REVIEW: Future Nostalgia

Around the time I first listened to this album, I saw this article discussing Dua Lipa’s 80s inspiration for the music video to her song “Physical.” That same modernized 80s feel is easy to see in the rest of her latest album, Future Nostalgia. Every song has the bright percussive beat, rounded guitar plucks, and electronic effects similar to those found in classic 80s songs. Similarly, there is little dissonance in the chords, giving the songs a welcoming, sunny feel. This is probably a good part of why I like this album so much. It evokes the same feeling as the actual 80s music that is my go-to for comfort food in music form. As I discovered while writing my review for Niall Horan’s album Heartbreak Weather (the title song of which, incidentally, was also featured in the article I mentioned above – I’ve clearly got a type), the presence of a moving base line also makes a major difference in my enjoyment of a song, and I can hear that in her songs. Her use of backing strings, perhaps most clearly seen in “Love Again,” provides added depth to the music. Musically, the songs in this album are all unique creations. They evoke this nostalgic, familiar feeling, yet the melodies and chord progressions are not generic at all. The songs surprise me as they develop, which makes the listening experience exciting.

I don’t have too much to say about the lyrics, since that’s not usually my focal point in music, but there are occasional phrases where she hits the nail on the head perfectly: for example, “I don’t wanna live another life, ’cause this one’s pretty nice,” she sings in “Physical.” Similarly, the song “Boys Will Be Boys” (though its martial music and social message seem out of place when the rest of the album is about the thrill of romance) is a concisely written summary of the still-daily struggles women live through, encapsulated in lyrics like “It’s second nature to…put your keys between your knuckles, when there’s boys around.”

My favorite part of the album, though, is the fact that all its songs are danceable. That, of course, is a function of the musical elements I wrote about above, but it’s worth a separate mention that the songs on Future Nostalgia make it impossible to listen passively. Like any 80s pop anthem worth its salt, these songs will make you want to move with them, even if you’re just sitting at your desk.

REVIEW: Heartbreak Weather

Whether I’m cleaning the bathroom, doing the crossword, or deeply entrenched in a design, music is usually my constant companion. Niall Horan’s new album, Heartbreak Weather, has been one of the albums keeping me company as I wrap up the school year.

What I like about this album can be classified into two categories. First, the instrumentals are engaging enough to stand alone. The chords aren’t hackneyed – songs aren’t interesting when I can predict all the notes that come next without having even heard the song before – but they are still comfortable. The instrumentals are deeply layered, with only a light reliance on engineered sounds, making the music seem more genuine. Even in the slower songs, the simplicity of the acoustic guitar is shaded by the strings in the background. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this album since I first took a listen in March, but each time I do there is something new I hear in the songs.  I realized, for example, while trying to articulate why this music appeals so much to me, that there is always a moving base line. Most songs, of course, have a base element, but some simply hold a note. In my favorite songs on Heartbreak Weather, however, the frequent use of a shifting base line gives the songs a level of movement that keeps me engaged.

Second, the lyrics are different. I often don’t pay attention to the lyrics in a song, but these lyrics discuss the nuances of relationships, not the generic moments or feelings we hear so frequently. For example, in “Bend the Rules,” the lines “Cause on paper you don’t break them, but it hurts so bad the way you bend the rules” addresses some of the grey area in relationships that I don’t see surface often in songs about love. As Horan has stated was his intent with this album, the songs explore all facets of relationships, in a variety of musical styles, making the album suitable for listening across many moods. Similarly, some of the imagery in the lyrics is wonderfully specific. For example, “Are you all dressed up but with nowhere to go” in “Put A Little Love On Me,” or “And yeah we were dancing, dancing to Bruno” evoke precise images that make the listening experience so much better.

Most of my personal music “classics” – the albums that feel like home whenever I listen to them – are albums from the 80s to which I grew up listening. There are few modern albums that have made it into that category so far, but Heartbreak Weather is well on its way to making it in.

REVIEW: That Brown Show

I was very excited to see That Brown Show, and so, it seems, was everybody else in the audience, because they were much more boisterous than usual. In most other settings, this would have been somewhat irritating (in some parts, the audience cheered so loudly that I could barely hear the music), but after attending so many Indian student performances, I’ve accepted that this exuberance is simply part of the show.

I think all the ensembles did a very nice job, but I know I’ve seen much better from some. Sahana Music could have been a little more balanced – the vocalists didn’t perform much, while there were several percussion solos – but I loved the harmonium solo. Taal is capable of far more than what the piece they performed let on. The storyline of their dance, Robin Hood, could have been more connected to their choreography. The choreography itself seemed more fit for a nightclub until they started incorporating movements inspired by Indian classical dance, which they performed much more gracefully. It is possible that this was a deliberate juxtaposition between the more graceful Merry Men and the decadent King Richard, but if so, a more obvious difference would have helped. The Michigan Bhangra team had, as always, a very energetic performance, and their movements were crisp and unified, even those of the handkerchiefs they were flicking around. I wish they hadn’t had a video playing in the background, because after I noticed it all it did was distract me. Michigan Manzil had a really cohesive performance, and I was amazed at the unison they displayed despite the throng of people onstage. Their storyline for the dance – 21 Jump Street – worked really well with their performance, and their style and energy remained consistent throughout even when they were blending moves from different genres of dance. Sahana Dance was my favorite: they did a beautiful job of blending the three styles of dance that were represented onstage. Often, they take turns highlighting each dance style, but this time they managed to dance at the same time, and it worked really well. And they had some really unique music choices (that transitioned well) and some beautiful geometric formations. Michigan Izzat, as per usual, had a really tight performance with their hallmark crisp movements and a very well implemented storyline. Someday, though, I’d like to see them do more lyrical movements. I think it would add a lot of range to their repertoire, and I know they’re skilled enough to perform them. Lastly, Wolveraas had some really lovely musicality and very consistent energy, and they didn’t let that slip even despite a couple minor mishaps. This year, TBS was a competition – why I don’t know, and I hope it isn’t actually going to happen annually – and Izzat won the audience’s vote.

