Best of the First Half of 2012 (Jan.-July)
by: Brandon Jones/IVM
We are halfway through the year of 2012, can you believe it? Time sure flies. Personally, this has been one heck of a wild ride with all the gazillion albums being released, some good, some bad, many in between. I have done my best to compile MY favorites into the list below. Feel free to dissect, critique, and then assimilate into my mindset :) Well i’m half kidding on that last part. Be warned, there are several albums that I still don’t have from this year. Sure i’ve listened on Spotify to many of them but I don’t count them on my “list” until I actually own them. So these albums may pop up on the list at the end of the year. Here we go.
[Yes I am well aware that several titles listed below do contain profanity but my point isn’t to promote that behavior by listing these as my favorites, rather just to share what I’ve been listening too lately. Listen at your own discretion. This is only an (MY) opinion and does not reflect the overall personal listening habits of other such staff members at IVM. ]
1. The Hotshot Freight Train “Get Low” (Future Destination Records)
This album completely captivated me and took me by surprise. I mean I have always been a fan (even putting them at the top of my year end list in 2009) but never before has The Hotshot Freight Train done music to such a grand scale as can be found on this third full length, “Get Low”. Seriously going to be a contender for album of the year.
2. Make Do and Mend “Everything You Ever Loved” (Rise Records)
Wow, a “Rise” artist on my list? I am serious. This label has been diversifying their roster and branching out into many different styles of music, this band being one of them. Although this release is still new and the paint is still drying, I can’t help but fall in love with it’s raw power. This is a band with a punk edge yet riding the rock n’ roll fence quite comfortably. Imagine Foo Fighters joining up with The Gaslight Anthem and Face to Face on “Ignorance is Bliss” while jamming to Pearl Jam on the way to a Hot Water Music show, then you might get some sort of idea of the sounds permeating this album.
3. Capital Lights “Rhythm N Moves” (Tooth & Nail)
This album isn’t officially out yet but I’ve had it for more than a month and can’t get enough of it. Simplicity and power pop combine to create an epic soundscape only Capital Lights could construct. If you enjoyed their debut on Tooth & Nail, you’re going to fall in love with this perfect summertime album.
4. Children 18:3 “On the Run” (Tooth & Nail)
Yet another album that is still very new and fresh in all our minds. Children 18:3 take the sounds found on their last two releases, then raise the stakes by implementing an even more ear pleasing session. Filled to the brim with sing able melodies and guitar rock anthems, this band yet again proves themselves and pushes forward towards worldwide acclaim with “On the Run”, An album you don’t want to miss out on.
5. Mxpx “Plans Within Plans” (Rock City Recordings)
Mxpx return for their 9th full length album and celebrate 20 years as a band by releasing their finest album in a decade, further cementing their fate at the top of everyone’s favorite punk rock charts yet again. This band has consistently produced quality material over their span of 20 years and always guarantee a fun time while spinning songs. This album is no exception, finding the band exploring their more straight ahead punk leanings and doing their own thing while charting a course only they can set.
6. Sons “Keep Quiet” (Slospeak Records)
Where do I begin with this release? It was an album I was personally anticipated for a good few years and could hardly hold back my excitement for it’s impending release. The album came and released to momentous applause/critical acclaim. They take post hardcore, progressive rock and dump them in an experimental blender, churning till you can’t help but fall in love with the pleasing melodies. Aaron’s voice has never been stronger. This debut full length will hopefully inspire many more albums and a successful career among the echelon of other bands we consider “Big” among the music scene at large.
7. P.O.D “Murdered Love” (Razor & Tie)
Aside from the controversy surrounding “I Am”, this album really will bring back long time fans of the band who may have moved on from their style of Nu Metal during the early part of last decade in favor of more hipster skinny jean admiring scene folk. Deep down, a lot of people are still in love with this band and have a certain fervor for their spiritual content. So many strong songs on this record that will certainly surpass everyone’s disappointment with “When Angels and Serpents Dance” a few years ago. Is it “Satellite” or “Fundamental Elements of Southtown” worthy material? Only time will tell and you’ll have to each be the judge of that.
