Review: Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

lucky-boys-confusion-2017

By the time I had discovered Lucky Boys Confusion, save for one collection of demos and B-Sides, the band had already released all of their material and the various members had decided to split off to work on their own projects. None of that stopped a large group of us from driving hours to Chicago to see their annual one-off shows.

You can buy Stormchasers on iTunes.

In the time since then, several events, namely divorce and the unfortunate passing of guitarist Joe Sell in 2013, acted as a catalyst to reevaluate and spawn a new spark of creativity for the band. Once known for drinking songs, the group has tempered themselves slightly, finding the same lively spirit in rebuilding themselves once the party is over. Stormchasers isn’t a depressing record. It’s the concept of following the havoc in life and cleaning the wreckage into something new, for better or for worse, while looking back fondly on what came before.

Picking up where the How To Get Out Alive EP left off over a decade ago, Stormchasers forgoes many of the ska and hip hop elements of early LBC in favor of the of the immediate punk and waves of Americana rock of guitarist Adam Krier’s side project, AM Taxi. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t sound like a Lucky Boys record – Stormchasers is loud, aggressive and quickly gets to the heart of the issues that may have held the group back before breaking free of those constraints to forge a natural progression of the band.

As a concept record, LBC addresses the elephants in the room within the first three songs; feeling stuck at this point in life (“I Slept with the Devil”), divorce (“It’s After Midnight”) and carrying on after losing Joe Sell (“Stormchaser”). However, instead of wallowing in sadness, Stormchasers uses nostalgia as a tool of empowerment to search for a better future (“Good Luck”).

The evolution in sound for Lucky Boys Confusion is obvious to anyone who has followed the band. They have doubled down on the rock aspect of the music, forgoing the hip hop genre that aged their older albums. While it negates the unique draw of their early discography, it verifies the band as an essential punk band and the flag bearers of the modern rock scene in Chicago. Adam Krier’s guitarwork comes in waves of stiff power chords that create walls of sound while maintaining extraordinary melody. Whether loud and erratic (“Insomniac”), gentle and subdued (“Sun in My Eyes”), or a throwback to the band’s classic era (“Stormchaser”), Krier is at his best, carefully bringing the band’s sound back from into the modern age.

Bassist Jason Schultejann has ample time to carry the songs entirely (“Burn a Little Birghter”, “Name In Lights”), providing substance to a genre that can easily out-loud the bass. Drummer Ryan Fergus is a powerhouse, carrying tempo across the spectrum and maintaining a foreboding presence even in the softest moments.

Vocalist Kaustubh “Stubhy” Pandav once again proves himself as one of the best vocalists in rock. Pandav pushes himself in nearly every song, maintaining every ounce of the enigmatic energy that made him a captivating singer two decades ago. His voice was made for pop punk, and the effect carries through effortlessly (“Sun in My Eyes”, “Your Friends Are Whispering”).

Thematically, Lucky Boys delve into finding the hope at the end of the dark moments. “Slept With the Devil” sets the tone, as Pandav chants, “Our dreams are burning, we breathe the smoke / There’s only so much time before we choke / So stop complaining, embrace the thrill / There’s only so much time here left to kill”.

However, the darkness they describe runs deep. Pandav finds the helplessness through the hell of divorce on “It’s After Midnight”, pleading, “You stopped loving me right when I turned around / I wasn’t chaste enough for you / You took the battleground, you won the war in a wedding gown”. “Stormchaser” particularly strikes deep, reflecting on Joe Sell. “Welcome to life as a stormchaser: searching for love and black bitters /… and I’m tired of being cynical, but it’s catching up / And I’m tired of being practical, but it’s catching up / And I’m seeing the possibilities, and they’re catching up to me / But you’re catching up to me”.

However, the use of nostalgia is used as a tool to pave a way forward and creates a message of hope out of the initial depressing lyrics. On “Sun in My Eyes”, Pandav sings, “How did we go from getting so high off of feeling shallow? Most of these days we make it up as we go”.

One of the true highlights is “Good Luck”, an AM Taxi-esque rocker that gives guitarist Adam Krier lead vocals. He reflects on memories of the band’s inspiration and career, making a declaration of what drives the band to keep going after everything. “Got a varsity letter? Screw ‘em, we get endless memories / Playing songs together, keeping up all the neighbors on your street / And if we burn out fast, come whatever / Summer songs will last, that’s forever. Now and forever, good luck”.

Stormchasers is a massive return for a band many had thought was more or less put to rest. Without retreading ground already covered, the band picks up where they left off. While the songs may not be the soundtrack for hard drinking, the mature aspect refines the storytelling that LBC are known for that cuts through what would be a sad album and makes it one of that yearns to find hope when there doesn’t feel like any.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has so far seen LBC live twice in 2017. It’s not creepy if you call it “enthusiasm!”

Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

As I type this, the internet is still debating whether a second Kendrick Lamar album will be arriving during his Sunday Coachella performance. Lost in the admittedly fun, but absurdly pointless discussion is that we have a new Kendrick Lamar album and it’s really, really good.

