State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Eric Dowling

Album Review: To Pimp a Butterfly

 

 

All hail King Kendrick. Hard as it is to believe but it has been three years since Mr. Duckworth released his modern day classic. With months of speculation, and anxious anticipation, the long, long awaited follow up to 2010’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City  is “out” and it is powerful. It seems like the whole world has been waiting in a hushed silence for this album since December when we heard that is was done and completed, people were more excited about this album than they were for So Help Me God, this is the true album that cements Kendrick Lamar’s placement as raps greatest right now. Where Good Kid told a personal story, To Pimp a Butterfly, tells a story of a group, specifically the black community. This album sounds like it does not belong in this decade, or even this millennia, it sounds so throwback, like the old soul records of the 70s or the spoken word poetry of the 60s. Like everything that Kendrick Lamar does, he keeps this album free of most guest features. Having one song with a “Big Name” guest feature (Drake on Good Kid and Snoop Dogg on To Pimp). Not only is this album a throwback to the soul era of music, but so much of it is reminiscent of Dr. Dre’s classic The Chronic especially when Snoop Dogg raps. The album is definitely a time machine. Kendrick Lamar is Rolling Stone magazine’s newest cover boy, and in his cover story he talks about the feel of the album. To paraphrase Mr. Duckworth “I want this album to evoke a color, when I make music I make it to evoke a color, and with this album I want it to evoke black.” Let me tell you, this album does it, and it does it perfectly. Where we all think of Drake and Kanye as producers as well as rappers, we ofter over look the deeper talents of Kendrick Lamar, and his intimate connection with the album is evident in every track. Now obviously I cannot connect to this album like some people can, but I can sure as hell respect the hell out of what Kendrick Lamar is saying, and after reading his Rolling Stone interview, you really get a feel for the place Kendrick is rapping from.

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Way back in October Kendrick Lamar released “i” and it was met with very divided opinions, one half compared it to a “Kia commercial” the other half celebrated the lyrics and the positive vibe from Mr. Lamar. The song drew increasing praise in relation to the political climate in the nation, with Eric Gardner and Ferguson, it was a great message to be sending the young black community; love yourself, and there is no need to hate others. But then early in 2015, Kendrick Lamar comes out swinging with “Blacker the Berry” a song so divisive and racially/politically charged, it sparked a lot of commotion across the music community. Kendrick Lamar said in an interview with Billboard “What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.” That is deep, that is really critiquing yourself and your culture and taking responsibility for what is happening in your culture. Kendrick starts with himself in the song, and talks about how “[He] is the biggest hypocrite of 2015” when he is criticizing the events of Ferguson when he used to run and gun with gangs and got in with a bad crowd. “Blacker the Berry” is a way to look in on oneself before moving on and moving forward to progress as a culture. But the album all happened so fast, first it was announced that it was going to be released on March 23rd, then the album art got leaked, then the tracklist was revealed, then the features. But at midnight on March 14, the album “leaked” and the whole music community went crazy; was the album supposed to come out that early? Is it going to be removed from iTunes? Why has only the clean version been released? So in a frenetic scramble, I cancelled my pre-order, bought each song individually and sat in pure shock and pleasure. King Kendrick has put out what could be the album that moves him firmly in place in Rap Royalty. When I woke up on Monday I realized that the album had once again been restored to its pre-order status, and speculation started to buzz about if the album was supposed to be released or not. Finally after a few hours on Monday morning, TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) released the album in earnest. With an album release filled with so much angst and confusion, I feel like it was all a controlled burn. It is too metaphorical with the political climate as a whole of the black community as of late, the recent Ferguson shooting anyone? Much like the release of J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive it was an album that had to come out when it did. This album, more than most rap albums in recent memory, is so reflexive on a community that it really needed to be released when it did. From “Blacker the Berry” to “i” to “King Kunta” there is a theme in this album that really needed a solid political platform to stand on to have the impact that it has had, already.

