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Karen Vallo, Somehow You’ll Know

06 Nov, 2015 Alexa Spieler

karenvalloAfter finishing high school, eighteen-year-old Karen Vallo, who is also a member of the vocal group The Jellybeans, recorded “Somehow You’ll Know,” just prior to heading off to college. Vallo recorded “Somehow You’ll Know” for those who have lost someone special, aspiring to help keep that person alive in their hearts. The song, which was recorded and produced by Steve Lo Presto and was written by Anthony Coviello, was originally intended to be recorded by The Jellybeans, with Vallo as the lead vocalist. However, due to busy schedules, The Jellybeans were prevented from recording together. Nonetheless, Vallo took it upon herself to record the gentle, but hopeful ballad, “Somehow You’ll Know.”

Instrumentally, “Somehow You’ll Know” is rather simple. “Somehow You’ll Know” is a four-and-a-half minute song that predominantly features a light piano accompaniment, a gentle but supportive percussion performance, and bass undertones. What takes center stage on the track is, in fact, Vallo’s vocals. The soft, light instrumentation provides an impeccable platform for Vallo’s vocals to shine and for her introspective, precocious lyrics to captivate listeners.

Vallo’s inner struggles with her grief are easily audible throughout the song’s first verse, as she softly sings, “I’ve been thinking about you | I always do and I’m trying hard not to let the teardrops fall | I hang onto the moments, a lifetime of them | What I wouldn’t give to relive them all again.” In this instance, Vallo, whose voice presents a softness that correlates with her sadness and sorrow, is still struggling with the grief. Her gentle vocal delivery resonates with listeners, establishing a sincerity and genuineness between the listener and Vallo. There’s an unequivocal rawness in Vallo’s vocal delivery that illustrates to listeners that she has been struggling with the passing of someone special to her, and that she is genuinely trying to find the strength to combat the difficulties of the grieving process.

The track also conveys a sense of optimism, as evinced by the chorus of “Somehow You’ll Know.” Throughout the chorus, Vallo, as sincere as ever and as she hits falsettos, sings, “I believe in my heart if I’m thinking about you, somehow you’ll know | Somehow you’ll know | If in my sorrow these thoughts make me smile, somehow you’ll know | Somehow I know you’ll know.” As she progresses through “Somehow You’ll Know,” Vallo makes strides in accepting the passing of someone close to her, thereby growing optimistic.

Though the song’s instrumentation rarely deviates from a standard piano accompaniment and light drum beat, the instrumentation of “Somehow You’ll Know” picks up in excitement towards its completion. Instead of relying on rather repetitive instrumentation, “Somehow You’ll Know” picks up towards the end with a soulful electric guitar solo and more intricate, energetic drum fills. The song’s progression in instrumentation excitement nicely complements the lyrics’ increase in optimism and hopefulness. As evidenced by the song’s final verse, Vallo sings, “You’re not really gone | You will always be in my heart.”

With “Somehow You’ll Know,” eighteen-year-old Karen Vallo creates a song that realistically portrays the grieving process with a mixture of sorrow, optimism, and introspection. Though instrumentally it is rather simple and the production quality is not immensely well-polished, Vallo has done well in delivering a powerful song that is strengthened by her evident sincerity.


Review By: Alexa Spieler
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

madelyniris, Adventures

14 Jan, 2015 Alexa Spieler


Madelyn Munsell, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter from St. Louis, MO, enjoys working under the artist name of madelyniris, when creating her indie pop music. Gifted with the ability to hit the rarity of a high A flat, Munsell has found most of her vocal training through classical voice teachers, even as she combated the most demanding of soprano parts in opera. Despite most of her foundation resting in the classical world, Munsell continues to venture into the indie pop territory with madelyniris’ latest EP, Adventures. Composed of five tracks, Adventures illuminates the inspiration that Munsell found within the summer of 2014, through exploration of the world and discovering new people: the EP embodies the sense of independence and optimism that Munsell, of madelyniris, found throughout her journey.

