All Posts By Emma Garton

2K18 Playlist: Reggaeton

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If you’ve ever had a friend study abroad, you know that once they return they are particularly intolerable because they never shut up about how amazing those few months were. After spending a semester studying in Spain, I am essentially obligated to tell everyone that the Spaniards do everything better than anyone else. While I was there one of the most glaringly obvious things they do better is pop music – specifically, reggaeton.

The genre actually originated in Puerto Rico in 1991, becoming known as “underground” music because of the venues that played it. It wasn’t until 2004 that reggaeton began reaching America and Europe, largely thanks to artists like Shakira and Daddy Yankee.

Reggaeton has a whole lot more than just Justin Bieber’s “Despacito.” It essentially dominates not only the airwaves, but the club and bar scenes throughout Spain as well. While nearly everyone abroad listens to American music, Americans who listen to music from other nationalities are much harder to find. Part of this is because of our enormously successful entertainment industry – there doesn’t seem to be a need to explore outside of our Spotify daily mixes. While occasionally a reggaeton hit will make it to the radio in the States, like “Despacito” or some other Daddy Yankee song, we are missing a ton of equally entertaining tracks by limiting ourselves to these few.

Obviously not everyone speaks Spanish and is going to understand the lyrics, but if you tell me you listen to the American top 40 for the lyrics, I won’t believe it, especially if you’re at a party or in a bar. The most important aspect is the groove, and reggaeton has that down to a science. Syncopated drum beats drive nearly every song, which only encourage that dancey feeling even more. This groove, known as “riddim,” originates from Jamaican dancehall producers in the 1990s. The form of dancing most commonly associated with reggaeton is grinding (perreo) – I’m sure we all know what that is, and why it just reassures that reggaeton is the perfect bar/club music.

We all have those songs that define our summers. Not only is reggaeton good for a night out, but I can tell you all from personal experience that it is quite good for a “forget that other people can see through your car windows” jam sesh. Why not let the dancey feel and good vibes dominate your summer?

For a playlist of some popular reggaeton right now, check here:

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2K18 Playlist: Reggaeton. Featured image credit: Maya Robinson

Artist Profile: Juice

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Juice is a seven-piece, Boston-based band made up of Ben Stevens (lead vocals), Michael Ricciardulli (guitar), Rami El-Abidin (bass), Christian Rose (violin, vocals), Kamau Burton (acoustic guitar, vocals), Daniel Moss (guitar), and Miles Clyatt (drums). The crew met as freshman at Boston College and won their school’s Battle of the Bands competition in 2014. They then started performing locally and working their way up to bigger gigs like Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2016. Now Juice is gearing up to release their latest project, “Workin’ On Lovin’” on June 15.

Image credit: Luke Urbanzyck

Juice puts out fun, feel-good music that manages to feel laid back and simple while actually involving inventive arrangements and harmonies made possible by a 7-piece band. The variety of instruments and styles keeps the music interesting and the raw talent of all seven musicians doesn’t hurt either. The group released their self-titled album in 2016 and has put out three singles since then. Within that one album, there are hints of funk, pop and hip hop. Juice clearly has the ability to write a catchy hook in whatever genre they choose to work with.

Their latest music video, “Sugar,” showcases that the variety in genre is a result of the variety in personalities within the seven members. The video offers some seemingly raw insight into each member and showcases their personalities. With a video that gives each musician at least a little time in the spotlight, we get to see the same character and passion that are evident in their live performances. This group of guys clearly loves playing together, and that love is evident in videos and on the stage, making the experience even more enjoyable for the viewer. When Juice has fun, we do too. 

Juice will be promoting their upcoming release with a small US tour. Find their schedule below.

Juice 2018 Tour Dates:

06/09 — Burlington, VT @ Nectar’s

06/12 — Nantucket, MA @ The Chicken Box

06/13 — Nantucket, MA @ The Chicken Box

06/14 — New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge

06/15 — Boston, MA @ Rock On! Concert Cruise

07/14 — Pleasantville, NY @ Pleasantville Music Festival

07/19 — Amagansett, NY @ Stephen Talkhouse

07/21 — Scranton, PA @ The Peach Music Festival

07/26 — Asbury Park, NJ @ Jams On the Sand

08/04 — Ithaca, NY @ The Haunt

08/07 — Bethlehem, PA @ Musikfest 2018

 

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Artist Profile: Juice. Featured image credit: Luke Urbanzyck

June’s Artist To Watch: Diners

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I first saw Diners in October 2017 at The Red Raven Café in Fargo, North Dakota. When I saw “them,” it was actually only frontman Tyler Broderick. Depending on the night, Broderick is joined by Tristan Jemsek, Cesar Ruiz, Jill Cook, Robert Raya, Christian Reeb, or Aaron Ponzo. Diners, an indie-pop group from Phoenix, Arizona, took the stage after a few local bands played for a very welcoming audience and it was truly a spectacle. Calling the performance his “Halftime Show,” Broderick spent the entire set relating it to sports and drinking gatorade.

