Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Christmas Tree

The Evolution of Christmas Music

Written by Chase Larson on . Posted in Music

Picture this: amid the bedlam of the city — the hum of restless murmurs and bustling urgency — the din of Sinatra’s rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is playing.

Ephemeral and seemingly transcendent of our current sphere — dotted with street lamps, house-tops and building strewn about — carefully falls the season’s early sparkling snow, one of Mother Nature’s most powerful tools of change. Fleeting memories of simplicity and peace abound, alluring and familiar, like an old refrain.

Few can resist the electric draw of Christmas magic. The thousands of twinkling lights. The idyllic, Norman Rockwell-esque comfort of sitting in front of a fire with loved ones. The evolution of Christmas itself is reflected in the very music that supercharges the season.

music piracy

The Slow Downfall of Illegal Downloads

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Music, Tech

Earlier this fall, I decided to get Arcade Fire’s latest album The Suburbs. Like everyone, I get more and more music online, but in this case, I also thought maybe I’d go in to a record store and pick up an actual CD. It’d be nice, I considered, to have a physical copy, and the smell of a CD booklet is certainly nostalgic. After procrastinating my record store outing for weeks, however, I finally gave up and bought the album on iTunes.In retrospect, what surprises me about this whole experience is that I didn’t illegally download the album. In fact, I didn’t even consider it. Though I’m not ethically opposed to pirating media — I’ve done a fair share of it in the past and believe it has a legitimate place in the consumer music ecosystem — the thought just didn’t really cross my mind this time around. What’s more, some significant evidence suggests that I’m not alone, and that people are increasingly turning — if not yet stampeding — to legal channels to get their music. (Slate tech writer and NPR contributor Farhad Manjoo discusses some of these trends here.)
So why are my downloading habits changing? Why might everyone else’s be slowly changing too? Some in the media industry might point to the huge lawsuits the record labels occasionally bring — and win — against music pirates. Manjoo also points out in the article linked above that the download-now-use-later approach to music is starting to feel outdated in a streaming world. Or maybe everyone just realized that downloading was wrong.
Kanye West

Review: Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

Written by Hunter Phillips on . Posted in Music

“I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago,” Kanye West proclaims at the outset of his latest full-length album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The following 70 minutes feel like a true culmination of Kanye’s fantasies of grandeur and musical innovation.

With a title that would make even the most hardened emo band cringe and a year full of faux pas for West, audiences are naturally skeptical that Fantasy is anything more than a self-indulgent mess. However, anyone who misses out on this album out of hatred for Kanye, loyalty to Taylor Swift or any other reason are missing out on something special. This is an album showcasing an already-trailblazing artist at the pinnacle of his talents. In fewer words, it is simply transcendent.

Miles Davis

20 Important Songs You Should Hear

Written by Chase Larson on . Posted in Music

Anyone who truly appreciates music, appreciates it on a deep, visceral level and enjoys a wide variety of sound. No, we’re not just talking about listening to everything on the radio, but rather having an ear to admire how this art form has evolved and flourished over time. Whatever our musical commitment, we as humans each innately possess a unique inner sense of rhythm, melody and flow — whether it be witnessing a complex orchestration onstage or simply being outdoors.

As Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle once penned, “All deep things are song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls! The primal element of us; of us, and of all things … See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it.”

Trying to establish a definitive, Rolling Stone-esque list of the greatest songs of all time would be foolish, and I don’t purport this list to be such since the pursuit is so subjective anyway. If it seems like I have the music critics’ version of commitment issues, that’s because I do. Even with this vague, waffling caveat, narrowing down a list was like trying to put my life’s wisdom in a one page, double-spaced sheet of paper using 14-point font.


The Next Best Thing (Part 2)

Written by Scott Manning on . Posted in Local, Music

You may have read my previous article dated several months back with a similar title. You may have even liked it and are ready for round two. But it’s far more likely that you have never seen the first part of this multi-article compendium and are jumping in right here, so here’s my little disclaimer:

Provo may seem quaint at times, but underneath it all there is talent that stretches far beyond these city walls. This series of articles aims to bring attention to all the musical good that’s been quickly growing, and even more quickly now that bands like Neon Trees have trailblazed the way to nationwide — if not worldwide — success.

So without further ado, I present to you two more of this town’s Next Best Things.

