Review: Taylor Swift – Lover

Photo by Valheria Rocha

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

You can buy or stream Lover on Apple Music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and literally just spilled an ENTIRE cup of water across the ENTIRE kitchen floor in an attempt to keep the cat from doing just that. Please send him towels.

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Most Anticipated of 2019: #10 The Weeknd Keeps Us on Our Toes

Last year saw the music of The Weeknd take a stark turn. The dark, moody vibe of My Dear Melancholy shirked the celebratory pop vibes of Starboy in favor of the sounds that made Abel Tesfaye’s early mixtapes such an underground success. Personally, Melancholy was an unexpected treat, with my own tastes leaning more in the direction of the experimental alternative R&B that has made the Canadian singer such a unique outlier compared to his peers.

Nevertheless, The Weeknd is back in the studio working on a new full-length album, tentatively titled Chapter VI. Tesfaye has hinted that Melancholy was a necessary exorcising of hard feelings and that his new music would move back in a more positive direction. Whatever the case, The Weeknd has proved his ability to make music that fits the vibe of both dark, smoky clubs and explosive, ear-rattling arenas.

The Weeknd’s continuing ability to shape-shift, keeping listeners on their toes while using his signature croon to match any mood has made him one of the most essential pop artists of the decade.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Weeknd Sets New Streaming Record with “My Dear Melancholy,”

Amidst all of the release buzz over the past few weeks, we’d be remiss not to mention The Weeknd’s surprise EP My Dear Melancholy,. Arriving on streaming services on March 30, the release has scored the largest EP streaming debut of all time and provides The Weeknd with his third consecutive No. 1 Album on the Billboard 200 chart.

My Dear Melancholy, strips away the celebratory pop vibe of 2016’s Starboy and returns to the darker vibes found on Beauty Behind the Madness. Melancholy is a cohesive set of six tracks, intertwined with pain and self-loathing that feels familiar. Whether it’s ground you want to retread with the bleary-eyed singer is of personal preference. For me, it’s a welcome return to form – especially in moments like the sultry, crooning chorus of lead single “Call Out My Name”.

Next up for The Weeknd is Coachella 2018 – and with any luck, another tour and potentially a full album will follow. In the meantime, the new EP will be available for purchase on April 13.

What’s your favorite track on My Dear Melancholy,? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Craig Owens Takes the Stage as badXchannels

badxchannels-splash

The small stage at the Emerson Theater in Indianapolis looks slightly bigger than normal as Craig Owens walks into the spotlight. On this evening, the proclaimed frontman of post-hardcore fame is not flanked by flailing guitarists or even a drummer. Unaccompanied, Owens takes the stage for the first time as badXchannels, his latest solo persona.

It’s the night before the release of WHYDFML, his R&B influenced debut EP, and it’s difficult to gauge expectations. Owens has rarely failed to produce quality music, regardless of those surrounding him, yet this particular endeavor seems like a risk. Furthermore, with only a small collection of badXchannels songs, is there enough material to make the set pop?

Marina City

Marina City

Before we find out, the night kicks off with Marina City, an unsigned pop rock act from Chicago that finds themselves on the cusp of a breakthrough. Their set is extremely tight for an opener, with vocalist Ryan Argast hitting a groove early on and getting the crowd involved. Before the band finishes, they climb down to the floor for a campfire-ish acoustic number, encircled by a crowd that seems happy to sing along.

Following an energetic set from Marina City comes Colours, an act newly signed to Victory Records. The duo, comprised of Kyle Tamo and Morgan Alley, feels like a true primer for badXchannels – deep bass and crisp synthesizers fill the room as Colours unleashes their own brand of smooth R&B pop. Tamo captures the sultry feel of his songs with his stage presence as he patiently delivers hooky payoff on tracks like “Monster” and “Gone”.

