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Album Reviews

Art Official Age: Prince


I don’t think Prince ever really left the eighties. Between the cheesy Jheri curl soul ballads and the neon disco-pop tracks, I’m hard pressed to find a lot to listen to on this album that I haven’t already heard on those awful Best of the Eighties infomercials. This album is marked by dorky synth bass leads, “space age” sound effects and faux James Brown guitar riffs. At some point one has to wonder whether Prince has advanced at all since calculator watches and Members Only jackets. Does he think simply because neon clothes and heavy synthesizer driven pop music are back in style that the music of the eighties is due for a comeback? I wouldn’t know, this is the only Prince album I’ve ever heard, to be fair. Tracks such as “Clouds” and “Art Official Age” contain lyrics criticizing modern youth culture and new technology, appropriate for an album whose title suggests a criticism of the superficial nature of today’s society. However, from the sound of it, the spiteful Prince would have us trade in our iPods and Mac Books for C64s and Sony Walkmans. His rejection of all things new and popular suggests perhaps that he feels that he is a relic of a bygone age. Any competent artist knows that one must always be reinventing oneself, and this is where Prince falls flat. Many artists fall into this trap, attempting to capture their golden years in song, rarely does it produce anything worth listening to, and Art Official Age is no exception. Despite the distinct déjà vu aura Prince has cultivated in his music through his use of corny eighties-isms, I do appreciate the sort of goofy, funky style he’s got going on in his music. This could have been a salvageable record, provided the artist had just left his midlife crisis at home.
Review written by: Dan van Leeuwen

Love Me Harder: Ariana Grande

The Both

Ariana Grande is evolving into a pop idol right before our eyes. Her newest album, “My Everything”, is definitely made by a more grown-up Ariana. You can hear it in the singles that preceded the album, “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea and “Break Free” featuring Zedd. Both songs are fun to listen and dance to, perfect songs to show the two sides of the album with “Break Free” being a bubblegum, electric pop song and “Problem” having an RnB sound. Songs like “Why Try” and “Best Mistake” featuring Big Sean follow in the footsteps of “Problem” with good beats and fun lyrics. While Ariana seems to like to experiment with different genres they all seem to lead her back to pop with songs like “One Last Time”. The album, however, consists mostly of RnB based songs like “Love Me Harder”, “Break Your Heart Right Back” featuring Childish Gambino, and “Be My Baby” featuring Cashmere Cat. All three are catchy, fun and easy to listen to. “Hands on Me” also follow an RnB path, but it tries too hard to be sexy and it throws off the song completely. The album may seem like just another party album, but the final two songs “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart” and “My Everything”, which is dedicated to her deceased grandfather who passed away from cancer earlier this year from cancer, are sweet and just what the album needs to slow it down a bit. While no song has touched me the way “Honeymoon Avenue” and “Almost Is Never Enough” did from her first album it’s still a great record. This is only her second album, yet she already has a strong foundation. It debuted at the top of Billboard 200 selling over 160,000 copies its first week. It peaked in the top ten in twenty countries, including Australia and Canada. She is the first female to have both of her first two albums debut at #1 since Susan Boyle. She is definitely the artist to watch this year. Her hit with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, “Bang Bang” gains more and more success each week it’s on the charts. This pop diva is definitely here to stay.
Review written by: Brianna Milon

Resurrection: New Found Glory

Can you believe that New Found Glory has been around for seventeen years? Well they have, and in their newest album “Resurrection” you will hear the mature style that has been perfected from being on the road so long. At first I was terrified that the new album would be too different from past albums, or possibly lack the youthfulness that we have come to expect from the band. No need to worry your little head Jordan, Chad, Ian, and Cyrus still hold every drop of vibrancy that was shown in “sticks and stones” in their handsome hands. With heavy riffs and plenty of lyrics about teenage romance this album is a 2000’s throwback, in the best way. Notable on this release is their track “stubborn” with guest vocals by Bayside’s own Anthony Ranieri. This is their first release since 2011, and with this album it is certain that the quartet has found the glory once again.
Review written by: Kat Sapetko

