QUICK REVIEWS: Halsey, All Time Low, and Obey the Brave!

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Every week, the music-loving creative team at Geeks + Gamers check out their most-anticipated New Releases, listening to them incessantly over the weekend. Three reviews are compiled and brought to you, the faithful reader. This week, Jonathan Youngblood, Chris Kubiak, and Michael Kaye tackle five of the newest, biggest album drops in rock, pop, and everything in between.

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Hopeless Fountain Kingdom by Halsey
In 2015, an album debuted that quickly earned its place as one of my favorite musical experiences of all time. Halsey’s Badlands was a truly magical journey through a dying wasteland devoid of hope that interwove within itself in complicated, brilliant ways. The singer/songwriter’s follow-up has been one of my most anticipated releases of any kind this year. Early interviews indicated that Hopeless Fountain Kingdom would continue the Halsey style of graphic novel-inspired concept albums, while also breaking more strongly into the mainstream scene. There, HFK resoundingly succeeds. However, it is in this more universal app appeal that Halsey’s latest release, unfortunately, leaves me disappointed.

Gone, for the most part, is the boundary-pushing roughness of Badlands, instead exchanged for an over-produced pop-infused feel that routinely abandons the intricacies of Halsey’s previous efforts in lieu of a more simple, predictable formula. Although it is almost undeniably well-performed and well-executed, it is lacking in the creativity and unconventionality that made previous Halsey releases so instantly unforgettable. Stand-out moments still exist, most notably with the quiet, piano-driven “Sorry” and the two-track companion pieces of “Angel on Fire” and “Devil in Me, which call to mind the brilliance of Badlands as HFK’s Deluxe Edition winds to a close. Furthermore, “Strangers” stands out on a social level for its beautifully simple LGBTQ-representation in a song destined for pop radio success. If anything, a purchase of those four individual songs would be well-worth your money, even if the entire album may fall a bit flat.

In general, nothing in Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is “bad,” per se. Every song is fine, bleeding together into a wave of sound that will advance Halsey’s exposure on Top 40 and alternative stations to presumably equal degrees. After the unbelievable success of her Chainsmokers collaboration and the relative success of her debut album, I cannot fault the valid artistic choice of attempting a more mainstream appeal-centered project. In many ways, this was a success for the 22-year-old artist. I hope that, as future music is created, Halsey is able to combine the beautiful cacophony of music and emotion that was Badlands with the universally-lovable grace of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. This is a decent album worth experiencing. Just go in without the high expectations set by the past. -JY

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Last Young Renegade by All Time Low
Has pop punk become an endangered species in terms of music genres? Over the past decade, bands like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, and Panic at the Disco have moved slowly away from the genre and developed a more pop/electronica-driven sound. We can now add All Time Low to the list with their seventh studio album, Last Young Renegade. The harder hitting sounds of All Time Low’s previous releases are very noticeably missing in this fairly-likable, well-produced pop-rock record.

Future Hearts, All Time Low’s 2015 release, landed at #3 on Alternative Press’ “10 Essential Records of 2015.” Their credentials as a band, beginning with their formation in 2003, are some of the genre’s best. However, I have very mixed feelings about the genre evolution that has taken place in Last Young Renegade. Artists such as Prince and David Bowie stand out as obvious influences on its sound, which is not necessarily a bad thing. That being said, some of my favorite tracks on the album are the ones in which the band’s pop-punk roots shine through. Tracks such as the title track, “Nice2KnoU,” and “Dark Side of Your Room” are nice reminders that they haven’t forgotten where they came from, and can still rock out. Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat do some great guitar work on these tracks, but the MVP has to be Rian Dawson on the drums. Even on the more explicitly electronic single “Dirty Laundry,” Dawson comes in towards the back half to end things on a resounding high note.

In some ways, I feel the same way about Last Young Renegade as I did about Linkin Park’s One More Light. Both share similar motivations for the change, as evident by their lyrics. According to Gaskarth, he and the band wanted to push themselves forward by tackling more mature themes. He said he was “reflecting more on my demons this time around.” These aren’t the same high school kids singing covers of Green Day and Blink-182, so it makes sense that their music reflects that. I may not be the biggest fan of this change in style, but I at least commend All Time Low for trying something different, for better or for worse. – MK

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Mad Season by Obey the Brave
Obey the Brave, the five piece metalcore/hardcore/punk band from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, is back with their third studio album: Mad Season. Since their formation in 2011, OTB has been on an upswing of popularity since the release of their debut album Young Blood and their follow-up Salvation. While Young Blood was an aggressive “punch to the face” throughout, their sophomore effort showed a small transition to a more melodic version of the band. That trend continues with their third album. Mad Season is an excellent example of experimentation as their sound and songwriting prowess continues to develop.

When most bands try to evolve their sound away from hard-hitting roots, they usually wind up clipping their edge. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened in this case. While Alex Erian experiments with more punk and pop-punk style vocals, his trademark growl is still all over this album. Mad Season features sing-along choruses that also include Obey the Brave’s trademark gang-style vocals. Guitarists Greg Wood and John Campbell’s “freight train” chug is at a balance with less frenetic and more straight-forward passages to accompany Erian’s punk singing. There are also times of single-note harmonies dripping with effects that are reminiscent of Salvation. While the speed of their playing has dropped on this album, bassist Miguel Lepage and drummer Steve Morotti keep the bass line going with Morotti using more small fills when he is not kicking his tight double bass and Lepage thickening out the more melodic parts of songs.

The only drawback to the album is that, with all the experimentation, the feel of it is a bit scattered, with the clear focus seeming to be on “being different.” This is best shown in their song “RIP.” It’s an interesting song with Canadian rap group Loud Larry Ajust is definitely a departure from what they have done on previous albums. For any new fans, Mad Season is a much more accessible album than Obey the Brave’s previous two and will ease you into the world of screaming vocals, especially if you are already a fan of bands similar to A Day to Remember. For longtime fans, the fire is still there and there are plenty riffs and breakdowns to throw your body around to in a mosh pit. -CK

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