Review: All Time Low – Future Hearts

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There’s a level of excitement that surrounds a new release from All Time Low that most bands will never see. Each of their albums becomes an event for the pop punk community, whether that be for better or worse. Where the issue lies is that a core group of their fans (myself included) can’t stop hoping for the same connection to an album like So Wrong, It’s Right, even as the band matures and grows artistically. Even though they’ve delivered time and time again, writing some of the best songs in the genre in the process, there is still a level of disappointment that follows them from record to record.

Future Hearts is the best record All Time Low have written since So Wrong, It’s Right. It is the culmination of the best elements of their last releases finally put together to create their most concise record in years. It is an album that, like Harry Potter, has aged itself with the fans from throughout their career instead of appeasing the appetites of teenagers just wanting something to sing along to. The sacrifice though, is a lack of power songs that will forever define them the way that “Dear Maria, Count Me In” or the best songs from Nothing Personal did.

Future Hearts sounds like a sister album to Dirty Work, or rather it’s what Dirty Work should have been. The songs lean to the edge of alternative rock and hone on anthemic choruses and radio-ready pop warfare. The sophistication of the writing coupled with the production make it sound much more mature than the album probably deserves.

This is also the ATL with the least amount of New Found Glory-esque popping guitar melodies, opting instead for melody driven by vocals backed with rushing guitars and heavy percussion(“Kids In the Dark”), which at times hampers the sound. It’s a testament to each members’ musicianship; from focusing so heavily on vocals, each instrument still pushes through brightly.

Jack Barakat and Alex Gaskarth play some heavy guitar parts that shifts from raging power chords to melodic acoustic based ballads (“Kicking and Screaming”, “Cinderblock Garden”). Zack Merrick’s bass bolsters the guitars heavily, keeping them from feeling flat at times and sharking just beneath the surface. Rian Dawson’s percussion is arguably the second most relied on instrument after Gaskarth’s vocals. The drums are powerful, heavy and moving.

Gaskarth’s vocals are standard fare at this point; he’s an amazing singer with remarkable range. He makes full use of it throughout the record, and provides small background snippets during songs just before launching into the chorus. Gang vocals are dropped generously throughout the record. However, for relying on Gaskarth’s vocals so heavily, he sounds slightly muted and uninspired compared to what we know he’s capable of. Still, he’s wickedly impressive. More impressive though are how well he melds with the guest vocalists Mark Hoppus and Joel Madden.

One of the catch twenty-twos of the album is the lyricism. There are clichés aplenty to hamper any growth thematically, as it’s impossible to count how many “in the dark” phrases are splayed throughout. It pays off as it attempts to slant a ‘grown up’ vibe to themes of heartbreak and drunken mistakes, as well as reflecting on youth as a disjointed and possibly even broken concept of freedom. On the opener, “Satellite”, Gaskarth sings, “Wishing on a star that’s just a satellite / Driving in a car with broken tail-lights / Growing up with eyes glued shut”.

However, the legendarily catchy lyricism is alive and well over all, such as during “Tidal Waves” as Alex sings serenely, “I earned my place with the tidal waves / I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / I called my name as I crashed the gates / Still I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / Why don’t you think before you speak? / Cause you don’t know me at all”.

Future Hearts isn’t perfect, but it’s the reason why we wait so anxiously for each new album from All Time Low. They are so far and above where they should be as musicians for a band that seemed to fill the party-punk void left after Blink-182 disappeared. It’s easy to write them off as just another pop-punk band, but that would undercut the ever growing talent and patches to older efforts.

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 seen All Time Low there at least four times. You know, like a stalker or lonely mountain goat.

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Review: Hit The Lights – Summer Bones

 

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Summer Bones caught me completely off guard. I haven’t even heard a Hit The Lights song for the better part of a decade (“Three Oh Nine”, baby!) and didn’t know what I would be walking into. I can’t say that I expected a highly polished pummeling of heavy pop punk lessons on each high in the genre. Summer Bones has every element of what I want from a classic pop punk record,  impressive musicianship on the part of every member and high octane, memorable songs that guarantee to be blasting from my stereo for years to come. For those wanting a brutal jam, you’ve found it.

Let’s get this out of the way – the album is amazing. For what it lacks in length (just passes the twenty-five minute mark) is makes up for by cutting away all the filler and ripping through high energy punk rock with a fire the Ramones would be proud of. Each song sounds necessary and thoroughly written, despite a majority of the ten songs hovering around the ‘2:30’ mark by plus or minus a few seconds. Summer Bones is fast, brutal and created specifically to completely dominate summer festivals.

