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Album Review/Stream: The Weeknd, Echoes of Silence

 

R&B artist The Weeknd has created quite the buzz in 2011 for his unique sound, digital based releases and mainstream endorsements from the likes of Drake and Lady Gaga.

Throughout the year he has released a “trilogy” of mixtapes with the (massively popular) House of Balloons dropping in March, Thursday dropping in August and now Echoes of Silence hitting the interweb in late December. With over 50,000 downloads on the first day of the release, Echoes of Silence is proving to be another strong testament of Weeknds great talent and innovative nature.

One admirable aspect of Weekends music is his knack and ability to set a “mood”. In the past few decades we have seen artists rely heavily on the “single” as a way to push their work. With this trend catching on, few musicians have treated albums as a piece of art–a lot of albums have started to lack continuity. Fortunately, The Weeknd brings back album continuity and crafts tracks that feed off of one another, ultimately telling a story and setting a captivating ambiance from start to finish.

For instance, House of Balloons told the story of a drug fueled youth making harsh decisions but yet, it’s all they know. He told this story through not only lyrical content, but my production effects and crafty composition.

This is certainly no different for his newest release, Echoes of Silence which has that same “story telling”, ambient feel and beautiful production.

Production wise, the piece is what we would expect from the Canadian singer. The way the tracks are pieced together feature the vocals fading in and out over ambient effects and white noise. Although something like this could easily become a novelty, the effects are delivered masterfully and compliment the vocals in each and every track.

When discussing sound/genre on Echoes of Silence, we are actually treated to something a bit new.

The Weeknd has been praised for his unique sound as he combines R&B, hip-hop and bits of ambient rock. In Echoes of Silence, we start to see Weeknds vocals shine a bit more than usual and we really get a glimpse of his impressive vocal prowess.

Another noticeable feature on the album is that his tracks are a bit more “rock-centric” than usual. Weeknd carefully uses rock based fills to effortlessly carry the songs from one track to the next. This smooth build can be seen in the transition between Initiation and Same Old Song, which uses a bass line and subtle snare beat to switch tracks without killing the flow.

The tracks themselves are some of the best we have seen from The Weeknd!

The album starts off with D.D which is a remake of the Michael Jackson classic, Dirty Diana. Not only are the vocals spot on, but the way the track was produced is simply flawless. Remixes and remakes are terribly intricate and tricky to perfect. You really have to bring something new to the table to pull it off–and The Weekdn definitely gives Dirty Diana a new twist and flavor.

The song incorporates a haunting ambient background and a very passionate singing style–which is in contrast from the passive style we have heard from him in the past. He truly hones in on Jackson and the remake serves as a beautiful rendition and a fitting tribute. The song starts off with very light vocals and quickly builds into clamoring drums, belting vocals and a building bass groove. The production and composition are astounding with great build ups and break downs. If were to only choose one song to listen to this album–it’d be this one! Its some of the best we’ve heard out of all three of his albums.

From D.D the album transitions smoothly into Montreal which is a bit more vocal and story based than D.D. In Montreal, we hear the story of heart break and strange love, which are two common themes found in all of The Weeknds work. The instrumentation is rather simple–a few steady snare beats, a piano and vocals–but the over all outcome is hauntingly beautiful.

Although D.D and Montreal are two of my favorite tracks, every track is crafted perfectly. Although the album was intended to be heard to from start to finish–each track can certainly be enjoyed on its own. This in itself speaks volumes for The Weeknds talent. The “stories” that he is known for are also there as he delivers a drama full of heart ache, frustration and betrayl.

This is definitely a great piece to close up 2011.

Stream the album above or  download the track from his website here.

Enjoy.

Album Review: 1,2,3 New Heaven

Find the album at: |French Kiss|Amazon|I Tunes|

Upon interning in the field of music marketing, it’s refreshing to work with a band that you thoroughly enjoy. You don’t have to think of what “markets” and “demographics” the group will appeal to, you can just plug in your headphones and enjoy.

Likewise, when you’re writing about their tracks  you aren’t “promoting” them–you are simply sharing them–you are simply excited about their music and you want your friends to take part in the same toe tapping, head nodding, frenzy that you are caught up in.

That’s exactly how I feel about the group 1,2,3 and their debut album New Heaven. I’m truly just diggin’ the whole thing and I’m hoping you’ll dig it too.

They have a sound that crosses numerous genres. Indie fans will enjoy it for it’s unorthodox composition and raw vocals, alternative folks will love it for it’s rock-centric nature and electronica listeners can even appreciate it for it’s subtle electronic nuances that are found in each track.

