State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Stephanie Davis

Album Review: I Love You, Honeybear- Father John Misty

fjmWacky, witty, woeful and everything in between– Father John Misty shows every side on his sophomore effort, I Love You, Honeybear. Father John Misty, a.k.a. Josh Tillman, moved to Seattle in 2004 to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter before joining acclaimed indie-folk band Fleet Foxes as a drummer in 2008. He later decided to leave the band in 2012 after the release of their second full-length Helplessness Blues as he felt his time touring with the group was detracting from his ambitions as a solo artist. Later he released his first full-length album as Father John Misty, 2012’s Fear Fun, a stark departure from any of his previous solo work. Tillman explained his re-creation of himself as Father John Misty as a desire to produce music that included more of his conversational self and sense of humor. On Fear Fun, he produced a psychedelic and folk medley that detailed his “weird-ass experiences” while writing a novel. Now, with I Love You, Honeybear, he brings forth a seemingly mature, raw and emotional album that still manages to utilize the perfect amount of dry humor and cynicism that keeps it from ever sounding like a dull confessional.

With the opening and title track, “I Love You, Honeybear,” Tillman immediately delivers a beautifully crafted ballad chock-full of a variety of instrumentation including a full assembly of strings, piano, guitar and drums. Immediately after, he launches into the percussion-heavy “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C For Two Virgins),” chronicling sweet memories of his early adventures with his wife Emma. The song keeps it interesting through the use of a mariachi-esque trumpet and a traditional folk vibe. And the album continues from there, delivering a fresh sound with every track. “Nothing Good Ever Happens At The Goddamn Thirsty Crow” tries out a mashup of jazz, blues and country. “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me” plays with backing vocals reminiscent of an R&B/soul tune. “True Affection” makes ample use of brilliantly-matched vocal harmonies and, a bit surprisingly, a synthesizer and a pop beat. And, perhaps one of the most impressive tracks on the album, “The Ideal Husband” blends a swing drumbeat with a fast-tempo rock and roll chorus.

It is important to note, though, that Honeybear displays more than just musical prowess. Tillman’s lyricism helps tie all the tracks together, so that the record reads like a concept album, a fantastic story of Tillman’s personal life in its current state and his feelings and frustrations, as well as his relationship with his wife. Tillman cements his status as a delightful smartass, using sharp-as-a-tack wit and sarcasm on songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” to critique his marriage, before using the same clever songwriting to turn a critical eye to himself. Tillman leaves no stone unturned as he discusses married life, encounters with women in various places and situations, and his sexual and romantic relationship with his wife. On his first single and a standout track, “Bored In The USA,” Tillman paints a lyrical landscape involving what is somewhat of an existential crisis. He counters raw confessions about frustrations of being stuck in a malaise and disenchanted with life with a jarring laugh track, reportedly to “neutralize uncomfortable ideas.” “How many people rise and say/ ‘My brain’s so awfully glad to be here/ For yet another mindless day?'” he asks, and though it sounds a bit glum, it is one of many delightfully raw and personal lines, making “Bored In The USA” and unforgettably bittersweet ballad.

Overall,  I Love You, Honeybear shows a mastery of both musical skill and lyrical craft, an example of a carefully-developed sophomore album that shows growth from its predecessor, Fear Fun. Father John Misty blends nostalgia and introspection, witticism and intimacy all set against a delightfully interesting musical backdrop. The final track, “I Went To The Store One Day,” ends the record as a concept album should be ended, with a sense of reflection and soulful resignation as he recalls first meeting his wife. The song is melodic and sweet and going back to the start at the end makes the album feel almost circular. I Love You, Honeybear is at times weird, at times touching, but overall is a can’t-miss album that beautifully balances fury and frustration with affection and charm.

