Reflecting On: Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

“I stall before I start.”

Motion City Soundtrack is a band that is loved by different people for different lyrics, different sounds, and remarkably distinct albums. There is an argument to be made that any one of their albums is the highlight of the group’s career, but none offers more evidence than My Dinosaur Life (2010). While earlier albums danced around the pop punk scene by testing the boundaries of pop and rock music, My Dinosaur Life unabashedly amplified every aspect that made them great. The result is a loud neurotic mess of sound that defined who Motion City Soundtrack are and cemented their legacy in an overcrowded Warped Tour field.

You can buy or stream My Dinosaur Life on Apple Music.

As this album turns 10, I find myself in a position where I can relate to its themes more than ever. Feeling left behind by a world you’re still a part of, trying to improve yourself for the benefit of all, and realizing it took you way too long to do it. If My Dinosaur Life has one message to offer, it’s that it is never too late to be your best.

My Dinosaur Life is the album that made me feel okay for having a mind that jumps from topic to topic, seemingly beyond my control. Even in my most uncomfortable and heartbroken moments, I make jokes to ease the oncoming sense of doom. From song to song, singer Justin Pierre jumps from one thought to the next with grace, humor, and the humility to ask his audience to forgive him for being all over the place.

My Dinosaur Life was a statement on the idea of feeling left behind. After gaining some moderate success with the release of Commit This To Memory (2005), the band seemed to take noticeable backlash for just how poppy Even If It Kills Me (2007) was, even though the album is highly regarded now. For a brief moment, Motion City Soundtrack seemed like they had outlived their longevity in the music scene. My Dinosaur Life revitalized the band both in career and spirit.

“The things that used to mean so much to me /

Have gone the way of dinosaurs /

Hopes and dreams and everything”

My Dinosaur Life plays off of the theme of improvement. Every song feels like a short story about admitting one’s own faults and, maybe for the first time, asking for help to become better. “A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help)” states this most directly (“I think I can figure it out / But I’m gonna need a little help to get me through it”).

“Her Words Destroyed My Planet” is one of the best songs written in the last decade. It’s a raw confession of someone admitting that their significant other’s frustrations with them being an underachiever have finally been realized. The song is an admission that despite trying to improve themselves in a variety of ways, it was still too little, too late, even if they like who they are now better than before.

These pleas for help and proclamations of improvement are interwoven with the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness that often coexist when we seek to be better. “Skin and Bones” asks the void an absurd amount of questions, as though trying to relieve themselves of a panic attack (“What if consciousness can expand / And we fool ourselves with absurd demands? / What if there is no point at all? / We just grow up to fade away…”).

Although My Dinosaur Life seems to dance back and forth with the idea of admitting one’s own faults and promising to be better (“Stand Too Close”), it balances itself taking pride in hard work and emotional health (“Worker Bee”).

It’s important to work to be better. But it’s just as important to do it for the right reasons. In “The Weakends”, Pierre reflects on a life spent wasted on not being his best, of dreaming about the future when he could be living it. “As the years go crashing by / I think of all I’ve pondered / So many minutes wandered / So many things undone / I’ve tried to figure out / How many lives I’ve wasted /  Waiting for the perfect time to start”.

My Dinosaur Life is as close to a perfect album that I can think of. It passes a message that everyone learns at some stage of their life with a mix of humor, self immolation, and hope. But most of all, it asks you realize when you’re not the best you can be. That’s all it takes to deserve a gold star.

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 hates olives and everything that looks like an olive. He bit into a chicken salad sandwich expecting the sweet taste of cranberry and instead was betrayed with a mouthful of these poison grapes. If you know anyone who eats olives out of a jar, he asks you to pray for them, as that is the only way they can be saved now.

Reflecting On: Saves The Day – Sound The Alarm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and Saves The Day was his first concert (with The Early November!) For fifteen years, Saves The Day and New Found Glory have always been his fall-to bands for music, no matter the circumstances. Long Live Saves The Day!

