Album Review: Past Lives (Against the Current)

Back in 2012 I came across Against The Current on YouTube watching random music videos of artists covering Taylor Swift songs. Then I came across Chrissy Costanza, and when I first heard them do a rock cover of a Taylor Swift country song I was hooked. Before they signed their record deal with Fueled By Ramen they were a small pop-rock band out of upstate New York that energized their music with rock driven guitars.  Now, they are charging their own course with a changed sound.

Their sophomore album Past Lives takes the forms of many current pop-rock bands before them. All the guitars have been slowly drowned out by the techno edge that has engulfed the music industry. It has made music sound stale and robotic. What happened to the guitars? The edge that I first fell in love with in your early EPs?

The 80s electric pop is definitely coming back to the music scene and every artist is jumping on the band wagon.  The new album isn’t all bad and this isn’t going to be a blog post full of down and out on how I miss the old music days because lets face it, without change we are all dead.  Past Lives is a mix of 80s electric pop with side of techno.  The guitars have been replaced with music machines, electronic pianos, and stronger drums.  One of my favorites off the album is “I Like The Way.”  The song seems like a memory or a dream as the music has numerous overlays of voices with a wave of sound that is crashing over a heavy clap beat.  It reminds me of never growing old.  We all have to grow up, but to continue the youth that we are born with we need to remember all the things we love about life.  In the second verse it goes:

“I found a burnt CD-R in your visor
From back when you were in a band
You laughed so hard it hurt
But I like how that guitar looked when it was in your hands”

“Voices” is one of the few songs on the album that has a rock tone.  With a powerhouse guitar phrasing that is linked throughout the upbeat tempo of the song.  It is an interesting concept to have it be upbeat since the song is about negative thoughts taking over your own sanity.  The music video a little out there but this song reminds me why I fell in love with Against The Current.  Their forceful bass-lines, compelling vocals, and dynamic song writing continues to improve year after year.  No, I don’t think they are sell outs for continuing to grow and change, it all goes back to what I said before.  If we don’t change, we die.

 

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The Greatest Showman – A Story of Risk, Belief, and Dreams

As the entertainment industry is drowning in its own turmoil and scandals, it is movies like The Greatest Showman that reminds us why we work in this industry.  The ability to bring to life a story that makes you fall in love, can take you on a journey in someone else’s shoes, and remind you that you should hold on to the million dreams that keep you awake.  Director Michael Gracey spent the last eight years perfecting his vision, finding the right lyricists, piecing together the eclectic and talented cast, and hiring the right choreographer that gave the film the magical flare of the golden age of musicals back to the big screen.

Gracey introduces the audience to P.T. Barnum, beginning with his childhood struggles to starting the circus, but the story is more than one man and his life.  The Greatest Showman brings you into Barnum’s world that transcends into a dream, shows you all the people that he affected, lives he intertwined, the loyalty he created, and the essence of forging your own path and how it is never easy.  In musicals, it is the songs that carry a large part of the story.  The original soundtrack was written by Oscar and Tony Award-Winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of critically acclaimed La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen.  Pasek and Paul developed an 11-song soundtrack that brings dramatic drums, staccato horns, melodic pianos, and lyrics that pull at your heartstrings.  In the early scenes, you are introduced to P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) starting as young children into adults as they daydream through a song called A Million Dreams.  It is through the start of this song you see the bigger than life vision that P.T. Barnum has for his family and the career he longs for:

“I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home”

One of the lines Jackman says is “no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”  This song sets the tone for the rest of the film by bringing you into an adventure of something that never existed and formed a show that made the freaks the extraordinary.  The bearded-lady (Keala Settle) character does exactly that.  She makes you feel for someone that has been shamed and made fun of her entire life.  We all have those moments where we feel like we aren’t worthy, or that you just don’t fit into the status quo:

“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hideaway, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Runaway, they say
No one’ll love you as you are”

