2014 is already underway, but I can’t help but reflect upon the previous year in music. 2013 was an interesting year, that’s for sure. For me, music is growing more and more into this “big picture” that I imagine in my mind, where all of the artists who have ever been involved in my life roam. Some are leaving, some are entering, but altogether, there’s a lot to say about them all. These are my top 10 observations from the past year. While not necessarily all are optimistic impressions, many are an excellent reminder that a ton of good music still exists. Yes, even on the radio.
1. Comebacks are possible. In fact, they’re better than never going away in the first place. Just ask Justin Timberlake, Fall Out Boy, and Paramore.
JT released his first album since 2006, and not just a single album either. A two-part album. While The 20/20 Experience Part 1 was much better sonically and lyrically than Part 2, taking the best of both worlds makes for quite the collection of songs. Fall Out Boy returned from a hiatus as well, putting out a great pop album in Save Rock and Roll. I remember going online to buy tickets for their summer tour at 10:05, only for it to have sold out in under five minutes. Paramore didn’t exactly rise from the dead, but they released their first album since 2009, and their first without the Farro brothers on guitar. And it was a dazzling effort from start to finish.
So, the lesson is learned here folks: get really popular, take a break, wait for a few years, then come back. You’ll be even more popular than ever. Sure, it takes some quality music to help you bounce back, but these three artists have been making solid tunes for around a decade now. It just goes to show that when fans grow attached to a band or artist, they never let go.
2. Metalcore is (still) becoming more stale than ever. If August Burns Red, Norma Jean and letlive. fit the definition of metalcore – a mix of metal and hardcore – and tour with bands like Blessthefall and Bring Me the Horizon, then what exactly could be wrong? Well, you’ve got a sound that’s been growing old for years now, and those few bands are just excellent enough at what they do that people tend to forget that they were metalcore to begin with.
Instead, we’re left focusing on acts like We Came As Romans, Blessthefall, and Of Mice & Men — bands who aren’t necessarily bad, but continue to tread familiar ground and get bigger and bigger because of it. It’s not necessarily bad to gain exposure, but they’re falling closer and closer to the definition of gateway metal bands every day because of their generic appeal. I mean, just look at Of Mice & Men. They compared their new album to Nickelback. What does that really say about them?
And those Devil Wears Prada dudes, the same guys who made the whole scenecore thing popular? Someone needs to tell them to calm down, or next thing we know, they’ll be a black metal band.
3. Cassettes are making a comeback (sigh). And hopefully not a comeback similar to Timberlake or Fall Out Boy. I remember when I finally gave in and began collecting vinyl. To me, vinyl makes sense. It’s fun to collect because of the colorful artwork, posters, and records, and of course, the sound is crisper and fuller.
Now, cassettes are just like CDs, but crappier. They have the same – if not, worse – quality of compact discs, and they are absolutely awful to fix when all of the tape inside them comes undone. Wasn’t that just awful? What’s even worse is now some people want it back. It’s like someone saying they want new movies to be released on VHS. If they did that today, I doubt it would start an underground cult.
But still, nostalgia, bro — not always good nostalgia, but nostalgia nonetheless.
4. Some bands will change the world, while others may just fade out because they’re not doing anything exciting, unique, or emotionally perplexing. And that’s what artists need to succeed anymore. People’s attention spans are shorter than ever, and information travels in the blink of an eye. If you’re not being innovative, you’ll be left in the dust quicker than it took you to get started.
Twenty | One | Pilots, Silent Planet, letlive., Dangerkids, Deafheaven: these are just a few of the bands that, in 2013, showed the music scene that they’re capable of redefining music and the genre game, whether it’s pop, rock, hardcore, or even black metal.
No one guessed that two hardcore dudes out of Ohio would change pop music for the better. But Twenty | One | Pilots puts substance in synth-driven, stadium-ready alternative/indie — and with a hip-hop twist in lyricism and delivery. Vessel was an outstanding major label debut, and it showed signs of brilliance. The same kind of conglomeration was done by Dangerkids. Combining the early-2000s nu-metal sounds of Linkin Park with contemporary metalcore and rock influences, this group found a wonderful place to begin their career.
Deafheaven, letlive. and Silent Planet are using fascinating thought and emotional trends with their writing and playing styles, whether they’re meshing absolute bone-crushing heaviness with melodic bliss, making crappy-sounding records sound great solely out of intention, or writing enriched stories that are so pure they feel like they came straight from the heart. These bands don’t need to change the world, they just have to shake it to its very core to be successful.
5. It’s becoming more apparent with each year that Brand New has inspired an entire generation of musicians. Is it even worth writing a summary piece without mentioning the pop-punk legends? Well, they didn’t release an album in 2013. They didn’t even go on any big tours. But the best thing Brand New-related that happened last year didn’t come from Brand New. It came from Mansions, Sainthood Reps, Citizen, and The Republic of Wolves. These groups are obviously heavily inspired by the Long Island natives, and it came through on their latest albums. But while it may seem easy to take what Brand New does and copy it in some hope of feeling closer to their music than ever, many bands are using their huge influence to progress the whole ‘Brand New’ persona, rather than just mimicking it.
