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’sLook 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’sBloodshot 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.
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 Jesusfreakhideout.com 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:
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: https://goo.gl/ox3PPN.
We in Rusty Shipp want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the staff and followers of Jesusfreakhideout.com, 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!
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SUPPORTING, SHARING, AND ENJOYING OUR MUSIC! YOU MAKE THESE SEAS WORTH SAILING ON!
~Russ T. Shipp, AJ Newton, Elijah Apperson, and Andrew "Speedy" Speed
We love House of Heroes here at JFH. Their albums always chart on our Staff Picks and Highlighting Artists, and at one point or another, they have even nabbed the number one spot for both features. They have the first album to receive two five star reviews in JFH history. Additionally, when you click on an ex-reviewer’s name, reason #7 of possible explanations this person is no longer on staff reads, “Didn't like House of Heroes' The End Is Not The End album.” (Even if that was listed in jest.) And hey, they seem to like us too, they even performed a special acoustic concert back in 2010 in honor of JFH’s 14th anniversary!
One of the things I respect most about the band is their commitment to their craft. They don't write records to create radio singles (save “Constant”). Nor do they put out the same album twice. They push themselves, experiment with their sound, and never settle for mediocrity.
While this self-titled album was the first national release from the band, this was not their first exposure to the music scene. In fact, this debut was a long time coming. Journey back to spring of 1996. Young high schoolers Tim Skipper, AJ Babcock, and Nate Rothacker formed a band called Plan B. Two years later, Colin Rigsby--Tim and AJ’s friend from youthgroup--replaced Nate Rothacker as the drummer, and the band became No Tagbacks. The boys released their first and only album under that name in 2001--an under-produced pop/punk record entitled Ten Months. Soon after Tim, AJ, and Colin (all accounted for today) decided to change their name to House of Heroes and shift to a pop/rock sound. The band released their first House of Heroes album What You Want Is Now in 2003 through the independent label Vanishing Point Records. In 2004, the band caught the attention of Gotee Records. After several months of issues with Vanishing Point the band finally signed with Gotee and released this self-titled national debut in April 2005.
I first learned about House Heroes right here as a reader on JFH, from a review by former JFH writer (and now YouTube sensation--thanks to Blimey Cow) Josh Taylor. While first listening to the album, I was impressed with their fresh rock sound, the impressive voice of Tim Skipper—who I have come to regard as one of the best voices in the industry—and unparalleled backing vocals of AJ and Colin.
This album covers a broad range of themes. “Pulling Back the Skin” and “Suicide Baby” talk about broken romantic relationships. “Buckets for Bullet Wounds” provides a voice for social injustice. “Make a Face Like You Mean It (Vampires)” calls out record labels for manipulating artists.“Fast Enough” puts you in the shoes of a woman looking for purpose: “All the lights are on, it comforts no one but your silhouette.” Whatever the message, they pack a lot of emotion into the song, all the while blending creative songwriting with pretty melodies.
HoH finds a unique balance between technical proficiency and casual jamming. They deliver crunchy guitars, gritty baselines, and rhythmic drums with occasional dramatic bursts of energy and emotion. Coupled with the album’s weighty lyrics, the music can pack a pretty significant punch. Despite this, it is a relatively optimistic record as a whole. This is accomplished with minor details like handclaps on "Buckets For Bullet Wounds" and the circus-styled guitar in the bridge of "Friday Night," as well as bigger picture characteristics like the catchiness of the album and the playful nature of how the drums, guitars, and bass work off each other.
One of the album highlights, “Friday Night,” starts off slow, but it isn’t long before it shifts to an upbeat rock number. In the second verse, Tim passes the vocal reins to AJ Babcock while he sings “the record keeps on spinning” and plenty of “oh’s” in the background. Hearing AJ so prominently here--and on other parts of the record--is a real treat, especially because of its rarity on following records. The most powerful song on the album is the lead single, "Serial Sleepers.” This song and its accompanying music video serve as a wakeup call to those have become apathetic in their faith. It's one of the few spiritual moments on the album: "rise up, O Sons of God, and sing the song that hides behind your teeth."
