5 Rock Bands You May Not Know (But Need To)

In today’s musical landscape, it is a popular assumption that rock music is all but dead. Giants like The Foo Fighters and U2 lumber on, but the fire that once raged in garages across the nation seems to have been doused by the water of modern society. If that sounds depressing to you, don’t worry! I’ve compiled a list of five newer rock bands with fantastic potential who sport recent releases which are simply must listens for true fans of the genre. So, as a great man once said, “Let’s Get Rockin’!”

1. Catfish and the Bottlemen

Of the bands on this list, Catfish is probably the most popular in the mainstream music world, but don’t let that scare you away. Their short but notable discography is filled to the brim with infectious melodies, witty drug references, and the vintage British attitude of their lead vocalist, Ryan McCann.Catfish

Having cut their teeth in the industry by playing loud and proud in the parking lots of other bands’ concerts, the group sounds at all times like they’re forcing you to pay attention, which makes for an exciting record! After the massive success of their 2016 sophomore release, The Ride, its safe to say that we’ll be hearing quite a bit more from the group in the coming years!

2. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

One of the most successful alt-rock groups in recent memory, King Gizzard boasts a massive discography and a fearless passion for experimentation. For example, 2015 saw the release of the groups entirely acoustic record, “Paper Mache Dream Balloon,” followed in 2016 by “Nonagon Infinity,” a record which played seamlessly as one long gizzard

track and even connected the final song directly to the first creating an infinite loop. 2017 then began with the release of “Flying Microtonal Banana,” the groups experiments with microtones in their instruments.

Not to be mistaken as gimmicky,  Gizzard can also stand alone as a stellar garage/psychedelic rock band. Having released four full length records in 2017 alone, and with many more on the horizon, the time may come soon when we will all hail to the King.

3. Royal Blood

This group rose to prominence a few years ago thanks to a couple of powerful late-night performances and an incredible debut record. The two piece, if nothing else, will be teach listeners that you don’t need an electric guitar to rock; a bass and some drums doRoyal

 the trick. Blood was one of the main acts at Bonnaroo this year, and have begun to amass quite a few followers thanks to their live skills.

2017 saw the release of their sophomore LP which was quite a success with fans and critics alike. They seem to be pegged as the next big thing in underground music, and don’t seem to be on any coarse to fail.

4. Protomartyr

I’ll be the first to admit that I am quite late to the party on this one, but with a sound so unique, there is nothing else around that could desensitize you to the first time you hear a Protomartyr track. Their particular blend of spoken work, punk rock instrumentals, and biting political commentary sets them apart from the pack and establishes them as a major player in the underground scene. A particular interest in Greek philosophy and in depth intertextuality, they’re also quite an enlightening listen.Protomartyr

Their 2017 release, “Relatives in Decent,” is a master class in lyricism and atmosphere. Quite worth a listen for anyone who enjoys a bit of depth in their Rock and Roll.

5. IDLES

IDLESIt’s fitting that this modern punk outfit would name themselves in all capital letters, as anyone who’s heard them knows just how jarring of an experience they are. This year’s debut release, Brutalism was, simply put, awesome! With anger, talent, and writing ability to rival their 1970’s forefathers, IDLES proved with one of this years best albums that punk is still alive, and quite relevant today.

Following up on a release like Brutalism will be difficult, but with the impressive talent and massive attitude of this group it’s entirely possible in the next few years. Until then, all you punks are stuck with the debut LP and a few EPs, which will have to hold you over. Not to mention the notoriously loud and violent shows they’ve been known to put on!

Hear CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN:  https://open.spotify.com/artist/2xaAOVImG2O6lURwqperlD

Hear KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6XYvaoDGE0VmRt83Jss9Sn

Hear ROYAL BLOOD: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2S5hlvw4CMtMGswFtfdK15

Hear PROTOMARTYR:  https://open.spotify.com/artist/2YFBqMMiIIL4XyiEwqySUQ

Hear IDLES: https://open.spotify.com/artist/75mafsNqNE1WSEVxIKuY5C\

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Patrick Miranda Interview

As I was reviewing their massively successful debut EP, Outgrown Things in March of 2016, I was fortunate enough to get to interview Patrick Miranda, lead singer of Movements over Facebook Messenger. With the release of their first full length project, Feel Something and my own review on the way, it’s a good time to look back on an excellent conversation with one of the most impressive lyricists and emotional vocalists in modern rock music.

