Friday, December 22, 2017

Top Songs of 2017

Top 10 Songs of 2017:

Below is my list of my favorite songs from 2017. It took quite some time for me to get the order just right - I moved things around quite a bit before finalizing. It was a great year for music - I don't know if it topped 2016, but it definitely produced some tracks that I'm going to be listening to long after the year is over.

  1.  Black Butterflies & Deja Vu - The Maine
    • The moment I heard this song for the first time, I knew it was going to be one of my favorites of the year. With each and every time I listened to it this year (107 times, to be exact), I fell more and more in love with the upbeat and soaring instrumental, the incredibly meaningful and relatable lyrics, and the way those elements came together to create a song for both the good and bad times. I know with confidence this is my favorite song of the year ( & possibly my favorite song by The Maine ever). 
  2.  Young & Menace - Fall Out Boy
    • I also vividly remember the moment that I heard this song for the first time, and I knew as well that this one was going to be a definite top 5 favorite for the year. With Mania, the album "Young & Menace" is the lead single for, being delayed till next month from it's original September release and the other singles released so far being a bit more lackluster, I have been giving this song even more attention and reveling in the way that it pushes the limits of where Fall Out Boy can go with their music. This song has divided the fans in terms of its reception, but I think it's absolutely stellar. The huge jumps between the lows and highs, building from brooding verses to the immense chorus that harnesses a gritty, blaring synth as Patrick Stump's voice is sampled dizzyingly high and crashing drums and roaring guitars create a wall of sound that I still find invigorating. 
  3.  One More Light - Linkin Park
    • I knew Linkin Park was going to be releasing a new album this year, so I knew something from the release would make it onto my end of the year list. After the album released, I was very fond of both "Invisible", "Nobody Can Save Me", and "Sorry For Now", thinking one of those would be in this spot. That changed with the passing of Chester Bennington, one of the band's frontmen and one of my heroes. This song was already an incredible and beautifully haunting song, but it took a completely new meaning after Chester's death. It will be one of the best songs that Linkin Park ever does; the gut-wrenching, vulnerability of the lyrics and instrumental create a truly touching song about loss and the impact one person's life can have. 
  4.  Headphones - Walk the Moon
    • Another release that I was anticipating greatly, Walk the Moon released "Headphones" as the second single from What If Nothing. I enjoyed "One Foot", but "Headphones" grabbed me and held tight throughout the 3 minute ride that is this song. Gritty guitars and bass, thundering drums, and the back and forth of Nicholas Petricca's speaking-then-yelling vocals create a track that doesn't let up for a moment and reveals a lot about the talents of the group. I pestered my girlfriend about listening to this song for a few days after it released before she had the chance. I told her it was really good, but when she listened to it, she was almost mad - she asked my why hadn't I said it was absolutely incredible and that she needed to listen to it right at this very moment? I highly recommend you listen right now.
  5. Hook, Line & Sinker - Royal Blood
    • A band that I had heard relatively little of before 2017, I happened across their second album by chance and knew there was something fantastic happening here. While almost all of the songs on the album are absolutely incredible, "Hook, Line & Sinker" was the hidden jem near the end that I couldn't get enough of. The mind-boggling talent of two musicians Mike Kerr & Ben Thatcher is displayed ferociously on this song as they jam out for 3 & 1/2 minutes of rock n' roll bliss. The synchronization of the bass guitar and vocals on the verses gets my head nodding every single time I listen, without fail. The simplicity yet speaker-filling quality of the instrumental is just wonderful. 
  6. 24/7 - The Neighbourhood
    • This band keeps me interested in how they're able to create an alternative reality within their music; an overcast, almost dreary, Southern California. At least that's the impression I get when I listen to their music, and as I live in SoCal, it's a really interesting concept of music that reminds me of a place that rarely exists. This song in particular uses lots of electronic elements mixed with guitars and drums to create a blurry, syrupy instrumental that's both urgent and relaxed. I love Jesse Rutherford's vocals on this song as well; the softness he utilizes for the verses in particular, as well as the way the melody climbs as he sings "Just give it some time" (there's also a very edited and muted scream he does right after this line during the second chorus that's really, really wonderful). Contradictions are the name of the game with this tune, and part of what keeps me coming back for more. 
  7.  Passionfruit - Drake
    • Drake seems to have a knack for crafting certain songs that just blow up and resonate with people (or he employs dad dance moves). I remember I was listening through his new "playlist" (it's an album, but he called it a playlist), and this song started and I was immediately captivated. The sensitive, soft-sounding synth and marimba melody that goes throughout the song got stuck in my head constantly, and Drake backed it with vocals that matched the smooth nature of the track. I've always liked Drake best when he goes for the vulnerable sound, and this song is his peak in terms of that. 
  8.  Told You So - Paramore
    • After Laughter had a lot of songs that really resonated with me; this struggle of keeping appearences of being happy and content while dealing with internal and external turmoil. While "Hard Times" & "Pool" were both other contenders, "Told You So" feels like it's going to stick with me the longest in terms of it's composition and lyrical content. The opening line, "For all I know, The best is over and the worst is yet to come" came to me in a time when I was dealing with a lot of struggling and resonated with me to the core. The juxtaposition of a poppy & bright instrumental with lyrics like this create a piece that is at odds with itself, much like it's composers seemed to be when it was created. 
  9. Anyone Else - Pvris
    • Pvris' latest album was another I was very much anticipating, and while the overall record didn't feel quite as strong as I'd hoped, many of the songs had individual strength that left me still pleased. "Anyone Else" was the top contender from the album, with strong lyrical content and a prominent etherial sense to the instrumental. "I could touch a hundred thousand souls, but none of them would feel like home" was the line in particular that caught my attention - Pvris has always delved into the subject of souls and I was glad to see them continuing it here. The instrumental does an excellent job of flowing from the soft to the gritty as well, giving me another reason to love the band.
  10. Halfway Off The Balcony - Big Sean
    • I've never really been an avid Big Sean listener, but found myself very much impressed with this year's I Decided. The concept, story driven backbone resulted in some very introspective songs from the man who was gaining a lot of fame for "I Don't F**k With You". "Halfway Off The Balcony" is a brooding, darker rap that relies more on singing than the spoken word, but manages to combine Big Sean's real life with this imagined reality he creates within the album in a way that's almost haunting. The chorus is one of the strongest, lyrically, that I've heard this year: 
      • "I'm hangin' halfway off the balcony, overthinkin' 'cause my job is way more than a salary, everything around me gold like I just practiced alchemy, I realized when it comes to girls, that chemistry means way more than anatomy"
Honorable Mentions:
  •  hell is where i dreamt of u and woke up alone - blackbear
    • Another new artist for me this year, the opening track from blackbear's first release of 2017 (digital druglord) is a big contrast to the rest of the release. Employing just piano and vocals as opposed to the trap and rap influenced R&B, blackbear shows off some vulnerability in this stripped down track that caught my attention and showed some signs of potential from the still growing artist.
  • Lit Me Up - Brand New
    • The title track from the last album from emo veterans Brand New showed me that this release was going to be something special. The darkness is so strong in this song, from the creepy intro of a woman talking about dreams to the brooding sense of the instrumental and the vocals. It's a slow building song, never fully erupting in an aggressive or gritty sense, but gaining strength and momentum through the power of it's haunting nature.
  • Sober - Lorde
    • As someone who wasn't super impressed with Lorde's debut album, her follow up release surprised me greatly (see below for more on that). "Sober" mixes both sensuality and melancholy, an odd combo but one that works in the context of the song. She reveals the growth she's gone through since breaking into the music scene, and this song is one of the strongest examples of that.
  • Dirty Laundry - All Time Low
    • This song was a bit of a sleeper for me - I listened to it a few times when it first came out, left it alone, and then ended up really becoming entranced by the way it slowly shifts from a polished, pop-leaning track into a full-blown rock song at the end. Alex Gaskarth's vocals are the highlight for sure; he employs vulnerability throughout, both in a more subdued and soft sense and then with grit and volume by the end. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Get Better - EP - Citysick

Citysick is an emo/indie band based out of Chico, California. David Hollenbeck, their lead guitarist, was good friends with some of my friends back in high school, and through our mutual acquaintances, I previously reviewed an album by his last band, Dear Misguided, back in 2013. He asked me to check out Citysick's new EP, Get Better, and see what I though of it. Below are my thoughts.

Like I mentioned about, Citysick describe themselves as emo and indie, which are very much evident in the sound they produce. All the songs have a melancholy vibe to them, whether they're slower or more upbeat. The latter makes for an interesting sensation, where the instrumental might be fast, but the vocals and lyrics mellow the overall experience out. "Joyride" is a good example of this notion; especially with lines like "you saw the worst in me, and I think you were right". "Leaning" manages to be more on the upbeat side than down, seeming to revolve around what is clearly an unhealthy relationship/friendship and taking the necessary steps to recognize that, even if the other person involved can't. This song also includes small acoustic guitar parts, which add to the overall warmth that helps the track stand out in it's more positive spin than negative. The bridge/outro is especially great, building from muted guitars and low vocals into both David and main vocalist Kaleb Sievers singing simultaneously in what feels like the most compelling part of the song. The line they continue to repeat the whole section is

"If I'm the worst part of your life, how come you call me every night, so you can say I'm on your mind, and say I'm keeping you alive"

which is probably my favorite lyric of the release in it's revealing nature. 

"Moving Season" is more of an example of a slower song, starting in a way that reminded me of "I've Given Up On You" by Real Friends. David's vocals feel quite vulnerable on this track, playing into the sad/emo vibe. "Cut Short" also ends the EP on a slower and somber tone. Lines like "I'm trying to be brave, but it's hard to be so strong when the ones you love are standing in their graves" give an indication as to the difficulties that have been experienced by those involved in this music. The song ends with a very beautiful sounding vocal harmony over the instrumental before it's all cut short by the guitar abruptly ending and silence finishing out the release.

