Artist of Week(nd): The Weeknd

This week’s Artist of the Week is a singer named The Weeknd (that’s not a typo, that’s actually how it’s spelled). He is a 22 year-old Canadian R&B recording artist and record producer who has recently started making waves in the hip hop and R&B community by way of achingly passionate lyrics, the sound of smoke slipping between his teeth and a falsetto you wish would never stop.

The reason I chose to make The Weeknd this week’s Artist of the Week is because he has a new album dropping today (November 13th) titled Trilogy. The album has been released under Universal Public Records, to whom he recently signed, as well as his own label, XO. In the ultimate form of flattery and high expectations, iTunes has made The Weeknd’s song “Twenty Eight” this week’s single of the week on iTunes.

The Weeknd (whose real name is Abel Tesfaye) is reasonably new to the music scene, having dropped his first free album titled House of Balloons (click the link for the free download) in March 2011. The album was extremely well received by fans (many of whom discovered him via his YouTube videos), putting him on the map almost instantly, with songs like “Loft Music” and “High For This” leading the way.

In addition to the overwhelmingly positive feedback he’s received from fans, several higher-ups in the music biz have noticed him as well, such as Drake, who not only gave him a few buzzes by quoting lyrics on Twitter but also ended up contributing to his debut album. The video below is for The Weeknd’s song “The Zone” which features Drake.

Somewhat recently, British pop star Ellie Goulding did a cover of his song “High For This”, which fans of both musicians have absolutely devoured. Similarly, several DJs have laced The Weeknd’s songs with even more beats and bass than they had to begin with, turning them into extremely sensual club jams.

While it’s hard to accurately translate The Weeknd’s dark and addictive nature into words, Pitchfork’s Joe Colly gave a pretty good attempt in an article reviewing House of Balloons: “What makes this whole thing work in an album context is that all the thematic and sonic pieces fit together– these weird, morning-after tales of lust, hurt, and over-indulgence (“Bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain,” goes one refrain) are matched by this incredibly lush, downcast music.”

I decided to try describing The Weeknd’s sound using my senses: If his songs were a picture, it would look exactly like the cover art of House of Balloons, featuring bare breasts and scattered balloons, all in black and white. If his songs were a smell, it would be a mix between strong perfume, weed and a faint twinge of mold, like the kind that would go undetected for years in an old NYC apartment. If his music were a feel, it would be a combination of facial hair stubble and thin sheets. If it were a taste, it would be black licorice and smoke.

But don’t take my word for it- check out his songs for yourself. His is the kind of music that will be different and unique to each individual person, like some darkly sexual and drugged out snowflakes. See if you can find a way to describe your Weeknd.

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The Way We Get By- Spoon 

I really don’t what it is about this song, but whenever this song comes on my iPod I instantly feel cooler. If it weren’t so socially unacceptable, I’d probably start snapping and finger-gun pointing at random strangers who walked by. Perhaps it’s the unexpected combination of a catchy piano melody, strong beat via the drums and a tambourine that just won’t quit. Perhaps it’s that secret satisfaction I feel when Britt Daniels (lead singer) mentions some odd thing that he does that I also happen to do. Whatever it is, listening to this song quite frequently is one of the ways I get by.

Freaks and Geeks- Childish Gambino 

Childish Gambino, aka Troy from the show Community, aka Donald Glover has some of the freshest and most original rap verses I’ve ever heard. I don’t think he goes more than 3 lines in any of his songs without making some kind of clever word play that you hear and then 30 seconds later are like, “Oh now I get it, [insert laughter here], that was a good one.” While his songs are riddled with expletives and should under no circumstances be played while your mother is in the room, they’re great for getting the zone. His beats are catchy, his delivery is impressive and his lines are memorable.

Don’t Go- Rae Morris

Confession time: I discovered this show while watching Degrassi. Judge me if you must, but it was a really sad episode (that I may or may not have watched it more than once) and it featured some good music, such as this song. I’m pretty sure every girl out there has that one really sad song that they turn to when they are in need of a good cry and this is mine. It is a soft and delicate piano ballad about a girl who (you guessed it) doesn’t want her love to go. Rae’s voice is saturated in this sad desperation that can be detected in every note, making it beautiful and heart breaking all at the same time.

You’re an Ocean- Fastball

One of my personal philosophies (I have many) is to never be friends with someone who can’t appreciate a good throwback song. This song was the one that came on the radio during the early 90’s when you were driving in the car with your entire family and everyone belted out the chorus even though not a single person knew (or cared) what band was singing. I throw this song on when I’m driving around during the summer and just yell it, especially when I’m down the shore, because sometimes I like to point out the window as I drive by a beach and sing, “You’re an ocean!” to the ocean. Too punny, I know. 

This was published in Fairfield University’s newspaper The Mirror.

