Music is an art that spans so wide in composition and subject matter that It’s difficult to pinpoint where to start a discussion on it. The following list is of albums with a sense of self that coincides with a unique vision that the artist wanted to showcase, and in my opinion, succeeded in doing so. This is the first of many lists and the albums included were chosen because of their importance to me in my life and the impact they have made. The vision of these artists and of all musicians holds more importance when it resonates with the listeners and can tune into emotion that may have been locked away in the listener’s heart. As I am one of over 7 billion people on this planet my tastes and my emotional experiences connect with music that not everyone feels the same towards. I hope that for those who enjoy this list you find some new music to hold dear, and for those who don’t, I thank you for taking the time to read this article.
“No Gods” -Sharks
UK Punk band Sharks have an interesting history. Their first full length release, “The Joys of Living 2008-2010”, was actually a compilation of material from their previous EP releases. It wasn’t until 2012’s “No Gods” that Sharks really broke into their own. Catchy guitar riffs, and jovial chord progressions contrast with lead vocalist James Mattock’s hybrid Punk/Indie sound. The album seems to be a statement on Punk as a whole, blending Indie masterfully to create a unique style that has yet to be duplicated successfully. Just one listen will drag you away in a fever of musical intrigue, and may even persuade you to write music yourself. Whenever I listen to this album I get the urge to pick up my guitar and jam along with guitar work that couldn’t only be compared to the work of Dinosaur Jr.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, but in particular- “Arcane Effigies”, “Mathew’s Baby”, and “Luck.”
“…Is a Real Boy” –Say Anything
Max Bemis, the brains behind Say Anything, immediately made a name for himself after this 2004 release. A Sarah Lawrence College dropout, Bemis wrote and recorded all the guitar, bass, keyboard, and vocal tracks for the album, a practice he started with his first full length and has continued with every Say Anything album since. The infamous tale behind “…Is a Real Boy” not only led to a nearly perfect album (I’m not a fan of Spidersong), but also led Bemis to rethink his identity as musician. Struggling with Bipolar Disorder and extensive use of alcohol and weed to fuel his vision, Bemis had a mental breakdown during recording due to the intense artistic vision he had planned for it. After recovering, Bemis let go of his previous self-judgments and continued working on the album. Lyrics range from a chilling recount of the love between Bemis’ two Holocaust surviving grandparents to criticism of the Bohemian lifestyle following of the Hipster crowd that carried over from the 90’s. Every time I listen to this album I can’t help marvel at the sounds that Bemis can make come from a guitar. Layered guitar tracks that shift from left speaker to right speaker, both complimenting and almost challenging each other, it will take quite some time to get bored of this album.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, but in particular: “Belt”, “Alive with the Glory of Love”, and “Admit It!”
“Traphouse Rock” –Kids These Days
Before Vic Mensa started to make his name as a player in the Hip-Hop scene he was laying down some sweet Indie/Jazz tracks with his friends. All Chicago natives and close friends with Chance the Rapper (Who is featured in a track on the album), Kids These Days were an impressive group of teenagers with immense talent that ended their run not long after the album’s release. Jazz drums, a solid and tight knit horns section, piano, guitar and bass, rap and clean vocals; the band is all here and they’re not just blowing smoke. Traphouse Rock kicks off with the “(Intro)mental”– a three minute session showcasing the band’s talents, leading into the 17 second “Freakwhensees”, a mash up of audio clips that poke fun at everything from Pop-music to the controversial track “Nigga Nigga Nigga”. Their sound really develops when the track “GHETTO” comes out of the gate, with a perfect introduction to what the listener is about to experience:
“Are you out of your fucking mind? It ain’t shit on earth that you can possibly do around here, or possibly say. If you don’t know about these motherfuckers, then they gonna blow you out the way. Man, Motherfucker, it’s the Kids These Days!”
Recommended Tracks: All of them, but in particular- “GHETTO”, “Don’t Harsh My Mellow”, and “Bud Billiken.”
“Illuminate” – Lydia
I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t have extreme personal bias including this album on the list, but in a list of this nature I’d argue that bias is welcome. Illuminate got me through some rough times, lying in bed wondering where life was going to take me and what I could do to influence my own destiny. I’d recommend listening to this album in a similar setting, allowing Leighton Antelman’s vocal sweep you away with soothing guitar and piano melody that will change any thoughts you may have about Indie music. Deep and insightful in its composition, speeding up and slowing down at proper intervals, Illuminate’s subject matter spans from dealing with death to heartbreak without treading into the realm of triteness that so many other artists dive straight into. Daring to be different, Illuminate is truly Lydia’s finest work.
Recommended tracks: All of them, but in particular- “This is Twice Now”, “I Woke Up Near the Sea”, and “Sleep Well.”
“The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me” -Brand New
While not the most acclaimed album by these Long-Island rockers, “The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me” brings to the table an intricate mix of deep and enticing lyrics, an in and out of aggressive and melodic guitar, as well as a solid backing of bass and drums that highlight the importance of two instruments that don’t receive much of the credit they deserve. The effort put into the album is evident and appreciated. In a scene of Emo and Post-Hardcore music than can tend to lose its impact as it leans towards the mainstream, Brand New’s follow up to their 2001 Pop-Punk release “Your Favorite Weapon” has both immense replay value and a depth of lyrical and instrumental talent that will keep you insightful of what it is to make music for years to come. It has a depth of instrumental layering that touches on elements of Post-Hardcore, Post-rock, and Emo that has earned Brand New an immense amount of respect in the music scene. What started with “The Devil and God…” has continued with the band’s willingness to try out new sounds that they’ve picked up on their journey from their angsty past.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, but in particular- “Jesus Christ”, “Degauser”, and “Welcome to Bangkok”
“Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair” – La Dispute
Where does one even begin on the epic and ambitious sound of Michigan band La Dispute? Beloved and critically acclaimed, La Dispute made a name for themselves with their aggressive, poetic instrumentation as well as impactful lyrics belted out in fervor by vocalist Jorden Dreyer. With wailing vocals that resonate with the darker side of poetry “Somewhere at the Bottom…” is a release that was clearly recorded with a sense of purpose. With swirling torrents of emotion pouring from the speakers with just as much ferocity as when they were strummed into the microphone. The first track begins with the crackle of an auxiliary chord being plugged in, just as the revolution followed by the electric guitar, La Dispute have molded their own sound out of the genres floating around them. In truth, there are no labels or tags that do this group and justice. They have created a sound so entirely their own while still borrowing from the influence of bands such as mewithoutyou and their contemporaries.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, from beginning to end.
