Linkin Park – ‘One More Light’ Album Review

There are two sides to every fandom: the “die-hard” and the “true” fan. The former sticks with a band through thick and thin, while the latter longs for the good ol’ glory days. With the release of Linkin Park’s seventh studio album, the rift in fandom has never been more potent, or hostile. While fans (including myself) are fretting over where they stand, either with this new poppy iteration of the band or the one that gave them Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park has made a firm commitment on where they reside artistically with One More Light.

“I’m dancing with my demons,” the first lines uttered in the dance-y opening track, “Nobody Can Save Me,” flirting along the lines of EDM. “Sorry For Now” is perhaps the track that tips them over into Chainsmokers territory. That alone is where fandom will take issue (I’m not well-versed in EDM so Chainsmokers is as far as I go).

They’ve dabbled in electronic before with Living Things. But whereas Living Things was experimental, One More Light is decidedly more pop. “Battle Symphony,” “Invisible,” and “Halfway Right” are oddities for a band known mostly for their thrash and head-banging. There’s very little of that, let alone anger, for that matter. Linkin Park has traded in the screams and vitriol for something more hopeful.

“I’ve been dragging around what’s bringing me down/If I just let go I’ll be set free,” Chester sings in the lead single, “Heavy,” perhaps a comment on the weight of expectation. Virtually every song appeals to the simplest denominators in pop’s vocabulary – catchy hooks, anthemic choruses, and an upbeat vibe, making the band more radio-friendly than ever before. The fault in One More Light lies with an over-familiarity in sound (the album is Living Things-polished, basically).

For all of the greatness instilled upon the band, Linkin Park has had a bit of an identity crisis. They once considered dropping out of Ozzfest for being dubbed “not metal enough,” and they’ve felt an insurmountable pressure to impress critics after garnering lackluster reviews on Hybrid Theory (which, in hindsight, is fucking outrageous). They’ve spent the first leg of their career wondering where they belong and have since dipped their toes into various subgenres.

Where are they now, or rather, what are they given today’s radio climate? Do they keep singing about what pisses them off? This is where factions will draw the line. Die-hards will profess their willingness to mature alongside them. True fans will want their angst-ridden band to stay angry.

Yet One More Light is a natural progression for Linkin Park, whose previous singles have hinted at a pop edge in their songwriting. The difference now is mood. Lyrically, the album is driven by the intended visual of the title track, that brief wavering of light just before the sun dips below the horizon. The album was both dedicated and inspired by the passing of a friend, and has since taken on a more poignant tone with the passing of another. This is where the brilliance of One More Light shines. “Invisible” may run the band in circles in terms of sound, but emotionally it’s quite uplifting (and sees Mike Shinoda taking over lead vocals in bold fashion). And the title track, “One More Light” is subtly affecting, Chester’s screams of sorrow a mere echo. Both Mike and Chester have ditched the MCing and have chosen to belt their hearts out (replete with na-nas and woahs).

There are tracks that will please even the most cynical fan. “Talking to Myself” is cut of the same cloth as “Bleed It Out,” and “Good Goodbye” is the only recognizable LP track with any actual rapping (and perhaps an intended farewell). Then there’s an anomaly like “Sharp Edges,” which may strike some as too Mumford and Sons, but it’s the band in their most stripped-down form and could very well describe them across the entire record. There’s little turntable work by Joseph Hahn, if any, and guitarist Brad Delson’s arrangements are subdued, which results in often beautiful melodies, others frustrating or nonexistent. That’s the underlying sin for Linkin Park’s latest. For all of the changes made in sound, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in terms of structure or composition or style (Minutes to Midnight, and later, The Hunting Party, boasted a political edge not unlike Rage Against The Machine, and A Thousand Suns was driven by the anxieties of nuclear warfare).

One More Light is above all a release, a cathartic moment for the band. The fandom may be split, but there is no right or wrong answer; only tried and true. Linkin Park will always be expected to return to their roots. This album signifies that they are no longer burdened by fan expectation; they’ve moved on. As conflicted as I am, I can’t fault Linkin Park for making music they’re so clearly passionate about. “Sometimes things refuse to go the way as planned/There will be a day when you will understand,” Shinoda sings in “Sorry For Now.” Written as an ode to his children (whom he is often away from during their lengthy tour cycles), perhaps the song is a plea to the fans as well. I’m convinced One More Light is a great album. I’m just not entirely convinced it’s a great Linkin Park album. Maybe in time we’ll understand.

