Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Love and self-discovery are common themes in Justin Vernon’s songs. Bon Iver’s music has the amazing ability to make the listener feel both calm and shaken at the same time. The beautiful sounds and often haunting lyrics and vocals give the sense that one is lost inside their own home, which is a feeling that the vast majority of people are able to relate to at some point in their lives.

22, A Million, Bon Iver’s first album in five years, takes a different approach to these concepts. With far less acoustic guitar and far more synthesizer, these new songs put a twist on Bon Iver’s usual sound. It reminds me a little of a more sad, introspective Kanye West, which may sound odd given that the two come from different genres and backgrounds. Music is just the interpretation of emotion, though, so it makes sense to me that the art could sound similar.

While 22, A Million is undoubtedly musically and creatively beautiful, I must admit that I do prefer Bon Iver’s older music. Though, when I listened to this new album for the first time, one song really stood out to me. When I heard “715 – CR∑∑KS,” the third track on the album, I was first captivated by the sound. It is similar to the last song, “Woods,” on the Blood Bank EP, but it is also incredibly unique. I then listened to it again to hear the lyrics and fell in love with the song. “Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds / But all I’m trying to do is get my feet out from the crease.” These lyrics in particular really struck me. Filled with a mixture of abandonment, longing, and futility, they penetrate all the way down into the depths of emotion and bring a variety of memories back up to the surface. These lyrics made me feel something very strong, which is what music should do.

Another song on 22, A Million that I find to be very interesting is the last track, “00000 Million.” This song off the new album sounds the most like Vernon’s older music, which I am very fond of. However, like with “715 – CR∑∑KS,” the thing I like most about it is the lyrics. Vernon repeats the phrase, “the days have no numbers,” which, in the context of the song, I interpret as “the days are all the same; there is nothing to distinguish one from the other.” Another lyric he repeats is, “if it’s harmed, it’s harmed me, it’ll harm, I’ll let it in.” This is particularly interesting, because Vernon is saying that though he knows this thing is bad for him, he won’t try to stop it. Both of these emotions are ones that hit very close to home for me and many others. Like so many of his other songs, this haunting track is able to make the listener calm while also feeling a swarm of strong emotions.

In all honesty, I am not too fond of any of the other songs on this new album. However, that does not mean that I think the album as a whole is anything less than a work of important and exquisite art. There is no denying 22, A Million’s beauty. Justin Vernon produced yet another stunning album that will resonate with and change the lives of many people.

Retrospective: Gang of Four

I remember the first time I heard the album Entertainment! by Gang of Four. The first thing that really hit me was the jaw dropping production. In a sea of reverb and echo ridden albums in Post-Punk, Entertainment was dry as a bone. Aggressive and fearless, Entertainment! rips through your comfort zone with trebly compressed guitar attacks, rolling bass lines, and sharp political diction. Within a month of hearing it, I owned the record and it quickly became one of my favorite documents of the Post Punk era.
On October 28, 2016, we have an incredible opportunity. Gang of Four will be gracing Salt Lake City at In The Venue (219 South 600 West, SLC). The current lineup includes the original guitarist/songwriter Andy Gill along with three new members. The band is currently touring with The Faint, who will also be at the SLC show. A good friend of mine just saw them on this tour last week in Chicago. He described Andy as “mesmerizing”. He said he could tell those in the audience who were there for The Faint were equally transfixed on the sound and essence of Gang of Four. Gang of Four influenced (and continues to influence) generations of bands.

Kurt Cobain sited Entertainment! in his top 50 favorite albums of all time, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers sites their bass lines as some of his favorite of all time, and even local SLC heroes Foster Body were heavily influenced by the band’s work. This may be one of the last chances to see Andy Gill and Gang of Four. If you’re a fan of rock n roll at all, I strongly urge you to come see one of the world’s greatest forgotten bands.

