In Defense of Anniversary Tribute Albums

In the last few years, there has been a flood of “reimagined” versions of classic albums and songs. Some might see this as a waste, since it’s not technically new material. But in recent years, the ante has been upped in many ways beyond a basic acoustic cover. Acoustic versions of songs are always a welcome addition to a band’s catalog, but complete re-recordings offer a chance to reevaluate the journey, and analyze not only why the album meant so much in the first place, but also how the listeners and the bands have matured in the years between.

The Wonder Years were the first band to really catch my attention with reimagined versions of their songs. Burst & Decay Vol. I slowed down tempos, revitalized the lyrics of songs like “Don’t Let Me Cave In” to be conversational and somber reflections. “Cardinals”, a song already heavy in terms of regrets over a failed friendship, becomes even more burdensome when every single lyric has time to resonate. Though the reimagined versions of songs never quite match the scale or eccentric hype of the original, the new attention serves as a reminder for why these songs resonated so well with fans.

All Time Low’s It’s Still Nothing Personal tribute album may be the best example of a re-recorded release. Nothing Personal helped cement All Time Low as a permanent fixture in the scene. In the decade since, their sound has morphed to the point that it’s hard to see them as the motley crew standing on the stage of the “Weightless” music video in a small club anymore. This updated version of Nothing Personal hardly surpasses the original, but it shows listeners just how starkly the band has grown since then. 

Singer Alex Gaskarth’s voice is much more rich and mature, compared to the autotuned vocals of the original release. The guitars are more relaxed, and the production tighter. The addition of harsh vocals during “Lost In Stereo” changes the dynamic of the song when compared to the poppier lyrics. It’s also a stark reminder of the chances the band are willing to take that never would have appeared on earlier albums. The addition is minimal, but it’s a curve that makes the song instantly different, especially when paired with the vocal twists of Gaskarth. Even the closing track “Therapy” benefits from the restraint of the full band.

We the Kings’ Self Titled Nostalgia does the same by removing the guitars entirely and rewriting every song as a piano-driven, semi-electronica experiment. Though the original songs were seminal pop songs of their era, these reworked versions sound less like emo-pop songs and more like the soothing anthems of romance that they were always meant to be. 

In contrast, Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s Sol-fa 2016 is strikingly similar to the Sol-fa album released in 2004. AKFG, one of Japan’s most famous rock bands, are well known in the States for “Rewrite,” one of the opening songs to the original “Fullmetal Alchemist” anime. The version on 2016’s release features singer Masafumi Gotoh’s with slightly more matured vocals, and the instrumentation tighter and closer to the sound the band plays during live shows. “Re:Re:” includes a new instrumental opening that vastly improves the song, as live show performances had proven for over a decade. 

These types of anniversary albums feel different from other reworked albums, such as Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming and I’m Only Dreaming… Of Days Long Past. Part of this is due to both albums being released so close together. A decade between re-workings gives space to appreciate the alternate versions of songs, whereas these albums feel more akin to two halves of the same piece. 

This is the case as well for Dashboard Confessional’s Alter The Ending, which released a full band and acoustic album together. These types of albums are extremely welcome, and gives the artist the opportunity to stretch and not feel restrained when the sound they hear is so much wider than a single song. However, it still doesn’t hold the same affection to something like Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue Acoustic, which was in part a celebration of the band’s reformation.

It’s hard to say that any band has fully found the best way to honor a fan-favorite album, but re-recording them with 10 extra years of experience, insight and creativity is something that more bands should embrace. It’s a way to show appreciation to the fans that have stuck around for so long. It also allows bands the opportunity to show how much they’ve grown when tasked to rewrite the songs they created as kids.

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 doesn’t understand why the birds won’t come to his window to say hello. It’s just a new birdhouse! There’s still seed, so why won’t this HOARDE OF SPARROWS lay siege to the windows once more?! Cowardly birds!

Podcast: Music Therapy During the Covid-19 Lock-In

It’s been a strange few weeks, to say the least. As the country takes measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, we take some time on our podcast to discuss how we’re handling a new reality. Kiel Hauck, Kyle Schultz and Nadia Paiva discuss how music is providing comfort during this time, debate the best band discographies to binge, and share some of the new music released in 2020 that has left its mark. Take a listen.

