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JFH Staff Blog | March 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

20 Years Later - Newsboys, 'Going Public'

When I had the idea for the "10 Years Later..." blog series, I figured it was a neat way to either reevaluate albums we've reviewed or just to see how an album has held up in the span of a decade. The other idea that I thought would be neat would be to compare the album the artist released 10 years ago with their latest, 10 years later. Sadly, I soon realized how rare it is for an artist to not only still be around after 10 years (usually bands break up in that case), but to put out an album exactly 10 years later. So, clearly, adjusting the scope of the project had to happen.

But, recently, I've realized how relevant something truly extraordinary actually is... "20 Years Later!"

With the recent release of Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield album, it had many of us remembering Furler's former band, Newsboys, and their 1994 album Going Public. And that's when it hit me -- that was TWENTY years ago!

So for our first ever "20 Years Later..." blog, I'd love to bring up Newsboys' Going Public and Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield, while also touching on where "Newsboys" are at twenty years from that album release.

Going Public followed the success of Newsboys' breakout album, Not Ashamed, which saw the band first teaming up with singer/songwriter/director and producer Steve Taylor who helped co-write and produce that album. It's a partnership that continued on with Going Public and a few Newsboys albums following it. While not every current Newsboys fan will know which album Going Public was just by hearing its title, they'll certainly know the hit song from that album... "Shine." Yup, that quirky song made its debut on this album and it's still sometimes sung live by Furler or his former band.

Going Public certainly feels dated in 2014, but it's a worthwhile and beautiful album to listen to still. I remember picking it up and listening to it as my first Newsboys album shortly after it came out, but I also remember being a bit disappointed by how it felt slower than expected. (In retrospect, it really doesn't seem that slow.) The production is modest and almost mutes the energy at times--something that was perfectly remedied on the raw rock sound of 1996's Take Me To Your Leader. But Going Public still has many highlights. From the worshipful "Let It Rain," inspired by the apostle Peter, to the sarcastic and edgy "Truth and Consequences" that pokes fun at believers who are ultimately wolves in sheep's clothing in the dating world and even to the thought-provoking "When You Called My Name." The end times rocker "Lights Out" is another gem, and the closer, "Elle G" is a haunting song about someone who committed suicide. The album bears a strong early 90s sound, but it also represents a time when Christian music spoke into the Christian lifestyle more than just focusing on worship choruses.

Twenty years later and Peter Furler has since departed from Newsboys. His new album Sun and Shield with his newly formed "Peter Furler Band" feels more like a Newsboys album than Newsboys' 2013 recording Restart does, and even his new songs like "Yeshua" and "It's Alright" have a bit of that "Let It Rain" and "Be Still" sound from Going Public. However, the current band called "Newsboys" may still contain members Jody Davis, Duncan Phillips and Jeff Frankenstein -- all of which were part of the band during the Going Public era twenty years ago -- but it feels like it's plucked from an alternate reality where DC Talk member Michael Tait serves as frontman for the formerly Aussie band. Their latest album, Restart, is an electronic dance pop record that is delectable from a pop music standpoint, but feels lightyears removed from what we once knew to be "Newsboys." There is some fast, electronic flavored music on Going Public, but Furler and Taylor's fingerprints are sorely missed in the current "Newsboys."

If you're not opposed to the 90s alt pop rock sound, Newsboys' Going Public is still a great album and one well worth checking out. In a time where everyone's looking for the next new thing, it doesn't hurt to look back and experience--or re-experience--some of the musical highlights from a couple decades ago. And if you've been missing that classic Newsboys sound and long for something new, look no further than Peter Furler Band's Sun and Shield.

-- John DiBiase
Jesusfreakhideout.com Editor/Writer/Founder

Friday, March 14, 2014

10 Years Later - Falling Up, 'Crashings'

Ten years ago, when on an ice cream run with friends, my ears were opened to a new world. At our age, good music was a staple for every car ride, no matter the distance. With the now near-extinct compact disc being our preferred mode of listening, one of the guys inserted an album with "Crashings" and "Falling Up" scribbled on it. I was assured that it was "Christian." This was my first exposure to real Christian rock.

