Review: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.


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 TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.



Review: The Early November – Fifteen Years


The Early November have been such a beloved band for nearly two decades because they find ways to adapt their sound while maintaining the ability to sound like the same band that burst onto the emo scene in the early naughts. But one of their most enduring legacies is that each album seems to contain a show-stopping acoustic song, whether it be The Room is Too Cold’s melancholic “Dinner At the Money Table”, or the defeated rail against modern music of “Digital Age” from In Currents. It’s something that seems to be not only guaranteed with each record, but the songs become and remain crowd favorites.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

Fifteen Years is a fitting collection of a visit throughout the band’s discography that highlights some of their best songs while managing to hit that sweet middle ground for hardcore fans, bypassing many of the group’s most famous singles that have been played at every show they’ve ever had. This is the essence of The Early November on full display without having to play favorites to get people to listen.

I’ve seen The Early November almost half of a dozen times since their reunion in 2011, and the most startling thing to me was how their triple disc album, The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path was ignored almost entirely for several years in favor of new material from In Currents and Imbue and the hits from The Room Is Too Cold. Perhaps because several tracks have already received the acoustic treatment on I Can Make a Mess’s Dust’n Off the Ol’ Guitar album, songs from the band’s debut LP and EP, For All of This barely appear. And it’s a good thing, as it gives the next 12 years of the group’s career the chance to shine past emo nostalgia.

It’s hard to evaluate whether any of the songs sound better acoustically than their original recordings, but that’s a matter of taste. What makes Fifteen Years so special is that it strips everything away and shows what a lovingly crafted song remains. There are a few added flairs, such as the new country-esque guitar solo that acts as the bridge midway through “Outside” or the intimate solo of “A Little More Time” fleshed out.

A few surprises give a new soul to several songs I never expected to see again, such as “Call Off the Bells”. Originally a barbershop quartet turned punk song of a wedding gone wrong, with Ace’s voice screaming over sizzling guitars, its new form is a heartbreaking ballad pleading at the memory of what love should have been. “The Mountain Range In My Living Room” lacks the grunge aesthetic, instead presenting itself as a song of hopeful rebellion

There is such a passion that seeps into the songs, it’s a simple task to see why Ace Enders’ acoustic songs are a league above his peers, especially at this point in his career, when his voice has never been better. Strong, confident and emotive, this version of “Ever So Sweet” is a stronger cousin to the raw version from The Room Is Too Cold, where a young Enders’ voice almost crackles on the high notes.

Fifteen Years is something every fan of Ace Enders should hear. It’s a definitive collection of The Early November’s material without being a greatest hits album. It’s also his best vocal work to date, improving on past recordings without losing the soul of the lyrics. The biggest detriment to the album is honestly a lack of the other band members. There are layered guitars, but it’s impossible to tell who is on what, and I found myself longing for Jeff Kumer’s drumming. Regardless, Fifteen Years is the type of album that makes you proud to be a fan of someone who’s career has been a part of your life for so long.


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 a staunch supporter of TEN for 15 years. You kids and your electricity music. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT MUSIC IS! *grumble grumble fist shake grumble*

Copeland: Cracking Nostalgia in Chicago


The Double Door is one of those classic music venues in Chicago that almost seems like a stereotype – tucked beneath a train line, it could appear to be a graffiti riddled wall easy to overlook. Inside, it shows its age with darks walls, dim lights and the vinyl-gleamed stucco that old buildings brandish like tattoos. This place was made for music, and even though its location seems pushed to the side, everyone in the city knows and respects its reputation.

There couldn’t be a better location for Copeland’s Now/Then tour. A band who has never particularly been directly in the spotlight, they have caught the attention of the highest aspects of the scene, be that vocalist Aaron Marsh’s recommendation plastered on the cover of arena-rockers Paramore’s debut album or gathering powerhouse talents like Ace Enders and Kenny Vasoli to open for their (first) farewell tour.

The Now/Then tour is an ethereal experience that might focus on the “best of,” but it encompasses every aspect of what makes them such a unique brand. Their writing is nearly orchestral in arrangement, which lends to the fact that they’re one of the few musical acts that might actually sound more polished live than recorded. With a tour structured on working backwards through their discography, Copeland have shown not particularly their growth as a band, but how well-crafted their music has been since Beneath the Medicine Tree came out 13 years ago.

rae-cassidyWith the floor filled with talkative hipsters finding the happy medium between a light buzz and shouting conversation, opener Rae Cassidy took the stage. Armed with three violinists and a ukulele, Cassidy set right in, lightly plucking against the swell of violins. Her voice, bright and powerful, seemed to silence the crowd instantly, with a round of shushing sweeping the back of the room.

