With powerful riffs and sweet melodies, Ume (pronounced “ooo-may”) are an indie rock band from Austin, Texas. Named after umeboshi, a Japanese sour pickled plum symbolizing perseverance and devotion, the band is comprised of guitarist and vocalist Lauren Larson and bassist husband Eric Larson, along with drummer Rachel Fuhrer.

Ume released their third album Monuments earlier this year, the follow-up to their 2011 sophomore Phantoms. Known for the merging of hard rock, punk rock and pop, Ume creates an emotionally intense experience and expresses who they really are in Monuments — a tenacious and passionate trio.

Like Ume’s Monuments album cover itself — girls in purple ballerina tutus facing a grim red lightning-filled sky — Ume’s sound is one of unique and effortless juxtaposition focusing on delicate vocals and ferocious musicianship.

“Black Stone” blasts the album into full force with head-banging and savage shredding, while “Barophobia” is a beautifully balanced ballad with airy lightness that transports listeners into a completely different world.

“Gleam,” a song dedicated to one of Lauren’s friends who was murdered during the writing of the record, combines Ume’s gleaming storytelling with polished sound. The concluding “Reason” manages to be deeply gentle yet aggressively raw.

Ume is currently touring until August, with a show in Atlanta on June 25. Lauren Larson took the time to answer some questions regarding everything from when she fell in love with music and the band’s first live show to Ume’s favorite food spots when touring.

Benazir Wehelie: What made you decide to pursue music?

Lauren Larson: I fell in love with music as a young girl listening to my parents’ record collection. I picked up a guitar around age 13 and learned Nirvana’s “Aneurysm” in one night. I was then hooked and got in my first thrashy punk rock band when I was 14. Seeing bands like Fugazi and Blonde Redhead inspired me as a young girl to want to get on stage too and hold nothing back.

BW: Which musicians or bands do you admire or have influenced your own music?

LL: Patti Smith, Nancy Wilson, Fugazi, Queens of the Stone Age, Prince, Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey …

BW: Who are some musicians or bands you would like to collaborate with in the future?

LL: Josh Homme, Bjork, Dave Grohl, Ian MacKaye and Kim Gordon.

BW: What was the first live show you played and how has the band evolved since then?

LL: At our first show ever we played to one person at an abandoned fire station in Houston. We still have the same DIY mentality and appreciate every single person at our shows, but I guess I’m not quite as terrified singing into a microphone after a few hundred shows, and I’ve learned to spin around and throw my head about a little more while still playing guitar.

BW: What is the inspiration behind your latest album, Monuments, and how does it differ from your previous creations?

LL: This record was an attempt to make a raw, honest, rock record that for the first time captures the passion and intensity of who we are as a live band. We just tried to lay it all on the line with every song.

BW: You have noted how creating Monuments was as much about self-understanding as it was about tangible creation. What have you gained a better understanding of individually and musically?

LL: I’ve learned to take risks, to gather strength from my fears, to accept what my voice sounds like, to let go of all expectations of what we “should” sound like and just have fun and cherish the opportunity to create music.

BW: The band appeared on the 2012 season premiere of “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain, in which you experienced some local Austin, Texas cuisine. What are some of your favorite foods when touring?

LL: We always try to find authentic delicious local spots. Some of our favorites are Poche’s Market (the best crawfish etouffee) when driving through Breaux Bridge, La., late night Tootie’s Famous Italian Beef in Pittsburgh and Raku in Vegas. It’s a fine line between eating really heavy late night food after a show, and the rest of the time trying to find healthy places where you can get a fresh veggie juice and, if you’re lucky, something green.

BW: Besides creating music, what are your hobbies or interests?

LL: I also garden, and have the best vegetable harvest ever this year. It will inevitably die in this Texas heat as soon as we leave for tour in a couple days.

BW: What is one venue or city you have always wanted to perform at?

LL: Red Rocks in Denver

BW: What have been the most rewarding experiences or memorable moments individually or as a band?

LL: Nancy Wilson — one of my favorite guitarists — from Heart recently invited me to perform a couple songs with her at a benefit concert put on by Sammy Hagar in San Francisco. This was such an honor and amazing opportunity. James Hetfield from Metallica and Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day were also on the bill.

- By Benazir Wehelie

governers-ball

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, an unexpected guest strolled onto the main stage of Governors Ball, a three-day music festival held on Randall’s Island in New York City from June 6-8. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took the mic and explained that even though New York is already the capital of many world industries, together, we could make NYC the center of the world for contemporary music. The brief speech eloquently summed up the purpose of the festival.

Since its inception in 2011, Gov Ball has grown in size, scope and popularity. As always, this year’s festival featured hordes of music-loving New Yorkers, a view of the iconic NYC skyline and delicious, albeit highly overpriced, food from some of the city’s best food trucks and vendors. But this year, the festival stepped it up in more ways than one.

The lineup consisted of 68 acts, the most in the festival’s short history, as well as artists spanning genres from acoustic folk to dubstep and everything in between. A killer set of diverse headliners, including OutKast, Jack White, Skrillex and Vampire Weekend, also distinguished this year’s lineup.

Gov Ball’s intentions are not to be like other music festivals such as  Bonnaroo and Coachella. Instead, the festival takes a more modest approach, bringing out the essence and flavors of New York City through music and environment. Urban art on display from local artists, playful décor mimicking some of the city’s landmarks and a youthful, chic vibe helps Gov Ball brand itself as a definite New York music festival above all else.

Something New for Everyone

The 2014 lineup was stacked with talented newcomers and lesser-known artists. The amount of new music available was at times overwhelming. Head towards the smoke-filled Gotham Tent, and you might have found the smooth R&B sounds and ultra-cool style of The Internet. Follow the unique folk/punk sounds to the main stage to find Frank Turner pouring his heart into every song. Show up on time one day, and you might hear the soothing voice of Wild Belle or the infectious indie feel of BLEACHERS.

Throughout the festival, I made sure to challenge my existing music taste and venture outside my comfort zone. Diarrhea Planet, despite the group’s repulsive name, offered one of the most explosive performances of the weekend, as band members dove into the crowd, climbed trusses and even tore through OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” in celebration of their reunion.

In addition to brand new acts, the lineup had a healthy dose of artists who have already proven themselves with multiple critically acclaimed albums and impressive live shows. Phoenix, Fitz and the Tantrums and Foster the People gave the alternative scene just what they wanted, bringing energy, musicianship and a whole lot of hits to each of their performances. Chance The Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Childish Gambino and Tyler, The Creator represented the new age of rap and hip-hop music well with youth and dynamism, although some lacked memorability. Acts like The Head and the Heart and James Blake deserved more attention for their ability to translate their sophisticated studio sounds into powerful, chilling live shows.

