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.

Review: Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

In our BandCamp-led indie scene these days, there’s been a swell of success that would otherwise leave us with a deficit in the alt scene. The underground has bloomed like never before due to the independent release era we’ve found ourselves in for the last decade. One of the shining stars of the movement is Sophie Allison, who calls her project Soccer Mommy.

You can buy or stream Color Theory on Apple Music.

I first heard about Soccer Mommy in the process of making a playlist of new and notable women in music. I then had the chance to see her play when she opened for Paramore in the summer of 2018, but missed it because we had a four hour drive to New Hampshire. I’d love to catch her show the next time she’s in Boston, though, because the fact is, missing her set made me fully listen to her discography. My favorite album ended up being 2018’s Clean, but her latest album, Color Theory, may have taken precedence.

I’m a sucker for music with a strong theme, whether it be a true concept album or just an album with a great sense of continuity. Sophie Allison has chosen to create this album around synesthesia, with the colors in question being blue, yellow, then grey. She said in an interview that blue represents depression, yellow represents anxiety, yet positivity, and grey represents death and loss.

This all makes more sense when you learn that her mother has been ill for a long time. Many of the tracks, including the single “yellow is the color of her eyes”, deal with this fact. She has managed to wrap these emotions in a soft, lo-fi pop sound, which makes it an easy listen. But there’s no denying that this album isn’t meant to be played on Top 40. It’s an honest expression from a young woman who has been put through life’s wringer — from her mom’s illness to her own long struggle with mental illness.

Allison holds nothing back from the beginning to the end of the album. Each track is meticulously placed to further tell the story of this chapter in her life. On “bloodstream” she sings, “Happiness is a firefly / On summer free evenings / Feel it slipping through my fingers / But I can’t catch it in my hands”. 

These sentiments are rampant through the album — a potent loss of hope — but the real kicker on the album is “royal screw up”. She sings in an almost a childlike way, remembering being young and wanting to be a princess. She has since come to believe that she’s the “princess of screwing up,” but she also has a sense of confidence in herself. It’s a feeling women are all too familiar with — the dichotomy of not needing anyone but yourself to further your success but also desperately wanting to be appreciated and needed for who you are.

On surface level, we’ve received a soft offering of a girl who’s dealt with too much in her short life (she’s my age). But digging deeper, we get a bigger picture of a person trying to rise above these hardships, trying to work through them and come out on the other side. She’s an Alanis for the new age, grappling constantly with the way she wishes her world was better, but still managing to find a bright side. Sophie Allison has painted an incredible picture of humanity with Color Theory, and I can tell it’s an album I’ll be thinking about for a while.

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: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor I

UPDATE: Petals for Armor is here! Check out our review of the full album.

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve heard from Paramore. They signed off on their socials in mid-December after completing the After Laughter album cycle and settled in for some much deserved time off. But it didn’t take long for vocalist Hayley Williams to announce on December 27th via Twitter that she would be releasing “something I’m going to call my own.” Fast forward to now and we have the first half of her’ solo project: Petals for Armor I.

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

For all the talk over the years of how the world would change if Hayley went solo, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen Petals for Armor coming. A mix of the 80’s-influenced sound Paramore adopted in 2017 is here but it doesn’t overtake it. Hayley clearly used After Laughter as a bridge for this next musical chapter to get us used to a lighter pop sound. But make no mistake – this is a Hayley Williams production.  

The EP begins with the first single released on January 22nd, “Simmer”. Should I have written some Queue It Ups about the two main singles we got? Maybe, but I didn’t. “Simmer” is, in a word, scathing. We know a few details on how everything went down with Chad Gilbert and the end of their relationship, and we all know that Chad Gilbert is the definition of a scumbag, but hearing Hayley say that she would protect her children from a man like him is really eye-opening and devastating. And yet, through this anger, she asks how to still have and show mercy.

Through themes of her divorce, family struggles, mortality, and the confusion of beginning a new relationship, we have the underlying vein of femininity in Petals for Armor I. She sings about being at home in “Cinnamon”, my personal favorite track, and how she is unapologetically herself there. As a woman, it’s a refreshing project, like so much of Hayley’s past work.

To hear someone reckon with these feelings in society that tries to tell women to quiet down is both heartbreaking and reassuring. There’s nothing that makes me feel more beautiful than cleaning and decorating my apartment, as cliché as that may be. Pulling a cookbook from my stack to make dinner, dusting the trinkets on my TV stand as I think fondly of the person who gave them to me, or lighting a candle are the things that make me “me.” There’s such a lack of domesticity and hospitality displayed in our society and to hear Hayley highlight that allows me to feel pleasure in simply sitting down to read a book in the home that I’ve created for myself. It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but it’s the track that stood out to me the most.

