Reflecting On: Blessthefall – Witness

“We’re not dead / We’re not like you said / We’re not dead / We’re not like you!”

In music, there are those special moments that send a chill up your spine no matter how many times you’ve heard them. The opening refrain of Witness, the sophomore album from blessthefall, still cause my hair to stand on end. It’s the rallying cry of a band that many had written off after the departure of lead singer Craig Mabbit, and it’s an explosive introduction to a new era of metalcore that would set the tone for the next decade of heavy music.

You can buy or stream Witness on Apple Music.

Even though blessthefall have released better albums over the course of their 15-year career (Hollow Bodies, Hard Feelings), I go back to Witness constantly – multiple times a year. With an October release date, the record brings back memories of autumn, but truly, this is an album that could spin year round. It’s heavy, but not punishingly so. It’s full of melody, but you’d never confuse it with the pop-screamo scene that proceeded it.

By late 2009, a new wave of metalcore acts were beginning to become household names in the scene. The Devil Wears Prada had achieved a rapid rise through Plagues and With Roots Above and Branches Below and Bring Me the Horizon had bled into the States with the success of Suicide Season. But those bands required a certain proclivity for and background in heavy music to fully appreciate. Witness offered an entry into metal while never feeling like it was compromising. It’s a heavy album that allows you space to breathe.

New lead singer Beau Bokan was just that – a singer. The band’s heaviness came from bassist Jared Warth’s brutal screams, guitarist Eric Lambert’s drop-D riffing, and drummer Matt Traynor’s machine-gun drumming. That opening cry of “We’re not dead” still resonates because of its urgency and authenticity. With Mabbit leaving for the seemingly greener grasses of Escape the Fate, blessthefall had a lot to prove in 2009, having just signed to Fearless Records with a new lead singer and a new sound. What the band delivered was nothing short of astonishing.

What Bokan brought to the band that Mabbit hadn’t with the band’s decent, but relatively pedestrian debut album, His Last Walk, was personality. Getting called up to the big leagues from indie band Take the Crown, Bokan immediately resonated with fans through his live performance and soaring vocals. That opening track leads into “What’s Left of Me”, which finds Bokan singing, “Blood is dropping from my hands / Tell me, is this what you wanted?” The entire album feels rife with bad blood – towards Mabbit and anyone who dared doubt the band could carry on. On the title track, Warth bellows the lines, “Don’t try so hard / We see right through you / You’re a liar, you don’t need to breathe / You said, you said, you said we’re done”.

Even the album’s iconic artwork hammers the point home. A lone monarch butterfly amidst a post-apocalyptic wasteland with the word “WITNESS” in all caps lets us know we’re about to watch something rise from the ashes. It’s at once beautiful and menacing, but mostly, it’s a statement of purpose.

Yet for all of the vigor, anger, and drive found throughout Witness, the band still manages to find small moments of space for reflection, such as album closer “Stay Still”, in which Bokan carries the vocals entirely. On fan favorite “Hey Baby, Here’s that Song You Wanted”, the band leans into scene dramatics, kick-starting the track with a voicemail from a spurned former lover of Bokan’s that I’m still not sure is real or staged. The energy never dies, but the pace does shift enough to allow you to rest your neck.

One of my personal favorite moments on the album comes on “We’ll Sleep When We’re Dead”. Bokan, a vocal fan of Fall Out Boy, drops some of his most Pete Wentz-esque lyrics, singing, “Hide your makeshift hearts / We’re taking aim / And we won’t be leaving”. On “Five Ninety”, a track that bookends melody with crushing breakdowns, finds Bokan digging at the nerves the band likely felt when crafting this debut-redo, “This road is getting darker / You’ve been dying to find your inspiration”.

