Most Anticipated of 2022: Taylor Swift Keeps the Momentum Rolling

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If I’m being completely honest, I am okay with Taylor Swift taking time off. The woman has been arguably the most prolific artist in the world, having released three new albums and two re-releases of past albums in the last two years. While it would be natural to assume she has to be near the point of burning out, there is still always reason to be excited. With four more re-releases scheduled, if she keeps at the same pace she has been going at, the next Taylor’s Version may be only a few months away.

These re-releases made her older material somehow nostalgically refreshing and relevant again despite being listened to thousands of times already. Her “From the Vault” B-Sides would be worthy of a release all on their own, but in this context we can see how she evolved as an artist between albums and how she tested the waters with genre and style before fully jumping in. Whatever her next Taylor’s Version album is, it can’t come soon enough for fans who already know every note by heart.

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 currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Most Anticipated of 2022: The Weeknd Breaks the Dawn

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Okay, so this is kind of a cop out. Dawn FM, the latest album from The Weeknd, dropped last Friday. But I did anticipate it in the week between its announcement and release, so there’s that!

Honestly, my first reaction upon hearing the news was to think, “Didn’t he just drop After Hours?” But then I had the sad realization that it had been almost two years and that this pandemic has now lasted a full album cycle.

But nevertheless, Dawn FM is another stroke of genius from Abel Tesfaye, an artist who continues to paint an unexpected narrative and blur the lines between The Weeknd as a character and Abel as a real human being. Created as a radio broadcast of music and existential ponderings after the events of After Hours, Dawn FM is oddly reflective and pensive as it explores the idea that, just maybe, there is peace to be found in this life, which feels like a completely new note for The Weeknd.

Here in this new context, recent single “Take My Breath” feels alive in new and unexpected ways. Tracks like “How Do I Make You Love Me?”, “”Best Friends”, and “Don’t Break My Heart” carry the kind of longing and questioning we’re used to but inject each track with a stroke of humor. It’s another masterclass in pop excellence, and what I anticipate most at this point is playing it again and again throughout 2022.

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.

Most Anticipated of 2022: A New Album from Paramore (Please?)

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This is my wild card album that I always toss into the Most Anticipated. I got it right with Lorde last year, but I doubt I’ll have the same luck with Paramore. My actual prediction is next year, but it only feels right that they would come back and grace us with another Paramore album after Hayley and Zac have had such blockbuster years with their own solo albums. My other bold prediction is that this will be the final Paramore album. As much as I don’t want that to be true, as Paramore has been a true constant in my life, it feels like a natural ending for what has been an incredible movement in both the scene and modern music as a whole. 

I think that Zac and Hayley will move on to do illustrious things on their own, and they’ll let Paramore rest easy very soon. As for an album? I want it to head back to their scene roots and give us some headbangers, but I know this is almost impossible given the moves they’ve made artistically since 2017’s After Laughter. But at this point, I’m willing to latch on to anything they offer me.

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.

Podcast: Reacting to “Red (Taylor’s Version)”

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It’s been a week since Taylor Swift blessed us with Red (Taylor’s Version). And we have thoughts! Kiel Hauck is joined by fellow It’s All Dead-ians Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves to delve into the nooks and crannies of all 30 tracks of this new release. They share takes on the best and most interesting re-recorded songs and weigh in some of the best “From the Vault” tracks that round out the album. Is the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” better than the original? Are there still easter eggs within the album that have yet to be uncovered by Swiftie Sleuths? Who had the best guest appearance on the album? And what album is coming next? All of these questions (and more) are addressed – listen in!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Michelle Branch – The Spirit Room

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A couple of times a year, I find myself spending days at a time inside The Spirit Room. I’ve said it countless times in the two decades since its release, but the debut album from Michelle Branch is perfect. And as it reaches its 20th anniversary, I’ve thought a lot about its legacy, and how the album unexpectedly became a blueprint of sorts.

We’ve talked extensively this year about Sour, the debut from Olivia Rodrigo, and how it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions and experience of adolescence. One of the many things that makes Sour so impressive is Rodrigo’s ability to shape-shift within genre, often tapping into nostalgic pop rock sounds that feel both fresh and familiar. It’s hard to listen to the album and not think of Branch.

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You can buy or stream The Spirit Room on Apple Music

The story of how The Spirit Room came to be back in 2001 has been reported in detail, but it’s still fascinating to think about a teenager operating independently from major label influence and creating an album so different from what was expected from a young female artist at the time. It worked, and what followed was a new wave of young singer-songwriters following in her pop rock footsteps. Even Taylor Swift has spoken of the album’s influence in her own writing.

