Summer Soundtracks: Cobra Starship – ¡Viva la Cobra!

I’ve often said that autumn is my favorite season for music, with so many albums in my collection deeply associated with zip-up hoodies, campfire crackles, crunching leaves, and cigarette smoke inside gritty venues. Even so, every single summer, I find myself drawn to the albums that have defined the warmest of seasons in my life. Thus, I decided it was worth my time to start a series that highlights my favorite soundtracks to summer.

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Like most people, I first heard Cobra Starship while inside a movie theater. Also like most, I assumed that the “Snakes on a Plane” post-credits music video for “Bring It” was a one-off joke track featuring a stacked lineup of scene stars. By the time While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets dropped later in 2006, I remember a flicker of curiosity, but my prevailing reaction was one of indifference.

You can buy ¡Viva la Cobra! on Apple Music.

With that in mind, it’s hard for me to remember how I came to fall in love with ¡Viva la Cobra!, the first full band release from Cobra Starship. To my memory, there wasn’t a standout track that pulled me in. Nevertheless, the album ruled the summer of 2008, rarely leaving my car’s CD player. The highlight of that summer came while standing near the front of the main stage at the Vans Warped Tour as Gabe Saporta strutted back and forth and Elisa Schwartz rocked out on keytar.

I vividly remember smiling wide and singing along with those around me before losing my mind when William Beckett came on stage to perform “Bring It” with the group that day in Cincinnati. I remember buying a purple, hot pink, and neon green Cobra Starship shirt at Hot Topic and wearing it at least once a week throughout the summer. I remember driving around Louisville at dusk, playing tracks like “Angie” and “Kiss My Sass” on repeat.

Oftentimes, these nostalgic memories are shared en masse as songs of summer impact millions of music listeners, creating a collective moment. However, ¡Viva la Cobra! was far from a smash, as Saporta would experience a greater fame with hit singles on later albums. To be honest, none of my friends listened to Cobra Starship in 2008, making this random sophomore effort all the more personal.

The album itself is sultry and danceable, but is a tongue-in-cheek end-of-the-world “party” built atop somewhat satirical electro pop songs pumped full of scene cred. It’s the kind of album only a select group of listeners could truly “get,” making it even more niche and peculiar. Saporta wouldn’t lean fully into cranked up club pop until Hot Mess and Night Shades, realizing the opportunity that this groundwork had provided him. At least for 2008, Saporta was still winking at the camera with the same smirk he flashed before the screen went black during “Snakes on a Plane”.

During a time when a younger version of myself was enraptured with metalcore, regularly blasting the likes of Underoath and The Devil Wears Prada, ¡Viva la Cobra! was a reprieve from the breakdowns and raging guitars. How can you not roll down the windows and belt the chorus to “Smile for the Paparazzi” or bounce to the beat of “My Moves are White (White Hot, That Is)”? ¡Viva la Cobra! is a crash landing of pop bliss and emo influence that still stands as an oddly satisfying experience.

My interest in Cobra Starship was fleeting – I never owned another album before the group disbanded, and I return only to ¡Viva la Cobra! when the temperatures rise and I’m in the mood to move. It reminds me of a time when I was willing to privately expand my musical palate and begin to explore my love of pop music, even if I was still holding some resistance. Most of all, it reminds me carefree summer nights – the ones I still chase even as they become rarer and rarer.

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.

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Review: Panic! At the Disco – Pray For The Wicked

No one has had a career in show business quite like Panic! At the Disco. After being the biggest band in the country, they fell into near obscurity until Brendon Urie reforged the band’s direction to that of pop super stardom. Show business has always blossomed from P!AtD in extravagant measure. Pray For The Wicked is a loose concept album about the trials and tribulations of not only the music industry, but show business as a whole. In doing so, Brendon Urie has crafted the most thematic album of the band’s career and reinvigorated themselves amongst pop’s elite.

You can buy Pray for the Wicked on Apple Music.

Death of a Bachelor didn’t sit well with me. While the direction was enviable, there was something that didn’t feel genuine about it. However, Pray For The Wicked follows a similar sonic arc. Crisp percussion and powerful pop beats dominate the music. While the record is powered by synth, R&B elements, disco-style guitar and wicked bass lines, there is a shockingly adept orchestra that adds incredible life to the music. It’s a near perfect mixture that makes the music sound, in many ways, timeless across eras and genre.

