Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

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Every once in a while, something incredible happens. A new band begins building a grassroots buzz through a sprinkling of singles that gradually increases into a viral fever pitch. It all leads up to a debut album that could never possibly live up to expectations – but then it totally does. And it’s one of my favorite things to witness as a music fan.

For Canadian metal band Spiritbox it all began five years ago when vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer picked up the pieces after the fallout of iwrestledabearonce and began formulating their next move. The duo’s debut self-titled EP came in 2017, followed by a string of singles after the addition of bassist Bill Crook, and eventually, drummer Zev Rose. Last year, upon the release of breakout tracks “Blessed Be” and the thunderous “Holy Roller”, Spiritbox was the most hyped new metal act in recent memory.

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You can buy or stream Eternal Blue on Apple Music

With five of the album’s 12 tracks already in circulation by the time Eternal Blue arrived, it was fair to wonder if the band had actually kept something in their back pocket to tie things all together. Did they ever. Eternal Blue is album of the year material. It’s an album that reimagines what a metal band can deliver. It solidifies Spiritbox as a giant in a genre that needs them more than it probably even realizes.

LaPlante and company wisely placed “Holy Roller” as the centerpiece of Eternal Blue. From opener “Sun Killer”, the band begins climbing the mountain toward that deafening peak before descending down the other side on the album’s back half, closing brilliantly with the atmospheric and sorrowful “Constance”. The album is designed to flow together effortlessly, even as the songs themselves individually ebb and flow. I’ve gotten chills each time “Sun Killer”, with its note-bending breakdown, transitions flawlessly into the manic opening notes of “Hurt You”.

As Spiritbox began staking their claim as a metal newcomer to be reckoned with, Stringer’s knack for complex, djent-y guitar passages drew comparisons to U.K. metalcore giants Architects. And sure enough, here’s Sam Carter delivering a chorus for the ages alongside LaPlante on “Yellowjacket”, howling, “Where was the grace when I was asking for it?” That cry into the void is a sentiment that exudes from many of the tracks on Eternal Blue, with answers often coming from within.

LaPlante’s transparent journey through the tumultuous waves of depression don’t always lean into feelings of hopelessness, but rather consistently look for open doors and windows. Of the title track, LaPlante shared, “Lyrically, it’s about someone who is at rock bottom but is trying not to romanticize that.” Still, she saves space to acknowledge those moments when it’s not that easy. On “The Summit”, she sings, “I was looking for the wrong way out / Empty road is like an open mouth” before her repeated refrain of, “The venom is what keeps me alive”. 

That visceral rise and fall effect throughout the course of Eternal Blue is something that reveals itself in new ways on each repeated listen. Take “Halcyon”, which opens with the band pounding the earth beneath their feet to dust just before the music gives way to LaPlante’s effortlessly and gracefully delivered opening lines. The band then slowly winds up for the punishing outro, with LaPlante screaming, “Irrelevance is imminent / I could be one of them” just in time for what amounts to a deep breath, followed by one of the most massive breakdowns on the album.

In the end, the ultimate payoff of Eternal Blue seems almost predestined. In a rare moment of wild confidence on the bridge of “Circle with Me”, LaPlante shreds her vocal chords as she roars, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. The raucous final call to circle with her and her bandmates is one that will not go unanswered. Spiritbox have owned the moment, and their new legion of fans can now lose themselves under the waves of Eternal Blue again and again.

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Grayscale – Umbra

Every once in a while, a band just finds their sound. For Grayscale, this came in the form of the single “In Violet”, a song that stood out against the rest of their album Nella Vita. Although the album itself was stellar, there is a magic to “In Violet”. The song is a vortex of moody melodies and dark lyrical subject matter that swirls around a joyful chorus and the swelling of celebratory horns. For their newest album, Umbra, Grayscale have fully leaned into the ideas that gave birth to “In Violet”. The results of this is an album that is over-the-top, stylish, fun and arguably unlike anything else currently in the scene. 

You can buy or stream Umbra on Apple Music.

For Umbra, Grayscale have thrown everything at what made “In Violet” stand out at each song. In a way, it almost sounds overwhelming. There are extensive saxophone solos (“Motown”), gospel choruses (“Live Again”), glitzy guitar solos (“Dirty Bombs”) and songs that include literally all of the above (”Without You”). While these elements could easily be overdone, they’re presented in a way that sounds modernly creative as well as like a long-forgotten soundtrack to an 80’s blockbuster. Simply put, Umbra is exciting because it seems like almost anything can appear throughout the album’s 11 tracks. 

