Most Anticipated of 2019: #1 Childish Gambino Makes His Final(?) Appearance

A year-and-a-half has passed since Donald Glover announced at the Governors Ball Music Festival his intention on releasing one final Childish Gambino album before riding off into the sunset. Since that time, Glover has released one of most powerful songs of the decade (“This is America”), unexpectedly dropped a new Summer Pack EP, created another wildly successful season of his TV series Atlanta, and starred as Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Glover has never been one to rest on his laurels, and the past several years have been a whirlwind of creative success. If the next Childish Gambino album truly is his last, we can rest assured that whenever it comes, and whatever it is, it will surely be great. His artistic progression from Camp to Because the Internet to Awaken, My Love! has been fascinating to watch, and there’s no telling where he might take his sound next.

Whether that rumored final album drops in 2019, or whether we receive something else completely (which seems just as likely), we patiently await whatever comes next from one of the most important and mysterious artistic voices on the planet.

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.

Advertisements

The Best Songs of 2018

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2018 here.

In 2018, the idea of what one song can accomplish and the story it can tell outside the context of an album continued to evolve. Certainly, songs on this list work best within the overarching narrative of the album they exist on, but many others told us a story worth unpacking in a variety of intriguing ways.

Some offered commentary that put previous works by the artist in a new light. Some were driven to new heights by an accompanying music video that expounded on the story within. Others were just fantastic songs to help chase away a year of bad news. They all had a part to play and all proved worthy to make our list of Best Songs of 2018. Take a look – and a listen.

15. mewithoutYou – “Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)”

This was the perfect single for mewithoutYou to release as a taste of [Untitled]. It fits the tone of the album perfectly and is a wonderful showcase of both Aaron’s vocals and the band’s musicianship. It breaks new ground for the band, but sounds like it could be a B-side on [A→B] Life. I love the intensity of the crescendo. I love the honest call for social unity in the lyrics. The video is super fun. This song has everything we expect from the band and more. – Nadia Paiva

14. Pronoun – “Wrong”

Pronoun were one of the biggest surprises for me this year. Opening for Justin Pierre, Pronoun hypnotized a full theater into believing that they are one random Tuesday afternoon away from being the biggest band in the country. “Wrong” is an emotional song about the conflict of being angry at someone and the turmoil of coming to terms with conflicting feelings. Simple guitar melodies and drums balance soft vocals and a bouncing synth before exploding towards an unleashed pop guitar. “Wrong” is a perfect introduction to a band that is still finding their footing in the world. – Kyle Schultz

13. The Wonder Years – “The Ocean Grew Hands to Hold Me”

This was undoubtably my favorite track on Sister Cities. I wrote a lot about it in my review of the album but I feel it’s worth mentioning again just how important this track is to the album. It ties together the entire theme: being away from home when you should really be there. Dan Campbell has to rely on the fact that the only thing he and his loved ones have in common at the moment is the ocean that’s between them to make himself feel better about being away at such a pivotal point in time. It’s heart-wrenching in a way that only The Wonder Years can pull off.– NP

12. Kacey Musgraves – “High Horse”

Did Kacey Musgraves write a song about me? Listening to the lyrics of “High Horse”, it’s hard not to feel the culprit, because haven’t we all been a jerk sometimes? “’Cause everyone knows someone who kills the buzz / Every time they open up their mouth”, she sings during the track’s irresistible, radio-ready pre-chorus. “High Horse” is the gateway drug (haha, get it?) to Golden Hour by infusing dance and disco into this uniquely country track and serves as the showcase of how Musgraves is driving the genre into a new era. So maybe “High Horse” is actually directed at all those staunch and rigid country music gatekeepers? Or maybe it’s just about me after all. – Kiel Hauck

