Review: Graduating Life – II

Every now and then, an album shocks you by how much you enjoy it. Graduating Life is undoubtedly a beast of creativity, making music unlike almost any other artist at the moment. Emotional, erratic and utterly brilliant, II is the type of record that comes around rarely and isn’t appreciated until years after release.

You can buy or stream II on Apple Music.

Despite how distinct II sounds, it is undoubtedly and reassuringly familiar. It’s impossible not to compare Graduating Life, the project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, to Max Bemis and Say Anything‘s Is A Real Boy…, or elements of Jeff Rosenstock. Thompson even sounds like Bemis, straight from the clean vocals to the screams. On more than one occasion, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t actually listening to Say Anything. While that may sound like a dig at Thompson, I was utterly enthralled by II and how a tempo change thrown into the middle of a song sounded so refreshing, or how much I wanted to fist pump the air on a crowded train.

Thompson proves himself an incredible talent, shredding pop punk riffs that incorporate elements from many areas of punk. Songs jump in tempo (“Crushed & Smothered”) without warning, and slam from piano and acoustic melodies to jarring punk riffs (“Photo Album”), but it never sounds incohesive. And somewhere in the middle are ample amounts of guitar solos that seem to appear right when you hope they will (“Fine”).

The poetic lyrics tell a tale of battling one’s inner demons, and wrestling with stagnation and ego while the people close to you move on to other things, come better or worse.

Album opener “Photo Album” sets the tone by reflecting on a life of difficulty in letting go of those around you (“So they will move and you will stay / The afterlife Seattle rain / It’s getting harder every single day / You’ll make new friends and settle in / Or cry alone like we were kids”).

Alt rock jam “Let’s Make A Scene” finds Thompson in conflict and losing someone close to him who has decided to not to live with him anymore (“Let’s makе a scene just you and me / I was never asking for more than your company / Oh your company, a friend by my side / And in this apartment I feel alive”).

Meanwhile, “Black Skinny Jeans” calls out trolls online who spout nothing but contempt (“And I read the messages that ya sent / Bet you never thought that I’d read them / Goodbye get to leaving”) with Thompson comparing the experience to going to his old home and watching how it’s changed since be became an adult (“I went to my old house to see if it’s the same / I guess they took the trees out but left on the paint”).

II somehow simultaneously treads familiar ground and seems to innovate a genre with the energy it has missed in the last couple of years. Despite the fact that it sounds like the sequel to Is A Real Boy… that Max Bemis never wrote, Bart Thompson manages to infuse enough of himself into the album to keep it from feeling like rehashed territory or a copycat. 

Graduating Life has managed to create something incredible and hypnotic that sounds utterly inspired by a scene staple, but brimming with its own life and energy.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_cat

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 has just recently begun to accept the existence of tomatoes.

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

kyle_cat

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.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Weezer Become Kings of Rock

It can be tough being a Weezer fan sometimes. While they have some of the best rock albums of all time, there is a considerable amount that are not as good (looking at you, Black Album). However, the imminent release of Van Weezer and the rescheduled Hell Mega Tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy seems like a ripe time for the return of the glory days of Weezer’s guitar-heavy rock music.

Despite the clear inspiration of Van Halen on their sleeves, the singles released from Van Weezer offer a haunting return to the glorious “rock god” status of past albums. Lead single “The End of the Game” somehow uses a Van Halen-esque opening guitar riff to call back to the sound of past Weezer albums like The Green Album and Maladroit. 

If the rest of the album can maintain the energy and writing of the singles released so far, Van Weezer may be the best album the band has released in years. Weezer take a lot of big swings in their career, and while not all of them land, it’s always worth seeing what they’re doing. When one of their swings is purely to rile their fanbase into a moshing frenzy, it’s a moment that demands that fans remember just how high Weezer tower over the genre.

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 staring deep into the eyes of a pinecone owl.

Most Anticipated of 2021: AFI Step Out of the Shadows

After a decade of almost yearly releases of some type, it would be reasonable to expect AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget to run out of ideas at some point. However, since it has been two years since AFI’s last new music, the duo’s main band was due for a release. With the arrival of the new year, the band have already released a statement that new music was on the way.

