Review: Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate

When I first read the 10-page treatise on Say Anything’s demise (which I strongly suggest you do, as well), I was disappointed. I was disappointed, of course, that one of my favorite bands would no longer regularly make music, but I was also disappointed at the concept album slated to be their last. In reading Max Bemis’s thought process for the album, I was disappointed to see that this guy, who I had cheered for as he sobered up and became a family man, was artistically back where he started so many years ago.

You can buy or stream Oliver Appropriate on Apple Music.

According to Bemis, Oliver Appropriate is a sequel to …Is a Real Boy. So Max decides he’s metaphorically gonna get back into all of these insecurities and coping mechanisms that he covered way back in 2004. Oliver is Max, but not really. If you read what he wrote, it was super hard for him to get back into that mindset to create the character. He had effectively put that behind him with the rest of Say Anything’s albums. The ones where he talks about his wife, his experiences with Judaism, his struggles with family situations, and the political climate of the 2000’s. The authentic ones. That’s why I was so discouraged when I read about what we were in for. I wanted Say Anything’s final moves to be made of the same authenticity. Once I listened to it though, I realized it is authentic.

I don’t want to say that Max failed in his attempt to create the worst of the worst in punk rock, but he kind of did. Even though it’s under the guise of Oliver and about Oliver, Max is actually the name written all over this album. And even though I was originally disappointed with this direction, it was the direction I think I actually wanted all along. I think IARB had some loose ends that needed tying up. Some final thoughts on what the character’s lifestyle ended up turning him into. And, without a doubt, Oliver is the kid from IARB, just a little more grown up. He’s still just as deplorable, so much so that he ends up murdering the guy he’s supposedly “in love” with, as Max and Sherri sing in “The Hardest”.

Musically, the album is quintessential Say Anything. From “Daze”, where we get the definitive sound, to “Your Father”, where we get the scathing lyricism, Max held nothing back. There are all the expected features of friends and family, including Brianna Collins from Tigers Jaw. He says that this might not be the last Say Anything project, but it’s true enough to form, which makes me think this could be. And that’s fine with me, because his reasoning is that “[he] won’t put himself in harm’s way for anything now.” I’d way rather see someone I’ve been invested in be healthy than see them crumble.

The most telling point in the album comes at the very end of “Sediment”, with Max’s spoken word. If we take Max’s advice and treat Oliver Appropriate as the sequel to …Is a Real Boy, then it’s only right that it ends that way. What’s different here, and perhaps the most bittersweet as the Say Anything door closes for now, is the confidence that Max delivers this piece with. He sums up virtually every album the band has released in this short but moving conclusion. We’ve listened as he says, “It’s only a few lines, but I’m having anxiety about it” right up until the point where he’s so vulnerable that it seems like he’s crying when he says, “I’m viciously hungering for someone  / To love me the way my parents never did”.

We’ve essentially watched Max Bemis grow up through Say Anything and to have it end this way is something only he could do. Any other group can try to have their final (?) album echo their first, but it would sound cheesy and try-hard. Bemis has made his career this way so it’s not awkward — it’s expected. Say Anything has been a pillar of punk and emo since I can remember (admittedly not that long of a time, but still), and Oliver Appropriate is a fitting final chapter for them.

4.5/5

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.

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Review: Bring Me the Horizon – Amo

I recently decided to play Bring Me the Horizon’s latest single, “Medicine”, back-to-back with “Pray for Plagues”, their 2006 deathcore breakthrough. The shock value of hearing those two tracks in succession highlights the unfathomable songwriting growth the band has experienced over the past 12 years while serving as a reminder of frontman Oli Sykes complicated past – something he still seems to be trying to outrun.

You can buy or stream Amo on Apple Music.

By now, you’re surely aware that Bring Me the Horizon’s new album Amo is unlike anything you’ve ever heard from the band, something that feels wholly unsurprising in light of 2015’s alt-rock excursion, That’s the Spirit. That the band have completed a full metalcore metamorphosis into something nearly uncategorizable is phenomenally impressive. That they’ve done so from within a cocoon of their own making – no producers, no co-writers – is jaw-dropping.

