The New Pornographers-Brill Bruisers

The-New-Pornographers-Brill-Bruisers

 

The critically acclaimed Canadian-American supergroup, The New Pornographers, returns to music following a four-year hiatus after the release of 2010’s Together. Brill Bruisers is a stark contrast to the band’s previous work, which lead vocalist and songwriter A.C. Newman notes as a “celebration record” following his mother’s death and the birth of his son.
This 13-track selection starts quickly with the infectious and carefree title track that comes complete with cheerful ba-ba’s and irreverent lyrics. “Champions on Red Wine” follows the opener with subtle reverberating synths and keyboards buzzing against Neko Case’s detached and slightly affected delivery.
Throughout most of “Champions,” the song builds slowly and then unexpectedly catapults into a turbulent wave of sonic keys competing with Case and Newman’s irresistible harmonies. You sense the duo was a little too constrained by the length of their harmonies, but the finished product is still an album highlight.
The material begins to sink and lose focus during the Dan Bejar-penned “War on The East Coast”. The track is reminiscent of the ‘80s Modern English hit “Melt With You,” with its new wave sound, but pales in comparison to “Champions”. “East Coast is a misstep because it lacks the experimentation with studio effects, chords and harmonies — and ultimately the energy — that every other song on the album possesses.
      Bruisers follows this misstep with the defiant “Marching Orders” and the breezy yet poignant “Another Drug Deal of The Heart.” The latter is a defining moment album-wise, one in which Kathryn Calder contributes her soft and emotive vocals to the ephemeral track about vices. Calder provides the album a nice change of pace and sets up a potent second half in the process, with standouts such as “Dancehall Domine,” “Hi-Rise,” and “You Tell Me There.”
While The New Pornographer’s sixth album isn’t great, it is a solid. Most of the material delivers on Newman’s celebratory promise, despite the occasional forays into darker lyrical themes. In contrast to. Together, Bruisers is a much stronger album with an ambitious spirit to match a consistent level of quality.

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Miley Cyrus- Bangerz

Bangerz

With the release of Bangerz, Miley Cyrus decided to create an image that did not align with her album, but instead hype. While Bangerz has its share of made-for-radio ‘hits’ that perpetuate her headline-grabbing image, the LP also tells the full arc of a love story from the point of view of a young woman. Bangerz successfully covers all angles of the teenage heart, from love and romance to head-banging beats.

The stories’ arc opens with the crooning “Adore You,” a song that will likely be belted out to lovers everywhere. Its slow tempo and heartfelt lyrics are a calm hook into the album. “My Darlin’” continues this feeling with themes of marriage and monogamy, its repeated lyric —“oh my darlin,’ stand by me” —harmoniously backed up by Future, who is featured on the track. The story takes a turn midway through with the ex-Disney star’s “F U,” an enraged statement against the now ex-lover in question.

The album takes on a more personal stance, the tone being influenced by Cyrus’s public break -up with then-fiancé Liam Hemworth. The last five tracks Cyrus helped pen, and they continue with the images of betrayal, followed by independence and empowerment. The deluxe version of Bangerz contains “On My Own” and “Hands in the Air,” two songs with fast beats and the independent attitude Cyrus is currently sporting.

Bangerz contains so much more than Cyrus’ loud and controversial image. She has cleverly used marketing and notoriety to push an album that has more care and personality than her previous three studio albums. She has taken her exit from being Hannah Montana to really experiment with her sound and evolve as an artist. Her first single, “We Can’t Stop,” was the perfect prelude to the firestorm that followed and became the accompanying anthem to the Miley Cyrus movement. Cyrus has taken the time to cultivate her current feelings about her life, and reflectively the lives of her fans who have grown up with her, creating an album that hits multiple notes and can hold a connection for almost anyone.

Cold Specks- Neuroplasticity

Al Spx’ classic and haunting voice poignantly sings about carnal instincts and changes in her newest album, Neuroplasticity. Throughout the album, heavy drums contrast traditional jazz sounds and mellow singing, her passionate voice finding calm amidst jazz and rock.

