Review: The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

One evening, I returned home from my mundane office job to find a postcard in my mailbox. I analyzed it and thought about it for an hour or two, employing the opinions of friends on what it could mean. It had a line drawing of a dog on the front and a simple message on the back: “I’m laying low / A stray dog in the street / You took me home / We’re sister cities”. I pulled back a post office label to find the logos for both Hopeless Records and Loneliest Place On Earth. The Wonder Years were back.

You can buy Sister Cities on Apple Music.

A day or two later, the band tweeted a link with an album title, release date, and single. Needless to say, their hype worked. I’ve been a huge fan of The Wonder Years for what seems like forever, and No Closer to Heaven came just when I needed it to when it released in 2014. Given my growing affection for the band, it was natural to highly anticipate what they’d do next.

Surprisingly, Sister Cities abandons much of what made The Wonder Years’ brand of pop punk so recognizable, while still managing to remain true to the band’s heart. The subtle changes are felt from the moment the album begins. The first track, “Raining in Kyoto”, is abrupt and not what I expected. I figured they’d put “Pyramids of Salt” (the second single) as the opener because of how they built up the energy. Instead, it’s track two.

In contrast to their previous releases, Sister Cities doesn’t seem to have a cohesive theme or sonic continuity. From what I understand, the album was written while the band was on tour and I think that’s the reason every track is a different experience, as well as lyrically alluding to visiting new places and seeing new things. Despite the missing aspect of “let’s get out of this town”, Sister Cities is still decidedly The Wonder Years.

I’m impressed with Dan Campbell’s vocal style on this album. I think his side project, Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties, has really helped him tap into the softer, more melodic side of his vocals rather than just the rough punk sound so associated with their past work. Musically, it’s about what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from The Wonder Years: powerful, guitar-based punk with strong drums and soaring vocals.

Two stand-out tracks for me come right in the middle of the album. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be” and “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” show both sides of the band. The former is an example of growth – a song about love through the hard times that is stylistically different from anything the band has done before. It reminds me the most of Aaron West. The latter track, however, is classic Wonder Years. It feels the most like their past and is almost a reassurance to listeners, implying, “Hey, we’re artists who’ve grown, but we’re still the band you fell in love with”.

It’s obvious that The Wonder Years have grown a lot as a band over the years, and I think it’s a combination of both life experience and band experience. With Sister Cities, specifically, it’s obvious that their travels impacted their writing and opened up a new direction to pursue. I’m always a fan of band growth, and that’s something The Wonder Years really deal well with. They never change so much that they lose fans, but they change enough to keep things fresh.

That’s what Sister Cities is. It’s new and exciting and covers ground that Soupy and the guys have never walked on before, but it still feels familiar, from the first track right through to the end.

Sister Cities closes with an outstanding final track. The band always manages to tie up their albums perfectly and “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me” is no exception. Just the title alone is beautiful, but the final lines are what really got me: “When the sutures start to split / I trust the current to pull you back in / I miss everyone at once / But most of all, I miss the ocean”. The ocean holds a special place in my heart, and after the (seemingly) endless winter we’ve had, I’m ready to go sit in the sand and reflect on some things.

The Wonder Years have always known exactly how to voice dealing with loss and grief and I think that’s why so many people are drawn to the art they create. There’s not a person on earth who won’t experience these feelings, if they haven’t already. Where No Closer to Heaven dealt with anger and blame, Sister Cities focuses on sorrow, feelings of abandonment, and how we eventually find the strength to move along. We always remember the things we’ve lost, but there’s a point where we find a way out and get back to the ocean. I think I’m at that point, personally, and The Wonder Years have simply come up alongside me to help with the healing.

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: Underoath – Erase Me

The best part about watching the weekly episodes of “A Work in Progress”, the recent studio documentary from Underoath, is seeing the members of the band together again: smiling, dialoguing, creating. It’s a sight that’s easy to take for granted given the amount of music the band has delivered in their two decades of existence and how close they came to a full-on collapse, but upon their long-awaited return, it feels important to appreciate every detail.

It’s been eight years since the Tampa, Florida, post-hardcore act delivered Ø (Disambiguation), which could easily have been perceived as their swan song. In the years since its release, the band has broken up, reunited, rekindled fractured friendships, battled with lost faith, and quietly crafted an album that no one saw coming. Across these 11 new tracks, you can feel every pulse and beat of that conflict and the relief that has come on the other side.

You can buy Erase Me on Apple Music.

