Goodnight Hiroyuki: A Night with Justin Courtney Pierre

Justin-Courtney-Pierre-2018-cr-Dan-Monick

“I went to the show last night. It was like shitty Beach Boys.” – Justin Pierre

Tonight was the first show of Justin Courtney Pierre’s first solo tour. Seeing Motion City Soundtrack live half a dozen times over the years, I am familiar with Pierre’s stage presence. Tonight was something new. Pushing through nerves, Pierre spoke at length with the crowd between songs and gave those in attendance a night just for them. His tour will undoubtedly get tighter by the end of its run. But on his first solo show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Justin joked to the crowd the best summary of his entire solo venture.

“I’m incredibly nervous. I talked to my daughter before the show, and she said, ‘You’ll do great, dad!’ I said, ‘Shut up, idiot.’”

Opening the show was surprise darling, Pronoun. I had never heard of them before, but like many others tonight, I’m a fan for life. It says a lot about a band when, after the show, more people are holding their vinyls instead of the headliner. Surprisingly simple, their songs contain an insane amount of melody.

Pronoun 1.jpg

Pronoun

Pronoun, headed by singer/ guitarist Alyse Vellturo, are what rock stars are made of. Watching them play, I couldn’t help but think of the manga Nana, and seeing character Nana Osaki bend rock music to her will. Each song swam with a full, rich sound that made it seem like twice as many musicians took the stage. Despite Vellturo nervously telling the crowd, “This song only uses two chords,” (or “This one uses three!”) Pronoun are remarkably talented.

If nothing else, Pronoun played a song that “they hoped to record some time.” I assume it will eventually be a single. Though unsure of what the title of it is, it’s the type of song that can instantly turn a small band into a sensation.

By contrast, Justin Courtney Pierre was loose. He warned the crowd before the first song, “Some of the melodies and words might change. That’s not on purpose.” Where Motion City maintained a tight, coordinated live show, Pierre allowed his solo work room to breathe. The band had only practiced a hand full of times before hitting the road. Music stands were placed front and center, with Pierre eyeing pages of lyrics and/or sheet music before and during songs.

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Justin Courtney Pierre

In The Drink was played in its entirety, broken up with a great mix of songs from Pierre’s career. An older song written for a gay youth site, “Everything That Hurts” was played alongside a new solo song, complete with surfer rock vibe (see the ‘Beach Boys’ quote above) that will be released on an upcoming EP, My Girl Margot.

More than anything, Pierre had the chance to talk to the audience and try something new. Between each song, he’d talk at length with the crowd, changing topics and regularly filling the room with laughter. After one interaction asking about asthma medications, when someone from the crowd shouted, “Doctor says yes!”, Pierre instantly shot back, “You’re not a doctor!”

This solo tour allowed Pierre a chance to play anything. Rushed to learn the songs, the band flew through three Farewell Continental songs, including one called “Tossing and Turning” that he hopes will be on FC’s next release. When it came time for Motion City Soundtrack, Pierre took the stage alone. He wanted to play “without feeling like he was cheating on MCS,” and only played songs that he brought to the band in the first place. Requesting the audience to help sing, he played through intimate versions of “It Had To Be You”, “When You’re Around” and “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die”.

At this point, it’s impossible to tell if the rest of Justin Pierre’s solo tour will follow the same path, or if this truly is a chance for him play with his live shows and look for something new each night. But if this was him at the height of his insecurities on stage, Pierre is about to start something truly special.

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 realized he was petting a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex instead of his cat. Boooooo.

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Review: Justin Courtney Pierre – In The Drink

Despite the mounting evidence, Justine Courtney Pierre is fun. His musical career has been a series of self deprecation and hapless attempts at romance set to the tune of upbeat synth pop. That’s why it makes sense that his first solo outing, In The Drink doesn’t stray too far from familiar territory. In fact, it feels reassuring to know that Motion City Soundtrack’s lyrical content came from a place so honest that it follows through to his own music.

You can buy or stream In the Drink on Apple Music.