Album Review: That's Christmas To Me, Pentatonix

Fans of a cappella rejoice: singing sensations Pentatonix have returned with their sixth album (and second holiday album) That’s Christmas To Me. Capitalizing on what seems to be the “a cappella craze” that has swept pop culture over the past few years, Pentatonix rose to fame after winning the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off. The group then signed a record deal with Sony Music Entertainment and enjoyed viral success posting videos of their songs on their Youtube channel.

Perhaps Pentatonix’s biggest success is their ability to attract listeners by putting a unique pop spin on a cappella, through both their pop/soul flavor and their choice to cover hit singles and well-known favorites. The group put out their first holiday album, PTXmas, in 2012, featuring a small 6-track compilation ranging from traditional Christmas favorites like “Angels We Have Heard On High” to more modern ones like “This Christmas.” With That’s Christmas To Me, their first full-length holiday album, the five-piece group delivers plenty more vocal harmonies and fun takes on Christmas classics.

The album begins with a rather austere version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” sounding more like a traditional choir of carolers than the upbeat pop sound for which the group is known. However, about a third of the way through the song, the group launches into Pentatonix’s signature sound. A raucous, soulful, hand-clapping chorus with a bit of a hip-hop breakdown towards the end helps put a fun and interesting twist on the classic carol.

This momentum continues throughout the rest of the album, with the five-piece group putting a soulful flair on old favorites like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Yes, you read that right: the latter track even features a mashup with the 1988 Bobby McFerrin reggae hit. Interesting choices like this showcase Pentatonix’s talent with traditional a cappella techniques, because, though the mashup is unexpected, it flows seamlessly.

Perhaps the most fun and memorable moments of the album are “Sleigh Ride” and “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” both of which offer kitschy and fun backup vocals and a catchy pop sound. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” is also one of the only tracks on the album on which bass vocalist Avi Kaplan sings lead, a smart choice that carries the song to a smooth and soulful level.

The album offers some slower, more somber moments like “Mary, Did You Know,” as well as the group’s original song and the title track “That’s Christmas To Me.” With less of an upbeat sound, strong singing chops are essential to make these songs worth a listen, and Pentatonix definitely delivers. The final track on the album, “Silent Night,” is a peaceful, slowed-down number that leaves the listener on a soft and sweet note. The cover of the traditional hymn is simple, but polished, a good choice with which to end.

On the whole, Pentatonix delivers a holiday album filled with beloved classics that most fans of a cappella and casual listeners alike can appreciate. The group’s attention to detail is clear, as the vocal arrangements are clever and harmonious and flow well and ensure that there is never a dull moment. Most of all, even when working with songs as beloved and well-known as these, Pentatonix doesn’t compromise their pop flavor. Check out That’s Christmas To Me for a fun and innovative a cappella spin on the holidays.

Listen to “Winter Wonderland/Don’t Worry Be Happy” below:

Album Review: Tyranny, Julian Casablancas + The Voidz

It seems that no matter how many musical endeavors he takes on, Julian Casablancas will continue to have tricks up his sleeve. Casablancas is probably best known for his time in the iconic New York-based rock band The Strokes. The band has been known for carefully, and at times unexpectedly, evolving their sound since 2001 (the year of release of their first album Is This It). When the band took a turn for more of an ’80s pop-rock sound with their fourth album Angles, fan reactions were extremely polarized. When Julian Casablancas released his solo album Phrazes For The Young in 2009, an album that toyed heavily with an upbeat synth-pop sound, it perhaps should have been a sign that fans of both Casablancas and his band were dealing with a man of many tastes.

With his new album Tyranny, and his new band The Voidz, Casablancas has once again thrown convention out the window and delivered surprise and possibly even confusion.

In Tyranny‘s opening track, “Take Me In Your Army,” Casablancas and The Voidz deliver us a warning, of sorts. The song begins with a mechanical and march-like beat and dreamy vocals that almost seem to ironically recall bits and pieces of what The Strokes have done in the past (see their album Comedown Machine). However, we are reminded right off the bat that being contrary is the name of the game when Casablancas croons “This isn’t for everybody, this is for nobody.”

