Album Reviews

Alice Peacock’s Who I Am

A review by Bonnie Stiernberg

iTunes is trying to tell me that Alice Peacock’s latest release, Who I Am, is a folk album. Now iTunes is notorious for lumping artists into broad categories, but this situation simply reinforces my belief that you can’t slap a label on this Chicago singer-songwriter.

Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow are names you’ll commonly hear in reference to her sound, but Peacock possesses an authenticity that both of these artists (particularly Crow) lack. On Who I Am she moves gracefully from genre to genre, incorporating empowering pop tunes, beautiful piano ballads and an air of defiance that would make any rocker proud.

The opening track, “Different From The Rest,” sets the tone for the rest of the album and showcases Peacock’s vocal talents. Unlike many of her peers, Peacock doesn’t rely on theatrics; she lets her voice speak for itself.

Peacock really shines on “Time,” one of the album’s best tracks. The song has a stripped-down, intimate feel to it. On “Taught Me Well,” she thanks an ex-love for the perspective she gained from their relationship, declaring, “You taught me well/You were my teacher and I thank you/For the hell you put me through I’m very grateful/Cause I finally learned what was important/In my life/And I thank my lucky stars everyday I’m not your wife.”

“Runaway Day” is a delightfully carefree song and “Love” is a solid rocker that asks the question, “How can it be that something so bittersweet/Is all that we’re wanting and everything we need?” However, the crown jewel of the album is its title track, “Who I Am.” Peacock gives it her all on the vocals, and the lyrics reaffirm her independence as an artist. She doesn’t try to conform to what audiences or record company executives expect her to be. Instead, she proudly sings, “I don’t want to play your game/That everyone should be the same/I know who I am.”

Peacock’s earnest lyrics give the album a genuine, familiar feel. These tracks are perfect for listening to as you cuddle up on a rainy day or get swept away in a slow dance. As Peacock discovers who she is, she takes us along for the ride. Who I Amis a refreshing alternative to the hip-shaking divas dominating the radio today.

Bleed the Sky’s Paradigm in Entropy

A review by Robert Lach

Listening to any track on Bleed the Sky’s Paradigm in Entropy you will undoubtedly think to yourself, “Where have I heard this before?” It doesn’t take long to realize, “Oh right, on every single damn nu-metal album I’ve ever listened to.”

Albeit my early criticism, Paradigm in Entropy provides an odd enigma. If you played this album a hardcore metal fan, he’d take a step back and laugh at the generic cues to which the genre is somewhat susceptible, including the incredibly predictable progressions and methodical choruses. But if someone who isn’t exactly experienced in the genre heard some of the tracks like “Gated,” they might actually like it quite a bit. There is an odd oscillation between a very industrial sound and a sort of smoother overtone, like an odd mix between Incubus and The Deftones. Paradigm in Entropy Far from it. This album is basically more of the same, with a few deviations. If you’re into metal, you’ll be bored. If you’re not, there is a multitude of better works out there.

Drum Nation, Vol. 3

A review by Robert Lach

If I were to run an official poll on what is the most uncommon question asked by groupies in the back of shady nightclubs, the number one answer would definitely be “So, are you the drummer or the bassist?” Drummers and bassists get no love, but are just as essential as vocals and guitars in getting that rock sound. Creating an album called Drum Nation, then, is quite daring. At first I thought the album would contain just drum tracks, and if you have ever heard a drum solo that goes on for more than 15 seconds, you might think listening to this album would be a chore. It isn’t. In fact, it’s awesome.

Each track is named after the drummer in the band who plays that song. The album is definitely metal and the majority of the album is very progressive. If you are not versed in the band members of various metal bands, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that there are some heavy hitters on this album: Chris Adler (Lamb Of God), Raanen Bozzio (Stasis), Jeremy Colson (Steve Vai, Marty Friedman), Joe Nunez (Soulfly), Chris Pennie (Dillinger Escape Plan) – the list goes on and on.

Now, the paradox with metal is that the musicians performing it are probably the best guitarists, drummers and bassists of our generation are in metal, but metal just doesn’t sound good to most. But it is truly incredible once an aesthetically pleasing song emerges from a metal band. The majority of this album is very good and very broad, so you keep getting hit with pleasing sounds all over the spectrum of what metal has to offer. Some people simply can’t accept metal’s harsh vocals, and thankfully vocals on this album are very scarce. If you’re looking for a good entry threshold into the world of metal or if you’re looking for a technically complex rock album, buy this album. Very few of the songs disappoint, and anyone who is into rock can respect at least half a dozen of the songs on this album, not to mention there are enough 3 million beats per minute double-bassing choruses to give you a stroke. If you still aren’t convinced, the album also includes videos on the disc by every contributor. Even the narrowest of tastes are hard-pressed to not find at least one song they like, and if you are trying to broaden your musical horizons, this is a great album to get.

