Talking is Hard: Walk the Moon
In the past year or two, I’ve noticed a major return to the musical stylings of 80’s New Wave. Musicians that grew up listening to the synth-laden pop of bands Asia, Duran Duran, and A Flock of Seagulls, or the crazy musical innovations of Talking Heads, early U2, and that era of David Bowie are retrofitting the sounds they grew up with to fit with the modern state of pop and rock. Bands like The Polyphonic Spree and OK Go have fused that 80s sound with their distinct musical backgrounds to make some of the best music either band has created. Newer bands like Future Islands have exploded onto the scene with songs that present a logical musical updating of the hits of the 80s. Hell, even Taylor Swift just released an album that was an extended tribute to the sounds of that era. Walk the Moon, a band who took their name from an iconic Police song and who moonlight as a Talking Heads tribute band, is one of the bands most obviously at the front of this movement, and their newest album is an incredible celebration of the best sounds of the 80s, as well as one of the best albums of the year.
Most of the best things on this album are very, very clearly borrowed from musicians past. “Shut Up and Dance,” the hyper-energetic earworm at the heart of this album, is completely built around a guitar riff that is straight from the best of Joshua Tree-era The Edge. “Aquaman” is the platonic ideal of a hit Steve Winwood song, which, A+ to these guys for showing some love to an incredible artist who seems to be wildly underappreciated nowadays. For someone unfamiliar with the best of the 80s, this is an album full of hyperactive, catchy, danceable songs. For a connoisseur of 80s music, this is a treasure trove of audial references that could be annotated and dissected as easily as a TS Eliot poem.
Beyond the album’s epic nostalgia trip, this is a very tightly produced album that doesn’t really show any weak songs or dragging moments. Everything in these songs has a purpose, and that keeps the absurd energy levels that drive this album to such great heights flowing without unnecessary interruption. One of the few critiques I have of this album is that it doesn’t have the usual overall thematic and musical consistency that makes something more “album” and less “collection of songs by the same band.” When the individual songs are this good though, I can’t bring myself to strongly criticize something like that. This album is the culmination of 30 years of pop music history, and Walk the Moon managed to make a musical history lesson that should resonate for at least another 30 more.
Review written by: Mitchell Owens
OK Go: Hungry Ghosts
OK Go is a difficult band to talk about in a purely musical context. They gained their popularity not through wide-ranging radio play or huge critical acclaim, but by creating music videos that were so indescribably cool that they went viral. They were the first band to really use the internet to launch their success. There was an issue with their earlier work though: while OK Go produced solid, standard indie rock, the shadow of treadmill dancing and crazy Rube Goldberg machines was so tonally different from their sound and the videos eclipsed the actual music they were making. With their newest album, OK Go seems to have finally created a sound that is interesting and complicated enough to match their videos. These guys have evolved from a standard four-man rock band into a synth and effects laden pool of sounds that, at its best, sucks you in and engulfs you in a song that you don’t want to have to leave. The high points of this album are ridiculously, addictingly high. “I Won’t Let You Down” is far and away the most catch and danceable song on the album, with Jackson 5-esque instrumentals that start you dancing and fun, catchy lyrics that bring some additional interest and intensity to the song, adding up to something you’ll want to put on repeat and dance around your living room to for a good long while. “The Writing’s On The Wall” is another high-end standout, bringing a much more subdued touch to the album with a heavily distorted bass line and calming lead and backup vocals highlighting the overwhelming heartbreak of the lyrics about trying to salvage a quickly fading relationship. Unfortunately, this album isn’t all tightly wound, complex musical rainbows. There are a number of tracks here that are, at best, pretty droll. In a song like “If I Had A Mountain,” the high level lyrical craftsmanship that is really at the heart of OK Go’s music is there, but the musical accompaniment just loses the interesting instrumentals that made the better songs tick in exchange for an almost entirely electronic composition that really just falls flat. Points for trying, but if the band is going to completely move away from their rock band roots, they need to give their work a basis that is a little more interesting first. In good news, the lows on this album aren’t nearly bad enough to detract from the beautiful glory of the best songs here, and “I Won’t Let You Down” is seriously a good enough single to justify this album on its own. Go listen to this while crafting your own unnecessarily intricate single-shot video for your life. Maybe it’ll vault you to stardom as well.