Reflecting On: New Found Glory – New Found Glory

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This is easily the weirdest thing I’ve ever tried to write, so let’s start here: New Found Gory is to pop punk what Johnny Cash is to Country. The name is inseparable from the genre. Five years ago, I saw them play a nearly sold out show in Cincinnati celebrating the album’s 10th anniversary, but this last week, the band’s self-titled album, New Found Glory celebrated its 15th anniversary with a quiet nod to those paying attention. Any album will celebrate 15 years if someone is paying attention, but when a band is still together after all that time is when we should truly take notice.

A thousand people have written about this album, so I will keep it short and sweet. New Found Glory is the quintessential pop punk staple. It’s the album that dozens of my friends know word for word, despite the fact that they have long since stopped following the band. The self-titled album established what pop punk should sound like, despite the fact that bands like Blink-182 had been around years beforehand.

It’s hard for me to listen to New Found Glory these days all the way through; 15 years and half a dozen albums worth of work later, it’s hard for me to define New Found Glory by the songs that they wrote at 18 or 19 years of age. But this album means the world to millions of people, maybe half of which still actually listen to music. Even so, if one band were to have successfully defined their sound with a self-titled album, New Found Glory is the one.

New Found Glory is a timeless album. Pop punk has evolved over the years, but if the album was released today, it would still work , and possibly sound just as good for an up-and-coming amateur band. The songs are simple, loud and devastatingly memorable. It’s hard to deny that a thousand bands have grown up learning to play the songs on New Found Glory and the influence it has left on the scene, if not music as a whole, is incalculable.

This album landed just a year or two before Napster destroyed the music scene, and as such, was one of the last albums that needed to be purchased to hear the music on it. And people bought it. I found it through Adam Carolla. One random night, I happened to be listening to his radio show Love Line when the opening notes to “Hit or Miss” played over the radio and I heard who the band was. New Found Glory was the first band I discovered on my own, bought on my own, and told my friends about. This was the first album I lent to a friend, and one of the first bands I took the same friends to for a concert.

It would be easy to say that this album means the most to my generation, but it’s simply not true. Even now in concert, the band plays a good portion of these songs live.

New Found Glory is hard to describe, as it doesn’t age in the same way that Green Day’s American Idiot does, or differ in sound from how the band writes now, the way that Oasis did at the end of their career. New Found Glory was simply the start of an obsession that has lasted for decades, the spark of a central sound that hasn’t deteriorated. The only other band I can think of that has held up as well is Saves the Day, but even they have changed their sound throughout the years.

I believe that part of the album’s longevity is that the band haven’t particularly changed their core sound as much as they have evolved with the times. New Found Glory is pop punk in its infancy, Coming Home its awkward teenage emo years, and Resurrection the current, rebellious young adult form. Where most bands attempt a new sound so that they don’t write the same record twice, New Found Glory knew who they were in the beginning and wrote their music in a way that matched the maturity of their audience.

There are dozens of bands I listened to when I was fifteen, but nothing gets my blood pumping the way that “Better Off Dead” does. Friends of mine don’t listen to music anymore (literally, at all), but still quote “Sincerely Me” in texts and in inside jokes. And nothing, absolutely nothing, gets a crowd jumping or open a circle pit the way that “Hit or Miss” can.

Last year at Riot Fest in Chicago, I ran in a circle pit during New Found Glory’s set for almost 20 minutes with people ranging in age from their teens to people well into their 30s.

After this much time, I don’t know how else to describe New Found Glory in a way that hasn’t been done before. I can’t even say that it’s my favorite NFG album. What I can say is that this is the album that launched my love of music in a way that Blink-182 never did, that made me fall in love with their albums year after year in a way that Green Day never did.

Music changes very quickly (remember dub step?). Fifteen years later, I feel like it is safe to say that New Found Glory is the reason that pop punk has survived this long and the basis to which all of the current styles have evolved from. They helped launch the golden age of pop punk and the entire Drive Thru Records lineup. Their music is essentially untouched from what it was all those years ago, save for being louder and more mature than anyone ever saw it becoming. It’s more than anyone ever expected to see from a band all those years ago, especially when there were so many pop punk bands, and I can only hope to see where they land years from now.