Mansions brought the whole fuzzy indie/grunge appeal with them, creating a monstrous rock album with emo roots. Sainthood Reps is probably closest in sound to Brand New, but they differentiate with their delivery style and emotional attitude to give themselves a bit more flair. Citizen is pretty much pop-punk, but they’re just so dark and earthly. It’s like The Wonder Years grew addicted to The Devil & God. The Republic of Wolves is more folksy than the other acts, but their beaming compositions and affective vocals are especially reminiscent of Jesse Lacey and the gang.
6. Music is becoming a mourning period for this generation of rock, punk, and metal fans. Everyone has to go through loss. Now is our time.
You know that song “Five Iron Frenzy Is Either Dead or Dying” by Relient K? Well, in this case, replace Five Iron Frenzy with pretty much all of my favorite bands over the past decade. Underoath, My Chemical Romance, The Chariot, Alexisonfire, Thursday, and many other awesome bands have broken up recently. We just found out Anberlin’s going to break up at the end of 2014, and I’m sure in coming years, we’ll see lots of others (I won’t name names) find their careers coming to a close as well.
And let’s not forget all of the Christian rock bands I grew up with, from Skillet to Relient K to Flyleaf — all of which are still together, but are on death row after weak releases and endless lineup changes. I’m going to really miss hearing good music from those bands, as I’m sure I’ve heard the best of most of them.
So, if 2013 has taught me anything, it’s that the mourning period for your favorite bands needs to be short, as tons of great new ones are right around the corner. And I mean, bands don’t really die as long as the music remains, right?
7. Yes, many bands are breaking up and all, but because of it, we’re seeing the inception of many new groups as a result. In coming years, both 68 and Sleepwave will take over the world after rising from the ashes of their members’ previous bands. Plus, we’ve got a horde of side projects getting a great start. Defeater’s Derek Archambault released his first acoustic record in 2013, The Early November’s Michael Cera…er, I mean Ace Enders put out a great indie album in Enola, and the combination of Transit and This Time Next Year in Misser continues to impress.
They say that from death comes life, and I’m beginning to learn that this couldn’t be more true.
8. The best music writes itself.
This statement seems kind of odd at first glance, but it makes sense. If there’s anything I took away from 2013 spiritually, it’s that I need to quit trying to control everything I do. Sometimes things are just out of your control, and there’s nothing you can do about it. “Let life run its course,” I hear people often say.
Well, the same should go with music. Whether it’s something that needed to be expressed emotionally, or comes about in an unconscious manner, most good music feels natural and inevitable once the creation process begins. Some of my favorite albums of the past year were created in such a way that they feel like they wrote themselves. Deafheaven’s Sunbather. Balance and Composure’s The Things We Think We’re Missing. letlive.’s The Blackest Beautiful. Heck, in an interview I did with Norma Jean’s Cory Brandan, he even told me that he believes the band’s songs write themselves, and that the members are merely the tools behind them. Just take a listen to Wrongdoers and tell me that’s not true.
I’m sure you’ve listened to bands before and thought, “This sounds like the artist I’ve been missing all my life.” Sometimes there’s that feeling that some music was just destined to be written. It’s a surreal experience, that’s for sure.
9. The radio is becoming more and more polarizing every year. While some radio hits are absolutely horrendous, some are still decent. That’s because some people started recognizing the truth in that a lot of popular music feels artificial and inauthentic, and are trying to write how they feel without sacrificing their artistic integrity. It’s still hard when playing to such a broad audience, but at least some artists are trying. The Good: Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”, Lorde’s “Royals”, Zedd’s “Stay the Night” featuring Hayley Williams. The Bad: Pitbull’s “Timber” featuring Ke$ha, Jason Derulo’s “Marry Me”, Katy Perry’s…well…pretty much anything she puts out. A lot of these songs I heard for the first time on a recent road trip.
I always act like I’m too good for the radio, as if it’s going to contaminate my musical taste. But then again, I found out on this trip that my dance moves are really lacking, and that’s probably because I don’t spend enough (and by enough, I mean any) time around Top 40 hits in the dance halls and clubs. What a shame.
And if I have to hear Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” on the radio one more time, I think I’ll drive down to the station and hold a pistol to the DJ’s head as I explain to them the excellent use of atmospherics in “Tiptoe”, especially in its sparkly, yet savory chorus. If impersonating Patrick Bateman doesn’t give people the message, I don’t know what will.
P.S.: Thank God for Spotify.
10. Ronnie Radke is…okay, I’m getting to that side of things. Well, I’m done. 2013 just went American Psycho on music, and it definitely doesn’t need to pull a Saw.