The Weeknd–“Beauty Behind the Madness” Review

by Andrew Katsiris

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Canada has been no stranger to sharing the musical talents of its natives with the world.  From infamous pop stars like Carly Rae Jepsen and Justin Bieber to the hip-hop great, Drake, one of the greatest talents the cold North has blessed us with is no other than Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd.  The R&B singer did little to project himself as a pop phenomenon early in his career, accumulating a following online while keeping his identity anonymous.  He first performed live in 2011, and since then has increasingly gained popularity in the United States.  His first album, originally three free mixtapes, was released in 2012 under the appropriate title, Trilogy, which was followed in 2013 by the less popular album Kiss Land.  It seemed the Weeknd was stuck with his devoted fan base and features on bigger artists’ tracks, until he released the out of nowhere pop sensation, “Earned It.”  This was the first track off of his third studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness, but at the time held its own on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.  Abel followed up with the smash-hit, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” and the singer’s rise to mainstream popularity had begun.

Beauty Behind The Madness is not short of the explicit sexual actions and drug use references that the Weeknd has been known for, but that doesn’t keep his pop hits off the radio.  His most popular track, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” is in heavy rotation on pop music stations, despite Abel’s confession that the song is about the numbing and euphoric effects he feels while using cocaine, rather than a girl.  The track was #1 in the country not too long ago, according to Billboard.  While the song has been noted to sound like a Michael Jackson single, the most prominent homage to the King of Pop can be found further into the album.  One of my personal favorite songs from the album, “In the Night,” had me taken aback when I first listened to it.  I turned to my friend in the passenger seat of my car, who had requested I hand him the aux cord so that he could play said track, shocked that the same artist behind “Wicked Games” was the same one belting out MJ-style vocals that could have passed as the late singer.  Needless to say I was impressed.

All in all I’d consider Beauty Behind The Madness to be one of the most unique sounding projects of the year, and although it has already achieved massive mainstream success, there is no need to dismiss it as a cheesy pop album (looking at you, hipster Imagine Dragons fans).  The album is available on iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify for streaming.  Some tracks I thought were most notable were “The Hills,” “In the Night,” and “Prisoner (feat. Lana Del Rey).”

You can listen to Andrew Mondays at 2:30 only on WIUN!

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ALBUM REVIEW: Drake – “If You’re Reading This it’s too Late”

by Carla Gaviola
Drake's "If You're Reading This It's Too Late"

Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”

Drake, or as my friends and I affectionately call him: “Aubrey Jake”, is arguably one of the biggest and most influential MCs in the hip hop world right now—big enough that pulling a surprise drop of his latest “album” (he did post a Twitter picture: “Do you like my mixtape?) was enough to keep the internet buzzing for days and propel it to the number one position on the Billboard 200.
With his signature dark ambient production, meme-worthy (honestly? I am already shaking my head at myself for writing that, but it’s the only way to put it) lines such as “I–WAS–RUNNING–THROUGH–THE–SIX–WITH MY WOES!” from Know Yourself, offset with lyrics full of both self-awareness and take-downs of his record label and hip hop scene rivals, the 17-track mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is Drake at his peak braggadocio.
I listened to the release a few hours after it came out and once the initial hype of “New Drake!” died down, the experience felt somewhat stale as a whole. The album is definitely full of bangers from the reaffirmation of Drake’s status in “Energy” to the Madonna tribute appropriately titled “Madonna” (bet you didn’t see that coming), but the change of pace and flow that Drake does best isn’t best showcased in this mixtape: in a few songs, perhaps, such as the hazy collaboration with PARTYNEXTDOOR or the eerie cathedral ambiance of Star67. This isn’t a fault though, since it’s not actually a full-fledged album and is composed of mainly throwaway tracks—which is only testament to Drake’s talent in itself.
All in all, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is a decent enough release to tide us over before Drake drops his next album, and if the quality of this mixtape is in any way indicative of Drake’s next effort, let’s just say that it’s a prelude to something much, much bigger.
Standout tracks: Energy, Know Yourself, Star67, Now & Forever, Jungle
Find out more about Drake here!
And make sure you listen to Carla on WIUN Mondays at 1:00 PM CST!