Guitarists Omar Zehery and Kevin Mahoney absolutely own the record. They’re overwhelmingly the dominant focus of the music and are just captivatingly brilliant. The guitars are memorable in a way that is hard to replicate in pop punk, considering that the music consists of blistering walls of power chords and easycore style breakdowns (“The Real”).

Bassist David Bermosk adds a much needed depth to the guitar that boosts the effect of layering to make them sound much thicker and possibly heavier than they really are (“Life On the Bottom”). The sound of the guitar wouldn’t exist without him. Nate Van Damme’s drumming is impeccable and brutal, reminding me stylistically of New Found Glory’s Cyrus Bolooki, which I hope is as good of a compliment as I mean it to be.

Nick Thompson’s vocals are killer. He presses his range and strength throughout the album multiple times, always to great results. It’s the type of singing that reminds me of hearing FOB’s Patrick Stump for the first time when you never realized his full range. Thompson impresses almost straight out of the gate (“Fucked Up Kids”). On top of it all, each song is easily ready to be memorized for proper sing-a-longs by a bouncing crowd.

Thematically, Summer Bones is brutal. It’s an angsty pop punk ‘bro-down’ ready to start a fight and reminisce about older times. Thompson belts out war cries like, “For every night I slept myself sick wondering what I did / This is goodbye, I hope you fucking choke on it” over crisp guitars (“No Filter”), or the honest musings of, “Every inadvertently fostering controversy / A trait of mine it seems, to laugh at all the darker sides of things / Never been one to miss out when contention comes around / I find myself at peace while those around me ask how I could be” from “Blasphemy, Myself and I”.

While the album has all of the thematic anthems of pop punk, that’s unfortunately all there really is. The lyrics do little to delve deeper than surface level, and can sometimes feel a bit forced for glamor points (“But we burn the brightest during the night shift / Hanging with New York’s finest / So when the bars close and everyone goes home, we don’t go” from “Fucked Up Kids”) or childish (“I’ll drop you like a ton of bricks”).

For me, Summer Bones is a classic record. It has everything that makes it memorable to my taste and will be put to good use throughout the summer for myself and anyone within several hundred feet of my speakers. The only problem I have with this record is that I feel like I’ve heard it all before. Parts of songs sound too similar to bands like New Found Glory (“Revolutions Executions”) or Four Year Strong (“The Real”). Thompson’s vocals sometimes delve to sound like other vocalists accidentally, like the twinge of Coheed’s Claudio Sanchez (“Life on the Bottom”). It feels like the best influences of other bands made their way into the songs every now and then, which will either distract listeners or delight them with the props given to influences.

Summer Bones is an album designed to dominate the season and deafen anyone nearby. For anyone wanting the energy, there’s little else to ask for. For people hoping for a deeper dive into the sound of the band’s previous release, Invicta, you may be disappointed. Hit The Lights blew me away. Maybe I’m just a sucker for heavy pop punk, or this crafts pop punk a little too closely to a ‘paint-by-number’ formula of inspiration, but this is an album I will remember for a very long time.

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 can’t believe he never gave Hit The Lights a chance. THE FOOL!

Top 10 Albums of 2014

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Look, we don’t like this any more than you do. These end-of-the-year lists are tedious, obnoxious, self-indulgent…

Aw, who are we kidding – we love it! Even though it’s technically impossible to subjectively rank this year’s best albums, we took our best stab at it. This year was chock full of fantastic releases, many of which won’t be mentioned here because there simply isn’t enough room (or time) to spotlight all of them.

Nevertheless, senior editor Kyle Schultz and I put our heads together and came up with 10 worthy suitors to be a part of our second-annual Top 10 Albums of the Year list. Take a gander, then let us know what your favorite records of the year were in the replies!

