Switchfoot I'll admit it. After such a long drought of a solid album (their whole career), and the recent draught of even a decent album (Since 'Beautiful Letdown'), I kind of gave up on Switchfoot. Add to that the...
A Long Rise Back To The Sky | Posted April-21-2009
Some 15 years after their classic debut and Jars of Clay has seen its share of changes, from rock, to folk rock, back to rock, but nothing in-between. All that changes here. Taking many cues from their Christmas album, Jars of Clay is establishing themselves with a melodic and inspired sound that's as well-put together as it is written. Mixing some folk, some rock, and something completely different, Jars of Clay crafts the songs, and takes time with them to bring the best product. This method doesn't make for radio-friendly fodder, but it does make for great music, which Jars of Clay does here.
The Long Fall
And those are just the songs that stood out in my mind after the first listen. The project is devoid of bad tracks, and I only found the closer to be a bit strange with its atmospheric and electronic instrumentation. But throughout the album the instrumentation is excellent, and is the true highlight of the album.
Overall, it may not be for everybody, but for anybody that can dig the melodic and inspired instrumentation that permeates the album, it's an excellent listen. It is a must for multiple listens, and it truly is an experience. Add to that 14 tracks, and an hour worth of material, and you certainly got your money's worth.
Never Say Never at this Ungodly Hour | Posted March-10-2009
What's the key to The Fray's success? Songs you can relate to. According Issac Slade, the band's biggest songs were the ones that he wrote in the middle of a problem, when he was most vulnerable, while the ones where the songs are like 'Here's what I've learned' didn't click. With this mentality, the band has had hits with my personal favorite "Over My Head," "How To Save A Life" and now "You Found Me;" check the common denominator and you'll see the same common denominator, or so goes Denver band The Fray's story. Of course, how do you follow up an album that dominated AC radio for a good six months? By going by the same formula, but with new material, or so goes the story of their self-titled sophomore album.
Highlights include the emotionally touching "Enough For Now," the pleasant "Where The Story Ends," a track where the other Fray vocalist, Joe, puts up a soothing performance in "Ungodly Hour," the electronic distortions in "We Build Then We Break," and probably a track I was too hard on, but is still strangely catchy, "You Found Me," which defines the sound of the album. Also, if you catch the bonus track "Fair Fight" you'll get one of the band's best in an amazingly vulnerable and mellow track that's excellent on its own.
Overall, while it doesn't really bring anything new to the table in the genre or the band, it is a good listen for fans and radio listeners alike. It sure has enough positive lyrics and radio-friendliess about it to increase the band's popularity. I just wish they would have taken more chances, as it sounds more like an extension to their debut, which may, or may not be a bad thing. As/Is, "The Fray" only shows that this is not where the story ends, but they use too many absolutes, as it were.
'Stanley' Climbs to The Top | Posted March-03-2009
After the unprecedented success of "Hanging By A Moment," Lifehouse took the genre they inevitably bore and ran with it. The result is a follow-up forever foreshadowed by the success of its predecessor, but arguably tops it. Taking a heavy-dose from the grunge genre, Lifehouse all but nixes any acoustic or poppy elements from their sound, as it all takes a very raw, rough, but rockin' turn instead. I personally love every moment of it, as it's on the edge, and it's almost one long consistent jam session that the band really ran and had fun with.
Standout tracks include "Spin," "Sky Is Falling," "Stanley Climbfall," and the highlight/album-definer "Take Me Away."
Overall, on a recent list I made of the top 15 albums in Christian music, I placed this particular work at #9, saying "If 'No Name Face' bore modern rock as we know it, then "Stanley Climbfall" perfected it. It's still one of the most consistent records I've ever heard." Well, that pretty much sums it up. It's highly controversial, especially since this album has been largely forgotten, but it is a true masterpiece in the genre of modern rock. Sure, 'No Name Face' has the moving work of "Everything," but 'Stanley Climbfall' has the consistency and the driving "Take Me Away." I still am however confused about the title. 'Stanley Climbfall.' What does that even mean?
