iOS 10 is amazing

Apple released iOS 10 to the public this week just days after unveiling the iPhone 7. While the iPhone 7 has proven to be disappointing with its lack of stellar new features and the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack, iOS 10 shows promise of what’s to come.

I was reluctant to upgrade to iOS 10 this week because Apple updates are notorious for their bugs that can leave phones or iPads “bricked,” or in an unusable state for a period of time.

However, I decided to take the plunge and see what Apple had to offer. They had a lot.

Perhaps the best new feature is how the phone wakes when you simply pick it up. No more reaching over for your phone and pressing the home button, which usually unlocked the phone because of touch ID.

Other exciting features include redesigned notifications, new messaging features, and the ability to delete those default apps that you’ve never used. You know, things like Stocks and Watch.

iOS 10 also just seems to run faster, and the interface seems cleaner.

iOS 10 is a breath of fresh air, and everyone should give it a try.

 

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Windows 10: a return to form

Like millions of others around the globe, I reserved my free upgrade to Windows 10, anxiously awaiting the new operating system’s release date so that I could break up with Windows 8.1.

Continue reading “Windows 10: a return to form”

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

Book: A Game of Thrones

Author: George R. R. Martin

Genre: High Fantasy

Published: 1996

Publisher: Bantam Books

The cover of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, used under fair use for this book review.
The cover of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, used under fair use for this book review.

I have been meaning to read A Game of Thrones for a few years now after seeing so many good reviews. I have never watched the TV series on HBO based off of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, so I am not comparing it to the adaptation.

I read through the book rather quickly considering how busy I have been lately, and I think it has to do with the quality of the writing and the depth of the characters and the constant surprises the novel threw my way. I assumed it would be a typical high fantasy novel, which is fine by me, but I learned that this novel is anything but typical.

It leaves out the most common fantasy tropes such as the Chosen One and average farm boy rising above all else. There is also a lack of magic ruling the way of life, although it is present. Instead, A Game of Thrones focuses on relationships and politics, something that fantasy novels usually leave out for a larger sense of adventure.

The main conflict is layered with multiple sides and Martin allows us to see each side and feel for every single character. There is no good versus evil. Each sides has its faults and each seems to look for something to gain.

Despite the rather slow start, the novel really kicked up a few chapters in and never cooled down. There were even a few parts that caught me by surprise, which is pretty rare.

I give the book 5 stars

Album review: Three Days Grace, “Human”

I originally wrote and published this article with JagWire newsmagazine on their website and it has been submitted to Best of SNO for possible inclusion on their website. 

– Chase –


Rock group Three Days Grace released their fifth studio album, “Human,” March 31 to stores everywhere and for digital download.

The album is the first with new vocalist Matt Walst following the departure of Adam Gontier in 2014 to pursue a solo career. Matt Walst, who rose to fame as the vocalist of rock band My Darkest Days following the band’s breakthrough album in 2010, is the brother of bassist Brad Walst.

Matt Walst had worked with Three Days Grace before and is credited as a composer on the band’s 2012 album “Transit of Venus.”

The band is known for mainstream rock hits such as “I Hate Everything About You” in 2003, “Animal I Have Become” and “Pain” in 2006 and “Never Too Late” in 2007.

“Human” follows a generic 21st century mainstream rock formula with repetitive lyrics and that somewhat muffled and electronic sound that all modern bands seem to have. The album isn’t exciting like the 20th century work of groups such as Van Halen or Def Leppard, but no one expects it to be either.

The album starts out with its third promotional single, “Human Race.” The beginning of the song sounds like awful electronic pop music for about 40 seconds, but the hard rock guitar riffs and vocals start right after and the electronic sound disappears until later in the song. Matt Walst’s vocals are strong during the verses, but they are a bit underwhelming during the chorus. The guitar solo starts at the last third of the track and it is probably one of the better guitar solos of all of the mainstream rock bands today. The song is definitely a standout for the album.

The album then proceeds to the mainstream rock radio hit “Painkiller,” a fan favorite off of the album. KISW – the Rock of Seattle – seems to play the song every two hours or so and has been doing so since the single dropped in late 2014. The song doesn’t differ too much from other rock hits of the century, but that doesn’t mean its bad. The song is the best one on the album.

“Fallen Angel” is a slower song that seems hit ready, yet has not been released as a single. The song does offer a glimpse at the upper vocal range of Matt Walst and an easy to follow chorus and lyrical structure, but not much else.

“I Am Machine” was the second mainstream rock hit from the album, played about as frequent as “Painkiller” was. The song’s chorus comes off as catchy and odd as it cruises through at multiple points of the song in a crescendo of intensity.

The seventh track on the album, “So What,” is fierce and on the verge of being a rock n roll anthem, which was likely the point. The song’s lyrics are rebellious in nature like all great rock anthems. It is hard to resist the urge to throw both fists in the air as the bend belts out big backing vocals during the chorus that make it a standout on the album.

