Review: Marina – LOVE

Last year, I talked a little bit in an article about chasing away winter about my intense love for Marina and the Diamonds. Last year, we had no clue that something was going on with Marina Diamandis, as she had been silent since 2015’s Froot. In the fall though, she released a song with Clean Bandit called “Baby” (which is an absolute bop) and we all noticed something. We had Marina back, but where were her Diamonds? Well, she took the opportunity of three years away to rebrand herself, and now she’s only Marina. What hasn’t changed, though, is the heart and soul she puts into the music she creates.

You can buy or stream LOVE on Apple Music.

Her latest offering, LOVE is part one of a two part album, LOVE + FEAR. She gave no intention that she was going to release them separately, but she tweeted on April 4th that, “[She] created ‘LOVE + FEAR’ as 2 separate records to be listened to individually. I’m releasing ‘LOVE’ today so you can listen to in full before we move onto ‘FEAR’.” So we got four singles (the first four tracks in the listing) and then four totally new tracks in this first wave of new Marina music, and then we’ll get another eight on April 26th.

Each track on the album seems to come from a very personal place for Marina. She’s coming off of a pretty long hiatus, and adding that to the fact that her reasoning for taking a break was the fact that she felt like she was losing herself amidst the touring and constant production, it’s safe to say that she would want to be intentional with the first project she releases. She’s been intentional with every release, but for some reason this album feels bigger than anything she’s embarked on before.

When she released “Baby” with Clean Bandit, I assumed it was just a one-off. Only when I saw the tracklisting did I realise she would use it for the album. I feel like she recorded this as a way to let off some steam. The album is pretty heavy from a lyrical perspective, and “Baby” is a good way to remind us that Marina’s here because she loves making music and wants it to be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved – especially herself.

Though I didn’t know it then, Marina would become a staple in my queue because of the activism she aims to spark. She’s not crazy and totally in your face, but I’ve always seen her music as more than just bubblegum pop. I could name a track from each of her albums that inspires thought from the listener. For LOVE, I would say that there are several. “Enjoy Your Life” is about being mindful and positive even when things seem mundane, “True” is about self esteem, and “To Be Human” is (in my opinion) a companion track to “Savages” from Froot.

If this is LOVE, I can only wonder what we can expect from FEAR. Even when Marina sings about the harder part of life, she wraps it in a musical soundscape that draws us together, making us enjoy using these finer processes of thought. We all see how messed up the world can be, and I believe Marina’s message upon her return is banding together and figuring out how to change. It can start with only one person, and that’s something to be celebrated.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Advertisements

Review: Blaqk Audio – Only Things We Love

The sheer amount of content Davy Havok and Jade Puget release is utterly staggering. The fact that each release is near perfect is frightening. Blaqk Audio, the AFI duo’s electronic project, is relentlessly hypnotic. Dance beats, new wave melodies and Havok’s signature melancholy blend to create a sound that feels as familiar as it is unique. Only Things We Love isn’t the group’s best release, but it’s so close it may as well be.

You can buy or stream Only Things We Love on Apple Music.

It’s hard to peg the meaning behind Blaqk Audio’s albums (or AFI’s, for that matter) due to Havok’s ambiguous writing style. The concepts behind Blaqk Audio releases tend to be far more romantic than any of Havok’s other projects. As such, Only Things We Love is about conquering the anger of youth that prevents us from loving someone else… or it’s about the confessions of a serial killer?

Havok’s vocals are again a demonstration of why he may be the best singer currently active. Decidedly different from the screams and crooning of AFI, Havok’s voice is poignantly drenched in new wave sensationalism. Utterly relaxed, he shifts comfortably between soft verses to energetic, rampant choruses. Powerful inflections in tone give his performance a superb edge that puts Only Things We Love as yet another highlight of Havok’s sensational voice (“Dark Times At the Berlin Wall”).

Puget’s arrangements are among Blaqk Audio’s best. The industrial electronic beats are deep, commanding and pulsing. The best part about Puget’s dance music is that it finds a perfect blend with modern electronica, detailed new wave melody and the corny catchiness of Dance Dance Revolution’s heyday (“Matrimony and Dust”). The downside is that Puget has used many similar synth tones for the last few records. Despite improvements from album to album, there is an argument that the underlying music for each Blaqk Audio release doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself from any past album.