There is clearly talent here; that is hard to miss. The instrumentals are great, the vocals are great, and the production is high for a band that's still in it's infancy.  However, I found myself struggling to connect to the music as easily as I do with other bands and songs. Some of this might stem from the bands that they like not being a part of the bands I listen to regularly. Bands like The Wonder Years, American Football, and Have Mercy are just a few that they listed as bands they like. While I've heard of those groups and a fair amount of the others on their list, they aren't ones I listen to often or even at all. But part of it is the heavy, sad-feeling that comes across for most of the songs. While I am all for music that conveys sadness and the ways in which humanity struggles with it, I also want to leave that behind at a point and find the redemption, find the hope. Some of these songs do that; after many listens through the EP, "Leaning" began standing out in it's upbeat nature and lyrics that promote self improvement through the discarding of toxic relationships (that's what I got out of it). "Hurricane" also showed a great sense of contrast in sounds and energy. The intro immediately caught my attention, being so strikingly different than the previous songs I had heard with just guitar lines and vocals; a sound that was haunting to be sure. It eventually explodes into an emotionally charged climax, alternating moments of gritty guitars and crashing drums with moments of letting the distortion hang in the air as Sievers almost yells his vocals. It changes yet again as things settle down a bit, and an acoustic guitar and the added vocals of Kelly Corfield create another completely different feel than before; an almost soothing, pretty part. Both of these songs do a great job of displaying what is clearly pain and difficulties while pushing towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

I did enjoy the music; it's just not something I'm going to listen to on repeat. If you like the bands I list below in the "Related" section, then this EP will definitely be for you. They emulate the bands they love very well.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended: "Hurricane (feat. Kelly Corfield)", "Leaning"

Related: American Football, The Wonder Years, Seahaven

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

cybersex - blackbear

blackbear is a rising R&B/Hip-Hop star that I discovered earlier this year thanks to Linkin Park. In one of their interviews, Mike Shinoda had mentioned how blackbear (whose real name is Matthew Tyler Musto) helped write one of the tracks, "Sorry For Now" from their latest album, One More Light. Since the track was one of my favorites, I decided to check his work out, as I do for most artists that Linkin Park work with or mention. What I found was different than what I was expecting, given the way that "Sorry For Now" sounds. blackbear had just released his latest album, digital druglord, which I found myself really enjoying the majority of the album. He combines mostly R&B style vocals with hip-hop influenced beats and pop sensibility. I later found out he's done other songwriting for major artists, notably on "Boyfriend" by Justin Bieber, among others.

When I heard he was doing a mixtape back in October, I was surprised and impressed; it had barely been half a year since Digital Druglord. I listened to the lead single, titled "playboy s**t (feat. lil aaron)", which also had a music video that premiered on a porn website, which was something that I had never heard of before (I won't be linking to the video, for obvious reasons). I wasn't super impressed with the song, and so didn't really pay attention to any of the other songs released. About a week before the mixtape, titled cybersex dropped, I saw more singles had been released. I listened to "gucci linen (feat. 2 Chains)", which I was already hesitant about due to 2 Chains being on the track, as I'm not really a fan. However, I found myself intrigued when I put the song on the first time and heard a much more blatantly hip-hop/trap influenced sound. Gone were the almost syrupy, layered and smooth instrumentals of digital druglord, and instead a more stripped, minimalistic high-hat and bass heavy beat that was as aggressive as the lyrics blackbear was putting out. 2 Chains' part even fits the mood of the song, and I knew that I was going to be playing this in my car, very loudly and frequently for the near future.

I then decided to give the rest of the mixtape a listen when it came out soon after, and found a very intriguing collection of songs had assembled. digital druglord was very fluid and cohesive in the sound that blackbear had put together and was minimal in the featured artists, whereas cybersex finds itself delving into multiple genres, still flowing but in larger jumps and with a whole crew of friends on the tracks. There are hip-hop, trap, pop, and R&B songs all together on the 14 song mixtape. "gucci linen (feat. 2 Chains)", "bright pink tims (feat. Cam'ron)", "glo_up (feat. Rick Ross)", and "candayapple (feat. Paul Wall & Riff Raff)" are all within the hip-hop and trap realm. "g2g ttyl (feat. THEY.)", "playboy s**t (feat lil aaron)", "thursday/froze over (interlude)", & "anxiety (feat. FRND)" definitely feel like pop songs. "down 4 u (feat. T-Pain)" "top priority" with Ne-Yo,  & "i hope your whole life sux" all show R&B influence.

All this is to say that there's definitely a variety on this mixtape, in sound and in guest artists. Some of the names seemed to make sense, like 2 Chains, lil aaron, and THEY. all fit the sound of their repective songs well. However, others felt more unlikely, such as T-Pain, Ne-Yo, and even Rick Ross; lots of big names from other areas of music that I wouldn't have necessarily associated blackbear with. In each case, though, the songs worked very well, with each artist bringing their sound and style to mix with blackbear and showing his ability to adapt and mesh with different artists without losing his own sound. I definitely have a better respect for him as a songwriter after all these collaborations. Not all of the features were memorable, however; the surprising appearance of Paul Wall, someone who I never thought I'd hear again in music, on "candayapple", is fairly forgettable set of bars. Cam'ron, who is featured on "bright pink tims", doesn't really come accross to me as someone who feels unique or particularly skilled. Obviously, someone thinks he has talent, as he is appearing on songs, but that's definitely not an indication of promise. The song, another trap-influenced song, would be better without his presence.

The other aspect of this mixtape that really caught my attention was the lyrics and attitude blackbear carries on most of the songs. It's a quite different feel from digital druglord, with blackbear moving from more "romantic" and relationship based lyrics to the content typically found in a lot of hip-hop music currently. Bragging about money, clothes, cars, women; all the usual subjects you expect from the genre. What's weird to me about this is that it feels more forced and almost cringeworthy on this mixtape, specifically with the way blackbear talks about women in his life. They move from a more personal, relational level to being objectified, trophies in his rise to fame, riches, and the "good life". "top priority" is guilty of this, with the woman who is the subject at hand being told that she needs someone who can "wife her up" and things of that nature. That she is too wild and needs a man to tame her, which feels really odd from blackbear. "i hope your whole life sux" and "thursday/frozen over" come off as petty and pig-ish. He brags about being with other women, wishing someone else is hurting because he can't get over his pain, and all the "Instagram sluts" he can have whenever he wants. These songs in particular are hard for me to enjoy, because the lyrics are unbearable in their crass and objectifying nature.

There's really only two songs that I enjoyed, lyrically, because they felt like moments where the bravado and pride fall down and we see a real picture of who blackbear really is and his state of mind in this new found position of life. Those songs are "anxiety" and "santa monica & la brea", the later of which closes out the album. The former is interesting in how it plays on a lot of pop and even EDM sounds that are prevalent in songs currently, being very upbeat in terms of the instrumental while having lyrics about anxiety. Part of the chorus goes as follows:

"Yeah, I can't eat, I can't sleep, I get anxiety
When you're not here with me, I get anxiety"

and the second verse:

"Every time I smile what I'm doing fine, does it show?
'Cause I'm really freaking out, too scared of letting you go
Then my heart drowns out my thoughts, my head's about to explode"

These kinds of lines show a different side of blackbear, a softer, vulnerable side that he's hiding behind the hard exterior he displays on other songs.

"santa monica & la brea" is also an example of a more thoughtful, introspective side. The line that really made me notice this song is the beginning of the chorus:

"And maybe I could die treading water
Drowning under moonlight sonata"

which by itself is enough to be interesting and a bit heart-wrenching. However, the way blackbear sings this line makes it haunting; he sings high and soft, employing his falsetto to create a moment that is much more striking than anything else on the mixtape. It's fitting that he saved the song for the end, as I think it's the best song of the release overall and a great way to finish out the mixtape. It gets rid of all the lights, the flashy talk and money and women and focuses on one relationship (failed, from the sound of it). It helps the average listener connect better than at any other moment on the mixtape.

Overall, this release was impressive in terms of the production, length, and variety of sounds and artists, given the proximity to digital druglord. While it wasn't my favorite lyrically, it was cool to see blackbear step outside his norm and try a new set of sounds and ideas. I hope, however, that he moves back towards the sound he has built up in his previous releases. This release doesn't feel like it'll have a lot of sustainability, in terms of listening in the future.

Rating - 2.5/5

Recommended - "santa monica & la brea", "anxiety", "gucci linen"

Related - G-Eazy, Hoodie Allen, Post Malone

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kid Kruschev - EP - Sleigh Bells

I discovered Sleigh Bells over Christmas Break in 2012, my freshman year of college. I remember this vividly because their sound was unlike anything else I had heard; this fusion of pop synths, hip-hop oriented beats, and insanely overdriven guitars, with these beautiful vocals from Alexis Krauss on top.  I was super impressed when I found out it's just two people who do the music; an impressive feat for songs with such a large presence. Their first album, Treats, is full of these collision moments,  of unlikely sounds coming together and utilizing dissonance to their advantage. Songs like "Infinity Guitars", "Crown On The Ground", and "Kids" were my favorites and had me raving about the band to my friends. I then discovered they had a second album out, Reign Of Terror, which I enjoyed, but not as thoroughly as Treats. I followed them through the next year, when they released Bitter Rivals, but they fell off my radar, in spite of releasing another album last year, Jessica Rabbit.

Fast forward to now, when I discovered they had a new EP out, Kid Kruschev. I decided to listen to it, even though I hadn't been as impressed with Jessica Rabbit. But by the time I was done listening to the opening track, "Blue Trash Mattress Fire", I was prepared to eagerly give the rest of the EP a listen.

