Wednesday, February 18, 2015

IMAGINE DRAGONS- 'SMOKE + MIRRORS' (ALBUM REVIEW)

By: Connor Glowacki

     Las Vegas alternative rock band Imagine Dragons formed back in 2008 and released three EPs that let them explore and hone in on what would be their sound, but it was when they worked with urban producer Alex Da Kidd on their debut album, 2012's 'Night Visions', that they began to find success in the mainstream music community. Yet no one could've expected the acclaim that they would receive from 'Night Visions'. The album has sold a whopping 2.3 million copies in the United States alone off of the strength of hit singles, such as 'It's Time', 'Demons' and a huge smash single in 'Radioactive' that has sold NINE MILLION copies domestically.
Album artwork for 'Smoke + Mirrors'
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
     Imagine Dragons utilized their alternative rock sound with rhythmic and electronic dance music elements that they picked up while working with Alex Da Kidd. They also utilized folk and hip hop to create a sound that no other band has been able to conceive. Some consider Imagine Dragons as the new torchbearers of rock music. However, many criticize this band's success. Imagine Dragons has been referred to by critics as a 'poppy band' with no rock credibility.  So now the band has to not only counter criticisms from the rock community, but also the enormous success of their first album and avoid the dreaded 'sophomore slump'. With all of this in mind, let's take a look at how their new album, 'Smoke + Mirrors', fare in a track by track breakdown.


1.) Shots

Guitarist Wayne Sermon's 'homage'
to U2's The Edge is a highlight of 'Shots'.
     'Shots' kicks off 'Smoke + Mirrors' with a delay ridden guitar riff, almost an homage to The Edge, by guitarist Wayne Sermon. Following that is the inital plea by lead singer Dan Reynolds as he sings, "I'm sorry for everything, for everything I've done".
     The lyrical content in 'Shots' sets the tone for a majority of the songs on the album. The lyrics are introspective and describe the regret from taking certain things in our lives for granted, most notably relatinhsops. And yet Reynold's voice and the instrumentaion feels light and more upbeat, allowing the song to really take off.
     There are 80's sounding keyboards and a dance-rock vibe that shows influences to industrial music. Another listen shows Reynolds utiliizng his falsetto more than the howling vocals he was known for during 'Night Visions'.
     'Shots' was released about a month ago as a promotional single and it's already made it up to number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has a good chance of becoming a hit in 2015 and there are a lot of really good things that this song has to offer.

2.) Gold

     'Gold' is not only VERY different from 'Shots', but it's very different from almost everything else on 'Smoke + Mirrors' in a musical sense. The song opens up with strange tribal chants in the background and interpolates Latin music. 'Gold' was also released as a single before the album dropped and after repeated listens, it has still not grown on me at all.
     The melody is not interetsing or captivating enough to keep me emotionally invested.  When Reynolds howls the chorus, "You no longer feel when you're heart turns to gold," it does remind me a bit of 'Radioactive' from their first album with the electronic breakdowns in the chrous. But this time the musicality doesn't match up with the darker lyrical content.
     Another negative was that I couldn't hear enough of drummer Daniel Platzman or bassist Ben McKee throughout 'Gold'. Synthesizers are great, but if I can only recognize Reynold's vocals and Sermon's light guitar riff in the background, the other insturments are being overpowered. I can appreciate trying something very different with 'Gold', but it  didn't work for me at all.

3.) Smoke + Mirrors

     The title track sounds something like one of Imagine Dragons' musical idols, The Cure, would do. "I wanted your truth, but I wanted the pain," sings Reynolds. The lyrical content could resemble something spiritual, but it's not as clear as it is in other songs on the album.
     The soft vocals and instrumenaion don't show much variety throughout the song and feel plateaued. It's a decent song that has a cool 80's pop vibe, but it's nothing particularly special.

4.) I'm So Sorry

     By this point, there are lots of different sounds and influences that are popping up on 'Smoke + Mirrors'. This continues with 'I'm So Sorry', a song that utilizes hard rock guitar and bass riffs from Sermon and McKee. There's distortion and it feels garage rock inspired. 'I'm So Sorry' is a song that feels like it would've fit in perfectly pn The Black Keys' 2011 'El Camino' album.
     Again lyrically, it's a song about making admends to someone for past mistakes, but acknowledging that you would've made the same decision over and over again. This is a song that could fit in well right now on rock radio and it could turn out to be fan favorite in the concert setting.

