Review: Wallows – Tell Me That It’s Over

wallows-2022

Wallows is back with their sophomore offering, Tell Me That It’s Over. They dove even deeper into the stoner rock/Britpop mix that made me fall in love with them a couple of years ago, but for me, this newer album seems to be a step backward rather than a leap ahead.

Tell-Me-That-Its-Over-Album-Cover-Art

You can buy or stream “Tell Me That It’s Over” on Apple Music

It starts off promisingly with “Hard to Believe” and first single “I Don’t Want to Talk”. This is the Wallows we know and love; energetic, youthful tracks. The album as a whole though sounds like a continuation of Nothing Happens, while losing the punch some of those past songs packed. I feel like they definitely put their best foot forward with the singles they released, as opposed to how those play out across the album as a whole.

I think the problem I have here is not that I don’t like this album, but I just like Nothing Happens so much more. Even though a lot of the vibes and lyricism here are similar, it’s lacking a certain something. I think it feels more like a predecessor to the perfection that their last album was, and so it feels a little bit out of order to me. The sounds here are mellower and laid back, and that’s a weird shift from the harder hitting stuff I’m used to.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Tell Me That It’s Over is bad, it’s just a different direction. I appreciate some of the more 80s-esque synths and one of my all-time favorite tracks from the band, “At the End of the Day” is from this album. I feel like this could be their Pinkerton, where they really decided to go with what they felt like writing rather than continuing in the vein that brought them the majority of their popularity. Tracks like “Marvelous” are just kind of a step away from what I’ve come to expect. They do have a knack for writing a closing track, and “Guitar Romantic Search Adventure” is a heck of a closer. “My life’s going by / But it’s just begun” is one of those lines that sticks with you for a long time.

This album is definitely built for a live show experience, and I’m bummed that I still haven’t been able to catch them live. The pandemic forced a refund of my tickets last time, and this tour has sold out so quickly I never even got a chance to look at tickets. And this is to their credit –  they’re a talented group of guys who have a tight sound and know what they want from their art.

I am always partial to a band’s previous releases until their newest has a chance to grow on me, and that’s no different here. Tell Me That It’s Over is a bouncy, colorful album, but for me it lacks a lot of the body that Nothing Happens had.

3.5/5

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.

Review: Mitski – Laurel Hell

Mitski_2022

Mitski is back with Laurel Hell, a hard hitting album about capitalism, heartbreak, and the death of our youth and culture as we know it. Mitski surprised all of us and none of us at the same time when she announced a hiatus after the release of 2018’s Be The Cowboy. On one hand, she seemed at the peak of her career with her hit single “Nobody” booming from countless speakers. On the other, as seasoned Mitski fans know, she always seems a bit dissatisfied with where she is in life. We wondered whether she would truly be gone forever, leaving us with five albums and a Mitski-shaped hole in our hearts.

Mitski_-_Laurel_Hell

You can buy or stream Laurel Hell on Apple Music

In November, it hit the stands: A new single and an upcoming album from Mitski. “The Only Heartbreaker” was also released that day as a single, and quickly became my favorite of the singles, and my favorite new song of the year as well. It was happy and quirky with those dark undertones we had come to expect from her music, and it’s smack in the middle of Laurel Hell’s track listing. Center stage, if you will.

The album as a whole is cohesive, but in a shy way that you have to look for. Amidst the Elton John-esque piano synths in “Should’ve Been Me” and double entendres like “Stay Soft”, is a portrait of a woman who has grown since we first heard from her all those years ago. She is reminiscing on her time in the music industry and reflecting on how things weren’t how she expected they would be. Songs like “Working for the Knife” and “Everyone” are paramount to her experience in the limelight, and almost a warning for those wishing to follow in her footsteps.

