Review: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana Del Rey is America’s queen. She’s an expert in mixing the modern with the retro. Her cinematic take on Americana remains fresh with each release and Norman F*****g Rockwell is no different. 

While initially very skeptical of Lana’s brand, these days, I call myself a die-hard fan. Born to Die came to me in a time where I was really desperate to branch out and I had started to really look at women in music and embracing artists like Marina Diamandis and Lorde. My background in music is very male oriented, and I listened to a lot of rock and indie bands – genres that, in the mid 2000s, were generally devoid of female talent. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a personal goal that I openly support women in music. So I started listening to Lana Del Rey.

You can buy or stream Norman Fucking Rockwell on Apple Music.

My favorite thing about her music is how she seamlessly moves from genre to genre and era to era. She’ll have Jazz Age influences in one track and then in the next it’s like you’ve been transported to Woodstock. I’ve always had a thing for oldies, and the fact that she can pull it off so authentically has always intrigued me. With each album, I feel like we’re moving further in time, and with Norman F*****g Rockwell, we’re arrived in the late 70s, early 80s.

It opens with the title track, one of the softer, but no less hard hitting, songs on the album. Her goal with the album is to draw parallels, something she does through referencing pop culture. She said of the title in an interview with Vanity Fair that, “[She and Jack Antonoff, they] just joke  around constantly about all the random headlines [they] might see that week…but it’s not a cynical thing, really. To [her], it’s hopeful, to see everything as a little bit funnier.”

With that being said, the album isn’t necessarily lighthearted. I would argue that it’s her most personal album yet, from the line in “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” where she refers to an interview she did where the publication titled it, “I wish I was dead already.” To use such a statement as a way to get clicks isn’t fair, and the actual context of what she said has nothing to do with any of those sentiments. 

The album gets more personal about her career than any of the previous five albums before it, but it also pushes the envelope of that career more than the other albums as well. One of the singles, “Venice B***h”, is almost 10 minutes long, and is one of the best tracks on the album. I know I often say this about female artists, but she’s not afraid (and has never been afraid) to take control of her creativity. I feel like that’s because women have to work 50 times as hard to gain any artistic control at all, so the best way is to just keep all of your decisions close, and it’s something that, as unfortunate of a concept as it is, makes for the most authentic and raw music. She’s set the precedent of having complete control, which at the end of the day, gives her the most freedom.

This album is the culmination of everything she’s done up until now. From a little bit of the jazz influence seen in her first two albums, to the transparent lyricism from 2017’s Lust for Life, we have little pieces of each of her past releases showcased here. The closer, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have, but I Have It”, is the most poignant of all of her closers. She’s brought everything full circle. Throughout all the difficulties in her life and career she’s still always believed in her art and keeping her creative license. And that’s what makes Norman F*****g Rockwell explosive.

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.

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Podcast: The Best of Eisley

Over the past decade and a half, Tyler, Texas, band Eisley have made a habit of releasing delightful, poignant, purposeful indie pop. On this episode of It’s All Dead, Kiel Hauck and Nadia Paiva break down the band’s discography, ranking all five full-length albums, from Room Noises to I’m Only Dreaming. They also share their top 10 songs and discuss the band’s wild ride from their early major label breakthrough to their return to their indie roots. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What’s your favorite Eisley album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Florence and the Machine – Lungs

I was recently talking to Kiel about some of my favorite albums, the ones that truly impacted me as a music fan and as a person, and how a lot of those albums are hitting their release anniversaries this year. One of those albums is Lungs by Florence and the Machine. It’s an album that’s no doubt left a lasting impact on the musical culture of 2009. It’s been one of my top albums for as long as I’ve been listening, and I still think it’s Florence and the Machine’s best.

“Dog Days are Over” is probably the best known track that Florence has released, and it starts Lungs off strong. The entire album’s exploration of emotion hadn’t been done before in such a drastic, theatrical way. From beginning to end, Florence impresses us vocally, musically and thematically. 

My favorite tracks from Lungs are “Cosmic Love”, which brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it, “Between Two Lungs” for its lullaby-esque lilt and harmonies, and “My Boy Builds Coffins” for the way it describes an effortless and simple yet all-consuming love.

The way Florence uses literary references, nature imagery and a pre-Raphaelite muse is one of the main reasons I think she’s stuck around. Her creativity is boundless, and she’s willing to push the envelope to get her point across. Her label asked her to write an “upbeat” song for the record and the result, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, is about ritual sacrifice and King Midas. It seems like she tries to wriggle past authority; she holds her right to create tightly.

