Keywest-Joyland Album Review

Ireland’s own Alternative/Indie/Pop band, Keywest, are known for their indie pop sound that is reflected in their music. Their most recent record, Joyland, takes a turn towards indie more so than their previous, The Message. This is where the band finds their sound and it’s because of this sound that the instrumentals add so much more to this record than their debut. Joyland was released in 2015 and explores different themes but all centered around love in its many forms.

The record kicks off with “All My Mistakes,” which sounds like a happy-go-lucky song paired with soft vocals and an acoustic guitar. The lyrics suggest that the vocalist, Andrew Kavanagh, is talking about is someone who he considers a mistake. Despite the melancholy lyrics: “I saw it coming/Way down the line/I knew it the end you/Would never be mine/But of all my mistakes/You’ll be my favorite one” the upbeat instrumentals put the sound of the song in a new direction.

Another track that features a similar theme as “All My Mistakes” is “Carousel.” It is about someone the vocalist can’t be/isn’t with. The vocals sound more emotional, especially when paired with the guitar that gives it a somber feeling. There is yet again another contrast between the melancholy lyrics and an upbeat chorus. “I’ll only love you from afar/My love will last a lifetime/I love you with a heavy heart.” “Cold Comfort” and “Gypsy Rose” are two songs that sound more alternative and indie, compared to the pop sound that is on other tracks of Joyland. “Cold Comfort” has strong electric guitars, which adds diversity to the record since it doesn’t only rely on the acoustic guitar. When these instrumentals are paired with vocals that give off the rock vibe even more, it creates a new dimension to the band. All that is said about “Cold Comfort” can be said about “Gypsy Rose,” as well. In addition, Kavanagh’s vocal power is shown off the most in this track. He hits high notes that are not heard in any other song on the record, which show what he’s truly capable of. As for the themes in the record, love is highlighted on in most of the tracks. It’s one word that helps sum up the ideas that the lyrics were written about. “Apple Tree Hill” and “Always Been You” are two love songs that show off what romance is about.

“Apple Tree Hill” is about two lovers growing old together and about their relationship at its current time and how it will be in the future. The place mentioned, Apple Tree Hill, clearly has some significance to the couple, as it is their destination after the both pass away.

“Always Been You” is another romantic song talking about his love and despite everything that happens it always was her. The piano/drum combo creates a steady beat, which backs up Kavanagh’s soft and controlled voice. The simplicity of the instrumentals make way for the lyrics since they are a key part of the song and what should be focused on in this track. At one point the vocals are isolated, which give it more of an emotional feel.

“This Is Heartbreak” is a track that transitions the record to heartbreak, another subset in the theme of love that Joyland follows so well. The emotion in the vocals are so prominent and combined with the instrumentals to get across the tale of heartbreak that is expressed through the whole song.

Overall, this record is put together well and explores themes that can be related to at many ages and situations. Love is a universal feeling and one that can be understood the easiest when put in a song. Keywest showed off their skills in their sophomore release and refined their sound as they lean towards the indie/pop side of the genre. This suits them well and something they should continue with in the future.

Rating: 8/10

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Mallory Knox-Wired Album Review

From hard-hitting rock instrumentals to soft rock ones, and everything in between, Wired has it all. This is the newest record from English rock-alternative band, Mallory Knox and was released on March 10. Although they have tracks with hard rock elements and sound very raw in that sense, this album contains a variety of tracks not limited to that style. They have their core rock foundation, but the diverse use of their instrumentals makes the songs sound more diverse.

“Giving It Up,” “Better Off Without You,” “Lucky Me,” and “Saviour” are all songs that are hard hitting with raw guitars and drums that overpower the vocals in a way that works for the style.

“Giving It Up” begins the album with hard rock instrumentals and vocals to match. Already, lead vocalist, Mikey Chapman, demonstrates his talent. He shows that has no trouble hitting the high notes that he does in the chorus of this track. This is high-energy that gives the album an energetic and exciting start-similarly to the other hard rock tracks that are scattered at various points of the record.

