Podcast: Analyzing Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Recently, Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And guess what? There’s plenty to discuss. The It’s All Dead crew (Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz, and Nadia Alves) hopped on the podcast to make sense of it all.

The trio each share their thoughts on some of their favorite (and least favorite) rankings on the list, discuss the list’s welcomed and overdue shift toward diversity, and talk about a few albums that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. They also ponder how one might separate art from artist while making a list of this nature and how we can accurately and fairly look back on music and events from previous decades. Take a listen!

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What albums stuck out to you on this list? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension

Over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my frequent listening. I’ve talked a lot about my emo years and the time I caved and dove into Top 40 territory, but I’ve never really gotten into the couple of years I spent on the folk side of music. Cottagecore before it was called that, if you will. I used to bake cookies to the dulcet tones of The Lumineers and Ben Howard; it was a brief and peaceful time when I could play music on the kitchen speakers without protest from my family members.

You can buy or stream The Ascension on Apple Music.

Among my favorite albums in this time was 2015’s Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. He provided a modern incarnation of what I imagine John Denver would have created had he not been taken from us so soon. I moved into a new season of listening eventually, but have been brought back into Sufjan’s arms with his latest release, The Ascension.

One of the many things I like about Stevens’ music, akin to his musical cousin Bon Iver, is the thoughtfulness with which he creates. Each choice is painstakingly made, but his finished product doesn’t force us to painstakingly listen. With The Ascension, he steps away from a soft sound into pop; a natural progression for Sufjan, because he’s ventured into the territory before. And of course, as many of my pieces tend to do, we have to speak on religion. 

I don’t know what draws me to albums of apostasy and the like, but it’s like a siren song to me. I can’t look away. Songs begging for a higher power to explain things we can’t understand are a heart’s cry of mine; I’m glad when someone else can make sense of the emotion and bring it through the production process so I don’t have to. Right out of the gate, Sufjan asks if he can bargain with God to maybe make this experience of living any easier.  With tracks like my personal favorites, “Ursa Major” and “Landslide”, he’s found himself looking for love and forgiveness, and he ends up finding it.

Carrie and Lowell was a chore of an album, and The Ascension is the opposite. The songwriting is simple and repetitive — a true pop hallmark — but it still carries the weight of a traditional Sufjan album. He still wrestles with his same emotions regarding love (“Run Away with Me”) and loss and society (“Lamentations”), but he wraps it up in a reviving electropop bow, just enough to get our hopes up before opening the box to find another sad Sufjan song. We finish the album with “America”, a scathing portrait of the depravity the USA has fallen into. It’s a fitting end to an album that is mostly introspective, but Sufjan shows the truth that out of the heart the mouth speaks, and we find ourselves wondering whether this album is about him or about us as a whole.

I quite like this iteration of Sufjan Stevens. He’s learned, like many of us over these past few years, that circumstances can change on a dime, so we ought not to take ourselves too seriously. Songs like “Die Happy,” made of just a simple refrain, have become a genuine cry in our time, surrounded by so much death, grief, and loss. With The Ascension, Sufjan shows that these emotions can coexist with positivity, so even though we may be crying, we may as well dance, too.

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.

Halsey Returns to Badlands on 5th Anniversary

It probably goes without saying that I listen to a lot of music. Like, a lot. And it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. But for all of the different albums, singles, mixtapes, playlists, and b-sides that accompany my days, I can typically pinpoint specific “eras” or stretches of my life that are dominated by a specific artist. And while the songs of that artist’s music highlight the memories in my mind, it’s more than that. It’s the overall influence they have over any given stretch that showcases a shift in my listening habits and my enjoyment of art.

For the past five years, Halsey has been that artist in my life.

You can buy or stream Badlands (Live From Webster Hall) on Apple Music.

I was aware of the groundswell taking place back in 2014 when Halsey began to stake her claim as an indie internet darling, but I largely missed out on her Room 93 debut EP. Truly, it was Badlands that won me over – an album that turned five years old this weekend. And when I think of Halsey’s growth and evolution as an artist in that short span of time, it seems like it should have been much longer.

I praised Manic upon its release earlier this year and can spoil for you now that it will almost certainly be making an appearance on our end-of-the-year list. I even love hopeless fountain kingdom, the sophomore album that many critics (and even a portion of her fanbase) found to be uneven and disappointing. Honestly, there isn’t much she’s been a part of that I haven’t enjoyed these past five years. But even now, there’s something about Badlands that still feels fresh and exciting.

