Category Archives: Guide columns

Sounds that Define 2012

[The following is my final column 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. Just as a sidenote, I really wish I could have written more than 700 words for this one. Check back for my full best/meh/worst list later in the month.]

To be honest, I’m the biggest flip-flopper I know. I’ve gone back and forth between my views on everything from political issues and people to fashion and food so many times, I could give Mitt Romney a run for his money. Too often I see both sides of an issue. I nod during debates, regardless of whom is speaking, unless I hear something outrageous. But if there’s one part of my life where my opinions run deep, it’s music. With that in mind, I now bring to you the Definite Best and Worst Albums of 2012, according to AMPlify.

DEFINITELY THE BEST

Muse | ‘The 2nd Law’

In many ways, this album isn’t entirely different from Muse’s previous work. Pounding drumbeats, guitar solos, string sections, and raging bass lines accompany Matt Bellamy’s bellow-to-falsetto vocals. The sound is epic in Muse’s traditional style.

Somewhat surprisingly, Muse manages to tastefully incorporate a divisive genre — dubstep — on the entirety ofThe 2nd Law. Whether manifested in the heaviness we think of as true dubstep or in lighter electronic beats, the influence is all over this album and yields a new sound that never bores.

Sharon Van Etten | ‘Tramp’

Sharon Van Etten is not for the faint of heart. Her aching guitar-and-vocal-based music is frequently lumped into the singer-songwriter category, but that designation, reminiscent of tired coffee-shop talent, doesn’t begin to encompass the depth of her music. Van Etten paints not-so-pretty pictures of her past and sets them to subtly complex rhythms and harmonies that result in some of the best word-painting I’ve ever heard. Van Etten isn’t a one-trick pony either; she recently recorded a cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Rufus Wainwright that beautifully captures Christmas romance.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis | ‘The Heist’

Admittedly, I am completely unqualified to judge hip-hop and rap, but this album has some of the greatest mass appeal of any album I’ve heard in a long time. With meaningful, thoughtful lyrics and catchy beats and hooks, this album is a clear winner.

DEFINITELY THE MEH

Mumford & Sons | ‘Babel’

If you love ragged vocals tinged with an English accent and accompanied by lots of banjo, you will like the title track of Babel. If you love listening to nothing but the aforementioned music for fifteen songs in a row, you will like this album. But if you, like me, could go for a little more variety in your music, this album is one to skip.

DEFINITELY THE WORST

Maroon 5 | ‘Overexposed’

Unlike Muse, Maroon 5 doesn’t quite have a grasp on how to tastefully update its sound, as proven by all the songs on the aptly named Overexposed. If you like Maroon 5 best for the soulful, daring songs on their debut album, Songs about Jane, you — like me — will be completely and utterly disappointed by this album.Overexposed could also have been named Overproduced. Cue the bells as we mourn the self-destruction Maroon 5 has put their music through.

Ellie Goulding | ‘Halcyon’

I’ve already written an earlier column detailing my disappointment with Ellie Goulding’s sophomore slump. In case you missed out, this album is to be avoided at all costs unless you want to hear a girly breakup album that is somehow supposed to be danceable.

Taylor Swift | ‘Red’

Let me start by saying that I am a big T-Swift fan and not ashamed of the number of times I’ve listened to Speak Now and Fearless. Do you remember when Taylor Swift was still considered a country artist? Neither does she, as evidenced by the majority of the songs on Red. While T-Swift has always toed the country-pop line in the past, on Red, she has full-on crossed to pop, and it hasn’t served her well. Her efforts to keep up with musical trends like electronica and dubstep leaves Red as a collection of cold, genre-less bunch of songs that — as we say in the country — is getting a bit too big for its britches.

Tagged , ,

Keeping It Classy

[The following is another column 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.]

It’s no secret that at Georgetown, we play as hard as we work. It’s also no secret that by “play,” many of us mean “party.” I imagine it would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t been to at least one party where people are packed in like sardines, the walls seem to be sweating, couples are doing god-knows-what on the dance floor and Ke$ha is reminding us that “We R Who We R.” If this situation sounds appealing to you 100 percent of the time, you can just stop reading and move on to the next column. But if you’d like to take a break from the sweat and Natty Light and auto-tuned music, keep reading.

I like to think that all Georgetown students have some degree of classiness in them, though when I’m forced to leave a party because someone got sick on the dance floor, my faith wavers. Equally jarring are the moments when Joe — I mean Bro — Hoya asks me if I’m a freshman, and doesn’t give me a second look when I say no because he has correctly assumed that I’m not a desperate girl looking for an upperclassman. Let’s not even talk about the number of times I’ve seen people grinding to “Gangnam Style.” It’s after nights like these when I lie in bed with my headphones on and try to remind myself that my entire college experience need not be sweaty ragers filled with Top 40 hits. I clear my senses with what I consider to be one of the strongest assets in my iTunes library,  a playlist titled, simply, “Classy.”