Kevin Elliott’s You really had to be there

A review by Robert Lach

Some of you may have already heard of Kevin Elliott, if from nowhere else but his radio show From the Joshua Tree Inn on WEFT-FM in Champaign. However, for most of you, Kevin Elliott is a new name on the music scene. You Really Had To Be There… is an album that follows the modern folk prototype: lyrically driven movements, clear vocals and ringing guitars. The lyrics themselves are very narrative-driven – maybe even interesting, if you’re into a Disney level of story-telling. If you’re into folk you’ll like this album, since it so solidly fits into its genre. Some peculiarities do pop up in terms of the album being “folk.” For example, whereas Bob Dylan’s work had obvious ties to the state of American politics at the time, Elliott’s work seems to have no strong connection to America at all. Then again, this seems to be the general direction of contemporary people, and if that was his goal, this is a solid example of this idea. Ultimately, you need to be into folk to really appreciate this album. If you want to indulge in folk for the first time, find something from the earlier days.

The Clash’s The Singles

A review by Dylan Calewarts

As a general statement, I sometimes find myself skeptical of “singles collections.” Particularly in the case of The Clash, I do not feel that such an epic band should be summarized into an anthology. Their records should be played sequentially, particularly London Calling, ranked #8 by Rolling Stone in their list of the 500 Greatest Rock Albums.

As it turns out, my stigmatization of desiring the art, the presence of a legendary band on their original, unmodified album, was completely unfounded. The Singles, slated for release Nov. 14, phenomenally gathers the most provocative, volatile tracks that the popular Rock & Roll Hall of Fame British punk band ever crafted.

The intent of The Singles is to put all of The Clash’s most popular work into one snazzy collection. It accomplishes this feat and more. The Clash had a relatively short career (1977-1985), during which they released 19 singles – more than any other punk band. Each of these singles is present, and they are sprinkled throughout this four-disc, four-hour box set. It is completely inclusive, which is unprecedented as far as greatest hits releases go. Everyone has their own favorite hits, but I most enjoyed listening to “White Riot,” the rallying cry for American white youth to become activists like their black peers, and “Rock the Casbah,” the bizarre blend of punk lyrics with danceable drum beats and keyboards.

More impressive than the singles is the rest of the material included. For starters, every single B-side is included. Yes, every. The Clash, pending on the country, released a variety of seven-inch and 12-inch singles around the world, each complete with different B-sides. These rarities were live favorites in the 1980s, because only the most faithful fans obtained the singles necessary to learn the words to chant along with vocalist Joe Strummer. And here they all exist: “Do It Now,” “First Night Back in London” and “Justice Tonight” are some of the more raw, throaty cuts. This is not to say that the special B-side material is all gruff, as Disc 3 contains remixes of both “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Magnificent Dance.”

I’ve listened to the four CD’s several times each, and I still detect no filler. On Disc 1, there are two five-minute interviews with members of The Clash. Do not be cynical: it is very moving to hear them talk about their Rock Against Racism tour and drummer Topper Headon’s heroin addiction, as well as the juxtaposition between the timeless fading crackles of the interview tape and the opening snare sequence in “Capital Radio One.” There is a live version of “London’s Burning,” complete with real audience screams of “Fire!,” a hilariously prudent edited version of “Straight To Hell” and a stretch of five downtempo songs on Disc 3 that all include some of Strummer’s best idealist lyrics.

What else can be said about this compilation, or The Clash for that matter? If you need proof of greatness, know that members from bands as different as Gorillaz, The Strokes and Cypress Hill have declared The Clash to be a profound influence. If you need DIY, know that The Clash insisted to their label, CBS, to sell their double albums for the price of a single. If you need bad-ass, be aware that The Clash acquiesced fans backstage passes like they were candy. If you need intelligence, The Clash’s nickname in England during the early 1980s was “Thinking Man’s Yobs.” If you own none of their radically political, but still Billboard-topping, albums, buy this insane box set and be floored.

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