Erase Me is like no other Underoath album you’ve heard and very well may lose some long-time listeners upon first spin. But that would be a shame, because the album itself, like every release from the band, is a delineation of forward motion – yet another new take on the sound of a band that still refuses to be pigeonholed or confined to a genre.

In a way, early singles “On My Teeth” and “Rapture” are red herrings, respectively serving as a nod to the band’s roots and a clear model of an accessibility that has always been present beneath the surface. Truthfully, Erase Me largely lives somewhere in between, enveloping a gray area that has long been Underoath’s greatest strength. Thus, it’s quite difficult to put a label on it. You’ll find elements of alternative, industrial, and experimental sprinkled within.

Album opener “It Has to Start Somewhere” is an urgent allusion to both internal and external conflict, as Spencer Chamberlain howls atop rolling guitars, “If my tongue is the blade / Your hand is the gun / One of us ain’t going home tonight”. A sudden cut to a bedrock of programmed drums and electronic distortion, courtesy of Chris Dudley, finds Aaron Gillespie crooning, “This is what fear tastes like / Go ahead and make me numb”. It’s a moment that feels familiar and fresh – a reminder of how Underoath can make such a subtle moment feel so special.

These twists and turns pervade Erase Me, but unlike past efforts like Define the Great Line or Lost in the Sound of Separation, the band embraces choruses and melody. You can sing along to these tracks and simultaneously feel challenged. It’s a fine line to walk, and one that has been tested by others in recent years, but hasn’t felt perfected until now. The haunting synthesizers and soaring guitars behind “Wake Me” harken the band’s heavy tendencies even though Chamberlain never unleashes a scream.

The same can be said of “In Motion”, which finds Chamberlain and Gillespie sharing a call-and-response chorus that feels at once recognizable and like nothing else you’ve ever heard from the band. Keeping with the trend, Chamberlain’s closing cry of “There is no fix” offers a response to his questioning scream of “Where is my fix?” on “A Divine Eradication” eight years earlier. “Bloodlust” and “ihateit” lean hard into the band’s new melodic tendencies, offering catchy hooks atop complex, layered tracks that provide new sonic surprises upon repeated listens.

Yet for all of the discussion that will certainly surround the band’s new music, a greater conversation lies within the narrative. You’ve likely already seen headlines such as, “How Losing Religion Saved Underoath” or “’Christianity Ruined My Life’”, and while these flashy quotes allude to a very real thematic shift, they do little to do justice to the struggle involved in untangling one’s ties to religion. When all is said and done and Erase Me’s final notes have faded, this body of work serves the conversation well, but maybe not quite in the way you’d expect.

As with so many of Underoath’s albums, Erase Me is fraught with an internal existential dialogue that cries out for answers, many of which receive silence in return. It draws an interesting parallel – Underoath, at least in terms of their musical output, has never been a band to dwell on hard truths. Even at the height of the band’s popularity within Christian circles, it always felt like there was shifting sand below.

On “Sink with Me”, Chamberlain sings, “Hold me underneath the cold moonlight / Where I believe every lie you told to me / Tell me once more that I’m safe / I never believed so give me faith”. Juxtapose those words with lines from 2006’s “Everyone Looks So Good From Here” and you’ll find a common thread: “In a deep breath it all starts to change / Flip my world inside out / Honestly I like it better this way / When I mesh the night through the back of my eyes”.

Timeless narratives speak truth in our lives, but those truths can also evolve. As time and experience change our perspective, old words speak to us in new ways, which is why the songs from Define the Great Line still mean the world to me 12 years later, even though my worldview has shifted. It’s also why Chamberlain’s journey across the 11 tracks of Erase Me will speak volumes to others climbing from the wreckage of their own collapsed constructs. Solid ground has never suited them well, which is why Erase Me feels just about as honest as any work they’ve put forth, even if the general message is largely the same.

As the album winds to a close, “No Frame” offers a signature industrial, electronic Underoath audial experience, courtesy of Dudley. Chamberlain’s final words on the track stand out amidst the existential chaos: “Well I belong right here / Where the light runs from me / I don’t believe in fear / ‘Cause this place can’t haunt me”. It’s a poignant and potent message for our time – one of inclusion. No matter your age, your race, your sexual orientation, your belief system – you belong, regardless of where the light runs.

