Live Review: Serial with Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder

True crime podcast Serial launched into wild popularity during its 2014 debut. Co-created by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the show is cited for groundbreaking work in long-form investigative journalism. Its first story, explored throughout the entire season, follows a 15-year-old murder case. Teenager Adnan Syed was convicted of strangling his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but he maintains his innocence to this day. The uncertainty was riveting. Koenig, the host, revealed new information each week as she uncovered it. At the release of its first episode, no one, not even Koenig, knew how Serial would end. Listeners couldn’t help but speculate. Did Adnan really do it? Where was he in those 21 minutes after school? What about the mystery of the Best Buy phone booth? Who lied, and why? 

With all these questions floating around, I was unbelievably excited to attend Serial’s live show at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday. I wish I had pictures for you all to see, but unfortunately photography is not allowed inside. The building is absolutely stunning, though. It has these wonderful high ceilings and ornate decorations and big, warm lights that make it feel like an old theater from a different time. I would highly recommend on venue alone! But back to Serial. 

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Serial changed the game for podcasting, journalism, and audio entertainment. Its creators were in Seattle to discuss how they made it happen. Before the show started, the screen displayed a rotating collage of scanned documents, drawings, and notes from Adnan’s case. It was strange to see these pages — lines of scrawled handwriting, sometimes blacked out in places — after only hearing them described out loud. It was certainly an effective reminder that true crime journalism is just that: true stories that affect real people.     

Koenig and Snyder made their entrance to enthusiastic applause. It brought the show to life in a completely different way, as Koenig’s already-familiar voice filled the room. The two graciously introduced themselves. They still couldn’t believe how many people came out to see them. (After all, their initial goal for the podcast had been to reach 300,000 people. To date, Serial has had 264 million downloads!) Side by side, Koenig standing and Snyder perched a stool, they began to tell the story of Serial itself. Beginning with their early hopes for the podcast, they explained how it came to be the show we know today. They talked about the development process and how they overcame the challenges that appeared along the way. This included one story about a hilarious Facebook mishap some time ago. Koenig also detailed the nature of her relationship with Adnan — calculated but personal, not quite friends but not strictly business either.   

Throughout this first part of the show, it was pretty hard not to be won over by these two ladies. The pair were surprisingly funny in an honest, matter-of-fact way. Judging from the laughter I heard around me, the rest of the crowd felt the same. Koenig and Snyder also acknowledged deficits in their investigation of Adnan’s case. They seemed to invite transparency about the deliberateness of their storytelling. Although that should be a given in journalism, it was still incredibly cool to hear the thoughts of the people behind Serial. The whole thing actually felt quite intimate. Koenig called this first part of the show a “speech”, but it was much more conversational than that and more like her comfortable narration on each episode.

The second half of the show was reserved for questions. Audience members lined up at microphones placed on each end of the main floor and balcony. People raised questions about various facts of Adnan’s case. Some asked about Serial’s second season, which aired last year. Others asked about the journalism itself. The number one takeaway? Fact check, fact check, fact check. Fact check everything.

In both halves of the show, Koenig and Snyder made excellent use of episode clips, pictures, and unaired interview tapes to illustrate the creation process. We even got to see a photo of hand puppets some middle schoolers had crafted to represent each character on season two. It was adorable in a kind of unsettling way.

Overall, it was a super rad night. I laughed a lot, learned a lot, and gained even more appreciation for all the work that goes into making a top-notch podcast. If there are any hardcore Serial fans who were unable to make it, I would highly recommend seeing them next time they make it out to Seattle.  

You can stream Serial from their website: Season 1 / Season 2

Serial and This American Life are also launching a spinoff called S-Town. It airs March 28th! Don’t miss it!

Emily Tasaka


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Album Review: Dirty Projectors

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Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth. 

Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking. 

“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”

“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws. 

The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.

Website / Twitter

-Noah Prince

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Album Review: Khalid Brings the Fun on American Teen

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Khalid has been on my radar for quite some time now. He was part of my list of artists to watch this year, and he has entered the spotlight with American Teen. Khalid has proven he lives up to the hype, and that he knows how to have fun doing it.

Despite the tone of American Teen, most of the songs’ instrumentals are uplifting and catchy. Khalid primarily sings over ballads, but he goes out of his comfort zone on a few tracks. “Young Dumb & Broke” is one of the highlights, a trap-flavored track where Khalid encourages his fellow youth to act heinously while they can, because it won’t last. The majority of the tracks revolve around the theme of being young and reckless. It’s pretty fitting, considering Khalid is only 19 years old. Other tracks involve Khalid grieving about lost love and failed relationships, such as on “Another Sad Love Song.” The tone and instrumental clash here; the production is so infectious and groovy that the listener might not even know Khalid’s crooning about missing a past lover.

Khalid’s voice itself doesn’t impress often. He sits on the same pitch for the entire album. His tone rarely changes, so he sounds the same on every song. This isn’t necessarily terrible, because it conveys his vulnerability on the slower ballads. Otherwise, it’s disappointing, and I hope he takes more risks with his voice on the next album. 

Another pitfall American Teen faces is its lyrics. Khalid’s lyrics are awfully surface level and a lot of them cover familiar ground. Most of the time he’s saying it in a different way; it only sounds different, but doesn’t feel different. “Coaster”, “Hopeless”, and “Shot Down” each encompass the feeling of being heartbroken. Complex lyrics are by no way a requirement for albums, but Khalid needs to find a way to effectively convey his feelings about love and youth in more than one or two forms. 

