Reflecting On: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

Rock music wasn’t in rotation in my life in any form heading into the fall of 2000. Several years prior, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with hip hop, a discovery that would change my life forever. And when I say I only listened to rap music at that time, it’s not an overstatement. The genre infused its way into every part of my life as I made my way through the bowels of high school.

Nevertheless, I stayed abreast of music trends at large via a variety of music mags, MTV, and this thing called the internet, which had recently entered my own home. While I can’t recall the precise moment that Linkin Park entered my life, I remember a slow wave building its way through the halls of my high school. Almost overnight, Linkin Park was the band that everyone was listening to. 

You can buy or stream Hybrid Theory on Apple Music.

It was around this time that I received my first burned CD from a classmate – a copy of Hybrid Theory downloaded from Napster in which every song was out of place and mislabeled. Thus began a new era of my life, both in terms of the music I consumed and how I consumed it.

Hybrid Theory didn’t expose me to mainstream nu metal or send me headfirst into the genre. I was well aware of the movement thanks to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn, but none of those bands held my attention. What set Linkin Park apart in my eyes was their much more focused execution of hip hop elements. Mike Shinoda could actually rap. The band actually took sampling and programming seriously. It wasn’t embarrassing, and it helped bridge a divide for listeners like me.

That debut album stayed in rotation through my final years of high school and served as a small stroke of common ground I could share with some of my classmates, none of whom had any interest in rap at the time. It also opened the door to other guitar-driven bands I would soon come to love like 12 Stones and Evanescence. 

The sense of common ground Hybrid Theory created wouldn’t last long. During my first semester away at college, I met some new friends that were in an actual rock band. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I attempted to make pleasantries, telling them that I, too, had an interest in rock music. I listened to Linkin Park.

*Insert record scratch* And not the good kind.

As it turns out, Linkin Park wasn’t cool. But I quickly learned of some new music that was – music born out of the east coast underground scene, spearheaded by the likes of At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. Never mind that Glassjaw’s debut, which was created to “destroy Adidas rock,” was produced by Ross Robinson, who also manned the boards for Korn’s first two albums. This was new. This was cool.

As I began exploring a completely new style of music and diving into new bands like Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, and Underoath, I still couldn’t shake Hybrid Theory’s hold on me. In the spring of 2003, I purchased Linkin Park’s follow-up, Meteora, at a local Wal-Mart and listened in secret, hoping none of my new friends would find out. There was something perfect about those albums, something that sonically coalesced in a way that captured everything I was feeling. Something about Chester Bennington’s tortured voice that felt familiar.

It was in the four-year gap between Meteora and Minutes to Midnight that I finally moved on, finding a plethora of new bands that scratched that existential itch. To this day, 2003 to 2007 still stands as possibly the most influential period of my life in terms of music discovery. But it also stands as the period in which I became a snob. By 2007, the nu metal genre as a whole had become maligned and forgotten as a new wave of scene bands entered the mainstream. Who had time for Linkin Park? Not me.

Not only did I not follow the band through their ensuing years, I became the person that scoffed when people brought them up in conversation. By this point, I was writing for various music magazines and websites and couldn’t afford a dent in my reputation. Linkin Park belonged to the masses.

In 2012, I had moved to a new city and was invited by some people to attend a Linkin Park concert. In an effort to kindle some new friendships, I agreed to go. But only as a credentialed member of the press. I was there to take photos and document for PopMatters, not to have a good time. To read my ensuing article today is to read the words of someone conflicted. Because that night, front and center of the stage, I was transported back to those days in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was more than an album I listened to. It was a friend I could talk to.

It was that night that I rediscovered Linkin Park, and most importantly, the overpowering presence of Chester Bennington. And I’m so glad I did. I’m not here to tell you how Hybrid Theory changed the world or saved rock music. It did neither. But it’s impossible to deny the impact of an album that went diamond, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in the United States, and created a following unlike any we’ve seen from a guitar-driven band in the past 20 years.