It’s hard to say I have a favorite track on Laurel Hell. They all hit me in such different ways and different places. In “Love Me More” it was like she ripped a page out of my life where my husband asks how he can possibly give me more attention when I ask why he is leaving the room. In “Heat Lightning” she sings about insomnia, pointing toward the hopelessness I feel when I see another car drive past my window at 2 a.m., the headlight casting just that one long shadow that leaves as quickly as it showed up. In “Working for the Knife” when she says “I used to think I’d be done by 20”, spitting back into my face the obligation of waking up each day. It’s effortlessly relatable. I’m starting to think I should get a therapist.

“I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding / You’ll be by the window, only watching”, Mitski sings in “The Only Heartbreaker”. I at first thought maybe it was the wrong song to release as a single due to the upbeat nature of what ends up being a darker album, but now I realize it was the perfect choice. But of course it was perfect, because Mitski does nothing less. She is the perfectionist of all perfectionists. Such an explosion of feeling could only come from her mouth, and we are here on the sidelines, watching it unfurl.

4.5/5

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.

Review: Knuckle Puck – Disposable Life EP

When I was 15, I remember coming to understand politics for the first time and not knowing how to navigate it. I knew I would have to make decisions about the world outside of what I could see within the next few years. And while most of the music I listened to didn’t focus on this, I knew I had to discover how to figure my way through this mess. Years later, and having worked in the field of research, the feeling that simple information is filtered and given with an agenda is something that not only frustrates me, it affects my job.  

Disposable Life, Knuckle Puck’s latest release, is a reflection on looking outside of the box. It rages against agenda over honesty (“Gasoline”), and that breaking free and putting objective thought toward individual struggles is how to avoid being looked over (“In The Bag”).

You can buy or stream Disposable Life on Apple Music

Knuckle Puck have been slowly evolving their sound from the midwestern emo scene that influenced their early albums, but Disposable Life doubles down on the influences of the early naughts. The guitars are heavy but melodic, the vocals crisp and dark.

Disposable Life is a sonic history lesson of pop punk, taking influence from the early days of The Starting Line and Senses Fail, but incorporating the lessons learned in the time since those bands released their debuts. Rather than harp on relationships, Knuckle Puck have focused on being smarter as people and making better decisions as a whole.

Although the guitars could have been influential 20 years ago, they sound incredibly fresh in the moment. While Disposable Life could be written off as a throw-back EP, the lyrics bring it to a modern perspective and bridges the gaps between decades of genre. 

Opener “Gasoline” ignites the anger of realizing that the source of information you have trusted has been feeding you a narrative (“We’ve all been force fed lies / While each bull and bear bets against the truth / All told we’re free to choose, but all thoughts get drowned out in the noise”), while simultaneously taking pride in not only overcoming narratives but directing information to benefiting your own life, such as in “Levitate” (“There used to be demons hanging over me / But now they can’t touch me / Don’t you see me levitating?”)

Perhaps most telling is closer, “Here’s You Letter”, where the band comments on the lack of real conversation between people and the misunderstandings that haunt us all (“Here’s a letter for you, but the words get confused, and the conversation dies / Apologize for the past, talk some shit, take it back, are we cursed to this life?”). 

Disposable Life documents the feelings of a generation that feel lied to by their elders and are forced to learn harsh lessons on their own. Meanwhile, it explores the sound of a genre decades old that influenced the band in the present day. 

Knuckle Puck continue to prove themselves one of the most influential bands in the emo scene by simultaneously paying homage to the pop punks bands of old while forging new ground lyrically with ideas most people develop years beyond the band’s age. Disposable Life serves as both a reflection and a warning for the generations influences by them.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

Kyle 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 is freezing to death like an old hen left out in the backyard.

Review: Underoath – Voyeurist

Underoath-2022

What an album rollout, huh? A lot has happened since last July, when Underoath kicked off their latest chapter with the release of “Damn Excuses” and began the rollout for the ninth studio album, Voyeurist. Originally slated for an October release, the album was pushed to January, leading to a slow trickle of single releases and even a brilliant album livestream event called Digital Ghost. But perhaps most typically for a band that has thrown more sonic curveballs than just about any other of their ilk, that six month stretch left room for plenty of discourse.

