Wednesday, May 31, 2017

One More Light - Linkin Park

Before I start this review, I just want to put out a bit of a disclaimer. I have been, for most of my life, a huge fan of Linkin Park. They have been my favorite band for many, many years, and I have been known to adamantly defend them when people question why they've gone in the many directions they have. I will, to the best of my abilities, keep this review as objective as possible. My opinions will present themselves, so be aware as you read.

Since 2000, Linkin Park has been a big name in the rock/alternative scenes (more into the later as the years have gone on. As their career has progressed, they've continued to experiment and redefine themselves as musicians; they've moved far past their nu-metal beginnings of Hybrid Theory and Meteora. Their last album, The Hunting Party, (see my review here), left things on quite the heavy note for the group. So when they began releasing the singles for their latest album, One More Light, the fans immediately knew that this was not going to be in the same vein, despite the irony of the name of the lead singles, "Heavy" and "Battle Symphony" (both of which I reviewed here and here).

When the album finally dropped, I made sure I had it downloaded onto my phone before I left work. I hoped in my car, and for the next 35 minutes I drove around and played the album from front to back. Then I didn't listen to it again till later the next day. I spaced it out, making sure I had the right amount of time to process it. I even delayed writing this review an extra few days to make sure I was ready to write my thoughts.

From what I've noticed so far, it's very diverse in terms of the influence of genres that are apparent throughout the album. The opener, "Nobody Can Save Me" feels a lot similar to more rock-based contemporary Christian songs, in terms of its orchestration and lyrical content. The closer, "Sharp Edges", has a slight country/singer-songwriter vibe. "Good Goodbye" is easily the hip-hop song of the album, even featuring Pusha T and Stormzy. "Talking To Myself" is like an Adele song that got cranked up a couple notches. "Sorry For Now" brings in the bubbly-electronic feel of Owl City with EDM sensibilities and a drop to match (the first time I heard it, I got chills). It may seem like too much put together when listed like that, but the flow of the album is very well done; most of the songs feel very much like they belong together (although "Good Goodbye" does feel like a bit of an outlier). It's a continuation of Linkin Park wanting to explore new sounds and new ideas in their music.

The big element of this album that feels different is the lyrics. The band has stated in many interviews and videos leading up to and after the release of the album that they took a very different approach to their music process. Normally they write the music first and then build the lyrics around the existing tracks. For this album, they flipped that process on its head and started with all the lyrics first, then built the music around the words. They also worked with outside songwriters, another move that was new for them. The result is evident in the way that the music sounds. It's evident in the variety of genres they tackled, due to the large number of outside influences on the songs.

I was rereading my review of The Hunting Party, and I found myself laughing at the striking similarities/differences for how I'm approaching this review. On that album, I found that the instrumentals were interesting, but the lyrics felt more forced. On One More Light, I'm having more of the opposite problem; the lyrics feel more real and deep, while the instrumentals are more forced. Certain songs, such as "Invisible", "Nobody Can Save Me", and "One More Light" are really interesting in terms of lyrics and instrumentals; these tracks do a good job of tackling both sides equally. "Invisible" has a bit more of Linkin Park's signature wall of sound, layering various elements to create a listening experience that is captivating for both the lyrics/vocals and the instrumentals.

Other songs, such as "Heavy" and "Halfway Right" capture me lyrically, but fail to keep me sustained due to the instrumentals, which is particularly frustrating with "Halfway Right" given the weight and depth of the lyrics for that song. Talking about former drug addiction, Chester's line "I woke up driving my car" feels chilling when the full impact is realized. The instrumental, however, really doesn't keep me as engaged as I'd like to be.

The crown jewel of the album is the title track, One More Light. It was the song that inspired the rest of the album, one that is very special for the band. It covers the subject of losing a close friend, something the band experienced during the writing process of the album. The song became very much real for the band and the fans with the passing of Chris Cornell, former lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave and a good friend of the band, the day before the album released. Seeing them perform the song in honor of him on Jimmy Kimmel was an incredible and heart-wrenching experience (see it here, be prepared with tissues). It showed how much these lyrics mean to the band and the personal level that they went to when they approached this album.