8. Pennywise “All or Nothing” (Epitaph Records)
A lot of people were skeptical of the lead vocalist change after Jim departed (after like 20 years). It’s not easy for any band to transition in the lead vocal department after having someone sing in front of your band for 20 or so years. People identify with a band based on the vocals and it’s never an easy job for a new guy to take over. Thankfully that new guy happened to be Zoli Teglas of the band IGNITE (look them up). Zoli’s vocals fit perfectly with the music of Pennywise and if anything, make them a more fluid, aggressive punk rock band. Though this album may have some language that our readers aren’t particularly fond of, I can’t help but spin these songs.
9. Vocal Few “She’ll Be Right” Ep (Independent)
So we all know Matt McDonald from The Classic Crime but we didn’t know how he’d transition into the more folky/acoustic side of rock with his wife. Well I can tell you that the transition was a smooth one and completely on track for producing quality music. This 4 song ep is some of the finest music (in that style) that you can dive into and if you’re a Classic Crime fan, you can’t go wrong with this ep. Even the spiritual side is a bit more front and center than on some recent Classic Crime tracks. Check it out.
10. Useless ID “Symptoms” (Fat Wreckords)
This band probably won’t be winning any awards or acknowledgements from the music elite but don’t let that fool you into thinking this isn’t some of the best melodic punk rock (do people still say ‘skate punk’?) around. This Israeli punk band is on a course set to win over even the most skeptical punk fan. Melodic, aggressive, and amped punk music from a band with a long history of producing quality music.
11. Less Than Jake “Greetings From…” Ep (Sleep it Off/Independent)
You can’t have a list in any one year with a Less Than Jake album(Ep) and not include them. It should be a crime not to include these veterans of punk/ska on year end lists. Following on the heels of last year’s ep “Seasons Greetings”, this band follows much the same course followed on their last few decades worth of music and keeps things punk rock. They have the horn element and some ska beats but not so much that it would bring about a ska revival or anything ;) You can buy this one from the band directly. 20 years and still going strong.
12. The Bouncing Souls “Comet” (Rise Records)
Another “New” album still sinking in with me, and boy is it a winner (so far). This release picks up where “The Gold Record” left off and continues on that same path with even better production/sound quality. Yeah I know about the one song a month deal from a few years ago that culiminated in a full length release last year but I’d rather forget about it to be honest. That album had hardly any “winners” in my book and was instantly forgotten over months time. This album takes the band in directions any radio punk band would be jealous of. Even showing off some straight up rock tendencies. The Bouncing Souls should be proud of this album and so should Rise for putting it out.
13. The Jellyrox “Heta Himlen” (Independent)
A lot of us didn’t know what to expect from the lead singer/guitarist of Eleventyseven when he said he wanted to pursue his more “electronic” tendencies and influence. Wow, that’s all I can say. Self produced yet sounds huge and is quite well written. Sure it’s poppy, sugary, and probably a bit on the guilty pleasure side, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any less awesome. Quality electro-pop here.
14. I Call Fives “I Call Fives” (Pure Noise Records)
This album is so new that it’s not officially out until Tuesday. I happened to get a preview copy this past week and I am so incredibly floored by it’s charming sounds. Melodic punk never sounded this good, at least not in the past decade. Taking a cue from Fall Out Boy’s “Take This to Your Grave” and New Found Glory, this band is sure to be a huge hit in a few months. If you enjoy bands like A Loss for Words, or Fireworks, you’re going to fall in love with I Call Fives.
15. Oceans and Vessels “By Day or By Night” (Independent)
If you’re looking for quality indie worship music that doesn’t reek of commercial cheese, then Oceans and Vessels are the band for you. I’ve only had this album for a few weeks but it is quickly moving up my personal favorites list. Something about this band that brings back memories of Waking Ashland, Mae, and Watashi Wa’s finest moments. Spiritually relevant and emotionally moving music.
16. Altars “Conclusions” (Facedown Records)
I haven’t been all too impressed with a lot of current “heavy” bands but Altars has that perfect dose of brutality, speed, breakdowns, and a hint of melody. I would put these guys more in the melodic hardcore crowd then with deathcore or metalcore bands, if you know what I mean. Like most Facedown Records releases, this one is filled to the brim with quality.