11. Saves the Day – “Suzuki”

While 9 is an album full of off-beat, meta songs, “Suzuki” is arguably the most honest. At barely over a minute long, “Suzuki” is not only aware that it is a song, it knows what album it’s on (“I played on Can’t Slow Down so many years ago / Writing album number nine right now”). If Saves The Day is known for anything, it’s a legacy of rock music with vivid imagery painting honest emotions. Not only does singer Chris Conley give the address of where he is, he reflects on the couch, the room and his friends who inspired his career. Equal parts raging and restrained, “Suzuki” is a reflection and acknowledgement of 20 years worth of music, and appreciative of his career. With cool refrain, Conley finishes with, “So in love with life, sometimes it’s all too much / Thank you all forever and always”. – KS

10. Pianos Become the Teeth – “Love on Repeat”

This song makes the list because of how it’s made me feel since it was released and because of the fact that I’ve probably heard it at least once a day since February 15th, which means I’ve listened to it at least 293 times. The whole album always hits the spot for me, but something about this track stood out to me immediately from the first listen. The music drives with such fervor and feeling that you almost can’t help feeling something when it starts, and then all the way through till the end. – NP

9. Fall Out Boy – “Church”

On an album full of epic pop songs, “Church” is a stand-out. The soulful song rages with deep drums and bass tracks and a choir backing one of Patrick Stump’s best vocal performances to date. “Church” manages to be dark, moody and romantic all at once. The conflicting experiences of isolation (“I love the world, but I just don’t love the way it makes me feel”) and romance (“My sanctuary, you’re holy to me”) describe the experiences of religion that many feel. Pete Wentz’s ominous bass lines tread against Stump’s uplifting voice to create an experience equally judgmental and hopeful. – KS

8. Vince Staples – “Feels Like Summer”

At first blush, Vince Staples third studio album, FM!, plays like a radio broadcast serving as soundtrack to a summertime Long Beach barbecue. Listen closer and you’ll find Staples telling stories of the mundanity of violence in his neighborhood. It’s another blunt and beautiful release from one of the most subversive artists of our time, and album opener “Feels Like Summer” sets the stage perfectly. Atop a bass-heavy summery beat, Vince begins with the lines, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gon’ party ‘til the sun or the guns come out”. The cues are easy to miss on a track this smooth, highlighted by a chorus for the ages from Ty Dolla $ign. After a second verse reflecting on friends and family lost, Staples coolly states, “Moved on, life fast like that”. It’s an appropriate aside for a song this affecting and complex that clocks in at a mere 2:29. – KH

7. Watsky – “Welcome to the Family”

I’m not usually one to turn on hip-hop…I leave that to Kiel, but this song is too good to ignore. I’ve been listening to Watsky for years and I feel that this is his best release to date. “Welcome to the Family” came out just before my wedding and it’s become a special track for my husband and I. It’s all about facing things together and making it work even though life is hard. It makes me cry pretty much every time I hear it because it’s so relatable. We all deserve love and this Watsky song is a great reminder of that. – NP

6. Brian Fallon – “Little Nightmares”

“Little Nightmares” scared me so much upon first listen that I simply turned off the music and left my apartment to seek friends for a reassuring drink. Decorated in bouncing guitars and an energetic keyboard, Fallon’s warbling voice tells a story about a couple unraveling with the same inner demons while they tell each other that it will all be okay. The song is told from the shy narrator’s perspective (“All my life, I was the quiet kind / I just kept to myself and my dreaming”) as they attempt to find the courage to reassure their partner during a breakdown (“My words get lost and haunt the back of my throat / And little nightmares keep telling me you’ll go”). The energy of the song hides the darkness, much in the same way that the narrator tries to shield their partner. But there is hope that pours through as they find their courage, and a sense of security finally permeates as Fallon sings, “Don’t you know there’s an ocean of hope / Underneath the grey sky where you’re dreaming”. Fallon is at his emotional and storytelling best during “Little Nightmares” as he manages to break our hearts and then let us know that it will all be okay in the end. – KS

5. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next”

