Review: Senses Fail – If There Is Light, It Will Find You

There is a true rage on If There Is Light, It Will Find You, the new album from Senses Fail, that can only manifest with age. Eighteen-year-olds can scream all they want, but they haven’t lived life long enough to see everything truly collapse yet. The demons haunting Buddy Nielsen, lead vocalist, and the album’s writer, are the type that inspire not only true art, but also unconditional emotional failure. Coming out on the other side of these issues is what gives If There Is Light such a powerful message that few bands can mimic.

You can buy If There Is Light, It Will Find You on Bandcamp.

I won’t claim to be a big Senses Fail fan, but I know the essence of their sound and the horror tinged lyrics that accompanied many of their early albums. I also know of the Drive-Thru Records pop elements that fused into their hardcore edge. As the first album from the band written entirely by Nielsen, If There Is Light captures the sound of Senses Fail and puts me in the mind of what the band were hoping to achieve on their debut LP, Let It Enfold You.

The guitars thrash with heavy power chords and hard pop, reminiscent of The Movielife. However, rather than forcing the harder edge of mid-career Senses Fail, Nielsen relies on the pop element to lift the songs to catchier highs and sharper hooks. A few Queen-inspired guitar solos help lift the spirit of the music from time to time, too.

The poppier elements are a juxtaposition against the darker lyrics that also shows the light beaming through the nightmares. Rather than rely on lyrical screaming, Nielsen’s clean vocals are more than enough to communicate the depth of the real-life horror of this album, as well as how thankful he is to be on the other side.

One of the recurring themes of If There Is Light, is that Nielsen is one of the few his age still relying on music. At this point in my 30s, everyone I grew up with listening to the same music has abandoned listening to it, much less still performing. “Double Cross” finds Nielsen reminiscing about the passion he shared with others while singing from the stage, but now age has made them jaded.

“Is It Gonna Be The Year?” may be one of the most open songs pop punk has ever seen. Nielsen is split between wanting to pursue music forever even as his peers fall away, and the realization that maturity kills the genre. It’s genuinely a stab to the heart to hear him shout, “I never thought that it would last this long / And neither did the others, that’s why they’re all gone / When is it time to give it up, and how long is long enough? / And when should I throw it in, cause I don’t wanna be a washed up old man”.

But where the theme of the album finds its truth is in the songs clearly dedicated to Nielsen’s wife. “First Breath, Last Breath” is a true hell, as it tells the story of watching his wife almost die during childbirth. The guitars chug slowly, letting every note bleed as Buddy sings, “I have never felt so crushed / The sadness buried in my bones / How the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter on my own?” Following later on is quick burner, “Orlando And A Miscarriage”, which seems to be a title that needs no explanation, as the pain that flows from it is visceral.

However, knowing that she survived, “You Get So Alone At Times It Just Makes Sense” is a glorious redemption. The music blasts as Buddy praises her for giving him the strength to keep moving. It’s playful (“I love the way that you don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks / And I’m trying so hard to think like that / but I’m the singer in a fucking band and I’m still neurotic as shit”), and a confession of true love (“All my life I’ve waited to kiss your perfect face / Into the darkest night I’ll take you by my side”).

What makes If There Is Light so redeeming is that each song, and each theme has a callback. For each song that fears being the aging punk, he rallies the troops of youth in a rage against the government (“Gold Jacket, Green Jacket…”) or relishes the memories of Saves The Day from 12 years ago (“Stay What You Are”). For each song about potentially losing his wife, he sings her praises for making him stronger. For all of the darkness swirling across the album, closer “If There Is Light, It Will Find You” ends with a note of hope, as the last lyrics of the entire album are, “Don’t be afraid”.

