Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

twenty-one-pilots-credit-ashley-osborn

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

Scaled_and_Icy

You can buy or stream Scaled and Icy on Apple Music

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

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

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

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

3/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Eras of Influence: Exploring the Sounds of the 1990s

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. Check out the introduction to the series here.

1990s: Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, No Doubt, Boyz II Men

As the 90s rolled around, I started to gain a little more autonomy. On occasion, my mom let me choose the radio station. On the schoolbus, someone might talk about a cool new song that had just hit the airwaves. And I would use these moments to begin stretching my wings into new sounds. To put it plainly, I grew a very quick interest in anything that had a guitar.

And the sound of a guitar in the 90s was distinct. While I didn’t yet have the chops to distinguish between different styles of rock, I frequently used the term alternative to describe my tastes. Alternative to what? I don’t think anyone my age really knew. But it was a sound and it made me feel cool. My mom didn’t listen to Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins. She feigned interest in No Doubt’s breakout single “Don’t Speak”, but not enough to explore the entirety of Tragic Kingdom. I held my cassette tape of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in special esteem. It had a swear word!

I remember how early sounds of the decade, in the form of groups like Ace of Base and TLC, blended the fleeting influence of the late 80s with something fresh and new that helped define the pop music of a new decade. A new wave of R&B sounds hit the radio in the form of Boyz II Men and All-4-One. The former’s third studio album II was owned by nearly everyone in my middle school.

During this period, my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking money was used almost exclusively on music – first on cassettes, then on CDs. My first compact disc, purchased in conjunction with a Discman, was Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere (yikes). Did I have to sit perfectly still to avoid my favorite songs skipping? Of course. But the days of rewinding and fast forwarding were over.

As much as I was able to stretch my own wings through the early and mid part of the decade, I still hadn’t found something that was quite my own. I was open to anything, by hadn’t quite pinpointed a sound or a scene that would engulf me. That would all change in 1997, which we’ll explore next time as my first clearly defined era of influence.

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.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

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.

Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

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: Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

In true Phoebe Bridgers fashion, her new album Punisher runs the gamut, with a title that fits the bill. She sings about childhood, faith, substance abuse, and loads of other realities that cut to the core. From the beginning of “DVD Menu” to the final notes of “I Know the End”, listeners are brought to their knees. It’s beautiful.

You can buy or stream Punisher on Apple Music.

I’ve casually enjoyed Bridgers’ music since 2017’s Stranger In the Alps, but unlike many others, I didn’t give her much thought until lately. When I think of women in recent music that stick out to me, I often think of Bridgers’ friend Julien Baker, who joins Bridgers on track 10, “Graceland Too”. I don’t know what it is about women who write sad music, but I can’t get enough. I suppose I feel a kinship to those who believe that women can be both forceful and feminine, and the way that Phoebe and others in her class tackle these subjects embody that for me.

The album begins with “DVD Menu”. She said in her Apple Music interview that it samples the final song from Stranger, and it’s a sweet bit of continuity that ties the two projects together. It continues with the single “Garden Song”, a track about personal growth. The next track, also a single, talks about how the foundations built in our childhood influence the adults we grow to be – even when we don’t think they will.

The ideas about feeling unworthy of the love and success she’s garnered over her years of traveling and playing music are relatable for anyone who has tried to make a difference in any way. The title track about meeting her musical hero, Elliot Smith, and worrying that she’ll simply be a nuisance rather than a welcome guest is relatable to anyone who looks up to those who have made a difference. The album is deeply introspective and offers a raw look into how Phoebe has grown as a performer since stepping away from PAX AM and paving her own path.

My personal favorite track is “Moon Song.” It stuck out to me from my first listen and I’ve looked forward to it every listen since. It cuts deeply in a way that I guess I don’t understand. Maybe I’m just not ready to face that emotionally yet? Either way, it’s a masterpiece and even though it’s smack in the middle of the album, I think it’s the best track.

Suffice to say, I love the new Phoebe Bridgers album. The gentleness in her delivery completely counteracts and dulls the knives she sings about. It’s a true escape in a time where it can be necessary to step back and take a breather.

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: 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: 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.

Switchfoot Sets Sail on the Fantastic Traveling Music Show

Back in 2017, something that I never thought would happen happened. Switchfoot announced an “extended hiatus.” I actually wrote a piece lauding them for the 20 years of music they had given us. Well, fast forward almost two years later and Switchfoot pretty much played a huge practical joke on us all. They took 2018 off, sure, but then ended up releasing a new album, Native Tongue, in January of this year.

They spent February to April touring the new album and then announced another fall tour – The Fantastic Traveling Music Show. My husband and I try to catch their Boston show whenever they happen to be on the East Coast, but there wasn’t a Boston show this time around. We made a three(!) hour trek up to Connecticut, and it was totally worth it.

The premise of the concert was a shipwreck. The band went crazy with the set design, and had a literal boat on stage, which was pretty rad. They didn’t bring any openers, instead playing two sets. The first was an acoustic portion, where they took audience requests by pulling songs from a bottle, keeping with the maritime theme. I’ve seen Switchfoot play twice before this date, and there were songs I had never heard live. Even though it was cool as a fan to hear those older tracks like “Company Car”, I almost feel like the whole show’s concept was a way for the band to keep things fresh for themselves. They’ve been playing together for so long at this point; I don’t blame them for mixing it up.

