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.

Review: The Bombpops – Death In Venice Beach

The Bombpops have always been a band that I should be in love with. Raging guitars, dual female vocals, and slick Drive-Thru Records pop sensationalism sound like keys to success. However, the band’s first album, Fear of Missing Out (2017) never quite clicked with its songs about partying in California. What that album lacked was the acknowledgment of the hangover the next day (with exception to the references to shitting your pants in “I Can’t”). That’s why their sophomore effort, Death In Venice Beach feels so vividly refreshing as a follow up. Facing the consequences of punishing your body and mind, the dark side of alcoholism and tying it together with troubled romance, Death in Venice Beach is the album The Bombpops were always meant to write.

You can buy or stream Death in Venice Beach on Apple Music.

Vocalists and guitarists Jen Razavi and Poli van Dam cruise through each song with surprising executions of pop melodies while maintaining an almost monotone punk sneer similar to Bad Religion (“Can’t Come Clean”). They hoist a devastating wall of noise and thrilling guitar work that sounds equal parts flashy, buzzy and infectious (“Notre Dame”). Bassist Neil Wayne weaves incredible bass lines throughout every song that really stand out due to stellar production (“Sad To Me”). Drummer Josh Lewis excels at the style of punk rock percussion that helped me fall in love with the genre in the first place (“13 Stories Down”).

Death In Venice Beach really shines in the small details that show the aftermath of living hard, and dealing with life unraveling around you. The destructive alcoholism is a prominent theme that filters throughout the album. “Can’t Come Clean” is a rager that admits the fault in starting drunken fights and the shame that follows after sobering up. Audio of an argument where one of the band members threatens to quit plays at the start, making lyrics such as, “I’m always posting things on the internet / And if I ever read the bullshit, it makes me regret everything / That’s why I can’t come clean,” even more pronounced.

Rock bottom appears during “13 Stories Down” with the vivid descriptions of isolation due to alcoholism, a relationship that keeps pushing the situation, and admitting that this lifestyle will end up killing them. It’s a heartbreaking song boosted by an uplifting pop tempo and soaring bass (“Home alone cuz once again / I’ve been ditched by all my so-called friends / There’s nothing left but pull that bottle off the shelf / And catalog my worst regrets…”).

“Double Arrows Down”, a terrifying tale of passing out in a gas station from complications with diabetes, is equal parts remorseful and rage at the condition. “There’s days I wanna close my eyes and never wake up to my numbers high / Just lay there until all I read is low / … / This needle’s wearing thin and there’s no end”.

Thankfully, not every song is so massively heavy. “Sad To Me”, a pop punk essential in the vein of an early track from The Starting Line, is primed to be a live show defining number. “Notre Dame” compares a toxic relationship to watching the famed cathedral burn by wondering how after all the time it took to build up something sacred, it just ends in destruction.

Death In Venice Beach isn’t as coherent as it could be given the amount of topics covered from song to song, but it is a thrilling collection of stories woven together. It acts as a perfect counterbalance to the issues found on Fear of Missing Out and makes The Bombpops are an absolute force to be reckoned with in the punk scene. With stellar craftsmanship, writing and production, Death in Venice Beach is an album that should be talked about up until the release of The Bombpops’ next album.

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 smells of sweet, delicious scones.

Review: All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

All Time Low are one of the few bands who have never seemed to lose steam. Though some of the more recent albums never quite lived up the magic of their original few, the release of new music from All Time Low has always felt like an event. Fortunately, Wake Up, Sunshine is an event. At the time of writing this, most of the world is in some form of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus, and it feels like the world itself is collapsing. Wake Up, Sunshine is not just a summer album, it is a spark of hope in the darkness that promises the best is yet to come by looking back on the past.

You can buy or stream Wake Up, Sunshine on Apple Music.

While many of the group’s recent albums experimented and leaned heavier into pop sensibilities, the results were often mixed. Where Wake Up, Sunshine succeeds is in marrying the punk buzz of Nothing Personal with the pop ambitions of Last Young Renegade. The guitars are heavier, the pop more polished and intelligently implemented, and anthemic choruses abound that rank among All Time Low’s best.

In many ways, this album feels like a sister album to Nothing Personal. Where that album was a battle anthem of youth looking towards the future, Wake Up, Sunshine looks back on that time of life through a mature lens. Instead of free-loving anthems like “Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)”, songs like “Trouble Is” reflect on the deep connection and curse of love. Instead of declaring that this will be the year that they make it (“Weightless”), the band asks their audience if this music is still what they want to hear (“Some Kind of Disaster”).

Where the two albums definitely overlap is in their sense of sexiness, romance, swagger, and the instantly memorable choruses and hooks. 

More than any of their past work, Wake Up, Sunshine reflects on being thankful for making it so far. “Some Kind of Disaster” sets the theme for the record, essentially prepping the audience to go on the journey of connecting over an album again with stadium-rock guitars and rippling bass (“And it’s all my fault that I’m still the one you want. / So what are you after? / Some kind of disaster”). 

Other songs allude to the band’s growth in small ways. “Clumsy”, with glam guitar sizzling over a dance rhythm, addresses the realization of the band being too full of themselves in the past, with vocalist Gaskarth singing, “I got too high on myself / Too young and stupid to tell / I was bound to make a mess of things / Mixing fireworks and gasoline / Now I’m out to make you fall with me”. Meanwhile, “Basement Noise” softly reflects on memories of starting out as kids practicing in drummer Rian’s basement (“Cut our teeth chasing the weekend  / Capsize and fall in the deep end”).