The part of the album that leans more towards the side of softer rock includes tracks like “For You,” “Midnight,” and “Come Back Around.”

“For You” and “Midnight” have a similar groovy-like feel because of the way the guitars sound in these songs, especially. Both are still upbeat but have softer instrumentals to show off the vocals even more. The dual vocals between Chapman and back up vocalist, James Gillet are shown off in “Midnight” because of the way they blend with each other. “Midnight” even has some dreamy elements within the instrumentals which adds to the story being told and matches the title.

Some other stand out tracks that make this record what it is are “Falling In Love,” “Come Back Around” and “Mother.” “Falling In Love” sounds as if it will be the slow song on the record; once the second chorus hits, it’s back to an upbeat rock and roll track with powerful drums, guitars and angry vocals to match. It ends just as slow as it begins, which is a little twist to make it stand out even more.

“Come Back Around” is the song where Gillet’s back-up vocals shine the most. Chapman starts off the lyrics and Gillet finishes them, instead of repeating the lyrics, which occurs often with back-up vocalists. This is a simple change that goes a long way for the listener.

“Mother” sounds similar to other songs on this album, however; there is one part in the pre-chorus that is so different from all the other parts of the song and even the album. When Gillet sings, “Chin up kid, you’re counting down the minutes,” it gives such a pop punk vibe that is something not heard on this record. It’s yet another simple element that is so enjoyable to listen to and catch different styles in these songs. Since this is the closing track, there is a feeling of ending within to get across that it’s the final track.

Mallory Knox have created a diverse rock record and one that stands out among other releases. It’s full of different songs and styles, even if they are only in small parts of the songs. It’s almost like a reward for the listener to catch something as minute as it, but makes their listening experience so much more enjoyable.

Rating: 8/10

Ed Sheeran-Divide Album Review

The long-awaited Ed Sheeran record has finally been released on March 3 and his third record follows the same mathematical titles as his previous two: Plus and Multiply. This time, it’s Divide and the album has a variety of tracks from his usual heartbreak tunes and those about love. He adds fun, upbeat songs that sound like the same Ed with a new flair listeners haven’t heard on his previous works. The majority of these tracks use personal experiences, which is a popular tactic for Sheeran, and it still works just as well as it had in the past.

What makes this album so unique is the use of different cultural sounding songs; he takes inspiration from countries like Spain, Ireland, and Ghana. These add a whole new feel and takes Sheeran’s talent to the next level.

Divide opens up with the track, “Eraser” which starts with his spoken word tactic that makes an appearance on his previous albums along with his favorite instrument of choice, his acoustic guitar. This record already begins with a personal experience about Sheeran’s career. “Age twelve telling me I’ve gotta chase those dreams/Now I’m playing for the people, dad, and they know me/With my small beaten guitar…” These lyrics demonstrate this perfectly and he even mentions his guitar, which he never fails to produce a song without.

“Castle On The Hill” is the second track and one of the singles released when this record was announced. It doesn’t have a stereotypical Sheeran feel to it, but that makes it even more unique. It’s a tribute to his childhood, teenage years, and close friends who he grew up with. He starts the story at age six, to 15 and finally 19. He describes what that time period was like for him and his friends. Even though they all went separate ways he will never forget the times they shared and how they shaped who he is now. “And I’m on my way/I still remember these old country lanes/When we did not know the answers.”

“Perfect” and “How Would You Feel” are both love songs that sound as if they could be about the same girl. In “Perfect,” the instrumentals are dialed down to put an emphasis on the vocals. This is a different approach because in this song his vocals are strong, not soft like his other love songs. “How Would You Feel” is clearly about personal experiences as well because of the imagery he uses. He takes simple moments they’ve shared and turns them into a beautiful love story.

The tracks switch gears to heartbreak with “Happier” and “New Man.” “Happier” is about how this girl is happier with her new relationship and how Sheeran was happier with her. “New Man” is the opposite instrumentally, it’s upbeat and describes with the imagery and detail that Sheeran excels in the new man his ex is with.

There are four tracks that take a cultural influence to them, which diversifies this album even more. “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan” have Irish influences, “Bibia Be Ye Ye:” Ghana influences, and “Barcelona:” Spanish ones.

In “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan,” Sheeran shows off his upbeat side with of course the appearance of his famous acoustic guitar. “Galway Girl” doesn’t have too much of a personal feel to it, especially when compared to “Nancy Mulligan.” Since the latter is a story about his grandparents falling in love as told from the point of view of his grandfather. This style proves to be an effective tactic, since he even uses it on another track: “Supermarket Flowers.”

“Barcelona” is the Spanish style track that demonstrates Sheeran even can sing in Spanish. “Mamacita, rica, si tú, te adoro señorita.” Something as simple as this, combined with the instrumentals gives an authentic feel that the listener is in Spain.

Listening to this record from front to back is the most effective way to listening to it, because of the story Sheeran tells with each song. The songs fit together and create a well-written narrative, which is what to be expected by Sheeran’s songwriting skills. Divide is a must listen.

Rating: 9/10

WSTR-Red, Green and In Between Album Review

Catchy guitar riffs, pop punk vocals, and tunes that make the listener want to bop to the beat constantly is what sums up WSTR’s debut record, Red, Green or In Between. Many of the tracks can be described as typical pop punk tracks, although WSTR pulls it off in a fun-loving manner, for the most part. There are parts on this record where certain instruments overpower other aspects on the track, which doesn’t completely destroy the song but makes it less enjoyable to listen to. One of the best aspects that this record has is the guitar; in every song they manage to make the guitar riffs, particularly the opening ones, extremely catchy.

This pop punk four piece formed in Liverpool, UK and consists of Sammy Clifford, vocals, Kieren Alder, guitar, Danny Swift, guitar, and Alex Tobijanski, bass. Their debut was released on Jan. 20 through No Sleep Records.

Red, Green or In Between kicks off with the high intensity track, “Featherweight.” It opens up with a catchy guitar riff, similarly to most of the songs on this record. One of the biggest things that WSTR did right was their guitarwork. This track did its job of introducing the album and the style that it will follow.

With most of the songs on this record, the ratio between the vocals and instrumentals are pretty good, especially because pop punk is known for a style where the instrumentals overpower occasionally. However, with some songs, the instrumentals overpower the vocals more so than they should. This happens with “Hightail” and especially “Footprints.” In “Footprints,” it’s the drums that don’t mix well because during the first verse the cymbals overpower the vocals way too much. Luckily, this doesn’t persist through the song and doesn’t take away completely from the track, but it is distracting. The acoustic version is much better.

“Lonely Smiles” is the song that shows of Clifford’s vocals the best. His voice especially during the bridge is enjoyable to listen to. The way he sounds at this point in the song isn’t going to be for everyone, but personally it sounds unique. His voice is dynamic and fluctuates in registers based on the part in the song, like the chorus and bridge.

The most stand out tracks include “Eastbound & Down,” “The Last Ride,” and “Punchline” because of how their instrumentals sound. “Eastbound & Down” sounds like it would be a slower song (at least compared to the majority of the album) then breaks out into a fast tempo track with unique guitar that sounds different from typical pop punk riffs.

“The Last Ride” has a similar intro to “Eastbound & Down” but still remains as unique. WSTR utilized overlaid vocals in the bridge, which makes it a more dynamic and stand out track.

“Punchline” starts out sounding like an acoustic song, but leads into powerful guitars and drums. The guitar at points overpowers the vocals but that is fixed as it hits the chorus, where the vocals shine. The fact that it has acoustic elements makes it the best track to complete the record.

Pop punk fans will enjoy this record because it’s a very pure pop punk album, with changes in certain songs to diversify it a bit. However, some of the songs can sound too similar and the mixing of the instrumentals and vocals can sometimes be distracting. WSTR did a good job with their debut for the genre, but should create songs more variety on their next record.

Rating: 6/10

As It Is-Okay Album Review

UK Pop-Rockers, As It Is released their sophomore album on Jan. 20 and it takes everything they created with their debut with the addition of deeper lyrics, catchier instrumentals and more. Their debut, Never Happy Ever After created a sound that was fresh to the genre but at the same time something fans of pop rock would find difficult not to enjoy. Their second record, Okay, takes all this and improves upon it. Just by one listen it can be heard that As It Is took their time to create the best lyrics and instrumentals possible.

The album follows a theme of catchy, upbeat songs with somber lyrics. Without paying attention to the lyrics, a listener could assume the album follows happy themes, but that isn’t the case. There are deep topics that vocalist, Patty Walters, clearly had personal inspirations for. These inspirations make this album sound rawer and with more emotion than the previous.

The band formed in 2012 in Brighton, England and is made up of lead vocalist, Patty Walters, Benjamin Langford-Biss, guitar and vocals, Patrick Foley, drums, Andy Westhead, guitar, and Ali Testo, bass.

Okay begins with “Pretty Little Distance,” which instrumentally sounds like the As It Is fans know and love but with lyrics that create a whole new listening experience. It’s an upbeat and catchy pop punk song, instrumentally, with lyrics that describe what the album as a whole is about. It’s about how life throws twists and turns all the time and that bad things are always bound to happen. The lyrics, “Ain’t life swell from a pretty little distance?” implies that the way we live our lives there will always be tragedy and heartbreak.

“Until I Return” is a track that follows a similar formula as “Pretty Little Distance” does, because of how the lyrics are written. “I promise I’ll fight but I can’t promise I’ll be fine;” they explain that it’s okay not to be okay, which is another huge theme found across this record. These lyrics also explain the theme behind all the personal stories Walters is telling through each song. The fact that this track is towards the end shows contrast between the beginning with “Pretty Little Distance” and this one.

All the tracks on this record have some sort of personal experience that is written about, but there are two that stand out the most in what they are about. “Hey Rachel” and “Austen” are those two songs. “Hey Rachel” is written about Walters’ sister and how he could have been a better brother during a difficult time in her life. Meanwhile, “Austen” is a song written about Biss’s grandfather being hospitalized and his experience seeing him in that state.

Walters experimented with more topics on Okay such as relationships and being trapped within his own mind. “Patchwork Love” and “Still Remembering” discuss the topic of love, more specifically the end aspects of a relationship. In “Patchwork Love” Walters writes about a past relationship and how even though they aren’t together anymore he won’t forget or regret it and he asks her to do the same. “I won’t forget you, I won’t regret…All I ask, my one request/Don’t forget me, don’t regret me.”

“Still Remembering” is a bit different because it isn’t as clearly defined as “Patchwork Love” but the lyrics discuss a lot about endings. “When you left, not without warnings or regrets/Nothing would fill this hole in my chest/Bid your farewell…So my love, goodbye.” These lyrics make it the perfect way to end the record combined with the fact that it’s the most acoustic song. Instrumentally and lyrically, the album is being wrapped up with this track.

The topic of being mentally stuck was another idea that Walters struggled with because it made its way into some songs as well. “No Way Out” and “Soap” are two tracks that exemplify it perfectly. The lyrics in “No Way Out” explain this topic clearer than “Soap’s” but both still get the idea across in their own unique ways. In “No Way Out,” Walters experiments with some screaming vocals that work well with the song because it makes the lyrics stand out as more meaningful to him. “I shut my eyes, but my world’s still burning/I can’t escape, I feel it killing me/No way out.”

“Soap” is a bit different, not only in the fact that the lyrics are more cryptic than straightforward but because instrumentally, it is the most unique. The verses have a unique style in the way the vocals interact with the instrumentals. The vocals are mixed with a slight screaming to pair with the raw emotion created through Walters’ lyrics. “This will only take a lifetime/To bury me as deep as troubled is your mind/I’m sinking deeper into your head/I’m the lie you live in, every thought you dread.”

Every track on this record is wonderful and Okay is an album that doesn’t disappoint in any way. The instrumentals follow a pop punk sound, but have twists that make certain songs stand out and lyrics that are meaningful and personal in all of the best ways. This record is more than just a listening experience; it is an experience that makes the listener really think while still enjoying the upbeat pop punk tunes.

