Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: LINKIN PARK'S "HYBRID THEORY"

Hybrid Theory is the debut album from Linkin Park, one of the most prolific alternative bands of the 2000s. Released in 2000 to massive success, Hybrid Theory launched the band into superstardom and remains not only the band’s most recognizable work, but one of the most recognizable albums of the 21st century.

The content:

There’s something alluring about Hybrid Theory’s blending of genres that instantly had me hooked. Even as someone who’s forever written off Linkin Park as too mainstream of an act, too adolescent-oriented of a band, there’s a certain dynamic in this album that can’t be denied.

The first thirty seconds of the opening track, “Papercut”, are enough to work in electro, rap, rock, and dubstep influences, all of which are handled excellently – fans of any genre would find something to admire in this track. Going past these large-scale factors, little things like the harmonics in the chorus layered under rapper Mike Shinoda’s vocals give depth to the song that set the tone for the album.

Then comes “One Step Closer”, where the intensity dials to the maximum.

“One Step Closer”, opening with a single raw riff, blows up into a sonically heavy barrage of what is easily an album highlight. With vocals that alternate between grit and straight power, and a subtly mixed guitar track that gives way to novel turntable effects, “One Step Closer” flies full in the face of the listener, bursting with lyrics (“Shut up when I’m talking to you!” is a more famous one among the band’s fanbase) that straight-up assault and brim with anger.

The rest of the album follows similar territory, treading unusual ground between soft melodies and biting, raging choruses. While the lulling piano in “In The End” brings much needed calmness throughout the album’s anger, often the calmness is but a red herring; the opening Latin-inspired strings in “A Place for My Head” make way to one of the heaviest mixes of turntables and drum beats on the album.

Perhaps my only criticism of the album are the lyrics. While it’s evident that effort went into writing these songs in the wake of their musical complexity, the lyrics feel as though the band tried a little too hard in relating to its audience.

Take, for example, a lyric from the chorus of “Papercut”: “It's like I'm paranoid lookin' over my back/It's like a whirlwind inside of my head.”

Sure, the lyrics mean something. But even then, it reeks distinctly of teenage “edge” – hell, this is some of the stuff I would’ve thought was deep at age 15. Another lyric from “One Step Closer” illustrates this similarly: “Everything you say to me/Takes me one step closer to the edge/And I'm about to break.” While these lyrics are far from mindless or contrived, they feel constructed to channel a youthful anger that covers nothing more than platitudes of adolescent angst.

Hybrid Theory takes the expertise of multiple genres and truly stands out on its own. If you’re only even a little into rock, rap, nu-metal, or punk, Hybrid Theory has something to offer for fans across the map. For an album that was released close to twenty years ago, Hybrid Theory stands up well as a modern classic.


The impact:

Upon its release at the turn of the millennium, Hybrid Theory threw the band into ultra-stardom, cementing their status as one of the most recognizable rock groups of this century as the album became 2001’s biggest seller.

The album’s success, however, wouldn’t have come to fruition without the inclusion of frontman Chester Bennington in the band just one year prior to the album’s release.

“He really was kind of the final piece of the puzzle, and he brings vocal talent that, when we were looking for a second vocalist, we didn’t see anything close to his talent in anybody else,” said co-member Brad Delson.

Combine Bennington’s vocal prowess with the newfound style of their music, and their success with Hybrid Theory, and its singles in particular, feels like the perfect storm of all these little things. Hybrid Theory would go on to become Diamond-certified by the RIAA for sales of over ten million copies, a rare feat for an album in the 2000s with the advent of digital file-sharing.

One track in particular, “In The End,” saw stratospheric success when released as a single from the album, and is today considered one of the band’s most recognizable songs.

Bennington, however, wasn’t originally keen on the track.

“I was never a fan of ‘In The End’,” Bennington said, “And I didn’t even want it to be on the record, honestly. How wrong could I have possibly been?”

Hybrid Theory, and by extension Linkin Park as a whole, is often seen for the juvenility hidden under the adult heaviness.

Hybrid Theory spoke to the teenagers who didn't mind getting sent to their rooms because that's where the cool shit in the house is,” wrote The Diamond in their retrospective on the album. “If a 16-year old half penned the stuff that pops up on Hybrid Theory, he'd kick back and savor the moment, thinking it was the realest shit he ever wrote.”

Yet for its musicality, the album today remains timeless, even if the band would eventually diversify its portfolio away from its nu-metal roots.