These days, the conversation around Linkin Park and that debut album have come full circle, perhaps partially due to the tragic passing of Bennington in 2017, but almost certainly due to the collective recognition that Hybrid Theory has managed to stand the test of time. When I listen to it today, I’m struck by the foresight the band had in terms of genre mixture. In a time when the idea of genre has dissolved nearly completely, Hybrid Theory sounds not all that out of place.

Twenty years later, my favorite song is still album opener “Papercut”. A few days ago, as I sat parked in my car outside a Starbucks, waiting for the song to end before I turned off the ignition, I was nearly overcome with emotion during Chester’s repeated bridge of, “The sun goes down / I feel the light betray me”. There’s something about that line that hits different today, especially when considering the band’s final single, “One More Light” – a song about the deep pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. 

That idea of light and its finite existence serves as fitting bookends for the band and an era they helped define. It’s also a reminder of those moments of discovery, when music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else can at a time when we need it the most. I’m thankful for the moment Hybrid Theory provided all those years ago and that it still holds meaning in my life today.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Analyzing Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Recently, Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And guess what? There’s plenty to discuss. The It’s All Dead crew (Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz, and Nadia Alves) hopped on the podcast to make sense of it all.

The trio each share their thoughts on some of their favorite (and least favorite) rankings on the list, discuss the list’s welcomed and overdue shift toward diversity, and talk about a few albums that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. They also ponder how one might separate art from artist while making a list of this nature and how we can accurately and fairly look back on music and events from previous decades. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What albums stuck out to you on this list? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my frequent listening. I’ve talked a lot about my emo years and the time I caved and dove into Top 40 territory, but I’ve never really gotten into the couple of years I spent on the folk side of music. Cottagecore before it was called that, if you will. I used to bake cookies to the dulcet tones of The Lumineers and Ben Howard; it was a brief and peaceful time when I could play music on the kitchen speakers without protest from my family members.

You can buy or stream The Ascension on Apple Music.

Among my favorite albums in this time was 2015’s Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. He provided a modern incarnation of what I imagine John Denver would have created had he not been taken from us so soon. I moved into a new season of listening eventually, but have been brought back into Sufjan’s arms with his latest release, The Ascension.

One of the many things I like about Stevens’ music, akin to his musical cousin Bon Iver, is the thoughtfulness with which he creates. Each choice is painstakingly made, but his finished product doesn’t force us to painstakingly listen. With The Ascension, he steps away from a soft sound into pop; a natural progression for Sufjan, because he’s ventured into the territory before. And of course, as many of my pieces tend to do, we have to speak on religion. 

I don’t know what draws me to albums of apostasy and the like, but it’s like a siren song to me. I can’t look away. Songs begging for a higher power to explain things we can’t understand are a heart’s cry of mine; I’m glad when someone else can make sense of the emotion and bring it through the production process so I don’t have to. Right out of the gate, Sufjan asks if he can bargain with God to maybe make this experience of living any easier.  With tracks like my personal favorites, “Ursa Major” and “Landslide”, he’s found himself looking for love and forgiveness, and he ends up finding it.

Carrie and Lowell was a chore of an album, and The Ascension is the opposite. The songwriting is simple and repetitive — a true pop hallmark — but it still carries the weight of a traditional Sufjan album. He still wrestles with his same emotions regarding love (“Run Away with Me”) and loss and society (“Lamentations”), but he wraps it up in a reviving electropop bow, just enough to get our hopes up before opening the box to find another sad Sufjan song. We finish the album with “America”, a scathing portrait of the depravity the USA has fallen into. It’s a fitting end to an album that is mostly introspective, but Sufjan shows the truth that out of the heart the mouth speaks, and we find ourselves wondering whether this album is about him or about us as a whole.

I quite like this iteration of Sufjan Stevens. He’s learned, like many of us over these past few years, that circumstances can change on a dime, so we ought not to take ourselves too seriously. Songs like “Die Happy,” made of just a simple refrain, have become a genuine cry in our time, surrounded by so much death, grief, and loss. With The Ascension, Sufjan shows that these emotions can coexist with positivity, so even though we may be crying, we may as well dance, too.

