Cold War Kids Are Back; Will Anyone Notice?

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Photo courtesy of The Press House
For a minute there, Cold War Kids looked like the saviors of intelligent, conceptual rock and roll. When their first album, Robbers and Cowards, was released in 2006, it caught most of us who follow indie-rock off-guard. It was slickly produced and unabashed in its stadium aspirations, but it carried the weight of thoughtful lyricism and progressive musical tendencies.

In other words, Cold War Kids looked poised to be the Phil Collins-era Genesis of the 2000s: Loved by many, huge in the mainstream and hated by a large group of too-cool-for-you hipsters. It all went wrong after a couple of hits and the band disappeared from the public eye. However, with new strong material under their belt, are the Kids making a comeback nobody has caught on to yet?


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Thanks But No Thanks, The Contortionist

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When the Contortionist released their first full-length record, Exoplanet, in 2010, they were one of the most exciting things to come out in the realm of progressive metal for a long time. Where the genre so easily verged into tired cliches or overused tropes, as in the later releases of bands like Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me, the Contortionist had the right mix of heavy-ass death metal and progressive tendencies.

Now it's 2014 and their third album Language is hitting the stores and online distributors. However, after hearing the first two singles, I'm about ready to throw in the towel on this band. This has all been done before, and better.


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What's the Big Deal About Stage-Diving?

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Photo by Saul Torres via Wikimedia Commons
If you were at the recent Joyce Manor show at Walters, you got a rude awakening from the fun of flailing around in a punk-rock mosh pit when Barry Johnson, the band's lead singer and guitarist, went off on a fan who was stage-diving.

All insults to the fan's patriotic jingoism aside, all because the dude was wearing an American flag on his T-shirt, Johnson's outburst was his second and less polite of the two in as many weeks about stage-diving, and has ignited a massive controversy in the punk scene. It's a controversy so big that it got Johnson punched in the face. What's the big deal, though?


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Is Prince on the Verge of Irrelevance?

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Prince on New Girl.
Recently, Prince announced he will release two new albums at the end of this month: Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. That's a pretty big outpouring of new music from the artist, who since 2009 has only released elusive singles and an album that could only be found in copies of a UK newspaper.

However, despite relentless attempts to keep his face in the spotlight, including an appearance on the Fox sitcom New Girl, those aforementioned singles, and a Dave Chappelle reference that showed he still has something of a sense of humor, it's worth asking where Prince still stands in the public eye.

Is he still relevant? Will these new albums have any impact at all? Or is Prince very quickly becoming a legacy artist?


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Are Musicians Right to Ban Fans Recording Their Shows?

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Kate Bush during a rare televised performance in 1986.
Recently Kate Bush began a string of her first live performances in some 35 years, an unprecedented 22-show residency at London's Hammersmith Apollo now continuing until October 1. That is awesome for her fans in the UK and possibly Europe, but obviously leaves a lot to be desired for those of us in the U.S. and elsewhere who would love to see the singer perform after all these years.

That's where recordings come in. When Bush's run is over, many fans will be clamoring for YouTube videos to see how it and went, and what we missed out on. However, she has politely requested that no recording devices, including cell phones, be used at her shows.

The request is fair enough, but it raises a larger point. In this day and age, many older musicians are striking back against the constant recording that goes on at live shows, and a sizable debate has arisen. Is it okay? Should musicians chill out about it? Or are they right to ban fan-made recordings of their shows?


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Lana Del Rey: A Fine Line Between Serious and Boring

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It seems like these days everyone is in a rush to be taken seriously as an artist. You can hardly bat an eye before the next pop star is making his or her "serious artistic leap." Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Kesha have all done this in their own way in the past few years, but one particular example stands out to me.

Lana Del Rey has never been your average pop star. Her rise to fame and the subsequent backlash have led her on a strange roller-coaster ride. Either way, she's at the peak of her popularity now, and definitely a mainstream artist. While she's never made "fun" music per se, Del Rey has decided with her latest, Ultraviolence, that she wants to be taken seriously as an artist.

Unfortunately, apparently that means making boring music. It also forces us to ask ourselves: Does being serious as an artist really mean being boring?


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Why Can't We Let Dead Musicians Be Dead?

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Michael Jackson's hologram doppelganger at this year's Billboard Music Awards.
Recently you may have seen Michael Jackson on television, despite the fact that Michael Jackson has been dead for five years now. Through the use of hologram technology, his corpse has essentially been dug up and plastered on our TV screens, with herky-jerky movements and backing music crafted posthumously from antique scrapped recordings of the man's voice.

Freddie Mercury showed up at Queen's musical We Will Rock You in London. Tupac showed up at Coachella; Ol' Dirty Bastard and Eazy-E at Rock the Bells. It seems like this is where our society is headed into the future, and it raises an interesting question about us. Why can't we let the dead just be dead?


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Cynic's Big Admission Threatens Metal's Homophobia

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By now Cynic are legends in the metal scene. In 1993, they released their magnum opus Focus before quietly disbanding, but the album's impact was fully felt in the realms of technical and progressive metal, influencing younger bands for years to come.

They repeated the feat with 2008's reunion record Traced in Air, and have been chugging along ever since as one of the most celebrated and beloved prog-metal acts around. Oh, and principal members/songwriters Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, without whom the band would not exist, are gay.

It's been an open secret for years, but the pair have come forward in their first major interview to discuss life as gay metal musicians, operating within a scene which has traditionally been less than open-minded or accepting of alternative lifestyles. This is a huge step for everyone in the metal community, and here's why.


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Why the New Wu-Tang Clan Album Should Not Happen

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Photo by Katya Horner
Wu-Tang Clan at House of Blues in 2012
As of late, Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA has been acting with a single-minded purpose: making a new Wu-Tang album happen, against all odds. He's already titled it A Better Tomorrow and dropped a couple of singles to promote the album; even as projected release dates have come and gone, he's admitted that he's struggled to get the other eight members in a room together.

Nominally, this would be get me excited. Even though Wu-Tang's last few collaborative efforts have been mixed affairs, the individual members involved have been firing on all cylinders for several years now. However, there are some really good reasons this album should not happen at all.


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Amazon's Funniest One-Star Classic Album Reviews

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Photo by Nathan Rupert via Flickr
As a music writer, it can be beneficial to seek out other music reviews to see what people are thinking, aficionados and trolls alike. Let's look at Amazon, a popular site where I admit I've spent a bit of money and time. You can find anything here, down to your most basic grocery-shopping needs.

As with all other comment sections, really, Amazon's consumer reviews can be deafening. These critics have opinions that they absolutely have to defend, or else they just want attention. Others just get really excited sharing their naysaying opinions, and sites like Amazon provide a wide audience. Today we thought we'd help widen some of these reviewers' audiences (hopefully alongside our own) with a top-notch, annotated selection of Amazon's one-star album reviewers.


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