It is going to be impossible not to compare Pierre’s first solo album to Motion City Soundtrack. The album is still a pop rock album filled with dreamy lyrical downers. However, this is the first time Pierre has allowed himself to truly experiment with sounds. Produced by former Motion City guitarist Joshua Allen Cain, Pierre adds more garage influences to an otherwise MCS styled album. Be it the faded drumming and horn section of “Undone”, the fuzzed guitar nightmare of “Goodnight Hiroyuki”, or adding influences from Weezer’s Pinkerton to Motion City’s My Dinosaur Life to create a pop rock chimera like “Anchor”, Pierre somehow surprises as much as he plays to his base.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that Pierre himself plays every instrument except for drumming duties, which are handled by David Jarnstrom (Gratitude, BNLX). Pierre’s lead and rhythm guitar sections are as hypnotic as anything he’s ever done. He truly finds a career-spanning range from the soft pop of Even If It Kills Me in “Moonbeam” to the raging guitars of My Dinosaur Life in “In The Drink”. Perhaps most surprising is how much his bass lines pop and stand on their own. At times, the bass threatens to overtake the lead guitar as the main instrument (“Ready Player One”, “Shoulder the Weight”) in surprisingly diverse ways.

Pierre himself remains as versatile as ever. While his vocal range doesn’t attempt anything new, he remains one of the most impressive singers in pop punk. Silky smooth, Pierre manages to sound both relatable and impressive as his imagery-filled lyrics slide off of his tongue. Subtle wavers of the voice (“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”) and confident bellows (“In The Drink”) fill the album. While he doesn’t sound like a choir boy, it’s absolutely impossible not to want to sing along because you feel like you can.

Thematically, In The Drink is on par for anything else Justin Pierre has written. On the opening track, “Undone”, Pierre admits, “Hey, I won’t leave the party today / I have nothing new to relate / There is only sadness, it always ends this way”.

“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away” feels like a sister song to the Motion City Soundtrack staple “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”. Not quite as lively, the song still revolves around a man trying to put the pieces together about a broken relationship with Weezer-esque guitars raging behind the vocals. “Don’t stay. Baby please stay, you can’t stay / Every night of my life ends the same way / I want to. I don’t want to. It’s both true / Why can’t I figure this out?”

However, Pierre isn’t constantly in the ditch. “Ready Player One” sees him coming to terms with himself and finding balance with his demons, even in the midst of relationship turmoil. “Think what you will I was never as bad as they say / Okay maybe I was but back then I was outta my mind / And I’m all quips and chatter each quivering section of spine / And I’m here to it, here like I never could ever before cause I was afraid, but now I’m ready”.

In The Drink is the next logical step for Justin Pierre, even if it sounds like the next Motion City Soundtrack album. Aggressive, experimental and familiar, Justin Courtney Pierre delivers a hell of an album, even if it’s somewhat expected. What makes In The Drink so spectacular is the fact that it justifies every song Justin Pierre has written and shows not only how authentic Pierre has been throughout his career, but how close to the vest Motion City Soundtrack was through their lifetime. Whether you’re discovering Pierre for the first time, or coming for the nostalgia, In The Drink is an album that we’ve been waiting for.

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 accidentally let his apples go bad. Who does that? Has anyone ever bought TWO APPLES and gone, “No, I’ll hold onto these until they rot”? Literally no one until today.

Reflecting On: Saves The Day – Saves The Day

In 2013, I was brand new to Chicago. It was a scary move, but I thought I had made it for the right reasons. My first job here was a painfully boring temp job that left me feeling remote and empty, even compared to my new friends who worked menial jobs. Feeling rejected from an avalanche of unanswered job applications, I would drive alone as the summer sun baked the feeling of regret into my head under the glare of expressway signs, and I wondered how it would ever get better.

You can buy or stream Saves the Day on Apple Music.

When Saves The Day’s self-titled album released that fall, I was ready. I had backed its PledgeMusic campaign earlier that year, listening to the first single, “Ain’t No Kind of Love”, an energetic song about a breakup, with a pure hunger. The chorus was exactly what I was going through, as Chris Conley sang, “For right now, to now make it through the long day, is okay / Tomorrow, when anything can happen, try again”.

