Eras of Influence: 2010-2016 – Kanye West

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This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. You can read my previous installment on Underoath, covering the years 2004-2010.

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It’s been nearly a year since I wrote the last installment of my admittedly self-indulgent and meandering Eras of Influence series. They take a lot of time and mental energy to write, and I tend to be lacking in both lately. But if I’m being honest, the series hit an all stop when it came time to write about Kanye West. Even as I type this, I hand-to-God still don’t know what I have left to say at this point.

For a not insignificant portion of time, Kanye West was the most important artist in my life – and in the life of many others. He’s an artist and a figure with no real 1:1 comparison. That’s certainly rare, but it’s also rare for someone to be so convinced of that very fact about themselves that they’ll do anything to ensure that their voice is heard and admired. It’s that unique quality that is Kanye West’s greatest strength, and also his achilles heel.

For the sake of this project, Kanye’s greatest influence in my life falls between the years 2010 and 2016, but as I mentioned in a previous installment, his music entered my ears much sooner. First, as a producer in the late 2000s, then as a rapper in 2004 with the release of his debut solo album, The College Dropout. That album, perhaps more than any other, captures a time and feeling that I can feel viscerally when I put on the album and close my eyes. It’s hard to even call it just an album. It was an experience.

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You can buy or stream My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on Apple Music

Even so, as my last installment documents, those mid-to-late 2000s years would ultimately be defined by very different sounds and a different artist (Underoath). Kanye’s 2005 follow-up Late Registration was fine, although it was surrounded with some of our early experiences of Kanye with a taste of fame. The resulting 2007 album Graduation, was a pop rap extravaganza, which seemed to lean into all of the trends that bothered me about hip hop at the time, for better or for worse. Like the rest of the world, I wasn’t ready for 808s & Heartbreak, an album that left me scratching my head upon its release in 2008, only to become my favorite Kanye album years later.

And so that brings us to 2010. That fall and winter, I was in the throes of divorce, and it wasn’t pretty. Not only was I living through the hell of that experience, I was also completely alone and nocturnal, working overnight shifts at my job and rarely having meaningful human interactions. In hindsight, it’s almost incredible that I got through it all. But it was amidst that figurative and literal darkness that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy arrived. 

Upon that album’s release, I was asked by my good friend Richard Clark to write a piece for his website at the time, Christ and Pop Culture. I still remember the November night I listened to the album for the first time, and every emotion I felt track-to-track through that hour of excess, extravagance, insanity, beauty, pain, and everything in between. I had never heard anything like it. Nobody had. What was this? To call it rap would be to sell it short, but no other genre fit, either. 

This was something else: The product of someone living in a self-imposed exile in the wake of a great public failure, fully dedicated to creating something so personal, powerful, and incredible that it would win everyone back over. It worked. It was one of the most visionary artists of his time creating his masterpiece. A dark, introspective album arriving at exactly the most dark and introspective period of my life. 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy caused me to re-examine and re-evaluate those previous albums. Suddenly, Late Registration, Graduation, and 808s & Heartbreak each sounded revolutionary in their own right. During this stretch of time, I undoubtedly listened to more Kanye West than almost every other artist combined. It was a lock that Kanye would top my annual Spotify Wrapped charts as the most listened-to artist.

Kanye’s penchant for experimentation and genre-blending mirrored, or perhaps even influenced, my own musical tastes at the time. In the early 2010s, new and exciting artists began emerging from unexpected channels like SoundCloud and YouTube. I became obsessed with anything that felt like it was stretching my understanding of traditional pop music structures or trends. In particular, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean – artists undoubtedly influenced by Kanye’s work at the time – became personal favorites and artists I couldn’t wait to share with anyone who would listen.

That dark winter of 2010 gave way to the light and warmth of the summer of 2011. My divorce was finalized and in the rear-view mirror. I was no longer working overnight shifts. I was hanging out with friends again, writing about music, and about to meet someone new. Kanye and Jay-Z’s collaborative Watch the Throne took a decidedly different and more celebratory tone, serving as a great soundtrack for my climb back up the other side of the valley. 

The following year, Kanye’s Cruel Summer compilation provided the background music to my life in a new city, with new friends, and an exciting engagement. In 2013, I wrote about Yeezus and my initial struggles with yet another new version of Kanye, even if the album itself was once again unlike anything we’d heard before (or since). It was that article that sparked a lunch invite from a curious co-worker who would become one of my closest friends. A year later, we’d find ourselves nerding out on a podcast for the recently-launched It’s All Dead, ranking all of Kanye’s albums.

If you came to our site back in those days, you could almost call it a Kanye West fanzine. I don’t have to go back and count to tell you that more words have been written and words spoken about Kanye West on our site and podcast than any other artist over the years. But it would soon become not so fun.

