Review: Bleachers – Gone Now

There is a sharp juxtaposition between the title of Bleachers’ second full-length album Gone Now and its content. In fact, the lyrics across the album’s 12 tracks seem to long for things left behind – safety, familiarity, memories – before slowly drawing us back home.

When Jack Antonoff released Strange Desire under the name Bleachers in 2014, it felt full of promise as a potential side project with legs. The success of that debut and the subsequent dissolving of fun. has changed the narrative completely. During the past three years, Antonoff has become a household name thanks partly to his role as hit songwriter for the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and more.

You can buy Gone Now on iTunes.

This rapid turn of events helped elevate Gone Now to one of the year’s most anticipated releases. Did Antonoff deliver? Yes, but the reasons why are complicated. Gone Now further realizes the true pop potential of Bleachers, but the resulting collection of songs fire in such different directions that it’s hard to keep up.

Gone Now certainly takes its share of opportunities to relish in Antonoff’s own brand of synthpop, especially on early singles like “Don’t Take the Money” and “Hate That You Know Me”, but it refuses to follow a single thread. “Everybody Loves Somebody” features big drums and horns, sounding like it could have belonged to fun.’s follow up to Some Nights. Likewise, you can almost hear Nate Ruess’ voice atop the folksy banjo on “I’m Ready to Move On”, while the 80s-inspired powerpop banger “Let’s Get Married” sparkles with Hot A/C glee.

If it weren’t for Antonoff’s clever songwriting, Gone Now could easily have flown off the rails in any number of directions. Instead, consistent themes and lyrics are woven throughout each of the tracks to help provide focus, with frequent hellos and goodbyes to “upstairs neighbors” and “the kids downstairs”. It’s expert storytelling as Antonoff shakes away his pop stardom in an effort to find balance. “Hey, I know I was lost, but I miss those days” he tells us in one of many moments that acknowledge the lure of the past he wishes to leave behind.

It’s clear that Antonoff had every intention of weaving Gone Now in just this manner, even if it leaves some listeners troubled that he couldn’t just pick a sound and stick to it. Perhaps that’s part of the album’s brilliance in an age of streaming. Want to digest the story in one stream of thought? Want to cherry pick tracks to queue up as your mood dictates? The choice is yours, and you really can’t go wrong.

On Bleachers’ upcoming tour in support of the album, fans will have the opportunity to walk through Antonoff’s childhood bedroom, which is traveling along to provide a glimpse into the space that inspired a young Jack. It’s another purposefully sharp inverse image of his struggle, but it speaks to a greater truth. No matter where our lives take us, we can always find home along the way.

Antonoff’s skill and transparency give him the all-too-rare opportunity to be a likable pop star, even if he can’t seem to decide if that’s what he really wants. Either way, Gone Now will provide plenty to chew on and dance to as the summer passes through, no matter which direction you’re traveling.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Nate Ruess – Grand Romantic

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Going solo ain’t easy, even if it makes total sense.

As much as we all wanted that new fun. record, it became increasingly clear that we’re as far away from it as ever. If Nate Ruess’ constant pop radio co-writing and guest vocalist adventures weren’t evidence enough, the astonishing success of Jack Antonoff’s indie sensation Bleachers made it all too clear. Fun. may be a cash cow, but there’s currently too much at stake for the individual members’ rising stock.

I’ll admit that I went into Ruess’ solo debut Grand Romantic with a fair amount of skepticism. What does a solo record even look like for an indie rock martyr turned pop star? The picture is blurry at first, but with repeated spins, Grand Romantic turns into a surprisingly delightful, introspective tale.

Built on a foundation of tracks originally meant for that elusive fun. release, and constructed alongside Some Nights producer Jeff Bhasker, Grand Romantic opens with the grand introduction we’d expect, complete with chorus and bells. That display leads directly into “AhHa” – a track so reminiscent of “Some Nights” that it even includes a haunting refrain from the original that spills into the triumphant chorus of, “Oh lord, I feel alive / I’ve gone and saved my soul”.

This hollow glance at the past preceding a triumphant step forward resounds on nearly every level, with Ruess using every inch of his vocal range to power the anthem along. It’s a statement, to be sure, but it’s far from tired. Lead single “Nothing Without Love” follows suit with its hopeful cry, leaving the dark imagery of Some Nights in the rearview mirror.

Before you can label Grand Romantic as the same devil in a new dress, it flips on its head, swaying back and forth between bouncy indie pop and calm piano ballads; joyful noise and painful reflection. Ruess even throws in a few new tricks for good measure, to varying results.

“What This World Is Coming To” is a folk-inspired duet with Beck that is instantly irresistible. Their harmonized chorus of “So let’s get high here in the moonlight / Even the stars go right over our head / I think I’m gonna shine here in the afterlife / Leaving the fight for peace of mind instead” is an instant highlight of 2015. “Moment” is a deep and personal 80s inspired ballad, a sincere glimpse inside a private journal.