Not that anyone’s saying it’s not, but it’s almost as if the 29-year-old Compton rapper has ascended to such a level of excellence at his craft that we’ve run out of inspired responses. DAMN. is a complete sonic departure from Kendrick’s recent work, but every bit as compelling. It’s an easy listen, but it requires effort to fully appreciate.

You can buy DAMN. on iTunes.

With 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick created an instant classic and an album that will still be discussed in the coming decades as a hip hop masterpiece, both as a work of art and as affecting social commentary. And all of this as a follow up to good kid, M.A.A.D City, the 2012 album that thrust Kendrick into the pop culture spotlight and stands as a classic in its own right.

Is it too soon to place DAMN. upon the shelf next to these two goliath records? I don’t think so. As difficult as it’s become to repeatedly react in the moment as an unbiased music critic, sometimes a moment is all you need, because damn, this album is good.

On this latest release, Kendrick forgoes the overarching narratives that turned To Pimp and good kid into the best kind of concept records, but DAMN. is still just as cohesive. In fact, the purposeful juxtaposition of each track creates an equally captivating listen.

Throughout the course of DAMN., Lamar continues his examinations of race, religion and society at large, while constantly probing his own motivations. Amidst these musings, the greatest rapper alive continues to battle against himself, using self-deprecation to balance out his perceived prideful tendencies. It’s an exploration in duality that never grows old. “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA”, he spits over a trunk-rattling beat on “DNA.”

On DAMN., these ponderings take on a more palpable tone simply because of the album’s makeup. Whether it be relationships (“LUST. and “LOVE.”), ego (“PRIDE.” and “HUMBLE.”), or religion, (“FEAR.” and “GOD.”), Kendrick continually offers his own counterpoints, never even allowing for one particular sound to drown out another. Lest early single “HUMBLE.” or the opening moments of “DNA.” lead you to believe DAMN. to be nothing but bangers, Kendrick has included a little something for everyone.

As fun as it is to hear Kendrick let loose on some of the album’s more aggressive tracks, it’s almost more engaging to hear him try new tricks. Songs like “YAH.” and “ELEMENT.” showcase a more relaxed Lamar, complete with moments that out-Drake Drake. “I don’t do it for the Gram, I do it for Compton”, he genuinely and effortlessly fires on the latter. Throw in a couple smoothly sung hooks and it’s hard to remember what all the fuss about More Life was about.

If you’re looking to vibe out, look no further than “LOYALTY.”, as Kendrick and Rihanna split the mic to examine the weight of honesty. Even U2’s appearance on “XXX.” lands right, as Kendrick and Bono examine the problematic nature of blending religion and politics, with Kendrick spitting, “Hail Mary, Jesus and Joseph / The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives”. By the time he closes the album with “DUCKWORTH.”, a bone-chilling tale of how Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith almost killed Lamar’s father, Ducky, and how that would have dramatically altered his life course, you need a moment to gather yourself before hitting repeat.

It would be easy to fault Kendrick for the dizzying amount of topical ground covered across the 14 tracks of DAMN. if it weren’t for the underlying themes that tie these tracks together and make this album so much more than a new set of songs. Amidst the persistent changes of pace lies a vulnerable Lamar, constantly questioning whether anyone out there is praying for him. Not a petty cry for attention, Kendrick’s motive here is to express his fears – that money has changed him (or will), that he’s lost a part of who he was (or will), and that he’s not cut out to deliver the message he’s so passionate to share. Embedded voicemail interludes remind him (and us) that Kendrick’s community is present and united.

Kendrick Lamar is so compelling, not just because he truly is the greatest rapper alive, but because he unveils the fears that many share with uncomfortable honesty. It’s ironic that his very fears and uncertainties are what make his message all the more impactful. In many ways, DAMN. makes To Pimp a Butterfly even more meaningful and poignant simply by existing.

It’s going to take a few more months to fully unpack this album and have the types of conversations that it truly warrants. In the meantime, we know one thing for certain – DAMN. lives up to the hype by shedding preconceptions and targeting the motivations of one of music’s most important voices. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not quite ready for that second album just yet.

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 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.

Review: Acceptance – Colliding by Design

acceptance-2017

Well, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. Acceptance’s premature departure in 2006 not only left a gaping hole in the hearts of their fans, but also created one of the biggest “what ifs” in scene history. Now, more than a decade removed from the release of the band’s lone album, Phantoms, Acceptance returns.

Perhaps the greatest challenge Acceptance faces with the release of Colliding by Design is one of expectations. When someone’s only frame of reference for your band is the music you created 12 years ago, how do you reintroduce yourself after so much has changed? Colliding by Design is not Phantoms Part 2. In fact, you may be well off to leave your presumptions about Acceptance at the door before entering.

colliding-by-design

You can buy Colliding by Design on iTunes.

Regardless of the sonic evolution, one thing is clear: our hunch that Acceptance was truly a great band has been proven true. Colliding by Design is wonderful and different – we just never got the chance to hear a decade’s worth of music that would have come in between.