“Car Crash” is a self explanatory title. The entire album seemed to be heading in the right way until this song came up. It is metaphorical for a love gone bad, but the song really just disappoints, sounding very much like the car crash it mentions.

“One Too Many” is very reminiscent of the type of music Matt Walst made with My Darkest Days: dark and disturbing vocals about love that lead up to powerful choruses. The verses of the song come across like whispers and warnings, low and scratchy.

Overall, the album is surprisingly pleasant. The first half rings true as a rock album while the second half seems to slowly taper off and fade. Vocalist Matt Walst has proven himself to be superior or at least as talented as Gontier on “Human,” as the album is better than “Transit of Venus,” which shows that Three Days Grace can continue to make good music in the future.

This week in rock music – Vol. 2

Read volume 1 here.

There isn’t much in the world of rock music this week. Tons of albums were released, but none of them are really standouts. They all sound the same and I am dying for something different and possibly more upbeat.

February 28 – March 06, 2015

Chasing Yesterday – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

Oasis guitarist and co-vocalist Noel Gallagher released a solo album March 3. The album isn’t bad, but it is extremely boring. I was expecting some ’90s alt rock and instead we have the lifeless form of alt rock that seems to dominate rock music these days.

“In the Heat of the Moment” is a standout track simply because it is less boring than the other tracks. Moving on.

UFO is back 

I’ve never listened to much UFO. I’ve only heard a few of their songs, so I really can’t judge if I like their music or not. Their new album, also released March 3, shows that the band can keep going after all of these years.

There isn’t anything terribly exciting going on here, but the talent is there.

“Ballad of the Left Hand Gun” and “Sugar Cane” are standout tracks, which sound like they are out of the ’70s.

Greatest albums from each year: 1970 – 1974

As part of a new series I am starting: Music in the eyes of young adult, I have decided to kick it off with my favorite albums from each year. This will be the first of many parts, offering my two favorite albums from each year and an explanation. A few years also have a honorable mention because of the hard decisions a list like this entails.

Enjoy!

 


1970

1. Led Zeppelin III – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin III is the pinnacle of Led Zeppelin’s career. The songs on the album are mostly acoustic or softer in nature than the rest of Zep’s catalog, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock. The album starts with the famous “Immigrant Song” and the wails of Robert Plant, which has become one of the most recognizable Zeppelin songs. The album proceeds through the great “Friends” and eventually into “Out on the Tiles,” which is probably one of their better songs. The second half of the album gets interesting and shows Led Zeppelin’s musical diversity. The cover of the traditional song “Gallows Pole” is transformed into a Zep trademark with its catchy arrangement. “Tangerine” is one of my all time favorite songs and is also the first Led Zeppelin song I ever heard. The album then proceeds into “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” which is the best song on the album. Its beat is easy to stomp or clap along to and the song just has a fun feel to it.

2. American Beauty – Grateful Dead

American Beauty is the best album the Grateful Dead ever put out during their long spanning career. Unlike many of its predecessors, the songs on American Beauty are easy to hum or sing along to and they are generally more upbeat than before. All of the songs share a similar formula that soft rock bands everywhere could die for. The album’s highlight would be “Ripple,” which is a song that really grew on me over the years, hearing my brother play it loud while burning Nag Champa in my old house’s basement while I was in elementary school.


 

1971

1. IV (Led Zeppelin IV, Zoso) – Led Zeppelin

The most popular of Led Zeppelin’s catalog, IV remains one of the most influential albums of all time. Practically every song has become a hit over the years and I have heard all of them played on my local radio station in Seattle within the past three years. Why? The album is timeless. It is straightforward rock n roll at its finest. No song on the album could be considered filler. “Stairway to Heaven” is also probably the most recognizable song of the 1970s.

2. Pearl – Janis Joplin

This one might come as a bit of a surprise, especially coming from a 17 year-old. Janis Joplin was one of the most important female vocalists. As Steven Tyler of Aerosmith put it on FOX’s “American Idol,” “If you don’t got what Joplin had, then the only roots ya got are in your hair.” Pearl is fitting as the last album Janis Joplin put out before her death, because she went out with a bang and on top.


 

1972

1. Machine Head – Deep Purple

Deep Purple’s Machine Head is through and through a great rock album. It also helped to form the basis of heavy metal. “Smoke on the Water” has become a song known world-wide and it is the most commonly played song on guitar. I will even admit that it is one of the only songs I can play on guitar because you can learn it so quickly. While “Smoke on the Water” may be the most memorable song on the album, it is certainly not the best. “Maybe I’m a Leo” has such a great rhythm you can’t help but try to mimic the guitar and keyboard noises or sing along.

2. Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones

I have always prefered the Stones music after Some Girls, but Exile on Main Street is such a strong album that not considering it as one of the best albums of 1972 would be a sin. “Tumbling Dice” is definitely a highlight of the Stones’ career and I can’t help but sing along to “All Down the Line” every time I hear it.