Despite Havok’s best descriptions of gore, such as on opening track “Infinite Skin” (“Blood on the corner / Love on a dead end street / You heard them warn her, when you first heard of me”), Only Things We Love is an album about lost love and learning to forgive. Lead single “The Viles” describes the pain of the aftermath of a break up against Puget’s pulsing synth. Havok pointedly shouts, “Day may break me. Daylight like she, like she burns / Through five nights when all is not right / And again, we meet here”.

Not all is as dark, as songs like “Summer’s Out of Sight” describe the memory of a relationship at the height of passion. Puget’s melodic bass lines and twinkling keyboards shine beneath Havok’s hopeful verses (“I had to crawl the halls to ask when we might meet before you left / You said, ‘Maybe tomorrow or never again’ / But you said, ‘Right now I’m yours’) and the devastated chorus (“Hearing you leave out my name makes me want you / You personalize pain”).

For an album relishing the sound of 80’s new wave electronica, nothing personifies it more than closing tack “Matrimony & Dust”. An elegant homage of 80’s cliches, the song finds the characters meeting again to finally move on to healthier relationships. The sincere tenderness of Havok’s voice as he croons, “And would you believe, somehow, that I am married now?” is astonishing, considering he’s a singer who became famous for throat-shredding screams and skate punk shouting.

Only Things We Love is a bitter album, but not without purpose. In what might be the biggest surprise from Havok, there’s hope in the darkness. The album is humane, carries a sincere resolution and stays true to the era that inspired it. It straddles a fine line between being Blaqk Audio’s most brutal and sweetest album. Fans of the band will find exactly what they expect, and newcomers will find what might be the single most accessible album Havok and Puget have ever written.

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 is typing blindly right now while the cat sits in front of his monitor. Her judgemental gaze is not unlike that of a giant squid.

Review: Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was commenting to someone on the possibility that Billie Eilish may truly mark the long-expected demise of “the album.” The Los Angeles-born teen became a viral pop sensation via individual tracks and experiences released to YouTube and has continued climbing in profile song-by-song, seemingly without record industry assistance.

You can buy or stream When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? on Apple Music.

Yet here we are in early 2019 with her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? released via Interscope Records. So maybe Eilish won’t hammer the final nail into antiquated music-consumption practices (yet), but she certainly stands to be the next in line to turn pop music on its head.

Right from the start, it’s clear that Eilish is pulling at the dark, dread-filled sounds she began exploring on some of her best 2018 tracks. Indeed, “Bad Guy” and “Xanny” follow in the footsteps of hits like “You Should See Me in a Crown” and “When the Party’s Over”, which fit right in on the front half of When We All Fall Asleep.

“All the Good Girls Go to Hell” feels like the culmination of Eilish’s brooding explorations and has already been added to my next Halloween party playlist. She truly excels when leaning into her youthful agnostic indifference and tying it to fuzzy, bass-heavy production. You can practically see her smirk as she delivers the lines, “Pearly Gates look more like a picket fence / Once you get inside ‘em / Got friends but can’t invite them”.

Yet for all of the ways Eilish displays her angst and wit in the way only a teenager can, she truly shows her depth as an artist when the music dies down a little. What’s amazing is that the themes she explores so deliciously to buzz and bass sound much more thoughtful and poignant when delivered quietly.

The back half of When We All Fall Asleep feels like someone is slowly turning down the volume before closing with “Goodbye”. Here, we see past the veneer as Eilish sings lines like, “The world’s a little blurry / Or maybe it’s my eyes” on “Ilomilo” or when she digs at depression and suicidal thoughts on “Listen Before I Go”, singing, “Tell me love is endless / Don’t be so pretentious / Leave me like you do”.

Last year, “When the Party’s Over” showed us a potential roadmap to these kinds of moments, and the album reaches its high water mark with “I Love You”, a quiet, acoustic duet with her brother Finneas. The tale of a complicated relationship, it’s a reminder of how real feelings can feel, no matter your age or experience. Eilish is creating art for a younger generation of music followers, but the core concepts here are timeless.

None of this is easy to do, and it speaks to the deep talent of a 17-year-old who got started writing songs in her bedroom, just like almost every great artist. Yes, there’s filler and missteps and the general type of experimentation that makes debut albums more mystery than definition. Nevertheless, Billie Eilish has cemented herself as a bonafide pop star, even she’d have you believe she has no interest in filling that role. That’s typically how the best kinds of stories begin.

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: Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!