I truly anticipated an album from one of my first musical loves that would let me bask in my oncoming depression without guilt. Instead, Saves The Day unexpectedly lifted my spirits.

For almost 20 years, Chris Conley was a flag bearer of the emo movement. He never shied away from diving headfirst into the fragility of the human spirit. The three albums before Saves the Day were a trilogy that tackled depression and the depths it can actually go. His songwriting is morbid, but captivatingly catchy.

With the release of Saves The Day, an album bearing the name of the band itself, it felt like a shock to the system to discover that it was a positive album. Despite being released at the start of fall, it was a pure summer album, complete with cover art of a bright orange grapefruit. Similar to how In Reverie stunned fans with a change in style, Saves The Day was a full thematic shift. Instead of glorifying loneliness, Saves The Day is an extremely loose ‘concept’ album about two people falling in love through a chance encounter outside of a bar and reflecting on the good and bad of their lives after years of happy marriage.

Saves The Day was the first album by the band that wasn’t burdened with expectation. There just wasn’t a need to compete with the emo wave of the early 2000’s or attempt to recover ground after the backlash of a stylistic change. Instead, it used the harsh guitars of the Daybreak trilogy of albums to forge a new identity.

After 15 years, to hear a real love song from Conley felt extraordinarily out of place. This was someone who wrote songs like “The End” from Sound The Alarm (“I’m a danger to myself / Always blaming someone else”). But here he was, singing “Beyond All of Time”. It’s the first slower song on the record, with an enchanting chorus of, “Together forever tonight / I’ll always be right by your side, tonight / I love you beyond all of time”.

The true peak of the album is the dual lineup of “Verona” and “Ring Pop”. “Verona” tackles the struggles of a relationship. The verses hint at the fights and sacrifices a couple have to go through against harsh guitars and a depressing drum beat, only to launch into a gloriously hopeful chorus of, “After the end when he tells her he loves her / She promises not to let go / They hold on to hope”.

Immediately following this is “Ring Pop”, arguably the happiest pop punk song of all time. The song radiates with a sappy and childlike wonder of love, and caps off the theme of the record in an incredibly uplifting arc unlike anything else Saves The Day has ever written. “Born on opposite coasts for the two of us both / Knowing in 20 years we would not be alone / Might have made us a pair of zen-like two-year-olds / With a couple of ring pops, no need to propose”.

Saves The Day drastically helped curve my depression for some time as I struggled to adjust to living in Chicago. If Chris Conley, a poster child of dark songs, could find happiness, so could I. That is also when I finally noticed the last line of the chorus from “Ain’t No Kind of Love” that I had somehow missed on each listen since the song was released. Suddenly, the album made sense, as did my outlook on where I was going. “For right now, to now make it through the long day, is okay / Tomorrow, when anything can happen, try again / Until then keep on breathing / The love you long to know is within”.

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 killed a spider with a broom while writing this. He is brave and a hero.

Review: Panic! At the Disco – Pray For The Wicked

No one has had a career in show business quite like Panic! At the Disco. After being the biggest band in the country, they fell into near obscurity until Brendon Urie reforged the band’s direction to that of pop super stardom. Show business has always blossomed from P!AtD in extravagant measure. Pray For The Wicked is a loose concept album about the trials and tribulations of not only the music industry, but show business as a whole. In doing so, Brendon Urie has crafted the most thematic album of the band’s career and reinvigorated themselves amongst pop’s elite.

You can buy Pray for the Wicked on Apple Music.

Death of a Bachelor didn’t sit well with me. While the direction was enviable, there was something that didn’t feel genuine about it. However, Pray For The Wicked follows a similar sonic arc. Crisp percussion and powerful pop beats dominate the music. While the record is powered by synth, R&B elements, disco-style guitar and wicked bass lines, there is a shockingly adept orchestra that adds incredible life to the music. It’s a near perfect mixture that makes the music sound, in many ways, timeless across eras and genre.