Broderick performed next to a projector screen which frequently showed himself in the same outfit. He would interact with himself at times, and at others it would serve as a sort of background. After talking to Broderick a couple months later, he told me that he had been “a little too jacked up on iced coffee before [his] set.” This makes a whole lot more sense, as Broderick never stood still for a second. At one point he picked up his electric guitar only to play one chord along with the backtrack and then set it back down.

If you need proof of how ridiculous the entire experience was, here’s a photo of me in the crowd looking extremely nervous.

Image credit: Kaytlin Dargen

Despite being a rather rambunctious young man, Diners’ music has a certain calming effect that is difficult to find elsewhere. The vocals are raw and flawed but hold a special personality that makes them seem better than any other vocal performance. The music and lyrics have a purity in them that makes listening simply a pleasure. Broderick repeats the line, “I was fifteen on a skateboard/skating through the neighborhood” – an obviously simple lyric – on the track “Fifteen on a Skateboard” without invoking a sense of repetitiveness. When combined with Broderick’s inventive instrumentals and the dreamy, nostalgic feel that is captured so well with his use of different sounds and back-up vocals, the simple, straightforward lyrics are transformed into something else. I didn’t ride a skateboard when I was fifteen, but I bet if I did this song is what it would have felt like.

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June’s Artist To Watch: Diners. Featured image credit: Elmer Martin

Arctic Monkeys’ “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” Album Review

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Deciding where to begin when describing this album is no easy task, as it really doesn’t fit into any already designed boxes. The initial thought upon beginning Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino written by Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner was, “This reminds me of that song the blob guys sings in Rick & Morty?” After finishing the album and re-listening to the blob guy song, it became evident that this was for good reason: both take quite a bit of inspiration from David Bowie. Listen to “Goodbye Moonmen” here: 

Tranquility Base is written on the premise of a former moon-resident reminiscing on his home planet from a cocktail lounge on Earth. Moon has a great hotel, boasting “Four Out Of Five” stars. Like most sci-fi works, this is based on the last few years in the United States, the effects of technology (“Have I told you all about the time that I got sucked into a hole//Through a hand-held device?”) and fame. “American Sports” is one of the more obvious social commentaries on the album (“Breaking news, they take the truth and make it and fluid”).

From a listening standpoint, this album is not to be listened to in the shuffled mess or out of context songs on Spotify playlists – it’s an all or nothing kind of deal. It is by no means easy listening, and unlike a lot of their catchier albums, Tranquility Hotel requires a certain kind of focus if the listener is really going to enjoy it.

Image credit: Zackery Michael

To call this album a failure would be flawed. To call it a success would be too. In all likelihood, Tranquility Base won’t see a lot of commercial success, but it’s a demonstration of just how far Turner’s writing can go. As a band that has made a career out of consistently producing radio-ready hooks regardless of whatever genre they are in, an album like this, which admittedly consists of no such hooks, could be damaging. This of course, depends on the band’s intentions with the album. There are many who suspect that this album, in addition to its purpose as a social commentary, is also an attempt to ditch the fans who just jumped along for the ride with the rock success that was AM in 2013.

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Arctic Monkeys’ “Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino” Album Review. Featured image credit: Domino Recording Company

Post Malone’s “beerbongs & bentleys” Album Review

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Since the release of “White Iverson” in 2015, Post Malone’s rise to fame was a relatively short journey. Three years later and Malone has already released his sophomore album, beerbongs & bentleys on Friday, April 27. The 18-track LP is already topping charts with his catchy hooks and relatable lyrics.

At first glance, beerbongs & bentleys doesn’t show much growth since Malone’s first album Stoney, which was incredibly successful commercially, but critiqued heavily for its simplicity. After some closer listening, it’s clear that Malone didn’t completely brush off all of those critiques. With more complex beats and a wide range of genre influences, beerbongs & bentleys demonstrates a lot of growth for Malone. It’s musically diverse, drawing influence from rap, pop, and indie rock, which are all tied together with the constant presence of Malone’s soulful voice.

While Malone has been able to internalize musical critiques and grow in that department, his personal maturity is still lacking. He is a part of an industry rooted in black culture, and in the past has faced several accusations of cultural appropriation. He addresses some of these concerns on this album, but he doesn’t do so in particularly graceful fashion. On “Over Now,” he declares, “Won’t apologize, don’t give a fuck if you offended.”

