State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Album Review: This is Acting

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Okay, at this point, we all know who Sia is and we have all heard at least one song from the vocal chameleon. 1000 Forms of Fear was a game changer for her, we were introduced to this new sound, this incredible showmanship and a vocal range that can shatter glass. But with This Is Acting we seem to get more of the same thing. Sia has become a huge star, and people now have expectations for her, she is no longer that girl with the powerful voice who is also a ghostwriter. Sia is a bonafide pop star now has a certain expectations to meet.

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With This Is Acting, it starts out strong, very strong, and peaks somewhere around track seven. But each song seems to start to sound exactly the same after that. Sia belts into the microphone, pause, and come back to the chorus. It is very repetitive, it drags out too much. There is too much similarity between songs. Sia, you can do better than this, you have, in my humble opinion one of the best voices in music. Let you vocal chords stretch, but you don’t have to do it on every song. Each one is as powerful and jarring as the last, but I just can’t help but shake the feeling like she is being complacent in her sound.

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I am not going to harp on the negatives of this album, because if you like Sia and are a fan of her style, this should be the album you have been waiting for. And who am I to complain she has, with this new album, brought us Jimmy Fallon AND Natalie Portman in Sia wigs. On top of which, I will always tune into a Sia performance, for they are always unforgettable.

Album Review: Matter

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It seems to be a recent trend in music to go back to an 80s style. With the new 1975 album, their sound is distinctively 80s. But one band that seems to have taken this to the next level is St. Lucia. In their follow up to When the Night St. Lucia takes the sound that made them break out and polished it off and made it shine brighter than any diamond that Rihanna was talking about. Every song seems to have been produced to perfection. But before we get into the album, it needs to be noted that St. Lucia are not just a one trick pony, their sound changes noticeably with each song.

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With each song seeming to build on the other, the band really makes it known that they are here to mean business. The album flows seamlessly into itself. St. Lucia encapsulate the 80s in each song, from Glam Pop to Pop Rock, they have it all covered. The most noticeable reference to the 80s being “Rescue Me” a clear homage to Duran Duran and “Stay” drawing heavily from Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” the album is fun, you want to get up and dance it all out.

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Find a dance-floor, and turn up the St. Lucia, Matter brings back the nostalgia and brings it into the future. Matter is a fun album and has some pretty awesome tributes to the best of the 80s.

Album Review: Don’t You

Let me preface this by saying, DO NOT always trust the reviews that you read. Pitchfork gave Wet’s Don’t You a brutally honest review, but let me be the first to say, it is not as bad as they claim, in fact it is pretty dope. Wet is an atmospheric electronic group with a powerful female lead vocalist. Their sound really isn’t similar to too many artists that I listen to. It is very calming, in fact as I was walking to the IM building, I was jamming out to this album and found myself drifting off to sleep, please do not do this. But it is just a very relaxing and chill vibe that is always a good break from the upbeat and heavier music that I listen to.

 

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With an album that is mostly flying over the radar, and in the alternative music spectrum, Wet is really taking their time to shine through on this album. The theme is definitely that of overcoming a loss, whether that be a bad break-up or something a little more macabre. The lyrics are powerful, they show strength of the writer, and the way that Kelly Zutrau sings the lyrics is incredibly moving. It has a tone, and keeps that tone throughout the course of the album, and it clocks in at 42 minutes, a good length for a debut album, and it feels like you are getting the most out of the album.

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My biggest complaint with the album is that it does seem a little too repetitive with its sound towards the end of the album, but take that for what you will, because if you really like that slow melodic tone, than you will not get sick of it through the course of the album. But other than that I felt that this album changed pace and message in each song enough to keep me thinking about the progression of where the band can go next.

Wet is definitely a band worth checking out, at the very least they might have one of the best album website domain names I have seen KanyeWet.biz, absolutely fantastic, and I am still laughing about it. Their sound is unique and calming, perfect for these cold and dreary days.

Album Review: Forest Hills Drive Live

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Last week, J. Cole celebrated his birthday with a very surprise album release. It seems like everything connected with 2014 Forest Hills Drive defies convention, the first platinum album without a single, as Cole points out in the beginning of this concert. With J. Cole, it can easily be said that he is one of the three kings in this new generation of rap. With his seminal album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive Cole showed that he can craft a perfect story and is the exact reason why he is the mind out of the three best (Drake and Kendrick Lamar) he is introspective, whether that be a story about how lost his virginity in “Wet Dreamz” to the racial disparity at the Gammy’s in “Fire Squad” Cole knows how to make people think. With the live experience, and yes I am going to call this album an experience, you can put yourself in the crowd of the concert. With most live albums, I feel a disconnect between the performer and audience, and just feel like I missed out on something, there are a few live albums where I can actually go back to and listen to, and let me say this album is immediately one of those. First off, rap is an incredibly hard genre to perform live, with most sounds coming from a DJ, it is hard to really connect with the audience, but Cole clearly knows this is an issue, and brings a full backing band and really connects with the audience, telling stories and making sure that they  know they are being appreciated by the rapper.

