The 30 Best Albums of the Decade: 21-30

As the 2010s began, pop music was on the brink of a renaissance as a critically-acclaimed art form, hip hop was beginning to stretch its wings into new sonic territory, and the pop punk scene was beginning to fade from public consciousness (or was it?) The past decade has been defined by numerous genres receiving a shot of adrenaline from new artists who are playing by a different set of rules than their predecessors. If you hadn’t yet ditched your CDs for a streaming app in 2010, you certainly have by now.

So what does it looks like as genres begin to blend together and the idea of an album itself begins to morph as artists seek to create for audiences who have no interest in purchasing music? Well, that’s what we set out to capture in this feature on the 30 Best Albums of the Decade.

It’s All Dead came into existence just over seven years ago, and we’ve been fortunate to experience so much thoughtful, introspective, groundbreaking music since that time. The decade was marked by a darker tone, for a number of reasons, but so many great artists have risen to the occasion with something powerful to say. Over the coming days, we’ll be exploring some of our favorite sounds of the past 10 years that have moved us and made us move. We hope you’ll join along and share some of your favorites with us, as well!

30. NF – The Search

If you read my review on this album, it will be clear to you why it belongs in a decade-defining list, despite only being released this past July. Nate Feuerstein’s focus on mental health is still very much needed in a culture that has, in the past, sought cover from such a delicate issue.  What better way to end the decade than with an album that refuses to hide the struggles of mental health away any more? – Nadia Paiva

29. The Interrupters – Fight the Good Fight

Fight The Good Fight pays homage to the sound of punk in the mid-90’s and doesn’t stray far from the path forged by Rancid. However, by retaining such a “classic” punk sound, The Interrupters have become one of the leading punk voices of the decade. They have managed to do what few bands seem to be able to do: revive interest in a scene long thought dead. In the vein of true punk music, every song on the album is irresistibly catchy and fights back against the cultural norm. Fight The Good Fight proves that a particular sound isn’t contained to a certain point in time. If expressed correctly, a genre of music that was cast aside 20 years ago is even more powerful when resurrected. – Kyle Schultz

28. Haim – Days Are Gone

By the fall of 2013, indie pop was due for a shot of adrenaline, and it got one in the form of a slew of debut albums that helped shape the sound of the decade. The trio of sisters that comprise Haim have a keen ear for melody and a penchant for quirky tracks that incorporate everything from bubbling synthesizers to grungy guitars to slick, sing-along choruses. Days Are Gone is a hit factory that oscillates between playful pop numbers and dark, introspective tracks that set the tone for a decade’s worth of underground pop. But the best part about Days Are Gone? It captures the distinct and sincere personality of its creators, ensuring that it can never be fully replicated. – Kiel Hauck

27. Hozier – Hozier

With the explosive, Grammy winning single “Take Me to Church”, Ireland’s Hozier took over the folk scene in 2014. His self-titled album is certainly one of the best folk offerings of the decade, surpassing Bon Iver and Mumford and Sons. It’s accessible and soulful. Andrew Hozier’s charismatic stage presence made the world fall for him and his mournful songwriting. – NP

26. AFI – AFI (The Blood Album)

AFI (The Blood Album) is the first album in AFI’s astounding career to fully capture almost every element of the band’s sound and amplify it. Jade Puget is at his most impressive, making enough sound for two guitarists (“Hidden Knives”; “Feed The Floor”) while singer Davey Havok shows off the insane range of his talents while crooning poetic until the very end (“So Beneath You”, “The Wind That Carries Me Away”). The Blood Album is a rock album that truly makes the disconnection of emotional pain, the fight against faith, and the damaged ideal of love tangible. AFI make good on the promise of this album, as it rages and philosophizes in a way that only they can. – KS

25. Childish Gambino – Because the Internet

In 2013, it was hard to imagine Donald Glover as someone commanding the pop culture conversation, but before all of the Grammys, Emmys, and blockbuster film roles, Glover dropped an album that would kick-start his transition from quirky comedian and backpack rapper to a full-fledged artistic force. Because the Internet is sprawling in nature, rarely pausing on one sound or thought long enough to digest. But that’s the point. The album paints a messy mural of our digital age, complete with early Gambino’s signature smirk. “Everything you don’t say, you Tweet it,” he seethes on one track. His point might be even more poignant six years later. – KH

