Most Anticipated of 2021: Kacey Musgraves Shines Bright

We’re coming up on two years since the release of Golden Hour, the country pop masterpiece from Kacey Musgraves. Met with acclaim from almost every angle, Golden Hour was an album whose warmth and hope was a much needed respite at the time. Honestly, its tone would have felt out of place in 2020, and I only recently returned it in the past month as we prepare to (hopefully) come up for air in the coming spring.

And if the chips fall right, 2021 could be the perfect time for a follow up. Fans were treated to a very vague but straightforward tease last August when Musgraves chose to entertain a fan’s questioning on Twitter:

Since the release of Golden Hour, Musgraves has not only become a welcome voice for progress on every platform she graces, but has become an unexpected feature guest across tracks by everyone from The Flaming Lips to Troye Sivan. Once an outsider amidst the curmudgeonly country crowd, Musgraves has not only won over many a country music gatekeeper, but has become one of the most exciting voices in all of pop.

So what comes next? 2021 will be interesting in its artistic output from every angle, to say the least, but the world is Musgraves’ oyster at this point. Will she dive deeper into the disco influence that peeked through the cracks on Golden Hour? Return to her more traditional country roots that were displayed on her early work? Something else entirely? Time will tell. And we can’t wait to find out.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Taylor Swift – evermore

At one point in my life, I was astounded that some of my favorite artists were able to release new albums in back-to-back years. What a naive summer child I was. Taylor Swift’s third album in less than a year-and-a-half is an astounding achievement. The morning it was announced, I almost couldn’t believe that it wasn’t just an album of folklore B-sides. Swift’s ninth studio album, evermore, is its own beast, despite being a sister to this year’s folklore. Although not quite the achievement that folklore felt like at the time, the fact that evermore exists is less impressive than the fact that it is another of Swift’s absolute definitive albums.

You can buy or stream Evermore on Apple Music.

Considering that all of Swift’s records since 2012’s Red have sounded drastically different from each other, the biggest surprise from evermore is that it still holds its own identity despite being a continuation and a sequel album. Keeping most of the elements of folklore’s indie folk songwriting, evermore leans more toward indie pop with more of a polish than its predecessor. Although silence itself seems to act as an instrument at times, it’s less prominent than it was before, even on Lover, leaving an album that stands on its own as much as it highlights the best of Swift. 

Co-written with folklore’s superstar cast of Aaron Dessner of The National (who appear on “coney island”), Jack Antonoff, William Bowery (Joe Alwyn) and Bon Iver, and including an appearance by Haim on the outlaw country song “no body, no crime”, it’s no surprise that evermore follows similar beats to its predecessor. However, where folklore found hope and light throughout its runtime, evermore is more downtrodden. Evermore is folklore’s shadow in substance as well as release date. It may be difficult to see both albums as individuals in the future since they reflect one another in hindsight, somewhat similar to David Bowie’s famed Berlin Trilogy. 

While folklore provided some type of hope in this insane year, evermore shows the tiredness that the world faces 10 months into the pandemic. This is conveyed through the fictionalized stories written for each song, something that was highlighted the most on folklore. Though these stories are darker, they’re no less powerful and harken to the best of country songs, despite only housing a couple of songs that hint at a reflection of her roots. 

Driven by piano and acoustic guitar, evermore finds its footing standing between folklore’s indie vibe and Red’s mixture of pop and country. It captures a more produced effort than folklore, while balancing the sound between a mixture of genres. Although similar in texture, the albums depart in theme and sound just enough to stand apart.

Many songs on evermore reflect the sound of lost loves and the failings of love. Songs like “champagne problems” tell the story if a failed marriage proposal, and people telling the would be groom that the girl suffered from mental problems as a way to explain the outcome (“‘She would’ve made such a lovely bride / what a shame she’s fucked in the head,’ they said”). 

The deceptively titled “happiness” looks at the life after the destructive ending of what was once considered a great relationship (“Past the curses and cries / Beyond the terror in the nightfall / Haunted by the look in my eyes, that would’ve loved you for a lifetime / Leave it all behind, and there is happiness”). 