When I first listened to “Nina Cried Power” late last year, I could tell that whatever Hozier was cooking was going to be something worth listening to. It wasn’t just that I was excited to hear a new Hozier song, but it was clearly a song meant to impact. Other than being the first taste of new music, it’s the track that ended up opening his new album, Wasteland, Baby!

You can buy or stream Wasteland, Baby! on Apple Music.

A lot of people talked about “Nina Cried Power” when it was released, because of how well it captured today’s activist culture – featuring, of course, an activist herself, Mavis Staples. In the description of the music video, Hozier called it a “thank you note to the spirit and legacy of protest.” It’s very fitting as the first track to the album because throughout it, Hozier speaks again and again of the change the world needs to see.

The second track, “Almost (Sweet Music)”, continues the name dropping. Virtually every line refers to a jazz song or artist from the past. “Movement” slows things down a bit, as a low, sultry track about dancing with someone you love. One of the things I love about Hozier’s music is the way his allusions make you feel like he was there when these things were happening. When he talks about listening to Chet Baker, the familiarity and fondness with which he refers to him makes you feel like he and Chet are old friends. The same in “Movement” – you almost feel like he stood by as Atlas was holding up the earth. The way Hozier writes is so timeless and I think that’s one of the things that makes him such a great musician.

In “No Plan”, we swing back around to looking at society as a whole. He talks about how life is what it is – “There’s no plan / There’s no race to be run”, so we may as well take things for what they’re worth and appreciate the beauty in them.

The love songs on this album are truly unique. Where guys like Ed Sheeran have their metaphors down, Hozier zones in on an experience. We see this in “Shrike” and then a little bit later in “Dinner and Diatribes”. Comparing his partner to a shrike, which is a bird that impales its prey on thorns, he sings that he can’t leave, even though he knows that staying will leave him on a thorn. The latter track is about being at a party and deciding that you and your lover don’t want to be there anymore. It’s a really cute track.

“Be” is a track about life. He talks about life from the beginning and how constant his love has been. The world isn’t the kindest place, and Hozier makes a reference to Trump, and says that when he’s reincarnated, he could be one of the refugees at the border, and that those he shuns could be “On TV giving people the sack”. It’s scathing, but he finishes the line by saying that even though the world isn’t as great as it seems, his love will be the thing that lasts the longest.

The album closes with the title track. He sees that society is a wasteland, but that there’s still good to be found. There’s positivity in his relationships, in nature and in just the idea of enjoying what life has to offer. As a whole, Wasteland, Baby! is an ode to the way we live now, crying out that change is possible, and the idea that even though it’s a wasteland, it’s a wasteland with the ones we love.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Copeland – Blushing

Click here to check out our new podcast breaking down Copeland’s discography

Anyone familiar with Copeland knows that the band loves to push boundaries. In terms of their lyricism and their production, they always aim above and beyond with each new project. Whether it’s for their own creative necessity or as a way to keep the fans coming after all these years, we can always count on them to impress us with each release. Their latest, Blushing, is no exception — but it is exceptional.

You can buy or stream Blushing on Apple Music.

Blushing begins with “Pope”, the first single the band released back in November. It’s a perfect opener and really sets the tone for how this album plays out. The spoken word in the middle is an important part of the album’s overall theme and eventually comes back around in the second-to-last track, “It Felt So Real”. As much as I don’t want to call this a concept album, it kind of is.

I loved Ixora. I know there were a lot of people who didn’t, but I liked the idea of an evolved Copeland. They were interested in branching out on that album in a way they weren’t before, and it was exciting. A lot of people are commenting on the videos Copeland posted for Blushing that it’s a whole album of songs that sound like “Lavender” from Ixora, and while I can definitely see where that comparison comes from, I don’t think it’s fair to write off the album based on that.

In Ixora, we had the girl standing “in the whitest dress,” clearly signifying either a marriage or a new relationship that hasn’t been touched by negativity yet. In Blushing, though, a lot of the honeymoon period we saw in Ixora is missing. There’s still plenty of love to go around, as seen in “Lay Here” and “On Your Worst Day”, but somewhere along the way, things have gone a little bit stale.

Gone are the days of Copeland singing about running through wildflowers. Vocalist Aaron Marsh’s character on Blushing is a tired man. He’s remembering the better times through dreams, which is where the spoken word comes in. She’s calling him out of that dream state and back to reality. In “Strange Flower”, he wonders if he’s enough for her. It’s all too relatable for a long-term relationship, and I think lyrically this might be some of the band’s tightest and most poignant work.

