Eras of Influence: Exploring the Sounds of the 1990s

This article is part of an ongoing series in which I examine the artists and music that defined specific eras of my life. Check out the introduction to the series here.

1990s: Alanis Morissette, Nirvana, No Doubt, Boyz II Men

As the 90s rolled around, I started to gain a little more autonomy. On occasion, my mom let me choose the radio station. On the schoolbus, someone might talk about a cool new song that had just hit the airwaves. And I would use these moments to begin stretching my wings into new sounds. To put it plainly, I grew a very quick interest in anything that had a guitar.

And the sound of a guitar in the 90s was distinct. While I didn’t yet have the chops to distinguish between different styles of rock, I frequently used the term alternative to describe my tastes. Alternative to what? I don’t think anyone my age really knew. But it was a sound and it made me feel cool. My mom didn’t listen to Nirvana or The Smashing Pumpkins. She feigned interest in No Doubt’s breakout single “Don’t Speak”, but not enough to explore the entirety of Tragic Kingdom. I held my cassette tape of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in special esteem. It had a swear word!

I remember how early sounds of the decade, in the form of groups like Ace of Base and TLC, blended the fleeting influence of the late 80s with something fresh and new that helped define the pop music of a new decade. A new wave of R&B sounds hit the radio in the form of Boyz II Men and All-4-One. The former’s third studio album II was owned by nearly everyone in my middle school.

During this period, my lawn-mowing and leaf-raking money was used almost exclusively on music – first on cassettes, then on CDs. My first compact disc, purchased in conjunction with a Discman, was Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere (yikes). Did I have to sit perfectly still to avoid my favorite songs skipping? Of course. But the days of rewinding and fast forwarding were over.

As much as I was able to stretch my own wings through the early and mid part of the decade, I still hadn’t found something that was quite my own. I was open to anything, by hadn’t quite pinpointed a sound or a scene that would engulf me. That would all change in 1997, which we’ll explore next time as my first clearly defined era of influence.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Weezer Become Kings of Rock

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

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

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

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is staring deep into the eyes of a pinecone owl.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Panic! At the Disco Claim the Dancefloor

It’s been almost three years since Panic! At the Disco released the absolutely stellar Pray For The Wicked, but Brendon Urie isn’t one to sit idle for too long. Coming off the high of what is arguably Panic’s best record, it’s hard to imagine that anything can top Pray For The Wicked. 

Fortunately though, Brendon Urie is full of surprises. Having brought Panic! back from the brink of collapse, expanded the band’s sound in unimaginable ways and lifted the group to become one of the world’s biggest acts over the last decade, he isn’t one to take lightly. With each album carrying a distinct and unique persona and sound, it’s hard not to be excited for whatever comes next.

Panic! At the Disco is a band that universally delivers in a way that almost no other musical act can. Whatever Urie has planned for the band’s seventh album, it’s destined to once again push the band’s boundaries and force other pop acts to up their game just to keep up.

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 sneezed, then his cat sneezed, then he sneezed again. A sign of the end times or just exceptional timing between man and beast? The answer, is yes.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Underoath Provide Another Fix

Tampa, Florida, rock act Underoath didn’t let 2020 slow them down. Booked to support Slipknot on a massive summer tour that went up in smoke, the band launched a weekly Twitch show breaking down their catalogue track-by-track with a constant stream of guests. But it all led up to the big announcement: A live streamed concert event held over three nights called Underoath: Observatory. And it was incredible.

Not only did Underoath use the expertly executed Observatory series to set the bar for the litany of live-streamed concerts that came after, it turned out to be pretty profitable according to an article published by Forbes in July. While the Observatory series certainly won’t mark the end of Underoath’s time on the road, it opened a new door of possibilities for what it might look like for fans to experience their favorite band.

But throughout the band’s fascinating summer adventures, there was an undercurrent that there was more to come. Given that five of the six band members all still reside in the Florida area, it’s probably safe to presume that some collaboration and writing took place in 2020. Following Underoath’s successful comeback album, Erase Me, coupled with the tour opportunities that followed, now is certainly the time to strike while the iron is still hot.

