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Album Reviews

Tomorrow Is My Turn: Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens is a lot of things. She’s the heart and soul of the Grammy-winning folk/bluegrass band Carolina Chocolate Drops. She’s a musical historian of such a high caliber that T- Bone Burnett hand-picked her for the New Basement Tapes project, alongside giants like Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford. She’s the most prominent black, female voice in folk and bluegrass, and is one of the very few black women involved in these genres at all. Now, she’s taking a run as a solo artist with an incredible album composed (almost completely) of covers of traditional blues and folk songs. Giddens (with some direction from uber-producer/folkie whisperer/possibly actual musical steak T-Bone Burnett) manages to effectively make all of these songs sound fresh and new while staying shockingly true to the most well-known arrangements for all of them. By sticking to the traditional arrangements, Giddens allows her powerful voice to shine as the main point of interest for these songs. Her take on songs from iconic stars like Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Nina Simone shows that she can absolutely hang with these greats, and hopefully someday will be looked at in the same light that they are (especially by acing her version of Cline’s “She’s Got You,” the one truly legendary song tackled on this album). Giddens has an incredible vocal presence, and uses it to force these songs into being hers through sheer power. Her voice is also able to deftly shift between the wide range of emotion portrayed across this album, which adds so much character and complexity to these already powerful songs. Even though this album is an absolute delight to listen to, I can’t help but feel that this whole album is overly limiting and a misuse of Giddens’ considerable talents. While her role as a musical historian is certainly a major part of her artistic identity, the slavish devotion to original arrangements does as much harm as it does good to this album. Giddens’ true strength is as an arranger and composer of songs, and she has the ability to turn any song into something amazingly unique while still steeped in a mountain of musical tradition. The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” anchored by Giddens’ singing, is their biggest hit and what pushed them into the public eye. With the New Basement Tapes, the songs where Giddens took lead on arranging the music were consistently some of the best on the album. Here, she only really gets to stretch the boundaries of the music with “Black Is the Color,” which she builds around a great early-90s style hip-hop beat. It creates something unique, new, and interesting while still preserving the spirit and feelings of the original song. If an album really wants to showcase Giddens’ true musical skills, it should be more of this kind of experimentation with tradition and less directly translating it for a modern audience.
Review written by: Mitch Owens

If You're Reading This It's Too Late: Drake
Fifth Harmony

After two successful and mostly enjoyable albums former Degrassi actor turned rap super star is back with the surprise mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Drake pulled a Beyoncé and released If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late out of nowhere. The 17 tracks are some of the best material he has created yet but unlike most mixtapes this one will cost you $12.99 on iTunes. The best part of any Drake album is how personal he gets, and his latest release is no different. The production is also well done thanks to longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, the beats really seem to match the tone of Drake’s vocal performance. Unlike his previous efforts this are no clear singles or hits and while usually this could be a problem it is likely Drake did not even make this mixtape with radio in mind and as a whole it works. Although many of the songs are on par with each other when it comes to quality there are a few that stand above the others. One stand out is “Energy,” which makes it very clear that Drake has enemies. Whether it’s with an ode to his Mother on “You & the 6,” or with collaborators Lil Wayne and PARTYNEXTDOOR on “Used To” and “Preach,” it’s hard not to enjoy the songs thanks to the personal raps and fresh beats. Unlike with some artists after you finish If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late you do get a sense of who Drake is at the moment and the type of situations he’s going through. The very last track “6 AM In New York” expresses his wonders about the future and his legacy and gives a clue to where Drake may go from here. Whether the rumors are true and Drake is looking to leave the troubled Young Money record label with Lil Wayne it’s clear from this tape that Drake knows what he is doing. There is no clear singles or hits and some songs are not very memorable yet If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is without a doubt some of the best Drake material to date thanks to the personal lyrics and the production assists.
Review written by: Brandon Kasprzyk