Rating: 9.5/10

You can stream the record here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpZL8cbLq4o&list=PLsBWlr67U5NsBbWZyypkhNmXzuJycASJr

The xx-I See You Album Review

An album filled with a variety of tracks, while holding onto similarities to make the piece more cohesive is what best describes The xx’s newest and third release, I See You. It puts together tracks that go hand and hand with another, while each song still remains unique and its own. This prevents most of the tracks from being lost and forgotten in the whole feeling of the album. The xx are considered an indie/electronic pop group from London, England made up of three members: Oliver Sim, vocalist and bassist, Jamie Smith, drummer and producer and Romy Madley Croft, vocalist and guitarist.

I See You begins with the funky and upbeat first track, “Dangerous.” The band mixes a trumpet with the alternative instrumentals and even electronic effects to create a sound like no other. These effects last during the majority of the song and when combined with Sim’s and Croft’s vocals, sound wonderful. Their voices blend well during the whole track, but especially in the chorus. Both their vocals are mellow, which show off a contrast with the effects that turn the song upbeat.

There are other songs similar to “Dangerous” that take the upbeat effects and instrumentals to create a song with enough balance between the relaxing indie sound and a funky rock one. These songs are “A Violent Noise” and “On Hold.” Both contain similar elements, but each stand out with their own sound while blending with the overall feeling of the record. “A Violent Noise” has parts where there are softer vocals and effects, while in others faster and more intense ones. The instrumentals and vocals equally speed up and gain intensity to match some lyrics in the chorus: “Every beat is a violent noise.”

“On Hold” is the most upbeat and rock sounding song on the record. This makes it stand out but the way the instrumentals are used allows it to fit into the sound of the album as a whole. What makes it unique is the use of the electronic effects. All the other songs on the record utilize them, but this is the one where they are the most prominent. They also sound different compared to the relaxing effects that make this album overall sound calm. These effects sound like they belong in a pop-electronic track instead.

The remainder of the album follows a calm sound, especially in tracks: “Performance” and “Replica.” Each one has a similar feel to them because of features like they each doesn’t have many complex electronic effects like another track, “Lips.” “Replica” is instrumentally driven, as the effects and instrumentals overpower the vocals at times and tend to lead the song in the correct direction. However, overpower is not meant negatively in this case. Somehow, this element works in these parts of the song since its focused on the relationship between the instrumentals, effects, and vocals.

The album concludes with “Test Me,” the most mellow song and one that does its job of wrapping I See You up completely. The vocals only last until about two minutes before the song ends and the rest is a combination of electronical effects and instrumentals. They sound dark and dramatic, which creates a somber feeling. Similarly, to when something good comes to an end. It closes out this record in a way that is truly unique. The length of pure instrumentals give the listener time to reflect and think about the album and the lyrics.

I See You is a great listen for anyone looking for a relaxing record to chill to and especially for fans of the indie genre. It does not contain as many rock elements as other bands considered part of the indie rock genre and the use of electronic effects makes them unique when compared to other artists. This record is one that is cohesive and at the same time blends different elements together that wouldn’t seem to make any sense. The xx makes them work in a way that wouldn’t be expected.

Rating: 8/10

Waterparks-Double Dare Album Review

Three-piece pop rock band, Waterparks, formed in Houston, Texas in 2011. The young group are signed to Equal Vision Records and released their debut album, Double Dare on November 4 and another EP earlier in 2016. Additionally, they also have two EPs, which were released in 2012 and 2014. The signing to Equal Vision has helped them find and develop their sound and is greatly improved upon on Double Dare.

This record showed the band discovered the delicate balance between pop rock and a more pop sound created by the use of a variety of electronic effects. Some songs lean towards either side of this spectrum, but the record as a whole is balanced. It shows that Waterparks experimented with different elements and carefully crafted a product that shows them all off in their own unique ways. Nothing is overpowering or overwhelming, it’s a blend that the listener won’t be able to get enough of.

