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JFH Staff Blog | December 2018

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Scott Fryberger's Top Albums of 2018

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect for our average top ten this year. A lot of the JFH staff gravitated toward different albums all year, while others didn’t find much to like about the same album. But every album on that list makes sense as far as staff approval. Most of these albums were heavily recommended by and to one another, and it’s a solid list, even if I don’t personally love all of the albums represented. 

My list was up in the air until almost the last minute. But I finally settled on my top ten favorite Christian albums of the year, some of which weren’t shared by anyone else. But, for what it’s worth, and if you’re interested, here’s my top ten and why.

Levi the Poet - CataractsTwenty One Pilots, Trench

I’ve followed Levi for about seven years now, and have never really been let down by any of his releases; singles, EPs, albums, with or without music, I’ve dug it all. But Cataracts is on another level. Teaming up once again with Alex Sugg (Glowhouse), Levi delivered a beautiful, raw, painful, doubtful, reverent work of art. An album that explores the darkest parts of man’s insecurity, and it’s both scary and comforting how relatable it is. The central theme - keep forgiving - is an important one, and Levi’s insistence on it throughout all the doubt, fear, anxiety, and pain is a beautiful reminder that God is still working in our lives, working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This was the bar for the rest of 2018.

The Bell Jar - I Infest, Therefore I Am

It’s probably not any kind of a secret whatsoever that I love Showbread. I was sad when they released their final album in 2016, but it made sense. But I’m really happy with the first reincarnation of the band in The Bell Jar. Their debut is weird and somehow rocks hard without a single six-string guitar to be found. It’s tracks like “Suck Abyss, Succubus!” and “The Fall of Dubai” that really suck you in and make you wanna kick a hole through the wall, then climb through and belt out to “Suddenly, Seymour” while your friends decide they don’t want to invite you over anymore. Yeah, it’s that kind of album.

mewithoutYou - [untitled]

So, this one is a bit tricky. Personally, I haven’t really connected with a mewithoutYou album since 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. That includes their untitled work from this year. However, it’s a very clearly well-written and well-executed album that I feel captures the spirit of the band. There’s a rumor out there that this will be their final album; I don’t remember where I heard that and I don’t know if it’s true. But if it is, it may be the best way to make their grand exit. The album even almost seems to mirror their discography, starting with intense screaming and guitars, moving into slower, melodic tracks, and finishing one of their slowest, quietest songs to date, a song that ends with the words “Someday I’ll find You.” What a beautiful piece.

Andy Mineo - I: The Arrow EP

I spent a lot of 2018 taking in new music. Some of that was only new in the sense that I hadn’t actually listened to it before (a lot of old school stuff), and some of it was giving some time to artists I hadn’t previously spent time with or maybe didn’t even really care for. Andy Mineo falls into the last category. Having not been much of a fan of his previous work, I was surprised when I listened to The Arrow and loved it. Thematically, it’s quite similar to Levi the Poet’s album, exploring themes of doubt and anxiety, much of which had stemmed from people in the Church not being very Christlike. Though I found myself questioning some of the theological content (you can read the review I wrote for more on that), there wasn’t much to disagree with, and I actually ended up relating to it more than anything. In a time in our culture where mental issues are a huge focus, it’s easy to forget that Christ can heal that, too. So it’s good that this album is ultimately redemptive in that regard, pointing the listener to Jesus and ending on a hopeful note.

Oh yeah, and the music is dope, too. Listen to “I Ain’t Done” and “...Lost” and I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Van Deusen - (I Am) Origami, Pt. 2: Every Power Wide AwakeJohn Van Deusen

This one came out of nowhere. I had never even heard of Van Deusen until late this past summer when I was putting together our latest free music sampler. I polled some of the staff for more ideas for artists to contact, and fellow writer Josh Balogh brought Van Deusen to my attention. And then I was hooked. Every Power Wide Awake is kind of hard to describe in such a short space, but it sounds great from start to finish, with a cacophony of sounds ranging from rock to indie to acoustic; think Simon & Garfunkel mixed with mewithoutYou mixed with John Mark McMillan. If that doesn’t help, check out songs like “All Shall Be Well,” “Calling All Cowards,” and “How Long Will You Wander, My Wayward Daughter?”

