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Monsters in Nashville

July 8, 2012

“Yeah…we’re all Asian,” Alex Hwang greeted the crowd at Nashville’s Mercy Lounge, Monday June 11th. Pushing up his large Beatnik-Wayfarer styled glasses, he asked, “Can you guys do something for us for our friends back home, don’t worry we won’t be offended…just make a peace sign for the camera.”

Demonstrating the different adjustments of the Victory V, Monsters Calling Home’s lead singer and guitarist Hwang laughed as the crowd enthusiastically threw peace signs into the air.

“That’s perfect.”

The extremely close knit Southern California band charmed the crowd with sheepish charm and modesty, the six members stood in a half circle facing the audience, smiling to hide the nerves. A tamborine began to clammer as their first song, “Fight to Keep,” began. Hwang’s clear and strong vocals cut through the silenced awe of the crowd and the acoustic guitar followed suit with increasingly passionate strums. Another guitar jumped in the instrumental explosion, with faint percussion gently guiding the rush. This was Monsters’ first appearance in Nashville and the extremely upbeat folk they brought with them fit right in.

The band’s eclectic mixture of violin, acoustic guitar, tamborine, percussion and ocassional mobile accordian-keyboard set them apart from other folk indie camps. Ever song in their set was masterly created. Each vocal complimented the next, and the soft drumming furthered the vulnerability in each song. A beautiful highlight was the band’s “Foxbeard,” a beautiful ballad telling the story of the struggle between selfishness and selflessness, was Monsters’ shining moment as the crowd swayed to the violin’s crooning lullaby and an intensifying drum beat.

Monsters Calling Home are a curious set of musicians with a passion for incorporating different folk instrumentals with new age indie sounds.

But really, their vocals are amazing:


Family Banjos

June 13, 2012

I’m not the first to mention The Avett Brothers. I’m not their number one fan. I won’t pretend like I know the origin of every song. What I will state, with 100% confidence, is that the band is a one talented group of musicians.

I think “musician” fits perfectly when describing the trio (quintet when counting touring members). Each one offeres a unique take on an instrument commonly found in either a symphony or on stage at a Nashville honky-tonk. That was what stood out to me upon my first listen of I and Love and You. “January Wedding” began with a plucking banjo accompanied by clear and powerful vocals, not quite singing but  not quite talking.  Modern bluegrass, raw and genuine, the Bros. did not let me down with the next song in the queue. “Ten Thousand Words,” another calm and sweet acoustic melody, brought throaty folk vocals by Avett Brother 1 met with an echo from Avett Brother 2. A personal favorite on this particular album (which is from 2009, leaving anticipation for a 2012 album release understandably high) is “Head full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise.” As the title foreshadows, this track’s gloomy tone threads throughout the instrumentals, vocals and lyrics. However, there is a hopefulness within the dark.

“There was a dream and one day I could see it/ Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it/ And there was a kid with a head full of doubt/ So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out.”

Like “Head full of Doubt,” “Perfect Space” also symbolizes an internal struggle. An indie rock ballad, this track jumps back and forth between aggressive strumming and piano riffs. The band captures the contradicting ideas of limitation and freedom with its unhibitness of each song. Whether  they are consistent with their down-by-the-dock swaggerm, or experiment with unique instrumental sounds, the Avett Brothers’ raw and genuine passion is obvious.

Coil and Recoil

November 22, 2011

The vocals are raw, straightforward and sometimes whiney, but the effect is worth the confused first listen. Tigers Jaw sets the perfect mood for any occassion…because they have such a diverse and interesting organization of their vocals and instrumentals. But hey, the final product sounds great!

The acoustic guitar is surprisingly soothing accompanied by aching vocals . There is a genuinness to Tigers Jaw. Vocals reminiscent of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba’s, Tigers Jaw captures teenage angst. However, there is a folky quality about the music that veers away from the “emo” fan’s wet dream. Even in ballads that begin slow and seem to engross you forever, the breakdown offers an unexpected twist, like in “Never Saw it Coming” & “Plane vs. Tank vs. Submarine.” I’m not talking death metal breakdowns, but more garage band punk meets screamo. Light on the eardrums but still enough noise to package a punch, Tigers Jaw’s hints of distortion compliment the pained vocals.

Best listens: “I was never your boyfriend,” “Never saw it coming,” “Sun,” “I saw the wolf” & “Dent”

All of Tigers Jaw’s three albums are very consistent in style and sound. Two Worlds is their most recent and diverse as they experiment with  different elements of sound.

Oh and did I mention they’re from Scranton, Pennsylvania?

Poetic rap is not an oxymoron

November 16, 2011

I stumbled upon this list and was intrigued. I like listening to hip-hop and rap but I am far from well-versed on the genre and its
key players.  So, why not check out some of these intellectual-type rappers and feel a little cultured in the genre?

I started with number 1, Aesop Rock, whom I have heard of before, but after sampling a couple of his songs, decided his tone and
extremely complex lyrics were not for me.

So on to the list’s number 2 choice: Illogic.

His songs tell a story. However, not the typical rapper’s tale – money, drugs, girls and cops. Illogic’s lyrics invite the listener into his world, with  unguarded thoughts completely exposed. I’m familiar with Atmosphere’s music so I feel confident in saying that their attitudes are similar. On the other hand, comparing two rappers capable of creating such intricate, poetic verses does not give them enough credit. Illogic’s style comes across as passive aggressive but the poetics of his raps are intense and require reflection.

Illogic is the kind of artist that hypnotizes you when you listen – one song blends into eight. His beats are not profound or technical and he’s not the kind of rapper that relies on profane language to prove strengh or superiority. I think his strengths are soley in his words.

