What You're Doing
You Blew It!'s sophomore album, Keep Doing What You're Doing, may be missing a bit of the youthful naivety of their debut, but it is still a solid indie rock release. Evan Weiss' production shines forth brightly, as guitars twist and twine together to form melodically complex songs.

4. Manchester Orchestra - Cope
Even though Cope isn't out officially yet, it has been up streaming for a week, and has already impressed me greatly. The world has been lacking in modern rock music, and Manchester Orchestra are fully bringing it forth into the spotlight again. Songs are full of guitars and fuzz, and the listener is never given a chance to catch their breath.

5. Liars - Mess
Liars seventh LP is as experimental as ever, while full expanding on their electronic sounds of WIXIW. It's a furiously pulsating album of beats, synths, and haunting vocals, that fits perfectly into the Liars' discography, but is also a truly new experience.

Moses Kim

1. Accents - Tall Tales
Accents' debut release Growth and Squalor was an understated gem in 2012's folk scene, a quiet but earnest album about the passage of time and the weight of regret. The band's follow-up, however, is even better: a bold expansion both musically (highlights including majestic album opener "Hold Me Close," replete with triumphant horns and brooding gang vocals, and the Typhoon-esque "At Your Weakest," which builds slowly but beautifully) and thematically (no longer is everything shrouded in an aura of loss--the band finds and grips onto a bittersweet joy here), it'd be a grave injustice if Tall Tales didn't win Accents some serious love from listeners. It's also name-your-price, so you, dear reader, have no excuse.

2. MONSTER CAT - The Violet Hour
The best kind of mess. Gloriously noisy indie-rock with a buried conscience and a surprisingly devious pop streak: keep an eye on these fellas because there's a good chance they're going all the way to the top.

3. Ages and Ages - Divisionary
There is an elementary school playfulness to Divisionary, buried in the simple but massive choral arrangements, the vibrant instrumentation straight out of a music classroom, and the direct, straightforward cadence of the lyrics. Yet Ages and Ages shows a maturity befitting its name: in a time where audiences have been captivated by the dark allure of the antihero, the band has made a sweeping statement on what it means - and how important it is - to be good.
4. 2NE1 - Crush
Not a perfect album, not even close, but it's always a pleasure to have more 2NE1 in my life. Whether on the upbeat dance cuts (the raging title track, the fantastic "MTBD," where CL drops some of the best verses in K-pop this year, and the "Scream"), the downbeat ballads (the surprisingly plaintive and affecting "If I Were You"), and the in-between ("Come Back Home," which in a blend of reggae, dance, and trap offers every iteration of that phrase possible - the one where they're hurting and lonely, the one where they're uttering it through clenched lips, the one where they're dangling it in front of you), this group continues to defy my expectations and play with the boundaries of K-pop music.

5. Foster The People - Supermodel
This could have very easily been Torches, Part II: instead, the band delves into new terrain, tapping into African rhythms, sleek uptempo rock, grunge, and even a little disco (on album standout "Best Friends"). Not all of it hits, and the series of solemn ballads near the album's end dampens the good vibes a little, but the whole effort suggests that Foster and friends are here to stay. Stream the album here.

Ali Welford

1. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Last night I stayed up to watch 'Edge of Life,' the second installment of Louis Theroux's new documentary series, LA Stories. Revealing the torturous trails and odious choices of individuals and families facing imminent death, it was harrowing, held no punches and at times was difficult to watch - yet for me it placed into stark reality the themes of dread and mortality which run rife through Mark Zozelek's grim new outing. The virtual antithesis of 2012's relatively easy listening Among the LeavesBenji's expert storytelling is raw, grating and almost impenetrably bleak, but its devastating emotional package will surely transcend anything else we'll hear in the remainder of 2014. Sensational.

2. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
In many ways, St. Vincent represents this young year's least surprising triumph. It has, after all, been obvious for some time that Annie Clarke has a heck of a lot going for her, and having continually improved with every fresh record, it figured that LP number four would once again propel her craft to a new level. This predictability, though, did nothing to lessen the furor surrounding its mid-February release. Focused, accessible and bustling with creative energy, it's the type of achievement through which reputations are forged and careers defined, and deservedly appears to have cemented her place among the darlings of the indie world. How she goes about bettering it will be fascinating, but this is an album to celebrate regardless of whether or not it proves to be her peak.

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata
Coming off the back of a trio of excellent EPs, it says much about Piñata's outstanding quality that it's still come as something of a revelation. Spread over a concise hour-long run time, Madlib's vibrant and varied beat pallet provides the perfect platform for Gibbs' menacing, streetwise flow, together with those of a formidable, skillfully-chosen ensemble of guests. Thrilling from first to last, it ranks among the finest hip hop records of recent years, and is an absolute essential for the genre's fans.

4. Withered Hand - New Gods
With five years having elapsed since Good News, it always seemed likely that Dan Wilson would ring the changes for its follow-up. Even with that preparation, the transformation from spiritual folk miserablism to summery pop jubilance requires adjustment on he part of the listener, but once you embrace the jangles and crack the more pensive second half New Gods reveals itself to be just as rewarding as its cult predecessor. Whether it's the shameless Teenage Fanclub-isms of 'Horseshoe,' 'King of Hollywood's elated spring or the wistful breeze of 'Between Love and Ruin,' it's a perfect fit for the coming mid-year months.

5. Wild Beasts - Present Tense
Another exquisite outing from a group who now must surely be considered among the UK's finest. Perhaps the only criticism I can level at Present Tense is that there are times when it can all seem a little too focused; times when I want them to break from their shackles and indulge in the type of unbridled beauty which made Smother one of my favourite LPs of recent years. Don't get me wrong, though, the careful pacing here amounts to much of the appeal, and being Wild Beasts that appeal is in mass supply.

Daniel Rhoads

1. Sun Kil Moon - Benji
Chances are, Benji will bum you out. It doesn’t matter. Let it happen. Benji is a bummer - a self-aware, stalwart, principled, committed bummer that you need probably need in your life. Listen to Mark Kozelek talk about death, and not abstract, far-away death. Real death. Friends, family, total strangers. Everyone’s going or gone. These things scare the shit out of Kozelek, the same way they scare the shit out of me, and, face it, they scare they shit out of you too. It feels like this 47 year old San Franciscan transplant kid from Ohio woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, grabbed a notebook and just watched the words pour out. Then he handed it to us. Are you going to refuse? Push it away and say “Mark, I don’t need this right now.” If you do, he won’t be hurt, I’m sure. This album is not a cry for help, but a call for communion. Listening to Benji will make you feel so much like a human being. That’s its honorable mission. Mission accomplished. 

2. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
And the award for Best All-Around goes to... Lost in the Dream! This is an everyman of an album. Thick with a small-town kind of humility, it refuses to get flashy, yet everywhere on every song, strings are pulled and buttons are pressed express engineered to knock you off your feet... in a subtle kind of way. Doesn’t make sense? Take a listen. The delights of this album are the small ones, and they’re too frequent to count. When the heavy, throbbing beat of opener “Under the Pressure” falls in, then fades out, then returns again, there’s an explosive, cathartic sense of whole that fires off each and every time. “Burning” sees the band hold out on a hook for as long as possible, so when one finally emerges, it dazzles at supernova level. Then it’s gone. Lost in the Dream sees an exciting band striking a perfect balance. This 80’s revival trend has been going on for, what, 5 years now, and finally a band has come around capable of melding the aesthetic of nostalgia with new, powerfully modern ideas. While the sum of the whole is synthesized, tight perfection, it’s Adam Granduciel’s vocals that deliver the final blow. He’s got Springsteen and Tom Petty in him, but it’s hard to deny the magnetism behind his howls, or the magic he lends to the simplest refrains.

3. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else
Cloud Nothings have made fools out of us! All the people who thought 2012’s Attack on Memory was definitive - a screeching manifesto of angst and disillusionment that would serve as the band’s eminent contribution to the youth consciousness of this generation and all that. Yeah. I mean, it was a great album. The problem is that they made a better one. Here and Nowhere Else irons out every crease that kept Attack on Memory from torpedo-level aerodynamism, so that the whole 35 minute experience maintains the intensity of “Wasted Days,” the brutal and beautiful mess that I honestly wasn’t sure they would ever be able to top. This is not a “sneak up on you” kind of album, either. I knew from my first, cursory listen that it was something special. Then it threw me on the ground and rolled me around. In total, they’ve cranked up the gritty, so that the improved production value is easy to miss. That’s just how it should be. There are more pop-hooks and memorable lines (vocal and harmonic) than ever before, but the blanket of static is ever-present and engulfing. It’s the ultimate punk-rock charade, and I can’t get enough!

4. Real Estate - Atlas
I was ready to love Atlas, and I was ready to hate Atlas. Hell, I was ready to feel nothing. Real Estate have done enough for me. How many times have I felt a little less than great when their 2011 LP Days came in to save the day? Real Estate make background music that turns around and steals the show before you even know what’s happening. That’s their thing. This new album could never be another Days for me. That’s too much to ask. It did manage to trick me into thinking it wasn’t very good - boring, dull, repetitious - before coming back and smacking me in the face at the perfect moment. How does this band keep making the same song over and over again without it getting old? If you ask me, it’s because nobody does what Real Estate does. Nothing they do will leave your head spinning. All the ingredients are simple. It’s a meal almost anyone could make, but, hey, can anyone explain why grandma’s cooking kicks the shit out of Cracker Barrel? 

5. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
Good Lord this album is zany. I hate that I just used that word, but it seems so apt. After producing an album with a legend like David Byrne, what better way to honor his legacy than to give his sound a digital, post-millennial facelift and keep the good fight going in the face of slews of personality-averse slop that the modern god of cold, detached irony hath inspired? Supported by a variable choir of bleeps, bloops and other weird sounds, Annie Clark has taken her poetry to new heights, and her natural confidence finally feels right fully justified. This album is chock full of impressive composition. She strikes a tight balance between rough and smooth, swaying and stabbing. The diversity of the record makes it impossible to encapsulate. Is there a higher compliment?

Andrew Katz

As A World Entire might be the album of the year. Leading the charge is Billy Duprey, the man behind this wonderful record. Duprey brings his heart, his voice, and passion to every track. This album is simply irresistible. Duprey takes contemporary pop music and gives it a foundation of soul and emotion - a rare find in the world of music today.

2. Hundredth - Resist
Hundredth have always managed to inspire and motivate while backing their beliefs with bone crushing music. Resist is simply a stunning continuation of Hundredth's signature uplifting, hardcore sound.  As a follow up to the Revolt EP, which debuted in 2013, this record highlights the best of what the band has to offer. Tracks like "Demons" and "Shelter" are incredibly relatable and personal in a lyrical context. The band's sound has not changed too drastically, but the transitions between songs makes this record a mature and intimate listen.

3. Real Estate - Atlas
To be blunt, Atlas is not the best Real Estate album. Their second full length, Days, was definitely more wholesome and unique in its entirety. However, this record is still a good effort, although expectations were certainly held high - and not quite met. But still, standout tracks like "Crime," "The Bend," and "Past Lives," keep that nostalgic and warm sound streaming throughout. For Real Estate fans, Atlas is definitely worth picking up, especially for those lazy summer nights.

Emo has made a comeback! Let the cheers and tears commence! Keep Doing What You're Doing is the quintessential emo record for old and new fans of the genre to indulge in. The vocals are raw and coarse. The guitar tones are playful and the drumming is driving. Songs such as "The Award of the Year Award" and "Match and Tinder" will pump you up and melt your heart at the same time. This record is for anyone and everyone - even the punk rock kids who claim emo is dead.

5. Nai Harvest - Hold Open My Head 
This awesome duo really nailed that post-grundge feel with Hold Open My Head. There is a yearning that this record brings to life. Between the sentimental and wistful lyrics, the distressing tone of the guitar, and the drumming is clean and clever, carefully syncopating with each song. "Pastels" is the champion track on this four song EP. It blends both the soft and heavy elements of the record. Hold Open My Head is an excellent insight to this unique band.

