Review: Bleachers – Gone Now

There is a sharp juxtaposition between the title of Bleachers’ second full-length album Gone Now and its content. In fact, the lyrics across the album’s 12 tracks seem to long for things left behind – safety, familiarity, memories – before slowly drawing us back home.

When Jack Antonoff released Strange Desire under the name Bleachers in 2014, it felt full of promise as a potential side project with legs. The success of that debut and the subsequent dissolving of fun. has changed the narrative completely. During the past three years, Antonoff has become a household name thanks partly to his role as hit songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and more.

You can buy Gone Now on iTunes.

This rapid turn of events helped elevate Gone Now to one of the year’s most anticipated releases. Did Antonoff deliver? Yes, but the reasons why are complicated. Gone Now further realizes the true pop potential of Bleachers, but the resulting collection of songs fire in such different directions that it’s hard to keep up.

Gone Now certainly takes its share of opportunities to relish in Antonoff’s own brand of synthpop, especially on early singles like “Don’t Take the Money” and “Hate That You Know Me”, but it refuses to follow a single thread. “Everybody Loves Somebody” features big drums and horns, sounding like it could have belonged to fun.’s follow up to Some Nights. Likewise, you can almost hear Nate Ruess’ voice atop the folksy banjo on “I’m Ready to Move On”, while the 80s-inspired powerpop banger “Let’s Get Married” sparkles with Hot A/C glee.

If it weren’t for Antonoff’s clever songwriting, Gone Now could easily have flown off the rails in any number of directions. Instead, consistent themes and lyrics are woven throughout each of the tracks to help provide focus, with frequent hellos and goodbyes to “upstairs neighbors” and “the kids downstairs”. It’s expert storytelling as Antonoff shakes away his pop stardom in an effort to find balance. “Hey, I know I was lost, but I miss those days” he tells us in one of many moments that acknowledge the lure of the past he wishes to leave behind.

It’s clear that Antonoff had every intention of weaving Gone Now in just this manner, even if it leaves some listeners troubled that he couldn’t just pick a sound and stick to it. Perhaps that’s part of the album’s brilliance in an age of streaming. Want to digest the story in one stream of thought? Want to cherry pick tracks to queue up as your mood dictates? The choice is yours, and you really can’t go wrong.

On Bleachers’ upcoming tour in support of the album, fans will have the opportunity to walk through Antonoff’s childhood bedroom, which is traveling along to provide a glimpse into the space that inspired a young Jack. It’s another purposefully sharp inverse image of his struggle, but it speaks to a greater truth. No matter where our lives take us, we can always find home along the way.

Antonoff’s skill and transparency give him the all-too-rare opportunity to be a likable pop star, even if he can’t seem to decide if that’s what he really wants. Either way, Gone Now will provide plenty to chew on and dance to as the summer passes through, no matter which direction you’re traveling.

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: Blink-182 – California [Deluxe Edition]

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When California released last year, it was easily one of the year’s highlights, as well as a landmark for Blink-182. With the recent release of California [Deluxe Edition], the band have put together a full disc of addition songs, more or less as an unofficial sequel to the album.

Consisting of B-sides to the original release and some new recordings, California [Deluxe Edition] was one of my most anticipated releases this year. After waiting so many years for music from Blink-182, the decision to release bonus content is a welcome surprise that marks one of the few re-releases of an album that is actually worth the (second) price of admission.

Under normal circumstances, a record’s re-release is a passing of the baton to a new record label that wants to cash in with a couple of extra songs, or something that makes it more of a collector’s item than essential listening. California [Deluxe Edition] is something else entirely. While the Deluxe Edition isn’t a true album, nor a sequel to California, nor does it even relate the the original album in almost any way, it gives insight into the process of the band’s re-invigoration.

The Deluxe Edition is far more experimental than Blink-182 allowed themselves to be on the initial release. The pop and punk rock edge are apparent in spades, but the rhythms and emphasis on softer melodies harkens to a style of song writing reminiscent of +44 and, to an extent, Boxcar Racer. The themes are darker and more brooding. If this second disc truly originated from a surplus of B-sides, then the evolution of the true California is incredible.

California isn’t a happy record, but it acknowledges the problems the band has faced over the last few years while having still having fun. While I don’t know which of the new batch of songs originally were unused B-sides and which are new recordings, I have a good guess.

There are a series of songs that sound less fleshed out, and are lyrically darker than their companions (“Don’t Mean Anything”, “The Last Train Home”). Lyrics such as “Adrift at sea with no one left to rescue / Tonic and a fifth of gin / She said goodbye and left again / These rooms are deafening without you”.