4/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Knuckle Puck – 20/20

“I can finally see clearly, as if my vision’s 20/20.”

Knuckle Puck have been a growing presence in the Chicago punk scene for a number of years, with two strong releases behind them. Written (mostly?) before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ominously named 20/20 is actually a breath of fresh air. Somehow acknowledging the near universal struggles and grief that everyone has faced this year before they had actually happened, Knuckle Puck find the hope in struggle and the energy of normalcy that 2020 seems to have sucked dry.

You can buy or stream 20/20 on Apple Music.

In many ways, Knuckle Puck and fellow Chicagoans Real Friends seemed to follow a similar path for much of their career in revitalizing the midwest pop punk emo scene. It only makes sense then that in many ways, 20/20 is reminiscent of Real Friends’ third album, Composure. Not altering their sound too much from their first releases, 20/20 is the most composed, well-structured and cohesive the band have ever sounded. This comes across slightly as a more “mainstream” sound, but the album hardly shifts from the aggressive guitars and intricate melodies the band is known for.

“I wake up every morning with this overwhelming sinking feeling / Slipping through the doorframe while bouncing thoughts against the ceiling / This shit is only boring if you sit around and wait for nothing / I can’t tell you the future, but I know that it’s coming”

The album finds magic in normalcy by shifting the focus away from the unique struggles of 2020 and focusing instead on relationships and veiled messages on politics. This comes across the most in lead single, “RSVP”, as singer Joe Taylor broods over raging guitars, “And if you’re listening just for clarity, those idealistic dreams were never so naive / Complicated, mind sedated (Keep your hands over your ears) / Hearts turn vacant, humble patriot / (So you can cover up, cover up)”.

The first half of the album plays much more like a ‘traditional’ pop punk record, with several songs seeming radio ready. “Tune You Out” is much more classic emo fare, tracing the battle over a relationship where one person loses their temper over a bed of glistening guitars (“It tears me up inside, I’ll tune you out / ‘Til we all calm down”). Meanwhile, “Earthquake”, a measured rock song with a 90’s alternative vibe explores being enraptured by someone who seems larger than life, but is still broken in their own way (“You look so good, you’ve got me confused / I can’t just cover it up like your first tattoo”).

The back half is where the more experimental vibes and deeper lyrics settle in. “Green Eyes (Polarized)” finds Taylor wishing he could see someone else’s point of view and bridge the gap between their thinking (“You put your faith aside and cast yourself into the great divide / Would you let me see through green eyes?”).

“Into the Blue” describes a spiritual experience through skydiving, while “True North”, arguably the poppiest song on the album, finds the strength in reflecting on the bad times, but looking forward to better days (“Shut my eyes and hope I wake up, to the wave of the breeze from your screened-in porch / Just promise that you’ll leave the light on to point me toward true north”).

“If it’s easier, then close your eyes, but know that you could never see the light / You gotta get up and get outside if you wanna feel the sunshine”

Closing song “Miles Away” juxtaposes how negative thoughts can take you away from who you are, but positive thoughts can take you miles toward where you’re going. The guitars chug steadily, slowing into an elegant chorus in the vein of classics from The Starting Line. However, this is what ties 20/20 together as a whole. If there is a message to the album, it’s that you shouldn’t shy away from the problems in your life, but reflect on them and look forward.

….. Y’know, what the term “20/20” used to mean before we collectively decided it was a lie and a curse.

I was listening to opening song “20/20” for the first time when a news alert chimed over the music that let me know Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It was just another mark on a year of continuously bad news, but that one struck particularly hard. Over the course of the album, 20/20 unintentionally navigates the emotions many of us have felt since January 1—incredible lows, personal highs and the determination to see it through. By the time the album’s final lines roll through, wave after wave of emotion had rolled through, juxtaposed with songs like “Breathe” (featuring Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders), reminding the listener to stay calm. On a night I would have otherwise been utterly devastated, I felt hope. 20/20 isn’t afraid to look at the bad times because it’s so focused on the bright future.