When the band reunited back in 2015, they kicked off their return with a massive tour which leaned into all the hits (namely, fan favorite albums They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define the Great Line). But Underoath’s proper return in album form came in 2018 with Erase Me, which turned that celebrated reunion tour into a red herring. Erase Me was yet another new version of a band that has pushed its own boundaries since inception. While responses to the album varied widely, there’s no denying its impact, as the band solidified itself as a modern day hard rock powerhouse, playing to bigger crowds than ever before.

From the moment of “Damn Excuses” release until now, fans have debated which direction the band should take, but as always, Underoath have chosen to forge their own path. Voyeurist is another brilliant, fresh, and captivating chapter for a band that feels as in-the-moment as ever. Choose whichever era of the band you like best, but Voyeurist undeniably showcases Underoath as they are right now. And it’s really fucking exciting.

For fans that have avoided saturating their brains with those early singles, it’s truly rewarding to hear “Damn Excuses” and “Hallelujah” in rapid succession to open the album. The former feels just as angry as it did last summer, featuring some of the meanest guitar riffs Tim McTague has put to tape. “Hallelujah” is a modern day, bonafide Underoath classic, adding the haunting refrain of, “Cut the lights, face yourself / We’re not dreaming, this is hell” to the band’s short list of lyrics that feel custom-made for live audiences.

But it’s the following track, “I’m Pretty Sure I’m Out of Luck and Have No Friends” where the story of Voyeurist begins to crystalize. The song starts off slow, with interspersed phone calls to out-of-service numbers and 911, before Spencer Chamberlain’s quiet, breathy vocals provide context: “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, you’re fine / All of this is in your mind / Focus on the rising sun, slow down”. Voyeurist is rife with anxiety and anger, generally captured as a period of questioning and recovery in the wake of the tolls of religion. “It’s not in my head” he concludes by the track’s end, inverting his original stance and kicking off a scorched-earth rampage.

It goes without saying that Underoath is the perfect band to explore this concept. While Erase Me began chipping away at the idea, it never reached the existential depths of death and dread that Voyeurist does, in part because the album’s music is expertly crafted to do so. Large swaths of the album are as heavy and manic as anything the band has ever written. Other parts lean hard into the atmospheric passages that have always set the band apart, driven largely by the work of Chris Dudley. 

When those worlds collide, as they do on “Cycle”, it creates something breathtaking. It’s a punishing track from start to finish, with an exasperated Chamberlain roaring, “Carve out my eyes, I can’t see anyway / Darker than heaven, empty as god / There is nothing to live for”. “Thorn” spotlights another of Voyeurist’s strengths: the dueling vocals of Chamberlain and drummer Aaron Gillespie, a trademark from the band’s early days that has fluctuated in its use throughout the years, but is on full display here. The two elevate one of the album’s most thrilling choruses to its peak, with Chamberlain howling, “I’m your thorn” repeatedly. It’s a testament to his growth as an artist and vocalist over the years that it feels like no one else in the genre could carry the weight of such a moment.

Speaking of dueling vocals, “We’re All Gonna Die” is an album highlight that blends the heaviness of the rest of the album with a Chasing Safety-like melodic sensibility. Gillespie and Chamberlain’s one-two punch of “Let’s be honest, I’m heartless, I could care less / Hey, we’re all gonna die, don’t pretend to be alive” on the back half of the chorus is one of the catchiest moments the band has ever captured, which feels oddly disorienting considering the song’s thesis. 

For all of its twists and turns, the back half of Voyeurist is all leading towards its finale: “Pneumonia”. For a band with a long list of epic album closers, “Pneumonia” may be its best. For an almost three-minute stretch in the middle of the song, Dudley, Gillespie, and McTague combine for what may likely go down as Underoath’s crowning musical achievement. It’s a stretch that captures the entire emotional journey of the album without the need for a single spoken word. It’s truly breathtaking. It’s the reason so many have followed this band for so long.

It all ends with some of the most guttural screams of Chamberlain’s career: “Weightless. Lifeless. Endless. No way back.”