The members of Underoath claim to be the healthiest they’ve ever been as a band, creating their most honest work to date. Take that for what you will, but it’s hard to discount their conviction. To profess it all atop yet another sharp sonic turn that is sure to leave their fan base off-balance is just about the most Underoath thing they could have done. Don’t like the new sound? Give it time. This album is meant to be chewed on. And if you’re a fan of Underoath, that’s likely why their music means so much to you in the first place.

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.

Photo credit: Nick Fancher

Review: Blessthefall – Hard Feelings

There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns. The metalcore scene, once overpopulated with lookalikes, has begun to thin as today’s scene bands explore new (and old) heavy music territory. As the era of brutal breakdowns and guttural screams begins to fade, here stands Blessthefall – purveyors of a once exploding genre and perhaps our lasting example of its excellence.

You can buy Hard Feelings on Apple Music.

In the years to come, Blessthefall’s narrative will be told as one of consistency. In 2009, Witness shrugged away the naysayers after their original vocalist fled and crafted an early playbook for the coming decade’s melodic metalcore. After 2011’s Awakening failed to expand on that effort, 2013 brought Hollow Bodies, arguably one of the genre’s finest releases. With 2015’s To Those Left Behind, the band once again tweaked their formula, remaining one of the scene’s revered acts.

All that to say, Blessthefall has had a strong run. With over a decade in the books, it’s fair to feel fatigued with the idea of another similar sonic serving, especially in light of the band’s recent signing with Rise Records, a label intertwined with the genre’s success. But Hard Feelings seems to usurp that notion – it’s an album that sounds every bit like the Blessthefall you’ve always known, but is chock full of both nostalgia and new tricks that keep you on your toes.

Album opener “Wishful Sinking” quickly unveils new electronic programming and synthesizers that match the band’s glossy new neon visual aesthetics. Just as the expected breakdown hits at the 3:30 mark, the track’s tight production jumps the shark with sharp, glitchy cuts that make you reach for the rewind button. When’s the last time a breakdown made your ears perk up? As the moments we once lived for grow tired, Blessthefall has uncovered something new.

On “Feeling Low”, the band borrows Saosin’s signature guitar squeal to breathe new life into their riffs. It’s a track that harkens a past era of post-hardcore while still managing to feel fresh thanks to a delightfully sing-able chorus, tight production, and a new take on Blessthefall’s aggressive technical prowess.

These juxtaposing concepts particularly pervade the album’s back half, with tracks like “I’m Over Being Under(rated)” and “Sleepless in Phoenix” serving as pulsing, upbeat tracks that never defer to an unnecessary heavy crunch. Yes, there are still breakdowns, but the bulk of the band’s music forces you to key in on new features and ideas that have shifted the balance. Frankly, the band’s melodic moments are more frequent and far more compelling.

For all of the subtle tonal shifts across Hard Feelings, nothing stands quite as stark as vocalist Beau Bokan, who has officially delivered his best performance. No longer structured as the soaring medicine to bassist Jared Warth’s scalding screams, Bokan is free to test new waters. Take “Sakura Blues”, where Bokan delivers a quiet opening verse at a lower register while gracefully inserting his falsetto. It’s a simple exercise in theory, but it makes his driving chorus all the more compelling and offers another welcome progression to the band’s sound.

Tucked neatly inside of all of this, and easily missed, is the band’s strongest trait of all. Hard Feelings explores a variety of moods and emotions, aggressively tackling messy life circumstances and relationships, but its default mode is one of hope. From the cry out for relief on “Keep Me Close” to the familiar pang for family and love on “Welcome Home”, the band leaves the door open for resolution. Bokan’s daughter Rocket adorably joins her dad for the album’s final refrain of, “It’s not living if I’m not living with you”.

With that kind of closing, it’s almost possible to imagine Blessthefall riding into the sunset with Hard Feelings as their swan song. If that were to be the case, the band could hang their hat on over a decade of output that guided the course for a scene during its heyday, standing as one of its most respected acts. But let’s drop the conjecture – on its own, Hard Feelings is a worthy addition to the Blessthefall catalogue, a shift in sound that feels fresh and authentic, and further proof of the band’s commitment to its craft.

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: The Fratellis – In Your Own Sweet Time

the-fratellis-2018

Jon Fratelli just might be one of the most underappreciated musicians of the last decade. Between side projects like Codeine Velvet Club and his solo work, Jon has given his main venture, The Fratellis, a wealth of sound. A healthy mix of rock, blues and Brit pop mean that each new album is guaranteed to be something new. However, variety doesn’t always guarantee innovation. In Your Own Sweet Time, the band’s new record, feels slightly under-cooked and lacks the ambition that has often elevated The Fratellis to their greatest points.

