Vices & Virtues: Panic! At The Disco’s True Beginning

All things considered, Vices & Virtues is the first true Panic! At The Disco album. The tribulations of Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith in not only writing the record, but exceeding expectations and forging a new path for the band are legendary. Not only was the album Urie’s first experience acting as lead songwriter, he essentially played every instrument except percussion. While A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out made the band a household name, Vices & Virtues made Panic! At The Disco artists.

You can buy or stream Vices & Virtues on Apple Music.

Vices & Virtues came out the first year that I was finding my way in the world. College roommates had ventured off into the world while I worked a lowly job, feeling left behind and in some ways betrayed to sit with what remained of our previous lives together. I played mixtapes we had all made, many of which included many Panic! songs, to remind myself of the fun we used to have on summer nights that I now spent in my bedroom at home. It wasn’t until after the album’s release did I realize how much Vices mirrored that feeling of abandonment and looked out over the horizon for something bigger that I could scarcely imagine at the time.

A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was the epitome of a breakout record. Stylized, edgy, wrapped between multiple genres and engrossed in a circus-like visual flair, it launched Panic! from would-be opening band to headliners over night. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” became such a staple single that it’s still the song everyone knows by the band. Panic! At The Disco were the rare overnight sensation that stayed. For years after their debut’s release, audiences demanded the next album. Although it’s looked at more favorably in retrospect, the immediate reaction to 2008’s Pretty. Odd. was mixed at best.

Pretty. Odd.’s retro style rock was so jarring, that 13 years later I still know people who refuse to listen to the band because of it. That’s why for many, the news in mid-2009 that guitarist and songwriter Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker were leaving Panic! At The Disco was met equally with a sigh of relief and a fear that the group was dead and out of its misery. 

Just months after the split, I watched a neutered Panic! open for Blink-182 on their reunion tour. Vocalist Brendon Urie paced back and forth slowly across the stage in a suit and tie, seemingly dazed and uninterested. Shortly thereafter, one-off single “New Perspective” released in the summer of 2009. While catchy, it proved to just be a safe, lackluster pop song. 

“The Ballad of Mona Lisa”, released a year and a half later, is arguably Panic!’s most underrated song of all time. It was the first real single from the new version of the band, now consisting of only Urie and drummer Spencer Smith. Returning to the “masquerade rock” sound of Fever, “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” ushered in the true era of Panic! At The Disco. Harsh power chords, a sprawling anthemic chorus and rampant walls of percussion found a seductive mix between punk rock and radio pop. 

The song was made all the more impressive after the fact: Urie revealed that he had become lead songwriter after Ross’s departure, and that he sang, played guitar, bass, and the keys all while sporting a steampunk ensemble in the music video. He continued this blistering commitment throughout the rest of the album (sans the steampunk). 

Vices & Virtues wasn’t just a rebirth for Panic! At The Disco. It was an album of catharsis, anger and forgiveness that utterly cleared the path for Brendon Urie to become a global superstar. Despite having just become a “songwriter,” no two songs on Vices sound alike. Sweeping choruses and intricate instrumentation (“Hurricane”) permeate the album entirely. The inclusion of the defining genre sounds of Fever felt like a rebranding more than it did a retread. 

It’s hard to find a track that truly shines brighter than the others throughout the record. “Let’s Kill Tonight”, with its aggressive pop riffs teetering on the edge of new wave, stands just as brightly against “Memories”, a dance track describing the downfall of youthful love. However, “Sarah Smiles”, a song for Urie’s now wife is a lusciously haunting track teeming with layers of aggressive folk rock and punctuated with trumpets.

Hidden in the mix is “The Calendar”, arguably one of the band’s most important and often forgotten songs throughout their entire discography. Although the song is framed around a relationship, it is a direct reaction to Ross and Walker’s departure. The song balances the regret and sadness at how things ended for the full group and the shock of inspiration that spurred Urie and Smith forward. (“Don’t wanna call it a second chance, but when I came back, it was more of a relapse. / Anticipation’s on the other line, an obsession called while you were out.”)

