Most Anticipated of 2022: The Rejuvenation of Real Friends

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Ever since the addition of lead singer Cody Muraro to the band’s lineup, Real Friends have been on an absolute tear. Shortly after release of the stellar Torn in Two EP last year, the band embarked on a full autumn tour. Not only are the band preparing for another full tour with Mayday Parade and Magnolia Park, they’ve been in the studio all winter recording new material.

Real Friends seem to be utterly rejuvenated and at a creative peak in their career that many bands seem to lose after their first couple of releases. If their new music even remotely compares to the quality of emotion and blazing guitar riffs of Torn in Two, Real Friends are preparing for a release that will be known as a career highlight for the band.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is currently braving the coldest of winters, snuggled close to his cat.

Podcast: Our Most Anticipated Music of 2022

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A new year is here, which means that another 12 months of new music is on its way. Kiel Hauck is joined by Kyle Schultz and Nadia Alves as they look forward to some of their most anticipated albums and events of 2022. But before diving into what’s on their wish list, they look back on 2021, discussing some of their favorite albums, along with a few albums and artists that may have been overlooked. Listen in – and then tell us your most anticipated albums of 2022!

Subscribe to our Podcast on Apple or Spotify

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Songs of 2021

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You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2021 here.

There were so many great songs this year that we honestly had a hard time narrowing it down. Tracks that put the finishing touches on some of our favorite albums (“traitor”, “Justified”, “That’s What I Want”) and songs that stood alone as brilliant moments of hope, pain, and resolve (“Silk Chiffon”, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”. We even had our first track from a comedy special crack the list. Although it’s admittedly hard to have a laugh while listening to “That Funny Feeling”.

While we wait on a new year of tracks to fill our playlists, we’ll finish out the remainder of 2021 jamming along to these. Take a look at our list below and let us know what songs stood out to you.

15. Royal Blood – “Typhoons”

One of the lead singles from the UK rock duo’s album of the same name, “Typhoons” is a dance-ready track that explores the damage of living with thoughts constantly swirling in your head. As someone who lives everyday reliving scenarios and ideas and hoping for better outcomes, Royal Blood manage to find the hopelessness and ecstasy of the situation against a steady beat and garage rock guitars (“I need waking up, I should face the truth / I could calm the storm if I wanted to”). – Kyle Schultz

14. Bo Burnham – “That Funny Feeling”

I would consider anyone who says they didn’t like Inside by Bo Burnham to be lying a little. It was an incredibly versatile representation of how crazy everyone went in quarantine, and offered a fresh take on almost any genre we could think of, including the campfire song with “That Funny Feeling”. When the theaters opened up again, a friend and I saw Inside on the big screen, and what could be a better example of the song than seeing the Netflix logo at a theater? Every track in the special is devastating in one way or another, but somehow the juxtaposition of “A gift shop at the gun range / A mass shooting at the mall” hits so much closer than any of us want it to. Top it off with the Phoebe Bridgers cover and you have not only a perfect picture of both how timeless singing songs about how messed up and sad society is, but also how deeply Inside touched culture this year. – Nadia Alves

13. Holly Humberstone – “Scarlett”

I first heard Holly Humberstone while driving alone at night, which turns out to be the perfect setting to experience her latest EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin. “Scarlett” is Humberstone’s best track to date, tapping into a soft but serious indie rock sound that lets her explore themes of hurt and heartbreak with  a sense of melancholy and resolve. “‘Cause I cried all the summer away / Oh, you left me waiting on a heartbreak”, she sings to launch into one of the year’s most memorable choruses. But “Scarlett”, and the EP as a whole, aren’t meant to wallow in the pain so much as use the songs as a way to process and move forward, made ever so clear by the track’s final line: “I don’t need you now”. – Kiel Hauck

12. Graduating Life – “Crushed & Smothered”

On a base level, “Crushed & Smothered” is a standard emo rock song from Graduating Life. What sets it apart from the genre is the raw, excruciating energy behind it. The song demands the listener unleash their inner torments (“Show me what angers you / Ball up your fist show me why you exist, fight back / Don’t be defined by the cuts on your wrist / Go!”) before unleashing an orgasm of sound and guitar solos at differing tempos. “Crushed & Smothered” is a melodic release of emotion, rage and angst that pull the lyrics describing an anxiety attack under the rug, if only for a moment. – Kyle Schultz

11. Silk Sonic – “Leave the Door Open”

I would call this the yummiest song of 2021. When this song came out I was instantly enamored. It brought me back to a time i wasn’t even around for. The way it equally brings us back to Motown and keeps us in the modern age is not an easy feat, and only doable by artists with an intense knowledge of music history. Enter Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak. Every song on An Evening With Silk Sonic deserves to be on top lists this year, simply because of how smooth they are. The hardest part of ranking them would be picking the best song on the album. For me, this single perfectly encapsulates the album as a whole, and ushers us into another era. – Nadia Alves

10. Kacey Musgraves – “Justified”

“Healing doesn’t happen in a straight line”. That simple, yet powerful line that serves as the heartbeat of Kacey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed is what sparked an hour-long podcast we recorded on why the album is the perfect encapsulation of the experience of divorce. “Justified” is inarguably the best track from Star-Crossed, in part because it most closely resembles the sonic excellence of Golden Hour, but also because it reveals the thematic and artistic next evolution of Musgraves, both as a musician, and more importantly, as a human. Throughout the album, she mines the feelings of grief and confusion that accompany such a traumatic event, but a track like “Justified” offers Musgraves the space to explore the sometimes prickly feelings and motivations that are necessary to move on. – Kiel Hauck

9. Real Friends – “Storyteller”

Real Friends’ stellar Torn in Two EP blasted an impressive lineup of songs that were stronger than they deserved to be, but amongst those jams was “Storyteller”, a song that duels with itself whether to be a soft emotional ballad or a hard rock emo anthem. “Storyteller” speaks to the animalistic instincts we have when someone we love lies to us, and the painful ways we it eats at us late at night (“212 degrees rushing forcefully through my veins and arteries / No chance of getting sleep, as you soundly rest”) and the cleansing way release of anguish and anger (“You’re a storyteller / What you buried deep resurfaced / You’re a liar, liar, liar”) that comes from calling this person out for how they’ve hurt us. – Kyle Schultz

8. girl in red – “Serotonin”

I had a tough year mentally. An unexpected loss at the end of 2020 basically took me out of the game emotionally all year. I’ve felt like I was just kind of existing and surviving, and one of the tracks that brought me back to myself a little bit is ”Serotonin” by girl in red. It’s fun and truthful, and doesn’t make me feel bad for the way I feel, the way a lot of songs try to make me squash the things I’m dealing with down deep inside. This is probably the song I’m most grateful for this year. Produced by Billie Eilish’s half brother FINNEAS, this is a track that will stay in the indie pop circles for years to come.– Nadia Alves

