Review: Emery – Rub Some Dirt On It

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I originally wasn’t going to write anything about the new Emery album, Rub Some Dirt On It. Anyone who has followed my pieces here on It’s All Dead knows my love for Emery and I think I’ve written or talked about almost every one of their albums in the five years since I started contributing here. I just kind of felt I had nothing new to add to the conversation. But where I was lacking inspiration, Emery stepped up and filled in the blanks for me.

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You can buy or stream Rub Some Dirt On It on Apple Music

Rub Some Dirt On It is Emery’s hardest hitting album to date. I think one of the privileges of being a band for 20 years is being able to drop the filter and really lean into the art you want to make. Over the past few years, the scene has often been up in arms over the members of Emery’s podcasts, or artistic choices with album art, or the shift in their lyrical content. A few years ago, they released a song called “People Always Ask If We’re Gonna Cuss in an Emery Song” for God’s sake. They’re basically an ouroboros now, just devouring the criticism and turning it into more incredible and thought-provoking art than ever before. Just when you think it’s quiet on the Emery front, they release a single like “I Don’t Know You At All”, and you’re sucked right back in. If Emery has anything going for them 20 years into their career, it’s their talent for constantly staying in the back of the scene’s mind.

For Rub Some Dirt On It, I wrote off the title as an uber-masculine dude-fest at first, but Emery is at their most vulnerable here. The songs detail church abuse (“Stranger”), the way faith falters over the years (“You Stole God From Me”), and just the regular old guy/gal songs we know and love from South Carolina’s post-hardcore darlings (“You Said Enough”). And just in case we get too overwhelmed or in our feelings over it, they end the album with “Lovely Lady”, a complete turn-around musically, but a cool picture of just how well they mesh as a band, and a fitting closer to a very deep and personal album.

The album has some of Emery’s most interesting instrumentation, and more cutting lyrics than even in their edgy era when they were young. The 20+ years together have only tightened their sound and refined their artistic presence. They were a force to be reckoned with in the scene when they began, and they’re even more of a force now.

The band recorded this album in one take on a 2-hour livestream spectacular, and other than some minor tweaks here and there for recording’s sake, gave us the album as it was originally performed. I’ve said this before, but Emery really took the independent release format by the horns and completely flipped the script. Every time they’ve released something in their indie era, it’s better and fresher than what they did before. It’s almost like they challenge themselves to try something new every album cycle, and we’re privileged enough to come along for the ride.

5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Valleyheart – Heal My Head

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Well it’s time, folks. Time to talk more about an album I haven’t been able to shut up about: Valleyheart’s Heal My Head. It’s finally out in the world, and it’s just what I’ve needed. This is an album perfect for spring and summer, and it is the perfect offering to usher us into sunnier days.

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You can buy or stream Heal My Head on Apple Music

What drew me to Valleyheart initially is their lyrical honesty and fresh take on the alt genre. Their first album, Everyone I’ve Ever Loved, hit me deeply in a way only a kid who grew up in New England churches can get hit. In a part of the country affectionately known by other religious areas as the “frozen chosen,” what Valleyheart had to say about church and the way that kind of upbringing tosses you into adulthood with little else but questions really resonated with me.

Their new album, Heal My Head, feels like defrosting. The sounds are lighter, the chords are major, and it’s all around giving me a chance to catch my breath. Vocalist/guitarist Kevin Klein and the guys have focused on time, and the way it ebbs and flows. We get songs about their success, songs about hoping for more, songs about friendship. There’s something here for everyone.

From the initial notes of “Birth”, a soft entrance through the door of this house Valleyheart built, we are pushed into the lead single, “The Numbers”. It’s easily one of the best songs of the year thus far, and a great representation of what we can expect here from the rest of this piece. This song is about Spotify stats at its core, but it really is about more than that: It’s about slowing down and taking the time to appreciate where we’ve been and where we’re going. It’s a song about gratitude. 

“Warning Signs” is the most different track, a very pop heavy song that was instantly a favorite for me. It’s catchy, and it breaks up the album just enough to keep things interesting. I fell head over heels for their harder rock sound, but tracks like this, along with “Back and Forth” and “Vampire Smile” are reminders that this band can do whatever they want and make it sound incredible, while keeping it congruent with the rest of what they’re trying to bring forth.