With the four year mark approaching since the release of AFI’s last album proper, AFI (The Blood Album), the group has taken one of the longest breaks between record releases since 2009, with only 2018’s stellar The Missing Man EP tiding fans over in the meantime. However, Havok has expanded his songwriting considerably since The Blood Album, having released Dreamcar’s debut album and two Blaqk Audio albums in the meantime.

Each new album over the last decade has somehow managed to expand AFI’s sound while simultaneously reverberating the dark punk aesthetic that launched the group into cult superstars. But with each new album carrying the air of a unique style and theme, the time between albums has given the band ample time to deliver once again.

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 ate what can only be described as “too much ghost pepper queso.”….. or not enough?

Review: Goldfinger – Never Look Back

This year has been a surprisingly busy one for Goldfinger. During the early days of the pandemic, the band released a series of re-recordings of their favorite hits from separate locations, which became a shockingly well-received reprieve from the dark times of quarantine. Never Look Back, the band’s new album, launches directly from the momentum of those videos, creating a quasi “best of” in terms of sound by incorporating every grand element of the band’s discography into an elegantly written punk rock album. 

You can buy or stream Never Look Back on Apple Music.

Never Look Back feels like a ‘classic’ Goldfinger album as much as it does a modern punk record. Each track sizzles with raging guitar riffs that, more often than not, incorporates ska into most of the album. For an album steeped in the essence of the past, it sounds incredibly fresh in 2020. Comprised of a semi supergroup, Goldfinger simply sound better than they ever have. 

Songwriter and singer John Feldmann sounds incredible, pushing his vocals from chorus to chorus and carrying a melodic monotone through most verses that have helped define the band. MXPX frontman Mike Herrera settles in once again as bassist, shifting from blistering punk tracks and backup singer (“Good Guy”) to smooth ska rhythms (“The Best Life”). Guitarists Philip Sneed and original Goldfinger member Charlie Paulson rage through tracks, crafting some of the best songs in the band’s career (“Cannonball”, “The City”). Drummer Nick Gross keeps percussion running between genres, picking up seamlessly after Travis Barker‘s run on the band’s last album. 

Despite the title, Never Look Back revels in reflection. Sonically, the album reverts to Goldfinger’s early records, reinvigorating the ska elements and leaning heavily into the pop punk elements of more recent albums. Lyrically, the album settles into the tried-and-true concepts of failed relationships and energetically addressing grievances (“Nothing To Me”). Don’t expect Never Look Back to have a message that will make you think too hard. Instead, it will have you fist pumping to elegantly simple choruses primed for swirling mosh pits.

Opening track “Infinite” explores the pull Feldmann feels producing for seemingly every pop punk band in existence balanced against the expectations set on Goldfinger as one of the few remaining genre bands from the late 90’s (“Save yourself from me / Cause I’m about to change, about to break / Cause everybody wants me to be somebody else”). The song also gives Charlie Paulson and Mike Herrera a chance to take lead vocals on a verse each. 

Lead single “Wallflower”, one of the few positive songs on the album, is a reflection on Feldmann’s wife and plays out as a California love story, complete with an extravagant horn section (“It’s only getting better / Since the day I met her, she wears my sweater / In California weather”).

The nostalgic-named “Golden Days” sounds like a Less Than Jake track from the early 2000’s, reflecting on the lost days of youth and looking fearlessly ahead toward lifelong dreams (“Whatever happened to the golden days? / Whatever happened to the plans we made? / Whatever happened to the late night drives, there was nothing to hide”).

Never Look Back is the type of throwback album 2020 was primed for. Bursting with punk energy and the dance ethics of third-wave ska, the album manages to make the listener feel good despite the angry themes found from song to song. Personifying the frustrations of the year through relationships and reflecting on older, enjoyable times, Never Look Back maintains classic sensibilities through a modern lens. Goldfinger sound more energized than ever, and ready to command a thrilling live presence when shows become a thing again.

4/5

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 still has a pound of gummi bears to eat despite snacking on them all week. Why would he buy this many gummi bears?!

