Monthly Archives: January 2014

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues Review

by Vasilis

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Sometimes, an album is just a collection of songs that can either be enjoyable or painful to listen to based on the quality of the product. Sometimes, an album can be so much more. Sometimes, as you’re listening to an album, you can feel the music’s importance that goes far beyond the chords. Sometimes, an album is an experience with a message that can change lives because of a subject matter which is not often addressed in an insightful or relatable way.

When Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) opened up about her life-long struggles with transgender dysphoria in 2012 and announced she would be living her life as a female, the punk world was shocked; thankfully, a large outpouring of love, support, and acceptance came from the community. In the following months, she announced the upcoming Against Me! album would follow that journey. Along the way the band hit many roadblocks, most notably the departure of drummer Jay Weinberg and long-time bassist Andrew Seward (which delayed the album’s release) and the choice to drop off a supporting slot on tour with Bad Religion. With Fat Mike (NoFX) and Atom Willard (Rocket from the Crypt, Angels & Airwaves) taking over the duties on the album, the album eventually came together in time for an early 2014 release.

Fans concerned about a possible change in Laura’s voice will be happy to hear her familiar snarl and aggression on display in full force throughout the album, accompanied by an undeniable confidence that boosts the urgency of the lyrics. Additionally, the music carries the familiar punk aesthetic as albums past, with rumbling drums and crunchy distorted guitars leading the charge on album opener “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”. Laura pines for acceptance, screaming “You want them to notice/the ragged ends of your summer dress/you want them to see you/like they see every other girl/they just see a faggot/they’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.” It’s a blunt and painful look into her world like we’ve never seen before.

“True Trans Soul Rebel” continues to dive into the alienation and fear that comes with the struggle, wondering aloud “does God bless your transsexual heart, true trans soul rebel” before wailing “you should’ve been a mother/you should’ve been a while/you should’ve been gone from here years ago/you should be living a different life.” On “Paralytic States”, Laura continues to lament that she’s “never quite the woman that she wanted to be.” “Drinking With the Jocks” kicks the album into punk overdrive with a scathing guitar-driven verses as Laura laments hanging with jocks and laughing at gay people to try to fit in while struggling with her own inner turmoil.

Though Against Me! is above all a loud and pissed off punk band, it’s the more thoughtful quiet tracks that really exhibits the band’s talent. “Two Coffins” is a hushed acoustic ballad that pines for the days of lying in a coffin next to the love of your life with the emotional lines like, “How lucky I ever was to see/the way you smiled at me/your little moon face smiling bright at me/one day soon there’ll be nothing left of you and me.” The songs’ lyrics and guitar work paint a beautifully poetic portrait of death and longing. Laura touches on the subject of death throughout the album, notably on the stellar song “Dead Friend.” Though the lyrics are painfully self-exploratory, the music maintains a catchy and appealing sincerity to it that helps drive the message home harder. The band explores the more pop-centered sounds they did on their latter albums White Crosses and New Wave, but does them with more force, confidence, and immediacy, which helps that style succeed even more here.

Against Me! saves the best for last, turning in one of their best songs with “Black Me Out”. The band has often had brilliant album closers that provided great closure to their records, but this one seems as pertinent and appropriate as any of those. The song serves as a mission statement for the album, representing the urge to start over and to find acceptance in yourself. The song’s subdued opening verse builds to a bitter, angry proclamation of “black me out/I want to piss on the walls of your house/I want to chop that brass ring off your fat fucking finger/as if you were a kingmaker.” The song hints at rebirth, both for the band and for Laura, who is looking for a new life herself and to be erased from the lives of all the people who have not accepted her and chided her in the past for who she was. With “Black Me Out” the process of her transformation feels complete and she embraces who she is without needed anyone’s approval.

It’s often necessary to separate the music and the message in order to properly judge the content. After all, just because music has a good message or a purpose you agree with doesn’t guarantee the music is good. However, in cases like this, to try and separate the two would dilute the album’s impact and not do it the justice it deserves. With Transgender Dysophoria Blues, Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! have created an album that succeeds with its brash boldness, its unwavering honesty, and its unfettered freedom. The music is so immediate and impactful and the lyrics are so eye-opening that it begs the listener to pay close attention to a subject they may have never thought twice about. At the end of the day, this will not go down as the best album of the year; however, it will go down as one of the most important musical endeavors of 2014. The peace and freedom Laura Jane Grace was able to find in herself through this labor of love can be the catalyst to a fan struggling with the same issues finding their own comfort. For a simple half-hour long punk album, the thought is truly beautiful and respectable.

