In the Lonely Hour: Sam Smith

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By Janeal Downs

Artists either want you to think they are in the music industry because it is their passion or because they want money and the fame. Sam Smith tries to convince listeners that he is in it because he loves it, with the first song of his 2014 album “Money on My Mind.” This radio friendly song with its upbeat tempo and repeated phrase of “money on my mind,” does not make his idea too believable. However, with his gloriously fantastic voice, I will pretend to believe anything Sam Smith sings. If nothing good lasts forever, I hope at least great things do. With his song “Good Thing,” I am convinced Smith is a great thing. If you have not heard “Stay With Me” yet then I highly recommend you crawl from under your rock and listen to this man’s song. This album is proof that Sam Smith cannot be a one hit or few hit wonder, and I’d put money on that.

I absolutely loved the song “Leave Your Lover,” though it did remind me of Frank Ocean’s song, “Thinking Bout You.” It was similar not because they sound the same, but because both songs do a great job of not saying if it is directed to a man or a woman (not that it matters.) “I’m Not the Only One” is a song that unfortunately many people can relate to. A song of an unfaithful partner is not something new, but Smith’s beautiful vocal range makes him versatile in a way that is new in today’s pop culture. Smith’s album could put the most insomnia racked bitter old man to sleep and I mean that in the best way possible. With his voice songs like “I’ve Told You Now,” “Like I Can” and “Life Support” can truly relax the soul. Smith is the kind of artist who does not need music in the background, as his voice is all of the music. Recall when Whitney Houston sang “I Will Always Love You” acapella at the beginning of her music video. Sam Smith could definitely achieve the same effect.

Another relatable song on the album is “Not in That Way,” which is about loving someone who does not love you back. With his otherworldly voice, I cannot imagine why someone would not love Sam Smith back.  I hope his personality matches the loveliness of his voice. Smith ended “In the Lonely Hour” with “Lay Me Down.” As I listened to this song I felt a sense of sadness overcome me because I knew it was at the end, and I would have to wait for a new album. I then began to imagine all of the people I would love to see Smith collaborate with while waiting for his next album. This is how a great album ends. It is like a show. You do not want to be waiting impatiently for the season to end, but almost crying when you have to wait for new episodes.

I do not know how old Sam Smith is but I cannot possibly imagine the reason for why it has taken him so long to honor the world with his voice. If you have listened to him, you will know I am not over exaggerating. Whether Sam Smith belongs in the R&B, hip-hop or pop genre, I’m not sure. One thing I do know is that the world has been waiting on some new and true talent for way too long.

7/10

Blonde Redhead – Barragán (2014)

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By Jamal Stone

2014 marks Blonde Redhead’s 20th anniversary, but Barragán is no retrospective. The album’s title alludes to the clean lines and colors of Modernist Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Barragán’s monoliths invigorated the industrialized bustle of Mexico, standing tall like sand-brushed Lego pieces. But without a noisy backdrop, Blonde Redhead’s minimalist approach to songwriting feels oddly sterile – a step backwards for a band with a history in noise rock and shoegaze.

Even vocalist Kazu Makino’s breathy singing, Blonde Redhead’s established fulcrum, is damaged by the ineffectual production. “Cat on a Tin Roof” strips Makino of her ethereality; we encounter her in the corner of a dingy karaoke bar instead of some floating echo chamber. Here, minimalism is confused for cleanliness. The very next track, “The One I Love” is a standout because it’s unafraid to disrupt the melody, with stabs of noise and reverb forcing the listener to take heed. Unfortunately, these driving songs are too few. For the most part, Barragán seems unsure of its foundation – a strange cocktail of Italian discofox, ambient noise, minimalist pop rock, and improvisational electronica.

Barragán includes plenty of other Modernist-era references – “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “To Kill A Mockingbird”, for example – but none of the historical context. Modernism is reactionary. Barragán, by and large, feels lazy. It’s a sad thought, but, after the innocuousness of Blonde Redhead’s last album, Penny Sparkle, it’s hard to shake the notion that the band has found themselves in their third act. I’d love to hear an album where Makino and company find their venom again – slithering melancholia and windswept guitars. Comparatively, Barragán is an album defanged, best fit for the internal monologues found while waiting in a Starbucks queue.

5/10

Review: Pale Communion – Opeth

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By  Dylan Reddick

Change has always been a concept of varying distinction when it comes to music. Be it a change in form, aesthetic or composition such adjustments are often met with bi-polar reactions both critically and sales-wise. Opeth is a band quite familiar with the concept of change. After a career of albums infusing death metal with progressive rock they took a radical new direction with their 2011 album, Heritage. The death metal element of their music was subtracted entirely in favor of warmer guitar tones, crooning vocals and focusing on the progressive rock aspect of their music. The new direction was met with a divided reaction, some enjoying it as a new, fresher musical direction and others finding it to be a dull tribute to the progressive rock bands of the seventies.

Their new album, Pale Communion, makes no attempt to return to the band’s old death metal formula, opting instead to advance upon the sound established on Heritage. The album begins with a bombastic introduction as “Eternal Rains Will Come” sets the stage with dramatic organ riffs and jazzy drums. The song finds its groove with chorus-like vocals and smooth bass rumbling in the background. The next track, “Cusp Of Eternity”, kicks the album into gear as Opeth turns the distortion up for the song’s crunchy, dramatic main riff. Lead vocalist and guitarist, Mikael Akerfeldt, trades solos with lead guitarist, Fredrik Akesson, over the song’s haunting riffs in spectacular fashion. The album’s next two tracks “Moon Above, Sun Below” and “Elysian Woes” both feature large amounts of acoustic sections, the first using them to cut between various segments of the song and the latter being comprised nearly entirely of acoustic guitar and vocals. However, unfortunately, “Elysian Fields” ends up dragging on a bit, and ends up feeling rather bland. However the album finds its stride again on the next track “Goblin”, a track hinted at by Akerfeldt as having been a tribute to the Italian progressive rock band of the same name. It’s a fitting tribute, bearing many similarities to Goblin’s own music and providing an entertaining and sinister bridge to the album’s second half.

