State Champs at the Observatory

On Sunday, April 23, State Champs put on a stellar performance at the Observatory in North Park. Openers included London based rock band Don Broco, newcomers With Confidence and fellow New Yorkers, Against the Current.  Although I only knew a few songs from the opening bands, I can say they were successful in hyping up the crowd for the main event.

Don Broco energized the crowd with its heavy guitars, groovy bass line and Rob Damiani’s unique vocal melody. Up next was With Confidence. This Australian pop punk band first started by uploading covers onto Youtube and playing local shows. Now, they are running with the big kids. They expanded their fanbase after performing at the 2016 Vans Warped Tour and releasing their new record “Better Weather.” This pop punk quartet takes a soulful approach to the genre’s sound – a similar vibe to State Champs. This band is going to get big, just wait and see. The last opening band to take the stage was Against the Current. The major problem I have with them is not their music itself but their sound system. The bright guitars, synth sounds and instrument effects drowned out Chrissy Constanza’s vocals. Despite the cohesive sound made by the band, the singer’s vocals were not my cup of tea. Overall, the performance was mediocre at best.

Finally, it was State Champs’ turn to blow away the audience. And they did. From start to finish, the group put their all into the show, playing old songs, new songs and fan favorites. Their setlist included oldies such as “Stick Around,” “Deadly Conversation” and “Mind Bottled.” They even played a new song, “Slow Burn,” and “Around the World and Back” from their latest record. Opening with “Remedy,” Derek’s vocals blasted throughout the venue as he sang “I got no time…” over and over again. Arguably, he has the best vocals in the pop punk scene, and his performance merely solidified that. Each note, each verse, each vocal run he sang was perfect, and hyped-up the crowd. However, with the rest of the band included, State Champs becomes an unstoppable pop punk act. Each member has their own musical finesse and is capable of creating magic in the studio and on-stage.

By the end of the concert, the crowd was going insane and the atmosphere was electric. Crowd surfers were flying through the air, stage lights were flashing and everyone was going wild. I, for one, was right at the barricade, dripping with sweat and having the time of my life. After the show, I even had the pleasure of meeting Ryan Scott Graham, the bassist, and had him re-sign my inhaler. You could say I was overwhelmed.

This was my third time seeing State Champs and they never disappoint. Pop punk is not dead, kids. It is bands like this who keep that spirit alive.

Featured Image (State Champs @ Masquerade 11.21.15-52) by Nicole Kibert. No changes made. 

Back from the Dead: Paramore

This is it. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Paramore just dropped a new song, called “Hard Times,” with an official music video, and announced the release of their fifth album, “After Laughter,” out May 12. Mind you, all of this happened at 5:30 am – I felt very overwhelmed, but also happy.

 

Paramore has always been an experimental band. “Riot” was a force to be reckoned with in the pop punk scene, but over time the band transitioned into a more alternative rock sound, infused with pop inspirations. This style change can be heard in albums like “Brand New Eyes” and their self-titled work. Their upcoming album, however, takes an earnest approach to the synth ’80s pop – and I’m not complaining. Think Talking Heads-esque. Their direction of sound is the positivity 2017 desperately needs.
Although the band receives hate for “selling out” or becoming “mainstream,” this new sound is who they are. Paramore has never stuck to one sound for years and years. They are always evolving for the better, and “Hard Times” proves it. Being stagnant is never an option.
The upbeat guitar riffs, the funky bass line and the simple but groovy rhythm section manned by Zac Farro create a magical combination with Hayley’s playful vocals. But, what stands out to me is Taylor York’s guitar composition. His clean guitar work rings throughout the song. In spite of its simplicity, it’s catchy and carries Hayley’s voice – a perfect musical harmony. The incorporation of synths and vocal samples are also a nice touch, as the song gives off Daft Punk vibes, especially towards the end. This track just screams happiness and I absolutely love it.
Even the music video is bright and colorful. The technicolor graphics, the floating clouds and the multi-color corduroy outfits make this music video the happiest Paramore has ever released – a definite change from “Decode.” Fans can even see guitarist Taylor York wearing a color other than black, and that’s already a big step. Major props to the directors for producing such a visually pleasing video that grasps the song’s vibe in its entirety.
Paramore’s ability to incorporate different influences like ’80s synth, post-rock and New Wave is due to their lack of fear. They simply don’t care what critics say about their direction as a band. Instead they embrace the full control they have over the album’s sound, how it’s mixed and the way it’s delivered to fans. And you can tell because there’s heart in each bass pluck, drum beat, guitar strum and vocal melody. Paramore is 100 percent genuine and that’s why I love them.
Overall, the wait was worth it because this single is that one needed push to get me through the rest of the school year. The positivity from this song is electric and undeniable, and it’s truly amazing how one band single-handedly saved 2017. As a hardcore Paramore fan, I’m not disappointed by this release at all, nor am I mad that they changed their sound. I’m so excited for the full release of their album and I’m even more excited to watch this dynamic trio perform these killer songs. 2017 is Paramore’s year.

