Review: mewithoutYou – [Untitled]

I feel like everyone prefaces mewithoutYou’s music in the same way that I’m about to. I apologize if this is redundant, but learning the backstory of main lyricist Aaron Weiss is an imperative step in making any sense of this band and their music, which, to the outside, seems to be from another world.

Aaron and his brother, Michael, had an intensely religious upbringing. Their father followed Jewish teachings and their mother followed Episcopal teachings before eventually converting to Sufi Islam. It’s no wonder then, in their artistic outputs, that all of these ideas and more come out. I think this is part of what makes mewithoutYou fit into so many categories. So much religious diversity means that no one is left out – which is also part of the message that mewithoutYou aims to spread.

You can buy or stream [Untitled] on Apple Music.

It took seven albums for mewithoutYou to finally throw up their hands and say, “We don’t know what to call this.” Pretty impressive that it took that long, if you ask me. But for something with no definitive name, this album hits you hard. If you’re not taking a deep dive into the lyrics (and if you aren’t, why?), this album moves fast. There were times when I put it on mindlessly in preparation for writing this and was surprised when it started again. “Lyrical detective” should be a job, and there should be a whole department devoted to mewithoutYou.

I’d like to make the proposition of [Untitled] being A to B Life’s younger brother. Genetically similar with the same attitude, but different enough that no one can mistake the two. This new album is harder than either of the past two they released. It doesn’t even follow the same lyrical patterns of the past two. The last albums have been whimsical and, for the most part, easy to listen to. Aaron decided to look at the tougher side of his religion in [Untitled].

I want to try to go into every track in this album, because it’s so rich and detailed. It would be wrong of me to pretend like I understand every reference and every idea that is brought before me in the album, because I don’t. Like I said, there’s a lot to process, but I hope you’ll take the time to try. I’ll do what I can here, and I hope it can start a discussion.

***

So Aaron’s gone a little bit doom and gloom with the first track, “9:27a.m., 7/29”. He talks about whether salvation is a lasting experience or whether it can be taken away. He talks about the state of current events and laments, ”It’d be a pearl of a time now for a virgin birth”.

“Julia (or, ‘Holy to the Lord On the Bells of Horses’)” is a lovely example of their call to societal unity. He paraphrases Rumi in the first verse: “‘Out beyond ideas of right and wrong is a field / Will I meet you there?” Again at the end of the verse, “So many ways to lose / So many faiths”. A fitting first single — both from a professional sense and a cultural one.

“Another Head for Hydra” is about the influence we have on those around us and the example we’ve set for our children. Aaron talks about fame and how that changes us. He warns us about the dangers of materialism and worrying about a worldly perception that fame and social recognition can bring.

Sonically, two of my favorite tracks are “[dormouse sighs]” and “Winter Solstice”. They’re lyrically interesting, but I can’t really draw any concrete conclusions on what they mean for myself yet. But from a stylistic standpoint, they’re both wonderful. The former is just classic mewithoutYou and sounds like home. The latter, though, is sung in such a soothing and lilting way that reminds me of the mewithoutYou that I fell in love with. I started listening religiously (pardon the pun, I suppose) when Ten Stories was released.

“Flee, Thou Matadors” is written from the perspective of Ferdinand VIII and Isabella, king and queen of Spain. Historically, he’s known as one of the worst kings, while his wife, Isabella, was religious to the extreme. The spin that mewithoutYou puts on the story is the battle of good (Isabella) and evil (Ferdinand) they face as humans in everyday life.

There’s a lot of talk about responsibility in this album. This is seen in “Tortoises All the Way Down”, which is about how actions have consequences and is kind of Ecclesiastical, honestly. The mistakes we make will be made again at some point in history.

“2,459 Miles” and “Wendy and Betsy” are kind of a new direction for the band in the sense that they’re relatable. In the first, Aaron’s talking from the perspective of tour and being away from home and missing his family. In the second, he talks about his wife. They’re great tracks just in themselves but also (strangely enough) they’re a reminder that Aaron is a real live human. I think we all get so caught up in how head-in-the-clouds Aaron usually is as a songwriter that we can forget he has a real life away from mewithoutYou.

“New Wine, New Skins” brings up something that older Christians say a lot: ”God willing”. Aaron says, “‘God’s will’ or ‘come what fortune gives’ / Or is this truly how you’d choose to live / Managing the narrative”, as almost a taunt to his fellow believers about their (lack of) faith.

“Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore”, while also being a paramount spiritual in the hymnal, is a heavy track in which, like in the first track, Aaron wonders about his eternal state, as well as the eternal state of his family. He sings in the last line: “Have you heard from heaven today? / Tell me then, what’d Gabriel say? / Am I still on that narrow way?”

