Review

2014 Summer Playlist

We're in the throes of summer! These are the days when one has the most time on one's hands, so what better time to discover new music?Foster_the_People_-_Supermodel "Best Friend" - Foster The People. Combining familiar elements of a FtP song — Mark Foster's seemingly ubiquitous voice and hugely catchy hooks — this song thrives on a big band sound. A song about the paralyzing nature of writer's block, it matches the rest of the songs on Supermodel in both energy and eccentricity.

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"Weight of Love" - The Black Keys. For those with an affinity towards blues, The Black Keys' new record is chockfull of gorgeously lush psychedelia. Just as the title implies, the track delivers a lot of weight and is one of the most resounding and impacting album openers I have ever heard. Dan Auerbach's magnificent guitar solo wraps around your head and is hard to shake off, making the song a perfect earworm for a summer day.

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"Thinking About You" - Calvin Harris (ft. Ayah Marar). As overrated as Calvin Harris usually is, this song from 18 Months is an under-appreciated gem. Ayah Marar's vocals are a breath of fresh air; she sings with an effortless confidence that imbues the mood one is in after listening to the song. The pure infectiousness of this house track begs its status as a quintessential summer anthem.

"Hunger of the Pine" - alt-J. Although it may not alt-J-This-Is-All-Yoursseem like the obvious obvious choice for a summer anthem, there is a breezy, beach cruiser quality to alt-J's latest teaser from their forthcoming album This Is All Yours. Clocking in at just under 5 minutes, the song is a veritable journey in and of itself. It has everything from fiery female vocal clips to wavering saxophone to complex rhythmic syncopation to chanted French poetry. And yes, French poetry. It doesn't get much better than this.

(Click on each image to listen to the corresponding song.)

Swimming With Dolphins' Ambient Blue EP Review

picture-1 Swimming With Dolphins' Ambient Blue is exactly as the title implies. The music has an ambient quality to it, eerie and ethereal, but with a tinge of melancholy – "blue" – lurking beneath the surface. It is music fit for dusk on a beach, sitting in cool sand, but also an apt soundtrack to a drizzly midnight stroll illuminated only by hazy streetlights. Together, Austin Tofte and Adam Young have masterfully crafted a dreamy synth-pop EP, evoking a wide range of emotions.

c92354d3"Silhouettes" is breathtaking and heartbreaking all at once. The lyrics seem to drive a stake through the listener's chest, somehow in a good way. At one point, the breathy Breanne Duren ponders, "Who really needs the past/with the allure of something new?" And later: "I am sure, I never will be sure/we were in love." An outcry against an increasingly distant lover, "Silhouettes" is incomparable to the other tracks. Tofte's voice gives the listener chills, and Duren is the perfect complement. The mid-song musical interlude evokes visions of an underwater cave orchestra. Tofte closes out with an exasperated and vulnerable, "So hold on tightly to your vices...no matter what, you'll always see/the aura that is left from me."

"Pajama Party" begins with a chiptune melody, reminiscent of a mid-1990's video game. It morphs into an endearing, (and somehow enticing) invitation to "sleep on the beach/with blankets made from leaves of palm trees/we'll say let's never leave." It soon becomes apparent that the singer is, in fact, imagining all this in his head. He wistfully leads into the chorus with, "I'll always wake up so confused/each time I have that dream of you/So if you dreamt of me, too/Does that mean we dreamt the same dream?"

images-24"Sunset, 1989" is a defiant anthem, boasting lyrics like, "I know we'll always be fair-weather friends, to the end/if there's a cause, it's already lost/'cause I tried the last time and you tossed me aside again/but it won't happen again." "Everything's a Miracle" is a full, scrumptious dance track brimming with comparisons between the singer's love interest and the stars. "Up in the Stars," a ballad going from choppy vocals to crooning, "the days go by...the days go by..." is a perfect end to an equally satisfying EP.

I remember hearing Ambient Blue in middle school and being blown away. It still takes my breath away. Fresh, catchy hooks mask contemplative and often melancholy lyrics, a combination that is alluring and unforgettable.

