Monthly Archives: June 2013

Tell All Your Friends acoustic – A Ten Year Retrospective

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By Cherie (contributing writer & editor) and Vas (contributing writer)

Cherie:

It’s been eleven years since Taking Back Sunday released their hit album Tell All Your Friends. Eleven years. The band has had its ups and downs in that time, but it seems like lately the band has been stuck in a downward spiral. Their last studio album, Taking Back Sunday, was probably their weakest album yet, failing to gain the popular support that past albums had. Maybe the lineup changes have had more of an impact on the band then they are letting on; having a rotating lineup that changes from album to album certainly can’t be good for maintaining a consistently positive atmosphere. Whatever the case its clear that the bands first three albums, Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want to Be, and Louder Now, are strong albums and have gained much support from fans but their latest few, New Again, and Taking Back Sunday have fallen short in that regard.

What’s a band to do when they start losing the support of their fan base? In an attempt to recapture some of their former glory, the band immediately jumped on the ten year anniversary of Tell All Your Friends and launched a tour in support of it. It was a good move for the band at the time. TAYF is commonly regarded as the band’s best album so playing that album live in its entirety was a good way to win older fans back. With the end of the tour rumors that the band was working on a new album surfaced, and that seemed to be the end of it. Until this past month.

This year, a year after the ten year anniversary, the band announced a live acoustic album of TAYF. Although I’m a huge TAYF fan, I have some major problems with the album. First of all, its a live album. The audio is shoddy at times, especially when it comes to Adam’s vocals. In an effort to include the crowd vocals, which are loud on most songs, the audio engineers end up with a lot of excess background noise which further decreases the quality of the audio. Adam’s vocals on the album also leave a lot to be desired. Half the time it sounds like he’s leaning away from the microphone, but even when he’s singing into it his vocals are sub-par. It’s a trend I’ve noticed over time that his vocals have been weak, and it almost makes me wonder if he strained them at some point and they never really recovered. Crowd participation is the one redeeming factor of the album, along with the appearance of Michelle Nolan doing the original background vocals on several tracks. I certainly plan on listening to TAYF this summer, but not this new live version. I’ll stick to the original recording. Overall it’s a disappointing album that screams of desperation for a return to past success.

Vas:

I guess since you’re going to take bad cop on the album, I’ll be the good cop and point out some of the things I liked, although your points on the band’s steady decline are well taken. I would even go a step further and say the group pandering to its past began when they invited Shaun Cooper and John Nolan back into the band before recording their Self-Titled album, which I also was not too fond of save for a few songs. After New Again flopped, the group seemed really desperate to win fans back by appealing to those who loved Tell All Your Friends so they reconciled with Nolan and Cooper while kicking out Matt Rubano and Matt Fazzi, two very talented musicians who lent their skills to Taking Back Sunday and were caught in the unfortunate cross hairs of his desperation. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nolan and Cooper as much as the next TBS fan, but musically speaking it paid little dividends and Nolan’s famous backing vocals, which helped TAYF so much, hardly played a role on their new album. But I digress…

I too was a little disappointed to find out this album was recorded live. While Taking Back Sunday put on one of the most energetic live shows you’ll ever watch, I can’t say it’s the cleanest performance. It’s fun to be in the crowd but not the best to listen to or observe at home, and honestly for a band that has so many problems live, especially with Adam Lazzara’s voice it’s amazing that this is their third studio recording (along with a live Bamboozle album and their past acoustic album Live From Orensanz CD/DVD). A lot of bands are recording acoustic versions of albums (Saves the Day with Daybreak, Yellowcard with Ocean Avenue and When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, Dashboard Confessional with Alter The Ending) and it’s always fun to see a band put a different spin on a song acoustically in a studio setting with more at their disposal and more time to create it the way they want to.