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Brendon’s Beats: Outgrown things is definitely quite a bit different than most things out right now. What were a few of your inspirations for your sound?

Patrick Miranda: First of all, thank you for listening to the record! It’s nice to know that people think our music stands out. As far as our sound goes, we’re all influenced by a lot of different artists and we all come from different musical backgrounds. My personal favorite bands include Title Fight, Pianos Become the Teeth, Balance & Composure, La Dispute, The Hotelier, Touché Amore, etc.

BB: What advice would you have for young musicians as far as aiming for a career in music?

PM: The advice I would give to young musicians working towards a career in music would be (and I’m sorry for it being cliche) NEVER give up. If you have a passion, regardless of if its even music or not, pursue it wholeheartedly, and know that you have the power to be successful in doing what you love, even when everyone is telling you it’s a lost cause.

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BB: After the success of your single, “Protection” , did you feel that there was more pressure or expectations while writing and recording Outgrown Things?

PM: Definitely. There’s constantly the pressure to out do what we’ve done before, you know? I always stress about writing/putting out new music because I worry that people might not respond as well to it as they did to the other music. So far, everything we’ve put out has been received really well, so there isn’t much to worry about, but it can still be nerve wracking!

BB: The lyrics on this record were extremely impressive! I especially loved how personal they were. Do you have a process for his writing? Or is it more organic?

PM: Thank you! I appreciate that. My writing process is very sporadic for the most part. Generally I’ll spend months coming up with random ideas for lyrics, or I’ll jot down thoughts I have that I want to revisit later, until I have an abundance of notes. Then at some point I’ll get in a mood where I’m really inspired and motivated, and I’ll sit down with one idea at a time, and expand upon them until they fit a basic shape for a song! After that it’s a matter of getting together with the guys and putting what I’ve written to the music we’ve been working on.

1461772436-movementsnewBB: Looking forward, what can fans expect next? Are you planning a tour or working on anything new?

PM: The rest of the year is a busy one for us! We’re finishing up our tour with Being As An Ocean this week, then we hit the road with Pierce the Veil and I, The Mighty in June. After that we’ll be spending July and August finishing up preproduction for our first Full Length album. You can expect more touring from us in the fall, and hopefully some new music early next year.

“Outgrown Things” Review

.    In 1973, Roger Waters wrote: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” And while that may still ring true today, the early success of the young Alternative rock group, Movements, seems to suggest that here in America; we prefer our desperation loud and aggressive.4843159

   There was a time in the early and mid 2000’s when Alternative and Indie rock was a genre of angry teens, thrashing guitars, and sharp-witted lyricism. Groups like Taking Back Sunday and Foo Fighters kept the harder, angrier side of Rock and Roll alive, while the earliest work of Fall Out Boy and Jack’s Mannequin took a more heavy pop approach. Musicians at this time, having grown up in the Grunge era of the early 90’s, were inspired by the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and it showed. There was a common theme of angst and heartbreak, laced over aggressive music and loud vocals, reminiscent of their predecessors.

   However, as the turn of the century drew to a close, these groups matured, and with them, so too did the sound of their genre, leaving fans of the style understandably heartbroken.

   This feeling continued, until the latter half of 2015 saw the release of Movements’ first single and video, Protection. With this, the twenty-something head bangers breathed a new life into a fan body, long presumed dead. After the song’s massive success, the anticipation for the next release was high and the pressure was on. Luckily, Outgrown Things doesn’t disappoint.