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What albums are keeping you company as you self-distance? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

10 Sappy Songs to Share with Your Valentine

It’s Valentine’s Day and, take it or leave it, love is in the air. I have searched far and wide for the scene’s sappiest offerings to bring you this – a playlist perfect for a candlelit dinner.

1. Anchor & Braille – “Summer Tongues”

This track was on my shortlist of choices for the first dance at our wedding. It showcases Stephen Christian’s sentimental writing style at its best, and is a highlight on Anchor & Braille’s first album, Felt. The idea for this article actually came to me as I was listening to the album recently and realized what a lovely song this is. Its gentle tones will make you dream of sunnier days.

2. Panic! at the Disco – “Always”

“Always” from 2011’s Vices and Virtues is an ode to the great literary classic The Great Gatsby. For those who either skipped the reading or forgot the plot, the book centers around Jay Gatsby and his endless pining after the married lady across the water and the destruction that brings to his life. But I digress. Brendon Urie drew a lot of early Panic!’s writing inspiration from literature, and this track is a wonderful tribute to a great love story of the past.

3. Copeland – “Have I Always Loved You”

This is one of Copeland’s many offerings in the relationship department. Between “Coffee”, from Beneath Medicine Tree, to basically the entirety of 2019’s Blushing, Copeland doesn’t let a chance for a thoughtful love song pass them by. This track opens Ixora (2015) and is a reflection on (presumably) Aaron Marsh’s marriage. It begins with him reminiscing on their wedding day and moves to just doing life together, always remembering the way it began: with a white dress.

4. House of Heroes – “If”

The End Is Not the End might not seem like your top Valentine’s choice for background music but this concept album about war and relationships was one of the first albums my husband and I bonded over. He was just as surprised as I was to learn that we both knew and loved House of Heroes. This is his favorite song from the album, and ties into the theme of pop culture references with the “Bride of Frankenstein” line.

5. A Day to Remember – “You Had Me At Hello”

Here’s another song I wouldn’t have known about without Jeremiah. I pride myself in being the audiophile out of the two of us, but he has made some important contributions to my roster, including adding “You Had Me At Hello”, from A Day to Remember’s 2005 album And Their Name was Treason, to a playlist during our dating years. They’ve never been my favorite band, and the bridge to this song is pretty awkwardly written, but you can’t deny it’s cute.

6. The Wonder Years – “You in January”

Of all the songs on No Closer to Heaven, this is the one I find myself returning to again and again four years later. It’s got the trademark attention to detail writing from Dan Campbell, and as a bonus they remixed it for the first Burst and Decay EP. I like the original better, but I might be biased because of how much I liked it when the album came out. I love the personal aspects of the song, like in the bridge where he sings about how they’ve traveled together, and I love the fact that he called back to “Passing Through a Screen Door” by ending the song with “I’m glad that you stayed”. It’s The Wonder Years at their best.

7.  Say Anything – “I Want to Know Your Plans”

Another track from our wedding playlist is this surprise from Say Anything’s magnum opus …Is a Real Boy. I say “surprise” because of how unorthodox the rest of the album is compared to this almost-Shakespearean ballad. It’s always been one of my favorites from the album, simply because it is such a stark difference from the way he deals with other subjects on the album (“Every Man Has a Molly” comes to mind). It has become almost a theme to my marriage as I work every day towards keeping our relationship harmonious.

8. Mike Mains and the Branches – “Stop the Car”

Mike Mains and the Branches are a band that was largely anonymous until they signed to Tooth and Nail in 2018 to release their third album, When We Were In Love. I didn’t choose one of their new songs, but rather one from their first album called Home from 2011. This is a playful song about young love that packs a punch in the bridge. Mike sings about love, “It’s when you give and give of yourself / Until your tank runs on empty / Just to be with the one you love”. It’s an album worth your time for this song and more.