So let’s talk about the music. Colliding by Design is a wonderfully written and produced pop rock album. Where it differs from Phantoms is in influence and execution. That debut was chock full of obvious aggressive melody, whereas Design is much more patient and varied. The same 80s influence that has powered bands like The 1975 into the spotlight is evident, but buried delicately into the mix.

The album’s first single and opening track, “Diagram of a Simple Man”, serves as a clean starting point for fans, finding a middle ground between recent Coldplay and old Acceptance. A clear nod to the members’ confusing time apart, Jason Vena breaks through the speakers during the chorus with his signature croon, belting, “We live in black and white / We dream in color”.

There are certainly moments on Collide where we get short glimpses of the ghost of Acceptance past, including the wonderfully straight forward pop rock track “Fire and Rain” and even recent single “Haunted”, with its explosive chorus and pounding percussion, courtesy of original drummer Garrett Lunceford.

Truly, though, the album’s best moments come when the band sounds brand new. The record’s title track is a shining example of what Acceptance sounds like in the year 2017, with a deep 80s vibe and a silky smooth chorus courtesy of Vena: “Let’s kiss before you go away / Two burning stars chasing the day / There’s a look in your eye, you want to stay / So let’s kiss before you go away”.

Likewise, “Sunset” catapults itself into contention for title of the band’s best song with a perfect blend of pounding drums, polished guitar riffs and swelling synthesizers. A track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Drive soundtrack, “Sunset” seems every bit the logical evolution for the band, with Vena harkening his past lyrical deliveries with sultry lines like, “She looks at me with a wicked smile / I look to her, I’m gonna stay awhile”.

Throughout the record, guitarist Christian McAlhaney continues to make his case as one of the most unsung musicians in the scene. The songwriting chops he honed during his time away with Anberlin are felt heavily on Colliding by Design, especially on tracks like “When I Was Cursed”, which sounds like it could have belonged on the next Anberlin album. Likewise, producer Aaron Sprinkle, who has experience working with both Acceptance and Anberlin, shines brightly here, pulling the right strings at just the right moment to capture the band’s growth.

It would be unfair at this point to not point out that Colliding by Design has its flaws. Like the pins and needles that come with standing up after a long rest, the members of Acceptance are still early in their reunion and are surely working muscles that haven’t seen use in years.

Recorded in chunks, with ideas being sent back and forth throughout the process, the album sometimes suffers from a disconnect between songs and flows uneven at times. Even so, there’s an overarching theme to the record that helps hold it all together – a clear love the band has for one another and an eagerness to learn what it means to be Acceptance again.

We are fortunate to have new music from a band that we never truly expected to return. We are also fortunate that a band of such talent saw fit to create something new and honest instead of trying to replicate the past. Phantoms was a perfect album for its time, but any attempt to recreate such a time capsule would undoubtedly resulted is disappointment. The very existence of Colliding by Design speaks to hope in the present and in the future.

4/5

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 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.

Review: Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming

eisley_blisskatherine-2016-web

Sherri DuPree-Bemis wastes no time dispelling any lingering fears Eisley fans may have had leading up to the band’s new release, I’m Only Dreaming. The album’s opening moments are quintessential Eisley, right down to Sherri’s haunting delivery of, “Whisper my name, I will find you, I will fly”. “Always Wrong” is a track that harkens to the days of Room Noises or Combinations with effortless ease and is a clear, if ironic, sign that all is right in Tyler, Texas.

When it was revealed late last year that Stacy King and Chauntelle D’Agostino would no longer carry on alongside their sister in Eisley, it was easy to raise questions about the band’s future. A large part of what made Eisley such a charming outlier in the indie scene was the distinct delivery and style that each DuPree sister brought to the table.

You can buy I'm Only Dreaming on iTunes.

You can buy I’m Only Dreaming on iTunes.

Thus, it speaks volumes to DuPree-Bemis’ talent and vision that I’m Only Dreaming not only captures the best parts of Eisley throughout the record, but also may very well be the band’s best release.

Each Eisley record seems to carry a particular theme and I’m Only Dreaming is no different. As the title suggests, the album unfolds in dream-like fashion, musing on the complexity of love, the dread of anxiety and insomnia, and the courage to overcome self-doubt. Like so much of the band’s discography, this new album carries a wistful ambiance that courses throughout.

Tracks like “Louder Than a Lion” embody the spirit of Eisley while also serving as a sonic step forward. The song’s electronic underbelly carries raw guitars and the sounds of a weary Sherri acting as a nighttime guardian of her daughters: “Cause I’m louder than a lion / My hands wipe out the ghosts / I’m brighter than a diamond / My light will shine the most”.

I’m Only Dreaming is truly an exercise in diversity, constantly rearranging the building blocks of the signature Eisley sound to create something new. “Snowfall” starts as an eerily delicate and familiar track before the full band breaks through at the two minute mark, highlighted by Sherri’s explosive delivery of, “As we watch the snow fall down, down / I am so far away from you now”.

Alongside these darker offerings, tracks like the light and airy “Sparking” or the alt-country tinged “When You Fall” stand in stark sonic contrast without feeling out of place. Even the poppy, bounding feel of “A Song for the Birds” with husband Max Bemis fits the narrative, with Sherri singing a chorus of, “My love for you, don’t ever doubt / You fill my heart, so sing it out / While we keep moving forwards / This is a song for the birds”.

