Finding Solace in the Music of The Wonder Years

While the chill of winter may still be far from over, we can trust that the sweet dawn of spring will come with new music from The Wonder Years. Last week, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania, pop punk act announced the release of their upcoming album, Sister Cities, on April 6. I have yet to watch the new trailer the band released to promote the album, nor do I have intent to do so.

That’s not to say I have no interest in new music from The Wonder Years, it’s just that their music carries an intense kind of baggage for me, something I only fully realized while spinning my vinyl copy of The Greatest Generation this weekend. I’ve long believed that The Wonder Years’ albums should be listened to in full, from front to back in one sitting, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

“I don’t have roses in the closet / But I’ve got pictures in a drawer / And it’s everything left in me not to stare at them anymore”

I was aware of The Wonder Years amidst their 2010 breakout with The Upsides, but didn’t dig in deep with the band until the following year, with the release of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. That album came fresh on the heels of my divorce and brought a mean kind of comfort. I’d venture to say that I’ve only felt such a deep, personal connection with an album a handful of times in my life.

So vivid are my early memories with this album that I can remember every moment of the night-time car ride I took with Suburbia on the evening I purchased it. I can still remember the click of my turn signal while sitting at a stoplight on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, dead inside, as the first verse of “My Life as a Pigeon” tore through my soul.

Everyone who knows me knows about my hyperbolic habits, and yes, I believe Suburbia to be one of the best pop punk albums ever written, but it’s more than that to me. It’s the story of a year I spent as a ghost, not sure where home was anymore. It’s the soundtrack to an upheaval of my life, and how I slowly, painfully, wonderfully found the ground again.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong / But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground”

It wouldn’t take long for Dan Campbell and crew to cross paths with me again. Their next album, The Greatest Generation drove headlong into my continued fight with depression, made even more bitter by my mother’s unexpected battle with cancer. Like it was yesterday, I can remember the tears streaming down my face as I sat quietly at my desk at work with “Dismantling Summer” playing through my headphones.

Alone, in a room full of people, hundreds of miles away from my mom in a hospital bed, Soupy’s cries of, “What kind of man does that make me?” still haunt me to the core. My mom would go on to make a full recovery from her cancer. I’m still working on my depression, but The Greatest Generation is a blunt reminder of another period of my life in which The Wonder Years sang the songs and questions of my heart.

I’m writing this partly for therapeutic reasons and partly as a continuing examination of the role of music in my life. I’m eternally grateful for the music of The Wonder Years, even if I can only revisit it infrequently. What makes the music we love truly great? The songs we play relentlessly, finding repeated joy in the moment, or the songs we return to carefully and cautiously, knowing the ache attached within? In my experience, it’s a little bit of both.

I’m excited about what new sounds Sister Cities will bring, but content with the idea that the band’s music has done enough for me already. I have no deep expectations, other than the hope that this new album will provide a similar salve for someone else.

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 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.

Review: The Wonder Years – Burst & Decay

For many people, myself included, it is hard to buck the idea that The Wonder Years are a positive band. After the release of The Upsides, there is always that part of me that will juxtapose anything they release with the immortal line of “I’m not sad anymore”. Even as the band has matured and their music drifted away from youthful optimism, I still see them as one of the most earnest bands out there. But their songs always felt grounded in the stories each album told. Burst & Decay, the band’s new acoustic EP, is an exercise in reinvigorating their material so much so that it’s hard not to see those same optimistic boys that set the scene aflame with positivity.

You can buy Burst & Decay on iTunes.

Burst & Decay is a delicate interpretation of songs throughout their catalog. Tempo changes, keyboards, and crooning vocals are the most prominent changes from the original punk rock. However, that is enough to revamp these songs entirely into their own message. The softer songs build to crescendos that the original songs lacked. When vocalist Dan Campbell shifts from a croon to all-out shouts, the message carries stronger and more prominently than the original songs were able to.

