Review: Jonas Brothers – Happiness Begins

It’s been 10 years since we received a full album from Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas. We got a single six years ago called “Pom Poms”, along with some potential tour dates that never happened. The single was nothing to write home about, and we kind of forgot about it for the most part. But finally, six years after a live album flopped and 10 years since Lines, Vines, and Trying Times, they did it. They came back for real.

Happiness Begins is largely based on the fact that Joe and Nick both got married, to Sophie Turner and Priyanka Chopra, respectively. Kevin’s been married since 2009, and basically continues to be the forgotten Jonas (which sucks and is rude of everyone to keep doing).

You can buy or stream Happiness Begins on Apple Music.

The album opens with the lead single, “Sucker”, which is a fitting opener for the thematics of what’s to come in the album. They really love their wives, which is great. It continues with the next single, “Cool”, where Joe and Nick talk about what they’ve been doing since The Jonas Brothers broke up. It includes album references, Nick’s cologne venture and, of course, their wives. But this is still Kevin erasure and I won’t stand for it. Kevin has also had a great decade, Joe and Nick.

The album really doesn’t do much else but brag about how great their wives are. That’d generally be fine with me, but it’s been 10 years. Lyrically, I was hoping for a little bit more of a mature offering. Basically the only differences here are the facts that they’ve hit puberty, so their voices are deeper, and they’re singing about their wives, not their girlfriends.

Musically, the album is a treat. You can hear Joe’s DNCE influence, as well and Nick’s solo albums. There’s some reggae, some sultry Justin Timberlake pop and, of course, the original pop rock sound we fell in love with. What the album lacks in thematic diversity and lyrical depth, it’s made up for with the musical aspect. The boys have always been talented musicians, and it’s nice to see that they’ve paid attention to what they wanted their comeback album to sound like. It’s trendy, but it has enough originality to be recognizable.

I don’t want to say that I’m disappointed by the album, because felt like I knew what to expect. I wasn’t looking for a deep expose on social issues. That’s not their brand and that’s fine. They’ve always been in the bubblegum sphere of pop, but I suppose I thought they’d rise above that label, like they did with their solo music. This is definitely going to be the album of summer, if not for its sound then simply for the band it’s come from. The Jonas Brothers could probably release an album of screeches and tire squeals and we’d all buy it without shame. Their brand is stronger than any musical mistake they could make, but I feel like they definitely played it more on the safe side with Happiness Begins.

3.5/5

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.

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Podcast: Carly Rae Jepsen Bracketology

Recently, Buzzfeed asked Carly Rae Jepsen to fill out a bracket to choose the best Carly Rae Jepsen song. We thought this was funny, cool and interesting, so Kiel invited Carly Rae superfan Richard Clark to join the podcast and break down every matchup on the bracket. While dissecting some of Carly Rae’s best tracks, the two discuss what has made her such a compelling pop artist, how her music has rapidly evolved since her breakout single “Call Me, Maybe”, and how her recent album, Dedicated, holds up against some of her best work. Which song took home the crown? Listen in and find out!

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What is your favorite Carly Rae Jepsen song? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

Four years is a long time to wait between albums. While fans clamor for new music, artists risk losing cultural cachet. This is, of course, inherently dumb because time is a flat circle and, also, art doesn’t work on a schedule. Nevertheless, the antiquated expectation is a real thing. Just maybe not so much for Carly Rae Jepsen.

You can buy or stream Dedicated on Apple Music.

In the four years since the one-time one hit wonder reinvented herself with 2015’s Emotion (my personal favorite album of the decade so far), Jepsen has become meme-able in the best of ways. Her newfound niche fanbase has found community in her quirky pop and personality, often inciting viral moments to spread the good news.

It helps that Jepsen has offered up appetizers in the form of 2016’s Emotion: Side B, 2017’s summer single “Cut to the Feeling” and last year’s new-album-primer “Party for One”. Even when she was on hiatus, it never really felt like she was gone.