Writer’s Note: To those who haven’t read the hyperlinked Rolling Stone article recounting her life struggles, I strongly suggest taking the time to dive into it. It is worth your time.

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Johnny Flynn at Brighton Music Hall 1-17-14

by Cherie

Boston loves folk music.

Every time I’ve been to a folk show in Boston the audience has been incredible, and it doesn’t matter what the venue is. I’ve seen Laura Marling play at Berklee just a year after she played a small bar in Allston, and the crowd was just as respectful at the bar as they were at the performing arts center. This past week I had the honor of seeing one of my favorite folk artists, Johnny Flynn, play a sold out show at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston and the experience was simply amazing.

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The opening band, The Melodic, put on a great opening set. The band apologized for not having their bass player with them, explaining that he was denied a visa because he didn’t pay his train fines. “You might think we’re just a folk band, but we’re actually rock and roll,” Huw Williams, the lead singer, joked. Captivating the crowd with the hauntingly tragic “Ode to Victor Jara,” the band quickly won the crowd over, despite being relatively unknown. By the end of their set they had the crowd clapping and dancing along with them. Part of the reason they were able to win the crowd over so easily was because of their obvious love of music. Despite being an opening act, and only having one album under their belt, the band played with confidence and a contagious sense of joy. They were the perfect opening band for Johnny Flynn and I look forward to seeing them the next time they are in town.

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After The Melodic played, Johnny Flynn came on and put on a captivating performance. Despite lacking his backing band (Johnny joked they heard about the Polar Vortex and were scared off), Flynn commanded the stage and the attention of the entire crowd from start to finish. You could hear a pin drop during his stunning performance of “Been Listening”, even when he elongated the pause between chords. The crowd was fully invested in the performance, and showed that they were familiar with both old and new songs. When playing a song he hadn’t played in years, Shore to Shore, Flynn forgot the lyrics and looked slightly lost. The crowd didn’t let a beat go, singing the song for him until he was able to get back on track.

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Not one to let a lack of band or partner deter him, Johnny announced mindset that he was going to play a duet. He invited the crowd to sing along with him if they knew the words and the resulting performance went on to steal the show. The crowd not only sang along with Johnny, but they provided the best backing vocals I’ve ever heard at a concert. No one tried to out sing their neighbor, and the overall sound was on key. It was one of those moments that happens every once in a while at a concert and it makes you fall in love with music all over again. Words can’t even describe how perfect the moment was.

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When it came time for the encore, Johnny appeared back on stage mere minutes after exiting it. As he tuned his guitar in anticipation for a new song, he appeared to be pondering what to play next. An enthusiastic crowd member shouted out a request for a “hillbilly song,” prompting a chuckle from Johnny. Inspired by the request, he chose to play “Linden Lea”, an old English folk song he had adapted in 2012 for A Bag of Hammers film soundtrack (which he wrote and preformed). He tuned the guitar for another minute or so, joking that he had to remember how to play it and prompting the crowd to laugh. Johnny ended the set with Tickle Me Pink, and he once more invited the crowd to sing along with him. When it got to the last chorus the crowd took over once more, and Johnny stepped back from the mic and just listened with a smile. It was a beautiful moment, and the perfect end to a great set.

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All photos from this article are taken by Kenami. You can check out the rest of his photos from Johnny Flynn’s set at Le Poisson Rouge over on his tumblr.

