Top 20 Albums of the Year
20. DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick proves once again why he’s the king of hip-hop with 2017’s DAMN. He bodies the whole genre, proving both his lyricism and flow is unmatched. The album was timely in a world that is once again coming down on hip-hop, and racism has once again risen to the forefront of politics, making “DNA.” all the more important. And in a year where we saw Soundcloud and mumble rappers rule the hip-hop charts, signifying a change in cultural desire, it’s telling that DAMN. still rose above all of those trap beats and noise. Throughout the album, Kendrick takes the listener on his journey of struggling with his morality and spirituality, trying to strike a balance between the two. And in this, Kendrick shows what true artistry is, creating a journey, an experience, unlike any others this year. He’s able to set a balance between songs made for radio (HUMBLE., LOYALTY., LOVE.) and have them alongside less radio-friendly songs and the album flows effortlessly between the two. But the question Lamar deals with throughout the album really causes this one to rise above the rest: How much worldly content can he indulge in while still getting into heaven? And Kendrick truly can indulge in whatever sides of the world he’d like. He has the fame, the money, the success, and everything that comes along with it. So hearing a commentary on current hip-hop flexing (HUMBLE.) and hearing his inner monologue on his self-doubts (FEAR.) is absolutely fascinating. All of this is aided by some of the best constructed music videos of the year and an overall execution to absolute perfection. So, despite the cussing and questionable lyrical content, the journey through DAMN. is worth is, right up to the very last line, ending just the way it started: with Lamar taking a walk, and us with him.
Check out: DNA., LOVE., FEAR.
19. Phantom Anthem – August Burns Red
On August Burns Red’s seventh full-length album, they confirm once again that they rule the metalcore genre with absolute precision. As a band, they continue to get tighter, as showcased on “The Frost” and “Lifeline,” where the exactness of the band is unquestionable. Though they’ve never strayed far from their base sound as this is unmistakably an August Burns Red record, they continue to push the genre conventions and boundaries, utilizing an oriental guitar in “Invisible Enemy,” as they have experimentally done in the past. Having said that, this is their most pure metal record since Messengers. What really pushes this album forward from their catalogue is the many moments of pure heavy metal, different from their usual metalcore. This album features long interludes and solos within the songs that last for minutes, more akin to a Rush song than an August Burns Red song. And it truly feels like, instrumentally, ABR are at a point where they’re outgrowing metalcore, a genre they’ve completely mastered. Their instrumentation is taking off to new levels, and in featuring that, they’re departing from the genre to become something all together new, having more in common with Between The Buried & Me than Wage War. Lyrically, lead singer Luhrs touches on more political content than usual, commenting on fake news in “Hero of the Half Truth” and climate change in “Carbon Copy.” Overall, this is a cohesive album that both longtime fans and those new to the band will enjoy.
Check out: Invisible Enemy, Dangerous, The Frost
18. Beyond Repair – Blood Youth
In the biggest year a small band has ever seen, Blood Youth have released their debut album to critical acclaim and opened up for Prophets of Rage (a rock supergroup comprised of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill). That’s a huge accomplishment, but well deserved. Beyond Repair really taps into a style of hardcore that hasn’t been seen in many years. The blisteringly fast record rips in at 35 minutes, and it’s unrelenting throughout. The huge riffs crunch, and the guitar tone is what hardcore has been missing for a while. Every breakdown is big, stirring up a fury of fists in the listener. But where Blood Youth really shines is in the vocal department. Kaya, the lead singer, has such power in his ripping yells, and yet has such a great and unique melody in his singing voice. The balance is struck incredibly well. Drawing some obvious comparisons to Beartooth, Blood Youth have put their own twist on the new strain of hardcore sweeping the scene, rising above the rest. In a few years, every band will want to sound like this. The slight influence of Nu-Metal bands like Korn can be heard in guitarist Pritchard’s songwriting, and it’s a refreshing rehash. Lyrically, Kaya deals with the usual heartbreak and moving on, but it’s so raw and real that it doesn’t sound cheesy. It’s relatable, and there’s nothing like screaming when you’re hurting.
