Although I am nowhere near a critic, I would like to review Icon For Hire’s new album, You Can’t Kill Us, which releases November 25th.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to review this album, but one of the biggest reason’s is the message behind it. As a big fan of theirs for over a year now, the announcement of a new album made me extremely excited. When I found out they were funding the new record through Kickstarter, I desperately wanted to help out, but due to some hard times in my life as far as getting money, I was unable to afford it. Despite that, Icon for Hire still made the new songs available to those who were unable to help out with the Kickstarter, and I will be the first to admit they made my 2016 a year I will never forget.
Going independent is never easy. An an indie author, I understand the struggle entirely, which is why I feel the need to help them out so much.
Anyone who follows me knows that one of my biggest issues that I like to tackle is mental health, as seen through the few books that I have written. Their previous songs even helped me write my newest book, The Long Road Home, which released earlier this year. This is the exact reason why I feel the need to do my part, as a fan and a person who has greatly benefited from their music, and write them a review. Unlike most reviews, I decided to take an in-depth look at each song, picking out my favorite lines from each, and giving my own interpretation of each. So let’s give this a go!
1. “Supposed to Be”
The album opens up with an electronic, yet rock, song called “Supposed to Be,” where Ariel sings, “Tell me who I’m supposed to be now. Make me better, I can’t stay halfway dead forever.” The song, while not heavy, is seemingly the lead single for the album, and talks about the struggle of depression, and mental health in general, and our tendency to allow it to define us. Because of my own personal struggles, the song really connected with me, and I found myself wondering the same things as Ariel. For so long, depression defined not only everything that happened in my life, but it became me. I was depressed. I wasn’t Alec, I was depression. I was anxiety. For the song’s bridge, Ariel sings, “For years, this is all I’ve know, this has had my heart, and this has been my home.” As a song of question, it’s also a song of hope, and overcoming these labels that we use to define ourselves. We are not our sadness. We are human. And most of all, we are who we shape ourselves to be, and we should not let anyone or anything tell us any different.
Favorite line: “I don’t wanna be stuck, I don’t wanna be crazy–this is the way that my sadness made me.”
The album takes a sudden turn with the second track, titled “Demons,” where, although still heavy, the song’s intro takes a more electronic sound to it. Despite that, I feel that this song is one of the few that sounds close to their previous albums, yet still stands well on its own. The first thing that caught my attention with this song was the repeated phrase “Ashes, ashes” for each verse, especially in the line where Ariel sings, “Ashes, ashes, dust and dust; it doesn’t hurt enough yet, does it, does it?” Where “Supposed to Be” focused on the labels and figuring out who we’re, well, supposed to be, this song focuses more on overcoming the things that hold us down. Each and every person has their own personal demons that they have to deal with, and this song is all about letting go, moving on, and not being a victim to yourself and your struggles. “Oh, fight back your demons, don’t let them take you down,” sings Ariel in the chorus, reminding us that we have the power over our emotions, our pain, and how we choose to live.
Favorite line: “Pain didn’t change me; I changed my pain” or “You didn’t come this far just to get this far.”
This song, out of all on the album, seems to move away from their typical rock sound, and I’ll be the first to admit that at first listen, I wasn’t a huge fan. After several times of listening, dissecting the lyrics, and hearing the music, I realized that although a mix of electronic sound and rap, rock still plays a roll, and the lyrics are worth it, despite the claim that they’re “weak.” Ariel opens up with a direct reference to their first album Scripted, “Do your thing but you oughta know, we just make it up as we go…They’re so scripted, they’re so predictable. Do your thing but you oughta know, we just make it up as we go…we’ve unscripted, now we do what we want.” *wink wink* Of course, this is all sung in rap, and while this is not something necessarily new for this band, it is definitely used more excessively in this song, but that’s not really a bad thing. One of the things that really stands out about this song is the meaning behind it, which is stated directly in the chorus: “Tell me, do you have a pulse? Do you have a pulse? Do you have a p-p-p-pulse? Tell me, do you even know? Do you even know? Do you even kn-kn-kn-know?” As people, we tend to do what others want us to, whether it be getting a job for the sake of family, denying who we are, or pretending to be something that we’re not. Ariel and Shawn pose the question of, are we really living? Are you a living, breathing person, when all you’re doing is listening to everyone else? Even though this song is far from their old rock sound, it is one of my top five songs on the album.
