“Vow” by Sales

A short review I wrote!

Five Cent Sound

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By Alexandra Fileccia

Take the sounds of Lenka and Tegan & Sara, add a hint of Churchill and a pinch of The xx, melt them down into one, and you get Sales’s new single, “Vow.” There’s a familiarity to the song; it sits on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite put a name to it. That’s what makes “Vow” so appealing to the ears.

“Vow” starts out with a slow, somber guitar progression then quickly picks up with a bouncy beat. The catchy guitar riffs will have you bopping your head from side to side as Lauren Morgan sings, “Looked at you too long at last/ Fell apart in the lows of a laugh/ In those times you will vow (you will vow)/ That’s why you try to quit thinking aloud.” The lyrics have a darker sentiment than the up-beat guitar; they embody the feeling of being…

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“Singles” by Future Islands

My latest review is up on the Five Cent Sound magazine blog! Stay tuned for more awesome reviews this summer!

Five Cent Sound

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By Alexandra Fileccia

Baltimore’s new-wave trio Future Islands released their new album worldwide on March 25. Recently recorded on the famed indie label 4AD, Singles celebrates the band’s debut to their new career direction. The band, previously signed to Thrill Jockey, found a balance in Singles between a mainstream indie sound and their usual eccentric, soulful sound. Some may call it selling out because of the upbeat tempos and overall pop feel, but it’s a new take on Future Islands’s already distinguished sound. And it’s something worth taking a closer listen to.

Singles pulls from images of nature to create one long, emotional poem. The progression of tracks on Singles tells the story of a breakup. The album takes the listeners on a date with heartbreak that most of us are familiar with and afterwards leaves us to reminisce.

The album opens with “Seasons (Waiting on You).” The leading track…

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Dam Removal and Wetlands

Earth Day Celebrations on College Campuses

More and more colleges are showing their love of our planet on Earth Day. There is more of a focus on sustainability on college campuses and more events to spread the word!

Benefits of laughing

Published in Atlas Magazine

By Alexandra Fileccia

Before Jordan Perry, president of the comedy troupe Jimmy’s Traveling All-Stars, walks on stage, he takes a deep breath and clears his mind. He gets into the character of his first skit. The audience roars with laughter. Typically when you are laughing, you are reacting to humor or comedy. For Perry, laughter is a way to feel good. Though the purpose of laughter is not to improve your health, there are some side effects that are conducive to your health.

Laughter is a major combatant to stress. When you are stressed, you release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Cortisol diverts energy from other functions in the body, such as the immune system, in order to use and conserve it for the stress stimulus. Laughter, which releases endorphins, suppresses stress hormones. When stress hormones are reduced, it allows for an improvement in immune functions because cortisol is no longer deterring the energy that the system needs. Studies have shown that women who are characterized as optimistic see less cancer growth because they are able to laugh and make light of their situation, which in turn optimizes their immune system and creates more antibodies.

When you have a really good, deep laugh, your whole body is involved. Your head may tilt back, arms swing, and stomach muscles contract. Some people laugh until they are rolling around on the ground, some even cry. These are all responses to the hearty, belly laugh. During intense bouts of laughter, your heart rate significantly increases, mirroring what happens during exercise. William F. Fry, humor research pioneer who experimented with heart rate and laughter, noted that one minute of a strong, jovial laughter produced the same heart rate as ten minutes of rowing on an exercise machine. Intense laughter can result in muscle soreness, similar to the sore feeling after a heavy workout. However after laughing, your heart rate returns to a relaxed state faster than it does after exercising. Robert R. Provine, psychology professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says laughter can be a gentle form of exercise though the calorie cost has not been determined yet.

Laughing also improves your mental health, mostly due to the positive emotions associated with laughter. It serves as a distraction from anything negative in your life. Humor researcher Rod A. Martin says laughter is a coping mechanism. The positive emotions tied to laughter temporarily replace those of anxiety, depression, or anger. This is why people sometimes laugh at inappropriate times or break out in bouts of nervous laughter. It is a way to emotionally deal things that make us uncomfortable—a defense mechanism.

Laughing is contagious; it’s part of human nature. When a person sees laughter, their instinct response is to laugh as well. “The neural mechanism responsible for laugh epidemics replicates behavior that it detects, producing a behavioral chain reaction,” says Provine in his novel Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. The contagiousness is one way laughing strengthens relationships. People who laugh together form a certain connection and comfort. Laughter can diminish stress in social situations, which enhances social interactions. “I like to try and make people laugh,” Perry says, “because I believe laughter brings us together.”

A Hidden Gem

 

In the small town of Well, Limburg in the Netherlands, you will find crystal shop Die Steenen Haeghe with stones from all over the world. Shop owner Frank Hertman and wife pick out each stone in the shop by hand.

