Review: Hellogoodbye – S’only Natural

Hellogoodbye has become an indie darling through a daring evolution of synth pop. Hellogoodbye mature each album cycle into something new. However, the risk is that sometimes these projects have mixed results. S’only Natural, the band’s newest album, is an infuriating record that I loved and hated in equal measure for the first two weeks after its release. However, after seeing Hellogoodbye live, I can finally appreciate the album in a way that otherwise may not have been possible.

Hellogoodbye played the Subterranean in Chicago two weeks after the release of S’only Natural. I have seen the group live twice before, and am familiar with the energy of their performances. However, this show lacked the stacked keyboards and intimacy of a ukulele. Instead, a glitzy golden sheet flowed across the stage with the words “Club Forrest” emblazoned on in in bright neon. Singer Forrest Kline strode across the stage in a lounge suit, dancing with a relaxed swagger. That’s the moment that S’only Natural finally clicked.

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Hellogoodbye

S’only Natural is a disco record. It is arguably the best instrumentation of Hellogoodbye’s career. The bass lines are extraordinarily melodic (“S’only Natural”). The guitars are restrained, but flesh out a full-bodied sound encouraging the listener to dance. The keyboards take their time and play a more integral, natural element to the music (“Let It Burn”). Additionally, the percussion is relaxed, but rich. While no song finds the frenetic pace of past records, the beats find a healthy balance between dance numbers and somber tones that perfectly match the bass (“Hang Loose”).

Trumpets, violin, and piano also take center stage at key points. Both “Overture” songs, which start and end the album, are primarily gorgeous violin ballads that sound straight out of the 1950’s.

One of the key things about S’only Natural is that it is a full, single piece. Many songs seem to bleed into the next, or end in such a way that it sets up the next perfectly. It keeps the album moving, but also can cause many songs to sound remarkably similar if you’re not paying attention. The music is amazing, but it lacks the variety of past records. It’s not until after the album is already done that you really see the crescendo of the first half and the soft ballads that swell to end the record (“Mysterious You”).

The most off-putting part of the album is singer Forrest Kline. For a singer who is so full of creativity, he takes zero chances with S’only Natural. Every song is sung in the same quiet pitch, with a backing track of himself almost whispering. Each song, I expected him to finally put a bit of effort into his voice, but instead maintains the same tone and quiet drawl. It’s maddening and beautiful at the same time. At times, it almost renders the lyrics useless.

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Hellogoodbye

After multiple listens over several weeks, I still had no opinion of this album. It was fun and boring, vibrant and bland at the same time. Which is why it seemed so odd to watch Forrest confidently strut in front of the mic stand. There was far more energy here than anything on the album. Opening the set with album closer “Honeymoon (Forever)”, Kline crooned over the soft taps of the snare and a keyboard, “I will come away with you / You look like you know what to do / Missing both your shoes, disheveled and amused / I’m in love with you”. Gliding over the gold blanket, the lounge jacket buttoned tight, the soft nature of his voice made absolute sense. Even during faster, poppier songs when the percussion and keyboards picked up volume to a staggering pitch, such as “Put It Out”, Kline simply crooned. “You were the autumn that bathed me in gold / And I’m a fool that thinks you were a flame I could hold”.

Almost the entire setlist of the live show was from S’only Natural, with only a few select favorites and fan requests from other albums peppered throughout. By night’s end, S’only Natural finally made sense to me. The instrumentation was the true star of this record. While the band’s music evolved over past records, Kline’s voice and lyrics always seemed to take center stage. This album is a jam. It wants you to dance. It wants anyone listening to be able to sing along with minimal effort. The confidence to play mostly new songs live plays straight into the album’s strength. And while past albums became poppier, S’only Natural looks back at the classic sounds and styles that influenced today’s music. The result is a romantic blend of current dance beats and crooner swing.

S’only Natural is an anomaly of an album. It’s soft, restrained and bursting with energy all at once. Though the lyrics are catchy, they’re a device to bring more attention to the music itself. This era of the band is just as progressive as it is classical. The mountainous bass lines eventually give way to gentle ballads that culminate in a rich album that forces listeners to discover the band’s music in a completely new way. S’only Natural isn’t an album for everyone, but it rewards anyone willing to put in the effort.

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 realized Forrest Kline was standing behind him watching the opening band. When Kyle introduced himself to Forrest, he said, “We’ve actually met before in Columbus. You grabbed my nipples [because I complimented Joseph Morro instead of you].” Forrest looked shocked, took a drink and then danced away into the crowd. He is literally the best people.

 

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Review: Hellogoodbye – Everything Is Debatable

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Hellogoodbye have returned with their third album, Everything is Debatable. The record is a continuation of their last CD, Would It Kill You? with the bouncing pop of acoustic guitars, but with a revival of the synth that was a signature sound for the band through their first few releases.

Though the synth makes a noticeable return, it’s toned down to mesh with the acoustic guitar rather than overpower the songs like it did on Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!. What results is a sophisticated sound resonating throughout each track with the soft pop that the band has been writing for the last few years and the techno beats of a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Everything is Debatable is the slowest and jazziest album Hellogoodbye have put out. The frantic pop of past songs like “Finding Something to Do” is toned down to create a much more stabilized atmosphere. Each song is more of a jam created to make people dance more than anything. There’s also a wonderful piece spanning three tracks where each song bleeds into the next starting at midway through the album.

Forrest Kline’s lyrics hold true to the album’s title, as he frequently contradicts his opinion throughout the writing. In the opening track “And Everything Becomes a Blur”, he sings, “Of all the friends you made along the way / Every single one will pass away”, then in the next verse sings, “All the friends you made along the way / Every single one is here to stay”. Nothing monumental, but it’s a nice swing through thought that often comes into conflict with itself without feeling ambiguous or pointless. Although the lyrics sometimes debate themselves verse by verse, it adds a bit of variety to an otherwise standard but catchy pop song.

Title track “(Everything is) Debatable”is an 80’s style dance song, and one of the more upbeat tracks on the album. It includes an deep baseline reminiscent of the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger. “Summer of the Lily Pond” is a slow jazz track that begins a three song set that bleeds each track together into one piece and includes several muted trumpets and what appears to be a baritone sax. What will be a a fan favorite live, “The Magic Hour” has Kline swooning like Buddy Holly over popping xylophone synth.

Everything Is Debatable is easily one of the best releases from Hellogoodbye and cements their acoustic pop style as what they were meant to play. Although the synth and techno has made a return, it has been refined so that it isn’t the focus of the music. Instead, it helps to fuel a dance album that doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to stay away from feeling generic. Hellogoodbye have found their style and a maturity necessary to keep a band known for pop songs from relevant.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.