Saya’s Album of the Week: Summer Camp by Adam Melchor

Recorded at home, rising singer-songwriter Adam Melchor’s latest EP Summer Camp is a gem of today’s indie-folk. If you haven’t Melchor’s name yet, you probably will soon–he’s already gained lots of popularity through singles and short EPs within the past few years, and his songs are being added to numerous top Spotify playlists. 

Showing colors of both modern and classic influences alike, Melchor has developed his own niche production style in Summer Camp–combining soft layered vocals (comparable to familiar favorites like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes) with some experimental effects, such as reversed vocals in the intro of “Jewel”. Although these subtle sounds are often sprinkled in the background, they’re part of what makes Melchor’s music a cinematic-like experience. His songs feel like different movie scenes, telling us the story of the character he has created in Summer Camp. When you listen closely, you’ll hear how heartfelt Melchor’s lyrics are, and come from a very genuine place. 

“I Choose You” and “Jewel” are upbeat, romantic tunes that perfectly recreate the feeling of infatuation–and will easily put you in a cheerful mood. “Help Yourself” features the incredible indie producer/artist Ethan Gruska, and is a beautiful blend of the two artists’ sounds. Stylistically, the guitar chords and melody recreate the essence you’d find in a Gruska album–while the production fits into the mold of Summer Camp. The words seem like a fifty-fifty crossover, conversational lines sounding like Melchor, and the unique word choices (like “hungry and hollow”, “telepathic”) reminiscent of Gruska’s. It’s exciting to see two upcoming artists of eclectic styles come together, and the song adds an interesting angle to the EP. 

Most songs on Summer Camp are built on the foundation of acoustic guitar, but “30 Minutes” contrastingly features a catchy piano melody. The tune is a melancholy one–marking the EP’s transition from blissful in the beginning, to bittersweet by the end with “Buzzer Beater”. Melchor’s melodies, especially in the last few songs of Summer Camp prove themselves to be warm and memorable, echoing similarities with more old-timey folk artists like Simon & Garfunkel and Nick Drake. 

Adam Melchor is a talented storyteller, and clearly skilled at creating concepts for lengthier works of music. Hopefully, he’ll gift us with an album sometime in the near future…but in the meantime, be sure to give Summer Camp a listen: 

Saya’s Album of the Week: En Garde by Ethan Gruska

3 years after the release of his debut record Slowmotionary, Ethan Gruska is finally back with season 2 of cinematic chord changes and sentimental lyrics–but this time he’s introduced a couple of new characters. If you’re not familiar, Gruska is a multi talented producer and songwriter who happens to be the grandson of legendary film composer John Williams. But once you listen to Gruska’s timeless compositions, you’ll soon realize he doesn’t even need the name tie for anyone to be amazed. 

Right from the start, En Garde defines itself as an album of brutal honesty. “Maybe I’ll go nowhere,” Gruska confesses under a muted fingerpicking pattern in the opening track. In “Dialing Drunk”, he struggles to move on from an ex-lover, expressing his pain poetically. It’s stripped down to just vocals and soft piano, contrasting the rest of the album’s abstract production style–but still speaks volumes that no extra bass can bring. Gruska’s advanced piano abilities also allow for him to write some pretty breathtaking arrangements and chord changes–which you can hear in the more minimalist nature of his former record. Songs like “Nervous System” and “Event Horizon” delve more into eccentric territory, while “On The Outside” and “Enough For Now” are more accessible indie rock tunes. The album ends on a nostalgic note with “Teenage Drug”, where he admits he still thinks about his first love.  

You’ll hear some familiar and unexpected voices on a few En Garde tracks–indie rockstar Phoebe Bridgers (whom he also produces for), neo soul icon Lianne La Havas, and singer-songwriter Moses Sumney. But the collaboration that especially stands out is with Lianne La Havas, titled “Haiku4U”. La Havas’ soulful voice paired with Gruska’s cinematic piano and lofi-esque production is completely mesmerizing and will easily put you in a trance. Although the two talented artists come from two slightly different worlds, they have incredible chemistry as writers and musicians, adding their own unique flavors to create a truly unforgettable sound. 

The most significant development Gruska makes from his debut album to En Garde can be described in one word: production. Moses Sumney and Gruska’s voices are encapsulated by a vocoder in “Blood in Rain”, and “Enough for Now” features an instrumental of spooky reversed voices and a highly compressed flute-like synth. Many of the songs include very intricate electronic percussion, another element that was absent from Slowmotionary. The great diversity of styles and sounds in En Garde shows how much Gruska was willing to experiment, even if it meant leaving his comfort zone for a bit. And no matter how offbeat his production gets, it’s never distracting–only enhancing what he had already written beautifully. 