The breadcrumbs leading to Amo can be traced back to the addition of keyboardist and engineer Jordan Fish on 2013’s Sempiternal. While the band showed their first signs of life on There is a Hell in 2010, it’s now unmistakable that the songwriting vision of Fish made an unequivocal impact on the band’s trajectory – he and Sykes now serve as one of the most fascinating duos in alternative music. Just call them the new Stump and Wentz.

It feels like years have passed since “Mantra” was released last August as Amo’s first single – a red herring if there ever was one. We can now realize that grungy track as just one ingredient in a concoction that finds Bring Me the Horizon exploring electronica and pop rock in equal measure. That “Mantra” is immediately followed on the album tracklist by “Nihilist Blues” featuring Grimes (without a doubt the most ambitious and peculiar song the band has ever written) feels perfectly appropriate.

For most listeners, new and unexpected sonic explorations like “Nihilist Blues”, “In the Dark” or “Why You Gotta Kick Me When I’m Down?” will take multiple spins to fully digest. Oddly enough, the schizophrenic nature of Amo and its constant genre leaps serve as the perfect entry for a fully streaming generation, yet still functions best as a sum of parts, especially when including the blippy, 1975-ish interludes.

Album opener “I Apologize if You Feel Something” sets the stage for the story Amo wishes to tell, often dealing with the confusing and sometimes messy nature of relationships. It’s here that Sykes first delivers lines that seem in response to the dissolving of his marriage with Hannah Snowdon, the hazy-yet-troubling details of which still hover over Sykes and the rest of the band. It’s clear that he’s still searching for the culprit, often finding his own reflection, as on “Wonderful Life”: “’Lone, getting high on a Saturday night / I’m on the edge of a knife / Nobody cares if I’m dead or alive / Oh, what a wonderful life”.

We’ll all find our own ways to process what we know of Sykes and whether his self-deprecation is worth of empathy. Is it a complicated kind of progress when he finds a sensitive side on tracks like “Mother Tongue”, which implores his wife Alissa Salls to speak in her native Portuguese when expressing her love? At a bare minimum, it feels like the right kind of growth. Whether in words or sound, Amo is rife with the kind of palpable inner wrestling that is unavoidably compelling.

When Amo loses its footing, it can be tied solely to the band’s decision to self-produce. Tracks like “Sugar Honey Ice & Tea” highlight moments when a producer could have taken a chorus or melody to another level. Instead, Sykes sometimes finds himself stumbling over awkward phrasings or nearly nonsensical lyrics. Even in those moments, the band’s sudden pop sensibilities are hard to deny – by my third listen, I was singing along to nearly every song.

All of this brings me back to “Medicine”, a track that caused an uproar amongst old guard fans and once again solidified Bring Me the Horizon as one of Britain’s most essential rock bands. As the sonic inverse of first single “Mantra”, “Medicine” finds the band very coyly trolling us all. As the ying and yang of an album that now has to be considered when discussing the band’s best releases, Bring Me the Horizon have proven that great songs can come in a variety of packages and great bands can still find new ways to get even better.

The fact that Bring Me the Horizon’s metalcore days are far behind them will continue to be a bitter pill for some people to swallow. For the rest of us, a dose of levity and melody are a small step toward salving old wounds.

4/5

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 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: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.

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 HAS TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

 

Mini Review: Hikaru Utada – Face My Fears EP

At this point, Hikaru Utada is almost synonymous with the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise. She provided the theme song to the first two main games in the series, which have both been remixed over the years for each new game in the long running series. After nearly 13 years, Kingdom Hearts III is finally here, and with it comes two new theme songs that do the series justice.

Where “Face My Fears” sets the tone for the new game as the opening song, “Don’t Think Twice” is the theme song for the game itself. It’s a song that directly addresses players with earthy piano and angelic vocals. With Kingdom Hearts III set to close out the “Darkseeker” storyline with a final battle against the villain who has plagued the franchise since 2002, “Don’t Think Twice” is as encouraging as it is a resolute ‘thank you’ for anyone who finishes the game.