Jess Smiley

Jess Smart Smiley: An Advocate of True Art

Written by Chase Larson on . Posted in Music

It was very dark one night in a local, dimly-lit neighborhood. The only real light came from the numberless clusters of stars above and the inconspicuous crescent moon peeking above the mountain’s ridge. A man was walking around soaking it in, tucking his shoulder-length hair behind his ears while celestial light glinted off his glasses, contemplating his seemingly insignificant place among billions of people — a speck in the midst of such vastness — wondering what he could do in his life to create more meaning.

Things like that keep him up at night.

Raised in Provo, 27-year-old Jess Smart Smiley is what many would call right-brained — and hopelessly so. Making music and art is his passion, his career, his life. Without an ounce of guile — and with an infectious twinkle in his eye — Jess possesses a unique, perpetual excitement that seems ready to burst out of his otherwise demure persona.

I first met Jess while I was writing for my college newspaper and got the the chance to interview him at his home in Orem where we sat down (during which time he told his son he’d be sent to the “police store” if caught as he struck out on the sidewalk wearing merely a diaper).

Imagine Dragons

MUSIC: Review: Imagine Dragons, "Hell and Silence"

Written by Chase Larson on . Posted in Music

Provo-born band Imagine Dragons delivers an energetic dosage of electronic synth-pop that soars on its second EP, Hell and Silence.

Now hailing from Las Vegas, the group draws stylistically from its new location with catchy hooks and melodies, danceable grooves and showy anthems with mainstream appeal. On one of their tracks, lead singer Dan Reynolds repeats the title of the group’s latest venture — in a quasi-chanting fashion — singing “Hell and silence/I can fight it/I can fight it,” encapsulating the record’s positive, upbeat sound.

They definitely avoid silence.

It’s hard to pinpoint one genre Imagine Dragons comfortably fits into since they borrow from such an eclectic array of musical inspiration — moving from synthesizer-dominated tunes to driving beats to arena rock anthems. The band’s grandiose and sometimes quirky sound makes it seem like they mixed musical elements picked from groups like The Killers, Blue October and Good Charlotte.

Some highlights of Hell and Silence include “Selene,” a funky, playful number with a disco-infused beat, and “I Don’t Mind,” a more contemplative tune but one that will still get your toe tapping. Chock full of synthesizer licks, “Emma” is reminiscent of a 1980s new wave ballad with a seemingly misplaced guitar solo that sounds like it’s straight off an Eagles’ album, which oddly works.

“Hear Me,” easily the catchiest song on the EP, begins with a driving beat that builds as an infectious guitar riff paves the way for Reynolds’ growling verse. However, soon the song transitions into a glossy chorus that will stay in your head for hours, akin to something you’d expect from The Killers.

Although some will say Hell and Silence is somewhat inconsistent at times and lacks a true identity, many will enjoy the band’s diverse, eccentric nature. One thing is for sure — Imagine Dragons has talent, an infectious second record, and a promising future.

Parlor Hawk

MUSIC: Review: Parlor Hawk, "Hoarse and Roaring"

Written by Chase Larson on . Posted in Music

Listening to “Hoarse and Roaring” is like driving alone down a long, open road off into a sunset tinged landscape, leaving plenty of time to contemplate life’s hopes and struggles. Parlor Hawk’s distinct brand of Americana folk-rock permeates the effort with a tight sound featuring steadily strummed guitars, an achingly bluesy twang and frontman Drew Capener’s desperate vibrato on every track.

The band successfully creates a contemporary take on an antique sound with a salt-of-the-earth vibe — but that’s not to say there’s anything ordinary about this music. The evenly-paced drum beats and clean harmonies are both intimate and personal in their everyman quality. The sound produced is at times melancholy but more often contemplative — simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking. Utilizing instruments such as a pump organ and slide guitar, Parlor Hawk generates a vintage sound. The music and lyrics are unpretentious and fervent; simple yet rich and layered. Stylistic comparisons can be easily drawn to artists like Damien Rice, Ryan Adams or early Wilco.

“Home,” the album’s opener (embedded below), has a catchy chorus and sparse percussion with the duo of a bass drum and tambourine that eventually break into handclaps at the peak of the action. Capener careens in and out of the guitar riffs, channeling an old-timey, saloon feel as you envision an antique piano being played in the corner. Parlor Hawk’s country roots show through in “Every Bone,” a track laden with the twang of a steel guitar as the reluctant rhythm trudges forward with a message of love lost.

