Concert Review – Mr Little Jeans

There was a palpable excitement in the air as the crowd, myself included, in Kilby Court anxiously waited for Mr Little Jeans to appear. The crowd huddled around the stage both to get a good view and to warm up from the frigid night. Some decided that the best view was actually outside looking in through the window. Everyone started to cheer when the background music turned off and the lights started to dim. The time, albeit a little late, had started.

Norwegian born singer Monica Birkenes, better known as Mr Little Jeans, is as graceful as she is talented as she hopped onto the stage with her black dress and green bomber jacket. Her performance on November 18 proved that as she playfully danced across the stage while singing her beautifully composed songs. Her name had been on my radar since I had discovered her cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” She took the wonderfully cheery song and transformed it into a slightly ominous, electric ballad. From that point on, I was drawn to the “electro-pop diva” and her dreamy, synth-pop tunes.

There was a good mixture of old and new as Birkenes performed hits from her debut album Pocketknife and songs from her latest EP F E V E R S. She brought the spunk on “Valentine” as she swiftly hit the high notes in the chorus. Everyone started moving the second they heard the hip and groovy opening drum beats of “Lady Luck.” Birkenes’ vocal talent was truly showcased in “Fever” where her airy vibratos echoed through the audience.

You can tell Birkenes was born to be a performer as she commanded the stage. She danced in a delicate matter as she skipped from left to right on the somewhat cluttered stage. With a venue as intimate as Kilby Court, it’s easier for artists to interact with the audience during shows. Birkenes took full advantage of this as she tried to talk to her audience before, sometimes during, her songs and even asked for assistance in singing one of her songs. During “Rescue Song,” she jumped off the stage and asked many in the crowd to hum the background melody for her. Eventually she found her gal and she all but exploded from happiness watching this girl hum along.

Despite being a relatively short set, about under an hour, there was no shortage of entertainment. After the show, my friend and I decided to visit the merch table because I had wanted a poster. Unfortunately, there was no poster, but about two minutes after I had had entered the merch area the leading lady herself appeared. Her bubbly personality that was previewed on stage was just as evident as she autographed memorabilia. Birkenes is a kind soul with a smile that can go on for miles. Meeting her was a pleasure and her concert is one I’m sure I won’t forget.

Ricky Eat Acid Interview

I sat down with Maryland musician/producer, Sam Ray, from Ricky Eat Acid to talk about his new album, performing live, and what life’s like on the road.

interview1

If you’re new to Sam’s music, like I was, it’s hard to label his sound as one thing or another. However, his most recent album, Talk To You Soon, can be best described as experimental, soothing, and complex trance music. Typically, trance isn’t my favorite genre, but there’s something special about Ricky Eat Acid songs. Each track makes you feel something different. With mainly instrumental music, it’s easy to fall into patterns where songs begin to sound similar, but Sam creates music that’s unique yet familiar at the same time.

I met up with Sam downtown at Kilby Court on November 11th. Everything was bustling as the crew was setting up for the show later that night. Because Kilby Court is such a small venue, the vibe is very personal and organic. String lights lit up the main courtyard and graffiti from past performers covered the walls.

As Sam exited the green room, we greeted each other and walked towards the merch table. He comfortably pulled his knees to his chest as I set up for the interview. I first asked him about his newest album, Talk To You Soon. While listening to it I noticed that all of the songs sounded very different yet cohesive at the same time. I asked him if he had a certain concept in mind while writing the album. He talked about how he wanted the album to be a progression, saying that:

“The idea for that [the album] was always that it was based on this thought of there being somebody who meets and gets obsessed with this glowing ball of light and it eventually eats the person and turns into a predator and devours it.” 

This explains how the album evolves from the bright and relaxing opening track, “‘Hey’,” to the more dark and sinister song, “As We Speak (feat. Wreck & Reference).” I then proceeded to ask him about his ongoing tour, and how it’s different performing live music:

ricky3

“Anything you perform in your whole life is reliant on a crowd…Anytime I’ve ever played Ricky Eat Acid sets… I’ve noticed that it’s almost reliant on that [artist/crowd dynamic]… There was one night on this tour at a college show, two girls walked up on the stage and asked me to play “Gold Digger” over and over because they thought I was just DJ’ing… I’m just like ‘I can’t do that, like I don’t even have wi-fi. I couldn’t even if I wanted to,’ and they got so mad at me. I tried to be very nice about it but they told me I’d never be welcome back at the college… So it’s always unexpected.”

Lastly, I asked him about the pros and cons of being on tour. He mentioned that the biggest con was feeling exhausted and how he ended up with pneumonia and the flu by the end of one tour. However on the pro side, he talked about being on tour with his wife, Kitty, and being able to travel:

“Performing is very cool, but everything that comes with it, whether it’s seeing places or going anywhere I’d ever wanted to go…and meeting tons of people you never would otherwise is really cool, and it never stops being cool. Even when someone who has never heard of me comes up and is like ‘That was cool,’ is the best part of it I think.” 

As we wrapped up, Sam and I shook hands as he headed backstage to get ready for the show. I sticked around after the interview to watch the rest of the concert. While the interview overall was fairly short, Sam was very humble and it was a pleasure to talk and get to know more about him and his music

 

 

 

 

On Your Radar – Mutemath

Dapperly dressed and unbelievably energetic, I discovered Mutemath when I stumbled across a curious video for a song called “Typical.” The video starts with a man in a gray button down and red bow tie playing some power chords on a guitar. He slowly starts backing away to reveal a somewhat chaotic looking scene around him. Brightly colored paint and post it notes littered the floor of this monochrome room. More band mates start to appear, but each of them seem to move a little peculiarly. It’s a little odd, until I realize that the band is performing the song backwards. The music video intrigued me enough to make me want to find out more about this band.

Mutemath started as a collaboration project between singer Paul Meany and drummer Darren King in 2002 when Meany was still in his previous band named Earthsuit. King would send Meany some demos and remixes he had done. Meany liked the work King did and started a correspondence with him where they would go back and forth exchanging new songs. Soon after, King moved to New Orleans to put more dedication into this project. With the addition of Greg Hill on guitar, later replaced by Todd Gummerman, and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas on bass, this small collaboration evolved into an actual band.

Experimentation has always been key for this alternative rock band. They are constantly striving to find new and innovative ways to create extraordinary music. It’s fascinating to watch some of their “behind-the-scenes” videos because their determination and creativity are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They’ll tweak with samples many times before committing to something they like. Sometimes it involves slowing down or speeding up an instrument to the point where it’s nearly unrecognizable. The result is a fantastically composed, multilayered song.

I find myself drawn to Mutemath because of their uniqueness and incredible performances. Songs like “Typical” and “Spotlight” are upbeat and lively rock tracks to jam to. “Pins and Needles” offer a calmer almost somber side to Mutemath as Meany delicately sings, “And I’m growing fond of broken people/As I see that I am one of them.” While they have many great songs, “Clipping” has to be a personal favorite of mine. Throughout the song, loops of a distorted piano parallel with cheerier sounding piano notes as it builds up to a beautiful violin solo.

 Mutemath’s recent album Vitals is a testament to how much this band has evolved. Vastly different from their previous album Odd Soul, which was more of a soulful/bluesy album, Vitals shows off an invigorated new Mutemath with more synths and a more indie pop vibe. Meany really opens up to fans as his songwriting is more honest than ever on this album. “Composed” talks about trying to find peace during panic attacks while “Used To” deals with letting go of a toxic relationship.

Despite the fully transparent lyrics, there are songs on the album that lighten up the mood. “Monument” for example, is a euphoric celebration of a couple’s love. It is a perfect combination of poppy rhythm and joyful synths.

Filled with optimism and spirit, Mutemath doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. They recently finished touring with Twenty One Pilots and just released a remix album consisting of new versions of songs from Vitals. Mutemath’s hard work and dedication is admirable and well worth the listen.

 

Frank Iero And The Patience – Parachutes

Following the breakup of My Chemical Romance, ex-guitarist Frank Iero expressed little desire to continue on with music. However, almost three and a half years later, Frank has come out with two solo albums, multiple side projects, and various tours around the world.

804aa3dd0191ef1c266c8d68cb296a12On October 28th, Frank announced the release of his sophomore album, Parachutes, under the moniker “Frank Iero and the Patience.” While the band’s first album, Stomachaches (2014), received positive reviews, Parachutes has a certain confidence and honesty that Stomachaches lacked. The band also decided to work with producer Ross Robinson (known for working with Korn and Slipknot) who pushed the band to a new level musically.

“He does this thing called mental surgery, and that involves sitting down for a very long period of time and discussing and analyzing the songs and what we’re trying to sing and what we’re trying to get across in the songs. I learned so much about myself and the things I was writing that, oh man, I’ve never been more emotional and exhausted but inspired at the same time in my entire life.” Says Frank in an interview discussing what it was like to work with Robinson.

After listening to Parachutes, it’s clear that the extra work paid off. The songs sound polished and professional, yet still contain an introspective and raw element that’s integral to any punk album. As a long time fan of Iero’s music, Parachutes is definitely one of his most singular works to date.

frank-iero

In a note on his website, Iero writes, “Parachutes are life saving devices…Some of us plummet at an incredible rate and it’s over in a flash, but some of us get saved and are able to enjoy the view for a little while….This album is one of my parachutes,” in reference to the meaning behind the album’s title.

For Frank, music is both a form of creative expression as well as a sort of catharsis. In the song “Dear Percocet, I Don’t Think We Should See Each Other Anymore,” he expresses a strong desire to be more conscious and not let his life slip away to narcotics. The combination of Frank’s desperate vocals and heavy guitar rhythms makes the song all the more powerful and heart-wrenching. However, the album takes on a more hopeful and positive tone in songs like “Oceans” and “Remedy.” Frank writes “‘Oceans’ is a song about accepting love even though you are unsure if you actually deserve it.” 

The album as a whole may not be the most uplifting, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. What makes it so special is the vulnerability of the songs and the emotion put into them. Parachutes is definitely a journey from start to finish, and it’s impossible to not feel moved in some way by the end of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empire of the Sun – Two Vines

If Empire of the Sun’s goal is to transport listeners to another world with their music, I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job. They somehow always manage to create a fantasy-like ambiance in their songs. With a dazzling headpiece and flashy outfits, the Australian duo has returned to deliver an album to satisfy our eardrums.

When Empire of the Sun came into the music scene with Walking on a Dream, they caused a stir with their experimental nature and whimsical music. They lost a bit of their momentum when Ice on the Dune came out, but they seem to bring it back on the latest album Two Vines. While not having the initial charm that their first album had, Two Vines brings about poppy tunes infused with electronic elements.

Two Vines starts slow with “Before”, a groovy tune that pairs well with singer Luke Steele’s airy vocals.  The album then kicks into gear with the first single “High and Low.” A song inspired by a childhood friend, group member Nick Littlemore hoped to lyrically channel the experiences of adolescence. There is an innocence in track as Steele sings, “Now we are running in a pack to the place you don’t know/And I want you to know that I’ll always be around.”

As the album progresses, we reach the track “Friends.” It is a curious composition as a sluggish drum beat eventually transforms into a danceable breakdown. While I think the band went a little too heavy with the auto-tune, the captivating synths makes up for it.

Towards the end of the album, their slower tempo songs take the spotlight. “Digital Life” offers a more futuristic track with industrial steam intertwining with an oriental sounding melody. “To Her Door” closes the album with a triumphant ballad that features the beautiful guitar playing of Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac.

Empire of the Sun’s unique style alone draws attention, but their creativity with music is what makes fans stay. Their music never fails to take the listener on a journey to a colorful paradise. Two Vines certainly does that with a vivid ride through their jubilant jungle.

Empire of the Sun will be playing a show at the Great Saltair on December 3.

On Your Radar: Bad Suns

The moment I first heard the band Bad Suns, I became completely entranced with their music. There was something hypnotic about them that drew me in. Whether it was the singer’s soothing voice or their dreamy melodies, Bad Suns had me craving more.

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Bad Suns is comprised of lead vocalist Christo Bowman, bassist Gavin Bennett, drummer Miles Morris, and guitarist Ray Libby. The band is often described as 80’s new wave as they tend to get comparisons to iconic rock artists of the 80’s such as Depeche Mode or Elvis Costello. It’s no surprise considering Bowman grew up in a very musical household where he became inspired by the records his father would introduce to him. He was so inspired that he learned how to play guitar and started writing his own songs. This would later help him when the band released their debut album.

Language & Perspective was a great introduction for the indie pop band. It set the stage for the young musicians and showed people they were ready to enter the music scene. The first single “Cardiac Arrest” put the artist on the map with its mellow, almost beach like vibe. Bowman ingeniously compares extreme feelings one might have towards another person to a cardiac arrest. “Sleep Paralysis” is a personal favorite from the album as the band finds a way to make this song pleasurable yet disjointed.

With the attention they gained from their first album, Bad Suns began touring with The 1975 and The Neighbourhood as opening acts. After many months of touring, Bad Suns released their second album Disappear Here earlier this year on September 16. Sophomore albums can be a little tricky for some bands because they’ve already developed a fan base and expectations are raised. This seemed to be no problem for them as Disappear Here is a perfect successor to Language & Perspective. The songs are catchier and have more of a depth to them. The opening and title track for the album “Disappear Here” is a nice welcome back to the band with an upbeat rhythm. Bowman has an extra zing in this song especially evident during the chorus. “Heartbreaker” touches on a feeling that many young adults experience: the fear of failed relationships. He pretends that he’s okay and can go on without her, but it’s an act.

Bad Suns is a modern, retro sounding band filled with spirit. Their honest, sometimes cynical, lyrics not only make them relatable, but prove that they too are learning how to navigate life. With the amount of optimistic energy they bring to their music, it’s a band that I consistently find myself putting on repeat.

Die Antwoord – Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid

The first time listening to a song by the South African rap-rave group, Die Antwoord, I was appalled, shocked, and even offended. Apparently I wasn’t the only one considering the mostly negative reviews of Die Antwoord’s fourth studio album Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid. However, while it’s easy to dismiss the group for their crude and audacious persona’s, there’s much more to Die Antwoord than meets the eye.

die-antwoord-tickets-jpg-870x570_q70_crop-smart_upscale

The group’s aesthetic stems from the South African counter-culture movement called “zef” which roughly translates to “common” in English. For Die Antwoord, the style is most often characterized by bold colors, gaudy outfits, and flashy jewelry. However, in an interview, Yo-landi Visser says “Zef’s kind of like you don’t give a f*ck and you have your own flavor and you’re on your own mission”; a mentality that’s ingrained in all of Die Antwoord’s work, especially in their newest album Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid. 

The opening track “We Have Candy” is a surreal and theatrical invitation to the rest of the album. A combination of comedic dialogue and soaring operatics leaves the listener confused yet wanting more; a description that can be applied to most songs from Die Antwoord. “We Have Candy” was the group’s original name for the album because of it’s random and playful tracks, but the name was soon changed to Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid once the group added more dark and vulnerable songs to the album.

die-antwoord-ppcorn-2015-art

The song “Banana Brain” is a perfect example of the more random and playful songs Die Antwoord began writing the album with. The track begins with Yo-landi’s high-pitched and eerie vocals which then lead into a roller coaster of pulsing beats and EDM rhythms. The music video for “Banana Brain” depicts a crazy house party with fast cars, psychedelics, and neon lights; a setting most appropriate for the song’s wild/rave attitude.

Even though Die Antwoord’s music shouldn’t be taken too seriously, some of the songs take it too far to the point where they become immature and no longer amusing. The songs “Wings on my Penis” and “U Like Boobies?” are just as cringe-worthy as they sound. The songs feature an unknown six year old named Lil Tommy Terror rapping about exactly what the song’s names suggest. Along with being inappropriate in nature, the songs also lack musical substance and make me question why they were considered official tracks on the album in the first place.

6eaa3d0c629812074c90c72028f47f78-960x751x1

While most of the songs from Mount Ninji contain a similar sentiment, it’s clear that the group tried to balance the album out with more vulnerable and stripped down songs like “Alien,” “Darkling,” and “I Don’t Care.” The songs discuss what it’s like to be considered an outsider and not caring what others think. Even though the message of these tracks are more heartfelt and genuine, their stripped down nature makes the songs dull and repetitive.

Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid may not be the most musically substantial album out there, but it’s certainly exciting and different. It also contains bizarre guest appearances like “Rats Rule” featuring Jack Black and “Gucci Coochie” featuring Dita Von Teese. Overall, the album’s avant-garde character and catchy rave beats definitely makes it an album worth listening to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saba – Bucket List

The growth of Chicago’s hip hop scene just won’t stop. It’s bigger now than it’s ever been thanks to an influx of incredibly talented, thoughtful, and cool artists. The latest Chicago rapper to make his voice heard this year is Saba, the 22 year-old face of the Pivot Gang. His new album Bucket List came out on October 27th and it’s good. Really good.

Saba started playing piano at 7 and started messing around with production software at 12. He graduated high school at 16 with a 3.9 and followed in his father’s footsteps as a musician (wikipedia.com). Luckily for him, he was able to ride the Acid Rap wave into relevance and through his relationships with other Chicago rappers (Chance, Noname, and Mick Jenkins, to name a few) he’s been able to break into the game with some really quality music. This latest tape is just another example of the authenticity that is so crucial to Saba’s, and Chicago’s, new sound. He’s real, he’s transparent, he’s positive. His message is beautiful and his lyricism only accentuates his points. His word play is impeccable and he switches up his flows effortlessly. I seriously can’t say enough about this guys ability to spit. He’s beginning to establish himself as a premier wordsmith in the industry and he has the opportunity to craft such astounding rhymes because of the subject matter he is taking on.

A theme of this new wave of Chicago rappers is to take on topics that haven’t been talked about much in hip hop over the last decade. Saba doesn’t drink or smoke, he’s never been a big partier, and he’s been able to stay out of gang violence for most of his life. Those are some of the big ideas that have been promoted in rap since the Lil Wayne era so Saba had to take inspiration from some different perspectives. Fame, family, Chicago, and the potential of our generation take the driver’s seat in Bucket List and Saba’s genuine optimism shines through these dialogues he opens up. It’s truly inspirational and what really draws me to Saba and his music.

I knew I would connect with this tape from the very first song. “In Loving Memory” sounds like a Social Experiment song and Saba wastes no time getting into his incredible rhymes. I could hear pieces of Chance, Noname, and Childish Gambino influences on this track and he sets the tone early with a dense verse and a really smooth singing performance. He finishes the track by giving us his bucket list which consists of “One, I wanna have a meal from in and out, coz I live nowhere near one. Two, I wanna go one on one against D. Rose. And three, I wanna *bleep* [sic] Kylie Jenner…” (genius.com). He’s funny, he’s enthusiastic, and he has a great new LP out. Saba most definitely has room to grow as an artist and a producer and this project has him moving in the right direction.

Score: 8.0