All posts by Matthew Balogh

Linkin Park Returns with a New Single

Image result for linkin park heavy

by Matt Balogh

At the forefront of the nu metal scene in the early 2000s, Linkin Park has grown to find a fan base of millions. By combining a large sound of heavy metal influence and hip hop elements of rapping style vocals, and DJ-led turntable scratching. This created a distinct sound for them, allowing their debut album Hybrid Theory to sell over 30 million copies worldwide.

Being a favorite of nu metal and hip hop fans alike, Hybrid Theory became a base for many nu metal bands to follow. Their singles “In The End” and “One Step Closer” had seen large rotation on rock stations, and continue to be staples in their live performances to this day.

Over the years, the band has put out 6 albums more, each to a sloping response by their long time fans. Fans have criticized their change in style, as it keeps inching towards a pop style. While not completely ditching their nu metal taste, their albums have featured more much lighter feeling songs, and less and less edge on their sound. Starting with songs like “Shadow of The Day”, and really everything on Minutes to Midnight, they have brought softer songs, and really a total departure to a pop rock-ish style.

In the case for their newest track “Heavy,” it seems as though they have completely converted themselves to a pop sound, ditching anything “rock” that the band had previously been known for. If the song suggests anything of the new album, this leaves anticipation of a rock-less, polished electronic pop album. The instrumentation is minimalist, and sounds almost completely computer generated, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Their downfalls, however, lie in the structure and lyrics of the song.

With not much going on in the background, the song seems to rely on the inclusion of the up-and-coming pop singer Kiiara. The singer does not bring much to save the song, and it resembles a pop duet in the vein of The Chainsmoker’s “Closer,” which exemplified the recurring motif of modern pop music: basic and seemingly uninteresting track that is attempted to be revived by new singer that is just as uninteresting. Kiiara’s vocal addition took the majority of the singing role after her awkward introduction in the chorus. Shifting energy very rarely throughout the track, the quickness of its length makes the song go from A to B, and feels like nothing had even happened.

The lyrics are really uninspired, just linking overused lines like “can’t escape the gravity,” “I’m holding on,” and the repetitive “why is everything so heavy,” which is ironic considering the nature of the song. The chorus had potential to save the verses from their simplicity, but is stuck to the repetition of the “why is everything so heavy” line.

For fans of the band, they have some real bad news coming to them. Hopefully the entire album won’t be following this style, as it lacks the feeling that Linkin Park had always packed. Although a change of style isn’t terrible, this song unfortunately doesn’t even work well as a pop song, and certainly works as only filler. Linkin Park has had a history of success and creativity, so it’s hard to blame them for experimentation. The song could possibly find the interest of die hard fans, or maybe fans of modern pop music.

Relient K’s Truly Madly Deeply EP

by Matt Balogh

Starting in 1998, Relient K made their way through the Christian Punk scene, eventually finding their audience. With a contract signed to indie Christian label, Gotee Records, Relient K released their self-titled debut to little initial reaction, but eventually went on to sell 400,000 copies. The band’s sound had used humor and references to pop culture to combine with a catchy pop-punk sound, making them the perfect subject for an era that pop-punk dominated.

A year later, the band’s next album “Anatomy of Tongue and Cheek,” had charted them on the Billboard 200, debuting at number 158. Songs like “Pressing On” and “Sadie Hawkin’s Dance” had brought them more popularity, and the album eventually was certified gold. Throughout another full length and a handful of EPs later, Relient K had managed not to lose their playful wit and pop-punk charm that listeners loved.

In 2004, Relient K met with mainstream success, as they signed to Capitol Records to release their album “Mmhmm,” heavily driven by their hit single “Be My Escape.” The album peaked at number 15 on the Billboard 200, and furthered their success even more. This album worked as a platform for experimentation, when compared to their previous releases. While maintaining a pop-punk element, “Mmhmm” introduces sounds of alternative rock, post-hardcore and even soft rock balled-style songs. After “Mmhmm,” the band had released 6 albums, including a Christmas compilation.

