Review: Twenty One Pilots – Trench

I’ve discovered Twenty One Pilots more than 3 years ago, but somehow I’ve associated them with similar indie pop rock acts like The 1975, but with a hint of SoundCloud edgy rap that seems to be so popular nowadays.

But even as I started discovering he depth of their lyrics and the meaning behind them, all the stories about love and lost, despair, depression, anxiety, struggles with mental health – everything seemed either a really well curated image or a very sincere outlook into someone’s life.

The duo consists of the sometimes lyrical genius that is Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, but make no mistake – however small, the group manages to paint realistic pictures of how much of our lives is struggling to get past today.

Trench, their latest album, released in October 2018, explores mental health, suicide and doubt, continuing with similar themes the band touched before with their previous releases. The band benefits from a solid fan base and a relationship with them that is both extraordinary and scary, as they communicate with them the meanings of songs, the process of writing all of this, fictional themes and characters and even cities built around their work, and fans not only engage in this, but they perpetuate this knowledge, without the usual elite-ness that comes from having inside information on something that no one else knows.

Trench debuts with Jumpsuit, which was also the lead single of the new album. Signifying his fight with doubt and societal pressure, Joseph’s lyrics are pretty self explanatory, showing vulnerability and fright and insecurities, and I think that this is what Twenty One Pilots does best – showing their true self to anyone that bothers listening, and comforting them and letting them know that it’s ok to be scared and alone.
Musically, Jumpsuit is actually a hard rock composition, with heavy bass lines and with Joseph’s voice going from soft whispers to heavy screams and his signature falsetto.

Levitate, although a bit too minimalist and seemingly simplistic in composition, picks up from Jumpsuit left off, referencing another fan favorite, Car Radio. Joseph’s rapping combined with Dun’s drumming makes this song seem primal, but at the same time, it bears the signature of both of them.

Morph, which can only be described as a philosopher’s train of thoughts about life, death and afterlife, is scarily depressing, as it echoes thoughts that most of us had at some point or another. Tyler Joseph is known for his sincerity in his approach to mental health and how much he cares for the well being of their fan base, so I’m guessing that most of them will recognize themselves in the bleak lyrics.

I’m surrounded and I’m hounded
There’s no „above”, or „under”, or „around” it
For „above” is blind belief and „under” is sword to sleeve
And „around” is scientific miracle, let’s pick „above” and see
For if and when we go „above”, the question still remains
Are we still in love and is it possible we feel the same?
And that’s when going „under” starts to take my wonder
But until that time
I’ll morph to someone else, I’m just a ghost

My personal favorite, My Blood, is about being loyal, loving and supporting someone that goes through the darkest of times. It helps that the video also makes a connection with mental health issues, supporting the theory that the band is really open in breaking down barriers and stereotypes.

If there comes a day
People posted up at the end of your driveway
They’re callin’ for your head and they’re callin’ for your name
I’ll bomb down on ‘em, I’m comin’ through
Do they know I was grown with you?
If they’re here to smoke, know I’ll go with you
Just keep it outside, keep it outside, yeah

Chlorine was one of the songs I thought I was actively avoiding, only to find out that I was actually loving and knowing by heart. Taken literally, the chemical compound is known for its primary use as an agent in bleaches and disinfectants, and the metaphor of the song is to have an anchor in your life that helps you purge away all the dark thoughts.

Sippin’ on straight chlorine, let the vibes slide over me
This beat is a chemical, beat is a chemical
When I leave don’t save my seat, I’ll be back when it’s all complete
The moment is medical, moment is medical
Sippin’ on straight chlorine

And because an ode to love was needed, Smithereens has its place on this record about feelings and thoughts. Dedicated to Tyler Joseph’s wife, the song is translating into plain words whatever is happening in Joseph’s heart, and it’s sweet and cheesy and amazing all at once.