The Face My Fears EP offers a glimpse of this era of Utada, after she returned from a multi-year hiatus in 2016. With the help of Skrillex, “Face My Fears” is one of her most energetic songs of late. Beginning as a somber piano ballad, the song quickly explodes into an electropop fantasy that balances the melancholy state the heroes of the Kingdom Hearts series find themselves in at the start of KHIII, and the flamboyant hope that everything Disney brings. “Face My Fears” conveys both the breathless burden of marching into war (“Breath, should I take a deep? / Faith, should I take a leap?”) and the courage of accepting the fight (“Let me face, let me face, let me face my fears / Won’t be long, won’t be long, I’m almost here”).

“Don’t Think Twice” is a much more peaceful affair that celebrates the end of a journey. This version of “Chikai”, a single off of last year’s album Hatsukoi, appears to be a love song on the surface (such as “Simple & Clean” from the original KH). However, the song addresses the Kingdom Hearts game in direct and indirect ways soothingly. Along with vague commentary on the development cycle (“I’m only crying ’cause I never dreamed / It’d take this long, it’d take this long”), Utada changes the lyrics in the English version to reflect the third game in the series “Kiss me once, kiss me twice, kiss me three times / Cross the line”).

Included on the EP are the original Japanese versions of both songs. The natural poetry of the language they were written in is beautiful, and contain almost entirely different lyrics depending on the translations. They make a fine counterbalance to the English versions and a different experience for anyone who hasn’t already delved into the world of J-pop.

The Face My Fears EP is a tiny sliver of Utada, one of Japan’s most famous artists. The songs are softer than what would be expected as anthems of a big budget action videogame with backing from Disney, but they set the mood perfectly. Together, they feel like an ending cap to the ridiculously upbeat “Simple & Clean” (“Hikari”, Kingdom Hearts), and the war-drums of “Sanctuary” (“Passion”, Kingdom Hearts II). However Kingdom Hearts III turns out after years of extraordinarily high expectation, it’s reassuring to know that its soundtrack will at least do the series justice.

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 has literally thought about Kingdom Hearts III almost every day for the last year. He has gaming fever. Please send medicine. Or bagels.

 

Podcast: Who Won the 2018 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel drops by the It’s All Dead podcast studio to chat with Kiel Hauck about which rapper took the Hip Hop Title Belt in 2018. The two discuss some of hip hop’s hottest storylines of the year, break down 2018’s best hip hop tracks, and look ahead to what might come in 2019. So who won the belt? The conversation includes candidates such as Cardi B, Drake, Travis Scott, Vince Staples, Pusha T, and many more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What were your favorite hip hop tracks in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2019: #1 Childish Gambino Makes His Final(?) Appearance

A year-and-a-half has passed since Donald Glover announced at the Governors Ball Music Festival his intention on releasing one final Childish Gambino album before riding off into the sunset. Since that time, Glover has released one of most powerful songs of the decade (“This is America”), unexpectedly dropped a new Summer Pack EP, created another wildly successful season of his TV series Atlanta, and starred as Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Glover has never been one to rest on his laurels, and the past several years have been a whirlwind of creative success. If the next Childish Gambino album truly is his last, we can rest assured that whenever it comes, and whatever it is, it will surely be great. His artistic progression from Camp to Because the Internet to Awaken, My Love! has been fascinating to watch, and there’s no telling where he might take his sound next.

Whether that rumored final album drops in 2019, or whether we receive something else completely (which seems just as likely), we patiently await whatever comes next from one of the most important and mysterious artistic voices on the planet.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2019: #2 Aaron West Roars into 2019

We Don’t Have Each Other was one of the best albums of 2014, and one of the most unique albums of the last decade. With only a handful of songs released over the last four-and-a-half years to keep the story of Aaron West moving, a second album is long overdue. Fortunately, it’s looking to be coming sooner than later.

