Review: Knuckle Puck – 20/20

“I can finally see clearly, as if my vision’s 20/20.”

Knuckle Puck have been a growing presence in the Chicago punk scene for a number of years, with two strong releases behind them. Written (mostly?) before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ominously named 20/20 is actually a breath of fresh air. Somehow acknowledging the near universal struggles and grief that everyone has faced this year before they had actually happened, Knuckle Puck find the hope in struggle and the energy of normalcy that 2020 seems to have sucked dry.

You can buy or stream 20/20 on Apple Music.

In many ways, Knuckle Puck and fellow Chicagoans Real Friends seemed to follow a similar path for much of their career in revitalizing the midwest pop punk emo scene. It only makes sense then that in many ways, 20/20 is reminiscent of Real Friends’ third album, Composure. Not altering their sound too much from their first releases, 20/20 is the most composed, well-structured and cohesive the band have ever sounded. This comes across slightly as a more “mainstream” sound, but the album hardly shifts from the aggressive guitars and intricate melodies the band is known for.

“I wake up every morning with this overwhelming sinking feeling / Slipping through the doorframe while bouncing thoughts against the ceiling / This shit is only boring if you sit around and wait for nothing / I can’t tell you the future, but I know that it’s coming”

The album finds magic in normalcy by shifting the focus away from the unique struggles of 2020 and focusing instead on relationships and veiled messages on politics. This comes across the most in lead single, “RSVP”, as singer Joe Taylor broods over raging guitars, “And if you’re listening just for clarity, those idealistic dreams were never so naive / Complicated, mind sedated (Keep your hands over your ears) / Hearts turn vacant, humble patriot / (So you can cover up, cover up)”.

The first half of the album plays much more like a ‘traditional’ pop punk record, with several songs seeming radio ready. “Tune You Out” is much more classic emo fare, tracing the battle over a relationship where one person loses their temper over a bed of glistening guitars (“It tears me up inside, I’ll tune you out / ‘Til we all calm down”). Meanwhile, “Earthquake”, a measured rock song with a 90’s alternative vibe explores being enraptured by someone who seems larger than life, but is still broken in their own way (“You look so good, you’ve got me confused / I can’t just cover it up like your first tattoo”).

The back half is where the more experimental vibes and deeper lyrics settle in. “Green Eyes (Polarized)” finds Taylor wishing he could see someone else’s point of view and bridge the gap between their thinking (“You put your faith aside and cast yourself into the great divide / Would you let me see through green eyes?”).

“Into the Blue” describes a spiritual experience through skydiving, while “True North”, arguably the poppiest song on the album, finds the strength in reflecting on the bad times, but looking forward to better days (“Shut my eyes and hope I wake up, to the wave of the breeze from your screened-in porch / Just promise that you’ll leave the light on to point me toward true north”).

“If it’s easier, then close your eyes, but know that you could never see the light / You gotta get up and get outside if you wanna feel the sunshine”

Closing song “Miles Away” juxtaposes how negative thoughts can take you away from who you are, but positive thoughts can take you miles toward where you’re going. The guitars chug steadily, slowing into an elegant chorus in the vein of classics from The Starting Line. However, this is what ties 20/20 together as a whole. If there is a message to the album, it’s that you shouldn’t shy away from the problems in your life, but reflect on them and look forward.

….. Y’know, what the term “20/20” used to mean before we collectively decided it was a lie and a curse.

I was listening to opening song “20/20” for the first time when a news alert chimed over the music that let me know Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It was just another mark on a year of continuously bad news, but that one struck particularly hard. Over the course of the album, 20/20 unintentionally navigates the emotions many of us have felt since January 1—incredible lows, personal highs and the determination to see it through. By the time the album’s final lines roll through, wave after wave of emotion had rolled through, juxtaposed with songs like “Breathe” (featuring Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders), reminding the listener to stay calm. On a night I would have otherwise been utterly devastated, I felt hope. 20/20 isn’t afraid to look at the bad times because it’s so focused on the bright future.

“When darker skies roll in don’t you cross me out, just pull me back into safer crowds / Cause I’m miles away, yeah, I’m miles away / I’ve been miles away until now”

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 ate all of the queso dip. All of it. I can’t even say for sure how this happened. One moment there was dip, the next… mere chaos and the crumbs of chips sprinkled on the cat.

KennyHoopla – Discovering Magic By Accident

One of the things I miss the most in the world is being new to music, walking into a Best Buy and buying an album because the album caught my eye, as though preordained by a cosmic power. Since I did this nearly 20 years ago (Jesus Christ, I’m old) to discover Copeland, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Early November and The Used, among others, it’s a practice that has been more or less extinct for more than a decade.