every_time_i_die10Every Time I Die – From Parts Unknown

From Keith Buckley’s repeated opening shrieks of, “Blow your fucking brains out!” on “The Great Secret” to his final desperate cries of, “All I want is for everyone to go to hell / It’s the last place I was seen before I lost myself” during the final crushing breakdown on “Idiot”, From Parts Unknown is unforgiving and unrelenting. Who knew a band 16 years into its career could craft what may be their most punishing and challenging album? With From Parts Unknown, Every Time I Die don’t just want to carve their name into the stone temple of metalcore lore, they want to burn the whole damn thing to the ground. – Kiel Hauck

fireworks9Fireworks – Oh, Common Life

Oh, Common Life is the type of album that reminds you of an intimate conversation with a close friend. Fireworks’ distinct pop punk style is softened to allow for more melody while vocalist David Mackinder sings a hypnotic tale of maturation that comes with the bigger life changes during your twenties and the isolation that the world can impose on you.  While it starts off very poppy, the album slowly branches and touches on styles of playing that Fireworks have never tackled before as the lyrics grow more somber and accepting of life (“The Hotbed of Life”). It’s hard to say that Oh, Common Life was what fans of the band were expecting, but it’s what they deserved. – Kyle Schultz

copeland8Copeland – Ixora

Parting was sweet sorrow for fans of indie rock act Copeland, who closed up shop in 2010. Their surprising return is more than a mere nostalgia trip, it’s a return to rare form with their new album Ixora. The band is more playful than ever, sending listeners into a dream-like trance throughout the album’s 10 tracks that include haunting electronics, prancing pianos, and even a saxophone solo. Frontman Aaron Marsh is still on top of his game, adding to his vocal repertoire during the silky-smooth chorus of “Like a Lie”. From front to back, Ixora finds Copeland better than ever – here’s hoping there’s more where this came from. – KH

new_found_glory7New Found Glory – Resurrection

Resurrection is the first New Found Glory album in several years to sound like a classic. The new four-piece rebuild their sound to be more succinct and brutal, mixing their signature pop with much heavier guitars and a thundering bass. Each member pushes their musicianship to their limits with lyricism and themes that are significantly angrier than past work. While the songs are undeniably catchy and easy to sing along to (“Selfless”), they can make the listener uncomfortable (“The Worst Person”), which may have been the point given how much the band went through in the last year. As a longtime listener of the band though, it’s easy to see how much passion and energy went into creating a record that would rise above the trials that hit them all at once. – KS

emarosa6Emarosa – Versus 

The loss of lead vocalist Jonny Craig appeared to spell disaster for Emarosa after the band released their stellar self-titled record in 2010. Not so fast. Emarosa roared back in 2014 with Bradley Walden at the mic, releasing the best album of the band’s career. Versus is rife with conflict, but it’s a struggle that produces something beautiful. When Walden flips the script just over a minute into opening track “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”, it feels like the sort of sonic shift that not only changes the course of the band’s trajectory, but one that slams the door shut on the past. – KH

weezer5Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Say what you will about Weezer, there’s no denying that when they feel like it, they can put out a masterpiece of an album. The aptly titled Everything Will Be Alright In the End is the band’s answer to years of criticism regarding their constantly evolving sound. The new album sounds like a lovechild between Blue, Green, and Maladroit, blending the respective sounds of fuzzed guitars, catchy pop songs and thrashing rock. Rivers Cuomo tagged the album as a ‘classic’ in the press leading up to its release, and he couldn’t have been more correct. It’s the first release from the band that doesn’t necessarily break new ground for their sound, but it recaptures the magic that made the band an international mainstay. – KS

against_me4Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Gender confusion and transgender identity are topics that have been at the front of people’s minds this year, which makes it all the more appropriate that Transgender Dysphoria Blues arrived just a couple weeks into the New Year. Not only is it Against Me!’s best rock album, it’s one of the most daring in that it follows the story of a transgender prostitute that mimics Tom Gabel’s transformation into Laura Jane Grace. The album is a tight series of fist-pumping songs that are just as heartbreaking as they are catchy. In the opening title track, Grace sings, “Your tells are so obvious / Shoulders too broad for a girl / Helps you remember where you come from / You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot”. The album is a powerful and ferociously angry statement about transgender issues in this country, as well as the struggle for people dealing with them. – KS

yellowcard3Yellowcard – Lift a Sail

Born from a tragic skiing accident that left vocalist/guitarist Ryan Key’s fiancé paralyzed from the waist down, Lift a Sail is a painful song of triumph. The band drops what was left of their pop punk roots and forges ahead with powerful, anthemic rock tracks and explosive piano ballads. Violinist Sean Mackin has never sounded better, adding texture and layers to the songs that don’t overpower, but instead compliment the entirety of the band’s new sound. Lift a Sail is encouraging as it is aching, as determined as it is vulnerable. Just when you thought it couldn’t be done, Yellowcard has topped themselves once again. – KH

