Review: Kali Masi – [laughs]

kali masi - laughs

To say that Take This To Heart Records has been on a bit of a hot streak during the last calendar year may be selling it short. It’s even more embarrassing to admit that I didn’t know of any of the bands on this roster even as short of a time as eight months ago. When you step back and look at the roster of releases the label has put out in the last calendar year, it starts to have that special feeling that the mid-00s Drive-Thru or Tooth & Nail hot streaks had when we lived through, and grew up on, them. And in many ways, this current hot streak exists as a modern equivalent of what it was like to grow up on that music, but with a far more mature lyrical bent.

City Mouth’s Coping Machine slots in somewhere between Motion City Soundtrack, hellogoodbye, and Andrew McMahon-esque lyrics while The Sonder Bombs’ Clothbound erupts through pop-rock anthems reminiscent of Riot! or The Hush Sound’s Like Vines. Barely Civil’s exceptional I’ll Figure This Out was the introspective, simmering album that a pandemic year needed for late night drives, riding the currents of Jimmy Eat World’s “Polaris” and “23.” ManDancing’s The Good Sweat borrowed some of that I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child magic that launched Manchester Orchestra into the stratosphere we see them orbiting in now. Looking forward, we can see PONY’s upcoming April release promising electro-pop in the vein of Carly Rae Jepsen to fuel road trip playlists and loud sing-a-longs.

However, their latesst new release, Kali Masi’s sophomore record [laughs], is even harder to draw comparisons to the PureVolume streams and Myspace profile songs of our youths—and that’s a great thing. It continues to remind you, just like the albums mentioned above, that styles of music that you have always loved can continue to be both fresh and new while fitting into those sonic landscapes you have already heard before. Sometimes doing something familiar exceptionally well is revolutionary art.

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Garrett Lemons’s Top Albums of 2020

Best of 2020

I wanted to call this piece, “On The Surprise Joy of Raising Chickens and the Importance of the Small Things,” but that would really bury the lede that this is an End of the Year celebration list. Because, somehow, in the myriad of catastrophes, pandemics, elections, family feuds, break-ups, loss of friendships, and everything in between, 2020 still managed to deliver some immensely great music.

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Review: Ellie Goulding – Brightest Blue

Ellie Goulding - "EG.0"

Brightest Blue is Ellie Goulding’s attempt to tell us exactly who she is.

In my preview of Brightest Blue through a review of EG.0, the accompanying EP (which she has since rightfully tacked “Sixteen” onto on streaming services), I wrote that “I sometimes think that Ellie Goulding didn’t know what to do with herself.” Over the next couple of days, interviews began to appear that supported this.

“I feel like I’ve never been able to explore who I am as a songwriter and as a pop artist. So that’s what [Brightest Blue] is,” she told London’s Evening Standard. In the Guardian, she talks of choosing Max Martin as a producer for 2015’s Delirium: “I need to commit to something. No one seems to know what I am. Maybe I don’t know who I am.”

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Review: Ellie Goulding – EG.0

Ellie Goulding - "EG.0"

Brightest Blue, the fourth album by British pop singer Ellie Goulding, out July 17th, has been five years in the making. She has described Blue as something that allows people “to immerse themselves into a world of hope despite everything being so bleak.” She says that it’s about “tear[ing] through your own demons” and “free[ing] yourself from toxic relationships.” 

This sounds exactly like the follow-up that her 2012 release Halcyon promised, though not the one that 2015’s Delirium delivered. Ellie described Halcyon as “very self-indulgent” and “the most honest record she’s ever written.” The album is a meshing of heart-wrenching storytelling and the moody electronic style that would be embodied by Billie Eilish a few years later. But Delirium went the opposite direction, embracing modern pop on the back of global number one “Love Me Like You Do.” 

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Review: As Cities Burn – Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest

“The first day I was alive I got on a ride against my will. It’s so amazing I’ve made it this far.” 

Cody Bonnette, one of As Cities Burn’s two vocalists, sings these lyrics with an impassioned earnestness. They come from “Maybe,” a highlight from the band’s underrated 2019 release Scream Through The Walls, their first release after a decade. In those two lyrical sentences, I am understood, and my emotions of where I am at right now represented. As Cities Burn has always been the band that I could find myself in every single song. 

In 2005, this wildly popular local band fronted by two brothers from Louisiana put out their debut record on Solid State. At the time, Underoath were beginning to embrace their position as an undisputed juggernaut of the scene. Demon Hunter and Zao were already established giants. Norma Jean and Haste the Day were coming off two wildly popular releases. Young guns Emery, Showbread, He Is Legend, and The Chariot were skyrocketing in popularity every week. August Burns Red was just a name on an undercard compared to the bands already listed. 

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Review: Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia


It’s no use explaining what’s happening in the world around us—you already know. Everything we’ve known has been upended and changed forever. We’re still years from discovering what that new normal actually is. It’s heavy, it’s infuriating, and it’s scary: it’s grief. Everything we hold dear—vacations, concerts, healthy daily life—is canceled. There isn’t an end in sight, but there is an abundance of graphs, uncertainty, and fear.

We need an escape. Enter Dua Lipa’s—I’ll go ahead and say year-defining sophomore album, Future Nostalgia. Three years ago, “New Rules” was ever-present on the radio, a top ten worldwide, indisputable Song of the Summer candidate. The US was behind the rest of the world on discovering “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” and “Be the One,” whose style laid the groundwork for her second album’s sound. However, two 2018 collaborations with Calvin Harris (the tropical house-influenced “One Kiss”) and Silk City (the straight dance-pop of “Electricity”) kept her pop star rising.

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Review: Thrice – Vheissu

Thrice - Vheissu

I’ll be honest: I’m starting a fifteen-year retrospective of Thrice’s seminal masterpiece Vheissu in a way that may not make sense.

It’s been just under three years since the legacy of Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me gained a sizeable asterisk. Once firmly entrenched at number two on my list of all-time favorite albums, that record transited from being a piece of art that comforted me, grounded me, and helped me through some of the darkest eras in my cycles of depression to this huge question mark of unease and memory. It was an album that had fostered a community in my life—both online on the AbsolutePunk forums and with high school friends—at the same time that depression was stealing many senses of connection. It embodied a sound and possessed lyrics that explained how depression felt inside my chest and head.

In all the ways that losing Brand New hurts a myriad of people—from Jesse Lacey’s victims to the band’s fans—my internalized struggle emerged when I couldn’t turn to “Degausser,” “Sowing Season,” or “Not the Sun” to face certain emotions anymore. I won’t pretend I haven’t turned to those songs first out of a sense of musical muscle memory in the interim years, but they don’t carry the weight like they used to. In many ways, thanks to medication and a lot of personal growth, I don’t need them anymore, at least not as I did back then. But there will always be a part of me that wants an album to feel like a home in the storm when those emotions swarm.

Last month, at a concert venue in Atlanta, before a pandemic swept the globe and the year still felt full of promise, I realized that I already had that album—one that probably should’ve been the one I’d turned to all along. One that’s brought me comfort and catharsis through the chaos of social distancing, botched government responses, and hysteria.

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