 

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There really isn’t too much to be said about this, if you enjoyed 2014 Forest Hills Drive than this is the perfect way to keep that emotion flowing. You can feel how Cole feels with each song. Cole brings out some special guests at this concert and it makes it feel like more of a party than it is a concert. You hear how honest and genuine Cole is and how far he has come from his childhood at 2014 Forest Hills Drive. What makes this album and concert so special is that Cole is finally back to the place that he calls home, he is back to where it all started, he knows that anyone in this audience could be him. J. Cole is an artist in the truest sense of the world and caters to the deepest and truest of his fans, during the “Intermission” he goes back to his roots of his mixtapes, and performs the hell out of his deep cuts. J. Cole paints pictures in a way few rappers are able to and he creates an energy that clearly the crowd vibes off of.

 

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If you like J. Cole, really if you just appreciate rap and a good live performance, than there is no reason not to check out this album. It is one of the best live albums that I have heard, 100% the best in the last three years. If you cannot get enough of J. Cole check out his Docuseries on HBO.

ICYMI: Wyndwood Releases “Be Something”

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At the very core of the punk genre is the jaggedly beautiful mentality to create solely for yourself – to disregard conventional standards and adopt a self-fulfilling path. A little over a month ago, Philly-based artist Bill Magerr (AKA Wyndwood) released a 5-song EP that adopts this purist approach to writing, using both gritty vocals and reflective lyrics to convey a journey of self-discovery. Laced with folk undertones, “Be Something” possesses a sense of awareness. The confessions and realizations of Magerr are familiar ones we can all identify with and hear coming from the lips of our closest friends and loved ones.

It’s the product of 1+ years of modestly writing and recording in various basements, bedrooms, and attics across the Philadelphia area. Relatively speaking, he didn’t make much of a fuss about its release, so it easily may have undeservedly slipped under your radar. The nonchalant nature of its presentation to the world reflects the man behind it in full. Magerr, for all intents and purposes, appears to be your average guy. Decked out in blue jeans and a t-shirt, his down-to-earth demeanor causes initial shock once he takes the stage. His musicianship has a presence that begs to draw attention to it.

With the exception of mixing/mastering (credited to Philadelphia’s QQQ),  Magerr’s multi-faceted skills were in full display throughout the creation of “Be Something.” Not only is every aspect of the vocals/instrumentation all him, the lyrics involve personal subject matters, so by the end of the last song, you’re left with an unresolved intimacy. Whether that derives from an empathetic understanding of the emotions outlined in the lyrics or from a respect for the honesty-cradled words, listening to it just feels right.

In a brief interview with the 20-something, I felt as though I got to see a snippit of just how impassioned he actually is about his work: “I work on my songs like persuasive essays or something. I feel like I have to get this point across to you in the best way possible so maybe I can help you feel something like I feel if only for a minute.”

As his comforting raw voice sings soulful self-convictions over the steady guitar, it’s impossible to deny Magerr knows how to speak to an audience on a personal level.  He admits that the songs featured on this EP are happier-sounding than older ones, but that this new stylistic direction still complements the apathetic and melancholic emotions that have always driven his writing process.

“I make this music to understand and accept myself . . . I don’t concern myself with trying to write something “new” or “fresh” I just want to write stuff that I like to play and stuff that I like to hear.”

Wyndwood will be performing these lovely songs at his upcoming cassette release party (under the wing of Milkbeard Records) this Sunday, January 31 in Philly. Click here to join the event.

“Be Something” is currently available for streaming/downloading/purchasing on Bandcamp.

Album Review: Tell Me I’m Pretty

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Cage the Elephant, its been a minute. It have been three years since the release of Melophobia and the band seemed to have taken the time to figure out exactly the direction that they wanted to go with their new album. With Tell Me I’m Pretty Cage the Elephant took a more somber and serious approach than their previous albums. Before Tell Me I’m Pretty I would have put them into the category of Alternative Metal Rock. But with this album they take a more stripped down approach and go mostly acoustic on the album. Those looking for the Cage the Elephant that has the same feel as “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” or most of the songs from Cage the Elephant can expect to find a very different band from the one that skyrocketed onto the scene eight years ago.

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Right off the start of the album, there is a distinct tone that Cage the Elephant sets with the album. The tone is that of regret and longing. This is an album that comes from a place deep in the band’s heart. There are themes of heartbreak and potential love. At the end there is a more hopeful tone and a bit more of a sense of a brighter future for the “character” of the album. But for the majority of the album there is a sense of sadness and tragedy. The songs that really seem to stand out is that of “Too Late to Say Goodbye” and “How Are You True” both of these have the general sense of a classic Cage the Elephant song, but with a more unplugged sense to it. Both are very slow for the band, in general, and both seem to have a more somber feel to it than their previous songs.

 

Where my biggest gripe of this album comes is that of its length, as I found myself just getting into the album, and really starting to vibe to the new tone of the album, it was over. I found myself very audibly saying “Is that it?” when “Portuguese Knife Fight” ended. It seemed to just be hitting its stride when it ended. Most albums seem to either go on too long, and their sound becomes monotonous or too short, and leaves the audience wanting more. I guess the latter is the better option, but there needs to be more substance to an album for people to really have it stick in their mind. My only exception to this is that of I Don’t Like S**t. I Don’t Go Outside where the incredibly brevity of the album makes you want to go back and see what you have missed. But with Tell Me I’m Pretty would have been the perfect length if it was two songs longer.

 

If you are a fan of Cage the Elephant, or like a more Alt. Rock sound, than this is a good album to start your year off right. It has a little bit of everything for most Alternative music lovers, and the slower tone of the band is a nice break in sound while still maintaining the sound that helped them get the notoriety that they deserve.