Review: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

If you were to frequent our website back when we launched in 2013 and suddenly return today after a long absence, you likely wouldn’t recognize the place. Seven years ago, I certainly wasn’t predicting that Carly Rae Jepsen would crack the top five on our Best Albums of the Decade list and had no idea how much the music of Kendrick Lamar would change the way we pondered about great art. But I’d say it’s inarguable that we’re infinitely better for the evolving and diverse tastes of our writing staff.

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

In so many ways, It’s All Dead’s emergence unexpectedly coincided with the scene’s slow decline, capped by Warped Tour’s last gasp. Yes, the music is still around, but the community we once knew has become a shell of itself. There are both positive and negative outcomes of that dissolvement, and personally, it’s been a while since guitar-driven music held much interest for me, anyway. So we’ve worked to create an open-door community that might pique the interest of any sort of music lover.

But even as the winds have changed, there are still traces of the scene in my blood, and it’s something I’ve felt quite vividly since discovering Stand Atlantic. As strange as it feels to lose myself in a pop punk band in 2020, I can’t speak highly enough of Pink Elephant.

When the Sydney, Australia, act entered our purview with their Sidewinder EP just three years ago, it was hard to find any space left for a band of their ilk, no matter how much promise those early recordings held. But as the scene they entered began to board up its doors and windows, Stand Atlantic found a way to construct something new.

Upon hearing early singles like “Hate Me (Sometimes)”, I thought maybe it was nostalgia that was tickling my ears. But as the slow rollout of the band’s sophomore album took shape, I found myself drawn to the way the band so effortlessly morphed their sound into something so uniquely…them.

Vocalist Bonnie Fraser began developing a knack for self-exploration on Skinny Dipping, the band’s 2018 debut. In just two short years she’s become one of rock’s most fascinating songwriters, weaving metaphor and painfully literal musings within these 11 tracks that seem to change pace to whatever vibe she’s seeking.

Album opener “Like That” captures the band’s newfound blend of pop and aggression with the kind of begrudging indifference to falling apart that so many of us seem to feel these days. Fraser brings down the house on the track’s post-chorus with the lines, “Crushing bones, I don’t know / My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that”.

Pink Elephant moves at a relatively fast clip and is so hook-laden that you sometimes need to pause to avoid missing the more intricate moments. When it does shift pace, as it does on “Blurry”, the album blossoms into something that usurps the pop punk label. An alt-rock track with electropop influences, “Blurry” is a dark ride that showcases all of the ways this band is unique from their peers. “Clutching weapons while we’re sleeping / Got me bleeding like I mean it / It’s just enough to keep me blurry”, Fraser seethes across the bridge, backed by sparking synthesizers. What sounds like a trick out of CHVRCHES’ playbook feels fresh and new when the drums kick back in to drive the chorus home.

Similarly, “DWYW” blends a brooding darkness with syrupy pop melodies, while somehow side-stepping the genre expectations the band leaned into on their debut. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wavelength”, I can feel Miki Rich’s bass line rattling my rib cage from two stages away on a hot day at Warped Tour. But those are the ghosts that flutter throughout Pink Elephant to draw you in before shoving you in the chest with an unexpected turn. “I know I’ve always said I’m not a saint / So I’m gonna push you to the floor”, Fraser breathes on the opening seconds of the track before the wall of sound hits.

Stand Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing with this album, and it works in every way it’s meant to. It speaks volumes to the band’s growth that when they strip everything away but a piano and Fraser’s vocals, as they do on “Drink to Drown”, that the songwriting truly shines in the most beautiful and painful of ways. Fraser and company seem to have every intent on carving their own path forward, scene decline be damned.

So here we are, nearly 800 words deep on a review of an album that I never expected to impact me in 2020 in the way that it has. In nearly 15 years of writing, I’ve doled out perfect score reviews at a snail’s pace that still numbers in the single digits. But whatever. Fuck it. This is the album I needed right now and I can’t think of anything I would change about it. 

5/5

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 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: Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

In these dark times in which we live, from racial tensions peaking in the U.S. to the decline of the music scene due to pandemic closures, it’s more important than ever to find some time to distract ourselves with something else. Neck Deep’s latest album All Distortions Are Intentional (and for some, Taylor Swift) has provided that for me this past week. While the albums tends to be more pop than punk, once I spent some time with it, I found myself not being able to get enough.

You can buy or stream All Distortions Are Intentional on Apple Music.

I was in love with 2017’s The Peace and the Panic; I thought it was hard hitting and meaningful. When I heard with first single from All Distortions are Intentional, “Lowlife”, an ode to marijuana, I was a bit disappointed. I felt as though the band has backslid into a lesser version of themselves, when I had been so impressed with the maturity of their last offering. Little did I realize that they have further matured, and that Distortions is a concept album. 