You can buy In Your Own Sweet Time on Apple Music.

In Your Own Sweet Time is a hodgepodge of sound that leans heavier towards the bluesy side of the band while mixing in some dance-ready disco beats. However, the album seems to lack a core theme outside of coy, ‘kind-of love songs.’ That’s not to say that In Your Own Sweet Time lacks its charm, but it is missing the personality and vigorous storytelling that is often associated with the band.

Drummer Mince Fratelli kills it throughtout the album. His percussion changes from song to song and becomes absurdly hypnotic. The shift from soft beats (“Told You So”) to quick, party drumming (“Advaita Shuffle”) and everything in between (“Indestructible”) is simple but effective. He maintains a steady rhythm and connecting tissue from song to song. Barry Fratelli’s bass levies a strong backing to each song that only reinforces the dance aesthetic of the album (“I’ve Been Blind”).

Jon’s guitar is fantastic, and finds footing somewhere between 80’s pop and classic rock. There are some great solos interspersed across the record (“I’ve Been Blind”), but there also seems to be a lack of ideas. The guitar during “Next Time We Wed” feels like it was plucked right off of the band’s sophomore album, Here We Stand. The lack of variety early on makes songs like “Stand Up Tragedy” and “Told You So” almost sound exactly the same on the first listen.

However, the second half of the album becomes much more interesting, as songs like “I Guess…I Suppose…” and “Indestructible” allow for some experimentation and pure energy. “Laughing Gas” is a stand out on the record, as it sounds like a lost classic from the band. It hits the pop sound that the record seems to have been aiming for.

The biggest sin on In Your Own Sweet Time, however, may be the lyrics. There is little cohesion to the album aside from the fact that each line rhymes and it dabbles in the idea of relationships. It’s perfectly acceptable that an album not try to make a large statement. However, when a line such as that from “Told You So”, as Jon sings, “Oh, I miss the womb / Put me back and make it soon / Where’s my bliss, what’s this sound? / Have you seen my solid ground?” holds just as much meaning as if it were an instrumental part, I would almost prefer the latter. Given the storytelling prowess of the band, it’s disappointing to see that talent put to waste.

“Starcrossed Losers” at least is one of the few songs that shows this talent, though, as it builds a love story from the ground up. “It started out as nothing in the strangest sense / He was never in his right mind, no defense / She waved for his attention, often on repeat / Every time she heard his name and his heartbeat”.

In Your Own Sweet Time is one of the weaker efforts by The Fratellis. It shows the promise of a band this far into their career, but fails to find the cohesion needed to make it one of the group’s most memorable albums. While it adds a disco sound to the bands repertoire, it sounds like more of a gimmick than an integral vision of what The Fratellis could be.

3/5

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 loves The Fratellis more than some family members. He partially got into hockey because “Costello Music” plays when the Blackhawks score. Oh, the future is fun!

Review: Levi the Poet – Cataracts

I’ve written and rewritten this piece a couple of times now. I’m not entirely sure how to verbalize how I feel about Cataracts, the new album by Levi Macallister’s (known professionally as Levi the Poet). It’s an important album. It’s full of harsh realities. It was painstakingly created and beautifully produced.

In emailing back and forth with Levi, I asked about the reason he decided to create Cataracts. He said, “…it was an album that [I] needed to write.” He talked about his personal life and the influence his friends’ experiences had on him. If we keep that aspect in mind, the album becomes even more than just a treatise on religion in today’s society. It becomes a piece of someone’s life, and, as you’ll see in my case, how the things one person experiences aren’t solely theirs. There are people everywhere who experience these same things.

You can buy Cataracts on Bandcamp.

Levi the Poet is my favorite spoken word artist. His exposés on life are always thought provoking. I’ve changed my mind about a subject several times in the course of listening to one track because of how he portrays different facets of the same thing. When he announced that he was releasing a new album, I was excited. It’s not often that the music world gives us something worth dwelling on, but I can always count on receiving that from Levi.

Cataracts, in short, is about Christianity. Macallister references many deep-cuts of the faith, from the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s to “Christian” cults of the 60s and 70s. What I really wish to hone in on, however, is the message of forgiveness that is scattered throughout the album.

Many of Levi’s past pieces also draw on this theme, but it’s mentioned in all but one of the tracks on Cataracts, in the form of the line “Keep forgiving.” The line is like mile markers on the interstate, all leading to the destination: the final track itself is titled “Keep Forgiving”.