The Headliners (and The Strokes)

After a decade-long hiatus, OutKast’s Andre 3000 and Big Boi finally reunited onstage at Coachella in April. On the whole, the performance underwhelmed fans, was blasted by critics such as Rebecca Nicholas as a “crushing disappointment” and left everyone uncertain about the success of their many tour dates this summer (almost exclusively at festivals). But when the duo took the stage Friday night, their confidence, energy and playful interaction won the crowd over instantly. Track after track, OutKast delivered with nostalgia-inducing fun and ATL swagger.

The duo’s soulful backing band and clear articulation allowed for tracks like opener “B.O.B.” and crowd favorite “Roses” to soar into the ears of thousands of fans. OutKast was sure to include the classics, such as “ATLiens,” “Skew it on the Bar-B” and “Hootie Hoo.” They even slowed it down for a bit and forced a rowdy crowd to chill and groove to “Aquemini” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” Before blasting into “Hey Ya!” Andre thanked the crowd for putting up with them for 20 years and then teased, “only if y’all promise to lose your shit when this drops right now.” The crowd definitely kept that promise. I left Friday night confident that OutKast was back on track for one of the greatest comebacks of our generation.

As I walked onto the festival grounds for Day 2, Gov Ball volunteers greeted fans saying, “Welcome to Strokes Day!” The Strokes had not played NYC in over three years, and although it wasn’t quite as drastic as OutKast’s disappearance, fans couldn’t wait to see Julian Casablancas back where he belongs as the front man of one of the most transcendent rock bands of our time, arguably.

The Strokes hit the ground running, performing hit after hit from the group’s five LPs with the same sonically tight effect as the studio records but with a raw energy that can really only be attained live. From their grittiest classics like “Last Nite” to more electronic-tinged, blissful tracks like “Machu Picchu,” the Strokes were nothing short of brilliant. True fans were in heaven, and new listeners were made into believers. The Strokes played their cards right and were the best performance of the weekend.

On Saturday night, Gov Ball fans had a tough decision to make. On one end of Randall’s Island, guitar icon and trend-setting blues rocker Jack White readied his axe and bizarre antics for the NYC crowd. On the opposing side, a hardcore rocker turned international DJ superstar who helped bring dubstep to the masses prepared his spaceship (literally, the stage was a spaceship) for earth-shattering bass drops and EDM fantasia.

Ultimately, I chose White over Skrillex because of White’s past record of unpredictable live performance, and because I’ll always be drawn to live musicians over electronic, computer-generated sounds — even if the guy behind the computer does happen to be one of the most influential DJ of our generation of music.

Jack White’s set took fans on a ride through his impressive career as a part of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and most recently, as a solo artist. From recent Blunderbuss hits like “Love Interruption” and White Stripes crowd favorites like “Hotel Yorba,” White confidently led his all-star band as fans gleefully sang along and admired his incredible guitar chops. “Sixteen Saltines” never sounded so big as White raucously twisted across the stage and his infamous lyrics soared out over the crowd.

Lillie Mae, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, was a standout in White’s band, skillfully taking on harmonies and violin solos with power and grace. On “We’re Going to Be Friends,” together with White, Mae helped to establish the only tender moment in White’s set with soft, elegant vocals and a stellar blend. White finished the night off with “Seven Nation Army” and I could hear the famous chant-inducing bass line echo out at the stars as I exited the venue to avoid the stampeding crowd.

Of the three headliners I chose to see, Vampire Weekend (VW) was the most predictable. I had just seen them at the Fox Theatre last month, and the set list has been more or less set in stone throughout the group’s tour. As I expected, similar to their performance at the Fox Theatre, VW brought summery fun and preppy style to their set packed with hits old and new, such as “A-Punk” and “Diane Young.” The festival atmosphere worked brilliantly for them, as it only added to the flowery, mood-boosting aura they bring to every performance. Although their lack of virtuosity still disappointed me, VW put on a great show and left fans feeling joyful and relaxed as they left the festival gates for the final time this year.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Swedish House Mafia (Axwell^Ingrosso) set off fireworks, flame-throwers and water blasters to give Gov Ball 2014 a proper end. Most agree that they could not possibly live up to Skrillex, who performed on the same stage the night before, but for fans still eager for one last party (one with less flowers and more fire), it worked well.

Overall, this year’s Gov Ball was undoubtedly a success. The music showcased at the festival provided fans with a taste of some of the best up-and-coming artists in the world, as well as some already established acts a chance to shine once again. If the festival continues to adapt to the times, growing and changing as we do, it is sure to stay among the most popular and to become even more influential. As Schumer said, this festival can help to make New York the center of contemporary music. Those are large aspirations but I ​do love the enthusiasm.

- By Jason Charles

Neon Trees

In 2010, Provo, Utah-based band Neon Trees, which includes vocalist Tyler Glenn, guitarist Chris Allen, bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley, released its debut album, Habits, in which the world was introduced to the memorable, melodious song “Animal.” The year 2012 brought Picture Show, where “Everybody Talks” showed the band’s ability to craft frenetic yet controlled creations.

Today, “Animal” continues to be habitually played, while “Everybody Talks” has become forever engraved in listeners, remaining a permanently picturesque pattern of euphony. And Neon Trees continues to light up the world with their latest album, Pop Psychology.

The Pop Psychology journey embarks with “Love in the 21st Century,” a heart-thumping song about the difficulties with love in modern times. The lyrics and musicianship create a buzzing and bouncing balance, leaving the creation both catchy and subtle.

“Sleeping With A Friend” is a polished, intimate ode about friends with benefits. The gently penetrating vocals, delicately pulsating guitar and lightly exploding drums combine to create an old-school yet modern sound.

“Voices In The Halls” darkly shines and brightly haunts as Glenn sings, “I can taste your lemonade. Bittersweet like every summer fling.” Neon Trees creates a mysterious, ghost-like aura with an eerily flowing rhythm combined with a pleasant and smooth synth-driven melody.

The album concludes with “First Things First,” a lyrical photo album. With a solid beat and raw reminiscing, the band’s story and its members’ individual narratives are the underlying forefront. This piece lightly touches upon the subject of how each member of Neon Trees has truly grown not only creatively with their music, but also personally in their lives.

Glenn, originally from Temecula, Ca., grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Morrissey, and in high school knew music was his passion. But Glenn was also considered “different” to those in his hometown, in both appearance and behavior, as he created extravagant outfits and took ballet classes. In April, Glenn opened up about his homosexuality and the torment he faced on whether to make it public or keep it private. With Pop Psychology, the serious yet quirky Glenn shows that his true soul mate has been and always will be music.