What ties these elements together and reigns them in is a retro-style guitar, courtesy of guitarists Dallas Molster and Andrew Kyne. Opener “Without You” carries a heavy vibe reminiscent of Rick Astley. However, much like “In Violet”, the energetic music hides the bitter lyrical subject matter. Amidst the roaring saxophone and guitar solos, vocalist Collin Walsh sings about the freedom he feels after leaving a toxic relationship (“How could I find love in a car crash? / I was pinned down with my hands back / I’m finally without you”). 

Bassist Nick Ventimiglia stands out most during the quieter moments (“Carolina Skies”), while percussionist Nick Veno finds a healthy restraint amidst the melody of songs, and switches up from a heavily produced sound (“Motown”), to what seems to be some nostalgic gated reverb (“Babylon (Say It To My Face)”).

Walsh’s vocals carry stories of loss and coping with darkness throughout Umbra, such as “King of Everything”, which chronicles the loss of a someone who seems to have left their marriage and friends in a type of mid-life crisis (“Yeah, you’re still a part of me / See the life you threw away, wedding bells and silver rings / No more pain and suffering / So go be the man you want to be”).

Meanwhile, closer “Light” sees Walsh mourning the loss of someone he loves as they pursue their dreams and leaves him stranded in place (“Hearts, they never heal in a straight line / Twelve weeks since you had to go and break mine / Sinking here like a stone / Sad to say, yeah, I know / It’s dark here, spinning deep into my head”). 

Umbra seems like too much, sonically, yet it works. Part of this is that all of the extravagant elements on the album are spread out, providing a taste of each from song to song. As such, the album somehow manages to weave an experience of sound that seems more fitting to mainstream pop than indie rock, but fits with the mood of the band. Umbra explores the darkness of relationships and the aftermath that haunts those stuck trying to find a new adventure. “In Violet” seems to have sprung a surge of creativity from Grayscale that heavily influenced this album, and the band is better for it.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

Kyle 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 slowly baking in the humidity like a potato. A mighty Idaho potato.

Review: Lorde – Solar Power

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On Lorde’s latest, Solar Power, I want what she’s having. Oh wait. I already have it.

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You can buy or stream Solar Power on Apple Music

Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s triumphant return began with a less than triumphant lead single, the title track of her new album. I liked it from the beginning, but I couldn’t deny that I understood what others found disappointing about it. But as someone who is almost exactly Lorde’s age, I got it. The idea “Can you reach me? No, you can’t!” is such a sought after feeling for me, an introvert stuck in an overly connected age. In this, I envy her.

Lorde took a lot of time away since 2017’s masterpiece Melodrama, an album I still think was robbed at the Grammys. This is a hill I’m willing to die on. She is a quiet artist, an introspective genius. Her work is meant to be listened to and experienced on an individual level. 

This is mostly in part, I believe, to Ella’s own introversion. She rarely tours, rarely sits for interviews, and she even hid on social media as an onion ring enthusiast. In Solar Power, I believe we see Lorde in her truest form. She sings of her dislike for her fame and of her obligations as an artist, but it’s not in a woe-is-me, I’m-famous-but-I’m-a-victim sense. She’s just a young woman who has a lot on her plate, as most of the folks in her (and my) generation do. 

This is an album about anxiety and finding solace from a world that demands attention in the most obnoxious ways possible. As someone of no acclaim, I even feel this in my work and in my friendships and in my internet presence. One can only imagine how that feels when you’re globally known. I don’t blame her for wanting out. 

Solar Power is a picture of today’s generation. It’s a story about a woman who just wants a break. A woman who wants to see a better world but doesn’t know the role she plays in getting there. And it’s one of my favorite albums this year.

4.5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

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You know that old saying “If I could, I’d give you the moon”? On Foxing’s new album, Draw Down the Moon, Foxing both asks for the moon and delivers it to us on a silver platter. 

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You can buy or stream Draw Down the Moon on Apple Music

This is, in short, a superb album. But of course it is, because Foxing never does anything less. I honestly thought they’d peaked with Nearer My God, but somehow they’ve aimed higher here and hit the mark. If Nearer My God was the “rock” in “art rock,” then Draw Down the Moon is the “art.”