“While Linkin Park's evolution away from anything remotely metal-based means many original fans have fallen out of love with them,” wrote Team Rock, “Hybrid Theory remains flawless...its influence runs rampant.”


The future:

Linkin Park’s newest single “Heavy” off of their newest album, One More Light, launched last Thursday. The new album is expected to drop on May 19th of this year. Previous to the album’s announcement, the band had posted cryptic messages and image fragments on social media, leading to the reveal of the album’s cover.

“One of the reasons we picked ‘Heavy’ as the first single is because it’s kind of core to the sound of the album,” Shinoda said in regards to the new single. “This isn’t like a polka album with one song that sounds like this. This is how the album sounds.”

The song was performed live via a Facebook livestream on the day of the album’s announcement.



Next week’s album: Megadeth’s “Rust In Peace”

Friday, February 17, 2017

REVIEW: THE BEATLES' "SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND"

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album released by The Beatles, perhaps one of the greatest classic rock bands of all time. In light of the band’s massive success, Sgt. Pepper’s was met with instant acclaim and commercial success, but to this day has been regarded just as highly for its icon status, becoming what many consider to be the single greatest album of all time.

The content:

I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of 60's rock, particularly for its softness compared to later rock movements.

Sgt. Pepper’s, however, is about as in-your-face as rock can get while maintaining a low-grit, happy-go-lucky snap to its groove.

Revolving around the concept of the alter-ego Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album’s thirteen tracks weave through different styles such as circus-inspired electro, Hindu classical, and toned-down folk rock. While it’s this strong variety united within the Sgt. Pepper’s concept that makes the album unique from earlier Beatles’ albums, the album still executes an enjoyable, consistent listening experience – even for those who, like me, have never given much attention to The Beatles in the past.

I find myself so drawn to this album because of its crispness – even writing on it fifty years later, I can still feel the ingenuity that inspired it, its avant-garde stylings that impressed even in 1967. The concept behind the music, whether it’s grandiose or scaled-back, is such a present driving force that you feel the ups and downs of the story as it progresses.


Two of the biggest tracks that maintain the narrative, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and its reprise, are easily the most “vanilla” rock tracks on the album while throwing in circus-like elements into the mix, bringing the alter-ego band concept full circle. The title track, which opens the album, and its reprise, as the penultimate track, provide the framework for how the music will ebb and flow through thirty-nine minutes of glam and grandeur.

One of the more different tracks that sticks out is “Within You Without You”, a Middle-Eastern inspired ballad whose soft vocals feel innately textured within the track’s sitar. Another track, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, begins with similar instrumentals. These tracks, though on the surface seem to be the anti-thesis of rock music, simultaneously seem to change the very way in which this album defines “rock”. It is through the unconventional that Sgt. Pepper’s sets the standard of the narrative over the arrangement.


The impact:

Sgt. Pepper’s impact as a singular piece of music, as what’s argued to be the greatest album of all time, is nearly immeasurable.

Let’s start, then, with the measurable.

Sales-wise, the album sold 2.5 million copies in the United States alone by the end of 1967, going on to sell another million before the decade’s end. Worldwide, the album has sold an astounding 32 million copies – one of the highest sales figures ever for an album.

But, from a cultural standpoint, Sgt. Pepper’s has had more impact than any sales figure could ever recreate.

For the time in which it was released, the album was perceived as a cry of rebellion.

“In Sgt. Pepper's intricate aural tapestry is the sound of four men rebelling against musical convention and, in doing so, opening wide the door for the sonic experimentation that launched hard rock, punk, metal, new wave, grunge and every other form of popular music that followed,” wrote Christopher Spinelli for Guitar World.

Sgt. Pepper’s, upon its release, was not only a rebel against everything music stood for at the time, but also a cultivator in what music would come to mean.

“It was the big bang of albums,” said Andy Greene of Rolling Stone. “This was the first concept album. All the songs go together to tell a story, and it's inspired every musician." Rolling Stone Magazine would later go on to place Sgt. Pepper’s on its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – specifically, at #1.

Paul McCartney himself commented on the album’s novelty status at the time.

“It was more of a production,” said McCartney. “On 'Sgt Pepper’s' we had more instrumentation than we'd ever had. More orchestral stuff than we'd ever used before.”

John Lennon also referred to Sgt. Pepper’s as the band’s magnum opus.

Sgt. Pepper’s is one of the most important steps in our career,” said Lennon during the album’s release. “It had to be just right. We tried, and I think succeeded in achieving what we set out to do. If we hadn't, then it wouldn't be out now."

