Brandon’s Best of 2014
My Best of 2014 List. It’s a few weeks late but worth a read. Sorry this took me so long. Thanks to all the bands who in 2014, created some music that elevated my mood and helped me get through a very difficult period in life. Read on for the huge list of my favorite albums/eps of 2014.
Brandon’s Best of 2014 List
by Brandon Jones
Prelude: This list is especially difficult for me to complete this year because a large portion of albums are clearly missing from my selections below due to a family emergency (with my wife) and the trauma that unfolded following her stroke. I have neglected to buy several albums the past 4 months due to this very traumatic and life altering time in my life. Plus, those albums released in December came in kind of late so I haven’t had ample time to listen. So if you see a few albums missing from the list below that you and critics have adored, this is the reason. The selections below are my personal faves and what I have enjoyed spinning during this entire year. You may agree and feel free to disagree but just remember, the basis for these selections are from personal taste and are my opinions alone. I don’t let popular thought persuade me into lumping critic’s choices into the list. Keep supporting independent music and maybe you’ll find a few albums below that you’ve never heard of. Listen on Spotify and/or buy in any digital marketplace (and CD/Vinyl when it is available). Enjoy, God Bless, and thanks for supporting me personally over 14 years of running Indie Vision Music. Big changes will come to that site in 2015 much of which I am not obliged to divulge just yet. – Brandon Jones
Brandon’s Top 40 – Full Lengths
- Gameface – Now is What Matters Now [Equal Vision]
To say this album made an impact on me and a renewed sense of just what a “reunion” should be, is an understatement. Friends, this is how a great band reunites and does it with class. So many memorable songs that I am going to refrain from listing them all because quite frankly every single one is worth the purchase alone. Thank you Gameface for influencing me through the teenage years and now into adulthood with your catchy sing-a-long greatness. This band has trumped “Always On” as my now favorite Gameface release and triumphed from the typical stale band reunion.
- Little Hurricane – Gold Fever [Independent]
It’s hard to believe that I once worked with Anthony Catalano (Lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter) through Indie Vision Music on the label side years ago (his band was Next in Line). He has come such a long way in his songwriting talents and it is clearly evident on this the band’s sophomore release. The duo of Anthony and CC create truly memorable, bluesy, rock n’ roll for the masses. Some see similarity to groups like Black Keys but I find Little Hurricane a much more complex single heavy group filled with songs that will keep you humming for days. If any band deserves a big breakthrough in 2015, it’s these two.
- Mercy Street – Let Me Live [Independent]
This band/album came out of nowhere and blew me away (literally). Former Rufio frontman, Scott Sellers, knocks one clear out of the park with his band’s debut full length titled “Let Me Live”. It’s a punk rock masterpiece that evokes sounds of yesteryear mixed with the powerful sentiments of our current time period. If you enjoyed the (now) classic sounds of bands like Rufio, New Found Glory, Allister, Amber Pacific, Millencolin, Autopilot Off, Much the Same, even Mxpx, then you are going to love this band. Clearly they aren’t going for mainstream radio yet every song is incredible in its own right. It’s fast, melodic, and poppy, the way good melodic punk rock should be.
- Anberlin – Lowborn [Tooth & Nail]
The return of Anberlin to the Tooth & Nail roster and subsequent break up, has been nothing short of earth shattering. This fantastic (final) album from Florida’s own rock band, Anberlin, is a true masterpiece in its own right and real return to form for the band. Don’t get me wrong however, both “Vital” and “Dark Is a Way Light is a Place” were both incredible albums but this one cements the band’s fate as one of the most endearing, fan loved bands of the new millennia. When I first met Stephen, Deon, and Joey back in 2001, I never knew this band would be as big both in sound and performance that they have become known for. These guys are all well regarded and will be appreciated long after they’re gone for years to come (or until the crowd funded reunion in 5 years, I kid I kid).
- Twin Forks – Twin Forks [Independent]
Chris Carrabba has traveled the gamut from band frontman (Further Seems Forever) to solo emotional singer-songwriter (Dashboard Confessional) and now enters the fray as folk/Americana band frontman with his new group, Twin Forks. This album is everything as catchy as his previous music efforts have become known for. If you haven’t checked out Twin Forks yet, please do so today and you’ll surely appreciate every tune on this full length.
- SPZRKT – Bonfire [Independent]
I can thank the writers at IndieVisionMusic.com for exposing me to the great talent that this singer is. Bonfire is the album the whole “Christian” music scene needs, to stay relevant and on top of their game. It’s not like anything else being pushed on mainstream “Christian” audiences and for that I welcome this album. SPZRKT should surely be an artist to watch in 2015 and beyond. I truly feel this could be the breakthrough artist everyone has been waiting patiently for.