Similarly, elements of almost every Panic! at the Disco album can be heard. Though it may not seem like as big of a leap stylistically as something like Pretty. Odd., Pray For The Wicked actually sounds like the culmination of everything the band has done up until this point. In many ways, the album reminded me of Taylor Swift’s 1989, when it finally dawns on you that not only did they make the full switch to pop superstar, but did it tremendously.

While the album is a massive pop banger, the musicianship is astonishingly good. No two songs sound alike, but each is ready to make you dance just as much with the beat as they are with the brass and string instruments soaring over the intense bass. But while these songs celebrate the glamour of modern music, they take an equally harsh dig at the industry as a whole. Themes of celebrating the party carry over from Death of a Bachelor, but they carry the weight of industry that sits just beneath the surface.

“(Fuck a) Silver Lining” starts by showing the frustration and obsession with writing a new hit, having an album go gold and settling for nothing less. Urie seems jubilant as he sings, “Fuck a silver lining / cause only gold is hot enough, hot enough / One more, one more”.

“Hey Look Ma, I Made It” is the most direct attack on the industry. Urie begins lamenting working for a label and the pressure of living up to fan expectation. “Cause I’m a hooker selling songs / And my pimp’s a record label…..Are you ready for the sequel? / Ain’t ready for the latest? / In the garden of evil / I’m gonna be the greatest”. Then, as soon as the severely upbeat chorus kicks in, Urie bellows, “Hey look ma, I made it / Everything’s coming up aces, aces / And if it’s a dream, don’t wake me”.

Tried and true staples still exist, such as second shots at ill-fated relationships (“The Overpass”), flamboyant parties reeking of youth and liquor (“Roaring 20’s”) and the longing for simpler times that comes with age (“Old Fashioned”).

However, every song ties back to the glamour and heartbreak of show business. Nothing shows it more, or ties it all together, quite like the closing ballad, “Dying in LA”. The song describes both the dreams of up-and-comers and the sacrifice of a normal life anyone hoping for success must endure. There is a heartbreak as Urie finds his inner Regina Spektor and croons, “Every face along the boulevard / Is a dreamer just like you / You looked at death in a tarot card / And you saw what you had to do”.

Pray For The Wicked is arguably the most cohesive album Panic! At The Disco have released. The “emo” angst has been replaced with the brutal truth of finding success. Where other bands would sing about following your dreams of punk rock, Urie chooses instead to forge a warning for the prices that have to be paid to be more than a one hit wonder. In the end, that could be the most panicky thing Panic! At the Disco has ever done.

4/5

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 has spent over half of this writing session shoving the cat away from his glass of water. What a cretin.

Review: Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows

After the release of Dusk and Summer 12 years ago, Dashboard Confessional had an identity crisis. They couldn’t seem to decide whether to commit to pop rock or strip back entirely to the acoustic sound that made Chris Carrabba famous. Alter the Ending attempted to quell this by releasing a version of each. In the nine years since that last album, Dashboard’s audience has grown up, and so has he.

You can buy Crooked Shadows on iTunes.

Crooked Shadows is the first Dashboard album since A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar that finds a solid footing between songwriting styles. Aggressively romantic, Carrabba found a way to embellish his writing to flow organically between rock, Lorde-esque pop and acoustic ballads. Crooked Shadows organically forges new ground as much as it sounds like a ‘best of’ collection.

It would be easy for the variety of style on Crooked Shadows to feel messy, but the album is extremely cohesive. An anthemic rock song like “We Fight” can sit beside the finger snaps and digital drums of “Belong” without sounding out of place. It is refreshing to hear each song try something new without retreading the footsteps of another song, or even past albums. That’s not to say that Crooked Shadows doesn’t sound like a Dashboard Confessional album. You can pick up the essence of every era of Dashboard’s history throughout the album if you’re listening.

The guitars of “We Fight” could be pulled from Dusk & Summer. Ending song, “Just What To Say” seems like it was left off of The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. However, songs like “Belong” sound remarkably different from Dashboard’s past. Distinctly modern pop, it is driven by electronic drums, finger snaps, and Carrabba’s cracked vocals. It doesn’t sound out of place on the album, but it is a marked difference in songwriting.