aaron_west2Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other

Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties is more than just another side project. It’s one of the few concept albums to not only have a tangible story, but a character that garners genuine sympathy. The acoustic songs mix enough new elements to sound unique, and enough of The Wonder Years’ brash style to show the versatility of their music. Dan Campbell weaves a vibrantly real, dark and heartbreaking story that never feels cliché or forced. As Aaron cracks more and more with each song, Campbell’s vocals are pushed to their limit as he jumps from soft whispers, to screams, and then singing the words of a conversation, sounding as though he’s on the brink of tears. The range of themes and universal fears crammed into the album are absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s easily one of the most emotional pieces I’ve heard in years and is unlike most anything else out there. There is little doubt that he is on a level of lyricism his peers can only hope to achieve. – KS

architects1Architects – Lost Forever // Lost Together

How did a modern metalcore album land our number one spot for 2014? By rattling the well-worn conventions of the genre and spitting at the notion that the music is beyond redemption. Lost Forever // Lost Together is the best album Architects have crafted, surpassing even 2009’s mammoth of a record, Hollow Crown. Vocalist Sam Carter is full of fire from the outset, roaring across tracks of technical guitar riffs and skull-rattling breakdowns. The album is angry, sure, but you can hear the band searching for something more – something deeper. Lost Forever // Lost Together is a metalcore album that makes you think, challenges the scene’s apathy, and forges a new path for any heavy band that dare follow. When Carter bellows, “You said we’ll never make a difference / Maybe this battle is to fight indifference” on “Naysayer”, you feel the sentiment pouring from every fiber of his being. – KH

Honorable Mention:

PVRIS – White Noise

Merriment – Sway

I Can Make a Mess – Growing In

Anberlin – Lowborn

Taylor Swift – 1989

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

Review: New Found Glory – Resurrection

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During Chicago’s Riot Fest, Chad Gilbert took the mic midway through their set to address the frenzied crowd in the brief pause between moshing and jumping. He talked briefly about how the last year has been the worst they’ve ever been through and described it as hitting their absolute “rock bottom” as a group. It’s true; it’s been a rough year to love New Found Glory.

The departure of founding member Steve Klein from the band came as a shock, but not as much as the news of the charges against him and the brewing talk by fans on forums about the rest of the band. Without the second guitar, their sound wouldn’t be as full and the shadow looming over the neigh untouchable group disappeared slowly with the enormous gap that they put between themselves and Klein.

Resurrection isn’t just another NFG album, nor just a punk sounding title. It’s a full rebirth for a band that found themselves as low as they’d ever been, and that’s coming just a few years after writing an album (Not Without A Fight) dealing with the divorces the various members had gone through. Resurrection is true to its name; it’s a full rebirth for New Found Glory with a renewed sense of urgency and anger. The guitar is heavier, the bass is louder and the lyrics are absolutely brutal.

The songs aren’t exclusively about girls like they used to be, but this is New Found Glory at their finest, delivering the best album since Sticks and Stones. The pop is lighter, the punk is harsher and, despite the similar easycore grind, each song remains memorable. It’s the type of punk that the band has been attempting to achieve ever since the Tip of the Iceberg EP and true to the legacy that allowed them to make a near perfect Ramones Cover EP (Mania). Even with the addition of more breakdowns, it sounds like authentic New Found Glory.

The most noticeable thing about Resurrection is that it’s incredibly harsher and stronger than any of their past releases, opting for punk songs with pop elements bleeding from the vocals as opposed to the instruments themselves. Gilbert, as the sole guitarist now, grinds out ferocious power chords in hypnotically catchy rhythms complete with scratches and the metallic vibrations of the strings. Ian Grushka’s bass is a rapid assault that traces the scales. The bass is much more noticeable than on past records with an authority and weight that gives a massive energy to the songs. As usual, Cyrus Bolooki’s drumming is top notch and the standard to which the rest of the pop punk genre adheres to.

Vocalist Jordan Pundik scales the range of his voice throughout the songs and delivers one incredibly chorus after the other. The most noticeable difference is that the lyrics are much more aggressive. The album starts with lead single “Selfless” in similar vein as fan favorite “Understatement” in that it’s a rapid assault anthem of self worth and the hope for strength.