If 2020 offered longtime fans of the band to re-experience Underoath’s old albums and classic material, 2021 could very well present us with something new. Whether you enjoyed the sonic evolution found on Erase Me or not, the band’s trajectory has always been one of exploration and change. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another dose.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

Rock music wasn’t in rotation in my life in any form heading into the fall of 2000. Several years prior, I had fallen head-over-heels in love with hip hop, a discovery that would change my life forever. And when I say I only listened to rap music at that time, it’s not an overstatement. The genre infused its way into every part of my life as I made my way through the bowels of high school.

Nevertheless, I stayed abreast of music trends at large via a variety of music mags, MTV, and this thing called the internet, which had recently entered my own home. While I can’t recall the precise moment that Linkin Park entered my life, I remember a slow wave building its way through the halls of my high school. Almost overnight, Linkin Park was the band that everyone was listening to. 

You can buy or stream Hybrid Theory on Apple Music.

It was around this time that I received my first burned CD from a classmate – a copy of Hybrid Theory downloaded from Napster in which every song was out of place and mislabeled. Thus began a new era of my life, both in terms of the music I consumed and how I consumed it.

Hybrid Theory didn’t expose me to mainstream nu metal or send me headfirst into the genre. I was well aware of the movement thanks to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn, but none of those bands held my attention. What set Linkin Park apart in my eyes was their much more focused execution of hip hop elements. Mike Shinoda could actually rap. The band actually took sampling and programming seriously. It wasn’t embarrassing, and it helped bridge a divide for listeners like me.

That debut album stayed in rotation through my final years of high school and served as a small stroke of common ground I could share with some of my classmates, none of whom had any interest in rap at the time. It also opened the door to other guitar-driven bands I would soon come to love like 12 Stones and Evanescence. 

The sense of common ground Hybrid Theory created wouldn’t last long. During my first semester away at college, I met some new friends that were in an actual rock band. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I attempted to make pleasantries, telling them that I, too, had an interest in rock music. I listened to Linkin Park.

*Insert record scratch* And not the good kind.

As it turns out, Linkin Park wasn’t cool. But I quickly learned of some new music that was – music born out of the east coast underground scene, spearheaded by the likes of At the Drive-In and Glassjaw. Never mind that Glassjaw’s debut, which was created to “destroy Adidas rock,” was produced by Ross Robinson, who also manned the boards for Korn’s first two albums. This was new. This was cool.

As I began exploring a completely new style of music and diving into new bands like Anberlin, My Chemical Romance, and Underoath, I still couldn’t shake Hybrid Theory’s hold on me. In the spring of 2003, I purchased Linkin Park’s follow-up, Meteora, at a local Wal-Mart and listened in secret, hoping none of my new friends would find out. There was something perfect about those albums, something that sonically coalesced in a way that captured everything I was feeling. Something about Chester Bennington’s tortured voice that felt familiar.

It was in the four-year gap between Meteora and Minutes to Midnight that I finally moved on, finding a plethora of new bands that scratched that existential itch. To this day, 2003 to 2007 still stands as possibly the most influential period of my life in terms of music discovery. But it also stands as the period in which I became a snob. By 2007, the nu metal genre as a whole had become maligned and forgotten as a new wave of scene bands entered the mainstream. Who had time for Linkin Park? Not me.

Not only did I not follow the band through their ensuing years, I became the person that scoffed when people brought them up in conversation. By this point, I was writing for various music magazines and websites and couldn’t afford a dent in my reputation. Linkin Park belonged to the masses.

In 2012, I had moved to a new city and was invited by some people to attend a Linkin Park concert. In an effort to kindle some new friendships, I agreed to go. But only as a credentialed member of the press. I was there to take photos and document for PopMatters, not to have a good time. To read my ensuing article today is to read the words of someone conflicted. Because that night, front and center of the stage, I was transported back to those days in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was more than an album I listened to. It was a friend I could talk to.

It was that night that I rediscovered Linkin Park, and most importantly, the overpowering presence of Chester Bennington. And I’m so glad I did. I’m not here to tell you how Hybrid Theory changed the world or saved rock music. It did neither. But it’s impossible to deny the impact of an album that went diamond, becoming one of the 50 best-selling albums in the United States, and created a following unlike any we’ve seen from a guitar-driven band in the past 20 years.

