For our last installment of Vs, we’re doing something a little different. Instead of comparing an OurStage artist to an artist in the mainstream, we’ll be taking a look at OurStage’s Best Of The Best Charts. Specifically, we’re taking a look at the Number 1 artist in four categories, Pop, Rock, Urban and Country, and examining what makes them great along with what makes them standout from their peers on OurStage.
Pop – Austin Renfroe
Austin Renfroe seems to have become a fan favorite here at OurStage. Between winning competitions left and right, he was also a finalist in The OurStage Panel Finale. While most modern pop music is becoming more electronic and Autotuned, Renfroe stands out by making music that is natural and organic sounding yet incredibly catchy. The multitalented singer-songwriter plays both the guitar and piano, but his biggest strength is his voice. His distinctive soulful style also possesses an incredible range”Renfroe often switches between a low register and a silky sweet falsetto in the same song. His song “Taking Me Under” showcases all of his vocal skills, using falsetto and vocal embellishments to create a killer hook in the chorus. Renfroe is also a gifted songwriter, blending elements of pop, folk, soul and rock into his songs. Between “Honesty,” a more upbeat pop/rock track, and “Can’t Bring Us Down,” a stripped down acoustic song, it’s clear that he has the versatility and talent to stick around for awhile.
Rock – Chasing Eden
Chasing Eden have been making waves for awhile, having been on OurStage’s Best Of The Best Chart for over seventy-five weeks and racking up a whopping fifteen Top 10s and ten Top 40s. This hard rock band forms the basis of their sound around heavy, chugging guitar riffs. However, unlike most other bands in their genre, Chasing Eden utilize a female lead singer. Andrea Brink’s voice is smooth and sweet, which contrasts with the rest of the band’s heavy riffing. However, if you listen to songs like “All I’m Asking” or “Remember Me,” you can hear that this contrast actually works really well, and it is one of the main reasons that Chasing Eden have remained a mainstay at the top of our charts.
Urban – Greg Banks
We covered Greg Banks, one of the many talented young artists who are revitalizing R&B, on Vs. before. Banks is not only a supremely talented singer, but also a gifted songwriter who writes all of his own music. Banks creates his unique sound by using real instruments in his compositions to create a warm sound in a genre that, ironically, can sometimes lack soul. His song “Selfish” shows off his songwriting skills as well as his vocal prowess. This song begins with a riff that is finger picked on an acoustic guitar, which becomes the focal point of the song. Other instruments like violin and keyboard are added to the mix to flesh out the song. Banks’ voice is also impressive here, using his range to hit high notes that most other singers wouldn’t be able to hit.
Country – Allen Layman
Allen Layman is a journeyman, the perfect archetype for country music. He’s played in various bands in all parts of the country, which gives him plenty of lyrical inspiration. Layman plays a more traditional brand of country, eschewing the pop-infused sound of most modern country. Layman sings in a smooth, deep baritone, recounting tales of heartbreak and homesickness. It’s the kind of voice that sounds like it’s been through years of hardship, spending late nights in smoke-filled bars. Songs like “Reason To Live” and “If I Can Make You Love Me” not only showcase Layman’s fantastic voice, but also his great twangy guitar skills.
But what do YOU think of these artists? Do you think another artist should be at the top of the charts? Let us know in the comments!
If you need any proof that indie music is quickly becoming mainstream, look no further than Arcade Fire. The band first burst onto the scene in 2004 with their debut album Funeral, which garnered much critical acclaim and is now regarded by many as one of the best albums of the last decade. 2007’s Neon Bible continued the band’s success by debuting at Number 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The band then cemented their status in the public’s consciousness by winning last year’s prestigious GRAMMY Award for Album Of The Year with their third album, The Suburbs. Arcade Fire stand out from the plethora of other indie rock bands through their use of baroque influences and varied instrumentation; using anything from violins to accordions to xylophones and many more. Their music can best be described as “anthemic,” and their headlining slots at huge festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo this year have proved that their music is intended for the masses. Luckily, OurStage’s own Bethesda share Arcade Fire’s penchant for making stadium ready indie rock.
