Category Archives: Album

Queens Of The Stone Age “Villains” Review

by Dillon Meehan

Josh Homme is one the world’s last modern rockstars. The lead singer and guitarist of “Queens of The Stone Age,” has spent his entire career carrying the mantle of hard rock, and on Villains, he continues to do his job.

QOTSA have never been one to have a traditional sound, with each album having its own unique twist. But on Villains, Homme decided to bring in Mark Ronson, of Bruno Mars and Amy Winehouse fame, to deliver an album which characteristically sounded entirely different, while also creating a new genre that somehow makes hard rock groovy.

Music today is focused far more on pop and hip-hop, and less on rock than ever. It has become popular to utter the phrase “rock is dead,” over the past decade or so. However, it would be a good idea to not utter that phrase around Homme, who told Rolling Stone that he left Interscope Records after “somebody way up” uttered those words to him.

Image result for queens of stone age
The band, Queens of Stone Age

Villains begins with a slow, near two minute build-up of synths and drums orchestrated by guitarist  Troy Van Leeuwen on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” before colliding head on with a thunderous riff and Homme’s vocals.

The opening track is a story of Homme’s early life in the California desert and his music career.

“Life is hard that’s why no one survives, I’m much older than I thought I’d be,” Homme declares, as he alludes to his death on an operating table seven years ago before being resuscitated.  “Future tense meets middle finger, we took the long way home,” Homme shouts as he continues to live his life in the moment, never bother to look ahead towards the future.

“The Way You Used to Do” appears second on the album and was the first single released on June 14th, the same day the band announced the new album.

“When I first met her she was seventeen, jumped like an arsonist to a perfect match, burned alive,” Homme says as he tells the story about how he met his wife, Brody Dalle, at Lollapalooza in 1997.

“Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream? Fine with either. Gave birth to monsters who will terrorize normalcy,” in the second verse Homme talks about his wife and their three children, Camile, Orrin and Wolf.

“Fortress” is the fourth song on the album and tells the story of Homme offering guidance to someone. While Homme or any other member of the band hasn’t confirmed it, it is likely about his daughter Camile. The album art for “Fortress” features a young girl wearing a black leather jacket, very similar to one the one Homme usually sports.

“If your fortress is under siege you can always run to me,” Homme declares near the end of the song, showing that he will always be there for his daughter, regardless of what happens.

The penultimate song on the album, “The Evil Has Landed” optimizes the traditional Queens sound and the albums new direction. The album’s second single opens up with a catchy riff and a prolonged intro, reminiscent of some of their biggest hits.

“Going on a living spree, any wanna come with me? You don’t wanna miss your chance, near life experience,” Homme starts the single in his traditional falsetto voice, it’s a clever choice to change the popular phrases killing spree and near-death experience. It echoes lyrics of 2011’s Smooth Sailing” off of …Like Clockwork.

It’s a six and a half minute epic which sees the final 90 seconds turned back on its head. “Here we come, get out of the way. Matters not, what the people say,” Homme shouts as he fires away on his guitar. Reminding fans that Homme is rock’s ultimate antihero and will never dabble into the mainstream.

Villains is QOTSA’s shortest, and probably most accessible album to less hardcore fans. It certainly isn’t as good as 2002’s Songs For The Deaf, but an argument can be made for it being the second best album the band has ever put out.

With pop music sounding more similar each day and artists continuing to rely on aspects go EDM, it’s refreshing to see a band push themselves in a new direction, while also not relying on the same tropes as everyone else.

 

“Death Of A Bachelor” Draws on Classics

by Christopher Marinelli

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Photo Credit: Flickr

Panic! At The Disco has reformed their sound with their new album, “Death Of A Bachelor,” as it creates a flair of refurbished sounds inspired by great artists such as Sinatra, Queen and Beyoncé.

Panic! At The Disco is the stage name for the one-man band of Brendon Urie, the sole composer of “Death Of A Bachelor.” Despite the young band’s fame and their lineup of members slow departure, Urie has tackled his own musical endeavors head-on and created an album of creativity and innovation.

Prior to the album being released, Urie cited its influences as both a mix of “Sinatra and Beyoncé” and “Sinatra and Queen.”

While Urie’s voice has developed a ballroom power that would suit the smallest pub or the greatest amphitheater, his voice does not capture the true essence of Sinatra’s live voice, profound with empathy and comfort.

Songs such as the title track, “Death of a Bachelor,” and the final track, “Impossible Year,” are direct nods toward Sinatra. “Impossible Year” trials at capturing the descriptive and poetic words of telling a story, but misses the true nature that comes in the brilliant songs of Sinatra.

