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All That Power: Five Years of Kanye West’s masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is an undisputed masterpiece. An album that culminates and compacts everything West has done into a sixty-nine minute album of hedonism, excess, debauchery, self- exploration, introspection, idealism of the American Dream, ego, and unabashed, brutal honesty. Numerous publications, and even Mr. West himself, have given Kanye the designation as “the greatest artist alive”. While that designation is highly subjective, and completely depends on what you think of him, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a strong case for such a title.

Everything we have come to know and love about Kanye West is in this album, and blown up on a Super Panovision screen: old-school soul samples from The College Dropout; baroque and string arrangements a la Late Registration; flashy production like on Graduation; auto-tune and self deprecation from 808s & Heartbreak – it’s all here, with a new form of maximalist production that makes a majority of these songs light years away in style and concept than most hip hop albums in recent memory. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye’s magnum opus – a grandiose vision from one of the 21st century’s true auteurs.

When approaching this album, one must keep in mind the time it came out: Kanye’s relationship with super model Amber Rose was dissolving, the 808s & Heartbreak tour was overworking West’s routine, and as a result this led to an outburst during the 2009 MTV VMA Awards. Shunned by friends, the public – hell – pretty much everyone, West took a self-imposed exile to Hawai’i where he began work on what would be known as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, formerly known as Good Ass Job. Little did we know was that West’s fifth album would be a game-changing blueprint for the future of hip hop, an album that took more risks than it should and payed off better than expected.

“Dark Fantasy” opens this album up with a fairy-tale narration from Nicki Minaj and ends with a Gil Scott- Heron poem, a glimpse at the scope of what this album encompasses. The feature roster here flexes its muscles with some of the talented artists of our day: Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Pusha T, RZA, John Legend, hell even Bon Iver finds himself on here. While some of the artists have provided some lukewarm material, the performances that they deliver on this record transcend their usual material. It’s as if MBDTF is a movie, and Kanye is the director, then Mr. West has pulled the greatest performances from his “cast”. The balance between West pointing the spotlight on him versus the consideration for the amount of help he gets on this album is ridiculously equal for you never linger much on one artist, but you always know West’s power (no pun intended) seething underneath the layers of sound, music, and composition. It’s an impressive feat no doubt, and one that pays off with every listen.

To say that this album is narrow-minded is a naive observation. West assembles different sounds, samples, and beats into a massive collage of influences that maximizes the potential of the typical hip-hop record. Maximalism is key; everything on each track is busy, consuming, and not a beat, note, or sample goes unwanted. The samples here are eccentric, covering many genres in the best way: there’s the King Crimson sample (prog rock) on “POWER”, the Aphex Twin sample (IDM) on the haunting “Blame Game”, and the soulful “Devil In A New Dress” samples Smokey Robinson in a gritty and subversive way. “Iron Man”, the iconic song that’s been sampled loads of times gets maliciously twisted into a melody about fucking a porn star – a lyrical awakening in the middle of a heavy and vivid album.

http://i2.wp.com/40.media.tumblr.com/fb6f4d126ac9780bffde443debc98329/tumblr_mj839uADn31roa9tdo1_1280.jpg?resize=347%2C244While 808s and Graduation provided some electronica samples, and while Kanye has sampled multiple source material in his early work (Chaka Khan still hits it out of the ballpark), MBDTF finds West twisting the sounds and making them solely his own – a tapestry of work indebted in the mind, wisdom, and knowledge of himself. Among the knotted and complex arteries of this body of music lies the personality and inner thoughts of an arrogant yet genius producer who, midst the chaos and full-throttle rise to a new level of fame and controversy, stopped and looked around for a while and took everything in as it came. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘s album cover is blood red for a reason. To further this notion of MBDTF being the special album that it is, West went all-out with the eccentricity: strict recording rules, idiosyncratic samples, and a 35 minute short film accompanying a nine minute songs. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is truly a bold and ambitious project, album, and statement. It’s a fully realized and wholesome expression that, for all its criticism, features some of West’s best work.