This album definitely had its ups and downs. It wasn't perfect, by any means, but I personally feel like it did a better job than The Hunting Party in terms of showing a progression from the band. It's another entry in their ever growing discography that shows the versatility of the band, even if it wasn't their most successful attempt. Lyrically, it was very honest and refreshing, it covered a lot of ground that the band hadn't touched on before; a specific example being "Sorry For Now", which Mike sings to his kids about always being gone on tour and away from his family. It shows the band is maturing, they're growing and addressing their issues, both past and present, and looking towards the future. "Sorry For Now" also showcases some of Mike's best vocals to date, revealing his growth as a singer and his vocal range and power, and has Chester (sort of) rapping, which is an interesting reversal of roles. Instrumentally, the songs can fall a little flat sometimes, relying a bit too much on current trends of fabricated drums, lots of hi-hat ticks, and somewhat bland backing synths and arrangements. It's not the best album they've ever done; I think most people can agree on that. But it's also not the worst; it was their venture into more "pop-sounding" music, and it probably won't be replicated again, given their tendency to never make the same album twice.

Rating: 3.5/5
Recommended: "One More Light", "Nobody Can Save Me", "Invisible", "Sorry For Now"

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dig Down (Single) - Muse

It's been almost 2 years since Muse's last release, Drones, (which I reviewed here), and they've now dropped the new single "Dig Down" for an upcoming, unknown album. With Drones, we saw Muse stray back towards their heavier roots; if "Dig Down" is any sort of indication, this will not be the case. The single opens with a wobbling bass, similar to the sounds used in "Madness" from The 2nd Law. It's a slow building song, with Matt Bellamy's vocals guiding the song along as various instrumental elements are added as the song progresses. The first chorus gives a bit of a preview into the scope of the song, with the multi-layered vocals giving almost a choral effect. Everything continues to build as it progresses, with even more vocal lines added the second time the chorus comes around and the drums kicking it up a notch as Bellamy shreds on the guitar before the song opens into its peak in the final chorus that combines the electronic and organic elements into an epic and inspiring finish.

The lyrics really feel like the focus of the song, shifting away from the more politically charged lyrics of Drones and towards a more personal tone. The verses describe the struggles an individual might face, and the chorus prompts the listener to push through the hardships, to "dig down and find faith", which seems simplistic at first glance, but really serves its purpose when combined with the instrumental.

Upon first listen, I was a bit underwhelmed; coming from Drones, I seemed to expect them to continue on the heavier end of the spectrum. However, after a few listens, I began to dig it a bit more (appreciate the pun), and now as I'm writing this review, I know I really enjoy the song and I'm excited for the direction it indicates for the new album. The song is not perfect, by any means, but it's a better step for them (in my opinion) than what they did with their last release.

Check out the cool video for it here; I also think they did a cool job with the way the video progresses as the song goes on.

Rating: 3.5/5

Friday, May 19, 2017

After Laughter - Paramore

The Paramore of 2017 is not the same as the Paramore of 2013, when we got their self-titled album, neither in sound or in line-up. For a band that's been around since 2004, they've had quite a few members leave and come back, with the current line up consisting of Hayley Williams, Taylor York, and Zac Farro (who left the band in 2010 but recently rejoined during the recording of their new album). Through these changes, the band has experienced much, and it's very much reflected in their 5th studio album, After Laughter.

The lead single, "Hard Times", revealed the new direction in terms of sound. Paramore shed their pop-punk skin completely, opting for a new, more mature, alt-pop sound. The music generally sounds cheery, especially on the up-beat songs, which creates an interesting juxtaposition between the sound and the lyrical content. "Hard Times" is a prime example of this; the instrumental and vocals come together to create a song that makes sitting still while listening very, very hard, but the lyrics include lines like "All that I want is to wake up fine; Tell me that I'm alright, that I ain't gonna die". It's like this throughout the album; another of these moments I've noticed is the opening line from the second single, "Told You So": "For all I know, the best is over and the worst is yet to come" (a line that I've had ringing in my head since I heard it). It creates a listening experience that is not static; you almost end up conflicted by the end of each song because the music makes you happy, but the lyrics can leave you not quite as cheerful. "Fake Happy" is another example, although a bit obvious given the title, as a song that balances this newer, pop-oriented tone while revealed a group of people who are struggling with the hard times (not going to apologize for that pun) that occur in life. 

