Podcast: Reacting to “Red (Taylor’s Version)”

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It’s been a week since Taylor Swift blessed us with Red (Taylor’s Version). And we have thoughts! Kiel Hauck is joined by fellow It’s All Dead-ians Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves to delve into the nooks and crannies of all 30 tracks of this new release. They share takes on the best and most interesting re-recorded songs and weigh in some of the best “From the Vault” tracks that round out the album. Is the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” better than the original? Are there still easter eggs within the album that have yet to be uncovered by Swiftie Sleuths? Who had the best guest appearance on the album? And what album is coming next? All of these questions (and more) are addressed – listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Michelle Branch – The Spirit Room

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A couple of times a year, I find myself spending days at a time inside The Spirit Room. I’ve said it countless times in the two decades since its release, but the debut album from Michelle Branch is perfect. And as it reaches its 20th anniversary, I’ve thought a lot about its legacy, and how the album unexpectedly became a blueprint of sorts.

We’ve talked extensively this year about Sour, the debut from Olivia Rodrigo, and how it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions and experience of adolescence. One of the many things that makes Sour so impressive is Rodrigo’s ability to shape-shift within genre, often tapping into nostalgic pop rock sounds that feel both fresh and familiar. It’s hard to listen to the album and not think of Branch.

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You can buy or stream The Spirit Room on Apple Music

The story of how The Spirit Room came to be back in 2001 has been reported in detail, but it’s still fascinating to think about a teenager operating independently from major label influence and creating an album so different from what was expected from a young female artist at the time. It worked, and what followed was a new wave of young singer-songwriters following in her pop rock footsteps. Even Taylor Swift has spoken of the album’s influence in her own writing.

It was a sound that clearly caught my attention at the time, and Branch’s lonely, bedroom daydream songwriting resonated as well. When I listen to the album now, I’m transported back to a very specific time in my life in the best way. There isn’t another album that captures those feelings quite as well for me. When I hear “Goodbye to You”, I see Branch performing the song from the stage of The Bronze on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I hear “All You Wanted” I’m reminded of late night drives in my first car. “Everywhere” transports me back to my freshman dorm room.

For all of these reasons, it was captivating to hear Branch’s 20th anniversary re-recording of the album. Unlike Swift’s current explorations of her past work (which I also love), Branch has allowed the passage of time to change her approach to these tracks. Her voice sounds slightly weathered, the songs have more room to breathe and move at a slightly slower pace. If you close your eyes, you can imagine her playing these songs to a small audience in a smoky lounge room. There’s an innocence that’s missing and it gives the album an entirely new feeling. The fact that it works this well speaks to the timeless beauty of the songwriting.

Last month, I purchased a ticket to Branch’s live stream performance of the album, expecting a full band rendition of the songs I know so well. When the stream began with Branch sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar and strumming her way through “Everywhere”, I was taken aback. But by the opening moments of second track “You Get Me”, I was sold. The songs just work in every context, and in this case, some of them became even more alive with emotion and meaning. 

The early years of the 2000s were a transitional period for popular music, which is perhaps why it feels as though The Spirit Room sometimes gets forgotten in conversations around modern classic albums. It feels out of place when you think about the final gasps of bubblegum pop giving way to the oncoming avalanche of garage rock, hip hop and pop punk. But taken in a vacuum, it’s hard to poke holes in the album. It’s stellar songwriting paired with impeccable production. It moves. It captures hopeless romantic feelings you chase into your adulthood without ever feeling forced or cliché. It opened a new door for young female songwriters to lean into their own individual sounds. It invites you to get lost within it again and again.