Lyrically, their songs discuss various topics, however, they do incorporate Christian faith into their lyrics. Over the years, the religious references have seldom appeared, but still are a consistent feature of their music. Since their stylistic experimentation in “Mmhmm,” their lyrics have been a little more serious than their cheerful and humorous songs in the past.

In 2017, Relient K had released their new EP in time for Valentine’s Day, titled “Truly Madly Deeply.” Despite the title, there are no covers of Savage Garden, but rather a 3 song EP of all originals.

Leading off the EP “Candy Hearts,” is a return to the pop-punk sound that the band had so perfectly perfected. The song makes for an excellent introduction of the very short EP, working as a “carpe diem” style story, offering love to an unknown recipient.

The song has very straightforward structure, but is very energetic as a modern love song. Showing their versatility, the next track “Happy Valentimes” is a rockabilly style song, featuring a shuffling beat that pumps out a catchy backbone to the song. “Happy Valentimes” is a lot less complex lyrically, as it follows a linear love story and squeezes in some essential ‘Lalalas.’ The final track, “BMI Valentine” has a style similar to folk-rock, complete with an acoustic guitar backing. This song is a fairly depressing close to an EP full of love, considering it is more of a hopeless romantic story. The song references to alcoholism, and being without a heart while looking for a valentine.

For what it’s worth, the EP is a nice little collection for a listen during this year’s Valentine’s Day. The length of it helps with the variation of song genres, making it flow better than they may have on a full length. Specifically, lead singer/guitarist Matt Thiessen’s lyrics have never dulled, and continue to influence feeling on the band’s fans.

59th Grammys Recap: A Year of Firsts

by Matt Balogh 

While Connecticut had a very snowy and hectic weekend, the biggest names in the music business were preparing themselves for the 59th Celebration of the Grammy Awards.

This year, the beloved James Corden had the honor of hosting, bringing his usual comedic elements featured heavily throughout his late-night show. During his introduction, Corden demonstrated his comedic style by falling down the stairs as the opening song progressed. In a shift of feeling, Corden began to rap a summary of upcoming events planned for the night, accompanied by a beat for his well-rehearsed itinerary rap.
The show was filled with many exciting moments, but also had its fair share of technical difficulties and political influenced speeches. Being a celebration of music, the show was jam-packed with performances from many artists, including some of the nominees.

After Adele’s show-opening rendition of “Hello,” many artists followed with their acts such as Daft Punk with The Weekend, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Chance the Rapper. Some performances were more minimalistic than others, such as Ed Sheeran’s stripped-down looper pedal performance of “Shape of You.”

Sheeran had used the guitar pedal technology to record live loops on the spot, and built them up as he sang and played guitar over the backing, making for a very interesting display. As for the more elaborate performances, the widely acclaimed artist Beyoncè had a massive display, paying tribute to themes such as motherhood, love and civil harmony. The act brought out over two dozen back up dancers, and featured special effects to bring a surreal element to the imagery of the routine.

The night also paid tribute to recently passed musical artists George Michael and Prince. Adele led the George Michael tribute with a performance of “Fastlove,” to which she had requested to restart while looking rather disappointed in herself. Later on, Bruno Mars had collaborated with The Times to bring an energetic dedication to Prince.

In a more political influence, A Tribe Called Quest took the stage with Anderson Paak, Consequence and Busta Rhymes to both pay tribute to their fallen member Phife Dawg, and to use their performance of their song “We The People” to slam President Donald Trump. In an excellent message of equality, they made the message clear to resist to “President Agent Orange.”

There were some interesting collaborations throughout the night, most notably the Bee Gees tribute and the unusual pairing of Lady Gaga with Metallica. In a medley of the Bee Gees’ classic hits, Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly and Little Big Town set the stage merging all their own styles, blending the segments fairly well. On the other hand, the chemistry with Lady Gaga and Metallica felt rather forced, and very odd. Their performance of Metallica’s new song “Moth Into Flame” made Gaga look like a winner of a “Sing with the band” contest, as it unraveled itself as more as a karaoke tribute. James Hetfield’s mic had not been working, adding to the uncomfortable environment of the situation, however, Gaga at least maintained very high energy to keep the song going, appropriately ending with a stage-dive at the song’s end.