As a child, Allen was neighbors with Glenn in Murrieta, Ca., and when Allen moved to Provo, Utah for college, Glenn also decided to make the move. Allen, who also had a deep passion for music growing up, enriches Neon Trees and brings out the spirit of the guitar with his fun, engaging and tenacious talent.

Campbell is Neon Trees’ brilliant and beaming bassist. On Twitter he states, “I live. I love. I bass it up & write songs in Neon Trees!” Not only is he a rock star in Neon Trees, but Campbell is also a rock-star husband and father. Campbell’s son, Connor, suffers from epilepsy and is on the autism spectrum, yet Campbell continues to remain a strong, solid force in both his band and for his family.

Bradley is Neon Trees’ devoted drummer. From making songs on the playground and playing with pots and lids as a child, today Bradley gleams in Neon Trees with her dynamic drumming and her zesty, passionate personality.

Together, each member of Neon Trees combines their talents to produce creations that gently glow deep within listeners through the good, the bad and everything in between. And with their latest album, Pop Psychology, Neon Trees is sonically inspirational and powerfully captures just how healing and freeing music can be.

Neon Trees is currently on tour with Nightmare and the Cat and Smallpools until July. It was a pleasure speaking with guitarist Chris Allen via phone. Allen discussed everything from the formation of Neon Trees and the band’s interests outside of music, to his own dream musical collaboration and personal fashion sense. 

Benazir Wehelie: How did all the band members come together to form Neon Trees?

Chris Allen: Myself and Tyler, we were neighbors in Southern California and our dads actually worked at the same office. They knew we were both really into music, so they were the ones that got us together. So, Tyler and I started playing for a bit and then I moved up to Utah to go to massage school. And so Tyler wanted to keep playing music with me so he moved up there just to play music. And then we met with the other band members while we were up in Utah, and they were playing with different bands. We hit it off and at the time, their schedules we freeing up and we were needing a bassist and a drummer, so they joined up with us.

BW: What inspired your latest album, Pop Psychology?

CA: Last year, Tyler was having a hard time emotionally and we took a little bit of a break. He saw a psychologist and it really helped with how he was feeling and it really made him think about a lot of things. He was kind of in a dark place and he wanted to talk about a lot of things that were weighing on him, but he wanted to do it in an upbeat and kind of positive way. He feels better now and kind of wanted to deliver it in a fun way. And that’s kind of the sound of the album — it’s real upbeat and exciting. I think that’s where a lot of the inspiration for the feel of the album came, Tyler seeing a psychologist and kind of sorting out his life and being happy with who he was and with what he was doing.

BW: What would you say you are most proud of from the album?

CA: I really love the song “Living In Another World.” It’s very simple sounding, but it just has a nice groove to it and I really like the words. [Tyler] says at one point, “Four chords and a beat keep me alive.” I think for a lot of our fans, music is just such an important part in their lives and it is what gets them through tough times and inspires them to get out of bed and go about their day.

BW: The music videos are all really creative and fun. What was the creative process when coming up with the concept for the music videos for songs from Pop Psychology?

CA: Tyler works with the directors on that, mostly, and then sends us the ideas and will try to get our feedback or if there’s anything we want to add to it. Actually, a couple of the videos we self-produced and directed. Tyler and his brother were very involved. Tyler’s brother is going to film school and so he shoots the videos and Tyler directs them. It’s cool because we’re really happy with the “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends)” video and the “First Things First” video and those cost us a fraction of what a full-budget, professional video costs. So, we tend to have a DIY approach. We’ve always liked to be involved in every aspect of what we do and our videos are no exception. I think in a lot of ways, some of our favorite things to do are the videos. It’s really fun to get in costumes and act and just let loose. It can be really fun to shoot those videos.

BW: You have toured with many bands. Are there any musicians and bands you would like to collaborate with?

CA: A musician I’ve always really wanted to collaborate with, but I doubt will ever happen, is David Byrne from the Talking Heads. I’ve always really liked him. And Cyndi Lauper would be a really fun collaboration. We all really love her music and we actually met her at the AMA awards last year. She was really sweet. So who knows, maybe that could happen sometime down the road.

BW: You were the special guests opening for Taylor Swift’s RED Tour. What was that experience like?

CA: That was so much fun. Of course, it was in Australia and New Zealand and I’ll take any chance I get to go to those places. So that was fun. There was only seven shows, I think, and we were there for a month so there was a lot of down time. We got to see the sights. She was just a real pleasure to work with and just very nice. Those shows were just amazing, being able to play full stadiums every night was just really cool. Because that’s not really something we’re used to. Every now and then we’ll play a show that’s that big, but it will be for a special event or something, but actually doing a tour where every night is like that is kind of crazy. And especially when people are singing along to your songs, it’s very surreal.

BW: Is there any stadium in particular you’ve always wanted to play at?

CA: The Hollywood Bowl is a venue I’ve really wanted to play. I don’t know what the capacity is, but it’s pretty big and I think it would be considered a stadium. The Hollywood Bowl would be really cool. We all went to see REM a few years back, right before they broke up. They played with Modest Mouse and the National and we saw them at the Hollywood Bowl and that was really cool.

BW: The whole band has a unique fashion sense. How would you describe your style, specifically?

CA: I think Saturday morning cartoons is how I would describe it. Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

BW: Do you have a favorite costume?

CA: I just recently had a bunch of shirts made. Me and my wife went and bought a fabric and buttons and had this lady that we know make a bunch of shirts. And I think that’s going to be my favorite thing to wear. Also, I just had a custom guitar made. The entire thing is painted blue. The body and the neck and the headstock, just the whole thing, so it kind of looks like it’s made out of a chunk of plastic. I kind of just wanted to make it look like a toy. Yeah, I guess we can consider that as a kind of accessory, kind of a piece of fashion.

BW: When not working on music, what does the band enjoy doing outside of that?

CA: Well, we all love movies, our last album being Picture Show and all the videos we had done on that were movie-related. Whenever we get a day off we like to watch movies. Individually, we have our own things that we really like. Elaine really likes working out and playing sports. And I really like a bunch of different things. I like motorcycles, working on things, remodeling houses. We just all have a lot of interests. I don’t know what other common other stuff besides like movies. We love being busy.

BW: How long have you been playing guitar?

CA: I started playing guitar in eighth grade. I guess about 21 years or something like that, 21, 22 years. So, most of my life.

BW: Do you play any other instruments?