A mix of pop and indie R&B, her music was a perfect hybrid of someone who seemed influenced by Copeland’s softness, but embraced multiple genres to flesh itself out, unafraid to let the violins and gentle pauses lead the song. Though the music was soft, her voice was beautiful.

Standing center stage like a princess in a summer dress, she sang with command. I couldn’t help but think of a female Kenny Choi from Wolftron (and Daphne Loves Derby) with country and folk influence imbued with the purpose of Lorde. I was left wondering not only how I had never heard of her before, but also how long it would be before she became a household name.

copeland-3While finishing her last song, Copeland took the stage, becoming her backing band while perfectly transitioning from her setlist to theirs. Their first song, “Not So Tough Found Out” (featuring Rae Cassidy!) suddenly became “Chin Up” as Rae left the stage, only to crop back up throughout the night to provide backing vocals. Her violinists remained on the side, adding to almost every song they played.

Split into two distinct playlists, their first set contained music exclusively from You Are My Sunshine and Ixora, including the version of “Ordinary” off of the companion Ixora: Twin album. It was a perfect ploy to lure back the drop-off fans, who listen to nothing but the “classic” albums. It’s easy to say that a band “doesn’t sound like they used to,” but watching them work backwards, it became obvious that Copeland has known their trajectory all along. It was fascinating to hear the crowd singing along louder with each song as they became more familiar with the material.

After an intermission, they returned to play from their better-known albums, In Motion and Eat, Sleep, Repeat. As expected, this set was much more energetic. Not only because the crowd as a whole knew the words to every song, but because it included the few pop songs with Aaron Marsh on guitar, including “No One Really Wins”. Paired against and after their new material, there was a distinct awareness of just how talented the band was in their younger years compared to their peers. Their first albums didn’t sound like a band finding itself, with singles that sound out of place compared to their current material. “You Have My Attention” stood out as it closed the set with Marsh hitting the perfect high note against the rapidly swelling guitars.

copeland-2After stepping away for just a second, Copeland reappeared for their encore: a full six song set from Beneath the Medicine Tree, arguably their most famed record. Featuring “Take Care”, “When Paula Sparks”, “Coffee” and ending on the bittersweet “California”, the band melted the room into an intoxicating atmosphere of nostalgia and profound romance.

Now/Then is a simple, but effective concept that manages to blur the line between a greatest hits tour and a timeline of artistry that shows the complexity and craft of a band unlike anything else in their genre. They may be tucked away from the obvious, but they were built for this all along.

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 now seen Copeland three times, twice awkwardly opening for punk bands, but holding their own. Aaron Marsh once hit the high note in “You Have My Attention” for what felt like a solid minute. He is for sure over exaggerating the recollection, but the crowd lost its mind cheering Marsh on as he tried to hold it as long as possible. Good times. Better than yours.


Taste of Chaos 2016: A Reason to Look Forward


If you’ve followed any of the chatter surrounding this year’s resurrected Taste of Chaos tour, you’ve undoubtedly had your fill of wistful musings of days past. Certainly, it’s easy to get sentimental when glancing at the lineup – a who’s who of scene goliaths that paved the way for the approaching hurricane of nu-emo culture at the turn of the millennium. But to boil this summer trek down to nothing more than a mere nostalgia trip would be to miss the point entirely.

Chris Carrabba has dusted off Dashboard Confessional in recent months, releasing a new song this spring with plans for further recording. Taking Back Sunday is fresh off the heels of 2014’s refreshing Happiness Is and has a new album in the works. Saosin has reunited with original lead vocalist Anthony Green and released a new album, Along the Shadow, to critical acclaim last month. The Early November dropped one of 2015’s best rock records in Imbue just last spring.

All this to say that while it’s fun to reflect on the past, every band on this year’s Taste of Chaos tour is in full swing and primed for another step forward. Even if there’s nothing left to prove, there’s still plenty left to say.

For Early November vocalist Ace Enders, a man who has written and released a mountain of songs through his various creative channels, it’s almost hard to believe that he’s still getting better. Imbue is arguably the band’s best work to date, and on night three of Taste of Chaos in Indianapolis, Enders sounds just as impassioned singing “Narrow Mouth” as he does “Baby Blue”. Playing from a catalogue that stretches across 12 years, The Early November sound tighter than ever.