***

It’s fitting that the last line of this album is “Someday I’ll find me”. Throughout each track, Aaron has gone to each of the spiritual struggles he’s facing and dealt with them head on.

“Someday I’ll find me” is such a poignant way to end that search. Did he succeed? I think that when we take a deep look into ourselves and see who we truly are and who we’re becoming, it brings up more questions than what we bargained for. Maybe that’s why the album is [Untitled]. Maybe it’s because Aaron found more than what he planned – and maybe he didn’t like it.

If you have the time and perseverance to take a real look at this album, I think you’ll find what I found. I, like Aaron, have to take that look at myself and decide where I stand with the issues that plague society, the issues that I see in my personal life that affect only myself and those close to me. That’s what I love the most about mewithoutYou. They always force me to turn the lyrics right back onto myself and do some self-reflection. Sometimes, I don’t like what I find, but it’s okay, because the art that mewithoutYou creates is a reminder that I’m not alone not liking what I find within my heart, and I’m not alone in that I want to be better. Someday, I’ll find me.

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.

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Review: Justin Courtney Pierre – In The Drink

Despite the mounting evidence, Justine Courtney Pierre is fun. His musical career has been a series of self deprecation and hapless attempts at romance set to the tune of upbeat synth pop. That’s why it makes sense that his first solo outing, In The Drink doesn’t stray too far from familiar territory. In fact, it feels reassuring to know that Motion City Soundtrack’s lyrical content came from a place so honest that it follows through to his own music.

You can buy or stream In the Drink on Apple Music.

It is going to be impossible not to compare Pierre’s first solo album to Motion City Soundtrack. The album is still a pop rock album filled with dreamy lyrical downers. However, this is the first time Pierre has allowed himself to truly experiment with sounds. Produced by former Motion City guitarist Joshua Allen Cain, Pierre adds more garage influences to an otherwise MCS styled album. Be it the faded drumming and horn section of “Undone”, the fuzzed guitar nightmare of “Goodnight Hiroyuki”, or adding influences from Weezer’s Pinkerton to Motion City’s My Dinosaur Life to create a pop rock chimera like “Anchor”, Pierre somehow surprises as much as he plays to his base.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that Pierre himself plays every instrument except for drumming duties, which are handled by David Jarnstrom (Gratitude, BNLX). Pierre’s lead and rhythm guitar sections are as hypnotic as anything he’s ever done. He truly finds a career-spanning range from the soft pop of Even If It Kills Me in “Moonbeam” to the raging guitars of My Dinosaur Life in “In The Drink”. Perhaps most surprising is how much his bass lines pop and stand on their own. At times, the bass threatens to overtake the lead guitar as the main instrument (“Ready Player One”, “Shoulder the Weight”) in surprisingly diverse ways.

Pierre himself remains as versatile as ever. While his vocal range doesn’t attempt anything new, he remains one of the most impressive singers in pop punk. Silky smooth, Pierre manages to sound both relatable and impressive as his imagery-filled lyrics slide off of his tongue. Subtle wavers of the voice (“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”) and confident bellows (“In The Drink”) fill the album. While he doesn’t sound like a choir boy, it’s absolutely impossible not to want to sing along because you feel like you can.

Thematically, In The Drink is on par for anything else Justin Pierre has written. On the opening track, “Undone”, Pierre admits, “Hey, I won’t leave the party today / I have nothing new to relate / There is only sadness, it always ends this way”.

“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away” feels like a sister song to the Motion City Soundtrack staple “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”. Not quite as lively, the song still revolves around a man trying to put the pieces together about a broken relationship with Weezer-esque guitars raging behind the vocals. “Don’t stay. Baby please stay, you can’t stay / Every night of my life ends the same way / I want to. I don’t want to. It’s both true / Why can’t I figure this out?”

However, Pierre isn’t constantly in the ditch. “Ready Player One” sees him coming to terms with himself and finding balance with his demons, even in the midst of relationship turmoil. “Think what you will I was never as bad as they say / Okay maybe I was but back then I was outta my mind / And I’m all quips and chatter each quivering section of spine / And I’m here to it, here like I never could ever before cause I was afraid, but now I’m ready”.

In The Drink is the next logical step for Justin Pierre, even if it sounds like the next Motion City Soundtrack album. Aggressive, experimental and familiar, Justin Courtney Pierre delivers a hell of an album, even if it’s somewhat expected. What makes In The Drink so spectacular is the fact that it justifies every song Justin Pierre has written and shows not only how authentic Pierre has been throughout his career, but how close to the vest Motion City Soundtrack was through their lifetime. Whether you’re discovering Pierre for the first time, or coming for the nostalgia, In The Drink is an album that we’ve been waiting for.