Featured image (“Paramore @Parahoy”) by Laurence Dion.  

5 on Friday: 5 Bands I’m Going to See at Warped Tour

Hardcore and pop punk kids know that summer means Warped Tour season. Started by Kevin Lyman in 1995, Vans Warped Tour is the longest North American music festival geared toward the rock, metalcore and pop punk scene. Legendary bands like Blink 182, Bad Religion, Green Day and Less Than Jake gained their most loyal fans by playing on Warped Tour. Years later, it’s amazing to see this new generation of acts taking the reigns. So, here are five bands I’m going to see this summer.
Neck Deep – Are you even a pop punk kid if you don’t listen to Neck Deep? UK act Neck Deep has made a name for themselves in music. With crowd-pleasers such as “Gold Steps,” “What Did You Expect?” and “Crushing Grief (Remedy),” to the sad boy classic “A Part of Me,” Neck Deep is the hype band everyone needs to see. I’ve only seen them live once before, at Warped Tour 2015, and that had to be one of my all-time favorite shows. Lead singer Ben Barlow is a man with no limits. He may not have the best vocals in the industry, but what he lacks in ability, he makes up for in performance. His energy is electric, and when combined with the band’s hard-hitting instruments it’s perfection. I highly recommend seeing Neck Deep because the atmosphere, music and crowd are all hype and heart.

 Dance Gavin Dance – Electrifying guitar licks, piercing vocals and outlandish lyrics perfectly describe Dance Gavin Dance. Back again on the Warped Tour lineup, DGD is ready to play favorites, such as “Uneasy Hearts Weigh the Most” and “Elder Goose,” and tracks from their newly released album, “Mothership.” This will be my first time seeing them live and I have high hopes. Many describe Tillian Pearson’s live vocals as a perfect mixture of pop-esque influences and the grit found in post-hardcore bands. Not only are Pearson’s vocals spot on, but Will Swan’s guitar ability is unmatched. His creativity and playful execution has made him one of my favorite guitarists in the scene. The deep bass and punchy drum line finalizes the group’s cohesive sound. If you don’t see DGD live for yourself then you’re going to miss out on a killer show.

Boston Manor – Despite being only recently signed to Pure Noise Records, newbies Boston Manor have already gained momentum in the scene. I’m not very familiar with their music, but this is Warped Tour. It is the best time to be open-minded and watch up-and-coming bands take the stage. From their new album “Be Nothing,” songs such as “Cu” and “Kill Your Conscience” carry a different vibe from the typical crowd-hyping pop punk. The album’s overdriven guitars, fast drumming and gritty vocals take a page from Balance and Composure’s earlier sound and even hint at Moose Blood’s album, “I’ll Keep You in Mind From Time to Time.” Boston Manor is more than the stereotypical, cutesy pop punk band, but an act with depth and meaning. I’m excited to hear what these guys have to offer.

 Trophy Eyes – When I first listened to their “Mend, Move On” album, Trophy Eyes didn’t impress me. Their sound lacked the originality and genuineness I hear from bands like Set Your Goals and Balance and Composure. However, I am willing to give them another try. Tracks like “Counting Sheep” and “Daydreamer” prove that Trophy Eyes does have the potential I was looking for. Although the rest of the album falls flat, in my opinion, I have an open mind and high hopes for their live performance.

 GWAR – I’m definitely not a metal head, but GWAR is a band I’m dying to see. To be honest, I don’t know any of their music. I’ve never listened to them, and I didn’t know anything about them until a few weeks ago. But, from their barbarian styled costumes to their wild on-stage gimmicks, this band is one to watch. Catch me in the pit going hard and covered in fake blood.