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Weekly Mix for January 17, 2014

by Cherie

In honor of, finally, getting to see Johnny Flynn tonight at the Brighton Music Hall, this weeks playlist is inspired by British indie-folk. Many of the bands on this list are linked in some way; whether it be because they have formed out of each other (Laura Marling got her start singing background vocals for Noah and the Whale before she went solo and Marcus Mumford used to play drums for Laura Marling before he formed Mumford and Son), or simply because they have toured together in the past. When I tell people that my favorite genre of music right now is folk, I tend to get a lot of weird looks. People have a lot of mistaken ideas that folk music has to be mellow and acoustic based. And while that might be true of a lot of songs, there’s a lot of music that’s been categorized as folk recently that would defy that label. For example, “Shuffle” by Bombay Bicycle Club is an upbeat, piano driven melody that is raucous and guaranteed to get you tapping your feet. King Charles also defies expectations by combining glam rock, pop, and indie into a sound that is catchy and uniquely his own. And Johnny Flynn’s “Cold Bread” is dark and intense with a horn section solo that is quite the opposite from what one would expect from a folk artist.

So listen, and enjoy, some of my favorite indie folk tunes.

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Ten Albums I am Looking Forward to in 2014

by Vasilis

My favorite thing about the new year is the promise of new music, which is always unpredictable and exciting. Any given band can put out the album of their career (The Wonder Years in 2013), but any given band can also release the biggest dud and make fans question “what happened?” (Transit in 2013). Cherie and I posted our favorite albums from 2013, but now I want to take a look at some albums I’m very excited for.

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You Blew ItKeep Doing What You’re Doing – January 14

I’m cheating a bit on this one because I’ve already heard the stream on Pitchfork, but even before that I was highly anticipating this one knowing that Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It.) would be producing it. Their first album was enjoyable, easily relatable angsty emo but having a pro like Evan in the mix is a sure-fire way to get the best out of their sound; it comes as no surprise that this album sounds huge and purposeful, easily surpassing and building on their debut album Grow Up, Dude.

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Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues – January 21

This album may go down as the most important album of the year, not only because of the singer but because of the important message behind it. Laura Jane Grace made waves after she came out as transgender in 2012 (she was formerly Tom Gabel). After struggling with the decision, this album provided a sense of liberation, promising to be a deep self-examination that can also serve as a huge point of relief and empowerment, both for Laura and for any fans struggling with the same issues.

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Modern Baseball You’re Gonna Miss It All – February 11

Modern Baseball certainly are not for everyone. Their emo sound can often come off as sloppy and uninviting but when they click, they click. SPORTS was an enjoyably quirky and heartfelt debut that gained the band a decent following and a spot on several tours. The first couple songs they’ve released on this album have already shown improvement in songwriting, leading the way for a potentially huge sophomore effort.

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Bayside CULT – February 18

Bayside are one of my three favorite bands, so this should come as no surprise. Signing to Hopeless Records (Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday, The Wonder Years) should finally provide them the support they need after Victory and Wind-Up did very little for the band. “Pigsty” and “Hate Me” continue to display the consistently stellar heart-pounding punk sound with angst-ridden lyrics that made Killing Time the band’s best work.

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I Am the AvalancheWolverines – March 18

Between label and personal troubles, it took I Am the Avalanche six years to follow up their debut album I Am the Avalanche with the incredible Avalanche United; this time it is only taking a little over two years. As one of Long Island’s most well-known frontmen, I must say the more Vinnie Caruana we get, the better. This album should be just as fast and furious as their sophomore release, which was my third favorite record from 2011.

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La Dispute Rooms of the House – March 18

La Dispute’s last album Wildlife was an emotionally taxing experience that kept you on the edge of your seat like a Hollywood thriller. Clocking in at a little under one hour, both their previous albums can best be described as unforgettable. With their sound only improving and growing over time, Rooms of the House should be memorable.

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Manchester OrchestraCope – April 1(Tentative)

This album has been a long time coming. Though Simple Math fell far short of expectations for many fans and myself, it had its share of epic tracks (“Virgin”, “Pensacola”) and the band is not far removed from Mean Everything to Nothing, one of my personal favorite albums. If the album is anything like the two songs they played live on their last headlining tour, this will be a good one.

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Blink-182 TBA – TBA

I don’t care that it’s 2014 and I’m turning 25, a new Blink-182 album is always welcome, especially after their hiatus. Though not nearly as memorable as their prior albums, Neighborhoods was a solid listen and displayed some of their best songs (“Wishing Well”, Kaleidoscope”, “Natives”). Mark Hoppus promises more risks and says the band record this album together in the same room; collaboration is where this band writes their absolute best music. The band promises a new album by late summer.