The album begins with “Sonderland”, a very strong opener and sure to be fan-favorite (if live shows ever freaking come back). It introduces us to this alternate universe where there is a self-awareness among inhabitants of not being the only person that matters. It continues with one of my favorites, “Fall”, then heads into the controversial aforementioned track that now makes perfect sense when taken with the context of the two characters, Jett and Alice. The concept outlined here is that Jett and Alice are your general emo teens who love being outsiders and shun those who long to fit in. 

In this day and age where it has become so important to stand out and be ourselves, we focus so much on our originality and forget to be present in the world around us. “Telling Stories” draws our eyes upward to the world around us and introduces some new characters and the hardships they face in Sonderland. Ben sings “It’s not the things you know / It’s the friends you make,” and that’s so true. At our funerals, those who love us will talk about how we spent our lives, and if we only follow the “me me me” culture that’s thrown at us and don’t stop and truly care for those around us, our life will have been wasted.

The album is light and airy and just the breath of fresh air I’ve been craving. Tracks like “What Took You So Long” and “Pushing Daisies” are bound to become songs that I return to when I need a pick-me-up. The album brings us from taking the time to regard those around us and make a difference, and by the end, we are reminded that, try as we might, we can’t fix everything. It’s cathartic in a time like this. 

I used to think Neck Deep was one of the generic douchebag pop punk bands with crappy guys who didn’t care who they bowled over to further their career. It was a completely unfounded opinion with no evidence to back it up, but I felt it nevertheless. With these past two albums, I realize that we’ve all grown, whether it was of our own volition or the shifting culture has made us see the wrong ways we view things around us. I’m glad I gave them a second chance, because they’ve become one of the most effective bands in the scene — right up there with The Wonder Years. The alt scene has always been hallmarked by the way we deal with injustices through artistic expression, and even though no one is perfect, the way that Neck Deep have embraced the difficulties of the past years and produced art that’s made it easier to handle is another reason to hold on and support the scene.

4.5/5

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.

Surviving Summer 2020 with Stand Atlantic

As we’ve noted repeatedly these past few months, Summer 2020 has shaped up to be…not good. Not good at all. No summer concerts. No summer road trips. Just a cycle of sickness that could be broken if we could all show just an ounce of responsibility (please wear a mask, for the love of god).

But as we’ve also noted, one beacon of light these past few months has been the onslaught of incredibly good music that has lifted our spirits and kept us company. Summer has always been a season I associate with some of my favorite music memories. It’s hard not to get an itch for Warped Tour around this time each year, or reflect on those summer drives with friends when we blared our favorite pop punk bands from the speakers.

And even though the vast majority of this summer will be spent indoors and separated from friends and family, I’ve found more than a hint of seasonal solace in the form of Stand Atlantic.

The Australian pop punk act has been on my radar for a few years, but I haven’t given them the attention they deserve. The band, fronted by vocalist Bonnie Fraser, released their debut full-length album, Skinny Dipping, in 2018 on Hopeless Records. Next month, they’ll release a follow-up in the form of Pink Elephant.

If the first five songs the band have released are any indication, Pink Elephant is unlikely to leave my rotation for the duration of 2020. The recently-released “Jurassic Park” features the kind of sugary-sweet chorus that hasn’t invaded my ears since the summer of 2007 when All Time Low dropped “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. If Warped Tour was taking place in 2020, at least half of us would be sweat and sunscreen-stained t-shirts featuring the words “Dancing with ghosts in your garden”.

The crazy thing is, “Jurassic Park” may not even be the best song from Pink Elephant so far. That title goes to “Hate Me (Sometimes)” which successfully hits every winning note in the pop punk playbook while still sounding fresh as hell. But then again, it’s hard to argue against “Wavelength”, with its synth-driven verses and rattling bass line from Miki Rich. And what about “Drink to Drown” – a track that sounds like the best Mayday Parade ballad put to tape?

I guess what I’m saying is that I cannot wait to play this album all summer long, even if this summer blows. And I’ll never get tired of the feeling of finding a new band that captures my attention in a way that engulfs me. Those kinds of moments are the reason I started this site, and I’m hopeful that we can all experience a few in this interim period before we congregate once again to sing along to our favorite new songs in unison.

You can pre-order Pink Elephant here.