Our Love: Caribou

Caribou, the Canadian electro-indie band released their latest album on October 6th, and it’s quickly becoming a hit with their long-time fans. It’s an interesting mix of synthesizer sounds, repetitive lyrics, and consistent bass lines. Their hit song, sharing the album title “Our Love”, is slow starting and trippy with it’s almost off key sounding, and has a constant humming noise in the back. Around 2 minutes in, it starts to change up with a hesitant keyboard occasionally playing along, and a faster beat. The total contrast to this song is the single released, “Can’t Do without You”. It’s oddly jazzy and upbeat, and just as you begin to get tired of the repetitive nature of the song, it changes completely from jazz to full electronic beats. Their most lyrical song is “Second Chance”, with beautiful vocals in a very high pitch, with slightly off-setting synth noises in the back to show off their true colors. “Julia Brightly” and “Dive” are the shortest songs on the album, and both are upbeat with few vocals, but easy to listen to. They seem to stretch time with their mesmerizing and hypnotizing sounds, and are spread throughout the album. “Back Home” has a different set of vocals, a man’s tenor voice, high pitched, yet pleasing to the ear. The lyrics are meaningful and very relatable, telling how secrets can cause distrust in a relationship, and there’s no way to fix what’s “left unspoken”. The overall album has a strange, nostalgic feel with some catchy songs, but others that can be found as repetitive, annoying, or just a little lazy. It’s a good album to listen to if you want to study or chill, and have no problem with not singing along.
Review written by: Delia Andalora

Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Volume 1: Five Finger Death Punch
★★★★☆ Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell Vol. 1

Storming across the country once more with their tried and true sound is the band that is rising to fame on a global scale. Five Finger Death Punch shocked audiences yet again this past July with their latest release, "Wrong Side Of Heaven and The Righteous Side Of Hell Volume 1", which is to be followed this November by a volume 2. While Ivan Moody's vocals and Jason Hook's energetic and exciting guitar playing are sounds that are very familiar to audiences around the world, the band manages to always produce a sound that screams just who exactly it is that is making you want to fist bump wildly on your way to work, without ever getting repetitive throughout their multiple albums. Ranging from high octane and fast paced songs like "Mama Said Knock You Out", and sloping to more mellowed but equally enjoyable songs such as "Wrong Side of Heaven", Five Finger Death Punch manages to present a sound that can appeal to a wide array of listeners with varying music tastes, while maintaining a healthy level of satisfaction from their devoted fans and listeners. However, there is one quirky addition to the latest collection of songs is from one of my personal favorite bands. While I was struck with a bit of nostalgia when I heard Judas Priest's Rob Halford during "Lift Me Up", I'm still not positive if I like this direction the band seems to be going in its latest album. Hearing a music idol of my childhood transposed over a group that is associated more with my later years was quite confusing for my psyche, and has left my ability to identify what decade this is a bit muddled. Later duets include Soulfly's Max Cavalera, and In This Moment's Maria Brink. While I've never really heard of Max Cavalera before, I will admit that his part in "I.M.SIN" was quite decent. And when it comes to Maria Brink, I don't have too many complaints, other than there being two songs which she stars in. And again, while these duets and additions of other artists are nice, I'm not 100% on board. I feel like they should be bonus songs included in Bonus Track versions of the album, which is the traditional route to take (and one I am much more fond of). While it is a bit if a nice addition and a change up from the norm, I came here for tea and crumpets and familiar roaring vocals, and gosh darn it I expect to get that from an FFDP album! Overall, I would give the album a solid 4 stars. After all, it is FFDP :3
Review written by: JT Robertson

Playland: Johnny Marr
★★★★☆ Playland

Fun fact: I’ve never actually conscientiously listened to The Smith’s before. I’m not sure if it’s because I have no interest in listening to Morrissey be the saddest man on earth or because I’m subconsciously avoiding the indie mainstream or just pure negligence. Because of this, I have absolutely no background on what Johnny Marr should sound like besides the fact that he’s supposedly a damn good guitarist. After listening to this album, I can absolutely confirm that fact. Dude can put together a very powerful, interesting wall of sound by mostly using a lot of guitar. There’s nothing musically groundbreaking or innovative going on here, but the album you get is still a series of incredibly competent, well-constructed, intelligent indie rock songs (which, frankly, sounds about right for a musician who’s been doing this for thirty years, even one as influential as Marr was in his prime). What impresses me most about this album though is that it almost any of the songs could easily slide into the rotation of any contemporary alternative rock station and they would feel right at home. I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I just find it interesting that a guy who’s been one of the biggest deals in the indie world for so long could create an album full of songs that could easily become major radio rock hits. “Easy Money” is a track that best exhibits the album’s somewhat radio-ready tendencies, and it’s also the song I’m most torn about. On one hand, the guitar-work on this song is absolutely incredible and ear worm-y. On the other hand, I think the lyrics are repetitive, grating and hard to listen to. I can definitely see where people would find the lyrics to be incredibly catchy and fun though, which could make this song a huge hit. The other songs don’t have the lyrical issues I see with “Easy Money,” but none of them are quite as immediately catchy either. Not as catchy does not mean not as good however. Everything here is great, generally upbeat rock with no real weak tracks throughout the album. It’s one of the most immediately accessible albums I’ve heard in a while, and it’s definitely worth a listen (and a few re-listens on top of that) whenever you get a chance.
Review written by: Mitchell Owens

True That: Michael Cera

true that

Our favorite quirky hopeless-romantic indie actor Michael Cera pulled a Beyoncé and dropped this surprise album, simply titled true that (grammar not included, because why not?) this past August, proving that he does actually play music, like many of the characters that he has played in film. Cera actually provided backing vocals for Weezer’s 2010 LP, Hurley, and played as a member of alternative-rock group Mister Heavenly for a while. He takes a big step here by releasing a charming, cozy little home recording of his own material. The album is full of lo-fi folk accompanied by some nostalgic synth sounds, and even some random audio snippets of laughter and voices, giving this album its experimental atmosphere. The project as a whole doesn’t seem like an LP that would compete with big-time folk artists like Fleet Foxes or Grizzly Bear, but is rather a personal experiment that you can’t help but feel proud of (especially if you’re a fan of Michael Cera, the actor). There is definitely a vibe that Cera had this in mind when he released true that on his bandcamp profile, mostly because of the casual qualities of the project; as well as the fact that it was tagged “home recording”, revealing that there was no fancy recording studio involved. Cera could have easily accessed this due to his fame and likely fortune. This gives the album the authenticity Cera probably hoped for. Many of the tracks on this album like “Smoke Eyes” and “Brat” sound like they were based on aimless strumming while Cera sat in his room, and would serve well as background music for short films like his original videos on his YouTube channel, MichaelCeraJash. However, there are some solid jams that demonstrate a somewhat sophisticated understanding of musical composition, and sound more like a finished product. Such songs include “2048”, a rhythmic ditty that echoes Ben Gibbard’s The Postal Service, varied with raw folk principles; and “Ruth”, a romantic song with a simple and charismatic chord progression fit for an indie-rock hit. There’s also a cover of Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons” which exhibits surprisingly beautiful harmonies and touches of rough piano, giving the song the signature casual-folk element that the rest of the album possesses, which translates as charmingly personal (similar to Neutral Milk Hotel’s infamous In The Aeroplane Over The Sea). Needless to say, Michael Cera has been the poster-boy for the hip-indie-kids scene for a few years now, having been commercialized as the hipster heart-throb who seems to play himself in movies like Juno and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but he also happens to be a talented musician. If there were to be a description of Michael Cera through sound, one would imagine this to be it; and it’s not bad, not bad at all. true that has the artistic element that goes beyond just making music, the sense that the artist(s) has a profound understanding of themselves and their craft. This solo debut of Cera’s is definitely a success, and one can only hope that we’ll see more of his musical dabbling in the near future.
Review written by: Chloé Arzuaga

