Review: Marina – Ancient Dream in a Modern Land

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In just a few short years, Marina Diamandis has completely reinvented herself. Gone are the days of alter egos and hiding her personality behind characters and personifications. With 2019’s Love + Fear, it seemed like Marina was regressing as an artist, with stripped back, generic pop. But with her latest, Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land, she is showing us that she was simply finding a new footing.

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You can buy or stream Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land on Apple Music

From a visual standpoint this album seems to be heavily influenced by the futuristic style of the Mod 60s. Her choreography is inspired by Bob Fosse and her clothes are inspired by Twiggy. But for an album that looks forward to a hypothetical period of positive growth and improvement in society, it seems a little bit counterintuitive. She wants to go back to “simpler times,” but she wants to take too many of today’s ideas with her. Her idealistic luggage is too heavy for the plane.

The lead single from the album, “Man’s World”, was a last minute contender for my 2020 song of the year. It was mournful and hopeful all at the same time, and it not only gave us a great taste of what Marina had up her sleeves, but it also was a stark reminder of the things we need to work on. She sings, “If you have a mother, daughter or a friend / Maybe it is time / Time you comprehend / The world that you live in / Ain’t the same one as them / So don’t punish me / Because I’m not a man”. 

And that vein runs all through this piece. It’s a work inspired by female empowerment the likes I’ve never seen before. I’m infinitely grateful for it. It’s not in your face or bashing women who make choices that may seem “anti-feminist.” It’s a celebration of femininity as a whole. 

From a technical standpoint, I thought it was too short. I know she has more to say that maybe she’s holding back for future projects, but this one seems just a tad incomplete at a 36 minute run time. A highlight for me is the final single she released, “Venus Fly Trap”, a song straight from the discotheque about being your true self. 

All in all, this is an incredible offering from Marina, and it feels familiar. She has drawn from all of her past eras to give us a project that is completely “her.” And that’s what empowerment is all about.

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.

Podcast: Who Won the 2011 Hip Hop Title Belt?

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We’re back, baby! Brock Benefiel makes his triumphant return to the podcast to discuss everything that went down in the world of hip hop in 2011. Brock and Kiel break down the year’s avalanche of debuts (Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Mac Miller, etc.) and take a look at the albums that defined the year (Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, etc.). They also talk about the changing landscape of hip hop in 2011 and how the genre was about to evolve in more ways than we could have imagined. Finally, they hand out the 2011 Hip Hop Title Belt. Who won? Listen in to find out!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

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It’s hard to believe I’m here again writing about a new Twenty One Pilots album. How has it already been two years since Trench was released? Generally, we’re used to radio silence from Tyler and Josh in between album cycles, but for some reason, they couldn’t shut up this time. They released “Level of Concern” last year in response to coronavirus ravaging life as we knew it, then released an internet game of the same title, almost got cancelled for Tyler’s foolish and  flippant comments about police brutality, and, finally, released “Christmas Saves the Year” in December. Wow, it almost feels like I’m a fan of a regular band, instead of the hive mind that is Twenty One Pilots.

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You can buy or stream Scaled and Icy on Apple Music

Sarcasm aside, the new album Scaled and Icy is certainly….something. Easily the most pop-forward album from the band, it falls very flat to me. And yet, it’s still home to “Shy Away”, my favorite radio single the guys have put out to date. The other redeemable tracks for me are the final two, “No Chances” and “Redecorate”. The former sounds the most like what I’ve come to expect and appreciate from the band, as well as feeling like a natural progression from their last album in a thematic sense, while the latter is a true Twenty One Pilots song, reminding us of what’s important in an unorthodox way.

Tyler has spoken about the album signifying the “scaled back” and “isolated” year that COVID has given us, which is where the title comes from. But coming off the heels of an album that was rich in storytelling and worldbuilding, this album feels like regression. And it’s not because they seem happier and in a better mental state, because that’s not what is negative with this. I’m truly glad that they’ve been able to do some work and improve their mental health. But self improvement doesn’t have to manifest itself in a weaker, less inspired piece of art, and that’s what I feel has happened here.