Must Build Jacuzzi - Last Place

Okay, I fully expected to be the only person with this album on my list, and I get it, but it’s still a bit disappointing. MBJ is the resident skacore band signed to Indie Vision Music. After their last release, the Chugz & Nugz EP, I had little to no expectations for them, but Last Place really caught me by surprise. This is a solid album filled with fun, humor, faith, and lots of growing up. It’s also a mixed bag of genres, with ska at the center and punk, hard rock, and hardcore around the edges. “Smoke Rings” is a great example of this genre-transcending style. I revisited this album multiple times throughout the year and enjoyed it each and every time. It’s not something for everyone, but I highly recommend checking this out if you’ve got 40 minutes or so to spare.

Peabod - Healthy Snacks

Another album that took me by surprise. We got this album from Centricity after it came out, but with not even a whisper of his name before that. I took a chance on Peabod and was very pleasantly surprised. A singer/songwriter at heart, Peabod’s first hip hop endeavor is full of life, joy, and good times. He’s even won over some of my friends and family that don’t usually listen to hip hop, which is great news for me. It’s very accessible and poppy, but is great for repeat listens and for bringing you out of a funk. Even the album’s sad song, “Ok,” is hopeful at its core. Peabod has since dropped two singles, both of which have gotten multiple listens from me, and whatever he does in the future will definitely be on my radar.

NEEDTOBREATHE - Acoustic Live, Vol. 1

I hesitated to put this on my list based on the fact that it’s not a studio album and contains no new material from the band (save for a cover song or two). In the end, I decided to run with it, because it truly is an album I enjoyed a lot this year. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song transition into an acoustic setting perfectly, the band sounds amazing live, and the recording and production is clear and perfect. One of the best parts of a live album is hearing the band talk with the audience and engage in a little banter between songs, and it was nice to hear some of that here. Here’s hoping that more of this is coming down the pipeline (and that their next studio album revisits the southern rock sound a little more and the pop a little less).

Jackie Hill Perry - Crescendo

My anticipation for Crescendo was through the roof. It had been four years since Perry’s last album and I was counting down the days for the follow up. After a number of listens, I had the same experience I had with mewithoutYou’s album; I recognized how excellent it is without connecting to it personally. So it’s actually a little difficult to write about. But there is a lot to like about it. Crescendo presents us with a Jackie Hill Perry who seems to be going through a rough season of life. A lot of the songs sound weary and maybe even slightly lamenting on occasion. However, the despair is combatted with hymns scattered throughout the tracklist. There’s also never a single moment where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is forgotten. My personal favorite track is “Hymn,” which features a slew of legends of the CHH world: The Ambassador, shai linne, da TRUTH, and Braille. This is a terrific follow up to The Art of Joy and is more than worth your time if you enjoy hip hop.

The Gray Havens - She Waits

Every time Dave and Licia Redford release new music, it takes some time before I really appreciate it. Fire and Stone took me a good long while, and it was only near the end of 2015 that I realized I had spent so much time with it and enjoyed it all. She Waits hasn’t hit me in quite the same way, but it’s a terrific indie pop album that’s filled to the brim with the hope of Jesus. The title track alone paints a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ patiently waiting for her bridegroom to return. I also really took to “Storehouse” and the somewhat out-of-character “High Enough.” The album is also full of beautiful melodies and music that feels really good to the soul. Again, it’s a bit of a grower, but it’s well worth the time it takes to fall in love with it.

Honorable mentions:Twenty One Pilots, Trench

The Choir - Bloodshot
Dens - No Small Tempest EP
Ethan Luck - Let It Burn
Fit For A King - Dark Skies
Future of Forestry - Union
Josh White & Josh Garrels - Josh White & Josh Garrels EP
Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes - Wind-Up Bird
Off Road Minivan - Spiral Gaze EP
Sleeping Giant - I Am
Twenty One Pilots - Trench

-- Scott Fryberger, JFH Staff Writer


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Friday, December 21, 2018

Songs For When You Feel The World Is Broken: Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell’s Top Albums Of 2018