But here we are – finally – with a new full-length album called Dedicated. To cut right to the chase, Dedicated does not match the masterful execution of Emotion, but it’s a hell of a fun pop record. Whereas Emotion found synchronicity in theme and sound, Dedicated reads more as a collection tried-and-true tactics and delightful experiments. When you write more than 100 songs leading up to a record, they may not all live in harmony, but the best of the crop are fairly certain to be good.

Unsurprisingly, Jepsen has already shared the obvious singles to quench our expectations – light, bubbly pop anthems with big hooks. “Now That I Found You” is the “I Really Like You” of Dedicated, an easy anchor to draw us in. Similarly, “Too Much” and “No Drug Like Me” fit the bill for heart-on-her-sleeve Jepsen material, equally catchy and eccentric. Where Dedicated really excels, though, is when she leans into experimentation and allows herself to get a little weird.

“Want You in My Room” is a great example, proving that the Jepsen/Jack Antonoff partnership is just as fresh as when it began. A track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the last Bleachers record, “Want You in My Room” matches deep bass and organic instrumentation with Jepsen’s breath-y delivery of lines like, “I’ll press you to the pages of my heart”. It’s everything fans of Carly already love about her, freshened up with new sounds and tempos that sound specifically built for Summer 2019.

Similarly, “Happy Not Knowing” uses the sonic building blocks of Emotion to achieve something new, coupling shoegaze guitar licks with the synth sounds we’ve come to know so well. It’s also peak CRJ in the best way, honing in on those feelings of longing and the insecurities that keeps us from acting on them: “I don’t have the energy / To risk a broken heart / When you’re already killing me”.

“The Sound” lays a tinkling piano behind the synthesizers while “Automatically in Love” finds Jepsen experimenting with pitch and pace to create a fantastic chorus to match the most Carly Rae song title in history. All of the new pieces seem to come together on “Feels Right”, where the partnering of Jepsen and Electric Guest results in one of Dedicated’s highlights.

On the whole, Dedicated feels like the output of an artist who has earned the opportunity to test some new waters without losing even one iota of who she is, allowing her to stay firmly in her own wheelhouse while still creating something new. What a treat for fans that identify so deeply with her penchant for leaning hard into her feelings.

At a time when it feels more enticing than ever to disengage, Jepsen invites us to do the opposite without ever sounding forced or cheesy. Just listen to the lyrics of “Too Much” and try not to smile: “So be careful if you’re wanting this touch / ‘Cause if I love you, then I love you too much”. At every step, Jepsen reminds us that it’s good to feel completely and without shame or fear. It’s likely what keeps her from ascending back into the upper echelon of pop music, but it’s something that makes her music so much better and refreshing.

4/5

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Podcast: Diving into Taylor Swift’s New Track “Me”

There is new music from Taylor Swift and it is in the form of a song called “Me”. Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz dive in to unpack the new single and talk about the career trajectories of Swift and Brendon Urie, along with Swift’s many random ties to the scene. They also break down the gorgeous music video for the track and speculate wildly on what Swift’s upcoming album might bring. Listen in!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

What are your expectations for Taylor Swift’s new album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Marina – FEAR

You can read our review of the first half of LOVE + FEAR here.

We’ve gotten the first half of Marina’s album LOVE + FEAR, which she released on April 4th. FEAR is the second half, and it’s finally here. A whole 16 tracks from Marina Diamandis to savor. She released snippets of “Life Is Strange”, ”Soft to be Strong” and “No More Suckers” last week via her Instagram, but we received no official singles from the FEAR portion.

You can buy or stream LOVE + FEAR on Apple Music.

With those statistics out of the way, let’s get into FEAR. We all went into LOVE knowing pretty much what to expect. We had four singles and, arguably, a lot more commentary from Marina herself regarding the album. Up until a few days ago, we had no reference point for what angle FEAR would come from, other than a title and a tracklist. I love both LOVE and FEAR pretty equally so far, but I think FEAR is the more surprising of the two.