As a woman who enjoys music, and watches women in the industry get stepped on or stepped over, I appreciate the fact that Florence walks her own path. She has paved the way for other female artists to feel the freedom to do the same, and I think that if Lungs hadn’t succeeded the way it did in 2009, the music world would be vastly different. If Florence Welch hadn’t come along and garnered the success she did, I doubt that Marina Diamandis and Lana del Rey would’ve felt the confidence they do now in their unconventional music endeavors.

From the first track of Lungs, Florence Welch brings us into her world — a place where we can identify with each theme she creates but also escape to at the same time. Between her instrumentation and her ethereal stage presence, Florence’s music constantly raises the bar for art pop, from 2009 until now. Happy 10th birthday, Lungs.

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.

A Quiet Evening with Copeland and Friends

If you listened to our podcast on Copeland a few weeks back, you’ll know that I had never seen the band live. I bought tickets for their Boston show in December, before I had even heard the new album. You’ll also know I ended up loving the new album. I also loved how it translated in the atmosphere of the live show.

They toured with Many Rooms, whom I’d never heard of, and From Indian Lakes, a long time favorite of mine. Generally, the first act on the lineup isn’t who I’m there for, but by the end of Brianna Hunt’s set, I was wondering why Copeland wasn’t opening for her. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an opener sing something more than just fluff. A lot of times, I feel like headliners take the easy way out and pick bands that won’t steal the spotlight from them, but for me, Many Rooms was the highlight of the night. Her honest lyricism about religion and faith in today’s society really hit a chord with me. She just released an album last year called There Is a Presence Here, and her latest single is called “99 Proofs”.

From Indian Lakes was up next, and played a very classic set of tracks from their past two albums, as well as two new tracks. Their lead vocalist commented that this was the “most chill” tour they’d done, and it’s really true. They had a couple of new faces to go along with their new tracks, one of those featuring a new vocalist. I’m assuming we’ll get an album (or at least an EP), and I’m psyched about that — three years is a long time. On a slightly more critical note, it wasn’t my favorite set from the band, but I think that was due to the mechanics of the venue.

Copeland was the last act of the evening. They opened with “As Above, So Alone” from their latest album, Blushing. The songs from the album were great live, and the band used the help of some tracks to recreate some of the vibes the album put off. They played several fan favorites, of course, and following some technical difficulties with “Pope”, Aaron played “California” from Beneath Medicine Tree. The setlist was varied, and I appreciated how many songs from You Are My Sunshine they played.

All in all, it was a great night. The crowd was respectful and the music was great. It was a real privilege to see Copeland play and I hope they’ll come back aorund again soon.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2019: #3 Copeland Put an Emphasis on the Experience

Blushing will be Copeland’s sixth studio album. It’s been almost four years since the release of their comeback album Ixora, and Blushing seems like it will be a worthy follow-up to what was a beautiful representation of where the band was in the six years they were quiet.

The band self-produced their upcoming release, and as we all know, Aaron Marsh’s production skills are top tier. They seem to have a big emphasis on the experience the listener will have with the album, rather than it just being a group of songs thrown together.

A piece on the band’s website explains what their aim with the album is and I couldn’t be more excited about the new direction. It, very appropriately, releases on Valentine’s Day.

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.

Emily Blue Releases New EP “*69”

When Emily Blue opens the track “Cellophane” with the line, “Don’t you wish everything was still like it was back then?” it could easily be interpreted as the voice of her detractors, both musical and ideological.

Blue’s latest EP, *69, dropped last Friday and is another evolution of her art, leaving behind her more subtle offerings for loud, sensual, danceable pop aimed at smashing the patriarchy. It is at once fun and socially conscious.

Opener “Microscope” is much more layered and spastic than her previous releases, analyzing sexual autonomy, as Blue sings, “And you know how it goes, the lights go up / And suddenly you’re under the microscope and everyone wants to see”. Later, on the bass-heavy “Dum Blonde”, as if to hammer home *69’s most important refrain, she repeatedly exclaims, “You’ve got to know your power”.

“Falling in Love” is an alt throwback number blended with modern indie pop while “Waterfallz” shows off Blue’s vocal abilities with a soaring chorus. Across the EP’s five tracks, Emily Blue expands her sonic capabilities while building on her commanding themes of female empowerment and self-discovery.

Delightfully entertaining and a vitally important listen, *69 is the perfect end-of-summer EP. You can stream *69 on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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.