2017 (almost two year ago now) was a pretty tough year for me in that I had a work-life setback that threw me for a loop. Though the details are decidedly mundane and ordinary, it threw me into a funk that represented the lowest I’ve felt in my adult life. Looking back I understand where the depression came from, like looking back at a play in slow motion on a football broadcast. I had just graduated from a literature grad school program (with honors, thank you very much) and finished up a dream job as a worship leader at a summer camp (complete with a lakeside cabin for the family!). Then a crazy series of setbacks professionally sent me reeling into the fall. That season is magical here in New England, but I felt as dull and lifeless as a New Hampshire February. I was stuck and falling fast, and in a despondency I’ve not really encountered before. (I have a fairly “up” personality, and that has brought me through a few downtimes.)

Thankfully my close family and Church family rallied around me, and supported me in a way that I wish every person could experience. Systems of support are critical, and the joy that I have in thinking about these people, and their role in my life is a blessing that I’ll carry with me always. 
Thankfully 2018 has been much better. I feel resurrected, with new energy and focus. Part of this is due to a friend who insisted I exercise with him, and gradually rounding into shape was a needed thing. Also, my lovely wife and I took a second (or third?) honeymoon to a spectacular local that recharged my batteries. There were a few professional steps forward, and it’s the kind of year I’ll take. There was even a major car accident in there that didn’t throw me. (Woe to me if that had happened a year earlier!)
And so, when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s masterful Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (including the completely necessary prologue), I rejoice that resurrection both occurred in an epic, historic fashion to save my soul, and that personal resurrection is constantly happening in my own life. It’s the grace of God that put wonderful people in my life (a “three-fold chord is not easily broken") and brought my feet out of the pit (out of the mirey clay). Peterson captures both the brokenness of this world and the light that Christ brought by both entering into it along side of us (at his birth, celebrated at Christmastime) and ultimately his death and resurrection for the sins of the world. Peterson has now made a full cycle celebrating the life of Jesus in his classic Christmas project Behold The Lamb and now this three-part meditation on the events of the crucifixion. 
This is what I wrote in my review:
Not since Star Wars Episode 1 has a prequel taken so long to arrive, and unlike that abomination of a film, Andrew Peterson's Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (and the prologue of songs that starts the action off) was utterly worth the wait. Ten years after Vol. 2 was released, this walk-through of the death and resurrection of Christ in epic song form matches Peterson's beloved work on Christmas, Behold The Lamb, with its nuanced storytelling and artful and epic songwriting. Kicking off with the haunting "Last Words (Tenebrae)", Peterson layers the seven last statements of Christ in a rhythmic and repeating melodic pattern that circles around and demonstrates Peterson's masterful touch with a phrase and a melody. Walking through the death of Christ on the cross and the heavy atmosphere of that day, the prologue deftly sets the stage for the triumphal following act. "His Heart Beats" leads the resurrection portion of the main album with a celebratory tune that ranks with Peterson's finest moment of songwriting. "Remember Me" (based on the words of the penitent thief on one side of Christ) and "I've Seen Too Much" show Peterson spinning well-known sections of scripture (Like St. Peter's confession of who Jesus truly was) into something new, with fresh angles and deep insight. With echoes of such classic songwriters as David Gray, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, Peterson's musical pallet is growing wider every time out of the gate. Andrew Peterson is so much more than just a songwriter at this point. With four novels, a thriving blog and a film to his credit (along with ten-plus fantastic albums), he's approaching C.S. Lewis territory with his poetic and beautiful exploration of faith and the human condition. Listening to both volumes of Resurrection Letters is to listen to a master at the height of his craft, diving into the most important and epic rescue story ever told. 
Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child (my favorite album title of the year) likewise spoke to hope. The title track is a call to heed the Psalmist’s advice and “look up to the hills” in times of trouble (the ancient Psalms would often use the geography of Israel as metaphors for the Lord.).
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
The title track is perhaps the best song here, and serves as a pulsating anthem of hope. Again referencing the Psalms, with the instructions to "look up" in times of trouble; the lyrics are poetically rendered in a way that gives hope without being cloying or speaking down to the listener. That might be Daigle's greatest strength on Look Up Child, the relentless, encouraging, positive drive in the music and lyrics. The theme of hope can be handled in hackneyed fashion in much of Christian music, but Daigle takes her calling seriously, and handles the theme deftly. Ending with the old hymn, "Turn Your Eyes On Jesus," is a great way to bring the album's theme full circle. There may be a few too many slow-rise ballads here, but Look Up Child is a very good follow-up album, and in terms of sheer quality and sophistication, it's also one of the year's best and most mature work.