The EP, Adventures, begins with the mid-tempo “Leave and Never Look Back,” which spans for slightly more than four minutes. Instrumentally, “Leave and Never Look Back,” does not deviate tremendously from its established repetition of a sixteenth-note bass groove that moves in conjunction with a light snare drum striking. For the choruses, during which Munsell sings out in an exquisite falsetto, “Never thought it would be easier to leave and never look back,” a gentle tapping of the hi-hat softly complements the snare drum, adding a simple, but stronger element of energy for the established soft, slowly grooving track. With the standard instrumentation set for “Leave and Never Look Back,” Munsell is immediately granted the platform to illuminate her vocal ability. Instantly, the warmth, gentleness, and delicateness of Munsell’s soulful, crisp-falsetto voice is audible, establishing “Leave and Never Look Back” as an impeccable track to introduce listeners to her vocal talent.

The first track of Adventures is followed by one of the EP’s longest tracks, “Ghost,” which lasts for nearly five minutes. As the track starts, Munsell’s audibly soulful, jazz-influenced voice is heard, questioning, inquisitively, as a narrator, “Do you remember that first time you felt alive?” Munsell is again granted a suitable platform to demonstrate her vocal ability, as her welcoming vocals are complemented by the gentle gracing of optimistic piano notes. However, with “Ghost,” Munsell doesn’t shy away from allowing the percussion groove to show-off, with a heavier, more energetic backing beat supporting her, along with the piano instrumentation. The percussion groove appears heavily rock and jazz influenced, between offbeat, but interesting additions of snare drum hits and light ride cymbal taps. The supportive, grooving percussion adds a fresh dynamic to both “Ghost” and Adventures, as a whole. While Munsell’s voice settles into its typically falsetto perfection, the instrumentation of “Ghost” adds a level of higher energy, making for a remarkably powerful track, most specifically conveyed through Munsell’s passionate singing of, “When did the fire leave my bones? When did the fire leave your eyes?” Her reverberating, ethereal vocals outshine all elements that compromise “Ghost,” easily making Munsell a vocal force to be reckoned with.

In the midst of Adventures is “Street Signs and White Lies” and “Let’s Restart.” The former is an upbeat, driving track that’s heavily soft rock influenced. In “Street Signs and White Lies,” Munsell’s voice takes on a different tone. Normally driven by delicate qualities, on this track, she doesn’t shy away from showing more of a commanding tone. Her voice still holds its delicateness, but on “Street Signs and White Lies,” Munsell settles into an even stronger, confident tone, impeccably finding her groove and enhancing her sound. The strength of the composition’s voice and instrumentation adds a layer of differentiation amid Adventures, showcasing Munsell as a dominating, confident artist, who isn’t afraid to change things up. On “Let’s Restart,” madelyniris decides on a slower tempo, but continues chasing after a more rock inspired sound. However, what is noticeably different about the nearly five-minute track is its more ominous, darker tones. There’s an unequivocal, audible ominous discovered through “Let’s Restart,” between the light instrumentation and hauntingly beautiful falsettos that are captivated by soulfulness. The composition, intriguingly and enticingly, portrays madelyniris in a darker light, as Munsell continues to demonstrate the multiple musical layers she encompasses and will continue to portray.

Concluding Adventures is the nearly four-minute track, entitled “Adventure.” Throughout the track, the narrator is torn between an apparent ex-lover, whom she has driven ten hours to see, again, but the ex-lover has fallen in love with someone else (“But you’ve fallen in love with time and science | and most of all her | She builds you up and tears you down | She claws at your head and makes you hurt.”) Noting that neither of them is getting any younger, the narrator asks the “So why not come alive with me tonight?  | We can go on an adventure and swear we’ll never forget these summer nights.” In a tale of discovery, throughout “Adventure,” the narrator has realized whom she wants — her ex-lover — decisively choosing to let love in. For the Adventures EP, its conclusive track is revelatory, as Munsell has the epiphany of whom she wants to fall in love with, driving the ten hours to locate the person whom she spent memorable summer nights with and felt most alive with. Overall, the Adventures EP proves enormously successful for madelyniris, as it’s captivated by delicateness, ethereal qualities, and primarily and most importantly, versatility and diversity.


