Review: Knuckle Puck – 20/20

“I can finally see clearly, as if my vision’s 20/20.”

Knuckle Puck have been a growing presence in the Chicago punk scene for a number of years, with two strong releases behind them. Written (mostly?) before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ominously named 20/20 is actually a breath of fresh air. Somehow acknowledging the near universal struggles and grief that everyone has faced this year before they had actually happened, Knuckle Puck find the hope in struggle and the energy of normalcy that 2020 seems to have sucked dry.

You can buy or stream 20/20 on Apple Music.

In many ways, Knuckle Puck and fellow Chicagoans Real Friends seemed to follow a similar path for much of their career in revitalizing the midwest pop punk emo scene. It only makes sense then that in many ways, 20/20 is reminiscent of Real Friends’ third album, Composure. Not altering their sound too much from their first releases, 20/20 is the most composed, well-structured and cohesive the band have ever sounded. This comes across slightly as a more “mainstream” sound, but the album hardly shifts from the aggressive guitars and intricate melodies the band is known for.

“I wake up every morning with this overwhelming sinking feeling / Slipping through the doorframe while bouncing thoughts against the ceiling / This shit is only boring if you sit around and wait for nothing / I can’t tell you the future, but I know that it’s coming”

The album finds magic in normalcy by shifting the focus away from the unique struggles of 2020 and focusing instead on relationships and veiled messages on politics. This comes across the most in lead single, “RSVP”, as singer Joe Taylor broods over raging guitars, “And if you’re listening just for clarity, those idealistic dreams were never so naive / Complicated, mind sedated (Keep your hands over your ears) / Hearts turn vacant, humble patriot / (So you can cover up, cover up)”.

The first half of the album plays much more like a ‘traditional’ pop punk record, with several songs seeming radio ready. “Tune You Out” is much more classic emo fare, tracing the battle over a relationship where one person loses their temper over a bed of glistening guitars (“It tears me up inside, I’ll tune you out / ‘Til we all calm down”). Meanwhile, “Earthquake”, a measured rock song with a 90’s alternative vibe explores being enraptured by someone who seems larger than life, but is still broken in their own way (“You look so good, you’ve got me confused / I can’t just cover it up like your first tattoo”).

The back half is where the more experimental vibes and deeper lyrics settle in. “Green Eyes (Polarized)” finds Taylor wishing he could see someone else’s point of view and bridge the gap between their thinking (“You put your faith aside and cast yourself into the great divide / Would you let me see through green eyes?”).

“Into the Blue” describes a spiritual experience through skydiving, while “True North”, arguably the poppiest song on the album, finds the strength in reflecting on the bad times, but looking forward to better days (“Shut my eyes and hope I wake up, to the wave of the breeze from your screened-in porch / Just promise that you’ll leave the light on to point me toward true north”).

“If it’s easier, then close your eyes, but know that you could never see the light / You gotta get up and get outside if you wanna feel the sunshine”

Closing song “Miles Away” juxtaposes how negative thoughts can take you away from who you are, but positive thoughts can take you miles toward where you’re going. The guitars chug steadily, slowing into an elegant chorus in the vein of classics from The Starting Line. However, this is what ties 20/20 together as a whole. If there is a message to the album, it’s that you shouldn’t shy away from the problems in your life, but reflect on them and look forward.

….. Y’know, what the term “20/20” used to mean before we collectively decided it was a lie and a curse.

I was listening to opening song “20/20” for the first time when a news alert chimed over the music that let me know Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It was just another mark on a year of continuously bad news, but that one struck particularly hard. Over the course of the album, 20/20 unintentionally navigates the emotions many of us have felt since January 1—incredible lows, personal highs and the determination to see it through. By the time the album’s final lines roll through, wave after wave of emotion had rolled through, juxtaposed with songs like “Breathe” (featuring Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders), reminding the listener to stay calm. On a night I would have otherwise been utterly devastated, I felt hope. 20/20 isn’t afraid to look at the bad times because it’s so focused on the bright future.

“When darker skies roll in don’t you cross me out, just pull me back into safer crowds / Cause I’m miles away, yeah, I’m miles away / I’ve been miles away until now”

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 ate all of the queso dip. All of it. I can’t even say for sure how this happened. One moment there was dip, the next… mere chaos and the crumbs of chips sprinkled on the cat.