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 accidentally let his apples go bad. Who does that? Has anyone ever bought TWO APPLES and gone, “No, I’ll hold onto these until they rot”? Literally no one until today.

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Twenty One Pilots are one of the biggest bands on the planet. I’d say it’s been that way since they released Vessel in 2013, although maybe that’s because I found them during that album cycle. Either way, I’m unironically and unapologetically obsessed with them.

I was just as excited as everyone when I saw their social media go dark. A little sad, sure, because Blurryface was such a good album and really marked when the band gained the most acclaim. 2015 was a great year for Twenty One Pilots.

You can buy or stream Trench on Apple Music.

So, let’s get into Trench. As themed as everything had seemed leading up to the album’s release, there are only a couple of instances where the concept of Trench as a physical place and the bishops we saw in the “Jumpsuit” video are brought to life. To me, Trench seems to be the new incarnation of Blurryface from the last album.

Per the usual, the band continues to create new standards for how good an album’s production can and should be. I think that what makes Twenty One Pilots who they are isn’t the band as a concept. It’s the members. The band’s incarnation, in a sense, changes with each album. What is always consistent, though, is how Tyler and Josh treat the art they’ve created — with reverence and ingenuity. They’re obsessed with moving higher and higher up the creativity ladder and it’s paying off. My favorite example of this on Trench is “Pet Cheetah”.

There’s only one pitfall to this album for me: they built it up as having a continuous storyline and created a narrative that, when listening to the album as a whole, doesn’t really come out for me. It worked for the singles they released, but it does kind of jump around a little bit. To be fair, perhaps I just haven’t spent enough time with it — it isn’t even a week old — but it seems a little rollercoaster-y.

I’m not going to get into favorite tracks here because there are 14 total songs on the album and they’re all good in their own way. TOP has found a formula with how their albums are laid out and this one is no different. There are tracks that are significant changes of theme in their discography here, though. Somehow, they’ve become bolder — how they talk about mental illness in “Neon Gravestones” and how Tyler addresses faith in the final track “Leave the City”.

I do want to touch on “Legend”. Written for Joseph’s deceased grandfather, this song is intensely meaningful in a way the band has never touched on. We see vulnerability about mental health and other personal issues everywhere in music, but nothing could compare to how I felt when I heard the last couple of lines: “Then the day that it happened / I recorded this last bit  / I look forward to having / A lunch with you again”.

I’ve touched on the loss of my own grandmother in other contributions for the site but nothing really hit so close to home as this line when it comes to bringing back that feeling. I get it.

I’m sure they wouldn’t want to admit this, but fame has changed Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. They have a different attitude with this album cycle than the last. It’s not necessarily a negative change, but it’s still evident. They’re more protective over the thing they’ve created — and I think they have every right to do so.

By now I’m sure you’ve guessed that I really like Trench. It’s continuously original and interesting, and they’ve brought up new views to the topics they’ve proven to be passionate about in their past offerings. Trench is a masterpiece. They (again) topped an album that didn’t seem top-able. Take some time to digest this album; I think there’s a lot we can glean from it.

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: Fall Out Boy – Lake Effect Kid

fall-out-boy-2018

It’s a cliché at this point for bands to try to rediscover their roots or pay homage to their hometown. However, Fall Out Boy’s Lake Effect Kid EP is one of the few that feels genuine. Brief as it may be, these three songs not only form a love letter to Chicago, they offer a brief history of the band’s evolving sound. What could have easily been a quick gimmick is actually a near essential piece that quickly and unapologetically shows Fall Out Boy paying attention to their own legacy.

You can buy or stream Lake Effect Kid on Apple Music.

“Lake Effect Kid” is a B-Side that has made the rounds online for quite some time. Without a proper release or context, it could be easy to overlook. I have often enjoyed the song, but understood why it had been cut from Infinity On High or Folie à Deux. However, this new mix sounds more refined and complete. Additionally, when paired with “City in a Garden”, the song takes on more body, context, and heart.

“City in a Garden”, though it may be a Chicago-centric love fest, is arguably Fall Out Boy’s most accessible and singable single since “Thnks fr th Mmrs”. Oozing with nostalgia, hooks, and dreamlike drumbeats, “City in a Garden” is for Chicago what Jason Mraz and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are for California. While it sonically sounds like a ballad off an older release, the synth and beat are distinctly part of FOB’s new era. “City in a Garden” manages to encapsulate almost every aspect of Fall Out Boy that could make a person fall in love with the band.

