CD Review: Threat to Survival

So, back a couple weeks ago (oh hell, almost a month ago now), Shinedown came out with a new album (FINALLY), “Threat to Survival.” Since I downloaded the album into iTunes, I’ve wanted to write down a review/my thoughts … but I wanted to be able to give the whole thing several listens and really formulate my thoughts.

I think I’m finally at that point that I’d like to do this … plus I can’t really put it off much longer because I’m going to go see them live (again!) on October 31st and I’d like to get this out before I need to recap the concert.

Note: I’ll preface this like I did my last CD review – trained journalist, but not regarding music reviews. This will be my second, and mostly in the same format as the first, going song by song.

Overall, it’s a solid album and a great fifth effort by Shinedown. It’s definitely a bit of a departure stylistically from “Amaryllis” and “Sound of Madness” which newer Shinedown fans may not like. (I might be an exception here.) They draw from a lot of different influences and sounds and genres but blend it all together in a way to still make it distinctively Shinedown.

My first main nitpick is that while all the songs fit together thematically, if you listen to them in album order, from track one to track eleven … there’s really no flow. It feels a tad disjointed. I wonder if this is an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age, where whole albums might be purchased, sure, but probably not ever listened to in the proper order. I’m old school, so I made sure to listen to the entirety of “Threat to Survival” as it should be.

Asking For It
– This song is a great opener. I feel like the early riffs have … maybe an early-90s, almost punk, upbeat influence? Yes, I may be talking out of my ass here, but it’s familiar and it’s not recent.
– Every time I listen to this track, I marvel at the line, “When all is said and done/You need to tie your tongue” because it is a masterful twist of phrase. Being tongue-tied usually isn’t a good thing and typically associated with being unsure/astonished in a situation. To be told to purposefully tie your tongue, well, it means you’re too overconfident and need to back it off. LOVE. IT.
– Great message to beware of words and their power.

Cut the Cord
– This may have been the first single, but I actually think it’s one of the weakest songs on the whole album. Husband agrees with me on this point. There are so many other, better songs.
– That being said, I think next year’s new Ironman inspirational quote is coming from this song: “Be a fighter, backbone, desire/Complicated and it stings, but we both know what it means/And it’s time to get real and inspired”.

State of My Head
– I like this song, but I don’t know why, because the lyrics don’t really speak to me.
– However, the lyricality (yes I made that up) in the music and the flow of the words really works and sometimes, that’s what does it for me in terms of liking a song, so maybe that’s it.
– Brandon, however, doesn’t like this song much at all.
– All the lyrics websites say “concrete street skin” and I believe they’re right, but the first few listens I heard “concrete thick skin” and I like the way that sounds better so I’m going with my delusion on that line.

Outcast
– I don’t even know which genre influenced this song, but this might just be my least favorite song of the bunch.
– Musically, lyrically … it just doesn’t speak to me.
– Also – and this might be part of why I don’t like this song (as much) – outlast every outcast? I’m not 100% sure what this even means. This is really the one song that I just can’t understand the (underlying) message of.

How Did You Love?
– Best song on the album, hands down.
– Full of fantastic EVERYTHING.
– Okay, so it might be a tad 80s power ballad – there’s a total moment of this right before the bridge – but whatever, it’s still awesome.
– I have the most amazing vision for a music video for this song, so if any of y’all are curious and interested in getting that made, call me.

It All Adds Up
– AKA Shinedown does musical theater.
– No, seriously, stick with me on this for a second. Picture the snazzy outfits the band wore on tour in spring of 2013 and match them (and an ensemble cast, of course) with either a “Guys and Dolls” and/or “West Side Story” inspired set and mix in some finger snapping and dance moves. See it? I know you do. The whole tone change after “and it all adds up” completely works with this theory.
– I also find this song awesome, by the way.
– Brandon adores the line, “Every murder has a motive but you ain’t killing me”.

Oblivion
– This to me, more than any other song on here, throws back to early Shinedown.
– Brandon likes this song; I’m actually ambivalent. It’s probably in my album bottom three along with “Cut the Cord” and “Outcast.”
– Part of why Brandon probably likes this song is the “soul sisters” (as he calls them) in the background.

Dangerous
– When previewing this album on iTunes the day/night it came out, the 90 second (or whatever) clip of this song did not impress me. In fact, I thought it was kind of cheesy. Of course, that preview pretty much started with the chorus and skipped out on the first few lines which set up and explain the whole freaking song.
– Needless to say, I love this song and it is one of my favorites. Possibly second favorite behind “How Did You Love?”.
– “Maybe if my arms were ten feet tall/I could finally reach that crystal ball.” This line speaks to me and I have loved it from the first listen. I have absolutely no idea why.
– I also adore the message of this song, and I think I know where the next popular Shinedown tattoo lyric is going to come from: “Everybody/Is Somebody/And anybody is you/I own my story/I won’t say sorry/And neither should you.” (I initially thought just the second half of that – from “I own my story” onward, but the whole bit really works.)