Daughter's If You Leave Album Review

Daughter-If-You-Leave Ethereal. That's how I would describe Daughter's debut album If You Leave. The indie trio consists of Elena Tonra, a soft-spoken lyricist vocally capable of tearing apart an emotionally manipulative lover while pleading with him to stay, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella. In an interview, Elena quips that the record is "about certain breakdowns in certain aspects of life." As far as the largely ambiguous genre of indie-rock goes, Daughter is known to be refreshingly raw, their debut album no exception.

Daughter-006"Winter" sets a darkly contemplative mood in typical Daughter fashion, by Elena Tonra struggling to face facts about an estranged lover and comparing the previous heat of their relationship to the bitter cold it has become. Frantic guitar riffs and occasionally choppy percussion try to find their balance amid the frost appropriately, as Elena navigates the apparent wintriness of their relationship. Standout lyric: "Drifting apart like two sheets of ice, my love/Frozen hearts growing colder with time." The reverb on Tonra's voice conveys the icy yet desperate inferno of a soul in torment. She closes by begging, "Oh, winter come/Oh, winter crush all of the things that I once loved."

Steadily paced, but no less poignant, "Smother" is Elena Tonra at her peak of despondence, lamenting, "I'm wasted, losing time/I’m a foolish, fragile spine/I want all that is not mine."

Daughter - Press Images - March 2012 - London"Youth" is a fiery anthem that involves Elena musing, "And if you're still breathing, you're the lucky ones/'Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs/Setting fire to our insides for fun," over airy guitars and confident percussion. Despite relatively cynical lyrics, there is a quiet understanding that can be felt through the wistful melody, implying that in the despair, there is still hope. In "Still," a tense relationship is "spiraling down" with "biting words like a wolf howling." The effects on Elena's voice make it sound as though she's singing on one side of a bedroom, a silent observer of the tension between two individuals.

It's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about "Tomorrow" that tugs at my heartstrings the most. Maybe it's the vulnerable lyrics, the frail wobbles of the guitar evolving into resilient chord progressions, the tone of someone who desires something so badly, but knows, "By tomorrow we'll be lost amongst the leaves/In a wind that chills the skeletons of trees," and, "By tomorrow I'll be left in the darkness/Amongst your cold sheets."

daughter-band"Human" is a pleasant surprise, pairing dark lyrics this time with a folksy, upbeat tune. "Underneath this skin there's a human/Buried deep within there's a human/And despite everything I'm still human," is a realization of humanity, however deeply buried by affliction.

As dismal as it is, "Touch" evokes visions of a dull-eyed woman hungering for physical gratification, but realizing the emptiness of it. A softly urgent beat implies tenderness, but also infinite sadness. "Love, hunt me down/I can't stand to be so dead behind the eyes/And feed me, spark me up...So I can feel something." It exposes the superficiality of relationships that are purely physical, and the emptiness that both individuals are left with when it is all over. "Amsterdam" boasts lyrics like, "I used to dream of adventure/When I was younger...Good night with killing our brain cells/Is this called living?" It's a song about exploration, running away with someone and returning home, dissatisfied.

If You Leave is a raw, unprecedented album that may make many listeners uncomfortable. In a music industry full of lifeless, soulless music--as if artists are afraid of exposing their human vulnerability--Daughter defies preconceived notions about the callousness of indie-rock. This album unflinchingly explores, both musically and lyrically, the brutal realities of life, which makes it a heavy listen. But if you listen closely enough, through the pain there is an inkling of hope, and that leaves the listener both deeply moved and thoroughly uplifted.

(Click on the album cover at the top if you want to listen for yourself.)

Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon Album Review

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Oh my. This record. This record. Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (DSOTM) is easily one of the most influential rock albums of all time, setting the bar high for anything else claiming to be a true rock album. It celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year, having been released in March 1973 and selling over 50 million copies since then.

