The Listening It's tough for me to review EP's since I usually never buy them for their lack of substance. However, when one of my favorite bands hasn't released any new material in close to 4 years I tend to get giddy...
Haste The Day Every now and then an album comes along that is so surprisingly addictive you just don't know what to do. That moment came for me with Dreamer from Haste the Day. I really wasn't expecting much...
Disciple Disciple have decided to tweak their sound yet again. The question is, was it for the better? Well that depends what you like best about the brand of hard rock they bring to the table. In their self-titled...
Transmission 1 | Posted December-04-2008
It's tough for me to review EP's since I usually never buy them for their lack of substance. However, when one of my favorite bands hasn't released any new material in close to 4 years I tend to get giddy with excitement and make exceptions... and it was a wise choice.
Yeah, it's only 4 songs, but they combine for a solid 20 minutes of music that I can't get enough of. In a recent interview, Gabriel (vocalist) stated that these songs are the most accessible of the 30-some-odd new songs they've cooked up. They are supposedly more lighthearted and upbeat in nature than those that will be appearing on their sophomore release in early 2009.
Right off the bat with 'The End' I can hear that it is, indeed, more upbeat than their debut album. The lyrics are still spot on as always with the main subject being about situations Gabriel has walked through the past 3 years. 'When' covers the topic of prayer seeming to hit a ceiling when you are going through hard times and it's actually incredibly uplifting. The song has a techno-style beat to it as it builds to the addictive chorus. The following song, 'Prayer in the Dark', almost has a Newsboys quality to it as a feeling of wanting to dance to the beat comes over you, though Gabe's voice is much lower and brooding.
That's really the difference in these songs when compared to their debut. These have more of a dance quality that doesn't quite match up to Gabe's style of singing whereas the debut had that dark and droning music that complimented the lyrics and vocals.
The final song is much more in line with their debut and that's probably why it's my favorite. I sincerely hope it's on the upcoming album because it's just beautiful. After an old fashioned radio transmission fades out to start the song a beautiful guitar line kicks in and then an electronic beat over drums ensues. The tone is certainly melancholic along with the lyrics and that's where you realize how powerful this song is. Gabriel sings "I'm going to fight with you/I'm going to bleed with you/I'm going to cry with you/Until this wall comes close". I suppose it could either be heard as a love song or one of comfort from God's perspective. This is all combined with the brilliant music to become an epic song.
All in all, I love the new sound and though 4 songs isn't enough to hold be over for very long I'm glad to have them. From the sound of it I count my blessings that The Listening are still making music because they very nearly broke up with only Gabriel being the lone founding member from 2005. The fact that he kept their sound intact and progressed it with a new lineup after all these years is astounding.
Dreamer | Posted November-18-2008
Every now and then an album comes along that is so surprisingly addictive you just don't know what to do. That moment came for me with Dreamer from Haste the Day. I really wasn't expecting much since I didn't own any of their earlier work, mainly because it didn't strike me as unique enough to stand out. Yet here I was taking a chance on a new album thanks to the good word of mouth I'd heard from a few friends heavily into this sort of metalcore music. Obviously my lack of knowledge of this band's back catalogue and how they've changed (though I am aware of the vocalist change prior to Pressure the Hinges) makes my perspective a bit different from older Haste the Day fans, but I do know what I consider to be key parts to make a great album and Dreamer has all of those things.
The songs on this album can be summed up with a few words: 'epic', 'anthemic', 'uplifting', and of course, 'brutal'. Those are good building blocks to start with and depending on what you look for in an album you may already be intrigued. The vocalist, Stephen Keech, has a low guttural growl of a scream that immediately stands out and from what I've heard he's much improved. So much so that a few fans I know didn't even believe it was the same guy. Rest assured, his intensity is well heard on the opening track, '68', as it builds up to a fantastic breakdown and you can just imagine the energy it would create in a concert. One thing is for sure, these guys know how to do a breakdown well and make it feel just right. The drummer is also extremely talented with the quickest double bass onslaught I've ever heard. This is especially apparent in 'Mad Man' where my jaw literally dropped as my brain frantically struggled to comprehend what it was hearing. The guitar riffs are just as amazing during the heavy tracks as the chords are during the slower songs as well.