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Brand New TBA – TBA

This, by its very nature, is an extremely dangerous thing to write down. Brand New has topped my list (and almost everyone’s list, it seems) since 2011, yet not so much as one new song has come out since Daisy came out in 2009. I may be jinxing it, but I really do have a feeling this is the year; call it a hunch. The band announced at their last show of 2013 that they are finally getting back to the studio this year and will be touring more like a normal band this year. All I can say is, “I hope so.”

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FireworksTBA – TBA

Though not an enviable position, Fireworks probably hold the title of most underrated pop punk. Their last album Gospel was seen by many as groundbreaking for the genre, yet they hardly toured for it and never mustered the buzz and support bands like The Wonder Years and The Story So Far get. My heart goes out to these guys; they’re hard-working and very talented. I hope this album gets them the support they deserve.

There is also talk or confirmation of new albums coming from several great bands (Foo Fighters, Motion City Soundtrack, Say Anything Taking Back Sunday, The Early November, The Gaslight Anthem, Yellowcard) and, as always, there is the chance of a surprise release from a newcomer or unknown band that turns into a pleasant surprise. With all these bands and more putting out new music, 2014 promises to be just as good as 2013.

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Measuring a Year in Music

by Cherie

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I kicked off the year with a bang, going to see the Vaccines play a headlining show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The Paradise Rock Club is one of my favorite Boston venues, because its just small enough that there’s really no bad spot in the house. The openers for the show were a (relatively) unknown band from Australia named San Cisco. I looked up their music ahead of time and was impressed by their catchy first single, Awkward. San Cisco is group of young kids, just barely out of high school, but they put on a great live set. I was an instant fan after seeing them live. The Vaccines put on a tremendous set as well. Some might criticize Justin’s vocal performance, which was less than perfect, but he puts so much energy into his live sets its hard to not be won over by his passion and enthusiasm.

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Next I got the chance to see English folk artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich play a set for Radio BDC at Naga in Boston. The venue was beautiful, with hanging glass above the bar; but the crowd was less than respectful during the show. Leftwich is a very mellow artist, its just him and his acoustic guitar, and there was a group of obnoxious people over at the bar who were disrespectfully loud throughout his set. He made sure to call them out on it though, causing the rest of us to laugh. I got the chance to meet him after and he truly is a sweet guy.

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Not long after I saw San Cisco open for the Vaccines I was thrilled to hear that the band was coming back through Boston for their first US Headlining Tour. They played Great Scott in Alston, another one of my favorite venues. The support bands were great, and I discovered a great local artist (Steph Barrack) when she opened for the band. My fellow concert goer was more impressed by Chaos Chaos, who won me over with their live vocals but also for having a oboe in their backing band. San Cisco put on a great live set, and we even got to meet the band afterward. The band swung back through one more time in July, and we were there front and center once more. Mark my words, they really are a fantastic band and they have such a bright future ahead of them. It will be fun watching them grow over the years.

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It was a long, hot July, but the hottest day by far was the day I saw Frank Turner in Portland, Maine. There’s no reason the show should have been as hot as it was, the day was actually cool and rainy but for some reason the temperature inside the venue was off the charts. After just a couple of songs Frank was drenched in sweat and joked about it being the hottest show he’d ever done. It was an amazing experience getting to see Frank perform songs off of Tape Deck Heart which is one of my favorite albums of 2013.

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I also got the chance to see the amazing Ben Marwoos, sorry Ben Marwood, open for Frank Turner; which ended up being a more momentous experience then I realized at the time. After every show I go to I try to find the setlist and burn a copy of the setlist onto a CD. I make personalized art work and everything (though its really nothing that special to be honest). When I realized that I probably wasn’t going to find Ben’s setlist on setlist.fm (my usual source for the information), I felt like I was facing a brick wall. On a whim I reached out to Ben via e-mail, not expecting to ever hear back from him. To my surprise he responded almost instantly, revealing that he actually keeps a notebook full of setlists and promptly sent me the information I had asked for. Realizing what a great opportunity I had I immediately thanked him and asked him if he’d be willing to do a short interview for my music blog and he instantly agreed (you can read the article here and the full interview here). It was the first “big scoop” for the blog, and I will always be proud that my first interview was with Ben (seriously, he’s such a talented guy, you should check out his music if you haven’t yet).

