5 on Friday: Top 5 Albums of the Year

In a defining year of political corruption, social upheaval and arbitrary violence, music drowned out the negativity and created positivity. Five albums, however, stood out and deserve recognition for their lyricism, instrumentation and raw ingenuity.

 5. “Ti Amo” – Phoenix
Amidst France’s political unrest, French synth-pop band Phoenix forged an album that combated the antagonism ravaging the country. Despite its lack of mega radio hits such as “1901” and “Lisztomania,” this album brings about an ’80s vibrancy unheard of in the group’s previous works. The record meets the perfect balance of overproduced dance pop and head-bopping New Order inspired brilliance. The song “Ti Amo” incorporates sampled drum beats and brightly toned guitars that blend well with the simplistic but funky bass line. “Fior Di Latte” is another standout for its crescendoing hook and sexually charged lyrics that reference a velvety Italian cheese; it’s a fitting acknowledgment for a luscious and sensual song. Thomas Mars, an experienced and masterful vocalist, handles his talent with unsurprising grace. His falsettos and playful vocal melodies shine through. The real star, however, is the New Wave synth based elements that emphasize the band’s musical aesthetic. The quirky effects and lighthearted instrumentation add to the album’s bubbly theme of love, lust and romantic desire. It’s ear-wormy, and portrays Phoenix in a new light.
4. “As You Please” – Citizen
Citizen’s “Youth” is a nostalgic effort beloved by many. With tracks such as “The Summer” and “How Do You Feel?”, Citizen’s sound is a mixture of pop punk with grunge undertones that has been perfected in their most recent release. “As You Please” is a product of the band’s development instrumentally, vocally and lyrically. Songs such as “Fever Days” and “World” are aggressive in terms of Mat Kerkes’ vocal performance, as well as the heavy bass drawn throughout. Maturity is shown in Citizen’s writing, producing an expressive and quite distinctive album that is the best they’ve ever put out. The atmospheric layering paired with heavy instrumentation is a fitting interpretation of the band’s shoegaze sound. They have truly found their niche in the scene.
3. “DAMN.” – Kendrick Lamar
During a time in our country where social instability rocked our lives, “DAMN.” provided us with a solid foundation. Lamar’s lead single, “HUMBLE.”, was a teaser to the ferocity and aggression found in every aspect of the album. The beats, rhymes and unparalleled tales of strength and struggles overwhelm this 14 song track list. Songs such as “DNA” and “ELEMENT” show off Lamar’s hyped vibrancy and unrelenting lyricism that packs a powerful punch. Kendrick’s versatility, however, allows him to slow some tracks down while maintaining his storytelling prowess. “PRIDE.” and “FEAR” are honest and vulnerable, yet precise and compelling. His eloquence is what makes this album shine. Combine that with clean beats and features by Rihanna, Zacari and the surprising U2, and you have one of the best rap albums of this generation.
2. “Melodrama” – Lorde
Similar to Kendrick’s punctual lyricism, Lorde’s writing talent is also honest and true to herself. Heartbreak and pain resonates in the heart’s of her listeners in ballads such as “Liability” and “Sober II (Melodrama).” Her wisdom is defining and unheard of in young women her age. Against the simplistic piano chord progressions and a subtle string section, Lorde’s whisper-y vocals sound like a roaring clap of lightning. Her bona fide talent as a singer songwriter sounds mastered at her age and is quite unbelievable. In tracks like “Supercut” and “Homemade Dynamite” the bright yet melancholic melodies are pleasurable to the ears and to the soul. Lorde’s passivity to her sadness allows beautiful lyrics that contrast bright musicality: an ode to the album’s message. Despite her young age, “Melodrama” is an astounding release that not only conveys feminine strength in times of trials, but the realization that being alone is important. Lorde is an old soul who had an epiphany and is not understood by many. This album is a masterpiece, telling a story of sadness, fear, denial and acceptance. Not to mention, the production does not follow the predictable formula found in pop songs. This is an album dedicated to the broken, providing an aid of advice and honesty.
Rap “boyband” BROCKHAMPTON have quickly risen to stardom after the release of “SATURATION.” Since then, their fanbase has grown and the group has made a name for themselves solely based on bedroom recordings and DIY production. This group radiates a chemistry that is admiring and charming. Their sound, however, is far from the cookie-cutter hip hop formula or the incoherent mumbling of Soundcloud rappers. Instead, they have created their own BROCKHAMPTON sound that is unique and genuine. “SATURATION II” is the second installment to the trilogy laden with perfectly balanced voice modifications, aggressive beats and pleasurable hooks that grab one’s attention immediately. Through just the opening song, listeners can already foresee the direction of the album. The track is packed with unorthodox, layered beats that shouldn’t go well together, but do. Mix that with insightful lyricism and one of the catchiest hooks on the album, and you have “GUMMY.” This album definitely has a focused cohesiveness to it. From the transitions, melodies, themes and overall production, “SATURATION II” is the best material this rap collective has released to date. Tracks such as “TEETH” and “JUNKY” show each members’ skills as writers. Ameer Vann’s solo verse on “TEETH” is angry and hard-hitting as he raps about his struggles during childhood. Anger resonates with listeners and can also be felt in “JUNKY.” Here, the band takes no breaks, spitting verses that reference to the members’ dark and deadly inner demons. With a haunting and eerie vibe, this song is one of my favorites. The career defining moments this album holds will make a lasting mark on this rap boyband. Their goals are clear and their methods work, and I hope this dynamism is still strong in their following projects.
Featured image taken by Constanza Hormazábal 