Strangely, Hill Auditorium as a venue didn’t seem to help anyone. Somehow the sound seemed muffled, not as bright as usual, and that leeched energy from everybody’s performances. This was not helpful, because these performances require a lot of energy, and I realized then that not all of that can come from the performers. But that couldn’t really be helped. My last note, though, is something that can be fixed: I really wish they would get their tech together. There were some hiccups with videos, sound editing, and sound balance that seem to happen at every show, and I know those are things that are so easily fixed with some minor attention to detail.

PREVIEW: That Brown Show

I’m excited to go to That Brown Show again this year; it’ll be my fourth time, I think. Every year the Indian student performance groups come up with something totally new, which means you never quite know what you’ll see. But they are always consistent in the high quality of work they present, and their dedication to their art. And every year what the show does best is highlight India’s bright colors, vibrancy, and our deep love for our culture.


That Brown Show will be held in Hill Auditorium on March 30, 2019. The performance runs from 7-9pm; doors open at 6. Tickets can be found here.

REVIEW: The How and the Why

Was it worth it?

Zelda, an award-winning evolutionary biologist for her work on the ‘grandmother hypothesis’ (which suggests that grandmothers improve their grandchildren’s initial chances of survival, hence giving a reason for grandmothers’ survival past menopause), meets her daughter Rachel, a PhD student in the same field with a new hypothesis on the reason for female menstruation (as a defense against the toxicity of sperm), for the first time in The How and the Why. As they discuss their ideas, as they share with each other their past experiences, this question of worth, in a variety of ways, becomes a focal point.

Is love worth it? Zelda, direct as ever, says it’s just stress. What does it feel like? she asks Rachel at one point. As a scientist in and out, this question is one I think about often. But despite the question, it becomes clear Zelda loves deeply, and, I think, understands the sentiment more fully than Rachel, who believes that when you love someone you always put them first but hasn’t quite figured out yet how to do that while maintaining one’s own self-worth.

This juxtaposition of Zelda and Rachel is an interesting one, of maturity and youth, levelheadedness and emotional volatility, professionally experienced and just beginning a career. I think that the overall result of this is that everyone can relate to one of the two women; the downside is that because of the play’s context, Rachel was usually the one learning, not providing the answers. Zelda, as mentioned, provides answers and advice that Rachel, with the hotheadedness of youth, freely disregards. I enjoyed Zelda’s character very much, partly because it mirrored my own: scientific and logical, she encourages Rachel to pursue her hypothesis even though it ostensibly contradicts Zelda’s own.

It was impressive that this play was so accurate with its scientific details – Is it worth it? comes up again as Zelda and Rachel discuss whether the benefits in their theories (cleaning out the uterus, for example) outweigh the risks (expending energy on creating a new uterine lining every month). Yet somehow the play still had so much time to delve into its characters’ personal issues. It is a rare breed of artwork that manages to give equal weight to both science and people, and Sarah Treem, the playwright, managed this extraordinarily well.

I thought a lot during the play about how resilient women are. Towards the end, Zelda has just revealed some very personal details and is, naturally, somewhat shaken up as a result. However, Rachel then begins to get anxious about something, so Zelda composes herself and puts her armor back to help Rachel. I see this tendency in real life, in the women around me and in myself, to make ourselves available for those we love even when we are facing our own difficulties. Similarly, we don’t let our difficulties break us; we always find a way to bend with them and then move forward. Whether it’s a less-than-perfect presentation or that messy thing called love, Rachel and Zelda do the same, emerging as stronger scientists and more complex people as a result.

Was it worth it? Some days yes; some days no.

PREVIEW: The How and the Why

Theatre Nova’s latest show, The How and the Why, is another play with its roots in science. I’ve seen two similar ones over the last year, and I’ve been favorably impressed by both. One of those, incidentally, was the last show of Theatre Nova’s I saw, Constellations, which was beautifully done and makes me incredibly excited to see another of their shows. The How and the Why is about evolutionary biology – my favorite scientific subject to read and learn about – and has as its main characters a mother and daughter who are both renowned evolutionary biologists. Add to this the fact that the daughter proposes a new theory of female sexuality, and this play might just be everything I’m looking for in a literary work.

The How and the Why runs through February 24. Tickets are $22 each (or if you have a financial limitation, pay-what-you-need tickets are available at the door). More information about Theatre Nova and the play can be found here.