Podcast: Reacting to “Red (Taylor’s Version)”

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It’s been a week since Taylor Swift blessed us with Red (Taylor’s Version). And we have thoughts! Kiel Hauck is joined by fellow It’s All Dead-ians Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves to delve into the nooks and crannies of all 30 tracks of this new release. They share takes on the best and most interesting re-recorded songs and weigh in some of the best “From the Vault” tracks that round out the album. Is the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” better than the original? Are there still easter eggs within the album that have yet to be uncovered by Swiftie Sleuths? Who had the best guest appearance on the album? And what album is coming next? All of these questions (and more) are addressed – listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Michelle Branch – The Spirit Room

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A couple of times a year, I find myself spending days at a time inside The Spirit Room. I’ve said it countless times in the two decades since its release, but the debut album from Michelle Branch is perfect. And as it reaches its 20th anniversary, I’ve thought a lot about its legacy, and how the album unexpectedly became a blueprint of sorts.

We’ve talked extensively this year about Sour, the debut from Olivia Rodrigo, and how it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions and experience of adolescence. One of the many things that makes Sour so impressive is Rodrigo’s ability to shape-shift within genre, often tapping into nostalgic pop rock sounds that feel both fresh and familiar. It’s hard to listen to the album and not think of Branch.

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You can buy or stream The Spirit Room on Apple Music

The story of how The Spirit Room came to be back in 2001 has been reported in detail, but it’s still fascinating to think about a teenager operating independently from major label influence and creating an album so different from what was expected from a young female artist at the time. It worked, and what followed was a new wave of young singer-songwriters following in her pop rock footsteps. Even Taylor Swift has spoken of the album’s influence in her own writing.

It was a sound that clearly caught my attention at the time, and Branch’s lonely, bedroom daydream songwriting resonated as well. When I listen to the album now, I’m transported back to a very specific time in my life in the best way. There isn’t another album that captures those feelings quite as well for me. When I hear “Goodbye to You”, I see Branch performing the song from the stage of The Bronze on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I hear “All You Wanted” I’m reminded of late night drives in my first car. “Everywhere” transports me back to my freshman dorm room.

For all of these reasons, it was captivating to hear Branch’s 20th anniversary re-recording of the album. Unlike Swift’s current explorations of her past work (which I also love), Branch has allowed the passage of time to change her approach to these tracks. Her voice sounds slightly weathered, the songs have more room to breathe and move at a slightly slower pace. If you close your eyes, you can imagine her playing these songs to a small audience in a smoky lounge room. There’s an innocence that’s missing and it gives the album an entirely new feeling. The fact that it works this well speaks to the timeless beauty of the songwriting.

Last month, I purchased a ticket to Branch’s live stream performance of the album, expecting a full band rendition of the songs I know so well. When the stream began with Branch sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar and strumming her way through “Everywhere”, I was taken aback. But by the opening moments of second track “You Get Me”, I was sold. The songs just work in every context, and in this case, some of them became even more alive with emotion and meaning. 

The early years of the 2000s were a transitional period for popular music, which is perhaps why it feels as though The Spirit Room sometimes gets forgotten in conversations around modern classic albums. It feels out of place when you think about the final gasps of bubblegum pop giving way to the oncoming avalanche of garage rock, hip hop and pop punk. But taken in a vacuum, it’s hard to poke holes in the album. It’s stellar songwriting paired with impeccable production. It moves. It captures hopeless romantic feelings you chase into your adulthood without ever feeling forced or cliché. It opened a new door for young female songwriters to lean into their own individual sounds. It invites you to get lost within it again and again.

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: Kacey Musgraves and the Anatomy of a Great Divorce Album

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Kacey Musgraves recently returned with a new album, Star-Crossed, which explores her divorce from Ruston Kelly. As it turns out, there’s a long history of albums reckoning with the fallout of divorce and they all share some very common threads. Area Code Network’s own Richard Clark joins Kiel Hauck on the podcast to discuss the anatomy of a great divorce album and how the concept has evolved over the decades. They also break down the highs and lows of Star-Crossed and how the album stacks up to other recently released albums that explore the concept of leaving (Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish). Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

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Every once in a while, something incredible happens. A new band begins building a grassroots buzz through a sprinkling of singles that gradually increases into a viral fever pitch. It all leads up to a debut album that could never possibly live up to expectations – but then it totally does. And it’s one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan.

