A Transformation in Rock and Roll

By Alexandra Fileccia

“Moonage Daydream,” the third track on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), tells the story of an alien-messiah who shows potential in saving the human race, or so the theories say. All of the songs on Ziggy contribute to the overall concept of the album: Alien life forms serve as the only hope for Earth and the human race to survive.

At the end of the Space Race in 1971, David Bowie gave alien birth to the song “Moonage Daydream.” With its far-out lyrics and space-like production techniques, Bowie takes his listeners to another planet, which fits the generation of spacy coke freaks through the 70s, like Bowie himself. Bowie transcended the precedents of rock and roll with his glam rock appearance and obsession with space exploration. In a way, Bowie who started as an outsider to the genre, created a musical niche where he could finally belong.

Enter Bowie’s alter ego: Ziggy Stardust, the album’s main character. As a human in contact with aliens, Ziggy seems the most likely to save to world—a sort of angel on Earth. Throughout the album he transforms into a rock star. This Ziggy persona gave a new face to rock and roll. It challenged the way white artists played black music, and in a way, made rock and roll sound even more foreign—from another world. “Moonage Daydream” shamelessly and consciously exists as white music; he doesn’t even try to sound black, as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously did.

As Bowie’s early alter ego (he later plays the role of Aladdin Sane among others), Ziggy Stardust fuses “the sci-fi futurism of writers like William Burroughs and JG Ballard with a hard-rock sound and a transsexual campery borrowed from Lou Reed,” says Sean O’Hagan in his Guardian review of the book Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust. Bowie playing the role of the album’s character created a new way to experience and think about rock and roll. He did not have his own style (previous and future albums sound totally different, some even play with different genres); in fact, putting on a show and acting as his made-up character became his style. “And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign,” says Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his review of the album on allmusic.com. Bowie laces his lyrics with vocal theatrics in the style of Ziggy Stardust.

The opening lyrics strike right at the beginning of “Moonage Daydream” after a few powerful guitar strums and drum hits. Bowie confidently declares, “I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you.” On the word “you” he trails off with an exaggerated vibrato, which simulates a falling feel. “I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you.” Under this line, an acoustic guitar holds rhythm while the bass grooves along. The combination of acoustic and electric guitar in this song, in addition to Bowie eclectic voice, creates a modernized folkie feel. However, the way he shouts the next lyric and the bizarre image it creates, “Keep your mouth shut, you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird/And I’m busting up my brains for the words,” stays true to Bowie’s over-the-top stage persona, completely opposite of the folkie aesthetic.

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“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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A Tribute to Blues: A Closer Look at “Yer Blues”

By Alexandra Fileccia

Lennon used “Yer Blues” to mock British artists who tried to replicate the sound of the blues and failed. However, the Beatles composed this track honoring the genre of blues—rock and roll’s great ancestor. The band released “Yer Blues” in 1968 during the later years of their career. The song comments on the British Blues Boom. The title for the track hints at Lennon’s ridicule with the word “yer,” which means “your” in British slang. Lennon also wrote the song while in India to see if he could, in fact, write a blues song better than the “British Blues” songs that surrounded him, according to Walter Everett in his book The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver Through the Anthology (170).

The second track on side two of the first disc of the White Album, “Yer Blues” captures a depressing and raw, emotional sound that makes the track unique. Lennon sings with enormous force, which makes the track stand out on the album and from the Beatles’ discography as a whole. “‘Yer Blues’ takes the frustrations of ‘I’m So Tired’ to an even deeper level,” Everett writes (170). Not every Beatles member recorded in the studio at one time, which accounts for the isolation of instruments and how distant they sound from each other. The space in the “blues lick” allows every band member “to piddle about without sounding busy,” (Riley, 277). The listener can hear each individual instrument very clearly. The separation of instruments creates a hollow sound for the song, which adds to the song’s uniqueness. Most Beatles’ songs sound full and bustling with different instruments, unless the track’s main focus lies in the acoustic guitar and vocals—think “Blackbird,” “Julia” or “I Will;” all acoustically-based songs though the latter actually builds up a little toward the end.

The raw, angsty emotion in Lennon’s voice rules as a major component of the blues track. Typically a blues song implies sadness, yet “Yer Blues” carries immense anger. The listener feels desperate, frustrated, lonely and angry at the same time—they feel the way Lennon feels. After Lennon counts the band in, the songs starts off with Lennon singing the chorus, “Yes I’m lonely, wanna die/Yes I’m lonely, wanna die/If I ain’t dead already/Girl, you know the reason why.” On the second line he holds out the “o” in “lonely” and pushes the “e” in “ evenin’” in the first verse, “In the morning, wanna die/In the evenin’, wanna die.” The blues and swinging blues as genres both play with vowel length in relation to tempo—a way to express individuality. The scratchiness of Lennon’s voice throughout the track displays great heartache and anguish. The song would be totally different if he sang the lyrics in a normal tone without all the wails and cries. The listener wouldn’t be able to feel as connected to the struggle Lennon sings about and goes through on the track. “Yer Blues” embodies a melancholy that only suicide can relieve, as the lyrics suggest.

Lennon references the song “Ballad of a Thin Man” (1965) by Bob Dylan in the second vocal solo in the lyrics, “Feel so suicidal/Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones,” according to Tell Me Why by Tim Riley (278). In Dylan’s song, he sings to a character named Mr. Jones and Lennon shows a relation to that character. The primary song writer, Lennon, also sneaks in a reference in the third verse of “Yer Blues,” to “Hellhound on My Trail” (1937) by Robert Johnson, one of the most popular blues singers in the 1930s (Everett, 170). In “Hellhound,” Johnson sings, “I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving/Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail/Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail/And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail.” Johnson’s lyrics discuss sadness so blue that it keeps hitting him like hail. Lennon’s lyric “Black cloud crossed my mind/blue mist round my soul” uses a similar description of sadness as Johnson’s lyrics. By referencing these great musicians before him, Lennon tips his hat as if saying, “These guys knew how to do blues.”

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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.

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.

Student entrepreneurs launch charity music business

Student entrepreneurs launch charity music business
By Alexandra Fileccia / Beacon Staff
April 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm

With three days to make money, junior Isabel Thottam partnered with senior Emily Smith for a project as part of the Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3) program they were enrolled in. The two visual and media arts majors and entrepreneurial studies minors scrambled to develop an idea, ultimately coming up with a concept that combined their love of music with philanthropy. Thus, Hold On Another Day was born.

Hold On Another Day is a for-profit organization put into motion through the E3 program for entrepreneurial studies minors. During this one-year program—which  consists of two classes each semester—students learn about topics such as communication, law, finance, leadership, management, marketing, and sales.

Similar to the TOMS one-for-one business model in which for every pair of shoes purchased the company promises to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need,  Hold On Another Day donates a mixed CD to a partner organization every time a copy is sold. The organization helps those in need through the power of music, said Thottam.

Their current product is a mixed CD titled, “Songs for Soldiers.” For this compilation, they partnered with Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that sends care packages to soldiers overseas. For every “Songs for Soldiers” disk sold, one will be donated and put into a gift basket for a soldier. President of Operation Gratitude Carolyn Blashek said she was extremely impressed by the ingenuity and enthusiasm of a college student creating this type of business model.

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