The Best Albums of 2020

Mercifully, 2020 is winding to an end. Not that a simple turn of the calendar will solve all of our problems, but as we reach the end of the year, there is a lot to process and reflect on – and maybe even learn from. One thing that has been a constant for the team at It’s All Dead this year is music. Music as a reprieve, music as a distraction, music as a friend. So we take a moment away from the dread to focus on some albums that brought us joy and helped us through the toughest moments of the past year.

A quick note before we dive into the list: Our goal each year is to give a clear representation of the music that mattered to us the most while also reflecting the music that simply mattered. The larger the area in the middle of that Venn diagram, the higher it ranks on the list. Noticeably absent on this year’s list is the album that arguably mattered the most: Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

During our team conversations as we began working on our end-of-the-year features, we realized that none of us had spent enough time with the album to warrant it making the list without it feeling extremely disingenuous. Right or wrong, we made the call to leave it off while acknowledging the impact of the album. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen.

So here we go. Take a look – and as always – let us know your favorite albums of the year in the replies!

15. Hot Mulligan – You’ll Be Fine

I feel like I often end up pulling some wild cards into our year-end lists, and this year my wild card is You’ll Be Fine. I meant to write about it when it released in March, but this year took a lot out of me which translated to a lot more listening than writing. For me, that meant returning to this Hot Mulligan album again and again, especially over the summer. It’s quintessential pop punk, which is both right up my alley and easy to get into. They explored more thoughtful songwriting on this album compared to their previous projects, moving closer to a Wonder Years level of consideration in their production. Even though I enjoyed their first album Pilot, this album makes me truly excited for the trajectory of this band: Up. – Nadia Alves

14. Knuckle Puck – 20/20

Though Knuckle Puck have been a growing force within the scene for years, the ominously named 20/20 is their most cohesive and well-structured album to date. Somehow finding the magic of normalcy, the album stands in contrast to the year it was released in and breathes fresh life into a genre that can quickly sound redundant—the midwest pop punk scene. 20/20 reminds the listener not to back away from the problems in their life, but instead reflect and learn on the experiences. Weaving traditional emo punk against some experimental tracks on the band’s signature sound, 20/20 finds Knuckle Puck forging ahead with a fire behind them that can only see the good even when it stares into the everyday horrors we all face.  – Kyle Schultz

13. Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

When pop punk is at its best, it allows us to lower our inhibitions, feel our feelings, and join a safe community chorus of fellow voices caught in the fray. Depending on who you ask, it’s been a while since that experience rang true, but Sydney, Australia, act Stand Atlantic are intent on reviving the spirit. Pink Elephant, the band’s sophomore effort, is everything a great pop punk release should be while constantly stretching its wings into new territory. Vocalist Bonnie Fraser unravels the tangles that hold her back, singing “My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I’ll carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that” on the album’s opener. Call it a lament if you want, but it works better as a thesis statement on forging ahead. – Kiel Hauck

12. Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

This is the first and only album on my list that is truly escapist. A concept album about fulfilling our emo dreams in a world where we truly care about others is a necessary course of action that could make true change if we implemented it in the real world. Easily one of the most positive and thought-provoking albums to come from the pop-punk genre this year, All Distortions Are Intentional is another addition to Neck Deep’s maturing discography, and a project by a band that has truly come into their own form of activism and wave-making. – Nadia Alves

11. New Found Glory – Forever + Ever x Infinity

New Found Glory albums are mostly easy to predict: loud, catchy and filled with easy sing-along choruses. Forever + Ever x Infinity excels in that it acts as an album filled with fairy tales. The band lean heavily on their roots of writing songs about relationships, but through a lens of maturity and humor. The result is an album that both reflects on the band’s roots in pop punk, as well as presses forward with an easycore crunch and shining pop choruses (“Greatest of all Time”). Sometimes cheesy, sometimes hopelessly romantic, New Found Glory’s 10th album acts as a perfect followup to the much celebrated Self-Titled album by reflecting on the themes of that record with a middle-aged point of view and the sobering reality that only time can grant. – Kyle Schultz

10. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Hip hop fans waited patiently for the fourth installment from rap duo Run the Jewels, but RTJ4 actually arrived early. With the release date suddenly pushed forward in the midst of protests against police brutality due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery, Run the Jewels owned the moment and captured the national outrage. Like all previous Run the Jewels albums, RTJ4 is rife with rattling bass-lines and rapid fire lyrics from Killer Mike and El-P, but this installment feels like pointed protest music right from the jump (“Yankee and the Brave”). Maybe revolution music is a more apt descriptor. – Kiel Hauck