“There, There”, which reflects on one’s own faults, becomes a slow-built song of defiance. “Cardinals”, a song of regret over letting down a friend, becomes a moment of somber reflection and a loving war cry.

It’s not as though these songs are fundamentally different by any means. The melodic violin, soft drumming and acoustic strums of “Cardinals” sits alongside Dan Campbell’s whispery vocals in perfect meditation. There is a build throughout so that in the final verse, when Campbell explodes and shouts the lyrics, it fundamentally seems to change the tone of the original song. Instead of pleading for a chance to prove himself, Campbell is swearing an oath to the gods.

“Don’t Let Me Cave In”, a cornerstone track of Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing, may be the most dramatically changed. In lieu of the raging guitars, the song is a ballad focusing on dreamlike keyboard melodies with minimalistic guitars. Originally, this song was frantic and desperate. Campbell seemed to search for an excuse for being in such hysterics. He pleaded for help. This softer version finds him saying the same words, but determination is behind him. He’s aware of his problems and thankful to have someone there to help see him through his demons.

Not every song takes a different tone to its predecessor. “Dismantling Summer” is arguably the most direct conversion to acoustics. “Coffee Eyes” is still an absolute jam. The drums rattle away and the guitars are crisp and hypnotic. Slightly more isolated, Campbell’s cracking voice as he shouts, “There’s always been a table for me there”, sounds so much better than it did on the original recording.

“You In January”, one of No Closer To Heaven’s stand-out tracks, tops off the EP. The light violin and plinking piano provide the romantic backing a song like this always asked for. It’s also in this song that the record’s title, Burst & Decay become prominent as Campbell sings to his love. “You In January” is the thesis of the album in a roundabout way. Where many of these songs centered on the idea of cracking slowly and trying to stop the damage, these versions have managed that task.

Burst & Decay is one of the few acoustic albums that make a true difference in a band’s sound. Much like The Starting Line’s Make Yourself At Home, this record is short, crisp and fundamentally different than the core sound of the band. Though it doesn’t carry the same weight or theme of a proper album, Burst & Decay does enough to differentiate itself from anything else The Wonder Years have done.

My one hope for this album was that perhaps the songs would be reimagined lyrically, much in the same way that “Logan Circle” and “Logan Circle: A New Hope” were. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with Burst & Decay. But finding a new meaning and tone to the existing lyrics may be something more profound.

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 is probably playing euchre right now. Why? No reason other than he is a pretty cool cat. Myaaah!

Most Anticipated of 2017: #3 The Wonder Years Come Out Swinging…Again

the-wonder-years-band

It’s impossible not to be excited for a new release from The Wonder Years. The band has written some truly magical music unlike anything else in the genre. When they announced on Twitter just before the new year that they were getting busy writing a record, they accidentally bumped off a few contenders for this list (sorry, Saves the Day and Hellogoodbye).

Around this time seven years ago, The Wonder Years seemed to appear out of nowhere and take over the punk scene by storm. Since then, they’ve not only released music regularly, but they’ve managed to up their own ante each time, growing as into one of the strongest and most respected bands out there.

I don’t need to know what direction they’re going this time, nor do I care. Each experiment they’ve touched has paid off, and each theme becomes deeper and more structured. I just can’t wait to see what else they’ve come up with.

Additionally, it’s about time for a new Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties release. Last year’s Bittersweet EP was a fantastic taste of what’s to come and gave some insight into what has happened in West’s life since we last saw him on We Don’t Have Each Other. It’s been three years since that album, and if West’s acoustic tour last year was anything to go by, there is a frantic fan base waiting for the next real chapter.

It’s only been a year and a half since the release of No Closer to Heaven, and they’re already gearing up for their next record. The dedication and groundwork The Wonder Years team show toward their craft is why they’re so beloved. That they have enough inspiration to work so tirelessly is enough reason to anticipate anything they’re preparing for.

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.

