Reflecting On: Panic at the Disco – Pretty. Odd.

Pretty. Odd. may be the biggest upset in music that I was alive to see. In 2007, to say that Panic! At the Disco were on top of the world is an understatement. Their debut album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was a massive hit. The band had more or less overtaken Fall Out Boy as the poster child for record label Fueled By Ramen, and their live shows had become the things of legend. The anticipation for their sophomore release was ravenous, especially after hearing reports that the band had scrapped an entire record themed around fairy tales. Pretty. Odd. caught absolutely everyone off guard except the band that created it.

You can buy Pretty. Odd. on Apple Music.

Pretty. Odd. was a true gamble. Leveraging the fame of Panic!, the band decided to completely and utterly change who they were. Gone were the live stage shows, emo-infused lyrical wordplay, electronic beats and cabaret inspired rock. Even the exclamation point in their name was removed. What took its place was a mock version of The Beatles. It pissed off everyone I knew, and it almost destroyed the band completely.

In retrospect, Pretty. Odd. is a glorious masterpiece. It is a solid rock record, inspired by classic British rock and folk music. It is utterly unique. Nothing like it has been created since, and the current version of Panic! has more or less swept it under the rug. However, while almost everyone (that I know of) prefer any other album from the band, Pretty. Odd. has held up considerably well and has never gotten the full respect it deserved.

The shift in the album’s sound is a stark one, so much so that the opening song, “We’re So Starving”, actually has to tell the audience, “You don’t have to worry, cuz we’re still the same band”. Looking beyond the shift in sound though, is an album that, in almost any other circumstance, would have been regarded as an uncontested indie cornerstone. The pop anthems are expertly crafted, backed by an absolutely massive orchestral piece. Harmonica, violins, mandolin, saxophone and flutes bring a life to the music that is rarely found outside of movie scores.

What they enhance, though, is a series of secretive fairy tales and stories hidden beneath the shock of classic rock. The surreal imagery within the songs is second to none, such as in “Behind the Sea” (“Like bobbing bait for bathing cod / Floating flocks of candled swans / Slowly drift across wax ponds”). Or in the tuba encrusted “From a Mountain in the Middle of the Cabins”, as Brendon Urie sings, “Lying there, with a halo in her hair she cried / There are feathers everywhere, but it’s fine / You do this all the time”.

The legacy of Pretty. Odd. is one of gambles that paid off in ways that no one foresaw. Guitarist and songwriter Ryan Ross allegedly had a large hand in controlling the band’s direction for this release. Removing everything that made Panic! famous in the first place moved the attention aimed on them to the opposite spectrum. The shock was that they weren’t shocking.

Ross threw his full weight behind this direction for the band. It was an utter rebirth of the sound of pop rock from the 60’s, both paying homage to and inspired by the bands of the era. In many ways, Panic! surpassed the bands that inspired this record. When Ross and bassist Jon Walker eventually left to form The Young Veins, they carried this sound with them. Unfortunately, their biggest sin was nothing but timing.

Following A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out with this new sound was a dire mistake. The fan base craved the dark electro-pop that the band had created and the showmanship that oozed from it. As a result, a large portion of fans rebelled. Especially after the near dissolution of Panic! At the Disco, the blowback followed The Young Veins and never gave them the chance that they deserved.

On the other side of the split left by this record, Brendon Urie suddenly had an allowance to literally do anything he wanted. With Pretty. Odd. already in the band’s catalogue, he was free to explore nearly any sound he wanted to going forward with Panic! at the Disco. Without the restraints of fan expectation, Urie wrote some of the group’s biggest hits afterwards.

The sad irony is that had Pretty. Odd. been released as the band’s third album or later, after establishing their sound, they would have had a fan base loyal enough to take the journey with them. There wouldn’t have been the worry that the band had severed ties with what made people love them in the first place. Similar to how My Chemical Romance took on a new persona with each new album, Panic! at the Disco would have had an easier time rallying fans to Pretty. Odd. if they had a firmer grasp of who the band actually was. The shock wouldn’t have kicked in nearly as hard.