This level of pop infusion follows through to “Crooked Shadows”. More traditional in nature, the pop elements mix with guitars to create a sound that is uniquely what a Dashboard Confessional song in 2018 should sound like. It is the line between today’s radio pop and Carrabba’s MTV rock anthems.

Carrabba’s voice has always been one of his most powerful instruments, and is in full force yet again. Older and matured, he returns with the slight gravel of age, giving his deeper songs an impact that an 18 year old could never muster (“We Fight”). Alternatively, his crisp high notes are just as powerful as ever (“About Us”), and the signature emo crooning seems ageless (“Just What To Say”).

Crooked Shadows is a record brimming with love songs and the will to forge ahead. “We Fight” is a song of encouragement for anyone scared to dive forward into their dreams. “Heart Beat Here” is Carrabba’s most romantic song since “Hands Down”. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, he sings to his wife, “I wear my ring to know what’s at stake / And when the days work at their own pace, you remain my time and place”.

“Open My Eyes” finds the doubt creeping in. However, the song still finds a way to push back and look for hope, even as Chris sings, “I would stare at myself in the mirror if I thought I had any answers / Hell, finding my way just by failure / Oh, so far, we can see clear”.

Crooked Shadows is a brilliant return to form for Dashboard Confessional after taking nearly a decade between albums. At only nine songs long, it takes its time with a confidence that the last two albums lacked. Whichever era of Dashboard you prefer, there is a song for you, and a few that will feel entirely new. It’s hard to say whether Crooked Shadows will be anyone’s favorite album from the band, but it is sure to be remembered for as one of their most unique.

4/5

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 listened to Crooked Shadows while wading through a foot of snow to the train. Yaaaaaay, February!

Vinyl Spotlight: Paramore – After Laughter

Every so often, our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, takes the time to talk about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality. Here’s his latest installment.

I collect and play vinyl year round, but there’s something about the fall season that just makes records sound better. Thus, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite albums from this spring is quickly becoming an autumn staple on my turntable.

Paramore’s After Laughter was a triumphant return for the band and a perfect pivot to syrupy synthpop. While quickly being lauded as one of 2017’s best albums upon its spring release, fans of the band had to wait to hear the record on vinyl as pre-orders weren’t available until mid-summer. However, just as with the four years between the band’s self-titled and After Laughter, the vinyl release was worth the wait.

Packaging and Presentation

Paramore helped soothe the wait for After Laughter vinyl by offering multiple variants for fans to choose from, including 1,000 records on teal marble, 2,000 on orange and white available only at Urban Outfitters, 4,000 on pink marble, and another 10,000 on black and white marble available at retail stores. Because of its consistency with the album art, I chose the pink variant and was pleasantly surprised by its brightness upon opening the record.

The gatefold packaging features animated artwork of the trio that matches the scattered shapes and colors of the album cover. However, there isn’t much to look at aside from an album art-themed sleeve to hold the record itself. After Laughter certainly stands out from the rest of the band’s catalogue in terms of artwork and matches the sound of the album, but this release could have included a bit more inside.

Sound and Quality

Album art aside, After Laughter is a pleasure to listen to on wax. I was reminded of Chvrches’ 2015 release Every Open Eye with its rich, layered synthesizers and deep bass lines. Both of these pressings are great examples of what can be accomplished on non-180 gram pressings. After Laughter sounds clean and crisp in this format.

I decided to first spin the record with several friends in attendance at our house, all of whom enjoyed the album and noted how smooth the band sounded. Only one track, the Aaron Weiss-led “No Friend”, garnered somewhat negative feedback. Already an odd fit on the album, Weiss’ vocals feel even more buried on this vinyl release, creating a disjointed feel before the album’s somber closing track, “Tell Me How”.

Still, it’s hard to complain about having one of the year’s best albums finally on vinyl. After Laughter is a beautiful, painful and complex listen and is best heard in full, making this a great format for the experience. If you’re interested in snagging a vinyl copy of your own, the black and white marble variant is still available through the band’s website.

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.

Reflecting On: Paramore – Riot!

I was sitting in my first apartment at a TV tray, which served as a desk for my old, rickety laptop, when I first heard “Misery Business” over a pair of shitty $10 headphones. Although far from an audiophile’s dream scenario for such a moment, I immediately understood its importance. I can’t remember if anyone else was in the room, but I vividly remember saying aloud, “Paramore is about to be the biggest band on the planet.”