Similarly, elements of almost every Panic! at the Disco album can be heard. Though it may not seem like as big of a leap stylistically as something like Pretty. Odd., Pray For The Wicked actually sounds like the culmination of everything the band has done up until this point. In many ways, the album reminded me of Taylor Swift’s 1989, when it finally dawns on you that not only did they make the full switch to pop superstar, but did it tremendously.

While the album is a massive pop banger, the musicianship is astonishingly good. No two songs sound alike, but each is ready to make you dance just as much with the beat as they are with the brass and string instruments soaring over the intense bass. But while these songs celebrate the glamour of modern music, they take an equally harsh dig at the industry as a whole. Themes of celebrating the party carry over from Death of a Bachelor, but they carry the weight of industry that sits just beneath the surface.

“(Fuck a) Silver Lining” starts by showing the frustration and obsession with writing a new hit, having an album go gold and settling for nothing less. Urie seems jubilant as he sings, “Fuck a silver lining / cause only gold is hot enough, hot enough / One more, one more”.

“Hey Look Ma, I Made It” is the most direct attack on the industry. Urie begins lamenting working for a label and the pressure of living up to fan expectation. “Cause I’m a hooker selling songs / And my pimp’s a record label…..Are you ready for the sequel? / Ain’t ready for the latest? / In the garden of evil / I’m gonna be the greatest”. Then, as soon as the severely upbeat chorus kicks in, Urie bellows, “Hey look ma, I made it / Everything’s coming up aces, aces / And if it’s a dream, don’t wake me”.

Tried and true staples still exist, such as second shots at ill-fated relationships (“The Overpass”), flamboyant parties reeking of youth and liquor (“Roaring 20’s”) and the longing for simpler times that comes with age (“Old Fashioned”).

However, every song ties back to the glamour and heartbreak of show business. Nothing shows it more, or ties it all together, quite like the closing ballad, “Dying in LA”. The song describes both the dreams of up-and-comers and the sacrifice of a normal life anyone hoping for success must endure. There is a heartbreak as Urie finds his inner Regina Spektor and croons, “Every face along the boulevard / Is a dreamer just like you / You looked at death in a tarot card / And you saw what you had to do”.

Pray For The Wicked is arguably the most cohesive album Panic! At The Disco have released. The “emo” angst has been replaced with the brutal truth of finding success. Where other bands would sing about following your dreams of punk rock, Urie chooses instead to forge a warning for the prices that have to be paid to be more than a one hit wonder. In the end, that could be the most panicky thing Panic! At the Disco has ever done.

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 spent over half of this writing session shoving the cat away from his glass of water. What a cretin.

Tonight Alive Level Up on Get Free Tour

If you read my review of Tonight Alive’s latest release, Underworld, you’ll know that I thought it was fantastic. It’s poignant, energetic, and everything I was looking for. When they came to Boston, I knew Tonight Alive was a band I wanted to experience up close and personal.

The Get Free Tour started at the beginning of February, and Boston was one of the last dates of the tour. There were four bands in the lineup: Picturesque, Broadside, Tonight Alive and Silverstein.

Tonight Alive

The night actually flowed pretty well, with only about 10 minutes in between sets. I moved around the room a little bit to try to get a better view of the stage (Paradise Rock is set up weirdly) and did manage to find a good spot. Broadside is a band I was excited to see, as their 2015 release Old Bones was a summer favorite of mine. The crowd was into the set, but frontman Ollie Baxter’s attitude and stage presence distracted from the band’s performance, similar to Picturesque’s set before them.

As Tonight Alive took the stage, the band’s progression from a young, scrappy act to seasoned professionals that have come into their own became clear. The band showcased the balanced, energetic stage presence that comes with experience – moving as one unit with everyone equally playing their part.

Tonight Alive

If there was ever a doubt that vocalist Jenna McDougall can sing, it only took their acoustic version of “Oxygen” to dispel the myth. Tonight Alive were high energy and McDougall  really engaged with the crowd. She was attentive to the other guys in the band and the friendships between them seem strong and genuine.