Five Years Later: The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

The-Wonder-Years-Band-photo

As weird as it is to talk about the pop punk “revival,” it’s impossible to ignore what The Wonder Years were able to accomplish in 2011. Coming off of one of the most unexpected debut breakthroughs in recent memory with The Upsides in 2010, the Pennsylvania punk act staked their claim in scene lore the following year with the release of Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing.

You can buy Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing on iTunes.

You can buy Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing on iTunes.

Five years later, the album still digs at uncomfortable memories and painful trials from my past. Part two of a trilogy of albums, the record deals with the fallout of young adulthood and broken promises related to societal expectations. It’s a millennial anthem if there ever was one – I tried, I failed, I don’t know where to go from here.

Fresh off of a painful divorce and hitting the reset button on nearly every aspect of life at the ripe old age of 27, I found myself mesmerized by Dan Campbell’s ability to connect deeply with my frustrations and fears. On Suburbia, Soupy became the voice of a generation of young adults looking for answers – unwilling to let the defeat of depression drag them away, but unable to find hope to cling to.

In the midst of Campbell’s confusion, I found common ground. “I spent this year as a ghost and I’m not sure what I’m looking for,” he cries on “Came Out Swinging” – a mirror image of my life experiences in 2010. On “Local Man Ruins Everything”, he relents, “I’m not a self-help book; I’m just a fucked up kid”, an admission that became my thesis in 2011.

Like many of you, Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is a deeply personal album for me – one that got me through many late night drives; a coping mechanism at the end of lonely double shifts. To this day, I’ve yet to encounter an album that personally impacted my life and walked alongside me quite like this one did. It hurt to listen, but over time, it mended my soul in the most therapeutic of ways.

I was apparently not alone in my experience. Suburbia kick started a tidal wave of pop punk mania, reigniting a genre that had turned stale. The Wonder Years deserve all of the credit in the world for lighting that fire, but for all of the great music that has come in the past five years, none of it has touched my soul quite like Suburbia did.

For the past few years, I’ve been writing a book in my head and in notebooks that mirrors the chapters of Suburbia – a work of creative non-fiction that journeys through the most difficult part of my life with the album as the soundtrack. Maybe one day I’ll get around to writing it. If not, The Wonder Years still spoke every word of my experience to near perfection. For that, I can never thank them enough.

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 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.

Review: Real Friends – The Home Inside My Head

real-friends-2016

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.

The Wonder Years Stream “Stained Glass Ceilings” Music Video

the-wonder-years-band

It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since The Wonder Years released No Closer to Heaven, their stellar fourth full-length album. To honor the occasion, the band has released the music video for one of the strongest tracks on the record: “Stained Glass Ceilings”, featuring Jason Aalon Butler of letlive. Take a look at the sweet new video below:

If you like what you hear, you can but No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

Did you like the video? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Podcast: The Best Music of 2015

IAD_Podcast_Image

Just when you thought those end of the year breakdowns were over – Kiel Hauck and Kyle Schultz return for one final discussion on the best music of 2015. During the chat, the duo break down splendid albums and singles from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, The Wonder Years, The Weeknd. The Early November, Carly Rae Jepsen and much more! What are you waiting for? Listen in below!

Subscribe to our podcast here. Share your thoughts in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Top 10 Songs of 2015

best-songs-2015

Choosing the top 10 songs of any given year is difficult. Each track serves as a building block within its given album, proving to be a chapter in a larger story. While context certainly provides meaning, there’s a reason why certain songs and moments resonate with us more than others.

The tracks below are an eclectic list of songs that made us dance, think and even cry during the course of 2015. They represent excellence in artistry and story telling, and they also resonate with us in a way that will carry their relevancy well beyond this passing year. Take a look (and a listen) below and share your own favorite songs from 2015 in the replies!