I bought Paramore’s debut album All We Know is Falling because of the recommendation attached to the shrink wrap of the CD’s jewel case. Copeland vocalist Aaron Marsh made a similar proclamation on that sticker to the one I would make two years later in my apartment, and it was enough to provoke an unexpected purchase. I ended up loving that album with its raw production and youthful energy. Even then, with all of the apparent promise attached to the band, it was hard to foresee what would come next.

You can buy Riot! on iTunes.

A decade later, I’m not 100% certain that Riot! is Paramore’s greatest achievement, but I won’t argue with anyone who feels that way. It’s undeniably one of the most explosive and important albums to come from the scene and the defining example of the sound of an era.

I drove an hour and a half from Enid, Oklahoma, to Oklahoma City on the day of Riot!’s release to purchase the CD at a Hot Topic and enjoy the album from front to back on the drive home. I remember being immediately struck by David Bendeth’s production, which had literally taken the band to a whole new level. I also remember being surprised at the diversity of sound throughout the record’s 11 tracks. “Misery Business” will forever be attached to Riot!’s success, but this album is still a goldmine of hits.

Nevertheless, it was that first single that changed everything. It was hard to go anywhere in the summer of 2007 without hearing that unforgettable opening riff or Hayley Williams’ chorus of, “Woah! I never meant to brag”. Add in an unforgettable music video, striking bright colors attached to the album’s marketing, and the unrivaled energy of the band’s live performance, and Paramore had concocted the perfect cocktail for success. Riot! would move one million copies within a year before eventually going double platinum.

Just a few months prior, Fall Out Boy had appeared to set the standard for scene bands on the big stage with the release of Infinity on High, but were suddenly rivaled in the most unexpected of ways by a band that would outlast the rest of their competition. One of the things that makes Riot! so unique a decade later is that the band has actually gotten much better since the release of its signature album. Good luck naming an active band from that era that can make the same claim.

Yet for all of the excitement surrounding Riot!’s success and, sadly, the ensuing inter-band drama that would become intertwined with Paramore’s narrative, it’s important to acknowledge the uphill battle that Paramore, and more importantly, Hayley Williams, have climbed amidst their continued success.

In a scene that has consistently been plagued with persistent sexism and misogyny, it’s difficult to look back and not grimace at some of the painful conversations surrounding Paramore in 2007. Still, Williams persevered and undoubtedly impacted the community around her in ways that are still blooming. There’s much more work to be done, but the call for elevating women’s voices in the scene continues to rise, often led by Williams herself.

Riot! is not only a hallmark album for the 2000s pop punk scene, it’s a testament to a voice that refused to be ignored. Only 18 years old at the time of the album’s release, Williams commanded our attention with confidence and drive well beyond her years.

I love Riot!. I still own and wear the t-shirt I bought along with the CD that day back in 2007 and remember my initial excitement every time I put the album on. However, I cannot express how delighted I am that it was only the beginning of what was to come – the music and the progress.

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.

Reflecting On: The Academy Is… – Santi

It’s been 10 years and I’m still not completely sure how to use the word “Santi” in a sentence. Employing an inside joke from your high school days as the title of your sophomore release and potential mainstream breakthrough is admittedly curious, but The Academy Is always seemed to have an affinity for doing things their own way.

Two years before Santi’s release, the Chicago rock act had their breakthrough on Fueled by Ramen with Almost Here – a scene classic that helped define an era of snide emo pop, even as the album itself remained a relatively underground gem. The ensuing years would see a cast of the band’s label mates rise to pop radio stardom (Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, Gym Class Heroes) while The Academy Is seemingly remained a buzz band on the brink.

You can buy Santi on iTunes.

Enter Santi – an album that seemed primed for success. With a stellar debut under their belt, one of the most exciting young frontmen in music behind the mic, and the benefit of rising Fueled by Ramen stock in their pocket, The Academy Is tabbed the legendary Butch Walker to produce the record. The resulting effort remains the band’s most divisive album to date, but is arguably their best.