9. Mayday Parade – “Jamie All Over”

No list about emo love songs would be complete without Mayday Parade. They were undoubtedly the kings of the moody love song and the best example is “Jamie All Over” from A Lesson In Romantics. Even if you’re not a Mayday Parade fan, chances are you still jam and maybe cry to this song. If only all dreams were this great, and the fact that Derek and his girl are (probably) on a break outside of the dream world is non-existent for eight hours. If they weren’t on a break who would he have written “Miserable At Best” about, amiright? It’s a total cliché to say that this is my favorite Mayday song, but who cares, it’s a classic.

10. Fall Out Boy – “I’m Like a Lawyer With the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)”

Last but not least, my favorite Fall Out Boy song to close us out on this Valentine’s Day. This was probably Fall Out Boy’s best candidate for a love song up until they released “Alone Together” in 2013. This is also in the running for longest Fall Out Boy song title as well. The optimism in this track is unparalleled in early FOB and is always a breath of fresh air when it comes through the shuffle, and Patrick’s vocals are easy to get lost in. It’s not a perfect relationship, but they’re trying. Thanks, Pete.

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: Halsey – Manic

In a recent interview with Zane Lowe, Halsey name-dropped The Wonder Years as being an influence on her newest album, Manic. It makes sense when you think about it. Manic is a deeply personal work of art about Halsey herself – her demons, her fears, her frustrations, her trappings. Just as we’ve become accustomed to Dan Campbell writing the kind of lyrics that are so visceral and specific as to paint a very particular picture in your mind, Halsey has fully and beautifully captured this moment in her life. And while it may be highly specific to her own story, you might be surprised as to how easy you can find your own within.

Halsey Manic album cover

You can buy or stream Manic on Apple Music.

Halsey has come a long way since her viral breakthrough into the zeitgeist during the middle portion of the last decade. By the time “New Americana” hit the internet in the summer of 2015, she was lauded as the countercultural pop spokesperson for a new generation. Leaning into the dark synthpop stylings that have now become fully mainstream, Halsey excelled in making great pop songs that could strike a nerve. But one thing she hadn’t done across her first two releases (Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom) was create a truly great album.

Ultimately, having that notch on your belt doesn’t matter as much as it used to, but there’s something about a cohesive collection of songs that thread together a story. You know it when you hear it, and it can be heard clearly and painfully on Manic.

Throughout the album, Halsey sheds any preconceived notions that listeners might have about her music. Gone are the deep bass lines and buzzing synthesizers. In are quiet tracks with space to breathe, accompanied by acoustic guitars and piano interludes. Gone are the thematic elements of fantasy and grandeur. In are the musings of someone alone in a room, deep in self-reflection, working toward recovery.

On opening track “Ashley”, Halsey sets the tone for what’s to come, quietly reflecting on her past persona and where she stands today: “Took my heart and sold it out to a vision that I wrote myself / And I don’t wanna be somebody in American just fighting the hysteria / I only wanna die some days”. It’s no secret that much of Manic sifts through the fallout of her broken relationship with rapper G-Eazy, but in truth, the songs dig deeper in an effort to uncover truths about herself and how those truths impact her ability to move forward.

While “Ashley” sets the table thematically, the album itself is true to its name, oscillating wildly between genres throughout, feeling like any train of thought that each of us have ridden on many a lonely night. There are still elements of electropop present, as in last year’s single “Without Me”, but Halsey finds room to inject country (“You Should Be Sad”), rock (“3AM”), and alternative pop sounds like those found on “I Hate Everybody” and “Alanis’ Interlude” – an absolutely wonderful track with Alanis Morissette, who happens to know a thing or two about how to put the sound of picking up the pieces to tape.

Truly, there are no weak tracks on Manic, and while you may not reach for certain songs as standalones on a playlist, they all weave together perfectly in the form of an album. And it’s in those non-single moments that we are hit with some of Halsey’s more poignant and personal songwriting. Singing atop a gentle acoustic guitar on “Finally // Beautiful Stranger”, she leans into the uncertainty of leaving the past behind, singing, “Oh, we’re dancin’ in my living room, and up come my fists / And I say I’m only playing, but the truth is this / That I’ve never seen a mouth that I would kill to kiss / And I’m terrified, but I can’t resist”. 