Like Arcade Fire, Bethesda is great at creating slow-building songs that lead to epic conclusions. Their song “Dreamtiger” is a perfect example of this formula, and it bears some resemblance to Arcade Fire’s song “Haiti.” Both songs begin with strummed acoustic guitar chords, but add a variety of instruments as the songs progress. While “Dreamtiger” picks up momentum pretty quickly, the song takes a drastic change about halfway through. Here, all of the instruments drop out except for the acoustic guitar and vocals. Other instruments like violin and electric guitar are soon added to create texture, followed by the entrance of a snare drum, which creates a march-like rhythm that gradually gets faster and faster. This eventually leads into the bold ending, with the repeatedly sung refrain “we are free” backed by pounding, rhythmic drums and guitars. Words can’t fully do this song justice; you really need to listen to it yourself. “Oh, How We Crane Our Throats!” is another Bethesda song with some similarities to Arcade Fire. This song also begins slowly, this time with acoustic guitar, banjo and vocals. Violin is soon added to the mix to double the vocal harmonies. However, this slow section only lasts for a short period of time, as the song quickly picks up tempo. Driven by a pounding bass drum beat and hand claps, the song sounds like it could be played at a hoedown.
It’s been a long, strange road for Kanye West. After he dropped out of college to pursue his music career full time, he became a successful producer, making beats for high profile rappers like Jay-Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. However, despite being an in-demand producer, he struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper. Luckily, Jay-Z was willing to give him a chance and signed West to his label, Roc-A-Fella Records. West went on to release his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, and it instantly became a commercial and critical success. West was praised for his lyrical themes, which eschewed the gangster rap persona that was popular at the time in favor of more socially-conscious topics. Since then his career has been marked with plenty of ups and downs, but the recent success of Watch The Throne, his collaborative album with Jay-Z, has cemented his position as one of the strongest artists in hip hop. His rise to the top was due to dedication and perseverance, something OurStage rapper/producer Kenton Dunson has in spades.
Like Kanye West, Kenton Dunson is a talented producer as well as a rapper, producing all the beats that he raps over. You can hear some similarities in their production and rapping styles if you compare Dunson’s song “Beautiful Fight” with West’s song “Champion.” Both songs use a pairing of synthesizers and choppy vocal samples to create a unique sounding beat with a distinct rhythm. Like West, Dunson’s lyrics don’t deal with the typical fare of gangster rap, because he chooses to focus on more personal experiences. In this song, Dunson recounts the struggles he has gone through and continues to deal with in order to achieve success as an artist. He also shares Kanye West’s penchant for clever wordplay, with the line “they say that I’m sleepwalking, I’m living the dream” being one of the most notable here. “Take Off” is another of Dunson’s songs that bears some resemblence to Kanye’s music. Production wise, this song uses many of the techniques that helped make West famous, including looped vocal samples and backing string arrangements.
Everyone knows that the stars of OurStage are the artists. We would be nothing without them! However, there are plenty of unsung heroes working behind the scenes to make sure the wheels keep turning and everything is running smoothly. We are the OurStage Community Team; Co-Op students who work tirelessly answering emails, writing blogs and reviewing the songs entered into competitions. We’ve been working here for the past six months, but now it’s time to move on to new frontiers. Still, the experience we’ve had here has been amazing, and our parting gift to you is a playlist of some great OurStage music that has either flown under the radar, or is just so great that it merits a second listen. So kick back, put on your headphones and check out some of the best we think OurStage has to offer. You can listen to the full playlist right here!
Cara: I spent the past six months writing Live Wired, and when I wasn’t spending the majority of my free time at venues around Boston, I discovered tons of great music while working at OurStage! My picks for the playlist include finalists The Well Reds from The OurStage Panel, who I was lucky enough to see perform, and tunes from Marie Hines, Talain Rayne and Cooper Brown”these are sure to make you smile. Enjoy!
The last year saw a new resurgence of young talent in the R&B world. Artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, The-Dream and even Drake pushed the boundaries of R&B and revitalized the genre with new ideas for a new generation. However, none of these artists would exist without the influence of R. Kelly. With a career spanning nearly two decades, Kelly has been cited by Billboard as the most successful R&B/hip hop artist of the last twenty-five years, with thirty-five Top 10 singles and eleven No. 1 singles. Not only does Kelly have commercial success, but he has also composed, arranged and produced almost all of his music”a feat many singers can’t achieve. While OurStage is not short on great R&B artists, Greg Banks recently made a big splash on our charts.