Technical ability is all well and good but the question always is: 'Does it fit the song?' In this case it certainly does and all of it builds up wonderfully with, perhaps my favorite part about this CD, the vocal harmonies and singing. I wasn't really expecting the epic choruses as the band harmonizes in a way few bands do. It's really hard to explain just how good it is and with every spin of this album I realize that those very harmonies are a key reason why Dreamer is so uplifting for a heavy album. Practically every song has a catchy, anthemic chorus that is nigh impossible to resist singing along with. No doubt I've looked like a fool in my car as I've sung along horribly. 'An Adult Tree' is the song that epitomizes all of this and it's easily my favorite on the album. It starts off with some calm singing before the screaming kicks in and the song constantly builds through the chorus with the band singing 'oooh' in the background behind more brilliant singing. By the end you'll be left wondering how a song can build and peak so perfectly.
This is what Haste the Day have done so well on this album. They've put guttural screaming, beautiful harmonies, brutal drumming, and sweeping guitars in a big smelting pot to craft an epic album with just the right touch of everything. Even the tracks are placed with a strong flow in mind and when you get to the etheral 'Labyrinth', which wouldn't feel out of place on some progressive rock masterpiece, it doesn't lose a step. The last track, one from the old days from what I understand, is a melancholic one with Stephen's voice soaring and adding the final touch to a fantastic album. Regardless of how others may feel about Dreamer, I know it's one of the best of the year and surpasses other heavy hitters in this genre.
Gems of this album are: 'An Adult Tree', 'Resolve', '68', 'Invoke Reform'
Southern Hospitality | Posted October-30-2008
Disciple have decided to tweak their sound yet again. The question is, was it for the better? Well that depends what you like best about the brand of hard rock they bring to the table. In their self-titled release (and major label debut), they had a very commercial sound with nearly no screaming and catchy vocal hooks over some heavy guitar riffs. Next up came Scars Remain, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. That one brought the screaming that has recently become the 'in' thing to do among hard rock bands along with top-notch singing and the best ballads they ever wrote (I'm looking at you 'Things Left Unsaid'). It is also their heaviest album to date with the drums and guitars assaulting your ears at every turn.
That brings us to Southern Hospitality, their 7th album overall and 3rd on a major label. As the name suggests, they've gone southern on us and in some ways it's an improvement. Their southern sound is heavier than DecembeRadio, but not as brutal as Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. And if there's anything on Scars Remain that left me wanting more, it was the limited use of guitar solos. This album is chock full of them. Pretty much every rock track has a blistering solo that makes guitar fans like myself swoon and buckle at the knees. And the best part? These solos don't feel like add-ons to fulfill some silly 'southern rock' genre title. They feel like they belong. Of course, southern rock goes beyond guitar solos. There has to be some beautiful blues chords and powerful riffs to go along with it all. From the moment you pop the CD in and the title track starts up you can tell they understand this.
Now, what would a southern rock album be without your ballads to help change the pace? Those are found here too, but I have to admit they are lacking. 'Whatever Reason' is the first one that comes up and it's just underwhelming. Lyrically, it's one of the weaker songs Kevin has written and sadly his voice just doesn't have the same power it has had in the past. Actually, his voice is one of the things that seems to be holding this album back and that's surprising. I've always thought he had an excellent voice, especially after 'Things Left Unsaid' and the whole Scars Remain album, but here his voice seems to be in the background. That's truly a shame. 'Lay My Burdens' and 'Savior' are much better ballads and you see evidence of the old 'Kevin' in there. The former of which has guitars reminiscent of my favorite ballad, 'Black' by Pearl Jam. The songs don't sound the same but I just get the same feel with the guitar in the background.
Aside from the one flub, the lyrics are once again very strong with a strong emphasis on their faith. They have notes of scriptures laced throughout the lyric book to show where they got the inspiration for a line or song. One of my favorites, 'Liars', has Kevin singing about how we have to forgive others when we've been done wrong and my favorite line has him saying 'that He's ashamed of me when I'm ashamed of Him'. Yeah, Disciple have become more of a mainstream hard rock band, but they haven't changed who they are. They still write songs about God that become huge hits and even make their way into sports and wrestling arenas. How many bands tone down the spiritual content when they go major label? Too many, unfortunately, but that's what makes Disciple stand out and I love them for it.