Alex Newton

1. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-li
It’s only been two years since The Great Old Ones’ debut, a sinister affair saturated with all things H.P. Lovecraft, but the French quintet is already back for round two. This time the band has taken everything that made its debut a good album and amplified them to make Tekeli-li an all-around superb one: not only does everything sound tighter, but the climaxes now sound gigantic and atmospheric sections like abyssal plains. The band’s trio of guitarists create a constantly shifting atmosphere, with many riffs incorporating steadily rising and falling pitch bends (black notes, to coin a new term?). The resulting subtle – almost subliminal – atonality gives Tekeli-li a chilling undercurrent, one that makes The Great Old Ones’ sound immediately recognizable within its field. Immediately noticeable is the stellar production of Tekeli-li, courtesy of Alan Douches (Sigh, Baroness), which achieves the traditional aesthetic black metal enthusiasts crave without sacrificing the clarity of any given instrument. The Great Old Ones is an outfit with a lot to proud of as it makes its move from contender to luminary within the black metal sphere, and while Tekeli-li probably won’t convert many people who shun atmospheric black metal as a whole, it represents a superior entry in a genre still – fairly or not – fighting for its reputation.

2. Alaskan – Despair, Erosion, Loss
Despite only having released two albums, Alaskan is quickly rising to the top of the post-metal genre. Building on its debut Adversity; Woe, the band has begun to carve out an identity of its own, drifting away from the popular Neurosis-Isis mold by adding sinister cello melodies to balance out its avalanche of sound. Despair, Erosion, Loss deals with some very macabre and personal lyrical topics, based around the true stories of famous murders from various points of view; "Guiltless," in particular, is a gripping journey built around massive riffing and desolate string bridges. Despite a short running time, Alaskan's sophomore effort is a complete effort, and one that sounds unlike any other in the genre. Those willing to embrace its dark imagery and sweeping sonic scope will be duly rewarded.

3. Gazpacho – Demon

Ostensibly based on a mysterious supernatural manuscript unearthed by a band member's father, Demon is a gorgeously crafted album from one of post-rock's more underrated bands. Combining the otherworldly soundscapes of Sigur Ros with melodic hooks out of Radiohead's toolbox, Gazpacho manage to both thrill and delight over the course of Demon's four extended suites (calling each a song in the popular sense is probably a disservice to the band's storytelling acumen). The off-kilter time signatures and haunting bridge of "Death Room" give it a transcendent quality, while the second half of two-piece epic "I've Been Walking" contains a beautifully orchestrated call-and-response section between organ and guitar. If you don't mind having to listen to something a number of times to really grasp it, then Demon could prove one of the year's most rewarding and unforgettable experiences.
In an industry where everything seems to be trending towards the more complex – faster, louder, overhyped, overproduced – it takes an act of understated beauty to remind us what makes something truly memorable. The Visit takes this concept and runs with it. Hailing from Ottawa, Canada, The Visit consists solely of singer Heather Sita Black and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, who display stunning chemistry on their debut release, “Between Worlds.” Though containing only a single fourteen-minute song, it is, quite frankly, a tremendous opening statement from the duo. The piece traverses a number of peaks as it builds from a chamber-style lament to a progressive juggernaut and back with breathtaking ease. For anyone remotely interested in up-and-coming progressive or neo-classical artists, The Visit is very close to essential listening.

5. Barrowlands – Thane
Part of black metal's polarizing "Cascadian" movement of western North America, Barrowlands formed from the ashes of several Portland, Oregon groups. That experience pays off on the band's debut LP Thane, an album that works within an established lineage while forging its own wintry path. Obvious comparisons to Agalloch are inevitable thanks to prominent string sections and David's gargled vocals (first names only), but tracks like the climactic "On Bent Boughs" point to a more diverse palette. After a gorgeous intro followed by typical black metal riffing, the song breaks into a back beat strut with constantly shifting interplay between guitar, drums and (audible!) bass; on the other hand, previous cut "1107" steadily builds its chilling atmosphere over the course of eight minutes. While Thane often sounds like the lo-fi debut it is, the overall package is rife with excellent melodic motifs and stop-on-a-dime stylistic shifts more reminiscent of Ulver's classic Bergtatt than the formulaic entries that dominate United States black metal. Barrowlands is certainly a band to watch in the scene if it can continue to hone its sound and forge an identity all its own.