- Preson Phillips – In Our Winters [Independent]
This folky-americana artist has been in the music scene for several years churning out classic albums like 2011’s “Wrath” and more. This one finds Preson exploring a Where Brother Art Thou (soundtrack) vibe while maintaining his own originality and expression. I find this release to be a deeply moving and an altogether spiritual awakening found in music form. The production is far above what is standard for Independent bands and takes him in a more commercial direction while keeping his own sound. This is the album all you folk lovers should get into and I can’t think of another artist (besides the ones listed above) that should be marked for breakthrough than Preson Phillips. Get into it!
- Lakes – Fire Ahead [Independent]
I’ve been following Seth Roberts’ music for more than a decade. Everything from Watashi Wa/Eager Seas and now into the form of his band Lakes. Seth has a warm and inviting voice, paired perfectly with the poppy indie rock songs of his band mates. His (Seth) passion for music and song making has been defined by the eagerness of his skills, marked by years of playing in bands. This is as mainstream as it could possibly be for alternative rock yet they are still playing the independent circuit and stay relatively unheard by mass audiences. It’s a real shame because Lakes makes music for the masses that any alt rock station would gladly play. “Fire Ahead” is the best album Lakes has ever made, further developing the sound found on 2010’s “The Agreement” which was a fine album as well. Definitely pick up “Fire Ahead” and support Seth and band.
- Mxpx – Acoustic Collection [Independent/Rock City Recordings]
This list is mostly reserved for “new” music and albums that are original for the year 2014. I just can’t find any other reason not to put this “Acoustic” collection on my list of “Favorites” for the year 2014. All the classic songs you have come to love from Mike and company are done up in the best acoustic manner he (and bandmates) could put forth. In recent years Mxpx has sort of shifted from the band of Mike, Tom, and Yuri, to a revolving cast of members with Mike still playing the “Classics” either in solo form or under the Mxpx banner. The one thing I can appreciate is that Mike, Tom, and Yuri continue to record in studio as “Mxpx” and put out the great “Plans Within Plans” last year. “Acoustic Collection” is 12 songs of pure Mxpx punk rock put to acoustic format. Songs we have all loved and cherished over the years and will continue to do for years to come. It’s crazy to think that we were all teenagers in the 90’s, the band included, and that more than 20 years, they are still churning out quality punk rock. They have outlasted many of their contemporaries especially in the waning “Christian” punk rock movement. I love this release and celebrate its uniqueness. Thank you Mike for putting out this album and giving fans a little something special.
- Switchfoot – Fading West [Major]
This is the pop leaning Switchfoot album that some critics/fans haven’t really latched on to. However, radio has embraced Switchfoot full circle and this album has spawned many new singles. I personally love this album and find it much more appreciated than “Vice Verses” back in 2011. This band has weathered the storms of 90’s alt rock through new millennia “pop” and now into the next decade of songmaking. Their music is consistent to a point and still maintains enough originality to push them into many more years as a band. I would much rather listen to Switchfoot then have to endure another Newsboys single if you catch my drift.
- Jess Penner – Building Heaven [Independent]
Jess Penner if you didn’t know, has been making music for nearly two decades. She started off in her teens with the band Spooky Tuesday and released some memorable (although a bit under produced) albums throughout the 90’s. She then continued on with her band Chandelle, putting out a few wonderful albums last decade and now is a solo artist embarking on a journey through indie pop music that would put most artists of her caliber to shame. Her music is exceptional yet she remains relatively unknown to the masses. It’s a sad case of the fickle nature of youth and the apathy of some adults to check out what’s “new”. “Underrated” shouldn’t keep you from enjoying these songs and this artist. “Building Heaven” is her best album thus far and if you’re really digging her music, make sure you check out the new digital Ep released last month.
- The Altar Billies – Head’n Out West [Independent]
Lead vocalist/guitarist/Songwriter, Mike Stand, has been an influential music maker for more than 3 decades, including his work with Altar Boys. His band Altar Boys paved the way for so much of the “Christian” punk/alt rock you heard throughout the 80’s/90’s and even today.
