A Half-Assed Theory on Discovering New Music

Over the last several years, I have been been improving myself mentally. I heard new music but wasn’t listening. Now in a better place, I am revisiting some albums with fresh eyes to see what it means to me now. Cheers.

Finding new music is easy, but loving new music is a chore. When I think of the bands I love the most, it’s because I discovered them during a transition in my life. Going to high school (New Found Glory), first girlfriend (Saves the Day), college and first apartment (Panic! at the Disco, Lucky Boys Confusion), and discovering the real world (The Wonder Years), led to me listening to this music nonstop for decades, as well as other bands that cropped up in the same eras.

However, stagnation and depression hamper the joy in personal growth. In retrospect, it seems obvious that such memorable moments imprint themselves in the music we listen to. But seeing it in action in real time is a special moment everyone should experience. Thus, I have developed a theory!

I recently started a new day job, which is the biggest change to my life in years. It required spending two weeks in Wisconsin by myself for training. I tried to prep music for the trip, but felt bored looking over my usual soundtracks. Instead, I prepped a bunch of music I’ve reviewed for It’s All Dead in years past or bought for my collection and then (for no reason at all) never listened to again: Neck Deep, State Champs, We Are the In Crowd, Superet, Honeyblood, and many more.

There are many ways to connect to music, whether that be a connection with the lyrics or the music filling your veins with energy. Oftentimes, music means so much to us because of the nostalgia and memories we associate with it. My theory on falling in love with music is obvious, but is proposed as such: the most direct appreciation to new music is during a new life experience.

The first nerve-wracking day of my job, I played Neck Deep’s Life’s Not Out to Get You twice throughout the day, as it seemed appropriate for someone who waits for the worst to happen and then adjusts accordingly. Checking into my hotel, “Threat Level Midnight” played as I walked through the halls. As vocalist Ben Barlow sang, “I’ll see your face down here real soon / A welcome home to a swift farewell”, I opened my door and found another family staying in my room. Dirty clothes, pool toys, suitcases and children’s toys were spread across the room, so I panicked and quickly shut the door.

The hotel told me that there was a family refusing to leave and squatting in the room; they had torn the phone from the wall and refused to respond to maintenance knocking on the door as “Can’t Kick Up the Roots” rang through one ear bud (“Yeah this place is a shipwreck / But this shipwreck, it is mine”). Although a misunderstanding all around, it took an hour to get me a room and Neck Deep kept me company at the counter during frenzied calls and panicked looks from the staff in my direction after being told, “Everything is under control.” Ironically, Neck Deep was also playing when the keys to my room didn’t work the second week and the entire staff recognized me as I told them I was locked out (“All eyes on me, but that’s not reality /… claustrophobic in my own skin / From holding it all in” – “The Grand Delusion”; The Peace and the Panic).

There is a massive public pathway that traces the lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. My first night there, I found myself alone in the dark, walking a treacherous path with only the moon lighting the lake to my side as I hurried back to the hotel with Superet jamming away in my head (“And when the lights go out / Will you be having fun alone? / I need revolution / It’s you, only you” – “Bone Bag”; How To Work a Room).

I discovered smoking in bars is still acceptable in Wisconsin, as I stepped into a pub and saw 20 locals starring at me with suspicion with We Are The In Crowd blasting away through my phone (“I guess it was wishful to think / I was different from the rest / Now I’m red in the face / I don’t think I’m impressed” – “Better Luck Next Time”; Best Intentions). I fell asleep to State Champs playing quietly, vividly aware that I didn’t have to worry as much about money for a while (“Wash away all the thoughts that come at you like monsters at night / I don’t wanna live this way / Strong enough to break these chains / Broken pieces can mend…This is our time, our time to go” – “Our Time To Go”; Living Proof).

This massive life event has spawned moment after moment that I will never forget, each accompanied by bands I should have been in love with years ago. I can blame depression for hampering my ability to connect to the music before now, but the truth is I should have been listening regardless. The fact that I felt a connection to so many bands the last couple of weeks means I should have enjoyed them before now. Using a life event to listen to them finally feels like a crutch, and I wish I had spent more time loving them on my own. However, I will never forget these bands or the memories I made listening to them during these two weeks that changed my life.

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 watched a framed picture fall off the wall of his hotel room for no particular reason while writing this. He blames earthquakes for it so that he doesn’t have to think about ghosts before bed. What a fool!

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Podcast: The Best of Eisley

Over the past decade and a half, Tyler, Texas, band Eisley have made a habit of releasing delightful, poignant, purposeful indie pop. On this episode of It’s All Dead, Kiel Hauck and Nadia Paiva break down the band’s discography, ranking all five full-length albums, from Room Noises to I’m Only Dreaming. They also share their top 10 songs and discuss the band’s wild ride from their early major label breakthrough to their return to their indie roots. Listen in!

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What’s your favorite Eisley album? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Florence and the Machine – Lungs

I was recently talking to Kiel about some of my favorite albums, the ones that truly impacted me as a music fan and as a person, and how a lot of those albums are hitting their release anniversaries this year. One of those albums is Lungs by Florence and the Machine. It’s an album that’s no doubt left a lasting impact on the musical culture of 2009. It’s been one of my top albums for as long as I’ve been listening, and I still think it’s Florence and the Machine’s best.

“Dog Days are Over” is probably the best known track that Florence has released, and it starts Lungs off strong. The entire album’s exploration of emotion hadn’t been done before in such a drastic, theatrical way. From beginning to end, Florence impresses us vocally, musically and thematically. 

My favorite tracks from Lungs are “Cosmic Love”, which brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it, “Between Two Lungs” for its lullaby-esque lilt and harmonies, and “My Boy Builds Coffins” for the way it describes an effortless and simple yet all-consuming love.

The way Florence uses literary references, nature imagery and a pre-Raphaelite muse is one of the main reasons I think she’s stuck around. Her creativity is boundless, and she’s willing to push the envelope to get her point across. Her label asked her to write an “upbeat” song for the record and the result, “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)”, is about ritual sacrifice and King Midas. It seems like she tries to wriggle past authority; she holds her right to create tightly.

As a woman who enjoys music, and watches women in the industry get stepped on or stepped over, I appreciate the fact that Florence walks her own path. She has paved the way for other female artists to feel the freedom to do the same, and I think that if Lungs hadn’t succeeded the way it did in 2009, the music world would be vastly different. If Florence Welch hadn’t come along and garnered the success she did, I doubt that Marina Diamandis and Lana del Rey would’ve felt the confidence they do now in their unconventional music endeavors.

From the first track of Lungs, Florence Welch brings us into her world — a place where we can identify with each theme she creates but also escape to at the same time. Between her instrumentation and her ethereal stage presence, Florence’s music constantly raises the bar for art pop, from 2009 until now. Happy 10th birthday, Lungs.

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: 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.

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!

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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.