“When darker skies roll in don’t you cross me out, just pull me back into safer crowds / Cause I’m miles away, yeah, I’m miles away / I’ve been miles away until now”

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 ate all of the queso dip. All of it. I can’t even say for sure how this happened. One moment there was dip, the next… mere chaos and the crumbs of chips sprinkled on the cat.

KennyHoopla – Discovering Magic By Accident

One of the things I miss the most in the world is being new to music, walking into a Best Buy and buying an album because the album caught my eye, as though preordained by a cosmic power. Since I did this nearly 20 years ago (Jesus Christ, I’m old) to discover Copeland, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Early November and The Used, among others, it’s a practice that has been more or less extinct for more than a decade.

Today, KennyHoopla appeared to me as if sent by fate. In a YouTube channel curated with mostly stand up comedy, anime and video game highlights, KennyHoopla caught my attention in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time—with an image.

The thumbnail for the live version of his single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” shows the artist passionately clutching the microphone, shouting into it. The emotion of the thumbnail stood out on its own like a painting on the wall. I was utterly drawn to him. You can see it below.

As is, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is an electrifying new wave infused rock song. The live video features KennyHoopla raging to the sound of a drumset and a single guitar, commanding attention with the energy of Bruno Mars and the flare of AFI’s Davey Havok. His voice crackled with an intensity that hovers between grunge and soul, finding a perfect mixture of graveled purity. Within 30 seconds of the song ending, I needed to hear more.

As a single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is phenomenal. As an EP, How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway is magnificent. The album mixes elements of new wave, punk, pop, R&B and emo from a lost age. The result is something that feels organic and inspired within almost any genre. KennyHoopla is the result of smashing the YeahYeahYeahs and Bloc Party together.

The EP sizzles with honesty, such as in the slow synth embedded “dust//”, a song The Postal Service would envy (“And this anxiety, It creeps into my home / This is really all my fault / Is this really all my fault?”). Although the EP revels in feelings of inadequacy and doubt, there is a sensationalism to it as well (“Well I’ve seen the stars and they look like us”).

A picture demanded I listen to a song today. A picture delivered me an artist I am absolutely enraptured with. Somehow sounding simultaneously vibrantly fresh and from a lost age of music, it seems incredible that an artist like this would only just now appear with this much potential. With so many ways to discover new music over the last couple of decades, it’s sobering and enlightening to know that an image can still convey everything you want and hope for in an artist.

The fact that KennyHoopla isn’t already a mainstream name is a crime. The wait until he is, though, will be well worth it.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 dreams of the deep drawl of Kelsey Grammer telling him nice things about the world.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Blaqk Audio – Beneath The Black Palms

As is the case with anything related to Davey Havok, Blaqk Audio succeed by painting a story with their albums. Not explicitly, but it’s a simple task to envision each album through the dark emotional lyrics. Beneath The Black Palms, the band’s fifth full release, is perhaps the hardest one to discern, but it is filled with heated imagery and a sinister interpretation of a love story reminiscent of a twisted version of Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus. 

You can buy or stream Beneath the Black Palms on Apple Music.

Blaqk Audio always delves into the dark side of relationships – something that Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s main group, the legendary AFI, tend to steer slightly further away from. Where AFI relishes in eloquent rage, Blaqk Audio is flirtatious and sexy. Havok has never steered away from topics of sex, manipulation or longing, but Beneath The Black Palms takes these concepts and weaves them in and out of faint fantasy imagery that explores the dynamic of a couple who are mad for each other, but can’t effectively communicate (“It’s Not Going Well”).

Filled with electronic synth pop and new wave elements, Beneath The Black Palms treads little new ground in terms of sound. Songs range from loud bangers (“Consort”) to slow, moody piano ballads (“1948”). As is tradition with Blaqk Audio, most songs tend to sound a little more similar to each other than probably intentional (as like past albums), but Puget’s orchestration is so expertly done it hardly matters.

