Review: Marina – Ancient Dream in a Modern Land

marina-2021

In just a few short years, Marina Diamandis has completely reinvented herself. Gone are the days of alter egos and hiding her personality behind characters and personifications. With 2019’s Love + Fear, it seemed like Marina was regressing as an artist, with stripped back, generic pop. But with her latest, Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land, she is showing us that she was simply finding a new footing.

marina-ancient-dreams

You can buy or stream Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land on Apple Music

From a visual standpoint this album seems to be heavily influenced by the futuristic style of the Mod 60s. Her choreography is inspired by Bob Fosse and her clothes are inspired by Twiggy. But for an album that looks forward to a hypothetical period of positive growth and improvement in society, it seems a little bit counterintuitive. She wants to go back to “simpler times,” but she wants to take too many of today’s ideas with her. Her idealistic luggage is too heavy for the plane.

The lead single from the album, “Man’s World”, was a last minute contender for my 2020 song of the year. It was mournful and hopeful all at the same time, and it not only gave us a great taste of what Marina had up her sleeves, but it also was a stark reminder of the things we need to work on. She sings, “If you have a mother, daughter or a friend / Maybe it is time / Time you comprehend / The world that you live in / Ain’t the same one as them / So don’t punish me / Because I’m not a man”. 

And that vein runs all through this piece. It’s a work inspired by female empowerment the likes I’ve never seen before. I’m infinitely grateful for it. It’s not in your face or bashing women who make choices that may seem “anti-feminist.” It’s a celebration of femininity as a whole. 

From a technical standpoint, I thought it was too short. I know she has more to say that maybe she’s holding back for future projects, but this one seems just a tad incomplete at a 36 minute run time. A highlight for me is the final single she released, “Venus Fly Trap”, a song straight from the discotheque about being your true self. 

All in all, this is an incredible offering from Marina, and it feels familiar. She has drawn from all of her past eras to give us a project that is completely “her.” And that’s what empowerment is all about.

4/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

twenty-one-pilots-credit-ashley-osborn

It’s hard to believe I’m here again writing about a new Twenty One Pilots album. How has it already been two years since Trench was released? Generally, we’re used to radio silence from Tyler and Josh in between album cycles, but for some reason, they couldn’t shut up this time. They released “Level of Concern” last year in response to coronavirus ravaging life as we knew it, then released an internet game of the same title, almost got cancelled for Tyler’s foolish and  flippant comments about police brutality, and, finally, released “Christmas Saves the Year” in December. Wow, it almost feels like I’m a fan of a regular band, instead of the hive mind that is Twenty One Pilots.

Scaled_and_Icy

You can buy or stream Scaled and Icy on Apple Music

Sarcasm aside, the new album Scaled and Icy is certainly….something. Easily the most pop-forward album from the band, it falls very flat to me. And yet, it’s still home to “Shy Away”, my favorite radio single the guys have put out to date. The other redeemable tracks for me are the final two, “No Chances” and “Redecorate”. The former sounds the most like what I’ve come to expect and appreciate from the band, as well as feeling like a natural progression from their last album in a thematic sense, while the latter is a true Twenty One Pilots song, reminding us of what’s important in an unorthodox way.

Tyler has spoken about the album signifying the “scaled back” and “isolated” year that COVID has given us, which is where the title comes from. But coming off the heels of an album that was rich in storytelling and worldbuilding, this album feels like regression. And it’s not because they seem happier and in a better mental state, because that’s not what is negative with this. I’m truly glad that they’ve been able to do some work and improve their mental health. But self improvement doesn’t have to manifest itself in a weaker, less inspired piece of art, and that’s what I feel has happened here.

From a fan theory perspective, the album fits perfectly in the lore started in 2018’s Trench, where we were first introduced to the idea that Tyler and Josh are trapped in a world called DEMA, a metaphor for insecurity and feeling lost. Some fans have tossed around the thought that Tyler and Josh created this album as a piece of DEMA propaganda, showing that they are still stuck where Trench ended, and that’s the explanation for a lot of the stark differences that have come up this era. I personally don’t see it that way, I just think it’s a weak album —  which is fine, as long as we can be honest about it.

I wanted to be excited here. I always wait patiently for new music from Twenty One Pilots, because they’ve proven time and again that their creativity is boundless. With Scaled and Icy, though, they’ve given us an album that lacks originality and is all around mildly unsettling for some reason. Maybe that’s on purpose and I don’t see the deeper story here yet, but for now I’m pretty disappointed. For a band who always takes their time with careful planning, Scaled and Icy is at its best, cute, and at its worst, a jumble with no rhyme or reason.