Other songs aren’t joyful by any means, but retain the edge of classic Blink-182 that tackle the same issues without losing the playful nature of the songs (“Parking Lot”, “Wildfire”). It’s this second batch that feel written by a band more comfortable writing together and know what they are aiming for.

“Parking Lot” especially captures the magic, making constant references to older punk bands and good times. It’s a classic Blink-182 song celebrating teenage angst and the love of music as Mark shouts, “I’ll meet my friends at the Target curb / I rolled my ankle, Matt just broke his wrist / I climbed through your window at 3 a.m. / We listened to The Smiths and the Violent Femmes / We both sang ‘Why can’t I get one kiss?’”.

The Deluxe Edition is fascinating in that it shows how Blink-182 toyed with their sound while writing their comeback album and how much the band was willing to experiment without the pestering of Tom DeLonge constantly pushing for something new. “Bottom of the Ocean” is a raging rock song that almost sounds like a Britney Spears cover. “6/8” is a demented take on what Blink-182 would sound like if they tried to be Brand New.

Oddly enough, one of the album’s highlights is an acoustic version of “Bored to Death”, recorded live with a crowd singing in the background. After being the first single back from the brink, this version is much more subdued, as it no longer needs the spectacle and flash to draw back their fans. Instead, the intimacy gives the song a deeper and darker take on the world, and highlights just how perfectly Mark and Matt’s voices meld together. And the moment when the audience begins clapping along is breathtaking.

The California [Deluxe Edition] is something rare. It isn’t a full album nor is it a collection of demos. It’s at once apparent why these songs didn’t make it to the final version, and fascinating that at least half led to the creation of California, while others were spurred on by the fact that the band enjoyed writing the album so much.

While it isn’t essential to enjoy California as a whole, it’s easy to see many of these songs becoming fan favorites. This was never meant to be a record that flows along. More importantly, it’s a look into the mentality of a band reacquainting itself with making music, determined to once again conquer the world.

3/5 (Just the Second Disc)

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 listening to California since last July. It will be nice to have something new to spin. These really are good songs.

Review: Paramore – After Laughter

“Throw me into the fire / Throw me in, pull me out again”

With that repeated refrain during the bridge of “Told You So”, Hayley Williams sums up her experience in one of the most successful rock bands of the past decade. In case the bright lights and even brighter hair colors fooled you, being a part of Paramore is no walk in the park.

The cover art of Paramore’s 2005 debut album, All We Know is Falling, depicted the (first) painful departure of bassist Jeremy Davis and reckoned with broken trust. In the decade plus that followed, amidst a meteoric rise from Warped Tour side stages to amphitheaters and top 40 radio, loss, drama and pain has plagued the band, and their music has done little to spare us the details.

You can buy After Laughter on iTunes.

Even the Grammy-award winning “Ain’t it Fun” from 2013’s self-titled album was seething with resentment while draped in “Cruel Summer” sonic attire. The band’s evolution from pop punk to pop has been a gradual one, but Williams’ open-book policy regarding inner-band strife has been ever-present.

Thus, the simmering gloom that pervades Paramore’s fifth full-length album is no surprise, given another falling out, but neither is the band’s new 80s synthpop sound. Still, After Laughter may be the band’s greatest success, which should tell you a lot about how much better they are than just about any band to come from this scene.

After Laughter is heavily inspired by [insert your favorite 80s new wave band here] and follows in the recent footsteps of [insert your favorite indie synthpop band here]. But just as Paramore rode pop punk coattails to grand success with an album like the platinum-selling Riot!, Williams’ authenticity, candidness and ability to enrapture with her delivery make Paramore so much more interesting than whatever else you’re listening to.

If the band’s first single, “Hard Times”, didn’t grab you, just wait three minutes until “Rose Colored Boy” breaks through with Zac Farro’s drum machine, Taylor York’s effect pedal-heavy guitar, and Williams’ chant of “Low key, no pressure, just hang with me and my weather”. A tortured look into the necessity of depression in the face of pain becomes a soon-to-be summer anthem.

After Laughter is filled to the brim with tongue-in-cheek saccharine hooks and bubbling synthesizers while it digs deeper and deeper at old wounds. “Forgiveness” tackles the inability to forget: “And I don’t pick up when you call / Cause your voice is a gun, every word a bullet hole”. “Pool” ditches Williams’ past attempts at love ballads by dwelling on the dark: “But why get used to something new? / Cause no one breaks my heart like you”. Even the calm, acoustic “26” questions Williams’ past notions of hope in the face of adversity: “Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died”.

Yet for all of the aforementioned doom and gloom, perhaps the darkest theme explored on After Laughter is Paramore’s most self-referential yet. For a band that has watched their fan base balloon over the past decade, Williams is quick to dismiss her role as role model. Instead, she uses songs like “Idle Worship” to reveal her own lack of direction: “If I was you, I’d run from me or rip me open / You’ll see you’re not the only one who’s hopeless”.

