Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vices & Virtues -- Panic! at the Disco

Panic! at the Disco is a band that has always intrigued me. The lyrics and quirkiness of A Fever You Can't Sweat Out were great and made the band unique. There was just something missing from the formula that was holding Panic! at the Disco back from being a great pop-punk band. Their second studio release, Pretty. Odd., was not my cup-of-tea, but I respected the direction the band chose to take. I thought the sophomore effort was inferior in most ways to the prior release, but I truly revered the mature sound in the music. I hoped that in a third album, the band would try to find a way to combine the best aspects of both their previous releases. Enter Vices & Virtues.

Vices & Virtues is the band's best and most complete album to date. One of the things I was most excited to see was the return of the quirky, almost ominous, strings and keys. It seems most bands are too afraid to take chances and differ from the norm in the pop-punk/rock genre and, as a result, tend to sound too much alike. Panic! is not afraid to take chances and experiment and this is where they stand out. These little string sections are placed in just the right places and set the perfect mood for the songs. It is the little things that put Vices & Virtues above others in the genre. Choir-type vocals that are used sparingly and in the proper place, as they are here, add a nice touch to dramatic parts of songs. Simple 2/4 to 4/4 time changes are nothing spectacular on their own, but the changes found in "Let's Kill Tonight" save an otherwise drab song and turn it into a song that gives one a reason to listen. Another cool thing added to this album is song outros. These are implemented very well into a few songs on the album. It is admirable that the band did not try to make these little interludes into a separate track to boost the song count on the album and instead simply used the instrumentals as segues between songs.

In addition to the pleasant return of keys, synth, and strings, the bass playing was exquisite. The bass drives several songs along and should even be a focal point for listeners in a song or two. "Hurricane" is a song that is propelled from the status of "average" to "very good" because of the bass throughout, and especially during the chorus. In addition to improved bass guitar work, the band has improved style as a whole as compared to previous efforts. Panic! managed to find a happy medium in songwriting. The songs are neither too dark nor too bright. The songs find a way to be upbeat and fun to listen to while still having heartfelt, genuine, and serious lyrics. This is a particularly amazing feat since the primary lyricist departed the band and left Brendon Urie (lead vocalist) to write the words for his own songs for the first time, which he was able to do more than adequately. One of the best parts of the album is that none of the songs sound alike. Many bands write great music, but once they find success they return to the old formula too many times and end up having a album that drones. One may worry that since the songs all have a unique sound the album may be too scattered to enjoy in a single listen. While this is a valid concern, Panic! has managed to create a work that incorporates a variety of styles and is still an entirely cohesive album.

The negative of Vices & Virtues is that while there are a few great songs on the album, there are others that have trouble being consistent throughout the entire song. For example, "Trade Mistakes" has one of the best choruses on the entire album and is reminiscent of a mixture between The White Tie Affair and Mayday Parade (which speaks volume for the singing of Brendon Urie), it seems to be lacking in the verses. This is the case for a few songs on the album including the aforementioned "Let's Kill Tonight". While this isn't an optimal listening experience, it is an achievement that there is no song on the entire album that is deserving of the "skip treatment". Even the least interesting song on the album, "I'm Ready To Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)", has its moments that is sure to get one singing along.

While many songs on Vices & Virtues stop at being good or very good, there are three songs on this album that strove to be great. The title for "most fun song" goes to "Miracles". There is not much to say of the track except it features feel-good music, Brendon Urie's top-notch vocals, and a sing-a-long chorus. "The Ballad of Mona Lisa", the first single, was a near perfect opener. It starts with the some of the most emotion provoking keys on the album and then kicks in with driving, distorted bass and strings take the place of the keys. The track has one of the more fun choruses on the album and the pre-chorus is the best 10-second section on the album outside of the closer, "Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met...)". "Nearly Witches" is probably as good as a song written by Panic! at the Disco can be. It features the quirky verses that set the band apart, a choir of children, a slowdown to 4/4 in the choruses (I admit I'm a sucker for it), and 3/4 bass and vocals over a 2/4 beat. The way the children's choir sings "Mona Lisa, Pleased to Meet Ya" over Urie's vocals to bring the album to a close, has a bittersweet optimism feel.