So, after that lengthy introduction I guess you can assume that the Pittsburgh duo has been turning many heads with their debut album–and that assumption would be correct.

The album fittingly starts off with the blue collared anthem Work, which displays Nick Snyders falsetto vocals that are amplified with subtle electronics and spot on percussion.

The surging arrangement of Work is reminiscent of groups such as Arcade Fire who have made similar “anthem” style tracks their stock and trade.

10 minutes into the album listeners are met with the song Heat Lighting where Snyder, again, hits us with a whispering falsetto that flickers in and out of the track–a style that can be compared to a hi-fi Animal Collective–the track is also met with impressive vocalizations and a catchy whistling back beat that gives it a unique flavor.

Just as the singing seemed to flicker, the song ultimately diminishes out and fades into the sound of ocean waves.

Despite the comparison to Animal Collective and Arcade Fire–1,2,3 certainly didn’t create an album intended to be a nod to their favorite indie trends. The group is far too creative and enthusiastic for that. Each track off of New Heaven is produced masterfully and incorporates effects such as whistling, ocean waves, and synths that carry the song and spotlight instruments rather than becoming distracting or a novelty.

The lyrical content is also certainly something to take note of.

Sure, it has a central theme: drinking, girls, and being “broke as ever”, but it’s raw rather than repetitive.

I feel as if the group combined indie rock’s unconventional composition, folk rock’s gritty lyrical content–added a dash of spot on production–and out came New Heaven. 

A few good examples of the groups “gritty” and “raw” lyrical content are found in Lonesome Boring Summer where Snyder references “the carcass of his mid-twenties.” Or in Wave Pool where Snyder cites Brian Wilson’s infamous fear of the ocean and delivers the whole piece in the form of a suicidal love letter–played flawlessly over a Beach Boys inspired melody.

It’s 1,2,3’s innovative and enthusiastic song writing combined with catchy melodies that make New Heaven a great album to pick up.

It has all the markings of a great listen. It’s produced wonderfully, and has that continuity that makes it listenable from start to finish–each track building upon the other.

So, check it out! It’s certainly an amazing debut piece that leaves us wanting more from the Pittsburgh natives.

Review: The Rosebuds, Woods

“Rosebud” were the final words of Charles Kane in the monumental film Citizen Kane–the riveting portrayal of a man who nearly owned the entire world upon his death. So what did those mysterious last words words mean? A former lover? A favorite line of a novel? A poem?

The answer actually turns out to be the name of his beloved sled–a sled he used many times during his youth. Why would  such a thing be uttered in his dying breath?

Because it represents far more than a recreational device–it represents pure innocence, a time in which Kane could carelessly and thoroughly enjoy life without the meandering highs and lows or the treacherous relationships one may endure in the business world.

Now whether the North Carolina duo The Rosebuds used the film as their bands namesake is uncertain, however I can see the relation. Their music has the instrumentation and sound that brings the listener joy–it’s upbeat with catchy intricate melodies in all the right places. Though, in the same breath, their lyrics are dark yet powerful–sad but beautiful.

The same bittersweet conundrum that you may find yourself in as paperwork piles upon your desk, rain pours outside and the only thing that keeps you going is a childhood toy, the missed face of a loved one or a happy fading memory. Sad that it’s in the past, yet glad that it’s pulling you through your downtrodden time.

The song Woods is off of the groups Loud Planes Fly Low album. This album is actually a monumental one since it marks the first album since the divorce of band members Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. Most people were expecting the groups demise after the divorce, however the group came back with one of their most passionate and emotional albums to date–with eclectic melodies, great production and a few cryptic lines that may serve as a glimpse into the current relationship of the duo.

The track Woods is certainly one to speak of. The song emits a cheerfulness yet tension between the chimes and driving rhythm of the keys. A tension that slowly builds into the chorus where singer Howard sings to perfection over the melodic piano. The story of the song seem to tell the tale of watchful eyes, being trapped and the meeting of a sad yet inevitable fate.

You can’t burn what’s already on fire.” 

Though, the cheerful melody seems to dwarf the dark lyrics–giving it that aforementioned bittersweet feeling to it. You come in for the happy melody but stay for the emotional lyrics.

The expansive space caused by the haunting vocals and smaller details like the sparse harmony on certain lyrics is also something to take note of, as it adds leaps and bounds to the piece.

And ah the keys! Such a simple chord progression but such an essential aspect to the song–the keys acts as a constant to the vocals, right until the end– the vocals fade but the keys and chimes keep moving the track forward for just a few more bars.

