Sunday, February 19, 2012

VH1's 100 Greatest Women in Music

I love these long VH1 countdowns, so when I heard they were going to compile a list of 100 Greatest Women in Music, I had to watch it in full. Being a fan of relatively unpopular music, I knew that not all of my favorite artists would make this list, but even I had many favorites named throughout. Artists that I didn't expect on the list ended up with fairly high rankings. Of course, there was a few that I personally can't stand, but that's natural. I may be generally open-minded, but no one likes everyone in the music industry.

And I have lots of things to say about it. I suppose you already knew that, though.

First of all, I know a lot of people say things like "Omg this person is the best in the world and you are all dumb for not liking her" but I'm not going to say that at all because we all have personal preference, making any idea of who's "the greatest" completely unique to another. Like I said, I was aware that some of my favorites would not make the list. However, there are only a handful of people that I can think of that I wanted to add to this list, so VH1 did a pretty good job with artist diversity. Even so, when I started thinking of what I owed to the women in music that I've looked up to, I was kind of upset that some of the women that have had huge influences on my own voice wouldn't be on this list. Sharon den Adel (lead singer of Within Temptation) has a beautiful and unique voice, and I'll be the first to tell you that my upper register would be practically non-existant without her. It makes me sad that the majority of the world hasn't given her the credit she deserves. Simone Simons, Epica's female lead singer, also has one of the most gorgeous voices I've ever heard. I guess it doesn't matter to me that they weren't on this list, I'm just saying I'd be able to relate to this list more if they were.

As I previously mentioned, there are some amazing chicks on this list. Since Evanescence is my favorite band, I was so excited to see Amy Lee at number 49! She's such an awesome songwriter and vocalist, in case you haven't noticed. Plus, I was extremely happy to see Alanis Morissette at #15, as she is the most femminist singer we have, if you ask me, and her lyrics seem to say what I can always relate to, but I could never find the words for to begin with.

More than anyone else, I was pleasently surprised to see how high on the list Bjork made it, holding down #29. Obviously, Bjork's a strange artist, and her music is hit-and-miss for me. But she is so incredible when you think of it. Has there been anyone else like her? No, and there never will be ever again. She's so free-spirited with her music and has had such a massive influence on some of my favorite artists. Really, where would we be without her?

Although I was initally rolling my eyes at the fact that Miley Cyrus was listed as one of the greats, I can understand why she was included. Whether we like it or not, she's had quite an influence on the world. And despite that I don't have a problem with Rihanna, I didn't originally think she deserved to be in the top 20 because she simply doesn't have the seniority... but then I realized that she does. Has anyone else realized how long Rihanna's been rocking the charts? Well, maybe it isn't the longest time in the world, but it's not like she was a one-hit wonder; she's had lots of hits. Some that I actually liked. Adele appeared at #5, to my surprise. At first I wondered if she had enough seniority, and even though she probably doesn't, I don't really care because Adele's a great artist nontheless.

The only thing that really bothered me: Where, in God's name, was Joan Jett? I realize that this is countdown only includes female musicians from that past twenty years, but Joan has sill been making music past the '70s and '80s. Just saying.
Other than that, I found this list pretty satisfying. Another VH1 list for me to dwell in all day. You can find the whole list here and find your favorite female artists.
Although I liked many from the list, here are my select favorites:

73. Dido
69. Courtney Love
60. Florence + The Machine
55. Fiona Apple
54. Tori Amos
53. Sarah McLachlan
51. Nelly Furtado
49. Amy Lee (Evanescence)
43. Taylor Swift
36. Shakira
35. Shania Twain
29. Bjork
15. Alanis Morissette
13. Gwen Stefani
11. Britney Spears
10. P!nk
09. Mary J. Blige
05. Adele
04. Lady Gaga
01. Madonna

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Design Your Universe | Epica

In 2009, Epica released a studio album called Design Your Universe, living up to their reputation as a heavier (and perhaps even darker) symphonic metal band than others of their genre. Epica has always been epic, musically dynamic and lyrically thought-provoking, but this album seems to surpass a lot of their previous work. Its heaviness will have an appeal to lovers of general metal, Simone Simon's voice will appeal to anyone with an appreciation for singers, and the classical elements wrap it all together an a most irresistible way.

The first track is a prelude, entitled "Samadhi," and it's completely classical, immediately making a bold statement. This song quickly leads into "Resign to Surrender," which is nearly identical to the prelude, except the metal comes in and Mark Jansen begins grunting. Simone Simons' (their vocalist) striking voice is also found on this headbang-worthy track, of course. Everything about this song is energy and power, doing the lyrics justice.