10. Bring Me the Horizon – “Happy Song”

In this new post-grunge incarnation, Bring Me the Horizon truly channel their inner Nirvana on “Happy Song”. Complete with loud, thrashing guitars, Oli Sykes’ gravelly delivery and even a backing choir of cheerleaders, the track toes the line between a desperate cry for help and an anthemic call to rise above the undertow. Creepily uttering the lines, “I’ve had enough / There’s a voice in my head / Says I’m better off dead”, Sykes turns a violent corner just in time for the chorus, shouting, “If I sing along / A little fucking louder / To a happy song / I’ll be alright”. With the band forgoing crunchy breakdowns in favor of tasteful programming elements and rousing guitar riffs, this is a lonely, sad song meant to be sung en masse. – Kiel Hauck

9. As It Is – “Speak Soft”

“Speak Soft” seems like a fairly basic pop punk song, but it’s special to me. It’s the first song I heard from a band that truly impressed me this year. This is a song that captures the magic that originally lured me to the genre almost two decades ago. Patty Walters and Andy Westhead dual throughout the chorus, providing a fine balance between the clean vocals and deep, guttural defiance. The guitars are sharp, playing during the verses and bridges, but brutal during the chorus. “Speak Soft” sounds like it should have been there since the early days of New Found Glory. The instant memorability and hook of it capture what I love about this band. Other songs on their debut, Never Happy, Ever After are better written with deeper lyrics, but “Speak Soft” will always embody the spirit of pop punk and the energy needed to stand out in a sea of bands that more or less tend to sound similar. – Kyle Schultz

8. Fall Out Boy – “Fourth of July”

As impossible as it was to believe that Fall Out Boy still hadn’t written their biggest hits heading into 2015, American Beauty/American Psycho not only put the nail in the coffin of the band’s pop punk roots, it vaulted them to the Top 40 radio stratosphere. As impressive as “Centuries” and “Uma Thurman” are, the unsung hero of Fall Out Boy’s new arsenal is the explosive “Fourth of July”, an epic track that finds Patrick Stump reaching new vocal heights. Aided as always by the biting lyrics of Pete Wentz, Stump carries the bitter track, singing, “Wish I’d known how much you loved me / Wish I cared enough to know / I’m sorry every song’s about you”. By the time the track hits its volatile chorus, you’re wondering why this wasn’t in the background of every fireworks display across the country this summer. At the core, this is the caustic, lovelorn Fall Out Boy we’ve always loved, but on the outside, this new gleaming pop rock armor fits the band all too well. – KH

7. Empty Houses – “Far Away”

There’s no shortage of bands looking for a vintage sound, but only a few really try to replicate the spirit as well. Empty Houses’ “Far Away” manages to capture a distinct era of sound and rekindle it to meet today’s pop needs. The result is utterly beautiful. The melodies are simple, the production helps it sound as though it has been a part of our lives for decades. Singer Ali Shea belts out some of the most impressive vocal work this side of Adele, rich and soulful. The chorus of, “I had this comfort build up inside, it was a good place for me to hide / I’m hoping for a little longer ride / And I cried all night, thinking about it / I’m trying to convince myself / And I’m alright living without it” is nothing short of astonishingly wonderful. Dave Mackinder’s backing vocals and musicianship are a powerful subtlety that allows the vocals to truly shine while maintaining an instantly recognizable and memorable melody. – KS

6. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”

The opening track to Emotion serves as the perfect re-introduction to Carly Rae Jepsen, a true star no longer mired in one-hit-wonder language. “Run Away with Me” is the cherry atop a splendid ice cream sundae of a pop album, rich in throwback pop tones and complimented with a sultry saxophone, although it’s Jepsen herself that serves as the primary instrument. It’s an expertly crafted pop song that showcases Carly Rae the person and the artist in perfect duality. Not only does the track connect with the let’s get out of here desires of every young love, (“We never sleep, we never try, when you are with me”), its eager delivery feels earnest thanks to Jepsen’s on-tape flare. So. Many. Emotions. – KH