The 15 tracks on this album are worth every penny. They are ragers, fast and aggressive with that punkabilly edge yet still rooted firmly in country with a tad bit of twang. It’s a blasting combo of music that is sure to delight all fans of music and fans of this genre especially. Those hunting for something “different” that is above the norm, something recorded by men your father’s age yet with that youthful spirit that would put most kids more than half their age to shame. Give this trio a chance, listen to the songs on Amazon or iTunes and consider supporting independent music today. Standout tracks include the Altar Boys cover “World Burning”, “I’m Still Stand’n”, “Head’n Out West”, “Rock My Soul Alive”, “Is It Me?”.
- Johnnyswim – Diamonds
The indie folk scene has exploded in recent years thanks to bands like Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars, etc. Johnnyswim is a pop inspired indie-folk leaning husband/wife duo out of Nashville that writes extremely catchy tunes. This debut full length is some of the best music I’ve heard from genre that is a bright spot for mainstream audiences. If this duo doesn’t hit it big in 2015 then I don’t know what’s wrong with the world.
- Amber Pacific – The Turn [Independent]
I don’t know what’s wrong with me? I am without a doubt a punk/pop-punk fan through and through and this album is just another example of my punk leaning tastes. I’ve followed this band since 2005 and the release of their debut full length “The Possibility and The Promise”. The band released two great albums (and an ep) with their original vocalist before he eventually quit and went on to do other things. The band came back with a new vocalist and released “Virtues” in 2010 which just wasn’t that great. The band regrouped and welcomed back their original vocalist a few years back and went into the studio to record their best album by far, “The Turn”. It’s filled with all those fast paced pop-punk tunes along with their now classic ballads making for one heck of an enjoyable listen. The fact that this band has yet to really blow up big baffles me. This is some of the most catchy music you’ll hear from a pop-punk band in the independent realm. The guests on this album (Mike Herrera of Mxpx, Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low, and Darianne Westcott) really add depth and a polished sheen to an already great album. All you pop-punk fans absolutely need this album in your collection.
- We Are Leo – Fightback Soundtrack [Dream Label Group]
Pop music usually consists of tired relationship issues and (recent) and raunchy displays of so-called “love”. We Are Leo ascend above all the fake love drivel and reach a pinnacle of decadent music. What we have friends is a real winner and champion of all that is good in music. Sure it’s pop, sure it’s spiritual, but none of that matters when it comes to just a great song. I have enjoyed this group’s music since I first heard the “Hello” ep back in 2012 (Skies Fall Records). Heck I even included “Supernova Sunrise” on the first “Punk Never Dies” compilation for Indie Vision Music. I have recently been expanding my music tastes to include more “Pop” including the likes of Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, Zedd, Owl City, SPZRKT, Katy Perry, Colton Dixon, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Avicii, etc. With this pop exploration, the likes of We Are Leo (and similar artists) definitely catch my ear.
- Demon Hunter – Extremist [Solid State Records]
This album truly caught my ear this year. It’s a little different for the band. Should I dare to say “Commercial” sounding? Why yes, I think it’s that and another reason I enjoy the sounds of Demon Hunter. “Extremist” is the album Demon Hunter were destined to create and a real raise your fist up and burn down the city type of album. Don’t take that literally of course. It’s just that power of an explosive metal album mixed with an anthem sound defined by the cries of a united people that inspire me. Demon Hunter continue to write catchy music that inspire disconnected, disenfranchised, and hopeless youth who are searching for deeper meaning in this broken world. I think for that this band should be commended. “Extremist” is sure to be a classic album years from now and another favorite of mine in their repertoire of songs.
- Magic! – Don’t Kill the Magic [Major]
I am going to get instant hate for “liking” this album or the fact that I actually bought it. I am sorry but I can spot a catchy, commercial sounding album from the moment a first single drops. Although “Rude” is probably hated by scores of music journalists and “critics”, I happen to find this song and band quite memorable. Just one listen to this entire album and a certain sentimental feeling overwhelms me, creating dreams of sunny beach going weather. The feel from grains of sand touching your feet while walking upon a beach during a sunset certainly comes to mind while spinning these tunes. Magic aren’t here to create overly complicated music and wow critics. These are just simple pop songs meant to reach a mass audience and inspire that youthful longing. I hear bits of The Police, Bob Marley, No Doubt, and even Sublime in their tunes. Thank you Magic for expanding my horizons into pop music earlier this year.
- War of Ages – Supreme Chaos [Facedown Records]
This metal band continues to write inspirational and heavy music that gets your blood pumping. The deeply spiritual album (and most others coming from Facedown Records) continue to inspire me and make me a believer in Jason Dunn’s (Facedown Owner) music choices. The band continues to write punishing yet melodic metal on this, the band’s 6th full length to date. When As I Lay Dying disappeared from the music climate, another band had to fill their shoes and I firmly believe that band is War of Ages. This is just so good and even if you aren’t a “metal” fan, I think you’ll find something to appreciate.
