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Presents The Christmas Classics EP by House Of Heroes Presents The Christmas Classics EP by House Of Heroes
In lieu of last year's turning point for the band, House of Heroes has been doing their darnedest to make sure you remember them, all through a series of three 3-song EPs. First it was acoustic, then it...
Family Force 5's Christmas Pageant by FF5 (formerly Family Force 5) Family Force 5's Christmas Pageant by FF5 (formerly Family Force 5)
It seems that every year I hear yet another person expressing their hate for Christmas music. After all, it's the same classics spelled the same different ways, by the same voices. For these people, there's...
Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot Hello Hurricane by 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...

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You're Getting Silver Hulk Hands For Christmas! | Posted December-07-2009
It seems that every year I hear yet another person expressing their hate for Christmas music. After all, it's the same classics spelled the same different ways, by the same voices. For these people, there's a sub-genre called 'Dysfunctional Christmas,' which is home to classics such as 'Yingle Bells' & 'Christmas In Hollis.' Family Force 5 is clearly aiming for this, and for these people, because you can bet that Christmas Pageant is nothing like anything you've ever heard. You'll either love it or hate it, but there is no middle ground here. You may just stare blankly in confusion the first few times you listen to it.

Highlights Include:
Christmas Time Is Here
Angels We Have Heard On High
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Twas The Night Before Christmas
It's Christmas Day

Musically, this falls somewhere between a toned down 'Dance or Die' and a more electronic 'Party In the Back.' You'll find an assortment of electronic instruments on this album, the crunk quasi-rapping of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' and even a chipmunk finds its way onto here. Some songs like 'Do You Hear What I Hear' like to find itself in a canyon of weirdness only to find itself get out for the chorus, while others like 'Wonderful Christmastime,' play it pretty straight.

As for the original songs, 'It's Christmas Day' wins the award for highlight of the album with a totally laid-back pop direction that's completely new to the band. And surprisingly, they pull it off very well, appropriating the perfect mood of the chorus. It's not a new classic, but it is a very solid song. 'Baby' on the other hand is the lowlight of the album. Evoking the wrong mood, and wallowing in a sense of inappropriateness, this goes beyond the call of weirdness... the less listened to, the better.

Overall, it's not what I was expecting from the band, but if it's one thing you can expect with FF5, it's that you'll get the unexpected. So, if you're one to burn Andrea Bocelli's Christmas album when you get it in Secret Santa, or you're just a fan of the band, then by all means, at least give it a try. If however you're rocking out to David Archuleta's Christmas album, then by all means, stay far away. FF5 will scare the Frankincense and Myrrh right out of you.

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Mariah Carey Made A Christmas Classic? Really? | Posted December-07-2009
In lieu of last year's turning point for the band, House of Heroes has been doing their darnedest to make sure you remember them, all through a series of three 3-song EPs. First it was acoustic, then it was a Beatles cover EP, and now it's a Christmas one. Of course, whether it's good or bad, with the price tag you should definitely check out all their EPs; this one especially.

The EP is straight up Christmas music, with no real style deviation or original takes on the songs. What I mean is that HoH doesn't really try to put their stamp on the songs. 'All I Want" is essentially HoH singing the Mariah version, except slightly less poppy. 'Silent Night' is pretty basic instrumentally, but the vocals here give it the highlight of the EP. 'Oh Come Emanuel' is the most rock-oriented track on the EP, but I don't think the song really has any emotion to it, therefore hurting it to some degree.

Overall, you won't find any great & original takes on classics, but you will find a good straight-up Christmas EP. It doesn't try for much, and therefore doesn't get much, but hey, it's at a great price, so pick it up.

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Hello Hurricane, I'd Like You To Meet The Sound | Posted November-18-2009
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 fact that this album is three years in the making, and I thought it couldn't possibly be that good. Boy, was I wrong. It's not only the best in Christian rock in quite some time, but 'Hello Hurricane' is a rock-solid rock album.

Highlights Include:
Mess of Me
The Sound
Free
Hello Hurricane
Always
Bullet Soul

At first I was put off by Mess of Me's repeating of the line, "There ain't no drug," but the song grows on you, and it's surprisingly catchy, and it just plain rocks. 'The Sound' has made great prominence as the 'Blackberry Storm 2' commercials, and it certainly works in the stormy atmosphere the ad depicts. It's as much of a storm of anthemic rock as it is a sound. But for me, the highlight is 'Free,' a hook and chord driven piece that builds up to an excellent chorus, and the containment of some great lyrics. Jon Foreman punctuates this song, and the rest of the songs on the album with a more soulful, but ever rock-tinged vocals. 'Bullet Soul' just plain rocks. Note crazy about the lyrics, but make sure to turn it up loud.

