We left Krakow, Poland on a bus around 11 a.m. Our program directors told us that it would be a long and tiring day, so we will not be eating anything until we got back. Plus, we most likely wouldn't have an appetite. I didn't talk much to anyone on the bus, and I don't really think anyone wanted to. We didn't have much of an idea of what this place was going to be like. I read about it in history classes throughout school, but it wasn't really a big deal. I never knew the true meaning of this historical event until I stepped foot into the hellhole that is Auschwitz.
We arrived about an hour later. The whole parking lot was full of buses with tour groups. I had an unpleasant feeling in my stomach. There was a large crowd standing in front of the main building waiting for their tours to start. I was already starting to realize what it meant to be there. I was about to embark on a mind blowing journey through the lives of people who were awaiting their death. The place surrounding the camp seemed so nice, yet hundreds of Jews stood where I was standing about 70 years ago waiting for their worst nightmare.
We were split up into several groups. First, we walked under the entrance gate of the camp. The tall and expanding fences stretched out all around us. We entered into several of the barracks. There were many displays of clothing items and other belongings left over. We went through several of the buildings, and our guide pointed out different ones that were used for experimentation, imprisonment, and killings.
The gas chambers were the worst part. We walked through first gas chamber, which was used for mass killings. We also went down into one of the crematoriums where people were burned alive. Some of my friends burst into tears. No one said a word. The only person talking was our tour guide.
After our first tour, we hopped back on the bus and went to the larger complex of the camp called Auschwitz-Birkenau. This place was in ruins. It was much larger than the first complex, but there were almost no buildings left. Besides the main entrance, the chimneys of the barracks were the only things left standing. It stretched on for miles. This is the place where the trains brought the Jews in. This is where the selection process occurred, and this is where drunk officers laughed as they sent thousands of innocent people to their death.
We walked a total of two kilometers at the Birkenau complex. It was an empty place that matched our empty hearts. As we reached the back of the complex, there were two crematoriums that were in ruins. Our tour guide told us something that I will never forget: the black dust remaining all over the ruins were the ashes of thousands of people that died there. We were all standing on those ashes.
They don't know the exact number of deaths at this camp because many of the records were destroyed. Approximately 1.5 million people consisting of Jews, Poles, priests, Russian POWS, political prisoners, and others died here at this place. There could have been many more.
The German's believed these camps would stay for a long time. They built them, so they could last for decades. The houses that surrounded the camp were for the German officers that worked there. Every day was a regular day at the office. They went in, divided families, and killed them. And at the end of the day, they returned to their warm and comfortable homes with their families by their side.
The inhumanity that happened at Auschwitz was terrifying. People will never truly understand what happened at this place unless they go and visit it. Reading about it in a textbook is not enough. You have to see it. Auschwitz is a place that will rip open your heart and fill it with hatred and sadness, but it is well worth it.
A MAN ON A HIKE
Sweating profusely and climbing a never-ending, slightly inclined road, to a place where a man left all his wealth behind, I was out of my last breath when a man caught up to my pace. He greeted me with a “hello” because he obviously assumed I was an out-of-shape American. Yet, he was a tourist, in his own country. I wish I could remember his name, or where he lived, but he told me he was an Italian exploring his own home. He saw me struggling, so he decided to catch up to me to be with me. A brother and a friend, he was.
This place was the hermitage, the hidden caves of the mountains of Assisi, Italy. This is where Francis wound up after leaving the safe environment with his loving family. It was a testament to the devout faithful and the lost souls of the world. He gave his whole being to God in a time where people were fighting religious wars with each other. Instead of killing for his religion, he sought peace.
He was a short man with a rucksack and a notebook in his hand. If I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure he had a walking stick as well. He couldn’t have been more than 30 years of age. He was backpacking through Italy because he wanted to explore his homeland and connect with the people in it. We shared a full-hearted conversation, which filled me with joy. I felt this beautiful presence resting a hand on my shoulder, but it wasn’t some stranger. This man was for sure with me on my journey through this quaint little town, but it wasn’t until now that he had made an appearance. We walked, shared our thoughts, and we became friends. Vans filled with tourists drove up the hilly road towards the end where the hermitage was. We kept on walking and talking. We were getting to know each other, yet, I felt we had already known each other. We were just keeping each other company.
I was alone in this small town. My friend and I chose to use our 11-day vacation to backpack through Italy stopping in a few places. We flew into Venice first where I almost had to walk around with a half-shaven beard when my electric razor died on me. Good thing my buddy had a disposable one. We stayed for a few days and then moved on to Florence. We finished a bottle of wine and ate some salami up on top of the hill overlooking the city. We left for Rome the next day. This was where we acted like tourists and hiked 20 miles throughout the city observing the mind-blowing history that had taken place there centuries ago. It was a long trip with my friend, but we ended up going our separate ways after that. I went North to Assisi, and he went south to the beaches.
I stayed in an AirBnB at the top of the village. A young man and his family lived in the house above me. He rented out the downstairs part, a studio with a bathroom. It was a small, renovated cave, and he left me a basket of fruits and croissants both mornings with a note inside. He had a little girl and a newborn, and took care of them and his guests. I wasn’t completely, but I felt like I needed someone to converse with.
We reached the top of the hill. I was gassed. I needed to refuel with water and rest. We both walked through a walkway that led to a couple of small structures. They were shrines. There were two benches at the end of the walkway where it opened up. We sat and caught our breath. The man I walked with sat next to me and pulled out his journal. He wrote in it, and then he looked at me. He then asked me if I would write my name in it and write a little note for him. I saw that he had several notes from other people. I asked him why he had so many, and the gentleman told me whomever he met, made a connection with, and shared a conversation with, asked them to write a note for him, so that he could cherish the messages at a later time. We shook hands and we explored the mountain without each other. I walked through the second structure ahead of him and I turned back to see he was gone. I never saw him after that. I reached every area which could be explored, but no sign of the man that I had just met..
I spent an hour up in the mountains, and then I went down the hill again stopping at a small restaurant on the way to eat. I ate alone. It was empty, but my heart was full.
Ra Ra Riot -
After three years of no music from Ra Ra Riot, they have finally released another album. Need Your Love is the title of their fourth studio album. Co-produced with Rostam Batmanglij, former member of Vampire Weekend, the album has brought Ra Ra Riot’s electronic anthems back to the scene. Working with Rostam, it has given Ra Ra Riot a distinct and unique sound to the band. Need Your Light has combined the lyrical talent of Wesley Miles from their album The Rhumb Line with the electronic pop progressions of Beta Love and solidified Ra Ra Riot’s sound.The opening track “Water” clearly brings out Rostam’s unique talents, which he gained from playing with Vampire Weekend. Wes Miles shares his vocals through the falsetto chorus lines, while the keys kick in a heavy hitting melody. The drums bring this whole piece together with a stomping beat throughout the entire song. With the second track coming in hot with a fast guitar rhythm, “Absolutely” kicks it in gear for the entire album. Without losing its electronic tone, the rhythm guitar plays a big role by keeping the melody alive for Wesley’s vocals. The verses slow down for Wes to explain his feelings through the lyrics, while the chorus unites the sound to a big bang. The drums are consisting a rather stomping sound, which strengthens the sound of the album completely.“I Need Your Light” is another song that hints toward Rostam. It starts off with a soft drum-beat and a soft voice. Then, it transitions into the chorus, which carries Wesley’s voice into a higher tone to make the chorus believable through his lyrics. It comes to a slowing down in the middle of the song with the long lasting keys and guitar notes, and then brings it back to the ending chorus for Wesley Miles to belt out. Finally, this album helps Ra Ra Riot to carry out the sound that they were looking for. We see this clearly in Ra Ra Riot’s new album Need Your Light. If you like each of Ra Ra Riot’s albums differently, you will surely enjoy this new album, which brings them all together to define what is Ra Ra Riot.
“Visions of Us on the Land” – Damien Jurado
Damien Jurado brings us a unique experience with his newest album titled, “Visions of Us on the Land.” It is a 17-track album that revolves around the acoustic guitar. From the experimental folk genre that has risen from the Indie Rock scene, this album gives us exactly that. This is a combination of the soft voices and harmonies of Fleet Foxes and the mysterious lyrics and raw acoustic guitar of Iron & Wine. We see much more of an experimental phase from Damien on this album. As we hear in the fifth track titled “Sam and Davy,” he opens with a simple guitar riff while singing with an intense echo in the background. The experimental rock side to this song is the synth that is being played as well making the song sound like it came out of a Pink Floyd album. With the orchestra instruments slowly coming in and out of the song, it brings in a certain emotional side to his lyrics. He reverts back to his simpler songs with him picking the acoustic guitar and singing along with “Prisms” and “On the Land Blues.” “Walrus” is just an awesome groovy song that incorporates a gnarly bass riff to keep the song together. The simple drum beat keeps the rhythm while the electric guitar mimics the high pitch of his voice and melody of the chorus. Songs like this break the album up to show that Jurado loves to experiment with his instruments and lyrics. This album has a very different variety of songs, yet keeping the same style Damien always has. From the experimental rock mixed with stripped down acoustic tracks, he perfects this long album. He puts it right up there in the experimental folk category. Before listening to this album, I would encourage everyone to listen to his older albums to get a good feel for his style. But once you do that, this album will be a real treat for your ears.
