Friday, June 29, 2012

Born to Die | Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey is a fairly new indie pop artist, having only released one album thus far, Born to Die. Though her music would generally appeal to fans of Lykke Li, Born to Die is quite unique and includes jazz and R&B influences, making Lana Del Rey an artist that will surely be interesting to hear from over the years.

The first song is the title track, and it's one of my favorites. Right away, the strings are potent, dark and beautiful amid the dark, atmospheric electronic tone to the whole thing. Lana Del Rey's voice is on the deep end (though still very feminine), like velvet, but jazzier than one would initially expect. "Born to Die" has great lyric, and it's a love song in some sense, but about general life in other senses. I love it.

"Off to the Races" is the second track, and this is where I started to see that Lana Del Rey's music may take a little while to grow on some people. Her voice goes jazzy as well as experimental with her high and low notes though the music is still quite electronic. It almost sounds like R&B... but it's not. Indie R&B? Nope, this is indie pop despite it may have crossover appeal. Strings can be heard throughout the song, but the outro is where they are most potent.

We get to hear a little bit of Lana Del Rey's almost childlike high notes in "Off to the Races," but they are vastly important in the next song, "Blue Jeans." This, I'm sure, is just for effect, but it might irritate some. I don't really mind it, but I can tell it'll take a while for me to really get used to it. But, that vocal style completely disappears in the fourth track, "Video Games," where her lower register shines. Besides the title track, this is my favorite from the album. Simplistic piano chords are layered with strings, a noteable harp, and bells. Lana Del Rey is declaring her love in this sweet, almost nostalgic song, which eventually leads to its outro - the strings leaving the piano by itself to play the last few chords.

"Diet Mountain Dew" comes next, a more upbeat song. I really enjoyed this one, with its funky string line and catchy chorus. The whole vibe is best described as classy, and this is sort of continued in the intro of "National Anthem," as the strings remind me of The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony." "National Anthem" is a pretty good track, and it is primarily about money. The chorus is definitely something everyone will want to sing along with as soon as its heard. Vocally the verses are annoying (though it'd be fantastic if they were instrumental), but the general song is so catchy that I can't help but like it.

Lana Del Rey vocalizes quite a bit in "Dark Paradise," which is probably the most fun song on Born to Die. Lyrically, it's not bad, nor is it musically, but I don't seem to like it as much, primarily because though the lyrics are darker and bleak, the music is much lighter. It's like they don't match. However, "Radio," the next song, is one of the more superior songs on the album. It displays a happy-medium of Lana Del Rey's vocal styles, and it's just a great song! It's not upbeat, but it's not too mellow... This song is really well-balanced. A secondary favorite of mine from Born to Die. Plus, I feel it actually has the potential to do well on the charts if it was released as a single.

"Carmen" is the ninth song, and it is another standout. Each verse has a mysterious-sounding melody, but the chorus is quite cheerful-sounding. At this point in listening to the album, I have to wonder if we've come to the end of the whiny, girlish sounding high notes of Lana Del Rey that display such an odd effect, for they have not been present in the past few songs. Of course, since I just noticed this, I expected them to ironically come back during "Million Dollor Man," and I was right. But, they only last for a little bit. Truthfully, "Million Dollar Man" may be the most bluesy song by Lana Del Rey, a song meant for listening in the middle of a rainy night.

Another of the better songs is "Summertime Sadness." Really, the only negative thing about this song is the repetative "I got that summertime sadness" that loops; the rest of it is actually quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the last song, "This is What Makes Us Girls." I like an effective album-closer, and this was a let-down. Nothing about it is bad necessarily, it's just not memorable.

All things considered, Born to Die is a unique album for a unique artist. Just about every song is a love song, often with similar themes, but I think this works for Lana Del Rey. Not everyone will like her, as she's a bit unusual vocally and musically, but in a world of dominating mainstream that bores the human ears to death, this is probably a compliment.

Not every song is a pleaser, but Born to Die has a few special moments. Give the album a try.

