Review: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

New Found Glory is the second band I ever fell in love with. The thing about their albums is that you walk into them without expectations of biting social commentary, crazy departures of sound or veering artistic licenses. Their records are going to be fun, with the melodies stuck in your head after a single listen and the lyrics memorized on the second.

You can buy Makes Me Sick on iTunes.

Makes Me Sick is perhaps the second album to attempt breaking free of the standard mold. Coming Home, 2006’s oozing pop album was the first to make a departure to varying results. Makes Me Sick is much, much more successful in the attempt. Perhaps more surprising is how it retains the pop elements of the earliest New Found Glory albums just as much. The result is a record that pushes the band’s sound and writing through new experiments, but sounds like a particularly well-aged set of B-Sides off of Sticks and Stones.

Marking a perfect blend of Sticks and Stones era punk rock with Coming Home‘s alternative takes on songwriting (and synth!), this is an album that relies on and defies the legacy of pop punk that has come before it.

The songs are lavish and pop with a flare that sounds almost classical these days. With some alternative rock sounds and a better use of synth than on Coming Home, Chad Gilbert’s guitar work feels timeless. Focusing less in the easycore hard punk riffs of Resurrection, fleshed out rhythm guitar and solos relish in pop. Bassist Ian Grushka is allowed to carry the melody more than he was on the guitar-heavy Resurrection, which sets him apart from the uplifting synth. Drummer Cyrus Bolooki, yet again, absolutely crushes the kit with poppier beats that sound timeless to the band’s career.

The one song that truly stands apart is “Two Voices”, a Caribbean-style jam that sounds absolutely nothing like New Found Glory save for the vocals, but it doesn’t feel out of place when paired with Makes Me Sick as a whole. It’s the biggest leap stylistically the band have ever made, despite being a simple pop song.

Vocalist Jordan Pundik sounds eternally youthful, throwing some of his most inspired work in the last decade. While the lyrics aren’t gnawing at aspects of society, they are instantly memorable. Subtle jabs are thrown at youth culture run amuck, such as “Party On Apocalypse”, where Pundik sings, “This self-centered generation, taking pictures of themselves then changing features / Pleasing over critical creatures / Everyone’s got a cause but how strong is the foundation / Moving like the waves of the ocean / Do you care or just throw stones in?”

While the classic topic of relationships isn’t snubbed (“Barbed Wire”), “The Cheapest Thrill” is one of the most noteworthy songs on the album. A song about overcoming lust so as not to hurt others anymore, and finding self-respect in yourself and others, it stands out with more depth than the average New Found Glory song. The realization is a great passage, and one of the more heartfelt lines the band have penned, as Pundik sings, “Suddenly, I can see through my own eyes again / But I don’t like what I’m feeling / You can’t help your thoughts, but you can change your actions / If I don’t I’ll be consumed.”

I’ve listened to New Found Glory continuously for almost the entirety of their 20-year career, and even minor changes to their formula can sound drastic when compared to their discography. Makes Me Sick treads the fine line of not only finding a new charm to their signature pop, but they make it sound like an homage to their early work as well. Few bands get the chance to see 20 years, much less release an album that pays tribute to a genre they helped forge without being sickened by the sound of them.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and fondly remembers that New Found Glory was the first album he ever bought on his own. He forced his friends to listen to it relentlessly until there was a NFG-loving army at his beck and call. He failed to conquer and rule Quebec with them.

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Reflecting On: Saves The Day – Sound The Alarm

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It feels like Saves the Day have always been a staple of the pop punk scene, forging a path on their own against the grain the their peers. At the top of their game, the band released In Reverie, a fuzzed dreamscape punctuated by the arrival of a Chris Conley with much higher vocals than on past releases. While it is regarded much more favorably today, at the time of release the album was more or less a flop; a general consensus among fans hated it compared to Stay What You Are or Through Being Cool. Sound the Alarm then, was the rebirth of Saves the Day. It wasn’t a rebirth in that is was made to please fans (it did that), but it was a response to the criticism made against In Reverie, the first album to produce the sound of modern STD albums, and the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with depression, promising a robust amount of work coming from the band for the foreseeable future.

