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“Writing’s On The Wall” Clover the Girl

Clover the Girl

“Writing’s On The Wall” Track Review

Self Released

Released September 19, 2017

Genre: Electro Pop

With the rising fad of electronic, sample based pop on the airwaves, it’s hard to standout among the saturation of tune after tune after tune. Clover the Girl’s contribution, and power, lies in her incredibly emotive voice; with its mixture of vocal samples and her supremely confident delivery, the track carries a certain level of braggadocio that could possibly give T-Swift a run for her money. To help tie the track together coherently, the cold percussion and marker samples keep this track exciting and fresh until its explosive climax.

SCORE: YAY

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“Humanz” Gorillaz

Gorillaz

Humanz  Album Review

Parlophone

Released April 28, 2017

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop, Electronic, R&B

Damon Albarn’s cult classic music project Gorillaz return to the scene with a star-studded, jam packed fifth record. Poised as “an emotional response” to the political climate of the world (particularly the rather dismal outlook of America), Gorillaz vividly portray a dark world that is, more or less, akin to our own. In true Gorillaz fashion, Humanz is just as eclectic and idiosyncratic as you would expect – with oddball compositions and beats left and right, some paired with unexpected guest musicians. The result is a dance playlist for the gloomiest party on earth.

Albarn gets the job done, offering disparaging lyric after lyric; “thought I could change our fate / I tried again, but this delay / It’s more than I can take,” for instance. While there are a few tracks that shine, Gorillaz rarely make this feel as urgent or demanding as it should. The album stuffed, both in a good way and bad way. While bursting at the seams, in nonetheless feels like some tracks here are filler and insignificant to the ones that play a bigger part. The ambition is admirable, but over-stuffing a comeback record tends to make the experience a slog.

The message is heard loud and clear, but sadly Albarn and Co. fail to make this comeback one to remember.

FAV TRACKS: Ascension (feat. Vince Staples), Saturn Barz (feat. Popcaan), Submission (feat. Danny Brown & Kelela), Charger (feat. Grace Jones), We Got The Power (feat. Jenny Beth)

LEAST FAV TRACK: Sex Murder Party (feat. Jaime Principle & Zebra Katz)

SCORE: 5.5/10

kendrick-lamar-damn

“DAMN.” Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar

DAMN. Album Review

Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope/Aftermath

Released April 14, 2017

Genre: Hip Hop, Conscious Hip Hop

How do you follow up one of the greatest records ever made? How do you follow up your frequently cited magnum opus? How do you even begin to approach your follow-up? Kendrick Lamar had big expectations to fulfill following his most complex, dense, and timeless effort to date. The possibilities were endless? More jazz? More soul? More concepts? Lamar did what only he could do: be simultaneously blatant and dense, bringing forth his most jarring, simple, and straightforward record to date. DAMN. cements Lamar’s place as the best figure in modern hip-hop today.

To Pimp A Butterfly meditated on socially relevant topics of race, depression, poverty, and the life of African American youth, but it did so in a sprawling and complex manner with funk imbued instrumentation. DAMN. finds Lamar delving deeper into his own psyche – toggling through dark caverns and inner dialogues; through reactions to criticisms and tenuous conditions, socially and politically. This time around Lamar’s verses stab at the heart of problems plaguing society, and they are as scathing as they are blunt. Backed behind expensive beats and dark production, DAMN. is as captivating as it it enthralling.

With the sinister opening of “BLOOD.”, a tale of an ordinary day gone wrong,  Lamar segues into “D.N.A” – a scathing critique of Fox News’ infamous (and inane) “review” of Lamar’s BET performance, which is sampled and closes “BLOOD.” Focusing on his ethnicity and pigmentation, Lamar skewers River’s insipid write-off of systematic racism, even rapping past Mike-Will-Made-It’s beat, ushering in a dynamic and blistering closer. “FEEL.”, “PRIDE.”, and “LUST.” find Lamar drifting into dark, sludgy territory, worming his way deeper into his psyche.

The bombastic “HUMBLE.”, and its double edged sword of decadence and deconstruction, whilst accompanying many parties to come, should leave ones facial expression akin to the album cover. Its combination of self hatred and indulgence, accompanied by Mike-Will-Made-It’s fantastic production, simultaneously forces one to love and embrace the virtues and vices of being human. The U2-featured “XXX.” discusses morality, and how anyone is susceptible to evil – no matter how good we are. The album centerpiece “FEAR.” finds Kendrick expressing his fear of dying amidst his violent upbringing. Lamar is far gone from the pristine and club-ready bangers combined with vivid and vigorous storytelling; he’s full-on preaching at this point.