During a year in which Ariana Grande stood at front and center of the pop culture zeitgeist, it wasn’t her high profile relationships or even the success of her fourth album Sweetener that stood as her signature moment. Instead, it was a standalone single in the aftermath, a song so full of hope, given the circumstances, that it was impossible not to enjoy. And oh yeah, it’s one hell of a pop song. “One taught me love / One taught me patience / And one taught me pain / Now I’m amazing”, Grande tells us, knowing full well of our encyclopedic knowledge of her private life. Here, she invites us to look past it all on a song of self-love and empowerment. With her eyes set forward, “next” could mean anything for Grande – the pop world is hers and she is intent on letting nothing hold her back.– KH

4. Childish Gambino – “This is America”

In many ways, “This is America” is the quintessential 2018 song – existing not just as a song itself, but as a multi-media experience of cultural commentary meant to provoke a wide range of emotions before leaning into the continued conversation around race and violence in our country. Donald Glover is a genius in that way, far too coy to meet our general expectations but driven to create something that makes us question them. The brilliance of “This is America” lives largely in the music video – a kind of short art film that teases out and expands upon the song’s minimal and ambiguous lyrics, giving us a grander picture of statement. It’s a stark and affecting display of the black experience in America, fading into a haunting ending – a prolonged shot of a terrified Glover running for his life. Don’t let the weight of it all stop you from unpacking – the progress is meant to begin when the music stops.– KH

3. Senses Fail – “Double Cross”

“Double Cross” is one of pop punk’s most heartbreaking songs, even though Senses Fail are known primarily for hardcore music. It is a memorial to the punk scene Senses Fail started in, and possibly to past members of the band itself. Singer/ songwriter Buddy Nielsen reflects on being one of the last of his generation still active after watching his friends fall off this career path. Almost mocking the pop punk scene of the early 2000’s, “Double Cross” is the poppiest song of the band’s career, even as Nielsen rages, “I’ve been spilling my guts out on the stage / I’ve spent the best years of my life / Drinking myself to sleep at night / And now the glory days have all but faded”. Nielsen comes across equally angry, sad and apologetic as he sings, “Where is the passion that you used to have when music was the only thing that you had”. Making it as a musician is the dream of countless people, and “Double Cross” expresses the regret of ‘making it’ but discovering you stand upon the sacrifice and broken dreams of countless friends, as well. – KS

2. The 1975 – “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

This is without a doubt the best song The 1975 have released. I said it about “Robbers” from 2013’s self titled, and about “Somebody Else” from 2016’s I like it when you sleep, but those have been pushed aside for this epic of a track. It’s pretty unassuming at the start, but by the end of it, you’ve been swept into a whirlwind of some of Matty’s best vocals and some of the band’s most well-composed guitar work of their career. The strings at the end totally make it even more perfect. I could listen to it all day. – NP

1. Drake – “Nice for What”

As Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation turns 20, Drake’s “Nice for What” samples “Ex-Factor” while creating a female empowerment anthem. It’s the song that 2018 needed and hip hop itself needed even more. Not only is the track infectious (note the timeless brilliance of Lauryn Hill), but it flips the typical hip hop club anthem on its head, dropping degrading references to women in favor of an impressed observer, noting everything as worthy of praise.

In the lines, “With your phone out, gotta hit them angles / With your phone out, snappin’ like you Fabo / And you showing off, but it’s alright”, Drake makes note of even the most mundane of activities. Here, selfies and social media posts are earned – rewards for hard work and a deserved night out with friends. Leave it to Drake to turn toxic notions of a digital culture inside out. Leave it to Drake to usurp navel-gazing tendencies for an honest and deep look at women, who have remained one-dimensional in this context for far too long. – KH

Honorable Mention:

As It Is – “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)”
Pusha T – “If You Know, You Know”
Underoath – “On My Teeth”
Bring Me the Horizon – “Mantra”
Cardi B – “I Like It”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

10 Songs to Chase Away the Chill of Winter

Is it just me, or does it feel like this winter has dragged on and on? It’s actually snowing as I type this. Fortunately, spring is not far away, so in an effort to put up with snow boots and chapped lips, here are some songs I listen to when I think about new flowers and higher temperatures.

1. Coldplay – “Lovers In Japan (Osaka Sun mix)”

This is one of my all-time favorite Coldplay songs. Upbeat and unique, it’s always put me in a good mood. It’s also turning 10 years old this year. I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I still have fond memories of listening to this song through split earbuds with an old friend who was a Coldplay super fan.

2. Florence and the Machine – “Mother”

This is the final track on Florence Welch’s 2015 release How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album focuses a lot on nature references and this is the culmination of it all. It’s impossible to not think of spring and sunny days with lines like, “Make me a big tall tree / So I can shed my leaves and let it blow through me”.

3. Regina Spektor – “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”

Even though this song mentions winter and the whole idea is to forget that it’s still happening, Regina Spektor’s music always matches up with spring for me. Her melodies are infectious and her lyrics are quirky. I actually prefer the Russian version, but that’s just me. Both are worth a try for an instant pick-me-up.

4. Eisley – “A Song for the Birds”

This is from Eisley’s 2017 album I’m Only Dreaming. Sherri Dupree-Bemis is joined by her husband Max Bemis (of Say Anything) for what may just be the sweetest song Eisley has ever recorded. Max also plays guitar on the track (and others on the album) and as a Say Anything fan it’s totally noticeable…try to see if you can hear the difference.

5. Saint Motel – “You Can Be You”

I saw Saint Motel open up for Panic! At the Disco a year or two ago and they played this song. There wasn’t a person sitting down or looking at their phone during the performance. The drums are strong and they used a cool guitar effect toward the middle. It’s just everything I love in a track. It’s new and exciting, just like spring.

6. Marina and the Diamonds – “Shampain”

I’m a huge fan of whatever Marina Diamandis does. She’s talented and genuine and that’s a combination I love. “Shampain” is from her first album The Family Jewels. Many of her songs poke fun at the norms of pop culture and this song is no different. She takes otherwise cookie-cutter beats and pop music go-to’s and makes a sonic experience all her own. I can’t help but turn up the volume when it comes up in my shuffle.

7. The Myriad – “A Thousand Winters Melting”

One of my favorite little bands only released two albums. Their second album is called With Arrows, With Poise and includes the gem “A Thousand Winters Melting”. What better way to end winter than with this song? I love the piano and there’s just something about this song that brightens up my day. I wish they hadn’t stopped at two albums, but at least they left us with tracks like this.

8. Paramore – “Passionfruit” (Drake Cover)

Paramore is my favorite band, hands down. I’ve listened to their music for as long as I can remember. They covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” for BBC Radio 1, and personally, I think it’s better than the original. I’m obviously biased though. Lyrically, it’s a wicked depressing song, but the way Zac Farro and Taylor York play this song makes me forget about how sad it is.

9. Childish Gambino – “California”

This track from the middle of Grammy-nominated album Awaken, My Love! is fantastic. It’s fun and random and makes me think of long drives with the windows down. It may appear to be a summer song, but I think it works just as well on a spring playlist. I love the vibe it sends out.

10. Harry Styles – “Sweet Creature”

This wonderful song is from Harry Styles’ self-titled album released last year. I love this song because it’s subtle. His voice  is really the focus here and it’s one of the high points on the album. It was a great choice for a radio single and the topic of young love coincides with spring pretty well.

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.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Podcast: Who Won the 2017 Hip Hop Title Belt?

With another year in the books, Brock Benefiel joins Kiel Hauck to discuss who won the hip hop title belt in 2017 (surprise, it’s Kendrick). The duo also reflect on newcomers and movers and shakers in the genre that shaped the year, while looking ahead to predict what might come to pass in 2018, including possible albums from Kanye West, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper and more. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What hip hop albums are you looking forward to in 2018? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

childish-gambino-by-ibra-ake-header

In 2013, I argued Childish Gambino’s merit as one of the most important rappers on the scene. The Grammy-nominated Because the Internet wasn’t just a monumental step forward for the artist that created it – it was filled with the kind of potential that might send ripples through the art form itself.

Since that time, Donald Glover has had little interest in pulling at that thread, instead releasing the pop-inspired Kauai EP, going radio silent for nearly a year, and re-emerging with one of 2016’s most important new TV series, Atlanta. Given his ever-growing talents and seeming determination to never do the same thing twice, his latest musical installment, “Awaken, My Love!”, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even so, it confounds.

You can buy

You can buy “Awaken, My Love!” on iTunes.

As if to hammer into our skulls that the days of dick jokes and quirky one-liners are as far in the past as possible, “Awaken, My Love!” treads far away from any path you might expect a Childish Gambino record to travel. In all actuality, Glover is far from the first rapper to draw heavy influence from 70’s soul and funk – Outkast, Kendrick Lamar and others have all drawn deeply from this well, even recently. However, Glover has tumbled in headfirst in a continuing quest to expand his reflections on relationships, race and existence.

Gambino’s gospel-infused plea of, “Let me into your heart” on lead single “Me and Your Mama” proved to be far more than a gimmick to get our attention. That track is merely the most palatable re-introduction to an artist now more inspired by Bootsy Collins or George Clinton than Jay or Ye.

Awaken wanders through a vast sonic forest of psychedelic funk and soul, with each track standing easily alone thanks to Glover’s insistence on changing character. His screams from the album opener transition to creepy inflections on “Zombies”, a commentary on industry leeches: “All I see is zombies / They can smell your money / And they want your soul”. Later, on album highlight “Redbone”, his voice takes on a pitch-corrected falsetto as he reflects on the painful gray areas of a relationship that seems to mirror that of Earn and Van’s on Atlanta.

At it’s best, Awaken capitalizes on Glover’s creativity and range, matching distinctive vocal choices with bold music selections to carry the weight of his message. On “Baby Boy”, his distorted pleading voice perfectly and painfully encapsulates his fears of losing connection with his newborn son: “I don’t wanna leave you / I don’t want him to see you / But oh, when mama cries from daddy’s lies / Please don’t take him away”.

These earnest moments make tracks like “California” nearly insufferable. The potential for success is squelched by Glover’s painful accent and clumsy lines like, “How you want to loop this shit but looking like a Vine?” If we weren’t so far removed from some of the juvenile deliveries of Camp, you could easily write these attempts off as humor, but “Awaken, My Love!” shakes away that notion every turn, making any such reconciliation difficult.

It comes as a deep relief when Glover is able to tie these stray ends together by the album’s conclusion. On “Stand Tall”, Gambino forgoes vocal effects and accents as he uses his father’s words to bring understanding amidst personal and universal confusion: “Keep all your dreams, keep standing tall / If you are strong, you cannot fall”. It’s such an easily digestible sincerity that you can’t help but reach for the repeat button to see if your perception of Awaken might shift upon repeated listens.

Glover has certainly earned the creative license that results in something like “Awaken, My Love!” And, as a project deeply inspired by childhood memories with his father, it makes sense as vehicle to express his evolving perspective on relationships and his own first taste of fatherhood. It’s a deeply personal record that feels genuine, sometimes as a direct result of the very flaws it possesses.

Perhaps Awaken is Childish Gambino’s 808s & Heartbreak – an intimate and peculiar expression that leads the artist headlong into a masterpiece. Whatever the case, it’s an album worth talking about and further proof that Donald Glover is one of the most fascinating and curious artists around.

3.5/5

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.

Childish Gambino Returns with “Me and Your Mama”

childish-gambino

In a week that has been nearly devoid of good news, things just got slightly better. Childish Gambino has returned with a new singled titled “Me and Your Mama” which will be the lead track on his upcoming album, Awaken, My Love! The track is full of emotion and likely not at all what you might have expected. Take a listen below:

Awaken, My Love! is set to release on December 2, nearly three years after Gambino’s lauded Because the Internet. It’s been a busy year for Donald Glover, whose new show “Atlanta” just finished it’s first season on FX. Given Glover’s blossoming creative genius, it’s a safe bet that Awaken will be well worth the wait.

awaken-my-love

If you like what you hear, you can preorder Awaken, My Love! now. What are your thoughts on the new song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2016: #5 Childish Gambino Breaks the Internet

childish-gambino

Where on earth is Childish Gambino?