A Day with The Front Bottoms

In a music scene where indie credibility is everything, New Jersey based band The Front Bottoms went against the conventional. With simplistic chord progressions, erratic drumming, blaring trumpeting and angsty yet obscure lyrics, The Front Bottoms have made a name for themselves on their own terms.

Last month they dropped their sixth album, “Going Grey” with their new record label Fueled by Ramen. This album takes a different but pleasing approach to their classic sound. In songs like “Vacation Town,” “Raining” and “Grand Finale,” the band embraces synthesizers and other production elements previously unheard in their sound. These subtle incorporations, however, are fitting and show the band’s matured musicianship.

Three days before their concert at the House of Blues on Nov. 10, The Front Bottoms announced an in-store performance at M-Theory Music. I had the opportunity to watch them perform acoustic versions of new tunes and fan favorites. Manned with his acoustic guitar, Brian Sella sang about middle fingers, steroids and bong rips as the crowd enthusiastically sang back. The two necked electric guitar was also a nice touch. The music store’s crowd was intimate and laid back, but it was a whole different story for the audience in the House of Blues.

The concert was packed and the crowd was insane. BadBadHats first performed and they rocked their set. Afterwards, Basement took the stage and that’s when all hell broke lose. Stuck in the middle of the pit, I pushed and shoved concertgoers like my life depended on it. Nevertheless, I still sang/yelled along to bangers like “Aquasun,” “Pine” and “Bad Apple.” Apparently, some people got so hyped and aggressive that a fight broke out. Finishing their set with their lead single “Promise Everything,” Basement thanked the audience and we were left waiting in restless agony for the main act.

Soon, The Front Bottoms walked onto stage. They opened with “You Used to Say (Holy F*ck)” and then lead into “Skeleton.” And the crowd went wild. The atmosphere, however, was different. It wasn’t aggressive, and was instead full of good vibes and happy moshing. From start to finish, I belted the words to every song like I had my heartbroken by a non-existent lover. In contrast to the crowd’s energy, the band was laid back as ever. Kicking off their shoes and making the venue their home, they put on a spectacular show. Matt Uychich (drums) set the pace for the band with his unorthodox rhythm. Brian Sella’s booming voice in songs like “The Beers” and “Tattooed Tears” sent the crowd into an angsty frenzy. The night was blur.

Despite the sweaty mess I was, the concert had its fill of special moments. When Jen the trumpet player had her solo in “2YL” (one of my favorite TFB songs), the pit opened up and the crowd moshed. I had never seen a crowd go crazy to a trumpet solo until that night; it was definitely a sight to see. “West Virginia” and “Vacation Town” were other fan favorites and the audience was equally as wild. The band closed the show with “Lonely Eyes,” a very old song from their 2008 self release “I Hate My Friends,” as well as “Flashlight” and “Ocean.”

Thank you The Front Bottoms for the best and craziest concert of my life. Despite getting pushed, shoved and punched the entire night, I had so much fun. I highly recommend seeing The Front Bottoms live. Their acoustic driven music is energetic and unique, and deserving of more recognition.







Featured image taken by Dane Burns

Back from the Dead: Citizen’s ‘As You Please’

Citizen has been an ever-evolving band since the release of their 2013 album, “Youth.” The dark themes paired with heavy instrumentation and lyricism made it a fan favorite. Songs such as “Sleep” and “The Summer” set the tone early for a band still craving experimentation.

In their second album, “Everybody is Going to Heaven,” Citizen took an even heavier approach. Mat Kerkes’s vocals were much more morbid with heavy bass instrumentation. The album was almost haunting. “As You Please,” however, is the perfect mixture of the pop punk and post-grunge sound Citizen has been dabbling in.

