Tag Archives: album review

Penny and Sparrow: Struggle Pretty

In January last year, I wrote a post about a band that I was completely blown away by on first listen. Penny and Sparrow is back with their second album as of Tuesday!

pennysparrowA good friend of mine introduced me to the Austin, Texas duo and on first listen, I had chill bumps. Second listen evoked tears. I knew I was hooked at that point. I’ve been listening to that album since. I follow them on Facebook and when I realized a new album was out two days ago, I bought it without a second thought. I’m just now getting  a chance to listen to it.

Serial Doubter really kicks the album off (after the intro track Jeffrey Alan) with familiar vocals deposited over increasingly dense instrumentation. The song has an easy-going tempo, but with drums that rock the hammock like a slow breeze.

Bread and Bleeding and Thunder really showcase the Mumford and Sons influence stylistically with the hyper guitars and trumpets or violins, respectively. The soothing vocals that you’re used to come in and somehow melt over the abnormally rapid instrumentation and create a totally new dynamic.

I am absolutely in love with Rattle. This was one of the first two songs the band released in the lead-up to the new album and I fell head over heels for this one. It sounds like the beautiful beginning to a thunderstorm – you know what I’m talking about, when everything gets really still and there’s just a bit of wind blowing but you know something more is on its way so you have a heavy feeling deep inside. I don’t want to rattle and I’ve got no plans to let myself be tossed away, but this muscle could never lift a thing without you anyway. This band writes such gorgeous lyrics that sometimes I’m left speechless. They’re some of the most beautiful lyrics being written in music right now.

Reeth is the song I’ve been waiting for this entire album thus far (and this is nine tracks in). This sounds like a direct upgrade of the sound from Tenboom and it’s absolutely stunning. The guitar is so delicate that it almost feels like a balancing act trying not to tip over onto the vocals. I found myself holding my breath to listen a little more intently two different times.

The album wraps up with the entirely a capella Fantine. It seems a strange choice for a last song, but the lyrics serve better with nothing to distract from their impact. They’re stark and serious and darker than I was anticipating. So before I go saying you make a bad lover, I think that I’ll let you kiss me. I can not in good conscience wear white. If I’m honest, my wedding dress needs to be black. I’ve seen too much skin in the souls that live in it, I fear I’m the bride you give back. you take and you give. You give and you take.

Penny and Sparrow are some seriously talented musicians. I have no idea why more of you aren’t listening to them. Stop everything and do it right now.

 

Key Tracks
Reeth (track 9)
Rattle (track 4)
Fantine (track 12)

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The 1975: The 1975

New release day is one of my favorite days of the week.  Is it just me, or are the albums you’re excited for all released on the same day – or at least in close vicinity to one another? Then you have a cluster of albums you can’t wait for and you can’t decide which one to listen to first. That was my morning on this Tuesday. I finally decided to have a go with The 1975’s debut album first and I was certainly not disappointed with my choice!

debutI told you guys on the last post that I was absolutely obsessed with a couple of songs from these dudes. One of my best friends sent me a track a few weeks ago and they’ve been on my constant rotate since. At that time, all Spotify was offering me was one EP – which, don’t get me wrong, was fantastic, but I needed so much more. Today, the alt rock  band from Manchester finally released their debut disc – with sixteen tracks!

The first song, The 1975, is a quiet lead-in – you’re interested, engaged, you’re in there. The band pulls you in and straps you to the roof of their vehicle right off in track 2 with The City, a song that I played on repeat from the EP. This jam is the perfect way to open up this album – it leans more to the indie rock side of the band and keeps things calm in case you still needed to get a feel for what you were listening to.

I still can’t get over what a good tune Chocolate is. If you haven’t listened to this song, please drop everything right now and get on board. It won’t get out of your head, but I swear it’ll be a fun ride.

I decided today that this band sounds like lace if it were crumbled up, melted down, and transformed into a sound. Talk! is the perfect explanation of that. Sometimes there are spaces that feel so airy and peaceful, like you’re drifting along a cloud, and then sometimes the chorus kicks in for denser parts that are the real meat of the sandwich. Sometimes there’s a scratchy feeling, but the overall composition is glorious.