Delusions of Grand Fur – Rogue Wave
Hop in your car, roll the windows down, drive along a long winding road, and throw this album in the CD player. Well, I should say throw this album on the aux chord because this is 2016, lets be real. Rogue Wave’s sixth studio album releases those adventurous and spontaneous feelings in your heart. Delusions of Grand Fur will run your car out of gas before you even know it. Rogue Wave is driven by the acoustic guitar, the piano, clean guitar riffs, and the unique, echoing voice of Zach Rogue. Put the keys in the ignition, and take it slow. “Take It Slow” is the first track off this album, which captures Rogue’s style and deep thoughts on relationships and life. A simple subject is what inspires this band’s lyrics. Starting off with the acoustic rush and straight into the drums. Then comes the piano lick, which will be relevant throughout the entire song. Rogue’s voice is profound throughout the entire song, especially when the chorus hits, his voice echoes everywhere. “California Bride” is another track that heavily relies on the acoustic guitar, more than usual. With an electric guitar riff this time, and the easiest drum beat, this song captures what Zach Rogue’s lyrics mean in his songs. The breaks are much longer in this song, leaving the listener to contemplate his lyrics. “Falling” is my favorite song off this album. Two acoustic guitars go against each other, one quickly picking, and one strumming simple chords. There is also a piano lick that is being played repeatedly with the singing of the word falling. Zach Rogue echoes his smooth and soft voice once again in this song. Just picture this song being played during a movie scene where someone is setting off for a long distance drive to a new place in their life. Rogue Wave was one of the first Indie bands that I fell in love with. The acoustics, lyrics, drums, piano, and Zach’s voice mesh so well together. If you are looking for some music to listen to while you go on a drive, I recommend this band, and especially this album. It has all the emotions you need in a song, which will keep your car running for a while.
Drive North by SWMRS
Drive North is the first album by the modern-punk band SWMRS. The album has a pretty wide variety of punk style songs. From slower acoustic punk to heavier punk anthems, SWMRS gives the listener a wide range of their talent to the listener. The first track on the album titled “Harry Dean,” is a raw punk song that creates a head banging effect in your body. The heavy guitar riffs mixed with hard bass tones sets the tone for this modern punk album. The big hit off the album is “Figuring It Out.” This gives a nice alternative twist to the punk style of SWMRS. As we know in many of the “Indie” alternative songs today, we hear a good amount of oh’s and ah’s sung by the entire band. Well, this punk ballad has some of that, but not to the point where it is overdone. They start off with oh’s and ah’s mixed with the chorus riff to set up the song. They then flow into the verses which speeds up the rhythm. Then, they rock the chorus and break right back into oh’s and ah’s. I am seeing many modern punk bands do this with their songs. I compare this band ultimately to the Wombats, who I actually saw in concert recently in Prague, Czech Republic. SWMRS is a perfect example of a modern punk band because they still reserve the old style of what we call punk. The song titles are very high school-ish. The typical thoughts we had in high school are explained in their titles, such as “Miss Yer Kiss,” Uncool,” and D’You Have a Car?” The rebels are brought out in punk, and the rebels are brought out in this new modern punk band. I would give this band a listen because they may remind you of your past depending on how old you are. We all like to relive the past, so why don’t we do that through listening to a punk band like SWMRS.
