State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Chris Will

Emeli Sandé heads for the dance floor with “Starlight”

Isn’t Emeli Sandé extraordinary? Her voice always injects the richest emotion into her music, regardless of the production and genre. More often than not she’s also demonstrated an incredible penmanship in her songwriting; but even when she opts for more straightforward lyricism, like in her newest single “Starlight,” the track is still an explosion of soul-pop bliss.

A far cry from her gorgeous and isolating post-divorce album Long Live the Angels, “Starlight” is a head rush of intoxicating adoration set over a thrumming deep house beat. It’s a song that’ll take you to the purest of memories, where love is sturdy, cozy, and warm.

For me? It takes me to a chilly August evening in a far away country, where a handsome man led me by hand through a bustling marketplace, the inaudible chattering of the glowing crowd floating in the background. He paused at a vendor stand, and a minute later pressed a cup of mulled wine into my hands, heating my frigid fingertips as the scents of cinnamon, brandy, and Malbec tickled my nostrils. I sipped the drink and exhaled softly, letting the flavors blossom across my tongue while warmth flooded through my body. I tried not to look completely spellbound by him and the world around me.

The Chainsmokers turn Clean Bandit’s "Real Love" into a sultry dance floor paradise

The dynamic dance-producers known as The Chainsmokers may have seemed quiet since the release of their stellar single “Kanye” back in August, but the sultans of #Selfie have just been in their secret dungeon/recording studio cooking up more eclectic house-pop for the masses to eagerly consume. In the midst of prepping for their follow-up, they decided to team with fellow dance sensations Clean Bandit to deliver a effortlessly smooth remix of Clean Bandit’s latest single “Real Love,” and it is truly worth a listen (or 8).

Check that downtempo groove though, and is it just me, or is this remix as good (if not better) than the original? We’re just happy The Chainsmokers are here to deliver the rage and the realness.


Indulge in the gorgeous electro-pop landscape that is Ryn Weaver's 'Promises EP'

The orchestration behind Ryn Weaver’s breakout has been understated yet explosive from the get-go, and anyone who’s paid attention to the internet knows why. Coolly emerging from the shadows of obscurity with “Octahate”, the star-studded production team behind the sublime slice of pop (Ariana Grande/Wiz Khalifa collaborator Cashmere Cat, Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, and Charli XCX) had everyone scratching their heads in awe. Who was this young singer/songwriter? How did she get such a phenomenal team behind her, and how did she craft the ear-worm indie-electro breakup anthem that is “Octahate”? Since she appeared on the scene in late June, we’ve seen some light shed on the song and her musical upbringing (most recently from this phenomenal Fader interview), and what’s best of all, we now have the Promises EP to follow up “Octahate”. But how does the EP match up with some of her contemporaries, and what does it mean for her future as a musician? Honestly the music speaks for itself, but we’ll delve into it regardless.

Ryn’s harmonizing background vocals bloom into an electronic symphony in the title track “Promises”, giving us our first taste of the extended play as she gently leads us into a lush soundscape of gumdrop synthesizers and firm yet muted percussion. The fairy-pop siren sings of her bitter-sweet introspection, her words heavy, but surrounded with such uplifting instrumentation that it feels less like she’s mourning and more like she’s celebrating a humbling revelation, and the growth that comes from understanding her weaknesses.

Next up is “Octahate,” the song that started it all. From the start it’s clear what makes this track such an effortless hit, with the crisp handclaps leaping into Ryn’s pained warble and the heart-pounding percussion. The chorus is nothing short of euphoric, drums thundering as the sparkling synthesizers dance around Weaver’s radio-ready hook. The ache in her voice is almost palpable, and Ryn and Charli’s carefully crafted metaphors are pure songwriting gold. Expect to hear this pop nugget blasting from radio very soon.

“Stay Low” is where Angelakos’ touch is most evident on the EP, with the airy opening seamlessly transitioning into a breezy indie-pop breakdown that would sound at home on any Passion Pit record. Whether or not he worked on the record with Weaver, it’s really her songbird melodies and lovestruck lyricism that make the standout piece of music extraordinary.

“Sail On” rounds out the EP with a softly weeping guitar, as the ethereal backdrop lifts Weaver’s heart wrenching sendoff to her former beau into the stratosphere. As the “token ballad” of the EP, the tear-jerking, down-to-earth mentality of the lyrics (“I took your hand and held it in my clutch, but it was never mine to hold”) and subtle starkness of the instrumentation separate the song from the doctored, glossy sadness too often found in conventional pop ballads.

