Top 10 albums of 2016

I intended on posting this on December 31st, but you know…life.

So even though it probably doesn’t need to be said, 2016 was not a good year for many people, but the music was still amazing. I mean, who didn’t release an album this year? It was hard to narrow down, but here are my top ten favorite albums of 2016. You might recognize some names, others not so much, but check them all out if you can. I promise it’s the best music you’ve never heard!

Peace, love & rock-n-roll,

Jen Hues

No. 1

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Black Lab: A New World

Released: November 2016

Best Songs: I Fought The Law, A Matter of Time, Bring You Love

One of my favorite indie rock artists, Black Lab, wins best album of 2016 with the incredible A New World. Black Lab, mostly known for the 1997 hit “Wash It Away,” has released several amazing albums since then (most notably A Raven Has My Heart, a fully crowd-funded album released in 2014) but A New World takes things to a whole new level for the band. Front man Paul Durham has been open with his fans about suffering a devastating loss a few years ago, and that pain and sadness comes through in every song here, though there is also the hope and desire to push through that sadness and come out stronger for it. His voice is as aching, raw and emotional as its ever been throughout the album, most notably on the opening track “Bottomless Sea,” a song about the heavy weight of loss and how overwhelming it can be, against an electronic beat that the band does so well. (Again, listen to A Raven Has My Heart or the all-electronic album Technologie).

One of my favorites is the gritty, sexy cover of “I Fought The Law,” which takes the song to a completely new height and is one of the best cover songs I have ever heard. “Bring You Love” echoes “Bottomless Sea,” and is a beautiful and haunting close to the album, a plea to hold on and not give in to sadness. The best song on the album is “A Matter of Time,” with uplifting lyrics (“Keep holding on for more, keep holding strong in the storm…I’ll be here for you.”) and a fun beat and hand claps behind them. The overall feeling I get while listening to this album is that when life throws things at you that you can’t control, it is always possible to get through it all with a little help from friends, loved ones and time.

Buy A New World here

No. 2

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Blue October: Home

Released: April 22nd, 2016

Best Songs: Leave It In The Dressing Room (Shake It Up), Houston Heights, I Want It

The eighth studio album from Houston’s Blue October gets the number two spot, with the feel-good Home, which was released on the band’s independent label Up/Down Records. The album is unquestionably different from the band’s earlier work, which has turned off some long-time fans, but introduced Blue to an entirely new generation. I like to think that this band grows and changes with every album, which is unique and refreshing; too many bands sound exactly the same no matter how many albums they release. Blue October’s progression through the years is stunning. From the early angst of Consent to Treatment and History for Sale, to the breakout mainstream success of 2005’s Foiled (the album with the hits “Hate Me” and “Into the Ocean”) to the anger-fueled and heartbreaking Any Man In America, every Blue October album tells a story. These stories belong to front man Justin Furstenfeld, a man who has never shied away from raw honesty in his music. It’s as if his entire life has unfolded with every album, from suffering through mental illness and suicidal thoughts, falling in love, falling out of love, custody battles and divorce, all for the world to see. I respect that so much, because too few artists have that level of realism and honesty.

Home is no different. The album is full of hope, love and perseverance, and it chronicles Justin’s light at the end of the tunnel. The title track is the best example of this, from the very beginning (“I’ll smile if I want to, not afraid and gonna flaunt it, too.”) to the chorus (“Daddy loves Mama and Mama loves him, tomorrow we get to do it over again.”) Justin is finally happy and he is not apologizing for it, nor should he. He has survived what most people couldn’t dream of living through and these songs echo his journey and destination. “Heart Go Bang” is a song about finding true love and I like to think of it as a sequel of sorts to the older song “Balance Beam.” “I Want It” is an anthem of pushing through anything and refusing to be sorry, and is my favorite song on the album. (“Don’t ever think you’ll take away the fight in me.”) Blue October has not forgotten how to rock out, either, evidenced with the hard-hitters “Leave It In The Dressing Room (Shake It Up)”, and “Houston Heights.” Justin also addresses the things he has been through and offers hope to anyone listening with “Time Changes Everything,” a reminder that where you are is never your final destination. The same is true for this band, I think. They will continue to grow and progress and own it every single time.

Buy Home here!