9. All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

Wake Up, Sunshine is All Time Low’s best album in a decade, perfectly balancing the pop sensibilities the band have been striving for with the punk rock buzz that earned them an adoring audience. The album is mature and reflective, but also looks confidently forward with a style that hopefully comes to define the band moving forward. A thematic sister album to fan favorite Nothing Personal, Wake Up, Sunshine highlights the growth of the band (“Some Kind of Disaster”), as well as emphasizes their storytelling ability (“Wake Up, Sunshine”) and features the best song the band has written in years (“Sleeping In”). – Kyle Schultz

8. Halsey – Manic

Manic shouldn’t work. The third full-length album from Halsey is a mess. But like paint crawling itself across the canvas, the idiosyncrasies begin to intertwine, giving unique views of mental illness and the weight of fame as you zoom in and out of the portrait. Halsey’s greatest strength as an artist has always been her vulnerability and willingness to display her deepest fears in a way that feels more than relatable. With Manic, she somehow delivers her most cohesive work despite there being no clear genre. Simply change tracks to switch between country, rock, R&B, and more. The navigation of it all feels as honest and messy as any great therapy session should. – Kiel Hauck

7. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Many of the albums that ended up sticking out to me this year dealt with the heavy things. That is in part because I’m a heck of a pessimist, and also because the year we’ve had has been made for us pessimists. With Color Theory, Sophia Allison showed us contrast. With the color triad of yellow, blue and grey, she artfully wove a true story about loss, illness and grief – something too many of us have experienced in some way or another this year. I’m a sucker for her lo-fi sound, and it definitely added some variety to my music this year. Hopefully, Sophia Allison should be in for a great next couple of years as she rises in the indie pop sphere. – Nadia Alves

6. The Weeknd – After Hours

We were merely one week into quarantine and fear when The Weeknd dropped After Hours, an album that eerily captured the feelings of isolation so many of us were (and still are) feeling. On surface level, the album reads like textbook Tesfaye, but closer examination reveals deep and fascinating artistic maturity. After Hours studies remorse and self-reflection on the other side of a hedonistic ride. Here, the blinding lights and shimmering boulevard are blurry and distant – something to long for, but not before a winding back road of questioning and self-loathing. – Kiel Hauck

5. KennyHoopla – how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//

KennyHoopla is the type of artist all musicians dream of being. His newest EP,  how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//, perfectly blends elements of R&B, emo, new wave and pop, among other genres, to create a bridge across the realm of music. Although just a few songs in length, KennyHoopla takes advantage of each moment by weaving an intensely honest record filled with admissions of inadequacy and fantasticism (“dust//”). Delivered with emotional depth and the intensity of a superstar, KennyHoopla sounds vibrantly original and deeply nostalgic. In just six songs, his EP accomplishes more with its time than some musicians do in their entire careers. – Kyle Schultz

4. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

When I preordered my copy of Petals for Armor on vinyl, I did so with the expectation that it would be both a great album and my top album of the year. While it didn’t quite top my list, it felt like an album that truly mattered – an album she wrote for herself rather than for a mainstream audience. I love Petals, and I think it’s the most important project to come from Hayley Williams. She truly explored and processed a lot of things through the album, and she took us along for the ride and prompted us to be more introspective and openminded when it comes to taking care of our mental health. She brought up a lot of personal feelings regarding loss for me, and in turn, I ended up dealing with some of the things I had pushed away. I’m grateful for that. – Nadia Alves

3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

English singer and songwriter Dua Lipa showed flashes of what was to come with her 2017 self-titled debut, but chose to shed away any preconceived notions of powerhouse pop with Future Nostalgia, an album bubbling with disco and dance spirit. Everything about it works, specifically because Dua Lipa takes full control of her art in every way without the slightest hint of restraint. 

The album never slows down, even as it veers between lanes, blurring the lines between its influences and Dua’s own original, melodic concoctions. “You want a timeless song / I want to change the game”, she tells us mere seconds into the album. A factory-made pop star she is not. What a fabulous invitation to lean into the experience and dance away the aches of the shittiest year in recent memory. – Kiel Hauck

2. Taylor Swift – folklore

Releasing one career-best album is a crowning achievement for any artist, but to deliver two within a year is something special. Swift’s surprise album folklore perfects her ability to tell a story by blending personal stories and fictional characters in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Folklore excels as the perfect representation of who Swift is as an artist by stripping away everything that we thought made a Taylor Swift album—the glamorized production values, over-the-top choruses and the electrifying pop elements that have punctuated her recent albums. At its base level, folklore is an indie album of sweet songs (“mirrorball”), but the songs are intimate, intricate pieces of art with as much depth and scope as a fleshed-out pop hit.