3/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

In the last 24 hours, I have listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, no less than seven times. Last night, I was enthralled with it, wiping tears from my eyes at some of the lyricism, and even boldly considered it album of the year. But having sat with SOUR, the more I have wondered what connected me so intensely with an artist half my age. Rodrigo bounds from genre to genre in a way that feels natural and familiar. In fact, it sounds too familiar at times. My experience with SOUR is one of pure joy at seeing a young artist find her voice from the opposite side of the music I tend to listen to, and I still believe it will be in contention for album of the year for me in a few months time. However, SOUR is the first album I have listened to that made me wonder where the line is between paying homage to other artists and just rewriting the songs by them that you love.

You can buy or stream SOUR on Apple Music.

My first exposure to Olivia Rodrigo was her SNL performance one week ago (I somehow utterly missed the release of “drivers license”), when I heard “good 4 u” playing in the background and literally dropped what I was doing to go see who was singing. That led to a week of anxiously awaiting the release of SOUR.  

Rodrigo manages to take the listener through a tour de force through genre in ways where it’s easy to see who her influences most likely are. There are bits of the grunge of Hole (“brutal”), the quirky pop of Regina Spektor (“traitor”), the pop punk of Paramore (“good 4 u”), the percussive experimentation of Death Cab For Cutie (“deja vu”) and the pop elements of Taylor Swift (“1 step forward, 3 steps back”). I don’t say that to try to take anything away from her, I mean parts of the album instantly feel familiar—”1 step forward, 3 steps back” list Taylor and Jack Antonoff with a writing credit due to its inspiration from Swift’s song “New Year’s Day”.

Where Rodrigo stands tall is in the songs that don’t sound like an homage, such as “happier”, with a doo-wop melody, or the folk acoustic guitars of “enough for you”. Although the crunching guitars of “good 4 u” are a welcome surprise, it’s hard not to instantly think of Paramore.

The absolute highlight of SOUR though, is in the incredible lyricism and vocals Rodrigo delivers throughout. Each song is a swirling tempest of heartbreak and carries an emotional weight that cuts straight to the bone.

Rodrigo as a singer is utterly inspirational. Ranging from whispers (“1 step forward, 3 step back”) to bouncing explorations of higher notes (“enough for you”), her vocals are tested song after song. She even manages to emphasize single words at the emotional apex in a song to make the lyric utterly deadly, such as in “traitor” (“Don’t you dare forget about the way / you betrayed me”). 

It would be easy to write Rodrigo off as just another artist singing about heartache—there are a lot of songs about it on SOUR. But that would be a disservice to her lyricism. SOUR explores the transition from adolescence to adulthood through the viewpoint of a young woman, heartbreak and all. Lead single “drivers license” explores the utter devastation of young love—finally having the freedom to drive anywhere, but finding yourself trapped by the orbit of one person (“And I just can’t imagine how you could be so okay now that I’m gone. / Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / Cause you said ‘forever’ now I drive alone past your street”).

By the end, it’s easy to see the growth as she worries about close friends and the poor influence of past generations, such as “hope ur ok” (“Well, I hope you know how proud I am you were created / With the courage to unlearn all of their hatred / But, God, I hope that you’re happier today, ‘cause I love you / And I hope that you’re okay”).

Meanwhile, the insecurity of growing up seeing “perfect” idols is explored in “jealousy, jealousy” over a simple bass riff (“I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room / cause all I see are girls too good to be true”).

SOUR somehow flawlessly encompasses a pure venom of heartbreak with maturity that sees beyond the base level. Meanwhile, the lyrical content transcends age to form a bridge between generations. Her lyrics are biting, simple and heartfelt. Olivia Rodrigo might not be the most unique artist to exist, but she is such a sponge to influence that it sounds new and enthralling. But that is also its biggest setback

SOUR is a masterful debut album from a young artist, but it spends too much time feeling like a “best of” to the music that inspired her. It makes for a captivating listen, but its difficult to find Rodrigo in her own space. It’s easy to make comparisons to Taylor Swift and Paramore for good reason, but that doesn’t make the music any less than its whole. It’s just that in reflection, it feels like a trick to grab your immediate attention before a song that sounds like its own beast takes hold.

