Netflix series’ third season returns with flair, heart

The highly-anticipated season three of Netflix’s original series “Grace and Frankie” was released on the online platform on March 24 to an eager audience of bingers. 

The show, a quirky take on the trials and tribulations of our golden years, had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to its first two seasons. There’s no doubt that the show has star power, with four huge Hollywood veterans taking center stage: none other than Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the series’ main characters. 

While a gang of older actors in modern and high energy plots is not completely unfamiliar, “Grace and Frankie” switches the script. The series’ titular characters, Grace and Frankie, have been left and divorced by their husbands, who have fallen in love with each other, leaving the two proud women to deal with each other.

The series’ first two seasons set the foundation of the show and dealt with reconciliation between all parties. By season three, Grace and Frankie no longer hate their husbands—or each other. Fonda’s uptight, organized martini-drinking Grace, and Tomlin’s artsy, down-to-earth pot-smoking Frankie have learned to appreciate each other, becoming best friends and confidants. And now Robert and Sol—played by Sheen and Waterston respectively—have settled into married life and patched up their families. 

In season three we see these hilariously charming characters grow beyond their archetypes as they encounter even more challenges. The usually proper Grace joins Frankie in launching a new business that sells vibrators designed for older women, and the usually stoic Robert retires and gets cast as the lead in a community musical. All the while Sol, a normally care-free spirit, has trouble leaving his law firm. 

These plotlines are veiled in comedy, yet do not fail to address the issues at their heart—the desexualizing of older women and fears of unfulfillment after retirement. While these issues seem to be geared toward older audiences—and they are, giving our grandparents the representation in media that they deserve—they are not issues that younger watchers cannot appreciate and learn from.

Aside from these important plotlines, season three serves up just as much comedy as before with genuinely funny dialogue and new characters. One episode features Grace and Frankie stuck on the floor for an entire day because “they’ve fallen and can’t get up,” and Frankie and Sol’s son Bud—played by Baron Vaughn—has a new girlfriend who has every allergy you can think of. 

While this season is not without its faults—the characters always seem to solve massive issues in tiny amounts of time—comedy is at its heart. With Netflix continually rolling out new original series, it’s easy for some to get lost in the crowd. 

“Grace and Frankie,” however, is clearly a standout. It’s funny without being cheesy, heartfelt without being soppy and proves that our older generations are just as young as they used to be. Fans are already waiting for season four.

Indie artist tackles issues of mental illness

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has been a force on the music scene since her initial debut in 1982 with the band ’Til Tuesday, and the release of her first solo album, Whatever, in 1993. Mann has just recently released her ninth studio album, Mental Illness, ending a five-year hiatus from the industry.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Mann states that Mental Illness is “the saddest, slowest, most acoustic” album she has written to date. Over the years, Mann has garnered a reputation for releasing, almost exclusively, depressing songs. In the interview, Mann commented about her reputation and how it affected her songwriting process for Mental Illness

“If [my fans] thought that my songs were very down-tempo, very depressing, very sad and very acoustic, I thought I’d just give myself permission to write the saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they’re-all-waltzes-so-be-it record I could,” Mann said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The style of Mental Illness is certainly more raw, intimate and unplugged compared to Mann’s signature rock roots. Here, she channels similar vibes to those present in the soundtrack to the Oscar nominated movie Magnolia, for which she received the nomination for best original song. 

None of Mann’s previous work, however, matches Mental Illness—at least in terms of melancholia. Throughout the album, Mann delves into concepts of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses through the means of characters dealing with a variety of situations varying from heartache to daily life. 

The idea of mental illness continues to be an extremely controversial concept, as its credibility is constantly questioned by society. Many people even deny its existence altogether. 

Mann takes this controversy on by taking common situations that everyone goes through and comparing them to the struggles of mental illness, illustrating just how unbearable the latter can be. The album achieves Mann’s goal of being her most “depressing” work to date, exceeding all previous albums for miles. Mental Illness captures the essence of human struggle with such perfection and beauty.

The album’s introductory song is also its first single, “Goose Snow Cone.” This track deals with the concept of loneliness and feeling homesick—concepts that can resonate with almost anyone. Mann croons about that pit of loneliness that persists, even when in the presence of friends, as well as feelings of insecurity when outside one’s own home. 

“I saw a picture on Instagram of a cat I know named Goose. Her fluffy white face was looking up at the camera in a very plaintive way, like a little snowball, and I started singing a little song about her that turned into a song about loneliness,” Mann said about writing “Goose Snow Cone.” 

“I intended to change the lyrics [of “Goose Snow Cone”], but could never find a phrase to replace the one I started with,” she added. 

This perfectly demonstrates the authentic and intimate quality to Mental Illness.

The powerful imagery and emotion continues in the track “Philly Sinks.” Mann uses this song as the epitome of her album’s concept, giving her listeners an even more stripped down, bare and personal song. 

In “Philly Sinks,” Mann focuses on thoughts of suicide and how easily one can slip down such a path, birthing the actual potential to commit the act and how suicide affects those left behind. Additionally, Mann comments on the death of innocence in our society, alluding to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, as she possibly sees this loss as a cause for increased suicide rates.

Mann promised to produce an album that would exceed her previous works, which were already believed to be rather gloomy. She has certainly established herself as a dominant presence in the indie music scene, especially when it comes to sorrowful pieces.

There’s no doubt that with Mental Illness, Mann has delivered. No track on this album will leave you with dry eyes.


Drake’s latest project takes a mellow turn

Just under a year after releasing Views comes Drake’s newest musical endeavor. Labeled as a playlist, the Canadian rapper dropped More Life on OVO Sound Radio on Apple Music’s radio station on Saturday March 18. 

Unlike Views, this playlist arrived with little advanced hype—but it’s no small addition to Drake’s musical repertoire. With 22 tracks, More Life is over an hour of Drake grappling with getting let down by friends, family and lovers, all the while exploring the sounds of black music; this ranges from the United States and his hometown of Toronto all the way to Africa and the Caribbean. 

More Life boasts more of Drake’s brooding, melancholic sentiments, while also offering the mic to various other rap and R&B artists. If there is one thing about Drake, he keeps his lyrics personal and honest. In “Lose You” he ponders over losing someone—or some people—close to him while trying to remain true to himself, saying, “Inspirin’ and never takin’ credit/I know I deserve more, I just never said it/Two middle fingers as I make a exit.” 

With relaxed beats enveloping each track, this playlist seems to scream R&B more than Drake’s usual hip-hop nature. Some critics argue that Drake is worn out, but he assures his audience that this is untrue. In “Sacrifices,” Drake openly acknowledges his opponents, noting, “Niggas see me in person/First thing they say is ‘I know you need a break’/Hell nah, I feel great, ready now, why wait?” 

One track that stands out from this playlist is “Passionfruit.” Musically more upbeat than most of the other tracks, Drake croons in his balmy voice, “Passionate from miles away/Passive with the things you say/Passin’ up on my old ways/I can’t blame you, no, no.”