Speaking of spans of time, it’s still hard to believe your eyes when Anthony Green takes the stage with Saosin, a band he departed in 2004. Still, after the release of the ambitious Along the Shadow, it’s clear that this reunion means business. With a collection of 13 new songs to draw from, Saosin is able to stretch beyond Translating the Name with their setlist, offering fans the chance to hear the band shred across their new tracks.

While it’s still just as fun to hear “Seven Years” as it was all those years ago, it’s more interesting to hear the band tackle their new creations. In this setting, “Racing Toward a Red Light” sounds like the heaviest song Saosin has ever written. Likewise, “Illusion & Control” allows guitarist Beau Burchell and drummer Alex Rodriguez to let loose on stage during the song’s climactic close. With an expanding setlist, the only downside is not being rewarded with “Voices” or another track from the band’s equally celebrated Cove Reber era.

Taking Back Sunday

Taking Back Sunday

By the time Taking Back Sunday takes the stage, the lawn at White River State Park has filled out and the sun is beginning to set along the horizon. Rays of light cut through the stage backdrop, highlighting a confident Adam Lazzara as he struts across the stage. It’s a testament to Lazzara’s continued commitment to his craft that the mystifying mic swings are now merely a compliment to his overall performance. On this night, he rips through the set, sounding as solid as ever.

It’s a mix of the old and the new as the band opens with “Cute Without the ‘e’” before shifting to “Liar” and “Flicker, Fade”. With six albums under their belt and a laundry list of hits, it gets harder to know which tracks are the real mainstays. During their set, Taking Back Sunday try out a few new tricks fresh from the studio. “Holy Water” sounds like a suitable evolution from Happiness Is, while Tidal Wave sounds like a Ramones cover.

As intriguing as it is to get a glimpse of the future, it’s still hard to deny the indulgence of “A Decade Under the Influence” and “MakeDamnSure”. With any luck, band’s forthcoming record will only add to the growing list of Taking Back Sunday signature tracks, just as “Better Homes and Gardens” joined the list two years ago.

Dashboard Confessional

Dashboard Confessional

After three provisions of various kinds of chaos, it’s almost appropriate for Dashboard Confessional to bring things to a close. Carrabba has long been one of the most joyful performers in the scene, providing an ironic catharsis in the midst of so many painful songs. Yet to hear the crowd sing along heartily to “Stolen” and “Don’t Wait”, it’s clear that his songs of delight resound just as loudly with fans.

Carrabba has shape-shifted through the years from broken-hearted loner to confident rock icon to pensive folk artist without ever seeming unsure in his step. He’s a crafty songwriter with a knack for connecting with his aging audience, effortlessly meeting them where they are. On stage, he’s just as much a conductor as he is a performer, leading the choir through a history of heartbreak and redemption.

It’s only here that the nostalgia seems prevalent, perhaps because of the subject matter, but also because Carrabba seems to understand his role in 2016. He no doubt wants to revisit Dashboard with the intent of creating new material, but he also seems satisfied to rekindle an old flame with his fans. As is his custom, he regularly steps away from the mic for long periods, letting the crowd carry the band through songs like “The Best Deceptions”, “Saints and Sailors” and even the chorus of Coldplay’s “Fix You”. We’re all Dashboard Confessional, according to Chris.

While it’s not wrong to remember the past, it’s unnecessary to dwell there. On this year’s Taste of Chaos, we reflect on the moments that made us fall in love with music, but we also celebrate the fact that the same voices that sang our soundtracks are still singing new songs. And so are we.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Ace Enders – Silver and Gold


The best/worst/best thing about Ace Enders is that he tends to just appear with new releases, offering you a quick invitation to take a look at it, and then leaving it there for you whenever you want it. This week, he discreetly dropped a new Christmas album pretty much right around the time that news outlets learned that he ‘might’ be releasing a Christmas album. Well played.

Silver and Gold is a quick album, coming at eight songs in just over 20 minutes. It’s festive, atmospheric, and the most stripped back work Enders has ever released. Its sound is reminiscent of I Can Make a Mess’s Dust’n Off the Ol’ Guitar: simple melodies, whispering acoustics and soothing vocals craft a cheery holiday album that remains true to Enders’ unique sound.