All in all, this is an elaborate way to say, “long live the kings of pop punk.”

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 might be slightly biased because NFG was the first band he discovered 15 years ago. But that doesn’t matter because no one reads this lil’ bit anyway. Bwa hahahahaha!

Relient K Turn to the Bright on “MMHMM” Anniversary Tour

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Staying positive isn’t something that comes easy for many of us. Those that struggle to stay on the up and up know how important it is to have encouraging friends by their side. Not necessarily the obnoxious type of optimist who ignores life’s struggles, but the kind of friend who can see how those trials might bring about something good.

Relient K have long been that friend to the pop punk community – one often rife with negativity and pessimism. Instead of focusing on constant unconstructive cynicism, Relient K have made a career out of looking on the bright side and fighting for hope and joy in a broken world. This year marks a decade since the release of one of the most affirming and hopeful records to come out of this scene – MMHMM.

Of course the band celebrated with an anniversary tour and of course people arrived in droves to see the spectacle and sing along. However, there’s something unique about this particular anniversary tour. Something uniquely Relient K.

For many in attendance during the band’s recent trek, MMHMM serves as a beacon of light; an encouraging reminder that everything is going to be alright. The whole album seethes hope amidst pain and frustration. Just listen to the words on tracks like “More than Useless” or “High of 75”. Even songs that focus on the pain itself, like “I So Hate Consequences” and “Let it all Out”, end by looking toward a better tomorrow. To gather in community to sing these songs aloud again is a reminder to live in that hope.

But the members of Relient K aren’t immune to defeat and frustration. They’ve all spent the last decade battling through pain and disappointment, dealing with break-ups, and wrestling with life’s uncertainties. It’s one thing to sing these songs with confidence in your early 20s, it’s another thing to still live in such confidence after 10 years of taking life’s haymakers on the chin.

When Matt Theissen takes the stage in Indianapolis, he admits to battling several days of the stomach flu and apologizes if his performance lacks spark. The bug appeared to have little effect. In fact, the entire band’s set was full of life. From the opening chords of “The One I’m Waiting For” until the final uplifting notes of “When I Go Down”, the band plays to full tilt and everyone in attendance bounces and sings along to every word.

This tour is especially exciting as it includes the band’s reunion with former drummer Dave Douglas – a fan favorite and the only proper person to man the skins at such an event. Seeing Theissen, Douglas and guitarist Matt Hoopes grace the stage together again is a sight for sore eyes and makes performances of songs like “Be My Escape” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” that much more special.

It’s the next to last stop on the tour and it’s obvious that the band is fighting through exhaustion, both from illness and road weariness. You don’t notice it in the performance, but it can be witnessed between songs if you look close enough. In a way, it oddly mirrors the battle-for-joy sentiment that bleeds throughout the entirety of MMHMM. Even a decade worth of life later, the band still deems it worthy to fight this good fight. Many of us in the crowd have used these songs to spur us forward in our own moments of weakness.

Relient K have spent over 15 years as a punk band despite so starkly differing from what many deem to be “punk.” Whether it be the nerdy songs about school dances, the underlying Christian themes in their songs, or the upbeat hints of happiness that run throughout their discography, Relient K certainly did things their own, unique way.

MMHMM will always stand as the band’s defining album. It’s a polished, nearly perfect pop punk album that excels on nearly every level and never fails to uplift. Even the album artwork, featuring a lone blooming flower on a cloudy day, speaks to something deeper. It’s a reminder that there is hope. Ten years later, you get the feeling that the band still believes that sentiment. It’s refreshing, but it’s also a reminder to cling to hope whenever and wherever you find it.

Maybe that’s what makes this anniversary tour so special. It’s not just about a timeless album – it’s about remembering a timeless truth.

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.

The Ataris pay tribute to Astoria on anniversary tour

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There’s no denying that the scene has been awash in a sea of nostalgia in recent months. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the slew of anniversary tours and reunion shows that have come down the pike, celebrating a decade since the pop-punk/emo boon of the early 2000s.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the music we love went from the comfort and privacy of our dorm rooms and car rides to late night MTV rotation, seemingly in the blink of an eye. That windfall of mainstream airplay not only grew the audience, but, for better or worse, shone a spotlight on an entire subculture that was secretly begging for attention.