CA: Not well. I play a little bit of drums and a little bit of bass. Not really piano, but I mess around a little bit. But yeah, pretty much just guitar.

BW: Your tour has officially begun and will continue until July. What do you enjoy most about touring?

CA: I like having a routine. I like it when we’re able to get on a bus and have a full set of dates ahead of us. And you know, we play a show, hop on the bus, go to the next place to play another show. You just get real comfortable, the music gets tighter and tighter and you can just see the shows get better and better. I definitely prefer that kind of touring to flying from one city to the other side of the country and just playing a few shows here and there. I like when it’s just kind of packed full.

BW: What should fans look forward to most from this tour?

CA: This tour, there’s going to be a lot more visually going on, on stage. We’ve really invested a lot into making our live show more exciting because we feel like that’s a big focus of our band — actually coming out to the shows. I feel like you don’t fully get the message if you don’t come to the live show to see it. It’s one thing on an iPod, but the songs sound different and there’s a different energy to them and there’s an interaction between us and the crowd that’s just really fun. I think that’s going to be the biggest change, is the visuals. We really put a lot into it this time around.

- Benazir Wehelie

Vampire-Weekend

Courtesy of Jason Charles

As the lights slowly dimmed at the Fox Theatre on May 5th, the mundane black backdrop on stage plummeted to the ground, revealing a flowery, Beach Boys-esque backcloth, Roman columns and a mysterious mirror. Simultaneously, Drake’s “Worst Behavior” blasted through the sound system as music’s favorite Columbia University grads strutted onto the stage one by one. Overwrought with anticipation and pure elation, the crowd proudly welcomed Vampire Weekend (VW) to Atlanta for the first time in four years.

I last encountered VW in April of 2010 at the Ryman Auditorium, an old church in Nashville, on one of their first headlining national tours. The band was young and inexperienced, but I could so easily see and hear immense potential. It was clear that the band was a group of talented musicians, but even more than that, I could feel their passion and creative expression constantly throughout the performance. Then and now, VW does not just play concerts, they create art.

The surprisingly appropriate Drake song completely changed the aura in the theater that Monday night, creating an atmosphere perfect for VW’s lively, well-crafted music. Ezra Koenig (lead vocals, guitar) then stepped up the mic and dove head first into Diane Young, the fast-paced summer-y single off of their latest album, Modern Vampires of the City (XL Recordings). The crowd was with them from the very start. There was no need to warm them up or even address them at all, so Koenig just kept on playing with tamed jubilance and understated confidence.

The night’s set list was trickled with tracks from all three of VW’s LPs, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on newer material. The set was balanced and flows effortlessly, as if the songs were meant to played in this succession.

“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” an infectious track off of Vampire Weekend, once helped to establish the band as a formidable force among the many guitar bands emerging at the time. With new-found musical reputability and songwriting abilities often compared to Paul Simon, the track propelled them forward and allowed them to begin to experiment on Contra, the band’s follow-up LP. However, from the very beginning, Koenig and Co. were deemed privileged dilettantes, having formed in white collar New York City at Columbia University. The band didn’t seem to care much about this assumed image and continued to make and play music that they themselves were proud of.

However, I can now say with confidence that over the last year, VW has shattered the box they may have placed in, expanding the range of possibilities for the future. Their live performance is more mature, better coordinated and gorgeously produced. Every detail, from the impressively synchronized lighting, to the artsy images that appear in the hidden screen of the mirror at the center of the set, the show is planned extensively.

Even the way the band flawlessly ended each song was evidently rehearsed and catered to live audiences. “Step,” an emotionally charged, lush ballad, laced with harpsichord and witty lyrics, ends as the band members dramatically bow their heads to the audience. “Holiday,” one of my favorites of the night, comes to a close with just a couple of extra chords and a rhythmic beat, perfectly in sync with pulsating lights and a blackout on the final chord. Each song’s calculated ending added a theatrical element to the show that complements the band well.

One challenge that modern bands often share is being able to produce what can be done in the studio live at a concert. Different acts have different ways of dealing with this issue; some pre-record the whole track, others pre-record only certain elements of the track, some attempt to use other methods to produce the same sound live and some may decide to leave out the electronic elements altogether. Overall, VW used a mix of these options, balancing live auto tune and electronic supplements with some pre-recorded elements, such as selected background vocals.

On tracks like “Everlasting Arms,” Koenig’s voice, although electronically altered, somehow sounded natural, as if it should be that way. However, on track “Ya Hey,” the squealing baby vocal refrain feels forced and over-produced live. The altered voices pierce through the texture of the music, but perhaps that is the point. After all, the song is about religious doubt and has been praised by critics, specifically Ian Cohen of Pitchfork, for its “duality of childish innocence and poetic confidence.” Either way, the live version quickly grew tired and was hindered by its dependence on auto-tune.

Despite their obvious growth and fresh maturity, there are small moments when the boys of Columbia U. let their inner-college student shine through. Aside from their awesome entrance featuring Drake, just before exploding into crowd-favorite, “One (Blake’s Got A New Face),” the epic opening sample from DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” blasted through the speakers and the crowd went wild. Thus demonstrating that despite their polished approach and newfound maturity, VW is still made up of college kids at heart.

It was a night of carefree dancing, musical bliss and unwavering admiration. There is no doubting this band’s unique talent and uncanny ability to turn a concert into a truly artful experience; a finished product, elegantly refined and expertly curated to represent to the audience who they are, how they want to be perceived and who they aspire to become.

Virtuosity does feel somewhat lost in a show that is so calculated and rehearsed. However, VW isn’t, and will most likely never be, the kind of band you go see for a legendary guitar solo or random jam session. Instead, they express a clear vision and an aesthetic experience to every crowd they play for. Will it be the same show at each stop on this tour? For the most part, yes. But VW is no longer the alternative college band I saw play a show in a small church in Nashville; now, they’re rock stars poised to shape the music world in years to come, staying to true to their own artistic vision and inspiring other artists and fans along the way. They can do what they please, take the road less traveled and, most likely, others will follow in their footsteps.

- By Jason Charles

Who is from Bowling Green, Ky. and delivers joyous melodies? Sleeper Agent, an alternative band with sextet Alex Kandel, Tony Smith, Justin Wilson, Lee Williams, Scott Gardner and Josh Martin.

Structuring their punk-pop sound from their first album, Celabrasion, Sleeper Agent recently released About Last Night, an album that is both pristine and polished. From heartbreak to victory, Sleeper Agent takes listeners on a unified magical musical journey.