Khalid has pretty much met my expectations with American Teen. The subject matter is focused but doesn’t deliver as distinctive. He tropes mundane topics through the 15 tracks, usually settling for a melancholy love song or an anthem for the adolescent. However, if the listener doesn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, the album is wonderfully entertaining. The production is a mash-up of electronic, R&B, and trap that blends together remarkably well. American Teen is a fun album; just don’t expect to have any intellectual conversations about its themes. Listen to American Teen here.

Archie O’Dell

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Fis — Fresh EP from CAPYAC

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(Photo from CAPYAC’s Bandcamp site) 

In 2014, someone needed music for a guacamole pool party. It was out of this need that electro-funk dance duo CAPYAC was born. Formed by Delwin Campbell and Eric Peana, CAPYAC’s self-dubbed “balloonwave” sound fits right in with the nu-disco genre, incorporating elements of soul, funk, and utter surreality. The Austin-based group is known in their local music scene for over-the-top performances focused on getting people to move. Last year, they released their debut album Headlunge. Popular single “Speedracer” was the highlight, featuring dreamy-sounding vocals over a groovy beat.   

This year, CAPYAC has already dropped a new EP. Titled Fis, the project consists of four mostly instrumental tracks, incorporating the same funk and electronic influences as Headlunge. My verdict? Meh. While an admirable extension of CAPYAC’s take on French house, Fis did not leave me feeling nearly as impressed as I had hoped to be. The EP began with the 9-minute “No”. It’s decently funky and smooth, but it began to feel repetitive about halfway through. “Bubblegum” fared a little better, introducing energetic female vocals as a contrast to the mellower sounds of “No”. Fis found redemption in its fourth and final song. “Comfort Zone” fades in with CAPYAC’s usual electronic beats before throwing in a sweet (and slightly erratic) saxophone solo. It was a nice surprise, providing a glimpse of the eccentricity I would imagine CAPYAC to embrace in their shows. 

All of the above being said, don’t let my words deter you from supporting this band. Their live performances seem like a blast, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you listen to “Speedracer”.   

More from CAPYAC: Instagram / SoundCloud / Facebook 

Emily Tasaka 

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We the Music: Oddisee

Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa he’s better known as Oddisee which he goes by on stage. Oddisee grew up in Maryland close to Washington D.C. but lately works out of Brooklyn. As a Sudanese American Muslim who is also the son of an immigrant he has a unique perspective and voice that he expresses in his music, most recently with his new album The Iceberg.

Listen to Oddisee and you’ll be reminded of groups like A Tribe Called Quest with lyrics that examine identity, race, and politics. Oddisee has talked about growing up in one of the most affluent black neighborhoods which borders parts of town that aren’t so great. He loved hip-hop and rap but couldn’t relate to any of the gangster rap. Instead, he examines human nature and commentates on his experiences and social and political issues.

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The Iceberg is a thought provoking masterpiece but one of the tracks that stands out with its powerful lyrics is “You Grew Up”. He raps about his best friend who was white “While I was trying to keep my Nikes clean/He was trying to scuff his Chucks up,” a small observation but it speaks to a bigger cultural divide. Think about these two music movements; Hip-Hop born out of the inner city in Brooklyn during the drug war and grunge born out of Seattle and teens from the suburbs. It’s a luxury to be able have new things and if you’re middle/upper middle class you come to take that as granted.

The song then goes on; “He blamed my father for the loss of his job/He said immigrants robbed citizens jobs”. This story and song begins to take on a different meaning especially with the rhetoric which our head of state has been spewing about immigrants. It goes on to describe how this friend became a police officer and the next time he saw him it was on the news for shooting a black man in his car by the park where they used to shoot hoops. The hook of this song is simple: “You grew up/No you didn’t change/You were made the same/As those before you came/You grew up/All our growing pains/Were given like our names/You just bought the blame/You grew up”. It touches on how much of who we are and how we act are based in social norms and how we are raised.

The next part of the song manages to capture yet another huge issue in America, terrorism. Oddisee explains that this part of the song was inspired by a story of a Sudanese man in Britain who became linked to ISIS. Rather than describing the terror this man he humanizes the ‘terrorist’. He paints the picture of a normal boy with two parents who were professors but was ostracized in school for the way he looked and the way he acted, for being who he is. Oddisee raps, “People of the present had faces of the past, make it easier to blast them if he feel they did him wrong”. It’s not excusing the behavior but instead trying to get people to understand where this hatred comes from.

“You Grew Up” is a meditation on what it means to be a person of color in America today. There’s police brutality, immigration, racism, and even more prevalent the subtle everyday reminders that you are different. Another standout track is “Like Really” which focuses on racial injustice, Oddisee asks “How you gonna make us great, when we were never really that amazing” and “How you saying all lives matter when the stats say we are not adjacent”. It’s a questioning of America asking how it can be so cold and cruel to people who call themselves Americans but aren’t white when they are just as American as the next person.

Lastly, the song “NNGE” or “Never Not Getting Enough”. If you’re looking for a new song to get you inspired for the latest protest you’re attending this is the song to listen to. Oddisee witnessed countless protests and movements exercise their right to assemble growing up right by the nation’s capitol which contributed to this song. “NNGE” is a call to be positive in these times, the line: “If you’re new to disrespect by your elected puppeteers/Well let me show you how to persevere,” sums it up pretty well. Other tracks to note: “Things”, “Rain Dance”, and “Rights and Wrongs”.

This album captures today’s issues; the unrest and anxiousness about the future. It touches on almost every issue you can think of that people are out marching and protesting for everyday which is what makes this album so great. Not only that but it’s nuanced; he struggles with how we can be of the same kind but have all this conflict because of meaningless differences. It’s a call to action even if it’s not directly so and a reminder that we all come from the same place. It’s an album defining a movement. The people’s movement.

Oddisee plays Neumos May 11th, buy tickets here.

-Grace Madigan

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