When you listen to LOVE, it’s immediately clear what we’re walking into. That seemed to be the case with FEAR, too, judging by the first track “Believe in Love”. It sounds exactly like a song titled “Believe in Love” should sound right up until the bridge, which is where I also feel some of the title inspiration came from. She sings, “Shouldn’t take fear so seriously” – a total turnaround from what I assumed the album would be thematically. We celebrated love on LOVE, but we’re celebrating a lack of fear on FEAR.

I talked a bit in my first review about how relatable Marina’s lyricism is and FEAR is no different. We should be able to celebrate overcoming fear and doubt, and Marina has given us art that allows us to indulge in that. She writes a lot about society and she acknowledges that it’s fine to be fearful, as long as we don’t set up shop in that state of mind. I feel like that’s why she released LOVE alongside FEAR. She could’ve very easily released only one of the two and called it a day, but she wanted to draw that parallel. In this way, she’s like no other pop artist around.

If we’re keeping with the recent music news, we’ve got the new Taylor Swift song that’s literally called “ME!” and it’s about loving yourself and all that jazz. That’s all fine and good, and I’m not trying to dunk on T-Swift, but as far as modern pop goes, I feel like Marina is one of the only artists who intentionally turns the microscope back onto the world around us. She knows that individuals all have a part to play in making the world turn, and she’s not shy about reminding her listeners of that.

Stand out tracks for me are definitely “Karma” for it’s fun vibe (as well as her trademark ‘talk while you sing’ deal), “Emotional Machine” for the lyrical rawness and (again!) relatability, and “Soft to Be Strong” because of how it ends the album so poignantly. As you all know I pay close attention to how an album flows, and the transition from the end of “Soft to Be Strong” back into “Handmade Heaven” is *chef’s kiss*.

So suffice it to say, I love Marina’s new album in its entirety. The production value perfectly encapsulates what Marina has done before but brings a new, refreshed spin on it. She’s only grown stronger lyrically and I’m so glad she’s back with us. LOVE + FEAR is another beautiful testament to Marina Diamandis’ genius.

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.

5 Things Taylor Swift’s Clock Could Be Counting Down to

Taylor Swift is going to announce something this coming Friday, April 26. We know this because her website recently began counting down to that date and her social media channels are teasing what that date might bring. The problem is, it’s all so ambiguous, there’s really no consensus on what it all means or what will actually happen.

In the spirit of conjecture, we’ve compiled our five best guesses as to what will happen on Friday. Some of them are silly, some are not. Will any of them be correct? I guess we’ll find out on Friday.

1. Taylor Releases a New Line of Sunglasses for Chickens

This is one of the silly ones. Or is it? Just this weekend, her social media accounts shared an image of various chicken artwork, all of which include pictures of chickens in sunglasses with the caption 4.26.

So if you want to get super literal about things, it’s kind of obvious what the countdown is leading us toward. And it kinda makes sense, right? I mean, chickens are out in the sun a lot and would probably welcome a little protection from the rays. Except they don’t have ears, so that makes it kind of hard. Okay, maybe this isn’t it.

2. Taylor Ends Her Running Feud with Katy Perry

Wait, is this feud still a thing? Honestly, I’m not going to look it up to find out, but a common conversation around this mysterious countdown is that it’s a hard pivot from the dark vibes that led up to Taylor’s last album, Reputation. The colors are bright and things seem pretty chill. So maybe it’s all good now. But that would be a weird thing to announce on a Friday. So that’s probably not it. But let’s hope the hatchet gets buried anyway.

3. Taylor Launches Her Own Streaming Service

With six full-length albums under her belt and multiple music videos and live tour recordings, Taylor has built quite the multimedia collection. With so many streaming services popping up, why not follow suit and launch her own service? This time, her music is pulled from Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and other services for good – and for the low price of $4.26 per month, you can gain access to every Taylor song and video your heart desires.

But that’s kinda what Tidal is for Jay-Z these days and I honestly can’t remember the last time someone told me they used Tidal, so this is probably a bad idea and not it.