Lyrically, while Jon Foreman may say that songs have an underlying political meaning to them, the album's theme is one of redemption, with the subject first acknowledges his trouble (Mess of Me), yearns to be free from his pain (Free), gives his life to God (Always), assures God "You haven't lost me yet"(Yet), then longs for his life to be made into a melody (Sing It Out). Granted, the story seemingly made by the album is incomplete, but the album is about staring into the hurricane of life, then coming out of it by the grace of God. Of course, could be totally wrong in this interpretation. In fact, the only true weak track of the album is 'Red Eyes' simply because nothing works. A big part is the lyrics. What do red eyes have to do with anything the song is talking about? I'm confused...

Overall, a truly solid effort from Switchfoot that adds up to their most quality effort yet. Sure it doesn't have the memorability of 'Beautiful Letdown' yet, but it's a great start, and hopefully in the series of albums the band plans to release in the next several years, they can continue the trend. They've certainly pushed the car into the hurricane, so let's see if they can drop it on some unsuspecting patch of true rock greatness.

Note: On the subject of the album art, while it may not be appropriate for an album with the word 'Hurricane' in its title, it's beautiful nevertheless.

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Trailers & Lake Houses, or Serenity and Inspiration Intertwined | Posted October-12-2009
After 10 years of mostly solid albums, surely it must be time for a least some type of a fluke, right? While there is some jarring changes in the album, this is Relient K, they NEVER disappoint! Relient K is also like Tiger Woods in that they are constantly refining themselves, but this time it seems there is the tale of two albums.

Highlights Include:
Forget And Not Slow Down
Part of It
Savannah
If You Believe Me
This Is The End (If You Want It)

"Forget And Not Slow Down" starts off the album in the solidly rocking effort you've come to expect from the band, and despite my first impressions, it's actually quite catchy. It's a hybrid between the two sounds on this album, and the result is nothing short of amazing.

Tracks 2-10 seem more like an organic version of "Mmhmm," as in they kind of have the same sound, but they're mostly done exceptionally well. This is where most of the outro segments come in, and they work as a cohesive unit to unite the pace/sound of the album, and it works fairly well. Upon first listen, I didn't dig this segment too much, but it's also the type where you really have to sit on it and let it grow on you, because many have argued it contains some of Matt Thiessen's most genius work yet, both lyrically and musically. On that sense, it's also very thoughtful or meditative in a way, even though it ponders mostly on relationships.

Tracks 11-15 are really a scattered shift both musically and tonally that are really differentiated from the rest of the album. This is really defined by "Savannah," which is carried over from an Africa-themed title line preceding it, but is actually a ditty about the quaint Georgia town... Or is it about a girl? Or is it about the African grass? See it's genius. This is only enforced by the great musical buildup, the inspired lyrics, and the sheer pleasantness of it all.

"This Is the End (If You Want It)" is a great little scatterbrained 5-minute epic that although has a rather simple subject, goes from rock to punk, crashes, then burns off slowly in piano form, slowly burning through its rapturing embers. Also, this maybe just me, but it scares me when an album's last track leaves it open for a goodbye, as in the band could break up at any time. So in response to the title I say, 'No, I don't want this to be the end. Keep being brilliant!'

Overall, Forget And Not Slow Down is like a perfectly refrigerated sandwich, it needs time to sit before it's just perfect. It's not exactly what I was expecting from the album, but it all works well together and Matt Thiessen just cements the fact that he is a musical genius, or a pop/rock Bob Dylan if you will. Fans will grow to love, haters will be won over, and all others should check out first before you buy.

Note: If you got the Amazon.com exclusive bonus track "Terminals," then you will find what sounds like a mashup of Relient K and Owl City. It's an acoustic electro dream that's surprisingly solid on its own.

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Living Life Loud Involves A Dog With 3D Glasses & Hawk Nelson | Posted September-23-2009
In my top 5 most anticipated Christina music albums this came at #4, and I wondered if Hawk Nelson could keep up with their momentum-based music. The answer? Not really. It has its moments, but none of them are exactly memorable, and they seem to have lost something in-between albums. It's not bad, but it's not exactly up to the par of the band's previous albums, and any fan of Christian radio should find at least one thing to like about the album.

