Best of 2014 - Xan Mandell's picks (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Best of 2014

Xan Mandell's picks (2014)

staff picks

[Xan Mandell is a contributing editor at]

As with every ending year, "WOAH HOW DID THAT GO BY SO FAST" is repeating in my head. But, you know, looking back, 2014 was super long. Lots of crazy things happened to me, personally, professionally and Punknews-y.

Favorite music related experiences:

1. Becoming a contributing editor here on Punknews.

2. Seeing NOFX play Punk in Drublic and The Decline live.

3. Going to Buffalo to hang with one of my favorite bands for a weekend.

4. Getting the drunkest of 2014 with Have Mercy (x2).

Least favorite:

1. Breaking up with my girlfriend of two years (it counts, because it made music mean a little bit more).

2. Riot Fest's muddy, disorganized disaster

3. Having this one band sleep over at my house (The Big Awesome dudes were great though).

4. Being forced to have U2 on my computer.

I became a contributing editor for this site this year as well. When I first started writing for websites six years ago, Punknews was always the coveted site for me to write for. Last October when I was accepted as a writer, I was really excited (I called my parents), but being given the role of contributing editor was actually a little emotionally overwhelming. While I only get paid only in concert tickets and getting albums long before their release date, there is something meaningful in knowing that somehow years of work paid off. I don't see this as some sort of "mightier than thou" position, but it allows me to feel like I'm making some sort of difference for a scene I love dearly and am able to help bands I appreciate. Also, now I get to see all of John G's Cro-mags references on Facebook.


Modern Baseball: You're Gonna Miss It All

Run For Cover

It was good to see that these boys realized they have to get serious with their sound. They pulled through.


Cory Branan: No Hit Wonder


Cory Branan is such a solid songwriter, and even if this isn't a punk album, it's rock solid throughout and does it's job well.


Weird Al Yankovic: Mandatory Fun


"Dude, what?" Let's get real with each other... You listened to Weird Al growing up, I listened to Weird Al growing up, as did the entire world. I'll always have a soft spot for him. I didn't actually laugh out loud at any of the songs, but I was truly impressed with the way that Weird Al was able to figure a way to be relevant, rather than sound like some washed up old dude who was trying too hard to be famous again. Also, his expert use of viral videos should be in its own category of awesome.


The Lawrence Arms: Metropole


I wasn't sure what to expect with this album, but in the end, I was pleased with the result. It's your standard Larry Arms, just older and wiser.


Banner Pilot: Souvenir

Fat Wreck Chords

Banner Pilot writes the catchiest gruff punk, and it's always refreshing to get new music from them. Souvenir maybe just an extension of their previous albums, but it's doesn't disappoint. The songs are well structured, the hooks are consciously constructed and Banner Pilot keeps the same integrity they always have.


NOFX: Backstage Passport Soundtrack

Fat Wreck Chords

NOFX is easily my favorite band, and has been since I was 11, so whatever they release will most likely be a favorite (though there are exceptions...). Backstage Passport has a bunch of older stuff on it that is quintessential, glory days NOFX. I recently received the promo for this and haven't stopped listening to it. (Fun fact: The principal of my school taught my Junior English class in high school, and one of the assignments was bring in a "propaganda/activist" song, which the class would listen to and the analyze the lyrics of. I chose "The Idiots Are Taking Over." It went over... just ok.)


Such Gold: The New Sidewalk

Razor & Tie

I was not a fan of Such Gold's previous LP Misadventures. It felt forced to me, and a bit of a pander to their fans. With The New Sidewalk, Such Gold has shown they're able to grow into their own sound without worry of the reception it'll receive. I feel as though this their most mature effort, and maybe one of the most mature sounding records of the year.


Rx Bandits: Gemini, Her Majesty

Mash Babylon Records

RX Bandits is one of those bands who can do no wrong. They've always morphed their sound from release to release, but every time they've perfected the new sound they chased. This is true of Gemini, Her Majesty, and they've chalked it full of hooks. This record absolutely rips and proves that RX Bandits is a band comprised of truly talented musicians, rather than trendsetters.


Somos: Temple of Plenty

Tiny Engines

Temple of Plenty is well-done pop-punk not trying to be anything more than that. It's a record that shows that when a band finds what they're good at and runs with it, they can't do anything wrong.


Sorority Noise: Forgettable

Broken World Media

There is something so awesome when a songwriter is so real with his lyrics that you think, "Damn dude, I'm no psychiatrist, but I'm pretty sure this kid needs a serious dose of Prozac." On a serious note, this album is so raw, stripped down and brash that it's impossible not to love.