Honorable Mention:
Thou - Heathen
Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors
Animals As Leaders – The Joy of Motion
Babymetal – Babymetal
The Wounded Kings – Consolamentum
Fleshworld – Like We're All Equal Again
Soreption – Engineering the Void

Max Harcsar

1. La Dispute - Rooms of the House
Rooms of the House is the band's best record to date, though it is completely unfair to compare it to their stellar and harrowing second LP Wildlife from 2011. The band ditched their chunky post-hardcore riffs for a more laid back rock sound, though it's just as vibrant and unexpected as any of their previous musical endeavors. "Mayor of Splitsville" and "Extraordinary Dinner Party" ooze 90's alternative while quieter tracks such as "Woman (In Mirror)" and "Woman (Reading)" play with quiet, subdued acoustics that mix well with Jordan Dreyer's inquisitive, melodic take on spoken word. This is La Dispute distilled down to their most potent, necessary form.

2. The Hotelier - Home, Like NoPlace Is There
The Hotelier's Home, Like NoPlace Is There has been a critical hit in all of the musical scenes: the indie rockers, the emo revivalists, the pop punk defenders - you name it. The emotionally devastating record is a straight masterpiece from start to finish, dipping into the frays of post-hardcore and pop punk while creating a uniform sound that's unchained from genres. Whether it's the captivating "An Introduction to the Album", the sing-songy pop punk "Dedron" or the caustic gunner of "Life in Drag", HLNPIT is everything that the music scene needs right now. Forego the twinkle and bring in a bit more of the unconventional, and the Hotelier will leave you flipping the record from side A to side B. Then back to A. Then to B. 

3. Modern Baseball - You're Gonna Miss It All
Though often lauded as a childish, second hand emo band with awful lyrics and terrible voices to match, there's no overlooking the success that Modern Baseball have been receiving after their recently released second full length You're Gonna Miss It All. It's punchy and catchy, with songs like "Charlie Black" and "Broken Cash Machine" leading the pack. When they're not being their awkward pop punk selves, the band bust out more folk inspired elements in "Notes" and "Going to Bed Now" that really contrast well with their louder bouts of energy. Sure, the lyrics can be cringeworthy and the instrumentation isn't all that flashy, but it's a damn fun record. 
Grow Up, Dude propelled YBI to new heights from basements and bars to……well, more basements and more bars, but that doesn't mean those weren't crowded spaces. Packed with sing a long moments and twangy guitars, it was more than just another emo record - it was the a sign of things to come. Writing memorable songs that pull at your head and heart are what You Blew It! do best,and Keep Doing What You're Doing is the best the band has released thus far. With the help of the ever busy and talented Evan Weiss, KDWYD hits all the right marks. It revs up and down through tumultuous self-realizations and headbobbing drum beats that will resonate with you as you contemplate how much your life sucks. Though there is a lack of daring tracks like "The Fifties" from Grow Up, Dude, it's still good enough to top this list.

5. Fireworks - Oh, Common Life
Gospel showed that Fireworks could be more than just another pop punk band - they were force to be reckoned with. The Michigan based five piece really hit the pop out of the pop punk park with this one, as Oh, Common Life is sure to be a favorite windows-down summer record. The bubblegum pop that covers this record isn't exactly what it seems, though; with dreary, sad lyrics that will make you second guess every choice you've made so far in your life, this record is a bomb under the cake. Stomps rockers like "Glowing Crosses" pepper the record, though "The Back Window's Down" and "One More Creature Dizzy with Love" are the slower jams that show the band's versatility. It's a must-have for your collection.

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