Unafraid of the silence between notes, folklore puts the melody and story first and foremost. The album strips away all expectations fans had of who Swift is as an artist by showing them something better. Soft, sincere and honest even when fictional, Swift has reinvented her career by stripping her music to its essentials and finding just as much, if not more, meaning in each song (“mad woman”, “betty”). – Kyle Schultz

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

This year’s top album was actually quite a difficult and personal debate for me, but after a lot of reflection and back and forth, the bell rang and I lifted Phoebe Bridgers’ hand as Punisher was declared the winner. Her gentle delivery and poignant writing was a welcome break for me this year, a year when I’ve been so up in arms about — well, just about everything. It gave listeners something to direct their sadness and confusion at for 40 minutes and 37 seconds.

Phoebe didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of her life and her past in Punisher, and the raw honesty is what has kept me coming back throughout the latter half of the year. It takes a lot for me to consider an album as the best, and not only is it the best album of the year, it’s the best in Phoebe’s discography. She’s showed her maturity and individuality here, and that counts for everything in my book. – Nadia Alves

Honorable Mention

PVRIS – Use Me
Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Blaqk Audio – Beneath the Black Palms
The Bombpops – Death in Venice Beach

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: New Found Glory – Forever and Ever x Infinity

Forever and Ever x Infinity is the tenth studio album from New Found Glory, arguably the most influential band in all of pop punk. While groups influenced by them have leaned toward creating emotionally resonant art pieces (The Wonder Years) or shifted entirely to the realms of pop (All Time Low), New Found Glory have essentially stayed the course, never varying their sound too much, but always releasing timeless and damn good music. Forever and Ever x Infinity continues this tradition as an album that fully celebrates NFG’s roots while passing along the experience of middle age through the lens of a fairy tale.

Songs on Forever and Ever x Infinity are overly romanticized, sometimes to the point of cringe-y cheesiness. However, that’s the point — these songs reflect the hypnotic ecstasy of falling in love as a teenager (“Greatest of All Time”). It is the first NFG album since their Self-Titled that filled me with the same bouncing passion I had after my first listen to “Hit Or Miss” 20 years ago.

You can buy or stream Forever and Ever x Infinity on Apple Music.

For all of the fans clamoring that NFG’s Self-Titled album is their best, Forever and Ever x Infinity acts in many ways as a reinterpretation of that record. The music leans heavily toward the pop elements of that album, while retaining the easy-core crunch of Resurrection (“Shook By Your Shaved Head”). Similar themes of falling in love, hopeless romanticism and the rage of a broken heart play heavily, resonating as much now as it did 10 albums ago (“The more I get older, the clearer I see / The misconceptions imbedded in me / We can love, we can fail / It never goes out of style”).

Now though, it’s hard to write songs about hopeless romanticism after two decades of experiences, divorce, personal growth and expanding as artists. Instead, New Found Glory lean into the feelings of their early albums, highlighting how magical life felt when you were fifteen and in love (“Birthday Song But Not Really”), only to temper those songs with what you wish you had known at the time by tearing it down with possibly the most poignant and heart wrenching song New Found Glory have ever written (“Slipping Away”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity plays like a fairy tale, with all of the cheese of a Disney romance and the maturity to laugh at their own lyrics. A song like “Double Chin For the Win” is one of the weirdest songs New Found Glory have ever written, but it sums up the emotions of “Sincerely Me” with charm and self-depreciation (“I know I’m not even in your league / Yet still you find something good in me / When we link arms, you’re a ten, I’m a three / Hope you can never afford Lasik surgery”).

The innocent love of “Stay Awhile” and the wedding dance atmosphere of “More and More” play off of the feeling of high school romance and walking the halls with hearts for eyes. However, after more than a dozen songs of this, the fairy tale ends and real life begins with closing track “Slipping Away”. Here, the romance is dying and a new chapter is about to begin as both lovers are forced to confront the fact that they’ve grown apart. “It wasn’t easy, there’s no arguing that / But there was a time you were proud of the deeper understanding we had / Below the surface and again in our history / Now I can see you almost bite your tongue clean off every time you lay eyes on me”.

What must be said though, is that the band still kills it on every level. Vocalist Jordan Pundik’s eternal energy finds him pushing himself with anthemic choruses and biting verses (“Greatest of All Time”). Bassit Ian Grushka provides a solid backbone of sound that expands the profound depth of guitar buzz (“Like I Never Existed”). Meanwhile, drummer Cyrus Bolooki delivers one of his best performances, destroying the kit from snappy beats to intense, hardcore percussion (“Same Side Sitters”). Sole guitarist Chad Gilbert provides one of his best performances yet, making enough noise for two and showing a full range of sound that both resonates with NFG’s legacy of pop and embraces a harder edge that competes with contemporary peers (“Himalaya”).

Not everything on the album swirls around romance — several songs delve into rooting out the poison in toxic friendships, such as the hard-pounding “Nothing To Say” (“Spreading lies like a disease, but you can’t say it to my face / You’ve got nothing to say”), while the exceptionally crafted “Himalaya” examines people who use others for their own benefit (“They don’t want what’s best for you / They just want what works best for them / You spread yourself too thin / I think it’s time you find yourself, find yourself some new friends”).

Forever and Ever x Infinity is a unique album in that it pairs well as a sister to the band’s celebrated Self-Titled album, but lovingly mocks the simplistic ideals presented on an album written when the band members were barely twenty. On the surface, it looks like some of the lyrics are half-assed (“Birthday Song But Not Really”… Yuck), but there is a tongue-in-cheek maturity behind them that doesn’t appear until after the first listen through. After all, how best to learn of the traps of hopeless romanticism than reflecting on your own past and laughing?

4.5/5

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 built a pillow fort for this cat. Now, sadly…. there aren’t enough pillows to make one for himself. “What kind of sick world is THIS?!” he screams at the clouds with a ketchup stain on his shirt.

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

The Best Albums of 2019

With our Best of the Decade lists in the books, it almost feels anticlimactic to look back on just 2019. But that would be unfair to a year that provided us with a breadth of music that broke molds, reinvented artists, and introduced us to some of the voices that will surely define the next decade.

We previously talked about 2019 as a year that saw the end of genre as we know it. And sure, that’s probably an overstatement, but it’s clear that this year saw a very real blurring of the lines. The best hip hop album of the year could hardly be categorized as just that. Much of this year’s pop music felt fresh and starkly different than what we’re accustomed to. So let’s look back at a year full of surprising and fascinating albums. And as always, share your favorites in the replies!

15. blink-182 – NINE

I am of the camp that believes that 2016’s California was the moment of blink-182’s true re-birth. An album that captured at least some of the spark of the band’s early days without feeling like it was set in the past. But I wasn’t expecting NINE – an album that sounds like a band (finally) growing up and expanding their sound in all of the ways that make sense. And look, I’m aware of the need for eye rolls upon seeing an album like this on a list like this, but when I listen to NINE, I hear an album that feels fresh and relatable. And that’s not normal for a band that saw its heyday flash before its eyes two decades prior. – Kiel Hauck

14. New Found Glory – From the Screen to Your Stereo III

Anyone can make an album of covers, but it takes talent to make them sound unique and worth covering. From the Screen to Your Stereo III is not only the best of New Found Glory’s series of songs from movies, these songs sound as though they were made for the band from the start. Fast, playful and emotional, From the Screen to Your Stereo III is a joy to listen to and a masterclass on turning what should be a gimmick into art. – Kyle Schultz

13. Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

This album may come as a surprise because of the albums I’ve waxed poetic about in our podcasts and other reviews this year. Breathe is the perfect math rock album the scene needed to cement the subgenre as a staple part of the pop punk family. All of Tiny Moving Parts’ albums are great, but Breathe is incredible. There’s not a track out of place, and it flows seamlessly. Tiny Moving Parts are the perfect band to start a math rock journey with, but you may just stop there, because they are truly the best in today’s scene. – Nadia Paiva

12. Bring Me the Horizon – amo

Unlike much of the old metalcore guard that has begrudgingly adapted their sound to something much more mundane and unimaginative, Bring Me the Horizon have spent the better part of the decade crafting their future as artists. Amo is an album unlike any other in rock this year, and maybe ever. A genre-bending affair the finds the band dipping their toe into electronica, pop and alternative, the album twists and turns, sonically and thematically, throughout, keeping the listener off-kilter, but fully engaged. Amo isn’t an album for the fans, but it’s an endeavor that sets them apart from their peers and opens new doors of possibility for a band that is dead set on sticking around. – KH

11. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

Considering it is a sequel album, Routine Maintenance manages the seemingly impossible task of meeting the cavernous emotional depths of its predecessor. Creator Dan Campbell shows real growth of Aaron West’s character, who has led quite the life in the five years between albums (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). Having put Aaron through absolute hell, Campbell successfully shows the resolve and determination of a person building a new life for themselves in a fully realized and vibrant world. Routine Maintenance is an album about rebirth (“Runnin’ Toward the Light”) and the strength of family (“Routine Maintenance”). – KS

10. From Indian Lakes – Dimly Lit

Another album from the DIY, lo-fi world is the latest offering by From Indian Lakes. He released this, his fifth album, independently, and created magic. I love when artists get to truly express themselves and Dimly Lit is one of the best examples. It takes twists and turns, but Joey Vannuchi holds all the strings in his hands, never letting them get tangled. Borrowing plenty of support from the outside, the album is filled with gentle lyrics and a swelling soundscape that will make you fall in love. – NP

9. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

It isn’t easy to follow-up one of the most heralded pop albums of the decade, but Carly Rae Jepsen has never been one to dwell on past success. Frankly, it’s unfair to compare Dedicated to E-MO-TION, but if you have to split hairs, the former is a more grown-up style of pop music. Jepsen leans into her seductive side without losing the more relatable elements of her lyrics and personality that draw her fans in. From the quirky synthesizers that open the album on “Julien” to the funky beat of “Want You in My Room”, Jepsen finds new tools to add to her arsenal without losing sight of the elements that make for a great pop record. Put plainly, Dedicated is a delight. – KH

8. The Early November – Lilac

Lilac is easily the most diverse album in The Early November’s career. Effortlessly juggling new stylistic choices with the group’s renowned emotional sensibilities, Lilac is ambitious, unpredictable and sweeping. Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes himself to a career-defining high across an album that is ultimately about finding the strength to save yourself from a number of addictions and vices. The instrumentation from each band member is intricate, lavish and astoundingly gorgeous. After a career of refining their sound, Lilac is the album that The Early November were always trying to write. – KS

7. Wallows – Nothing Happens

While I didn’t formally write about this album this year, it quickly became a favorite. I’ve long been a fan of lo-fi pop rock and Nothing Happens is the best of the best. It’s packaged in soft, melodic ribbons and bows but there’s plenty of punch – glitter in the card, if you will. The members of Wallows wrote a great album about dealing with the end of adolescence and being forced into the big adult world. – NP

6. Tyler, The Creator – Igor

Tyler, The Creator began the decade as one of the most divisive artists in the country, seemingly driven by shock value and an outdated, misogynistic approach in a genre that was trying to shed that label. Things began to shift around the time of Tyler’s surprisingly vulnerable Flower Boy, and Igor seems to capture his full metamorphosis. A venture more inspired by funk and neo-soul than rap, Igor finds Tyler sensitive and gentle as a singer, but more than anything, it solidifies him as an artist willing to take risks. And in doing so, he has become one of the most fascinating producers and songwriters in hip hop. – KH

5. The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

How Do You Love? Is an album that immediately makes a name for itself by being loud, fun and sincere. A collection of songs about falling in love, The Regrettes manage to take the most generic topic in music and make it completely their own. The album is a playful mixture of  sincere sweetness (“Coloring Book”), emotional conflict (“Dead Wrong”) and sarcastic confusion (“How Do You Love?”). The guitars expertly weave indie pop and garage surf rock into an explosive sound. This album also includes one of the year’s best singles and music videos, “I Dare You”. – KS

4. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana del Rey released Norman Fucking Rockwell to a fanbase ready for a new direction from the alt pop princess. She tells tales of the harder parts of fame here, highlighting personal insecurities, making the album one of her more relatable projects, but wraps it all in a fresh take on Americana that made the wait worth it. A jazzy cover of a Sublime song and a poignant closer make this album one of the best of the year. – NP

3. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Billie Eilish has been on a collision course with this moment for a while now. A moment in which genre lines have become almost completely blurred and artists are no longer confined by industry gatekeepers and the major label machine. No matter how you feel about it, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? has to be considered one of the year’s defining albums, simply because of its impact. At age 17, Eilish may have broken pop music, being much more interested in making something that interests her than making something that comforts our expectations. Funny thing is, Eilish is an undoubtedly great artist, and this thing she has created will be now be mimicked by many, creating a new pool of music that is quite unlikely to hold a candle to its inspiration. – KH

2. Taylor Swift – Lover

A highlight in a career of high points, Lover is a powerful album drenched in romanticism. Every story told throughout the album reflects a hopeful future, even in the darkest moments. Gloss pop mixed with deep R&B beats and hints of Swift’s country roots peek through the cracks to create a sound that is as intimately familiar as it is diverse (“Cruel Summer”). However, Lover still finds time to highlight an anti-patriarchy anthem (“The Man”) and a commentary on the current state of politics (“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”). Lover celebrates Swift’s past by somehow poising her future to shine ever brighter. – KS

1. Copeland – Blushing

Blushing is at the top of my list because of how it has stayed in my mind since Valentine’s Day. Along with the unconventional Thursday release date to fit with the album’s themes, the album was one of my most anticipated at the end of 2018, and my first five-star review of 2019. It continued Copeland’s musical journey in the same vein as 2014’s Ixora, and brought back a lot of the whimsy we’ve seen in their earlier releases. Blushing is set to stand the test of time as a beautiful piece of art, and a gem in the crown that is Copeland. – NP

Honorable Mention

Hozier – Wasteland, Baby!
Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate
Queen of Jeans – If You’re Not Afraid, I’m Not Afraid
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life

Posted by Kiel Hauck

A Half-Assed Theory on Discovering New Music

Over the last several years, I have been been improving myself mentally. I heard new music but wasn’t listening. Now in a better place, I am revisiting some albums with fresh eyes to see what it means to me now. Cheers.

Finding new music is easy, but loving new music is a chore. When I think of the bands I love the most, it’s because I discovered them during a transition in my life. Going to high school (New Found Glory), first girlfriend (Saves the Day), college and first apartment (Panic! at the Disco, Lucky Boys Confusion), and discovering the real world (The Wonder Years), led to me listening to this music nonstop for decades, as well as other bands that cropped up in the same eras.

However, stagnation and depression hamper the joy in personal growth. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such memorable moments imprint themselves in the music we listen to. But seeing it in action in real time is a special moment everyone should experience. Thus, I have developed a theory!

I recently started a new day job, which is the biggest change to my life in years. It required spending two weeks in Wisconsin by myself for training. I tried to prep music for the trip, but felt bored looking over my usual soundtracks. Instead, I prepped a bunch of music I’ve reviewed for It’s All Dead in years past or bought for my collection and then (for no reason at all) never listened to again: Neck Deep, State Champs, We Are the In Crowd, Superet, Honeyblood, and many more.

There are many ways to connect to music, whether that be a connection with the lyrics or the music filling your veins with energy. Oftentimes, music means so much to us because of the nostalgia and memories we associate with it. My theory on falling in love with music is obvious, but is proposed as such: the most direct appreciation to new music is during a new life experience.

The first nerve-wracking day of my job, I played Neck Deep’s Life’s Not Out to Get You twice throughout the day, as it seemed appropriate for someone who waits for the worst to happen and then adjusts accordingly. Checking into my hotel, “Threat Level Midnight” played as I walked through the halls. As vocalist Ben Barlow sang, “I’ll see your face down here real soon / A welcome home to a swift farewell”, I opened my door and found another family staying in my room. Dirty clothes, pool toys, suitcases and children’s toys were spread across the room, so I panicked and quickly shut the door.

The hotel told me that there was a family refusing to leave and squatting in the room; they had torn the phone from the wall and refused to respond to maintenance knocking on the door as “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” rang through one ear bud (“Yeah this place is a shipwreck / But this shipwreck, it is mine”). Although a misunderstanding all around, it took an hour to get me a room and Neck Deep kept me company at the counter during frenzied calls and panicked looks from the staff in my direction after being told, “Everything is under control.” Ironically, Neck Deep was also playing when the keys to my room didn’t work the second week and the entire staff recognized me as I told them I was locked out (“All eyes on me, but that’s not reality /… claustrophobic in my own skin / From holding it all in” – “The Grand Delusion”; The Peace and the Panic).

There is a massive public pathway that traces the lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My first night there, I found myself alone in the dark, walking a treacherous path with only the moon lighting the lake to my side as I hurried back to the hotel with Superet jamming away in my head (“And when the lights go out / Will you be having fun alone? / I need revolution / It’s you, only you” – “Bone Bag”; How To Work a Room).

I discovered smoking in bars is still acceptable in Wisconsin, as I stepped into a pub and saw 20 locals starring at me with suspicion with We Are The In Crowd blasting away through my phone (“I guess it was wishful to think / I was different from the rest / Now I’m red in the face / I don’t think I’m impressed” – “Better Luck Next Time”; Best Intentions). I fell asleep to State Champs playing quietly, vividly aware that I didn’t have to worry as much about money for a while (“Wash away all the thoughts that come at you like monsters at night / I don’t wanna live this way / Strong enough to break these chains / Broken pieces can mend…This is our time, our time to go” – “Our Time To Go”; Living Proof).