Tetsuo & Youth: Lupe Fiasco

Meghan Trainor

Hip-hop has seen its fair share of changes. From the gangster rappers of the 1990s to the auto- tuned rappers of the millennial generation, hip-hop has never been a genre of pure definition. Usually, an artist breaks through the rap clutter that plagues the genre and changes the whole game, causing other rappers to copy their style. It’s a cycle that goes on and on, and this time around, it’s going to be Lupe Fiasco who breaks through the clutter and changes the game with his new album “Testuo & Youth.” The album showcases Fiasco’s impressive rap skills, lyrical genius and social consciousness all at once. This is especially present in his song “Deliver.” The song depicts life in the troubled part of town and how the pizza delivery guy won’t even deliver to the neighborhood anymore because of the violence that plagues it. It gives a unique perspective on life in the rough neighborhoods and how it can affect those who live in those neighborhoods. Fiasco has been known to put this content in his other songs, however one really had to read into the lyrics to get what he was saying. Now, he just puts it all out there and says it so that anyone can understand the issue. His rapping skills are tight all across this album, but I was surprised at the amount of instrumentals he had on his tracks. “Mural” is a track that opens up with a slow instrumental sequence, but when the tempo speeds up and Fiasco starts rapping, the background music stays instrumental. It’s like combining peanut butter and chocolate – two totally different flavors of music merging to make a great song. This isn’t the only track where Fiasco plays off something outside of the typical hip-hop genre. The song “Blur My Hands” features a soulful Guy Sebastian. The two balance one another out to make a dynamic sound that resonates with all fans of music. He does not hold back on this album in regards to his personal life. The song “Body Work” is about dealing with one’s past and the secrets one has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Fiasco does not hold back on this track, or any other track on the album. The only flaw I would see in the album are the tracks “Summer,” “Fall,” and “Spring.” These are pure instrumental tracks that incorporate the sounds of their seasons’ name sake and are about a minute to a minute and a half long. They are cool tracks, however I feel like Fiasco could have used the space these tracks take up to make more of his music. Overall, Lupe Fiasco has proven to the world that hip-hop is most certainly not dead with this album. Hip-hop has been getting flack lately for not being “real” and having rappers “sell out” to become more of a commercial success. Fiasco certainly revives the hip-hop genre with this album, and I definitely recommend giving it a listen to if you have the chance.
Review written by: Kelly Kuehn

Led Zeppelin IV:Led Zeppelin

Big Dark Love

When I heard that rock’n’roll legends Led Zeppelin were remastering and re-releasing their 1971 classic album Led Zeppelin IV, I thought, “I must have it!” Led Zeppelin IV is categorized as one of the ultimate and iconic albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone Magazine lists Led Zeppelin IV at 69; that’s 69 out of the top 500 best albums of all time. It is truly one of the “MUST-HAVE albums of all time. It was re-released in October 2014. Regardless what era you’re from, whether it’s 1971 or 2015, this album is so incredible that it invites new generations of music fans for years to come. When an album is remastered, that means the original studio analog masters (usually 2” reel-to-reel tape format) are transferred to a digital format. Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 22 million copies since its original release. ( led_zeppelin.php) It is truly one of my favorite albums, and remains a top favorite of many radio stations, music critics, and collectors. Known as Zeppelin IV, or as some rock fans called it, “ZOSO,” because of the strange lettering on the albums’ dust sleeve. The legend goes that lead singer Robert Plant and guitar-God Jimmy Page were influenced and inspired by sorcery, Black Magic, religion and the occult, and the works of magician Aleister Crowley. In fact, the album’s opening cut “Black Dog” was so named, because a stray black dog would frequent the yard of the 12th Century English castle where the album was recorded. What makes this album so great? Many critics and music fans say undeniably, that this is because it contains the classic “Stairway To Heaven,” arguably the most requested song in radio station history. Even to this day. With Plant’s screeching, high-octave vocals, Page’s harmonious guitar work, and of course, John “Bonzo” Bonham’s awesome and thunderous drumming, it’s easy to see why this song was, and still is so popular. “Stairway To Heaven” absolutely signifies itself as a Rock’n’ Roll phenomena. Other songs include the haunting “When the Levee Breaks” featuring Bonham’s amazing, thunderous, pounding drum beat. There is yet another awesome story behind his huge, booming drum sounds during the song’s introduction. Bonham’s drum kit was set up at the base of the castle’s tower. The sound engineer ingeniously placed microphones on each level of the tower, going up about five stories. This captured the drum sounds bouncing of the ancient stone walls of tower, giving the song its famous thunderous drum beat. And of course this wouldn’t be a review without the mention of the classic tune “Rock’n’Roll.” This song was so commercially successful that radio stations continue to play it today, and bar bands still cover it. Led Zeppelin IV is definitely one for the ages.
Review written by: Jeff Cook