“En Garde” is French for the position you stand in before fencing–in simpler terms, being ready to fight. It’s an ironic title for an album that expresses lots of vulnerability, but it just goes to show that being vulnerable can often be a strength, not a weakness. Ethan Gruska expresses his emotions in the bravest way on En Garde, and listening to it might encourage you to open up too.

Check it out:

Saya’s Album of the Week: Between Skies by The Still Tide

A dreamy blend of ambient guitar riffs, swelling pads and a fearless expression of vulnerability, Anna Morsett’s authenticity shines best through her project The Still Tide. Her latest EP Between Skies is an introspective indie rock piece that takes us through her travels, both worldwide and in her life. 

Mixed with perfection by Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens), the steady drumbeats and beautiful arrangements of chorus guitar perfectly recreate the emptiness you might feel while you’re alone on a long drive, or stuck indoors on a rainy day. Filling the spaces in between, Morsett’s vocals are soothing yet powerful, and comforting to listen to in times of chaos. My personal favorite is “Memorized Lines”, a metaphor for the facade we easily play for others to blend in. Lyrics like “You rearrange your truth just to fit and make it more convenient“ and “where can your real life begin if you’re just pretending?” feel stingingly truthful, resonating with just about anybody. The phrasing of her lines and guitar strums are comparable to alternative rock band Paramore, especially with Morsett’s vocals–but more mellow and passive, not drawing much attention to itself. 

Between Skies is an album that’s just there for you–whether you’re paying attention to the words or not, the music doesn’t need to do much talking for you to feel it. I’m excited to hear more from The Still Tide in years to come; Anna Morsett has lots more wisdom to share.

Saya’s Album of the Week: Miss Anthropocene by Grimes

Grimes has taken quite the journey since her Garageband sequencing days of albums Geidi Primes and Halfaxa. A self-made producer, artist, and songwriter from the start of her career, Grimes (also known as Claire Elise Boucher) takes lots of pride in her art, and rightfully so. For the most part, she has written and produced all of her previous records with little help from others, and stays loyal to each of her visions. Although her technical abilities have improved by far, Claire has always had a natural talent for bringing her signature sound to life, even when she only had access to a cheap mic and Garageband in college–starting out by creating various experimental loops combined with layers of delayed vocals. Her long-awaited release Miss Anthropocene is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece ahead of its time, showing outstanding growth and innovation from Claire. The record reveals a new side to the artist-producer, but still absolutely feels like a classic Grimes record at its core that fans can recognize and adore. 

Opening ethereal-pop track “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is the perfect introduction to Miss Anthropocene, an album centered around the future of our society and planet. As always, the production is intricate and complex with countless layers, but the soaring vocal melody will send shivers up your spine, making it the post-apocalyptic soundtrack that it is. Following up is “Darkseid”, a brooding trap influenced tune with Grimes boldly but truthfully stating “we don’t love our bodies anymore”, featuring Chinese rapper 潘PAN. Echoing some similarities with “SCREAM” (featuring Pan Wei-Ju) from 2015 album Art Angels, Grimes’ incorporation of foreign language adds even more variety to her music and brings attention to underground foreign artists, something we could surely use more of in today’s music. 

“Darkseid” isn’t the only track on Miss Anthropocene to speak strongly on female empowerment–”We Appreciate Power”, the album’s lead single, does as well. Feminism is a subject Grimes doesn’t shy away from, and has spoken out about her experiences as a female producer in a male-dominated industry, not being taken seriously enough as a producer far too many times. The heavy, pulsing synth bass topped with lyrics like “I’ll evade the human race, putting makeup on my face” and “God’s creation, so misunderstood” make for an inspiring, futuristic feminist anthem. 

One track that particularly stands out is “Delete Forever”, which veers more in a bubblegum pop direction–and is a nostalgic throwback to the lighter Art Angels sound. Even then, the contrast between the song’s downbeat words to the easygoing, bubbly production is ironic, but a very clever way to further enhance the song’s message. “You’ll miss me when I’m not around” is also one of the more radio-friendly songs of the album, and feels like the type of song running through the ending credits of a movie–yet fitting for the cinematic, fantastical album. 