17. Blessed by a Broken Heart “Feel the Power” (Tooth & Nail Records)
I’m not usually one that’s fond of gimmicks or groups vying for some commercial glimpse of fame but there is something uniquely different about Blessed by a Broken Heart that makes me embrace their music. Power chords, melody, and glam-like vocals bring to mind a more flamboyant time ala the 1980’s glam metal scene. Do these guys take the top spot as favorite glam metal band in that time period? Nope, that crown remains on the dudes in Def Leppard but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the wondrous sounds in “Feel the Power”. I dig the solos, thunderous drumming, even some of the metal like hardcore breakdowns (is that a thing?). Solid music with some slightly cliche relationship centered lyrical leanings, but it’s still good stuff.
18. Hot Water Music “Exister” (Rise Records)
I am new on the Hot Water Music bandwagon. Of all the bands I grew up with, this was one of those bands I never really got into. That all changed last year when I got their 2 song single on Rise. I went right out and bought their 2004 album and are slowly buying other albums in the past. How do I explain “Exister”, well this is the band and especially Chuck Ragan solo, that has inspired a whole new generation of grovel punks to come out of the woodwork. It’s clear that bands like Rise Against, Gaslight Anthem, Menzingers, Make Do and Mend, The Story So Far, Misser, etc. were probably influenced by Hot Water Music. Kudos to Rise Records for signing them and continuing to diversify their roster.
19. Goodnight Wednesday “The American Nightmare” (Paper Mache Records)
I had high hopes for this release and my anticipation was high ever since I heard some early recordings from this band along with “Oroku Saki” from last year’s “Punk Never Dies” compilation. Well I got this disc in the mail and although it’s a bit “raw”, the band clearly knows how to write some catchy tunes. It’s political without being annoying and spiritual without being cheesy. If these guys don’t blow up in the next year, then I don’t know what’s wrong with the world. Solid melodic punk rock for the fan of A Wilhelm Scream, Rise Against, Slick Shoes, Squad 5-0, Much the Same.
20. Flatfoot 56 “Toil” (Paper + Plastick)
Celtic influenced punk rock isn’t a new concept nor is it entirely original yet the dudes in Flatfoot 56 pull off their particular style with class, dignity, and the spirit of unity. A band like this among the Christian crowd is something incredibly cool to witness and listen to. It’s not everyday a group of Christians decide to form a celtic influenced punk rock band singing about unity, brotherhood, socio-political themes with religious undertones. Their take on “I’ll Fly Away” is golden. Although this album is still new with me and doesn’t yet release until late July, I have a feeling it’ll slowly climb it’s way up my end of the year lists. If you’re a fan of bands like Dropkick Murphys, Street Dogs, The Ducky Boys, The Gaslight Anthem, and even Flogging Molly, you’ll find something to appreciate in Flatfoot 56.
21. Fireflight “Now” (Sony BMG/Provident)
I have been following this band since I sold their independent release in my webstore all the way back in the early part of last decade. I love everything about this band and hold their music to high regard in my collection. Sure some of their songs may come off as “cheesy” to some but I believe it’s beautiful music with a real heart. Some of the most touching songs have been Fireflight songs and this album is no exception. Fireflight are a great example of how a female led rock band should sound. It’s a shame they are still stuck with Sony/Provident because to me personally it doesn’t seem that the label does anything for the band. They would do so much better on Tooth & Nail, no offense.
22. Lovelite “In Three Persons” (Independent)
Another new release in my collection. Spiritually moving and engaging worship that seeks to put you in the perfect mood to worship our creator in heaven. This is music of depth and steers clear of the commercial cheese that is so prevalent in today’s mainstream worship music scene. This was released separately as 3 different eps which combined into one album titled “In Three Persons” which speaks of the Trinity, hence the title “In Three Persons”. This album might not win awards or be on the cover of magazines but don’t let that stop you from checking it out. If you’re looking for music of substance and depth, look no further than Lovelite.