Vices & Virtues was a redemption and reaffirmation of Panic! At The Disco that almost no one expected. Vibrant, emotional and utterly energized, it was worthy of the restored “!” in the band’s name. Although Smith left the band shortly after release as well, the confidence from Vices & Virtues gave Urie more leeway to experiment with less rock and more synth on Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!, and explore the burlesque and crooner sounds on Death of a Bachelor and Pray For The Wicked, Urie’s (current) pop magnum opus.

Vices & Virtues seems to be more or less hidden in the background of Panic!’s discography at this point, now that there are several high profiles albums that have dominated the pop world. However, the emotional energy behind this album allowed Urie to not only vent the feelings of betrayal and loss, but also test the waters of who he was as a songwriter. Despite already being two albums deep, Vices & Virtues served as the true start of Panic! At The Disco’s conquest to become one of the world’s top tier pop artists, and Urie’s journey toward becoming a superstar.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_cat

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 ate a reuben sandwich with such vigor that he still feels guilty for the “slaughter” three days later

Review: A Day To Remember – You’re Welcome

Part of the charm to A Day To Remember is knowing how much their sound shouldn’t work as well as it does. A conglomeration of hardcore, punk and mainstream pop, most of ADTR’s back catalog is something that feels like it has always kind of been looked at through a lens of a band having fun more than anything else. Although You’re Welcome doesn’t change this dynamic, this is the first album that doesn’t seem to hide the flaws of this amalgamation as well as past records. What remains is an album burdened by an undue weight placed upon it, but may very well be held in much higher esteem a year from now.

You can buy or stream You’re Welcome on Apple Music.

The biggest flaw of You’re Welcome is that fans were forced to wait almost a year and a half for its release after the initial announcement. Delays of a few months can sour fan expectations, but one that long can breed resentment. You’re Welcome is full of big swings for the band that shouldn’t sound as shocking as they sometimes do (“Bloodsucker”) when compared to ADTR’s discography. But with so long to soak in a slew of singles, You’re Welcome feels even less cohesive than it should.

You’re Welcome has a wide range of sound and influences, whether that be hardcore (“Last Chance to Dance (Bad Friend)”), radio pop (“Bloodsucker”) or pop rock (“Permanent”). The issue is that while a lot of these elements aren’t necessarily new for ADTR, they either don’t commit to them enough (“Only Money”) or commit too much (“F.Y.M.”) for them to resonate in any meaningful way.

Peppered throughout You’re Welcome, though, are some truly great songs. “Brick Wall” resonates with the crunching guitars and energy of classics like “The Downfall Of Us All”. Closing track “Everything We Need” is a gorgeous acoustic ballad brimming with the reflection of youth and the swagger of a country song. Meanwhile, “Viva La Mexico” is a rager, allegedly about a bachelor party in Mexico, that feels destined to infect many a playlist.

The hypnotic elegance of “Permanent” proves to be one of the best songs that band has released in some time. While not groundbreaking, it flawlessly intermingles an electronic sound around a harder edge that builds to a well-earned breakdown and may best encapsulate what the band had aimed for throughout the album.

If there is a theme to You’re Welcome, it falls on the mass resentment that people pass on to one another. This is highlighted best in lead single “Degenerates”, a glossy pop punk song with a cheerleader-like chorus (“Why do we tend to hurt one another? / Dividing up all the books by the covers / Like it ain’t hard enough simply being me”).

“Brick Wall” chants defiance at pessimism and includes what may arguably be one of the great circle pit lyrics of all time (“Saddle up, boys / We’re headed for the brick wall”). “Bloodsucker” highlights the negative influence the judgement of religion can play on a person (“I’ve only got a lifetime / So I’ll give no more to you”) while sounding like a swirl of the best of Fall Out Boy and the worst of Maroon 5.

But in the face of this, a song like “F.Y.M.” is bred from that same resentment the album is pushing back on. Although it feels like the laziest written song on the record, it is destined to stick in your head for longer than anticipated as vocalist Jeremy McKinnon sings, “Wait’ll I get some fuck you money”.

You’re Welcome is an album that may not be what fans had hoped for after such an extensive delay, but it earns its place more with each new listen. Removing the weight of prolonged expectation, it feels reminiscent of the disjointed lovability of What Separates Me From You. Fans of every form of ADTR will find something glamorous here, even if they have to look a little harder than they may have initially hoped.