A more melodic but still relatively heavy "Unleashed" comes next, a song of freedom that features Simone's voice entirely and no grunting, giving it cross-over appeal to those who aren't as fond of the band's influences. I don't really see how it's possible to dislike this woman's voice, especially on this song. Out of the entire album, "Unleashed" is probably the most mainstream song, but it's not unoriginal in any sense I can find.

"Martyr of the Free Word" is a fist-pumping song that I'd want to listen to if I were to ever overthrow a totalitarian state. That statement alone should help you indicate that Mark Jansen's lyrics within this standout song are full of truth. (For example: "When liberty seems out of reach, we'll fight for our freedom of speech!") Plus, the guitar riffs are just as lifting, toning it down a bit when Simone sings and then exploding into amazing metal-classical-chaos when there's grunting in the chorus. All in all, don't expect to sit still when listening to this song.

Next, we come to the fifth track, "Our Destiny." Though this isn't exactly one of my favorites from the album, it's alright. Although the lyrics embody strength, they comes off as a bit corny and don't get me particularly excited, and neither do the piano-led verses. Really, the only highlight of this track is Simone Simons' operatic voice in the pre-chorus.

A mystical male choir opens the next song with a chant before fading darkly into the string-led portion of the creepy intro. Then, all of a sudden, the best guitar riffs I've ever head in my life burst in, making my jaw drop dumbly. This is "Kingdom of Heaven," and it is easily my favorite Epica song and one of my favorite songs of all-time. There's metal and epic classical music intertwining in a way that makes me think of ancient times. There are grunts, and Simone's operatic voice. And the lyrics... Oh my goodness, it's about time someone wrote such mesmerizing, almost controversial lyrics. And just like that, I'm in love. Yet, the song isn't even halfway over; it's over thirteen minutes long. So, the music changes with the different sections of this symphonic metal masterpiece, giving us a guitar solo, urgency, and even a slowed-down bit before building back up with a portion that resembles the very first, but then suddenly changing before the song ends, sending a final chill down my spine.

As if knowing that "Kingdom of Heaven" would leave listeners taken aback, the next track is an interlude called "The Price of Freedom," which doesn't feature much other than acoustic instruments and men (who sound like politicians) speaking. Then, it leads into "Burn to a Cinder." Of all the songs on Design Your Universe, this is probably one of the most catchy with its fun vocal line and the way the grim lyrics remain somewhat romantic through it all. Throughout the song, there's a strong sense of urgency present, but as one reaches the last minute, the music is nearly gone except for some choral synth (that's the only way I can describe it) and Simone, ending the song sweetly.

At this point, one may think, 'Wow, this band is so hardcore that there isn't a ballad!' This is where that thought is proven wrong. "Tides of Time" is the next song, completely going in a different direction than the rest of the album. It's led by a pretty piano bit (accompanied by strings) and Simone's voice singing moving lyrics. I thought Simone blew me away on songs like "Unleashed" and "Our Destiny," but that's nothing to this song. "Tides of Time" clearly showcases Simone's beautiful voice, especially in the chorus. Then, the music swells in the bridge, bringing in electric guitars and drums, and Simone's voice grows with it. There is no denying a voice like this, a song like this. I loved it.

"Deconstruct" follows the ballad, picking things up once again. Nothing really struck me as grand about this song until I reached the bridge, where the choir comes in, singing the main lyrics in an ambitious staccato style. Then, we come to "Semblance of Liberty," which primarily consists of grunts though Simone is also included. Musically, it's what I consider to be the catchiest and it'll definitely appeal to metal-heads. However, the lyrics struck me more than anything. When reading along with the song, I said aloud, "This guy is deep."

A duet between Simone Simons and Tony Kakko left me relaxed with "White Waters." Right off the bat, the opening guitars intrigued me, and since it's Epica, I figured the song would blow out of the water (in a good way) with guitars and grunts, but I stand corrected. This song is actually quite calming, and I loved that. Besides, two gorgeous voices, soothing harmonies, great lyrics... do I need to say more?

The album ends with "Design Your Universe." It will fool the listener with its rather relaxing intro, but it soon picks up, adding guitars before breaking down to the verse. Again, the lyrics are really interesting and powerful, particularly in the chorus and the haunting choir bit (which is my favorite part). Also, I'm quite fond of the bridge, where the classical instrumentation seems to dominate, sweeping my ears away on an epic journey. Even so, the main choir bit left me breathless, and Simone sings a bit of it at the very end of the song, in the midst of fading piano bit that gives me chills every time.

Design Your Universe is a majorly impressive album; I think I've made that clear by now. Fans of just about any type of metal should give it a try, and to classical music lovers - go listen to this album and you'll see that metal and classical music have much in common.

5/5 Stars