For Canadian metal band Spiritbox it all began five years ago when vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer picked up the pieces after the fallout of iwrestledabearonce and began formulating their next move. The duo’s debut self-titled EP came in 2017, followed by a string of singles after the addition of bassist Bill Crook, and eventually, drummer Zev Rose. Last year, upon the release of breakout tracks “Blessed Be” and the thunderous “Holy Roller”, Spiritbox was the most hyped new metal act in recent memory.

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You can buy or stream Eternal Blue on Apple Music

With five of the album’s 12 tracks already in circulation by the time Eternal Blue arrived, it was fair to wonder if the band had actually kept something in their back pocket to tie things all together. Did they ever. Eternal Blue is album of the year material. It’s an album that reimagines what a metal band can deliver. It solidifies Spiritbox as a giant in a genre that needs them more than it probably even realizes.

LaPlante and company wisely placed “Holy Roller” as the centerpiece of Eternal Blue. From opener “Sun Killer”, the band begins climbing the mountain toward that deafening peak before descending down the other side on the album’s back half, closing brilliantly with the atmospheric and sorrowful “Constance”. The album is designed to flow together effortlessly, even as the songs themselves individually ebb and flow. I’ve gotten chills each time “Sun Killer”, with its note-bending breakdown, transitions flawlessly into the manic opening notes of “Hurt You”.

As Spiritbox began staking their claim as a metal newcomer to be reckoned with, Stringer’s knack for complex, djent-y guitar passages drew comparisons to U.K. metalcore giants Architects. And sure enough, here’s Sam Carter delivering a chorus for the ages alongside LaPlante on “Yellowjacket”, howling, “Where was the grace when I was asking for it?” That cry into the void is a sentiment that exudes from many of the tracks on Eternal Blue, with answers often coming from within.

LaPlante’s transparent journey through the tumultuous waves of depression don’t always lean into feelings of hopelessness, but rather consistently look for open doors and windows. Of the title track, LaPlante shared, “Lyrically, it’s about someone who is at rock bottom but is trying not to romanticize that.” Still, she saves space to acknowledge those moments when it’s not that easy. On “The Summit”, she sings, “I was looking for the wrong way out / Empty road is like an open mouth” before her repeated refrain of, “The venom is what keeps me alive”. 

That visceral rise and fall effect throughout the course of Eternal Blue is something that reveals itself in new ways on each repeated listen. Take “Halcyon”, which opens with the band pounding the earth beneath their feet to dust just before the music gives way to LaPlante’s effortlessly and gracefully delivered opening lines. The band then slowly winds up for the punishing outro, with LaPlante screaming, “Irrelevance is imminent / I could be one of them” just in time for what amounts to a deep breath, followed by one of the most massive breakdowns on the album.

In the end, the ultimate payoff of Eternal Blue seems almost predestined. In a rare moment of wild confidence on the bridge of “Circle with Me”, LaPlante shreds her vocal chords as she roars, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. The raucous final call to circle with her and her bandmates is one that will not go unanswered. Spiritbox have owned the moment, and their new legion of fans can now lose themselves under the waves of Eternal Blue again and again.

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.

The Phoebe Bridgers Reunion Tour: An Experience Worth Waiting For

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It had been just over two years since the last time I had attended a concert. I was apprehensive. I wondered if that passage of time had somehow quelled my love of the setting. Maybe I didn’t need live music experiences anymore, at least not with the same frequency as before. That’s what I was thinking, but then the lights went down, a band came on stage, I raised my camera to capture the moment, and felt that familiar rush wash over me. I missed this more than I knew.

It’s wild to think about how much has changed for Phoebe Bridgers since the last time she took the stage. Pre-pandemic, Bridgers was still carving her path, building on the early momentum of her debut, Stranger in the Alps, and her collaborative projects, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community. But then came Punisher, a perfect album that changed everything, but all took place in isolation. There was Bridgers in February, in attendance at a bizarre Grammys in her skeleton pajamas, never having had the chance to perform the songs that had changed her life in front of a live audience.

Truthfully, after all we’ve endured, it has made this late summer’s Reunion Tour the perfect opportunity to finally re-connect and share our experience of Punisher together. The tour’s dates were recently moved to outdoor venues, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. It felt about as safe as you can feel these days at an event filled with strangers.

MUNA opened the night – an electro pop trio I had no prior knowledge of. And guess what; it’s still so much fun to discover a new band at a concert. Led by vocalist Katie Gavin, the band exhibited an infectious joy onstage throughout their set, making it impossible to look away. Opening with tracks like “Number One Fan” and “Stayaway” from their 2019 full-length album, Saves the World, the band’s knack for creating dance-worthy tracks ranging in emotion and energy set the tone for the night. When they debuted their new track “Silk Chiffon” (featuring Bridgers), it made clear that MUNA is on the cusp of reaching another level.