“Smother me with silence,” she sings over harsh drumbeats and seductive flutes on “A Formal Invitation,” from Cold Specks’ sixth and latest release. Begging for a hush within screams, the album speaks about the brain’s ability to adjust to change and damage, called neuroplasticity. The Canadian singer combines a1940s’ class and Black Keys severity over these 10 songs.  It’s a blend that juxtaposes Goth candor with a dream-like quality, maintaining her music’s given description of “doom soul.”

The alternative, melodic notes of the guitar and weighty drums throughout the entire album contrast — yet also welcome —the simple but discordant jazz notes. Shifting from the angst of the drums, to the easy-going guitar, to the emotional jazz flutes provides variety to the listener. The music’s stark and deep notes overlain by Spx’ gravely but soothing voice speak of the carnal — the songs and shrieks of humans who have lingering memories and doubts of the future that may test and undo their resolve. Despite this, she resolves to be “unshakable,” as she sings on “A Quiet Chill.”

She opens “A Season of Doubt,” with a jazz flute’s three notes, each higher than the other, and the third suspended before falling. The rise of the music creates an anticipation that climaxes in a bold piano key standing above the flutes. And then Spx’ voice, raspy and troubled, floats over the instruments, leaving you breathless as she sings about ghosts and past lives and the doubt that life brings. It’s a doubt understood physically and emotionally, affecting our bodies and souls.

She once again sings with an intrigue that listeners of classic rock, soul or classical can appreciate—a haunting, timeless voice that draws you in from the very first note and keeps your attention to the very last. Neuroplasticity gets an 8/10.

Jonny Fung | A Thinker in the World of Music

Jonny Fung. Photo property of Sol Fusion BandBy Miranda Stryker

“I’m only getting one record, but definitely no more than three,” says Jonny Fung, beaming at the gospel and R&B vinyl section at Manifest Discs.  Holding up a Jesse Johnson record, he exclaims,  “Oh man, do you know who this is? This is D’Angelo’s guitarist right now. I opened for them in Aruba with Anthony [Hamilton]! It was so sick, I gotta get this!”

Charlotte-raised Fung has evolved from playing local venues and bars with friends as a youngun’ of the local rock scene to becoming a well-rounded, full-time professional musician. Fung is now recording with Grammy-winning producer Cedric Thompson, touring with neo-soul artists Tamia and Anthony Hamilton, and making his own way in the R&B and gospel world.  Lately he has been prepping for an upcoming live recording with gospel artist John P. Kee as well as headlining Charlotte’s uptown New Years Eve celebration, First Night, with the band Sol Fusion.

But Fung has never been your typical “artist,” and his path has been one of passion and dedication, one that’s been full of surprises.

Growing up, Fung was a short, skinny nerd who was socially awkward.  He was a good student and had friends but was an introvert by nature.  Generally, he just felt more comfortable keeping to himself—off stage, that is.  At Providence High School, he played a lot of heavy, progressive rock because that’s what he liked.  To add to his role as the shy, smart dude that shreds heavy metal guitar, “I had longer hair than anyone! It literally touched my waist,” he says, laughing and conceding that this may have magnified his social awkwardness.

For Fung, playing his guitar was a means to “get the demons out,” something he needed as much as he loved.  On stage, his other personality would emerge: the guitarist flinging his hair around, playing his instrument behind his head, making crazy stank faces, and taking his shirt off, among other show antics not exactly characteristic of a typical introvert. He loved the attention and couldn’t get enough.

From a young age, Fung has always had an intense curiosity for figuring out exactly how things worked.  It’s a trait he probably inherited from his engineer father, Raymond Fung. Music was the first thing that fascinated Jonny and gave him the urge to understand every aspect of it, probably subconsciously influence by his mother Jill Fung, a concert cellist.  Aside from his first clarinet at age seven, he took piano lessons for a couple of years until receiving a guitar for Christmas at age 10.

