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Jessica Gavrilovski

Pray for the Wicked album review

Panic! At the Disco—Pray for the Wicked Album Review

Roughly two years after releasing Death of a Bachelor (2016), Panic! At the Disco has triumphantly returned with their new LP Pray for the Wicked—the band’s sixth studio album and second studio album with vocalist Brendon Urie being the only original member. When describing the experience of Pray for the Wicked, one could easily imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald penning the tales of Jay Gatsby, spinning on a diamond-coated record player at one of the lucrative billionaire’s lavish parties; in fact, listening to the album front to back often alludes to the novel’s themes of high society and too much of a good time.

From beginning to end, the narrative of Pray for the Wicked soars through the highs and lows of experiencing the fame and glamour of living life in a fast-paced, extravagant environment. Pray for the Wicked has elements that can easily be correlated to The Great Gatsby (i.e. “Some [friends] are loyal soldiers / While these other thorns are rosy / And if you never know who you can trust / Then trust me, you’ll be lonely” in Hey Look Ma, I Made It, “Sketchy girls and lipstick boys / Troubled love and high speed noise” in The Overpass, “And if you’re night crawling with him / I won’t take it lying down” in Dancing’s Not a Crime, or the song title and musical elements in Roaring 20s). Basically, after examining the album’s lyrics, musical elements, and listening to the splashes of bright and vibrant tones, Pray for the Wicked alludes to music that would have both been played in the 1920s and relates to the plot of the 1920s-based novel, The Great Gatsby, in its similarities to the rise and downfall of quick and instant success and fortune, within a mess of love affairs and internal conflicts.

One could easily consider Panic!’s latest album to be the next chapter in the classic novel. Examining the two together can easily draw similarities within the basis of the plot, just merely told in two different contexts and two different creative formats. In fact, Urie has also referenced another timeless piece, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. “My Tell-Tale Heart’s a hammer in my chest” from Roaring 20s is both an ode to Poe’s short story as well as a wordplay used to express Urie’s anxiety. Additionally, songs like (Fuck A) Silver Lining, High Hopes, and King of the Clouds, use hints of Greek Mythology and the church that allude to Urie leaving behind his Mormon past and other sacrilegious aspects in his life. These themes are common throughout the entire album and showcase the sheer talent and brilliance that Urie and his creative team possesses; not to mention, how much thought has gone into making Pray for the Wicked.

Long time collaborator Jake SInclair returns to helm the production duties on Pray for the Wicked, whose worked on previous Panic! albums (Death of a Bachelor and Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die), along with albums by Sia, Fall Out Boy, Weezer, and P!nk, to name a few. Sinclair helps to shine a light on the creative process behind the record, allowing Urie’s creative choices to feel more fleshed out than ever before. Among Sinclair, other producers such as Jonas Jerberg (High Hopes, The Pussycat Dolls, Jordin Sparks), Jonny Coffer (High Hopes, Beyoncé, Leona Lewis), and Scott Chesak (The Overpass, (Fuck A) Silver Lining, The All-American Rejects) are noted in the album, adding to Pray for the Wicked’s brilliant charm and cohesivity.

All songs were written by Brendon Urie, with other contributing writers such as Michael Angelakos (Hey Look Ma, I Made It, Passion Pit), Lauren Pritchard (Say Amen (Saturday Night), LOLO), Jenny Owen Youngs (High Hopes, Roaring 20s), Alex Kresovich (King of the Clouds, Alexander DeLeon), Mike Viola (Dying in LA, New Politics), and Sam Holland (S*A*M, One Direction) to name a few. All of these unique writers, artists, and producers collaborating with Urie on lyrics helped to bring out the purposeful tones and unspoken hints that are detailed throughout the album. Samples and elements from artists such as The Dells ((Fuck A) Silver Lining), The Budos Band (Say Amen (Saturday Night)), Nathan Abshire (Say Amen (Saturday Night)), Maynard Ferguson (Roaring 20s), Chris Bernard (Dancing’s Not a Crime), James Brown, and Lyn Collins (latter artists featured in The Overpass) are masterfully included within the overall sound of Panic!’s latest record.