Check out: Reason to Stay, What I’m Running From, I Remember
17. No Future – Conveyer
The surprise album of the year goes to Conveyer. I did not expect to love this record as much as I do. In a scene where so many bands are abandoning the melodic hardcore genre (Hundredth is shoegaze, Being As An Ocean is experimental post-hardcore, Capsize is some meld of Nu-Metal and Metalcore), it’s so great to hear a melodic hardcore record executed to perfection. This is the album I wanted Stick To Your Guns to put out this year, but Conveyer did it instead. No Future is a well-polished album, a big step forward in production for the band, and that really lends its hand to the re-listenability of the album. While the album never strays far from the genre, there are some huge moments in the dark “Disgrace” and the beautiful “Levity.” Choppy breakdowns and gang vocals litter this album, an ode to the genre, and both new and longtime fans of this type of music will find something to bob their head to in this album. While definitely not an album that redefines anything, this is an incredibly solid entry into the genre, and one with incredibly bright moments of songwriting, both instrumentally and lyrically/vocally.
Check out: Whetstone, Disgrace, No Future
16. The Search For Everything – John Mayer
Mayer is truly one of the most gifted songwriters, and this album is no different. The intricate harmonies start immediately with the opening chorus of “Still Feel Like Your Man,” quickly accompanied by Mayer’s unmistakable style of guitar work. Lyrically, this album follows his previous albums, talking about heartbreak, longing and loss. Though this is his worst-charting album, spawning only one single on the Billboard 200, this album feels like the first honest album Mayer has released. Lyrically, he deals with the usual heartbreak, but we see deeper sides of him, questioning whether he’ll always be the way he is because of his genetics (“In The Blood”) and dealing with his inability to recognize his own repetitive actions (“Helpless”). However, what makes this album resonate with so many is that even though it’s a break-up record, it is not vindictive and full of revenge, but rather reminiscent of all the good times, and that those memories will live on, regardless of the outcome of the relationship, very similar to Forget and Not Slow Down by Relient K. This is showcased on the closing track, the Randy Newman-esque “You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me,” where Mayer embraces that even if the love is gone, the memories will live on forever, a bittersweet ending to a beautiful album. The unmistakable thing that sets Mayer apart from every other singer-songwriter is his masterful songwriting and arrangement of those songs. Melodically, these songs are regular earworms, often being hummed on the bus or at the office, speaking to how gifted Mayer is.
Check out: Love On The Weekend, In The Blood, You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me
15. Shapeshifter – Knuckle Puck
Shapeshifter see’s Chicago’s Knuckle Puck take a step in the direction of maturity, shedding some of the more shiny parts of pop-punk for some more emo, post-hardcore moments instead. This undeniable step really shines in the songs that aren’t the albums singles, which are largely the poppiest pop-punk songs on the record. KP truly shines in songs like “Wait” which builds slowly throughout the duration of the song, proving to be one of the finer moments in this bands career thus far. Other songs like “Everyone Lies to Me” showcases the band leaning into the punk/hardcore roots of their genre, featuring nearly-yelling vocals. The opening track, “Nervous Passenger,” would feel right at home on an American Football album. What’s clear in this record is that KP wants to be more than just a genre band, reaching out to embrace other styles and song structures, while still staying true to who they are as a band. Though ebbing and flowing between heavy and softer songs, this album is sonically cohesive lyrically, with the thread of things changing running through every song. Joe Taylor deals with changing who he is genetically on “Double Helix,” changing in a relationship on “Gone,” and wondering if you’re still the same person once you’ve changed on “Plastic Brains.” It’s a beautiful record that flows so well, and rings true in a time of uncertainty while we deal with racism, sexism and inequality throughout the world.