Favorite line: “Do your thing, go numb it down. Try to make them all love you now.”
4. “The Magic”
Icon for Hire has done many beautiful songs in the past, such as “Only a Memory,” “Hope of Morning,” and “The Grey.” The fourth track, “The Magic,” reminds me very much of these songs, and at first listen even made me tear up. With a slower, but not softer, take, Ariel sings, “When you close your eyes, somewhere are you still alive? When you close your eyes, somewhere does your heart still beat or are you lost like me?” Although this may not be the exact reason the song was written, my interpretation is about the “magic” or being alive. Each and every one of us has something offer the world, and we have the power to be something amazing or something terrible. Many of us who have struggled with our own feelings and challenges, it can be easy to feel like you’re not living enough, or that maybe even death is better than what we’re dealing with. Just like always, Icon reminds us that not only is life worth living, but that we can overcome anything. We are strong. We all have the magic in us.
Favorite line: “Imagine the magic that might be under the madness, between the mundane automatic and the silicone sadness.”
5. “Happy Hurts”
For years, Icon for Hire has given us songs that are about things like depression, but this song poses the question, “Why does happy hurt sometimes? Why is it that when I’m happy, I still feel sadness?” Many of us who’ve dealt with depression or anything of the kind can understand that feeling all too well. As possibly the slowest song on the album, Ariel sings softer and gentler than usual, “Happy hurts sometimes, blame it on the monsters in my mind. I’ve been getting better at slowly getting worse, oh, what’s wrong with me when happy hurts?” This, along with a few others, made me cry upon first hearing, simply because it hit extremely close to home. I’ve found myself sharing it with many of my friends who I feel may need it, and I will never get tired of listening to this song. Although rap is in the song, it’s a lot less subtle, and fans who don’t necessarily like the rap sound can still thoroughly enjoy this song.
Favorite line: “A little less victim, a little more victory.”
6. “You Were Wrong”
It can be very easy for bands, when writing songs, to come across as whiny, immature, and like they’re venting about the loss of friendship, relationship, and so on. Icon for Hire is not one of those bands. Instead of sulking in the sadness or frustration of losing someone (the exact person the song is about is not obvious), Icon for Hire gives us a song about realizing that the people that try to break us down can’t have that power over us, even if we were once friends. Over the last few songs since this song first came out, I find that I’ve lost many people I never thought I’d lose. Instead of giving me a song that could be whiny, Ariel sings, “You were wrong all along, try to break me, make me strong.” As the song progresses, she states, “I thought we were one and the same, us against them and their dumb little game. Well, I guess I got played.” For me, this song is an anthem about getting rid of the toxic people in our lives. It’s about the joy, possibly, of being free, and I think everyone can take away something from this song, even if musically it is not their taste.
Favorite line: “I don’t go down easy, I don’t bow out quiet. I never lost a war unless I didn’t fight it.”
7. “Too Loud”
This is one of the top three songs on the album by far, and it’s also one of the last that we got to hear. Musically, it is hard to explain, as the song starts out with a electronic vibe along with what sounds like clapping, but later proceeds to be a bit more rock with a guitar very prominent in the chorus and at the end. “Let’s stop letting everyone tell us how to feel, tell us how to dream. Let’s stop letting everyone tell us how to live, tell us who to be,” Ariel sings right before the chorus, a message that relates back to “Pulse.” In the amazing chorus, Ariel, almost jokingly, sings, “Oh no, no, am I getting too loud, am I getting too loud, am I getting too loud? Oh no, no, am I getting in your head, am I getting in your head, getting in your head?” In my head, I almost consider this a sequel song to “Pulse,” because the chorus seems directed at us, whereas the chorus seems directed at people who try to bring us down. When we start questioning authority, or people close to us, they can get pretty defensive, and I feel as though Ariel is making fun, in a way, of how standing up can affect them. Ironically, at the start of the chorus, the song slows down a bit as she asks if she’s getting too loud, and it’s very clear that was intentional. This is my second favorite track on the record and I feel that it’s also one of the strong songs they’ve ever done.