Casting Crowns For Christmas | Posted November-24-2008
I've heard every style of Christmas music there is, and I love them all. I've heard so many versions of each classic, and have my favorite versions of each. Maybe it's because I love the season so much, or maybe it's because I have such great memories of the music. And even though I'm a critic of Casting Crowns, I decided to give the album a listen in the good spirit of the season. This album, by its nature is a Christian Traditional Christmas album, in that the phrase 'jingle bells' is not uttered anywhere on this record, or the word 'snow.' :(
The record starts off with not a Christmas classic the title makes you think, but a seemingly original song done by the group. And by original, I don't mean it's never been done before, I mean it's made by the band. "O Come All Ye Faithful" is a very good softer take on the classic, made better with its acoustic aspects. "Joy To The World" is also a pretty decent take on the song. "Silent Night" isn't half-bad either.
However, "Away In A Manger" wasn't that great by the band back then, and it doesn't improve much since. The originals and the lesser-known "classics" on the other hand either miss their mark entirely, or are nothing to write home about. "God Is With Us" does have great vocals though.
The good thing about this record is that it's by Casting Crowns. The bad thing about this record is that it's by Casting Crowns. Casting Crowns' fans will love this album, and play it years from now. The problem for me is that Casting Crowns by style is unoriginal, and while highly spiritually-based, largely forgettable. So goes this album. You'll find a pure celebration of the birth of Christ, which is in someway original, but there's not much beyond the theme and the lyrics. Sorry, but Relient K and Jars of Clay did it a lot better last year...
An Excellent Pop Album From An Up and Coming Artist | Posted November-24-2008
Upon first listen to Arizona-based Kelly Mack, you'll first notice her beautiful vocals, but then you'll start to notice that her positive songs take an almost Psalm-like quality to them. By the end of the album, you'll wonder why she isn't #1 on every Christian radio station in America.
Songs stretch from the worshipful "Nothing Can Compare," to the acoustic "Complete," the familiar "Sing Unto Thee," the steady "Call My Name," and the pleasant "The Only One." They're all diverse songs by nature, held together by a passionate love for God and a steady pop undertone that makes the album pleasant for the ear, and good for the soul. In fact, this album would go perfect with a sunny, Spring drive to church.
One of the best debuts of the year in Christian music. It's a very pleasant listen complete with wholesome lyrics and a beautiful voice. Call it reflective, call it thoughtful, or just call it what it is, an album full of heart.
And thanks to VSR Music Group for the opportunity to review this wonderful album, and for sending the lovely poster. Thanks a million!
Is It The Best Yet, or The Biggest Yet? | Posted November-17-2008
Switchfoot is certainly a driving force within the realm of Christian Rock, and after six albums, they've certainly cemented their place. So in-between their current crossroads, they want to make sure you know they're still around, so they've put out a best-of album. And of course, as is the case with all best-ofs, they open a can of worms to wiggle about.
But the usual pitfall is avoided here, by coming out with a strong set of songs that represent the vastness of Switchfoot. A strong set of 18 tracks anchor the release, almost maxing out the allowed time for a CD, but they add nothing you've never heard before. Of course there's a bias towards "The Beautiful Letdown," with it making up a third of the album. And also not surprisingly, the album has mostly songs from their last three releases. The range is a very good overview of the band, from the classic "Learning to Breathe," the haunting "Only Hope," to the amazing "Twenty-Four." You'll also get their Chronicles of Narnia track, "This Is Home."
And while it's still a pretty good overview, and better than what most bands do, they still left out songs like "Chem 6a," "New Way To Be Human," "You Already Take Me There," and "Paparazzi." Trivial sure, and fan-favorites all the way, they still did a good job regardless. But then there's the classic best-of question of, "Who's this for, exactly?" The answer is of course limited to the new fans, and the hardcore fans. Of course, if you get the special edition with the DVD, it just becomes that more appetizing.
So overall, for a best-of release, it gets a lot right. Good song selection from a great band. I'd rather the band released a b-side album like Relient K and Anberlin have done, or a professional live album, since they put on a great show. But for the audio portion, there just aren't many reasons to buy. Consider however if you get the edition with the DVD.
The Hawk Circles Overhead | Posted October-22-2008
After an awesome debut that put Hawk on the map and an inconsistent follow-up, Hawk Nelson is apparently self-conscious about how many friend they have on MySpace, following after my MySpace satire tune, "1 Million Friends On MySpace Can't Be Wrong." So, since they couldn't get Stellar Kart's "Me & Jesus," they produce the more rockin' "Friend Like That." Along with that song, and "One Little Miracle," you've probably already had your share of the new Hawk. But the million dollar question is, is the album any good?