24. Lady Gaga – Born This Way

Lady Gaga ushered in a new era to pop music when she released 2008’s The Fame, but really took it over the edge (haha, get it?) with 2011’s Born This Way. With this album, she became truly confident in the image she chose to portray and used this album to bring to the forefront some social issues of the day, largely her support for the LGBTQ+ community. It genre-bends in the best way, and the album, as well as the stunning music videos she created, sent the decade into a new form of expression. – NP

23. I Can Make a Mess – The World We Know

Ace Enders has proven himself adept at writing almost any type of music, however his acoustic songs always seem to be the ones that grab people the most. The World We Know is a world weary album broken down to embrace and appreciate simplicity. Enders’ signature hooks, catchy choruses, and emotion seep through the guitar strings across the record. The World We Know perfectly captures a moment in time we all find ourselves in: the quiet realm of trapped-in-thought and looking to climb out of a personal hole. The album is hopeful, honest and arguably Enders’ magnum opus in a career filled with musical highs. – KS

22. Architects – Holy Hell

By the early part of this decade, modern metalcore had already become a caricature of itself, with many bands leaving the sound altogether for new pastures. Yet throughout the 2010s, Architects held fast, gradually becoming a beacon for the genre. After the tragic passing of guitarist Tom Searle, the band unexpectedly rose from the ashes in 2018 to release their grandest album to date. Equal parts punishingly cathartic, atmospherically expansive, and sonically overpowering, Holy Hell not only solidified Architects as the defining metalcore act of the decade, but set a benchmark that no other band aside from themselves may be capable of reaching. – KH

21. Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

I’m not usually a fan of Top 40 radio, but Teenage Dream made my list because it’s quintessential 2010s pop. It came out in my last year of middle school, and I wasn’t allowed to listen to it. This, of course, made me all the more curious, but even without direct access to the album, I couldn’t help but hear “California Girls” everywhere I went. It was the first album released by a female to have five singles on the Billboard charts, and it cemented Katy Perry’s spot as Queen of Pop. – NP

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: The Early November – Lilac

I read once that The Early November chose their name because, much like that time of year, they changed their sound as often as the late seasons. I have no idea how true that actually is, but it has always rang true to me. The Early November have altered and changed from album to album, never staying with one sound for too long. The only constant is the emotional vulnerability that every song brings. Lilac brings not only the biggest change to the sound the band have developed after almost 20 years, it is quite possibly the most robust album the band has delivered since The Room Is Too Cold.

You can buy or stream Lilac on Apple Music.

Lilac is a stylistically diverse album, a fact it presents almost immediately. The Early November manage to juggle the sound of punk rock, Fall Out Boy-lite pop elements and incredibly intricate instrumentation. The flourish of trumpets or the somber whale of a french horn pepper into songs and constantly surprise the listener. The lilac flower is a symbol of innocence, and it shows across the album with tales of finding the lowest of emotional depths, only to pull yourself together. In the end, Lilac is an album of redemption.

Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes the sound of the band further than ever before. No two songs sound alike and each flows seamlessly to the next. Guitarists Bill Lugg and Enders find a variety of sounds from punk rock (“My Weakness”) to twinkling indie rock (“Hit By A Car (Euphoria)”) to dance riffs that act as a background to the rest of the instrumentation (“Fame”). Bassist Sergio Anello rips through a series of deep riffs (“My Weakness”) while multi-instrumentalist Joseph Marro’s piano and guitars layer thick (“You Own My Mind”). Drummer Jeff Kummer keeps pace with Enders, varying from intricate dance beats (“Perfect Sphere (Bubble)”) to deep melancholic bursts (“I Dissolve”).

Enders himself delivers a vocal performance different from any past release, whether that be with The Early November or his solo project, I Can Make A Mess. He pushes his vocals to shout and croon (“Hit By a Car”), enters the realm of pop (“Fame”; “You Own My Mind”), and almost whispers melody (“The Lilac”).

Opening song “Perfect Sphere (Bubble)” quickly sets Lilac apart from TEN’s discography. The energetic pianos, etherial guitars and Enders’ angelic croons deliver a sound that stands out against the moody rock of years past. “My Weakness”, a garage rock jam with a bridge and chorus that hint at what it would be like to hear Taylor Swift write a punk song, especially with Enders’ styled squeak during the chorus.

