Stephanie Trefzger

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Stephanie started as a staff writer for the Niner Times in October 2015 and was promoted to assistant editor of arts and entertainment in October 2016. Her writing has focused mainly on album reviews and other musical topics, but she continues to expand her horizons. She is a senior and is double majoring in English literature and culture and German. When she is not writing articles, she is either people watching, reading, cooking, or updating her many social media profiles. If you're not sure of anything else, be sure that Stephanie is listening to music at any given time.

A Year of Impact

Photo courtesy of HBO/Warner Bros. Television.

Jeffrey Kopp

Every once in a while, I discover a show that really sits with me in a way unlike any other. I watch a lot of television shows, so it takes a lot to really blow me away, but “The Leftovers” managed to do just that. I decided to binge the three-season HBO series back in January, and I was fully engrossed by the gripping and emotional narrative. Helmed by “LOST” co-creator Damon Lindelof, the series dives into the deep mysteries of human existence, religion and the afterlife, all the while continually keeping the viewers guessing. The musical score and cinematography, along with the powerful performances from the cast, most notably Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon, make this one of the most stunningly beautiful shows to air on television in recent memory. “The Leftovers” has this ability to really make you question why you’re here and what life actually means. That is precisely what I want from my entertainment and this series delivers wholly.

Painting by Helen Allingham.

Stephanie Trefzger

“In Memoriam A.H.H.” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson is a poem, or epitaph, rather, that encompasses several things that I “discovered” this year: the great poet Tennyson, Victorian literature and poetry. Obviously I was aware of all these things separately before, but I wasn’t a fan of any of them.  I thought Victorian literature would be as dull and stiff as the era’s mannerisms; I counted poetry out as worth exploring sometime in middle school; and Tennyson’s works were far too long and complex for me to even consider.  However, this poem was on the syllabus for one of my classes, and upon reading it, I immediately fell in love. Written after the loss of his best friend, Tennyson mourns his loss and begins to question his faith in relation to science, only to realize that both can exist within one another.  I am the type to get sentimental about human existence, and I think that this poem is one of the most powerful, raw expressions of  that humanity.

Album art courtesy of Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records.

Tyler Trudeau

February’s vastly-acclaimed “Black Panther” was already a standout feature, even before I heard the vibrant and methodical soundtrack that accompanied it. Curated by rapper/songwriter Kendrick Lamar, probably the biggest name in hip-hop today, the mixtape inspired by the Marvel powerhouse easily became the hottest collaboration of the year so far. Infused with the same cultural awareness and electricity of the film, the album featured some of the biggest stars in the genre delivering exciting and emotionally-charged melodies to the ground-breaking story of “Black Panther.” From pop hits like “All the Stars” by SZA and Lamar to more mellowed ballads like Khalid and Swae Lee’s “The Ways,” “Black Panther: The Album” defined the debut feature of T’Challa in a phenomenal and iconic collaboration.

Album art courtesy of Columbia Records.

Aaron Febre

The biggest discovery I made this school year was the Tyler, the Creator album “Flower Boy.” Technically, this came out in the summer of 2017, but I got into this album around spring break. This album hit me by surprise, Tyler really matured here and contains some stellar tracks like “911/Mr. Lonely” and “Boredom.” I had picked my album of 2017 (Lorde’s “Melodrama”), but “Flower Boy” just took my breath away every time I listen to it and now it’s my Album of 2017. I’m often reminded of spring break when listening to “Flower Boy” and it shows that my pick for Album of 2017 will change long after the year passes by.

Photo courtesy of Epic Games.

Noah Howell

If you have never played “Fortnite,” you have probably at least seen its presence somewhere on social media, whether it’s a clip on Twitter or someone posting their ‘Victory Royale’ to their Snapchat story. Dropping into a giant map with an enclosing storm against 99 other people is a blast with friends, especially when the tension rises once you reach the top ten in match. With the amount of new content every week and the solid gameplay, it does not feel like a game that should be free-to-play, especially when compared to what other studios put out for free. What really solidified the game’s popularity was a live stream which casually came about between the biggest “Fortnite” streamer Ninja and Drake himself, with rapper Travis Scott and JuJu Smith, WR for the Steelers, joining in as well. This stream to no surprise shattered Twitch’s records, and helped to further break down the stereotype for who plays video games. While it may not be critically the best game to come out this school year, it is certainly the most popular and rightfully so, with fun gameplay and a price point that’s hard to ignore.

Poster courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Hunter Heilman

Rarely does a film (and I see a lot of films) hit me as hard as Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” did. Following a group of five female scientists as they enter a mysterious glowing barrier on the coast, the film chronicles their mind-bending journey into madness as they discover the origin of the ever-growing barrier. With wonderful performances all around, but especially from Natalie Portman, some absolutely insane visuals and perhaps the most cerebrally stimulating sci-fi plot in years, “Annihilation” is the type of film that keeps you awake at night for weeks on end.

Retroactive: The Pop Culture that Shaped Us

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon.

Jeffrey Kopp (A&E Editor)

Movie: “Tarzan” (1999) – This is a film that hits me in the feels every single time that I watch it. The soundtrack by Phil Collins adds so much emotional depth to the movie; “Two Worlds” and “You’ll Be in My Heart” are the definite standouts. This is by far my favorite Disney movie of all time; just thinking about it makes me want to find my copy of the VHS tape and take a trip back to the jungle.

Song: “Hey Ya!” (2003) by OutKast– The lyric, “shake it like a Polaroid picture” has been repeating on a loop in my head since 2003. The catchy beat immediately transports me back to the simpler times of elementary school; the deeper meaning behind the song flew over my head as a child, but I’ve been able to appreciate it more as an adult. This is a song that has stood the test of time and is definitely one of my all time favorites.

TV Show: “SpongeBob SquarePants” (1999-Present) –  Every generation has something that culturally defines them. In the case of millennials, that is Nickelodeon’s most iconic cartoon. I have so many fond memories of watching “SpongeBob” with my parents and friends, laughing at the absurd scenarios and jokes that have evolved into memes in recent years. Without any doubt, “Pizza Delivery” and “Band Geeks” are two of the greatest episodes in television history.

“Breakaway” album cover courtesy of Walt Disney/RCA

Stephanie Trefzger (Assistant A&E Editor)

Movie: “Twister” (1996) – Granted, I only saw this movie once as a child, but it probably had the biggest impact on my life.  It scared the absolute hell out of me, and I had nightmares about tornadoes ripping through my house. In an attempt to assuage my fears, my mother encouraged me to learn more about tornadoes, and suddenly I was obsessed with weather.  Despite the science in the movie being outdated, Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton inspire a love and fascination for storm chasing in me to this day, and it has been my dream job for the better part of my life. If only my mother would let me.

Song: “Breakaway” (2004) by Kelly Clarkson – I love drama, and this song, as well as the album by the same name is full of it.  When I was in the car and I heard the opening notes, I would immediately stare out the window like Clarkson describes and acted like I was in a music video.  This album is also part of the reason I have trust issues; upon its release in 2004, it was the only Christmas gift I asked for from my parents. My dad, however, bought 2003’s “Thankful.”  While this is an excellent album, I felt disappointed and betrayed.

TV Show: “Shark Week” (1988-Present) – Ok, so this is more an annual event than an actual TV show, but I got super hyped for it every year (and still do).  Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but I have always loved the ocean, and after my disillusionment with dolphins, I became enamored with sharks instead. Due to my obsessive nature, I learned and accumulated enough knowledge about them over the last few years that I am able to take the fun out of any shark movie fairly quickly.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Hunter Heilman (Editor-in-Chief)

Movie: “She’s the Man” (2006) – At the time, “She’s the Man” was basically the funniest film I had ever seen in my entire life. This 2006 teen adaption of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was Amanda Bynes at her most charming, the 2000s at their most iconic, and teen comedies at their most genuine. Everything about this movie is peak nostalgia and perfect memories of a much simpler time.