Lake Effect Kid’s biggest strength is how reflective it is, while still pushing ahead for the band. “Lake Effect Kid” is the pop punk older fans have been craving for years. “City in a Garden” is the kind of pop song the band couldn’t have written even a couple of years ago without the experience they have now. Meanwhile, closing track “Super Fade” moves forward with experimentation in a place that won’t ruin the flow of a full album. Borrowing heavily from the divisive single, “Young and Menace”, “Super Fade” sounds like a slip-up of a song. However, this EP is the ideal place to work out the kinks of this style of songwriting.

Lake Effect Kid not only pays homage to Chicago as the band’s stomping grounds, it pays homage to their past work. The EP is an answer for anyone who has claimed that the band sold out their sound over the last few albums. Equally as exciting, it shows Fall Out Boy’s willingness to look back on themselves with the same reverence and enthusiasm they’ve shown when looking forward.

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 makes a gosh darn good apple pie.

Review: Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

An illustrious career. A band I never thought I’d get to write about. The men, the myth, the legends: Death Cab for Cutie. Making all cry during rom-coms and secretly in their car when they reach that part of Transatlanticism, Death Cab may just be the world’s favorite group of Sad Boys.

With the release of Kintsugi and the departure of Chris Walla back in 2015, Death Cab made it clear that there was stylistic change afoot. I happen to love Kintsugi, but I’m sure there were fans who decided to tearfully remove “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” from their iPods. The band has followed in the footsteps of Kintsugi with their latest offering, Thank You for Today.

You can buy or stream Thank You For Today on Apple Music.

I enjoyed all three singles the band gave us leading up to the release of the album. They’ve all got the same Death Cab flair: a little sad; a little hopeful. But it’s still new. It takes lyricists and musicians like the members of such a timeless band like Death Cab to keep me believing that music can still be new but familiar. There’s no need for a band to genre jump to stay relevant anymore and that’s a beautiful thing.

The album is lyrically what you’d expect from Death Cab for Cutie. Using a lot of geographical and natural references, they build a story about changes in life and the environment around us. Growing up takes a toll on us and Death Cab has always dealt with that concept in a different facet with each album. “Gold Rush” talks about the changing economic landscape of Seattle and how even though good commerce and growth can be positive, there comes a time when enough is enough.

“Your Hurricane” talks about self destruction: “I won’t be the debris / In your hurricane”. Interestingly, they use the same bass line from “Summer Skin”, a track from 2005’s Plans. I wonder whether the person Gibbard left behind at the end of that summer is the same person he’s talking about in this song, 13 years later.

This album is mostly about sad things – I won’t try and pretend that it’s not. “When We Drive” is oddly specific and relatable to me. Driving has become a very cathartic thing for me, in a weird way. If I want to talk to someone about something important, I find the best place for me to get everything out in the open is while driving, for some reason. Maybe it’s the idea of driving away from the problem, or maybe it’s the opposite – driving toward a solution.

So, I said this album is about life changes. “Summer Years”, “Autumn Love”, and “Northern Lights” are about breakups. Old news, I guess. But what about, “You Moved Away”? Gibbard uses such visceral imagery here: yard sales, going away parties. This just might be one of the most personal and relatable Death Cab songs to date.

“Near/Far” struck a personal chord. Getting closer and closer to my wedding, I have no doubt that the person I’m marrying has my back. I’ve found myself dealing with more and more confusion the further I get into adulthood, and that’s turned into a pretty big amount of anxiety at times. There are times when I feel far away. The line at the end of the track echoes something my fiancé tells me all the time: “But I won’t watch you burning out / I won’t let you be the one I live without”.

The album ends with “60 & Punk”. Gibbard shared with Consequence of Sound that he’d rather not let everyone know who this song is for. So, even though we can see that it’s written about one person or band, I can’t help but see myself in this song. A fan who’s been disappointed by their hero. I can also see this being about Gibbard himself. From what I’ve heard and seen, a musician’s life can be lonely and not as glamorous as we think. There’s a lot of missed family time. A lot of missed memories.

So at the end of this album we have an oeuvre of how life can change. Buildings are torn down, friends move away and out of our life, people we thought loved us unconditionally walk out. Thank You for Today is a collection of songs about people who’ve helped us grow up and get to where we are, even though their impact may have been more negative than positive. Without the harder points in life, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the better parts.

Maybe we’ll never figure out why virtually every one of Death Cab for Cutie’s songs are sad. But I think it’s comforting to know that when we’re sad, whatever the reason is, we have a band that wants us to know that everyone’s been there.