Review: Blaqk Audio – Beneath The Black Palms

As is the case with anything related to Davey Havok, Blaqk Audio succeed by painting a story with their albums. Not explicitly, but it’s a simple task to envision each album through the dark emotional lyrics. Beneath The Black Palms, the band’s fifth full release, is perhaps the hardest one to discern, but it is filled with heated imagery and a sinister interpretation of a love story reminiscent of a twisted version of Erin Morgenstern’s novel The Night Circus. 

You can buy or stream Beneath the Black Palms on Apple Music.

Blaqk Audio always delves into the dark side of relationships – something that Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s main group, the legendary AFI, tend to steer slightly further away from. Where AFI relishes in eloquent rage, Blaqk Audio is flirtatious and sexy. Havok has never steered away from topics of sex, manipulation or longing, but Beneath The Black Palms takes these concepts and weaves them in and out of faint fantasy imagery that explores the dynamic of a couple who are mad for each other, but can’t effectively communicate (“It’s Not Going Well”).

Filled with electronic synth pop and new wave elements, Beneath The Black Palms treads little new ground in terms of sound. Songs range from loud bangers (“Consort”) to slow, moody piano ballads (“1948”). As is tradition with Blaqk Audio, most songs tend to sound a little more similar to each other than probably intentional (as like past albums), but Puget’s orchestration is so expertly done it hardly matters.

Havok retains the clean vocals he has mastered over the last decade, and although he hardly pushes himself in the ways that have made him one of the leading frontmen and singers in the industry, he commands such a powerful new wave presence that he can’t be ignored.

One playful new aspect is that he introduces a much more feminine vocalization in verses opposite a deeper voice for other verses, which shows the perspective of both characters of the relationship (“Burnt Babies Fear the Fire”). This dynamic helps show the mindset of the “characters” while also managing to be ambient, poetic and omnipresent.

The “theme” of Beneath The Black Palms (if there is one at all) is communication. The characters communicate through passion, but seem to keep misunderstanding one another. “Zipper Don’t Work” illustrates that even though their physical relationship is intense, even that isn’t communicating correctly (“I may have poorly planned this, what’s underneath this dress / I wore to end all wars / I’d bare my arm but you’re a violent mess”).

Although there are elements of fantasy, such as in “A Distant Light”, (“On a distant road, somewhere far behind / Where we hid the light that was never, never mine / … / You had hidden spells falling from your hair”) the album explores the lovers attempt time and again to get on the same page, before ending song “It’s Not Going Well” finds them admit their faults (“You said he turns you on though he can’t tell / … / You wrote ‘talk dirty,’ but he can’t spell”).

Beneath The Black Palms delves deep into the idea of a relationship that so badly wants to work, but seems to fail at every turn. But the pain of this is buried beneath layers of intense synth and Havok’s sexy brooding. Although the album doesn’t stand out quite as much as some past albums, it explores a new piece of troubled relationships with intense beats, poetic illusion and sincere command.

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 is full of pot pie and cookie butter.

Review: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

If you were to frequent our website back when we launched in 2013 and suddenly return today after a long absence, you likely wouldn’t recognize the place. Seven years ago, I certainly wasn’t predicting that Carly Rae Jepsen would crack the top five on our Best Albums of the Decade list and had no idea how much the music of Kendrick Lamar would change the way we pondered about great art. But I’d say it’s inarguable that we’re infinitely better for the evolving and diverse tastes of our writing staff.

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

In so many ways, It’s All Dead’s emergence unexpectedly coincided with the scene’s slow decline, capped by Warped Tour’s last gasp. Yes, the music is still around, but the community we once knew has become a shell of itself. There are both positive and negative outcomes of that dissolvement, and personally, it’s been a while since guitar-driven music held much interest for me, anyway. So we’ve worked to create an open-door community that might pique the interest of any sort of music lover.

But even as the winds have changed, there are still traces of the scene in my blood, and it’s something I’ve felt quite vividly since discovering Stand Atlantic. As strange as it feels to lose myself in a pop punk band in 2020, I can’t speak highly enough of Pink Elephant.

When the Sydney, Australia, act entered our purview with their Sidewinder EP just three years ago, it was hard to find any space left for a band of their ilk, no matter how much promise those early recordings held. But as the scene they entered began to board up its doors and windows, Stand Atlantic found a way to construct something new.