Although it’s harder to find standout tracks on the album, such as folklore’s “the last great american dynasty”, those songs still exist. “Marjorie” explores the regret of letting a loved one pass without learning everything they had to teach (“I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be, asked you to write down for me / Should’ve kept every grocery store receipt”). 

Evermore is an album that delves into the melancholy just as much as its sister, folklore, delved into the positive. Although not as striking or as distinct as its immediate predecessors, evermore finds its identity by blending the last two albums sonically despite exploring the darkness of relationships. Despite the extensive ground covered in evermore, there is a constant threat of the album always being overshadowed and ultimately lost in Swift’s discography, despite how unique it is.

4/5

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 longs for the holidays next year, when there is a possibility that enough family members will be vaccinated enough to be able to cough in their eyes. HE WANTS TO COUGH IN EYES!!!

Review: Taylor Swift – folklore

At this point, there should be very little Taylor Swift could do that would shock us. Releasing her eighth (and possibly best) album less than a year after Lover, her seventh (and possibly best) album, is one example, though. Simply put, folklore is a masterpiece of a record that exemplifies the best of Swift as an artist while reigning in just as many aspects that made her a world renowned star. Restrained, introspective and overflowing with emotional stories, folklore is as much a perfect introduction to Swift as it is a departure of her sound.

You can buy or stream folklore on Apple Music.

Folklore is almost as much of a sonic departure for Swift as 1989 was at the time of its release. While Lover reveled in the silence between notes, the anthemic stadium pop still filtered through the gaps. It’s difficult to say that folklore, an album conceived during the coronavirus quarantine, is a natural progression of Lover even though it further strips away the electrifying pop sounds and delves deeper into the indie folk genre.

Co-written with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dressner and Bon Iver, folklore is an indie folk album that revels in Swift’s signature storytelling abilities. However, where the album gains its strength is in the mixture of personal stories and fictional characters that blend together so well, it seems like this is how Swift has written her songs all along (“my tears richochet”).

Stripped of the overt poppy gloss, it would be easy to write folklore off as a return to Swift’s country roots, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The piano and acoustic led songs would be just as good if fleshed out further so as to make them stadium rumbling anthems. However, as is, the album is amongst the most intimate of Swift’s lyrics, even when the story isn’t about her.

On a surface level, folklore appears to be almost too relaxed (“cardigan”). It lacks Swift pushing her vocals to their limits, anthemic choruses or any of those hooks that would make for an obvious top radio single. Instead, Swift’s relaxed vocals force attention to melody and lyricism. Minimalistic, folklore puts the story at the forefront with the soft twinkle of piano, acoustic guitar and surgically precise orchestration relegated to the most intense moments (“august”).

If there is a theme to folklore, it is to turn the tables on the fans who pour over Swift’s lyrics to decipher what she is singing about. Each song of folklore seems to dance from real stories, to fictional characters to the speculative heartbreak expected on Swift’s early releases.

Opener “the 1” retraces the lost loves we all held as young adults (“Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you”). Meanwhile, “the last great american dynasty” pulls at similar themes to “The Lucky One” from Red (“Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything”).

The twinkling piano of “mad woman” acts as a second act to Lover’s “The Man” in that it radiates years’ worth of rage from dealing with sexism, harkening back to “Look What You Made Me Do” as well as “the last great american dynasty” (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”). Meanwhile, closing track “hoax” acts as a bookend to “the 1”, diving fully into the regret and anger of those true, lost loves (“Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do”).

The magic of folklore isn’t that it was a surprise release, but that it was a surprising delivery. Stripped of the over-the-top glam of her previous albums, Folklore manages to be just as poignant as any past releases, with Swift the artist reigning above Swift the pop star. If there is a fault in folklore, it’s that the album is a few songs too long, but I do not envy the person to decide which to cut. That folklore manages to carry the weight of the biggest pop star on the planet and retain the ingenuity of an up-and-comer is only further proof that Taylor Swift may be the best musical artist on the planet.

5/5

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 dropped his deodorant in the toilet today, the way that champions do.