Rodrigo is a confluence of sound. Her influences on her sleeve, it’s wonderful to see her paying respect to the bands she loves, but its heartbreaking not to hear more of her in them. SOUR will rightly be adored and is justifiably going to be played on repeat constantly throughout the summer. If it’s anything to judge her by, SOUR is the perfect springboard toward finding an incredibly inspired artist leaning slightly less on her idols on her next album.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_cat

Kyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and killed a spider with such vigor that he broke his broom in half. He’s pretty strong. Tell your friends.

Podcast: Demi Lovato’s Comeback and Taylor Swift’s “Fearless”

Demi-Lovato-2021

Demi Lovato has returned with a reformative new album, Dancing with the Devil…the Art of Starting Over. Kiel Hauck and Nadia Alves examine Demi’s return to the scene from battles with addiction and abuse and what this new album has to say about her journey and the power structures present in the music scene. They then dive into Taylor Swift‘s re-released version of Fearless and discuss what her current re-recording project means for not only her legacy, but the current state of the music industry. Finally, they chat about Julien Baker’s new album Little Oblivions and their thoughts on the return of live music later this year. Take a listen!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club

lana-del-rey-2021

Lana Del Rey has had a pretty big year. Coming down from the high of 2019’s Norman F’ing Rockwell, to the release of her first book, “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass”, it’s safe to say that these are her prime years. In Chemtrails Over the Country Club, she continues to ride the wave and has given us a great new collection of stories.

Chemtrails-Over-The-Country-Club-1616183256-scaled

You can buy or stream Chemtrails Over the Country Club on Apple Music.

The album starts off with a song that I consider to be a little bit of a misfit. Stylistically, I know what she’s doing – reflecting on her days before fame and wondering whether all of this has been worth it, but in execution, it comes off as kind of awkward. It feels like a strange way to start an otherwise engaging body of work. Admittedly, it does fit, but I don’t know… I guess I would’ve made it the final track. I’m not Lana though, so who cares what I think.

I like the fact that this album is shorter and more fully fleshed out than Norman was. I felt like that album dragged itself out and while it was a great album, it would’ve done well as a two album project, at least according to my attention span. Chemtrails is certainly a winding road, but we end at a destination, there’s no ground left to cover here. It’s a return to the music I think she has always been wanting to make, even before becoming Lana Del Rey.

I really like this iteration of Lana. She’s secure in her choice of grassroots, homage-to-Joanie-Mitchell romanticization of the 70s. So secure in fact, that she covered one of Mitchell’s songs as the final track. And despite all of her various media controversies, we always know where her heart lies because of her songwriting. This album is a love letter to the people she loves. 

A vein that has always run through her music is the wish to return to a time before fame, to return to anonymity. But Lana can’t stay out of the spotlight. Even as I’m writing this, a day after Chemtrails released, she announced yet another album, Rock Candy Sweet with a date of June 1st. For a gal who seems obsessed with wanting a house in the middle of nowhere, she seems to like being famous an awful lot. She is stuck between wanting to stay exactly where she is, and returning to her roots and re-becoming Lizzy Grant. Listening to the B-sides and original recordings, we can see her trying to do exactly that, but when coupled with the flashy visuals like the title track’s music video, there’s a strange juxtaposition. Which side of her art is she willing to give up?

If Norman F’ing Rockwell was Lana Del Rey’s tribute to Americana, then Chemtrails Over the Country Club is where she has crossed over completely. Gone are the days of an insecure bar singer, and in her place is a woman who knows where she’s been, where she is, and where she wants to end up. All we have to do is get in the passenger seat and buckle up. For better or for worse, Lana has our attention.

4.5/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

As soon as I saw Hayley Williams announce that she was releasing a second album, I was sure I wanted to talk about it. But even in writing this now, I’m still thinking about how I want to approach Flowers for Vases / Descansos, an album completely different from last year’s pop fest that was Petals for Armor. It even took me a couple of days to work up the courage to listen to it in its entirety. This is not Petals, it’s not Paramore. This is the forced cracking of a geode, and whether there are gems inside still remains to be seen.

You can buy or stream Flowers for Vases / Descansos on Apple Music.

For once in my tenure with Hayley Williams as a songwriter and musician, I don’t find myself in her words. Maybe that’s a good thing. If you thought Petals was an intense and honest look at her struggles, then you’re not prepared for Flowers for Vases. I wonder if her wild way of promoting the album is a shield for how nerve wracking it must’ve been to release something so wildly personal.