Like R. Kelly, Greg Banks is an R&B singer who also writes his own songs. If you listen to Banks’ song “Goodbye Sex” you can hear the similarities between his style and R. Kelly’s. In fact, the song shares much in common with Kelly’s smash hit “Ignition (Remix).” Both songs are at about the same tempo, and they both use similar sounding chord progressions. Banks and Kelly use similar techniques in their singing like switching between longer held out notes and singing in double time. These two songs also deal with overtly sexual lyrical themes, a trademark of R. Kelly’s music. “Selfish” is another one of Banks’ songs that is stylistically similar to R. Kelly, specifically his song “I Wish (Remix).” Both of these songs rely on an acoustic guitar melody to provide the backbone of the song. The tracks also have similar lyrical themes, albeit in slightly different contexts”while Banks sings about his worries of the love of his life leaving him, Kelly laments the deaths of his friends and family.
All month long you’ve been bombarded with year-end lists ranking the best albums of the year, songs of the year and the like. Here at Vs., however, we decided to give you a more unique year-end list; the year’s biggest music beefs. Feuding musicians is nothing new to rock and roll, but the advent of the Internet and sites like Twitter give artists an easy platform to take shots at each other”and we get to watch it all happen in real time. So without further ado, the music world’s biggest beefs of 2011:
4. Bon Iver vs. The Avalanches
This one all started back in February, when The New York Times held an interview with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. There was an unpublished excerpt in the interview regarding the GRAMMYs, where Vernon called them “ridiculous” and “not important,” and also slammed any artist who was hoping to win a GRAMMY. But after Bon Iver was nominated for four GRAMMY awards, the unpublished excerpts leaked online. Electronic group The Avalanches took offense to these comments, especially since Vernon is appearing in ads for Bushmills whiskey. The band said via Twitter, “a musicians ˜art is compromised’ if he/she desires a grammy .but endor$ing a product with proven devastating health risks is ok? a product which kills 100k p/a in the US alone..man kids look up to you. #rememberwhenitwascoolNOTtosellout.” While the Avalanches do bring up some good points about the dangers of alcohol and how Vernon’s appearance in the ads might possibly affect the younger members of his fan base, their comments about selling out seem a bit over dramatic. With record sales dwindling it’s become common practice for indie artists to license their music for advertisements in order to make a living. Artists like The Black Keys, Vampire Weekend and countless others have done so in recent years while maintaining their artistic integrity. Our advice to the Avalanches? Quit trying to pick fights with other bands and finish your second album already! We’ve only been waiting eleven years….
It didn’t take too long for Florence and the Machine to achieve superstar status. While the band is comprised of many members, the star of the show is lead singer Florence Welch, who captivated audiences across the world with her soulful and powerful voice. The band’s 2009 debut, Lungs, was an instant hit in the band’s home country of the UK, debuting at Number 2 on the UK Albums Chart and remaining in the Top 40 for sixty-five consecutive weeks. The certified-Gold album also sold well in the US, having sold over 700,000 copies to date. The band recently released their follow up album Ceremonials, which continued their commercial success by debuting at Number 1 in the UK and Number 6 here in the states. The secret to Florence and the Machine’s success is their unique sound”a blend of indie pop, soul and orchestral music”as well as their use of a wider variety of instruments. This makes the band hard to pin down to one genre. OurStage’s own Strobelight is a similarly hard to classify band that share some sonic similarities with Florence and the Machine.
Like Florence and the Machine, Strobelight have a penchant for crafting slow building indie pop songs that sound truly epic. For a comparison, take a listen to Strobelight’s song “Safe (Piano Killer)” and Florence and the Machine’s song “Howl”. Both songs begin with softly with just piano and some light drum patterns. As both songs progress, more instruments are added to create new textures, and the songs both have huge endings that feature a number of different instruments. Strobelight’s lead singer Rebecca has a voice that is similar in style to Florence’s, but her lack of a British accent gives her voice a distinct timbre and sound. “So Perfect” is another song that shares some similarities with Florence and the Machine, and it really shows Rebecca’s strength as a vocalist. The song is a ballad that is based around an acoustic guitar melody. This melody is backed by piano chords for harmony, as well as drums played with brushes to create a more delicate sound. The vocals on this song are extremely impressive; high notes are hit with ease and the singing always stays in tune without sounding over produced. While most of the song is soft and subdued, the ending of the song takes a drastic change with an abrupt bass riff that leads into a dramatic, upbeat finish.