From a fan theory perspective, the album fits perfectly in the lore started in 2018’s Trench, where we were first introduced to the idea that Tyler and Josh are trapped in a world called DEMA, a metaphor for insecurity and feeling lost. Some fans have tossed around the thought that Tyler and Josh created this album as a piece of DEMA propaganda, showing that they are still stuck where Trench ended, and that’s the explanation for a lot of the stark differences that have come up this era. I personally don’t see it that way, I just think it’s a weak album —  which is fine, as long as we can be honest about it.

I wanted to be excited here. I always wait patiently for new music from Twenty One Pilots, because they’ve proven time and again that their creativity is boundless. With Scaled and Icy, though, they’ve given us an album that lacks originality and is all around mildly unsettling for some reason. Maybe that’s on purpose and I don’t see the deeper story here yet, but for now I’m pretty disappointed. For a band who always takes their time with careful planning, Scaled and Icy is at its best, cute, and at its worst, a jumble with no rhyme or reason.

3/5

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: Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

In the last 24 hours, I have listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, no less than seven times. Last night, I was enthralled with it, wiping tears from my eyes at some of the lyricism, and even boldly considered it album of the year. But having sat with SOUR, the more I have wondered what connected me so intensely with an artist half my age. Rodrigo bounds from genre to genre in a way that feels natural and familiar. In fact, it sounds too familiar at times. My experience with SOUR is one of pure joy at seeing a young artist find her voice from the opposite side of the music I tend to listen to, and I still believe it will be in contention for album of the year for me in a few months time. However, SOUR is the first album I have listened to that made me wonder where the line is between paying homage to other artists and just rewriting the songs by them that you love.

You can buy or stream SOUR on Apple Music.

My first exposure to Olivia Rodrigo was her SNL performance one week ago (I somehow utterly missed the release of “drivers license”), when I heard “good 4 u” playing in the background and literally dropped what I was doing to go see who was singing. That led to a week of anxiously awaiting the release of SOUR.  

Rodrigo manages to take the listener through a tour de force through genre in ways where it’s easy to see who her influences most likely are. There are bits of the grunge of Hole (“brutal”), the quirky pop of Regina Spektor (“traitor”), the pop punk of Paramore (“good 4 u”), the percussive experimentation of Death Cab For Cutie (“deja vu”) and the pop elements of Taylor Swift (“1 step forward, 3 steps back”). I don’t say that to try to take anything away from her, I mean parts of the album instantly feel familiar—”1 step forward, 3 steps back” list Taylor and Jack Antonoff with a writing credit due to its inspiration from Swift’s song “New Year’s Day”.

Where Rodrigo stands tall is in the songs that don’t sound like an homage, such as “happier”, with a doo-wop melody, or the folk acoustic guitars of “enough for you”. Although the crunching guitars of “good 4 u” are a welcome surprise, it’s hard not to instantly think of Paramore.

The absolute highlight of SOUR though, is in the incredible lyricism and vocals Rodrigo delivers throughout. Each song is a swirling tempest of heartbreak and carries an emotional weight that cuts straight to the bone.

Rodrigo as a singer is utterly inspirational. Ranging from whispers (“1 step forward, 3 step back”) to bouncing explorations of higher notes (“enough for you”), her vocals are tested song after song. She even manages to emphasize single words at the emotional apex in a song to make the lyric utterly deadly, such as in “traitor” (“Don’t you dare forget about the way / you betrayed me”). 

It would be easy to write Rodrigo off as just another artist singing about heartache—there are a lot of songs about it on SOUR. But that would be a disservice to her lyricism. SOUR explores the transition from adolescence to adulthood through the viewpoint of a young woman, heartbreak and all. Lead single “drivers license” explores the utter devastation of young love—finally having the freedom to drive anywhere, but finding yourself trapped by the orbit of one person (“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone. / Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / Cause you said ‘forever’ now I drive alone past your street”).