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Now as far as the album is concerned, it is truly a powerhouse. It is, like I said, a fusion of Funk, Spoken Word, and Neo-soul, but it never feels too schizophrenic, and that is to the credit of the amazing producers on the album. Speaking of the producers, this album has a very, very strong influence of Flying Lotus (Captain Murphy), his jazz influence bleeds into every track in one shape or another. This, of course is no secret, as the next Captain Murphy album had been delayed due to Kendrick’s impending album. But each song tells such a powerful story and reveals Kendrick’s feelings as a black man in this day in age. For those who thought “i” was too poppy for the Compton rapper, you had not listened to it partnered with the dark and brooding “u”. In a song that transitions from the first person to the introspective second person, Kendrick looks at himself from the outside in and really looks at all of his flaws. From his time as a “Gang Banger” to his battle with alcoholism, this was a very tough song for him to write and you can hear it. The song opens up with “Loving U is complicated” and this is a way of Kendrick saying how hard it is for a person to love themselves, and this gives so much credence to “i” at the end of the album. The full circle that the album takes really shows that Kendrick Lamar is the perfect tour guide on this journey of self discovery and critique. But when the album starts to really show its maturity is in the subtleness of the record. The first line that we hear in the entire album is “Every n***er is a star.” if that doesn’t speak volumes, then you really need to start to look at the world with your eyes more open. This album is, and I think I have said this enough times, a celebration and critique of Black Culture. The verses of the album are critical and celebratory, and personal. This broad, but fine brush strokes that Kendrick Lamar paints is something that I have really seen very few rappers manage to balance. Think of “99 Problems” yes it is a personal story that Jay Z is telling, but at the same time it is telling a much bigger story of the distinct racism that exists in the police force. Also I think it is really worth noting that the album version of “i” is a live version of the song. Personally I think this is brilliant. Kendrick knows that everyone has heard “i” at this point, and his inclusion of a live version in the album give the song more depth, hearing the crowd vibe to the song and hear Kendrick Lamar interact with the crowd allows us, as listeners, to feel how happy is now, in complete contrast to the rest of the album. He has finally learned how “To love himself.” Finally when you really think about it all of the sounds that Kendrick combines in this album are predominantly black-centric music styles, this helps really drive home the theme of the album.

 

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Once again Kendrick has created a modern classic. Where this album may be a bit more polarizing than Good Kid M.A.A.D. City it is still an album that is personal and critical of something personal to Kendrick Lamar. It is reflexive and critical, but never preachy. It is an album that really shows the duality of being a black man in the modern day. All of the pieces fit together in almost the perfect way, apart from maybe two songs, most of these songs are not as good standing on their own, its like reading a book and reading random chapters without reading the whole book. Where I am getting a little tired of these surprise release albums (Thanks Beyoncé) this was a pleasant surprise, even though it caused me a lot of anxiety. To Pimp a Butterfly is exactly what Kendrick Lamar wanted it to be duality how its hard to think of hearing “Pimp” and “Butterfly” in the same sentence. That is what Kendrick wanted, something that makes you think, and something that makes you challenge the norm and really start looking at yourself in a more critical manner.

Album Review: Modest Mouse, Strangers to Ourselves

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A lot has happened in eight years, we have had a new president (who has been reelected), there have been like 6 new iPhones, Tom Brady won another Super Bowl, Peyton Manning left the Colts, two Olympics, and no Modest Mouse albums. After a long, long hiatus, the band that brought us wonderful hits like “Float On” and “Dashboard” are back, and they have come back with a heartfelt tender album. No for those unfamiliar with Modest Mouse, the band first burst onto the scene with the hit “Float On” debuting in what I call the “Golden Summer of Alternative Rock” that Summer also seeing the releases of “Somebody Told Me” by the Killers and “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. I became hooked on the rock song with depressing lyrics. It wasn’t until later that the band really caught my attention, I thought that they would be a one hit wonder, and “Dashboard” made me an honest to goodness fan of the band. With the announcement of their new album, their first in eight years, I got to say I wasn’t too excited. In fact I sort of avoided hearing any news from the band. I had lost interest in the band, they hadn’t done anything in so long that I became tired of hearing the same songs again and again. But I went home and listened to the always on point Alt. Nation on Sirius XM, and really enjoyed the first single “Lampshades of Fire” and started to pay a bit more attention to the band. When they released the music video for “Coyotes” they not only captured my ears, but they also won my heart. So much emotion was in the music video and it was just a great way to really get my attention for a new album, yes I love dogs that much. But was all of the hype and build up worth it?

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First off look at the album art, no really look at the album art. It is absolutely gorgeous, it may be simple on first glance, but when you hold the physical copy in your hands and open the case it becomes something special and it really is a piece of art that you are holding in you hand. The opening track starts off with the traditional Modest Mouse sound that we have come to love and expect from the band. It is a tender vocal with harsh clashing sounds. It is disjointed to the point of perfection. The songs find a nice way to really flow into one another and create such a rich, whole and complete sound that is really missing in most modern albums these days, where every song sounds like a single, and the album doesn’t have a cohesive flow to it. With Strangers to Ourselves Modest Mouse creates an album that takes you on a musical journey that makes you appreciate how influential Modest Mouse is in the alternative rock world. Isaac Brock’s vocals make the band who they are but, he alone couldn’t make this album what it is. The variety of instruments used in the album make it really stand out, sometimes the album feels like an 80s rock opera, and at others it feels like an early 2000s alt. rock escape album. Modest Mouse stays true to their roots on this album and brings their sound from their older albums, but they also show their maturity and evolution as a band on this album, from experimenting with vocal distortion, to change of pace. The album brings something for all fans of music and Modest Mouse.