From “Promises” to “Sail On,” the Promises EP is multifaceted in its experience. This is music you can dance to, drive to, cry to, smile to. The meanings are layered, and it’s all coated in a sound that’s soothing yet emotive. All in all, though Ryn’s freshman effort draws slight similarities here and there, as a whole it stands as its own, unique body of work. And that’s what makes this such a promising (no pun intended) and wonderful record. It’s an indication of bigger and better things to come, but at the same time, we’ll always be able to crank up “Octahate” in the car as the summer sun shines down, or shed a tear to “Sail On” as we lie in bed on a lonely night.

Be sure to purchase the Promises EP on iTunes here.

Neon Trees release new single "Sleeping With A Friend"

Neon Trees have definitely secured a semi-stable niche with the American top 40 audience through “Animal” and “Everybody Talks.” Therefore, it should come as no surprise that “Sleeping With A Friend,” the lead single from their forthcoming third album Pop Psychology, follows a pretty safe and calculated pop formula. The track opens with a fluffy mix of electric guitars, bass-heavy synths, and dance-centric percussion while Tyler Glenn sings about a night out on the town with his close friends. They’re adventurous, they’re young, and they’re hooking up with each other against their better judgment. The “ooh, ooh”/”mood, mood” rhyme that kicks off the chorus lodges itself in your brain, and there are a couple of decent lyrics that keep the track from coming across as too half-assed and asinine (e.g. “All my friends stay up past midnight, looking for the thing to fill the void”).

This is probably gonna get a lot of radio play, and it’ll be fun to listen to the first few months it’s out. Pretty standard Neon Trees single, but hey, it could be a lot worse.

Keegan Tawa debuts epic "More Than Man," featuring Kathleen Warner

Keegan Tawa’s dance production goes far beyond your standard thump, thump, drop, melding his deep musical background into a spacious layering of trance and house, creating records that move and breathe, tracks that tell a story. And with “More Than Man,” his newest release, he builds upon his already impressive repertoire of club-themed epics and further proves his clout as a musician. Pairing with songstress Kathleen Warner, the two craft music that’s as calculated as it is chaotic, dark and powerful and mysterious in each breath-taking second. The synthesizers tear through the percussive landscape like ravenous beasts hunting their prey, and Warner leads the pack with her gorgeously haunting vocals, decrying the ordinary and embracing the extraordinary with chill-inducing power.


Your 2013 Fall Pop/Rock Roundup

Let’s save the lengthy introductions, shall we? Below are 17 fresh pop, rock, and dance tunes that are ripe and ready for your playlist picking. You can listen to them all in the Spotify playlist below, or click on the song titles to stream each track on Youtube.

“On A Roll” – Icona Pop

Sure, “I Love It” is gleefully angry and “All Night” is sweet and sentimental, but what about a sassy, no-holds-barred party pop song? For this, Icona Pop deliver “On A Roll,” an aggressive slice of electronic paradise that features a refrain that’s meant to be shared.


“We Sink” – CHVRCHES

The Bones Of What You Believe is as tart as indie synth-pop gets, and “We Sink” is a perfect representation of that sound. With a cute, frolicking beat and singer Lauren Mayberry chirping joyfully over the static background vocals, it’s too easy to ignore the stabbing refrain “I’ll be a thorn in your side till’ you die.”


“Ways To Go” – Grouplove

Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied” is still to this day soundtracking commercials, but the band has already moved from their 2011 critically acclaimed debut to their sophomore album Spreading Rumors. The lead single “Ways To Go” is more calm and sparse than their breakout single, but its emotive verses and airy chorus prove that the band is far from running out of fantastic indie rock smashes.


“This Is What It Feels Like” – Banks

When she’s not stealing hearts on tour with The Weeknd, Banks is busy crafting steely, synth-brushed ballads that ooze sexuality and power. “This Is What It Feels Like” is no exception, with a throaty dub-influenced backdrop and the singer’s haunting, silken vocals, broken only by the humid layering of symphonic synthesizers.


“If I Could Change Your Mind” – HAIM

Days Are Gone is easily one of the most commercially underrated alternative-pop albums of the year, and at its apex, “If I Could Change Your Mind” stands sad but proud. Here, the three HAIM sisters fashion a beautiful breakup song with groovy basslines, strutting electric guitars, and harmonies that are so good they’ll make you ache.