7. Lil Nas X – “THATS WHAT I WANT”

After opening track and first single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, the next track on Lil Nas X’s brilliant debut to cause your ears to perk is “That’s What I Want”. It’s the kind of infectious and instantly memorable moment that “Old Town Road” promised us when he arrived on the scene two years ago. But what makes “That’s What I Want” so brilliant is its subversive nature. As easily as you can roll down your windows on a sunny day and sing along, you could also curl up into a ball and cry. “These days I’m way too alone / And I’m known for giving love away”, he sings right before his pleading chorus of, “I want someone to love me”. To experience Montero, and Lil Nas X in general, is to turn the prism in your hand, taking note of every angle and color. “That’s What I Want” showcases the brilliance and promise of one of the most important new pop artists on the planet. – Kiel Hauck

6. Olivia Rodrigo – “traitor”

Though her debut album, SOUR, spanned across genres, one song stood out among the pack: the quiet and somber “traitor”. Consisting of mostly sober synth, exhausted drums, tired acoustic guitar and Rodrigo’s exasperated vocals, “traitor” is the epitome of the frustration and pain of a dead relationship.

The song itself is a quiet affair, but it speaks to the raw emotion of lost love. From the almost whispered, “Ain’t it funny? / All the twisted games, all the questions you used to avoid”, to the pointed emphasis of, “Don’t you DARE forget about the way / You betrayed me”, Rodrigo hammers each word with a new form of heartbreak that nails the most innate and intimate emotions for what is a shared experience among almost everyone who experiences love. – Kyle Schultz

5. Willow feat. Travis Barker – “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”

Ah yes, Willow Smith. The biggest surprise for me this year both in albums and in singles, is the jump Willow made into the sea that is alternative music. And if that jump was in the Olympics, she would win gold. I am literally in love with this song. Travis Barker is only a crutch left to the side for her. He’s there if she needs him, but everyone can see that she’s able to stand perfectly fine on her own. It’s been a while since Willow Smith has released music, but when I bought  “Whip My Hair” from the iTunes store in 2010, it wasn’t hard for me to see that she has something special musically. Not only is the video (stylized as a “performance visual”) the perfect companion piece, it affords us a view of Willow as she should be seen: a strong, young woman full of talent. – Nadia Alves

4. Stand Atlantic feat. nothing,nowhere – “deathwish”

When I handed out a perfect score to Stand Atlantic’s Pink Elephant last summer, I certainly didn’t expect that the next song they would release would be the best thing the band has ever done. “Deathwish” hit just in time for summer and further blurred the band’s lines between pop and punk, which they so excellently began smearing on Pink Elephant. A song that’s just as easy to dance to as it is to mosh to, “deathwish” finds Bonnie Fraser tapping into a new level as a vocalist. Her pre-chorus, which crescendos with the line, “If you’re leaving, could you quit saying ‘bye’” right before the guitars and synths crash through your speakers is one of the highlights of 2021. Of course, the punk elite arrived right on cue to dismiss the track as too glitzy. The band responded with the raucous and ferocious “molotov [OK]” in November, which could’ve easily made this list as well. – Kiel Hauck

3. Taylor Swift – “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”

Of all the music released in 2021, one song has seemed to stand tall amongst the competition. Taylor Swift’s 10-minute version of “All Too Well” is a behemoth of a song. While on a base level, it seems like an extended version of a single from almost a decade ago, this version of “All Too Well” is closer to what Swift originally intended the song to be.

What makes it stand out again after all this time is the fact that not only are there additional lyrics, it somehow hits and hurts more than it did upon original release. This is a feral pain that not only never quite healed, it embodies the heartbreak we all feel from our first broken love.

The 10-minute version of “All Too Well” would be easy to write off as a “cash grab” for the rerelease of Red, but the song was an overnight phenomenon. Accompanied by a short film and smashing the time limit for an SNL performance, Swift indulged her artistry in its purest form. While the original release may have been forced to scale back to a five-minute ballad, the 10-minute version not only adds more lines (“Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave / And then you wondered where it went to as I reached for you / But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame”), it managed to hit a nerve of our collective consciousness that it may not have when she originally released it all those years ago. – Kyle Schultz

2. Greta Van Fleet – “Heat Above”

TikTok’s greatest success story this year (other than Noodle the Pug) is definitely Greta Van Fleet. A band once ridiculed for being an almost identical, albeit younger, Led Zeppelin is now at the forefront of modern rock. With “Heat Above”, the band comes into their own sonically and stylistically, and is the perfect opening track to their latest album The Battle At Garden’s Gate.

Josh Kiszka’s vocals are unmatched, only closely followed by the harmony he and his siblings have musically. It’s no wonder I can’t stop listening to it. Before the release of the music video, which is simple and allows the song to do the legwork, the band said, “Thematically, we are dead center in the cult of Heaven, surreal, strange, alive, and free.” And the video does just that. It elevates what is already an incredible piece of craftsmanship and provides the perfect visual to get lost in.

I never considered myself a real Greta Van Fleet fan; the hair metal of the 70s and 80s has never appealed to me like the folk and pop of those eras do, but “Heat Above” packs just the right amount of punch to make me a believer. – Nadia Alves

1. MUNA feat. Phoebe Bridgers – “Silk Chiffon”

From the opening moments of “Silk Chiffon”, as Katie Gavin croons, “Sun down and I’m feeling lifted / Downtown, cherry lipstick” over the strum of an acoustic guitar, there’s a sense of bliss that washes over you in the way that only the most perfect of pop songs can do. The track is an anthem of queer love, full of warmth and whimiscal imagery that captures those all-too-familiar feelings of innocent and exciting love on fleeting summer nights. 

I first heard the song on the night it was performed for the very first time, as MUNA opened for Phoebe Bridgers in Indianapolis. The band’s previous work, most notably their breakthrough 2019 album Saves the World, is marked by energetic synthpop – something the band does as well as anyone. But “Silk Chiffon” feels like the opening of a new chapter in which you could envision MUNA fully crossing over into the mainstream. 

It’s a track that seems to perfectly capture the trio’s personality while grafting in Phoebe’s as well. Just listen to the crunch of the guitar as she enters the second verse with her lines of, “I’m high and I’m feeling anxious / Inside a CVS”. For all of its brightness and charm, my favorite thing about “Silk Chiffon” is that it simply makes me feel happy. And I’ll be damned if that’s not just about the best feeling a song can inspire right now. – Kiel Hauck

Honorable Mention:

Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar – “family ties”
Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”
Spiritbox – “Circle with Me”
CHVRCHES – “Final Girl”
Architects – “Black Lung”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Albums of 2021

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This is the year that everything was supposed to get back to normal. Well, that didn’t happen. But many of us did begin to dip our toe back into this new version of what life looks like. We went to a few concerts, saw our friends and family, and clung to the things that bring us joy. It goes without saying that music is a big part of that.