I found a true appreciation of the album during penultimate track “Re-Entry”. The song encapsulate the best of the band while showing both, the frustration and the relief of recording this album and may be the catharsis they needed for when it was finally finished. Over ridiculously playful guitars and cartoonish group vocals during the chorus, there is a genuine drain, relief and joy and McKinnon sings, “I just wanna go home”.

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 stubbed his toe on the coffee table so hard he briefly thought his foot was amputated. Send him flowers. And a foot. Just a new foot, please.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Tigers Jaw Finally End the Wait

I sit at the feet of Tigers Jaw, waiting patiently for the day they decide to toss an album into my eager, outstretched palms. Brianna Collins looks down at me in disgust; it has been three years of this waiting game. I Won’t Care How You Remember Me comes out on March 5th, so I will sit at the gates of the Tigers Jaw kingdom for two more months, hungrily feasting on each single and promotional photo they leave for me, the lowliest of listeners.

This is absolutely my most anticipated album of the year, and I’m glad that it’s a guaranteed release because I can’t take any more disappointment. I often insert my pipe dream albums in the most anticipated segment of the year, and it almost always ends up backfiring on me, so I’ve tried to stop. Tigers Jaw is one of the few bands that make my pipe dreams come true — a solid album every time. They have production god Will Yip on their side and that has always been to their absolute benefit.

Dramatic monologue aside, you obviously all saw this coming. I’ve seen Tigers Jaw play several shows and with each performance my love for their infectious pop rock grows. Each album is better than the last, and Spin (2017) has remained in my frequent listening pile since release day. Hopefully the latter half of 2021 will allow me to see them play the new tracks live, but who can even have any hope at this point? You can watch the videos for “Cat’s Cradle” and “Lemon Mouth” now, and the third single, “Hesitation” dropped on January 7th.

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Knuckle Puck – 20/20

“I can finally see clearly, as if my vision’s 20/20.”

Knuckle Puck have been a growing presence in the Chicago punk scene for a number of years, with two strong releases behind them. Written (mostly?) before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ominously named 20/20 is actually a breath of fresh air. Somehow acknowledging the near universal struggles and grief that everyone has faced this year before they had actually happened, Knuckle Puck find the hope in struggle and the energy of normalcy that 2020 seems to have sucked dry.

You can buy or stream 20/20 on Apple Music.

In many ways, Knuckle Puck and fellow Chicagoans Real Friends seemed to follow a similar path for much of their career in revitalizing the midwest pop punk emo scene. It only makes sense then that in many ways, 20/20 is reminiscent of Real Friends’ third album, Composure. Not altering their sound too much from their first releases, 20/20 is the most composed, well-structured and cohesive the band have ever sounded. This comes across slightly as a more “mainstream” sound, but the album hardly shifts from the aggressive guitars and intricate melodies the band is known for.

“I wake up every morning with this overwhelming sinking feeling / Slipping through the doorframe while bouncing thoughts against the ceiling / This shit is only boring if you sit around and wait for nothing / I can’t tell you the future, but I know that it’s coming”

The album finds magic in normalcy by shifting the focus away from the unique struggles of 2020 and focusing instead on relationships and veiled messages on politics. This comes across the most in lead single, “RSVP”, as singer Joe Taylor broods over raging guitars, “And if you’re listening just for clarity, those idealistic dreams were never so naive / Complicated, mind sedated (Keep your hands over your ears) / Hearts turn vacant, humble patriot / (So you can cover up, cover up)”.

The first half of the album plays much more like a ‘traditional’ pop punk record, with several songs seeming radio ready. “Tune You Out” is much more classic emo fare, tracing the battle over a relationship where one person loses their temper over a bed of glistening guitars (“It tears me up inside, I’ll tune you out / ‘Til we all calm down”). Meanwhile, “Earthquake”, a measured rock song with a 90’s alternative vibe explores being enraptured by someone who seems larger than life, but is still broken in their own way (“You look so good, you’ve got me confused / I can’t just cover it up like your first tattoo”).

The back half is where the more experimental vibes and deeper lyrics settle in. “Green Eyes (Polarized)” finds Taylor wishing he could see someone else’s point of view and bridge the gap between their thinking (“You put your faith aside and cast yourself into the great divide / Would you let me see through green eyes?”).