No. 3

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Switchfoot: Where The Light Shines Through

Released:  July 8th, 2016

Best Songs: I Won’t Let You Go, Holy Water, Live It Well

Veteran Christian alternative band Switchfoot comes in third with tenth studio album Where The Light Shines Through. This is another band that is able to constantly reinvent its sound and remain fresh and relevant not only in the Christian rock genre, but mainstream, too. The band blurs the lines and does it well with this new album. From the opener “Holy Water,” a song that is a bit heavier than expected from Switchfoot, to the stunning closer “Hope Is The Anthem,” Where The Light Shines Through is a journey of self-discovery and of finding self-worth and love. The title track is a testament to this, with lyrics pronouncing that what a person has been through does not define who they are. (“Your scars shine like dark stars, the wound is where the light shines through.”) The gorgeous “I Won’t Let You Go” is the best song here, and although it is undeniably a song about faith, it is not so in a preachy way (one of the best things about this band.) Instead, it can be construed as simply having faith in one’s self to make it through. (“Maybe that’s where life is born, when our façades are torn and pain gives birth to the promise ahead.”)

“Live It Well” is another great song that recognizes that life is short, and that everyone should do the things that make them happy and live a good story. (“I’m living for more than just a funeral.”) “Hope is the Anthem” is a soaring and beautiful end to the album, like a promise to keep going and let hope guide the way. Switchfoot has long partnered with the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms, spreading awareness of mental health, depression and addiction and most importantly, overcoming these things. Switchfoot is a band unafraid to tackle these issues and connect with people through music, and I think they have definitely done so with this album.

Buy Where The Light Shines Through here!

No. 4

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Jimmy Eat World: Integrity Blues

Released: October 22nd, 2016

Best Songs: The End Is Beautiful, Get Right, Integrity Blues

Jimmy Eat World has been around a long time (an impressive 23 years) and in that time, the band has gone from an indie underground favorite (1999’s Clarity) to chart-toppers (2001’s Bleed American, 2007’s Chase This Light) without slowing down. With Integrity Blues, Jimmy’s ninth studio album, the band proves they still have phenomenal staying power. Front man Jim Adkins said recently that the band almost didn’t follow through with the album, because they’d already released eight, so, “Why release nine?”

Listening to this album, it’s clear to see why Adkins and the rest of the band simply can’t stop making music; because they are still unique and more than relevant. They made emo-alternative what it is with the release of “The Middle” way back in 2001. There are so many bands that wouldn’t exist without Jimmy Eat World’s influence, but no one can do it quite like they can. With the combination of thoughtful lyrics, Adkins’ unrivaled, emotive vocals and the band’s ability to transition between heavier rock (“Get Right”) to the softer, radio-friendly pop (“Sure and Certain,” “Pretty Grids”) to incredible gut-wrenching love songs (“The End Is Beautiful”), Integrity Blues showcases everything this band is capable of and more, and they do it better than anyone else. I hope Jimmy Eat World will continue to make music for many years to come. So, here’s to that tenth album, guys.

Buy Integrity Blues here!

No. 5

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White Lies: Friends

Released: October 7th, 2016

Best Songs: Take It Out On Me, Right Place, Is My Love Enough?

White Lies are still relatively unknown to the mainstream, but the band has a strong cult following, including yours truly. The five-piece out of London released the stunning To Lose My Life in 2009, an album that featured the song “Unfinished Business” (if that title sounds familiar, it’s likely because of the Mumford & Sons cover in 2010, which doesn’t hold a candle to the original), which introduced the world to this amazing band. White Lies’ dark and moody sound is in the same vein as Interpol, Editors and Joy Division and lead singer Harry McVeigh’s vocals have been compared to Ian Curtis’s more than a few times. Yet, the band still stands on its own and refuses to be bogged down or labeled.

While it’s true there are some White Lies songs that are no doubt influenced by the formerly mentioned bands, there are even more that are uniquely White Lies, such as “There Goes Our Love Again,” an upbeat, dance-friendly tune from 2013’s Big T.V. or the tongue-in-cheek “Getting Even,” also from T.V.  With Friends, the band’s fourth studio release, their sound has definitely become more polished. While To Lose My Life and Ritual are darker in nature and Big T.V. a bit more upbeat, Friends falls nicely in between.