While the majority of this album was new material, "Mercedes Baby" and "Kamikaze Baby" (renamed "Suicide Baby") were both re-recorded from What We Want Is Now: "Mercedes Baby" is a fun upbeat rock number with a thick baseline and a catchy chorus. I’ve heard many fans say they prefer the raw emotion of the original, but personally, I find this version tighter and more suited for the encouraging message. But man, that is one killer breakdown in the original. "Suicide Baby" is a significant improvement from the original, especially in the vocal department. This song also has a memorable chorus but is a more laid back in the verses.
Closing out the album, "Angels In Tophats" is an emotional song about a boy and a girl who got into a car wreck. The girl is in the hospital while the boy is pleading and praying for the girl to wake from her coma. This nine-minute roller coaster ride requires complete focus to fully appreciate, but those with the attention span to sit through it will vouch for their ability to capture a story with songwriting and music--something they mastered in The End Is Not The End.
Overall, this is a solid rock album. Many recent fans discovering this gem for the first time may find it different from their more polished successors, but multiple listens would reveal that this is the same clever and talented band. It's not necessarily a masterpiece like the band’s magnum opus The End Is Not The End, but it holds up well to Suburba and Cold Hard Want. One important note is that Mono Vs. Stereo (Gotee’s sister label) re-released this album as Say No More in 2006, introducingtwo new songs into the mix: “You Are The Judas of the Cheerleading Squad” and “Invisible Hook.” They are both fantastic songs and though they don’t quite fit with the original tracklist, it works well enough to make the purchase a little more valuable.
Today, the band is independent and working on their first "true" concept album. The record is being funded by a $50,000+ IndieGoGo Campaign (which was 160% of their $35,000 goal). During the campaign, the band released the stellar six songSmoke EP. Since then, we have been treated to theHark! The House of Heroes SingChristmas EP and have also been promised an acoustic EP this spring. As a "Member of the House," I've had the pleasure of seeing the early development of this concept album and judging from the jam sessions and story ideas we have heard so far, it will be well worth the wait. I'd love to tell all you wonderful JFH readers more details about the record, but I think we have to keep things confidential. But I think I'd be okay to share a still shot from one of their jam sessions in AJ's mom's basement. Here’s to another 10 years for the beloved rock band, House of Heroes.
It's certainly hard to believe that a decade has passed since Audio Adrenaline released what would end up being their final studio album. Until My Heart Caves In was a bittersweet record, as it showcased even less of lead singer Mark Stuart's vocals than the previous album had (Worldwide), with guitarist Tyler Burkum filling in more and more. To diehard fans of the original identity of the band, it came as a pretty hard pill to swallow. (Honestly, I didn't care for the record at all at first, and was immensely disappointed after my first listen.)
Still, Until My Heart Caves In is an appropriate final bow, of sorts. The opener, "Clap Your Hands," was a fantastic show starter and it represented the kind of fun rock anthems the band had always offered. "King" was a great original worship song that captured the spirit of their album LIFT and also offered enough of that radio sensibility to keep casual listeners happy. Other highlights like "Undefeated" and their cover of "Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher" helped give some extra punch to a more raw rock effort than Worldwide. But the heartbreaking closer, "Losing Control," is even more bittersweet given that it wrapped up the band's final studio album with original members Mark Stuart and Will McGinniss, and longtime members Tyler Burkum and Ben Cissell. The additional tracks on their official farewell hits collection, Adios, were nice encores, but to this day, Until My Heart Caves In marked the end of an era.
Today, in 2015, 8 years after Audio Adrenaline played their final show as a band in Hawaii, the name "Audio Adrenaline" lives on with all new members, carrying the banner to support the orphanage the band started in Haiti, The Hands & Feet Project. While it will never quite be the same, the heart of the band continues. With a new studio album with the new four members releasing May 5th, and a new single, "Love Was Stronger"--a cover of artist Josiah James' song--available on iTunes and at radio while they tour with Newsboys, it's a completely different time and season for Audio Adrenaline. The sound of the new single is unlike anything on Until My Heart Caves In, fitting in more so with the current trends of CCM radio, but it remains to be seen (and heard) where the brand's next album, Sound of the Saints, fits in their discography.
Until My Heart Caves In will always hold a special place in this reviewer's heart as being the closing statement of the original embodiment of Audio Adrenaline -- and it still sounds good, even 10 Years Later.