Though I have no definitive proof, I feel strongly that Witness was the gateway drug that led to the full metalcore explosion that came in the following years. Blessthefall (along with bands like A Day to Remember) allowed both musicians and fans alike to realize that there was room to write for multiple audiences and that the traditional pop punk Warped Tour crowd was open to listening to something a bit heavier if crafted in the right way. Witness doesn’t suffer from a weak moment or a lack of identity. It sets the stage for not only the next 10 years of a band that has become a mainstay and trendsetter, but a decade’s worth of bands hoping to catch that same fire.

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: Paramore – Brand New Eyes

Oftentimes when I write these 10-year reflections, I’m coming at them as a person who fell in love with them years after their release. We’re finally coming up to some of the anniversaries of albums that have impacted me from the point of their release, and what better album to speak about first than Paramore’s brand new eyes.

You can buy or stream brand new eyes on Apple Music.

This is a deeply personal album for me, but then again, I feel like it’s a personal album for every Paramore fan. Whether the album hit you hard because of your own life or you were devastated at the fate of the band during the period of 2009 to 2011, there’s no question that this is the discography’s most important album. Sure, Riot! brought them international acclaim and made Paramore a household name. But, for me at least, it was brand new eyes that made me a true fan. 

From the beginning of the album, Paramore proved that things were changing in their sphere. In interviews and live performances the band conducted during the album cycle, the band was visibly distant and on their guard. Tracks like “Careful” and “Feeling Sorry” made it clear that there was trouble in paradise. As hard as that was for the band, both personally and professionally, they needed to release brand new eyes. It brought to light the things Paramore had been holding back throughout their career. We wouldn’t have the self-titled album or After Laughter if Hayley hadn’t made everyone in the band face the problems they were clearly having.

In preparation for writing this, I listened to brand new eyes a bunch. It’s totally nostalgic, but there’s still things I’m gleaning from it even now. I realize now that the way I see faith, love, friendship, and quite honestly, conflict resolution has totally been molded by this album. “Playing God” and “Turn It Off” were some of the first songs that kind of burst my perfect religion bubble. With this album, I finally found it okay to raise some questions about myself that I was afraid of acknowledging. I feel like it was kind of the same for Hayley. After releasing brand new eyes, she had let go of the idea that she needed to please everyone. Paramore was always kind of that quasi-Christian rock band, and I feel like they were finally able to drop that label and come into their own. 

Now that the sob story is over, the album also jams incredibly hard. It’s got some of Paramore’s best vocals, lyricism, and music. The band really put their all into it, almost like they kind of sensed it was the end of their first act. It took four years for them to release anything new, and quite honestly, it was so up in the air as to whether they would. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and we know the happy ending to the brand new eyes story is the fact that everyone was able to reconcile their differences for the most part. I think that’s why I still find it so easy to listen to. I know how it ends. Everyone comes home.

With Zac’s (very good) side project Halfnoise, and Hayley’s (very good) hair dye company, there’s no telling whether we’ll get another Paramore album anytime soon. In the meantime, there’s still things to learn and gain from listening to their past albums. “God knows that the world doesn’t need another band / But what a waste it would’ve been / Can’t believe that we almost hung it up / We’re just getting started”. On this 10-year anniversary of brand new eyes, I’m thankful that they didn’t hang it up.

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.

Reflecting On: Saosin – In Search of Solid Ground

By the time Saosin’s second full-length album, In Search of Solid Ground, arrived in September 2009, I felt like I’d been waiting forever. In hindsight, three years doesn’t seem all that long. It would be another seven years before the band would reconvene for 2016’s Along the Shadow. New Saosin music never comes on time, but it’s usually worth the wait.

You can buy or stream In Search of Solid Ground on Apple Music.

By the time the band finally released their full-length self-titled debut in 2006, I was all-in on the band and practically obsessed with everything they did. I owned multiple t-shirts and hoodies, was in attendance at every Saosin show that came near me, constantly talked about the band with my friends, and was a frequent visitor to the band’s online message board. I followed every detail and clue I could find as the band worked on their follow-up to Saosin and waited anxiously outside a Best Buy on release day to be first in line to purchase the album.