Many of the albums that made our list this year share a common theme: finding the strength it takes to face adversity and rise above. Be it battling the perils of heartbreak and adolescence (Olivia Rodrigo), overcoming gatekeepers of an aging genre (Spiritbox), or standing in the shadows of who we used to be (Foxing), so many of the artists we love found their footing and crafted something that speaks to our hearts.

Wherever this year found you in your journey, we hope you found music to walk alongside you and give you life. Here are a few of the albums that did that for us in 2021. Take a look!

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15. Noah Gundersen – A Pillar of Salt

A Pillar of Salt is the definition of a piece that snuck up on me. Noah Gundersen spent time in a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest, much like his contemporary, Bon Iver, and came out with a piece of art for the ages. Of course I kept it in the back of my mind when it had released and was interested in it for my casual listening, but when I finally spent some time with it, I regretted not shouting about it from the rooftops in the way it deserves. Indie pop vibes that would make Sufjan shed a tear, religious allusions that stun seminary students, and an under-the-radar Phoebe Bridgers feature — A Pillar of Salt has it all. It’s devastating, it’s lovely, it’s gentle, it’s hard hitting. It’s perfect. – Nadia Alves

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14. J. Cole – The Off-Season

Since his arrival on the scene, J. Cole has seemingly been chasing the admiration of the rap community at large. 2014 Forest Hills Drive showed promise, but ultimately, Cole’s biggest challenge was being shadowed by so many vibrant artists pioneering new territory in hip hop. On The Off-Season, he finally leans fully into his greatest strength: rapping. The Off-Season is a masterclass in the art of technical wordplay and punchline delivery. The bells and whistles are few and there isn’t a single trend to be chased. Instead, we’re treated to a J. Cole who seems content in his standing, but driven to bend our ears back toward the sound that made hip hop such a sensation in the first place. Call him a relic if you like, but it’s impossible to deny the gravity of The Off-Season. Freed from expectation, it’s finally exciting for rap fans to dream about what Cole might be capable of. – Kiel Hauck

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13. Weezer – Van Weezer

Being a Weezer fan is to not know what to expect when new music is released. In the case of Van Weezer, the Van Halen inspired rock album was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it finally released in Spring 2021, it was exactly what a summer album should be: loud, fun and familiar. Weezer’s tribute to anthem rock simultaneously indulges in glitzing guitars while maintaining the crunchy rock that the band is known for. Having already released a stellar surprise album earlier in the year (OK Human), Van Weezer is shocking in just how fun it is to listen to. For an album paying homage to another band, it sits strong in the mountain of Weezer’s best albums. – Kyle Schultz

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12. Dan Campbell – Other People’s Lives

There is always an album toward the end of the year that blows up my year end lists and forces me to make hard decisions. This year it’s Other People’s Lives by frontman of The Wonder Years, Dan Campbell. The man is so accomplished these days, it feels pigeonholing to refer to him as the lead singer of The Wonder Years. With his affinity for Americana and his soulful voice, he brings the finer points of reality to the surface with this, his first official solo project. Each line carefully crafted and placed with the care of a jeweler, his reflections on family and childhood remind us that maybe this place we call home can be quite all right sometimes. – Nadia Alves

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11. Architects – For Those That Wish to Exist

With the release of Holy Hell in 2018, grieving the loss of fallen comrade Tom Searle, it felt like the closing of a book on one of modern metalcore’s giants. But Architects had more to give. This new chapter begins with For Those That Wish to Exist, an album faithful to the band’s roots that has its eyes set on forward motion. Who could’ve imagined a track like “Animals” sounding so full of life and fury or the infectious drive of “Giving Blood”? Architects spread their wings across these 15 tracks, experimenting with new sounds, like the glitchy “Flight Without Feathers” or the roaring horns on “Dead Butterflies”. For Those That Wish to Exist opens a new door of possibilities for the band, and the metalcore genre at large, but it’s the album’s message that is of utmost importance. “What would you do to stay alive if the planet was burning?” Sam Carter asks us on the album’s second track, “Black Lungs”. It’s a thesis statement that uncovers the true drive and purpose for the band’s new era. – Kiel Hauck

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10. Kennyhoopla – Survivor’s Guilt: The Mixtape

Kennyhoopla’s debut into the scene in 2020 was a refreshing take on indie rock and emo that left listeners wondering how he would top himself. Survivor’s Guilt: The Mixtape// answered by leaning hard into glittering power pop guitar riffs and absolutely thunderous drums that make it an instant classic. The collaboration with Blink-182’s Travis Barker is a playground for Kenny to test every aspect of his vocal range, from whispers to screamo to anthemic melodic choruses in songs that don’t take themselves as seriously as his first EP. While Survivor’s Guilt revels in nostalgia, its greatest strength is how much energy and possibilities it brings to the genre. – Kyle Schultz

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9. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

When Little Oblivions was announced in October 2020 with the heart-wrenching single “Faith Healer”, I was excited and ready to be destroyed in the way only Julien Baker can do. This album, to put it mildly, is alive. The full band sound against Julien’s gentle voice is the perfect addition to her oeuvre. It is the most natural progression we could have received. Oftentimes, an acoustic artist will take the band route and head straight for overblown synths and make a jumble of their discography, but Julien knows where to hold back. The big moments are big, and the small, intimate moments we know and love from her become somehow bigger. An album about heartbreak and the sickening way that it becomes just another feeling in the back of our minds is the perfect cultural response to *gestures to society* whatever this is. I love her for it. – Nadia Alves

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8. Lil Nas X – Montero

Montero was sure worth the wait, huh? When Lil Nas X introduced us to “Old Town Road” all the way back in 2019, it signified the unstoppable fluidity of genre for a new generation of artists. Montero, the proper debut album from Lil Nas X, feels fully liberated from labels. It’s a pop extravaganza with a kitchen sink of influences that are each perfectly painted with queer spirit, resulting in something that feels as truly enjoyable and familiar as it is unique. What elevates it to album-of-the-year discussion is Lil Nas X’s sleight of hand. Montero, for all of its glimmering and celebratory sound, is sinking in sadness. “These days, I’m way too lonely” he sings on “That’s What I Want”, a track that you could play in tandem with “Hey Ya” on a wedding dance floor. His chorus of, “I want someone who’ll love me” is devastating in the context of an album where he mines through the pain of sudden, but seemingly hollow fame and faux admiration from those close to him. As impressive as it is to behold, Montero is also wise beyond its years. – Kiel Hauck

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7. Real Friends – Torn in Two