When it comes to Five Iron Frenzy, I was about as late-blooming of a fan as you can possibly get. My experience with them was as follows:
I started going to church in the year 2000, and along with my newfound interest in Jesus, I was given some Christian music to listen to (because secular music was a sin, right?). For Christmas that year, the family that was bringing me to church gave me this compilation called Simply Impossible, which featured bands like Skillet, John Reuben, Earthsuit, ill harmonics, PAX217, The Elms, Philmore, and an interesting choice of song by Five Iron Frenzy ("Solidarity"). The song caught my interest, mainly because I found it interesting that there was a Christian salsa band on this compilation. Well, I got a chance to listen to All The Hype That Money Can Buy, and realized that was the only song of that nature on the album. They were a ska band! And I hated the entire album. Yep. I hated it.
Time went by, and I heard a few other songs by Five Iron that weren't so bad. Then on a road trip with a couple friends, someone popped in that CD, and it was like it was something completely new. Every song was simply amazing. How could this be? I don't know, but something had changed, and I liked it. Then in early 2003 (or possibly late 2002, I forget), Five Iron Frenzy announced their impending break-up. But...but...I just started liking them! This sent me on a mission: I needed all their albums. So I set out to buy all their studio albums, and I bought tickets to go see their final show in Kansas City (where I bought the remaining albums I didn't have).
Now, this is a 10 Years Later blog, and Five Iron's then-last album, The End Is Near, officially released in 2003 at their live shows. But in 2004, it was released to the public in grand fashion as The End Is Here. They gave it everything they possibly could. First off, all of the thirteen original songs were just stellar. "Cannonball" started it off in a blaze; songs like "At Least I'm Not Like All Those Other Old Guys," "Wizard Needs Food, Badly," and "That's How The Story Ends" showcased their classic sense of humor (the last of the three summing up many of their older funny songs); and they showed their reverent side with "It Was Beautiful," "Something Like Laughter," and "On Distant Shores." It was truly one of their best pieces of work. And somehow, they managed to improve on it when they took The End Is Near and transformed it into The End Is Here. For starters, "The Cross of St. Andrew" was a short, albeit excellent bonus track. Then of course there was the second disc with the recording of their then-final show, jam-packed with fan favorites and hilarious hijinks. And there was so much in that recording, they even added a half hour's worth of bonus recorded material (just a lot of talking and a few versions of "Pootermobile" if I remember correctly) to the very end of disc one. Yes, Five Iron truly loved/loves their fans, and they wanted to give us their all for that dual album. It was a super classy way to go out, and I listened to that album like there was no tomorrow. I know they just put out a new album this past November, and Engine of a Million Plots is solid for sure, but if you ask me, it's gonna take a lot to top The End Is Here. Now that Five Iron's discography is on Spotify, you have little excuse to revisit this album if you haven't recently.
To fully understand my choice in highlighting Tree63, I must delve a little bit into my background.
In my youth, my interest (and exposure) to music was rather limited. I had been weaned on Rich Mullins, dabbled in the sounds of Steven Curtis Chapman, and been bored during church worship; that was pretty much it. As my brother was flourishing in his musical tastes (he had already started his collection of Jars of Clay material, ironically much to my annoyance), I found the whole thing uninteresting. Then a DVD extra on Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie introduced me to the Newsboys sometime soon after my 12th birthday in September 2003 (I had received that movie as a gift on that occasion). This started a massive chain reaction that fully awakened my interest in music. By December 2004, I had compiled a long list of firsts, including my first album purchased with my own money (Newsboys' Thrive), my first dud purchased with my own money (Newsboys' Devotion), my first Christian Rock album (Kutless' Sea of Faces), my first worship album (Chris Tomlin's Arriving), my first real favorite song ("Jesus Freak"), my first time listening to a band that was popular outside of "Christian" circles (Switchfoot), and so on.
But there was one more notable first which was more subtle, but far more meaningful: the first time I began to truly enjoy worshipping God through music. I can't pinpoint it to a day (though I think it may have been at camp), but I can pinpoint it to a song: "Blessed Be Your Name."