Today, KennyHoopla appeared to me as if sent by fate. In a YouTube channel curated with mostly stand up comedy, anime and video game highlights, KennyHoopla caught my attention in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time—with an image.

The thumbnail for the live version of his single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” shows the artist passionately clutching the microphone, shouting into it. The emotion of the thumbnail stood out on its own like a painting on the wall. I was utterly drawn to him. You can see it below.

As is, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is an electrifying new wave infused rock song. The live video features KennyHoopla raging to the sound of a drumset and a single guitar, commanding attention with the energy of Bruno Mars and the flare of AFI’s Davey Havok. His voice crackled with an intensity that hovers between grunge and soul, finding a perfect mixture of graveled purity. Within 30 seconds of the song ending, I needed to hear more.

As a single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is phenomenal. As an EP, How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway is magnificent. The album mixes elements of new wave, punk, pop, R&B and emo from a lost age. The result is something that feels organic and inspired within almost any genre. KennyHoopla is the result of smashing the YeahYeahYeahs and Bloc Party together.

The EP sizzles with honesty, such as in the slow synth embedded “dust//”, a song The Postal Service would envy (“And this anxiety, It creeps into my home / This is really all my fault / Is this really all my fault?”). Although the EP revels in feelings of inadequacy and doubt, there is a sensationalism to it as well (“Well I’ve seen the stars and they look like us”).

A picture demanded I listen to a song today. A picture delivered me an artist I am absolutely enraptured with. Somehow sounding simultaneously vibrantly fresh and from a lost age of music, it seems incredible that an artist like this would only just now appear with this much potential. With so many ways to discover new music over the last couple of decades, it’s sobering and enlightening to know that an image can still convey everything you want and hope for in an artist.

The fact that KennyHoopla isn’t already a mainstream name is a crime. The wait until he is, though, will be well worth it.

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 dreams of the deep drawl of Kelsey Grammer telling him nice things about the world.

Review: Emery – White Line Fever

I’ve written A LOT about Emery in my time here on It’s All Dead. My pieces, whether they’re reviews of new albums or reflections on past projects, generally boil down to the continuity and consistency Emery have displayed through their 19- (and counting) year run. Their latest, White Line Fever, is no different.

You can buy White Line Fever by joining Emeryland.

The album isn’t necessarily a new step in Emery’s path, but rather a continuation of 2018’s Eve. It’s not as heavy as their other projects musically, but they’ve definitely not skimped lyrically. The things they’re singing about are as hard-hitting as ever. Gone are the days of songs about superficial relationships. The guys in Emery know that we’re all adults now, and they’ve treated their listeners accordingly here.

Forcing listeners to take a deep look inward at their worldview and how it’s affecting the way our lives play out is at the forefront of White Line Fever. Actions have consequences, and on songs like “The Noose,” and “Biddy”, those consequences are evident. But it’s not all doom and gloom here. On “2:38” they reminisce on their early days on the road, and how their lives have changed since then.

This isn’t my favorite Emery album, nor is it their best, but it’s another fitting addition to their discography. If there’s one thing that they’ve learned over 19 years, it’s where their wheelhouse lies. They make great post-hardcore music, and nary do they stray from that formula. I feel like at this point in my Emery-fanhood, I’m focusing more on what the band has to say, rather than the manner in which they present it. I’m always a sucker for a great hardcore band, but an Emery album is a double whammy of solid music and something to really mentally chew on and spend some time with.

What has kept me listening to Emery over the years is their transparency to admit that they’re different than they were in 2001. So many bands I grew up with as a hardline Christian kid refused to admit that, and they became almost fraudulent in my eyes. The guys of Emery have made it a point, almost a defining feature, of their art to declare that change is not only natural, but often beneficial. They’ve made it okay for someone like me to realize that I don’t feel the same way about some things that I used to. Because of their courage, I’ve grown in my perception of faith and how it fits into my life. 

4/5

 

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.

Celebrating 15 Years of “From Under the Cork Tree”

During the spring semester of my junior year of college, I spent countless afternoons manning the booth for our student radio station. For what felt like a month straight, “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” was the most requested song. I vividly remember taking another request by phone, only to look up and see the television in the studio playing the video on MTV. Fall Out Boy were everywhere. And frankly, I was already sick of them.

You can buy or stream From Under the Cork Tree on Apple Music.