Pretty. Odd. is an amazing album that will truly never receive its due credit. The diversity of sound and surreal, dreamlike paintings throughout the record are mesmerizing in ways that no other band has been able to replicate. It is a shame that instead of having an anniversary celebrating this unique entry in their history, Panic! At the Disco has more or less hidden Pretty. Odd. beneath a mountain of top 40 pop songs and dance beats.

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 first listened to Pretty. Odd. in a car full of groaning college kids. They have all since been eaten by alligators and small cats. The album survives.

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Reflecting On: The Ataris – So Long, Astoria

The summer of 2003 is the last year that I consider ‘normal’ from my youth. It’s the first time I was aware of the ticking clock over the heads of my high school friends when we hung out, as they would head to the four corners for college in a couple years. It’s also the last year before the fractures in my parents’ marriage began showing true depth, which would eventually lead to their divorce.

You can buy So Long, Astoria on iTunes.

Ten years later, I packed up my car and drove north for the last time as I moved to Chicago in early 2013. I was leaving my family and everyone I had grown up with. As I hit the interstate, I turned on an album to make sense of the hope I had for my future. The first track defines that moment to me as I drove towards unknown potential – “So Long, Astoria”.

So Long, Astoria by The Ataris lived and died by the era it was written in. Early 2003 saw an epidemic of generic pop punk bands, the likes of which would prove to be the ruin of the genre from mainstream radio. However, it is because of this deluge that allowed a record like this to truly stand out as something special, even if it also got lost in the shuffle without the credit it deserved.

So Long, Astoria is an album about specific moments in life. Each song is a short story littered with tiny details from real points in vocalist/guitarist Kris Roe’s life. That, or he’s a better fiction writer than anyone has given him credit for. Personal memories, such as playing a guitar alone in a bedroom and dreaming of the future (“So Long, Astoria”), or having someone tell you that their best friend likes you (“Summer ‘79”) is what makes life so special and memorable. It’s arguable that The Ataris are responsible for the first album I had ever heard that wrote about the best of memories instead of broken relationships.

Each song focuses on a defining moment while growing up. Whether it be about reflection on life, childhood memories or just taking in the beauty of Americana, the details are astoundingly poignant. Standing on the edge of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, it’s hard not to think of Roe singing, “The sunrise over smoke stacks in the Midwest / The beauty of this abandoned factory / Christmas lights blinking on and off, all out of time / In what used to be / Your pink house dreams of a middle class America” (“All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know”).

The theme of specific moments has always stuck with me. Whether I was aware of it or not, I have always played songs from this album in the background on days or during moments I thought might be important. High school graduation (“Summer ’79″), my first flight in a decade (“Takeoffs And Landings”), and after every romantic breakup, when I didn’t know what else to do but just sit and stare into the middle distance (“A Beautiful Mistake”).

Even so, I can’t claim to be the biggest fan of The Ataris. I’ve never heard another record they have released, and I don’t listen to So Long, Astoria that often. I can’t even claim to know the lyrics of most of the songs, or why I listened to those specific ones until I re-read the lyrics while writing this article and remembered why they meant so much to me.

What is important is the message of the album. Don’t take life for granted. Enjoy the happy times and look back fondly on them and how they made you into who you are today. Nostalgia is great, but what is the point if those cherished memories don’t make you smile each time you think of them?

I don’t see my high school friends very often, and it is hard to imagine my parents together anymore after both have moved on to different and better lives. But I remember the moment I made peace with their divorce and saw how happy they were afterwards (“The Hero Dies In This One”). But I still laugh at the thought of some of the things we got into as my generation became adults. Unintentionally, So Long, Astoria is a diary to a specific moment in my life before things started to fall apart, often for the better. It is a record of youth and the acceptance that something better is always just around the corner. In the end, that is the best legacy it could have left on anyone willing to listen.