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: New Found Glory – Forever and Ever x Infinity

Forever and Ever x Infinity is the tenth studio album from New Found Glory, arguably the most influential band in all of pop punk. While groups influenced by them have leaned toward creating emotionally resonant art pieces (The Wonder Years) or shifted entirely to the realms of pop (All Time Low), New Found Glory have essentially stayed the course, never varying their sound too much, but always releasing timeless and damn good music. Forever and Ever x Infinity continues this tradition as an album that fully celebrates NFG’s roots while passing along the experience of middle age through the lens of a fairy tale.

Songs on Forever and Ever x Infinity are overly romanticized, sometimes to the point of cringe-y cheesiness. However, that’s the point — these songs reflect the hypnotic ecstasy of falling in love as a teenager (“Greatest of All Time”). It is the first NFG album since their Self-Titled that filled me with the same bouncing passion I had after my first listen to “Hit Or Miss” 20 years ago.

You can buy or stream Forever and Ever x Infinity on Apple Music.

For all of the fans clamoring that NFG’s Self-Titled album is their best, Forever and Ever x Infinity acts in many ways as a reinterpretation of that record. The music leans heavily toward the pop elements of that album, while retaining the easy-core crunch of Resurrection (“Shook By Your Shaved Head”). Similar themes of falling in love, hopeless romanticism and the rage of a broken heart play heavily, resonating as much now as it did 10 albums ago (“The more I get older, the clearer I see / The misconceptions imbedded in me / We can love, we can fail / It never goes out of style”).

Now though, it’s hard to write songs about hopeless romanticism after two decades of experiences, divorce, personal growth and expanding as artists. Instead, New Found Glory lean into the feelings of their early albums, highlighting how magical life felt when you were fifteen and in love (“Birthday Song But Not Really”), only to temper those songs with what you wish you had known at the time by tearing it down with possibly the most poignant and heart wrenching song New Found Glory have ever written (“Slipping Away”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity plays like a fairy tale, with all of the cheese of a Disney romance and the maturity to laugh at their own lyrics. A song like “Double Chin For the Win” is one of the weirdest songs New Found Glory have ever written, but it sums up the emotions of “Sincerely Me” with charm and self-depreciation (“I know I’m not even in your league / Yet still you find something good in me / When we link arms, you’re a ten, I’m a three / Hope you can never afford Lasik surgery”).

The innocent love of “Stay Awhile” and the wedding dance atmosphere of “More and More” play off of the feeling of high school romance and walking the halls with hearts for eyes. However, after more than a dozen songs of this, the fairy tale ends and real life begins with closing track “Slipping Away”. Here, the romance is dying and a new chapter is about to begin as both lovers are forced to confront the fact that they’ve grown apart. “It wasn’t easy, there’s no arguing that / But there was a time you were proud of the deeper understanding we had / Below the surface and again in our history / Now I can see you almost bite your tongue clean off every time you lay eyes on me”.

What must be said though, is that the band still kills it on every level. Vocalist Jordan Pundik’s eternal energy finds him pushing himself with anthemic choruses and biting verses (“Greatest of All Time”). Bassit Ian Grushka provides a solid backbone of sound that expands the profound depth of guitar buzz (“Like I Never Existed”). Meanwhile, drummer Cyrus Bolooki delivers one of his best performances, destroying the kit from snappy beats to intense, hardcore percussion (“Same Side Sitters”). Sole guitarist Chad Gilbert provides one of his best performances yet, making enough noise for two and showing a full range of sound that both resonates with NFG’s legacy of pop and embraces a harder edge that competes with contemporary peers (“Himalaya”).

Not everything on the album swirls around romance — several songs delve into rooting out the poison in toxic friendships, such as the hard-pounding “Nothing To Say” (“Spreading lies like a disease, but you can’t say it to my face / You’ve got nothing to say”), while the exceptionally crafted “Himalaya” examines people who use others for their own benefit (“They don’t want what’s best for you / They just want what works best for them / You spread yourself too thin / I think it’s time you find yourself, find yourself some new friends”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity is a unique album in that it pairs well as a sister to the band’s celebrated Self-Titled album, but lovingly mocks the simplistic ideals presented on an album written when the band members were barely twenty. On the surface, it looks like some of the lyrics are half-assed (“Birthday Song But Not Really”… Yuck), but there is a tongue-in-cheek maturity behind them that doesn’t appear until after the first listen through. After all, how best to learn of the traps of hopeless romanticism than reflecting on your own past and laughing?

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 built a pillow fort for this cat. Now, sadly…. there aren’t enough pillows to make one for himself. “What kind of sick world is THIS?!” he screams at the clouds with a ketchup stain on his shirt.