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: As It Is – The Great Depression

As It Is are one of the treasures of new-wave pop punk. While they could have easily become just another New Found Glory clone, they have spent their career expanding their sound with each album, as though they are trying to find the essence of pop punk itself. The Great Depression, though, sounds like a true sequel to the band’s sophomore effort, Okay. Where that album used pop to show how the outside world sees someone suffering within themselves, The Great Depression relies on hard rock to show how someone suffering sees the outside world.

You can buy or stream The Great Depression on Apple Music.

The Great Depression is an aggressive album that doesn’t try to solve the issue of depression. Instead, it takes aim at society’s quiet acceptance while attempting to remove the romanticism of the idea in general (“I know this isn’t something you’re going to like to hear / Which is exactly why you need to hear this”). As It Is borrows liberally from the emo bands of the mid-2000’s, even going so far as to carry a very deliberate My Chemical Romance homage in their recent music videos.

Guitarist Benjamin Langford-Biss’s guitarwork utterly changes gears for this album. He delves much deeper into a new, harder sounds that significantly expands the band’s range (“The Reaper”, “The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)”). Bassist Alistair Testo builds a steady background of rough pop that bounces the tracks along despite how hard the guitars get. However, drummer Patrick Foley may be the hidden MVP of the album. His walls of percussion are extravagantly diverse, as though he was working overtime to impress guest vocalist Aaron Gillespie (“The Reaper”).

Likewise, vocalist Patty Walters gives a career best performance. He is pitch perfect for a pop record, but it’s the hints of screaming that make the performance. It adds an edge and urgency that matches the harsh aesthetic.

The Great Depression is a concept album that follows a character who personifies depression as either God or death itself. Either way, this being represents a society that is impartial or unconcerned with the struggles of mental illness. It is an element that adds chaos to someone who just strives to find peace.

Some songs take on depression in general, such as, “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)”, as Walters sings, “I see a pain behind your eyes / I know you feel it everyday / It’s like a light that slowly dies / But it’s better not to say / It’s better not to say such things out loud”.

Other songs address this entity cursing the narrator’s life directly. During “The Reaper”, Walters sings, “I used to sing his praise / But now there’s no sweetness in his name / He’s been dying to show me to my grave”. “The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)” bargains with the entity for a normal life. “I tell him there’s no chance, I’m not giving him my soul / It doesn’t feel it now but I know my heart is full / I’m not sure he’s right, but I’m not sure he’s wrong / I’m just desperate to belong”.

Closing track, “The End.” pleads for the outside world to understand without being playful. “Because I don’t need you to see this and I don’t want you to feel this / But I only have so much spark to offer in all of this darkness and I screamed for you until the day I gave up and lost my voice”.

The Great Depression is a leap of faith for As It Is. It is drastically different from their past work and addresses similar topics as their previous album from a whole new angle. It is arguably the band’s best work to date, and their most daring. As It Is could simply release pop record after pop record. Instead, they are proving themselves some of the most capable musicians of their generation.

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 just spilled a tray of tater tots. He is essentially a wobbly toddler that pays rent. Pro Tip: Cats don’t eat floor tots.

Review: Foxing – Nearer My God

I came across Foxing in the way I come across most of my new music obsessions: Spotify curated playlists. I’m sure the band gets tired of hearing this, but “The Medic” was the track that popped up for me about a year ago that made me curious.

You can buy or stream Nearer My God on Apple Music.

Since then, my favorite song by the band has switched to “Night Channels”, a track I can’t seem to move away from. I listen to it obsessively. The video is even more enthralling. In fact, I stopped listening to the new album to go watch it. Anyway, I digress. I finally saw Foxing when they opened up for Manchester Orchestra. It was a short, but beautifully emotional set that made me fall even deeper in love with their work. That night, they played “Slapstick”, the first single from their new album, Nearer My God.

The album opens with “Dark Paradise”, which doesn’t really sound much like what we’ve come to expect from the band, although, Foxing is nothing if not genre-bending. It’s a strong track that guarantees that we won’t tire of the band anytime soon, because it takes such a sharp turn and surprises you. Their creativity and originality simply know no bounds. Exhibit A: They released their second single, the title track, in five languages: English, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese.

The third track, “Lich Prince”, slows things down and brings in that post-hardcore drawl that drew me to the band. Conor Murphy’s vocals have always been strong, but in this track, the harmonies the band make use of really shine, right next to the guitar solo. “Gameshark” speeds things back up again, bass-heavy and lyrically hard hitting. In an interview with Brooklyn Vegan, Murphy said that the song was written as a stress reliever for the band, a way to let off some steam.