4. Taylor Announces Her Retirement

For someone still under the age of 30, Taylor Swift has had a pretty unbelievable career. She’s won almost every award you can win for making music, has toured the world multiple times over, and is generally regarded as one of the most successful pop artists of her generation. What’s left to prove?

Except that’s not really how being an artist works – you don’t really just quit creating. And plus, that would be a huge bummer, cuz I would love to keep listening to new music created by Taylor Swift, so that’s probably not what this is, but it leads us to our most likely outcome.

5. Taylor Shares a New Single and Gives a Release Date for Her New Album

Sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. I highly doubt we’re getting a full new album on Friday, because that’s generally not how these things work, but I feel fairly confident that there will be new music and it will probably be in the form of one song.

We’ll also probably get a late summer release date for her new album, which will be fun to look forward to. Also, we’ll get to hear whatever this next stage of artistic evolution sounds like, which I’m pretty interested to find out. So let’s just go with that. Hooray for new music from Taylor Swift (hopefully)!

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Marina – LOVE

UPDATE: You can read our review of FEAR here.

Last year, I talked a little bit in an article about chasing away winter about my intense love for Marina and the Diamonds. Last year, we had no clue that something was going on with Marina Diamandis, as she had been silent since 2015’s Froot. In the fall though, she released a song with Clean Bandit called “Baby” (which is an absolute bop) and we all noticed something. We had Marina back, but where were her Diamonds? Well, she took the opportunity of three years away to rebrand herself, and now she’s only Marina. What hasn’t changed, though, is the heart and soul she puts into the music she creates.

You can buy or stream LOVE on Apple Music.

Her latest offering, LOVE is part one of a two part album, LOVE + FEAR. She gave no intention that she was going to release them separately, but she tweeted on April 4th that, “[She] created ‘LOVE + FEAR’ as 2 separate records to be listened to individually. I’m releasing ‘LOVE’ today so you can listen to in full before we move onto ‘FEAR’.” So we got four singles (the first four tracks in the listing) and then four totally new tracks in this first wave of new Marina music, and then we’ll get another eight on April 26th.

Each track on the album seems to come from a very personal place for Marina. She’s coming off of a pretty long hiatus, and adding that to the fact that her reasoning for taking a break was the fact that she felt like she was losing herself amidst the touring and constant production, it’s safe to say that she would want to be intentional with the first project she releases. She’s been intentional with every release, but for some reason this album feels bigger than anything she’s embarked on before.

When she released “Baby” with Clean Bandit, I assumed it was just a one-off. Only when I saw the tracklisting did I realise she would use it for the album. I feel like she recorded this as a way to let off some steam. The album is pretty heavy from a lyrical perspective, and “Baby” is a good way to remind us that Marina’s here because she loves making music and wants it to be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved – especially herself.

Though I didn’t know it then, Marina would become a staple in my queue because of the activism she aims to spark. She’s not crazy and totally in your face, but I’ve always seen her music as more than just bubblegum pop. I could name a track from each of her albums that inspires thought from the listener. For LOVE, I would say that there are several. “Enjoy Your Life” is about being mindful and positive even when things seem mundane, “True” is about self esteem, and “To Be Human” is (in my opinion) a companion track to “Savages” from Froot.

If this is LOVE, I can only wonder what we can expect from FEAR. Even when Marina sings about the harder part of life, she wraps it in a musical soundscape that draws us together, making us enjoy using these finer processes of thought. We all see how messed up the world can be, and I believe Marina’s message upon her return is banding together and figuring out how to change. It can start with only one person, and that’s something to be celebrated.

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: Blaqk Audio – Only Things We Love

The sheer amount of content Davy Havok and Jade Puget release is utterly staggering. The fact that each release is near perfect is frightening. Blaqk Audio, the AFI duo’s electronic project, is relentlessly hypnotic. Dance beats, new wave melodies and Havok’s signature melancholy blend to create a sound that feels as familiar as it is unique. Only Things We Love isn’t the group’s best release, but it’s so close it may as well be.