The opening song, “Be Brave,” is euphoniously energetic and enchantingly encouraging despite lyrics such as “I’ve been feeling so lonesome that I could cry.” Sleeper Agent has created waves with “Waves,” the standout song from the album. The song, about a private apocalypse, has a catchy chorus and brightly sparkles with raw vocals and graceful musicianship.

“Haunting Me,” which was originally intended to be a Jackson 5 tribute, is subtly deep and hauntingly harmonious. The album concludes with “Sweetheart,” a Latin-flared, power-popping song inspired by a W.B. Yeats poem.

About Last Night certainly highlights Sleeper Agent’s lyrical and instrumental growth and versatility as a band. Sleeper Agent is currently on tour and will play in Atlanta on July 24.

Tony Smith answered some questions via phone, discussing the meaning behind Sleeper Agent’s name, who they would love to collaborate with and activities they enjoy outside of music.

Benazir Wehelie: What is the meaning behind the name, Sleeper Agent?

Tony Smith: Sleeper Agent is taken from a 2005 TV show called “Battlestar Galactica.”They’re the enemies on the TV show.

BW: You recently released the album, About Last Night. As a sextet band, what was the creative process like when putting together the album?

TS: In a lot of ways it’s very relieving because if I ever get stuck on a song, then I know I have five other people to help me work through it. Generally, I’ll start the song and then I’ll bring it on acoustic guitar to everybody and they’ll try to weigh in and craft their own parts around it. And that’s how we do it.

BW: What is the meaning behind “Waves”?

TS: “Waves” is pretty much our experiences on our first two tours, getting to see everything from New York to California. And kind of like our experiences being on the radio and just watching the reality of touring and what it really is as opposed to what I romanticized it to be as a younger teenager.  

BW: You are from Bowling Green, Kentucky. How does the music scene in Bowling Green differ from other cities you have had the chance to perform in?

TS: We pretty much get the same high energy show whether in Bowling Green or Los Angeles. I guess the only thing that really changes is the way people respond to it. Some regions are a little more laid back and some areas are a little more wild.

BW: Do you prefer more laid back or more outgoing audiences?

TS: I definitely prefer outgoing because we give so much and then if we get a lot in return, it just makes us give even harder.

BW: Describe your relationship with fellow Bowling Green band, Cage the Elephant.

TS: We’re friends, we grew up with them in our teen years. Two of us did, and went to the same schools.

BW: Rolling Stone described you as “Shaggy Kentucky kids whose songs are sweet, fizzy and combustible as a can of shook soda.” How would you describe Sleeper Agent?

TS: Six fun-loving, music-loving nerds.

BW: Your influences include the Pixies and the Black Lips. What specifically about these bands do you love?

TS: That was earlier on in our first record. The Pixies have always just been great song writers, while having this incredible energy and this other-world kind of snarl and great interplay between each other. The Black Lips is just a fun live show. They put on one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.

BW: If you could collaborate with any other band or musician, who would you choose and what kind of music would you make?

TS: I always thought it would be fun to do something in hip-hop, a hip-hop collaboration and there’s a list upon list of people I’d love to work with in that realm.

BW: Do you have a favorite hip-hop song or musician?

TS: I like a lot of the old backpack rap, stuff like A Tribe Called Quest and Jurassic 5. And I like a lot of newer guys too like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper and stuff like that.

BW: What are your favorite things to do together outside of music?

TS: We all love going to eat together and going to the movies, going to bars. Anything that’s kind of in that realm we always enjoy doing. The other day we went to the beach, so that was good.  

BW: You are performing in Atlanta in July. What can audiences look forward to from your live performances?

TS: We’ve always had a really good experience in Atlanta. One of our best shows was in Atlanta when the crowd was singing the lyrics louder than we were, so it was very shocking. We’re always very excited to play Atlanta to get that same vibe going again, so you’ll see us very excited and happy to be back in Atlanta. And we’ll put on a hell of show!

- By Benazir Wehelie

Courtesy of Kevin Earle

Any time you leave the limits of Atlanta it automatically feels like you’ve traveled 100 miles. Everything is green, everything is far apart and no one accepts the Emory Card.

My trek to CounterPoint Music Festival in Kingston Downs, Ga. was no exception, and instilled in me a feeling of adventure and simultaneous immersion in someplace foreign. The festival, which is only in its second go-around, took place this year at Kingston Downs, a hilly 5,000-acre venue that has hosted the Atlanta Steeplechase for the past 20 years. Before my concert-mates and I could even begin to navigate the parking situation, get out and explore the venue, we were informed that all musical performances were temporarily suspended due to heavy rain and thunderstorms. All 5,000 acres soon turned to mud. Concertgoers were encouraged to remain in their cars until the music resumed, which seemed disappointing, but quickly led to the blasting of EDM through car speakers in the parking lots. This ultimately led to a collective appreciation of the music we would hear live when the rain slowed. (Our car’s tunes consisted of Flosstradamus’ hour-long, high-energy set from this year’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami.)

After about an hour of tailgating, the storm ended, and one could hear the sound of car doors opening simultaneously as everyone gathered at the festival’s entrance to see as much as they could of Sunday’s lineup. That lineup was fully loaded, but not so loaded that you had to run between stages, overwhelmed and sweaty, catching a chorus here and a baseline there. It was perfectly packed, featuring big acts like Major Lazer, OutKast and Flux Pavilion, and then lesser-known gems such as GTA, Phantogram, Minnesota and Sleigh Bells: some of it heavy EDM, some not, but all of it music you could dance to.

Which is exactly what’s behind the CounterPoint vision. The three-day extravaganza, which is presented by the producers of big weekends all around the country, such as Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Festival, advertises itself as being just as much a party as it is a collection of concerts. People who came out for the music Sunday night seemed to get this, as everyone pushed through the mud in their dedication to dance.

We first made our way to the Steeple Stage to experience a set by GTA, a Miami duo comprising Matt Toth and Julio Mejia, who know how to precisely manipulate every corner and crevice of dance music to their advantage. Traces of trap, metallic synth, funk, hip-hop, world and classic electronic drops can be found in just a short snippet of every track, suggesting that these guys aren’t just here to leave their mark, but instead to leave several. Their live rendition of “Boy Oh Boy (TWRK edit)” with Diplo was worthy of some serious movement: arm flailing, hip swinging or, as its title suggests, twerking for those who were compelled. Its chorus of “drop down and get your eagle on” made everyone crazy. Even more dance-conducive was “Ai Novinha,” a trappy track that could pass as a slowed-down merengue that never lost any steam.