The song opens with a slow climbing instrumental of various synth lines, accompanied by distant vocals from Krauss. It continues in this fashion until the 1:36 minute mark, where the overdriven guitars and booming beats come crashing in on a huge wall of sound. Krauss's voice is powerful, yet pretty, next to the gritty instrumental, highlighting the contrast I had so very appreciated about their earlier work. This track is my favorite from the EP, with the intensity and rollercoaster of highs and lows that it takes you on.

"Favorite Transgressions", "Panic Drills", and "Show Me The Door" are all tracks that also utilize elements of intensity that "Blue Trash Mattress Fire" opens the EP with. "Favorite Transgression" does so with the guitar and beats, but in a more upbeat and driving manner than the previous song. The momentum never lets up, wavering only slightly at moments where the beat drops out and specific synths or guitar lines are highlighted. At only 2:27 minutes long, it's a short but wild ride of a track. "Panic Drills" also utilizes the crunching guitar and thumping beats I love, but the song heavily relies on the contrast created by the moments that use those two elements and the moments that do not, simply relying on Krauss's vocals and synths. The contrast is so great that it's almost like the song has two different moods, something that is very rare to find. There's parts where the song has a poppy-rock sound that's upbeat and almost makes you want to smile, but there's parts where the synths and vocals create a melancholy vibe, giving different experiences within the same song. "Show Me The Door" uses thunder noises in the background of the beginning of the track, as well as a pulsing synth and steady beat that eventually slip into a moment of half time that's not unlike a breakdown in a rock/pop-punk song. It's an interesting sensation, listening to these deep, resounding beats and bright synths coming together in a way that makes you want to rock out and headbang. Near the two minute mark, a piano line comes in, providing contrast to all the synthetic noise happening around it.

The remaining songs branch out in different directions from the signature guitar and drum pairing, such as "Rainmaker", "Florida Thunderstorm", and "And Saints".
"Rainmaker" flows very well from the previous song before it ("Favorite Transgression"), with the band using a hi-hat/tambourine combo to actually create the sense of rain on certain parts. Contrast shows itself in the switch to big, booming synth bass lines accompanied by the beats, which seem to take the backseat on this track. Krauss's vocals feel like the highlight of the song, with the lyrics being especially relatable (about a break-up) as compared to some of the more abstract songs they've done previously. Lines like:

"I can hardly stand
I can hardly sleep
I can hardly speak
I can hardly breath

It was never really meant to be
You and me"

really paint a vivid picture while retaining a fair amount of simplicity, something all lyric writers should strive for. "Florida Thunderstorm" actually uses an acoustic guitar, something that I've hardly heard the band use on other tracks. The guitar and Krauss create a very stripped down, vulnerable-sounding song that in itself becomes contrast to the rest of the album. My favorite moment, however, is right at 1:07 minute mark, where a dissonant and distorted synth note rings out, and Krauss's vocals become distorted as well. The song then switches for about 30 seconds to just Krauss's voice and a pulse-like synth that is vulnerable in its own way before switching back to guitar and an added string line (cello, I think) that fades out. "And Saints" uses just synths and vocals, with the former being stylized in a way that also partially provides a beat, and the latter uses some great layering to create almost choral moments, echoing voices crying out to "Tear up, tear up, gear up, stand up". It's haunting in the way it's composed, also due to the other, more subtle synth line that's flowing in the background like a ghost. It's a really interesting note to end the EP on, because it isn't a "calm" song thanks to the haunting vibe, but it also feels intense without being high energy.

I didn't have that many expectations going into this EP, as I had not been following the band as closely as I once had. After a few listens to the album, I found myself much more impressed than I expected to be. It feels like a lot of the elements that I really enjoyed about the band were present again, but also with some experimentation that didn't feel forced or overdone as it had on previous releases. Kid Krushev definitely focuses the attention more on the gritty, almost out of balance sound than a polished, pop tone that I was alright with but never impressed by. The band definitely has my attention back, if this is the direction they're going to continue in. Dark, brooding music that pushes the listener as much as it pushes the musician. I'm all about supporting that.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: "Blue Trash Mattress Fire", "Favorite Transgressions", "Show Me The Door"

Related: Phantogram, Cults, Best Coast

Monday, November 13, 2017

What If Nothing - Walk The Moon

Walk The Moon is a band I discovered back in college, with their first self-titled album quickly becoming a favorite and a regular recommendation to anyone willing to listen. Their sophomore album, Talking Is Hard, blew away my expectations as well as putting them on the map with the help of "Shut Up & Dance". I saw them live last summer (May 2016), one of the few dates they played before they had to cancel their tour due to lead singer Nicholas Petricca's father passing. They took time to regroup and reorient themselves, and a year and a half later, we have What If Nothing, the third studio album from the Cincinnati-based group.

The two lead singles, "One Foot" and "Headphones", were both solid introductions to the new era of Walk The Moon (click on the links above for my thoughts on each song). With the rest of the album out, it's easy to see that the band chose to explore even more ground in their latest release. Songs like "Press Restart", "Sound of Awakening", "Kamikaze", "All Night", and "Tiger Teeth" each explore different areas that the band had not previously delved into with their first two albums.

"Press Restart" builds from minimalistic vocals and subdued guitar into a electronic heavy, pulsing track. There are a lot of vocal effects introduced that end up making appearances throughout the album, and a lot of layering of multiple vocal lines that range from the low end to high end of Petricca's range. The song ebbs and flows, building and pulling back, with the peak happening right before the 3 minute mark as Petricca builds the intensity of his vocals and the instrumental follows until the song explodes into the final, multi-layered chorus that ends with a very cool choir vocal ending.

"Sound of Awakening" is probably the most unique song on the album. From the opening vocals, it is apparent that the band has been listening to a lot of Phil Collins. The first non vocal aspect of the song doesn't appear until just after a minute and a half into the song, which is just a quarter of it's six-plus minute length. The vocal effects show up again on this song, accompanied by heavy electronic elements that come together to create this sprawling, 80's-inspired epic piece. The song has a verse-chorus type format, but does not feel similar to the structure of other songs on the album or in general. It rises and falls spectacularly, with the highs and lows captivating the listener at each turn and leaves them wanting more.

"Kamikaze", one of the other songs released before the album release date (but not an official single), feels very similar to something Imagine Dragons would put out (which I discovered is a shared observation amongst other reviews). It's very alternative/pop oriented, with a little use of guitar and drums on the alternative end and synth and drum machines on the pop end coming together for a pulsating song that's very compelling. The vocals are my favorite aspect of the track, with Petricca swinging between soaring vocal lines and almost-rap lines that create great contrast (which I'm always a fan of). 

"All Night" is another song that utilizes a mixing of pop and alternative-rock elements to create a very upbeat and radio/arena ready song. The synth lines are more prominent in this song, but are themselves distorted in the way that a guitar would be, creating a really high-energy song that emulates rock without using it. Seeing as how I think the mainstream music industry is going to move further into the synthesized area, this makes sense and shows the band's ability to identify current trends and incorporate them without disregarding their own sense of self.  The verses on this song intrigue me more than the chorus, which is a reversal of how I find it tends to be. They bounce more, feeling more unique while the chorus is a bit too repetitive for my taste and lacking that special, compelling element that a lot of the other songs have.

"Tiger Teeth" begins with just synths for the first minute, finally incorporating vocal elements to emerge fully as a slower, 80's synths driven love song. It's one of the slowest songs on the album, if not the slowest, providing some contrast to the higher energy and faster-paced song and showing the ability to switch gears. The vocals are very pretty and soothing, as is the rest of the song, and the emotions conveyed there are reflected in the instrumental. It feels a lot like some of the material from Talking Is Hard, but even more 80's influence than a lot of the songs on that album.

Other songs show that the band wanted to take their signature sound and comfort zone and retain that while expanding. Songs like "Surrender", "Feels Good To Be High", "Can't Sleep (Wolves)",  and "Lost In The Wild" capture the sound that fans have grown to expect from the group while pushing the envelope. 

"Surrender" was the third single released from the album, and the U2 influence was very obvious from the beginning of the track. The piano line from this track is one of the more unique aspects, being minimally processed and natural unlike many other elements on the song and the rest of the album. That combined with Petricca's vocals would be enough (I'm really hoping for an acoustic/piano-vocal only version at some point), as he shows off his range while delivering what he has described as some of his most emotionally revealing lyrics. The song builds incredibly, soaring high above the earth with the driving beat, the echoing guitar lines, pulsating synths, and the piano and vocals creating one of their strongest songs to date. The mood sways between sorrowful and hopeful, keeping you on the edge of dispair but never taking you over. The song is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

"Feels Good To Be High" brings in more of the alternative rock elements, stripping away the layers of synths to focus more on the drumset and bass that guide the verses. They're joined by a very 70's sounding guitar line on the chorus and a distorted synth line as Petricca shows off his falsetto over the energetic instrumental (another nice use of contrast). The bridge shifts gears, with the synth taking over until a voice over says "Doesn't matter if it doesn't make my heart go" and the synth immitates a heart beat slowly building in intensity; a very cool use of technology and sounds. 

"Can't Sleep (Wolves)" also has more of a grounding in live instruments, a echoing guitar line leading the song as the drums snap with precision. The vocals are the focal point, with the build of Petricca's vocals on the pre-chorus starting lower and slowly climbing in pitch and intensity to the peak line "Wolves are coming for me" shows an excellent use of the music to accentuate the lyrics. It's not super fast paced, but it grooves along nonetheless in what is sure to be a fantastic summer song.

"Lost In The Wild" closes out the album with a good mixing of the natural and synthetic elements found all throughout the album. The chorus uses some of Petricca's highest vocals as well as layering of multiple vocal lines, all accompanied by a bright and pulsating instrumental that feels a bit like a hidden gem at the end of the album (where some people never make it to). 