I still remember purchasing Santi on the day of its release at a Hasting’s book store in Enid, Oklahoma. As a huge fan of Almost Here and a firm believer that the band was destined for stardom, I was giddy to see the CD’s front and center placement when I walked into the store. I also remember those subsequent first listens as I tried to process what I was hearing. Despite spinning the album for weeks on end, I couldn’t decide if I actually liked it.

Everything about Santi (aside from its peculiar title) seemed primed for a breakthrough. The album’s cover, featuring the band’s name in flashy neon lights. The Pete Wentz cameo in the band’s video for first single “We’ve Got a Big Mess on Our Hands” (which was later referenced in a Fall Out Boy video). A prime slot on the summer’s premier Honda Civic Tour. William Beckett’s cocky swagger blossoming even further, placing ruminations on impending fame to tape: “It was a big bang and a bright white light from nowhere / It turned my coach class window to a first class seat on the evening news on NBC”.

Despite all of the signs, Santi never quite took off. True to the band’s free and unconventional tendencies, the album was a complete departure from their debut. Gone were the pop punk leanings and snappy production of Almost Here, replaced by gritty guitars and stark changes of pace that gave Santi a garage or indie rock type feel. As the scene around the band began embracing the successful sheen of pop radio, Santi may have been ahead of its time, simply by avoiding an obvious approach.

If you were to dare administer criticism in the direction of Almost Here, you might draw attention to its lack of variety. That debut, for all of its worthy praise, avoided diversity at all costs, choosing to play to one very commendable strength. Santi, on the other hand, is so full of range that it’s hard to pin the album down to one particular genre.

While rich melody is present throughout, its presentation changes from track to track. Here you’ll find homages to classic rock (“Bulls in Brooklyn”), dance-y post-punk (“Same Blood”), mid-90s alt rock (“You Might Have Noticed”) and even a gentle ballad (“Everything We Had”). A signature Butch Walker underbelly of raw guitars serves as Santi’s refrain, even as the songs themselves vary wildly.

It is my firm belief that there is not a bad song on Santi. In fact, many of the album’s tracks would quietly prove to be the best work The Academy Is produced during their eight year run. Unfortunately, a lack of cohesiveness accompanied by a hard right turn from the sound that put the band on the map made Santi a tough pill to swallow for most fans, even though most seemed to have softened on the record over the course of the past decade.

The Academy Is released three very different albums during their short existence, each showcasing the kind of range that many bands could only dream of. In the case of The Academy Is, this penchant for variety potentially hamstrung the band from cashing in on a definitive sound that could have propelled them to greater heights. Instead, they remain mysterious legends, respected for their refusal to follow the crowd. If I had to make a guess, the band would likely say that they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Honestly, I don’t think I would either. On a warm, sunny summer day, Almost Here can be found in regular rotation on my stereo – the perfect background music for the season. But when I want to remember how great of a band The Academy Is truly was and ponder on what could have been, I reach for Santi.

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.

Will The Academy Is… Reunite for “Santi” Anniversary Tour?

the-academy-is-santi

Last week, The Academy Is… updated their Facebook profile photo with a promo shot from the Santi album cycle. Seeing as how the album turns 10 years old in April, the subtle update raises some big questions about what lies ahead.

Seeing as how the emo pop darlings from Chicago reunited two years ago for a run of dates in support of Almost Here, another round of anniversary dates wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility. In the decade since its release, the band’s sophomore effort has become seemingly more lauded than it was upon its release.

Fresh off the buzz of their debut, The Academy Is… hoped to capitalize on the momentum that seemed to be carrying scene bands into the mainstream in bulk. In many ways, Santi was truly a more well-rounded and mature effort than Almost Here, but failed to capture the same spark that their debut did in many fans’ eyes.

Now, 10 years removed from that release, tracks like “Same Blood”, “Seed” and “Bulls in Brooklyn” sound full of life and even outshine the album’s original singles. Based on the turnout from 2015’s mini-reunion, it seems undeniable that a similar run for Santi would be happily welcomed. Here’s hoping for an announcement soon.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Panic! At the Disco – Death of a Bachelor

panic-at-the-disco-2015

Did you like Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die? Go listen to Death of a Bachelor – you’re going to love it.

Now, let’s begin.