Check out: Gone, Wait, Want Me Around
14. Red, Green or Inbetween – WSTR
Though Knuckle Puck distanced themselves from the genre a bit on their latest album (as seen above), WSTR doubled down on the pop-punk, putting out the best pure genre record of the year. This band sounds like old Neck Deep, and for lots of fans, it scratches an itch many didn’t even know was there. It’s pure pop-punk, through and through. The snare drum really pops just like Travis Barker’s did on the old Blink records, and the guitars are so bouncy. It’s aggressive, it’s not super polished, and it’s the perfect blend of catchy pop with edgy punk. The energy is unmistakable, emphasized by synchapated rhythms in the instruments, often causing the listener to rewind a song just to hear that one part again. “Gobshite” is heavy on the punk side, kicking things off with the vocalist hawking up so saliva, proceeded quickly by a double-time drum beat in a song that lasts just under 40 seconds, followed by the vocalist mocking a southern statesman. Everything pop-punk has done lead up to this, from the spit (Sum 41) to the double=time (“real” punk) to a quip at the end (Blink-182). Lyrically, this album is so honest about their screw-ups and regrets, but if you only listen for the bounciness, you’ll miss it. Speaking perfectly to those who feel lost, without direction, Red, Green or Inbetween is the bumbled anthem for all those millennials that are downing in debt and don’t know what to do with their lives. Songs like “Eastbound & Down” take things down a notch, proving this band knows how to play a softer song while still smashing it out of the park, putting the best to shame. The entire album has an energy older bands seem to have lost along the way, with so much punch and drive that listeners will hit repeat immediatly after the album finishes. There’s truly only one word to describe this record perfectly: catchy.
Check out: Featherweight, Eastbound & Down, Footprints
13. The Place I Feel Safest – Currents
If your missed the metalcore aspect on August Burns Red’s latest, this is the album for you. Currents stake their claim in the metalcore genre, proclaiming loudly that they have the talent and angst to stand the test of time. Though this is their debut album, the five piece band portray a cohesive sound most bands don’t achieve until well into their career. What stands out the most about this band is the incredible guitar work. Both Chis Wiseman and Ryan Castaldi flex their shredding chops on this album, producing such a tight, well executed album in a genre overrun with bands trying to play faster and show off. These guys are amazing, no question, but they are able to play in a way that doesn’t distract from the rest of the band, always playing the right part at the right time. Sometimes that means elaborate sweep picking or blistering solos, or it means playing a catchy riff or a basic chug while the vocalist gets the spotlight. Whatever it is, these guys hold down their own, doing it all with excellence and prowess. Brian Willie, the vocalist, really holds his own throughout this album. His vocal delivery style is subtly unique, containing an angst and intensity that many in this scene lack. His clean vocals are impressive as well, never sounding whiny, and are utilized effectively, though sparingly. What’s clear after a few listen-throughs of this album is these guys are gifted, no question. They have a cohesiveness that many bands would only dream of. And they clearly now how to play effective heavy music, with incredible, original breakdowns that leave the listeners jaw on the floor. Where this album falters ever so slightly is that it all blends together. Sure it’s impressive, and they play the heavy music incredibly well. But an interlude or a slower, more emotional song would do an album like this a lot of good, and it would also give Willie’s clean vocals and emotional lyrics a chance to breathe nicely. All in all, Currents put out an incredible debut album, one that will keep listeners going at the gym, and is a band everyone needs to keep an eye on as they continue their trek to take over the genre.
Check out: Night Terrors, Apnea, Withered
12. The Mortal Coil – Polaris
Polaris are the next big thing in the metalcore scene, and it’s not even a question. This album is huge in all the right ways, containing huge breakdowns and anthemic choruses. What stands out the most for Polaris is how catchy and creative their riffs are, demanding a revisit even weeks after last hearing them. Where this album differs from Currents album above is that The Mortal Coil is so melodic. There are beautiful moments of both melody and harmony interwoven throughout the album, both vocally and instrumentally. With this understanding of melody comes the understanding of nuance, flow, and dynamic. And though a metalcore band through and through, Polaris has the best execution of these elements, making this album a dynamic one, rarely sounding monotonous. Both “In Somnus Veritas” and the following track, “Dusk to Day” have some soft moments that are so beautiful, showcasing the songwriting and arrangement abilities of the band. The later, “Dusk to Day,” also showcases bassist/clean vocalist Jake Steinhauser taking the vocal reigns, and he truly shines in this role. Overall, this band contains an energy that is infectious, inducing constant head-bobbing throughout the album. All the riffs are meaty, the vocals have bite, the breakdowns are tight, and the choruses are catchy. This is a complex, intricate release that is also polished and easy to listen to. There’s serious depth here, but they do it with shine. It grooves, it bounces, and it will stay in your head.