I love this album more every time I listen to it. Each time there’s something new for me to find or to think about. There truly are no highs or lows here. Every track has been chosen and placed with the steady hand of a master, and everything fits together like the pieces of the clock in the album art. The album is filled with joie de vivre. As I’ve spent time with it, I’m struck more and more of how this came at the perfect time for me. I am continually in awe of when things in my life completely sync up with a band’s releases, and this album has already begun to feel like home to me.

I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve found a new band to obsess over. 2013 began my love for From Indian Lakes, in 2015 came Pianos Become the Teeth, 2020 brought Gleemer. 2021 up to now and far into the future has brought me Valleyheart. A band close to home and now close to my heart and soul. Heal My Head is an album that will stay with me for a while, to say the least. It feels like coming up for air.

5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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.

Podcast: Interview with Kevin Klein of Valleyheart

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Friday marks the release of Heal My Head, the new album from Massachusetts alt rock trio Valleyheart. Vocalist and guitarist Kevin Klein joined us on the show to chat with our own Nadia Alves about the band’s sonic progression on this new record and what inspired them to explore new territory. Klein also shares about his songwriting process and how exploring past trauma allowed himself and the band to tap into new and powerful stories that serve as the heartbeat of Heal My Head. Take a listen, and then go snag the album on Friday!

Pre-order Heal My Head here.

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated of 2022: Mitski Opens a New Chapter

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I remarked to my husband at the end of 2021 that I was officially entering my indie sad girl years, not to be confused, of course, with my emo sad girl years. I said this after spending a particularly emotional week in the world of The Mountain Goats, and I kind of moved away from the notion as I looked at my Spotify Wrapped and realized I’m still very much emo. And then I listened to the (now three) singles from Mitski’s upcoming album Laurel Hell. And unlike my other most anticipated projects, it’s real and tangibly close to being in my hands.

Not only is this album coming very soon (February 4th), but it is proving to be my favorite Mitski project so far. She is so consistently good at what she does, and for a lot of artists, we would see “sixth album” and write it off as a has been or a reach. But Mitski gets better with age. Her lyricism improves, her confidence in using new instrumentation or new influences improves. Based on the singles so far, I am already placing Laurel Hell in my running for favorite album of the year.

Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

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You know that old saying “If I could, I’d give you the moon”? On Foxing’s new album, Draw Down the Moon, Foxing both asks for the moon and delivers it to us on a silver platter. 

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You can buy or stream Draw Down the Moon on Apple Music

This is, in short, a superb album. But of course it is, because Foxing never does anything less. I honestly thought they’d peaked with Nearer My God, but somehow they’ve aimed higher here and hit the mark. If Nearer My God was the “rock” in “art rock,” then Draw Down the Moon is the “art.”

The album begins softly with “737”, a song about loneliness and how it’s not sustainable. The guys compare themselves to the Mars rover who died after being on the planet for 15 years: “My battery is low / And it’s getting dark”. Conor Murphy said in the band’s press release: “This album is about cosmic significance as it relates to 10 themes.” In the first track, the bridge alludes to all nine of the tracks to follow. It’s a subtle choice, but it ties everything together in what could be seen as a chaotic album. Foxing is a calculated band. Chaos isn’t chaos for the sake of it. If we feel disjointed, it’s because they’ve decided we should feel that way.

The album was co-produced by the Manchester Orchestra folks, masters of their own craft, and you can definitely see their influence. “Where the Lightning Strikes Twice” could be mistaken for a Manchester song in a universe not far from ours.

As a longtime follower of the band (after catching them as an opener for Manchester Orchestra, funnily enough), I know better than to go into the Foxing discography looking for a casual listen. But with this album, I wish I could have turned off that analytical side. This album cuts deep. Songs about loneliness, about mental illness making it feel like “you’re swimming through mercury” (Go Down Together). Songs like “Cold-Blooded” that talk about feeling numb to an ever-changing, ever-failing world. These things matter. And Foxing knows that not only do things feel smaller when they’re talked about, but by pairing them with larger-than-life art, we can turn the things that make us nervous and the things that emotionally ail us into outlets for creativity and learning experiences.

In the title track, Conor sings “I want to show you / I can keep it all together”, but this album is a lesson in letting it fall apart, and rising above it.