It’s a simple record, as it’s meant to be. The songs send the message they’re supposed to without heavy production or gloss. The simplicity carries the meaning and the love behind the season. Basic beats, a light tap of tambourine, slow keyboards and echoing vocals plaster the record. Enders takes advantage of the fact that almost all of these songs are standard holiday classics (it doesn’t matter how he plays them, you’ll recognize them instantaneously) to strip them to a bare minimum, then play stylistically to add a new twist to them.

The only song that I THINK is an original song is “My Gift”, only because I have never heard it before. It’s a fun song with crisp acoustic strums, Disney-style whistles, and a harmony of Ace Enders vocals multi-tracked to assist the chorus.

“My Gift” has the signature ICMAM mentality of foregoing material objects, with the incredibly catchy chorus of, “I’m the type that won’t stop believing in hope for the holidays / If Santa skips town it’ll be okay / I’ve crossed my list of material script / I believe that every second with you is a gift”.

The EP not ground breaking, but it’s incredibly fun.

The only real ‘downside’ to this release is that it incorporates a Christmas EP by ICMAM from a couple of years ago, appropriately titled Happy Christmas EP as the final three tracks, which have a fairly different sound from the first half. That said, they’re wonderful songs and a very thoughtful inclusion.

What I appreciate the most about this release is that Enders didn’t take the traditional route of attempting to re-make or out-do existing Christmas songs, which usually produce mediocre results at best. This sounds like an I Can Make a Mess release that just happens to have Christmas music attached to it, which is an impressive feat.

If you collect holiday music from the scene, or are in need of something uplifting, Silver and Gold is there for you, and incredibly cheap. For a surprise release, this is about as good as it can get.

We’re not giving this a score. It’s Christmas Music. You either love it or you don’t, you grinch.

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 an avid Ace Enders fan. Huzzah and a half!

Review: The Early November – Imbue


I remember reading years ago that The Early November chose their name because, much like the weather at that time of year in the northeast, they couldn’t choose what type of music they wanted to settle on or play. The result is that the band has become an entity that can and will play any style or genre of music, able to change their sound almost at will.

It makes them extremely diverse and provides an ever changing dynamic. It makes each release new and exciting, with remnants of the last few albums spread throughout just enough to let you know that TEN are still, essentially, the same band. We all know how Ace Enders likes to change his songwriting from album to album, project to project. But finally, I think we know how The Early November were always meant to sound.

Imbue is the most sonically coerce album TEN have ever released. Each album is great, and each has their own identity, and I could have been talked into any of them being the band’s best depending on my mood at the time. Imbue is something else entirely. This is the band, 15 years in, having gone through the adolescent stages of touring, taking a hiatus to live life, and then forging ahead on the other side of reuniting and building a whole new identity.

To describe Imbue as dark would be incorrect; it’s an orchestrated version of Ace Enders that we’ve never seen before. The pop sound from the last few TEN albums and the more recent I Can Make A Mess is missing. The obligatory and much anticipated acoustic ballad is noticeably absent. Instead, you’ll find unique choruses that only the most confident of indie bands would attempt. The guitars rage, sizzle and coo. Each song is atmospheric and unexpected. For a band groomed in the pop punk scene, putting out a pure rock record could have been a death sentence; instead it’s become a crowning achievement.

Musically, it’s hard to recognize this as TEN at the helm. It’s earthier and moodier, the self-proclaimed comparisons the band have made to Brand New circa The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me don’t go unnoticed. Each song builds off of the last, the stylistic choices holding true to the very end. The guitars are refrained from exploding and keep a smooth control over the sound that makes each note deliberate and weighted. “Better That Way” ricochets between soft strums to walls of fuzzed guitar and the spider-like plink of restrained guitar strings.

“Magnolia” sounds much more like a traditional TEN song, with the crisp waves of power chords and tremendous drums leading into a hypnotic chorus. “Boxing Timelines” is more relaxed, with melodies snatching the spotlight with tight finger work on the fret. Jeff Kummer’s drumming dances a fine line between time keeper and nearly backup vocals to the chorus. Bill Lugg’s guitarwork on “Cyanide” is utterly hypnotic.

“Nothing Lasts Forever” is the stand out punk song that sounds like a spiritual successor to “Every Night’s Another Story” in terms of aggression, though, the message is much more positive. The final song, and technically a bonus track, is the first remake TEN have done of a song from a previous album with a full band version of “Digital Age” that has Sergio Anello’s bass plodding a haunting melody that gives the song meaning and strength that the original acoustic song lacked. Also, Joseph Marro. He’s just awesome and it’s a bit harder to tell when he’s on guitar, but his keyboards are just delicious.