Once the music dies down and the stage is stripped of neon lights and fog, it feels oddly barren. Aside from a small table at the back of the stage for an accompanying DJ, the open space belongs to Owens, who takes the stage devoid of the ski mask he donned for press photos and his first badXchannels music video. Tonight, he’s just a man in a hoodie who has some songs to share.

Gone is the frantic frontman of bands like Chiodos and D.R.U.G.S. – here, Craig Owens is confident and loose during his songs and humble and grateful between takes. This opening night performance feels intimate and personal.

badXchannels

badXchannels

It’s true – the set is short. Owens performs the five songs from WHYDFML with scattered thoughts shared in between. Each track feels vibrant and full of potential in a live setting, particularly the dark, simmering “You Know I Will” which finds Owens crooning, “I mix my vices with vice / It makes the devil on my shoulder seem nice / She’s playing princess, no lie / I won’t stop her, you can save it, I tried”.

True to his word, these new songs share a striking resemblance to the sinful R&B emissions of The Weeknd, both in tone and message. From the quirky beat and syrupy delivery of “Same Thing Every Day” to the delicate movements of “Complicated”, Owens sounds on point. It’s a complete departure from anything he’s ever done, but at this moment in time, it sounds like the perfect move.

From the stage, Owens shares that he considered stepping away from performance to focus on producing, but just couldn’t seem to give up singing. badXchannels clearly offers him that opportunity in an unexpected form and WHYDFML is a pleasant surprise from front to back.

Before ending his set, Owens’ DJ throws on “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper, leading Owens to climb down into the crowd. “Let’s jump!” he shouts as those in attendance join in on the celebration. This new iteration of Craig Owens is up close and personal for now. With the right moves, badXchannels could find its way to bigger stages in the very near future.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Goodbye, Chiodos; Hello, badXchannels

badxchannels-2016

If you found difficulty expressing shock at last week’s news of Chiodos’ demise, you’re not alone. Fans of the Michigan post-hardcore act made peace with the band’s dissolution over a year ago as, one-by-one, the members began stepping away from the wreckage. Craig Owens’ recent statement hardly raised an eyebrow.

In truth, Chiodos’ supposed resurrection with 2014’s Devil felt over before it ever began. Only a few months after the album’s release, bassist Matt Goddard and drummer Derrick Frost parted ways, followed shortly by new guitarist Thomas Erak. An album that felt half-hearted to begin with never gained steam, and instead of the much-anticipated renaissance of one of the scene’s most exciting bands, Chiodos departed with a sigh.

Now, we’re presented with badXchannels, Owens’ latest solo project. One of the most prolific frontmen in recent memory, Owens has shown no shortage in range over the years. From the delicate delivery of Cinematic Sunrise and With Love, his 2009 solo EP, to the raging chaos of Chiodos and D.R.U.G.S., Owens has kept his nose to the grindstone, even making an appearance on last year’s Dr. Dre album, Compton, and a recent track from Kuniva.

To go along with his signature vocal delivery, Owens also possesses a stage presence and confidence that has kept him at the center of the scene’s attention, no matter the genre. His track record would lead you to believe that badXchannels will undoubtedly succeed, even if only to keep his own brand alive and well. This latest iteration of Owens the artist finds him shirtless and veiled by a black ski mask. It’s an odd choice of presentation, but Craig has always had a flair for the dramatic.

His first single, “I. One Car Funeral” finds Owens providing a smoother vocal delivery than we’re accustomed to, atop a pulsing beat. Before deciding whether badXchannels is worthy, quirky cousin to The Weeknd, we’ll need to hear more. For now, it’s an interesting transformation with some obvious potential.

The biggest question leading up to the release of WHYDFML on November 18 is this: even if badXchannels is a hit, will it last? Craig Owens has now parted ways with Chiodos twice, failed to follow up on the fan-adored Cinematic Sunrise, and walked away from projects like D.R.U.G.S., Isles and Glaciers, and even first own solo endeavor after just one release. At this point, many fans of Craig Owens simply want stability.

