Review: Real Friends – The Home Inside My Head

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Real Friends has been a band that toyed with my opinion of them for several years. While their early EPs simmered with energy and the youthful nostalgia of those new to learning what life is outside of school, their debut LP, Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing did not resonate with me at all. I wanted to love them so badly, but I worried that they were just another flash in the scene destined to fade before they had made their mark.

You can buy The Home Inside My Head on iTunes.

You can buy The Home Inside My Head on iTunes.

The Home Inside My Head, the second album by Real Friends, not only firmly cements them as a force to be reckoned with in the pop punk genre, it may be the single most powerful emo album in the last decade.

Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t sound like an album that came out a week ago; Real Friends wear their influences on their sleeves proudly. THIMH sounds like it may have been recorded at any point since 2000 and would have been just as powerful then as it is now.

While there is a definitive improvement in skill and writing throughout the album, there is a sentimentality and respect at points where you can hear an influence from another band (they even name-drop ‘Death Cab’ and ‘Dashboard’, just cuz). “Scared To Be Alone” sounds like it was ripped straight off of The Starting Line’s Direction. The rash guitars rival the harsh melodies that The Wonder Years made famous on The Upsides, but the softer, broodier songs and the heart breaking self-deprecating lyricism remind me of The Early November circa The Room Is Too Cold. On a side note, Real Friends have always reminded me of TEN, but that could just be vocalist Dan Lambton’s shaggy head of hair compared to the curly fro of a young Ace Enders.

Real Friends manage to enthrall the entire record with loud melody. “Stay In One Place” is a seminal opener, catchy on the first listen and an intense rocker to lead the charge. “Empty Picture Frames” is a new staple that begins with subdued power cords before unleashing a torrent of sound during the chorus, backed with soaring, multi-tiered backing vocals. The painfully soft “Mokena” pulls the emotion out of Lambton’s voice, as he shouts, “I’m fucking up and getting over it”.

One of my biggest critiques of earlier Real Friends’ music was that the songs were trying to be ‘sad just to be sad,’ or they seemed somewhat generically emo. That is still true to some degree, as there are still too many references to ‘the past’, or just the word ‘sad’ in general. However, The Home Inside My Head, a metaphor for the lonely comfort you can find in yourself while the outside world eats away at you is much more refined while staying on point. There isn’t a happy ending here, just growth.

Dan Lambton’s vocals are cleaner and more emotive than past work, and it pushes more heart into his lyrics. One constant of Real Friends is that Lambton sings about reflecting on his past, most likely high school, and how happy he used to be compared to now. The Home Inside My Head can be relentlessly harsh like that. On “Stay In One Place,” while hating how a loved one takes out their anger on him, Lambton asks himself, “Can you find your calling if nothing is calling for you?”

“Keep Lying To Me” finds Lambton still wrestling with a failed relationship as he sings, “Last night I closed my eyes and thought about someone that wasn’t you / The weight of the world slipped off my shoulders /…/ I know this isn’t where you want to be / I think I’m better off when I’m alone”.

However, there is a glimmer of hope that begins during “Empty Picture Frames” and sprinkles itself throughout. This might be the only place he finds comfort as he breaks himself down mentally. “The home inside my head has a bed for me / That no one will ever get the chance to see / A kitchen table with one chair, walls with empty picture frames / That no one will ever see”.

Through the cresting waves of depression, self doubt and harsh reflection, lines crop up from time to time that show progress pushing through the darkness, such as “Last year I was a trainwreck, now I’m just a mess” (“Mess”), or “Show me how to be something other than nostalgic / I want to feel inspired and innocent again / I just want to be worth your time” (“Well, I’m Sorry”).

The Home Inside My Head might be the essential playbook on emo for this generation, similar to the way The Get Up Kids’ Something To Write Home About was almost 20 years ago. It is brazenly open, honest and over the top in a way that reminds you why emo became such a force to be reckoned with in the first place. The tip of the hat to other bands seems like a flourish to anyone listening closely, like a musical wink to fans. Real Friends are at the top of their game, and made an album worth the time of anyone who has fallen in love with the genre within the last twenty years.