When “Take Me In Your Army” ends, the album launches into “Crunch Punch,” which uses loud, fuzzy guitar and Casablancas’ signature raspy yells to shake the listener out of any comfort zone they may have found in the methodical sound of the previous track.

From there, the album begins to simply become overwhelming. Tyranny takes so many twists and turns over the course of its hour-long running time that it is entirely possible to begin to feel lost. There is just so much going on within the album, from screeching guitar to plodding drumbeats to string arrangements to experimentation with genres ranging from pop to metal. Through it all, the album begins to sound like it’s suffering from schizophrenia, and Casablancas’ gravelly vocals, ranging from loud shrieks to low, shoegaze-esque moans, begin to sound aimless. It’s almost as if Casablancas is an over-eager (albeit very talented) student, determined to show off EVERYTHING he knows how to do in his final project.

That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its high moments. “Johan Von Bronx” and “Crunch Punch” feature slight nods to the cleaner, catchy-yet-rebellious garage rock sound in which Julian Casablancas has his roots. And track eleven, “Nintendo Blood,” features an intriguing vintage pop vibe reminiscent of an ultra-cool 8-bit video game soundtrack. “Father Electricity” even experiments with a frantic Afro-pop rhythm.

Perhaps the most memorable gem of Tyranny, however, is “Human Sadness;” an eleven-minute opus about depression and grief that, thanks to string arrangements and a sweetly melancholy bass line, takes its place as one of the most favorable and emotional songs on the album. It is here that Casablancas’ songwriting chops truly shine, as he explores themes of sadness, longing, and desperation over the course of the song. It may not be commercially friendly, but the song is a dazzling example of sonic experimentation done right.

Overall, Tyranny certainly has moments of brilliance, and if Casablancas had managed to develop these moments, rather than over embellish them, the album could have reached its full potential. There is no doubt that Casablancas is a brilliant artist with vision, but Tyranny suffers from too much vision. The album has moments of beauty, moments of zaniness, and plenty of creativity, but overall, suffers from too many ideas and not enough executive discrimination. This album is one that is best taken track by track, lest the listener lose touch with the moments of unique beauty for which this album could become a cult treasure.

Listen to “Human Sadness” below:

A Fall Playlist

Even though some mourn the falling temperatures and the advent of winter weather, it seems to be the common consensus that the transition from summer into fall is something to get excited about. After all, autumn means digging out your cozy sweaters, admiring those beautiful fall leaves, and–of course–the return of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. With fall being such a cool (pun intended) time of the year, it definitely deserves a proper mix of songs to honor it. So, without further ado, here it is–an essential playlist of songs to help make this the most rocking autumn ever.

1)      “Flow”- Cage the Elephant

Frontman Matt Schultz’s mellow vocals and steady guitar provide the perfect rhythm for that steady transition into a new season, and the song’s overall jaunty sound is sure to put a spring in your step on the daily walk to class.

2)      “Loyal Man”- Yukon Blonde

To me, nothing screams “fall road trip with friends” quite like this folksy indie rock tune. Soaring harmonies in the chorus make it perfect for belting it out on a long, scenic drive.

3)      “Past Lives”- DIIV

A fast, jangling guitar riff mashed up with dreamy vocals make this song the soundtrack for lying out in the grass, enjoying the last few days of warm weather and soaking up the bright fall sunshine.

4)      “Sleeping Ute”- Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear is known for their killer harmonies and their unique psychedelic-folk sound, and this song is no exception. The rustic flavor of “Sleeping Ute” is sure to make you long for a quiet weekend away in the mountains, and the multi-layered instrumentals will blow you away.

5)      “The Ghost Inside”- Broken Bells

Fall is known for being one of the most delightfully spooky times of the year, and the eerie falsetto and keyboard melody will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end (in the best possible way).

6)      “Degausser”- Brand New

Jesse Lacey’s raw, unfettered vocals and heavy instrumentals make this song as chilly as a fall morning. Arguably one of Brand New’s best songs, this one is definitely a fall essential.