One thing I really appreciated was how McDougall used the entire stage. It’s not a big stage and doesn’t cover the entire length of the floor, but she was intentional in making sure everyone, from the left side of the stage to the balcony, was having a great time and felt like they were part of the experience. She used the time in between songs to drive home a message of freedom and self-esteem.

Tonight Alive

As a newer fan of Tonight Alive, I wasn’t quite as connected with the band as older fans are. They played a lot of tracks from their older albums. I assumed that the majority of the set would be from Underworld, but that wasn’t the case. Each song flowed well and it was evident that they were diligent in choosing their setlist. I chuckled upon realizing that McDougall appeared to have the lyrics to Lynn Gunn’s verse in “Disappear” written on her hand.

Having to sit through the opening sets to get to Tonight Alive’s awesome performance was totally worth it. I hope I can catch them again when they come around, because their energy is completely infectious. The ideas of empowerment and the ability to change the world by changing our thought patterns are so important in today’s culture. Tonight Alive deserves every bit of acclaim they’ve received.

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.

Review: The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life

The Wombats’ new album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, is one of the most accurately named albums I’ve seen in a while. The entire collection of songs is about love and the lack of love and what to do about it all. Whether this is about one person or many past relationships, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, though, is that The Wombats treat every one of these scenarios as the most important thing in the world. So apparently, there are 11 most important scenarios in the world.

This album is sort of how I expected/wanted the new Walk to Moon album to sound. I didn’t get it from them, but I’m glad that The Wombats came through. It’s full of synth and subtle 80’s influence and it works perfectly.

You can buy Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life on iTunes.

My first taste of this album was the song “Turn”. The album’s second single was so unrecognizable as a song by The Wombats that I had to Shazam it to find out who it was. They’ve been around since 2003, but I first heard their song “Give Me a Try” from their 2015 album Glitterbug on the radio. I fell in love with the sound and eagerly awaited what they’d do next. They impressed me with their evolution over the past three years.

One stand out track is the opener, “Cheetah Tongue”. It’s a strong opener and was perfectly released as a single. It’s catchy in all the right ways and it’s a great beginning to a great album.

Honestly, there aren’t really any weak tracks here. Oftentimes there’ll be a dip in quality in the middle tracks of an album, but with Beautiful People that never happened. Even though I do have favorite tracks and ones I skip, it’s only because of personal preference, not because they’re bad songs or don’t flow well with the album.

My personal theme song from this album is titled, “I Only Wear Black”. I’m joking, but it’s hard not to identify a little bit with the line, “Sometimes you laugh / But usually you cry”. Encased in a cute melody and that mildly comical chorus is a song about a breakup. Lead singer Matthew Murphy sings about moving to L.A. and hanging out at the beach but, “…I don’t really care / They couldn’t walk me back to you”.

Sometimes a band will write a song with a metaphor that’s difficult to understand, and “Dip You in Honey” is that song. Even so, The Wombats have managed to make it accessible in a way I couldn’t verbalize at first. This song is about a new relationship and how wonderful and exciting everything is. Murphy wants to “dip it in honey” so maybe it’ll stay in the aptly called honeymoon phase forever.

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life is an album I’ll be spinning all summer. It draws you in right away and doesn’t let you go until you’ve felt every up and down Matthew Murphy has. So, yeah, beautiful people will ruin your life, but at least now we can have fun with that concept instead of sulking about it. I’m so thrilled that The Wombats are back with this fantastic piece of pop rock mastery.

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.

Review: Dashboard Confessional – Crooked Shadows

After the release of Dusk and Summer 12 years ago, Dashboard Confessional had an identity crisis. They couldn’t seem to decide whether to commit to pop rock or strip back entirely to the acoustic sound that made Chris Carrabba famous. Alter the Ending attempted to quell this by releasing a version of each. In the nine years since that last album, Dashboard’s audience has grown up, and so has he.

You can buy Crooked Shadows on iTunes.