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 took two multi-hour walks listening to this album before writing about it. He did not realize how often it came up in his life until that point, because he is a dunce. If you see him, ‘BOO’ him to his face until he cries. He will know why.

10 Songs to Chase Away the Chill of Winter

Is it just me, or does it feel like this winter has dragged on and on? It’s actually snowing as I type this. Fortunately, spring is not far away, so in an effort to put up with snow boots and chapped lips, here are some songs I listen to when I think about new flowers and higher temperatures.

1. Coldplay – “Lovers In Japan (Osaka Sun mix)”

This is one of my all-time favorite Coldplay songs. Upbeat and unique, it’s always put me in a good mood. It’s also turning 10 years old this year. I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I still have fond memories of listening to this song through split earbuds with an old friend who was a Coldplay super fan.

2. Florence and the Machine – “Mother”

This is the final track on Florence Welch’s 2015 release How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album focuses a lot on nature references and this is the culmination of it all. It’s impossible to not think of spring and sunny days with lines like, “Make me a big tall tree / So I can shed my leaves and let it blow through me”.

3. Regina Spektor – “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”

Even though this song mentions winter and the whole idea is to forget that it’s still happening, Regina Spektor’s music always matches up with spring for me. Her melodies are infectious and her lyrics are quirky. I actually prefer the Russian version, but that’s just me. Both are worth a try for an instant pick-me-up.

4. Eisley – “A Song for the Birds”

This is from Eisley’s 2017 album I’m Only Dreaming. Sherri Dupree-Bemis is joined by her husband Max Bemis (of Say Anything) for what may just be the sweetest song Eisley has ever recorded. Max also plays guitar on the track (and others on the album) and as a Say Anything fan it’s totally noticeable…try to see if you can hear the difference.

5. Saint Motel – “You Can Be You”

I saw Saint Motel open up for Panic! At the Disco a year or two ago and they played this song. There wasn’t a person sitting down or looking at their phone during the performance. The drums are strong and they used a cool guitar effect toward the middle. It’s just everything I love in a track. It’s new and exciting, just like spring.

6. Marina and the Diamonds – “Shampain”

I’m a huge fan of whatever Marina Diamandis does. She’s talented and genuine and that’s a combination I love. “Shampain” is from her first album The Family Jewels. Many of her songs poke fun at the norms of pop culture and this song is no different. She takes otherwise cookie-cutter beats and pop music go-to’s and makes a sonic experience all her own. I can’t help but turn up the volume when it comes up in my shuffle.

7. The Myriad – “A Thousand Winters Melting”

One of my favorite little bands only released two albums. Their second album is called With Arrows, With Poise and includes the gem “A Thousand Winters Melting”. What better way to end winter than with this song? I love the piano and there’s just something about this song that brightens up my day. I wish they hadn’t stopped at two albums, but at least they left us with tracks like this.

8. Paramore – “Passionfruit” (Drake Cover)

Paramore is my favorite band, hands down. I’ve listened to their music for as long as I can remember. They covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” for BBC Radio 1, and personally, I think it’s better than the original. I’m obviously biased though. Lyrically, it’s a wicked depressing song, but the way Zac Farro and Taylor York play this song makes me forget about how sad it is.

9. Childish Gambino – “California”

This track from the middle of Grammy-nominated album Awaken, My Love! is fantastic. It’s fun and random and makes me think of long drives with the windows down. It may appear to be a summer song, but I think it works just as well on a spring playlist. I love the vibe it sends out.

10. Harry Styles – “Sweet Creature”

This wonderful song is from Harry Styles’ self-titled album released last year. I love this song because it’s subtle. His voice  is really the focus here and it’s one of the high points on the album. It was a great choice for a radio single and the topic of young love coincides with spring pretty well.

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.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Will Underoath Add to Their Legacy with “Erase Me”?

During a recent conversation with a friend, I lamented how age has impacted my passion for music. It’s not that I don’t love music anymore, it’s just that my youthful enthusiasm has faded with time. The days of pushing to the front of the stage at packed concert venues or growing giddy with excitement about an upcoming release have passed. These days, it’s a much more patient and reserved kind of love.