There are moments throughout the album, no matter how many times I listen, that still give me goosebumps. This past Friday, Halsey released Badlands (Live From Webster Hall), which was recorded last year during a two-night event in New York City. The beauty of the recording is that it catches those goosebump-inducing moments perfectly through its mixing the sound of the crowd. 

It reminds me how I felt during my first listen of the spacey vacuum of sound in “Castle” right before the beat drops during the first chorus. It reminds me of seeing Halsey in concert a few years ago and how I didn’t imagine a live performance could give me that kind of energy again. It reminds me of that opening three-song stretch of “Castle” to “New Americana” that’s so dark and ambitious – a stretch in which you feel in every moment that Halsey truly has something important to say. And at times, she says it with a sledgehammer.

I get that the album felt cheeky or hollow to some. But there was something about that moment that seemed to announce a new generation of both pop star and music fan, which very rarely coalesces at the same time. It’s a spirit and a movement carried on by the likes of Billie Eilish in recent years. And if you’re not a part of those moments or look on callously from the sidelines, you’re likely to feel that way.

None of that changes what Badlands meant and still means to me. It’s a perfectly imperfect album that reminds me of how I can feel when I let my guard down and feel the music I listen to.

There’s no better example of what that looks like than during the aforementioned concert I attended during Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom Tour when it stopped at the White River Lawn in Indianapolis. My favorite track from Badlands is “Roman Holiday” – a rarely spoken of non-single from the album. The song wasn’t part of the setlist at previous dates and I’d resigned myself to not hearing it that night.

Toward the end of the show during Halsey’s encore, she made a switch and announced she was doing something different. Those unmistakable opening notes of “Roman Holiday” blinked through the speakers, and as my wife can attest, I lost my mind. I lost myself in a way I haven’t at a concert since back when I wasn’t so self-conscious about losing myself in that way. And it’s hard to imagine having another one of those moments any time soon.

I can’t really explain it well with words, and I get that it sounds mushy and forced. But if you know, you know. And oddly enough, that’s kind of what makes the community of Halsey fans so great and makes her music resonate. Badlands was magic, and I’ll take any opportunity to celebrate.

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.

Reflecting On: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Unlike most bubblegum pop acts, Katy Perry has managed to stay newsworthy throughout her entire career thus far. Whether we’re talking about her joyous pregnancy and pending marriage to Orlando Bloom, or cringing at her Twitter defense of Ellen, Katy has kept our eyes focused on her since 2007. Today, we’re jumping in the Wayback Machine to talk about Teenage Dream, which turns 10 this week.

You can buy or stream Teenage Dream on Apple Music.

In 2010, I was trying my hardest to be an emo kid, so the pop stations were an absolute no-go for me. And yet, I couldn’t escape “California Gurls”. Try as I might, it was stuck in my head and its upbeat tones serenaded my every step. Ugh. I put in my headphones and played some Fall Out Boy, trying to keep my ears pure and free from the forbidden world of “mainstream music.” Obviously, since I’m writing this now, it didn’t work. With five singles from Teenage Dream topping the Billboard Hot 100, Katy Perry and her cotton candy-laced universe was here to stay.

If you took a listen to our podcast about the most important albums of the last decade, you’ll see that I find Teenage Dream the most influential album of 2010. With an aura of positivity and escapism, it ushered us into a new age of pop music where anything was possible — even a gauche anthem to the dick pic (“Peacock”). But the songs that didn’t make it to radio are really what I want to talk about today.

The first track that we don’t recognize immediately is “Circle the Drain”. It’s arguably one of Perry’s most serious songs. Supposedly this one is about Travie McCoy of Gym Class Heroes fame, but really, it’s an anthem for anyone who has watched someone they love take the dark path of substance abuse. She sings, “Can’t be your savior / I don’t have the power”, and eventually has to walk away. She tries to be scathing, but the song still comes across as desperate and hopeless. It’s one of the best tracks on the album.

The album really does highlight Katy’s battle between moving back to her ultra-spiritual background and Katy Hudson days, and reveling in her new-found fame. We go back and forth in the second half with her about whether she’s made the right decision in her career and personal life, (“Who Am I Living For?” and “Not Like the Movies”) and a look back at how her upbringing affected her self esteem (“Pearl”). 