Settle Down is one of my favorites on the album that really shows what this band is capable of reaching. There’s a fun, funky vibe to this song that monopolizes everything else going on in your life at the moment that this song is playing. If you don’t drop everything just to listen to this song, you’re lying. The lyrics are particularly captivating in this one: You’re losing your words, we’re speaking in bodies, avoiding me and talking about you. You’re losing your turn, I guess I’ll never learn, cause I stay another hour or two.

I was completely blown away by She Way Out. The guitar on this track gave me chills throughout and everything meshes together so well. If this song isn’t part of their live show, there’s a problem somewhere.

Pressure is rocking my world. This song almost feels like you’re hearing it from behind a curtain, but it’s so perfect with everything that’s going into the song and the lyrics are just minimalistic enough to not overpower the music or vice versa.

The album wraps up with Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You, an eerily soothing song with nothing but incredible vocals and a divine backing piano. This song is haunting in the most beautiful of ways. I know it’s me that’s supposed to love you, and when I’m home, you know I got you. Is there somebody who can watch you? Is there somebody who can love?

This album is wonderful. Hands down the best album I’ve listened to in a long time. And don’t forget, this is the band’s debut full length. I can’t wrap my mind around it. There is not a single song on this album that I want to skip over. The only down side to the album? I just found out the release from Target has five bonus tracks. Looks like I’ll be buying it a second time…

 

Key Tracks
Chocolate (track 4)
Settle Down (track 9)
Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You (track 16)

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Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience

Ladies and gentlemen, Justin Timberlake is back – and so am I.

It’s no secret that I’m an absolute sucker for some good pop music. I loved the boy bands and bubblegum pop of the 90s – and I still do, if we’re being really honest. Even though I was first and foremost a Backstreet fan, I enjoyed me some *NSYNC. When Justin Timberlake broke out and started doing solo records, I didn’t know whether I should be offended or excited (Lance Bass was always my favorite). Eventually, I gave in to the sweet chords of Cry Me a River. You know when the last JT record was out? I was a junior in high school. Now I’m nearly two years out of college. Thanks, JT. Thanks a lot.jt

The album starts out with the smooth crooning of Pusher Love Girl – a song I was initially very skeptical of when I saw it performed live in Jimmy Fallon (anyone else watch Timberweek?). Now that I’ve listened to the album, I am absolutely hooked on this song. Nothing is better than Justin’s sweet vocals slipping like caramel over a slow jazz-oriented beat. This song is liquid gold and you won’t be able to resist it.

I can’t seem to resist the sweet talking Strawberry Bubblegum. I know, I know. The song is titled Strawberry Bubblegum and there’s mention of blueberry lollipops and flavors and all. But Justin Timberlake is singing so beautifully and this song rocks almost like something you’d hear in the ballroom of a sea-themed party in the mid 70s. Something about it reminds me of waves and I would love if Justin wrote a song like this about me.

My favorite song off the album has to be Tunnel Vision. This song has more of a classic JT style to it. The music is pop tinted with some R&B/urban style courtesy of Timbaland. This song really just makes me want to dance.

A close second in the my favorite song on the album race has to be Let the Groove Get In. This song just doesn’t stop from the very first second all the way until the end, coming in at an impressive 7 minutes and 11 seconds. This one almost sounds like something to the likes of Senorita from JT’s first album – just updated to 2013 with an extra splash or two of funk.

When Justin first announced he was about to put out new music, I was ecstatic. When Suit & Tie came out, I was skeptical – it took forever for the song to grow on me. But when I heard Mirrors, I knew it was okay to be excited for the album again. If I had to pinpoint one song on this entire album that was quintessential Justin Timberlake, I would seat you right next to this song and bring you a candle for the table. This song has enough of a funky beat to keep your head nodding, but is slow enough to allow JT to do his thang. Most of the songs on this album are either really slow or really fast – this is such a happy medium that I want to give it a standing ovation.

The album wraps up in the slow variety with Blue Ocean Floor, a ballad with barely any instrumentation behind JT showing off his exceptional vocal chords. Make fun of him for the Ramen noodle hair all you want – this man can sing (and he can produce it live). This is a beautiful song, but if I hadn’t read that there was a Part 2 of this album coming, I wouldn’t like it for a wrap-up of the album.