5. The Early November – “Better This Way”

The Early November have always walked a fine line between indie emo and ballistic prog rock. “Better This Way” personifies this struggle to great effect, with gentle verses and a raging, shouting chorus. The song takes its time before blooming with the harsh grit of guitarwork and crunching drums. Ace Enders’ vocals show significant maturity as he speaks softly throughout the verses before some intense shouting during the chorus. The song is moody, bristling with emotion and carries a crazy amount of energy for such a plodding tempo. The midsection scales itself back even further, as Enders whispers over the tease of guitar snaps like the tinkling of a spider’s web before launching back into the incredible chorus. “Better This Way” embodies the best of The Early November, especially the intellect and experimentation that has come to define this stage of their careers. – KS

4. The Weeknd – “The Hills”

In truth, we really shouldn’t enjoy “The Hills” as much as we do. A track laced with deceit, addiction and horror, “The Hills” worms its way into your skull with a dark, brash bassline, blood curdling screams, and a disturbingly infectious chorus from Abel Tesfaye. In the post-modern pop world of 2015, this is what passes as a love song, as The Weeknd laments “driving through the gated residential” in route to his sinfully secret mistress, having just “fucked two bitches” beforehand. Tesfaye is nothing if not frank. It’s no surprise that The Weeknd doesn’t pull punches here, using contagiously catchy pop melodies to lure us into his world, before reminding us that we’ve actually been there all along. “The hills have eyes / Who are you to judge?” – KH

3. Motion City Soundtrack – “I Can Feel You”

“I Can Feel You” is one of the highlights of Panic Stations. Pristine, lazy guitars layered over an up-tempo beat and Justin Pierre’s slacky vocals make this song feel like the inner-workings of his mind. Self-doubt slowly builds while the beat never ends its relentless push forward. As Pierre sings, “I’m starting to see / The problem with me / is everything”, you can feel the tension and panic build before the chorus offers a euphoric release. However, the most rewarding part of “I Can Feel You” is the second half. Following a dreamlike bridge, the song ramps into an explosion of sound and Pierre’s frantic, desperate vocals, pleading with someone else while fighting for his own sanity. It’s an amazing moment, and sounds like an indirect sequel to fan favorite song, “Time Turned Fragile”. – KS

2. Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

To Pimp a Butterfly is such a sprawling, oddly cohesive epic that it’s difficult to cherry pick. Without proper context, each individual track loses a touch of its bite. But if you had to choose one moment that encompasses the spirit of the record and serves as the necessary outcry against a painful backdrop of racism and police brutality, it would be Kendrick’s resounding refrain of, “We gon’ be alright!” “Alright” delves deep into Lamar’s psyche as he argues against voices that seek to pigeonhole and shame him, armed with a pen and his convictions: “I write ‘til I’m right with God”. A sporadic and powerful drum beat carries the track from start to breathtaking finish. Much more than just a chapter of the story, “Alright” is a rallying cry for a community in search of hope. – KH

1. The Wonder Years – “Cigarettes & Saints”

The Wonder Years have been known for their storytelling abilities for years, but “Cigarettes & Saints” is a beast different from anything else they’ve ever put out. In four minutes, the band manages to hit every high of their abilities and push their extremes while creating one of the stand out songs of the year. Starting as a slow strum of the guitar and lovetap of a snare drum, the song expands into a full-blown rock ballad that ends as genuine, defiant punk rock. It’s the slowest, quietest music the band has ever written, with a simple, mundane, perfect guitar line sliding throughout that builds it into a raging beast. Soupy’s storytelling dances about, hitting several areas and ideas that only build off of each other, starting as a eulogy that slowly takes a stab at religion and ends as an all-out attack on the pharmaceutical industry. Not making a full-on pop punk song as the highlight of their album was a risky move for a band known for being loud, but it only added to The Wonder Years’ insane writing abilities. – KS

Honorable Mention:

CHVRCHES – “Leave a Trace”

Drake – “10 Bands”

Mayday Parade – “Hollow”

Grimes – “REALiTi”

Nate Ruess ft. Beck – “What This Wold is Coming To”

Posted 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 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.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Best-albums-2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not the holidays – it’s time to subjectively rank beautiful works of art so that we can collectively decide what the “best” album of 2015 was!