Thick as Thieves
– This song took several listens to grow on me, but now that it has, it’s one of my favorites.
– I read this song as someone talking to an old (possibly former) friend (or lover), but reminiscing or trying to convince said person to let him/her back in said friend/lover’s life. I don’t know if that’s what they were going with, but this song really hits home for me as I’ve lost several close friends in recent years for stupid shit, really.

Black Cadillac
– This song probably rounds out my personal top four favorites solely due to the music.
– I’m not entirely sure where the influences on this song came from – blues? gospel? – but whatever the homage, I adore it. The lyrics are honestly a bit meh, but oh god the awesome music makes up for it.
– Also, I totally need to stop living in the past in a few areas of my life, so this song helps beat that into my head, which I need.

Misfits
– This song is a great album closer. While I made the note above about how I think the album is a tad disjointed, the opening and closing songs are on point.
– This song, again, speaks to me, for I have always been a misfit.
– (Basically, high school. Oh high school. This song can make me cry.)
– Musically, this song is also very strong.

While yes, I did mention “least favorite” songs, I really do love the entirety of “Threat to Survival.” Extremely solid, and I can’t wait to see a good chunk of these performed live.

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Nightwish Concert

I was all set to write a post on a different subject and then realized I totally forgot I hadn’t blogged about this concert yet … probably because it got lost in the house shuffle.

Anyway, way back on April 21 (so two months ago), I went to yet another metal show – Nightwish, with Delain and Sabaton. I’ve known of Nightwish since college – my roommate Amy was a big fan (same deal with Within Temptation) – but that was two (or three?) lead singers ago.

The show was at the Ogden Theatre, the only one of the Colfax venues I haven’t been to. Now that I’ve been to all three, I have to say I prefer the Bluebird over all. We also didn’t have the greatest spot at this show so maybe that led to part of my dislike of the Ogden, but eh.

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Marquee.

Delain I believe was already playing when we finally got inside. I remember them being better than Brandon led me to believe, but that could have been an Insomnium thing where they’re better live than in studio.

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Next act was Sabaton, a Swedish metal band who plays songs based off historical events. Obviously I thought they were awesome. Even if I didn’t like their music however (although I did), I would have been a fan thanks to the lead singer. He noticed a young girl up on the balcony – probably about 12-years-old or so – and started talking with her. He learned that it was her first concert (I think; at least first metal show) and for a memory, tossed her his sunglasses.

I believe metal gets a bad rap a lot of the time thanks to the stigma that all metal bands are devil worshippers and whatnot (okay, I get the Ozzy Osborne thing, but if you actually look at some of Black Sabbath’s lyrics … they were anti-war and politically motivated. Go on. Research “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall” and get back to me.), but I have friends who are wonderful people and also huge metal heads (my friend Jeremy, for one) and have met some of the nicest people at metal shows. As a result, I’m super happy for the lead singer for making the gesture toward a young fan, because it proves that stereotypes aren’t always real.

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As for the Nightwish show, it wasn’t nearly as good as Epica or Within Temptation were. It wasn’t bad, per se, but I got hooked on Nightwish during the Tarja days, and Floor, while awesome, just isn’t Tarja. It’s a different sound (which both Brandon and Jeremy like, by the way), but it doesn’t quite do it for me.

Me being so tired I was half-falling asleep during the show probably didn’t help, either …

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Would I see them again? I don’t think I can answer that question. Sabaton was fantastic and writing this post reminds me I need to look and see if their studio stuff is as good as their live stuff. Nightwish … maybe. If it’s not at the Ogden.

CD Review: Wind Down

I’ll preface this post with two things:

1. I work at Starbucks. Therefore, I’m very familiar with the content of this post.
2. While a trained journalist, I have never written a music review and therefore have no idea what I’m doing. Or truly, exactly what I’m talking about. Yay interwebs.

Going back to point one above, I’m a barista (with some managerial power, but not much). If you’ve ever been into a Starbucks, you’ve undoubtedly heard the music in there. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, often times very WTF, it’s all handpicked. And trust me, if it annoys you, it annoys we baristas at least 10-times more … given that we have to listen to it all day, every day that we work.

That being said, the company occasionally comes up with compilations and playlists that I absolutely ADORE. The trance/electronica/chill playlists are often my favorites. Back when I first started with the company, they had a CD compilation out called “Sundown: Music for Unwinding.” It has become one of my (and my husband’s) favorite CD’s ever, and the tracks burned onto our iTunes have high play numbers.