The rest of Miss Anthropocene’s stays within the borderlines of Grimes’ imaginary universe, while still exploring different sounds and subject matter. “Before the fever”, “IDORU”, “4/-EM” and “New Gods” are the most experimental, possibly appealing more to those who favor earlier works like Visions and Halfaxa. Overall, Miss Anthropocene is an impressive step forward for Grimes, and a thrilling modern art pop album that fans of similar contemporaries like FKA Twigs and Poppy will love. 

If your music library has been sounding a bit dry lately, give Miss Anthropocene a listen:

BIRN Album Review: Big Wows by Stealing Sheep

Stealing Sheep knows what it takes to stand out in the modern synth pop scene. From Liverpool, UK, the experimental pop band’s latest release is a bold, yet a promising departure from their earlier works. The all-girl group formed in 2010, and have gathered three impressive full-length albums under their belt ever since. Their sound has interestingly enough progressed from folk and rock inspired pop to completely electronically-synthesized production, drawing similarities from iconic 80s synth pop artists like New Order and Depeche Mode.

Fizzy synths and contagiously catchy drum loops aren’t just what make Big Wows such an adventurous work. Conceptually, the album is a response to living in a world run by technology. The odd futuristic-sounding sound effects and synths are a representation of “TVs, computers, and everyday glitches” according to Bex, the band’s frontwoman. The minimal and conversational lyrics add the perfect amount of realism along with the album’s many abstract elements. Mellow tracks like “Just Dreaming” and “Heartbeats” show off with some eccentric chord changes and soaring melodies that complement them, while bubbly anthems like “Jokin’ Me” and “Back In Time” contain tight, upbeat production that’s impossible not to dance to. Countless layers of pads, harmonies and synth countermelodies create a colorful world of chaos, brought to life by the each of the girls’ expressive and characteristic vocals.

Big Wows carries valuable social commentary, but its light and fun side is just as pronounced–knowing when to let loose, and when to take itself seriously. If you’re craving new synth pop that pushes the boundaries a little, definitely check out Big Wows:

Don’t miss Stealing Sheep’s show at Great Scott tonight at 8:30 p.m. EST, tickets are available here!

 

BIRN Album Review: Petals For Armor I by Hayley Williams

Hayley Williams may be best known as the frontwoman of highly influential alternative rock band Paramore, but with the long awaited release of her solo album Petals For Armor I, the powerhouse vocalist and songwriter is carving her path to becoming a legendary rock icon herself.

For dedicated Hayley Williams fans that have stuck around for years, Petals For Armor I may have been taken as a bit of a surprise, but nevertheless a thrilling one. It’s no shocker that Hayley Williams has surpassed the alternative rock world’s expectations again. She has a knack for effortlessly reinventing herself musically, as evident with the development of Paramore’s sound from teenage pop punk to acclaimed contemporary rock with funk, soul, and alternative influences. But don’t be fooled–Petals For Armor I doesn’t rely on Paramore nostalgia to shine. It’s a deeply personal work of Williams created in a different universe.

Petals For Armor I introduces unique electronic and experimental elements to Williams’ hard-hitting rock based sound. Produced by fellow band member and longtime collaborator Taylor York, the complex arrangements, production and song content are vastly different from Williams’ former discography, but doesn’t veer so far that it feels forced, or completely foreign. The album begins with its lead single and arguably most accessible tune “Simmer”. The first few seconds include a haunting synth loop and sporadic unsettling breath samples–right before launching into a catchy, fast moving bass and drum groove with subtle additions of synths. And as per usual, Williams’ powerful vocals fail to disappoint, bringing life to truthful lines like “rage is a quiet thing” and “nothing cuts like a mother”. In contrast, The album’s second track “Leave It Alone” is a mellow, slow paced ballad with odd chord changes, echoing similarities with many of Radiohead’s works. “Cinnamon” and “Creepin'” introduce even more offbeat material to the album, featuring layers of Williams’ voice filtered through a megaphone-like effect, often repeating as a hook. The album’s words feature detailed visuals like “we bleed holy water” and “don’t you know that I’m a moon in daylight?”

The title “Petals For Armor” is a lyric pulled from “Simmer”, revealing quite a bit about what inspired Williams’ writing. In her own words, Petals For Armor is essentially “the idea that being vulnerable is a shield”. We get a glimpse into Williams’ ongoing struggle with depression through Paramore’s 2017 album After Laughter, but Petals For Armor I offers an even closer look–as her lyrics explore personal themes like family and relationship issues, and being at war with oneself.

