Complicated Feelings on the 10th Anniversary of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

It literally slipped my mind that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was turning 10 years old until I saw people tweeting about it. And if you’ve followed this website since our early days, you’ll understand how strange that is. Up until around 2017, It’s All Dead’s side project was that of a Kanye West fanzine. And then, well…you know. You live long enough to see yourself become the villain or whatever.

I gritted my teeth as I listed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at #1 on our 30 Best Albums of the Decade list last year. No matter how bad things have gotten, the fact remains. It’s one of those albums that I vividly remember where I was the first time I heard it. I literally remember my emotions hearing “All of the Lights”, “Monster”, and “Hell of a Life” for the first time. I remember how it was the only thing that mattered to me for a year, or at least until Watch the Throne dropped. It was the magnum opus from an artist that I revered more than anyone.

As a music critic, I’ve written and spoken more words about Kanye West than any other artist. I stopped a few years ago because it felt like there was nothing left to say. And it’s true. I have nothing new to add to the conversation on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy today. I listened to it again as recently as a few weeks ago. I’m torn between the memories of those feelings I felt and the feelings I feel now. It makes the music forever complicated and impossible to parse out.

This summer, I played The College Dropout for my daughter for the first time. She’s much too young to process anything about it, but I pondered aloud how I would talk about the album when she was old enough. Would I be able to articulate how important this artist was to me for a time – to my musical tastes, to my politics, to my life? Would I be able to explain why his seeming abandonment of all of the things that attracted me to him caused me such frustration and anger? Does it even matter?

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is 10 years old, and it’s a shame we can’t celebrate it more. But honestly, we’ve talked about it enough. And there’s enough brilliant art in the world to put our energy into, and I can’t wait to talk about the great music this hell of a year has given us in a few weeks when we release our end-of-the-year lists. Until then, happy anniversary, I guess. Here’s a toast to the douchebag.

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.

Reflecting On: Underoath – Ø (Disambiguation)

I’ve often said that Underoath’s sonic evolution has mirrored that of my own musical tastes. Maybe that’s just an easy way of explaining why the Tampa, Florida, sextet is my favorite band, but at a minimum, it showcases why Underoath has been so foundational in my understanding and enjoyment of heavy music. 

By 2010, I was three albums into my obsession with the band, who had originally opened my heart’s door to the screamo explosion before quickly expanding my palate to post-hardcore leanings with Define the Great Line and Lost in the Sound of Separation. I was ready for something new, but like many fans, had no idea what to expect.

You can buy or stream Ø (Disambiguation) on Apple Music.

That’s mostly due to the fact that by the fall of 2010, I was still wrapping my head around the departure of drummer, vocalist, and founding member Aaron Gillespie. The band’s inner turmoil and fractured relationships were no secret, but it was that tension that seemed to drive the band creatively, at least until the chasm was too severe. Nevertheless, any Tooth & Nail/Solid State fan understood the impact and possibilities with the addition of former Norma Jean drummer Daniel Davison. Whatever happened next stood to not only be the band’s heaviest work to date, but to determine the fate and future of the band.

Even 10 years later, there are times when I listen to Ø (Disambiguation) and ponder whether it is the best work the band has released. The album serves as the moment when Spencer Chamberlain became a full-fledged creative and vocal force. It showcases the band’s ability to graft new industrial and metal stylings into a familiar sound, led by guitarist Tim McTague and the brooding electronics from Chris Dudley. It also seems to be a relative footnote in the band’s history.

During the album cycle for Ø (Disambiguation), I had the chance to see the band live on two occasions. First, I saw them as openers for A Day to Remember, an experience that never set right with me and still feels hard to swallow. Months later, I saw them on their headlining Illuminatour in Louisville, Kentucky, in front of the smallest crowd I’ve ever seen at an Underoath show. The popularity of a band still at the top of its game was waning before our eyes. It almost seemed predestined in 2012 when the band announced their plans to disband.