About the only thing dragging this album down from being a southern rock classic is a combination of lacking vocals and not enough rockin' anthems. '321' is certainly an anthemic rock song that will do well but the other heavy songs don't seem to have that sort of buildup and release when the chorus comes. All the same, Southern Hospitality seems to fit somewhere in between their self-titled release and Scars Remain in terms of quality.
Gems of this album are: 'Liars', '321', 'Whisper So Loud', 'Southern Hospitality'
Who We Are Instead | Posted October-09-2008
I can't help but think this 5th release by Jars of Clay feels a bit disjointed. They've fully moved into 'folk' territory and if someone were to ask me for an album that 'feels like autumn', this would be it. The acoustic guitars dominate and you really aren't sure what to expect. Even still that isn't entirely a bad thing. Sure, there are few tracks fit for the radio stations but that's not the be all end all of music. The first track, 'Sunny Days', is an incredibly uplifting one about how even if everything is going wrong there is a bright side. Seeing as that's how I try and live my life I instantly connected to it. Maybe Jars of Clay, and more to the point, Who We Are Instead,isn't for everybody but I just have that personal connection with their lyrics that can create an enjoyment out of something so little. Tracks like 'Jealous Kind' and 'Lesser Things' just resonate with me and it goes beyond their brilliant buildup of emotion before a choir kicks in.
The organ plays a big role in a few of the songs too. 'Amazing Grace' isn't the same one you know, but instead their spin on the whole subject. Though like the original 'Amazing Grace' song, this one is very moving. The lyrics take center stage in 'Jealous Kind' as Dan sings:
i built another temple to a stranger
i gave away my heart to the rushing wind
i set my course to run right into danger
i sought the company of fools instead of friends
That's just one verse before the powerful chorus (courtesy of a violin and more piano) reminds us:
you know i've been unfaithful
with lovers in lines
while you're turning over tables
with the rage of a jealous kind
i chose the gallows to the aisle
thought that love would never find
hanging ropes will never keep you
and your love of a jealous kind
love of a jealous kind
Dan is one of the best lyricists of the Christian music scene if you value brutal honesty with the precision of a surgeon's knife as shown above, wonderful imagery ('Amazing Grace'), and his poetic nature that doesn't need to rhyme in order to flow. The music always backs this up with powerful chords and an organ that sweeps you away. Had a bad day? Pop this baby in and dare to have an open mind. Before long you'll be glad you did and the day you just had will seem small and insignificant to a bigger picture. Shouldn't that be the purpose of music?
Gems of this album are: 'Jealous Kind', 'Sunny Days', 'Lesser Things', 'Amazing Grace'
One | Posted October-08-2008
This has been, by far, the most difficult album to get into. I had listened to the following 2 albums after One before I gave it a try and I have to think that's the culprit. This album has much more of a Genesis style progressive rock feel to it than the heavier progressive metal leanings of Neal Morse's most recent work. There's a lot more synth being used to make me feel like I'm listening to a 70's album, that's for sure. It's not a bad thing at all. I guess I just wasn't prepared for it to where it took me awhile to get into One and keep it spinning. As always, my patience was rewarded.
With the first 30 seconds of the album I was enjoying the atmospheric tone being set. Then all of a sudden it went to cheesy 70's-style synths that called to memory visions of the Disney castle in the clouds with flying elephants... No, I'm not crazy. It was just this sort of cheese that made this so difficult. I suppose it could be endearing to some people, but it's an aquired taste. There's no doubt that each musician is at the top of their game though. Especially Mike Portnoy in the brilliantly titled 'Author of Confusion'. With all of the vocal effects (think Queen) and madhouse drumming I certainly felt confused. All the same, that's also the best track on the album that stands out from the rest because of it's uniqueness.