Upon hearing early singles like “Hate Me (Sometimes)”, I thought maybe it was nostalgia that was tickling my ears. But as the slow rollout of the band’s sophomore album took shape, I found myself drawn to the way the band so effortlessly morphed their sound into something so uniquely…them.

Vocalist Bonnie Fraser began developing a knack for self-exploration on Skinny Dipping, the band’s 2018 debut. In just two short years she’s become one of rock’s most fascinating songwriters, weaving metaphor and painfully literal musings within these 11 tracks that seem to change pace to whatever vibe she’s seeking.

Album opener “Like That” captures the band’s newfound blend of pop and aggression with the kind of begrudging indifference to falling apart that so many of us seem to feel these days. Fraser brings down the house on the track’s post-chorus with the lines, “Crushing bones, I don’t know / My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that”.

Pink Elephant moves at a relatively fast clip and is so hook-laden that you sometimes need to pause to avoid missing the more intricate moments. When it does shift pace, as it does on “Blurry”, the album blossoms into something that usurps the pop punk label. An alt-rock track with electropop influences, “Blurry” is a dark ride that showcases all of the ways this band is unique from their peers. “Clutching weapons while we’re sleeping / Got me bleeding like I mean it / It’s just enough to keep me blurry”, Fraser seethes across the bridge, backed by sparking synthesizers. What sounds like a trick out of CHVRCHES’ playbook feels fresh and new when the drums kick back in to drive the chorus home.

Similarly, “DWYW” blends a brooding darkness with syrupy pop melodies, while somehow side-stepping the genre expectations the band leaned into on their debut. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wavelength”, I can feel Miki Rich’s bass line rattling my rib cage from two stages away on a hot day at Warped Tour. But those are the ghosts that flutter throughout Pink Elephant to draw you in before shoving you in the chest with an unexpected turn. “I know I’ve always said I’m not a saint / So I’m gonna push you to the floor”, Fraser breathes on the opening seconds of the track before the wall of sound hits.

Stand Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing with this album, and it works in every way it’s meant to. It speaks volumes to the band’s growth that when they strip everything away but a piano and Fraser’s vocals, as they do on “Drink to Drown”, that the songwriting truly shines in the most beautiful and painful of ways. Fraser and company seem to have every intent on carving their own path forward, scene decline be damned.

So here we are, nearly 800 words deep on a review of an album that I never expected to impact me in 2020 in the way that it has. In nearly 15 years of writing, I’ve doled out perfect score reviews at a snail’s pace that still numbers in the single digits. But whatever. Fuck it. This is the album I needed right now and I can’t think of anything I would change about it. 

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Taylor Swift – folklore

At this point, there should be very little Taylor Swift could do that would shock us. Releasing her eighth (and possibly best) album less than a year after Lover, her seventh (and possibly best) album, is one example, though. Simply put, folklore is a masterpiece of a record that exemplifies the best of Swift as an artist while reigning in just as many aspects that made her a world renowned star. Restrained, introspective and overflowing with emotional stories, folklore is as much a perfect introduction to Swift as it is a departure of her sound.

You can buy or stream folklore on Apple Music.

Folklore is almost as much of a sonic departure for Swift as 1989 was at the time of its release. While Lover reveled in the silence between notes, the anthemic stadium pop still filtered through the gaps. It’s difficult to say that folklore, an album conceived during the coronavirus quarantine, is a natural progression of Lover even though it further strips away the electrifying pop sounds and delves deeper into the indie folk genre.

Co-written with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dressner and Bon Iver, folklore is an indie folk album that revels in Swift’s signature storytelling abilities. However, where the album gains its strength is in the mixture of personal stories and fictional characters that blend together so well, it seems like this is how Swift has written her songs all along (“my tears richochet”).

Stripped of the overt poppy gloss, it would be easy to write folklore off as a return to Swift’s country roots, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The piano and acoustic led songs would be just as good if fleshed out further so as to make them stadium rumbling anthems. However, as is, the album is amongst the most intimate of Swift’s lyrics, even when the story isn’t about her.

On a surface level, folklore appears to be almost too relaxed (“cardigan”). It lacks Swift pushing her vocals to their limits, anthemic choruses or any of those hooks that would make for an obvious top radio single. Instead, Swift’s relaxed vocals force attention to melody and lyricism. Minimalistic, folklore puts the story at the forefront with the soft twinkle of piano, acoustic guitar and surgically precise orchestration relegated to the most intense moments (“august”).