Remedy Drive wove hopefulness into their dynamite album North Star. The title itself is a reference for the star that runaway southern slaves would look to for guidance on their journeys north to freedom. 
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
Dealing with huge themes (human trafficking, militarism, nationalism, consumerism, war mongering) within a Christian context is rarely done this well, and this tunefully. Remedy Drive's sonic template here suggests a slightly lower budget Coldplay or Radiohead, but the combination of a powerhouse message against the backdrop of gorgeous and urgent songwriting makes The North Star a contender for best album of the year. There is a vital need for Old Testament style 'speaking truth to power' in these confusing times, and Remedy Drive has crafted an epic, challenging and heart-breaking record to do just that.
Matthew Perryman Jones (who had my favorite album cover of the year) wrote about waking up from a long period of slumber (the metaphorical kind) on The Waking Hours and seeing the world anew. This resonated with me too.
Here’s a piece of my review for that album:
With a strong theme of waking up to what is truly important, and taking the time to examine your life, The Waking Hours is as introspective and searching as it is beautiful. It's the rare form of music that captures the feeling of looking at a sunset in a beautiful place and letting the scene spur something deeper inside you. Art, at its best, hints at another world than this one, and Matthew Perryman Jones continues to exceed in writing the sort of evocative tunes that call for scenery and deeper thought. The Waking Hours is perhaps aptly named, in that its songs are mostly of the sleepy kind (for truly upbeat MPJ, check out Land Of The Living). But they serve the album's theme well. It's a record that's perfect for the winter months of contemplation and introspection and you'd be hard pressed to hear a more gorgeous slice of sadness and hope this year.
No band does the theme of “joy” any better right now than Rend Collective. But on Good News, the band added some needed lament to their manic energy, and released their best, most cohesive album. It’s one that brings into the light all of the emotions and experiences of life:
Joy is an elusive thing. Happiness comes and goes like the ocean tide, but true joy--the deep-down, foundational kind--is a quality to be celebrated and cultivated. And no band does ‘joy’ like the Irish quintet, Rend Collective. And their new album, Good News, is a masterful and rowdy celebration of what brings true joy to a soul, the Gospel message. Gospel is an old English world for “good news” (‘good’ plus “spell“, which was a phrase for news before it came to mean something magical, as in the old-timey phrase “sit a spell“.) Similar to the phrase “Godspeed” (both words have little to do with the Lord, the “god” in both cases was a shortening of ‘good”), Gospel has come to mean a host of different things in the modern day, like the genre of music or a kind of church denomination. But the core idea has remained. Followers of Christ have responded to the best kind of news, that through Christ and his death and resurrection, we can be restored to fellowship with the divine. But too often, that good news can get lost or swamped by the paranoia of times. After a rough 2016 and ‘17 (particularly here in the U.S.), Rend Collective has decided to unabashedly shine a light, and not just curse at the darkness. And the great thing about Good News is that they have widened their musical palette while still cranking up the energy and rowdiness of their past albums.
The Choir’s Bloodshot was the most emotionally devastating album I heard this year, with main lyricist (and friend of mine) Steve Hindalong tracing the path of his divorce, and the ramifications of seeing a longtime marriage end. But there was hope there too:
You aren't likely to hear a heartbreaking subject like divorce treated with this level of transparency from a standpoint of faith in many places. Bloodshot is a heartbreaking and moving listen, with a veteran band's level of attention to detail. The music fits the theme just right, and while it might be a tough listen for many, it is an important conversation that The Choir puts to music beautifully. With the depth of a fine film, this veteran band keeps moving forward through all the mine fields that life in our fallen world has to offer.
Audrey Assad’s Evergreen had a title and theme that I could get behind. Here in dear old New England, the evergreen trees are what’s left after the glorious fall colors have left the deciduous trees barren. Assad’s use of this metaphor for survival (and thriving) in harsh conditions hit home for me. The album is as lush and full as the pine forests in my beloved home state of Maine, and my newfound home here in New Hampshire.
Mat Kearney’s musings on relationships (CRAZYTALK), Plumb’s continued focus on healing (Beautifully Broken) and Blanca’s theme of recovery and healing (in the wake of her mother’s terminal illness) on Shattered all resonated with me too.
In the final analysis, it’s difficult to call these albums the “best” of the year. But I can easily call them my favorite. Music is a gift from above, a way to parse the events of your life and give them a soundtrack that resonates in years to come. In a year where the sun came back out again, these were the songs that brought that theme to the surface and cause me to thank the Lord for continued resurrection.

--- Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell




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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Josh Balogh's Top 10 Albums of 2018

 Another year of music is in the books, which is hard to believe as it seems the years fly by faster and faster. This was a different year for me, as I felt that a lot of the mainstream Christian music scene failed to deliver on my expectations. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe I’ve just been around far too long, but I felt a little let down by several highly anticipated albums. It seems as though a good majority of Christian music is in a rut. So, I endeavored to look to the fringes and independent music more than I typically would. Not all of my “finds” could make this list, but I will highlight a few honorable mentions at the end. In the meantime, here are the ten albums, and ten songs that I returned to the most often this year. I’d also love to hear where you agree or disagree, and what your favorites from the year were. Happy listening friends!


1.     John Van Deusen – With Every Power Wide Awake

John Van Deusen 

I have been effusive in my praise of this one since it first captured my attention in January of this year, and for good reason. It’s easily more most listened to album of the year at more than fifty times through in various formats. The album sounds great on all of them, and would be the rare album worth owning on vinyl is my opinion. Heartfelt, earnest, worshipful, and moving, John Van Deusen has crafted my favorite album of the year, and it wasn’t even in doubt. Favorite overall track is “Calling All Cowards,” but you need to make the time to soak in the title track, letting the message wash over you. It’s epic in all the right ways. Other highlights are “None Other,” and “I Will Praise You Name, Yahweh.” Lyrically deep, without being inaccessible, and musically interesting without falling into common worship music pitfalls, this one is highly recommended. If you didn’t happen to catch this one, check out my further thoughts on the album in the indie review section, as I go into more detail on why I loved it so much.


2.     Twenty One PilotsTrench

Twenty One Pilots, Trench 

There is much that I could say about the backstory of the album, but suffice it to say, I think that Tyler Joseph is a master artist. If you’ve dug into the layers of this one you know what I mean. Not only is their incredible attention to detail in the lyrics and music, but a vast story that you can spend hours dissecting. Or, if you prefer, as my kids do, just bop along to some catchy tunes. Also, these fellas know how to do a live show, proving that the fan and critical praise heaped on them is more than justified. There’s a strong reliance on hip-hop on Trench and it makes for a cohesive listen, which was greatly assisted by Paul Meany of Mutemath with his co-producing credits. The bass heavy “Jumpsuit” is my overall favorite, but the trip along hip-hop of “Chlorine,” the eerie statement song “Neon Gravestones,” and the reggae influenced “Nico And The Niners” are all terrific as well. Also, don’t miss the weary, yet hopeful closing song “Leave The City.”


3.     The Gray Havens - She Waits

 The Gray Havens, She Waits

I quickly became a fan of indie husband and wife duo The Gray Havens after being introduced to their album Fire & Stone from 2015. I enjoy their narrative folk/pop approach to making music, and had high hopes of this one prior to its release. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Fans of their previous folk sound may not love the new pop/hip hop vibes that it employs, but I for one enjoyed the musical direction. I think that “Three Birds In Babylon” is a fantastic song, and I claim it as my overall favorite song from the year. I spent much time examining the lyrics to figure out the meaning of the song, and though I was ultimately wrong in my interpretation, it made for a rewarding experience not ruining the song for me at all. If you enjoy lyrics that may require some study, this one may just be your jam. Along with “Three Birds In Babylon,” “She Waits,” “High Enough,” Storehouse,” and “Forever,” are my favorite songs. It is a short, but sweet listen that kept me coming back again, and again.