At some point, we finally just stop caring what everyone else thinks and realize that being just who you are is enough.  That doesn’t happen for everyone.  In the end, it is about your support system.  The people that have your back.  One of the beautiful parts of this story is the loyalty you witness through the mistakes and betrayals that Barnum makes as a human.  The greed that takes over his better judgment.  The love and hope of change from his family, his partner (Phillip Carlyle), and the circus people who truly forgive his betrayals and mistakes.  The faith that we can have for humanity when one person believes that someone is special just as they are. Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) and Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), two star-crossed lovers kept apart because of status and race, but feel that they are a perfect fit.  In the song Rewrite the Stars it is like you are looking through their eyes and falling in love too.  The emotion that these two actors have captured your heart in every action.  The smile that Anne Wheeler gives Phillip Carlyle when they first meet is magic.

“What if we rewrite the stars?
Say you were made to be mine
Nothing could keep us apart
You’d be the one I was meant to find
It’s up to you, and it’s up to me
No one can say what we get to be
So why don’t we rewrite the stars?
Maybe the world could be ours”

Even if musicals aren’t your thing, the story will be well worth the hours spent watching this film.

Before The Sun Goes Down – An Album You Need In Your Life

31175If you haven’t heard of The New Respects you need to get on Spotify now and check out their latest album Before The Sun Goes Down.  This family band comprised of siblings Darius, Alexandria and Alexis Fitzgerald, as well as their cousin Jasmine Mullen, was listed as one of the top 10 artists you need to know in 2017 by Rolling Stones Magazine.  Their sound takes you back to the 70s with their electric grooves like Led Zepplin, soul like Aretha Franklin, and catchy lyrics like The Beatles.  Creating a new music genre all their own, they are breaking the mold and rules of what music can be in the 21st century by combining rock, soul, and pop music with acoustic lyrical overtones.

Recently signed to Credential Recordings, the Nashville-based group is making waves with their family affair by taking their positive views on life as well as reaching into society to bring back songs that have heart and meaning from the music to the lyrics.  These refreshing, hard-hitting lyrics are more than catchy pop, but send out messages about strength, challenges, and the push we have to give ourselves every day to be the best versions of us.  In the pre-chorus of their single, “Before The Sun Goes Down” it says:

“Maybe we won’t find the answers every time
But I wanna find a little peace of mind
There ain’t nothing wrong with working over time
So let’s make it right”

Another song that really stood out to me was “Come As You Are.”  It is a slow-moving lyrical wonderland that makes you feel like you are the last person on earth, but that one person who has your back is following you as someone to hold you up when you feel like falling down.

“I’ve been telling you for some time now
You’re not a burden, not weighing me down
So fight that voice that says you’re on your own
You don’t have to do this thing alone”

If you are looking for your music to have a little meaning, a lot of soul, and a dash of a groove, The New Respects have you covered.  Check out one of their videos below to help you get over the middle of the week.  It will have you energized in no time.

Take Me Back to 2001…

In 2001, I was fifteen years old.  Where every mistake, rejection, and rude comment made you feel like it was the end of the world.  Getting lost in a lyric, a story in a book, a film, my favorite television show, or in the dance studio was my way of dealing with it.  The entertainment industry was my escape, and still is to this day.

Los Angeles is a big high school.  A sea of people craving approval from society.  Hoping that one day they will be accepted into the inner circle.  Every criticism is exactly what Simple Plan fought.  They rejected the normal and craved for people to understand the outcast.  On Saturday night, I got to see one of my favorite bands, Simple Plan, play at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.  It has been 15 years since their first album came out.  It brought me back to a more carefree time.  Remembering how one band or one song can have a such a huge impact on your life.  As I stood in the venue, I looked around at the crowd.  People of all ages from teenagers to adults in their thirties and forties; all affected by the band that was about to take the stage.  To this day, their message hasn’t changed and it still affects everyone that has ever felt like the outsider.