Negatives (which you laid out) aside, Taking Back Sunday sets are all about the raw, captivating nature of the band and front man Adam Lazzara, which includes the sloppy instrumentation and gruff, distant vocals. I think this album captures that feeling very well, and you hear it the second the group breaks into “You Know How I Do”. The crowd participation is excellent on this album, which is to be expected coming from a band whose lyrics are meant to be shouted at the top of one’s lungs. As someone who has physically lost their voice at a Taking Back Sunday show, I can attest to this personally. This album features some of the most relatable lyrics, a wonderful, bitter, scathing attack that is so cathartic that it’s hard not to enjoy. As you would expect, “Cute Without the ‘E’” is the album’s highlight, as it all reaches a fever point that explodes in the bridge when Nolan and Lazzara exchange lyrics before the crowd erupts in “why can’t I feel anything for anyone but you!” The crowd participation even help mask Adam Lazzara’s weak vocals.

The piano and violins scattered throughout each track does add a nice dimension to the songs that the original versions don’t have. I’ll give the group credit for also experimenting with the tempo and pacing of “The Blue Channel”, which they slowed down considerably and doesn’t sound like the original with acoustic instruments. Also, it’s great seeing “Your Own Disaster”, a b-side from the original album, make its way onto the acoustic version. Sloppiness aside, I do enjoy the album though I will be more likely to go back to the original recordings, especially with songs like “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” and “You’re So Last Summer”, which don’t translate well acoustically. If you’re into re-imagined acoustic songs by Taking Back Sunday, I would strongly suggest Live From Orensanz, which truly saw the band experiment wonderfully in a live setting with far better results.

(Additional note from Cherie: I have to agree with Vas. The ‘Live From Orenanz’ album was much better produced, though it too was live. It has all the benefits of an acoustic album (reimagined versions of some of their most popular songs) but an overall better execution.)

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Selah Sue Review

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by Ryan, contributing writer

    A Belgian reggae/soul/R&B artist. You never thought you’d see that combo, right? Honestly, I’m not too surprised by anything after being first introduced to Matisyahu, but this still caught me a little bit. Selah Sue (birth name Sanne Putseys) is from the Flemish part of Belgium in the north of the small European country. She says that she is an outlier in the music scene where she is from, but I think that may be one of the things that makes her a better artist. Being able to grow your voice and musical style in relative solitude can help immensely to create something unique. That’s what I think we have with Selah Sue.

    Her self-titled album was released in March of 2011, so it’s not a new album, but it may be new to a lot of American listeners (myself included). Upon flipping through a few tracks on YouTube, I immediately fell in love with her music. After listening to the whole album, you really get a greater appreciation of Selah Sue’s musical tastes. She says she is a fan of many genres of music ranging from reggae to soul to hip hop to dubstep and electronic music as a whole. These influences play a major part in the musical landscape of this album.

    You can listen to this album over and over and you’ll still pick out new bits of pieces of the music that you had never noticed before. The opening track, “This World”, has the crackle of a record player laid down as a base throughout the nearly five minute track. This track is fairly slow paced, but it still has a great energy to it. Driving horns and pleading vocals make you tense your body when they come in on the track. You’ll find yourself swaying your whole body to this track. I was wondering to myself how this track evoked such a strong image in my mind of a smoky jazz club in what I imagine the 1950s would have looked like. Individual parts of the track (the horn section, the crackle of the record player, and her clear vocals) came together as seemingly unrelated parts to create a soundscape that’s very powerful. And, this is just the first track.

    The next track, “Piece of Mind”, has a great distorted vocal opening that’s sort of creepy, but draws you in at the same time. The verses are nice and slow and you want to nod along to them, but when the chorus comes in, you’ll be caught off guard in a good way. The chorus sounds like a rap double-time. It’s quick and catchy with a staccato delivery. The first time you hear the chorus, it’ll be like having an ice cube put down the back of your shirt. It’s shocking, honestly. You don’t think that you’d have a fast-paced chorus in a track that opens as slowly as “Piece of Mind” does, but once you know it’s coming, you start to feel that it blends in very well. It sounds really good toward the end of the track when the chorus is broken into smaller parts that are interspersed in the slower portions.