The bitter lyrics and the sweet melody make Woods a very memorable and well done track, one that very much uses two conflicting forces to create an astonishing piece of art.

Album available now at Merge.

Frank Ocean- Novacane

Since they both appeared at the same time, it’s natural to compare The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

Especially since they are both R&B inspired and both sing about similar content–drugs and sex. However, there are nuances that make them far different.

Weeknd seems to fully embrace their high and their deviant behavior–they are aware that it’s a coping mechanism but they enjoy it, and are okay with being the sleazy drug pushers at the party.

Where as Ocean is the cat that seems to be high but doesn’t want to be. He sings songs about all the things he wants to do once the high finally wears off–he mentally takes note of them–he seems to dislike his drug filled ways. His tracks are very introspective and deeper than face value–I dig that.

Novacane is a love story of sorts. He meets a girl at Coachella who came to see the mash up artist Z Trip, while he was there to see Jay Z. The girl is working her way through dental school by doing porn on the side, atleast she’s working, quips Ocean. Her drug of choice is novacane, which in turn numbs Ocean, but not only physically but emotionally too.

“… love me good, love me numb, but when I’m gone love me none.”

The “numbing” of the drugs is, in fact, clever word play.

Not only is he physically numb from the drugs but the song is about the emotional numbing that drugs and societal ideals can have on people.

He takes a hit of novacane from this random girl at Coachella and all of a sudden he is okay that she is a mash up fan who does porn on the side, because hey “at least she’s working”. Completely non-chalant and apathetic.

Through out the track Ocean talks himself into liking the girl, and he justifies his behavior–he is numb to reality and he is numb to his true feelings about her. Drugs and society have made him callous to feeling and even worse–detached to personal interaction.

The intro of the song discusses how every track is auto-tuned with zero emotions, “they are computing all emotions”— he paints this picture of everyone being desensitized. He blames the “numbness” on the girl who introduced him to novacane– the numbness being physical and emotional–but I think it’s deeper than just that.

The girl represents the appeal of sex and becoming famous and after taking a “hit off of fame” Ocean is numb to everything.

He is robotic and only wants more “worldly” things to keep him going, striving for these things has made normalcy near impossible–girls have become conquests rather than people, and life has become stagnant and emotionless.

Ocean is saying that the things society has labeled important, things such as fame, drugs and sex, are taking away from true relationships.

Ocean is subtly urging us to not become numb, and to be alive to feeling and alert to the people that come into our lives.

Not bad, Mr. Ocean, not bad.

Novacane is a simple melody that’s very vocal based, and vanishes abruptly upon the end. The power of the track comes from the small nuances, the quips here and there and it’s lyrical content–a song about drugs– but also one of the most realistic songs about personal interaction on the radio right now.

Check it out, and keep your eye on Frank Ocean for great stuff in the future.

Image Courtesy: Sweet Lyrics

Album Review: Givers, In Light

Track: Saw You First

Find it At: Amazon|I-Tunes|InSound

The homegrown melodic stylings of Givers sure does bring me back–and what a feeling it is.

When I gave their debut album In Light my first spin I was immediately transported to my freshman year of college. My floor-mates and I were traversing the landscape of downtown Hattiesburg–lit only by street lights and neon bar signs–where muffled sounds of live music became our sidewalk soundtrack.

We stumbled into a small bar called The Thirsty Hippo, lit only by multi-colored christmas lights, the feeling of the place was surreal.

A band was playing and the crowd was shoulder to shoulder–caught onto every word being sung–everyone sang along and everyone seemed to know one another. There was such a feeling of not only camaraderie, but of creation–as if this was all “theirs”. It was their local venue, their local band, their friends, their songs–to them it was more than a place–it was a home.

This same feeling of homeliness is packed into each track of Givers In Light. From start to finish this album succeeds in something that most albums fail in–growth and maturity. A lot of recent albums seemed to be mixed in a format that is meant for singles–in doing so the “art” of the album is lost.

“Mixing for singles” seems to give us a bunch of good tracks but  you might have to skip around to find ’em. When an album is mixed like a storybook, you can feel it–each track plays off of the former and by the end of the album– you ultimately feel closer with the group. You watch the product grow and mature with each song.

Quick bio before we begin!

The group Givers comes from Lafayette, Louisiana and has recently been signed to Glassnote Records, the label that has brought us acts such as Mumford and Sons, Royal Bangs and Phoenix.

They are a five piece group with vocals being shared by Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Gaurisco (also on guitar), on bass Josh Leblanc, on drums Kirby Campbell, and on horns and keyboards is Nick Stephan.