- For King & Country – Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong [Word Records]
This band is a new addition to my collection of music. From the moment “Fix My Eyes” graced my ears, I was a fan. They are one of the few “CCM” bands that I’ll even listen to these days. Every song on this album is a winner and the band write some of the most inspiring music around. For a mainstream Christian market band, For King & Country come at you with a slight edge and of course a marketable sound meant to wrap you into their music. “Run Wild, Live Free” is the album I wish more bands in the genre would create. It’s inspirational, on fire, and spiritually moving. This is an album worthy of a purchase and band set for a big break in 2015.
- Dragonforce – Maximum Overload
Power metal. Pure power. This band has undergone different changes in the past few years including a lead vocalist switch. This album is a perfect representation of the power in these musicians. “Maximum Overload” is the album they should have made a long time ago right after “Inhuman Rampage” and riding the coattails of the success from that album. This is melodic metal done right and for me, completely enjoyable. I think their cover of “Ring of Fire” (Johnny Cash) is done respectively so and is incredibly cool.
- Fire The Sun – An Evolution In the Creation of a New Self Being [Independent]
This “new” band practically came out of nowhere for me. I received news of them from an email sent in from the new submission form on IVM. This spirit-filled hardcore band holds back no punches as they explode on the music scene with their fiery and powerful heavy music. Their sound harkens back to the days of Strongarm, (old) Shai Hullud, Strife, Earth Crisis, etc. while maintaining enough of current edge to keep them relevant for the next generation of youth. If this band doesn’t blow up in 2015, the hardcore scene will be seriously lacking another great band full of talent. Give these guys a listen and I am sure you’ll all find something to appreciate.
- The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt [Major]
This band has come a long way since the days of “Sink of Swim”, the first album I heard from them after purchasing it on a whim from Interpunk.com years ago. Their gritty, street level punk rock n’ roll is more refined, poetic, and written with depth. What you have here is a band poised for a huge breakout. Although mainstream audiences are fickle especially towards anything rock n’ roll, this band deserves big attention and adoration. “Get Hurt” is an album chalked up full of stirring anthems and gritty realism. Rock n’ Roll is alive and well and The Gaslight Anthem is here to deliver it to you.
- Chuck Ragan – Till Midnight [Side One Dummy]
You know what’s crazy? I actually got into Chuck’s music before I did with Hot Water Music. I know that’s nuts but I really wasn’t a Hot Water Music fan back in the day and didn’t really appreciate their brand of punk rock until now. Don’t get me wrong, Hot Water Music is a GREAT band it’s just that they were one of those groups I was late in discovering. Anyway, Chuck Ragan’s latest album is his finest by far. It has a bit of country twang this time around, a bit of Americana if you’re looking for genre descriptions. I love “Till Midnight” and feel it’s a fine album worthy of a listen and full of that rock n’ roll vibe sure to get you singing along.
- Foster the People – Supermodel [Major]
These guys were a critically acclaimed little indie rock band on their first major album
“Torches” back in 2011. Fast forward to 2014 and it seems as though much of the initial excitement and attraction to the band has worn off. I am not sure why that is because I happen to enjoy “Supermodel” a whole heck of a lot more than the singles I heard from “Torches”. It’s a catchy, sing a long worthy listen of an album. Full of rock n’ roll infused pop if that makes sense at all. It’s indie rock on steroids and the production is superb. These songs are all geared towards radio and maybe it’s that definition that chases some of the more hipster audiences away. I don’t care though, I really like this album and think the band is ready for a comeback in mainstream circles. I just hope they don’t catch the Kings of Leon bug and disappear from the public eye over time.
- Propaganda – The Crimson Cord [Humble Beast]
I have to be completely honest, I am a fairweather hip-hop fan and don’t always listen to it. In fact, I haven’t started adding hip-hop to my collection until I heard Lecrae’s early albums, “Rehab” especially. I guess I favor that commercial sound. “The Crimson Cord” is an indie-rap/hip hop album with hard hitting rhythms and an earth shattering vibe that keeps Propaganda completely relevant in a society of broken down morals. This album is what hip-hop should be about. Beats about life, love, and the pursuit of a Faith in God unaffected by the changing morality of a world gone wrong. Thank you Propaganda for changing my mindset and giving me something positive to listen to beyond the confines of my normal listening schedule.