   The EP opens on a thrashing, heavy pop tune, with somewhat Punk-esque roots. The song, entitled Kept, introduces the lyrical themes of the album right off the bat, as lead singer Patrick Miranda, desperately screams, “Give me something to believe in, and I’ll give you something to forget.” The record as a whole takes aim at the issues that the now twenty-year-old singer faces as he comes to the conclusion of his second decade. In a recent interview with “Casual Punk Fan,” Miranda spoke on many topics including his rocky paternal relationship with his father. He claims that his father doesn’t support his decision to leave school in favor of touring and writing, which leads to issues in his family. The angst of the young singer/songwriter blares over a listener’s speakers as he sings and screams about not being good enough, seeing himself as someone who is easily forgettable.He also touches on his own personal depression, wailing, “I hate myself, I am a wreck.”

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   These themes continue into my personal favorite track, Nineteen. Movements takes this song as an opportunity to slow down, while maintaining their edge, a feat not commonly accomplished by punk-pop bands. Miranda’s quick-witted lyricism and emotionally charged vocal delivery shines brighter in this piece than anywhere else. They also introduce a spoken word portion, an aspect they had pulled off well in Protection. Lines like, “Someday, I hope to make it clear to you that success is not determined by leather bound books and ink on paper, but rather the passion that I have found out of heartbreak and anger.” Are borderline tattoo worthy, as they rant against our culture’s desire to kill creativity in favor predictability. The singer writes, “I know that happiness is stability, but stability is not a desk job.” As the band closes the track with heavy drums and Miranda screaming “I am not my father’s son!” listeners will almost feel a desire to stop the music and reexamine their own lives.

   Next comes Worst Wishes, a breakup song that perfectly captures the chaotic anger of the moment’s immediately following a split. Miranda touches again on his lack of self-esteem, in the song, which sums up the common threads of teenage reaction to the sudden disenchantment of life.

   Hatchet follows, providing a bit of a change of pace. The angst on which the group’s sound is based remains, but Miranda’s wit is now aimed at an old argument that the singer just can’t seem to forget. The track is particularly impressive because of the level of difficulty in the writing. To capture the anger of an argument, yet simultaneously show remorse for the very fact that he is upset, is no easy task. Yet Miranda tackles it with a masterful and refreshing naivety. The metaphor of digging up the “hatchet” he had once buried runs through the whole composition and is remarkably clever.

   Vacant Home returns one last time to the topic of growing up. The band claims that Patrick Miranda wrote the song in response to the news that his parents were selling his childhood home. Most of the vocals use the inventive form of melodic spoken word, which is frequent on the EP. As the singer desperately pleads with his parents to stay where they are, listeners slowly realize something that it seems even Miranda himselfdoesn’t realize: he isn’t just begging his parents to stay, he’s begging them not to change. He’s begging the whole world not to change, for that matter. Vacant Home exemplifies the feelings of every aging teen as perfectly as it has ever been done. The entire band is able to instantaneously beseech the world to stop spinning, and lash out at angrily as it refuses, all in one beautifully simple piece.

   The EP finishes with Losing Fight a slower, acoustic jam that rehashes the themes of the last five songs, in a quick and economic way. It allows the listener to get a feeling for the remorse and underlying sadness that fuels this composition. Losing Fight is a masterful finish to an amazing piece.1461772436-movementsnew

   Musically, the album is just as impressive. The drums carry an aggressive, driving beat with lightning fills and precise, often syncopated, rhythms. Drummer, Spencer York, finds a way to carry the anger and sharp wit of Miranda’s lyricism over into his own instrumentalism. Ira George plays guitar licks that would make any hard rock band lick its lips with jealousy. The bass guitar is especially impressive on this album. In true punk rock spirit, Austin Cressey laces every track with a rattling bass line that sets a solid foundation. They also introduce the idea of adding distortion to their bass guitar, a newer concept that sets them apart from the early 2000’s emo-punk bands. Doing this effectively blends the bass lines with the electric guitar, giving the band’s instrumentation an interesting tightness. The use ofspoken word throughout is an intriguing technique, allowing for more complex writings to carry heavy emotion.

   This EP leaves many listeners hopeful for the future of Rock and Roll, as well as awestruck at the lyrical prowess of such a young writer. It’s many things, a revival of the emo-punk genre, an angry retort to parents who just don’t understand, and an impressive freshman release for the young group. Above all, however, this album is a soundtrack to teenage disenfranchisement. Movements isn’t just four angry teens in a garage, it is a new voice, for a new generation.

Weezer (The White Album)

     The year was 1994. From Nirvana to Blink-182, angry distortion, complex drum rhythms, and depressed, introspective lyricism had become the norm. “Breaking the mold” had quickly become the mold. And armies of cigarette smoking, flannel-wearing teens snuck out of their houses to flock to the nearest Pearl Jam concert, sweeping the country in a rebellious movement that inspired young people all over the world.

   However, all over the country, there were still plenty of Dungeons and Dragons-playing, sweater-wearing high schoolers sitting in their garages, remaining distinctly unaffected by this mass culture shock. Unaffected, that is, until Weezer released their ‘94 debut, The Blue Album. The record focused, musically, on taking Rock and Roll back to its roots. From their chord structures to their album cover, which featured only the four members in front of a blue background, Weezer billed themselves as simple. And to an extent, they were. The Blue Album features comically simple lyricism, heavily distorted guitars, and extremely basic drum beats.

   The group went on to be one of the biggest acts of the nineties, evolving, while staying true to their simple, punk-infused roots to create a new genre of music, often referred to as “post-punk.”

   Upon entering the 2000’s, however, Weezer struggled. Lead singer, Rivers Cuomo’s increasing interest in the Buddhist religion and meditation drove their lyrical content to a new, more serious tone. On top of that, bands like All American Rejects and Fall Out Boy had taken the “post-punk” sound in new directions, leaving Weezer to make a difficult decision with their music: evolve, or become a relic of the nineties like so many others. Recent albums, such as Make Believe (2005), Raditude (2009) , and Everything Will Be Alright In The End (2014), seemed to suggest a new path for the group, which was heavily criticized. To many, it seemed that Weezer was no longer standing against the overly introspective writing and “cool kids” image of a rock star, but had instead become what they had once so fiercely mocked. They were following the trail of a genre that they had pioneered. Weezer once again had something to prove.

   Luckily, The White Album is everything fans could ask for and more.

   The entire piece flows from song to song, all the while clashing wonderfully with background beach sounds that shine through in the dead space, creating the concept of a concert on the beach.

   California Kids and Wind in Our Sails open the record with a refreshing breath of air. They’re lyrically simple, holding their depth in words unsaid and implied. They each featured crunchy distorted guitars and basic drum beats that force listeners to tap their feet. From the opening chord, through the trademark dissonant feedback finishes, these tracks are pure Weezer, prompting smiles from any and all listeners.

   They continue to my personal favorite track: Thank God For Girls. Coming off of the upbeat tone from their two-song opener, Thank God For Girls feels like a flannel-covered slap in the face, from the nineties itself. Cuomo uses the track to mock societal gender stereotyping, stating “You may encounter dragons and ruffians and be called upon to employ your testosterone in battle for supremacy and access to females…” Writing like this defines Weezer. They make an outright point, by stating something much simpler in their lyrics, which causes you to reach their conclusion on your own. They just don’t write songs like this anymore.

   

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This is followed by (Girl We Got A) Good Thing, a simple love song, which reconnects the listener to their happy beach sound completely, featuring a memorable solo from lead guitarist, Brian Bell.

   The next tracks, Do You Wanna Get High? And King of The World lean heavily into the harder, punk-influenced side of their sound. These, above all others, are the most reminiscent of The Blue Album of ’94, featuring the classic heavy guitars, ironic drug references, and melodic riffs. These tracks flash the listener back to Weezer’s beginning.

   Summer Elaine and Drunk Dori follows, another personal favorite. This song showcases the group’s ability to write on a sad topic like loss of love, while being infectiously catchy and upbeat. Cuomo writes on the loss of love from two vastly different women, comparing the man he was while dating them. Ever the master of implicit arguments, he goes on to possibly suggest that he may miss the man he was around them more than the girls themselves.

  This leads directly into L.A. Girlz, yet another incredibly catchy, vaguely sad song, featuring another wonderful solo from Bell, as well as a somewhat intricate drum line, which isn’t seen across the rest of the record.

   They finish with Jacked Up and Endless Bummer, finally toning down the catchiness of their tunes in favor of more flavorful writing, and inventive use of instruments. The two songs contrast well, Jacked Up’s heavy feedback and grungy electric guitar cutting WWstraight into Endless Bummer’s well placed acoustic guitar. Bummer gives listeners one last taste of the old Weezer with the line “ I count my steps because I’m OCD,” before finishing with Bell’s final solo and a fitting crash out fading to the simple sounds of the beach once again.

   As the beach fades away, listeners are left to contemplate what they’ve just heard. What is The White Album?

   To me it was many things. It was catchy, and remains in your head for days. It was well written, touching on lost love, drug abuse, and gender stereotyping in their own special way. But overall, it was utterly and defiantly 90’s. The commercial and critical success of this record is due, I believe, to a decision by the group to take their genre back. Weezer followed groups like Green Day and Fall Out Boy for the last few years, trying to adapt their sound, but for this album, it seems as though they remembered that they had created this genre, and if it really wanted them, they could do what they want and it will follow. So far, that seems to be the case.

   And foremost, this album, despite it’s catchy nature, should be respected. Groups like Weezer don’t take themselves seriously, and therefore many fans don’t either, but twenty-four years in the industry, ten studio albums, and countless tours later, I think it’s clear that they are talented musicians, and have forever changed the landscape of music.

5 Starter Records for New Fans of Modern Hip Hop

5. AT.LONG.LA$T.A$APA$AP Rocky

“Swagger” is a term which had a short lived stent in the modern vocabulary, before it was beaten to death by white thirteen year olds, but it is simply the only way to describe this record. Rocky’s lyricism, while witty and impressive, focuses mainly on himself, but through the self-centered style of writing, he’s able to address topics of institutional racism, corruption in organized religion, and distaste for common gender roles. asapThe record is particularly interesting to beginners in the rap game for a few reasons. The first of these is that the album conforms to what a listener would expect from a rap album as Rocky chooses not to challenge the form, so much as use it to present his themes. Another is the instrumentation on the record, which is fantastically organic and really develops the atmosphere of the album. The final is that A$AP Rocky is well known for putting together a package, and AT.LONG.LA$T.A$AP is no exception! From the lyrics, to the instrumentals, to the music videos and album cover, the entire album presents a well package look at, and celebration of hip hop culture and all that it represents. The project is easy to digest, and makes a powerful introduction to the best parts of modern hip hop.

4. 2014 Forrest Hills DriveJ Cole

J Cole is traditionally recognized as one of the best political voices in hip hop today, and for that reason, most of his fans would direct you to his more contemplative 2016 project, 4 Your Eyes Only, but it’s his previous and first double platinum effort which lands on this list. 2014 does just about everything right. Catchy hooks, powerful verses, and a strong appreciation for the predecessors 2014of the genre which made the albums existence possible in the first place. One important piece of this album which I believe is often overlooked is the tremendously diverse subject matter. At times, especially on early tracks like “Wet Dreamz” and “January 28th,” the album is almost completely commercial, focusing on topics like sex, love, and identity, but as the piece goes along, it devolves into impressive contemplations of class struggle, modern culture, and especially on “No Role Modelz,” the modern black man and his place in the world. 2014 is perfect for fans who have little to no experience with the genre because it provides, simultaneously, a look backward and forward, and the topical versatility that only hip hop represents.

3. College DropoutKanye West

Kanye is one of the most polarizing figures in pop culture today. The argument continues to rage as to whether the man is a genius, or simply mentally ill, but there was a time when almost everyone fell on the side of the former, and that time was 2004, after the massively successful release of his debut album College Dropout.CollegeDrop By far the oldest album on our list, it falls here because it is, in many ways, the birth of modern rap. If a person went into a coma directly after hearing The Marshal Mathers EP and then woke up and asked what they’d missed in rap music, you’d start here. Kanye changed the game putting together a project which featured creative vocal-based tracks, entertaining skits which served the albums interesting narrative, and lyrical verses which could stand up to most anything coming out of the old school. The album connected heavily with young people by featuring lyrics which touched on topics of student loan debt and the importance of a college degree in modern society. The album is dated, and sounds less ahead of its time now than it was upon its release, but if anything that should show just how ahead of the curve Kanye was.