You can purchase tix here: https://www.24tix.com/event/99290180/the-faint

 

-Josh Price

White Lies – Friends

When it comes to music, I tend to gravitate towards the darker, somewhat more ominous sounding songs. White Lies has always been a band I turn to that fits that exact description. Usually compared to bands like Interpol or Editors, I fell in love with Harry McVeigh’s somber, baritone vocals and the band’s bleak yet energetic music. When they debuted their album To Lose My Life…, many of their tracks were put on repeat in my IPod. While Ritual and BIG TV, the band’s second and third albums, were not as heavy on my music radar, they still hold a special place in my heart. After three years since their last release, their fourth album Friends takes White Lies in a path that caught me a bit off guard.

From the start of “Take It Out on Me,” the album’s first track and single, it is evident that this album has a heavy 80s vibe with the cheery synth it opens up with. The steady beat of the drum makes anyone want to get up and dance as McVeigh sings “Oh take it out on me/I’m in love with the feeling.” The track is a great way to display the change in direction White Lies is going for. My only qualm with it is how abruptly it ends, without even completely fading out.

“Is My Love Enough?” reminds me of White Lies’ earlier songs like “Farewell to the Fairground” or “Big TV.” McVeigh has a sense of hopelessness in his voice as he sings “So tell me is this love enough/Tell me what it’s really worth/I don’t know what to feel anymore.” The airy atmosphere towards the end almost reflects what McVeigh is feeling: he’s given up and his love is slowly fading away.

Friends is by far the happiest album that White Lies has created. The album cover alone is enough to see this change. It doesn’t feature the cooler colored palette their previous three albums display in the artwork. Lyrically, it still has that gloomy feel as the album focuses on the theme of drifting away from friends or loved ones. The band has definitely expanded into more electronic grounds as opposed to their signature post punk genre to create almost a retro sounding album. While this is an album I can see myself listening to again, it made me feel very disconnected to the band I had come to know in the past few years. I missed the eeriness I had come to expect from them. McVeigh’s voice sounded slightly out of place compared to their upbeat songs. It was not the album I was hoping to hear from White Lies, but one I can appreciate.

A Retrospective on The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground was an American Rock band from the big apple. It was formed by Lou Reed and featured John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Angus Maclise. The Velvet Underground was managed by Andy Warhol for a spell, and was the house band for some Warhol events from 1966 to 1967.  Warhol insisted that Nico, a German singer, collaborate with TVU at some point, and after a year of working on the album, it was finally released by Verve Records in March of 1967. The album cover is famous for its Warhol flare: a yellow banana sticker with “Peel slowly and see” printed near the tip of the banana. Consumers who peeled the banana skin found a pink, peeled banana beneath.

downloadAlthough they had almost no success during their existence on the shelves and streets, the Velvet Underground is now recognized as one of the most influential bands of the rock era. Their album featuring Nico that debuted in 1967 was called “the most prophetic rock album ever made” by Rolling stone in 2003.

After TVU moved on from Andy Warhol as manager, they made White Light/ White Heat, which was often referred to by the band as an album that reflected, “consciously anti-beauty”velvet

From “Who Loves The Sun”, which sounds like a mix of the Smiths and the Beatles, to “Femme Fatale”, which sounds like a melancholy tune from a coming-of-age comedy-drama movie by John Hughes, The Velvet Underground has a wide span of music. While “Pale Blue Eyes” acts as a quiet lullaby to a lost lover, “Sister Ray” is a 17 minute rock anthem to drugs, violence, and transvestism. In 2013, Velvets fanbase spiked with the death of Lou Reed. Today, The Velvet Underground is an “oldie but a goodie” and is more popular than they ever were in the 1960s. rs-15392-20140519-velvetunderground-x1800-1400535552

Banks – The Altar

The human mind is a curious and fascinating thing. It’s a labyrinth filled with thoughts and an endless stream of ideas. At times, it can seem difficult if not impossible to communicate these thoughts to others. However, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for singer Jillian Rose Banks, better known by her stage name Banks.

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Banks often explores themes of relationships, love, and self-discovery. Her music is bare and raw as her lyrics are an open book to her mind. By her appearance, you wouldn’t expect her to be as honest as she is in her songs. Banks is usually very quiet and composed when giving interviews and her social media pages are run by her manager because she does not have much of an interest for it. While she tends to have more of a serious persona, she comes alive when performing her music. The Altar, the artist’s sophomore album, is an extensive look into Banks’ most private thoughts.