First single “Take It Out On Me” is a good introduction song, combining McVeigh’s aching baritone with a synth background that echoes ’80s pop. “Hold Back Your Love” continues the simultaneously happy and sad feel of the album, something that White Lies does better than anyone. “Is My Love Enough?” is one of my favorite songs here, with excellent music and McVeigh’s lovesick vocals meshing perfectly together. “Right Place” is another favorite, with great lyrics (“I’ve got my heart beating in the right place, it’s just the wrong time.”) and superb drums. White Lies have progressed with every album, but with Friends, it seems they have truly come into their sound.

Buy Friends here!

No. 6.

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OneRepublic: Oh My My

Released: October 7th, 2016

Best Songs: Let’s Hurt Tonight, Wherever I Go, Heaven

Back in 2007, OneRepublic burst onto the scene with a little song called “Apologize.” Though the original song was simplistic and focused mainly on lead singer Ryan Tedder’s vocals, the remixed version by Timbaland inadvertently labeled the band as mainstream pop/R&B. The rest of 2007’s Dreaming Out Loud was quite different from that song, but in no way is that a bad thing. “Stop And Stare” proved that the band was just fine on their own and OneRepublic’s success continued with the release of Waking Up in 2009, which gave the band several more chart-toppers, including “Good Life” and the phenomenal “Secrets.” The band’s third album Native is arguably their best to date, featuring the massive hits “Counting Stars” and “Love Runs Out.”

It’s hard to believe that Oh My My is only the band’s fourth studio album, since they have had so many radio hits in such a short span of time. Oh My My is shaping up to be yet another album of hits, with singles “Wherever I Go” and “Kids” already topping the charts. On the new album, OneRepublic deviates quite a bit from the foot-stomping, hand-clapping songs of Native, relying more on Tedder’s stunning vocals and the superb musicianship behind them. “Let’s Hurt Tonight,” a gut-wrenching love song with beautiful lyrics (“If this love is pain, well darling let’s hurt tonight.”) opens the album and almost sounds like it could be a b-side of Dreaming Out Loud. “Future Looks Good” keeps things going with big, anthemic drums and layered vocals, while singles “Wherever I Go” and “Kids” lean towards alt-pop, with Tedder’s perfect falsetto shining in the chorus of both songs. “A.I.” features legend Peter Gabriel, but it’s definitely not what you’d expect from this collaboration, a very upbeat dance track that is unlike anything OneRepublic has ever done. But somehow it works, and further proves that this band is capable of anything and they will still rock it.

Buy Oh My My here!

No. 7

jan-22nd

Shearwater: Jet Plane and Oxbow

Released: January 22nd, 2016

Best Songs: Quiet Americans, Filaments, Radio Silence

I discovered Shearwater back in 2010, just after the release of the album The Golden Archipelago. I saw them live for the first time in a small club called The Earl in Atlanta, GA and was completely blown away by lead singer Jonathan Meiburg’s powerful vocals and the intensity of the performance. That intensity has never quite been present in their albums as well as it is presented live (with the exception of a few songs), but all of this changes with Jet Plane and Oxbow.

From the very beginning, “Prime” sucks you in with a slow-building synth opening that later explodes into a piano-driven epic and Meiburg’s plea of “Come on, come on!” Lead single “Quiet Americans” is one of my favorites that Shearwater has ever done, with lyrics political in nature (“The only sound are the bells up on the hill…where are the Americans?”) but it’s also foot-tapping and Bowie-esque song that could easily appeal to almost anyone, even if politics is not quite your thing. “Filaments” is just stunning with a plethora of instruments begging for attention behind Meiburg’s brilliant lyrics (“In the center of the sun, in the stain spilling out into the light…in the calling of the gulls, in the river running out into the night.”) Then there is the heart-pounding urgency of “Radio Silence,” which is probably my favorite track on the album, with everything about Shearwater…the soaring vocals, the anthemic music, the smart lyrics…coming together in beautiful harmony. Bottom line? You need to hear this.

Buy Jet Plane and Oxbow here!

No. 8

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Lacey Sturm: Life Screams

Released: February 12th, 2016

Best Songs: Rot, Roxanne, Impossible

If you recognize the name Lacey Sturm, it is because she was the lead singer of heavy Christian rock band Flyleaf from 2005-2012. Sturm, who undoubtedly made Flyleaf what it was, left the band in 2012 to settle down with her family. But she didn’t stay away for long, returning in 2016 with solo album Life Screams.