With an album that jumps around like this, I generally have a problem following the narrative the band is putting before me. Nearer My God is really just about life, though, so the album just follows the way life goes. Maybe that’s why I feel like my life is all over the place? I listened to this album once thinking about what it meant and how it all connected, but I listened to it again taking it at face value and it made more sense to me. Maybe I just need to learn to follow the narrative, or maybe I just need to throw the narrative away and take it as it comes.

Track six, “Five Cups”, encases the line, “I want to drive with my eyes closed” in a soundscape that made me want to drive with my eyes closed. I don’t know whether you’ve ever listened to an album or song that hit you so deeply that you just wanted to rest in it, but I have. One of those tracks is this one. I got lost in the way it crescendos and fades down. Then I looked at the timestamp and was like “Crap, that’s nine minutes long.” I was four minutes through with more genius to come. It’s stress-relieving in a different way than “Gameshark” – it’s aesthetically pleasing.

So after that ambient mental break, we get what sounds like a symphony, which is broken in by….drum loops? Yes, because that’s Foxing. In “Heartbeats,” which may be my favorite track on the album, the band brings together two of the most wildly different sounds and creates the perfect contrast. I can’t find anything wrong with this album. “Bastardizer” has freaking bagpipes in it. The boundaries of what this band is and what they’ve done in the past have been left in the dust.

I can’t get enough of this album because there’s so much to get from it. The album touches on the frailty of life and how we choose to spend it. It’s not political, it’s not an angry tirade. It’s just relatable. Each musical and lyrical choice was made with thought to how it would affect the sound as a whole. It’s an album seething with intelligence and diligence. Every note was chosen and designed, and the effort the band put into Nearer My God makes it a joy to listen to.

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: MxPx – MxPx

Self-titling an album is always a bold move, but to do it a quarter century into a career is something special. At this point, MxPx are one of the legends of the skate punk/pop punk scene, which makes it fitting that their newest album, MxPx is a reflection of their accomplishments and favorite memories. It genuinely sounds like the band are continuously having a blast. If anything, it confirms the brilliance of loud, fast simplicity in music and is a reminder of why people fell in love with punk to begin with.

You can buy or stream MxPx on Apple Music.

MxPx is an album that finds joy in reflection. It’s pure energy that at once shows the craft of a band so far into their career, as well as the manic noise that draws so many people to punk rock. While it sounds like it could have fallen out of 1998, MxPx is an record that relishes not being more than it is and doubles down on itself in an era when bands (and audiences) seem obsessed with finding something new.

Its greatest strength is that it is simple in construct. The music sounds similar to the skate punk of 20 years ago, though more refined. The lyrics wholeheartedly become party ready sing-a-longs, but there are glimpses of a career well earned and fondly remembered. It’s a touch that makes the record feel like a celebration of the band itself as much as it is meant to excite a crowd into a frenzy.

Album opener, “Rolling Strong” sets the tone for the album as singer Mike Herrera proudly boasts, “There’s no giving up, no going home / We’ll be here till the end / We’re pressing on / Probably should have asked a friend, but that not how we’re living / We’re still rolling strong”. It’s a song that really sounds like the band still love what they do, especially during a breakdown filled with enthusiastic shouts and crazed guitars.

MxPx finds ways to mix memories with the youthful optimism of pop punk in ways that sound neither self-indulgent nor ham-fisted. “The Way We Do” has a generic sounding chorus about following your dreams (“This is the way we do / Like the way we always wanted to”), but dispersed between these are stories about past tours and great nights on the road. “Let me live on through the songs and stories / Like that time Face to Face destroyed our van / Our freezing balls, crossed Canada with Simple Plan / Or stealing food from Bad Religion’s dressing room”.

Closing song, “Moments Like This” sends off a message of hope about making the most out of life and enjoying freedom while you have it. “It’s moments like this, that I’m gonna miss / When I’m dead and gone and I can’t kiss my kids / Will they look up at the sky and think about me? / These are the ways I’ve been spending my days, thinking weird thoughts and the things that amaze / Beyond my life and the way I’ve been able to live it so free.”

Though I listen to a lot of punk rock, I find music similar to skate punk hard to comment on. Predicated on fast guitars, steady drums and thundering bass lines, it can start to run together extraordinarily easily. However, simplicity is the biggest strength of MxPx. Many bands who started in the genre around the same time as MxPx, such as blink-182 and AFI, have drastically changed their sound over the years. Without more familiarity with MxPx, I can’t say for sure how their self-titled album compares to their earlier work, but it is crafted with the strength of a band who isn’t trying to build their reputation as much as they’re putting it on display.