When you take into account the amount of people Williams and York, the two most consistent members since 2010, have lost, the direction of the album is not surprising at all. It's the story of people coping with loss, sometimes subtly and sometimes far more obviously, such as tracks "Grudges" and "Tell Me How". Both of those songs deal with it differently; "Grudges" is much more upbeat in terms of the instrumental and the lyrical content. Williams sings about how despite the seeming wasted time, she "can't keep holding on to grudges" and waste more time without forgiving and loving the people that are important. "Tell Me How" closes out the album a little more somberly, as indicated by the piano & vocal intro and the opening line of "I can't call you a stranger, But I can't call you". This song tells a tale of someone wanting someone back in their life, to move past the mistakes and hurts of the past. The bridge is especially moving, with the lyrics being: 

"You keep me up with your silence
Take me down with your quiet
Of all the weapons you fight with
Your silence is the most violent".

This song, if speculation can be drawn upon, seems to be directed at former bassist, Jeremy Davis, who left the band due to monetary issues between himself and Williams. I can't confirm that, but it would make sense given that situation and the lyrics of the song. It makes it all the more heart-wrenching while listening to.

The whole album doesn't leave you teary eyed, however. Songs like "Caught In The Middle", "Rose-Colored Boy", and "Pool" are all songs that leave you feeling a little more lifted. 

"Caught In The Middle" has a little bit of a reggae vibe to it, with Williams singing on the chorus:

"I think I'm a little bit caught in the middle
I gotta keep going or they'll call me a quitter"

It's an interesting song in that it dwells on being stuck in a situation or point of life, but it leaves room for hope and something to look towards. 

"Pool" is much more positive in its instrumental, which is evident from the moment the drums and guitars kick in. The lyrics are centered on a recurring lover, someone that couldn't be given up on or let go, which can feel a little heavy; ironically enough, the catchy tune that Williams gives to these words helps keep the listener from sinking under too much. 

"Rose-Colored Boy" feels like the most carefree song on the record, with the lyrical content not being heavy and the instrumental boasting quite the 80's influence that gets the listener on their feet. It's not one that will leave you terribly deep in thought, but it's going to be a great summer song for days with friends and adventures in the sun. 

I don't know what I expected from Paramore in the four years between their last album and After Laughter. All I know is that the album showed an incredible amount of growth, both musically and personally, and that's something that seems to be hard to find in a lot of music today. They took their personal issues and channeled them into something very productive and beautiful. It's still a bit early to say, but I think that this is one of the best things Paramore has done, if not the best. It's very much a step in the right direction, and I think and indication that Paramore (hopefully) won't be done anytime soon.

Rating: 4/5
Recommended: Caught In The Middle, Pool, Told You So, Tell Me How
Related: Walk The Moon, Best Coast

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Young & Menace (Single) - Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy has had quite the journey over the course of their 16 year musical career so far. They were the golden boys of mainstream pop-punk with songs like "Sugar, We're Going Down" and "Thnks fr th Mmrs". They parted ways for a few years and came back with a vengeance and a new sound in 2013 with the lead single "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)" and the following two albums Save Rock and Roll and 2015's American Beauty/American Psycho.

Now, here we are in 2017, and we have had a new FOB song for about a month, "Young & Menace". I heard the song the day it came out thanks to a friend texting me, asking if I had heard it yet. I immediately found it, threw in headphones, and played, not really knowing what to expect. The result was something quite incredible. The dark & brooding intro instantly alerted me to the fact that this was different; beyond the change the last two albums had already introduced. The song began picking up, with Patrick Stump pulling from Britney Spears "Oops I, did it again I, forgot what I was losing my mind about," catching my ear and the song was building more and more and I knew the chorus was coming but I wasn't prepared for the wall of noise that soon hit my ears. The drop gave me chills, as rock met electronic and I was jumping around my living room listening to this thing I couldn't properly describe. Guitars roar, synths blast, Stump screams and it's edited super high and super low, and the drums push and pull in what feels like a jam session, Stump's vocals shine as always, especially in the second verse where he shows off his range and power. The bridge kept the energy going despite slowing things down in-between drops, and the whole thing flies through in a flash and then it's over and you feel breathless and ready for another listen.

This song sounds like a band that's ready for the future. A band that is willing to push the limits of what sounds they can make and who they want to become. And even though we have to wait till September 17th for the rest of the album, it is definitely one of the most anticipated albums on my radar. Check out the song here. It won't be for everyone; I think the band knows that. But it's a bold step forward for the boys who started in Chicago suburbia and pop-punk roots.

Rating: 4.5/5