Review: The Wonder Years – Burst & Decay

For many people, myself included, it is hard to buck the idea that The Wonder Years are a positive band. After the release of The Upsides, there is always that part of me that will juxtapose anything they release with the immortal line of “I’m not sad anymore”. Even as the band has matured and their music drifted away from youthful optimism, I still see them as one of the most earnest bands out there. But their songs always felt grounded in the stories each album told. Burst & Decay, the band’s new acoustic EP, is an exercise in reinvigorating their material so much so that it’s hard not to see those same optimistic boys that set the scene aflame with positivity.

You can buy Burst & Decay on iTunes.

Burst & Decay is a delicate interpretation of songs throughout their catalog. Tempo changes, keyboards, and crooning vocals are the most prominent changes from the original punk rock. However, that is enough to revamp these songs entirely into their own message. The softer songs build to crescendos that the original songs lacked. When vocalist Dan Campbell shifts from a croon to all-out shouts, the message carries stronger and more prominently than the original songs were able to.

“There, There”, which reflects on one’s own faults, becomes a slow-built song of defiance. “Cardinals”, a song of regret over letting down a friend, becomes a moment of somber reflection and a loving war cry.

It’s not as though these songs are fundamentally different by any means. The melodic violin, soft drumming and acoustic strums of “Cardinals” sits alongside Dan Campbell’s whispery vocals in perfect meditation. There is a build throughout so that in the final verse, when Campbell explodes and shouts the lyrics, it fundamentally seems to change the tone of the original song. Instead of pleading for a chance to prove himself, Campbell is swearing an oath to the gods.

“Don’t Let Me Cave In”, a cornerstone track of Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, may be the most dramatically changed. In lieu of the raging guitars, the song is a ballad focusing on dreamlike keyboard melodies with minimalistic guitars. Originally, this song was frantic and desperate. Campbell seemed to search for an excuse for being in such hysterics. He pleaded for help. This softer version finds him saying the same words, but determination is behind him. He’s aware of his problems and thankful to have someone there to help see him through his demons.

Not every song takes a different tone to its predecessor. “Dismantling Summer” is arguably the most direct conversion to acoustics. “Coffee Eyes” is still an absolute jam. The drums rattle away and the guitars are crisp and hypnotic. Slightly more isolated, Campbell’s cracking voice as he shouts, “There’s always been a table for me there”, sounds so much better than it did on the original recording.

“You In January”, one of No Closer To Heaven’s stand-out tracks, tops off the EP. The light violin and plinking piano provide the romantic backing a song like this always asked for. It’s also in this song that the record’s title, Burst & Decay become prominent as Campbell sings to his love. “You In January” is the thesis of the album in a roundabout way. Where many of these songs centered on the idea of cracking slowly and trying to stop the damage, these versions have managed that task.

Burst & Decay is one of the few acoustic albums that make a true difference in a band’s sound. Much like The Starting Line’s Make Yourself At Home, this record is short, crisp and fundamentally different than the core sound of the band. Though it doesn’t carry the same weight or theme of a proper album, Burst & Decay does enough to differentiate itself from anything else The Wonder Years have done.

My one hope for this album was that perhaps the songs would be reimagined lyrically, much in the same way that “Logan Circle” and “Logan Circle: A New Hope” were. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with Burst & Decay. But finding a new meaning and tone to the existing lyrics may be something more profound.

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 probably playing euchre right now. Why? No reason other than he is a pretty cool cat. Myaaah!

Advertisements

Review: PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

“Two years gone / Came back as some bones and so cynical”

The opening lines of “What’s Wrong”, an early single from PVRIS’ sophomore album All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, provide a quick and distressing synopsis. By all accounts, this album should mark a joyous occasion for the fast-rising electropop trio, but vocalist Lynn Gunn shies away from celebration, choosing to bare her broken heart instead.

That heavy honesty, coupled with the band’s refined execution, has resulted in something that somehow manages to surpass the immense hype that preceded it.

You can buy All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell on iTunes.

PVRIS took the scene by storm in 2014 with the release of White Noise – an absurdly fantastic debut that set the bar high for such a young band. From the moment those songs went on the road and the trio’s fan base ballooned, it was clear that PVRIS were never ours to keep. This was music that deserved to be heard on the biggest of stages.

I don’t know if All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is the album that will take them there, but it succeeds in nearly every way as an improved version of PVRIS. Surprisingly, All We Know doesn’t stray completely from guitars, drums and rock influence, even as the songs themselves have appropriately evolved toward a more fully realized pop sound. It’s just good music, plain and simple.

That richly melodic background creates a haunting palate for Gunn to create contrast as she reflects on the pressure and confusion that comes with nearly immediate fame and exposure. During the second verse of “What’s Wrong”, she continues her descent, singing, “When did I get so pitiful? / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold / You got my back against the wall / Now I can’t ever get comfortable”. And later, she distressingly declares, “I don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”.