It’s fair to argue that such an eclectic mix of sounds wouldn’t tie together quite as well without the presence of producer Will Yip, who is quickly becoming one of music’s most exciting minds. You can literally feel his graceful hand in the mix on early singles like “You Are Mine”, which knits together the instruments with surgical precision. Repeated listens with noise-cancelling headphones reveal even greater detail, and prove this to be Eisley’s best-produced album by a comfortable margin.

Sherri and cousin Garron DuPree handle the bulk of the writing duties on Dreaming and, together with Yip, have crafted a superb next chapter for Eisley. On “Defeatist”, Sherri’s repeated closing refrain captures the heart of the record, and perhaps alludes to the strength it took to push past what must have been a painful setback: “As the dust falls down, I usually give up so easily / I let my head hang down before I even see / A truth that’s plain as day, staring back at me / I’m a defeatist but I don’t have to be”.

The fact that we have a new Eisley record in 2017 is cause enough for celebration. That the album might be the band’s best is an absolute triumph.

4.5/5

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 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.

Review: As It Is – Okay.

as-it-is-2016

As It Is is a band that caught me out of absolutely nowhere – I loved their debut album an obscene amount. Their sophomore effort, Okay. is sure to be at least partially divisive – on my first listen, my first thought was “what an appropriate title.” However, after a couple of listens and delving deeper into the lyrics, there is a true sadness and battle with oneself that permeates through the indulgently poppy guitars that is genuinely great.

You can buy okay. on iTunes.

You can buy okay. on iTunes.

Okay. highlights the struggles of battling with yourself and the world around you, attempting to take it in stride even though things may seem progressively worse and there may not be a solution in the foreseeable future. Perhaps the most poignant lyric on the album in regards to this is on the title track, when vocalist Patty Walters whispers, “So keep your ‘It’ll get better’s’ and I’ll keep my ‘I’ll be just fine’s'”.

For a sophomore effort, Okay. sounds great. The rhythm guitar is hard and melodic, while the lead finds incredibly catchy hooks that lead into the song and carry it through each chorus. Drummer Patrick Foley truly captured my attention multiple times, finding the perfect balance between anarchic punk and somber (“Austen”). The album is seeping with melody.

Behind the pop though, lie some heavy subjects, namely the feeling of depression and making attempts to come to terms with it even though there isn’t a way out. Opening track “Pretty Little Distance” hides the thesis behind the glam pop, but where the message shines the brightest is a trilogy of songs that reference it directly, “Okay”, “No Way Out” and “Until I Return”. The songs are true pop punk gems that cultivate the sentiment of admitting there’s a problem (“A perfect stranger, she puts pen to paper, consoling in her sleep / And how foreign it felt when I opened my mouth / And heard the truth come out”) and the futile issue to overcome.

“No Way Out” is a rager of a song, circling the idea of feeling trapped in the same problem in your own head. However, it features a moment of what seems like true vulnerability, featuring Walters in the bridge speaking plainly about the depths of his problems before screaming in defiance and frustration.

Although “Until I Return” allows the idea of healing as Walters vibrantly sings behind a ravage guitar riff, “I promise I’ll fight but I can’t promise that I’ll be fine / You treated the damage that I let reside in my fragile mind / With stitches and bandage / You took the fault of my scars and you made it ours”, it precedes the haunting finale. After battling these demons, the album’s final song is “Still Remembering”, a song about saying goodbye to a lover so soon after the song of redemption and strength.

Amidst these demons are others, that are equally heartbreaking in their own way. “Hey Rachel” is a song to a younger sister, apologizing years after the fact for being a shitty brother, while “Austen” is a slow-burn of watching someone lay in their deathbed (“I know you’re tired, but please don’t sleep/ Cause I can’t bear to let you leave”). Don’t forget the crush of watching parents divorce on “Curtains Close”.

It’s unfortunate that a record that delves so deeply into these heavy issues has flaws that took me out of the experience. In what is either a compliment or a slam (depending on how you view it), this is what All Time Low’s Dirty Work should have sounded like. It mostly pertains to the first half, but it suffers some of the same problems as Dirty Work. The album is arguably overproduced and polished, eliminating some of the grit and energy that made me love the band.

Instead, it delves headfirst into pop sonically that treads a dangerous line of sometimes sounding generic. No matter how I go about it, I often times feel like I’ve heard these songs elsewhere. However, the sound and atmosphere of the record begins to diverge near the halfway point, when the band truly steps out of their comfort zone musically (“Soap”, “Austen”).

Although Okay. is unapologetically poppy and uplifting in sound, the lyrical content is true bummer (lol). What I appreciate about the album is that it doesn’t have any half-ass answers, just honest frustration and the horrors of life that help lead someone to these pits of despair… and then leaves the listener there.