23. Demon Hunter “True Defiance” (Solid State Records)
I wasn’t supposed to like this release. After the last couple of albums, I assumed this was more of the same, especially after the band losing some key members. Then there are the endless haters who have suddenly become too cool for the Demon Hunter sound and pretend not to be into this band when we all know it’s not the truth. “True Defiance” finds the band embracing their heavy roots yet interlacing it with a huge dose of melody that the band has become known for. I dig most of these songs including the bonus track on the iTunes version. This is how a band should do “heavy”
24. Kiros “Lay Your Weapons Down” (ANGR Records)
This release really surprised me. It’s aggressive without being angry, poppy without being pathetic. These guys know how to write a catchy rock song that moves you. They kind of remind me of a cross between The Wedding and House of Heroes with a dose of The Classic Crime. Bands like this should be huge among our scene of generic elite. So much energy and chops that these guys shouldn’t be tailing tours, they should be headlining. Definitely check out “Lay Your Weapons Down”, it’ll be the underrated album of the year.
25. Millencolin “The Melancholy Collection” (Epitaph Records)
I know this is just a bsides collection but there were a couple of newly recorded songs that made it a must have release. The new songs have never sounded better and all the other bsides (recorded between “Pennybridge Pioneers” and “Machine 15″) sound just like they’d be on a current Millencolin disc. I love this band’s penchant for writing melodic punk rock songs that make you sing a long. Just a few years ago, bands like this were hard to come by, but in the last year that environment is suddenly changing. This is another band celebrating 20 years together and it’s quite remarkable that these Swedish punk rockers are still at it.
26. Linkin Park “Living Things”
After the release of their last forgettable album, my hopes were set low for what was to come on this new album. I did not enjoy the sounds on the last album and thought it was Linkin Park trying to get all arty farty and experimental just because they’re all rich and can do what they want. Well this album has proved all of us wrong and set me straight. It’s got the perfect balance electronics, rapping, and rock infused melodic songwriting that the band has become most known for. If you dug the sound of their early work along with their most well recognized singles, you’ll dig this album. It’s still new to me so it could move up ranks during the year.
27. The Offspring “Days Go By” (Columbia)
This album is so new that I’ve only listened to it a few times. I love The Offspring and always have. They write some of the catchiest melodic punk rock songs that any band in the genre/scene can write. The only problem I have with this release (so far) is the two songs “Cruising California (Bumping in my Truck)”, and “OC Guns”, clearly two of the worst songs ever. If you enjoyed the last album “Rise and Fall Rage and Grace”, you will love this one. There is some coarse language on this disc so if that offends you, turn away.
28. Josiah James “All Forgotten Things” (Independent)
Josh Murphy first exposed me to this artist a few years ago when we featured him on our site. Josiah has always written such solid pop-rock songs with strong spiritual leanings. This album is further proof that Josiah is on the tip of the iceberg in terms of breaking through in the music scene. This album will definitely be an underrated hit in years to come.
29. Memphis May Fire “Challenger” (Rise Records)
I just got this album a week ago and I can already tell that I am becoming a fan of it. I am not all that fond of the mix of metal(core) and singing but there is something entirely special about Memphis May Fire that keeps me coming back again and again.
30. Cheap Girls “Giant Orange” (Rise Records)
This band does not fit the current underground punk scene at all much other than the fact that they share a certain diy ethic. This band would sit more comfortably with the early 90’s grunge/alt rock that was being churned out by the truckloads. If you know who Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins, or Urge Overkill is/was, then you’re going to love this band. I do and am so glad I found their album this year.
Best Independent/Unsigned Releases for the First Half:
Stay the Shores “White Snow Red River” (Independent)
Expertly written folky influenced rock with a worship bent. Some of the production leaves a bit to be desired but it’s still solid music with heart. This is a band on the rise that you’re all going to know in the next 12 months.
Orion Walsh “First by Water Then By Fire” (Independent)
Orion Walsh has released several albums/eps since leaving Slow Coming Day many years ago and each one has it’s gems. This ep shows Orion at his best and clearly showcases his talent. Although “Tornado Lullabies” (2008) is still my favorite release of his, this album is definitely one not to be forgotten.