On the flip side, “Great Big Storm” has potential as an uplifting, foot stomping track, but falls flat during its repetitive chorus. “Harsh Light” sounds like a Some Nights holdover that doesn’t quite have the same spark. However, to both Ruess and Bhasker’s credit, even songs that fail to fly high don’t sound out of place on Grand Romantic, and the album flows along purposefully.

Even when Ruess takes a dark detour on the painful “It Only Gets Much Worse”, he carries along his sonic sensibilities that keep the track from weighing things down. A tinkling piano and chirping strings carry him even as he sings, “I didn’t mean to let you go / I didn’t mean to bruise but I lost control”. Things come full circle when the album closes with the string-infused and optimistic “Brightside”.

What begins as a familiar friend becomes an animal all its own – Grand Romantic captures Nate Ruess at his most vulnerable, and perhaps his most daring. It may not fill the void left by the disappearance of fun., but Ruess doesn’t seem all that concerned. He shouldn’t be. He and Antonoff have both capitalized on opportunity and appear content to explore new ground while inviting us all along for the ride.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Nate Ruess Releases New Video for “Nothing Without Love”

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While we may not be getting a new fun. record in 2015, there’s still some great music in store from the members of the indie pop trio. Today, lead singer Nate Ruess released his new single, titled “Nothing Without Love”, from his upcoming full length solo record, due out this summer. You can watch the video for “Nothing Without Love” below:

What do you think of the new tune? Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

fun. Post Band Update

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Just a matter of weeks after we listed a new record from fun. on our Most Anticipated Music of 2015 list, the band has released a statement regarding their current status and future. While it appears that the band is still together, it doesn’t seem like there are any plans in place to move forward with a new album any time soon. Rats. You can read the full statement from the band below:

A lot of you have been asking us for an update on when to expect new music from fun. As you know, we like to give you guys news and updates when they are ready, but there has been a lot of recent chatter and we hear you and wanted to speak to you directly to explain a few things.
so here goes-
first and foremost to answer the question that has been raised most often: fun is not breaking up.
fun was founded by the 3 of us at a time when we were coming out of our own bands. one thing that has always been so special about fun is that we exist as 3 individuals in music who come together to do something collaborative. we make fun records when we are super inspired to do so. currently nate is working on his first solo album, andrew is scoring films and jack is on tour and working on bleachers music. the 3 of us have always followed inspiration wherever it leads us. sometimes that inspiration leads to fun music, sometimes it leads to musical endeavors outside of fun. we see all of it as part of the ecosystem that makes fun, fun.
you guys are EVERYTHING to us. honestly. We want to treat YOU GUYS (our amazing fan base) with the respect you deserve; and that is by making music when we are fully ready to make it and never giving you guys anything that is less than 100%. “Some Nights” was a successful album and it would have been very easy for us to jump back in the studio and capitalize on our momentum. but making records and touring when its “good for business” means nothing to us. we make records and tour when we are inspired to do so. that is the very reason why we have built such a special connection with all of you. that is how we can be the most honest to the people who support our music.
It’s also important for you guys to know that the 3 of us are very involved and supportive of all these different projects going on within the fun family at the moment. that fact that our tiny club can produce so many different kinds of music together and as individuals is very special to us.
as always, we’ll keep you guys updated!
all our love
nate, jack and andrew

Are you looking forward to Nate’s solo record, or would you prefer more music from fun.? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2015: #9 The Return of fun.

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It’s been nearly three years since indie pop act fun. have released any new music. That’s not to say that the trio haven’t been busy – far from it, in fact.

Lead singer Nate Ruess has been a co-writing machine, appearing on tracks from the likes of P!nk and Eminem. Guitarist Jack Antonoff launched his own indie pop side project Bleachers last year, to much acclaim. Along with pianist/percussionist Andrew Dost, the band has still been riding high off of 2012’s smash breakthrough, Some Nights.

So when will the band return from their various endeavors and release new music? Here’s what we know: the band appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last summer to perform a brand new song called “Harsh Lights” and they are currently in the process of writing new material for an unnamed album.

It seems totally plausible that the band will release that album in 2015. Will the new record match the explosive Some Nights, both in musicality and cultural relevancy? Will the band turn once again to acclaimed producer Jeff Bhasker, who helped make Some Nights such a huge sounding record? It’s clear that this trio is loaded with talent and more than capable of crafting something otherworldly. The only question is how long we’ll have to wait.

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.

Vinyl Spotlight: fun. – Point and Light

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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.