Review by: Alexa Spieler
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Johnny Active, The Prelude

06 Mar, 2014 Alexa Spieler

Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, the dedicated hip-hop artist, Johnny Active, originally known as Graydon Welbourn, illuminates his promising career with his latest release, The Prelude. With his flowing verses and meticulous raps, the 20 year old proves himself with his latest release. The full-length embodies the years worth of hard-work and perseverance Active has emphasized within his career. After the likes of Dr. Dre and Eminem influenced a young Active, he moved to Toronto, where he continued exploring his solo career. After releasing his first studio album in 2012, The Grady Brunch, Active headed back to the studio to work with producer Sunny Norway to bring fans his release, The Prelude. Following its release, The Prelude has climbed to the top of iTunes’ hip-hop charts, reassuring him of a career that ensures longevity.

One of the album’s shortest tracks, “The Prelude” stands at barely over three minutes long, but features one of the album’s two appearances from vocalist, Ciele. As an introductory track, “The Prelude” fails in exemplifying Active’s immense talent. He appears monotonous vocally at times with the repetitive echoing of Ciele singing the lyrics “act like you know.” The beat supporting the two isn’t extremely extraordinary, as it appears to be a standard, warped beat. His diction is significantly clear, but such is overlooked due to the seemingly monotonous tone in Active’s voice.

With the following track, Active wittily plays on Ciele’s vocal repetitions of “act like you know,” with the song’s title, “Won’t Ever Know.” Interestingly, Active calls upon the influence of Baby Bash and Frankie J, with the instrumentals of their hit song, “Suga Suga” with a fresher, new beat. Upon rapping over the familiar instrumental, Johnny Active reminds listeners of his uniqueness and admirable flow. Particularly impressive with “Won’t Ever Know” is the manner in which Active speedily spits towards the track’s final coda, challenging the likes of Eminem with the preciseness within the rapidly flowing words within the verse. Extremely commendable is Active’s diction – a consistently admirable trait of Active’s that is audible throughout The Prelude.

As for the album’s entire duration, stand-out tracks include: “Night Sky,” “Michael Cera,” and “I Got It.” A collaborative effort, “Night Sky” features Teekay & Tru-ly. Overlaying a supportive beat, it also features the repetitive, yet catchy high-pitched synthesizer strikes. Sharing verses, each rapper takes the opportunity to enhance the track with their individuality. Though the rappers exchange verses, Active always dominates the song’s choruses, dictating strikingly, “Wait all day to stare at the night sky | Looking up, like “there is my life line” | Uh, in the stars is where I oughta be | Every single day I promise to give you all of me.” While the collaborative effort brings attention to Teekay and Tru-ly, Johnny Active demonstrates his ability to stand-out amongst the rest, never seeming to overpower the two, but still entice listeners with his energized lyricism.

“Michael Cera” stands out for different reasons. Though Active continues with his persisting meticulousness in diction, “Michael Cera” is unique for its instrumentals. Perhaps featuring the most eclectic beats and instrumentals, The Prelude doesn’t feature a song more interesting and entertaining than “Michael Cera.” Active had his doubts on releasing a track like “Michael Cera” but he proves that no task is too far out of reach for him, as he pushes boundaries and dominates a new level of hip-hop. Whether it be the striking snare, chiming instrumentation, or differentiating flows, “Michael Cera” is unlike any other track on The Prelude. Approaching four minutes, “Michael Cera” is a risk for Johnny Active – but definitely a risk successfully executed.