Highlights:
Eggshells
The Meaning of Life
Alive
The Job
'Tis So Sweet

Eggshells seems to be the highlight this time around, with a good mix of rock and acoustic elements. It's even catchy, even if the chorus does seem a bit disjointed. Alive is probably the biggest musical shift for the band, sound like a Thousand Foot Krutch song, it seems perfectly made for Christian Rock radio. The Job sounds a lot like their material from the last album, and it's a pretty fun listen.

Probably the strangest moment of the album, and there's a lot of them, is the "Ballad of Lord Stanley," which is about a Lord named Stanley, to the tune of something resembling Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours." You've never heard a pop/rock band tackle reggae before, have you? Didn't think so. 'Tis So Sweet is a great take on the classic hynm, and how many pop/rock bands have you heard that use bagpipes? Didn't think so.

But for all that it does right, it's has major issues with its sound. While it's largely new for the band, it's almost a greatest hits of what's popular in Christian radio nowadays. Sometimes it works, but especially with songs like "Shaken" and "Lest We Forget," it comes off as very generic, but with good lyrics. Hawk's strong suit was never ballads, and they've always had problems when they slowed down, and that's the whole last half of the album. Upon my sister's first listen to the album, by the time a song would finish, she'd have memorized and sing along with the chorus, during her first listen. This either means the album is very catchy, or the album is very predictable/simple.

Let it be known, when Hawk loses their adrenaline, which made them in the beginning, the results are less than stellar. In "Hawk Nelson Is My Friend," I felt the band had found their sound, and they just needed a bit more consistency in the quality. Instead it moves away from the previous sound, opting for something a bit more pleasing. The album cover has the image of 3D glasses, but instead of coming alive, it seems to be largely hindered by its 2D radio-friendly qualities.

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Every Mushroom Cloud Has A Silver Lining In The Owl City | Posted July-29-2009
Right at home in 2009, 'Ocean Eyes' is the embodiment of well-done synthpop, and whether or not you like this album all depends on how much synthpop you can take. The main difference between this and other synthpop albums is that underneath the electro exterior lies some of the most quirky lyrics you'll find this year, i.e. "Golf and alcohol don't mix and that's why I don't drink and drive." No doubt about it, frequent collaborator to Adam Young, Matt Thiessen has something to do with this album, and it rubs off on the rest of the album. Musically, Adam Young balances the sugary goodness & the more emotional moments on the album, which are all given a different take with the synthpop sound.

Highlights Include:
Cave In
The Bird and the Worm
Dental Care
Fireflies
The Tip of the Iceberg
Tidal Wave

If you take away one song away from this album, it should be 'Fireflies.' To put it simply, it's one of the most magical songs I've heard in a long while, blending together all the positive elements of Owl City perfectly. It simply works with imaginative lyics, astounding musical qualities, and an undeniable catchiness to it. All of this, and it's still mainstream enough, not to mention its crossover appeal, and I think it could be the underground hit of the year. Upon first listen, you'll fall in love with it, and it'll be in heavy rotation in your brain. It's that good.

Here's the problem with synthpop/autotune, although it adds something different to what would otherwise be generic music, there's only so much you can do with it, so it gets repetitive very easily. What makes Owl City different from every other artist using this technique is the quirky lyrics, and the absolute gold Adam Young drags out of his music. I still feel that synthpop makes for great songs, but not great albums. That's the only thing holding 'Ocean Eyes' down, because it works better if you listen to the songs individually.

Real Score: 4.5

Side Note: I love the album cover, and if you get the iTunes bonus tracks, they fit right at home with the rest of the album, especially 'If My Heart Was A House.'

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Rough Starts Call For Happy Landings | Posted July-29-2009
You might have heard Parachute if you've gotten a single of the week on iTunes recently, or you may have heard their underground hit "She Is Love." Parachute could be described as adult contemporary, but they also have some alternative rock elements to them, while still keeping some pop sensibilities. Make no mistake about it, they're not original by any means, nor do they try to be, but they do what they do pretty well.

Highlights Include:
The Mess I Made
She Is Love
Ghost
Blame It On me
The New Year

For the first three songs, I didn't like where the album was going. It was adult contemporary by the numbers, and it just felt forced. However, when they go into pop/rock mode for the rest of the album, the band is really enjoyable to listen to in their element. The music is accessible, but very well-done making for lots of potential radio hits.

Overall, as an adult contemporary band, they're not that great, but as the pop/rock band they really are, the band's talents really shine. It may not be original, but it's enjoyable for those light & airy summer days. I could see these songs on the radio, in the background of a teen-oriented show, or even in a romantic comedy. But just so you know, your plane doesn't have to be flames to grab a parachute. Sometimes you should just jump in, which is what you should do with this album.