The true magic of DAMN. lies in its dense lyrical content, which many fans looking for a quick and danceable beat will rarely catch and understand. While Lamar recognizes the evils of humanity and society, he also recognizes the human aspect of it all. More so, he embraces it with open arms. Evident by the final gunshot that loops back to the beginning of the record, DAMN. is a constant dialogue of different perspectives: identifying, embracing, and improving the elements that make us who we are, no matter how sinister they are.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: DNA., YAH., ELEMENT., LOYALTY. FEAT. RIHANNA., PRIDE., HUMBLE., LUST., LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI., XXX. FEAT. U2., FEAR., DUCKWORTH.

LEAST FAV TRACK: GOD.

SCORE: 8.6/10

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FESTIVAL REPORT: Fortress Festival

Cover Photo By Jon Birondo

Fort Worth had their first annual Fortress Festival, with a stunning lineup to accommodate. Modern hip-hop staple Run The Jewels, shoegaze legends (on the first stop of a reunion tour) Slowdive, electronic mastermind Flying Lotus, and dynamic electropop duo Purity Ring. Spread out between the Will Rodgers Memorial Center and the Fort Worth Modern Museum of Art, the two-stage festival held their ground despite the inconsistent, frigid, and windy weather. With a lineup of varied musicians, local food trucks, and an organized staff that accommodated everyone as best as they could the festival was a smooth success, and showed that Fort Worth can make their mark on the music festival scene here in North Texas.

Day One’s chilly weather detracted from the experience; some festival goers coming in shorts, before being greeted with strong winds and 60 degree weather. Despite this, the headliners did what they could and helped the audience enjoy the weekend. Dallas native Blue, The Misfit’s set was greeted with a brief amount of sunlight amidst his energetic set. Blues-rock group Houndmouth wrapped up the last amount of daylight before Flying Lotus took the stage. Performing an eclectic DJ set that ranged from trap remixes of the iconic Twin Peaks score, to Kendrick Lamar instrumentals, to a Captain Murphy segue, Steven Ellison brought the house down behind his psychedelic stage set-up. Run The Jewels closed off the night with an energetic set that composed of songs from all three LPs. Day 1, despite the conditions, still brought what it offered.

Photo By Zachary Taylor

Blue, The Misfit // Photo By Zachary Taylor

Day 2 brought about an eclectic array of musicians against a sunnier albeit chilly and windy backdrop. Chicago country-soul group Whitney perhaps brought one of the best sets of the weekend at the Modern Stage, which included flying hats, a baptism, and a kiss in the water. The return of Slowdive was the day’s biggest event; the 22-year reunion for the shoegaze giants was marked with eager fans left and right and BIG demographic change from country-rock group Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. The transition from both sets saw cowboy boots traded in for canvas Vans sneakers. Once the English rockers came to the stage it felt like 22 years had not passed as they played through songs old and new; the result being a cathartic hour as the sun set. Purity Ring followed which brought a playful and beautiful stage design to their witch-house/electro-pop songs. With the day before as a precursor, more people were prepared for the cold nights making this day a memorable one for the books.

Slowdive // Photo By Jon Birondo

Slowdive // Photo By Jon Birondo

With an impressive arsenal at their disposal, Fortress Festival proved to be a massive success, with tickets for next year’s fest already on sale. The smooth turnout combated chilly weather and windy conditions, but they persevered. While the two-day duration made it hard to see other headliners, in exchange for other ones (Alvvays, Peter Hook & The Lights, S U R V I V E) it’s safe to say fans were content with what they got. The organization of the festival, despite the confusing layout amongst a block of Forth Worth, proved that Fortress Festival’s presence in North Texas is here to stay.

Photos By Jon Birondo & Zachary Taylor. Special Thanks Emily Cline of The Dentonite.

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“Sign of the Times” Harry Styles

Harry Styles

“Sign of the Times” Track Review

Erskine/Columbia/Sony Music

Released April 7, 2017

Genre: Piano Rock, Soft Rock, Glam Rock

Harry Styles packs a stunning amount of talented musicianship and solid songwriting in this stunning, nearly six-minute ballad ahead of his debut solo record, out May 12. The song is huge departure from the shallow and uninspired lyricism of One Direction, and instead tackles mature topics of permanence, relationships, and loyalty. The result is a poignant track that never falters or drags within its six minute length. Styles’ vocals are fantastic and passionate, and the music harkens back to the days of 70s soft rock/glam rock, to the likes of Elton John and David Bowie.