There are undoubtedly shades of Flyleaf in this album, but it still has a fresh edge, especially present in the interlude/prolouge “Vanity,” which leads into “Rot.” “Vanity” is a spoken word piece that initially sounds like a couple arguing, until you realize that it is more or less a conversation between Lacey and “the devil,” or some kind of evil incarnate (maybe even her own subconscious?), however you want to look at it. Lacey speaks with the same passion that she sings, (which is the best thing about her voice in my opinion) and sounds as if she’s on the verge of tears throughout the song. “Rot” is my favorite on the album, with lyrics that confront hypocrites straight up (“I want what’s pure and want what’s right, but I need another fix tonight.”….”I need a faith that’s solid as concrete, but the impact’s broken both my knees.”) Another highlight is the unexpected but incredible cover of The Police’s “Roxanne.”

Life Screams is definitely still in the hard Christian rock element, but this album is slower and more introspective than previous Flyleaf releases. I still hold on to the hope that Lacey will return to Flyleaf one day, but she is a more than capable solo artist.

Buy Life Screams here!

No. 9

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Kaleo: A/B

Released: June 10th, 2016

Best Songs: No Good, Broken Bones, Vor i Vaglaskogi

At first listen to lead singer JJ Julius Son’s soulful voice, you wouldn’t immediately realize that he is Icelandic (real name: Jökull Júlíusson), as is the rest of the four-piece Kaleo. Definitely one of a kind, these guys received some much-deserved fame in 2016 with the release of bluesy single “Way Down We Go,” which was featured in several TV shows and commercials, not to mention the fact that it dominated rock radio.

From the stellar, foot-stomping opening track “No Good,” A/B never lets up with a mix of folk, delta blues and dark ballads, all perfected by Julius Son’s powerful growl behind the shredding guitars and drums. It’s easy to close your eyes and think you’re listening to classic rock, because this music just sounds that timeless; there are definite shades of Zeppelin here. “Vor i Vaglaskogi” is one of my favorites, which reminds the listener halfway through that these guys are actually not from the Southern U.S., but from Iceland. The song highlights Julius Son’s range (who knew he could go from that growl to that falsetto??) and is sung in his beautiful native Icelandic language. “Broken Bones” is another standout, about a deal with the devil, with its dark chain-gang style vocals and hand claps.

With A/B, Kaleo does what The Black Keys and Kings of Leon have tried and failed to do in the last few years: bring back real blues and rock n roll. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how it’s done.

Buy A/B here!

No. 10

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Bootstraps: Homage

Released: April 2016

Best Songs: Revelator, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Stand By Me

It’s rare that an album of nothing but covers would make my top ten list, first of all. But with Homage, Bootstraps have completely transformed these songs and made them all their own. With songs from everyone from Etta James to Fleetwood Mac to Moby, Homage certainly has a broad range, but somehow every single song sounds like it should have been sung by Jordan Beckett to begin with.

“Earned It” (originally by The Weeknd) opens the album and introduces the listener to Beckett’s gritty and soulful voice that grabs and doesn’t let go. “Revelator” (a country song by Gillian Welch) is hands down my favorite track on the album; atmospheric and moody and really showcasing Beckett’s voice. This guy was born to sing love songs, it seems, and “At Last” and “Stand By Me” (by Etta James and Ben E. King, respectively) are beautiful renditions, made even better by his aching vocals. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is another example of this, taking the Whitney Houston song and breaking it down to nothing but the lyrics, which you have probably never realized are pretty melancholy in nature. The song, which was featured on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, is a stark contrast to the original, but it is better. The same can be said for every other track on Homage. Also, this is the ultimate chill out album. Headphones recommended.

Buy Homage here!

Bonus Albums: (because 10 just isn’t enough)

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Chevelle: The North Corridor

Released: July 8th, 2016

Best Song: Enemies

Bottom line:Pete Loeffler can scream better than anyone.

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Blink 182: California

Released: July 1st, 2016

Best Song: Bored To Death

Bottom line: Who needs Tom DeLonge?

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Lacuna Coil: Delirium

Released: May 27th, 2016

Best Song: Delirium

Bottom line: Lacuna Coil have remembered they are a metal band.