“No Friend” employs mewithoutYou frontman Aaron Weiss to deliver another cruel message on behalf of the band, shouting, “I’m no savior of yours, and you’re no friend of mine”. It’s the harshest truth for any young fan to accept about their hero, and it’s what sets Paramore so far beyond their peers.

No matter the circumstances, Williams always left a door or window open for something new and better to appear, even if the light began to fade as the years passed. Songs like “Part II” and “Last Hope” on the self-titled album felt like flickering candles in the wind, gripping tightly to a final source of hope. You’ll be hard pressed to find any such notion on After Laughter, and I think we’re better for it.

As someone who suffers with chronic depression, I know what it’s like to fake a smile or conjure up a confident remark just to give peace and assurance to those around me. After Laughter is a reminder that sometimes those of us who struggle need to sit in our pain for however long it takes, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

As a fan of Paramore, I’m enthralled by the honesty and ironic delivery of what may be the best album of the band’s career. As a human, I can only hope that their next album, if we’re lucky enough to get one, finds Williams in a better place. But believe me, I get it. No rush, no pressure.

“Really all I’ve got is just to stay pissed off, if it’s alright by you”

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: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

New Found Glory is the second band I ever fell in love with. The thing about their albums is that you walk into them without expectations of biting social commentary, crazy departures of sound or veering artistic licenses. Their records are going to be fun, with the melodies stuck in your head after a single listen and the lyrics memorized on the second.

You can buy Makes Me Sick on iTunes.

Makes Me Sick is perhaps the second album to attempt breaking free of the standard mold. Coming Home, 2006’s oozing pop album was the first to make a departure to varying results. Makes Me Sick is much, much more successful in the attempt. Perhaps more surprising is how it retains the pop elements of the earliest New Found Glory albums just as much. The result is a record that pushes the band’s sound and writing through new experiments, but sounds like a particularly well-aged set of B-Sides off of Sticks and Stones.

Marking a perfect blend of Sticks and Stones era punk rock with Coming Home‘s alternative takes on songwriting (and synth!), this is an album that relies on and defies the legacy of pop punk that has come before it.

The songs are lavish and pop with a flare that sounds almost classical these days. With some alternative rock sounds and a better use of synth than on Coming Home, Chad Gilbert’s guitar work feels timeless. Focusing less in the easycore hard punk riffs of Resurrection, fleshed out rhythm guitar and solos relish in pop. Bassist Ian Grushka is allowed to carry the melody more than he was on the guitar-heavy Resurrection, which sets him apart from the uplifting synth. Drummer Cyrus Bolooki, yet again, absolutely crushes the kit with poppier beats that sound timeless to the band’s career.

The one song that truly stands apart is “Two Voices”, a Caribbean-style jam that sounds absolutely nothing like New Found Glory save for the vocals, but it doesn’t feel out of place when paired with Makes Me Sick as a whole. It’s the biggest leap stylistically the band have ever made, despite being a simple pop song.

Vocalist Jordan Pundik sounds eternally youthful, throwing some of his most inspired work in the last decade. While the lyrics aren’t gnawing at aspects of society, they are instantly memorable. Subtle jabs are thrown at youth culture run amuck, such as “Party On Apocalypse”, where Pundik sings, “This self-centered generation, taking pictures of themselves then changing features / Pleasing over critical creatures / Everyone’s got a cause but how strong is the foundation / Moving like the waves of the ocean / Do you care or just throw stones in?”

While the classic topic of relationships isn’t snubbed (“Barbed Wire”), “The Cheapest Thrill” is one of the most noteworthy songs on the album. A song about overcoming lust so as not to hurt others anymore, and finding self-respect in yourself and others, it stands out with more depth than the average New Found Glory song. The realization is a great passage, and one of the more heartfelt lines the band have penned, as Pundik sings, “Suddenly, I can see through my own eyes again / But I don’t like what I’m feeling / You can’t help your thoughts, but you can change your actions / If I don’t I’ll be consumed.”

I’ve listened to New Found Glory continuously for almost the entirety of their 20-year career, and even minor changes to their formula can sound drastic when compared to their discography. Makes Me Sick treads the fine line of not only finding a new charm to their signature pop, but they make it sound like an homage to their early work as well. Few bands get the chance to see 20 years, much less release an album that pays tribute to a genre they helped forge without being sickened by the sound of them.

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 fondly remembers that New Found Glory was the first album he ever bought on his own. He forced his friends to listen to it relentlessly until there was a NFG-loving army at his beck and call. He failed to conquer and rule Quebec with them.

Review: Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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*