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Fans have fallen in love with Lover

Story and Art by Scarlett Hatton

Taylor Swift’s recent album reflects her old style of music while showcasing new, unexpected elements. This experimental and care-free approach made for a diverse tracklist. From her very first self-titled record in 2006 to her newest just released, highly anticipated album Lover, Swift has been a groundbreaking artist.

Like any other title track, “Lover” represents the underlying theme of her entire album by displaying a beautiful, enduring love story. In stark contrast from her last album Reputation, this new album is a breath of fresh air. Reputation’s dark and rebellious themes have been exchanged for Lover’s light and romantic ideas. From snakes to butterflies, it shows the complete change in her personal life. Swift has been open about her past struggles with her sour reputation and struggling love life. However, her happy relationship with Joe Alwyn has switched her life around. In “Lover” she says, “My heart’s been borrowed and yours has been blue. All’s well that end well to end up with you.” After listening to the entire album, it is clear that Swift has a full heart and a new, positive outlook on life.

Swift’s unique ability to tell her story through songwriting is what sets apart a Taylor Swift song from that of most other artists. Truthfully, everyone is guilty of listening to her songs to find out the latest gossip, whether it is of the boyfriend she just broke up with or a new fling in her life. Swift writes her songs as the story of her life and has no shame in doing so. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” and “Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince” bring fans back to her iconic storytelling such as her lyrics in her old albums Speak Now and Red. Because Swift writes all of her songs, each phrase is honest and sentimental to the listener. She is able to make songwriting seem so effortless yet so beautifully precise like no other.

Many of the songs from the album, such as “The Archer” introduce an 80’s style of pop music. This came as a surprise to many fans seeing that this is completely new for her. Although these songs are a new style for Swift, they have their bases in an older sound. The ’80s is famous for its dance music and synthesizer tracks. This sound appeals to the older generation, and the new generation interested in retro. Most importantly, it proves that she can embrace a variety of sounds. As Swift’s music capabilities expand, so does her audience. 

Lover does an amazing job of including diverse styles. However, not every song is for everyone. “Death By A Thousand Cuts” does not even compare with some of Swift’s better songs. Although the lyrics are beautiful and well written, the production was not. The song has too many background samples and the melody is hard to follow. In this case, the music distracted and took away from her vocals instead of adding to and enhancing them. This track had so much potential but might have been better as an acoustic.

After staying silent about political issues for so long, Swift took this new album as an opportunity to speak up about her views. During the 2016 election, spectators criticized her for not using her platform to speak out about politics. However, in 2018 Swift took to social media and said, “In the past, I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.” Not only has Swift been vocal about her views, she has also included them in her lyrics. Songs like “You Need To Calm Down” advocate for love and equality. The song says, “And control your urges to scream about all the people you hate. ‘Cause shade never made anybody less gay.” Swift was able to show her support for LGBTQ rights in a positive and tasteful way. 

“The Man” is one of the best tracks from the album. Swift wrote the song to speak out against gender inequality as she describes how her life would be different if she was a man. This song is particularly great because it points out double-standards in society with meaningful lyrics but remains a happy, pop song. She did not sacrifice the quality of her song with the message she was trying to portray. All of the songs from the album do a nice job of balancing these factors.

While many songs from the album were upbeat, some of them were real and raw. Sad songs are customary to many of her albums. In Swift’s album Speak Now, the song “Back to December” was written about her 2009 break-up. However, in Lover, she focuses on a different type of heartbreak. The song “Soon You’ll Get Better” was written for Swift’s mother who fought cancer. This album reveals serious topics that her fans might be able to relate to. By steering away from her usual breakup songs, listeners can connect with her new, mature message. 

 For the past 13 years, Swift has used her unique songwriting abilities and storytelling techniques to engage her listeners. With her new, mature era, Swift is able to become unfiltered and expand her audience. After landing her sixth No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, it is safe to say that fans continue to love Lover.

Album:

  1. I Forgot That You Existed 
  2. Cruel Summer
  3. Lover
  4. The Man
  5. The Archer 
  6. I Think He Knows
  7. Miss Americana & The Heartbreaker Prince
  8. Paper Rings
  9. Cornelia Street
  10. Death By A Thousand Cuts
  11. London Boy
  12. Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)
  13. False God 
  14. You Need To Calm Down 
  15. Afterglow
  16. ME! (feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco)
  17. It’s Nice To Have A Friend
  18. Daylight

Lyrics: A+

Vocals: A+

Instrumental: A-

Final Grade: A

Favorite Song: The Man

Least Favorite Song: Death By A Thousand Cuts

 

Anchored in Quality

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

As stated in the previously published review, progressive metal has been taking over independent labels recently due to the intricate and pristinely-made sound that bands of the genre typically produce. Bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery set a bar for the genre, known as djent, that many bands have since tried to copycat.