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Dorothy: Rock Is Dead

Released: June 24th, 2016

Best Song: Raise Hell

Bottom line: rock is not dead. And Halestorm is not the only badass female fronted rock band anymore.

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Top 5 of 2015

  1. AWOLNATION: Runawolnation-run-album-cover

AWOLNATION (aka Aaron Bruno) became popular in 2013 with the song “Sail.” While that is a great song and I love it, “Kill Your Heroes” was the track that got me hooked on this band. I picked up Megalithic Symphony and was completely blown away by it. Every song was different and amazing in its own way, and Run is no different.

From the opening title track, reminiscent of the lo-fi sound of “Sail,” to the mellow closing track “Drinking Lightning,” this album takes you through just about every musical genre there is. There is music to dance to (“Dreamers,” “Windows”), music to head-bang to (“Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”), music to zone out to (“I Am,” “Headrest for My Soul”) and music to sing out loud at the top of your lungs right along with Bruno (“KOOKSEVERYWHERE!”)

While I still don’t think it tops Symphony (which is one of my all-time favorite albums), Run is unique and refreshing (as is AWOLNATION as a whole) in today’s music scene and is my absolute favorite release of 2015.

Best tracks: “Windows”, “KOOKSEVERYWHERE!” “Dreamers”

2. Delta Rae: After It All

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Delta Rae is one of those amazing, underrated indie artists that I wish more people knew about. I discovered them via Pandora a couple of years ago and got the album Carry the Fire. I must have listened to that album ten times a day, that is how amazing it is! “Bottom of the River” gained some popularity in 2012 when that album was released, introducing the world to Delta Rae’s incredible vocal harmonies and unique musicianship.

With After It All, the band broadens their horizons even further than they did with Fire, beginning with the opening track “Anthem,” introducing the listener to those harmonies they do so well right off the bat with vocalist Eric Holljes on lead. One of three siblings in the band, Eric’s vocals are smooth and flawless and perfectly set the stage for his sister Brittany’s powerhouse voice in “Run.” “Chasing Twisters” finds singer Elizabeth Hopkins on lead with her bluesy and soulful vocals.

Delta Rae’s sound has been described as everything from folk to southern gothic to blues, and they have been compared to Fleetwood Mac, but to me there is no one category for this band. They are truly unique and like no other band I have ever heard. One of my best musical discoveries of the last few years!

Best tracks: “Bethlehem Steel,” “I Will Never Die,” “Scared”

3. Dead Sara: Pleasure to Meet Youdead sara

Another relatively unknown hard rock act, Dead Sara is basically Kurt Cobain meets Janis Joplin, or that’s how I like to describe them. Fronted by two female powerhouses, vocalist Emily Armstrong and guitarist Siouxsie Medley, this band out of L.A. has a raw, electric and intense sound that grabs and doesn’t let go. “Weatherman” introduced the world to Dead Sara in 2013 and got me hooked, but Pleasure to Meet You defies the sophomore slump with the band incorporating more into their sound than ever.

The album kicks off strong with “Suicidal,” which is one of my favorite tracks with my favorite lyrics (“We’re suicidal, come on raise your Bible and we’ll laugh like idiots together.”) The energy doesn’t stop throughout the entire album, though it does slow down a bit for “Something Good,” which is unlike anything Dead Sara have ever done, a bluesy feel-good track that is perfect for driving down the highway with the windows down in summertime (or any time.) “Radio One Two” is hands down my favorite song here, with its punk influences and lyrics one can’t help but think are aimed at popular radio (“Radio one two, where’ve we gone to? I hear the static in our ears, so silent.”) The closing track “For You I Am” can only be described as epic, with Armstrong pushing her vocals to the very limit and bleeding emotion through the speakers.

Best tracks: “Radio One Two,” “For You I Am,” “Mona Lisa”

4. Breaking Benjamin: Dark Before Dawn

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After a long (long, long) hiatus due to unfortunate legal stuff, Breaking Benjamin finally returned in 2015 with Dark Before Dawn. Lead single “Failure” broke records within minutes, and rightfully so, with its throwback sound to the band’s earlier work, yet still remaining fresh and modern.

Dawn showcases front man Benjamin Burnley’s unique voice and his ability to push his vocals from melodic and soft (“Ashes of Eden”) to aggressive and heavy (“Breaking the Silence”) and everything in between. Burnley is the only original member left in the band, but the new backing band fills the shoes of their predecessors impressively.