“Ave Maria” dances through an uplifting beat as Enders reflects on letting himself and a loved one down (“I thought if I looked nice, I would feel nice / And you would see me right, you would see me right / But it was an old lie, it was a cold lie / It was a long night.”). But for each downer, Enders weighs it with one of hope, such as the moody “Our Choice”. The song wrestles with the idea of addiction, as he swings back and forth between feeling enslaved to it and fighting back. “There is a choice to be alive, when failure keeps you up at night / So every morning, I will try / I will never stop the fire / I have a choice to be alright”.

The Early November constantly shift and push themselves in directions that no one sees coming. But consistency isn’t needed with a band so confident in themselves. Lilac bucks every expectation placed upon it, and steps away as one of the fullest albums The Early November have ever written. It demonstrates just how much the group can adapt and shift, but never remain predictable for long.


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 realized his air conditioner is running even though it is like, 50 degrees outside. What a silly goose he is.

Review: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.


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 TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.


Review: The Early November – Fifteen Years


The Early November have been such a beloved band for nearly two decades because they find ways to adapt their sound while maintaining the ability to sound like the same band that burst onto the emo scene in the early naughts. But one of their most enduring legacies is that each album seems to contain a show-stopping acoustic song, whether it be The Room is Too Cold’s melancholic “Dinner At the Money Table”, or the defeated rail against modern music of “Digital Age” from In Currents. It’s something that seems to be not only guaranteed with each record, but the songs become and remain crowd favorites.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

You can buy Fifteen Years on Bandcamp.

Fifteen Years is a fitting collection of a visit throughout the band’s discography that highlights some of their best songs while managing to hit that sweet middle ground for hardcore fans, bypassing many of the group’s most famous singles that have been played at every show they’ve ever had. This is the essence of The Early November on full display without having to play favorites to get people to listen.

I’ve seen The Early November almost half of a dozen times since their reunion in 2011, and the most startling thing to me was how their triple disc album, The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path was ignored almost entirely for several years in favor of new material from In Currents and Imbue and the hits from The Room Is Too Cold. Perhaps because several tracks have already received the acoustic treatment on I Can Make a Mess’s Dust’n Off the Ol’ Guitar album, songs from the band’s debut LP and EP, For All of This barely appear. And it’s a good thing, as it gives the next 12 years of the group’s career the chance to shine past emo nostalgia.

It’s hard to evaluate whether any of the songs sound better acoustically than their original recordings, but that’s a matter of taste. What makes Fifteen Years so special is that it strips everything away and shows what a lovingly crafted song remains. There are a few added flairs, such as the new country-esque guitar solo that acts as the bridge midway through “Outside” or the intimate solo of “A Little More Time” fleshed out.

A few surprises give a new soul to several songs I never expected to see again, such as “Call Off the Bells”. Originally a barbershop quartet turned punk song of a wedding gone wrong, with Ace’s voice screaming over sizzling guitars, its new form is a heartbreaking ballad pleading at the memory of what love should have been. “The Mountain Range In My Living Room” lacks the grunge aesthetic, instead presenting itself as a song of hopeful rebellion

There is such a passion that seeps into the songs, it’s a simple task to see why Ace Enders’ acoustic songs are a league above his peers, especially at this point in his career, when his voice has never been better. Strong, confident and emotive, this version of “Ever So Sweet” is a stronger cousin to the raw version from The Room Is Too Cold, where a young Enders’ voice almost crackles on the high notes.

Fifteen Years is something every fan of Ace Enders should hear. It’s a definitive collection of The Early November’s material without being a greatest hits album. It’s also his best vocal work to date, improving on past recordings without losing the soul of the lyrics. The biggest detriment to the album is honestly a lack of the other band members. There are layered guitars, but it’s impossible to tell who is on what, and I found myself longing for Jeff Kumer’s drumming. Regardless, Fifteen Years is the type of album that makes you proud to be a fan of someone who’s career has been a part of your life for so long.


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 been a staunch supporter of TEN for 15 years. You kids and your electricity music. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT MUSIC IS! *grumble grumble fist shake grumble*

Review: Ace Enders – Silver and Gold


The best/worst/best thing about Ace Enders is that he tends to just appear with new releases, offering you a quick invitation to take a look at it, and then leaving it there for you whenever you want it. This week, he discreetly dropped a new Christmas album pretty much right around the time that news outlets learned that he ‘might’ be releasing a Christmas album. Well played.