It seems like Drake is ready to explore other facets of music production through his experimentation of marketing More Life as a playlist. Playlists tend to be made up of songs brought together under an overarching theme or mood. Besides “Fake Love,” there are no standout party anthems, however—something that Drake always manages to include on all of his other albums. The mood of More Life is an air of tranquility and placidity, as evoked by each track.

A review from Slate refers to More Life as “long and meandering, but never exhausting.” This description perfectly encapsulates the playlist. The review goes on to name Views as “Drake’s safest and most unadventurous album to-date.” More Life was a bit safer in terms of musicality, in my opinion. The beats are a bit redundant, and sometimes his raps become monotonous. 

Drake certainly stepped out of his comfort zone in terms of format, though. By playing around with brief interludes from artists Jorja and Skepta and by shifting from an album format to a playlist, Drake’s passion for music remains clear, even if some of the tracks fall flat.

More Life seems like a playlist that will continue to grow on fans with every listen. Drake remains a master of his craft, and only time will tell with what he chooses to experiment with next.

Chance the Rapper first Grammy winner without label

Twenty-three year old newcomer Chance the Rapper took home three Grammys last Sunday. He is the first artist to ever win the award without a record label. (Matt Sayles/AP Photo)

There is much to talk about in the days following the 59th Grammy Awards—from Beyoncé’s show stopping performance while pregnant to Adele’s big wins—but perhaps the most talked about artist of the night is newcomer Chance the Rapper. 

The Chicago native won three major awards on Sunday Feb. 12—best new artist, best rap album and best rap performance—and he did it all without a label, choosing instead to give his music to listeners for free. 

With a career that began when he was just 18 years old touring as Childish Gambino’s opening act, Chance—born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett—has created a total of three mixtapes, the latest of which earned those three Grammy wins.  He then released them online for listeners to stream—completely free of charge. 

Both Acid Rap and Coloring Book have received rave reviews from fellow rap artists, critics and former White House inhabitants (Malia Obama is a fan). In fact, Coloring Book, with its authentic themes of “God, love, Chicago and dance,” beat out some huge names in the category for best rap album, including DJ Khaled, Drake and Kanye West. 

Although he’s certainly had the chance to sign with many major labels, Chance decided to stay independent, which allows him to “offer my best work to people without any limit on it” and work more creatively and freely. Plus, Chance has said that he doesn’t want to be a part of the record labels’ “dick-swinging contest” to get the most and best rappers.

And his refusal to sign with a record label hasn’t hindered Chance in the slightest. He’s written for and learned from West, collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda and toured with Macklemore. 

“I honestly believe if you put effort into something and you execute properly, you don’t necessarily have to go through the traditional ways,” Chance said.  

So how exactly does this 23-year-old rap genius make a living? The answer is simpler than expected—by selling concert tickets and merchandise. That’s it. Being an independent artist comes with some seriously dedicated fans. Who wouldn’t appreciate being able to legally and easily download quality content straight to their iPhones and computers?

Although he doesn’t come without his fair share of history, everything about Chance seems to be genuine: his love for his new family—as he has a young daughter with girlfriend Kirsten Corely—his dedication to producing meaningful music and his determination to tell the truth. 

In fact, Chance is an active fighter against gun violence in his hometown of Chicago and is a part of the My Brother’s Keeper campaign, which strives to address the challenges faced by young black individuals and to promote racial equality. 

As for the rapper’s next move, it could be anything; he’s independent, after all. But for now, he’s followed up his Grammy wins with the announcement of his spring tour, which will be sure to keep Chance out of record labels’ reach.

Netflix turns classic children’s books into mesmerizing series

From the outside, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” may seem like a grim and unforgiving Netflix series that annihilates any signs of happiness. The opening credits even beg the audience to “look away” in a tune sung by Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the infamous Count Olaf. But these first signs should not deter you from watching the fantastical adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Fans of the book series will certainly be pleased with the Netflix series. Contrary to the dull and underwhelming 2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events film, Netflix revamps the series and gives it the full adaptation it deserves.

Harris plays a comedic yet disturbing Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to gain the fortune of the Baudelaire orphans—three innocent and clever children who just lost their parents in a terrible fire—by using various disguises. The series is successful in translating the intellect Snicket gives to each of the children, making them daring and strategic no matter what sticky situation they find themselves in. 

Violet—played by Malina Weissman—is the inventive elder sister, whose mind works strategically and is always trying to think of new ways to solve the trio’s problems. Klaus—played by Louis Hynes—is the middle child who uses the extensive knowledge he gains from various books to help Violet save their lives and their fortune. 

Then there’s the sharp-toothed Sunny—played by youngster Presley Smith—who offers much-needed comic relief. Smith’s baby language is translated into well-executed and smart phrases that only Violet and Klaus can comprehend.

If the gloomy atmosphere isn’t enough to remind you of the orphans’ miseries, Lemony Snicket himself—played by Patrick Warburton—is there every step of the way to always remind you of the horrible suffering you are voluntarily watching. Warburton brilliantly plays a deadpan version of the narrator/author, dropping hints on the upcoming fate of the Baudelaire children; Warburton portrays the excellent wit that made the original series so likable—even by a much more mature audience.

In fact, Netflix seems to perfectly capture the attitude of Snicket’s books, beginning each book adaptation—The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill for a total of eight episodes—with Snicket’s small message to his beloved and deceased Beatrice, which appears in each book. 

For someone unfamiliar with Snicket’s humor, it may be difficult to appreciate the show for its irony and satire. If you look below the surface, however, there are many details to pick up on. The children are much smarter than the adults, especially the banker Mr. Poe—played by K. Todd Freeman—who has an uncontrollable cough and brings the orphans from one guardian to the next. Despite the Baudelaire's constant warning to the adults around them that the sea captain or big-eyed scientist is in fact Count Olaf in disguise, they refuse to believe the siblings.

The melancholy tone of the series is also satirical. The Baudelaire’s constant stream of bad luck may seem repetitive, but it only works to emphasize the show’s ironic message that the world—especially today’s world—is a horrible and unforgiving place for children to grow up in. 

The one big flaw within the series is the somewhat flat and awkward portrayal of the Baudelaire orphans by the young actors. For such intellectual children, their intelligent dialogue and cunning wit does not seem to translate well across Weissman and Hyne’s portrayal of their characters. 

Despite the show’s encouragement to “look away,” Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” should be watched with full-attention and great delight both for its accurate representation of the original series and for its refreshing attitude.

La La Land continues to waltz into the hearts of viewers

After winning a record breaking seven Golden Globes, La La Land is still sweeping people off their feet. 

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the modern musical is set in today’s Hollywood, but restores the beauty and romance of old fashioned Hollywood musicals. With Chazelle’s extraordinary passion for film, he conveys an emotional story of dreams, love and life, accentuated by the inspiring performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as they pull you in and leave you wanting more.