2. Good Kid. M.A.A.D. CityKendrick Lamar

Kendrick is inarguably the best rapper in the game today. His 2015 concept album, To Pimp A Butterfly should be required listening for any fan of music, let alone rap, but for this list, we find ourselves looking at his major label debut, Good Kid. M.A.A.D. City. This too is a concept album, but is much smaller in scale and listeners can probably follow the story on the first listen. Essentially, a teen boy, presumed to be Kendrick, growing up in Compton finds himself thrust into a night of gang violence, drug use, and a climactic run from the police and on the albums best track, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” finds God through grandmother. The entire story paints a portrait of Compton not as a dangerous wasteland, but from through the eyes of one of its residents living his everyday life. The production is simply excellent as Kendrick brings back frequent collaborator, Derek Ali who is, in my opinion, the best audio engineer working today, to deliver the his first mainstream effort. Everything about this album is awesome, and its perfect for beginners as an introduction to the storytelling capacities that only exist in rap music.

1. Coloring BookChance the Rapper

The logical heir to Kanye’s thrown, Chance the Rapper gained massive popularity while in high school with his underground mixtape, 10 Days which he recorded himself after being suspended from school for drug possession. The tape was such a massive hit that it was eventually brought to the attention of fellow Chicago native, Kanye West, who worked with Chance to produce what is possibly the best piece of free music on the internet, Acid Rap. So why choose Coloring Book for this list? Coloring Book is the first time that we see Chance on his own, with full control over his creative process, and with coloras much money as he needs to get the job done, and God does he come through. The album is innovative, exciting, and most importantly, lighthearted! In a year marked by one depressing event after another, and in a city like Chicago, known for constant gun violence and gang activity, Chance brings black and inner city culture to life in a delightful way. With tracks that utilize excellent Gospel choirs, powerful female vocalists, and a virtual who’s who of modern hip hop artists featuring, Chance really steps out of the way on this album and lets the culture shine. Tracks like “How Great” for example begins with an entire song by a local Chicago Gospel Choir before any rapping can be heard. This project represents everything that is changing about the landscape of modern music. It, along with all of Chance’s albums is given away for free online. Chance also refuses to sign to a label and doesn’t work outside writers, but instead relies on a general sense of community between he and his friends to put together his albums. Chance is ahead of the curve, and Coloring book is an excellent way to wrap up your adventure into modern hip hop, because, above all, this album is a look into the future of a rapidly evolving genre.

Understanding Pink Floyd’s Masterpiece in a Classical Sense

image      1973 was a big year. The Sears Tower was officially completed that summer, the Winter saw the infamous Roe v. Wade verdict handed down in the supreme court, and Billie Jean King won the battle of the sexes tennis match. And in March of 1973, Pink Floyd released their titular Prog-rock masterpiece to rave reviews and unprecedented commercial success, and the world of music would never be the same.

It’s fitting that Pink Floyd chose the prism as the cover for Dark Side of the Moon, as the visual fits almost all meanings one could derive from the piece. Many see the image as a representation of the beauty in diversity, others as a metaphor for the change the record could produce in the listeners life, and a few fans even see the prism as a metaphor for acid and how the drug would change one’s perception of the world. An undoubtedly accidental manifestation of the image can be found in the effect which the album had on the bands career, propelling them from underground visionaries to absolute superstardom. Myself, I see the cover as a representation of the many ways which listeners may view the album. As a piece of performance, Dark Side showcases four of the greatest musicians to ever live in their primes, along with a multitude of guest artists who fill out a well versed instrumentation pallet with wonderful performances of their own, most notably “Great Gig in the Sky.” From a lyrical standpoint, Waters and Gilmour are at their best, writing on massive topics with perfect precision. During a recent lecture on what makes a piece of music “Classical,” however, my Professor presented me with a brand new prism through which to examine this record when he stated that a piece of “classical” music conveys emotion through its form, not through lyrics. So lets take yet another look at the record that changed the world, removing lyricism, and instead focussing in on the underlying musical composition that makes this album so memorable.

