Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B

As spring transitions to summer, it’s typically a seasonal cause for celebration. School is out, the weather is warm, road trips are abundant, concerts are in full swing, and friends are gathering. That’s obviously not the case this year, and even as many states begin to “reopen,” there’s a palpable concern that the pandemic is far from over. Needless to say, this stands to be one of the strangest summers on record. 

You can buy or stream Dedicated Side B on Apple Music.

It’s in this stage of careful transition that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B arrives – a 12-track companion piece to last year’s Dedicated that sounds every bit like the escape so many of us need right now. When Jepsen released Emotion: Side B as an encore performance to one of last decade’s most unexpectedly brilliant pop records, it opened a new door of artistic possibilities for Jepsen. Sure, you could call it a burn-off of extra B-sides left over from the Emotion sessions, but Emotion: Side B was full of really, really good songs.

The crazy thing is, Dedicated Side B is even better. In fact, it’s almost unfair to label it a collection of B-sides when it sounds strong and cohesive enough to be a standalone album. Without the delineation, would we have accepted it as such? I think we might have, and some may even argue it superior to Dedicated.

To be clear, these tracks are clearly cut from the same cloth, but there exists the same level of new experimentation that was found throughout Dedicated. On the bass-heavy “Summer Love”, undoubtedly destined to be one of the best pop tracks of this weird season, Jepsen’s vocals are moody and reserved as she delivers an effortlessly sultry chorus of, “I was down for the first night / And I’m down for a second try / When you touch me, I wanna fly / I’m so down for you all the time”.

Synthy dance track “Stay Away” feels like a cross between Jepsen’s knack for radio pop vibes crossed with the disco leanings of Dua Lipa’s recently released Future Nostalgia. The same could be said of “This is What They Say” and “Fake Mona Lisa”, the latter of which features Jepsen’s signature breathy delivery, once again sounding more one-night-stand than dedicated relationship: “Oh, you took my clothes off, said, ‘It’s gettin’ hotter’ / Don’t know how to swim, but let’s breathe underwater”. In almost intentional ways, Side B introduces a duality in thematic approach that wasn’t existent on Dedicated, making it feel far more purposeful than collection of tracks left on the cutting room floor.

But Side B also features well-timed changes of pace, adding to the argument that this should be considered its own full-length. “Comeback” featuring Jack Antonoff is one of the best Carly Rae tracks, period. Reminiscent of forlorn duets of the 80s, Antonoff and Jepsen mesh perfectly in this tale of a relationship nearing its end. In typical fashion, Jepsen is able to tap into those feelings that feel hard to articulate and make sense of the mess. “And I won’t say you’re the reason I was on my knees / But I’m thinking ’bout making a comeback, back to me”.

Dedicated Side B, like most of Carly Rae’s body of work, is deeper and richer than its facade would lead you to believe. It’s a collection of songs that explore the looser and less tangible aspects of relationships. The places you drift to when there’s no more room in your mind to process the heavy stuff. And while I’m certain she didn’t plan it this way, it’s kind of the perfect metaphor for life in 2020. It’s here, it’s complicated, and we can’t quite get out from under it. But if you close your eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on your face, you can imagine yourself somewhere else. And that feels nice.

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 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: The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

It’s that time of the year again, folks. Time for us to painstakingly take apart another album by The 1975, this time titled Notes On a Conditional Form. Matty Healy and friends have given another long album, featuring 22 tracks and clocking in at about an hour and a half. It’s got seven more tracks than its sister album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, and it continues the band’s story of learning to step away from our intensely connected world.

You can buy or stream Notes on a Conditional Form on Apple Music.

The album begins with the eponymous track “The 1975”, but instead of the usual reworking of the same lyrics like the past three albums, Notes switches it up. We are given a spoken word from climate activist Greta Thunberg, including lines from her powerful “Our House Is On Fire” speech. It’s a strange way to start the album, given that the rest of it barely touches on the subject, but it’s another example of how the band has changed from a Top 40 staple to a group of people who genuinely want to change the world with their art.

The album continues with “People”, which was the lead single and released last August. This has been a long album cycle — the album was delayed twice. It continues the theme from Thunberg’s introduction, featuring a call to action and the end of apathy. It also takes us back to the early days of a more punk rock 1975, modernizing it with scathingly political lyrics.