Silver and Gold is a quick album, coming at eight songs in just over 20 minutes. It’s festive, atmospheric, and the most stripped back work Enders has ever released. Its sound is reminiscent of I Can Make a Mess’s Dust’n Off the Ol’ Guitar: simple melodies, whispering acoustics and soothing vocals craft a cheery holiday album that remains true to Enders’ unique sound.

It’s a simple record, as it’s meant to be. The songs send the message they’re supposed to without heavy production or gloss. The simplicity carries the meaning and the love behind the season. Basic beats, a light tap of tambourine, slow keyboards and echoing vocals plaster the record. Enders takes advantage of the fact that almost all of these songs are standard holiday classics (it doesn’t matter how he plays them, you’ll recognize them instantaneously) to strip them to a bare minimum, then play stylistically to add a new twist to them.

The only song that I THINK is an original song is “My Gift”, only because I have never heard it before. It’s a fun song with crisp acoustic strums, Disney-style whistles, and a harmony of Ace Enders vocals multi-tracked to assist the chorus.

“My Gift” has the signature ICMAM mentality of foregoing material objects, with the incredibly catchy chorus of, “I’m the type that won’t stop believing in hope for the holidays / If Santa skips town it’ll be okay / I’ve crossed my list of material script / I believe that every second with you is a gift”.

The EP not ground breaking, but it’s incredibly fun.

The only real ‘downside’ to this release is that it incorporates a Christmas EP by ICMAM from a couple of years ago, appropriately titled Happy Christmas EP as the final three tracks, which have a fairly different sound from the first half. That said, they’re wonderful songs and a very thoughtful inclusion.

What I appreciate the most about this release is that Enders didn’t take the traditional route of attempting to re-make or out-do existing Christmas songs, which usually produce mediocre results at best. This sounds like an I Can Make a Mess release that just happens to have Christmas music attached to it, which is an impressive feat.

If you collect holiday music from the scene, or are in need of something uplifting, Silver and Gold is there for you, and incredibly cheap. For a surprise release, this is about as good as it can get.

We’re not giving this a score. It’s Christmas Music. You either love it or you don’t, you grinch.

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 is an avid Ace Enders fan. Huzzah and a half!

Top 10 Songs of 2014


Making a list of the top 10 songs of any year is a challenge. Each of us journeys through 12 months filled with highs and lows, challenges and dull moments. The soundtracks that fill those times are often created by our need for a particular sound or feeling in any given instant.

Does ranking these songs require us to distance ourselves from the emotions that helped them resonate? That’s debatable, but perhaps the true measure lies somewhere in between a relatable song that offered purpose or aid and a well constructed, perfectly executed track that showcases a band’s talent.

Needless to say, a lot went into the creation of this list. We did our best to break down what we feel were the best moments of 2014 – the songs that not only defined our lives this year, but the songs that made us perk up with rapt attention. Take a look and let us know what you think in the replies!

10. Merriment – “Backwards”

Perhaps best known as the younger siblings of the DuPree’s of Eisley fame, Merriment has certainly carved their own path with their debut album, Sway. The highlight comes in the form of “Backwards”, perfectly blending the band’s acoustic pop sensibilities with a folk sound that sets them apart from their peers. Christie DuPree’s vocal range is stunning here, especially on the song’s beautiful chorus. Dupree opens the song with the haunting lines, “Holding high your little head / Walking backwards in your steps / Nobody knows you’re dead”. The song is just as mysterious as it is charming, but catchy enough that you can’t listen to it just once. – Kiel Hauck

9. I Can Make a Mess  “Deciduous”

On an album of delicious pop songs, “Deciduous” stands out as one that has every ingredient of a good ICMAM song; gorgeous hooks, minimal production, Enders’ working every note of the vocal scale and the themes of finances and that love will overcome any problem. The song is at once a love song about being a musician, but acknowledges the fears that come along with it, including a singled out line where he quietly worries, “I hope one day my kids think I’m cool / Didn’t sell the farm to be the mule / I’m a fool”. – Kyle Schultz

8. Anberlin – “Stranger Ways”

Fans of Anberlin were fortunate to receive a final goodbye from the band in the form of 2014’s Lowborn. The best moment from the album comes on the 80’s inspired “Stranger Ways”, weaving the band’s tried-and-true songwriting formula with eerie electronics and synthesizers. In truth, it sounds like the best song Depeche Mode never wrote. Vocalist Stephen Christian opens with the chilling lines, “Locking eyes, a waning glance, mistook chance / Of adding meaning to the words forever”. The song climaxes during the bridge as Christian pleads, “Would you say with me, here in my dreams / If I promised you this heaven?” Alas, there will be no staying for Anberlin. Even so, we’re thankful for the fond farewell. – KH