Ace Enders has literally never sounded better. He’s severely stepped up his vocal abilities since the return of I Can Make A Mess and The Early November over the last few years, and although I thought that ICMAM’s Growing In was his best vocal performance, Imbue easily bests it. The transition between soft croons and larynx shredding shouting is nonexistent at best. He races across his range and pushes his limits in a way that I can only compare to Patrick Stump on the most recent Fall Out Boy releases.

Lyrically, not much has changed, but it is Ace Enders at the top of his game. The songs aren’t necessarily about relationships as much as they have been in the past, but rather they focus on the darker inner workings of oneself and overcoming your own demons. “Magnolia” has Enders singing, “Well I have issues I could never talk about /And words I can never hear myself say / And the songs I can never let myself sing / Trying to find out how to justify feeling this way / I remember wishing I could talk like others did / Watching the conversations be their way out or in / To where they were going seemed so much better than / Well I could always open my mouth / Just not let the words come out / I just held my breath”.

Perhaps the most damning lyrics Enders has ever written, and possibly the most direct attack on the negative outlook within the scene, and society in general, during “The Negatives” he sings, “Cause you’re addicted to feeling sorry for yourself / A needle wove a thread between your body and guilt / You made a blanket of your scars / And you just wanna feel warm”.

As I’ve said before, I Can Make A Mess’s last album had such good pop songs, I almost couldn’t believe that some of them weren’t saved for TEN’s next record. Now I know why. If this sound is where The Early November finally decide to stay, I’m okay with that. Seasons change, but they eventually settle somewhere reliable and definite.


by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and loves The Early November. To see them rise this high artistically in their musical career is nothing short of an honor.

The Early November Release Music Video for “Better This Way”


The Early November have released a new music video for their song “Better This Way”, which is the second song released from their forthcoming album, Imbue. Imbue is due out on May 12 on Rise Records and is shaping up to be a potential album of the year candidate. You can view the new music video below:

If you haven’t already, you can preorder Imbue on iTunes.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Early November to Release New Album “Imbue” on May 12


The Early November are back! The band have announced the upcoming release of their new album Imbue, due out May 12 on Rise Records. Imbue is the follow-up to 2012’s In Currents and will be the band’s fourth full length album. Additionally, the band will be heading out on tour this spring! You can see the dates on the band’s website.

Check out a new single titled “Narrow Mouth” and the cover art for Imbue below!


Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2015: #5 The Early November Strike Again


The Early November returned from hiatus in 2012 with a new album (In Currents) after half a decade removed from the scene that fostered them in. For fans of the group who had waited for something new since their disbandment in 2007, it was more than enough to satisfy. The big (and greedy) question to follow was “what’s next?”

Ace Enders is known to be a busybody, and with 2014 mostly in the dark, it seemed odd to hear nothing two years after their last proper release. Fortunately, the year ended with Enders releasing a surprise I Can Make A Mess record and a few reports about a new album in 2015.

The Early November always manage to pull surprises out of nowhere, blending sounds of raging punk, pop and the sweetest acoustic ballads you’ve ever heard. With the range of Enders’ writing ability, it’s about anyone’s guess as to what direction the new album will take, but it will be perfect.

Part of the reason this is all good news isn’t just the fact that it’s new music; The Early November are a fairly niche band. Their brand of emo punk has more or less died out and they have but a few records to their name, but not only were they welcomed back onto the scene with open arms and fanfare, they came back swinging with a headlining tour and a full run on the 2013 Vans Warped Tour. Of the few bands who make it back alive after being away for so long, even fewer hit the road half as energized.

The Early November have never disappointed in trying to do everything right. With a new album on the way, the band is exactly where they want to be.

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 listened to The Early November at least once a week since 2002. He has had several awkward experiences meeting his musical hero Ace Enders after accidentally dropping ice cream in front of him and stupidly trying to cover up the crime in a blinding white panic. He hates deer.

Reflecting On: I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business


Ten years ago, I was at the height of my obsession with The Early November. The Room’s Too Cold had come out the previous year, and I told anyone willing to listen why I was obsessed with it. My friends enjoyed the album, but constantly reminded me that emo bands never last. I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business arrived quietly with a self-titled album alarmingly quickly, almost exactly a year after TEN’s debut album. I loved the album by myself since no one I knew would listen to it, and saw it as a wonderful and patchwork contrast to TEN’s sound and themes.