“Into the Blue” describes a spiritual experience through skydiving, while “True North”, arguably the poppiest song on the album, finds the strength in reflecting on the bad times, but looking forward to better days (“Shut my eyes and hope I wake up, to the wave of the breeze from your screened-in porch / Just promise that you’ll leave the light on to point me toward true north”).

“If it’s easier, then close your eyes, but know that you could never see the light / You gotta get up and get outside if you wanna feel the sunshine”

Closing song “Miles Away” juxtaposes how negative thoughts can take you away from who you are, but positive thoughts can take you miles toward where you’re going. The guitars chug steadily, slowing into an elegant chorus in the vein of classics from The Starting Line. However, this is what ties 20/20 together as a whole. If there is a message to the album, it’s that you shouldn’t shy away from the problems in your life, but reflect on them and look forward.

….. Y’know, what the term “20/20” used to mean before we collectively decided it was a lie and a curse.

I was listening to opening song “20/20” for the first time when a news alert chimed over the music that let me know Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It was just another mark on a year of continuously bad news, but that one struck particularly hard. Over the course of the album, 20/20 unintentionally navigates the emotions many of us have felt since January 1—incredible lows, personal highs and the determination to see it through. By the time the album’s final lines roll through, wave after wave of emotion had rolled through, juxtaposed with songs like “Breathe” (featuring Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders), reminding the listener to stay calm. On a night I would have otherwise been utterly devastated, I felt hope. 20/20 isn’t afraid to look at the bad times because it’s so focused on the bright future.

“When darker skies roll in don’t you cross me out, just pull me back into safer crowds / Cause I’m miles away, yeah, I’m miles away / I’ve been miles away until now”

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 ate all of the queso dip. All of it. I can’t even say for sure how this happened. One moment there was dip, the next… mere chaos and the crumbs of chips sprinkled on the cat.

Review: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

If you were to frequent our website back when we launched in 2013 and suddenly return today after a long absence, you likely wouldn’t recognize the place. Seven years ago, I certainly wasn’t predicting that Carly Rae Jepsen would crack the top five on our Best Albums of the Decade list and had no idea how much the music of Kendrick Lamar would change the way we pondered about great art. But I’d say it’s inarguable that we’re infinitely better for the evolving and diverse tastes of our writing staff.

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

In so many ways, It’s All Dead’s emergence unexpectedly coincided with the scene’s slow decline, capped by Warped Tour’s last gasp. Yes, the music is still around, but the community we once knew has become a shell of itself. There are both positive and negative outcomes of that dissolvement, and personally, it’s been a while since guitar-driven music held much interest for me, anyway. So we’ve worked to create an open-door community that might pique the interest of any sort of music lover.

But even as the winds have changed, there are still traces of the scene in my blood, and it’s something I’ve felt quite vividly since discovering Stand Atlantic. As strange as it feels to lose myself in a pop punk band in 2020, I can’t speak highly enough of Pink Elephant.

When the Sydney, Australia, act entered our purview with their Sidewinder EP just three years ago, it was hard to find any space left for a band of their ilk, no matter how much promise those early recordings held. But as the scene they entered began to board up its doors and windows, Stand Atlantic found a way to construct something new.

Upon hearing early singles like “Hate Me (Sometimes)”, I thought maybe it was nostalgia that was tickling my ears. But as the slow rollout of the band’s sophomore album took shape, I found myself drawn to the way the band so effortlessly morphed their sound into something so uniquely…them.

Vocalist Bonnie Fraser began developing a knack for self-exploration on Skinny Dipping, the band’s 2018 debut. In just two short years she’s become one of rock’s most fascinating songwriters, weaving metaphor and painfully literal musings within these 11 tracks that seem to change pace to whatever vibe she’s seeking.

Album opener “Like That” captures the band’s newfound blend of pop and aggression with the kind of begrudging indifference to falling apart that so many of us seem to feel these days. Fraser brings down the house on the track’s post-chorus with the lines, “Crushing bones, I don’t know / My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that”.