In truth, there was no way In Search of Solid Ground could ever live up to my expectations, which had reached a crescendo by the time I picked up The Grey EP the previous fall during the band’s fall tour with Underoath. Saosin was more than an album to me – it was a life experience. It was the kind of record that shapes your musical tastes for the better part of a decade. It was the kind of record you measure every other record against.

But even if a voice inside my head told me that In Search of Solid Ground wasn’t all I had hoped for, I brushed those notions aside and repeatedly dove into the album day after day. First, it was the revamped demos of “I Keep My Secrets Safe”, “The Worst of Me” and “Why Can’t You See?” that grabbed my attention. Then it was upbeat tracks like “Deep Down”, “Changing”, and “Is This Real?” that took center stage. Finally, it was the odd, experimental tracks like “Say Goodbye” and “Fireflies (Light Messengers)” that stole my heart.

Over the past 10 years, In Search of Solid Ground has become a unique kind of record in my collection. One that I revisit once or twice a year and think back to a time when a band could make me feel the way Saosin did, and really no other band has since. Of all of the band’s releases, it’s the one I reach for the least, but it was undoubtedly the one I was most in-the-moment with at the time it released.

To look back, it’s easy to see why the album didn’t land for many fans. Its logjam of producers certainly led to a lack of direction. There’s a little something for everyone on the album, but not necessarily for longtime fans of the band’s chaotic early sound. In Search of Solid Ground contains actual pop songs (“It’s All Over Now”, “What Were We Made For?”) while still containing heavier moments that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the band’s catalogue. If you had to label the album, you’d probably call it alternative rock, but even that ambiguous term fails to capture the full breadth of sounds displayed here. Over time, I’ve found it best to digest the album in various chunks that fit together.

It’s true that I wish the album had contained more of the wild guitar work from Beau Burchell and Justin Shekoski, blistering drums from Alex Rodriguez, and soaring vocals from Cove Reber that had defined their earlier work. But the thing is, the earlier work is kind of perfect – what was left to prove? If In Search of Solid Ground was either an experimental journey for the band or a last gasp before a 2010 fallout left the band nearly defunct, it’s undoubtedly a moment in time that feels different from anything else coming out of the scene at the time.

Ten years later, I’m mostly happy that the album wasn’t the band’s last. It always felt like Saosin was on the verge of either world domination or complete self-destruction, and walking that fine line resulted in some of the best and most unique sounds of the 2000s. After all this time, the band still insists on doing things their own way, which is what makes them so compelling.

And come to think of it, it’s been three years since Along the Shadow. While my youthful superfandom may be long gone, I still await anxiously what, if anything, comes next.

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.

A Half-Assed Theory on Discovering New Music

Over the last several years, I have been been improving myself mentally. I heard new music but wasn’t listening. Now in a better place, I am revisiting some albums with fresh eyes to see what it means to me now. Cheers.

Finding new music is easy, but loving new music is a chore. When I think of the bands I love the most, it’s because I discovered them during a transition in my life. Going to high school (New Found Glory), first girlfriend (Saves the Day), college and first apartment (Panic! at the Disco, Lucky Boys Confusion), and discovering the real world (The Wonder Years), led to me listening to this music nonstop for decades, as well as other bands that cropped up in the same eras.

However, stagnation and depression hamper the joy in personal growth. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such memorable moments imprint themselves in the music we listen to. But seeing it in action in real time is a special moment everyone should experience. Thus, I have developed a theory!

I recently started a new day job, which is the biggest change to my life in years. It required spending two weeks in Wisconsin by myself for training. I tried to prep music for the trip, but felt bored looking over my usual soundtracks. Instead, I prepped a bunch of music I’ve reviewed for It’s All Dead in years past or bought for my collection and then (for no reason at all) never listened to again: Neck Deep, State Champs, We Are the In Crowd, Superet, Honeyblood, and many more.