Summer Soundtracks: Lydia – Illuminate

A lot of things can define a summer soundtrack. These are the albums that have been there through thick and thin, remind you of the best days of your life, and always get the party going. Think block parties, beach trips, and the smell of sunscreen. Per the usual, I don’t use these criteria to define my summer. The only one that applies here is that this is an older album. Lydia’s album Illuminate has been there for me for a long time. It turned 10 years old in March, but it’s not a dated album by any stretch.

You can buy or stream Illuminate on Apple Music.

The album isn’t what you think of when you think of a typical summer album, but it’s light, airy, and consistent. At 11 tracks, it’s almost an hour long and follows a storyline. Lydia is known for their theatrical musings, but that’s something the band has moved away from in their past couple of albums.

The reason I love this album and keep coming back to it is it’s lack of intensity. It’s easygoing and sad, but the music is so beautiful that you can’t stay away from it. I just remember where I was when I first heard “I Woke Up Near the Sea” (a Spotify curated playlist from forever ago) and it was in the summer. Nothing was wrong and everything was easy. I had finally been getting into my own music and building my repertoire and Lydia has been a constant member of my group of staple artists.

Evident in a lot of the points I bring up in my writing is the ocean. I love watery, oceanic metaphors and this album is full of them. Even the album art is a girl standing by the sea in the wind. There are a lot of references to drowning and being in over your head and I think these are the carotid arteries of both adolescence and young adulthood.

I didn’t realize it when I was 17 listening to this album for the first time, but adulthood is not easy. It isn’t just growing up and grocery shopping and driving. It’s so much more complicated than that. It’s going to the same job year after year and missing hours of sunlight. It’s watching bills pile up. It’s going to funerals for people who have died too soon. But it’s also going to weddings and first birthday parties. This album, despite its melancholy themes, still manages to find the balance. It’s gentle with your feelings.

I think that’s why I love it. The best albums run the emotional gamut. This album does lean more toward the sadder side of things, but sometimes that’s okay. There are lines like “We never stay lonely” (“Fate”), and “San Francisco sounds quite lovely / So I’ll just wait for your call” (“Stay Awake”). There are twinges of the positive to be found. The band clings to these moments.

The last song on this album is my favorite. Musically it’s intricate and there’s always something new to find. The best artists pay attention to the smallest details. The instruments aren’t just accompaniment in this album; there’s always a new set of sounds to explore. But this song hits the hardest because it ties everything together: “Now the One You Once Loved Is Leaving”. It ends with a Wurlitzer piano, and Mindy White brings the album to a lull as it fades out. There’s no loop, it just restarts the experience over again after the sound of a door slam. It ends cathartically. It’s not how you wanted it to end, it’s not how you planned, but there it is in front of you. Just like real life.

So I know this isn’t the typical summer choice. It’s not high energy or played on every radio station a million times; it’s not very fun. It’s quiet and insightful. It has its highs and lows. The reason I love it for the summer is because it makes me nostalgic for simpler times, and that’s what summer is all about.

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: Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past

I have an ever-growing list of favorite bands. In 2011, I found a group from Texas called Eisley and they quickly became the newest addition. The Valley continues to be a spring staple for me, and I’ve often thought to myself that there’s an Eisley album for every season.

I greatly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed 2017’s I’m Only Dreaming. When Sherri Dupree-Bemis announced the re-release in May I was equally excited. I’m used to long waits for new albums, so the fact that there have been two Eisley releases in two years makes me happy.

You can buy I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past on Apple Music.

I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past is what the band themselves have dubbed “a collection of acoustic and re-depicted versions” of I’m Only Dreaming. The catch is that it’s only Sherri and Garron Dupree. Somehow, though, missing the rest of the band, the two family members have managed to create an even more ethereal rendition of what was already (like most of their past albums) an album straight from a fairytale.

While I’m not really sure what originally drew me to Eisley, their storybook atmosphere is what keeps me listening. Sherri’s vocals, combined with the synth they’ve adopted, create a beautiful soundscape that’s meant to be rested in. Where I’m Only Dreaming is effortless, I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past brings “effortless” to a new level. The barely-there pianos and softened harmonies are blended perfectly.

Let’s get into some specific tracks. Like the original album, I don’t really have a favorite song on this release. I was partial to “You Are Mine” (more on that track later) when it was released as a single, and the rest of the album didn’t disappoint. Eisley has mastered the less is more approach, both sonically and logistically. Their albums are never too long or heavy from a thematic standpoint and that makes them a standard in my car’s CD player. Any of the tracks hit the spot for me at any given time.