The journey we go on with Katy is not only like the candy coated road she skips along in the “California Gurls” video, it’s full of questioning and wandering. I feel that’s one of Katy’s biggest strengths, even in later albums. She has found the balance between satisfying the hungry music exec’s needs for radio-worthy pop, and saying what she truly wants to. Teenage Dream wasn’t just an album for 2010’s summer. We shouldn’t take her advice of “Don’t ever look back,” because the singles provided us with one of the most carefree seasons in music we’ve known, but the more serious tracks on the back half of album tell us how much truth Katy had to offer the world.

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: Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

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

You can buy or stream Pink Elephant on Apple Music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5

by Kiel Hauck

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

Podcast: The Best of Taylor Swift

It’s summer and we’ve got nowhere to go, so why not go ahead and rank the albums from Taylor Swift? Kiel Hauck is joined by Kyle Schultz as they share their personal journey with one of this generation’s musical icons and discuss how her fascinating transition from country to pop. The duo break down all seven studio albums from Taylor Swift and rank their top 10 songs from her discography. They also share their thoughts on Taylor’s legacy as a musician and one of our largest pop culture figures. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite Taylor Swift album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Anchor & Braille – TENSION

Back in 2014, Anberlin, one of alternative’s most exceptional bands, hung up their guitars and drumsticks. Stephen Christian has some of the most easily-identifiable vocals of the past two decades, and the idea that he wasn’t going to serenade us anymore was a thought I almost couldn’t bear. He hadn’t released anything from his side project, Anchor and Braille, since 2012, and we would have to wait another two years after Anberlin’s end for a new taste of what Stephen had to offer. 

You can buy or stream TENSION on Apple Music.

Fast forward to today, another four years later, and we finally have TENSION. Following in the footsteps of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, TENSION is another pop album. Synthy, 80’s-inspired, romantic – what else could we ask for?

This album is clearly dedicated to Stephen’s wife Julia, as he sings in the first single, “DANGEROUS”. While that could turn some people off, I think it’s cute. It’s sickly sweet, like eating your entire box of candy during the movie previews and having that weird feeling in your stomach for the rest of the two hours, but no one can deny that the honesty is characteristic of an Anchor and Braille album.

Personally, I prefer Songs for the Late Night Drive Home. I feel like that’s because I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of pop music, and TENSION throws us a much lighter vibe. It’s a worthy addition to the Anchor and Braille oeuvre, but it definitely is the beginning of a shift in Stephen Christian’s sound. It’s enjoyable and sure to be a summer drive album, but it doesn’t have the same hard hitting lyrics that Late Night Drive gave us. My favorite track is “Closer and Farther”, which is undeniably the closest we get to a Late Night Drive B-side.

I will always gobble up anything Stephen Christian serves us, but TENSION is very monotonous. It never ends up taking us on the journey that Stephen’s art is so known for. The highs and lows of Felt, and the emotions of Late Night Drive, that we’ve grown to love and expect from Anchor and Braille are missing here.

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.

Review: Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B

As spring transitions to summer, it’s typically a seasonal cause for celebration. School is out, the weather is warm, road trips are abundant, concerts are in full swing, and friends are gathering. That’s obviously not the case this year, and even as many states begin to “reopen,” there’s a palpable concern that the pandemic is far from over. Needless to say, this stands to be one of the strangest summers on record. 

You can buy or stream Dedicated Side B on Apple Music.

It’s in this stage of careful transition that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated Side B arrives – a 12-track companion piece to last year’s Dedicated that sounds every bit like the escape so many of us need right now. When Jepsen released Emotion: Side B as an encore performance to one of last decade’s most unexpectedly brilliant pop records, it opened a new door of artistic possibilities for Jepsen. Sure, you could call it a burn-off of extra B-sides left over from the Emotion sessions, but Emotion: Side B was full of really, really good songs.

The crazy thing is, Dedicated Side B is even better. In fact, it’s almost unfair to label it a collection of B-sides when it sounds strong and cohesive enough to be a standalone album. Without the delineation, would we have accepted it as such? I think we might have, and some may even argue it superior to Dedicated.

To be clear, these tracks are clearly cut from the same cloth, but there exists the same level of new experimentation that was found throughout Dedicated. On the bass-heavy “Summer Love”, undoubtedly destined to be one of the best pop tracks of this weird season, Jepsen’s vocals are moody and reserved as she delivers an effortlessly sultry chorus of, “I was down for the first night / And I’m down for a second try / When you touch me, I wanna fly / I’m so down for you all the time”.