“Two Conversations” – The Appleseed Cast
Moving onto the softer side of artistic vision, we come to The Appleseed Cast. While not as well met critically as their earlier releases, my love for this album comes from its lack of shame. Regardless of the criticism that The Appleseed Cast had shied away from the experimental sound they had created with their previous release, Low Level Owl 1, Two Conversations has a consistent sound that not only carries the listener through a fantastic splay of instrumentation and soaring vocals, but also the spirit of the Emo movement that had dissolved at the time of its release. The instrumentation of the album is far more progressive than critics may have given it credit for, with excellent drum work that carries the album along, preventing the rest of the material from becoming stale or repetitive. Its sentiments are pure and its accessibility is far from the point of selling out.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, but in particular- “Hello Dearest Love”, “Fight Song”, and “Innocent, Vigilant, Ordinary.”
“The Moon is a Dead World” –Gospel
I will admit that for the subject of this list this is an odd choice. Why is that? Because the album doesn’t have many lyrics, and the lyrics it does have aren’t as insightful as other albums I considered for this list. So why did I choose this album over them? The instruments. Though I am upset that this is the band’s first and only full length release I have yet to find another album of this style of Post-Rock/Progressive/Hardcore that accomplishes the levels of entertainment this one does. I’m a sucker for albums that have direct transition between tracks, and “The Moon is a Dead World” does just this with mastery. Subtle links that connect each track not only create a seamless musical experience, but the drums alone are reason to listen to this album over and over again. I admit I have the drums essentially memorized at this point. The sound on “The Moon is a Dead World” can be described best as an exploration or rather, an experiment, on what the variety of sounds of a guitar, drums, bass and vocals can create when melted together. The album is well composed, and the drums alone are enough to get you hooked.
Recommended Tracks: All of the, from beginning to end.
“Home, Like No Place is There” – The Hotelier
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this album. It is without a doubt, one of the best if not the best release of 2014. This work of the Worcester, Massachusetts band The Hotelier is a labor of love and was met with acclaim by fan and critics alike upon its release. Excuse my lack of professionalism, but this album is all but perfect in every way. Its lyrics ring true in all senses of truth, from the heartbreaking tale of “Housebroken” to the reality of the nature of attending a close friend’s funeral in “Your Deep Rest”, everything from the title of this album to the last ringing of the concluding track “Dendron”, this is not as much an album as it is a journey. Home, Like No Place is There is a solid block of raw emotional power that doesn’t need studio tricks or enhancements to create a sound that is both uplifting and thought provoking. Cited as a big player in what is being called the modern “Emo revival,” The Hotelier’s sound goes far beyond a simple throwback to the Emo acts of the 90’s. This is a group of talented individuals with the vision and the talent to create an album with emotion that elevates itself far beyond any sort of “Emo revival.”
Recommended Tracks: All of them, from beginning to end.
“The Greatest Generation” -The Wonder Years
An intense and emotional work of 21st century Pop-Punk, aside from the track “Madelyn” this album is a perfect example of Pop-Punk with soul.
Recommended Tracks: All of them from beginning to end, except “Madelyn”
“Christie Front Drive” -Christie Front Drive
I really wanted to include this album in the list, but unfortunately it was released in the early 90’s and therefore did not fit the criteria of 21st century albums. An early Emo masterpiece, it is just as deep and entertaining as any other album I have put on this list.
Recommended Tracks: All of Them
“Pneuma” -Moving Mountains
I will come right out and say that this is actually my favorite album of all time. Similar to Say Anything, Moving Mountains was the brainchild of two men: Gregory Dunn and Nicholas Pizzolato. Dunn and Pizzolato wrote the album while the two were seniors in high-school, and just listening to their final product it’s difficult to wrap ones head around that. The construction of the material and the sound these two created with so few resources is remarkable. While Pneuma did not become what it is until the two become students at SUNY Purchase, the level of skill demonstrated in just two college students creating an album goes beyond what others in their position managed to create. Lyrically, the album was inspired by the death of a close friend of Dunn’s, and that emotional core certainly comes out in the final product. Like The Hotelier’s release, this album is in itself a journey of self-discovery and intense emotional power. As a Post-rock composition Pneuma is far more impressive than some more seasoned acts in the post-rock game. The genre itself is risky, as without a unique vision and a sense of style many post-rock outfits tend to sound similar and don’t stand out much. No words that I use to describe this album can really do it any justice, but as this is the number one album on the list I will do my best to sum up what you can expect from Pneuma.
Recommended Tracks: All of them, from beginning to end, whenever things aren’t working out the way you planned or you lose hope.
I hope you have enjoyed this list as much as I enjoyed compiling it. If you have any thoughts or you think that other albums deserved being on this list, shoot me an email. I love discovering new music so if you have any recommendations feel free to send them my way. Until next time this is FCPremitch.