As It Is is a band that caught me out of absolutely nowhere – I loved their debut album an obscene amount. Their sophomore effort, Okay. is sure to be at least partially divisive – on my first listen, my first thought was “what an appropriate title.” However, after a couple of listens and delving deeper into the lyrics, there is a true sadness and battle with oneself that permeates through the indulgently poppy guitars that is genuinely great.
Okay. highlights the struggles of battling with yourself and the world around you, attempting to take it in stride even though things may seem progressively worse and there may not be a solution in the foreseeable future. Perhaps the most poignant lyric on the album in regards to this is on the title track, when vocalist Patty Walters whispers, “So keep your ‘It’ll get better’s’ and I’ll keep my ‘I’ll be just fine’s'”.
For a sophomore effort, Okay. sounds great. The rhythm guitar is hard and melodic, while the lead finds incredibly catchy hooks that lead into the song and carry it through each chorus. Drummer Patrick Foley truly captured my attention multiple times, finding the perfect balance between anarchic punk and somber (“Austen”). The album is seeping with melody.
Behind the pop though, lie some heavy subjects, namely the feeling of depression and making attempts to come to terms with it even though there isn’t a way out. Opening track “Pretty Little Distance” hides the thesis behind the glam pop, but where the message shines the brightest is a trilogy of songs that reference it directly, “Okay”, “No Way Out” and “Until I Return”. The songs are true pop punk gems that cultivate the sentiment of admitting there’s a problem (“A perfect stranger, she puts pen to paper, consoling in her sleep / And how foreign it felt when I opened my mouth / And heard the truth come out”) and the futile issue to overcome.
“No Way Out” is a rager of a song, circling the idea of feeling trapped in the same problem in your own head. However, it features a moment of what seems like true vulnerability, featuring Walters in the bridge speaking plainly about the depths of his problems before screaming in defiance and frustration.
Although “Until I Return” allows the idea of healing as Walters vibrantly sings behind a ravage guitar riff, “I promise I’ll fight but I can’t promise that I’ll be fine / You treated the damage that I let reside in my fragile mind / With stitches and bandage / You took the fault of my scars and you made it ours”, it precedes the haunting finale. After battling these demons, the album’s final song is “Still Remembering”, a song about saying goodbye to a lover so soon after the song of redemption and strength.
Amidst these demons are others, that are equally heartbreaking in their own way. “Hey Rachel” is a song to a younger sister, apologizing years after the fact for being a shitty brother, while “Austen” is a slow-burn of watching someone lay in their deathbed (“I know you’re tired, but please don’t sleep/ Cause I can’t bear to let you leave”). Don’t forget the crush of watching parents divorce on “Curtains Close”.
It’s unfortunate that a record that delves so deeply into these heavy issues has flaws that took me out of the experience. In what is either a compliment or a slam (depending on how you view it), this is what All Time Low’s Dirty Work should have sounded like. It mostly pertains to the first half, but it suffers some of the same problems as Dirty Work. The album is arguably overproduced and polished, eliminating some of the grit and energy that made me love the band.
Instead, it delves headfirst into pop sonically that treads a dangerous line of sometimes sounding generic. No matter how I go about it, I often times feel like I’ve heard these songs elsewhere. However, the sound and atmosphere of the record begins to diverge near the halfway point, when the band truly steps out of their comfort zone musically (“Soap”, “Austen”).
Although Okay. is unapologetically poppy and uplifting in sound, the lyrical content is true bummer (lol). What I appreciate about the album is that it doesn’t have any half-ass answers, just honest frustration and the horrors of life that help lead someone to these pits of despair… and then leaves the listener there.
The biggest issue with Okay. is that it begins sounding like any other pop punk record, as it takes some time to find the real meat of the album. While there are good concepts and ideas permeating, something just feels off throughout, leaving a record that is as addicting as it is bland. It’s not nearly enough to dissuade my love for the group, nor can I precisely place my finger on the issue, but I’m glad for the chance to hear it.
by Kyle Schultz
Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just realized that their name, As It Is, kind of symbolizes what it’s like to live with this shit. It just is… thinking too much into it? Definitely. Awake at 1 am on a work night because I downed too much coffee during the afternoon? You betcha.