This album has a lot of strong elements; perhaps too much. The experimentation was very well executed in some cases, but not always, and that led to a bit of inconsistency in the flow of the album as a whole. Certain songs felt like they lost themselves in the new elements and were hard to find a focal point to grasp onto. However, Walk The Moon managed to show that struggles and hardships won't get them down; in fact, it fueled them to come back and create strong and powerful music out of those trials. I don't know if this'll be my favorite overall album from the band (Talking Is Hard holds that spot for now), but it definitely contains some of the best songs I've heard from the band, and makes me excited for the what the future holds for this group that is clearly not letting of the gas pedal anytime soon. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: "Headphones", "Surrender", "Kamikaze", "Lost In The Wild"

Related: Smallpools, Young The Giant, The Mowgil's

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pacific Daydream - Weezer

Pacific Daydream marks Weezer's 11th studio release since their beginnings in 1992, and shows a change in direction from the alternative rock roots the band has hailed from. Led by "Feels Like Summer", it was clear that there would be more pop tendencies showcased on this album, as opposed to last year's "White Album". "Feels Like Summer" is a deceiving song, in terms of the sound and vibe versus the lyrical content. While you listen along to the bright EDM synths and falsetto vocals on the chorus, you might not notice the wistful twist provided by the last line of the song:

"When she was a lover to me"

This is part of a long trend of upbeat, catchy songs that are lyrically darker than one might expect (look at Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" for reference), which I've always found to be an interesting use of contrast and juxtaposition. "Happy Hour", the second single released, expands on this concept. The song leans again towards more pop tendencies, but this time with more jazzy vibes and a bit less energy than "Feels Like Summer". Lyrically, the chorus itself is implying that lead singer Rivers Cuomo needs to drink to forget the sad days, which is pretty bleak. But, I would imagine that the song will leave the listener in a better mood than before they listen to the song because of the way it is constructed.

Nothing else on the album is quite as EDM influenced as "Feels Like Summer", but that also doesn't mean that they swing right back to the alternative-rock sound that Weezer is known for. Songs like "Mexican Fender", "Weekend Woman", and "Get Right" all lean more towards the pop side of things. "Get Right"uses a pulsating kick drum and a groovy bass to keep the song moving along, as well as a cool (if momentary) sampling line right after each chorus. The guitar doesn't lead the song, as it has on many of their past songs, but instead a blending of all the instruments and vocals to focus on the overall sound and not an individual instrument or aspect, as many pop songs do. "Mexican Fender" utilizes more guitar during the verses, but still has a mostly pop feel as Cuomo gives a great example of storytelling through lyrics. He creates very vivid and specific references that help the listener visualize the events in their minds. "Weekend Woman" features dueling bass and guitar lines that help give the song a strong feeling of being inspired by "Friday I'm In Love" by The Cure. Lyrically, especially on the chorus, you can hear how Cuomo might have been trying to emulate The Cure with the references to specific days of the week. It's definitely a warm song and has hopeful romantic written all over it.

Not all of the songs lean towards the upbeat, warm and fuzzy side, however. Songs like "QB Blitz", "Sweet Mary",  and "Beach Boys" all lean more towards the subdued, slower side. "Beach Boys", funnily enough, sounds very little like The Beach Boys; the funky bass line in the beginning brings to mind Joywave and it's a bit grittier and darker than one would expect, given the title. It is probably the most upbeat of the three, but still doesn't feel like the kind of song you'd play at the beach on a bright, summer day. "QB Blitz" has fairly somber lyrical content, which makes it hard to lose oneself in the instrumental, which also leans more towards sorrow than sweetness. Cuomo talks about wanting friends and finding someone who really loves him, leaving the listener a little bit down (at least, that's how I felt). "Sweet Mary" has a bit of an 80's sound in the beginning, with Cuomo yearning for a lost lover throughout. The song is on the slower side as well, adding to the mood established in the lyrics. I found this to be the weakest song of the album, feeling quite forgetful (despite having written notes for it, I had to listen to it again as I wrote this).

The singles leading up to this album had me fairly excited, although not on the edge of my seat. When the rest of the album released, however, I was not as impressed as I hoped I would be. While I think Weezer is an excellent band and I'll continue to support their music, this album wasn't the strongest piece of work from the group. The pop ideas were executed well in certain places ("Feels Like Summer", "Mexican Fender", "Get Right"), but felt a bit flat and uninspired in other places ("QB Blitz", "Happy Hour", "Sweet Mary"). I am all for bands expanding their sound and trying new things, but I think Weezer should let this album be a stand alone venture into the pop territory.

Rating: 2.5/5

Recommended: "Feels Like Summer", "Mexican Fender", "Get Right"

Related: The Pixies, The Cure, Cake

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Shapeshifter - Knuckle Puck

Knuckle Puck was one of the bands that I discovered during my pop-punk phase that have managed to stay on my radar despite that phase being over. Their earlier releases were more marked with aggressive instrumentals and raw, angsty vocals that were more yelling than singing, which was appealing to someone who was dealing with a lot of emotions. With their first album, Copacetic, and their sophomore release, Shapeshifter, the band has focused more on a structured, melodic sound that is still full of the angst and aggression of their beginning days.

What's great to hear about this band is that they've found the vibe that they like, and they've continued with each release to tighten and hone their skills and chops to make even better music in that same vein. Shapeshifter continues to showcase their pop-punk core with a fantastic balance of vulnerability with pent-up anger through the instrumentals and the vocals.

Joe Taylor is part of what sets the band apart in terms of a unique sound. He can balance the almost screaming/yelling with softer melodic moments, on different tracks and even on the same song, utilizing contrast (which, if you've read any of my other reviews, you'll know I am a big fan of).

The first half of the album keeps the energy and intensity high. The album opens with "Nervous Passenger", a shorter track that builds into a bit of a wall of sound near the end. The tempo is a bit slower than what they normally, which is cool in the way that it sets the tone for the album. It catches your attention before things kick into higher gear and fueling that teenage angst we all hold deep inside.

"Twist" comes next, more familiar ground for Knuckle Puck as they pick up the speed and intensity. The drums are really sharp on this track, with John Siorek providing a consistent foundation for the rest of the band to show off their pop-punk sound. The band has always leaned more toward the punk than the pop (see State Champs as an example of the opposite sound), and this song shows that tendency. 

"Double Helix" was one of the singles leading into the album, and was one that caught my attention very quickly. While "Twist" felt a bit lighter, more like a song you'd jump along to and rock out with, "Double Helix" is feels a bit more serious, a bit more angsty. Look at the chorus; it's almost all more screaming/yelling than singing, as Taylor and rhythm guitarist/back-up vocalist Nick Casasanto go back and forth with:

"Take take oh please just take it back
I don't want your double helix"

I confess that I had to look up what a double helix is, and when I did the song seemed to make a bit more sense. A double helix is related to DNA, with saying it is "the spiral arrangement of the two complementary strands of DNA". So perhaps Taylor is singing to someone who he once was one with and no longer is, but is trying to move past the memories and frozen moments of the past that linger. Lines like this make that idea more clear:

"Cause the viewpoint never changes
When they're stuck inside a memory"


"Swallowed up in hatred while the surgery replaces who you areAnother time, another face to let go"

It was not an easy relationship to let go, or even still is difficult to move past. And using that concept, which is common in biochemistry, to relate to a relationship, shows some intricate and well researched songwriting, which I very much appreciate. (Upon further research, it seems that Taylor was actually talking about his dad and wishing he wasn't related to him. Hence the DNA references.)

Next is "Gone", which was another single leading up to the album. Musically it has a similar vibe to "Double Helix", leaning a bit more towards melodic on the chorus but close in terms of energy and intensity. The bridge takes the song down a notch before slowly building into the final chorus that ends in an almost breakdown that holds the intensity high. It's

"Everyone Lies To Me" plays a lot with contrast, using moments of high energy and intensity with more melodic and strung out musical elements all together. The first verse features some of the roughest vocals on the album, while the second features some of the most melodic vocals on the album. It's a cool use of opposites and opposing elements to create dissonance within a song that deals with people being dishonest, which is itself a dissonance in real life. The bridge features some cool instrumental moments, letting different instruments have the spotlight for a few moments and passing the baton to the next one.

"Stuck In Our Ways" leans more melodically than the last song, still having that edgy sense to it but lighter than some of the other songs on the album so far. It's got less yelling, with Taylor giving some great melodies over a instrumental that drives forward. It's a solid song that will get stuck in your head and provide great material to rock out to.

From this point, the album shifts into a more slowed down, mellow gear; but don't think it'll be music you fall asleep to.  "Want Me Around" was the last of the singles before the album, and stood out for a couple of reasons. It slows down quite a bit, leaning almost entirely on the pop side of pop-punk. The rhythm guitar, which is usually leading the instrumentals, is hardly distorted and in the background, giving the spotlight to the lead guitar. The drums are also fairly subdued, pulling back from the usual intensity found throughout the rest of the album. The focus is on the vocals, with Taylor giving some grit to his voice but keeping it mostly melodic throughout.

"Conduit" continues the more melodic, toned down vibe of "Want Me Around" even more, starting off very stripped down and quiet. Taylor sings over the lead guitar and a little keyboard line that are somewhat hollow, leaving room for the vocals to resonate and stand out. The song continues in this manner, slowly building into a climax where the intensity increases without compromising the vulnerable sense of the song. "Wait" begins on the softer side as well on the first verse, but shifts to a bit of a gritter tone on the chorus. It's not aggressive, however; instead, the grit comes in play through a wistful, almost regretful tone that is evident through the lyrics and vocals. The line at the end of the chorus,

"You always did feel just like home"

really stuck out to me, as I think it's something most people can relate to at one point or another when thinking of a past relationship. The follow up line in the bridge,

"You were always so unreachable"

takes any sort of pleasantry out of the nostalgia in the first line, bringing reality crashing down.