Our group was so excited for Flosstradamus that we got split up twice once the stage was in view, and had to run around in a few circles before we could all regroup and plow ahead. After listening to their Ultra set in the car for an hour straight, one would think that we’d tire of their rowdy sound, but instead, we found ourselves even more into it. “Mosh Pit” established their presence at CounterPoint and had everyone singing its singsongy hook along with them—even a few paces fast. Their remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don” set the audience loose and turned the venue into a carnival with its merry-go-round-esque, bouncy baseline. These guys, who hail from Chicago, have been doing this for almost eight years, and it seems that they’ve nearly made it.

We also got a snippet of “Fall in Love” from Phantogram’s set, which was distant and beautiful and a kind of Odyssey-like siren that could have kept us there forever if it hadn’t been for our ardent obsession for Major Lazer and his set beginning at the stage a little ways away. Major Lazer (composed of DJs Diplo and Switch) has been spinning reggae dancehall winners for years now, and has maintained a loyal fan base ever since its dance-floor anthem “Pon De Floor” dropped in 2009. Sunday’s set included a charged rendition of “Bubble Butt” with punchy B’s and an even punchier finish. “Jah No Partial,” which features Flux Pavilion, showed that they meant business with a filthy drop to contrast its island-chill opening. Surprisingly, the track that resonated with the crowd most was the lovely “Get Free” featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, which reminded everyone of Major Lazer’s unpredictability.

To close the night, every concertgoer flocked to the Blu Freedom Stage for the only performance in the next timeslot: the beloved, fast-talking, throwback we know as OutKast. If you’re not sure what André 3000 and Big Boi have been doing since their red and pink 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, know that they released a soundtrack and movie in 2006 (“Idlewild”) and then went on hiatus until their 40-date tour in honor of the 20th reunion of their time in the music scene.

CounterPoint was the duo’s second stop after playing at Coachella in Indio, Calif., where they received a somewhat awkward response from the mildly confused crowd. It’s clear that a lot has changed since OutKast’s peak; nearly every other artist at the festival debuted a hard-hitting, aggressive, dirty sound that left OutKast’s set feeling one-dimensional and kind of … well … old. They started with the track “B.O.B” that picked up more and more speed with Big Boi’s quickening rap and every repetition of “bombs over Baghdad,” but slowed with the next few tracks including “So Fresh, So Clean,” “Player’s Ball” and even “Ms. Jackson.” The effort may have been there from OutKast’s end, but it wasn’t from the crowd’s. “Rosa Parks” impressed a few and had us moving, and we couldn’t help but grin at the sound of the “1, 2, 3, huh” kicking off the adored “Hey Ya!” but the 38 concerts left in their tour might leave America expecting more.

The night ended with a classical man-behind-computer performance from English dubstep producer and DJ Flux Pavilion. “Bass Cannon” featuring a wide-spanning laser show woke everyone up, and “I Can’t Stop” was a treat to hear after the many mash-ups we’d gotten previously, but his show lacked the dimension and messiness that a live performance requires. The volume of Flux’s show should have been turned up too, which also may have contributed to its low shock value. Flux is an artist we wanted to feel, not just hear. After he finished his set, festivalgoers fled the scene, wading ankle-deep through the dense mud, and pressing their car alarms in hope of hearing something. Like most festivals, there’s a kind of solidarity you’re left with post-sets that makes you sad to leave and return home. We’re back now, we made it and we have the ruined converse, circulation-cutting wristbands and bass ringing in our ears to show for it. Until next year.

By Ellie Kahn

Photo courtesy of Kevin Earle

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“Nightmare and the Cat” is a song by a musician named Anthony Harwood, who faded into obscurity in the ‘90s. British brothers Django and Samuel Stewart were inspired by Harwood’s song, and therefore decided to name their band Nightmare and the Cat.

In addition to the Stewart brothers, the Los-Angeles based indie-rock band is now comprised of Claire Acey, Scott Henson and Spike Phillips. Together, Nightmare and the Cat creates entrancing and mesmerizing music.

Influenced by Jeff Buckley vocally and the Pixies musically, Nightmare and the Cat is piercingly passionate and quietly explosive. Their self-titled EP, Nightmare and the Cat, features five forceful creations. “Sarah Beth” combines a solid chorus with pulsating drums, while the harmonies of “Forgive Me, Sonny” are hypnotizing.

Nightmare and the Cat’s latest EP, Simple, is creatively complex. “Blackbird Smile” combines gentle guitar and infectious vocals. The bittersweet “Alvarado,” is calming yet electrifying. The ‘60s-inspired “Goodbye So Many Times” is emotionally soothing and “Undercover” is sure to leave listeners’ hearts delicately vibrating.

As the band’s Twitter states: “We are Nightmare and the Cat and that is that.” They are Nightmare and the Cat, and with music like theirs, Nightmare and the Cat will certainly not fade into obscurity.

Nightmare and the Cat will begin touring with Neon Trees and Smallpools in May, with a performance in Atlanta on May 23.

Django Stewart answered some questions via email, discussing everything from his musician parents to the ghost girl in the “Blackbird Smile” music video to whether he is a “nightmare” or a “cat.”

Benazir Wehelie: Your parents are Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama. When did you realize and decide you wanted to follow in their musical footsteps?

Django Stewart: It was more of a realization for me personally. I was sitting at home at the age of 16 thinking about what I wanted to do when I was out of school. I realized that I was failing all classes (except for the school choir and algebra, surprisingly) and that I was a pretty decent singer and song writer. I loved to strut around my bedroom to Bowie, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Stones and it all just kind of clicked!

BW: You were raised in both London and Los Angeles. How have these cities influenced your music?

DS: I feel Los Angeles has educated me about different kinds of music and truly great musicianship. There isn’t just one dominant scene as rather than a city, it’s more of a collection of suburbs. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to go to some legendary studios in LA, which there are many of. Capitol’s Studio B we have used multiple times for Nightmare projects. London taught me about true style and attitude, being loud and proud. These may not be everyone’s experiences, but that’s what I got from both cities.

BW: Although you and Sam are brothers and generally like a lot of the same music, you also have incredibly different tastes and influences. In what ways are your different tastes and influences reflected in your music?

DS: Sam is very much into guitar rock such as Nirvana and the Pixies, as am I. Graham Coxon from Blur is one of Sam’s all time heroes and Radiohead is his favorite band. I have always been into incredible singers like Jeff Buckley, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, James Brown and David Bowie is a huge inspiration to me. I love really original creative artists who put on a great show.

BW: As perfectionists in your songwriting and instrumental process, when are you satisfied with a song and how do you know when a song is finally complete?