To their merit, this album is more meat than potatoes for me. A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships was revolutionary when it was released, and yet as I listened to it over the year it’s been out, it became lacking for me. In Notes, the band has really figured out what they want to say and how they want to say it. With the addition of more fun tracks like “Me & You Together Song” (a personal highlight) and “Guys”, the album feels more personal and complete.

A Brief Inquiry and Notes are not recreational albums. Notes is almost there and is inherently easier to listen to, but I know I’ll still cherry pick. I wonder what would happen if The 1975 could write an entire album without feeling the need to fill it up with instrumentals. When I listen to the band when I’m in the car, I go for their self-titled or I like it when you sleep.

For a band who is so obsessed with making change, they’re sometimes stuck in a formula. If you listen to any of their albums, it’s evident, even so far as using pieces of past music — see I like it when you sleep’s “Please Be Naked” and Notes’ “The End (Music for Cars)”. Their need to stick to their formula is almost religious, and I feel that sometimes, though sacrificing continuity, it would be beneficial to really break away from what they’ve previously done.

All in all, Notes On a Conditional Form is set to be an album of the year contender for many. The idea that we can use music to foster conversation is something that The 1975 does well, and I’m grateful that they’ve chosen to use their platform in this way.

4/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

We have been blessed. We have been given a gift. The entirety of Petals for Armor is here for us to enjoy and drink in, and I am beside myself with how incredible it is. I wrote about the first third of the album earlier this year, and I didn’t know how the rest of the album would play out based on it, but it completely surpassed anything I expected and hoped for. It’s experimental, it’s exciting, it’s fresh. It’s Hayley.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor on Apple Music.

I spoke a lot in my first piece about the femininity I loved about the project. That concept is woven through the rest of the album in shows of vulnerability, strength, and the journey Hayley took to find peace after so many years. The album was split into three parts purposefully, but ended up coinciding with the changing seasons both literally and metaphorically. The first part of the album made me so upset for Hayley and the turmoil she faced, but by the end of Part III, it’s evident that it’s in the past. So much of womanhood is putting up a front for others and always being available and subservient, but Hayley has managed to find a balance here, specifically showcased in “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”. It’s uplifting and inspiring.

The middle of the album (Part II, technically) ended up being my favorite. I identified heavily with this transition period she found herself in. She’s over the rage from Simmer” and has moved from the past. I feel like so much of human life is spent in that transition period. We go from the naivety of infancy and childhood to the confusion of teenage years to the heaviness of adulthood. As someone who’s still kind of in that teenager-to-adult transition and, quite frankly, moved from the former to the latter rather quickly, the middle of the album, especially “Why We Ever”, hit me harder than the rest. 

The final third of the album is gorgeous. It’s a culmination of everything she’s experienced thus far. It’s beautiful to see her at this raw place where she’s honest about where she’s been and how she got past the harder times of her life. She’s been able to begin shedding the parts of her that she’s ashamed of, and ends up bringing us the most hopeful body of music in her career.

The visual interlude she released between the “Simmer” and “Leave It Alone” videos is the album perfectly packaged up. She has been in a cocoon for so long, dealing with the decisions she’s made in her life, and she finally has been able to emerge as something bright and refreshed. Hayley has also done an insane amount of press over this cycle, and that’s not something we should take for granted. She’s more open than ever, and Petals for Armor is an invitation for us to be the same.

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: The Bombpops – Death In Venice Beach

The Bombpops have always been a band that I should be in love with. Raging guitars, dual female vocals, and slick Drive-Thru Records pop sensationalism sound like keys to success. However, the band’s first album, Fear of Missing Out (2017) never quite clicked with its songs about partying in California. What that album lacked was the acknowledgment of the hangover the next day (with exception to the references to shitting your pants in “I Can’t”). That’s why their sophomore effort, Death In Venice Beach feels so vividly refreshing as a follow up. Facing the consequences of punishing your body and mind, the dark side of alcoholism and tying it together with troubled romance, Death in Venice Beach is the album The Bombpops were always meant to write.

You can buy or stream Death in Venice Beach on Apple Music.