MxPx is an album that should make fans of the band proud, and one of the few self-titled albums that seem to truly represent the band as a whole. While it provides one of the most fleshed-out versions of lightning quick punk rock, it makes the genre feel relevant and energized. MxPx could have been released anywhere in the last two decades, but it wouldn’t have quite the same depth of nostalgia or inspiration. Perhaps more important than anything though, MxPx is just incredibly fun to listen to.

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 he just heard the cabinet in his bathroom open and close on its own. He is typing this to avoid having to go see why it did that. The cat sitting on his lap seems alarmed as well. Booooo.

Review: Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past

I have an ever-growing list of favorite bands. In 2011, I found a group from Texas called Eisley and they quickly became the newest addition. The Valley continues to be a spring staple for me, and I’ve often thought to myself that there’s an Eisley album for every season.

I greatly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed 2017’s I’m Only Dreaming. When Sherri Dupree-Bemis announced the re-release in May I was equally excited. I’m used to long waits for new albums, so the fact that there have been two Eisley releases in two years makes me happy.

You can buy I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past on Apple Music.

I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past is what the band themselves have dubbed “a collection of acoustic and re-depicted versions” of I’m Only Dreaming. The catch is that it’s only Sherri and Garron Dupree. Somehow, though, missing the rest of the band, the two family members have managed to create an even more ethereal rendition of what was already (like most of their past albums) an album straight from a fairytale.

While I’m not really sure what originally drew me to Eisley, their storybook atmosphere is what keeps me listening. Sherri’s vocals, combined with the synth they’ve adopted, create a beautiful soundscape that’s meant to be rested in. Where I’m Only Dreaming is effortless, I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past brings “effortless” to a new level. The barely-there pianos and softened harmonies are blended perfectly.

Let’s get into some specific tracks. Like the original album, I don’t really have a favorite song on this release. I was partial to “You Are Mine” (more on that track later) when it was released as a single, and the rest of the album didn’t disappoint. Eisley has mastered the less is more approach, both sonically and logistically. Their albums are never too long or heavy from a thematic standpoint and that makes them a standard in my car’s CD player. Any of the tracks hit the spot for me at any given time.

The two tracks I was most anticipating were “Louder Than a Lion” and “You Are Mine.” These are two of the most dynamic tracks in the Eisley song bank, in my opinion, and I was excited to see whether they’d keep the changes going or whether they’d scale them back. The former track has been stripped down in the best way. They don’t lose the haunting atmosphere, and, quite honestly, slowing it down and focusing on the vocal level has actually upped the eerie feeling I got from both the track when it was first released.

“You Are Mine” is right after “Louder Than a Lion” track-listing-wise. I also appreciated the paring down of this song, though not quite as much. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, because I had no idea what to expect, but for what is such an explosive song and perfect single, I think it’s very similar to other tracks on the album in almost an afterthought way.

Where “You Are Mine” fell a little short, “When You Fall” soars. They say that the things you talk about the most show your priorities. There’s no secret that Sherri and Max love their kids. This song about Sherri’s daughters is no different. The way she delivers the lyrics showcases the intense love and concern she has for her family and that’s what makes “When You Fall” a standout track.

The final track I want to highlight is “Brightest Fire”. This was an instant standout for me on the first iteration of the album, and the same could be said here. Sherri’s instrument of choice here is stacked harmonies, and as anyone who’s read one of my reviews knows, I’m a firm believer that any song can be improved by throwing some layered vocals into the mix. I simply can’t get enough of this song’s re-release.

As with the original recordings and variations of I’m Only Dreaming, I love this album. It puts the lyrical aspects of Eisley toward the forefront of the listener’s focus and I’m always a huge fan of that. Maybe this is being a little greedy, but I can’t wait to see how Eisley follows up this particularly special chapter in their history. It’s been a big era of change both personally and musically for the band, and I’m interested to see how they’ll channel that fact in releases to come.

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.

Review: Real Friends – Composure

It’s been just over two years since Real Friends came out with a full-length album, and while this isn’t an abnormally long period, I held firm belief that the band was in the process of creating their best work yet. It turns out, I wasn’t wrong. Composure is one of the best releases you’ll hear this year and is built as a story about the impact mental illness has on our relationships and our lives.

This is an album with a title that is vitally important to the context of the record. The very concept of composure itself is centrally woven through every song on the album, creating a continuity and arc that is impossible to ignore and a story that is liable to hit home for nearly everyone who listens.

You can buy or stream Composure on Apple Music.

