Pop punk doesn’t have a reputation as an “artsy” style of music. You don’t pick up an A Day To Remember or Four Year Strong album expecting to hear anything truly grandiose or moving – just some catchy hooks and the never-back-down spirit the genre is known for. The Wonder Years, however, have always been known for adding a little something extra to the pop punk formula. Their special blend of raw emotion and uplifting music was taken to another level on their latest album, The Greatest Generation. Daunting, challenging themes such as love, death, and self-satisfaction are attacked and dissected with the kind of attitude that not many bands like them posses. This is pop punk taken to the next level.
Death Grips are masters of the unorthodox. The experimental hip hop group suddenly released their third full-length album, Government Plates, in November without warning or fanfare of any kind. The album itself tends to match the “throw away the rulebook” style that Death Grips are known for, and represents the freakiest, most outlandish record made by a group known for their freaky, outlandish records. But, if one looks past the craziness, they’ll find a well-written, solidly put together collection of songs that posses more purpose and vision that meets the ear at first. Just as dissonant as it is groovy, Government Plates solidified Death Grips’ place among the true innovators of hip hop, and is a sign that we’ve only had just a small taste of what they’re truly capable of.
Every once and a while, a band comes along that defies an entire genre – one that not only pushes boundaries within the style of music they play, but appeals to fans of nearly all other styles as well. Deafheaven is one of those bands, and Sunbather is the album that EVERYONE seemed to be talking about this year, hipsters and metalheads alike. The unique combination of post-rock and black metal proved hard to resist, even for those who don’t tend to like harder music, and the excellent writing and progression didn’t hurt either. Anger, frustration, loss – all the typical metal themes are included, but they’ve never been presented in such a way before. Deafheaven manages to make a 9 minute song sound like it’s over too soon, and Sunbather, despite being only 7 tracks long, never fails to leave listeners captivated from beginning to end.
Described by some as undercooked, and others as misguided, Kanye West’s latest record is just as brash and unapologetic as it is brilliant. The strikingly outlandish production was a huge turn-off for some fans of the older ‘Ye, but for the most part it served as a fittingly audacious platform for one of the most audacious artists in the rap game. Throughout the album’s 40 minutes, he explores racism, politics, and even compares himself to God. Of course, it’s what we’ve come to expect from someone like Mr. West, whose famously-large ego seems to have rapidly expanded in size recently. However, he’s proved time and time again that he has the talent to back it up, and Yeezus is no exception. Kanye takes his music to new heights on this record, masterfully contrasting beautiful with disturbing, and graceful with grotesque. It finally silenced all those who still questioned the true extent of his ambition.
Ever since their charmingly unique debut was released in 2008, Vampire Weekend has always stood out from the crowd. This “crowd,” of course, is the barrage of almost-too-similar sounding indie bands that invaded the world of mainstream music around the time VW was formed. Their first two full-length efforts combined a wide palate of musical styles while still maintaining a focused sound, definitely seperating them from the rest. This was much in part thanks to the excellent songwriting of frontman Ezra Koenig, which takes center stage on the band’s latest record, Modern Vampires Of The City. The diverse sonic spectrum is mostly nonexistent this time around, but what’s left is one of the most touchingly honest albums released this year. That’s not to say that the instrumentation isn’t interesting, however. From the simple and spacious “Hannah Hunt” to the spastic “Finger Back”, there’s no shortage of creativity or personality anywhere on the record. It all adds up to make Modern Vampires the most revealing, sincere, and absolutely enthralling collection of songs I’ve heard this year.
Most Anticipated: Foo Fighters