Vocalists and guitarists Jen Razavi and Poli van Dam cruise through each song with surprising executions of pop melodies while maintaining an almost monotone punk sneer similar to Bad Religion (“Can’t Come Clean”). They hoist a devastating wall of noise and thrilling guitar work that sounds equal parts flashy, buzzy and infectious (“Notre Dame”). Bassist Neil Wayne weaves incredible bass lines throughout every song that really stand out due to stellar production (“Sad To Me”). Drummer Josh Lewis excels at the style of punk rock percussion that helped me fall in love with the genre in the first place (“13 Stories Down”).

Death In Venice Beach really shines in the small details that show the aftermath of living hard, and dealing with life unraveling around you. The destructive alcoholism is a prominent theme that filters throughout the album. “Can’t Come Clean” is a rager that admits the fault in starting drunken fights and the shame that follows after sobering up. Audio of an argument where one of the band members threatens to quit plays at the start, making lyrics such as, “I’m always posting things on the internet / And if I ever read the bullshit, it makes me regret everything / That’s why I can’t come clean,” even more pronounced.

Rock bottom appears during “13 Stories Down” with the vivid descriptions of isolation due to alcoholism, a relationship that keeps pushing the situation, and admitting that this lifestyle will end up killing them. It’s a heartbreaking song boosted by an uplifting pop tempo and soaring bass (“Home alone cuz once again / I’ve been ditched by all my so-called friends / There’s nothing left but pull that bottle off the shelf / And catalog my worst regrets…”).

“Double Arrows Down”, a terrifying tale of passing out in a gas station from complications with diabetes, is equal parts remorseful and rage at the condition. “There’s days I wanna close my eyes and never wake up to my numbers high / Just lay there until all I read is low / … / This needle’s wearing thin and there’s no end”.

Thankfully, not every song is so massively heavy. “Sad To Me”, a pop punk essential in the vein of an early track from The Starting Line, is primed to be a live show defining number. “Notre Dame” compares a toxic relationship to watching the famed cathedral burn by wondering how after all the time it took to build up something sacred, it just ends in destruction.

Death In Venice Beach isn’t as coherent as it could be given the amount of topics covered from song to song, but it is a thrilling collection of stories woven together. It acts as a perfect counterbalance to the issues found on Fear of Missing Out and makes The Bombpops are an absolute force to be reckoned with in the punk scene. With stellar craftsmanship, writing and production, Death in Venice Beach is an album that should be talked about up until the release of The Bombpops’ next album.

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 smells of sweet, delicious scones.

Review: All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

All Time Low are one of the few bands who have never seemed to lose steam. Though some of the more recent albums never quite lived up the magic of their original few, the release of new music from All Time Low has always felt like an event. Fortunately, Wake Up, Sunshine is an event. At the time of writing this, most of the world is in some form of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus, and it feels like the world itself is collapsing. Wake Up, Sunshine is not just a summer album, it is a spark of hope in the darkness that promises the best is yet to come by looking back on the past.

You can buy or stream Wake Up, Sunshine on Apple Music.

While many of the group’s recent albums experimented and leaned heavier into pop sensibilities, the results were often mixed. Where Wake Up, Sunshine succeeds is in marrying the punk buzz of Nothing Personal with the pop ambitions of Last Young Renegade. The guitars are heavier, the pop more polished and intelligently implemented, and anthemic choruses abound that rank among All Time Low’s best.

In many ways, this album feels like a sister album to Nothing Personal. Where that album was a battle anthem of youth looking towards the future, Wake Up, Sunshine looks back on that time of life through a mature lens. Instead of free-loving anthems like “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)”, songs like “Trouble Is” reflect on the deep connection and curse of love. Instead of declaring that this will be the year that they make it (“Weightless”), the band asks their audience if this music is still what they want to hear (“Some Kind of Disaster”).

Where the two albums definitely overlap is in their sense of sexiness, romance, swagger, and the instantly memorable choruses and hooks. 

More than any of their past work, Wake Up, Sunshine reflects on being thankful for making it so far. “Some Kind of Disaster” sets the theme for the record, essentially prepping the audience to go on the journey of connecting over an album again with stadium-rock guitars and rippling bass (“And it’s all my fault that I’m still the one you want. / So what are you after? / Some kind of disaster”). 