Stone plays Mia Dolan, a struggling actress who works as a barista on the Warner Brothers lot. She faces the cruelty of auditions where the casting directors yawn, play on their phones and even interrupt her. Despite her unsatisfying day job, she waits patiently to be discovered and to become a classic star. 

Her counterpart Gosling plays Sebastian Wilder, a dedicated jazz musician who refuses to let classic jazz die. He dreams of opening his own jazz club; until then, though, he works as a restaurant musician, playing what he is told to perform. These two old-fashioned characters meet on a jammed freeway where they get off to a rocky start—both victims of modern road rage. 

What follows is an opening number, complete with dancing on top of cars in the middle of a traffic-full Los Angeles freeway, which sets the tone of the whole film. This modern scene is a great example of the traditional musical corniness we all secretly love. It is this balance of youthfulness and joy—as shown throughout the film—that makes La La Land so unique for its genre.

When Mia and Sebastian meet for the second time at a party, the audience is treated to the charming number “A Lovely Night,” where both characters tease the other about never falling for each other. This scene starts simply, as the two sing a casual conversation, but eventually ends in a tap routine.     

This fresh yet timeless choreography—which comes to us via the creative mind of seasoned choreographer Mandy Moore—continues to unravel the flirtatious story of these two artists. Moore’s use of props and her connection to the percussiveness of the music keeps viewers on the edge of their seat.

As expected, Mia and Sebastian end up falling for each other due to their shared passion for the past and to their encouragement of each other’s dreams. Their relationship is filled with lovable innocence as they relive old films and old jazz. 

But as the two become more comfortable with each other, they each begin to become part of the modern world that surrounds them; slowly, they lose the clarity in their own dreams. Though they adamantly help each other through the good and the bad, the couple faces the reality of life when they must decide what they want more: love or success. 

In Stone’s final number “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” she gives her most impressive performance yet. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s touching lyrics recognize and commend those who dream and those who love whole-heartedly despite facing hardship or loss. The song reminds Mia—and the artists in the audience—to value love and to remain passionate, even in the face of trouble.  

As the film draws to a close, Mia and Sebastian’s final scene gives us a chance to imagine what our hearts may have wanted to see, despite what our minds already know. Chazelle’s brilliance doesn’t disappoint the audience from start to end. The film is a moving masterpiece with elements of humor, heartbreak and the creativity of song and dance.

Latest Disney film charms with breathtaking animation, originality

Disney has been wildly successful with their recent string of brilliantly innovative animated movies. Films such as Frozen and Zootopia have broken box office records, gained worldwide acclaim and produced heaps of merchandise. Their latest venture, Moana, is—or should be—no different than its successors. Set in ancient Polynesia, the film follows Moana Waialiki—voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho—as she attempts to find the lost demi-god Maui, who stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti 1,000 years ago. Her goal is to bring Maui—voiced by Dwayne Johnson—and the heart back home to the island of Motunui in order to restore its vegetation, despite her father’s fear of what lays beyond the reef.

Moana may be creating a great deal of buzz, but not for its storyline. The movie has a generally linear and typical plot: the heroine sets out on an expedition to save her family and her home, along with a comedic sidekick—in this case Heihei, the corky chicken—to test her worth, despite a parent’s possible disapproval. This standard storyline prohibits the film from getting off the ground until Moana sets out on her journey.

But this slow start does not lessen the cinematic experience. Although we may predict the ending of Moana because of its common formula, what really matters about this film experience is the journey.

In typical Disney fashion, the animation is incredible. Whether set on Moana’s home island of Motunui or in the middle of the ocean with Moana and Maui encountering Te Fiti as the fiery and brimstone goddess, the tropical Polynesian setting is an amazing and almost breathtaking choice compared to other Disney settings seen in films like Frozen or Tangled.

Since most of Moana and Maui’s journey takes place in the middle of the ocean, the film explores its various aspects. On its surface, a serene atmosphere and HeiHei’s comic relief comfort the audience. But underneath the ocean, we are exposed to the unique Realm of the Monsters, which serves as a parallel, underwater universe.

Additionally, what makes Moana special is its mixed structure of diverse components, as Moana is an individualistic heroine. Not only are the film’s characters Polynesian—a diverse representation of people, compared to recent Disney films—but also Moana has a distinct body shape. She is not your typical Disney princess with “perfect” features; instead, she’s unique and curvy, which is something refreshing to see in a film from a franchise that usually celebrates Barbie-like figures in its heroines.

With that being said, Moana is also one of the most admirable and interesting Disney princesses yet. She is incredibly beautiful, but strong, always willing to stand her ground—qualities other Disney princesses seem to share, but not to the same extent or authenticity as Moana.

Along with this diverse representation comes an incredible soundtrack written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and “Hamilton”’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda—riding high on his recent musical success—provides a fresh sound that is both classically Disney, yet also modern, making this soundtrack stand out from other franchise films.

The songs are enthusiastic and moving, providing the perfect emotional tone for the film. Some are sung in English, while others are in Tokelauan, which is a native Polynesian language.

All that’s really left is for Moana to get the credit it deserves from Disney fans and movie lovers alike. Moana is an exhilarating masterpiece amongst a throng of similar Disney princess stories, and should be appreciated for its authenticity and diversity.

Musical mixtape serves as social commentary

The Hamilton Mixtape premiered on Friday Dec. 2 to great anticipation and fanfare. The album consists of songs from the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” as written by the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, but sung by our favorite musical artists. Miranda began the mixtape that eventually led to the creation of his famous musical in 2009. The album features 22 songs from the original score, featuring artists including Usher, Sia, Alicia Keys, Jimmy Fallon, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Andra Day, John Legend, Ashanti, The Roots and many more. Miranda has suggested that this is only Volume I, with a second volume expected to release shortly afterward.

The album’s songs are similar in style to the original score, which drew a widely positive reception from both critics and audiences for its unprecedented and unique portrayal of a common historical narrative. The experience of The Hamilton Mixtape does not just come with the music itself, however; with it also comes its place in the current political and social atmosphere of the country.

While most of the album is composed of covers, there are also a few uncut versions of songs that are not featured in the musical. This includes “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” which is performed by a diverse group of artists, comprising of Somali-Canadian rapper K’NAAN, Mexican-American singer Snow Tha Product, British-Pakistani actor and rapper Riz Ahmed and Puerto Rican rapper Residente. This song deviates from the rest by rooting itself in the present, referencing the current status of immigrants in the United States.

“It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants, ‘immigrant’ has somehow become a bad word,” the song says.

The song also tackles issues of border security, discussing the contributions immigrants have made to this country: “We’re America’s ghost writers, the credit’s only borrowed.”

The foundation of “Hamilton” itself lies in its ability to redefine the role of immigrants and minorities in the whitewashed landscape of American history. The story of Alexander Hamilton is told using a fusion of various musical styles popularized by minority groups, including R&B, rap and other combinations of hip-hop with ballads and show tunes.