Welcome back to the music scene, Mr. Timberlake! This is a great album – well worth the wait of seven years – and I can’t wait until he throws out Volume 2. Though the songs are on the incredibly long side (the shortest song clocks in at 4 minutes and 49 seconds), they keep my attention with the differentiation of tempos and beats. This is going to be on repeat for a long time.

 

Key Tracks
Mirrors (track 9)
Tunnel Vision (track 5)
Pusher Love Girl (track 1)

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The Monsters I’ve Met: Lights Out!

There’s really nothing I love more than opening up my email inbox and exploring all of the bands that I receive emails about. For someone who loves music as much as I do, it’s basically like Christmas every day. Today, I’m going to jump into an album from The Monsters I’ve Met, a metal/hardcore/electronica band who just released their first album, Lights Out!

Intro kicks the album off and sounds almost like the album is going to be instrumental – think Explosions in the Sky if they were dressed up as a dubstep impersonator. I wasn’t sure what was going on until the album launched into Sink or Swim in the most intriguing of ways. The song begins with the strange electronic sounds that carry over for continuity, but then blaring vocals invade your ear drums. Soon, the chorus kicks in and sounds like a pop-punk band you’d catch on a small stage at Warped. I wasn’t sure this band was anything out of the ordinary until I really got into this song. It’s really such a strange thing to mix electronic, screamo (is that what the kids are still calling it?), and smooth pop-punk. I know a lot of bands tried it when I was still heavy into this style of music, but none pulled it off quite like this.

The title song, Lights Out!, is where the money is. This was the first song I listened to when I was checking the band out and I was thoroughly impressed and entertained by this number. I don’t know which part I enjoy the most – actually listening to some great hardcore tunes or hearing the strange mix of electronica and hardcore and pop-punk.

When Friends Become Phobias not only has an awesome title, but has a different vibe, which is impressive for six tracks. This track is darker, less on the pop-punk side, more focused on the other two. This song almost has an old school hardcore feel to it with the intensity of the guitars and drums at some places.

Throwing you for a loop one last time on Every Word You Said, The Monsters I’ve Met approach this track in a more melodic and slowed down manner. I can’t decide if this song is off-putting in it’s severe difference or if it’s a brilliant change to wrap things up. I’ll get back to you on this.

The Monsters I’ve Met is comprised of four musicians that are former members of bands like A Beautiful Silence, Bury the Gods, and Famous Last Words. They formed in January of 2012 and hail from Michigan. You can check them out – and listen to their album for free – on Facebook here!

Key Tracks
Lights Out! (track 3)
Sink or Swim (track 2)

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Ellie Goulding: Halcyon

After watching the Vice Presidential debates, I need some good music to mellow me out before I settle down for sleep. I’ve enjoyed the tracks by Ellie Goulding that I’ve heard from the radio, but I’ve never taken the chance to sit down and listen to her music extensively. Sometimes I’m not sure what to make of this genre of music. It’s such a strange mix of things – pop, techno, dance – and it’s so popular right now. I also don’t know how to take the performances. Ellie performed last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and while I enjoyed the song, I was so confused. Tangent aside, we’re going to have a listen to her new album Halcyon.

Don’t Say A Word starts the album off slowly, swelling until Ellie’s perfectly shaken and stirred vocals start in with perfect symmetry. This song is the right song to start off an album by easing your audience into the pool. The song really takes flight by the end and I’m drawn in and excited for the rest of the album.

I love My Blood. What a beautiful track! The sing-song, back-and-forth notion of the piano and the vocals is just enough to move the song along and make you feel like you’re floating. This is one I’ll be coming back to.

Only You really brings Ellie’s voice to the foreground. I realized while listening intently to this one that her voice reminds me of a strange mix of Baby Spice and Macy Gray. Can you all hear that?

Lyrically, Figure 8 is a great track. Not to mention, there is a great drop of the bass – or beat? – in this song that left me on pins and needles. I chased your love around a figure eight, I need you more than I can take. You promise forever and a day, and then you take it all away. The music behind these lyrics swirls you around and almost leaves you feeling like you just got off a fair ride that takes you around and around in continuous circles. It’s brilliant.