Podcast: The Best of Taylor Swift

It’s summer and we’ve got nowhere to go, so why not go ahead and rank the albums from Taylor Swift? Kiel Hauck is joined by Kyle Schultz as they share their personal journey with one of this generation’s musical icons and discuss how her fascinating transition from country to pop. The duo break down all seven studio albums from Taylor Swift and rank their top 10 songs from her discography. They also share their thoughts on Taylor’s legacy as a musician and one of our largest pop culture figures. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite Taylor Swift album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Taylor Swift – Lover

Photo by Valheria Rocha

What I appreciate the most about Taylor Swift is the “re-watch value” of her music. Every new single is almost guaranteed to annoy me on first listen (“ME!”), but in the context of the album itself, become something great. Lover, the seventh album from Swift, is no exception. There is so much to unpack throughout the 18 tracks that one listen can’t possibly be enough to take it all in. What stands out the most about Lover is that it lives and dies by making the listener feel jubilant until the very end.

You can buy or stream Lover on Apple Music.

Lover seemingly picks up where 2014’s 1989 left off—sizzling synth, lyrics dripping in romance, and a bright feeling leveled throughout each song. There isn’t much of a hint of Reputation’s aggressiveness to be found on the surface, save for the opening track (“I Forgot That You Existed”). Looking deeper into the songs though, there is a refinement to her writing that takes shape from Reputation. Lover is, for perhaps the first time, a true mix of all of Swift’s past releases. The poppy synth blends with deep R&B beats, while Swift’s classic twang peeks through her vocals from time to time. Occasionally, songs like “Lover”, which relies on piano and guitar, crank up the nostalgia of her storied career.

Impressive in its own right is Swift’s use of minimalism in her music. She allows the quiet to be an instrument itself behind her smooth vocals (“Cornelia Street”) along with haunted, hushed instrumentation. At other times, a very simple wall of melody lays the bed as a surface for her vocals to jump on (“The Archer”). Meanwhile, “Cruel Summer”, a layered pop jam that chronicles the hesitancy to be vulnerable in a relationship, bounces on its own as a hit single waiting to happen.

Intentional or not, discovering songs that feel like follow ups to stories / songs from past albums is an unexpected joy. The hypnotically cheerful “Paper Rings” follows a simple dance melody and bouncing bass that sounds like a sister song to Red’s “Stay Stay Stay”, a song steeped in cheesy romance so strong it forces a smile. Lead single “ME!” (Featuring the masterful Brendon Urie) is already noted for its marching band-inspired beats and cheer section, reminiscent of the self-empowering “Shake It Off”.

If there is a theme to Lover, it’s one of hope. The album tells many stories, each looking forward to a happy future. “Cruel Summer” hints at the blossoming love between two people (“I scream, ‘For whatever it’s worth / I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’ / He looks up, grinning like a devil”).

“Miss American & The Heartbreak Prince” is the one track that sounds like a downer, but there are specks of light coming through until the end. The song feels in equal parts a story about young romance (“They whisper in the hallway, ‘she’s a bad bad girl’) and a commentary on politics (“American stories burning before me / I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed / Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?”). Even here, peppy shouts of “Go! Fight! Win!” punch through the fog of moody synth.

Lover is not a perfect album. It’s hard not to continuously roll your eyes during “London Boy”, and at 18 songs, the album feels just a few tracks too long. Ironically, you could make a pretty aggressive drinking game with the staggering amount of references to alcohol and being drunk that crop up in almost every song. Lover is almost magical in the warmth its synth pop presents. However, songs like “Soon You’ll Get Better”, featuring the Dixie Chicks, an acoustic ballad interwoven with banjo and violin, make it hard not to miss Swift’s past, even if her future is brighter than ever.

4.5/5

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 literally just spilled an ENTIRE cup of water across the ENTIRE kitchen floor in an attempt to keep the cat from doing just that. Please send him towels.

Review: Jake Bugg – Hearts That Strain

Jake Bugg frustrates me as a songwriter. His debut, Jake Bugg was a slow burn that quietly became one of my favorite records when it debuted a few years ago. Each subsequent record has been vastly different than the last, to mixed results. But one thing I am fully aware of is that at 23 years old, Jake Bugg is a force of nature that will be here for a long time.

You can buy Hearts That Strain on iTunes.