Copeland has a way of perfectly matching their music to the story they’re conveying. They said that with this album, they wanted to overdo everything they’ve done before. On their site, Marsh says, “…we wanted to emphasize each element of sound harder, like an exaggerated version of Copeland’s sound.”

With Blushing, that approach has succeeded, particularly with the use of string and jazz instruments. Neither of those are new for Copeland, but somehow they’ve made it feel fresh and never-before-heard. They were diligent with where they put compositional elements, they didn’t waste a note. Every sound serves its intended purpose well, and every moment of silence is placed exactly where it needs to be.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Jon Fratelli – Bright Night Flowers

Jon Fratelli has been one of my favourite songwriters for over a decade. His sense of electric storytelling, bouncing guitars and sing-a-long choruses have made some of the best Brit pop of the 2000’s. Allegedly recorded several years ago, Bright Night Flowers, Jon’s second solo album, was delayed after the reunion of The Fratellis. Freshly re-recorded, Bright Night Flowers finds its footing in that as much as it’s a continuation of Jon’s knack for storytelling, it is the least like his signature sound out of anything released throughout his career.

You can buy or stream Bright Night Flowers on Apple Music.

Bright Night Flowers is a soft album. Inspired equally from southwestern country and indie piano ballads, the album is a series of slow-burners, heavy on orchestration and slow escalation. On first listen, Bright Night Flowers has a tough time differentiating songs from one another. Violins, twinkling piano keys and Jon’s crooning vocals can sound remarkably similar from track to track. However, Bright Night Flowers is arguably the first album since Jon’s side project, Codeine Velvet Club, that sounds like it is meant to be taken in as a full piece.

Bright Night Flowers is a minor concept album of seeing the follies of being in love from the eyes of someone who is heartbroken, wishing the world around him the best with a cynical tone, such as in the title track (“A thousand Juliets are driving every boy out of his mind / Crying in the rain wishing she was still the first of her kind”). However, reading far too much into it as is my wont, it could potentially be argued that the album follows a loose concept of a heartbroken man who falls in love with a prostitute (“Hold out your hand, take whatever you please / How can you love when you’re down on your knees? / Burn this disguise, wipe those blue eyes”. – “After a While”).

Though it lacks the rock heavy elements from most of Jon’s various projects, Bright Night Flowers still sounds like a Jon Fratelli album. The signature curl of his vocals reflect throughout each song, even if he isn’t stressing his voice for something new. And though this album is slower, it’s not completely foreign. “Crazy Lovers Song” sounds like an acoustic track left off of The Fratellis’ Here We Stand and “Dreams Don’t Remember Your Name” is reminiscent of the style of In Your Own Sweet Time.

Bright Night Flowers isn’t as much a different direction for Jon Fratelli as much as it is a soft building of an idea from track to track. Different listeners will find either jaded love songs with dreamy lyrics, or a disenchanted storyline to follow depending on how much time they’re willing to put into it. Equally relaxing as it is brutally cynic, it’s a welcome return to the mesmerizing storytelling Jon does so well, even if doesn’t incite you to dance.

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 TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

Review: Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate

When I first read the 10-page treatise on Say Anything’s demise (which I strongly suggest you do, as well), I was disappointed. I was disappointed, of course, that one of my favorite bands would no longer regularly make music, but I was also disappointed at the concept album slated to be their last. In reading Max Bemis’s thought process for the album, I was disappointed to see that this guy, who I had cheered for as he sobered up and became a family man, was artistically back where he started so many years ago.

You can buy or stream Oliver Appropriate on Apple Music.

According to Bemis, Oliver Appropriate is a sequel to …Is a Real Boy. So Max decides he’s metaphorically gonna get back into all of these insecurities and coping mechanisms that he covered way back in 2004. Oliver is Max, but not really. If you read what he wrote, it was super hard for him to get back into that mindset to create the character. He had effectively put that behind him with the rest of Say Anything’s albums. The ones where he talks about his wife, his experiences with Judaism, his struggles with family situations, and the political climate of the 2000’s. The authentic ones. That’s why I was so discouraged when I read about what we were in for. I wanted Say Anything’s final moves to be made of the same authenticity. Once I listened to it though, I realized it is authentic.