The cast is also made up of many diverse performers. With members of the LGBTQ+ community, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians—in combination with the musical’s current role in pop culture—reassurance is provided to marginalized people living in fear of the current issues surrounding society. This includes everything from police brutality to hate crimes.

In terms of the lyrical content, Miranda’s creative genius shines through with the inclusion of his early demo songs, “Wait For It,” featuring Usher, and the new take on “Satisfied” with Queen Latifah, Sia and Miranda himself.

Miranda’s combination of modern American musical sound with a retelling of the classic white dominated story of this country’s origins sends an important message about the changes that have since transformed the face of this country. The new face of America is a diverse melting pot of brown, black and white faces that embody the true American values of freedom and liberty.

The Hamilton Mixtape serves to show that our history and our present don’t have to be mutually exclusive; rather, the two serve as two pieces of a puzzle that complete each other and paint a bigger, more important picture. The Hamilton Mixtape embraces change and addresses the diverse America, establishing its connection with the past and its continued presence in the future.

Buffalo band turns 90s influences into original, modern sound

Stress Dolls—a student band out of Buffalo—recently released their self-titled EP on Thursday Nov. 10. The release of this album comes directly after the band’s performance right here in Geneseo, with fellow student bands Ponder the Giraffe and Scarecrow Show. The album features a variety of musical influences, ranging from grunge to indie rock, but lead singer and guitarist Chelsea O’Donnell’s distinctive vocal tone helps deliver a unique twist. Even with the stylistic differences in the songs, the common theme running across the entire album is its ability to revitalize music from the 90s and early 2000s.

The album begins with “Crazy,” which starts off with heavy drums that slowly build into the chorus. O’Donnell belts, “The whole world’s gone crazy and so have I” as the song continues to describe the frustration that befits its title. “I am sure, I am sure I was better before/Are you sure, are you sure, you were better before?”

The lyrics accurately convey the emotions that accompany the song’s subject—it is definitely a song you can sing out loud.

“Pills” switches gears from the previous track; it still retains the band’s overall musical style, however, while the lyrics again reflect the track’s title. While the theme of “Pills” might seem a little familiar, this song discusses the reality of these pills, what they provide and what they mean for the people who take them.

This sense of reality can be seen through the lyrics, “I take my pills they keep me sane/Well they can save me from dying but they don’t save me from shame” and “But with those pills/He’s found his way.” O’Donnell’s voice is slightly sweeter here, but with the same inflection heard in the entire album.

“Swollen” takes on a different tempo from the previous tracks. There is more of an alternative rock influence that can be heard in “Swollen,” such as with the line, “I’m swollen from the tip of my spine to the back of my neck/And I know it/But I stand up straight so it won’t reflect.”

The song begins to talk about being “swollen,” perhaps as a reference to preventing the world from seeing your fear, as conveyed in the lyric, “Shielding ears from what is real/I know nothing is absolute so accept the truth.”

This song strikes a deeper chord, however, which is delivered well through its lyrics. “Swollen” allows the listener to understand and to relate to what O’Donnell is crooning about—all without requiring her to spell out the message of the song.

The final song on the album, “Curves and Edges,” is a combination of many different components seen previously throughout the album. The lyrics seem to discuss society and the experiences of going through life.

“If you’re young then you’re pitied/If you’re old you’re ignored,” she sings. O’Donnell speaks about her own experience with this current issue: “I’ve got no curves just edges/In case you didn’t notice.”

The Stress Dolls do an incredible job of taking musical influences from popular genres that aren’t as common today as they were a decade ago. Through EDM influences, the Stress Dolls bring back nostalgic feelings, all the while managing to stay current by rooting themselves in their own unique and distinctive style—one that is sure to stand out.

Historical series misses the mark on female empowerment

Netflix recently premiered its highly anticipated series “The Crown,” an American-British television drama series written and created by Peter Morgan. The series debuted on the popular online platform on Friday Nov. 4 with 10 one hour-long episodes. Based on the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, the show stars Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Prince Philip and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret.

The series was met with a positive reception and generally favorable reviews from critics and viewers alike. It is also reported to be one of Netflix’s most expensive series, costing over $100 million to produce.

The series opens in post-World War II England, as Prince Philip I of Greece renounces his titles in order to marry Elizabeth. From the onset, the show employs a dark landscape to reflect the atmosphere of the time period. In contrast to the rich and bright colors typically employed in television shows centered on royalty, the color gradient is gloomier.

Following their marriage, Elizabeth and Philip are set to live relatively normal lives. Elizabeth is now the wife of a lieutenant, though she will one day inherit the English throne. But her ascension to the throne comes quicker than expected when her father King George VI succumbs to lung cancer. When she takes the throne, Elizabeth is only 25 years old.

While the show is meant to center around Elizabeth, her peers are often given a more interesting and appealing role. Winston Churchill is one such character, as the show began with his appointment as the Prime Minister of England.

The series has an obvious political focus, one that reflects England’s desire to reinvent itself with modern ideals following World War II, all while struggling to maintain its powerful image of the past. The series emphasizes England’s need for strong and steady leadership following the end of World War II.

Political atmosphere aside, Elizabeth’s character is rarely explored in her entirety at the start. While she remains the center of the show, she is explored only through the perspectives of the other characters. In the beginning, Elizabeth is seen through the eyes of her father as he struggles with his growing ailment and foreseeable mortality.

King George’s failing health is coupled with his deep concern for the future, and this manifests into his increased involvement with Elizabeth. The first episode centers on this father-daughter connection, foreshadowing the death of King George, as well as Elizabeth’s eventual ascension to the throne as the Queen of England.

Elizabeth’s personality is also explored largely through her husband, Philip. With Elizabeth fulfilling the ever-important role as Queen of England, Philip is reduced to a figurehead, meant to always stand by her side—only to result in issues of compromised masculinity. Their relationship is a reversal of traditional marriage and gender roles, something that Philip continually struggles with despite his love for Elizabeth. It doesn’t help that Elizabeth oversees Philip’s position as a naval officer, leaving him caught between the roles of husband and subject.

The issue with “The Crown” is that as it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth’s relationships with the people around her, it reduces her importance as a significant and strong female figure. Ultimately, we see how the men control Elizabeth in her life, typical of female monarchs of the time. By failing to show Elizabeth from her own perspective—instead of that of her father and husband—the show lacks character progression and leaves out indication of how Elizabeth overcomes these issues of control.

Although we are given small hints regarding Elizabeth’s intelligence and competence, and while the show is visually compelling, it would benefit from a shift in narration in order to achieve the strong impact it strives for. In short, we need to live Elizabeth’s story through her own eyes in order to truly understand the powerful, strong and independent leader she was and continues to be today.

