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Jack Kirby (jackkirby)

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The Midnight’s musical aesthetic can be summarized in a Japanese phrase: Mono no aware. In English, it means the sad beauty of impermanence and the heartbreak of seeing time pass. Both nostalgic and retro. The Midnight captures the synthy, tight sound of 80’s music and takes a modern spin on it, amalgamating into something entirely new: Synth Wave.

Lito Hernandez joined The Midnight for their 2019 North America tour. The UC Berkeley grad had possibly the biggest support from the audience, in the form of his mother, Suzette Hernandez, and aunt, Wanda Thomas, driving all the way from Santa Barbara to see him perform. Photo Credit: Jack Kirby

The stage is simple. Audience left, drum pad, two synth keyboards and a microphone. Audience center, two guitars and a microphone, and audience right, another synth keyboard.

Entering to the retro sounds of old video games and a computer modem start up, the two man band of vocalist/guitarist Tyler Lyle and percussionist/keyboardist, Tim McEwan, took The Observatory’s stage playing, “America Online,” a synthy daydream of a song that had been released earlier that day.

The Midnight took their performance to a smoother and deeper level with their inclusion of the saxophone. Lito Hernandez, an up- and-coming saxophonist, who recently played at Kanye West’ Coachella Sunday Service, joined the musicians in a pinnacle performance. During the first few songs you could see Hernandez onstage, patiently waiting to rip into a blazing sax solo. A minute into “Days of Thunder,” it was Hernandez’s time to shine. His energy erupted from the instrument, and the crowd went euphoric. Hernandez’s presence on stage was undeniable, as he effortlessly captivated the audience’s attention.

The Midnight performing “Lost & Found,” the first song of their double encore. Tyler Lyle (audience right) is joined by Tim McEwan (audience left) after performing the introduction acoustically. Photo Credit: Jack Kirby

Considering the level of production and unconventional energy of The Midnight, I wasn’t sure how their performance was going to translate to a live stage. I was surprised to see how well it turned out. During “Nocturnal,” McEwan was always animated and tireless on his drum pad. Lyle’s focus while meticulously plucking on his guitar was entrancing to watch during “Crystalline.” Hernandez’s crowd work, from coming close and teasing the audience, to actually wading through the sea of people during “Vampires,” there was never a dull moment.

A surprise addition to their musical lineup was the cover of Don Henley’s, “Boys of Summer,” which I thought was perfectly fitting. Lyle’s voice encompasses that feeling, pure and clean just like how our memories are when we look back on them. The song is already about reminiscing on days long gone and a summer love lost, fitting right in with The Midnight’s forte in that genre.

Going into the concert, I was wondering whether or not the band would include guest collaborators from some of their most popular songs. Fortunately, this was remedied by Nikki Flores, who made an appearance for her best known song with The Midnight. “Jason,” a song digging into the motivations and emotional difficulties of Jason Voorhees, the troubled Friday the 13th character. Flores’s voice has a calm power and emotiveness when she sings that lures in audience attention and makes them wish for more. It was a pleasure to see her perform at the show for one of my favorite songs from The Midnight.

The Midnight’s vocalist and guitarist, Tyler Lyle. The choice of bright colors and neon lights solidify The Midnight’s retro, 80’s, Synth Wave aesthetic. Photo Credit: Jack Kirby

As the show was coming to a close, Lyle and McEwan gave a heart to heart with the crowd, thanking them earnestly for getting them to The Observatory’s “big” room when six months ago they were performing in the smaller, Constellation Room. Lyle, joined by Flores on vocals, performed a harmonized rendition of a fan favorite song, and my personal favorite, “Los Angeles.” The song combined with the vocal harmony was incredible. The whole band including, Lyle, McEwan, Hernandez and Flores put their all into that song and it was truly something special.

“One more song!”

“One more song!”

“One more song!”

The crowd was begging for an encore, and The Midnight delivered. They gave a very special double encore which, in my opinion, truly was the highlight of the show. Starting with a rendition of “Lost & Found,” Lyle stands alone, acoustic, performing in front of a quiet crowd, slowly crescendoing into singing unison. As the first verse ends, he’s joined by McEwan, who begins the percussion and synths for the bridge. As the bridge is in climax, Hernandez jumps on stage to replace the synth with sax. The crowd is intoxicated by the performance. Flores solos the second verse and is joined by Lyle for the second bridge. With the whole gang together, they perfectly mastered the entirety of the song.

“No we’re never as lost or as found as we think we are.”

Tyler Lyle (left) and Tim McEwan (right). The duo behind The Midnight during their introductory songs. The leather jackets come off as the night goes on. Photo Credit: Jack Kirby
Tim McEwan’s setup: microphone, drum pad, synth keyboard. Dynamic movements and stances are a focal point of his performance. Photo Credit: Jack Kirby

The finale of the night was “Sunset,” a song about running away from old home towns into the adventures of the future, never looking back. A fitting title for the closing tune. McEwan kicked it off by doing some drum stick tricks, and accelerated the beat into high gear. Hearing the song made me feel as though I were cruising down a long empty highway, lined with fields in bloom, underneath a bright blue sky, aviators on, windows down, heading into whatever comes my way. The opening act, Violet Days, joined the stage to dance and party with The Midnight and the crowd. It was a great time and a great way to close the show.

My experience watching the The Midnight perform at the Observatory was an absolute pleasure. My biggest take away, which I think The Midnight wants all their fans to take away as well, is that we won’t live forever, and these are the days we’ll come back to in memory as the “good ol’ days.” That being said, as we continue to live in the present, let’s make it count and make it last.

“If we live forever, let us live forever tonight.”

It’s “High Time” for Water District’s new EP: “Neo Emo”

 

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, “We dream most vividly during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.” Up-and-coming LA band, Water District thinks differently. As heard on the opening track of their latest EP, “Neo Emo,” they say we should dream with our eyes open, and not limit our aspirations to the late hours of the night. Fronted by lead singer and guitarist Tice Griffin with Erik Williams on drums and Ryan Scottie on bass, Water District captures the spirit of pop-punk greats like Blink-182 merged with the lyricism of indie-rock bands like The Smiths. (Fun Fact: The initials of their first names also put the T.E.R. in WaTER District). This combo creates a heartfelt, mellifluous sound that needs a catchy new name. Indie Punk? Modern Emo Wave? No. Neo Emo.

 

This is what makes Water District the band they are. They create a unique sound for a new generation who may not have been exposed to late 80’s and 90’s music that inspired the band. I had the pleasure of meeting the band when they came into the station for an in-studio performance. Three fellows stylishly dressed to their Neo Emo look, they were passionate about their work and eager to share it. Williams talked to me about the process of branding themselves under a genre they created. What I didn’t realize then, was that their next release would be the debut of their Neo Emo moniker.

 

Drumsticks clack out a four count. An upbeat guitar starts with crescendoing drums behind it. The energy in our studio feels as live as a concert. “Dream With Your Eyes Open” is the first track off Neo Emo, full of energy that perks me up. The lyrics kick in with Griffin singing, “I can see why, you’re afraid to try, to live your life, you fell too many times.” The vague lyrics suggest a sense of reassurance towards a specific someone, but can be made personal for anyone who listens. “It’s alright if you fall backwards, it’s alright,” Griffin sings. “Dream with your eyes open, the fear will fade away.” For me, this song is Water District’s way of reminding the audience to pursue their dreams, very much in the way the band is following their with Neo Emo. The sweet, simple and short verses convey powerful meaning, giving space for the listener to internalize and dream without too much focus on the comprehension of complex lyrics.

 

“Alone” is the EP’s sad song. The lyrics are melancholic, the tempo is slower than any other track on the album and the track’s sound is very reminiscent of “The 1975” or “The La’s” with upbeat drums and long reverbing guitar notes giving you just a taste of the oncoming bittersweetness. Griffin sings of two people in a one sided relationship, taking on the person wanting out of the relationship. Trying to console and convince their S.O. that they’re just not right for each other, Griffin sings of the routine and familiarity of their relationship, accented in lyrics, “Just let me go. Stop holding onto what, you know. The longer we wait, the more it shows. That we’re better off alone. You’ve gotta let me go.” The truth in Griffin’s lyrics are cutting. We can hear his heartbreak and that of his lover. It had to have been tough for them.

