2014 was a ridiculously exciting year for the pop punk community. Joyce Manor put out Never Hungover Again, the highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired. Clocking in at just 59 seconds short of twenty minutes, it was also their lengthiest effort to date. Earning favorable reviews on Pitchfork and The AV Club, Never Hungover Again helped Joyce Manor secure a spot on Rolling Stone’s 10 New Artist You Need to Know and in Urban Outfitters’ overpriced vinyl section.
Modern Baseball proved that emo wasn’t just a phase with You’re Gonna Miss It All. Sticking to their tried and tested formula of quirky, autobiographical lyrics about being a 21st century college student, Modern Baseball’s brand of indie rock-influenced pop punk won thousands of people over. Between their two headlining tours and a stint with The Wonder Years in the spring, the MoBo boys had played multiple sold-out venues by the end of the year.
Real Friends teamed up with Fearless Records to put out Maybe This Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing, a full-length packed with songs that further indicate how crucial it is that the members see an orthopedic doctor. The Hotel Year changed their name to The Hotelier, polished their sound, and reinvented themselves with Home, Like Noplace There Is. Basement reemerged from their two-year hiatus, surprised everyone with the three-song Further Sky EP, and traveled abroad for a short run in the United States.
2014 also saw fantastic releases from Fireworks, Forever Came Calling, Knuckle Puck, Tiny Moving Parts, and You Blew It. But while these more-established bands were getting much-deserved recognition, smaller bands were at work promoting fantastic albums of their own. If you find yourself itching to spin something other than You’re Gonna Miss It All for the thousandth time, which I too am guilty of, take the time to check out one of these five albums from the scene’s best up-and-coming artists.
BEACH SLANG – CHEAP THRILLS ON A DEAD END STREET
Beach Slang is one of those bands that I had seen promoted on Facebook, Absolute Punk, and Noisey, but didn’t bother to listen to until months after they had been hyped. It’s a shame, too, because this band is damn good. Though only four songs in length, Beach Slang’s sophomore EP is a perfect indicator of what the band is capable of. With rugged vocals, grungy guitars, and gutsy drums, Cheap Thrills encapsulates the meaning of punk rock, but not in a Sex Pistols or Ramones way. Beach Slang is what the Gin Blossoms might have sounded like if they embraced their punk roots, similarly to the earlier heavily punk-influenced records from the Goo Goo Dolls. The lyrics on this EP aren’t necessarily breathtaking, but they do have more substance to them than a number of popular punk bands. “I hope when I die, I feel this alive” sounds like it could be the title of a 17-year-old girl’s blog title, but it’s thought-provoking and represents the attitude most young 20-somethings have towards their post-college life.
Listen to: “All Fuzzed Out,” “American Girls and French Kisses”
For fans of: AM Taxi, The Gaslight Anthem, The Replacements
CAYETANA – NERVOUS LIKE ME
Ironically enough, I owe my love for this band to Modern Baseball. If they hadn’t been on the east coast leg of Modern Baseball’s winter tour, I probably wouldn’t have listened to them when I did. The Philly three-piece’s debut LP begins with “Serious Things Are Stupid,” a track whose title alone made it clear the album would resonate with me. The song starts with singer Augusta Koch proclaiming,“I came here alone / And I plan to leave that way,” which is both empowering and depressing at the same time. Channeling her inner Alanis Morrissette, Koch showcases her vocal range when she chants “Oh I made it, I made it, I made it, I made it.”
If Nervous Like Me only contained the song “Dirty Laundry,” it would still be on this list. Regardless of being barely two minutes in length, the song is without a doubt is one of my favorites the past year. Unfortunately for me, Kanye West has been busy with his Kardashian drama, so I haven’t gotten a chance to convince him of this. Not only is the track ridiculously catchy, but it’s also reflective. “I switched back from the yellow to the orange pack” reminds me of the awful phase I went through where I spent $7+ on American Spirit cigarettes because I thought I was classy. “I still want you in a bad way” serves as a reminder of the countless summers I spent wasting my time on people who couldn’t care less about me. Koch holds nothing back when she croons “You’ll force photos of the life you built,” which is admittedly satisfying. I can’t help but picture all of the people who try to look put-together on social media; the people whose lives are crumbling faster than a pile of dead leaves in winter.