7. XTRMST – “Conformist”

XTRMST are a welcome return to form for straight edge hardcore. The new project from Davy Havok and Jade Puget is what fans of AFI’s hardcore days have spent years hoping for. The guitar work is loose, hypnotically dark and as heavy as a physical attack. “Conformist” shows Havok in perfect form, swooning between spoken word and nightmarish screaming. The song is one of the few singles for an album that highlights the record succinctly. Each lyric is an attack on the listener, critiquing not only their way of life, but their tolerance of any other type of subculture with the repeated accusations of “You are conformist”. It’s an uncomfortable listen, but demands your attention for the rest of the record. – KS

6. Childish Gambino – “III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”

Perhaps it’s odd that the best track on Because the Internet fits into the context of the album’s overarching story as a song sung by someone else. It opens as we hear the main character climb into his car and turn the key. The radio comes on, introducing the track, sung by “Lloyd”. Childish Gambino channels his inner-Drake on the track – it’s silky smooth as he sings of the confusion tied to romantic commitment. It’s background noise for our main character as he drives, but it’s speaking both to us and to him. “Everything you won’t say, you tweet it”, sings Gambino. It’s commentary on our internet culture – and an indictment on us all for our willingness to dive head-first into it. – KH

5. Say Anything  Judas Decapitation

Max Bemis’s most ‘Say Anything’ song is about how blogs, fans and the music industry criticize him for not making ‘Say Anything’ music the way they want. It couldn’t be more meta if he mentioned your name in the middle of it. Like the rest of Hebrews, “Judas Decapitation” forgoes the guitar work in favor of a hybrid mesh of flaring pop synth and intense percussion. The song is a scathing attack on the industry and his own fans about their interpretation of his music, which is one of the things that made his music so well respected to begin with. Lyrics like, “I hate that dude now that he’s married / He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherri”, and “Spike his fifteenth espresso with drugs / So he’s convinced it’s a manic delusion to know true love / Be nineteen with a joint in hand / Never change the band”, show that not only is Bemis aware of every criticism of his music, he’s attacking them head on. – KS

4. Yellowcard – “Lift a Sail”

The title track on Yellowcard’s triumphant Lift a Sail is quite possibly the best song the band has ever written. Gone are the pop punk riffs the band was so well known for – “Lift a Sail” is an anthemic rock song, born from a painful, traumatic event. There’s certainly a sadness here, but the track itself is about rising above the wreckage. It’s something we can all connect to, because in one way or another, we’ve all been there before, struggling to make the choice to press on amidst the pain. When vocalist Ryan Key cries out the song’s massive chorus of, “If a cold wind starts to rise / I am ready now, I am ready now / With the last sail lifted high / I am ready now, I am ready now”, it’s undeniably the most chill-inducing moment of the year. – KH

3. Against Me!  “FUCKMYLIFE666”

This is easily one of the catchiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues due to the melody alone. The bouncing guitars and opening strings tear against the throbbing drums to make a fast, energetic hell of a song. Each verse bleeds into the chorus, hiding the fact that the song is a traditional styled pop song elegantly layered in harmony. It also contains one of the strongest verses on an album full of memorable lines as Laura Grace sings, “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? / Silicone chest and collagen lips / How would you even recognize me?” The song is short, brutal and incredibly memorable. It manages to stand as one of the best songs in Against Me!’s infamously great catalogue. – KS

2. PVRIS – “My House”

On their debut album, White Noise, synthpop trio PVRIS have promptly destroyed any notion of what a Rise Records band should sound like. Originally formed as a post-hardcore act, PVRIS made the surprising and wise choice to turn pop, littering their landscape of atmospheric synthesizers with bouncing drums and pulsing bass. “My House” is one of the most powerful pop songs you’ll hear this year, thanks in large part to the vocal work of Lyndsey Gunnelfsen. During the track’s massive, dance-worthy breakdown, she howls, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not yours anymore, I’m not yours anymore!” The song is ferocious as it is infectious, making it the most captivating pop song of 2014. – KH

1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”