To follow Kanye in recent years has been an exercise in exhaustion, frustration, disgust, and sadness. Sure, there have been some good moments, like seeing him in concert for the first time in 2016 or singing Kid Cudi’s opening chorus of “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” at the top of my lungs that entire summer. But the rest…well, you already know the rest. And that’s what has made this so hard to write. I’ve said my piece multiple times over at this point. The days of Kanye West residing at the epicenter of my interests are well in the past. And it’s hard to imagine that ever changing.

Earlier this year, Coodie Simmons released jeen-yus, a Netflix documentary largely filled with unseen footage from Kanye’s early days as he scrapped and clawed his way to relevance amidst a music industry that had no belief in him. A lot of the scenes were jaw-dropping, like seeing Kanye play beats for Mos Def and Talib Kweli in a car or drop by Pharrell’s studio to play him “Through the Wire”. There were genuine moments of joy in that documentary that reminded me of everything I loved.

But sadly, the documentary’s closing chapters zoomed in on all of the things that have pushed myself and so many others away. As a fellow human being fighting my own demons, I hope Kanye gets the help he needs and finds a real kind of redemption. For now, those high moments don’t hit quite the same as they used to. I still put on Kanye from time-to-time, and there are moments when I can transport myself back to when things weren’t so cloudy and broken. And those are good feelings to hold onto, I guess.

Second Tier: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, The 1975, CHVRCHES, The Wonder Years

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.

Podcast: Interview with Kevin Klein of Valleyheart

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Friday marks the release of Heal My Head, the new album from Massachusetts alt rock trio Valleyheart. Vocalist and guitarist Kevin Klein joined us on the show to chat with our own Nadia Alves about the band’s sonic progression on this new record and what inspired them to explore new territory. Klein also shares about his songwriting process and how exploring past trauma allowed himself and the band to tap into new and powerful stories that serve as the heartbeat of Heal My Head. Take a listen, and then go snag the album on Friday!

Pre-order Heal My Head here.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Ranking the Albums of Katy Perry

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There was a moment in time, not so long ago, when Katy Perry was not only the biggest pop star on the planet, but one of the biggest pop stars of all time. Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Alves as they look back on the illustrious and unexpected career of Katy Perry – from unknown Christian artist to everyone’s favorite “bad” girl. The duo discuss the impact of Teenage Dream on pop music at large and debate whether the album is actually her best (spoiler alert: it’s not). They also rank every Katy Perry studio album and list their top 10 Katy Perry songs. Listen in!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Queue It Up: May 2, 2022

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It has been a heck of a week for music fans. After Hayley Williams wowed us at Coachella with Billie Eilish, she announced a new podcast in partnership with BBC called Everything Is Emo. Lil Nas X announced a headlining tour. The B-52s are heading out on their last tour. And of course, we received the whole tracklist for the new Harry Styles album Harry’s House. Let’s talk a bit about some tracks that were released to lead us into late spring.

Harry Styles – “As It Was”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Harry’s new single “As It Was”. Somehow I already know all the words, despite hearing it on the radio maybe twice, and not going out of my way to listen to it on Spotify (I’ve been in a hardcore mood lately). But the whistles and literal bells keep calling out to me, because every time I hear this song in a TikTok I think to myself, “What a jam.” If the album keeps going with this sleek pop vibe he offers us here, I’ll play it all summer. He debuted it at Coachella Weekend 1, which also featured cameos from Shania Twain and Lizzo, because why not. His new album releases May 20th.

The Wonder Years – “Oldest Daughter”

My most re-played song this past week is definitely “Oldest Daughter” by The Wonder Years. I heard the premiere when they first played it on Alt 104.5 in Philly, because of course Philly gets the first taste of all the new TWY tracks – the guys are nothing if not loyal. This is the first single from their latest album, which Dan Campbell has said is finished and in the final stages of production and artistry. He seems to be more excited about this album than I’ve seen him be about a TWY album in past years, so we know it’s bound to be good.

Tiny Moving Parts – “North Shore”

My favorite math rock band is back with a new single, “North Shore”. Since seeing Tiny Moving Parts open for The Wonder Years, I can’t stay away from playing through their discography at least once a month. I love their melodies and their lyricism. I’m psyched for this single because not only is it great, but it most likely means a new album. And everyone knows that melodic hardcore is the best spring and summer genre. No other announcement accompanied the single, so it’s based purely on hope, but the guys are going on tour with This Wild Life and In Her Own Words this summer, so do with that what you will. New single + headlining tour = big things coming from the TMP camp. Simple math.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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.

Hayley Williams and Billie Eilish Steal the Show at Coachella

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If you had told me a year or so ago that Hayley Williams would be performing alongside Billie Eilish, one side of my mouth would say, “No way”, and the other side would say “Makes sense”.