There’s a central theme throughout the whole album of living a party-lifestyle with the ups and downs that come along with it – figuring out how to navigate young adulthood, dealing with bouts of crippling self-doubt, and making the most out of life despite the rough times and heartbreak are also common themes throughout Pray for the Wicked. Elements of Urie’s Broadway experience with playing Charlie Price in Kinky Boots were also obvious in the album within the track Roaring 20s, which is simultaneously a name play on Urie’s age (now 31)—he quite literally ended his “roaring 20s” on Broadway. Urie also makes note of some of his favorite musicians and gives them praise for what they’re known for. For example, the bridge in (Fuck A) Silver Lining pays respect to Beyoncé’s career, which in comparison to Urie’s, also started off in a group setting before taking off as a solo artist. “When you gonna say my name? / Quick charade / Beyoncé / Lemonade,” suggesting that Beyoncé’s career during Destiny’s Child was simply a stepping stone that lead her to the 2016 success of Lemonade (he’s right). The beginning of Dancing’s Not a Crime also pays homage to Michael Jackson and his notable moonwalk routine (“I’m a moonwalker / I’m like MJ up in the clouds”).

Musically, Pray for the Wicked is masterful, to say the least, as Brendon Urie’s distinct vocals have never sounded better. His falsettos used in songs like Old Fashioned and Dancing’s Not a Crime are impressive, but one of the most notable vocal arrangements in the album is in the chorus of King of the Clouds – Urie uses his falsetto in the lyrics “I’m king of the clouds / I get lifted” to make a “jumping up” affect in the word “lifted,” which only adds to the songs overall theme and message. It’s merely a pebble within an ocean, but the lasting effect that lone part has on the listener is equivalent to a tsunami. The variety of instrumental plays used throughout the album are impressive as well. Everything from piano, to horns, trumpets, violins, bass, and drums were all used in the production of Panic!’s latest record. Tracks four to eight stand out with the most unique instrumentation styles, which are beautifully placed in the center of the album’s tracklist. Winding down with a ballad appropriately titled Dying in LA simply brings the entire record together, especially ending the album with actual bird chirps recorded from Urie’s at-home studio.

From the largest to the slightest details, there is not one beat, note, or lyric that is missed or overlooked in Pray for the Wicked. There’s a little something for every era of Panic! At the Disco fans within this album. Overall, it showcases a significant growth of Urie musically, as well as a well-rounded appreciation for his past due to all of the lessons he has learned. As sampled in the latest album, “Ode to the old, and to the new / We rededicate this song to  you.”

Further reading: Panic! At the Disco Back with New Track

Every Time I Die

Every Time I Die Return to the Machine Shop, Michigan

After 12 years, Every Time I Die made a triumphant return to the Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan. The venue, which had a slight western theme with restrooms labeled as “cowgirls” and “cowboys,” and a literal chain for a barricade, erupted with screaming fans and staff trying to capture crowd-surfers the second Keith Buckley stepped on stage. His vocals sounded as if he has the ability to rip through sandpaper, starting off the show with Roman Holiday. Guitarists Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams shred through the riffs with undying power and control, while bassist Stephen Micciche had control of the undertones in each song. Clayton Holyoak, the group’s drummer, had one of the most calming facial expressions I had ever seen on a drummer. Throughout the entire show, he maintained an appearance of being thoroughly at peace with the environment around him.

“Peace,” however, is one of the last things a fan of Every Time I Die should expect at one of their shows. With an abundance of people creating circle pits, crowd-surfers and head-bangers galore, beer seemingly falling on you from every direction, and getting kneed in the head multiple times (personal experience within the photo pit), it’s safe to say that the Machine Shop’s western theme lived up to the hype of Every Time I Die—wild, wild, wild.

The crowd, just as excited as the band were to be back, kept the energy alive throughout the 21-song set. With classic hits like The New Black, Pigs is Pigs, The Coin Has a Say and We’re Wolf mixed in with crowd favorites like Apocalypse Now and Then, Petal, Romeo a Go-Go and Decayin’ With the Boys, there was a bit of something for everyone at the show and it was hard not to be ecstatic throughout the entirety of it. Vocalist Buckley kept the crowd going as well, stopping between songs here and there to not only say a few words of encouragement, but also to check in with crowd members to see if they were still having a good time (shout out to the person on a swing). One interesting highlight of the setlist was that Every Time I Die decided to end their set with Fear and Trembling, which normally is an opener song throughout most of their previous tour dates post their latest album, Low Teens.