Dead in the Water wraps up this album, leaving you alone as quietly as you were brought into this world of Halcyon. The track has the strange echoing effect as though you’re listening to this actually underwater. It’s a neat effect, especially with the dainty vocals that are present in this one. Ellie’s voice is wonderfully gruff in this song, really coming through strong.

I really enjoyed this album – a lot more than I expected. I enjoy the single Lights, but I never figured Ellie Goulding would pump out an album like this. Maybe I underestimated her and didn’t see her for what she really is before going into this. But the reality is this: she’s making music that doesn’t sound like every other pop track out there today. Between her seductive voice and the psychedelic beats that some of these songs offer, this album is a really fun listen. This is definitely going into my CD player in my car.

 

Key Tracks
Figure 8 (track 6)
My Blood (track 2)
Only You (track 4)

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Negative Earth Digs Deep Roots in the Universe of Electronic Rock

Right now, industrial techno music is all the rage. While you’re listening to the new acts or reliving some pioneers like Nine Inch Nails, there’s an up-and-coming artist you should be noticing. Negative Earth takes a modern twist to some industrial dark rock. Or, as Trev Kill likes to call it, electronic gravity rock.

“I think that most of today’s genres are a bit inane.  There are so many new classifications out there for music that it gets ridiculous.  I hate to categorize myself into a genre, but to attract the right listeners to my sound I need to label myself somehow. Electronic Gravity Rock is just a more interesting way to describe the sound as being of the Heavy Electronic Rock genre,” he says. “It was kind of a joke at first but it started to grow on me.”

Negative Earth is mostly made up from the efforts of Trev Kill, mixed with producers that he works with on the recordings. “When I began writing songs for Negative Earth, I was the only one to have any part in it.  I would show a few ideas to people from time to time and gain perspective from their opinion on different elements in my sound.  Until I made the move to work with my producer, I was the only one to write the music, lyrics and melodies.  Once my producer (Myron Wegner) and I started tracking the songs, he would start to infuse his vision on some parts that were weak or not yet written.  He was great to work with because he knew when to assist, and when to sit back.  If he did not contribute in the parts that he did, I feel the songs would not be as great as they are in their final state.”

Cut Implant Stitch is one of my favorite songs off of Negative Earth’s EP. There’s enough of an instrumental introduction to let you breathe in the song before Trev Kill’s vocals kick in like a sultry storm above the sea. The drums and guitar work in this song really kick things up a notch and show Negative Earth’s raw talent. Trev’s influences are bleeding through on this number – it has a very strong Trent Renzor vibe (with or without Nine Inch Nails backing him).

But his influences may shock you. While he gives an obvious nod to bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Tool, and Type O Negative, Trev says there were other artists who he grew up listening to. “Growing up I would mostly just listen and play whatever was around the house or whatever people were playing,” he says. “Some of the earliest stuff I remember feeling connected to when I was young were artists like Survivor, Johnny Cash, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. As I grew older and made music with other players, I then started to broaden my musical intake.”

Ear Seed, the song that Trev feels would best define Negative Earth, feels the most like something that would fit right in with some of the popular industrial-feeling tunes of today. The song is heavy on the beats, almost feeling like there’s a fog surrounding your ears, and the vocals don’t pop through as much as some other tracks. This lends itself to hearing more of the bass lines of the song – both bass guitar and the incessant drum beating. “The lyrical content creates a portal that leads directly into the battle grounds of my head.  Seems to be the thing that’s anchoring, and it’s the same thing itself that levitates me. This is what Negative Earth is.  An inner conflict that resides inside.”

Gloomy Sunday has a great backing rhythm to the harder sounds that take first approach. The song left me nodding along the entire way through, feeling a connection with the track.

“When I hear certain songs or sounds, I feel a vibration within.  I want to achieve this with other beings.  My lyrics may be abstract and distant from true definition, but since perception is diverse, one song can effect everyone differently,” Trev says.

