Harry Styles – Harry Styles
by Debra Kate Schafer
Seven years ago, Harry Styles was 16 years old and auditioning for the X Factor UK, eager to put himself and his voice into the hands of the world; which, in his case, was Simon Cowell. Two years after that, Harry Styles was in One Direction, the boy band that took the world by storm. If you didn’t catch yourself singing along to “What Makes You Beautiful”, you were cursing its infectious pop melodies. Girls screamed, cried, tweeted, instagramed, and essentially lived for these five young guys with adorable face and accents to match.
Despite the fact that these five twenty-somethings are all solo artists now, the reactions from their fans are just the same. Young women eagerly watch the Ticketmaster timer go down to the second that they can try to purchase tickets to see one of their favorites in concert, and they line up overnight for live performances. While in One Direction and amidst the fangirl chaos, Harry Styles was dubbed by tabloids as “the flirt,” always one in the middle of the stage, tall with unruly hair, and had an interesting taste in clothing. Currently 23 years old and selling out Madison Square Garden, Styles has become his own person; creatively, musically, and personally. Although he is still known for his fashion sense and borderline obsessive fan base, he really has grown up.
On April 7, 2017, Styles’ first single “Sign of the Times” was dropped. The song was on Top 10 charts in over 30 countries, many of those having the song in its number one spot. The over five minute (!) rock ballad holds wisdom and passion that surprised many critics and fans — in the best way. Styles seemed to be shedding his manufactured, bubblegum pop persona and showing the masses who he is, what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to do it. The song is a prolific, lyrical masterpiece that clearly pulls influence from British rock from 1970s. From the notes Styles hit, to the story the song told, to the subtle yet powerful instruments backing him, this debut single was just setting up for his smash hit, debut record that would come just a month later.
Harry Styles by Harry Styles consists of 10 tracks, none of which follow the same exact style or genre as the one before it. There is a lack of clarity of where Styles wanted this album to go. He was showcasing songwriting ability in the best way, but there was no whole, completely feeling to the album due to having songs that were slow, deep, and meaningful, but also songs that were lighter and sweeter, though all of them are flawless. Not to mention the few that are complete and utter rockers, as well as my personal favorites, such as “Only Angel” and “Kiwi.” These two songs do stand out, because they are hard-hitting, instrumentally fierce, sultry at times, and flip the script from “Sign of the Times” and “Meet Me in the Hallway,” which is the romantic opening track for the album.
I could go on forever about my adoration for the fun, intense, guitar riff filled “Kiwi,” just like I could spend hours talking about the haunting, tear-jerking ballad that closes out the magnificent album, “From the Dining Table.” The album is beautifully diverse, and I believe that each and every song needs it’s own review, because they are all quite different; both in the way it sounds and the story it tells. This debut album of his went number one in tens of countries, because of his immense talent as a singer, songwriter, and budding guitarist, not at all because he is Harry Styles of One Direction.
2017 was a big year for Mr. Styles. He sold out his first solo tour, as well as his second. He performed with one of his heroes, Stevie Nicks, while on tour. He hosted The Late Late Show with James Corden numerous times, even filling in for Corden just this month. He debuted his acting career, too, with a role in the Golden Globe nominated, World War II blockbuster, Dunkirk, directed by the legendary Christopher Nolan. Overall, Harry Styles showcased his hard work and dedication in many ways this year, but most importantly he put his indescribable musical skills on display with the released of his critically acclaimed debut album.
Makes Me Sick – New Found Glory
by Maria Ciezak
2017; a year of many ups and downs, highs and lows, but most importantly, songs and albums. Once a year I take the time to reflect on some of my personal favorites from the year, and a very certain criterion must be met. After all, this is a huge task at hand, especially working in the music business! A few things to consider in picking your favorite album of the year; did you play it out until everyone around you was sick of hearing it? Yes. Did this record make you want to go see this band live (given the opportunity presents itself)? Yes. Has this record taken you on a personal voyage? Yes. As you can see, a specific record hit all these points on the musical plinko board, so it was somewhat easier than I thought to make this decision. Therefore, after further ado, I present to you my favorite album of 2017; New Found Glory’s Makes Me Sick.
Makes Me Sick is the ninth studio album from New Found Glory and was released via Hopeless Records on April 28, 2017. I had high hopes for this album, considering this was the band’s 20th anniversary, and naturally, they never disappoint. Before I dive too deep into this record, I must take a minute to show respect where its due. I truly hope that the Pop-Punk Kings realize how much they’ve accomplished in this industry. I am not talking fame, fortune, or even record sales. Yes, of course, they’ve been there and done that, but this isn’t what this is all about. It’s bigger than that, bigger than them, and bigger than all of you! I am talking longevity in an industry that sometimes seems hopeless (no-pun intended) and increasingly stagnant. In these past twenty years, entire music scenes have peaked and collapsed, careers and artists have flown by, and sometimes pop-punk has even been professed dead (then undeclared, declared again, you see where I am headed). Not only are these guys remaining strong, they are continuing to explore new ground and release music that is better than ever before. Makes Me Sick proves just that. It’s compiled of 10 songs that each have their own life, their own ride, and their own trail. Listen to it in full; every track has its own pacing and something explicit in the melody that makes it unlike the song before it. That, in my opinion, makes a top-notch record. A top record of 2017, if you will.