It took me a while to come around on From Under the Cork Tree, the album that launched Fall Out Boy, and the scene at large, into the stratosphere. Call it juvenile elitism. These were our bands, and now suddenly everyone was into it?

That bad attitude kept me from experiencing the joys of FUCT for a number of years. Now, 15 years after its release, it’s an album I know like the back of my hand.

On the album’s 10th anniversary, Senior Editor Kyle Schultz wrote about how From Under the Cork Tree is rightfully credited with taking a new generation of emo to the masses, but he also notes how that ascent was the end of the scene as we had known it. Many of our favorite bands were no longer confined to the Warped Tour circuit. Following Fall Out Boy’s rise in 2005, new bands could emerge from the woodwork and land headlining tours and MTV airplay without so much as traveling across country multiple times in 15-passenger vans. The scene was in style and driving popular tastes.

It’s still weird to think back on that time. Pre-2005 it was still faux pas to shop exclusively at Hot Topic or cover your backpack in stitched-on patches of bands no one had ever heard of. Don’t hear me as complaining here – it’s simply an acknowledgement of how quickly things changed and how upside down it all felt for those of us who were on the bandwagon back when there was plenty of room.

It didn’t take long for me (and assuredly many others) to adjust to this new experience. We became the ones at shows telling stories of “back when.” Before long, it felt almost normal for every Fueled By Ramen band to go platinum. It got comfortable. Until it wasn’t.

We now reflect fondly on those times of scene stardom, LiveJournal updates, Rolling Stone covers and the like. Because it all came crashing back to earth just as quickly as it began. But here’s the thing: the tax never came due for Fall Out Boy.

There’s a version of this story where we talk about “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” as the highlight in the short career of a band that could’ve left us wanting more. Instead, Fall Out Boy used From Under the Cork Tree to infiltrate the pop culture zeitgeist and evolve into something new and fresh. Infinity on High made clear that Fall Out Boy had graduated from the scene. The events that followed turned them into something that comes as close as you can get to rock legends in this day and age.

As much as I’ve grown to love From Under the Cork Tree and all of it’s introspective, self-deprecating charm over the years, I wouldn’t place it on the band’s Mount Rushmore. That may make me an outlier, but Fall Out Boy only got better – much better – in the aftermath of that breakthrough moment.

I’m thankful for that. And so, I would assume, are so many of the bands we cover on this site who owe a debt of gratitude to the blueprint that Fall Out Boy created. But as much as those bands may have tried to recreate that magic over the years, no one has been able to pull it off with the flair for the dramatic that Fall Out Boy demonstrated on From Under the Cork Tree.

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.

Most Anticipated Music of 2020: My Chemical Romance Emerge from the Shadows

It was Luna Lovegood that said, “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” I’ve found this to be rather true when it comes to some of my favorite bands. There was a time in the not too distant past when it seemed like all of my most beloved bands were calling it quits: Underoath, Saosin, Anberlin, blink-182, Fall Out Boy. Yet all of these bands (and more) resurfaced in some fashion over the course of the past decade, many with a completely new look and sound.

Not to be outdone, My Chemical Romance re-emerged late in 2019 with a massive reunion show just before the close of the decade. It’s been over 10 years since the band released their last album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and if I’m being honest, I kind of expected the band to stay gone, seeing as several key members have found success in new ventures. But here we are on the cusp of what will likely be a large 2020 tour announcement and, if we’re lucky, new music.

I’ve written and talked extensively about the impact Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge had on my life when it dropped in 2004, and the effect the band had on my musical tastes. My Chemical Romance is a band that defined an era and created some of the most memorable sounds to come from the scene we love. Whether 2020 is simply an overdue victory lap for the band or a full re-entrance into the pop culture zeitgeist, I’m here for it. I can’t wait to see what Gerard Way and company have in store.

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: From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit

I’ve taken more than a few days to try to start writing about From Indian Lakes’ new album Dimly Lit. I don’t always know why it takes me longer to write about certain albums and some albums I can sit and write about 10 minutes after I have listened to it once, but I feel like it often has to do with a few factors. One is how familiar I am with their previous material, another is how detailed the album is. 

You can buy or stream Dimly Lit on Apple Music.

With Dimly Lit, I fell more on the side of album detail. I’ve been listening to From Indian Lakes for years now, even writing my own review of Absent Sounds when it released in 2014. I love the band unashamedly, often pushing their albums onto my friends, assuring them they’ll enjoy the creativity and soothing vocals of Joey Vannucchi. I’m always right. From Indian Lakes has progressed quite a bit since 2014, but even more so since their first album The Man With Wooden Legs. Joey’s music is almost unrecognizable from that first album, filled with harsh vocals and an emo-revival goal. What hasn’t changed is how he grips you from the first track. 