If There Is Light, It Will Find You is a heartbreaking experience. It’s also something so real and terrifying, the horror pop lyrics of early Senses Fail seems childish in comparison. The poppier aspects of the album may turn off fans hoping for a harder edge, but this is a masterpiece considering it was written by Buddy Nielsen alone. I can’t claim to have any idea of where it will stand in the band’s discography, but it is an album everyone should experience. You’ll be thankful once you’re on the other side. Cheers.

4.5/5

Photo Credit: Tyler Ross

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 discovered Senses Fail moments before he discovered The Early November, one of his all-time favorite bands. He also saw Senses Fail open for Saves The Day, another of his all-time favorite bands. It took over 15 years, but he is finally in love with Senses Fail without overshadowing them with something else. Please throw apples at his temples if you see him.

Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties: You Only Know Half the Story…

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Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a unique entity in the music scene. There are thousands of bands that tell stories on their records, but few that follow those stories through until we have something of substance. Aaron West, the side project of The Wonder Years frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell, is an emotional catastrophe. It tells a story about a broken man so earnestly that you would almost think that ‘Dan Campbell’ is the fake name of Aaron West, trying his best to hide amongst the living.

I knew that Aaron West was a passion project for Campbell, but until I saw his blistering set at the Subterranean in Chicago, I had no idea that listening to the record was only half of the story.

The Subterranean is a small venue by Chicago standards; hidden under the incredibly noisy Blue Line ‘L’ Train and tucked in the side of a building at a six-point intersection. It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and with so much traffic and congestion, the area can get dirty very quickly. The dark rooms are just big enough to fill up smaller shows and create a sense that the room is bigger and fuller than it really is. The entire venue feels like a cheap secret, and it’s the exact kind of place that you would imagine Aaron West, a man broken, alone and clawing his way home, to hide out and play music for money.

Before the show, I found Campbell hanging out near his merch table, posing for photos and signing anything tossed in front of him, a fact I know because I tossed the Aaron West Vinyl in front of him. As he disappeared, I looked down at the signature, taken aback at the fact that Campbell had signed it “A. West”. It didn’t bother me, but it was the first inkling to Campbell’s commitment to the character, and that this concert would be far different than I had expected it.

The show was a smooth collective of rowdy up-and-coming punk, followed by the soulful intimate songs of Allison Weiss. Cold Collective, a mashup of musicians from previously well-known bands such as Transit and Defeater, led the charge. Their songs were that of short, sweet punk rock with a twinge of Nirvana’s edge to the guitar with a hard, crisp bassline. It seemed clear that their debut album had been out for less than a month by the people singing along, but for a band taking the stage at 6:30 (I know, right?), the crowd that showed up to see them was large, even by Subterranean standards.

Taking the stage next was Can’t Swim, a newer melodic band signed to Pure Noise Records. Their songs caught my attention, as the guitars swayed between a hefty crunch to various tempo changes that reminded me of a mix of a young Early November and Set Your Goals. Vocalist Chris Loporto’s voice ached with an edge not unlike Polar Bear Club’s Jimmy Stadt. Each song garnered a louder round of applause until they made their exit, taking the noise with them up the dark spiral staircase behind the stage.

After an hour of loud, aggressive punk rock, it seemed odd that Allison Weiss should take the stage next. An indie artist more than a staple to the pop punk scene, Allison stood alone on an empty stage with one electric guitar plugged into an amp. With the drum kit removed entirely, the stage suddenly looked enormous. For anyone else, it could have been a disaster to suddenly change the vibe of the room and be left alone without even a backing band to cover you.

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Allison Weiss

Weiss has slipped through my attention for several years; not because I didn’t want to listen to her, but I always had something else to do. It led to me knowing her name and what she did, but not enough to know any of her songs. However, after the first song, I knew that she was indisputably the most talented musician of the night.

Weiss tore down the room with beautiful songwriting, pure vocals and quick strums of the guitar. As someone unfamiliar with her albums, I already know that seeing her live is the way she is meant to be appreciated. Her witty banter with the audience between songs as she tuned the guitar only added to her charm, even as she covered (I believe) “Call It Off” by Tegan and Sara. “New Love” included an energetic chorus shouted by the audience and ended with a song for the LGBT community, “The Same”. For one person standing alone on stage, her show became louder inch by inch and she crooned into the melting mic, gaining at least one new rabid fan.