Creating new music after the loss of a lead singer is an intimidating task for any band. To create music that not only pays homage to the former singer’s sound while crafting a natural path forward is another task altogether. New vocalist Cody Muraro’s debut not only exceeds expectations for his ability to handle former vocalist Dan Lambton’s emotional depth, he finds his own rhythm with the confidence and power of the scene’s greatest. Most bands struggle to find their sound again after such a dramatic shift, but Real Friends pull together to hone their sound for an experience far more engaging and stronger than it has any right to be. The fact that the band are already recording new songs together is only more evidence that they may be in a synchronization that most bands only hope to achieve. – Kyle Schultz

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6. Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

Last year when Hayley Williams released her much anticipated first solo album, Petals for Armor, I don’t think many of us realized what an important part of the Paramore / women in music / mental health awareness stories the album would be. When she released Flowers for Vases / descansos, I definitely didn’t see it coming. Where the first chapter was brazen and in-your-face independence, this second installment cuts deeper. It’s a story of a woman who wanted so badly to be above the noise in her personal life and simply couldn’t for a time. This is the raw side of Hayley, and maybe a side of her we won’t see again for a while. Either way, where Petals was about Hayley rising from the ashes to save face, descansos is about saving herself for herself. – Nadia Alves

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5. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Some would like you to believe that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were able to finally harness Halsey’s potential and channel it into something worthy of critical praise. But while their soundscapes certainly prove to be the perfect canvas for the story of If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, the punk spirit has always run deep in the work of Halsey in myriad ways. Here, their songwriting coalesces into one intertwined and succinct body of work. Last year’s Manic worked because of its maniacal changes of pace and genre. If I Can’t Have Love is the opposite. That both albums are a masterclass in songwriting and storytelling, providing different yet beautiful sides of one of alt pop’s most essential artists speaks volumes to Halsey’s abilities. Besides, what do Reznor and Ross know about the horrors of pregnancy and childbirth? No, they’ve simply provided another fascinating sonic playground for Halsey to stake her claim as one of this decade’s most exciting artists. – Kiel Hauck

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4. Graduating Life – II

Graduating Life is the type of band you hope every artist is: erratic, emotional and intense. The project of Mom Jeans guitarist Bart Thompson, II explores the conflict of fighting one’s own inner demons and stagnation in an emotional experience that mixes intense lyrical ideas with equally intense music that jumps from tempo to tempo and indulges in guitar solos at the exact moment you hope it will. II somehow manages to blaze an identity all its own while feeling reassuringly familiar. The path that Graduating Life has forged is what all bands should aspire to achieve—a unique sound that drives the genre forward while also paying homage to what came before. – Kyle Schultz

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3. Foxing – Draw Down the Moon

When I choose a top album for the year, my rubric starts off as ridiculously open and almost anything can slip through if I listen to it enough in the mindset of what’s “best.” What always surprises me, however, is that it’s the albums that I move past after their release that sneak back up on me and impress me all over again.

With Foxing’s Draw Down the Moon, I got into it almost obsessively for a couple of weeks. My Spotify algorithm was deeply affected by it, and I found myself with the title track on repeat, both in the car, out of the car, and in my head. In choosing my top album, I’ve thought a lot about what takes this one to the forefront. It’s not only the creativity that Foxing brings to everything they touch that keeps their art refreshing, it’s the relatability. Where another artist in the prog-rock scene can end up being gaudy and overzealous in their attempts, Foxing never is. Whenever they release, it’s guaranteed to be at the top for me.

There is no other band in the scene like this. Their live shows are full of energy and interesting instrumentation, and it feels natural. The chaos is part of what makes the band who they are. Conor’s vocals take listeners on a journey, and in Draw Down the Moon, it’s the most ambitious and intelligent journey the band has embarked on thus far. – Nadia Alves

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2. Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

What’s that they always say about pressure forming diamonds? For well over a year, Canadian metal act Spiritbox sprinkled a rapidly growing fanbase with singles, seeming to up the ante (and volume) with each release. By the time the band’s debut was set to arrive, the bar had simply been raised too high for the band to deliver on the promise of those early nuggets. Right? Apparently not. As it turns out, Eternal Blue is one of the most electrifying debuts the genre has seen in recent memory.

Part of what makes the experience of Eternal Blue so thrilling is that it brings Spiritbox as a band fully into view, weaving multiple experimental facets into something cohesive. Be it the colossal crash of “Holy Roller” or the more subdued and simmering sounds of “The Summit”, Eternal Blue just works from every angle, thanks in large part to vocalist Courtney LaPlante. Her staggering vocal range both soothes and punishes across the album’s 11 tracks, just as guitarist Michael Stringer shifts pace at every step along the way.

The band seems fully aware of the challenge they set before themselves with those wild moments of introduction. LaPlante tunnels through her mental state throughout Eternal Blue, balancing her self-doubt with flashes of confidence. On the bridge of penultimate track “Circle With Me”, she bellows, “I held the power of a dying sun / I climb the altar and I claim my place as God”. Interpret as you see fit, but suffice it to say, Spiritbox have injected a much needed dose of energy into a metal scene fully in need of their kind of new blood. – Kiel Hauck

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1. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

There is little doubt that Olivia Rodrigo was a breakout sensation of 2021. The release of SOUR was one of the few actual musical events of the year, spawning not only several hit singles, but almost single handedly revitalized pop punk as a genre for a younger generation who either hadn’t heard it before or had stopped listening to it altogether. 

Rodrigo seamlessly blends genres across pop punk, emo and pop in a way that sounds startlingly fresh and familiar in equal measure. While single “good 4 u” became one of the anthems of the summer—appearing in commercials and sung in bars across the country—the highlight of SOUR is the intense emotional depth of Rodrigo’s lyricism.

Rodrigo uses SOUR as a conduit to explore not only the transition from adolescence to adulthood, but the absolute depths of emotion and heartbreak. Her vocal abilities aren’t just impressive in and of themselves, but her use of intonation of specific phrases strikes to the depth of the soul (“traitor”).

Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album was one of the few modern phenomena that sent shockwaves through the music scene. If her first foray into a solo career can make this much of an impact, it’s impossible to do anything but wait anxiously for what experience and ambition bring to the table in the future. – Kyle Schultz

Honorable Mention

Kacey Musgraves – Star-Crossed
Turnstile – Glow On
Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic
Willow – Lately I Feel Everything
CHVRCHES – Screen Violence

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Knuckle Puck – 20/20

“I can finally see clearly, as if my vision’s 20/20.”

Knuckle Puck have been a growing presence in the Chicago punk scene for a number of years, with two strong releases behind them. Written (mostly?) before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ominously named 20/20 is actually a breath of fresh air. Somehow acknowledging the near universal struggles and grief that everyone has faced this year before they had actually happened, Knuckle Puck find the hope in struggle and the energy of normalcy that 2020 seems to have sucked dry.

You can buy or stream 20/20 on Apple Music.