Havok retains the clean vocals he has mastered over the last decade, and although he hardly pushes himself in the ways that have made him one of the leading frontmen and singers in the industry, he commands such a powerful new wave presence that he can’t be ignored.

One playful new aspect is that he introduces a much more feminine vocalization in verses opposite a deeper voice for other verses, which shows the perspective of both characters of the relationship (“Burnt Babies Fear the Fire”). This dynamic helps show the mindset of the “characters” while also managing to be ambient, poetic and omnipresent.

The “theme” of Beneath The Black Palms (if there is one at all) is communication. The characters communicate through passion, but seem to keep misunderstanding one another. “Zipper Don’t Work” illustrates that even though their physical relationship is intense, even that isn’t communicating correctly (“I may have poorly planned this, what’s underneath this dress / I wore to end all wars / I’d bare my arm but you’re a violent mess”).

Although there are elements of fantasy, such as in “A Distant Light”, (“On a distant road, somewhere far behind / Where we hid the light that was never, never mine / … / You had hidden spells falling from your hair”) the album explores the lovers attempt time and again to get on the same page, before ending song “It’s Not Going Well” finds them admit their faults (“You said he turns you on though he can’t tell / … / You wrote ‘talk dirty,’ but he can’t spell”).

Beneath The Black Palms delves deep into the idea of a relationship that so badly wants to work, but seems to fail at every turn. But the pain of this is buried beneath layers of intense synth and Havok’s sexy brooding. Although the album doesn’t stand out quite as much as some past albums, it explores a new piece of troubled relationships with intense beats, poetic illusion and sincere command.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle 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 is full of pot pie and cookie butter.

Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Unlike most bubblegum pop acts, Katy Perry has managed to stay newsworthy throughout her entire career thus far. Whether we’re talking about her joyous pregnancy and pending marriage to Orlando Bloom, or cringing at her Twitter defense of Ellen, Katy has kept our eyes focused on her since 2007. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to talk about Teenage Dream, which turns 10 this week.

You can buy or stream Teenage Dream on Apple Music.

In 2010, I was trying my hardest to be an emo kid, so the pop stations were an absolute no-go for me. And yet, I couldn’t escape “California Gurls”. Try as I might, it was stuck in my head and its upbeat tones serenaded my every step. Ugh. I put in my headphones and played some Fall Out Boy, trying to keep my ears pure and free from the forbidden world of “mainstream music.” Obviously, since I’m writing this now, it didn’t work. With five singles from Teenage Dream topping the Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry and her cotton candy-laced universe was here to stay.

If you took a listen to our podcast about the most important albums of the last decade, you’ll see that I find Teenage Dream the most influential album of 2010. With an aura of positivity and escapism, it ushered us into a new age of pop music where anything was possible — even a gauche anthem to the dick pic (“Peacock”). But the songs that didn’t make it to radio are really what I want to talk about today.

The first track that we don’t recognize immediately is “Circle the Drain”. It’s arguably one of Perry’s most serious songs. Supposedly this one is about Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame, but really, it’s an anthem for anyone who has watched someone they love take the dark path of substance abuse. She sings, “Can’t be your savior / I don’t have the power”, and eventually has to walk away. She tries to be scathing, but the song still comes across as desperate and hopeless. It’s one of the best tracks on the album.

The album really does highlight Katy’s battle between moving back to her ultra-spiritual background and Katy Hudson days, and reveling in her new-found fame. We go back and forth in the second half with her about whether she’s made the right decision in her career and personal life, (“Who Am I Living For?” and “Not Like the Movies”) and a look back at how her upbringing affected her self esteem (“Pearl”). 

