Thursday, November 14, 2013

A SoS update

"album cover" pose before rocking out to Taking Back Sunday
 June 10. That was the last time I posted in this blog. I promised myself I was going to do better with writing. And even though there is a lack of it going on here, I have actually done well with that promise.

A few weeks after that post, I answered a tweet about contributing to an online magazine named CONFRONT. The funny thing about a guy typing those words from Alabama is that the magazine is based out of Montreal. Yeah, in Canada.

Shortly after the initial correspondence I was accepted and named a contributor. And since then I have posted quite a bit to the site in the form of music news, album reviews, a couple show reviews and a few interviews.

This blog will probably be updated with my top 25 songs of the year and possibly end of the year awards. A tradition in my writing - a most anticipated list with my friend Mike - will hopefully make a return but in possible plans it may show up in audio form.

Below are a few highlights from my short time there. Click if you would like to see what I've been up to.

An interview with Brad Shultz of Cage the Elephant (I'm most proud of that one)

A look at the music of Lorde

A review of a Taking Back Sunday show

A review of the newest album from The Swellers (in which I compare it to the Fast and Furious franchise)

A look at the music of Avicii

A look at "Vessel" by Twenty One Pilots (one of my favorite albums this year)

Monday, June 10, 2013

An Interview with New Politics (plus album review)

New Politics: Louis Vecchio, Soren Hansen, David Boyd)
(photo courtesy of RCA records)

I’ve been a fan of New Politics since the fall of 2010 when I was able to catch them on tour as the opener for Neon Trees. They had just released their debut self-titled album and the lead single “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was featured on alternative stations and video game soundtracks. The band stole the show that night and continued to gain more fans as opening acts for other artists and on the festival circuit.

Fast forward three years and it’s a bit of deja vu. In March, I was able to catch them once again as an opening act for Twenty One Pilots on an MTV “Artist to Watch” tour and, once again, the band stole the show. “Harlem,” the lead single from “A Bad Girl in Harlem,” was on the charts and making appearances in commercials. That show came two months before “A Bad Girl in Harlem” was to be released and when they were announced as an opener for certain dates on Fall Out Boy’s “Save Rock and Roll” Tour, I successfully attempted to arrange a sit-down with the band before the show to talk about the new album.

A fan's crowd shot from The Tabernacle in Atlanta
(photo courtesy of
Later in the night, the band would take the stage to warm up the crowd before Fall Out Boy tore the roof off. And as an opener, the band exceeded what was asked of them. That feeling was in the air again - the band had won over new fans who would go back and tell everybody else about what a great live act New Politics is - from breakdancing in the middle of the set to standing ON the crowd to getting everybody involved. I would highly recommend checking them out if you get the chance.

Below is a review of the newest album before going into a chat with the trio.

New Politics - A Bad Girl in Harlem (3.5 stars)

New Politics’ self-titled debut was a solid 3 star album and a perfect debut from the (at that time) full Denmark trio. David Boyd, Soren Hansen and Poul Amaliel made up an energetic band with energetic anthems such as “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “Dignity.” The in-your-face feel barely slowed on the album and it was as great as it was raw.

A Bad Girl in Harlem was the band’s polished and refined follow up, with radio-ready singles (“Harlem”) and even re-edited songs (“Give Me Hope”). It’s the first release with Long Island drummer Louis Vecchio and it’s apparent the unit is acting as a whole on the ten-track effort.

In a bit of a double-edged sword, the album’s weakness is also a surge of personal strength. Unlike the self-titled debut, there are ballads (“Stuck on You”) and optimistic uplifters (“Overcome”). While the songs are good in their own right, and showcase the band's range, they do sap the energy found in the debut and it takes a bit away from the follow up.

The band at their absolute best is “Just Like Me,” a roaring track that never lets up from the initial press of play. But songs like “Tonight You’re Perfect” and “Berlin” show a band that’s ready to not only play loud and fast, but can write good songs that are ready to be heard by, and played for, many.

A Bad Girl in Harlem shows the progression of New Politics as a ride that’s going to go fast and slow, but will have a lot of twists and turns that keeps things exciting.

New Politics - The Interview 
(photo courtesy of
Q: How was the approach to writing the album different this time around?

Soren: Very different approach. It’s so easy to build walls around who you are as a band and we definitely had done that. It’s funny how you can think it’s so far away (from the first album), but it’s not. It’s us playing, it’s us recording, it’s us writing the songs. The main thing about this album... we wanted to write good songs and wanted to be really honest. David always says this and I think it’s a good point - the first album was a different time for us. We never really thought about all these things that happened since we moved to America.

Q: Did living in America play into the approach?

David: Absolutely. You’re equally inspired and influenced by your surrounding. It also has a lot to do with what you’re going through as an individual. That reflection of that emotion that goes out and then gets returned.

Louis: Like getting denied by all the American girls.

David: Or not (laughs).

Q: Talking about your surroundings, is that where the album title came from?

