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.

Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

The acoustic picks of classic songs from Jack White and his bands The White Stripes and The Raconteurs are featured on the new album, Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016, released earlier this month. The twenty-six tracks featured on the two-disc album take us through moments of their recording history; beginning with the 1998 “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” song that was written on the porch of Jack’s parent’s home.

Jack and Meg White are the singers, songwriters and musicians in The White Stripes, a rock band formed in Detroit, Michigan. The new acoustic album has a song from their 2000 album De Stijl called “I’m Bound to Pack It Up” that showcases an awesome command of the electric violin. “We Are Going to Be Friends” from the 2001 White Blood Cells album is a sweet song about a schoolyard friendship with a catchy picking pattern. Some songs from their 2003 album Elephant were included in the new album as well as a song Jack White created later that year called “Never Far Away” for the movie Cold Mountain.

Songs from the 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan are in the album including “As Ugly As I Seem” in which Meg White plays hand drums. “Love Is The Truth” is a lesser known song that was created for a Coca-Cola commercial in 2006 and has made its way into the album along with songs from the 2007 Icky Thump album like “Honey, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap” inspired by the prominent music scene in Nashville, TN where Jack was living at the time. “Carolina Drama” and “Top Yourself” from The Raconteurs album Consolers of the Lonely have their own acoustic and bluegrass interpretations too.

In 2012 Jack White’s song “Love Interruption” featuring Ruby Amanfu appeared on the GRAMMY nominated album Blunderbuss, Jack’s debut solo album. That track and a number of others from that album were added in, like “On and on and on” whose lyrics are not present until nearly a minute into the song and the title track which got its name from a 17th century European firearm. “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is also on the album, as is “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep” featuring Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three band. “Machine Gun Silhouette” is in the mix too but it came from the album Love Interruption and was apparently composed by emails Jack received from his visual art collaborator whom he’s never met.

White’s 2014 album Lazaretto contributed a few songs to the new album including “Want and Able”, “Entitlement” and “Just One Drink”. “City Lights” is the previously unreleased track that was actually written and recorded 10 years prior during the Get Behind Me Satan recording sessions. It was finished in 2016 and was included as part of this acoustic set. It has all come back full circle in Acoustic Recordings which is exemplary of the rock and blues roots that Jack White has possessed since the beginning whether on his own projects or in his other endeavors. There’s no denying Jack White is a true artist through and through.

Homecoming Spotlight – Fictionist

It’s that time again to welcome back students and alumni to celebrate being a University of Utah Ute. Homecoming week will run from September 30th to October 9th. During this week, there will be many entertaining festivities from Songfest in the Union to the Crimson Rally on the Union Lawn. Let’s not forget the biggest highlight of Homecoming: the football game against Arizona. With all of the excitement, what better way to start Homecoming week than with the Student Dance featuring native Utah band Fictionist.

Hailing from Provo, Utah, Fictionist consists of singer and bass guitarist Stuart Maxfield, singer and guitarist Robbie Connolly, guitarist and bass guitarist Brandon Kitterman, and drummer Aaron Anderson. With the exception of Anderson, the band had been playing music together since their high school days in Salt Lake City. With their realistic lyrics, energetic melodies, and astonishing guitar solos by Connolly, the band has garnered lots of attention. Their first album Invisible Hand, released in 2009, won an Independent Music Award for Best Pop/Rock Song for their single of the same name. They yet again managed to win the same award in 2011 for their song Blue-Eyed Universe from their second album Lasing Echo.

During that same year, Fictionist received the great honor of being one of sixteens bands to compete in Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star” contest. The winner would land a coveted spot on the magazine’s cover and a record deal with Atlantic Records. Although they were eliminated in the fourth round, they left a positive impression and were still signed to Atlantic. Through their new label, they released a 6-track EP titled Fictionist – EP.

Things seemed to look up for Fictionist as they were working on new music and they even got to tour with Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees. All seemed to be going well, but unfortunately, the relationship with their record company was quickly deteriorating. In an interview with the Daily Herald, Maxfield is quoted saying, “In hindsight, everything about how things came together was wrong.” The band felt as though their label did not understand them as they were asked to rewrite many of their songs and omit many of their signature sounds. In the end, they never released their album and were dropped from the label, but the group was anything from sorrowful. They kept their head high and looked back at the experience with gratitude as it gave them more of an opportunity to rehearse and work on new material they were actually enthusiastic about.

Finally free from Atlantic, Fictionist has been rediscovering what kind of music they wanted to produce with the release of Free Spirit – EP. While being a relatively short EP, only consisting of four songs, it packs enough of a punch to leave the listener wanting more. The opening track Free Spirit sets the tone with an exceptionally cheerful tune that would have anyone jumping around. This song might be their farewell from their old label with the lyrics, “But you don’t have to stick around/if you don’t want to.”  We Can Sleep When We Die is one of the more mellow songs with a slower tempo. However, it never lacks the upbeat theme of the EP. High Society brings the funk with its moody bass and grungy guitar. Fictionist proudly closes with the most spirited track Right Now. Maxfield passionately sings throughout the song with triumphant electric beats wonderfully complimenting him.

Homecoming week kicks off on September 30th with the Student Dance taking place at The Depot at 8:00 p.m.

Motet – Totem

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The Motet’s new album Totem is the self-described ‘future of funk’, and while it’s not a bad album, I would personally just call it ‘more funk’.

The songs on the album are fun and upbeat for the most part, with strong bass lines and a beat that makes you want to dance. My only complaint is that it’s forgettable. I’m coming back to my notes about the album and I can’t remember what half of them are talking about. The tracks sound very similar to each other for the most part and I found myself losing focus on the song even though I was sitting at my desk explicitly to listen to this album. The problem is how repetitive the songs are, which isn’t to say sound bad, but they didn’t manage to keep me engaged.

As far as how the album was mixed I have a few questions. In some of the songs the bass guitar is very muddy, and at first I just assumed it was just to help cover up cheap recording equipment or and inexperienced mixer, but then in other songs like ‘Damn’ the bass was much crisper and easier to listen to. So why not just use that same strong clear bass for every song? I don’t know if they were going for a stylistic choice or something, but whatever the reason is, I’m not a fan. That’s nitpicking though, and to be fair the vocals were always very clean and the singers timbre stood out well. Speaking of the singer, I like him a lot. His name is Lyle Divinsky and I have to say, I could listen to him sing all day. He does the whole ‘funk’ theme very well, while not over performing.

This album is a professional piece of art, don’t get me wrong. If you’re at a party and this album shows up on spotify, there’s no reason not to put it on. But I can’t give you a reason to look for it either. If you want to listen to a solid funk albums with no real issues, this fits bill. I think The Motet should be proud of what they’ve made.