I Love You, Honeybear: Father John Misty

Father John Misty may not be the musical superhero that America needs right now, but he is certainly the one we deserve the most. In his debut album under this moniker, Joshua Tillman’s finely cultivated stage persona (a mix of ironic detachment, disaffectation, absurdism, and just a ridiculous amount of drugs) created a postmodern musical experience that did an impressive job of capturing the bleakness and humor of the human experience (frequently together in the same song) that few other artists could pull off without sounding like a total jerk. With the lead single of I Love You, Honeybear, “Bored In The USA,” it seemed like Tillman would double-down on this world view in his music with a song that is somehow gaudily minimalistic and filled with ironic laugh tracks and verbal missiles aimed squarely at modern American dream and “White/President Jesus.” Instead, this song proves to be the exception rather than the rule for the new album, in which Tillman draws on his experiences of meeting, dating, and eventually marrying his now-wife to inject the whole spectrum of emotions surrounding love into his music. This newly discovered range makes Honeybear feel immediately more personal and human than Fear Fun, making this another great album for almost completely separate reasons than his debut (for more background on the emotional journey behind this album, check out the excellent article by Sean Fennessey on Grantland about Tillman). Almost every song on this album seems to be pulled directly from Tillman’s relationship, so the best place to start talking about the music is probably with the song about how the relationship began (which also ends the album). “I Went To The Store One Day” This is an emotionally raw song by any artists’ standard, so for Tillman, especially working as Father John, this is the lyrical equivalent of him somberly stripping off all his clothes on stage so that the audience can truly see who the man behind the music is (for emotional reference, please remember that this man used a laugh track as a musical instrument on this very album). This makes for an incredible love song about how a simple act like going to the store can lead to spending forever with someone. The rest of the album explores the parts in between the store and forever, whether it’s the jealousy and loneliness of “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” (which Tillman admitted portrays him at his absolute worst) or the rapturous joy of new love in “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins).” It’s a roller coaster, but it’s also about as complete of a representation of love that you will ever see in an album. Musically, this album is fairly similar to Fear Fun, trafficking heavily in psychedelically-tinged folk rock, but there are a few new tricks littered amongst the rest. The subdued insanity of “Bored In The USA” has already been discussed. “Chateau Lobby #4” takes a distinct mariachi bend. “True Affection” comes completely out of nowhere with one of the better Postal Service-imitation indie electronica tracks that I’ve ever heard. The emotional and musical boundary pushing by Father John Misty in this album is exciting, and hopefully a sign of even stranger things to come, but for now, this is an excellent album that seems like it would be a great listen for all of you lovebirds out there.
Review written by: Mitchell Owens

My Garden: Kat Dahlia

The Garden

The beautiful Cuban-American music artist straight out of Miami, Florida released her first ever studio album. My Garden is Kat Dahlia's debut album that was released back on January 13th. I believe 2015 will be Kat Dahlia's year. My Garden possesses that raw and rich sound of what Alternative R&B and Hip-Hop should sound like. After its released, My Garden had peaked at number 40 on the Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop. On some of the songs featured on this album, Kat Dahlia sounds like a Rihanna replica. Some people might call her a rip-off version of Rihanna because she really sounds a lot like Rihanna on the single “Gangsta.” Yeah, she sounds like Rihanna and she features some of that Rihanna swagger but I don’t she’s even trying to be a Rihanna wannabe. Beyond the whole Rihanna conspiracy, we can also make another conspiracy. Can you guess why? Are you getting that vibe, like you heard this song before? Have you guessed it yet? Are you thinking to yourself, “have I gone crazy?” Relax everyone, take a step back and breathe. Are you good now? Okay, now that you’re good lets piece it together. Some of you might have gone crazy trying to think of the song “Gangsta” sounds like. Do any of you remember back in 2002 hearing the song “Wanksta” by well-known Hip-Hop music artist, 50 Cent? Well if you do that’s what “Gangsta” sounds exactly like. I’m not sure if it was intentionally supposed to sound like “Wanksta.” Beyond the Rihanna and 50 Cent conspiracies, “Gangsta” is a great song. It has the natural raw Hip-Hop flavor. That rich Hip-Hop beat will just pound against your heart. I believe that the single is about Kat Dahlia's struggles in the music industry and outside of it. I also like the single “Crazy.” “Crazy” is a crazy good song, so embrace the crazy. You got what I did there, “Crazy” is a ‘crazy’ good song, so embrace the ‘crazy.’ No, I haven’t gone crazy, I thought it was funny. After listening to “Crazy,” I made the theory that if Miley Cyrus and Rihanna had a vocal baby, you’d get Kat Dahlia. “Crazy” has that type of flavor that doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste in your mouth. The single has a very fresh flavor, and Kat Dahlia's vocal’s just enriches the song even more. Overall, I recommend you give this album a try if you haven’t already.
Review written by: Alan Taylor