5.) I Bet My Life

    'I Bet My Life' was the very first single released from 'Smoke + Mirrors' back last October. Intially, I didn't like it and felt underwhelmed. But surprisingly enough, it's become one of my personal favorites after repeated listens.
As evidenced in 'I Bet My Life', Reynolds'
songwriting has gotten more spiritual in the new album.
Photo Courtesy of USAToday.
     Lyrically, it's another song about admitting past mistakes and admitting that the people closest to you are the ones that you truly depend on in life. Reynolds has even revealed that he wrote 'I Bet My Life' for his parents as an apology for dropping out of school to become a musician.
     This makes the song that much more relatable that a lot of young people go through when they want to follow their dreams. The lyrics are spiritual, inspirational, and anthemic, making it a solid choice for a lead single.
     This song msucially does the difficult job of combining music from different genres and making it work. The gospel choir singing and clapping along during the chorus, the folksy fingerpicked acoustic guitar by Sermon and the delay ridden guitar outro remind me of a mix between Coldplay and U2.

6.) Polaroid

     'Polaroid' is another relateable song describing the faults and doubts that most people have about themselves. Unlike previous songs with similar themes, however, 'Polaroid' never really goes anywhere musically and that makes the theme and lyrics weaker as a whole. Reynolds sings earnestly and displays his strong vocal ability, but 'Polaroid' could've been a great song and is instead just average.

7.) Friction

     'Can't fight the friction," screams Reynolds as this much needed agressive track is 'Smoke + Mirror's' closest example to a 'Radioactive'. 'Friction' reminds me of the latter because of the urgency in the vocals and the variety of the instrumentation.
     It has very tight guitar and bass lines, which gives it a groove. Displaying funk in their music is something I would've not expected from Imagine Dragons and I have to give credit to all of the band members, especially Platzman and McKee, who provide something fresh to the song. There's also a lot of electronic elements, which combined with the funk elements, provides a unique combination from the typical alternative instrumentation.
     'Friction' displays the strengths of Imagine Dragons as a band. They're able to pull different influences and genres and yet keep their core sound true to who they are. This could be another fan favorite at concerts and a song that could give Imagine Dragons more respect in the rock community.

8.) It Comes Back To You

Platzman's  drumming was a highlight
in 'It Comes Back To You'.
     This might've been the first point in the album where I could CLEARLY hear the Platzman and the drums and that can only be a good thing. The instrumentation of the guitar and bass lines resemble late 1980's U2, probably during 'The Joshua Tree' and 'Rattle & Hum' eras.
     Throughout this song, it's evident that Imagine Dragon's three biggest influences are showcased: U2, Coldplay and The Cure. There are many confessional lyrics throughout 'It Comes Back To You' including, "All the things that I could be, I think I learned in therapy'.
     A lot of these lyrics make you think that Reynolds has been in an almost depressed mindset after the huge success of 'Night Visions'.  While that would typically be an incredible moment in someone's life, it's understandable to feel the negative consequences of such huge instant success. Most notably for Reynolds, having to spend extended parts of the year away from his family to tour the world and promote the record.
     Whatever it is, it's becoming clear that 'Smoke + Mirrors' is displaying more personal moments compared to 'Night Visions'.

9.) Dream

     'Dream' utilizes a great combination of sporadic keyboards, a simple drumming pattern from Platzman and haunting background violins to blend with Reynolds' soaring vocals. And it appears to be another song that allows us to learn a little more about Reynolds as a person.
     Lyrically, 'Dream' is about someone living a sheltered life as if it were a dream and not being allowed to see the mess, which is the real, outside world. Reynolds has stated previously in interviews that he had a sheltered upbringing as he grew up in a loving, but Conservative Mormon household.  Knowing that bit of information helps put the song in the proper context and makes me appreciate it taht much more.

10.) Trouble

     'Trouble' does sound like a song that Imagine Dragons would write, record and perform, but with its strumming guitars and rich harmonies, it's more comparable to something commercially successful folk rock acts, like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers, would do.
     Like the rest of the album, there are a combination of spiritual and inspirational lyrics where Reynolds talks about redemption, prayer, being lost at sea, and trying to find himself.
     The acoustic guitars help give this song an extra dimension and make it interesting to listen to, even if it is straightforward.