4.5/5 Stars

EDIT, AUGUST 1ST: This album is a grower. Seriously, I'm in love. I changed the rating from a 3.5/5 to 4.5/5. Every slightly positive thing I said about any one of these songs has been magnified beyond anything I expected. The only ones I'm not the fondest of at this point are "Blue Jeans" and "This is What Makes Us Girls," but neither drag the album down.

Originally, I said to give the album a try. If you still can't find anything magnificent, try again. It's so worth it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guardian of the Gate | by: Michelle Zink

Finally, I got my hands on a copy of Michelle Zink's Guardian of the Gate, the sequal to her debut novel, Prophecy of the Sisters. I don't know how I ever managed to wait so long before continuing this awesome YA trilogy!

Eight months after Lia left for London, she and Sonia wait for the keys to be found in order to end the prophecy. But, it seems now that as the search for the keys continues, they must travel to find the missing pages of the prophecy in order to learn how to end it forever. Though they do not travel alone, they must keep watch for the Souls trying to get to Lia in order to get her to aid their opposing side in the prophecy.

All the while, Lia's twin sister, Alice, is also a threat to Lia's side. As she grows even stronger, Alice is now intervening with the life Lia left behind in New York; the life that involved James.

Lia and Alice may be sisters, but more than anything, they are enemies.

This tale of rival twins is a dark and adventurous one! As it was with Prophecy of the Sisters the mood is just right. It may be creepy, but it's far from low-spirited. Perhaps this balance is even more evident in Guardian of the Gate because there's so much traveling involved, which helps to build anticipation as one reads. Though the characters often travel, their voyages do not get particularly monotonous as some journies can be. It was all quite eventful with plenty of surprises.

One of those surprises is Dimitri. At first, we get a glimpse of his character, but then BAM - he's important. When I say it like this, I don't mean that the pace wasn't even or anything negative. I was just surprised to see this character really come forth. Well, maybe I did expect that... I guess I just didn't expect to like him so much. When it comes to YA series' anymore, I always expect a new love interest that I don't like as much to be introduced in the second book. Dimitri didn't follow that typical standard. Sure, he's a new love interest. But he's likeable and seems smart thus far. Even in terms of plot, not much is predictable.

Also, I enjoyed reading about Luisa. If I ever laughed during this book, it was because of her. Oppositely, some of the grumpy women on Altus really annoyed me. Especially Ursula. Anyway, I felt for Lia whenever she had to have awkward conversations with these snooty people, no matter how beautiful of a place Altus may be. I really hope that these cranky women don't get in Lia's way or add to her current level of stress in the next book.

Unfortunately, we don't get to see much of Lia's sinister sibling, Alice. This happens due to all of the traveling Lia must do in Guardian of the Gate, bringing her away from her power-crazed sister. Let's face it, Alice is kind of creepy, but that makes her interesting to read about. And obviously, you kind of need her in order to enforce the whole twin enemies concept. This concept is still enforced though her lack of presence made it less potent.

But as with the first book, the general plot and the writing of Guardian of the Gate captured my attention more than any of the other elements, especially now that there are more twists in this stupendous sequal. Although our poor protagonist, Lia, has to deal with all of these new twists, she seems to deal with it all quite well, but not unreasonably. At times she is exhausted and constantly dwells on even the more minute problems, but she's one of the smarter protagonists of YA. She thinks.

I must admit that I adore this trilogy! Reading both books have been such fun! I refuse to wait around too long before finally buying Circle of Fire, the final book of Lia's story. With the first two novels being more than exceptional, I'm sure that I won't be disappointed.

4.5/5 Stars

Zink, Michelle. Guardian of the Gate
New York: Little, Brown and Company

Monday, June 18, 2012

Linger | by: Maggie Stiefvater

Linger is the second book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, and it is the continuation of Grace and Sam's story, with two more perspectives.

Just as they thought that everything was fine, that their love story finally came to its happy resolution, new problems are on the horizon. Sam must deal with a choice Beck has made, a choice that brought a new character: Cole. Cole is one of four narrators readers will come across in this novel as Sam and Grace's story intertwines with the lives of Isabel and Cole, who are connected by their own personal struggles. In addition, they add to Grace and Sam's plot just as much. But together, Grace and Sam are going to have to face an untimely reality that may separate them; for something unavoidable isn't quite right.