The Pale Emperor: Marilyn Manson

The Pale Emperor

This week I chose to review Marilyn Manson’s album The Pale Emperor. This album was released January 20th, 2015. This album is the 9th studio album. As we all know, Marilyn Manson is an American Rock artist. To make his album a hit, he released a few singles from it last year and this year. That was beneficial to them. This album was number 8 on the Billboard 200. Not only that, but the first week of this album being out there were 51,000 copies sold. Not only was this popular in the states but it got quite the loving in Switzerland. So now to the music. The style changed quite a bit from his previous music. The songs on this album had fewer word than his usual, he just let the music soak in, in my opinion. This album focused a lot more on leaning towards a bluesy and hard rock style which was quite far from his heavy metal days. His music sounded a lot like The Rolling Stones. Much of the music’s concepts focused on religion and war. It is quite a violent vibe. He obviously was bitter while writing this. Now this album reminds me of his work in the early 2000’s. He really recreated what he wrote then and modernized it. The album Holywood was his album that sounded so similar. Fans that are now 30 will probably eat this album right up due to the familiar aspects. Now as dark as this album may seem to be, it is dark for a meaningful reason He dedicated this album to his mother who died during the making of this album. She died from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Because there was a deeper meaning to this album I would rank this a 3 out of 5.
Review written by: Maggie Wilson


Moody vocals, eerie dissonance and jangly, overdriven guitars are all cornerstones on Mourn’s self-titled debut record. Mourn is four-piece band based in Barcelona, Spain. Its members are all 18 years old, excluding their bassist, only 15 years of age. Being a teenager can be a time that is tumultuous, emotional and stricken with anger, and Mourn exemplifies these sort of feelings in their album. The band is, instrumentally, a very traditional rock ‘n roll setup, featuring two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer. The sound that the quartet brings to the table, however, is not quite traditional. At its basis, Mourn sounds reminiscent of late 60’s proto-punk, but sculpted with irregular chord progressions and creepy dissonance. The sonic unrest is further tied together with plenty of intentionally imperfect vocal and guitar unison lines, and the album was recorded directly to tape in only two days’ time, in order to reflect the spontaneous panache of their live performance. For people that remember the anxieties of their teenage high school years, the feeling of irrational anger, sadness and unkempt energy will be more than familiar. It’s this relatable sort of attitude that I believe can make this album a timeless one. Mourn chose not to fit too many guitar solos into this album, but the two that are plenty fun to listen to. Although they do not sound incredibly difficult to play, Mourn makes up for the apparent lack of intricacy with something I deem to be debatably more important: melody. The solo I prefer is on the track “Otitis”: it’s simple, and split up into two repeating sections, but it’s quite memorable. It seems to have a dark, brooding voice of its own, and gives the listener a sense of tension and uneasiness. Another thing of note about this album is its length. Not only are there ten tracks (eleven if you count the bonus track), which is slightly below the standard twelve, but the average track length on this album is roughly two minutes long. While this may be a disappointment to some, none of the songs strike me as missing out on any sort of content. While I do think some tracks probably could be expanded upon if Mourn chose to do so, it wouldn’t be necessary. All in all, I would definitely recommend anyone to listen to this album, with the warning that it can be a bit of an acquired taste. My favorite tracks on it definitely have to be “Your Brain is Made of Candy”, “Dark Issues” and “Otitis”. Give it a listen, and let all that nostalgic teenage angst creep back in through your ears.
Review written by: Devin Johnston

J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive
2014 forest hills drive

Hip hop rapper, songwriter and producer Jermaine Lamarr Cole is known as J. Cole by his audience. Born on January 28th 1985, he was the first artist to be signed by Jay-Zs label Roc Nation. Roc Nation tapped Cole as the hope to shake up a rap industry that seemed to be looking for a new definining artist to wake up a genre that was in crisis. Cole soon showed that he has a way of combining storytelling with a desire to pay his energy and empathetic nature forward. Raised by a single mother, Cole has found inspiration in his connections to his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina and in his desire to express his commitment to connect to his audience. In his lyrics he seems to be saying: “Yeah, I’ve been where you are and I get it”. Cole’s latest effort entitled 2014 Forest Hills Drive is an anthem to his battles, the area and actual house he grew up in. In fact, Cole recently returned to Fayetteville, NC in order to purchase the house. He intends to refurbish the property and make it a home for single mothers who are struggling and allowing them to live rent free for a year. As a rapper turned philanthropist Cole’s admirers will probably come to understand that there are deeper, personal themes to many of his songs. On his last album Born Sinner, Cole had been criticized for lyrics that are too shallow and lacking in the raw and real emotion that he had in projects such as Friday Night Lights and The Warm Up. I my opinion, none of the past criticisms can be applied to 2014 Forest Hills Drive. In the first song Intro, Cole tells his audience he is still with it and “telling his story”. His story is meant to show what can happen when circumstances and opportunity, not fate, collide. The message is powerful in the lyrics for Love Yourz. Life isn’t a fairytale. Yet, that’s no reason for drinking, using drugs and not staying true to you. As Cole retorts: “There’s beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success, hear my words and listen to my signal of distress”. Cole doesn’t lecture: he admits to his own struggle with the “demons” he continues to try and vanquish and the new hindrances that come with his new life. The refrain “No such thing as a life better than yours” is put out there as the mantra he wants to share to let everyone know he felt lost at one point but if you lean on those close to you it will get better. In Apparently, we see a truly venerable side of Cole. He questions why the Lord is still with him even after all of the sidetracks and falls he has allowed himself. As usual, there is a reference to his roots and the home in Forest Hills. As a storyteller and food for thought lyricist, Cole is one of the best and most “open book” MC’s of the modern rap era. The man who is achieving so much success on the stage has to deal with the fact that he was working on his career as his mother was losing her home scraping cash to get by. “I’m so sorry that I left you there to deal with that alone”. In January 28th, Cole goes back to a reoccurring theme admonishing those who would chase the easy money and fleeting, instant ways of gratification. The significance of the title should not go unnoticed. Cole was born on January 28th 1985. His early life held the struggles that he refers to in most of his lyrics. His need to connect to those who struggle is obvious. He continues to encourage self reflection and the necessity to formulate goals. “If you ain’t aim too high…then you aim too low.” Cole brings all his fans back to his early work that opened so many eyes that only saw the drug dealing gun toting rapper. What really separates Cole is his sole involvement on the production of his beats and lyrics which is something very few artists have the skill to do. If you don’t buy another album this year, I would encourage you to download Cole’s latest. This artist, in my opinion, has what the rap world is looking for and is part of the movement to change the culture around rap. He is the “everyman” of the genre. His message is not one of blame or condemnation. Rather, it is a call for introspection; to rise up and become true to your potential. To allow others to help you and then, when success happens, to give credit where it is due. In Note to Self, Cole models this as he credits his success to God and his whole “dreamville family”. This album is his breakthrough work. Cole himself has said it all, “We made it baby”. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a testament to the original purpose of rap music of telling a story and staying true to yourself, it’s a rare combination of music that can be played at a party and when you just feel like chillin. I give it a 5/5 from intro to outro it’s beautiful work.
Review written by: Alan Gainesy

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