On an album whose theme is caving in, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe” is the lynchpin for Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties that sees our main character breaking down in his mother’s kitchen. It’s a powerful acoustic epic fueled by the slow burn of electric guitar and the tortured cry of a steel guitar yowling in the background. Dan Campbell’s vocals mimic the story perfectly, sounding on the verge of breaking into tears as he describes Aaron’s walk home, eventually building to screams of “Take the car and run!” The descriptions alone would be worthy of being one of this year’s best songs, but the true gem is what should be an impossible feat: Aaron and his mother having an actual conversation. Around a kitchen table, they lean and cry on each other’s shoulders as Campbell sings, “I know things ain’t been good since dad died, I know you don’t need this from me / But mama I’m breaking, there’s no light in the dark, Diane left this week / She said, ‘Son look at me, I know we ain’t been this low before and I’m sorry Aaron / I know this year has been hard’”. – KS

Honorable Mention:

Emarosa – “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”

Kendrick Lamar – “I”

Architects – “Gravedigger”

Fall Out Boy – “Centuries”

Taylor Swift – “Style”


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: I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business


Ten years ago, I was at the height of my obsession with The Early November. The Room’s Too Cold had come out the previous year, and I told anyone willing to listen why I was obsessed with it. My friends enjoyed the album, but constantly reminded me that emo bands never last. I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business arrived quietly with a self-titled album alarmingly quickly, almost exactly a year after TEN’s debut album. I loved the album by myself since no one I knew would listen to it, and saw it as a wonderful and patchwork contrast to TEN’s sound and themes.

The greatest legacy of Like Nobody’s Business is that it was an oddity for years. Ace Enders’ side project was originally an indie acoustic pop record infused with a wide array of instruments (violin, cello, keyboard, electric guitar, xylophone) and a slight tone of country influence. It was weird, lovely and the perfect counterbalance to the harshness of The Room’s Too Cold by spinning off in the vein of the standout acoustic tracks from that album.

But Enders didn’t return to ICMAM for a long time, leaving it as a one off album. TEN’s follow up The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path used a lot of the influences from ICMAM (LONG NAMES BE DAMNED!) for The Mother disc. The most obvious of these influences being the ambient country influences for songs like “Driving South” and “From Here to L.A.”, most notably Bill Lugg’s sexy slide guitar originally from “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy” on ICMAMLNB.

Beyond that though, I Can Make a Mess weren’t heard of again for the most part as Enders took up another solo project under the banner of Ace Enders and a Million Different People, with a select couple of ICMAM songs played at live shows.

I fell in love with The Early November because of the harshness of the lyricism coupled with the underproduction and ragged songwriting that somehow worked between genres of both hard rock and acoustic ballads. I Can Make a Mess was not even just the opposite of that, it was ironically kind of a mess. The entire disc was acoustic focused, and much quieter, but interjected with two ‘rock’ songs (I still don’t know what to label them as) that utterly ruined the flow.

It’s not even that they’re bad songs, but it destroyed the theme of the album as well as the concept, and cut the record into parts. “Untitled Track 2” is a hellish rock song led by a sizzling electric guitar that cuts the surreal and dreamlike acoustic ballads in two; poppier songs on the first half and softer ballads on the second.

Then there was the background noise; eleven songs worth of what sound like random television and movie scenes running constantly under the music. On paper, this is an annoying idea but in practice, it’s intriguing. The sounds provide a minimal bass layer beneath the music that allows itself to be heard during the quietest moments before finally fading out during the aptly titled “End of the Background Noise”. It’s a distraction that doesn’t take away from the music, instead it melds the songs together which is one of the things Enders likes to do (The Room’s Too Cold, Dustin’ Off the Ol Guitar).

Enders’ lyrics have always intrigued me. The Early November tend to run to the center of emotions, cutting through the fat and hitting the heart of the matter. In recent years, I Can Make a Mess has reflected this basis as well, but not nearly as much. ICMAM is the outlet without parameters and ICMAMLNB is probably the best reflector of this.

The first half of the record is almost mystical. “So I Finally Decided to Give Myself a Reason” is the most dreamlike. It’s a surreal conversation with coming to terms with past mistakes amidst a chorus of “So tonight as I walk the moon makes faces at the trees / It’s so nice to make fun of everything that I lost, and I miss, and I love but never had”.

The most iconic song is “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy”, a ripe country flavored song complete with a “yeehaw” and slide guitar. It’s also the start of ICMAM’s recurring theme of money and inspiration as Enders sings, “So follow that tune / Quickly or you’ll lose the melody you never heard / When you were young you didn’t care / It’s the one that stole your father’s pride / That mighty mighty dollar sign”.