Other songs allude to the band’s growth in small ways. “Clumsy”, with glam guitar sizzling over a dance rhythm, addresses the realization of the band being too full of themselves in the past, with vocalist Gaskarth singing, “I got too high on myself / Too young and stupid to tell / I was bound to make a mess of things / Mixing fireworks and gasoline / Now I’m out to make you fall with me”. Meanwhile, “Basement Noise” softly reflects on memories of starting out as kids practicing in drummer Rian’s basement (“Cut our teeth chasing the weekend  / Capsize and fall in the deep end”).

Other topics are tackled to certain degrees as well. Title track “Wake Up, Sunshine” weaves a narrative of loving yourself against taking a stand against the internet echo chambers that many people find themselves lost in. “Everybody wants to be somebody / I just want you to see how good you are / You don’t have to lean on the crutch of a daydream / To see that you shine like a star.” 

And as always, there are the songs of romance. “Sleeping In”, arguably All Time Low’s best single since “Weightless”, is a passionate love song (“If I said ‘I want your body’, would you hold it against me?”) that builds itself up with verses filled with dance beats and choruses made for mosh pits. “Favorite Place”, a call and return of romance with The Band CAMINO, features a beautiful sparkling instrumentation and haunted backing vocals (“It’s the distance we don’t need / Yeah, you’re everything I love about the things I hate in me”). 

Meanwhile, although “January Gloom (Seasons, Pt. 1)” and “Summer Daze (Seasons, Pt. 2)” would otherwise sound like low points on an album this rich,  they take on more meaning in this time when people around the world are locked in their homes. “January Gloom” resonates so much with seasonal depression disorder at this time, when it’s just starting to get warm but we can’t go outside. Meanwhile, “Summer Daze” plays with dreamy lyrics of summer romance and teasing of just how wonderful it will be to get outside again (“Serendipity and summer showers / We soak it up like flowers / Growing through the concrete”).

Wake Up, Sunshine is one of the strongest albums of All Time Low’s career. It carves its own path by reflecting on the pop punk scene that raised the band, and leaning into the pop scene that has expanded their career in remarkable ways. It may get bonus points just for being something positive in a time of national crisis, but in the end, All Time Low’s best music has always been about the promise of looking forward. Wake Up, Sunshine is the right album released at the right time to help those that listen march through this crisis and feel hopeful on the other side.

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 just fed his cat an unreasonable amount of chicken. A few bits would have been fine, but this was best described as “a chunk”. That little creep shouldn’t be able to fit that much in a stomach that physically small. The obvious answer then, is that cats are monsters and where internal organs should be, there is only…. the void. SCIENCE!

Review: Alkaline Trio – E.P.

Over the last decade, I really lost tack of Alkaline Trio. The band’s releases in the early 2010’s just didn’t pack the punch they should have, and were overshadowed by guitarist Matt Skiba’s time and work in Blink 182. In the last few years, Alkaline Trio sound completely reinvigorated. Following the trend set by Is This Thing Cursed?, the surprise release of the three song E.P. is some of the most relevant and responsive music Alkaline Trio have released in quite some time.

You can buy or stream E.P. on Apple Music.

At a quick nine minutes, E.P. blazes by, but gives a hint as to where the next Alkaline record may journey. Opener “Minds Like a Minefield”, led by guitarist Matt Skiba, sizzles with a quick pace and features “Whoa-ohs” that feel like an homage to his time in Blink 182. Featuring Skiba’s trademark horror influenced lyrics (“You placed me upon the wheel / In your torture chamber, my remains were / Left next to my last meal”), the track branches out with a layered and intricate bridge that slows before exploding into a frenzy of intricate chaos.

Bassist Dan Adriano helms the other two tracks, starting with “Radio Violence”, with dreamy instrumentation during verses, a poppy chorus, and a truly satisfying guitar solo. “Smokestack” is an acoustic reflection looking back on a hard life and being thankful for the path there. Each line is as melancholy as expected from Alkaline Trio, but the delivery makes the song sound sweeter and more humble than it actually means to be (“Well, I was scared as hell as I was standing at that open bar / I saw a life go past that I guess I could’ve had, but I didn’t try very hard”).

It’s just a taste of new music, but E.P. is a solid addition to Alkaline Trio’s catalog. If it’s any indication of the direction that their next album may take, the future’s looking bright.

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 pricing fainting couches, should an appropriate occasion to use one crop up.