DS: Over the years we’ve learnt a certain criteria and method to our songwriting. Most recently, we’ve had to face making them shorter, having a simple and juicy chorus that is catchy, yet not so repetitive that you feel you’re being bashed over the head and that has lots of beautiful and sneaky sounds so that hopefully each time you listen to it you can pick out something you hadn’t noticed before.

BW: “Alvarado” is one of your favorite songs from your EP, Simple. What is the meaning of the song?

DS: The meaning of “Alvarado” is about LA, but more so Echo Park, which is a neighborhood Sam, Claire and I had just moved to. I felt very isolated there with a need to connect, but didn’t know how without going to some bar which never really worked for me anyway.

BW: The captivating black and white music video for “Blackbird Smile,” a song about loving someone you are not supposed to love, is emotionally charged and incorporates ghost-like figures. What was the creative process in developing the video?

DS: We kind of just threw it together with some friends a couple of years ago. Gary Baseman is a dear friend and allowed us to use his ghost girl for the video. She represents breaking down society structural laws, because she’s a ghost she can walk through walls. As for the rest of it, I think we just like black and white because it’s nostalgic and always turns out beautiful.

BW: If one of you had to be called “nightmare” and the other had to be called “cat,” explain who would be “nightmare” and who would be “cat.”

DS: Although I pride myself on being very flexible and agile, I’m afraid I would be the “nightmare” because I’m one to be reckoned with when I’m on a mission. I can be pretty relentless sometimes …

BW: You will be touring with Neon Trees and Smallpools in May. Besides performing, what are you looking forward to most about touring?

DS: I’m looking forward to seeing new and interesting gems along the American highways, while playing pranks on band mates and other mates we may acquire along the way. I can’t wait to meet and connect with our fans across the states! We have even been offered a free Segway tour of Austin from a fan in exchange for tickets, many more adventures and celerious (celery meets hilarious) will be flying our way and we want to catch them all!

- By Benazir Wehelie

moviesforthesummer

“The Giver”

You’ll have to wait until the end of the summer to see your favorite — or least favorite — childhood sci-fi novel make it to the screen, but on August 15, a film adaptation of Lois Lowry’s The Giver will be released in theaters. Featuring a cast we know well such as Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), (her highness) Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), newcomer Brenton Thwaites and Katie Holmes (“Batman Begins”), this is sure to do some kind of justice to the sacred 1993 novel. Like the book, the film will set up the story in the context of a world without conflict or illness. Jonas (Thwaites), the 16-year-old selected by the society to act as Receiver of Memories will work to understand where he comes from and why perfection might not be so perfect while meeting some vivid characters along the way. Everyone has been saying for years that this book would make a great movie, and the time has finally come.

— By Ellie Kahn

“The Fault In Our Stars”

Speaking of sobbing and unbridled feelings, “The Fault In Our Stars” will undoubtedly be this summer’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” We’ll all laugh, cry and grow up a bit. This coming-of-age tale adapts a wildly popular young adult novel of the same name by John Green. In the second movie by young director Josh Boone, you can expect Green’s sacred material to come to life with a youthful vibrancy and candidness bursting at every seam. The story follows 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by the lovely Shailene Woodley (“Divergent”), who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

At a cancer patients’ support group, she catches the eye of teenage Augustus Walters, a cancer survivor played by Ansel Elgort (also of “Divergent”). Their experiences with cancer and a mutual love of literature (of words and of life) kindle a touchingly realistic friendship that blooms into love.

This film will both devastate and heal us.

 - By Malika Gumpangkum

“22 Jump Street”

Sound familiar? Probably. “22 Jump Street” is the upcoming sequel to the 2012 action comedy flick “21 Jump Street,” produced by and starring dynamic duo Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Channing Tatum (“She’s the Man”) — and a plethora of psychedelic drugs.

“22,” which is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”), is scheduled to be released June 13, just in time for the East Coast heat.

This time, Officer Schmidt (Hill) and his buddy Officer Jenko (Tatum) will dedicate their law-enforcing talents, for lack of a better word, to crack an alleged crime ring within a college fraternity, but soon realize that college might be the place for them. Bam. Looks like our demographic is being targeted.

See this with your friends and then grab a few beers, but maybe keep your expectations low.

— By Ellie Kahn

“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Stop what you’re doing. YouTube the trailer for “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” As you watch, I promise I won’t judge you for sobbing from the exquisite pain of all the feelings ripping your heart apart as if by a pair of adamantium claws. I mean … I did. Directed by Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”), “X-Men: Days of Future Past” will follow up on the highly-acclaimed “X-Men: First Class.”

The plot is derived from the 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic book storyline of the same name written by Marvel legend Chris Claremont.

If the sheer epic-ness of the multiverse and the time-traveling mutants of the psychedelic age fighting for the survival of a gifted species doesn’t grab you, maybe a near perfect assembly of star-studded and talented actors will. Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page and Tyrion Lannister — er, Peter Dinklage — all make up this sublimely perfect cast.

 - By Malika Gumpangkum

“Godzilla”

There are already months of excitement pent up for “Godzilla,” the franchise’s newest project, which will be released in theaters in 2D and 3D May 16. The film, under direction of British filmmaker Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) will retell the classic story of Godzilla, the loosely-dinosaur resembling monster that’s far beyond human control, but this time with a power cast. Actors like Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kick-Ass”), Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”), Elizabeth Olsen (“Oldboy”) and David Strathairn (“Lincoln”) have signed on to bring the film back to its former glory, and to tell a new tale to a new generation: the last “Godzilla” derivative was released a decade ago.

Edwards’ adaptation promises to honor the premise of the infamous monster saving humanity from vicious non-human threat, and with as big a budget as it was awarded, this remake should be one of the most thrilling of the summer.

— By Ellie Kahn

 

lil wayneLil Wayne, Tha Carter V (May 5)

Back in February, during a performance at New Orleans’ House of Blues, Drake brought Lil Wayne on stage for a special announcement: the release date (May 5) of Tha Carter V. Soon every music blog, gossip magazine and radio station was talking about the highly anticipated album and making predictions about its style, guest rappers and even the track list.

In 2005, Lil Wayne crowned himself the best rapper alive on his own album, Tha Carter II. Attempting to live up to that title, Wayne embraced his own rap prowess on experimental mix tapes, notable guest spots and critically acclaimed studio albums in the following years.

However, Wayne did have a few missteps in recent years, namely attempting (and failing) to explore a rock sound on Rebirth and experiencing a mostly negative fan and critic response to Tha Carter IV. So,

despite the brilliance of the Tha Carter series concept and the success of the first three installments, there is a lot riding on this “final” release. In fact, in a recent interview with MTV, Wayne said that talks of retirement are no joke, even claiming that this would be his last solo studio album. Having said that, in the past, musicians have had a pretty hard time sticking to their word when it comes to retirement (Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Jay-Z and the Beatles, to name a few.)