World-renowned musicologist Oliver Julien, of Paris-Sorbonne University, has also spoken of the revolutionizing of the idea of an “album” as a result of Sgt. Pepper’s, citing the industry’s shift from albums as a “distribution format” to a “creation format” as a result.

In other words – Sgt. Pepper’s singlehandedly landmarked the use of an “album” to make a creative point, rather than a platform with which to release music.

The future:

When it comes to the future of The Beatles, the band’s physical feature doesn’t come into play (the group disbanded in 1970), but rather how its legacy will carry on through the following decades.

From the original “Beatlemania” fad in the 1960s to the band’s continued cultural relevance today, it doesn’t seem likely that The Beatles will fade into obscurity; it’s multiple successes, from Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper’s to Abbey Road, have permanently sealed The Beatles’ place in history as one of the greatest rock acts ever to grace the radio.

McCartney, who is now approaching his 80s and is one of just two Beatles left alive, has no qualms about continuing to perform solo in his old age.

“People say age is a number,” said McCartney. “It's a big number the older you get. But if it doesn't interfere, I'm not bothered. You can ignore it. That's what I do.”


Next week’s review: Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory”

Friday, February 10, 2017

REVIEW: THE STROKES' "IS THIS IT"

Is This It is the debut album from American rock group The Strokes. Released in 2001 after months of hype buildup following a European tour and an EP release, Is This It catapulted The Strokes to mainstream success to become one of the most popular and well-received albums of this century.

The content:

Is This It feels like the inspired lovechild of early Radiohead and an edgier version of The Who.

Thought the album was sonically softer than I initially expected, it’s not difficult to fall into the trance of the album’s initial groove and swing. The bass, loud as can be, absolutely excels in carrying the band’s finger-snapping riffs and drumbeats.

As a result of the album’s under-produced recording and mixing, each instrument gets to shine equally, allowing for both distinct guitars/bass as well as cool, mellow vocals that all intermix for a high quality listening experience.

Speaking on terms of the music itself, its light, melodic riffs and surface charm serve as a fa├žade for darker, more reflective lyrics. The second track on the album, “The Modern Age”, ends with “Tomorrow will be different/So this is why I’m leaving.” Hidden behind a somewhat peppy riff is that gut-punch dose of irony of making a change in the face of a different change.

Another lyric from “Alone Together” takes the moodiness further. “Oh, “You drink too much”/Makes me drink all the same” builds even more on the band’s wordplay while consistently maintaining just enough cynicism to have an impact.

I think it’s both the landmark instrumentation and lyrics in Is This It that makes it so great. Even if it doesn’t hit on a first or second listen, the album’s ingenuity sinks in like a significant other; though it may not be love at first sight, by the third outing the album’s grooves will leave you swooning.

The impact:

More than 15 years after its release, Is This It is considered by many to be one of the greatest albums of the 21st century.

The Slate, which named Is This It the greatest album of the decade in 2011, referred to the album as “a decade-defining record that set the agenda for how rock sounded and even looked throughout the aughts.” And, given the noted shift from “dad rock” to “arty arrogance” as noted by The Guardian (which named Is This It as the 4th best album of the decade), perhaps they’re right in their analysis.

Perhaps more unique about the album was the hype that built upon prior to the album’s release. After releasing just one three-track LP as a band, the band was almost instantly thrust into the spotlight, with a cover feature on NME and a wildly popular European tour, all before production on Is This It even began. 

For frontman Julian Casablancas, however, the fame didn’t come as easily as it seemed.

“Recording was painful; it sucked out my soul,” said Casablancas. “We only had a short period of time, and it was concentrating for 10 hours every day for a month and a half until 5 or 6 a.m., trying to focus on tones. I’ve never been so mentally fatigued as when I was finished with that album.”

The album also, to this day, retains its legacy for its starkness against the current rock trend of the time. The turn of the century right before Is This It’s release saw domination by both the nu-metal likes of Slipknot and Korn as well as the lighter pop-punk stylings of blink-182, New Found Glory, and other similar acts. 

Where Is This It comes in, however, is a revitalization of the classic 70s rock scene, straight down to the denim jackets, skinny jeans, and under-produced sound that stood against everything the industry of the time was about. It is safe to say, then, that Is This It stood out then as a different take on rock music, and continues to stand out simply for being genuinely good music.

Despite going against the grain, Is This It still saw immense commercial success, selling nearly two million units worldwide and charting both domestically and in the U.K.