- Sean O’Donnell – Spirit Junkie [Independent]
Sean has come quite a long way since his time in Dogwood (Through Thick and Thin-Matt Aragon), Reeve Oliver, and more recently, Yellowcard. Sure he has “punk” roots but this album is completely different than anything he normally does. Here I’ll let my own blog sound off about this album 😉 I just recently purchased this new album from Sean O’Donnell titled “Spirit Junkie” off of iTunes and so glad I did. Sean has been playing in bands for nearly two decades including such groups as Dogwood, Yellowcard, and Reeve Oliver. Heck, his band Reeve Oliver even appeared on an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba that my kids were watching one day, that’s big time right? Anyway, back to the music. Sean has truly perfect his craft from years of past experiences songwriting and slinging the guitar around. It pays off on “Spirit Junkie”, a alt-rock gem hidden among and endless trove of bands all clamoring for the spotlight. Sean’s witty, and sometimes sarcastic lyrical input, gives these songs a certain charm lacking in today’s modern alternative rock. The songs strike me as finding a balance somewhere between Death Cab For Cutie, Yellowcard, and Jimmy Eat World if that makes sense. I still remember watching Sean shred on stage many nights behind Josh Kemble (Vocals/Dogwood), some shows even I booked. Best show I witnessed was with Thrice and Dogwood at House of Blues of Anaheim in 2001. BEST.SHOW.EVER! Enough about that. Spirit Junkie is the album you absolutely need to add to your collections as soon as possible
- LIV. – Be the Change [On the Attack Records]
Fast, furious, and full of sweat induced mosh worthy hardcore music. LIV. Is a relatively new band and is here to make a statement about what has been missing in modern heavy music. Remember the classic days of Revelation Records bands and all that hardcore fury flowing from their artists? Yeah most of you don’t but that doesn’t matter, LIV take their rough, raw and old school sound to new heights on this “Be the Change” album. From the moments I heard this band, I knew they had something special to appreciate. Kudos to Dave and On The Attack Records for finding these new bands.
- New Found Glory – Resurrection [Hopeless Records]
This band has switched labels so many times in the past few years that it baffles even me. None of that matters though because their core sound remains intact and they’re here to show the young’uns how it’s done. Pop-Punk done right and with enough youthful enthusiasm you’d swear these gentlemen were just out of high school. I haven’t yet bought this album but I have been spinning it on Spotify and plan to soon because I love NFG.
- Young and Heartless – The Pull of Gravity
This new-grunge band explore their alternative roots and nod to the 90’s on this, their debut full length “The Pull of Gravity”. Young and Heartless are a band to keep your eye on in 2015 and one worthy of a listen. “The Pull of Gravity” is a thought provoking and catchy full length record that captivates a certain mood. The nostalgic feelings I get from listening to this album bring back a certain feeling, era of my life that puts a smile on my face. Don’t let that “classic” sound sway you from listening to Young and Heartless. It’s but a brief explanation of something much bigger that we all can appreciate.
- Christ’s Sake – We All Fall Down [Thumper Punk Records]
Thumper Punk has really been overdoing it with the continual release of fantastic punk albums this year. I am loving this Orange County band called Christ’s Sake. “We All Fall Down” is the punk album all fans of the genre must absolutely own. It’s got a pop-punk leaning side and I mean the classic pop-punk sound of yesteryear and not this watered down mainstream radio sound. Here I’ll let my blog explain my appreciation: This Orange County punk rock band really surprised me with this sophomore Thumper Punk release. Some Thumper Punk albums can be hit or miss (sorry bands, no hurt feelings k thnx) but this band went and released an album that has risen above all the garbage out there in the music scene. Spiritual lyrics mixed with hard hitting guitar rhythms and fast melodic beats, enough to drive plenty of circle pits. They have a unique style not just for “Christian” music but for the punk scene. They do have a classic sound that hearkens back to a few decades ago yet still current enough to bring in the kiddies (and their parents!). I miss the days when bands would open up an album with a movie quote or bible verse and this band certainly isn’t ashamed of what they believe and why it is they believe what they do, which to me is definitely admirable. In today’s watered down, dumb-ed down music scene, bands like this are welcomed change (thank you Thumper Punk for keeping it real). Lyrics run the gamut of substance abuse and reconciliation, to sexual abuse/trafficking, to the healing grace of God. If you’re looking for a deeply personal record sure to raise a few eyebrows and yet put a smile on your face, then this album is for you. For fans of Descendants, Social Distortion, TSOL, Value Pac, Altar Boys, and more.