For many, this transition took place during the most confusing and formative of life transitions – that of adolescence to maturity. For that reason, this music, these songs, hold extra weight and make the wistfulness to relive those moments somewhat appropriate.

Partaking in this opportunity to relive the halcyon days are none other than The Ataris, touring in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their album So Long, Astoria. However, this experience holds an extra poignancy – the estranged members of the band who recorded the album have reunited with lead vocalist and guitarist Kris Roe for just this tour.

The real question is, does any of this matter?

The band has famously failed to follow-up Astoria with any sort of gusto, releasing the dark, ill-received Welcome the Night in 2007 followed by continual promises of new music and a litany of lineup changes. The announcement of this particular reunion may have felt suspect to some, but it’s hard to ignore the intrigue.

The band’s stop in Indianapolis landed them at The Vogue, one of the premier mid-sized venues in the city’s artsy Broad Ripple district. Coincidentally, this is also a homecoming of sorts, as the band’s origins lie in Anderson, In., just over 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The venue isn’t completely packed, but it’s certainly abuzz. The openers, including punk band Authority Zero, do well at setting the table for the main act. Before The Ataris take the stage, I chat with a couple of fans reminiscing about So Long, Astoria and its impact on their high school years.

This nostalgia is more than a fleeting romantic thought or idea. This night provides the opportunity to once again sing and dance to the songs that made sense of growing up – a chance to step away from the reality of adulthood and remember the journey that got them there.

As The Ataris take the stage with friends and family in attendance, it’s clear that the fans are not the only ones remembering that journey.

The band’s set is one filled with joy, smiles and excitement. Considering that this lineup hasn’t played together for a lengthy period, it’s impressive how tight the band sounds and how much energy they bring to the songs. So Long, Astoria is played in its entirety with little need for lengthy dialogue or stage banter.

Astoria has always lent itself well to sing-a-longs, and although Roe sounds just as good as he ever has, it’s just as fun to listen to the crowd belt out every line of “In This Diary”. The line “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up” clearly holds an extra weight in this setting.

When the opening notes of “The Boys of Summer” sound, even those standing at the back with their arms crossed jog forward to join the masses. The sight of grown men and women smiling and dancing to the sound of a pop-punk cover of an 80s classic might seem odd in theory, but it’s a delight on this night.

The set moves quickly, flowing with the anticipation of the crowd. Though there are a few explanations given before certain songs, these tracks tell most of the stories themselves. When Roe talks about “Summer of ‘79” it’s clear that he knows his own story is one of many that now associate with the song.

It’s corny, but this is one of those shared human experiences you hear about – and it’s wonderful to watch, whether you’re a fan of the band or not. When those connections take place, you often feel good about just being in the room.

The Ataris may have failed to capitalize on the promise left in the wake of Astoria’s release, but it’s clear that their impact is an appropriately lasting one. When these anniversary tours and reunions begin to feel worn out or hackneyed, it’s important to remember the moments and lives that allow them to exist.

To answer the earlier question, this does matter. It matters because there’s clearly an audience that still connects to these songs and lives that still feel the ripple effects from those days a decade past. Yes, it’s nostalgic. But it’s also therapeutic and a part of our story. It never hurts to stop and reflect on the moments that make our story a good one.

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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.

The Ataris announce So Long, Astoria 10th anniversary tour dates

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It appears that The Ataris have re-assembled the lineup that recorded their 2003 classic album So Long, Astoria and will be hitting the road to play the album in its entirety. Frontman Kristopher Roe will once again be joined with guitarist John Collura, bassist Mike Davenport and drummer Chris Knapp.

Kris Roe has been the longstanding original member of The Ataris through a slew of lineup changes through the years. The band’s last official release came in 2007 in the form of Welcome the Night.

It also appears that the band will be releasing their entire back catalogue of albums in an upcoming box set vinyl release. More details to come.