Or so I thought.

If you haven’t heard, my favorite band is releasing their first new album in eight years. Underoath is that band for me – the band that changed the way I looked at and thought about music. Since their 2015 reunion, I’ve avoided the slightest notion that they might make their way to the studio, mostly because it feels healthier to avoid wild, unwarranted speculation and simply enjoy the music we were given during their heyday.

You can pre-order Erase Me on iTunes.

Last week, we got our first taste of what the next chapter of Underoath will sound like with the release of “On My Teeth”. It’s been interesting to watch discussion unfold across online forums as fans absorb news of the band’s return. What I’ve found most intriguing are posts pining for the band to return to the sound of their personal favorite album, whichever that may be, and choices tend to vary.

What these kinds of discussions fail to acknowledge is the very thing that made Underoath one of the most revered and inventive bands in post-hardcore. With every release, the band managed to shapeshift in such a way as to push genre boundaries and test new waters. The result of this approach is a full catalogue of classic albums, each distinct in sound and voice.

I’ve certainly got my favorites – Define the Great Line standing at the front of the pack – but I still hold each album with esteem. In fact, I’m a firm believer that Underoath improved as a unit with each and every release, with Ø (Disambiguation) standing as the band’s greatest feat. While this seems to be a prevailing opinion among many, it seems odd that anyone would want the band to deviate from what has made them so beloved.

Can you imagine the 2018 version of Underoath releasing an album akin to They’re Only Chasing Safety? Furthermore, can you imagine enjoying it? On April 6, Erase Me will unfold as something new and something fresh. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea upon first listen, there’s little doubt in my mind that it will be another standalone record that showcases the band’s growth and desire to forge ahead.

Personally, I’m excited to hear the band battle their demons (figuratively and literally), wrestling through the fallout with their religious affiliations. Perhaps no band in recent memory has so openly discussed their inner turmoil and the strength it takes to fight for your friendships. That honesty is something that sets Underoath apart, and it’s something that certainly must have served them well during the writing of this album.

Whatever comes, we fortunately won’t have long to wait. Until April 6, my friends will continue to politely nod and smile as I ramble on about the band’s discography and explain how they re-defined a genre. If I’m lucky, they’ll even stick around to hear me gush about Erase Me well into the summer. I feel giddy again. And I like it.

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.

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

Kendrick Lamar Shines Once Again on “Black Panther: The Album”

Like millions of others this past weekend, I made my way to the movie theater to take in “Black Panther”, a truly beautiful film. There’s no questioning the cultural significance of Black Panther’s arrival on the big screen, and although the long wait for such a film was absurd, it’s exciting and satisfying to see director Ryan Coogler and the cast handle the story with such care and power.

You can buy Black Panther: The Album on iTunes.

The track record of everyone involved in the film is one of excellence, so in many ways, it was delightfully fitting when Kendrick Lamar was announced to be handling the soundtrack earlier this year. The single that proceeded the release, “All the Stars” featuring SZA, was an immediate jam and set the stage for what was to come.

While I can’t say I’ve ever written about a soundtrack, I felt compelled to comment on Black Panther: The Album because it is easily my favorite release of 2018 so far, it’s another brilliant chapter in Kendrick Lamar’s ongoing dominance, and it speaks to the strength and beauty of the hip hop community to surround this film with a release of such magnitude.

After a few spins, I texted resident hip hop aficionado and podcast regular Brock Benefiel to question whether Kendrick might unexpectedly be vying for another hip hop title belt. While there’s no comparing Black Panther: The Album to recent solo releases like DAMN. or To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s certainly something to be said regarding Lamar’s gravity to draw in such a stellar supporting cast and his vision for a truly important project.