Yet at the end of the day you have an album, an album that for all it’s worth, is an extension of Mr. West himself. All the vile mannerisms, eccentric inspirations and samples, maximal production, and hilarious and clever wordplay are snuggled up nice and tight into the seconds and minutes of MBDTF expansive sixty-nine. Crafted by an emotionally unstable artist, the album is surprisingly substantial and comprehensive, packing in years of social and cultural commentary and http://i2.wp.com/circlesquaretriangle.tv/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/kanyeallofthelights.jpg?resize=508%2C265observation (“Sex is on fire/ I’m the King of Leona Lewis”). 2010 marked the beginning of Kanye’s major stylistic shift – a amalgamation of everything he was known for, in music and in life, converged into a magnum opus that started the new decade in flames.

Here we are in 2015, and many of us are still analyzing, listening, and dissecting the cavernous lines of wit and samples of brilliance hidden in the nooks and crannies of this undisputed masterpiece of a record. We’re still listening because in it, we find parts that have laid the blueprint for future classics to come; good kid, m.A.A.d city’s deeply personal narrative, channel ORANGE‘s sturdy yet penetrable vulnerability, To Pimp A Butterfly’s comprehensive social commentary, delivered with pomp and bravado, and Modern Vampires of the City‘s embrace of growth and change, Lonerism’s extended adventurous song structure, and many more. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is both an achievement and a landmark – an album that took years to make, took many risks, and eventually stuck the landing. The new decade began with a burst of visceral creativity that still burns with us today and still begs the question: “can we get much higher?” For Kanye, the answer could be anything; he’s accepted who he is, what he’s done, and what he can do. So at this point, nothing is stopping him from creating another MBDTF, a strange occurrence in music that rarely happens and one that should be celebrated to ubiquity. So what are you waiting for? “You might think you’ve picked the scene. You haven’t, the real one’s far too mean. The -“

 

 

And the rest is history…

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SCORE: (10/10)

Author’s Note: Commentary and debate is encouraged in the comment section below.

Courtesy of Metal Archives

“Behold.Total.Rejection” Revenge

Revenge

Behold.Total.Rejection Album Review

Season Of Mist

Released November 13, 2015

Genre: Black Metal, Grindcore, Death Metal, War Metal

 

Uncompromising, tortured and relentless are the only words that can properly describe Revenge. The Canadian black metal trio have been making musical onslaughts capable of destroying ears and inciting riots for the past 15 years. Despite trends in the black metal sound today, melodic and atmospheric are not even close to being in this band’s vocabulary. When the drums aren’t pumping out blistering blast beats, the guitars are generating noisy nonsense to the background of the sometimes grind core-esque vocals. Without a doubt, Revenge have crafted the most punishing and difficult aural experience ever covered on PNG.

Swirling drums, disgusting guitar and bass and bowel-shaking vocals are the ingredients to Revenge evil formula. All instruments and voices are stripped of any brightness; drums are mixed to be much louder than the guitars other than solos, while the guitar and bass rarely reach higher frets, usually mimicking the lower-register noises of large military machinery. Where Revenge delves into its ugliest is in the vocals. When tortured wretched vocals aren’t eviscerating the ears like a thousand daggers, the evil death growls that resemble a boiling cauldron of some concoction drag the listener into the pits of Tartarus. These lower growls usually are enhanced with some very ominous echoing effect. No one can possibly feel remotely human while listening to this album.

The fury of Revenge is relentless, but since this album is only 10 tracks long, clocking in at about 40 minutes, the assault is well-paced. It is impossible to be bored by the calculated chaos on Behold.Total.Rejection. The production, although vicious, is slightly bothersome as I’d like to be as assaulted by the string section as I am by the drums and vocals. The echoing growls also don’t echo to the beat of the song, which sounds like it was done on purpose, but it throws off the flow of the songs. The guitar solos happen at the perfect time in each song, lasting just long enough for the stereotypical headbangers in everyone to frantically wave their fingers in the air before quickly returning to thrashing maniacally around the room.