Reflecting On: MxPx – The Ever Passing Moment

The first MxPx release to catch my ear wasn’t a studio album. In the summer of 1999, the band released At the Show, a 21-track live album coming on the heels of an unprecedented run of solid gold pop punk – literally. Life in General firmly legitimized the band in 1996 before 1998’s Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo was certified gold, followed by Let it Happen, one of the greatest collections of B-sides the genre has seen. The skate punk kids from Bremerton had arrived.

You can buy or stream The Ever Passing Moment on Apple Music.

At the Show introduced me to the band and served as a primer on their greatest hits. Even now, when the studio version “Chick Magnet” comes on, I sing along with the vocals of Mike Herrera’s much looser and more playful live rendition. It’s probably no surprise then that 2000’s The Ever Passing Moment is my favorite MxPx album. It was the first one to release after I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with the band.

It is now 20 years old, which almost seems impossible.

You can have a lot of fun debates about which MxPx album is the best because there really aren’t any bad ones. And while I’ve always conceded that Life in General stands at the front of the pack, it’s never held the same place in my heart. The Ever Passing Moment finds the band at the top of their game with nothing to prove. Free from their divorce from Tooth & Nail Records, MxPx seemed to spread their wings on A&M – three years later, they would release their most commercial album to date with Before Everything & After.

Almost every one of the album’s 15 tracks clocks in at under 3 minutes, and each flexes the band’s most impressive muscle – fast-paced, left coast punk rawk. The Ever Passing Moment breezes by effortlessly, which is probably why I’ve played it so relentlessly over the years that I know every beat and turn like the back of my hand. Not to mention the litany of memorable moments that reside in MxPx lore, from the stomping chorus of “Responsibility” to Dave Grohl’s scream of “One, two, three, go!” at the start of “The Next Big Thing”.

Because the album is so solid from front to back, it takes the pressure off the singles to carry two decades’ worth of weight. I’ve always found unsung tracks like “Two Whole Years”, “Foolish”, “Answer in the Question”, and “Unsaid” to be just as fun, energetic, and memorable as anything in the band’s catalogue. And truly, that’s how you end up talking about an album 20 years later – it has to be an album worth talking about.

As the pop punk genre took off into the mainstream at the start of the new century, MxPx began their transition to a band of legacy. To date, the band has released five more full-length albums since The Ever Passing Moment, each worthy of celebration, even if they didn’t hold quite the same level of influence. No matter. A large majority of the onslaught of pop punk’s new wave could trace their lineage back to MxPx. 

If Life in General was the album that made a new generation of punks want to pick up a guitar, The Ever Passing Moment was the album that served as the definitive playbook for pop punk excellence.

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: The Bombpops – Death In Venice Beach

The Bombpops have always been a band that I should be in love with. Raging guitars, dual female vocals, and slick Drive-Thru Records pop sensationalism sound like keys to success. However, the band’s first album, Fear of Missing Out (2017) never quite clicked with its songs about partying in California. What that album lacked was the acknowledgment of the hangover the next day (with exception to the references to shitting your pants in “I Can’t”). That’s why their sophomore effort, Death In Venice Beach feels so vividly refreshing as a follow up. Facing the consequences of punishing your body and mind, the dark side of alcoholism and tying it together with troubled romance, Death in Venice Beach is the album The Bombpops were always meant to write.

You can buy or stream Death in Venice Beach on Apple Music.

Vocalists and guitarists Jen Razavi and Poli van Dam cruise through each song with surprising executions of pop melodies while maintaining an almost monotone punk sneer similar to Bad Religion (“Can’t Come Clean”). They hoist a devastating wall of noise and thrilling guitar work that sounds equal parts flashy, buzzy and infectious (“Notre Dame”). Bassist Neil Wayne weaves incredible bass lines throughout every song that really stand out due to stellar production (“Sad To Me”). Drummer Josh Lewis excels at the style of punk rock percussion that helped me fall in love with the genre in the first place (“13 Stories Down”).

