Back for more? Good, because we got more – more looks into albums we missed reviewing from earlier in the year. If you missed our first part, be sure to check that out there. Who knows? Maybe we covered your favorite album of 2020, or maybe your favorite 2020 album is waiting to be discovered within…
This trio of reviews covers the monumental and timely comeback of one of modern prog metal’s darlings, an emotive dive into post-punk relevance, and perhaps the next big thing in heavy music. As before, click the band’s name in the header to get to their social media, and click the album title to stream or purchase it! Join us one more time next week for even more connections we missed the first time around.
You are cherished!
I’ll say that I was not expecting Protest The Hero to return with a full-length this year of all years, but here we are and they couldn’t have re-emerged at a more apt time. Their long-awaited album, Palimpsest, is both a springboard into fresh territory while also being a testament to what made this band amazing to begin with. I feel it is my duty to give Palimpsest the shoutout that it deserves as this is my opportunity to do so since I am relatively new to the EIN team. After spinning this record an unhealthy amount of times over the past several months, it has become one of my favorites of the year thus far. Protest are back, baby.
First, if you’ve kept up to date with ‘news’ regarding Protest the Hero, then you’re likely aware of what put Palimpsest on hold for several years. The band’s vocalist, Rody Walker, completely blew his voice out while on tour. Rody lost his ability to sing entirely and had to learn and train from nothing to get back to where he was and more importantly, to where he is today. Rody nearly quit music altogether because of this, but he didn’t. I couldn’t be more grateful that he persevered through this adversity and I guarantee you that I am not the only person with that sentiment. Patience and true dedication are ultimately what caused Rody and Protest to defy all odds and come back stronger than ever with Palimpsest.
Now with Rody back at full force, Protest went above and beyond to create a musical experience that is mind-blowing in more ways than one. The main thing that struck me about Rody’s vocal performance on Palimpsest is that the vocals sound as if there was extremely little to no processing or pitch correction. Because of that, the vocals sound incredibly raw and organic and this record hits that much more, and why not boast his vocal prowess to celebrate? There is not a single track on this record that doesn’t contain infectious and masterfully crafted vocal melodies; I don’t think Rody has ever sounded this good. The addition of symphonic elements to accent the vocals is amazingly done and it only makes the songs sound so much more bombastic than they already are. Just listen to the outro to “Fireside” and tell me that it doesn’t make you want to do things with your body.
On top of the ear candy that is the infectious vocal melodies, you’re going to be swarmed with face-melting instrumentation that is going to just overwhelm you. Although at many times, the overly technical instrumentation seems a bit excessive, it just works so flawlessly as the songs are so incredibly cohesive overall. It never gets exhausting because there is seamless ebb and flow between the slow, moody passages and the fast, blistering parts. The guitar lines are dizzying in the best of ways, with so many subtle supporting guitar parts that linger in the mix and accentuates certain parts of the given song even more. I honestly don’t know why I bought the guitar tab book for this record because the moment I look at the tablature, I just give up instantly. Literally everything about this record is dialed up past ten, from the vocals to the instrumental department. Protest really brought their A-game and it couldn’t be anymore obvious.
Protest The Hero aren’t just another progressive metal band – they are a group of progressive individuals with lyrical messages that make you think. I wish I had the word space here to dig deep into their lyrical themes found on Palimpsest, but if you haven’t paid too much attention to their lyrics before, I highly suggest you start with this analysis. Note that this lyric analysis was written prior to the release of this new album as it isn’t included in this discussion, but it takes you through lyrics from previous records that really makes you think about many different historical events and cleverly written concepts as well. Given the historical and political themes related to the United States portrayed in Palimpsest, 2020 couldn’t be a more ideal time to release such a well-spoken record.
Throughout this record, each track focuses on historical catastrophes, tragedies, and individuals important to US history, ultimately culminating to the closing track, “Rivet”. This song is the penultimate critique of the greatness of America and closes out the record in a stunning manner. I never would’ve thought that one of my favorite songs of the year would have ‘Let’s Make America Great Again‘ as its chorus, obviously used in an ironic fashion. It is a bittersweet track to say the least, one that might be my favorite on the record.