Ø (Disambiguation) had accompanied me through a tumultuous time in my life, something that makes it feel even more personal and special in my memory. But the scene had changed, for better or for worse, and so had the tastes of heavy music listeners – at least in the circuit with which Underoath was most recognized. Be that as it may, it’s still hard to pinpoint what exactly led to the flame out.

When Underoath embarked on their farewell tour in 2012, I saw them play The Metro in Chicago in front of an energized sellout crowd. But something was off. As much as I love and respect Davison, the absence of Gillespie at the time felt palpable, especially for a band taking one final victory lap that included playing a large swath of songs that felt hollow without Aaron.

And thus lies the peculiar no-man’s land in which Ø (Disambiguation) resides. Upon the band’s reunion – with Gillespie behind the drum kit – it only made sense to return to those early works like They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line. When I attended the band’s No Fix Tour after the release of Erase Me, the band included “Paper Lung” in the setlist – one of Ø (Disambiguation)’s signature songs and one of the band’s best. But again, something didn’t feel right. Those songs belong to a lost time in the band’s history.

It’s a weird thing to think about. There will be no 10 year anniversary tour for Ø (Disambiguation) for a variety of reasons. And while it makes sense as to why the album feels so forgotten in the conversation around one of modern heavy music’s most important bands, it’s also a shame. Because it is a damn good album from a band that simultaneously had nothing and everything to prove. And, as always, Underoath came through.

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.

Reflecting On: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

Rock music wasn’t in rotation in my life in any form heading into the fall of 2000. Several years prior, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with hip hop, a discovery that would change my life forever. And when I say I only listened to rap music at that time, it’s not an overstatement. The genre infused its way into every part of my life as I made my way through the bowels of high school.

Nevertheless, I stayed abreast of music trends at large via a variety of music mags, MTV, and this thing called the internet, which had recently entered my own home. While I can’t recall the precise moment that Linkin Park entered my life, I remember a slow wave building its way through the halls of my high school. Almost overnight, Linkin Park was the band that everyone was listening to. 

You can buy or stream Hybrid Theory on Apple Music.

It was around this time that I received my first burned CD from a classmate – a copy of Hybrid Theory downloaded from Napster in which every song was out of place and mislabeled. Thus began a new era of my life, both in terms of the music I consumed and how I consumed it.

Hybrid Theory didn’t expose me to mainstream nu metal or send me headfirst into the genre. I was well aware of the movement thanks to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn, but none of those bands held my attention. What set Linkin Park apart in my eyes was their much more focused execution of hip hop elements. Mike Shinoda could actually rap. The band actually took sampling and programming seriously. It wasn’t embarrassing, and it helped bridge a divide for listeners like me.

That debut album stayed in rotation through my final years of high school and served as a small stroke of common ground I could share with some of my classmates, none of whom had any interest in rap at the time. It also opened the door to other guitar-driven bands I would soon come to love like 12 Stones and Evanescence. 

The sense of common ground Hybrid Theory created wouldn’t last long. During my first semester away at college, I met some new friends that were in an actual rock band. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I attempted to make pleasantries, telling them that I, too, had an interest in rock music. I listened to Linkin Park.

*Insert record scratch* And not the good kind.

As it turns out, Linkin Park wasn’t cool. But I quickly learned of some new music that was – music born out of the east coast underground scene, spearheaded by the likes of At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. Never mind that Glassjaw’s debut, which was created to “destroy Adidas rock,” was produced by Ross Robinson, who also manned the boards for Korn’s first two albums. This was new. This was cool.

As I began exploring a completely new style of music and diving into new bands like Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, and Underoath, I still couldn’t shake Hybrid Theory’s hold on me. In the spring of 2003, I purchased Linkin Park’s follow-up, Meteora, at a local Wal-Mart and listened in secret, hoping none of my new friends would find out. There was something perfect about those albums, something that sonically coalesced in a way that captured everything I was feeling. Something about Chester Bennington’s tortured voice that felt familiar.