For a band that’s been around for nearly two decades and released eight stellar LP’s, it’d be easy to say that a group has “worn out” on stage and in studio, or become “too tired” and “boring” to continue putting on kick-ass shows—Every Time I Die is not one of those groups. During their final song, guitarist Jordan took the initiative to stage-dive and the crowd carried him from the stage all the way to the back of the venue, near where they had their merch setup. As the Flint stop was their final run on their recent US tour until the Vans Warped Tour this summer, I truly don’t think Every Time I Die could have seen a better send-off crowd than the one in Michigan.

Further reading: Panic! At the Disco Back with New Track

Streets of Laredo Cruise into our Hearts with New Album “Wild”

Album review and interview with vocalist, Sarahjane Gibson

After the release of their critically acclaimed debut, “Volume I & II” (2014), fans and critics alike have been craving for Streets of Laredo’s latest album, “Wild”, to be released. It’s a fun and bouncy album with sweet riffs, melodic harmonies and just a splash of synthesizers. The instrumentals of Dave, Daniel and Sarahjane Gibson, Cameron Deyell, Sean McMahon, and Andrew McGovern keep the listener entertained and wanting more. Vocalists Sarahjane and Daniel switch their duties back and forth to bring the element of surprise every time.

Getting in to the album

The album’s opening track, appropriately titled “Wild” as well, starts off giving a slow-paced, yet inspirational sensation to the listener. With lyrics such as, “So we float down the river / out into the open / I said let’s go / Stepping over stones”, it’s incredibly simple and pleasing to be able to visualize the lyrics. It’s almost as if vocalist Sarahjane herself is grabbing the listener by the hand and saying, “Let’s show them Wild.”

Transitioning into “Hammer and the Nail”, there was a bit of a “Lion King” music feel to it—remember the movie’s opening track, where the entire kingdom gathers for the birth and reveal of Simba? The beginning feels as though it would fit properly here. Otherwise, here’s yet another perfect visualizing track with a kicking chorus, “I’m falling, falling, I’m see-sawing / Out of breath, ‘til I fade out of view.”

“Silly Bones,” without a doubt, has to be the one song that struck me as most memorable on this album. The track gives off a child’s-play, colorful vibe that makes the listener want to break down their very own bones. “I wanna take out all the ones that glow / So I can have meaning.” This sort of makes the listener look into their own selves and examine who they are, right down to the very core. It’s captivating, yet releasing.

Into “Trap for Young Players” there was an instant resemblance to Foster the People’s “Torches” (imagine how rad a Foster the People and Streets of Laredo tour would be?). Almost immediately, the comfort of a familiar sound was within, and it only shed more desire for the listener. By far, “Trap for Young Players” is the album’s catchiest track, a song to sing-along to, if you will.

Change in melody

Midway through the album, there’s a drawback from the upbeat, cavort-feel, into the accurately titled, “Laying Low” a staring-out-the-backseat-of-a-car-window-on-a-rainy-day vibe. Probably Street of Laredo’s most relatable track, lyrically, with second verse starting off with, “I don’t remember what I did last night / We start from scratch on Sundays”—a verse that I’m certain resonates with almost any and every college student and young adult. “Caught the Fire” gives off the same feeling, starting off with, “Trying to walk a line that I once lived in / Tripped out the window and then taken by the wind”. However, the most resonating line has got to be “You keep on walking ‘cuz you got nothing to show”, a lyric that, again, I’m positive relates to everyone at least once in their life.

Synth becomes prevalent in the track “99.9%”, bringing back upbeat instrumentals and melodies into the album. “99.9%” is a vital track, as its lyrics are both eye-opening as well as relatable: “You’ve been lied to, well I’ve been lied to, too / Not exactly sure when or if to believe you” and the most striking line, “Villains dressed in business stripes”. It’s a song that both points out the flaws within society and following authority, yet also draws attention to the fact that, in reality, nearly 100% of us humans wish for a better life. That’s why the following track, “Remedies,” feels exactly in place right where it is on the album. Another noteworthy track, “Remedies” lyrics both seem to connect to its preceding track and bring to life the vivid visualization again. Daniel’s vocals fit exceptionally well here, as both the lyrics and his voice have a powerful and forward message that echoes in truth and meaning.

