State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Chris Will

Hear the ballad of the year: A Great Big World’s “Say Something”

There’s power behind simplicity, and that’s a fact that so few artists seem to understand these days. Everything’s all melisma and cotton candy, everything’s gotta be bigger and more layered. Even ballads have lost what they used to have; the last true radio ballads have been Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts.” Luckily, there’s another power ballad thats quickly lighting up the hearts of America, and it’s “Say Something” by pop-rock duo A Great Big World. Their song “This Is The New Year” has already been “covered” by Glee, but it’s “Say Something” that’s currently shooting up the charts (thanks to a spot on the finale of So You Think You Can Dance). The song alone has caught the attention of pop powerhouses like Christina Aguilera and helped them land a record deal with Epic. They’re performing it live on The Voice on November 5th with Aguilera, and from there it’s bound to keep erupting in popularity. So stream it below, and let yourself be swept away by the unadorned emotion and strength of the track. Thank goodness for A Great Big World, or else we might have completely forgotten what a real ballad sounds like.

Billboard Dance Star Bex Drops Sexy New Pop Single "Heartbreaker Machine"

What do you do when you’re a rising star, backed by a growing fanbase and two club crushing, Billboard-charting electro-house singles under your belt? You drop a third single that trumps them all, exposing another fantastic facet to your musicianship and giving the nation another reason to stay on the dance floor. That’s exactly what dance-pop diva (and fellow Nittany Lion) Bex has done, and thus we’re gifted with the track “Heartbreaker Machine.”  Her previous hits “Life of the Party” and “What You Are” kept our hips moving and fists pumping, but it’s the pile-driving percussion and floor-shaking synth blasts of “Heartbreaker Machine” that make us want to party the night away.

“Heartbreaker Machine” is Bex at her sassiest and sexiest, clothing herself in slick cuts of dubstep and steely harmonies as she struts across the track with sly purpose, cooing and yelping her undeniable appeal amongst the track’s gloss and glam. “Heartbreaker Machine” opens with a conversation between Bex and a certain robotic mistress we all know and love, leading into the sultry first line and taking off from there. After the second chorus bubbles over with sweet, frothy hooks, the track breaks into the bridge and Bex spits fire over an icy beat and robotic background vocals. It’s easily one of the track’s finest moments, and it puts the final touch on Bex’s ornate portrayal of herself as a cool, calculated femme fatale.

Pick up “Heartbreaker Machine” on iTunes here, and support a proud Penn State alumnus and rising pop star!

More Than Just a Feature: Listen to "Youth" by Foxes

Foxes’ fans everywhere are finally breathing in relief, and not because she’s a featured vocalist from a top 10 dance-pop track. It’s because “Youth,” a song Louisa Rose Allen originally debuted over a year prior, is finally getting its due time with a major label release and a kick-ass video to boot. Though it’s a bit of a shift from Foxes’ previous indie-pop records, “Youth” is absolutely spellbinding and gripping in every turn. And it’s not so much about the fact that Foxes is writing a song about young people being young. God knows that’s been done before. In fact, so many different versions of “let 20-somethings and teenagers be free and kind of upset because they just want to be loved OK!?” run amuck on the radio that it’s hard to lift a finger without bumping into one. It’s what lies in between the cracks of the generic theme that sets it apart; it’s what’s buried beneath our expectations of boring camp when we see that the singer from “Clarity” has a single out called…sigh… “Youth.”

So what does that mean? It means that though “Youth” is about, for lack of better term, youth, it’s written and composed to a point that it shines as bright as the sun. It comes out into the ring swinging hard, as the sweltering electronic flame burns under Foxes’ prophetic chirp. “They didn’t want me when I was running wild, dragons breathing fire in the backyard at night.” Does that lyric make you scratch your head and ponder, and not in the “We Can’t Stop” way? Good. It should, that means it’s actually well written.

In fact, the entire song is more than about just being between the ages of 15 and 25. It’s about finding that moment where you feel energized and empowered by your age and inexperience. It’s about reaching that apex where chaos intertwines with a kind of concrete spiritually that only those feeling young and lost can feel, a kind of eternal power that reaches into the luminous night sky. It’s when you have a drink in your hand and you’re seeing the spark of life in the eyes of your friends around you, and then suddenly you all become immersed in the wild essence of what you are. And then the night truly comes alive, like when the song’s electro-pop chorus bows out to the beautifully riotous bridge, drums thundering to the ground as the whistling synthesizer sings wordlessly, rapturously, capturing the “thousand dreams” that Foxes lets float across the instrumental landscape. And in the end, you realize that whether you’re 16 or 24, this isn’t the end of living and learning and loving, and it really, truly has “only just begun.”

This is what sets the song apart from its siblings that share the same theme. Foxes doesn’t just make a single about being young, or trying to be young, she makes a musical experience, a pop cut so masterful it’s as visually stimulating as it is melodiously breathtaking.