Underoath have had the good fortune of working with some of modern rock’s most lauded producers over the years. James Paul Wisner, Adam Dutkiewicz, Matt Goldman, Matt Squire. The output of those sometimes strained relationships has always lent itself well to the tug-of-war thematic and music elements that set Underoath apart. But this time around, Voyeurist is self-produced, and you can feel it deeply in a way that’s hard to put into words. 

Now nearly 25 years into their existence, throughout all of the lineup changes, the breakups, the internal struggles, Underoath feel as confident in who they are as ever before. It’s impossible to know what comes next, but right now, in this moment, Voyeurist may be the crowning achievement of a band that continues to carve its own path in the most interesting of ways.

5/5

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.

Review: Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

spiritbox-band-2021

Every once in a while, something incredible happens. A new band begins building a grassroots buzz through a sprinkling of singles that gradually increases into a viral fever pitch. It all leads up to a debut album that could never possibly live up to expectations – but then it totally does. And it’s one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan.

For Canadian metal band Spiritbox it all began five years ago when vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer picked up the pieces after the fallout of iwrestledabearonce and began formulating their next move. The duo’s debut self-titled EP came in 2017, followed by a string of singles after the addition of bassist Bill Crook, and eventually, drummer Zev Rose. Last year, upon the release of breakout tracks “Blessed Be” and the thunderous “Holy Roller”, Spiritbox was the most hyped new metal act in recent memory.

Spiritbox-Eternal-Blue-Artwork

You can buy or stream Eternal Blue on Apple Music

With five of the album’s 12 tracks already in circulation by the time Eternal Blue arrived, it was fair to wonder if the band had actually kept something in their back pocket to tie things all together. Did they ever. Eternal Blue is album of the year material. It’s an album that reimagines what a metal band can deliver. It solidifies Spiritbox as a giant in a genre that needs them more than it probably even realizes.

LaPlante and company wisely placed “Holy Roller” as the centerpiece of Eternal Blue. From opener “Sun Killer”, the band begins climbing the mountain toward that deafening peak before descending down the other side on the album’s back half, closing brilliantly with the atmospheric and sorrowful “Constance”. The album is designed to flow together effortlessly, even as the songs themselves individually ebb and flow. I’ve gotten chills each time “Sun Killer”, with its note-bending breakdown, transitions flawlessly into the manic opening notes of “Hurt You”.

As Spiritbox began staking their claim as a metal newcomer to be reckoned with, Stringer’s knack for complex, djent-y guitar passages drew comparisons to U.K. metalcore giants Architects. And sure enough, here’s Sam Carter delivering a chorus for the ages alongside LaPlante on “Yellowjacket”, howling, “Where was the grace when I was asking for it?” That cry into the void is a sentiment that exudes from many of the tracks on Eternal Blue, with answers often coming from within.

LaPlante’s transparent journey through the tumultuous waves of depression don’t always lean into feelings of hopelessness, but rather consistently look for open doors and windows. Of the title track, LaPlante shared, “Lyrically, it’s about someone who is at rock bottom but is trying not to romanticize that.” Still, she saves space to acknowledge those moments when it’s not that easy. On “The Summit”, she sings, “I was looking for the wrong way out / Empty road is like an open mouth” before her repeated refrain of, “The venom is what keeps me alive”. 

That visceral rise and fall effect throughout the course of Eternal Blue is something that reveals itself in new ways on each repeated listen. Take “Halcyon”, which opens with the band pounding the earth beneath their feet to dust just before the music gives way to LaPlante’s effortlessly and gracefully delivered opening lines. The band then slowly winds up for the punishing outro, with LaPlante screaming, “Irrelevance is imminent / I could be one of them” just in time for what amounts to a deep breath, followed by one of the most massive breakdowns on the album.

In the end, the ultimate payoff of Eternal Blue seems almost predestined. In a rare moment of wild confidence on the bridge of “Circle with Me”, LaPlante shreds her vocal chords as she roars, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. The raucous final call to circle with her and her bandmates is one that will not go unanswered. Spiritbox have owned the moment, and their new legion of fans can now lose themselves under the waves of Eternal Blue again and again.

