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Album Reviews

Shadow Shows: Seryn
★★★★☆
Shadow Shows

Seryn has been through a number of changes since the release of their 2011 debut, This Is Where We Are. They’ve relocated from their hometown of Dallas to the more musically inclined streets of Nashville. Their fairly large line-ups have gone through a number of shifts, with members drifting in and out of the band. They’ve left their label and become an independent band. Their most sonically noticeable change over this time is how the band has opened up its sound for their sophomore effort. Their first album was defined by layers of acoustic instruments, prominent banjo use, and constant finger picking. Shadow Shows maintains full but gentle sound of their debut, but explores multiple new ways to reach that effect. Instead of relying prominently on whatever acoustic instruments and layers of harmonies around Trenton Wheeler’s lead vocals could get them, the band has welcomed anything that can help them create an even more entrancing and engrossing sound. When the instrumental intro to the album, “Kilimanjaro,” opens with various ambient noises and an electric guitar, it is a huge shock to the system of anyone who was a fan of the first album and of the image that Seryn crafted based on that album, but once you open yourself up to the new sound, it’s pretty incredible. Along with the instrumental additions, the band has increased the role of Jenny Moscoso’s vocals, making her almost a co-lead singer for the band at points. Her voice complements Wheeler’s gorgeously, and she can bring a fire to her to her lyrics that adds a layer to them that the incredibly calm-sounding Wheeler just doesn’t have normally. These changes are instituted in various degrees across the album, with songs like “Path” that sound like Seryn’s original music going up against songs like “Disappear,” which almost sounds like it comes from a completely different band. The new sound works well in any degree it’s implemented in though. Every track sounds gorgeous, and there are no dull moments or down tracks to cause you to lose your attention. As soon as the album was over, I wanted to hear more of this sound, so I’m probably going to have this on repeat for a few months while I eagerly anticipate any new music from these guys in the future. Hopefully the next wait won’t be as long or as difficult as the last one…
Review written by: Mitchell Owens

Handwritten: Shawn Mendes
★★★★☆
Shawn Mendes

The upcoming 16-year-old Canadian music artist Shawn Mendes, finally releases his album, Handwritten. Handwritten is officially his debut album, which was released back on April 14. Mendes gives us a taste of pop and soul as he introduces us to both in this album Handwritten hasn’t had trouble charting high on the charts. The album peaked at number one on both the Canadian Albums Billboards chart and US Billboard 200 chart. Handwritten features 12 different breakthrough songs that are just amazing and most of the songs were written by Mendes. I think the really best thing about Handwritten is that each track doesn’t repeat it’s self. Each track has its own uniqueness to it; instrumentally and lyrically we get a different taste from each song. A song from this album that I really like is “A Little Too Much” because it’s such an amazingly beautifully written song by Mendes. The instrumentals in this track wasn’t overbearing, it sort puts you in this deep emotional trance. The acoustic guitar really made this song, and that alone gave this song that “umph” factor to be a beautifully composed song. This track really gives off a strong emotional feedback, which helps the listeners to be able to connect to the song. I think this song tries to give off the message that life will get tough, so we will need to take a step back and take a deep breath. Another song off this album that I’m really fond is the upbeat hit single, “Something Big.” “Something Big” is definitely the number one single on this album. This track sort of reminds me of most of Justin Timberlake’s song. It has that funky acoustic guitar instrumental that we hear a lot in Timberlake’s song. The verse “something big is happening” is accuracy describing that amount of success Mendes is having. Overall this is an outrageously terrific debut album.
Review written by: Alan Taylor

Original Soundtrack from Season 1 of Empire: Empire Cast
★★★★★
Mother

From the very first episode of Fox’s hit new drama Empire it was clear that the network had a hit on its hands. The acting is superb, the premise of a father who is at the head of a music empire having to find a successor in his three sons, while also dealing with the return of his ex-wife/ex-con is immensely entertaining. On top of that every episode leaves you wanting more and its no surprise the show had a record-breaking debut season; it became one of the first shows in years to grow in ratings with each episode. Similar to Glee in its first season, one of the best parts of every episode quickly became the catchy and well-produced music. Thanks to being written and produced by a team led by hit-maker Timbaland, as well as the talented actors/singers, and guest stars the soundtrack to the hit first season Empire is poised to break just as many record as the show itself. If you haven’t watched any of Empire yet the music alone will be reason enough to start. The cast is mostly fresh-faced who can seriously sing and rap just as good as the current artists topping the charts. The coolest part about Empire is how the show is all about dominating the music world but thanks to how catchy, enjoyable, and radio-ready the songs are it is hard to imagine this being Empire’s peak. Jussie Smollett (Jamal) brings much emotion and stellar vocals while Yazz (Hakeem) brings enjoyable raps with a likable cockiness. At 18 tracks there is a huge variety of tracks to choose from. There is seriously a song for whatever mood you may be in. Whether it’s wanted to be accepted on songs like “Good Enough,” or getingt ready for a night out on “Drip Drop,” this soundtrack has some of everything. Some songs have deeper lyrics and more powerful vocal performances like “Keep Your Money” but with jams like “Drip Drop” although simpler and fun it’s unlikely you will be able to get it out of your head. The entire cast also sounds phenomenal when paired together. Serayah McNeill (Tiana) and Yazz (Hakeem) has great chemistry and Yazz and Jussie who play brothers on the show sound very different yet mesh great together. There is an arrangement of new voices on the soundtrack but there are also plenty of features from better-known artists as well. Terence Howard plays a music icon and boy does he sound like one especially when paired with singers like the phonemically talented Mary J. Blige. Jennifer Hudson lends her Grammy winning talent on “Remember the Music” and “Whatever Makes You Happy” featuring Juicy J, and is a perfect fit for the show. There are more noteworthy features from icons like Estelle, Courtney Love, and Rita Ora as well. Whether you’re a fan of hip-hop, rap, or gospel this soundtrack does not disappoint. When the cast all gets together on songs like “You’re So Beautiful,” you really get to see just how much talent is on this one soundtrack. There are catchy emotional ballads, club ready jams, and even relatable songs. The cast alone should be reason enough to watch Fox’s latest hit show but the musical performances will keeping you coming back. The season one soundtrack is sure to be Grammy winning and leaves much anticipation until its season two premiere. Although it seems like the incredible and very well done album will be hard to top, I have very high hopes.
Review written by: Brandon Kasprzyk

instant Gratification: Dance Gavin Dance
★★★☆☆

Hey, guys, this album was reviewed in The Stylus this week, however do not fear because I intend to put my own spin on the review. Anyways, shall we get started? First thing, the singer’s voice made it difficult to get through the entire album. He has such an annoying high-pitched tone that just drives me insane. Don’t get me wrong there are men, like Adam lambert, that rock the high-pitch however this guy just does not. Another thing that automatically annoys me on any album, not just this one, when unclean vocals and cleans are used at the same time, obviously by two people. It is just so confusing, and you cannot discern what they Hell they are saying. This album is their sixth full-length and despite the annoying vocals they have pulled it together, at least lyrically and musically. Perhaps the best song on the album is “death of the strawberry swisher.” This song is the final contribution to a trio of songs that have spanned past albums. Another notable song is “shark dad”, this song features guitar played by the bands former guitarist. This song has possibly the best lyrics of any other son on the album “The world is drunk. I’m a piston on a mission, pumping out my guts.” If you haven’t heard of Dance Gavin Dance they are an interesting bunch. They have been through more line-up changes than any band that I can think of. Membership of this band is seemingly a revolving door situation. Much of this group’s strife has been caused by former vocalist Johnny Craig who in the past has had numerous issues involving alcohol and substance abuse. His personal drama took a toll on the band for a number of years, until they decided to give him the boot. After being kicked out of the group Johnny went to rehab and now has a successful solo career This album can be listened to in its entirety on YouTube.
Review written by: Avery Sapetko

The Past, The Present, The Future: Jodeci
★★★☆☆

For most people my age, Jodeci may not be a familiar name. They released their third album before we were born and their fourth, and most recent, one was released this past March. The Past, The Present, The Future is their comeback album which was produced by Timberland. It is their first album in twenty years. The past two decades have probably been the most dynamic in regards to music and how we listen and experience to it. I think everyone can agree that music has definitely changed since the nineties and so has the audience. In order to make sales, decent sales, you have to appeal to the audience that is present today. I don't think Jodeci did a good job of doing that. I am not saying that I dislike the album. I am just saying that I don't believe that they should expect new fans. Their nineties background is evident throughout the album, especially, in the songs “Stress Reliever”, “Too Hot” featuring AV, and “Incredible”. Its hard to explain what makes “Stress Reliever” feel like a 90s song. The beat, the lyrics, and the rhythm all have the smoothness that 90s RnB usually possesses Its an ode to a woman, as is most of the songs on the album. It is one of the most addictive off the album. “Incredible” is another song that is almost indistinguishable in the time changes. In this song it is heard in the harmonies and the underlying seductive talking. You just dont hear that anymore. “Too Hot” has an obvious Hip Hop influence, like most of their music. AV is a contemporary artist and this is possibly one of the most intelligent moves they could have made with this album. To include relevant contemporary artists such as AV, B.O.B in their single “Nobody Wins”, and Mila J in their song “Body Parts” will boost their relativity with new audiences. All three songs have the ability to get stuck in yous head but not for long. None have very significant merits besides the artist that are featured on them. The songs “Checkin' For You”, “Those Things”, and “Every Moment” don't even have that, but they are enjoyable enough. “Every Moment” is my favorite out of the three because it is a slower song that is just so sweet you cant help but love it. Jodeci was never afraid to have emotions on a track and I can hear that in the song “Jennifer” as well. Both are emotional and just really nice to hear. The only song I disliked on this album is “Sho Out” featuring Liana Banks. The repetitive lyrics grate on my nerves and it is obvious that this one song was their attempt at being more modern. Overall, I enjoyed the album, I believe it could be a successful album. If it was released in the nineties. A comeback album should showcase how an artist(s) grew as a musician and that they can still hold their ground with the top contemporary artists. I believe they will get decent sales because they already have a strong following, but if they were to keep releasing albums their sound will have to pick it up a notch if they want the records to ever follow in their history's footsteps and reach multiplatinum status because while their sound may not have changed, the industry has.
Review written by:Brianna Milon

Beat the Champ: The Mountain Goats
★★★★☆

As John Darnielle, founder and heart of the Mountain Goats, loudly and proudly states in the liner notes, through the album art, and in every bit of press they’ve done recently, this is an album about professional wrestling. The very idea of professional wrestling may immediately send some of you running and screaming as far away from this album as you can, but stay with me here for a minute and let me assuage your fears. To the non-fan, professional wrestling just seems to be guys in tights grappling and throwing each other around in a fake (well, predetermined) sport, and on a very basic level, that idea is right. Wrestling goes so much further than that though. At its best, it is a character-driven, never ending story—as Darnielle called it in a recent interview with Deadspin, it’s essentially a form of theater for the working class. Professional wrestling works best when it has strong, well-written and well-acted characters performing in a storyline that makes sense. It can lead to epic stories driven by nationalism, jealousy, betrayal, or just good, old-fashioned hate. The wrestling is completely secondary to the story. This is why people like Hulk Hogan and the Rock were able to become iconic stars. They weren’t technical aces in the ring (hell, Hogan could probably barely be considered technically competent), but they were absolutely magnetic personalities and characters that the entire audience could connect to. This is the kind of storytelling that Darnielle is relating to and retelling on this album. John Darnielle grew up in an era before the huge national promotions dominated the wrestling scene and it was still a regional, intimate affair, and the songs on this album reflect the smaller, luchadore-influenced work of the Southwest region he saw in his youth. Lead single “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” is the most personal song on the album, which will make it the most familiar to longtime Mountain Goat fans. Here, Darnielle tells about his connection with his favorite wrestler, Chavo Guerrero Sr. of the legendary Guerrero wrestling family, and how rooting for Chavo was a way to substitute some kind of hero figure for his abusive stepfather (the chorus line “look high, it’s my last hope” combined with “He was my hero back when I was a kid/you let me down but Chavo never once did/you called him names just to get beneath my skin/now your ashes are scattered in the wind” really show the kind of raw, aggressive emotion seen in the Mountain Goats best songs). The spoken word “Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan” tells the true story of the death of Bruiser Brody in an absolutely chilling fashion. On the rest of the album, Darnielle channels the men in the ring, both through the eyes of the actual wrestlers and through the perspective of what the characters themselves may have been thinking. On “Werewolf Gimmick,” this album’s obligatory Mountain Goats cathartic rager, the song takes the perspective of a wrestler who’s taken up a werewolf character getting a little too into it and savagely beating an opponent with no remorse at all. “Heel Turn 2” is a beautiful song that tracks the psychology of a character turning from hero (a face/babyface in wrestling parlance) to a villain (a heel). While it’s a song ostensibly about wrestling, the theme here applies perfectly to anyone who’s tried to play by the rules their entire life and still end up on the bottom of the pile, and is pushed to the breaking point of snapping and rebelling against everything they’ve stood for in the past. In a similar vein, “Foreign Object” follows the logic of why and how a character would cheat and use a weapon to beat their opponent, in addition to being the cheeriest song ever written about stabbing a guy in the eye. Also, this is the best and most complex the Mountain Goats have ever been musically, with the band continuing to gain confidence as they get further from its acoustic guitar recording on a tape deck days. Overall, this is a awesomely well-written and composed album, with a few spots that drag a bit, on a topic that has very rarely been tackled in popular music, much less by a songwriter as accomplished as John Darnielle, so it’s well worth the price of admission to check out this audial sloberknocker.
Review written by: Mitchell Owens

Good Girl: Julian Moon
★★★★☆

Julian Moon is a very new face in the music industry. “Good Girl” is her first album release, and she doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. That doesn’t mean she should just be glossed over. She’s definitely got what it takes to make it big. Her voice is very soft-spoken and full of pitch change. It is almost reminiscent of Christina Perri. Moon is a self-described pop artist, and her album explores all the elements that make up pop. Most of the album is up-beat acoustic guitar, which is most apparent in “One Penny”. This single is a great song that does a great job of combing Moon’s solid vocals with the right guitar and percussion combination to make a song that easily gets into your head. The titular single “Good Girl” is another good one. Opting out the acoustic guitar for saxophone and electric guitar, the song is again a fun one that easily gets stuck in your head. There’s other styles to Moon’s music as well. For example, “Just Go With It” has an almost hip-hop/rap feel with disc scratches, a piano bit, and some electronic instrumentation as well. Moon can slow it down too, like in “How To Break A Heart”. Piano and smooth, synthesized percussion lead to a swaying song. Moon’s great vocals make the listener truly believe she has had her heart broken. Perhaps the most fun song on the album is “Just A Cup Of Coffee”. Again, the acoustic guitar makes an appearance to lead to medium-tempo song about a barista dealing with a rude customer. The highlight of this song is the lyrics. For example, hearing, “I wish I could punch you in the face, but I can’t” is almost a juxtaposition to the guitar and soft voice singing it. In fact, the highlight of the whole album is the lyrics. Moon has said that she writes for her current generation, who generally doesn’t have Gucci bags or expensive rides. Instead, she just writes about the everyday experiences that we all go through (rude customers, relationships, breakups, etc.). I really like this album, and I hope to see this “Loser” make it big.
Review written by: Cory Stamp

Future Heart (Explicit): All Time Low
★★★★☆

Jack U

All Time Low is the ultimate pop alternative band. They have been rocking their signature pop alternative sound for years now, and yet with every new album All Time Low releases, they somehow manage to make the sound stay fresh. Their newest album “Future Hearts” is a perfect example of this. All Time Low still has their signature angst-driven alternative sound on this album, however they experiment with an edgier sound on some of the tracks. At first I was skeptical that they could pull off the edgier sound, but my doubts were put to rest once I heard “Satellite,” the first song on the album. The song has a harder beat than All Time Low fans may be used to, but it’s not a drastic change by any means. It still has a pop/alternative chorus as lead singer Alex Gaskarth sings a song of remembrance of a former love. It doesn’t stray too far away from All Time Low’s sound, but it’s different enough to keep the music fresh. Other songs like this include “Kicking and Screaming,” “Old Scars/Future Hearts” and “Your Bed.” These songs show that All Time Low are not afraid to shake up their sound, however the rest of the album is their signature angst ridden, pop alternative sound. Their song “Something’s Gotta Give” is one of the best songs on the whole album. It’s extremely catchy and has the perfect blend of alternative and pop to it. It sounds a little more mature than their previous songs, which is a good thing. If they were playing the same exact music they were back when they first started in 2003, it would show that they haven’t grown as musicians over the last 12 years. Other songs like this to look out for on the album include “Kids in the Dark,” “Runaways” and “Missing You.” Two of the better songs on the album are tracks that feature some famous front men. Mark Hopus of Blink-182 lends his voice on the track “Tidal Waves.” This song sounds like it was influenced by Blink-182’s music. It’s more alternative than All Time Low’s usual sound and is slower than most of their songs, but it’s still killer. Hopus does a great job with enhancing the track without taking it over from All Time Low. The other famous front man featured on the album is Joel Madden, front man for Good Charlotte. He is featured on a song called “Bail Me Out,” and it sounds as if All Time Low was influenced by Good Charlotte’s sound on this track. It has a deep bass line and is mellower than other songs on the album. Madden does a great job lending his vocals to the song. If it was just Gaskarth on the track, it would not have sounded as good as it does. Overall, this album proves that All Time Low still has phenomenal music to contribute to the world, and that they are not to mature and experiment with their sound.
Review written by: Kelly Kuehn

E.G. Time: E-Girls
★★★★★

e-girls

This group is a dance and vocal unit called “E- Girls.” “E” means Exile which is also dance and vocal group. So, E- Girls inherits from Exile. The leader of Exile, Hiro produces this group like as female version of Exile. Actually, E- girls are formed by three female dance and vocal group, “Dream,” “Flower,” and “Happiness.” Dream is the oldest group and components of four vocalists. Actually, they can also dance professionally and have the feeling of and atmosphere of adult. Their songs are mostly love songs. Flower components of two vocalists and five dancers, and they all can dance as well. They are the middle age in E- Girls, 19 to 22 years old, so their songs are love and up- tempo. Finally, Happiness is the youngest in E- Girls, 15 to 20 years old, so they have energy and power to dance. They component of two vocalists and five dancers and they all can dance as well. These mixed characteristics, adult, powerful, and mild make much harmony to fascinate people. To be formed by three groups, they can perform dynamically, powerfully, and heartrendingly for each audience in every concert. You can enjoy their music when you are watching this video and listening to the music. Interestingly, the vocalists change depending on which music the vocalists match, so they are selected in each song. Different vocalists are chosen for different songs. In this album, there are rock, love, and happy songs. For rock song, you can enjoy watching the music video because the up- tempo music matches their dance. For love song, you better listen to the music. The music tone reminds the time when you love someone. For up- tempo song, the dance is dynamic and surprises you because of the powerful dance even though they all are girls. Some people in E- Girls are models and others are on variety TV shows because each person has different characteristics for entertaining. As performers, they train professionally as if they are athletes. They do weight training, running, spinner bike, and bench press. The producer Hiro thinks performers have to train and be professional to entertain. They do not want to show poor performances. I think they are the most famous girls group in Japan, but they still need to be known each name by people in Japan. Then they probably can do world tour sometime. You can see their amazing performances and professionalism and will like them.
Review written by: Wataru Orihara

Carrie & Lowell: Sufjan Stevens
★★★★★

Carrie & Lowell

Sufjan Stevens’ has always given his music a heavy, personally emotional bent. Highly regarded songs of his (“Casimir Pulaski Day” from Illinois is a very prominent and heavy hitting example) deal with issues like death, difficulties with religion, coming to terms with a broken family, and all of the emotional issues that come with growing into adulthood, which were usually colored by numerous personal experiences. On past albums, Stevens balanced this occasionally bleak songwriting with cheery melodies, bold orchestral backings, and clever song titles. With Carrie & Lowell (his first full, non-Christmas album since 2010’s divisive Age of Adz), he strips away all the largess and facades of joy that his previous albums were built on and leaves only subdued, intensely emotional songs that create what is possibly his best album yet, and an album that will deservedly be on every top 10 list come the end of the year. Carrie and Lowell, the titular figures at the center of this album, are Stevens’ estranged mother and his step-father, who, for the five years of their marriage, seemed to be a significantly better and more caring parental figure than his mother. Even though these two have played relatively small parts in his life as a whole, the five years they were together seems to have played a significant part in Sufjan’s life because that was the period he was closest to his mother (for more information about his family’s past and his relationship with his mother, go read his excellent interview with Ryan Dombal on Pitchfork). The album is focused on Stevens coming to terms with his relationship with his mother in the wake of her death in 2012 and the emotional difficulties he dealt with after her death, and the songs do come across as more of a way for him to talk himself through his issues with this extremely difficult figure from his life. In Sufjan’s own words, this album is “not my art project; this is my life.” Musically, you can tell he has taken his usual artistic style out of this album. He removed the big, full band sounds that defined Illinois and Greetings from Michigan and the electronic/orchestral insanity of Age of Adz and left only a minimal sound that lightly accents the lyrics that really make up the heart of the album. Most songs are only made up of a smattering of acoustic guitar or piano, and when Stevens does dip into electronic sounds, it only serves as an ambient way to extend the emotion of a song and transition from one point to another instead of Adz’s electronic sensory overload. It sounds beautiful, and it excels in purpose of highlighting the emotion of the lyrics in each song. The songwriting on this album is where Stevens truly shines through, and what makes this my pick for his best album ever. He’s always been a great storyteller, but every one of these songs is made of intense, personal, raw emotion. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to listen to, but it’s so engrossing that it’s difficult to stop listening to, no matter how much of a puddle of emotion it’s turned you into. “Eugene” goes from stories of happy memories of summers staying with Carrie and Lowell to Sufjan’s intense depression after her death, while constantly repeating that he just wants to be near her. “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” journeys through his serious substance abuse issues that came about as a way to try and deal with his mother’s death. “John My Beloved” is an emotional sledgehammer that brings together Sufjan’s religious background to seemingly compare his sense of loss and being directionless to the apostles after the death of Jesus. It’s an intense and difficult comparison, but he makes it work and delivers it in a way that is devastating to listen to. The songwriting alone makes this album great, and combining it with Steven’s excellent musicianship and the emotional focus and intensity that drove the creation of this work makes an album that cannot be missed.
Review written by:Mitchell Owens



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