As the album kicks off with “Me First”, there’s no composure present. Vocalist Dan Lambton bares it all, singing, “Why don’t you put me first for once / And spare me the bad news / Why don’t you put me first for once / We might need to slow down / Cuz’ I’m not going anywhere”. If you’ve ever been in a place where you don’t feel appreciated, it’s difficult to hold back your frustration once you reach your limit. Straightforward and biting, the character has voiced his concerns and now he can focus on working through it.

The bridge in “Stand Steady” is a continuation of the feelings in the first track. “Here I am / Showing every worry / To the world”, is a short but telling phrase that shows he’s still not cool with what’s going on. However, he’s decided to work on being the stronger person in the situation.

The story truly unfolds in “From the Outside”, which was a very fitting single for the band to release in anticipation for this album. Here we find that the person he’s struggling with is himself. Lambton has often spoken of struggling with bipolar disorder, and this song talks about his prescriptions and his constant need to save face. He’s in the public eye and has an influence. This idea continues on in the next song, “Smiling On the Surface”.

I took “Hear What You Want” to be referencing either a relationship with someone else or another way that he’s talking about himself. “I can’t leave you / You can’t leave me”, could refer to a toxic relationship or it could be talking about his mental illness. You can’t always get rid of what’s going on in your thoughts, and by hearing what you want, Lambton could be saying that the intrusive thoughts are a lot louder than he wishes they’d be, and even though one part of him knows he should ignore it, he can’t.

The next song, “Unconditional Love”, led me to believe that the past song is about a relationship. “You let me down / But you never let me go”, is saying that the relationship wasn’t beneficial, but they’re still trying to make it work despite knowing that it’s only a matter of time before things really go south. The last line of the song is “So let me go”, making clear that our character knows that what’s best for his mental health is to drop things that aren’t fulfilling and healthy.

On the title track, Lambton sings, “I’m reclaiming my composure”. He’s learning how to work through some of the tougher moments in his life. The second verse is where a lot of the darker ideas reside, quite literally. “I never told anyone / But the truth is I see / The shadow hanging over me”. I think this song is about not keeping cool, but losing it. He’s trying his absolute best to keep up with the meds and the preventative measures, but he still feels off.

The biggest thing about mental illness is how it makes you feel closed off from the rest of the world. Being in a crowded room and feeling like you’re the only one there. Doing something you love to do or being with people you love and, right in the middle of it, thinking to yourself that you don’t want to be there anymore.

“Get By” carries on the theme from “Hear What You Want” and “Unconditional Love”. This is the part of the story where our character decides to do something about the weight of this relationship. He breaks it off. An important note here is that it’s never implied that it’s any kind of romantic relationship. Mental illness messes up all kinds of friendships and family ties that, when they fall through, have that emotional attachment that is hard to get over.

A lot of pop punk is based on dating and breaking up (even some old Real Friends songs), but I feel like this album is trying to strike a different chord. The band’s character here is in a tough spot with someone, but not necessarily who we think. I think it’s important to remember that the impact of mental illness isn’t just something to romanticize, but it’s something that tears people apart. It’s hard to look back on your life and replay the conversations where something wasn’t quite over, but being able to notice signs that things weren’t right. Hindsight is 20/20.

The second-to-last track on Composure is “Ripcord”. In the vein of “Get By”, we see this situation from the opposite perspective, looking purely at the other side of this conflict. The other party feels like the character is using them for their support and only calls out when it’s convenient.

This is another facet of mental illness people don’t really talk about. It’s true that someone with a mental illness often fails to see past their struggle and watch the impact it’s having on others around them. Sometimes, though, it’s a protective measure for the person themselves. If they’re not getting the support they need from those around them, their last resort can be just focusing on making themselves able to cope and function. This isn’t an excuse, it’s a fact. So yeah, maybe in “Ripcord” other people in the character’s life are having trouble dealing with the way things are going, but our character himself is also having trouble.

The album ends with “Take a Hint”, where things turn around and settle down. Dan sings, “I’m learning to take a hint / Stay convinced / We’ll see the other side”. Despite the toll this whole ordeal has taken on our character, he’s still willing to find the optimism and works hard to stay in the place of positivity.

You may notice that I only talked about the lyrical merits of Real Friends’ new album Composure. I didn’t talk about how vocally dynamic it is, or how well produced it is, or how the band has matured musically. It is all of those things and more, but I think what’s important here is the message. It’s a cry for a help. It’s an explanation. It’s a warning. It’s a piece of art that highlights one of the most prevalent issues of today. It’s worth listening to not because you love the band or love pop punk, it’s worth listening to because with a little bit of effort, you might learn something.

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.