“Julian” the album’s most melancholy tune, utilizes Capener’s wounded voice well as he croons about faded love: “I’ll give you my canvas/Paint cracked and dry/Might lead you to question/But reason can’t ask reason why.” The album’s dream-like “Lark” is a swaying melody that plays like a bittersweet lullaby, with the ethereal chorus floating in the night sky as Capener’s voice intertwines with the female harmony. The more upbeat “Flowers” contains a bluesy guitar hook and a steady, toe-tapping beat, while “Saddest Song” is a melancholy campfire sing-a-long, featuring only vocals and an acoustic guitar.

All in all, “Hoarse and Roaring” is an album that you’ll want to pick up and sing along with, no matter what mood you’re in.

Listen to: Parlor Hawk, “Home”

Check out Parlor Hawk’s MySpace page to hear more tracks and learn about the band. Also, check out their recent interview with 21st and Ivy here.

MUSIC: Album Review: Vampire Weekend, "Contra"

Written by Trent Gurney on . Posted in Music

Vampire Weekend

ContraVampire Weekend’s second album Contra was released on January 12th, almost two years (to the date) after the release of their self-titled debut.

Contra starts off with exactly what we’d expect from a Vampire Weekend trip to the beach. And it’s true, “Horchata” basically treads the same cracked pavement and sand that swept so many off their feet two years ago — lyrics rich with detailed imagery and full of Ivy League vocabulary (i.e. balaclava), calypso Afro-pop beats, some decorative bells and chimes. In short: it’s peppy, it’s poppy, it’s peculiar, it’s Vampire Weekend. However, deeper into the album, it becomes apparent that while Vampire Weekend are still playing to their strengths, they are indeed branching out lyrically and musically. The result is an impressive record full of pleasant surprises.

A few tracks on Contra offer us a glimpse at a softer, more serious side of Vampire Weekend, and the lyrical content on this record is more sentimental than those found on their first release. On Vampire Weekend, there were a lot of songs about New York landmarks and one about odd-shaped roofs. On Contra, things seem — as they always have with lead singer Ezra Koenig’s lyrics — very upper class, but here sentimental replaces superficial. Things are less “Oh, your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts / 
Absolute horror!” and more “You wanted good schools and friends with pools / but I just wanted you. I just wanted you.”

As far as softer goes, “Taxi Cab” and “I Think Ur a Contra” are essentially ballads. Vampire Weekend ballads? Yes, and strong ones. In them, Koenig sings “You were standing there so close to me like the future was supposed to be” and “I had a feeling once that you and I could tell each other everything for two months.” He’s not exactly trying to break your heart, but he is trying to appeal to your emotions a bit more than he has in the past. And somehow, with the simplicity of those lines and that piano in the background, he succeeds.

It’s not just the lyrics though — musically, this album has Vampire Weekend heading in a different direction too. Clearly they are expanding (or at least experimenting) with some different genres here, and throughout the album you’ll find remnants of ska, reggae, and synthesized pop. The album is actually quite electronic. At least one or two of these songs could have easily found a home on last year’s LP from Vampire Weekend keyboardist and Contra producer Rostam Batmanglij’s electronic R&B side-project, Discovery.

“Cousins,” by contrast, brings to the table spectacular, raw guitar riffs and probably the closest thing to punk rock we’ll ever get from these kids. “Diplomat’s Son” offers a sample of a track by British rapper M.I.A. While “California English” gives us a dose of Koenig on Autotune, don’t worry — it’s not like Kanye or T-Pain (not even a little bit) and it’s only the one track. Everywhere else we get that same crisp, clear Koenig delivery (except when his voice cracks ever so beautifully at the climax of “Run”).

Now, with all those ingredients you may be thinking Contra sounds like a sonic cluster-cuss, but Vampire Weekend successfully harmonize the numerous contrasting genres into something rich, catchy and extremely enjoyable. At the very worst, it might come across as eccentric, which is a perfect fit for Vampire Weekend — and something they’ve definitely pulled off before.

Trent Gurney is Rhombus’ newest music correspondent. This is his first article for the magazine.

MUSIC: New Year's Resolutions for the Local Scene

Written by Scott Manning on . Posted in Music

Mudbison Rock

Dear Provo,

Let me just say first that I love you. I really do. I mean, I know that I would never brag about you to my friends living in other places (except for Rexburg) or ever think to claim you as my absolute favorite place to live, and I would be hard-pressed to hear myself say anything more than “sigh” upon returning to you after a wonderful Christmas break in sunny California. But despite my inherent lack of “city spirit,” I can still say you are loved.