To finally experience Punisher in person was…therapeutic? Healing? Relieving? It was something. Bridgers opened with “Motion Sickness” from her debut, making a subtle nod to the idea of our collective reunion. “Let’s experience something familiar before we dive into the new stuff.” From there, “DVD Menu” led into “Garden Song” which led into “Kyoto” and oh my god every song still sounds so perfect. Every track from the album happened in sequence with various other songs from Bridgers’ other works sprinkled within.

The setting fit the mood – dark, but lit with just enough light to create a “vibe.” A backing screen featuring an opening book that visualized the chapters of the performance. And of course, Bridgers and band decked in those skeleton PJs. Highlights of the show depended on your own personal attachments. For me, “Moon Song” proved just as sad and lovely as I had hoped. But it’s hard to outdo a choir of screaming to those final moments of “I Know the End”. Every song was delivered with care. Every moment felt worth absorbing.

In hindsight, I can’t think of a better show to reacquaint myself with the setting. Punisher has meant more to me in this past year than I can put into words. Having the opportunity, after all of this time, to experience it like this? In a weird way, it almost felt worth the wait.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Grayscale – Umbra

Every once in a while, a band just finds their sound. For Grayscale, this came in the form of the single “In Violet”, a song that stood out against the rest of their album Nella Vita. Although the album itself was stellar, there is a magic to “In Violet”. The song is a vortex of moody melodies and dark lyrical subject matter that swirls around a joyful chorus and the swelling of celebratory horns. For their newest album, Umbra, Grayscale have fully leaned into the ideas that gave birth to “In Violet”. The results of this is an album that is over-the-top, stylish, fun and arguably unlike anything else currently in the scene. 

You can buy or stream Umbra on Apple Music.

For Umbra, Grayscale have thrown everything at what made “In Violet” stand out at each song. In a way, it almost sounds overwhelming. There are extensive saxophone solos (“Motown”), gospel choruses (“Live Again”), glitzy guitar solos (“Dirty Bombs”) and songs that include literally all of the above (”Without You”). While these elements could easily be overdone, they’re presented in a way that sounds modernly creative as well as like a long-forgotten soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster. Simply put, Umbra is exciting because it seems like almost anything can appear throughout the album’s 11 tracks. 

What ties these elements together and reigns them in is a retro-style guitar, courtesy of guitarists Dallas Molster and Andrew Kyne. Opener “Without You” carries a heavy vibe reminiscent of Rick Astley. However, much like “In Violet”, the energetic music hides the bitter lyrical subject matter. Amidst the roaring saxophone and guitar solos, vocalist Collin Walsh sings about the freedom he feels after leaving a toxic relationship (“How could I find love in a car crash? / I was pinned down with my hands back / I’m finally without you”). 

Bassist Nick Ventimiglia stands out most during the quieter moments (“Carolina Skies”), while percussionist Nick Veno finds a healthy restraint amidst the melody of songs, and switches up from a heavily produced sound (“Motown”), to what seems to be some nostalgic gated reverb (“Babylon (Say It To My Face)”).

Walsh’s vocals carry stories of loss and coping with darkness throughout Umbra, such as “King of Everything”, which chronicles the loss of a someone who seems to have left their marriage and friends in a type of mid-life crisis (“Yeah, you’re still a part of me / See the life you threw away, wedding bells and silver rings / No more pain and suffering / So go be the man you want to be”).

Meanwhile, closer “Light” sees Walsh mourning the loss of someone he loves as they pursue their dreams and leaves him stranded in place (“Hearts, they never heal in a straight line / Twelve weeks since you had to go and break mine / Sinking here like a stone / Sad to say, yeah, I know / It’s dark here, spinning deep into my head”). 

Umbra seems like too much, sonically, yet it works. Part of this is that all of the extravagant elements on the album are spread out, providing a taste of each from song to song. As such, the album somehow manages to weave an experience of sound that seems more fitting to mainstream pop than indie rock, but fits with the mood of the band. Umbra explores the darkness of relationships and the aftermath that haunts those stuck trying to find a new adventure. “In Violet” seems to have sprung a surge of creativity from Grayscale that heavily influenced this album, and the band is better for it.

4.5/5

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 is slowly baking in the humidity like a potato. A mighty Idaho potato.

Review: Lorde – Solar Power

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On Lorde’s latest, Solar Power, I want what she’s having. Oh wait. I already have it.

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You can buy or stream Solar Power on Apple Music

Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s triumphant return began with a less than triumphant lead single, the title track of her new album. I liked it from the beginning, but I couldn’t deny that I understood what others found disappointing about it. But as someone who is almost exactly Lorde’s age, I got it. The idea “Can you reach me? No, you can’t!” is such a sought after feeling for me, an introvert stuck in an overly connected age. In this, I envy her.

Lorde took a lot of time away since 2017’s masterpiece Melodrama, an album I still think was robbed at the Grammys. This is a hill I’m willing to die on. She is a quiet artist, an introspective genius. Her work is meant to be listened to and experienced on an individual level. 

This is mostly in part, I believe, to Ella’s own introversion. She rarely tours, rarely sits for interviews, and she even hid on social media as an onion ring enthusiast. In Solar Power, I believe we see Lorde in her truest form. She sings of her dislike for her fame and of her obligations as an artist, but it’s not in a woe-is-me, I’m-famous-but-I’m-a-victim sense. She’s just a young woman who has a lot on her plate, as most of the folks in her (and my) generation do. 

This is an album about anxiety and finding solace from a world that demands attention in the most obnoxious ways possible. As someone of no acclaim, I even feel this in my work and in my friendships and in my internet presence. One can only imagine how that feels when you’re globally known. I don’t blame her for wanting out. 

Solar Power is a picture of today’s generation. It’s a story about a woman who just wants a break. A woman who wants to see a better world but doesn’t know the role she plays in getting there. And it’s one of my favorite albums this year.

4.5/5

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.

Podcast: Reviews of the New Albums from Halsey and CHVRCHES

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Woah! What a new music Friday we just had. Highlighting the release schedule were Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power and CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence. Kiel Hauck hops on the mic to break down his thoughts on both new albums, keying in on the artistic evolution of Halsey and their journey as one of the most important pop-adjacent artists of the past decade and how CHVRCHES rebounded from their major label debut to re-discover themselves in unexpected ways. Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Hella Mega Tour and the Return of Live Music

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Have you heard? Live music is happening at a venue near you! Our very own Kyle Schultz recently found himself at such an event, and it was a big one. Kyle joins Kiel Hauck to talk about his experience at the recent Chicago stop of the Hella Mega Tour. Kyle shares the general vibe and experience of attending a concert again and gives his full breakdown of the mammoth-sized tour, including standout songs and performances. Who brought the house down the most: Weezer, Fall Out Boy, or Green Day? Take a listen and find out!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

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You know that old saying “If I could, I’d give you the moon”? On Foxing’s new album, Draw Down the Moon, Foxing both asks for the moon and delivers it to us on a silver platter. 

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You can buy or stream Draw Down the Moon on Apple Music

This is, in short, a superb album. But of course it is, because Foxing never does anything less. I honestly thought they’d peaked with Nearer My God, but somehow they’ve aimed higher here and hit the mark. If Nearer My God was the “rock” in “art rock,” then Draw Down the Moon is the “art.”

The album begins softly with “737”, a song about loneliness and how it’s not sustainable. The guys compare themselves to the Mars rover who died after being on the planet for 15 years: “My battery is low / And it’s getting dark”. Conor Murphy said in the band’s press release: “This album is about cosmic significance as it relates to 10 themes.” In the first track, the bridge alludes to all nine of the tracks to follow. It’s a subtle choice, but it ties everything together in what could be seen as a chaotic album. Foxing is a calculated band. Chaos isn’t chaos for the sake of it. If we feel disjointed, it’s because they’ve decided we should feel that way.

The album was co-produced by the Manchester Orchestra folks, masters of their own craft, and you can definitely see their influence. “Where the Lightning Strikes Twice” could be mistaken for a Manchester song in a universe not far from ours.

As a longtime follower of the band (after catching them as an opener for Manchester Orchestra, funnily enough), I know better than to go into the Foxing discography looking for a casual listen. But with this album, I wish I could have turned off that analytical side. This album cuts deep. Songs about loneliness, about mental illness making it feel like “you’re swimming through mercury” (Go Down Together). Songs like “Cold-Blooded” that talk about feeling numb to an ever-changing, ever-failing world. These things matter. And Foxing knows that not only do things feel smaller when they’re talked about, but by pairing them with larger-than-life art, we can turn the things that make us nervous and the things that emotionally ail us into outlets for creativity and learning experiences.

In the title track, Conor sings “I want to show you / I can keep it all together”, but this album is a lesson in letting it fall apart, and rising above it.

5/5

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.