“Classy.” is nothing fancy. “Classy.” is the product of my 16-year-old self trying to throw a Sweet Sixteen that was way more formal than it had any right to be. Having accomplished the mammoth task of getting my male friends to wear dress shirts and ties, I had to make the most of the situation and play the classiest music I knew — jazz, blues and anything that most grandpas would approve of. For the duration of the party, a mix of Billie Holiday,Feist, Blossom Dearie, and Nat King Cole kept everyone tame and happy. That is, until we started hanging spoons off our noses and smearing frosting on each other’s faces.

Still, “Classy.” represents good, clean fun, musicians who are true masters of their craft and a faith in humanity I need when I walk on Prospect Street and don’t want to know why there’s a pair of tighty whities on the sidewalk. I’m no expert on jazz or blues, but I know that when I want to clear my head and take a step out of the 2010s, “Classy.” is a damn classy way to do it.

Benny Goodman – “King Porter Stomp”

Miles Davis – “Generique”

Nina Simone – “The More I See You”

Frank Sinatra – “Oh! Look at Me Now”

Ray Charles – “One Mint Julep”

Norah Jones – “Sinkin’ Soon”

Nat King Cole – “Orange Colored Sky”

Count Basie – “Bye Bye, Baby”

Ella Fitzgerald – “I’m Beginning to See the Light”

Feist – “One Evening”

Marvin Gaye – “Couldn’t Ask for More”

Billie Holiday – “Blue Moon”

Michael Kiwanuka – “Bones”

Glenn Miller & the Army Air Force Band – “A String of Pearls”

Ray Charles – “Sticks and Stones”

You can hear a full mix online here: http://8tracks.com/amprescott/classy

Tagged , ,

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

 

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged

The Beginner’s Guide to Classical Music

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

Classical music is a scary thing. Many of the people who listen to it wear diapers, and I’m not talking about the generation that watches Baby Mozart. Most of the people who wrote classical music are dead white men. The people who review it use words like “lush,” “cantankerous” and “supple” in their descriptions. In my youth orchestra, we took out our graphing calculators and did homework — all while humming Debussy — when we rarely got a break.

I get it. It’s an easy genre to hate. Here’s a secret, though: You hear classical music all the time, whether you know it or not. Movie soundtracks, commercials, TV shows, when someone puts you on hold, you name it. You know more than you think, and for those of you who want to listen rather than merely hear, you’re in luck. The following list will provide you with all sorts of knowledge you can use to impress your grandma, and it’s also a solid study playlist.

1. Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”: This song is arguably the most popular in classical music, and people just can’t get enough of it. If you’ve ever been to an American wedding, you’ve heard it. A simple eight-note theme is audible throughout. The embellishments that accompany it never overwhelm it. The Stradivarius String Quartet has one of my favorite versions.

2. Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5”: Johannes Brahms probably didn’t expect that one of his 25 Hungarian dances would be playing from pockets and purses hundreds of times a day as their owners’ phones rang. Listen to the performance given by the London Symphony Orchestra.

3. Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”: Violinist Sarah Chang once said — to paraphrase — “This guy wrote, like, 500 concertos, but ‘The Four Seasons’ really stand out.” She’s right; there’s a reason these are some of the most famous works of all time. With provocative imagery and a set of poems that goes along with the music for each season, what’s not to love? Sarah Chang and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra have one of the best versions.

4. Piazzolla’s “Libertango”: Argentine composer Ástor Piazzolla brought elements of jazz and traditional classical music to the tango, one of his country’s traditional dances. This one, his most famous, has been recorded on just about every instrument by just about everyone. Check out sexy Montenegrin guitarist MilošKaradaglic playing it on his latest album, or hear British trumpeter Alison Balsom make her instrument sound so much better than it really is in her recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

5. Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”: You may have heard of Wagner in your history classes because he was Hitler’s favorite composer. However, he did incredible (and incredibly weird) things for opera and classical music as a whole. You’ve probably heard this song before, especially if you’ve seen Apocalypse Now.

6. Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”: Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, but this one is by far the most famous. That opening “da-da-da-DUM” is one of the most-played musical sequences in TV and movies, but the entire symphony deserves some lovin’, too. Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic have a great recording of this piece. There’s also a disco recording from 1976 by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band, which is a favorite in my house.

7. Smetana’s “Die Moldau”: You may have heard this one, also known as “Vltava,” in the trailer for Tree of Life. With an epic flute solo at the beginning and a theme that sounds like waves, you’ll feel like you’re in Prague on the river for which the piece was named. Look up a few facts about other nationalist Czech music, and you’re set.

A familiarity with these pieces will arm you for discussion with any pretentious classical fan. Oh yeah, and you may even like the music.

Tagged , ,