Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Four Bands to Know From 2013 SXSW

By Jackie Connor
Contributor

The 2013 South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival is like the Sundance Film Festival for breakout bands and infectious jams. Just like film aficionados flock to the snow city of Park City in late January to preview a showcase of independent films, music fanatics hit the streets of downtown Austin, Texas, to experience six nights of musical performances by artists from around the globe. Dubbed as the live music capital of the world, Austin has featured legendary alumni including the Black Keys, the Beastie Boys, Andrew Bird, Fiona Apple, the Killers and Ben Folds Five. If you couldn’t make it to Austin, or weren’t able to listen live, we have you covered as far as who the biggest names are that hit stages, roused crowds and left a lasting 2013 SXSW impression.

Nearly 1,300 bands of every musical genre rocked out in Austin. The following bands are worth noting if they’re not already starred on your playlist.

Haim

Hailing from Los Angeles, this trio of sisters first hit the airwaves in early 2012. Haim has supported Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons and Florence and the Machine, and debuted at SXSW last year. Haim has established itself as more than your average girl band, with promise and harmonies influenced by ’60s bands and classic rock. Haim’s EP Forever featured its appropriately titled single of the same name, a California tune that rings with a “catchy rhythm and upbeat pop sensibility,” as described by StereoGum.com.

Local Natives

Local Natives, formed in LA, has delicate harmonies and dreamlike melodies. The band released its second album, Hummingbird, which served as its sophomore album following its 2010 “delightfully harmonic indie-rock” debut called Gorilla Manor, according to MNDaily.com. Local Natives aren’t SXSW newbies, and it continues to be electric while performing on stage during this year’s festival. ConsequenceOfSound.net pegs Hummingbird‘s “You and I” as “a hardworking indie collective full of catatonic emotion.”

Atlas Genius

Australian indie band Atlas Genius got their big break when music blog Neon Gold featured their song “Trojans.” The group is comprised of brothers Keith (vocalist, guitarist) and Michael Jeffrey (drummer) and their English comrade Darren Sell (keyboardist). The musicians built a studio and covered songs, and in early 2012 they signed with Warner Bros. Records. Their album When It Was Now was just recently released. Since showcasing their indie rock vibes during the hyped-up Austin music fest, Atlas Genius surely has an exciting future on stage.

Alt-J

Although the UK band doesn’t label themselves as fitting into a particular genre of music, they can be described as an entanglement of folk, pop, indie rock and rock bass interwoven with hip-hop beats and electronic synths. Interview lauds the quartet for its heartbreakingly intimate lyrics, peppered with film and literary references. Alt-J released “Buffalo” as a track for the Oscar-nominated film Silver Linings Playbook.

Front page image from thetimes.co.uk, images 3, and 5 from sxsw.com. Image 4 from usatoday.com.
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Blatant Insubordination: The Secret to Taylor Swift’s Success

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Taylor Swift got a lot of publicity at the Grammys the other night for supposedly dissing her newest ex, Harry Styles. As everybody knows, Harry Styles is….*checks Wikipedia*…one of those One Direction guys, and obviously (double checks HollywoodLife.com) a British dude, as Swift so cleverly alluded to by abruptly switching to a British accent during her performance of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

Now, she’s apparently dedicating an entire music video to the guy, as she’s made a point to dress like him for an upcoming music video. I admittedly haven’t heard the song. But it’s a safe bet that it’s about heartbreak, a woman scorned, etc. That’s always the safe bet, isn’t it?

To me, the frustrating thing about Taylor Swift is that the male species as a whole could put an end to her once and for all. We have that power. But we won’t, because we just can’t get our act together. If we could just send out a mass email to everyone in the male organization saying: “Listen everybody, just don’t date Taylor Swift. She’s given our company a LOT of bad press over the last several years, and frankly we’re worried it’s starting to add up. But the good news is we can solve the problem, so long as nobody dates her. C’mon guys, we can do this. We just need to have a little self control. I mean, it can’t be THAT hard…can it?”