The second act was a full band set. Instead of the boat, they suspended a hot air balloon above their instruments. The highlights during the second half were definitely “Meant to Live”, “Float” and “This Is Your Life”. Even now, into the later years of their career, the band has intense chemistry that makes every set seamless.

Accompanying the requests were reasons the person had chosen them and a very poignant moment was when they played “Where the Light Shines Through” for a family whose daughter was born with severe complications. The band has always been open and genuine about their own personal lives and struggles and it was nice to see them acknowledge the part their music plays in others’ lives.

They often bring a charity on tour with them and this time around they chose Food for the Hungry. Their goal is to have 365 children sponsored to receive food, clean water, and education. You can find more information about their partnership on their website. Switchfoot has been an irreplaceable band in so many lives throughout the past 22 years. I am so grateful to see them continue to make music and invite us to celebrate with them.

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: Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

I first heard Minnesota’s Tiny Moving Parts when they opened for The Wonder Years in 2016. I was a very casual listener until they released Swell last year. Swell became one of my favorite albums and one I consider to be among 2018’s best. When they announced that there would be a new album this year, I was psyched. They’re one of the most creative bands in the scene at the moment, and they bring some much needed positivity to a genre that is often a beacon of the opposite. 

You can buy or stream Breathe on Apple Music.

Their new album Breathe features artwork by guitarist Matt, and really it couldn’t be more fitting for they album it belongs to. While being their softest album, it’s also arguably their best. With each release, the band keeps refining their sound, and I feel like they’ve finally hit the sweetest spot. I was never a math rock fan until I found Tiny Moving Parts, and now it’s one of my favorite subgenres, and they’re at the forefront.

The album opens with “The Midwest Sky” – one of my personal favorites. It’s a peppy start and definitely a great opener and would also make a pretty great single. Breathe is the perfect mix of what was so cool about Swell, with some new aspects, like the banjo found on “Vertebrae” thrown in for good measure. 

In the lead single, “Medicine”, lead singer Dylan regards death as something that helps us grow rather than something that should tear us down. He doesn’t ignore the fact that it’s painful, but he prefers to give us a reminder that we can grow through the things that hurt. That’s something that’s been prevalent across all of their albums, but here in Breathe, the band tells us to do exactly that — breathe. It’s refreshing in comparison to both their previous albums and the scene in general. I think that’s what made the album stand out to me so much. 

My biggest crisis regarding the album is that there’s not a track where I’m like, “Eh I could skip this.” Some people would say that this review is too positive and lacks critique, but I would say that the album deserves no critique. It’s wonderful from front to back. It’s got fluidity, fantastic musicianship, and they’ve still managed to keep the aspects that have made them a staple in my playlist for the past couple of years. Breathe is a treasure. 

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: Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!

When I first listened to “Nina Cried Power” late last year, I could tell that whatever Hozier was cooking was going to be something worth listening to. It wasn’t just that I was excited to hear a new Hozier song, but it was clearly a song meant to impact. Other than being the first taste of new music, it’s the track that ended up opening his new album, Wasteland, Baby!

You can buy or stream Wasteland, Baby! on Apple Music.

A lot of people talked about “Nina Cried Power” when it was released, because of how well it captured today’s activist culture – featuring, of course, an activist herself, Mavis Staples. In the description of the music video, Hozier called it a “thank you note to the spirit and legacy of protest.” It’s very fitting as the first track to the album because throughout it, Hozier speaks again and again of the change the world needs to see.

The second track, “Almost (Sweet Music)”, continues the name dropping. Virtually every line refers to a jazz song or artist from the past. “Movement” slows things down a bit, as a low, sultry track about dancing with someone you love. One of the things I love about Hozier’s music is the way his allusions make you feel like he was there when these things were happening. When he talks about listening to Chet Baker, the familiarity and fondness with which he refers to him makes you feel like he and Chet are old friends. The same in “Movement” – you almost feel like he stood by as Atlas was holding up the earth. The way Hozier writes is so timeless and I think that’s one of the things that makes him such a great musician.

In “No Plan”, we swing back around to looking at society as a whole. He talks about how life is what it is – “There’s no plan / There’s no race to be run”, so we may as well take things for what they’re worth and appreciate the beauty in them.

The love songs on this album are truly unique. Where guys like Ed Sheeran have their metaphors down, Hozier zones in on an experience. We see this in “Shrike” and then a little bit later in “Dinner and Diatribes”. Comparing his partner to a shrike, which is a bird that impales its prey on thorns, he sings that he can’t leave, even though he knows that staying will leave him on a thorn. The latter track is about being at a party and deciding that you and your lover don’t want to be there anymore. It’s a really cute track.

“Be” is a track about life. He talks about life from the beginning and how constant his love has been. The world isn’t the kindest place, and Hozier makes a reference to Trump, and says that when he’s reincarnated, he could be one of the refugees at the border, and that those he shuns could be “On TV giving people the sack”. It’s scathing, but he finishes the line by saying that even though the world isn’t as great as it seems, his love will be the thing that lasts the longest.

The album closes with the title track. He sees that society is a wasteland, but that there’s still good to be found. There’s positivity in his relationships, in nature and in just the idea of enjoying what life has to offer. As a whole, Wasteland, Baby! is an ode to the way we live now, crying out that change is possible, and the idea that even though it’s a wasteland, it’s a wasteland with the ones we love.

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.