Podcast: Discussing Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” with Evan Sawdey

A new album from Dua Lipa is here – and it is good. Future Nostalgia sees the U.K. singer rising to pop stardom amidst an array of disco hits. Kiel Hauck welcomes Evan Sawdey of PopMatters onto the podcast to discuss Future Nostalgia and how Dua Lipa’s new music arrives at the perfect time. The two break down the album’s highlights, discuss what could be the strangest summer for music in history, and share their way too early album of the year candidates. Listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

“You want a timeless song, I want to change the game / Like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way”. With those opening lines, Dua Lipa sets the tone for her sophomore full length album, Future Nostalgia. If you’re like me, you had to Google John Lautner to get the reference, but only after like the fifth or sixth spin of the album, because pressing pause would kill the vibe.

You can buy or stream Future Nostalgia on Apple Music.

“I know you’re not used to a female alpha”, she sings over the song’s chorus – and that’s truly the album’s rallying cry. With Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa has clearly forged her own path to pop stardom, dropping dense architecture references right alongside bold, empowering one-liners that make clear that she’s doing things her way. And the vehicle for her message is so damn addictive that it’s impossible to turn away. This is the pop record we needed.

I’ve been an avid fan of Dua Lipa’s self-titled debut since its release in the summer of 2017. Female empowerment anthem “New Rules” helped put the British singer on the map, but the album has plenty of hidden gems amidst its 12 tracks. Nevertheless, the one thing that held back that debut was its pacing, weighed down by ballads that, although enjoyable in their own right, tended to reign in her more explosive songwriting tendencies.

There is no such filler to be found on Future Nostalgia. With the help of Jeff Bhasker and company, Dua Lipa appears to have leaned fully into the self-confidence that powered her early tracks like “Hotter Than Hell” and “Blow Your Mind”. But this is a far cry from an amped up version of her debut.

You’ve likely heard “Don’t Start Now” enough to know that it’s pure pop perfection and an obvious lead single, but it does little to capture Future Nostalgia as a whole. Across the albums 11 tracks, Dua Lipa makes good on her album title’s promise with splashes of 70’s disco elements, 80’s power pop, and tracks that resemble club bangers from the 90’s. What makes the album so amazing is that none of it feels tired or re-hashed. 

The synthesizers on “Cool” bounce with confidence and purpose as she effortlessly delivers a chorus for the ages, capitalized by the line, “You’ve got me losing all my cool / I guess we’re ready for the summer”. A few tracks later, “Levitating”, with its disco-inspired beat and pristine melody, sounds like what you’d expect if Kylie Minogue strutted her best stuff atop a Daft Punk track. “Pretty Please” and “Hallucinate” are custom built to be modern day dance floor jams with their pulsing bass lines, the latter of which should provide a great workout for anyone who has found themselves glued to the couch these past few weeks.

“Love Again” and “Break My Heart” may be the best back-to-back tracks on the album, wearing their influence on their sleeves while Dua Lipa makes each track her own (the former samples White Town’s “Your Woman” while the latter expertly pulls from INXS’ “Need You Tonight”). Each song finds her walking the line between her confidence and vulnerability without ever forfeiting her autonomy. The way she opens “Break My Heart” with the lines, “I’ve always been the one to say the first goodbye / Had to love and lose a hundred million times / Had to get it wrong to know just what I like”, is the kind of moment where you can feel the earth shift. Dua Lipa has become a bonafide star before our very eyes.

Anyone wanting to pick nits can point to “Good in Bed” and “Boys Will Be Boys” as stumbling the album across the finish line, but even that closing track feels purposeful and poignant with a line like, “It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down / And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around”. Future Nostalgia finds plenty of opportunities for Dua Lipa to bring the hammer down, both sonically and thematically.

It’s safe to say that we have an early frontrunner for album of the year, and it’s hard to imagine another 2020 pop album entering its orbit. Dua Lipa has leveled up and delivered a classic.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: The Weeknd – After Hours

In a recent article for The Ringer, music writer Rob Harvilla described The Weeknd as “self-quarantine R&B.” That’s kind of a perfect label. Not only does it have to suffice given our current pandemic lock-down, but Abel Tesfaye has made a very illustrious, successful, wildly entertaining career out of his dark, loathsome, isolated-at-the-party persona. 

You can buy or stream After Hours on Apple Music.

And when it works, it approaches perfection. But after nine years, four EPs, three full-length albums, and an avalanche of guest appearances, when does it get tired? That kind of depends on who’s asking.

After Hours arrives at a strange time. There will be no headlining tour in support of it anytime soon, no summer festival appearances, and very few (if any) big events blaring the sounds of its singles. Instead, we all get to enjoy it in isolation. And that setting lends itself to a more purposeful, thoughtful listen. When Tesfaye is at his best, that’s truly the ideal way to consume his art.