Panic! at the Disco released the best album of their brief career with Vices & Virtues. Will they settle in and become complacent or continue to experiment and push their boundaries? Only time will tell.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Genre: Pop-Rock/Pop-Punk

Recommended Tracks:
"The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
"Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met...)"

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me -- Brand New

Initially, I was hesitant to begin with a review of this album. One should know that I am hesitant to give a 5 star review to anything. I believe that the top rating should not be given out before a large amount of thinking has been done. It should be reserved for the best of the best. That statement is the exact reason why I decided to tackle this review first; It is what all other albums should strive to be.

Brand New is a band that has maintained a consistent evolution from album to album. The consistency within the band is the lyrics. Each and every album has been filled with some of the best lyrics that I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Time after time I find myself hearing a lyric and wishing that I had been the one to write the masterpiece. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is the album in which the band's lyrical prowess meets maturity and the result is amazing.

The underlying theme is simple: Life is not easy. There are hardships. There is loneliness. There is agony. There is uncertainty. No song captures these emotions better than "Jesus".
Well, Jesus Christ, I’m alone again
So what did you do those three days you were dead?
Because this problem's gonna last
More than the weekend
Well, Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die
I’m a little bit scared of what comes after
Jesse Lacey is able to perfectly convey the thoughts of those that are struggling with despair and uncertainty about life and religion. What is truly beautiful about the writing is that he strayed from the mean lyrics that were directed at those that may have wronged him to lyrics that are more focused on his own (and vicariously his listeners') own thoughts and emotions.

Even "Limousine", which was written about a specific event (I encourage you to do research on this song; It makes it all the more powerful), has lyrics to which nearly everyone can relate. In my opinion, the most chilling line ever written comes from the song:
and in the choir I saw our sad Messiah.
He was bored and tired of my laments.
Said, "I died for you one time, but never again
The lyrical content of the album is top-notch, but it does not overshadow the musicianship of the band. I do not think that anyone will argue that Brand New is filled with the most talented musicians, but their writing is impeccable. The band members do not try to do too much with their instruments. Instead, they play what fits the song best. Nothing more. Nothing less.

For the most part, the band focuses heavily on the rhythm section. Look no further than "Not the Sun" for evidence. The song starts off with a driving bass-line and never lets up. This song is highlight of the album as far as drumming is concerned (and also features a perfect transition from 4/4 to 3/4 back to 4/4 time signature switch at the bridge). The guitar work of the album is more impressive in the emotional manner than the technical. The guitar serves to build songs to a climax and then burst in with with a passion-filled solo or to break the silence with harsh distortion. Again, the solos are nothing that are going to impress the most talented guitarists, but they should definitely impress songwriters as a whole. The only thing more passionate than the guitars is the voice of Jesse Lacey. His beautifully written words would be useless without delivery, and his does not disappoint. Every word he sings, he believes. It is evident that for this album he "took apart his head" and bled every word onto the lyric book from his own body.

If one wants to dive into an album that is introspective, they should look no further. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is filled with all the words that I personally could not express on my own. This album lets you know you aren't alone. Everyone has questions. Everyone has hurt.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Genre: Alternative Rock

Recommended tracks:
Entire album

Top Five:
1. Jesus
2. Limousine
3. Millstone
4. Degausser
5. Luca

Thursday, May 26, 2011


My name is Bradley Bishop and I am from Meridian, Mississippi. I have recently graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. I will be starting veterinary school at MSU in late June.

I have been a huge fan of music since I began driving in 10th grade. The first cd that I purchased for my new car was Nirvana's greatest hits. My passion for music has grown exponentially from that time. My musical taste resides mostly in the genre of rock, but since that genre has an immense number of sub-genres, I still have a wide variety of likes. I enjoy listening to everything from grunge to metalcore to pop-punk. It really depends on the intensity and passion of the musicians.

Although I had enjoyed music for years, I had never really tried my hand at being in a band until my freshman year at MSU. I picked up the bass guitar and joined the band "Yesternight's Decision". Over the past four years I have written music and some lyrics for our songs and we released our very own cd.

I am now hoping to try my hand at reviewing the music that I love (and, inevitably, some that I detest) in hopes of broadening the horizons of those on search for new music. I will gladly take a listen to any album that is requested to me and will try to promptly make a review for it.

Thanks for reading. I truly hope you enjoy.