“No way”, because, what a pairing. “Makes sense”, because, what a pairing. Two of the top women in alt music on stage together is nothing short of exciting. And it’s a hell of a way for Hayley to make her first Coachella appearance. But of course, as we’ve come to know, Hayley is always one for surprises.

The afternoon of Coachella Weekend 2, I saw a tweet that said something to the effect of, “Billie is bringing Hayley on stage tonight.” I didn’t think anything of it, not being a particularly heavy Coachella follower, and knowing the Paramore rumor mill has been positively swirling with P6 news. An early morning (or I suppose a late night, depending on your relationship with sleep) for myself was punctuated by the news that Billie in fact did bring Hayley onstage. The rumor was real. I woke Jeremiah up I was so excited. I said “Oh my gosh Billie Eilish brought Hayley on stage and she sang ‘Misery Business.’” It didn’t receive the reaction I expected, being 4 a.m., but any hope of getting back to sleep that night for me was gone.

Someone on TikTok joked that Hayley sang “Misery Business” because MGK’s cover was so terrible. Having not played the track since 2018, I think we can all agree it was a shocker. But I think it’s not only because Hayley is ready to move past these last few years and get back to the crux of Paramore that she brought it back around. I think she chose it specifically to perform with Billie. From what I can see she has taken Billie under her wing in a sense, and I think it’s because Hayley can see her younger self in Billie. She was 14 when she first started Paramore and Billie was 13 when she recorded “Ocean Eyes”. In these later Paramore years, Hayley has been brutally honest about her relationship to fame, and quite honestly her disdain for it, and I think this was her way of letting people know not to mess with Billie.

Whatever the motivation behind it, it was an incredible ending to Billie’s first headlining Coachella set, and an incredible beginning to Hayley and Paramore’s walk back into the public sphere.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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.

Podcast: “If we’re gonna date, you have to listen to my seven favorite albums”

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Remember that time where Scott Pilgrim wanted to date Ramona Flowers, but first he had to defeat her seven deadly exes? Wild stuff. Anyway, we decided to come up with the seven albums you would have to listen to in order to date us. Kiel Hauck is joined by Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves as they list the seven albums that define their journey, showcase their taste, and tell their story. It’s an admittedly weird exercise, but it sure was fun! Listen in.

Special thanks to alissaaamay for the inspiration!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Underoath Hits the Road with Spiritbox, Bad Omens, and Stray from the Path

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Near the end of their set at The Andrew J. Brady Music Center in downtown Cincinnati last week, Stray from the Path vocalist Andrew Dijorio shared a personal and moving story about his struggle as an isolated artist during the pandemic. Dijorio described being unable to take the stage and perform as resulting in a feeling of having lost his purpose. It’s a sentiment that resonates for all of us in one way or another. But here we were, together again in the kind of setting that can melt those feelings away.

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Stray from the Path

It had been over two years since I last attended an indoor concert like this, and I got the feeling that it was the same case for many others in attendance. It led to an elevated kind of energy that you could feel throughout the night. I actually had butterflies in the photo pit before shooting the sets – something that was a relatively mundane event prior to the pandemic. 

It had actually been so long since this tour was announced that one of the original bands on the lineup no longer exists (R.I.P. Every Time I Die). Nevertheless, the night is a celebration of Underoath’s new album, Voyeurist, along with being a showcase for a few bands on the rise. 

After Stray from the Path, it was Bad Omens turn to take the stage. The band has made a name for themselves in recent years by threading the needle between metalcore and hard rock, concocting something melodic enough for radio but heavy enough to get the pit moving. Vocalist Noah Sebastian is a true showman in the best way. His confidence on stage was a sight to behold, but his vocal performance is what stole the show, especially when the band plays “Never Know” and “Limits” – two tracks that highlight the band’s stellar songwriting and Sebastian’s soaring vocals.

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Spiritbox

Speaking of bands on the rise, in the time since the tour’s announcement, Spiritbox have simply exploded onto the metal scene thanks to the success of their debut, Eternal Blue. No longer the opener, the band could likely be their own headliner very soon. Given that this is their first long trek on the road as a unit, it’s amazing how tight their set is. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were a veteran band (vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Michael Stringer previously toured with iwrestledabearonce). 

LaPlante dominated the night with her powerful vocal performance, rising to the occasion with massive screams on tracks like “Holly Roller” and “Hurt You” while delivering powerhouse cleans on “Blessed Be” and “Constance”. With a setlist only seven tracks deep, it wasn’t hard to be left wanting more. On the band’s final song of the night, “Eternal Blue”, Stringer’s haunting guitar solo at the end of the track capped off a perfect set. 