I’ve always seen Sound the Alarm as a wake-up call to the fans. In response to the criticism of the low-key elements of In Reverie, Chris Conley turned the guitars up. In response to the pushback against the psychedelic, dreamy lyrics, he sang of much darker stories and degrading aspects of depression. Since they didn’t seem to appreciate the experimentation, he refined the way to write a pop song to a razor’s edge and slung power chords like an axe.

If Stay What You Are was the quintessential emo album of the early aughts, Sound the Alarm was the rock record that STD fans didn’t know we wanted. “Head for the Hills” opened with a blast of rough guitars, as though it were a demented cousin of “Certain Tragedy”, before blaring into the immediately chilling lyrics of, “Burning the door in the back of my mind/ Lying alone in the morning light, feel like swallowing my eyes./ I walk around the house until my feet begin to bleed/ Still I can’t forget somehow”.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Sound the Alarm, other than the ‘dark’ lyrics, is how heavy the music is. By most regards, the music is still considered pop, but by Saves the Day standards it might as well be metal. The guitars raged, and the bass was turned up to fearsome levels, playing a much more prominent role than on past regards, thumping along as though following the listener down an alley. For anyone who questioned the direction of the band after In Reverie, this was an album that reminded them that this was the band who wrote Through Being Cool, found art in the depths of depression to create an emo masterpiece, and then suckerpunched haters who thought the band would try to recreated Stay What You Are to appease the detracting fans.

For everything that fans think define Saves The Day, Sound The Alarm set a precedent for staples to their live shows. For everyone who came to hear “At Your Funeral”, “Eulogy”, “Dying Day” and “The End” became new necessary songs. Simple pop songs, perfected down to the second in how long they lasted, and infused with enough energy to fill the entirety of the last couple STD albums.

“I’m living in a dark and dying day, and everything is lost along the way/ The feeling in my hearts’ not the same, so what’s to say?”, as the opening lines from “Dying Day” showed that although Chris Conley was aiming to satisfy the need the everyone who wanted a ‘dark’ album, he was having fun with it by supplanting positive sounding guitar riffs as the backbone of the song. It could may as well have been a B-Side to Through Being Cool.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Sound The Alarm though, is how it became a concept album. When it was first released, it was taken for what it was – a rock album. However, several months after its release, Chris mentioned in several interviews that this was the first in a trilogy of albums dealing with depression. That’s the first time I reexamined it. Every dark lyric took a new meaning as I tried to figure out how it would tie together with two more albums worth of music.

The sound became the writhing tide of depression when it grips you fully, tearing at your flesh in an orgy of energy that saps your strength. Although the music may have sounded poppy, the thoughts behind it ate away at the good mood. Though the energy remained, it deteriorated quickly into ideas of death and poisoned consciousness. And right when it seems like everything might be balancing out, it struck at the gut punch to anyone who has ever felt true depression: how it affects those around you.

While the first half of the album delved into dark imagery balanced by pop music, the second half truly sank hope of redemption, starting with “Say You’ll Never Leave”. It spoke directly to the people who love someone suffering from depression directly and the desperation not to hurt them while you deal with the pain inside, as Chris sang, “Say you’ll never leave, please, this war inside my mind is killing me./ I’ll cut out my throat and I’ll eat it raw, and drown in the blood as it fills my lungs./ Say you’ll never leave, please, this war inside my mind is killing me”.

The rest of the record follows this deeper pain, begging to spare those around him and almost apologizing for putting them in this position with increasingly desperate lyrics, such as “Sifting through the picture of the ghost inside my mind/ Somehow can’t forget the times I failed to get things right” (“Diseased”), or the softer “Don’t Know Why”, as he sings, “The mirror staring back at me/ The cracking lines along my face/ The times I try to get things straight, but could not./ I know how hard I try to keep myself alive/ But I don’t know, I don’t know why”.