In many ways, Knuckle Puck and fellow Chicagoans Real Friends seemed to follow a similar path for much of their career in revitalizing the midwest pop punk emo scene. It only makes sense then that in many ways, 20/20 is reminiscent of Real Friends’ third album, Composure. Not altering their sound too much from their first releases, 20/20 is the most composed, well-structured and cohesive the band have ever sounded. This comes across slightly as a more “mainstream” sound, but the album hardly shifts from the aggressive guitars and intricate melodies the band is known for.

“I wake up every morning with this overwhelming sinking feeling / Slipping through the doorframe while bouncing thoughts against the ceiling / This shit is only boring if you sit around and wait for nothing / I can’t tell you the future, but I know that it’s coming”

The album finds magic in normalcy by shifting the focus away from the unique struggles of 2020 and focusing instead on relationships and veiled messages on politics. This comes across the most in lead single, “RSVP”, as singer Joe Taylor broods over raging guitars, “And if you’re listening just for clarity, those idealistic dreams were never so naive / Complicated, mind sedated (Keep your hands over your ears) / Hearts turn vacant, humble patriot / (So you can cover up, cover up)”.

The first half of the album plays much more like a ‘traditional’ pop punk record, with several songs seeming radio ready. “Tune You Out” is much more classic emo fare, tracing the battle over a relationship where one person loses their temper over a bed of glistening guitars (“It tears me up inside, I’ll tune you out / ‘Til we all calm down”). Meanwhile, “Earthquake”, a measured rock song with a 90’s alternative vibe explores being enraptured by someone who seems larger than life, but is still broken in their own way (“You look so good, you’ve got me confused / I can’t just cover it up like your first tattoo”).

The back half is where the more experimental vibes and deeper lyrics settle in. “Green Eyes (Polarized)” finds Taylor wishing he could see someone else’s point of view and bridge the gap between their thinking (“You put your faith aside and cast yourself into the great divide / Would you let me see through green eyes?”).

“Into the Blue” describes a spiritual experience through skydiving, while “True North”, arguably the poppiest song on the album, finds the strength in reflecting on the bad times, but looking forward to better days (“Shut my eyes and hope I wake up, to the wave of the breeze from your screened-in porch / Just promise that you’ll leave the light on to point me toward true north”).

“If it’s easier, then close your eyes, but know that you could never see the light / You gotta get up and get outside if you wanna feel the sunshine”

Closing song “Miles Away” juxtaposes how negative thoughts can take you away from who you are, but positive thoughts can take you miles toward where you’re going. The guitars chug steadily, slowing into an elegant chorus in the vein of classics from The Starting Line. However, this is what ties 20/20 together as a whole. If there is a message to the album, it’s that you shouldn’t shy away from the problems in your life, but reflect on them and look forward.

….. Y’know, what the term “20/20” used to mean before we collectively decided it was a lie and a curse.

I was listening to opening song “20/20” for the first time when a news alert chimed over the music that let me know Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. It was just another mark on a year of continuously bad news, but that one struck particularly hard. Over the course of the album, 20/20 unintentionally navigates the emotions many of us have felt since January 1—incredible lows, personal highs and the determination to see it through. By the time the album’s final lines roll through, wave after wave of emotion had rolled through, juxtaposed with songs like “Breathe” (featuring Mayday Parade’s Derek Sanders), reminding the listener to stay calm. On a night I would have otherwise been utterly devastated, I felt hope. 20/20 isn’t afraid to look at the bad times because it’s so focused on the bright future.

“When darker skies roll in don’t you cross me out, just pull me back into safer crowds / Cause I’m miles away, yeah, I’m miles away / I’ve been miles away until now”

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 ate all of the queso dip. All of it. I can’t even say for sure how this happened. One moment there was dip, the next… mere chaos and the crumbs of chips sprinkled on the cat.

The Best Albums of 2018

You can view our list of The Best Songs of 2018 here.

Let’s face it: 2018 was not a great year. Fortunately, amidst the constant deluge of infuriating news, the year provided us with a flood of incredible new music. It was a year in which old friends returned, sounding better than ever. A year in which new artists made their mark with exciting debuts. A year in which some of our favorite artists delivered some of the best music of their careers.

Most importantly, the best music of 2018 offered us a much needed reprieve from the noise, and in many cases, provided helpful commentary and a voice for the marginalized. Whittling the list down to 15 wasn’t easy, but we think these albums best captured our ears and our hearts. Take a look below to read more about the albums that the It’s All Dead writing staff found to be the best and most important releases of 2018.

15. Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming…Of Days Long Past

I’m Only Dreaming… Of Days Long Past is a reinvention of an album barely a year old and one of the best albums of 2017. This new take on the record adds a moodier, dreamier landscape to an already ethereal album. Relying heavily on the majestic voice of Sherri Dupree-Bemis and the simplest melodies, this take on one of Eisley’s best albums somehow feels more honest, heavier and emotional in all of the best ways. Songs of beguiled confidence and love like “Defeatist” and “Louder Than a Lion” carry more weight and atmosphere than most songs have any right to. Eisley don’t need to reinvent themselves to be their very best – they just need to keep dreaming. – Kyle Schultz

14. Real Friends – Composure

My choices for end-of-year-lists are very personal. They’re chosen because I like them musically, thematically, lyrically – you name it. Composure is here because of how important of a story it tells. We see a firsthand account of someone dealing with mental illness. It’s a perfect picture of the way people process mental illness in their lives and has become a staple of how I get out of my own slumps and bad days. It’s a great album through and through, but I think, for me, its relevance is what brings it to the top for me this year. – Nadia Paiva

13. AFI – The Missing Man

AFI are meticulous with their releases. The Missing Man EP is looser than any of their full albums are allowed to be and dips far into their punk rock roots. The Missing Man treads a fine line between the dark conceptual stories of AFI’s best recent albums and the quick skate punk that helped raise the group to prominence 20 years ago. It’s a taste of everything that makes AFI. The Missing Man shows that not only are AFI constantly striving for something new with their music, they’re constantly updating their history. – KS

12. mewithoutYou – [Untitled]

I think [Untitled] is mewithoutYou’s best release to date. It’s lyrically exciting and delves into a lot of new territory for the band, without ever losing what makes the band so unique and special. It’s musically exciting and they’ve proven that they’ve still got what it takes to create something new. This album is a constant in my rotation and I doubt that will change any time soon. I love an album that takes some effort to work through and this was the perfect project and challenge for me this year. – NP

11. Underoath – Erase Me

A band that spent its heyday pushing genre boundaries and shifting the notion of what modern heavy music could sound like returns eight years after its last release to continue its evolution. Fans can argue until the sun explodes about which Underoath album is the best – and there are several great ones to choose from – but consider this: With Erase Me, Underoath chose not to live in the past, creating an unexpectedly accessible and divergent release that carries on the spirit of a band that would never settle for stagnation. It’s just about the most “Underoath” thing the band could have done, and the fact that it resulted in their second-ever Grammy nomination makes things just that much sweeter. – Kiel Hauck