This album is not fun. It’s not enjoyable. It’s disgusting and inhumane. It’s an amazing experience. Behold, the greatest challenge in Pretty Neat Grooves history.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Scum Defector (Outsider Neutralized), Shock Attrition (Control in Decline), Mass Death Mass

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Hate Nomad

SCORE: (8.7/10)

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“Every Open Eye” CHVRCHES

CHVRCHES

Every Open Eye Album Review

Virgin Records, Glassnote Records

Released September 25, 2015

Genre: Synthpop

Following the release of their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, CHVRCHES delivers their sophomore album, Every Open Eye.  The unique sound of Lauren Mayberry’s youthful vocals complemented by the pulsing synths and punchy drum beats creates an exhilarating soundscape, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard from them before.

Each song in Every Open Eye relies on past habits, habits that Mayberry dreams to shatter.  The opening song “Never Ending Circles” ironically points to this with the first verse: “Throw me no more bones, and I will tell you no lies,” alluding to The Bones of What You Believe.  Drowning in the success of their first album, CHVRCHES used the same melodic templates to achieve what would be more appropriately titled The Bones of What You Believe II.  CHVRCHES has become complacent with their sound, and they’re desperately in need of change.

Although Every Open Eye is clearly the product of a sophomore slump, it does have some merit.  The production has become cleaner, but that’s about it.  For whatever reason, they felt compelled to release more songs featuring Martin Doherty singing (High Enough to Carry You Over, Follow You), which pale in comparison to the songs featuring Mayberry.  A few songs play with interesting ideas (the breakdown in “Clearest Blue,” the chorus of “Empty Threat,” the breakdown in “Playing Dead”), but the majority of songs are lackluster duplications of each other and of their debut album.

Every Open Eye is not a bad album.  However, CHVRCHES had the opportunity to do so much more, and instead they released a follow-up record on-par with their debut.  If you haven’t heard CHVRCHES before, you won’t be displeased with this album.  If you started with The Bones of What You Believe, you won’t find anything new in this.

FAV TRACKS: Clearest Blue, Empty Threat

LEAST FAV TRACKS: High Enough to Carry You Over, Afterglow, Follow You

SCORE: (5.0/10)

from the album "Vega Intl. Night School"

“VEGA INTL. Night School” Neon Indian

Neon Indian

VEGA INTL. Night School Album Review

Mom+Pop Records

Released October 16, 2015

Genre: Chillwave, Synthpop, Disco, New Wave, Future Funk, Psychedelic Pop

Neon Indian’s third records advances the band’s chillwave sound even further than before. Armed with an appreciation for funk, disco, and the psychedelic wonders of LSD drenched rain forest ambiance, the Denton pop group have crafted an album that makes you dance, think, and wonder how these sounds are all on one album. It’s been four years since the band’s last output Era Extraña, and while that album expanded the chillwave genre, all it merely did for the band was make a smash hit (and an amazing one to say the least)  which in turn made a name for the band.

Now Aaron Palomo and crew have taken their album gap seriously and have completely improved on songwriting, production, and stylistic influences. VEGA INTL. Night School is chalk full of Merriweather-style ambiance, funky grooves, and an undeniable infectious style. Palomo sings in an impressive falsetto this time around and it perfectly compliments the New Wave-y synths and fully realized production. Artistically, the album brings to mind the foundations of 80s New Wave and funk, while highlighting these already incredible genres with electronic synths to further form a hybrid sound that will make listeners dance and dance.

Neon Indian completely surprised me here; not only have they made a solid record, one of the best for 2015, but they’ve also managed to take their music in a new, interesting and infectious direction. A direction that continues to show the growing strengths in this young and ever rising band. Out with the old, and in with the new!