Dealing with suicide and the glorification treatment in the media, Neon Gravestones is a slow burning rap song that feels blaming, but justifying it at the same time. With a very conflicting message, you can feel the indecision in Tyler Joseph’s rap, and if one verse you agree to something, the next one will find you agreeing with something completely different.
And that’s the beauty of Twenty One Pilots – everything is ok, you don’t get judged, you don’t get stigmatized. It’s like all they ask of you is to get better…

Don’t get me wrong
The rise in awareness
Is beating a stigma that no longer scares us
But for sake of discussion
In spirit of fairness
Could we give this some room for a new point of view?
And, could it be true that some could be tempted
To use this mistake as a form of aggression?
A form of succession?
A form of a weapon?
Thinking „I’ll teach them”
Well, I’m refusing the lesson
It won’t resonate in our minds
I’m not disrespecting what was left behind
Just pleading that „it” does not get glorified
Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high
Find your grandparents or someone of age
Pay some respects for the path that they paved
To life, they were dedicated
Now, that should be celebrated

The Hype is such simple music, it’s really hard to explain it. Being so straightforward, about the different way we experience our internal standards versus whatever the others are expecting from us, it’s a reminder to slow down and stop being so hard on ourselves.

Following the universe built by Joseph, Nico and the Niners, based in part on the Nicolas Bourbaki legend, which was actually a group of 9 mathematicians, and continuing old themes explored by the group, such as the jumpsuit, Dema and the bishops, is a rap song about resisting organized religion and finding your own way.

What I say when I want to be enough
What a beautiful day for making a break for it
We’ll find a way to pay for it
Maybe from all the money we made razor-blade stores
Rent a race horse and force a sponsor
And start a concert, a complete diversion
Start a mob and you can be quite certain
We’ll win but not everyone will get out

Probably the most optimistic song, lyrically wise, Cut My Lip talks about going through hard times, even if you feel beaten down. A simple, slow burner as well, but really uplifting.

Bandito is a ethereal song that connects to the themes of the album – leaving Dema, accepting your fate, trying to become someone else, trying to find purpose in creativity and human connection.

I created this world
To feel some control
Destroy it if I want
So I sing someone
Folina
Sahlo Folina
Sahlo

For me, the most forgettable song is Pet Cheetah. Apparently about overcoming writer’s block, the song is a weird mixture of rap, techno and rock, a bit of forcibly pretentious without much substance. Much like writer’s block, I presume.

Legend is another love song, albeit this time is for Joseph’s grandfather, who passed away this year. Forever connecting this song to my own personal troubled times, it’s an uplifting way to cope with such loss.

Then the day that it happened
I recorded this last bit
I look forward to having
A lunch with you again

My other personal favorite, Leave the City, talks about suicide and maybe leaving behind things that you have no control over, or things that you don’t feel connected to anymore. It talks about lost battles, about lost human connections, lost faith, lost minds. It’s such a simple song, but so heavy on my heart…

In time, I will leave the city
For now, I will stay alive

Last year
I needed change of pace
Couldn’t take the pace of change
Moving hastily
But this year
Though I’m far from home
In TRENCH I’m not alone
These faces facing me

Review: An Evening With Jason Mraz and His Guitar

A few years back I have discovered one of the greatest musical gifts I have ever received, because most of the artists I hold dear are the ones I discovered through an extensive period of trials and errors, and I must admit that Jason Mraz is one of them. I remember an internet cafe in my hometown, circa 2005, browsing Yahoo Music (remember that?) and stumbling upon Mraz’s Wordplay. I was so amazed by his flow, his witty lyrics and genuine feel good vibe, I became an instant fan.

After a few years, I moved to Bucharest and I had so many lows, with only his guitar and lyrics, as well as some Angels and Airwaves and Snow Patrol and Marilyn Manson to keep me warm.

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Last night I had one of the best nights of my life, no doubt about it. Jason Mraz finally graced us with his presence, an event titled „An evening with Jason Mraz and his guitar”, and (I might add) his keyboard and harmonica. Two beautiful hours of love, music and incredibile words, this is the only way I can describe Mraz’s live presence.

Jason Mraz’s good natured spirit transcends the language barrier, his voice carried us last night to the moon and back, it gave us dreams and reasons to live, it gave us love and sadness and grief and hope, and I will forever be greatful for this opportunity to see one of my favorite artists bear his soul in front of me.