Singer-songwriter Jacobsen provides fresh, funny take on meaningful messages

David W. Jacobsen may be a seasoned songwriter and performer—as he’s been in the music industry for 15 years now—and a graduate of Berklee College of Music, but don’t mistake him for your typical folk artist. Rather, Jacobsen gives us humorously realistic tracks that “combine poetry, satire and narrative storytelling.” With four albums already under his belt, Jacobsen debuts his most recent work, Begin the Chagrin. A set of 20 songs all equally as humorous as its predecessors, this album “presents a range of noble, relatable, pitiable and revolting characters” who are either “dealing with disappointment or causing it for someone else.” With this combination of ridiculous humor and relatability, Jacobsen creates a whole new genre of music that is sure to get every listener chuckling and thinking back on their own experiences.

Standouts are “Thanksgiving in West Paterson” and “Christmas in East Paterson.” A satire of the dread of spending holidays with the family, “Thanksgiving in West Paterson” presents a series of unfortunate events, from family food fights to getting arrested. It is cheekily followed by the refrain, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Along a similar vein, in “Christmas in East Paterson” Jacobsen croons about a jailbird cousin, a fat uncle and an “Oxycotton-popping” aunt, which is all followed by a cheery “La La La Have a Merry Christmas.” It may seem odd at first to hear such unsavory characters described in such an upbeat song, but Jacobsen is able to pull it off, prompting listeners to think about their own weird relatives.

“Your Sister” provides a take on adultery—one that most music-lovers aren’t used to. Jacobsen unapologetically sings as a man who cheats on his wife with her sister: “Well now your mom just hates me/For all that I have done/But she looks great for her age/Maybe she could be the next one.” Somewhat reminiscent of Fountain of Wayne’s hit “Stacy’s Mom,” the lyrics of “Your Sister” have a shock-factor that only adds to the hilarity.

“Do You Want Fries With That?” is certainly not a song one would expect to hear on the radio. But this track is surprisingly deep, as it comments on the difficulty of making decisions.

The song starts off by dramatizing a scenario at a fast-food counter, but the listener quickly grasps its message with the following lyrics, “And how the mighty have fallen/How we find ourselves brought low/Where once we demanded now it’s/Do you want that to stay or to go?” Despite this rather serious theme, the song manages to stay lighthearted, always asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

Many of Jacobsen’s songs include such deeper meanings, making Begin the Chagrin more than just a satirical album. In fact, his humor works so well with the somber themes that it makes his work more accessible and rather refreshing.

Any music fanatics looking for something completely new, but still meaningful, should definitely give Begin the Chagrin a listen.

Netflix combines comedy, fame in YouTube star’s original show

One of Netflix’s newest original shows—titled “Haters Back Off!”—premiered on Oct 14. The “bizarre family comedy” stars Colleen Ballinger as her hit online personality, Miranda Sings. The series follows the story of Miranda, a self-absorbed, delusional and arrogant young performer who seeks YouTube fame.

Adapting a YouTube channel into a traditional TV show is untouched territory for Netflix, but Colleen’s channel—as dedicated to her character Miranda—seems like a great first choice. Netflix describes the show as “a commentary on society today and our fascination with fame,” and Miranda is certainly a character that exemplifies that.

The show follows Miranda as she uploads her first video, achieves the fame she chases as one of her videos goes viral and more. The show kicks off with Miranda singing her rendition of “Defying Gravity” as Uncle Jim records her. It’s obvious to the viewer that she cannot sing, but her astounding faith in her abilities is only fueled by her uncle’s praises.

Miranda fans will be excited to finally get the chance to see her mother Bethany and Uncle Jim—played by Angela Kinsey of “The Office” and Steve Little of “Eastbound and Down,” respectively—who are frequently mentioned in her YouTube videos. Miranda’s hypochondriac mother recognizes her daughter’s problematic behavior but is unable to speak up for fear of backlash from both Miranda and Jim, who are bent on achieving fame.

Viewers are also introduced to a few completely new faces, namely Miranda’s sister Emily—played by Francesca Reale—and best friend Patrick—played by Erik Stocklin. The only conventionally normal member of the family is Emily, who is seen by the rest of her family as the weird one. Patrick—who sells popsicles—is equally as funky as Miranda, but seems to take her flippant behavior to heart.

The major issue with the show—and perhaps the biggest concern for long-time fans of Ballinger’s Miranda Sings YouTube channel—is the transition between the short, inconsequential videos to the 30-minute episodes. The show tries to not only root the Miranda Sings’ character in reality, but also to create a more meaningful background story.

With this show, Netflix attempts to combine the offbeat comedy of Miranda’s character with a deeper message of society’s obsession with fame. Ballinger has expressed that she is aiming to show a different, more vulnerable side of Miranda—one that explains the source of her insecurities and her hilariously ridiculous personality.

Still, this combination can be jarring. The early episodes are full of cringe-worthy moments that create an atmosphere starkly different from the original YouTube videos. Fans are used to experiencing a Miranda whose purpose is purely to entertain. On YouTube she exists solely in the realm of online virality—she’s not real. The Miranda in “Haters Back Off!,” however, is like a real person, and her problematic nature becomes increasingly apparent—almost to the point of discomfort.

That being said, it may be helpful for those new to Miranda Sings to go online and familiarize themselves with her quirky humor and unfamiliar format. After watching her YouTube videos, the show’s message is clearer, thus prompting the viewer to question cultural norms and society’s hunger for fame and acceptance, in addition to the Internet’s role in that process.

All in all, the show is successful in taking Miranda Sings’ image and transforming it into something meaningful, and creating a person who—despite her odd behavior—is wildly relatable.

Solange epitomizes black female strength in third solo album

Solange Knowles—younger sister to musical sensation, Beyoncé—has recently wowed audiences with her third solo album, A Seat at the Table. As a document of the struggles of black women, Solange expresses intense emotions and painful memories while also addressing current race issues in the U.S. After taking an eight-year hiatus to get married, give birth to son Julez, move to Idaho, star in Bring It On: All or Nothing, get divorced and write songs for her sister’s albums, Solange has decided to alter her sound dramatically.

Her previous albums invited influences from the ’60s funk and soul scenes. They aimed to express her individuality and reject the expectations attached to being Beyoncé’s sister. Her 2012 album True mixed the current pop trends with her already established funk and soul-inspired sound.

A Seat at the Table, however, takes her musicality in a completely different direction as she invites discussion about current political, social and racial affairs while utilizing an emotional openness that has not been present on her previous albums. Some listeners have commented that this dramatic change in sound is a direct result of a recent, rather traumatic, event in her personal life, which has led to a growth in maturity.

In contrast to the opening tracks of her previous albums, which demanded the listener’s attention with hard-hitting beats and suggestive lyrics, “Rise” opens the album slowly with a piano instrumental. When Solange’s voice enters, it is barely recognizable as the same artist who sang the theme song for Disney’s animated television series “The Proud Family.”

“Rise” acts as an anthem for black women in this current time of desperation. The lyrics strongly echo sentiments of recent events and the encouraging lines of the melody lay out the album’s central tension surrounding sorrow, pride and pain.