Death In Venice Beach really shines in the small details that show the aftermath of living hard, and dealing with life unraveling around you. The destructive alcoholism is a prominent theme that filters throughout the album. “Can’t Come Clean” is a rager that admits the fault in starting drunken fights and the shame that follows after sobering up. Audio of an argument where one of the band members threatens to quit plays at the start, making lyrics such as, “I’m always posting things on the internet / And if I ever read the bullshit, it makes me regret everything / That’s why I can’t come clean,” even more pronounced.

Rock bottom appears during “13 Stories Down” with the vivid descriptions of isolation due to alcoholism, a relationship that keeps pushing the situation, and admitting that this lifestyle will end up killing them. It’s a heartbreaking song boosted by an uplifting pop tempo and soaring bass (“Home alone cuz once again / I’ve been ditched by all my so-called friends / There’s nothing left but pull that bottle off the shelf / And catalog my worst regrets…”).

“Double Arrows Down”, a terrifying tale of passing out in a gas station from complications with diabetes, is equal parts remorseful and rage at the condition. “There’s days I wanna close my eyes and never wake up to my numbers high / Just lay there until all I read is low / … / This needle’s wearing thin and there’s no end”.

Thankfully, not every song is so massively heavy. “Sad To Me”, a pop punk essential in the vein of an early track from The Starting Line, is primed to be a live show defining number. “Notre Dame” compares a toxic relationship to watching the famed cathedral burn by wondering how after all the time it took to build up something sacred, it just ends in destruction.

Death In Venice Beach isn’t as coherent as it could be given the amount of topics covered from song to song, but it is a thrilling collection of stories woven together. It acts as a perfect counterbalance to the issues found on Fear of Missing Out and makes The Bombpops are an absolute force to be reckoned with in the punk scene. With stellar craftsmanship, writing and production, Death in Venice Beach is an album that should be talked about up until the release of The Bombpops’ next album.

4/5

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 smells of sweet, delicious scones.

Most Anticipated Music of 2020: The Interrupters Become the Title Holder

The Interrupters have slowly become the most famous band no one has heard of. Early in 2019, I discovered their album Fight The Good Fight (2018), after it had been out for almost a full year. Not only did this album set off a four-month spree of listening to nearly nonstop ska music, I also found out that I was the last person to discover them. Friends who don’t even listen to music were fans, teaching their children to sing along to songs like “Title Holder” and “She’s Kerosene”.

In the two years since the release of their third album, The Interrupters have made a brazen name for themselves. Their brand of music is reminiscent of the golden age of ska punk from the early 90’s, especially with the backing and blessing of Rancid’s Tim Armstrong.

In 2020, The Interrupters are opening for Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer on The Hella Mega Tour. As the flag bearers of a modern take on classic punk music, The Interrupters are in a prime spot to capture the attention of the last few people who have yet to fall in love with them. If their next album captures even half of the magic of Fight The Good Fight, The Interrupters will have released two of the best rock albums in recent memory.

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 somehow got chocolate….. just… EVERYWHERE. Who gets chocolate on a TV screen?! He wasn’t even near it! Did it teleport there or did he blackout during an onset of of “brownie madness” and try to pet Tina Belcher’s cheek?! The world is weird.

Review: Blink-182 – Nine

Blink-182 were my first musical love. Over 20 years later, I remember hearing “What’s My Age Again?” for the first time, and the shockwave that it sent through my life, as well as the aftershock of obsession with pop punk. As Blink-182 continue to forge their second identity, it’s easier to see who they are and where they are going. If California (2016) was meant to reassure fans that they were the same band fans fell in love with, Nine is the album that reassures us that Blink-182 aren’t ready to settle on the merits of their past.

You can buy or stream Nine on Apple Music.

What stands out the most about Nine isn’t the new ground that it forges, but how it reaffirms what they have already done. If there is any of Blink’s past albums that this most resembles, it is the often neglected Neighborhoods (2011). Much like their first comeback album, Blink-182 are still searching for an identity years after creating a bedrock for the modern pop punk genre. As much as it takes a step forwards to test the boundaries of modern rock, Nine takes just as many backwards.