By the end, it’s easy to see the growth as she worries about close friends and the poor influence of past generations, such as “hope ur ok” (“Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / But, God, I hope that you’re happier today, ‘cause I love you / And I hope that you’re okay”).

Meanwhile, the insecurity of growing up seeing “perfect” idols is explored in “jealousy, jealousy” over a simple bass riff (“I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room / cause all I see are girls too good to be true”).

SOUR somehow flawlessly encompasses a pure venom of heartbreak with maturity that sees beyond the base level. Meanwhile, the lyrical content transcends age to form a bridge between generations. Her lyrics are biting, simple and heartfelt. Olivia Rodrigo might not be the most unique artist to exist, but she is such a sponge to influence that it sounds new and enthralling. But that is also its biggest setback

SOUR is a masterful debut album from a young artist, but it spends too much time feeling like a “best of” to the music that inspired her. It makes for a captivating listen, but its difficult to find Rodrigo in her own space. It’s easy to make comparisons to Taylor Swift and Paramore for good reason, but that doesn’t make the music any less than its whole. It’s just that in reflection, it feels like a trick to grab your immediate attention before a song that sounds like its own beast takes hold.

Rodrigo is a confluence of sound. Her influences on her sleeve, it’s wonderful to see her paying respect to the bands she loves, but its heartbreaking not to hear more of her in them. SOUR will rightly be adored and is justifiably going to be played on repeat constantly throughout the summer. If it’s anything to judge her by, SOUR is the perfect springboard toward finding an incredibly inspired artist leaning slightly less on her idols on her next album.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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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 killed a spider with such vigor that he broke his broom in half. He’s pretty strong. Tell your friends.

Podcast: Mike Herrera Talks Livestream Performances and (Almost) 30 Years of MxPx

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Thought we were done talking MxPx? Think again! Mike Herrera stopped by the podcast to talk with Kiel Hauck about the band’s current livestream series, Between This World and the Next, and how the band has stayed innovative when it comes to connecting with their fans. Mike also reflects on the upcoming 30th anniversary of MxPx and shares about the experience of exploring the band’s deep catalogue across their recent livestream setlists. Finally, he discusses the ebbs and flows of fan response to the band’s music over the years and the prospect of a new MxPx album. Take a listen!

You can grab tickets to the band’s next livestream performance on their website.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Photo Credit: Jered Scott

Podcast: The Best of MxPx with Jason Tate

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This one has been a long time coming, folks. We welcome Jason Tate, founder of Chorus.fm, to the podcast to talk all things MxPx. Jason and Kiel Hauck break down the band’s history and legacy before diving into an extensive ranking of the band’s 10 studio albums. They also discuss the biggest “What if?” in the band’s career, their favorite MxPx concert memories, and why the band is still so vital and relevant almost three decades into their career.

It’s safe to say that It’s All Dead and this podcast wouldn’t exist without MxPx and the impact they’ve made on the scene. We had an absolute blast diving into the band’s legacy and discography and we hope you enjoy this (rather long!) episode. Long Live Left Coast Punk Rawk.

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Photo Credit: Jered Scott

Stand Atlantic Release “Deathwish” featuring Nothing,Nowhere

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It’s been just over eight months since Sydney pop punk act Stand Atlantic dropped their sophomore album, Pink Elephant. Not having the opportunity to properly tour their breakout release, the band haven’t twiddled their thumbs. Friday, they released a new track titled “deathwish” featuring rapper Nothing,Nowhere.

The track picks up where Pink Elephant left off, blending the dark, synthy sound of “Silk & Satin” with the aggressive feel of tracks like “Shh!” and “Wavelength”. Needless to say, the track goes hard as hell and sounds so catchy that you have to hit repeat.

With the temperatures reaching the 70s and the sun beginning to shine consistently, I threw on Pink Elephant this weekend and was transported back to last summer, when Stand Atlantic kept me sane amidst isolation. The days of Warped Tour may be behind us, but if you had to encapsulate the experience in a vibe, Stand Atlantic would be it. It’s crazy that this band just keeps getting better, but they sound firmly ferocious on “deathwish”, with Bonnie Fraser becoming more and more of a force with each new release.