ALBUM REVIEW: Big Sean–Dark Sky Paradise

by Andrew Katsiris

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I have never listened to a Big Sean album from beginning to end, nor have I ever purchased an album of his.  To be quite honest, I have only listened to Big Sean when he is featured on a track by Kanye West, Drake, etc.  That is, until “Dark Sky Paradise” was available for preorder on iTunes.  And I think it was worth preordering.

Granted, that’s not what I thought in the weeks leading up to the album’s release.  Initially, the only track available for download was the single by the name of “I Don’t F*** With You,” featuring E-40.  Right off the bat, I wasn’t happy with it, and for one reason: I cannot stand E-40.  When G-Eazy released his debut album, “These Things Happen,” one of my favorite songs (“Far Alone”) had an E-40 feature; in a nutshell, he ruined the song for me.  He threw down a verse on the first single off of “Dark Sky Paradise,” and ruined it as well.  Aside from the nonsense beat (a DJ Mustard signature), the song played its part well, as a post-breakup song for Sean’s male fan base.

His second single, “Blessings” featuring Drake, gave a hint that the album would address more mature topics than telling off one’s ex.  Drake drops a verse, as well as the hook on this song, which I thought was…decent. Not bad, but I could’ve been done better.  The track was met with positive reviews, and a second version was released by DJ Skee, with an additional Kanye West verse.  Although only 30 seconds, the Yeezy feature was praised by fans everywhere (I was not one of them).  The second version never found its way to the album, which in my eyes is not a total loss.  But after hearing the features in the first two singles, I was beginning to feel skeptical about the upcoming album.  However, I was worried for nothing.

While the act of releasing a single or two from your unreleased album to build hype for said project is not a method pioneered by Big Sean, it was a method he executed perfectly.  “I Don’t F*** With You” and “Blessings” are not the best tracks on the album, not by a long shot.  While they touched base with the childish, break-up topic and the cocky, “we’re better than you” topic, the album starts off on the right foot.  “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers)” provides an introspective look into the life of Sean, with an instrumental that pulls the entire track together.  And it’s only the beginning.

Track 3 gives us the second collaboration between Big Sean and Kanye West, “All Your Fault.”  Hard drums, soul-style samples, Kanye singing the bridge, and an uplifting hook is what makes up the recipe for one of my favorite tracks on this album.  It works beautifully, and the third verse even has Sean and Kanye swapping lines, reminiscent of the Kanye West/Jay Z collaborative album, “Watch The Throne.”  I couldn’t help but want to listen to it again before moving on to the next track.

All in all, the album is a quality piece of work.   With features by Jhene Aiko, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, Drake, Kanye, and more, there is no shortage of talent.  Am I glad I pre-ordered “Dark Sky Paradise” on iTunes?  Absolutely.  Do I recommend it?  No question about it.

My favorite tracks (and in my mind, most noteworthy) were “Dark Sky (Skyscrapers),” “All Your Fault,” and “One Man Can Change the World.”

Find out more about Big Sean’s new album at his website!

And be sure you listen to Andrew Tuesdays at 1:00 PM on WIUN!

ALBUM REVIEW: Windmills — Broken Record

by Matt Sapita

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From Windmills’ Bandcamp

At first listen, Windmills’ “Broken Record” is an example of how polish can make an underground artist a contender against AAA artists. Looking closely, however, “Broken Record” becomes a truly notable up-and-comer: a combination fresh breath of air and throwback in a genre choked with juggernauts the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z.

Windmills is made up of Framework and Rex Ray, and together they’ve worked to create a cleanly cut and edited album, with a sound that reminds me of the golden age of hip-hop and R & B. “Regular Handshake,” “The Beach When it Rains,” and “Graffiti in the Night” have a level of honesty to their sounds that modern hip-hop too often confuses with confidence and ego. For the most part, Windmills seems to have found the right level of complexity to their beats, mixing in guitar and saxophone enough to be complimentary to Framework’s vocals, rather than distracting.