I don’t want to say that Max failed in his attempt to create the worst of the worst in punk rock, but he kind of did. Even though it’s under the guise of Oliver and about Oliver, Max is actually the name written all over this album. And even though I was originally disappointed with this direction, it was the direction I think I actually wanted all along. I think IARB had some loose ends that needed tying up. Some final thoughts on what the character’s lifestyle ended up turning him into. And, without a doubt, Oliver is the kid from IARB, just a little more grown up. He’s still just as deplorable, so much so that he ends up murdering the guy he’s supposedly “in love” with, as Max and Sherri sing in “The Hardest”.

Musically, the album is quintessential Say Anything. From “Daze”, where we get the definitive sound, to “Your Father”, where we get the scathing lyricism, Max held nothing back. There are all the expected features of friends and family, including Brianna Collins from Tigers Jaw. He says that this might not be the last Say Anything project, but it’s true enough to form, which makes me think this could be. And that’s fine with me, because his reasoning is that “[he] won’t put himself in harm’s way for anything now.” I’d way rather see someone I’ve been invested in be healthy than see them crumble.

The most telling point in the album comes at the very end of “Sediment”, with Max’s spoken word. If we take Max’s advice and treat Oliver Appropriate as the sequel to …Is a Real Boy, then it’s only right that it ends that way. What’s different here, and perhaps the most bittersweet as the Say Anything door closes for now, is the confidence that Max delivers this piece with. He sums up virtually every album the band has released in this short but moving conclusion. We’ve listened as he says, “It’s only a few lines, but I’m having anxiety about it” right up until the point where he’s so vulnerable that it seems like he’s crying when he says, “I’m viciously hungering for someone  / To love me the way my parents never did”.

We’ve essentially watched Max Bemis grow up through Say Anything and to have it end this way is something only he could do. Any other group can try to have their final (?) album echo their first, but it would sound cheesy and try-hard. Bemis has made his career this way so it’s not awkward — it’s expected. Say Anything has been a pillar of punk and emo since I can remember (admittedly not that long of a time, but still), and Oliver Appropriate is a fitting final chapter for them.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Bring Me the Horizon – Amo

I recently decided to play Bring Me the Horizon’s latest single, “Medicine”, back-to-back with “Pray for Plagues”, their 2006 deathcore breakthrough. The shock value of hearing those two tracks in succession highlights the unfathomable songwriting growth the band has experienced over the past 12 years while serving as a reminder of frontman Oli Sykes complicated past – something he still seems to be trying to outrun.

You can buy or stream Amo on Apple Music.

By now, you’re surely aware that Bring Me the Horizon’s new album Amo is unlike anything you’ve ever heard from the band, something that feels wholly unsurprising in light of 2015’s alt-rock excursion, That’s the Spirit. That the band have completed a full metalcore metamorphosis into something nearly uncategorizable is phenomenally impressive. That they’ve done so from within a cocoon of their own making – no producers, no co-writers – is jaw-dropping.

The breadcrumbs leading to Amo can be traced back to the addition of keyboardist and engineer Jordan Fish on 2013’s Sempiternal. While the band showed their first signs of life on There is a Hell in 2010, it’s now unmistakable that the songwriting vision of Fish made an unequivocal impact on the band’s trajectory – he and Sykes now serve as one of the most fascinating duos in alternative music. Just call them the new Stump and Wentz.

It feels like years have passed since “Mantra” was released last August as Amo’s first single – a red herring if there ever was one. We can now realize that grungy track as just one ingredient in a concoction that finds Bring Me the Horizon exploring electronica and pop rock in equal measure. That “Mantra” is immediately followed on the album tracklist by “Nihilist Blues” featuring Grimes (without a doubt the most ambitious and peculiar song the band has ever written) feels perfectly appropriate.

For most listeners, new and unexpected sonic explorations like “Nihilist Blues”, “In the Dark” or “Why You Gotta Kick Me When I’m Down?” will take multiple spins to fully digest. Oddly enough, the schizophrenic nature of Amo and its constant genre leaps serve as the perfect entry for a fully streaming generation, yet still functions best as a sum of parts, especially when including the blippy, 1975-ish interludes.

Album opener “I Apologize if You Feel Something” sets the stage for the story Amo wishes to tell, often dealing with the confusing and sometimes messy nature of relationships. It’s here that Sykes first delivers lines that seem in response to the dissolving of his marriage with Hannah Snowdon, the hazy-yet-troubling details of which still hover over Sykes and the rest of the band. It’s clear that he’s still searching for the culprit, often finding his own reflection, as on “Wonderful Life”: “’Lone, getting high on a Saturday night / I’m on the edge of a knife / Nobody cares if I’m dead or alive / Oh, what a wonderful life”.