It was in the four-year gap between Meteora and Minutes to Midnight that I finally moved on, finding a plethora of new bands that scratched that existential itch. To this day, 2003 to 2007 still stands as possibly the most influential period of my life in terms of music discovery. But it also stands as the period in which I became a snob. By 2007, the nu metal genre as a whole had become maligned and forgotten as a new wave of scene bands entered the mainstream. Who had time for Linkin Park? Not me.

Not only did I not follow the band through their ensuing years, I became the person that scoffed when people brought them up in conversation. By this point, I was writing for various music magazines and websites and couldn’t afford a dent in my reputation. Linkin Park belonged to the masses.

In 2012, I had moved to a new city and was invited by some people to attend a Linkin Park concert. In an effort to kindle some new friendships, I agreed to go. But only as a credentialed member of the press. I was there to take photos and document for PopMatters, not to have a good time. To read my ensuing article today is to read the words of someone conflicted. Because that night, front and center of the stage, I was transported back to those days in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was more than an album I listened to. It was a friend I could talk to.

It was that night that I rediscovered Linkin Park, and most importantly, the overpowering presence of Chester Bennington. And I’m so glad I did. I’m not here to tell you how Hybrid Theory changed the world or saved rock music. It did neither. But it’s impossible to deny the impact of an album that went diamond, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in the United States, and created a following unlike any we’ve seen from a guitar-driven band in the past 20 years.

These days, the conversation around Linkin Park and that debut album have come full circle, perhaps partially due to the tragic passing of Bennington in 2017, but almost certainly due to the collective recognition that Hybrid Theory has managed to stand the test of time. When I listen to it today, I’m struck by the foresight the band had in terms of genre mixture. In a time when the idea of genre has dissolved nearly completely, Hybrid Theory sounds not all that out of place.

Twenty years later, my favorite song is still album opener “Papercut”. A few days ago, as I sat parked in my car outside a Starbucks, waiting for the song to end before I turned off the ignition, I was nearly overcome with emotion during Chester’s repeated bridge of, “The sun goes down / I feel the light betray me”. There’s something about that line that hits different today, especially when considering the band’s final single, “One More Light” – a song about the deep pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. 

That idea of light and its finite existence serves as fitting bookends for the band and an era they helped define. It’s also a reminder of those moments of discovery, when music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else can at a time when we need it the most. I’m thankful for the moment Hybrid Theory provided all those years ago and that it still holds meaning in my life today.

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.

KennyHoopla – Discovering Magic By Accident

One of the things I miss the most in the world is being new to music, walking into a Best Buy and buying an album because the album caught my eye, as though preordained by a cosmic power. Since I did this nearly 20 years ago (Jesus Christ, I’m old) to discover Copeland, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Early November and The Used, among others, it’s a practice that has been more or less extinct for more than a decade.

Today, KennyHoopla appeared to me as if sent by fate. In a YouTube channel curated with mostly stand up comedy, anime and video game highlights, KennyHoopla caught my attention in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time—with an image.

The thumbnail for the live version of his single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” shows the artist passionately clutching the microphone, shouting into it. The emotion of the thumbnail stood out on its own like a painting on the wall. I was utterly drawn to him. You can see it below.

As is, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is an electrifying new wave infused rock song. The live video features KennyHoopla raging to the sound of a drumset and a single guitar, commanding attention with the energy of Bruno Mars and the flare of AFI’s Davey Havok. His voice crackled with an intensity that hovers between grunge and soul, finding a perfect mixture of graveled purity. Within 30 seconds of the song ending, I needed to hear more.

As a single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is phenomenal. As an EP, How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway is magnificent. The album mixes elements of new wave, punk, pop, R&B and emo from a lost age. The result is something that feels organic and inspired within almost any genre. KennyHoopla is the result of smashing the YeahYeahYeahs and Bloc Party together.