It was a sound that clearly caught my attention at the time, and Branch’s lonely, bedroom daydream songwriting resonated as well. When I listen to the album now, I’m transported back to a very specific time in my life in the best way. There isn’t another album that captures those feelings quite as well for me. When I hear “Goodbye to You”, I see Branch performing the song from the stage of The Bronze on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I hear “All You Wanted” I’m reminded of late night drives in my first car. “Everywhere” transports me back to my freshman dorm room.

For all of these reasons, it was captivating to hear Branch’s 20th anniversary re-recording of the album. Unlike Swift’s current explorations of her past work (which I also love), Branch has allowed the passage of time to change her approach to these tracks. Her voice sounds slightly weathered, the songs have more room to breathe and move at a slightly slower pace. If you close your eyes, you can imagine her playing these songs to a small audience in a smoky lounge room. There’s an innocence that’s missing and it gives the album an entirely new feeling. The fact that it works this well speaks to the timeless beauty of the songwriting.

Last month, I purchased a ticket to Branch’s live stream performance of the album, expecting a full band rendition of the songs I know so well. When the stream began with Branch sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar and strumming her way through “Everywhere”, I was taken aback. But by the opening moments of second track “You Get Me”, I was sold. The songs just work in every context, and in this case, some of them became even more alive with emotion and meaning. 

The early years of the 2000s were a transitional period for popular music, which is perhaps why it feels as though The Spirit Room sometimes gets forgotten in conversations around modern classic albums. It feels out of place when you think about the final gasps of bubblegum pop giving way to the oncoming avalanche of garage rock, hip hop and pop punk. But taken in a vacuum, it’s hard to poke holes in the album. It’s stellar songwriting paired with impeccable production. It moves. It captures hopeless romantic feelings you chase into your adulthood without ever feeling forced or cliché. It opened a new door for young female songwriters to lean into their own individual sounds. It invites you to get lost within it again and again.

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: Lorde – Solar Power

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On Lorde’s latest, Solar Power, I want what she’s having. Oh wait. I already have it.

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You can buy or stream Solar Power on Apple Music

Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s triumphant return began with a less than triumphant lead single, the title track of her new album. I liked it from the beginning, but I couldn’t deny that I understood what others found disappointing about it. But as someone who is almost exactly Lorde’s age, I got it. The idea “Can you reach me? No, you can’t!” is such a sought after feeling for me, an introvert stuck in an overly connected age. In this, I envy her.

Lorde took a lot of time away since 2017’s masterpiece Melodrama, an album I still think was robbed at the Grammys. This is a hill I’m willing to die on. She is a quiet artist, an introspective genius. Her work is meant to be listened to and experienced on an individual level. 

This is mostly in part, I believe, to Ella’s own introversion. She rarely tours, rarely sits for interviews, and she even hid on social media as an onion ring enthusiast. In Solar Power, I believe we see Lorde in her truest form. She sings of her dislike for her fame and of her obligations as an artist, but it’s not in a woe-is-me, I’m-famous-but-I’m-a-victim sense. She’s just a young woman who has a lot on her plate, as most of the folks in her (and my) generation do. 

This is an album about anxiety and finding solace from a world that demands attention in the most obnoxious ways possible. As someone of no acclaim, I even feel this in my work and in my friendships and in my internet presence. One can only imagine how that feels when you’re globally known. I don’t blame her for wanting out. 

Solar Power is a picture of today’s generation. It’s a story about a woman who just wants a break. A woman who wants to see a better world but doesn’t know the role she plays in getting there. And it’s one of my favorite albums this year.

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.

Podcast: Reviews of the New Albums from Halsey and CHVRCHES

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Woah! What a new music Friday we just had. Highlighting the release schedule were Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power and CHVRCHES’ Screen Violence. Kiel Hauck hops on the mic to break down his thoughts on both new albums, keying in on the artistic evolution of Halsey and their journey as one of the most important pop-adjacent artists of the past decade and how CHVRCHES rebounded from their major label debut to re-discover themselves in unexpected ways. Take a listen!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: Our Favorite Bad Songs

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What songs do you listen to when you switch Spotify to private mode? We all do it. So let’s talk about it! Kiel Hauck is joined by Nadia Alves and Kyle Schultz to share their deepest, darkest music secrets. The songs we love that we don’t tell our friends about. The songs that move us that we don’t share with the world. And why they mean so much to us. So what are some of our favorite “bad” songs? Take a listen and find out!

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Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: John Mayer – Sob Rock

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I don’t know whether it’s coincidental or tongue-in-cheek that John Mayer’s new album Sob Rock is two letters off from “soft rock”. We all know that John Mayer is the king of modern soft rock, so I’m leaning toward the latter.