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Hit Parade, Annie, Street Level, Smut!, The Glitzy Hive, Slumlord, C’est la vie (say the casualties!), 61 Cygni Ave

LEAST FAV TRACK: Bozo

SCORE: (8.3/10)

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“The Answer” Savages

Savages

“The Answer” Track Review

Matador Records

Released October 21, 2015

Genre: Noise Rock, Post-Punk Revival, Dark Wave

Make no mistake: that single cover art is a fist for a reason. London-based post-punk group Savages come back bursting onto the scene with their trademark blend of noise rock and brooding post-punk with a single that is every bit as energetic, urgent, and exciting as their debut album, the stellar Silence Yourself. “The Answer” is, for lack of a better comparison, a frantic horror piece of a song. The drums repeat and encircle the driving bass line that systematically pumps and chugs throughout the song. The noisy and gnashing guitar hisses and squeals happen inconsistently, punctuating vocalist Jenny Beth’s frenetic vocals to a successfully dizzying and transcendent effect. The music video finds the band performing to a chaotic mosh pit, and Savages’ music perfectly encapsulates the energy and feel of pure anarchy – when all hope is lost and darkness is here to stay. “The Answer” is an intense and ambitious listen that only hints at greater things to come.

Like their new album, Adore Life, to be released January 2016.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

SCORE: (8.5/10)

 

 

 

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COLDPLAY ANNOUNCE NEW ALBUM

Last December, Coldplay’s Chris Martin said that the band were at work on their “final” albumA Head Full of Dreams. Almost a year later, they’ve announced that the album will be out December 4 via Parlophone/Atlantic. It’s called A Head Full of Dreams, and it features several guests including Beyoncé, Noel Gallagher, Tove Lo, and Merry Clayton. This will be the band’s follow up to 2014’s Ghost Stories. Below, hear the first single, “Adventure of a Lifetime”, and check out the art above and the tracklist below.

A Head Full of Dreams:

01 A Head Full Of Dreams
02 Birds
03 Hymn For The Weekend
04 Everglow
05 Adventure Of A Lifetime
06 Fun
07 Kaleidoscope
08 Army Of One
09 Amazing Day
10 Colour Spectrum
11 Up&Up

 

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“Sorry” Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber

“Sorry” Track Review

Def Jam Records

Released October 22, 2015

Genre: Dancehall, Tropical House, Dance Pop

When it comes to Justin Bieber, openly admitting that you like his music comes with a certain stigma. You can argue with pre-teens/ Beliebers all you want about lyrics, musical improvements, or even Bieber’s inconsistently entertaining personality and social life, but you will always: a) get made fun of for liking Bieber’s music or b) be secretly judged for it. While a few of his singles have tickled my fancy in the past, there wasn’t much to like about him to keep me interested. Luckily that sweet and bombastic collaboration with Jack Ü, has made me see Bieber in a much more appealing light. With this new sound, Bieber sounds earnest for once.

This forray into the electronic genre, starting with “Where Are Ü Now” and continuing with the sumptuous “What Do You Mean?” have kept me, for once, interested into what Bieber has put forth. His honest-to-God vocals combined with a surprising lack of superficiality and cheesiness, and painted onto a canvas of tropical house/dance-hall infused dance pop has created some of the best pop songs I’ve heard all year. Yes, I am serious.

Bieber continues this trend with “Sorry,” another excellent example into how Bieber’s strengths are getting stronger, sharper, and smarter. While his songwriting is not the best in the world (it basically follows the same route he has followed for all his songs, albeit better wording), his vocal delivery can’t help but feel earnest, passionate, warm, comforting, and actually feels like it has conviction. At times, it makes other songs like “Baby” seem like a dated mishap in an otherwise growing – and improving – discography, which is just great to be completely honest. I’m proud to say it, but I think it’s time we start to take Bieber seriously guys. The kid has finally grown up.

His next album, Purpose, will be released November 13 via Def Jam Recordings. (Yes, we’ll try to review it)

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

SCORE: (8.5/10)

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“Thank Your Lucky Stars” Beach House

Beach House

Thank Your Lucky Stars Album Review

Sub Pop Records

Released October 16, 2015

Genre: Dream Pop, Alternative Rock

It’s been a prolific past month for the Baltimore-based band, Beach House. Their newest release, Thank Your Lucky Stars, dropped just a few weeks after the group released another full-length album, Depression Cherry. Yet unlike their earlier release, this new collection of songs feels like it was rushed out of the studio. Although Beach House’s work ethic is admirable, Thank Your Lucky Stars is a mostly drab foray into uninspired dream pop territory.

