Category Archives: Musically Minded

Portable Landscape: Listening Tree

If you know what a “portable landscape” is, you’re probably very artsy. I guess I’m pretty artsy, but it still sounds weird when I try to explain it.

Basically it’s like a place that you’ve made…that you can pick up and move…so it’s not an installation. However, apparently “place” is a very broad term. My professor showed us a picture of a student’s portable landscape made out of a pair of pants with plants growing out of it. Cool story…anyways…I think I’m just gonna call it “three-dimensional art” like normal people do.  

The purpose of the piece was to create a place where I felt at peace or close to God–a place where I felt free. I fused two of such places together: nature and music. For now, I’ve titled it “Listening Tree.”

There may or may not have been music paraphernalia harmed in the making of this project….But I think they like their home a lot better now than when they were trapped inside my CD rack. I used strips of album cover artwork from music that has impacted me artistically, emotionally, and spiritually in both the past and present. Specifically featured appearances are made by Underoath: They’re Only Chasing Safety; ShowbreadNo Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical and Nervosa; Oh SleeperSon of the Morning; Secret & Whisper: Great White Whale; Burden of a Day: Blessed Be Our Ever After; Flyleaf: Flyleaf; Superchic[k]: Beauty From Pain; Chasing Victory: Fiends; As Cities Burn: Come Now Sleep; and The Devil Wears Prada: With Roots and Branches Below.

Other inspirations and influences include: Ansel Adams, Yosemite, Olafur Arnalds, Sigur Ros, Bon Iver, my solo hike in the woods, Family Force 5, the swing under the magnolia tree by my friends’ apartment, and my study abroad term in the mountains. And We Are Ansel…to anyone who is a fan of that band, yes I was thinking of the song “Look at the Tree!” the whole time.

Featured Artist: Ólafur Arnalds

Okay, I’m gonna come clean–I don’t like classical music that much. I know, I know, I should because I’ve played the violin since forever, but honestly…I have a hard time connecting emotionally a majority of classical music. Maybe it’s the harpsichord that bugs the heck out of me, or maybe it’s the piano accompaniments that really only serve to fill sonic space, or maybe I just haven’t worked hard enough to find out which classical artists I would like. 

I mean, I sure wasn’t looking for Ólafur Arnalds. And I love him. So maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough. That’d be fair.

I happened upon Ólafur Arnalds in philosophy class last semester.  Our professor had made split us into groups to choose something to define “Beauty,” and one group played his piece “3055” as their example.

Whether or not Ólafur Arnalds could possibly be the answer to Plato’s question of What is Beauty, I fell in love immediately with his music.

Think classical music with a contemporary twist–Arnalds brings in drums, nature sounds like wind and creaking wood, and the most delicate piano arrangements you may have ever heard. This is music to play while studying, sleeping, or showering at night, when you’re feeling sad, lonely, or peaceful, when its rainy outside or right after the sun comes out of the clouds on a spring day.

And the guy used to be in a metal band.
Recently, he scored the soundtrack for Another Happy Day. I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know if I will, but the soundtrack is, in one superficial word, fabulous. In more words, I’d say that the simplistic yet elegant arrangements featuring piano and strings are sweet, somber, haunting, can-I-touch-the-depths-of-your-soul flat-out beautiful. In different words, I’d say it’s one of the prettiest film scores I’ve heard lately, and I believe it’s too amazing for you to pass up.

Reign of Terror: Sleigh Bells review

A pair clad in shredded jeans and retro sunglasses, toting electric guitars, stacks of amps and pedals, and plenty of attitude step onstage. Brace your ears.

Ever since Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut Treats, the pop-hardcore collaborative team Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have taken the indie sect by storm. Almost literally. Their amp-exploding, eardrum-bursting sound is bar sonically overwhelming, but after the initial shock, the energy seems to catch feverishly. Coachella Fest bestowed Sleigh Bells a rather substantial slot in the 2011 lineup, and hype for the duo’s future has been well generated to say the least.

