Review: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana Del Rey is America’s queen. She’s an expert in mixing the modern with the retro. Her cinematic take on Americana remains fresh with each release and Norman F*****g Rockwell is no different. 

While initially very skeptical of Lana’s brand, these days, I call myself a die-hard fan. Born to Die came to me in a time where I was really desperate to branch out and I had started to really look at women in music and embracing artists like Marina Diamandis and Lorde. My background in music is very male oriented, and I listened to a lot of rock and indie bands – genres that, in the mid 2000s, were generally devoid of female talent. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a personal goal that I openly support women in music. So I started listening to Lana Del Rey.

You can buy or stream Norman Fucking Rockwell on Apple Music.

My favorite thing about her music is how she seamlessly moves from genre to genre and era to era. She’ll have Jazz Age influences in one track and then in the next it’s like you’ve been transported to Woodstock. I’ve always had a thing for oldies, and the fact that she can pull it off so authentically has always intrigued me. With each album, I feel like we’re moving further in time, and with Norman F*****g Rockwell, we’re arrived in the late 70s, early 80s.

It opens with the title track, one of the softer, but no less hard hitting, songs on the album. Her goal with the album is to draw parallels, something she does through referencing pop culture. She said of the title in an interview with Vanity Fair that, “[She and Jack Antonoff, they] just joke  around constantly about all the random headlines [they] might see that week…but it’s not a cynical thing, really. To [her], it’s hopeful, to see everything as a little bit funnier.”

With that being said, the album isn’t necessarily lighthearted. I would argue that it’s her most personal album yet, from the line in “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” where she refers to an interview she did where the publication titled it, “I wish I was dead already.” To use such a statement as a way to get clicks isn’t fair, and the actual context of what she said has nothing to do with any of those sentiments. 

The album gets more personal about her career than any of the previous five albums before it, but it also pushes the envelope of that career more than the other albums as well. One of the singles, “Venice B***h”, is almost 10 minutes long, and is one of the best tracks on the album. I know I often say this about female artists, but she’s not afraid (and has never been afraid) to take control of her creativity. I feel like that’s because women have to work 50 times as hard to gain any artistic control at all, so the best way is to just keep all of your decisions close, and it’s something that, as unfortunate of a concept as it is, makes for the most authentic and raw music. She’s set the precedent of having complete control, which at the end of the day, gives her the most freedom.

This album is the culmination of everything she’s done up until now. From a little bit of the jazz influence seen in her first two albums, to the transparent lyricism from 2017’s Lust for Life, we have little pieces of each of her past releases showcased here. The closer, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have, but I Have It”, is the most poignant of all of her closers. She’s brought everything full circle. Throughout all the difficulties in her life and career she’s still always believed in her art and keeping her creative license. And that’s what makes Norman F*****g Rockwell explosive.

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.

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Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Review: Mumford and Sons – Delta

I thought Marcus Mumford was done. With the release of Wilder Mind in 2015, the band went in a direction that wasn’t overly popular with either their fans or, seemingly, the band itself. They barely toured the album, only playing festivals and small shows. I personally ended up loving the album, but I will admit I was leery at first. I had heard that they had put down their banjos and I wasn’t really ready for the end of the original Mumford incarnation. With their new release Delta, though, the band has shown that electric guitars and banjos can live together in harmony.

You can buy or stream Delta on Apple Music.

This fourth album is everything we loved about Mumford’s first two albums and the things we admired from their third. It’s still a totally different direction for the band, but in the way that you still have to go through some of the same routes to get back home after a cross-country road trip. Some of it is familiar, and some of it takes advantage of the new scenery and stops at the roadside attractions.

Delta is a geographical term for where a river and a larger, slower-moving body of water meet. This is a very fitting title for the album because thematically it deals with all of the major changes life can hold. There’s a song about death (“Beloved”), a song about divorce (“If I Say”), and a couple of songs about being happily in love (“Woman” is one of them).

Musically, the album is a perfect mix of their past works with some surprises thrown in. Marcus seems to sing at a higher register than he has previously; it adds a new dimension to the way this album feels as compared to their others. “Woman” features some synth-y backgrounds, akin to Judah and the Lion and Ed Sheeran, and it’s also my favorite track. There’s a heavy use of strings throughout the album, which provides a larger than life vibe. Mumford and Sons placed a high priority on uniqueness with this album, and it shows. “Beloved” featured what I’m pretty sure is a sitar, which is super fun and not widely used in American/European music. It also kind of ties in the concept of a delta: two different things meeting and becoming intertwined.

The first track, “42” is four minutes long, but I think of it more of an intro piece than really a track on its own because it ties so many of the album’s themes together. The next track, “Guiding Light”, was the first of two singles, the other being “If I Say”.

From a lyrical standpoint, this is easily the most personal release we’ve received from Mumford and Sons. Marcus sings about things that have happened in his life, in the other band members’ lives, and even about stories they’ve heard from people they’ve met. It’s accessible in a way that Mumford hasn’t really been known for, especially as a folk band. “Beloved,” in particular, speaks about death and ends with these lines: “And as you leave / See my children playing at your feet”. It’s a testament to both the innocence of childhood and also the legacy a family matriarch or patriarch leaves behind.