The biggest issue with Okay. is that it begins sounding like any other pop punk record, as it takes some time to find the real meat of the album. While there are good concepts and ideas permeating, something just feels off throughout, leaving a record that is as addicting as it is bland. It’s not nearly enough to dissuade my love for the group, nor can I precisely place my finger on the issue, but I’m glad for the chance to hear it.

3.5/5

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 realized that their name, As It Is, kind of symbolizes what it’s like to live with this shit. It just is… thinking too much into it? Definitely. Awake at 1 am on a work night because I downed too much coffee during the afternoon? You betcha.

Review: The Early November – Fifteen Years

the-early-november-2017

The Early November have been such a beloved band for nearly two decades because they find ways to adapt their sound while maintaining the ability to sound like the same band that burst onto the emo scene in the early naughts. But one of their most enduring legacies is that each album seems to contain a show-stopping acoustic song, whether it be The Room is Too Cold’s melancholic “Dinner At the Money Table”, or the defeated rail against modern music of “Digital Age” from In Currents. It’s something that seems to be not only guaranteed with each record, but the songs become and remain crowd favorites.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

Fifteen Years is a fitting collection of a visit throughout the band’s discography that highlights some of their best songs while managing to hit that sweet middle ground for hardcore fans, bypassing many of the group’s most famous singles that have been played at every show they’ve ever had. This is the essence of The Early November on full display without having to play favorites to get people to listen.

I’ve seen The Early November almost half of a dozen times since their reunion in 2011, and the most startling thing to me was how their triple disc album, The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path was ignored almost entirely for several years in favor of new material from In Currents and Imbue and the hits from The Room Is Too Cold. Perhaps because several tracks have already received the acoustic treatment on I Can Make a Mess’s Dust’n Off the Ol’ Guitar album, songs from the band’s debut LP and EP, For All of This barely appear. And it’s a good thing, as it gives the next 12 years of the group’s career the chance to shine past emo nostalgia.

It’s hard to evaluate whether any of the songs sound better acoustically than their original recordings, but that’s a matter of taste. What makes Fifteen Years so special is that it strips everything away and shows what a lovingly crafted song remains. There are a few added flairs, such as the new country-esque guitar solo that acts as the bridge midway through “Outside” or the intimate solo of “A Little More Time” fleshed out.

A few surprises give a new soul to several songs I never expected to see again, such as “Call Off the Bells”. Originally a barbershop quartet turned punk song of a wedding gone wrong, with Ace’s voice screaming over sizzling guitars, its new form is a heartbreaking ballad pleading at the memory of what love should have been. “The Mountain Range In My Living Room” lacks the grunge aesthetic, instead presenting itself as a song of hopeful rebellion

There is such a passion that seeps into the songs, it’s a simple task to see why Ace Enders’ acoustic songs are a league above his peers, especially at this point in his career, when his voice has never been better. Strong, confident and emotive, this version of “Ever So Sweet” is a stronger cousin to the raw version from The Room Is Too Cold, where a young Enders’ voice almost crackles on the high notes.

Fifteen Years is something every fan of Ace Enders should hear. It’s a definitive collection of The Early November’s material without being a greatest hits album. It’s also his best vocal work to date, improving on past recordings without losing the soul of the lyrics. The biggest detriment to the album is honestly a lack of the other band members. There are layered guitars, but it’s impossible to tell who is on what, and I found myself longing for Jeff Kumer’s drumming. Regardless, Fifteen Years is the type of album that makes you proud to be a fan of someone who’s career has been a part of your life for so long.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has been a staunch supporter of TEN for 15 years. You kids and your electricity music. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT MUSIC IS! *grumble grumble fist shake grumble*

Review: Palisades – Palisades

47_1_palisades_high

Whether you’re a national restaurant chain, a digital news outlet or an indie rock band, re-branding can be a gamble. Do you risk alienating your core consumer base in favor of a new identity? In the best-case scenario, these kinds of shifts can not only enlarge an entity’s platform while maintaining their original audience, but also provide an honest representation of the brand in its current form. Such appears to be the case with Palisades.

The New Jersey rock act spent their first two releases on Rise Records attempting to force fit their electronicore leanings into a rather insincere and cluttered package. By the time the unnecessarily-salacious Mind Games dropped in 2015, it was hard to view Palisades as anything other than a gimmicky party favor, even as the band showed signs of real talent.

You can but Palisades on iTunes.

You can but Palisades on iTunes.

After one listen, it’s no surprise that the band decided to self-title their latest release. Palisades is not only their best record, it’s a welcome left turn for a band once affixed on bad girls and party fouls. Along with a complete sonic overhaul, Palisades feels, dare we say, thematically genuine.

The EDM influences and siren-y synthesizers that were once the band’s calling card are now completely absent. Instead, Palisades pulses ahead as a straightforward rock record with traces of nu metal and post-hardcore sprinkled in. The production is slick and airtight with crunchy guitar tones and rattling drum patterns pushing the tracks forward without the needless, clunky breakdowns the band relied on in the past. The back-half of “Hard Feelings” even finds Xavier Adames busting out a quick guitar solo that melds nicely into the mix.