I’m excited for this new chapter for Hayley, because I feel like she has been held down by a lot of things in her career. The second half of Petals for Armor is set to be released on May 8th, unless Ms. Williams has other surprises in store for us.

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: Halsey – Manic

In a recent interview with Zane Lowe, Halsey name-dropped The Wonder Years as being an influence on her newest album, Manic. It makes sense when you think about it. Manic is a deeply personal work of art about Halsey herself – her demons, her fears, her frustrations, her trappings. Just as we’ve become accustomed to Dan Campbell writing the kind of lyrics that are so visceral and specific as to paint a very particular picture in your mind, Halsey has fully and beautifully captured this moment in her life. And while it may be highly specific to her own story, you might be surprised as to how easy you can find your own within.

Halsey Manic album cover

You can buy or stream Manic on Apple Music.

Halsey has come a long way since her viral breakthrough into the zeitgeist during the middle portion of the last decade. By the time “New Americana” hit the internet in the summer of 2015, she was lauded as the countercultural pop spokesperson for a new generation. Leaning into the dark synthpop stylings that have now become fully mainstream, Halsey excelled in making great pop songs that could strike a nerve. But one thing she hadn’t done across her first two releases (Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom) was create a truly great album.

Ultimately, having that notch on your belt doesn’t matter as much as it used to, but there’s something about a cohesive collection of songs that thread together a story. You know it when you hear it, and it can be heard clearly and painfully on Manic.

Throughout the album, Halsey sheds any preconceived notions that listeners might have about her music. Gone are the deep bass lines and buzzing synthesizers. In are quiet tracks with space to breathe, accompanied by acoustic guitars and piano interludes. Gone are the thematic elements of fantasy and grandeur. In are the musings of someone alone in a room, deep in self-reflection, working toward recovery.

On opening track “Ashley”, Halsey sets the tone for what’s to come, quietly reflecting on her past persona and where she stands today: “Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I wrote myself / And I don’t wanna be somebody in American just fighting the hysteria / I only wanna die some days”. It’s no secret that much of Manic sifts through the fallout of her broken relationship with rapper G-Eazy, but in truth, the songs dig deeper in an effort to uncover truths about herself and how those truths impact her ability to move forward.

While “Ashley” sets the table thematically, the album itself is true to its name, oscillating wildly between genres throughout, feeling like any train of thought that each of us have ridden on many a lonely night. There are still elements of electropop present, as in last year’s single “Without Me”, but Halsey finds room to inject country (“You Should Be Sad”), rock (“3AM”), and alternative pop sounds like those found on “I Hate Everybody” and “Alanis’ Interlude” – an absolutely wonderful track with Alanis Morissette, who happens to know a thing or two about how to put the sound of picking up the pieces to tape.

Truly, there are no weak tracks on Manic, and while you may not reach for certain songs as standalones on a playlist, they all weave together perfectly in the form of an album. And it’s in those non-single moments that we are hit with some of Halsey’s more poignant and personal songwriting. Singing atop a gentle acoustic guitar on “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”, she leans into the uncertainty of leaving the past behind, singing, “Oh, we’re dancin’ in my living room, and up come my fists / And I say I’m only playing, but the truth is this / That I’ve never seen a mouth that I would kill to kiss / And I’m terrified, but I can’t resist”. 

It’s moments like this that harken back to Halsey’s statement about The Wonder Years and the scene that helped form her artistic approach. Listening to Manic is like being brought behind the curtain and realizing that there is no level of stardom or success that separates someone from the demons we all face. On “Still Learning”, she shares, “I should be living the dream / But I go home and I got no self-esteem”. 

Album closer “929” finds Halsey spilling her guts one confessional line at a time in a three-minute stream of consciousness, highlighted by the most heartbreaking moment of the album: “And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed / And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee / And hoped that my father would finally call me”.

Still, for all of the self-loathing and questioning across Manic’s 16 tracks, Halsey consistently makes room for grace and a belief that her direction is one of growth and improvement. “I’m still learning to love myself” she confesses near the end of the album. Manic is deeply specific to its creator’s trials and struggles, yet highly relatable. Because we’re all in this together. Halsey’s willingness to be so open and transparent has resulted in an album that could very well set the tone for the next decade of pop.

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: From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit

I’ve taken more than a few days to try to start writing about From Indian Lakes’ new album Dimly Lit. I don’t always know why it takes me longer to write about certain albums and some albums I can sit and write about 10 minutes after I have listened to it once, but I feel like it often has to do with a few factors. One is how familiar I am with their previous material, another is how detailed the album is. 

You can buy or stream Dimly Lit on Apple Music.