4.     Rivers & RobotsDiscovery


Silky smooth vocals, worshipful lyrics, ambient tones, and a combo of organic and electronic music, make this a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. There’s an occasional Mutemath vibe, mixed with an Explosions in the sky guitar tones that hits the spot. Some would call it sleepy, or perhaps boring, but as far as worship music goes, I think this is near the top of the best of the year. “Author And Protector,” “Burn For You,” “Overflow,” and epic closing track “Forevermore” make up my favorite songs. Great background music to absorb at work, or chill to with a cup of coffee.


5.     Lauren DaigleLook Up, Child

She’s been all over the mainstream market this year, and deservedly so, as Look Up, Child is a step up from her stellar debut How Can It Be. Adele comparisons aside, there is plenty here to like from Lauren. Yes, vocally she does sound like the aforementioned songstress, but she also can just flat out sing. The first half of the record is the most immediately accessible, but she takes some artistic chances on the back half, so I encourage listeners to hang longer there. “You Say” is as strong of a pop song that’s come along in a while, and its worlds better than much than the mainstream pop world is producing message wise. As I mentioned, the second half of the album is worth extra attention starting with the soaring “Love Like This,” continuing with the smoky “Losing My Religion,” and ultimately culminating with a Lauryn Hill-like cover of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Everything on this album is bigger, and grander sounding, which does not always equal better, but ultimately Look Up, Child is a step forward for Daigle, and deserving of all the praise heaped on it.


6.     Andrew PetersonResurrection Letters Vol. 1


Full disclosure, this album would have likely made my top ten of the year for the songs “His Heart Beats” and “Is He Worthy?” alone, but there are plenty of things to like about Peterson’s labor of love project Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. With a few electronic flourishes in the percussion, this plays less like his folky beginning, though it retains enough of that sound that longtime fans will still find much to enjoy. I could see this album being utilized to great effect for Easter services all over the world in 2019, and I surely hope that the call and response of “Is He Worhty,” makes a few services at the very least. The joyous “Maybe Next Year” and the earnestly hopeful “Rise Up” are two additional highlights worth checking out. All in all, this is one of my favorite Peterson Releases, and I’m grateful that he endeavored to make it.


7.     MAEMultisensory Aesthetic Experience


Another band that I haven’t spent much time with since their classic The Everglow album in 2005. I have no real excuse, but since hearing this one I’ve gone into their back catalogue and it’s all fantastic. For Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, I enjoy it most with my earbuds in. I spent several late nights listening to and loving songs like “Sing,” “5 Light Years,” “No Promises (10001001100) and “Let It Die.” With each listen I found a different musical nuance to appreciate, and this is an album I would say I can “feel” more than understand if that makes any sense. I’m not totally certain why I like it, but I know that I do.


8.     Matthew Thiessen & The EarthquakesWind Up Bird


I was insanely curious to hear what Thiessen would come up with after the more than ten years of teasing a side project. I was expecting more piano based pop, but I was pleasantly surprised to get more guitar driven songs. “Forest” is easily my favorite song, with its playful tone and Ellie Schmidly’s charming guest vocals. But “Man of Stone,” “Wind Up Bird,” and “Climb” are also ones I return to often. Though it ultimately took me by surprise the musical direction he took, I’m not mad at all, and I hope that there ends up being more of Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes. Just not at the expense of new Relient K please!


9.     Kevin MaxAWOL


At first listen, I wasn’t sure I could follow Kmax into the 80’s new wave musical direction, but over repeat listens it only grew on me more. That is always the sign of a great record. He was born to make an album like this, which includes odes to his heroes from the era, without aping any one of them fully. I tend to revisit the back half of the album most, with tracks like “Brand New Hit,” “AWOL,” “Irish Blood Up,” and “Cornucopia Of The Soul,” but “Melissa” is a fine opening song, and “Prodigal” is a highlight as well. Very cohesive and artfully crafted, AWOL might not be for everyone, but it should be.