Crooked Shadows is the first Dashboard album since A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar that finds a solid footing between songwriting styles. Aggressively romantic, Carrabba found a way to embellish his writing to flow organically between rock, Lorde-esque pop and acoustic ballads. Crooked Shadows organically forges new ground as much as it sounds like a ‘best of’ collection.

It would be easy for the variety of style on Crooked Shadows to feel messy, but the album is extremely cohesive. An anthemic rock song like “We Fight” can sit beside the finger snaps and digital drums of “Belong” without sounding out of place. It is refreshing to hear each song try something new without retreading the footsteps of another song, or even past albums. That’s not to say that Crooked Shadows doesn’t sound like a Dashboard Confessional album. You can pick up the essence of every era of Dashboard’s history throughout the album if you’re listening.

The guitars of “We Fight” could be pulled from Dusk & Summer. Ending song, “Just What To Say” seems like it was left off of The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most. However, songs like “Belong” sound remarkably different from Dashboard’s past. Distinctly modern pop, it is driven by electronic drums, finger snaps, and Carrabba’s cracked vocals. It doesn’t sound out of place on the album, but it is a marked difference in songwriting.

This level of pop infusion follows through to “Crooked Shadows”. More traditional in nature, the pop elements mix with guitars to create a sound that is uniquely what a Dashboard Confessional song in 2018 should sound like. It is the line between today’s radio pop and Carrabba’s MTV rock anthems.

Carrabba’s voice has always been one of his most powerful instruments, and is in full force yet again. Older and matured, he returns with the slight gravel of age, giving his deeper songs an impact that an 18 year old could never muster (“We Fight”). Alternatively, his crisp high notes are just as powerful as ever (“About Us”), and the signature emo crooning seems ageless (“Just What To Say”).

Crooked Shadows is a record brimming with love songs and the will to forge ahead. “We Fight” is a song of encouragement for anyone scared to dive forward into their dreams. “Heart Beat Here” is Carrabba’s most romantic song since “Hands Down”. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, he sings to his wife, “I wear my ring to know what’s at stake / And when the days work at their own pace, you remain my time and place”.

“Open My Eyes” finds the doubt creeping in. However, the song still finds a way to push back and look for hope, even as Chris sings, “I would stare at myself in the mirror if I thought I had any answers / Hell, finding my way just by failure / Oh, so far, we can see clear”.

Crooked Shadows is a brilliant return to form for Dashboard Confessional after taking nearly a decade between albums. At only nine songs long, it takes its time with a confidence that the last two albums lacked. Whichever era of Dashboard you prefer, there is a song for you, and a few that will feel entirely new. It’s hard to say whether Crooked Shadows will be anyone’s favorite album from the band, but it is sure to be remembered for as one of their most unique.

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 listened to Crooked Shadows while wading through a foot of snow to the train. Yaaaaaay, February!

Review: Waterparks – Entertainment

Back in 2015, my boyfriend added two songs by Waterparks, currently one of the biggest bands in the pop punk scene, to a playlist he made for me. I listened to those songs (“Silver” and “I’m a Natural Blue”) a couple of times and promptly forgot about them. They were good tracks, but lacked what I was looking for at the time. A little over two years later, despite their growing fame and a brand new collection of songs, the band unfortunately still lacks what I’m looking for.

You can buy Entertainment on iTunes.

I started the band’s second full-length album, Entertainment, with high hopes. Frontman Awsten Knight has what could be considered a bromance with the popular music publication Alternative Press, so I figured they wouldn’t steer me wrong. Oh, Alt Press, why was I ever optimistic?

Entertainment could be described as “cute,” or maybe even “adorable,” if I’m feeling generous. The songs don’t really fit together, feature a range of strange effects, and sometimes lean a bit too heavy on autotune. I know the band is a self-professed “boy band,” but I suppose I figured they were being facetious. The first track on the album, “11:11”, supported my view that Waterparks focused more on punk than pop, but over the course of the album’s nine other tracks, the band proved me wrong.