Believe it or not, we’re not quite finished writing about Record Store Day releases. This week, we’re taking a look at a very special release from fun. titled Point and Light. This 10-inch vinyl release features five demo tracks that didn’t make the final cut of the band’s debut album, Aim and Ignite. While this release doesn’t feature any brand new music (although many of the demos were previously unreleased), it was highly sought after on Record Store Day and we were fortunate enough to snag a copy. Let’s take a closer look…

Packaging and Presentation

There’s really no way around it – this release is extremely fun. While this is obviously a cheesy analysis, it’s certainly the truth. The cover artwork was done especially for this release, capturing the three members of the band in a wonderful display of color. The release opens in a gatefold with a large photograph of the band displayed on the inside. Included in the release is a poster, featuring all three members of the band in black-and-white photo form.

The record itself is a joy to look at. Pressed on clear vinyl with a splatter of rainbow color, this 10-inch record fits right in with the packaging and creates a uniform look of bright colors and popping images. If $20 seems like a high price to pay for a 10-inch record of five b-sides, you immediately understand the price tag once the record is opened. In truth, this is probably the best presentation and packaging of any record released for Record Store Day 2014, and is certainly one of my new favorite records from a visual standpoint.

Sound and Quality

It was made clear from the beginning that this was a collection of demos from the band’s first album, so we’re clearly not expecting top-notch production quality from Point and Light. These songs truly sound like leftovers from Aim and Ignite – stripped down, quirky, and a far cry from what the band has produced in the time since. That being said, if you’re a fan of Aim and Ignite or even old material from The Format, the five songs on this record will be quite a delight.

The best two songs on the release come in the form of “Light a Roman Candle With Me” and “The Gambler”. Both are slower, piano driven tracks, the first of which makes wonderful use of harmonies, while the latter features raw, but inspired vocals from Nate Ruess. These tracks feel warm and inviting in vinyl form, making the format of this release very appropriate. While this won’t be a record I spin regularly, it’s a great 20-minute investment when you need a quick indie-pop fix.

This release isn’t for everyone, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, Point and Light is a wonderful treat for hardcore fans of the band and vinyl enthusiasts who are passionate about time and effort spent to create an excellent visual presentation. I’ve already enjoyed showing this record off to several of my friends who all appreciate the care spent in creating the packaging of this release. If you’re a fan of fun. and are lucky enough to find a leftover copy of this in your local record store – pick it up immediately. You won’t regret it.

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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: The Used – Imaginary Enemy

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At Warped Tour 2013, The Used took the stage in the colorful neon face masks that signify the Russian punk rock activists Pussy Riot. Part of their set was played in the masks before they were removed, and a cascade of rainbow powder flew over the swarming crowd like smoky rain. It was an energetic, memorable riot that played the perfect centerpiece for the energy that The Used brought to the stage.

Imaginary Enemy is a riveting, constantly evolving and inflammatory punk album. To newer listeners, it is a concise and powerful album, serving equal parts rampaging energy, fun.-inspired pop and American Idiot stylized anarchist lyrics.

Fans of the band’s past works may have a much harder time finding the love in this album that they had hoped for, but this is a much larger, more mature and enraged album than many past efforts.

The Used have altered their sound slightly for each album, introducing different elements and gradually making a light shift towards a poppier sound. Imaginary Enemy is first and foremost a pop album, despite leading with a heavy rock song like “Revolution”.

The Used have more or less abandoned the hard edge that made them famous, as well as the screams of vocalist Bert McCracken. If that alone deters you, you will not like this album, period. If you’re willing to still ride the ship out, Imaginary Enemy is an ambitious album that toys an expectation that hopes to rally the awareness of the evils in persecution and rampaging government.

As stated, this is a pop album. Several songs have a soft open, piano and synth play an integral part to a majority of the album and the screams are few and far between. That’s not to say that the sound is bad, it’s just different.

For being an album with the theme of revolution, it is quiet and stealthy. It feels like a lot of elements may be based off of the sound bands like fun. or the softer parts of Panic! At the Disco. Allegedly, the album was written “backwards” with the music written to accompany the already recorded vocals, which could explain the eccentric change in tone from this album and the rest of the discography.

That said, each song is surprising and unlike anything they’ve released thus far in their discography. The hooks are immaculate, varied and expertly executed. Quinn Allman’s guitar work is flawless and intricate, bringing to mind something akin to AFI’s Jade Puget on Crash Love. Even though he’s the only guitarist, he manages to keep the framework and sound of several musicians at once.

Jeph Howard’s bass guitar work keeps the hooks popping and never sounds dull, even in the slowest songs. Dan Whitesides’ drumming is hypnotic and incredibly powerful, dipping from the sounds of natural and electronic drums.

Opening track “Revolution” is the most punk song on the record, offering chugging chords and a brutal chorus designed to bring the pit to pure ecstasy. “A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work in Progress)” is one of the more bizarre songs on the record. It’s a fuzzed vocal punk song that suddenly turns into a disco-tinged dance song for an anarchist chorus of, “We’re saying no way, no way USA”.