The usual Neal Morse staples are also present here. You have your epic tracks that clock in well over 10 minutes (18+ for the opener) as well as your shorter, poppy worship numbers peppered in between like the excellent 'Cradle to the Grave'. The long ones do tend to seem to overstay their welcome despite constantly evolving and progressing. That might be more because I'm not that big of a fan of the 70's style progressive rock loaded with synthesizers than anything. There is a common theme that runs through the album about the creation, falling away, and reunion of man with God. It's not a hard message to pick up with the lyrics unlike, say, Sola Scriptura. Everything is up front when it comes to Neal Morse and his faith-filled message. Considering a lot of bands like to blur the lines I always find his work very refreshing.
I have found I enjoy his later work because it's so much more focused musically. It's the sporadic nature of all the instruments and sounds that threw me off of enjoying this more but at the same time I can say that Neal Morse has no specific formula when constructing songs or albums. A lot of it feels improvised and that makes for a fun listen if you're ready for it.
Gems of this album are: 'Cradle to the Grave', 'Author of Confusion', 'Reunion'
Ghosts | Posted October-08-2008
Alright, I'll admit it. The cover art is originally what caught my attention and intrigued me to give Sleeping at Last a try. Whoever designed it deserves bonus points because in the process they created a fan in me. While they draw comparisons to bands like Radiohead or Coldplay in sound, they do have their own vibe. Whether or not that vibe is in your range depends on how soft and brooding you like your music. They certainly won't be known for giving you a headache with their combination of pianos and acoustic guitars in the majority of their songs.
If you've heard Cool Hand Luke's recent material you kind of know what you'd be getting into with Ghosts. The main difference is these songs seem to be all cut from the same cloth leaving little variety on the album. Given the soft nature of their music, it could very well put you to sleep. Now that may not sound all that appealing but that's just what is on the surface. If you take the time to appreciate the music and invest in it you will be rewarded. The whole feel of the music is an uplifting one that their secular counterparts can't claim. There are catchy, upbeat tracks as well, like 'Say' and 'Night Must End', that bring distorted guitars aplenty. Every track also seems to have a constant buildup until the vocalist belts out the chorus with passion.
Although the trouble with Ghosts may lie in the formula, it's every bit worth hearing if you enjoy quieter albums where the focus is less on the noise and more on the lyrics and vocals. And in this case, this is one of those albums that I will have to be in the mood for to give it a spin. The good news is that when I do it'll satisfy whatever craving I had when I was in that mood and there's not much more I can ask for. Perhaps at some point in their career they'll pump out a classic that will be remembered, and I believe they have potential for that from what I've heard here, it's just not now.
Gems of this album are: 'Say', 'Ghosts', 'Hurry', 'Currents'
Satisfied | Posted October-02-2008
As I opened this CD and popped the disc in I remembered that about 50% of sophomore efforts by bands don't stack up to the debut. Sometimes bands just try too hard to capture the sound they had and they end up releasing the same one again. Other times bands try to reinvent themselves but fail miserably. I also think record labels can be to blame with wanting success (it is a business after all) and so they tell the band what they want. It's rough, no doubt, but when a band can build and grow on their debut that's very promising.
Thankfully, DecembeRadio did just that and have crafted a better album than their debut. A few of my complaints from the all around enjoyable debut have been fixed here, though a few still linger. DecembeRadio create hook-laden southern rock anthems with a couple power ballads. The good news is they do that very well and stick to it. The bad news is... well... they stick to it and there's no originality. Whether that's good or bad depends on what you look for in music.
I'm happy to say that those moments in the rock anthems of their debut where I was frustrated with them not cutting loose on the guitars more are no where to be found. The guitarist, Brian Bunn, is an amazing talent. From the moment the song 'Satisfy Me' busts out with a killer guitar solo you know they aren't holding back this time. I'm of the opinion that if you're going to do some anthemic southern rock you have to do it right. Catchy riffs are all over the place and when things quiet down an acoustic guitar takes over to set the mood. Again, a bit predictable but executed wonderfully.
Speaking of something executed wonderfully, there's no better voice for this sort of thing than Josh Reedy. He has excellent range to belt out the high notes in the sing-a-long style choruses or to hit a mood with the worship ballad 'For Your Glory'. This man is clearly annointed to sing and thankfully it's for no better cause. He loves singing about his faith too and is certainly not ashamed to show it(he sings as much in 'Believer').