 

The mood lifts as high energy returns on the EP’s penultimate track. With crashing cymbals, guitar licks and the band shouting, “Hey, Hey” in classic pop-punk fashion, “Take off Your Clothes” is bitter in the best and most fun way possible. Griffin recalls a fling with a girl already in a relationship with a guy who was never around. Both wanting each other’s company, the two hook up in secret. As the song goes on, they fall in love, but he is unable to compete with her much more impressive boyfriend. During their last night of romance, he pleads for her to stay, only to have her walk out. The song is really depressing for sounding so upbeat. Putting myself in Griffin’s shoes really made the song much more poignant. The lyrics that stuck with me the most were during the second verse, “I’ve got to be honest, it’s breaking my heart. She says she loves me, but they’re never apart. She turns to kiss me, then looks away. Tells me she’ll miss me, on her wedding day.”

 

The album ends with “High Time,” a low-tempo track that tells an interesting story of falling in love overnight and staying in a relationship that isn’t healthy. It’s a call-to-action for those in one sided relationships where both parties don’t have each others best interest in mind. But for me, the song is colorless. The music feels basic, like I’ve heard it before from other bands. But at the time of me writing this review, “High Time” is the most listened to song on Water District’s Spotify, so maybe it’s just not for me.

 

Water District finds a way to combine the fun and catchiness of Blink-182, the genuine emotion and angst of Sleeping with Sirens, and the tenderness of 5 Seconds of Summer. In a time where the majority of pop music can be boiled down to an algorithm, it’s nice to see resurgences like Water District, finding original takes on established genres of music. Their sound is like modern 2000’s music with a 2010’s twist. You can catch me playing them loudly as I drive to the beach, windows down, singing my head off. I actually catch myself humming their songs at night before I head off to sleep thinking about the theme of the EP’s opening song. Don’t let your dreams simply be something that you interact with during REM sleep. Dream with your eyes open.

If there’s one thing to be said about SWMRS, it’s that they’ve got an abundance of punk spirit. Their fourth album, Berkeley’s on Fire, is brimming with energy. In comparison with their last album, Drive North, which was wrought with teenage angst, Berkeley’s on Fire breaks away back to classic punk roots giving grievances towards society and personal trials with catchy music that sticks like sap to a tree.

Fronted by brothers Cole and Max Becker on guitar and main vocals, Joey Armstrong on percussion and Seb Mueller on bass, the Oakland based quartet takes the spirit of punk past and charges forward with a sound that’s all their own. Strident, and gritty. Tender and youthful. Maniacal in the best way possible.

Released this past February, the ten song album examines a lot of personal topics to the band and their struggles with contemporary society. Being Oakland locals, the album’s titular track, “Berkeley’s on Fire,” discusses desensitizing to chaos, referencing riots at The University of California Berkeley and being fed up with modern news media. As Becker puts it: “TV news is bad for you, And bad TV is news for you.” When listening to the song, I see crowds of rambunctious college kids jumping in synch wearing bandanas around their face and carrying pickett signs with SWMRS leading the way. The song’s vibe and lyrics are in your face and unapologetic. With rhythmic drums, rebellious lyrics, simple guitar riffs, and wild vocals, the track sounds like it could’ve popped off of a Clash album.

The second track, “Too Much Coffee” goes into Becker’s anxieties about touring and his life changing too quickly. Becker touches on something I think we all can relate to: Sometimes life can seemingly move so quick it can be overwhelming and alienating. This feeling is punctuated by Becker when he sings about walking alone down South Congress in Austin, Texas, not having eaten breakfast and having drank too much coffee. I picture listening to this song while driving through a cloudy day at the beach, and I’ve got troubles, but this track would pick me up. Becker won’t be kept down by his struggles. He’ll defy the odds and his own feelings to succeed and this song makes me feel like I should do the same. I won’t be kept down by my struggles either.

SWMRS say “good riddance” to toxic relationships in their third track, “Trashbag Baby.” Listening through the door, a friend is heard dumping her lover over the phone. The friend is done being a trash bag, gathering all of the toxicity and having baggage dumped on her. The song is high energy, unapologetic and sounds like the perfect soundtrack to the breakup. It’s brutal and fun. I never thought I’d be dancing around and nodding my head to the beat of a broken heart.