 

1973

1. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin

We aren’t quite done with Zep just yet. Houses of the Holy is a fitting follow-up album for 1971’s best-selling IV. It is the first album to move away from the traditional Led Zeppelin sound and start to move to a more vocal and keyboard driven rock, which is also repeated on Zep’s next album, Physical Graffiti. Many of these songs are still played on my local radio. “The Crunge” and “D’yer Mak’er” are definitely stand-out tracks.

2. Aerosmith – Aerosmith

Aerosmith’s debut album is definitely one of the greatest debuts in history. “Make It” starts off the album with that bluesy-hard rock feel that would become a staple of Aerosmith’s early sound. The album also includes the hit “Dream On,” which features Steven Tyler’s great piano playing and screaming, and the song “Mama Kin,” which is still a fan favorite today. Guns n Roses also covered the song two decades later.


 

1974

1. Get Your Wings – Aerosmith

Get Your Wings follows the same sound as Aerosmith’s first album, but it also further progresses itself into hard rock. The album contains many concert staples such as “Same Old Song and Dance,” and “Train Kept-A-Rollin.”

2. Kiss – KISS

KISS’s debut album ranks as one of their best. It contains many fan favorites and concert staples such as “Strutter,” “Firehouse,” “Cold Gin,” and “Deuce.” The album showcases the vocal abilities of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, while Peter Criss and Ace Frehley did not sing on many or any in the case of the latter.

Slang Deluxe Edition

On February 11, the day after my birthday, Def Leppard reissued the album Slang as a deluxe edition. When I first heard the album a few years ago, when I first got into rock music, I was very disappointed. 2010 was a strange year. I had finally made the transition from being a die-hard county music fan to becoming a fully-fledged rocker. My favorite band at the time: Def Leppard. I had fallen in love with the band’s music after borrowing my brother’s 2-disc greatest hits, Rock of Ages, and quickly began to purchase their studio albums. On Through the Night, High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania, Hysteria, Adrenalize, and Retro Active were in my hands by that Christmas. The next two albums in chronological order were 1996’s Slang and 1999’s Euphoria. My brother owned the latter, but at the time I decided against downloading it to my iTunes because it sounded different. The same could be said of Slang. 

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I couldn’t stand the sound of the album when I decided to listen to it via YouTube and quickly considered it as one of the worst rock albums of all time. Released in 1996, the album was a radical departure from Def Leppard’s traditional glam metal sound made popular with 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria. The album was written during a dark time in the band’s career, following guitarist Steve Clark’s death in the early 1990s and the rise in Grunge music from my home metro area, Seattle. With a majority of the glam acts already being labeled as has-beens and long-time producer “Mutt” Lange out of the picture, the band saw an opportunity to express how they were feeling at the time. The result was a darker theme and more acoustic sounding album that went hand in hand with the ’90’s alternative rock scene. I often wondered if the band could have kept their popularity strong throughout the 1990s if they would have sticked to their heavy metal and glam metal roots that made them one of the best-selling artists of all-time.

After a while I began to accept more styles of rock music and appreciate much of the music that was put out during the ’90s. I gave Euphoria a second listen in late 2011 and decided to download it, noticing that it was an attempt by Def Leppard to reestablish themselves with their ’80s audience. It really didn’t differ much from their older collection, except for the more produced sound. I gave Slang another listen and grew to appreciate a few of the songs, but I still decided against making a purchase. Then in early 2013 I gave it yet another listen. This time, I realized that Slang is truly a masterpiece. While it sounds different than anything Def Leppard had done or has yet to do since, and lacked any major hits or good album sales, it still isn’t bad.

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Slang shows that Def Leppard can strip down the twin-attack-guitar technique and the cut out the metal hooks and still make some good rock music. Right from the start Truth? delivers a heavy, dark-themed punch that continues for much of the album. The backing vocals on the song are much “angrier” and less harmonized. Turn to Dust is probably one of my favorite songs from the album with the experimental instruments in the background and the powerful harmonizing vocals from singer Joe Elliot and the ‘good-ol’ boys. Slang is probably the most produced song on the album, although still more organic sounding than their earlier work. It also appears to be the one song on the album that doesn’t have a deep meaning, though I could be wrong. All I Want is Everything shows a side of Def Leppard no one knew existed before.

Overall, the album takes its place with the band’s earlier work as a great, flawless album through and through. With the exception of Euphoria, Def Leppard has yet to make an album since that matches its greatness (with the disappointing pop-album X  in 2002 and the so-so Songs from the Sparkle Lounge in 2008).

The Deluxe Edition also includes some drafts and rough/early mixes of the album tracks. Some of the drafts are actually quite good, such as Raise Your Love, an early version of Slang that may even be better. The album also includes some hard-to-find songs, such as Burn Out, which was released as a b-side for a single from Euphoria, Worlds Collide, All On Your Touch, Can’t Keep Away From the Flame, and Move on Up. 

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