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.

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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

Review: Beach House – 7

The number seven is a number that holds a lot of symbolism in history. Biblically, it signifies completion. It’s a number that holds a lot of weight through superstition – seven years of bad luck follow breaking a mirror. There are seven deadly sins and seven chakras in Hinduism. It is considered a sacred number in many cultures. On Beach House’s new album, 7, I’m not sure whether they refer to any of these ideas, but they certainly reflect on their past six albums and the world we live in today.

You can buy 7 on Apple Music.

Beach House was formed in 2006, and has two members: Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. In 2008, they released Devotion, which was the album that I first heard and enjoyed. But in all of their albums, they place a focus on sitting and meditating. Their albums are drawn out experiences, and, in my opinion, are meant to be listened to in one sitting, from start to finish. 7 is no different.

The album begins with “Dark Spring”, which is a different direction musically (and the third single). Their past albums usually begin with a softer track that builds up, but this opener hits right away. It’s bass heavy and establishes a sound that really carries right through the entire album. Lyrically, it talks about the death of stars and a lack of light, hence the title. The lyrical theme carries on into the next track, “Pay No Mind”, which showcases a different type of dying star: an ending relationship. Legrand sings, “It’s painful but / You do what you must”.

“Lemon Glow” was the first single the band released. I really liked the vibe that this track puts out. There’s a driving force behind it that, while at the same time carrying so much gentle energy, also carries so much restraint. One of my favorite things about this band is their ability to effortlessly bring a sense of balance.

The strangest track on the album is “L’Inconnue”. It has a very Catholic feel to it, brought on by the heavy use of layered vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place in such a church service. Legrand is French, and she sings some French in this song. The subject comes from a story about a woman who was found drowned in the Seine River. In an interview with Stereogum, Legrand said of the track: “The French part [on “L’Inconnue”] started years ago. We always liked it, but we never found where it belonged.” 

“I am loving losing life” is a line from the track “Drunk In L.A.” It struck me as a really heavy but profound line. It’s about death, and follows the song about a girl who drowned, but this isn’t a morbid song. Victoria Legrand talks about the memories she’s made over the years. She talks about strawberries in the summer and playing pretend when she was a child. These are times she’s proud of and recalls fondly. She acknowledges that life isn’t forever, but it’s okay because she’s doing what she loves. This is one of my favorite tracks on this album because it’s a reminder that amidst all of the negative things that a person watches happen in the world in a lifetime, there’s a positive microcosm of personal memories that make life worth living.

Sonically, I love the direction of “Dive”. It was the second single released, and it shifts the mood from the melancholy tones of the past couple of tracks and brings the energy of “Dark Spring” back. They’re not happy lyrics though: “Tell her something / Tell her nothing /  Tell her that you’re fading”.

The last single they released is “Black Car”. It’s a strange single choice, but I suppose they may have wanted to give a different taste of the album. The previous singles were on the more upbeat side of things, but this track is moody and dark. This isn’t a favorite track for me, and I can see myself skipping it when I (inevitably, much to my chagrin) do cherry-pick tracks in later listens. It is interesting in the way that this is one of the only tracks where there’s a back-and-forth lilt in the lyrical delivery.

Remember how I talked about Beach House’s use of balance? “Lose Your Smile” is another example. “Drunk In L.A.” had references to happy times, but then the mood was brought back down for the next two tracks. This album is like a soundwave: up and down. We’re back on the upswing with “Lose Your Smile”, which strays away from their usual musical choices with some country influences. It’s a lovely track. “Dreams, baby do come true”, Victoria sings as the end fades out.

The song with the most shallow lyricism is “Woo”. It’s a proper love song. Victoria sings of unrequited love: “I cannot say much / But I want it all / And I want it all”. It’s psychedelic and sonically reminds me of 90s R&B, in a weird and definitely vague, barely-there way.

If “Woo” has shallow lyricism (from, of course, a Beach House perspective – the lyrics are never truly shallow), then they make up for it in “Girl of the Year”. This is a song about the harsh reality of stardom, and has a lot of sexual imagery, no doubt connecting the two topics due to the rise of the Me Too movement and the heavy emphasis on Hollywood and the price of fame.

The final track on the album, “Last Ride”, is in reference to Nico, the German singer who died following a bicycle accident in 1988. It could also be seen as a potential reference to the end of Beach House’s musical efforts. If seven is the number of completion, it’s possible that they’ve completed all of the music they have to offer. (That’s just my fan theory, though – not confirmed or even likely. Just a distinction I noticed.) The song ends with the line, “It’s just a whisper”, as the keys fade out.

This is nothing short of a beautiful album. Each track is essential to explaining the ideas and perspective Legrand and Scally put into our minds and thought processes, which is difficult to accomplish with a first album, never mind number seven. It’s lyrically thought-provoking and the soundscape is enthralling. Is it their best album? Maybe. It’s hard to compare Beach House’s albums because they’re all dynamic in their own way. 7 is simply the perfect addition to a wonderfully diverse catalog.