- White Lighter – White Lighter [Northern Records]
What can I say about Mark Salomon (Stavesacre/The Crucified) and the gang for creating this truly fabulous work of art? Well it’s mind bending 😉 Seriously, this a fantastic work of musicianship and Mark’s vocals truly carry this project beyond just the typical 70’s revival rock n’ roll. It’s got something for everyone to appreciate. Jason Martin’s production is top notch and even the vinyl packaging/artwork is alone worth the purchase. If you haven’t heard White Lighter yet, do yourself a favor and give this group a listen. It’s a relatively new release for me since it just released toward the end of November but that doesn’t sway me from appreciating the music in such a short amount of time.
- Wolves at the Gate – XvX [Solid State Records]
Explosive and melodically emotional, hard hitting, heavy music. This band sure knows how to write a hook and combine it with the most intense, aggressive music. I am a fan of this band for sure and love the new album. Sure the vocals are reminiscent of Thrice (Dustin Kensrue) but that doesn’t sway me away from listening to them. This band has loads of potential and are definitely one to keep your eyes on in 2015. “XvX” is an album worthy of a listen.
- Ellie Holcomb – As Sure As the Sun
Ellie comes out from under the shadow of her husband and band mate, Drew Holcomb, to release her own album of the highest caliber. Some people may call it “CCM” but I just call it great alt-pop-folk and inspirational in the greatest regard. This is simply an incredible first solo effort and if it’s any indication of the next Drew Holcomb effort (due in January 2015), it’s going to be a breakout hit in the new year.
- Ourlives – Den of Lions [Spartan Records]
The Mae meets Coldplay sound of Iceland’s own Ourlives serves as a gentle reminder that we truly live in a global music industry full of budding talent and expertise. This group is a new band for me to discover but they’ve actually been around since 2005 or so. “Den of Lions” takes music to new heights and exposes not only the talented roster of Spartan Records but also shows the talent of quite capable European based indie rock groups. Ourlives are one of the great bands of this next generation and a group to cherish along with your favorite records. Everyone check out Ourlives and the incredible talent Spartan Records has to offer.
- Lecrae – Anomaly [Reach Records]
“Anomaly” is Lecrae’s most commercial album by far and one that will rank him up there in the echelon of today’s top hip hop stars. This is Lecrae’s breakout album and a sure fire hit. I really enjoy this album even if I’m not the biggest hip hop fan. I do appreciate most of the stuff coming from Reach Records (some of which I still need to purchase).
- Mouth of the South – Struggle Well [Facedown Records]
This release came out of nowhere for me. I didn’t really listen to the band much until this full length hit. I can without a doubt say that this is some solid heavy music. There is a certain nu-metal vibe the band makes full use out of on the album and something I appreciate. There is power in not only the music but the words as well. Facedown has become world renown for pushing quality hardcore/metal/heavy music over the past 15+ years and this release is certainly no exception. Check this band and their release out at once.
- Living Fire – Dead to Sin [Thumper Punk Records]
Living Fire are a unique outfit. How many “Christian” punk groups can you count that originate from the country of Brazil? Yeah, not too many. Living Fire count as heavy hitters in my book not just in independent punk rock but in the realm of Christian music. Their fiery brand of spirituality is infectious and cause for major fist pumping action. “Dead to Sin” marks the first official album by the band that I can call myself a fan of. I didn’t really dig their last one too much but I can say without a doubt that this one is a definite step up from the Thumper Punk debut and a positive new direction for the band toward a fruitful future in punk rock. The band strikes that perfect balance between unbridled aggression and the melodic. Melody is certainly not something lost on the weak for this band handles it with ease and still keeps their gritty realism in tact. If you’re looking for an accurate description of the sounds permeating from the album, I would best describe them as a toss between Dogwood, Bouncing Souls, Millencolin, Flatfoot 56, and Nothington. Even a bit of old school Officer Negative can be found in some songs (as is evident even in their tip of the hat through the cover of the classic Officer Negative song ‘JCHC’). Overall, I am most impressed with this sophomore effort from Living Fire and would recommend it to true punk rock fans as well as new punk fans just getting into the scene and looking for that next Faith based band to latch on to. If you’re looking for great lyrics and aggressive yet melodic punk tunes to jam out on the next cruise around town, look no further than Living Fire. We miss you Dogwood, but Living Fire can certainly fill the void
- Only Crime – Pursuance [Rise Records]
Hard hitting solid punk rock from this super band. Between this band, Good Riddance, and his solo material, Russ Rankin certainly has his hands filled. This is an exceptional punk rock album and one to be treasured by all fans of the genre. If you haven’t given this relatively unheard album a listen, do yourself a favor and check it out.