The album is paced pretty well with a few rockers in a row and then a slow song, rinse and repeat. 'Gasoline' did take me by surprise with the very creepy chant done by kids at the end with some 50's style music in the background. I wasn't sure if I wasn't listening to the same album when that came on, but it was a great change of pace. Their hit single, 'Find You Waiting' is back and unchanged. For those that missed the Special Edition of their debut you can at least have it now. The only difference is there's a one minute quiet space before a hidden jam track kicks in. I've listened to it once but I've heard better jams from Robert Randolph and the Family Band. All in all I'm glad to have this in my collection as it's one sophomore album that doesn't disappoint.
Gems of this album are: 'Satisfy Me', 'Gasoline', 'For Your Glory', 'Better Man'
Lost in the Sound of Separation | Posted September-05-2008
You know how people get all giddy and buy their one year old baby the cliched 'Baby's 1st Tool Kit!' in all it's plastic glory with a little tool belt? Well this is 'Mike's 1st Metalcore CD', a monumental occasion to be sure! It's true, I've taken the plunge into a genre I used to all but ignore. And you know what? I'm glad I did even though I sometimes came up gasping for air.
Given that rather pretentious introduction this should let you know my review will be quite a bit different from others. Most people who have bought this CD have experienced Underoath with an earlier album or, at the very least, explored this genre to some extent. Not me. I've only heard a song here or there by hardcore bands and never a full album. Maybe that's why I found this to be particularly fresh and exciting.
When I began looking to expand my taste into 'Metalcore' I noticed a lot of bands sound the same and few stood out. There's something about what Underoath did with their single 'Desperate Times, Desperate Measures' that stood out to me enough to pre-order the album with a nifty T-Shirt. The singing of Aaron and Spencer (yes, even him) had a beautiful harmony that just wouldn't leave my mind. I was all the more intrigued when I found out Aaron pulled off that impressive singing while he did that amazing drum work.
Whether you are an Underoath fan or not, be ready for some atmospheric music and experimentation. I also know that I'm not the only one getting Pink Floyd vibes when the band harmonizes in 'A Fault Line, a Fault of Mine' or 'We Are The Involuntary'. Even so, there does seem to be a common structure in a few of the songs. After your ears have been brutalized they calm everything down for some great singing. It's a brief breather before a full on assault on your ear drums commences via Spencer's guttural screams. Honestly, it could get a bit repetitive if they didn't do a great job of mixing the synth and guitars to change things up and create a new atmosphere. It should also be said that all but the last two songs are brutally heavy. Those two are phenominal in their own ways and I think I heard some strings on the closer.
On my second listen I decided to read the lyrics as I was going through each song to get a better grasp on what was going on. The result? It all made more sense. You can say it's a concept album of sorts as the lyrics center around Spencer's struggle with an addiction and how it shook the band. Make no mistake, this album is dark both musically and lyrically. I normally hate this but the honesty and passion that comes from the lyrics and Spencer's screaming makes you feel his fight. Plus, it's not all without a message of hope as the emotional closing track claims:
'And I swear I found something
I found hope, I found God
I found the dreams of the believers
the dreams of the believers'
People who have been down a similar road are going to relate to this album and those that are struggling just might be uplifted to change. You may not expect Underoath to make a worship album but they are still creating music with a good purpose. That's how they impact people's lives and if it's for the better, who are we to complain?
Gems of this album are: 'Desperate Times, Desperate Measures', 'We Are the Involuntary', 'Emergency Broadcast/The End Is Near'
Nothing Is Sound | Posted September-05-2008
This one's a grower. Whatever you do, don't form an opinion after the first couple spins or you'll miss out on a great release from Switchfoot. Now, I can understand some people may be turned off of Nothing Is Sound since it's not as accessible as the phenominal predecessor that was so catchy and addictive. However, if you give this enough spins you'll find it's just as addictive. For instance, The Beautiful Letdown is known for it's soaring vocal hooks and memorable guitar riffs. Here there are still great guitar riffs ('Politicians' anyone?), but the whole 'arena rock' vocal hooks are pretty much nowhere to be found. Switchfoot are thinking outside the box with the song structure and it's not all shiny and perfect. That's not all a bad thing.