The first thing I took a look at before listening to the album was the word “descansos” that she uses in the title. “Descanso” is the Spanish word for “place of rest,” and colloquially, it has come to mean the devastatingly lonely crosses on the side of the highway marking the scene of and commemorating the death of a loved one. 

The reason for tacking this onto the title is evident in every track of the album, most notably to me “The First Thing to Go”, but it also colored the way the album sounds. Yes, it’s a moody, acoustic take on the Petals for Armor subject matter, but it reminds me so much of classical Spanish guitar music, and I refuse to believe anything but it being a clear choice Hayley made.

This album is a lot of things. It’s subtle, it’s heart wrenching, it’s raw. I want this to finally be a turning point for Hayley. It wasn’t evident when Petals was released, but the fanfare of that album, the synth and the soaring vocals, was still a way she was holding things back and keeping them tucked away. It’s her right to do, it’s her story and her path to healing, but with Flowers for Vases, it seems she has finally accepted that not only is there more work to be done, but there is a different way she needs to approach it. 

Flowers for Vases is yet another jewel in Hayley Williams’ crown. Mined from hurt and years of pain and emotional neglect, this jewel sits toward the back, hidden from view, and it is sharp and can cut. Yet the crown wouldn’t be complete without it.

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Weezer – OK Human

To be a modern Weezer fan is to approach each new release with a sense of skepticism. Having made their mark in rock early on, the band has spent the last decade or so really trying something new with each album. While some incredible success has come from this, there have also been some massive misses. OK Human, the band’s surprise release is a resounding success. The album fundamentally alters the core Weezer sound while retaining their signature mark, analyzes the feeling of passing your prime and still manages to feel fun and goofy. OK Human verges on being the landmark Weezer album none of us knew we wanted.

You can buy or stream OK Human on Apple Music.

OK Human is an indie album in all regards, ditching anything close to the guitar sound associated with Weezer in favor of a full orchestra. It’s odd then that the album’s sound seems to rest comfortably somewhere between Pinkerton’s confessional style of songwriting and The Red Album’s escapism.

The fact that it took the band this long to release a stripped back album seems detrimental in retrospect. Drummer Patrick Wilson stands out more than anyone else, as his relaxed percussion takes center stage without the distraction of guitars (“Numbers”). Meanwhile, Brian Bell’s keyboards and Scott Shriner’s bass sound completely new in the context of being part of an orchestra (“Dead Roses”). For his part, singer and primary songwriter Rivers Cuomo sounds at home against the gentler sound. Although he never truly pushes his voice, he finds gracious melodies that fit the softer tone of these songs (“Bird With a Broken Wing”).

For its part, the orchestral backing does a shockingly adept job of performing a pop melody for the bigger, Weezer-esque songs (“All My Favorite Songs”) and an appropriate tension for darker, more thematic tracks (“Dead Roses”). For being one of the more distinctive steps outside of Weezer’s comfort zone, the orchestra does an amazing job of finding the perfect balance between a new sound and the brisk balance of pop tracks.

At its best, OK Human is a study of finding one’s place in an ever evolving world that only sees the value of your past accomplishments. The most straightforward song on this topic is “Bird With a Broken Wing” as Rivers sings “Long ago, I was flying in the air / Looking at the sea below / I was hunting to kill”, before lamenting, “I’m just a bird with a broken wing / And this beautiful song to sing / Don’t feel sad for me, I’m right where I wanna be”.

While other songs tackle the same issue, such as “La Brea Tar Pits” (“Cause I’m sinking in the La Brea Tar Pits / And I don’t want to die cause there’s still so much to give”), others examine it in indirect ways. “Screens” looks at a world lacking human contact as Cuomo sings “Now the real world is dying / As everybody moves into the cloud. / Can you tell me where we’re going?”

OK Human also sees some of the best lyricism Cuomo has written in quite some time. “Dead Roses” traces the sorrow of what an imagined relationship verses what it actually is in brutal, haunting poetry (“Lamplight falls, and casts a laughing phantom / I imagine your smile and the life that we could share / But with the last of my steps, I see the truth lying there”).

Another recurring theme, the struggle to adjust to an ever increasing world reliant on technology appears early on, with much more straightforward prose. “Numbers” tackles the depression of social media and the obsession with being seen (“Look at him, look at her, they’ve got a million likes / … / Numbers are out to get you”).