But alas, we have no self control. Idiots like Harry Styles, John Mayer, Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhaal, Connor Kennedy, and everybody else who’s been on the cover of US Weekly with her in the last half decade are going to keep ruining it for the rest of us. And why….?

Because Taylor Swift is cute. Not hot, per se. But cute. She’s the musical equivalent of a puppy that keeps peeing on the carpet. We’re mad at her, sure. But we can’t get that mad, because she’s too damn cute. She has amazing girl next door appeal, and tends to sport a vintage-inspired look that makes her almost irresistible somehow.

And so it is that men as a species will continue to feed the adorable beast, because we just can’t help ourselves. Even though anybody who dates John Mayer at this point is literally shooting themselves in the foot. I’m looking at you Katy Perry. He’s got you right where he wants you…

Front page image from fanpop.com. Image 1 from cambio.com. Image 2 from justjaredjr.com.
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A Legacy Continues – A Review of How to Destroy Angels: An Omen

ARTIST: How To Destroy Angels
ALBUM TITLE:
An Omen
RECORD LABEL:
Columbia Records
RELEASED:
November 13, 2012

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

If you would have told me in the past how often projects involving Trent Reznor would be released within the last few years, I would have thrown out my back laughing.

It’s hard to believe that I used to be frothing at the mouth in the late ’90s and mid ’00s to FINALLY get a new Nine Inch Nails record. It seems after 2007′s Year Zero, Trent has been a nonstop working machine. This is a very good thing, as I have been more than satisfied by the sounds found on his late NIN work, his soundtrack contributions and How to Destroy Angels.

Anyone who cares knows by now that Reznor has stepped back a bit concerning this band. His wife, Mariqueen Maandig and long time partner Atticus Ross are a huge part of the project, the former being the lead vocalist. However, another familiar face joins the adventure this time around; Rob Sheridan is now a part of the band. With their combined forces, How to Destroy Angels unleashes both their second release and EP, An Omen!

One of the criticisms of their first self titled EP is that while there was a distinct difference when compared to how NIN sounded overall, one would find little argument with someone labeling How to Destroy Angels NIN with a female vocalist. However, I have to agree with Eric’s review of the self titled EP that hearing more NIN-like material wasn’t necessarily a raw deal (I otherwise basically agreed with the review). Whether or not you liked or disliked the NIN familiarity of the last release, the fact that yet another NIN contributor joining the fray does make me wonder if An Omen is going to sound even more like NIN than the last release.

I suppose my conclusion to that line of thought is that while I did feel How to Destroy Angels did a better job of sounding more unique, there are still plenty of times that you can easily hear Trent on the record. I mean that literally as well, seeing how he performs prominent back up vocals throughout this outing. Again, the NIN familiarity doesn’t exactly hold back any enjoyment of this EP, but it’s a fact that is impossible to ignore.

As for how An Omen stands on its own, the EP definitely dives very deep into more electronic roots, leaving behind the more industrial elements found on the self titled release. Out of the six tracks, only one of them (“Ice Age”) feels more organic, but the plus side to that angle is hearing Mariqueen’s exquisite vocals. It’s obvious that she feels more comfortable on this release overall, but it especially shows on that section of the EP.

Something else I also appreciate is how simple each track sounds, but upon after each listen, I also notice a lot of the attention to detail. I think the reason for that is that some tracks will be featured on an upcoming album, and anyone familiar with Trent knows how meticulous and hardcore he gets when trying to make a song sound juuuuust right. But hey, for me, that type of approach has always produced positive results, even if I had to wait five years for another NIN record, or nearly a year between soundtrack compositions. More power to How to Destroy Angels for sticking to that gameplan.

Any fans of instrumental work involving Reznor will absolutely love “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.” Every second that passes the track becomes more interesting, involved and just a fun (but spooky) ride. I have to admit that I am more of a sucker for this type of Reznor material, but I will stand by my opinion when I say that it is the best part of An Omen.

Long story short, this EP does a better job separating itself from NIN in general, but anyone who has been keeping up with Trent Reznor for a number of years is still going to hear a familiar sound, as I mentioned above. However, I think this will become less of an issue over time, especially since An Omen makes it seem as though the band is growing into its own monster.