The future:

The Strokes’ latest album, Comedown Machine, was released in 2013. A follow-up EP, Future Present Past, launched last year.

Though no official announcements regarding a new album have been made, in 2016 guitarist Nick Valensi revealed that the band was in the early stages of a new composition.

“We’re kind of just in writing sessions,” Valensei said.

The forthcoming album will likely continue with the band’s usual lineup of Casablancas, Valensei, rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti, all of whom have maintained the band’s lineup since its inception in 1998.


Next week’s album: The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Friday, February 3, 2017

REVIEW: FALL OUT BOY'S "FROM UNDER THE CORK TREE"

From Under the Cork Tree is the second full-length album from Fall Out Boy. Serving as their mainstream breakthrough, the album helped to popularize punk within the realm of emo, serving well alongside the budding genre. Cork Tree, particularly two of its hit singles – “Dance, Dance” and “Sugar, We’re Going Down” – is one of the most recognizable rock efforts of the 21st century as a result of its success and imprint on the emo genre.

The content:

For those in tune with the stylings of 2000s pop-punk and emo-rock, From Under the Cork Tree treads on strikingly familiar territory while simultaneously laying down new foundations.

Specifically, tracks like “Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued” falls in line synonymously with both the grandiose song titles and fourth-wall breaking lyrics that would go on to shape the early sound of Panic! At The Disco. Meanwhile, the album’s grungier riffs, like the introduction to “Of All The Gin Joints In The World”, call to mind some of My Chemical Romance’s early work, particularly from their 2002 debut, I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love.

However, where the album has its similarities, there are also unique elements to be found. Cork Tree establishes crisp drum beats and groovy bass lines in “Dance, Dance”, one of the album’s highlights. It’s these fresh takes on otherwise recognizable punk elements that introduce a fresh punk vibe to the band’s early emo sound.

Verging away from a comparative basis, Cork Tree delivers a variety of sound, even if it stays largely within punk domains. Vocalist and guitarist Patrick Stump brings a charming edge to lyricist Pete Wentz’s witty, if not grim lyrics; the album’s first lyric literally tells listeners, in Snicket-esque fashion, to “put this record down, take my advice, ‘cause we are bad news.”

But with the edge comes the somber in some of the album’s slower songs. One such lyric from “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” “I’m just a notch in your bedpost, but you’re just a line in a song,” ascends the song’s narrative to address itself while bringing genuinely smart writing to the table. Another song, “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner”, toys with wordplay and irony to keep the wit rolling: “So wear me like a locket around your throat/I'll weigh you down/I'll watch you choke/You look so good in blue."

From Under the Cork Tree feels like reading the beginning of a history book in that you get to listen to the beginning of an era. Fall Out Boy, with their first mainstream success, solidified not only the band's fanbase, but an entire genre with Cork Tree’s thirteen tracks of non-stop hits.


The impact:

From Under the Cork Tree helped to solidify Fall Out Boy’s status as both a stable rock group in addition to one of the three largest “emo” bands of the mid-00s alongside Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance.

Releasing around the same time as P!ATD’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (an album I reviewed back in December) and MCR’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, Cork Tree helped to cultivate a following within the emo subgenre of punk-rock, with the three aforementioned bands coming to be known as the “trinity” of emo-rock.

Cork Tree would go on to be named the ninth-greatest emo album in Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time.

“Fall Out Boy changed the course of emo-punk, pop-punk and pop itself with From Under the Cork Tree,” the magazine wrote in its ranking.

For some, Cork Tree was meant to be a grandstand effort that would follow in the footsteps of the band's debut, 2003’s Take This to Your Grave. Others, before Cork Tree’s release, would introduce Fall Out Boy as one of the biggest new acts, breaking through the charts to turn the band into ultrastars. Cork Tree, however, was seen by many as a step away from their debut sound.

Wentz, however, has defended their sophomore album for what it is:

"We wrote a record that means a lot to us but maybe isn't going to mean a lot to the people who are hyping us as the next big thing. And that's fine. We don't want to be the saviors of anything — we just want to be ourselves."

The future:

Fall Out Boy’s fifth top-10 album and third No. 1 on the US Billboard 200, American Beauty/American Psycho, released in 2015. The band embarked on tour during that year before headlining the Reading and Leeds music festival in 2016.

At their headlining Reading performance, Wentz told the audience that the band would be “back with new music.” No plans for a new album from the band have since been confirmed.


Next week’s review: The Strokes’ “Is This It”