1. Wonder Years - Suburbia, I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing. Hopeless Records.
Straight off the back of last year's "The Upsides"; The Wonder Years re-join the indie/punk melee with an album flooded with both influence from Alan Ginsberg's poem "America" and questions of mid-twenties identity. Greatly influenced by indie staples The Mountain Goats and The Hold Steady in the lyrics, and musically by contemporary pop-punk, they combine the best of both worlds. The record contains very introspective, yet non-melodramatic lyrics; here is a guy observing his surroundings in his hometown of Philadelphia, and counting his blessings with the life he leads, exclaiming a message of moving on from the past with an optimistic, fighting spirit. The lyrics are positioned in-front of a backdrop of "Suburbia" mourns the deterioration of his local suburb and "Woke Up Older" is the fallout of his relationship and consequently feeling older and alone. Special mention to "I Won't Say the Lord's Prayer" which is a very commendable, scathing critique on organised religion. It's a thoughtful album, and one that is lacking
absolutely no elements - the music is fast, hard, with plenty of flair, and their character shines throughout. Album of the year.
"Came out swinging, from a south Philly basement, covered in beer and sweat, under half-lit fluorescents. I spent the summer writing songs about getting better, and if I'm being honest, I'm getting there." - on Came Out Swinging
(Ed: I recently interviewed singer Dan "Soupy" Campbell, and told him that the Front Bottoms' album was my AOTY. Unintentionally forgetting about his band's album and rather fortunately avoiding fanboy gushing, ha).
Full album on Spotify. Stream "Work Up Older" here.
2. Front Bottoms - Front Bottoms Bar/None Records.
Fresh out of a basement somewhere in New Jersey, the Front Bottoms this year released their highly anticipated debut album. Last year's "Slow Dance to Soft Rock", an unsung gem of an EP, displayed their trademark of quirky indie-punk music and built a healthy bit of hype. Their woefully comical, ridiculous name conjures the impression that this is a joke band that doesn't take itself seriously. Listening to the album, you realise that behind the ridiculous name is a scrappy young band that, in fact, takes itself pretty seriously. The opener, "Flashlight", a lovelorn story of
a romance with a neighbour-girl, captures their trademark wit and underlying sensitivity and sincere expression. Moving through the exuberant chorus of "Mountain" (even people I know who can't stand their style love this tune) to the angst-fuelled jam at the end of "Hooped Earrings", there is no lyric or touch of flair that is left unnoticed. "The Front Bottoms" is one of the most full, satisfying albums in a long-time.
"I have this dream that I'm hitting my dad with a baseball bat, he is screaming and crying for help, and maybe halfway through it has more to do with me killing him than it ever did protecting myself." - on Father
Listen to "Maps" from the album here
3. Maritime - Human Hearts Dangerbird Records
Davey von Bohlen, of influential nineties' bands Promise Ring and Cap'n Jazz, returns this year with the latest album from his new project Maritime and, in doing so, garners the accolade of having released his best to date. Straight in with driven drum-work and some inscrutable yet poignant lyrics, "It's Casual" sets the tone for the album. The inclusion of 'in-joke-esque' references to their last album in one of the first few lyrics let us know they've picked up right where they left off. Containing their usual poppy, guitar-fuelled indie-rock shtick, there are, however, new layers and effects splattered throughout that add a welcome depth to their sound. "Annihilation Eyes", a gem on the album, is a driven indie pop-song that has too melodies for it's own good, and closer "Apple of My Irony" (despite it's daft name) is is an anthemic and exuberant end to the album.
"We make ourselves appear, drinking wine, check my hair, shed a tear, for all the people hiding in here. My stomach in knots, I drank tea straight from the pot, and did a dance like mannequins." - on Annihilation Eyes.
Listen to "Annihilation Eyes" here
Honorable mentions, off the top of my head:
The Horrible Crowes - Elsie - Listen to "Ladykiller" here
Fireworks - Gospel - Listen to "Arrows" here