The Altar opens up with “Gemini Feed,” a song about one of Banks’ previous emotionally manipulative relationships. In it, she tells the story of how she deeply cared about a man who would always put her down and try to convince her that she needed him. Albeit genuinely loving him, she has grown strong and shows it by singing “And to think you would get me to the altar/Like I’d follow you around like a dog that needs water/But admit it, you just wanted me smaller/If you would’ve let me grow, you could’ve kept my love.”

“Judas” is a track dripping with heavy hip-hop influences. It features Banks’ signature disjointed coons as she unabashedly compares one of her ex’s to the Apostle Judas. Her vocals are dark and delicate as she recalls how her ex did her wrong. The song has a certain attitude to it as she points how well she is doing now without him.

Banks holds nothing back on this album. Unlike her first album Goddess, she comes in stronger and powerful. She no longer sounds like the girl lost in love, but rather an empowered woman who will no longer put up with nonsense. When she uses expletives in her songs, they’re not just there as random placeholders but rather a perfect representation of how she’s truly feeling. Although The Altar exemplifies Banks’ growth as a musical artist and person, nothing on this album really stands out to me. The whole album sounds a bit inconsistent. It is a mixture of very high energy songs oddly combined with soft ballad like melodies. While it is not my favorite album, I can respect Banks on her courage to be completely vulnerable to the public through her music.

Bite Back: Not a Saint or a Savior

Chalk full of barrowing guitar tones and existential dread that plummet nose first into your ear canals, this EP from the San Diego based hardcore outfit Bite Back is a brutal encounter. Five blistering songs fill this EP with lyrics of having to cope with nihilism, depression, and anxiety complimented with pounding guitars and breakdowns reminiscent of the mental beatings such a mind deals with—it isn’t pretty.
The songs on this album are very grim—they cater to a very esoteric demographic with Austin Bolechowski’s straightforward vocal and lyrical delivery that paints the band for who they are. The EP opens with “Day By Day”—it starts with an intense buildup of guitars and drums over the closing monologue from the character Patrick Bateman from the film American Psycho. It all gives way to Josh Orellana’s high velocity drumming then the rest of the band jumps into the sea of despair with Bolechowski’s opening lyrics, “Always struggling day by day, can’t ever think of what to say, trying to keep my head held high, but I just count my failures every night.”
The EP continues on with hints of groove, thrash, and sludge metal built in on their hardcore foundation all while keeping on the themes of mental anguish. “Sinner” hurtles a plethora of riffs with alternating vocals that range from controlled yells to high pitched screams with hair-raising lyrics like “I’ve been thinking thoughts that’d make the devil want to kill himself!” “Stray Dog” (appropriate for the band’s name) delves into the isolation side of depression with reoccurring lyrics like “I’ll live on my own, I’ll die on my own, these motherfuckers couldn’t spend a god damn night all alone,” and “I’m a mutt with rotting teeth, decayed like my fathers’ before me!” but the most tumultuous lyrics are sung during the breakdown—“What the fuck do you know about pain? You never lost anything!”
The EP takes a two-and-a-half minute breather with “Lull”—a sluggish, more somber number with more melodious vocals that still doesn’t steer the album off course. After a brief pause it traverses into the closing track with Bolechowski bellowing its moniker “Numb!” “Numb” pummels to a close with a beatdown of everything in Bite Back’s musical arsenal with the final lyrics “No puedo ser fuerte, lo que me mata es mi mente!” (“I cannot be strong, what kills me is my mind!”)
Bite Back’s Not a Saint or a Savior is destructive and incredibly brutally honest—these boys don’t hesitate to wear their hearts on their sleeves. The lyrics sum up a lot of key themes with depression and anxiety and the music is the perfect match, stimulating feelings of a mind at war with itself.