Before Simple Plan took the stage there were two opening acts – Seaway and Set It Off.  Both bands killed it!  Going to concerts like this brings music alive again with strong guitars, energetic drums, and lyrics that fight to give the quiet kid a voice.  It’s not like rap or pop music.  There seems to be more meaning behind rock music that gives it an edge.  It can connect on another level of the developed musical phrasing, the piecing together of the different instruments into a cohesive sound, and the lyrical versing that can help you get lost.  Seaway was the first to step out on stage.  They seem like they are still working on finding their live voice, and how to bring energy to an audience who doesn’t know who they are.  There was a song that really stood out to me and that was “Best Mistake” off of their “Colour Blind” album.  Maybe why it struck a chord was it was the epitome of 90s rock where it sounds like one loud mix of multiple instruments fighting for the lead with an overlay of screaming the lyrics over the guitars.  It brought me back to the night of staying up too late in college where my friends and I were wandering around the streets of a small town singing random songs that we barely knew the words to as we attempted to do piggyback races down the street.  Why I say it was my best mistake?  Well, the night ended with a bloody face (because someone got dropped), a hand being slammed in a car door, and a crying girlfriend, but it was still one of those nights that was the best because it was simple.  We were just a bunch of 21-year-olds having fun on a Saturday night.

Set It Off had so much energy.  If Fall Out Boy and The Summer Set had a baby I’m pretty sure it would have been this band.  The lead singer Cody Carson has the powerhouse voice and talking fast talents of Patrick Stump and the rasp of Brian Dales.  Can we talk about heaven, because that is Cody’s voice.  Set It Off started as a band back in 2008 and even though some members have changed out over the years they have had a solid crew since 2010 which includes, Cody Carson, Maxx Danziger, Dan Clermont, and Zach DeWall.  One of the best things about going to a live concert is you get to experience new bands that you may have never heard before.  Set It Off was one of those bands for me and their song “Something New” really brought me out of a funk I was feeling that day.  I have been getting lost in my own head lately.  Worrying about never truly being happy.  Never finding that career that I seem to be looking for constantly.  Worrying that those people that love and support me will somehow disappear.  Feeling frustrated that others are moving faster towards a future with that one person that totally understands them.  At least isn’t that how it always feels because of the images that projected all over social media?  The lyrics go:

“I think it, I say it, I write it, erase it,
And break my back so I don’t let you down,
I’m restless and twisted, strung out, addicted
To chasing after picture perfect sound.

And if there’s one thing in my life,
That I’ve been fighting day and night,
Well, it’s my fear of flying standby,
I feel I’ve opened up my eyes,
I shook the nightmare from my mind,
I checked the clock and now it’s my time.

So lemme show you something new,
I need a little revolution,
This could be like a revelation,
Make you see oh that a change is overdue,
Lemme show you something new”

It was like listening to a song that was saying exactly what I was thinking at that time.  Worried about standing still, the need of something new, and being so twisted and strung out from all the thinking that you just want to scream and throw every responsibility out the window.  That excitement to try something that scares every fiber of your being but you do it anyway.  It is time for that push to jump off the cliff.  Is it weird that I thrive on change, but crave the comfort of the people that have known me forever?  It’s almost like wanting to try different things, but know that a safety net is going to catch you if you fall flat on your face.  After hearing “Something New” I had to watch the music video and that thought process of wanting your friends by your side that you trust indefinitely while doing something scary, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore to do something new.

When Simple Plan stepped on stage the crowd went crazy.  It was like the fire was finally ignited and the audience was ready to get lost in a song that they knew.  The band played their entire first album cover to cover including the song that really skyrocketed their career  “I’m just a Kid.”  It was a song that was really ingrained in my high school years like Green Day’s “American Idiot” album.  The years 1998-2006 were the years of the rock and punk bands.  It was like guitar exploded on the radio – Simple Plan, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, All American Rejects, Fountains of Wayne, Bowling for Soup, Offspring, Blink 182…etc.  It was the years of thought-provoking lyrics, music that you felt understood your angst as a teenager, and those fun tunes that you would sing randomly with your best friends when you locked yourself in your bedroom as you danced around jumping your bed as your parents yelled at you to turn down the noise.