But as is for many genres, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Take Baroness for instance.

While still labeled as a progressive metal and rock act, this Savannah, Georgia based band has taken an opposite approach to the genre than most current prog acts. Instead of attempting to make their sound as clean and precise as possible, Baroness (as well as other contemporaries like Mastodon and Torche) combine the genres of sludge metal, alternative rock, and heavy psych into their sound.

It would seem that they have reaped the benefits from this. Since 2007, every new Baroness release (all color-coded, by the way) has been celebrated by the hard rock and metal communities. Their first two outings, The Red Album and Blue Record, were highly praised for their combination of heavy and compressed production of sludge with the technicality and finesse of prog rock.

In 2012, their double-album Yellow and Green, saw the band going in a more accessible direction. Despite still being well-received, these two remain a bit divisive among fans for going on that route. One could release the single “Take My Bones Away” in the mid-to-late 90s and it would be seen as another Foo Fighters-esque radio rock tune.

With their next release in late 2015, Purple, Baroness almost had a return to form. It served as a middle ground between their first two hard-hitting releases and the accessibility of Yellow and Green. The album was a tremendous success for the band, earning great sales, the adoration of fans and critics, and even a Grammy nod for the lead single, “Shock Me.” 

Because of this, it was no surprise that many, such as myself, were anticipating their newest release, Gold and Grey. And, unfortunately, opinions on the results have been split once again.

Like with Purple, it would seem Baroness is once again attempting to meld heaviness and accessibility. However, the accessibility has been slightly turned up a notch, perhaps not to the same level as Yellow and Green, but it is still a bit noticeable.

Should their approach be slightly tweaked, tracks such as “I’m Already Gone” and “I’d Do Anything” could probably released as pop rock ballads in the early 2000’s. 

Not to mention, there is also the tenth track, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” which comes across a Baroness’ attempt at an acoustic singer-songwriter track (like the poor man’s Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens). Yet the boring, deadpan vocals, and its inconsistency compared to the rest of the tracklist could make the listener question as to why the band would include this in the album at all. 

Speaking of which, one of the most irritating detractors of this record are the absurd amount of short, mostly-instrumental interludes it contains. Not only do most of them sound lazily composed, but they contribute nothing to this record in terms of pacing. If anything, these tracks all but kill the flow of the album.

Be not mistaken, this record may be laced with flaws in its tracklist, but that does not mean that Baroness went into this project without bringing some quality to the table.

Tracks such as “Tourniquet” and “Borderlines” demonstrate the fantastic songwriting, soaring vocals and tight instrumental composition that most people associate with this band. The thirteenth track, “Broken Halo,” which is a typical song by Baroness standards, is executed well enough to where it could be placed on the tracklist of Purple.

The eleventh track, “Cold-Blooded Angels,” particularly stands out among the other tracks by showcasing the band at their most dynamic. The track goes through numerous passages and transitions while still keeping up a top-notch vocal performance from frontman John Baizley.

Despite this, the most major misstep on this record prevented me from enjoying this album any further: the production.

For most, if not the complete duration, this album is absolutely plagued with a jarring amount of technical flaws. On the opening track, “Front Toward Enemy,” the guitars and the bass are mixed together in such a way that they sound as if they are falling over one another. Also, the drums get so lost in the mix that the cymbals are really the only parts that are noticeable.

Even worse, the vast majority of these tracks suffer from the same or similar issues in production. Perhaps the worst case of these drums comes about with the final track, “Pale Sun.” Not only is it unfulfilling for an album closer, but the cymbals near the end of the track border on being white noise.

On some tracks, the opposite issue is also present. With the third track, “Seasons,” the drums finally become noticable, but that comes at the cost of the guitars and bass, which are consequently buried beneath them. The latter is also drowned out significantly on “Borderlines.”

Issues with this album’s production could potentially continue for another few paragraphs, but underlying all of this is the most frustrating aspect to me: 

Baroness has never been known for being the best-produced band out there. The difference here is that the muddy and compressed mixing of previous efforts was a part of their charm. Purple, for instance, has a level of production that is almost as messy as what can be heard on Gold and Grey. But unlike this new release, Purple at least had a slightly gruffer approach in overall composition, so the mix compliments the album well enough.