5/5

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.

Review: Grayscale – Umbra

Every once in a while, a band just finds their sound. For Grayscale, this came in the form of the single “In Violet”, a song that stood out against the rest of their album Nella Vita. Although the album itself was stellar, there is a magic to “In Violet”. The song is a vortex of moody melodies and dark lyrical subject matter that swirls around a joyful chorus and the swelling of celebratory horns. For their newest album, Umbra, Grayscale have fully leaned into the ideas that gave birth to “In Violet”. The results of this is an album that is over-the-top, stylish, fun and arguably unlike anything else currently in the scene. 

You can buy or stream Umbra on Apple Music.

For Umbra, Grayscale have thrown everything at what made “In Violet” stand out at each song. In a way, it almost sounds overwhelming. There are extensive saxophone solos (“Motown”), gospel choruses (“Live Again”), glitzy guitar solos (“Dirty Bombs”) and songs that include literally all of the above (”Without You”). While these elements could easily be overdone, they’re presented in a way that sounds modernly creative as well as like a long-forgotten soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster. Simply put, Umbra is exciting because it seems like almost anything can appear throughout the album’s 11 tracks. 

What ties these elements together and reigns them in is a retro-style guitar, courtesy of guitarists Dallas Molster and Andrew Kyne. Opener “Without You” carries a heavy vibe reminiscent of Rick Astley. However, much like “In Violet”, the energetic music hides the bitter lyrical subject matter. Amidst the roaring saxophone and guitar solos, vocalist Collin Walsh sings about the freedom he feels after leaving a toxic relationship (“How could I find love in a car crash? / I was pinned down with my hands back / I’m finally without you”). 

Bassist Nick Ventimiglia stands out most during the quieter moments (“Carolina Skies”), while percussionist Nick Veno finds a healthy restraint amidst the melody of songs, and switches up from a heavily produced sound (“Motown”), to what seems to be some nostalgic gated reverb (“Babylon (Say It To My Face)”).

Walsh’s vocals carry stories of loss and coping with darkness throughout Umbra, such as “King of Everything”, which chronicles the loss of a someone who seems to have left their marriage and friends in a type of mid-life crisis (“Yeah, you’re still a part of me / See the life you threw away, wedding bells and silver rings / No more pain and suffering / So go be the man you want to be”).

Meanwhile, closer “Light” sees Walsh mourning the loss of someone he loves as they pursue their dreams and leaves him stranded in place (“Hearts, they never heal in a straight line / Twelve weeks since you had to go and break mine / Sinking here like a stone / Sad to say, yeah, I know / It’s dark here, spinning deep into my head”). 

Umbra seems like too much, sonically, yet it works. Part of this is that all of the extravagant elements on the album are spread out, providing a taste of each from song to song. As such, the album somehow manages to weave an experience of sound that seems more fitting to mainstream pop than indie rock, but fits with the mood of the band. Umbra explores the darkness of relationships and the aftermath that haunts those stuck trying to find a new adventure. “In Violet” seems to have sprung a surge of creativity from Grayscale that heavily influenced this album, and the band is better for it.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

Kyle 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 is slowly baking in the humidity like a potato. A mighty Idaho potato.

Review: Lorde – Solar Power

lord-solar-power-splash

On Lorde’s latest, Solar Power, I want what she’s having. Oh wait. I already have it.

lordesolarpower

You can buy or stream Solar Power on Apple Music

Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s triumphant return began with a less than triumphant lead single, the title track of her new album. I liked it from the beginning, but I couldn’t deny that I understood what others found disappointing about it. But as someone who is almost exactly Lorde’s age, I got it. The idea “Can you reach me? No, you can’t!” is such a sought after feeling for me, an introvert stuck in an overly connected age. In this, I envy her.

Lorde took a lot of time away since 2017’s masterpiece Melodrama, an album I still think was robbed at the Grammys. This is a hill I’m willing to die on. She is a quiet artist, an introspective genius. Her work is meant to be listened to and experienced on an individual level. 