Although Sound The Alarm never seems to pick up the pieces and becomes increasingly darker, there are two more albums to do just that. This was also around the time that I saw Saves The Day live for the first time, at the Metro in Chicago. Chris Conley walked on stage with bright pink hair and a green army-looking jacket. It nearly startled me, as I expected someone half dead to take the stage after hearing songs like these. Instead, a shit-eating grin plastered across his face, he unleashed more energy upon me than I had ever seen. Even now, over ten years later, I consider that one moment of seeing him take the stage, playing through his set immediately after the release of Sound The Alarm as one of the best concerts I have ever seen.

Chris has never hid the fact that he has dealt with depression by any means. Sound The Alarm, Under the Boards, and Daybreak are the most direct albums that deal with it head on. But seeing him in the lights of the stage, belting song after song and bouncing to each strum of the guitar, I reminded myself that no matter how dark it can get (Sound The Alarm can get dark), it is always conquerable. There is always a way to smile through it. There is always a reason to keep performing.

While I don’t expect anyone to consider Sound The Alarm the pinnacle Saves The Day album, I am hurt when it’s not considered among their best (What about Can’t Slow Down, maaaaaan?!). It signaled the resurgence of Saves The Day, the establishing of what their sound, style, and charisma would be for the next decade. Sound The Alarm did more than give them a second shot at a career; it reminded us that even in the darkest depths of our minds, we can still find reason to smile brightly and do our best, because at any given time, there are at least two albums worth of even darker trials ahead to conquer, and we should look forward to the chance to prove that we can.

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 Saves The Day was his first concert (with The Early November!) For fifteen years, Saves The Day and New Found Glory have always been his fall-to bands for music, no matter the circumstances. Long Live Saves The Day!

The Story of Us: How Taylor Swift Won Me Over

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It’s 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and I’m standing outside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, frantically refreshing StubHub on my phone while bartering with a scalper for his final two tickets to the event inside. Before I can talk him down to the amount of cash I have on hand, an excited couple swoops in and buys the tickets. They head inside, where Taylor Swift is taking the stage.

The clock has struck midnight on my hopes to see one of my most anticipated events of the year and I must walk home in the dark, defeated. How in the hell did we get here?

***

My first job out of college in 2006 was as a disk jockey at a country music radio station in Enid, Oklahoma. I had no familiarity with the genre, other than to know it wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. During my time at the station, I became quite familiar with the format, and while most of the music failed to win me over, there was one artist that stood out to me. Her name was Taylor Swift.

Swift was 16 years old at the time and had just released her debut self-titled album. Her first single, “Tim McGraw”, was named after one of the genre’s biggest stars, and while she was far from our most requested artist at the station, she certainly felt like an artist on the brink of something big.

I remember being taken aback by her maturity as a songwriter. Was a 16 year old really singing these songs? Many of her tracks were stripped down acoustic ballads and they felt like the songs from someone scarred, yet still content after years of pain. She seemed to capture the essence of country music in its simplest form. There was no flash, only the songs of a young girl who seemed seasoned beyond her years.

I still feel that sense of strength when I listen to “Teardrops on My Guitar”. The song feels familiar, and it has the unique ability to connect with listeners both young and old. We know that “Drew” is a teenage boy, but without context, he could be anyone, especially since we’ve all felt the need to laugh “’cause it’s so damn funny”. What that song captures in terms of emotion and experience is something many artists spend a career trying to achieve.

By the time Taylor released Fearless, her 2008 sophomore record, I was no longer working at a country music station – but no matter. Fearless would prove to be Swift’s true breakthrough, generating five singles, two of which were undeniable international hits. Taylor was officially here to stay, and frankly, unavoidable.

However, my respect for her craft vaporized quickly. On Fearless, Swift harnessed a number of big name co-writers and added pop elements to the mix, creating a blend that caught on quickly with a mass of listeners and blurred genre lines. Gone were the genuine, stripped down moments and in were bouncy teen-bop anthems about boy trouble. Increased radio play and MTV appearances bolstered Swift’s fame, and once Kanye rushed the stage during her VMA acceptance speech, Taylor was a bonafide superstar.