The Answer To The Question, the third Inpop release of South Africa's Tree63, was actually a CD that belonged to my brother, but I also really enjoyed it. It was an energetic pop-rock album that I could unashamedly sing along to and delve into the meaning of the words (2004 was also the first time I started doing that, as I began growing acutely aware that some music was "Christian" and some was "not"). To this day, I get goosebumps (even if only from nostalgia) listening to album opener "King," a song which definitely holds up as strongly today as it did then. "You Only" and "So Glad" were also favorites of mine, as was (of course) the South African trio's cover of Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name." I still remember to this day, for the first time ever, hearing the worship band play the opening chords of that song, and singing the opening verse, thinking that it sounded familiar (but couldn't figure out where), and then suddenly realizing, "Hey, I listen to this song at home!" As a 12-year old, this was a really big deal for me; for the first time, worship became more interesting, and I wanted to pour myself more into it.
In all reality, I can't really say that there is anything "special," per say, about The Answer To The Question. Obviously, their version of Redman's classic has basically become the industry standard to this day (though, frankly, it is actually one of the weaker songs on the record), but all The Answer... really is is a solid pop-rock/worship album from a now-defunct band (the band ended in 2009 after one more studio album). That said, it does wonderfully capture the best of this era of the evolution of CCM, bridging the genre from the days of PFR and Seven Day Jesus and the rise of Sonicflood to the popular "worship music" movement of today. But to me personally, it captures this era of my life and my growth personally and spiritually. I'll admit that I hadn't listened to The Answer... for a couple of years until I was preparing to write this blog, but when I did, everything rushed back to me as clearly now as it did then. I remember all the songs, and they arguably hold up better now than, say, this year's Passion release will hold up a year from now. Those that haven't listened to Tree63's finest album, I recommend you do so, and if you have, give it another listen.
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.
No doubt 2003 was a great year for music; along with well-received releases from several great bands across the board, one of Christian and secular music’s most sought-after and prominent rock bands released their biggest (and one of the biggest of that year) album. That record just happens to be called The Beautiful Letdown, and that band just happens to be San Diego’s own Switchfoot.
Switchfoot was already on the rise before The Beautiful Letdown dropped, with three records released before it, each getting more acclaim and recognition than the previous. With spots on film soundtracks like A Walk To Remember and Model Behavior, the alternative rockers were building a solid following. With The Beautiful Letdown, there are songs on that record that pushed Switchfoot into the mainstream world, while launching them to permanent headliner status in the Christian market. Songs such as “Meant To Live” and “Dare You To Move” were top 20 hits, and the album became a staple on the Billboard 200 list for some time. It eventually went double platinum in the U.S. and Billboard featured it on their list of Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums of the Decade. Along with racking up awards and attention in the secular market, it was a grand slam in the Christian market as well, winning over six Dove Awards throughout the album’s tenure. This record marked a special time for Switchfoot, and gave the then-young band an excellent start to their inspiring and successful career.
Ten years later, Switchfoot is still at the top of their game, releasing four records between The Beautiful Letdown and now, each being well received, but none quite matching the success of their celebrated opus. They received a GRAMMY award in 2011 for Hello Hurricane, after being nominated once before in 2001 for Learning to Breathe. More recently, Switchfoot released an EP for their forthcoming album, Fading West. The Fading West EP is a small assembly of songs that will also be released on their LP in 2014. These songs all stand well alone, but I’m sure they will shine once listened to in context of the album. The unique thing about Fading West is that Switchfoot is also releasing an eponymous documentary film in December of this year, and it's been said that the album will be used as a soundtrack for the film. As far as style comparisons, the three new tunes sound like Switchfoot, but they show evolution and adaptation as well. There's a little more synth is applied to these three tracks than what they used on The Beautiful Letdown, but nothing too out there to alienate their longtime fans.
Their music has always carried that soul and raw passion, while challenging the listener to think about life, God, relationships, and the world around them. I think one of the reasons why Switchfoot has been able to stay at the level they’re at is because of their ability to change and grow as a band, while taking on topics that aren’t always talked about in modern music, and nailing them on the head. Throughout their career they’ve shown this ability to write music for thinking people, and everyone in general, while remaining honest and maintaining their values as a band and as people. The Beautiful Letdown will always have a special place in Switchfoot’s history, and many of the songs on that record have inspired this generation, and will continue to inspire others as time progresses. Cheers to The Beautiful Letdown; it is the farthest thing from a letdown, but is still quite beautiful, even after all this time.