The night would mark my 10th time seeing Underoath live. What’s left to say at this point? I’ve stated for years that Underoath is one of the best live bands on the planet, and the Voyeurist Tour only adds to the legacy. The band’s catalog is deeper than ever at this point, even with the continued admission of tracks from 2010’s Ø (Disambiguation). Somewhat surprisingly, though, the band’s 15-song set only includes four tracks from the new album. However, Voyeurist opening track “Damn Excuses” allows the band to explode onto the stage, followed by regular show-opener “Breathing in a New Mentality”.

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Underoath

The night is a solid mix of new tracks, fan favorites, and a few rarely performed songs like “A Fault Line, A Fault of Mine” from Lost in the Sound of Separation and “There Could Be Nothing After This” from Define the Great Line. In the end, it’s hits like “Reinventing Your Exit” and “Writing on the Walls” that get the crowd going, even if the band’s performance of Voyeurist-closer “Pneumonia” is utterly jaw-dropping to experience in person.

By the time you’re reading this, the tour will be completed with two final shows in Underoath’s hometown of Tampa, Florida. In the end, one thing is for certain: both bands and fans felt overjoyed to be back in this setting. The promise of more to come from all involved instills a kind of hope that we can all cling to.

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.

Podcast: Our Favorite Springtime Music

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Ah yes. The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming. The birds are chirping. Time to roll down the windows and blast some of our favorite music to celebrate the season. On this episode of Long Live the Music, Kiel Hauck is joined by Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves to discuss the traits that make for the perfect spring album. They then break down their favorite albums to celebrate springtime and talk about why those albums resonate so well this time of year. They also discuss some great new releases, including the new album from Dashboard Confessional. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Queue It Up: March 10, 2022

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Well, well, well. Here we are again. Bringing back Queue It Up. For me, Queue It Up feels like slipping into some sweatpants when you get home from work. It’s a way to take a quick peek at current pop culture without having to commit to too much. We have a buy-three-get-one-free deal running today, so let’s dive in.

Regina Spektor – “Becoming All Alone”

After what seems like an eternity, Regina Spektor has returned. She always seems to come back right when we need her most, like flowers peeking through the pavement after it’s been freezing for what feels like forever. With her newest single “Becoming All Alone”, she provides her ever-timeless perspective on religion. It feels almost eerie, that she should provide such a take, at a time where the part of the world she comes from is in such unrest. As someone who is from that area myself, I feel an intense heartbreak right now, and Regina has been so healing to me lately. It’s only fitting that she alone has found the words that explain exactly how I feel: “Stop the meter, Sir / You have a heart / Why don’t you use it”. This is the first track, and the first taste of, her new album being released on June 24th, and it is aptly titled Home, before and after.

Florence + The Machine – “Heaven is Here”

Florence Welch, the Bog Queen to Hozier’s Bog King, is back. She returns with the triumphant “King”, a portrait of womanhood that is as powerful as it is tragic. Florence laments the fact that she can’t truly have it all: “I am no mother / I am no bride / I am King”. It’s hard out here for us gals, truly. This is the first of two singles we have received from her new album, yet to be titled and given a release date, but what we do know is it seems to be very conceptual, even more so than her past projects. She has sent cards out to fans and updated her website in a cryptic way, with 15 “cards” being the main page. Two of them are flipped, with the names of the two singles with corresponding artwork, and the other 13 are yet to be uncovered. She has a penchant for lengthy albums so there’s a good chance this is her track listing. And our Queue It Up special comes today, when she released “Heaven Is Here”, a short but weighty track that is a companion piece to “King” both lyrically and visually. It seems as though Florence is continuing the vein she opened with her last album High as Hope, a deep dive into the personal side.

Wallows – “At the End of the Day”

And another Queue It Up comes to an end with the last single from Wallows’ upcoming album Tell Me That It’s Over, to be released later this month on the 25th. “At the End of the Day” is my favorite of the three singles they’ve released so far. It sounds like classic Wallows to me, in the way the other singles didn’t. I think Wallows is at their best when they pull out their shoegaze side, but maybe I’m just biased because I love shoegaze. Either way, this single brings me high hopes that this next album from the band will be a perfect follow-up to what was one of my favorite albums of 2019, Nothing Happens. Wallows has a knack for creating perfect spring and summer music, and I’m ready to add this track to my Car Jamz™.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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.

Podcast: Sam Manzella on the 10th Anniversary of Fun’s “Some Nights”

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It’s been 10 years since fun. released Some Nights, which vaulted the band into stardom when hit single “We Are Young” took over the charts in 2012. On this episode of Long Live the Music, Kiel Hauck is joined by MTV News writer Sam Manzella to look back on the album, the impact it made during a transitional moment in popular music, and the quasi-fallout of the band that resulted in very divergent paths for both Jack Antonoff and Nate Ruess. The two also discuss Antonoff’s impact on pop music in the years since the album’s release and the chances of a fun. reunion ever taking place. Take a listen!

You can read Sam’s MTV News retrospective on Some Nights here.

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Posted by Kiel Hauck