Red Hot Chili Peppers know how to deal with adversity. The band has been around for twenty-eight years, and have dealt with everything from lineup changes to drug addictions and deaths. But despite all of this, they have still won seven GRAMMY Awards, sold over 70 million albums worldwide and have been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Earlier this year they overcame the odds once again, releasing their tenth studio album I’m With You; their first without iconic guitar hero John Frusciante since 1995’s One Hot Minute. Despite their roller coaster ride of a career, the band’s sound has always been rooted in the same basic principles: Flea‘s funky slap bass lines, melodic guitar soloing and Anthony Kiedis‘ unique hybrid of singing and rapping. Now we have found an up-and-coming, young band that embodies those same principles with their own unique spin: Independence Drive.
Like Red Hot Chili Peppers, the members of Independence Drive are incredibly gifted musicians. Their song “I Don’t Wanna Stay” is a great demonstration of their abilities. In fact, the song bares some similarities to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song “Emit Remmus.” Both songs begin with a funky and melodic bass line that provides the foundation for the rest of the song. Both tracks also feature long, held out electric guitar notes to contrast the rhythmic nature of the bass parts in each song. It’s an interesting technique that both bands use frequently: the bass as the main melodic instrument instead of the guitar. “Pipe Dreams” is another song that shares some stylistic similarities to the sound of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beginning with a strong rhythmic opening, this song relies more on some great guitar riffs rather than the bass part. The band uses some interesting guitar effects to achieve a unique tone in this song, sounding a little bit similar to some of the effects used on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit song “Dani California.” The highlight of the song is the guitar solo though, where guitarist/singer Ian Althouse gets to show off his chops with some impressive playing.
Jay-Z is the king of the rap game. Widely regarded as one of, if not the, best living rapper, Hov has the unique ability to make street-hardened music but still sell tons of records and hit singles. Beginning his career in the early ’90s as a protege of childhood friend The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z has since set the record for Number 1 albums on the Billboard 200 (eleven total) by a solo artist. Despite all of his commercial success, no one can accuse him of selling out. Throughout his career he has always focused on making quality hip hop, and he never intentionally tries to pander to the Top 40 audience. Jay-Z is respected by rappers worldwide for his varied flow and complex rhyme schemes. All rappers strive to achieve the success that Jay-Z has had, and OurStage artist Jae Apollo is no exception.
Like Jay-Z, Jae Apollo shares a similar attention to detail in his flows. Check out his song “Rule The World Freestyle” and you can hear an emcee at the top of his game. In fact, this song shares some similarities in style to Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt, particularly the track “Feelin’ It.” Both songs are based around a dusty piano loop and a basic drum beat. The simple beat in both songs allows each rapper to showcase their complex flows and wordplay without the beat getting in the way. While the Jae Apollo song is slightly faster than Jay-Z’s, both emcees use similar flows and continually change up their rhyming schemes throughout the song. “Sonnet 116” uses a similar technique with its beat, by looping a piano melody on a simple drum beat. However, this song has a somewhat darker tone with subtle synths used in the background to create an eerie effect. “Warring With The Devil” is another song that shows stylistic similarities to Jay-Z, but this song has more in common with the rapper’s later career output rather than his early work. The beat uses the technique of speeding up samples and looping them that Jay-Z popularized on his album The Blueprint.
It’s pretty remarkable to think of all the things Taylor Swift has accomplished at such a young age. At only twenty-one years old she has already released three studio albums, won four GRAMMY Awards, and was the youngest artist ever to win the coveted CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year. On top of all of her awards and accolades, she was also played a key role in the growing popularity of country music in general. The combination of elements from country and pop music in her style allowed her songs to catch the ears of die hard country fans as well as casual listeners. She opened up the world of country music to many people who had never given it a chance before, subsequently boosting its popularity in the mainstream. Her story has inspired young artists all over the country to pick up acoustic guitars and start writing songs. One OurStage artist in particular, Jordyn Mallory, seems to be following right in Taylor Swift’s footsteps.