Reflecting On: Set Your Goals – This Will Be the Death of Us

I almost lost my middle finger in 2009. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but while working in a restaurant, I was playing with a keyring during some downtime. Somehow, I slipped my finger through the gap between both endpoints. I remember watching the tip of my finger fall backwards and seeing the bone. It exposed everything I am on the inside for the first time. I managed to keep it together long enough to get stitches. When I went home to my roommates, they had gathered in camaraderie and collectively flipped me off in unison, which helped a little bit.

I had been obsessed with All Time Low’s Nothing Personal for the summer, but I hated myself for being so reckless as to get injured midway through the season. While my friends were out swimming, exploring the local creek, or engaging in some type of sports I was dutifully guarding my finger from infection. I was angry, isolated and days away from my birthday.

You can buy or stream This Will Be the Death of Us on Apple Music.

At some point, All Time Low posted on their social media to support their friends Set Your Goals’ new album. I had never heard of the band, but decided to spend what little money I had to keep me occupied since I wasn’t spending my time being active. All Time Low remain one of my favorite bands, but Set Your Goals stole the year with This Will Be the Death of Us, one of the single best releases of the early 2000’s.

Set Your Goals was my introduction to ‘easycore.’ Hovering somewhere between pop punk and hardcore, This Will Be the Death of Us scratched every itch I had. It even inspired a song by Four Year Strong as a response to the glowing reviews the album received. Set Your Goals tempered the anger I felt towards myself, managed to be an ethical voice in the scene, and felt like one of the opening salvos in the new trend of positive punk. It exposed me to the deficiencies I didn’t realize I had inside.

The rage in This Will Be the Death of Us isn’t focused on the usual suspects in the scene. While the album maintains a positive outlook overall, it is relentless in its attacks on aging bitterly and of neglect towards love of the world and its history (“Our Ethos: A Legacy to Pass On”). It managed to successfully criticize societal issues without sounding like a bunch of privileged kids whining (“Look Closer”). During my last year of college, the global recession was going strong. Hearing a band call the system out for what it was meant the world to me. The album also featured the best cameos of all time (Vinnie Caruana, Hayley Williams, Chad Gilbert and Jon Gula). The guest vocalists played a significant part of their songs, even the music videos (“This Will Be the Death of Us”).

Despite the worldly rage, positivity oozed from this album. At the time, there weren’t a lot of new bands making a splash in the scene, and those that did fell back on the tried-and-true lyricism of failed relationships. Set Your Goals introduced me to songs like “Summer Jam”, which gushed with memories of the band on a year-by-year basis leading up to this release. “Summer Jam” was the first time I had heard of the band Fireworks, and the lyric, “We’re all in a holding cell, but somehow Baloni got away,” led me on a goose chase to learn more about their merch guy. A year later, The Wonder Years would go deeper into this area and change the game of ‘realistic pop punk’ on The Upsides.

Most importantly though, I felt like I gained a worldview from Set Your Goals. While All Time Low got me hooked on catchy lyrics that I still know to this day, Set Your Goals turned the chaos of hardcore punk on its head that sent a message to question the status quo of the world, even if you loved it. It’s the first time that my rebellious college phase realized that you could love the world and fight to break it at the same time.

This Will Be the Death of Us helped me through the summer of 2009 on a daily basis while I sat inside watching my friends play video games and get dirty. I remained low key until the autumn, hiding from anything that could make my finger worse. But I loved the world despite its follies along the way, for better or for worse, during the healing.

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.

Four Year Strong Drop New Song, “We All Float Down Here”

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Four Year Strong have officially returned! The band recently released the first track from their upcoming self-titled album and it is truly a pop punk gem. You can stream “We All Float Down Here” below:

Four Year Strong releases on June 2, 2015. You can see various preorder options at MerchNow. What do you think of the new track? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Five Year Retrospective: The Wonder Years – The Upsides

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I hated the prick on the album cover at first glance – this guy wore a shirt similar to what I was wearing and smiled awkwardly as though attempting to apologize for a fight I’d personally had with him. The cardboard sign reading “The Upsides” taunted me for how miserable I felt. I stood seething in a Hot Topic, looking down at this album sitting alone in a grim selection of CDs and salty rubber wrist bands. I bought it just to spite him.