There are many ways to connect to music, whether that be a connection with the lyrics or the music filling your veins with energy. Oftentimes, music means so much to us because of the nostalgia and memories we associate with it. My theory on falling in love with music is obvious, but is proposed as such: the most direct appreciation to new music is during a new life experience.

The first nerve-wracking day of my job, I played Neck Deep’s Life’s Not Out to Get You twice throughout the day, as it seemed appropriate for someone who waits for the worst to happen and then adjusts accordingly. Checking into my hotel, “Threat Level Midnight” played as I walked through the halls. As vocalist Ben Barlow sang, “I’ll see your face down here real soon / A welcome home to a swift farewell”, I opened my door and found another family staying in my room. Dirty clothes, pool toys, suitcases and children’s toys were spread across the room, so I panicked and quickly shut the door.

The hotel told me that there was a family refusing to leave and squatting in the room; they had torn the phone from the wall and refused to respond to maintenance knocking on the door as “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” rang through one ear bud (“Yeah this place is a shipwreck / But this shipwreck, it is mine”). Although a misunderstanding all around, it took an hour to get me a room and Neck Deep kept me company at the counter during frenzied calls and panicked looks from the staff in my direction after being told, “Everything is under control.” Ironically, Neck Deep was also playing when the keys to my room didn’t work the second week and the entire staff recognized me as I told them I was locked out (“All eyes on me, but that’s not reality /… claustrophobic in my own skin / From holding it all in” – “The Grand Delusion”; The Peace and the Panic).

There is a massive public pathway that traces the lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My first night there, I found myself alone in the dark, walking a treacherous path with only the moon lighting the lake to my side as I hurried back to the hotel with Superet jamming away in my head (“And when the lights go out / Will you be having fun alone? / I need revolution / It’s you, only you” – “Bone Bag”; How To Work a Room).

I discovered smoking in bars is still acceptable in Wisconsin, as I stepped into a pub and saw 20 locals starring at me with suspicion with We Are The In Crowd blasting away through my phone (“I guess it was wishful to think / I was different from the rest / Now I’m red in the face / I don’t think I’m impressed” – “Better Luck Next Time”; Best Intentions). I fell asleep to State Champs playing quietly, vividly aware that I didn’t have to worry as much about money for a while (“Wash away all the thoughts that come at you like monsters at night / I don’t wanna live this way / Strong enough to break these chains / Broken pieces can mend…This is our time, our time to go” – “Our Time To Go”; Living Proof).

This massive life event has spawned moment after moment that I will never forget, each accompanied by bands I should have been in love with years ago. I can blame depression for hampering my ability to connect to the music before now, but the truth is I should have been listening regardless. The fact that I felt a connection to so many bands the last couple of weeks means I should have enjoyed them before now. Using a life event to listen to them finally feels like a crutch, and I wish I had spent more time loving them on my own. However, I will never forget these bands or the memories I made listening to them during these two weeks that changed my life.

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 just watched a framed picture fall off the wall of his hotel room for no particular reason while writing this. He blames earthquakes for it so that he doesn’t have to think about ghosts before bed. What a fool!

Summer Soundtracks: FM Static – What Are You Waiting For?

One of the best things about great summer albums is that you don’t really have to be able to explain why you love them. There’s just something about a perfect summer record that feels right. It’s kind of freeing, in a way.

You can buy or stream What Are You Waiting For? on Apple Music.

The first time I heard FM Static was at a party at the end of the spring semester of my sophomore year in college. Whoever was manning the stereo played their track “Definitely Maybe” and my ears were immediately alert. It makes sense – FM Static featured vocalist Trevor McNevan and drummer Steve Augustine of Thousand Foot Krutch, one of my favorite bands at the time. While certainly a departure from TFK’s signature nu metal sound, McNevan’s voice was unmistakable.