This massive life event has spawned moment after moment that I will never forget, each accompanied by bands I should have been in love with years ago. I can blame depression for hampering my ability to connect to the music before now, but the truth is I should have been listening regardless. The fact that I felt a connection to so many bands the last couple of weeks means I should have enjoyed them before now. Using a life event to listen to them finally feels like a crutch, and I wish I had spent more time loving them on my own. However, I will never forget these bands or the memories I made listening to them during these two weeks that changed my life.

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 just watched a framed picture fall off the wall of his hotel room for no particular reason while writing this. He blames earthquakes for it so that he doesn’t have to think about ghosts before bed. What a fool!

Review: New Found Glory – From The Screen To Your Stereo III

In general, I find covers albums to be useless. Often times, the original song was good enough that it’s hard to top it, or the band covering them find nothing new to add and just make a grab for the attention. While I have counted New Found Glory as part of that group in the past, From The Screen To Your Stereo III has broken that mold entirely. Instead of mostly covering movie theme songs from the 80’s, the pop punk figureheads have grappled with several contemporary songs and found new ways to express them. New Found Glory haven’t just made punk versions of popular movie ballads, they unapologetically owned the material and forced it to bend to their sound.

You can buy or stream From The Screen To Your Stereo III on Apple Music.

New Found Glory’s From the Screen to Your Stereo series has always annoyed me. They’re decent enough albums, but it’s usually a reminder that it will be another year or two until a proper new NFG release. It’s filler to remind you that the band is still active. However, this ‘threequel’ is by far their best and most consistent. Instead of just plucking from the 80’s and 90’s, FtStYS3 jumps across the decades, grabbing songs that the band grew up with as well as those of their newer fanbase.

Unlike songs from their past covers albums, these songs don’t sound dated. Whereas Tears For Fears “Head Over Heels” sounds distinctly like the 80’s even when given a punk makeover (From the Screen to Your Stereo Pt. II), most of these sound as though they could have been written by New Found Glory, but someone else just got to them first (“Accidentally in Love”).

It’s hard to argue why a new version of The Greatest Showman’s “This Is Me” is needed. The original is a broadway-esque masterpiece, and Panic! At the Disco’s version shines as an equally glitzy pop hit. However, New Found Glory turns it into a grungy powerhouse that pays homage to the original broadway sound with a backing choir and angelic bridges. “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen bounces between harsh power chords to enormously melodic choruses. This song also tests vocalist Jordan Pundik’s abilities to their fullest. I forgot about Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love” (Shrek 2) to such an extent that I was sure that it was a brand new song until I went back to hear the original.

As much as I have railed against it, where the band shines the brightest is on their versions of 80’s anthems “The Power of Love” (Huey Lewis and the News) and “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor). New Found Glory lean into the spirit of the originals entirely, including the syth during the chorus of “The Power of Love.” These versions are fast, heavy and embody the spirit of New Found Glory while amplifying the originals in every way.

From the Screen To Your Stereo III is easily the best of New Found Glory’s cover albums. The band takes full control of the material and turns it into an album that proves cover songs can be as thrilling as new material.

4/5

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 has eaten HALF A BAG OF TWIZZLERS?! ….. He needs Twizzler rehab ;-;

Queue It Up: March 27, 2019

Last week’s releases were, in my opinion, few and far between, but they’re stellar. To supplement those new albums, here are a couple tracks to throw in the mix as well.

“Just Stay (Cover)” by The Front Bottoms

I was so excited to see a new track from The Front Bottoms. I first heard about them when they toured with Say Anything and have been a fan ever since. Their latest track is a cover of Kevin Devine’s 2006 song “Just Stay” for the album Devinyl Splits No. 12. Their take is a bit harsher than the original, but it’s a wonderful tribute.

“This is Me (Cover)”  by New Found Glory

I’m not a New Found Glory fan at all. I never have been and I probably never will be. But I did enjoy The Greatest Showman, so a good old rock and roll version of the track “This Is Me” was a nice addition to my weekly listening. It comes from their latest movie covers album From the Screen to Your Stereo 3, which releases on May 3.

“Lo/Hi” by The Black Keys

Finally something that’s not a cover! The Black Keys are back after some time away. Their last release was 2014’s Still Blue, and needless to say we’ve all been hoping and waiting for something new. “Lo/Hi” is exactly what we’d expect from the band; they’ve stayed pretty true to form with their throwback 60’s/70’s rock vibe. There’s no album announcement, but they are touring with Modest Mouse this fall. 2009 is back, amiright?