You can buy or stream Only Things We Love on Apple Music.

It’s hard to peg the meaning behind Blaqk Audio’s albums (or AFI’s, for that matter) due to Havok’s ambiguous writing style. The concepts behind Blaqk Audio releases tend to be far more romantic than any of Havok’s other projects. As such, Only Things We Love is about conquering the anger of youth that prevents us from loving someone else… or it’s about the confessions of a serial killer?

Havok’s vocals are again a demonstration of why he may be the best singer currently active. Decidedly different from the screams and crooning of AFI, Havok’s voice is poignantly drenched in new wave sensationalism. Utterly relaxed, he shifts comfortably between soft verses to energetic, rampant choruses. Powerful inflections in tone give his performance a superb edge that puts Only Things We Love as yet another highlight of Havok’s sensational voice (“Dark Times At the Berlin Wall”).

Puget’s arrangements are among Blaqk Audio’s best. The industrial electronic beats are deep, commanding and pulsing. The best part about Puget’s dance music is that it finds a perfect blend with modern electronica, detailed new wave melody and the corny catchiness of Dance Dance Revolution’s heyday (“Matrimony and Dust”). The downside is that Puget has used many similar synth tones for the last few records. Despite improvements from album to album, there is an argument that the underlying music for each Blaqk Audio release doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish itself from any past album.

Despite Havok’s best descriptions of gore, such as on opening track “Infinite Skin” (“Blood on the corner / Love on a dead end street / You heard them warn her, when you first heard of me”), Only Things We Love is an album about lost love and learning to forgive. Lead single “The Viles” describes the pain of the aftermath of a break up against Puget’s pulsing synth. Havok pointedly shouts, “Day may break me. Daylight like she, like she burns / Through five nights when all is not right / And again, we meet here”.

Not all is as dark, as songs like “Summer’s Out of Sight” describe the memory of a relationship at the height of passion. Puget’s melodic bass lines and twinkling keyboards shine beneath Havok’s hopeful verses (“I had to crawl the halls to ask when we might meet before you left / You said, ‘Maybe tomorrow or never again’ / But you said, ‘Right now I’m yours’) and the devastated chorus (“Hearing you leave out my name makes me want you / You personalize pain”).

For an album relishing the sound of 80’s new wave electronica, nothing personifies it more than closing tack “Matrimony & Dust”. An elegant homage of 80’s cliches, the song finds the characters meeting again to finally move on to healthier relationships. The sincere tenderness of Havok’s voice as he croons, “And would you believe, somehow, that I am married now?” is astonishing, considering he’s a singer who became famous for throat-shredding screams and skate punk shouting.

Only Things We Love is a bitter album, but not without purpose. In what might be the biggest surprise from Havok, there’s hope in the darkness. The album is humane, carries a sincere resolution and stays true to the era that inspired it. It straddles a fine line between being Blaqk Audio’s most brutal and sweetest album. Fans of the band will find exactly what they expect, and newcomers will find what might be the single most accessible album Havok and Puget have ever written.

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 is typing blindly right now while the cat sits in front of his monitor. Her judgemental gaze is not unlike that of a giant squid.

Carly Rae Jepsen to Release “Dedicated” on May 17

Nearly four years after the release of her last full length album, Emotion, Carly Rae Jepsen has announced her new album, Dedicated. The 15-track release will drop on May 17 and be followed by a U.S. tour this summer. You can view the tour dates below and pre-order the album here.

Emotion was heralded as one of the best pop albums of 2015 and has since gained traction in the discussion for best pop album of the decade. A year later, Jespen followed up that release with Emotion: Side B, a collection of b-sides that didn’t make the cut, but were still some of the most enjoyable pop tracks of 2016.

So far, Jepsen has released two songs from Dedicated: “No Drug Like Me” and “Now That I’ve Found You”. What are you excited to hear from Carly Rae on her new album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck