Darkness at the Liquor Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Night In The Red Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young the Giant and that patented Millennial sound

It’s midnight last Saturday and I’m at a friend’s place playing board games when my phone vibrates. At first I don’t give it a second though, between all the useless emails and unimportant Slack messages I get on a daily bases it’s probably something that could wait a few minutes, besides it’s Saturday night. Eventually, In-between rounds I take a casual look at my phone and my mind begins to race. The free tickets for this month were posted and I am late to the party. Most everything has been claimed, but Luckily there was still a ticket left to one of the biggest concerts this month, Young the Giant and through what must have been some form of divine intervention I was able to snag a ticket.

I’m not a big Young the Giant fan and definitely couldn’t name many of their songs outside their hits. However, for me, as with a lot of people my age, Young the Giant helped to create our sound. Young the Giant’s single My Body came out when I was just entering High School and it was like nothing I had ever heard. The spacey guitar, grooving rhythm, and introspective vocals about the soul were so different from everything else at the time. It was a part of the first wave of 2010s indie bands to hit the mainstream. With their hit singles Bands like FUN., Foster the People, and Young the Giant opened the doors to a new sound that has come to reflect a huge segment of this generation. Late night car rides, laughter, heartbreak, and everything happened as their songs played in the background, because of that any of them are worth seeing when they come to town.

At a time where mainstream music was ruled by pop artist like Ke$ha, Rihanna, and 3OH!3 Bands like Young the Giant offered to the masses a completely different sound. Which in a time where most of us still either payed for music or listened to it on the radio was a big deal. Growing up, it seemed like mainstream music had a lot to do with partying and sex. But Young the Giant and their single my Body did something different, something with meat. Their music had slow points, soft points, loud points, and fast points it was dynamic. The lyrics went beyond the crust, diving into intense introspection by conveying layers of emotion. Songs like My Body and Cough Syrup gave the listener more to think about than a song like Ke$ha’s Tic Toc or Like a G6 by Free Wired. They were personal, touching on real life problems and showed that band the created them was not just a group of bad asses but rather just people.

I hear the complaint that all indie music sounds the same few a lot. That they all start with a synthesizer, have similar lyrics, or the same composition and on occasion I even agree. However, the farther we get from that day in 2010 when I first bought Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks the more grateful I am that I did. For all of its quirks, condescension, and pomp indie gave me something that I didn’t look for 7 years ago, depth. That’s why I rushed to grab tickets to see Young the Giant this weekend, it gives me a chance to reflect on that and also some amazing musicians live. See you there.

 

 

 

 

You can grab tickets to Young the Giant here: http://www.thecomplexslc.com/event-1258.htm

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.

Local Natives – Sunlit Youth

On August 8, 2014, Local Natives took the Twilight Concert Series’ stage and performed to their heart’s content. I remember the day like it was yesterday: the crowd was cheering, the lights on the stage were a calm blue, and my friend and I danced and sang along to all the songs they played. It was a great concert only made better by the announcement that they were already working on new material for their third album. Fast forward two years later and they have finally released what I had been waiting for: Sunlit Youth.

Local Natives got their start in Silver Lake, California. Right out of college, the band wasted no time to start working on their first album. Their debut album Gorilla Manor was well received and set the stage for the potential the group has. From Gorilla Manor to Sunlit Youth, they have significantly matured. This album is not as charismatic as Gorilla Manor, but is much more optimistic than their emotionally driven second album Hummingbird. The lyrics have a more profound impact, addressing issues that are prominent in this day and age, such as telling the younger generation they have a voice (Fountain of Youth) to advising people to live in the moment (Past Lives).

The album opens up with the enthusiastic song Villainy. It is a grand departure from the somber mood of their second album to a livelier, joyous tone. It is immediately evident that they were not afraid to take some risks because of the heavy synths that loop from start to finish. In a way, it feels like they wrote a love letter to their hometown with the lyrics, “Mine is a chrome palace/Lost in Los Angeles/I know that I’ll make it through.”

Midway through the album, we get what is unarguably the most distinct and experimental single the band has ever produced with Coins. While still sounding like a Local Natives song, it veers away from the indie rock feel they usually have to a bluesy vibe. Singer Taylor Rice serenades the listener with a soulful voice while the prominent chords of the guitar play in the background.

Jellyfish has to be one of my favorite tracks on the album. Its hypnotic melody is captivating with its tribal beating drums, elegantly contrasted by gentle chimes. Rice’s soothing voice sings a story of love to the listener as he begins to describe how unexpected falling in love can be, “Took the wrong train and I fell/Head over heels in a moment.” This instantly shifts to the downfall of a relationship and how it equally can catch you off guard. The pain of heartbreak can be relatable to many people, however, the song still has a sense of positivity to it as if to assure people that everything will be okay.

Local Natives are currently on tour and will be performing on September 22nd at The Depot. Doors open at 7 p.m.

 

Review: “Sleep” by Tom the Lion Album

The first thing you will realize about Tom the Lion’s sophomore album Sleep is that it’s a little old, in fact about a year, but with our massive stacks of music you have to start somewhere. The first thing you will realize however, while you listen to the London, England based indie rock band is their unique spacey sound, which makes feel as though your floating in mid-air while still providing a surprisingly big, powerful and at times emotionally charged feel to their music. Perhaps the closest main stream equivalent to Tom the Lion would be to arena rock bands such as the Killers and U2, though where these bands tend to lean towards bigger powerful wafts of uplifting synthesizer lead, distortion filled moments of pure awesome (I’m one of the like five people who actually enjoyed the “crappy” album U2 dropped on everybody who IPhone a couple years back). Tom the Lion prefers to keep things on a lower more mellow level allowing for some beautifully musical moments where everything seems to align itself perfectly, creating complete Zen of synthesizer rich indie music.

Yet, the record is not perfect. Specifically there is a lack of dynamic range. Sleep is an album that loves its sound and refuses to deviate from an admittedly winning formula. From the Silent Partner to Winter’s wool Tom the Lion is at their best when they are laying down a slow but grooving rhythm overlaid by a myriad of melodies and counter melodies provided by spacy synths, guitars, and keyboards. This leads to some very well developed courses, and I found myself sing along far more than once. Though I sat listening to this album I found it impossible to tell most of the songs apart, while some level this is enjoyable as it makes the album feel cohesive as whole.  It does make looking at individual songs a bit bother, as while the hooks on tracks such as Ragdoll and Beholden are great, it can be hard to discern them apart once you get past the hooks. The one time the band does deviate from their formula, is in the track Oil Man which is interesting but ultimately falls flat in terms of giving any sort of substance besides deviation.

I am going to give this album a VERY solid seven out of ten. Tom the Lion, despite being a year old, proves to me I should learn their name with a fun and unique sound, and I look forward to seeing more or their stuff in our inbox. However this album just does not provide enough deviation and substance for me to truly appreciate their album. Though it is been a good entry point to a band who I hope will have long and exciting career.