Upon reading the instrumentation, it may seem like their songs could be a bit too busy–I mean.. horns and keyboards, not to mention on the album notes ALL of them are listed as vocalists. It could easily be an overload.

However, the songs are produced greatly and the group utilizes instruments such as keyboards, xylophones, and horns to add flair and to further their songs–allowing them to go new and unexpected places.

The album starts off with the bands first single in which they are perhaps the most known for–Up, Up, Up.

The track is your quintessential summer song, starting with a vocal led intro that slowly builds into an uproarious guitar and bell medley. The track deserves the attention it’s recieving not only for its catchy melody, but also for the structure. The song  seems to constantly add and take away instruments creating build ups and break downs that gives the song wings allowing it to take off and soar.

The vocals in this track are also something to take note of. Gaurisco and Lamson both sing, at places taking verses on their own–but at other points sharing lines–this helps to create the awesome build ups and the easy flow that the song has. Not to mention that the song is just really incredibly catchy.

From Up, Up, Up the album transitions into another great track–Mean Time. A song with an uplifting message where the singer is urging a far away lover to not be caught in the mean time because there is no such thing as the “mean” time, leaving us to enjoy the (intentional?) word play.

The caribean groove, minimal bassline and spot on percussion keeps the album growing and building until the next track, Saw You First.

Saw You First, showcases Givers knack for vocalization and their confidence for experimental arrangements. The song features bursts of voices that leap into falsettos, jump into crescendos and harmonies that are sure to keep you listening. The song also shows their instrumental abilities–breaking off into toe-tapping grooves played over simple time signatures.

Each song on In Light displays the bands immense talents. The group can harmonize like no other, and they certainly understand how to keep, not only a song, but an entire album interesting and catchy.

Though, as a whole, what impresses me the most is that Givers has the ability to play diverse songs that still fit into the continuity of their album.

For instance, Go Out At Night is a slower tune that shows the groups more gentle side. A man and woman singing to one another while using stellar lyrics. It’s very different, yet similar, to the rest of In Light. Even though the track has a different feel to it, it still contains the Givers touch and spirit. Like the rest of the album Go Out At Night incorporates beautiful harmonies, entrancing lyrics and well-executed build ups– it’s one of the best on the album.

It’s this ability that makes the band shine–the knack of having a diverse and interesting album while still keeping a familiarity to it–a home feeling to it.

Also, don’t be fooled by the production of the album! If you think that the layering and harmonies are only the work of a great producer–I hear that they are even better live! They are currently on tour– for all you locals they will be at Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge on July 30th–check their website for even more national tour dates.

I’ll actually leave you with a video of them performing Up, Up, Up on Jimmy Fallon in their television debut. Don’t just stop at Up, Up, Up though! Explore these guys, they have a lot to offer and you’ll surely be impressed!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Image Courtesy of The 227

Video Courtesy of NBC Universal

Album Review: Cults, Cults


[Track: Most Wanted]

Find it at: Amazon|eMusic|Insound

A few weeks ago I posted an article on the group Cults, a relatively unknown Indie duo that has turned a lot of heads since last years debut single Go Outside.

Since the release of two singles (Go Outside and Most Wanted) in Spring of 2010, the groups popularity started escalating– especially due to recognition from Indie big wigs such as Pitchfork and Gorilla Versus Bear.

The bands success is definitely well deserved. The almost obnoxiously uplifting single Go Outside combined with the 1950’s girl group rhythm of Most Wanted had everyone on the edge of their seats anticipating their debut album that dropped June 7th 2011.

So here we are on June 13th with the album Cults by Cults.

Since their emergence in 2010, more and more details have come known about the duo.

The group consists of Brian Oblivion and Madeline Folline, two former NYU film students who began making music in their spare time to share with friends. Brian covers vocals, guitar and percussion while Madeline takes lead vocals on most tracks.

The release of Go Outside on their Band Camp page led to an internet frenzy in Spring of 2010 which, in turn, led to an album deal with Columbia imprint, (and Lily Allen owned label)– In The Name Of.

Despite the album only being out for over a week it’s already been met with stellar reviews. The album has been tagged as Best New Music by Pitchfork Media, and Paste Magazine praised the album not only for its indie-pop sound, but for it’s depth in production and creativity.

So what makes the album so great? Well let’s start with the production.

The melody of most songs are fairly simple–a three chord melody for most of ’em–but what gives them depth rather than over-simplicity is the rich layering.

Through out the album you have sonic structures that use various looped and electronic elements that contribute to each song. These elements synch beautifully with the vocals to create an ambiance rather than a simple song–a feeling rather than just a track.