Nine suffers from an identity crisis. While a song like “The First Time” calls back to staples such as “Feeling This”, others such as “Happy Days” reflects the mediocrity of rock, and “Run Away” attempts to find a middle ground. Nine isn’t a bad album, it just doesn’t know what direction to lean into. Years after adding Matt Skiba as a permanent member, Blink-182 somehow sound less cohesive than ever. Some songs sound like they were included as an excuse to show off Travis Barker’s insane drumming (“I Really Wish I Hated You”).

Where Nine shines is how well it melds the legacy of Mark Hoppus’ high marks with the new sounds the band have forged over the last few years. “Heaven” provides Hoppus the chance to shout one of the catchiest choruses on the album, or meld so effortlessly into the anthemic verse and chorus sing-a-long of “Blame It On My Youth”. The signature pop of his bass is refreshing to hear, like seeing a family member again after a long time (“Happy Days”).

The effort Matt Skiba unleashes is astonishing on this album. Skiba manages to somehow make his guitar parts sound reminiscent of Tom DeLonge’s crisp style while still creating a sound different than that and of his work in Alkaline Trio (“No Heart to Speak Of”). However, while his vocals are amazing, Nine attempts to cut the difference between him and DeLonge by adding filters over many of his singing parts. These help bridge the gap between Skiba and DeLonge’s vocal pitches, but do not allow Skiba to shine through the way he should given how powerful of a singer he is.

Drummer Travis Barker erupts through each song, as he should, given he is one of the best drummers currently working and Blink-182’s long-time secret weapon. Oftentimes, Nine feels like it is designed around letting Barker shine through more than anything (“Black Rain”). Barker never stops moving and elevates what would otherwise be a mediocre rock song to become something great (“Blame It On My Youth”).

In many ways, Nine feels like a second attempt to make Neighborhoods, complete with a sequel to “Heart’s All Gone” (“No Heart To Speak Of”). Nine is catchy, fast, and melds rock with R&B drumming in a way that seems to stem directly from the Self-Titled (2003) album, but with less cohesion. Where a song like “Black Rain” pushes Blink-182 to the brink by relying on a post-punk guitar riff and near-EDM style drumming, a song such as “Hungover You” relies on tired guitar heavy choruses and lazy vocals to push it to the finish line. However, something like “On Some Emo Shit” works brilliantly by being a callback to songs from the early 2000’s, complete with a guitar solo pulled straight out of a Get Up Kids song.

Blink-182 have never been known for the weight of their lyrics, but rather for the precise catchiness of them. A Blink-182 song should make you want to sing every time you hear it, no matter what the words may be. In that regard, Nine succeeds in spades. However, if there is one song that actually says something of significance, it is the single “Blame It On My Youth”. Hoppus and Skiba reflect on the path that led them to be who they are today (“I was raised on a rerun / I was bored to death, so I started a band / Cut my teeth on a safety dance / My attention span never stood a chance”).

Other times, small lyrics cut canyons the longer you listen to them. This is especially prominent in “Generational Divide”, which uses about 30 unique words over 49 seconds of raging guitars and drums (“Are we better, are we better now?”).

Nine sees Hoppus, Skiba, and Barker testing the waters of what they want to be as a band and how deep Blink-182 fans can swim. The album pushes boundaries beyond past releases, but still settles in patches that feel far too safe. The combined talents of Blink-182 have earned the right to push themselves and forge new ground. However, Nine finds only hints of what is possible. Much like Neighborhoods, it faces the possibility that it will be forgotten in the shadow of brilliance of whatever follows it.

3/5

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 loves The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yeah, he said it and he’ll say it again to your mother.

Podcast: Talking Emo Music with Author Taylor Markarian

On the latest It’s All Dead podcast episode, Kiel Hauck is joined by Taylor Markarian, author of “From the Basement: A History of Emo Music and How it Changed Society”. Taylor has written for publications like Alternative Press, Kerrang, and Revolver and also served as an intern at Epitaph Records. Her new book explores the cultural, social, and psychological factors surrounding emo and indie music. On the podcast, Taylor shares about her years growing up in the New Jersey punk and emo scene and the importance of music in mental health. Take a listen!

Subscribe to our podcast here.

Like what you heard from Taylor? Pre-order her book on Amazon.

Posted by Kiel Hauck