Featured Image (“Warped Tour Mosh Pit”)  by Ted Van Pelt. License

Khalid’s ‘American Teen’: A Track by Track Album Review

1. “American Teen” – The song kicks off with arpeggiated piano chords and synth, New Wave beats that accompany Khalid’s rich, soulful voice. He sings about the opportunistic and sometimes careless life of a teenager, and his desire “to get the hell out of” his now former high school. “American Teen” is a generational anthem about happiness, finding oneself and youth’s simplicity. However, it is not until the very end (when Khalid and his friends have a campfire jam session) that listeners get a feel for being a true American teen.
2. “Young Dumb & Broke” – “Young Dumb & Broke” gives off a “Young, Wild & Free,” by Wiz Khalifa, type of vibe. This song cherishes the recklessness of the teenage lifestyle and even pokes fun at the “teenagers never listen” stereotype (“Yadadadadadadada”). In the end, however, the theme is mediocre and overplayed with a rather simple beat. Overall, the song is good, but one of my least favorite tracks on the album.
3. “Location” – This song brought Khalid into the limelight with its simplistic, but beat driven, production. The staccato piano riffs along with the smooth-like-butter vocals give this song a laid back, atmospheric vibe. Unlike other R&B artists, who got their start from hype tracks, Khalid’s first hit is a slow jam with clean vocals and sharp production. Usually, people over hype the most popular track on the album, making me dislike it. However, this song proved me wrong and has established Khalid as a powerhouse performer and songwriter.
4. “Another Sad Love Song” – Despite its title, “Another Sad Love Song” is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and is also one of my personal favorites. The chorus is electrifying and catchy, while Khalid continues to incorporate a New Wave production style. It’s simple, but allows his soulful voice to carry the entire song. Catch me jamming out to this in the car.
5. “Saved” – Another favorite and one of his earliest works on SoundCloud, “Saved” is a song with smooth guitar picking and a bass line that rings throughout. This chill, vibe-out tune is the type of song you listen to in the car during a night drive. The jazz influences compliment Khalid’s deep, sultry voice while keeping up with the modern, beat driven production. Not until the very end does the song climax with a persistent beat and a harmony sung three and four octaves higher. Listen to this song – you won’t regret it.
6. “Coaster” – On the slower side of the album, this song starts with echoing “oohs,” simple piano tri-chords and Khalid’s smooth voice. His voice is the star of “Coaster” and a true talent (especially during the layered chorus). This ballad talks about previous lovers who lost the spark they once shared and now must find a way to move on. A somber song with emotions felt by any listener, this track shows Khalid’s ability to compose and deliver a different style of song.
7. “8TEEN” – The refrain, “So let’s do all the stupid sh*t that young kids do,” completely exemplifies Khalid’s running theme of being a teenager. Although this track shares the same message as “Young Dumb & Broke,” the lyricism and composition is more smoothly executed. The catchy piano chords echoing in the background, the synth sounding bass and the lyrics without the overdone “wild and free” message are refreshing. I definitely prefer this over track two on the album.
8. “Let’s Go” – Another song that emphasizes Khalid’s love for being a reckless teen, “Let’s Go” is a complete bop about just not giving a care. I can definitely see this song being sampled and remixed at a rave or house party. Anthem like, but composed well, I dig this track and you will too.
9. “Hopeless” – I love the addition of New Wave elements such as the experimental drum samples and vibe-y piano chords in this album. Khalid is definitely influenced by many ’70s and ’80s rock artists, as well as soulful R&B. “Hopeless,” however, doesn’t do it for me. This is a forgettable track that gets lost in the other standouts.

10. “Coldblooded” –  Who hurt you, Khalid? “Coldblooded” is about the heartbreak that left him sad and longing for love. This slow jam also isn’t a standout for me. It lacks the beat driven production and doesn’t flaunt Khalid’s true vocal talent. The only part of this song I could get into was the very end, and that feeling was fleeting.

11. “Winter” – Best song on the album. I’m not even going to explain. Please, listen to it.
12.Therapy” –  “Therapy” tells the story of a girl who’s his “addiction.” The feelings he has for her give him a high that he can’t escape. In so many tracks, Khalid doesn’t give us excessive sounding runs and bellowing falsettos. Instead, he has a soft, yet powerful and warm, voice that puts listeners in a relaxed trance. His unique vocal prowess is what stands out in this song. This talent is evident throughout the album, making Khalid a rare rising star.
13. “Keep Me” – The upbeat tempo track, “Keep Me,” opens with a more pop approach, compared to the majority of the other songs. The soft, finger style guitar is accompanied by a heavy but complimentary beat as Khalid sings about the imperfections of the girl he loves. There are more electronic influences (the crashing “cymbals,” voice remixes and sampled loops) incorporated to achieve the reoccurring New Wave sound.
14. “Shot Down” – With this song, Khalid changes it up. Instead of synthesized New Wave drum elements, he takes a more natural production approach. The harmonious intro, the repetitive piano chords and the steady snapping and percussion elements define raw talent. Even the lyricism that tells the tale of an overpowering love is ever so simplistic. “Shot Down” and “Coaster” are the tracks that prove Khalid is a versatile artist. With him, less is more.
15. “Angels” – At 19-years-old, Khalid is a poet. “Angels” is a fitting song to conclude “American Teen,” with piano keys that mimic those heard in church choirs. There is no overproduction or autotune – just keys and a heavenly voice draping me in warmth. Besides the musicality, the lyricism is genuine and vibrant, making listeners feel like they’re actually surrounded by angels. This final track leaves listeners speechless, and Khalid has really outdone himself by creating art so perfect. “Angels” is a bittersweet track that merely signals the beginning of this young teen’s stardom.
There isn’t much left to say about this album. This is an amazing debut for the El Paso singer, Khalid, and it has set the bar high for himself, as well as other R&B singers in 2017. “American Teen” is one of the best albums of the year and I give it a 4.5/5.