Much more than the sudden fame, I was troubled by what I interpreted as an artistic regression. It seemed as though Swift had sacrificed maturity and authenticity for dumbed-down radio hits that sounded as though they were written by a focus group. It doesn’t help when your most famous song’s chorus features the profound line, “You be the prince and I’ll be the princess / It’s a love story, baby just say, ‘yes’”. In my mind, Swift had gone from the next great country prodigy to the soundtrack to the worst knock-off Disney movie ever made.

When the just-as-successful Speak Now released in 2010, I had already made up my mind. I was the guy that used to like Taylor Swift before she sold her soul to be America’s teen idol. Even when the singles from 2012’s Red tickled my ear, I continued to write Swift off as childish and immature. I was stubborn and I was wrong.

***

So had Taylor Swift really become less mature as an artist, or was I just missing the point? The answer to that question didn’t become clear until last fall, when Swift released 1989. As one of the few who didn’t immediately fall in love with lead single “Shake it Off”, I’m still not quite sure why I decided to listen to the whole album upon its release. Even so, I distinctly remember listening to it. And then listening to it again. And again. That afternoon, I bought the album from iTunes. A week later, I bought the album on vinyl.

1989 was Taylor’s first official pop record – and it is a doozy. The album is a coming of age story and depicts the journey of a young woman who finally feels comfortable in her own skin. It’s wonderful pop music, but it’s also a bold artistic statement from someone who isn’t afraid to change her voice and redefine herself. Both thematically and sonically, it’s actually kind of brave.

As I wrestled through the emotional baggage that comes with falling in love with the music of the person that you once condemned, I started searching for why I felt that way in the first place. What I failed to realize (or simply just ignored) during Swift’s journey to stardom was that this was the actual journey of a real human being.

Put on the map at the tender age of 16, Swift has spent the better part of a decade growing up and finding her voice while standing in the brightest of spotlights. During that time, she also became the voice for a new generation of music lovers who hung on her every word. I just lacked the grace to see the situation for what it was.

Songs that once made my eyes roll, like “You Belong with Me”, now sound full of innocence. Tracks that once made me guffaw, like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, now make me remember my younger days and the confusion I felt. Of course, all of this fails to acknowledge the simple fact that during the majority of Swift’s career, I wasn’t her target audience, which is totally acceptable.

To put it simply – it wasn’t you, Taylor. It was me.

***

In the months since the release of 1989, I’ve come to love the record more than when I reviewed it last year. I’ve even come to enjoy Red (which I also purchased on vinyl), perhaps even more than 1989. Although my end-of-the-year Spotify stats won’t show it, I’ve probably listened to Taylor Swift more than any other artist in 2015. That’s a sentence I never in my life imagined that I would be typing at the age of 32. But there it is, and here we are.

When tickets went on sale late last year for the 1989 World Tour, I was still in a state of confusion about my feelings toward Taylor Swift. By the time I came to terms with the truth, tickets were selling on the secondary market for arms and legs. Alas, there would be no exorcizing of demons by crossing the threshold of Bankers Life Fieldhouse to witness Taylor Swift in person. For now, spinning those vinyl records will have to do.

It’s safe to say, her next record is already my most anticipated album of 2016. Funny how things work out.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Reflecting on: Taking Back Sunday – Where You Want to Be

Photo by Brian Appio

Throughout 2014, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

There’s apparently a very thin line between sophomore slump and comeback of the year – just ask Taking Back Sunday. Their 2004 album Where You Want to Be may be the most divisive album released in the scene in the past 10 years. Depending on whom you ask, the album is either the best release in the band’s catalogue and an emo classic, or it’s an absolute throwaway and marks the beginning of a downward spiral for the band.

While the debate rages on a decade later, one thing is for certain: Where You Want to Be served as a launching pad, thrusting Taking Back Sunday from underground to mainstream success and was a major player in the mid-2000s emo explosion.

But how good is the album in its own right? Let’s find out.

The case against Where You Want to Be

Taking Back Sunday’s debut, Tell All Your Friends is an undeniable classic. It took the scene by storm seemingly overnight with its manic energy, impassioned back-and-forth vocals from Adam Lazzara and John Nolan, and a sound that seemed to defy categorization. That debut was akin to a crackling livewire.