If we can be transparent, I made a temporary playlist in preparation for writing this review, titled, “Songs From Entertainment I Like.” Out of the 10-track album, I added four to that playlist: The album’s two first tracks, aforementioned “11:11” and lead single, “Blonde”, along with “Not Warriors” and “Rare”. I found the other six tracks to be filler and either immaturely written, musically uninteresting, or both. The song “We Need to Talk” begins so lyrically similar to Justin Bieber’s hit “Love Yourself” that I couldn’t get past it. Referencing the 2015 Bieber track, Knight opens the song with the lines, “Your mama likes me / And she doesn’t like anyone”.

“Lucky People,” is about Knight’s ex-girlfriend, who he apparently thought he was going to marry, and includes the childish line, “Happy birthday / Merry Christmas / To the one I call my Mrs.” I actually laughed out loud when I heard that line. Is this Nickelodeon? Is Awsten Knight the future and real-life iteration of the Disney Channel show Austin and Ally in which the titular character’s name is Austin Moon? The world may never know. It’s cheesy and maybe some people think it’s sweet, but “Lucky People” ends up being another filler track on an album that needed more substance in order to hold up to what I know of their past work.

Before concluding, we need to talk about “TANTRUM”, a track that sounds exactly like you’d expect from its name. It’s loud, obnoxious, and, as the title suggests, childish. Knight calls out people he dislikes by name and profanity abounds. It’s a fair effort in sincerity, but the track never lands right, leaving the listener a bit put off.

Even as someone who thoroughly enjoys a good pop album, Entertainment was too much. There are moments when the instrumentation aligns and the band executes a fun chorus or makes you nod and smile, but those moments are far too few.

Waterparks are a band that could have a promising career in the scene. They’re talented musicians and seem to have a large following, but for a band that’s now been around for seven years, it’s time to up the ante. It’s time to find the sound that defines them, but also to use the platform they’ve been given to write something more than bubblegum-y pop rock. Maybe they can find a way to channel the anger of “TANTRUM” into a song about something of substance. Here’s hoping they do.

2/5

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.

Review: Tonight Alive – Underworld

I’ve been looking forward to the return of Tonight Alive. As a female fan of the alternative scene, I have always found safety in other female members. Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf, Hayley Williams of Paramore, and others have all influenced how I see things as a woman in music (even though I’m only a listener on the sidelines). I’m always excited to hear their perspectives. Jenna McDougall is another girl on my list, and she’s returned with a beautiful and hopeful picture of what’s been going on inside her head.

You can buy Underworld here.

Underworld is an album about the search. Searching for meaning, for joy, for whatever can bring some light to our lives. McDougall and the other members of Tonight Alive really captured that well with the 13 tracks on Underworld. There’s nothing I love to see more in any piece of art than honesty, and that’s what Tonight Alive did with this album. It’s raw and it cuts deeply, but it’s also comforting. McDougall seems to have taken on the burden of reminding everyone that they’re not alone in what they struggle with.

To say that it’s been a turbulent ride for Tonight Alive is an understatement. From McDougall’s battle with health concerns to the departure of their guitarist Whakaio Taahi, there has been no shortness of setbacks. Regardless, Tonight Alive have stood strong and their resilience is showcased in Underworld.

The band has really turned a corner, musically, switching over from their frantic and moody pop punk vibe to a more grown-up pop rock sound. The tracks fit well together thematically, and it’s all around a great sonic experience. I loved the single “Temple” from the minute I heard it and was pleased to find that the rest of the album was just as strong. Singles can always be hit or miss, especially when they don’t represent the album well, but Tonight Alive chose correctly with all three of the singles they put out.

Speaking of women in the rock scene these days, I think McDougall and Lynn Gunn (of PVRIS) are on the same level. They’re both talented, have a great stage presence, and have still kept femininity a part of their career. I hate the idea that these bands have to be pigeonholed as “female-fronted,” and I’m sure that the bands hate it even more, so I won’t focus too heavily on it, but I hope that women standing on stage realize how inspiring their careers are. I bring this up because Lynn Gunn is featured on the third single, “Disappear”, and the two of them are a vocal dream team. I hope someday they’ll tour together again so I can hear it live (fingers crossed).