Now that Protest The Hero are back, they’ve come to leave a massive statement, both musically and lyrically. Palimpsest is one of the most politically relevant releases this year alongside Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 and Zeal & Ardor’s Wake of a Nation, especially since we are fresh off the US elections. Although it has been just a bit overdue since the release of Pacific Myth, Protest The Hero have finally returned to full power and deliver a musical experience on par with their legendary record, Fortress. If you want a record that is chock-full of ear candy, cleverly written lyrics, and inhuman instrumentation, then look no further.
Over the last few years, I have found a renewed interest in post-punk music, with quality releases from the likes of The Menzingers and Fontaines D.C. My favorite pop-punk release for 2020 has to be the Californian quintet Spanish Love Songs‘ third full-length, Brave Faces Everyone. At the time of the album release in February, I was living in the beautiful Swiss Alps and on a writing break. In hindsight, I’m grateful for not reviewing it back then because of how the rest of 2020 unfolded and how that has only made the impact of the album feel more potent. Missed Connections seems like a much better time to revisit this evocative masterpiece.
Spanish Love Songs have never been afraid to express their emotions, and the same is true for Brave Faces Everyone. The raw honesty in Dylan Slocum’s vocals catches the listener from the opener “Routine Plan” and does not let go till the very end. While the topics are diverse and general – from fighting depression and an addiction, to student loan debt – the timing of the album makes them more relatable than ever before. “Self-Destruction (as a sensible career choice)” is built on a skeptical chorus of ‘It won’t be this bleak forever/ Yeah right/ It won’t be this bleak forever/ I hope you’re right,’ and that exact thought has probably propelled many of us for the past few months. 2020 also provided a chance to reflect. For the first time, I realized how in the hunt of self-progression, I have often forgotten the society at large. Hence, it is impossible to be unmoved by introspective lyrics such as ‘I’m so preoccupied with my own life/ I can’t see the world is burning down.’ As “Losers 2” delves into the impact of the economic crisis of 2008, it is hard not to wonder about the economic fallout of the current pandemic and the impact it will have over the coming years.
Sonically, the album is a step up for the band, as they leave the strict tropes of pop-punk found on Schmaltz for a more fluid amalgamation of emo, alternative rock, and of course, post-punk. Without being revolutionary in any way, the sharper riffs, the thundering drums, and the catchier hooks ensure that the music sticks in the listener’s head days after listening to the album. From the pure rock frenzy of “Kick” to the subtler and introspective “Dolores,” there is unmissable raw energy across Brave Faces Everyone, and it is hard not to be encapsulated by it. Most importantly, amid all the sadness, there lies the human instinct of survival, and the same unsaid message of optimism for the future closes the album with “Brave Faces Everyone”.
Spanish Love Songs have put a marker down with Brave Faces Everyone. It showcases the band’s ability to write catchy rock songs and also being emotionally relatable for their audiences. The quintet may think of themselves as a 6 of 10, but Brave Faces Everyone convinces me they are more like a 10 of 10. For the rest of us, it has been a terrible year in one way or another. Some of us have lost our loved ones, lost our jobs, but for 40 minutes, we must put that aside and give ourselves the therapy offered by Spanish Love Songs. Hopefully, like me, it will help you put up a more optimistic and braver face for 2021.
Let’s take a quick journey back to the very beginning of this year. While I do wish I could relive that ‘new year, new me’ hopefulness that I felt then (especially because I had no idea what kind of storm was coming), I’ll settle for reminiscing on the excitement I felt when hearing one of my favorite albums of 2020 for the first time. As 2019 came to a close, I kept reading about the upcoming Poppy album, and I only thought ‘Wow, I haven’t heard anything from her in a long time. Is she still doing those YouTube videos?’. My curiosity was piqued, and I decided to check out her music for the first time since her debut full-length Poppy.Computer. Little did I know that an odd internet sensation would deliver one of the most unique records of 2020.