I picked up the band’s debut, What Are You Waiting For? shortly thereafter and memorized every word during the summer of 2004. It wasn’t hard – the album clocks in at around a half-hour with no track going over the three-minute mark. It’s the kind of syrupy pop punk bliss that seemed to dominate nearly every summer during that time of my life.

So what makes What Are You Waiting For? a summer soundtrack I keep returning to? I’m honestly not sure I have a great answer. Nostalgia certainly plays a role, as I have so many fond memories singing along to this record with friends. Musically? It’s fine. Lyrically, it’s full of lines like, “I saw what really happened all those time he went for water / When we were at the movie theatre watching Harry Potter” and “Feels like it’s teenage hunting season”. As cheesy as these lines are, I still sing them at the top of my lungs every time I spin the album.

What Are You Waiting For? came along at a time where I still allowed myself to have fun with the music I listened to. It wouldn’t be long before I entered a more pretentious phase of music fandom – one that scoffed at things that didn’t make you think hard enough or didn’t “push genre boundaries.”

If all of this is making FM Static’s debut seem underwhelming, well…that’s not entirely fair. It’s a perfectly crafted, half-hour pop punk album, which is exactly what McNevan and Augustine were attempting to accomplish. In hindsight, it’s clear that the side project served as a release for them before their return to the more serious nature of Thousand Foot Krutch. FM Static is silly, joyous and almost profound.

While the bulk of the material focuses on the innocence of romantic longing or those exciting first days of a new relationship, the heartbeat of the album is all about connections. Be it the desire to be intentional with our empathy on “Crazy Mary” or the distance that time creates in our friendships on “October”, FM Static has a surprising amount to say for such a light, nonchalant-feeling debut.

The duo would release three more FM Static albums over the course of the next decade, each one holding my attention a little less. All these years later, What Are You Waiting For? is the only one I regularly return to, always during the summertime. The moment that first drum hits on opener “Three Days Later”, I’m sucked back in time to a place filled with smiles, friends and the kinds of songs that you can sing along to with abandon.

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: Set Your Goals – This Will Be the Death of Us

I almost lost my middle finger in 2009. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but while working in a restaurant, I was playing with a keyring during some downtime. Somehow, I slipped my finger through the gap between both endpoints. I remember watching the tip of my finger fall backwards and seeing the bone. It exposed everything I am on the inside for the first time. I managed to keep it together long enough to get stitches. When I went home to my roommates, they had gathered in camaraderie and collectively flipped me off in unison, which helped a little bit.

I had been obsessed with All Time Low’s Nothing Personal for the summer, but I hated myself for being so reckless as to get injured midway through the season. While my friends were out swimming, exploring the local creek, or engaging in some type of sports I was dutifully guarding my finger from infection. I was angry, isolated and days away from my birthday.

You can buy or stream This Will Be the Death of Us on Apple Music.

At some point, All Time Low posted on their social media to support their friends Set Your Goals’ new album. I had never heard of the band, but decided to spend what little money I had to keep me occupied since I wasn’t spending my time being active. All Time Low remain one of my favorite bands, but Set Your Goals stole the year with This Will Be the Death of Us, one of the single best releases of the early 2000’s.

Set Your Goals was my introduction to ‘easycore.’ Hovering somewhere between pop punk and hardcore, This Will Be the Death of Us scratched every itch I had. It even inspired a song by Four Year Strong as a response to the glowing reviews the album received. Set Your Goals tempered the anger I felt towards myself, managed to be an ethical voice in the scene, and felt like one of the opening salvos in the new trend of positive punk. It exposed me to the deficiencies I didn’t realize I had inside.

The rage in This Will Be the Death of Us isn’t focused on the usual suspects in the scene. While the album maintains a positive outlook overall, it is relentless in its attacks on aging bitterly and of neglect towards love of the world and its history (“Our Ethos: A Legacy to Pass On”). It managed to successfully criticize societal issues without sounding like a bunch of privileged kids whining (“Look Closer”). During my last year of college, the global recession was going strong. Hearing a band call the system out for what it was meant the world to me. The album also featured the best cameos of all time (Vinnie Caruana, Hayley Williams, Chad Gilbert and Jon Gula). The guest vocalists played a significant part of their songs, even the music videos (“This Will Be the Death of Us”).