Check out: Lucid, The Remedy, Dusk To Day
11. Magic & Bird – Andy Mineo & Wordsplayed
For years, Christian Hip-Hop has taken itself seriously. Too seriously, if you ask me. Enter Andy Mineo, formerly known as C-Lite, a white boy with extreme amounts of charisma. Through having fun in songs like “Painsano’s Wylin” and “Uno Uno Seis,” Andy created an atmosphere where Christians could listen to hip-hop without feeling like they were being preached at or listening to theologically deep music. Christians gotta have fun too. Though this approach was met with a lot of criticism from the “true” CHH (Christian Hip-Hop) community, Andy continued, and with his partner and first signee to his label Miner Records Wordsplayed, they released this amazing and joyous concept album. Wordsplayed’s released one of the best EP’s of 2016, and teaming up with Mineo for one of the best mixtape collaborations since What A Time To Be Alive. This 80’s-inspired mixtape, from the reference to Larry Bird & Magic Johnson, to the marketing pictures with baggy clothes and the colour grading and 99¢ sticker on the album, and the sound effects on the album from 8-bit video games. They play with the basketball references enough to justify it, but not too much that it becomes a gimmicky crutch. Make no mistake, this album stands on its own without all of the concept and gimmicks around it. This is some of the finest, freshest hip-hop the CHH community has seen since Lecrae burst onto the scene. On songs like “Say Less,” Andy channels his inner Drake, aided by an incredible beat, and the chorus of “R.U.T.S.” sounds like Future was in the booth. There’s no question that these two are diverse, capable of unique and diverse flow and styles of rap, doing it all with excellence. Andy and Wordsplayed bounce lines off each other with such ease and talent that they make the art seem effortless. The features of BEAM and Judo both work so well, with BEAM truly being an all-star of this year between this album and featuring on Social Club’s new single. Both Andy and Worsplayed shine on this album, sprinkled with nostalgia, and completely worth a listen. Make no mistake, these guys are at the top of the CHH genre, whether the community wants them or not.
Check out: Kidz, Dance (You See It), Say Less
10. LANY – LANY
After four EPs in three years, California-based LANY finally release their debut album just in time for summer. Filled with synth leads and atmospheric disco-pop, this album is perfect for those lazy evenings on the beach, and is appealing to many generations with their accessible yet original sound. Lyrically, the album reads like a bad high-school relationship, with the lead track “Dumb Stuff” proclaiming “I think I’m in love,” followed shortly by the song called “The Breakup,” and three tracks later, the proverbial couple is back together again, only for them to be broken up again for the eighth track titled “13.” At this point, we’re only half-way through the album, and much of the same follows. However, this isn’t a knock on the album, but rather a comment on the target audience of high school/college age listeners. This is backed up further by song titles like “ILYSB” and “So, Soo Pretty.” In spite of this “Will they, won’t they” back-and-forth throughout the album, every listener will find some lyrics that resonate with them, whether they’re crushing, in love, or heartbroken. What’s unmistakable with this release is the musical talent the band has. Their take on 80s synth wave pop infused with R&B tendencies is captivating. Unlike their earlier EPs, there’s a little more diversity in this album, partially due to the amount of tracks (16), and there are moments where the album is able to breathe, like “Parents” and “So, Soo Pretty.” Though this album is largely a testament to the success of their earlier EPs, as their sound doesn’t change hugely, there are clearly glimpses of maturity. The band themselves confessed that they toyed with the idea of branching out for their debut, but decided against it as they wanted the debut to serve as a jumping-off point, marking a conclusion of their isolated sound. If this is the case, the follow-up will feature more diversity and maturity in sound, which we heard glimpses of as heard especially on “The Breakup.” And this short snippet of that song proves an acoustic album would not be a bad decision.
