Monthly Archives: September 2012

Stars Prove Less Than Stellar in Concert

[The following is my third column that was published for the guide, the lifestyle magazine of The Hoya. The print version of AMPlify runs every other Friday. You can find the originals by searching my name at thehoya.com. Let me just say that this was not written in my proudest moment. I was majorly stressin’ for a number of reasons when I wrote this.]

Canadian baroque-pop band Stars returned to the 9:30 Club on Sunday night after two years. While the band played a few favorites to please their older fans, more than half of their set was tracks from their latest album,The North, whose 44 minutes consist of mostly forgettable tracks interspersed with some catchy, cinematic gems.

Luckily, Stars chose opening acts worth mentioning. The concert opened with Chicago-based California Wives, whose sound blends that of Stars and Silversun Pickups. A standard four-piece rock setup yielded a pleasantly upbeat, chill sound, smoothed out by raspy, shy vocals. “Tokyo” and “Marianne” were memorable, but otherwise, most of their songs sounded similar. The relaxed mood they instilled in the audience, though, was no preparation for the act that followed.

California Wives – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

Indeed, Toronto artist Diamond Rings was nothing less than a theatrical act. The performance started with three young men in black clothing who wouldn’t have looked out of place playing the role of the Jets in West Side Story. As the audience took that in, Diamond Rings made an entrance in all white.

Diamond Rings – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

Like a taller, gender-bending version of Swedish pop star Robyn, his dancing was just as wacky and reminiscent of convulsions as are some of the moves in her music videos. He played flamboyant, appealing songs with forward, metaphorical lyrics, thumping beats and catchy electronic riffs. He and his men in black had no problem getting the audience pumped for the main act but couldn’t bridge the genre gap between their band and Stars.

Diamond Rings – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

As is expected at any sold-out concert, the audience roared when Stars walked on stage against a simple backdrop of apartment buildings, reminiscent of their latest album art. They opened with “Theory of Relativity,” their first single from The North. By following it with “Fixed,” a track from 2010 album The Five Ghosts, Stars put forth the idea that they would play tracks both new and old, much to my pleasant surprise. However, from that point onwards, it was a constant back-and-forth between their latest songs and ones that I listened to on the 2005 “The O.C.” soundtrack. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Stars songs I played in middle and high school, but the song order the band chose really put me off. They neither presented their new album as a whole in order to give the audience a taste of how it sounds live, nor did they play many of the songs from their earlier albums that really defined who Stars was as a band in its younger, more active years. The band took the audience for a ride on a musical roller coaster, and I can’t say I had much fun. Though certainly dependent upon one’s liking for The North, the show’s structure was generally confusing and bizarre.

Amy Millan from Stars – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

One thing to be said for Stars, though, is that they always deliver a passion that clearly demonstrates their love and appreciation of their fans. Having seen them in concert a few years ago, I knew to expect the emotional, poetic words of gratitude from singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Torq made a point to thank the audience for spending money on concert tickets during these tough times, and Amy reminded everyone to vote. Though the band members are making their way into their forties and slowly losing the energetic element of their performance, it’s clear that they appreciate their younger fans and will always try to empathize with them. Few bands present themselves as down to earth these days, but Stars does. Stars champions a maturity that is much appreciated when we consider artists who sometimes get caught up in the musician lifestyle rather than make actual connections with their audiences.

As a whole, Stars put on a great show. Neither the opening acts nor the set Stars chose made much musical sense, but the element of passion they put into their music was laudable.

Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan of Stars – 9:30 Club – 9/23/12

 

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AMPlify Radio playlist – September 20

Last night was the first episode of AMPlify Radio on WGTB – Georgetown University Radio. It was kind of weird being back on air again after a four-month break, but it felt good.

The first episode was me playing and talking about music that has appeared on the blog so far. Here’s the playlist, though it’s missing the song “Empire Trashed,” which you can find in the post right before this one.

Keep listening! And for GU students, be sure to come dance your pants off at the AMERICA iPod Battle Royale tomorrow night. It should be a riot.

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Drop Electric – “Empire Trashed”

A few weeks ago, the members of DC-based Drop Electric emailed me through WGTB about doing an interview to promote their upcoming show at the 9:30 Club. We on the board find inboxes flooded with promotional emails every week, but for some reason, this one stood out to me. Their music is cinematic and uplifting and so very human. I think it’s officially categorized as experimental rock, but I would just call it epic rock, if that’s a thing.

“Empire Trashed” is a beautiful song with a wonderfully filmed music video. Drop Electric have so much going for them and a ton of potential, so I’m excited to see what comes next.

Catherine and Sydney from WGTB will be speaking with a couple of band members this evening. Keep an eye out for a feature on Drop Electric on georgetownradio.com this week.

AMPlifiability level: Somewhere between wanting to share this with my friends and with the world. It’s damn good, but I could see how it might be difficult for some people to understand.

