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Mental melodies: The science behind study music

(12/11/15 1:07pm)

As much as we hate to acknowledge it, exam time is upon us. Soon every nook and cranny of Fondren will be full of students glued to their textbooks and laptops, maintaining a level of focus that is only possible when 30 percent of your final grade is on the line.While we all have different study habits, listening to music while studying is nearly ubiquitous among students.


Mental melodies: The science behind study music

(12/01/15 5:18pm)

As much as we hate to acknowledge it, exam time is upon us. Soon every nook and cranny of Fondren will be full of students glued to their textbooks and laptops, maintaining a level of focus that is only possible when 30 percent of your final grade is on the line.While we all have different study habits, listening to music while studying is nearly ubiquitous among students. Who doesn’t like to put on their headphones and separate themselves from the outside world? Listening to your favorite songs lets you block out distractions while partially alleviating the monotony of endless problem sets and flashcards.Chances are you’ve discovered that music is not always conducive to studying. For example, lately I’ve been shamelessly blasting Adele’s new album, but if I tried to listen to it while trying to understand my organic chemistry textbook, her booming, heartfelt vocals would quickly drown out my reading on oxidation of alkenes with peroxycarboxilic acids. When trying to decide what music should you listen to this exam season, the answer depends a lot on who you are and what you’re trying to do.Let’s go back to trying to understand organic chemistry. The hardest part of sitting down to read a textbook is maintaining a sustained level of concentration. Reading and understanding a textbook passage involves a process called segmentation. Our brains segment information into logical chunks and boundaries. This is why your FWIS professor kept telling you to outline your papers. An organized paper “chunks” the information, making it easier to read and understand. A recent study from the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that when listening to symphonies, brain activity peaks during movement transitions. The ending of a movement cues your brain to start packaging the information it just listened to, keeping you alert.However, listening to a symphony might not work for everyone, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of time at Shepherd. Research shows that people who are classically trained in music tend to be distracted by symphonies. This also applies to any genre and instrument. If you spend a lot of time playing guitar, it might not be a good idea to listen to Jimi Hendrix when you’re trying to write a paper. If you’re a singer, listening to songs you tend to belt in the shower probably won’t help you concentrate either.I come from a family of violin players, so studying while listening to classical music tends to leave me staring at the same sentence in my textbook thinking about what life would be like if I were a Musi. So I dove a little deeper to see what are the best options for those of us who don’t jam to classical music.One universal aspect of listening to music that enhances cognitive functioning is positivity. Listening to happy music increases dopamine levels in the brain, which helps you focus. This means listening to a symphony in a major key might enhance your mood and help you study better than one in a minor key. Electronic artists like Teebs and Baths produce more upbeat and playful music that helps me get through some of my most dense reading. Two of my favorite albums to study to are Teebs’ “Ardour” and Baths’ “Cerulean.” The second component is lyrics. You probably already guessed that reading and listening to words at the same time doesn’t enhance productivity. Many people find that they can study to music with lyrics, as long as they are either incomprehensible or easy to tune out. For example, I find it pretty easy to tune out Morrissey when I’m listening to “The Smiths” since I can’t understand what he’s wailing about half the time anyway. I also often listen to Stereolab, an alternative band from London that has a French lead vocalist. The third aspect is familiarity — you’re best off with music that you know by heart. We are creatures of habit, and if you’ve found a playlist or an artist that works for you, chances are you’re best off sticking to what you know. Keeping a playlist that you only listen to while studying cues your brain to focus when listening to those songs.If you’re looking for more recommendations, I enjoy listening to electronic artists like SBTRKT, Four Tet and Bonobo. This kind of music tends to be upbeat enough to keep me engaged, but hypnotic enough not to distract me from what I’m doing. If you’re looking to steer away from electronic, El Ten Eleven is a post-rock LA-based duo with repetitive and catchy hooks and no lyrics to distract you if you’re trying to read. Hip hop beats and soundtracks are also great to listen to if you are looking for music without lyrics. A good place to start is Madlib’s “Shades of Blue,” and the instrumentals to J-Dilla’s “Donuts.”In the end, if you’ve got your headphones on in Fondren, nobody will be able to tell whether you’re listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” or Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Sometimes you just have to choose what will get you through that next chapter. 