The Awards themselves brought history, as there were many first-time winners and records set. One of the more interesting of the winners was Chance the Rapper, a fully independent artist that took home 3 awards last night. Considering Chance releases all his music for free, this meant that he had been awarded more Grammys than the total amount of songs he has sold.

Chance also beat out Kanye West for Rap Album of the Year with his mixtape “Coloring Book.” First time winners Twenty One Pilots had accepted their award for best Pop Duo in a peculiar fashion: with their pants off. Singer Tyler Joseph had explained to the audience that they had promised themselves that ever since they once watched the same event on TV while dressed in a similar outfit. David Bowie had certainly left his mark on the musical world, as he posthumously won all 5 awards that he had been nominated for. Many different artists and family members came up to accept his awards in his honor.

One of the most anticipated face-offs of the night went to Beyoncè and Adele. Both highly acclaimed artists, but went head to head on several awards. While being widely praised and essentially hyped up over everything she does, Beyoncè was expected to have a clean sweep through all of her 9 nominations. However, for both Record and Album of the year, Adele had claimed victory, but tearfully gave a shoutout to Beyoncè as she felt that her album had deserved it instead.

The night had been a very shocking and entertaining collection of artists, certainly made for an interesting event.

Less Than Jake, Sounding The Alarm in 2017

 

by Matt Balogh

Less Than Jake has been in the business for 25 years now, bringing fame to the sound that is Ska Punk.

In the mid to late 90s, bands like Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, Sublime and Less Than Jake have helped to popularize the third-wave of ska to a mass market. This following gained attention of major record to take interest, allowing Less Than Jake to get their big break on Capitol Records.

In 1996, Less Than Jake released their cult classic album Losing Streak, widely accepted as one of the best albums of the 90s punk and ska scene. From then on, they have put out six more full lengths, five compilation albums, and eight EPs.

Their sound was definitive in the start of the era, providing a mix of fast-paced punk music, with a switch of reggae and ska influenced riffs. This mixture was the base of many bands music at the time.

Throughout the years, the band had experimented with combinations of their signature style, and even straying to more pop-punk sounds, which was received with mixed reception from long-time fans.

More recently in 2013, Less Than Jake had released their eighth album See The Light, a strong effort that proved to both fans and critics that they have not lost their flair. The album consisted of 13 songs that flowed perfectly from track to track, being the opposite of a boring listen. Generating crowd favorite live tracks, and some of the catchiest music they have released to date, See The Light had introduced the band into the 2010s: a decade relatively dry in the vein of ska punk.

After four years without new music, the band had released Sound The Alarm on Feb 3, 2017. The new EP consists of seven songs, but each have strong hooks and melodies to really give the release its punch. While instrumentally similar to their albums See The Light, Anthem and Hello Rockview, the band has shown that they have not lost their style, but have evolved to a new layer of their energetic form.

To introduce the EP, the band ‘sounds the alarm’ with their opening track “Call To Arms,” that begins with a bass riff that ignites the song into a mosh-appropriate groove full of action. Showing their progression in stylistic changes, “Whatever the Weather” works as a slower paced jam, fit with a usual hook in the chorus that is lifted by the reggae upstrokes of the guitar, then transitioning into a full-fledged power chord jam. Similar in style, “Years of Living Dangerously” incorporates the ska elements along with an alternative rock sound and structure.

Overall, the band has not changed much, which could lead as both a blessing and a curse in this case. The EP also seems to go by fast, even at seven songs, which may have worked better in a full length situation. However, the EP allows for a nice refresher for long-time fans. It serves as a gateway to the band’s music through their new contract with Pure Noise Records, an indie label that is very popular among fans of indie rock and pop punk in the new scene.

Produced under the wing of Roger Lima, the band’s bassist, the EP marks one of his many projects in the production chair. Along with his production work, the album features Lima’s vocals on a large amount of the album, as opposed to their previous work, where guitarist Chris DeMakes usually covers more of the singing.

A pretty great effort for the 25 year old group, making fans happily anticipate any upcoming projects. I give the album an overall rating of 7/10.