The two tracks I was most anticipating were “Louder Than a Lion” and “You Are Mine.” These are two of the most dynamic tracks in the Eisley song bank, in my opinion, and I was excited to see whether they’d keep the changes going or whether they’d scale them back. The former track has been stripped down in the best way. They don’t lose the haunting atmosphere, and, quite honestly, slowing it down and focusing on the vocal level has actually upped the eerie feeling I got from both the track when it was first released.

“You Are Mine” is right after “Louder Than a Lion” track-listing-wise. I also appreciated the paring down of this song, though not quite as much. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, because I had no idea what to expect, but for what is such an explosive song and perfect single, I think it’s very similar to other tracks on the album in almost an afterthought way.

Where “You Are Mine” fell a little short, “When You Fall” soars. They say that the things you talk about the most show your priorities. There’s no secret that Sherri and Max love their kids. This song about Sherri’s daughters is no different. The way she delivers the lyrics showcases the intense love and concern she has for her family and that’s what makes “When You Fall” a standout track.

The final track I want to highlight is “Brightest Fire”. This was an instant standout for me on the first iteration of the album, and the same could be said here. Sherri’s instrument of choice here is stacked harmonies, and as anyone who’s read one of my reviews knows, I’m a firm believer that any song can be improved by throwing some layered vocals into the mix. I simply can’t get enough of this song’s re-release.

As with the original recordings and variations of I’m Only Dreaming, I love this album. It puts the lyrical aspects of Eisley toward the forefront of the listener’s focus and I’m always a huge fan of that. Maybe this is being a little greedy, but I can’t wait to see how Eisley follows up this particularly special chapter in their history. It’s been a big era of change both personally and musically for the band, and I’m interested to see how they’ll channel that fact in releases to come.

4/5

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.

Review: Florence + the Machine – High As Hope

Florence Welch is not really known for the peaceful side of music. Thematically, things like storms and fights take precedent over quieter things. However, when I listened to her newest album, High As Hope, the only thing I felt was peace. Welch seems to be at peace with herself and the places she’s been and, therefore, the album exudes it.

You can buy High as Hope on Apple Music.

By the end of a Florence + the Machine album, I’m generally shocked. The albums are always intense and fast moving. It takes a while for everything to work itself out in my mind in order for it to become a complete work. That didn’t need to happen with High As Hope, because it’s just calm. Her last album was called How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The album was long and expansive like the ocean the title refers to. The latest album moves faster; it clocks in at 39 minutes and 57 seconds, though I thought about it for a heck of a lot longer than that.

The album opens with a song called “June”, which is aptly titled, being that the album was released on June 29th. It opens the album very quietly with the first lines being sung a cappella, before being joined by the slightest of strings. It sounds very Florence-esque, but in a very subdued way, almost akin to “Various Storms and Saints”. It sets the tone for the rest of the album in a way that makes the more energetic songs (not that there are many) almost feel out of place.

“Hunger” was the second single released in preparation for this album cycle. This song is heavy right from the beginning. In one line, she reveals that she struggled with an eating disorder. This sets up the idea that everyone is looking for something. Later, she sings, “Picking it apart and staring at your phone”. I know this might be a bit of a far reach, but the album art she chose as the cover for the song is of her reaching for a seedling. To me, when I listened to the song and looked at the album art, I saw a specific hunger for something authentic. Natural processes vs. machines (no pun intended), in a way. She specifically requested that audience members put their phones away on her last tour, in order that they might focus on what was actually going on around them, not watching life through a screen.

The final single she released, “Big God” is probably my least favorite track on the album. It just doesn’t seem like single material. “A Sky Full of Song”, though, is one of my favorite tracks. I love the fact that many of the songs are so bass-heavy. My fiancé is a bass player, so I might be a little biased, but I think the bass is underrated.

My absolute favorite song on the album is track six, titled “Grace”. She’s talking about the mistakes she’s made and the people she’s let down over the years. There’s a desperation in the way she sings on this song that makes it impossible to ignore. She sings, “I’m sorry I ruined your birthday”, regarding her substance abuse in her younger years and how it negatively affected her family life. She apologizes for it by singing, “But this is the only thing I’ve ever had any faith in / Grace, I know you carry us / Grace, it was such a mess”. To add context, her sister is named Grace and played an important role in keeping Florence going. In the same song, we find both an apology and thankfulness, which I think is the most beautiful expression on the album.