Pink Elephant moves at a relatively fast clip and is so hook-laden that you sometimes need to pause to avoid missing the more intricate moments. When it does shift pace, as it does on “Blurry”, the album blossoms into something that usurps the pop punk label. An alt-rock track with electropop influences, “Blurry” is a dark ride that showcases all of the ways this band is unique from their peers. “Clutching weapons while we’re sleeping / Got me bleeding like I mean it / It’s just enough to keep me blurry”, Fraser seethes across the bridge, backed by sparking synthesizers. What sounds like a trick out of CHVRCHES’ playbook feels fresh and new when the drums kick back in to drive the chorus home.

Similarly, “DWYW” blends a brooding darkness with syrupy pop melodies, while somehow side-stepping the genre expectations the band leaned into on their debut. If I close my eyes while listening to “Wavelength”, I can feel Miki Rich’s bass line rattling my rib cage from two stages away on a hot day at Warped Tour. But those are the ghosts that flutter throughout Pink Elephant to draw you in before shoving you in the chest with an unexpected turn. “I know I’ve always said I’m not a saint / So I’m gonna push you to the floor”, Fraser breathes on the opening seconds of the track before the wall of sound hits.

Stand Atlantic know exactly what they’re doing with this album, and it works in every way it’s meant to. It speaks volumes to the band’s growth that when they strip everything away but a piano and Fraser’s vocals, as they do on “Drink to Drown”, that the songwriting truly shines in the most beautiful and painful of ways. Fraser and company seem to have every intent on carving their own path forward, scene decline be damned.

So here we are, nearly 800 words deep on a review of an album that I never expected to impact me in 2020 in the way that it has. In nearly 15 years of writing, I’ve doled out perfect score reviews at a snail’s pace that still numbers in the single digits. But whatever. Fuck it. This is the album I needed right now and I can’t think of anything I would change about it. 

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

In these dark times in which we live, from racial tensions peaking in the U.S. to the decline of the music scene due to pandemic closures, it’s more important than ever to find some time to distract ourselves with something else. Neck Deep’s latest album All Distortions Are Intentional (and for some, Taylor Swift) has provided that for me this past week. While the albums tends to be more pop than punk, once I spent some time with it, I found myself not being able to get enough.

You can buy or stream All Distortions Are Intentional on Apple Music.

I was in love with 2017’s The Peace and the Panic; I thought it was hard hitting and meaningful. When I heard with first single from All Distortions are Intentional, “Lowlife”, an ode to marijuana, I was a bit disappointed. I felt as though the band has backslid into a lesser version of themselves, when I had been so impressed with the maturity of their last offering. Little did I realize that they have further matured, and that Distortions is a concept album. 

The album begins with “Sonderland”, a very strong opener and sure to be fan-favorite (if live shows ever freaking come back). It introduces us to this alternate universe where there is a self-awareness among inhabitants of not being the only person that matters. It continues with one of my favorites, “Fall”, then heads into the controversial aforementioned track that now makes perfect sense when taken with the context of the two characters, Jett and Alice. The concept outlined here is that Jett and Alice are your general emo teens who love being outsiders and shun those who long to fit in. 

In this day and age where it has become so important to stand out and be ourselves, we focus so much on our originality and forget to be present in the world around us. “Telling Stories” draws our eyes upward to the world around us and introduces some new characters and the hardships they face in Sonderland. Ben sings “It’s not the things you know / It’s the friends you make,” and that’s so true. At our funerals, those who love us will talk about how we spent our lives, and if we only follow the “me me me” culture that’s thrown at us and don’t stop and truly care for those around us, our life will have been wasted.

The album is light and airy and just the breath of fresh air I’ve been craving. Tracks like “What Took You So Long” and “Pushing Daisies” are bound to become songs that I return to when I need a pick-me-up. The album brings us from taking the time to regard those around us and make a difference, and by the end, we are reminded that, try as we might, we can’t fix everything. It’s cathartic in a time like this. 