Paramore – ‘After Laughter’ Album Review

You’d be hard-pressed to recall any band that made it beyond the Warped Tour circuit in its heyday. A launching pad for groups like New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Fall Out Boy, and My Chemical Romance, the challenge has always been finding relevance in the mainstream. Both Yellowcard and MCR have disbanded, while New Found Glory and Fall Out Boy have managed to survive in a radio climate that favors EDM and big name stardom (NFG owed in large part to their loyal fanbase, while FOB being fortunate to have broad appeal). It’s do or die, and Paramore is no stranger to the credo.

A Warped Tour darling and a chart-topping success story (one that resulted in a Grammy), Paramore faced quite the herculean task when it came to making their fifth studio album –reinventing themselves yet again. If their self-titled effort was all about experimentation (with Still Into You and Ain’t It Fun as stylistic markers), then After Laughter is about refining, and Paramore sounds more confident and bubbly than ever. At a time when people are looking for reasons to apply their eyeliner again, Paramore encourages its listeners to ditch the scowls and gleefully skip across town. If their lead single, “Hard Times,” was any indication, it’s hard to not want to follow their lead.

A synth-y and, dare I say, tropical dream reminiscent of ‘80s new wave, “Hard Times” is a bold and inventive heralding of this entirely new era. With drummer Zac Farro back into the fold, the change in sound is appropriately a rhythmic one, Farro bringing in his artistic sensibilities from his side project HalfNoise. Both “Hard Times” and “Told You So” serve as distinct departures, veering the band comfortably into pop-rock territory. Fans need not fret over the shift in aesthetic; Paramore embraces pop as a musical vibe, giving them the latitude to utilize all sorts of tricks in their newly revamped toolkit.

“Rose-Colored Boy” is a stylistic throwback to Cyndi Lauper, while “Forgiveness” is a gentle and buoyant power ballad in the vein of John Waite and Naked Eyes. Equally striking about the sheer number of influences embedded in the first four tracks is also the countermelodies courtesy of guitarist Taylor York. Trading in the headbanging riffs for colorful arpeggios, York has found clever ways to texturize and layer what we’ve come to think of as Paramore’s trademark sound. Just when you think a song can’t possibly get any catchier, there’s always another melody to lose yourself in.

“Fake Happy” is destined to be another single and sounds like something right out of a John Hughes coming-of-age tale. The entire album could be described as such: an homage to an era in which music was largely the platform to express oneself, soundtracks serving predominantly as a movie’s emotional backbone (see literally any John Hughes movie). “26” is the millennial anthem we’ll be singing for years to come, Hayley accompanied by a sorrowful guitar. Die-hards will take note of the lyrics harkening back to a fan-favorite (hint: it’s “Brick by Boring Brick”). Again, fans need not worry. After Laughter may be a departure, but it’s not something completely unexpected; they’ve dipped their toes here before with previous singles like “Crushcrushcrush” and “That’s What You Get,” only they’re diving deeper.

“Pool” is yet another soon-to-be single (let’s just assume every song is fair game for their next single), one that bathes in Hayley’s shimmering vocals, while “Grudges” is Paramore’s answer to The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love.” Hayley’s vocal work is notably more subdued than she’s ever been, a nuanced portrait of where the band is at this moment in time. Paramore is no stranger to rifts, having lost the Farro brothers prior, and most recently losing bassist Jeremy Davis, in which they were entangled in a lengthy legal dispute. This album, believe it or not, might just be their bleakest one yet. For all of the catchiness embedded into “Hard Times,” it’s a song about navigating rock bottom (All that I want/Is to wake up fine/Tell me that I’m alright/That I ain’t gonna die); “Forgiveness,” essentially a song about being unable to forget; and “Grudges” is about mourning lost time. Paramore may have gotten startlingly close to disbanding, but they seem to find themselves at the edge of oblivion.

With both York and Williams sharing song-writing duties, they’ve channeled a lot of the frustrations beset upon them over the past year. Instead of letting such experiences dwarf them, they demonstrate an unflinching willingness to move on. There’s a keen juxtaposition in how the album is composed. Tinged with every bit of sadness, angst, and grief, they’ve chosen a more hopeful outlook to their circumstances. “Caught In The Middle,” (dabbling in the ska-inflected roots of No Doubt) captures the determination to continue in the face of overwhelming pressure to quit; “Idle Worship” chronicles the struggle to maintain that face in the spotlight of fame, and “No Friend” is an extended outro and by far the strangest song in Paramore’s oeuvre, benefitting immensely from MewithoutYou’s Aaron Weiss, whom Williams is an outspoken fan of.

