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Album Reviews

Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

Liam Comer

Favorite song: Grey Days

Review in 5 words: Darkness has returned. Hail Chelsea.


     It has happened. Chelsea Wolfe has done what I thought was impossible. She has brought a doom metal album into a college radio station’s rotation. That’s right, in case you haven’t heard; Abyss by Chelsea Wolfe is secretly a metal album. To be honest, with a name like Abyss we should have seen this coming. The abyss is the most brutal place on the planet.

     There has always been a certain type of darkness behind all of Wolfe’s work. Until now, it has primarily hid in minor vocal harmonies and haunting lyrics. But in the new record, Abyss, Wolfe’s the darkness of Wolfe’s writing is front and center, as a booming distorted bass takes on the main melody for tracks like “Dragged Out”.

    The delicate singing of Wolfe’s previous work is still present. You still hear her gently whisper ‘Where Are You?’ as she opens up the song “Maw”. However her voice recedes into the background as the distortion from the guitar and bass in the chorus buries it.

     This seems to be the songwriting theme for Abyss. The songs juxtapose her gentle echoing voice within the verse with the harshness of a fully distorted guitar of the chorus. This abutment between harsh and soft is clearest in the song “Iron Moon” (seen above) which features nearly inaudible lyrics in the chorus and a gentle croon in the verse.  The sound of the guitar on this album is so harsh that you would not expect to hear anything but its grinding whir. And at first you don’t hear the subtleties of Wolfe’s voice over the noise. But if you allow yourself to be enraptured by the darkness of the Abyss, you will hear that her voice does shine through.

     Now here is where I go off about the musical implications of this album. But as of writing this, it is too early to say what I want to say. I want to say that accepting Abyss into the world of college radio is a sign of growing acceptance of dark metal-leaning experimentation. But I don’t know that, because I don’t know how it will be received. I would not be surprised if after its released, listeners expecting to be swooned will feel like they can’t deal with the feeling of impending doom that comes with Abyss.

     But if you’d like to take the dive, I have a suggestion. Grab some headphones that can handle bass, turn out the lights, lie down, and close your eyes. Embrace the darkness.

By Liam Comer




Beach House - Depression Cherry

Dan Burney

In a statement issued on their Sub Pop page, Beach House expressed their desire to return to their older, simpler, more melodic style of dream pop while making their upcoming album, Depression Cherry:

"In general, this record shows a return to simplicity, with songs structured around a melody and a few instruments, with live drums playing a far lesser role. With the growing success of Teen Dream and Bloom, the larger stages and bigger rooms naturally drove us towards a louder, more aggressive place; a place farther from our natural tendencies. Here, we continue to let ourselves evolve while fully ignoring the commercial context in which we exist."

I find this interesting for a couple of different reasons. A return to the Beach House of old is hardly a remarkable or ambitious endeavor and probably doesn’t require any explanation. I would think that if it were done successfully, it wouldn’t require anything from the band in order to be fully understood and recognized by the listener. It is also completely impossible and entirely futile to try and ignore the context in which you as a band exist, because music is never, ever created in a vacuum. That they intentionally tried to prevent their commercial success from influencing the record has probably inadvertently resulted in that commercial success having an even bigger influence on the record than it would have if they had never even acknowledged it in the first place. 

After reading that statement and then listening to the album, I’m not sure I’ve been listening to the same band that Beach House has been listening to for the past couple years. I get where they’re coming from, but when taken in hand with the record, the statement eventually reveals itself to mean “We used quiet, subdued synths and more drum machines on this record”. But if they were phoning it in on Teen Dream and Bloom, and Depression Cherry is the real, natural Beach House – well then I’d take that fake stuff every day of the week.

Yes, the new album is disappointing, but it’s important to understand that it’s only disappointing because of A. how great their previous two albums were and B. how great the opening track is compared to everything that comes after. There are only a few pretty good songs on the record, but nothing comes close to the Bloom-worthy opener “Levitation”, the most consistent and beautiful track on the entire album. The orchestral synths, Victoria slowly reeling the audience in with her sultry, breathy vocals that convey the uncanny feeling of longing and romance that characterizes a good portion of their discography. It’s a great track and a fantastic opener, but unfortunately one great song can’t carry an album.

At this point, Beach House have figured out what they’re good at; simple, repetitive synth and guitar melodies, relatively unconventional song structures that use time and space to develop and express emotion through simple, yearning pop melodies. But in pop music, and especially with a style as minimalistic and drawn out as Beach House’s is, there is an exaggerated emphasis on melody and mood, and the melodies here are largely forgettable and mostly devoid of the introspective melancholy that the band is known for. The songs all bleed into one another, and it can be hard to distinguish one mediocre song from the next when it’s all said and done. After even three listens, I could only remember two or three songs. Hell, I just finished listening to it for probably the fifth or sixth time and I can still only whistle the tunes of 5 of them max.

They do hit peaks here and there; a buzzy guitar riff in the otherwise cold and boring “Sparks”, the Sunday-mass worthy vocals on “Days of Candy” (arguably the most experimental song they’ve made), the nearly 2 minute long bridge that caps off the waltzy “PPP”. There are great moments on Depression Cherry, but they are just too few and far between to make it anything more than an average record. 

by Dan Burney