10. Pusha T – Daytona

In 2002, Pusha T helped soundtrack my freshman year of college atop percussive beats from The Neptunes on Clipse’s smash release, Lord Willin’. Sixteen years later, at the age of 41, King Push may have unpredictably created his masterpiece. Daytona is a perfect exercise in minimalism, finding Push flexing his crisp and surgical delivery atop sample-heavy beats that allow his voice to drive the songs forward. At seven tracks long, there is no filler – just 21 minutes of canvas for one of the most underrated rappers of our time to finally stake his claim as one of the greats. If Yeezus showed us what modern hip hop looks like when stripped down for parts, Daytona displays the beauty of rap as a timeless art form – no-holds-barred, no tricks. Just one of the best lyricists of our generation writing his long-overdue coke rap thesis. – KH

9. Panic! at the Disco – Pray for the Wicked

When Brendan Urie transitioned Panic! at the Disco towards pop superstardom, I was hesitant. Death of a Bachelor felt somewhat forced to me, though I eventually came around. Pray For The Wicked is a masterpiece that cultivates the best aspects of every one of Panic!’s past releases and merges them into a mini concept album about the glamour and steep price of stardom (“Hey Look Ma, I Made It”). Each song has a unique flair, style and message that dances toward a larger story about fame. Pray For The Wicked is arguably Urie’s potential opus. It solidifies him as one of the biggest pop stars in the world as much as it honors everything that has ever made Panic! at the Disco beloved. – KS

8. The Wonder Years – Sister Cities

Sister Cities is a special album for The Wonder Years. It seems like it could be the last major release we get from the band for a while, with Dan Campbell’s pending fatherhood and the band’s other ventures, including their new subscription service. The album is quintessential Wonder Years material, yet showcases that the band is still heavily focused on musical growth, and at their stage in the game, it’s important that their love for what they do is still present. Sister Cities proved that The Wonder Years are far from running out of creativity, and I look forward to how they’ll channel that in the next season of their existence. – NP

7. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy

Even before the release of her debut studio album, Cardi B was ascending to rap legend status – an uncategorizable and unpredictable figure, harkening back to days when rappers like Biggie and 2Pac seemed larger than life. That Invasion of Privacy actually lived up to the ungodly hype built on viral sensations like “Bodak Yellow” is a testament to her drive and talent. The album is deeply personal, truly funny, and wildly entertaining. But more than that, it’s the story of self-empowerment and standing firmly confident as a rapper in a genre that has for so long marginalized women. Cardi refuses to be quieted or sanitized to fit a mold or play a part – with Invasion of Privacy, she’s snatching the game without asking for permission, with no intent of backing down. As she states on album closer, “I Do”, “My little 15 minutes lasted long as hell, huh?” – KH

6. Justin Courtney Pierre – In the Drink

In The Drink is an album equally familiar and adventurous beyond its comfort zone. Justin Pierre proves himself to be one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, something few already doubted. With the opportunity to create a sound truly his own, the fact that In The Drink sounds like an extension of Motion City Soundtrack adds credence to how honest his writing has always been. Whether toying with orchestration in “Undone” or diving face first into punk songs like “Ready Player One”, In The Drink is an unapologetic rock album filled with self-depreciative humor, inner turmoil and anthems of confidence. In The Drink delves as far into Pierre’s past as it does his future and is all the better for it. – KS

5. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

There’s no doubt that this has been an exhausting year in terms of our current social climate. The 1975 wrote a whole album about it and released it right at the end of the year. I generally never choose an album that’s been too recently released because I don’t feel like I get enough time to really pick it apart and find all of its pros and cons, but I felt at home with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships almost immediately. It’s beautifully composed and full of good conversation starters. Maybe we can take some of the advice offered to us within it and make 2019 a better year. – NP

4. Architects – Holy Hell

On the surface, one might find metal to be the perfect genre for processing the stages of grief. But what about ponderances on the mere idea of grief and loss and what it means to move forward with a quiet understanding of our fate? With Holy Hell, Architects created one of the most powerful and purposeful metalcore releases of our time. Part lament of fallen comrade and key songwriter Tom Searle, part meditation on existence and death, Holy Hell pulls no punches when tugging at some of the hardest questions we rarely speak aloud. From the technical, brutal brilliance of tracks like “Death is Not Defeat” to the more gentle introspection of “Royal Beggars”, Holy Hell is both a sonic and thematic masterpiece that finds ways to let hope glimmer through the wreckage, just as Sam Carter delivers during the album’s closing track: “Love comes at a cost, but all is not lost”. – KH

3. Fall Out Boy – MANIA

MANIA is one of the best albums Fall Out Boy have ever released in a discography already stacked full of career-defining records. MANIA is an album that forces listeners to earn its respect. It hones the sound of modern pop music to a razor’s edge, blurring the lines between genre and takes risks that would ruin lesser artists. Fall Out Boy are at the height of their ability by pushing back against anyone hoping for just another pop punk record. Stadium anthems like “Last of the Real Ones” and rock songs like “Champion” are new staples to live shows as much as they are battle cries of rock music in an era when the genre seems largely ignored. MANIA is the result of two albums’ worth of experimentation and adventure, and it’s now hard to argue that Fall Out Boy’s best days are behind them. – KS

2. Pianos Become the Teeth – Wait for Love

On Wait for Love, there isn’t a spot where I say to myself, “Eh, that could’ve flowed a little smoother,” or, “There’s too much of a lull in the action.” This fourth full-length album is perfect from front to back, and probably from back to front. Lyrically, it’s meaningful and relatable in a way that a lot of rock music isn’t. It’s a beautiful display of how a band can mold and shift to fit in with their changing personal lives. I think I’ve listened to the album at least once a day since its release, and I haven’t done that with an album since 2013, so you know the love is real. – NP

1. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

It’s easy to be distracted by the many narratives swirling around Golden Hour, the fourth studio album from Kacey Musgraves. Stories of acid trips during writing sessions and outspoken support of the LGBTQ community from one of country music’s rising stars. Yet underneath it all is a warm and affecting collection of songs that take time to look for beauty wherever it can be found, even within the most imperfect of us. In a year like 2018, it’s a 45-minute exercise in relief.

Call it genre-bending if you like – Musgraves boldly grafts in disco and indie rock elements to balance out the twang – but at its core, Golden Hour is a perfect pop album. Songs like “High Horse” and “Lonely Weekend” effortlessly find the perfect balance of sound that so many mainstream country artists have been aiming at for years. Musgraves makes it seem almost too simple – just be yourself and write songs from your heart. That the resulting album feels so counter to our expectations could very well amplify the point she’s trying to make. As Musgraves so eloquently puts it during opener “Slow Burn”, “I’m alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn / I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright”. – KH

Honorable Mention

Vince Staples – FM!
Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
Lydia – Liquor
Black Panther: The Soundtrack
As It Is – The Great Depression

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Raise Your Voice: Warped Tour 2018 Review and Photo Gallery

Walking through the crowded grounds of Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana, on a hot July day, it’s nearly impossible not to reflect on Warped Tours past. It was here, nine years ago, where I baked in the sun watching bands like Saosin, Underoath, and Chiodos while screaming along to every word. A year prior in Cincinnati, I stood on the main stage watching Norma Jean bring down the house before singing along to The Academy Is, Anberlin, and Cobra Starship.