One thing has stayed the same aside from the signature 'Switchfoot' sound you can detect. There's variety across all the songs like the last album. The ballads aren't any ordinary ballads as 'The Blues' shows with it's etheral guitars and perfect beat to carry Jon's passionate voice. There are no soaring ballads like 'Dare You to Move' and that's alright. 'Daisy' sounds like something The Beatles would do with it's vocal harmonies more than halfway through the song. 'Happy Is a Yuppie Word' is as odd as the song title with it's constant changes. 'Politicians' is the fastest track with a killer riff leading the way.
Lyrically, you can tell Switchfoot have become more socially aware. That's not at all bad considering some of the lyrics still show their beliefs. It's just not as obvious as in the past. They are taking the opportunity to reach out and make a statement about what they see going on around them without being pushy about it. There is still a message of hope through all of that so in a sense they are the anti-Radiohead. You won't be depressed about the state of the world after you listen to it.
That being said, some songs could bother some people. 'The Blues' strikes me as a flat-out honest song about how 'wicked' people are still successful and get by with what they do. It's really not much different from David's prayers in the book of Psalms when he cries out for vengeance on his enemies. Then you have 'Politicians', which comes across as a cynical view on the political world around us. In an interesting twist, Jon seems to sing about those of us who just sit and watch all that's going on without doing anything.
While I don't think they've created a classic album like The Beautiful Letdown, they've reinforced my thinking that they are one of the better bands of the decade and aren't content with staying put. That's huge because it means I won't be buying the same album with different lyrics every 2 years. I can count on them to put out a new product with new tweaks to their sound, always pushing it to another level. That saying, 'Don't always judge a book by it's cover', rings true with music sometimes. Only instead it's, 'Don't judge an album by your initial impressions'. When music has depth it takes awhile to realize it.
Gems of this album are: 'Lonely Nation', 'Happy Is a Yuppie Word', 'The Blues', 'Politicians'
Big Star Logistics | Posted August-27-2008
This is one of the most unique and creative worship albums I've ever heard. So much so that I honestly think people who aren't Christians can dig some of the tunes and artistry the Rock N' Roll Worship Circus bring here in their debut. Sure, they sing about the blood of Jesus and other biblical themes but it sure has a ton of passion and isn't in-your-face offensive. Oh yeah, there's a ton of variety to where you never hear the same song twice either. That's saying a LOT for worship music in general.
Now, I'm kind of all backwards on this band since I fell in love with The Listening and decided to hear what they sounded like before that phenominal debut was released in '05. They were more of a worship band with a mixture of soft ballads, 70's style pop rockers, and even some shoegaze ('Space Angel'). One of my favorite tracks, 'The Undiscovered', originally appeared on here in 2001 and it's still amazing. I do like the 2005 version found on the bonus disc with The Listening better though. It's just more atmospheric and the guitars stand out. I was actually surprised to hear the vocalist, Gabriel Wilson, has a good variety in his singing. In 'Ride and 'Party Song', both upbeat and addictive songs, he sounded like the guy from Jet at points. There is also another vocalist, Blurr, who compliments Gabriel's brooding in all the best ways. She even performs strongly on her own in 'I Will Wait', a funky song that sounds influenced by the 80's.
Big Star Logistics is what every worship album should be but very few actually are. It touches on many different sounds and styles to keep from becoming plastic and predictable. It holds very few 'worship cliches' and instead strives to cover new areas that aren't guaranteed instant radio success. But most importantly, it bleeds red from the heart instead of green from impending commercial success. 'Sweet Jesus' is an example of that with catchy guitar chords and bare bone vocals, yet it's beautiful. I can't say this doesn't happen anymore, just that it happens so rarely that those gems are hard to spot among the trash. I guess, as music fans, we just have to be willing to get a little dirty to find the gold. The current state of radio is the dump truck.
Gems of this album are: 'The Undiscovered', 'Party Song', 'Sweet Jesus', 'Ride'