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Evolving from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank but staying true to their roots, Modest Mouse is back in action with one of the most powerful, and perfectly constructed albums of the year, and it will be hard pressed for anyone to not include this in a top ten list of albums at the end of the year. Strangers to Ourselves is the perfect title to a band, that has been out of the public eye for so long, and with its release it is like we are discovering Modest Mouse all over again.

Artist to Watch: COIN

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I don’t know how many times I have said this, but picking up a new band is a very intimate thing, and it can be hit or miss. But when some of your favorite bands put their faith in others, then you know that you are making a good choice. Opening for Passion Pit on his new tour, COIN seem to be making a name for themselves, without ever really having released an album. Opening for Passion Pit, you can already guess their genre of music, but COIN are a little bit more complex than just to be placed in electronic alternative. Much like Passion Pit, they really seem to change their sound on a song by song basis, where some songs could be more rock oriented and others more electronic. Their sound is high energy and it will get you excited to do things. Having so much hype from a three song EP, you know this band is poised to hit it huge. Stay on the lookout for COIN as they might be coming to an area near you with Passion Pit, and even though they will not be making their way to State College, they are a band that you should not run away from.

Album Review: The Airborne Toxic Event, Dope Machines

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The Airborne Toxic Event have always, in my mind, been that band that I have enjoyed enough to never skip when their songs come on, but never relevant enough for me to pay much attention to them as a whole. But when I first heard about their new album, I admittedly got very excited. With the release of Dope Machines I feel that The Airborne Toxic Event will become one of the more relevant bands in alternative rock music, finding their way into mainstream music as well. Dope Machines is the band’s fourth studio album, and it is definitely one of their most polished album to date. Where it might not start as a tradition Toxic Event album, it definitely brings a fuller, richer sound to their audience.

 

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The album, like I said, starts off with The Airborne Toxic Event sounding like a pop rock band, and not the fantastic Alternative rock group that they are. It isn’t until about three songs into the album that the band finds its voice again, and the album flows in a cohesive manner and starts to really make an impact as one of the better rock albums of the year. With songs like “California” and “My Childish Bride” the band really brings a heartfelt sound to the album and makes sure that we all remember why they should be relevant. With more production behind their sound now, The Airborne Toxic Event really seem to shine out in the middle of the album. Their sound, for those not completely familiar with the band, is a very rich full sound, with orchestras usually backing them on songs, and those songs are usually some of my favorites.

 

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The album is a fun easy to listen to alternative rock album and it really showcases the talents of the band, from the lyrics to the production of the album, it makes good use of the talents of everyone in the band, and deserves a rotation on your music device.

 

 

Album Review: Elle King, Love Stuff

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Finding a new artist is a tricky thing, either it is a huge gamble and it pays off or you take the jump and land horribly and regret opening up the album in the first place. With someone so new and up and coming, like Elle King, making the choice to pick up the CD can be a gamble, but for the most part, it pays off. Elle King lies somewhere between the Ellie Goulding’s and the old school Taylor Swift’s, her voice is incredibly raspy, and it can be a little off putting to some, but for me her voice is a nice change of pace from all of the new artists that are starting to sound the same. King comes off a little country, but on a different more extensive listen, you hear all sorts of different influences, from blues, to pop and even some rock in King’s sound.

 

 

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With her big songs, King makes a name for herself, and shows how breaking from the mold can be a good thing, and that straying from the norm can lead to success and generate a solid fan base. Having written each song on her breakout album, King not only demonstrates her vocal power, but also her writing skills. In the song “Ex’s & Oh’s” she combines rock and her powerful vocals to make a song that shows how you need to get over old lovers, and how that can be a little easier said than done sometimes, but on a whole, her voice makes the song seem much more powerful, than if it were done by another artist, the raspiness of her voice, shows the pain and heartbreak that she must have felt while writing the song, and how this is her anthem of getting on with her life. Another great song by King is “Ain’t Gonna Drown” with a song that is so bluesy and slow. It is a great song, to just sit alone and think about what you have done with your life. King is pensive and thought provoking she is making a name for herself as more of a writer than as a singer. Her voice is powerful and raspy, but it commands attention.

 

 

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Elle King combines many different sounds to make a sound that is so unique and so distinct in a time where most things are starting to sound the same.

2015 Album Preview

Article Written By Guest Writer Jack Zuckerman

Radiohead

Date: TBA

Title: TBA

At this point its pretty much useless to predict what might be coming next from Radiohead. And despite what anyone might think is coming next, Thom Yorke probably has something crazier in mind. Even though 2011s The King of Limbs wasn’t their greatest work, Radiohead wouldn’t be caught dead releasing a subpar album since their debut, Pablo Honey, so its perfectly acceptable to start getting excited for another masterpiece. As of right now, there is little to no information about the new Radiohead album other than that they are working on new material. However, Thom Yorke has expressed dissatisfaction with the album recording process, so its not crazy to think that the new album could be unique compared to others in Radioheads discography.