“Hawaii (Stay Awake):” This song serves as a nice introduction to the sound Waterparks is established with this record. It’s a good introduction to Awsten Knight’s vocals and the mix of pop rock with electronic effects they utilize in their songs on this album. The effects like the ones used in the background of the chorus. Knight’s voice is so easy to listen to and seems to put you in the trance that is Waterparks through the blended elements the boys incorporated.

“Gloom Boys:” This song, along with the whole album is fun to listen to, and the pre-chorus shows that off. Knight sings this part of the song quickly and creates a special effect that can’t be achieved with simply the electronic sounds. A glow/starry effect with the slight twinkle sound is created in the chorus and between that and the hard rock/Knight’s vocals, new layers are added. Like many other songs on Double Dare, the catchiness of the instrumentals does not cause the lyrics to suffer. Knight creates creative but fun lyrics, which isn’t easy to achieve, especially for their first album. An example of the lyrics is, “I brought a knife to a gun fight, I brought my words to a fist fight…”

Stupid for you: In the beginning, they mention colors like “natural blue,” which comes from one of their older songs, “I’m a Natural Blue.” The high pitched “hey” in the chorus is a wonderful addition that improves upon the chorus. Knight’s vocal talent is unique and the way he goes from soft vocals before he explodes into harder vocals at points of the chorus creates depth. Like all the rest of the songs on this record, this is a fun song that makes the listener want to get up and dance. Like “Gloom Boys,” there is still no lack of creative lyrics, especially the use of this metaphor: “You’re a symphony and I’m just a sour note.”

“Take her to the moon:” This track is the most pop song on the record, but is one of the best Parts of the chorus seem like they could be featured in an Owl City song, with the use of the starry electronic effects. These types of effects are used the most in this song but they are scattered throughout. A technique like this allows for more emphasis on them when paired with the instrumentals.  And Waterparks makes it work so perfectly. The verse and the pre-chorus are so different, with what seems like alternating vocals, but it’s still one vocalist. He sings back and forth with himself, as if he were singing a duet with someone else.

“Made in America:” Putting the most pop song next to a hard rock one in the track list creates such a great contrast. This is a fast-paced pop rock song that has more emphasis on the instrumentals, but still has those slight electronic effects. Like in the verse, they use an effect that is similar to a synth sound. The topic of this song reminds me of Green Day’s work, as Waterparks uses certain diction when describing American culture. “We’re made in America/We’re classic hysteria/We’re culture cashing, hazard smashing.”

“Powerless” and “21 Questions:” These are the two slow songs on this record and both feature acoustic sounds. “Powerless” has a more explosive chorus, with the introduction of drums and guitars, meanwhile “21 Questions” keeps the acoustic track for the majority of the time. “Powerless” has a story element to it, which Knight auditorily paints for the listener. “21 Questions” is a rawer sound, since it sounds like just the acoustic guitar and Knight’s voice. Those vocals sound the most different out of the whole album, not as magical like on the other tracks. Both songs show off his vocal talent in a different but special way.

“Little Violence:” This song sounds like the hardest hitting, because of Knight’s aggressive vocals. Although it has these hard-hitting guitars, drums, and even vocals, the band still makes the electronic effects work. Knight can transition from the vocals listeners are familiar with featured on the rest of the record to the aggressive ones in little time.

“Plum Island:” The intro doesn’t even sound like a Waterparks song, but it’s easy recognizable once the chorus hits. The way the guitar erupts after the chorus and leads back into the drums shines with the electronic effects that are added. They can be heard after the second chorus very clearly, it’s a dreamy synth sound. There’s different aspects of this song, that are separate but when put together they fit, even though it doesn’t seem like they would when they are apart. From the hard guitar/drum combo at parts, to pure electronics, to the mix of instrumentals and electronics, all work wonderfully.

Double Dare is a work of art that hooks the listener from start to finish, and achieving an experience that cannot compare to many other releases. It creates another realm of starry and unique effects that listeners get to wander around in for 44 minutes. This album is an experience no one will want to miss out on.

Rating: 9.5/10