In keeping with the upgrades, vocalist Louis Miceli stands out as most improved. With former bass player and backing vocalist Brandon Reese out of the equation, Palisades now rely solely on Miceli to deliver – and that he does, channeling his inner Chester Bennington throughout the record. On Palisades, his voice transforms to a powerful roar, displacing his various tedious deliveries from past albums. Miceli still finds time to scream on this album, but those moments are far more reserved and natural.

With a much more credible sound firmly in place, the band have allowed themselves to expand their subject matter beyond the banal as well. Surprising opener “Aggression” tackles gun violence with Miceli belting a chorus of, “Can we disarm the loaded gun? / Can we survive what we’ve become? / The hate is slowly choking me / American aggression for free”. It’s a stark progression for a band that sprinkled gun cocking samples onto their previous album.

All of these improvements might merit little discussion if the songs weren’t all that good – but they are. They’re really, really good. “Better Chemicals” is a diverse rocker with a pounding chorus that gets stuck in your brain, while a new and improved version of last year’s “Fall” feels like the best evolution of the band, even tastefully implementing programming elements without ramming them down your throat. New bassist Brandon Elgar joins Miceli during the song’s re-worked bridge, resulting in an explosive moment that may top anything the band has ever done.

“Memories” grooves hard as a track that highlights Palisades’ newly discovered nu metal bent with a delightful verse-chorus transition. And speaking of hooks, “Hard Feelings” is a triumph. The decadent melody behind Miceli’s simple lines of, “I’ve got some hard feelings I’m working through / I’ve got some hard feelings I could put on you” blends perfectly with the grinding guitars that power this energetic track ahead.

You wouldn’t have trouble getting almost any song on Palisades stuck in your head, but this time around, you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Sure, a few of the tracks start to blend together upon repeated listens, and save for some scattered candid moments, Miceli’s lyrics still have room to grow, but overall, the album is a forceful step forward for a band that seemed to be flirting with irrelevancy.

If this self-titled venture is the definitive sound that the band has proclaimed it to be, Palisades very well could have found a niche that might propel the band to new heights. Whatever the case may be, the band is clearly coming into their own at just the right time, making this is one re-branding effort that was well worth the risk.

4/5

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 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.

Review: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

childish-gambino-by-ibra-ake-header

In 2013, I argued Childish Gambino’s merit as one of the most important rappers on the scene. The Grammy-nominated Because the Internet wasn’t just a monumental step forward for the artist that created it – it was filled with the kind of potential that might send ripples through the art form itself.

Since that time, Donald Glover has had little interest in pulling at that thread, instead releasing the pop-inspired Kauai EP, going radio silent for nearly a year, and re-emerging with one of 2016’s most important new TV series, Atlanta. Given his ever-growing talents and seeming determination to never do the same thing twice, his latest musical installment, “Awaken, My Love!”, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even so, it confounds.

You can buy

You can buy “Awaken, My Love!” on iTunes.

As if to hammer into our skulls that the days of dick jokes and quirky one-liners are as far in the past as possible, “Awaken, My Love!” treads far away from any path you might expect a Childish Gambino record to travel. In all actuality, Glover is far from the first rapper to draw heavy influence from 70’s soul and funk – Outkast, Kendrick Lamar and others have all drawn deeply from this well, even recently. However, Glover has tumbled in headfirst in a continuing quest to expand his reflections on relationships, race and existence.

Gambino’s gospel-infused plea of, “Let me into your heart” on lead single “Me and Your Mama” proved to be far more than a gimmick to get our attention. That track is merely the most palatable re-introduction to an artist now more inspired by Bootsy Collins or George Clinton than Jay or Ye.

Awaken wanders through a vast sonic forest of psychedelic funk and soul, with each track standing easily alone thanks to Glover’s insistence on changing character. His screams from the album opener transition to creepy inflections on “Zombies”, a commentary on industry leeches: “All I see is zombies / They can smell your money / And they want your soul”. Later, on album highlight “Redbone”, his voice takes on a pitch-corrected falsetto as he reflects on the painful gray areas of a relationship that seems to mirror that of Earn and Van’s on Atlanta.

At it’s best, Awaken capitalizes on Glover’s creativity and range, matching distinctive vocal choices with bold music selections to carry the weight of his message. On “Baby Boy”, his distorted pleading voice perfectly and painfully encapsulates his fears of losing connection with his newborn son: “I don’t wanna leave you / I don’t want him to see you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy’s lies / Please don’t take him away”.

These earnest moments make tracks like “California” nearly insufferable. The potential for success is squelched by Glover’s painful accent and clumsy lines like, “How you want to loop this shit but looking like a Vine?” If we weren’t so far removed from some of the juvenile deliveries of Camp, you could easily write these attempts off as humor, but “Awaken, My Love!” shakes away that notion every turn, making any such reconciliation difficult.

It comes as a deep relief when Glover is able to tie these stray ends together by the album’s conclusion. On “Stand Tall”, Gambino forgoes vocal effects and accents as he uses his father’s words to bring understanding amidst personal and universal confusion: “Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong, you cannot fall”. It’s such an easily digestible sincerity that you can’t help but reach for the repeat button to see if your perception of Awaken might shift upon repeated listens.