The album begins softly with “737”, a song about loneliness and how it’s not sustainable. The guys compare themselves to the Mars rover who died after being on the planet for 15 years: “My battery is low / And it’s getting dark”. Conor Murphy said in the band’s press release: “This album is about cosmic significance as it relates to 10 themes.” In the first track, the bridge alludes to all nine of the tracks to follow. It’s a subtle choice, but it ties everything together in what could be seen as a chaotic album. Foxing is a calculated band. Chaos isn’t chaos for the sake of it. If we feel disjointed, it’s because they’ve decided we should feel that way.

The album was co-produced by the Manchester Orchestra folks, masters of their own craft, and you can definitely see their influence. “Where the Lightning Strikes Twice” could be mistaken for a Manchester song in a universe not far from ours.

As a longtime follower of the band (after catching them as an opener for Manchester Orchestra, funnily enough), I know better than to go into the Foxing discography looking for a casual listen. But with this album, I wish I could have turned off that analytical side. This album cuts deep. Songs about loneliness, about mental illness making it feel like “you’re swimming through mercury” (Go Down Together). Songs like “Cold-Blooded” that talk about feeling numb to an ever-changing, ever-failing world. These things matter. And Foxing knows that not only do things feel smaller when they’re talked about, but by pairing them with larger-than-life art, we can turn the things that make us nervous and the things that emotionally ail us into outlets for creativity and learning experiences.

In the title track, Conor sings “I want to show you / I can keep it all together”, but this album is a lesson in letting it fall apart, and rising above it.

5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: John Mayer – Sob Rock

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I don’t know whether it’s coincidental or tongue-in-cheek that John Mayer’s new album Sob Rock is two letters off from “soft rock”. We all know that John Mayer is the king of modern soft rock, so I’m leaning toward the latter.

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I feel like everyone at some point has gone through a John Mayer phase. Mine was parallel to my brother’s who wouldn’t stop playing 2008’s live album Where the Light Is, for a solid six months out of our family iTunes library. From then we would hear singles and choice tracks from other albums courtesy of my brother, but I never really did a deep dive into the discography. And I don’t know if I plan to, for what it’s worth. In fact, the first time I listened to Sob Rock in its entirety was just the other night in my mom’s kitchen, at the request of said brother.

Sob Rock is an ode to the 80s at its core. The first track and last single before release day, “Last Train Home” starts off eerily similar to Toto’s “Africa”, and a trend throughout the album is the very Fleetwood Mac-esque guitars and Cyndi Lauper laced synths. 

The entire album is a highlight, a no skip paradise. I think I might invest in a physical copy of this one to keep in the ol’ stereo. My current standout is “Wild Blue”, a breezy song reminiscent of Fleetwood’s “Dreams”, but also a perfect summer track. But my opinion of “best track” changes every time I listen through. “I Guess I Feel Like” is a deep introspective track that deserves the repeat button. 

This is a breakup album obviously, but lines like “I’ve loved seven other women / And they were all you” from “Shot In the Dark” and songs like “Til the Right One Comes” are fresh takes on old feelings. The whole album has holding-a-boom-box-outside-your-crush’s-window vibes and I’m here for it this summer. 

The main thing to take away from Sob Rock is don’t add paint to a masterpiece. Is this an already familiar John Mayer album? Almost formulaic? Yes. But let’s be honest, the man’s been releasing music since the 90s so clearly he’s doing something right. And as the album ends with “All I want is…” you realise all you want is the way this album makes you feel for forever. It’s a little bittersweet, it’s a little lonely, it’s all real.

4/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Graduating Life – II

Every now and then, an album shocks you by how much you enjoy it. Graduating Life is undoubtedly a beast of creativity, making music unlike almost any other artist at the moment. Emotional, erratic and utterly brilliant, II is the type of record that comes around rarely and isn’t appreciated until years after release.

You can buy or stream II on Apple Music.

Despite how distinct II sounds, it is undoubtedly and reassuringly familiar. It’s impossible not to compare Graduating Life, the project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, to Max Bemis and Say Anything‘s Is A Real Boy…, or elements of Jeff Rosenstock. Thompson even sounds like Bemis, straight from the clean vocals to the screams. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually listening to Say Anything. While that may sound like a dig at Thompson, I was utterly enthralled by II and how a tempo change thrown into the middle of a song sounded so refreshing, or how much I wanted to fist pump the air on a crowded train.

Thompson proves himself an incredible talent, shredding pop punk riffs that incorporate elements from many areas of punk. Songs jump in tempo (“Crushed & Smothered”) without warning, and slam from piano and acoustic melodies to jarring punk riffs (“Photo Album”), but it never sounds incohesive. And somewhere in the middle are ample amounts of guitar solos that seem to appear right when you hope they will (“Fine”).

The poetic lyrics tell a tale of battling one’s inner demons, and wrestling with stagnation and ego while the people close to you move on to other things, come better or worse.

Album opener “Photo Album” sets the tone by reflecting on a life of difficulty in letting go of those around you (“So they will move and you will stay / The afterlife Seattle rain / It’s getting harder every single day / You’ll make new friends and settle in / Or cry alone like we were kids”).

Alt rock jam “Let’s Make A Scene” finds Thompson in conflict and losing someone close to him who has decided to not to live with him anymore (“Let’s makе a scene just you and me / I was never asking for more than your company / Oh your company, a friend by my side / And in this apartment I feel alive”).

Meanwhile, “Black Skinny Jeans” calls out trolls online who spout nothing but contempt (“And I read the messages that ya sent / Bet you never thought that I’d read them / Goodbye get to leaving”) with Thompson comparing the experience to going to his old home and watching how it’s changed since be became an adult (“I went to my old house to see if it’s the same / I guess they took the trees out but left on the paint”).

II somehow simultaneously treads familiar ground and seems to innovate a genre with the energy it has missed in the last couple of years. Despite the fact that it sounds like the sequel to Is A Real Boy… that Max Bemis never wrote, Bart Thompson manages to infuse enough of himself into the album to keep it from feeling like rehashed territory or a copycat. 

Graduating Life has managed to create something incredible and hypnotic that sounds utterly inspired by a scene staple, but brimming with its own life and energy.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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Kyle 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 just recently begun to accept the existence of tomatoes.

Review: AFI – Bodies

Bodies granted a wish I have held onto for 11 years: AFI revisited the pop sound they first explored in 2009’s masterpiece album, Crash Love. While most of their discography is known for dark, powerful rock music, Crash Love and Bodies act as anti-pop albums even while fully embracing that sound. But while Crash Love maneuvered that transition in sound flawlessly, Bodies struggles to make its mark. There are a lot of good ideas on Bodies, but the album flashes past them in an incredibly fast 36 minutes.

You can buy or stream Bodies on Apple Music.

Part of what Bodies lacks is letting the band cut loose in the ways we know they can. Although incorporating more dance elements than ever before, the music is more relaxed and reserved than anything the band has ever written (“Dulceria”). This dynamic, however, allows bassist Hunter Burgan and drummer Adam Carson to take center stage to most songs (“Death of the Party”). While guitarist Jade Puget gets less opportunity to show off the fact he is one of the best artists in rock, he truly shines when the chance presents itself (“No Eyes”).

If there is a weakness to Bodies, it may be the lyrics. While vocalist Davey Havok has amassed a legion of fans with his poetic and grim verses over the years, Bodies’ are more vague than usual and lack the flare of presentation that could offset that. Havok, meanwhile, delivers a stellar performance, even if some of his vocal experimentation doesn’t always land (“Dulceria”).

Bodies works on a theme of robust romanticism and the destruction of self from obsessing over lust and beauty. At once hyper sexualized, such as “On Your Back” (“I want to tell you, but I know I’ve said too much / About the history, about the signs / You’ve opened on your thighs, so they may speak your mind upon love”), Bodies finds its footing in the rejection of romance. 

“Looking Tragic” has Havok exploring sexual frustration against a gorgeous guitar riff (“This may be boring / Is it less than a total mess? / In a minute this may turn sour, if we last”), while “Death of the Party” explores the loss felt from someone leaving the relationship after the narrator had used them (“Where, oh where, did you last see her? / She was right there soaking in black fur”).

“No Eyes” explores the loss of someone by focusing on her mascara (“Every blush behind the lines, every cooly spoken line / Reminding me that you aren’t mine”) over a frantic punk riff. Closing song “Tied to a Tree” offers the most poetic verse on the album, laid against a near offensive sounding acoustic guitar as Havok reflects on how his obsession with lust and beauty has lead to utter ruin, and he finds himself alone by his own doing (“Where we used to meet / To see how good you look / In my dying light”). Bodies is arguably the biggest risk AFI have taken in a long time. While the experimentation to their sound and style doesn’t always work as well as it should, it’s a welcome endeavor for a band this deep into their storied career. The fact that Bodies somehow sounds utterly foreign and yet distinctly AFI is a testament to the skill of songwriting, even at its weakest.

3.5/5

Photo by Jacob Boll

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_cat

Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and accidentally walked into the middle of six people fighting each other because he was really into his audiobook.