In the meantime, check out the tour dates for the So Long, Astoria 10th Anniversary tour!

Feb. 28: Scottsdale, AZ (Pub Rock)
March 1: Las Vegas, NV (Backstage Bar)
March 2: Fresno, CA (Strummer’s)
March 3: San Luis Obispo, CA (SLO Brewing Company)
March 5: Los Angeles, CA (House of Blues)
March 6: Anaheim, CA (House of Blues)
March 7: San Diego, CA (House of Blues)
March 8: San Francisco, CA (Bottom of the Hill)
March 11: Portland, OR (Hawthorne Theatre)
March 12: Seattle, WA (The Showbox at the Market)
March 13: Boise, ID (Knitting Factory)
March 14: Salt Lake City, UT (In The Venue [Club Sound])
March 15: Denver, CO (The Summit Music Hall)
March 16: Kansas City, MO (Riot Room)
March 18: St. Louis, MO (Old Rock House)
March 20: Minneapolis, MN (Mill City Nights)
March 21: Chicago, IL (House of Blues)
March 22: Indianapolis, IN (The Vogue)
March 23: Detroit, MI (The Shelter)
March 24: Cleveland, OH (Agora Ballroom)
March 25: Pittsburgh, PA (Altar Bar)

Blink-182’s self-titled album turns 10

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As hard as it is to believe, today is the 10th anniversary of blink-182’s self-titled album. Amongst a large collection of classic records turning ten years old this year, the album is a classic in the pop-punk scene and is considered by many to be the band’s best work. What are your thoughts?

Share your memories of the album and favorite songs in the replies. Also, don’t forget to take a listen to our recent podcast in which we discuss many of the classic albums turning ten this year.

Reflecting on Anberlin’s debut album

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blueprints_coverLost in the shuffle of a parade of 10-year anniversaries that have hit the pop-punk/emo scene in 2013 is an album that rarely gets mentioned, but surely deserves reflection. Anberlin’s Blueprints for the Black Market is not their defining album, nor is it generally considered a classic in this scene. It is, however, a stellar debut and an album that holds up extremely well a decade later. It truly is a diamond in the rough.

So why does no one talk about it? We recently did our first podcast for this website on albums that turned 10 this year and I completely forgot to mention it during the recording. Blueprints for the Black Market may have been my favorite album of the year in 2003, yet I sometimes still forget how good it is. At least until I put it on.

Unfortunately for Blueprints, Anberlin went on to create at least two classic and revered albums (Cities and Vital, although some include Never Take Friendship Personal in this conversation as well) that overshadowed their early work and helped them stake their claim in the scene. Even their most lackluster album, New Surrender, featured their breakout radio single “Feel Good Drag”.

When people have conversations about Anberlin, these are the talking points – and rightly so. However, for a band that has developed such a following and has proved itself to be a reliable and respectable act, it seems unwise to not remember their roots. Blueprints for the Black Market is an absolutely incredible debut album and is truly a worthy release in its own right.

In what would be the first of several albums recorded with Aaron Sprinkle, Anberlin wrote some of their most aggressive work. It’s certainly true that the unique vocal style of Stephen Christian is what drew many people into the band to begin with, but the guitar work of a young Joseph Milligan can’t be emphasized enough. Milligan’s work alone makes this album feel like a band hitting their prime as opposed to just breaking out of the gate.

Take the first track, “Readyfuels”, as an example. In what is one of the best opening songs in the band’s catalogue, Bruce shreds the bridge to pieces – just watch his fingers during a close-up shot in the song’s abysmal music video. Accompany the music with Christian’s urgent vocal delivery, and Blueprints opens with a bang.

Although this is the track most people point to during discussions about this album, songs like the forceful “Glass to the Arson” and the pleading “Change the World (Lost Ones)” make this album special. There’s a certain emo tinge to many of these tracks – a little more edge, a little grittier – that separate them from the rest of the band’s catalogue. Though many may comment that they perfected this sound on Friendship, I might argue that they merely shifted their direction.

Even the missed notes, like the goofy “Foreign Language” and out-of-place-poppy “Autobahn”, serve their own purpose in easing up on the gas pedal. But alas, this album is not so much the sum of its parts as it is celebrating the individual parts that make it. It ebbs and flows and by the time you hear the haunting drum outro of “Naïve Orleans” echo away, you feel you’ve truly experienced something special.

I remember walking in the snow across my college campus listening to this album in my headphones. It provided a therapeutic comfort during those confusing and sometimes aimless days. Christian’s cryptic lyrics kept me searching and certainly made me look for something deeper when I reached for new music. The aggressive sound of the album pushed me in the direction of bands like Dead Poetic and Underoath, opening a completely new realm of sound.

Cities will likely be remembered as Anberlin’s defining album, and I certainly won’t argue against that here. The truth is, the band’s collection is filled with solid work, all of which deserve to be cherished in its own way. If it’s been a while since you’ve thrown on Blueprints for the Black Market, take another listen. It’s likely that you’ll still remember the songs, but you may be surprised at how good they sound all these years later.


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.

Remembering The Room Is Too Cold

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Ten years ago saw the release of one of the most influential albums I’ve ever known – The Early November’s The Room Is Too Cold. In an era of my life when Blink 182 and early Saves the Day ruled my CD players, The Early November put out a record unlike anything I’d listened to up to that point, and which hasn’t been replicated for me since. It was sincerely the first album that gave me tears as it ended and reverberates with me even now thinking about it.

The Room Is Too Cold is unlike most of the albums on the scene within the last decade and stands unique even amongst TEN’s own discography. It’s a raw bare-boned creep that plays off of genuine emotion to tell a story of heartbreak and inner turmoil. There is no autotune and less melody and pop of the later albums The Early November would release. These are songs that include the crack and squeak of a young Ace Enders’ voice and a righteous disappointment in love.

Make no mistake, this is a miserable and depressing series of songs muddied in flat tones, raunch melody and the signature pop punk of the early 2000’s. This is an album recorded prior to Ace Enders writing the power pop for The Early November’s sophomore album or his solo work in Ace Enders and a Million Different People. It’s just a jagged experiment in emo with a smooth mix of soft acoustic ballads, slow rock and a peppering of Drive-Thru era punk. Almost every song bleeds into or sets up the next one, flowing together into one conscious thought of depravity and flailing hope. But ten years on, this is the album that started the careers of a band that has outlasted many that grew up with them. The Room Is Too Cold may just be one of the most underrated masterpieces in songwriting that has ever been made.

This is the only album I can think of where every song reflects an emotion outright rather than just a pop song singing about them. Each song has a distinct sound uninhibited by production and touch ups that makes it a unique link in the chain of realizing that you’re falling out of love. “Ever So Sweet” starts off slowly with the admission of seeing a lie in someone else and wrapping yourself through that. “The Mountain Range In My Living Room” is a swaying jam about falling into depression and the strength in lies. Crowd favorite “Baby Blue” is one of the stand out singles from the record, as its punk edge beats at the rhythm of an angry heart. The flat chords emulate the panicking pulse of someone vindictive of a break up and justifying why it’s all over.

If there is anything to take away from the album though, it’s the almost title track, “Everything’s Too Cold…But You’re So Hot”. The song is a slow trod through repetitive defeat, realizing that the love you once knew is completely and utterly gone. The clank of the guitar against the vocals is a miserable, beautiful sound through foggy tragedy, and picks up momentum near the end when the electric guitars come alive in fury. It ultimately ends with Enders screaming, “You know I always forget” at the top of his lungs through crackling vocal chords and finally ends with such a tone of despair, it seems like someone physically punched him while recording. It’s a desperate plea of loathing and defeat so pure it helps the album’s theme stay relevant and fresh a decade later without losing the effort that originally made it.

While most ten year old albums have a tendency to feel dated, especially as the band grows and matures, The Room Is Too Cold remains painfully relevant. While I hope that the Early November are able to create their opus, it’s hard to tap into a vein so truthful and honest. Regardless, this is an album worthy of an anniversary, as there won’t be anything like it for a long time.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.