There’s no telling whether this new track is a one-off single or part of something larger. Fraser recently told Rocksound that the track was recorded during quarantine and that “It’s probably our favorite song we’ve ever done.” It’s hard not to hope that there’s more where this came from, but even if not, I’m happy to have “deathwish” carry me into summer.

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: Lil Nas X, “WAP” and Music Outrage with Evan Sawdey

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People are mad about music again. And we kinda love it! Kiel Hauck is joined by Evan Sawdey of PopMatters to discuss the cultural outrage associated with Lil Nas X‘s new single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s Grammy performance of “WAP”, along with a general movement back toward backlash. They discuss why outrage about music seemed diminished in recent years, why it appears to have returned, and what kind of conversation should ensue. They also reflect on a previous generation of music backlash, the evolving nature of protest music, and why it’s so vital to elevate music and artists that have something important to say. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Demi Lovato’s Comeback and Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”

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Demi Lovato has returned with a reformative new album, Dancing with the Devil…the Art of Starting Over. Kiel Hauck and Nadia Alves examine Demi’s return to the scene from battles with addiction and abuse and what this new album has to say about her journey and the power structures present in the music scene. They then dive into Taylor Swift‘s re-released version of Fearless and discuss what her current re-recording project means for not only her legacy, but the current state of the music industry. Finally, they chat about Julien Baker’s new album Little Oblivions and their thoughts on the return of live music later this year. Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Emery – We Do What We Want

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I know what you’re all thinking. Nadia, you’re really going to write about Emery again? Haven’t you said all there is to say about this band? No, friends, I have not, because their magnum opus (at least, what I consider to be their magnum opus) We Do What We Want turns 10 this year.

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You can buy or stream We Do What We Want on Apple Music.

Looking back at the 14-year-old kid just breaking the surface into what would be a decade-plus obsession with the alt scene, never would I have thought I would get a chance to talk about how this album made me feel. I grew up to the sounds of this album, much to the chagrin of my conservative parents, who were none too pleased with the album art — a Bible, with the words “we do what we want” emblazoned across the shiny leather. It was honestly because of the edgy album art that I was so drawn to this body of work, and it remains an oft-played album for me.

I originally wanted to do a crazy, hypothetical piece on how each of the songs could be attributed to the Seven Deadly Sins, but that was quickly tossed out when I realized it was, in fact, not the case. I wanted so badly to have that cohesive lede and pathway to guide me through writing this piece, but as Emery explains so eloquently, they do what they want. And so do we. 

As a now 24-year-old kid married for a couple of years and watching the church culture she steeped herself in like a green tea bag slowly crumbling (oop, pun intended), this album is more refreshing and poignant than ever. Emery’s stark description of sin and falling short of what the church thinks Christianity should look like is more relatable now than I ever could have foreseen it to be. If you’ll notice, we never get preached to directly until the end of the album. The guys in Emery never want to be our pastors and judges, they’re just here to tell us, “Yeah, we get it.” And they do.

At 14, Emery got how I felt about the guys I had a crush on, even though spiritually I knew I could never touch those feelings. They got the guilt I felt being just a little bit sneaky with the music I would listen to with my friends, then going home to my parents and pretending we had plenty of good Christian fun. They got the fact that 10 years later, I would be experiencing an intense feeling of loss for the faith and the culture I once knew. Emery foresaw all of these things because they had gone through them.

When I listened to the album at 14, I didn’t realize how I would relate to “I Never Got to See the West Coast”. I didn’t realize that when I would listen to “The Curse of Perfect Days” I would see it as a soundtrack to my teenage years. I didn’t realize that “Scissors” would end up on a playlist I’d make memorializing my grandmother. 

What remains when I listen to We Do What We Want now is a piece of work so intensely intertwined in my thoughts and my faith (or lack thereof). What remains is the everlasting idea that we, in fact, will do what we want. And when I was 14, doing what I wanted, I was building lasting memories with Emery.

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.