Otherwise, why would I be here? I’m neither forced nor bribed to stay, thus within me must reside some sort of desire to keep my bones in this place. Besides, even after my year full of travels to many more technically exotic locales, I’ve found the best-looking women (and men, I presume, but you ladies can decide that for yourselves as I’m certainly not looking) are present here within these city limits — honest to goodness. But this letter is not to tell you of my closeted love for you or the beauty of the individuals living herein, so much as it is to talk about your rather unique music scene.

You do good, Provo. Really. But there are some things I would perhaps like to see change — drastically — within the next year and, being as how we just turned over a new leaf with the ushering in of 2010, I think now would be as good a time as any to set some new year’s resolutions for you. Let’s begin.

1.  Mas venues, por favor!

Over the course of Provo’s more recent years, there have been a lot of positive changes in the music scene. We’ve gone from having next-to-nothing to comparatively booming success. It seems more and more people were getting sick of the Ryan Shupes, Peter Breinholts and other various EFY artists coming out of this area’s “lack-of-scene,” only to graduate to mediocre musical careers in quasi-religious genres. In particular, people like Corey Fox, Bentley Murdock and Jake Haws were the ones to get off their duffs and try to make a difference.

And, essentially, it’s worked: we now have two (read it, two!) venues here in downtown Provo, Velour and Muse Music. These two venues have done a great job in allowing students and locals alike to form bands and groups, make music, and perform it on-stage in front of real people — allowing concerts to finally become a form of Friday and Saturday night entertainment for the under-nourished BYU and UVU students, effectively lessening the amount of weekend facebook binges and DDR competitions. (I know you were wondering where that horrid game had gone.)

Well, it’s been fun, but don’t bust out the Martinelli’s in celebration for your efforts just yet. Muse and Velour, you’ve done well — but it’s not enough. We’ve yet got work to do. We need more musically-inclined, successful entrepreneurs. I’m not saying I’m expecting Provo to be the most bangin’ place for bands of all genres — I don’t even really care if folk remains the only type of music present and popular (and without the omnipresence of alcohol, I’m not sure that will ever change) — I just want more venues. More venues = more concerts = more music = more attention to Provo as a good place for music to flourish. But, of course, something’s missing from this equation…

2.  Party people, bring it over here!

Is it too much to ask that people besides friends and relatives of the band members come and attend shows every once in a while? Perhaps there’s a good lot of you that do honestly appreciate music for the sake of it being good music and consistently find time and a couple nickels to hear it live, instead of just paying homage to your buddy who’s been desperately begging you for 8 months to come to one of his band’s performances.

Don’t get me wrong — loyalty is fantastic and wonderful and all that, but heaven forbid if you keep attending their shows because you liked it, or even started to follow the other bands that played with them that night. (If you even stayed, that is. I’ve seen way too many people flood in for “their band” and ditch the rest of the night to hang out at a bonfire or something pathetic like that.)

As previously mentioned, the effects of alcohol are usually negative, but when it comes to concert attendance it seems to do wonders. Let’s attempt to prove to ourselves that we can support our local musicians without grandpa’s old cough medicine guiding our feet to the venues. And please, for the love of everything beautiful in the world, STAY.  And if it so happens that you’re invited to a local show that absolutely sucks, just suffer the rest of the night and you never have to hear them again.

3.  Musicians: can you learn more than folk music?

Diversity is not a word Provo’s really familiar with, if you haven’t already noticed. We apparently are all just peas in a pod, as we all love frozen yogurt joints, In-N-Out (Have you seen those lines? Calm down, people!), “black and white affair” parties, playing Mafia (or endless variations thereof), playing crappy covers on acoustic guitars to pick up women, using the word “random” in every situation possible, bonfires, being Republican, late night Beto’s runs (which isn’t Beto’s anymore, but we don’t notice) — and, of course, folk bands galore.

I’m sure someone somewhere has said something in regards to “moderation in all things,” but in these things we have none of that. We are obsessed. Not that there’s anything wrong with folk music, but come on, guys. Three chords can only go so far when you have 100 bands playing them simultaneously. Maybe it’s a phase we just have to live through, like the “Cecil is my Homeboy” t-shirts — or maybe not.

So, when you’re forming your next band to go big with, think about being different. You know, use that electric guitar as a main instrument instead of a way to make cute, ambient noises.  Besides, when it comes down to it, there’s only so much folk that people outside of Provo can tolerate.

Feel free to include some new Year’s resolutions of your own for Provo in the comment space below. I’d love to see what comes forth. Perhaps “break Scott Manning’s fingers so he can’t type anymore” will be in there.

Scott Manning is a music correspondent for Rhombus.