Like many others in the revived genre, Gunn uses the jubilant glow of synthpop to explore dark themes, but the naïve ambiguity of White Noise fades away here. Instead, Gunn opts for a straightforward approach with some clever turns of phrase thrown in. On what could easily have become a late summer dance anthem, Gunn uses the billowing chorus of “Same Soul” to inject hollow regret into a famous Gotye line, belting, “I’m just a body that you used to know”.

Themes of shame, remorse and confusion permeate All We Know, spanning across a soundscape of synthesizers and drums that elevate tracks like “Heaven” and “Anyone Else”, building on the foundation laid during the band’s debut. Even so, aggressive elements remain – “No Mercy” is the heaviest song the band has written and closer “Nola 1” floats atop a slick guitar lick and deep, pulsing bass from Alex Babinski and Brian McDonald. It’s a delicate balancing act that never seems to tip the scales in one direction across the album’s 10 tracks.

On White Noise, Gunn was a firecracker, letting her vocals bubble over into a growl during the crescendo of nearly every track. On this sophomore release, she’s found her voice, usurping expected restraint with commanding vocals that make use of her range and power without spilling into yells or screams. During the chorus of “Winter”, Gunn harkens to old bangers like “Smoke” and “Fire” as she sings, “Can you burn a fire into my flesh / Cause your love’s so cold I see my breath” with a powerful and controlled delivery. It’s that kind of rapid progression and growth that makes the future of PVRIS increasingly exciting.

During the opening moments of “Half”, Gunn sings, “Some days I feel everything / Others are numbing / Can never find the in-between / It’s all or nothing”. Her personal battle speaks volumes about her character. Gunn is brave to share her struggle and wise to ponder the fleeting fulfillment of fame. As she does, PVRIS have come even closer to crossing the mainstream threshold. When their rise reaches its peak, which could very well be sooner than later, it would seem that they’ll be prepared.

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: Brand New – Science Fiction

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed their first weekend with Science Fiction. After eight long years, Brand New did weird things last week and ended up releasing a new album in a very typical Brand New sorta way. The resulting product is a very, very good album, maybe the best of the band’s career, and certainly a front-runner for this year’s best rock album. The end.

You can buy Science Fiction on iTunes.

Okay, it’s obviously not that simple, but seriously, what do you say? We’ve come to expect prolonged periods of silence coupled with flashes of ambiguous teasing from this band, but something about the events of last week felt truly exciting. With essentially no media coverage, no press push, and no rollout of any kind, Brand New stirred things into a frenzy and dominated the week in music discussion. The fact that Science Fiction is so damn good makes the whole thing that much more impressive.

You’ve likely already made up your mind about the album, ranked it somewhere above Daisy, and have begun the years-long process of unpacking Jesse Lacey’s lyrics. But since you’re here, let’s hit a few talking points.

First, what a relief that Brand New didn’t totally pull at the thread of 2015 singles “Mene” or “I Am a Nightmare”. In keeping with their track record, Science Fiction is very much another exploration for the band that carries a ghost of familiarity while becoming a completely new animal. At times, it sounds like something that would have been one of the most progressive rock albums of the early 90s.

To listen to the guitars on “137” or “No Control” is to hear a band that must have been inspired by In Utero-era Nirvana. Even so, tracks like “Can’t Get it Out” and “Out of Mana” wouldn’t have sounded completely out of place on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. All this to say, there’s a little something for everyone, and while many of the tracks don’t seem like they should make sense in album form, the band does an impeccable job of tying things together into a cohesive, fluid story.

With such a shifting bedrock beneath him, it’s impressive to once again watch Lacey hold his own. At times, Science Fiction plays out like a dark worship album, voiced by a man plagued by depression and demons. The album is crafted to play out like a recorded therapy session, but to limit it as just that would be an injustice. Herein, Lacey tackles big concepts like the threat of nuclear war and the bigotry of right-wing Christianity. In terms of scope, Science Fiction may very well have been Lacey’s biggest challenge and his grandest success.

I keep going back to “Could Never Be Heaven”, a sonically delicate song that would seem to offer a reprieve from the album’s harsh guitars. Instead, it’s a weighty track, with Lacey searching for a response from an unknown party. “Do you know the words that make the hidden door open? / Can you speak my secret name and fix me?” he asks at the song’s outset. By the song’s end, he seems to offer an answer to himself, finding comfort in his family. It’s the kind of uncertain, indefinite complexity that makes an album worth coming back to.

When Science Fiction is at its best, it’s asking hard questions and wrestling with hard truths about depression, hopelessness and insecurities. In standard fashion, Lacey avoids offering answers. “It’s never going to stop”, he sings on the album’s closing track, “Batter Up”. If this is truly the final song we ever hear from Brand New, what a punishing blow. I’m not sure whether it’s beautiful or tragic that such an ending feels hauntingly fitting.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll all dig deeper into this record and come away with a better feel for what the band has given us over the course of 16 years and five commendable albums. It’s easy to make a reflex statement about Science Fiction being their best in the midst of the album’s chaotic release. One thing’s for sure, though – Brand New flexed their muscles on this one. It’s an intricate, complex, layered rock album made by professional musicians that know how to play their instruments. There really haven’t been many rock albums in recent years that can touch it from a technical standpoint.