    “Explanations” delves into some of the darker aspects of human emotion. Negative emotions are things we all have and it’s not a bad thing. But, sometimes we just want to know why we’re feeling that way. This song goes through Selah Sue’s feelings about feeling negative emotions. One of the most striking lines in this song for me is “time of the month, so I’ll just blame it all on that”. I think that it’s a powerful line because so many people dismiss negative emotions as hormonal rushes, especially with women. But, she goes on to tell us about how that wasn’t the issue, but rather that she doesn’t know what’s going on with her emotions. We all want closure with things like this, but honestly, as she points out, sometimes there aren’t any clear answers and we all just have to ride it out. It’s frustrating, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

    Another amazing track on this album is “Please feat. Cee-Lo Green”. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a major name to be featured on this album. But, what happens on this track with these two amazing vocalists is magic, plain and simple magic. If you want a soulful track, you don’t need to do any searching. This track has so much soul. The pleading, almost mournful, vocal styles of Cee-Lo and Selah on this track are so moving. This track is about not being content with yourself and wanting more. I think that the two vocalists provide a superb combination. Cee-Lo’s deep tones (very much different from his vocal style in his hit single “Fuck You”) give the track a depth that the album needs. But, the second you hear Selah and Cee-Lo sing in unison, you’ll get chills. The harmony there is nothing short of magnificent.

    “Just Because I Do”, the final track on the regular release version of the album, shows off some of Selah Sue’s electronic influence. The music of this track has a slightly distorted synth line throughout, which is played over a simple piano/keyboard melody that also plays with a basic drum pattern and a touch of twangy bass here and there. The song is another one of her slower pieces, but it’s not as hard-hitting as “This World”. The vocals in this track are very laid back. They’re almost like a spoken word piece (like a beat poem), but she takes this style and drifts into and out of the soulful R&B vocals she shows off earlier in the album.

    Selah Sue really shows off her versatility in her debut album. She covers all sorts of emotional topics (acceptance, self-esteem, our relationships with our mothers, etc…). There’s definitely a musical theme throughout most of the album that’s a blend of reggae, soul, and R&B, but there are definitely hints of her other influences that peek through in places you wouldn’t expect them to be heard. Being influenced by reggae, she does touch upon the negative aspects of modern living, but she doesn’t delve into what can be seen as traditional elements of reggae music that’s influenced by the Rastafarian faith like believing in Jah or wanting to destroy Babylon. Her vocals remind me of a reggae adaptation of the voice of the lead singer of Asteroids Galaxy Tour (an amazing acid jazz/psychedelic pop band from Denmark). Her range is massive, being able to give us the dark and smoky jazz voice while also being able to belt out higher pitched R&B notes.

    Selah Sue is someone that has to be heard to be believed. This review can’t do her justice because she’s just so much different from what I have heard in the past. After listening to her music and watching some of her interviews, I think I can safely say that I am hopelessly in love with her and her music.

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Whenever, If Ever Review

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by Vasilis, contributing writer

Imagine a peaceful lake on a serene summer afternoon: The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, the ducks are swimming, the flowers are blooming, creating a picture perfect image. All of a sudden, a giant rock comes crashing into the lake, throwing everything off and disturbing the picturesque nature. That is the effect Whenever, If Ever, the debut album from emo revival band The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (who I will now refer to as The World Is) has on its audience. It’s a blaring attack on our senses, with quiet atmospheric intros escalating into loud, cathartic chorusesthat create a lasting impression in the listener’s mind, be it on first listen or days later. The sound is reminiscent of emo legends like American Football and Cap’ N Jazz yet still feels fresh and new.

Seeing The World Is perform live is one of the strangest setups you will ever experience. The Connecticut-based band’s line-up features six steady members along with a trumpeter, a cellist, multiple synth players, and dueling vocals, all of which adds to their unfettered sound. The album kicks off with the powerful instrumental opener “blank #9”, which builds with a pristine arrangement of strings surrounding the single, clean guitar. The “second wave” emo sound emerges in “Heartbeat in The Brain”, with twinkling guitars and pulsing drums. The band addresses leaving a familiar hometown; Whenever you find home, if everyone belongs there, feeling our bodies breaking down, just trying to find a way out to a city so big that it is bound to keep your secrets.” The vocals are shrill and uncomfortable, which fits the track’s angst-riddled mood but may take some getting used to for new listeners. The chorus features those same whiney vocals backing up harsher screams that builds in a wild, emotional cacophony.