As obnoxious as the endeavor sounds, it never ceases to please. Indeed, a healthy debate about some of the year’s best music helps us reflect on what we loved about the past twelve months. These albums were not only culturally relevant and intricately constructed works of art, they were the soundtrack to our lives. What you’ll find below is an eclectic mix of artists and genres, each providing a unique voice and perspective.

While the list below reflects our opinions on a year filled with great music, you may find yourself in disagreement. Never fear! We’d love to hear your thoughts – share your favorite albums of 2015 with us in the replies!

10-heavy-loveMan Overboard – Heavy Love

Man Overboard have always been a band you want to love. Heavy Love perfects their sound, creating an album that I think will be their classic. Each of their albums have been enjoyable, but this one flawlessly delivers until the final breakdown fades away in “The First Degree”. “Splinter”, “Cliffhanger” and “A Love That I Can’t Have” are genuine staples that don’t try to reinvent pop punk, but showcase the greatest aspects of the genre with sharp guitar work and frantic drumming. For a band that seemed to have been slipping a bit a few years ago, Man Overboard are at their absolute best and appear ready to conquer the genre. – Kyle Schultz

9-thats-the-spiritBring Me the Horizon – That’s the Spirit

Bring Me the Horizon can’t seem to stop reinventing themselves and smashing our preconceived notions. The English rock outfit has completely shed their metalcore-by-the-numbers past and transformed into something far more interesting. While 2013’s Sempiternal appeared to be the final step in their post-hardcore progression, That’s the Spirit is an unexpected left turn of a record, deeply influenced by post-grunge and alt-rock sounds. Oli Sykes embraces his new smoother role as frontman with a surprisingly delightful delivery, whether he’s getting gritty on “Throne” or using his falsetto to great effect on “Doomed”. Bring Me the Horizon are no longer held captive by the confines of their previous scene – in this new world, the sky is the limit. – Kiel Hauck

8-beauty-behind-madnessThe Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness

Abel Tesfaye has no problem whatsoever presenting himself as a complicated, damaged individual, even as he croons deep into your soul on what may be his most accessible work to date. Beauty Behind the Madness is a debauchery and drug-filled pop extravaganza to the tilt, solidifying The Weeknd as one of the most captivating artists in music today. Whether it’s the horror-laced smash “The Hills” or the dark dance of “I Can’t Feel My Face”, no song is what it seems on the surface. From moment to moment on Beauty, it’s difficult to know whether to celebrate or collapse in tears. Maybe that’s the point. – KH

7-noel-gallagherNoel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

Chasing Yesterday is a return to form for Noel Gallagher. While his first solo album was a refreshing acoustic based pop album, Chasing Yesterday returns Gallagher to where he reins supreme – the rock world. Each song is a highlight of the album as a whole, which features some of his best guitar solos outside of Oasis. Gallagher sounds like he had fun writing it, and it pays off. What stands out the most about this album is how timeless it feels. These songs sit somewhere between modern rock and classic Brit pop, but a song like “You Know We Can’t Go Back”, with its thundering beat and mountainous bass, feels like you’ve known it forever. – KS

6-american-beautyFall Out Boy – American Beauty/American Psycho

Ever since their comeback a couple of years ago, Fall Out Boy have utterly dominated the industry. American Beauty/American Psycho is a perfect pop record, utilizing hooks and choruses that only FOB could write and pushing Patrick Stump’s incredible vocals to insane new heights at every turn. While Save Rock and Roll brought the band back with a stunning new sound, American Beauty/American Psycho perfected it. “Novocaine” alone features a dark, deep tempo that slowly morphs into a near-disco beat that only builds on Stump’s impossibly high vocals. “American Beauty/American Psycho” is the most chaotic song the band has ever written, drawing the listener in with a rich beat and obnoxious bass flaring over light guitars and Stump’s simple, sharp lyrics. Fans may complain that they miss FOB’s pop punk golden years, but there’s no denying that the territory they’re treading now is what they were made for. – KS