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Kendrick Lamar

Date: First half of 2015

Title: TBA

The epic saga that is Kendrick Lamars career is ready for its third installment. While some of us are still speechless from 2012s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick has been hard at work on trying to follow up an album that undoubtedly changed rap forever. So far, single iand an untitled song that debuted live on The Colbert Report are all that fans have to indicate what the next album will be like, but at such a young stage in his career, its hard to believe that Lamar would release anything that isnt powerful and striking like GKMC was. Expect nothing less than Kendricks best, which is pretty great.

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Run the Jewels

Date: TBA

Title: Run the Jewels 3/Meow the Jewels

2014 was a monstrous year for Killer Mike and El-P, who released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year under the name Run the Jewels. In 2015, they show no signs of slowing down. Already, the ridiculously fun Meow the Jewels (a remix album of their Run the Jewels 2 made up entirely of cat noises, yup, you read that right) is in the works, and a Run the Jewels 3 is supposedly on its way. While it seems difficult for the duo to get any more over the top and creatively vulgar than before, Mike and El are sure to attack us with another comic-book-esque record like RTJ2.

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If everyone danced like Killer Mike, the world would be a better place.

Modest Mouse

Date: March 3rd

Title: Strangers to Ourselves

The Modest Mouse of the 90s is drastically different than the Modest Mouse of today, but frontman Isaac Brock continues to comfortably push the group through the ever-changing music scene of the 21st century. Coming off of an eight year dry spell, Modest Mouse will return in 2015 with Strangers to Ourselves, their eighth LP. So far, the band has released a single titled Lampshades on Fireand a music video for a song titled Coyotes, which both show that Modest Mouse can appeal to listeners today while maintaining their somewhat offbeat style. Strangers to Ourselves should prove yet again why Modest Mouse is so much more than that band that did Float On.

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Death Cab for Cutie

Date: March 31st

Title: Kintsugi

Following a very average 2011 album titled Codes and Keys and the departure of guitarist Chris Walla, Death Cab for Cutie will return in 2015 with their eighth LP, Kintsugi. Named after the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with resin, Kintsugi will most likely aim to prove that Death Cab will be fine without Walla, but could also spur a stylistic change that the 17-year-old pop rock group desperately needs. Kintsugi has the potential to be the album that either saves or destroys Death Cab for Cutie, and at this point its pretty hard to tell which it will be.

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Chance the Rapper and The Social Experiment

Date: TBA

Title: Surf

Like his contemporary Kendrick Lamar, rap superstar Chance the Rapper will be releasing his third full length album in 2015, the first one to feature his accompanying band, The Social Experiment. Fresh off the success of his free album titled, Acid Rap, Chance released strong single after strong single from his new project in 2014. Singles such as Wonderful Everyday: Arthur, a powerful cover of the theme song from childrens show Arthur, and the stellar Sunday Candyindicate that this album might be Chances most sophisticated yet. The growth in maturity between Chances first and second album resulted in a monumental increase in quality, and hopefully the same happens with Surf.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers

Date: TBA

Title: TBA

Being completely honest, RHCPs 2011 album Im With You wasn’t so great. Its standout single was average, and we saw very little power and energy from the 90s legends weve come to know and love. Call it a result of guitarist John Frusciante leaving or a byproduct of their age (early 50s), but it seemed like the Chili Peppers lost a lot of their ingenuity with their last album. Thats what makes their rumored 2015 album so interesting. So far, we know that there is a new unnamed producer working with the band (so not famed Rick Rubin, who has produced the bands last 6 albums), and that its super danceableand unique. In anticipating this next album, we have to remember that its the Chili Peppers were talking about, so unique could mean anything from their late 80s funk rock style to something that bassist Flea could bring from his side project Atoms for Peace with Thom Yorke.

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It is still unclear whether Chad Smith or Will Ferrel will be playing drums on the new album.

Pusha T

Date: Spring 2015

Title: King Push

Pusha T and I have a love hate relationship. While he can blow me away with something like 40 Acresor Nosetalgia, there are always songs like Sweet Serenadethat make me wish that Push would stick to his more serious material. His debut album My Name is My Name had songs on both sides of the spectrum, but his recent single Lunch Moneygives any indication about the next album, were in for something exciting. Lunch Moneydemonstrates Pushs tendency to use more abstract beats and, while the subject material isn’t his most introspective, still shows his rapidly improving lyricism skills. Because of Pusha Ts development as an artist and his strong relationship with Kanye West, its not too crazy to think that King Push will be some of his most impressive work yet.

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