“Change Your Life” – Iggy Azalea feat. T.I

Iggy Azeala made waves with her off-the-wall diary-like rap anthem “Work,” and now she turns up the volume and the heat with another inspirational club crusher called “Change Your Life.” Here, she spits fire over the molten dubstep and thundering percussion, all with a little help from T.I.  If this track doesn’t make you want to jump up, grab a fifth and start twerking then you’re not listening to it right.


“Love Me Again” – John Newman

John Newman’s already a #1 sensation in the UK, which means that he’s already turned his sights to owning the US charts, and rightly so. His crowning jewel “Love Me Again” is a massive jam, a tight mix of blues and pop with an intergalactic hook that bleeds chart success. This is a song that’s soon to be a sensation, gripping and completely, utterly liberating in its sonic majesty.


“Replay” – Zendaya

Why is this song on this list? It’s on the radio, yes, it’s from a manufactured Disney Pop starlet, yes, but it’s too damn good to be ignored and not nearly respected enough. An urban dance song that feeds obsessive, unbridled desire through a grinding, stuttering, churning beat, Zendaya’s breakout single is a mesmerizing piece of pop that has some serious substance behind it.


“Hesher” – Wallpaper.

Ricky Reed is the king of getting turnt, and if you’ve heard his band Wallpaper.’s newest album Ricky Reed Is Real, you’ll know that “Hesher” proves that fact over and over again. The lyrics don’t really matter; it’s all about the rugged rap, muddy guitars, and trap-ish breakdown that make the song the balls-to-the-wall party song that it is.


“Mason Jar” – Smallpools

“Mason Jar” is just one behemoth earworm hook, from the crisp verses to the “OH-OH-OH-OH-OH” that neatly finishes off the big, chunky chorus. Every second of the track is manufactured to make you dance, and it only represents a quarter of the ridiculously catchy, self-titled EP that Smallpools released over the summer. Check it out; these guys are well on their way to becoming the next biggest thing.


“Birthday” – Katy Perry

Leave it to Katy Perry to make a song about sex seem so innocent and bright. “Birthday” is one of Prism’s few highlights, and that’s mostly due to the frothy, effervescent magic that makes the track impossible to hate.  A little bit of groove, and a whole lot of catchiness and camp make “Birthday” a must have for any pop playlist.


“Enjoy The Ride” – Krewella

Another hyped-up release with a lackluster delivery, Krewella’s Get Wet has only a couple solid songs that weren’t already on their Play Hard EP. One of those cuts, “Enjoy The Ride,” comes across as a bit of an “Alive” part deux with the bubbly house breakdown and emotional lyrics. But where “Alive” focuses more on loving someone, “Enjoy The Ride” instead focuses on loving the life that’s given to you.


“Nicotene” – Panic! At The Disco

As great as “Ms. Jackson” and “This is Gospel” seem, they’re nothing compared to this album track from P!ATD’s newest release Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die! “Nicotene” finds Brandon Urie completely and painfully vulnerable, laying out his infatuation and lust as if it were an addiction. The stadium-sized orchestration and searing guitar licks further cement his melodic pain.


“Tonight You’re Perfect” – New Politics

New Politics keep it brutally honest in their ode to one-night stands, aptly titled “Tonight You’re Perfect.” Confessing his insecurities in the verses, front man David Boyd leads us into the chorus as he searches for something to fulfill his emptiness. The track then blossoms into the comically candid refrain, replete with sugary synthesizers and soaring vocals.


“Fake You Out” – Twenty One Pilots

A weird but incredible marring of 2000s style-emo, rap, and Passion Pit, Twenty One Pilots are a force to be reckoned with. Their debut album Vessel dropped at the beginning of the year, but it’s still gaining momentum with its bleak, raw lyrics and frothy pop production. “Fake You Out” is sure to be the duo’s next single, a dark, lonely ode to depression that’s masked in so much sunny electronic instrumentation that it’d be unsettling if it didn’t sound so appealing.


“Move” – Little Mix

Little Mix make moves to reclaim their title as the girl group of the 21st century with the leading single to their sophomore album Salute. “Move” skips merrily along with a bass-heavy beat and sassy, slick harmonies, a solid ode to the 90’s and a nod to their oft-compared predecessors The Spice Girls.


“Shame On Me” – Avicii

True is without a doubt one of the best dance albums to come out this decade, with a seamless mix of jazz, country, pop, and funk intermixed into Avicii’s signature heart-thudding house breakdowns. “Shame On Me” flaunts an old-school blues vibe and a soulful duet between two lovers, complete with a commanding breakdown in the song’s first quarter.