I have listened to this album while stargazing at 3 AM, wading in the ocean late at night, half-asleep in between sheets on a warm Sunday afternoon, watching the sun set from my roof, and on rainy mornings before school. As a whole, this album has proven itself to be a suitable soundtrack for any setting.

"Speak To Me" unnerves the listener by having no music playing for about the first minute before bringing in a soft, then insistent heartbeat, steadily layered with other noises circling your head. It melds (like the entirety of the songs with one another) into "Breathe (In the Air)" which introduces you to the breathtaking (no pun intended) lyric/music combination that Pink Floyd so masterfully exhibits. While David Gilmour murmurs, "Breathe, breathe in the air/Don't be afraid to care," the accompaniment is simple but powerful.

"On the Run" projects an eerily repeated arpeggiation that, to be honest, seems a bit drawn-out, but adds to the developing atmosphere of the album. It seamlessly rolls into "Time," a colossus of a track that manages to maintain both gracefulness and intensity musically while throwing out powerful lyrics such as, "You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today/And then one day you find ten years have got behind you/No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun."

"The Great Gig in the Sky" gives fervent-voiced Clare Torry centerstage, her wailing a raw improvisation over a piano riff that practically melts in the mouth. Added are, as throughout the album, recorded snippets of voices musing on themes like violence, war, and dying.secondhand-serenade-pink-floyd-desktop-background-14294.jpg

Although "Money" was the one real "single material" piece on DSOTM, it is by no means overrated. The tune is bluesy and the middle of the song gives way to a surprising rhythm change, from funky 7/4 to a well-worked 4/4. It's just in time to herald in an iconic guitar solo, courtesy of David Gilmour, which musically mirrors the picture of frenzied and greedy materialism conveyed by the lyrics.

In "Us and Them," my personal favorite, dreamy saxophone flutters in and out of the first few minutes, pulling the melody in its wake. The listener is already enraptured as the first lyrics are uttered: "Us and them/And after all, we're only ordinary men." The gorgeousness of the track nearly makes one forget about the melancholy lyrics, which only help to fuel the pure emotion contained in the song. Both the music and lyrics reach such an ardent climax, it can be physically hard to breathe.

"Any Colour You Like" is an intoxicating jam. The good vibes are so vibrantly present, it is easily strong as a stand-alone track, even though in reality it's an instrumental bridge connecting "Us and Them" and "Brain Damage," the following track.

"Brain Damage" finally introduces the album title, the lyrics, "...If your head explodes with dark forebodings too/ I'll see you on the dark side of the moon" prompting an "aha" moment as the listener makes a lyrical connection to the album title. The song has a contemplative, almost nostalgic feel to it. It is a meditation on mental instability--a quiet nod to former band member Syd Barrett--and rises to buoyant confidence in the chorus.

"Eclipse" is a soaring benediction to the album. It, cleverly enough, closes by returning to the beginning heartbeats thudding through "Speak to Me," bringing the record full circle and leaving the listener with a reassuring sense of continuity. One can almost feel the band members giving their blessing on "all that you do...all that's to come," as you leave the music behind and embark into the world. Or return to the world after escaping, even if only for a brief period of time, into the otherworldly state of mind DSOTM coaxes one into.

ICThe beautiful thing about The Dark Side of the Moon, aside from it being a prime example of Pink Floyd's uncanny ability to craft masterpiece albums, is its timelessness. This album has a huge measure of excellence, to transcend to listeners 40 years later. The Dark Side of the Moon is a musical rite of passage, a study in everyday lunacy, and is sure to deeply stir emotion in any listener.