The energy keeps going with the bellicose fourth track, “Lose Lose Lose.” The song sounds like it could be the score to the taking of a city or a civil uprising that won’t be kept down. The drums are fast and meaty, and the guitar is heavier, at times reminding me of the guitar riffs from James Bond movies. There are a bunch of references to the Symbionese Liberation Army, an America-based, militant organization active in the 70’s headed by Donald DeFreeze and Patricia Soltysik who is referenced in the song. Their motto, “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people!” is referenced in the song too, adding to the track’s vibe.

“April in Houston,” the fifth track, calms down the vibe of the album, heading in an introspective direction. What makes a good friend? “Those who stick with you during your struggles,” answers SWMRS in the lyrics,Everybody wants to get me high. But where will they go when I’m low?” The upbeat drums combined with the charming sound of the guitar and the poignantly genuine lyrics unify into this really bittersweet sound that stuck with me after I listened.

“Lonely Ghosts” is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I have an affinity for songs that really nail down an emotion or energy and this song just didn’t do it for me. The song does not convey much emotion, reflecting just how uncomfortable Becker feels in places that are typically thought of as fun. Becker sings about being glued to his phone and “feeling antisocial, misanthropic all around, just fucking over being anyone at all.” That energy, the edgy lyrics, amalgamated with basic instrumentals, and simple drums conveys the feeling of being misplaced, but made me feel more uncomfortable. I can see where they were going, but it just didn’t succeed.

SWMRS hit a personal sweet spot of mine with “IKEA Date.” This song hits just the right mix of nostalgia and loneliness, two emotions that pair really well. After a lover suddenly leaves, the singer reminisces on their days messing around in IKEA, playing house. Whereas his house used to be warm with his lover next to him, the bed is cold and he can’t sleep. He is alone wondering where his lover went and how he’ll ever sleep again without them. It gives me this sad feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’m watching Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother breakup or, in a more serious example, like someone I care for deeply is in distress and there’s nothing I can do. The song is melancholic to say the least.

The album takes a turn for the hectic with “Hellboy.” Right out of the gate we get some heavy, high octane guitar with thick drums that makes me wish I was in a mosh pit, and the lyrics, “Charlie Manson is alright.” Definitely controversial, but not condoning. SWMRS use this in comparison with groups that cause atrocities and don’t take blame. You can hear the SWMRS’ frustration with society, as Becker just screams during one of the interludes.

The last two songs weren’t the conclusion this album should’ve gotten. Neither of these songs have that punk energy the SWMRS are known for and don’t punctuate the album at all. The penultimate track, “Bad Allergies” is a cute song about how the singer has bad allergies and if you want to be with them, they’re sorry, but you’ll have to deal with it. (But they hope it doesn’t bother you.) That’s it. No big theme. It’s a calm way to start wrapping up the album.

Concluding the album is, “Steve Got Robbed,” detailing the story of how a man named Steve got robbed after a show in San Francisco at gunpoint at the West Oakland Bart Station. It’s a laid back song with some loose drums, and industrial, urban sounding guitar. The song’s greater point is that “the system” and “the man” are taking what’s rightfully the people’s, but can’t take away their spirit, hope and dedication. So in this sense, Steve has been robbed twice in one night. It’s an interesting sounding song but could’ve been rearranged with some other tracks to end the album in a more meaningful way.

The album struggles with its lack of focus. Songs jump from political statements to personal tales of stress and struggling love. The balance struck between the two feels like it’s standing in the middle of a highwire. The balance is there, not leaning too hard in one direction, but it’s close to tipping over. Their political tint is fitting for today’s climate which responds to and reacts to edgy statements, but in SWMRS case, it felt cynical and off-handed, just there for the sake of reaction. If there was a touch more focus, like grouping songs together or focusing more on the introspection, I think the album could’ve been improved. The introspection and punk energy are what make the album and by proxy the SWMRS shine.

On the flipside, their more personal and inwardly focused songs really hit home. A larger body of SWMR’s appeal is in their ability to relate what it’s like being young in our present day. “Too Much Coffee’s” stress on the future , “Trashbag Baby’s” dealing with toxicity, “April in Houston’s” forcing yourself to be happy to keep friends around, and “IKEA Date’s” dealing with love lost while being young. Despite having different sounds, the album conveyed SWMRS’ emotion with strength and sincerity, a strength of the band.