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August brought one of the biggest concerts of the year. Mumford and Sons had announced a show in Queens, NY and with the help and company of some good friends, I had the chance to go. It was an unbelievable experience. The crowd might have sucked, but the company I was in certainly didn’t. Forest Hills Stadium was an incredible venue, being a converted tennis stadium, and despite the hiccups I hope they finish the restoration project and restore it to a concert venue in the future. I fell in love with the opening band, Bear’s Den, who put on an amazing set despite only having three members. The Vaccines came next, and the highlight from their set was when Winston Marshall, from Mumford and Sons, came out to play guitar on a couple of songs.

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Mumford and Sons themselves were, of course, amazing. Words can’t express my love for this band. They are such a great band, and their songs have helped me through some really hard times. Their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover shows are such an amazing experience; I’m glad I got to experience not just one but two of them. When news broke a few weeks later of their temporary hiatus I was sad, but happy I got to see them twice before they went on break. Rumor has it the boys will be back in the studio in February working on the new album. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take them as long to write album #3 as it did to write their second album!

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My last concert of 2013 was Noah and the Whale, and what a fitting way to close out the year. This was my second time seeing the band, but this year they were playing the House of Blues; a step up from their last show at the Paradise Rock Club. They blew me away once more. NATW are one of those bands that are made to perform live. Not only did they sound fantastic, but they also dug deep and played songs off their debut album that don’t get played much more. A highlight for me had to be hearing “Mary” played live.

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After the show we stuck around for a little bit hoping to meet the band. We picked a time to hang out until and decided that if they didn’t come out by that point we would give up. It was cold and windy and with our light jackets we were soon freezing. The time came and passed and no band. I didn’t mention the time to my friend, hoping she wouldn’t realize it and we could stick around a little bit longer. Eventually our patience paid off and the band exited the venue. They seemed surprised to see so many people waiting for them, perhaps because of the weather, but they cheerfully stuck around for pictures. They were the band that really introduced me to British indie folk music, and getting the chance to meet them was truly awesome.

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But the biggest highlight of 2013 for me had to be Lyrically Addicted. For years I’d had the idea to start some sort of music project, though the specifics were always vague in my mind as to what exactly that project would entail. In May I finally solidified the idea, creating Lyrically Addicted as a sort of music blog, and inviting two of my closest friends to take part with me. It’s been difficult at times, trying to come up with new ideas for stories and debating the relative merits of various albums that were released this year. The whole thing has been a blast so far, and if you’re reading this right now, thank you so much. Your support (even if it’s just silent support) means a lot to me and the rest of the team. I’m proud to announce that by the end of 2013 we reached 2,023 views!

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Top Albums of 2013

By Cherie

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I run a music blog. I’m practically obligated to write an end of the year list. So here’s my top 15 albums of 2013. You can also listen to a playlist of some of my favorite songs from 2013 (including tracks from artists who didn’t make this list) over on spotify.

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15. Heartthrob – Tegan and Sara

Its hard to believe the Quin sisters have been in the business for almost twenty years. Every album they put out has a completely different style and sound from the one before it, while still managing to stay true to their core values. For their latest album Tegan and Sara tackle a more synth and pop based sound, toning down the guitars and turning up the keyboards. Some might criticize the duo for selling out, but then they would be missing the whole point. It’s an evolution in sound but not a complete departure; an important distinction. It might be a surprising path for them to have taken, but its certainly not a bad one.

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14. If You Leave – Daughter

Truly, one of the most poignant and beautiful albums to come out in 2013. Elena Tonra’s voice is stunning, and its striking to have her voice framed by a backing band, unlike her previous releases. There was a song she had previously released on an EP that was rereleased on this album that came out at a time when I was really struggling with the death of someone close to me. Now I can’t listen to the song “Youth” without thinking of her. The album is dark at times, yet enchantingly so.