Just a small snippet (from a different concert, I can’t be bothered to record live acts and miss the good stuff):

I was happy hearing Plane and A Beautiful Mess and Butterfly and Please (Don’t Tell Her) and Mr. Curiosity and Tonight not Again, and many more! I’m sorry he missed Wordplay and Geek in the Pink, but I’ll take what I can get:

And through timeless words in priceless pictures
We’ll fly like birds not of this earth
And tides they turn and hearts disfigure
But that’s no concern when we’re wounded together
And we tore our dresses and stained our shirts
But it’s nice today, oh the wait was so worth it

PS: I will not post a setlist for this concert, just because for this kind of event Jason Mraz does not follow a pre-established list of songs. He just goes where the vibe takes him. And also because this is more heartfelt than anything I saw in a long, long, looooong time…

Review: Skrillex & Diplo – Where Are U Now (with Justin Bieber)

Lately I have been hooked on lightweight music. Or, as I like to call it, manele. Everything from David I’m Trying To Become a Second Fabio Guetta (whom I loathe desperately), Nicki Minaj, Jason Derulo and even the notorious Chris Chick Beater Brown have been on repeat on my playlists.

But one of these songs stands out the most.

Where Are U Now, a beautiful collaboration between Gimme Me UR Flashdrive Skrillex I Forgot To Comb My Hair Again and Diplo I Like to Bully Skinny Chicks With More Money Than Me, employs the soft vocals of Justin I’m an Arse Bieber.

By now, if you’re not familiar with the genre or this particular song, you might be tempted to start throwing stuff at me. But wait!

If you want a song about devotion, vulnerability, fear, emotion and hope, despair and instability, you’ve come to the right place.

Skrillex fulfills his part beautifully, by not abusing his trademark sound. Instead, he establishes a base line for the track, on which Diplo starts building and, boy, does he build!

The instrumental part of the song mirrors the two sides of a coin – very different at a first glance, but when together, they mesh beautifully.

Now, you’ll say „But wait! There’s that prick, Bieber! I don’t wanna listen to that!”. I’ll understand you completely.

It’s exactly what I said the first time I heard about the song, but my curiosity won and I pressed play. I never pressed stop after that, and that’s coming from someone that avoids with fervor each individual that worked on this track.

Justin Bieber‘s vocals are the final touch of an otherwise amazing song. He is alone, he is disappointed, he is waiting for a sign. At times, his voice makes me think he is asking God some explanations for his times of absence. At times, he makes me feel like he is reprimanding a stray lover. At times, he makes me cry, he makes me feel sorry for him and most of the time he makes me fall in love with the song over and over again.

And if this isn’t the sign of a good song, I really don’t know what it is…

Please, enjoy responsibly.

Review: Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

the handmaid's taleI devoured, in the most literal sense or whatever, The Handmaid’s Tale. This dystopian depiction of a sad, alternate, maybe future reality was my undoing for about two days, because that’s how long it took me to finish reading this gem. Basically, after what was about 10 or 12 hours of violent torture, psychological in manner, I finished the masterpiece of Margaret Atwood.
To say it defies society is the least of your problems. With a material that echoes the depths of 1984 and Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of an unnamed woman appointed as a (shocker!) handmaid in the house of a Commander, in order to (real shocker!) bear his children.
If the depiction of the sanitary sex scenes won’t perturb you, I really don’t know what will. If you find amusing the living arrangement of an old wife with the assigned mistress, I’m pretty sure your sense of humor is faulty. If you think religious power is the best, then maybe this book spells out the best future for you, so maybe you should give it a go.
But above all else, Margaret Atwood‘s piece transcends its bleak tones and finds a way to leave an impression on you.
The unnamed protagonist and narrator, identified as Offred – because she belonged to Fred (get it?!), goes back and forth to a past when she was allowed to read, have a job, disagree with her husband and raise her child, as opposed to a present time diluted by war, famine, infertility and religion.
Everything is just survival, but not the „zombies gonna getcha” type. People learn to survive the rule of not speaking unless asked to, women learn that they are only walking wombs, coquetry is not permitted, of course, and neither are alcohol, tobacco and coffee. Clothes are meant to inspire chastity, legs are not meant to be shaven and eyes are bound to look only down.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a difficult read, especially for someone that enjoys the benefits of a colorful wardrobe, as opposed to the „uniforms” presented in the book, and the mere triviality of having money and use them as you please seems distant and obliterated in this book.
Offred‘s prison-like room sometimes reminded me of Winston‘s apartment in 1984, and her thoughts loudly reflected his. With great terror I assisted to a very misogynist way of living, one that scared and scarred me, and Offred‘s thoughts were so female-like, that sometimes I thought „am I that crazy? am I truly like that? are all women like that?!”.
Margaret Atwood surprised in an indecent Polaroid of the times the hate, the fear, the magical behind the reason of being a woman, and she did this effortlessly beautiful.
Here’s to never having the chance of experiencing this.