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine

I have always loved Mac Miller’s music. From K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever when all he wanted was to swag out, to the experimental days of Macadelic and Watching Movies with the Sound Off, he was a staple of my high school days. During my college career, he’s released three more projects. Faces, with its drug-induced lyrics and smooth production, is one of my favorite tapes of all time. Last year’s GO:OD AM, one of the best starting over albums in rap history, with so many references about addiction, over-dosing, and recovery, is enough to get anyone through their roughest days. His newest release, The Divine Feminine, has a completely different feel.

He’s completely focused in the album. One thing I’ve learned since really becoming a hip hop head is that it’s near impossible for an album to completely come together as one collective unit, unlike the prog rock that my dad grew me up on. This album comes together. It’s one of very few albums that I can listen to start to finish every single time. It’s a love album all the way through, however, Mac is still able to put his classic depressed twist on it. “The sun don’t shine when I’m alone,” is one of his opening lines of the album, setting the theme throughout. Most of the songs play off of the depression of not being with your significant other, the problems that occur when a relationship is purely physical, or the issues a guy has when he’s constantly messing his relationship up.

This album sounds a lot different that a lot of his other albums. It’s clear at this point that he’s not just a rapper, or a producer, or a singer, he’s just a great musician with a pure sense of sound. The production brings in soft, slow beats, jazzy beats filled with horns, and fun upbeat hooks that display his competence and that he can rap over any beat. Mac brings in a stacked grouped of artists featured on this album; Anderson .Paak and CeeLo Green put their unique voices on Dang! and We, respectively. Kendrick Lamar and Ty Dolla $ign both spit on their verses of the album, and he brings his new girlfriend Ariana Grande in for a verse on My Favorite Part.

The Divine Feminine shows a lot of growth from an artist who has put himself through a lot in recent years. If you have an hour to kill, or if you’re feeling a little down, this is definitely an album you need to check out. Thank you, Mac.

Mac Miller will be coming to SLC in November at the Saltair, you can purchase tickets here: http://smithstix.com/music/all-music/rap-hiphop/event/19011/mac-miler-nov-1

Warpaint – Heads Up

With many great women in rock and roll, it’s no surprise that Warpaint has gained attention for their dream pop aesthetic and wispy vocals. The Los Angeles quartet formed on Valentine’s Day in 2004. The bandmates have a long history with each other as lead woman Emily Kokal and guitarist Theresa Wayman have been friends since childhood. They were later joined by sisters Jenny Lee Lindberg and Shannyn Sossamon, though Sossamon would leave soon and be replaced by Stella Mozgawa, and would write and perform songs that would later comprise their first EP.

In 2007, Warpaint debuted their EP Exquisite Corpse which rose up to the Number 1 spot on the Los Angeles Amoeba Records local artist chart. Critics praised the album and were curious to hear what else the band had in store. The band listened and released The Fool three years after their EP came out. Once again the critics gave their album fantastic reviews. Word of Warpaint started circulating and they captured the hearts of many fans with their harmonious choruses and Lindberg’s artistically melancholy bass lines. Following suite, their second album Warpaint garnered rave reviews. Now, two years after their phenomenal self-titled album, they have delivered their wonderfully dynamic third album Heads Up.

The band excited many fans with the news that they were making a new album. The first single released is ironically titled “New Song”. It describes the joys of a new relationship when the person of interest is constantly in your head. While it is not the most lyrically intricate song, it is catchy enough to remain in your head for a couple of hours. This song has many characteristics of a “mainstream song” with its repetitive lyrics and poppy beats. It is a strange venture from the band’s previous songs that entranced people with their psychedelic nature.

“Whiteout” is the opening track and second single of the album. Kokal really delivers with intense, passionate vocals. The amount of layers Warpaint manages to put on every song absolutely blows me away. For this track, every instrument playing blends so magnificently together bringing about a song that is a mixture of indie pop with hints of R&B.

Heads Up is a great listen when you want to relax. It’s a calming album filled with the mystic idiosyncrasies that the listener has come to expect of Warpaint. However, they have seemed to have expanded their sound with faster paced songs and rhythms. In a way, this album reminds me a bit of music from the 90s with reverberating guitar notes and hypnotic melodies. This album steps away from the dark mood Warpaint usually has, but never strays too far from what has made the band a cult favorite.