The album finishes with "Plastic Brains", which starts off slower and gradually builds into a wall of sound that ends the album on a high and intense note. There's some subtle female vocals on this song, which offer a bit of contrast as the female vocalist has a soft, gentle voice compared to Taylor's usual yelling and strained singing. The line "is there any trace left of me" echoes throughout the ending, as the song is fading away, giving one last thought for the listener before the end.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the album. In comparison to their debut, Copacetic, this album felt like the band took their talents and sounds and fine tuned them even more. There was a sense of precision evident throughout, as well as stronger songwriting and contrasting instrumental elements. The talent that this band has is clear, and I look forward to watching it continue to grow with future releases.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: "Double Helix", "Gone", "Stuck In Our Ways", "Wait"

Related: State Champs, Neck Deep, Real Friends

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Headphones (Single) - Walk The Moon

Walk The Moon is back with another single for their forthcoming album, What If Nothing. While "One Foot" saw the band utilizing their pop chops (see my review here), "Headphones" goes in a completely different direction. Heavy usage of synths and flowing vocals are replaced with gritty guitar and bass lines, pounding drums, and lead singer Nicholas Petricca's utilization of both spoken word and yelling/almost screaming vocal sounds. The song feels very similar to Cake in the way that it opens, alternating moments of vocals and the guitar and bass, the latter of which has a bit of a 90's slapping tone to it. The song is quick to establish high energy; you can't help bobbing along to the infectious beat and instrumental. Petricca's low energy vocals during the verses help provide nice contrast to the shift in the chorus, where he pushes higher and raw vocals, unlike the pretty falsetto found in "One Foot". This track really shows his ability to shift vocally with little delay, and his gritty side that hasn't come out on many of their songs before.

The song also highlights the instrumental talents of the rest of the members of the band. Kevin Ray shows us the bass is not just a backing instrument, providing groove and a pulse to the track. Eli Maiman is given the chance to show off his skills on the guitar throughout the song and especially near the end of the song with the solo that's ferocious in the speed and precision of the finger work.  Sean Waugaman sits right at the center of the song, providing the drumwork to keep the intensity and energy of the song right where it needs to be throughout the wild 3:07 ride the song is. There are certain moments where all these instruments come together to create some moments that blow you away. Starting at the 2 minute mark, the guitar solo begins, and the song just continues to build and build until the breakdown that pushes all the way through the end. I think my jaw was hanging low by the time I reached the end of the track, I was absolutely thrilled with what the band decided to show us.

While I was impressed with "One Foot", "Headphones" is in a completely different playing field. The utilization of 80's and 90's influence is just enough to not overwhelm, the leaning towards a more raw, unprocessed sound as opposed to the shine of a pop-friendly track, shows that the band has so much more to offer than we've seen yet. The song released on Friday, and as of today (Monday), I've already listened to the song over 20 times. I'm having a hard time imagining that they're going to release something that'll impress me more than this song, but I would be glad to be proven wrong. I am even more excited to hear the rest of the album come next month, and beyond ecstatic to see them live in February.  This will be one of my top songs this year, that's for sure.

Rating: 5/5

Related: "The Distance" - Cake, "Never Swim Alone" - Death from Above 1979,  "Lights Out" - Royal Blood

Note: Most of the related songs I chose are more rock based than pop based. I did this because I couldn't find any groups in the alternative-pop scene that had anything even remotely similar to this track. It's unique, and hard to compare to anything else I've heard.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch

I recently saw Blade Runner 2049, and it struck me in such a way that I had to get some thoughts down on it, both for the music and for the movie as a whole. This post is a bit different than the norm on a few fronts. It's mostly a music review with a bit of a focus on reviewing the movie as well, and it's focused on the soundtrack of the film, which is outside of my normal scope of expertise.

As a disclosure, I took some music courses in college and am familiar with classical music to a degree, but I haven't kept it up as well as I should have, so I won't be able to talk technical in terms of theory and other related subjects. I will talk about the movie and plot as well, so there will be some spoilers. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly suggest seeing it first.

The soundtrack was composed by Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch, the former of whom I'm very familiar with and the latter I had to do some research. I haven't seen the movies that Wallfisch has composed and conducted for, but am familiar with some of them, such as IT (2017), A Cure For Wellness, and Hidden Figures. Seeing the list of movies he has worked with and listening again to the soundtrack for Blade Runner 2049, it makes a lot of sense that he was chosen with Hans Zimmer to work on this project. He has done a lot of horror and thriller movies, and while 2049 was not a horror movie, it very much played with tension and suspense through the soundtrack and other elements. Wallfisch's knack for that, plus Zimmer's propensity for huge sounds and massive peaks, creates a soundtrack filled with insane highs and deep, deep lows. The opening track, "2049", is a great example of the scope of the soundtrack.The first half of the song is brooding, almost ambient with booming drums alternating focus with long, echoing 80's synths that ease in and out. There's a middle point where the song contains itself a bit, with light piano chords leading into the climax of the signature synths from the original movie; high, bright, dissonant tones that are captivating in their immensity. These sounds and tones are found throughout the soundtrack. The composers also used these noises that I personally thought were actual sounds from the movie and not from the soundtrack itself. An example is from "Flight to LAPD", a dark and fast paced piece where at one point a sound cuts through the synths and pounding drums that is reminiscent of a motorcycle or tuned-up car accelerating down the street. I was very surprised to discover it was part of the music itself. There's tracks on the other end of the spectrum, such as "Rain", that utilize the same large walls of sound, but with less intensity and more emphasis on softer, more beautiful tones. It inspires such a sense of wonder within the track, which is very fitting given it's place in the film. The scene it provides background for it when the character Joi (Ana de Armas) is going outside and "experiencing" rain for the very first time thanks to K (Ryan Gosling) buying an upgrade for her that gives her the ability to go with him wherever he goes. She has a sense of wonder and being awe-struck, and that is expressed incredibly well by the music for this moment.

The soundtrack relies a lot on moments of quiet and moments of loud sounds playing on one another, and helps create a lot of the tension that is found within the movie. There's also a big emphasis on dissonance and a lack of more recognizable melodies. It works more on creating sounds than refrains that different than typical refrains that a lot of soundtracks aim for; notable arrangements of notes that people recognize outside the movie (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc). An excellent example of these ideas is in "Mesa" a track that starts off soft and builds into the big sweeping synths, that all lean more towards the bright side. At about the 2:15 minute mark, the music explodes into this short but intense moment of dissonant, unsettling noises that are vastly different from the bright sound pallet that was just used moments before. It builds tension incredibly, keeping those watching on the edge with the builds in volume and shifting intensity from moment to moment within the same song. "Furnace" is another song that utilizes dissonance and unsettling sounds to create an enthralling moment. It begins with sounds that bring to mind an airplane descending from a high altitude, individual at first but changing in tone and slowly building upon each other as an incredibly low choral line sings. It's contrasted and complemented simultaneously by occasional high synths that provide an alternative in tones and timbres while still adding to the existing mood created. A  moment further on consists of the choral voices beginning to break apart in their united front, with various ones singing in different moments and different notes and mumbles that create a frantic and eerie cacophony that's all framed by these huge rumbling bass notes. It's not a song that'll calm you down; as I write this, I continue to get chills down my spine from the mood set by the track.

"Sea Wall" is one of the more intense and lengthy songs from the soundtrack, coming in just shy of 10 minutes in length. It has one of the few moments of repetition from elsewhere in the soundtrack, using the same synth "melody" from the opening "2049" song starting at about the 2 minute mark. The first two minutes is more intense and upbeat, with an almost tribal drum beat that pounds along as the synths rise and fall in short bursts of distorted waves of sound. These two parts come together nearly halfway through the song, the huge bright synths and the low distorted ones fighting each other for dominance. This also creates a struggle for dominance in terms of the mood of the song, with these very different elements vying for control and shifting the tone of the song back and forth as they do so. This makes sense, given its placement in the movie. It's the backdrop for the final fight between K and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) as they're battling for Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) life, and it's a fight that goes back and forth and keeps the viewer on their toes.

The soundtrack does a very good job of using the 80's elements from the original movie without making them sound cheesy; something that is hard to avoid association when watching movies from that era. "All The Best Memories Are Hers" and "Tears In the Rain" are both examples of this, as they play out for the final few moments of the movie and provide the emotional weight that complements those scenes. Both songs are full of the brighter synths, relying heavily on those and keeping a more ethereal sound as opposed to the more gritty elements found in other parts of the soundtrack. The tone and quality of the synths are very much inspired by the sounds of the original movie, but used in a more somber manner than before. It's a very fitting ending to the film.

As for the film itself, there are so many elements that are absolutely incredible. The cinematography, the visual pallet that they drew from, the dialog and plot and acting are all very well executed. It's a bit lengthy, at 2 hours 44 minutes, but well, well worth it. The film does such a good job of drawing you in and making you experience the emotional rollercoaster the characters embark on with them as the story plays out. The soundtrack comes into play heavily in furthering the depth of each scene, adding tension where needed, creating shock and awe during intense moments, and giving the more emotional scenes the raw punch needed.

One of my favorite scenes is when K visits Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) and has her examine his memory of the wooden horse and the bullies. When she tells him that it's real, confirming his suspicion, Gosling gives one of his best scene performances, going from seeming like he's on the verge of breaking down in tears to letting out a guttural scream as he throws his chair across the room. It's a moment that grabs you by the throat, keeping you locked on until it passes into the next scene. After that scene played out, I realized I was gripping the arm rest very firmly with my hand, unaware I had begun to do so. Gosling overall had an excellent performance, and I hope that it leads to him in more roles such as this, where I think he has now shown that he can excel in.