Upon the release of My Dear Melancholy in 2018, I noted how Tesfaye’s return to more emotional depths after his brief celebration at the summit felt oddly refreshing. Starboy served its purpose as making the most of a moment in which The Weeknd had fully crossed over from Coachella darling to mainstream celebrity. It comes as a relief and a surprise that After Hours picks up where Melancholy left off.

Much like Tesfaye’s breakthrough smash “I Can’t Feel My Face” served as a red herring prior to the release of Beauty Behind the Madness, early After Hours singles “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” find new life and meaning within the flow of the album. Also like Madness, After Hours moves at its own pace, gradually shifting shape across its 14 tracks and blending into something cohesive.

Buzzing opener “Alone Again” sets the early pace and makes clear that After Hours will live up to its name. This isn’t a collection of club bangers. This is what you play at 3 a.m. when it’s clear that your demons won’t be allowing you to sleep. Just two tracks later, “Hardest to Love” jars the listener with its off-key synthesizers, sounding like the evil twin of an 80’s ballad. It would almost be sweet if it weren’t so drenched in self-loathing: “I don’t feel it anymore / The house I bought is not a home / Together we are so alone”.

But lest the album feel like a dredge, the pace picks up when Metro Boomin enters the mix around “Escape from LA”, right before “Heartless” turns up the volume. It’s here that Tesfaye reveals his hand: He hasn’t changed. And the track feels like Weeknd circa 2012 with the line, “I’ve been dodging death in the six-speed / Amphetamine got my stummy feelin’ sickly”.

“Faith” follows suit by leaning all the way into the pain. It would almost feel like caricature if the track wasn’t so goddamn smooth: “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me / I want you to follow right behind me / I want you to hold me while I’m smiling / While I’m dying”. The song’s outro takes note of the blinding ambulance and city lights fluttering across his eyes before spilling into the previously innocuous single “Blinding Lights”.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, right? But that’s the thing. I’m a firm believer that 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness stands as The Weeknd’s best work, which is why his Starboy journey into broad daylight felt so…off. After Hours is a return to Tesfaye’s wheelhouse in every sense, and if it feels too familiar, well, that’s totally fine with me. Because that’s kind of what I’m looking for right now.

I saw The Weeknd perform during his Starboy arena tour in 2017. It was a spectacle and a hell of a night. It also didn’t feel true to what I loved about his music. In many ways, After Hours is built to be listened to in solitude, in the dark. Fortunately, we all have plenty of time on our hands right now. But it’s understandable if that’s not what you’re looking for. 

For me, it’s a welcome return to form for an artist who has soundtracked so many of my favorite, albeit tipsy and spinny memories over the past decade. It’s also an invitation to explore an anti-hero type narrative around an artist who probably needs to change, but is bound by bad habits and old demons. “I thought I’d be a better man, but I lied to me and to you”, he slurs on the chorus of “Faith”. If that’s something that resonates with you, dim the lights and indulge.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Music Therapy During the Covid-19 Lock-In

It’s been a strange few weeks, to say the least. As the country takes measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, we take some time on our podcast to discuss how we’re handling a new reality. Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz and Nadia Paiva discuss how music is providing comfort during this time, debate the best band discographies to binge, and share some of the new music released in 2020 that has left its mark. Take a listen.

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What albums are keeping you company as you self-distance? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Finding Solace in Music During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There’s really only one thing on most people’s minds – and rightly so. As of Sunday, coronavirus cases in the United States have surpassed 3,000. With a pandemic on our hands, it’s hard to think about much else, especially running a music blog. Does anyone really need another review of the new Code Orange album right now (it’s good) or another list of the best new tracks from this past week? Probably not.

But as I’ve been cooped up in my house these past few days, I’ve certainly turned to music a lot. It’s funny – I can’t count the number of days in my life where I’ve willingly chosen to stay indoors and listen to records as opposed to going outside or simply “doing something.” Yet when the choice is taken away, it feels a little different.

So I’ve found myself purposefully leaning into music as a way to clear my head, pass the time, and enjoy my family. Last night involved a dance party with my wife and 9-month old daughter, soundtracked by Carly Rae Jepsen, Billie Eilish, and Dua Lipa. Friday involved digging into some vinyl records that haven’t hit the turntable in a few years, like Relient K’s MMHMM and Copeland’s Eat, Sleep, Repeat.

Even still, I find myself drifting back to my phone for updates and another refreshing of Twitter. I’m sure it’s been the same for many of you. But those moments of detaching my brain from the news and locking into some of my favorite songs has certainly provided some necessary intermittent reprieves. And it will have to continue doing so for a while. Like many others, I’ve seen my spring concert schedule evaporate, with Billie Eilish and Circa Survive postponing their dates until a later time. And without the distraction of sports or other live events, my record collection is certainly going to be getting a workout.