These days, the conversation around Linkin Park and that debut album have come full circle, perhaps partially due to the tragic passing of Bennington in 2017, but almost certainly due to the collective recognition that Hybrid Theory has managed to stand the test of time. When I listen to it today, I’m struck by the foresight the band had in terms of genre mixture. In a time when the idea of genre has dissolved nearly completely, Hybrid Theory sounds not all that out of place.

Twenty years later, my favorite song is still album opener “Papercut”. A few days ago, as I sat parked in my car outside a Starbucks, waiting for the song to end before I turned off the ignition, I was nearly overcome with emotion during Chester’s repeated bridge of, “The sun goes down / I feel the light betray me”. There’s something about that line that hits different today, especially when considering the band’s final single, “One More Light” – a song about the deep pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. 

That idea of light and its finite existence serves as fitting bookends for the band and an era they helped define. It’s also a reminder of those moments of discovery, when music speaks to our soul in a way that nothing else can at a time when we need it the most. I’m thankful for the moment Hybrid Theory provided all those years ago and that it still holds meaning in my life today.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Podcast: Analyzing Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Recently, Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. And guess what? There’s plenty to discuss. The It’s All Dead crew (Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz, and Nadia Alves) hopped on the podcast to make sense of it all.

The trio each share their thoughts on some of their favorite (and least favorite) rankings on the list, discuss the list’s welcomed and overdue shift toward diversity, and talk about a few albums that deserved to make the cut but didn’t. They also ponder how one might separate art from artist while making a list of this nature and how we can accurately and fairly look back on music and events from previous decades. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What albums stuck out to you on this list? Let us know in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

KennyHoopla – Discovering Magic By Accident

One of the things I miss the most in the world is being new to music, walking into a Best Buy and buying an album because the album caught my eye, as though preordained by a cosmic power. Since I did this nearly 20 years ago (Jesus Christ, I’m old) to discover Copeland, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, The Early November and The Used, among others, it’s a practice that has been more or less extinct for more than a decade.

Today, KennyHoopla appeared to me as if sent by fate. In a YouTube channel curated with mostly stand up comedy, anime and video game highlights, KennyHoopla caught my attention in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time—with an image.

The thumbnail for the live version of his single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” shows the artist passionately clutching the microphone, shouting into it. The emotion of the thumbnail stood out on its own like a painting on the wall. I was utterly drawn to him. You can see it below.

As is, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is an electrifying new wave infused rock song. The live video features KennyHoopla raging to the sound of a drumset and a single guitar, commanding attention with the energy of Bruno Mars and the flare of AFI’s Davey Havok. His voice crackled with an intensity that hovers between grunge and soul, finding a perfect mixture of graveled purity. Within 30 seconds of the song ending, I needed to hear more.

As a single, “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//” is phenomenal. As an EP, How Will I Rest In Peace If I’m Buried By A Highway is magnificent. The album mixes elements of new wave, punk, pop, R&B and emo from a lost age. The result is something that feels organic and inspired within almost any genre. KennyHoopla is the result of smashing the YeahYeahYeahs and Bloc Party together.

The EP sizzles with honesty, such as in the slow synth embedded “dust//”, a song The Postal Service would envy (“And this anxiety, It creeps into my home / This is really all my fault / Is this really all my fault?”). Although the EP revels in feelings of inadequacy and doubt, there is a sensationalism to it as well (“Well I’ve seen the stars and they look like us”).

A picture demanded I listen to a song today. A picture delivered me an artist I am absolutely enraptured with. Somehow sounding simultaneously vibrantly fresh and from a lost age of music, it seems incredible that an artist like this would only just now appear with this much potential. With so many ways to discover new music over the last couple of decades, it’s sobering and enlightening to know that an image can still convey everything you want and hope for in an artist.

The fact that KennyHoopla isn’t already a mainstream name is a crime. The wait until he is, though, will be well worth it.

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 dreams of the deep drawl of Kelsey Grammer telling him nice things about the world.

Reflecting On: Anberlin – Dark is the Way, Light is a Place

There’s something existentially beautiful about those rare, unpredictable moments when an album or a song arrives in your life at exactly the right time. Music is a universal language, and it makes sense that it would impact us in these ways throughout our lives. It’s weird and random, but profoundly deep. It also tends to weaken our objectivity.