11.) Summer

     I was hooked on this song within the first listen and it still feels fresh after repeated listens. The shimmery guitar riff from Sermon finally allow an aura of positivity to shine on this band in the midst of an album full of deep, personal tracks.
     'Summer' sounds like a song that would fit very well on alternative radio stations right now and can be compared to similar groups like Coldplay, Walk The Moon, Bleachers, and Young The Giant.

12.) Hopeless Opus

     Honestly, this song was a let down for me after such quality songs in 'Summer', 'Friction' and 'Trouble' right before. There are a lot of synthesizers and the drumming is solid enough, but 'Hopeless Opus' never goes anywhere musically and I think it could've been a lot better with some variations in dynamics.

13.) The Fall

     This last song also happened to be the longest song off of 'Smoke + Mirrors' after lasting for over six minutes. It's not the bombastic ending that I was expecting, but it did end the album on a positive, upbeat note.
     There are some more inspirational lyrics that, at this point, teeter on the edge of being cliche, but the vocals and instrumentation is solid enough to prevent this song from ultimately being forgettable.

RATING: 

3/5


     I give Imagine Dragons a lot of credit for stepping out of their comfort zone and trying new things with 'Smoke + Mirrors'. That being said, the album is really hit or miss, in terms of where their new influences and experimentations work and where they fall flat.
     'Summer', 'Shots', 'Friction', and 'I Bet My Life' are great moments that showcase new sounds for Imagine Dragons and can allow us to figure out where they want to go from here musically. But other songs like 'Gold', 'Polaroid', 'Hopeless Opus, and 'The Fall' are examples of the types of musical influences they should never try to embody ever again or songs that could've been solid and instead are nothing worthy to remember.
     So is 'Smoke + Mirrors' a sophomore slump for Imagine Dragons? It's very debatable, but remember that 'Night Visions' had similar problems, in terms of consistency.  'Smoke + Mirrors' will keep Imagine Dragons in the forefront of commercially successful rock acts of mainstream music, if for nothing else because very few other rock acts actually sell well in today's complex marketplace.
     I do hope that the band changes some of the themes and emotions inside of their songs. Not every track has to be inspirational or serious. Inspiration and spiritual songs are great, but I'd also like to listen to songs where I can tell the band is just rocking out and loosening up.
     Overall, 'Smoke + Mirrors' is a transitional album that should hopefully allow Imagine Dragons to find out what works and what doesn't work over the scope of an entire record.

FAVORITE THREE SONGS:

1.) Summer                        2.) I Bet My Life                  3.) Friction

What do YOU think about the new Imagine Dragons album, 'Smoke + Mirrors'? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Leave a comment below or tweet me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

REPORT: FLOYD MAYWEATHER AND MANNY PACQUIAO AGREE TO $250 MILLION LAS VEGAS FIGHT

By: Connor Glowacki

Photo courtesy of yellmagazine.com/
     After seven years in the making, it appears that we are soon going to have the biggest boxing match in recent memory between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
     According to several reports, including from The Telegraph and MSN, the two boxing stars and rivals have agreed to terms on what will be the richest matchup ever in boxing history. That number is 250 million dollars.

     "Manny has 100 percent signed his part of the deal," a source told Telegraph Sport. "It is now over to Mayweather to close the deal and announce the fight."

Floyd Mayweather is undefeated as a professional
with a career record of 47-0.
Photo courtesy of allhiphop.com.
     Reports have also indicated that while Pacquiao has already signed and agreed to terms of the fight, there is the possibility that Mayweather will announce the fight during the NBA All Star Game festivities.
    Mayweather is currently in New York this weekend for the NBA All Star Game.

A fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather
has been rumored since 2009.
Photo courtesy of celebrityofficial.com.





     The breakdown of revenue will have Mayweather receiving 60 percent and Pacquiao receiving 40 percent. Floyd Mayweather has an undefeated career record of 47 wins and zero losses that also includes 26 knockout victories. Manny Pacquiao currently has a career record of 57 wins, five losses and two draws.

     Professional boxing remains a multi-million dollar industry, but it has taken a hit in popularity over the past decade. There is no doubt that a Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight would reignite interest in the sport.

