Review: Hellogoodbye – S’only Natural

Hellogoodbye has become an indie darling through a daring evolution of synth pop. Hellogoodbye mature each album cycle into something new. However, the risk is that sometimes these projects have mixed results. S’only Natural, the band’s newest album, is an infuriating record that I loved and hated in equal measure for the first two weeks after its release. However, after seeing Hellogoodbye live, I can finally appreciate the album in a way that otherwise may not have been possible.

Hellogoodbye played the Subterranean in Chicago two weeks after the release of S’only Natural. I have seen the group live twice before, and am familiar with the energy of their performances. However, this show lacked the stacked keyboards and intimacy of a ukulele. Instead, a glitzy golden sheet flowed across the stage with the words “Club Forrest” emblazoned on in in bright neon. Singer Forrest Kline strode across the stage in a lounge suit, dancing with a relaxed swagger. That’s the moment that S’only Natural finally clicked.

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Hellogoodbye

S’only Natural is a disco record. It is arguably the best instrumentation of Hellogoodbye’s career. The bass lines are extraordinarily melodic (“S’only Natural”). The guitars are restrained, but flesh out a full-bodied sound encouraging the listener to dance. The keyboards take their time and play a more integral, natural element to the music (“Let It Burn”). Additionally, the percussion is relaxed, but rich. While no song finds the frenetic pace of past records, the beats find a healthy balance between dance numbers and somber tones that perfectly match the bass (“Hang Loose”).

Trumpets, violin, and piano also take center stage at key points. Both “Overture” songs, which start and end the album, are primarily gorgeous violin ballads that sound straight out of the 1950’s.

One of the key things about S’only Natural is that it is a full, single piece. Many songs seem to bleed into the next, or end in such a way that it sets up the next perfectly. It keeps the album moving, but also can cause many songs to sound remarkably similar if you’re not paying attention. The music is amazing, but it lacks the variety of past records. It’s not until after the album is already done that you really see the crescendo of the first half and the soft ballads that swell to end the record (“Mysterious You”).

The most off-putting part of the album is singer Forrest Kline. For a singer who is so full of creativity, he takes zero chances with S’only Natural. Every song is sung in the same quiet pitch, with a backing track of himself almost whispering. Each song, I expected him to finally put a bit of effort into his voice, but instead maintains the same tone and quiet drawl. It’s maddening and beautiful at the same time. At times, it almost renders the lyrics useless.

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Hellogoodbye

After multiple listens over several weeks, I still had no opinion of this album. It was fun and boring, vibrant and bland at the same time. Which is why it seemed so odd to watch Forrest confidently strut in front of the mic stand. There was far more energy here than anything on the album. Opening the set with album closer “Honeymoon (Forever)”, Kline crooned over the soft taps of the snare and a keyboard, “I will come away with you / You look like you know what to do / Missing both your shoes, disheveled and amused / I’m in love with you”. Gliding over the gold blanket, the lounge jacket buttoned tight, the soft nature of his voice made absolute sense. Even during faster, poppier songs when the percussion and keyboards picked up volume to a staggering pitch, such as “Put It Out”, Kline simply crooned. “You were the autumn that bathed me in gold / And I’m a fool that thinks you were a flame I could hold”.

Almost the entire setlist of the live show was from S’only Natural, with only a few select favorites and fan requests from other albums peppered throughout. By night’s end, S’only Natural finally made sense to me. The instrumentation was the true star of this record. While the band’s music evolved over past records, Kline’s voice and lyrics always seemed to take center stage. This album is a jam. It wants you to dance. It wants anyone listening to be able to sing along with minimal effort. The confidence to play mostly new songs live plays straight into the album’s strength. And while past albums became poppier, S’only Natural looks back at the classic sounds and styles that influenced today’s music. The result is a romantic blend of current dance beats and crooner swing.

S’only Natural is an anomaly of an album. It’s soft, restrained and bursting with energy all at once. Though the lyrics are catchy, they’re a device to bring more attention to the music itself. This era of the band is just as progressive as it is classical. The mountainous bass lines eventually give way to gentle ballads that culminate in a rich album that forces listeners to discover the band’s music in a completely new way. S’only Natural isn’t an album for everyone, but it rewards anyone willing to put in the effort.

3.5/5

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 realized Forrest Kline was standing behind him watching the opening band. When Kyle introduced himself to Forrest, he said, “We’ve actually met before in Columbus. You grabbed my nipples [because I complimented Joseph Morro instead of you].” Forrest looked shocked, took a drink and then danced away into the crowd. He is literally the best people.

 

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Underoath: Hiding in The Subterranean

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Underoath, appearing in Chicago for a secret show to celebrate the release of their new album,Erase Me, brought with them a day of sacrifice. Freezing temperatures and strong winds mocked those waiting outside The Subterranean for hours for one of the few entrance wristbands, and then again later in the evening just to get inside. However, the effort to make it was rewarded with a short, intimate set with the band that couldn’t have happened any other way.

Small, dark and doing its best to look like a basement, The Subterranean is a small venue. The stage rises just above the crowd and leaves little room between the performers and their fans. It is a perfect venue for cutting out the negative space as much as possible. For those in attendance, it was hard earned.

“I got here around eleven this morning to get a wristband, and the line was already back here,” one guy said as he pointed to the entrance of a Starbucks down the street from the venue. A particularly cold gust of wind caught everyone off guard, but he just shook his head at us. “It was colder this morning.”

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For all of their effort, Underoath appeared and rewarded the crowd of 200 with a short, brutal set. With the audience leaning directly on the stage, vocalist Spencer Chamberlain figuratively, and then literally, stood on top of them.

The secret show was a reward for the diehards. Starting with “On My Teeth”, the 40-minute set traded singles off of Erase Me (“Rapture”, “No Frame”) with some of the most popular songs of old. Announced as dedication for their older fans, Underoath jumped straight into “It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door” and “Reinventing Your Exit”. “Writing on the Walls”, the only song from Define the Great Line closed out the evening.

Keyboardist Christopher Dudley traded smiles with the crowd. Guitarists Timothy McTague, Grant Brandell and James Smith bounded with what limited movement they could muster on the tiny stage. Aaron Gillespie, hidden in dark and masked with fog and shining lights threw all of his energy into decimating the drumset.

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Short, sweet chaos.

For fans, spending the day waiting was worth it. Everyone seemed abuzz with how amazing it had been, all whispers of the cold long forgotten. “I waited 15 years to finally see them,” said one person waiting to retrieve their coat, “I can’t imagine a better way to have seen them for the first time.”

There is an excitement that swallows fans when a band reunites that wraps them in nostalgia. But the energy that follows a new release is something else entirely. If the excitement they showed Chicago to be in full motion once again is any indication, the future of Underoath is promising a lot of great things to come.

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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 got into a Secret show. He is officially cool. Don’t take that away from him…. Please?