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.

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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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #3 Pianos Become the Teeth Wait for Love

If you saw my latest event piece on mewithoutYou, you’ll know about one of my favorite bands: Pianos Become the Teeth. Their last album was released in 2014 and was called Keep You. It’s an album that has meant a lot to me over the past few years and I’ve had the privilege of hearing most of the songs played live. However, I was feeling that it was about time that I had some new songs to cry to. Thankfully, the band is releasing a new album, Wait for Love, on February 16, 2018.

As glad as I am that I’ll get new Pianos tunes, I’m hoping that they’ll be slightly more upbeat. Keep You dealt heavily with the theme of loss and I hope that the band members are having a better season in their life. That seemed to be the idea in their single, “Charisma”.

In listening to the new song, it seems that the band plans to keep the same clean vocal style on Keep You, but since we’ve only got one song to go off of, we’ll see whether they stick with that idea. Musically, though, it sits right in between all of their albums, and I’m very excited for the new approach. The video is interesting as well – the band isn’t featured at all, it’s more of a videographic trip through a city.

You can preorder Wait for Love now on Bandcamp. It was produced by Will Yip for Epitaph Records.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #4 Chvrches Turn Up the Pop

As synth-pop continued bleeding back into the mainstream in 2017, it’s almost hard to believe that we didn’t hear from Chvrches. The Glasgow-based trio delivered a sophomore effort for the ages in 2015 with Every Open Eye, capitalizing on every strength the band displayed on their debut.

It appears that we won’t have to wait long to find out what comes next. Near the end of the year, vocalist Lauren Mayberry began sharing details about the third Chvrches album, set to drop sometime this year. The biggest news is that the band decided to work with famed pop producer Greg Kurstin instead of self-producing. The result is the band’s “most pop” work to date, according to Mayberry.

That’s saying a lot, considering the band’s knack for melody. Mayberry has consistently excelled in the juxtaposition of her cheery delivery and her fiery words. If Chvrches’ third album is another step forward in pop progression, go ahead and pencil it in as being one of the top releases of 2018.

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: #5 Can Moose Blood Still Do This (Anymore)?

In my opinion, there are two perfect pop punk bands: The Wonder Years and Moose Blood. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from either, but Moose Blood is set to return with a new album called I Don’t Think I Can Do This Anymore. Set to release on March 9, we’ve received a single (and video) called “Talk In Your Sleep”. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to create another I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time to Time (their 2014 release), but so far they’ve managed to match the length of the title, so that’s promising.

“Talk In Your Sleep” isn’t overly different for the Moose Blood guys. If anything, it’s on the same level as I’ll Keep You In Mind. This isn’t a surprise, as they rarely break the mold, and personally, I think that’s what makes them work so well. They’ve found a groove and stuck with it and yet still have some semblance of growth on each album. They’ve found that perfect balance of keeping everyone guessing but never straying too far from the path of success.

The video for the song seems to be an artistic continuity of the Blush era of the band – light colors and minimalist subject matter. Blush was almost a concept album, lyrically, mostly dwelling on the lead singer’s (then) recent marriage. I’m excited to see how these developments have musically influenced the band or whether they’ll touch on them at all.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #6 The Fratellis Take Their Sweet Time

The release of a new album from The Fratellis always feels like an event. While it’s an expectation to find popping guitars and bounds of energy, each release isn’t afraid to experiment away from rewriting “Chelsea Dagger”. Their new album, In Your Own Sweet Time seems to be keeping this tradition alive.

Leads singles, “The Next Time We Wed” and “Stand Up Tragedy” take the focus off of rock and hone in a poppier dance beat. The sound doesn’t differ significantly from The Fratellis’ past work, but lays a bouncing beat of guitar and drum effects that feel at home in a dark pub.

Each release has added a bit more of a bluesy influence that tampers the band’s spiraling guitar work and lyricism. In Your Own Sweet Time is sure to continue the band’s progression of being the most famous underappreciated band around. If you listen to this album without a pint in your hand, it’s a disservice to us all.

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 fell in love with the Blackhawks partially because “Chelsea Dagger” was their theme song. He’s followed The Fratellis since 2006 and obsesses over every line of every album, year after year like a zilch.