Most of the middle section of the record is painted with soft rock and ballads, like the soft spoken “Evolution” with sprinkled keys of what sounds like a toy xylophone. “Kenna Song” features the gentle guitar strums of Jimmy Eat World backed by thunderous drumming and backing vocals made for indie pop radio.

My only real complaint with the sound is that it’s too overproduced. The music is a little too over the top, though it allows the piano and keys a beautiful groundwork to play over. However, a little more crunch and fuzz to the guitar and bass would have helped keep an edge to the music that loyal fans would’ve appreciated.

Lyrically, this is the most incendiary the band has ever been. The new political nature of the band is a welcome advancement in theme over the broken heart and overly tread emo lyrics in the genre. It’s much more provocative and enticing where it needs to be.

It’s a nice journey through the evolution in discovering the hatred of politics that runs full circle, from the opening choruses of, “This is the end, this is the end, calling for revolution”, to the confusion of “Imaginary Enemy” as McCracken sings, “Who taught me to hate you, hate you, hate you? Who created the enemy?”

While it’s easy to brush aside the lyrics as anti-government or anti-USA, there’s a deeper underlying ideology to it that focuses on the rage in not knowing who to be angry at, and being a generation falling in line because there isn’t anyone to focus that anger on. In “Force Without Violence”, he sings, “This brave opposition comes naturally, being exactly who we’re supposed to be / Things will never change if they remain the same, being exactly who we’re supposed to be”.

Imaginary Enemy is an album that shows a band leaving the comfort zone entirely, possibly for the better. If you were hoping for the next great hardcore record, keep looking. For anyone else, this is an incredibly surprising, sometimes cheesy, but powerfully mature record of pop songs and anger. To say the album will be divisive is an understatement; it’ll be remembered as their most disappointing record, or their greatest hour.

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

Vinyl Spotlight: The Format – Dog Problems

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Today we’re kicking off a new column in which our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, talks about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality.

When I heard that a vinyl release of The Format’s classic 2006 album Dog Problems was coming, I immediately knew it was a must have. I’ve enjoyed Nate Reuss’ work in Fun., but The Format will always hold a special place in my heart. In my opinion, Dog Problems was more than a simple swan song, it was one of the best indie rock releases in recent memory.

The vinyl release of Dog Problems comes courtesy of The Vanity Label with an initial pressing of 1,000 copies on white vinyl that sold out quickly. There has since been a re-release on black vinyl which is still available. The album recently arrived in my mailbox, so let’s take a look…

Packaging and Presentation

To put it simply, Dog Problems features some of the best packaging I’ve seen for a vinyl release. The cover and colors are obviously iconic, but they took great care in putting it all together for this vinyl release. The dogs on the front cover fold out into a few different panels, revealing production notes. Not only is this a fantastic way to display many of the liner notes, but it plays upon the artwork and adds an extra dimension to the dogs on the cover.

The vinyl discs themselves are inserted into an opening at the top and are placed inside colorful sleeves and include the song lyrics. The discs are white with multi-colored centers that include the colors from the cover of the album. It’s a really beautiful display and is wonderful to look at. Additionally, white vinyl was the perfect choice for this release and complements the the blue, red, green and yellow sleeves.

Side D is actually blank, but instead includes an etching of a dog bowl. It’s a pretty cool addition as I haven’t seen this on many vinyl releases in this scene. The only drawback is that the etching was apparently screwed up initially by the manufacturers, resulting in a delay of the shipping date while they repressed it. All in all, it was worth the wait. Dog Problems is truly one of the best presented releases I’ve seen in both color and aesthetic appeal.

Sound and Quality

As Dog Problems is probably best known for it’s rather charming raw sound, one would hope that this would shine through on the vinyl release. The good news is that it certainly does. Opener “Matches” starts out quietly before the song crescendos – the lead in sounds solid and the instrumentation doesn’t overpower Ruess’ voice. In my opinion, this album was almost made to be heard on vinyl, so there was little work that needed to be done for this re-release.

While the percussion feels a little muffled at points, it hardly distracts from the songs themselves. Ruess shines throughout this album and it’s great hearing his voice in this context. While Fun.’s Some Nights seemed peculiar as a vinyl release with its polished production, Dog Problems sounds right at home – there’s really not much to complain about here.

The vinyl itself is of decent quality. It required cleaning off some packaging particles before spinning, which is fairly normal, but there was no disturbances during the playback. All three sides played great. Since Dog Problems is such a raw album in and of itself, it felt great to spin it on vinyl for the first time and experience the album again.

All in all, the Dog Problems re-release is a pretty great one and well worth the wait. There are still copies of the black variant available, which I would highly recommend buying if you’re a fan of the band. The $25 price tag feels just about right for this release. You can pick up a copy over at Hello Merch.

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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.