Sadly, this is not the case for Gold and Grey. To have decidedly grimy production is one thing, but to dial it to a higher degree for a selection of songs that simply do not fit well with it is completely unnecessary.

This album could have been good, maybe even great when accounting for its highlights. What a shame that its greatest fault is something that could have been so easily prevented.

Standout Tracks:Tourniquet,” “Cold-Blooded Angels,” “Borderlines”

Score: 6/10   

Tracklist:

  1. Front Toward Enemy
  2. I’m Already Gone
  3. Seasons
  4. Sevens
  5. Tourniquet
  6. Anchor’s Lament
  7. Throw Me an Anchor
  8. I’d Do Anything
  9. Blankets of Ash
  10.  Emmet – Radiating Light
  11.  Cold-Blooded Angels
  12.  Crooked Mile
  13.  Broken Halo
  14.  Can Oscura
  15.  Borderlines
  16.  Assault on East Falls
  17.  Pale Sun

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kqi3ECPn2xHvZh4_pKWD-DxvdQAKcT3QQ

 

Avengers: Endgame takes fans on emotional ride

Story by Eleni Pappas

It is finally here. The end of the road on a long journey spanning over a decade. In the aftermath of Infinity War, the surviving Avengers are left devastated with no hope. Now, the remaining heroes engage in a last-ditch effort to avenge the fallen, entering the final fight for the fate of the universe.

It has been 11 years since the first Iron Man (2008) came out, starting this incredible adventure for Marvel fans all over. Now, finally, Avengers: Endgame has arrived to finish what the cast and creators of Iron Man started all those years ago. Everything until now has been building up to this movie. Released April 25, the theaters flooded with fans, and has the biggest opening weekend ever.

The movie opens up with Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) just before Thanos’ snap, enjoying a day outside with his family. One moment, he is teaching his daughter archery while his wife and sons make hot dogs, and the next everyone but Barton is gone. Turned to dust. At this point, the audience is silent and the mood is somber. Then the scene shifts to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), aboard a spaceship and stranded in space with only Nebula (Karen Gillan) for company. When they run out of resources and all hope seems lost, the one and only Captain Marvel comes to their rescue. Five years later Stark has moved on from the Avengers and everyone has lost all hope of bringing back the fallen. That is until Ant-Man/Scott Lang miraculously returns from the Quantum Realm with an insanely improbable plan that might just work.

For the audience, Endgame is a rollercoaster of emotions, having way more funny moments than anyone could have predicted. Many assumed the film would be dark and tragic, but it is amazing how seamlessly certain scenes went from laugh-inducing to tear-jerking and vice-versa in a matter of minutes. Every Avenger had their share of hilarious and dramatic moments, but overall the film retained a serious tone fitting for what fans are calling the end of an era. By the end of the movie, no one in the audience left the same as they first entered. There was hardly a dry eye in the theater. While the film still left some unanswered questions and audiences are split on whether the ending left them satisfied, altogether many can agree it was as epic a film as expected.

Directed by the Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony, Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is finally complete with Endgame. For the audience, endings are always sad, but many look forward to the future of Phase 4. Endgame currently in theaters now.

 

The Door to Doom is Now Wide Open

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

The nation of Sweden is quite well versed in metal.

From Meshuggah to Opeth, Entombed to Amon Amarth, Bathory to Ghost, metal music has thrived in this country for decades. However mainstream or underground the names may be, the genre has remained popular nonetheless.Yet throughout this country’s layered history in the genre, few Swedish metal bands have ever been as revered as the doom-laden Candlemass.

Forming in 1984 in Stockholm by bassist and sole consistent member Leif Edling, Candlemass embarked on a distinct metal movement during the mid to late 80s, doom metal. It typically is not a very extreme form of the metal genre (some might even call it simplistic), but extremity is not what it needs to focus on. This genre is familiarized by its slow tempo, titanic riffs, and thunderous volume. In doing so, the overall sound produced gives off an ominous presence: one that gives the listener a sense of impending doom (hence the name).

Around the time of the band’s hay day, the genre of doom metal was viewed by many as a bastion of a sound that had been existent since the 70s (thanks to Black Sabbath, of course). Contemporaries such as Trouble, Saint Vitus and Pentagram had jumped onto the bandwagon of Sabbath worship.

Candlemass, however, changed that notion with albums like Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall. Instead of the familiar stoner riffs of the decade prior, the band opted for grand production and a dramatic new sound for the genre— vocals and all. They had essentially turned doom metal into opera.