The second half of the album is slightly less romantic and a more straightforward with the themes of coming to terms with yourself. “I Know the Sum and Substance of My Evil” is one of the more telling songs as it pulls everything together in a self-evaluation that is so straightforward that it beckons reminders of TEN. “We all knew this day was coming / Our bitter hears can hear it calling / So proud of what you’ve done, so proud of who you are / Standing tall next to all the buildings and filling up with all the reasons why you should never trust yourself / The way you fool yourself… I’m fooled”.

I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business is a patchwork still in progress, not quite ready to know what it wanted to be. It’d be six years before further ICMAM albums would help put this one in perspective. It’s a great release from Enders, but somewhat pieced together and cut in weird sections.

At the time, it almost felt like a secret in the music community since absolutely no one would listen to it with me. It was an oddity of experimentation and honesty that helped launch Ace’s other solo project and influence later TEN records while maintaining a spirit all its own. It was the first time I knew that Ace Enders had the skills as a songwriter to not fade away with all of those other ’emo’ musicians and made me proud to bother people with how much I adore his music.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and apparently likes to write about Ace Enders in embarrassing amounts of detail, enough to tag his other two articles in this one. Ugh. The Early November is one of the few bands whose albums have never left his rotation ever since he first heard them in 2002.

Review: I Can Make a Mess – Growing In


Holy shit, did that just come out of nowhere.

I Can Make a Mess has only really garnered the attention it deserves over the last few years. Originally a side project a decade ago for soft acoustic songs that wouldn’t fit in with the discography of a still young The Early November, Ace Enders’ other brainchild has evolved into something of almost equal importance to his main band.

I Can Makes a Mess really came to true fruition with 2010’s The World We Know, an inspired collective of acoustic pieces that still remains arguable the finest release of Enders’ career. The few releases since then have seen him experiment beyond acoustic songs to more pop ventures and more use of electric guitar, but never reach quite as high as The World We Know.

Growing In, yesterday’s surprise release, is one of Enders’ best albums under any of his many names. It’s the equivalent of Dashboard Confessional’s A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar; the legacy of ‘acoustic only’ is tossed aside for electric pop. Each song is remarkably and distinctly Ace Enders at his best. It sounds like he genuinely had fun recording these songs and it shows through the energetically playful  lyrics and the thrashing pop.

According to Enders’ Facebook, each song was written in 3-4 minutes sessions of whatever came to his head first in regards to the music and lyrics. You can hear the voice memo from his phone of the initial recordings spread throughout the tracks.

The most surprising aspect is that some of the songs weren’t saved as inclusion for The Early November’s next release or as a continuation of Ace Enders and a Million Different People, as ICMAM usually doesn’t jump this far into the ‘indie pop punk’ pool. The lightheartedness of the music mixed with the playful and deeper lyrics though maintain the energy that ICMAM was originally built for. The guitars chug along crisply, faintly reminiscent of Weezer’s Blue Album and The Get Up Kids’ pop punk structure, but distinctly Enders’ own chord progression. The production that Enders is known for makes the songs sound more hand crafted than most music.

Growing In also tests Enders’ vocal chords to the limits. Not only does he run rampant across the scales over the course of the album, but he jumps from shouts to soft growls to nearly spoken word. The crackle of his voice adds to the effect that you can hear him testing himself. As the sixth ICMAM album, he has rarely sounded better.

Lyrically, Enders is more comfortable than ever. Topics of past ICMAM songs are still here; debt, money, love songs and overcoming the odds are still the mainstays, but are much easier to access and toy around with. “Get Normal” sees Enders crooning and shouting against backing vocals of himself over memories reflecting on how little he used to know when compared to “the height of the rising sun” as he sings, “I’ve crossed too many sun faded lines that divided my road / That’s what I believed but I don’t believe in all that / My life is crowded with the broken back roads, you don’t know”.

“I’m the Man (Sarcasm)” is an amazing grunge pop song with hints of surf rock that has Enders following a corporate shill somewhere on the verge of a midlife crisis who has never really grown up. “I never start a day without a coffee in my hand, thirty-two ounces, now tell me who’s the man,” is the opening line before eventually finding his way to the thought of “Pimping three screens like I know I’m the man / We’re staying late to get the job done, some kid got the promotion that I really wanted.. Cool.”