With the absence of Klein as the lyricist, it almost sounds like the band took inspiration for the more personalized lyrics of new bands like The Wonder Years. It also sets the tone for the record with the daring proclamation during the bridge of, “No I’m not gonna settle anymore, no I’m not gonna hold my tongue / If you haven’t made enemies then you never stood for anything”.

Perhaps the most startling song on the record is “The Worst Person”. It is either a direct attack on Klein to clear their view on the entire situation involving him or someone in a very similar situation who did the band wrong. The song is fueled with the rage most likely responsible for the passion and fire that makes Resurrection so intriguing and powerful while maintaining a classic structure that almost sounds like it was torn from the track list of their Self-Titled.

The track also contains the most inflammatory lyrics of the band’s career as Jordan shouts, “You hid your life away, you didn’t want them to know you were hooking up with girls in Boston / You might be the worst person I’ve ever met, I’ve ever known / You keep doing all that shit you regret, end up alone”. It is single-handedly the most aggressive and personal lyrics the band has ever written.

The entire record is a challenge and an anthem of fighting back from the brink. “One More Round” rings with a raging chorus of “One more round, kick me when I’m down, but I already won when my name rolled off your tongue” against the crunch of the guitar.

Resurrection is a comeback album that no one knew was needed. Ironically enough, the worst thing to ever happen to the band may have been just the inspiration needed to knock them to the next. Their sound hadn’t evolved terribly much over the last fifteen years, but finally sounds mature and aggressively relevant. There’s no need to focus so much on love and girls when there is so much more that needs to be tackled.

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 might be slightly biased because NFG was the first band he discovered fifteen years ago. But that doesn’t matter because no one reads this lil’ bit anyway. Bwa hahahahaha!

Generational Punk: Riot Fest 2014 – Day 3

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The third day of Riot Fest is always a tiring one. By the time the diehards enter the grounds, they’re still somewhat recovering from at least a dozen hours jumping and wandering from the previous two days. The offerings for a festival’s finale were tempting: a swarm of legendary bands on almost every stage culminating in a three headed beast of a finale: The Cure, Bring Me the Horizon and Weezer playing at the same time throughout the grounds.

The entire day was marked by gripping choices between generations of music; on one stage is Naked Raygun with Motion City Soundtrack at the other end of the park at the same time. Social Distortion played at the same time as New Found Glory. There was more to see than one could make time for, with generations of punk bands dueling for fans. The bands that I grew up loving played next to the bands older siblings listened to in the 90’s, next to the bands my parents loved.

Motion City Soundtrack pulled out a stellar performance studded with the well known singles, “Everything is Alright” and “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”, as well as a new single from their upcoming album titled “Anything At All”. If it is any indication, their sixth studio album looks like it may be a rocker more in line with My Dinosaur Life.

Social Distortion tore through the soulful punk that only they can produce for songs like “Machine Gun Blues” and “Through These Eyes”. Mike Ness’s deep croon lulled the audience in sing-a-long while the guitars blasted away.

The smaller stages saw I Am The Avalanche draw in the faithful fans that Vinnie Caruana is known for during his hard set, but the real surprise was a few hours later when Modern Baseball took the same stage. As a rising star in the pop punk community, they drew in the biggest crowd the small Revolt Stage (tucked between the larger Rock and Riot Stages and next to the food carts) had seen the entire weekend and would be considered an almost sold out audience for a club. Fans filled the lawn to sing along.

My personal high point was seeing New Found Glory for the first time since the departure of guitarist Steve Klein. Bassist Ian Grushka officially takes MVP for not only fulfilling his duties as bassist, but also covering Klein’s guitar riffs, officially making the band’s sound weightier and deeper than ever before. Guitarist Chad Gilbert essentially has free reign of the guitar section and makes sure that the band’s signature pop aesthetic is louder than ever. For as much as they have gone through in the last year (Gilbert described it on stage as “the rock bottom”) they’re a band completely reborn with a new energy and inspired vigor.

The festival ended with three generations of bands helming the headline duties on different stages. The Cure took up one of the biggest stages with a massive audience of mostly the older attendees. The few songs I heard sounded epic and tormented, the way any good Cure song should. At the other end was Bring Me The Horizon, blasting an explosive hardcore set for the younger audience to cap off the festival’s newer bands.