Best tracks: “Defeated,” “Ashes of Eden,” “Failure”

5. Von Grey: Panophobia

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Consisting of four ridiculously talented sisters from Atlanta, Georgia, Von Grey released this EP in early 2015 to critical praise. Von Grey’s sound is unique and engaging, with distinct vocals and musicianship to rival an orchestra.

All four sisters are classically trained, from the violin to the cello to the mandolin and just about any other instrument you could think of, and they blend perfectly with the delicate yet powerful vocals of Petra, Fiona, Annika and Kathryn von Grey.

Lead track and single “Katie” is the song that got me hooked on this band, leading off with their signature harmonies and delving into a subject that is not often talked about: domestic abuse. It’s a powerful and moving song and sets the tone for the rest of the EP, including  the haunting “Cyclical Dreams.”

Look out for this band, one day they will be huge!

Best tracks: “Katie,” “Cyclical Dreams,” “Forever Bound”

Runners up:

Muse: Drones

Imagine Dragons: Smoke & Mirrors

The Airborne Toxic Event: Dope Machines

The Neighborhood: Wiped Out

Dommin: Rise

Top 10 of 2012

1.
Dead-Sara-Dead-Sara
Dead Sara
Self Titled

This four piece rock band from L.A. gets the gold this year, with their stunning self-titled debut album.

The first time I heard lead single “Weatherman” on the radio, it gave me chills. The kind of chills you only get when music just gets under your skin and makes you feel like it’s what has been missing from your life. Needless to say, I had to know more about this band. So I picked up the album and was completely floored to find that every single song was just as good (if not better than) “Weatherman”.

Vocalist Emily Armstrong could have been the love child of Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. Her range is nothing short of legendary and she can howl with the best of them. Guitarist Siouxsie Medley nearly steals the spotlight from Armstrong, with her amazing skill. From the heart pounding chaos of “Monumental Holiday” to the stark, stripped down “Sorry For It All”, this album is simply incredible. One of my favorite tracks, “Face to Face”, a lovelorn confession, has the best climax I’ve ever heard in a song. Skip to around 3:00 and listen from there.

There is not one bad track on this diverse album. “We Are What You Say” is a rock anthem about never giving up. “Timed Blues” is a folksy classic rock-sounding track that really showcases Medley’s talent. “Test On My Patience” is another of my favorites, with exceptional lyrics (“I’m in love, I’m in love, no I’m not, oh my God, I’m a liar I can taste it.”)

My only complaint about this album is that it’s too short. I’m so excited to hear what’s next from them and I can’t wait to see them live. They’re about to go on tour with Muse in 2013, which I hope will expose them to many more people. If any band ever deserved fame and fortune, it’s Dead Sara.

2.
AWOLNATION_-_Megalithic_Symphony
AWOLNATION
Megalithic Symphony

The first time I listened to this album, all I could think was that I couldn’t believe how versatile they are. I had only heard “Kill Your Heroes” on the radio, so I was expecting an album full of the same sound. But every song has it’s own flavor on Megalithic Symphony, and it surprisingly works.

Lead single “Sail” is a moody electronic piece with dark lyrics (“Maybe I should cry for help. Maybe I should kill myself. Blame it on my A.D.D, baby.) and synth grooves. “People” is a feel good song that is borderline pop, while “Kill Your Heroes” sounds like something straight from ‘90s alternative. “Not Your Fault” showcases frontman Aaron Bruno’s screaming abilities while also being a decent dance track. “Knights of Shame” is the band’s foray into hip-hop while “All I Need” is downright gospel.

Somehow it all ties together to make one incredible album that I simply cannot stop listening to. I recently saw the band live and they were just incredible. I’m definitely excited to hear what is next from these guys.

 

3.

of monsters and men
Of Monsters and Men
My Head is an Animal

This quintet out of Iceland seemed to explode overnight with the success of their single “Little Talks”. After hearing that song on the radio, I picked up the album and was just blown away.