I feel a bit bad for Trent and everyone else involved with How to Destroy Angels. NIN has such a huge legacy, it’s downright impossible for any writer to not bring it up while discussing this band. Even here, I have been trying my hardest bring up NIN as few times as possible. But I have failed so spectacularly that I am sure on the off chance Trent sees this review, he might find a way to smack me upside the head across the internet!

Despite all that, being compared to NIN isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially if you have the unfair advantage of being Trent Reznor in a different project. When you break it all down, An Omen is an excellent listen worthy of your attention. Just like the self titled EP, I once again find myself looking forward to the future of How to Destroy Angels.

RATING: 9/10

Front page and interior photos from facebook.com/howtodestroyangels.
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Parkway Drive: Atlas – Music Review

ARTIST: Parkway Drive
ALBUM TITLE:
Atlas
RECORD LABEL: Epitaph Records
RELEASED:
October 30, 2012

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

There’s a saying, about how if you’re going to steal to make sure that you steal from the best, and I’ve felt for a long time that it applies to Parkway Drive very, very well. It’s not that they’re a bad band, and I don’t find them to be entirely derivative, but I’ve never really felt that their sound was entirely original either. But the Australian band is really good at what they do, which is write slightly above average modern metalcore songs. In other terms, songs with lots of Swedish death metal leads, breakdowns, spoken word bits between growled/shouted vocals, and squealies (aka pinch harmonics).

Each of their first three albums have found the band improving their songwriting and playing ever so slightly, and Atlas continues the trend, except they’ve incorporated some new tricks into their arsenal. There’s some emphasis on atmosphere through synths — and in a couple of instances, female backing vocals — on a number of songs that gives those numbers a much more mature air than the surrounding tracks. Songs like “The River,” “Sleight of Hand,” and the title song are where everything jells in a way that none of their past songs ever did. There’s so much focus on making the keyboards sound natural within the band’s sound that I really wish that they would have experimented more with that, because they are the most promising songs of the bunch. Compared to the rest of the album, it’s these three songs, and perhaps a couple others to a lesser extent, that show Parkway Drive really coming into their own, rather than just playing by the rules already set forth and perfected by countless others.

Interestingly enough, it’s the times that the band doesn’t play to genre stereotypes that jar the flow of the album the most. There are points during Atlas where you would think they’d be heading left, figuratively speaking, but they end up making a hard right. A perfect example of this is the broken flow between intro track “Sparks” and first true song “Old Ghosts/New Regrets.” The way the album opens with “Sparks” is completely squandered, as it almost sounds as though it is leading into a bigger, more explosive payoff, but there isn’t. It’s just all this buildup and then an awkward cut, and then the next song starts. The way the album flows gives it a somewhat incomplete feel, as though some of their better ideas only were fleshed out on a sparse few songs rather than the full album. Another oddity occurs in “The Slow Surrender,” where vocalist Winston McCall’s raspy vocals are sampled and scratched, the way a DJ would scratch on a turntable. It’s off-putting and just doesn’t fit into an otherwise excellent song.

Other songs just sound like more modern takes on what they’ve already pretty much mastered. “Dream Run” and “Swing” sound like the lovechild of As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage. While not bad songs in their own right, they don’t really do much to show the band’s growth. On the upside, I do appreciate PWD’s dedication to their sound. It isn’t a big deal in the bigger picture, but I love the fact that they don’t once give in to the overbearing need to fill every song with a catchy, cleanly sung melodic chorus, so it’s evident that they’re paying attention to what they don’t need to do in their songs to keep things interesting. Also, Winston McCall is probably one of the best vocalists in this style of music that I’ve heard in quite some time, and his delivery on Atlas is varied, energetic and full of heart, to say the least.

Parkway Drive isn’t a bad band, and Atlas isn’t a bad record, but they don’t really do anything to advance the metalcore genre in any way whatsoever, but that’s okay. It seems like the past couple years have seen a steady drop in bands attempting this style, which is probably a good thing, as thinning the herd will definitely promote some bands to rise to the top, and hopefully that means that some fresh ideas will come that way as well.