- Charli XCX – Sucker [Major]
I had pre-ordered this album earlier in the fall and had been getting singles one at a time over a number of months leading up the release of her first official major label album “Sucker”. I am a sucker for a good chorus and Charli XCX knows how to sing one out of the park. Yes, this is a pop record and although I am not a big purveyor of all things “pop” I know a great hit when I see one. Most every song on this album is going to blow up big on mainstream radio in 2015 and you are without a doubt looking at the next big pop star to emerge from this next generation. If you can get past some of the vulgarity of a couple songs, this is an edgy, yet catchy full length sure to get your singing a long.
- Bleachers – Strange Desire [Major]
I love this album plain and simple. I didn’t know what to expect when the band name “Fun” is tossed around along with the words “Side project”. Sometimes it can be terrible and poorly executed. However that is not the case with Bleachers and this debut full length “Strange Desire”. Bleachers take their 80’s new wave flair to a whole new level on “Strange Desire” with standout tracks such as “Wild Heart”, “Rollercoaster”, “I Wanna Get Better”, and “Shadow”. Overall, this is certainly an album worth purchasing and adding to your collection.
Sullivan – Heavy is the Head
Artifex Pereo – Time in Place
Chevelle – La Gargola
The Choir – Shadow Weaver
Beebs and Her Money Makers – Wurst Album Ever
Islander – Violence & Destruction
We Shot the Moon – The Finish Line
The Used – Imaginary Enemy
Linkin Park – The Hunting Army
Transit – Joyride
Rise Against – The Black Market
John Mark McMillan – Borderland
Wovenwar – Wovenwar
Sleep for Sleepers – Discovery
The Collection – Ars Moriendi
Top 10 – Eps
- A Common Goal / False Idle – Split Decision [Thumper Punk Records]
This is a moving little ep full of explosive anthems about spiritual hope and cries for a better world. Engaging, aggressive, edgy, slightly political, and dare I say “poppy”. These songs are some of the finest of both band’s discographies. My hope is that they each continue in this direction and to release my favorite new records of 2015. I’ve gotta say, this is some extremely tasty PUNK ROCK! The original songs (2 each) from both bands are absolutely fantastic and some of the best they’ve ever done as bands. This release finds A Common Goal exploring their more melodic, dare I say “poppy” side (for them at least) and the False Idle tracks are just as catchy as what you heard on some of the finest tracks from “Threat”. Both bands stay true to their punk rock spirit while embracing a slight melodic, poppy direction and that same fiery brand of spiritually engaging social commentary they’ve become known for. If you’re looking for an explosive new punk rock Ep to purchase, look no further than the “Split Decision” release from Thumper Punk Records.
- The Social Threat – Even Honest Talk is Cheap [Independent]
“Even Honest Talk is Cheap” is a politically charged ep offering a glimpse of hope through a lens of spiritual awakening. This is real punk rock meant to get your adrenaline pumping and your heart on fire. The Social Threat create honest and intellectual punk sure to bring a smile and chills down the spine for any fan of the genre.
- Seeker and Servant – Into Your Love I Go [Independent]
Seeker and Servant have done what few bands put forth on their debut ep and that is create music with a strong spiritual center, indie worship at just the write volume, and music that speaks volumes about what independent music can be. Sometimes when you hear the word “independent”, words like “awful”, “under-produced”, “garage worthy demo”, come to mind pushing off any anticipation for a great record. This my friends is not what the above words spell out but rather a well produced, nice sounding, epic and ethereal record meant to move you into a greater understanding of God and life in him. Pick this ep up at once and don’t hold yourself back from enjoying great independent music.
- OceanSpeak – Sea I The I Same [Independent]
This is a great indie rock/experimental release from the young Ohio band. Aggressively inspirational and filled to the brim with experimentation but not so much that it scares away the indie rock fan in all of us. This release is some fine rock with perfectly placed melodies and soaring choruses. OceanSpeak is a band to keep your eye on in 2015 and one who will be signed soon enough.
- Revivalist – Brother [On the Attack Records]
This is hardcore with an old school aggressive vibe. This is the kind of hardcore I enjoy and a band worthy of a listen. Spirit filled with an edgy undertone that strikes me as music that has been missing from the scene for a number of years. Bands like Revivalist, LIV., Fire the Sun, are keeping it real for the next generation and bringing back that old school sound.