Where this album succeeds best are the breathy, atmospheric tones that suck the audience in. While “Fightboat” is a solid, short punchy track with mathy elements, more distorted guitars, and a well-utilized trumpet in the intro, it’s the fourth track, “Picture of a Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay,” that sees the group realize its full potential. The slowed pace allows the story the lyrics are painting room to breathe and the listener time to appreciate it. The guitars and drums and methodical but never feel stale and when the rumbling drums come in and the song accelerates, it packs that much more of a punch. The lyrics lament, We watch the fallen leaves turn to frozen trees, it’s been another year. Where do the echoes from the echoes go? Where does the water flow when it leaves our homes. I’ve been searching for this, something that I can run away with. It’s a life changing decision. Should I leave or try to beat this?” Once the song picks up, the lyrics really hit that emotional sweet spot. “You Will Never Go To Space” carries on where the previous track ended, opening on a moody intro that builds to a wild, synth-fueled closing before stopping so abruptly the listener barely has time to adjust before the next track kicks in.

The album offers no apologies for its crassness and little middle ground in terms of its style and format. Most tracks are either shorter than 2:30 or longer than 4:00, but the group’s diversity and control over their unique sound helps it succeed. “The Layers of Skin We Drag Around” clocks in at only 1:33 which fits the song’s punk-fueled bass lines and crunchy distorted guitars. The lyrics address the fear of growing older and losing youth, as the singer howls “We’re still scared but we’re also patient. I am still a mess. We connect in separate places.” The unease grows in “Ultimate Steve”, another slow track that builds into an agonizing avalanche while the lyrics worry, “The world will destroy me. Our voices will flood rivers and valleys. The world will destroy me. I am the mountains crumbling.”

The acoustic guitar heavy “Gig Life” and the choir-like vocals and twinkling piano in “Low Life Assembly” mount a memorable 1-2 punch leading into one of the better album closers of the year, the incredible “Getting Sodas”, which clocks in at seven minutes. The song takes every element the group has utilized throughout the first nine songs, from the powerful atmospheric overtones, the relatable, heart-wrenching lyrics, the twinkling guitars, the steady drumming, and the changing tempos and combines it into one stellar song. The song represents the poignant release the band has been building to from the album’s first note, combining the unease and uncertainty of life into a beautiful, poetic narrative that provides the listener closure; “We are ghosts in your homes. We travel under the floor, and when our voices fail us we will find new ways to sing. When our bodies fail we’ll find joy in the peace that it brings. The world is a beautiful place but we have to make it that way. Whenever you find home we’ll make it more than just a shelter. And if everyone belongs there it will hold us all together. If you’re afraid to die, then so am I.”

The music industry is a vast, thriving entity that is bustling with bands looking to make a name for themselves. In that world exists The World Is, a group that’s just looking to dive into this giant ecosystem and make a splash. With any luck, their strange personality and unique style will be just the thing that gets people to take notice. While perfect beauty is nice, it’s the chaos and unease that often creates the most lasting memory, and Whenever, If Ever is nothing if not brilliantly tumultuous, heavy and raw. It’s these qualities that make The World Is a sight to behold.

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Once I Was an Eagle Review

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by Cherie, contributing writer and editor

Much has been made over the course of her career about the fact that Laura Marling seems to project wisdom beyond her years. She may only be twenty-three years old but with the release of her fourth studio album, Once I Was an Eagle, Marling once again proves that she is a force to be reckoned with. Her latest album explores the concepts of love, innocence, and naivete, but it a more profound way then any of her contemporaries. The album is broken up into two distinct acts, separated by the hauntingly beautiful “Interlude.” “Interlude” is a brilliantly executed instrumental track that serves to break up the darkness of the first half of the album from the more optimistic second half.

The first track of the album, “Take the Night Off” is not a stand alone track; rather it is the first song in a medley. It starts out simple, just Marling and an acoustic guitar but builds in volume and passion with other instruments adding to the rising sound. Marling debuted and perfected the four tracks that make up the medley during her live sets, so starting the medley off with just an acoustic guitar was a natural choice. The individual tracks that make up the medley (“Take the Night Off”, “I Was an Eagle”, “You Know”, and “Breathe”) vary in tone, tempo, and lyrical content, but the basic melody runs through all four, helping to seamlessly transition from one song to another. The medley makes up the first sixteen minutes of the album, but Marling executes the concept with ease creating four distinct songs that could stand alone but flow together with ease.