Despite the worldly rage, positivity oozed from this album. At the time, there weren’t a lot of new bands making a splash in the scene, and those that did fell back on the tried-and-true lyricism of failed relationships. Set Your Goals introduced me to songs like “Summer Jam”, which gushed with memories of the band on a year-by-year basis leading up to this release. “Summer Jam” was the first time I had heard of the band Fireworks, and the lyric, “We’re all in a holding cell, but somehow Baloni got away,” led me on a goose chase to learn more about their merch guy. A year later, The Wonder Years would go deeper into this area and change the game of ‘realistic pop punk’ on The Upsides.

Most importantly though, I felt like I gained a worldview from Set Your Goals. While All Time Low got me hooked on catchy lyrics that I still know to this day, Set Your Goals turned the chaos of hardcore punk on its head that sent a message to question the status quo of the world, even if you loved it. It’s the first time that my rebellious college phase realized that you could love the world and fight to break it at the same time.

This Will Be the Death of Us helped me through the summer of 2009 on a daily basis while I sat inside watching my friends play video games and get dirty. I remained low key until the autumn, hiding from anything that could make my finger worse. But I loved the world despite its follies along the way, for better or for worse, during the healing.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Reflecting On: Florence and the Machine – Lungs

I was recently talking to Kiel about some of my favorite albums, the ones that truly impacted me as a music fan and as a person, and how a lot of those albums are hitting their release anniversaries this year. One of those albums is Lungs by Florence and the Machine. It’s an album that’s no doubt left a lasting impact on the musical culture of 2009. It’s been one of my top albums for as long as I’ve been listening, and I still think it’s Florence and the Machine’s best.

“Dog Days are Over” is probably the best known track that Florence has released, and it starts Lungs off strong. The entire album’s exploration of emotion hadn’t been done before in such a drastic, theatrical way. From beginning to end, Florence impresses us vocally, musically and thematically. 

My favorite tracks from Lungs are “Cosmic Love”, which brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it, “Between Two Lungs” for its lullaby-esque lilt and harmonies, and “My Boy Builds Coffins” for the way it describes an effortless and simple yet all-consuming love.

The way Florence uses literary references, nature imagery and a pre-Raphaelite muse is one of the main reasons I think she’s stuck around. Her creativity is boundless, and she’s willing to push the envelope to get her point across. Her label asked her to write an “upbeat” song for the record and the result, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, is about ritual sacrifice and King Midas. It seems like she tries to wriggle past authority; she holds her right to create tightly.

As a woman who enjoys music, and watches women in the industry get stepped on or stepped over, I appreciate the fact that Florence walks her own path. She has paved the way for other female artists to feel the freedom to do the same, and I think that if Lungs hadn’t succeeded the way it did in 2009, the music world would be vastly different. If Florence Welch hadn’t come along and garnered the success she did, I doubt that Marina Diamandis and Lana del Rey would’ve felt the confidence they do now in their unconventional music endeavors.

From the first track of Lungs, Florence Welch brings us into her world — a place where we can identify with each theme she creates but also escape to at the same time. Between her instrumentation and her ethereal stage presence, Florence’s music constantly raises the bar for art pop, from 2009 until now. Happy 10th birthday, Lungs.

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.

10 Perfect Albums for Summer Road Trips

Believe it or not, there used to be a day when you didn’t have access to the entire library of recorded music when you got into your car. Long road trips with friends required preparation in the form of CD collections and discussions about which albums got first dibs in the stereo.

While it’s easier than ever to create endless playlists or simply jump tracks during long rides, there’s still something to be said for albums that can play front to back while you cruise down the highway and serve as the perfect soundtrack to life on the road. With summer in full swing, we’ve compiled a list of 10 albums to consider packing (or queueing up) before you take your next sun-drenched road trip with your friends.