While Dark Side delves into a multitude of topics, some of the overarching themes it covers are life, death, stress, and change. Of course, none of these topics are new to Pink Floyd’s discography, but the album frames them in a very different way than previous efforts, most notably pitting life and death against each other and drawing up opposing sides on which every other topic falls. There’s a reason that the album begins and ends with a singular heart beat, but just like in life, it’s what happens in the middle that matters.

As the first heartbeat enters, its quickly drowned out by chaos. Screaming, loud instrumentation, dissonance. It’s often said that this chaos could represent birth and the first breaths of life, which could very well be true, and if it is, even more power is found in the song “Breath” for its soft, enjoyable music. This is our first much needed break from chaos and its very enjoyable. As with many tracks on the album, I’d be perfectly happy to listen to this melody for the entirety of the album, but it’s brought to a close by the hectic follow up, “On the Run.”

image    Here, much like the opening track, what we hear isn’t necessarily pleasant. Instead, it’s a fast-tempo, repetitive synth piece that, by most interpretations is meant to represent the stresses of touring and a busy lifestyle. It’s fitting that the song is devoid of lyrics, because the band doesn’t want you to hear about their stress, they want you to feel it, and you do. The track is effective, but its groove is eventually disrupted too, this time by a painfully loud chorus of alarm clocks. This pattern continues throughout the album. Long tracks which establish a groove which listeners would love to stay in as long as possible, always disrupted by unpleasant, and often dissonant explosions of sound which cause stress and even sometimes can be painful to listen to. When people say that this album is visceral, this is what they mean. You feel the record as much as you hear it. So why? What does this pattern of comfort and discomfort mean? Well, its life.

There’s an overall purpose to this masterpiece. There’s a reason that the record resonates so well with listeners, even 44 years later. There’s an explanation for the unprecedented commercial appeal of the record. That is that Dark Side of the Moon is meant to, in its lyricism comment on life, and in its instrumentals, mimic life. The album begins with chaos, as does life, but quickly fades into comfort and predictability. We, as listeners, want to stay in these comfortably moments, but we aren’t aloud to for very long. Constantly, we’re disrupted by jarring dissonance and painful chaos. Just when it seems like we don’t want to listen any longer, the record finds something in all the madness to latch onto and creates a brand new groove that brings us in to our next stage of life.

This is why everyone who hears it can connect to this album. For the young man who’s just beginning college and living on his own, the chaos can represent his worry and fears. For the middle aged woman, the chaos can represent divorce, or death of a parent. Listeners feel this album because it mimics life at its most basic level, as a series of long, blissful grooves, interrupted by loud and dissonant moments of chaos, from in which one can become lost, but the important part is that the album, like life, doesn’t grind to a halt in these moments or dwell on them for too long, but instead, it keeps moving, and it invites its listeners to do the same, because regardless of the power in the moments of tension, there’s always something great just around the corner.

XXXTentacion’s “17” Manages To Wow And Fall Short, All In 21 Minutes!

     Florida rapper/singer/songwriter XXXTentacion made a name for himself in the underground rap scene with hard hitting tracks which focus on sex, violence, and mental illness. Most notably, his 2017 single “Look at Me,” garnered mild critical recognition, along with massive commercial success, putting X on the map as one of the leading artists in the increasingly overpopulated world of underground hip hop.

X went on to be named as a featured artist in 2017’s XXL Freshman class, bringing with him possibly the most devoted fan base of all the artists named in this year’s issue. His live work as well as tracks with frequent collaborator Skii Mask, The Slump God, brought X to the forefront of his scene, all without a full LP release seemingly anywhere on the horizon. That is, until the end of August saw the release of “17.”

Going into this record, I had no clue what to expect. XXXTentacion had shown almost no common threads through what work he had released. From the angry, Denzel Curry-esque hype track “Look At Me,” which I liked quite a bit, to his ultra-angsty performance in the XXL cypher, which I disliked quite a bit, it seemed the only thing I could expect from an XXXTentacion project was unpredictability, and I was not disappointed.