From The Weeknd to Vince Staples to Future to Jay Rock to Khalid to SZA, the album is unrelenting in star power and everyone’s voice shines. While the collection is meant to accompany the movie itself, and the placement of key songs within the film is excellent, it’s a compilation that stands alone just as well. It’s a soundtrack that could have been released under the guise of an unattached one-off project and its impact would still have felt relevant.

In early 2016, while we were all still digesting the scale and impact of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick dropped Untitled Unmastered, a collection of unreleased songs that was met with immediate praise. Black Panther: The Album feels similar in a way – an unexpected but fully wonderful release that keeps Kendrick well in the zeitgeist and continues to solidify his status as an all-time great.

But perhaps even more important is that the soundtrack speaks to the great strengths of the hip hop community and why its music and voice are so vital.

Ryan Coogler knew full well the importance of this soundtrack and likely had little hesitation in handing the project to Kendrick Lamar. It’s a soundtrack of powerful black voices making a statement that couples well with the film while speaking to the heart of the genre. Whatever hip hop has in store for 2018, Black Panther: The Album was a truly unforgettable start.

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.

Reflecting On: Secret & Whisper – Great White Whale

I was too young to listen to Great White Whale when it was first released in 2008. I remember, though, being about 14 and seeing the music video for “XOXOXO” and being utterly intrigued by Secret & Whisper.

Since that first experience with “XOXOXO”, both of Secret & Whisper’s albums have become staples of mine. I look back at the release of Great White Whale with fondness, because they’re one of the bands that helped me form my own taste in music.

You can buy Great White Whale on iTunes.

My parents listened to a lot of acoustic music – James Taylor, Marc Cohn, etc. They’re also very conservative when it comes to music and that’s mostly what I grew up with. I was about 13 when I got my first “hard rock” album. It was Innocence and Instinct by the rock band Red. That, along with bands like Relient K, started me on a path of music discovery.

Because of Secret & Whisper, I became an avid follower of label Tooth and Nail Records, coming in toward the end of what I consider to be the label’s “golden age.” Bands like Underoath, Emery and Anberlin are still favorites to this day, as well as smaller bands like Secret & Whisper and Number One Gun.

My parents weren’t a huge fan of me listening to rock and alternative music, so I guess I used Secret & Whisper as a sort of compromise. Great White Whale leaned on heavy guitars and post-hardcore breakdowns while forgoing harsh, screaming vocals that would have certainly been deemed controversial. Charles Finn’s singing voice is about the opposite of harsh, actually. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still unmatched as one of the best vocalists to come from the scene.

Even aside from what it means to me, personally, I believe Great White Whale is underrated, showcasing early signs of a talented and unique band. That originality, of course, means it wasn’t everyone’s favorite album, but it sounded so interesting and new to me that I fell in love with it. I have yet to find a band that’s given me that same feeling. (I’m sure that’s partly due to the teenage angst though.)

A decade later, I believe Great White Whale still holds up as one of the most unappreciated ventures in recent rock history. Interesting lyricism with a real storytelling aspect, complicated musical composition, and soaring vocals are an example of what made a band like Secret & Whisper so great.

The rock genre allows artists to experiment in virtually any way they want. The only downfall to Secret & Whisper is that this was their first of only two albums. The band would take an indefinite hiatus in 2011 after the release of Teenage Fantasy – a break that continues to this day. Maybe they’ve kept a tiny sparkle of their potential alive and will release more music for us to enjoy one day. In the meantime, Great White Whale remains a great catch.

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.

Finding Solace in the Music of The Wonder Years

While the chill of winter may still be far from over, we can trust that the sweet dawn of spring will come with new music from The Wonder Years. Last week, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, pop punk act announced the release of their upcoming album, Sister Cities, on April 6. I have yet to watch the new trailer the band released to promote the album, nor do I have intent to do so.