Breathe In Lorde's Debut Album Pure Heroine: The Pre-Release Review

It’s an adventure to effectively put into words what Lorde has created with her debut album Pure Heroine. That’s mostly because she’s engulfed herself in ingenious contradictions ever since The Love Club EP was just a blip in iTunes and “Royals” was still a growing underground movement. She’s a teenage singer whose songwriting skills rival most twice her age, and she somehow captures youthful spirit with a plaintive realness that feels as old as time. Her records seem to shy away from radio-bred production, yet contain all the trappings of earworm pop anthems. She’s alternative, but then again she’s not. She’s hip-hop, but then again she’s not. She’s pop…but then again she’s not. One thing’s for certain though, she’s currently vying for a #1 hit with “Royals,” and she’s creating a music revolution through Pure Heroine. An odd album name indeed, until you actually listen and consider the double entendre that may or may not have been intentional (it probably was). But to the point, forget Britney’s “Work Bitch,” Katy’s “Roar,” Gaga’s “Applause,” and Miley’s “Wrecking Ball.” Because Lorde is your queen bee, and she’s further driven home that fact with her debut.

So how is a little 16 year old girl with a song on the radio changing the face of pop?

The reason is simple. Lorde might just be the first teenage pop star to create an album about what it’s actually like to be a teenager. Pure Heroine is unsettling, beautiful, sad, terrifying, hopeful, and wonderfully mysterious in each breath and note, everything that encompasses taking those first steps into adulthood. Whether it’s watching as puppy love becomes something more or becoming engulfed in bleak loneliness, Lorde lays it bare for her fans, and in the process creates a cohesive work of art that might speak more honestly than any pop record that’s been released this year. This is music that’s not only relatable to those her age, but to those of us who are older as well. It’s focused, but it’s also timeless.

When looking to the album’s brightest offerings, it seems common sense that the three promotional singles would be the best places to start. There’s “Royals,” with its arresting percussion, haunting vocals, and anti-pop mentality. “Tennis Courts” has a smooth, calculated poise and a chorus carved from diamonds. “Team” is bursting with such sweet sanguinity that it makes you want to throw your hands up in the air, despite Lorde’s tart disdain for the dance-pop lyrical cliché. However, it’s important to dive forward into some of the deeper cuts in Pure Heroine in order to find some of those lesser-known tracks that glimmer with their own worth and promise. We’ve helped expedite that process for you below.

In “Buzzcut Season,” Lorde hones in on the suffocating pressures and realities that come with growing up. She keeps her voice light and airy over the echoing piano keys and cushioning bassline, but her lyrics weigh heavy. She openly describes the ignorant bliss that her generation wraps itself in to escape real life, and she makes no attempts to hide her grief in this track. The record comes into full bloom in the bridge, as Lorde coos “And I’ll never go home again,” as the background harmonies lift the young songstress to the telling refrain “I live in a hologram with you.”

“White Teeth Teens” plays like a 50’s girl group tune baked in a thick, sweet layer of indie-pop, syrupy synthesizers cooing side by side with steel-kissed vocoded sighs. Lorde crafts a picturesque scene of children with sparkling smiles driven to party and live to the fullest. And as the disquieting visual gradually unfolds throughout the song, Lorde closes out the song by letting us in on a secret, shifting the mood of the entire track.

“Ribs” is a four-to-the floor dance banger for the kids who might not be able to get into the club, but are fine dancing in the back alleyway anyway. A soft, pulsating beat laps gently against filtered choral harmonies that fill the song’s backdrop, caressing the muted house production. And Lorde lays her husky purr over it all, fashioning a tale of young camaraderie and love, wild and sweet even when she pauses, letting the slightest bit of pain slip through her voice as she admits, “I’ve never felt more alone. It feels so scary, getting old.”

Once Pure Heroine officially drops on September 30th, make sure to purchase it at any digital or local retailers.

So Many Feels With Zedd's Massive Collaboration With Paramore's Hayley Williams: "Stay The Night"

Serving as a fantastic third piece to the trinity of skyscraper-sized dance-pop anthems Zedd’s gifted to the music world in the past year, Zedd’s “Stay The Night” crash-landed in digital retailers earlier this morning. This time the king of “Clarity” and the sultan of “Spectrum” teams up with punk-pop-turned-indie-rock chanteuse Hayley Williams (frontwoman for top 40 act Paramore) for a club-crushing anthem that’s surging with emotion and purpose. Hayley takes slow and determined steps in a dance of lust and longing, attempting to accept this post-breakup one night stand as an emotionless fling and not a final, desperate act of love. Bittersweet and beautiful, her words ache as she layers the refrain over the frothy build of synthesizers, tipping into a pit of sweltering synth blasts and drums that hit like discarded clothes, tears and dignity on the bedroom floor. Indeed, at the end of the song, her question becomes more of a plea, and this party anthem reveals itself as more of a sweet and sad ballad of lingering adoration and affection.

Burning, beautiful, and bare: listen to BANKS' "Waiting Game"

LA-based brooding balladeer BANKS doesn’t just make music, she fills the space between heartbeats and gives sound to the sweet, searing silence of the night. Stark and soft in the same breath, the porous production drips darkness over the sexuality she smears across her catalog of tracks, creating a musical guise that condenses fear, lust, and despair into one wonderfully breathtaking style. She’s gripped the masses with “Warm Water” and “Fall Over,” and with her latest release “Waiting Game,” she tows the luxurious line between Lorde and The Weeknd to create an eclectic R&B record with a lovelorn hook that echoes into the star-studded sky, foreshadowing a prosperous musical future for the young chanteuse.