From opener “Dirty Paws” to the gorgeous closer “Yellow Light”, this album is fresh and engaging, with superb musicianship from every member of the band. “From Finner”, one of my favorite tracks, is rousing and fun with its chants of “La la la” and fantastic drumming. “Little Talks” is arguably the best track, showcasing the dual vocalists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson. These two sing so well together, sometimes their voices sound like one, like they belong together, though Hilmarsdóttir’s voice shines alone on the ballad “Love Love Love.” Standout track “Six Weeks” features every member of the band singing together and the result is phenomenal.

Of Monsters and Men have only been making music together for a couple of years, but what they have created here is a unique and fresh album that appeals to a wide audience.

4.
Animal Joy
Shearwater
Animal Joy

I’ve been a fan of this indie rock band out of Austin, Texas for a few years now, first introduced to their 2010 album The Golden Archipelago. The band has lost and gained a few members since then, but they came back strong with the release of Animal Joy.

“Animal Life” starts off the album with a mid tempo beat and outstanding lyrics, and front man Jonathan Meiburg’s voice pulls you in deep. Meiburg’s voice is the best thing about the band, soaring over the ethereal music behind it. “Breaking The Yearlings” has an infectious beat and moody lyrics while “You as You Were” is a triumphant track that starts off slow and builds to a stunning crescendo. “Insolence” sounds like it could have been a bonus track from Archipelago while “Immaculate” is an upbeat tune that sounds like nothing the band has ever done before.

As a whole, Animal Joy is a much different album than the band’s previous efforts but it also has superior listenability and a wider range of sound. In my opinion, it’s the band’s best album to date and is best listened to with headphones with the volume way up.

5.
Halestorm-Strange-Case-Of
Halestorm
The Strange Case Of…

Halestorm burst onto the hard rock scene in 2009 with the single “I Get Off” from their self-titled album, which garnered some radio attention but seemed to fizzle out. In 2012, they came back full swing with the phenomenal album The Strange Case Of…

Leadoff single “I Miss The Misery”, a great break up song, showcases front woman Lzzy Hale’s dynamic vocal abilities. Hale is one of the best female vocalists I’ve heard in a long time, with a range that seems immeasurable. She can scream (“I Miss The Misery”, “Daughters of Darkness”) but she can also belt out a ballad with the best of them (“In Your Room”, “Beautiful With You”). Yet unlike some similar bands, Hale is not the single driving force of the band. Guitarist Joe Hottinger, drummer Arejay Hale (brother of Lzzy) and bassist Josh Smith play together like a family and each are extremely talented musicians.

“Freak Like Me” is an anthemic track that encourages singing along, while “The Rock Show” is a standout about the thrill and rush of seeing a live show. “Here’s To Us” closes out the album with nostalgic lyrics and a great sense of kinship that resonates with the band. (“Stuck it out this far together, put our dreams through the shredder. Let’s toast cause things got better.”)

Things have gotten nothing but better for Halestorm, and they continue to grow as a band and gain more exposure. They just came off the Carnival of Madness tour with Evanescence and Chevelle and they were recently nominated for a Grammy for the song “Love Bites (So Do I)” for best hard rock song.

6.
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A Silent Film
Sand & Snow

I saw this indie rock band out of Oxford open for Civil Twilight in 2011 and they completely stole the show for me. I picked up their album The City That Sleeps and could not stop listening to it. It was a little bit The Killers, a little bit Snow Patrol and a little bit Coldplay all mashed together.

On Sand & Snow, A Silent Film deviates away from that sound a bit and comes into a sound all their own. Lead single “Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well”, tells the story of two people who wind up together after many of life’s obstacles with soaring melodies and great keys. “Anastasia” is a standout, with its great guitars and catchy hook. “Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat” is probably my favorite song, since first hearing it years ago at their live show. I was so happy it made it onto this album. Current single “Harbour Lights” has a great intro and deep lyrics (“You were my rock, never my stepping stone.”) Lead singer Robert Stevenson’s voice is flawless and epic on every track on the album and his piano playing drives every song. “Queen of a Sad Land” harkens back to The City That Sleeps and is another one of my favorites. “Thousand Mile Race”, one of the only ballads, closes out this gorgeous album.

7.
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Lacuna Coil
Dark Adrenaline

This Italian gothic metal band, best known for their 2002 album Comalies, made a comeback in 2012 with Dark Adrenaline. After the extreme deviation from their sound with 2009’s Shallow Life, this album goes back to the band’s original sound while still managing to be fresh and new. Co-vocalists Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro have never sounded better together; both have grown as vocalists (there are some songs on older albums where I can’t even understand Cristina because her accent is too thick) and both seem to get equal airtime on Dark Adrenaline.