“Tell Me How” is perhaps Paramore at their most mournful (Of all the weapons you fight with/Your silence is the most violent), a track detailing the anxieties of dissolution characterized by a subtlety that makes it the perfect closer. Only Paramore can make drowning in melancholy a wonderfully good time. Reinvention is no easy feat, yet Paramore has always been more than up for the task, resulting in increasingly ambitious albums one after the other. It remains to be seen how After Laughter will stack up in terms of their discography. Nevertheless, After Laughter proves that adversity doesn’t have to be about tying yourself down to the masts or weathering the storm; you can just as well take pleasure in dancing in the rain.

20 Observations on Parenting

  1. You’ve reached peak parenting when you’re required to read to your daughter’s stuffed animals.
  2. My daughter keeps asking me to braid her hair and I never know what to do so it’s like hey here’s another ponytail
  3. Once I brought her a cheeseburger happy meal instead of the chicken nuggets she always gets. Frankly, I could’ve murdered Olaf and gotten less drama.
  4. Irony: Asking for a bite of something you paid for.
  5. I’m in awe of the way she treats her plush dolls. She thanked Sadness and Officer Hopps for being her bffs, then scolded Pooh for betraying her trust and if Pooh did it again he’d be exiled from the friendship guild. A child’s imagination is something you do not mess with.
  6. My daughter loves playing hide and seek at Target and never tell me that we’re playing hence why I bring the iPad into the store now
  7. Other times she likes to play hot lava and honestly how can I not?
  8. I mistakenly ate one of her lunchables and blamed it on Pooh
  9. I’ve made roughly a thousand promises assuring she’ll get ice cream after dinner. She hasn’t cashed in on them yet and I’m truly terrified of the day when she does.
  10. Parenting is just good negotiating.
  11. Once my daughter finished her homework before we even got home and I contemplated if she was truly my kid
  12. Then there are days when she refuses to do her homework and I’m like that’s my girl
  13. The thing about also being a Disney fan alongside my daughter is that we can never agree on what to watch like sure we can do Frozen but what about Moana
  14. I’ve never been angrier at her than when she caught a Pikachu before I did like this was from my generation wth
  15. Incredibly surreal to have my daughter in school. I’ve had to sign a few forms now and I catch myself faking my mom’s signature
  16. Whenever she falls asleep in the car I’m just like hell yeah it’s my turn at the Moana soundtrack
  17. Parenting is good distracting.
  18. Once at McDonald’s my daughter asked me why my meal doesn’t come with a toy like hers does. CARE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF, RONALD???
  19. All this time I thought I was zoning out during Elena of Avalor but I realize I’m hooked like when are they gonna do another Sofia the First crossover because that last one was delightful
  20. Nowadays, when I say it’s nap time my daughter tells me, “We don’t nap anymore,” to which I say, “Well do.”

I love you, sweetie. Thank you for making these last six years the strangest and the most rewarding experiences of my life. Never grow up.

‘La La Land’: Someone In The Crowd

One of the most iconic shots in La La Land (and there are plenty of them) comes early on during Mia’s melancholy walk home. A walk of shame. Her car’s been towed, she’s living in the city of her dreams, a city that shuns her all the same, and she finds herself wondering if she’s good enough. It’s an all-too-familiar road, one she embarks on after each failed audition. On this particular stroll, she finds music that suits her mood, and follows the bread crumbs of the melody to find Sebastian.  Continue reading

‘Big Little Lies’: Suffering in Silence

The opening minutes of Big Little Lies are as familiar as they are misleading. Cop cars and ambulances shine a spotlight on a grisly murder, the show setting itself up as a murder-mystery surrounding the lives of the privileged elite. The proceeding interrogations of those involved reveal a procedural, but what the show is actually investigating isn’t murder, but the seemingly Plain Jane life of domesticity. Big Little Lies examines the pain and vulnerability that women share, and the bruises they’re attempting to mask beneath concealer and Instagram filters. Because marriage takes work. And work is murder.  Continue reading