Running at thirty-three minutes, Berkeley’s on Fire is a fun venture from SWMRS’ typical brand of music. More stylistic and higher quality, this is a moment of growth for the band. Although the album is a little unorganized, the energy of the album is good with catchy songs that would make it more appealing to their audience. Their variety of themes from being fed up with society’s novelty, and personal tales of love and life strike a very fine balance that is so close to working. Regardless, it’s an entertaining and high energy album that showcases SWMRS’ unique sound and solidifies their spot on the playing field. Berkeley’s on Fire can be summed up best by Becker in “Too Much Coffee:” “I got everything it takes so, Don’t tell me how to sing this song, Don’t try to tell me how.”

Recall a time when feelings you had for a special someone weren’t reciprocated. Putting your all into a relationship knowing it’s over. Reminiscing on those bygone memories of the past, wondering if anyone remember it with as much fondness as you do. These are the feelings captured by the sounds off of boy pablo’s latest EP, Soy Pablo.

The indie group, headed by Norway-based, 19-year-old, Pablo Muñoz, cements their sunshiny sound carried by ear worm inducing guitar and bass riffs, beachy synths, and upbeat drums with their new EP. Combined with angsty but tender lyrics, boy pablo envelopes the listener in a unique, bittersweet sound.

Where Muñoz grew up, rain is an almost daily occurrence, but he takes inspiration from the few sunny days spent with friends, Muñoz said in an interview with Cortex.

After the music video for his song “Everytime” went viral on YouTube in May of 2017, his EP “Roy Pablo” gained notoriety leading him to release two singles, “Losing You” and “Sick Feeling,” both of which make appearances in their sophomore album, “Soy Pablo.”

Translating to “I am Pablo,” the album is all about Muñoz as an artist and an individual. It encompasses the stress and toils of young romance with brevity. Seven songs in twenty-one minutes. Songs which relate to feelings of love lost, emotions we all feel and experiences we have all been shaped by. They make us who we are. This seems to be what shaped Muñoz.

The album kicks off with “Feeling Lonely,” a groovy, upbeat track in which Munoz longs for the woman he saw last night. The song continues with this the theme of loneliness until the line: “I miss you so bad. The thought of you makes me sad. I’m going mad…no I’m not.” It’s an a humorous realization, one that causes the listener to laugh. The song hits the point that sometimes we just feel lonely, and although we may attribute that to missing one specific person, it could just be that we want company.

“Wtf,” just seconds over a minute, has Muñoz confused as to why his lover needs space from him. Left in vagueness, he sings of how he wants to understand why he’s being shut out. Look to the title if you’re wondering how he reacts.

“Sick Feeling” and “t-shirt” are both songs pertaining to sleep, memory, and nostalgia, fascinating subjects to Muñoz. Whether waking up without your lover realizing they’re gone or reminiscing a lover, remembering his feelings, Muñoz explores these topics in relatable ways.

“Limitado,” as the name suggests, is about the limits felt during rejection. Muñoz can’t let his lover go and reminds them that he’ll always be there, waiting for them. The final minute sheds lyrics for ethereal vocalizations backed by trancey music, giving the listener time to really feel the emotion of the song.

“How would you feel if I walked up to you one day and ripped your heart out. How would you feel if I said to you, ‘That’s how I feel…’” The lyrics that kick off the semifinal tune of the album, “Losing You.” Muñoz is processing repeatedly getting hurt and lied to by his lover, but yet, remains infatuated with her. He sings: “How could you lie to me time and time again. I’m getting tired of everything you say. But I want you anyway.” It’s a situation made bittersweet by the intersection of upbeat music and melancholic lyrics.

Closing off the album is “tkm” an acronym used for the Spanish phrase, “Te Quiero Mucho” meaning, “I love you very much.” It’s a very melancholic song. It’s also the longest song on the album with a runtime of five minutes and thirty-eight seconds. The crooning of the guitar really carries the emotion of this song. Though the last three minutes are instrumental, their simplicity packs so much punch. It says more than the lyrics Muñoz wrote.

“Soy Pablo” is short and simple. If the topic of the album were a bag of Skittles, the individual candies would be the songs, each touching on different flavors of the subject: the struggles of love. It’s a subject many people understand even if their words can’t describe it. boy pablo’s simple lyrics and dreamy music takes me to that place. With over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, boy pablo’s success is more than just a viral one-hit-wonder.