Headlining the night was Aaron West. As he took the stage, I no longer saw Dan Campbell – he had committed to the character of Aaron completely. The usual energetic and fierce Campbell that I have seen several times at The Wonder Years shows was replaced by a nervous-talking creep. He was wearing a different shirt than I had seen him in earlier, and possibly wearing a very, very realistic fake beard (I say that because I met him earlier in the night and would swear to the Jeezy Creezy his beard wasn’t that long, but I’m half-a-creep as well, so take that with some healthy skepticism). This was Aaron West, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar and a few bright lights, telling his story.

Aaron played his debut LP, We Don’t Have Each Other front-to-back, in order, with the addition of the newly released Bittersweet EP finishing off the set. Under other circumstances, I would be disappointed with an artist just playing their songs like this, as concerts are usually a means to play with the setlist and find which tracks mesh well together. But Aaron West is a different entity. He is a broken man desperate to tell his story to anyone willing to listen, and there is no other order than this one.

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Aaron West

West’s songs are deeply depressing affairs – the opening song, “Our Apartment”, a song about West losing his mind as he sits alone after his wife leaves him, wondering where she went, was sung from the rafters by the crowd. Half way through, I looked to my left to see a woman holding her husband’s hand, wiping away a stream of tears, a process she would repeat several times throughout the night.

Between songs, a twitchy, Aaron would explain the storyline, where he was geographically and what was going through his head before each song. It gave even more insight into a story that is already extraordinarily detailed.

Before my personal favorite, “St. Joe Keeps Us Safe”, West explained, “When I was in kindergarten, I went to a Catholic school, and they told us that there were 10 commandments. It always blew my mind that there was a specific amount, not nine, or 269, but 10. And one of them was (and I’m going to fuck this up), ‘Thou shalt worship no false idols.’ But my mom kept these small statues of saints throughout our house. One facing the doorway to make sure we had enough food, stuff like that. And she buried a statue of St. Joe in the backyard to keep us safe. She was so devout, and it blew my mind that she was blatantly ignoring one of the 10 rules that we were supposed to strictly follow.”

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Aaron West

Aaron West has been an obsession of mine ever since the debut LP came out two years ago. The intense lyricism, the strong storyline, and the mix between aggressive singing and whispered crooning, as though Campbell found himself nearly in tears recording the damn thing, have always been something powerful for me. But seeing him live, I realized I was only seeing half the show. The other part was the dedicated performance piece, showing someone who has already found their bottom time and time again as they tried to get home. The nervous voice between songs and the twitchy movements may be that of a broken man, but he also showed the resolve of someone determined to fix themselves.

That said, the entire evening wasn’t all doom and gloom: a couple got on stage for the man to propose to a girl (she said yes, btw), to which West said, “”Have you even listened to the record, man?” However, following the proposal, instead of jumping straight back into Aaron’s dire straits, he performed a cover of Rilo Kiley’s “More Adventurous”.

Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is an event that should be seen if it’s even remotely near you. Dan Campbell has proven himself not only as a musician, but as a writer and performance artist that would make Gerard Way jealous. Once again, though, Aaron West finds himself at a crossroads: with just one LP and one EP, he can tell his story as it was intended up through where he is now, and it is perfect. But as someone clamoring for the next part of the story, he may soon have to pick and choose which parts to tell. Even so, I can’t wait to hear how it ends.