Living in Los Angeles has been an adventure the last few years.  Unlike going to other concerts on the east coast where you talk to those strangers that you don’t know because you have the same favorite song, and make new friends with those people standing next to you all night, where everyone has a tendency to stick to their own group that they came with at the event.  It’s like sticking to the status quo and if you talk to that person next to you then you might not be the coolest one the in the room anymore.  Simple Plan played a few songs that were off their second album – “Crazy” and “Welcome To My Life.”  Both were popular back in 2003 and are still an anthem for every emo kid to ever exist.  When they began to play the song “Crazy” it got me thinking about life in LA.  The conversations that you overhear about money, dating, and lifestyle.  I haven’t met very many real people out here.  It seems like the whole city is masked which makes it difficult to make friends because you don’t know if someone wants to become friends with you because of what you do or where you work, or if it is because they actually like you as a person.  The city is very materialistic.  It is more important about the car you drive, what you wear, and what you look like than about who you are as a person.  I think when Simple Plan played that song “Crazy” it really went above everyone’s head in the venue.  Did anyone in the audience really understand it?  That it is about people, and caring about people and the person that we are as individuals.  Maybe someday LA will open up their eyes, but for now, I leave you with “Crazy.”

The Story of Another Us

Opening Scene to The Man In The High Castle Series

Opening Scene to The Man In The High Castle Series

Currently, I am obsessed with the show Man In The High Castle.  Just in case you have missed this epic piece of awesomeness, the whole basis of the show centers around Germany and Japan winning World War II.  In this alternate reality, Japan occupies the west side of the United States and Germany placed their home base on the east side.  Throughout each episode, the characters make choices that in turn affect not only their lives but everyone around them.  Whether it is in an alternate reality or real life each action has a reaction.  It could be good or bad, but it makes you question what would you do?

We all put ourselves into these scenarios thinking that we would do the “right thing” if the roles were reversed but it is human nature to react in self-preservation verse protection.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule – a parent and a child or siblings, but if you think about it that is family.  If you had a choice to stop your family from getting shot versus 20 children who are strangers who are you going to choose?

The United States is throwing around hate left and right thinking that it is going to fix the issues we have as a country.  Is an egotistical and hateful man president – yes.  Did he get voted into office based on fear, hate, and hope for change – yes.  Now before you jump down my throat, I said hope for change, not hope for good change.  The majority of society doesn’t understand what real struggle is like and no I’m not talking about not having the latest iPhone.  I’m talking about not having enough food for your family even after working 12 hours a day week after week.  We go back to what I said at the beginning which is the majority of people do things for their own self-preservation, not for the greater good of society.  So, here is my political message – the sooner you understand others reasons for their choices and decisions, the better you can arm yourself with a defense to get them to see a different side that could be better for them.

We question the what if – What if the trade centers were never hit by terrorists would US soldiers be fighting in the Middle East?  If Hillary Clinton was president we think things would be different because she cares more about the people than about business?  We put hope into people making selfless acts, but 80% of people are not like that.  Living in Los Angeles I see it every day from the way most LA drivers put everyone at risk with their recklessness because they are late, to a young person not giving up their seat on the train for an older handicap adult who is fitting to stand up.  Don’t get me wrong I do the same thing when I see homeless people begging on the street.  LA numbs you to certain things as you see some people who really need help and others that are playing the system.  Plus, the first thing I think is I work hard for my money why would I give it to some random person I don’t know.  Society isn’t selfless.  In my entire 30 years of life, I have met one man who was selfless and that was my grandfather.  Someone who I’ve never known to act in his own self-interest but in everyone else’s.  We think about stories the way that they could be like it is a story of another us.  An image of hope.  The thought that an alternate reality could be better, but it could be worse in other ways.  The song by 5 Seconds of Summer (The Story of Another Us) goes:

“One last stitch and new beginnings
So take this heart, put yourself in it
The surprise ending I’m depending on
Could be the story of another us”

Be the change you want to see in others.  Be the inspiration to create hope for someone else.  Just like in physics for every action, there is a reaction.  Your choice could change the course of one person’s life which could change the whole world.  “…bet on people.  No matter what the world said, who they were, who they should be…One selfless act of love and hope.  That is what I put my money on.” – The Man In The High Castle