Beach House delivers their usual combination of glossy indie pop, yet sacrifices strong songwriting to follow the trendy sound of detached and reverb-soaked coffee shop jams. Most of the tracks have more focus on the spacey production than the instruments themselves. Pretty echoing vocals can only carry each song so far before everything becomes a sleep-inducing drone. “All Your Yeahs” has beautiful keyboard sounds, but painfully boring melodies. The fact that all of the songs have slow tempos demonstrates a lack of urgency throughout the album. The word that comes to mind is lackadaisical, with lifeless vocal performances that make ears yearn for Beach House’s earlier material.

There are a few upsides toThank Your Lucky Stars — two, to be exact. “Marjorette” and “She’s So Lovely” are two well-written songs. The first track attracts listeners with an arpeggiated guitar melody and higher register vocals, but the song isn’t repetitive like the rest of the album. It’s also not a bad song for making out with your thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing significant other. “She’s So Lovely” is an intriguing, and far from the stereotypical declaration of love, with insightful lines like “Everything about her/Mannerisms of another,” providing plenty of detail and personality when describing the subject of the song.

Unfortunately, these two songs don’t make up for the rest of Thank Your Lucky Stars. Hopefully Beach House will add more to the equation for its next release.

FAV TRACKS: Majorette, She’s So Lovely

LEAST FAV TRACK: All Your Yeahs

Score: (4.0/10)

Jessie Frye

CONCERT REPORT: JESSIE FRYE ALBUM RELEASE SHOW

Jessie Frye celebrated the release of her new EP, Boys’ Club, with a show in the Cambridge Room of the House of Blues in Dallas. Powering through a set of songs, both old and new, Frye truly held her own with spectacular vocals and dynamic instrumentation. The rising star was opened by the gritty and raw Buffalo Black and the noisy and enjoyably discordant Son of Stan, who truly brought down the house. Overall, the release party truly highlighted three underdog acts, all rising to fame with talent and momentum.

Stream their material down below and check out the photo gallery!

Jessie Frye:

Son of Stan:

Buffalo Black:

 

 

 

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FESTIVAL REPORT: Oaktopia: Texas’ Best Kept Secret

Editor Jon Birondo’s Foreword:

I had always heard that Denton is an under-appreciated city; a city that channels both the cultural and social highlights of Austin, Texas but still maintains that “small town- close knit-community” feel that Austin lacks. I was very apprehensive about this statement for I had never been in Denton long enough to anticipate much. So when I recently moved to Denton to attend the University of North Texas I wondered: what better way to experience this city than to experience it at a music festival with notable acts such as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Thundercat, and Minus The Bear?

On September 25-27, 2015, me and three other friends had the pleasure of experiencing and covering Oaktopia Festival in the great city of Denton, Texas. I have covered only one festival in the past with a Press Pass, however this was the first time I have done a three day festival. While the experience was exhausting, tiring, and took a toll on our wallets (for food), it was nonetheless enriching and eye-opening. Denton, and Oaktopia, is Texas’ Best Kept Secret – a city with a community that makes you feel at home, and an ever-growing culture of artists, musicians, filmmakers, and skateboarders at the forefront of entertainment and 21st century pop culture. So, without further ado, let’s look back on the amazing weekend.

First off, big thanks to the people who helped me cover this festival (their pictures are in the gallery below).
Michael Bonfante (Photographer)
Matt Spadoni (Writer)
Joseph Nguyen (Photographer/Videographer)

Festival Report: Oaktopia MMXV By Matt Spadoni

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Glasir

Started off the day by seeing Post-Rock act Glasir at the Harvest House stage. Glasir is a melodic post-rock group with passionate drumming and powerful noisy crescendos. Performing both tracks off their first two projects and their new Unborn EP (Available on BandCamp), the band put to use distortion to seamlessly transition between winding epic pieces. Definitely one to check out if you enjoy anything remotely post-rock.

Kundalini Kids (pictured above)

The energetic, eccentric hip-hop group that spit verses involving Pokemon and some clever wordplay, one song using actress Winona Ryder’s name in a hilarious fashion, put on an intense show at Hailey’s. Somewhat Wu-Tang-esque, the four vocalists often screamed their bars. Look them up, but you’ll be disappointed to not find anything – I sure couldn’t.