It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It’s hard to believe that The Wonder Years weren’t a part of my life, much less one of the leading voices of pop punk in January 2010. I’d listened to their debut album Get Stoked On It! a year before and had been very “eh” towards it. I popped the CD into my car hoping for mediocre punk rock to distract me for forty-five minutes from how utterly miserable I felt every day. Instead, I didn’t even get out of the parking lot before the opening line sent a stopped me literally in my tracks, cliché as that may be.

The first and last sentence uttered on the record is one of the most genuine punk rock ideas in all of music; “I’m not sad anymore”. It’s simple, elegant and such a sheer war cry to fight back against whatever may be burdening your life. Everything on the album revolves around this idea.

The linear notes state that the original concept when the record was being written was to write about the depression the band felt and the suffocation of feeling down and out in your early twenties, something that most people experience. However, the way that it often happens, it’s something small that usually reminds you that this type of angst just isn’t that bad and it will eventually get better; in this case, the fountain in Philly’s Logan Circle being turned on.

“I’m not sad anymore” changed the pop punk genre as a whole. Other bands in the scene more or less wrote about the same punk issues (lost the girl, attempt to win the girl, depression and drugs), or had begun inspirational easycore (Set Your Goals, Four Year Strong), but the attitude was still that the music needed to be rowdy enough to break some beer bottles. The Upsides based itself in loud pop punk that allowed itself to ease and flow as the lyrical content needed, something that gave the lyrics the energy to be fight back against the world and soften enough to have translatable meaning.

The Upsides is a story about understanding and overcoming when you feel out of place in the world around you. College angst, the paralyzing loneliness as your closest friends move away or settle into their lives, the upheaval of relationships and trying to remember what home felt like. Songs like “This Party Sucks” and “It’s never Sunny In South Philadelphia” base themselves in depression, especially with lyrics like, “We stopped standing proud a year ago now / What you see is just a shell of who I used to be / I can’t believe I got this weak”. However, the context of this type of darkness is just a back story that helps lead to finding your bottom and pulling yourself up.

The connection that this album made to listeners is that it felt real. The term gets thrown around with a lot of music these days, but it’s a concept that has come to be one of the staples to TWY’s music, and this was the first time it had started to bud from them. The lyrics read like a novel in the way that it mentioned ‘characters’ (Dave and Spiro), everyday experiences like “talking shit in diners” and “sitting on the roof with Matt and Molly”. Tangible locations like Logan Circle, or inside jokes (“the Blue Man Group won’t cure depression”) became a focal point to ground the story. These concepts, in their simplicity alone, are based on real memories and interactions that everyone has had.

The Upsides is a therapeutic concept album for sure, until you realize that it’s really not meant to be. It’s just an album written by some guys who aren’t trying to be more than just that – friends trying to get a band off the ground while maintaining their sanity. Vocalist Dan Campbell wasn’t the best singer at this stage of his career, and further away from how good he would become than might be comfortable. He’s loud and often times off-key, but it only makes him sound more genuine.

As if that weren’t enough, the music is incredible. The chord progressions and riffs are unique in that you can tell how much they’d learned about writing music since the release of Get Stoked On It!, but were just beginning to harness the energy and talent for the writing of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and The Greatest Generation. While pop seemed to overpower the punk side of it, the songs were ravenously loud behind such words of encouragement instead of shouted rebellion.

The closer, “All My Friends Are In Bar Bands” is savagely simple, but one of the most profound songs the band has written. After nearly an hour to singing about trying to stave off depression and fight back against a world that wants to take you down, the final piece just wonders aloud what all of their friends are doing at home and runs down a list of names. During one verse, Campbell sings a line that hit me as a universal truth to start on the road to overcoming sadness: “I’ve spent twenty-two years just wading through bullshit, and hey, it’s worked so far / I don’t know why I’m here but I know who my friends are”.