RATING: 6.5/10

Front page image/interior photo from substreammusicpress.com, interior photo from theaureview.com.

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Influence Without Imitation – A Nachtmystium: Silencing Machine Review

ARTIST: Nachtmystium
ALBUM TITLE: Silencing Machine
RECORD LABEL: Century Media records
RELEASED: July 31, 2012

By Justin Polak
Co-Founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

It’s easy  to dismiss Nachtmystium as a form of black metal instead of recognizing they are merely using the genre as its foundation. Well, at least that’s how people should look at it according to the band’s founder, Blake Judd. I certainly agree with him, and I think the band is better off for going with that sound and attitude. Ever since Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1, Nachtmystium has been a fun band to follow. Well, as “fun” as anything remotely related to black metal can get!

Their last album Addicts: Black Meddle, Part II left me a bit confused with the direction it took; as I predicted near the end of that review, the album eventually grew on me. While I expected the next album to have “part III” somewhere in the title, instead we get the latest release, Silencing Machine. The Nine Inch Nails fan in me immediately recognizes the album title, the track “And I Control You” and the dissonant sounds layered throughout the album as a nod to The Downward Spiral. As a huge fan of NIN, that gets points in my book. However, merely nodding towards one of my favorite bands isn’t enough for me to convince me that an album is good.

I will say that while there certainly is influence from The Downward Spiral, Silencing Machine doesn’t sound remotely like it, aside from the distorted sounds as I mentioned above. This is a good thing. I have no problem with one band taking influence from another, as long as they do something unique with that influence. Using Silencing Machine as an example, if Nachtmystium suddenly sounded like Nine Inch Nails Jr., it would have a chance of sounding good, but the copycat nature would have been too distracting. They merely took the spirit of what they were drawing from and created their own version of it. Granted, Nachtmystium was never in danger of sounding like NIN before, but this isn’t the first time the band as claimed influence.  Apparently, Assassins was inspired by the Pink Floyd album Meddle, and Nachtmysitum’s “One of These Nights” sounded like a darker version of “One of These Days…” Cool, but in the end I was reminded of a specific Pink Floyd song, when I should have just been recognizing the Pink Floyd influence.

Silencing Machine takes what made the last two albums work and mesh it together successfully for the most part. There’s a few parts where the general sludginess gets a bit too thick for my tastes, but nothing ever came across to me as a deal breaker. I also loved the way the album flowed as well. For example, The slower tempo tracks hit just as hard as the high energy ones. Basically, Nachtmystium attempts to cover all angles without getting lost in the shuffle, and pulls it off without a problem.

My favorite track is “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams,” which I feel truly shows how far the band has come. While in the last album the melodic moments were pleasing, they left me a bit disoriented (for the first few listens). Here Nachtmystium comes off far more naturally whether you look at the song from an individual standpoint or as a piece of the album. “The Lepers of Destitution” comes across that way as well, and as an added bonus, it’s the closest the band has ever come to the genius of the “Seasick” songs at the end of “Assassins.” Much like those tracks, it feels like the music transforms into its own entity and is leading itself, like any song that reaches high marks.

Overall, while I still cite Assassins as my favorite Nachtmystium album, Silencing Machine came awfully close to dethroning it for me. The only thing it performs better than Assassins for me is the pacing. This may sound contradicting considering how I am still holding on to Assassins as my favorite, but I can’t deny that Silencing Machine is easier to listen from start to finish because of how well it flows. If Nachtmystium keeps this up, while avoiding slight missteps like Addicts, we might yet get the true magnum opus I’ve been waiting for since 2008.

RATING: 8/10

Front page image from topnewstoday.org. Image 1 from theageofmetal.com. Image 2 from dontcountonitreviews.blogspot.com. 

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The Contortionist: Intrinsic – Music Review

ARTIST: The Contortionist
ALBUM TITLE: Intrinsic
RECORD LABEL: Good Fight/eOne Music
RELEASED: July 17, 2012

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

It’s time for another music review of mine based around progressive rock! Could you imagine? I almost never listen to or write about progressive rock!