This is mostly in part, I believe, to Ella’s own introversion. She rarely tours, rarely sits for interviews, and she even hid on social media as an onion ring enthusiast. In Solar Power, I believe we see Lorde in her truest form. She sings of her dislike for her fame and of her obligations as an artist, but it’s not in a woe-is-me, I’m-famous-but-I’m-a-victim sense. She’s just a young woman who has a lot on her plate, as most of the folks in her (and my) generation do. 

This is an album about anxiety and finding solace from a world that demands attention in the most obnoxious ways possible. As someone of no acclaim, I even feel this in my work and in my friendships and in my internet presence. One can only imagine how that feels when you’re globally known. I don’t blame her for wanting out. 

Solar Power is a picture of today’s generation. It’s a story about a woman who just wants a break. A woman who wants to see a better world but doesn’t know the role she plays in getting there. And it’s one of my favorite albums this year.

4.5/5

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.

Review: Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

foxing-band-2021

You know that old saying “If I could, I’d give you the moon”? On Foxing’s new album, Draw Down the Moon, Foxing both asks for the moon and delivers it to us on a silver platter. 

foxing-draw-down-the-moon

You can buy or stream Draw Down the Moon on Apple Music

This is, in short, a superb album. But of course it is, because Foxing never does anything less. I honestly thought they’d peaked with Nearer My God, but somehow they’ve aimed higher here and hit the mark. If Nearer My God was the “rock” in “art rock,” then Draw Down the Moon is the “art.”

The album begins softly with “737”, a song about loneliness and how it’s not sustainable. The guys compare themselves to the Mars rover who died after being on the planet for 15 years: “My battery is low / And it’s getting dark”. Conor Murphy said in the band’s press release: “This album is about cosmic significance as it relates to 10 themes.” In the first track, the bridge alludes to all nine of the tracks to follow. It’s a subtle choice, but it ties everything together in what could be seen as a chaotic album. Foxing is a calculated band. Chaos isn’t chaos for the sake of it. If we feel disjointed, it’s because they’ve decided we should feel that way.

The album was co-produced by the Manchester Orchestra folks, masters of their own craft, and you can definitely see their influence. “Where the Lightning Strikes Twice” could be mistaken for a Manchester song in a universe not far from ours.

As a longtime follower of the band (after catching them as an opener for Manchester Orchestra, funnily enough), I know better than to go into the Foxing discography looking for a casual listen. But with this album, I wish I could have turned off that analytical side. This album cuts deep. Songs about loneliness, about mental illness making it feel like “you’re swimming through mercury” (Go Down Together). Songs like “Cold-Blooded” that talk about feeling numb to an ever-changing, ever-failing world. These things matter. And Foxing knows that not only do things feel smaller when they’re talked about, but by pairing them with larger-than-life art, we can turn the things that make us nervous and the things that emotionally ail us into outlets for creativity and learning experiences.

In the title track, Conor sings “I want to show you / I can keep it all together”, but this album is a lesson in letting it fall apart, and rising above it.

5/5

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.

Review: John Mayer – Sob Rock

John-Mayer-Sob-Rock-press

I don’t know whether it’s coincidental or tongue-in-cheek that John Mayer’s new album Sob Rock is two letters off from “soft rock”. We all know that John Mayer is the king of modern soft rock, so I’m leaning toward the latter.

john-mayer-sob-rock

I feel like everyone at some point has gone through a John Mayer phase. Mine was parallel to my brother’s who wouldn’t stop playing 2008’s live album Where the Light Is, for a solid six months out of our family iTunes library. From then we would hear singles and choice tracks from other albums courtesy of my brother, but I never really did a deep dive into the discography. And I don’t know if I plan to, for what it’s worth. In fact, the first time I listened to Sob Rock in its entirety was just the other night in my mom’s kitchen, at the request of said brother.