Affiance: Blackout


You know, I really love Affiance. When I first heard “Call to the Warrior” off 2010’s No Secret Revealed, I was honestly blown away. After that song, I admittedly fell out of touch with the band, besides for a brief attempt to listen to all their other music (I got through most of it, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I just got distracted by other music that came out around that time). So when I heard Blackout was coming out, I thought “Sick! I’ll listen to this and love it and get back into these guys!” To a certain extent, I was wrong. While Blackout delivers what you would expect from Affiance, I feel like that’s the main problem. The tracks are good, don’t get me wrong. The issue I have is that they pretty much all sound the same, and sound the same as most other Affiance songs I’ve listened to. Now, I’m not saying that I want them to change up their style a lot or anything like that, but, jeez, I just got bored listening to this album. That being said, there were a few great songs on Blackout. The first song “Fire!” was great and honestly got me super pumped for the album. “Monuments Fall” was another that really synced with me. Both delivered pulse-pounding beats, ridiculous guitar solos, and that almost Rise Against-esque preachy lyrics that warn you about the government and stuff like that. By no means am I saying not to check out this album, because if I didn’t like it that much I would have given it 1 or 2 stars rather than 3. If you’ve never listened to Affiance at all, I’d say listen to it for sure, and use it as a springboard to check out their other material. As someone that is a big fan of Affiance however, the album just didn’t live up to my expectations. Please do check it out though, and make your own determination.
Review written by: Jake Trask

Infinity EP: AJR


One may think that a seventh album release from an American rock band might be aAfter releasing their hit single, “I’m Ready,” AJR’s career blew up. Although this brand new EP does not contain the hit, it includes a remix of it that only gets better as you listen. This EP is definitely different from their first release, yet all the tracks share a common theme of love. What I like about AJR is that since they have three members, they choose to switch vocals between them. They all sound good together and complement each other. “Infinity” is one of my favorite songs from the EP. It starts off acoustically, with a very steady and mesmerizing tempo, something pretty, captivating, simple and soft. Once it transitions into the bridge, guitar and drums are added and it helps promote a more upbeat feel. This song shows the high and low vocal range of the entire band which I love. It also has a simple story to tell: what it feels like to be in love. “Alice by the Hudson” is also a great song. It has an old school boy band sound to it which is very unique for today’s music industry. This song does a great job at demonstrating the incredibly low vocal range of the band, which helps set a very romantic tone. The bridge is relaxed but builds to the chorus which is slow and has cute lyrics to help melt your heart. “Pitchfork Kids” is a very weird song. It’s a story about falling for someone who is dangerous and the adventures that takes you on. The intro is a bit longer, having almost a pop punk sound to it, something that reminds me of Fall Out Boy or Panic at the Disco. It also has a strange time signature, giving it a weird beat that makes it sound evil and almost creepy. “3 AM” is a slower song. It begins with piano and acoustic guitar, breaking into heavier guitar. This song has some beautiful vocals, almost jazz like. This song is relevant to me and most likely applies to most people; finally finding someone and being afraid to open up. Overall, I liked this EP a lot. It’s a little different than the first music they put out but I can hear and see their progression as a band, and I know they’re going places.
Review written by: Nikki Lawrence

Kings of Suburbia: Tokio Hotel


Addison: It has been a long time since we have heard anything new from Tokio Hotel and goodness they sound a lot different. But it is actually a pretty darn good new sound compared to their older albums. They have transitioned into a more dance oriented sound. It is interesting to listen to their old albums like “Scream” or “Zimmer 483” and hear their new album now and it’s a pretty big difference. Their new album “Kings of Suburbia” is a complete swap of their old sound and I’m not going to say they sold out, but they clearly changed their entire sound throughout the years. “Kings of Suburbia” is American ear friendly though as it only has songs in English and not English and German like all of their other albums. Even though the albums beginning songs have a definite electronic sound to them, the album also consists of some alternative rock and pop rock as well. The band took a very long time putting out their newest album and because it took five years, they had plenty of time to experiment with different genres. They can still rock out their old tunes like “Ready, Set, Go” and also newer songs like on this album, but now they also have a well rounded background in other genres with practicing in the studio. The opener “Feel It All” has a techno sort of sound along with the second song “Stormy Weather”. Personally, I think the best song on the entire album is “Love Who Loves You Back”. It has many of the genres beautifully blended together and it really sums up the entire album as a whole. The vocals are amazing like always, but the message is really strong. The music video behind it as well is absolutely stunning. Even if you don’t like the music, you should go check out that video. It really has a lot of emotion in it. Tokio Hotel is always evolving, always getting better and better. I just hope it won’t be another five years before they release their next album.
Review written by: Addison Hurlburt

Strong Museum of Play