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13. San Cisco – San Cisco

Its an impressive debut album, especially when you consider the fact that most of the band members are barely out of high school. Some of the melodies are childish but manage to be completely infectious at the same time. Where the album shines most, however, is in pure potential. Combine pure talent with brilliant live sets and its plain that this young band is only going to continue to improve. If you haven’t already heard of the band, look up their song “Awkward”. After you stop cursing me in a week for getting it stuck in your hear, you’ll thank me. I promise.

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12. Heart of Nowhere – Noah and the Whale

Noah and the Whale have always been one of those bands that are at their best for their live performances. So deciding to record their fourth album live was a natural decision for the band and it certainly paid off. The album is fuller, more vibrant than their previous albums, giving it a more mature sound. Its a more honest and personal album for Fink and for that reason it resonates more deeply with listeners. Many tracks are backed by a lush orchestra in addition to Hobden’s fiddle, creating a sweeping sound that one can perfectly imagine as the soundtrack to a movie (which in fact, it is).

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11. Trouble Will Find Me – The National

Without even noticing it this album has kind of become the soundtrack to my writing. Trouble Will Find Me manages to sound utterly effortless from track to track and is proudly confident without coming across as boastful or contrived. During the recording process the band’s recording studio lost power, and band members found themselves taking part in an impromptu acoustic jam session. Something of that session shows through in the quieter tracks, such as “I Should Live in Salt” and “This is the Last Time.”

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10. Country Mile – Johnny Flynn

A couple of the albums on this list have been recorded live (both Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale have chosen the technique in their latest records), but Johnny Flynn has taken the idea to a different level. Not only are most of the tracks recorded live, but the “final” versions that have made it onto the album are often demos. The rougher and more organic sound to the tracks certainly suits Flynn, who looks at home in a rustic sweater and a guitar in his hands. His lyrics are quaint with the occasional archaic turn of phrase (he is a Shakespearean actor after all). The most compelling track on the album, “Einstein’s Idea” is a lullaby written for Flynn’s two year old son. The lyrics might be a little dense for a two year old, fancy trying to explain the Theory of Relativity to a two year old, but one can easily picture Flynn singing it to his son with its hushed words and muted chords.

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9. Such Hot Blood – The Airborne Toxic Event

Although The Airborne Toxic Event may have largely ditched the orchestral sound in favor of a more pop rock sound, Such Hot Blood manages to be just as catch as the band’s previous two albums. The common themes of the album are familiar as well; love and loss. “Timeless” is a heartfelt anthem that anyone who has ever lost someone close to them can instantly relate to. “Just help me through this moment / after everything I told you / how the weight of their loss is like the weight of the sun / I see their faces near me / I hear their voices calling / it was like their lives were over before they begun” Jollett sings in the bridge. The words have the potential to be cheesy and cliché, but Jollett delivers them with such passion and conviction that one immediately senses the truth in them. “True Love” features a mandolin as the driving instrument, lending a quirky sound to the track. And the tongue in cheek “Elizabeth” provides the perfect ending to the album.

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8. Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

I’d always been a casual Vampire Weekend fan; I knew the hit songs and I loved their unique music videos, but I never listened to an album start to finish. MVOTC was their first album I really fell in love with. It has a more mature sound than their older stuff, though the lighthearted silliness hasn’t been abandoned either. The album plays around with various sounding styles as well as recording techniques. The first single, “Diane Young” was a perfect representation of what the rest of the album would be like.

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7. Bad Blood – Bastille

Sometimes an album comes along that sounds fantastic recorded, but I hesitate because I wonder how well that sound will translate live. In the case of Bastille, the answer was that they just might sound better live. Group backing vocals help to make the songs sound epic and lush. Though their song Pompeii might have been overplayed on the radio (one of the reasons I am not sorry that I don’t listen to the radio), they have plenty of other songs that are just as good.

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6. AM – Arctic Monkeys

2013 will forever be known as the year I finally started listening to the Arctic Monkeys. And believe me, I’ve been kicking myself ever since. AM might just be their best album yet. Its smoother, bolder, and more mature sounding. The band experiments a little with an edgier, hip hop influenced sound that is most obvious on songs like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”. Turner’s vocals are clearer then ever, with none of the raspyness of previous albums. The best song on the album is actually a throwback from Record Day 2012; R U Mine?. The album delivers hit after hit without a single weeks spot. Looking back at their past albums its amazing to see how far a band of teenagers from Sheffield have come. Even their B-sides wouldn’t sound amiss on the actual album itself and the band has released three paired with three singles off of AM.