5-every-open-eyeCHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

When Lauren Mayberry sings, “Here’s to taking what you came for / And here’s to running off the pain” in the opening moments of Every Open Eye, it’s a declaration of CHVRCHES’ strongest trait. The sophomore album from the Scottish synthpop trio is an exercise in movement, providing glistening beats to compliment Mayberry’s sweet delivery, which is often rife with acidity, despite her tone. If the Bones of What You Believe was one of the most promising debuts in recent memory, Every Open Eye confirms CHVRCHES as the best band to rise from the electro-pop scene. – KH

4-comptonDr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack

It was a long, 16-year wait for Dr. Dre’s follow-up to 2001, but Compton comes just in the nick of time. Serving as a soundtrack of sorts to Dre’s journey since the inauguration of N.W.A., Compton packs a much-needed wallop. Sure, the album serves as who’s who of current and past hip hop royalty, but the voices within speak on behalf of an entire community, reaching even beyond the Compton city limits. Dre’s production once again affirms his legendary status, as each beat tells its own story. From the liquidy grip of “Deep Water” to the dirty grind of “One Shot, One Kill”, Compton is one of the most ambitious and deeply moving hip hop albums of the decade. – KH

3-imbueThe Early November – Imbue

The Early November has never been a band to shy away from bigger things, which made Imbue a welcome surprise. As a long-time fan of the group, hearing them ditch the poppier elements of their style in favour of darker, alternative sounds gave them a glow that hasn’t seemed to be there since 2003’s The Room Is Too Cold. Though emo elements are still prominent lyrically, the band sounds more relevant than they ever have. Ace Enders, a man known for his stellar song writing and incredible vocal range, pushes himself farther than we’ve ever heard him in his fifteen year career in songs like “Better This Way”. The haunting re-recording of “Digital Age” sends the band out on a high note as a rallying cry for music everywhere. – KS

2-no-closer-to-heavenThe Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven

Once again, The Wonder Years have gone above and beyond what anyone expected of them. At this point in their career, it’s hard to imagine ways for the band to push the boundaries of their style of pop punk, but they have delivered yet another genre defining performance. Writing about worldly issues for the first time, The Wonder Years took savage shots at the pharmaceutical industry, abusive parents, and police violence while maintaining the personalized storytelling that sets the band so far above their peers. From the buzzing shred of guitars on “I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave” to the soft strums and rampaging fury of “Cigarettes & Saints”, No Closer to Heaven finds the extremities of sound and the band’s innate ability to perfectly capture emotion, fear and the optimism needed to fight through. – KS

1-pimp-a-butterflyKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

How do you follow up good kid, m.A.A.d city, one of the most heralded hip hop albums in recent memory? With an unapologetic funk and jazz infused record that seems to defy classification, of course. It’s hard to tell at times whether To Pimp a Butterfly is a letter penned to Kendrick himself, or the collective outcry of the black community in America. No matter, as the album demands your attention from start to finish, leaving little room for rebuttal. Kendrick spits venom on tracks like “The Blacker the Berry” and “For Free?”, but songs like “King Kunta” and “Alright” border on celebratory. To Pimp a Butterfly refuses to go down easy and requires repeated listens due to density. It’s also the most important album of the year, while still managing to be the best, which is no small feat. – KH

Honorable Mention:

Mayday Parade – Black Lines

Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

As It Is – Never Happy, Ever After

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Posted 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 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.

Review: The Wonder Years – No Closer to Heaven

the-wonder-years-band

Pop punk is an inherently self-centered genre. Historically, the music has immersed itself in the most banal of subject matter, sometimes ironically, but most often earnestly. This sort of self-absorption is welcome in small doses, but as the years pass, it’s proper to yearn for something more.

The Wonder Years have served as the flagship band for a new, much more existentially reflective brand of pop punk that has risen to popularity in recent years. Their three-album arc of The Upsides (2010), Suburbia, I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing (2011) and The Greatest Generation (2013) told the story of coming to terms with self in early adulthood and finding one’s place in a world of confusion.