This year, along with the winter launch of probably one of Starbucks’ best ideas ever, the Blonde Roast (mmmm, Veranda), the company came out with the Wind Down playlists for in-store use and the CD Wind Down to sell.

Before even listening to it all day at work, just looking at the CD intrigued me and I bought it before even knowing what was on it. While such rash decisions can often times be bad, this one was good. I love this album and while I may never adore “Wind Down” as I do “Sundown,” it’s going to come close.

Starbucks bills the compilation as such:

log off, power down and move on.
A soundtrack for easing into the evening, this international array of electronic-embellished selections unfolds like nightfall, creating moments for reflection as the end of the day draws near.

And my thoughts, track by track:

Frou Frou – Breathe In
A fantastic start to the CD; it hooks you with the very first track. I get to really enjoy the great bass lines from my ancient (ca. 2001) stereo system … that really does do bass well, I might add. Plus it’s just a cute song in general – “because I love you,” a repeating point of the vocals. Maybe it’s just because I’m married (four months!).

Alif Tree – I Feel Blue
In general, I’m a sucker for any song with some quality piano, and this one starts off with some groovy piano before the bass kicks in and the jazz infused with electronic hints lulls you with a chill groove. In terms of tempo/feel, a slight step back from track one.

Ennio Morricone – Amore Come Dolore (Needs Remix)
As someone who watched a lot of spaghetti westerns as a kid (thanks, Dad) and adored “Ecstasy of Gold” on Metallica’s “S&M” album, I love me some Morricone. This upbeat shift in the playlist has the repetitive groove so often found  in the electronic genre (that can be headache-inducing even for some fans of the genre), but the depth of Morricone’s work makes it an enjoyable track (and the hubby’s favorite on the disc).

Groove Armada – Tuning In
Easily my favorite  of the bunch. Starts off awesome and just never lets you down. Lyrics hit you right away  and then Groove Armada lays down a funky bass line that you ride throughout the whole song. Yes, I subtly groove to this song at work whenever it comes on.

Minus 8 – Elysian Fields
Continuing on the upbeat groove, this track seems to me that it’s almost meant as a background one, not really picking up until about the 2:30 mark. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s almost … forgettable. The liner notes mention that it’s meant to establish a noir-ish mood … something I can understand. The track would be good as the background layer to a scene in a black-and-white film.

Tosca – Natural High
This track is where the disc starts to wind back down a bit. The electronic variations of, for lack of better phrasing, oscillating sounds reminiscent of video games, provide an interesting hook that keeps your ear trained to the music, instead of letting it slip away into the void.

Slackwax (Featuring Anna Leyne) – Close to My Fire
Another mellow groove, accentuated by the throaty vocals of Anna Leyne. While all the songs on the album  have their roots in electronica, Slackwax adds to the mix a song that would almost be more at home in a jazz club than a dance club. Probably the song that would most appeal to people not fans of the electronic genre.

Thievery Corporation – Lebanese Blonde
The sitar (pretty sure that’s what that instrument is) hooks you from the start and takes you in to what is an extremely well done, multi-layered track with enough depth to drown in. Luckily, we’re not talking water here, but music, and it is an incredibly enjoyable experience to sit back and listen to this track. It also breathes some more life into the playlist, leading us to the next track.

Moby – Natural Blues
While “South Side” and “Porcelain” perhaps got the most widespread recognition off of “Play,” I will argue you any day that either this or “Run On” were the best tracks of that CD. Moby sampled vocals from a 1937 spiritual song that end up being the perfect glue to bind the lyrical beats behind them.

Boozoo Bajou – Night Over Manaus
Starting with what I can best describe as tribal sounds, “Night Over Manaus” almost seems to be too many things at once. I love how the track has a lot of depth, but the beat base is almost too much. I can see the appeal of this track (it would be perfect at this underground dance thing I went to in Boulder a few years back – “hippie dancing” is how my friend described it), it’s not a song I could listen to over and over – a stark contrast to the rest of the album. In my opinion, the best part of the track comes near the end, when the whole tempo of the song shifts faster, and the varying grooves seem to fit together a lot better.

Moodorama – Behind the Scenes
First, let’s ignore how much I love the name “Moodorama” (because I do). The song’s elements make you listen to it, to see its depths and wonder what intrigues it contains. The track will slow down, only to come back with a force that brings you back into the present. Aptly named, “Behind the Scenes” makes you consider the shadowy places not often seen, but that one oft desires to know.

Propellerheads – Winning Style
While “Elysian Fields” could be part of a black-and-white detective film, “Winning Style” could be at home in a movie as well. The film could be as varied as something from the “Ocean’s” series or something from the ’70s. The track has a retro feel and a steady beat that you ride out the rest of the disc with.