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 has seen Real Friends live twice. They were good, but he will be singing along to their every word this summer.

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Review: As It Is – Never Happy, Ever After

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Five months in, and it feels like 2015 is the official year of the classic pop punk revival. There have been nothing less than a swarm of albums that sound like they were torn straight out of 2002. The debut album from As It Is is no exception, and the world is better for it.

First off, it’s important to admit up front that I grew up on the pop punk sound of the early 2000s and am a complete sucker for any band that does it well. It’s hard to ignore that bias, even when a band might not quite deserve the amount of praise I sometimes give.

It’s hard to find much in the way of innovation on Never Happy, Ever After. If anything, it adds the effect of double vocalists (ala Taking Back Sunday) and strained shouts over snappy riffs circa early New Found Glory. The benefit of that, though, is that Never Happy sounds timeless. I could have just as easily have been pumping my fist to Never Happy, Ever After as I did to The Starting Line’s Say It Like You Mean It.

Smooth energy and grind house guitar riffs dominate the album, creating an effective love letter to the forefathers of modern pop punk. For anyone getting into the scene now, it’s easy to imagine As It Is being just as important 0f a band as New Found Glory was to my generation. The music hypnotically balances itself between poppy mosh-ready riffs and glossy sweet strings over raging drums and bass. If there is one thing to complain about, the vocals sound like there might have been too much production or auto tune used. It’s obvious Patty Walters is a good singer, but a little more raw energy would have served him better.

It’s becoming rarer and rarer to find a band that immediately knows who they are when they release their first album. It’s obvious after a single listen that As It Is are not only well versed in the most important bands to pop punk, they’re determined to recapture the magic of a Sticks and Stones. If anything makes the album feel modern, it’s the fact that the band shifts the lyrical focus away from high school romances to a more introspective place that eat away at you slowly, such as “Drowning Deep In Doubt”, when Walters sings, “If the only place I belong is an afterlife that I just can’t believe in / At least I’ll know I was born so not everyone lives and dies on their own”.

This band is a collective of good songwriters. There’s more to their music than a three minute guitar slamming. There is nothing quite as invigorating as listening to “My Oceans Were Lakes” and hearing the drumming slowly take center stage after two and a half minutes of acoustic guitars so soft they could be have been a lullaby. The energy that builds is awe inspiring.

There are a lot of soft spots on Never Happy, but there’s a power behind the pop that puts most bands in the genre in their place. “Concrete”, the chorus to “Turn Back To Me”, “Can’t Save Myself” and “Dial Tones” are some of the best songs in the scene since The Wonder Years stepped into the spotlight.

There are a lot of good lines in every song, and it’s just a matter of picking your favorites depending on your mood. “Turn Back To Me” has Patty Walters and Andy Westhead alternating the verse, “I can only take so much before I spill my guts / But I’m terrified of letting you see what I’m thinking / But you left before I could and if I could too, I would / Cause my mind’s a frightening and lonely place I can’t escape at night”. “Speak Soft” includes the lines, “Can I give you an answer? / The beauty and the cancer / You’re an open shining, self-relying / And I’m a fucking born disaster.”

There’s a good chance that As It Is will disappoint you depending on your preference in musical styles. There’s a good chance that I’m looking too much into them, which is a fair assessment. What I see is a band that recognizes that pop punk has more to offer than people are willing to give it.

As It Is somehow combine over a decade’s worth of pop punk and emo styles into a single disc and make it sound organic enough that it could have been album of the year at any point during the last 15 years. That’s an easy thing to say, but I’ve listened to Never Happy over a dozen times in the last 48 hours and I don’t intend to stop now. The only bad thing I can think to say about Never Happy, Ever After is that I have to wait at least a year or two just to see what As It Is comes up with to top it.

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 plans to attend Warped Tour just to see this band. I truly love Never Happy, Ever After and I’m proud to give it the score I did. If you disagree, kindly go piss right off. 😀