I say this because I believe Dark is the Way, Light is a Place is the best of Anberlin’s seven studio albums. You should probably take my opinion on this matter with a grain of salt, because it arrived in my life at the perfect time for me to end up feeling this way. And while I know this about myself, it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this opinion.

You can buy or stream Dark is the Way, Light is a Place on Apple Music.

It should also be said that Anberlin never released a weak album, something that elevates their stature as modern day rock legends. It’s easy to hear arguments for albums like Cities, Never Take Friendship Personal, and Vital and feel swayed. There isn’t really a wrong answer, but I’m often surprised at how little I hear the argument made for Dark is the Way.

I think the reason is found in the band’s own admission about the creation of the album itself. Leading up to the release, they described it as their “punk” album – not in genre, but in concept. Dark is the Way is Anberlin’s Kid A. It’s their Yeezus. There are elements found here that were further explored on Vital and Lowborn, but by and large, there is no direct sonic comparison to be made with any of their other work.

Coming on the heels of the band’s mainstream breakout with New Surrender, they entered the studio with Brendon O’Brien, a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Pearl Jam. It’s the kind of opportunity that strikes when you’re on a major label and just had one of the biggest rock records in recent memory (“Feel Good Drag”). 

Anberlin didn’t necessarily take it as an opportunity to make an even bigger single or strike gold again. They took it as a chance to explore parts of themselves that they couldn’t under any other circumstance. It was the right move. Dark is the Way is not littered with “hits,” but it features some of the band’s best songwriting and still feels like a daring attempt to make something that would change the way people talked about the band.

From the loud, fuzzy intro of “We Owe This to Ourselves” to the dark, brooding “Closer” to percussion-powered “Pray Tell”, the album features endless moments of exploration and experimentation. But it does so while sounding like the band had been writing this way all along. Stephen Christian’s vocals soar in new ways on the chorus of “You Belong Here” and sounds angrier than ever on “To the Wolves”. Each track feels distinct without ever jumping off the rails.

The summer of 2010 was unquestionably the worst of my life. By the time September rolled around, it felt like months of emotional turmoil had finally begun to subside, ever so slightly. I was ready to pick up the pieces of my life and move forward. Dark is the Way, Light is the Place happened to be the exact thematic therapy I needed.

I still can’t listen to “The Art of War” or “Down” without shedding tears. I can’t experience this album without feeling everything I was feeling at that moment of my life. I felt alone, and Dark is the Way felt like a companion because it seemed to understand and articulate everything I was feeling. There are only a handful of albums that do that in one lifetime, and this one may be near the top for me.

Shortly after the album’s release, I made the bold move of reaching out to Stephen Christian via social media, sharing my story with him, expecting no response. I’ll never forget my feeling of shock when he replied. Or the comfort in the kind words he offered. I’ll never forget how the experience of everything this album made me feel gave me the courage to start writing again. And how that led to opportunity which led to the creation of this very website.

So I’m biased. And I’m fine with that. I do believe that Dark is the Way, Light is a Place, and everything it encompasses, stands as Anberlin’s finest hour. But even if it’s not, it will always mean more to me than I’m able to put into words. And I love that feeling.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Emery – White Line Fever

I’ve written A LOT about Emery in my time here on It’s All Dead. My pieces, whether they’re reviews of new albums or reflections on past projects, generally boil down to the continuity and consistency Emery have displayed through their 19- (and counting) year run. Their latest, White Line Fever, is no different.

You can buy White Line Fever by joining Emeryland.

The album isn’t necessarily a new step in Emery’s path, but rather a continuation of 2018’s Eve. It’s not as heavy as their other projects musically, but they’ve definitely not skimped lyrically. The things they’re singing about are as hard-hitting as ever. Gone are the days of songs about superficial relationships. The guys in Emery know that we’re all adults now, and they’ve treated their listeners accordingly here.

Forcing listeners to take a deep look inward at their worldview and how it’s affecting the way our lives play out is at the forefront of White Line Fever. Actions have consequences, and on songs like “The Noose,” and “Biddy”, those consequences are evident. But it’s not all doom and gloom here. On “2:38” they reminisce on their early days on the road, and how their lives have changed since then.

