Review: Brian Fallon – Painkillers

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I watched Brian Fallon play “A Wonderful Life” on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah the other night, and although Trevor’s questions after the song seemed shallow and awkward, Fallon’s performance was anything but. Painkillers, his first solo album, can seem at times slightly off-putting considering how fleshed out The Gaslight Anthem can be. But seeing Brian standing at the mic, the fire in his eyes as he sang, with three other guitarists behind him, it became immediately clear that Painkillers is a work of passion and deeper than what appears on the surface.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

You can buy Painkillers on iTunes.

By “off-putting,” I don’t mean any harm, but rather that on first listen, it sounds like Brian Fallon played it safe: simple beats, xylophone melodies, Americana-esque guitar ballads that tip-toe the line between folk and indie rock. Essentially, The Gaslight Anthem stripped of the heavy guitar.

But Painkillers is an intricately woven fabric. With the essential pop songs, such as “A Wonderful Life”, the songs are created in a fashion that helps the music tell the story with a touch of country-infused pop. The central melody for “Painkillers” is a simple guitar riff that repeats throughout the song as though you’re staring up at the ceiling and watching the room spin in circles as Fallon sings, “And we wanted love like it was a drug / All we wanted was a little relief, and every heart in between / They were painkillers to me”, hiding the chorus of backing vocals and intricate slashes of the guitar.

Similarly, “Smoke” is essentially centered on the crisp beat light taps of the drum, and a swell of hand claps that diminish the guitar and punctuated piano as though lost in a foggy room. The slides of the electric guitar over the hand claps has a wonderful country-esque touch that seems to lift the fog as Fallon sings soberly, “And the black clouds came and darkened all our insides / There were newspaper clippings with horrible headlines / Of doom and despair and your name and my name said / ‘Who will save you from the truth of the matter, that your love, though like gold, is gone?’”

Not everything sounds like an experimental indie song though. “Steve McQueen” is a heartfelt acoustic ballad, with the gentle tap of the snare and egg shaker almost louder than the guitars and somber piano, as Fallon reminisces of faltered dreams. “Open All Night” is a bluesy country song that finds the conclusion of a loose story woven throughout the album of returning to the lights of large cities and the realization that the girl he’s been chasing is gone, for the better of both of them. “And I will never know the town where you finally settled down / With the top back on a Cadillac and your sunglasses on/  And you can’t make me whole, I have to find that on my own”.

“Rosemary”, one of the album’s true highlights and one of the best songs Fallon has ever written, is a rampaging rock song with sweet xylophone spread across the bridges. It is a back and forth story of a couple essentially discovering that they’re falling apart, and lead character Rosemary finding her self worth through the experience amidst garage rock shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”

What Brian Fallon has done with Painkillers is pull off the best aspects of what was accomplished with The Gaslight Anthem and strip it down to a minimum. The guitars are quiet, the beats simple and the lull of the shaker takes precedence over flashy guitar solos. But what it makes room for is emotional storytelling. Anyone used to Gaslight’s rock might need a little coaxing into the softer tone of the album, but the passion on this album is something that couldn’t have been done any other way: Springsteen inspiration blasting at full force.

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 saw Brian Fallon live for the first time outside of The Gaslight Anthem. He sold out the House of Blues without even having a record out. The man is a talent.

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Review: The Gaslight Anthem – Get Hurt

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The Gaslight Anthem have always felt a little out of place in the scene that they find themselves in. They’re a little too influenced by Americana and just a tad too little punk to really fit nicely where you want them to compared with their peers. But that difference is what guarantees their talent; each and every record is very much worthy of your attention.

Get Hurt is another example of their ever growing talent at song writing. Instead of infusing their music with energy just to stay on par with past records, Get Hurt steps down and paces itself to ensure that you’re paying attention.

With exception to the first track, Get Hurt sounds like a Gaslight album. It sounds like an electric folk record, with just a taste of punk. This is at once the heaviest and softest album of the band’s career. The mixture of sounds can be unsettling at first. The guitars are savagely fuzzy and rough, in the same vein as Weezer’s Maladroit, and not nearly as neat and trim as anything from American Slang or The ’59 Sound. But the hard guitars are cut to size with soft tracks held together with the soft thump of the pedal drum and soft strumming every few songs.