I mistook the next track, “River”, as an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song at first. It sounds strikingly similar for the first three minutes, beginning with arpeggiated chords upon a twelve-string guitar, lackadaisical guitar solos and soft vocals. Following the three minute mark the song begins to spiral out into a crazed exchange of guitar solos, haunting repeated vocals forming a crazed jam, a crescendo of sorts. It sets the stage fittingly for “Voice of Treason”, a dramatic track featuring a bold main riff comprised of a section of symphonic strings. The strings were a fabulous choice as they add an element of suspense and almost cinematic drama to the song that distorted guitars could not have pulled off. The song continues guided by a jazzy drum presence provided by Martin Axenrot that grows into a short clamor before fading out into the album’s final track, “Faith in Others”. This song moves slowly and deliberately, one pace at a time, mimicking a funeral dirge in its gait and mood. Akerfeldt sings along to a slow, trudging riff in the middle and delivers the best vocal line of the album in glorious fashion, grabbing the listener one last time.

“The blood of departure in our tracks
Drifting from our empty left home
Your hand reached out to hold mine
But you’re grasping the thin ice”

It’s a haunting ending to the album before it slowly fades out once again with the strings. In the end, Pale Communion is a great effort on Opeth’s part, triumphing where Heritage failed. There’s a renewed energy and purpose to the music that solidifies Opeth’s ability to make quality music, death metal or not. Will all of their fans enjoy it? Probably not, but they’d be missing out, as this is a lovely album regardless. It shines on its ability to create tension and a sinister atmosphere while still providing a sense of delicacy with the softer sections. Listening to it would be preferable, as many of the songs float into each other to create a sort of narrative to the music. It’s probably the most accessible of their albums yet as well, with no death growls whatsoever, but contains some of their most dramatic and memorable moments since 2005’s Ghost Reveries. There are a few missteps, a few moments of the songs felt as if they dragged on and some of the vocals don’t sound as strong as others but overall it’s a fantastic release. Pale Communion may not be a return to Opeth’s trademark sound but it’s quite enjoyable nonetheless, providing listeners with a new side of the band instead of taking the easy route. Often bands change to accrue popularity that otherwise would have been unattainable with their old sound but Pale Communion seems to be more of a labor of love on Opeth’s part, paying tribute to the progressive rock that inspired them while expanding upon the style in new ways.

8/10

WVCW’s Top 20 : 5/11/2014-5/17/2014

WVCW’S Top 20 of the Week List

The list of our favorite top 20 songs of the week …in no particular descending order

Song

Artist

Don’t Sleep for Free

You, Me, & Apollo

Cavity

Hundred Waters

Brains

Banks

Hold Tight

Midnight Faces

Hundreds of Ways

Conor Oberst

Understand

The Roots

Dumb

Jazmine Sullivan ft. Meek Millz

                                      Die Young With Me

Blacklist Royals

Bluebell Fields

Money

Pasedena

Donnie Trumpet ft. Vic Mensa

Hooray for Henny

The Kooks

Face Down

White Lung

Satellite

Pompeya

Fix me up

Rush Midnight

Ring the Bell

White Hinterland

Burning

Night Box

We Exist

Arcade Fire

Change Your Mind

Trey Songz

If You Want to Do It

Moonshoes

La Sera

Losing to the Dark

 

Andrea Wellard: Somewhere Along The Way

Remember the late 90’s teen angst drama Dawson’s Creek? The show was built around stories  about coming of age and dealing with life and love. The show was mostly criticized for its use of borderline pretentious vocabulary but extolled for it use of music to set tone and mood of the stories that were told. The producer’s use of indie music of the time is what really conveyed the emotions of the characters. Andrea Wellard could easily have fit into that time period with the music she writes and produces.  Somewhere Along the Way. The singer-songwriter’s set of six tracks has an honest and natural sound that evokes the softer side of emotion.  It captures and then wraps the listener up for the duration of the CD.

Stand out songs to add:  track#1- Dandelions, track#2- Relentless

By: Sandy Bernstein

Jan St. Werner: Music

This is not a collection of songs. It is a collection of electronic noises. As I listened to this collection of tracks, I had a hard time following them.  if it had not been for the abrupt stop or fade out of the individual tracks I would not know where one track ends and another began.  I did the natural thing and jumped from track to track. Best I could tell is some noises where faster than others, some tracks started with a rhythm but quickly dissipated into a jumbled mishmash of sounds. There are some interesting tracks on this CD. Track #8 is entitled “Mound Magnet Pt.1”. It was interesting in as much as I could detect the guitar sound and some sort of vocal progression but when it came right down to it, the track sounded like robots having sex.  Track #9 is Fahrtenheit.  It starts out with a harp-type tone which is rather angelic but quickly give way to a frenetic pulse that can only be described a as a heartbeat run thru some electronic  processor and sped up. .  Track #13, Senendippo5 is nothing more than the processed sound of a ticking clock set to other samples of glass being rubbed together and then completely turns into something else.   Over all I point to this fact. Electronica is an acquired listen. There is good and bad electronic and one must be repetitive in listening to get it or enjoy it  On this collection I did neither.

By: Sandy Bernstein