Darkness at the Liquor Store

On September 8th, 2017, The National released their 7th studio album Sleep Well Beast. It introduces a new sonic element different from previous albums. The album artwork is black, grey and blue, and the CD and vinyl are colored blue. These dark, cold colors reflect the mood of the album.

The National uses a variety of electronic drums and synthesizers. Even with more electronics, the passionate piano melodies, gritty guitar solos, and Matt Berninger’s baritone voice provide an unmistakable National sound.

In a recent interview with NME.com, band members Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, and Scott Devendorf discuss the album, drummer Bryan Devendorf couldn’t make it. Bryce Dessner says Sleep Well Beast is experimental and takes their sound in a positive new direction. Berninger explains that the songs on the albums are connected. He says, “the lyrics to a record are just the lyrics to a record. There’s not lyrics to this song or lyrics to that song…they are all in the same stew.”

Despite the interconnectedness of the lyrics, there is a tremendous amount of contrast from song to song. Songs 1,3,5, and 7 are relatively gloomy or sorrowful whereas songs 2,4,6, and 8 are more upbeat and bold. They do a tremendous job providing this contrast all the while keeping to similar themes of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and trying to find love. The last 4 songs add a somber note, rounding out the 12 track, hour long record.

Sleep Well Beast was produced primarily by Aaron Dessner, with help from Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger. 4 years after releasing Trouble Will Find Me, they had plenty of time to perfect the music. The high production quality allows the complexity and intricacies of the music to flow effortlessly.

They start the album talking about going home to be alone. The opening song, “Nobody Else Will Be There”, is Berninger pleading with a loved one asking, “can’t we just go home?”. In “Day I Die” he says, “I’d rather walk all the way home right now than to spend another second in the place… just come outside and leave with me.”

Berninger’s depression and anxiety are seen through the lyrics. He sings about over-thinking things and how that ruins his head. He says, “I’m no holiday”, “I can’t stand me”, and “nothing I do makes me feel different.”

The lyrics tell the story of a someone fighting for love. In “Born to Beg”, Berninger sings that he’d do anything for his love. He feels sorry for something he has done and is willing to take the blame. This theme continues in “Dark Side of the Gym” as he sings, “I’m gonna keep you in love with me.”

It’s not a National album without the mention of alcohol. Throughout the album, Berninger sings, “meet me in the stairwell… for a glass of gin”, “I get a little punchy with the vodka”, “I mix weed with wine”, “I’ve been hoping to drink”, and “I have helpless friendships and bad taste in liquids”. The lead singer is drunk almost every time they perform and frequently drinks on stage.

The album ends with the lyrics “I’ll still destroy you someday, sleep well beast.” Berninger is caught up in his sorrow but has come to grips with his situation. He has been through it all emotionally and can endure anything life throws at him.

The National started in 1999, releasing their first album in 2001. 16 years later they still have so much to offer the indie-rock scene. Sleep Well Beast is personal and honest. They incorporate new musical ideas and keep aspects of their classic sound. They show that rock isn’t easy nor safe. You’ve got to take chances and be bold. Most importantly, you have to be true to yourself. Sleep Well Beast shows that The National still has a couple punches left before they go down.

A Night In The Red Rocks

People do crazy things to see the bands they love. I have waited in the scorching heat and freezing cold. I have traveled across the country and around the globe. I have gone to incredible lengths just for a couple hours of live music.

I saw The Head and The Heart and Grouplove in August of this year. I highly-anticipated this show since I bought the tickets back in December of 2016. Not only was it 2 bands that I really liked, (and have seen both live before), but it was performed in what is often regarded as the best concert venue in the US: Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. This was the type of concert that I knew was going to be legendary from the moment it was announced.

For those who have never been to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, it’s truly a spectacle. Located 30 minutes outside of Denver, the venue is placed around a breathtaking landscape. Massive red rocks eject out of the green hills creating a visual masterpiece. Smashed in-between a couple of these rocks is a 10,000-person open-air theatre. Because it’s built on a hill, everyone in the venue can easily see the stage. The sound becomes amplified around the rocks creating natural acoustics which make the sounds feels like they’re coming down from heaven.

Artists and fans alike understand the reputation of the venue and act accordingly. The energy of the musicians and the crowd is unparalleled. It is common for bands to say, “It’s great to be back here at ______”. But when they’re at Red Rocks, they actually mean it.

Grouplove played first. I say played first instead of opened because both bands are good enough to headline. The indie rock band from Los Angeles could sell out the venue by themselves. The 2 bands have toured together before and are close friends. Grouplove never fails to entertain. The frontmen of the band and partners, Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi, dance around, feeding off each other’s energy for their hour-long set.

They played 14 songs including the more well-known “Itching on a Photograph,” “Tongue Tied”, and my personal favorites “Hippy Hill” and “Enlighten Me”. Their music is up-tempo, happy, and perfect for dancing along to. After seeing their enjoyment and pure love for what they do, it’s almost impossible not to have a good time.