“Cranes in the Sky” details Solange’s desire to escape the rejection experienced in her life, specifically referencing her struggles during her childhood, marriage and divorce, as well as her personal process of coping. The song also features subtle nods to the infamous elevator incident, in which Solange physically attacked her sister’s husband, rapper Jay-Z, for publically unknown reasons.

Toward the end of the song, listeners are reminded of the singer’s strong vocals, which are influenced by the likes of Minnie Riperton, who is famous for her immense control in the upper registers of the voice. In fact, these strong vocals are what allow Solange to remain at the center of the album, rising above the catchy beats in the background, which are created by stars in their own right, Timbaland and The Neptunes.

A subtext of issues surrounding racial discrimination can be read into almost every song on the album, and a discussion about A Seat at the Table is barely complete without addressing these. Solange addresses her own personal disgust at society, while also aiming to encourage black women to strive for success and to reject the social stigmas attached to them.

As a child, her family was forced out of their home in Louisiana due to racial tensions. She uses these memories and, along with current events, sings with a rawness that echoes the sentiments of many across America.

A Seat at the Table strongly confirms Solange’s rightful place within the music industry. It forces her out of her sister’s shadow and allows Solange to present a unique and powerful mastery of vocals, tension, performance and emotion.u

Female MLB player reshapes classic baseball drama

The Fox television series “Pitch” is just like any other baseball story: it tells of a young rookie pitcher who finally gets a start in the big leagues after an overpowering father pushes his athlete to do his best. In the midst of a defining start, an old-timer veteran gives him the standard inspirational speech. In the end, he succeeds.

“Pitch” follows this exact formula, except for one twist: the young rookie is a girl.

It all begins during the morning routine of Ginny Baker—played by Kylie Bunbury—on her first day in the major leagues.

She stretches her neck, and we see multiple gift baskets of nectarines from famous women like Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres—which we’ll come to understand later in the episode. As we see her get dressed in her hotel room and walk into the hallway, we start to recognize what’s going on. But it isn’t until Baker gets to the lobby that we see the pomp and circumstance that follow her.

The hotel lobby is full of cheering fans as Baker’s publicist Amelia Slater—played by Ali Larter—informs the athlete of their schedule. Larter—who plays a rather uninteresting and perhaps unlikable stereotypical female publicist—provides a stark contrast to the budding female athlete.

While Slater stomps over anyone who gets in her way and has odd and unnecessary banter with lustful men, Baker is an incredibly likable character who displays real development in just one episode.

Bunbury portrays Baker as a headstrong woman, secure with her place on an all-male team. At the same time, she can show weakness and vulnerability, whether that be from frustration with her athletic performance or sadness from personal circumstance.

A dichotomy between how the press reacts to Baker’s entrance to the majors was already evident at the beginning of the pilot, exemplified by two different reporters’ takes on Baker’s major league success. We hear the voice of a female reporter triumphantly exclaiming, “If you want to say [Baker is] only getting her shot because she’s a woman, go ahead. But let’s be real, if you’re saying that, you’re a man … So bitch and moan all you want gentlemen, but tonight, a girl’s going to be the lead sport story in the world.”

This is followed by a less emphatic male announcer who says, “Now listen, I’m all in on Ginny Baker. It’s the biggest sports story since OJ, and hopefully it has a happier ending. But comparing this girl to Jackie Robinson is preposterous.”

Baker is likened to the first African-American professional baseball player more than once. In fact, the show endorses her as the new Robinson—her jersey number is 43, one up from Robinson’s famous 42. This idea leads into the background behind the show and perhaps will be the future source of conflict for the young pitcher—that she’s only in the big leagues to sell tickets.

It’s interesting and admirable, though, that the San Diego Padres and Major League Baseball have plastered their name all over this show. The show was filmed in Petco Park—the Padres’ home stadium—and features actual MLB announcers. At times, it looks as if the show is an actual telecast of a baseball game.

For the most part, Baker’s teammates and managers fully support her and treat her just like any other teammate. After butting heads at first, catcher Mike Lawson—played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar—gives Baker a motivational speech when she needs it the most, filling the role of the charismatic and experienced veteran from the classic baseball story.

“Pitch” may be your typical baseball story with a twist, but be careful—watching Baker enter the field for the first time just might bring tears to your eyes.

Indie rock band Local Natives excites fans with dynamic ensemble of instruments

In California, there is a little blue building that serves as the band Local Natives’ practice space. This is where they produced their indie rock album Hummingbird in 2013. Local Natives is an indie rock band that was formed back when the members were still in high school. Although the band is based out of Los Angeles, they released their first album, Gorilla Manor, in the United Kingdom in 2009, which came out in the United States in 2010. Local Natives has not only opened for bands such as Kings of Leon and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, but have also headlined at popular Chicago music festival, Lollapalooza.

Three years after the release of Hummingbird, Local Natives has finally released their third album Sunlit Youth. To celebrate, they held a surprise concert on the roof of that same little blue building.

Compared to their first album, Sunlit Youth is upbeat, with a style that excites the mind, as opposed to Hummingbird’s more somber and serious tone that causes one to reevaluate their life. Local Natives is the arsenal of musical instruments that bombard your eardrums with harmony. Their new album does this in spades.

As with their previous two albums, Sunlit Youth offers up 12 tracks. The album opens up with “Villainy,” a song with instrumentals reminiscent of fellow indie rock band Panama’s signature style. “Villainy” speaks about wanting to start fresh in a new place, but acknowledging how difficult that can be. The end of the song features a smooth transition that leads to a brief spoken word piece—an essence that feels similar to folk rock.

One popular song off the album, “Past Lives,” discusses our tendency to dream of endless possibilities, although in reality only one thing is certain. This song also pays homage to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles—reminding the band where they come from—in the verse, “Take me/To Dorothy Chandler tonight/And I’ll find you/Reflected 100 times.”

The pavilion was named after Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who was the frontrunner of a movement that worked toward establishing a proper music center in Local Natives’ hometown of Silver Lake in Los Angeles. A reflection pool—later replaced with a fountain—was built in her honor.

“Fountain of Youth” speaks to remembering one’s fleeting youth as they grow older, which is a track that will surely resonate with new students on campus who feel overwhelmed with the transition into college life. Listeners will learn that growing older does not mean you will lose the sense of wonder and joy once experienced in youth.

It’s uncertain to say where Local Natives will go next, but if the past five years are any indication of what’s to come—and if there really are endless possibilities as “Past Lives” ponders—then we’re in for a treat.

Bastille’s sophomore album fuses film, electric sounds

It’s been three years since the release of their debut album Bad Blood, but Bastille’s still got “it.” In fact, they’re offering up even more the second time around, releasing a total of 19 songs on the complete version of their second studio album, Wild World. Bastille reintroduces us to the same boundless energy and irresistible beats in this new indie pop record. Bad Blood’s inspiration stemmed from mythological and historical sources with hits such as “Icarus” and “Pompeii.” But with Wild World, there is an obvious shift in inspiration. This time, the focus is classic film and television. The majority of the songs contain audio samples from various obscure old films and television shows. Although many of the songs on the album include audio reminiscent from another era, the band manages to keep their own modern style.

This fusion of mediums is not unknown territory for Bastille. Their 2012 cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” was a mash-up of The XX’s “Angels” and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The style of this song closely mirrors what Wild World has to offer—a collaboration of audio samples, synthetic tunes and upbeat choruses—all of which give the album an individual sound that is foreign to most modern indie-pop albums.

The majority of the album’s songs can be categorized as EDM, featuring a variety of beats that all happen collaboratively. Although the sound is distinctive, the album could benefit from more variation between tracks.

Bastille’s sound has predominantly involved upbeat tunes alongside lead singer Dan Smith’s belting vocals. Bad Blood has more variety in songs in addition to less synthesized notes, whereas Wild World seems to be an attempt to try new styles with synthesizers and drum machines—but that doesn’t make the album more difficult to listen to. In fact, Wild World is really just an extension of Bastille’s talent.

The album opens with “Good Grief,” a single that was released earlier this summer. The euphoric song about the ups and downs of grief is equal to Bad Blood’s “Pompeii,” which played on radio stations everywhere and became the band’s breakout song. “Good Grief” is catchy and fun, and can be played on repeat without tire.

“Way Beyond” directs attention to the way our world looks at global crises. As the only explicit song on the album, the track negatively observes our reaction to problems around the world. Smith sings, “It only matters if we care now/If you’re way beyond that/Then I’m gonna dust you off of my shoulders.”

“Send Them Off!” begins with a fabricated line based on the Italian sci-fi film War of the Planets and is followed by a brass riff, almost as a “call to arms” as Smith describes it. “Send Them Off!” speaks of irrational jealousy, and Smith calls for someone to “exorcise” his mind of unwanted jealous feelings.

“Oil and Water” and “Two Evils” are a much-needed break from the previous upbeat electronica. “Oil and Water” is slow and relaxed, while “Two Evils” is the most stripped down song on the album, featuring only lead singer Smith and guitarist Will Farquarson. If anything, the album would benefit from more soulful and intense tracks like these.

Regardless of the consistent—and somewhat repetitive—style of the songs, what makes Wild World stand out is that it offers a different point of view on the topics it covers. Bastille doesn’t like to hit you in the face with their point—they want you to search for it. The layers that make up each song command more than just a simple listen, which makes the album worth listening to more than once.

Ocean’s new album tackles social issues, memorializes past

As one of 2016’s anticipated albums, Frank Ocean’s sophomore effort Blonde marks the follow up to 2012’s raved channel ORANGE. Prior to the album’s long-awaited release, cryptic messages were posted on Ocean’s website, such as band dates on a library book card. Blonde begins with the haunting “Nikes” featuring KOHH, which includes layered high-pitched vocals and a dreamy production style. With lyrics like “R.I.P. Trayvon, that n**** look just like me,” Ocean lets listeners know that—on a musical platform—his silence regarding the ongoing issue of police brutality has ended. In the song, Ocean also touches upon themes of materialism and loyalty.

“Ivy,” the second track from the album, takes more of a balladic form. Sprinkled with Ocean’s idiosyncrasies, the track features a 1960’s mellow rock melody over soft vocals that lead into a screamo-esque outro. Love is a common topic in Ocean’s music, and this song sounds like it could be from channel ORANGE due to its theme.

“Be Yourself” is a motivational interlude spoken by Ocean’s aunt. The aunt warns listeners not only about students’ antics in regards to alcohol and drug consumption, but also speaks about learning how to be your own person—not a follower. It serves as the precedent for “Solo,” which lyrically revolves around the same themes: drugs, loneliness and autonomy.

In “Facebook Story”—which features spoken word by producer Sebastian—Ocean makes his statement on the contemporary times with which Blonde coexists. It gives the listener a glimpse of how love and relationships now gyrate around social media. Whether or not future music historians go back and listen to Blonde, social media’s influence on contemporary relationships and the problems it causes has been instilled within the album.

Ocean not only makes references to current and futuristic times, but also to the classics of the past. “Close to You” contains a sample of a Stevie Wonder cover, as the song uses spacey, mirrored vocals. Ocean again reminds us of a modern context through “Close to You.” Furthermore, Ocean later references The Beatles in “White Ferrari,” with John Lennon and Paul McCartney being credited as songwriters.

“Futura Free” closes the album. This song ends Blonde by introducing a simple piano arrangement. Lyrically, the first half of the song speaks about Ocean’s success story: from “work on my feet for $7 a hour” to “making 400, 600, 800K momma, to stand on my feet momma.”

Interestingly enough, “Futura Free” references artists that are regarded as musical pioneers, such as Selena and Tupac Shakur, who were both assassinated at the climax of their careers. This serves not only as a good juxtaposition to the earlier parts of the song, but it also highlights the dangers of fame.

Ocean makes these allusions in “Futura Free” to exemplify how fame becomes bothersome. He makes it clear, however, that he’s still “a guy” and “not a god.” He also addresses his sexuality, saying, “If I was [a god] I don't know which heaven would have me momma.”

Indeed, just days before channel ORANGE’s release in July 2012, Ocean made headlines when he posted a heartfelt memo on Tumblr addressing how his first true love was with a man.

Whatever you may perceive Ocean to be—whether avant-garde or overrated—you cannot deny that his profound, worldly lyrics leave room for a lot to be said. Blonde proves to be a thematic mix that touches upon various aspects of life: love, loneliness and social issues.

Apart from the atmospheric and audiovisual production, Ocean shines in his niche. His play on words and unconventional analogies could not make his lyrics or style any more interpretive and enticing.

Blonde is an album that you simply cannot summarize; it is an album you have to experience and interpret individually.

Third season keeps progressive social commentary, mediocre humor

Four and three and two and one, one. “Broad City” premiered its third season on Feb. 17 for yet another round of hilarious mishaps. Starring real life best friends Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the show follows the crazy, quirky lives of the dynamic duo as they use their creativity and wit to navigate their way through New York City. With an overall successful first two seasons and a quickly growing fan base, “Broad City” had high expectations to live up to. The trademark of the “Broad City” humor is the pure ridiculousness and exaggeration of normal life situations. One episode portrays co-ops as cults, led by a woman fertile into her 60s from organic produce. Ironically, the realism of the show is a defining characteristic that separates “Broad City” from other, similar shows. The girls are college graduates with liberal arts degrees, stuck in dead-end jobs with no money, no boyfriends and basically no friends besides each other. Surprisingly, they find a way to be happy with it all.

In addition to their painfully average lives, their outfits are representative of affordable, mainstream fashion. For example, Jacobson wore a romper from Urban Outfitters in episode five that I personally own. Typically, other shows dress their characters in name-brand clothing that the character may not be able to actually afford.