All joking aside, although I haven’t had any previous listening experience with The Contortionist, I have to say that I never heard anyone fuse prog and deathcore together before.  That’s the case with the band’s second full length album, Intrinsic, at least. I’m always up for combining various flavors in my entertainment, but does the combo make a good mix?

When The Contortionist aligns themselves to full on progressive metal, my ears perk up to full attention. Wild, flowing guitars make you feel like you are floating in some sort of impossibly-sized void. The drums are as subtly jazz-influenced as ever while the vocals cradle the listener peacefully. I’m that type of person that can never get tired of just hearing a band straight up jam, and this album provides that wonderful experience many times throughout its duration. If you give Intrinsic a casual listen, you might get a been there/done that feel, but the more the album goes on, the easier it is to spot the The Contortionist’s uniqueness.

However, I am not too fond of deathcore in general. Don’t get me wrong, I like and regularly listen to “heavier” music, but I can never get behind heavier music that gets a little too random (in most cases) with vocals that seem to bark at me. When The Contortionist applies the proper balance between the deathcore and prog influences, I can actually get into it. It’s just when they veer far into that territory I find myself tuning it out. I like the idea of blending these two genres together — even if most of the album doesn’t go in a deathcore route for most of it — but the fusion just isn’t for me when it is at its most intense. At first, it’s fine because it’s something different for the progressive style of music, but the longer it goes on, the more grating and annoying it becomes.

Just because I personally may not care for a certain aspect of music doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it’s value, though. Those of you who are into any form of deathcore will love it when The Contortionist throws down. Even though the transitions in and out of the style is sudden, I can’t deny that there is a natural order to it, like it was meant to be there in the first place. Switching gears like that without seeming like another part of a song suddenly collided with another is no easy task, so I do appreciate the technical prowess behind it.  Hell, not even some of my favorite fusion bands can pull off something like that!

However, even if I was into the more heavier parts of Intrinsic, I would still feel that the middle of the album drags a bit. Most of its midsection came off as filler rather than going on a journey, which is how I felt otherwise. The weird thing is that when he music got more chaotic during this part, I found more enjoyment out of it. I could see that The Contortionist was trying to slowly build up that album to that point into a glorious explosion, but I think the problem was they they ramped up the speed and intensity a bit too fast. It’s kind of like having a dramatic climax thirty minutes before you see the end credits in an action movie. It just feels off.

Other than that, Intrinsic is a solid album. “Holomovement,” “Feedback Loop,” “Anatomy Anomalies”  and “Cortical” definitely make the highlight reel here. Overall, any progressive rock fan should find some level of enjoyment out of this addition in The Contortionist’s discography. The deathcore elements my derail some listeners’ experience as it did with me, but it’s not a dealbreaker whatsoever. From what I ave learned about the band while reading up on them prior to writing this review, it seems to me that any fans of older material would still dig The Contortionist.

In the end, the result of the mix didn’t always taste great, but The Contortionist’s unique blend is something I would be willing to try again.

RATING: 7/10

Front page image, interior photo from heavyblogisheavy.com.

 

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Hellyeah: Band of Brothers – Music Review

ARTIST: Hellyeah
ALBUM TITLE:
Band of Brothers
RECORD LABEL:
Eleven Seven Music
RELEASED:
July 17, 2012

By Eric Stuckart
Creator, Destroyer

While Hellyeah is still not quite there yet, this is much closer to what I’ve been envisioning for the band for years now. Two years ago, Hellyeah’s sophomore release, Stampede, hit my ears and left me feeling cold. Considering the band’s pedigree, including members of Pantera, Mudvayne, Nothingface — three bands that comprised a great chunk of my daily listening during my teenage years — not to mention Damageplan, it felt like the band was yet to really hit its stride. And I feel like Band of Brothers is finally showing the band starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t from a songwriting standpoint. It took two albums for them to do that, but who’s really keeping score here?