That being said: the primary issues with “Broken Record” are the lyrics throughout. Framework’s flow is respectable, as is much of the content, but sometimes it can be lacking. Many of the songs chorus’ are fairly weak, and towards the end of “Regular Handshake” and “Bring Out the Sun” I found the level of repetition off-putting. Worse, though, I found my eyes rolling at “Underground Gem’s” call to “spread love.” Lyrics such as these bring to mind artists such as Twenty-One Pilots and their awkwardly PG lyrics, and feel out of place compared to the rest of the tracks. The final, and most disappointing aspects of “Broken Record,” are Rex Ray’s back up vocals. His voice often comes off as droning and out-of-place, a style best left back in the age of Biggie.

Over all, Windmills second album is definitely worth a listen, bringing an honesty and originality that modern hip-hop could sorely use. “Broken Record” promises a strong future for Framework and Rex Ray: one that I hope is realized.

Notable Tracks – “Regular Handshake” “The Beach When it Rains”

Find out more about Windmills’ new album here!

And listen to Matt on WIUN Thursdays at 7:00 PM CST!

Iceage – “Plowing Into the Field of Love” Album Review

by Carla Gaviola

Iceage – “Plowing Into the Field of Love”

The music of the Danish punk band Iceage is typically lumped more into that classic punk sound evocative of bands such as Refused, frantic and fierce. However, their latest effort, Plowing Into the Field of Love (even the title itself is a radical departure!) works to shatter all of those previous notions about the band and serve as a landmark for the young band’s continuous evolution.
The opening track, On My Fingers, provides an excellent “amuse-bouche”, if you may, of what is about to come for the next 50 minutes: set on a backdrop of pianos and crashing cymbals that provide a sense of grandeur, vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt does his best Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds impression for a track that stretches up to 5 minutes—definitely another stark contrast from their previous releases comprised of fast-paced aggression, with their track lengths ranging from about a minute to two.
This aforementioned Bad Seeds influence is something which I felt permeated throughout the entire album, giving it a foreboding aura. The album’s tone is of dichotomies: comic yet dark, lush yet bleak. The track “Let It Vanish” with its galloping drums and guitars that you could almost picture in a Spaghetti Western standoff, and the lyrical content which has expanded with Iceage’s sonic palette, with subjects ranging from self-loathing to a story about a father and a son, to “The Lord’s Favorite” featuring Dionysian ecstasy and strippers immersed in metaphors. In a way, Plowing Into the Field of Love may polarize previous listeners of the band who fell in love with Iceage’s sense of urgency which seemed to bludgeon.
Their latest effort concentrates more on dynamics and control, building up and falling with tracks almost bordering on cinematic with their rich instrumentation featuring pianos, violas, even a horn section. However, I believe that this is just a mark of Iceage growing up and like an adolescent emerging from their “angsty” phase, it’s an exciting, although somewhat confusing, thing to behold.
Standout tracks: The Lord’s Favorite, Glassy Eyed Dormant and Veiled, Abundant Living, Against the Moon
Find out more about Iceage right here!
And listen to Carla Thursdays at 12:30 PM CST only on WIUN!

Logic – “Under Pressure” Album Review

by Andrew Katsiris

Logic – “Under Pressure”

When you hear the words “under pressure,” the first thing that may pop into your head is the catchy bass riffs, the rhythmic clap/snap combination, and Freddie Mercury’s vocals from the class Queen and David Bowie record.  However, October 2014 brought with it a new hip-hop album that’s better than pumpkin-spiced lattes.  Twenty-four year old Maryland rapper, Logic, is the “young Sinatra” behind said album.