The thing that has always distinguished Post Malone from other rappers, though, is his ability to use a combination of genre influences and vulnerability in his hip hop. Malone seems to know he is nowhere near the best in the game with his rapping, and he is shown up by all of the features on this album. In particular, Nicki Minaj absolutely dominates “Ball For Me.” But, he doesn’t need to be the best; he just needs to be good at doing something different. The stark contrast between his gruff exterior and vulnerable music is perhaps the most interesting thing about Post Malone. He is a prime example of how you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Photo courtesy of www.postmalone.com

The vulnerability in the lyrics doesn’t always evoke a whole lot of sympathy and the album is heavily inundated with a “I do drugs, I have money and I’m sad” theme. The chorus of “Rich & Sad” (a title that literally encompasses this idea) breaks this down in the chorus with “I just keep on wishing that the money made you stay.”  While his lyricism isn’t exactly poetic (“Spoil My Night” boasts, “I ain’t even seen the face but she got beautiful boobies – wow!”), no one can deny that Malone knows his way around a hook. It is impossible to hear his songs without singing them a couple days later. All in all, Malone is no lyrical prodigy, but he’s an interesting guy who knows how to make a chart-topper.

 

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Post Malone’s “beerbongs & bentleys” Album Review. Featured image credit: Republic Records

May’s Artist To Watch: Moon Hooch

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This month’s artist to watch is the jazz/electronic/who-the-hell-knows trio Moon Hooch (https://www.moonhooch.com), hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Let me just begin by saying that every time I think these guys can’t surprise me anymore, I see something new that simply makes my jaw drop. Before deciding to feature Moon Hooch this month, all I really knew about them was that they made cool music. After becoming totally engrossed in the world of their artistry, philosophy and … recipes, I am a bigger fan than ever before.

Moon Hooch is made up of Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen on saxophone (primarily) and James Muschler on drums. The trio met while they were all students at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Greenwich Village, and started performing together at subway platforms around New York City. They gained such a huge following that the police had to ban them from performing on certain platforms, which couldn’t handle the crowds they drew.

Self-described as “cave music,” this New York trio’s style is truly unlike that of any other artist I’ve heard. To assign them to any one existing genre is an impossible task that I won’t even attempt to tackle. This music is not for the faint of heart, nor for the genre purist. If anything, I would describe it as equal parts jazz and electronic, with a dash of funk, and maybe just a hint of rock. But do we really need the labels? They’re just cool—not only in their music, but also in their lifestyles.

The band members have stated that they are dedicated to consciousness, environmentalism, veganism, philosophy, and peace. That’s a pretty hefty list, and each plays an important role in their music-making. The group practices meditation and yoga, which has helped them consistently create energetic and focused performances.

For their environmental efforts, Moon Hooch plays benefit shows, supports local farmers, co-ops while traveling, participates in river cleanups, and creates informative videos. They are also officially a carbon-neutral band, meaning they do things like plant trees in order to counteract carbon emissions from driving around on tour. Being vegan while touring in a van sounds nearly impossible, but these guys manage; they share their secrets on their food blog, “Cooking In The Cave,” posting sustainable recipes that they prepare on the road http://cookinginthecave.net.

After performing together for so many years, the members are totally in sync and their music is as tight as it can be—which is extremely important when emulating electronic music through live instruments. They are recreating the sounds and sentiments delivered by a synthesizer with their mouths and some metal (and the occasional traffic cone) with absolute precision. You can witness it here for yourself with their NPR Tiny Desk Concert from 2014:

Their new EP, released at the beginning of April entitled Light It Up, features three tracks that honestly make me feel like queen of the city whenever I listen to them on my walk to class. The drive of the beat, the intensity, and the huge sound provoke strong emotions created by just three instruments. The band has also released music videos to accompany the tracks and, in keeping with their indescribable style of music, they’re unique, to say the least. “Acid Mountain:”

Moon Hooch is currently touring in Europe and will return to the states on May 18 in Asheville, North Carolina. You can find the rest of their tour dates here: https://www.moonhooch.com/tour/

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May’s Artist To Watch: Moon Hooch. Featured image credit: Volatile essence

J. Cole’s “KOD” Album Review

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J. Cole hasn’t featured any artists since his 2013 release Born Sinner. His two most recent albums, 2014 Forest Hills Drive and 4 Your Eyez Only both topped the charts without the help of anyone else. This feat became a bragging point for several Cole fans, who may be disheartened to see that Cole opted to include someone by the name of “kiLL edward” on his latest release. But, these fans need not worry too much. Several are speculating that kiLL edward is just Cole using some pitch adjustment. Cole is likely just making a show for some of the haters who have turned his lack of features into a joke. While reaching such a high level of success flying solo is impressive, just because Cole can top the charts without any features doesn’t necessarily mean he should. Going it alone is a dangerous route and can lead to some boredom, especially on a full-length album.

Cole has stated that the acronym “KOD” holds three meanings: Kids On Drugs, King OverDosed, and Kill Our Demons. All of these meanings are addressed throughout the album, as it focuses heavily on Cole’s own struggles with drug addiction.