Review: Brian Fallon – Local Honey

Brian Fallon is the only artist who regularly makes me cry when I hear a new record for the first time. He is consistently one of the single best songwriters actively working, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of his work is just how much he matures and tightens his music from album to album; from group to group. His third solo album, Local Honey is his most minimal record to date, and arguably the strongest. Each song is a vulnerable, emotional story of Americana and middle-age. It’s been joked about for years, but with Local Honey, Fallon is primed as the natural successor to Bob Dylan and the lighter side of Bruce Springsteen.

You can buy or stream Local Honey on Apple Music.

Local Honey is the softest album Fallon has ever created. It somehow manages to stand out for someone who has written a little bit of everything, including his solo albums and previous groups, The Gaslight Anthem and The Horrible Crowes. Fallon’s acoustic guitar is intricate, delicate, and speaks volumes more noise than many of the power chords Fallon wrote in his earlier days. Soft drumming and the lacing of piano back the guitar, often with the silence between notes boosting the sound all the more. 

The stories told on Local Honey vary from intimate talks from the heart to fictional stories of murder. “When You’re Ready” is a letter to Fallon’s child, prepping them to deal with the struggles of love and offering courage in the face of life’s struggles. “Though I don’t want you to grow up / Cause I don’t want you to leave / When you’re ready to choose someone / Make sure they love you half as much as me.”

“You Have Stolen My Heart”, a piano heavy love song, is less about being in love than it is describing the feeling itself. “I always wondered if I knew you before / I feel like I had enough time on my hands / I know that you’re with me / Still I have this fear / One day, I’ll wake up and you’ll be a dream.”

Other songs aren’t as emotional, but still somehow manage the same results. “Vincent” is a song written from the perspective of a woman named Jolene, who murders her abusive boyfriend and asks her new lover, Vincent, to still love her after what she’s done (“So say that you love me before we both end up in hell / I’m not asking for your forgiveness / I couldn’t run if I wanted to now”). “Horses” is a philosophical musing on religion and life. “And in this life, change comes slowly / There is time to be redeemed / Any lie you told can be forgiven / If you love enough to believe”.

At only eight songs long, Local Honey doesn’t feel short by any means. Each song is a heartfelt tale in one form or another, encapsulating a moment in time with a perfect soundtrack. What it lacks in energy, it makes up for with more emotion and warmth than should be possible. Brian Fallon is a force to be reckoned with, and Local Honey will tug at your heart as much as it lifts it. 

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 currently sprawled across the floor like a tossed blanket, because couches are too easy to tame.

Review: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

“You want a timeless song, I want to change the game / Like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way”. With those opening lines, Dua Lipa sets the tone for her sophomore full length album, Future Nostalgia. If you’re like me, you had to Google John Lautner to get the reference, but only after like the fifth or sixth spin of the album, because pressing pause would kill the vibe.

You can buy or stream Future Nostalgia on Apple Music.

“I know you’re not used to a female alpha”, she sings over the song’s chorus – and that’s truly the album’s rallying cry. With Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa has clearly forged her own path to pop stardom, dropping dense architecture references right alongside bold, empowering one-liners that make clear that she’s doing things her way. And the vehicle for her message is so damn addictive that it’s impossible to turn away. This is the pop record we needed.

I’ve been an avid fan of Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut since its release in the summer of 2017. Female empowerment anthem “New Rules” helped put the British singer on the map, but the album has plenty of hidden gems amidst its 12 tracks. Nevertheless, the one thing that held back that debut was its pacing, weighed down by ballads that, although enjoyable in their own right, tended to reign in her more explosive songwriting tendencies.

There is no such filler to be found on Future Nostalgia. With the help of Jeff Bhasker and company, Dua Lipa appears to have leaned fully into the self-confidence that powered her early tracks like “Hotter Than Hell” and “Blow Your Mind”. But this is a far cry from an amped up version of her debut.

You’ve likely heard “Don’t Start Now” enough to know that it’s pure pop perfection and an obvious lead single, but it does little to capture Future Nostalgia as a whole. Across the albums 11 tracks, Dua Lipa makes good on her album title’s promise with splashes of 70’s disco elements, 80’s power pop, and tracks that resemble club bangers from the 90’s. What makes the album so amazing is that none of it feels tired or re-hashed. 