The Head and The Heart is much more mellow but equally as entertaining. The Seattle Band’s indie folk sound relies heavily on 3 part harmonies from vocalists Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russel, and Charity Rose Theilen. They played a 15-song set list, a 4-song encore, and were on stage for 1 hour 45 minutes.

Both times I have seen them, they have ended with the familiar “Rivers and Roads”. The song off their self-titled debut album is what propelled the group into fame and is still a favorite among many fans. The final lyrics, “rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers till I reach you”, are repeated multiple times. Theilen starts as the lone vocalist. She messes around with the melody adding musical expression and variation not heard in the recording. The instruments and other vocalists slowly build as the entire crowd sings along.

These final lyrics provide hope for something not yet achieved. To desire something more is human. We may be searching for different things but we are all searching. For some it is that one person they can’t live without, some might be looking for success in their career, others just want to find live music. Whatever you’re looking for, go down every road and every river, til you find it.

The Freedom of Music

Concerts on the first day of school have a sentimental meaning for me. When I first started school at the U, I moved into the dorms on a Thursday. That night, I journeyed to Pioneer Park with a couple of classmates. Kid Cudi would perform in what was the most attended Twilight Concert to date.

I remember how incredible I felt that day. For the first time in my life, I experienced true freedom. Freedom to stay out as late as I want. Freedom to go to a rap concert singing songs about marijuana. Freedom to be me, whoever that was. I had no idea what lie ahead of me that year, yet I was ready to accept the consequences of my own decisions.

4 years later in 2017, on the first day of school, the day of the solar eclipse, I journeyed downtown again. This time the venue was a little smaller, the artist had a little less hype, but that same feeling persisted. Washed Out was playing with Dega at the Depot.

The Depot is one of my favorite venues is Utah. They sell tickets at the door on Fridays prior to the show, eliminating the always dreaded service fees. Security works quickly and effectively. The venue stays relatively cool and has appropriate seating for those who want to sit. The sound is not overbearing but clear. The doors opened at 7. Dega started playing at 8 and Washed Out at 9:30.

Dega set the stage for an awesome show. Their set up included various synthesizers, a couple of microphones, a guitar, bass, and a computer with drum backing tracks. Both musicians played a variety of the instruments and added vocals. They did what all openers should do, get the crowd excited for the show.

Washed Out, aka Ernest Greene, is on tour following his June release Mister Mellow, a psychedelic chillwave album that explores stonerism and the monotony of life. The entire album has a coordinated visual music video designed to create a psychedelic or trippy experience for the viewer.

Washed Out played several songs off of his latest release as well as some older crowd favorites. The entire show was set with timed light cues and different projections on a screen behind the musicians. Washed Out truly personified his sound. He danced around like a lazy stoner lost in the music. Greene’s enchanting vocals gave the impression of daydreaming. The crowd fell under his spell and swayed along for what could have been 30 minutes or 3 hours.

This concert meant more to me than just the music. It represented a new school year, a new opportunity. I’m not sure who I’ll be at the end of it and I’m not sure exactly how I’ll get there.  Although I am filled with uncertainty, here’s to one more year. Another year of concerts. Another year of school. A couple more late nights in the library and weekends downtown. A few more friends made and hopefully a couple less lost. Whatever happens, music will help me get through.

 

Love, Fame and Fortune: Everything Now by Arcade Fire

“I’m in the black again.” Everything Now by Arcade Fire starts with a familiar theme: darkness. Known for their depressing style, the Canadian indie-rock band once again produces a record that fails to be uplifting. Their fifth studio album, released July 28, 2017, provides a new and distinct sound from their previous work. Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk helped produce the album, which is part of the reason for the various upbeat songs and pop sound. The darkness quickly dissipates, transitioning into sounds of money and crowds.

We live in a society driven by consumerism. Numerous people live with the attitude “I need it, I want it, I can’t live without”. It’s easy to grasp the logical impossibility of having everything now, and Arcade Fire is thus critical of such attitude. “Every time you smile it’s a fake. Stop pretending you’ve got everything now,” Win Butler preaches. Much of what we buy won’t make us happier and is probably just useless shit.

The album grows darker and poppier simultaneously. Pop instrumentation is accompanied by lyrics about death. Arcade Fire has often explored existentialism and this album is no different. Despite the lure of fame and fortune, the “cool kids” have “no signs of life.” Boys and girls often “hate themselves” and “dream about dying all the time.” The desire to be popular is often so great that some would rather die than be “penniless and nameless.” By the fourth song we already see conflicting thoughts. Beginning with wanting everything now, Butler now says, “I don’t know what I want…[and] I don’t know if I want it.”

