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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Alt-J: An Awesome Wave ∆

A new band from Cambridge is pushing the limits of alternative rock to the edge.  With transient beats, folksy guitars, layered vocals, and unpredictable song structures, Alt-J’s debut album titled “An Awesome Wave” takes listeners to another world of music.

Alt-J, deriving its name from the delta symbol formed when pressing the alt key and the J key on a computer keyboard, formed at Leeds University in 2007.  Guitarist and lead vocalist Joe Newman played bass player Gwil several of his own songs.  Gwil was inspired to record and produce the songs in his dorm room using Garage Band.  Soon after, Thom Green joined the band on drums, later on saying, “It was music I was looking for, I just didn’t know I was. I just loved it.”  The band was completed when Gus Unger-Hamilton joined the band on keyboard.

The music the quartet produces is nearly impossible to compare to anything else.  The band is somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead or Moby with a mixture of genres in their music.  At certain points, Texas based instrumental band, Explosions in the Sky, comes to mind with a dreamy amnesiac sound; yet overall Alt-J is wading out into new waters.  There are hints of folk with gentle picking on the guitar, dub step with heavily distorted bass and effects, and tribal or worldly influences with primal drumbeats and a sitar featured in the song “Taro.”  Joe Newman’s lyrics are fascinating, abstract, beautiful and poetic; they deal with tragedy, love, fear, and death.

“An Awesome Wave” is so well rounded and produced, it’s difficult to believe it’s the band’s debut.  Intro opens the album, with a simple piano soon building up with drums and a wailing guitar riff until it epically peaks when Joe Newman serenely draws your attention with rhythmic vocals under deep layered tracks.  The song sets the tone for the remainder of the epic album.  After a brief interlude, Tessellate continues the album with dissonant pianos, catchy beats and captivating lyrics.  Ms will lull you gently into your dreams followed by the bass heavy song with primal drum beats titled Fitzpleasure.  Bloodflood will drown you in a sea of meditative harmonies, transient drum beats, and enchanting guitars, then wash you up on nirvana’s shores.  Each of the songs on “An Awesome Wave” are unique and extremely well crafted.  The debut album will be available in the United States on September 18th. 

Jillette Johnson - Whiskey & Frosting EP

       Jillette Johnson may not be a musical household name yet, but the way things are going, it won’t be surprising when it happens. A native to the New York music scene, Jillette has garnered a steady following, demonstrating to those who see her live show that talent and musicianship is not completely dead. Signing a deal with Wind-Up records and working as a songwriter for BMI, more doors continue to open and new fans keep coming. Her debut album is expected to be released later this year, and with stark comparisons to that of Christina Perri, Fiona Apple, and Tori Amos, she is in good company; right now though you can check out her EP Whiskey & Frosting.
       The beauty of that ethereal piano sound is a major characteristic in Jillette’s production throughout the record. The first track of Whiskey & Frosting, “Cameron,” is no different. A whimsical, legato piano starts the track off, giving credence to her musical prowess. This track serves a greater purpose than just being something catchy to listen to, which it is, as it delves into an overriding theme of individuality and being proud of whom you are, no matter how hard it may seem. “Since he was a little boy/he always felt more comfortable in lipstick…off the bus he runs and runs/to get home before anyone can catch him,” she sings in the first verse. It is much about individuality as it is about others unwillingness to accept and stick up for those derided for being nothing but their true self.
       Understanding how to slowly build up a song is a crucial element and this song does just that. Each verse and chorus builds on top of each other. The first chorus, for example only incorporates piano and violin, but by the second time, the whole band is playing, and the energy and strength in the message is at the forefront. “These days the world is full of aliens/the world is full of aliens/but you are a human/a real life human,” she professes in the chorus. By the end, it’s not this boy who is the outsider, but the bigots rather, who try to inhibit who he is at heart.
       The next track, “Torpedo,” is arguably the song with the heaviest hook and best level of production. Not waiting to grab the listener’s attention, it opens with the words, “Come on Torpedo!” with elements of staccato and hand claps that accomplish in wanting you to see where the song goes. “I know how to take a right hook, I know how to put a shot back,” she sings, helping allude to her as a fighter that is not willing to throw in the towel, but continue fighting for the long haul. This song is an anthem, a call to dig deep within ourselves and continue on the journey that is life.
        The hook is something that I would compare to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Like that song, a rush of multi layered guitar, piano, and drums beautifully accompany Johnson’s powerful, sultry voice. She has a chip on her shoulder and its evident not only in how she sounds, but in what she writes: “So come on torpedo do your worst/ hit me right in the heart, blow me up ‘til you see my ghost/ I will not lay down and run/I will not make it easy.” Clearly, this is someone who has fought some demons in her life and being so open about it allows for the song to hit a central nerve. She seems to understand that writing a song so personal, so unadulterated, is what makes people want to continue to listen, not some incessant, forced melody.  