Let me state that I am not here to break the songs on this record down one by one, or give you a full-blown review, but more so bring New Found Glory to the forefront; showcasing all that they have accomplished over the past 20 years. Having had the pleasure of working with them several times, I can honestly say they are some of the coolest, down to earth people I have ever encountered. They don’t forget where they started, they always acknowledge their fans, and sure as hell don’t take it for granted that they are still selling out shows all over the world. I am sure as artists record sales meant more to them at a different point in their careers, but I feel now it’s different; they’re not living for that. They’re able to get on stage night after night and play music that they love and focus on what matters, and not on the illusion side of the music industry. This release, in my opinion, took the band to a whole new level of vulnerability; different rhythms, diverse synth sounds, almost stuff they’ve never done before, making it obvious that they challenged themselves on the production side of things. Above that, having produced their last few projects themselves, I found it absorbing that they brought in Aaron Sprinkle (producer and musician on this project) to make things different. However, don’t get it twisted; if you are a New Found Glory fan, this record still has “NFG” all over it. To break that down into simpler terms; it’s new, yet also familiar.
When asked why I love New Found Glory so much, I have answered that question in numerous ways and phrases. The shortened and more specific reason is as follows; there are two different ways to listen to them. One, is when you’re at work, in your car, on your headphones, you know, on your “own” time. You listen to certain music when doing certain things. They understand that, and I found that this record sounds the best it can when you are right then and there in the moment. I guess you could say, this album is present. When asked in life if I’d prefer to pick the past or the future, I always aim for the present, and this is where this album keeps me. The second way to listen, is seeing them live. People (me specifically, loud and clear), are busy dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. No one really comes to a show and listens for production, guitar layers, and such. You are just there to go crazy and let loose. I feel like their whole careers they have recognized that, and as a music fan that is so important. I hope with all my being that they continue to do this for another lifetime, because if they’re all in, we’re all in. Also on this record, and with all their songs, I feel as a band they have a way of making their lyrics somewhat serious. However, the delivery is always put out in a way that is catchy, if that makes any sense. They totally own a “place” for people to people to get something off their chest by listening to their music, yet also have a good time in the process.
If New Found Glory has set out to have a dedicated fan base, they’ve accomplished all they could ask for. If they set out to be able to make music that people around the world can relate too, they’ve accomplished that as well. Finally, if they set out to have me sit here on a Saturday night and proclaim my love and utmost respect for these for dudes for all of you to see, job well done. 2017 tended to make a lot of us sick, but at least this type did the opposite. For me marketing a few dates on their tours, the twenty-year anniversary tour was a real test for fans. There are always songs that the fans want to hear live that the bands don’t play, and NFG are no exception to that rule. This was our chance to hear every song we’ve ever wanted, and it went exactly how one could have ever hoped for.
I conclude this piece by saying if you want to take a listen to Makes Me Sick, I hope this has encouraged you to do so. I always hope that this article also serves a giant thank you card to a band that has continued to remain close to my heart through all my emo fazes. Watching their recent music video was like being taken through a time capsule of my musical journey, right alongside them. And yes, my eyes may have “sweat” a bit, but pop-punk tears are the best kind. Thank you, New Found Glory for twenty years of amazing music, memories, and so much more. First show: Wayne Firehouse. Last show: never. 1997 – forever.
Chroma – Mt. Eddy
by Debra Kate Schafer
One of my favorite albums that came out in 2017 is Chroma by Mt. Eddy. There are so many elements about this record that I adore, so it’s hard to imagine that the four guys that make up Mt. Eddy are just about my age. To create something so authentic like Chroma for their first ever studio album seems like it would take years of fiddling around in studios, writing pages and pages of lyrics, and having experiences that help make an album as genuine as this one. Every song has a punk rock core, but some have classic rock influences and alternative twists that take this garage band sound and raises it to a level of professionalism that still shocks me every time I listen to it…which is quite often, if I’m being honest.
The band consists of Jakob Armstrong on guitar and vocals, Kevin Judd on bass, Chris Malaspina on drums, and his brother Enzo Malaspina on guitar. Did I mention that they are all under the age of 20? (If I didn’t tell you, I bet you wouldn’t be able to tell due to their insane talent.) Armstrong formed the group in their hometown of Oakland, Calif. in 2015 as Jakob Danger, of which later became Danger!, and is now Mt. Eddy. Thankfully so, because without those transformations, as well as the singles and demos that came with them, we might not have been graced by Chroma. Oakland, Calif. has been a breeding ground for punk-esque bands for decades; something that is a distinct factor in Mt. Eddy and the music that they make.
The title track opens the album and perfectly sets listeners up for an indie, punk, alternative rollercoaster. “Chroma” is an eight minute song that samples jazz pieces, has pockets of simplicity, moments of pop punk, and puts the Malaspina brothers’ instrumental talent on intricate display. The diversity of the track proves the uniqueness that the band has to offer and styles they can master and will later demonstrate as the album plays on. Although, you don’t have to look too far for it, because by the two next songs, Mt. Eddy has already constructed a different vibe, but with their same central elements of guitar riffs, drums, and effortless vocals. “Wilshambe” and “Lovely” are new wave, alternative gems with lyrics that are beautifully crafted. In a world where changing yourself is an acceptable goal, “Lovely” explains how someone just wants to be told that they are, yes, lovely. The singer can see all the plastic around him, the phony people and phony lives, and the way that people just want to be perceived as perfect, which is something they are not. It’s a genius song, truly.
As I write this review, I can only imagine what “Working Title” sounds like live. The way Judd hits the bass combined with Armstrong’s seemingly flawless, deep-toned voice is amazing. It speaks of growing up, relationships, life, and being in over your head. Actually, most of their songs follow this path of honest storytelling and life in general, making their already impressive music even more relatable. Mt. Eddy’s sound precedes their age, which is part of what makes Chroma so fantastic. You can hear influence from The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Replacements, The Buttertones, and more throughout the album, but that doesn’t make their music copycat in the least. Chroma is an original, high quality rock album that just so happens to be from a band that is young, up and coming, and ready to make its mark on the music industry.