David: I think so. But at the same time a lot of it’s not thought out. It kind of just goes the way it goes and it becomes what it becomes. I don’t know if we’re 100% aware of what we’re doing when we’re doing it. It makes sense maybe after, once it’s done. But when we’re putting those pieces of the puzzle together you can’t see the whole picture until it’s done.

Soren: Do you know that feeling when you’re doing something and you know you have your hands on something real and it’s honest? We wrote so many songs that we could handpick only honest songs. If you try to write something and you’re head is in that process, you can be 100% sure that it’s not going to work. If you do it just honest and naive … then the song will write itself.

David: That was the first barrier we had to break when we started writing. How do we get away from our nest? You know, we wanted to recapture that feeling - making an honest song that you want to play for others. That reflects something that you’re proud of. We had that feeling when we made the first album. So we’re trying to capture that feeling again.

Q: Is that why you guys tackled the ballad (“Stuck on You”)?

Soren: We needed to be pushed to write this album. We sent that song to our management and thought “There’s no way we’re going to be able to do this” and they called five minutes after and were like “Are you ---- serious? That might be the next single for you guys.” And it’s so weird - creativity is something you can’t put your finger on what it is but you just know when it’s right.

David: From the first album to the second album, there is that difference. But I think it also had to do with us really pushing each other. We also have to develop and show new sides of us and go into different areas with our music. I think that’s very important for any artist.

Q: Do those songs give you a chance to slow down on stage? Because I’ve seen you twice and you are all over the place.

David: (laughs) I think they do.

Soren: I think that when you suddenly have two albums and when we have a chance to sit down and make a proper headlining set - which I can’t wait for - I think it’s going to be extremely awesome to make a set that is based on that production of us having a lot of choices instead of just going “1 2 3 4 AAHHH” and then we get off stage. Because we always do that - it’s our nature to do that. But it’s also going to be cool to show more sides. Because you limit yourself if you don’t allow other sources of creativity to be a part of your act.

David: But we spoke about that the other day. The more that we’re developing, we also have to develop the show as well and learn to use that energy in a different way. There’s only so many times we can throw a guitar in the air or stand on our heads, you know what I mean?

Soren: Here's a fun note that may answer some questions: on the first album, that was my first time ever playing guitar. I’m actually a piano player. So to be able use my main instrument on stage would also be really cool. That’s definitely going to happen. It would even be fun to do some piano stuff with songs from the first album.

Q: What made you guys want to re-edit “Give Me Hope?” 

Louis: That’s actually a funny story because “Give Me Hope” was before I was in the band but I know that what you’re hearing now is actually the way it was written before.

Soren: It just became more of a punky song on the first album because that suited that album a little better. But we always loved this version. It was just cool to give it another chance.

David: It’s also very relevant to today’s music and what’s happening with the scene. It’s done, it’s there - why not put it on and give it another chance.

Q: Any highlights from touring the states the past few years?

David: The thing that I find very interesting is the reality of moving from Denmark to here - when it all happened in Denmark it happened so quick. Going through what we went through in the past few years was so insane. We’ve played hundreds of concerts and we’ve toured America and really grown attached to it in a way.

Soren: Absolutely the most insane thing any of us have tried. This is a dream. It’s such an honor that we are able to live in America. It’s something that we always wanted to do. Our fan base is absolutely wonderful. We have so much positivity. It’s just the best thing that’s happened to any of us.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Tegan and Sara - "Heartthrob"

In late January, Canadian sister-duo Tegan and Sara released their seventh studio album, Heartthrob. Below are the quick details.

Rating: 5 stars

Why: When you have multiple studio albums to your credit, the question inevitably will come as to whether or not to tweak your sound. To the sisters' credit, that's exactly what they did with Heartthrob. There hasn't been an album that has come around in a long while that sounds nothing like an artist's previous releases, while also keeping their same mentality. Acoustic tracks are nowhere to be found here while EDM backdrops and 80s influences are heard mostly everywhere. It was a daring move - but it paid off. It was a refresher for the band, but at the same time showed how talented they are. Make no mistake, this is one of the most upbeat releases you will hear this year and could challenge pop radio for air time. But what makes it stand out is that it is also deceptively dark. While there are moments of intense passion ("Closer") there are also moments of pure heartache ("Now I'm All Messed Up").

Five star ratings don't go around often and I'm sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me on this. Newer fans may feel it's a bit too generic upon first listens while older fans may feel turned off with the dramatic change of sound. Both are valid opinions to have but what I feel gives it the perfect rating is the dare they made for themselves and the ability to jump head first. And make some outstanding tracks while they were at it.

So if you want a short, to the point review of this album stop reading after this paragraph. I'm sure most of the people who clicked on a link to this will have their own opinion anyway. But if you have the time, scroll a little more to see why this album is truly special (in my opinion).