Not only does Marling write her own music, but she performs it live as well. Nor is she content to play simple chord progressions and melodies. Little Love Caster opens up with a stunning Spanish guitar solo that showcases Marling’s ever growing talent. Throughout the course of the album various instruments come and go, with only the guitar and Marling’s vocals acting as a constant. At times the other instruments appear to disappear completely, leaving the listener alone with Marling and her guitar. Its an intimate sound and these are the moments when the album truly shines. Her vocals, which were distinct enough to get her signed to a record label at the age of seventeen, have only improved over time. Perhaps its her recent move to LA but Marling seems to have adopted a husky, disaffected drawl at times which is at odds with her distinctly British background. Its not hard to see why so many critics are calling Once I Was an Eagle a musical masterpiece. I look forward to hearing what else the talented Marling comes up with next.

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Red Light Juliet (EP) Review

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by Ryan, Contributing Writer

    The man behind the words is named Josh Eppard. He’s also the drummer of Coheed and Cambria, founding (and former) member of the band 3, former member of Fire Deuce, and former member of Terrible Things. Needless to say, Josh Eppard is a multi-talented musician. However, he’s also lived a rough life. At least, that’s what we (the people who don’t know him personally) can take away from his songs. Red Light Juliet is an EP with eight tracks that follows the release of his second album (Sick Kids) in 2011.

    This EP is similar to his other work on Friends and Nervous Breakdowns and Sick Kids. However, this set of songs is a lot more introspective than his other songs. Before, he would rap about the music industry and horrible things he had seen growing up, but now he focuses on himself. I think this is a great shift. We don’t get as much political content, but we get to understand what goes on in his head a little more. These tracks peer into his life with a sharp focus on his substance abuse issues (one of the reasons he left Coheed and Cambria before re-joining).

    On this EP, we hear a lot of cautionary tales about drug use. With lines like “So if you must, always use a rubber with a junkie chick/Do I need to explain why needles and mad dicks/Make for a bad mix, you’ll be making so many trips/You’ll be on a first name basis at the free clinics” (10 Smack Commandments). The title of the song alone tells you that these are things that are going to happen if you start using heroin, living on the street, and generally not doing well for yourself. In the intro, he even addresses a young audience and lays it out clearly that this is what’s going to happen. He’s lived through drug addiction and abuse, so it’s good to see him using his music to help keep kids off the needle.

    On the track “Evil Genius”, Eppard raps about the girl that got away. We all have someone like this in our lives. Something happens and they leave your life, but when you look back at the relationship, you can now say that you want the best for them. It’s a great track. The backing-track sounds like a slower acoustic Coheed track like “The Light and the Glass” (off of In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3). His vocals aren’t as rough, emphatic, or angry as his other tracks. Instead, he opts for a softer, more conversational tone. He wants to talk to this girl. He’s not angry. He just wants her to be happy wherever she is now. It’s a good track to listen to if you want to dredge up those weird feelings you have for that kind of person from your past. I recommend listening to it during the day. Preferably, a sunny day. If you listen to this at night, or if it’s raining, you’ll probably dwell on how they’re not in your life anymore. No bueno.

    The only issue I have with this EP is that it’s eight tracks long, but two of the tracks are instrumentals. I can understand throwing in those tracks to add some depth to the EP, and we all have to remember that it is branded and sold as an EP, so we can’t expect too much. But, on the other hand, this set of tracks makes me want more. I can’t wait for his next album to come out.

    Musically, this EP isn’t like your average rap album/EP. But, that’s because Josh Eppard isn’t your average rapper. There aren’t any synths, dance tracks, or too much bass. He has stories to tell. When you throw these tracks on, you should be sitting down and taking it all in. Go for a long drive, play his songs, and listen to the words. Honestly, his music probably won’t have a wide reach because it’s not necessarily catchy, but he’s finely tuned his abilities as a wordsmith and it shows, not only in his older music but also this EP. I thoroughly enjoyed this EP. It was a little taster of what’s to come and a look into the life of the man behind the words. He’s still got hilarious punchlines and stories to tell. Definitely check this one out. (But, if you’re new to Weerd Science, check out his other work first. I recommend listening to Friends and Nervous Breakdowns and then Sick Kids before diving into this EP so you can see how he’s grown and progressed.)

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