It’s moments like this that harken back to Halsey’s statement about The Wonder Years and the scene that helped form her artistic approach. Listening to Manic is like being brought behind the curtain and realizing that there is no level of stardom or success that separates someone from the demons we all face. On “Still Learning”, she shares, “I should be living the dream / But I go home and I got no self-esteem”. 

Album closer “929” finds Halsey spilling her guts one confessional line at a time in a three-minute stream of consciousness, highlighted by the most heartbreaking moment of the album: “And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed / And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee / And hoped that my father would finally call me”.

Still, for all of the self-loathing and questioning across Manic’s 16 tracks, Halsey consistently makes room for grace and a belief that her direction is one of growth and improvement. “I’m still learning to love myself” she confesses near the end of the album. Manic is deeply specific to its creator’s trials and struggles, yet highly relatable. Because we’re all in this together. Halsey’s willingness to be so open and transparent has resulted in an album that could very well set the tone for the next decade of pop.

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.

Podcast: The Best Albums of the 2010s

With the 2010s about to come to a close, we recently took on the task of ranking what we believe to be the Best 30 Albums of Decade. But of course, the written word can only convey so much about how we feel about these albums, so Kiel, Nadia and Kyle hopped on a podcast to break down their choices and discuss the sounds that defined the decade. The trio discuss their parameters for making the list and share the albums that just missed the cut. They also debate between albums from The Wonder Years, Paramore and Kendrick Lamar that could have made the list instead of the actual choices and give a nod to a few bands that made a splash in the 2010s but didn’t land in the top 30. Take a listen!

Like our podcast? Come join the conversation on Flick Chat and subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts.

What is your favorite album of the decade? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The 30 Best Albums of the Decade: 1-10

Check out part one and part two of our Best Albums of the Decade feature.

10. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

If the prevailing sentiment of the last half of this decade has been one of dread, Kacey Musgraves certainly delivered a dose of warmth and comfort at just the right time. Golden Hour captures the confessional, revealing songwriting that only the best country albums seem to harness. Musgraves looks for, and actually finds, beauty in common places, reminding us that the world around us is still full of magic and wonder. She also makes a clear point to bend the rules set by country music gatekeepers, effectively opening the door to those that have traditionally been uninvited. In doing so, she created an album with a heartbeat designed to comfort all who come close. – Kiel Hauck

9. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde has been one of the defining artists of the past decade. She brought a refresher to pop music with 2013’s Pure Heroine, but her showstopper is 2017’s Melodrama. Written alongside her friend Jack Antonoff, the album is the about the woes of the end of adolescence. It’s wrapped up into a beautiful, cohesive experience and was absolutely robbed of Album of the Year at the Grammys. And that’s the tea. – Nadia Paiva

8. Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other

Aaron West is a truly unique artist. The autobiographical album, We Don’t Have Each Other traces the course of a man breaking in every conceivable way until the only recourse is to pick himself up. Throughout the album, Dan Campbell’s attention to detail is astounding. Steeped in Springsteen-esque Americana, the album plays like a living novel to the point where Aaron feels almost too real. We Don’t Have Each Other is an insanely depressing album, but ends with hope for redemption. Accepting his own faults and ready to finally fight back, We Don’t Have Each Other explores the extremes of humanity, and the will to make things right. – Kyle Schultz

7. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

No album this decade captured the state of America so poignantly, purposefully and powerfully as To Pimp a Butterfly. During a three-album stretch that simply feels peerless, it’s hard to call the album Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece, but you wouldn’t be wrong to do so. To Pimp weaves jazz, soul and hip hop together, winding us through the black experience and shining a piercing light on our country’s deepest flaws and scars. It’s a deep, spellbinding work that can’t be unpacked in one sitting, but has moments of obvious illumination like “Alright” – the album’s centerpiece and a protest anthem for the most important movement of the decade. – KH

