State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Album Review: Suffer in Peace by Tyler Farr

1035x1035-UnknownTyler Farr debuted his new album, “Suffer in Peace,” this past week and it sits for anyone who’s had a broken heart. The title track, “Suffer and Peace” and “Withdrawals” are two other standout tracks.

Four of the eleven tracks on the album cover heartbreak. “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” is often just one of the heartbreak songs that appears frequently on the radio.

I’ve been told by many that I am one to choose sad, slow songs, but with summer approaching I’m not completely sure how an album like this will stick out.

Farr is a classically trained singer that shows off a high rock end most fans are not aware of. With country-pop songs often climbing the charts, Farr sticks out with his rough sound. He is often compared to other artists like Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert.

Not too surprisingly, “I Don’t Even Want This Beer” stumbles and staggers around in anguish and depression. It even makes reference to getting drunk on a Tuesday… “Here I am getting tore up on a Tuesday.” But in all, the song features lyrics that definitely hit a cord for any guy who’s ever screwed up.

“I wonder if she’s alone tonight
Thinkin’ ’bout all I didn’t do right
Or is she out on the town in my favorite dress
With some ol’ boy tryin’ his best
To get her buzzin’ just enough she might say yes”

However, he does take a break from the heartbreak tunes to a more playful sound with two of his tracks, “Better in Boots” and “Poor Boy.” The album definitely needed to take this shift to what would have been an emotional roller coaster of an album. “Poor Boy” tended to be my pick of songs to continue to listen too overall.

Two hard rock country anthems sit on each end of the album. “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y” is a rough tune and is set to a pace that is not seen again on the album. “Why We Live Here” pays tribute to the military, but not in outright blaring way that many country listeners are used to. Farr makes it clear that he is a strong supporter of the U.S. military, but many of the tracks also steer toward the edges of what people consider country these days. Overall all the songs, even the more upbeat ones, swing low and sharp.

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.

Sunday Spin: The Wall

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I believe that Pink Floyd’s The Wall is the perfect album to begin a love of music. No, it’s not their best album (in my opinion), or even their second best for that matter, but for me, no other album has proven to open itself up and usher in a wide spectrum of musical interests like The Wall has. Here are a few reasons why:

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1. The Wall is engaging from start to finish, and that is partially due to its storyline. Before listening to The Wall, I had no idea that an album as a whole could be a work of art rather than just a collection of songs. On this album, the characters and the story guide you through and make the experience feel just as cinematic as it does musical.

2. As far as the term “rock opera” goes, Pink Floyd makes it sound the coolest. Listening to this album feels like watching an opera if and only if that opera has insanely huge guitars and some of the most famous and intellectual musical geniuses of the 70’s, which it does.

3. David Gilmour’s guitar solos taught me how to appreciate a solo. The master of tone showed me that it’s not about the notes you play, but the way they sound and the emotion behind them. Of course, The Wall contains some of the most famous solos of his career, such as the one on “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” and the two on “Comfortably Numb”, but less famous tracks such as “Mother” and “Hey You” have solos that further prove Gilmour’s brilliance and ability to elevate a song.

4. The Wall is philosophical. Before hearing it, I was convinced that about 95% of all music was about girls and love. This album taught me that you can write about something bigger, something less cheesy, and something darker. Songs didn’t have to be happy, they could be depressing or angry and still be just as enjoyable.

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As serious as the songs on The Wall are, they’re equally infectious. So much so, that while listening to the album and writing this article, I had to take a break to play along with some of the guitar solos. But The Wall’’s strongest asset is the way each song seems to have a certain personality. You can listen to “Run Like Hell”  and feel scared for your life, or “Outside the Wall” and cry your eyes out. To be honest, the albums final words, “And when they’ve given you their all, some stagger and fall/ After all it’s not easy, banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall”, still hit me hard every time. This comes hand in hand with its ability to engage a listener. It’s hard to listen to The Wall and not want to know the story behind each song. As rewarding as it is without this aspect, to realize something like the fact that “Goodbye Blue Sky” is about the bombing of Britain from a child’s perspective gives the album a whole new dimension. Pink Floyd may not deliver sonically the way they do on Wish You Were Here or Animals, but the emotional depth and grandiose highs (pun intended) of The Wall make it just as compelling.

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Although I already had it on iTunes, it felt good to get The Wall physically on vinyl. The minimalist white-brick-wall cover is even more striking in real life, and the drawings on the inside bring the songs to life. While it isn’t on my hypothetical “best albums of all time” list, in terms of the most personal and eye-opening experiences, listening to The Wall is incomparable.

Album Review: Coming Up for Air

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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.