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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.

harry styles

“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

hippo campus

“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

chainsmokers

“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)

heatstroke

“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.

real estate

“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)

meat salad

“Fetus In Jester” Meat Salad

Meat Salad

Fetus In Jester Album Review

Self-Released

Released December 23, 2016

Genre: Hardcore Punk, Garage Rock, Punk Rock

Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes the game, the genre, the entire world of music. Illmatic, The Dark Side of the Moon, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Bitches Brew, The College Dropout, Trans Europe Express ; well, now add another record to the canon of musical masterpieces. Fetus In Jester not only bristles with wit, talent, and sincerity but it pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a DIY band in 2017. This Garland/Denton quartet are basically the next Beatles – we just don’t know it yet.

In less than twenty-five minutes the avant-garde punk masters, Meat Salad, pummel through eleven tracks with ferocity and gnashing teeth. The result is a dirty, grimy, and all-together enthralling experience. “I Fucked My Cousin” is a guttural rallying cry that opens the flood gates for what the album has prepared for its listeners. “I Wasn’t Invited”, Meat Salad’s unofficial theme song if they had one, pulls a page out of The Sex Pistols’ playbook, with the vocals sounding vaguely British. With TWO countdowns in ONE song, there’s no other way to express how groundbreaking Meat Salad are; and we’re only two tracks in.

There are tons of other great tracks, practically ALL OF THEM. The atonal experiment “Rubbin’ One Out” shows that the quartet are not afraid to try something new. “I Want To Kill Myself (Unplugged)” is pure emotion, and nothing more. Listen to the lyrics, and fully take in the song’s message. Who knew that the DIY scene, especially from a group on their first record, could write such poetic lyrics that can rival the greats. This track will make Nirvana’s Unplugged record sound like a John Mayer song. Commenting on contemporary culture, “Laundry Day” is sure to express what all of us are thinking: that the fact that we have to do laundry sucks.

The ballad to end all ballads “I Entered Your Asshole, You Entered My Heart” is sure to make the lovebirds out there swoon and fall to their knees. Go ahead and book your romantic getaways now; “Let’s Get It On” has been dethroned. Meat Salad are also connoisseurs of high-art, with their tribute to Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame; “We Are Sex Addicts and We’re Ready to Fuck (a Film by Steve McQueen)” is a brilliant canvas that Meat Salad paint their knowledge, great taste, and history of art on with class.

“No Parking At Any Time” opens with an intimate introduction before propelling listeners into a fiery torrent of anger and frustration. With many sections within its brief ninety seconds, Meat Salad know how to pack a punch with some complex thought behind it. For comedy’s sake, “Mushroom Soup” is exactly what you think it’s about: that’s right, socialism. These guys are woke as hell. PAY ATTENTION TO THEM. Again, CHANGING THE GAME. They even comment on the shitty presidency of Donald Trump, showing how in touch they are with how the country’s current political climate feels – a ballsy political statement that bleeds past the fringes of a recording gone far too long.

Fetus In Jester is a sophisticated, brilliant, and intimidating body of work. A dense punk record that captures the spirit of the DIY scene, and a band breaking free from stereotypes and classification. This is the best thing to come out of Garland, Texas since LeAnn Rimes; and my eyes have been opened.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: ALL OF THEM

LEAST FAV TRACK: NONE OF THEM

SCORE: 10/10

KENDRICK

KENDRICK LAMAR SHARES MUSIC VIDEO FOR NEW SONG “HUMBLE.”

Kendrick Lamar is active again. Releasing his second track in a week, Lamar may be close to releasing his To Pimp A Butterfly follow-up he hinted near the end of “The Heart Part 4”. Mike WiLL Made-It produced the track, and that’s the track art above. The video features Lamar donning papal robes, playing golf on a car, and his head on fire.  The music video was directed by Dave Meyers & the Little Homies. (The Little Homies are the duo of Kendrick himself and TDE president Dave Free.)

Watch the new video here:

the garden

“U Want The Scoop?” The Garden

The Garden

U Want The Scoop? EP Review

Epitaph Records

Released March 3, 2017

Genre: “Vada Vada”, Experimental Rock, Indie Punk, Neo-New Wave (?), Electronic Rock (sorta)

The Garden’s eccentric and volatile take on the punk-duo formula has grown from simple, minute-long garage punk tunes (The Life and Times of a Paperclip) to odd, diverse tracks (haha). On this latest EP of theirs, they take a turn for the corny and disoriented – conjuring up dated sounds from the 90s that render this EP an adrift mess. The opener “Clay” opens with one of the most irritating samples I’ve heard all year: a nauseating “chirp” that is more annoying than eccentric. “Make Yer Mark” falls into the successful formula that The Garden has so vehemently curated, but it falters with the synth tone that they use which, again, sounds more dated than eccentric.

The duo’s odd humor is still present, such as on “Have A Good Day Sir”; the band’s spoken-word anecdotes here are strangely humorous. However, the song is rather repetitive and goes nowhere, overstaying its welcome of over three minutes. “All Access” follows suit with “Clay” where a corny synth lead covers most of the song, making for an annoying experience. The hook on the final track “U Want The Scoop?” is honestly, not that bad, and it shows a subtle progression in the band’s style – with its fusion of the electronic and punk elements that they have stunningly fused in the past.

But with the 90s text on the EP cover and the majority of the tracks suffering from weak ideas and corny elements, The Garden’s latest EP is a shocking misstep in the exciting musical journey for the California brothers.

FAV TRACK: Make Yer Mark

LEAST FAV TRACK: Clay, All Access

SCORE: 4.0/10