As dark as Petals For Armor I gets, Hayley Williams unapologetically wears her vulnerability like armor. With or without Paramore, her empowering presence in contemporary rock won’t be fading away any time soon.

New BIRN Alive Videos are up!! (Featuring Ryan McMullan and more)

Check out our brand new BIRN Alive videos up this week from three amazing singer-songwriters performing of various styles including folk, pop and indie rock!

Irish folk pop singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan gave a beautiful performance in the studio for our first BIRN Alive of the semester:

And in December, Boston based indie rock artist Paper Citizen:

Powerhouse vocalist and Berklee alumnus Nathalie Hernandez:

 

Singer-Songwriter Ryan McMullan Visiting Berklee Tomorrow!

Don’t miss Irish singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan‘s live performance and interview on BIRN Alive tomorrow at 4PM on BIRN1! Also, he will be playing a show at Cafe 939 with special guest Ken Yates. Get your tickets here: https://www.etix.com/ticket/p/7915048

One of Ireland’s brightest upcoming talents, Ryan McMullan is a singer-songwriter blending folk and pop. Recognized for his captivating voice, described by Ed Sheeran as a “rare jewel to find” and “the voice of an angel” by Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, McMullan is one to keep an eye on in the contemporary folk world. Within the last year, he has achieved many successes including playing the Glastonbury stage, joining Gary Lightbody on his headlining tour, and the release of his highly praised single “Rebellion”.

BIRN Album Review: yikes! by Silver Sphere

Bedroom pop artist Sophie Cates (known as Silver Sphere) has released her first eight-track full length album yikes!, a unique culmination of heartbreak songs. With a stage persona that’s described as not from this earth, Silver Sphere is a being of magic that has yet to come to the forefront of pop.

With songs like “drinking games” and “boys r dumb! duh!”, Silver Sphere paints a picture that makes your heart ache for her, utilizing parties as a theme to show the listener how different the guys in her life act around others versus how they act around just her. Further describing the meaning behind the song, Cates has stated:“‘Drinking Games’ to me is a song about knowing you’re wasting your time with someone but continuing to see them because the person is so captivating that you don’t even care if you’re feeling used. It’s about realizing that it’s more important to value yourself than playing a silly game with someone that doesn’t have the best intentions.”

As the album progresses, Silver starts to become more wary of the boys that keep breaking her heart, and rightfully so. This new found self discipline is shown on the song “boys in bands” which is about falling victim to the same type of boy (musicians in her case) so often that she realizes she needs to stop letting herself go down that path. Her newfound confidence and fed up attitude is shown in the lines, “The second you walk in with tattoos and problems / I can’t help but think I’m the one who could solve ‘em / I can’t do that again.” The catchy chorus and dance-able unique techno sounds make “boys in bands” a song that’s scream-able by anyone, especially Berklee students who can relate.

When it seems like she has taken a stand against the boys that waste her time, Silver backtracks to the same mentality she had previously in “drinking games” and “boys r dumb! duh!” with the song “waste my time”, the epitome of her internal struggle. Although the title maintains the heartbroken tone of the album, the sonic vibe of “waste my time” isn’t as sad as the listener would expect. This song is a romanticization of boys that are bad for you and will never commit which Silver is clear about in the beginning, saying: “You are never gonna be the type to commit / one day you’re in love then you’re over it / But I can never get tired of chasing you / Even when I know what you’re gonna do.” If you have ever read Silver’s “about” page on Spotify and not understood what “I love pop music and breaking my own heart” meant, this song makes the statement clear.

The last song “sucks 4 u” is about finally overcoming a breakup and realizing that you’re going to be okay, giving the listener closure and resolution. When describing this song, Silver explained, “Writing this song helped me look past those negative things looming from my last relationship and focus on the positives in my life at the time, and I hope it does the same for everyone listening.”

As a whole, yikes! allowed the listener to learn and grow with Silver, feeling the heartbreak, independence, and love she experienced throughout her journey.

Lola Kirke plays BIRN Alive

Check out our video of Lola Kirke performing “Shoulda Cheated” and “Seeds and Stems” on BIRN Alive!

Lola Kirke is a singer, songwriter, and actress writing country-rock inspired music. Kirke stopped by the BIRN studios in September while touring in support of her EP, Friends And Foes And Friends Again.