The songs highlight different forms of anger. We all know that we can be angry and hold grudges against other people, political and religious institutions, and even God. Levi takes each of those ideas and spins it all the way around, giving us a full view of the subject. He speaks of dictatorial church leaders, disease and lost faith.

Most poignant to me is one of the singles, “The Dark Night of the Soul”. The reason this track hit me so hard was because it’s the story of a father losing a child to illness. Even though I’ve never lost a child, I have lost people close to me. I’ve prayed and prayed that God wouldn’t take them from me but He still did. This song is about the same topic and I found it extremely relatable. Every track on this album has at some point brought me to tears.

Growing up in the church, you learn to see past the things that make it look perfect and start to see the flaws and the cracks. I believe that we’re only human and can’t be perfect, so it’s no surprise that our churches aren’t perfect either. The problem comes when Christians try to keep up the façade and refuse to admit that they can be wrong about things, because I don’t believe God can be wrong. I do believe, though, that He can be misinterpreted.

Among all of these problematic beliefs and ideas that modern Christianity has, we still cling to the idea of forgiveness. That’s what Levi seems to cling to as well. The final lines of Cataracts are these: “You may never get your apology / And on the day you do / It may not mean a thing / Keep forgiving”.

We must cling to the concept of forgiveness and let go of the things that weigh down our souls. Only then will we see real change in society. Whether you consider yourself religious or not, there’s a lot to think about concerning the message of Cataracts. Despite our failings, we’re all here trying to fight negativity together. If we take a look at our own selves (as scary and uncomfortable as that can be), we’ll find that there are things we can fix in order to cause even a small change in our sphere of influence. They may not seem to be big or important, but a little goes a long way. Levi the Poet’s album has caused that catalyst to begin in me. Maybe it can do the same for you.

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: Pianos Become the Teeth – Wait for Love

If you’ve read any of my pieces regarding Baltimore, Maryland, post-hardcore band Pianos Become the Teeth, you’ll know that they’re one of my favorites. It will, therefore, probably be unsurprising when I tell you that I think their latest album, Wait for Love, is a masterpiece.

I found Pianos by chance in 2015 when Keep You was released and fell in love with their sound. The album was released in a year that was super tough for my family and I, so lyrically, the album is close to my heart and remains a comfortable spot to land when I want something familiar. Needless to say, I have been anxiously awaiting their follow up and am thrilled to say that it does not disappoint.

You can buy Wait for Love on iTunes.

Wait for Love starts with “Fake Lightning”, a perfect opener that sets the tone for the record. It kind of encapsulates the entire theme, even stating, “We wait for love / Tradition can’t be kept”. When I heard the second part of the line, I felt like it was almost for us, the listeners, as if to say, “Tradition can’t be kept, so here’s our take on that idea.”

Lead single “Charisma” can be seen as just another love song, and that’s how I first took it (and partly still do), but upon further listening and digging into vocalist Kyle Durfey’s essays (further expounded on below), this song is about the birth of his son, which made it even more beautiful to me. Musically, it’s euphoric, and it displays that joy that only new parents know.

If you follow the band closely, you’ll have at some point received a Twitter notification, an Instagram post, an email, etc. that contained a link. Durfey wrote an essay on each song from the record, and at the end, he writes, “It is not necessary to read this before listening to our record, but in doing so, my hope is that you keep these words in mind whilst you do.”

I read it but tried not to keep it in mind too much at first. Given my emotional connection to Keep You, I wanted to listen to the new album for myself and take what I could from it. Only recently have I really started picking apart the lyrics and matching it up to what Durfey wrote.

Keep You was largely about the death of his father, and “Bitter Red” draws to that topic again. As much as we want the pain of these things to eventually leave us, they never really do. Needless to say, the piece Durfey wrote on his album made me feel a lot. It brings a new perspective to the deeper meanings of these songs. Oftentimes, we as listeners aren’t always in tune to what the artist is trying to convey and just boil down these songs into lyrics and melody. Durfey has reminded us that this is his life.

Even the album title itself is poignant. In each song, the band shows a different facet of waiting. Throughout the album, the band discusses waiting for children to be born, learning to live without the immediate love of someone we’ve lost, and loving ourselves despite our mistakes. It’s about the love others have for us and how difficult it is to see and believe in sometimes. It’s about loving life on the road and experiencing new things in new places. It’s about loving a child we’re waiting to meet but won’t be able to because of a miscarriage. It’s about loving others through the curveballs life throws at us. It’s about loving others when things are going great and when love is new and exciting. It touches on every facet of life and love, which means that it has something to offer for everyone.

