State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

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Album Review: Untethered Moon by Built to Spill

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Oddly enough, 2015 is a very appropriate year for a new album from the 90’s indie lo-fi group, Built to Spill. Modest Mouse, their northwestern indie contemporaries, recently released Strangers to Ourselves after an eight-year drought, while Death Cab for Cutie, the heavily Built to Spill influenced indie pop group, released Kintsugi last month. Unfortunately, both of those albums were extremely average, and further proved that these artist were past their prime.

So, it’s perfectly natural to be skeptical about Built to Spill’s Untethered Moon. But if there’s one thing Built to Spill should be commended for, it’s their consistency. While many remaining 90’s and early 00’s group have drastically changed their sound in an attempt to stay relevant, Built to Spill have only made minor tweaks, retaining the lo-fi characteristics that helped establish them as an indie staple.

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Their consistency, however, acts as both their greatest asset and their greatest weakness. Untethered Moon is a fairly safe album, and while there are a few interesting tracks, Built to Spill rarely steps out of their comfort zone. Busy drums, cosmic vocals, and reverb soaked riffs are just as prominent on Untethered Moon as they were on previous albums like Perfect from Now On. Because of this, the album becomes too comparable with the band’s earlier albums, and enters into a contest it’s bound to lose. That being said, tracks like “Never Be the Same” and “So” are definitely worth a listen, and prove that Built to Spill can still do what they’ve been doing best for years.
Keeping all of this in mind, Untethered Moon is still an entertaining listen. Existing fans of Built to Spill should enjoy it, but newcomers are better off starting with the earlier albums. Untethered Moon does, however, prove that Built to Spill belongs on a short list of dated indie rock bands that are capable making interesting music today, at that alone is something to applaud them for.

A Song that’s “Ours to Own”

[TL;DR: Graduation feels, I know Tawa, his music is good, scroll down for review of “Ours to Own“]

At the end of a long journey, we usually reflect on the time it took us to get there and the big events that shaped us along the way. My own 5 years at Penn State, much like DJ Keegan Tawa’s, are ending soon, and though I won’t bore you with my personal anecdotes about meeting/working with him since we were both lowly, self-assured sophomores, I know I can’t separate my review from my experiences.

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[right to left] Zach Kramer, Keegan Tawa, Olivia Price, Myles Billard at Battle of the Bands

When thinking about this man’s collegiate music career, I reflect on the songs he released throughout his years here. Because of Songwriters Club and our close mutual friendship with his lyricist, Myles Billard (seen here acknowledging the crowd with a wave), I’ve often gotten sneak previews of Tawa’s music and Myles’ lyrics during their various stages of production, and I’ve even given feedback and suggestions at points. Inviting critique of one’s art is probably one of the most vulnerable things you can do as an artist, so I’ve never taken the privilege lightly. Beyond that, I consider myself very lucky to have had even a minor role to play in how Tawa’s music has been shaped these 4 or 5 years. Garnering support for him by spreading the word about his songs has been my passion because I truly believe in this guy’s music.
As artists, we inevitably read our songsScreen Shot 2015-04-28 at 3.58.03 PM like headings from the chapters of our lives, because so often it’s the work we were putting into our music between those papers and lab reports that was our real focus all along, the stress of school and homework seeming more like a minor distraction than our true reason for being here. Those songs aren’t made in a vacuum. What I mean is that we put every ounce of ourselves into our music, every bead of sweat, every drop of time, every direct/indirect – intended/unintended influence of those around us is written in the synths.

ACTUAL SONG REVIEW STARTS HERE

This final song from Keegan is the reflection on those chapters he and the people he’s lived and worked with have written together. “Ours to Own” draws on the words and major themes from nearly every previous song Keegan has put out here at Penn State. At no point does this song hide from what it really truly is: a goodbye.Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 11.15.16 AM

In his lyrics, Myles Billard has represented the sort of collective experience that is Penn State as a relationship to someone that we must say our farewells to. The metaphor is poignant without any of the easy corniness that usually gets tacked onto such themes.

Rather than a clingy montage of black and white images screaming angst and nostalgia, the lyrics sing like a mature parting of the ways. Zach Kramer croons smoothly as the opening chords strike, his always excellent vocals gracing our ears with the familiar titles of Keegan’s past songs as it pushes inexorably forward like the march of time itself.

And the harmonies? Damn. Just damn.

Without giving too much away about the song, to me it’s really about moving on, not necessarily being ready for that, and doing it anyway; after all, “time never waits for goodbyes.” It’s about leaving that relationship with Penn State knowing she’s prepared you for what the world is going to throw at you, and seeing those horizons knowing you’re heading for great things because of the past that brought you here. And we will carry every second spent in this town knowing “we’ll never walk alone,” knowing “I’m never on my own” because of it.

But like I said, I can’t separate my review from my experiences here. Maybe these words mean something else entirely to you.

The whole reason I started this review with all that touchy-feely crap about journeys and whatnot is really because the sonic journey Keegan and Myles have been taking us on since their first fateful collaboration has been leading them and us up to this moment, this song, that could not better represent all of our collective odysseys if the Nittany Lion came on the track to spit a verse himself. And of course I’m not limiting the experiences that this song encapsulates to Penn Staters alone, but as a soon-to-be-graduating student, I do declare this song to be ours. Sorry Keegan and Myles, but this is one jam whose possession is undeniable: it is Ours to Own.

Album Review: Coming Up for Air

Irish Alternative rockers, Kodaline are back with their electrifying new album, Coming Up for Air, and it is one that may go under a lot of radars, especially with the girth of new music out there right now. But Coming Up for Air is, and not to be cute or cheeky, a breath of fresh air. It is a nice mix of upbeat happy, energetic songs, and slow, more mellow songs. It is a record that is truly a throwback, it definitely has two sides to it. Side A, is the happy, fast paced songs, whereas side B is the slower, more mellow deeper tracks. Kodaline is, for those who have never listened to them before, the band that Maroon 5 could have been right now, if they didn’t go for the pop route, and move forward with their sound. Kodaline, does not try to be anything special, and that is not something to shake your head at. Like they say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” and that is the manta that Kodaline lives by, basically, and it really helps them, they live off a sound that is good, people enjoy it, and they put their own spin to it.

 

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Right off of the start of the record, you know that this is a tender, emotional album for the band. Their lyrics are vulnerable “We don’t communicate can you not say what’s on your mind? And I see it everyday you hide the truth behind your eyes.” Those are raw emotional lyrics of someone clearly in a troubled relationship, and the rest of the album continues in that fashion. Another stand out track, besides the opener “Honest” is the song “Lost” in the true fashion, in my personal experience, any song titled “Lost” is a sure fire good song, from Coldplay, to Frank Ocean to the Meatpuppets, there are just good songs with the title “Lost” and this is no exception, from the bouncy, but mellow beat that the band throws down to the emotive and vulnerable vocals Steven Garrigan the whole song comes together in a way that makes you immediately feel for the singer, and it even puts you in a place being in a similar situation.

 

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Coming Up for Air is an album that despite its innovative approach, it is still worth checking out. It is fun, but at the same time, it is mellow and a good record to put on and just space out to. They are still, in my mind, considered an up and coming act, and they will be one to put on your radar. Keep an eye open, as their infectious sound is sure to fill the radio waves this summer.

This Week In Music [April 14]

//Featured Singles\\

Best Coast – Feeling Ok

Erik Hassle – No Words

 

//Album Releases\\

Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb

Mt. Wolf – Red [EP]

Calexico – Edge of the Sun

Villagers – Darling Arithmetic

Sunset Sons – The Fall Line [EP]

The-Dream – Crown

//First Listens\\

Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color [via NPR]

Joywave – How Does It Feel Now [via Spotify]

San Fermin – Jackrabbit [via NPR]

Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer [via NPR]

Concert Review: Steve Aoki

Guest Article Written By: Rachel Reiss

The arrival of Grammy award winning DJ, Steve Aoki at the BJC was nothing short of chest pounding.   The excitement was evident starting long before the concert with many fans lining up at the doors hours before.  Only standing room tickets were available resulting in a densely packed crowd covering over half of the floor space.  As you approached the stage you could feel the beats reverberating through your body–as expected of a powerful EDM concert.

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The crowd about exploded as the opening DJs left the stage, the lights dimmed, and two giant video boards illuminated to introduce the feature act–a small Asian man with a defining moustache and long hairstyle.  After two hours of opening DJs, Aoki presented himself to a swarm of sweaty students chanting “Aoki”, eager to dance to his beats.  His opening number was a high energy, fast paced, song.  The flashing and strobing lights sent the fans into a frenzy and many girls in the crowd got thrown up into the air and onto shoulders to reach sight of the stage.  There was a DJ table where the artists mixed their beats and Aoki didn’t hold back from jumping up onto the table to rage with the audience.  He was very engaged with the crowd; not long into his set Aoki announced that he was Facetiming a friend: “say hi to my friend everyone” receiving a roar of a response from everyone.  His crowd interaction continued by tossing out some worn t-shirts, and sending two rafts out into the sea of dancers.  His signature of tossing a cake into the crowd was a lot of fun, many of the audience made posters to encourage Aoki to “cake them”.  The eventual receiver of a cake to the face was a girl with a huge sign saying “Cake me bitch” including a picture of Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman.  During “intermission” Aoki attempted to get a “crazy” photo with everyone, which ended up on his Instagram account, of course.

The music selection was strong, including songs off of his new album Neon Future I and other fan favorites. The killer playlist was preceded by Zombie Nation played by an opening DJ, what a surprise.  That brought the energy up on the floor because as we all know Penn State students can’t resist showing their school pride.  Aoki’s EDM set was booming with bass and the variety of remixes and original songs made for an entertaining time.  The two songs that got the loudest roar from the crowd were the Aoki originals Turbulence and Delirious.  Throughout the music, Aoki would direct the crowd on when to really dance to the beat, mostly through his own enthusiasm and expletives.

It seemed Steve Aoki could have kept the crowd going until the next morning, but his concert did have to come to an end.  He received insane shouts from everyone.  The satisfied audience exited the arena, ears ringing, and still sticky with sweat.  Despite a bit of sensory overload, it was an incredible show.