6. Beyoncé – Lemonade

The 2010s were a decade of basically pitting artists against each other with who could release an album in the most viral way. Beyoncé pioneered this with not one, but two surprise album releases, including Lemonade in 2016. The album revolves around the concept of Jay-Z’s infidelity and I think that was what made it stick with us. While the dramatic delivery of the album certainly contributes to its inclusion here, it’s the expression of feminine beauty, grace and empowerment that has made Lemonade stay in our minds. – NP

5. Against Me – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a groundbreaking album in many ways. It pulls no punches in terms of sound or language, and dives face-first into the material to have the most impact. While Transgender Dysphoria Blues harnesses a sound reminiscent of the band’s earlier records, it sets itselt apart in just how brutal of a concept the album is to people who don’t understand the struggle of someone preparing for or going through body dysphoria. The album is astonishing in many ways and it leaves a legacy as one of the first true trans-positive records in punk rock. That is does so without blinking, hiding a single hateful emotion, or sidestepping painful language is to be admired. – KS

4. Carly Rae Jepsen – E-MO-TION

The greatest and most dazzling pop album of the 2010s came from someone who had embodied the fleeting nature of pop stardom early in the decade. Instead of chasing the rush of “Call Me Maybe”, Carly Rae Jepsen seized a place as an unexpected indie darling with Emotion and ushered in a new wave of 80s-inspiration that infected nearly every pop release that came after it. Aside from its delightful sonic execution, Jepsen succeeds throughout Emotion by being relatable, without a hint of irony. From the blissful shoulder-brushing of “Boy Problems” to the sultry desire of “Run Away with Me”, Jepsen runs the gamut of relationship experiences, transforming herself into the best friend with whom everyone can share their secrets. – KH

3. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

The 1975 have seamlessly combined electro pop with moody alternative rock through their past few albums, but with their latest, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, they’ve taken a different lyrical path. Gone are their days of singing about partying and recreational drug use, and here to stay are heavier songs about the decline of humanity, climate change and the toll the aforementioned drug use has on life. The 1975 are obsessed with bettering their audience’s critical thinking skills, and that’s something that is desperately needed in today’s world. – NP

2. The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

During the first part of the decade, The Wonder Years somehow tapped into the exact emotions that seemingly an entire generation were feeling in unison. Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing perfectly captured the sensations of fear, hope and wonder of finding yourself at the crossroads of adulthood and forging your own destiny. 

Suburbia taps into the loneliness of leaving the comfort of college, the taxing labor of minimum wage jobs, and the nostalgia of pure joy found with old friends. Although The Wonder Years initially gained attention for music that looked at the world in a positive light (The Upsides), Suburbia didn’t try to hide itself behind this monicker. Instead, the album took a real look at struggling to find your place in a world that seemed brand new to a young adult. The warcry lyrics of, “It’s not about forcing happiness / It’s about not letting sadness win” made the band eternal. 

Suburbia somehow pays homage to pop punk throughout the last decade while forging its own identity. It showed us, for the first time, who The Wonder Years were and set the bar higher for their peers. – KS

1. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

The best album of the 2010s not only laid the foundation for everything that was to follow this decade, it completely re-contextualized its creator and led us to question our own presumptions and beliefs. At its core, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is rumination on fame and celebrity, scratching and gnawing at the grim truths often covered by limelight. Track after track, Kanye West tunnels deeper into his own psyche, leaving no stone unturned and no train of thought unexplored, no matter how repulsive or gaudy it may be. Does he want us to lean closer or run away in distress? West seems to leave the choice to us.

From a strictly musical standpoint, Fantasy is a kitchen sink album in which every detail has been painstakingly placed and scrutinized over. The album is as grandiose as any hip hop or pop release in memory, and is specifically built to tower to a height of instability. This fact seems negligently bold when one remembers what was at stake. After a year of exile, West’s public standing was at an all time low and it seemed wholly possible that his career as a respected artist was hanging in the balance.