Review written by: Mitch Owens
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Soundtrack)
After two films featuring a fight to the death, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 1 shows the start of a rebellion and starts building to the finale that will hit theaters November 2015. Like the movie the soundtrack features darker tones and deals with themes of rebellion, as well as physical, emotional, and psychological pain, and of course love. Seventeen-year-old superstar Lorde curated and personally picked the artists for the entire soundtrack. Lorde seems to really grasp the various themes of the film while also managing to allow the soundtrack to have a dark yet unique and sometimes even weird sound. The soundtrack begins brilliantly with the collaboration that is “Meltdown.” “Meltdown is by Stromae and features Lorde, Pusha T, Q-Tip, & HAIM. When you throw this many artists onto one song you think it would be overwhelming but on the contrary; each artist compliments each other and as a result they create something I’ve never quite heard before. Lorde’s choices of artists for the album are varied and spectacular especially with “Dead Air” by CHVRCHES, which delivers one of the catchiest tunes on the soundtrack. “Dead Air” like many songs on the album features themes that aren’t happy and upbringing, but if anything you’ll be ready to fight in a rebellion by the time you’re done listening. The soundtrack features many current top current 40-chart toppers like Miguel, Tinashé, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, and even Ariana Grande as well as lesser-known names like Raury, XOV, and The Chemical Brothers. Many of the songs do a brilliant job of pairing two artists that you wouldn’t exactly expect together and creating a strange yet perfect collaboration. Charli XCX and Simon Le Bon create a haunting and beautiful tune with great instruments and soaring vocals on “Kingdom.” While Ariana Grande and Major Lazer surprise with club song “All My Love,” which will without a doubt get you moving. Album stand out and lead single “Yellow Flicker Beat,” by Lorde summarizes what the soundtrack offers as a whole, which is a brilliant combination of extremely talented artists while also featuring a serious tone and sometimes and even making you dance. “Yellow Flicker Beat,” is one of four songs Lorde shows up on. Almost every song with the exception of a few tracks manage to shine and barely ever bore you, the serious themes and tones may be too much for some but thanks to the amazing production and direction of Lorde you won’t be disappointed. While the movie itself doesn’t quite stand on it’s own the soundtrack manages to rise above the previous two soundtracks by delivering catchy yet interestingly different tracks that match the theme of the movie while at the same time managing to be it’s own thing. None of the songs sound the same but are great packaged together. After listening to this soundtrack beyond feeling the urge to see the movie if you haven’t, and wanting to hear something a bit more joyous, you’ll also be wishing Lorde curating every soundtrack.
Review written by: Brandon Kasprzyk
Four: One Direction
The hit sensational boy band One Direction has done it again but with a more explosive bang. They
released their fourth studio album, FOUR, on November 17. FOUR is they’re newest album that will
leave you in a daze because it displays that raw talent of this band. This album is by far one of their best
produced yet. One Direction is not the same band that debuted back in 2010. It’s because of them being
able to produce songs that have phenomenally great catchy hooks, great instrumentals and roaring
beats, that their success in the music industry is sky rocketing. This album is proof that the sound of One
Direction is changing for the better. FOUR has had successful charting on a variety of charts. Number
one on the Australian Albums ARIA chart, the Dutch Albums MegaCharts chart, Irish Albums IRMA chart
and New Zealand Albums Record Music NZ chart. It offers upbeat, uplifting, high spirited and cheery
types of sounds; it’s definitely a groundbreaking pop album. The each song on the album features
amazing, beautiful and heartfelt lyrics. Musically and lyrically, One Direction shows a lot of maturity in
this album. My favorite is the hit single, “Steal My Girl.” I think it’s the best track on the album. It’s a
great piano-driven rock song with soaring vocals. This upbeat and catchy track displays electrifying
instrumental play. I love how the song opens up with a rising piano piece. The piano throughout the
song is what gave that feel good vibe. I can honestly say that I keep this track on repeat when I driving or
just walking around. You can’t help but to want to sing along “Everybody wanna to steal my girl,
everybody wanna take heart away. Couple billion in the whole wide world, find another one cause she
belongs to me.” The song has had a lot of success charting that it peaked number one on two different
charts, the Demark Tracklisten chart and the Greece Digital Songs Chart. “Fireproof” is one of those soul
grabber songs that will leave tears rolling down your face. I loved the vocals on each of their solos. This
song has the 1970s written all of it. The sound of this song, reminds of classic rock from the era. Some
might say that they sound like the rock band Fleetwood Mac in “Fireproof.” For the song “Night
Changes” they sort of steer away from pop and move more towards R&B. The song has that very mellow
soothing relaxing beat. The simplicity of the relaxing sound, along with the heart-driven vocals will blow
you away. I really like the harmony on this song and you can feel their passion. I’m not a huge fan of 1D
but these are phenomenal. I truly recommend this album to people who are not just fans but people
who are looking for music with a great sound.
Review written by: Alan Taylor
People Keep Talking: Hoodie Allen
Not many artists have the opportunity to do the exact music they want but Hoodie Allen is one of the exceptions. He isn’t associated with a record label but you can’t even tell, thanks to the honest raps and great production. Like Macklemore, Hoodie Allen is also part of the wave of artists leading successful careers without the help of a major label. He has come very far in the past few years and has quite the fan following known as the Hoodie Mob. His first mix-tape was released in the late 2000’s, it’s now been two years since his first album All-American and breakout hit “No Interruption.” He seems to have progressed even more since his Crew Cuts mixtape and delightful surprise acoustic album.
With his sophomore album, People Keep Talking you really get to hear some of the best music Hoodie Allen has ever created. Instead of trying to make an album of hits he can tries to connect with his fans. You get the chance to really listen to his journey and his struggle with finding success, which can be heard with album opener “100 Percent of Something.” With “100 Percent of Something” he reflects on his last major relationship while also discussing the good things in life. The message of carrying on and moving forward continues with one of the album stand outs “People Keep Talking.” “People Keep Talking” is relatable yet fun to listen with its hilarious clips of a fan and a record company spokesperson.
Throughout the album the party side of Hoodie comes out but not in a club ready. Across the board the songs are much more complex than with previous releases. He show’s that it’s really about loving life, especially in potential single “Won’t Mind.” “Won’t Mind” was one that I had a hard time getting out of my head. When it comes to catchiness every song manages to hook you in some way. “All About It” featuring Ed Sheeran which, is his next single is a great jam that might just be the song that helps introduce him to even bigger audience. Alex Wiley, and MAX also make guest appearances that help to add even more to an already great production. He is clearly building his audience by creating music that focuses on connecting with his fans while also poising himself for top 40 success.
Although Hoodie Allen is technically a rapper, this album presents him as more of a pop artist that does some rapping. His audience is most definitely for twenty-something’s and females yet he creates something many people can relate and connect with. The album has many influences whether it’s R&B, Pop, Rock, or even the Reggae that is heard on the spectacular “Movie.” On People Keep Talking there are songs to party to, songs to make you think, songs about heartbreak, and many personal and honest thoughts. Hoodie Allen has crafted an honest, fun, pop, rap album that delivers a personal connection and manages to show an artist at their artistic best.
Review written by: Brandon Kasprzyk
Black Veil Brides: Black Veil Brides
I know quite a few people that actively hate Black Veil Brides. Maybe it’s because of their sound, most likely it’s because they wear makeup, but I’ve personally never had an issue with them. To be honest, I thought Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones was one of the best albums of 2013. When I sat down to listen to the bands’ recent self-titled release, however, things… changed for me. Their fourth album (which I will refer to as IV from now on) is far from being a bad album, don’t get me wrong. I just found more issues with it than I would have liked. Where Wretched and Divine was a masterful story told through killer tracks and a continuous narrative between songs, IV felt very flat to me. BVB’s instrumentals (which have never been lacking) show leagues of development on this record, and in a truly metal way. However, singer Andy Biersack’s took away the magic for me. Songs like “Heart of Fire” and “Faithless” definitely have the power of the groove, with tasty riffs, pulse-pounding drums, and blistering solos. But then Biersack starts singing. And you ask yourself “Is this a metal album or was that just the beginning of the track?” That’s how I felt. BVB has always blurred the lines between metal and generic, “emo” sounding rock, but this album leads you to believe it’s going to stick to metal and then it lets you down. There are definitely good tracks here though, that fit much better with BVB’s established style, like the almost 80’s-esque power ballad “Goodbye Agony” and my personal favorite, the heavy but melodious “Stolen Omen”. It seems to me that BVB hasn’t really settled into the proper niche yet, and this album was an effort to try something else out, which there is absolutely no problem with (it worked out quite well for Avenged Sevenfold right?). I simply don’t think Biersack has the right voice for the classic rock/classic metal vibe they were going for. Check this out for sure, whether you’re a die-hard BVB fan or not, because hey, it could make a fan out of you and lead in the right direction (towards their previous albums).
Review written by: Jake Trask
Sonic Highways: Foo Fighters
Nirvana was a huge rock band that, in the eyes of many, could not continue After the death of Kurt Cobain; the world and all who loved him were shocked. Nirvana's drummer, Dave Grohl, felt that he needed to continue their music journey. In 1994, all by himself, Dave Grohl recorded the Foo Fighters first mixtape. Soon after recording he recruited bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, both formerly of Sunny Day Real Estate, as well as fellow Nirvana touring bandmate Pat Smear as guitarist to complete the lineup. Soon after being recruited William Goldsmith was replaced by Taylor Hawkins. One hit after the other, the world watched as the Foo Fighters got bigger and bigger. With the release of 2011's Wasting Light fans wanted more, the question is "did Sonic Highways deliver?" Well kinda. Sonic Highways has an interesting idea behind it; the foo fighters went all across America and recorded in the major music cities. Dave himself would interview major music leaders and those interviews would be the inspiration for the lyrics of sonic highways. In my opinion it was genius, and in some of the songs, most notably Something From Nothing, it works. From Chicago blues to Nashville country, the fighters cover it all, and boy did they do it great. By far the best track of the album is the Fest and the Famine, which has blues undertones with the Foo's Classic guitar shredding sound. Sonic Highways is a wonderful album that unlike today's music has a soul. It is profoundly beautiful and deserves a listen. 4 of 5. I also recommend the HBO documentary series Sonic Highways, which chronicles the making of the album.
Review written by: Isaac Smith
As Blood Runs Black: Ground Zero
I love black-death metal, and grind core but sometimes its difficult to discern what exactly the vocalist is saying. Luckily in the newest release by ABRB you can tell exactly what is being sung. The lyrics are clear and the musicianship is organized and crisp. Don’t worry though; the band has not lost any of the distinct brutality that they are known for. I would argue that this is one of the best heavy albums to come out this year. Being as an ocean, and thy art is murder have also dropped excellent records. As always with as blood runs black you will be punched square in the gut and encouraged to jump in the pit with your fellow metal-heads. Id there is anything negative to be said the attempts at acoustic tracks fall way short. It just isn’t their strong suit, something they should stray from in future releases.
Review written by: Kat Sapetko
Runaways: Work Drugs
“Runaways” is the ninth album by the pop/indie band Work Drugs. It’s an album full of lyrics about leaving, starting over, moving on and finding something better. It’s meant for people who fall in the age group of 17-24 years old. This was the first album I heard from the band and I can honestly say that I am impressed. They have an original sound that you can hear throughout the album, especially, in songs like “Runaways”, “Free to Roam”, and “Double Life”. These all have an electronic pop beat that pulls you in from the very beginning. This kind of sound can also be heard in their track “Heatwave”, which is one of my favorites on the album. In the songs “Lost Weekend”, “Fragile Creatures”, and “Predictable Moment” you can still catch their electric pop tune, but with a hint of jazz that is such a great surprise you will instantly love the song. They are not afraid to be adventurous with their sound, which is a smooth, vintage pop music, the kind of pop music that’s hard to find today. If I had to guess a band that influenced them I would have to say Fleetwood Mac. They also have a lot in common with Foster the People. This similarity can be heard in the song “The Moment”. Their track “Saved by the Bell” makes me think that if there was pop music in the fifties this would be it. WD seem to enjoy taking chances in their music, especially with songs like “Man of War”, which is about growing up and fame, and “Temporary Life Line”. The last track of the album “Show and Tell” seems to pull everything I have talked about together; the jazz and Fleetwood influences and their vintage sound. This album is one of the best albums I have had the pleasure to listen to in a while. If you have never heard of Wok Drugs this album will make you a hardcore fan. I gave it 5/5.
Review written by: Brianna Milon
White Noise: PVRIS
Breakthrough alternative synthrock band PVRIS released their debut album “White Noise” on November 4th. Packed full of ground-shaking, head-banging songs, this album is sure to make you a diehard fan. Lead singer Lynn Gunn, guitarist Alex Babinski and bassist Brian MacDonald have established themselves as a band to be reckoned with. Even though this is PVRIS’ first time out of the gate, I know this is only the beginning of their journey.
The intensity and versatility of the album is what makes it stand out. Lead single “Smoke” draws you in with heavy drums amid Gunn’s unbelievable vocals. The bass and guitar pick up during the chorus, making for a captivating, commanding beat. Gunn’s voice pierces during the bridge, sonically building against synth effects. Heated track “My House” showcases the synthrock side of the band. Chorus lyric “It’s my soul; it isn’t yours anymore” shouts revenge and regret. The bridge left me speechless as drums and synth build to unreal levels. Gunn lets out her emotions through raw, raspy screams that make you feel her rage. “Ghosts,” “Fire,” and “Let Them In” highlight Gunn’s range. She mixes falsetto with hardcore shouting that sounds like no other alternative singer in the business. In a split second, Gunn is able to transfer from soft, smooth verses to ear-shattering choruses with the ideal amount of force. She’s giving the top male alternative singers a run for their money as a breakthrough vocalist.
PVRIS is not a one-trick-pony band. Their talent does not stop at hard alternative musicality and vocals. “White Noise” is a rare due to its marriage of synth and rock. Instead of letting limits define style, PVRIS fearlessly experiments through collaboration of synthesizers and intense alternative instrumentals. Tracks like “White Noise” and “Mirrors” rely on synth and keyboard to drive the songs in a syncopated way. The effects add a mystical, surreal edge, giving alternative music a new identity. My favorite song is “St. Patrick”, an epic mix that is hard-hitting yet beautiful. Complex drum phrases, electric guitar runs and synth breakdowns create a euphoric sound from another universe. Gunn preaches passion-laced lyrics through sound barrier-breaking runs and gritty screams without hesitation.
PVRIS’ album also includes slow tempo songs with a twist. “Holy” is a lyrical wonder that lets Gunn’s vocals take the lead in rap-like verses and belting choruses. “Eyelids” is a lyrically delicate ballad unlike any other. Gunn beautifully sings her heart out about inevitable goodbyes. Her heartbreak is heard in lingering verses and the use of a personal voicemail adds an authenticity beyond words.
PVRIS is the band to keep on your radar. Gunn has an indescribable, raw signature voice backed by equally talented band mates. Their album is versatile, dominant, and words cannot serve it justice. It is impossible to stop listening one you’re hooked, but it’s the best addiction. “White Noise” is an ultimate introduction to PVRIS’ sound and my new all time favorite album.
Review written by: Madison Hornung