Imagine Dragons – Night Visions – Review

Inhale… Exhale… Imagine… Dragons. 

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions

Imagine Dragons is a young band with too many ideas. Sometimes it bothers me when a band has been around for a while and can’t come up with a real name for their debut album. But in this case, Imagine Dragons has already released four EPs, three with ambiguous names, and then releases their first LP with another ambiguous name. I think the fact that they released Night Visions as Night Visions, instead of  self-titled, means they can’t confidently say this is the sum total of Imagine Dragons. This defines us.

They can’t let go of any ideas. They can’t trim. Night Visions is all over the board. The opening track, “Radioactive” is really high energy, and kind of dubsteppy, reminiscent of Alex Clare’s “Too Close”. And then, suddenly, “Tiptoe” tiptoes its way through the 80’s.

“It’s time” is the song that gets the most play. I have shazamed it a couple times, trying to figure out what the song is playing behind the climactic montage of a dramatic TV show like Vampire Diaries Shameless or Grey’s Anatomy The Newsroom.

“On top of the world” sounds like a missing track from The Lion King soundtrack. There’s a bunch of clapping, and some whistling sounds, and a full chorus in on the vocals, and it’s all very confusing where it came from.

If you told me that “Hear Me” was a Killers song that was accidentally burnt onto the wrong CD, I wouldn’t even question it.

The rest of Night Visions is just variations on the same. There are a few highlights, with a little bit for everyone, but everything for no one.”Radioactive” really stands out if you are in the mood for something that is aggressive, but isn’t metal or underground rap, or full on Skrillex. “It’sTime” is super infectious, and will get stuck in your head. If you like Augustana, or maybe The Script, you might like some of this album. Imagine Dragons is sort of like a weird mash-up of FUN. and The Killers, so if you would put “Mr. Brightside” on the same playlist as “Some Nights”, then Night Visions is definitely your huckleberry.

I liked parts of Night Visions, but it just isn’t a cohesive album. Overall, I give Night Visions three sub-genres out of five.

Mumford & Sons – Babel – Review

I was pretty excited to hear that Mumford and Sons was releasing another album. Their first LP, Sigh No More, was, for me at least, the soundtrack of 2011. This funny little outfit from London swam across the pond and took the American music scene by storm, firmly inserting themselves into radio lineups amidst the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne. They brought with them a powerful, folky, bluegrass-infused rock sound, plus horns, and suddenly there are hipsters coming out of the woodwork. Coincidence? I think not.

Mumford & Sons - Babel

Babel is currently in the number 2 position on Billboard’s Rock Album chart, with Sigh No More holding strong at number 11. That pretty much sums up Babel.

The title track kicks off the album, coming out strong with more of the Mumford and Sons we have come to know and love. The first few chords from the acoustic guitar say that you will be eased into this album gently, but then the bass drum and banjo hit you in the face. You stomp your foot to a pub-rockin good time for a few bars, and then harmonies and piano bring you back down a bit. That was your refresher course in Mumford and Sons.

“I will wait” has a country feel to it, and has even made waves on country radio stations. I think that officially makes them a crossover artist. Hopefully that influence will continue, because country music has a bad habit of being an exact copy of pop music, sung with a southern accent.

At times, I feel like they are trying too hard to play to what they had going on Sigh No More, namely, insane dynamics and really great build. “Hopeless Wanderer” tries to start off soft and work up to a really big, high-energy crescendo. Unfortunately, the transitions aren’t very smooth, with completely different cadences and keys used in separate passages. I really want to like this song, but it feels a little schizophrenic. 

Babel’s slower songs are pushed toward the second half of the album, “Not with Haste”, “The Boxer”, and “Where Are You Now” standing out for me, the vocals and guitar work being generally flawless.

Babel is an amazing follow-up to Sigh No More, but unfortunately, comparisons must be made between the two; Babel can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. Personally, I think Sigh No More is the stronger of the two, but I can’t say with certainty that I would feel that way if I had listened to Babel first.

Standing on its own, Babel shows that earthy, folky music still has a place in mainstream music, and proves that Sigh No More wasn’t just a fluke. I think I can safely say that we should expect more great things from Mumford and Sons in the future.

I give Babel five banjos out of five.

Yellowcard – Southern Air – Review

Let me preface this whole thing by admitting that, as far as I’m concerned, Yellowcard can do no wrong. They played a very important part in my formative years, as I learned what music was and what it means to me. I was sucked in by the pure energy of “October Nights” and my mind was blown by how much punk awesomeness could be made by a guy playing an electric violin. In fact, learning about an electric violin, and the fact that magnets and coiled wires are the basis of nearly every audio transducer led me to tinker with guitars. Electric guitar guts are a gateway drug to the mysterious world of electronics, and ultimately pushed me towards building this site. I guess I owe more of my identity to Yellowcard than I realized until now.

Yellowcard - Southern Air

Anyways, their latest LP, Southern Air, is awesome. There is nothing earth-shattering here, but every track is solid, and representative of different stages of the development of Yellowcard, the band. The opening track, “Awakening”, as in their more recent albums, kicks things off with heavy power chords, and fast drums, and slightly melodramatic lyrics, and of course, a melodic, almost mournful violin. The statement is clear; “This is our formula, and, while we may be growing up, we still know how to rock”.

From there it leads into more Yellowcard. There is a lot here that would have fit in on Paper Walls, or When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes. “Rivertown Blues” sounds like a lost track from Ocean Avenue, and “Ten” combines the sad, emo lyricism from One For The Kids, with the more orchestral style of Lights and Sounds. They finish the album off with the title track, “Southern Air”, hitting the last bullet point for a Yellowcard LP: pining for another region of the country. So far, they left the Big Apple [heartbreak], to seek fame and fortune in Rock Star Land, to realize that they wanted to go Back Home, but admit that that is part of the Life of Leaving Home. Suddenly, the south “will always be home”?

The production value is excellent. Except for a couple rough [landing, holly] spots, Yellowcard’s last few albums have been mixed really well, without too much compression, and very good layering of instruments.

If I haven’t beat you over the head with it enough, Southern Air is just an extension of the post-hiatus Yellowcard. If the last time you heard them was Ocean Avenue, and you want to try Yellowcard again, start with Lights and Sounds, and then listen to Paper Walls, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, or Southern Air in whatever order you want, because they are all pretty interchangeable. Good, but interchangeable.

I give Southern Air four nearly identical Yellowcard albums out of five.