While breaking the energy isn’t anything new for The Gaslight Anthem, the focus has never been this heavy on it. Often times, it sounds like a loving mixture of Brand New’s more somber moments and The Get Up Kids circa On a Wire, held tight with Brian Fallon’s scratchy vocals. While the off and on bouts of energy can seem neurotic at times, the switches keep the songs from sounding too similar and gives each its own chance to ignite at any second.

The greatest asset to the sound of Get Hurt is drummer Benny Horowitz’ steady beat throughout the album. He never seems to go crazy at any point, instead maintaining the restraint that is key to the style of the record. Even as the guitars lose their energy, the drums stay strong, dampening just enough to set the pace.

Alex Levine’s bass lines ride the beat wonderfully, playfully bouncing throughout the album. Alex Rosamilia and Brian Fallon’s guitar work are the biggest differences in sound, as they are constantly shifting from the deep crackle of distorted power chords to the jangling pop of acoustic folk. The way that they test and toy with genres is endearing.

Title track “Get Hurt” is as soft as a song can be as it opens with almost a minute of just soft drumming and the guilded bounce of the bass propping Fallon’s voice before breaking out into a chorus equal parts subdued Brand New and Jimmy Eat World. “Helter Skelter” finds a more traditional sounding Gaslight song in the loud rock and hypnotizing guitar notes overpowering chords and bass lines as Fallon shouts back. “Selected Poems” starts off quiet against the click of Horowitz’s drum sticks before breaking into a frenzied chorus reminiscent of Weezer (especially the addicting guitar solo).

Lyrically, Fallon sounds similar to past Gaslight albums; a healthy mix of storytelling, regret and lost love. That not a dig by any means. As a lyricist, Fallon is able to tap into a manner of storytelling that feels authentic and classic without coming off as generic or boring. One of the best examples is in “1,000 Years”, as Fallon sings, “’Don’t look back,’ I heard a voice. In velvet I couldn’t see. The pictures were black and white, and the details were in between. I heard about a woman once who did everything ever asked of her. She died last week and her last words were, ‘It wasn’t worth it’”.

There are few happy endings to these songs if any, but that should be expected with an album titled Get Hurt. But instead of a depressed theme, the album abounds in the maturity and understanding of pain that accompanies growing up. Though the record is steeped in regret, it’s not bitter, such as during “Red Violins” when he sings, “Twenty pounds of curses came to visit me tonight. Salt for all the cuts, blankets for the cold, prayers to keep the devil far away from those I love. And there were red violins playing in my dreams. One for me, and two for me, and one at Jesus’ feet. And one I only reach to for sympathy”.

Get Hurt is in many ways a concept album exploring pain and regret, and in others the reconciliation and understanding of it. Though I can’t truthfully say that any of the songs have become my new all-time favorites from the band, there are significant staples to their discography that will be necessary for live shows. Regardless, Get Hurt is a powerful record of sublime skill.

4/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Most anticipated albums of 2014

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Now that all of the end-of-the-year lists are finished (wait, some people are still posting end-of-the-year lists?), we figure it’s time to look ahead to 2014. Surely, 2013 featured an incredible amount of fantastic music, but 2014 is shaping up to be pretty great itself.

Some of the albums on this list are being shrink-wrapped as we speak, while others are in the early-stages of creation or are simply hearsay. This is in no way an exhaustive list of the music to come in 2014, but simply an overview of the music we’re pretty dang excited about.

So go ahead – read on to find out what we’re looking forward to in 2014 and then hit the replies to share your most anticipated music of the new year!

We Are the In Crowd – Weird Kids (February 18, 2014 – Hopeless)

we_are_the_in_crowdWe Are the In Crowd made their mark on the scene in 2011 when they dropped their poppy, infectious debut album, Best Intentions. Since then, the band has toured relentlessly and grown from the new kids on the block to a force to be reckoned with. Weird Kids may prove to be a much more biting and aggressive release than their debut judging from lead single “The Best Thing (That Never Happened)”, which is just fine with us. Vocalist Tay Jardine possesses the chops and gusto that may lead to crossover success for this pop punk act. – Kiel Hauck

Blink-182 – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – DGC)

blink_182It’s been a little over a year since Blink 182 has released any new songs, and it seems like we’re due. Neighborhoods was a good return album for the group after their hiatus, but it lacked the charm that Blink is known for. However, the Dogs Eating Dogs EP seemed to have solved most of those issues and gave the band their lifeblood again. With the energy of their recent live shows as any indication, it looks like Blink 182 are finally back to full power, and with any luck, 2014 will be the year of the next great Blink album. – Kyle Schultz