Back in 2015, I was one of the many people who stumbled upon the YouTube channel for Poppy. The videos were so bizarre and unsettling that I craved some sort of explanation for their existence. Eventually, we all received the answer with the release of her first single, “Lowlife”: she’s a singer. The song was catchy and certainly poppy (ha) but didn’t seem to match the disturbing nature of some of the videos that were being posted. Was the point of the unease only to capture the attention of unexpecting victims? As the years passed, Poppy’s music began to become darker, more focused, and scarier. It surprised me that some tracks on the 2018 release Am I a Girl? seemed much more out of place from what would be on a typical pop album. I thought the project was quirky and weird for the sake of being shocking, so I wrote it off as something I wouldn’t ever really understand.
Once I heard I Disagree for the first time, my whole opinion of Poppy completely changed. It wasn’t the bubblegum pop that I equated with her music. Instead, the album is a raw and visceral attack on the senses that bends your expectations by pulling out the rug from underneath you. In one moment, there’s a fun and fast-paced section that sounds like it’s ripped out of an anime opening theme song, and the next moment you’re met with a crushing breakdown that instantly brings the happy-go-lucky mood to a halt. The disorienting switch-up of emotions makes the album intriguing, especially during a first time listen. The first track “Concrete” grabbed me when I first heard it, and I instantly knew that I Disagree was going to be something special.
The songs that are on the heavier side tend to have interesting elements that separate them from common metal songs. The title track, “I Disagree”, has choruses that have distorted guitars and pounding drums, but the verses sound like they would work well as a hip-hop beat. The quick switches keep the song moving without being too distracting. “BLOODMONEY” (which was nominated for a Grammy! Pretty sweet!) is similar to “I Disagree”, but seems significantly more haunting and intense. The repeated lyrics of ‘Keep telling yourself that you’ve been playing nice/And go beg for forgiveness from Jesus the Christ’ are chilling and presented in a terrifying manner that still manages to get stuck in your head. Both tracks are a bone-chilling shift from Poppy’s former songwriting style, but they are a welcome addition to her repertoire.
“Anything Like Me” is one of the most fiery tracks on the album. While it definitely has some similarities to Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”, it seems to carry way more weight and power. There are rumors that the song shows her side of drama that has unfolded over the years (feel free to Google the Titanic Sinclair and Mars Argo lawsuit if you aren’t already familiar. That story would easily take up this entire feature), and you can really feel Poppy’s frustration and fury. The heavy riffing is interspersed with a quiet section that dulls the tension and lulls the listener into a false sense of security. The final moments punch you straight in the mouth with a breakdown that comes out of nowhere. In my opinion, this conveys anger just as well as lyrical content would. In a time where many pop songs contain upbeat and gleeful melodies with heartbreaking lyrics, it’s nice to have music that perfectly matches the mood of the content.
While it may be more of a metal album than Poppy’s previous records, I Disagree still contains plenty of pop-based laid-back sections. A track like “Fill The Crown” bounces back and forth between a gorgeous chorus and a driving Rammstein-esque verse that fit in well with shifting gears of the rest of the album. However, the following song, “Nothing I Need” is a relaxing ballad that is a relief from the onslaught of the earlier tracks. In addition, the final track, “Don’t Go Outside”, starts quiet and subdued, but soon goes as far as incorporating some elements of progressive rock into the mix, ending the album on a triumphant note. The versatility keeps everything fresh and interesting, especially since an album filled with only metal may not be as appealing to all of Poppy’s potential listeners. To me, the softer songs are just as well-made and exciting as the heavy ones, and they make the album even more dynamic and engrossing.
As a fan of metal, I have a weird side-effect where I believe that every band needs to be characterized flawlessly into a genre. Sure, the genre of metal is incredibly expansive, so oftentimes it’s helpful to be specific when looking for a certain taste. However, I Disagree shatters my beliefs that music needs to fit into a mold. Poppy has created a genre-bending environment that combines so many contrasting elements into one package. The album is a creative dream (and, at times, a nightmare) that I find intoxicating time and time again. Will it be for everyone? Probably not. Will the people that comment on the Sumerian Records social media pages ever really accept the fact that she’s doing something different than the rest of the label? I doubt it. All that matters is that I Disagree took an ambitious risk, and it definitely paid off.