“17” opens with an explanation from X that this record is “a collection of nightmares, thoughts, and real life situations.” The track comes off as a bit pretentious, but overall, I appreciate the honesty of an artist saying that this is something different and that he hopes his listeners will be open minded and enjoy it.

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The track, “Jocelyn Flores” follows, and is by far the highlight of the record. It tells the story of X’s girlfriend committing suicide, and goes on to hint that members of his family have chosen the same path. It’s honest, groovy, and features a wonderfully organic sample as a main hook. My only complaint would be that the song is far too short, and doesn’t explore these themes well at all. This is an all too common complaint throughout the entire project.

The acoustic guitar grove, “Depression & Obsession” follows and again we see X’s commitment presenting his ideas in unique ways. It’s interesting and the contrast between the upbeat acoustic grove and the dark lyrics frames X’s disconnect well, but again the track is too short and doesn’t finish what it starts.

“Everyone Dies in Their Nightmares” and “Revenge” follow, continuing the style of a low key rap track followed by light acoustic guitar riff backing dark lyrics. Lyrically, the tracks don’t touch on much different than what’s already been established, but the ladder track is a bit more catchy than its earlier acoustic counterpart.

“Save me,” is, by far, the low point of the record. The instrumentation is distorted to the point I couldn’t tell you if I’m hearing a piano or guitar. The vocals are equally poorly mixed, coming through as too clear and not fitting with the music. The track never really finds its feel, and its awkward throughout its short two minute runtime.

Luckily, the project is saved by the similar, but much better, “Dead Inside (Interlude.)” Again the instrumentation and vocals are overly distorted, almost as if the entire song was recorded on an iphone, but the piano plays most of its melody on the higher end, which cuts through well, and though the vocals are almost incoherent, its the emotion behind it that matters. The song is barely a minute long, and sounds almost like an after though from its predecessor, but it effectively saves the record. “Dead Inside” is one of the few times where it seems like X is being completely honest and vulnerable with us.

“Fuck Love” follows, featuring a vocal hook from underground vocalist Trippie Redd, providing a valuable break from X’s emotional vocal style. Redd’s hook is far more straight forward and less tortured, which gives a very effective respite from the emo stylings that threaten to bog the project down at times.XXL-Freshman-00-480x320

With “Orlando” and “Ayala (Outro)” we hear what amounts to an ending for this story. Tentacion rap/sings about his feelings of isolation and sadness, all over low-key instrumentals that force an audience to listen, as they provide little highlights to hold us in.

Upon finishing this record, my feelings are as mixed as the were going in. On the one hand, I’ll give XXXTentacion credit, as this record is anything but pandering. It would’ve been all too easy for him to make an angry record which would be a mild commercial success and probably silence most of his critics who pan him as inaccessible. Instead, he went with a deeply personal album that, aside from the opening explanation, doesn’t seem to care what a listener thinks, or even if anyone listens at all. He never goes for sick instrumentals that will draw listeners in even if they don’t care about his lyrics. He doesn’t even allow himself to sit in one single genre long enough to gain popularity by connection. It’s incredibly clear that X made this record for X, and that comes with its own benefits and downfalls.

Above all, I wish the record had been longer. The entire project totals at 21 minutes and I’m surprised it lasted that long. Many of these ideas felt like they could’ve made better songs, but instead they come across as unfinished demo’s. I can’t help but feel that “17” would’ve made a much better EP. Combine a few acoustic tracks, combine a few low-key raps, and combine the interlude and outro and we’re left with five excellent songs. But XXXTentacion moved 70k in the first week, so the LP is a clear commercial success.

“17” isn’t a record for the beginner, or even the casual fan. For X’s devoted fanbase, though, it provides an excellent and much desired peak into the psyche of the troubled young teen, who, above all, values honesty in his music. The production is week at times, and the lyricism ranges anywhere from bold and impressive to pretentious and whiny. I did enjoy this record in places, though, and where it shines, its bright! There’s a lot of promise here. I only hope that the follow up finds X in a bit better mental state, and ready to deliver a more consistent LP that will thrill from start to finish.

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