To say the bass line in “Madame B” is prominent is a half-truth. The bass stands out in every song, which in Cayetana’s case is a good thing. It meshes perfectly with Kelly Olsen’s explosive drumming, keeping a steady rhythm without overwhelming the listener. The chemistry between all of the members isn’t confined to their recordings, either. On stage, the musicians feed off each other’s energy, which allows them to successfully spread their enthusiasm to the audience. I don’t even have to hope that the band explodes in 2015, because there is no doubt in my mind that they will.
Listen to: “Dirty Laundry,” “Hot Dad Calendar”
For fans of: Candy Hearts, Mixtapes, The Swellers
FREE THROW – THOSE DAYS ARE GONE
Thanks to my sad boy emo friends, I had no way of ignoring Free Throw. While I initially didn’t see the appeal in the Tennessee 5-piece, once their debut LP weaseled its way into my life, I had a change of heart. Emo bands are so hit or miss for me, but the band flawlessly combines twinkly guitars, scruffy vocals, incendiary drums, and deep bass lines to create a sound that puts the band kilometers above the rest. “Two Beers In” was the first song released from the album and it had me instantly hooked. The lyrical content is similar to “KJ Jammin” by Count Your Lucky Stars label mates Snowing, the Leigh Valley, Pennsylvania act that disbanded in 2011. Most of the songs center around the typical young adult struggles of intoxicating love and relationships, but the band presents them in such a way that makes the topics enjoyably relatable rather than depressingly gloomy. “Pallet Town” is another song whose title is inspired by Pokémon, a show that defined my childhood and kept me occupied for hours. Similarly to the Pokémon theme song, I often find the charming “Pallet Town” stuck in my head, and I’m not complaining. When everyone is over their American Football and Mineral phases in ten years, they’re going to remember Free Throw as the band that served as the soundtrack to their 20s and made the genre fun.
Listen to: “Two Beers In,” “Tongue Tied”
For fans of: Snowing, Dikembe, Dowsing
HAVE MERCY – A PLACE OF OUR OWN
I have a lot of feelings about Have Mercy. Two summers ago, I saw them open for Turnover at Charm City Art Space in Baltimore. That winter, they played Diamond Youth’s Shake EP release show. Now, they’re signed to Hopeless Records and embarking on full U.S. tours with some of the biggest names in the scene. 2013’s The Earth Pushed Back was an incredible record, and their follow-up proved that their talent for writing emotionally powerful songs wasn’t a fluke. The band retains the zeal from their debut effort; “Howl,” “Spacecrafts,” and “Pawn Takes Rook” have hooks big enough to sink a pirate ship. Have Mercy have managed to perfectly infuse a radio-friendly alternative sound with punk roots to create not a collection of tracks, but an album about meaningful and relatable subjects, including from mending relationships, losing friendships, and reminiscing on the past.
Singer Brian Swindle transitions from soft spoken singing to hollering seemingly with ease. It’s a feat that took Dave Grohl years to perfect, but Swindle has mastered by Have Mercy’s second record. The stark contrast between the two styles without forfeiting emotion in the process is what hooked listeners in to begin with. Add into the mix the fact that the guitars are incredibly polished and can make a statement without overshadowing the rest of the instruments, and you’ve got a highly enjoyable follow-up to their debut.
Listen to: “Pete Rose and Babe Ruth,” “Pawn Takes Rook”
For fans of: The Gaslight Anthem, Pentimento, Balance and Composure
SORORITY NOISE – FORGETTABLE
Similarly to Cayetana, I began listening to this band after I learned they were going on the road with Modern Baseball in the summer. The record features three re-recorded tracks from their 2013 Young Luck EP, including my favorite, “Still Shrill.” The first seven tracks are fun, poppy, and angry, which is in accurate description of myself as well. In “Dirty Ickes,” singer Cameron Boucher proudly proclaims “When we broke up, you told me to try and find myself / So I found myself in someone else’s bed.” The sass continues throughout the record, with Boucher shouting “All you’ll ever be is a nightmare and a wet dream” in “Blonde Hair, Black Lungs.” Moving away from the vitality present throughout the majority of the album, the last two songs are essentially a MySpace bulletin that reads, “Alright, we’ve gotta talk about something serious now.” The album closes with “Smoke,” a track that starts slow but reaches its crescendo by the halfway mark. When played live, Adam “Scuff” Ackerman adds a guitar solo that sounds like it could’ve been in a demo for Nazareth’s “Love Hurts.” While the album certainly isn’t anything genre-defining, it’s definitely a must-listen if you’re on the verge of breaking up with your lousy significant other.
Listen to: “Queen Anne’s Lace,” “Still Shrill”
For fans of: Joyce Manor, Spraynard, Pet Symmetry