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: Kacey Musgraves and the Anatomy of a Great Divorce Album

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Kacey Musgraves recently returned with a new album, Star-Crossed, which explores her divorce from Ruston Kelly. As it turns out, there’s a long history of albums reckoning with the fallout of divorce and they all share some very common threads. Area Code Network’s own Richard Clark joins Kiel Hauck on the podcast to discuss the anatomy of a great divorce album and how the concept has evolved over the decades. They also break down the highs and lows of Star-Crossed and how the album stacks up to other recently released albums that explore the concept of leaving (Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish). Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Phoebe Bridgers Reunion Tour: An Experience Worth Waiting For

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It had been just over two years since the last time I had attended a concert. I was apprehensive. I wondered if that passage of time had somehow quelled my love of the setting. Maybe I didn’t need live music experiences anymore, at least not with the same frequency as before. That’s what I was thinking, but then the lights went down, a band came on stage, I raised my camera to capture the moment, and felt that familiar rush wash over me. I missed this more than I knew.

It’s wild to think about how much has changed for Phoebe Bridgers since the last time she took the stage. Pre-pandemic, Bridgers was still carving her path, building on the early momentum of her debut, Stranger in the Alps, and her collaborative projects, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community. But then came Punisher, a perfect album that changed everything, but all took place in isolation. There was Bridgers in February, in attendance at a bizarre Grammys in her skeleton pajamas, never having had the chance to perform the songs that had changed her life in front of a live audience.

Truthfully, after all we’ve endured, it has made this late summer’s Reunion Tour the perfect opportunity to finally re-connect and share our experience of Punisher together. The tour’s dates were recently moved to outdoor venues, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for entry. It felt about as safe as you can feel these days at an event filled with strangers.

MUNA opened the night – an electro pop trio I had no prior knowledge of. And guess what; it’s still so much fun to discover a new band at a concert. Led by vocalist Katie Gavin, the band exhibited an infectious joy onstage throughout their set, making it impossible to look away. Opening with tracks like “Number One Fan” and “Stayaway” from their 2019 full-length album, Saves the World, the band’s knack for creating dance-worthy tracks ranging in emotion and energy set the tone for the night. When they debuted their new track “Silk Chiffon” (featuring Bridgers), it made clear that MUNA is on the cusp of reaching another level.

To finally experience Punisher in person was…therapeutic? Healing? Relieving? It was something. Bridgers opened with “Motion Sickness” from her debut, making a subtle nod to the idea of our collective reunion. “Let’s experience something familiar before we dive into the new stuff.” From there, “DVD Menu” led into “Garden Song” which led into “Kyoto” and oh my god every song still sounds so perfect. Every track from the album happened in sequence with various other songs from Bridgers’ other works sprinkled within.

The setting fit the mood – dark, but lit with just enough light to create a “vibe.” A backing screen featuring an opening book that visualized the chapters of the performance. And of course, Bridgers and band decked in those skeleton PJs. Highlights of the show depended on your own personal attachments. For me, “Moon Song” proved just as sad and lovely as I had hoped. But it’s hard to outdo a choir of screaming to those final moments of “I Know the End”. Every song was delivered with care. Every moment felt worth absorbing.

In hindsight, I can’t think of a better show to reacquaint myself with the setting. Punisher has meant more to me in this past year than I can put into words. Having the opportunity, after all of this time, to experience it like this? In a weird way, it almost felt worth the wait.

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.

Podcast: Reviews of the New Albums from Halsey and CHVRCHES

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Woah! What a new music Friday we just had. Highlighting the release schedule were Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power and CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence. Kiel Hauck hops on the mic to break down his thoughts on both new albums, keying in on the artistic evolution of Halsey and their journey as one of the most important pop-adjacent artists of the past decade and how CHVRCHES rebounded from their major label debut to re-discover themselves in unexpected ways. Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Hella Mega Tour and the Return of Live Music

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Have you heard? Live music is happening at a venue near you! Our very own Kyle Schultz recently found himself at such an event, and it was a big one. Kyle joins Kiel Hauck to talk about his experience at the recent Chicago stop of the Hella Mega Tour. Kyle shares the general vibe and experience of attending a concert again and gives his full breakdown of the mammoth-sized tour, including standout songs and performances. Who brought the house down the most: Weezer, Fall Out Boy, or Green Day? Take a listen and find out!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

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.