This isn’t my favorite Emery album, nor is it their best, but it’s another fitting addition to their discography. If there’s one thing that they’ve learned over 19 years, it’s where their wheelhouse lies. They make great post-hardcore music, and nary do they stray from that formula. I feel like at this point in my Emery-fanhood, I’m focusing more on what the band has to say, rather than the manner in which they present it. I’m always a sucker for a great hardcore band, but an Emery album is a double whammy of solid music and something to really mentally chew on and spend some time with.

What has kept me listening to Emery over the years is their transparency to admit that they’re different than they were in 2001. So many bands I grew up with as a hardline Christian kid refused to admit that, and they became almost fraudulent in my eyes. The guys of Emery have made it a point, almost a defining feature, of their art to declare that change is not only natural, but often beneficial. They’ve made it okay for someone like me to realize that I don’t feel the same way about some things that I used to. Because of their courage, I’ve grown in my perception of faith and how it fits into my life. 

4/5

 

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.

Review: Silverstein – A Beautiful Place to Drown

In one of our recent podcast episodes, Silverstein vocalist Shane Told pondered on the band’s evolution over the past 20 years. In his mind, Silverstein hadn’t branched too far from their post-hardcore roots over the course of nine albums, but had instead tinkered with their sound and mostly stayed within their own wheelhouse. The formula has clearly worked — the band has been a scene staple, outlasting so many of their peers while developing an intensely loyal fanbase.

You can buy or stream A Beautiful Place to Drown on Apple Music.

It makes sense then that Told and the band held some concerns over how listeners might respond to some chances they took when creating their 10th album, A Beautiful Place to Drown. But one needn’t worry: the chances paid off in what may very well be the band’s best work to date.

Listening to A Beautiful Place to Drown is much like reveling in the nostalgia of mid-aughts emo while still experiencing something fresh and new. Fans of the scene know that this dichotomy isn’t something captured easily, as a large number of bands have attempted to meld the old with the new to disastrous results. On this effort, Silverstein sound like a band that is firmly comfortable in their own skin and having a blast.

Early singles “Bad Habits” and “Impossible” (featuring Underoath‘s Aaron Gillespie) set the stage for what the record embodies – fast-paced guitars, newly introduced synthesizers and EDM effects, and Told’s knack for writing sing-a-long hooks. On the former, he delivers some of the best lines of the album, giving nod after nod to the band’s history: “Left home, fist full of stones / Unpacked in a new glass condo / Cut my teeth, biting my own tongue / Left no short song unsung / Took a chance on a melody / Laid down where the train should be / Rescued by a hand in the ocean / Now I’m alive in the wind’s reflection”.

Fans of the band need no explanation of those lyrics, and it’s an exciting invitation to lean into those memories while experiencing a band you love in a new way. And while these singles serve as the epicenter of Silverstein’s sound on the album, they branch out in multiple directions. “Burn it Down” featuring Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo finds the band at their heaviest, with some excellent riffs from guitarist Paul Marc Rousseau accompanied by Shomo and Told’s screams. Still, it’s Told’s ear for melody that leads to one of the album’s best choruses: “Let’s burn it down / There’s no way out / I can read you like a matchbook, speeding and we can’t slow down / ‘Cause I need this now / In all my dreams you’re screaming ‘Burn it down’”.

Other tracks like “Say Yes!” and “Take What You Give” featuring Simple Plan’s Pierre Bouvier capture the kind of pop punk sensibility that made early All Time Low a household name. “All on Me” stands as the most unique track in the Silverstein collection with atmospheric vocals reminiscent of One Republic and a saxophone interlude to boot. It’s these little splashes of surprise that keep you honed in and create distinction between the album’s 12 tracks, which breeze by in just over a half hour.

A Beautiful Place to Drown manages to honor the band’s legacy while offering something fresh to fans who have carried the Silverstein flag for two decades. In doing so, they also created the tightest and most cohesive collection of tracks in their catalogue. Fans can debate the best Silverstein album — and there are plenty to choose from — but it’s hard to imagine a band at this stage crafting an album that looks fondly behind while forging ahead so delightfully. A Beautiful Place to Drown feels timeless in the best of ways.

4.5/5

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 pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.