Review: Rhiannon Frater – As the World Dies Trilogy

I am very much a fan of zombie lore, so whenever I find something worthy of my time, I tend to finish it in a second. Or maybe two weeks, because, you know – job, and real life obligations, and stuff.
Rhiannon Frater‘s As the World Dies is my first time reading a zombie novel written by a woman. And since her trilogy is so army-versed, it was very easy for me to get immersed in this universe, because all of the gun crazy talk felt very appropriate.
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The First Days is the first volume of the As the World Dies trilogy. The start is a bit shaky, but soon enough you find yourself a new pair of bad ass Thelma and Louise, stranded in Texan land, with zombie hordes following them diligently.
We meet Jenni and Katie, one a battered woman and one a prosecutor. Two girls that have nothing in common, except loss and the will to live, not just survive. The writing is also shaky this first book, but it gets so much better with Fighting to Survive, the second installment.
Book No. 2 finds them surrounded by survivors who look up to them, in a society determined to make the most out of this bleak situation. Maybe, if The Walking Dead wasn’t so keen on killing all the fans favorites, it would sound and feel like Frater’s trilogy. But thank god it doesn’t, because this girl knows what she’s saying and we needed something this good in our lives.
Rhiannon Frater plays out easy psychology with talent, and grows her characters into bad asses with natural pen-work. She masters the build up in a manner that never suggests that something big is going to happen. Her last book, Siege, is basically an avalanche waiting to happen, but you’d never guess that, after reading Fighting to Survive.
Of course, the author cannot help but kill off important characters, beloved ones even, because this is the Zombie Land and we are spared no tears, but Frater is very good at managing loss and gain when it comes to her characters.
As the World Dies might be a bit feminist, especially when placed into a world laced with the undead, but it’s a necessary read for all the zombie fans out there. You have beautiful, albeit one dimensional, female characters, LGBT representations, men without the annoying, unnecessary machismo, courage, fear, wilderness, pure evil and death by numbers. Rhiannon Frater’s universe is almost complete, so why not be a part of it?

Review: E. L. James – 50 Shades… Trilogy

Fifty-TrilogyThe lack of disappointment when it comes to 50 Shades of Grey and the rest of the vile  trilogy is unnerving. I started reading the books, hoping to finish them by February 14th, which marked also the release of the film, but I managed to reach the end chapter of the third book last week.

To say that the volumes are not so interesting is an understatement. I’ve read Ikea instructions more entertaining that this, but somehow, I took the time to read them in full, which is more than I can say about Deborah Harkness and her trilogy.

To say that E. L. James masters some kind of talent while writing her pages is a generous overstatement. Throughout the first book, I had to fight the vocabulary of a 13 year old with sexual needs, as well as my gag reflex, only to reach a boiling point expressed by the all mighty „inner goddess” which saturated almost every page.

After the second volume, though, things went more smoothly and I’m guessing that James had indeed improved her writing technique, making it a little more bearable for us, mortals.

To be frank, I used this book for a different purpose from what it was intended. I used it to fall asleep at night, when I usually closed my eyes after 2 or 3 pages of the stuff.

The erotica is very sparse, due to some very un-sexual characters, that make even the most hottest moment a dull one, repeatedly overflown with guilt, questions and thoughts that would make a nun yawn, the BDSM part of the story sounds like a treatable disease, as long as a fair maiden comes to the rescue of the perfectly chiseled man-trophy with money and abs to spare, and as for the abusive relationship so totted by feminists around the world – I truly see none.

No relationship whatsoever. What I see is two persons in love with the ideal image they have for one another, and even though I applaud the moments when these two love birds fight (because they give such an authentic vibe), the fact is that their personas do not exist. They are the idealization of the author when it comes to both women and men. Virginal, untainted vs. Manly, broken results in a change dynamic that turns the woman into a sexual predator, with a glorious career, a great husband, awesome taste in clothes, a mom and a race car driver vs. the sincere man, lovey-dovey-cutie-pie, amazing CEO and father, always at the whim of his woman.