With a steady touring schedule and The Wonder Years in between album releases, it’s an ideal time for Aaron West to grab the spotlight. Also, the official Aaron West Twitter account claimed Dan Campbell to have been in the studio as recently as November 2018. With over four years since their last release, there is a plethora of story for Campbell to cover and room for the character of Aaron to grow.

If the band’s second album can even remotely come close to the intensity of the first album, it will already be a contender for album of the year.

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 could not be more excited for new music to tickle his ears in 2019.

Podcast: The Best Debut Albums of the Past 50 Years with Evan Sawdey

Music critic Evan Sawdey makes his return to the It’s All Dead podcast to discuss a recent feature for Yardbarker in which he named the best debut albums of the past 50 years, by year. During the conversation, Kiel and Evan debate the merits of Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and many more classic debuts. Evan also discusses the power of a debut album and how it can set the stage for what’s to come in an artistic career. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are some of your all time favorite debut albums? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2019: #3 Copeland Put an Emphasis on the Experience

Blushing will be Copeland’s sixth studio album. It’s been almost four years since the release of their comeback album Ixora, and Blushing seems like it will be a worthy follow-up to what was a beautiful representation of where the band was in the six years they were quiet.

The band self-produced their upcoming release, and as we all know, Aaron Marsh’s production skills are top tier. They seem to have a big emphasis on the experience the listener will have with the album, rather than it just being a group of songs thrown together.

A piece on the band’s website explains what their aim with the album is and I couldn’t be more excited about the new direction. It, very appropriately, releases on Valentine’s Day.

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: Mae – Multisensory Aesthetic Experience

In my experience, when an artist decides to create something and title it after themselves, it’s their way of saying that the collection of songs we’re about to hear are quintessential to the artist’s perception of themselves or the art they create. For Mae’s new album Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, this is both a blessing and a curse.

You can buy or stream Multisensory Aesthetic Experience on Apple Music.

It’s been 12(!) years since Mae offered us Singularity, their third full-length album. Maybe it’s too honest of me to say, but, up until this latest album, I’d only ever listened to The Everglow in its entirety. Strangely enough though, I join the masses of fans who judge Mae by that album, and with new one, it was no different. Multisensory Aesthetic Experience didn’t quite live up to the standard set by The Everglow.

Musically, the album is breathtaking. It soars in unexpected places and is just subtle enough in others. It’s constantly interesting and keeps everyone guessing. The opener, “Kaleidoscope”, is stunning with its use of strings. The creative direction they took with the composition of the album is what makes me enjoy it so much. It’s what I imagine outer space sounds like. This is why it’s self-titled. Mae’s ability to take a sonic concept and fulfill it to its highest capacity is something to behold.

I wish they had done the same with the lyrics. Whether it’s just weak lyrically or it’s personal, is up to each listener. The comments on YouTube are equally convincing for either side. It’s not quite what I’ve been used to from Mae, either from The Everglow or the other tracks I’ve heard throughout the years. There are tracks that I don’t feel this way about, like “5 Light Years”, which obviously plays to the space theme I mentioned before, or “Let It Die”, which sounds like the old Mae. “The Overview”, however, is a strange sort of spoken word that totally brings us back down and, for me at least, slows it down.

I’d have to say that “Simple Words” is probably my favorite track here, when it comes to the less experimental side of things. It sounds like an Everglow B-side, and I know that’s probably not a great reason to name a track your favorite, but that’s really my only reason. I’ve always loved the way Mae deals with the topic of young love and this is a wonderful embodiment of that.

This was a difficult album to write about because of how disjointed it seems to be. On one hand, we have what’s probably the finest example of what Mae is capable of as musicians and producers. On the other hand, their songwriting is rusty. My reasoning is that they figured that staying close to home lyrically while letting the music transport us would be the best bet to keep the album somewhat grounded. But it doesn’t really work, because we all know Mae is better than that. They’ve never been ones to shy away from loftier goals than what they’ve achieved in past releases. What I love so much about their old stuff is the whimsy they poured into each aspect, and that amount of effort isn’t quite present enough on what should be their defining album.

3.5/5

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.