Glover has certainly earned the creative license that results in something like “Awaken, My Love!” And, as a project deeply inspired by childhood memories with his father, it makes sense as vehicle to express his evolving perspective on relationships and his own first taste of fatherhood. It’s a deeply personal record that feels genuine, sometimes as a direct result of the very flaws it possesses.

Perhaps Awaken is Childish Gambino’s 808s & Heartbreak – an intimate and peculiar expression that leads the artist headlong into a masterpiece. Whatever the case, it’s an album worth talking about and further proof that Donald Glover is one of the most fascinating and curious artists around.

3.5/5

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 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.

Review: A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

a-tribe-called-quest

For fans of A Tribe Called Quest, this is a day that none of us thought would ever come. Five years ago, the brilliantly produced Michael Rapaport documentary, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”, keyed in on the deep divide between Phife Dawg and Q-Tip – a rift that had effectively kept one of hip hop’s most powerful and influential acts at a stalemate for well over a decade.

Rumors of reconciliation in the years that followed the documentary’s release helped many breathe a sigh of relief and make peace before the tragic news of Phife Dawg’s passing in March of this year. What none of us knew is that the alleged reconciliation had led the duo back into the studio with Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad to record an album 18 years in the making. The resulting product is damn near prophetic.

You can buy We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on iTunes.

You can buy We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service on iTunes.

Released on the same week as the election of one of the most despicable presidential candidates in recent history, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service sounds as if it were written during Wednesday morning’s aftermath. It’s an album that reflects the quintessential sounds that defined hip hop’s golden age, laced with a timeless message that feels explicitly powerful at this moment in time.

“Space Program” sets the tone for the two-part, politically driven affair, cleverly keying in on liberal white America’s threats to flee the country during the song’s chorus, reminding us that many are, quite frankly, stuck here. We Got it From Here immediately hits its stride on “We the People…”, a defiant track that finds Tip and Phife both coming correct on a throwback track with a buzzing bass line. “We don’t believe you, cuz we the people / Are still here in the rear, ayo, we don’t need you”, Q-Tip spits to open the track. Later, his words on the song’s chorus hang painfully poignant:

“All you Black folks, you must go
All you Mexicans, you must go
And all you poor folks, you must go
Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways
So all you bad folks, you must go”

Track after track, Tribe pounds a resounding gong against injustices faced by black America, enlisting help from a variety of fellow truth-speakers. Talib Kweli joins in on “Killing Season”, juxtaposing military slaughter with continued police brutality cases and the murder of black leaders: “It’s war and we fighting for inches and millimeters/ They try to stall the progress by killing off all the leaders/ If we don’t give them martyrs no more, they can’t defeat us”.

In addition to Kweli, We Got it From Here features some of hip hop’s finest, both past and present. Appearances include Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Consequence, Busta Rhymes, André 3000, Anderson Paak, and even contributions from Elton John and Jack White. For as much as the album is a collective rallying cry, it’s impossible to ignore the record’s dual purpose as a celebration of Phife Dawg.

On “Lost Somebody”, Q-Tip and Jarobi share heartfelt lyrics, reflecting on past trials but ultimately confessing their brotherly love to Phife. Q-Tip spits, “Malik, I would treat you like little brother that would give you fits / Sometimes overbearing though I thought it was for your benefit” with Jarobi later dropping the line, “Never thought that I would be ever writing this song / Hold friends tight, never know when those people are gone”.

In the months leading up to his passing, it’s clear that Phife Dawg had little time for sentimentality. Most of his verses are laser-focused on the task at hand, taking aim at everything from Donald Trump to the media outlets that made room for such a political figure. Yet, ever the showman, Phife still finds opportunities to flash his signature bravado, as on “Black Spasmodic”: “I take zero for granted, I honors my gift / Champion pen game, plus I’m freestyle equipped”.

We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service truly feels like a gift. The fingerprints of all four members are clearly felt and each moment of the album is handled with care. Samples are expertly placed by Tip, creating the relaxed vibe of past Tribe albums with the ability to blast through the speakers when necessary to compliment a particular bar or verse. The album is, in some ways, a farewell, yet feels nothing like it. We Got it From Here is purposeful and focused from front to back.

I’ll freely admit my struggle to stay objective with this release. A Tribe Called Quest was my first true musical love – a group I discovered in middle school that would go on to shape my tastes and serve as a touchstone for my youth and the dawning of my own personal worldviews and perspectives. Along with many others, I also find myself disgusted by the outcome of the recent presidential election, aghast at the amount of hate that plagues our country.

For these, and so many more reasons, We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service will land as one of my favorite releases of the year. For fans of hip hop, it’s an album embodies the heart of the genre. These are protest songs. Yet even in the midst of frustration and righteous anger, hope still bleeds through.

R.I.P. Phife Dawg – you’ll be missed.

4.5/5

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 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.

Review: Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

jimmy-eat-world-2016

Jimmy Eat World is a band that I respect immensely, but for some reason, I tend to view each new release as though it were their final one. I don’t have any precedent for this other than the fact that I have spent 15 years watching what was essentially an emo band morph itself into an incredibly successful indie pop rock band that is still active.