Podcast: Our Favorite Bad Songs

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What songs do you listen to when you switch Spotify to private mode? We all do it. So let’s talk about it! Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Alves and Kyle Schultz to share their deepest, darkest music secrets. The songs we love that we don’t tell our friends about. The songs that move us that we don’t share with the world. And why they mean so much to us. So what are some of our favorite “bad” songs? Take a listen and find out!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Cole Cuchna Talks Yeezus, Olivia Rodrigo, and the Music that Gives Us Chills

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Music podcaster extraordinaire Cole Cuchna just wrapped up season 8 of the wildly successful Dissect Podcast and also recently launched Key Notes – an interactive music show that combines full songs with original musical and lyrical analysis. Cole joined Kiel Hauck on Long Live the Music to discuss the complexity of Yeezus and how he approached the album for Dissect. Cole also talks about why some music gives us chills and what it is about Olivia Rodrigo’s smash hit “Driver’s License” that checks all of the neurological boxes. They also discuss a new generation’s fascination with the alternative, guitar-driven music of the 90s and what might come next in the evolution of popular music as a whole. Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Graduating Life – II

Every now and then, an album shocks you by how much you enjoy it. Graduating Life is undoubtedly a beast of creativity, making music unlike almost any other artist at the moment. Emotional, erratic and utterly brilliant, II is the type of record that comes around rarely and isn’t appreciated until years after release.

You can buy or stream II on Apple Music.

Despite how distinct II sounds, it is undoubtedly and reassuringly familiar. It’s impossible not to compare Graduating Life, the project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, to Max Bemis and Say Anything‘s Is A Real Boy…, or elements of Jeff Rosenstock. Thompson even sounds like Bemis, straight from the clean vocals to the screams. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually listening to Say Anything. While that may sound like a dig at Thompson, I was utterly enthralled by II and how a tempo change thrown into the middle of a song sounded so refreshing, or how much I wanted to fist pump the air on a crowded train.

Thompson proves himself an incredible talent, shredding pop punk riffs that incorporate elements from many areas of punk. Songs jump in tempo (“Crushed & Smothered”) without warning, and slam from piano and acoustic melodies to jarring punk riffs (“Photo Album”), but it never sounds incohesive. And somewhere in the middle are ample amounts of guitar solos that seem to appear right when you hope they will (“Fine”).

The poetic lyrics tell a tale of battling one’s inner demons, and wrestling with stagnation and ego while the people close to you move on to other things, come better or worse.

Album opener “Photo Album” sets the tone by reflecting on a life of difficulty in letting go of those around you (“So they will move and you will stay / The afterlife Seattle rain / It’s getting harder every single day / You’ll make new friends and settle in / Or cry alone like we were kids”).

Alt rock jam “Let’s Make A Scene” finds Thompson in conflict and losing someone close to him who has decided to not to live with him anymore (“Let’s makе a scene just you and me / I was never asking for more than your company / Oh your company, a friend by my side / And in this apartment I feel alive”).

Meanwhile, “Black Skinny Jeans” calls out trolls online who spout nothing but contempt (“And I read the messages that ya sent / Bet you never thought that I’d read them / Goodbye get to leaving”) with Thompson comparing the experience to going to his old home and watching how it’s changed since be became an adult (“I went to my old house to see if it’s the same / I guess they took the trees out but left on the paint”).

II somehow simultaneously treads familiar ground and seems to innovate a genre with the energy it has missed in the last couple of years. Despite the fact that it sounds like the sequel to Is A Real Boy… that Max Bemis never wrote, Bart Thompson manages to infuse enough of himself into the album to keep it from feeling like rehashed territory or a copycat. 

Graduating Life has managed to create something incredible and hypnotic that sounds utterly inspired by a scene staple, but brimming with its own life and energy.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has just recently begun to accept the existence of tomatoes.