Synthy dance track “Stay Away” feels like a cross between Jepsen’s knack for radio pop vibes crossed with the disco leanings of Dua Lipa’s recently released Future Nostalgia. The same could be said of “This is What They Say” and “Fake Mona Lisa”, the latter of which features Jepsen’s signature breathy delivery, once again sounding more one-night-stand than dedicated relationship: “Oh, you took my clothes off, said, ‘It’s gettin’ hotter’ / Don’t know how to swim, but let’s breathe underwater”. In almost intentional ways, Side B introduces a duality in thematic approach that wasn’t existent on Dedicated, making it feel far more purposeful than collection of tracks left on the cutting room floor.

But Side B also features well-timed changes of pace, adding to the argument that this should be considered its own full-length. “Comeback” featuring Jack Antonoff is one of the best Carly Rae tracks, period. Reminiscent of forlorn duets of the 80s, Antonoff and Jepsen mesh perfectly in this tale of a relationship nearing its end. In typical fashion, Jepsen is able to tap into those feelings that feel hard to articulate and make sense of the mess. “And I won’t say you’re the reason I was on my knees / But I’m thinking ’bout making a comeback, back to me”.

Dedicated Side B, like most of Carly Rae’s body of work, is deeper and richer than its facade would lead you to believe. It’s a collection of songs that explore the looser and less tangible aspects of relationships. The places you drift to when there’s no more room in your mind to process the heavy stuff. And while I’m certain she didn’t plan it this way, it’s kind of the perfect metaphor for life in 2020. It’s here, it’s complicated, and we can’t quite get out from under it. But if you close your eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on your face, you can imagine yourself somewhere else. And that feels nice.

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

We have been blessed. We have been given a gift. The entirety of Petals for Armor is here for us to enjoy and drink in, and I am beside myself with how incredible it is. I wrote about the first third of the album earlier this year, and I didn’t know how the rest of the album would play out based on it, but it completely surpassed anything I expected and hoped for. It’s experimental, it’s exciting, it’s fresh. It’s Hayley.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor on Apple Music.

I spoke a lot in my first piece about the femininity I loved about the project. That concept is woven through the rest of the album in shows of vulnerability, strength, and the journey Hayley took to find peace after so many years. The album was split into three parts purposefully, but ended up coinciding with the changing seasons both literally and metaphorically. The first part of the album made me so upset for Hayley and the turmoil she faced, but by the end of Part III, it’s evident that it’s in the past. So much of womanhood is putting up a front for others and always being available and subservient, but Hayley has managed to find a balance here, specifically showcased in “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”. It’s uplifting and inspiring.

The middle of the album (Part II, technically) ended up being my favorite. I identified heavily with this transition period she found herself in. She’s over the rage from Simmer” and has moved from the past. I feel like so much of human life is spent in that transition period. We go from the naivety of infancy and childhood to the confusion of teenage years to the heaviness of adulthood. As someone who’s still kind of in that teenager-to-adult transition and, quite frankly, moved from the former to the latter rather quickly, the middle of the album, especially “Why We Ever”, hit me harder than the rest. 

The final third of the album is gorgeous. It’s a culmination of everything she’s experienced thus far. It’s beautiful to see her at this raw place where she’s honest about where she’s been and how she got past the harder times of her life. She’s been able to begin shedding the parts of her that she’s ashamed of, and ends up bringing us the most hopeful body of music in her career.

The visual interlude she released between the “Simmer” and “Leave It Alone” videos is the album perfectly packaged up. She has been in a cocoon for so long, dealing with the decisions she’s made in her life, and she finally has been able to emerge as something bright and refreshed. Hayley has also done an insane amount of press over this cycle, and that’s not something we should take for granted. She’s more open than ever, and Petals for Armor is an invitation for us to be the same.

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.

Podcast: Discussing Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” with Evan Sawdey

A new album from Dua Lipa is here – and it is good. Future Nostalgia sees the U.K. singer rising to pop stardom amidst an array of disco hits. Kiel Hauck welcomes Evan Sawdey of PopMatters onto the podcast to discuss Future Nostalgia and how Dua Lipa’s new music arrives at the perfect time. The two break down the album’s highlights, discuss what could be the strangest summer for music in history, and share their way too early album of the year candidates. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What is your favorite track from Future Nostalgia? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck