68′ Rock n’ Roll with a Kick in the Pants

Rawr! Snarl! Crash! These are the words that come to mind when listening to the band 68’. The group is comprised of Josh Scogin on vocals and guitar, and Michael McClellan on drums.  Their sound is self-described as rock n’ roll with a kick in the pants, but it’s not exactly easy to put this bluesy rock duo in a box. They definitely peddle a heavy rock sound, and I really wouldn’t expect anything less given Scogin’s past screamo endeavors with Norma Jean, and as The Chariot’s metalcore front man.

Two Parts Viper is the group’s sophomore album, released earlier this year, and it’s intense to say the least. The entire album embodies the essence of rock n’ roll and it’s just as intense as their first album. Upon the departure of Matt Goldman on guitar, Scogin has added McClellan on drums, which has better enabled the two-man group to take their sound to the next level. Each song incorporates complex instrumental interludes alternating catchy riffs with vocals and lyrics that give you that fast-paced rock n’ roll vibe.

Tracks worth noting include “Life is Old, New Borrowed, and Blue” which metaphorically punches you in the face with the abrasive riffs battling it out against badgering one liners. The turbulent nature of the song conjures up a restlessness that makes it almost too much fun to sing along to. “Death is A Lottery” is another song on Two Parts Viper that successfully hammers out an intense melody and artistic instrumental construction which compliments the lyrical composition to produce an intense display of chaotic harmony. Memorable lines such as “Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, death is quick, but it can last so long” are passionately poured out in an abrasive ballad.

The track “Apologies” is another favorite on the album, and it’s one that showcases the artistry of both members. This song creatively paints a rock n’ roll picture with steady drum lines and Scogin’s bluesy angle of delivering crashing lyrics only to be broken up by an interlude of spoken word which embodies the poetry in such a way that’s sure to appeal to most rock n’ roll rebel personas.

Every song on the album hits like a hurricane, and, the band is even better live. I had been sleeping on the new album for the last six months until finally discovering the awesomeness that is Two Parts Viper. However, once I became keen to its rock n’ roll mastery, I’ve been listening on repeat enough to redeem myself from my negligent misstep. And recently I was rewarded for my intense fandom as I realized that the band would be opening up for The Bronx playing here in Salt Lake City, which I had already scored tickets to.  

The performance was incredible and it was not merely two musicians giving you their best songs to promote their latest album, it walked the line of performance art. Scogin and McClellen performed in a symbiotic trance that had the energy of a killer punk show and the depth of a complex piece of art. They masterfully abused their instruments, while performing in sync to produce the most chaotic display of musical art I’ve ever seen. The performance was so intense and awe-inspiring, I hardly enjoyed the main act that played after them, and as I left the show, I knew that I had just witnessed something special, something rare, an unbelievable display of talent. And with that, I can honestly say, Two Parts Viper rocks, but if you get the chance, don’t miss them live.

The Amulet: New Album from Circa Survive

The sixth studio album from Circa Survive is upon us, and since its recent release, my love for them has been revived! They’ve always strived to be viewed as more than an era-defined band that blows out the same catchy guitar riffs and for years. They want to embody more artistry in their music- To exist in their space as an evolving expression of art.

But, that’s not to say that they don’t have songs that have been replayed repeatedly, in fact, they have plenty of songs that live in their fans hearts. Songs in which the band is somewhat obligated to play on every tour in respect for their loyal following who hold these certain songs close to their heart as cherished symbols that affected their lives and personal growth at some point in their coming of age. However, these same fans have also completely embraced their art form as growing and changing expression.

Circa Survive fans are loyal and in-tune, which is good. Because they’re certainly a talented band that deserves such devotion to their art. But, there is something I love about Circa Survive, and to me, it’s not readily available in everything they’ve put out.

With that said, the new album has once again been nuanced with their signature ethereal sound, but this time it also incorporates different elements reminiscent of their first album Juterna, which has surprisingly piqued my interest.

The new album Amulet is a dream filled with prolific lines and a beautiful juxtaposition of hard and soft. The drums and guitars produce a more complex sound than prior work and Greene’s vocals ebb and flow from delicate to growling screams, these refreshing elements combine to tell an emotional story that’s easy to get lost in a surreal daydream up until the very last track.

Beyond my observations regarding the refreshing newness of the album, Anthony Green himself has spoken on how he feels about the band making new music. – “Some of these songs are so f–king fun to play live, and I really look forward to getting to play these songs. That’s what excites me. That’s not to say I don’t feel similarly about the older material, or that I am not grateful for how that material has helped us, but it’s just like – when we play that stuff it’s the same as it has always been. But this material is new, and the connection I feel to it is exciting and fresh”

Green’s own views on his music are infectious and perfectly relates to how I feel about the new album. I like the old stuff, but it’s exciting to experience them once again put effort into tweaking their sound for a different vibe. Their excitement is shining through on every track and reaching me with a renewed sense of meaning and it’s a sound I can’t get enough of.

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.

Album Review: Science Fiction by Brand New

As a long time fan of the rock/emo band, Brand New, I was more than ecstatic to find out about the release of their fifth (and most likely final) album, Science Fiction. Even though Brand New released a few singles before the official release of Science Fiction, it would be the band’s first new album in 8 years since Daisy, which was released in 2009.

As Brand New is known for, there was little marketing or press before Science Fiction’s release date, which definitely caught a lot of us off-guard when the album finally came out. But even with their minimalistic approach to marketing, they still managed to reach #1 on Top Album Sales for the week of September 9, 2017 on billboard.com

So, without further ado, here is my track-by-track review of some of my favorite songs from the poignant and solemn, Science Fiction.

1) Lit Me Up 

The song starts off with an eerie vintage recording of a therapy session where a woman retells a dream. It then fades into a minimal instrumental that beautifully highlight’s Jesse Lacey’s vocals and lyrics. Although many of the tracks on this album are vague in their meaning, “Lit Me Up” arguably has a theme of awakening.

To me, “Lit Me Up” tells the story of someone who has become numb to themselves and the world around them, until some sort of catalyst awakens them and reignites their passion for life, or presumably anything else they’ve become dull to.

“Lit Me Up” is a perfect entrance to the album; it sets the tone and beautifully leads into the next track.

2) Can’t Get It Out

“Can’t Get It Out” begins with crisp guitar strums and a more high-paced rhythm, but it’s certainly not more uplifting in terms of lyrical content. Ironically, that seems to be the message of the song.

There’s speculation that the song is about Lacey’s own musical history. Many of his songs aren’t considered to be happy or positive by listeners. And with the lyrics “I’ve got a positive message, sometimes I can’t get it out,” it seems that Lacey (or the song’s subject) struggles with an internal conflict of not being able to effectively communicate their true intentions or emotions.

3) Waste

Moody, heavy, and low can best describe the album’s third track, “Waste.” While it’s not my favorite song off the record, it definitely serves a purpose. It’s almost a paperweight or anchor in between the rock and roll style of “Can’t Get It Out,” and the light and dreamy aura of “Could Never Be Heaven.”

The lyrics are about self-destruction, being at your lowest point, and trying to piece yourself back together again. Lacey sings “And maybe one day, you’ll find your way, to climb on up out of your grave, with the bits of you you managed to save…”

4) Could Never Be Heaven

This might be one of my favorite songs from Science Fiction. It’s melodic, airy, and heavenly to listen to. However, there’s something compelling about Lacey’s voice and the warm harmonies in the song that grips the listener.

“Could Never Be Heaven” is also one of the more difficult songs to decode lyrically. While I’m not certain of what the song is about, there are strong motifs of death, heaven, water, religion, and love.

There’s also a strange vintage recording at the end of the song that discusses what it means to be truly authentic in your individuality, or if the act of trying to be an individual hinders that authenticity. It’s hard to say if this excerpt is connected to “Could Never Be Heaven,” but it sure does add an obscure and thought-provoking impact on the song.

5) Same Logic / Teeth

“Same Logic / Teeth” brings back the loud and emotional side that Brand New is typically known for. The song discusses self-destruction, guilt, self-loathing, and manipulation. Even though the topic’s dark, there’s something in the song that resonates with all of us to some extent.

6) 137

Instrumentally, “137” isn’t very exciting at the beginning. However, the sparse sounds emphasize the lyrics, which are the primary focus of the song. “137” seems to be a portrayal of nuclear war with the lyrics of the first chorus being: “Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized, hold my hand let’s turn to ash, I’ll see you on the other side.”  

The song also ends with a loud cacophony of sounds which is presumably an audio metaphor for the chaos and distress of a nuclear disaster.

(137 is assumed to be a reference to the radioactive isotope Caesium-137)

 

7) Out of Mana

“Out of Mana” was the first song I heard from Science Fiction, and it definitely ties the most into the album’s title. The guitars on this track are immediately distorted and heavy. This, combined with the catchy chorus and unconventional lyrics had me replaying this song for days.

