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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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Top Albums of 2013 (as chosen by Vas)

Band – Album – “Favorite Song”

  1. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation – “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral”

  2. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve – “Your Day Will Come”

  3. Balance & Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing – “Keepsake”

  4. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart – “Plain Sailing Weather”

  5. Kevin Devine – Bulldozer/Bubblegum – “Redbird”

  6. Into It. Over It. – Intersections – “Contractual Obligation”

  7. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk – “Backflip”

  8. Arctic Monkeys – AM – “R U Mine?”

  9. Citizen – Youth – “Roam the Room”

  10. The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever, If Ever – “Getting Sodas”

  11. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll – “Save Rock and Roll”

  12. Saves the Day – Saves the Day – “Ain’t No Kind of Love”

  13. The Swellers – Light Under Closed Doors – “Got Social”

  14. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence – “Elevator Days”

  15. Sainthood Reps – Headswell – “Headswell”

  16. Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean – “One Way Love”

  17. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – “Unbelievers”

  18. Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back – “This Old Ark”

  19. Polar Bear Club – Death Chorus – “WLWYCD”

  20. Paramore – Paramore – “Anklebiters”

2013 Top 5 EPs:

  1. Vinnie Caruana – City By The Sea

  2. Pentimento – Inside the Sea

  3. Their / They’re / There – Their / They’re / There

  4. Misser – Distancing

  5. Why Bother? – This Isn’t Very Good

 

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September Musical Roundup

by Cherie, blog founder

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Frank Turner

What can I say. Frank Turner is flawless. I’ve had his latest album, Tape Deck Heart, on repeat for a while now and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s easily my favorite album of his to date. If you like alternative, indie-folk/rock music, then give Frank a listen. Seriously, he has a song for every mood. His catalog is immense (5 LPs, 4 Eps, and 3 Compilation albums), and he is a fantastic story teller.

Arctic Monkeys

I’m only six years too late, I know, but I only recently started listening to British rock band the Arctic Monkeys. Their latest album, AM, has very few weak tracks on it; nearly every song is a potential single. It’s darker then some of their previous work, but there’s something empowering about it as well. The other album I’m really into right now is their first, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. It’s straight up rock and it’s apologetically British. From their very first album the Monkeys have never tried to change who they are and where they come from, and you have to respect them for it.

Vampire Weekend

With the release of their latest album, Modern Vampires of the City, I found myself also revisiting their older work as well. It’s a toss up between which album is my favorite, MVOTC or Contra, but the whole trilogy is awesome. Vampire Weekend truly are in a category of their own, and I look forward to what they do next. I could listen to Ezra’s vocals for days. In fact I may have done just that.

Ben Marwood

Although Ben is one of my newer musical discoveries, he’s actually been around for a while. He’s signed to the same label as Frank Turner, and in fact toured with him in the US last summer. If you ask Ben what kind of music he makes, he’ll probably describe it as “angry folk for enthusiastic people.” It might be angry folk music but it certainly is catchy. If you are reading this and you haven’t given him a listen, his music is available for free to stream on spotify. There’s no excuse to not give him a listen.

Ben Howard

Ben Howard also makes indie folk music, but he’s considerably less angry then Frank Turner or Ben Marwood. His album, Every Kingdom, is a masterpiece. It’s dark at times and uplifting at others. I read somewhere once that a lot of the guitar tracks on the album were recorded live and that any mistakes and imperfections were left in the final cut. I really like that idea: embracing imperfections instead of trying to gloss them over. Each track on the album takes the listener through an emotional journey of its own. If you’re looking for something uplifting check out “Keep Your Head Up” or “Old Pine.” If you’re looking for something a little darker try “Burgh Island” or “Black Flies.”

Bear’s Den

I already wrote up a short article on the band after seeing them play in New York, and have been listening to them ever since. They’ve only got one EP for sale in the US so far (Agape), though a second one is available elsewhere and a third is due to be released soon. For just a three piece band (drums, guitar, and banjo being the primary instruments) the band manages to produce a full sound and packs an emotional punch. My favorite track, “Pompeii” is a track off of their self-titled EP and you can easily find it on youtube. There also is a live version from the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover shows they played this summer that you can watch here.

Laura Marling

I don’t think I can say this enough. Laura’s latest album is flawless. Truly a musical masterpiece. You can read my previous post on the album here. Sometimes I forget that Marling is the same age as me, which makes all that she’s accomplished in her short career that much more impressive. From what I hear through the grapevine, Marling is continuing to debut new song after new song on the road, so it seems like we won’t be hearing the last of her anytime soon.

