Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Black Keys Turn Blue Album Review

Written by: Jimmy McQuade

Date: June 17, 2014

It would be easy to dismiss The Black Key’s latest studio album Turn Blue as nothing more than a hodgepodge of commodified pop drivel. When I first heard “Fever,” exuding like syrup from the car radio, I turned to a friend seated shotgun about a minute into the song and said, “Well, I guess the new Keys record’s gonna be a hodgepodge of commodified pop drivel.” Carney’s one-two groove struck me as boneheaded, something reserved only for nightclubs and annoying DJs, while Auerbach’s lyrics seemed cheap enough to be bought at a dollar store (“Fever ‘cause I’m breaking/Fever got me aching…”) and not to mention that synth line, which felt infectious in all the worst ways. But curiously enough neither my friend nor I changed the station. Listening to Turn Blue’s somewhat cloying first single was not unlike eating an entire container of ice cream: you’re disgusted with yourself for having savored every spoonful.

But this raises an interesting question. For a band responsible for the frenetic, fuzzy power of “10 A.M. Automatic,” or the delicate intensity of “Meet Me in the City” – an utterly enthralling Junior Kimbrough cover from the 2006 EP Chulahoma – or the strained but charming falsetto Auerbach employs throughout “Everlasting Light,” could one just pass off as a failure the production of an all-too-catchy, slightly vapid pop song like “Fever”? To do so, I feel, might be to take for granted the sincerity with which The Black Keys pluck every note and hit every beat. Seen in this light, maybe “Fever” was an earnest attempt to write an all-too-catchy, slightly vapid pop song, and if that was the initial intention, I’d say they hit their mark.

If at first I thought Turn Blue would be a slew of commercially viable radio hits, the opening track “Weight of Love,” probably the album’s strongest song, quickly dispelled such a notion. Clocking in at about seven minutes, the expected comparisons to “Stairway to Heaven” abound; as Kitty Empire, in a rather gushing review of the album, writes that the song “travels from Zeppelin pastorale through some serious guitar-shop soloing.” But Empire’s descriptions are misleading. The song’s structure is not of a Zeppelin-like complexity but instead consists of a few basic parts that are drawn out and repeated to the point of aural hypnosis. Auerbach’s solos are by turns exuberant and restrained, not the type of shredding you’d get from some whiz kid in Guitar Center. And what’s not mentioned in the reviews, so far as I've read, is the bass playing, which really stands out here and elsewhere throughout Turn Blue. As a lovelorn Auerback broods aloud, “I used to think, darling, you never did nothing/But you were always up to something…” the bass line circles around and in on itself, a sort of sonic representation of the album’s cover, creating a whirlpool into which the entire song – every word, chord, rhythm and airy embellishment – will eventually be drawn.

But the problem with opening a record with the strongest track is that, as you listen, the rest of the album seems to slowly deflate. After “Weight of Love,” the album for the most part feels like variations of the same song – a few times toward the end I even caught myself asking, “Didn’t I listen to this already?” and checked to see if my iPhone was on repeat. It wasn't. But that’s not to say there aren't any good songs to be had in the bulk of Turn Blue. With the exception of an irritating, vaguely gastric noise sitting needlessly in the background of the entire song, the title track recalls the gentle melancholy of “Never Give You Up” from Brothers, but instead of “Never gonna give you up/No matter how you treat me…” we get something a bit more sinister: “I really do hope you know/There could be hell below…” And “Bullet in the Brain” has all the same ingredients as “Fever” but without so much sap. But aside from those, the album becomes a little too homogeneous to be ranked among The Black Keys’ best, like Rubber Factory and Brothers.

The final song of Turn Blue, “Gotta Get Away,” comes as the album sputters out its last bit of air. It’s the only track that really sticks out on the album but, unfortunately, is also not far from being a convincing Lynyrd Skynyrd cover: “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo/Just to get away from you/ I searched far and wide, hoping I was wrong/ But baby all the good women are gone…” I can only imagine they wrote this dad-rock anthem for the sole purpose of being asked to perform it at next year’s Super Bowl.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Benefit of Traditional Music Lessons vs Self-Taught Lessons

Written by: Jasmine Dursun

Date: June 7, 2014

The Internet has transformed the world by allowing users to find anything they want, anywhere they want at the click of a mouse. With the introduction of social networking, users can reach out to one another through forums, blogs and multimedia and share information from thousands of miles away. The Internet has allowed people to become self-sufficient and independent when it comes to the information they retain, and music has been an outlet where users have especially taken advantage of exploring - even if they don’t have any musical experience to begin with.

Search “beginner guitar lessons” on YouTube. The results yield over 500,000 results, with top videos being viewed over a million times. It’s true that the online medium has allowed potential guitar players to learn through the computer screen at any time, as often as they like, free of charge. But there are also deficiencies that come with being a self-taught musician that’s dependent on the Internet to learn.
  • Early taught music training can broaden scholastic learning such as reading. When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills.1Researchers at Northwestern University recorded the electrical brain waves of college students in response to complex sounds, where the group of students who said they had musical training in childhood had more robust responses. Their brains could better process essential elements, like pitch, in complex sounds when tested. The experiment showed the effects of active engagement and discipline, which correlates to strengthened memory, abilities to disambiguate speech sounds, and making sound-to-meaning connections in reading, according to Professor Nin Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Kaus’s lab, suggests that teaching “a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old” will work “not only on their auditory skills but also … their attention skills and their memory skills - which can translate into scholastic learning.”
  • Music education taught to young children can benefit language development. According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain.2“Recent students have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways,” the group stated. Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine supports that the relationship between music and language development, explaining, “language competence is at the root of social competence,” where “musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”
  • Self-taught musicians may develop poor habits and techniques when learning how to play themselves. With having an instructor to guide them, students, especially young children, can learn through trouble areas, maintain good form and technique, and develop a good practice routine.3There is little accountability to someone who is trying to develop their own skills, and when problems in playing arise, the student has no one to reference directly to work through them. Networking may also be challenging for a self-taught student in order to reference someone to help them in person.
  • The presence of an instructor motivates the student, which in turn, gives the student patience to continue with lessons. The International School of Music suggests that music lessons should be an organic process and enjoyable. Having an instructor to guide and encourage the student through their playing progress motivates the student to want to play more. In the beginning, it helps if the instructor rewards the student for a successful week of practice. With time, students will practice because they enjoy the process and they want to do it out of love and not because they have to do it.4Praise and acknowledgement tend to be sought of young musicians, and having someone present during lessons could be the drive a new musician needs to continue learning.
The Internet is a great resource to get in contact with musicians that could lend advice for playing, but ultimately, traditional lessons prove to be the best investment for a person who has no musical background at all. Learning basic music skills through an instructor can help the musician’s prowess, allowing them to advance on their individual time if they become interested in learning outside lessons. They’ll always have the instructor to guide them through.


  1. Klass, Perri, M.D. “Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits.” Well, 18 and Under. The New York Times. 10 Sept. 2012.
  1. Brown, Laura Lewis. “The Benefits of Music Education.” Music & Arts. PBS Parents. No date available.
  1. Wallace, Emily. “Traditional guitar lessons versus self-taught instruction.” Huntsville Guitar. Examiner.com. 18 Feb. 2012.
  1. The International School of Music Faculty. “E-Book: Guide to Music Lessons.” How should one practice? pg 10. The International School of Music. 2010.