Review: Marina – Ancient Dream in a Modern Land

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In just a few short years, Marina Diamandis has completely reinvented herself. Gone are the days of alter egos and hiding her personality behind characters and personifications. With 2019’s Love + Fear, it seemed like Marina was regressing as an artist, with stripped back, generic pop. But with her latest, Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land, she is showing us that she was simply finding a new footing.

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You can buy or stream Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land on Apple Music

From a visual standpoint this album seems to be heavily influenced by the futuristic style of the Mod 60s. Her choreography is inspired by Bob Fosse and her clothes are inspired by Twiggy. But for an album that looks forward to a hypothetical period of positive growth and improvement in society, it seems a little bit counterintuitive. She wants to go back to “simpler times,” but she wants to take too many of today’s ideas with her. Her idealistic luggage is too heavy for the plane.

The lead single from the album, “Man’s World”, was a last minute contender for my 2020 song of the year. It was mournful and hopeful all at the same time, and it not only gave us a great taste of what Marina had up her sleeves, but it also was a stark reminder of the things we need to work on. She sings, “If you have a mother, daughter or a friend / Maybe it is time / Time you comprehend / The world that you live in / Ain’t the same one as them / So don’t punish me / Because I’m not a man”. 

And that vein runs all through this piece. It’s a work inspired by female empowerment the likes I’ve never seen before. I’m infinitely grateful for it. It’s not in your face or bashing women who make choices that may seem “anti-feminist.” It’s a celebration of femininity as a whole. 

From a technical standpoint, I thought it was too short. I know she has more to say that maybe she’s holding back for future projects, but this one seems just a tad incomplete at a 36 minute run time. A highlight for me is the final single she released, “Venus Fly Trap”, a song straight from the discotheque about being your true self. 

All in all, this is an incredible offering from Marina, and it feels familiar. She has drawn from all of her past eras to give us a project that is completely “her.” And that’s what empowerment is all about.

4/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

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It’s hard to believe I’m here again writing about a new Twenty One Pilots album. How has it already been two years since Trench was released? Generally, we’re used to radio silence from Tyler and Josh in between album cycles, but for some reason, they couldn’t shut up this time. They released “Level of Concern” last year in response to coronavirus ravaging life as we knew it, then released an internet game of the same title, almost got cancelled for Tyler’s foolish and  flippant comments about police brutality, and, finally, released “Christmas Saves the Year” in December. Wow, it almost feels like I’m a fan of a regular band, instead of the hive mind that is Twenty One Pilots.

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You can buy or stream Scaled and Icy on Apple Music

Sarcasm aside, the new album Scaled and Icy is certainly….something. Easily the most pop-forward album from the band, it falls very flat to me. And yet, it’s still home to “Shy Away”, my favorite radio single the guys have put out to date. The other redeemable tracks for me are the final two, “No Chances” and “Redecorate”. The former sounds the most like what I’ve come to expect and appreciate from the band, as well as feeling like a natural progression from their last album in a thematic sense, while the latter is a true Twenty One Pilots song, reminding us of what’s important in an unorthodox way.

Tyler has spoken about the album signifying the “scaled back” and “isolated” year that COVID has given us, which is where the title comes from. But coming off the heels of an album that was rich in storytelling and worldbuilding, this album feels like regression. And it’s not because they seem happier and in a better mental state, because that’s not what is negative with this. I’m truly glad that they’ve been able to do some work and improve their mental health. But self improvement doesn’t have to manifest itself in a weaker, less inspired piece of art, and that’s what I feel has happened here.

From a fan theory perspective, the album fits perfectly in the lore started in 2018’s Trench, where we were first introduced to the idea that Tyler and Josh are trapped in a world called DEMA, a metaphor for insecurity and feeling lost. Some fans have tossed around the thought that Tyler and Josh created this album as a piece of DEMA propaganda, showing that they are still stuck where Trench ended, and that’s the explanation for a lot of the stark differences that have come up this era. I personally don’t see it that way, I just think it’s a weak album —  which is fine, as long as we can be honest about it.

I wanted to be excited here. I always wait patiently for new music from Twenty One Pilots, because they’ve proven time and again that their creativity is boundless. With Scaled and Icy, though, they’ve given us an album that lacks originality and is all around mildly unsettling for some reason. Maybe that’s on purpose and I don’t see the deeper story here yet, but for now I’m pretty disappointed. For a band who always takes their time with careful planning, Scaled and Icy is at its best, cute, and at its worst, a jumble with no rhyme or reason.