The album opens up with their lead single “Jet” which has to be one of the best songs on the track list. Fuzz-toned guitars manned by Ryland Oehlers and Nick Hamm steadily start the song off as the drums and bass create the full sound. The shoegaze-esque instrumentation is accompanied by Mat Kerkes’ well-developed voice. He shows off his pipes and even a falsetto in the chorus, proving he has matured as a vocalist. Tracks like “In the Middle of it All,” “World” and “Flowerchild” also show off his vocal talent.

Many fans love the nostalgic sound of “Youth,” but those who say it’s better than their most recent release are completely wrong. Here’s why. “As You Please” is a post-grunge effort with heavy yet atmospheric instruments that are crisp and well-defined. For example, “Fever Days” starts with ethereal plucking that was previously unheard in Citizen’s discography. A heavy bass-driven riff then cuts off the entrancing guitar as it subtly rings throughout the song. It fills up the empty sound accompanied only by sustained guitar notes and drums. Kerkes’ aggressive vocals is the last, satisfying touch to this perfect Citizen song.

“World” is another passionate song that is well written both musically and lyrically. With its bright guitars, crisp drums, rich bass and ambient backing vocals, the song is finalized with some of my favorite thought-provoking lyrics. In the post-chorus, Kerkes sings “Split me open/Let the air out/I’m your old friend,” with so much gut wrenching grit and emotion that I can’t help but shed a few tears. His songwriting is some of the most profound and eloquent out there and, for once, it forces me to pay attention to the words, not just the instruments.

“Fever Days” and “World” are definitely favorites for their unique musicality – which was missing from the band’s previous albums. I appreciate bands that aren’t afraid to experiment in different genres, but still maintain their established sound, like Citizen. “As You Please” shows fans that change is necessary. In a scene that tends to always sound the same, this album is step forward in musical experimentation and progress.

Favorites: “Jet,” “In the Middle of it All,” “Fever Days” and “World”

Least Favorites: “I Forgive No One” and “You are a Star”

Featured Image by Chloe Muro.

Back from the Dead: Knuckle Puck

In 2015, Chicago-based band Knuckle Puck debuted into the pop punk scene with their LP, “Copacetic.” The album’s instrumental depth, honest lyricism and ear-wormy tracks have given the band a deserving amount of recognition and praise. As a result, the band’s talent and growing popularity has made their sophomore album, “Shapeshifter,” a highly anticipated release. Unfortunately, this album did not live up to the hype and standards of its predecessor, simply falling flat. It lacks the hard-hitting guitar work, the catchy vocal melody sung by Joe Taylor and the raw emotions from “Copacetic.”

Before the album drop, Knuckle Puck released three singles, “Gone,” “Double Helix” and “Want Me Around.” All are solid tracks but, in my opinion, lack the big guitar riffs and distinctive choruses that made their past work so addictive. “Gone” and “Double Helix” open up with the bright guitars and punchy drums that I love and appreciate. However, I realized these tracks don’t have anything remarkable about them. In other words, they are forgettable and boring. Knuckle Puck chose to be lazy and follow the standard pop punk formula. This includes fast-paced chord progressions, monotonous nasally yelling and slow strumming or picking during the bridge. To make matters worse, “Gone” sounds awkwardly choppy as Joe is unnecessarily screaming “Gone” throughout the chorus. Anyone who thinks this song has any bit of catchiness is above me. Granted, the more I listen to “Want Me Around,” the more I like it.

In addition, “Everyone Lies to Me” and “Conduit” have Knuckle Puck’s melodious and guitar driven sound that’s missing from the rest of this album. “Everyone Lies to Me” is a track heavily influenced by Set Your Goals for its spoken word style and mean flow in the verses. Nick and Joe switch off between lead vocals, delivering their lines aggressively and in response to each other. Backing vocalist Nick Casasanto also adds vocal variations that I love in the second verse. The guitar and bass are simple yet accompany his lighthearted singing effortlessly. Overall, this politically driven song is my favorite off the album.

“Conduit” is another top track that reminds me of songs from “Copacetic.” The atmospheric guitars and layering of each instrument create this perfect, somber ambience. It starts off slow with simple plucking guitars but soon builds up as the drums and bass fill the empty sound. The way the backing vocals are incorporated into the production is incredible as well. Layered, filtered and mixed to create this “far away” sound, the vocals add depth and smooth transitions from verse to verse.

Objectively, this is a solid album but, in comparison to their older music, fails to hit me in the feels. “Shapeshifter” is a formulaic album that lacks in both the instrumental and vocal department. A majority of the songs are missing this special element that I can’t seem to put my finger on. Maybe it’s not ear wormy enough or it lacks raw emotions. Whatever it may be, it’s the missing spark that made me fall in love with Knuckle Puck in the first place.

Favorites: “Everyone Lies to Me,” “Conduit” and “Wait”

Least favorites: “Gone,” “Double Helix” and “Stuck in Our Ways”

Featured Image by Leighton Stollard