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 anxious for the next chapter of Aaron West, whenever that may be. Two years is a long wait 😦

 

Review: Hit The Lights – Summer Bones

 

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Summer Bones caught me completely off guard. I haven’t even heard a Hit The Lights song for the better part of a decade (“Three Oh Nine”, baby!) and didn’t know what I would be walking into. I can’t say that I expected a highly polished pummeling of heavy pop punk lessons on each high in the genre. Summer Bones has every element of what I want from a classic pop punk record,  impressive musicianship on the part of every member and high octane, memorable songs that guarantee to be blasting from my stereo for years to come. For those wanting a brutal jam, you’ve found it.

Let’s get this out of the way – the album is amazing. For what it lacks in length (just passes the twenty-five minute mark) is makes up for by cutting away all the filler and ripping through high energy punk rock with a fire the Ramones would be proud of. Each song sounds necessary and thoroughly written, despite a majority of the ten songs hovering around the ‘2:30’ mark by plus or minus a few seconds. Summer Bones is fast, brutal and created specifically to completely dominate summer festivals.

Guitarists Omar Zehery and Kevin Mahoney absolutely own the record. They’re overwhelmingly the dominant focus of the music and are just captivatingly brilliant. The guitars are memorable in a way that is hard to replicate in pop punk, considering that the music consists of blistering walls of power chords and easycore style breakdowns (“The Real”).

Bassist David Bermosk adds a much needed depth to the guitar that boosts the effect of layering to make them sound much thicker and possibly heavier than they really are (“Life On the Bottom”). The sound of the guitar wouldn’t exist without him. Nate Van Damme’s drumming is impeccable and brutal, reminding me stylistically of New Found Glory’s Cyrus Bolooki, which I hope is as good of a compliment as I mean it to be.

Nick Thompson’s vocals are killer. He presses his range and strength throughout the album multiple times, always to great results. It’s the type of singing that reminds me of hearing FOB’s Patrick Stump for the first time when you never realized his full range. Thompson impresses almost straight out of the gate (“Fucked Up Kids”). On top of it all, each song is easily ready to be memorized for proper sing-a-longs by a bouncing crowd.

Thematically, Summer Bones is brutal. It’s an angsty pop punk ‘bro-down’ ready to start a fight and reminisce about older times. Thompson belts out war cries like, “For every night I slept myself sick wondering what I did / This is goodbye, I hope you fucking choke on it” over crisp guitars (“No Filter”), or the honest musings of, “Every inadvertently fostering controversy / A trait of mine it seems, to laugh at all the darker sides of things / Never been one to miss out when contention comes around / I find myself at peace while those around me ask how I could be” from “Blasphemy, Myself and I”.

While the album has all of the thematic anthems of pop punk, that’s unfortunately all there really is. The lyrics do little to delve deeper than surface level, and can sometimes feel a bit forced for glamor points (“But we burn the brightest during the night shift / Hanging with New York’s finest / So when the bars close and everyone goes home, we don’t go” from “Fucked Up Kids”) or childish (“I’ll drop you like a ton of bricks”).

For me, Summer Bones is a classic record. It has everything that makes it memorable to my taste and will be put to good use throughout the summer for myself and anyone within several hundred feet of my speakers. The only problem I have with this record is that I feel like I’ve heard it all before. Parts of songs sound too similar to bands like New Found Glory (“Revolutions Executions”) or Four Year Strong (“The Real”). Thompson’s vocals sometimes delve to sound like other vocalists accidentally, like the twinge of Coheed’s Claudio Sanchez (“Life on the Bottom”). It feels like the best influences of other bands made their way into the songs every now and then, which will either distract listeners or delight them with the props given to influences.

Summer Bones is an album designed to dominate the season and deafen anyone nearby. For anyone wanting the energy, there’s little else to ask for. For people hoping for a deeper dive into the sound of the band’s previous release, Invicta, you may be disappointed. Hit The Lights blew me away. Maybe I’m just a sucker for heavy pop punk, or this crafts pop punk a little too closely to a ‘paint-by-number’ formula of inspiration, but this is an album I will remember for a very long time.

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 can’t believe he never gave Hit The Lights a chance. THE FOOL!