Hearts That Strain, Bugg’s fourth full length, follows suit with his previous works in that it is completely different from anything else he has put out. While his debut, an acoustic tribute to Oasis and Shangri La, was a grunge punk album, Hearts That Strain is a classic country tinged album that seems to channel John Denver in all the best ways.

What sets Bugg apart as a songwriter is how vastly different his work is, especially for someone whose debut album was released four years ago. While I initially fell in love with his ‘don’t give a shit’ acoustic songs that oozed with personality, on Hearts That Strain, Bugg blends a dreamlike homage to outlaw country with influence from the Gallagher brothers.

Hearts That Strain is Bugg’s most cohesive album to date. It doesn’t sound nearly as slap-dash as some of his earlier work, and is far more fleshed out than earlier records. However, the lyricism is more vague and doesn’t seem to have the same storytelling aspects of his classic, “Broken”.

Though his songwriting has always had a hint of bluesy southern rock to it, it is absolutely astonishing that Bugg is able to take a genre like classic country and make it his own to the point that it sounds in-line with his older works. The steel guitar, piano and the angelic backing vocals sound like more of a tribute to George Jones and Conway Twitty than most modern country acts can muster.  I would say that is an impressive feat for a kid from England.

“In The Event of My Demise” seems to channel the rhythm of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” amidst a Johnny Cash-esque guitar line. “Waiting” is a perfect duet with Noah Cyrus, amidst romantic guitar strums, playful piano and violin, and a killer saxophone solo.

While the lyrics don’t give the straight pictures I would have hoped for, they are dreamlike enough that it allows you to paint your own image and setting given the music. A good example is “The Man on Stage”, which finds Bugg singing about a broken lover with the lines, “He took your heart with his heart / And then he led the man on stage / Is not the same man you’ve met / To the next town up ahead”. The piano and scorned violin convey a devastating heartbreak, even though Bugg hasn’t really said anything himself. It’s as infuriating as it is brilliantly catchy.

The only downside to the album is given how much energy Bugg has, it is a shame that every song has the same mellow energy. He doesn’t push himself in ways I had hoped at the start of each song. Instead, he found a groove and a sound for this album and stuck to it. But the depth of musicianship and number of instruments help make up for it.

Jake Bugg is an incredibly talented songwriter. The fact that he’s so young and has mastered so many different genres but still manages a cohesive discography is the feat of a genius. While I can’t claim that Hearts That Strain is Bugg’s best work, it is inspired. It harkens to the classic sound of country music in a way that modern country artists can’t touch. Considering that Hearts That Strain came just over a year after his last record, it makes this album all the more impressive.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has almost finished watching How I Met Your Mother for the first time. He just learned what the ducky tie is.

Review: Aaron Gillespie – Out of the Badlands

aaron-gillespie-badlands

There is truly no denying Aaron Gillespie’s love of writing, recording and performing music. Even after his time as drummer for legendary post-hardcore act Underoath came to an end, as did his alt-rock side project The Almost, the Clearwater, Florida native has kept himself busy as the touring drummer for rock powerhouse Paramore, along with a smattering of other projects. While researching for this very review, I found that he had released another worship album just last year.

You can buy Out of the Badlands on iTunes.

You can buy Out of the Badlands on iTunes.

Thus, without proper context, Gillespie’s latest offering, Out of the Badlands, could potentially be labeled as lazy. Featuring only three original songs, the release largely consists of cover tracks and re-imagined songs from Gillespie’s past. However, one listen to Out of the Badlands makes clear that these songs were anything but mailed in.

Seeing as how Gillespie was a founding member and an integral songwriter for my favorite band of all time, he had me at “Underoath.” It’s true: Out of the Badlands features stark new versions of “A Boy Brushed Red… Living in Black and White” and “Reinventing Your Exit” – two fan favorites. Once a fast-paced screamo anthem, “A Boy Brushed Red” now finds itself as a patient acoustic track, with Gillespie’s plea of “This is where we both go wrong” sounding more painful than ever.

That’s what makes Badlands so captivating – even though we’ve heard many of these songs before, there’s an added depth and grief to be found in the wake of divorce. It’s fascinating to hear songs written over a decade ago find a new powerful meaning. The three original tracks on the album make clear where this new influence has come from.