But that’s what makes Kanye West the defining celebrity of our time, for better or for worse. His nagging insistence on chipping away at his own essence and persona, leaning into his worst tendencies as a heel, have led to both demise and nirvana. It’s that ugly predisposition that led to the creation of this masterpiece and defined a decade of artistic explorations into dark recesses and uncomfortable introspection. – KH

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Tiny Moving Parts – Breathe

I first heard Minnesota’s Tiny Moving Parts when they opened for The Wonder Years in 2016. I was a very casual listener until they released Swell last year. Swell became one of my favorite albums and one I consider to be among 2018’s best. When they announced that there would be a new album this year, I was psyched. They’re one of the most creative bands in the scene at the moment, and they bring some much needed positivity to a genre that is often a beacon of the opposite. 

You can buy or stream Breathe on Apple Music.

Their new album Breathe features artwork by guitarist Matt, and really it couldn’t be more fitting for they album it belongs to. While being their softest album, it’s also arguably their best. With each release, the band keeps refining their sound, and I feel like they’ve finally hit the sweetest spot. I was never a math rock fan until I found Tiny Moving Parts, and now it’s one of my favorite subgenres, and they’re at the forefront.

The album opens with “The Midwest Sky” – one of my personal favorites. It’s a peppy start and definitely a great opener and would also make a pretty great single. Breathe is the perfect mix of what was so cool about Swell, with some new aspects, like the banjo found on “Vertebrae” thrown in for good measure. 

In the lead single, “Medicine”, lead singer Dylan regards death as something that helps us grow rather than something that should tear us down. He doesn’t ignore the fact that it’s painful, but he prefers to give us a reminder that we can grow through the things that hurt. That’s something that’s been prevalent across all of their albums, but here in Breathe, the band tells us to do exactly that — breathe. It’s refreshing in comparison to both their previous albums and the scene in general. I think that’s what made the album stand out to me so much. 

My biggest crisis regarding the album is that there’s not a track where I’m like, “Eh I could skip this.” Some people would say that this review is too positive and lacks critique, but I would say that the album deserves no critique. It’s wonderful from front to back. It’s got fluidity, fantastic musicianship, and they’ve still managed to keep the aspects that have made them a staple in my playlist for the past couple of years. Breathe is a treasure. 

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.

Review: Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties – Routine Maintenance

At its core, Aaron West and The Roaring Twenties is a story about rebirth. Singer and songwriter Dan Campbell’s debut album, We Don’t Have Each Other begins with Aaron breaking down completely after the death of his father, dealing with a miscarriage, and losing his wife. As that album closes, Aaron gives the first glimpse of healing – he is determined to return to his wife in New York. That hope to fix things is what drives the sequel album, Routine Maintenance. Although Campbell could have continued breaking Aaron down, Routine Maintenance vividly explores how Aaron finds meaning in life again and why family is worth fighting for.

You can buy or stream Routine Maintenance on Apple Music.

Dan Campbell, the singer for pop punk wunderkind group The Wonder Years, has built a career off of writing intense, relatable lyrics and stories. Aaron West, his first fictional creation, is a fully formed person. Like its predecessor, Routine Maintenance is essentially a novel set to music. Aaron hitchhikes to Los Angeles (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”), and forms a successful band (“Runnin’ Toward The Light”) in explicit detail. The anxiety of being in a divorce lawyer’s office is especially rich (“Just Sign the Papers”).

However, this Aaron is hopeful. We’ve already seen him broken and homeless. Routine Maintenance shows how Aaron becomes a dependable person again in incremental steps. The tragedies he faces aren’t those within him anymore and he discovers how to step up to meet them.

Much like the previous album and EP, Routine Maintenance relishes in Americana. Comparisons to Bruce Springsteen are impossible not to mention, especially with the bluesy harmonica (“Rosa & Reseda”) and killer saxophone (“Bury Me Anywhere Else”). This album expands the folk rock sound of previous releases with deeper horn sections, slide guitar and a mesmerizing banjo. Ace Enders’ style of production oozes throughout, similar to West’s debut.