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I feel like everyone at some point has gone through a John Mayer phase. Mine was parallel to my brother’s who wouldn’t stop playing 2008’s live album Where the Light Is, for a solid six months out of our family iTunes library. From then we would hear singles and choice tracks from other albums courtesy of my brother, but I never really did a deep dive into the discography. And I don’t know if I plan to, for what it’s worth. In fact, the first time I listened to Sob Rock in its entirety was just the other night in my mom’s kitchen, at the request of said brother.

Sob Rock is an ode to the 80s at its core. The first track and last single before release day, “Last Train Home” starts off eerily similar to Toto’s “Africa”, and a trend throughout the album is the very Fleetwood Mac-esque guitars and Cyndi Lauper laced synths. 

The entire album is a highlight, a no skip paradise. I think I might invest in a physical copy of this one to keep in the ol’ stereo. My current standout is “Wild Blue”, a breezy song reminiscent of Fleetwood’s “Dreams”, but also a perfect summer track. But my opinion of “best track” changes every time I listen through. “I Guess I Feel Like” is a deep introspective track that deserves the repeat button. 

This is a breakup album obviously, but lines like “I’ve loved seven other women / And they were all you” from “Shot In the Dark” and songs like “Til the Right One Comes” are fresh takes on old feelings. The whole album has holding-a-boom-box-outside-your-crush’s-window vibes and I’m here for it this summer. 

The main thing to take away from Sob Rock is don’t add paint to a masterpiece. Is this an already familiar John Mayer album? Almost formulaic? Yes. But let’s be honest, the man’s been releasing music since the 90s so clearly he’s doing something right. And as the album ends with “All I want is…” you realise all you want is the way this album makes you feel for forever. It’s a little bittersweet, it’s a little lonely, it’s all real.

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: AFI – Bodies

Bodies granted a wish I have held onto for 11 years: AFI revisited the pop sound they first explored in 2009’s masterpiece album, Crash Love. While most of their discography is known for dark, powerful rock music, Crash Love and Bodies act as anti-pop albums even while fully embracing that sound. But while Crash Love maneuvered that transition in sound flawlessly, Bodies struggles to make its mark. There are a lot of good ideas on Bodies, but the album flashes past them in an incredibly fast 36 minutes.

You can buy or stream Bodies on Apple Music.

Part of what Bodies lacks is letting the band cut loose in the ways we know they can. Although incorporating more dance elements than ever before, the music is more relaxed and reserved than anything the band has ever written (“Dulceria”). This dynamic, however, allows bassist Hunter Burgan and drummer Adam Carson to take center stage to most songs (“Death of the Party”). While guitarist Jade Puget gets less opportunity to show off the fact he is one of the best artists in rock, he truly shines when the chance presents itself (“No Eyes”).

If there is a weakness to Bodies, it may be the lyrics. While vocalist Davey Havok has amassed a legion of fans with his poetic and grim verses over the years, Bodies’ are more vague than usual and lack the flare of presentation that could offset that. Havok, meanwhile, delivers a stellar performance, even if some of his vocal experimentation doesn’t always land (“Dulceria”).

Bodies works on a theme of robust romanticism and the destruction of self from obsessing over lust and beauty. At once hyper sexualized, such as “On Your Back” (“I want to tell you, but I know I’ve said too much / About the history, about the signs / You’ve opened on your thighs, so they may speak your mind upon love”), Bodies finds its footing in the rejection of romance. 

“Looking Tragic” has Havok exploring sexual frustration against a gorgeous guitar riff (“This may be boring / Is it less than a total mess? / In a minute this may turn sour, if we last”), while “Death of the Party” explores the loss felt from someone leaving the relationship after the narrator had used them (“Where, oh where, did you last see her? / She was right there soaking in black fur”).

“No Eyes” explores the loss of someone by focusing on her mascara (“Every blush behind the lines, every cooly spoken line / Reminding me that you aren’t mine”) over a frantic punk riff. Closing song “Tied to a Tree” offers the most poetic verse on the album, laid against a near offensive sounding acoustic guitar as Havok reflects on how his obsession with lust and beauty has lead to utter ruin, and he finds himself alone by his own doing (“Where we used to meet / To see how good you look / In my dying light”). Bodies is arguably the biggest risk AFI have taken in a long time. While the experimentation to their sound and style doesn’t always work as well as it should, it’s a welcome endeavor for a band this deep into their storied career. The fact that Bodies somehow sounds utterly foreign and yet distinctly AFI is a testament to the skill of songwriting, even at its weakest.

3.5/5

Photo by Jacob Boll

by Kyle Schultz

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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 accidentally walked into the middle of six people fighting each other because he was really into his audiobook.