(Near) The Top of the Crop

In a few weeks I will be posting my top 10 favorite records of 2014, with a short paragraph or two of my thoughts of the top 5.

Today is not about those records. Today is about 5 records that will not make my top 10, but that I think you should check out anyway.

In no particular order…

This Wild Life- Clouded- The duo’s major label debut is an acoustic/pop punk tinged masterpiece. The songs are wonderfully crafted, and the harmonies are beautiful. The band had a breakout year, including a full stint on the Van’s Warped Tour and an appearance on The Bachelorette. Check out “Over It” here.

I Am The Avalanche-Wolverines- IATA is one of my favorite bands. I love the raw and uninhibited energy in the bands music and frontman Vinnie’s voice. This record didn’t quite blow me out of the water the way their previous two releases did, but there are a lot of songs on it that I really enjoy. Check out “Where Were You?” here.

Baby Baby-Big Boy Baller Club- The way I discovered this band is comical. We were eating at a hole in the wall BBQ restaurant in our old neighborhood and Baby Baby was playing an acoustic set. The rest of the place pretty much checked out, but my wife and I had a blast. The record is straight up party style punk rock. It is fun, energetic, and danceable. We are seeing them play full band at The Stuffing this week with Manchester Orchestra and can not wait. Check out “Keep On Dancing” here.

Say Anything-Hebrews- I’ve always loved Say Anything. If someone asked me to pick a favorite record, I couldn’t. This record would probably come in fourth. Not because it is bad, not at all, simply because of how much i love 3 of the others. A drastic improvement from its predecessor, Hebrews is both spastic and reserved. Max Bemis and his entourage of guest vocalists put forth an onslaught that has to be heard to be believed. Check out “Six Six Six” here.

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness- Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness- Andrew McMahon, formerly of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, is probably one of the top songwriters in his ‘scene’. This album is no exception. Pop-rock glory is all I can say. Several of these songs could be top 40 hits if marketed correctly. Check out “Canyon Moon” here.

There you have it, my true Top 10 will follow in the coming weeks.

The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me (And I Love Every Minute Of It)

A few weeks ago i finally had the honor, privilege, and downright pleasure of seeing my favorite band of all time play 21 songs live and in person. And it was all I ever could have dreamed it would be. Brand New is everything.

For some of you, seeing your favorite band or artist may be really common place or really easy. Maybe they are local, or maybe they make it to your city twice a year like most touring bands. For others of you, you will never be able to see your favorite band live because they are either not a band anymore or are dead. Sorry, Beatles fans…

But what is so tricky about trying to see Brand New is that they are nothing short of elusive. A large part of their image is their mystique, an air of mystery shrouds the band and everything that they do. They have vanished from the face of the earth for months at a time, a year and a half at one point. They have not released new music since 2009, and haven’t played a show in Atlanta since 2008. I was in high school. For months i lived with the fear that Brand New would announce their end and i would live my life never seeing them live.

Needless to say when they announced a show in Birmingham, a mere two hour drive from Atlanta, I bought tickets as soon as they were on sale. The fact that the very next day they announced a show in Atlanta at my favorite venue is besides the point.

The show was a relatively new venue in Birmingham called Iron City. It’s a really nice two story venue with probably around 1500 capacity. One thing that I really appreciated about it was that they had a pretty large selection of local craft beers on tap, a nice change from Bud and PBR that are available at most music venues. The opening bands, Foxing and Cymbals Eat Guitars were great, which is to be expected when Brand New hand picks tour mates.

Then, finally, after years of waiting, the houselights went dark, and Olivia Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting” was blared over the PA. Not the intro, or even the chorus, but THE ENTIRE DAMN SONG. Just another instance of Brand New cruelly taunting their adoring fans. Six minutes later, they took the stage.

The setlist was everything i could have asked for. They played all of my favorite songs, sans one, and pulled out three unreleased demos they haven’t played much before. Jesse Lacey’s vocals sounded spot on the entire night, and so full of passion. Brand New is known for experimenting live with some of their songs, and it was really cool to hear some of the renditions they pulled out.