Issues – Issues (February 18, 2014 – Rise)

issuesIssues rise in the metalcore scene has been a particularly quick one. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the band is composed of well-known names in the scene and features a fresh kick to the nearly worn out genre. Fronted by screamer Michael Bohn and crooner Tyler Carter, Issues offers an alluring vocal back and forth with an added post-hardcore crunch and nu-metal-esque scratches and breakdowns. The band’s debut Black Diamonds EP sounded promising, but their recently released work in lead up to their self-titled debut sounds polished and punishing. – KH

Say Anything – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Equal Vision)

say_anythingMax Bemis announced quite a while ago that Say Anything’s next album would be out in 2014 after taking a brief break this year. While his newer albums are a bit toned down from the explosive releases early on in the band’s career, any time a new Say Anything album is announced, it’s an exciting event. As Bemis changes his style slightly for each new album, it’s an experience sure to be enraptured in summersault guitar solos, extravagant chord changes and memorable lyrics. – KS

Chiodos – Untitled (March 2014 – Razor & Tie)

ChiodosBelieve it or not, it’s been nearly two years since Craig Owens announced his return to Chiodos. The promise of new music has hovered since then, and recent tours have given very little indication into what we can expect from the post-hardcore act’s fourth studio album. Surely the addition of guitarist Thomas Erak is an exciting one that should add a new flash and power to the band’s recordings, but little has been revealed about what the final product will sound like. One way or the other, we’re excited to hear what the band drops in March. – KH

The Early November – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Hopeless)

the_early_novemberThe Early November have announced that they will have a new album out in the spring, which was an amazing early Christmas present. Marking the second release since the band reunited, this follow-up to last year’s In Currents will be a tough sell, but each release by the group has been able to top itself, so we have reason to be excited. With the recent debut of new song “Better That Way”, it looks like The Early November are not only sticking to their original musical style, but perfecting it. – KS

Frank Ocean – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Def Jam)

frank_oceanAccording to Frank Ocean, he’s already hard at work on new songs to be included on his next album. It will be hard to top Channel Orange, but if there’s anyone out there that can keep our expectations high, it’s Ocean. His creative process is a mysterious one, leaving the possibility that we may not receive a new album this year, or even the next. With any luck, we won’t have to wait long to see what he has in store. In the meantime, we’ll throw on Channel Orange, which sounds just as fresh and captivating as it did upon its release. – KH

The Gaslight Anthem – Untitled (Sometime 2014 – Mercury)

the-gaslight-anthemThe Gaslight Anthem are busy as usual. They not only plan to keep pace in releasing a new record every two years, but they also just released the Here Comes My Man EP and are prepping for a B-side album this month. Keeping this busy though, each record the band has put out has been better than the last and has helped create a unique sound all their own; a healthy mix of Bruce Springsteen and punk rock. After the beauty of last year’s Handwritten, whatever Gaslight puts out is worthy of adoration and sure to be another entry in an already incredibly impressive discography. – KS

Kanye West and Jay Z – Watch the Throne 2 (Sometime 2014 – Def Jam)

kanye-jayzThe word was that once Ye and Jay dropped their solo albums, a follow-up to 2011’s Watch the Throne would be in store. Rumblings suggest that this may very well be the case, but when the album will emerge is a mystery. Regardless, we know well enough that Kanye’s Yeezus was one of the most impressive and unsettling albums of 2013, while Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail was…well, underwhelming. However, these two seem to bring out the best in each other and we all eagerly await their next offering. – KH

Noel Gallagher – Untitled (Late 2014 – Sour Mash)

Noel-GallagherNoel Gallagher is sadly underappreciated in this country, as is his current band The High Flying Birds. But the former Oasis writer and guitarist is not only reported as writing a new record, but has claimed that it includes some of the best songs he’s ever written. As the genius behind most of Oasis’s legendary hits (“Don’t Look Back In Anger”, “Wonderwall”) that’s not only a big claim, but a battle cry to outdo his stellar debut solo album. It’s currently unknown whether it will maintain the orchestral acoustic ballads of the original album or revert to Gallagher’s trademark guitar rock, but it honestly doesn’t matter: his songs are just that good. – KS

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.