When I first started reading Linger, I had rather low expectations. With the introduction to a new male character, I expected him to be a contender for Grace's love since this happens with many second books in paranormal romance series', but thank goodness, I was wrong. Cole, a new character in the Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, really boosted my opinion for this book. I really enjoyed reading his narrations as well as Isabel's narrations, and their complex relationship kept me interested more than Sam and Grace's story. In some odd way, it was refreshing to read about two very imperfect people.

With that being said, the main plot with Sam and Grace is very, very predictable. The general plot in captivating in some ways, but the author gives so many hints but takes so long to get to the point. I knew what was going to happen in the end, the only thing that was a little surprising was the manner in which it happened. Although I was correct in my predictions, the climax was still quite effective since it was so full of action (which was something I did not predict).

Part of the reason why I may have preferred hearing from Cole and Isabel is that I really don't care much for Grace. I cannot relate to her whatsoever when it comes to much of anything. Plus, I got a bit frustrated with her towards the end. Though I understand that she's angry that her parents (who do an awful job of parenting) suddenly forced themselves into her life after years of absence, she went about her anger in a rather... less smart way. Seriously: You get in trouble once for something that every parent on the planet would get angry about. You can at least pretend to follow through with the punishment. Really, it's no wonder they punished her over and over again - she's not very sneaky! Sure, this might be the closest we get to real life, but it's very irritating as a reader.

More than anything, this book was a bit too gushy at times. I know I mentioned this in my review of the first novel of this trilogy, Shiver, but it got worse. Grace nearly drove me insane with her constant whining: "Boohoo I miss Sam; I haven't seen him in two whole days!" But, the generally corny vibe didn't just affect her, it also affected Sam. He's no different. (However, I guess I like Sam, but maybe I just pity him because of his past...) Even the writing was affected by this element. Is Maggie Stiefvater a good writer? I think so, but the gushiness really took away from it. I think the writing would have done much better in a different setting.

I'm realizing that Cole and Isabel's story lacked all of the things I just complained about. Even so, the climax of the book does seem to pay off any problem I had with Sam and Grace since the engrossing elements of their story is highlighted. The way that both stories have merged make it special; Maggie Stiefvater knew what she was doing.

In truth, this wasn't a bad sequal, but it wasn't the best. It was on the fence. Readers will be hung over a cliffhanger and likely want to see what happens next, just as I do. After reading this book, my expectations for the third book, Forever, aren't really expectations at all since Linger was a a bit in-between. Forever could be as in-between as this installment, as good as Shiver, absolutely beautiful, or absolutely terrible for all I know. I can't tell at this point. All the more reason for me to go ahead and read the next book.

Linger will somewhat satisfy those who read the first novel in this trilogy with its new character and the entertainment it brings. Though it was predictable and far from a perfect novel, it's entertaining enough nontheless.

3/5 Stars

Stiefvater, Maggie. Linger
New York: Scholastic Press

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Synthetica | Metric

Metric's new album, Synthetica, was released June 12th of this year! Having enjoyed their previous album, Fantasies, I was definitely interested in hearing what else this band had in store.

The opening track is called "Artificial Nocturne," which begins with synths and Emily Haines' ever-soothing vocals. As the song slowly builds, it just gets more and more intriguing. After the synth-intro is over with, guitars pop in, bringing a new feel to the track. The repetative melodies are almost hypnotic throughout the crescendos and decrescendos of the song, making me feel positive about the album already.

"Youth Without Youth" follows, and it is the first single from Synthetica. The synths from the previous song lead into this track for a moment, but the electric guitars quickly break through this leftover sound. Metric may be indie/alternative/new wave, but they sure sound like rock stars in this song. "Youth Without Youth" is the perfect chilled-out summer song, but that is not to say that it isn't upbeat. I just feel so cool when I listen to it!

What was an immediate favorite song of mine from the album comes next, and it's called "Speed the Collapse." Again, the previous song sort of leads into this one, and the tone seems completely changed. Lyrically, this song is a bit strange and clever. Of course, I love this element, almost as much as I love Emily's vocalizing at the end of the chorus, which are bound to stay in the listener's head long after the first listen. It's not a slow song, but it's so relaxing... But then again, isn't that a good definition for all of Metric's music?