4.5/5

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill

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: Matt and Kim – Almost Everyday

I’ve been on a huge indie pop streak this year. I loved MANIA by emo kings Fall Out Boy, but lately I keep returning to Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life by The Wombats and Always Ascending by Franz Ferdinand. My spring playlist consists of Bad Suns and Smallpools, but nowhere to be found was anything from the Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim. That may have been because they haven’t released any music since 2016 and simply fell off my radar. The real reason is that I’ve never listened to anything but their 2009 single “Daylight.” Sorry, Matt and Kim.

You can buy Almost Everyday on Apple Music.

I don’t know what it is lately but all the albums being released seem to be about death and loss and how generally bad the world is to live in these days. While these things are all inevitable and true, Matt and Kim took the opportunity to lighten the mood with their latest album Almost Everyday. Okay, the songs are still sad but at least there’s some synth as a distraction. We’re all having a hard time with trying to find the silver lining in society, and Matt and Kim express it this way in the first single, “Forever”: “Don’t want to live forever / If things stay like this.” Big mood.

The album has a lot of 80s vibes and, if I can make a weird comparison, sounds like those jackets covered in random geometric shapes look. I know that’s vague and doesn’t make much sense, but it has a very cubic feel to me.

“Like I Used to Be” reminisces on how things were when Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino were young. They talk about broken down cars and partying late. He sings, “And yeah, the sails have set / But I’m not dead yet”. This theme continues in the next track, “I’d Rather”, which is one of my favorites. One of things that sets Matt and Kim apart is their recognizable use of piano, and it’s displayed best on this track.

My other favorite track is “Happy If You’re Happy”. I really like the lyricism and tone of it. I just think it’s adorable and can imagine it playing at my wedding. A lot of this album talks about being sure to live a life with aspects worth remembering. They talk a lot about being older and remembering things but they also have a lot of present memories that they talk about, too. They haven’t lost their sense of fun. It’s a nice reminder that growing up doesn’t have to mean growing up. Sure we’ll have bills and funerals and a lot of “adult” things to do, but we can also make memories that don’t involve the mundane. We can still have adventures.

Almost Everyday isn’t my favorite album. I don’t think it’s my style. I’m sure it will resonate with some people, but I don’t think this will be one I’ll play regularly. I think the synth is a little bit overdone for my taste. It sounds almost industrial at times, which is a cool effect, but it’s used too much and kind of makes up for the fact that it isn’t very lyrically exciting. All of the songs touch on the same themes and while that usually makes for a cohesive album, the way Matt and Kim went about it just makes it redundant. That being said, it’s still well produced and has some gems that may end up on a playlist.

3/5

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.

The Contagious Joy of Echosmith on Inside a Dream Tour

There’s just something about watching someone do something they truly love that’s genuinely rewarding. It brings a smile to your face and fills your heart. It’s familiar and it can even instill you with confidence about yourself and your own aspirations. That’s the feeling I got watching Echosmith on stage at Old National Center in Indianapolis last week.

Even without a promised new full-length, Echosmith has managed to maintain the steam they generated in late 2013 with single “Cool Kids” and the success of their debut, Talking Dreams.  Last year’s promised new album turned into an EP titled Inside a Dream, which may have been one of the most overlooked releases of 2017, harnessing the band’s charm with the introduction of well-executed synth-pop.

Echosmith

With those new dance beats now in their arsenal, Echosmith’s live performance has morphed into a therapeutic party of excitement and release. As the band took the stage to “18” from their recent EP, singer Sydney Sierota’s smile lit up the room. The band, consisting of siblings Sydney, Noah, and Graham, parted with their eldest brother Jamie in 2016 when he stepped away to care for his newborn. In his absence, the band has carried on without losing a step on stage.

Despite their early success, it’s these unheeded new tracks that steal the show in the band’s live performance. Yes, it’s easy for onlookers to sing along to Talking Dreams tracks like “Let’s Love’, “Terminal”, and “Bright”, but fresh performances of “Future Me”, “Get Into My Car”, and “Hungry” breathe excitement into the crowd. The best moment of the night includes a stirring performance of “Goodbye”, complete with exploding balls of confetti that rain down on the bouncing congregation.

Echosmith

The tracks on Inside a Dream succeed in tackling the frustrations of youth, regret, and heartbreak while operating atop sparkling synth sounds akin to 1989 or the latest release from PVRIS. It’s a juxtaposition that harkens to the band’s early days while providing a look at what it means to say goodbye to your innocence.

All of this is what makes the smile on Sydney’s face as she sings such a joy to watch. At one point during the evening, she asks the crowd who came to the concert alone and invites those nearby to put arms around their shoulders and sway to the song. It’s a communal experience, which makes sense, because Echosmith has continued to so confidently convey what it means to grow up. Does it hurt at times? Of course. But there’s something to be said for finding comfort in those that journey alongside you.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

If you frequent this website, you’re aware of our approach to music criticism. We view it as more of a dialogue – toeing the line between flag-waving fandom and unbiased, nuanced observation. Call it critique with a heart. This review will not abide by this principle. It, in fact, cannot.

I make this disclaimer because Julien Baker’s new album Turn Out the Lights is deeply meaningful to me. Maybe more so than any recent release I can remember. Over the next 900 words, I’m going to tell you why.