With Dimly Lit, I fell more on the side of album detail. I’ve been listening to From Indian Lakes for years now, even writing my own review of Absent Sounds when it released in 2014. I love the band unashamedly, often pushing their albums onto my friends, assuring them they’ll enjoy the creativity and soothing vocals of Joey Vannucchi. I’m always right. From Indian Lakes has progressed quite a bit since 2014, but even more so since their first album The Man With Wooden Legs. Joey’s music is almost unrecognizable from that first album, filled with harsh vocals and an emo-revival goal. What hasn’t changed is how he grips you from the first track. 

“New Love” is a completely opposite sound from Everything Feels Better Now’s “Happy Machines”. Joey has completely bloomed. While EFBN is more introspective and a late night drive album, Dimly Lit begs to be played on a boombox outside of your girlfriend’s window, waking up the neighbors. From “Your Heartbeat Against Mine” to “Garden Bed”, it’s a beautiful expression of affection and genuine emotion.

This time around, Joey decided he didn’t want to go it alone. He asked a bunch of friends to sing with him on the album, including Lynn Gunn of PVRIS (“Did We Change”), and Miriam Devora of Queen of Jeans (“Garden Bed”, “Faces”). The guests keep the album from being too monotonous and are always perfectly suited for the tracks they took on.

The whole album is an absolute treat and it loops so beautifully that I didn’t even realize it had played all the way through. It clocks in at just about an hour and is worth every second. Joey released it independently, which might be the most surprising fact because of how cohesive it sounds. From Indian Lakes will be joined by Queen of Jeans and Yummm this fall to tour Dimly Lit, and you can bet I’ll be there vibing in the front.

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 Early November – Lilac

I read once that The Early November chose their name because, much like that time of year, they changed their sound as often as the late seasons. I have no idea how true that actually is, but it has always rang true to me. The Early November have altered and changed from album to album, never staying with one sound for too long. The only constant is the emotional vulnerability that every song brings. Lilac brings not only the biggest change to the sound the band have developed after almost 20 years, it is quite possibly the most robust album the band has delivered since The Room Is Too Cold.

You can buy or stream Lilac on Apple Music.

Lilac is a stylistically diverse album, a fact it presents almost immediately. The Early November manage to juggle the sound of punk rock, Fall Out Boy-lite pop elements and incredibly intricate instrumentation. The flourish of trumpets or the somber whale of a french horn pepper into songs and constantly surprise the listener. The lilac flower is a symbol of innocence, and it shows across the album with tales of finding the lowest of emotional depths, only to pull yourself together. In the end, Lilac is an album of redemption.

Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes the sound of the band further than ever before. No two songs sound alike and each flows seamlessly to the next. Guitarists Bill Lugg and Enders find a variety of sounds from punk rock (“My Weakness”) to twinkling indie rock (“Hit By A Car (Euphoria)”) to dance riffs that act as a background to the rest of the instrumentation (“Fame”). Bassist Sergio Anello rips through a series of deep riffs (“My Weakness”) while multi-instrumentalist Joseph Marro’s piano and guitars layer thick (“You Own My Mind”). Drummer Jeff Kummer keeps pace with Enders, varying from intricate dance beats (“Perfect Sphere (Bubble)”) to deep melancholic bursts (“I Dissolve”).

Enders himself delivers a vocal performance different from any past release, whether that be with The Early November or his solo project, I Can Make A Mess. He pushes his vocals to shout and croon (“Hit By a Car”), enters the realm of pop (“Fame”; “You Own My Mind”), and almost whispers melody (“The Lilac”).

Opening song “Perfect Sphere (Bubble)” quickly sets Lilac apart from TEN’s discography. The energetic pianos, etherial guitars and Enders’ angelic croons deliver a sound that stands out against the moody rock of years past. “My Weakness”, a garage rock jam with a bridge and chorus that hint at what it would be like to hear Taylor Swift write a punk song, especially with Enders’ styled squeak during the chorus.

“Ave Maria” dances through an uplifting beat as Enders reflects on letting himself and a loved one down (“I thought if I looked nice, I would feel nice / And you would see me right, you would see me right / But it was an old lie, it was a cold lie / It was a long night.”). But for each downer, Enders weighs it with one of hope, such as the moody “Our Choice”. The song wrestles with the idea of addiction, as he swings back and forth between feeling enslaved to it and fighting back. “There is a choice to be alive, when failure keeps you up at night / So every morning, I will try / I will never stop the fire / I have a choice to be alright”.

The Early November constantly shift and push themselves in directions that no one sees coming. But consistency isn’t needed with a band so confident in themselves. Lilac bucks every expectation placed upon it, and steps away as one of the fullest albums The Early November have ever written. It demonstrates just how much the group can adapt and shift, but never remain predictable for long.

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 realized his air conditioner is running even though it is like, 50 degrees outside. What a silly goose he is.