MK’s Corner Episode 7: Adam Bernard

This week on MK’s Corner I was happy to have entertainment journalist Adam Bernard on the show to talk about music, pop culture, journalism, Hurricane Sandy, WVOF and anything else that happened to pop into my head. He showed up wearing a cool band t-shirt and a smile, ready to talk about anything and everything I wanted to. “It’s your show,” he kept saying. “You call the shots.”

I first met Adam during a news writing class at Fairfield University where he came in as a guest speaker to talk to journalism students about what it’s like to be an entertainment writer. He talked about a variety of things, ranging anywhere from the various artists he’s met, to the roller coaster nature of being a freelance writer, to the fun and unique lifestyle that comes with being a full-time journalist. I ended up writing an article about his thoughts on blogging and how his blog, Adam’s World, has helped him land jobs throughout his career.

Anyway, when I had Adam on the show last night I didn’t want it to be an interview (which was kind of a selfish move, because I already knew way too much about him and didn’t want to be bored.) Instead, I wanted it to be a general discussion between two people who both happen to love music and writing. When it got down to it however, we talked about way more than just music and writing.

While it would be impossible to recall every topic that came up, the ones that come to mind are bedwetting PSA’s and why they are a thing, Nick and Nora-esque NYC adventures and how everyone should have one, an upcoming event in Brooklyn that Adam’s a part of called Remixing the Fan Experience and exactly what it takes to be considered a boss on Twitter (“blue check or bust, yo”).

Unfortunately, due to my lack of technological savvy and propensity to get flustered by flashing lights and wires, I was unable to record last night’s show. That said, I’m going to try to figure it out and once I do, I’ll start posting them on these post-show write ups. That way people can enjoy MK’s Corner anytime, catch up on old episodes, listen to songs I’ve played, etc. How fun, right?! Right.

Here’s the playlist from last night’s show:

Artist of the Week: Ed Sheeran

This week’s Artist of the Week is Ed Sheeran. I recently discovered Ed Sheeran’s music thanks to several tweets my friends have posted throughout the past two weeks about how awesome he is (My favorite was “Ed Sheeran’s love songs are causing me to seriously reconsider my opinions on marrying a ginger”). So this past weekend I listened to his album “+” (I pronounce it “plus”) on Spotify and by the time I’d heard every song on the album, I’d determined three things: 1) I needed to buy his album on iTunes right away 2) I had to follow him on Twitter 3) I needed to start singing his praises to anyone around that had functioning ears.

The thing that I like most about Ed Sheeran’s latest album is that every song on the album is completely different; there are no duplicates or similar melodies with slightly different lyrics. As I was listening to his album through for the first time, I kept asking myself, “What genre is this considered?” He goes from fast paced songs featuring rap verses such as “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” to songs like “Kiss Me” which is soft, heartfelt and earnest. Not only are Ed Sheeran’s songs different from one another, but Ed Sheeran himself is distinctly different from any other artist pursuing a path similar to his. His lyrics are fresh and original, his voice (with a discernible British accent) is memorable and his songs are just generally easy to enjoy.

While I whole-heartedly recommend you buy his album “+” (it’s only about 8 dollars, a steal in my opinion), if you only want to buy a song or two for a test run, my top 3 are as follows: “Drunk” (warning: it will get stuck in your head), “Small Bump” (a tragically beautiful song that may require you to press pause so you can process and appreciate the lyrics) and “Wake Me Up” (a fresh and well-written love song).

I don’t want to spoil the “Lego House” video for you but I highly recommend you watch it. And yes, that is Ron. You’ll understand once you watch.

Finding the Road to Success via The Alternate Routes

Sitting in a booth at the Levee, occasionally being interrupted by the voice over the intercom informing people that their chicken turnovers were ready, the indie-rock band The Alternate Routes sat back and enjoyed a beer as they talked about music, making it big and how it all began at Fairfield University.

Several of the band’s members have graduated from Fairfield University, including lead vocalist Tim Warren ‘03, leadguitarist Eric Donnelly ’01 and drummer Kurt Leon ‘07. It was through their connection at Fairfield that all of these musicians met each and eventually came together to form The Alternate Routes.

“You know what’s funny, Tim, I don’t think I ever even told you this… The first time I ever saw you play was actually here at the Levee,” Donnelly said.

The two officially met a few days later after a friend of Warren’s walked up to Donnelly at a townhouse party and said that she was going to give his number to Warren. While Donnelly was mostly just confused as to how the girl had his number, Warren ended up reaching out to him a few days later and the two played together for the first time at the Quick Center during the spring Pops concert.

By the time both men had graduated from Fairfield, they had plans to move to Bridgeport where they would continue making music together and work on their first EP, which was released in 2003, titled “This is When”. They have released several albums over the last decade but are convinced that the best is yet to come.

“You always think the thing you’re doing is the best thing you’ve ever done or else you wouldn’t do it,” Donnelly said.