Check out: The Breakup, Good Girls, It Was Love
9. The Peace and the Panic – Neck Deep
Departing the new wave pop-punk genre in favour of a more early/mid-00s pop-punk approach, Neck Deep’s third LP sees the Welsh five piece flexing their proverbial songwriting muscles apart from genre conventions. There’s not a whole lot of posi-core breakdowns or layered vocal bridge a la The Story So Far, instead opting for a more New Found Glory/Good Charlotte approach. Lyrically and tonally, the album tackles the ups and downs of life, hence the title The Peace and The Panic. Both vocalist Barlow and bassist Thorpe-Evans lost their fathers between their sophomore album and this one, so there’s a string of existential crisis running throughout the entire album. That being said, it is definitely not a downer of an album, striking a balance between reflecting on the good times and truly grieving. While the album stays relatively consistent in terms of the pop-rock genre, there are other genre influences that shine through brightly, proving that Neck Deep are truly growing and evolving as a band. The chorus in “Parachute” clearly takes influence from My Chemical Romance. “In Bloom” is more similar to a Yellowcard song than a modern pop-punk song. “Don’t Wait” is a melodic hardcore record through-and-through, aided by Architects’ Sam Carter doing a guest spot. “19 Seventy-Sumthin” is a pop track. Some would call this genre jumping selling-out, or abandoning those fans who got them this far, but it’s quite the opposite. This is the band Neck Deep has always strived to be, enjoying the pop-punk genre but not being defined by it. Lyrically, this is Neck Deep at their most vulnerable, wearing their honest emotions on their sleeves. And yet, Neck Deep offer some of the most positive, heartfelt direction than ever before, able to find the good in bad moments, and the bad in the good ones.
Check out: In Bloom, Don’t Wait, Wish You Were Here
8. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
Harry Styles abandons his boyband persona in favour of rock’n’roll in spectacular fashion on his solo debut LP. Make no mistake, this album is what Styles has been itching to make for years. This is not the product of marketing and label executives, but rather a pure passion for making good music. There’s elements of glam-rock, rockabilly, and indie-acoustic throughout this album, drawing on various inspirations from The Beatles to Elton John to David Bowie and everyone in between. This is a choice for Styles. He could have easily made a lazy pop album, making others write and record the music and instruments, coming in at the end to record vocals and put his name on it. The stage was set for him to become the next Justin Timberlake. He would have made millions, and would have had a guaranteed long career. But instead, he wrote a rock album in a market that does not love rock, the truest sign of a musician. He made this album because it was in him, and needed to get out. On “Sweet Creature,” he draws clear inspiration from The Beatles “Blackbird,” and “Sign of the Times” could easily be a Bowie song left on the writing floor from one of his many records. Lyrically, Styles talks about failed relationships and feeling alone in hotel rooms. Though not diverse nor original and imaginative, he has a right to these lyrics, especially as his first solo effort. He’s grown up in hotel rooms, and dated the likes of Taylor Swift. He deserves a vent record. But what the record lacks in lyrics, it makes up for with Styles voice. He has a talent for both melodies and harmonies that, when combined with this style of 70s/80s rock, is a breath of fresh air to music fans all over. The background vocals and yelps are given as much attention by Harry as the lead vocals, and that’s what makes this labour of love and passion so enjoyable to listen to. You can hear the smile through the music, especially on “Carolina.” But if you’ve read this far and still think “But this is the One Direction guy. I can’t listen to his music on principle,” watch this one hour documentary. It’s worth your time.