I used to think Neck Deep was one of the generic douchebag pop punk bands with crappy guys who didn’t care who they bowled over to further their career. It was a completely unfounded opinion with no evidence to back it up, but I felt it nevertheless. With these past two albums, I realize that we’ve all grown, whether it was of our own volition or the shifting culture has made us see the wrong ways we view things around us. I’m glad I gave them a second chance, because they’ve become one of the most effective bands in the scene — right up there with The Wonder Years. The alt scene has always been hallmarked by the way we deal with injustices through artistic expression, and even though no one is perfect, the way that Neck Deep have embraced the difficulties of the past years and produced art that’s made it easier to handle is another reason to hold on and support the scene.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

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

Surviving Summer 2020 with Stand Atlantic

As we’ve noted repeatedly these past few months, Summer 2020 has shaped up to be…not good. Not good at all. No summer concerts. No summer road trips. Just a cycle of sickness that could be broken if we could all show just an ounce of responsibility (please wear a mask, for the love of god).

But as we’ve also noted, one beacon of light these past few months has been the onslaught of incredibly good music that has lifted our spirits and kept us company. Summer has always been a season I associate with some of my favorite music memories. It’s hard not to get an itch for Warped Tour around this time each year, or reflect on those summer drives with friends when we blared our favorite pop punk bands from the speakers.

And even though the vast majority of this summer will be spent indoors and separated from friends and family, I’ve found more than a hint of seasonal solace in the form of Stand Atlantic.

The Australian pop punk act has been on my radar for a few years, but I haven’t given them the attention they deserve. The band, fronted by vocalist Bonnie Fraser, released their debut full-length album, Skinny Dipping, in 2018 on Hopeless Records. Next month, they’ll release a follow-up in the form of Pink Elephant.

If the first five songs the band have released are any indication, Pink Elephant is unlikely to leave my rotation for the duration of 2020. The recently-released “Jurassic Park” features the kind of sugary-sweet chorus that hasn’t invaded my ears since the summer of 2007 when All Time Low dropped “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. If Warped Tour was taking place in 2020, at least half of us would be sweat and sunscreen-stained t-shirts featuring the words “Dancing with ghosts in your garden”.

The crazy thing is, “Jurassic Park” may not even be the best song from Pink Elephant so far. That title goes to “Hate Me (Sometimes)” which successfully hits every winning note in the pop punk playbook while still sounding fresh as hell. But then again, it’s hard to argue against “Wavelength”, with its synth-driven verses and rattling bass line from Miki Rich. And what about “Drink to Drown” – a track that sounds like the best Mayday Parade ballad put to tape?

I guess what I’m saying is that I cannot wait to play this album all summer long, even if this summer blows. And I’ll never get tired of the feeling of finding a new band that captures my attention in a way that engulfs me. Those kinds of moments are the reason I started this site, and I’m hopeful that we can all experience a few in this interim period before we congregate once again to sing along to our favorite new songs in unison.

You can pre-order Pink Elephant here.

by Kiel Hauck

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

Review: 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.

Reflecting On: MxPx – The Ever Passing Moment

The first MxPx release to catch my ear wasn’t a studio album. In the summer of 1999, the band released At the Show, a 21-track live album coming on the heels of an unprecedented run of solid gold pop punk – literally. Life in General firmly legitimized the band in 1996 before 1998’s Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo was certified gold, followed by Let it Happen, one of the greatest collections of B-sides the genre has seen. The skate punk kids from Bremerton had arrived.

You can buy or stream The Ever Passing Moment on Apple Music.

At the Show introduced me to the band and served as a primer on their greatest hits. Even now, when the studio version “Chick Magnet” comes on, I sing along with the vocals of Mike Herrera’s much looser and more playful live rendition. It’s probably no surprise then that 2000’s The Ever Passing Moment is my favorite MxPx album. It was the first one to release after I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with the band.

It is now 20 years old, which almost seems impossible.

You can have a lot of fun debates about which MxPx album is the best because there really aren’t any bad ones. And while I’ve always conceded that Life in General stands at the front of the pack, it’s never held the same place in my heart. The Ever Passing Moment finds the band at the top of their game with nothing to prove. Free from their divorce from Tooth & Nail Records, MxPx seemed to spread their wings on A&M – three years later, they would release their most commercial album to date with Before Everything & After.