“New Love” is a completely opposite sound from Everything Feels Better Now’s “Happy Machines”. Joey has completely bloomed. While EFBN is more introspective and a late night drive album, Dimly Lit begs to be played on a boombox outside of your girlfriend’s window, waking up the neighbors. From “Your Heartbeat Against Mine” to “Garden Bed”, it’s a beautiful expression of affection and genuine emotion.

This time around, Joey decided he didn’t want to go it alone. He asked a bunch of friends to sing with him on the album, including Lynn Gunn of PVRIS (“Did We Change”), and Miriam Devora of Queen of Jeans (“Garden Bed”, “Faces”). The guests keep the album from being too monotonous and are always perfectly suited for the tracks they took on.

The whole album is an absolute treat and it loops so beautifully that I didn’t even realize it had played all the way through. It clocks in at just about an hour and is worth every second. Joey released it independently, which might be the most surprising fact because of how cohesive it sounds. From Indian Lakes will be joined by Queen of Jeans and Yummm this fall to tour Dimly Lit, and you can bet I’ll be there vibing in the front.

5/5

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.

Podcast: Talking Emo Music with Author Taylor Markarian

On the latest It’s All Dead podcast episode, Kiel Hauck is joined by Taylor Markarian, author of “From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How it Changed Society”. Taylor has written for publications like Alternative Press, Kerrang, and Revolver and also served as an intern at Epitaph Records. Her new book explores the cultural, social, and psychological factors surrounding emo and indie music. On the podcast, Taylor shares about her years growing up in the New Jersey punk and emo scene and the importance of music in mental health. Take a listen!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Like what you heard from Taylor? Pre-order her book on Amazon.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Have Mercy – The Love Life

Photo by Benjamin Lieber

Have Mercy is consistently the saddest band I listen to. It makes me feel really bad because no one should be this sad for four whole albums. They’re so sad they surpass the emo label and they’re in their own league. I was hoping that Brian Swindle had turned over a new leaf with The Love Life, but here we are again with another album about the ways love fails us.

You can buy or stream The Love Life on Apple Music.

The album opens quietly with “We Ain’t Got Love”. It features a haunting acoustic guitar and ends with a slow but heavy breakdown. Here, Brian’s a man speaking to a lover in the past. She’s moved on, but Brian sings that “[Her] new boyfriend / Is a failure / Just like me”. It’s a great opener because it shows us exactly what to expect. This album won’t be hard hitting like the others. There’s not so much anger here, but certainly more regret.

“40oz” is one of my personal favorites. The band’s founding member, Aaron Alt, passed away earlier this year, and it’s hard to listen to the chorus of this song and imagine it to be about anything else. 

The fourth track, “Clair”, is my favorite. If you can get past the awkward first verse, the chorus is explosive, and I’d say it’s definitely the best track off the album. It’s the one that’s stayed with me the most. It’s the perfect combination of what we’ve grown accustomed to from the band and the lighter vibe this album has. 

“Mattress On the Floor” gave me the same sad nostalgia that Aaron West’s “Rose and Reseda” gave me when I first heard it. I love songs that get visceral with emotion, and this track feels extra raw. The second verse hits with the notion that things aren’t going so hot but they’re making it work, but the final lines are “And I don’t dream like I used to anymore / I still drink about that mattress on the floor”. It’s one of the things that drew me to the band. The way they use contrast in their songwriting always keeps you guessing. You know it’ll be sad, but you don’t always know where, when, or how. 

“Dressed Down” seems like a filler track to me. The album is definitely not uplifting in any sense, but it seems like the band really tried gave an effort to keep the musical side jaunty, as seen in the next track “So Like You”. The former track is a definite low point, and a track I skipped from probably the third listen.

I personally like this album the most out of their four album run, but I will admit that it isn’t their strongest. The band works better when they lean towards their post-hardcore sound. This is the most mellow of their releases, and while it’s a great addition to their discography, the ways they held back left me wanting a little bit more.

3.5/5

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.

Reflecting On: Emery – …In Shallow Seas We Sail

I still remember the first time I heard an Emery song. It was probably about 2012 or so, and it was while watching the video for their 2009 track “Butcher’s Mouth”. The video for the song was shot documentary style from (presumably) tour, and, no offense, isn’t really anything to write home about. I just watched it for the first time in a couple of years, and it’s pretty dated now, but I’m still so fond of it. I specifically have always remembered the end, where Toby says, “The key to this world is money. Girls only like material things, and guys only like girls. So, guys, buy stuff for girls, and then the girls will like you.”  There’s just so much personality in the video, and I actually think that’s one of the reasons I ended up liking the band so much.

