Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

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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.

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Review: As It Is – Never Happy, Ever After

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Five months in, and it feels like 2015 is the official year of the classic pop punk revival. There have been nothing less than a swarm of albums that sound like they were torn straight out of 2002. The debut album from As It Is is no exception, and the world is better for it.

First off, it’s important to admit up front that I grew up on the pop punk sound of the early 2000s and am a complete sucker for any band that does it well. It’s hard to ignore that bias, even when a band might not quite deserve the amount of praise I sometimes give.

It’s hard to find much in the way of innovation on Never Happy, Ever After. If anything, it adds the effect of double vocalists (ala Taking Back Sunday) and strained shouts over snappy riffs circa early New Found Glory. The benefit of that, though, is that Never Happy sounds timeless. I could have just as easily have been pumping my fist to Never Happy, Ever After as I did to The Starting Line’s Say It Like You Mean It.

Smooth energy and grind house guitar riffs dominate the album, creating an effective love letter to the forefathers of modern pop punk. For anyone getting into the scene now, it’s easy to imagine As It Is being just as important 0f a band as New Found Glory was to my generation. The music hypnotically balances itself between poppy mosh-ready riffs and glossy sweet strings over raging drums and bass. If there is one thing to complain about, the vocals sound like there might have been too much production or auto tune used. It’s obvious Patty Walters is a good singer, but a little more raw energy would have served him better.

It’s becoming rarer and rarer to find a band that immediately knows who they are when they release their first album. It’s obvious after a single listen that As It Is are not only well versed in the most important bands to pop punk, they’re determined to recapture the magic of a Sticks and Stones. If anything makes the album feel modern, it’s the fact that the band shifts the lyrical focus away from high school romances to a more introspective place that eat away at you slowly, such as “Drowning Deep In Doubt”, when Walters sings, “If the only place I belong is an afterlife that I just can’t believe in / At least I’ll know I was born so not everyone lives and dies on their own”.

This band is a collective of good songwriters. There’s more to their music than a three minute guitar slamming. There is nothing quite as invigorating as listening to “My Oceans Were Lakes” and hearing the drumming slowly take center stage after two and a half minutes of acoustic guitars so soft they could be have been a lullaby. The energy that builds is awe inspiring.

There are a lot of soft spots on Never Happy, but there’s a power behind the pop that puts most bands in the genre in their place. “Concrete”, the chorus to “Turn Back To Me”, “Can’t Save Myself” and “Dial Tones” are some of the best songs in the scene since The Wonder Years stepped into the spotlight.

There are a lot of good lines in every song, and it’s just a matter of picking your favorites depending on your mood. “Turn Back To Me” has Patty Walters and Andy Westhead alternating the verse, “I can only take so much before I spill my guts / But I’m terrified of letting you see what I’m thinking / But you left before I could and if I could too, I would / Cause my mind’s a frightening and lonely place I can’t escape at night”. “Speak Soft” includes the lines, “Can I give you an answer? / The beauty and the cancer / You’re an open shining, self-relying / And I’m a fucking born disaster.”

There’s a good chance that As It Is will disappoint you depending on your preference in musical styles. There’s a good chance that I’m looking too much into them, which is a fair assessment. What I see is a band that recognizes that pop punk has more to offer than people are willing to give it.

As It Is somehow combine over a decade’s worth of pop punk and emo styles into a single disc and make it sound organic enough that it could have been album of the year at any point during the last 15 years. That’s an easy thing to say, but I’ve listened to Never Happy over a dozen times in the last 48 hours and I don’t intend to stop now. The only bad thing I can think to say about Never Happy, Ever After is that I have to wait at least a year or two just to see what As It Is comes up with to top it.

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 plans to attend Warped Tour just to see this band. I truly love Never Happy, Ever After and I’m proud to give it the score I did. If you disagree, kindly go piss right off. 😀