Favorite line: “You know, they’re coming for your fire when they try to push you lower but you keep on going higher.”
This song was previously titled “Perfect Storm,” and although I’m not really thrilled about the title change, I find this song way better than the demo that was previously leaked a long time ago. Being my third favorite song on the album, we start out with a the sound of a piano, which I assume is by Ariel, where she sings, “You and I go deep like water…” and then goes into, “It’s a brilliant game you play, when you lock yourself away and make me fight for you.” The chorus, which is soft the first time, gets a little louder and heavier the second time around, where she sings beautifully, “I can’t keep you above water, I can’t drag your soul to shore. Don’t know how to fix a sinking ship, or win a losing war.” There have been many people in my life that are like this, and hell, I may have even been this person before. Sometimes people drag us down, and the track is all about letting go, loving them from afar, and learning that the “ocean isn’t big enough” for these other people in our lives.
Favorite line: “On the surface it looks perfect, underneath it’s just a perfect storm.”
9. “Under the Knife” (Album Spotlight)
There’s certainly a lot to say about this song, not only because it’s my favorite Icon song ever, but because it is also the most meaningful message I’ve ever heard in a song. I will also be using the lyrics to completely dissect it, for those who may not have heard the song As a writer myself, my readers know that I don’t like to sugarcoat things, and I’m very proud of this band for tackling the same issue in a similar way. Ariel, understandably, opens up with, “This is the song I’m too scared to write, but some of you may need it tonight.” Right away, the message behind the song is obvious, where she then goes into, “Oh, there you were, heart made of glass. Fragile little thing, shattered too fast. Tried to pick the pieces up, up, up, and that’s the way you first got cut, cut cut.” In the chorus, she sings, “You carved a special place for your pain…and wished it all away until you disappeared under the knife.” As if these lyrics weren’t powerful enough, the song then moves into a rap, where the chorus is unfortunately not heard again.
“Listen, I know it’s simplified from the other side,
It’s easy to gloss over all the messy reasons why,
and it’s easy for forget where you’ve been.
I guess that’s what the scars are for, huh?”
Ariel, although admitting later in the song that she seems to have no personal experience with this, knows exactly what she is talking about, and anyone who’s ever dealt with self-harm will feel just how hard the song hits to home. I am still unable to listen to the song without crying, and by crying, I mean bawling. Ariel then sings,
“When we were fifteen, we wouldn’t dare let that shit be seen,
But now it seems mutilation’s gone mainstream.
I see you at my shows, scarred up from head to toe,
Like there’s no point even trying not to let it show.
Cause we all know, ‘Emo kids like to hurt themselves,’
Too many feelings and not enough self-control.
I mean, does this mess with any of the rest of you?
It’s an epidemic and we’re cool with it, don’t question it.
As a high schooler, I distinctly remember the word “emo” being thrown around for kids that wore all black, had black hair, and were extremely goth. The assumption was that they hurt themselves, and only them, but that it not true. From personal experience, as a kid who wore Hollister, was kind of “preppy” and was seemingly happy, I dealt with cutting on a very hard level. Ariel pointing out the flaw behind the logic makes the song even better, and she then says,
“But it bothers me, our scars are currency by which we’re measured,
Like, let the record show who let it slip and who held it together.
Cutters, burners, and honorable mentions,
Posers who still cut themselves up for the attention.
I don’t care of your intentions, I just want you to know,
My self-hatred always took me where I wanted to go,
But at the end of the day you know I still had to face
That I could pick at the pain, but I can’t cut it away.”