Rice alumnus to headline show at Fitzgerald’s

(11/10/15 3:47pm)

Four years ago, Rice University alumnus Nathan Bonnes (Brown ’15) wanted to create an outlet for amateur musicians to perform at Rice. An acoustic singer-songwriter, Bonnes had played sets at coffee shops around his hometown of Corpus Christi, TX but didn’t see an outlet for performing at Rice. Coffeehouse had just moved to its larger location in the Rice Memorial Center and Bonnes, a “Keeper of Coffee,” persuaded the former general manager Christine Cooper to use the space. Bonnes opened for the first “Coffeehouse Goes Acoustic” on a Wednesday night in spring 2012. Soon, the open mic nights, later called “Espresso Yourself,” became a regular Wednesday night tradition where students could come together to play and listen to music. It was here that Bonnes first started performing and songwriting on a regular basis, collaborating with other musicians from around Rice.Fast forward to today — Bonnes is now pursuing music professionally, performing regular gigs all over Texas and starting to make a name for himself in the Texas Country music scene. His first officially released single “Broken Again” recently made the Top 100 on the Texas Regional Radio Charts. On Nov. 13, Bonnes will be headlining at Fitzgerald’s, one of the oldest and most widely recognized live music venues in the Greater Houston Area.According to Bonnes, being at Rice and collaborating with musicians from the Shepherd School of Music had a large influence on Bonnes’ music.“I think the biggest and the best thing was getting to collaborate with really different and really talented people,” Bonnes said. “So yeah, that collaboration, that’s what a lot of Rice people say is that here you get to meet so many people that are so different than you and have so many different skills.”Bonnes entered Rice as a chemistry major, but like many students entering college, wasn’t sure what direction he wanted his life to take. After his first year, Bonnes took a gap year during which he worked as a tutor, led worship at a local church and played music. It was during this time that Nathan first discovered songwriting and recorded his first EP, “New View of the Sun.”“One of the main things that I’m most excited about for songwriting is that you can take an experience that wasn’t good and you can redeem it by helping others learn from it and maybe even learning about it for yourself by reflecting on it,” Bonnes said.By the time Bonnes decided to return to Rice to complete a degree in religious studies, he knew that he wanted to pursue music professionally.“I think at the end of my time off I could have come back and completed chemistry and have gotten a good job and that would have been a fine path … But I realized that I could make a living doing the things I enjoyed,” Bonnes said.Along with writing and performing music, Bonnes continues to tutor and lead worship at his church. Although he has met some success, breaking into the Texas Country scene has not been easy.“What I’ve been doing a lot since I’ve graduated has been trying to get in contact with venues and other bands and trying to connect with them,” Bonnes said. “It’s kind of a give and take thing where you really have to earn your presence in the scene to be respected.”This will be Bonnes’ third time performing at Fitzgerald’s, but his first time headlining. Fitzgerald’s features many up-and-coming artists as well as nationally recognized acts, but isn’t traditionally a country venue, which is part of the reason Bonnes is excited about his upcoming concert.  “It’s good to be playing at a place that has a little more overlap with other genres,” Bonnes said.You can listen to Bonnes’ latest EP, “To Love and Be Loved” on Spotify, and he is planning to go back into the studio next summer to record his first full-length album. 


Rice alum DJ Chaney to release new album

(10/14/15 3:32pm)

