Review: Emery – Rub Some Dirt On It

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I originally wasn’t going to write anything about the new Emery album, Rub Some Dirt On It. Anyone who has followed my pieces here on It’s All Dead knows my love for Emery and I think I’ve written or talked about almost every one of their albums in the five years since I started contributing here. I just kind of felt I had nothing new to add to the conversation. But where I was lacking inspiration, Emery stepped up and filled in the blanks for me.

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You can buy or stream Rub Some Dirt On It on Apple Music

Rub Some Dirt On It is Emery’s hardest hitting album to date. I think one of the privileges of being a band for 20 years is being able to drop the filter and really lean into the art you want to make. Over the past few years, the scene has often been up in arms over the members of Emery’s podcasts, or artistic choices with album art, or the shift in their lyrical content. A few years ago, they released a song called “People Always Ask If We’re Gonna Cuss in an Emery Song” for God’s sake. They’re basically an ouroboros now, just devouring the criticism and turning it into more incredible and thought-provoking art than ever before. Just when you think it’s quiet on the Emery front, they release a single like “I Don’t Know You At All”, and you’re sucked right back in. If Emery has anything going for them 20 years into their career, it’s their talent for constantly staying in the back of the scene’s mind.

For Rub Some Dirt On It, I wrote off the title as an uber-masculine dude-fest at first, but Emery is at their most vulnerable here. The songs detail church abuse (“Stranger”), the way faith falters over the years (“You Stole God From Me”), and just the regular old guy/gal songs we know and love from South Carolina’s post-hardcore darlings (“You Said Enough”). And just in case we get too overwhelmed or in our feelings over it, they end the album with “Lovely Lady”, a complete turn-around musically, but a cool picture of just how well they mesh as a band, and a fitting closer to a very deep and personal album.

The album has some of Emery’s most interesting instrumentation, and more cutting lyrics than even in their edgy era when they were young. The 20+ years together have only tightened their sound and refined their artistic presence. They were a force to be reckoned with in the scene when they began, and they’re even more of a force now.

The band recorded this album in one take on a 2-hour livestream spectacular, and other than some minor tweaks here and there for recording’s sake, gave us the album as it was originally performed. I’ve said this before, but Emery really took the independent release format by the horns and completely flipped the script. Every time they’ve released something in their indie era, it’s better and fresher than what they did before. It’s almost like they challenge themselves to try something new every album cycle, and we’re privileged enough to come along for the ride.

5/5

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.

Review: Valleyheart – Heal My Head

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Well it’s time, folks. Time to talk more about an album I haven’t been able to shut up about: Valleyheart’s Heal My Head. It’s finally out in the world, and it’s just what I’ve needed. This is an album perfect for spring and summer, and it is the perfect offering to usher us into sunnier days.

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You can buy or stream Heal My Head on Apple Music

What drew me to Valleyheart initially is their lyrical honesty and fresh take on the alt genre. Their first album, Everyone I’ve Ever Loved, hit me deeply in a way only a kid who grew up in New England churches can get hit. In a part of the country affectionately known by other religious areas as the “frozen chosen,” what Valleyheart had to say about church and the way that kind of upbringing tosses you into adulthood with little else but questions really resonated with me.

Their new album, Heal My Head, feels like defrosting. The sounds are lighter, the chords are major, and it’s all around giving me a chance to catch my breath. Vocalist/guitarist Kevin Klein and the guys have focused on time, and the way it ebbs and flows. We get songs about their success, songs about hoping for more, songs about friendship. There’s something here for everyone.

From the initial notes of “Birth”, a soft entrance through the door of this house Valleyheart built, we are pushed into the lead single, “The Numbers”. It’s easily one of the best songs of the year thus far, and a great representation of what we can expect here from the rest of this piece. This song is about Spotify stats at its core, but it really is about more than that: It’s about slowing down and taking the time to appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s a song about gratitude. 

“Warning Signs” is the most different track, a very pop heavy song that was instantly a favorite for me. It’s catchy, and it breaks up the album just enough to keep things interesting. I fell head over heels for their harder rock sound, but tracks like this, along with “Back and Forth” and “Vampire Smile” are reminders that this band can do whatever they want and make it sound incredible, while keeping it congruent with the rest of what they’re trying to bring forth.

I love this album more every time I listen to it. Each time there’s something new for me to find or to think about. There truly are no highs or lows here. Every track has been chosen and placed with the steady hand of a master, and everything fits together like the pieces of the clock in the album art. The album is filled with joie de vivre. As I’ve spent time with it, I’m struck more and more of how this came at the perfect time for me. I am continually in awe of when things in my life completely sync up with a band’s releases, and this album has already begun to feel like home to me.

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve found a new band to obsess over. 2013 began my love for From Indian Lakes, in 2015 came Pianos Become the Teeth, 2020 brought Gleemer. 2021 up to now and far into the future has brought me Valleyheart. A band close to home and now close to my heart and soul. Heal My Head is an album that will stay with me for a while, to say the least. It feels like coming up for air.

5/5

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.

Podcast: Interview with Kevin Klein of Valleyheart

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Friday marks the release of Heal My Head, the new album from Massachusetts alt rock trio Valleyheart. Vocalist and guitarist Kevin Klein joined us on the show to chat with our own Nadia Alves about the band’s sonic progression on this new record and what inspired them to explore new territory. Klein also shares about his songwriting process and how exploring past trauma allowed himself and the band to tap into new and powerful stories that serve as the heartbeat of Heal My Head. Take a listen, and then go snag the album on Friday!