“Out of Mana” heavily references technology and video games in the lyrics and title. While this might just be the band having fun with obscure topics, I think there might be a deeper meaning that connects overcoming challenges digitally with overcoming challenges in real life. Either way, the song is still a thrill to listen to.

11) 451

3 second into “451” and you’ll surely be nodding your head and tapping your toes along with it. The song is rhythmic, up-beat, and intense. “451”, along with “Could Never Be Heaven” are most likely my top 2 favorites of the album. It’s a perfect song to play in the car with sunglasses on and the windows rolled down.

However, after scouring my mind and the internet, there doesn’t seem to be any clear answer to what the song means. The lyrics “A million suns won’t fill you up if you can’t see the wine flowing over your cup.” discusses being unsatisfied with more than enough, and the title “451” is assumed to be a reference to  Ray Bradbury’s novel Fareinheight 451.

 

 

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.

Album Review – “Abysmal Thoughts” by The Drums

The Drums have truly created an original universe. A commitment to listening to one of their albums is a journey into that universe. Imagine it is July 17th 1955. Disneyland is having its opening day and you are lucky enough to get tickets to this grand opening. A magnificent day in the southern California sunshine and breeze. The park is filled with and air of exuberant adventure and futuristic stimulation. You spend the first half of the day racing from attraction to amusement with a stick of cotton candy in hand. Your beige department store cardigan blows in the wind, but your slicked back hair stays steadfast with the power of pomade. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you see your crush and your heart drops as they are holding hands with another young thrill-seeker. You drop your cotton candy as the lights and sounds of twilight Disneyland come into fold. Feelings swirl your brain into a state of bittersweet entropy as fireworks and parades ensue. You spend the rest of the night in the park searching for meaning with a newfound friend who gives you a spark of hope once again. This is a glimpse into the universe created by the music of The Drums.

The Drums have always had some version of a full live band that appears on their tours and in their videos. But the actual band itself was always the work of two individuals, Jacob Graham and Jonny Pierce. This album sets itself apart from the previous three LP’s because it’s the first one that was written completely by Jonny Pierce. Jacob recently left the group for other artistic pursuits. However, Pierce has really pulled through on this now solo endeavor.

Many reviewers have pointed out that this record Abysmal Thoughts is a return to form that hearkens back to their self-titled album. I would agree that there is definitely a connection there to The Drums’ earlier work. The huge and dark synthesizers of their last album Encyclopedia are not quite as present in this piece. However, I do not completely agree with it being a simple retrograde to their first record. This album has matured that sound. Abysmal Thoughts feels like a more experienced work of art that yearns for second chances. The hook in the single “Blood Under My Belt” is a perfect example of that. Pierce exclaims, “I know I said change, but please don’t change. I know I said do it, but don’t do it.” In fact “rip it up and start again” also feels like a theme woven into this record.

Pierce seems to be acknowledging the fact that he is no longer the younger man he was 10 years ago when The Drums began. He went through a break up with his husband recently and there is no hiding that this record is that reflection. It makes sense that an experience like that would bring forward memories of moments from his past that forged his identity. For example, he explores a previous time in his youth where his father rejected him in the track “Head of The Horse”.

Abysmal Thoughts is a fantastic chapter in the work of this group. The album perfectly furthers The Drums brand of innocence, reflection, and tragedy through the study of minimal sunny melancholy pop anthems. The Drums is a project that continues to give all and hold nothing back, a sure project worth investing in.

Facebook: The Drums

Jonny Pierce of The Drums

Album Review – “Bleak Plaza”, A Noisy Burst of a Joy Ride

Bleak Plaza by Bleak Plaza

Hitting play on Bleak Plaza was a good idea. The Denver based group’s debut album kicks off with an immediate hit of energy on the title track “Fire in The Olfactory”, and it doesn’t soon let back on the acceleration. Track 3 “Say It and It Dies” brings a satisfying change of pace via catchy driving beats that transition from garage-y slacker rock to swirling kraut rock. These moods are complimented by clever motifs in the lyrics such as “when we’re dancing in the dark do you really care what the lyrics are…”.

Furthermore, this album will never bore you with stale grooves and patterns. Track 4 “Some Things Happen” starts off with a funky no-wave-esque groove that drops into a agony-tinted heart pounding finish to the song.

The second half of Bleak Plaza continues with the same pattern of passionate noisy pop songs with dynamic genres layered on top. The tight driving feeling of “Night of Vampires” is reminiscent of “Hard to Explain” by The Strokes. It brings a similar lovely feeling of driving in a car in a city filled with neon lights.

The final song “Until I Untie” quickly became my favorite track off the record (because I’m an absolute sucker for any simple powerful pop song such as this). In addition, the guitar tones are on point with perfect EQ, drive, and modulations. This song will make you feel as scared as you did the first time you felt that classic teenage reflex of pure romance squeeze your chest.

Bleak Plaza wastes no time in fulfilling its purpose of delivering an eclectic stream of toe tapping lo-fi power pop that will make you feel like you’re falling backwards into a swimming pool filled with nostalgic goop. I sincerely hope that this Denver based group will come play in SLC soon. This one will definitely be in heavy rotation in the rock/indie and Midday Mix shows right here on K-UTE Radio.

Like them on Facebook here: Bleak Plaza

 

Album Review – “Revenge” by XXXtentacion

Travis Scott, Lil Pump, Smokepurrp, Robb Banks, Ugly God. Among others, they are driving a new wave of hip-hop which is characterized by lo-fi bass with aggressive lyrics and vocals. One of the leading names in this sub-genre of lo-fi is rapper XXXTENTACION.

Hailing from Broward County, Florida, he shook the game with his hit single “Look at Me.” For that song, many tried to pigeonhole XXX into being nothing but a lo-fi bass artist. His new release, Revenge, demonstrates otherwise. Revenge features many tracks that were previously released through his SoundCloud, but are now compiled into a commercial release. Songs such as “King” and “Looking for a Star” show quite a contrast to the style we’ve come to expect. Yet, “YuNg BrAtZ” and “RIP Roach” still show that xxx isn’t afraid to go hard.

XXXTENTACION opens Revenge with “Look at Me”, which, to fans, is to be expected. It’s his leading single and works well as an attention-grabber, but also serves as a way to show contrast to the following tracks. The first of which, entitled “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore,” immediately shows this opposing sound. It’s still lo-fi, but the autotune shows XXX’s softer side presented in the form of a hybrid garage-style produced 808’s & Heartbreak and cloud rap.

Continuing to throw the listener through hoops, “Looking for a Star” features a distinctly dark yet tropical back beat produced by none other than EDM megastar, Diplo. Auto-tuned as well, but not over the top and cheesy, his vocals fit well with the song and its Jamaican-ish vibes. 

Moving on, we continue with this leaned out, almost lethargic feeling with “Valentine.” XXX almost seems to be taking notes from early Travis Scott or Yung Lean as he channels his inner sadboy and questions whether or not to continue down his current path, or stop everything and become a better person. The answer presents itself quite clearly on “King,” which starts out very similar to the previous track, dark and airy. This, however, does not last. In almost a hat tip towards his punk rock and heavy metal roots, distorted guitars and thundering drums accompany his screams of “HEY! YOU!” coming seemingly out of nowhere and marks a change in tone for the rest of the album.

However, the next track “Slipknot” continues the running theme of XXX wanting to show his audience that he isn’t a one-trick pony when it comes to rapping. Undoubtedly the most lyrical track on the album, it’s definitely his best attempt towards creating an old school hip-hop sound with piano runs and hooks similar to that of UGK and Outkast. XXX is out to prove that he can not only sing and scream, but also spit bars. It’s also the first track on the album to feature other artists, Kin$oul (who’s featured on the track) and Killstation (who sings the end hook).

Revenge returns to the sound of “Look at Me” with “YuNg BrAtZ,” and marks the return of the XXX we’ve come to know and love; Loud, aggressive, and ignorant toward the feelings of others to ultimately bring the album full circle. Not much can be said other than it’s definitely a crowd pleaser meant to whip the audience into a blood-thirsty frenzy.

The last track, “R.I.P Roach,” features fellow Members Only founder $ki Mask, The Slump God who more or less raps over the beat, as opposed to XXXTENTACION‘s hype shouts. Like “Look at Me” and the previous track, it carries XXX’s signature sound of distorted bass and screamed vocals. It also holds our objectively favorite line on the album with XXX essentially calling his haters “rice krispies.”

From top to bottom, Revenge proves that XXXTENTACION is not a one trick pony. As his first major commercial project, the album sets out to demonstrate his versatility and diversity. Only time will tell which direction he will continue, but as far as our opinion goes, we see X continuing his reign of bending genres, generating insane amounts of hype, and blowing out subwoofers worldwide.