I enjoyed the music so much that my friend gave me the album as an early birthday present. Looking forward to today, in an era when Christian music is frequently criticized as formulaic and stagnant, Falling Up has consistently offered one surprise after another, creating a handful of the unique sounds we have come to know and love. It is an uncommon occurrence for a fresh-out-of-high-school band to survive beyond their first album, and even less probable for that career to span more than a decade. Falling Up, together since 2001, stormed the charts with their debut release of Crashings in February 2004. With producer Aaron Sprinkle at the helm, the then six-member outfit toured relentlessly the following year, garnering a solid fan base from the get-go. The current form of contemporary Christian rock was still being defined at this time, and the band was frequently compared to secular groups such as Linkin Park. With three charting singles ("Broken Heart," "Bittersweet," "Escalates") the album quickly became a fan-favorite, and arguably played a role in shifting the overall style and boundaries found within Christian rock. Falling Up's initial style was an odd blend of rock, rap, nu-metal, and post-grunge, with Crashings incorporating guest artists such as Paul Wright, Ryan Clark, Benjiman, and Jon Micah Sumrall.

The band's sophomore release, Dawn Escapes, maintained a similar sound, but dropped the "rap" element for a more grounded melodic hard rock sound. Their third album, Captiva, slightly slowed the pace, shifting to a piano rock genre, incorporating more electronic components. Fangs!, the band's final album with BEC Recordings, saw the band take off in a very different direction, bringing a raw rock sound mixed with a rather ethereal series of ballads. The concept album told a rather ambiguous sci-fi tale, with the lyrics being notably removed from explicitly Christian concepts. This led to a drop in the band's original fan base. After disagreements as to the direction of their music, Falling Up parted ways with their label, subsequently going on hiatus.

Falling Up returned in 2011 with a fan-funded album, Your Sparkling Death Cometh. The album was a critical success, appealing to fans both new and old. By this point, Falling Up had essentially shrugged off all genres, finding themselves under the all-encompassing label of "experimental rock." Mnemos, an instrumental remix EP, surfaced the next year, followed by the Machine De Ella project, which saw their sixth and seventh studio albums simultaneously released in 2013. One project (Hours) featured their signature rock sound, relaying the fictional tale of a novel created by the band. The other (Midnight on Earthship) was a slow and melodic album, with the band returning to its lyrical roots. Most recently, Falling Up put together a Christmas album (Silver City), once again pushing the boundaries of what has become normative for artists.

None of its projects have been without fans, and none have been without critics. One thing that always has been consistent, however, is that Falling Up will do what they want. They have been called copycats and pioneers, sometimes even in regard to a single project. Three of the founding members, frontman Jessy Ribordy, drummer Josh Shroy, and bassist Jeremy Miller are still part of the band today, and even after going independent, Falling Up has not only been able to survive, but thrive. This speaks to the versatility of their music, and is indicative of the legacy it will leave. And even if there is no place in the remainder of this decade for "science fiction Christian indie art rock," Jessy and the boys will find their voices in the industry.

 -- David Craft

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Featured Fan - Jacob Betts


Jacob Betts with Bellarive

Favorite Band/Artist:  Bellarive
Featured Fan: Jacob Betts
Location: Houghton Lake, Michigan
When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:  Camp Electric 2013 Nashville
What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: Bellarive's music to me is like taking a breath of fresh air. Today's modern worship scene is sometimes lacking in deep and meaningful lyrics. The beauty of these songs, both lyrical and musical, is truly an act of worship. Whether it's hearing the message of hope for eternity (Taste of Eternity) or striving to draw closer to God (Heartbeat & Tendons), Bellarive challenges you to step outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to become closer and closer to the Lord. I first saw them a week after my father died. The song "Taste Of Eternity" had more meaning than ever, reassuring me that our meeting again in paradise will be an everlasting reunion.
Favorite Album by This Artist:  The Heartbeat
Favorite Song by This Artist: 
"Stories"
Favorite Live Show Experience:
Camp Electric 2013
Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 
9
Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: 
I have a signed copy of "The Heartbeat" and my guitar case is signed by the band
Website:
www.thatteenageworshipguy.tumblr.com

Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here!