     Do you believe that this fight is actually going to happen? And who do you think would win? Leave a comment below or send me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

JON STEWART LEAVING 'THE DAILY SHOW'

By: Connor Glowacki


     Right on the heels of the news of NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ six month suspension came the announcement that comedian and political satirist Jon Stewart would be stepping down as the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show after more than 16 years. Although Stewart’s contract with Comedy Central doesn’t end until September, he claimed that his departure is unknown but could come at any point, “in July or maybe December.”

     Stewart announced his plans during a taping of the program on Tuesday saying, “In my heart, I know it’s time for someone else” to fulfill the head anchor role.

     After taking over as host of The Daily Show in 1999, Stewart helped transform the show from a parody of the news to a political satire and an influential platform of news and media commentary. He even interviewed president Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton and former governor Mike Huckabee. 
     The Daily Show averaged 2.2 million viewers nightly last year and even allowed itself to compete with the top late night shows on the major four cable channels, including The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Stewart with frequent collaborator Stephen Colbert
at the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear in 2010.
Photo courtesy of zap2it.com.

     During his tenure as host, The Daily Show has won 20 Emmy Awards and has sparked the careers of once burgeoning comedians into legitimate stars, a list that includes Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and most recently John Oliver. 
     There has been a generation of viewers who have watched Stewart and The Daily Show that have cited the show as their primary source of information after losing trust in both the politicians in Washington D.C. and the mainstream news media.

    Stewart will also be known for his determination to take on his ‘opponents' on their shows, some of which include Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor and his legendary takedown of CNN’s Crossfire back in 2004.

Stewart on the set of his directorial debut Rosewater.
     Back in the summer of 2013, Stewart took a hiatus from The Daily Show to the direct the film Rosewater. The film was based off of a memoir by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian journalist who had been held in Iran for over three months after reporting on its disputed 2009 elections. 
     Rosewater didn't turn out to be a huge commercial success, but garnered enough critical acclaim that have many movie insiders pegging Stewart as a 'director to watch'. 

     After announcing his plans to leave The Daily Show on air, Stewart admitted, “I’ve got a lot of ideas. I got a lot of things in my head. I’m going to have dinner on a school night with my family, who I have heard from multiple sources are lovely people.”


Any thoughts on Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show and who should Comedy Central pick as a potential replacement? Leave a comment below or send me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.

BRIAN WILLIAMS SUSPENDED SIX MONTHS BY NBC

By: Connor Glowacki


     Nightly News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams was suspended for six months yesterday (February 10), without pay, by NBC over an ongoing investigation into a story that Williams has told several times about being in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire and subsequently shot down while covering the Iraq war in 2003. 
     It turned out that this account was false. Instead, Williams was in another helicopter that trailed the original shot-down helicopter by over an hour. 
     
     In recent years, Williams has shared this story as a guest on several late night talk shows, including NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Back on January 30 of this year, Williams brought up his account of the story during his number one rated cable evening news show, NBC Nightly News. Hours after the comment was made, a number of veterans that were in Williams' helicopter in 2003 refuted his story online. And as the hours and days passed, more and more people came out refuting the story. 
     In a statement, NBC News President Deborah Turness said that the ongoing investigation is actually, “wider than the incident that triggered the scandal. While on Nightly News on January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events which occurred while he was covering the Iraq war in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”
Williams covering the Iraq War.
Photo courtesy of money.cnn.com.

     What puts Williams’ future with NBC in question isn’t just the fact he lied to the viewing public about this one particular incident, but that there have been other instances of him changing the accounts of other stories he covered. There are now questions being raised of Williams talking of his experiences while working in the Middle East and while covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 
     There are discrepancies in his accounts of seeing a body floating in the French Quartier,  an area which had no flooding, and encounters with gangs at his hotel that are now being challenged. Williams has also previously changed his accounts, during his time covering Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, of having rockets fly right in front of his chopper to then flying directly beneath it.
Lester Holt will fill in as temporary
anchor for NBC Nightly News.
Photo courtesy of nbcnews.com.

     NBC’s investigation is now focused on finding out if the initial scandal of Brian Williams changing accounts of stories was one isolated incident or of a pattern of activity. With him being suspended from his duties, most visibly as the anchor for NBC Nightly News, longtime NBC News anchor and journalist Lester Holt will be filling in for at least the next six months. 

     Do you think NBC made the right decision in suspending Brian Williams and should he be given a second chance and be allowed to come back after his suspension? 
     Leave a comment below or send me your comment on Twitter @ConnorGlowacki.