Rice University boasts an impressive bunch of alumni. From Nobel laureates to Olympic athletes, Rice grads have brought their touch of “unconventional wisdom” to advance a plethora of fields including business, engineering, medicine and now, DJing.Clayton Chaney, a Will Rice college alumnus from the class of 2013, has spent his time since graduation religiously mixing his latest album, DJing events in the Houston area and training for the upcoming 2016 Olympics. On Oct. 17, he is throwing a free, public event called “The Chaney Xperience,” for the release of his latest album “Man Bunz,” a project that represents the culmination of over two years of work. The event will feature sets from DJ Chaney and five other Houston artists, as well as two live performances from internationally recognized contemporary artist Jumper Maybach and Mad About Hoops, a professional hoop dance group. Chaney plans to include food trucks, merchandise, professional photographers and 8th-wonder brews to accompany the music, and Uber will provide free transportation to those using the promo code “DJCHANEY”.A civil engineering major and D1 track and field athlete, Clayton first discovered DJing his sophomore year at Rice.“I bought two big speakers for my room, and would throw these parties in my room just for the fun of it on the weekends,” said Chaney. “Then I started learning how to DJ, I was just like well I might as well figure it out if I’m playing all this music.”Soon Chaney began DJing at Willy’s Pub and public parties around Rice, and releasing an annual Beer Bike mixtape.“I think the Beer Bike mixtape series was one of the ways he spread interest,” Phillip Roe (Will Rice ’14) said. “Almost everyone on campus had an opinion on Chaney after that.”All this was happening just as a new “DJ culture” was emerging across the United States. As electronic dance music blew up at the start of the new decade, DJs emerged from obscure figures in the background to full blown superstars. With DJing equipment and controllers becoming easier-to-use and more affordable than ever, anyone with a laptop and a controller could be the next David Guetta, Deadmau5 or Avicii. But at the time, it wasn’t common for students to have knowledge, skills, or interest to start DJing.“He helped pave the way for other DJs just by showing how cool it was to rock a party, public or pub and I think that's why so many people want to follow suit,” Roe said. Now it is common to see student DJs like Martel College junior Josh Masimore as headliners at public events.“A mutual friend introduced us and when I met Clayton he seemed to be one of the few people who actually really believed in what I was doing. He had been in my shoes before, and knew how hard I was working,” Masimore said.Chaney’s style focuses on mash-ups: complex overlays of pop songs and beats, combining dozens of songs into a seamless 4- or 5-minute track. Whereas most mash-ups can leave you hanging as they flip-flop from one hook to the next, Chaney’s music effortlessly blends them together so you never feel like you’ve been cheated out of your favorite part of a song.  You can download and listen to his first studio album “Slanty Shanty” on his website thedjchaney.com. Be prepared to hear some of your favorite throwbacks.Listeners can expect to hear a wide range of tunes on “Man Bunz.”“I’ve put a lot more of the 70s and 80s hits, so songs you’re really familiar with, blended with current music nowadays like Iggy, Drake and rappers like Future,” Chaney said.Chaney hopes that his album release party will attract people from all walks of life.“I wanted to make it appealing for all crowds … Everybody can come to my event whether you support me or not,” Chaney said.As our interview drew to a close I had one final question for Chaney. After all, what is the “DJ Chaney Xperience”? I wasn’t surprised by his simple reply: “Wild and fun.”


Concert Preview: Five Essential October Shows

(10/05/15 2:51pm)

Mad you couldn’t get tickets for ACL? Fortunately, there are plenty of good acts coming to Houston this October. Here are five concerts you won’t want to miss.Who: BORNS, Avid DancerWhere: Walter’s DowntownWhen: Oct. 9, 8 p.m.Tickets: $25 general admission on stubhub.comIf you’re in for more indie-pop, be sure to check out BORNS. He has been dropping numerous catchy singles over the past few months including “Electric Love,” and is releasing a new album “Dopamine” on Oct. 16. See him cheap before he gets big.Who: Run the Jewels: Jewel Runner Fall TourWhere: House of BluesWhen: Oct. 13, 8 p.m.Tickets: From $22 on songkick.comEver since Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P teamed up to form Run the Jewels, their hip-hop duo has received praise from critics and listeners alike. Also, you have to love their sense of humor. Their latest album “Meow the Jewels” remixes their 2014 hit album “Run the Jewels 2” entirely with the use of cat sounds.Who: The Internet: Ego Death tourWhere: Warehouse LiveWhen: Oct. 14, 8 p.m.Tickets: $20 for general admission on ticketfly.comDrifting away from traditional R&B, the Internet draws from a unique mix of hip-hop, jazz, and soul. They are currently on tour for their latest album “Ego Death,” which was released in early June.Who: Mac DemarcoWhere: Warehouse LiveWhen: Oct. 18, 8 p.m.Tickets: $22 for general admission on ticketfly.comExpect to hear quirky, guitar-based tracks from singer/songwriter Mac Demarco. His latest album “Another One” came out Aug. 7.Who: Oddisee: The Good Fight World TourWhere: House of BluesWhen: Oct. 27, 8 p.m.Tickets: $19.33 on livenation.comDC-based hip-hop rapper and producer Oddisee stands out in hip-hop world for his insightful and relatable lyrics backed by quality production reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest. Be sure to listen to his April release “The Good Fight,” which will be featured on the tour.