Why I really like this album

When it comes to music listening, I prefer to have experiences. Sometimes that means a single song that can have a lyric that sticks with you and makes you immediately press rewind. Sometimes it means a concept album, where characters play out parts like a production carried out in the listener's ears. Other times it just simply means getting lost in the songs from the first to the final track.

Heartthrob contains all those elements.

But what really gets me about this album, is how across ten songs (excluding the bonus tracks) there is a wide range of emotions. And those emotions reflect exactly what anyone who has ever been in a passionate relationship that for whatever reason just didn't work out has experienced. 

(Before I go forward, let me say that if you ask Tegan and Sara Quin about these songs they will be able to tell you stories of how they came about. But I read a while ago that music, much like paintings and other forms of art, is left up to the viewer/listener to interpret in their own ways once the piece is finished. And that's what I do below.)

Let's start with the title of the album. What comes to mind when I think of a "heartthrob" is a celebrity crush. Someone who you gush about when they are on TV or you see them in magazines. You know details that you shouldn't know, such as middle names or birthdays, and you put them on a pedestal. In that regard, it was a perfect album title for a batch of songs that all reflect the same person. A "heartthrob" in a relationship sense can be someone you've had a crush on for a while, finally get but it never plays out the way you want it in your head. (Imagine going to dinner with your celebrity crush - how do you think it would realistically go?)

The album goes through all the phases, though not necessarily in order. 

First, there comes the intense passion. The part where you want to keep conversations going even if you have nothing to say. Or spend time with a person even if all you do is end up staring at each other's eyes. It's like in (500) Days of Summer when you first see Tom talk about all the things he likes in Summer. This is heard in "Drove Me Wild" ("When I picture you I think if your smile / And it drives me wild / Your laugh escaping you, your head thrown to the side / And it drives me wild). When it gets time for action to take precedent over words, that's when "Closer" comes in. ("All you think of lately is getting underneath me / All I dream of lately is how to get you underneath me").

If things continue, eventually the "L" word gets thrown around. It's a scary area that involves putting yourself out there for another person to see. In "Love They Say," Tegan and Sara do an amazing job of taking simple lyrics ("The first time you held my hand, I knew I was meant for you / The first time you kissed my lips / I knew I was meant for you") and singing them in a way where you can feel the desperation, as if one person is trying to convince the other that something is going on between the two.

Then, more often than not, that love is not returned. "Shock To Your System" can mean a myriad of different things, but for me it discusses the all-around feeling of knowing you're in too deep and there is no easy way to turn back, even though you're going to try your hardest ("You got a shock to your system
 / Pull yourself out of it
 / I know that shock to your system
 / Knocked your heart right out of sync"). And while it can be of no direct intention, the other person in the situation can often make you feel as if there's something there when there really isn't. It could be because they are confused and trying to figure things out themselves, but it still comes off as one-sided as heard in "How Come You Don't Want Me" ("How come you don't want me now? / Why don't you want to wait this out? / How come you always lead me on, never take my call, hear me out?").

Then comes the end. No matter if it's at the hand of the heartthrob or not, inevitable heartbreak occurs. This gives way to reflection, and songs like "I Was a Fool" show that the lover may not necessarily be innocent in the entire scenario, even if their only crime was wanting to capture the idea of being in love ("If you’re worried that I might've changed, left behind all of my foolish ways / You best be looking for somebody else, without a foolish heart"). 

But when it's over, is it really over? Again, showing the brilliant musical stylings of Tegan and Sara to take a simple idea but make it something so much more powerful, the song "Now I'm All Messed Up" captures all those honest moments in a simple "Go / Stay" back and forth found toward the end of the song.

A wildcard is thrown in when a situation comes up that most don't think about. Most times your relationship is going to be known by other people and often times those people can become a part of your relationship. They pull you in different ways and try to influence you, to the point where sometimes a relationship can either be held together or ended too soon because of outside influences. For me, this is where "I'm Not Your Hero" comes in ("Sometimes it feels like the side that I'm on, plays the toughest hand, holds the longest stand / Sometimes it feels like I'm all that they've got, it's so hard to know I'm not what they want").

And then that can translate in to the post breakup - "I Couldn't Be Your Friend" - where one has to standup/own up for/ to what they did ("Now you wanna say / I was a liar / Led you astray / I won't deny it I did what they thought would be good for me). But elsewhere the admittance is that going back to normal is a lost concept ("Does your body shake when you get around me? Does your body wake when you think about me?")

Finally, there comes to the time to move on - "Goodybe, Goodbye." The anger that comes from realizing there was never a shot to begin with ("You coulda warned me, knowing there was nothing I could do to change you") and the acceptance of knowing that it's over because of very valid reasons ("You never really loved me, never really, never really loved me, loved me like they did").

So in the end, Heartthrob is a rollercoaster of emotions that can make you dance with tears in your eyes. On the surface - it's a party record, good driving tunes and some easy listening. Dig a little deeper and you find a great story excellently told and very much worth listening to.

And those are the best kinds of albums.
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