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5. Back Down – Ben Marwood

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a passionate voice, Ben Marwood has often been compared to label mate Frank Turner. I don’t really think that’s a fair comparison, though I love both artists greatly. Ben’s sound is simple; with no backing band (at least at this point in time), its just him and his guitar. But that’s all he needs to draw you in. His songs are brutally honest at times, to the point where he acknowledges his flaws unflinchingly. “I’m past the cusp of thirty and I swear I’m getting fatter by the day” he sings on the cynical track “This Industry Eats Its Young.” But there’s a measure of hope in his songs as well. He’s a man who loves what he does, though it might not be the most profitable profession, and that shows. “If I had a point I don’t know what it was / some days I stand on stage for little reason but because / and though I’ve wasted days you know I won’t take back these nights,” he sings on “We Are No Longer Twenty-Five”.

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4. Birthdays – Keaton Henson

There’s just something about this album that draws a listener in. At first, I was quick to dismiss the album as being too mellow, but the more I listened the more I came to appreciate it. Its true most of the songs are just Henson and his guitar, but the tracks build in intensity, culminating in the heavy double punch of “Kronos” and “Beekeeper.” Most of the lyrics are utterly heartbreaking and are delivered with obvious passion and conviction. The melodies are hauntingly melancholic but beautiful at the same time. One listen and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Henson is a poet who gets so nervous about performing live that he rarely does so; only playing in small venues and museums from time to time.

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3. Don’t Forget Who You Are – Miles Kane

 Don’t Forget Who You Are is the album that you put on before you go out on a Friday night. Its catchy riffs and upbeat rhythm at time mask darker lyrics, and its only on closer inspection that one would notice the melancholy that threads through various tracks on the album. The overall theme of the album is about being proud of where you’ve come from and never forgetting that; no matter where that might be. Miles has been a member in several successful bands over the years: the Little Flames, The Rascals, and, most famously, the Last Shadow Puppets. But its only as a solo artist that he’s really made a sound of his own and started to realize his full potential. Although his debut album might be considered by some to be his better technical work, Don’t Forget Who You Are is a better representation of his character. Its a very empowering album.

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2. Tape Deck Heart – Frank Turner

There are some artists who just keep getting better and better. With every album they release you think to yourself, “this is it. They can’t possible top this.” And then they do. Frank Turner is one of these artists. Since going solo in 2005 every single record he’s put out has been fantastic, but 2011’s England Keep My Bones was his crowning achievement to that date. I didn’t think it was possible for him to put out a better album. And then Tape Deck Heart was released. I think I’ve said just about all I can say about the album throughout the course of the year, but Tape Deck Heart really is his best album yet. It’s raw and honest and has passion pouring from every note and chord. The slow songs (“Tell Tale Signs” and “Anymore”) will break your heart, but the punk anthems of “Four Simple Words” and “We Shall Not Overcome” will have you dancing around the room belting out the words. Its a typical Frank Turner album that delicately balances highs and lows with both wit and precision. His lyrical ability is at the top of his game as well; look up the lyrics for “Broken Piano” if you have the time (I’d paste it here but there’s not room for me to paste the entire song).

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1. Once I Was an Eagle – Laura Marling

At this point in her career I’m convinced that Laura Marling can do no wrong. For her fourth studio album Marling has ditched her backing band and once more struck out solo. The resulting masterpiece is easily her best work yet and once again affirms her stunning talent. The album is roughly divided up into two parts, separated by the instrumental track named, simply, “Interlude”. The first half is notably darker, and most of it is taken over by the “medley”: four tracks that Marling wrote and polished separately but eventually weaved into what basically amounts to one long song. The tracks are separate songs, however, and are titled individual. Marling often plays the tracks live and individually as well. The dark and haunting first half of the album is perfectly balanced by the second half which is cautiously optimistic. Some fans might wish for a return to her earlier music, but Marling has clearly matured since she released her debut album just six years ago at the age of eighteen. Having recently left England to live in LA, one can only imagine what Marling will do next. I, for one, can’t wait to see.

 

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