5/5

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

In Greek mythology, there is a river in the Underworld called the River Lethe, which was said to bring forgetfulness to those who drank from it. John Milton wrote about it in Paradise Lost and called it “Lethe, the river of oblivion.” In Little Oblivions, Julien Baker makes the same comparison, but she uses a few more words (and instruments) to do it.

You can buy or stream Little Oblivions on Apple Music.

This time around, Julien starts her story with a relapse, which she talks about in “Hardline”, the second single. The album moves quickly, not pausing for reflection so much, like her past albums have. When I first added Little Oblivions to my most anticipated, we only had “Faith Healer”, a song about church trauma, in a sense, but when wrapped into the album as a whole, it’s more about the idea of searching for a solution. 

I’ve seen my fair share of people who claim they can heal, and maybe when I was younger, I thought it was a feasible idea because it was a normalcy in my religious life. But as years passed and people in my life didn’t receive the healing I thought they deserved, or things generally didn’t turn out the way these (obviously fallible) humans said they would, this aspect of faith began to lose its luster for me. And yet. I understand Julien’s desperation in “Faith Healer” probably better than a lot of folks who have found solace in her music. She longs to believe the way she used to, and so do I.

As a person who deals with depression and anxiety from things in the past that shook me when I was too young to be shaken, the question that Julien asks in “Favor” hit me deeply, because I saw myself: “How long do I have until I’ve spent everyone’s goodwill?” We know our hurts affect those around us, and it’s so hard to get out of our own way. I guess that’s why Julien writes songs about it.

I could write forever on each one of these songs that Julien has offered up, and as I finish typing these paragraphs I’m sitting in my own church parking lot, which I feel is symbolic in some strange way. Every one hit me deeply in places I hadn’t expected. In the final track, when she sings, “Good God / When You gonna call it off? / Climb down off of the cross / And change your mind” I feel like Julien is talking to God about herself.

We have the obvious biblical and religious allusions and implications of Christ freeing Himself from the cross at face value, but I feel like Julien is asking to be free of her cross. The religious upbringing, the lack of acceptance across the board in church, the struggles with addiction — it’s all tied together. It seems like Julien feels she’s been ziptied to this cross and wants out. 

Julien has opened herself here, adding more instruments than we’ve ever seen from her — and she played everything herself. The sheer talent she holds is incredible. She has given us three albums that are pretty close to perfect in a short timespan. What takes many artists decades to accomplish has taken Julien Baker, in a professional sense, six years.

But in a personal sense, Julien begs for forgetfulness. She longs to leave her darkest nights in the past, but she just can’t stop singing about them. It’s like she sits at the mouth of the River Lethe, filling up her cup again and again, only to be met with disappointment. These things stay with her, and so they stay with us.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

As soon as I saw Hayley Williams announce that she was releasing a second album, I was sure I wanted to talk about it. But even in writing this now, I’m still thinking about how I want to approach Flowers for Vases / Descansos, an album completely different from last year’s pop fest that was Petals for Armor. It even took me a couple of days to work up the courage to listen to it in its entirety. This is not Petals, it’s not Paramore. This is the forced cracking of a geode, and whether there are gems inside still remains to be seen.

You can buy or stream Flowers for Vases / Descansos on Apple Music.

For once in my tenure with Hayley Williams as a songwriter and musician, I don’t find myself in her words. Maybe that’s a good thing. If you thought Petals was an intense and honest look at her struggles, then you’re not prepared for Flowers for Vases. I wonder if her wild way of promoting the album is a shield for how nerve wracking it must’ve been to release something so wildly personal.

The first thing I took a look at before listening to the album was the word “descansos” that she uses in the title. “Descanso” is the Spanish word for “place of rest,” and colloquially, it has come to mean the devastatingly lonely crosses on the side of the highway marking the scene of and commemorating the death of a loved one. 

The reason for tacking this onto the title is evident in every track of the album, most notably to me “The First Thing to Go”, but it also colored the way the album sounds. Yes, it’s a moody, acoustic take on the Petals for Armor subject matter, but it reminds me so much of classical Spanish guitar music, and I refuse to believe anything but it being a clear choice Hayley made.