Simply put, this album is a work of art. Where Durfey’s vocals weren’t an overt focus on past Pianos releases, they are here. His voice shines and truly becomes an additional instrument. The drums are impeccable and driving, the guitars subtle. These guys are some of the most talented musicians, both recorded and live on stage. They’re completely captivating in every way, shape and form, and Wait for Love is a perfect example of what they’re capable of.

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: Senses Fail – If There Is Light, It Will Find You

There is a true rage on If There Is Light, It Will Find You, the new album from Senses Fail, that can only manifest with age. Eighteen-year-olds can scream all they want, but they haven’t lived life long enough to see everything truly collapse yet. The demons haunting Buddy Nielsen, lead vocalist, and the album’s writer, are the type that inspire not only true art, but also unconditional emotional failure. Coming out on the other side of these issues is what gives If There Is Light such a powerful message that few bands can mimic.

You can buy If There Is Light, It Will Find You on Bandcamp.

I won’t claim to be a big Senses Fail fan, but I know the essence of their sound and the horror tinged lyrics that accompanied many of their early albums. I also know of the Drive-Thru Records pop elements that fused into their hardcore edge. As the first album from the band written entirely by Nielsen, If There Is Light captures the sound of Senses Fail and puts me in the mind of what the band were hoping to achieve on their debut LP, Let It Enfold You.

The guitars thrash with heavy power chords and hard pop, reminiscent of The Movielife. However, rather than forcing the harder edge of mid-career Senses Fail, Nielsen relies on the pop element to lift the songs to catchier highs and sharper hooks. A few Queen-inspired guitar solos help lift the spirit of the music from time to time, too.

The poppier elements are a juxtaposition against the darker lyrics that also shows the light beaming through the nightmares. Rather than rely on lyrical screaming, Nielsen’s clean vocals are more than enough to communicate the depth of the real-life horror of this album, as well as how thankful he is to be on the other side.

One of the recurring themes of If There Is Light, is that Nielsen is one of the few his age still relying on music. At this point in my 30s, everyone I grew up with listening to the same music has abandoned listening to it, much less still performing. “Double Cross” finds Nielsen reminiscing about the passion he shared with others while singing from the stage, but now age has made them jaded.

“Is It Gonna Be The Year?” may be one of the most open songs pop punk has ever seen. Nielsen is split between wanting to pursue music forever even as his peers fall away, and the realization that maturity kills the genre. It’s genuinely a stab to the heart to hear him shout, “I never thought that it would last this long / And neither did the others, that’s why they’re all gone / When is it time to give it up, and how long is long enough? / And when should I throw it in, cause I don’t wanna be a washed up old man”.

But where the theme of the album finds its truth is in the songs clearly dedicated to Nielsen’s wife. “First Breath, Last Breath” is a true hell, as it tells the story of watching his wife almost die during childbirth. The guitars chug slowly, letting every note bleed as Buddy sings, “I have never felt so crushed / The sadness buried in my bones / How the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter on my own?” Following later on is quick burner, “Orlando And A Miscarriage”, which seems to be a title that needs no explanation, as the pain that flows from it is visceral.

However, knowing that she survived, “You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense” is a glorious redemption. The music blasts as Buddy praises her for giving him the strength to keep moving. It’s playful (“I love the way that you don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks / And I’m trying so hard to think like that / but I’m the singer in a fucking band and I’m still neurotic as shit”), and a confession of true love (“All my life I’ve waited to kiss your perfect face / Into the darkest night I’ll take you by my side”).

What makes If There Is Light so redeeming is that each song, and each theme has a callback. For each song that fears being the aging punk, he rallies the troops of youth in a rage against the government (“Gold Jacket, Green Jacket…”) or relishes the memories of Saves The Day from 12 years ago (“Stay What You Are”). For each song about potentially losing his wife, he sings her praises for making him stronger. For all of the darkness swirling across the album, closer “If There Is Light, It Will Find You” ends with a note of hope, as the last lyrics of the entire album are, “Don’t be afraid”.