Written and produced by Alexandra Fileccia, Courtney Tharp and Jennifer Hannigan

My new food blog

My new food blog

I started a food blog for my eating adventures throughout Europe while I’m studying abroad through Emerson College’s Kasteel Well program. Follow it for my weekend eats and reviews!

Crystal Castles (III)

Published in Five Cent Sound magazine (formerly Chaos magazine).

By Alexandra Fileccia

The Canadian electronic duo Crystal Castles released their third studio album (III) on November 12. They’ve scrapped their old synthesizers and completely took out computers for this album, says producer and band member Ethan Kath—so what you get is a more refined sound. (III), which was recorded mostly in Warsaw, was released under the Universal Music Group label.

“Oppression is a theme, in general,” said vocalist Alice Glass at the Reading Festival in Reading England this past August. “A lot of bad things have happened to people close to me since (II)… I didn’t think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don’t get justice and corruption prevails.”

Just by looking at the album cover, you can tell it has a more serious feel to it than (I) or (II). The photograph, taken by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda, depicts Fatima al-Qaws cradling her tear-gassed son Zayed after a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen. With such a powerful cover image, it only makes sense that the tracks on the album are laced with hidden political themes of oppression.

“Plague” starts out with Glass’ cyborg whisper over a steady synth. It then uses the pounding drumbeat to build up to a chaotic chorus of soft screams. “Infants in infantry/ Rewrite their history/ Uproot their colony/ You’re ripe for harvesting,” she shrieks and ends the chorus by shouting, “I am the plague.”

“Kerosene” doesn’t stand out from the rest of the tracks on first listen, but if you take a closer look at the lyrics the song becomes very chilling. “I can clean impurity/ Wash away with kerosene,” sings Glass in a breathy burst. “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen/ And I’ll clean your wounds/ Rinse them with saline/ Kerosene.” Her haunting vocals end on the lyric “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen,” which becomes more clearly audible throughout the song.

The only track off (III) that resembles Crystal Castles’ old sound is “Insulin” with a playtime of 1:47. Its start and stop choppy style sounds almost as if your headphone jack is shaky. It has the most distortion on the whole album, however not nearly as much as “Fainting Spells” off of (II).

The album signs off with “Child I Will Hurt You,” a trance-inducing track with an airy feel contrary to what the title may imply. Glass sings in a dreamy haze, “Mercy we abstain/ Hope you’re entertained/ Snow covers the stain/ Forray forever.” The song transports you into another dimension and leaves you there to float on Glass’ melodies and reflect on the violence in our world. The phrase “forray forever” implies that our world will eternally be filled with attacks and tragedy.

The album is more polished and has a smoother flow than previous albums. It is one cohesive work of art rather than various experimental tracks thrown together—you are no longer being attacked by the video game rage of (I) and (II). Crystal Castles have matured as musicians producing songs with more meaning than “Courtship Dating” from their debut album. (III) is more then just an album, it is a wake up call for society to notice more than their morning coffee and daily commute.

Is gluten free the way to be?

Read this article in the Health section of Atlas Magazine’s New Renaissance issue!

By Alexandra Fileccia

From pizza to canned baked beans, sausages to fried foods, we live in a gluten saturated world. We pour our dressing on our salads without noticing the wheat added for thickness, or we drink a glass of root beer overlooking that the ingredient modified food starch is derived from wheat. Wheat, rye, and barley, all of which contain the protein gluten, can be found in most meals in the typical American diet, which makes it difficult for people living with a gluten allergy, gluten intolerance, or Celiac Disease.

When Mason Weiser, an intern for Boston’s Weekly Dig, was 13 years old, he was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. His fatigue and frequent stomachaches stopped when he eliminated gluten from his diet. “[Living gluten free], you have to learn how to cook,” says Weiser, who is now 19, “and you have to develop a taste for cultures in which wheat isn’t the main ingredient.” A lot of Eastern cuisine, including Thai and Indian food, is gluten free because the meals are rice-based. Weiser likes to make quick meals using rice pasta and fresh vegetables, reminiscent of Asian cuisine.

In addition to having gluten intolerance, it’s also possible to have a gluten allergy, which is an immune response to gluten that can cause skin and gastrointestinal irritation as well as anaphylaxis, according to a handout that Lisa Ferreira, a registered dietician at Boston University’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, gives to students. A gluten allergy can be life threatening.

Boston resident Emma O’Brien, 23, has a different reaction to gluten. Her body’s autoimmune system damages the lining of the small intestine, which leads to mineral deficiencies. This reaction to gluten is known as Celiac Disease. According to celiaccentral.org, about 3 million Americans suffer from Celiac. Celiac Disease is more severe than gluten intolerance.