“Deciduous” is a magnificent pop song torn from the pages of early 2000’s emo and contains perhaps the most personal lyrics Enders has ever penned, “I really wish that money went as far as love does, cuz then I’d be on my way / I really wish that love went as far as money does, cuz then I’d be okay / I’m a thirty-something musician having a problem of never ending wishing / But I hope one day my kids think I’m cool, didn’t sell the farm to be the mule / I’m a fool with no clue paying dues after dues after dues”.

Growing In is a near perfect blend of old school emo and pop while manifesting the skills Enders has acquired over the years. It pushes the boundaries of what previous I Can Make a Mess albums were and threatens at times to become more of a sequel to Ace Enders and A Million Different People than anything else, but it’s also a testament that ICMAM is meant to be versatile and whatever Ace Enders decides it will be. It’s one of the few albums that make me proud to be a fan when I hear it. I am honestly a bit biased when it comes to Ace Enders’ music, but this is without a doubt one of the best releases of the year.


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 once dropped a Popsicle in front of Ace Enders and didn’t know what to do. Ace watched me cover it awkwardly with my foot instead of grabbing a towel like an adult and then gain the ability to only say weird, awkward things to him whenever I’ve seen him at tours years later. I suck on every level mankind has managed to unearth.

Remembering The Room Is Too Cold


Ten years ago saw the release of one of the most influential albums I’ve ever known – The Early November’s The Room Is Too Cold. In an era of my life when Blink 182 and early Saves the Day ruled my CD players, The Early November put out a record unlike anything I’d listened to up to that point, and which hasn’t been replicated for me since. It was sincerely the first album that gave me tears as it ended and reverberates with me even now thinking about it.

The Room Is Too Cold is unlike most of the albums on the scene within the last decade and stands unique even amongst TEN’s own discography. It’s a raw bare-boned creep that plays off of genuine emotion to tell a story of heartbreak and inner turmoil. There is no autotune and less melody and pop of the later albums The Early November would release. These are songs that include the crack and squeak of a young Ace Enders’ voice and a righteous disappointment in love.

Make no mistake, this is a miserable and depressing series of songs muddied in flat tones, raunch melody and the signature pop punk of the early 2000’s. This is an album recorded prior to Ace Enders writing the power pop for The Early November’s sophomore album or his solo work in Ace Enders and a Million Different People. It’s just a jagged experiment in emo with a smooth mix of soft acoustic ballads, slow rock and a peppering of Drive-Thru era punk. Almost every song bleeds into or sets up the next one, flowing together into one conscious thought of depravity and flailing hope. But ten years on, this is the album that started the careers of a band that has outlasted many that grew up with them. The Room Is Too Cold may just be one of the most underrated masterpieces in songwriting that has ever been made.

This is the only album I can think of where every song reflects an emotion outright rather than just a pop song singing about them. Each song has a distinct sound uninhibited by production and touch ups that makes it a unique link in the chain of realizing that you’re falling out of love. “Ever So Sweet” starts off slowly with the admission of seeing a lie in someone else and wrapping yourself through that. “The Mountain Range In My Living Room” is a swaying jam about falling into depression and the strength in lies. Crowd favorite “Baby Blue” is one of the stand out singles from the record, as its punk edge beats at the rhythm of an angry heart. The flat chords emulate the panicking pulse of someone vindictive of a break up and justifying why it’s all over.

If there is anything to take away from the album though, it’s the almost title track, “Everything’s Too Cold…But You’re So Hot”. The song is a slow trod through repetitive defeat, realizing that the love you once knew is completely and utterly gone. The clank of the guitar against the vocals is a miserable, beautiful sound through foggy tragedy, and picks up momentum near the end when the electric guitars come alive in fury. It ultimately ends with Enders screaming, “You know I always forget” at the top of his lungs through crackling vocal chords and finally ends with such a tone of despair, it seems like someone physically punched him while recording. It’s a desperate plea of loathing and defeat so pure it helps the album’s theme stay relevant and fresh a decade later without losing the effort that originally made it.

While most ten year old albums have a tendency to feel dated, especially as the band grows and matures, The Room Is Too Cold remains painfully relevant. While I hope that the Early November are able to create their opus, it’s hard to tap into a vein so truthful and honest. Regardless, this is an album worthy of an anniversary, as there won’t be anything like it for a long time.

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.