Check out: Carolina, Sweet Creature, Only Angel
7. Good Nature – Turnover
After 2015’s Peripheral Vision took the world by surprise with Turnover’s shift in focus from pop-punk to dream-pop, Good Nature proves that that was just the tip of the iceberg. While Peripheral Vision was found somewhere in-between the two genres, containing lyrics of angst and depression, Good Nature wholly embraces the summer vibey approach, exchanging those lyrics for ones of California beaches and sipping wine beside the pool. Good Nature would feel more at home alongside bands like Real Estate and Wild Nothing rather than Title Fight and Citizen. In many ways, this album is a response to their 2015 offering, answering many of the questions of doubt and heartache throughout the 42 minute runtime. This album embraces the sunshine rather than the overcast, sounding a lot brighter and bouncier. The dreamy haze causes the listener to get lost, dreaming of warmer days, aided by the brilliant artwork. Getz vocals drift in and out of the forefront, always adding to the sunny disposition promoted by the entire album. What’s unmistakable is that he’s found his voice, a crooning, calm vocal approach, never raising in intensity, that is so different from their debut angsty-teen album. Though the album lacks dynamic energy, rarely leaving it’s slow, meandering pace, it’s better for it. Turnover set out to make a summer record that could be the soundtrack to beach-sitting, and they succeeded. This leisurely album, so intricately put together, induces a sense of calm, releasing the tension with salty breezes blowing through the speakers. Indie, borderline shoegaze guitar lines dreamily cascade from the album, and don’t let up, maintaining the clear vision the band had when they set out to create it. This isn’t an album you listen to as much as it creates an atmosphere, and it seeps into your mind, calming everything around you.
Check out: Super Natural, Curiosity, Living Small
6. Cold – Gideon
Gideon’s tried-and-true approach to songwriting truly shines on their fourth LP, Cold. Their refined approach to the melodic hardcore genre pushes them to the forefront, calling to mind the best moments of The Ghost Inside throughout this album. Though not inventive nor genre breaking, Gideon are at the top of their game on this album, featuring huge riffs, heavy breakdowns and anthemic choruses. Right off the bat, both Champions and Cursed are the best back-to-back songs Gideon has put together, bringing constant tight instrumentals with great vocals, both in lyrical content and execution. Cursed features one of the best guest vocalist spots Gideon has ever had with Bryan Garris of Knocked Loose adding a dynamic that brings that song to another level. On “The Game,” Gideon shows that though they stay pretty close to their method of hardcore, they have some tricks up their sleeve. This song features some synchapated polyrhythms, executed perfectly between the guitars and McWhorter’s vocals, before having guitar picking that stands in stark contrast to the chugs of the rhythm guitars. When the constant heavy approach gets a little too overwhelming and every song begins to feel the same, Gideon senses it, writing an instrumental track, “Cold,” that is beautiful. Though nothing special on its own, when the instrumental track happens in the flow of an album, they are timed perfectly and give the listener a chance to breathe before diving back in for the second half of the album. Throughout the album, McWhorter’s lyrics inspire hope and motivation while staying relevant and honest throughout, engaging with the needed balance between the two. This album is relentless, featuring chaotic vocals and precise breakdowns, and is perfect music for the gym or the pit.
Check out: Champions, Cursed, Pulling Teeth
5. Worthy – Beautiful Eulogy
Four long years after Instruments of Mercy was released, Beautiful Eulogy finally take a long enough break from running their label, Humble Beast Records, and producing all of their artists to give their fans another album. Worthy is an album that has razor-sharp focus on all things working together for the purpose. Worthy exists to proclaim that Christ is worthy of praise, and how we fall short of that. This theme runs throughout the entire album, with all the excess of the other albums cut away. That isn’t a knock on their previous two albums, nor is it a glorification of this one over those two. Each of Beautiful Eulogy’s albums are so unique and beautiful in their own right, while each being so drastically different from the previous. This album is wholly and unmistakably Beautiful Eulogy, but some of the tendencies their fans have come to know them for aren’t as prominent on this album due to the very reason that this exists. This is a church album, through and through. It is worship, it glorifies, and because of that it doesn’t draw as much attention to itself as much as it points to Heaven and to the Bible. The unique beats Courtland Urbano is known for aren’t as prominent, through they’re still there (see “Slain”). Urbano’s approach is reflective of Church music, from the ominous pads that Hillsong and Bethel are known for, to the many organ and piano chords that churches have been known for since the early Christian churches. Lyrically, Odd Thomas and Braille expertly express their theologically deep and humbling lyrics that take multiple listens to digest. Both gifted speakers and rappers, their words are what shines the brightest on this album, further pointing towards the goal of this album, proclaiming worth to Christ. Though there are four features on this album, none of them are fellow rappers, instead opting for artists that are known for their worship, their hymns and their lyrics, further pointing to the purpose of this album. This is church music, made for the church, and made by those who are the church. The atmosphere around the album is haunting, beautiful and encapsulating. It’s a more stripped down approach than fans are used to from Beautiful Eulogy, but it’s done artistically, with a goal in mind, and it fully succeeds in proclaiming the worth of Christ.
Check out: Doxology, Messiah, Slain
4. Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine
After spending a decade together, The Maine could have easily done a 10-year anniversary tour of their debut album Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and made a buttload of money doing it. But John O’Callahan and the boys chose instead to put out arguably the best record of their career thus far instead. From their debut to current, The Maine have boasted the same lineup throughout, and the inevitable chemistry shines through on this record, featuring the bands most sonically cohesive sound throughout. The songwriting and production are on point, and the talent of each member is undeniable, each fitting together in a perfect puzzle, all having their moment to shine. And though 10 years is a huge feat, many bands make it to 10 years. What sets this album, The Maine’s sixth full-length, apart from all of those other bands is that this album has the shine and ambition that most debut’s have before a band sells out. The Maine has never been a band to roll with the trends, abandoning their neon pop-punk ways shortly after their debut for a more mature pop-rock, and that move allowed the band to outlive the majority of their peers. Their ability to write songs that invoke melancholy and nostalgia in the listener is a feat as far into their career as they are. The songs on this album would sound incredible in an arena full of screaming fans and an intimate acoustic session at the same time. Songs like “Black Butterflies & Deju Vu” showcase the beautiful songwriting this band is capable of, especially the harmonies showcased in the last chorus, both dissonant and beautiful at the same time, stirring up emotion. Each song has its own moment of beauty, and even the “filler” songs (Lovely, Little, Lonely) all provide the album space to breathe and do not take away from the feel of the album at all. From the joyous “Bad Behavior” to the heart-wrenching “I Only Wanna Talk To You,” The Maine are at their best on this album, and show no signs of slowing down. If you walked away from this band years ago because of their genre change, come back and discover what you’ve been missing.
Check out: Bad Behavior, Black Butterflies & Deja Vu, I Only Wanna Talk To You
3. Deadweight – Wage War
What sophomore slump? Wage War came out swinging as hard as they could on their second album and knocked it out of the park. Though Blueprints was an incredible debut, and many thought they wouldn’t be able to top it, Deadweight finds the band tighter than ever before, featuring some incredible songwriting and chock-full of riffs. Leading the new era of metalcore, Wage War clearly take as much influence from bands like A Day To Remember and as much as older bands like Slipknot. Though this album definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel, they shined the wheel up a whole lot with this album. To quote every band talking about their upcoming album, “the breakdowns are heavier, the choruses are bigger, and the riffs are catchier.” Songs like “Disdain” see the band step out of their usual model, engaging more of a chaotic style of metalcore, while songs like “Gravity” are helmed by clean vocalist Cody Quistad and are more of an anthemic alternative rock song than a metalcore song. This variety keeps the album from sounding monotonous, adding the right amount of dynamic between songs. Both vocalists shine throughout the album, with Cody’s chorus on “Don’t Let Me Fade Away” staying with listeners long after the album is over, and the tonal dynamics of Briton Bond’s scream is showcased in “Stitch.” “Johnny Cash” takes a lot of influence from metalcore juggernauts Northlane or In Hearts Wake, and round out the album beautifully, showing Wage War are more than just breakdowns and riffs. Lyrically, the album features some heavy content, with vocalist Briton dealing with struggles of touring and leaving family, and the toll the entire industry takes on a band. With Deadweight, Wage War prove they’re not just a flash-in-the-pan band, here to stay and lead the next generation of metalcore.
Check out: Don’t Let Me Fade Away, Stitch, Witness
2. You’re Not You Anymore – Counterparts
After some instability in line-up changes and fan worry about a potential change in sound, Counterparts responded with arguable their best album to date. You’re Not You Anymore sees the band double down on the melodic hardcore when many of their peers are leaving the genre, either in part or in whole. This fifth album features some of the best moments in the band’s career instrumentally, vocally and lyrically. The 11 tracks blow by in just under half an hour, but that half hour is a journey. Vocalist Brendan Murphy portrays such emotion and passion through his vocal delivery of mid-tone yells. He flexes his vocal pipes on “Thieves,” engaging a much more guttural growl fans haven’t heard from him before while the band channels Converge and The Chariot in their most chaotic and thrashy song. The riffs and breakdowns throughout the album feel so fresh and daring, and the band pushes themselves on every following song to make something new. Songs like “Bouquet” and “Arms Like Teeth” feature some of the best sing-along lyrics melodic hardcore has ever had. Lyrically, this album is haunting, dealing with moving on, changing, and growing. Murphy’s grandfather passed away as they were writing this album, and the lyrics clearly reflect the sense of loss through this time. Every vocal delivery sounds earnest, never once feeling fake or insincere. This is Murphy at the top of his game, both vocally and lyrically. And the line-up change is clearly reflected in this as well. When founding members and main songwriters leave the band, change is bound to happen, but in the case of Counterparts, this change jolted them. This album has such attention to detail, every note, riff and chord progression crafted with care. After years and years of grinding it out in the trenches of this scene, Counterparts finally has come out on top with an album that deserves attention and demands respect. This album will serve as a tentpole in this genre for years to come.
Check out: Bouquet, No Servant of Mine, Swim Beneath My Skin
1. Vacation – Seaway
If 2015’s Colour Blind was Seaway finding their footing in the pop-punk scene, Vacation is the band declaring they’re not going anywhere, and they’re not going to be a cookie-cutter band in the process. Drawing significant influence from the likes of Third Eye Blind, Weezer, Sugar Ray, Blink-182 among a myriad of other 90s and 00s pop-rock bands, Seaway’s third full-length see them become the band they would argue they’ve wanted to be all along. This album is confident, bold, and unashamed of the influences, instead steering into them and creating a huge breath of fresh air into the genre. The dual vocal delivery does this record of a world of wonder, with Locke and Carleton’s different vocal styles harmonizing and complimenting each other beautiful in this new direction. Make no mistake, this definitely still sounds like Seaway, but they’ve matured into a band that won’t be swept up by the latest crazes, instead writing music that they want to. And that’s truly what good bands do. This album has lots of diversity, from ballads (“40 Over”) to much more punk songs (“Scatter My Ashes Along The Coast Or Don’t”) to anthem rock (“Lula On The Beach”). Lyrically, the album dances across the line about vacations aka spending time away from home. There’s songs about loving vacation, doing a staycation, missing people who have moved away and hating being away from loved ones. This album shows progression and maturity that we haven’t seen in this genre in a long time. This album is a huge step forward, and is more musically intricate than their previous offerings, while still being so accessible and catchy. There’s so much energy and joy in this album, and you can practically hear the smiles the band had while writing and recording this incredible album. Catchy hooks, even catchier choruses, and a summer vibe that will last long into the winter, Seaway have outdone themselves on Vacation. This is an album for old fans and new, both of the band and of the genre.
Check out: Something Wonderful, 40 Over, London
California (Deluxe Edition) – Blink-182
How To Be Human – The Classic Crime
Float Around – Coldfront
Adornment – Grayscale
Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1 – Lil Peep
Perception – NF
Dark Flag – Phinehas
The Misadventures of Fern & Marty – Social Club Misfits
Only Death Is Real – Stray From The Path