February 21, their sophomore album Reign of Terror dropped with the delivery of an ethereal sledgehammer, combining the grunge of metal guitars, the dance rhythms of hip-hop beats, and the dreaminess of 80’s pop. The album intros with a live recording of a crowd-pumping “True Shred Guitar,” as if to hearken to their previous success and taunt listeners to get ready for more. Enter in first single “Born to Lose,” a gut-puncher with staccato guitar riffs backed by haunting vocals. The sass fires up even more with “Crush” as it stomps in with clap-lead beats, Krauss shouting an addictive refrain, “Make you or break you!”

From there on, the album finds itself leaving some of the fist-pumping sassiness and weaving in and out of slower, more methodical jams. At some points, with “You Lost Me” and “Never Say Die,” the slower pace causes the tracks to flounder a bit in their thick sound structure of repeated lines and riffs that lack significant contrast in tones. However, other tracks successfully use the unhurried rates, including “End of the Line” and “Road to Hell,” which channel Cyndi Lauper-esque vibes due to Krauss’ crooning, airy vocals outlined by calculated guitar wails and gunshot drums.

And “Leader of the Pack,” kicked off with a rifle shot, is certainly just as shred-worthy. The methodical pace allows the track to get grungy with heavy layers of distorted effects and grinding guitars, and Krauss’ vocals match the tone as she sings about the death of a loved one: “You know it’s over / Don’t you know / he’s never coming back.”

The direction towards somber lyrics reflects the dark experiences of death in Miller’s family, and this seems to account for the differences in tone between Treats and Reign of Terror. Even so, the lyrics are simplistic if not ambiguous in meaning. Though Krauss can chalk up the melancholy with repetitive lines, “No one loves you / up above / no one hears you / no one sees you” from “End of the Line,” the overall intensity of Sleigh Bells’ sound safely refrains from angsty weepiness, and these tough issues are presented in a this-is-how-life-goes sort of way.

And in response, second single “Comeback Kid” drums up the adrenaline with the anthem of a survivor, energized with infectious guitar chugga-chuggas contrasting sugary vocals. The hardcore peak of the album, “Demons” follows with howling effects before it attacks the listener with feisty chants and raw, crunching guitars to headbang to.

The concluding song, “D.O.A.,” spotlights Krauss’ vocals by providing a downplayed backdrop of distorted guitars and effects. The overall affect is as haunting as the last lines: “Wipe the blood from your nose / how come nobody knows / how the chorus should go / remember who you are.”

Though perhaps not as explosive as Sleigh Bells’ debut, Reign of Terror sure offers plenty of material to blow your speakers out to. Their unique sonic assault with its blend of heavy and light, rough and soft, all shot out with a sassy stare, will keep the indie fans following with ecstatic awe.

Featured Artist: Levi The Poet

She had a stained glass window for a heart – 
a shoebox for a chest cavity, and a kaleidoscope for a soul 
that would reflect its light back at me. 
Depending on the day, she shone different colors. 
She had a handful of favorites that she kept locked inside her cupboards.
She’s got drawers in her stomach, 
yeah she knows how to swallow her pride, 
but it get compartmentalized in the crawlspaces, 
and builds up inside.
She says she’s fine, but she lies, so she keeps sunglasses on to try to hide her eyes.
And at night, she stays out of the shadows – it’s one of the only times that her true color shines.”
–“Kaleidoscope,” Levi The Poet 

Recently I have become sort of obsessed with listening to Levi The Poet, after I downloaded his collection Monologues offered for free on Come&Live!’s site.

Honestly, the way I describe Levi the Poet’s work is by imagining hardcore music and poetry getting married and having a baby. The lyrics are intense and honest, confronting tough life struggles of loneliness, addictions, failing, fears, finding love, and finding God–recited with as much emotional transparency as Levi can muster, sometimes shouting the words with a voice scraped raw.

Some of his most popular pieces are “Pretty in Pornography”–a direct stare into the face of men & women’s battle with porn–and “Memories,” an adaptation of the book of Luke.

If I had to pick some favorites, right now I’d probably pick “Oh Captain, My Captain,” “Bluer Eyes in the Fall Season,” and “Kaleidoscope.” If you’re into poetry–and if you’re into honesty–I highly encourage you to check him out; you might find a connection to your soul.