Pre-order Heal My Head here.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Wallows – Tell Me That It’s Over

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Wallows is back with their sophomore offering, Tell Me That It’s Over. They dove even deeper into the stoner rock/Britpop mix that made me fall in love with them a couple of years ago, but for me, this newer album seems to be a step backward rather than a leap ahead.

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You can buy or stream “Tell Me That It’s Over” on Apple Music

It starts off promisingly with “Hard to Believe” and first single “I Don’t Want to Talk”. This is the Wallows we know and love; energetic, youthful tracks. The album as a whole though sounds like a continuation of Nothing Happens, while losing the punch some of those past songs packed. I feel like they definitely put their best foot forward with the singles they released, as opposed to how those play out across the album as a whole.

I think the problem I have here is not that I don’t like this album, but I just like Nothing Happens so much more. Even though a lot of the vibes and lyricism here are similar, it’s lacking a certain something. I think it feels more like a predecessor to the perfection that their last album was, and so it feels a little bit out of order to me. The sounds here are mellower and laid back, and that’s a weird shift from the harder hitting stuff I’m used to.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Tell Me That It’s Over is bad, it’s just a different direction. I appreciate some of the more 80s-esque synths and one of my all-time favorite tracks from the band, “At the End of the Day” is from this album. I feel like this could be their Pinkerton, where they really decided to go with what they felt like writing rather than continuing in the vein that brought them the majority of their popularity. Tracks like “Marvelous” are just kind of a step away from what I’ve come to expect. They do have a knack for writing a closing track, and “Guitar Romantic Search Adventure” is a heck of a closer. “My life’s going by / But it’s just begun” is one of those lines that sticks with you for a long time.

This album is definitely built for a live show experience, and I’m bummed that I still haven’t been able to catch them live. The pandemic forced a refund of my tickets last time, and this tour has sold out so quickly I never even got a chance to look at tickets. And this is to their credit –  they’re a talented group of guys who have a tight sound and know what they want from their art.

I am always partial to a band’s previous releases until their newest has a chance to grow on me, and that’s no different here. Tell Me That It’s Over is a bouncy, colorful album, but for me it lacks a lot of the body that Nothing Happens had.

3.5/5

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.

Reflecting On: Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

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Ah yes, the year is 2012. I am 14, a few months away from 15, and simply desperate to prove I am “not like other girls.” I am at a friend’s birthday sleepover, and one of the girls asks if we should turn on some music. I volunteer immediately, pulling my orange 5th gen iPod Nano, camera and all, out of my pocket. I say, “Listen to this,” and proceed to play Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” that I ripped off YouTube, complete with the vocal interpolations from the music video’s found footage clips. I am on top of the world. Then one of my friends says it sucks and is not God-honoring and I lose aux privileges for the rest of the night.

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You can buy or stream Born to Die on Apple Music

It took me a few more years to get into the rest of Born to Die, an album I still consider to be Lana Del Rey’s magnum opus, the album that will be remembered long after she retires from making new music. The album outlines a lifestyle I have never and don’t ever want to experience, so why do I continue to get lost in this materialistic, drug-addled work?

I once jokingly texted a friend that listening to Lana made me feel “slutty” in the best way. There’s something about the image she portrayed in this first album that made me feel powerful and excited to be a woman. Feeling like I could take hold of this weird twisted destiny she was singing about. When really, in looking at the lyrics, the album is a story of abuse: emotional, and in some versions (I’m looking at you, “Diet Mountain Dew” demo) physical. There is a sick obsession with youth and what it can buy you. It’s an ode to the sugar daddy. It was a portrait of the American Dream, but it’s definitely not idealistic.

Born to Die was like nothing I’d ever heard at that point in time. Even when I didn’t get the literary allusions and references to pop culture from yesteryear, I could still sense something special in what Lana was trying to do. She has changed her style in every way possible since this album, and yet I will always see her with her 40s Rita Hayworth curls sitting between those tigers. I will always see her as a stand in for Jackie Kennedy, lamenting over the lost love in her marriage. I will always see her as the perfect pin-up girl, plucked from the 60s and dropped into a music scene that still doesn’t quite appreciate what she has to offer. With Born to Die, she ushered in an entire generation of girls who went on to make music for themselves, and outside of and despite the male gaze.

Of course, I couldn’t see any of that when I was 14. I only saw a way to appear edgy and cool and on top of the newest and best of pop culture. In a way, Born to Die has brought me here to this 10-year anniversary. I don’t doubt if I hadn’t started branching out back then I wouldn’t be writing this now. Songs like “This Is What Makes Us Girls” were so refreshing to me back then. She can try to hide it behind dramatic metaphors about the Kentucky Derby and by singing about drugs and alcohol, but there’s a truth and a timelessness to Born to Die that is impossible to separate. It’s at once a picture of the best and worst of luxury, two sides of a dangerous coin, and it never grows old for me.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: Hozier Returns to Form

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Hozier has given us crumbs since the release of Wasteland, Baby! in 2019. He released a dance song with Meduza in October, and recently posted on his Instagram story that we will receive a project called Unreal Unearth at some point this year. Whether that’s an album, an EP, or just a single remains to be seen. I liked Wasteland, Baby!, but it’s not an album that remained in my rotation much longer than the year it released, unlike Hozier’s first self-titled album.

With Unreal Unearth, I’d like to see a return to form from Andrew, and based on the title, I think that’s what we’re in for. Please Hozier, give me the tunes of a Celtic god who has just awoken from his hundred-year slumber. I want “In A Week” part 2, please and thanks. Oh and I want a collab with Florence Welch. Of course, we know Hozier will do what he wants, and we will still sit at his feet and ask for more, and then he will retreat back into his songwriter’s cave and emerge again when he sees fit.

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.

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

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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.

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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.