       “Heathen” marks yet another catchy pop tune that switches things up a bit by starting off with acoustic guitar. The buildup in this song is just as exemplary as the others. If you’re a sucker for tambourine and kick drum, then this song does not disappoint. “I’m at the belly of the world/talking to myself/lover can you lift me?” she writes, shedding light on a different, more vulnerable side of herself. Asking for help to be shaken out of this lull, we see a more complete person through the words she writes, one full of doubts, insecurities, pride, and compassion.
       The last two tracks, “When the Ship Goes Down” and Pauvre Coeur,” are very much along the lines of Sarah Bareilles, being both piano and vocals driven. They are more stripped down and help to further authenticate Johnson as a singer-songwriter that has a lot of talent when it comes to melody and captivating lyrics. All in all, this a solid first effort EP that you should definitely check out if you are looking for something fresh in the female pop/singer-songwriter category. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Imagine Dragons - Continued Silence EP

Becoming the next big band isn’t a one step process, but a culmination of years of hard work through constant studio time, touring, and self-promotion. Three years ago, Imagine Dragons embarked on this musical journey and are now garnering notoriety outside of their loyal Las Vegas and Utah  fan bases, where it all started.
Continued Silence is their eponymous release since signing with Interscope Records back in November of 2011. Collaborating with hit producer, Alex Da Kid, responsible for hits such as “Love the Way You Lie,” the two show that anthemic, pulse pounding tracks with something to say is not simply an allusion to another time in music when bands were at the center, but a reality in the form of four rockers who started out in Provo, Utah. 
Surprisingly enough, the EP dropped back on Valentine’s Day of this year and slowly gained speed until a couple major film/tv syncs, which include “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” feature trailer and the Olympics cross-promotion with new NBC drama, “Chicago Fire,” sparked national interest. With their music reaching millions of viewers, an upcoming fall tour with AWOLNATION, and an EP that is now in the top ten on iTunes, the future seems very bright.
The opening track, “Radioactive,” which can be heard during the Olympic Games telecast, sets the tempo for the rest of the record. Opening harmonies make us believe that it is a slow heartfelt track, that is until the bass drops and Dan Reynolds (vocalist) sings, “I’m waking up to ash and dust/I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust/ I’m breathing in the chemicals." These opening lines serve to demonstrate that these aren’t generic boy band lyrics that talk about love, but a proclamation that their sound is something fresh and exciting, yet still relatable. “Welcome to the new age, to the new age...I’m radioactive,” Reynolds states in the chorus, and deservedly so.
“Demons” and “My Fault” are the two prominent songs about love and loss on the EP. The hooks are catchy, the instrumentation is spot on, and Reynolds’s voice shows its wide range. That said, the true beauty lies in the lyrics and message derived from each track. Unlike most top 40 songs, which we like purely for the catchiness of them, these songs resonate on a more personal, intrinsic level. When the words, “Is it my fault/Is it my fault/We’ve been missing each other/We’ve been missing each other,” are heard, as a listener, we can try to understand  the thought process that went into writing this. The constant second guessing of ourselves and our relationships; the repeated phrases that reinforce we are not alone in how we feel at times.
With some darker, more melancholic themes and instrumental elements, “On Top of the World” is a smart record that allows for a change of tone and pace. It’s a feel good song that you can see yourself singing on a summer day trip with your best friends. Like the rest of their tracks, lyrical content is never sacrificed for the sake of making a song more” poppy” sounding.
Incorporating a driving guitar chord progression and incessant drum beat, “Round and Round” is the perfect pump-up music song. Breaking free from the metaphorical shackles that bind us—trepidation, complacency—it’s a call to arms, telling us to not be afraid of who want to become. Until we do this, everything in our lives is cyclical. 
The first hit single off of Continued Silence, “It’s Time,” was the perfect choice, and for good reason. It’s by far the most radio friendly of the six tracks. The stomp-claps that start the song off get your head into the motion, followed by an insanely captivating riff that evokes a sense of world music influence. It’s a pop song, but it’s not. It’s much more than that. It’s a call to stop the fighting, to stop the bigotry, and to come together and be not just a good person, but a unified whole.  The chorus says as follows:

“It's time to begin, isn't it?
             I get a little bit bigger but then I'll admit
             I'm just the same as I was
             Now don't you understand?
             I'm never changing who I am.”

           At the heart and soul of a person is the desire to do better, whether it for ourselves and/or others. Alongside this, however, we cannot be blind to how we treat others, even if it is the road less traveled. We are all in this together, after all. 

Be on the lookout for their first full length album, Night Visions, which drops early September!

The Neighbourhood's Debut EP: I'm Sorry...

It’s difficult these days to dig through the heaps of cookie cutter bands and albums coming out seemingly every week and find a new and talented band that is bound for genuine success.  I’m not talking about the success that comes from a band strung together around an American Idol winner, or anyone from the Mickey Mouse Club, I’m talking about success that comes from passionate artists, and real musicians.

New on the scene and currently under the radar is the California based band, “The Neighbourhood.”  Their debut EP titled “I’m Sorry…” dropped on May 7th and has been gaining notoriety since.  It fits into an evolving genre of music that blends primarily indie-pop, hip-hop, and rock.  The album has gritty vocals, raw drums, and layered harmonies that combine to form deep tracks.

The opening track, titled “Female Robbery,” will soon have audiences throwing their hands up and nodding their heads. The track starts with haunting bells, echoes, sirens and a driving bass that leads into the first verse.  Lead singer Jesse Rutheford sings with rhythm stemming from his hip hop background.  If your hands aren’t up, and your heads not nodding yet, the chorus will likely do the trick.  As the layered and haunting track drives on, Rutheford pleads with paranoia “don’t let the police know anything, anything…” The track’s lyrics narrate the paranoid thoughts of someone who feels they’re being followed and conspired against.  Rutheford sings “I bet they planned it all out, like the shows, went everywhere I go, walked in the store right behind me, stood in line right beside me and followed me to my home.”  The song concludes with deep, howling, layered tracks as Rutheford despairingly sings “we’re gonna die.” 

The next track titled “Leaving Tonight” builds up to its chorus with wailing guitars and heavy drums.  The third song of the EP titled “Baby Came Home,” slows the album down briefly until Jesse Rutheford belts “I think if you saw her, then even you would know that she’s mine” followed by a piercing half minute guitar solo, long for the standards of the modern music industry. 

Following “Baby Came Home,” is the rhythmic and catchy pop tune “Sweater Weather.”  Sure to grab teenage hearts, this track is the most appealing to the masses, and will soon be heard on your local radio I’m sure.  Closing out the EP is “Wires.”  The song draws on similar themes as “Female Robbery,” dealing with a mentally deranged character.  “If he said help me kill the president, I’d say he needs medicine,” Rutheford sings.  “Wires” brings out the hip-hop background of Rutheford with little range in the vocals, a simple beat, and a female vocalist singing the hook.

The Neighbourhood’s “I’m Sorry…” is a solid debut EP sure to gain them notoriety.  Its lo-fi production makes it original and experimental, yet its melodies and hooks make it catchy and upbeat.  Look for The Neighbourhood to break onto the scene as summer draws near its end.