Marina and the Diamonds

Mariana is my go-to music when I want something fun to blast at full volume when I’m stuck in traffic driving home from work. Sure I might get some weird looks from other drivers when I’m dancing in my seat to “Primadonna” or “Oh No!” but I regret nothing. If you haven’t listened to Marina her first album, The Family Jewels, is in my opinion, her best work yet; though I do love Electra Heart as well. She’s got a fantastic range, and her music is definitely unique. 

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Midyear Roundup Part Three

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by Cherie, contributing writer and editor

It’s hard to believe the year is already half over. So much new music has been released already, and much more is yet to come, and it is to my chagrin that I realize how little of it I have listened to thus far. I’ve stuck with my favorite artists and bands for the most part, though a few new ones have snuck in. Most of the albums that made my top list for the midyear roundup won’t surprise anyone who knows me well, though there are some new favorites on here as well.

Tape Deck Heart – Frank Turner

When I asked Vas to contribute to this article, I knew without asking that Frank Turner would be on both our lists. Vas is the one who introduced me to Frank Turner in the first place, and once I started listening to him I fell in love. Frank Turner’s newest release, Tape Deck Heart, is an amazing album and in my opinion, his finest work to date (though that’s saying something since all his work is solid). Frank Turner might have started out as a solo artist, but his backing band has solidified over the years to become the Sleeping Souls (the name of the band itself is drawn from the lyrics of one of Frank’s songs, “I Am Disappeared”). Despite the presence of the Sleeping Souls on Frank’s last album, Tape Deck Heart is the first album that sounds like it was written and developed as a full band. Its sound is fuller and more solid then on previous albums, where the backing band was more of an afterthought.

One might say that Tape Deck Heart is a breakup album, something that Frank has been honest about all along. Track after track presents an emotional slap to the face. It’s raw, it’s honest and it’s unapologetic. Perhaps that’s what makes it so utterly relatable. Anyone who’s ever had a relationship go bad can relate to Turner’s lyrics, whether that relationship was romantic or not. “Goddamn it Amy / well of course I’ve changed / with all the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been / I’d be a machine if I had stayed the same. / You’re still back where we started / you haven’t changed at all” he sings on the devastatingly raw “Tell Tale Signs.” Some criticize the album for being too melancholic, and lacking the hope and uplifting spirit of previous albums but the hope is still there if you look hard enough. In what quickly became one of my favorite tracks, “Polaroid Picture”, he reminds us that “everything changes” so we should“let go of the little distractions / hold close to the ones that you love.” It’s a simple concept but one that so many of us forget each day.

Favorite tracks: Recovery, Tell Tale Signs, Broken Piano

Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

It’s been three years since Vampire Weekend released their hit album Contra. They began working on their next record in 2011 but the release date kept getting pushed back on the band until it was finally released in May 2013. The album experiments with auto tune on several tracks, most noticeably “Diane Young” and “Ya Hey.” I personally don’t understand the appeal that playing around with auto tune can have for artist, but as long as the auto tune is used creatively and not as a crutch for poor vocal performances I don’t really have a problem with it. “Unbelievers” sounds like a throwback to their earlier albums while still maintaining a more polished sound. It’s the perfect summer album. My advice to anyone who hasn’t listened to it yet is this. Go for a drive on a warm day, roll the window down and crank the volume. Ezra’s vocals shine through on the slower songs and the faster songs are guaranteed to put you in great mood as you dance along unconsciously.

Favorite tracks: Obvious Bicycle, Ya Hey, Diane Young

Once I Was an Eagle – Laura Marling

There’s not much that I can add about Laura Marling’s latest album that I haven’t already said in my review last month. Marling’s talent is undeniable and her latest album is nothing short of a masterpiece. She’s been compared from everyone to Dylan to Joni Mitchell and yet she crafts a sound that is uniquely her own all the same. Once I Was an Eagle might be her darkest album yet, but there’s hope in it all the same. It shows a level of growth and artistry that builds on her previous albums. I still find it hard to express why I love this album so much. It’s a flawless album from beginning to end and the sheer mastery of its execution baffles and delights me. I continue to be blown away by the sheer amount of talent and work ethic Marling possesses.

Favorite tracks: Devil’s Resting Place, Undine, I Was an Eagle

Honorable mentions:

Heart of Nowhere – Noah and the Whale. I haven’t had as much of a chance to listen to this as I would have liked, but just a few listens in I already love it. The violin parts, performed by Tom Hobden, have long been one of my favorite highlights of a Noah and a Whale record, and this remains true with this album.

Heartthrob – Tegan and Sara. I’m still amazed that Tegan and Sara are seven records into their careers and with every new release they give us something completely different. It’s not so much that they reinvent themselves, rather its more like they aren’t content to stay in one easily defined label. Their latest record is heavily pop based with a throwback feel to it.

If You Leave – Daughter. Elena Tonra creates hauntingly beautiful yet simple melodies. Her debut album features a few songs from her earlier EPs but most of the tracks are brand new. Its a solid debut album.