Here’s some videos of his:

Featured Artist: PieceMakers

First thing I have to say:

I’m proud of my young fellow friends and acquaintances for pursuing their creative dreams during rough and uncertain times in this economy.

The dream killers of this world will tell you to study your brains out to get smart so some Ivy League college will accept you because hey that’s the only school that will prepare me to get a job right, then sell your soul to studying a field you could care less about but hey it’ll get me a job right, and then plunge further into debt to get a Master’s degree because hey I’m not good enough to get  a job yet and now I’ll for sure get one once I graduate right. And GOD FORBID you sign up for some artsy-fartsy major like Music, English, or Studio Art.

The people that bow to this social pressure I pity, for I am seeing people I know and love working hard to attain their true dreams, not looking down on themselves because they are young and creative, but setting an example for the world in their artistic passions.

And so today, as I was checking Facebook, I saw a post of a music video called “I Hope to Remember”…and, well, I watched it. Backed by soft guitar strums, the singer croons with somber emotion about a broken relationship as he contemplates pure love, while the video montages a couple struggling through a breakup. The work of both the music and video was rather beautiful, with harmonious tones in sound contemplated by the soft lighting and cool color scheme of the visuals. And the story portrayed struck me with honesty–I related, I blinked away a tear or two in my eyes–and I may or may not have listened to it again…and again…

But the best part: the music was created by my friend’s newly formed indie/acoustic rock band PieceMakers. The video work and acting was done by some guys from my high school youth group, who are presently in the hardcore band Kady! Danger.

Be inspired.

Upcoming Showbread concept album/movie Cancer

Heads up, rocker people. Showbread’s starting a new project, called Cancer. This time the goal is…to make a movie.

Yeah, what? 

Cancer is a long-gestating idea that we’ve toyed with for years, but never had the resources to adequately accomplish our vision. A science-fiction concept album with an elaborately detailed universe fleshed out with music, lyrics, visual art and a movie,” the band says.

Those of you familiar with the band are probably just saying, “Typical Showbread.”

Those of you who are unfamiliar with Showbread, here’s the blurb: innovative musical harsh beauty that has morphed over the years from spastic screamo to strange pop rock, twisted into the realm of Nine-Inch-Nails-esque experimental vibe and back into post-hardcore with rock-and-roll leanings, leaving us with their last project at just plain, wonderfully chill rock. The band is fronted by Josh Dies,  a poetic lyricist who writes of the rough, raw, and redeeming aspects of life, sometimes using dinosaur imagery. Typically the band dresses up for concerts in costumes and exaggerated makeup, either as a part of the theme of their most recent album or just for the heck of it.

And just as likely as they are to talk about zombie movies or get a tattoo, they’re ready to get serious about their mission: to spread their music in such a way to proclaim the message of Jesus.

“The landscape of our last concept album, Anorexia Nervosa, was… grand. We want to go bigger. Much bigger. An intricate world of a story set to the soundtrack of a Raw Rock space opera and accompanied by it’s own feature film! We want to gather/combine all our creative resources into telling a massive, multi-sensory extravaganza of a story that screams an incredible truth: Jesus has conquered death!”

Like their last album, the goal of this project is to raise the money to fund its creation and then give it all away for free. You can read all about the project here  and donate if you feel led to do so. If interested in sort of obscure rock with a message that will strike you deeply in your heart, I highly recommend you checking these crazy bros out. Their last album Who Can Know It? is available for free download on ComeandLive!’s site right here. Get it and Like them on Facebook or something.

Raw rock on, my friends.

The Devil Wears Prada Dead Throne album stream

My hardcore headbanging persona is grinning stupidly right now; The Devil Wears Prada is now streaming the entire Dead Throne album (which is due to release this September 13th). 

I’m four songs in so far, having listened to “Dead Throne,” “Untidaled,” “Mammoth,” and “Vengeance.” And so far, it sounds like a blast of brilliant metalcore to me, which is why the aforementioned headbanging persona is hardcore dancing in my head right now. Check it out right here…right now. Tell me whatchya think.


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