There wasn’t a particular band or music type that made him want to play—like any other 10-year-old boy he thought it would be “neat.”  Not long afterward, though, he was taking composition and improvisation lessons with critically acclaimed Charlotte-based jazz pianist and composer, Claire Ritter.  From then on he was completely hooked.  In high school, he would doodle compositions during class.  Every day after school he would go home, and while other kids were on AIM, riding bikes, or melting their brains with video games, Fung would practice for hours at a time.

Ritter had a major impact on Fung, ranging from his playing to his organization and thinking.  “I’m definitely a neat freak, and probably because of Claire,” he says.  “I just loved the way she had file cabinets with all the sheet music in it organized and labeled.  And all of her pencils were in the same place every time.”

He studied with Ritter for a little over four years, and though he refuses the prodigy label, Ritter says Fung was one of her creative prodigies.  “As a young student, Jonathan had a quiet, introspective disposition,” says Ritter. “He was intrigued with color and sound, multiple instruments, and was a natural performer, and I knew early that he had the aptitude to be a professional musician/composer.”  From his original compositions to the titles he gave them, he was a unique talent with a sharp ear.

Ritter had him learning the compositions of legendary jazz composer Thelonious Monk when he was in fifth grade, an artist she believed to be a sturdy foundation for young musicians to learn about “spice chords” and phrasing.  That influence must have really stuck because Fung and his now-wife, Tara, even named their puppy after him.

Still, like most pragmatic college graduates, Fung didn’t think he could make a living just playing music.  So he spent his first few months out of school as an administrative assistant at a local cemetery.  But he’d apparently discovered the key to taking music from a hobby to a vocation.

“A lot of kids get enraptured with the ‘coolness’ of the scene,” he says with a newfound wisdom referring to the local Charlotte rock scene.  He remembered seeing Scapegoat, an early millennium Charlotte hard rock band, releasing their album These Cards We’re Dealt in 2004 at Tremont Music Hall, and thinking they were the coolest dudes in the whole world.  But with age and experience and an ever-increasing knowledge of music, Fung realized there was so much more to it than just being the coolest dude in the room, and that instead he could be the best. The more he practiced and learned, the more he realized how much more there was to learn and practice.  Fung began keeping practice logs—up to about 1,200 pages at this point—to document his thoughts and what he’s been working on for later reflection and future interests.

The way Fung thinks about music is different from other musicians that talk about the emotions they feel when playing or writing. He speaks about it more methodically and mathematically, and about the pieces and parts of it—the fascination of its construction. Philosopher and educator Cornell West once said, “I am a jazz man in the world of ideas.”  Fung says, “I consider myself a thinker in the world of music.”

The music he was deciding to play became less about what he liked to play and what was cool, and more about what he should be playing to make himself the best musician he could be.  This mentality was instilled in him by his parents with the “no matter what you choose to do, strive to be the best at it” pep talk.  They have always been fully supportive of him, and set good examples with a solid work ethic and passions, never forcing things on him but instead allowing it to come naturally.

Though Fung—his hair now short and quaffed slightly to one side—dedicated so much to learning everything he could about his craft, he still attended UNC-Chapel Hill as a political science major fully intending to get a day job with his degree. But he continued practicing adamantly and playing jazz around Chapel Hill throughout his college years. He came home most weekends to play in local soul rock band Lucky Five with his best friends.  When he graduated in May 2011 and moved back to Charlotte, he continued playing jazz at spots around town, like The Mill in NoDa.  Through demonstrations of his skill and passion during these performances, he made acquaintances with another side of the scene—the R&B and gospel side.

He began exploring that side of the music scene and got a job playing guitar at Forest Hill church in Charlotte.  Soon after making acquaintances with the producer Cedric Thompson, he got asked to record on a couple of new friends’ tracks and eventually found himself playing Maya Angelou’s 85th birthday party in Winston-Salem.  There, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Common, and later D’Angelo and Pino Palladino, among others.  Before he knew it, he no longer needed his office job to sustain himself—so he quit the cemetery gig.

As his next phase in his musical career journey, this guitarist hopes to become a producer.  He’s also been doing some composing, which Ritter was elated to hear. Knowing how coveted the producer position is, he has already begun messing around regularly with producing tools on his own compositions.

In keeping with his mathematical music thinking, Fung left Manifest with five records because he likes odd numbers. He probably went home to shred over them immediately.

A New Take on Folk Classics

By CeAndria Jones

Folk songs are the heart of many cultures; rooted in historical and sentimental significance, they have become increasingly popular among chorus groups around the world. Appropriately titled I Hear America Singing, the UNC Charlotte Chorale Ensemble will be performing folk selections from various North American destinations on Thursday, Oct. 10, in Robinson Performance Hall at 7:30 p.m. The performance will be part of the four-year cycle of songs that conductor Randy Haldeman has been working on.

“The selections from tonight’s performance are those that are usually skipped from the traditional chorale concert,” said Haldeman, adding that this program should provide a refreshing change for previous audiences. Not only will they enjoy a few familiar songs, they will also be immersed in folk songs from a variety of different backgrounds.

The program is broken into sections, typically featuring three or four songs from various locales and traditions: African-American spirituals, Navajo culture, French Canadian folk tunes, sea shanties and drinking songs from the Canadian Maritime provinces, and songs from the Appalachian Trail. Haldeman’s idea is that the variety of songs creates a diverse musical melting pot for all to enjoy. The Navajo selection, “Now I Walk In Beauty” (arranged by Gregg Smith), combines Native American rhythms with the English translation as a prime example of the North American melting pot.

The three French Canadian songs are sung in French and the translations are included in the program pamphlet. One of the songs, “Les Demoiselles….,” was arranged in 2004 by Haldeman, and included the rare chorale element of hand-percussion. There are also two ballads and one drinking song to add flare and excitement to the concert. “Jolly Roving Tar,” arranged by Stephan Hatfield, not only provides a break from the ordinary chorale song but it also showcases the 42-member group’s ability to transform any song into a classical selection.

Haldeman also says that the particular selections were meant to make the program a poised experience from all aspects; much like a gymnast’s floor routine, the chorale members and Haldeman perfected the songs and their arrangements. The program is a reflection of North America’s rich history and a showcase of the University Chorale’s hard work throughout the semester.

Tegan & Sara — Heartthrob

tegan-and-sara-heartthrob-album-coverBy Dominica Nemec

We all know that feeling — you start listening to the new, highly anticipated album from one of your favorite songwriters, and although it’s bearable, you know it just isn’t their best work.

With their newest LP, Heartthrob, veteran songwriters Tegan & Sara venture into the unfamiliar world of pop. The Calgary, Alberta natives pushed their traditional sound to the side and experimented with electronic beats and over-produced vocals. While many of the songs are a clear attempt to make the Top 40 charts, other tracks reflect late 80s, early 90s inspiration from artists like the Eurythmics and Peter Gabriel, with the reliance on heartfelt lyrics and mid-tempo dance beats. Songs such as “Drove Me Wild” and “Now I’m All Messed Up” bring up nostalgic feelings of watching John Hughes films; you can almost see Molly Ringwald’s short red curls bouncing through a high school.

Choosing Heatthrob as the album title was an excellent choice, as all 10 tracks carry a broken-hearted theme. While the lyrics try hard to engage listeners on a deeper level, they are not as thought-provoking as the songwriters would like them to be. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” has a catchy beat, but lyrics only an adolescent girl who just broken up with her first boyfriend of two weeks can relate to, which proves tacky and too simple for such seasoned writers. But listeners will still find them catchy, and with the mid-tempo beat present in most of the songs, the album makes for a decent, bedroom karaoke session.

With the electro pop beats and romantic lyrics, fans of Swedish pop singer Robyn will hear her sound inspiring these tracks – if at slightly slower, less danceable tempos. While the twins have put in an amiable effort into finding a new sound, the album is a step in the wrong direction, as it fails to showcase their songwriting talents. Sure, the album’s rhythms and catchy lyrics provide for easy, mindless listening, and there are glimpses of their traditional sound scattered throughout the album. But most Tegan & Sara fans would probably appreciate it if Heartthrob was the duo’s musical equivalent of a teenage “phase.”

Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience

By Miranda Stryker

Justin Timberlake is in love and shouting it from the chart tops with The 20/20 Experience, letting everyone know that he is still a prominent figure in the music industry. 

Where a lot of contemporary hip-hop artists favor the distorted electronic noises used in dubstep, Timberlake is taking it back to the 1970s and merging into the neo soul genre by using more traditional instruments and complex song structures under his signature upper-register vocals.

Tracks like “Suit and Tie,” “That Girl,” and “Let The Groove In” feature old soul Tower of Power-like horn arrangements, along with neo soul cool piano sounds and synth rhythms like those also used in “Strawberry Bubblegum.”  Timberlake’s vocal style and continued production collaboration with Timbaland allow for these new changes while still keeping a sound that appeals to the mainstream market.

This album is a huge step forward for the former boy-band leader in his musical exploration, but it’s not without his old tricks.  The tracks without horns, piano or guitar recall Timberlake’s 2006 album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, also produced with Timbaland.  Though 20/20 has some bold tracks with refreshing musicality, because it was recorded in just four weeks the similarities in tempo and vocals in the filler tracks make it all too easy to tune them out occasionally when listening from start to finish.  Luckily the track sequence and eclectic influences keep it interesting and the more arousing songs reel you right back in.

For instance, Timberlake goes ‘90s with “Tunnel Vision,” which sounds like his personal version of Aaliyah’s 1998 hit, “Are You That Somebody.”  Funkadelic and more ‘70s funk/soul influences are evident in the introductory speech and heavy bass line in “That Girl,” as well as the intergalactic references to women and sex in “Spaceship Coupe,” which also features a traditional guitar solo.  This influence is skillfully paired with string washes and neo soul drum beats giving them some solid flow.

Being an icon of pop culture since adolescence raises the question of whether Timberlake can bring soulful baby-making music back to the mainstream with 20/20 Experience and the soon-to-be-released 20/20 Experience: 2 of 2, or whether noisy dubstep, and misogyny and thug life, will return to the top of the charts.

Surf’s Up For Surf City

We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This

By Joshua Wood

Surf City’s new album We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This will bring back memories of the high school garage band you thought would actually go somewhere, with the exception that the New Zealand band actually did go somewhere.

The band’s third album shows a knack for diversity. You can hear this in the melodic, upbeat metallic-pop of “Claims of a Galactic Medium” and in the slow rock beats of “Oceanic Graphs of the Wilderness.” But the band’s signature electric space rock style is still there in the song structure and sound of LP highlights like “It’s a Common Life,” “No Place to Go,” and “Songs from a Short-lived TV Series.”

The steady pleasing beat coursing throughout the album is very similar to that of The Beach Boys. The vocals and instruments complement each other well (along with the reverb-heavy back-up vocals) with the exception of “I Had the Starring Role,” in which the vocals and instruments seem to compete with each other to lesser effect.

The final track, “What Gets Me By,” brings the artistic style of the album full circle. With its extended instrumental break, the track showcases Surf City’s command of their instruments and how well they blend together. The 8-minute track does tend to keep the listener waiting for the vocals to return, though they never do.

What’s most pleasing about “It’s A Common Life” is how it takes you back to those relaxed house parties with friends. We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This is very well put together and an overall exciting album that never seems to lose the listener’s attention. And even if your garage band never did get out of the garage, you certainly can appreciate the style and sound of an album that did.

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris Album Review

By CeAndria Jones

“Relatively famous” is what 19-year-old rapper Earl Sweatshirt thinks of himself, according to his recently released debut album, Doris. But any teenager with a Tumblr account and a decent knowledge of today’s independent hip-hop would tell you otherwise.