This album is a lot of things. It’s subtle, it’s heart wrenching, it’s raw. I want this to finally be a turning point for Hayley. It wasn’t evident when Petals was released, but the fanfare of that album, the synth and the soaring vocals, was still a way she was holding things back and keeping them tucked away. It’s her right to do, it’s her story and her path to healing, but with Flowers for Vases, it seems she has finally accepted that not only is there more work to be done, but there is a different way she needs to approach it. 

Flowers for Vases is yet another jewel in Hayley Williams’ crown. Mined from hurt and years of pain and emotional neglect, this jewel sits toward the back, hidden from view, and it is sharp and can cut. Yet the crown wouldn’t be complete without it.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves 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: Taylor Swift – folklore

At this point, there should be very little Taylor Swift could do that would shock us. Releasing her eighth (and possibly best) album less than a year after Lover, her seventh (and possibly best) album, is one example, though. Simply put, folklore is a masterpiece of a record that exemplifies the best of Swift as an artist while reigning in just as many aspects that made her a world renowned star. Restrained, introspective and overflowing with emotional stories, folklore is as much a perfect introduction to Swift as it is a departure of her sound.

You can buy or stream folklore on Apple Music.

Folklore is almost as much of a sonic departure for Swift as 1989 was at the time of its release. While Lover reveled in the silence between notes, the anthemic stadium pop still filtered through the gaps. It’s difficult to say that folklore, an album conceived during the coronavirus quarantine, is a natural progression of Lover even though it further strips away the electrifying pop sounds and delves deeper into the indie folk genre.

Co-written with Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dressner and Bon Iver, folklore is an indie folk album that revels in Swift’s signature storytelling abilities. However, where the album gains its strength is in the mixture of personal stories and fictional characters that blend together so well, it seems like this is how Swift has written her songs all along (“my tears richochet”).

Stripped of the overt poppy gloss, it would be easy to write folklore off as a return to Swift’s country roots, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The piano and acoustic led songs would be just as good if fleshed out further so as to make them stadium rumbling anthems. However, as is, the album is amongst the most intimate of Swift’s lyrics, even when the story isn’t about her.

On a surface level, folklore appears to be almost too relaxed (“cardigan”). It lacks Swift pushing her vocals to their limits, anthemic choruses or any of those hooks that would make for an obvious top radio single. Instead, Swift’s relaxed vocals force attention to melody and lyricism. Minimalistic, folklore puts the story at the forefront with the soft twinkle of piano, acoustic guitar and surgically precise orchestration relegated to the most intense moments (“august”).

If there is a theme to folklore, it is to turn the tables on the fans who pour over Swift’s lyrics to decipher what she is singing about. Each song of folklore seems to dance from real stories, to fictional characters to the speculative heartbreak expected on Swift’s early releases.

Opener “the 1” retraces the lost loves we all held as young adults (“Roaring twenties, tossing pennies in the pool / And if my wishes came true / It would’ve been you”). Meanwhile, “the last great american dynasty” pulls at similar themes to “The Lucky One” from Red (“Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the maddest woman this town has ever seen / She had a marvelous time ruining everything”).

The twinkling piano of “mad woman” acts as a second act to Lover’s “The Man” in that it radiates years’ worth of rage from dealing with sexism, harkening back to “Look What You Made Me Do” as well as “the last great american dynasty” (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”). Meanwhile, closing track “hoax” acts as a bookend to “the 1”, diving fully into the regret and anger of those true, lost loves (“Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do”).

The magic of folklore isn’t that it was a surprise release, but that it was a surprising delivery. Stripped of the over-the-top glam of her previous albums, Folklore manages to be just as poignant as any past releases, with Swift the artist reigning above Swift the pop star. If there is a fault in folklore, it’s that the album is a few songs too long, but I do not envy the person to decide which to cut. That folklore manages to carry the weight of the biggest pop star on the planet and retain the ingenuity of an up-and-comer is only further proof that Taylor Swift may be the best musical artist on the planet.

5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and dropped his deodorant in the toilet today, the way that champions do.

Review: Anchor & Braille – TENSION

Back in 2014, Anberlin, one of alternative’s most exceptional bands, hung up their guitars and drumsticks. Stephen Christian has some of the most easily-identifiable vocals of the past two decades, and the idea that he wasn’t going to serenade us anymore was a thought I almost couldn’t bear. He hadn’t released anything from his side project, Anchor and Braille, since 2012, and we would have to wait another two years after Anberlin’s end for a new taste of what Stephen had to offer. 