Almost every one of the album’s 15 tracks clocks in at under 3 minutes, and each flexes the band’s most impressive muscle – fast-paced, left coast punk rawk. The Ever Passing Moment breezes by effortlessly, which is probably why I’ve played it so relentlessly over the years that I know every beat and turn like the back of my hand. Not to mention the litany of memorable moments that reside in MxPx lore, from the stomping chorus of “Responsibility” to Dave Grohl’s scream of “One, two, three, go!” at the start of “The Next Big Thing”.

Because the album is so solid from front to back, it takes the pressure off the singles to carry two decades’ worth of weight. I’ve always found unsung tracks like “Two Whole Years”, “Foolish”, “Answer in the Question”, and “Unsaid” to be just as fun, energetic, and memorable as anything in the band’s catalogue. And truly, that’s how you end up talking about an album 20 years later – it has to be an album worth talking about.

As the pop punk genre took off into the mainstream at the start of the new century, MxPx began their transition to a band of legacy. To date, the band has released five more full-length albums since The Ever Passing Moment, each worthy of celebration, even if they didn’t hold quite the same level of influence. No matter. A large majority of the onslaught of pop punk’s new wave could trace their lineage back to MxPx. 

If Life in General was the album that made a new generation of punks want to pick up a guitar, The Ever Passing Moment was the album that served as the definitive playbook for pop punk excellence.

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.

Celebrating 15 Years of “From Under the Cork Tree”

During the spring semester of my junior year of college, I spent countless afternoons manning the booth for our student radio station. For what felt like a month straight, “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” was the most requested song. I vividly remember taking another request by phone, only to look up and see the television in the studio playing the video on MTV. Fall Out Boy were everywhere. And frankly, I was already sick of them.

You can buy or stream From Under the Cork Tree on Apple Music.

It took me a while to come around on From Under the Cork Tree, the album that launched Fall Out Boy, and the scene at large, into the stratosphere. Call it juvenile elitism. These were our bands, and now suddenly everyone was into it?

That bad attitude kept me from experiencing the joys of FUCT for a number of years. Now, 15 years after its release, it’s an album I know like the back of my hand.

On the album’s 10th anniversary, Senior Editor Kyle Schultz wrote about how From Under the Cork Tree is rightfully credited with taking a new generation of emo to the masses, but he also notes how that ascent was the end of the scene as we had known it. Many of our favorite bands were no longer confined to the Warped Tour circuit. Following Fall Out Boy’s rise in 2005, new bands could emerge from the woodwork and land headlining tours and MTV airplay without so much as traveling across country multiple times in 15-passenger vans. The scene was in style and driving popular tastes.

It’s still weird to think back on that time. Pre-2005 it was still faux pas to shop exclusively at Hot Topic or cover your backpack in stitched-on patches of bands no one had ever heard of. Don’t hear me as complaining here – it’s simply an acknowledgement of how quickly things changed and how upside down it all felt for those of us who were on the bandwagon back when there was plenty of room.

It didn’t take long for me (and assuredly many others) to adjust to this new experience. We became the ones at shows telling stories of “back when.” Before long, it felt almost normal for every Fueled By Ramen band to go platinum. It got comfortable. Until it wasn’t.

We now reflect fondly on those times of scene stardom, LiveJournal updates, Rolling Stone covers and the like. Because it all came crashing back to earth just as quickly as it began. But here’s the thing: the tax never came due for Fall Out Boy.

There’s a version of this story where we talk about “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” as the highlight in the short career of a band that could’ve left us wanting more. Instead, Fall Out Boy used From Under the Cork Tree to infiltrate the pop culture zeitgeist and evolve into something new and fresh. Infinity on High made clear that Fall Out Boy had graduated from the scene. The events that followed turned them into something that comes as close as you can get to rock legends in this day and age.

As much as I’ve grown to love From Under the Cork Tree and all of it’s introspective, self-deprecating charm over the years, I wouldn’t place it on the band’s Mount Rushmore. That may make me an outlier, but Fall Out Boy only got better – much better – in the aftermath of that breakthrough moment.

I’m thankful for that. And so, I would assume, are so many of the bands we cover on this site who owe a debt of gratitude to the blueprint that Fall Out Boy created. But as much as those bands may have tried to recreate that magic over the years, no one has been able to pull it off with the flair for the dramatic that Fall Out Boy demonstrated on From Under the Cork Tree.

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.