With all criticism being said, it’s admirable for a musician to reach into their roots and bring the sounds of the great swing age back into a 21st century album, undoubtedly provoking more than a few alternative-rock and pop fans to go rummage through a record shop and start the journey of listening to a golden age of music.

Urie also owns up to the task of blending the theatrical rock of Queen and subtle storytelling of Sinatra. It’s easy to criticize “Death Of A Bachelor” only through the window of Sinatra’s career, despite that not being the goal of the album. “Death Of A Bachelor” kept its word, bringing the theatrics and ballads of Queen into songs such as “Crazy=Genius,” while boasting a noble horns section.

Urie also does what he has always done best in songs such as “Victorious,” the first song to hit Number One on the charts since their debut album’s song, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” “Victorious” has the power anthem feel of a sports arena and lyrics infatuated with competition and victory, such as, “Tonight we are victorious, champagne pouring over us,” and “skin as cool as Steve McQueen, let me be your killer king.”

“House Of Memories” nods towards Urie’s new marriage. The song captures the Queen feel with the traditional Urie power singing, boasting lyrics such as, “When your memories become your legacy, promise me a place in your house of memories,” followed by the roaring harmonies of a chorus of vowels.

Overall, “Death Of A Bachelor” is an album worth giving a listen to, and offers more than one track positions in your playlists for months in the future. While the album doesn’t share the timelessness that Sinatra or Queen can boast, it is one of innovation and a noble effort at carrying the torch of creativity forward to the next generation.

Album Review: “To Pimp A Butterfly”

N.A.S.

by Brian O’Neill

When “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick Lamar’s highly anticipated third album was released a week early, the music world was abuzz with reactions and reviews of the unexpected drop. Following up their 2012 critically acclaimed “Good Kid M.A.A.D City,” and Lamar’s long list of stellar features and singles since GKMC’s release, expectations couldn’t be much higher for this new LP.

From a production standpoint, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a world away from the heavily trap influenced sounds that have been ruling the airwaves in mainstream rap for the past year. Instead, the sound is deeply rooted in funk, soul and jazz throughout the album. Commissioning musicians like bassist Thundercat, The Isley Brothers and funk legend George Clinton, as well as producers such as Flying Lotus, Sounwave, and Pharrell Williams, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a combination of 70s and 80s funk and soul, 90s West Coast G-Funk, old school boom bap and jazz, but done with a distinctly modern sound.

Songs like “For Free? (Interlude)” sound more like free-form jazz than hip hop. Others like “King Kunta” show the soul inspiration, with background vocals and a bass line that would feel at home with James Brown tracks. The George Clinton feature on “Wesley’s Theory” gives the song a distinct funk element, and singer Bilal’s feature on “These Walls” does the same. “i” has a pop soul feel, was made with the help of the legendary Isley Brothers, and won 2 Grammys this year.

Lyrically, Kendrick is as sharp as ever, talking about his experiences with fame, race and class in America, as well as those issues on a national scale. The first two tracks “Wesley’s Theory” and “For Free? (Interlude)” both cover society’s expectations for a rapper, spending their money recklessly, and how ‘Uncle Sam’ enables excess, pimps the rapper to his benefit, and throws the rapper aside when the profits stop. Kendrick refuses to follow in those footsteps. The themes of temptations of the rap lifestyle and hip hop culture are touched upon on “Alright” and “For Sale? (Interlude),” as Lucy, or Lucifer, tempts them with promises of fame and fortune.

The songs “u” and “i” are about self-hate and love, with “u” talking about Lamar’s struggles with depression and his shortcomings; his voice cracking and on the verge of a breakdown throughout the second verse. The hook in “i” that says “I love myself!” explains the song’s message of being happy with who you are perfectly, and is in stark contrast to the hatred and anger Kendrick shows in “u.”

The self-love message of the song “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” is directed at the Black community, saying “Dark as the midnight hour or bright as the mornin’ sun/Give a f*ck about your complexion,” to relay that every color is beautiful.

Race and politics are talked about heavily through the album. In another of the album’s singles, “The Blacker the Berry”  Kendrick rhymes over a 90s boom bap inspired beat, aggressively addressing the self-hatred in the black community, as well as the racism from outside. The song “Hood Politics” compares congress and the government to street gangs saying, “Set trippin’ all around/Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans/Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?” Other songs like “Wesley’s Theory,” “Institutionalized” and “Blacker the Berry” talk about the impact of the Reagan Era on the inner-city poor communities, a topic that Lamar has discussed in all of his albums.

