Taking stock of the past few months in gaming, it's easy to see that 2013 has been one of the most generous, star-studded, quality-packed years. The same can be said across a number of other media industries, whether it's film or music. But when you have so many different things to sort through and watch, play or listen to, it gets tough to find the real gems. Over the next few weeks I'll try to sift through 2013's massive releases and highlight some of my personal favorites that are worth checking out.
Awesome Albums (Part 1)
The Wonder Years: The Greatest Generation
What does it take for an album to really stand out? How can a band truly define a genre and transcend norms to create something unique? These questions get harder and harder to answer as musical tastes evolve. For instance, when I was just a wee young lad, pop-punk was all the rage. I never subscribed to the genre but all of my friends seemed obsessed with bands like Yellow Card and blink-182. Now that I'm older I find myself going through each band's catalog, trying to recapture whatever magic I missed in my youth. Truth be told, I sometimes struggle to find what kids really liked about them. I guess it was the combo of raucous attitudes and a rebellious tone that really sold pop-punk's success.
Fast forward to 2013 and there are barely any relevant pop-punk bands left. Those that remain have slowly lost ground and continue to lose relevance amidst the rise of alt-rock. Unless you're All Time Low (which seems to have an eternal fanbase), it's nigh impossible to try and resurrect the long-dormant pop-punk genre. That is, unless you're The Wonder Years. Few bands have had as meteoric a rise as The Wonder Years and they've rightly earned their new-found fame. Tackling themes of post-collegiate disillusionment and problems that adults who grew up with blink-182 now face, The Wonder Years have curated a rabid audience.
From what I've experienced at their concert and other firsthand accounts, the fans know each and every lyric of the songs. I've even had the chance to join in on a number of the songs they've played, which speaks to the band's ability to resonate with the youth. The Wonder Years are nearly pitch-perfect for my generation and the previous one, but I can already see the younger listeners growing in numbers. The music is mature with all of the catchy pop-punk hooks and none of the filler. And as time goes by, The Wonder Years only get better.
This leads me to my current Album of the Year, The Wonder Year's The Greatest Generation. Few records are as perfectly paced or written as well as The Greatest Generation. The Wonder Years really did a fantastic job with Suburbia and the Upsides, but their newest album is on a whole new plane. It makes pop-punk relevant again while redefining the typical lyrical content. The Greatest Generation is a deeply personal album for lead singer Dan 'Soupy' Campbell, tackling depression and anxiety. But these themes are interwoven and outed to highlight how common they are among the recent generations. Soupy wants to relate to you on an intimate level; The Greatest Generation does that at every chance it gets. Listen to the whole album for the best experience (especially to appreciate the last track), but if you have to pick a few tracks to give a quick spin, here are the album highlights: Passing Through A Screen Door, Dismantling Summer, The Devil In My Blood Stream, Chaser, Cul-De-Sac.
Brick + Mortar: Bangs EP
Brick + Mortar are an odd lot, to be sure. Founded by front-man Brandon Asraf and drummer John Tacon, the duo is a fusion of darkly-tinged electro-pop and lo-fi rock. They emerged from relative obscurity with hit single Bangs and have since played at Coachella and many other venues to acclaim. Their newest release, the Bangs EP, is the kind of album you'd have to hear at least once in your life. It's perfect for the end of summer or when you just feel like tripping out. While not every song on the Bangs EP is my favorite, few debuts are as strong or well-composed as this. Brick + Mortar have proven their ability to meld genres into a gritty, dark, seductive hybrid.
A few of my album favorites include the titular Bangs, Keep This Place Beautiful and the heartfelt No I Won't Go. Like many songs from this EP, No I Won't Go has a fairly deep story behind it. Brandon rasps a fight against addiction against the backdrop of an insidious bass-and-drum combo. It's darkly beautiful and terrifying, a paradox that perfectly highlights how skilled John and Brandon are at creating meaningful pop. And in many ways, you feel the duo is speaking to your own faults and problems. Bangs EP is personal, tripped out, mechanical but smooth, and altogether chilling. You likely won't hear anything quite like it for a good while.
Balance and Composure: The Things We Think We're Missing
Balance and Composure wasn't a big favorite of mine for a long time. I didn't get why this gritty rock band was so popular. Their debut album, Separation, just wasn't doing it for me. A few years later the quintet comes out with the sophomore The Things We Think We're Missing. Somehow, Balance and Composure heard my feelings of discontent and produced one of my favorite rock albums of the last five years. Hitting the blunt force of a hammer, The Things We Think We're Missing has some of Balance and Composure's best writing and musical composition. Having listened to the whole thing front to back, I finally see what the buzz is about.
The album opens with the hard-rocking Parachutes and seldom lets up from there. The album channels 90's grunge and elements of classic rock, as well as numerous contemporary influences. You can see the DNA of Nirvana in a fair few of the songs including Notice Me. The latter half of Balance and Composure's second effort is easily my favorite. It starts with the heavy Cut Me Open that leads into the stellar Reflection. Seriously, Reflection is darn near flawless. It's the reason you should give The Things We Think We're Missing a chance. I'm Swimming and Keepsake are great songs in their own right but lack the staying power and brilliance of Reflection. All that said, Balance and Composure have truly crafted a fantastic rock album that'll stand the test of time. This deserves a hallowed place on your shelf beside the top rock albums of the past few decades.
That's it for Part 1 of my Awesome Albums of 2013 round-up! Stay tuned for more amazing musical pieces you need to snag. Part 2 Teaser: letlive, Haim, Artic Monkeys, CHVRCHES.