Where You Want to Be fails to fit the mold created by Taking Back Sunday two years prior. The departure of Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper undeniably left a void in the songwriting department, and although the addition of Fred Mascherino and Matt Rubano certainly added new strengths to the band, there’s no argument to be made that Lazzara shared the same creative connection with Mascherino as he did with Nolan.

That’s not to say that the songs on Where You Want to Be lack depth or emotion, but it’s a much more contained fire. That containment is even more pronounced due to the album’s production, handled by Lou Giordano, a man involved in breakout albums for bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Plain White T’s.

While Tell All Your Friends is a raw and rabid animal from start to finish, Where You Want to Be possesses a kind of sheen that makes songs like “A Decade Under the Influence” and “This Photograph is Proof” sound radio ready. There’s truly no denying the pop appeal of the album, nor the role that it played in the band’s crossover and eventual signing to Warner Bros.

For fans of the raw, bleeding-heart emotion of Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want to Be serves as the prime suspect for the band’s turn towards the alt-rock world and sold out arena tours. It signifies a band’s loss of innocence and hunger for commercial success. In the world of underground music, there’s truly no greater sin.

The case for Where You Want to Be

The beauty of Tell All Your Friends truly lives in the nostalgia – what that album meant at the time and the change it brought about. Several of the band members were in their late teens at the time of the album’s writing and recording, and it’s easy to tell upon spinning the record in 2014.

Yes, Tell All Your Friends is an absolute classic, an extraordinary debut and a game-changing record. But it also has its flaws, and to ask the band to write songs like “Bike Scene” for the rest of their career would be not only unjust, but also a death sentence. For Taking Back Sunday, growth meant taking a step towards a bigger pond and learning how to flex their songwriting muscles in a way that made sense for a band on the rise.

Where You Want to Be highlights this growth in nearly every conceivable way. A newly-found controlled chaos allows the band to build towards powerful moments within the album’s 11 tracks as opposed to living in a constant frenzy.

“One Eighty By Summer” serves as a prime example of this. The song refuses to follow any sort of predictable song structure, but excels in its ability to push the sound through the roof at the appropriate moments. The track features two crescendos filled with furious battles between Lazzara and Mascherino atop swelling guitars, with help from Eddie Reyes.

“Set Phasers to Sun” is an incredible opening track with powerful drumming from Mark O’Connell, an incredible guitar transition during the chorus from Mascherino, and the repeated cry of “I’m sorry it took me so long” from Lazzara during the song’s opening seconds. Within minutes, the song captures the essence of old Taking Back Sunday with a new pop appeal punch.

Whereas Tell All Your Friends often borders on the juvenile, Where You Want to Be shows real growth in songwriting, and its clear that Mascherino’s presence bolstered the band’s ability to push themselves in a more mature direction. To follow Lazzara’s lyrical journey is to follow the growth of the man himself. His words and performance on Where You Want to Be highlight a necessary step in the right direction.

Where You Want to Be may lack the rough-around-the-edges appeal of its predecessor, but it more than makes up for it by being a complete front-to-back experience of a band on the rise.

The verdict

In truth, these sorts of debates always boil down to subjective opinions based on taste and personal preference, but to me, Where You Want to Be should be considered a classic. To follow-up a generation-defining debut after losing two crucial members and still create such a buzz-worthy release is truly a feat worthy of praise.

The debate between Nolan and Mascherino will likely continue until the end of time, but perhaps there’s no debate necessary. Both are incredibly talented musicians and songwriters and both brought a completely different feel to the band. I think it’s clear that both possess worthy strengths and both have added much to Taking Back Sunday’s catalogue. The difference between Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be largely lives in the divide between those strengths.

Where You Want to Be isn’t the last great Taking Back Sunday album and it wasn’t the first. For a band with an expansive and still-growing impressive catalogue, it seems foolish to split hairs amongst some truly massive releases.

Is Where You Want to Be Taking Back Sunday’s best album? Maybe. More than anything, though, it represents a major step in the band’s career and an incredible follow up to a stellar debut amidst challenge, change and turmoil.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Photo by Brian Appio