The feminist representation on this show is phenomenal, as well. Too often, the entire feminist population is viewed as radical men-hating misandrists. While there certainly are feminists that fall under this category, it’s untrue to assume that a large majority of feminists behave in this manner.

“Broad City” humanizes today’s modern feminists by reversing gender roles. In one scene, Glazer is seen sitting on a bench in a park, catcalling both men and women walking by. The show playfully pokes fun at activities that society frowns upon by placing a woman as the culprit instead of a man.

In addition, the plot of “Broad City” involves both Jacobson and Glazer rejecting men—men that desire loving relationships with them—due to the fact that both women are only interested in sex. Characteristics usually assigned only to men are embedded into Jacobson and Glazer’s personalities. By portraying women with stereotypically masculine values, “Broad City” takes the edge off the cliché radical feminist and even makes feminists funny and lovable—something that has proven to be difficult in the past.

That being said, while the third season did have a few good episodes, many turned out to be flops compared to the first and second seasons. The plots of the episodes were decent and had a lot of potential; the jokes, however, often fell short. Uncomfortably funny situations embody “Broad City’s” wit and whimsy, but many ended up being just plain awkward in season three. The season finale was probably the most disappointing episode of the season, with Jacobson getting her period on a plane, where she has no tampon. The writers of the show could have done so much more in terms of humor.

“Broad City” is written in a fashion where each episode is jam packed with jokes from start to finish. Watching episodes a second or third time still proves to be enjoyable due to the fact that viewers can catch jokes that they may have previously missed. While the humor may not have lived up to the expectations set by previous seasons, the themes in the show continue to be incredibly progressive.

Folk band takes a fresh spin on classic sounds

“From deep in the hills of the Finger Lakes” comes Mulberry Soul, a Middlesex-based band that “blends folk, bluegrass and old time music with soulful original songs.” The band is set to release their debut album, Mulberry Soul, on May 20. Started in 2012 at the Rochester Folk Art Guild, the band has had major success playing all around upstate New York, including the popular Rochester bar, Bug Jar, and bar-pub-concert venue combination, Flour City Station. Members include Gabriel Schliffer, Scott Calpin, Cordelia Hall, Aaron Oldweiler, Carla-Marie Padvoiskis and Chris Machanoff ‘06.

In true folk and bluegrass style, Mulberry Soul’s sound uses an eclectic array of instruments including the banjo, the mandolin, the upright bass, the fiddle and an acoustic guitar. It is the use of these instruments—combined with their authentic sound—that distinguishes Mulberry Soul from other popular bands.

Their self-titled debut album is a compilation of 10 songs inspired by traditional folk, bluegrass and country music. Overall, the album is a great addition to anyone’s summer playlist. Many of the songs, such as “Pappy Johnson,” have a storytelling quality that seems to be lacking in today’s pop hits.

In addition to the storytelling within the songs, there are also many long instrumental breaks. In fact, “Harlem Blues” has no lyrics at all. One would think that a lack of lyrics would make a song hard to listen to, but that is not the case here. “Harlem Blues” delivers such a strong fiddle melody that the listener is never bored. Other songs, such as “Shed,” provide a happy medium of both lyrics and instrumental breaks.

The album mixes it up a bit with vocals, as well. In some songs Hall—the band’s only female member—can be heard complimenting the main vocals with her own warm and earthy voice. The closing track, “What We’re Made Of,” features Hall’s voice at the front and center, providing a nice change of pace and a perfect end to the album.

Whether they are channeling old school country music or leaning more toward a folksy sound, every song on Mulberry Soul takes classic roots and turns them into fresh new melodies and rhythms. We may have heard the banjo and the mandolin before, but we’ve never heard them quite like this.

“Wilding Grove” and “Shed” are great examples of this innovation, “Wilding Grove” with its edgy chords and “Shed” with its delicate and airy introduction. This seamless merging of the old and the new evokes a wistful longing for simpler times, but also a fresh feeling that suggests that those times are still here.

Mulberry Soul isn’t slowing down anytime soon, either. Accompanying the release of their album, they will be embarking on a summer tour that will take them to big festivals throughout the state, including the upcoming Rochester Lilac Festival and the Grassroots Big Splash.

It seems that Mulberry Soul achieved a great balance: their sound is divergent from the rest, and yet they receive recognition at some of New York’s greatest musical events. From the sound of this album, it is well deserved.

Lumineers keep signature folk sound on sophomore album

Indie music has experienced a surge in popularity over the past few years—and in the forefront of this movement have been The Lumineers. The Denver trio’s 2012 self-titled debut album was a widely popular commercial success and produced many fan favorite songs—from “Ho Hey” to “Submarines”—that have become indie radio mainstays. After a three-year hiatus, The Lumineers returned with their anticipated sophomore album Cleopatra on April 8. With 11 songs and just over 30 minutes in length, Cleopatra is a tight album. It successfully hits its Americana target with an aura of folk rock that is accessible and doesn’t overstay its welcome—a common issue with some music of that genre.

As an album, Cleopatra is a mixed bag. Many songs have the classic Lumineers sound that fans love, such as “Ophelia,” the album’s first single. The song contains melancholy lyrics, but also includes an upbeat, catchy instrumental that gives the listener a number of ways to find meaning in the song, as well as have a very pleasurable listening experience.

With other Cleopatra songs, however, this formula is not nearly as successful. The juxtaposition of feelings in some songs can come across as forced at times. Some lyrics fall flat and fail to stir the emotions that they aim for, making the songs seem like generic versions of earlier Lumineer hits. On the less impressive songs, the band tends to sound like a generic folk-rock band, which is unfortunate because they are much more than that.

In the vastly popular genre of indie music, it’s imperative to stay ahead of the curve sonically; if you don’t, you run the real risk of fading into obscurity. This was seen with popular folk rock band Mumford & Sons, who changed their sound completely with their most recent album in an attempt to avoid pigeonholing themselves into a certain sound in which they may not have been able to escape from.

The good outweighs the bad on Cleopatra, though, with many standout songs. “Ophelia,” the title track “Cleopatra” and “Long Way from Home” are all songs that manage to find the magic with the music that made The Lumineers a popular band in the first place. It is songs like these that make up for those that don’t quite live up to the listeners’ expectations.

Though offering some new sonic pathways not explored before, Cleopatra is not the standout sophomore effort fans may have expected. In some respects, it feels as though the band is keeping their cards too close to their chest instead of exploring a new sound. The pure talent of The Lumineers, however, helps save this album, making it a very pleasurable listen overall—despite the times when they seem to miss their mark.

The Lumineers are undeniably good—even on Cleopatra’s lesser offerings—and they have set themselves up for quite a successful career. It’s likely that they will be making enjoyable music for years to come and it will be interesting to see what they have learned from their work on this album and what direction they take their music next.