Owens would likely counter with points about his need for unrestricted creative expression and having no desire to be confined to one box (or band, for that matter). That’s a fair response for any artist. However, at some point, history will decide how the music of Craig Owens is remembered, and it’s wholly possible that the clutter may cloud our memories.

Maybe badXchannels will be a massive success and be the defining moment of Owens’ career. Maybe his best music is still to come. Maybe November 18 will provide more clarity about Owens’ artistic trajectory. Maybe it will provide more questions.

We’re only a few short weeks from finding out.

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Tyler Carter – Leave Your Love EP

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Hayley Williams. Patrick Stump. Travie McCoy. Brendan Urie. The Warped Tour scene has produced a handful of household-name vocalists over the past decade. Frontmen and women who possess the charisma and vocal chops to hold their own amongst the mainstream crowd and be recognized apart from the bands that made them famous. This sort of transition isn’t common, but it’s not impossible, either.

Tyler Carter has been on the cusp of a breakthrough of similar proportions for a few years now. Ever since his departure from Atlanta metalcore act Woe, Is Me in late 2011, Carter has been in pursuit of a pop crossover. After releasing a few solo singles, he was once again reined back into the post-hardcore circuit and reunited with former partner in crime Michael Bohn in the form of Issues.

That band has since gone on to become a scene sensation, thanks in large part to Carter’s smooth croon amidst the crushing breakdowns. His constant guest appearances on tracks by other scene contemporaries have aided in expanding his fame, but he seemingly has yet to have a big breakthrough.

Enter Leave Your Love, the new solo EP by Carter, released by Rise Records. Yes, it’s only six tracks, and no, it doesn’t include any of his past material. What this long-awaited solo endeavor does do is give Carter a chance to shine on his own stage and perhaps serve as a launching pad for Tyler Carter the brand.

Leave Your Love is a solid effort, to be sure. It’s nothing like anything you’ll hear released on Rise Records this year, and it’s certainly a departure from the heavy crunch of Issues and Woe, Is Me. Instead, you’ll be getting a whole lot of Carter’s syrupy smooth delivery across an array of relaxed R&B beats

Take opener “Sophisticated”, a groovy synth-driven track that goes down easy. Here we find Carter serenading that special lady with his signature bravado and melismatic delivery. Even when he’s singing lines like, “Pretty face, nice thighs” or “If you fancy and you know it / Got your Louis bag to show it”, you can’t help but sing along. The pleading title track adds fantastic percussion and keys to the mix, and takes a more serious thematic turn.

In fact, much of the rest of Leave Your Love follows suit, showcasing an intriguing maturity. Lead single “Georgia” feels as authentic as anything Carter has ever put out and wouldn’t sound that out of place on The 20/20 Experience. By the time he delivers the explosive line of, “By the morning light, she’ll leave” right as the chorus hits, you can feel the corner being turned. This is Tyler Carter primed for the big stage, executing the best vocal work of his career.

While “So Slow” could do without the wispy spoken word vocals that open the track, the bass filled beat makes you move, as does Carter’s sultry chorus of “When we dance so slow / By the way we dance, you’ll know”. His chopped vocal samples atop the bridge serve as an extra instrument, blending into their surroundings and contribute a unique sound that lands miles away from his metalcore offerings.

You get the feeling that with the right producers and the right co-writers, the silver-tongued Carter could hold his own amongst the Timberlakes and Ushers of the world. If you think that’s an overstatement, try to name another vocalist in this scene that can match his charisma and range. Even Jonny Craig’s past solo material has been littered with missteps and odd stylistic choices. A great voice can only get you so far.

To truly cross over, it takes a charm, a vision and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Along with his golden voice, Tyler Carter possesses a certain magnetism and ability to shapeshift that’s hard to come by. Leave Your Love may not be the release that breaks him big, but rest assured, he’s dangerously close to the tipping point and he’s only 23 years old. It’s only a matter of time.

4/5

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 online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.