Their past albums use a lot of literary references, specifically Sigh No More, which alluded to (among others) “The Odyssey”, Shakespeare’s plays, and even “The Wizard of Oz”. In Delta, though, these are missing, except for the track “Darkness Visible” which is a passage from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. I did miss those small touches, because I enjoy doing deep dives into lyrics so much, but I suppose the layers of personal details the band has substituted are equally as interesting, and also it’s not my album so I really have no say here.

This album is full of heart and soul. Mumford and Sons brings you into their experiences more than they ever have before. It’s great to see a band become so comfortable in both where they are in their lives and in their sound. Delta is a great example of how we can walk away from the things we’ve known, but then turn back around. We learn things when we step outside of our comfort zone, but in the end, there’s no place like home…or a banjo.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #6 The Fratellis Take Their Sweet Time

The release of a new album from The Fratellis always feels like an event. While it’s an expectation to find popping guitars and bounds of energy, each release isn’t afraid to experiment away from rewriting “Chelsea Dagger”. Their new album, In Your Own Sweet Time seems to be keeping this tradition alive.

Leads singles, “The Next Time We Wed” and “Stand Up Tragedy” take the focus off of rock and hone in a poppier dance beat. The sound doesn’t differ significantly from The Fratellis’ past work, but lays a bouncing beat of guitar and drum effects that feel at home in a dark pub.

Each release has added a bit more of a bluesy influence that tampers the band’s spiraling guitar work and lyricism. In Your Own Sweet Time is sure to continue the band’s progression of being the most famous underappreciated band around. If you listen to this album without a pint in your hand, it’s a disservice to us all.

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 fell in love with the Blackhawks partially because “Chelsea Dagger” was their theme song. He’s followed The Fratellis since 2006 and obsesses over every line of every album, year after year like a zilch.

Review: Twin Forks – Twin Forks

twin_forks

With the slew of folk rock acts that have seemingly burst from the woodwork directly into the mainstream in recent years, it’s fair to assume that there would be certain amount of bands pandering to the newfound demographic. How then, would one go about determining what’s genuine? Perhaps it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

An established songwriter jumping on the folk rock bandwagon may appear odd to some, but for many of us that have grown up with Chris Carrabba, Twin Forks makes sense.

The Americana/folk rock band was formed in 2011 by Carrabba, who has become a living emo legend due to his time in Further Seems Forever and Dashboard Confessional. If the shift to Twin Forks seems stark and curious, one listen to the band’s debut self-titled LP should bring a bit of clarity.

Previously, Carrabba had made a career out of heart-on-his-sleeve, emotion-filled cuts that dug deep at the sting of lost love. The early Dashboard albums felt so in the moment, mostly because so many of us were experiencing them in the midst of similar pain.

The appearance of Twin Forks is about much more than a fresh stylistic change, it’s about growing up. Now in his late 30s, Carrabba seems to be taking this opportunity to show his growth – not only as a musician, but as a person.

Twin Forks is about love, viewed through the eyes of a wiser, yet still learning adult. Opener “Can’t Be Broken” exhibits not only the fresh upbeat folk sound of the band, but brings Carrabba’s storytelling abilities to the forefront.

Throughout the course of the album, he’ll reflect on past love and the excitement of new love with a patient eye. There’s no rush and the album flows smoothly in both lyric and tone. The tracks themselves provide the appropriate soundtrack to each story, shifting from toe tapping twang to stripped down strumming with relative ease.

Truth be told, there’s some familiarity to be found here as well. Songs like “Cross My Mind” and “Danger” wouldn’t feel too out of place on Dashboard’s 2009 outing Alter the Ending. Meanwhile, “Plans” features one of the more emotional melodies that Carrabba has written in years and “Back to You” finds his recognizable strained vocals fitting right in to their new background.

Backup vocals, courtesy of Suzie Zeldin (The Narrative), are a welcome addition to the mix, providing a wonderful harmony on tracks like “Kiss Me Darling”. Likewise, her mandolin pushes several of the songs over the top by capturing jubilant and thoughtful moments.

If there’s any gripe to be found, it’s that Twin Forks sometimes seems to be constricted by its chosen genre. “Scraping Up the Pieces” feels a bit forced and formulaic while “Come On” uses its upbeat tempo to guise a rather boring track. However, where these tracks lack in depth they certainly make up for in charm.

At first glance, Twin Forks appears as an awkward flight from known territory for Carrabba, but it’s clear that he knows what he’s doing. Some detractors have pointed out a lack of his once-appealing painful songwriting in his more recent work. This is a good thing.

Those old Dashboard songs will always serve to remind us of our youth, but with age comes experience and perspective. Twin Forks offers these qualities in abundance and meshes them with a sound that feels mature and honest to the subjects at hand. In doing so, Carrabba has shown us that there’s more than one way to wear your heart on your sleeve.

4/5

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.