Review: The Early November – Lilac

I read once that The Early November chose their name because, much like that time of year, they changed their sound as often as the late seasons. I have no idea how true that actually is, but it has always rang true to me. The Early November have altered and changed from album to album, never staying with one sound for too long. The only constant is the emotional vulnerability that every song brings. Lilac brings not only the biggest change to the sound the band have developed after almost 20 years, it is quite possibly the most robust album the band has delivered since The Room Is Too Cold.

You can buy or stream Lilac on Apple Music.

Lilac is a stylistically diverse album, a fact it presents almost immediately. The Early November manage to juggle the sound of punk rock, Fall Out Boy-lite pop elements and incredibly intricate instrumentation. The flourish of trumpets or the somber whale of a french horn pepper into songs and constantly surprise the listener. The lilac flower is a symbol of innocence, and it shows across the album with tales of finding the lowest of emotional depths, only to pull yourself together. In the end, Lilac is an album of redemption.

Vocalist and songwriter Ace Enders pushes the sound of the band further than ever before. No two songs sound alike and each flows seamlessly to the next. Guitarists Bill Lugg and Enders find a variety of sounds from punk rock (“My Weakness”) to twinkling indie rock (“Hit By A Car (Euphoria)”) to dance riffs that act as a background to the rest of the instrumentation (“Fame”). Bassist Sergio Anello rips through a series of deep riffs (“My Weakness”) while multi-instrumentalist Joseph Marro’s piano and guitars layer thick (“You Own My Mind”). Drummer Jeff Kummer keeps pace with Enders, varying from intricate dance beats (“Perfect Sphere (Bubble)”) to deep melancholic bursts (“I Dissolve”).

Enders himself delivers a vocal performance different from any past release, whether that be with The Early November or his solo project, I Can Make A Mess. He pushes his vocals to shout and croon (“Hit By a Car”), enters the realm of pop (“Fame”; “You Own My Mind”), and almost whispers melody (“The Lilac”).

Opening song “Perfect Sphere (Bubble)” quickly sets Lilac apart from TEN’s discography. The energetic pianos, etherial guitars and Enders’ angelic croons deliver a sound that stands out against the moody rock of years past. “My Weakness”, a garage rock jam with a bridge and chorus that hint at what it would be like to hear Taylor Swift write a punk song, especially with Enders’ styled squeak during the chorus.

“Ave Maria” dances through an uplifting beat as Enders reflects on letting himself and a loved one down (“I thought if I looked nice, I would feel nice / And you would see me right, you would see me right / But it was an old lie, it was a cold lie / It was a long night.”). But for each downer, Enders weighs it with one of hope, such as the moody “Our Choice”. The song wrestles with the idea of addiction, as he swings back and forth between feeling enslaved to it and fighting back. “There is a choice to be alive, when failure keeps you up at night / So every morning, I will try / I will never stop the fire / I have a choice to be alright”.

The Early November constantly shift and push themselves in directions that no one sees coming. But consistency isn’t needed with a band so confident in themselves. Lilac bucks every expectation placed upon it, and steps away as one of the fullest albums The Early November have ever written. It demonstrates just how much the group can adapt and shift, but never remain predictable for long.

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 just realized his air conditioner is running even though it is like, 50 degrees outside. What a silly goose he is.

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Podcast: Summer 2019 and the Death of Genre

This year’s song of the summer is undeniable, but what does it tell us about the future of music? Evan Sawdey of PopMatters joins Kiel Hauck to break down the success of “Old Town Road”, the rise of Billie Eilish, and the odd absence of some of pop music’s biggest stars on the charts this summer. They also discuss Taylor Swift’s new album, Lover, break down their “deserted island discographies,” and share their most anticipated albums set to release in the back half of 2019. Listen in!

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What was your song of the summer? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Melanie Martinez – K-12

When I think of controversy in music these days, I immediately think of Billie Eilish. Her album was unique and her videos are provocative. Even the way she dresses has made headlines. But before Billie released When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, there was Melanie Martinez. She started as a contestant on season 3 of The Voice, auditioning with Britney’s “Toxic”. She didn’t win, but that appearance catalyzed a career that made it possible for artists like Billie to push the boundaries they do.

You can stream K-12 on YouTube.