This show felt really different for me in every way. I normally dance and move around and scream my throat raw along with every song. But this night i literally found myself at a loss for words. I simply stood, mouth half agape, and watched and listened in awe. I even closed my eyes for a little bit and just vanished into the sound, which is so unlike me. I don’t even close my eyes when i pray.

Another thing that was fascinating was Brand New’s minimal crowd interaction. They were backlit the entire time, couldn’t see their faces once, and spoke a total of five words the whole night. “We’re called Brand New. Thanks.” I usually love hearing a band be real and interact with a crowd, but for Brand New, this worked.

If you don’t like Brand New, i get that. If you don’t like live music, i get that too. But everyone loves feeling like they belong, feeling like they are a part of something special, and that is what I felt standing in that venue in Birmingham. Now i relive that moment every time i hear a Brand New song, I feel that emotion in every note. I will always love Brand New, and thanks to their music i will never forget that night.

Shelter from cold. We are never alone. Coordinate brain to mouth. Ask me what it’s like to have myself so figured out. I wish i knew…

Out Of The Woods (Into The Record Books)

Taylor Swift’s 5th full length record is titled 1989, after the year she was born. It may need to be re-released as 2014, because I believe we are seeing who she really is for the first time. And the thing is, I think a lot of people are going to agree with me.

When America’s darling songwriter announced that this release was going to her “first official pop album”, a lot of fans got incredibly nervous. People were worried that she was going to become just another machine churning out ‘bubble gum pop’ songs a la Ariana Grande and Miley Twerkmaster Cyrus, and lead single ‘Shake It Off’ did not help to sway that notion. Don’t get me wrong, I love the song. But it is very run of the mill, definition pop music. After my first full listen of the record, I was so relieved to hear that this is not the case with the whole thing. Not in the slightest.

In many ways, 1989 is representative of everything happening in pop music and also something really unique. Taylor jumps on board with the 80s style synth pop revival happening with bands like Bleachers and Imogen Heap, both of which co-wrote songs on the record with Swift. By blending this style with unbelievably catchy hooks and Taylor’s genuine likability, this record will change her career in the very best way possible.

But I’m not here to talk about this melody and that tuning, or why time signature ‘x’ is better than time signature ‘y’, because I don’t know any of that stuff. Here is a list of things about this record that I do know.

1. There are 9 songs on this album that I think have potential to be #1 singles. Michael Jackson and Katy Perry currently hold the record for 5 #1s on one record. This could easily top that if they are promoted and released appropriately.

2. The album is on track to sell over 1.3 MILLION records in the first week. This is impressive on several levels. Not a single record released in 2014 has sold 1 million records all year long. Also, 1989 was originally projected to sell 750,000 copies week one. In a time when nobody is buying albums anymore, people are buying this en masse.

3. Lyrically, this is Tay Tay at her truest. It’s raw, emotional, and so much more mature than anything else she has released. And, as we all know way too well at this point, she is shaking off all the haters.

4. Her vocals have never sounded better.

I keep calling it a record, which obviously and technically it is, but my biggest problem with 1989 is that it doesn’t really feel like a record. It feels like a collection of amazing singles. Which is totally fine, people buy singles these days, rarely full albums. In my mind, though, Taylor Swift has always been really good at unifying killer singles into the experience of a full record. Maybe this is a fluke, or maybe this is just the new standard for her. Only time will tell.

I heard someone say the other day that Taylor Swift is really the first pop star since MJ that is universally liked or loved by almost everyone, and I really thank that is true. Think about it- you like her, your mom likes her, your neighbors like her, your boss likes her; hell even your granny would probably shake it off a little bit. I think this is a really great thing for our culture. She is sweet, innocent, and does a great job engaging with her fans via social media.

She really is America’s sweetheart, and we better get used to her, because she is going to be talked about for a very, very long time.