Side Note: While there wasn't any explicit references to God, the album does have pretty positive lyrics, but chooses to focus more on love & girls, but in a positive manner. Change the she to he in 'She is Love,' and you have a good worship chorus. And, musically, the band reminded me of several artists that are on CCM today, so they'll sound very familiar, although I couldn't directly place them with another band.

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Did They Take A Sunday Afternoon Nap? | Posted June-16-2009
Everyday Sunday has stayed remarkably consistent throughout their lineup changes, but if you look closer, they've been on the decline since their debut, with "Wake Up! Wake Up!" not holding up nearly as well as when it was first released. So, is "Best Night of Our Lives" the best night or album of their lives? Unfortunately, no.

Highlights Include:
Under Your Thumb
Where I Ended
Here With Me

It seems that with this album Everyday Sunday is just going through the radio-friendly motions that made them so popular the last time around. And of course, going through the motions is rarely remembered, lest good. But that doesn't mean the album isn't good, because the songs have the recipe down. The problem is that it just doesn't feel the same, and something's missing. In fact, even a few hours after I had listened to the album, I had forgotten most of the songs.

Maybe I'm too critical, or maybe I just need it to grow on me, but I'm just not feeling the songs or the energy this time around. Whether or not you buy this album is really a hit or miss decision. It's not bad, it's not great, it's just ok this Sunday, or any other day for that matter.

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Here We Go on a Runaway Car from New York To California | Posted June-04-2009
Rewind to Christian Radio circa 2004 and you'd hear the Oregon boys, which consisted of Shawn McDonald, Paul Wright, and Mat Kearney, all of which hit the radio at the same time, all had strong debuts, and all happened to hail from Oregon. Kearney was probably the most original of the bunch, providing a great mix of acoustic hip-hop, mixed with pop and rock. He soon got noticed and he released an album which was noticeably poppier, but contained some of his old track. Some of the new stuff wasn't that great, but Grey's Anatomy loved it, and he took off. Some three years later, five if you're counting his last fully-original album, and Mat is back to show us what he's got. The result is Coldplay + The Fray.

Highlights Include:
All I Have
Closer To Love
Here We go
Runaway Car
Straight Away

The album is a solid listen, especially on the first half of the album, combining the usual singer-songwriter pop, mixed with more atmospheric elements, giving the album a complete sound. And while it's different stylistically from his debut, it's still a great sound. The only problem is it starts faltering towards the back-half. "New York to California" is pretty cheesy with lyrics like, "I'd build a bridge through the fire. For you I'd crawl from New York to California." Wow, that's pretty standard 80s-type cheese there. In fact, the album has a 80s pop feel to it, which I find kind of strange.

Overall, "City of Black & White" is pretty black and white in terms of originality, but Mat does a great job with the music and lyrics. The first half is excellent, and some of the songs on the back-half fall off the wagon. If anything, this album will increase Kearney's profile in the music world, which is evident when I see signs for Mat Kearney playing with Keane at Radio City Music Hall. So I'd say Kearney's done pretty well for himself, and deservedly so.

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Dear Diary, Boys Don't Write Diaries | Posted April-21-2009
FM Static, the far better side-project of Thousand Foot Krutch has their share of catchy diversions in their relatively short existence, but the rest of the time the songs either don't sound right, or they're just plain bad. Unfortunately, this record falls back in the same pitfalls, and it doesn't exactly have it's catchy diversion either. And for supposedly being a pop/rock record, it has a few too many sappy songs, but that's mainly due to the story the album is trying to tell, since it's a concept record about high school. Of course, I only care about the music, so I don't pay attention to the lyrics. But Trevor McNevon tries, and in the process comes out with some good songs, but nothing more.

Highlights:
Boy Moves to a New Town with Optimistic Outlook
The Unavoidable Battle Of Feeling On The Outside
Sometimes You Can Forget Who You Are
The Voyage of Beliefs

Before giving my recommendation, let me direct you to a record called "Fast Times at Barrington High" by The Academy Is... This record was also a concept record about high school. What's the difference between the two? FM Static is from a Christian prospective, and contains much more sap. 'Barrington High' was not only a non-stop upbeat record, catchy and fun, but a five-star effort all the way and Rolling Stone went as far to say it was the 46th best record of 2008.

"Dear Diary" on the other hand is really none of these things, and it won't be making anybody's year-end best-of lists. Really, I'm a big fan of the genre, and this just doesn't cut it. In 'The Unavoidable Battle Of Feeling On The Outside' Trevor sings, "I don't care if it comes out perfect, as long as I can spit it out." This is clearly the approach they took to the record.

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