Panic! At the Disco is an institution, similar to bands like Weezer. They immediately made a lasting impact on the scene that launched them to fame and has kept them there for a decade, giving the band the freedom to experiment with each album in a way that most bands would kill for. Because of this, their new releases can cause waves in the music scene and rifts among fans, arguing which era of their career was when the band hit their peak.

Regardless of the outcome, each album not only spawns a new wave of fans and an ever expanding discography, it also allows Panic! At the Disco to cover a larger swath of genres while maintaining the spirit of the band intact. The more I listen to Death of a Bachelor, the less and less I feel Panic! in the music, and the more I feel Brendon Urie running obnoxiously rampant. For the first time, he’s not leading the charge in pop music, he’s playing catch up.

Musically, and in terms of vocal ability, the album is fantastic. While Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! felt off kilter due to the overpowering influx of synth pop  instrumentation, Death of a Bachelor brings back some of the  vaudevillian instrumentation to the dance beats (“Crazy=Genius”). It makes for some great sounds, and feels like a genuine callback to, arguably Panic’s most famous album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. Depending on your taste, the album might feel overproduced. The guitars tend to take a back seat to percussion, intricately woven bass and flaring trumpets.

Urie’s vocal abilities are at full capacity and the album includes some of the best singing of his career. His high notes are higher, his ability to find a charming melody are at their zenith, and he’s added the gentle croons of the big band era (“Golden Days”). His vocal abilities are beyond amazing and officially put him par as dueling Patrick Stump as the best male vocalist in pop from our scene.

The comparison to Stump isn’t a coincidence. The only real detriment to the music itself is that it sounds like Urie is chasing the new version of Fall Out Boy. The pop has completely overpowered the pop rock. At times, it does tend to feel that Urie tried to re-imagine American Beauty/ American Psycho with trumpets. THIS ISN’T A BAD THING. It’s an incredible sound, and has some utterly hypnotic beats (“Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time”, “Crazy=Genius”).

The thing that ruins this album is the lyricism. Simply put, the lyrics are garbage. The entire album is a drunken nightmare, line by line. Nearly every song refers to alcohol multiple times or references a variety of drinks (champagne, wine, etc.) over and over and over. This isn’t Panic! At the Disco. It’s early Kesha. “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” features the line, “I told you time and time again / I’m not as think as you drunk I am / And we all fall down when the sun came up”. Ugh.

When the band first erupted in 2005, what drew people to them was the witty lyricism, dark humor, and the cocky swagger of Fueled by Ramen perfected to an art.  Even after the departure of Ryan Ross, Brendon Urie proved himself just as capable, if not more so, as a lyricist. He was able to tell a story and pack his songs with passion and flare. This is not that Brendon Urie.

Each song has references to lavish Hollywood style gluttony “sycophants on velvet sofas / Lavish mansions, vintage wine / I’m so much more than royal” (“Emperor’s New Clothes”), or “Swimming pools under desert skies / Drinking white wine in the blushing light, just another LA devotee” (“LA Devotee”).

I don’t expect an artist to trace the same tropes album to album, or to forego exploration into new topics. I love pop songs. But this collection is overbearing and becomes a burdensome as the album progresses. It makes getting to some of the less booze-inspired songs like “Golden Days” and “House of Memories” near the end of the album a chore. It might feel like a different story if the album was inspired by blasting through a booze-fueled fury and coming to terms with the consequences, or just SOMETHING of slightly more substance. Unfortunately, the only song to deal with anything like this is the closing song, “Impossible Year”, which includes Sinatra-style crooning a bit flatter than that found in “Death of a Bachelor”, with yet another reference to gin.

Believe it or not, I like Death of a Bachelor. I believe that this will be an album that I will come back to in a year and fall in love with more than I do now, and the fact that Death of a Bachelor was just announced as the band’s first Number 1 on the Billboard 200 proves that I am most likely in the minority (Ed. Note: He’s not). I’ve truly loved each iteration of Panic! At the Disco for a decade, but Death of a Bachelor really stepped on my respect for Urie’s writing prowess.

If you’re able to overlook the lyricism and maddening amounts of alcohol references, Death of a Bachelor is a fun, highly energetic “near-concept” album about a partier who has gone too far, gotten too caught up, and ends trying to figure out how he got through it at the last second during a raging hangover. If not, although this album has some true highlights and true musicianship at the highest level, it can feel like wasted potential and just another pop record about nothing.