“Raspberry Layer Cake” has a throwback country vibe with Gillespie using a deep raspy delivery to drop the sorrowful lines, “When everything you have is taken away / Like a lie on your wedding day”. By the time the album comes to a close with the journal entry-esque “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”, the pace has increased significantly, even if there is still little solace to be found. Even so, Gillespie’s voice once again sounds familiar on the soaring chorus as he extends his range to resolve the raw melody.

Other highlights on Badlands come in the form of a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, existing as a stripped down slow burn. The best of Gillespie’s The Almost reinventions is “No I Don’t”, transforming from an explosive pop rock track to an indie rock song highlighted by the same infectious melody. Both “Say This Sooner” and “Southern Weather” fail to differ enough from the originals in any remarkable to warrant their inclusion here.

All in all, Out of the Badlands serves as a time capsule showcasing some of Gillespie’s greatest hits, while also providing as a salve that surely proved therapeutic during the recording process. These new revisions give an insight into the artist as a weathered adult and oddly stand strong alongside his new entries. With this effort, Gillespie appears primed to close another chapter and embark on the next stage of his continually ambitious career.

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.

Country or Comedy? Wheeler Walker Jr. Bridges the Divide

wheeler-walker-jr

Wheeler Walker Jr. sneaks an impressive country performance into a club comedy act

 

It’s easy to forget that Wheeler Walker Jr. is a comedy act. Not that his music avoids it, Walker’s brand of country satire—as subtle as a sledgehammer—was on full display during a Monday night stop in Bloomington, Indiana. But it’s clear that Ben Hoffman, who created the Wheeler Walker Jr. character after his 2013 series The Ben Show on Comedy Central, also likes to rock. And the small, but rowdy crowd that gathered at The Bluebird Nightclub was right there with him throughout his set.

The five-piece band brilliantly played through a myriad of country music styles oddly and often amusingly juxtaposed against filthy lyrics. It was like watching Waylon Jennings cover Dave Attell. Even Hoffman works as front man, an adequate singer behind his Wheeler Walker Jr. character. The satire of Wheeler Walker Jr. goes for easy laughs over social commentary, but Hoffman and Co. earn an audience by backing its redneck character with a group of serious music professionals.

Hoffman has had no lack of talent rooting on his creation of Wheeler Walker Jr. It was alt-country singer Sturgill Simpson who encouraged him to cut a record as Walker Jr. with Grammy-award winning producer Dave Cobb (who recently worked with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton, along with Simpson), with the caveat that he must go “full Kauffman” in character commitment.

Walker Jr. on stage doesn’t resemble anything close to an Andy Kauffman character, though. Not for lack of commitment—Hoffman is masterful at inhabiting the X-rated redneck rockstar. But he is much more interested in drawing cheers than boos, unlike Kauffman’s turn as a professional wrestling heel. He unites his audience in its distaste for popular country music—Florida Georgia Line is a favorite target—instead of enticing the crowd to turn on him.

Beyond a few attempts at Hoosier blasphemy (he claimed he could kick Axl Rose and John Mellencamp’s asses, and said “he rode around Bloomington” that day looking for the latter for such a challenge), Wheeler Walker Jr. embraced his status as a welcomed guest. The Lexington, Kentucky, native even went as far as to reluctantly congratulate Indiana University basketball on its recent tournament win over his hometown Kentucky Wildcats, which drew one the biggest cheers of the night.

The performance and Walker Jr. as a character are not a deconstruction of popular music as much as they are a pile driver—plowing into the core of the bro country id and exposing its more explicit nature to let everyone in on the laugh. If you can stomach the intentionally outrageous material, it’s a good time. And for Monday night show in a college town with classes out of session, Walker Jr. gave a performance worthy of a small, dedicated crowd that was partying like it was the weekend.

by Brock Benefiel

kiel_hauckBrock Benefiel is a writer from Indianapolis. In addition to his rap nerdom, he is currently writing a spec script for a “Love Monkey” reboot. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

Brian-Fallon-1

I watched Brian Fallon play “A Wonderful Life” on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah the other night, and although Trevor’s questions after the song seemed shallow and awkward, Fallon’s performance was anything but. Painkillers, his first solo album, can seem at times slightly off-putting considering how fleshed out The Gaslight Anthem can be. But seeing Brian standing at the mic, the fire in his eyes as he sang, with three other guitarists behind him, it became immediately clear that Painkillers is a work of passion and deeper than what appears on the surface.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

By “off-putting,” I don’t mean any harm, but rather that on first listen, it sounds like Brian Fallon played it safe: simple beats, xylophone melodies, Americana-esque guitar ballads that tip-toe the line between folk and indie rock. Essentially, The Gaslight Anthem stripped of the heavy guitar.