Melanie released her first album, Cry Baby, in 2015, then went on to direct and star in music videos for all 13 tracks. The album covers issues like abuse, alcoholism and kidnapping. You name it, Melanie has written about it. The album tells the story of a girl named Cry Baby and her childhood. It took me some time to get into her style – the original horror-trope filled pop, disguised in the color pink and cupcake frosting – but eventually, at the prompting of a friend, I bought the album. Melanie was accused of sexual assault in 2017, although not criminally charged. She was very quiet while all of this happening, leaving social media, as well as leaving fans wondering whether she would ever release more music.

This past May, she became active on social media again and announced that she was releasing an album/film combo called K-12. It would continue the story of her alter ego Cry Baby to a boarding school with ulterior motives. It was released to YouTube on September 6th.

The album opens with “Wheels On the Bus”. She talks about how adults don’t tend to take adolescents seriously and about some of the activities teens partake in, casual sex and drugs being her choice examples. This album is much more mature than her last album from a lyrical standpoint. She seems to have taken into account the sensitive nature of her lyrics and toned it down. She hits on a lot of heavy subjects, but none as violent as tracks from her last album like “Sippy Cup” or “Tag, You’re It”.

“Class Fight” is about bullying, but in the film, there’s a moment that starts to show the project’s true intent. The class is told to stand for the pledge and a young African-American boy refuses. He says, “You hear that? Liberty and justice for all? That’s BS.” His dissenting voice is quickly silenced by school authorities, and it’s a nod to civil rights and another stab at the idea that children aren’t as wise as the authority around them.

The girl, Kelly, mentioned in “Class Fight” is another antagonist in the film that serves to further the tracks about body image, “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Orange Juice”. The latter is a very poignant track about eating disorders. “Show and Tell” is about Melanie’s experience with fame, and the idea that she’s a person, not a puppet.

Each track is obviously pivotal to the film, but as an album, the project feels long. She sings about so many things that it can feel bombarding, and after a while (before watching the film), I didn’t really know which details to focus on. I’d much rather sit and watch the hour and a half long film. The album alone kind of feels like listening to The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack without ever seeing the Broadway play. The film is free to stream on YouTube, and with its beautiful cinematography and choreography, it’s well worth the timestamp, and ends on quite the cliffhanger. As for future plans, Melanie stated in an interview that she’s planning on producing two more films.

by Nadia Paiva

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

Review: The Regrettes – How Do You Love?

Music videos are dead. The last video that caught my attention enough to follow the band was OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” (and every one since then). But when a video catches you correctly, it can spawn a lifelong love for the band. I still remember where I was when I saw the iPod commercial featuring The Fratellis’ “Flathead”. I thought those days were dead. But sometimes, magic strikes out of nowhere. Such is the case with The Regrettes.

You can buy or stream How Do You Love? on Apple Music.

Like The Fratellis, after seeing their video for the single, “I Dare You”, not only did I count down the days until the release of their sophomore album How Do You Love?, but the single that hooked me turned out to be one of my least favorite tracks when compared to the rest of the album. The Regrettes are a force to be reckoned with, and they’ve only just begun.

“I Dare You” is a great song that is paired with an infectiously creative music video. But it doesn’t convey the power behind the rest of the album. How Do You Love? is a tamed rock album that feels just as confident behind power chords as it does the quiet reflection on the chaos of relationships. On a weird level, How Do You Love? is an awkward concept album about the glorious feelings and dreadful lows of falling in love. The energy behind the music conveys the feelings enough to feel the pulse of budding romance. Just try not to feel butterflies while listening to the anxious energy of “California Friends”.

Guitarists Genessa Gariano and Lydia Night sway effortlessly as they blend raging garage punk, giddy pub rock and tender acoustics (“How Do You Love?”). They manage to harness a balance in songwriting that rests comfortably between the indie sound of Rilo Kiley and The Hives’ frantic need to kick down a wall, while still sounding unique from either. Bassist Brooke Dickson threatens to steal every song (“Here You Go”), and drummer Drew Thomsen keeps the songs playful and attentive (“Dress Up”).

Vocalist Lydia Night is at home maintaining a balance that is equal parts punk and quietly contemplative. She adjusts song from song to portray the high or low of falling in love, but never loses attention. “California Friends” explores the awkward touch and go of attraction and the electrifying feeling it gives, as she sings over fuzzed guitars, “Check out this band from California / I can make you a playlist of their songs / Won’t you come and hold me close now?”