Touching on his journey, “I Got It” reminisces on how long he’s been chasing his dream of being a rapper, as well as serves to display his vehemence for the genre. A solid beat supports him, as Active utilizes the track to present listeners with insight into his musical journey. Active ensures listeners that he has “been chasing this dream since before [he] was a teen” and that he now runs “the whole thing.” “I Got It” speaks of the restless nights Active spends dedicated to his craft, persistently showing that he’ll do whatever he has to to be at the top of the genre and is an impeccable way to complete The Prelude.

Despite the introductory track, The Prelude is a solid second effort from Johnny Active. Within the release, Active proves that he has what it takes to soar past rappers who currently dominate the charts. The Prelude isn’t typical rap that calls attention to the lifestyles of partying and sexualized images. Instead, Johnny Active provides listeners with rap that emphasizes realness and sparks an emphasis on the craft, stapling The Prelude and Active as noteworthy contenders.

Review by: Alexa Spieler
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Big Burn, Invidious

12 Nov, 2013 Alexa Spieler

Originally raised in Nebraska City, rapper Big Burn has extended his journey since his beginnings as an artist in 2006. Inspired by the likes of Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Bo Burnham, Big Burn shapes his own form of comedic rap, stylistically, which was evident from his debut release in 2006, Drinking Blunts and 40s. Since his originations in Nebraska City, Big Burn has relocated to Omaha. With the movement, Big Burn has also progressed in his musical repertoire, with his sophomore effort entitled Invidious due out on November 14th. A collection of twenty tracks, Invidious showcases Big Burn’s evolution that he’s taken since his debut release.

Following a technique most rappers utilize, Big Burn kicks off Invidious with an intro entitled “Ribald Alliteration” of which lasts a little over one-minute in length. Sampling the same melody used in Linda Scott’s “I’ve Told Every Little Star” (most recently used by Mac Miller in his song “Knock Knock”); Big Burn impeccably showcases his comedic talents. The track initially begins by the introduction of a chipmunk talking accompaniment, which continues to sing the background of “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” Above the chipmunk layering is Big Burn, who introduces listeners to his welcoming voice, ensuring those listeners that they will be hearing “ill s**t.” The song formally announces Burn’s reentrance, as he exclaims that he is “back” and “here to stay.”

After the introduction, Burn takes the opportunity to vocalize his comedic antics and thoughts with “Follow These Simple Steps.” Along with showcasing his humor, “Follow These Simple Steps” features one of the album’s myriad of collaborations, with the inclusion of Surreal the MC. Over a standard beat, Surreal the MC and Big Burn trade-off verses as they attempt to comically tell audiences the necessities in how to party. With many images suggesting marijuana usage, “Follow These Simple Steps” doesn’t stray much from what’s expected of mainstream rappers. The song embodies the typical construction of a song portraying heavy-partying, marijuana smoking, and having “unprotected sex.” If Burn intends for comedic relief through his suggestions and steps for partying until you “can’t stop”, perhaps the line should be drawn at suggesting unprotected sex. It’s evident that Burn’s music exists to employ comedy within raps, but sometimes, the line between appropriate and potentially leading to dangerous misinterpretations is small. Despite such, his raps remain well-flowing, never forcing listeners to stray their attention from his demanding, clear vocals. Following such is Invidious’ longest track, “Milkshake.” Again, the song highlights collaboration, this time with Boss Turt. For nearly six minutes, Big Burn and Boss Turt tear up the track, exemplifying smooth, dominating rapping. They truly deliver each word with such clarity and mastery that it’s admirable. However, where “Milkshake” lacks is in its semblance to “Follow These Simple Steps.” A simple misplacement, if “Milkshake” were to appear later in the album, it would be granted the foundation to stand out more than it initially does. The beats between “Follow These Simple Steps” and “Milkshake” are so similar that it’s difficult to pinpoint the transition from one to another. However, “Milkshake” does still manage to stand-out due to the smooth, clever lyrics and cultural references (“Rim job, salad toss, Rick Ross, the f**king boss”) delivered by Burn and Turt.