Song: “The ABBA Generation” (1999) by A*Teens– There is no album I have listened to and loved more in my life than Swedish pop group the A*Teens’ 1999 debut album, The ABBA Generation. Comprised of nothing but ABBA covers, I was exposed to the magic of both teen pop and disco music all in one go. Personal favorites of the album are “Mamma Mia,” “Voulez Vous” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight),” the latter of which still remains my favorite music video of all time. I love this album so much I can get emotional over it.

TV Show: “What I Like About You” (2002-2006)– I had a bit of a thing for Amanda Bynes when I was younger, as I simply found her to be the funniest person working in media targeted to people my age. I didn’t discover “What I Like About You” until shortly after it was canceled in 2006, but like “She’s the Man,” it showcased Bynes’ talents as more than just a child star. The chemistry in the hilarious cast and absolute lunacy of much of the show’s plot only cemented it more as my favorite sitcom ever.

Photo courtesy of Disney.

Kathleen Cook (Sports Editor)

Movie: “The Lion King” (1994)– I loved the songs and the characters – Timon was my favorite. I’ve actually never watched the scene where the dad dies though.

Song: “Come in Eileen” (1982) by Dexys Midnight Runners– I thought it was actually “Come on Kathleen,” because my mom would always sing “Kathleen.” I was heartbroken when I first heard the song without my mom singing it and realized it was Eileen and not Kathleen.

TV Show: “Dragon Tales” (1999-2005)– I had the stuffed animals for all of the characters and had a dance routine I would do to their song.

Album art courtesy of Universal Records.

Alex Sands (News Editor)

Movie: “Beethoven” (1992)– I had three St. Bernards growing up and they all were as crazy as Beethoven in this film. They’re big slobbery messes with really big hearts and lots of love. The film is not only a nostalgic early 90s film, but it hits home.

Song: “Leave (Get Out)” (2004) by JoJo– I recently rediscovered this banger song. The only problem is the real version is not on Spotify. So whenever I want to listen to it in the car, I force myself to listen to D-Money’s remix. You may ask “Who is D-Money?” I don’t know, but he should stop rapping.

TV Show: “Lizzie McGuire” (2001-2004)– I would like to give a shout out to Bitmoji for fulfilling my childhood dream of having my own animated version of myself like Lizzie McGuire. I was a die-hard Hilary Duff fan when I was kiddo and watched the episodes over and over. To this day, I still ship her and Gordo.

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom.

Josh Worley (Video Editor)

Movie: “Gone With The Wind” (1940)– Growing up, I first remember watching this movie with my grandma. The movie takes place in a time period that I am most fond of from a historical perspective.

Song: “Africa” (1982) by Toto– Whoever says it’s not, can choke.

TV Show: “Hey Arnold!” (1996-2004)- The greatest cartoon to ever grace this universe. There were deep moments that, when you were a kid you didn’t really think about, but they hit home now.

Photo courtesy of Jive Records.

Hailey Turpin (Lifestyle Editor)

Movie: “Peter Pan” (1953)– I wanted to be apart of Peter’s Lost Boys and I would jump off the couch to try to fly like him. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Song: “Oh Aaron” (2001) and “Not Too Young, Not Too Old” (2001) by Aaron Carter– My sister and I religiously listened to Aaron Carter back in the 2000’s. I have no other words besides talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique.

TV Show: “The Fairly Odd Parents” (2001-Present) and “My Life As A Teenage Robot” (2003-2009)– As an elementary school kid I was very particular about the shows I watched, and those two were the most interesting to me! The graphics and storylines were so good, and still are. I will always love Chip Skylark.

Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network.

Pooja Pasupula (Photo Editor)

Movie: “Toy Story” (1995)– While Toy Story is not my number one favorite Pixar movie, it’s the movie that always reminds me of my childhood and brings me the most nostalgia. This movie was always playing on every TV when I was a child and there are so many iconic characters and scenes encased in it. It made childhood seem like the best thing ever to be apart of. The whole series is centered around the inescapable circumstance of growing up, and being hit with that inevitability as a child was always hard for me. The whole series brings back memories of clinging to childhood and not wanting things to change.

Song: “… Baby One More Time” (1998) by Britney Spears– A timeless classic that never fails to make me smile or sing along. I was never exposed to music as a child and when my aunt found out she started to play Spears’ album around the tiny townhome she shared with my family. It’s the first song I have any memory of. At the age of four, I had no concept of what dancing was, so I would skip around our townhome to the beat of this song as my way to jam along to it. Hearing this song throws me back to that memory and the nostalgia of what the 90’s/early 2000’s era felt like.

TV Show: “Teen Titans” (2003-2006)– I’ve always been enamored with superheroes and watching this show as a child was what sparked my adoration for them. While Wonder Woman and Batman have been my core favorites for most of my life, the Teen Titans were my first love. I used to feel very vulnerable and helpless as a child, but watching teen superheroes kick ass gave me hope to one day be as strong and brave as they are. They were who I looked up to and idolized.

Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Home Video.

Leysha Caraballo (Photo Editor)

Movie: “Elf” (2003)– Watching “Elf” every Christmas season with my family was one of my favorite traditions growing up. Will Ferrell is so over the top ridiculous, as usual, but in a heartwarming way in this movie.

Song: “Numb” (2003) by Linkin Park– Linkin Park’s “Numb” showed me that music didn’t have to fit the pop music mold. I may have been a bit melodramatic, but I connected to the sound and message of the music. They were my absolute favorite band throughout my adolescence.

TV Show: “That’s So Raven” (2003-2007)– This show never got old for me, to the point where I watched multiple all-day marathons. Raven had sass, attitude and confidence – all of my favorite things!

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom.

Mia Shelton (Opinion Editor)

Movie: Seventeen Again” (2000)– Not the one with Zac Efron, but the one with Tia and Tamera Mowry. I loved this movie because it was a unique and fun concept; grandparents using soap that their grandson accidently spilled his science experiment on that makes them seventeen again was fun to watch. I also love Tia and Tamera and seeing them on television and acting started my passion for acting. Also the grandfather is very cute when he turns seventeen.

Song: Circle of Life” (2004) by the Disney Channel Circle of Stars– I loved it because it had all of my favorite actors and actresses sing in the song like Raven Symone, Christy Carlson Romano, Hilary Duff, Tahj Mowrey and many more. Hearing their unique voices combined on one of Disney’s greatest song from its most notorious movie was very moving and fun to sing along to.

TV Show: Kenan and Kel” (1996-2000)– I loved this show, because they always made laugh. Kel’s obsession with orange soda and Kenan’s elaborate plans to make money made my stomach hurt from laughing.

Photo courtesy of Reprise Records.

Emily Hickey (Managing Editor)

Movie: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)– When I was four, I watched it every day for a year and insisted that my mom dress me up in my Dorothy dress and put my hair in the two braids. Every time I watch it now I am reminded of my childhood love for the movie and for the amazing soundtrack (that I still know by heart).

Song: “Landslide” (1975) by Fleetwood Mac– My aunt used to burn her favorite songs onto CD’s and give them to my mom, and as soon as my sisters and I listened to “Landslide,” it was immediately our favorite song and has been throughout our lives. When I was three, I put on a performance of the song in front of all of my extended family.

TV Show: “Ghost Whisperer” (2005-2010)– Starting in elementary school, every Friday my dad and I would watch the new episode aired at 8 p.m. Despite after a few years it scared me too much to continue watching it, it’s still my favorite because of the time spent with my dad.

Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox.

Daniel Head (Technical Director)

Movie: “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977)– Duh! I watched this movie and fell in love with the “Star Wars” universe. I was obsessed with the idea of intergalactic travel and warfare, and loved the characters. Everything about the movie was great to me, and I’m still obsessed with “Star Wars.”

Song: “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” (2005) by Panic! At the Disco– I loved the sound song, and pretty much all of my friends did too. Just singing along with all my friends makes it memorable.

TV Show: “Stargate SG-1” (1997-2007)– I grew up with it and, again, I was obsessed with science fiction and the characters. I think that just the depth of the characters and the universe was enough to make me look forward to next week’s episode; to see some awesome new world, new alien race, or new piece of technology. A good plot was just the cherry on top for me back then.

Photo courtesy of Disney.

Angie Baquedano (Assistant Lifestyle Editor)

Movie: “Hercules” (1997)– I love Disney and I practically grew up on it, and when they introduced the movie they brought in my love for Greek mythology. The music was exceptional and I had the BIGGEST crush on Hercules (or should I say HUNK-ules).

Song: “Jailhouse Rock” (1957) by Elvis– I’ve had this really weird obsession with him since I was a kid. I can’t explain why or how this happened, but it did and I’m actually his wife, so…surprise.

TV Show: “Rocket Power,” (1999-2004) “Cat Dog” (1998-2005) and “Hey Arnold!” (1996-2004)– It might be impossible for me to choose just one for this. Apart from being a Disney kid, I was definitely a Nickelodeon child.

Album art courtesy of RCA Records/Columbia Records.

Madison Dobrzenski (Assistant Opinion Editor)

Movie: “The Ultimate Christmas Present” (2000)– I loved this movie so much as a kid, and to this day I can’t really explain why. I think it’s just because I also didn’t experience a lot of snow, so I empathized with them? I also loved anything Brenda Song was in when I was a kid, so that might have had something to do with it.

Song: “Girlfriend” (2007) by Avril Lavigne– I used to blare this song with my friends when I was in elementary school, despite being absolutely no one’s love interest, because we were like 12. I can still throw down to it to this day.

TV Show: “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” (2005-2008)– I loved this show for a lot of reasons. One, there was a smart character with the same name as me. Secondly, I always felt “different” because the show paints Zack out to be the cute and cool twin, but I had a crush on Cody.

Best Songs of 2017 as Selected by A&E Writers

“Harry Styles” by Harry Styles. (Album art courtesy of Columbia Records.)

Jeffrey Kopp

5. “Like Gold” by Vance Joy: This Australian singer-songwriter first appeared on my radar back in 2013 via his hit single “Riptide.” Years later, I randomly came across “Like Gold,” a single from his upcoming album “Nation of Two,” on Spotify and I was immediately reeled in with its catchy hook. This is a song that really tells a story through the lyrics and Joy’s voice matches the lyrics with his passion. There’s a comforting calm feel that this song evokes, even having a nostalgic vibe that transports the listener to a simpler time in their life. Without any doubt, “Like Gold” has reintroduced me to the music of Vance Joy and I’m thrilled to hear the rest of the album when it releases in February.

4. “Sweet Creature” by Harry Styles: If there’s anything to take away from the rough year that 2017 was, it’s that Harry Styles is insanely talented. Stepping forward and creating his own path after One Direction has allowed Styles to really showcase his own style with his self-titled album that released in May; the album is filled with incredible songs such as “Sign of the Times” and “Kiwi,” but “Sweet Creature” is by far my favorite, because it allows Styles to hit his famous high notes in the chorus that blend beautifully with quieter verses. This is a song that has an old-school soulful feel to it, but also shows that Harry is making creative and fresh music.

3. “Silence” by Marshmello (feat. Khalid): Just when I thought that I couldn’t love Khalid anymore, he joins forces with Marshmello to deliver an epic track that perfectly utilizes both artists. The lyrics make it hard not to sing along to and Khalid’s voice is commanding and powerful as he bleeds emotions and passion. The electronic music from Marshmello has this energetic and lively feel that makes you want to get up and dance. Hopefully Marshmello and Khalid collaborate on other projects in the future, because this song is an example of a duo that is complimentary while simultaneously demonstrating the talent of the two individuals.

2. “Praying” by Kesha: 2017 saw the welcome return of Kesha to the music scene, dropping the famous “$” sign from her name and entering into a whole new era. “Praying” is both cathartic and anthemic, taking the legal issues and abuse that the singer suffered through and leaving them behind. The depression, anger, loneliness and pain that Kesha has experienced is very much present in the song, as is forgiveness and empathy. Kesha’s willingness and ability to move forward and create her own future through new music is truly inspiring and sends a strong message to those that abuse and exploit others. Kesha’s soul and emotions can be felt throughout the song and the incredible high note is testament to her talent as a singer.

1. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic (feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid): The world really needed this song. Depression and suicide have been subjects in music forever, but Logic tells a story without any fancy language or metaphors. He’s straight to the point about an issue that affects millions of people and the message of his song applies not only to those suffering, but it’s also directed to those in the position to help. By having the lyrics tell the story of a phone conversation between someone on the verge of suicide and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, it’s made abundantly clear that this are avenues of help available. This song has an important message, but it is also catchy and allows Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid to showcase their talents in a powerful collaboration.

“As You Were” by Liam Gallagher. (Album art courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Stephanie Trefzger

5. “Bist du Down?” by Ace Tee (feat. Kwam.E): Over the past year I have been on a journey to rediscover my love for my native language, German, and this song and artist has played a huge role in that. While Ace Tee is new to music, just releasing her first EP this year, her music styling is not; this song throws it back to the R&B and hip-hop of the early 90’s when she was born.  Unwittingly, perhaps, this song also helped to usher in a new wave of discussion among young people regarding race relations in Germany.  That aside, though, this song just has a good, relaxed vibe to it.

4. “Paracetamol” by Declan McKenna: I’m not usually into indie because I unfortunately associate it with that “bananis and avocadis” vine by Chrish, but even before that, I couldn’t stand many indie singers’ soft and quiet voices where I could barely hear what they were saying. But Declan McKenna’s voice is soft without being quiet. This, coupled with the organ-like electronic opening and lyrics about growing up make for a great song. The darker lyrics with the fun, upbeat instrumentals create an interesting dynamic as well. I was heavily reminded of Vampire Weekend (who I miss) upon first listening.

3. “For What It’s Worth” by Liam Gallagher: Anyone who knows me knows that I am more partial to Liam’s brother, Noel when it comes to just about everything, but especially musically, so I never thought I would put a Liam song on this list over a Noel one when they were released in the same year, but 2017 has been full of surprises; what’s one more? Liam’s former musical project, Beady Eye, sounded a lot like a Beatles cover band, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this song or out of the album in general. However, this song is raw, original and devoid of the narcissism he is known for.

2. “The Chain” by Harry Styles: I don’t know if this is cheating or not, but this next one’s a cover rather than an original. But I, like many people at this point, am in love with Harry Styles. This is a new development for me, one that grew, partially, out of this song. I am a Fleetwood Mac purist and usually hate any covers of their songs, but Styles’ passion and ability combine into a soulful and true cover. This is by no means Styles’ biggest accomplishment this year (ya know, with the incredible album he released this year), but it stands out for sure. This song isn’t on Spotify, so I’ll add a video below:

1. “Silence” by Marshmello (feat. Khalid): This song hands-down wins song of the year for me. I anticipated it when Khalid teased it on Twitter, and I was absolutely not disappointed when it was finally released. I spend a good amount of time in the car, and this is a great car song. The backing vocals in the second verse honestly made my jaw drop the first time I heard it and still give me shivers. The production value on this song is honestly incredible. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

“Woodstock” by Portugal, The Man. (Album art courtesy of Atlantic Records)

Tyler Trudeau

5. “Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore: While I was always a very impartial fan of the punk-pop group of Paramore, their various hits like “Misery Business” and “Ain’t It Fun” making waves across the music scene, something instantly drew me to their latest album “After Laughter.” An emotional, pop-infused journey for lead vocalist Hayley Williams, the album left me with a number of phenomenal tracks stuck in my head. One in particular, “Rose-Colored Boy,” still makes me want to get up and dance at the first spark of its beat.

4. “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man: Another anthem for the year found itself in Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.” Acting as a catchy, rhythmic introduction for me to the band’s unique sound, the hit made its mark as it blared continuously across the radio.

3. “Ultralife” by Oh Wonder: After a dynamic entry with their self-titled debut album, the pop duo of Oh Wonder delivered another effortless set with this year’s “Ultralife.” With their title track breathing life into the summer, it instantly became a sprawling and infectious anthem for the rest of the year.

2. “Say It First” by Sam Smith: With the mellow brilliance of Sam Smith returning to the charts with his newest album “The Thrill of It All,” one of the most memorable singles off the album was easily the sensitive ballad of “Say It First.” Utilizing the artist’s mesmerizing voice with lyrics spinning a search for love, “Say It First” draws you instantly into Sam Smith’s newest and most volatile release.

1. “Drink Too Much” by Geowulf: After falling in love with the London-based pop duo last summer, I’ve been eagerly awaiting all year to hear more from Geowulf. With their electric hit “Saltwater” injecting dreamy lyrics into a dazzling backdrop, the Australian duo returned later this year with “Drink Too Much.” Marking another stellar single from their upcoming debut album, Geowulf remains one of the best surprises of the year.

“The Click” by AJR. (Album art courtesy of AJR Productions)

Elissa Miller

5. “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons: I’m sure some of my appreciation for this song comes purely from my excitement about Imagine Dragons’ new music. However, I do legitimately love this song. The fairly simple lyrics make the song easy to sing along to in the car, which is a necessity for me. It also functions well as a confidence builder and pick me up. This summer I had a habit of using it to help me wake up in the mornings as I drove to work, something I highly recommend.

4. “For Elise” by Saint Motel: I can’t explain my love for this song other than the fact I’ve listened to it almost nonstop since I found it during fall break. It features an upbeat tempo, original sound and catchy lyrics. Everything about it makes me want to dance.

3. The Entire Falsettos 2016 Broadway Revival Cast Album: This is probably cheating, but I am physically incapable of choosing a single song to represent this masterpiece of a musical. While the revival premiered in 2016, the album itself was not released until January of this year and technically counts as 2017. Taking place in the late 70s/early 80s, the plot of Falsetttos focuses on the story of Marvin, a man desperately trying to force his family to get along after taking a male lover. What ensues is a beautiful musical that touches on themes of love, family, and friendship. The revival cast is made up of extremely talented Broadway stars (including Christian Borle and Andrew Rannels), all of which are in great form. It’s a little long, so I’d highly recommend a listen during a roadtrip.

2. “The Good Part” by AJR: AJR’s second album is an experience best listened to in order and all the way through. However, if you can only listen to one song, this is my recommendation. While AJR’s music is more synthsized/electronic than I would typically listen to, their use of unique instruments and complex musical arrangements has completely won me over. “The Good Part” features all of the elements that make this album great.

1. “In the Middle” by Dodie: According to Spotify, this was the song I listened to the most this year. I wasn’t surprised. “In the Middle” comes from Dodie’s second EP, released in August of this year. This song has more of a pop feel to it than the rest of the album, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s nice to see an artist mix things up a bit; Dodie is having fun here. RELATED: This isn’t Dodie’s first time on an end of the year list, I chose the song “When” from her debut “Intertwined EP” for last year’s roundup.

“Evolve” by Imagine Dragons. (Album art courtesy of Interscope Records)

Noah Howell

5. “Walk on Water” by Eminem (Feat. Beyoncé): While Eminem’s latest album was good, it was simply only good and left much to be desired for me personally. That said, the opening song “Walk on Water” provides a interesting look at where Eminem is at now. Eminem does a good job at providing commentary through his lyrics towards both his past music and where he sees himself now compared to others in the genre. Most interesting is that the song opts for a piano melody as opposed to a regular hip-hop beat, which works surprisingly well in conjunction with Beyoncé’s chorus.

4. “Believer” by Imagine Dragons: From the start, “Believer” hits you with a heavy beat that is hard not to pay attention to. If you’re ever feeling down or just looking for some motivation, this song delivers from the musical beat alone. I wouldn’t consider myself an Imagine Dragons fan, though this song certainly got me more interested in them after first hearing it, and has stayed in my playlist of favorites since.

3. “Jump Up, Super Star!” by Naoto Kubo: Just like its actual gameplay, “Super Mario Odyssey” brings a refreshing take on its music that is a delight to listen to. While each world has its own style, the final part of the New Donk City world features one of my favorite singles of the year. “Jump Up, Super Star!” continues Nintendo’s use of the Big Band Swing genre, and the song itself just embodies the sense of adventure that you’ll find all throughout the game itself. The songs catchy lyrics also give nods to past “Mario” titles, with the song used in the original “Donkey Kong” game even being teased as well.

2. “Floral Fury” by Kristofer Maddigan: With the 1920’s cartoon aesthetic, “Cuphead” needed a soundtrack that would match perfectly alongside it, and composer Kristofer Maddigan provided. While the entire soundtrack is great, “Floral Fury” stands out among the rest with its unique samba style. The uptempo piece gives a lot of the spotlight to trumpet, making it hard to sit still when listening, which even the boss you fight during the song can’t help but do.

1. “Dinah” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: In an album dedicated to Louie Armstrong, Louie Jordan and Louie Prima, “Dinah” kicks it off in a special way by covering one of Armstong’s biggest hits. The song begins with the same intro that Armstong gave in the original recording, and right away you’re into the fantastic sax interlude. Musically it is the same notes, but the band does a great job at adding their own flair to it, while paying respect to those who performed it before like Mr. Armstrong. The whole album continues this sentiment with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s New Orleans jazz style, making it my favorite release of the year.

“Melodrama” by Lorde (Album art courtesy of Lava/Republic Records)

Aaron Febre

5. “Date Night” by IDLESIDLES’ debut album “Brutalism” reminds me how Rock music can still be fierce musically and retain thought-provoking topics. And “Date Night” is the track that is my favorite off the album. The thumping, idiosyncratic bass, the guttural guitars and frontman Joe Talbot’s animated vocals. Talbot is like a combination of John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag). This is a sound of a raging lunatic that has certainly caught my attention and leaving me wanting to play “Brutalism” over and over again.

4. “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z: This was straight up brilliant from Hova. Considering where he is now in his career, it would make sense to see an established icon like him to make an album that shows him becoming the elder statesmen in Hip-Hop. The sample of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” brilliantly ties up with the lyrics of issues that are being dealt with in the Black community with Jay giving his advice to the community to make them better. Do check out the music video to this track as it further emphasizes the lyrics presented here.

3. “how do you sleep?” by LCD Soundsystem: While I don’t think “American Dream” is anywhere near the level the last two LCD albums, it did produce some great tracks with “how do you sleep?” taking the top spot. It feels like this is a dark, twisted version of another LCD song, “Dance Yrself Clean” (from 2010’s “This Is Happening”). The Joy Division-like drumbeat, James Murphy’s tense vocals and the stomping electronic beat halfway through the song brings a darker side of LCD that I’ve never seen in their previous output.

2. “PRIDE.” by Kendrick LamarThis was the surprising track for me from “DAMN.” I never thought Kung Fu Kenny would go out and make this Psychedelic-like Hip-Hop track. My most played song off of “DAMN.”, “PRIDE.” has the hypnotic guitar chords, the sleepy like vocals of Anna Wise, the religious imagery lyrics and the beautiful refrain “Maybe I wasn’t there,” which conclude to me that this is one of the best tracks Lamar ever recorded.

1. “Liability” by Lorde: A heart-piercing piano ballad from Ella Yelich-O’Connor. This is the best track from “Melodrama.” The soft yet vicious vocals from Lorde with lyrics about personal self-doubt that I can relate to on many levels. “Liability,” as well the album itself, shows Lorde’s songwriting growing and leaving me thoroughly satisfied considering my lack of interest on her debut album. Plus, she’s only 21 years old and her storytelling leaves me floored.

“Rather You Than Me” by Rick Ross. (Album art courtesy of Maybach Music/Epic Records)

Bryson Williams

5. “Sacrifices” by Drake: Would it even be a valid list if a Drake song wasn’t included? “Sacrifices” is the 12th song off Drake’s playlist “More Life,” which was released back in March 2017. “Sacrifices” is a window to Drake’s elegant lifestyle and also a look into his female affairs. “40 got a house on the lake, I ain’t know we had a lake, she complainin’ how I’m late, I ain’t know it was a date.” The track includes a swag-rap verse from 2 Chainz and a ridiculously impressive verse from Atlanta superstar Young Thug. The beat has a tropical feel and creates the perfect vibe for sitting back and relaxing to, and has the ability to set the mood for any room you’re in.

4. “Apple of My Eye” by Rick Ross: On Rick Ross’s album “Rather You Than Me,” Ross balances out introspection and traditional Rozay party anthems. Ross opens up the album with a run down of his ambitions and the feats he’s overcome throughout his life in “Apple of My Eye.” The track opens up with Ross expressing what the apple of his eye was: being someone that his mom could be proud of, and someone his neighborhood could look up to. Ross raps “Lights off so you never tend to speak much, go your separate ways every time the lease up.” Rick Ross highlights the struggles he’s endured to be the mogul and icon he is today. The saxophone in the background of the track captures the therapeutic vibe of the song and forces you to listen to every word. The song ranks on my list because it has so much to digest and will always leave you looking deeper into yourself.

3. “911/Mr. Lonely” by Tyler, The Creator: Tyler, The Creator hit us all by surprise with a bass filled single titled “Who Dat Boy,” accompanied by a music video with a cameo from A$AP Rocky during the Summer of 2017. Although, following that song, he did a 180 and calmed the nerves in the room with “911/Mr Lonely.” The track is about the loneliness Tyler feels and the feeling of hoping at least one person hits your line today. The track features alternative R&B greats Steve Lacy, Anna of the North and perhaps one of the greatest of this generation, Frank Ocean. This song is on my list because of the undeniably beautiful chords and the perfect features. Tyler also delivers honest story-telling like verses that express the true emotion of the song.

2. “Self-Made” by Bryson Tiller: Most of the world knows of Bryson Tiller through is chart topping single “Don’t” back in 2015. Since then, Tiller has established stardom and has been welcomed into the hearts of the new culture of R&B. In July of 2017, he released his sophomore album “True To Self,” which contained 19 songs; five more than his debut album. On the album, Tiller takes us through a ray of emotions as he always does, but then hits with a rare braggadocio in “Self-Made.” The song opens with a bang and Tiller wastes no time getting straight to the point. “Gucci on my belt, bought a necklace for myself, bought Giuseppe for myself, spent them blessings on myself ” he raps with an open confidence, contrary to usual reserved demeanor. This song ranks on my list because its impossible for this song to not lift your confidence. This song is a reminder to always walk into any place with a poised swagger.

1. “The Heart Part 4” by Kendrick Lamar: In late March of 2017, amidst album releases by Hip Hop frontrunners by the likes of Drake, and Rick Ross, another Hip-Hop icon made certain we didn’t forget about him. On March 23, Kendrick Lamar abruptly released his militant and poetic single titled “The Heart Part 4.” The track starts off with soft kicks and a soulful sample as Lamar spits his first line: “30 millions later my future favors the legendary status of a hip hop rhyme savior.” The Compton MC flows effortlessly through three beat changes telling the world where he’s been and and that he still runs the game. This song ranks as 1st because of its over-your-head lyricism and the production of each beat effortlessly contours around Kendrick’s flow. Making it a one-of-a kind song that only a one-of a kind artist can execute.

“Everybody” by Logic. (Album art courtesy of Visionary Music Group/Def Jam Recordings)

Jerry Yan

5. “Cold” by Maroon 5 (feat. Future): As a fan of Maroon 5, I was excited to hear the song on the radio when it was released. The song is catchy as usual, and the lyric talks about turbulences lovers encounter. People who are in a relationship tend to relate to the song. Moreover, Adam Levine’s voice fits in well with Future’s rap verse in the song.

4. “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens: Nothing is more beautiful than adolescent love. Featured in the LGBTQ+ movie “Call Me by Your Name,” this piece reckons pictures and flashbacks of the summer days that Elio and Oliver spent together in an Italian small town. However, the slightly somber melody epitomizes a sad ending. It was a utopian romance between the boys. But love is love.

3. “Despacito – Remix” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (feat. Justin Bieber): Meaning “slowly” in English, “Despacito” was people’s summer addiction in 2017. The Spanish rhythm and lyrics seemed novel but addictive to lots of people. When Justin Bieber participated in the remix version of the song, it made a hit worldwide. From grocery stores in the U.S. to the nightclubs in China, I’ve heard the song everywhere.

2. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic (feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid): It’s not my first time to hear songs about suicide, but Logic has made his piece fairly innovative yet inspiring. The title is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. From “I just wanna die” to “I don’t wanna die anymore,” the song transitions from hell to heaven, portraying how people successfully save themselves.

1. “Fetish” by Selena Gomez (feat. Gucci Mane): Gomez takes one step forward in the fashion game in her video and song cover of “Fetish,” rocking a vintage yellow dress with a pair of white sneakers. As sexy as usual, “Fetish” consists of beats from R&B and electronic music, and the theme of the lyric plays around desires and attractions between the two loved ones.

A Trip to the North Carolina Zoo

The Aviary
by Mia Shelton

Exotic birds, tropical plants and mesmerizing view are, all things can be experienced in the Bird Aviary at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina. When you step into the aviary, you will be greeted with humid air, mysterious bird calls and friendly staff. You will see all sorts of exotic birds and animals, like Chilean Flamingos, Eclectus Parrots, poison dart frogs and many more. A fellow writer and myself got the pleasurable opportunity to interview bird keeper, Wendy Wadsworth and Horticultural expert, Denise Rogers, who shared with us the history, inner workings and experiences of the aviary.

The aviary opened in 1982. It houses 3,000 plants of 694 different species and 100 to 120 birds of 40 to 45 different species. These plants and animals require and abundance of consistent upkeep and care. There is staff on duty seven days a week year round to assist with the care of each of bird and plant. They also clean, maintain and prep the environment to make sure they are ready for presentation. Keepers clean outdoor ponds and indoor pools where the birds play. They also monitor the medical, behavioral and breeding behavior of the birds to make sure they progressing properly and safely. When feeding these birds eat anything from mealworms to pellets, to raw meat. Horticulture staff washed down the walk ways of the aviary to clear it of leaf litter and bird feces.

It can be difficult to care for these birds sometimes. For keepers have to treat their ailments, they have to catch them first, which according to the keepers can take five minutes to five months, in extreme cases. There have even been situations where birds have to be relocated. For example, Wendy shared with me that a male Victorian Crowned Pigeon that had to be relocated because she had a problem with “wing slapping.” This is an act in which he would walk up next to another bird or staff and slap them with his wing. This behavior was completely natural and is acceptable in his natural habitat. However, in the exhibit this behavior was problematic because it can cause serious injury to another bird or person.

Many people take issue with the idea of animals being in captivity. When asked about how she would approach this opposition, Wendy said: “It is really about their animal ambassadors for their species in the wild. We want to educate people about these environments. We also want to give people the opportunity to experience a tropical rainforest because they may never get to travel to a tropical rainforest.” Wendy also talked about programs that have animals in captivity because their species is declining. One of these programs is the MAC program. The Mariana Avifauna Conservation (MAC) Project,  is a project that is working to conserve threatened and endemic bird species of Marianas Islands. The goals of the program are to establish a captive breeding population of the golden white eye as an assurance population and to translocate birds from Saipan to the island of Sarigan. To learn more about the MAC program and NC zoo involvement. To the North Carolina Zoo website.

The North Carolina Zoo is an amazing that filled with exotic animals, plants and fun. A family favorite outing full of adventure and knowledge. I asked the Wendy and Denise how they would describe their exhibit and they said “we love our Zoo and we love our aviary.”


Photos by Pooja Pasupula.

Rocky Coast
by Hunter Heilman

The polar bears never came out to see us.

Then again, who could blame them? They’re arctic creatures living in central North Carolina where the high for the day was 80º and the humidity was through the roof. At the North Carolina Zoo, many of the animals outside of their own climactic habitat are given large indoor areas to reside in that more accurately reflect their natural habitat, and it seems that Anana and Nikita, the male and female polar bears at the North Carolina Zoo, chose that over stepping into the muggy heat.

“Rocky Coast” is just one of the dozens of areas that the North Carolina Zoo offers to its visitors. This specific sections focuses greatly on arctic and sub-arctic animals, with the main attraction being the polar bears. Walking in, you’re greeted directly by the playful Harbor Seals and Sea Lions that possess seemingly endless energy at all hours of the day. Swimming laps around their tank in formation, the Harbor Seals are playful, charismatic creatures that you could watch all day if you really wanted to.

Rocky Coast also gives way to a barrage of Arctic seabirds, with its main attraction being the Puffin. As there were so many birds in this large, indoor exhibit, it gives a lot of way to see some truly interesting things. Most of the birds were just relaxing, like any of us would be on any given morning that we didn’t have to go to work. But like every group of people, there are your outliers that draw attention to themselves. Two of the seabirds engaged in a playful water fight for quite a long time, spasming in the deep waters to create as much of a splash on the other bird as possible. While another bird just simply stood facing the corner flapping its wings roughly every 30 seconds. These birds are not only gorgeous creatures to gaze upon, they have quite a bit of spunk and personality within them as well.

And then we find my personal favorite of the animals in the Rocky Coast area: The Arctic Fox. These might not have been the most energetic animals of the bunch, but their beauty could not be understated in the slightest. The striking features of this animal are almost jarring to see in person at first, but it’s a rare beauty you don’t find in most animals. It was a lazy time of the day for the foxes, with only one really doing any moving, even though their movements were solely to move from one sleeping place to another. They were precious animals that I could’ve stuck with all day.

There’s also the Peregrine Falcon, who poked their head out every now and again, but stayed hidden from viewers during most of our visit. For what we could tell, they were sleeping and didn’t seek to be disturbed. According to the zoo website, “The Peregrin [sic] falcon is the fastest living animal in the world, able to reach speeds of 200 MPH in a dive,” and its intimidating nature shows it means business in a single look. Majestic is the word that could be used to describe the Peregrine Falcon, with a beauty and ferocity about them that lets you know they are not to be messed with.

But then there’s the main event: polar bear city. Situated in a beautifully designed habitat, the two polar bears, male Nikita and female Anana, live separately throughout the year until mating season, which according to program coordinator Steve Gerkin, is typically housed in the first few months of each year. Since Nikita was brought to the zoo in January 2016, the zoo has anticipated the possible arrival of a polar bear cub from Anana, but according to Gerkin, as baby polar bears are so small, there is no possible way to tell if Anana is pregnant until it’s time for her to give birth, so the zoo is always prepared for the possibility of a new addition to the polar bear family at any time.

At the largest zoo in the world, there’s a lot to see, but the Rocky Coast might be one of the more interesting additions to the zoo. It’s a beautiful and striking exhibit that, even if we didn’t see any polar bears this specific day, provided an ample amount of fun and knowledge.


Photos by Madison Dobrzenski.

Cypress Swamp
by: Jeffrey Kopp and Stephanie Trefzger

We ventured into the swamp, a little overwhelmed by the heat and humidity, which we distracted ourselves from with “Shrek” memes. We kept up our guard, fearing an attack from the alligators and cougars that were all around us. Sure, we knew that there was no chance of an actual mauling, but the uneasiness was still there. Camouflage proved itself useful for a somewhat terrifying reptile; it didn’t even have to move, but the alligator snapping turtle’s spiky shell was enough to make us retreat from the window and onto a wooden bench nearby, where we awaited the arrival of Chris Shupp, an Animal Management Supervisor for the Cypress Swamp.

Like the polar bears, the gopher frogs were nowhere to be found.  But unlike the polar bears, there was no reason for the frogs not to be there. But maybe we just couldn’t see them.

The habitat in which they were kept was small, about the size of a ten gallon fish tank. It contained many plants native to the North Carolina Sandhills, including the pines of the native longleaf pine tree and the coarse, sandy soil of the region. The dim and humid pavilion may have helped to hide the already hard-to-find amphibians. Chances are the frogs were there but we couldn’t see them because evolution didn’t want us to.

The continuation of evolution is one of the goals of zoo’s conservation project  They aim to raise awareness of the Sandhill region and the many creatures that live there.  According to Shupp, this means making people aware of “habitat loss and fire suppression,” which are major contributing factors in the decline of species.  Fire, contrary to popular belief, plays a crucial role in the health of a wooded ecosystem. It returns nutrients to the soil and opens up the area in which the animals live.

Shupp and his team at the zoo are doing their parts to rebuild gopher frog populations by buying up land formerly used for development and letting it grow back to how it used to be while monitoring the number of species in the area.  However, on a more local level, the team is building the zoo’s gopher frogs a new, larger enclosure that they will share with another sandhill native.  The new enclosure is built with tunnels and hollows, perfect for the frogs to hide in during the day, and will, of course, contain the same plant the frogs would come across if they were in the wild.

Every expectation we had as we entered the swamp was shattered.  There was no danger; the uneasiness eventually melted away; and there were no frogs in sight.  But the biggest surprise was the attachment we garnered towards the frogs, which we previously hadn’t even heard of, and the level of investment we suddenly felt towards their conservation efforts.  Maybe Shupp was right: the most important thing is “making people aware of what’s in their own backyards.”

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Burn Bridges, Burn Pies’ – OhBree

“Burn Bridges, Burn Pies” album artwork courtesy of the artist.

You know the surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, right? You might know him as the guy who painted those bizarre melting clocks or the man with the equally weird mustache.  What if I told you that there was a band who could provide the perfect soundtrack to his paintings? There is, and their name is OhBree.

Take the title of their third and most recent album, “Burn Bridges, Burn Pies.” Like Dalí’s paintings, OhBree’s title suggests something sinister that is being masked by something more playful and fun. For Dalí, the melting clocks in his “Persistence of Memory” are fun until you realize that it shows time literally slipping away.  For OhBree, there are fun, danceable rhythms covering some somewhat grim lyrics.  As the band’s singer/keyboardist/frontman Andrew Scott put it, “Start off with something depressing and sinister, then juxtapose it with something silly as fuck.”

But OhBree’s absurdism doesn’t stop there.  You’d think that keeping track of three or four band members would be difficult, but that did not stop this band from incorporating eight, yes eight, people, who sing, play the keyboard, the drums, trumpet, trombone, guitar, saxophone and bass. As you can probably imagine, this brassy sound is very theatrical, something that can only be compared to the work of They Might be Giants or early Panic! at the Disco (think a mix between “Pretty Odd.” and “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out”). Don’t worry, though, they’ve still got their own sound.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dubin.

Actually, OhBree has lots of sounds. “Burn Bridges, Burn Pies” has 13 songs and each of them sounds completely different than the one before it. The album takes you on a journey of sorts; it’s not a straightforward journey, either, but one with twists and turns and surprises around every corner. Take track four, “16 Years,” for example; it’s creepy and has very clear and heavy blues influences but sounds like it could be the part of a mid ’00s movie; it moves into the fifth song, which may prove to be a fan-favorite, “Mr. Sweet,” more upbeat and, well, cute in a way. It’s probably the catchiest song on the album, but just as you get into it, it’s ripped away from you after a mere one minute and 18 seconds.

There’s also a rock’n’roll inspired song called “Which Doctor, Witch Doctor,” which Scott sings sort of in Steven Tyler’s iconic screamy, drawn-out style. There’s also “Spine,” which completely caught me off-guard when I first heard it; it’s very quick and somewhat hard to follow. Its sense of urgency as well as its lyrics (“you can’t feel anything when they break your spine”) are somewhat anxiety-inducing but still fun. All I could imagine while listening to this particular song was one of those “Scooby-Doo” scenes where the gang and the monster chased one another through a hallway of doors.

Photo courtesy of Emily Dubin.

“Burn Bridges, Burn Pies” was really well produced, and I could tell a lot of care and effort went into it.  The experimental style of the horns and their fascinating harmonies really made the album worth it. And the way each song seamlessly blended into the next made it feel like the album was one song rather than 13 separate ones, and it made the journey so much more fun to be on.

OhBree mastered mixing the dark with the bright and the theatrics by not taking themselves so damn seriously, a surprisingly refreshing concept but not a new one. It is very much in the spirit of Dalí, who, during his life, was as eccentric as his art is (he owned an anteater at one point and an ocelot at another). Both artists remind that something grim is always lurking, but life is too short not to have fun with it.

Rating: 4/5
Go Download: “Which Doctor, Witch Doctor”, “Mr. Sweet”, “Spine”
Similar Artists: They Might Be Giants, Panic! at the Disco, The Taxpayers
Record Label: OhBree.

Little Things, Big Impact

Album art courtesy of Capitol/Visionary Records.

Jeffrey Kopp- A&E Editor

I don’t really consider myself to be a big music fan, but this year I foung myself captivated by an up-and-coming artist named Jon Bellion. Several months ago, I downloaded his latest album, “The Human Condition,” and I have listened to it nearly every day. His music transcends genres, with each song feeling completely different than the last. The plethora of different instruments used, combined with Bellion’s voice, make the songs on the album incredibly catchy. I almost always listen to “The Human Condition” while driving, but also on study breaks, as the album has proved to be a great aid for destressing.

Photo by Jorge Royan.

Stephanie Trefzger- Assistant A&E Editor

The thing I discovered this year was organ music. Okay, I knew about it before, but this was the first year I really learned to appreciate it. And how could I not; it’s an instrument literally designed to emulate practically every other instrument. It’s the BOGO deal of the instrument world. Not to mention the ability musicians need to have in order to use the buttons, keyboards and pedals that make the instrument work, all at once. It’s mind boggling. And finally, some of the best composers in history composed for the organ: Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart and my personal favorite, Max Reger. I was lucky to have a friend introduce me to the organ and change my life in that way (among others), and I hope I can do the same for someone else.

Photo courtesy of Harvest Records.

Tyler Trudeau- Staff Writer

One of the most memorable bands I discovered this year was the English indie pop group, Glass Animals. Quickly entrancing me with their 2016 album, “How to Be a Human Being,” the intriguing synth-pop-meets-alternative-rock captivated me as they took influence from some of my favorite artists like alt-J, Broken Bells, and Chet Faker. Still at the top of my Spotify playlist, the hit songs “Life Itself” and “Season 2 Episode 3” take me out of all the stress of college and send me down a psychedelic avenue of fantastically-addictive music. I’m still waiting for the chance to see these guys live in concert.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Noah Howell- Staff Writer

As someone who has played and owns every game from “The Legend of Zelda,” I was pretty much sold on “Breath of the Wild” as soon as it was announced as the first open-world entry in the series. Despite that, I was not aboard the hype train until the last trailer was shown at the end of the Nintendo Switch press conference back in January. The trailer hit all the right beats in music, visuals, and at teasing the story for the game, which sent me into a craze for any gameplay or analysis video related to “Breath of the Wild” for the better part of a month. The game’s release perfectly coincided with the start of spring break, so when I wasn’t hanging out with friends from high school, I was playing “Breath of the Wild” pretty much anywhere thanks to the portability of the Switch. It amazes me that a game of its size and incredible detail can even be taken on the go in the first place. Needless to say, “Breath of the Wild” exceeded my expectations and is one that I think every gamer should give a shot at some point in their life.

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Elissa Miller- Staff Writer

Call it cliche or overrated, but this past year I fell deeply in love with a movie called “La La Land.” I have an unabashed love of musicals, including the classic cinematic ones. I can name phases of my life in which I watched “Hello Dolly” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” on repeat. “La La Land” manages to be both reminiscent of these classics and completely new at the same time. The music and dance numbers are beautiful and catchy; I bought the soundtrack less than twenty-four hours after seeing the film. Not only that, but the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. It might be a little overhyped at this point, but in all honesty, if you haven’t seen “La La Land” yet, you really should. It’ll stay with you for hours after it ends.

Life’s Imitation of Art: ‘La Bohème’

Poster created by Danny Tulledge.

Hickory Ridge High School might be one of the saddest places I have ever been.  It doesn’t have nearly enough windows to suit its size; its labyrinthine parking lot is nearly impossible to navigate; and the inside is dull and lifeless. What the school does have, however, is friendly people and an enthusiastic arts program. This may be why it was such a perfect place to put on a preview of UNC Charlotte’s production of “La Bohème.”

“La Bohème,” which means “bohemian” in French, is an Italian opera that reflects life in early 19th century Paris, where a lot of prospective artists were poor, but happy. The characters in Puccini’s story do not let their surroundings dictate their happiness, thus creating an unlikely parallel to the school.

Usually when I go to review an event, I go to pick up my ticket and sit down to watch whatever it is that is being performed in front of me. This time it was a little different; it was a little more hands-on than originally expected. On the day of the preview, April 7, my day started at 8:00 a.m. when the cast, production designer, director and I made our way to Robinson to load the opera’s set into the waiting cars. Like a game of Tetris, we stacked trees, benches, chairs, a small fireplace and a shopping cart, along with various other miscellaneous objects on top of one another, just hoping that everything would fit. After a lot of pushing and prodding, it did. Arriving at Hickory Ridge was less complicated, but interesting nevertheless. We unloaded the set and made our way to the auditorium.

I was of little use during the set-up process, so I watched the others do it. Accompanied by the sound of laughter and chatter, the set came together, and the seemingly random objects found their rightful places. The noise died down. Soon after, the school’s theater and chorus students filed into the auditorium, somehow chatting about both everything and nothing all at once. My favorite conversation was that between two girls who fiercely debated which variety of Cheetos was best. The lights turned down, and with them, their voices.

Photo by Austin Philemon

I was worried about how the students would react to the first act, to the opera in general. After all, high schoolers can be mean, and opera isn’t necessarily this generation’s first love.

The many voices were replaced by only a single booming one, which was accompanied by a small orchestra on the side of the stage, conducted by set producer Austin Philemon. This is Tyrez Dabbs, who played artist Marcello. He is quickly joined by Hunter Aldridge, who plays artist Rodolfo, followed by the musician Schaunard (Joe McGovern), and the philosopher Colline (James Matens), until they are all together in an old attic. They are poor, causing them to argue over whose work to burn for warmth, but they are happy. It was Christmas Eve, so they all decided to go to a café. Fortunately for Rodolfo, he has not finished writing his play yet, and promises to meet his friends when he is done; the others leave. A neighbor, Mimi (Cecily Bednarek) knocks on Rodolfo’s door, asking him to light her candle. Mysteriously – or not so mysteriously – Rodolfo’s candle goes out, too. Mimi accidentally drops her key, and when the two search for it in the dark, they touch each one another’s hands. They fall in love.

At this point, the house lights once again lit up the space, and the cast moved quickly to move the set in preparation of the next act. I watched, and as I watched, I again listened to the students around me talk. To my absolute delight, they loved it, and my worries were assuaged. They discussed the plot and laughed about the parts they thought were funny. One girl told her friend that this was her first introduction to opera and how much she liked it. They spoke of the actor’s voices, and how they wished that their voices could do the same. I grinned to myself, wishing the same. They were particularly enthralled by the voice of Bednarek, whose performance was impossible to ignore.

 

The lights go down. Act two.

Rodolfo happily brings Mimi to the café to introduce her to his friends. There, they run into Musetta (Amaranth Weiss), Marcello’s former lover. She makes her grand entrance while hanging on the arm of a wealthy older man named Alcindoro, played by David Cruz. Musetta, only in it for the money, is clearly uninterested in the old man’s affections, thus working on attracting Marcello’s attention instead. Finally, she gets rid of Alcindoro and falls back into Marcello’s arms. When it is discovered that none of them has the money to pay for their meal, Musetta tells their waiter to charge everything to Alcindoro’s account. With the sight of a group of soldiers marching past the cafe’s windows, the  friends quickly depart. Alcindoro returns to the table only to find a bill.

Again, the lights turned on, the frantic scramblings of the cast to prepare for the next act ensued and the students again started talking amongst themselves. They were completely engaged in the plot, and they were more enthusiastic than before. This had something to do with the hilarity of Musetta, and the brilliant execution by Weiss, which had the perfect reactions from her surrounding cast. Because this was just a preview of the full opera, and there was a time constraint, the story skipped the third act entirely and moved on to the fourth.

The final act starts just as the opening act: Marcello and Rodolfo are trying to work, but without any success. This time it is because they are both preoccupied with the fact that Mimi and Rodolfo no longer see each other. Colline and Schaunard come in with some food, but it is only a meager meal of bread and herring. They improvise a meal, pretend to be at a ball and even fight a mock duel with a tennis racket and an umbrella.  Then Musetta bursts into the telling them that Mimi is very ill but does not dare to come in. The actors and the music stop abruptly.

 

It took a minute for the audience to realize that the opera had been cut short and that this was the ending they were left with. A boy to the right of me somewhere was the first to realize and let everyone know by shouting “DUDE” at the people on stage. After some outcry, the students accepted that they wouldn’t see the end of the story that day, and they began to shuffle out of the auditorium and back to their regular school day. As they left, I could hear them mimic the operatic voices of the actors. When they left, we accepted our fate and began to take apart the set, once again playing a game of Tetris with the props.

The stage seemed empty and sad without the set, and I was reminded that we were in an underfunded school that served meager lunches. I thought of the phrase, “Art imitates life,” which is usually incorporated in a meme of some kind and chuckled to myself. It is true after all.

Performances of “La Bohème” will take place April 21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 at 4:30 p.m. at UNC Charlotte Center City.

A Dangerous Serenity: The Art of Sanskrit


Photos by Chris Crews.
There is always a sense of serenity when walking towards the Student Union art gallery.  The sound of someone playing the piano carries down the hall joined by people chatting, and this time, the distinctive smell of barbecue sauce.  It’s a calming atmosphere, and it gives those who go a little distraction from life’s worries.

This theme continued with the art featured in the Sanskrit exhibition, which ran from March 6  through 24.  There was an immediately obvious color scheme: blues, yellows, browns, which made it’s way around the room. There were flecks of green scattered on various pieces of art, but they worked together to create a cohesive entity.

These colors worked together to take the viewer to all types of places, from the mountains to the ocean, to people’s homes while showcasing the life found there.  The gallery begins with the ocean: two realistic watercolor paintings of waves called “Air” and “Breeze” respectively by their creator, Elena Belova.  It then moves past several paintings of people with mugs and then of one of a cat called “Whyme” by Sarah Kinney, all of which bring the feelings of morning.  These bring us to two acrylic paintings by Thomasson Burgess, one of a mountain called “Majesty,” the other of what viewers collectively decided was a bear, called “399.”  Both used yellow and blues à la Vincent van Gogh.

One of the fan favorites, however, was not a painting, but rather a series of wood sculptures by Madison Dunaway called “Frame of Reference #1,” ”Frame of Reference #2” and “Potentially Utilizable.”  These sculptures changed with your angle.  From one they looked like coral, from another a whale’s fluke, and because of their honeycomb-like shapes, they threw the fading sunlight around the room.  “Potentially Utilizable” was, in this case, utilized as a wall decoration and a home to succulents.

There also seemed to be a childlike innocence to much of the art, particularly that of Caroline Kerrigan, who used everything from coffee to digital art to create pictures that could fit into any childrens’ book.  “Evening Tea,” for example, shows a kindly witch reading her book in front of the fire, while “The Captain” depicts a pirate with a parrot on their shoulder, “Ella” looks like a princess from a Disney movie and “Persephone” is the visual storytelling of the Greek queen of the underworld.  “The Fates” is another depiction of characters from Greek mythology.  However, the generally dark colors and creepy imagery usually surrounding them have been replaced by pastel pinks and greens.

Despite the peace that appears on the surface level of the art, there is also the feeling of something dangerous lurking around the corner.  Whether intentional or not, Belova’s “Air” appears to have a hand reaching out of the waves as if it wants to pull you down with it, and while looking at the bear in Burgess’ “399” there is a lingering realization that despite the warmness in its eyes, it’s still a wild animal easily capable of violence.  And even the beautiful and fun images by Kerrigan remind that not every story has a happy ending.

These are, by far, not the only pieces of art featured in the gallery, nor were these necessarily the best; they were simply the ones that seemed to carry the general theme throughout.  While the gallery may have closed, it was just the introduction for this year’s edition of UNC Charlotte’s annual Sanskrit literary-arts magazine, which features over 70 works submitted by students, teachers, community members and people from all over the world.  The magazine is available for free on campus from now until next year when the journey begins again.