What is spectacular in this regard, though, is that the band manages to retain a familiar sound from album to album while discovering ways to reinvent themselves. Even though they are a band that prefers acoustic ballads over hard guitars, finding new ways to showcase themselves as a band is the most punk rock thing I can think of.

You can buy Integrity Blues on iTunes.

You can buy Integrity Blues on iTunes.

That said, Integrity Blues, threw me off balance on first listen. While most Jimmy Eat World records find a loving balance between aggressive punk songs and soft acoustics, Integrity Blues takes a different approach – whether on purpose or by accident, the album seems to narrow in on one of the greatest twenty 20 of music I can think of and expand it in every way.

While the past couple of albums have become noticeably less rock heavy, Integrity Blues is the first to full abandon the rock format almost completely. Instead, it feels like it has focused in on the final few minutes of Futures and explored the sound of two of my favorite songs the band has ever put out (“Night Drive” and “23”) so as to create a full album out of gentle serenade. If you weren’t listening closely, you’d almost confuse it for a Death Cab for Cutie record from the early 2000’s.

Integrity Blues is an emotional album. It relies heavily on percussion and harmonious bass guitar to do the heavy lifting of the songwriting. It is one of the rare occasions where it feels like the guitar and vocals are more of an extra element that adds to the depth of the music instead of being the main focus (“You With Me”, “It Matters”). Bassist Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind certainly feel like the MVPs of this record compared to previous releases.

While I am unable to say that Integrity Blues has any bad songs on it, the guitars and vocals definitely take a noticeable step back. Rather than forge the course of the music, they seem to find ways to fill the melody into something wonderful. Each song feels like something that I’ve heard from Jimmy Eat World before, but it is distinctly different from their past work.

What is slightly disappointing is that it doesn’t feel like guitarists Tom Linton and Jim Adkins are pushing themselves. Instead, they are falling back on loving rhythms that create an enticing record, but does little to showcase their skill. “Through” might be the best example of the guitars swirling through melody, but even then it builds towards a bridge before giving way to the incredible bass line.

Jim Adkins’ vocals feel restrained throughout, unfortunately. He doesn’t sound off in any way, but without the rush of guitars, he has no incentive to push himself. Adkins finds his voice in half-breathy gospel tones, similar to Futures’ “23”. His voice fills the songs with an earthy folk tone, but never quite reaches for the higher notes he’s shown in the past. It fits the mood, but doesn’t showcase in the way that you might hope.

A central theme of Integrity Blues is overcoming and standing tall. Though the music lacks the energy of a punk album, the lyrics are beautiful, encouraging and heartbreaking. “You With Me” sets the tone, as some of the opening lines sling off a thesis of, “The list of things I feel is crazy / News to me that I would need a second wake-up / It’s all been happening like they said it might / Am I weak if I want to fight?”

Against the grain of pulsing drumming and a haunting keyboard, Adkins finds himself lost, but hopeful on “Pretty Grids”. “When the fight is done and the feelings come / Is it more than what you thought? Or even want? / No place feels right for a busy mind / However goes the night, it’s what you got / Someday we might not bother / Line up the way we should / Why not? The sun just feels too good”.

“The End is Beautiful” reflects fondly an on a relationship in its final days, as Adkins comes to terms with the fact in his own way over mounting guitars. “There must be a plan that neither of us could see / So we went along where it went, a party within a dream / I never felt peace like that, it was safety as I’ve never known / Oh, but I knew nothing, I was sick / And I don’t blame a thing that you did”.

“Pol Roger”, the final song on the record returns to the thesis of looking for the bright side and encourages the listener to do their best over the course of nearly seven minutes. The final chorus is perhaps the most positive message JEW has ever written.

“First they’ll think you’re lost – it’s the easy feeling / Yeah, there’s every chance you could crash if you don’t believe it / Why spend more time in a lie if it goes on that way? / Love don’t come to you, who knew, it just was there, always”.

Integrity Blues isn’t the most progressive album that Jimmy Eat World has put out, but it is one of the most positive. It’s a slow build-up of music that finds the charred march of pulling yourself from a dark place and picking yourself up to the point that you can believe in yourself again. Integrity Blues doesn’t have any answers, but what it offers is hope.

The songs are heartfelt, melodic and soft, much in the same way that good advice always finds its way to you. It’s not an album that may rival the most loved of Jimmy Eat World’s albums, but it may be the most Jimmy Eat World album ever written. It’s cohesive, thunderously emotional and taps into every emotion it can with sincerely great writing. If this was the last album the band ever put out, I would see it as their opus. But since I have been wrong literally every other time I have thought that, It is an honor to see the band dial in on their one section of their own sound from past discography and expand it in every way.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has no reason to believe that Jimmy Eat World would break up any time soon. They seem so well put together. But for some reason, each time they announce a new album, it comes as a shock to him. Why? KISS is technically still together, and they are way more volatile. There is no solution. Enjoy the music while the getting is good, then scurry off into the night – that’s his motto.