Where OK Human falters is when Cuomo seems to almost stop trying to find the perfect allegory to what he wants to say, and instead just blurts out whatever is in front of him at the time, including several tech services that may ultimately date the album to an extremely specific period in time. “Playing My Piano”, a catchy song about losing himself in music, is hampered by extremely stagnant lyricism (“My wife is upstairs, my kids are upstairs / … / I should get back to these Zoom interviews, but I get so absorbed and time flies”).

“Grapes of Wrath”, an ingenious song idea about relaxing while listening to audiobooks, stumbles in the chorus as it sounds like an advertisement more than a heartfelt ode (“I’m gonna rock my Audible / Headphones, Grapes of Wrath, drift off to oblivion”).

Slightly more focused, OK Human could have been the next legendary Weezer album. That said, it’s still an incredible work of art that mostly succeeds at its experimentation. In terms of Weezer’s discography, it sounds distinct and vibrant, and oddly seems to stand amongst the louder of the band’s legendary catalog. If nothing else, it proves that Weezer still have so much left so say.

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 accidentally drank from a water glass he remembered he saw his cat drink from 20 minutes beforehand as he gulped it down. He drank cat water. He is now know as, “Cat Mouth.”

Most Anticipated of 2021: Lorde Travels to New Heights

Here is my biggest secret-not-a-secret of the past three years: I need Lorde to come back and grace us with another electro pop masterpiece. She was robbed of her Album of the Year by Bruno Mars (I wanted to jump through the TV and pull a Kanye, not gonna lie) after 2017’s Melodrama, and we have waited with bated breath to see what she would do next. 

She announced in November that she was releasing a book, Going South, a travel journal inspired by her trip to Antarctica in 2019, and one can’t help but wonder when a new album will follow. It sold out before I could even look at the preorder page, but I intend to pick it up when I can.

The proceeds for the book are going to fund a scholarship. I didn’t fully appreciate what we had in Lorde when Pure Heroine came out; I figured she would be another one-album-pop-star, but her music truly transcends genre, and I now consider her music timeless.

by Nadia Alves

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

Most Anticipated of 2021: Panic! At the Disco Claim the Dancefloor

Check out our podcast episode breaking down our most anticipated music of 2021!

It’s been almost three years since Panic! At the Disco released the absolutely stellar Pray For The Wicked, but Brendon Urie isn’t one to sit idle for too long. Coming off the high of what is arguably Panic’s best record, it’s hard to imagine that anything can top Pray For The Wicked. 

Fortunately though, Brendon Urie is full of surprises. Having brought Panic! back from the brink of collapse, expanded the band’s sound in unimaginable ways and lifted the group to become one of the world’s biggest acts over the last decade, he isn’t one to take lightly. With each album carrying a distinct and unique persona and sound, it’s hard not to be excited for whatever comes next.

Panic! At the Disco is a band that universally delivers in a way that almost no other musical act can. Whatever Urie has planned for the band’s seventh album, it’s destined to once again push the band’s boundaries and force other pop acts to up their game just to keep up.

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 sneezed, then his cat sneezed, then he sneezed again. A sign of the end times or just exceptional timing between man and beast? The answer, is yes.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Kacey Musgraves Shines Bright

We’re coming up on two years since the release of Golden Hour, the country pop masterpiece from Kacey Musgraves. Met with acclaim from almost every angle, Golden Hour was an album whose warmth and hope was a much needed respite at the time. Honestly, its tone would have felt out of place in 2020, and I only recently returned it in the past month as we prepare to (hopefully) come up for air in the coming spring.

And if the chips fall right, 2021 could be the perfect time for a follow up. Fans were treated to a very vague but straightforward tease last August when Musgraves chose to entertain a fan’s questioning on Twitter:

Since the release of Golden Hour, Musgraves has not only become a welcome voice for progress on every platform she graces, but has become an unexpected feature guest across tracks by everyone from The Flaming Lips to Troye Sivan. Once an outsider amidst the curmudgeonly country crowd, Musgraves has not only won over many a country music gatekeeper, but has become one of the most exciting voices in all of pop.

So what comes next? 2021 will be interesting in its artistic output from every angle, to say the least, but the world is Musgraves’ oyster at this point. Will she dive deeper into the disco influence that peeked through the cracks on Golden Hour? Return to her more traditional country roots that were displayed on her early work? Something else entirely? Time will tell. And we can’t wait to find out.

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.