The entire album is produced wonderfully–as I’ve said before it’s very common to over produce an album–but this one is produced carefully and efficiently.

The multi-layered instruments compliment the vocals but they also compliment one another. For instance in the track Oh My God, the looped synth and xylophone are mixed in a way that feeds off of the guitar, the bass line and the drums. The looped electronic instruments and “main” instruments mesh nicely which makes it possible for the song to “go places” rather than becoming one-dimensional.

Another way the band stands out is by mixing sound clips of cult leaders in their songs, the eerie speeches of Jim Jones mixed with the “sweet” up beat voice of Madeline Folline  creates a very bizarre but likable addition to the album. The sound clips are also used sparingly–which makes them effective rather than becoming a novelty.

The album,, at 33 minutes, is the perfect length and it seems to tell a story from start to finish–a quality I love in an album–within each song you watch the groups material mature and grow.

The first song, Abducted, is a song about someone stealing a lovers heart and the terrible heartbreak that ensues. The albums final track Rave On oppositely ends the album on a positive note, and every track in between only adds to the developing story line.

Musically the album is spot on and other than the creative uses of sampling and layering, the vocals are also very well executed.

While most of the singing is done by Folline, Oblivion adds his vocals to tracks where a male vocal is needed. Not only is Oblivions singing style great, but where he sings is wonderfully placed, and it adds depth to the over all story of the album.

Folline, the main vocalist, has a very unique voice–and in a number of tracks–she seems to channel 1950’s girl group singers such as Diana Ross but in doing so she still keeps her indie pop flair.

This indie/du wop combination can be heard in tracks such as, You Know What I Mean, Most Wanted, Bumper and Never Saw The Point.

These tracks combine the duwop signature piano and bass line, but are mixed in a way that still give off an indie rock sound which makes it interesting rather than cliche. You find this same tactic through out the entire album, the group  takes a very simple idea but mixes and layers it to perfection, as well as adding their own touch.

Follines delivery is also something to take note of.

In the track Never Heal Myself, we hear a woman’s frustrated cry to her man telling him, “I could never heal myself enough for you.”

It’s a powerful song in which you can not only feel the frustration–but also the defeat– in the vocals. You can certainly tell that the singer wants to give in and just pull the plug on her failing relationship.

The instruments on Never Heal Myself include a haunting background melody that mimics the guitar and flowing keyboards that create a catchy ambiance.

However, the pinnacle of the track comes when Folline sings the following in a sweet and non-chalant way:

“I tried to heal myself..and turn into someone else..but I could never be myself.. so fuck you.” 

It’s Follines innocent voice and non chalant delivery–combined with powerful lyrics– that makes this album so unique as well as fun.

Not all songs are du-wop inspired, many are simple bass lines and piano chords but mixed with Cults entertaining flair. Each song certainly stands on it’s own two feet–but also contributes to the whole of the album.

The albums closing track Rave On wonderfully wraps up the album–using sparse vocals and guitar for the verses but a multi-voiced chorus that sings the words “rave on” at all the right places–wonderfully telling all the listeners good bye, until next time.

Amazing album! It’s great from start to finish, and has all the qualities of a great work–and certainly puts Cults on the map.

Keep your ears open for these guys.

Thanks for reading.

 

Image Courtesy: Brooklyn Vegan

Bon Iver covers Bonnie Raitt

I was first introduced to Bon Iver a year or so ago when I was driving along the roads of Baton Rouge, Louisiana with my girlfriend and listening to the local college radio station, KLSU. The song was Skinny Love, one of their more popular songs. I was immediately taken in by the simple yet effective production technique and the singer Justin Vernon’s voice . A singing style that is an instrument in itself.

Not to sound cliche, but the autumn weather mixed with the song and driving around Baton Rouge, made the song a perfect soundtrack for the evening.

A few nights ago the group was on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to promote their new album and their new single Calgary. On the B-side of the single is a few covers, one of them being Bonnie Raitts classic, I Can’t Make You Love me. (Shown Below)

Two big things in music that never get old to me are simplistic musical stylings in songs. Tracks where the songs are  broken down to the bare essentials and are left with an intimate and acoustic vibe  where each instrument must speak for itself but must also compliment the whole.

The second thing being covers!

I always find it fascinating to see another artists take on a popular song, if done effectively a cover can tell a completely different story just with a few changes. This is a great example of both of those things–Vernons voice is wonderfully soulful in this rendition and the instrumentation is spot on.

Eh, enough rambling. Great cover–enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.
(Video Courtesy of Vodpod and NBC Universal)
(Image Courtesy of This Bonus Track)