So what’s the point here? There isn’t one, really. Other than the hope that we’ll find some solace in the music we love while we get through this. We’ll continue providing some content for you along the way – we’ve got a new podcast coming later this week, along with some other fun features we hope you’ll enjoy.

But in the meantime, stay safe and stay smart about your activities outside the home. With any luck, we can contain the worst of this by protecting each other with our actions. Throw on your favorite records, queue up your best playlists, and use this social distancing time as a chance to get re-acquainted with some of the songs you’ve lost touch with. Music has a great way of filling in the silence.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Silverstein – A Beautiful Place to Drown

In one of our recent podcast episodes, Silverstein vocalist Shane Told pondered on the band’s evolution over the past 20 years. In his mind, Silverstein hadn’t branched too far from their post-hardcore roots over the course of nine albums, but had instead tinkered with their sound and mostly stayed within their own wheelhouse. The formula has clearly worked — the band has been a scene staple, outlasting so many of their peers while developing an intensely loyal fanbase.

You can buy or stream A Beautiful Place to Drown on Apple Music.

It makes sense then that Told and the band held some concerns over how listeners might respond to some chances they took when creating their 10th album, A Beautiful Place to Drown. But one needn’t worry: the chances paid off in what may very well be the band’s best work to date.

Listening to A Beautiful Place to Drown is much like reveling in the nostalgia of mid-aughts emo while still experiencing something fresh and new. Fans of the scene know that this dichotomy isn’t something captured easily, as a large number of bands have attempted to meld the old with the new to disastrous results. On this effort, Silverstein sound like a band that is firmly comfortable in their own skin and having a blast.

Early singles “Bad Habits” and “Impossible” (featuring Underoath‘s Aaron Gillespie) set the stage for what the record embodies – fast-paced guitars, newly introduced synthesizers and EDM effects, and Told’s knack for writing sing-a-long hooks. On the former, he delivers some of the best lines of the album, giving nod after nod to the band’s history: “Left home, fist full of stones / Unpacked in a new glass condo / Cut my teeth, biting my own tongue / Left no short song unsung / Took a chance on a melody / Laid down where the train should be / Rescued by a hand in the ocean / Now I’m alive in the wind’s reflection”.

Fans of the band need no explanation of those lyrics, and it’s an exciting invitation to lean into those memories while experiencing a band you love in a new way. And while these singles serve as the epicenter of Silverstein’s sound on the album, they branch out in multiple directions. “Burn it Down” featuring Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo finds the band at their heaviest, with some excellent riffs from guitarist Paul Marc Rousseau accompanied by Shomo and Told’s screams. Still, it’s Told’s ear for melody that leads to one of the album’s best choruses: “Let’s burn it down / There’s no way out / I can read you like a matchbook, speeding and we can’t slow down / ‘Cause I need this now / In all my dreams you’re screaming ‘Burn it down’”.

Other tracks like “Say Yes!” and “Take What You Give” featuring Simple Plan’s Pierre Bouvier capture the kind of pop punk sensibility that made early All Time Low a household name. “All on Me” stands as the most unique track in the Silverstein collection with atmospheric vocals reminiscent of One Republic and a saxophone interlude to boot. It’s these little splashes of surprise that keep you honed in and create distinction between the album’s 12 tracks, which breeze by in just over a half hour.

A Beautiful Place to Drown manages to honor the band’s legacy while offering something fresh to fans who have carried the Silverstein flag for two decades. In doing so, they also created the tightest and most cohesive collection of tracks in their catalogue. Fans can debate the best Silverstein album — and there are plenty to choose from — but it’s hard to imagine a band at this stage crafting an album that looks fondly behind while forging ahead so delightfully. A Beautiful Place to Drown feels timeless in the best of ways.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

In our BandCamp-led indie scene these days, there’s been a swell of success that would otherwise leave us with a deficit in the alt scene. The underground has bloomed like never before due to the independent release era we’ve found ourselves in for the last decade. One of the shining stars of the movement is Sophie Allison, who calls her project Soccer Mommy.

You can buy or stream Color Theory on Apple Music.

I first heard about Soccer Mommy in the process of making a playlist of new and notable women in music. I then had the chance to see her play when she opened for Paramore in the summer of 2018, but missed it because we had a four hour drive to New Hampshire. I’d love to catch her show the next time she’s in Boston, though, because the fact is, missing her set made me fully listen to her discography. My favorite album ended up being 2018’s Clean, but her latest album, Color Theory, may have taken precedence.

I’m a sucker for music with a strong theme, whether it be a true concept album or just an album with a great sense of continuity. Sophie Allison has chosen to create this album around synesthesia, with the colors in question being blue, yellow, then grey. She said in an interview that blue represents depression, yellow represents anxiety, yet positivity, and grey represents death and loss.