Billboard Top 5 Songs: Review for the week of 10-19-13

Here are my reviews for the top five singles on Billboard.com's Hot 100. lorde-21. "Royals" by Lorde

Soon to be a household name, Lorde is a 16-year-old songstress who crafts tunes so well she might as well be a seasoned artist. She could easily pass off as a young Florence Welch, Lana Del Rey, Grimes, etc. "Royals" is easily adoptable as the indie anthem of kids who take the train to go chill with their friends. When I first heard the sultry beat and husky strains of "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh" at a high school football game, I mentally passed it off as a newer, toned-down Icona Pop song. How wrong was I. Lorde incorporates criticism of fame and society's warped definition of success with playful yet rebellious cries of "We don't care/We aren't caught up in your love affair." She exhibits a lyrical wisdom that far surpasses her years, while displaying a fierceness that seems as raw as it is authentic. "Royals" is a refreshing and bitingly cynical return to carefree idealism of youth and the philosophy that you can have fun without material excess; you only need to be surrounded by the right people.

katy-perry-roar-leak2. "Roar" by Katy Perry

Anthems are Katy's new game, and people seem to eat it up. As cautious as "Christian" listeners are of K-Perry's music after her blatant turning away from Christian values several years ago, you can't really point to any offensive material in "Roar." Typical anthemic idealisms are thrown around lyrically, from "You held me down/but I got up" to "I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter/dancing through the fire." The tune is a fairly predictable, upbeat pop confection, no surprises lurk around musical corners. The extended "Roa-a-a-a-a-ar" at the end of each chorus got old pretty quickly, considering that Katy's voice seems strained as it is. As far as popular, insistently positive songs go, "Roar" is an easy pick for the listener who doesn't stray far from the radio to find pick-me-up tunes. I'm wary and predict that Katy's encouraging side will soon be overshadowed by a plethora of tongue-in-cheek risque songs on her new record.

best-bets-albums-miley-cyrus-650-4303. "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus

At first listen, "Wrecking Ball" is a song that could easily belong to any number of pop divas. Following in the footsteps of female music giants like Pink and Rihanna, Miley Cyrus tries her hand at the "vulnerable ballad," which seems like an inevitable rite of passage for female artist, potentially making or breaking their careers. Cyrus's voice, which was admittedly grating on the ears after the first whine of "We clawed/We chained/Our hearts in vain," pleads through the simple melody dripping with angst and regret. Her voice seems a little too gleeful for the mood of the troubled (albeit relatively shallow) lyrics. Lyrics which, by the way, are self-contradictory. If Miley "came in like a wrecking ball" why is HE the one who "wrecks" her. To be honest, the whole wrecking ball analogy is weak and far too unfitting for the emotional message of the song. "Wrecking Ball" is an uncomplicated track that perhaps possessed a lot of potential with deeper lyricism and, quite frankly, a completely different artist accompanying. Even if the song was likable, it's hard for me to support an artist known primarily for her racy, and now infamous, VMA antics.

avicii-photo4. "Wake Me Up" by Avicii

As mainstream of a house DJ Avicii is, he does know how to make likable music. "Wake Me Up" kicks off with a folksy tune that leaves no doubt in the listener's mind that this is another Mumford & Sons (or some such folk giant's) wailing with raw, urgent guitar accompaniment. It, much to the listener's surprised delight, morphs casually into electronic mimickings, before launching into an full-on electronic dance interlude. True to form, Avicii returns to the acoustic motif, finding the delicate balance between overproduction and over-simplicity. The tune is driven by the empowering lyrics, which determinedly plod along, Aloe Blacc's vocals straining hopefully in a way that makes the listener want to take on the world. "Wake Me Up" is an empowerment track that mixes two seemingly un-mixable genres artfully and with surprisingly engaging results.

Drake-15. "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake, feat. Majid Jordan

I'll be honest: I was not expecting this track to be good. Drake is known for his predominantly racy songs and questionable actions on stage. "Hold On, We're Going Home" is, to put it simply, charming. The vaguely, but not excessively, funky, disco-esqe beat drives ardent lyrics that are delivered beautifully. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, "I got my eyes on you/You're everything that I see," he croons. "I can't get over you/You left your mark on me," he breathes tenderly later on. Probably the best thing about this song is the fact that it does not objectify women as sex objects, which is characteristic of the majority of "love songs" these days. (see Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines...Or don't. Yeah, don't.) "Hold On, We're Going Home" gives the mainstream lewd love song cubby hole a wide berth, while serving as a good vibes serenade.

 

Which is your favorite song?