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.

Ryan Key to Record New Music in 2018

Last year’s disbanding of legendary pop punk act Yellowcard wasn’t easy on anyone, but fortunately, it won’t be long before we hear the voice of Ryan Key again. The former Yellowcard vocalist will be hitting the road this spring with New Found Glory, Bayside and The Movielife.

According to a recent tweet from Key, he’ll be heading into the studio soon to record new songs that will be played on the tour, in addition to some classic Yellowcard tracks. Take a look at the tweet below:

You can currently purchase tickets on New Found Glory’s website. What do you expect from Ryan Key’s new music? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: A Look Back at the Year in Music

As 2017 comes to a close, Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz take a look back at the year in music. During the discussion, the two share some of their favorite albums from 2017, including releases from Kendrick Lamar, AFI, Lucky Boys Confusion, Paramore and much more. They also talk about what could have been and reflect on recent music news that shaped the year. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are some of your favorite albums of 2017? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: New Found Glory – Makes Me Sick

New Found Glory is the second band I ever fell in love with. The thing about their albums is that you walk into them without expectations of biting social commentary, crazy departures of sound or veering artistic licenses. Their records are going to be fun, with the melodies stuck in your head after a single listen and the lyrics memorized on the second.

You can buy Makes Me Sick on iTunes.

Makes Me Sick is perhaps the second album to attempt breaking free of the standard mold. Coming Home, 2006’s oozing pop album was the first to make a departure to varying results. Makes Me Sick is much, much more successful in the attempt. Perhaps more surprising is how it retains the pop elements of the earliest New Found Glory albums just as much. The result is a record that pushes the band’s sound and writing through new experiments, but sounds like a particularly well-aged set of B-Sides off of Sticks and Stones.

Marking a perfect blend of Sticks and Stones era punk rock with Coming Home‘s alternative takes on songwriting (and synth!), this is an album that relies on and defies the legacy of pop punk that has come before it.

The songs are lavish and pop with a flare that sounds almost classical these days. With some alternative rock sounds and a better use of synth than on Coming Home, Chad Gilbert’s guitar work feels timeless. Focusing less in the easycore hard punk riffs of Resurrection, fleshed out rhythm guitar and solos relish in pop. Bassist Ian Grushka is allowed to carry the melody more than he was on the guitar-heavy Resurrection, which sets him apart from the uplifting synth. Drummer Cyrus Bolooki, yet again, absolutely crushes the kit with poppier beats that sound timeless to the band’s career.

The one song that truly stands apart is “Two Voices”, a Caribbean-style jam that sounds absolutely nothing like New Found Glory save for the vocals, but it doesn’t feel out of place when paired with Makes Me Sick as a whole. It’s the biggest leap stylistically the band have ever made, despite being a simple pop song.

Vocalist Jordan Pundik sounds eternally youthful, throwing some of his most inspired work in the last decade. While the lyrics aren’t gnawing at aspects of society, they are instantly memorable. Subtle jabs are thrown at youth culture run amuck, such as “Party On Apocalypse”, where Pundik sings, “This self-centered generation, taking pictures of themselves then changing features / Pleasing over critical creatures / Everyone’s got a cause but how strong is the foundation / Moving like the waves of the ocean / Do you care or just throw stones in?”

While the classic topic of relationships isn’t snubbed (“Barbed Wire”), “The Cheapest Thrill” is one of the most noteworthy songs on the album. A song about overcoming lust so as not to hurt others anymore, and finding self-respect in yourself and others, it stands out with more depth than the average New Found Glory song. The realization is a great passage, and one of the more heartfelt lines the band have penned, as Pundik sings, “Suddenly, I can see through my own eyes again / But I don’t like what I’m feeling / You can’t help your thoughts, but you can change your actions / If I don’t I’ll be consumed.”

I’ve listened to New Found Glory continuously for almost the entirety of their 20-year career, and even minor changes to their formula can sound drastic when compared to their discography. Makes Me Sick treads the fine line of not only finding a new charm to their signature pop, but they make it sound like an homage to their early work as well. Few bands get the chance to see 20 years, much less release an album that pays tribute to a genre they helped forge without being sickened by the sound of them.

4.5/5

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 fondly remembers that New Found Glory was the first album he ever bought on his own. He forced his friends to listen to it relentlessly until there was a NFG-loving army at his beck and call. He failed to conquer and rule Quebec with them.