Emarosa Release New Single “Ready to Love”

One of the most criminally underrated albums to be released so far in 2019 has to be Peach Club, a record that saw post-hardcore mainstays Emarosa undergo a full pop transformation. Released in early February, the album is full of synthpop and 80s influence and provides a new canvas for vocalist Bradley Walden to strut his stuff.

Last week, just in time for the band’s upcoming headline tour, Emarosa dropped “Ready to Love” – a new single that expounds on all of the promise contained within Peach Club. It’s a smooth track with a brilliantly emotional hook from Walden. Take a listen below.

Dates are selling out for the upcoming Peach Club Tour. Check here to see if tickets are available when the band stops through your city.

What’s your favorite song from Peach Club? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

A Half-Assed Theory on Discovering New Music

Over the last several years, I have been been improving myself mentally. I heard new music but wasn’t listening. Now in a better place, I am revisiting some albums with fresh eyes to see what it means to me now. Cheers.

Finding new music is easy, but loving new music is a chore. When I think of the bands I love the most, it’s because I discovered them during a transition in my life. Going to high school (New Found Glory), first girlfriend (Saves the Day), college and first apartment (Panic! at the Disco, Lucky Boys Confusion), and discovering the real world (The Wonder Years), led to me listening to this music nonstop for decades, as well as other bands that cropped up in the same eras.

However, stagnation and depression hamper the joy in personal growth. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such memorable moments imprint themselves in the music we listen to. But seeing it in action in real time is a special moment everyone should experience. Thus, I have developed a theory!

I recently started a new day job, which is the biggest change to my life in years. It required spending two weeks in Wisconsin by myself for training. I tried to prep music for the trip, but felt bored looking over my usual soundtracks. Instead, I prepped a bunch of music I’ve reviewed for It’s All Dead in years past or bought for my collection and then (for no reason at all) never listened to again: Neck Deep, State Champs, We Are the In Crowd, Superet, Honeyblood, and many more.

There are many ways to connect to music, whether that be a connection with the lyrics or the music filling your veins with energy. Oftentimes, music means so much to us because of the nostalgia and memories we associate with it. My theory on falling in love with music is obvious, but is proposed as such: the most direct appreciation to new music is during a new life experience.

The first nerve-wracking day of my job, I played Neck Deep’s Life’s Not Out to Get You twice throughout the day, as it seemed appropriate for someone who waits for the worst to happen and then adjusts accordingly. Checking into my hotel, “Threat Level Midnight” played as I walked through the halls. As vocalist Ben Barlow sang, “I’ll see your face down here real soon / A welcome home to a swift farewell”, I opened my door and found another family staying in my room. Dirty clothes, pool toys, suitcases and children’s toys were spread across the room, so I panicked and quickly shut the door.

The hotel told me that there was a family refusing to leave and squatting in the room; they had torn the phone from the wall and refused to respond to maintenance knocking on the door as “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” rang through one ear bud (“Yeah this place is a shipwreck / But this shipwreck, it is mine”). Although a misunderstanding all around, it took an hour to get me a room and Neck Deep kept me company at the counter during frenzied calls and panicked looks from the staff in my direction after being told, “Everything is under control.” Ironically, Neck Deep was also playing when the keys to my room didn’t work the second week and the entire staff recognized me as I told them I was locked out (“All eyes on me, but that’s not reality /… claustrophobic in my own skin / From holding it all in” – “The Grand Delusion”; The Peace and the Panic).

There is a massive public pathway that traces the lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My first night there, I found myself alone in the dark, walking a treacherous path with only the moon lighting the lake to my side as I hurried back to the hotel with Superet jamming away in my head (“And when the lights go out / Will you be having fun alone? / I need revolution / It’s you, only you” – “Bone Bag”; How To Work a Room).

I discovered smoking in bars is still acceptable in Wisconsin, as I stepped into a pub and saw 20 locals starring at me with suspicion with We Are The In Crowd blasting away through my phone (“I guess it was wishful to think / I was different from the rest / Now I’m red in the face / I don’t think I’m impressed” – “Better Luck Next Time”; Best Intentions). I fell asleep to State Champs playing quietly, vividly aware that I didn’t have to worry as much about money for a while (“Wash away all the thoughts that come at you like monsters at night / I don’t wanna live this way / Strong enough to break these chains / Broken pieces can mend…This is our time, our time to go” – “Our Time To Go”; Living Proof).

This massive life event has spawned moment after moment that I will never forget, each accompanied by bands I should have been in love with years ago. I can blame depression for hampering my ability to connect to the music before now, but the truth is I should have been listening regardless. The fact that I felt a connection to so many bands the last couple of weeks means I should have enjoyed them before now. Using a life event to listen to them finally feels like a crutch, and I wish I had spent more time loving them on my own. However, I will never forget these bands or the memories I made listening to them during these two weeks that changed my life.