That’s not to say I have no interest in new music from The Wonder Years, it’s just that their music carries an intense kind of baggage for me, something I only fully realized while spinning my vinyl copy of The Greatest Generation this weekend. I’ve long believed that The Wonder Years’ albums should be listened to in full, from front to back in one sitting, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

“I don’t have roses in the closet / But I’ve got pictures in a drawer / And it’s everything left in me not to stare at them anymore”

I was aware of The Wonder Years amidst their 2010 breakout with The Upsides, but didn’t dig in deep with the band until the following year, with the release of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. That album came fresh on the heels of my divorce and brought a mean kind of comfort. I’d venture to say that I’ve only felt such a deep, personal connection with an album a handful of times in my life.

So vivid are my early memories with this album that I can remember every moment of the night-time car ride I took with Suburbia on the evening I purchased it. I can still remember the click of my turn signal while sitting at a stoplight on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, dead inside, as the first verse of “My Life as a Pigeon” tore through my soul.

Everyone who knows me knows about my hyperbolic habits, and yes, I believe Suburbia to be one of the best pop punk albums ever written, but it’s more than that to me. It’s the story of a year I spent as a ghost, not sure where home was anymore. It’s the soundtrack to an upheaval of my life, and how I slowly, painfully, wonderfully found the ground again.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong / But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground”

It wouldn’t take long for Dan Campbell and crew to cross paths with me again. Their next album, The Greatest Generation drove headlong into my continued fight with depression, made even more bitter by my mother’s unexpected battle with cancer. Like it was yesterday, I can remember the tears streaming down my face as I sat quietly at my desk at work with “Dismantling Summer” playing through my headphones.

Alone, in a room full of people, hundreds of miles away from my mom in a hospital bed, Soupy’s cries of, “What kind of man does that make me?” still haunt me to the core. My mom would go on to make a full recovery from her cancer. I’m still working on my depression, but The Greatest Generation is a blunt reminder of another period of my life in which The Wonder Years sang the songs and questions of my heart.

I’m writing this partly for therapeutic reasons and partly as a continuing examination of the role of music in my life. I’m eternally grateful for the music of The Wonder Years, even if I can only revisit it infrequently. What makes the music we love truly great? The songs we play relentlessly, finding repeated joy in the moment, or the songs we return to carefully and cautiously, knowing the ache attached within? In my experience, it’s a little bit of both.

I’m excited about what new sounds Sister Cities will bring, but content with the idea that the band’s music has done enough for me already. I have no deep expectations, other than the hope that this new album will provide a similar salve for someone else.

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.

Preparing Ourselves for Fall Out Boy’s “MANIA”

On Friday, Fall Out Boy will return with their seventh full-length album, MANIA. As with everything the band is involved with, debate has been heated in the months leading up the release, sparked early on by a strange single (“Young and Menace”) and the odd delayed release of the album itself.

At this point, we know what to expect from post-hiatus Fall Out Boy: soaring anthems, spectacular vocal gymnastics from Patrick Stump, radio-ready choruses, and some clever lines from Pete Wentz that harken back to the band’s early days. Will MANIA meet fan expectations? Maybe not. But there’s no questioning that we’ll be talking about it well into the summer.

In preparation for Friday, the It’s All Dead writing staff shared their thoughts on the album and how their Fall Out Boy experience has evolved over the years.

***

As big of a fan of Fall Out Boy as I am, I’m not looking forward to their seventh studio album. I just don’t know if they still have it in them. Every single I’ve heard thus far – and they’ve released five out of the 10 tracks on the album – hasn’t excited me or brought me the same feelings that American Beauty / American Psycho did, and definitely none of the feelings Folie a Deux (my favorite FOB album) did. I took AB / AP with a grain of salt upon its release, and I like it on its own, rather than as a cohesive addition to their catalog, so maybe MANIA will do the same.

Fall Out Boy have come a long way since they started out in 2001. They became kings of pop punk with Take This to Your Grave and kept climbing until their hiatus in 2009. When they returned to the scene with 2014’s Save Rock and Roll (which did the opposite of the title, if you ask me), I hoped they could rally back and regain the same traction they had originally. Their focus, musically, turned pop and I think they’ve largely suffered for it.