You can buy No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

You can buy No Closer to Heaven on iTunes.

Those themes struck a chord with a substantial audience that shared in the experience, giving way to a new community of pop punk faithful. Nevertheless, ideas of hazy-eyed post-suburban reflection still live within a sheltered bubble that offers a convenient protection from greater trials and injustices that plague the world around us. Maybe that journey was necessary for us all to arrive at this point alongside the band.

No Closer to Heaven is the most challenging and important work that The Wonder Years have created. Yes, the band expands another step further in their progression towards gritty pop punk bliss, but the real story here is the band’s decision to turn away from the mirror and set their eyes upon the world around them.

The band’s sobering collective opening refrain of “We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers” sets the tone for a completely new path. Indeed, not only does the idea permeate the entirety of the record, the line itself is repeated at moments throughout. Who are our brothers? Vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell spins his personal experiences into nebulous stories that could apply to almost anyone, but at their most basic level, these are accounts of the fellow humans around us.

In surprising fashion, Campbell tackles subjects like class, violence and the need for social reform with as much grace as ever. These songs never feel disingenuous – instead it feels like a logical transition for someone ready to acknowledge the pain around them. On “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”, Campbell belts a chorus of resolve, singing, “I think I’m growing into someone you could trust / I want to shoulder the weight until my back breaks / I want to run until my lungs give up”.

On a few tracks, Campbell becomes reflective on larger issues after pondering simple events – the death of a bird on “Cardinals” or a lift from a friend on “Thanks for the Ride”. At other times, he goes straight for the jugular without apology. No song captures this better than “Stained Glass Ceilings”, a powerful track with Jason Butler of letlive. about the societal evils that keep cycles of racial hate and violence alive.

“John Wayne with a god complex tells me to buy a gun / Like shooting a teenage kid is gonna solve any problems”, Campbell seethes before Butler adds, “It’s black or white and sometimes black and blue / It’s something we’re all born into”. These moments are a far cry from the confines of suburban existential crisis that have been the hallmark of The Wonder Years’ career. On “I Wanted So Badly to be Brave”, Campbell declares solidarity with a victimized friend: “You weren’t born my brother, but you’re gonna die that way”.

For all of the band’s newly focused determination, no song captures it as well as “Cigarettes & Saints”, a painful lament about a friend lost to drugs. By the time the song builds to it’s manic conclusion, capped with Soupy’s cry of, “We put our faith in you – you turned a profit”, the track has become much more than a critique of the pharmaceutical companies that play a role in such tragedies. It’s a raging anthem against corrupt systems of all kinds.

From a strictly sonic standpoint, No Closer to Heaven has The Wonder Years’ signature all over it, with a few new tricks thrown in for good measure. An ample soundtrack to the record’s theme, the band adds subtle touches to round out the songs. Delicate keyboards on “You in January” highlight a blissful track, while the sharp opening riff on “Palm Reader” adds an extra edge to the song.

There aren’t “fast songs” and “slow songs” on No Closer to Heaven as much is there is a constant movement, with each tempo change highlighting the song’s purpose. The Greatest Generation was chock full of instantly classic melodies that walked hand-in-hand with the weighty subject matter. The melodies on this record aren’t as instantly obvious, but with each listen, the notes make more and more sense within the context of the song. This is the sound of a maturing band.

On “A Song for Ernest Hemmingway”, Campbell contemplates the author’s experience of reading of his own death in the morning newspaper, singing, “I bet it was freeing to know / When you destroy everything worth chasing / There’s nowhere left to go”. If the devil in Soupy’s bloodstream still exists, he’s fighting like hell to not let its grasp shape his ability to take another step forward.

Campbell claims to not believe in heaven. He also admits to taking joy in imagining its existence as a place of peace for those that have none on this earth. No Closer to Heaven acknowledges how far we are from having that place of peace, but longs for its existence. Asking questions about how in the hell we get there is the only logical starting place. The Wonder Years are doing just that.

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 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.