The journey we go on with Katy is not only like the candy coated road she skips along in the “California Gurls” video, it’s full of questioning and wandering. I feel that’s one of Katy’s biggest strengths, even in later albums. She has found the balance between satisfying the hungry music exec’s needs for radio-worthy pop, and saying what she truly wants to. Teenage Dream wasn’t just an album for 2010’s summer. We shouldn’t take her advice of “Don’t ever look back,” because the singles provided us with one of the most carefree seasons in music we’ve known, but the more serious tracks on the back half of album tell us how much truth Katy had to offer the world.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

If you were to frequent our website back when we launched in 2013 and suddenly return today after a long absence, you likely wouldn’t recognize the place. Seven years ago, I certainly wasn’t predicting that Carly Rae Jepsen would crack the top five on our Best Albums of the Decade list and had no idea how much the music of Kendrick Lamar would change the way we pondered about great art. But I’d say it’s inarguable that we’re infinitely better for the evolving and diverse tastes of our writing staff.

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

In so many ways, It’s All Dead’s emergence unexpectedly coincided with the scene’s slow decline, capped by Warped Tour’s last gasp. Yes, the music is still around, but the community we once knew has become a shell of itself. There are both positive and negative outcomes of that dissolvement, and personally, it’s been a while since guitar-driven music held much interest for me, anyway. So we’ve worked to create an open-door community that might pique the interest of any sort of music lover.

But even as the winds have changed, there are still traces of the scene in my blood, and it’s something I’ve felt quite vividly since discovering Stand Atlantic. As strange as it feels to lose myself in a pop punk band in 2020, I can’t speak highly enough of Pink Elephant.

When the Sydney, Australia, act entered our purview with their Sidewinder EP just three years ago, it was hard to find any space left for a band of their ilk, no matter how much promise those early recordings held. But as the scene they entered began to board up its doors and windows, Stand Atlantic found a way to construct something new.

Upon hearing early singles like “Hate Me (Sometimes)”, I thought maybe it was nostalgia that was tickling my ears. But as the slow rollout of the band’s sophomore album took shape, I found myself drawn to the way the band so effortlessly morphed their sound into something so uniquely…them.

Vocalist Bonnie Fraser began developing a knack for self-exploration on Skinny Dipping, the band’s 2018 debut. In just two short years she’s become one of rock’s most fascinating songwriters, weaving metaphor and painfully literal musings within these 11 tracks that seem to change pace to whatever vibe she’s seeking.

Album opener “Like That” captures the band’s newfound blend of pop and aggression with the kind of begrudging indifference to falling apart that so many of us seem to feel these days. Fraser brings down the house on the track’s post-chorus with the lines, “Crushing bones, I don’t know / My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that”.

Pink Elephant moves at a relatively fast clip and is so hook-laden that you sometimes need to pause to avoid missing the more intricate moments. When it does shift pace, as it does on “Blurry”, the album blossoms into something that usurps the pop punk label. An alt-rock track with electropop influences, “Blurry” is a dark ride that showcases all of the ways this band is unique from their peers. “Clutching weapons while we’re sleeping / Got me bleeding like I mean it / It’s just enough to keep me blurry”, Fraser seethes across the bridge, backed by sparking synthesizers. What sounds like a trick out of CHVRCHES’ playbook feels fresh and new when the drums kick back in to drive the chorus home.

Similarly, “DWYW” blends a brooding darkness with syrupy pop melodies, while somehow side-stepping the genre expectations the band leaned into on their debut. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wavelength”, I can feel Miki Rich’s bass line rattling my rib cage from two stages away on a hot day at Warped Tour. But those are the ghosts that flutter throughout Pink Elephant to draw you in before shoving you in the chest with an unexpected turn. “I know I’ve always said I’m not a saint / So I’m gonna push you to the floor”, Fraser breathes on the opening seconds of the track before the wall of sound hits.

Stand Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing with this album, and it works in every way it’s meant to. It speaks volumes to the band’s growth that when they strip everything away but a piano and Fraser’s vocals, as they do on “Drink to Drown”, that the songwriting truly shines in the most beautiful and painful of ways. Fraser and company seem to have every intent on carving their own path forward, scene decline be damned.

So here we are, nearly 800 words deep on a review of an album that I never expected to impact me in 2020 in the way that it has. In nearly 15 years of writing, I’ve doled out perfect score reviews at a snail’s pace that still numbers in the single digits. But whatever. Fuck it. This is the album I needed right now and I can’t think of anything I would change about it. 

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.