The final song on the album is called “No Choir” for exactly that reason. Florence is known for her use of overly layered vocals that provide that choral effect and it is completely absent here in this track. Like, “June”, it starts off a cappella and uses strings to build up to an emotional level that would be seen as ridiculous coming from anyone else but Renaissance queen Florence Welch. It’s about her music and where it’s taken her, and it’s a beautiful conclusion to an album that has shone light on some of the worst days of her life.

I think the album was crafted like the pain management brand Icy-Hot. “Icy to dull the pain. Hot to relax it away.” The topics Florence brings up on High As Hope are heavy but relatable – There’s your ice. The music is soothing and completely contrary to anything she’s talking about – There’s the heat. Gone are the angry drums and frantic melodies. Instead, it’s like you’re in the eye of the hurricane. It’s peaceful and safe. You can still sense the danger, and the minute you leave that spot, you’re back in the thick of the storm, but for this 39 minutes and 57 seconds, Florence + the Machine whisk you away and create, as always, a masterpiece.

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.

Photo by Vincent Haycock

Review: CHVRCHES – Love is Dead

As Memorial Day weekend arrives and temperatures creep into the 90s in the Midwest, I can’t help but be reminded of days past when this setting would be accompanied by the newest summer soundtracks. It’s a nostalgic sort of feeling that leaves me pining for long drives with windows down and late nights with old friends where the music tells our story.

Love is Dead, the third full-length release from Scottish synth-pop trio CHVRCHES, scratches this itch well, in both expected and unexpected ways.

You can buy Love is Dead on Apple Music.

Calling the music of CHVRCHES carefree, or, more specifically, the sort of tunes you’d play in those happy summer moments, might feel peculiar. The band has excelled at digging deep into pain underneath a blanket of shiny synthesizers, leaving just enough uncertainty to let the listener decide the mood. On this latest effort, the music is glossier and poppier than ever, while Lauren Mayberry’s lyrics forgo ambiguity, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

It’s an interesting choice, and one that will likely leave fans of the band feeling slightly off-center upon first listen. In truth, it might be the most impressive thing the band has done – expanding their own existing gap between sound and substance, making the bridge of that divide all the more impressive.

Album opener “Graffiti” is delightfully buzzy as Mayberry examines the vanishing of a youthful love, singing, “I’ve been waiting for my whole life to grow old / And now we never will”. At first glance, it’s the most straightforward track the band has penned, leaving room for reflection instead of targeting a culprit. But Love is Dead is far from one-dimensional, shifting emotions and wrestling with the very idea of what love means and looks like in a time of political and cultural turbulence.

On “Deliverance”, Mayberry takes a candid look at the harmful side of religion, crafting what might be the band’s most ear-pleasing track to date. On “Graves”, she targets sexism in the music industry, a topic she has spoken brilliantly and powerfully about in the past, singing, “You can look away / While they’re dancing on our graves / But I will stop at nothing”. These moments are so direct, it’s impossible to divorce them from their juxtaposed sonic surroundings, making the music of CHVRCHES just as engaging as ever.

In handing over the production reigns for the first time, the band allowed Steve Mac and Greg Kurstin to guide these moments that will likely transition CHVRCHES from indie darlings to full-blown pop stars. Kurstin’s work with Tegan and Sara seeps through so many tracks on Love is Dead, like blissful closer “Wonderland” and “Heaven/Hell”, which finds Mayberry being pushed to new vocal heights.

With any such transition to new territory, you will undoubtedly find missteps, and Love is Dead shows those growing pains at times. Early single “Miracle” strips the band of their distinctive edge, harnessing the type of beat that drives Imagine Dragons into pop purgatory. There are also repetitive moments that provoke disinterest, making the album feel about 10 minutes too long.

But when Love is Dead is at its best, it provokes the kind of feeling that a summer album should, while still providing plenty to dialogue about. In such a short time, CHVRCHES have toed a fine line between pop bliss and gloom, making them one of the most unique bands to blossom from the 2010’s 80s-inspired synth boom. That more people than ever may now feel compelled to join the conversation should be cause for rejoicing, even if you miss the quirkiness of The Bones of What You Believe or the sharp, ambiguous edges of Every Open Eye.

On “Deliverance”, Mayberry questions, “Is it deliverance / If you can never change?” For those rankled by a band growing their much-needed platform while inviting more participants to the party, this might be a good thought to ponder.

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.

Photo credit: Danny Clinch