Other topics are tackled to certain degrees as well. Title track “Wake Up, Sunshine” weaves a narrative of loving yourself against taking a stand against the internet echo chambers that many people find themselves lost in. “Everybody wants to be somebody / I just want you to see how good you are / You don’t have to lean on the crutch of a daydream / To see that you shine like a star.” 

And as always, there are the songs of romance. “Sleeping In”, arguably All Time Low’s best single since “Weightless”, is a passionate love song (“If I said ‘I want your body’, would you hold it against me?”) that builds itself up with verses filled with dance beats and choruses made for mosh pits. “Favorite Place”, a call and return of romance with The Band CAMINO, features a beautiful sparkling instrumentation and haunted backing vocals (“It’s the distance we don’t need / Yeah, you’re everything I love about the things I hate in me”). 

Meanwhile, although “January Gloom (Seasons, Pt. 1)” and “Summer Daze (Seasons, Pt. 2)” would otherwise sound like low points on an album this rich,  they take on more meaning in this time when people around the world are locked in their homes. “January Gloom” resonates so much with seasonal depression disorder at this time, when it’s just starting to get warm but we can’t go outside. Meanwhile, “Summer Daze” plays with dreamy lyrics of summer romance and teasing of just how wonderful it will be to get outside again (“Serendipity and summer showers / We soak it up like flowers / Growing through the concrete”).

Wake Up, Sunshine is one of the strongest albums of All Time Low’s career. It carves its own path by reflecting on the pop punk scene that raised the band, and leaning into the pop scene that has expanded their career in remarkable ways. It may get bonus points just for being something positive in a time of national crisis, but in the end, All Time Low’s best music has always been about the promise of looking forward. Wake Up, Sunshine is the right album released at the right time to help those that listen march through this crisis and feel hopeful on the other side.

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 just fed his cat an unreasonable amount of chicken. A few bits would have been fine, but this was best described as “a chunk”. That little creep shouldn’t be able to fit that much in a stomach that physically small. The obvious answer then, is that cats are monsters and where internal organs should be, there is only…. the void. SCIENCE!

Reflecting On: Motion City Soundtrack – My Dinosaur Life

“I stall before I start.”

Motion City Soundtrack is a band that is loved by different people for different lyrics, different sounds, and remarkably distinct albums. There is an argument to be made that any one of their albums is the highlight of the group’s career, but none offers more evidence than My Dinosaur Life (2010). While earlier albums danced around the pop punk scene by testing the boundaries of pop and rock music, My Dinosaur Life unabashedly amplified every aspect that made them great. The result is a loud neurotic mess of sound that defined who Motion City Soundtrack are and cemented their legacy in an overcrowded Warped Tour field.

You can buy or stream My Dinosaur Life on Apple Music.

As this album turns 10, I find myself in a position where I can relate to its themes more than ever. Feeling left behind by a world you’re still a part of, trying to improve yourself for the benefit of all, and realizing it took you way too long to do it. If My Dinosaur Life has one message to offer, it’s that it is never too late to be your best.

My Dinosaur Life is the album that made me feel okay for having a mind that jumps from topic to topic, seemingly beyond my control. Even in my most uncomfortable and heartbroken moments, I make jokes to ease the oncoming sense of doom. From song to song, singer Justin Pierre jumps from one thought to the next with grace, humor, and the humility to ask his audience to forgive him for being all over the place.

My Dinosaur Life was a statement on the idea of feeling left behind. After gaining some moderate success with the release of Commit This To Memory (2005), the band seemed to take noticeable backlash for just how poppy Even If It Kills Me (2007) was, even though the album is highly regarded now. For a brief moment, Motion City Soundtrack seemed like they had outlived their longevity in the music scene. My Dinosaur Life revitalized the band both in career and spirit.

“The things that used to mean so much to me /

Have gone the way of dinosaurs /

Hopes and dreams and everything”

My Dinosaur Life plays off of the theme of improvement. Every song feels like a short story about admitting one’s own faults and, maybe for the first time, asking for help to become better. “A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help)” states this most directly (“I think I can figure it out / But I’m gonna need a little help to get me through it”).

“Her Words Destroyed My Planet” is one of the best songs written in the last decade. It’s a raw confession of someone admitting that their significant other’s frustrations with them being an underachiever have finally been realized. The song is an admission that despite trying to improve themselves in a variety of ways, it was still too little, too late, even if they like who they are now better than before.

These pleas for help and proclamations of improvement are interwoven with the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness that often coexist when we seek to be better. “Skin and Bones” asks the void an absurd amount of questions, as though trying to relieve themselves of a panic attack (“What if consciousness can expand / And we fool ourselves with absurd demands? / What if there is no point at all? / We just grow up to fade away…”).

Although My Dinosaur Life seems to dance back and forth with the idea of admitting one’s own faults and promising to be better (“Stand Too Close”), it balances itself taking pride in hard work and emotional health (“Worker Bee”).

It’s important to work to be better. But it’s just as important to do it for the right reasons. In “The Weakends”, Pierre reflects on a life spent wasted on not being his best, of dreaming about the future when he could be living it. “As the years go crashing by / I think of all I’ve pondered / So many minutes wandered / So many things undone / I’ve tried to figure out / How many lives I’ve wasted /  Waiting for the perfect time to start”.

My Dinosaur Life is as close to a perfect album that I can think of. It passes a message that everyone learns at some stage of their life with a mix of humor, self immolation, and hope. But most of all, it asks you realize when you’re not the best you can be. That’s all it takes to deserve a gold star.

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 hates olives and everything that looks like an olive. He bit into a chicken salad sandwich expecting the sweet taste of cranberry and instead was betrayed with a mouthful of these poison grapes. If you know anyone who eats olives out of a jar, he asks you to pray for them, as that is the only way they can be saved now.