Sweatshirt, whose real name is Thebe Kgositsile, rose to fame as a member of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective Odd Future in 2010. That’s when he released his chaotically poetic mixtape, Earl, which was followed by an even more chaotic two-year absence from music due to a last-chance intervention by his mother at a therapeutic behavior school in Samoa, and a “Free Earl” campaign by Odd Future members and fans. Now Earl has managed to avoid obscurity and returned with an album full of his signature effortless lyricism, and the usual self-doubt that comes with a highly anticipated debut album.

These 15 tracks make a few things clear:  For one, Earl has grown up and isn’t using rape and murder in his lyrics as he did on the mixtape Earl. His sobriety would seem to be in check, too, and he’s more focused on perfecting his craft. Finally, and most importantly, Earl is still spitting witty and effortless bars.

Most of the album allows the listener to walk in Earl’s shoes. On “Burgundy,” rapper Vince Staples gives Earl the familiar hip-hop critique of “Don’t nobody care about how you feel, we want raps,” and Earl quickly responds by rapping about his state of mind and position in the rap community, a side of Earl that we haven’t completely heard due to the crass themes of his earlier music. On “Sunday,” featuring Odd Future crooner and Grammy award-winning Frank Ocean, the duo address their sobriety and new-found fame, as well as how it has altered their relationships, recalling their simple yet brilliant collaboration “Super Rich Kids” on Ocean’s 2012 debut album.

Although Doris comes across as a successful freshman album, it’s not without a few flaws. The album falls flat in the middle with the instrumental track “523” and the 53-second track, “Uncle Al, which follows, is similar to a hip-hop radio freestyle without the momentum. Yet the rest of the album hits all of the right points to complete Earl’s return as the comeback kid.

Puccini’s operas spark the question, is the art form still relevant?

By Haley Twist

A woman mourns the loss of her child, succumbing to the suffering that life has brought her. A family’s greed causes them to care more about material possessions rather than the death of their family member. In the simplest of terms, the plots and themes of Giacomo Puccini’s operas are relevant enough to be understood today if we look beyond the dated Italian librettos and classical compositions.

The UNC Charlotte Department of Music performed Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, the last two components in the famous Italian composer’s one-act opera trio, Il trittico, last Tuesday evening.

Although the performers were all UNC Charlotte students and it could be assumed that the acts would be slightly modernized, the two operas were performed in a traditional manner — entirely in Italian with the actors in period-specific garb.

Admittedly, getting past the out-of-date aura of the entire opera scene can be difficult. When the word “opera” is even mentioned, it’s hard not to think about dressing in Victorian garb and riding in a horse-drawn carriage to the local theater to experience a cultured evening out.

In the tragedy Suor Angelica, Sister Angelica (Stephanie Patterson) is a young outcast-turned-nun who spends her days praying and making different remedies from the plant life surrounding the monastery. That is, until one day when she is visited by her cold-hearted aunt (Jessi Shannon) who informs her of  the death of her son, whom she hasn’t seen since she joined the monastery. A devastated Angelica decides to put an end to her suffering, mixing herself a deadly poison and committing suicide.

The context in this may not be a standard modern-day story, but the themes are universal. The story bears the weight of those who suffer with the overwhelming loss of someone beloved, and those who so desperately feel they can no longer bear to live. This is a story that is seen in many other art forms, including modern movies like Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl.

After the curtains close on this tragedy, they are opened shortly thereafter for Puccini’s comedy, Gianni Schicchi, where audiences meet a family who has just lost a loved one. But instead of mourning the death, they mourn the fact that they’re getting stiffed in his will.

Stories and films like Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress remind us that both greed and the obsession with wealth are subjects we often still see. The famous line, “oh mio babbino caro,” is sung in Gianni Schicchi, and it’s a tune that even non-opera goers will likely recognize from various film scores. (Youtube it, you’ll see). This suggests the mark that operas have made on many aspects of culture and art since its heyday.

Maybe the music sounds dated, maybe the plots are in need of a modern upgrade. But it’s the themes of greed, love and death that keep operas just as relevant as stories like Romeo and Juliet.