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.

Review: All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

All Time Low are one of the few bands who have never seemed to lose steam. Though some of the more recent albums never quite lived up the magic of their original few, the release of new music from All Time Low has always felt like an event. Fortunately, Wake Up, Sunshine is an event. At the time of writing this, most of the world is in some form of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus, and it feels like the world itself is collapsing. Wake Up, Sunshine is not just a summer album, it is a spark of hope in the darkness that promises the best is yet to come by looking back on the past.

You can buy or stream Wake Up, Sunshine on Apple Music.

While many of the group’s recent albums experimented and leaned heavier into pop sensibilities, the results were often mixed. Where Wake Up, Sunshine succeeds is in marrying the punk buzz of Nothing Personal with the pop ambitions of Last Young Renegade. The guitars are heavier, the pop more polished and intelligently implemented, and anthemic choruses abound that rank among All Time Low’s best.

In many ways, this album feels like a sister album to Nothing Personal. Where that album was a battle anthem of youth looking towards the future, Wake Up, Sunshine looks back on that time of life through a mature lens. Instead of free-loving anthems like “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)”, songs like “Trouble Is” reflect on the deep connection and curse of love. Instead of declaring that this will be the year that they make it (“Weightless”), the band asks their audience if this music is still what they want to hear (“Some Kind of Disaster”).

Where the two albums definitely overlap is in their sense of sexiness, romance, swagger, and the instantly memorable choruses and hooks. 

More than any of their past work, Wake Up, Sunshine reflects on being thankful for making it so far. “Some Kind of Disaster” sets the theme for the record, essentially prepping the audience to go on the journey of connecting over an album again with stadium-rock guitars and rippling bass (“And it’s all my fault that I’m still the one you want. / So what are you after? / Some kind of disaster”). 

Other songs allude to the band’s growth in small ways. “Clumsy”, with glam guitar sizzling over a dance rhythm, addresses the realization of the band being too full of themselves in the past, with vocalist Gaskarth singing, “I got too high on myself / Too young and stupid to tell / I was bound to make a mess of things / Mixing fireworks and gasoline / Now I’m out to make you fall with me”. Meanwhile, “Basement Noise” softly reflects on memories of starting out as kids practicing in drummer Rian’s basement (“Cut our teeth chasing the weekend  / Capsize and fall in the deep end”).

Other topics are tackled to certain degrees as well. Title track “Wake Up, Sunshine” weaves a narrative of loving yourself against taking a stand against the internet echo chambers that many people find themselves lost in. “Everybody wants to be somebody / I just want you to see how good you are / You don’t have to lean on the crutch of a daydream / To see that you shine like a star.” 

And as always, there are the songs of romance. “Sleeping In”, arguably All Time Low’s best single since “Weightless”, is a passionate love song (“If I said ‘I want your body’, would you hold it against me?”) that builds itself up with verses filled with dance beats and choruses made for mosh pits. “Favorite Place”, a call and return of romance with The Band CAMINO, features a beautiful sparkling instrumentation and haunted backing vocals (“It’s the distance we don’t need / Yeah, you’re everything I love about the things I hate in me”). 

Meanwhile, although “January Gloom (Seasons, Pt. 1)” and “Summer Daze (Seasons, Pt. 2)” would otherwise sound like low points on an album this rich,  they take on more meaning in this time when people around the world are locked in their homes. “January Gloom” resonates so much with seasonal depression disorder at this time, when it’s just starting to get warm but we can’t go outside. Meanwhile, “Summer Daze” plays with dreamy lyrics of summer romance and teasing of just how wonderful it will be to get outside again (“Serendipity and summer showers / We soak it up like flowers / Growing through the concrete”).

Wake Up, Sunshine is one of the strongest albums of All Time Low’s career. It carves its own path by reflecting on the pop punk scene that raised the band, and leaning into the pop scene that has expanded their career in remarkable ways. It may get bonus points just for being something positive in a time of national crisis, but in the end, All Time Low’s best music has always been about the promise of looking forward. Wake Up, Sunshine is the right album released at the right time to help those that listen march through this crisis and feel hopeful on the other side.

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 just fed his cat an unreasonable amount of chicken. A few bits would have been fine, but this was best described as “a chunk”. That little creep shouldn’t be able to fit that much in a stomach that physically small. The obvious answer then, is that cats are monsters and where internal organs should be, there is only…. the void. SCIENCE!

Reflecting On: Fall Out Boy – Folie à Deux

Like the other albums I’ve reflected on this past year, I was eleven (and completely oblivious) when Fall Out Boy’s album Folie à Deux was released. Now I’m 21 and, while there are some who still feel like this wasn’t their best work, I’m of the other camp that considers this to be one of Fall Out Boy’s – and the scene’s – best releases.

You can buy or stream Folie à Deux on Apple Music.

One reason people didn’t like it when it came out was because it wasn’t the hard-hitting, pop-punk follow-up to 2007’s Infinity On High. This is where I feel that listening to it later gave me an advantage. I never liked Fall Out Boy until my best friend basically forced me to listen to them. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that “Sugar, We’re Going Down” was their song. I know, it’s looking bad for me.

Anyway, with that major confession out of the way, I’m a big Fall Out Boy fan now. I even almost gathered up the courage to use “(Coffee’s for Closers)” in a high school music theory class presentation on Baroque music because of how the strings are layered at the end of the track. I played it safe and used a piece by Handel, but I legitimately regret not using the FOB song.

I wasn’t a huge fan of MANIA, but I guess that puts me in the same position that everyone who didn’t like Folie was in when it released. Now that everyone’s gotten over thinking Folie is weird or whatever, it took its rightful place (where all underrated albums should go) at the top of the fanbase. Maybe MANIA will make it there at some point, but at that point I’ll be 31 and won’t care (Ed. note: Yes, you will).

When I finally saw Fall Out Boy live this past August, they opened with “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes”, which was surprising to me. Folie is an album that has a lot of emotional baggage attached to it. I would understand if the band didn’t want to play any tracks from it again, because I’m sure it’s potentially salt in the beginning-of-their-hiatus wound. From a fan standpoint, though, I was disappointed that the only other track they played from Folie was “I Don’t Care”. It’s definitely selfish of me to want them to play songs written in the darker portion of their history, but I feel such a fondness for and an attachment to the album that I wanted it to have better representation.

I believe the experimentation that happened in the production of the album really brought the band to where they are today. If in 2008 they have released another Cork Tree or Infinity On High, I doubt they woud’ve come back in 2013, or in 2015, or just this past January. Maybe the fact that Folie wasn’t as popular as their past work was a blessing in disguise. I think they needed that lull in the action. It allowed them to take some time off and could be (should be?) seen as a sigh of relief rather than just a bad album.

Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché that I ended up being such a fan of Fall Out Boy’s best album. I think it’s their best because of where they were personally. Tensions were running high between the members, totally burnt out from their last, also very good, album. I feel like they realized they were over before they ever officially announced it and thus gave Folie à Deux their all. The vocals are some of Patrick’s finest, the musicianship is innovative, the guest vocals could fill a red carpet. It really does bring together all of Fall Out Boy’s best qualities and amplifies them.

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.

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.

***

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.

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