If There Is Light, It Will Find You is a heartbreaking experience. It’s also something so real and terrifying, the horror pop lyrics of early Senses Fail seems childish in comparison. The poppier aspects of the album may turn off fans hoping for a harder edge, but this is a masterpiece considering it was written by Buddy Nielsen alone. I can’t claim to have any idea of where it will stand in the band’s discography, but it is an album everyone should experience. You’ll be thankful once you’re on the other side. Cheers.

4.5/5

Photo Credit: Tyler Ross

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 discovered Senses Fail moments before he discovered The Early November, one of his all-time favorite bands. He also saw Senses Fail open for Saves The Day, another of his all-time favorite bands. It took over 15 years, but he is finally in love with Senses Fail without overshadowing them with something else. Please throw apples at his temples if you see him.

Review: The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

The Wombats’ new album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, is one of the most accurately named albums I’ve seen in a while. The entire collection of songs is about love and the lack of love and what to do about it all. Whether this is about one person or many past relationships, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that The Wombats treat every one of these scenarios as the most important thing in the world. So apparently, there are 11 most important scenarios in the world.

This album is sort of how I expected/wanted the new Walk to Moon album to sound. I didn’t get it from them, but I’m glad that The Wombats came through. It’s full of synth and subtle 80’s influence and it works perfectly.

You can buy Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life on iTunes.

My first taste of this album was the song “Turn”. The album’s second single was so unrecognizable as a song by The Wombats that I had to Shazam it to find out who it was. They’ve been around since 2003, but I first heard their song “Give Me a Try” from their 2015 album Glitterbug on the radio. I fell in love with the sound and eagerly awaited what they’d do next. They impressed me with their evolution over the past three years.

One stand out track is the opener, “Cheetah Tongue”. It’s a strong opener and was perfectly released as a single. It’s catchy in all the right ways and it’s a great beginning to a great album.

Honestly, there aren’t really any weak tracks here. Oftentimes there’ll be a dip in quality in the middle tracks of an album, but with Beautiful People that never happened. Even though I do have favorite tracks and ones I skip, it’s only because of personal preference, not because they’re bad songs or don’t flow well with the album.

My personal theme song from this album is titled, “I Only Wear Black”. I’m joking, but it’s hard not to identify a little bit with the line, “Sometimes you laugh / But usually you cry”. Encased in a cute melody and that mildly comical chorus is a song about a breakup. Lead singer Matthew Murphy sings about moving to L.A. and hanging out at the beach but, “…I don’t really care / They couldn’t walk me back to you”.

Sometimes a band will write a song with a metaphor that’s difficult to understand, and “Dip You in Honey” is that song. Even so, The Wombats have managed to make it accessible in a way I couldn’t verbalize at first. This song is about a new relationship and how wonderful and exciting everything is. Murphy wants to “dip it in honey” so maybe it’ll stay in the aptly called honeymoon phase forever.

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is an album I’ll be spinning all summer. It draws you in right away and doesn’t let you go until you’ve felt every up and down Matthew Murphy has. So, yeah, beautiful people will ruin your life, but at least now we can have fun with that concept instead of sulking about it. I’m so thrilled that The Wombats are back with this fantastic piece of pop rock mastery.

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: Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows

After the release of Dusk and Summer 12 years ago, Dashboard Confessional had an identity crisis. They couldn’t seem to decide whether to commit to pop rock or strip back entirely to the acoustic sound that made Chris Carrabba famous. Alter the Ending attempted to quell this by releasing a version of each. In the nine years since that last album, Dashboard’s audience has grown up, and so has he.

You can buy Crooked Shadows on iTunes.

Crooked Shadows is the first Dashboard album since A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar that finds a solid footing between songwriting styles. Aggressively romantic, Carrabba found a way to embellish his writing to flow organically between rock, Lorde-esque pop and acoustic ballads. Crooked Shadows organically forges new ground as much as it sounds like a ‘best of’ collection.

It would be easy for the variety of style on Crooked Shadows to feel messy, but the album is extremely cohesive. An anthemic rock song like “We Fight” can sit beside the finger snaps and digital drums of “Belong” without sounding out of place. It is refreshing to hear each song try something new without retreading the footsteps of another song, or even past albums. That’s not to say that Crooked Shadows doesn’t sound like a Dashboard Confessional album. You can pick up the essence of every era of Dashboard’s history throughout the album if you’re listening.

The guitars of “We Fight” could be pulled from Dusk & Summer. Ending song, “Just What To Say” seems like it was left off of The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. However, songs like “Belong” sound remarkably different from Dashboard’s past. Distinctly modern pop, it is driven by electronic drums, finger snaps, and Carrabba’s cracked vocals. It doesn’t sound out of place on the album, but it is a marked difference in songwriting.