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 watched a framed picture fall off the wall of his hotel room for no particular reason while writing this. He blames earthquakes for it so that he doesn’t have to think about ghosts before bed. What a fool!

Review: Have Mercy – The Love Life

Photo by Benjamin Lieber

Have Mercy is consistently the saddest band I listen to. It makes me feel really bad because no one should be this sad for four whole albums. They’re so sad they surpass the emo label and they’re in their own league. I was hoping that Brian Swindle had turned over a new leaf with The Love Life, but here we are again with another album about the ways love fails us.

You can buy or stream The Love Life on Apple Music.

The album opens quietly with “We Ain’t Got Love”. It features a haunting acoustic guitar and ends with a slow but heavy breakdown. Here, Brian’s a man speaking to a lover in the past. She’s moved on, but Brian sings that “[Her] new boyfriend / Is a failure / Just like me”. It’s a great opener because it shows us exactly what to expect. This album won’t be hard hitting like the others. There’s not so much anger here, but certainly more regret.

“40oz” is one of my personal favorites. The band’s founding member, Aaron Alt, passed away earlier this year, and it’s hard to listen to the chorus of this song and imagine it to be about anything else. 

The fourth track, “Clair”, is my favorite. If you can get past the awkward first verse, the chorus is explosive, and I’d say it’s definitely the best track off the album. It’s the one that’s stayed with me the most. It’s the perfect combination of what we’ve grown accustomed to from the band and the lighter vibe this album has. 

“Mattress On the Floor” gave me the same sad nostalgia that Aaron West’s “Rose and Reseda” gave me when I first heard it. I love songs that get visceral with emotion, and this track feels extra raw. The second verse hits with the notion that things aren’t going so hot but they’re making it work, but the final lines are “And I don’t dream like I used to anymore / I still drink about that mattress on the floor”. It’s one of the things that drew me to the band. The way they use contrast in their songwriting always keeps you guessing. You know it’ll be sad, but you don’t always know where, when, or how. 

“Dressed Down” seems like a filler track to me. The album is definitely not uplifting in any sense, but it seems like the band really tried gave an effort to keep the musical side jaunty, as seen in the next track “So Like You”. The former track is a definite low point, and a track I skipped from probably the third listen.

I personally like this album the most out of their four album run, but I will admit that it isn’t their strongest. The band works better when they lean towards their post-hardcore sound. This is the most mellow of their releases, and while it’s a great addition to their discography, the ways they held back left me wanting a little bit more.

3.5/5

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.

Queue It Up: May 27, 2019

Sorry for the Debbie Downer Queue It Up this week, but if you had to listen to the new Waterparks song as many times as I did, you’d be sad, too. If you like either of the first two bands, I’m sincerely sorry. If you like the third band, though, I think you’ll be just as happy as me.

“Easier” by 5 Seconds of Summer

I’ve never really been a huge fan of 5SOS. They came around after the whole One Direction break-up happened and, even though I preferred the music style of 5SOS to 1D, they still never hit a chord with me, and I never really listened to anything but their radio singles. And I gotta say: this new single still ain’t it, chief.

“Turbulent” by Waterparks

Another very immature song from Waterparks. Maybe you all remember my review of their last album, Entertainment, in which I expressed that I was anything but entertained. The trend has continued with their latest single. Apparently, the new album may be titled Friendly Reminder, or it may be titled Greener Pastures, but nothing is confirmed as of yet. Where Entertainment was basically a love letter from Awsten Knight to his girlfriend, this new album is about their break-up. *whomp whomp* But in better news, the band signed to Hopeless Records, which is not a surprise to anyone. Still, I can’t call myself a fan.

“Shatter Us” by The Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer has long been a staple pop artist for me and I’m excited to see that he’s returning with another album, called Sweet Shivers. It’s been a couple of years since he released something, but his music never fails to make me smile. The new single is bright and cheerful, and a great picture of what we can expect from the album. It’s the piano driven sound we’ve come to expect, but it’s a whole new facet of what Bryce Avery can do.

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.

Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Podcast: Interview with Trenton Woodley of Hands Like Houses

On October 12, Canberra, Australia, rock band Hands Like Houses released their fourth full length album, Anon. on Hopeless Records. As the band hits the road for their headlining U.S. tour, Kiel Hauck caught up with lead singer Trenton Woodley to discuss the new album and the band’s sonic journey on our latest podcast. Woodley also shares details about the band’s songwriting progression over the years, how to evolve as an artist while bringing your fanbase along for the ride, and how Hands Like Houses keep up with an ever-evolving music industry. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck