Entries Tagged as 'Culture on the Hill'

Melodrama is Lorde’s (Successful) Quest for Identity

7.21.2017

By Justin Hermstedt

 

Melodrama is an album of high and low, flight and crash landing, ecstasy and hangover. In the four years since the release of Pure Heroine in 2013, Lorde has accumulated a new trove of source material for her autobiographical songwriting. With Melodrama, Lorde reestablishes her ability to translate her experiences into bittersweet illustrations of young-adulthood. Lorde, along with collaborators including Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) and Flume, crafted a comeback that’s too nuanced to be called a breakup album: Melodrama is a quest for identity.

 

The album comprehensively tackles the spectrum of emotions a breakup imposes. Lorde begins by revealing the unhealthy duality of her former relationship, then sifts through the different stages of grief and heartbreak she endured. Lorde begins and ends Melodrama with radio-friendly pop jams, but we’re taken on a visceral journey in the space between “Green Light” and “Perfect Places.”

 

“Green Light” is an energized kick starter to the album that places Lorde in a reckless post-breakup furor. Wasting no time, Lorde tosses a hope-filled key change at the listener after a scathing first verse (to be clear, we’re only 45 seconds into the album at this point). This divergence introduces the identity crisis that a breakup can hurl you into, especially when you’re young. When you love a partner, they become a part of who you are. You’re not yourself without them–you’re not whole. When they leave you, it doesn’t shatter your delicate glass heart; it tears a chunk of flesh from your body. Many-a-songwriter would whimsically say they were “left to pick up the pieces.” Instead, on “Sober II (Melodrama)” Lorde bluntly shares the “terror and the horror” of her “holy sick divine nights” newly alone.

 

The feeling that connects the first ten tracks of Melodrama is uncertainty. Lorde grapples with a number of pressing questions. How do you recover from heartbreak? Who are you without that person, without that missing part? Ultimately, what lessons and memories do you take with you from your failed relationship?

 

It’s difficult to answer these questions for yourself, and harder still to know if you’ve answered them correctly. On the question of how to cope, Lorde has a few strategies, each under the mantle of a different persona. The first Lorde we meet is the deadened ballader of “Liability.” Blaming or hating yourself is a foreseeable stage of grief, but she manages to escape the abyss of total self loathing. She leans on her own shoulder, calling herself “the only love [she hasn’t] screwed up.”

 

“Hard Feelings/Loveless” introduces us to two new shades of Lorde. These personas are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if Dr. Jekyll was timid and melancholic, and Mr. Hyde was a bad bitch. As “Hard Feelings” fades out, we start to get the sense that Lorde is going to be okay. There’s still some venting to do (cue “Loveless” and “Sober II”), but she’s given the first indications of inner-peace.

 

Inner-peace and acceptance are the goal from the get-go, (from the green light, if you will) but they don’t come naturally after being dumped. You’re given a few variables–anger, misery, delirium, etc.–and you have to plug them into an equation. Somehow, these terrible feelings are supposed to equate to peace.

 

In the third act of Melodrama, Lorde tries to make it compute. The last four tracks really are a remarkable sequence of music, and they propel the album above the sum of its parts. On the heart-wrenching “Writer In the Dark” Lorde finds strength in her solitude in New York:

I ride the subway, read the signs

I let the seasons change my mind

I love it here, since I stopped needing you

Now that she’s allowed herself to move on, Lorde reflects on what she wants to take with her from her former love. It’s okay, Lorde suggests, to cherish certain memories; they don’t have to be tarnished by the bad ones.

 

The reprise of “Liability” is one final vanquishing of self-blame. Lorde defiantly declares that its his fault, his loss, and his problem. “You’re not what you thought you were. Leave.”

 

“Perfect Places” was tepid as a single. It seemed playful and catchy, but not particularly deep. As the conclusion to Melodrama, it’s triumphant. “Perfect Places” chronologically pairs with “Green Light,” depicting a vignette of Lorde a year or so after the the events of the rest of the album. She tumbles through a cycle of partying, but remains very self-aware. Not all of her wounds have healed, but perhaps they don’t need to.

 

Amid her heartbreak, she rediscovers herself as a balance of those personas and who she was before. The impossible equation that neutralizes heartbreak hasn’t been solved, but it’s been reframed. Lorde processed the hopeless pits of self-blame, the unfulfilling pursuit of revenge, and the crushing weight of uncertainty, and she forged a stronger self. “The heartache, and the trauma, and the fucking melodrama,” have lead her here. The end of Melodrama finds Lorde wandering on, still learning and still healing. Miraculously, she’s able to roll her eyes at the melodrama of it all.

 

Expect adversity, and redirect it to change you for the better. Expect to hear “The Louvre” on season 2 of Riverdale. And expect to someday hear more from Lorde, a prodigious songwriter and voice of a generation.

It’s Spring Break!!

3.21.2017

And to help you celebrate, we come bearing a dope playlist:

 

New Year, New Music

3.07.2017

By Justin Hermstedt

2016 ended over two months ago, and just when you thought you were caught up on that year’s music, 2017 comes around and brings a whole new lineup. There are truly no off-days allowed in the pursuit of good music, but we’ll give you a pass just this once. Here are a few albums you may have missed this year already. Now keep your ears to the streets so you don’t miss any more.    

Process – Sampha

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Sampha built up hype for his debut album through his collaborations with popular artists such as Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Solange. Big names, one might say. Released early in February, Process is an intimate introduction to Sampha.

The first few songs reveal the pressure and anxiety Sampha experiences: “It’s so hot I’ve been melting out here / I’m made out of plastic out here.” This feeling builds until the fourth track, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” an endearing ballad dedicated to Sampha’s mother, who died in 2015.

The album has a very special way of finding highs and lows from song to song. The quiet songs build a desire in the listener for something danceable, which eventually comes in “Reverse Faults” and “Timmy’s Prayer.”

Process solidifies Sampha as a pop artist with unrivaled soul.

Plural – Electric Guest

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Plural is Electric Guest’s sophomore album, arriving five years after the commercially successful Mondo.

As in Mondo, the music in Plural is characterized by tight, dancy percussion and synth. Electric Guest seems to draw influence from, say, Depeche Mode and your common elevator music. Plural leans slightly towards the elevator music side of the spectrum compared to Mondo. Plural is notable for its optimistic tone. Songs like “Dear to Me” and “Sarah” are more smiley than we’ve seen Electric Guest in the past.

Although Plural is generally high-tempo, there’s still a hint of the uneasy brooding of Mondo, like in the opening track, “Zero.” The best new development in this album is a more diverse vocal performance, aside from the band’s signature mellow falsetto. Check out the surprising passion in “Back For Me.”

KU Freshman Jack Hatzfeld Turns Coffee Into Art

1.30.2017

By Justin Hermstedt

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On any given morning in Hashinger Hall, one subtle sound that breaks the silence is the hum of Jack Hatzfeld’s coffee grinder. Hatzfeld starts his morning with a cup of coffee like anyone else, but caffeine addiction does not drive this morning ritual. Hatzfeld is a KU student devoted to the art of coffee.
“Third wave coffee” is the artisan approach to coffee that Hatzfeld practices. Third wave coffee makers seek the highest quality ingredients and get them directly from their origin, whether that is Colombia, Ethiopia or any other coffee hub. Hatzfeld says coffee becomes an art form rather than a mundane daily beverage, when it is produced with the acute attention to detail that sets third wave coffee apart from Starbucks.

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“The quality of water, the temperature, the brew time—there’s so many variables that actually go into making coffee and it really takes a lot of skill and knowledge to be able to isolate those,” Hatzfeld said. “That’s kind of what third wave is about.”

Ian Walla is a coffee colleague of Hatzfeld’s. Walla says third wave coffee is like other drinks, such as wine and whiskey, only it is more complex. He says that he and Hatzfeld are drawn to the coffee industry partly because it is constantly evolving.

“As soon as someone knows everything, some crop disease happens in Asia and it totally changes the game on every front. And then you have to relearn everything”, Walla said.

Hatzfeld has done the best he can to support his coffee hobby despite being restricted by the size of a dorm room. Last fall was Hatzfeld’s first semester at KU, and the first time in three years he hasn’t been working as a barista. Hatzfeld is a product photographer for a few coffee companies, which means he is sent samples to photograph, helping his personal coffee supply remain stocked. Although he’s grateful to still be crafting coffee for his own use, Hatzfeld longs to be back behind the counter in a coffee shop so he can share his work with customers.

“Luckily, coffee is a part of my life right now because I am photographing for companies,” Hatzfeld said. “I get that every day. I wish I could give it to other people every day though.”

Hatzfeld began working in coffee when his other art form of choice, photography, led him to it. Hatzfeld worked as a freelance photographer throughout high school. He has worked at several coffee shops around Kansas City, but his first job in coffee was at a coffee shop in Gardner, Kansas called Groundhouse, where he often used to hang his photographs. The manager reached out to Hatzfeld to see if he’d be interested in working there.

“I started picking up some shifts at Groundhouse on the side while I sold my art, and then I started to realize that coffee was kind of an art form in itself,” Hatzfeld said.

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Hatzfeld is studying graphic design at KU. He draws inspiration for design from coffee work, and vice versa. Design is prevalent in the coffee industry through media other than the beverage itself. Hatzfeld is fascinated by the incorporation of art in the atmosphere of coffee shops, whether it is through interior design, graphic design, or the packaging of coffee products. Hatzfeld’s dream job is to be a brand manager for a coffee company, allowing his work in design and coffee to intersect.

Hatzfeld says we are in the midst of a boom in third wave coffee. He hears of independent coffee shops popping up all the time around Kansas City as demand grows. His father, David Hatzfeld, says his son is poised to take advantage of this burgeoning industry.

“Jack has realized that as the coffee industry is starting to develop and mature into a craft like microbrews in beer, he’s seeing it as an employment opportunity at levels other than at the retail level,” David Hatzfeld said.

Hatzfeld says most people view coffee as just a drink, but he finds art in it.

Jack Hatzfeld and his father share this artistic mindset, but David Hatzfeld’s interest is in culinary arts. Jack Hatzfeld cites his father as an inspiration in his artistic development in coffee, and fondly recalls extravagant breakfasts that his father used to prepare for their family. David Hatzfeld and Jack Hatzfeld see past the surface level of their respective crafts and obsess over details.

“He looks at coffee at a deeper level, and picks up the nuances”, David Hatzfeld said. “I would talk to my kids and tell them food is an experience, not sustenance. He kind of took that to heart.”

 

Photography courtesy of Jack Hatzfeld

 

KU Improv Entertains Off the Top of Their Head

1.23.2017

By Justin Hermstedt

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Last spring, Teagan Fitzpatrick founded KU Improv. In its second semester, the group grew and garnered a consistent following at its many performances.

John Pace, a freshman from Olathe, joined KU Improv last fall. He’s been doing improv for a few years.

“It’s pretty much ‘acting without a script,’ to put it in three words… or four words. I can count; I swear,” Pace said.

Although the club is young, it pulls around 10 to 20 people at the average show. Those are solid numbers for a comedy startup, whose existence might not be known of by the majority of students.

Style on the Hill went to check out their last show of the fall semester, and KU improv brought the comedic heat.

This semester, be sure to support the good people at KU improv. It’ll be a merry (and free) time, especially if you like memes and/or muppet impressions.

 

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