Navigating up the (music) stream: music apps for your every need

(09/16/15 7:43am)

Gone are the days of iTunes gift cards, Limewire and burning CDs from your friends’ music libraries. We have entered the music-streaming age. Never before has it been cheaper or easier to have the world of music at your fingertips, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be turning back anytime soon. However, choosing how we listen to music has never been more difficult. With a myriad of streaming services available, all offering unique and exclusive features, how is a lazy college student to choose? Here is my opinion on the best music streaming options for every occasion.


Thresher presents: The five freshest releases of summer 2015

(09/01/15 11:05am)

So you’ve been blasting the Weeknd and Drake all summer and now you’re looking for something that will get “Cheerleader” out of your head. Here are five solid summer releases to carry you into the fall. 1)  FKA Twigs — M3LL155X Formerly a highly sought-after background dancer, FKA Twigs has been making waves in the music industry since her high profile debut with LP1 last year. Captivating listeners with her provocative lyrics, lavish production and avant-garde music videos, the 27-year-old quickly earned comparisons to Bjork and other progressive artists. On M3LL155X, pronounced “Melissa,” Twigs seamlessly balances her mesmerizing vocals with otherworldly instrumentals, for a record that simply can’t be given justice from a 100-word recommendation. Be sure to watch the captivating 16-minute video accompanying the tracks that includes the clip for “Glass & Patron,” featured during the YouTube Music Awards.  Best tracks: “In Time,” “I’m Your Doll”2)  Jamie xx — In Colour This highly anticipated album from Jamie Smith, member of the popular London-based outfit the xx, did not disappoint listeners upon its May 29 release. Featuring atmospheric and catchy dance-house music and guest appearances from vocalists from the xx and American hip-hop artist Young Thug, this album is a great go-to for music that will please a crowd. Best tracks: “Loud Places,” “I Know There’s Gunna Be (Good Times)”3)  Tame Impala — Currents You may recognize Tame Impala from their 2012 psychedelic-pop hit “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” On their latest record, Tame Impala introduces synths and more modern instrumentation that showcase lead singer Kevin Parker’s talents as a producer, songwriter and vocalist. Here you’ll find some very catchy tracks with a retro flare. Best tracks: “Let it Happen,” “The Less I Know the Better” 4)  Injury Reserve — Live from the Dentist OfficeOn their latest release, Arizona-based hip-hop trio Injury Reserve abandoned the boom-bap style found on their first release Cooler Colors to embrace a more alternative hip-hop feel. This album spans a variety of moods and styles, from the grimy banger beats on “Everybody Knows” to the more jazzy and somber tones on tracks like “Whatever Dude.” Co-emcees Steppa and Ritchie with a T seamlessly work together, delivering clever, funny and reflective lyrics. Best tracks: “Yo,” “Whatever Dude”5)  Thundercat — The Beyond/Where the Giants RoamOK, so you’re not going to find your summer pump-up jam on Thundercat’s latest EP, but if you are looking for some songs to help you chill out while cranking out problem sets, this record is for you. Part of Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder collective, fans of Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington may recognize the name as he was featured on both of their most recent critically acclaimed releases. Check this out if you’re looking for some groovy baselines, head nodding syncopation and reflective lyrics. Best tracks: “Them Changes,” “Lone Wolf and Cub”