You can buy Turn Out the Lights on iTunes.

Like many others, I discovered Baker’s debut, Sprained Ankle via word of mouth. That album became a refuge of sorts. When hearing Baker’s fragile voice atop her guitar, it’s hard not to visualize her pain. Those songs are poignant in their specificity, yet universal enough to find your own story within. So often in life, we feel like we have to fight our battles alone. Sprained Ankle became a safe place to process my own demons and feel solace with someone in the midst of their own fight.

I was not alone in my experience. Since that release, Baker’s profile has risen, and thus, so did the anticipation for her follow up. Turn Out the Lights expands on Sprained Ankle’s outlines in nearly every way. No longer alone with her guitar, Turn Out the Lights finds new and interesting arrangements, including piano and strings. These new elements open doors for Baker to explore painful themes in a way that feels as authentic as anything you’re likely to hear this year.

Turn Out the Lights lives in the moments right after the ugly cry, as you gather yourself and decide whether to give up or push onward. It is unapologetic in its honesty – a trait that will hit close to home for many, and potentially alarm some others. No matter. Turn Out the Lights may not be for everyone, but for those willing to journey along through the mire with Baker, the discomfort is worth it.

I knew from the moment I heard lead single “Appointments” that this release would be more than just another album to me. This summer, my therapist moved away. If you’ve ever been through therapy, you know how upended your whole becomes as you process the idea of starting from scratch with someone new. Two months into my refusal to try again, Baker’s line of, “Suggest that I talk to somebody again / That knows how to help me get better / Until then I should just try not to miss any more appointments” hit home in a very real way.

I’d venture to say that anyone who has battled with depression would find a multitude of moments like these on Turn Out the Lights. Not to mention those who struggle with addiction, those who question their faith, those living in the aftermath of a failed relationship, or just about anyone working through pain in their lives. Baker’s knack for translating her trials into songs that feel so universal is nearly unmatched.

Moments that force my own deep personal reflection come on tracks like “Happy to Be Here” as Baker belts, “Well I heard there’s a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why / Then why not me?” or on “Shadowboxing” when she sings, “You can’t even imagine how badly it hurts just to think sometimes”. These moments of painful solidarity bring the slightest hint of hope. Hope that we’re not alone in this struggle and that someone else is there. Baker tugs at this notion on “Hurt Less” with the closing lines, “As long as you’re not tired yet of talking / It helps to make it hurt less”.

I often find it hard to share the deepness of my struggle with depression. In my attempts to verbalize my thoughts, I can pass that pain along to a loved one unwittingly. It’s difficult to talk about the darkness without casting it onto someone else, which is why those fleeting moments when we can safely confide are so precious. It’s also why the album’s closer, “Claws in Your Back”, might be the most painful, personal and powerful song I’ve ever heard.

It’s painful because it fearlessly tackles thoughts of suicide and the terror of sharing those thoughts out loud. “Pump the vitals out of my wrist / ‘Cause I’m conducting an experiment on how it feels to die / Or stay alive”, Baker’s broken voice rattles out atop her haunting piano. It’s personal because it captures the private struggle of depression, with Baker singing, “So try to stay calm, ‘cause nobody knows / The violent partner you carry around / With claws in your back, ripping your clothes / And listing your failures out loud”.

But more than anything, it’s powerful because, like everyone who fights this battle, Baker must choose to live with “the sickness you made”, declaring on the album’s final, chill-inducing lines, “I take it all back / I changed my mind / I wanted to stay”. The beauty of her cries vocalize the will it takes to fight for another day. It’s the kind of beautiful that only music can convey. And it’s the reason we listen. It’s the reason I write. It’s the reason this website exists.

I could tell you about the songwriting growth exhibited by Baker on Turn Out the Lights, or the powerful production and purposeful arrangements that make it one of the year’s best albums. But ultimately, I want to tell you to find the music that speaks your language, shares your fears and speaks to your soul. Cling to it and listen to it as often as you can. Because these moments are the reason we listen at all. Maybe Turn Out the Lights is that for you, as it is for me. But if not, keep listening, keep searching and keep fighting. You don’t have to do it alone.

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.

FRENSHIP Perform Stripped-Down Rendition of “Capsize”

This past weekend, Cincinnati hosted the sixth annual Bunbury Music Festival on the banks of the Ohio River, playing host to the likes of The 1975, Muse, Wiz Khalifa, Death Cab for Cutie and more. On Saturday, rising indie pop duo FRENSHIP took the Nissan Stage supporting their 2016 debut EP Truce.

Last year saw FRENSHIP, composed of James Sunderland and Brett Hite, breakthrough with their hit single “Capsize”, featuring Emily Warren. Before their Saturday performance at Bunbury, the duo made a stop at the WCPO Lounge to perform a stripped-down rendition of “Capsize” along with Warren. Take a listen to the performance below:

With Bunbury in the books, FRENSHIP will be heading out for a few more dates later this summer, including a stop at Lollapalooza. If you haven’t yet had the chance to pick up a copy of Truce, you can download the EP on iTunes. Then check out their entire WCPO Lounge Acts performance here.

Posted by Kiel Hauck