You can buy or stream …In Shallow Seas We Sail on Apple Music.

So it’s been 10 years since the album …In Shallow Seas We Sail was released. The band has really expanded past music since then, and I’d argue they’re still one of the most successful post-hardcore bands today. They figured out how to grow with the times, and that’s really only been to their benefit. Between podcasts and record labels, the band has constantly used their musical talent over the years to positively further the scene they’re in.

We obviously know now, though, that it hasn’t always been that way. And I doubt it would be this way without this 2009 release. 2007’s I’m Only A Man was pretty experimental for the band in a negative sense. I don’t know how the band members feel about the album, but fans weren’t really into it. I wasn’t familiar with the band at this point, and maybe it’s for the better, because I kind of like I’m Only A Man. I think that In Shallow Seas We Sail is definitely a better album and I like it more, but I’ve never really gotten why folks don’t care for I’m Only A Man.  

I think what makes this such a memorable and important addition to the Emery discography is the same as every one of their other albums. With each release, the band raises the bar up one more time in some aspect, whether it be production or songwriting or vocals. With …In Shallow Seas We Sail, they revamped the entirety of what made them great in their first two albums. They brought maturity into this fourth project, maturity gained from the experience of releasing music, experience from being signed to a label, and experience gained from having a project that wasn’t totally loved by the listeners.

They are truly the definition of a band who does this more for themselves than for the fans. They are constantly interested in how they can be better, and that’s what’s made them last so long as a band, and what’s made me last so long as a listener.

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.

Review: Frank Iero and The Violent Futures – Barriers

Frank Iero’s passion for rock music shines through his solo work more than the heavy mood would have you believe. Barriers, Iero’s third solo album, celebrates rock music. The album is moody and constantly blitzing with wild energy. He sounds raw—similar to some of the best emo releases of the mid-2000s. Barriers sounds like a lost masterpiece from a decade earlier, but isn’t dated in the least. Iero doesn’t have to work too hard to craft his own identity from past work with My Chemical Romance and Leathermouth. Barriers is an album that overcomes every obstacle to stand tall on its own, possibly as Iero’s best solo release.

You can buy or stream Barriers on Apple Music.

Each new interpretation of his solo career has refined his sound and not shied away from the gloom that helped define him as a musician. The guitars are fuzzed, but still release a hard melody. Iero’s writing channels the best aspects of rock and focuses it down to a grungy tip. It allows the album to be a cohesive collection while adding a massive variety to the sound.

Opener, “A New Day’s Coming” mixes blues and a gospel-heavy keyboard with heavy, raw guitars. The chorus of “Fever Dream” rages with simple power chords, reminiscent of classic-era Green Day. Meanwhile, “Moto-Pop” rages with metal inspiration from Black Sabbath. Iero and fellow guitarist Evan Nestor are clearly relishing their ability to play whatever they want.

Bassist Matt Armstrong (Murder By Death) provides a hard, dark mood throughout the album (“Medicine Square Garden”). Keyboardist and backing vocalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy adds just enough to crank the effect of Iero’s demons throughout the album. She hides like an angel or a demon haunting Iero’s highs and lows (“Six Feet Down Under”). Former Thursday drummer Tucker Rue adds an energy to the album that keeps the music charged even in more somber moments (“No Love”).

Where Iero impresses the most is in his vocals. The wild change in singing styles throughout the album keep each line engaging. The preference to get the emotion out, even if it means falling flat, lends a haunting urgency to each line. Clean, lazy singing on “A New Day’s Coming” is inspiring. Slurred, charged shouting during “Young and Doomed” channels a blend of AFI’s Davy Havok’s eccentricity and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly’s angst. Meanwhile, singing through gritted teeth, grunge whispers and hedonistic shouting, “Fever Dream” is wave after wave of unfiltered energy thrown at the microphone.

Barriers is a thick album. There’s certainly an argument that it could have benefitted from being a couple tracks shorter. However, Iero’s passion for music shines through each track. Although it’s hard not to compare him to a few legendary bands he was a key part of, Iero has forged a solo career defined by the freedom to lay waste to expectation. Barriers is Iero at his best—doubling down on a genre he helped forge and paying homage to rock music from every region of the genre.

4/5

Photo credit: Mitchell Wojcik

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 stepped in a puddle this morning. Now he is known as “Dumb ol’ Wet Foot.”