The EP sizzles with honesty, such as in the slow synth embedded “dust//”, a song The Postal Service would envy (“And this anxiety, It creeps into my home / This is really all my fault / Is this really all my fault?”). Although the EP revels in feelings of inadequacy and doubt, there is a sensationalism to it as well (“Well I’ve seen the stars and they look like us”).

A picture demanded I listen to a song today. A picture delivered me an artist I am absolutely enraptured with. Somehow sounding simultaneously vibrantly fresh and from a lost age of music, it seems incredible that an artist like this would only just now appear with this much potential. With so many ways to discover new music over the last couple of decades, it’s sobering and enlightening to know that an image can still convey everything you want and hope for in an artist.

The fact that KennyHoopla isn’t already a mainstream name is a crime. The wait until he is, though, will be well worth it.

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 dreams of the deep drawl of Kelsey Grammer telling him nice things about the world.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

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.

Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

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.

Reflecting On: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Unlike most bubblegum pop acts, Katy Perry has managed to stay newsworthy throughout her entire career thus far. Whether we’re talking about her joyous pregnancy and pending marriage to Orlando Bloom, or cringing at her Twitter defense of Ellen, Katy has kept our eyes focused on her since 2007. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to talk about Teenage Dream, which turns 10 this week.

You can buy or stream Teenage Dream on Apple Music.

In 2010, I was trying my hardest to be an emo kid, so the pop stations were an absolute no-go for me. And yet, I couldn’t escape “California Gurls”. Try as I might, it was stuck in my head and its upbeat tones serenaded my every step. Ugh. I put in my headphones and played some Fall Out Boy, trying to keep my ears pure and free from the forbidden world of “mainstream music.” Obviously, since I’m writing this now, it didn’t work. With five singles from Teenage Dream topping the Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry and her cotton candy-laced universe was here to stay.

If you took a listen to our podcast about the most important albums of the last decade, you’ll see that I find Teenage Dream the most influential album of 2010. With an aura of positivity and escapism, it ushered us into a new age of pop music where anything was possible — even a gauche anthem to the dick pic (“Peacock”). But the songs that didn’t make it to radio are really what I want to talk about today.

The first track that we don’t recognize immediately is “Circle the Drain”. It’s arguably one of Perry’s most serious songs. Supposedly this one is about Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame, but really, it’s an anthem for anyone who has watched someone they love take the dark path of substance abuse. She sings, “Can’t be your savior / I don’t have the power”, and eventually has to walk away. She tries to be scathing, but the song still comes across as desperate and hopeless. It’s one of the best tracks on the album.

The album really does highlight Katy’s battle between moving back to her ultra-spiritual background and Katy Hudson days, and reveling in her new-found fame. We go back and forth in the second half with her about whether she’s made the right decision in her career and personal life, (“Who Am I Living For?” and “Not Like the Movies”) and a look back at how her upbringing affected her self esteem (“Pearl”). 

The journey we go on with Katy is not only like the candy coated road she skips along in the “California Gurls” video, it’s full of questioning and wandering. I feel that’s one of Katy’s biggest strengths, even in later albums. She has found the balance between satisfying the hungry music exec’s needs for radio-worthy pop, and saying what she truly wants to. Teenage Dream wasn’t just an album for 2010’s summer. We shouldn’t take her advice of “Don’t ever look back,” because the singles provided us with one of the most carefree seasons in music we’ve known, but the more serious tracks on the back half of album tell us how much truth Katy had to offer the world.

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.

Surviving Summer 2020 with Stand Atlantic

As we’ve noted repeatedly these past few months, Summer 2020 has shaped up to be…not good. Not good at all. No summer concerts. No summer road trips. Just a cycle of sickness that could be broken if we could all show just an ounce of responsibility (please wear a mask, for the love of god).

But as we’ve also noted, one beacon of light these past few months has been the onslaught of incredibly good music that has lifted our spirits and kept us company. Summer has always been a season I associate with some of my favorite music memories. It’s hard not to get an itch for Warped Tour around this time each year, or reflect on those summer drives with friends when we blared our favorite pop punk bands from the speakers.