Yeah, right!

There were moments when the build up could’ve been great, especially the plot with the oh, so enamored horny boss of the protagonist, or the plot with the sexy architect, or the plot involving the history behind the Greys, but after a few paragraphs, you could tell that E. L. James does not master enough literary eloquence in order to control her characters, so all of those moments flew out the window.

However, the books were captivating enough to keep me returning night after night, and I’d recommend them for the ease of language and the satisfactory pace of the story. If you love Sci-Fi, then brace yourselves – James masters this art with great ease. Never have I ever seen such incongruous array of characters, making it unbelievable for the common person to relate to all that turmoil, all that inconsistency, all that… Blah-factor.

I raise my glass to a period of three months well spent in regaining my love for good reading once more. Here’s to all of the E. L. James’ in the world, may you forever float in our universe, teaching us bad books so we can savor the good ones!

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Review: Taylor Swift – Bad Blood ft. Kendrick Lamar

After a few years of musical anger, reflected by the personal demons in all the rock music that haunted my playlists, something weird happened and now my brain is wired along the pop waves that sweep through the nation.

And when I say nation, I am referring to, of course, the almighty internet.

With the release of 1989, I noticed that I am a big fan of the pop princess that is Taylor Swift. Her newest video is one of great cinematic importance, star studded and very Frank Miller-esque. Obviously, Taylor kills it in this video – she’s so inhumanly pretty and hot and bad ass, to the point I can’t stand her.

Although Bad Blood is a bit of a hot mess, especially because of all those pop culture references that Joseph Kahn seems to use ad libitum, but all in all, the final cut marks a whole lotta neo-noir and Taylor Swift‘s best video yet. I was saving this title for her previous effort, Style, but Bad Blood, coupled with the song, is clearly a work of art.

With nods to the likes of Sin City, Matrix, Kill Bill and Tron, the stars of the video assume aliases to help them get even with Arsyn, the Wrong-Doer (Selena Gomez), and help avenge Catastrophe (Taylor Swift).

The song is rumored to be about rival Katy Perry, who presumably stole some of Tay-Tay’s backup dancers, but who knows? Girls in pop biz are so up in each other’s biz-biz, right?! Anyhoo, the likes of:

Lily Aldridge (Frostbyte – sorry, not feeling it!)

Zendaya (Cut-Throat – I really don’t know why she’s famous, but here she slays it)

Hayley Williams (The Crimson Curse – cause of course she is, the Punk Princess herself!)

Gigi Hadid (Slay-Z – nice play on words, Kardashian undercover)

Ellie Goulding (Destructa X – a really appropriate nod to showcase her destructive ways with the charts)

Hailee Steinfeld (The Trinity – such a boring waste of visuals)

Lena Dunham (Lucky Fiori – awesome mob-like attitude!)

Kendrick Lamar (Welvin Da Great – What Da What?!)

Karlie Kloss (Knockout – a different way to spell Perfection, if you like)

Serayah (Dilemma – I am having one right now. Who is you?!)

Jessica Alba (Domino – or Little Nancy Callahan, that works even better!)

Martha Hunt (Homeslice – I was betting on Martha Stewart, sign of a gap in my current pop culture information)

Ellen Pompeo (Luna – oh, wow! Unimaginative as hell!)

Mariska Hargitay (Justice – I’m betting on supermodel here)

Cara Delevingne (Mother Chucker – beautiful, twisted beast)

Cindy Crawford (Headmistress – age is but a number, but beauty is forever?)

and, of course, Selena Gomez (Arsyn – doesn’t she look evil and mastermind with that short, geometrical bob?! Amazing!) team up for one of the greatest music videos of the summer.

Some of these personas do seem to make more sense than others, especially if you look at Arsyn, Headmistress, Mother Chucker, Domino, Knockout, Lucky Fiori, Destructa X, The Crimson Curse and Catastrophe. They make even more sense, once you take into consideration that the stars chose those names by themselves, so they must reflect almost on point the character they wanted to convey.

And even though Kendrick Lamar fails to prove himself once again, I really like the song (the original version lacks his unwelcome intrusion) and the video is exquisite. Dark, futuristic, visually compelling and creative – what more could one ask from a self-appointed pop princess?