Over the years, the Vans Warped Tour is where I met some amazing friends, discovered some of my favorite bands, and truly felt part of a community for one of the first times in my life. As the longest-running touring music festival in North America comes to a close, I’ve felt it necessary to remember those experiences while acknowledging that the experiences have others have not always been so pleasant. For a myriad of reasons, it is time for Warped Tour to end.

There were things to feel good about and music to be excited about during this final trek, yet the staggering lack of gender and racial diversity across the lineup served as a reminder of why it must come to a close. With any luck, whatever takes its place will provide a more balanced and honest view of the underground music scene in years to come.

For now, we take a look at a few of the bands on the 2018 Vans Warped Tour that made some noise and made the tour’s final run worth the price of admission. Take a look below and feel free to share some of your favorites from the lineup in the replies!

Mayday Parade

For a band that made a name for itself by following Warped Tour around the country in 2006, selling CDs to those standing in line, it’s appropriate that Mayday Parade take part in the festival’s final journey. The band has come a long way since those early days, having just released their sixth studio album, Sunnyland, earlier this summer. Per usual, Derek Sanders bounded across the main stage singing fan favorites like “Jamie All Over” and “Jersey”, making for the perfect summer sing-a-long session.

Check out our podcast interview with Derek Sanders of Mayday Parade!

Mayday Parade

As It Is

The band’s second stint on Warped Tour has brought a new sound and a new look. Making light of the obvious changes in between songs, vocalist Patty Walters introduces the band as “My Chemical Romance.” Even if As It Is haven’t quite hit the heights of the aforementioned emo legends, the early signs from upcoming album The Great Depression seem to be promising. From “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” to “The Wounded World”, these new tracks sound even better live than on tape.

As It Is

Doll Skin

While watching Phoenix, Arizona, rockers Doll Skin tear through their set, I was reminded of watching letlive. just a few years prior. The band harness the same amount of energy and passion in their performance, with vocalist Sydney Dolezal even climbing into the crowd mid-song to unleash her powerful scream. For as exciting as the band’s set was, it was disappointing to find it on a side stage. This is the kind of band deserving of the biggest platform available.

Doll Skin

Real Friends

Real Friends feels like our best current example of what it’s like to watch a band grow up on Warped Tour. Having just released their third full-length album, Composure, the band’s main stage set was one of the highlights of the day. Dan Lambton’s energy, even this late into the grueling tour, provided a spark for the crowd as he lit into “Get By” to kick off the band’s set. Having put together the best album of their career, it will be exciting to see where they go next.

Real Friends

Issues

Tyler Carter has the kind of voice that you have to hear to believe. Even when taking on an early set on a hot day late in the tour, Carter still manages to croon his way through eight songs at full tilt. The band, now a four piece, is in the process of putting together their third album, this time minus Michael Bohn. Nevertheless, Carter handled both sides of the vocals beautifully throughout the band’s set, with help from Adrian Rebollo.

Issues

Waterparks

It feels like the stock for Houston pop punk powerhouse Waterparks just keeps rising. With the release of Entertainment earlier this year, the band has cemented their stay as one of the genre’s hottest acts and have ascended to Warped Tour’s main stage. Awsten Knight carries the band’s vocal duties and helps wake up the morning crowd with performances of “Blonde”, “Take Her to the Moon”, and more.

Waterparks

This Wild Life

While standing at the front of the stage to shoot This Wild Life’s gentle set, I couldn’t help but feel good for the security guards, finally relieved of flying bodies and crowd surfers for 30 minutes. The Long Beach duo’s quiet set is the perfect intermission for a day of loud noises, especially as their catalogue of songs continues to grow. The band performs tracks from their new album, Petaluma, while still finding time to throw in some oldies like “History” and “Concrete”.

This Wild Life

Frank Turner

Yes, THAT Frank Turner took the stage for a few Warped Tour dates this year. Each year on the tour, there are always a few surprises on the lineup that should be labeled required viewing. The English folk singer took to the main stage for an eight-song set that felt all too short, while still providing plenty of moments for sing-a-longs and even a few laughs. His closing performance of “Get Better” proved to be one of the highlights of the day.

Frank Turner

Senses Fail

One final run of Warped Tour just wouldn’t feel right without one of the screamo scene’s old guard in tow, and Senses Fail make for the perfect choice. Over 15 years in, vocalist Buddy Nielsen is still a sight to behold on stage, whether he’s playing old standards like “Bite to Break Skin” and “Calling All Cars” or even a few cover songs. The band’s latest release, If There is Light, It Will Find You, is one of the most underrated albums so far in 2018, and the band’s Warped set proves to be a reminder that Senses Fail still have plenty of life left.

Senses Fail

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: Real Friends – Composure

It’s been just over two years since Real Friends came out with a full-length album, and while this isn’t an abnormally long period, I held firm belief that the band was in the process of creating their best work yet. It turns out, I wasn’t wrong. Composure is one of the best releases you’ll hear this year and is built as a story about the impact mental illness has on our relationships and our lives.

This is an album with a title that is vitally important to the context of the record. The very concept of composure itself is centrally woven through every song on the album, creating a continuity and arc that is impossible to ignore and a story that is liable to hit home for nearly everyone who listens.

You can buy or stream Composure on Apple Music.

As the album kicks off with “Me First”, there’s no composure present. Vocalist Dan Lambton bares it all, singing, “Why don’t you put me first for once / And spare me the bad news / Why don’t you put me first for once / We might need to slow down / Cuz’ I’m not going anywhere”. If you’ve ever been in a place where you don’t feel appreciated, it’s difficult to hold back your frustration once you reach your limit. Straightforward and biting, the character has voiced his concerns and now he can focus on working through it.

The bridge in “Stand Steady” is a continuation of the feelings in the first track. “Here I am / Showing every worry / To the world”, is a short but telling phrase that shows he’s still not cool with what’s going on. However, he’s decided to work on being the stronger person in the situation.

The story truly unfolds in “From the Outside”, which was a very fitting single for the band to release in anticipation for this album. Here we find that the person he’s struggling with is himself. Lambton has often spoken of struggling with bipolar disorder, and this song talks about his prescriptions and his constant need to save face. He’s in the public eye and has an influence. This idea continues on in the next song, “Smiling On the Surface”.