Slither exhales so much strength that you almost feel transported into another dimension. The sounds to start off are so intriguing, it has you turning up the volume little by little to get closer to the beats. The next verse kicks in and comes out at you, making you almost feel like the music is acting out the song’s title. Between the beat of this song and the slow back and forth progression between verses in this song, this would be greatly suited for a film.

“At a young age I was introduced to music by my parents who both played in a band.  I remember having the most interest in drums.  I would steal my mother’s wooden spoons to beat on various objects until I learned a few simple beats to practice.  At the age of 15 I began to learn guitar from my father.  He and I would play old songs together that he would teach me. After playing in different bands with other local musicians, I acknowledged that the only way I could achieve my vision musically was to start a solo project. At the age of 25 I moved to a new city, began working with a producer and started tracking my songs in the studio. The whole recording process was much more than just creating structure with sound, it was a learning experience in producing my own music. This is when Negative Earth began and started to evolve.”

Looking ahead on the year, Negative Earth has some exciting things coming up. “A music video for the song Slither is in the final stages of being completed.  It was filmed in the middle of last winter and early this year.  I will not disclose too much information about it as of yet, but for updates on its release visit the official Negative Earth website.  As for other plans, there are a lot of new events surrounding Negative Earth with new information being posted on Twitter and Facebook.

If you want to connect with Negative Earth for more information or updates, you can do so on Twitter here and on Facebook here. To listen to tracks from the upcoming EP, visit the official website here.

Going back to the music with Trev Kill

What’s the top played song/album on your personal iTunes?

Songs that I would wear out if they were on cassette!

Man in the box – Alice in Chains
Bleed – Meshuggah
Angel – Massive Attack
Revenge (some get back) – Necro
Lateralus – Tool
Just So You Know – American Head Charge
Throat full of Glass – Combichrist
the Real Thing – Faith No More
Shake Hands with Beef – Primus
Selling Jesus – Skunk Anansie
Deception – Tesseract
Firestarter – the Prodigy

Too many to list to complete this question.

What’s the strangest thing on your personal iTunes or the thing your band mates would be surprised to see on there?

Oh wow.  Do I really have to admit to this?  I would honestly say that people might most be surprised to see material from artists like Prince, Michael Jackson, the Ohio Players, Spooky Ruben, and !!! (chk chk chk).

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Skrillex: Bangarang EP

My curiosity has finally gotten the best of me. Combined with repeatedly seeing it all over Tumblr and with one of my favorite people sending me a track via Spotify, I figured it was time to give in and just see what the fuss is all about with Skrillex (and I’ll try to limit my From First to Last commentary as I go through this, I promise).

I don’t normally listen to electronic music of any kind, so Right In was a shock to me. I’m not used to the severe lack of lyrics and choral breakdowns. Every time a voice started in this song, I felt myself longing for a verse or two of vocals. Despite the lack of singing, I did find myself rocking back and forth to the beat. Involuntary, but it happened.

Bangarang sounds like something that could be played during halftime or during commentary breaks at a basketball game.

Breakn A Sweat is the first song that I enjoy on the EP and I don’t know if I can express why I like it in words. The beats are good, there are some “breakdowns” that almost feel like choruses. I don’t understand this genre of music, and I’m not going to pretend to, but I’m confused as to why seemingly random tidbits of spoken word are incorporated into the beats every now and then. This song seems to have more than the other tracks and while some work with the song (like repeating the name), I’m left scratching my head with others.

Six songs in and I still don’t really understand what’s happening, but in the middle of Kyoto when someone goes “Yo, Skrill, drop it hard” I had to laugh. I’m assuming that’s Sirah since it’s telling me that this track features Sirah. Soon enough a full blown rap verse (and the only real lyrics on the EP) comes in for a friendly handshake and suddenly I think I’m listening to a hard rap album.

Summit wraps up the album with an appearance by Ellie Goulding, even though I’m not sure which vocals are hers and which belong to Sonny Moore because they’re so faint in the background. This is probably the best track on the album and quite frankly, the most tolerable.

I’m just going to go ahead and say it cause I can’t be the only one thinking it – Sonny Moore needs to go back to when his teen angst had a body count. This is an interesting listen – but nothing I would ever actively listen to.

Key Tracks
Summit (track 7)
Breakn’ a Sweat (track 3)

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