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.

Review: Marina – Ancient Dream in a Modern Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy

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

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You can buy or stream Scaled and Icy on Apple Music

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

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

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

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

3/5

by Nadia Alves

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

Review: Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

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

You can buy or stream SOUR on Apple Music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

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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 killed a spider with such vigor that he broke his broom in half. He’s pretty strong. Tell your friends.

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

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

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over the Country Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5

by Nadia Alves

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