My biggest problem with Hellyeah’s last two albums was that they seemed like they were trying too hard to live up to the band’s name, which brings a much more southern vibe to mind than that of a hard-hitting supergroup formed from members of metal bands that were at their biggest at the turn of the millennium. Perhaps it’s my own selfishness, but when I first heard that former Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul was teaming up with half of Mudvayne, all I wanted to hear was songs that sounded like Pantera with Mudvayne’s Chad Gray going apeshit all over it, and after patiently waiting nearly half a decade, they’ve finally done it — to a point.

Maybe the band leaving the safety net of a major label has a little bit to do with them being more willing to let loose this time around, because even songs like “Drink, Drank, Drunk” sound more like anthems to start a riot in the pit rather than the weaksauce outlaw odes that the last two albums offered up, and they had a lot of them.

It’s funny, because before actually hearing this album, I had all but written the group off as another “shoulda, woulda, coulda” supergroup that failed to live up to the expectations; a band that didn’t equal the sum of its parts. But Band of Brothers finds Hellyeah focusing on the many different influences that the individual members have brought to the project for the best. From the more chaotic Mudvayne touches of “Bigger God” to the more pensive, almost balladic flourishes that Nothingface’s later albums had found in the mellower “Between You and Nowhere,” the music actually feels like the sum of its parts. Combine that with a production style that really brings to mind Pantera’s style (a crisp, clear sound comes from Vinnie’s drumkit throughout, plenty of fadeouts at the end of songs — a Pantera staple), and you’ve got a rather solid album from start to finish.

I don’t know if my lacking expectations have slightly tainted my opinion of Band of Brothers for the best or not. The band is still sorely lacking in the lyrics department, and their whole general image — the band name, the cowboy hats, and the machismo — is still kind of off-putting. But I’m really liking the musical direction that the band have taken this time around. I always felt like they were playing it too safe with their last two albums, trying to hard to cater to an approach that made sense given their name but didn’t really add up given the creative output that each of the members have been responsible over the years. The whole outlaw sound only works to a certain extent, and if the band doesn’t really sound convincing as outlaws, especially when their own respective bands played it much looser and more dangerously, then what’s the point?

Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Hellyeah’s music will ever outshine anything that Pantera laid to tape, but this is the closest that we’ll ever get to the level of ferocity and intensity that the Texans had achieved back in their heyday, and that’s something that drummer Vinnie Paul can be proud of, I’m sure. Unless, of course, the band miraculously puts their past behind them and finds a suitable guitarist to fill the bigger than Texas shoes that late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel left behind. But, with Band of Brothers I get the impression that Hellyeah is consciously trying to remind listeners us why they’re even here in the first place, and you’ve got to give credit where it’s due.

RATING: 7.5/10

Front page image/interior photo from facebook.com/hellyeahband.

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Periphery: Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal – Music Review

ARTIST: Periphery
ALBUM TITLE: Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
RECORD LABEL: Sumerian Records
RELEASED: July 3, 2012

By Justin Polak
Co-founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom

While I didn’t have the greatest things to say about Periphery’s self titled album, there were aspects of it that I enjoyed — after all I’m dealing with progressive metal, here. I know I was in the minority, as I wasn’t blown away by the band’s debut. I suppose you could sum up my review of their self titled album as, “It was alright, but I recognize that this band has a lot of room to grow.” Two years later Periphery brings forth the charmingly titled Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal, showing that the band has retained their sense of humor. Will the band’s sophomore effort win me over this time?

First, I have never dug vocals that switch from screaming to clean in the style Periphery tends to use, but my tolerance of it has gone up since two years ago. Also, I feel that Spencer Sotelo’s vocals are a hell of a lot better this time around. The band relies on “chugga-chugging” the guitar a little too much, but there is more variety in the guitar work as a whole. The percussion side of Periphery still fascinates me in a uniquely satisfying way as it did last time around.

The band seems to have so much more fun with PII, and it has vastly improved my listening experience. Songs are far more epic and energetic, there is far more emphasis on adventurous guitars and each track flows much better into the next. One of the other issues I took with the self titled album was that the tracks felt isolated from each other, which caused me to fade out at times during the first couple of listens. While the album is more fun, some of the more haunting hooks make nearly every song stand tall on its own.