We’ll all find our own ways to process what we know of Sykes and whether his self-deprecation is worth of empathy. Is it a complicated kind of progress when he finds a sensitive side on tracks like “Mother Tongue”, which implores his wife Alissa Salls to speak in her native Portuguese when expressing her love? At a bare minimum, it feels like the right kind of growth. Whether in words or sound, Amo is rife with the kind of palpable inner wrestling that is unavoidably compelling.

When Amo loses its footing, it can be tied solely to the band’s decision to self-produce. Tracks like “Sugar Honey Ice & Tea” highlight moments when a producer could have taken a chorus or melody to another level. Instead, Sykes sometimes finds himself stumbling over awkward phrasings or nearly nonsensical lyrics. Even in those moments, the band’s sudden pop sensibilities are hard to deny – by my third listen, I was singing along to nearly every song.

All of this brings me back to “Medicine”, a track that caused an uproar amongst old guard fans and once again solidified Bring Me the Horizon as one of Britain’s most essential rock bands. As the sonic inverse of first single “Mantra”, “Medicine” finds the band very coyly trolling us all. As the ying and yang of an album that now has to be considered when discussing the band’s best releases, Bring Me the Horizon have proven that great songs can come in a variety of packages and great bands can still find new ways to get even better.

The fact that Bring Me the Horizon’s metalcore days are far behind them will continue to be a bitter pill for some people to swallow. For the rest of us, a dose of levity and melody are a small step toward salving old wounds.

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: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.

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 TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

 

Mini Review: Hikaru Utada – Face My Fears EP

At this point, Hikaru Utada is almost synonymous with the Kingdom Hearts video game franchise. She provided the theme song to the first two main games in the series, which have both been remixed over the years for each new game in the long running series. After nearly 13 years, Kingdom Hearts III is finally here, and with it comes two new theme songs that do the series justice.

Where “Face My Fears” sets the tone for the new game as the opening song, “Don’t Think Twice” is the theme song for the game itself. It’s a song that directly addresses players with earthy piano and angelic vocals. With Kingdom Hearts III set to close out the “Darkseeker” storyline with a final battle against the villain who has plagued the franchise since 2002, “Don’t Think Twice” is as encouraging as it is a resolute ‘thank you’ for anyone who finishes the game.

The Face My Fears EP offers a glimpse of this era of Utada, after she returned from a multi-year hiatus in 2016. With the help of Skrillex, “Face My Fears” is one of her most energetic songs of late. Beginning as a somber piano ballad, the song quickly explodes into an electropop fantasy that balances the melancholy state the heroes of the Kingdom Hearts series find themselves in at the start of KHIII, and the flamboyant hope that everything Disney brings. “Face My Fears” conveys both the breathless burden of marching into war (“Breath, should I take a deep? / Faith, should I take a leap?”) and the courage of accepting the fight (“Let me face, let me face, let me face my fears / Won’t be long, won’t be long, I’m almost here”).

“Don’t Think Twice” is a much more peaceful affair that celebrates the end of a journey. This version of “Chikai”, a single off of last year’s album Hatsukoi, appears to be a love song on the surface (such as “Simple & Clean” from the original KH). However, the song addresses the Kingdom Hearts game in direct and indirect ways soothingly. Along with vague commentary on the development cycle (“I’m only crying ’cause I never dreamed / It’d take this long, it’d take this long”), Utada changes the lyrics in the English version to reflect the third game in the series “Kiss me once, kiss me twice, kiss me three times / Cross the line”).

Included on the EP are the original Japanese versions of both songs. The natural poetry of the language they were written in is beautiful, and contain almost entirely different lyrics depending on the translations. They make a fine counterbalance to the English versions and a different experience for anyone who hasn’t already delved into the world of J-pop.

The Face My Fears EP is a tiny sliver of Utada, one of Japan’s most famous artists. The songs are softer than what would be expected as anthems of a big budget action videogame with backing from Disney, but they set the mood perfectly. Together, they feel like an ending cap to the ridiculously upbeat “Simple & Clean” (“Hikari”, Kingdom Hearts), and the war-drums of “Sanctuary” (“Passion”, Kingdom Hearts II). However Kingdom Hearts III turns out after years of extraordinarily high expectation, it’s reassuring to know that its soundtrack will at least do the series justice.

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 literally thought about Kingdom Hearts III almost every day for the last year. He has gaming fever. Please send medicine. Or bagels.