Who knew that Styles had this in him? Considering the weaker outputs of his former band-mates (Zayn Malik, Niall Horan), it’s assured that Styles solo endeavor is headed towards a more interesting direction that can help shake off the boy-band image from his back. I have to give credit due where its due; this is by no means groundbreaking or defining, it’s simply a solid single for a debut solo career that I cannot wait to see flourish in the direction that is is headed in.

SCORE: YAY

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“Landmark” Hippo Campus

Hippo Campus

Landmark Album Review

Grand Jury Music

Released February 24, 2017

Genre: Indie Rock, Indie Pop

Minnesota quartet Hippo Campus have been sneakily lingering on the underground music scene, with only a handful of singles and EPs to carry their name for as long as it has. The band makes bouncy and shamelessly derivative indie rock for the Onitsuka/beanie/argyle indie-rock crowd. You can honestly get this band mixed up with the plethora of up-and-coming acts opening for indie titans worldwide, and no one would be enraged. They are, without a doubt, a by-the-books indie rock band. However, this debut offers sweet, catchy, and breezy tracks that you should, at least, dip your toe into.

The presumptive song of the summer “Way It Goes” is a breezy and jubilant affair, and one that begins this album on a buoyant note. Lead vocalist Jake Luppen’s strange vocal approach and the bright, bouncy chords are sure to make one smile; it’s hard to have negative dispositions when listening to this song, honestly. “Vines” is a smooth jam, complete with electronic keys hiding in the back, and highlights the clean production. The horns on “Boyish” highlight the bombastic energy these guys can conjure, and is a standout. Hippo Campus can craft a by-the-books indie rock song, and add some startling country and electronic flair to add some small variety. However, the variety is just that: small.

However, the band are too middle-of-the-road to go beyond niche tracks that rely on catchy hooks, memorable riffs, and the “by chance” bell or whistle. “Simple Season” sounds like a parody of a stereotypical indie song; and “Interlude” is rather unnecessary for it comes near the end and does nothing to thematically add anything to the album.

There are a few tracks here that shine, but Hippo Campus remain relatively nondescript – stuck in the same formula track after track after track.

FAV TRACKS: Way It Goes, Vines, Boyish, Buttercup

LEAST FAV TRACK: Simple Season

SCORE: 6.0/10

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“Memories…Do Not Open” The Chainsmokers

The Chainsmokers

Memories… Do Not Open Album Review

Disruptor/Columbia

Released April 7, 2017

Genre: Pop, EDM

Let’s get the final verdict out of the way first and foremost: this sucks. Given our past reviews, it should not be any surprise how lifeless, dull, and un-imaginative The Chainsmokers are within pop music. What does intrigue me about one of the biggest names in pop music, however, is how drastic they have changed from the atrocious “#SELFIE” to here, their debut record: a collection basic, immature, shallow, and somber tunes that bank on a catchy hook more than effort and passion. The cheap attempts at “timeless” romanticism and reflections on regret and relationships have the same amount of depth as a Snapchat filter, and the effort of a Kidz Bop CD. Even their SNL performance’s set design reads off as a teenage girl’s tumblr wet dream.

“Paris,” a track that is not good by any means, but stands out among the pack immensely, holds the elements that I find interesting within The Chainsmokers’ career. The duo composed of Drew Taggert and Alex Pall are shifting the EDM/electro-pop scene away from the obnoxious drops of mid 2010s EDM, and popularizing somber, moody, and lush songs with a starry-eyed dramatic drop. While they are not the first to do this, it’s interesting to see how much of an effect they may have on the EDM scene. There are some pretty chords and samples here. They aren’t terrible musicians, and it’s clear they know what they are doing.

Now don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make this record good. There’s still a lot of basic emotional topics being explored here that require little to no thought – during and after. Behind the shiny presentation and aesthetic lies a record that BEGS to be taken seriously as meaningful music, and results in the most-laughable attempt at trying to connect with an audience on a deeper level. The Jhene Aiko feature is an awful attempt at spicing up the track-list, and the lyrics to “Break Up Every Night” come off as if written by an eleven-year-old f*ckboy. There is absolutely NO emotional depth to this, and the fact that the youth are romanticizing every dumb lyric these guys write, and following their every move, says a lot about what this generation views as meaningful and as great musicianship than anything else.

The album name says it all: “do not open.”