Living with Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, or a gluten allergy makes it hard to “eat-on-the-go.” O’Brien needs to make meals from scratch and carry homemade snacks with her because she can’t just pick up something quick at any convenience store or fast food place.

O’Brien has to think about cross-contamination as well. One time she was babysitting a toddler at his home and decided to eat a spoonful of honey that his family had. “Immediately, the child asks for toast with honey on it– and it hits me,” says O’Brien, “there’s totally gluten in the honey from a knife that touched bread touching the inside of the jar.” She immediately got hiccups and became painfully bloated, vomiting soon after.

Kimberly Dong, project manager and research dietitian at Tufts University, says there is a lot of misinformation about gluten, especially now that it is hyped up in the media. Gluten free has turned into a new fad diet that companies are capitalizing on, saying that it is healthier to cut out gluten. “Gluten is the latest fad “scapegoat” these days,” says Dong.

Though it is not necessarily healthier to live gluten free, following a gluten free diet has forced Weiser to eat healthier. “I can’t really go for fast food anywhere,” say Weiser. “So that cuts off a whole swab of really, really unhealthy food.”

Dong says there is a lot of misinformation surrounding gluten sensitivities– the main misconception is that grains containing gluten are unhealthy. “If people focus on eating whole grain wheat products that are high in dietary fiber and within portions,” says Dong, “it can be a healthy part of one’s diet.”

“Gluten isn’t bad for everyone, inherently,” Weiser says, and someone who isn’t gluten intolerant can get the same health benefits from a gluten free diet by just being mindful of what he or she eats. Dong says someone can still get a high amount of calories and unbalanced portion of nutrients without consuming gluten, which can make a gluten free diet unhealthy.

Ferreira says gluten free versions of food sometimes contain more fat than the food made with gluten. “If there is a reason to follow the [gluten free] diet, there is a benefit,” Says Ferreira. “However, if there is none, following the diet can be an unnecessary challenge on many levels.”

Muse: The 2nd Law

Published in Five Cent Sound magazine (formerly Chaos magazine).

By Alexandra Fileccia

After premiering their Olympic anthem “Survival” in London this summer, English rock trio Muse released their sixth studio album The 2nd Law. The title of the album refers the second law of thermodynamics which drummer Dominic Howard described in an interview with BBC as “The theory that all energy as we know it—in ourselves, on this planet, in the universe—is essentially running out and cooling down and dispersing.”

The album opens with the thick chugging of heavy bass in “Supremacy.” This military march echoes how people are sick of the spiraling economic situation. “Policies, have risen up and overcome the brave/ Greatness dies, unsung and lost, invisible to history,” yells lead singer Matthew Bellamy in the second and third lines of the song. It is definitely a song appropriate for before an epic fight scene in a movie—inspiration for revolution. If you listen carefully, the faint whisper of the 007 theme song can be heard under the distorted guitar solo, adding to the suspense.

Economic turmoil is the main theme threaded through each track on the album. In “Animals,” Bellamy calls out big business saying, “Crush those who beg at your feet/ Analyse, franchise, spread out/Kill the competition/And buy yourself an ocean.” The song then ends with sounds of a rioting mob.

The following track “Explorer” channels Freddie Mercury combining “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”-like melodies that take a chill pill after the angsty “Animals.” The repetition of the line “There’s nothing left for you or for me” follows up on the evil corporate world mentioned in the previous song. In the chorus, Bellamy asks the listener to free him from this world. It is clear that the lead singer is not content in the pessimism he is surrounded by so he is asking for a change in policy—an improvement in the quality of life.

Bellamy, Howard and guitarist Christopher Wolstenholme lay down the funk in “Big Freeze.” Though lurking with gloom, the song bounces with the staple funk and a melody that reflects the sound of their previous album Resistance. “Panic Station,” another groovy track, pushes forward with its Michael Jacksonesque bass line. The chorus mimics the melody of the beginning verses in “Thriller.”

The pop-rock single “Madness” takes a little from the electronic world with its wobble bass though I would certainly not call it dubstep. It’s very minimal compared to the apocalyptic, showy sound the band is known for. If you’re looking for a song to pin as dubstep, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable” would be just that. This song used in their album preview video explains what the second law of thermodynamics in a creepy, robotic female voice before it goes into a drop of grinds and warps of machines. This song sums up the entire album in just its name—the notion that the world we live in today is unsustainable and is heading toward its doom.

The 2nd Law is a step in a new direction for the English trio. Yes, it is different than previous albums and may be seen as “selling out” due to electronic influences and if it’s old school charm, why would they be selling out?, however the album is powerful nonetheless. The compilation of songs captures the “end of the world” attitude that the second law of thermodynamics theorizes. If we don’t make a change now, then Earth is headed toward its end—that is what The 2nd Law is all about.