Joyce Manor: Never Hungover Again

Epitaph Records

At first, I though this would my record of the year. It's a great record with such authenticity. While this record still kills it on every level, it didn't have the staying power I expected. But, that doesn't change the fact that every song is great in its own way. I'd stage dive to this record.


Hostage Calm: Die On Stage

Run For Cover

Die on Stage exceeded expectations. After Please Remain Calm, I started to think that Hostage Calm had figured out the formula that satiates what people want, and would stick to it. But nope, they decided, "Hey, lets try to see if we can find another approach to what we're great at." They killed it on making good on their promise of always putting effort into writing solid pop rock tinged with uniqueness.


Prawn: Kingfisher

Topshelf Records

This record rips all around. Honestly, I'm at a loss for words to explain why it's so good. Just go listen to it, and then you'll be like, "Aha! Yeah, alright, I'm with Xan on this one." I know that isn't good journalism.


Every Time I Die: From Parts Unknown


Riffs, riffs, riffs... Party, party, party... Energy, energy, energy... 250 bpm, 250 bpm, 250 bpm... Beer-soaked post-hardcore. What's not to love?


Pianos Become The Teeth: Keep You

Epitaph Records

I don't think anyone expected for Pianos Become The Teeth to do a complete 180 with their sound, but they did, and uh, it's incredible. Sure maybe it's a little Smiths-esque, but slow and atmospheric songs will always be compared to to The Smiths. But, Pianos created an album that took everyone by surprise and hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks that they made a beautiful record that transcends genres and is at the very core a great and honest emotional expression through music.


Lagwagon: Hang

Fat Wreck Chords

Lagwagon took every aspect of their band and sound, distilled it, upped the production and released easily one of their albums of their careers. Joey Cape leaves no stone unturned with his lyrics, the riffage is heavy and the band clicks on every level throughout Hang. It was worth the 10 year wait.


Tigers Jaw: Charmer

Run For Cover

"Slow Come On" is easily the best single of the year, as it blurs the line and sounds like The Smiths got drunk with The Weakerthans. But, as a whole, Charmer is a nice example of how the emo scene doesn't have to be noodle-y and bearded to be cool. The album is accessible, but a touch enough raw to not make you feel like you're covered in bubble gum. It might not be cohesive in the way Rooms of the House is, but the sonic jumps between songs aren't so vast that you're thrown off. Tigers Jaw doesn't just write the same song over and over again like a lot of bands do once they've found their signature sound.


Have Mercy: A Place of Our Own

Hopeless Records

I have a bit of problem with Have Mercy being bunched up with all the bands in our scene. I think that they are beyond just an emo/pop/punk/rock band. They're just rock and roll at its finest, and I think that A Place of Our Own proves that. Sure there are plenty of things that sound like those previously mentioned genres on this record, but the explosive choruses, subdued verses and perfectly timed slow downs are proof that Have Mercy know how to write a good song, period. A Place of Our Own shows what it sounds like when a band just wants to write good music, not a certain kind of music.


Henrietta: The Trick Is Not Minding

Animal Style

Hey, Henrietta, I still want to interview you guys. I mean come on! Look where you fall on this list.
It is a massive shame that this album didn't cause the ground swell it should've. While maybe not groundbreaking, this album is rock solid, and there isn't a moment where you aren't completely enthralled by whats going on. The Trick is Not Minding has everything an album needs to be impactful. On a personal level, I received this when I was going through a massive breakup, and it became the record that got me through it. I listened to it every day for almost three months, and still listen to it frequently almost eight months after the fact. But, that isn't why it is such a good record. It is just phenomenal on every level.


La Dispute: Rooms of the House

Better Living

La Dispute has never done the same thing twice, but they've always seemed to find a way to perfect their new sound. Few albums have as many twists and turns as Rooms of the House, and those that do usually fall short of executing seamless transitions. With Rooms, La Dispute was able to slow down smoothly, just to throw themselves back to breakneck speeds at a comfortable and conscious rate. Jordan's almost desperate, but realistic calls for reconciliation were worded with discretion but never strayed too far from the intense need for inner peace. "Stay Happy There" stands out as the track that distills the overwhelming deterioration of yourself and perception of the world that exists is when what you were sure of becomes a distant dream. The manic explosions sonically drop in the dismay in a cyclical manner much like the reality of how you feel. Making music sound like feelings is an incredibly difficult task to pull off, but La Dispute executed it with expertise.