Weezer though, was another animal altogether. Anyone claiming that Weezer has lost their popularity can go screw; this was by far the biggest and most excited crowd of the festival. The area surrounding the stage packed full of people to the point of crushing. The thin lines of people moving through the crowd were regularly pushed to a dead halt against audience members refusing to budge for fear of losing their spot. Stepping into the outside rim of the crowd, it took me a solid ten minutes just to get out. People climbed into trees and lay down atop the chain link grating of batting cages to see the stage.

Weezer appeared to a shattering thunder of cheers. With the promise of playing The Blue Album front to back, they knew how to properly tease an audience by working their way back in time. Their first song was “Back To The Shack”, the lead single to their upcoming album followed by the famous songs to nearly every album (“Pork and Beans” for Red, “Perfect Situation” for Make Believe, “El Scorcho” for Pinkerton) before a brief hiatus when they took the stage for Blue.

“My Names Is Jonas” started a frenzy that never subdued until the finale of “Only In Dreams”. Thousands of voices shouted every lyric to each song in perfect time to Rivers himself. Weezer’s newer albums may not land them the hypnotic cultish fan base of Blue, but by the amount of people singing “Back To The Shack”, they haven’t lost anything.

Riot Fest has proven itself more and more as the ultimate destination for the punk rock faithful of any age. There were literally just as many mohawks on the kids as there were on the graying men who saw the genre on the rise. While seeing the best of the modern era of punk on stage is as exciting as it should be, the thrill of seeing a band that has been in the game for decades command an audience is intoxicating.

Though Riot Fest tours in a limited fashion across North America, it is quickly becoming the best festival in Chicago. For those unwilling to let rock fade away, Riot Fest keeps the spirit alive more than any other festival can, and the wait until next year’s all the more worth while.

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 spent nearly twenty-two collective hours at Riot Fest 2014. Please make paper mache effigies of him and feed them ham.

New Found Glory appear set to release “Resurrection” on October 7

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According to a U.K. iTunes page, New Found Glory’s new album will be titled Resurrection and is set for release in the U.S. on October 7th. The album will be the band’s first release with new label Hopeless Records. You can check out the track list below:

Track List

1. Selfless
2. Resurrection
3. The Worst Person
4. Ready and Willing
5. One More Round
6. Vicious Love
7. Persistent
8. Stories of a Different Kind
9. Degenerate
10. Angel
11. Stubborn
12. Living Hell
13. On My Own

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting on: New Found Glory – Catalyst

new_found_gloryThroughout 2014, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

Catalyst was many things, chief among them being the last ‘classic’ album for New Found Glory. It was the first release by the band to toy with their sound, crafting the bridge between the signature pop punk energy of their first few albums with the softer tone of the follow up record, Coming Home.

For all of its experimentation into slower songs, it included some of their heaviest melodies coupled with a higher production value. Where the new exploration in songwriting took slight missteps in the flow of the album, what remains is one of NFG’s classic albums that still sounds just as good a decade later and influenced their songwriting all the way into the present.

The production and writing for Catalyst was able to straddle the thin border between keeping the style and sound that their fans grew to love while perfecting the polish that their songwriting needed to feel more layered than ever. Ultimately, it’s this layered sound of punk that has carried over with them for every album since. While it’s not a departure by any means from Sticks and Stones or the self-titled album, Catalyst is the first release that saw their songwriting at its greatest potential and swinging from all angles.

The grungy chord progression opening to “It’s All Downhill From Here” is crisp and thick, hard enough to bite into the scene and bouncy enough to retain the pop forged in earlier works. Just that sound in and of itself is weighted so heavily, you can still hear it stylized on the newer releases, such as Not Without a Fight and Radiosurgery.

One of my earliest memories of this album was the fact that it ground to a halt with the sudden addition of slower and quieter songs placed amongst the loud ripping guitars. Though this only tested on a few songs to fairly mixed results, it just seemed so out of place for a NFG record. “I Don’t Wanna Know” is the first time anyone saw the band take a step back with more acoustic based melodies, a layer of swishing violins and singer Jordan Pundik not belting our lyrics as loudly as he could.

The songs weren’t bad, just out of place. New Found Glory was known for coming out guns blazing and forcing you to jump with the energy that blared through the stereo. When that flow of power was suddenly interrupted by a ballad, it just felt forced and unnecessary. Looking back at it now, I appreciate the songs more, but they’re still not the best that the band has to offer. But these experiments helped build the foundation to allow for blend light and loud music, such as the brilliant cover of “Kiss Me” from From the Screen to Your Stereo Pt II.

Ultimately, this experimentation in style wouldn’t lead to too much. It set the groundwork for the next release, Coming Home two years later with much more somber songwriting and matured sense of lyricism. However, much like the rest of their discography after Coming Home, Catalyst is mostly high energy punk rock. Most of the songs are hard, fast and legendary among NFG’s discography.

Staples “Intro” and  “It’s All Downhill From Here” are chief among the anthems that are unquestionably necessary for any and all live shows.  “Truth of My Youth” is a classic song that feels like it was ripped straight out of Sticks and Stones. The melody is alarmingly simple and stretches over the rapid drumming and bass. The guitars find quick solos that hide themselves in the choruses and try not to steal the show.

“At Least I’m Known For Something” is a gem hidden near the end of the album, with a slow build up of chugging guitars and lightning quick drumming, becoming quicker and louder for twenty seconds. The entire set up just builds and builds until the vocals finally appear. It’s only fitting that a song this strong and deliberately loud helps close out the album, as it would be five years, until 2009’s Not Without a Fight that NFG would write a song as strong or as hard.

Catalyst isn’t the album that NFG are most remembered for, but it’s one that fans of the band can’t live without. A decade later, the hits on the album are so good that they’d still impress if they were new today. The few forays into more acoustic based songs don’t particularly disappoint, but ultimately were an experimentation stylistically that the band eventually dropped almost altogether. It was the last ‘proper’ sounding NFG album for years though, until the Tip of the Iceberg EP brought the energy back in full form as a rough punk album.

NFG still retain many of the elements perfected on Catalyst as the backbone to their current writing style: loud, fast punk wrapped around a simple melody that will never leave your brain. As the fourth incredibly memorable album in a row (Nothing Gold Can Stay was incredible, admit it), Catalyst is proof that a band doesn’t need to completely reinvent themselves in order to grow and mature. The smallest tweaks and tests can make all the difference and still maintain the legacy of songwriting that fans demand.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

No one in the sky: The ideology of Fireworks

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Fireworks may just be the most underrated band in the scene. Not a whole lot is said about them, but they tour relentlessly. Two years ago, fresh off the heels of their amazing album Gospel (the only album able to go toe to toe with The Wonder Years Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing), I saw them play the smallest stage on Warped Tour.

They’re a relentless band that is at a constant battle within: Don’t rely on religion to be the best you can be; you’re capable of being great.

Fireworks are one of the most positive bands writing today and one of the forefathers of the new generation of pop punk; matured lyrics, incredibly catchy melodies and loud guitars. They’re not afraid of quieter music as well, playing as much of the New Found Glory-esque spastic punk as they do the quiet shade of Saves the Day. It’s a beautiful sound that can either rip through your speakers or act as the soundtrack of the evening darkness.

One of their most powerful assets though, is their presentation. Lyrically, they’re nostalgic, mystical and relentlessly optimistic. The self-awareness of their records is something that most of their peers lack, and draws up battle lines within their records.

As much of a force for positive thinking as they can be, there is an adamant war cry against fundamental religion in their music. Anti-religious music isn’t anything new by any means; AFI is known for it. The difference with Fireworks is that they aren’t writing angrily. They’re fighting to show that you don’t need to rely on religion to be guided into being a good person.

“I Locked My Time Capsule” has one of the most memorable choruses that illustrates what the band tries to preach: “Just do what you can to do what you love / And be mindful when someone out there gives a shit / I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s where I want to be”.

The optimism of making yourself happy is often at the forefront of their lyrics, but what’s interesting is that it’s constantly emphasized that you’re capable of it. There are hidden sniper shots at religion throughout their records, attempting to tear away reliance on a higher being to do the work for you. In the same song, singer David Mackinder shouts, “My nativity scene would be the people shaking this floor”.

It’s a unique route to relate the positive messages found in pop punk these days. While the overall tone is usually for good, if not looking back on memories, good and bad, the mention of religion is usually a short jab. The song “I Support Same Sex Marriage” is perhaps one of the most damning, the title intended to cause the first strike.

Lines like “When you spend all your time with your eyes to the sky, you end up looking down your nose just to look me in the eye”, and “When you open that book you close your mind, so trust yourself and no one else” are incredibly self-aware for being on a band’s debut LP. But even this early on in their career, their message is clear.