The Upsides isn’t the best Wonder Years album. Its imperfect in many ways and even somewhat sloppy in execution, but it’s a genuine rebellion against giving up that nothing else can even come close to. They’ve grown exponentially as a band since its release, but everything since then (Suburbia I’ve Given You All and The Greatest Generation) has stemmed directly from this, written as a retrospective trilogy and references to the songs from this album spread throughout. The Upsides was the exact album needed for the beginning of a new decade that started in the slumps.

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 seen Wonder Years almost every time they’ve been near the city for the last few years. He is an obsessive maniac who hasn’t been able to go a week without listening to one of their albums since The Upsides reinspired his love for music half a decade ago.

Review: Four Year Strong – Go Down in History EP

 

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Three years. It’s been three long years since Four Year Strong have released any type of new music. Three years since their incredibly disappointing In Some Way, Shape, or Form album. I honestly thought the band might be dead in the water, or at the very least, about to put out one last mediocre farewell album.

What I didn’t expect is a completely reenergized band playing at their full potential. Go Down in History is not only arguably the finest release by the band thus far in their career, but a reminder to never, ever, count a band down and out.

Go Down in History is a powerhouse from start to finish. It’s loud, aggressive and addictive. While the EP has a theme of loud poppy hardcore, each song is distinct and remarkably memorable. This is a band playing at the height of their ability; if your neck isn’t sore by the end of the EP, you weren’t listening right.

The way that the guitars play against each other is as impressive as the riffs and breakdowns strewn throughout each song. The production is spot on, allowing each instrument to sound raw and crisp without feeling overdone. The result is a sound that feels like a mix of the metalcore edge of Chiodos and the pop punk of New Found Glory (“What’s in the Box?”).

Each song is technical and intricately written to make sure that each second is a surprise for the listener. Guitarists Alan Day and Dan O’Connor’s guitars are nothing short of incredible. While they are the true stars of the EP, they manage to not over-shine the other instruments. Joe Weiss’s bass plays an impressive backing to the songs, managing to smash against the angst of the guitars. Jake Massucco’s drumming is absolutely superb; he not only keeps time to the incredibly quick guitars, but keeps a manic beat that is constantly able to distract you from the incredible guitar work (“Go Down in History”).

Lyrically, the album maintains the theme that this frantic type of music should: fight back against the world. Whether it’s intentional or not, the EP seems to scream out at anyone who thought the band had lost their edge. The opening lines of “What’s in the Box?” say all that needs to be said of the theme, “It’s time to set the record straight, That hopefully you don’t just fade out. Doing what you have to to survive, I’ve been waiting far too long to give up all hope that my heart is strong enough to stay alive”. Each song is a rallying cry to stand against adversity and fight back from the edge.

Against the thrashing power chords of “Living Proof Of a Stubborn Youth”, Day and O’Connor sing, “Hold on to the day, Before it gets too far away, I’m losing faith in all my past mistakes, We’re living proof of a stubborn youth, and I’m waiting for the resurrection.” I could basically write down any lyric from any song and you’d get the gist, but each song is uniquely catchy and intricate. The gang vocals of “Go Down in History” deserve to have a room of jumping kids shouting them from the pit.

My biggest complaint is that this is just an EP and not a full album; I’d kill for just a few more songs. There is literally no variety on the EP, each song is ready to knock you down, if not by the crashing guitars, then by the shouting vocals. If this is your bag, you’re in for a real treat. If you were hoping for a bit of variance among the songs, too damn bad.

Go Down in History is a comeback among comebacks. Four Year Strong have literally never sounded better amongst the best songs of their discography. After not really thinking about the band for almost three years, I am begging for more. While it isn’t a complete album, it’s one of the best EP’s released in recent memory. Three years is a long time to wait for anything new, but Go Down in History was worth every single second.

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