If there is a theme to folklore, it is to turn the tables on the fans who pour over Swift’s lyrics to decipher what she is singing about. Each song of folklore seems to dance from real stories, to fictional characters to the speculative heartbreak expected on Swift’s early releases.

Opener “the 1” retraces the lost loves we all held as young adults (“Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you”). Meanwhile, “the last great american dynasty” pulls at similar themes to “The Lucky One” from Red (“Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything”).

The twinkling piano of “mad woman” acts as a second act to Lover’s “The Man” in that it radiates years’ worth of rage from dealing with sexism, harkening back to “Look What You Made Me Do” as well as “the last great american dynasty” (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”). Meanwhile, closing track “hoax” acts as a bookend to “the 1”, diving fully into the regret and anger of those true, lost loves (“Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do”).

The magic of folklore isn’t that it was a surprise release, but that it was a surprising delivery. Stripped of the over-the-top glam of her previous albums, Folklore manages to be just as poignant as any past releases, with Swift the artist reigning above Swift the pop star. If there is a fault in folklore, it’s that the album is a few songs too long, but I do not envy the person to decide which to cut. That folklore manages to carry the weight of the biggest pop star on the planet and retain the ingenuity of an up-and-comer is only further proof that Taylor Swift may be the best musical artist on the planet.

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 dropped his deodorant in the toilet today, the way that champions do.

Review: Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

In these dark times in which we live, from racial tensions peaking in the U.S. to the decline of the music scene due to pandemic closures, it’s more important than ever to find some time to distract ourselves with something else. Neck Deep’s latest album All Distortions Are Intentional (and for some, Taylor Swift) has provided that for me this past week. While the albums tends to be more pop than punk, once I spent some time with it, I found myself not being able to get enough.

You can buy or stream All Distortions Are Intentional on Apple Music.

I was in love with 2017’s The Peace and the Panic; I thought it was hard hitting and meaningful. When I heard with first single from All Distortions are Intentional, “Lowlife”, an ode to marijuana, I was a bit disappointed. I felt as though the band has backslid into a lesser version of themselves, when I had been so impressed with the maturity of their last offering. Little did I realize that they have further matured, and that Distortions is a concept album. 

The album begins with “Sonderland”, a very strong opener and sure to be fan-favorite (if live shows ever freaking come back). It introduces us to this alternate universe where there is a self-awareness among inhabitants of not being the only person that matters. It continues with one of my favorites, “Fall”, then heads into the controversial aforementioned track that now makes perfect sense when taken with the context of the two characters, Jett and Alice. The concept outlined here is that Jett and Alice are your general emo teens who love being outsiders and shun those who long to fit in. 

In this day and age where it has become so important to stand out and be ourselves, we focus so much on our originality and forget to be present in the world around us. “Telling Stories” draws our eyes upward to the world around us and introduces some new characters and the hardships they face in Sonderland. Ben sings “It’s not the things you know / It’s the friends you make,” and that’s so true. At our funerals, those who love us will talk about how we spent our lives, and if we only follow the “me me me” culture that’s thrown at us and don’t stop and truly care for those around us, our life will have been wasted.

The album is light and airy and just the breath of fresh air I’ve been craving. Tracks like “What Took You So Long” and “Pushing Daisies” are bound to become songs that I return to when I need a pick-me-up. The album brings us from taking the time to regard those around us and make a difference, and by the end, we are reminded that, try as we might, we can’t fix everything. It’s cathartic in a time like this. 

I used to think Neck Deep was one of the generic douchebag pop punk bands with crappy guys who didn’t care who they bowled over to further their career. It was a completely unfounded opinion with no evidence to back it up, but I felt it nevertheless. With these past two albums, I realize that we’ve all grown, whether it was of our own volition or the shifting culture has made us see the wrong ways we view things around us. I’m glad I gave them a second chance, because they’ve become one of the most effective bands in the scene — right up there with The Wonder Years. The alt scene has always been hallmarked by the way we deal with injustices through artistic expression, and even though no one is perfect, the way that Neck Deep have embraced the difficulties of the past years and produced art that’s made it easier to handle is another reason to hold on and support the scene.

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: Haim – Women in Music Pt. III

“I know alone and I don’t wanna talk about it”, sings Danielle Haim on the bridge of “I Know Alone”; one of many highlights across the 13 tracks of Women in Music Pt. III. It’s a line that resounds for anyone that knows the kind of depression that Danielle and her sisters Alana and Este spend time processing throughout their third full-length album. It’s a line that feels poignantly un-forced and authentic – one of the great strengths of the band.