The album ends with “Mortal Man,” and has Lamar asking, “if the sh*t hits the fan will you still be a fan?” The song gives way to Lamar reading a poem, one that has been cut and dropped into the end and beginning of tracks throughout the entire album. The poem explains the message and themes of the album. Lamar ends the poem and a conversation with Tupac opens. Using an old interview with Tupac, Lamar cut and worked his own questions in. Even though Tupac’s words are over 20 years old, they are still relevant, as his remarks on the LA riots of 1992 can be related to the Ferguson riots of today.

“To Pimp a Butterfly” feels less like an album and more like a musical. Each song tells a story and builds off one another, and all tie together in the end. What this album lacks in radio hits and bangers, it makes up for with beautifully done production and storytelling. In a year already full of excellent releases in both hip hop and music in general, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is one of the best albums, not just of 2015, but of the past decade.

Album Review: Taylor Swift 1989

by Kiley Krzyzek

Taylor Swift shakes off her cowboy boots and fully embraces her pop star persona in her new album “1989”.

Numbers are very significant to Swift, 1989 isn’t random, it’s the year she was born and it’s symbolic of the 80’s music influence in her songs. Unsurprising to fans, there are 13 songs on the album, Swift’s lucky number is 13, she used to paint it on her hand for performances. Apparently it’s working, because the album is rising to the top of the iTunes charts after being finally released on Monday.

“Welcome to New York” is an upbeat song you could definitely dance to. It’s definitely inspired by Swift moving to New York. It also has a message of acceptance in relationships: “You can want who you want, boys and boys, and girls and girls.”

“Blank Space” is a track that is clearly influenced by her friend Lorde who rose to fame with Royals. Underneath the layered vocals is a message about starting a new relationship and all the preconceived notions of how it will end. The blank space is presumably her single relationship status. “You look like my next mistake” she sings.

“Style” has a more jazzy tone and is about when you see other people but can’t get that one person off your mind. It talks about what fashion but more importantly that the two of them make a good pair.

“I Wish You Would” is about letting someone go and regretting it. “I wish you were right here”

Swift calls out her haters in the single “Shake it Off” which led to much anticipation for the album.

Fall asleep to “Wildest Dreams”, not because it’s boring but it’s so relaxing it’s the kind of song you can just relax to. “say you’ll see me again even if it’s just in your wildest dreams,”

“1989” is definitely worth a download, with the songs all so catchy and different as Swift belts in “Welcome to New York”: “It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat forever”.

Foo Fighters Fight On

by Dillon Meehan

Following the suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, the band’s drummer, Dave Grohl, started a solo project in Seattle dubbed the Foo Fighters. Twenty years, seven albums and eleven Grammy awards later, Grohl’s solo project has turned into this generation’s greatest rock act.

On Nov. 10, the Foo Fighters released their eighth studio album aptly titled Sonic Highways. Grohl, the band’s lead singer, songwriter and guitarist came up with the idea to record the album in eight different studios across eight different cities: Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and Washington D.C.

A crew from HBO followed the band on its trip across the country to create a docu-series titled Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways. “This is a love letter to the history of American music,” said Grohl. Grohl interviewed the city’s local musicians and used their statements for lyrics in the album.

The idea was ambitious, however ambition does not always translate to success. The band first traveled to Chicago, the blues capital of the country, to team up with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and release their first single “Something From Nothing.” The song tells the story of blues guitar legend, Buddy Guy, using buttons on strings to make guitars. The song is set in traditional Foo Fighters form, with slow verses with a fast and heavy chorus.

The band then traveled to D.C.: the home of the 80’s punk-rock movement, to record “The Feast and the Famine,” a high-octane rocker that sounds as though it belongs in the Foo Fighters’ previous album, Wasting Light.

Eagle’s guitarist Joe Walsh is featured in the song “Outside.” The song was recorded in an old house-turned studio in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The episode featured Pat Smear, the band’s rhythm guitarist, describing the LA music scene and how teenagers would head out to the desert to party and perform.

However, the album as a whole falls short. Aside from the first couple of songs, the guests are nothing more than backing musicians. Because of this the songs simply can’t hit their mark.

Zac Brown’s voice and guitar goes unnoticed in “Congregation,” and New Orleans’ own Preservation Hall Jazz Band sound is abandoned after the beginning of “In the Clear.”

Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. is featured on “What Did I Do? / God as My Witness” the double song is an attempt to make a bombastic record, but it simply misses its mark, like the majority of the songs.

Sonic Highways is ambitious enough to generate hype and build a TV show around. However, the songs are almost all structured the same way, using the same slow then fast style that has made the Foo Fighters so great. While on its own this isn’t a knock against the album or the band, the album simple falls short of what is was hyped up to be.