“Coloring Book” finds that breathless sensation of being completely overtaken by someone else. An amped acoustic song, Night emotes against the silence as much as the music as she sings, “I can’t believe you’re sitting next to me / Just open up your eyes and tell me, what do you see? / Do you see somebody looking back at you / Or do you see somebody that’s in love with you?”

Meanwhile, the title song, “How Do You Love?” harnesses the pub rock aspect as Night laments not understanding what it takes to keep a relationship, despite the intense feelings that cropped up throughout the album (“It’s the little things I can’t understand / How they love, lie, pass it, and keep holding hands”).

The Regrettes are an impressive young band. How Do You Love? is an album that bases itself on the most basic of premises (a rock album about adolescent love) and still manages to hang with the best of bangers. It’s the type of album that makes you think rock can still be a mainstream hit. More importantly, it’s the type of album that friends bond over and draws people to music.

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 petting the head of a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex instead of his cat. He regrets nothing.

Review: Taylor Swift – Lover

Photo by Valheria Rocha

What I appreciate the most about Taylor Swift is the “re-watch value” of her music. Every new single is almost guaranteed to annoy me on first listen (“ME!”), but in the context of the album itself, become something great. Lover, the seventh album from Swift, is no exception. There is so much to unpack throughout the 18 tracks that one listen can’t possibly be enough to take it all in. What stands out the most about Lover is that it lives and dies by making the listener feel jubilant until the very end.

You can buy or stream Lover on Apple Music.

Lover seemingly picks up where 2014’s 1989 left off—sizzling synth, lyrics dripping in romance, and a bright feeling leveled throughout each song. There isn’t much of a hint of Reputation’s aggressiveness to be found on the surface, save for the opening track (“I Forgot That You Existed”). Looking deeper into the songs though, there is a refinement to her writing that takes shape from Reputation. Lover is, for perhaps the first time, a true mix of all of Swift’s past releases. The poppy synth blends with deep R&B beats, while Swift’s classic twang peeks through her vocals from time to time. Occasionally, songs like “Lover”, which relies on piano and guitar, crank up the nostalgia of her storied career.

Impressive in its own right is Swift’s use of minimalism in her music. She allows the quiet to be an instrument itself behind her smooth vocals (“Cornelia Street”) along with haunted, hushed instrumentation. At other times, a very simple wall of melody lays the bed as a surface for her vocals to jump on (“The Archer”). Meanwhile, “Cruel Summer”, a layered pop jam that chronicles the hesitancy to be vulnerable in a relationship, bounces on its own as a hit single waiting to happen.

Intentional or not, discovering songs that feel like follow ups to stories / songs from past albums is an unexpected joy. The hypnotically cheerful “Paper Rings” follows a simple dance melody and bouncing bass that sounds like a sister song to Red’s “Stay Stay Stay”, a song steeped in cheesy romance so strong it forces a smile. Lead single “ME!” (Featuring the masterful Brendon Urie) is already noted for its marching band-inspired beats and cheer section, reminiscent of the self-empowering “Shake It Off”.

If there is a theme to Lover, it’s one of hope. The album tells many stories, each looking forward to a happy future. “Cruel Summer” hints at the blossoming love between two people (“I scream, ‘For whatever it’s worth / I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’ / He looks up, grinning like a devil”).

“Miss American & The Heartbreak Prince” is the one track that sounds like a downer, but there are specks of light coming through until the end. The song feels in equal parts a story about young romance (“They whisper in the hallway, ‘she’s a bad bad girl’) and a commentary on politics (“American stories burning before me / I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed / Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?”). Even here, peppy shouts of “Go! Fight! Win!” punch through the fog of moody synth.

Lover is not a perfect album. It’s hard not to continuously roll your eyes during “London Boy”, and at 18 songs, the album feels just a few tracks too long. Ironically, you could make a pretty aggressive drinking game with the staggering amount of references to alcohol and being drunk that crop up in almost every song. Lover is almost magical in the warmth its synth pop presents. However, songs like “Soon You’ll Get Better”, featuring the Dixie Chicks, an acoustic ballad interwoven with banjo and violin, make it hard not to miss Swift’s past, even if her future is brighter than ever.

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 literally just spilled an ENTIRE cup of water across the ENTIRE kitchen floor in an attempt to keep the cat from doing just that. Please send him towels.

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!

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!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

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!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

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

Posted by Kiel Hauck