But Painkillers is an intricately woven fabric. With the essential pop songs, such as “A Wonderful Life”, the songs are created in a fashion that helps the music tell the story with a touch of country-infused pop. The central melody for “Painkillers” is a simple guitar riff that repeats throughout the song as though you’re staring up at the ceiling and watching the room spin in circles as Fallon sings, “And we wanted love like it was a drug / All we wanted was a little relief, and every heart in between / They were painkillers to me”, hiding the chorus of backing vocals and intricate slashes of the guitar.

Similarly, “Smoke” is essentially centered on the crisp beat light taps of the drum, and a swell of hand claps that diminish the guitar and punctuated piano as though lost in a foggy room. The slides of the electric guitar over the hand claps has a wonderful country-esque touch that seems to lift the fog as Fallon sings soberly, “And the black clouds came and darkened all our insides / There were newspaper clippings with horrible headlines / Of doom and despair and your name and my name said / ‘Who will save you from the truth of the matter, that your love, though like gold, is gone?’”

Not everything sounds like an experimental indie song though. “Steve McQueen” is a heartfelt acoustic ballad, with the gentle tap of the snare and egg shaker almost louder than the guitars and somber piano, as Fallon reminisces of faltered dreams. “Open All Night” is a bluesy country song that finds the conclusion of a loose story woven throughout the album of returning to the lights of large cities and the realization that the girl he’s been chasing is gone, for the better of both of them. “And I will never know the town where you finally settled down / With the top back on a Cadillac and your sunglasses on/  And you can’t make me whole, I have to find that on my own”.

“Rosemary”, one of the album’s true highlights and one of the best songs Fallon has ever written, is a rampaging rock song with sweet xylophone spread across the bridges. It is a back and forth story of a couple essentially discovering that they’re falling apart, and lead character Rosemary finding her self worth through the experience amidst garage rock shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

What Brian Fallon has done with Painkillers is pull off the best aspects of what was accomplished with The Gaslight Anthem and strip it down to a minimum. The guitars are quiet, the beats simple and the lull of the shaker takes precedence over flashy guitar solos. But what it makes room for is emotional storytelling. Anyone used to Gaslight’s rock might need a little coaxing into the softer tone of the album, but the passion on this album is something that couldn’t have been done any other way: Springsteen inspiration blasting at full force.

4.5/5

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 saw Brian Fallon live for the first time outside of The Gaslight Anthem. He sold out the House of Blues without even having a record out. The man is a talent.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #9 Taylor Swift Comes Back in Style

taylor-swift-new1989

Filling the Blank Space

Just over 14 months after the release of the most successful album of her career, coupled with numerous award nominations and a massive world tour, we’re already anticipating what’s next for Taylor Swift. In doing so, we recognize that it’s wholly possible (even likely) that Ms. Swift rides the continuous waves of 1989 all the way through 2016. But we hope that isn’t the case.

Swift has a history of proclaiming her need for “time off” shortly after the release and support of her albums, only to resurface sooner than expected with another offering. Now six singles into the lauded pop tour de force that is 1989, it’s hard to believe that Swift isn’t thinking about what comes next.

Her place atop today’s pop music mountain alongside the likes of Adele and Beyoncé is in no danger of crumbling, but in a world driven by the moment, there’s a constant clamor for something new. While Swift could easily coast through 2016 in relative silence without missing a beat, here’s hoping she’s ready to make some more noise.

Swift’s career trajectory has been astonishing to watch – from innocent pop princess to pop culture’s biggest action hero, there’s no denying her ability for sonic and personal growth. Wherever she goes next, our collective attention is sure to follow. Pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist? Nah, T-Swift holds it in the palm of her hand.

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.