The album finds a happy medium between their first two albums, which is usually the case with third efforts. The first thing you'll notice is the band reverts back to its heavy punk pop sound as in "You Have What I Need," and the band largely keeps the album upbeat and fun shown in "Turn It On," only tackling the heavier stuff on the surprising last track "I Still Miss You." This is clearly a rock party mixed with positive the lyrics seen in "One Little Miracle."
"Ancient History" highlights the album with its catchy verses and totally awesome chorus. Its a very strong track all the way through, and will certainly make their inevitable 'best-of' release.
Of course, not all the songs are completely up to snuff. "Somebody Else" delivers on the chorus, but bores on the verses. The same goes for "Arms Around Me," and "Words We Speak. "Just Like Me" on the other hand sounds like an MxPx cover.
In asking what's the better Hawk Nelson release, it's kind of hard to judge because they're different in tone. "Letters to the President" still holds up with their raw and unabashedly simple-minded pop punk, but they also knew how to create a serious political track and punch out a killer ballad. "Hawk Nelson Is My Friend" is a radio friendly happy medium that mixes the band's maturity while still holding onto their pop punk sound. But I contend that this at least equals 'President.' But, before buying, get the special edition which gives you the most bang for your buck, adding some awesome bonus tracks.
I Would Like To See Them Now Leave "Pretty Good | Posted October-14-2008
In my review of their popular but dull debut, I asked if The Afters would take hold of their potential in their sophomore effort. Now that the album is upon us, and I've thoroughly scrutinized it, I can say that with confidence that it's a strong effort, but still not great.
First off, I pre-ordered the album, and got it at FCS for $5. 12 tracks for $5, or even $12 is a good deal, and I applaud the band for providing more material. There's no fillers, and "The Secret Parade," which happens to be the shortest track, has a unique sound which everybody had dubbed "Beatles-esque." Whether it should be compared to the Fab 4 is mute, but isn't everybody doing that nowadays?
Highlights include the familiar "Never Going Back To OK," the slightly cheesy but highly emotional "Ocean Wide," the power rocker "We Are The Sound," and the absolute highlight, the best song made about the popular social-networking disaster, "MySpace Girl" is an extremely catchy pop rock song containing every lyrical nugget you can drag out of the site. He's putting her in his top 8 spaces, it's "OurSpace," and the list goes on. Again, a bit cheesy, but these songs usually are.
Unfortunately, the back half of the album is not as good as the first half, but they all have their moments. In fact, looking back on this album, there isn't any track I could point to and say, that's the weak-spot. But as in songs like "One Moment Away," as good as they may be on their own, they kind of get lost in the shuffle of the album, and an hour or two after listening, you've forgotten half the tracks. Maybe it's songs like "Summer Again," which try too hard to be that love ballad, while still putting up a good effort. It's like the guy guessing somebody's weight at a carnival. He may have had the general range, but he was still 10 lbs. off.
And how could I end without talking about the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy inspired "Forty-Two." In case you don't know, in the book, the author used the number 42 as the random meaning of life in his comedic take on the exploration of philosophy. So of course, the singer in the song wants to know the meaning of his life, and the lyrics do a decent job with the subject matter. But at this point you really get "The Afters' Sound", and you're really wanting them to change it at least a bit at this point.
Overall, The Afters seem to be stepping up the latter, but they're taking it in increments. While the album contains many a strong track, they're sticking value is debatable, and I think they could have done better with an already job well done. Next album, the band should just let it all hang out, which they attempt to do in this record, but never really stick that foot off the cliff. Of course, at the rate they're going at now, their third project should be a five-star effort all the way.
The Resistance is Breaking on Haight St. | Posted October-02-2008
Anberlin has carved a great notch in the musical tree over the years, and have created quite a fanbase in the process. But all magnificent trees must change their leaves, so Anberlin was faced with the prospect of following up their perceived masterpiece known as "Cities," and they're making their major label debut. What color do the leaves turn? Burning orange? Flaming red? Kentucky blue? Well, this tree's leaves have all three colors.
For the more hardcore alternative emo side, or "classic" side of Anberlin, you'll be well-served at the beginning of the record where Steven Christian feels the need to scream in the hardcore "The Resistance." "Breaking" and "Blame Me! Blame Me!" will also feel familiar to fans. But then "Retrace" gives a hint of what's to come with a more mellow yellow summer love song, which hits some excellent high points on the chorus.
Chances are you've heard "Feel Good Drag" before, whether it be from their earlier take on the song a few albums ago, or rock radio, where the song has achieved monumental success, currently being the #1 song on Sirius Radio's Alt Nation Countdown. The song hits hard, gets your blood pumping and it is irresistible to turn the volume up to unhealthy volumes. The rock fest only continues on the rousing, but generally unmemorable "Disappear."