I originally was excited for MANIA, but from what I’ve heard so far, that excitement keeps dying a little bit every day. Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

– Nadia Paiva

***

MANIA is the first Fall Out Boy album that I haven’t been excited about. When “Young and Menace” dropped last year, I found it nearly unlistenable. In that instant, I made my decision: I was going to hate the direction of this album. However, that has changed after the delayed release and the onslaught of new singles throughout the fall.

Many of the newer singles are a solid mix of inspiration from the pop of Folie À Deux and the dance vibe of American Beauty / American Psycho. “Last of the Real Ones” and “Hold Me Tight or Don’t” are quickly becoming Fall Out Boy staples. While “Young and Menace” still hangs like a specter of an album opener, I hope that the six-month release delay did the band good. The singles are more cohesive as a unit than those of their last albums.

I hope that MANIA will be a return to form that flourishes as a cohesive unit. While I have enjoyed each album since the band’s reformation, they have sounded more disjointed than their classic releases. Where Save Rock and Roll and American Beauty / American Psycho sound like a collection of singles, I want MANIA to be a flourishing unit. Even if it starts with a dud.

– Kyle Schultz

***

I’m all in. Yes, I had a hard time swallowing “Young and Menace” upon its release and will likely skip the track every time it comes on in the future, but there’s no more denying Fall Out Boy’s ability to write hits. In recent years, I’ve fully embraced a suppressed love of pop music that a younger version of myself refused to acknowledge existed, which has seemed to time itself perfectly with Fall Out Boy’s transformation.

While it’s true that 2018 Pete Wentz lines like “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” don’t tickle my emo soul the same way his 2005 lyrics did, I love that the band keep winking at their past, even as their sound branches further and further away. And honestly, wouldn’t we all be complaining if the band tried writing From Under the Cork Tree while in their mid-30s? We may not like every decision they make at this point in their career, but it’s hard to argue that they’re doing it their own way.

Who knows, maybe MANIA will fall flat, but based on the mere fact that three of the five tracks released thus far have been delightful, I’m expecting at least a handful of jams to blast all summer long. Maybe my Fall Out Boy expectations have lowered over the years, but that’s enough for me.

– Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2018: #1 Chance the Rapper Gives Us a Reason to Smile

Over the past two years, Chance the Rapper has maintained such a presence in the cultural zeitgeist, both as an artist and activist, that it almost feels like Coloring Book just dropped. Chance’s third mixtape still feels just as fresh and hopeful as it did upon its 2016 release, but that won’t stop us from wanting more.

In truth, now is the perfect time for Chance to strike again. His carefree and optimistic demeanor elevate him above the greater hip hop narrative and provide him with a unique voice – one that would be quite welcome as we enter another year. Throw in his passion for social justice and his quest to elevate the voices of the youth, and we might just end up with the album that 2018 needs most.

With his cultural cache at an obvious high, another surprise Chance mixtape might be just the positive fodder the internet needs to distract us from the daily flood of dread. Until then, we’ll just keep pressing repeat on “All We Got”.

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 2018: #2 Real Friends Take it to the Next Level

In the last few years, Illinois’ sad boys have come to revitalize a stagnant emo scene with hard hitting pop songs. Each new release only elevates the band’s writing as they transform what could be sappy genre songs into enormously energetic rock juggernauts.

If recent single, “Get By” is any indication, Real Friends’ third full-length will keep this tradition alive. Though topics such as loneliness and nostalgia tend to appear on every release, it never feels repetitious or without merit. Their hard work has provided an incredibly strong discography that only improves song after song.

After a session of writing songs with Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember, it seems the band may be doubling down on their energetic performance and edge. Real Friends are already a strong pop punk outfit, but the added insight from one of the biggest bands in the genre is a dream come true.

Real Friends are an honest band that has tightened their writing in recent years. The talent behind this group is enormous, and the payoff from their recent recordings can’t come fast enough.

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 seen Real Friends live twice. He can’t wait to sing along to their every word this summer.