You can buy or stream TENSION on Apple Music.

Fast forward to today, another four years later, and we finally have TENSION. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, TENSION is another pop album. Synthy, 80’s-inspired, romantic – what else could we ask for?

This album is clearly dedicated to Stephen’s wife Julia, as he sings in the first single, “DANGEROUS”. While that could turn some people off, I think it’s cute. It’s sickly sweet, like eating your entire box of candy during the movie previews and having that weird feeling in your stomach for the rest of the two hours, but no one can deny that the honesty is characteristic of an Anchor and Braille album.

Personally, I prefer Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. I feel like that’s because I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of pop music, and TENSION throws us a much lighter vibe. It’s a worthy addition to the Anchor and Braille oeuvre, but it definitely is the beginning of a shift in Stephen Christian’s sound. It’s enjoyable and sure to be a summer drive album, but it doesn’t have the same hard hitting lyrics that Late Night Drive gave us. My favorite track is “Closer and Farther”, which is undeniably the closest we get to a Late Night Drive B-side.

I will always gobble up anything Stephen Christian serves us, but TENSION is very monotonous. It never ends up taking us on the journey that Stephen’s art is so known for. The highs and lows of Felt, and the emotions of Late Night Drive, that we’ve grown to love and expect from Anchor and Braille are missing here.

3.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

Music videos are dead. The last video that caught my attention enough to follow the band was OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” (and every one since then). But when a video catches you correctly, it can spawn a lifelong love for the band. I still remember where I was when I saw the iPod commercial featuring The Fratellis’ “Flathead”. I thought those days were dead. But sometimes, magic strikes out of nowhere. Such is the case with The Regrettes.

You can buy or stream How Do You Love? on Apple Music.

Like The Fratellis, after seeing their video for the single, “I Dare You”, not only did I count down the days until the release of their sophomore album How Do You Love?, but the single that hooked me turned out to be one of my least favorite tracks when compared to the rest of the album. The Regrettes are a force to be reckoned with, and they’ve only just begun.

“I Dare You” is a great song that is paired with an infectiously creative music video. But it doesn’t convey the power behind the rest of the album. How Do You Love? is a tamed rock album that feels just as confident behind power chords as it does the quiet reflection on the chaos of relationships. On a weird level, How Do You Love? is an awkward concept album about the glorious feelings and dreadful lows of falling in love. The energy behind the music conveys the feelings enough to feel the pulse of budding romance. Just try not to feel butterflies while listening to the anxious energy of “California Friends”.

Guitarists Genessa Gariano and Lydia Night sway effortlessly as they blend raging garage punk, giddy pub rock and tender acoustics (“How Do You Love?”). They manage to harness a balance in songwriting that rests comfortably between the indie sound of Rilo Kiley and The Hives’ frantic need to kick down a wall, while still sounding unique from either. Bassist Brooke Dickson threatens to steal every song (“Here You Go”), and drummer Drew Thomsen keeps the songs playful and attentive (“Dress Up”).

Vocalist Lydia Night is at home maintaining a balance that is equal parts punk and quietly contemplative. She adjusts song from song to portray the high or low of falling in love, but never loses attention. “California Friends” explores the awkward touch and go of attraction and the electrifying feeling it gives, as she sings over fuzzed guitars, “Check out this band from California / I can make you a playlist of their songs / Won’t you come and hold me close now?”

“Coloring Book” finds that breathless sensation of being completely overtaken by someone else. An amped acoustic song, Night emotes against the silence as much as the music as she sings, “I can’t believe you’re sitting next to me / Just open up your eyes and tell me, what do you see? / Do you see somebody looking back at you / Or do you see somebody that’s in love with you?”

Meanwhile, the title song, “How Do You Love?” harnesses the pub rock aspect as Night laments not understanding what it takes to keep a relationship, despite the intense feelings that cropped up throughout the album (“It’s the little things I can’t understand / How they love, lie, pass it, and keep holding hands”).

The Regrettes are an impressive young band. How Do You Love? is an album that bases itself on the most basic of premises (a rock album about adolescent love) and still manages to hang with the best of bangers. It’s the type of album that makes you think rock can still be a mainstream hit. More importantly, it’s the type of album that friends bond over and draws people to music.

5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is petting the head of a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex instead of his cat. He regrets nothing.