7)      “Adversity”- Beach Fossils

A smooth, calm sound makes this song the perfect listen for curling up under your newly-unearthed quilt on a lazy Saturday morning.

8)      “Drakkar Noir”- Phoenix

Cool synthesizer and crystal-clear production make this song a perfect pick-me-up jam, even in the midst of your craziest week of the semester.

9)      “Lover Of Mine”- Beach House

If there was ever a song that perfectly captured the mood of taking a long walk among the fall colors, this would be it. Keep this dreamy, beautiful tune handy if you’re ever looking for a sweet five-minute escape.

10)  “Fireside”- Arctic Monkeys

Just as the title suggests, a persistent mix of acoustic guitar and tambourine makes this song feel just like gathering around a bonfire in the woods. Mixed with the effortlessly cool and polished rock sound for which Arctic Monkeys are known, “Fireside” is a perfect song for a fall evening.

11)  “Set Your Arms Down”- Warpaint

Spooky, breathy vocals, courtesy of this ultra-cool all-female band, make this tune almost sound like witchcraft. Keep it on rotation as the Halloween season approaches.

12)  “Everything Is Wrong”- Interpol

Fresh off their brand-new album, El Pintor, “Everything Is Wrong” is a track to know this fall. Fans of The Strokes and Muse will love this mellow rock number.

13)  “Hollow Body”- Pity Sex

As crisp as a fall day, and with a slow and steady rhythm, this lovely song is almost like the sonic equivalent of watching leaves fall.

14)  “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”- Fleet Foxes

Of course, no fall playlist would be complete without Fleet Foxes. The indie folk band’s mastery of vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar make them a fall essential. Sitting next to the fireplace with a blanket is probably the best way to enjoy this mellow tune.

15)  “Wooly Mammoth”- Local Natives

In the same vein as Fleet Foxes, Local Natives’ killer harmonies will help you make the most of your fall season. This tune is perfect for taking a walk outside in the fall weather, and the wild drumming of this song will give that walk a perfect touch of adventure.

16)  “Graceless”- The National

As the weather gets colder, The National should be on constant rotation. Smooth vocals and a haunting piano melody make this tune feel just like a frosty fall morning.

17)  “Feel It All Around”- Washed Out

You may recognize this song from the opening credits of the TV series Portlandia. There’s a reason this song is used; its smooth beat and flowing lyrics make it a super-cool selection for your everyday soundtrack.

18)  “Candles”- Daughter

This song is as cozy as your favorite sweater, and is perfect for any time you need a soothing escape this fall.

19)  “The Season”- The Dodos

The Dodos’ unique take on folk rock made this song an instant fall classic, and the choppy guitar and hectic drums will ensure that no matter how many times you listen to this one, it will never get boring. Besides, the title alone practically begs to be featured in a fall mix.

20)  “Shelter Song”- Temples

Another relatively new release, this groovy psychedelic tune begs to be played when you’re enjoying a fall day, be it while you’re walking around campus or cruising around in your car.

21)  “Strange Creatures”- Jake Bugg

The haunting acoustic riff and Bugg’s gruff vocals make this number another one that’s perfect for approaching Halloween. As he sings about nightmares and ghosts, it’s impossible not to get slightly spooked.

22)  “Yellow Ledbetter”- Pearl Jam

A true classic, this grunge-rock hit has a perfectly easy vibe that’s great for those lazy autumn days when you’re just kicking back and relaxing.

23)  “Wetsuit”- The Vaccines

This song is all about taking time to take it easy, even when everything is moving fast and changing. What could be better for the changing of the seasons?

24)  “Making Breakfast”- Twin Peaks

From their new album Wild Onion, “Making Breakfast” is a showcase of this band’s easy Chicago sound, and is perfect for the relaxed vibe of a fall weekend. Play it as a compliment to a chill Sunday morning.