This level of pop infusion follows through to “Crooked Shadows”. More traditional in nature, the pop elements mix with guitars to create a sound that is uniquely what a Dashboard Confessional song in 2018 should sound like. It is the line between today’s radio pop and Carrabba’s MTV rock anthems.

Carrabba’s voice has always been one of his most powerful instruments, and is in full force yet again. Older and matured, he returns with the slight gravel of age, giving his deeper songs an impact that an 18 year old could never muster (“We Fight”). Alternatively, his crisp high notes are just as powerful as ever (“About Us”), and the signature emo crooning seems ageless (“Just What To Say”).

Crooked Shadows is a record brimming with love songs and the will to forge ahead. “We Fight” is a song of encouragement for anyone scared to dive forward into their dreams. “Heart Beat Here” is Carrabba’s most romantic song since “Hands Down”. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, he sings to his wife, “I wear my ring to know what’s at stake / And when the days work at their own pace, you remain my time and place”.

“Open My Eyes” finds the doubt creeping in. However, the song still finds a way to push back and look for hope, even as Chris sings, “I would stare at myself in the mirror if I thought I had any answers / Hell, finding my way just by failure / Oh, so far, we can see clear”.

Crooked Shadows is a brilliant return to form for Dashboard Confessional after taking nearly a decade between albums. At only nine songs long, it takes its time with a confidence that the last two albums lacked. Whichever era of Dashboard you prefer, there is a song for you, and a few that will feel entirely new. It’s hard to say whether Crooked Shadows will be anyone’s favorite album from the band, but it is sure to be remembered for as one of their most unique.

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 listened to Crooked Shadows while wading through a foot of snow to the train. Yaaaaaay, February!

Review: AWOLNATION – Here Come the Runts

If you’re anything like me, your interest in AWOLNATION stopped at their hit song “Sail”, never really delving any deeper into their discography. I have searched for years to try and find a better way of organizing what I should be listening to, but I haven’t found the perfect system yet, so things fall through the cracks. That’s what happened between AWOLNATION and I – no hard feelings – just an overwhelming sense of having to listen to anything and everything. I’m happy to say that this is something that will no longer happen. AWOLNATION and I are fast friends because of their latest album, Here Come the Runts.

You can buy Here Come the Runts on iTunes.

I’m always skeptical of listening to a band’s newest album without doing a bit of research, (aka listening to the rest of their discography), but I didn’t have to worry about that with this album. It’s somehow simultaneously what to expect from Aaron Bruno and a complete surprise. It’s jumbled, it’s loud and it works. The first (and title) track is raucous and chaotic, yet doesn’t set the tone for the album. It goes all over the place and is as interesting as it is entertaining.

My favorite song from the album is without a doubt the lead single, “Passion”. Look for it on my summer playlist, folks. It’s got a great energy and it stands out, reaching out to old fans who may have put AWOLNATION on the back burner, as if to say, “Hey guys, we’ve still got it!” It also draws new people (me) in and displays just how talented this band is.

Lead vocalist Aaron Bruno is the only original member left in the band. They’ve had a rocky couple of years in this regard, losing members left and right for all manner of reasons. To me, this should signal the end of a band’s golden era, but it doesn’t seem to mean that for Bruno. This is the band’s best release out of their three albums.

The song “Sail” from Megalithic Symphony is seven years old at this point, and I think it was time for something fresh. I hadn’t really heard too much about their second album, Run. I knew it existed but the buzz around it died so quickly I felt like I never got a chance to focus on it. With Here Come the Runts, Aaron Bruno gives a collection of songs that refuse to be ignored. They stand perfectly fine on their own, but come together in a dynamic way when listened in full.

That being said, the one double-edged sword with this album is its length. I’m sure I’ll confuse everyone when I say that while each song is necessary, each song isn’t totally necessary. Maybe it’s just me falling into our culture’s trend of short attention spans, but 14 tracks feels a bit lengthy on this album. (Personally, I think 11 to 12 would have been the sweet spot.) So, yes, it takes a while to get through, but it’s a rewarding experience once you do. Make sense?

To say that this is a great album is an understatement. In my opinion, AWOLNATION has returned with an offering that hopefully only compounds their success. This has definitely come into my rotation for a while, and I think this could be a great start to a new, unique part of AWOLNATION’s career.

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.