FAV TRACK: Paris (if i had to pick one)

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Break Up Every Night, It Won’t Kill Ya, Wake Up Alone (feat. Jhene Aiko)

SCORE: (2.0/10)

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“Heatstroke (feat. Pharrell, Young Thug, & Ariana Grande)” Calvin Harris

Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Young Thug, & Ariana Grande

“Heatstroke” Track Review

Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

Released March 31, 2017

Genre: Pop,Funk, Soul

It appears Calvin Harris is striking gold, releasing yet another tracks that slaps me in the face. Normally, Calvin Harris’ music irritates and reiterates the same tired trends. But Harris is two-for-two here, with this series of summer-ready tracks. Harris’ carefully picked features, the funky groove, and the irresistible vibe are all here. Young Thug’s zany vocals clash with Pharrell’s smooth croon that lays subtly in the background. They both move out of the way for the sultry touch of Grande’s gorgeous vocals. “Slide” felt like the middle of a party, “Heatstroke” feels like the beginning – a sunny, warm, and undeniably smooth summer jam.

It’s not forced, nor does it feel contrived; it is simply playing the cards right, using the right resources at hand. Is Calvin Harris going to deliver a promising record? It sure looks like it.

SCORE: YAY

summer salt

SUMMER SALT RELEASE “CANDY WRAPPERS”

In preparation for a four-song EP titled So Polite coming out this summer, the ATX – based surf rock trio have previewed a little bit of the good vibes they so effortlessly conjure. The new song, “Candy Wrappers,” is a warm, breezy, and collected jam that neither excites or saddens. It’s bright pop rock with a doo-wop vibe and surf rock tendencies that guarantees nothing but good times and smiles. The vacillation of the gentle vocals and the emphatic chorus, with the sugary sweet guitar licks, make for an addictive three minutes.

Listen below.

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“In Mind” Real Estate

Real Estate

In Mind Album Review

Domino Recordings

Released March 17, 2017

Genre: Dream Pop, Indie Pop, Jangle Pop, Psychedelic Pop Rock

The softly woven guitars, sweet melodies, and malaise-tainted under tones of Atlas provided some perennial songs within Real Estate’s catalog. However, the record felt stale at times – a repeat of what they had always done albeit cleaner and polished. On In Mind, the New Jersey group shift their sound a tad bit; and with a new lineup this shift does a whole lot more than you would think. It’s still the breezy, relaxed, and starry eyed Real Estate you’ve come to know and love, but the expansion of their sound opens up the fold for new depths and details that make for a refreshing and smooth listen. However, it’s done so subtly those who are familiar with their past releases are sure to hear a new sound or two.

The synths on the album opener, “Darling,” make for a more than welcome change; while “Serve The Song” showcases more psychedelic-tinged jangle pop to add texture to the simple song. “Stained Glass” explores Martin Courtney’s relationship with his surroundings, in one of the more urgent and propulsive Real Estate songs. While the weightlessness of Atlas felt calming, the driving nature of this song feels like a much needed improvement while also keeping the band in tune to their sweet melodic instincts. “Two Arrows” is a subtle, Sunday-morning ode that Courtney’s vocals ride effortlessly across. The gentle trod of its beat falls into that feeling when you’re about to fall asleep but your mind is wide awake. Real Estate’s ability to strike into that pocket of consciousness, teetering on the edge of slumber and alertness, is impressive. However, it proves to be a con in the grand scheme of things.

Real Estate’s music can’t help but feel a bit one-noter, the timbre feeling the same throughout. Now this is consistent, but it hinders any fun or surprises. “After The Moon’s” slide guitar does little to engage, and the subtle synths on “Holding Pattern” is an admirable addition to the jangly sound. “Time’s” warped (ha) production helps everything feel stilted and jarring, which proves they are preoccupied with discovering new textures to spice things up. But they’re done so subtly, the album stays pretty middle-of-the-road.

The lack of ambition in Real Estate has proven to be both a great and bad thing. It’s perfectly fine to explore this calm and serene sound that they are working towards perfecting, but to keep their music sounding tone notches apart for each album can provide very little to engage or even have listeners looking to expect something new. A common addendum to every Real Estate conversation is “so just like every Real Estate song?” Every Real Estate album comes with the same jangly swing (“Same Sun”), warm comfort (“Diamond Eyes”), and laid back demeanor (“Saturday”). The group have maintained a consistent repertoire, and their fans know what to expect. it neither offends nor lets down anyone looking for that Real Estate sound. For the best way to take in a Real Estate album is relaxing on a sunny day, or driving on a warm afternoon; neither looking for something new or radical, but merely feeling comfortable in the familiar.

FAV TRACKS: Darling, Stained Glass, Two Arrows, Diamond Eyes

LEAST FAV TRACK: After The Moon

SCORE: (7.0/10)