It's here where you might say, "Where's the Anberlin I knew???" The songs on the back-half of the record are more laid-back, softer, more acoustic based, and they generally deal with a love for that special someone. "Breathe" is probably the best of these tracks, with its sweet lyrics, and music that would fit right into a powerful and moving worship song.
The trend only continues with "Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights), "Younglife" and "Haight St" (is that really how it's spelled?). For me, these pleasant and harmless tracks remind me of those of the pop/punk stalwarts pioneered by New Found Glory, mastered by The Early November and popularized by The Plain White T's. If you love the genre, then you have great tastes in music and you'll greatly appreciate these tracks. If you're one of the many haters of the genre and its perceived unoriginality, then you might want to stick to "Cities."
"Misearbile Visu (Ex Malo Bonum), which is Latin and I'm told translates to "Terrible by the Sight (Good Out of Evil)," is epic, but starts off rather slow and generally uneven, only finding its footing after three minutes. It's an overall great close for the album, as it generally fits Anberlin's sound for the album, new and different.
The only track I really found fault with was "Soft Skeletons," which had a good message of 'turn away from drugs,' which might speak to some, but it comes off so terribly cliched in a bad way. The message is so overdone, as you can find it in plenty of Seven Day Slumber songs, the song comes off incredibly preachy and boring. It might just be Anberlin's worst song, not counting any of their covers or secondary songs.
So overall, Anberlin tries hard with this record, they try hard to please, they try to grow and expand, and whether they try too hard is up to you. I generally liked the record, and would probably name it Anberlin's best. Longtime fans on the other hand will probably be lost and confused, while others will eventually grow to liking the new sounds. In either case, like spinach, you have to try it at least once, and I highly recommend doing so.
Note: I tried to put all bias aside, as they're based out of Winter Haven, FL, where I was born, and lived thirty minutes from most of my life. So they're basically my hometown band, but you might have heard that before.
Songs Once Lost, But Now Found | Posted September-29-2008
It seems that in music today they can't go six months without releasing a new project. Whether they're just that insecure, or they just love putting out material seems to still be questioned, but the fans love it, and that's what counts. However, the album is much too scattered to find that you love everything, but rest assured, there will be something.
The album starts off with some of the band's best, with the much-underrated "The Haunting," which was apparently only available on iTunes before this track. As a whole, the track could be the band's best, musically and emotionally. You have to listen to it to know what I've talking about, but the track gets everything right, and leaves you in awe. "Uncanny" was found on the special edition of "Cities" and is also a great song itself, coming off with a great pop/rock vibe. "Downtown Song" also comes off good in it's catchy vibe.
In terms of covers, there's plenty to be had on this record, but their best job is on "Like A Rolling Stone." The lyrics stay intact, but the length is shortened, Steven Christian's vocals add to the experience, and the music absolutely rocks. It's a truly original take on the song, but the same cannot be said for "The Promise," which is less of a cover, and more of a copy. In either case, it doesn't succeed, with Christian's vocals hindering it more than anything. Then there's a cover of Radiohead's "Creep," which wasn't Radiohead's best song to begin with, and this version only amplifies all the song's weaknesses by again, Christian's unique vocals. The acoustic setting and the self-imposed censoring doesn't do the song any favors either.
And I've never heard the originals, but "Enjoy The Silence," and "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," are little bit more than OK. This is also the case with most of the acoustic takes, as they come out little more than OK. "Naive Orleans" is an exception, benefiting greatly from this take. But in the case of "A Day Late," they turn a great rockin' song into a mellow and generally lethargic song that is more for sleeping than anything.
For those yuletide vibes, Anberlin does an excellent job taking the normally softer holiday tune into a pop/rock extravaganza. Then we come to the raw demos, which are truly for the hardcore fan, as they'll know what changes were made between these first cuts and the final tunes. But even if you don't know the originals, they're still rockin', entertaining and fun to listen to. For the 19th track however, somebody was clearly a fan of Super Mario as a kid.
Overall, sure enough you'll find something on this album you'll love. The question is, how much will you love it? If found for $10 or less, then how could you pass that up? There's 19 songs on the album, so you know you're getting your money's worth. For Anberlin fans alike and not alike, check this one out.
Did I also mention that they're basically my hometown band?