Other notable performances came from Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, and Ana de Armas. Ford gave what felt like a very ranged performance in terms of the emotions shown. The scene where he meets Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and sees a replication of his love, Rachel, sees him actually shed tears for a moment, something I don't think I've ever seen in a performance of his. It was nice to see his grizzled, tough-guy exterior open for a moment. Dave Bautista's role was short but memorable, showing off his undeniable strength as he smashes Gosling's character against a wall inside his home repeatedly until Gosling goes through the other side. He also delivers a line that ends up being very important to the plot of the story: "You've never seen a miracle.", which references to the birth of a child from a replicant and a human. Sylvia Hoeks serves as the main antagonist of the film and provides Gosling with quite a challenge to overcome, almost succeeding herself in her mission. Her approach to the roll, an icy exterior that ever so slightly wavers when she is near Leto's character gives her more depth than a lot of movies give their antagonist; she is doing her job, which serves both as a reason to dislike her and a reason to sympathize for her. Ana de Armas serves as Gosling's love interest, which is interesting in itself given the nature of both parties involved (one is a Replicant, and the other is a holographic projection). One of the more intriguing and technologically facinating scenes is where she contacts Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) to come to the apartment her and Gosling share as she attempts to give him a "real" way to make love with her. Armas and Davis "sync" together in a CGI spectacle, one that is easy to forget is computer generated at all. The implications of the scene are tremendous as well, with Gosling (a machine) making love to Davis (a human) who looks like Armas (a holographic projection). Talk about something to keep your mind occupied.

The play between what is real and what is not was another one of my favorite elements. The plot and characters really bring into question what is real, thanks to the replicants and the ambiguity in whether they are fully human or simply machines. The impression it makes and questions it raises feel very postmodern, in the notion of reality versus hyper-reality (when the imitation of reality actually replaces reality). I was thrilled with that idea, as it is something that very much intrigues me in stories and writing. It's not a new idea, as many other philosophers, thinkers, and writers have explored this topic before. The way that the movie approaches and displays the argument between reality and hyper-reality is very well executed, and I think serves as a great lesson in postmodernism for a more mainstream audience.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with this movie. I had been looking forward to seeing it, but it far exceeded my expectations. I absolutely recommend seeing this movie, although it is rated "R" so be careful about bringing kids. You will not be disappointed.

Soundtrack Rating: 8/10

Movie Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hard - EP - The Neighourhood

The Neighbourhood is back with a new EP, Hard. There's a more stripped sound to the EP, less focus on pop sounds and drawing from indie soundscapes. The songs don't expand into these huge sound walls as they did on the last release, Wiped Out!; instead they seem to dial things down a bit, drawing in further and inviting the listener to come closer, listen with a closer ear.

"Roll Call" starts the EP off with a moody, syrupy instrumental of just a brooding bass and muted drums create a hazy morning vibe over which lead singer Jesse Rutherford sings of the idea of conformity versus individuality. He alternates from moments of vulnerability and minimal vocal effects to almost rap-swagger and fully auto tuned, creating a very mellow, yet dark atmosphere; something the band excels at.

"You Get Me So High" picks up the pace a bit, with echoing, subdued synths and more of an emphasis on the hi-hat heavy drum beat for Rutherford singing in an almost talking tone that feels intimate, as if he's speaking directly to the listener. There's a really cool aspect about the melody in one of the keyboards; it pings from one ear to the other, as well as a part where they have the vocals come in alternating on different sides of the speakers, creating a 3D effect to the music that immerses the listener even more. It's got surreal vibes to it, which also makes sense considering the hook: "High all the time, high all the time, I wanna be, high all the time". It's indie-stoner-rock, if that's a subgenre.

"Noise" utilizes a drum machine and drum set to create a very simple, yet layered drum beat as a guitar resonates ripples of distorted chords that Rutherford sings over in a quiet, almost desperate appeal. There's a point where the melody shifts to a different set of notes that almost feels dissonant, yet also harmonizing beautifully at the same time. The song ends with just a capella echoing harmonies from Rutherford, bringing the tone down immensely and focusing tight on that last phrase.

"24/7" feels like the most upbeat and poppy song of the EP, lead by a drum machine-based beat and bright, metallic synths that get it stuck in your head long after you've turned it off. The band utilizes the emphasis on the beat in different ways to create varying pulses, moments that groove along and others that reign in the energy. The vocals again feel almost smaller, like the singer isn't going for it at 100%. It's not a bad thing; on the contrary, I think the more subdued vocals perfectly complement the sound of the instrumental.

"Sadderdaze" ends the EP in a similar way that it began; the slow thump of the beat and the acoustic guitar create a mellowed out experience. The addition of the violins, both when they are played normally and when the strings are plucked, adds to the melancholy themes that rise and fall throughout the song. The ambiguity of the name (Saturdays, sadder days, satur daze) is a nice play on words and sounds. The lyrics stand out on this track, with lines like:

"Saturdays are not the same as they used to be
Sadder days, why do they keep on using me?"

seeming to invoke a sense of nostalgia and a desire for the good days left in the past. It especially works with the way the instrumental is built; layered, flowing tones and touches of wistfulness that slowly fade out into nothing.

The EP definitely feels like something that the band wanted to do and wasn't quite as focused on airwave appeal. It felt like they took a step back from the pop tools and sounds they used on their last album, and sought a more gritty, less polished product. I think it works very well for them; it reminded me more of their first release, I Love You. (although I enjoyed their last album more). If it's an indication of their next full length release, then I will look forward to more of this sound. If it's by itself, then I still look forward to whatever will come next from this talented group.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: "You Get Me So High" & "24/7"

Related: The 1975, Halsey, PVRIS

Friday, September 29, 2017

Gemini - Macklemore

After taking 4 years in-between the 2012 breakout album The Heist and his less-commercially successful 2016 follow up This Unruly Mess I've Made (for reference, the former has sold over 1.5 million copies domestically, whereas the later has sold not quite 700k copies), Macklemore is back after only a year and a half with his first solo venture since him and Ryan Lewis teamed up in 2009. It is clear on Gemini that there is a different tone in play here, with Macklemore approaching the content and vibes of the songs in a generally more lighthearted manner as opposed to the previous two releases.

Gemini is a bit of a departure from the more indie-rap vibes that were signature for his last two albums with Lewis. There are a lot more tracks on this release that feel much more similar to the kinds of songs you hear on the radio currently. Songs like "Glorious (feat. Skylar Grey)", "Marmalade (feat Lil Yachty)", "Willy Wonka (feat. Offset)", and "How To Play The Flute (feat. King Draino)" all are very mainstream oriented, with trap and pop influences abounding.

"Glorious" feels the most like a Macklemore song you'd expect, beginning with piano chords and a clap track highlighting the beat that eventually includes a choir providing some layers to this stadium-ready anthem. The addition of Skylar Grey definitely helps the track stand out and provides some contrast to Macklemore's never-slowing flow.

"Marmalade" also begins with a piano line, but goes in a different direction as the booming kick and steady high-hat hits provide a backdrop for Macklemore's autotuned, laid back raps about having a good time. The feature of Lil Yachty fits the tone of the track, (I personally don't like Lil Yachty's music, but he was definitely the right choice for the song). It's almost too cheery for my taste, but that seems like it was the intention with the song (hence the name).

"Willy Wonka" feels like it falls in the same category of ridiculous songs as "Thrift Shop", "Castle" and "Downtown. What does make it different than the other songs I mentioned is the instrumental. Instead of the indie-rap vibe, Macklemore goes full trap, huge bass kicks and a simple synth hook. It takes some getting used to, but this is definitely a song that you'll want to play in the car, very loud and very obnoxiously. You can't help but laugh a bit while listening to the chorus as Macklemore shouts "Bitch I'm Willy Wonka" (which I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean).

"How To Play The Flute" is similar to "Willy Wonka" in both the ridiculous factor and the heavy trap vibe. This one definitely has a more of a sexual vibe (the title itself is an innuendo), although that's ruined a bit by the section where recordings of people sneezing alternate with Macklemore blessing them during the chorus.

Not all the songs are just for the good vibes or laughs, however. Tracks like "Ten Million", "Over It (Donna Missal)", "Church (feat. Dave B & Travis Thompson)", and album finisher "Excavate (feat. Saint Clarie)" all display a sense of depth, lyrically, that set them apart from their counterparts I mentioned above.

"Ten Million" has trap influences as well, but with a darker and harder vibe. This is a form of Macklemore we don't see as often, a cocky, taking-shots-at-other-rappers, boastful artist, where he takes them on in their own comfort zone (trap). Despite being heavy with the trap influences, I really enjoy this track; the trash talking that takes place in rap is part of what draws some people to it, with the exaggerations that are almost addicting.

"Over It" chronicles a toxic, cycling relationship where Macklemore goes back and forth about the relationship and how it continues to damage both parties involved. This song utilizes the instrumental to highlight aspects of the lyrics, making them stronger and giving them a bigger impact. At about the 2:30 mark Macklemore launches into one of his most powerful, moving, and fastest raps of the album that's absolutely captivating, very much thanks to his delivery, but also to the growing and tension-building instrumental (especially the string parts).

"Church" slows things down, bringing out a jazzy instrumental as Macklemore raps about where he's at in his life and the path that brought him to that point. Some of my favorite lines on the album are from this song, such as "I learn more from loss than the gain" or "You see I was given a role, never played my part". Macklemore seems to be reflecting on his own spiritual journey as he's grown older, found success, and had a child of his own. Whether he believes in God or not isn't made entirely clear on this song, but it is clear that he has been wrestling with the ideas of religion and what it means to him and the way his life has played out. It feels very honest and raw, something I enjoy immensely in artists.

"Excavate" is the final song of the album, and Macklemore wraps up his latest release in a powerful way. Saint Claire does an incredible job making a beautiful chorus - easily one of the best parts of the song; the lyrics are as follows:

"Fill my lungs up, pour my heart out, peel my bones away
Crack my window, shed my shadow, excavate my pain
And I found peace
And I found peace
And I found peace"

Macklemore uses this song to examine his purpose and intentions for pursuing the success he's had. He wants there to be meaning left when people strip away all of the fame, the money and success, and he wants to make a lasting impact on this world. It's a worthy issue to wrestle with, and Macklemore does a great job of being honest and laying out his thoughts on the track.

There are a few tracks that fall somewhat in-between these two main categories I've discussed above. "Zara (feat. Abir)" is a feel-good track about a budding relationship, full of cute and flirty moments that fit the bright and light-hearted feelings that are associated with a new fling. It's got a bit of a R&B vibe that fits (especially with the reference to 90's R&B in the song), as the relationship slowly erupts into something deep and meaningful.

"Good Old Days (feat. Kesha)" tackles nostalgia and the importance of enjoying where you are, as things change as time progresses. Macklemore specifically talks about the difference between when he started trying to become successful with music, and how he got to the place that he dreamed about but also still sometimes wishes he could go back to the times before the fame. Kesha's vocals are great on this track (I'm also just happy that she's been able to take back her image and create the persona she wants to be known, sans the auto tune, as her voice is actually very lovely without it).

"Corner Store (feat. Dave B & Travis Thompson)" and "Firebreather (feat. Reignwolf) both have a good times vibe to them, but differ in execution. The former has a mix of old-school and trap as Macklemore raps about being younger and the carefree nature before he was pursuing his dream The later takes a rap-rock approach, with a guitar line leading the song over drums from an actual drumset while Macklemore takes the opportunity to show off and brag a bit.

I personally think that Macklemore is at his best when he digs deep and talks about real, hard situations (especially his past and his struggles with drug addiction). Songs like "Otherside", "Starting Over", and "Kevin (feat. Leon Bridges)" are some of my favorites from him because they are raw and stripped down to the truth of the matter. Not to say that Macklemore's fun vibe is bad - "Thrift Shop" was one of the main reasons I started listening to him and I think he has a lot of quirky tunes that are a different kind of fun than you expect.

Back near the very beginnings of this blog, I wrote a little post (in January of 2013 - WOW) about my thoughts of him overall (see that post here). I went back and reread that, and noticed that the things I just addressed were the things that I talked about with him initially. I love his sense of purpose and pushing for the causes he believes in. That was the main aspect of this album that I felt was lacking, the depth and purpose that was so strong on his previous releases. And maybe this album was necessary for him, and I hope it's very successful because I still greatly enjoy his work and want to support him and see him succeed. My hope, however, is that his ability to highlight issues and causes that he is passionate about comes back even stronger on his next release, whether that's with Ryan Lewis again or not. He does get closer to this place near the end of the album, and that's the parts that I enjoyed the most.

In interviews that he has done regarding this album, he has mentioned that this album was made the way it was for a couple of reasons, two of which struck me. One, he wanted to make music that was the kind that he wants to listen to, and that a lot of the music is happy because he is in a good place. I can very much respect that, and if this music continues to be what he makes because he continues to be happy, then I'll continue to support him in that.

I have to add a note before I finish. After watching some live performances of the new songs, as well as listening to the album multiple times, I find it growing on me more and more. Despite the lack of a more serious tone, it is fun, it is catchy, and it's hard to resist that. Maybe, in spite of the state of the world and the tensions and problems, the timing of this album is perfect. We need something to remind us to have fun, not to take things so seriously, and to enjoy ourselves. The problems are still there, they're still being addressed, but if we let them bog us down constantly, then we lose the enjoyment that can come from life. And I think, perhaps, that was Macklemore's intention with this record. I was originally going to give the album 3/5 rating. But after some more thought, I'm going to bump it to a 3.5/5. I know that might not seem like much, but it's significant in my eyes.

Rating: 3.5/5

Recommended: "Glorious", "Ten Million", "Zara", "Over It", "Willy Wonka".

Monday, September 25, 2017

Melancholia Hymns - Arcane Roots

I discovered this album through a recommended playlist from Apple Music. They put the song "Matter" by Arcane Roots near the end, and I'm glad I was paying attention when I got to that track. I ended up checking out and downloading the entirety of their latest album, Melancholia Hymns. It's a perfect blend of so many genres -metal, indie, alternative, electronic, and pop. They have moments of raw aggression, ethereal bliss, and everything in-between. It never feels like it's reaching too far or mixing too much at the same time. It's a very natural fusion of different elements that creates an incredibly unique sound and experience.

The album opens with "Before Me", which feels a lot like something Sigur Ros would do. The slow build, the subtle addition of various instruments until the song finally erupts with drums crashing, synths blaring, and (what I soon discovered to be a staple) gang vocals all fading out to just a few synths and more subdued, electronic drums.

"Matter", the song that hooked me, comes in next with a very different, more minor feel to it (similar to Anberlin, but a bit heavier and less structured). The harmonies on the vocals in the beginning are captivating, hooking you right before the drums and guitars come in with a very urgent feel to them before exploding into a high velocity, raw section that's absolutely awe-inspiring. It shows off the metal side of the band, shifting into a bit of a breakdown at about the 3:15 minute mark where the band shows off their technical and speed skills as lead singer Andrew Groves screams over the thunderous drums and roaring guitars. The song ends with a very different outro, consisting of synths and an electric drum machine that still captures the aggressive feelings conveyed just moments before in a total different setting.

"Indigo" has more pop sensibilities to it, from the opening vocal lines; it's another sharp turn, but the kind that makes you scream with delight at the thrills you're experiencing of piercing, layered 80's synths and drums that back up the soaring vocals from Groves. Shifting later into a triangle (yes, a triangle part), lead guitar, and echoing toms build with a repeated vocal line of "Just say the word, I'll go, if that's what you're saying" that is eventually joined by more synths and a rhythm guitar that create an incredible moment. The song then shifts again, the driving force being piano and vocals until a distorted synth line gives the outro a soaring sensation.

The transitions are incredibly smooth, shifting from calm and sweeping sounds to more aggressive and defined moments without the slightest of hiccups. An excellent example of this is "Off The Floor", which starts as just vocals and a finger-picked acoustic guitar line for about the first minute. Within an instant, however, the drums kick in and the electric guitar joins the acoustic to alter the vibe of the song without making the listener uncomfortable. It soon becomes a more melodic metal song, with the vocals switching from soft and elongated to almost shouting over the double bass pedal hits and distorted guitar lines.

"Curtains" has a haunting sense to it, Groves feeling very melancholy with his vocals as he takes the main spotlight for the first two minutes with minimal instrumental interruptions. That is, until a distorted synth line takes over and twists the song from haunting to more celestial. The song eventual explodes into a full instrumental, the usual synths and drums joined by a string line that adds to the epic nature of the song. The metal comes out again, with Groves giving guttural screams over gritty guitars and absolutely tight, driving drums. The outro shifts back to electronic, but randomized in such a way that it makes the listener a bit uneasy. It's best to be careful listening to this song as it transitions into "Solemn", which begins with an extremely loud and distorted electric guitar chord that immediately sets the tone for the track. There's limited electronic elements present as the drums and guitars battle it out for the entirety of the song as Groves gives some of his more powerful clean vocals on the album. This song feels like rock through and through, one of the few tracks on the album to lack a series of drastic changes (there's one moment of screaming vocals, but it doesn't feel like a shift so much as an accent).

"Arp" begins with a light, bouncing sort of synth line, bringing to mind some sort of futuristic fantasy landscape. Groves' vocals are much more soft than in the previous track, giving the opening section a much more sensitive vibe to it. However, this shifts as the song opens up into something more inspiring as eventually the metal elements are introduced alongside (and somewhat overtaking) the electronic symphony occurring. At 4:23, it's one of the shorter songs on the album, and so fades into the next track, "Fireflies" after the momentary breakdown. "Fireflies" starts somewhat similarly to "Arp" in terms of the presence of electronic elements, although these are less delicate and more striking in their combinations with Groves more earnest vocals. The song continues in this same vein, not ever erupting into something bigger, but also refusing to die to a whisper. It feels somewhat like a transition track (which is not a diss, by any means), especially with the structure feeling a bit loose.

"Everything (All at Once)" is off with a bang from the start, the drums leading the charge this time and soon joined by a very low and brooding bass guitar line. Your head is bobbing along from start to end, between the incredibly fast and precise drumwork, the bass slapping its way along, the electric guitar shredding mightily and Groves' vocals pleading "Take Me" during the choruses. This song hardly lets up for a moment, the only lull coming right before the heaviest moment of the album that's an insane, thrashing, breakdown that leaves you breathless and wanting much, much more. It's the shortest track, but by far leaves one of the biggest impressions.

"Half The World" ends the album with the huge wall of sound you come to expect from Arcane Roots at this point. It's a culmination of all the elements; the synths, the electric guitars, the drums, and vocals all coming together for an arena ready powerhouse of a song that starts high and goes even higher and higher. There's an immense amount of hope in this song, the outro lyrics:

" Darling, I'm afraid
Be yourself when you're full of doubt
Hold on to the reins
Be yourself, and when it's falling down
Listen to the rain
Be yourself when you're calling out
Darling, we're the same
So keep your hands upon the wheel"

It's hard to listen to that part and not be left with a sense of encouragement, whether things are going smoothly or times are tough.

The fact that it's a three piece band that's making a huge wall of sound is even more remarkable. I wasn't planning on doing a detailed, song by song review, but I just couldn't help it as I listened through the album again. I was disappointed to see that there aren't any tour dates in California (let alone in the US), but I'll just have to be on the lookout for the next chance cause I most definitely plan on seeing these guys whenever they do make it over here. Their sound reminds me (as I mentioned earlier) of Sigur Ros and Anberlin; if those two bands had a musical baby and added some metal tendencies, then Arcane Roots would be the prodigy child.

Rating: 4.5/5

Recommended: "Matter", "Curtains", "Solemn", "Everything (All at Once)"

Related: Anberlin, Sigur Ros

Saturday, September 23, 2017

One Foot (Single) - Walk The Moon

Walk The Moon is finally back after nearly 3 years without new music with their brand new single, "One Foot". Riding off the surprise insane success of "Shut Up and Dance", the band follows up 2014's Talking Is Hard with indications that they are fully embracing their pop appeal. "One Foot" is a huge pop anthem, full of 80's vibes and bright poppy synths that are instantaneously catchy and get your feet tapping along. It also features guitars and drums, as the band prominently used in their previous releases as well, but the band has always been good about mixing the synthetic and real instruments. Nicholas Petricca's vocals feel as fantastic as always; his voice has an incredible range, not only in terms of the variety of notes he can reach, but his ability to switch from soft and sweet to these huge moments on the chorus where he's almost shouting with strength and power. There's a specific moment during the second verse (at about the 1:40 mark) where Petricca switches to basically rapping for a couple seconds, which may sound weird in theory but works out perfectly in the moment of the song; he gives it just the intensity it needs for it to come off as genuine and not forced. It feels just as fun as "Shut Up and Dance" felt when it first came out, but the more you listen, the more you begin to realize this song goes a bit deeper than a dance-pop anthem.

Lyrically, the song deals with the notion of moving forward after some sort of hardship. The pre-chorus hints at this:

"Oh, through the wilderness
You and I will walk into the emptiness
Oh, and my heart is a mess
Is it the only defense against the wilderness?"

and leads into the chorus:

"Well, cross my heart and hope to die
Taking this one step at a time
I got your back if you got mine
Oh, one foot in front of the other"

All of this points towards a struggle that has happened/is still happening, but that the best way to move out of "the wilderness" is one step at a time, one small movement forward followed by another. The band gets specific in what the hardship might be with the outro lyrics:

"Oh, in the so-called 'Land of the Free'
One foot in front of the other
Don't you know that all we have is each other?
One foot in front of the other"

Which seems to take a stab at the US and the given political and social tensions regarding race, sexuality, and other subjects that have been hotly debated as of late.

All in all, I think this song is an excellent return for the band. They're embracing their pop appeal without losing the core of who they are, making a radio-ready anthem that has dance vibes but still delivers an encouraging and important message. I'm ready for this one to be all over the radio and the charts, and I can't wait for the rest of the album!

Rating: 4/5

Related: "Million Bucks" by Smallpools, "Molecules" by Atlas Genius, "Something to Believe In" by Young the Giant

Friday, September 1, 2017

All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell - PVRIS

When I started listening to PVRIS a couple of years ago, I immediately became entranced by their dark and gritty sound. The further I delved into their music, however, the more intrigued I became by their lyrical content, which explores some very different subjects than a lot of the other bands out there. They have a very otherworldly sense to their music, speaking of ghosts and paranormal type things but in the context of lovers and loss. It made for a very interesting vibe on their 2014 debut album, White Noise, which I highly recommend checking out if you haven't yet.

But fast forward almost 3 years, and we come to their sophomore album, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell. I was very, very excited for new music when I heard the announcement, and gobbled up all the singles as they released. Heaven was our first taste of the new album, followed by What's Wrong, "Half", "Winter", and "Anyone Else"(see my review of the first two songs here). 

"Half" begins with a slow building guitar line, joined by a muted drum beat before opening into a full instrumental featuring a whimsical, floating vocal line from Lynn Gunn. This song really highlights Gunn's vocals throughout, letting her show off her softer side during the verses and the bridge, while also letting her build and grow into the roar and power that we first got used to in White Noise. She doesn't quite get gritty, but it's close enough to reveal the darker side that the band can delve into. The synth lines during this track really shine, between the subtle 80's sounding lines during the verses and the distorted electronic tones that come in later on that somehow manage to sound as if they're floating back and forth between high and low. 

"Winter" is a bit on the slower side, but certainly pulls its weight and punch through a lyrical stand taken towards a former lover. With lines like:

"You were just physical touch, not necessarily love
Just something to distract my aching brain for once
I feel too little and I think too much"

and the chorus

"Can you burn a fire in my flesh?
'Cause your love's so cold I see my breath
I can't take another night
Always frozen by your side"

it is clear that this was not a healthy relationship. This song is really intriguing through the instrumental, being much more electronically reliant than a lot of their previous work. The driving element of the song, apart from the vocals, is the prominent synth lines that pulse throughout. It's continuing the 80's vibe I mentioned for "Half", but provide an interesting contrast to the more raw, organic vocals Gunn provides; perhaps an intentional mix, to highlight the idea of the subject of the song and the singer being very different people, if not opposites. 

"Anyone Else" was the last of the singles released before the album dropped, and the one that really, really got my attention. First of all, the first half has an extremely poppy sound to it, much more so than anything PVRIS has done previously, utilizing an electronic drum beat to lay the groundwork for some of Gunn's prettiest vocals on the album, with some absolutely stunning harmonies as well. There's a shift after the first chorus, however, with more of their familiar elements entering the song like guitars and a drum set, as well as a harp line that has shown up in their work as well. During the bridge, there's this point where Gunn asks 

"Oh, my blood
What have you done
What have you done".

As she's singing that, there's this bass synth that rumbles, building until it roars in this dark and almost creepy manner before the song shifts into a bit of a breakdown for a few moments of just Gunn's somewhat distorted vocals over just a drum beat. It builds from her, with Gunn almost screaming "I don't belong to anyone else" until the song ends with a harp outro.The main thing that kept my attention focused on this song, however, were the lyrics. They start off seeming almost sweet, addressed to a lover. However, Gunn manages to shift from writing out of love to writing out of sorrow, utilizing similar lines with subtle changes that completely change the impact the words have. My favorite line from the song, and quite possibly from the album, is

"'Cause I could touch a hundred thousand souls
But none of them would ever feel like home
And no matter how far and wide I roam
You are the only one that I'll ever know"

The first time it comes off as sweet, as a reminder that there will be no one like the one Gunn loves and no one could have the impact that that person has had on her. However, when it becomes clearer that this is not a current love, but a former, those lines become bittersweet. A promise of never being able to quite escape, having your soul forever be attached, in a way big or small, to that of another. It's beautiful and tragic, blending these elements together in a way I couldn't get out of my head. 

With some of the first few singles, I was still excited, but I knew it wasn't quite the same as White Noise and so I became less eager. However, with "Anyone Else", that excitement came back, and I was quite eager for the album to drop. 

"Walk Alone" comes after "What's Wrong" on the album, featuring more of the harp and pop elements like "Anyone Else", although with a bit of a lighter feel. The verses are definitely a bit more reserved, with less layering and a bit more of a stipped feeling. However, the song builds into the chorus, where we get some of the more intricate drumming of the album, as well as these swelling distorted synths and Gunn giving us that gritty side we love. Contrast is a strong element in this track, between the pretty moments and the darker, more intense ones. 

"Same Soul" has a dreamy sense to it in the beginning, the picked guitar line having a bouncing feel before giving way to sampled vocals from Gunn providing the riff of the chorus as she yells 

"I'm just a body that you used to know
I'm just somebody that you used to know".

The bridge is the dreamiest part of the song, with the echoing vocals and the slow-growing organ/synth line. It eventually shifts back into the outro chorus, with three different vocals lines from Gunn providing a cacophony of sounds that makes it a bit difficult to discern which line should take the main focus. It adds to the surreal aspect of the track. 

"No Mercy" opens with a pair of synth lines, but quickly reveals its true colors as Gunn shows off some of the grittiest vocals of the album and the rock side of PVRIS comes out full force. The chorus is fantastic, with Gunn screaming "Show me no mercy" over the crashing of the cymbals and the snare drum snapping as we hear some of the few distorted guitar lines on the album. It reminds me a lot of the energy from "Fire" off their debut album, that dark alt-rock with a healthy mix of electronic moments and low moments to provide sufficient contrast. The lyrical focus seems to be between Gunn and a former love, but not of a bittersweet or contemplative feeling; this one is full of anger and rage. 

"Separate" pulls back a bit, a much more somber mood by far, a low rumbling synth bass giving just the right atmosphere for Gunn's more vulnerable vocals and the driving drums that keep the song from falling too far behind. The shift in instrumentation is also matched by the lyrical shift, with Gunn begging for her lover to stay by her side, instead of leaving like many of the other songs on the record. As a song, it helps to give some contrast to some of the more pop-oriented songs on the album, and comes off even stronger as it follows "No Mercy", which is one of the highest energy tracks they've done.

The album finishes up with "Nola 1", another very different sounding song from the others. Lyrically, it feels a bit more like White Noise, with even a mention of ghosts: 

"Cause its midnight and the ghosts might be coming soon"

as well as the second half of the first verse:

"My body didn't like the way it felt last June
And it haunted me the whole year
Then turned into thinking I was dying
Wouldn't pull through to see 22".

The chorus feels really fitting given the points I've just made, as Gunn sings about 

"You keep on saying that I've changed
I know that I don't seem quite the same"

and considering that there were a lot of changes in sound and subject on this album, it makes sense that the band might be struggling with all the things they've experienced and how to process it all and continue on the path they want to.

Instrumentally, it has some of the coolest and more experimental moments for the band. There's a point right at the beginning where there's just an electronic bass kick and this echoing, clean electric guitar riff that only lasts for a moment, but is so enchanting. It comes back a few times throughout the song, but it's the first time that's the best. The band utilizes a more pop-sounding beat and a compressed guitar line to fuel the verses before the sound opens up more for the choruses as Gunn questions and reassures herself simultaneously. It's not the most explosive or intricate song they've done, but definitely feels appropriate to close the album out, as it encompases a lot of elements that were explored by the band. 

It's evident that there was a lot of shifting for this album. Shifts in sounds, in instrumentation, lyrical content and songwriting approaches. It shows the band wants to continue growing, to explore new areas of music and let their music take on new life. There were some points that I felt weren't quite as strong as others, some songs that didn't quite feel like they worked out exactly like the band might have hopped. But, I think that this album was necessary for the band to continue honing their sound, and allowed them to showcase what else they can do beyond White Noise without letting themselves become pigeonholed into a specific sound. Definitely worth giving some time to listen and unpack.

Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended: "Anyone Else", "No Mercy", "Winter", "Heaven"
Related: Lydia, Halsey, Lights