PII is one of those albums you put on and start to smile uncontrollably because you know you are in for a pleasurable listen. “Muramasa,” the album’s simple, but effective opener, did just that for me. I’m not saying Periphery is among my favorite progressive metal acts. But not even said favorite bands of that genre have provoked that kind of response from me in a long time.

While Periphery enlisted the help of such talent as Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci and Wes Hauch for some exquisite guitar solos, the band’s own solos have improved vastly over the self titled. I am sure you have guessed by now that was another issue I had with the first album! In fact, while I certainly acknowledge that the first album was progressive metal, I felt like it barley went into that zone. The guitars in general, a long with the way they lead or intertwine with each track does a much better job representing the genre.

This is especially true for the more chaotic tracks which even venture forth to a Between the Buried and Me type style, but not quite as reckless (and I mean that in a good way). Yet again, I feel the necessity to point out that when Periphery leaned towards a harder edge with their self titled, it didn’t sound nearly as well produced. This time I was able to latch on to speedy, fast paced, face melting music that somehow seems organized within all the madness — just like it should be!

There is no typically long, epic track as there was two years ago (“Racecar” was one of the only things I fully enjoyed off the self-titled), but with tracks like “Scarlet,” “Luck as a Constant,” “Erised,” “Froggin’ Bullfish,” “Mile Zero” and “Masamune,” there is no need to have that obligatory prog staple within PII. Quieter, transnational moments like the track “Epoch” also do a fine job carrying this album to pure audio ecstasy.

Needless to say, I have enjoyed PII a hell of a lot more than the self titled. Even if you disagreed with me and thought the self titled album was one of the best progressive metal albums in years, I still think you’ll be uplifted and blown away at just how much better Periphery sounds with their second album. While I still obviously stand behind my opinion of their first effort, I actually feel bad for saying negative things about it since I found so much enjoyment out of PII.

Overall, this is an album worth a listen no matter where you stand with Periphery or have never even heard of them. This is especially so if you like progressive metal, but are looking for something that doesn’t have constant 10 minute plus tracks on the album (that never bothers me, but I understand those who it does). It’s amazing what a couple of years can do for a band sometimes.

RATING: 8.5/10

Front page image/interior photo 2 courtesy of Sumerian Records. Image 1 from heavyworlds.com.

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Linkin Park: Living Things – Music Review

ARTIST: Linkin Park
ALBUM TITLE:
Living Things
RECORD LABEL:
Warner Bros. Records
RELEASED:
June 26, 2012

By Chris Kromphardt
Staff Writer, Justice Administrator

There’s nothing particularly memorable about Linkin Park’s new album, which after 2010’s polarizing A Thousand Suns is a marked disappointment. The band had a chance to push boundaries and continue to redefine their distinctive “hybrid theory,” and while Living Things is not a bad effort, it’s also not an interesting one.

This site saw a reaction to my largely positive review of Suns that was, in a word, jaw-dropping. Apparently there exists quite a gulf between people who consider themselves longtime LP fans, with one side feeling betrayed by the band’s experimental nature on display and the other — myself included — impressed by their willingness to explore what the band’s capable of.

Unfortunately for fans like me, there is very little of that same willingness on display in Living Things. On Suns, the band varied their vocal approach; while one might argue that they’d always used this approach, pointing to their two-singer modus operandi, they pushed that envelope even further, with Chester Bennington using his beautiful singing voice on songs like “Iridescent” in a way fans, familiar with older songs like “My December,” always knew he could. On top of that, the album interspersed audio clips of speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mario Savio among the songs, further developing the somewhat abstract theme of revolution.