I Am Clark Kent

With splendorous brass instrumentation and punchy rhythm, I am Clark Kent performed a great show at J & J’s. Obvious Ska/Punk/Math-rock influence formed a sound akin to seminal ska-punk bands like Streetlight Manifesto. Though I couldn’t see the show very well, I heard it perfectly and it certainly sounded good. Check out their new split LP with Cheap Haircuts, Worst Party Ever, and Junior College on Bandcamp above.

Roger Sellers

Also known as Bayonne, electronic musician Roger Sellers performed the act of the evening for me. As he stood upon the stage at Harvest House, he used noise samples to introduce his folktronica tracks, all of which he developed on stage to a captivating light show, and an even more captivated crowd. It was though people lost the ability to sit during Sellers’ performance, as his gyrations and pleasant vocal melodies vibrated our legs and hearts into motion. Sellers used a physical drum kit throughout his show, creating drum loops on stage to fuel his act and audience. Fans of Neon Indian, Sufjan Stevens, and Animal Collective will feel right at home. Visit his store on Bandcamp above, trust me.

Moon Waves

With a very Nirvana-esque sound profile, grunge revival/Psychedelic rock act Moon Waves played several tracks from their recent album Try Harder, Little Hypnotist at Harvest House. Employing both male and female vocals (each stellar), driving basslines, and infectious lead melodies, Moon Waves impressed old fans and new, including myself. Check their album above.

Father

Atlanta rapper Father performed to a packed room at Hailey’s in what was, by far, the wildest crowd of the evening. Performing several old tracks and many off his new album, Who’s Gonna Get F***** First, Father knew how to work a crowd with his brand of southern trap rap.

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Thundercat (pictured above)

Among the best shows I saw at Oaktopia, the R&B/Psychedelic Funk musician played on the main stage to a tame but sizable crowd. Thundercat, a common collaborator with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar jammed several times to massive applause. He, his drummer, and pianist often played back and forth to each other as though communicating in a language long since lost through means of improvisational jazz that both moved the crowd, and lengthened the tracks in a live setting. Thundercat even played a snippet of Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” from this year’s stellar To Pimp A Butterfly. Phenomenal show by a phenomenal musician, I highly recommend listening to anything and everything by Thundercat.
Biographies

Biographies filled the stage at Harvest House with musicians to play lushly instrumented Math-rock/Emo. With obvious post-rock influences and a sound not dissimilar to that of Emo act, The World Is a Beautiful Place And I am No Longer Afraid to Die, the band played an emotional show featuring several tracks from their self-titled album. Biographies is a group of excellent musicians and performers worthy of attention.

Shlomo

The popular DJ and beatboxer Shlomo played on the main stage to a large crowd. Despite his renown in the electronic music community, the audience was tired out from previous shows and not responding as well as could be expected. One interesting thing about Shlomo’s act was his possession and consumption of at least half a bottle of Crown Royal on stage. Truly an artistic genius.

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Bright Light Social Hour

The Psych-rock outfit from Austin performed a simple yet powerful show reminiscent of the psych giants of the 60s and 70s. One part Tame Impala, and one part The Black Keys, the four-piece band put on an excellent performance filled with long winding guitar solos and impassioned vocals. Bright Light’s final song of the night was the 10 minute epic titled “Garden of the Gods,”  which certainly capped off the show well. If you’re into psych, or just old fashioned rock n’ roll, check them out.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes (pictured above)

The big headliners for the weekend performed to a packed crowd at the Travelstead Main Stage. The large band could barely fit on the stage as well, but they managed. Bursting through songs from all three previous releases like “Janglin,” “40 Day Dream,” and “All Wash Out,” the band performed under some psychedelic lights and a blood red moon eclipse. Even a proposal worked its way into the set and by the end of the show everyone was sitting down listening to lead singer Alex Ebert intimately sing to the excited onlookers as he perched himself in the crowd. Edward Sharpe’s set closed out Oaktopia on a peaceful and communal note, giving some good vibes towards Denton for the following week and closing out a spectacular festival.