As the song comes to a close, Ariel sings, “You know what else I can’t do is give you ten good reasons not to, I’ve wracked my brain for clever sayings of all the things you ought to do. But you’d think if there was something I could say, they’d have thrown it on a brochure and sent you on your way.” Admitting this is powerful, because it can be easy for people to say things like, “Go take a walk,” or “Go read a book,” or “How about try listening to music?” Those that are really struggling have heard these sayings over and over, and Ariel coming clean saying she knows that she can’t is a bold and extremely moving statement. At the end, she says, “So I’ll keep doing what I always do, drag my heart to the piano and make it sing for you.”
Before I continue the rest of this review, I’d just like to say, thank you, Icon for Hire. This is the most beautiful, authentic, and moving song I’ve ever heard, and I’m very proud to be a fan.
10. “Here We Are”
Another softer take, and also Icon for Hire’s first single for the album, Ariel questions, “Why are we still sad? Why are we still sad?” and bursts into an interesting, yet intriguing chorus, where a beat drops as she sings at the end, “Here we are” and that is all. Although it’s not my favorite on the album, many listeners can enjoy the song, and even if it’s not musically someone’s taste, the lyrics are incredible.
Favorite line: “Here we are, bruised and battle scared, all our beating hearts.”
11. “Get Well II”
This song came as a surprise to many, because not a peep was made about a sequel song until it was released to the Kickstarter backers. Because I wasn’t a backer, it took me reading through comments to see what the titles were, and I may have squealed like a girl when I saw that they wrote this song. The second I got the notification that it was released on YouTube, I made my way there to hear Ariel open with, “Oh, I need my pain, don’t take it away. My sad makes me special.” Hitting fans right in the feels again, Icon for Hire creates a song even more amazing than the original (if that’s even possible). It’s also reassuring to know that even though they have deviated from Scripted lyrically, musically, and even emotionally (*cough* “Pulse” *cough), they still remain true to that part of their lives. In the chorus, Ariel sings, “We can’t undo the scars all up and down our hearts, can’t forget how it felt when it all fell apart. And we talk a big game like we want to get well, in our prison made of pain, only fooling ourselves.” In the original song, it seems as though Icon was saying that they wanted to get better, and maybe that is true. But once again, honesty shines through with this song where Ariel admits that sometimes it’s all talk, and our sadness is our home.
Favorite line: “My sad makes me special.”
Definitely the most electronic song on the record, Ariel opens with, “I am, I am invincible,” then later sings, “I belong to the night, I learned to survive. Gotta fight the feeling inside.” The chorus is full of beats dropping, mixes of vocals, and it’s clear Icon was being a bit experimental with this song (although props to Shawn, because the song is fantastic either way). This is not at all rock and nothing you’d expect of a band like Icon for Hire, but have once again proven that their talent is unstoppable.
Favorite line: “From the flame I emerge with the strength I have earned.”
13. “You Can’t Kill Us”
The title track is one of the most reminiscent of the old Icon, but is also a fantastic representation of their new direction. Wrapping up the album perfectly, Ariel sings, “I knew I couldn’t stop, kept hoping one day I’d make it to a stage and tell you it’s all okay.” In the rocking chorus, she and backing vocals from Kickstarter supporters sing, “You can’t, you can’t kill us!” as an anthem, reminding us, and their old record label, that together we’re unstoppable. Not only in music, but in life. We as an Icon Army, everyone that adores this band, can’t be stopped because we know it gets better. We know that no matter what, we’ll survive, because we’re living and we’re breathing. Anyone that listens to this band is a fighter, a hero, and Ariel and Shawn take no pride as far as their music goes. They know they’ve gotten far with help, and know that their music is beneficial to many. This final anthem is simply a reminder that this is not the last we’ve heard of them and that together, we can move mountains.
Favorite line: “Like an army, we all know it’s not better yet, but we hold on, stay strong, and never forget.”
The record’s title You Can’t Kill Us is a perfect representation of what the entire album is about. It’s about overcoming the battles in our own lives, in our minds, and in our hearts. It’s about love, fighting for what’s right, and never letting anyone tear you down. This album is a solid 5/5 stars, although I’d give it a 100 stars if I could. I strongly suggest that anyone that relates to any of these messages portrayed in this album go take a listen and be sure to buy. Icon for Hire has certainly shown they deserve it.