The Alternate Routes are scheduled to play on campus at the Quick Center this coming Friday, October 19th in celebration of Alumni Weekend. Tickets are currently being sold at the Quick Center box office. Tickets are free for Fairfield University students, $20 for alumni and $25 for the general public.

The band is excited not only to revisit the very stage where it all began, but also to continue to show fans and people who have never heard of them before the hard work, dedication and genuine passion that comes standard with every song.

“We’ve bet the last 10 years of our lives on the fact that people will like it… it’s something worth seeing,” Warren said.

Currently, The Alternate Routes are working on producing several individual singles that continue to showcase the band’s hearty, homegrown sound and thoughtful lyrics. Most recently, they have released a song called “Rewind” on their official website, which they worked on and produced in Nashville, Tennessee. They hope that these various singles will eventually culminate into their next album.

In addition to producing more songs, the band is also taking a step back and assessing some of the unmusical aspects of the music business that may reveal why they are still relatively unknown.

On the subject of making it big, Warren said, “We’ve been so close to being one of the bands that everybody knows about but, you know, we aren’t. We are friends and contemporaries with a lot of bands that you do know and we’ve seen that happen.”

Donnelly said, “It’s like a puzzle. You just have to figure out how to put all these things together and what makes something click and what makes something stand out. You never know. What we’re trying to do now is just own those details a little more.”

The Alternate Routes are currently trying owning these various details by themselves, as they are currently self-managed and working independently without a label. The band is quick to qualify that both of these decisions are by choice and that they feel working independently is the best decision for them at this time.

“You don’t need a publicist to communicate directly with your fans…you don’t need a label to make the people who like you happy,” Donnelly said.

One of the ways that The Alternate Routes communicate with their fans (other than their music of course) is through their social media presence. Like many bands, The Alternate Routes appreciate the opportunities and publicity a strong identity on the Internet can yield, especially given the technological tendencies of modern music fans. Donnelly said that he is in charge of the band’s social media presence, which he manages namely through their official website, Facebook and Twitter.

Even though The Alternate Routes have yet to take off in the way that they would like, they are far from being some unknown band from Connecticut. Throughout their career thus far they have toured all over the world, performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and been interviewed on BBC radio. They have also had several songs appear on popular TV shows, such as their song “Please Don’t Let It Be” which was featured on an episode of MTV’s The Hills.

Despite the confusing and multi-faceted nature of today’s modern music industry, The Alternate Routes remain optimistic that their time is coming soon.

“I’m not a cynic,” Warren said. “Guys succeed everyday at it and it’s a weird combo of…I don’t know what yet. It’s that combination that all the people in our business are looking for.”

While The Alternate Routes keep meandering down this long winding road to success, fans are invited to tag along and enjoy the ride as the band continues to deliver the heartfelt music that has helped pave their way thus far.

Blogging: Coming Clean About a Dirty Word with Music Journalist Adam Bernard

Blogger or journalist, entertainment writer Adam Bernard doesn’t care which word you use to describe him as long as you remember to put the word “great” in front of it.

Bernard informed a Fairfield University journalism class last Tuesday night that unlike many other journalists, he is not overly concerned with what his official job title is. He said that he has been introduced and described as both a journalist and a blogger before, stating that the difference in title usually has to do with the context of the situation.

When asked how he feels about the variation in his job title he said, “Most people think when you say ‘writer’ that you’re not serious anyways… It doesn’t really matter how you sugarcoat it- writer, journalist, blogger- there’s always going to be a little bit of a red line underneath it asking if that’s real.”

While many journalists today tend to shy away from the words “blog” or “blogger” due to the negative reputation they have of not earning any money, Bernard insists that blogs are one of the most effective ways that journalists can find work.

In fact, it was his blog, Adam’s World, that landed him one of his dream jobs as a columnist for the Fairfield County Weekly. After trying to get in touch with them for years, he finally got a call saying that they wanted to hire him after reading some of the stuff he’d written on his blog.

He said that this experience is a perfect example to prove that although blogs by themselves typically won’t put food on the table, the opportunities they will help you find most certainly will.

He went on to say that he believes every journalist should have a blog because they act as a great place to publish syndicated work on subjects that journalists want to write about. He said that posting on personal blogs is an easy and effective way for journalists to establish their own unique “name brand”, which is essential in the competitive world of journalism.

Adam started establishing his own brand as a music journalist shortly after he graduated from Hofstra University in 2000. This was the same year that he started his blog, which helped him gather experience and gain many opportunities as a young journalist. He has been featured in music magazines such as The Source and XXL, contributed to Substream Music Press and 101Distribution.com and is the Interviews Editor at RapReviews.com

When asked if he thinks that blogging has given him more opportunities as a journalist he said, “The blogging has definitely given me more opportunities. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s seen by more people, but more so that I have the freedom to write about what I want to write about and sometimes that connects with more people.”