The synthesizers on “Cool” bounce with confidence and purpose as she effortlessly delivers a chorus for the ages, capitalized by the line, “You’ve got me losing all my cool / I guess we’re ready for the summer”. A few tracks later, “Levitating”, with its disco-inspired beat and pristine melody, sounds like what you’d expect if Kylie Minogue strutted her best stuff atop a Daft Punk track. “Pretty Please” and “Hallucinate” are custom built to be modern day dance floor jams with their pulsing bass lines, the latter of which should provide a great workout for anyone who has found themselves glued to the couch these past few weeks.

“Love Again” and “Break My Heart” may be the best back-to-back tracks on the album, wearing their influence on their sleeves while Dua Lipa makes each track her own (the former samples White Town’s “Your Woman” while the latter expertly pulls from INXS’ “Need You Tonight”). Each song finds her walking the line between her confidence and vulnerability without ever forfeiting her autonomy. The way she opens “Break My Heart” with the lines, “I’ve always been the one to say the first goodbye / Had to love and lose a hundred million times / Had to get it wrong to know just what I like”, is the kind of moment where you can feel the earth shift. Dua Lipa has become a bonafide star before our very eyes.

Anyone wanting to pick nits can point to “Good in Bed” and “Boys Will Be Boys” as stumbling the album across the finish line, but even that closing track feels purposeful and poignant with a line like, “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around”. Future Nostalgia finds plenty of opportunities for Dua Lipa to bring the hammer down, both sonically and thematically.

It’s safe to say that we have an early frontrunner for album of the year, and it’s hard to imagine another 2020 pop album entering its orbit. Dua Lipa has leveled up and delivered a classic.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: The Weeknd – After Hours

In a recent article for The Ringer, music writer Rob Harvilla described The Weeknd as “self-quarantine R&B.” That’s kind of a perfect label. Not only does it have to suffice given our current pandemic lock-down, but Abel Tesfaye has made a very illustrious, successful, wildly entertaining career out of his dark, loathsome, isolated-at-the-party persona. 

You can buy or stream After Hours on Apple Music.

And when it works, it approaches perfection. But after nine years, four EPs, three full-length albums, and an avalanche of guest appearances, when does it get tired? That kind of depends on who’s asking.

After Hours arrives at a strange time. There will be no headlining tour in support of it anytime soon, no summer festival appearances, and very few (if any) big events blaring the sounds of its singles. Instead, we all get to enjoy it in isolation. And that setting lends itself to a more purposeful, thoughtful listen. When Tesfaye is at his best, that’s truly the ideal way to consume his art.

Upon the release of My Dear Melancholy in 2018, I noted how Tesfaye’s return to more emotional depths after his brief celebration at the summit felt oddly refreshing. Starboy served its purpose as making the most of a moment in which The Weeknd had fully crossed over from Coachella darling to mainstream celebrity. It comes as a relief and a surprise that After Hours picks up where Melancholy left off.

Much like Tesfaye’s breakthrough smash “I Can’t Feel My Face” served as a red herring prior to the release of Beauty Behind the Madness, early After Hours singles “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” find new life and meaning within the flow of the album. Also like Madness, After Hours moves at its own pace, gradually shifting shape across its 14 tracks and blending into something cohesive.

Buzzing opener “Alone Again” sets the early pace and makes clear that After Hours will live up to its name. This isn’t a collection of club bangers. This is what you play at 3 a.m. when it’s clear that your demons won’t be allowing you to sleep. Just two tracks later, “Hardest to Love” jars the listener with its off-key synthesizers, sounding like the evil twin of an 80’s ballad. It would almost be sweet if it weren’t so drenched in self-loathing: “I don’t feel it anymore / The house I bought is not a home / Together we are so alone”.

But lest the album feel like a dredge, the pace picks up when Metro Boomin enters the mix around “Escape from LA”, right before “Heartless” turns up the volume. It’s here that Tesfaye reveals his hand: He hasn’t changed. And the track feels like Weeknd circa 2012 with the line, “I’ve been dodging death in the six-speed / Amphetamine got my stummy feelin’ sickly”.