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Soundtrack to Success: Your New Study Playlist

[The following is my second column that was published for the guide, the lifestyle magazine of The Hoya. The print version of AMPlify runs every other Friday. You can find the originals by searching my name at thehoya.com.]

You’re sitting in a study carrel in Lau, seemingly isolated from the world around you. The buzz of the florescent lights almost overpowers the frantic typing of your fellow miserable comrades. Pretty sure that the enticingly aromatic eau de Leo’s stench is still on you from dinner, you can’t remember if you’ve even showered today. You sip your lukewarm coffee and pray to Baby Jesus, Tom Cruise and the singing security guard that your homework will do itself, or at least that some decent eye candy will walk by.

In other words, you’ve hit rock bottom for the night. We’ve all been there. We Hoyas have already been in full-on study mode for a while, wondering what that magical “syllabus week” holiday is that they have at other schools. Our eyelids sag, our brains hurt and if we have to read about the prisoner’s dilemma one more time, we might just go loco.

Believe it or not, I’ve found a solution. It’s something I call “The Soundtrack to Getting Sh!t Done.” It’s a playlist-making method whereby one listens to a cycle of 30 minutes of calm, unobtrusive study music, followed by your four-to-five-minute pump-up song of choice. Think of it as a sort of power hour (or many hours, unfortunately) for your brain. Though the effectiveness of this method still awaits further scientific testing, my right-hand gal, Maggie Cleary (COL ’14), claims that this method has changed her life.

“By the time I start to fall back into the abyss of unproductiveness, an upbeat song comes on that’s a total game changer. I feel refreshed and renewed, as if I’d had three red eyes from The Midnight MUG,” Cleary said. If other people find this method as effective, Midnight may have some competition. Sorry, guys.

But first you need to try this method for yourself. Listen to the playlist here, and find out if it helps turn on your brain’s productivity switch. (For links to all the songs, visit amplifymusicblog.wordpress.com.)

The xx, “Angels”

Sigur Rós, “Við Spilum Endalaust”

The Shins, “New Slang”

James Blake, “Wilhelms Scream”

Carla Bruni, “J’en Connais”

Youth Group,“The Frankston Line”

Coldplay, “In My Place”

Broken Social Scene, “Love and Mathematics”

And when you’ve done work for half an hour, reward yourself with your favorite dance track. “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn is the one I’ve been turning to as of late, but the possibilities are endless.

Whatever you do, give your brain a break. You deserve it. And when you’re done, move boldly onward to the next set of music. These tracks have been proven to improve productivity by 110 percent.

Gonzales, “Meischeid”

Rilo Kiley, “Dreamworld”

Dios Malos, “You Got Me All Wrong”

Rogue Wave, “Publish My Love”

Fleet Foxes, “Heard Them Stirring”

Iron & Wine, “Boy With a Coin”

The Clientele, “The Queen of Seville”

The Civil Wars, “I’ve Got This Friend”

Another 30 minutes down. You’re a champ. It’s time for a real musical reward: the ever-poetic “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled. Feel free to follow the instructions of the song and put your hands in the air. You might get some weird looks; then again, when it’s 1:30 a.m. in Lau, the standard of weirdness goes way down. People might even join in.

It may sound ridiculous to make such a regimented study playlist, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, friends, as we embark on a new semester, add the concept of “The Soundtrack to Getting Sh!t Done” to your arsenal of study skills, and I promise that those nights in Lau will be easier to bear.

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Three ways to make your Monday suck less.

It’s Monday. Back to reality, monotony, and the realization that your to-do list for the week seems longer than Luther’s 95 theses. In short, Mondays suck. But I have some ideas of how to make Mondays suck less.

These songs are not musically related at all, but they’re all feel-good tunes in their own right. Am I just crazy and afflicted by musical ADD? It’s possible. Give these songs a shot, and let me know what you think in the comments section.

1. U.S. Royalty – “Hollywood Hollows” – Edgy rock laced with guitars that will have you moving your hips for a solid 4:22. If you already know U.S. Royalty or just want to see a man who can really move it like Jagger, check out this live version.

from popstereo.blogspot.com

2. Huey Mack & Mike Stud – “School” – Weirdly enough, I have connections to both of these artists. Huey Mack was in my class circa grades 2-10 when I lived in West Virginia, and I’ve never met Mike Stud, but he’s a grad student at Georgetown. Not gonna lie, I had a hard time accepting a kid I played with at recess as a legitimate rapper, but I find this track both mature and catchy.

from thekollection.com

3. Michael Kiwanuka – “Bones” – Timeless, ridiculously talented, and classy. There’s a reason he toured with Adele. “I would leave this world alone/without you I’m just bones.” I didn’t think that anyone wrote lyrics like that anymore. My faith has been restored.

Image from cbc.ca

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