From then on, Candlemass kept turning the wheel for their newly updated genre (which they dubbed “epic doom metal”). Though this did not come without its faults. The band has consistently picked up and dropped its members like jacks, and hiatuses  were certainly not unheard of.

Despite all of that, Candlemass persisted. Time and time again, the band kept releasing albums which mostly garnered warm reception from critics and fans. But after their 2012 release Psalms for the Dead, Candlemass fell silent with their streak of albums.

There was no complete studio silence, though. In that time, they released two EPs, Death Thy Lover and House of Doom. However, with their fifth vocalist, Mats Levén, they lacked the truly operatic voice which had helped give the band its identity.

Once he was outed, the band once again needed someone to take the mantle of vocals. Much to the surprise of their fans, the original vocalist for the band, Johan Länqvist, decided to take on that role once again.

Thus, we now have Candlemass’ twelfth studio album, The Door to Doom. And what an excellent return to form it is.

With so many lineup changes in their discography, one might expect a band such as Candlemass to act dysfunctional, especially considering how long they have been doing this sort of thing.

Yet that is not what is on display here. Straight from the opening track, “Splendor Demon Majesty,” it becomes clear that Candlemass can still offer the devilish and melodic guitar lines, crushing production, and ominous vibes that made them beloved in the first place.

Längqvist’s vocals, while obviously aged, have fared much greater than most other long-running bands. Take the new recording of the track, “House of Doom,” for instance. While the excellent instrumentals have not changed much since last time, the more operatic tone that the vocals on the new version bring forth make the comparison between this and the original version seem like day and night. With one simple change, this band become instantly more recognizable.

The third track, “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” is perhaps the most outstanding example of fresh offerings on this album. While not as occult as many of the other songs in their discography, the Lovecraftian lyrics of an oceanic monstrosity certainly fill in the gap of ever-present evil just perfectly.

But most notable of all, this track features a winding guest guitar solo from the legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Just knowing that this band has garnered the attention and collaboration of one of heavy metal’s most essential forefathers goes to show how far Candlemass has come since its inception.

However, straightforward doom and gloom is not all that is brought to the table here. There are several moments throughout this album which show that the band also has versatility under its belt. Instances such as the intro to the track, “Under the Ocean,” which has a psychedelic vibe comparable to that of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”

That same vibe takes complete control on the fourth track, “Bridge of the Blind.” This track is a nice change of pace, basically acting as an acoustic interlude.

The track “Black Trinity” contains the moment most atypical of this band, however. It starts out with some of the heaviest and most distorted guitar licks on the album, almost like an Electric Wizard track. But then there is an eerie drum break starting around the four-minute mark, including what sounds like a pair of maracas in the background. Needless to say, this moment sticks out like a sore thumb, but in an interesting way.

One more important thing to note about this album is the mixing. Make no mistake, this album is as heavy and hard-hitting as any frequent metal listener would expect. The sheer emphasis on the drums and guitar distortion help this album sound even more monstrous than it already was. It is not exactly as heavy as something like, say, a High on Fire record, but it more than gets the job done.

In essence, The Door to Doom is the album that long time listeners of Candlemass have been craving for years now. It blends the new and the old of the band into a seamless recording. Plus, given that a good majority of the tracks abide by doom metal standards, it also makes for a good album to engage new listeners with.

One thing this album is not, however, is a sequel to their debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (despite what some fans claim). Then again, it does not need to be. By now, this band has gone through so many different phases and lineups that making something entirely reminiscent of their earliest works would be futile. Candlemass has remained a surprisingly consistent band when it comes to sound and style, but the subtle changes they have made along the way have kept this band from reaching their permanent expiration date.

Late-career highlights are certainly not unheard of for metal bands, but only a band like Accept can match the consistency that Candlemass has had past their prime. For a band that has been around for 35 years, and with fairly little change to the sound of their repertoire, it is quite amazing that Candlemass can still bring about great albums in this great of a volume.

The Door to Doom is the newest evidence of this claim.

 

Standout Tracks: Under the Ocean, Astorolus – The Great Octopus, Black Trinity, House of Doom

Score: 8.5/10

Kid A inspires listeners almost 20 years after release

By Daniel Anderson

The decade, century, and millennium were all heading to an anticipated closing point. Around the same time, a certain alt-rock band living near Oxford University was becoming increasingly exhausted with their own work. For Radiohead, days were long and tumultuous.

Touring over a year for their groundbreaking third project OK Computer did not exactly help with that, either. This led to lead singer Thom Yorke suffering a near-mental breakdown by the time the tour was over.