This all makes more sense when you learn that her mother has been ill for a long time. Many of the tracks, including the single “yellow is the color of her eyes”, deal with this fact. She has managed to wrap these emotions in a soft, lo-fi pop sound, which makes it an easy listen. But there’s no denying that this album isn’t meant to be played on Top 40. It’s an honest expression from a young woman who has been put through life’s wringer — from her mom’s illness to her own long struggle with mental illness.

Allison holds nothing back from the beginning to the end of the album. Each track is meticulously placed to further tell the story of this chapter in her life. On “bloodstream” she sings, “Happiness is a firefly / On summer free evenings / Feel it slipping through my fingers / But I can’t catch it in my hands”. 

These sentiments are rampant through the album — a potent loss of hope — but the real kicker on the album is “royal screw up”. She sings in an almost a childlike way, remembering being young and wanting to be a princess. She has since come to believe that she’s the “princess of screwing up,” but she also has a sense of confidence in herself. It’s a feeling women are all too familiar with — the dichotomy of not needing anyone but yourself to further your success but also desperately wanting to be appreciated and needed for who you are.

On surface level, we’ve received a soft offering of a girl who’s dealt with too much in her short life (she’s my age). But digging deeper, we get a bigger picture of a person trying to rise above these hardships, trying to work through them and come out on the other side. She’s an Alanis for the new age, grappling constantly with the way she wishes her world was better, but still managing to find a bright side. Sophie Allison has painted an incredible picture of humanity with Color Theory, and I can tell it’s an album I’ll be thinking about for a while.

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.

Podcast: Talking Monomania with Tyler “Telle” Smith of The Word Alive

It’s been over 10 years since Phoenix metalcore act The Word Alive dropped their debut album, Deceiver. Since that time, the band has evolved into something completely new, as best captured on their latest release, Monomania. Lead vocalist Tyler “Telle” Smith joins Kiel Hauck to discuss the band’s sixth album and how The Word Alive has continued to push themselves to create something that not only impacts their fans but stands the test of time. Smith also discusses how data now informs touring schedules and setlists and what it feels like to share new songs on stage. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite song from Monomania? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Celebrating 20 Years of Silverstein with Shane Told

Believe it or not, Canadian post-hardcore act Silverstein are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Lead vocalist Shane Told joined the It’s All Dead Podcast to discuss the band’s longevity and growing legacy. He also shares details about Silverstein’s upcoming album A Beautiful Place to Drown, the band’s 20th anniversary tour with Four Year Strong, and his highly successful Lead Singer Syndrome podcast. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite Silverstein album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor I

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve heard from Paramore. They signed off on their socials in mid-December after completing the After Laughter album cycle and settled in for some much deserved time off. But it didn’t take long for vocalist Hayley Williams to announce on December 27th via Twitter that she would be releasing “something I’m going to call my own.” Fast forward to now and we have the first half of her’ solo project: Petals for Armor I.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor I on Apple Music.

For all the talk over the years of how the world would change if Hayley went solo, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen Petals for Armor coming. A mix of the 80’s-influenced sound Paramore adopted in 2017 is here but it doesn’t overtake it. Hayley clearly used After Laughter as a bridge for this next musical chapter to get us used to a lighter pop sound. But make no mistake – this is a Hayley Williams production.  

The EP begins with the first single released on January 22nd, “Simmer”. Should I have written some Queue It Ups about the two main singles we got? Maybe, but I didn’t. “Simmer” is, in a word, scathing. We know a few details on how everything went down with Chad Gilbert and the end of their relationship, and we all know that Chad Gilbert is the definition of a scumbag, but hearing Hayley say that she would protect her children from a man like him is really eye-opening and devastating. And yet, through this anger, she asks how to still have and show mercy.

Through themes of her divorce, family struggles, mortality, and the confusion of beginning a new relationship, we have the underlying vein of femininity in Petals for Armor I. She sings about being at home in “Cinnamon”, my personal favorite track, and how she is unapologetically herself there. As a woman, it’s a refreshing project, like so much of Hayley’s past work.

To hear someone reckon with these feelings in society that tries to tell women to quiet down is both heartbreaking and reassuring. There’s nothing that makes me feel more beautiful than cleaning and decorating my apartment, as cliché as that may be. Pulling a cookbook from my stack to make dinner, dusting the trinkets on my TV stand as I think fondly of the person who gave them to me, or lighting a candle are the things that make me “me.” There’s such a lack of domesticity and hospitality displayed in our society and to hear Hayley highlight that allows me to feel pleasure in simply sitting down to read a book in the home that I’ve created for myself. It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but it’s the track that stood out to me the most.

I’m excited for this new chapter for Hayley, because I feel like she has been held down by a lot of things in her career. The second half of Petals for Armor is set to be released on May 8th, unless Ms. Williams has other surprises in store for us.

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.