You can buy or stream Women in Music Pt. III on Apple Music.

But for all their ability to translate those feelings in such relatable words and sounds, this third offering from Haim has so many other notes to play. Make no mistake – Women in Music Pt. III is easily the band’s darkest offering, but the way in which it gets playful and creative in those valleys is what truly sets them apart.

Haim caught my attention with their 2013 debut Days Are Gone, largely for the way in which they seemed to be winking at the camera in the subtlest of ways. The video for my favorite track from that album, “If I Could Change Your Mind”, seems to find the band blatantly leaning into common visual tropes for female-fronted pop music without ever feeling like you’re supposed to laugh at the joke. The same could be said of this current album title.

And maybe laughter isn’t the right response anyway. On the stripped-down “Man from the Magazine”, the band explores the ways in which the industry at large has treated the trio (and assuredly so many other women). “Man from the music shop, I drove too far / For you to hand me that starter guitar”, Danielle sings on the same track that ends its chorus with, “You expect me to deal with it / ‘Til I’m perfectly numb / But you don’t know how it feels”.

Even the booty call intro of “3 AM” feels perfectly douchy, coupled with lines like, “But I’m picking up for the last time”, delivered with an inferred, resigned sigh. The track crackles with R&B influence not felt this robustly since “My Song 5” from the band’s debut.

The creativity in which Haim explore these myriad themes across Women in Music Pt. III is why you could argue it as the band’s best work. The glitchy electronics of “I Know Alone” sound fresh and moody. The sliding guitar work of “FUBT” rightfully comes to the front of the mix, at times covering Danielle’s vocals. 

Other tracks like single “The Steps” and “I’ve Been Down” are driven by the jangly, folk-rock guitars that occupy the band’s wheelhouse and feel familiar and inviting in this context. The album meanders sonically from the track to track, just as its lyrics spill across subjects, much like a 45-minute session with your therapist.

It’s the kind of imaginative songwriting that felt missing from Something to Tell You, the band’s long-awaited 2017 sophomore effort. That album showcased the sisters’ uncanny ability to write exceptional songs, but lacked the unique, tongue-in-cheek personality that sets Haim apart from any of their contemporaries. The lack of restraint felt on Women in Music Pt. III is an exciting reminder of what we all felt Haim was capable of upon the release of Days Are Gone.

The fact that such a personal and specific work of art could feel so relatable and intimate to so many, in so many different ways, makes Haim one of the most essential bands of the past decade.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

In true Phoebe Bridgers fashion, her new album Punisher runs the gamut, with a title that fits the bill. She sings about childhood, faith, substance abuse, and loads of other realities that cut to the core. From the beginning of “DVD Menu” to the final notes of “I Know the End”, listeners are brought to their knees. It’s beautiful.

You can buy or stream Punisher on Apple Music.

I’ve casually enjoyed Bridgers’ music since 2017’s Stranger In the Alps, but unlike many others, I didn’t give her much thought until lately. When I think of women in recent music that stick out to me, I often think of Bridgers’ friend Julien Baker, who joins Bridgers on track 10, “Graceland Too”. I don’t know what it is about women who write sad music, but I can’t get enough. I suppose I feel a kinship to those who believe that women can be both forceful and feminine, and the way that Phoebe and others in her class tackle these subjects embody that for me.

The album begins with “DVD Menu”. She said in her Apple Music interview that it samples the final song from Stranger, and it’s a sweet bit of continuity that ties the two projects together. It continues with the single “Garden Song”, a track about personal growth. The next track, also a single, talks about how the foundations built in our childhood influence the adults we grow to be – even when we don’t think they will.

The ideas about feeling unworthy of the love and success she’s garnered over her years of traveling and playing music are relatable for anyone who has tried to make a difference in any way. The title track about meeting her musical hero, Elliot Smith, and worrying that she’ll simply be a nuisance rather than a welcome guest is relatable to anyone who looks up to those who have made a difference. The album is deeply introspective and offers a raw look into how Phoebe has grown as a performer since stepping away from PAX AM and paving her own path.

My personal favorite track is “Moon Song.” It stuck out to me from my first listen and I’ve looked forward to it every listen since. It cuts deeply in a way that I guess I don’t understand. Maybe I’m just not ready to face that emotionally yet? Either way, it’s a masterpiece and even though it’s smack in the middle of the album, I think it’s the best track.