Next comes "Breathing Underwater," where Emily's vocals seem to be a bit more calming than usual, even in the heavier-than-typical chorus. Again, "Breathing Underwater" seems to be a song so perfect for summer, one that I'll surely be listening to frequently.

"Dreams so Real" is highly powered by the electronic elements of Metric, and even Emily's voice is a bit auto-tuned. I can already tell that I don't want this song in my head at three o'clock in the morning when I'm trying to sleep, for it's almost too repetative and catchy! However, I won't deny that it's a good song. Rather short, but still good.

The sixth song of Synthetica, "Lost Kitten," is probably my least favorite despite it's rather... cute sounding. For whatever reason, it seems to be a bit bland for my taste. But right when "The Void" begins, I feel assured that I won't experience any particularly dull moments on this record... and I'm wrong. "The Void" gave me that bland taste again. Though neither of them are bad songs or lack quality, there's nothing in the music that really catches me like the other songs. However, I feel like these two tracks would be nice to listen to when I'm doing something that requires work and need some good background music.

This phase of the album officially ends with the title track. "Synthetica" gets me grooving again with its awesome instrumentation and a chorus that I want to sing along with right away. Like "Youth Without Youth," this song has more potent guitars than some of the other tracks, but it still keeps that signature dreamy Metric feel to it.

"Clone" follows, a more mellow and electronic side of Synthetica. The guitars in the chorus and the bridge ignite something nostalgic in me, and the lyrics seem to speak to me in some way, especially these: "Can you clone me? I look like everyone you know now." I really enjoyed this change of pace; I really enjoyed the song. "Clone" has a unique beauty to it.

"The Wanderlust" is a bit different as it includes male vocals in the chorus. It's not the most memorable song on the album, but it ends abruptly, leaving me with the last song: "Nothing But Time." Unlike the other songs (excpet for the first one), "Nothing But Time" includes a soothing, catchy piano bit. Emily's vocals blend into the sound quite well, almost too well, as this atmospheric track builds, gaining more and more audible effects. I'm quite sure this is the most atmospheric song of Synthetica, and some of this maintains its place in the song in the chorus, when the guitars and drums come in. Instantly, this track is one of my favorites. The song ends on a very positive note lyrically, as well as a great end musically, for the sound draws itself out a bit before its final cut-off.

Synthetica is a wonderful album! Metric should be proud of this unique piece of work, for just about every song seemed to sit more than well with me. Not only did it sound great, but it drew some emotion from me. I found myself smiling a lot when listening to this album; Metric's sound always makes me happy.

Place Metric's Synthetica to the top of your list of CDs to buy, for it's perfect, relaxing summer music.

4.5/5 Stars

Friday, June 8, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman | Directed by Rupert Sanders | Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini

Snow White and the Huntsman, an anticipated rendition of the fairytale we all know and love, finally came to theatres June 1st! Like many others, I was immediately drawn to this seemingly dark version of the beloved tale as well as the wonderful cast, but I was also looking forward to the cinematography and film score. So, my expectations were high. And I must say, I wasn't let down.

Of course, this story follows the struggles of the princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) as Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) desires to kill her. Queen Ravenna is very obsessed with beauty and power and wants as much of it as she can possibly have. However, Snow White is the only one fairer than her, the only one that can give her immortal beauty if killed. To take care of this problem, Queen Ravenna sends a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to pursue Snow White. But, perhaps Queen Ravenna should not have put so much trust in this Huntsman, for he will take Snow White's side as battle lines become clear as day...

Oh, I do love a good revolution!

This rendition of Snow White is dark, but it still keeps a fairytale vibe. There's still magic, both good and evil, and the difference between the two leaves a beautiful and distinct contrast. Most of this has to do with this film's cinematography. As I previously mentioned, this was an element I was really looking forward to. Right off the bat, my expectations were met. Even the battle scenes contained beauty with the way the effects were brought about, which is a bit unusual. Above all, the most potent way the cinematography is displayed is in the general setting. Nature is taken to a new level of fantasy in this film, and depending on when it is used (as much of the film takes place outdoors), it can be the darkest or the most innocent form of creativity. This contrast is most evident when comparing the Dark Forest (which is so much scarier in this film) to calm and bright Sanctuary.