“Tunnel Vision” brings back the slow-paced calm from earlier on—a duet track for Sarahjane and Daniel. The best way to describe this song is the feeling you get when you are actively aware of the hairs on your arms standing up on their own—it’s that jaw dropping.

Streets of Laredo continues with the soft and gratifying harmonies and instrumentals in “Doesn’t Even Bother Me”. This track essentially gives off that sort of vibe—like whatever is bothering you shouldn’t even bother you. This track from the album is one I’d highly recommend listening on a calm, starry night, with a few of your close friends and a warm cup of coffee to truly experience this song.

“Gold” has got to be one of the most brilliant album-closers ever. Another soothing track, but with uplifting and bright lyrics. “We can make gold with our hands,” screams the chorus, giving the listener a sense of control and dignity within themselves. The harmonies at the ending of this track—“We make a home / We let go / Night sky / Over / My head / Goodnight”—truly bring the entire album to a peaceful and warming close.

Overall, “Wild” is a brilliantly put-together record. It mixes everything from carefree and powerful lyrics, upbeat tunes, melodic and haunting instrumentals, vibrating vocals and everything else in between. There are very few artists able to collaborate different elements to create an album that still tells a story, and Streets of Laredo have done this seamlessly here.

You’ll also enjoy: The Baha Men are Back!

 

Interview with Sarahjane Gibson

 

To learn more about Streets of Laredo, I had the fortune of interviewing Sarahjane on their new album, upcoming tour and more:

College News: What was the recording process like for “Wild?”

Sarahjane Gibson: It was pretty special. We recorded the bulk of the record up in Woodstock at Dreamland studio, which is a beautiful old church and inspiring place. It’s great to get out of the city to completely focus on the music.

CN: Are there any songs in particular on the album that you consider more connected to you in anyway, or do they each have their own connection to you?

SG: They’re all special for different reasons. “Silly Bones” is my favorite to play live, and it just feels really good to play. I have soft spot for “Wild” too — it reminds me to stay the course. You know, go hard or go home.

CN: Do you have any plans or celebrations for the release of “Wild?”

SG: We’re playing a show at the Brooklyn Bazaar. We’re going to celebrate the US release and the one week anniversary of it being accidentally released early in Australia.

CN: I see you guys are touring with CRX later this year, how are you feeling about that?

SG: CRX blew me away when I first saw them play. It’s great when you get to go out on tour with a band you’re really into. I also just love touring, so, yeah, feeling pretty good about the whole situation.

CN: Are there any cities in particular that you’re most excited to be in?

SG: I’m looking forward to LA, and hopefully getting to take a dip in the pacific. It always makes me feel connected to home.

CN: What’s your favorite part about touring? Least favorite?

SG: My favorite thing is late night drives listening to Coast to Coast and talking conspiracy theories.  My least favorite thing are the inevitable disputes over cellphone chargers.

CN: After being in the United States for so long, do you still feel like your New Zealand roots are harbored within you and your music? If yes, how so?

SG: “Definitely. Where you grow up can’t help but affect the way you see the world, and in turn what you want to say to it.”

CN: What’s been your biggest challenge within the music industry?

SG: It’s a cool time in the music industry.  There’s not so many gatekeepers anymore, but the flip side is finding a way to break through all the noise.

CN: If there is one thing you could change within the industry, what would it be?

SG: It would be good if the spoils of the music industry were more widely distributed.

CN: Do you believe success and talent are one collective entity, or are two separate entities?

SG: I guess it depends on how you define “success”. If you view creating something valuable as successful, then perhaps they are one and the same. I think you see a lot of talented people not feeling that they have succeeded according to some bullshit societal notion of success.

CN: What’s one thing you would say to other aspiring musicians, especially those outside of the U.S., that have similar dreams but are feeling discouraged from accomplishing their goals?

SG: Just go for it. Create something and worry about the logistics later.

CN: What’s one thing you’re most excited for fans to see and hear on tour and with the new album?

SG: A pocket piano ‘break it down’ for the ages.

For a full list of dates and ticket links for Streets of Laredo’s embarking tour dates, click here. To listen to “Wild,” click here, or to order “Wild” on vinyl, click here.

Further reading: College News Talks Music with Upcoming Artist SEE