The greatest legacy of Like Nobody’s Business is that it was an oddity for years. Ace Enders’ side project was originally an indie acoustic pop record infused with a wide array of instruments (violin, cello, keyboard, electric guitar, xylophone) and a slight tone of country influence. It was weird, lovely and the perfect counterbalance to the harshness of The Room’s Too Cold by spinning off in the vein of the standout acoustic tracks from that album.

But Enders didn’t return to ICMAM for a long time, leaving it as a one off album. TEN’s follow up The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path used a lot of the influences from ICMAM (LONG NAMES BE DAMNED!) for The Mother disc. The most obvious of these influences being the ambient country influences for songs like “Driving South” and “From Here to L.A.”, most notably Bill Lugg’s sexy slide guitar originally from “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy” on ICMAMLNB.

Beyond that though, I Can Make a Mess weren’t heard of again for the most part as Enders took up another solo project under the banner of Ace Enders and a Million Different People, with a select couple of ICMAM songs played at live shows.

I fell in love with The Early November because of the harshness of the lyricism coupled with the underproduction and ragged songwriting that somehow worked between genres of both hard rock and acoustic ballads. I Can Make a Mess was not even just the opposite of that, it was ironically kind of a mess. The entire disc was acoustic focused, and much quieter, but interjected with two ‘rock’ songs (I still don’t know what to label them as) that utterly ruined the flow.

It’s not even that they’re bad songs, but it destroyed the theme of the album as well as the concept, and cut the record into parts. “Untitled Track 2” is a hellish rock song led by a sizzling electric guitar that cuts the surreal and dreamlike acoustic ballads in two; poppier songs on the first half and softer ballads on the second.

Then there was the background noise; eleven songs worth of what sound like random television and movie scenes running constantly under the music. On paper, this is an annoying idea but in practice, it’s intriguing. The sounds provide a minimal bass layer beneath the music that allows itself to be heard during the quietest moments before finally fading out during the aptly titled “End of the Background Noise”. It’s a distraction that doesn’t take away from the music, instead it melds the songs together which is one of the things Enders likes to do (The Room’s Too Cold, Dustin’ Off the Ol Guitar).

Enders’ lyrics have always intrigued me. The Early November tend to run to the center of emotions, cutting through the fat and hitting the heart of the matter. In recent years, I Can Make a Mess has reflected this basis as well, but not nearly as much. ICMAM is the outlet without parameters and ICMAMLNB is probably the best reflector of this.

The first half of the record is almost mystical. “So I Finally Decided to Give Myself a Reason” is the most dreamlike. It’s a surreal conversation with coming to terms with past mistakes amidst a chorus of “So tonight as I walk the moon makes faces at the trees / It’s so nice to make fun of everything that I lost, and I miss, and I love but never had”.

The most iconic song is “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy”, a ripe country flavored song complete with a “yeehaw” and slide guitar. It’s also the start of ICMAM’s recurring theme of money and inspiration as Enders sings, “So follow that tune / Quickly or you’ll lose the melody you never heard / When you were young you didn’t care / It’s the one that stole your father’s pride / That mighty mighty dollar sign”.

The second half of the album is slightly less romantic and a more straightforward with the themes of coming to terms with yourself. “I Know the Sum and Substance of My Evil” is one of the more telling songs as it pulls everything together in a self-evaluation that is so straightforward that it beckons reminders of TEN. “We all knew this day was coming / Our bitter hears can hear it calling / So proud of what you’ve done, so proud of who you are / Standing tall next to all the buildings and filling up with all the reasons why you should never trust yourself / The way you fool yourself… I’m fooled”.

I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business is a patchwork still in progress, not quite ready to know what it wanted to be. It’d be six years before further ICMAM albums would help put this one in perspective. It’s a great release from Enders, but somewhat pieced together and cut in weird sections.

At the time, it almost felt like a secret in the music community since absolutely no one would listen to it with me. It was an oddity of experimentation and honesty that helped launch Ace’s other solo project and influence later TEN records while maintaining a spirit all its own. It was the first time I knew that Ace Enders had the skills as a songwriter to not fade away with all of those other ’emo’ musicians and made me proud to bother people with how much I adore his music.

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 apparently likes to write about Ace Enders in embarrassing amounts of detail, enough to tag his other two articles in this one. Ugh. The Early November is one of the few bands whose albums have never left his rotation ever since he first heard them in 2002.