As far as my other pre-viewing expectations, I expected a great score. James Newton Howard did the film score, which immediately made me excited since I enjoyed a lot of his previous work for films. In Snow White and the Huntsman, the score was consistently effective and epic. I'm pretty sure I had that figured out within the first minute.

The film in general started out semi-corny, but not quite. It was getting close, but once things really started to take off, it was a far cry from even semi-corny. Snow White and the Huntsman was not a boring film; I was engaged throughout. Charlize made a frightening evil queen, and the queen's brother kind of freaked me out. Well, I guess his character in general didn't effect me much. It was their relationship. It confused me... It seemed they were a little bit closer than that, but there wasn't anything too obvious for me to think that. Just bits and pieces. I guess I was almost waiting for a backstory that concerned both of them.

Kristen Stewart did a good job with her role, if I may say so myself. Stewart seems to get a lot of harsh criticism, and part of the reason is because of her performances in the Twilight films. (Personally, I don't understand how anyone could stop ranting about the scripts of those films to even begin talking about the actors...) Honestly, I like Kristen. Twilight's the worst she's ever done (and I don't give her all of the blame for that anyway) but other than that, I have no problems with her. The role of Snow White was a really unique one for her and I think she did it right. Until this film, I've never seen her portraying a character so innocent and in-touch with nature... Nor have I ever seen her as a battling badass. It was all quite interesting to watch!

Still, I must say that Chris Hemsworth took up a lot of spotlight in this movie. Let's face it, he's fun to look at. But that's not to say that he's not a good actor, because he really is. I really felt for the Huntsman and loved to see his character grow. In fact, the Huntsman is easily my favorite character.

One thing about this new take on Snow White that left a positive mark on me is how Snow White is much more femminist. Obviously, she can't do everything by herself, but she does fight. She doesn't just sit around waiting, she encourages an army to fight with her in her quest to overthrow the queen. Of course, this made for an awesome final battle.

Throughout the film, Snow White has two possible love interests. (This part of the plot isn't examined thoroughly, so don't confuse this for some romance flick.) I could see this going either way, and it even got to the point where I was expecting one of them to die so she'd hurry up and make an obvious choice. Which brings me to the ending: I love how she made her choice in a clear way without saying a word. She barely even moved. It was an August Rush sort of ending - we knew how that part of the story would play out, the writers knew we knew that, so they didn't show us a corny scene that wraps up the all-too-careful happily ever after. This made me so happy, and I became even more delighted when I saw the epic credits... Am I the only one who really loves to see effects in the credits? Anyway, the ending was perfect.

Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman was a fun yet dark film. I enjoyed it vastly and believe that many others will as well, with its light moments with the dwarves, moving moments with Chris Hemsworth, and its epic battles that are bound to just about every character.

4.5/5 Stars

Friday, June 1, 2012

Introducing: Summer Playlist

I love a lot of different music and I'm almost always listening to it. Like other music fanatics, I seem to crave certain music during each season, and summer is typically the most obvious. Sometimes in autumn, winter, or fall, I'll hear a song and think something along the lines of this: "I love this song! I remember listening to it nonstop last summer!" Then, that'll lead me to think of other things I did during that specific summer. But, if I hear such song in the middle of winter, I'm not really happy to hear it. I love all seasons, and I don't really care about summer in the middle of winter; I care about Trans-Siberian Orchestra, snow, and Christmas during that time. I love every season.

So, long story made short, I decided I'd share my list of these songs which I correlate to summer, which you can find right here.

I know I made note of this on the playlist itself, but I really want to stress this: I'm aware that a lot of these songs don't have an obvious correlation to summer, which would make more sense. (Of course, I have to be complicated!) These songs usually remind me of summer because I discovered them in the summer, and that brings more memories of that time.

Nonetheless, I hope you all enjoy the list of songs I've presented this summer. I know I'm excited for more musical discoveries and the general fun that summer brings!

...Plus, I'm hoping that reviews will come more frequently this summer.