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My Favorite Spring Albums

by Cherie, contributing writer

Ah, spring in New England. It truly is a magical time of year. By the end of April we can finally put away the shovels and winter boots and at least be reasonably assured that we shouldn’t need them for another year. One of my favorite things about spring is the fact that I can finally roll down my windows and blast music on my way to work. It never fails to lift my mood. And while it’s true that I love all kinds of music, there’s just something about some albums that make them better to listen to at full volume with the wind rushing through your hair. Here’s what I’ll be listening to this spring.

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
This deserves an honorable mention because, despite the fact that I don’t feel the need to belt out every single song at full volume, its the perfect spring album. There’s something catchy about the band’s music, which is alternately laid back and upbeat, that makes it a perfect spring time listen. Favorite tracks: A-punk, Oxford Comma, Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

Where You Want to Be – Taking Back Sunday
To me, this is the quintessential TBS album. I think this might be my favorite TBS album, even beating out the much loved Tell All Your Friends. The vocal interplay between Lazzarra and Nolan is at its best on this album, and it has some of my favorite lyrics of all time. There’s very few albums I enjoy blasting at full volume and belting along more than this one. Favorite tracks: This Photograph is Proof (I Know You Know), New American Classic, Number Five With a Bullet, One Eighty By Summer

The Airborne Toxic Event – The Airborne Toxic Event
When they were first starting out, the music that TATE created was often referred to as “poetry you can dance to.” Try as I might I can’t come up with a better description of their music than that, especially when referencing their first album. Listening to this album at full volume while driving to work is like having an orchestral soundtrack. It’s beautiful and never fails to put me in a good mood. Favorite tracks: Wishing Well, Papillon, Does This Mean You’re Moving On?, Something New

The Family Jewels – Marina and the Diamonds
If you’re looking something more along the lines of power pop to listen to, then look no further than Marina and the Diamonds. Marina’s vocal range is unique and her power and control are remarkable. She’s definitely got a unique sound, and her songs are, without exception, lush creations that will get stuck in your head for days at a time. I highly recommend her to anyone who hasn’t already checked her out. Favorite tracks: Oh No!, Are You Satisfied?, Shampain, Hollywood

Steel Train – Steel Train
I love fun, but some really good bands were sacrificed so that fun could move forward. Unfortunately, Steel Train is one of those bands. The boys of Steel Train were just coming into their own as a band and creating their own unique sound, which makes it harder to see them on an indefinite hiatus. Regardless, their self titled album is an indie rock masterpiece. Antonoff and gang created a unique sound full of full-band vocals, guitar solos, and keyboard accompaniment. Favorite tracks: Touch Me Bad, Soldier in the Army, Bloody Lips, You are Dangerous

Babel – Mumford and Sons
There’s nothing like rolling down the road to the sound of banjos and horns blasting. The banjos are certainly back and louder than ever in Mumford and Son’s second album which is now a Grammy winning “album of the year” masterpiece. The soaring highs and the brokenhearted lows of the album are perfect for spring time listening. Favorite Tracks: Babel, Whispers in the Dark, Broken Crown, Hopeless Wanderer

Ocean Avenue – Yellowcard
One of the first pop punk albums I ever listened to, Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue has always had a place in my heart. It will forever remind me of summers spent on our camp at the lake, blasting the album from a boombox on the porch while my parents told me to turn it down. Spring and summer will always be the best time to listen to pop punk album’s such as this. Favorite tracks: Ocean Avenue, Empty Apartment, Inside Out, Way Away

Last Minutes and Lost Evenings – Frank Turner
This is kind of cheating since Last Minutes is a compilation album, but to be honest I couldn’t pick just one album to include on this list. Frank Turner is flawless, and every single one of this albums is ideal for making it onto a spring playlist. But this one is a compilation of some of his best songs. Favorite tracks: all of them but especially The Ballad of Me and My Friends

Every Kingdom – Ben Howard
I honestly think this might have been one of the best albums to come out of last year. The music itself is fairly simply, just a guitar, cello and Ben’s vocals (with some backing from India) but it is simply amazing. I can picture Ben sitting outside in the spring sun somewhere, busking these tracks (point in fact, Ben has done just that). It’s one of my more mellow picks for spring, but it is definitely a spring album all the same. Favorite tracks: Old Pine, The Wolves, The Fear, Keep Your Head Up

Aim and Ignite – fun
While I’m a huge fan of Some Nights, I have to say that nothing can beat Aim and Ignite. It combines the theatricality of The Format’s Dog Problems (Ruess’s previous band) with the more rock based elements of Steel Train (Antonoff). Just an all around feel good album produced by a very talented group of guys. Favorite tracks: At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be), Walking the Dog, All the Pretty Girls, Be Calm.

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