Released under Def Jam Records, his debut album did not disappoint the large fan base Logic had acquired in the underground rap scene.  And he is not new to the pressure, release, and reception of feature-length tracks; with four mixtapes under his belt, Logic had the confidence to drop a twelve-track album, including a fifteen-track deluxe edition.  While the norm for many artists in modern hip-hop would be to have many other artists featured on their songs, Under Pressure lacked any kind of feature, save for the deluxe edition (Childish Gambino featured on “Driving Miss Daisy,” Big Sean featured on “Alright”).  Without any features, he had the freedom to show off his skills without any comparisons.  In his tenth album track, “Nikki,” he seemingly raps about a complicated, love/hate relationship with a girl, but reveals at the end that Nikki is short for nicotine, and he had been rapping about a cigarette the entire time.  Logic, or as he is credited as a writer by his full birth name, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, does his share of producing the beats he raps on, specifically, “Nikki,” “Under Pressure,” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Like I said, Logic is not new to the hip-hop world; he released his first mixtape, Young, Broke, and Infamous, for digital download in December of 2010.  Following up, he released another installation of his Young Sinatra mixtape series every year, the most recent being in May of 2013.  With nearly a year and a half of touring with Kid Cudi and not releasing any new music, it is impressive that he was able to sell 71k copies in his first week.  Ironically, rapper J Cole told Logic the day before the release of Under Pressure to “not worry about first-week sales”; in retrospect, he really didn’t need to worry at all.  Check out Logic’s album on iTunes, available now.

Tracks on Under Pressure I found most notable were “Soul Food,” “Buried Alive,” “Nikki,” and “Alright” feat. Big Sean

Find out more about Logic!

And make sure you catch Andrew Mondays at 1:00 PM only on WIUN!

Paper Lights – “Caverns” Album Review!

by Julia Barrera

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Paper Lights — “Caverns”

When I originally came across Paper Lights album Caverns, I immediately assumed it would be the type of sound I would hear in the background of a café, or while doing homework, or a place like a mall, as a kind of filler. The sound I expected was easy listening, with perhaps little complexity. I soon realized upon listening to the album, admittedly while doing homework, that I was dead wrong.

Peppered with gradual builds, a variety of instruments, relevant lyrics, and an expansive sound, Caverns quickly distracted me from my work. The band, in some effortless way, catapults the listener into the vast expansions that the album title would suggest. The album cover is this vast terrain, with almost surreal rays of light shining down, and if this portrait could have a theme song, Paper Lights has captured this sound with skill. Delicate tones that generate a sense of inspiration, to soulful crescendos, and talented musicians, Paper Lights takes the listener from the expansiveness of the universe to trials within themselves. As it were, this is their aim.

Melanie Annabelle, the female vocalist, states in an interview with Michael Dawain from Taken by Sound, “We’d just write about things that were inspiring us, honest questions we were wrestling with, and all of a sudden…” Then all of the sudden they had this whole epic concept album. The band consists of 6 members, which likely attributes to the rangy sound and intriguing lyrics, with themes rooted in philosophy that bleed through. Seemingly enthusiastic about life, they present the listener with large cinematic sound, dreamy and etheric, while substantial enough to touch on darker themes. Some might say music itself, as an art, may have the power to expose certain truths and break down barriers within to speak to the soul. If so, Paper Lights is its embodiment. Battling apathy and isolation with raw, divine tunes that draw out the strengths in all scenes and individuals. So initially, when I thought this would be great background tunes, I was right, but my attitude about the whole thing stuck the band in a supporting role when it wanted to take the lead. My bad!

Once I gave it a chance, however, they, like any good artist, lured me in and showed me what I did not even know I wanted. Paper Lights considers themselves a family, and it shows. The genuine and inspiring sound that follows is what has gained them an enthusiast in me. Somehow, that is the best kind of journey. It is unexpected and reminds us not to hold too fast to our preconceived notions; to step outside our comfort zone and push beyond the walls that perhaps keep us safe, while simultaneously sheltering us from new experiences. I believe Paper Lights would respect the journey, and be pleased to see exactly the kind of transformation they hope for take place as the result of their wonderful sound

You can find out more about Paper Lights at their website!

And listen to Julia Tuesdays at 1:00 PM CST at WIUN!