It was a pretty quiet year for Donald Glover the musician. After the critical success of his sophomore album, Because the Internet, Childish Gambino was radio silent for most of 2015 – even his Twitter account went blank. Outside of the music world, Glover made appearances in movies like “The Martian” and “The Lazarus Effect”, and his comedy series, “Atlanta”, was recently picked up by FX.

Glover has always been multi-talented, combining his comedy, acting, writing and music into a whirlwind of cultural force. Even during the days of his coming out party while on the cast of “Community”, it was clear that Glover was destined for greatness. As 2016 begins, the line between Glover the rapper and Glover the everything else may be murkier than ever, but we’re still holding out hope for a return of Gambino before year’s end.

Because the Internet succeeded with its refusal to give into pretense, demolishing preconceived notions of a lack of maturity that spurred from the release of his debut, Camp. Sometimes funny, often heart wrenching, always pointed, that album mined the depths of the millennial psyche in the Internet age, proving Gambino to be far more than a joke rapper. With a voice that distinct and contemplative, we eagerly await whatever comes next, music or otherwise.

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.

Top 10 Songs of 2014

aaron-west-and-the-roaring-twenties

Making a list of the top 10 songs of any year is a challenge. Each of us journeys through 12 months filled with highs and lows, challenges and dull moments. The soundtracks that fill those times are often created by our need for a particular sound or feeling in any given instant.

Does ranking these songs require us to distance ourselves from the emotions that helped them resonate? That’s debatable, but perhaps the true measure lies somewhere in between a relatable song that offered purpose or aid and a well constructed, perfectly executed track that showcases a band’s talent.

Needless to say, a lot went into the creation of this list. We did our best to break down what we feel were the best moments of 2014 – the songs that not only defined our lives this year, but the songs that made us perk up with rapt attention. Take a look and let us know what you think in the replies!

10. Merriment – “Backwards”

Perhaps best known as the younger siblings of the DuPree’s of Eisley fame, Merriment has certainly carved their own path with their debut album, Sway. The highlight comes in the form of “Backwards”, perfectly blending the band’s acoustic pop sensibilities with a folk sound that sets them apart from their peers. Christie DuPree’s vocal range is stunning here, especially on the song’s beautiful chorus. Dupree opens the song with the haunting lines, “Holding high your little head / Walking backwards in your steps / Nobody knows you’re dead”. The song is just as mysterious as it is charming, but catchy enough that you can’t listen to it just once. – Kiel Hauck

9. I Can Make a Mess  “Deciduous”

On an album of delicious pop songs, “Deciduous” stands out as one that has every ingredient of a good ICMAM song; gorgeous hooks, minimal production, Enders’ working every note of the vocal scale and the themes of finances and that love will overcome any problem. The song is at once a love song about being a musician, but acknowledges the fears that come along with it, including a singled out line where he quietly worries, “I hope one day my kids think I’m cool / Didn’t sell the farm to be the mule / I’m a fool”. – Kyle Schultz

8. Anberlin – “Stranger Ways”

Fans of Anberlin were fortunate to receive a final goodbye from the band in the form of 2014’s Lowborn. The best moment from the album comes on the 80’s inspired “Stranger Ways”, weaving the band’s tried-and-true songwriting formula with eerie electronics and synthesizers. In truth, it sounds like the best song Depeche Mode never wrote. Vocalist Stephen Christian opens with the chilling lines, “Locking eyes, a waning glance, mistook chance / Of adding meaning to the words forever”. The song climaxes during the bridge as Christian pleads, “Would you say with me, here in my dreams / If I promised you this heaven?” Alas, there will be no staying for Anberlin. Even so, we’re thankful for the fond farewell. – KH

7. XTRMST – “Conformist”

XTRMST are a welcome return to form for straight edge hardcore. The new project from Davy Havok and Jade Puget is what fans of AFI’s hardcore days have spent years hoping for. The guitar work is loose, hypnotically dark and as heavy as a physical attack. “Conformist” shows Havok in perfect form, swooning between spoken word and nightmarish screaming. The song is one of the few singles for an album that highlights the record succinctly. Each lyric is an attack on the listener, critiquing not only their way of life, but their tolerance of any other type of subculture with the repeated accusations of “You are conformist”. It’s an uncomfortable listen, but demands your attention for the rest of the record. – KS

6. Childish Gambino – “III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”

Perhaps it’s odd that the best track on Because the Internet fits into the context of the album’s overarching story as a song sung by someone else. It opens as we hear the main character climb into his car and turn the key. The radio comes on, introducing the track, sung by “Lloyd”. Childish Gambino channels his inner-Drake on the track – it’s silky smooth as he sings of the confusion tied to romantic commitment. It’s background noise for our main character as he drives, but it’s speaking both to us and to him. “Everything you won’t say, you tweet it”, sings Gambino. It’s commentary on our internet culture – and an indictment on us all for our willingness to dive head-first into it. – KH

5. Say Anything  Judas Decapitation

Max Bemis’s most ‘Say Anything’ song is about how blogs, fans and the music industry criticize him for not making ‘Say Anything’ music the way they want. It couldn’t be more meta if he mentioned your name in the middle of it. Like the rest of Hebrews, “Judas Decapitation” forgoes the guitar work in favor of a hybrid mesh of flaring pop synth and intense percussion. The song is a scathing attack on the industry and his own fans about their interpretation of his music, which is one of the things that made his music so well respected to begin with. Lyrics like, “I hate that dude now that he’s married / He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherri”, and “Spike his fifteenth espresso with drugs / So he’s convinced it’s a manic delusion to know true love / Be nineteen with a joint in hand / Never change the band”, show that not only is Bemis aware of every criticism of his music, he’s attacking them head on. – KS

4. Yellowcard – “Lift a Sail”

The title track on Yellowcard’s triumphant Lift a Sail is quite possibly the best song the band has ever written. Gone are the pop punk riffs the band was so well known for – “Lift a Sail” is an anthemic rock song, born from a painful, traumatic event. There’s certainly a sadness here, but the track itself is about rising above the wreckage. It’s something we can all connect to, because in one way or another, we’ve all been there before, struggling to make the choice to press on amidst the pain. When vocalist Ryan Key cries out the song’s massive chorus of, “If a cold wind starts to rise / I am ready now, I am ready now / With the last sail lifted high / I am ready now, I am ready now”, it’s undeniably the most chill-inducing moment of the year. – KH

3. Against Me!  “FUCKMYLIFE666”

This is easily one of the catchiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues due to the melody alone. The bouncing guitars and opening strings tear against the throbbing drums to make a fast, energetic hell of a song. Each verse bleeds into the chorus, hiding the fact that the song is a traditional styled pop song elegantly layered in harmony. It also contains one of the strongest verses on an album full of memorable lines as Laura Grace sings, “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? / Silicone chest and collagen lips / How would you even recognize me?” The song is short, brutal and incredibly memorable. It manages to stand as one of the best songs in Against Me!’s infamously great catalogue. – KS

2. PVRIS – “My House”

On their debut album, White Noise, synthpop trio PVRIS have promptly destroyed any notion of what a Rise Records band should sound like. Originally formed as a post-hardcore act, PVRIS made the surprising and wise choice to turn pop, littering their landscape of atmospheric synthesizers with bouncing drums and pulsing bass. “My House” is one of the most powerful pop songs you’ll hear this year, thanks in large part to the vocal work of Lyndsey Gunnelfsen. During the track’s massive, dance-worthy breakdown, she howls, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not yours anymore, I’m not yours anymore!” The song is ferocious as it is infectious, making it the most captivating pop song of 2014. – KH

1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”

On an album whose theme is caving in, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is the lynchpin for Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties that sees our main character breaking down in his mother’s kitchen. It’s a powerful acoustic epic fueled by the slow burn of electric guitar and the tortured cry of a steel guitar yowling in the background. Dan Campbell’s vocals mimic the story perfectly, sounding on the verge of breaking into tears as he describes Aaron’s walk home, eventually building to screams of “Take the car and run!” The descriptions alone would be worthy of being one of this year’s best songs, but the true gem is what should be an impossible feat: Aaron and his mother having an actual conversation. Around a kitchen table, they lean and cry on each other’s shoulders as Campbell sings, “I know things ain’t been good since dad died, I know you don’t need this from me / But mama I’m breaking, there’s no light in the dark, Diane left this week / She said, ‘Son look at me, I know we ain’t been this low before and I’m sorry Aaron / I know this year has been hard’”. – KS

Honorable Mention:

Emarosa – “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”

Kendrick Lamar – “I”

Architects – “Gravedigger”

Fall Out Boy – “Centuries”

Taylor Swift – “Style”

 

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.

It’s All Dead Podcast Episode: 009 – Drake Season

drake

On this episode of the official It’s All Dead Podcast, Kiel Hauck welcomes special guests Brock Benefiel and Richard Clark to discuss the cultural relevancy of Drake and his place in hip hop. They also break down the similarities and differences between Drake and Kendrick Lamar and share their thoughts on how each artist will be remembered and what their legacy will be. Listen in!

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/itsalldead/IAD_Podcast_009_mixdown.mp3|titles=It’s All Dead podcast episode: 009]

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Childish Gambino – Because the Internet

childish-gambino

In many ways, Donald Glover is the prototypical figure of our current social media generation. Consider the grassroots push to get Glover cast as the lead in the new Spiderman series, the slew of rapid-fire EP and mixtape releases that put Childish Gambino on the map or the appropriately quirky viral marketing of his new album, Because the Internet. Has anyone else ever released an animated GIF image in announcement of their album cover?

Glover’s presence on the web, coupled with his role in a cult TV show allows for just enough groundswell to make him virally relevant without pushing him into the mainstream. Thus, he’s still cool enough for the underground crowd without becoming so widespread as to lose his status as a voice for the hipster hip hop heads. All of this culminates in Because the Internet, an album that captures Glover and the spirit of the internet age in a way that is poignant, provocative and near perfect.

While Camp was a worthy debut effort, it also felt a bit too self-indulgent, immature and unfocused. The same cannot be said for Because the Internet. Glover has appeared to grow in every way imaginable on this new record – not only becoming a better songwriter, but delving into much deeper subject matter and purposely displaying it with an array of styles and influences.

Upon first listen, it would be easy to call the album disjointed or unfocused, but with repeated listens, the overarching theme of the album begins to take shape. Childish Gambino barrels through a slew of styles, flowing smooth like Frank Ocean on “Shadows”, creating the atmosphere of Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on “Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)”, and laying down a Young Money-esque track with “Sweatpants”.

There’s also the indie feel of “The Worst Guys”, the accessibility of “3005” and the calming, ambient sound of “Flight of the Navigator”. While this could be chalked up to extreme experimentation on Glover’s part, it also touches on something much deeper. In the spirit of our rapid-fire media consumption, Because the Internet is a reflection of Glover’s psyche, as viewed from the perspective of the listener through the lens of our current web-driven culture.

As the album progresses at the pace our brains have been unintentionally trained to move, it becomes apparent that Because the Internet is much more than Glover’s story – it’s all of ours. The album transitions from Glover’s own insecurities and blemishes to the conclusion that all of us are hampered with social flaws that are a direct result of a craving for connection that is never completely satiated by our online relationships. At the end of “Earth: The Oldest Computer”, Glover states the harsh truth many of us have reluctantly accepted, that “to be alone is alive”.

Because the Internet is surely a brilliantly crafted snapshot of our culture, yet it is also an extremely worthy work of art in its own right, and the best Childish Gambino release by a fairly large margin. Anyone who was concerned that Glover might take a turn for the predictable with last year’s Royalty mixtape can rest assured that he has an arsenal of creative ideas to keep us all on our toes. Because the Internet is a thoughtful and painstakingly constructed commentary on our internet culture that doubles as a portrait of Glover’s own struggles and self-awareness. It excels on every level and has solidified Childish Gambino as a creative force in the hip hop community.

4.5/5

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.