If you want to be introspective on a rainy day, Illogic’s Write to Death album is the way to go. If you want a little more upbeat and different lyrics, Celestial Clockwork will suit you.  Diabolical Fun is a new approach from Illogic, a little more aggressive and hyped.

Grit and Guitars

September 5, 2011

“Alternative refers to the under-the-radar, independent music that edgy, anti-establishment types can buy at Starbucks.” Steven Colbert

Ever since their songs were featured in commercials for Zales and Victoria’s Secret, the Black Keys can not be considered “under-the-radar.” And thanks to their appearance on the Colbert Report during Grammy fever 2010, they have completely surfaced to the mainstream world but unashamed and unscathed. During the show, Colbert explained his predicament in whom to give his “Best Alternative Artist” vote.  Deciding his own way to narrow down the ballot, Colbert pinned Vampire Weekend against The Black Keys in an ironic competition of the band that “whored themselves out” the most over the year. He satirically explains,

“The only way to determine which alternative band has the most edgy, noncommercial appeal is to se who got their songs in more commercials.”  

Though many pretentious music buffs stick their noses up at a mainstream route bands take, there is no denying that credit is due where credit is due.

Blues-rock duo The Black Keys transport their listener back in time, to nostalgic sounds of 70’s alt-rock with guitar styling resembling The Jimi Hendrix Experience. With a unique, antique and rough vocal the guys conjur the pulsating feeling that is old school blues while incorporating modern rock rythms. The Black Keys stand apart from so many new wave progressive artists (Rilo Kiley and Mercury Rev, just a few of Urban Outiftters’ favs) with this “dirty” sound. The guys’ newest album, Brothers, is also their sixth. But like most bands, The Black Keys really shine on their earlier albums, especially Attack and Release. Tunes to check out: “Set You Free,” “I Got Mine,” “Your Touch” and “Tighten Up.”

If you really want to experience the raw grit and fervor of the Keys, find a turntable/record player and the Keys’ The Big Come Up on vinyl. The best explanation for who the band is and what they hope to accomplish is stated right on the back of the album.

“For the past twenty years we’ve been living in a world of irony that has made it hard to access the true soul and grit of trembling guitar lines, aching voices, and heart pounding beats…one of America’s richest musical genre has been sucked dry of its vibrancy… However, when you place this record on your turntable you’ll suddenly realize – somewhere, somehow – there are people who are rekindling the life of truly soulful music.”

Check out “Yearnin,” “Heavy Soul” and “Them Eyes.”


August 17, 2011

Like so many in their early teens, I was overcome and drawn to popular “indie rock” MTV favorite bands. The likes of Fall Out Boy and Hellogoodbye blared through my speakers and all the while thinking to myself, “What a breakthrough find!”  However, it wasn’t until high school that I discovered the distinction between listening to candy-coated rock and real muscianship. Somehow, somewhere, something clicked and I was able to appreciate music without the help of hype, a previously established persona and bias. This was when I found my passion for music. Once a firey, 10-year-old’s lust for Good Charlotte evolved into an admiration for artists like Dance Gavin Dance, Saosin, Of Montreal, Mumford and Sons, Bright Eyes and As Tall as Lions. Each with its own genre allowed me to tread into deeper waters – Emarosa, Good Old War, Circa Survive, Matt Costa, The Whigs, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver – and before I knew it I was a PureVolume Music regular.

The other day I accompanied my brother to Grimey’s, a new and used music store in the West End of Nashville. The one-story building overflowing with CDs and vinyl ranging fromOtis Redding and Sam Cooke to My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Iron Maiden, was already swarming with potential connoisseurs pursuing their prey and ready to pounce.

 As a wandered and flipped through the “preloved” music section, I became intrigued by the broad range of different sounds and personalities inhabiting the store. It had been a while since I sat down and listened to music – not just relaxing with friends to chill background noise, but an exploration of a band.  I started to feel that passion I had gently tucked away for a while begin to creep its way back. I do not consider myself musically inclined – I can strum out Green Day’s “Good Riddance” or Blink 182’s “Small Things” for hours – but I do like to think I have a decent ear, and I want to start to discover again and listen.

So that is what I plan to do here: explore music of all kinds, sharing along the way.

Back to Reality

July 18, 2011

Have you ever had that feeling that you’re growing? An almost physical feeling, but mostly mental realization that you’re seeing things different? Not in a bad or scary way, but just perceiving events differently than you would have before. For instance, how you approach a certain situation now is different than how you would have months, or years, ago. I sent my parents an email (in our daily email thread of around 18 messages…each) one of my last days in London, telling them about a story I read and my thoughts and towards it. My mom replied with a short response, ending with, “We are so proud of you.” That’s when it really hit me that I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought I would being abroad. I really did do a bit of “growing up” over the past two months.

One of my good friends and I were discussing how our trip became more than just a “trip.” London has become another home.  There was a point when she looked a little frustrated. Ruffling her brow and looking into the distance she said, “I just dont want to look back and be like, ‘Oh I interned in London this summer…it was cool.’ I want to really appreciate the experience.”

I took a second to let her statement sink in. After thinking about it, I realized that everthing we’ve done over the past eight weeks was in fact the best way to appreciate this experience. All the people we met, all the different nooks and crannies of the city that we explored, is the reason I feel quite assimilated and settled. That alone is appreciation enough; feeling comfortable in a foreign place and accepting it for what it has to offer. We really did evolve from tourists to British. Now it is back to America – with a pocketful of eight quid and some odd pence…for next time.

For more blog posts, the “Official Indiana University Bloomington, Journalism School’s Summer in London 2011 Weekly Blogs” have tons of cheek to offer. Check out the JSchool’s website.