One consistency for Linkin Park in all of its work, especially this new album, is its instrumental variety. Whereas Suns transcended this idea by employing vocals-as-instrument in a brand new way, Living Things does it in earnest with impressive beats backing nearly every one of its songs. The band has always known how to catch a listener’s ear instantly, and on several songs they do it in a way that increasingly utilizes electronic music. In this respect the band truly pushes its self-stylized hybrid approach to crafting songs. Additionally, “Powerless” joins the band’s impressive pantheon of album-closers, including “Pushing Me Away,” “Numb,” and “The Little Things Give You Away,” that shows that the band — Sun’s excruciatingly melodramatic “The Messenger” notwithstanding — can still shut it down in style.

The album suffers where Suns mostly succeeded though, and that’s in the vocals. Bennington and emcee Mike Shinoda feature on nearly all of the songs here, but they don’t quite capture the seamless fusion of their unique styles as they have to perfection before on, say, Minutes to Midnight’s “Bleed It Out”; rather, one singer or the other seems unnecessarily foisted into some songs, notably the first single “Burn It Down,” a real banger fronted by Bennington until, oh there’s Mike rapping all of a sudden, completely sapping the song of its entire pumped-up mood. Similarly, “Victimized” is this album’s “Wretches and Kings,” with Bennington’s mindlessly petulant howling an all-too-painful reminder of the band’s nü-metal beginnings — and excesses — that for whatever reason it refuses to abandon.

All in all, Linkin Park has done too good of a job winning me back with songs like “Numb/Encore” off the Jay-Z mash-up album Collision Course and albums like Minutes and Suns that showcase a band truly interested in pushing themselves musically. But Living Things is just, well, boring. Even at 37 minutes, a return to the economical form of Hybrid Theory and Meteora, Living Things feels too long. But I’m still interested in what the next iteration of the hybrid theory the band will come up with next time around.

RATING: 5/10

Photos by James Minchin, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records.

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Beach House: Bloom – Music Review

ARTIST: Beach House
ALBUM TITLE: Bloom
RECORD LABLE: Sub Pop
RELEASED: May 15, 2012

By Daniel Morrell
Contributor

Bloom is the highly anticipated fourth studio by the Baltimore based dream pop duo Beach House. Amidst the success of their previous release, Teen Dream, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally dish out another entrancing and delightful collection that cements their position a top the neon 80’s revival. Producer Chris Coady (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, TV on the Radio) who also produced Teen Dream returns again, to help generate an album that refines the lofty, atmospheric, and ethereal elements that Beach House’s listeners adore. In every way this feels like the sequel to Teen Dream, it’s a safe bet but a step forward nonetheless.

From the opening track, and first single, “Myth” to the last, “Irene” you will fall under a spell of cozy ambience that certainly makes you feel like “It’s a strange paradise” as Legrand says in the closing track. Combinations of rich, mysterious keyboards and synths, with smooth, effectively placed guitar parts, and Legrand’s woeful, elegant vocals along with the looping tendencies of the band create a world unique to itself that will make you “still want to stay.” This album is very addicting, so beware; you might lose the rest of your day before you realize it.

There aren’t many specific parts that will wow you with elevated musicianship, but that is not the intention of Bloom. A first time listener might overlook this album and consider it to be a bore until they delve deeper into its subtleties, where the true beauty lies. This is not considered a concept album but there is undoubtedly a message being told and the soundtrack to it is ideal.

In “Myth” Legrand says, “You came rolling down the cheek/You say just what you need/And in between/It’s never as it seems,” tells of a dismantled relationship full of “momentary bliss” and the “consequences of what you do to me.” She then philosophizes that “You can’t keep hangin’ on/To all that’s dead and gone,” The struggle of her lover’s indecision was surely the cause of despair as she tells us in “Wishes,” “The roses on the lawn/Won’t know what side you’re on/On that hill/Forever still.” Legrand’s tale of heartbreak continues in “Other People” where she expresses the difficulties of trying to hold a love together; “Help me keep us together/Right place at the wrong time/It takes all kinds of weather,” but in the end, “It was never quite enough.”

Overall, this is very well thought-out and constructed album. Each moment is aligned perfectly with music and lyrics. It pulls at your heart but gives you a smile at the same time. It is the perfect anthem for the ailing lover in the summer air.

RATING: 9.5/10

Front page image from gorillavsbear.net. Interior image from snapme.ca 

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