The track “In My Dreams” is also really lovely. McDougall takes a second to focus on the more positive side of things, and it’s a nice breather from what is mostly a thematically heavy album. She sings about not really feeling comfortable where she’s at, but there’s someone who helps her find a sense of peace.

Because Underworld is largely focused on finding peace within ourselves, despite what’s happening around us, perhaps McDougall is talking to her past self, letting herself know that even though there was a rough patch, it’s gotten better and it’s okay to have been that girl who struggled. Who knows, maybe she was talking to me.

The rest of Underworld continues the slow climb upward. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, just like life is. It goes up and down and there are glimpses of light, either musically or lyrically, in even the darkest points. It’s a musical essay on dealing with things and making it through successfully.

McDougall’s honesty is familiar to what we find ourselves experiencing. Tonight Alive has let us know that it’s okay to struggle and have those doubts about ourselves and what we feel. In those times when we can’t see past the problem right in front of us, Underworld is a reminder that it can and will get better if we just try to find the light.

Photo by Neal Walters

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.

The Killers Take “Wonderful Wonderful” on the Road

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Killers. It’s not to say that I have anything against them, I just never found a spot for them in my library. Other than their magnum opus, “Mr. Brightside”, and a few other tracks, I’ve never really delved into their discography.

That being said, I was hanging out with some friends recently and they were telling me about how they were going to Boston to see the band that evening but that one of them had backed out and that there was an extra ticket. They asked if I wanted to go and I agreed. Their latest album Wonderful Wonderful was released in September of last year and was announced to be the final album from the band, so I figured it was now or never.

The opener they chose for the tour was a gentleman named Alex Cameron. He has writing credits on a few of the songs from Wonderful Wonderful. Even though that album is great, I didn’t think Alex Cameron was anything to write home about. Granted, I’m very picky when it comes to music. He has an 80’s pop vibe, and, even though that’s a genre I’ve been exploring more and more lately, Alex Cameron’s take on it didn’t appeal to me.

The show started a bit late so I know he probably had to cut a few songs from his setlist. The only song that really stood out to me was the final song he played, titled “Marlon Brando”. It featured a super cool saxophone solo that brought a bit of interest to what was otherwise a strange set. Alex Cameron is better on his recordings, so if you’re inclined, he also released an album in September of last year called Forced Witness.

Next up were The Killers. Since it was the Wonderful Wonderful album tour, it was only fitting that they open with the title track. My concert buddies and way-bigger-fans-of-The-Killers-than-me discussed at length whether they’d play the conch shell sound at the beginning of the show and I regret to inform anyone excited by that prospect that they did not. I thought it was a strange opener as it’s more of a mellow track, but I suppose when you’re Brandon Flowers you can play whatever the heck you want.

Each Killers album was pretty well represented during the performance. They mostly played songs from their first album, Hot Fuss, but I didn’t complain because that meant I knew a few more songs. They chose an interesting theme, stage-presence wise. Brandon Flowers’ piano was encased in what appeared to be the Mars symbol and the three female back-up singers’ mics were encased in the Venus symbol. The backup singers were a fantastic touch; really talented ladies, but not at all what I expect from The Killers. I guess I still think it’s 2005 and expected to find Brandon Flowers wearing guyliner or something. Oh well.

The setlist was really well put together and shows just how long they’ve been doing this. They played a lot of fan favorites and deep cuts, and even played my favorite song, “When You Were Young”. Brandon then stated that it was, “time for them to go to New York City,” and went to leave the stage, accompanied by protests from the crowd. Naturally, they came back and played “Mr. Brightside” and my night was made. It was an impressive set and I’m glad I took the opportunity to experience it. The tour ends in July in Paris, France, so you’ve got plenty of time to make it to a show.

After arriving home at 1 a.m. the next morning, I saved all of their albums and plan on listening to them chronologically and truly educating myself. I’m a real fan of The Killers now, folks.

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.