3/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

In the last 24 hours, I have listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, no less than seven times. Last night, I was enthralled with it, wiping tears from my eyes at some of the lyricism, and even boldly considered it album of the year. But having sat with SOUR, the more I have wondered what connected me so intensely with an artist half my age. Rodrigo bounds from genre to genre in a way that feels natural and familiar. In fact, it sounds too familiar at times. My experience with SOUR is one of pure joy at seeing a young artist find her voice from the opposite side of the music I tend to listen to, and I still believe it will be in contention for album of the year for me in a few months time. However, SOUR is the first album I have listened to that made me wonder where the line is between paying homage to other artists and just rewriting the songs by them that you love.

You can buy or stream SOUR on Apple Music.

My first exposure to Olivia Rodrigo was her SNL performance one week ago (I somehow utterly missed the release of “drivers license”), when I heard “good 4 u” playing in the background and literally dropped what I was doing to go see who was singing. That led to a week of anxiously awaiting the release of SOUR.  

Rodrigo manages to take the listener through a tour de force through genre in ways where it’s easy to see who her influences most likely are. There are bits of the grunge of Hole (“brutal”), the quirky pop of Regina Spektor (“traitor”), the pop punk of Paramore (“good 4 u”), the percussive experimentation of Death Cab For Cutie (“deja vu”) and the pop elements of Taylor Swift (“1 step forward, 3 steps back”). I don’t say that to try to take anything away from her, I mean parts of the album instantly feel familiar—”1 step forward, 3 steps back” list Taylor and Jack Antonoff with a writing credit due to its inspiration from Swift’s song “New Year’s Day”.

Where Rodrigo stands tall is in the songs that don’t sound like an homage, such as “happier”, with a doo-wop melody, or the folk acoustic guitars of “enough for you”. Although the crunching guitars of “good 4 u” are a welcome surprise, it’s hard not to instantly think of Paramore.

The absolute highlight of SOUR though, is in the incredible lyricism and vocals Rodrigo delivers throughout. Each song is a swirling tempest of heartbreak and carries an emotional weight that cuts straight to the bone.

Rodrigo as a singer is utterly inspirational. Ranging from whispers (“1 step forward, 3 step back”) to bouncing explorations of higher notes (“enough for you”), her vocals are tested song after song. She even manages to emphasize single words at the emotional apex in a song to make the lyric utterly deadly, such as in “traitor” (“Don’t you dare forget about the way / you betrayed me”). 

It would be easy to write Rodrigo off as just another artist singing about heartache—there are a lot of songs about it on SOUR. But that would be a disservice to her lyricism. SOUR explores the transition from adolescence to adulthood through the viewpoint of a young woman, heartbreak and all. Lead single “drivers license” explores the utter devastation of young love—finally having the freedom to drive anywhere, but finding yourself trapped by the orbit of one person (“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone. / Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / Cause you said ‘forever’ now I drive alone past your street”).

By the end, it’s easy to see the growth as she worries about close friends and the poor influence of past generations, such as “hope ur ok” (“Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / But, God, I hope that you’re happier today, ‘cause I love you / And I hope that you’re okay”).

Meanwhile, the insecurity of growing up seeing “perfect” idols is explored in “jealousy, jealousy” over a simple bass riff (“I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room / cause all I see are girls too good to be true”).

SOUR somehow flawlessly encompasses a pure venom of heartbreak with maturity that sees beyond the base level. Meanwhile, the lyrical content transcends age to form a bridge between generations. Her lyrics are biting, simple and heartfelt. Olivia Rodrigo might not be the most unique artist to exist, but she is such a sponge to influence that it sounds new and enthralling. But that is also its biggest setback

SOUR is a masterful debut album from a young artist, but it spends too much time feeling like a “best of” to the music that inspired her. It makes for a captivating listen, but its difficult to find Rodrigo in her own space. It’s easy to make comparisons to Taylor Swift and Paramore for good reason, but that doesn’t make the music any less than its whole. It’s just that in reflection, it feels like a trick to grab your immediate attention before a song that sounds like its own beast takes hold.

Rodrigo is a confluence of sound. Her influences on her sleeve, it’s wonderful to see her paying respect to the bands she loves, but its heartbreaking not to hear more of her in them. SOUR will rightly be adored and is justifiably going to be played on repeat constantly throughout the summer. If it’s anything to judge her by, SOUR is the perfect springboard toward finding an incredibly inspired artist leaning slightly less on her idols on her next album.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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Kyle 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 killed a spider with such vigor that he broke his broom in half. He’s pretty strong. Tell your friends.