3/5

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 will eventually enjoy this album and feel like an ass. Yay!

Reflecting On: Fall Out Boy – From Under The Cork Tree

fall_out_boy_2005

From Under the Cork Tree was an album that slipped under my nose entirely when it first came out. I was too busy gushing over New Found Glory and Saves the Day to notice Fall Out Boy, a band that seemed to rise out of nowhere, thanks to a swanky music video for “Sugar We’re Goin Down” that featured a boy with buck antlers winning the heart of a young lass.

That video was everywhere. The song dominated the airwaves of radio and television alike in the summer of 2005, the likes of which we haven’t seen since. From Under The Cork tree is important, and not only for being the album that gave rise to arguably the biggest rock and roll megastars of their generation. It signaled a new era of pop punk unlike any that had come before it, as well as the death of the genre to mainstream media.

Fall Out Boy was already a big name to those paying attention at the release of the album, but they were staples as soon as “Sugar We’re Goin Down” landed. The album is a lesson in swagger that the genre had never really seen before. Pop punk is grounded in songs about girls, but few brought the confidence and sexiness to the genre like Pete Wentz.

“Of All the Gin Joints In All the World” has Patrick Stump singing, “Turn off the lights and turn off the shyness / Cause all of our moves make up for the silence / And oh, the way your makeup stains my pillowcase / Like I’ll never be the same”. In the same breath, the instant meta-introspection kicks in as he sings, “You only hold me up like this / Cause you don’t know who I really am”, questioning the value of romance when fame overshadows everything else.

The album was a versatile beast, sounding deeper and more thoughtful than anything else competing for attention. It tackled every convention; the standard pop song (“A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More “Touch Me””), the rocker (“Champagne For My Real Friends, Real Pain For My Sham Friends”) and the obligatory acoustic ballad.

For a song that slows the record down, “I’ve Got A Dark Alley And A Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)” touches a critical spot of insecurity for anyone just coming to terms with themselves as Stump sings, “We’re the kids who feel like dead ends / And I want to be known for my hits, not just my misses / I took a shot and didn’t even come close / At trust and love and hope / And the poets are just kids who didn’t make it / And never had it at all”.

From Under The Cork Tree is a rare exception in pop punk. All too often, great albums fall under the radar and fail to get the credit they deserve for forging a new path. Not only did this album get recognized as a game changer, it launched Fall Out Boy’s career to one of the biggest acts on the planet and it changed the genre as a whole.

Pop punk faded from mainstream music shortly after this album released, whether by the taste of the public or the fact that bands tried to imitate them almost immediately, to varying results. Pop punk sank back to the underground genre it had been before Blink-182 put it in the public’s eye.

One positive effect was that bands wanting that kind of success had to try harder. Pete Wentz’s own Decaydance record label (a part of powerhouse Fueled By Ramen) gained traction after the album. For a solid two to three years, the best bands in the business (Panic! At the Disco, Cobra Starship, Gym Class Heroes and The Academy Is…, each of which made their own significant splashes on the scene) were either signed to Decaydance or had some type of relationship to FOB.

One of the more remarkable aspects of From Under The Cork Tree is just how different it sounds from the FOB of today. Pop punk was used as a spring board to launch the band into a direction of intense, dark pop music unlike anything else out there. This record helped redefine a genre already rich in identity, but after returning from hiatus two years ago, the band have constantly redefined themselves. From Under The Cork Tree started a long trend of fans arguing which era and album from FOB’s career is the best for the last ten years. It’s an evolution, and a successful one, that no one knew could be possible.

From Under The Cork Tree ushered in the modern era of pop punk, and is more or less the foundation that a sizable amount of up and coming bands base themselves on, even now. Ten years later, we’re still feeling the ripple effects of its initial release. Whether you love or hate Fall Out Boy, there’s no denying that this one album single-handedly changed an entire genre of music.

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 would like to hug Patrick Stump for an uncomfortable amount of time.

Reflecting on: The Academy Is… – Almost Here

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

You could quite easily call 2005 the year of Fueled by Ramen. Although the indie label was no stranger to success stories (see: Jimmy Eat World), the mid-aughts served as a gold mine. In 2005, Fueled by Ramen saw the meteoric rise of Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco, along with breakthrough records for soon-to-be-stars Gym Class Heroes and Paramore.