Fear of death is normal which is why so many want to live forever. Arcade Fire represents this through the boy from Neverland that stays young forever, Peter Pan. Butler sings, “we can live, I don’t feel like dying,” but is once again conflicted as he longs for life and love. The lyrics “I can’t live with so much love” tell us that love is the thing that is killing him.

The songs Infinite Content and Infinite_Content serve as an interlude and a divider for the album. These two songs are right in the middle and identical lyrically. However, the sound and tempo drastically change between the two. The first one is fast while the second is slow. This is also how the album is divided. The first half is up-tempo and energetic while the second half is slow and mellow.

Electric Blue, sung by Regine Chassagne, is about a girl in love. With social media and online dating so common, our first impression of someone is often through the electric blue glow of a computer screen. “Cover my eyes electric blue. Every single night I dream about you,” the girl says repeatedly.

Sometimes it seems that love is killing us when other times it is what saves us. Once again, we have conflicting ideas. Referencing earlier lyrics, Butler sings “put your favorite record on baby and fill the bathtub up. You want to say goodbye to your oldest friends.” Although maybe this time death is not the escape. Maybe there is a reason to stay alive. “Maybe there’s a good god, if he made you.” Love can keep someone alive when they feel that there is nothing else worth living for.

No relationship is perfect, and all will face tough times. “I’m never gonna let you go,” and “if you think I’m losing you, you must be crazy.” These are the cries of someone fighting for their love. Through the broken promises and the disapproving parents, “we will find a way to survive.”

“I’m driving home to you… [and] god knows where I’ve been. Officer please, don’t check my breath. That ain’t my only sin.” Not only is he driving drunk, he just committed adultery. The girl is waiting at home, but “maybe we don’t deserve love.” Relationships are not meant to last forever especially when you cheat on your partner. “We can just pretend we’ll make it home again, from everything now.” At the end of the day, we end up alone just trying to get home.

The album ends where it starts. The last song is the same as the first with an added second verse. Everything Now is meant to be played from start to finish and looped. This plays on the ideas of infinity and repetition that are seen throughout the album. Arcade Fire is often regarded as the greatest band to never have a hit song. Their individual songs are not as meaningful out of context from the entire work. If you are looking for a great song off this album you won’t find it. The songs build off of each other and are better when listened to in the order it was intended. The album is focused on love, fame, and fortune in the age of the internet. The use of pop says that they themselves are victims of the very things they are critical of. If nothing less, Everything Now tells a story and shows emotions, which is exactly what music is supposed to do.

Why I Go to Concerts: Beach Fossils at In the Venue

It’s seven thirty on a Saturday night. The doors to In the Venue were supposed to open thirty minutes ago. Instead, the line wraps around the corner and half way down the block. The heat is almost unbearable. The people in line squeeze together trying to hide under any shade they can find.

An hour passes. The heat has somewhat subsided as the sun begins to set, but everyone just wants to get inside. Ablebody begins to play. The sound echoes through the windows with hundreds of people still outside. I hear some voice their frustration saying they came just to see this band. The line slowly begins to move. By the time I get inside, they are wrapping up their set list and I hear only one song.

The second band, She-Devils, only has two members. Their performance struggles to captivate the attention of the audience. The instrumentation sounds disconnected from the vocals and the music unpracticed. Some listen silently while others converse.

The headliner of tonight’s show is Beach Fossils. The indie-pop band from Brooklyn, New York has experienced moderate success since their formation in 2009. They are currently on a world tour showcasing their June release, Somersault.

When Beach Fossils gets on stage, there are issues equalizing the music. Frustration sweeps over their faces as they converse with the engineer. “Can I get some more keyboard in this monitor?” “More guitar over here.” The lead singer, Dustin Payseur, leaves the stage to try and mend the situation.

After thirty minutes, everything sounds good and the band begins to play. The tired audience has little energy during the first couple songs. After a slow start, a couple people start to dance and their excitement radiates throughout the rest of the crowd. Within seconds the entire vibe changes. “I was wondering when you guys were gonna wake up”, Payseur asks.

I somehow find myself three rows from the stage with nothing to do but enjoy the show. For the next hour, I dissipate into the crowd. I am entranced by the music and the motion of those surrounding me. The outside world seems disconnected and my entire existence seems limited to the five hundred people under the same roof.

Many artists love playing in Utah solely for the passion of the audience. Utahans always show their appreciation for a good performance. Several concertgoers hopped on stage then surfed off into the crowd. While mosh pits may not be customary at indie-pop concerts, in Utah it is expected. When the enthusiasm of the crowd went up so did the band’s. They played a variety of fan favorites including Saint Ivy, Daydream, and This Year.

At the show, I was reminded why I go to concerts. Despite the heat, the long lines, and the problems with the tech, I genuinely enjoyed myself. For a short time, I was able to forget about everything outside of the venue’s walls. I didn’t have to worry about school, work, or the current state of our country. I could just listen to music and dance with my friends.