Where Big Burn leaves his greatest impression is on “Hip Hop’s Dead” – easily the album’s standout track. Instead of tackling useless topics, Big Burn places an emphasis on mainstream rap’s issues, even making fun of topics he previously discussed. Though he continues with his sexual references, Burn goes off on his issues with rap. The beat isn’t anything too complicated, but Burn doesn’t require such to permit him to dictate with clarity. As he claims, “hip hop is dead”, but Burn is here to “bring it back.” Along the list of problems he has with hip hop, Burn say its main issues start with the likes of Flo Rida and other “dubious douches.” With a track like “Hip Hop’s Dead”, Burn reminds listeners of hope in the genre. Rap is promising, especially with the likes of Burn rising, if he continues to improve with tracks similar to “Hip Hop’s Dead.” Completing Invidious is Burn’s personal outro, “Thanks For Listening.” As he makes sure to reiterate, all of the misogyny heavily audible through Invidious is “facetious.” The exit track follows the theme originally presented with the intro track of Linda Scott’s “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” Coming full circle, Invidious completes with a sense of gratitude, emphasizing that he hopes listeners “enjoyed themselves” while congratulating them on making it to the end. He evolves from the lyricism highlighting misogynistic ideals, relieving listeners with is assurance of comedic purposes.

Burn certainly isn’t a typical artist, as he demonstrates through Invidious. He’s comical – a person of his own, living by his own rules, independent of constraints. He exists, musically, to employ his sense of humor, which is evident through the album’s progression. Though his lyrical smoothness and clever diction is never called into question, Burn’s ability to stick out remains an adversity he must overcome. At times, he demonstrates a semblance too close to one of his inspirations, Bo Burnham. Though Invidious is a solid release, he must gather the tools to distinguish himself from his counterparts. Big Burn is a solid rapper, one who possesses admirable delivery and mastery of lyricism, but must continue to push and prove his uniqueness; only time will tell.

Review by: Alexa Spieler
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Canary, “Let Down Your Guard”

11 Oct, 2013 Alexa Spieler

The Boston, Massachusetts rock band, Canary strives for gritty, demanding sound with their latest single, “Let Down Your Guard.” Canary embodies American rock, with demonstrated British invasion influences. With an extensive foundation of experience that ranges from performing at House of Blues venues to captivating audiences at SXSW, Canary isn’t simply a newfound band, but is a band built off of musicality, rock-ability, and energy, especially on “Let Down Your Guard.”

Beginning with a driving percussion groove, the initial drumming showcases the energy Canary strives to represent. Simply from the introductory cymbal crash and the continuing driving drum set performance, the necessary action for listeners to nod their heads along surfaces. Soon joining the drum groove, that highlights jazz and rock influences, is a smooth, masterfully performed guitar strumming. The electric guitar that shortly joins the jamming percussive movement is at, its core, beautifully performed funk strumming. Embodying jam-band techniques, “Let Down Your Guard” is a track that doesn’t hint at slowing down. While the instrumentation consistently remains powerful and energetic, the vocalist’s presentation shines the single in a new light.

With strong instrumentation, some vocalists tend to be drowned out. However, the female vocals add the impeccable complimentary aspect to the strong instrumental performances. Its as if the two are battling one another, but instead of combating and overplaying, the instrumentals and vocals join together, only to produce sonic perfection. The funky guitar strumming never seems to overpower the energetic drums, as the the female vocals stand strong without drowning out the instrumentation. While the female vocals peak at a fading, yet screaming repetitive notion of “Let Down Your Guard,” the song completes with a final jam session, concluding with a brisk, smooth electric guitar strum. The amped-up, repeated guitar melodies never becomes a bore, and the drum fills drive forward and shape a danceable, rocking foundation, while the captivating, commanding vocals fill the song’s atmosphere with a new sense of energy.

Overall, “Let Down Your Guard” is a solid production from Canary. It’s a collection of funk, rock, and jazz influences that leaves listeners earning for more.


Review by: Alexa Spieler

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)