Cartel – Chroma

Rule #1 for road trip albums: Every song has to be a banger. Even 14 years after its release, Chroma is fire from front to back and it’s incredibly easy to sing along to every song. Will Pugh’s voice was made for summer, and so was this album.

Key tracks: “Say Anything (Else)”, “If I Fail”

Underoath – They’re Only Chasing Safety

This is a quintessential summertime album for me and one that was the soundtrack to more road trips than I can count from 2004-06. While it’s a heavy album to be sure, there’s enough melody and pop elements crammed in courtesy of Aaron Gillespie and company that this album was made to be heard with the windows down.

Key tracks: “A Boy Brushed Red, Living in Black and White”, “Reinventing Your Exit”

P.O.S. – Never Better

P.O.S. stole the show at Warped Tour 2009 thanks to the catchiness of his breakthrough album, Never Better. An indie hip hop hidden gem, there’s tracks to nod your head to, wild out to, and rap along with your friends to. It’s a gold mine of catchy (and introspective) hits.

Key tracks: “Let it Rattle”, “Savion Glover”

Boys Like Girls – Boys Like Girls

The self-titled debut from Boys Like Girls was peak scene pop punk, masterfully produced to appeal to just about anyone. Every song could serve as a single and it’s impossible to turn the volume down anytime Martin Johnson’s voice hits those high notes.

Key tracks: “The Great Escape”, “Heels Over Head”

Paramore – Riot!

Riot! is truly one of the greatest summer pop punk albums of all time, hitting all of the high notes that a road trip album requires. Hayley Williams comes into her own as a vocalist as the band writes their catchiest and most infectious songs of their young career.

Key tracks: “That’s What You Get”, “Crushcrushcrush”

Mayday Parade – A Lesson in Romantics

Bonus points for road trip soundtracks go to any bands that utilize two singers, allowing travel buddies to trade off on vocals. A Lesson in Romantics is a perfect blend of summer anthems and memorable harmonies from Derek Sanders and Jason Lancaster.

Key tracks: “Jersey”, “Jamie All Over”

A Day to Remember – Homesick

Homesick is the album that took A Day to Remember to another level and it’s also their most instantly arresting version of easy-core that allows for head banging sessions in the car or embarrassingly loud sing-a-longs for everyone on the trip.

Key tracks: “My Life for Hire”, “Mr. Highway’s Thinking About the End”

Gym Class Heroes – As Cruel as School Children

In 2006, Gym Class Heroes were on top of the world thanks to a collection of hit songs from As Cruel as School Children. Lead man Travie McCoy is able to drop a hot verse but also able to flex his songwriting abilities in unexpected, pop-centric ways. This album is just plain fun.

Key tracks: “Shoot Down the Stars”, “Clothes Off!”

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Sometimes after all the whining and screaming, you need to cleanse the palate with a tried-and-true pop record. Teenage Dream is hit after hit after hit, and they’re all fun to sing along to. If anyone on the car pretends they don’t know the words…well…they’re lying.

Key tracks: “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”, “E.T.”

Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue

In all honesty, there may not be a better pop punk road trip record than Ocean Avenue, an album that bleeds summer from every corner. It’s catchy, nostalgic, energetic and delightful in pretty much every way. Plus, if you let the album repeat after it finishes, no one will complain.

Key tracks: “Breathing”, “Ocean Avenue”, all of them.

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: The Killers – Hot Fuss

It wasn’t until after I saw The Killers that I realized how much I enjoyed their music. They played in Boston for their farewell tour and I literally hopped in the car with my friends when someone couldn’t make the show. It’s still the best spontaneous thing I’ve done. After the show, I embarked on a Killers journey, which I started to chronicle on Twitter, but then stopped bothering everyone with it, as one does. I listened to each album in chronological order – one album a day – to find out my favorite album. And, no pun intended, 2004’s Hot Fuss came out on top.