But the band knew, much like everyone else, that a year passing is a time for change. And with a once-in-a-lifetime experience such as the beginning of the 21st century, Radiohead knew that their britpop sound of the 90s just could not last. It was time to take a different approach.

The turn of the century had passed, and the effects that britpop bands like Oasis and Blur on music as a whole were fading rapidly. Enter a genre on the rise that would have untold amounts of influence on both Radiohead’s next project and the soundscape of the 21st century itself: electronica. This was the place where Yorke knew to start.

It took quite a bit of effort for him to convince his fellow band members Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O’Brien, and his producer, Nigel Godrich, of his new vision. But alas, in the midst of autumn in the year 2000, the fourth project of Radiohead’s discography had been unveiled: Kid A.

By this time, Radiohead had learned their lesson about aging in music. So the band made the bold decision of stripping Jonny of his guitar and took the next step into the ice-cold sound that OK Computer had started.

Take the opening track “Everything In Its Right Place” for example. Using only the accompaniment of an electric piano and eerie distortion effects on both the background and Yorke’s signature, nasly vocals ensures the listener of what exactly they are in for.

Even more unsettling is the constant repetition of the track’s title in a relatively monotone fashion. It gives off an immediate sense of Orwellian control, like it is merely an automated response.

Almost every track on this album has a level of production which gives off a looming sense of powerlessness. Track #5, “Treefingers,” is an ambient instrumental track which only uses heavily processed samples of Ed O’ Brien’s guitar to give an ominous yet sedating ambience. It is like an out-of-body experience made sound.

The disjointed transition between this track and the track proceeding it, “Optimistic,” gives an effective wake-up call effect to the listener.

The experimental element of the album is undoubtedly what kept critics and fans of Radiohead’s previous discography divided for some time, but this album does not entirely reside in the electronics department. Track #3, “The National Anthem,” takes both a Talking Heads and jazz-inspired route which includes an instrumental overload near the end, like the sound of someone having a panic attack being translated into a horn section.

Despite this, there are parts in the album that seem to reminisce the melancholic instrumentations that their previous work had hailed. In fact, track #4, “How to Disappear Completely,” could be very well fit on previous efforts such as “The Bends.” It is a seamless contrast opposed to the rambunctious nature of the track prior.

Of course, moments like those could only keep the spotlight on for so long as the band still maintained focus on harnessing their new sound.

Track #8, “Idioteque,” turns the dial up on intensity. It combines an Aphex Twin-esque IDM aesthetic alongside lyrics that seem to convey an apocalyptic situation or a world in panic, “Ice age coming/Ice age coming/ Throw it in the fire/Throw it in the fire.” All of this occurs while still strangely having a pseudo-beat set against it, like a Danse Macabre for the modern age.

The particular 9th track, “Morning Bell” contains varied instrumentation such as the ambient synths similar to that of “Treefingers” mixes in a high-pitched guitar solo,, which oddly doesn’t feel too out of place. This is accompanied with lyrics which give such strange instrumentals the feeling of being in a daze, “Clothes are all over the furniture/Now I might as well/I might as well/Sleepy jack the fire drill/Run around around around around around.”

It is unusual to think that a project like this would not cap off with a track that cultivate so many prior elements of the album such as “Morning Bell.” Rather, the listener is treated to a much more dreary closer on track #10, “Motion Picture Soundtrack.”

At this point, the band has unexpectedly ditched the electronics, as if they were finally released from the technological imprisonment that the album consistently alludes to. Only two instruments are used on this song: a confused yet elegant synth harp section, and a pedal organ. Both of these, combined with Yorke’s most human-esque vocals on the album, leave off on a note of sorrow and ambiguity.

In essence, “Kid A” is a project that, while still having a tremendous influence on artists today (Danny Brown’s “Old” for example), is not really meant for every audience. As clean and haunting as the album sounds, the constant distortion can prove to be difficult to listen to for the impatient. Also, the pretentious reputation that Radiohead has earned among critics and listeners throughout the years because of albums like these does not really help much either.

For as bold of a move as this was for the time, there are certainly moments scattered throughout this album that have not aged so pristinely. The title track, for example, will probably not be seen as the most cutting-edge thing the band has put out. But that is a rather minor fault in comparison with the rest of this absolute monolith.

As for those who do enjoy a more icy and sound, they’ve probably already listened to it more than once. Saying that “Kid A” is a musical gold mine in the 21st century would be a severe understatement.

Verdict

Instrumentals: A-
Production: A+
Vocals/Lyrics: A
Variety: A
Overall Grade: A+

Favorite Track: Idioteque

Least Favorite Track: none