For all of the fame and platinum albums garnered by the aforementioned acts, there were a few Fueled by Ramen bands that came ever-so-close to the limelight, only to watch it fade away. Perhaps no band in the label’s history encapsulates “what could have been” better than The Academy Is….

Hailing from Chicago, just like their contemporaries in Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is… hit the scene with their debut album Almost Here after stirring some buzz with an eponymous EP one year prior. Almost Here is a non-stop whirlwind of glossy emo pop that could easily stand alongside any release this scene has witnessed. Not only was the album a near-perfect debut, it was also the best album the band would release during their startlingly brief career.

But before we get to the bad news, let’s just take a few moments and remember why Almost Here was so damn good. As a matter of fact, go ahead and stop reading and put the record on. I’ll wait. The album clocks in just over a half hour and is driven non-stop by the sleek guitars of A.J. LaTrace and Mike Carden. James Paul Wisner handled the production duties for Almost Here, and you can feel his signature polish on every track.

Michael DelPrincipe (drums) and Adam Siska (bass) round out the instrumentals, and each member plays a key role. No instrument overshadows another and each gets their chance to shine. It’s a credit to Wisner, per usual, that the mix feels so clean and full of life. Almost Here is a rockin’ record, but it’s impossible to deny how easy these songs go down.

For as talented as every member of this band proved to be on this debut, the album, and truly, The Academy Is… itself, belonged to William Beckett. It’s fully possible that no frontman in this scene has ever possessed as much swagger as Beckett does on Almost Here. His smooth, confident delivery seethes from every corner of the record. Alex Davies of BBC once described Beckett as a cross between Adam Lazzara and Prince – and he wasn’t wrong.

When Beckett opens the album with the gently delivered lines of, “Attention, attention / May I have all your eyes and ears to the front of the room / If only, if only for one second” we’re all put on notice. What follows is a band making the most of every opportunity. Every chorus, every breakdown, every swirling climax is handled with care. These are songs you can replay relentlessly, but Beckett’s knack for constructing a clever line makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

His lyrics meander from lost love to lasting friendships to a steadfast belief that he’s on the verge. When he snarls the lines of, “Oh Mr. Magazine, I never wrote one single thing for you / And your so-called music scene / You don’t mean a thing to me” on “Black Mamba”, you can hear his defiant confidence in every word. Beckett’s turn of phrase just adds to his repertoire. Consider “Slow Down”, which finds the band delivering one of the most dance-able instrumental bridges in recent memory, only to be eclipsed by Beckett, who effortlessly drops his legendary croon of, “I’m not saying that I’m not breaking some hearts tonight, girl”.

In a decade defined by razor-sharp tongues lashing against heartless former lovers, Beckett delivered a catalogue of one-liners on just his debut. On “Skeptics and True Believers” he opens with, “Don’t be so scared, we will not lead / You on like you’ve been doing for weeks” followed later by, “Someone, somewhere said some things that may have sparked some sympathy / But don’t believe, don’t believe a word you’ve heard”.

For all of its momentary guile, Almost Here is a surprisingly uplifting and forward-looking record. The album is loaded with singles, from the peppy “Checkmarks” to the high-flying “Season”. For every biting remark, there’s a complimentary brush of the shoulder and encouragement to carry on. “Hold your head high, heavy heart”, Beckett sings on “The Phrase That Pays”. The album comes to a close with his triumphant repeated declaration of, “Our time is almost, our time is almost here!”

Despite its artistic successes, Almost Here flew largely under the radar, overshadowed by the band’s contemporaries. Though the band would go on to receive moderate MTV rotation and meager radio play in following years, their follow-ups (Santi and Fast Times at Barrington High) failed to capture the spark of their debut. Sadly, the band always appeared a step or two behind their label mates. Their disbandment in 2011 after a few years of relative inactivity seemed depressingly unsurprising.

In hindsight, Almost Here is more focused than From Under the Cork Tree and more technically sound than A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It helped pave the way for bands like Mayday Parade and All Time Low. After 10 years, it still stands as one of the greatest and most original emo/pop punk records to release amidst a decade of lookalikes. Even if The Academy Is… failed to burn out bright, there’s no denying that they captured the most thrilling kind of lightning in a bottle in 2005. And we’re all the better for it.

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.