You can buy or stream Hot Fuss on Apple Music.

It’s hard to believe that one of alternative’s most important albums could be 15 years old, but here we are. The Killers were a band way ahead of their time in 2004, cranking out songs that were both radio friendly and edgy enough for those youths looking for the next big thing. “Mr. Brightside” continues to dominate charts 15 years later, and that’s a real accomplishment. As of May, it was #93 in the Top 100 on the UK singles charts.

The album tells a heck of a story about a high school kid trying to make it work. “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” is (supposedly, but I wholeheartedly accept this conspiracy) the third in what’s known as the Murder Trilogy, in which Jenny has been murdered. The trilogy starts with “Leave the Bourbon On the Shelf”, which can be found in their 2007 B-sides album Sawdust, and continues with the Hot Fuss track “Midnight Show”. The other theory about the album is that the main character, personified by Brandon, is actually gay, and the motive for Jenny’s murder is the fact that the unnamed boy is secretly in love with Jenny’s boyfriend. They’re both plausible if you listen to the album, but I’ve always had a penchant for conspiracy theories, in music and otherwise.

So, why the heck are we all still listening to Hot Fuss? I’d venture to say that it’s both a mix of nostalgia and the fact that the album is truly timeless. I’m not trying to bash anyone, but Panic! At the Disco’s first album sounds very much like the year it was released in – 2005. The early 2000s were obsessed with creating something new and exciting, but I feel like The Killers were able to do it more efficiently. They created a musical experience that perfectly encapsulates growing up in a small town and feeling trapped. And yeah, of course we associate Hot Fuss with the year it came out, because for many listeners, it was a justification of the niche genre they had fallen in love with. It truly brought the alt scene to the mainstream.

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.

Reflecting On: Emery – …In Shallow Seas We Sail

I still remember the first time I heard an Emery song. It was probably about 2012 or so, and it was while watching the video for their 2009 track “Butcher’s Mouth”. The video for the song was shot documentary style from (presumably) tour, and, no offense, isn’t really anything to write home about. I just watched it for the first time in a couple of years, and it’s pretty dated now, but I’m still so fond of it. I specifically have always remembered the end, where Toby says, “The key to this world is money. Girls only like material things, and guys only like girls. So, guys, buy stuff for girls, and then the girls will like you.”  There’s just so much personality in the video, and I actually think that’s one of the reasons I ended up liking the band so much.

You can buy or stream …In Shallow Seas We Sail on Apple Music.

So it’s been 10 years since the album …In Shallow Seas We Sail was released. The band has really expanded past music since then, and I’d argue they’re still one of the most successful post-hardcore bands today. They figured out how to grow with the times, and that’s really only been to their benefit. Between podcasts and record labels, the band has constantly used their musical talent over the years to positively further the scene they’re in.

We obviously know now, though, that it hasn’t always been that way. And I doubt it would be this way without this 2009 release. 2007’s I’m Only A Man was pretty experimental for the band in a negative sense. I don’t know how the band members feel about the album, but fans weren’t really into it. I wasn’t familiar with the band at this point, and maybe it’s for the better, because I kind of like I’m Only A Man. I think that In Shallow Seas We Sail is definitely a better album and I like it more, but I’ve never really gotten why folks don’t care for I’m Only A Man.  

I think what makes this such a memorable and important addition to the Emery discography is the same as every one of their other albums. With each release, the band raises the bar up one more time in some aspect, whether it be production or songwriting or vocals. With …In Shallow Seas We Sail, they revamped the entirety of what made them great in their first two albums. They brought maturity into this fourth project, maturity gained from the experience of releasing music, experience from being signed to a label, and experience gained from having a project that wasn’t totally loved by the listeners.

They are truly the definition of a band who does this more for themselves than for the fans. They are constantly interested in how they can be better, and that’s what’s made them last so long as a band, and what’s made me last so long as a listener.

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.