40-31, 30-21, Honorable Mentions, 10-1
20. Salt by Lauren Strange
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Lauren Salt is a Memphis born, Nashville based singer/songwriter with a penchant for crafting incredibly infectious and intelligent pop rock songs. Strange, a Grand-Prize Winner of the John Lennon International Songwriting Contest cites influences ranging from Liz Phair to PJ Harvey to the Pixies and it is that mix of '90s indie rock sensibility and pop mastery that makes Salt work so perfectly. The three song EP is catchy, with hooks for miles and beautiful melodies. This is pop rock 'n' roll at its finest.
19. Don't Panic by Habits
BandCamp, iTunes, Spotify
Habits' EP Don't Panic is three songs of modern punk rock perfection. After announcing last year that the band was calling it a day, the release of this record was an extremely pleasant surprise. For those new to the band, Habits play that brand of punk rock that mixes gruff vocals with ridiculous hooks and sing-a-long choruses. Sure the band isn't breaking any new ground but who care because it's fucking awesome! This record/band is a must for fans of Red City Radio, Nothington, Iron Chic, and Wolves & Wolves & Wolves & Wolves.
18. Our Undivided Attention by Benchmarks
SofaBurn Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Nashville, TN's Benchmarks full-length debut Our Undivided Attention is a compelling, enriching, and fulfilling album that touches on a multitude of sub-genres, styles, and moods all while holding strong as a cohesive unit and a singular experience. Mixing elements of indie rock, alt country, emo, anthematic punk rock, power pop, alt rock, and classic rock, Benchmarks have created a sound that is bold, expansive, and pure rock 'n' roll passion. [...] Sonically Benchmarks hit that perfect sweet spot playing catchy melodic rock anthems with deep emotions and a slight twang. This is the kind of record that should appeal to fans of everything from Placeholder to Against Me! to Jimmy Eat World to Foo Fighters to Two Cow Garage to The Promise Ring and everything in between.In a lot of ways, Benchmarks and Fire In The Radio are kindred spirits, not in the way they sound per se but in their vibes and that perfect blending of styles to create something new.
17. Punishers by The Slow Death
Big Cartel, BandCamp, Rad Girlfriend Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
The Slow Death's third album Punishers is a perfect blast of uber catchy, gruff vocal, sing-a-long punk rock. This band perfectly mixes all the best elements of the genre and will have you bouncing along to each and every heart wrenchingly honest song. Not unlike the previously mentioned Habits, The Slow Death highlights everything good about punk rock in the 21st century. And if releasing a stellar album this year wasn't enough, the band also dropped an equally as good seven inch in October.
16. Attic Salt by Attic Salt
BandCamp, Dodgeball Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Attic Salt's self-titled debut is one of those records that just keeps getting better every time you listen to it. Hailing from Springfield, IL Attic Salt play a high energy mix of power pop, '90s indie rock, and pop punk resulting in a 10 song album that is so infectious and fun that it should be illegal. What really drives the point home is the incredible dueling/alternating female/male vocals of guitarists Alyssa Currie and Andy Harmon (especially Currie's). Seriously, this record is just stupid good.
15. POSI by Great Cynics
Specialist Subject Records, Lame-O Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
My love of Great Cynics is well documented on this site. Nearly everything they have released has appeared on my year-end lists since I discovered the band and I knew instantly that POSI was going to be no different. For those unfamiliar with the band, Great Cynics play a jangley and unbelievably catchy brand of indie punk rock that swims in deep '90s influences (singer/guitarist Giles Bidder stated that the Lemonheads were the band's biggest interview when I interviewed him in 2012). Prior to recording POSI the band went through some lineup changes, and while I was bummed that bassist Iona Cairns left to concentrate on her outstanding band Shit Present, Bidder and company didn't miss a step and produced a pop powerhouse of an album.
14. After The Party by The Menzingers
BandCamp, Epitaph Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
The Mnezingers' fifth album After The Party may very well be the band's magnum opus. Sure it's probably too early to say this is the best thing this band will ever do, but up to this point this is the best thing this band has done. One review referred to this record and band as "post 30 punk" and that is actually pretty spot on. Since signing with Epitaph Records and the release of On the Impossible Past (their second best record) the band's music has shown signs of a deepening maturity, evolving their sound from standard pop punk to include elements of classic rock, indie rock, and emo. On After The Party, The Menzingers take a long hard look at growing older, especially the daunting hurtle that is the big 3-0, looking back at college, leaving home, finding love, and trying to make your way in the world with a staggering honest and blunt precision that instantly feels like reminiscing with a comrade in arms.
13. Light It Up by Hot Water Music
MerchNOW, Rise Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
At this point what is there to say about Hot Water Music that hasn't been said? These guys are punk rock legends and this is another excellent record in their already staggeringly brilliant catalog. Enough said.
12. Higley by Higley
BandCamp, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
From my review --
Higley is the brainchild of former G-WHIZ guitarist Kevin Carl and is nothing short of brilliant. Boasting members of ALL/Descendents, Pollen, and River City High, Higley plays absolutely perfect melodic pop punk. [...] The album opens with the instant classic anthem "That's Not Me" a song that poignantly deals with the confusion of growing up and losing oneself in adulthood and middle-age. This is a theme that is found throughout the record's 12 songs and while there is a frustration that is palpable, there's also hope and a desire to make tomorrow better than today. It's that uplifting undertone, a need for the simple things in life, that really brings Higley together and makes it something truly special. And that's not even getting in to how insanely good this record is musically. The hooks in these songs have their own hooks, the choruses are powerful, the melodies are tight, and the vocals drip with passion. Oh and the band completely shreds.Yeah...this record is fucking brilliant!
11. We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags [Quiet Slang] by Beach Slang
BandCamp, Limited Run, Polyvinyl Records, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify
Here's the thing...Beach Slang is my favorite band in the world. I have seen them live three times since last November (two of those times required road trips to Tulsa and Dallas...totally worth it by the way) and with each interaction and each new release I love them more. This side project was born out of the fairly frequent James Alex solo-acoustic shows he called Quiet Slang. When Alex played on of these said solo shows in Oklahoma City, we got a taste of what to expect out of this new project when the power died and he proceeded to dazzle us with nothing but his acoustic guitar with only the emergency exit light to see. Not only were the songs played without the roar of amplifiers, but the arrangements took on a new form, giving new life to already amazing tunes. The one song that really stoof out to me that night was the first one released for this EP, "Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas." It was also at that show that Alex told me how different this new project was going to be and man was he right. Quiet Slang is driven by stark piano, cello, and Alex's impassioned voice. While I'm not sure We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags qualifies as a proper release, there was no way I couldn't include it on this list. My god I love this band!