Suffice to say, I love the new Phoebe Bridgers album. The gentleness in her delivery completely counteracts and dulls the knives she sings about. It’s a true escape in a time where it can be necessary to step back and take a breather.

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: New Found Glory – Forever and Ever x Infinity

Forever and Ever x Infinity is the tenth studio album from New Found Glory, arguably the most influential band in all of pop punk. While groups influenced by them have leaned toward creating emotionally resonant art pieces (The Wonder Years) or shifted entirely to the realms of pop (All Time Low), New Found Glory have essentially stayed the course, never varying their sound too much, but always releasing timeless and damn good music. Forever and Ever x Infinity continues this tradition as an album that fully celebrates NFG’s roots while passing along the experience of middle age through the lens of a fairy tale.

Songs on Forever and Ever x Infinity are overly romanticized, sometimes to the point of cringe-y cheesiness. However, that’s the point — these songs reflect the hypnotic ecstasy of falling in love as a teenager (“Greatest of All Time”). It is the first NFG album since their Self-Titled that filled me with the same bouncing passion I had after my first listen to “Hit Or Miss” 20 years ago.

You can buy or stream Forever and Ever x Infinity on Apple Music.

For all of the fans clamoring that NFG’s Self-Titled album is their best, Forever and Ever x Infinity acts in many ways as a reinterpretation of that record. The music leans heavily toward the pop elements of that album, while retaining the easy-core crunch of Resurrection (“Shook By Your Shaved Head”). Similar themes of falling in love, hopeless romanticism and the rage of a broken heart play heavily, resonating as much now as it did 10 albums ago (“The more I get older, the clearer I see / The misconceptions imbedded in me / We can love, we can fail / It never goes out of style”).

Now though, it’s hard to write songs about hopeless romanticism after two decades of experiences, divorce, personal growth and expanding as artists. Instead, New Found Glory lean into the feelings of their early albums, highlighting how magical life felt when you were fifteen and in love (“Birthday Song But Not Really”), only to temper those songs with what you wish you had known at the time by tearing it down with possibly the most poignant and heart wrenching song New Found Glory have ever written (“Slipping Away”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity plays like a fairy tale, with all of the cheese of a Disney romance and the maturity to laugh at their own lyrics. A song like “Double Chin For the Win” is one of the weirdest songs New Found Glory have ever written, but it sums up the emotions of “Sincerely Me” with charm and self-depreciation (“I know I’m not even in your league / Yet still you find something good in me / When we link arms, you’re a ten, I’m a three / Hope you can never afford Lasik surgery”).

The innocent love of “Stay Awhile” and the wedding dance atmosphere of “More and More” play off of the feeling of high school romance and walking the halls with hearts for eyes. However, after more than a dozen songs of this, the fairy tale ends and real life begins with closing track “Slipping Away”. Here, the romance is dying and a new chapter is about to begin as both lovers are forced to confront the fact that they’ve grown apart. “It wasn’t easy, there’s no arguing that / But there was a time you were proud of the deeper understanding we had / Below the surface and again in our history / Now I can see you almost bite your tongue clean off every time you lay eyes on me”.

What must be said though, is that the band still kills it on every level. Vocalist Jordan Pundik’s eternal energy finds him pushing himself with anthemic choruses and biting verses (“Greatest of All Time”). Bassit Ian Grushka provides a solid backbone of sound that expands the profound depth of guitar buzz (“Like I Never Existed”). Meanwhile, drummer Cyrus Bolooki delivers one of his best performances, destroying the kit from snappy beats to intense, hardcore percussion (“Same Side Sitters”). Sole guitarist Chad Gilbert provides one of his best performances yet, making enough noise for two and showing a full range of sound that both resonates with NFG’s legacy of pop and embraces a harder edge that competes with contemporary peers (“Himalaya”).

Not everything on the album swirls around romance — several songs delve into rooting out the poison in toxic friendships, such as the hard-pounding “Nothing To Say” (“Spreading lies like a disease, but you can’t say it to my face / You’ve got nothing to say”), while the exceptionally crafted “Himalaya” examines people who use others for their own benefit (“They don’t want what’s best for you / They just want what works best for them / You spread yourself too thin / I think it’s time you find yourself, find yourself some new friends”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity is a unique album in that it pairs well as a sister to the band’s celebrated Self-Titled album, but lovingly mocks the simplistic ideals presented on an album written when the band members were barely twenty. On the surface, it looks like some of the lyrics are half-assed (“Birthday Song But Not Really”… Yuck), but there is a tongue-in-cheek maturity behind them that doesn’t appear until after the first listen through. After all, how best to learn of the traps of hopeless romanticism than reflecting on your own past and laughing?