As for the music itself, this album is not to be enjoyed at a party. You can’t really bop to any of these tracks, but the storyline is a valiant effort at exposing the realities of drug addiction. While several rappers appear to romanticize Percocet and Xanax, J. Cole is here to remind the listener that it isn’t all fun and games. Cole also goes into a few other topics, including guilt, familial issues, death, the struggles of low-income communities, and love in the digital age. Addressing all this in a 12-track, 42-minute album is no easy task, but to say Cole did all this successfully would be giving him too many accolades.

While there are several stand-out tracks on the album and plenty of applaudable themes, simply put, the album is nothing special. We’ve seen rappers recently putting out five-star albums from top to bottom—Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, etc.—and this release is not that. Despite his efforts to address some serious things, this album is Cole’s worst.

There is no one track that has it all—lyrics, flow, beat. The stand out tracks are the ones that have at least one of those things, but there are none that have all three. The title track opens up the album with a solid beat and leads to listener to believe that this album is going to show some development in Cole’s style. Sadly, this foreshadowing is completely misleading. “ATM” is the next stand-out with probably the most interesting beat on the album.

The most disappointing track on the album by far comes early on in “Photograph.” This track sounds very similar to those on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but the similarities stop short in everything but style. “Photograph” is the track that discusses the difficulties of love going digital and falling in love with a photograph—basically just a song about sliding into the DMs. Cole has called out SoundCloud rappers on many occasions, including a couple of times on this album, but this track is ironically reminiscent of some of the angst and simplicity that defines the famous SoundCloud rappers.

The second half of the album is far better, with “Kevin’s Heart,” “BRACKETS,” and “Once An Addict (Interlude)” all exploring particularly intimate themes with better flow. “BRACKETS” dives deeper into themes of racial discrimination. “Once An Addict” is the most intimate track on the album and provides insight into Cole’s relationship with his mother and his difficult, guilt-ridden childhood.

All in all, this album is unimpressive and repetitive. Cole hints at new styles, but fails to follow through. The themes are a solid effort at doing something bigger with his stardom, but Cole simply doesn’t manage to present them in an interesting and manner. Some tracks showed potential, but nothing was really enough to make the album notable.

 

 

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J. Cole’s “KOD” Album Review. Featured image credit: Dreamville Records

The Weeknd’s “My Dear Melancholy,” EP Review

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My Dear Melancholy, is The Weeknd’s first work that is absolutely pure sex from top to bottom. It has its faults, but this five song EP offers a touch of nostalgia with a whole lot of sensuality and plenty of sensitivity.

This EP feels like a bit of a regression to The Weeknd’s earlier work with Trilogy, but it’s a sound that is still distinctive from any other R&B artist. He may have changed his hair, but his sound has returned to all its former glory. While the pop lovers who bopped to “Starboy” in 2016 might be disappointed, long-time fans are in for a nice surprise. This EP is a return to the sensual and emotional Weeknd who R&B lovers fell for back in 2013. The only real danger with My Dear Melancholy, is that when The Weeknd performs these tracks there’s no way the crowd will be able to keep their pants on. Peeking through this layer of sensuality is an element of heart-wrenching emotional loss. With nearly every track the listener is caught in a constant limbo of not knowing whether to body roll or to sob. This emotional intensity is most clearly demonstrated in The Weeknd’s closing track, “Privilege,” which focuses on romantic loss and finding ways to cope with it.

The ever-present syncopated beats drive the whole EP forward, despite being something a kid could probably create using a beat making app on their mother’s iPhone. The most notable of these beats are probably the two tracks The Weeknd partnered up with French DJ and electronic musician Gesaffelstein: “I Was Never There” and “Hurt You.” The Weeknd’s allure is in his ability to make simple beats, simple lyrics, and simple melodies become the literal embodiment of seduction. In this allure lies an issue — only so much can be done with such simplicity, and The Weeknd ran the risk of paying too close a homage to his earlier work with this EP. The beat in the chorus of  “Call Out My Name” is exactly the same as that in “Earned It” from The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness. With his career only dating back to 2013, The Weeknd should be wary of failing to put forward truly new material.

All in all, My Dear Melancholy, leaves the listener quite satisfied (in more ways than one). This little glimpse of who The Weeknd used to be before “Can’t Feel My Face” shot him into the world of pop is a nice breath of fresh air and a reminder of the artist The Weeknd truly is. He falls short on managing to create entirely new music while still containing the same sentiments as Trilogy. The Weeknd has plenty of gas left in his career as long as he can drive himself forward with new ideas that continue to uphold his music’s sensual identity.

 

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The Weeknd’s “My Dear Melancholy,” EP Review. Featured image credit: XO and Republic Records.