And even though the vast majority of this summer will be spent indoors and separated from friends and family, I’ve found more than a hint of seasonal solace in the form of Stand Atlantic.

The Australian pop punk act has been on my radar for a few years, but I haven’t given them the attention they deserve. The band, fronted by vocalist Bonnie Fraser, released their debut full-length album, Skinny Dipping, in 2018 on Hopeless Records. Next month, they’ll release a follow-up in the form of Pink Elephant.

If the first five songs the band have released are any indication, Pink Elephant is unlikely to leave my rotation for the duration of 2020. The recently-released “Jurassic Park” features the kind of sugary-sweet chorus that hasn’t invaded my ears since the summer of 2007 when All Time Low dropped “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. If Warped Tour was taking place in 2020, at least half of us would be sweat and sunscreen-stained t-shirts featuring the words “Dancing with ghosts in your garden”.

The crazy thing is, “Jurassic Park” may not even be the best song from Pink Elephant so far. That title goes to “Hate Me (Sometimes)” which successfully hits every winning note in the pop punk playbook while still sounding fresh as hell. But then again, it’s hard to argue against “Wavelength”, with its synth-driven verses and rattling bass line from Miki Rich. And what about “Drink to Drown” – a track that sounds like the best Mayday Parade ballad put to tape?

I guess what I’m saying is that I cannot wait to play this album all summer long, even if this summer blows. And I’ll never get tired of the feeling of finding a new band that captures my attention in a way that engulfs me. Those kinds of moments are the reason I started this site, and I’m hopeful that we can all experience a few in this interim period before we congregate once again to sing along to our favorite new songs in unison.

You can pre-order Pink Elephant here.

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.

Run the Jewels Arrive Right on Time with “RTJ4”

It was November 11, 2016. Just days after one of the most disastrous and damaging presidential elections in American history, iconic hip hop crew A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. It was an album 18 years in the making, set into motion in the years prior thanks to the mended relationship of key members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, and largely recorded before Phife’s passing in March of that year.

That album was a moment. Less a celebratory victory lap for one of the genre’s most revered acts and more a statement of resistance in the aftermath of the election. Even now, tracks like “The Space Program” and “We the People…” feel as though they were penned on that dreadful Tuesday night. How was it possible for Tribe to have such foresight?

You can buy or stream RTJ4 on Apple Music.

Because foresight wasn’t required. Donald Trump’s election was just another sad, terrible moment in a country whose history is filled with the marginalization, oppression, and blatant hatred of people of color. The members of Tribe didn’t need a new reason to speak that truth.

I couldn’t help but think of that album this week upon the release of RTJ4, the fourth studio release from hip hop duo Run the Jewels. The album arrives with the country in disarray and protests taking place in every major city over the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and quite literally countless black lives at the hands of a system that devalues them. RTJ4 sounds hand-crafted for this moment in time.

It was last Saturday that Killer Mike spoke during a press conference with Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in an unscripted and powerful moment that captured the attention of the country. It’s the kind of speech you would expect a leader to give – the sort of thing that is in short supply these days. By Wednesday, in the words of Run the Jewels themselves, “Fuck it. Why Wait?” RTJ4 was here.

I didn’t make it through the first track before I had to pause and compose myself. “Yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” begins with the sort of fictional, fantastical banter that sometimes backdrops Run the Jewels’ music, adding moments of levity between the weight. The track itself is punishing, highlighted by its rapid-fire drum beat and rattling bass line. Mid-way into the track, Mike drops the kind of verse that makes time stand still:

“I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside
I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes
Chose the latter, it don’t matter, it ain’t suicide”
And if the news say it was that’s a goddamn lie
I can’t let the pigs kill me, I got too much pride
And I meant it when I said it, never take me alive”

Before you can digest those lines, El-P enters the scene with humor, jerking us back into this getaway episode, spitting, “I got the Grand Nat runnin’ in the alley outside / Now, Michael, run like you hungry and get your ass in the ride”. It’s a textbook Run the Jewels moment, but this week, it hits harder than ever before.