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 built a pillow fort for this cat. Now, sadly…. there aren’t enough pillows to make one for himself. “What kind of sick world is THIS?!” he screams at the clouds with a ketchup stain on his shirt.

Review: Anchor & Braille – TENSION

Back in 2014, Anberlin, one of alternative’s most exceptional bands, hung up their guitars and drumsticks. Stephen Christian has some of the most easily-identifiable vocals of the past two decades, and the idea that he wasn’t going to serenade us anymore was a thought I almost couldn’t bear. He hadn’t released anything from his side project, Anchor and Braille, since 2012, and we would have to wait another two years after Anberlin’s end for a new taste of what Stephen had to offer. 

You can buy or stream TENSION on Apple Music.

Fast forward to today, another four years later, and we finally have TENSION. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, TENSION is another pop album. Synthy, 80’s-inspired, romantic – what else could we ask for?

This album is clearly dedicated to Stephen’s wife Julia, as he sings in the first single, “DANGEROUS”. While that could turn some people off, I think it’s cute. It’s sickly sweet, like eating your entire box of candy during the movie previews and having that weird feeling in your stomach for the rest of the two hours, but no one can deny that the honesty is characteristic of an Anchor and Braille album.

Personally, I prefer Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. I feel like that’s because I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of pop music, and TENSION throws us a much lighter vibe. It’s a worthy addition to the Anchor and Braille oeuvre, but it definitely is the beginning of a shift in Stephen Christian’s sound. It’s enjoyable and sure to be a summer drive album, but it doesn’t have the same hard hitting lyrics that Late Night Drive gave us. My favorite track is “Closer and Farther”, which is undeniably the closest we get to a Late Night Drive B-side.

I will always gobble up anything Stephen Christian serves us, but TENSION is very monotonous. It never ends up taking us on the journey that Stephen’s art is so known for. The highs and lows of Felt, and the emotions of Late Night Drive, that we’ve grown to love and expect from Anchor and Braille are missing here.

3.5/5

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: Emery – White Line Fever

I’ve written A LOT about Emery in my time here on It’s All Dead. My pieces, whether they’re reviews of new albums or reflections on past projects, generally boil down to the continuity and consistency Emery have displayed through their 19- (and counting) year run. Their latest, White Line Fever, is no different.

You can buy White Line Fever by joining Emeryland.

The album isn’t necessarily a new step in Emery’s path, but rather a continuation of 2018’s Eve. It’s not as heavy as their other projects musically, but they’ve definitely not skimped lyrically. The things they’re singing about are as hard-hitting as ever. Gone are the days of songs about superficial relationships. The guys in Emery know that we’re all adults now, and they’ve treated their listeners accordingly here.

Forcing listeners to take a deep look inward at their worldview and how it’s affecting the way our lives play out is at the forefront of White Line Fever. Actions have consequences, and on songs like “The Noose,” and “Biddy”, those consequences are evident. But it’s not all doom and gloom here. On “2:38” they reminisce on their early days on the road, and how their lives have changed since then.

This isn’t my favorite Emery album, nor is it their best, but it’s another fitting addition to their discography. If there’s one thing that they’ve learned over 19 years, it’s where their wheelhouse lies. They make great post-hardcore music, and nary do they stray from that formula. I feel like at this point in my Emery-fanhood, I’m focusing more on what the band has to say, rather than the manner in which they present it. I’m always a sucker for a great hardcore band, but an Emery album is a double whammy of solid music and something to really mentally chew on and spend some time with.

What has kept me listening to Emery over the years is their transparency to admit that they’re different than they were in 2001. So many bands I grew up with as a hardline Christian kid refused to admit that, and they became almost fraudulent in my eyes. The guys of Emery have made it a point, almost a defining feature, of their art to declare that change is not only natural, but often beneficial. They’ve made it okay for someone like me to realize that I don’t feel the same way about some things that I used to. Because of their courage, I’ve grown in my perception of faith and how it fits into my life. 

4/5

 

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.