Either way, with stiff competition from fellow rap artists such as Kanye and newcomer Kendrick Lamar over the last year, Wayne is in need of a solid album to keep fans appeased and win over the haters.

chromeo

Chromeo, White Women (May 12)

Chromeo is a Canadian electrofunk duo famous for their irresistibly groovy dance tracks and unique electronic vibes.

One half of the duo, Dave Macklovitch, explains that their sound fits somewhere “between a Toro y Moi remix and a Vampire Weekend record, or a Disclosure song.”

It’s no big surprise, then, that Toro y Moi’s frontman Chaz Bundick and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend both appear on Chromeo’s upcoming album, White Women.

Their fourth full-length studio effort is sure to echo the critically-acclaimed work the duo

has already curated on past albums, but it also promises to reach new heights.

With their diverse backgrounds (Arab and Jewish), their lighthearted approach to music and a slew of talented guests slated to appear on the album, White Women promises to challenge existing norms, both musically and culturally, and to defy the “super conservative climate we’re feeling in America these days,” as Macklovitch puts it.

With their single “Over Your Shoulder” already poised as an indie summer jam and the flawless track record of this distinctive duo, there is no reason not to give White Women a try.

black keys

The Black Keys, Turn Blue (May 13)

In 2001, Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums) could be found in their basement recording and self-producing their own records.

Now, the garage rock duo known as The Black Keys is set to release their eighth studio album.

Over the years, the band’s raw blues-rock sound has developed into a more accessible, more heavily-produced pop-rock feel.

From the beginning, the Keys built a large underground fan base from extensive touring, critical accl

aim and substantial licensing deals. However, it wasn’t until 2011’s El Camino that The Black Keys emerged as a formidable force in the commercial market.

Now, having garnered airplay and praise for their first single “Fever,” fans are eager for May 13 to come around.

Expect a more psychedelic feel on this LP, with dreamy guitar riffs and catchy power choruses seemingly designed for the summer.

coldplay-ghost-stories

Coldplay, Ghost Stories (May 19)

Everyone and their mother has an opinion about Coldplay.

Some love them, some hate them and some love to hate them because they think they have to.

Regardless of where you stand, you have to give the band credit for staying relevant and continually growing as a band for well over a decade.

On May 19, Coldplay will release Ghost Stories, their sixth full-length studio album, following the (somewhat unintended) releases of the singles “Magic” and “Midnight.”

Both of the new tracks mark an obvious departure for the band from the rave-tinged synth-pop sounds of Mylo Xyloto to a more ambient, acoustic sound. “Magic” has

simple lyrics and rich vocals that lie over a steady electronic bass, reminiscent of Radiohead or The XX. On their last few releases, Coldplay has attempted to reinvent themselves, bringing something new to the table each time. They experiment with instrumentation, defy genres and blur the lines between commercial and artistic. Sure, Coldplay could have mastered the safe, pleasant sounds of their first album Parachutes and reproduced that over and over again.

However, lead singer Chris Martin believes in growth, change and exploration and has ensured that the band produces music that challenges the norms that they themselves once created.

sam-smith

Sam Smith, In The Lonely Hour (May 26) 

UK crooner Sam Smith rose to fame in October 2012 when he appeared on electronic music duo Disclosure’s breakthrough single “Latch.” After a couple of other guest spots, nominations at several British music awards and appearances on “SNL” and other late night shows, Smith is finally ready to release his debut LP, In The Lonely Hour.

Fans of Disclosure shouldn’t expect the songs on Smith’s solo debut to be anything like the booming, synth-heavy “Latch.” Instead, anticipate smooth, sultry vocals and a soul-infused R&B sound. The British singer/songwriter has immense potential, and this summer, we will see if he can develop that into something sustainable on his own, without the support of an established act and without the distraction of a booming techno backdrop.

jack white

Jack White, Lazaretto (June 10) 

John Anthony Gillis, better known as Jack White, is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated rockers of our time.

With a mysterious gaze, some incredibly weird antics and undeniable talent, White has developed into an international rock star.

He brought raw, punk rock angst to the forefront as frontman of The White Stripes for years.

But now, White is ready to release his sophomore solo studio album Lazeretto, following the gold-certified, international No. 1 hit Blunderbuss (2012).

White has nothing to prove at this point. He was named one of the best guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone and has become an icon in the industry, allowing him to push experimental boundaries and stay true to his own artistic vision.

Perhaps that’s why White decided to record, press and release Lazeretto all within four hours.

White said about a month ago that he set out to create “the world’s fastest released record … in the history of mankind.” Mission accomplished.

But will the result live up to the hype?

Find out for yourself on June 10. Also, check out the title track and first single, available now, and look out for White on tour this summer.

Honorable Mentions and Rumored Releases

Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence (May 1)

Lykke Li, I Never Learn (May 6)

The Roots, … And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (May 12)

Robyn, Do It Again (May 26)

SBTRKT, Transitions I (May 5), II (May 19), and III (June 2)

Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (June 2)

Kanye West, TBA

Foo Fighters, TBA

Kendrick Lamar, TBA

Adele, TBA

TV On The Radio, TBA

Alabama Shakes, TBA

—By Jason Charles

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“Orange is the New Black”

Netflix is the television of the future, and “Orange is the New Black” is its pioneering creation. There’s nothing quite like getting 13 brand-spanking-new episodes of binge-worthy TV all at once — so this June 6, grab a pint of ice cream and put your night aside. It’s going to be a full night through with OITNB

“True Blood”

If only to see if they can recover from the fiasco that was season six. I originally fell in love with TB for its over-the-top attempts at political commentary and societal statements, but the last couple of seasons have taken it to a new level of crazy. Season seven’s their last chance to redeem the vampire world of Bon Temps, La., and I can’t wait. I’m longing to whisper “Sookie” in a cheesy Southern accent at least a few more times before the show wraps up.  TB’s final season heads to HBO on June 22.

“Under the Dome”

It was clear by about 10 minutes into the pilot episode that this would never be quality television, but it’s summer entertainment at its summery-est. Last season, “Under the Dome” was advertised as a 13-episode-long event, but alas, they just had to return for round two this summer. I’m 90 percent sure that the acting will get worse, the special effects will get more unbelievable and the plotlines will get more ridiculous, but I will be there every step of the way. Check out CBS on June 30.

— By Emelia Fredlick

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