The same applies to “walking in the snow” featuring another heartbeat-skipping moment as Mike alludes to the last words of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 by New York City police. His verse now lands hauntingly in the wake of George Floyd:

“And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’”

Jesus. And he’s not done:

“And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy”

I could go on, diving in on tracks like “JU$T” featuring Pharrell and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, which features the repeated cry of, “Look at all these slave masters”, but you get the point. While this past week has served as a wake-up call (hopefully) for so many white and privileged people across the country, the stories of George Floyd and Breona Taylor are nothing new for the black community. Albums like Thank You 4 Your Service and RTJ4 feel so in the moment when they arrive because they exist in a moment that never ends.

At a certain point in time as the genre evolved and expanded, hip hop as protest music became a sort of subgenre. But truthfully, protest has always been in rap’s DNA. It has to be. Because black voices are marginalized and maligned today just as they were in the 70s when the genre began to form, and just as they were for hundreds of years prior to that. And while we’d all be wise to listen, maybe it’s time to act, too. Fuck it. Why wait?

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple 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.

Reflecting On: MxPx – The Ever Passing Moment

The first MxPx release to catch my ear wasn’t a studio album. In the summer of 1999, the band released At the Show, a 21-track live album coming on the heels of an unprecedented run of solid gold pop punk – literally. Life in General firmly legitimized the band in 1996 before 1998’s Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo was certified gold, followed by Let it Happen, one of the greatest collections of B-sides the genre has seen. The skate punk kids from Bremerton had arrived.

You can buy or stream The Ever Passing Moment on Apple Music.

At the Show introduced me to the band and served as a primer on their greatest hits. Even now, when the studio version “Chick Magnet” comes on, I sing along with the vocals of Mike Herrera’s much looser and more playful live rendition. It’s probably no surprise then that 2000’s The Ever Passing Moment is my favorite MxPx album. It was the first one to release after I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with the band.

It is now 20 years old, which almost seems impossible.

You can have a lot of fun debates about which MxPx album is the best because there really aren’t any bad ones. And while I’ve always conceded that Life in General stands at the front of the pack, it’s never held the same place in my heart. The Ever Passing Moment finds the band at the top of their game with nothing to prove. Free from their divorce from Tooth & Nail Records, MxPx seemed to spread their wings on A&M – three years later, they would release their most commercial album to date with Before Everything & After.

Almost every one of the album’s 15 tracks clocks in at under 3 minutes, and each flexes the band’s most impressive muscle – fast-paced, left coast punk rawk. The Ever Passing Moment breezes by effortlessly, which is probably why I’ve played it so relentlessly over the years that I know every beat and turn like the back of my hand. Not to mention the litany of memorable moments that reside in MxPx lore, from the stomping chorus of “Responsibility” to Dave Grohl’s scream of “One, two, three, go!” at the start of “The Next Big Thing”.

Because the album is so solid from front to back, it takes the pressure off the singles to carry two decades’ worth of weight. I’ve always found unsung tracks like “Two Whole Years”, “Foolish”, “Answer in the Question”, and “Unsaid” to be just as fun, energetic, and memorable as anything in the band’s catalogue. And truly, that’s how you end up talking about an album 20 years later – it has to be an album worth talking about.

As the pop punk genre took off into the mainstream at the start of the new century, MxPx began their transition to a band of legacy. To date, the band has released five more full-length albums since The Ever Passing Moment, each worthy of celebration, even if they didn’t hold quite the same level of influence. No matter. A large majority of the onslaught of pop punk’s new wave could trace their lineage back to MxPx. 

If Life in General was the album that made a new generation of punks want to pick up a guitar, The Ever Passing Moment was the album that served as the definitive playbook for pop punk excellence.

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.