Campbell’s vocals are on full display at their best. Although there’s no difference here to how he sings in The Wonder Years, Campbell flexes to express the story. “Just Sign the Papers” shows this perfectly, with an emotional and tortured build up. While the verses mourn his marriage, the choruses burst with shouts of why he loved her. The bridge though, is magical. The first time he whispers, “C-come on, just sign the papers / Don’t make me stay in the room / I don’t want this to be the way I remember you”, he softly croons. As they both sign the divorce papers, Campbell shouts with cracking vocals. The weight of Aaron’s anxiety is part of what makes these albums so real and special.

Routine Maintenance is an album that will give back whatever the listener puts in. New listeners may be lost or have trouble relating to the character. But anyone who has followed Aaron West over the last few years will be familiar with many of the characters and their expanded personalities. Dan Campbell’s live shows, where he takes on West’s persona, greatly amplify how the character builds his music career during the story. Routine Maintenance is fine on its own, but it’s so very much a different beast as a sequel. Wherever Campbell decides to take Aaron after this album, at least there is hope to be found.

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 heavily relates to Jasper from The Simpsons.

Review: Clear Eyes Fanzine – Season One, Episodes 1-6

I’ve never seen “Friday Night Lights”, movie or television series, but I constantly hear about how great of a series it is. The evidence is clearly mounting after the creation of Clear Eyes Fanzine, a side project from Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years and Ace Enders of The Early November. Season One, Episodes 1-6 is exactly what it sounds like. Both Ace and Dan provide three songs inspired by each episode. It’s a great concept that has created some of the most intense, provoking and emotionally wrenching songs either songwriter has ever written.

You can buy Season One, Episodes 1-6 on Bandcamp.

The main takeaway from SO, E1-6 is how much these songs sound like Campbell and Enders. The first three tracks, written by Campbell are basically tracks from Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties. The second half of the record is Enders prominently displaying his penchant for atmospheric minimalism that his I Can Make a Mess project has perfected. There aren’t any surprises, just damn good songs.

Campbell’s side of the record focuses on physical ailments and trauma. Whether that be physical exhaustion and determination from “On Tim Riggins as He Prepares for His Sophomore Year” (“I puked through my mask / And the smell never fucking leaves”), or brain trauma of CTE from “Coming Up for Air” (“I don’t talk about the headaches / I don’t talk about the nights when I forget where we are”), Campbell’s descriptions of the damage from playing football are brutal and unforgiving. It’s also some of his best work to date.

Enders, taking the back half, focuses much more on the emotional toll of the characters. His songs are ethereal and soft, feeding the energy of emotional drama. “Good Get Coach” begins with whispers and Enders harmonizing with himself before exploding with a chorus of, “Another rivalry begins, watching you watching him / I wish that I could let myself just let it all out”. Meanwhile, “The Fields” explores a back and forth conversation between characters. Enders sings, “I hate that they get applauded / It’s just a stupid game / In 15 years, that varsity jacket just won’t wear the same”, before the chorus kicks in with a differing viewpoint: “In the field, we fight for our tiny lives / It tore my father down, cuz nobody gets out”.

Clear Eyes Fanzine is fun, emotionally draining and comes from two songwriters who love “Friday Night Lights”. While each artist’s songs are incredible, the wasted opportunity for the two to share a song together is astounding. However, there’s always hope for the next few episodes. As a whole piece, the EP is an emotionally gripping exercise in writing.

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 HAS TOO MUCH TELEVISION!!! There is so much to watch, and not enough time to learn how to make wicker baskets.

 

Most Anticipated of 2019: #2 Aaron West Roars into 2019

We Don’t Have Each Other was one of the best albums of 2014, and one of the most unique albums of the last decade. With only a handful of songs released over the last four-and-a-half years to keep the story of Aaron West moving, a second album is long overdue. Fortunately, it’s looking to be coming sooner than later.

With a steady touring schedule and The Wonder Years in between album releases, it’s an ideal time for Aaron West to grab the spotlight. Also, the official Aaron West Twitter account claimed Dan Campbell to have been in the studio as recently as November 2018. With over four years since their last release, there is a plethora of story for Campbell to cover and room for the character of Aaron to grow.

If the band’s second album can even remotely come close to the intensity of the first album, it will already be a contender for album of the year.

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 could not be more excited for new music to tickle his ears in 2019.