- Sef Idle – Start Again [Thumper Punk Records]
This acoustically led punk release is unlike the norm and challenges the mindset of what a typical punk album should sound like. Sef has done himself a favor and took a huge risk by putting the distortion to the side, wearing his heart proudly on the sleeve and sharing stories about life & love. Sef’s day job is leading the punk band False Idle as their front man/guitarist/songwriter if you aren’t familiar with him (look them up). Thumper Punk are diversifying their roster more and more each day and this ep is further proof that you don’t have to release just stagnant garage oriented punk that sounds like it’s recorded in a bathroom with a single mic in one take. Listen to the tracks “5AM”, “Start Again”, and the teary eyed “Big and Strong” (My personal favorite). Don’t just take those as standout tracks, every single one is memorable and worthy of a listen. The simplicity of song and gentle soothing voice of Sef coupled with the upbeat strum of an acoustic guitar make this a must for every punk and non-punk fan alike. A+, buy it now!
- Stay the Shores – Water and Bones [Independent]
This is alternative folk the way it should be done. There are dozens of these sorts of bands flooding the music scene at this very moment but something about Stay the Shores separates them from the unending supply of Mumford & Sons clones and banjo wielding copy cats. If mainstream Christian Music can learn anything from independent bands, it’s that they are sometimes a few years behind in capturing the talent of inspirational acts on the cusp of a big breakthrough. This band my friends is a group worth a listen and a band I hope gets the proper mainstream attention in the coming years ahead. “Water and Bones” is the ep you’ve all been waiting for to fill that folk sized vibe in your music collection. You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate the captivating music creation of the gentlemen and ladies of Stay the Shores.
- Lnyx – Captivate [Independent]
Pop/Dance music has never sounded as good as it does on this independent band’s debut release. Featuring former members of Philmont, Lnyx takes the best elements of EDM/Dance music and combines it with indie sensibilities, creating an ep to blow all other groups in the genre out of the water. “Captivate” does just that and so much more. I am loving this release even if I am not the biggest fan of the genre. Pick up “Captivate” today and show your friends how cool you are for discovering something new they’ve never heard of. Do it!
- Waypoint – Creature of Habit [Spartan Records]
Spartan Records is on a roll this year. They have released a ton of really great records from bands like Our Lives, The Foxery, Sullivan, as well as the Vinyl pressing of Sense Field “Tonight and Forever” and this little ep from new-grunge band, Waypoint. The music scene is exploding with a ton of great talent bring back a sound of the early 90’s mixed with current edge. Bands like Superheaven, Young and Heartless, Better Off, Fireworks, Basement, etc. are bringing back that classic sound while combining it with their own talents to create something earth shattering. Waypoint is one of those bands playing a sound reminiscent of bands from yesteryear and doing it right. Spartan has quite the talent and this band is no exception. Buy Waypoint “Creature of Habit” at the first available chance you have. You won’t be sorry you did.
- Moral Monsters – Postmodern Failurism [Veritas Vinyl]
Thought provoking punk rock from this Houston, Texas pop-punk duo. I’m telling you, you don’t hear tunes like this typically from the “Christian” market let alone the punk rock music scene. These guys are one of a kind and that’s what draws me into their music. Their sound is reminiscent to bands like NoFx, Mxpx, Shop 11 Phoenix, Rufio, Screeching Weasel, etc. Postmodern Failurism is the pop-punk ep you’ve been dying to hear for the past decade that’s been missing since it died out the last time. They have this “classic” sound yet modern enough for audiences of this day and age to latch on to as to not label them some “old” band as kids like to say. Check them out and download this ep if you get a chance. Some of my favorite tracks on this ep include “Innocent Blood”, “Blood of the Martyrs”, “Now They’re Dead”.
Honorable Ep Mentions
Hearts Like Lions – These Hands
Four Year Strong – Go Down in History
Sow and Tether – Stripes Speak Out
Josiah James – Identity
American Arson – The Vine & The Branches
Favorite Song of 2014:
Metanoia – Hope [Thumper Punk Records]
“Hope” captures the band further exploring melodic punk with their first foray into English language music. If any band deserves a breakout in 2015, it’s Metanoia. The Chilean punk band have done what few punk bands do and that’s create a catchy song filled to brim with hopeful lyrics. This isn’t negative politically charged angry music but rather a band exploring spirituality in music form. Give these guys a listen and get ready for the next big punk breakthrough of 2015.