Despite the intended venom towards this type of ideology, the band maintains the positive thinking needed to live successfully, rather than rely on religion. Oh, Common Life is a brutal look at finding yourself as an adult and the harsh world you were never quite ready for; finding yourself on the other side of a parents’ death and lost loves married to someone else.

Amongst the depressing imagery though, there are lines like, “I’m the greatest book read to the end / In those last lines you’ll find my friends like flies on tape, I keep them close / We may look dead but move our soul” from “Run, Brother, Run”.

Fireworks helped forge the new wave of pop punk with the brutal honesty that comes with picking fights with ideology. It’s an edge that stands apart from bands that just write angry punk songs against religion, in that it’s meant to unapologetically encourage anyone listening. It’s a powerful idea that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Regardless of your beliefs, Fireworks message is something that is needed more in the scene.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

New Found Glory to release album this fall as a four-piece

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The four remaining members of New Found Glory were recently interviewed by Billboard. According to the band, they will release a new album this fall as a four-piece and have no plans of replacing guitarist Steve Klein following his recent departure. Below is a quote from Chad Gilbert:

“There was never any thought, nor will there be any thought or consideration to ever have a fifth member. It’s always going to be the four of us. As far as live, we’re figuring it out, but we like it better than having an extra person. It’s definitely easier to worry about us four than trying to find someone.”

What are your thoughts on the news? Excited for the new album? Still bummed about Klein? Let us know your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: City Lights – The Way Things Should Be

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City Lights are exactly what I needed to hear. Their newest release, The Way Things Should Be, is a love letter to classic pop punk that integrates new-school styles flawlessly. They manage to nail twelve amazing punk songs that never feel like retreads of the same song and prove the band’s prowess for writing beautiful melodic punk. This record fits absolutely perfectly against the biggest albums of the genre from the golden age of pop punk from 2001-2003.

However, it is this sense of style that is the album’s most endearing aspect, as well as its biggest hindrance.

City Lights are a five piece from Columbus, Ohio, that play perfectly into the pop punk and hardcore scene. Their sophomore LP, The Way Things Should Be is a success for the group that doesn’t stray too far from their past releases, but perfects the sound. What results is an amazing collection of songs that deliver a relentless wall of melodic guitar, honey dipped into the hardcore genre.

Each song is one memorable guitar riff after another, dressing down the harder break downs that occasionally appear (“Promises”). The drumming keeps pace frantically and offers some impressive pedalling. As I listened to The Way Things Should Be, each song on the album sounded like it could be a single and constantly kept reminding me of New Found Glory’s legendary self-titled album.

That though, is my biggest complaint against the record: It sounds like it is ten years too late to the game. If you placed The Way Things Should Be against anything from MXPX, New Found Glory or Alkaline Trio circa 2001, it would sound like one of the albums of the year that fans would still be singing along to today in their thirties… or whatever.

While that is the best compliment I can give the album, it’s also the biggest slight against it. This is extremely well tread territory and nothing here sounds extraordinarily new. There is very little experimentation towards a unique sound for the band. If anything, it feels like something that has always been around in your CD collection. It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t make the album stand out as much as it could.

Lyrically, the album is light years beyond many of their contemporaries in the genre. Each song belts out anthems of lost loves, betrayal of close friends and commentary on the scene at large. For a pop punk record, it might be one of the darkest, in that it tends to dig deep and fight back. In “Jeremy’s Song”, singer Oshie Bichar lashes out, “Why is it that the closest of friends / Sometimes are first to lose faith / And the first to betray / Think twice before you talk down to me / I’ll make you sorry you ever did”.

However, for as dark as the lyrics can get, they’re balanced out by the hopeful dreaming and call to believe in yourself that we’ve come to expect from the pop punk genre of late. The album also never really takes itself too seriously. During “The Dark Side”, Bichar sings out various phrases from the Star Wars saga (“You were supposed to be the chosen one!”). Although Bichar belts out a powerful performance with his singing, he can find the growl and screaming of the hardcore genre to punch up a few notes when it’s necessary. This aspect is sparsely used and really adds the power to a song when it is.

The Way Things Should Be is poised to be one of the memorable albums in the pop punk scene and hopefully helps to spearhead City Lights much, much further into their careers. This is a sound that is both tragically nostalgic and impressively cohesive and strong. If you’ve been itching for an album to take you back to the highlight of the pop punk genre, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Though it feels like it was released in the wrong decade, it’s unrelentingly powerful and unapologetic. The Way Things Should Be is here to stay.

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.