Sob Rock is an ode to the 80s at its core. The first track and last single before release day, “Last Train Home” starts off eerily similar to Toto’s “Africa”, and a trend throughout the album is the very Fleetwood Mac-esque guitars and Cyndi Lauper laced synths. 

The entire album is a highlight, a no skip paradise. I think I might invest in a physical copy of this one to keep in the ol’ stereo. My current standout is “Wild Blue”, a breezy song reminiscent of Fleetwood’s “Dreams”, but also a perfect summer track. But my opinion of “best track” changes every time I listen through. “I Guess I Feel Like” is a deep introspective track that deserves the repeat button. 

This is a breakup album obviously, but lines like “I’ve loved seven other women / And they were all you” from “Shot In the Dark” and songs like “Til the Right One Comes” are fresh takes on old feelings. The whole album has holding-a-boom-box-outside-your-crush’s-window vibes and I’m here for it this summer. 

The main thing to take away from Sob Rock is don’t add paint to a masterpiece. Is this an already familiar John Mayer album? Almost formulaic? Yes. But let’s be honest, the man’s been releasing music since the 90s so clearly he’s doing something right. And as the album ends with “All I want is…” you realise all you want is the way this album makes you feel for forever. It’s a little bittersweet, it’s a little lonely, it’s all real.

4/5

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.

Review: Graduating Life – II

Every now and then, an album shocks you by how much you enjoy it. Graduating Life is undoubtedly a beast of creativity, making music unlike almost any other artist at the moment. Emotional, erratic and utterly brilliant, II is the type of record that comes around rarely and isn’t appreciated until years after release.

You can buy or stream II on Apple Music.

Despite how distinct II sounds, it is undoubtedly and reassuringly familiar. It’s impossible not to compare Graduating Life, the project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, to Max Bemis and Say Anything‘s Is A Real Boy…, or elements of Jeff Rosenstock. Thompson even sounds like Bemis, straight from the clean vocals to the screams. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually listening to Say Anything. While that may sound like a dig at Thompson, I was utterly enthralled by II and how a tempo change thrown into the middle of a song sounded so refreshing, or how much I wanted to fist pump the air on a crowded train.

Thompson proves himself an incredible talent, shredding pop punk riffs that incorporate elements from many areas of punk. Songs jump in tempo (“Crushed & Smothered”) without warning, and slam from piano and acoustic melodies to jarring punk riffs (“Photo Album”), but it never sounds incohesive. And somewhere in the middle are ample amounts of guitar solos that seem to appear right when you hope they will (“Fine”).

The poetic lyrics tell a tale of battling one’s inner demons, and wrestling with stagnation and ego while the people close to you move on to other things, come better or worse.

Album opener “Photo Album” sets the tone by reflecting on a life of difficulty in letting go of those around you (“So they will move and you will stay / The afterlife Seattle rain / It’s getting harder every single day / You’ll make new friends and settle in / Or cry alone like we were kids”).

Alt rock jam “Let’s Make A Scene” finds Thompson in conflict and losing someone close to him who has decided to not to live with him anymore (“Let’s makе a scene just you and me / I was never asking for more than your company / Oh your company, a friend by my side / And in this apartment I feel alive”).

Meanwhile, “Black Skinny Jeans” calls out trolls online who spout nothing but contempt (“And I read the messages that ya sent / Bet you never thought that I’d read them / Goodbye get to leaving”) with Thompson comparing the experience to going to his old home and watching how it’s changed since be became an adult (“I went to my old house to see if it’s the same / I guess they took the trees out but left on the paint”).

II somehow simultaneously treads familiar ground and seems to innovate a genre with the energy it has missed in the last couple of years. Despite the fact that it sounds like the sequel to Is A Real Boy… that Max Bemis never wrote, Bart Thompson manages to infuse enough of himself into the album to keep it from feeling like rehashed territory or a copycat. 

Graduating Life has managed to create something incredible and hypnotic that sounds utterly inspired by a scene staple, but brimming with its own life and energy.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_cat

Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has just recently begun to accept the existence of tomatoes.