Taking a trip back in time (going a little McFly here) to life in 2003. I was about to turn 10, CDs were still the standard for music buyers, Myspace was still number one in Social Media, and a little band known as Relient K was getting ready to release their third studio album. Relient K had been active in the scene for a few years prior to this release, with their eponymous debut released on Gotee Records. With The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, the Canton boys started to garner mainstream success, with headlining tours and exclusive interest from clothing brands. When Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do dropped on March 11, 2003, the album was welcomed with open arms by fans and critics alike, even earning them a Grammy nomination as well. The album showed growth musically, while still maintaining the witty yet poignant lyrics that they’re famous for. With quintessential teenage anthems like “Mood Rings” and “College Kids,” to earnest conversations with God, “Getting Into You” and “Am I Understood?” Relient K was proving their staying power while keeping things fresh. Of course, it wouldn’t be Relient K without some of the goofiness as well, and songs like “Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry,” “Gibberish” and the delightful hidden track, take care of that void (even if Matt Thiessen is the worst freestyle rapper ever). Two Lefts was undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2003, and marked a new era for the quirky pop rockers.
Fast forward to 2013, and Relient K is still touring and making music, although not as much as they did in their earlier years. With considerable band member and musical style changes, Relient K finally bestows upon their fans a new record. It’s been over four years since they’ve released any original material (there was a covers album that was released in 2011), and the anticipation for some fresh music has been extremely high. The RK boys stated that they initially wanted to release the record in 2012, which then got pushed to January 2013, then pushed to April, and finally settled on July 2013 as their release date for Collapsible Lung, their seventh (including K Is For Karaoke) studio album.
Looking at Two Lefts and Collapsible Lung side-by-side, there are considerable differences and some similarities. With Two Lefts, you get that youthful, yet thoughtful punch and dorky charm that trademarked Relient K in their earlier years, and with Collapsible Lung, you get a more pensive yet laid back vibe while giving it a spin (or a click through your playlist). Both albums give a good look into where the band, especially wordsmith and frontman Matt Thiessen, is in life, while wrapping their stories up nice and tightly in clever hooks and catchy riffs. As far as which is better than the other, I’ll leave that to the reader to decide. Both serve as a part of Relient K’s journey and career, and both leave the listener with different things to think about after the last track plays.
Over the years, Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do has been hailed as Relient K’s “best” by some, although it sometimes gets overshadowed by their 2004 release, MMHMM, when discussing Relient K’s library. The record was definitely a step in the right direction for these pop punkers, with it taking a more straight up rock approach while still keeping some of the goofiness and all of the wit found on previous records. Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do is a classic Relient K album, and still remains as one of the best releases in their genre to this day. Happy belated birthday, Two Lefts, you still look and sound as good as you did ten years ago!
2003 was the year I turned 12 years old. I was just starting to like music, and even then it couldn't hold my attention for long... unless I REALLY liked it. But thanks to then-recent massive hits like Dive and Live Out Loud,Steven Curtis Chapman was one of those artists I REALLY liked. Granted, I wasn't that interested in his slower, more serious, or more intimate songs because I was... well... 12. As such, the first time I heard SCC's 2003 album All About Love, which was an album chock-full songs pertaining to the most serious and intimate subject possible (which, for those that didn't catch the title, is love), it didn't pique my interest much. I remember thinking at the time that the album's only redeeming quality was the opening title track, which reminded me of his other aforementioned hits. And as the years passed and the album continued to collect dust, this remained my opinion of the album. Until I listened to it again about six years later; after a revision and complete overhaul of my opinion, this album can only be described as one of SCC's best works.
In an award-winning career spanning over a quarter-decade, there are few times that Steven Curtis Chapman has ever been as personal as this (and that is saying something). In its whopping 16-song body (12 originals, two covers, a reinterpretation, and a song from his previous album), Chapman managed to create not only a fully engaging, entertaining, and creative sound, but put them to lyrics that were 100% honest sincerity and 0% cliché-ism or cheesiness (which alone would have been a feat in and of itself). Ever since the day that I picked the album up and listened to it once again, I realized the lasting value andpower of these songs. Love is a timeless topic and Chapman's music on this album is a timeless collection of sounds, expertly utilizing guitar (both acoustic and electric), piano, orchestrations, keys, and accordions, that still hold up to this day (and undoubtedly will hold up for years to come). For fans of radio hits, it is difficult to beat the title-track in terms of legitimate substance and non-generic music. Those that dig deeper into the tracklisting will uncover such gems as How Do I Love Her?, the intimate We Will Dance, the awe-inspiring Holding a Mystery, the soaring A Moment Made For Worshipping, and even rescuing from the depths the 1988 Proclaimers hit I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). But to say that there are weaker tracks on the album would be an injustice to its overall quality and thematic cohesiveness.