“Faith” follows suit by leaning all the way into the pain. It would almost feel like caricature if the track wasn’t so goddamn smooth: “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me / I want you to follow right behind me / I want you to hold me while I’m smiling / While I’m dying”. The song’s outro takes note of the blinding ambulance and city lights fluttering across his eyes before spilling into the previously innocuous single “Blinding Lights”.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, right? But that’s the thing. I’m a firm believer that 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness stands as The Weeknd’s best work, which is why his Starboy journey into broad daylight felt so…off. After Hours is a return to Tesfaye’s wheelhouse in every sense, and if it feels too familiar, well, that’s totally fine with me. Because that’s kind of what I’m looking for right now.

I saw The Weeknd perform during his Starboy arena tour in 2017. It was a spectacle and a hell of a night. It also didn’t feel true to what I loved about his music. In many ways, After Hours is built to be listened to in solitude, in the dark. Fortunately, we all have plenty of time on our hands right now. But it’s understandable if that’s not what you’re looking for. 

For me, it’s a welcome return to form for an artist who has soundtracked so many of my favorite, albeit tipsy and spinny memories over the past decade. It’s also an invitation to explore an anti-hero type narrative around an artist who probably needs to change, but is bound by bad habits and old demons. “I thought I’d be a better man, but I lied to me and to you”, he slurs on the chorus of “Faith”. If that’s something that resonates with you, dim the lights and indulge.

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 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: Silverstein – A Beautiful Place to Drown

In one of our recent podcast episodes, Silverstein vocalist Shane Told pondered on the band’s evolution over the past 20 years. In his mind, Silverstein hadn’t branched too far from their post-hardcore roots over the course of nine albums, but had instead tinkered with their sound and mostly stayed within their own wheelhouse. The formula has clearly worked — the band has been a scene staple, outlasting so many of their peers while developing an intensely loyal fanbase.

You can buy or stream A Beautiful Place to Drown on Apple Music.

It makes sense then that Told and the band held some concerns over how listeners might respond to some chances they took when creating their 10th album, A Beautiful Place to Drown. But one needn’t worry: the chances paid off in what may very well be the band’s best work to date.

Listening to A Beautiful Place to Drown is much like reveling in the nostalgia of mid-aughts emo while still experiencing something fresh and new. Fans of the scene know that this dichotomy isn’t something captured easily, as a large number of bands have attempted to meld the old with the new to disastrous results. On this effort, Silverstein sound like a band that is firmly comfortable in their own skin and having a blast.

Early singles “Bad Habits” and “Impossible” (featuring Underoath‘s Aaron Gillespie) set the stage for what the record embodies – fast-paced guitars, newly introduced synthesizers and EDM effects, and Told’s knack for writing sing-a-long hooks. On the former, he delivers some of the best lines of the album, giving nod after nod to the band’s history: “Left home, fist full of stones / Unpacked in a new glass condo / Cut my teeth, biting my own tongue / Left no short song unsung / Took a chance on a melody / Laid down where the train should be / Rescued by a hand in the ocean / Now I’m alive in the wind’s reflection”.

Fans of the band need no explanation of those lyrics, and it’s an exciting invitation to lean into those memories while experiencing a band you love in a new way. And while these singles serve as the epicenter of Silverstein’s sound on the album, they branch out in multiple directions. “Burn it Down” featuring Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo finds the band at their heaviest, with some excellent riffs from guitarist Paul Marc Rousseau accompanied by Shomo and Told’s screams. Still, it’s Told’s ear for melody that leads to one of the album’s best choruses: “Let’s burn it down / There’s no way out / I can read you like a matchbook, speeding and we can’t slow down / ‘Cause I need this now / In all my dreams you’re screaming ‘Burn it down’”.

Other tracks like “Say Yes!” and “Take What You Give” featuring Simple Plan’s Pierre Bouvier capture the kind of pop punk sensibility that made early All Time Low a household name. “All on Me” stands as the most unique track in the Silverstein collection with atmospheric vocals reminiscent of One Republic and a saxophone interlude to boot. It’s these little splashes of surprise that keep you honed in and create distinction between the album’s 12 tracks, which breeze by in just over a half hour.

A Beautiful Place to Drown manages to honor the band’s legacy while offering something fresh to fans who have carried the Silverstein flag for two decades. In doing so, they also created the tightest and most cohesive collection of tracks in their catalogue. Fans can debate the best Silverstein album — and there are plenty to choose from — but it’s hard to imagine a band at this stage crafting an album that looks fondly behind while forging ahead so delightfully. A Beautiful Place to Drown feels timeless in the best of ways.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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