I took “Hear What You Want” to be referencing either a relationship with someone else or another way that he’s talking about himself. “I can’t leave you / You can’t leave me”, could refer to a toxic relationship or it could be talking about his mental illness. You can’t always get rid of what’s going on in your thoughts, and by hearing what you want, Lambton could be saying that the intrusive thoughts are a lot louder than he wishes they’d be, and even though one part of him knows he should ignore it, he can’t.

The next song, “Unconditional Love”, led me to believe that the past song is about a relationship. “You let me down / But you never let me go”, is saying that the relationship wasn’t beneficial, but they’re still trying to make it work despite knowing that it’s only a matter of time before things really go south. The last line of the song is “So let me go”, making clear that our character knows that what’s best for his mental health is to drop things that aren’t fulfilling and healthy.

On the title track, Lambton sings, “I’m reclaiming my composure”. He’s learning how to work through some of the tougher moments in his life. The second verse is where a lot of the darker ideas reside, quite literally. “I never told anyone / But the truth is I see / The shadow hanging over me”. I think this song is about not keeping cool, but losing it. He’s trying his absolute best to keep up with the meds and the preventative measures, but he still feels off.

The biggest thing about mental illness is how it makes you feel closed off from the rest of the world. Being in a crowded room and feeling like you’re the only one there. Doing something you love to do or being with people you love and, right in the middle of it, thinking to yourself that you don’t want to be there anymore.

“Get By” carries on the theme from “Hear What You Want” and “Unconditional Love”. This is the part of the story where our character decides to do something about the weight of this relationship. He breaks it off. An important note here is that it’s never implied that it’s any kind of romantic relationship. Mental illness messes up all kinds of friendships and family ties that, when they fall through, have that emotional attachment that is hard to get over.

A lot of pop punk is based on dating and breaking up (even some old Real Friends songs), but I feel like this album is trying to strike a different chord. The band’s character here is in a tough spot with someone, but not necessarily who we think. I think it’s important to remember that the impact of mental illness isn’t just something to romanticize, but it’s something that tears people apart. It’s hard to look back on your life and replay the conversations where something wasn’t quite over, but being able to notice signs that things weren’t right. Hindsight is 20/20.

The second-to-last track on Composure is “Ripcord”. In the vein of “Get By”, we see this situation from the opposite perspective, looking purely at the other side of this conflict. The other party feels like the character is using them for their support and only calls out when it’s convenient.

This is another facet of mental illness people don’t really talk about. It’s true that someone with a mental illness often fails to see past their struggle and watch the impact it’s having on others around them. Sometimes, though, it’s a protective measure for the person themselves. If they’re not getting the support they need from those around them, their last resort can be just focusing on making themselves able to cope and function. This isn’t an excuse, it’s a fact. So yeah, maybe in “Ripcord” other people in the character’s life are having trouble dealing with the way things are going, but our character himself is also having trouble.

The album ends with “Take a Hint”, where things turn around and settle down. Dan sings, “I’m learning to take a hint / Stay convinced / We’ll see the other side”. Despite the toll this whole ordeal has taken on our character, he’s still willing to find the optimism and works hard to stay in the place of positivity.

You may notice that I only talked about the lyrical merits of Real Friends’ new album Composure. I didn’t talk about how vocally dynamic it is, or how well produced it is, or how the band has matured musically. It is all of those things and more, but I think what’s important here is the message. It’s a cry for a help. It’s an explanation. It’s a warning. It’s a piece of art that highlights one of the most prevalent issues of today. It’s worth listening to not because you love the band or love pop punk, it’s worth listening to because with a little bit of effort, you might learn something.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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.

10 Real Friends Songs to Blast While Awaiting Their New Album

Like many punk fans, I’m eagerly awaiting the latest release from Real Friends. In preparation, I’ve been revisiting a lot of old favorites.

A lot of these songs were really important to me in my late teens. I’d been dealing with a lot emotionally and somehow Dan Lambton always had just the thing I needed to hear. The emotional connection has stuck with me since, and even though I don’t listen to their latest album, The Home Inside My Head, very often, I still get the same feelings of nostalgia when I do.

Real Friends’ music is almost cathartic for me, because remembering what I was dealing with and being removed from it now puts things into a lot of perspective. Songs like “Sixteen” don’t make me as deeply upset as they used to. I’ve felt the feelings and I’ve been learning to put them aside once I’ve dealt with them.

The feelings of emotional weakness that Lambton sings about really resonated with me then and they still do. I may not be in as bad of a place as I was when I was introduced to Real Friends, but sometimes stuff still bubbles up. The difference between then and now is that I recognize it and I’m able to deal with it more swiftly before it turns into a bigger problem.

I think Real Friends have really helped me figure out that process for myself. Their latest track, “From the Outside”, hasn’t really grown on me yet, but I’m getting there. I identify with a lot of the lyrics in the track, which gives me high hopes for their new album. A big trend in pop punk lately seems to be taking a lighter approach to the darker themes that are usually dealt with. Strangely enough, I’ve found myself in a place where I’m also taking a lighter approach to my struggles.

I’m excited to join Real Friends in their latest journey. I’m hoping to catch their set at Warped Tour this year and I have a feeling it will be a very emotional show for me, much in the way Neck Deep and The Wonder Years have been. There’s something strange about growing up with bands, and one of the best examples of that in my life is Real Friends.

Without further ado, here are my favorite songs by the band. I think it’s a great group of songs to dive into if you’ve never really gotten into them.

1. Skin Deep” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

2. “Colder Quicker” from The Home Inside My Head

3. “Late Nights In My Car” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

4. “Home” for Fall from the Everyone that Dragged You Here EP

5. “Sixteen” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

6. “From the Outside” from their new album due later this year

7. “I Don’t Love You Anymore” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

8. “I’ve Given Up On You” from the Put Yourself Back Together EP

9. “Floorboards” from the Everyone that Dragged You Here EP

10. “Summer” from Maybe this Place is the Same and We’re Just Changing

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva 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.

Most Anticipated of 2018: #2 Real Friends Take it to the Next Level

In the last few years, Illinois’ sad boys have come to revitalize a stagnant emo scene with hard hitting pop songs. Each new release only elevates the band’s writing as they transform what could be sappy genre songs into enormously energetic rock juggernauts.

If recent single, “Get By” is any indication, Real Friends’ third full-length will keep this tradition alive. Though topics such as loneliness and nostalgia tend to appear on every release, it never feels repetitious or without merit. Their hard work has provided an incredibly strong discography that only improves song after song.

After a session of writing songs with Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember, it seems the band may be doubling down on their energetic performance and edge. Real Friends are already a strong pop punk outfit, but the added insight from one of the biggest bands in the genre is a dream come true.

Real Friends are an honest band that has tightened their writing in recent years. The talent behind this group is enormous, and the payoff from their recent recordings can’t come fast enough.

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 has seen Real Friends live twice. He can’t wait to sing along to their every word this summer.