Rising With the Sun – The Cat Empire
The Cat Empire has just released their new album Rising With the Sun. I wouldn’t put this Australian band into any particular genre because they are a very unique group that incorporates several genres into their astounding music. Rising With the Sun is a very Reggae-ish album compared to most of their other albums. With the use of trumpets, synthesizers, and a funky bass, The Cat Empire brings you into the summer with this album. The second track on the eleven-track album, “Bulls,” is an upbeat reggae song that relies heavily on the piano for the refrain and the reggae breakdown in the verses. The bass is also a big part of the verses holding the groovy beats together. Once the refrain hits, the trumpets come in hot, giving the refrain a sing-along effect. It then cuts into a fast break/ending with the bass leading the way to close it out. Another track that would explain the unique talents of all the members would be the third track “Midnight.” This is the definition of a groovy reggae song. This beat is almost constant throughout the whole song. With the soft vocals, giving it a Bob Marley effect, and soft, but groovy bass riff, and the reverb on the keys and guitar, this song screams beaches and good times. I can’t put this album or band into a certain category because songs like “Wolves,” “Blasting Away,” and “Daggers Drawn” mix it up with jazz, ska, and a little bit of punk rock. They are definitely one of the best bands when it comes to incorporating a good amount of genres and creativity. I recommend listening to this album Rising With the Sun before you indulge into the other albums, but I can assure you, you will be hooked right away.
Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant
Cage the Elephant’s newest album has created a voice for this Indie Rock band. Tell Me I’m Prettycame out this past December, and after listening to it consistently, I have come to learn the musical style of this hard rocking band. Cage the Elephant has been defined as an Indie Rock band for a while, but this album has brought them back to the early to late 60s with a simple rock and roll style. “Cry Baby” is the first track off the album, which uses a simple bass riff to set the tone of the song, and clear, but deep guitar riff that will take you to the 70s style of rock. The bass riff keeps the verses in sync with the lyrical part, while the chorus is driven by the electrifying rhythms of the guitar. “Mess Around” is the second track on the album. It starts with a distorted guitar and echoing ah’s to lead you into it. Then the bass kicks in with a muted tone keeping the rhythm flowing. During the verses, the distorted guitar is quieted a tad for Shultz to sing to the specific notes played by the guitar. This song incorporates the good old surf rock of the 60s with Shultz’s rock and roll style of the Indie generation. “Cold Cold Cold” is a song that makes me think of the Rolling Stones back in the 1960s. They were defined as more of a rock and roll band than the Beatles, and Cage the Elephant takes this song and reminds us of what The Rolling Stones were creating back then. It starts off with a very simple guitar riff with which the bass imitates. It goes into the verse with a drum-beat that is consistent with simple rock and roll songs that were written back in the 60s. It almost simplifies the music to their lyrics and creates rejuvenation to the rock and roll scene. This album all around is very up beat album. There were so many bands in the 1960s that created rock and roll music to be up beat, fun, and simple sings people could dance to. Cage the Elephant brings those vibes back with Tell Me I’m Pretty. Matthew Shultz, the lead singer of Cage the Elephant, is a lively and enthusiastic singer when he is on stage. He resembles a Mic Jagger, and he mimics his style of performance and song writing. I believe this album really portrays what Shultz is trying to bring to his fans.
Wrong Crowd – Tom Odell
With the release of his second studio album, Tom Odell has continued to make his voice and style more and more beautiful and unique. Wrong Crowd is driven by piano with a little help from some electronics. Tom Odell’s voice continues to amaze and create an immaculate sound that echoes through your ears. This album is almost a continuation of the first one with a bigger build up to each song. The first track “Wrong Crowd” sets the mood for this album. A soft piano enters with the bass drum steadily beating. Tom’s voice echoes a melody that gives you the chills. This song involves more electronics and more echoing of Tom Odell’s voice. “Magnetized” is one of the most upbeat songs on the album. It starts off with Tom singing some oohs, and the acoustic guitar with rapid strums. The bass drum starts to kick, and then the clapping helps the build up with Tom stretching his voice to the max. Then the drop hits, and the chorus kicks in with the electric keys echoing a sort of house style. For Tom, this is a little different style, but still driven by the piano. “Constellations” is the best stripped down song on this album. It reminds me of Billy Joel singing all by himself with a piano. Tom’s voice will chill your core temperature. After the first chorus, the orchestra kicks in to make those emotional changes with his voice, and the song continues into a wonderful ending. “Here I Am” brings it back to the first album. Constant clapping, great lyrics sung with power, and the high piano notes carrying that melody all throughout the entire song. The drums hold steady and simple all the way through. The chorus erupts with Tom’s voice scratching the ceiling. This one is definitely a sing-along. Tom Odell is a unique artist in that he is piano driven and simple, yet he incorporates electronic, folk, and singer-songwriter styles. He is the Ben Howard version of piano indie folk. Check out both of his albums to really fall in love with his tunes.