“Trip the Darkness”, the lead single, is the first track on the album, featuring dark electronic riffs and an engaging chorus. (“Follow me, follow me, as I trip the darkness one more time. Follow me, follow me, I awake from madness just in time.”) “Kill The Light” is a hard hitting, empowering song while “End of Time”, a ballad, showcases Scabbia and Ferro’s ability to play off one another. “Upside Down” is one of my favorite tracks here, with superior vocals from Scabbia and high energy. “I Don’t Believe In Tomorrow” is another standout with great lyrics. The cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” is a surprising choice, but I think it works. They took the lyrics of the song and made it into something completely different, which is supposed to be the point of a cover. The fact that this is my all time favorite song (R.E.M.’s version) may make me a bit biased because I love the lyrics so much. “Fire” is a straight up rock song and “My Spirit” is a beautiful closer to this outstanding album.

8.
Amaryllis
Shinedown
Amaryllis

I will admit that after 2008’s The Sound of Madness, I didn’t think Shinedown would be able to match the success of that album. But with Amaryllis, they have made an album that is more than on par with Madness.

“Bully”, the first single, is a great empowering anthem for anyone who has ever experienced bullying; for others it’s just a great rock song. “Adrenaline” is a heart pumping rocker that could have been a B-side on Madness. “I’m Not Alright” is one of my favorites, and is one of the six songs on the album that features a backing orchestra, something the band has never done before. “I’ll Follow You” and “Through the Ghost” are exceptional ballads while “My Name (Wearing Me Out)” and “Enemies” are the album’s heaviest songs. “Unity” closes out the album with the band’s signature rock sound.

Though I don’t think anything from Shinedown will top The Sound of Madness for me, Amaryllis comes pretty close and is a solid effort.

9.
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Fun.
Some Nights

Though fun. has been around for several years (their 2009 album Aim and Ignite was fantastic), the band exploded into popularity with the single “We Are Young” from 2012’s Some Nights.

The album begins with a great intro that leads into the stunning “Some Nights”, my favorite track in the band’s history. The song is anthemic, extremely catchy and has meaningful lyrics (“I’m still not sure what I stand for. What do I stand for? Most nights I don’t know anymore.”) Front man Nate Ruess sings with passion and attitude and he has an infectious energy. “We Are Young” is a veritable anthem for the youth of the world, encouraging them to forget about the past, don’t worry about the future and just live in the now. Fun. has always spread that message, and it continues with “It Gets Better”, a song that assures listeners that everything, good or bad, comes to an end. “Why Am I the One?” is the exception, a ballad about a dying relationship. “All Alone” brings us back to dance pop and “Stars” closes out the album with a rousing beat and great tempo changes.

Though some songs could really do without the auto tune, this album is still superior to Aim and Ignite and their sound has really grown.

10.
chevelle
Chevelle
Hats Off to the Bull

This hard rock band’s fifth studio album is their best since 2002’s Wonder What’s Next. Though it technically was released in December of 2011, it still made it on this list because I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. The departure of bassist Joe Loefller in 2005 seems to have done wonders for the band, who are playing better than ever with new bassist Dean Bernardini.

“Face to the Floor”, the album’s first single, opens Bull with ferocity and the heavy riffs that Chevelle is known for. Pete Loeffler’s stylized vocals make this track stand out from the rest. “The Meddler” is probably my favorite track with a great chorus and a dark theme. (“Well, I don’t belong here, don’t fit your style. Felt your left foot, now meet my right.”) “Envy” is a slow burn, and really showcases how Pete can let his emotions out through his voice. (Best done in “One Lonely Visitor” from Wonder What’s Next). “Hats Off to the Bull” is a straight up rock song that rivals “Sleep Apnea” from 2009’s Sci-Fi Crimes. “Revenge” is another of my favorites, with some of the best lyrics here (“I’d let the panic ride and pin it on the wall. Identifying pride is the saddest of the chores. Those burning eyes indeed define a churning of the soul.”)

This could be seen as just another hard rock album from a hard rock artist from an outside point of view, but from a long time fan, it is stellar work and their best effort in years.