 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do We Enjoy Music?

It's no secret that we at JFH advocate for excellence in Christian art. Anything that Christians put their hands to deserves to be done well, giving the glory to God in the process. But I have recently been contemplating the concept of what "Christian art" is supposed to look like in the real world, particularly when it comes to how listeners are supposed to interact with the music they listen to.

To sum up my feelings on the matter, I think Christians are supposed to enjoy music.

At first, this sounds like a "duh" statement, but I think the word "enjoyable" is more comprehensive than it sounds. There's two main definitions for the word "enjoy." The first is straightforward, "to take pleasure in," which is simple enough. But the second makes the word a little more complex: "to have or experience." Experiencing music seems a lot different than just listening to it, doesn't it?

When the term "enjoyable" is applied to music, it can often bring to mind recyclable pop music that doesn't take too many chances. The song begins, the catchy beat takes hold, the simple lyrics are easy to memorize, and the listener can hang their hat on the song's whole. It's a quick escapist detour that lasts for a whole three and half minutes, though it's over as soon as it begins. If that's all that "enjoyable" music is supposed to be, Christians are selling themselves severely short. Great music grows on the listener with time, unfolding layer after layer with successive listens.

Please don't misunderstand me by inferring that I think pop music as a whole is bad. To call out one whole genre as a lower form of art than another would be to discredit the artists who use pop music to its fullest artistic potential. But if you turn on any Top 40 pop radio station, you can immediately hear the kind of material I'm talking about: unsophisticated and hopelessly aimless pop ditties. And all too often, CCM stations echo this same method with their setlists comprised of mindless earworms that don't improve the quality of life of the listener beyond a few minutes.

Art is not a utilitarian concept, of course, but truly enjoyable art requires a significant investment of time and emotion. It means listening many times, though not necessarily in a row. It means personally applying it, empathizing with the spirit of the song's message. It means comparing the song to others like it, identifying what makes it unique and beyond the norm. It means letting the music affect you in the long run rather than compartmentalizing the listening experience to the length of the song.

This concept of enjoying music affects how I approach every album I hear, especially when reviewing something for JFH. I can't tell you how many times I have listened to an album for the first time, disliked it, but learned to love it after more listens. Given that I have to write a polished critique of the album in the near future, I have to listen to an album more than once. If I wrote my album reviews after only one self-contained listen, I wouldn't be handing out too many positive reviews, and even the positive reviews wouldn't be credible or properly representative of the music. But that's why I hesitate to give a decisive opinion so early on in the listening process. Sure, there are albums that I've enjoyed on the first listen with my attitude towards it not changing much, but they're rare. Great art grows on you.

Is this taking music too seriously? Taking this concept a step further, what happens if we approach people this way? There's the adage that first impressions are deceiving, and it's just as true for music as it is with people. Are first impressions important? Absolutely! We always want to present ourselves well when we meet people for the first time. But if we judged others on just those first impressions, we'd have some lopsided relationships to wrestle with. My deepest friendships are with those who I've gotten to know over time, over many occasions and seasons, not on one-time, one-way transactions. When we truly experience people, we see their many facets, and we love them for who they truly are. I'd contend that if we are interacting with music in a similar fashion, we gain a better idea of our both ourselves and the music we're listening to, giving everyone their due credit. Experiencing music isn't as complicated as experiencing people, by the way.

With all of this in mind, there are some inherent dangers attached if we change our music listening habits to this method. For some, this could be a huge lifestyle change. This refreshed concept of art as an enjoyable entity creates quite a few problems for a culture that thrives on speed and instant gratification. We want to enjoy things now! But when Christians can slow down, find beauty in the details over a span of time, and learn to love the individual parts that make up the whole, our perspective on enjoyment will change for the better. The Christian's status as an image-bearer makes this level of enjoyment possible, and if we apply this reasoning to our habits as music consumers, we can become music "enjoyers" instead.

-- Roger Gelwick, JFH staff writer

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