10. Mewithoutyou Untitled


Okay, so I have to admit that Mewithoutyou isn’t a band that I’ve kept up with well. I enjoyed 2006’s Brother, Sister and haven’t checked in on them until several JFH staffers recommended checking this one out. I went into it with no expectations, and left highly impressed. This one was teetering on the cusp of being replaced by a few other albums, but I ultimately decided to include it in my top ten because of the musical intensity. Typically I need to dig into lyrics to really enjoy an album, but for whatever reason I’ve suspended that requirement for this album and just allowed the sheer force of the musicality alone to draw me in. Favorite song is “Julia (or ‘Holy To The Lord On the Bells of Horses’) and though the middle of the album starts to lull, it’s the right amount of calm before the fiery conclusion of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” and the calm of “Break On Through (To the Other Side) {Part 2}.” This one needs to be close to your ears in headphones to fully immerse yourself in the rage-quiet-rage dynamic that they pull off flawlessly throughout the album. 


Honorable Mentions: 


1. Matthew Perryman Jones - The Waking Hours

2. Chris Renzema - I'll Be The Branches

3. Future of Forestry - The Union

4. For King & Country - Burn The Ships

5. Adam Watts - When A Heart Wakes Up



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Monday, December 10, 2018

Operation: Liquid Exorcist - By Rusty Shipp

Back in April, I (Russ T. Shipp) went on my annual retreat to a monastery, but unlike years before when I retreated in pursuit of realigning myself with my life's purpose, this year I had a new objective: create the concept for a musical project that was more ambitious and creative than "Mortal Ghost." This goal was made more challenging by the fact that my band Rusty Shipp's previous release, "Mortal Ghost," had just been named #2 album of 2017 in all Christian music by and then went on to win the award for Album Of The Year in the 2018 JFH Awards, among other prestigious accolades. But after 3 days of silent meditation, writing every Nautical Rock 'n' Roll idea I could muster, it was in the very last hour before I had to go back to Nashville that the concept I was looking for suddenly struck me:
"Liquid Exorcist."

To live up to the goal of making something more ambitious and creative than our last album, we decided to make our first full-on concept record with all the tracks painting a picture of a chronological story. The story of Liquid Exorcist follows an evil organization that has laced the ocean with a hundred sea mines, causing war with their enemies and innocent sea-dwellers alike. Long after the war, some mines remain adrift in the ocean awaiting collision with innocent passersby. 

This underwater setting of the story is where the term "liquid" comes into play, and the sea mines are like a kind of "exorcist"--explosively casting out the spirits of anyone who collides with them. This metaphor of "exorcism," i.e., the casting out of a spirit from the body, is a theme that appears in every song on this record, reflecting the different experiences of the souls affected by this marine warfare. 

For this new EP we're really drawing out the ingredients of our staple "Nautical Rock 'n' Roll" sound in bold and experimental ways to tell the story of Liquid Exorcist. While progressing the sounds of this new genre, we're also channeling our roots to give homage to our collective influences, such as doing a Chris Cornell tribute song and songs that are an obvious nod to 60's surf rock, prog rock, and Nirvana-esque grunge pop.

Since we're an independent band without a record label we'll need to cover all the recording costs ourselves, so we're giving people the option of preordering the record and some special, exclusive merch in an attempt to fund the recording expenses. We're selling things like band equipment, exclusive t-shirts and stickers, hand-written lyrics, a Skype session with the band, a video of us performing ANY song of your choice, and also the opportunity for us to come play a private show for you! ALSO, everyone who contributes ANY amount will immediately get a private link to our brand new music video that has not yet been released to the public! There's less than a week left to preorder from our Indiegogo page HERE:

We in Rusty Shipp want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the staff and followers of, who single-handedly catapulted our music onto the global stage! After becoming the first independent artist to ever win Artist of the Year and Album of the Year in the JFH Awards, many doors of opportunity have been opened to us and continue opening to this day! Even last week I (Russ T.) had one of the greatest experiences of my life when I was invited by my favorite singer, Kevin Max from dc Talk (who we barely beat out for Artist of the Year, I might add!), to be the only guest vocalist at his annual Christmas concert and sing a duet with him!  Amazing, providential things are happening almost daily for us and we're excited to experience them with all of you! 


~Russ T. Shipp, AJ Newton, Elijah Apperson, and Andrew "Speedy" Speed

*The guys talking about their new project*


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