Maybe that’s why it took eight years. Maybe that’s why there was no big rollout or celebration leading up to its release. Maybe Brand New simply wanted to drop this in our hands, unexpectedly, and walk away, truly letting the music speak for itself.

That would seem to be the message from Lacey, who on “In the Water” reflects on the band’s career and characteristically needles himself about his own drive, desire and ability to craft the songs that all of us pine for. “Can’t fake it enough / I don’t want it enough / So everyone’ll wait”, he sings. The wait was worth it.

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: Neck Deep – The Peace and the Panic

In the last few years, Neck deep have grown exponentially. When I listened to their first album, I remember thinking about how I was aware that they were a band starting their career. Only within the last year have I heard their sophomore effort, Life’s Not Out to Get You, which was a sizeable leap forward in song writing skill and kept my attention for quite some time. The Peace and the Panic, the third album from the band, is not only their best work to date, it is a near perfect blend of the best aspects of pop punk with a personalized edge to it.

You can buy The Peace and the Panic on iTunes.

Neck Deep have found their groove in the scene, with a perfected mix of New Found Glory’s pop and memorable lyrics and the harsh guitars of A Day To Remember and Four Year Strong. There is an argument that the tracks might be over-produced (depending on your preference), but there is a satisfying edge to the tempered guitars.

This is a band who is unapologetically pop punk, but carving their own path through what could be an otherwise stagnated genre. “Don’t Wait” is a heavy pop song that wouldn’t have felt genuine on an earlier album as it delves into questioning the government and gaining enough perspective on the world to create your own decisions. “19 Seventy Sumthin’” is sonically caught somewhere between The Early November’s “Driving South” and Polar Bear Club’s “Drifting Thing”. It’s a beautiful mixture that shows the talent behind the band and how far they have come.

Guitarists Matt West and newcomer Sam Bowden seem to relish in the simplicity of pop punk power chords while still finding the harder edge that has been missing on the band’s last two releases (“Motion Sickness”, “Heavy Lies”) while also striking a crisp power pop melody throughout (“The Grand Delusion”). Bassist Fil Thorpe-Evans provides a heavy spine to keep the songs propped up with bucking lines (“Parachute”). Drummer Dani Washington is at his best, finding a solid mix of beats ranging from hard punk (“Motion Sickness”) to 90’s alternative (“Parachute”).

Vocalist Ben Barlow showcases his best performance yet. He is experienced enough to test his range and write some incredibly catchy and memorable hooks. The directions he takes songs into are notable as well, as they delve deeper than any of their other records. The confidence of youth is on full display, such as in “Parachutes” as he sings, “I’m done with small town politics / I need to make my way to where the action is / I’m done with it, so the question is / are you coming with?”

Lead single, “In Bloom” is a reverberating pop jam, reminiscent of Brian Fallon’s swirling guitars as Barlow asks for a chance to recover from his own sadness to help pick up the pieces of a broken relationship. “Don’t Wait” begs the listener to look further for the truth in government and politics, with a backing threat of Sam Carter screaming behind the chorus. “Disrupted they keep dividing / the government is lying / I’m not going to be a pharisee of this society / Turn off your TV station, that’s not real information”.

Perhaps most satisfying is “19 Seventy Sumthin’”. The song traces the story of Barlow’s parents from the beginnings of their relationship through his father’s death. The song is light and cheery, as a happy marriage should be, before delving into heavier guitars during the eulogy of his father. “We made it here my dear, grandkids and the mortgage paid off / Is this what dreams are made of, cuz baby we made it / Yeah, baby, you saved me / But nothing could save him from the ambulance that day”.

The Peace and the Panic is an album about finding the best in life, even if the path there is littered with road blocks. This is best expressed through closing track “Where Do We Go When We Go”, as Barlow sings, “Pain, pain, go away. Come back another day / I just wanna get one up on life before it kills me”.

Neck Deep have cemented themselves as a cornerstone of modern pop punk with this album. They haven’t redefined pop punk, because they haven’t had to. Instead, they have found the lifeblood of the genre and pumped it alive again like all great punk albums do – with ferociously uplifting music, lyrics hoping for the best despite the odds, and a guarantee that you’ll be singing along on the second listen.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is just the worst. He stepped on a pile of tomatoes yesterday. Who does that? Who doesn’t notice a hillock of tomatoes on the sidewalk and at least make an attempt to dodge? This idiot, that’s who. Boo him to his face.

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]

blink_182_matt_skiba_2015

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

lucky-boys-confusion-2017

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

You can buy Stormchasers on iTunes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

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

Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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

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

You can buy DAMN. on iTunes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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