Arthur Alligood “One Silver Needle”
There is something about Arthur’s music that just makes me relax and contemplate things on the drive to work. There is a tad bit nostalgic factor about his music yet it’s still entirely original and all his own. I see signs of The Wallflowers meet Tom Petty meet Orion Walsh in his music but he carves a path all his own. You may not know who this artist is but that’s the point of these “lists”, to find and encourage future purchases among our reader base. Check him out.
Via Verde “No Greater Love” (Independent)
Euro influenced rock for the fan of Muse, Keane, and even One Republic. This ep is a definite plus in any collection and shows potential for future material.
Goodluck Varsity “Thrones” (Independent)
This little band caught my ear a few years ago and i’ve been following their career closely ever since. Their music is a perfect blend of alt rock and pop punk with a focus on melodic songwriting. I liked the ep so much that we decided to stream the whole thing right here on IVM. A great band that is sure to blow up big in the next 12 months.
Ashtree “Rescue the Light” (Independent)
Another great independent band writing solid alt rock songs sure to please any fan of Anberlin, House of Heroes, Fair, Keane, and The Fray. If you dig any of those aforementioned bands, you know you’re going to love this new band. Check this release out on iTunes and pick it up today.
Young Oceans “Young Oceans” (Independent)
Lori, a publicist I work with, sent me this album and told me to check them out. Boy, am I glad I did. It may not have received high marks in the review on our site but then again we are all free to disagree (it’s just opinions people). I find this mix of worship, ambiance, and euro rock to be an exciting combo. There is just something about this release that puts me in a mood and makes me want to worship our God in heaven. I love Young Oceans and I think they have a promising future ahead of them.
Hawkins & Silver “Pizza N Skateboards” (Independent)
Another great new independent band. This one borders on the power pop side of things with a slight pop-punk feel to the songs. This band features a few members of Blood and Water and the album was produced by Masaki who also handled the Blood and Water full length (and Five Iron Frenzy’s releases) so it’s no surprise that I would instantly be into this. Great little band with a bright future ahead.
The O.C. Supertones “On the Downbeat”
What can I say, I am a big ska fan and a fan of The OC Supertones. This song shows the band in their best element and brings to mind their biggest hits of the 90’s/early 00s. I can’t wait for the new full SKAtastic full length.
Set Your Goals “Only Right Now” & Walk it Off” (Epitaph Records)
These two new singles are the band’s best work in a few years and if its a hint of what’s to come, count me as first in line to get the new album!
Yellowcard “Always Summer” (Hopeless Records)
It can’t be a summer without a new Yellowcard song. They write THE anthems for summer and this song is no exception. I love Yellowcard and look forward to the new full length in the fall.
What’s Eating Gilbert “The Nashville Session” (Paper + Plastick)
Chad Gilbert, guitarist for New Found Glory strikes out on his own again with another ep/single, this time two songs. I love the 50’s infused pop-punk found on the songs “Babe” and “Lonely Road”. If you’re missing the sound of yesteryear, then check out What’s Eating Gilbert and pick up this two song single.
A Bright Sky “Hero”
This independent band has most impressed me this year with their debut single. Featuring former Forgotten Arrival vocalist “Travis Aimer”. Their sound is hard to describe as it straddles the line between Pop-punk, Alt Rock, and even the heavier side. I guess you’d call them a rock band. Check these guys out.
[These albums are slowly climbing the chart for favorite releases and will definitely be listened to more throughout the year]
Mixtapes “Even on the Worst Nights”
Motion City Soundtrack “Go”
True Liberty “Marked For Life”
Lost Prophets “Weapons”
Fun “Some Nights”
Ascend the Hill “O Ransomed Son”
Green River Ordinance “Under Fire”
Stickup Kid “Nothing About Me”
Daytrader “Twelve Years”
Hit the Lights “Invicta”
War of Ages “Return to Life”
xLooking Forwardx “Down With the Ship”
Jenny and Tyler “Open Your Doors”