10 yearslater now, has Chapman just put out an equally delightful and thematic release in his bluegrass-gospel tinged hymn/acoustic hits album Deep Roots. How do they compare? Well, if you'll forgive the cliché, it's like apples to oranges; one is contemporary pop and the other is roots music, and both are geared for specific (and, for the most part, separate) audiences. But if you compare quality, neither can lose any points in that regard. Suffice it to say that Chapman has not lost his ability to put out beautiful thematic experiences in the last decade. But in any event, revisiting All About Love is just as much a treasure now as it was a treat in 2003.
I think it to be highly appropriate to write a blog like this about a band who has recently announced their break up, simultaneously breaking the hearts of many music fans (though with all the understanding in the world from said fans).
Ten years ago, one of the best things that has ever happened to heavy music happened: a band called Underoath signed to Solid State Records and released what would be their grand introduction to the world at large, The Changing of Times. The album captivated the hearts of kids who couldn't decide if they were emo or hardcore, giving them a third option: emocore. This was in large part due to the duality of Underoath's music. Before The Changing of Times, Underoath was hard and heavy, but with the signing to Solid State, and with drummer Aaron Gillespie's poppier preferences starting to influence the music, their sound became more ambient. Dallas Taylor (who went on after this album to form Maylene and the Sons of Disaster and is also part of a two-man electronic outfit called Everett) still screamed a lot in songs like "Letting Go of Tonight" and "Never Meant To Break Your Heart," the latter of which also kept some of their hardcore tendencies intact, with double bass and chugging guitars. But then there's the title track and, of course, the infamous first single "When The Sun Sleeps" (the single that made it known that these guys were something special), which expertly blended their harder side and their newfound softer side. While the majority of the album wasn't very accessible, it paved the way for their groundbreaking follow-up record, They're Only Chasing Safety (but that's a blog for a couple of years from now!). These guys have done a lot in the way of making Christian music more likeable for those of other (or no) faiths, and they grew and matured and made heavy music better with each and every album.
As we say goodbye to Underoath, go back and listen to the album that really gave them their biggest push toward being legendary.
In many ways, Thrive marked the end of a chapter of the Newsboys story. It was the last album of all-original material that the classic Take Me To Your Leader lineup would make together (sans John James, of course). After Thrive, the lads from Australia (well, mostly) would go on to make a few worship albums (with some pretty good original songs) trade guitarists, bassists and singers and somehow maintain a popularity that still allows them to sell out arenas, as evidenced by the boisterous crowd heard in the background of this month's live release, Newsboys Live In Concert: God's Not Dead.
Produced by longtime team of Steve Taylor and Peter Furler, Thrive opens with the bouncy guitar crunch and clever wordplay of "Giving It Over", which name-checks rap group Outkast (hugely popular at the time) and features some fantastic Taylor lyrics about surrendering everything over to the Lord. Second song, "Live In Stereo," is perhaps the only song in Christian Music to combine references to a "Jacobean ladder," the Blue Man Group and a sherpa. This odd mix is pure Steve Taylor at his nonsensical best and harkens back to the odd and wonderful wordplay of 90's Newsboys albums Going Public (with its screwball lyrics on "Shine" about dictators who repent and "teach the poor origami") and Take Me To Your Leader where "Joshua judges her ruthlessly" on the title track. Taylor again is the unsung hero (and true sixth member) of the Newsboys and on the back half of Thrive ("Cornelius", "The Fad Of The Land" and "John Woo"), he achieves a level of cultural commentary that goes beyond "the world is bad, think about Heaven". Indeed, an engaged mind, surveying popular culture and bringing a kingdom perspective to John Woo movies is a feat that needs to be remembered and celebrated. It would be fascinating to see what Steve Taylor could do with the Newsboys' current incarnation.
And in an interesting turn, Thrive offered up Furler's first attempt at a corporate worship song (not counting the worshipful songs on their greatest hits album two years prior, they were not corporate worship in the strictest sense) in the catchy "It Is You." The success of this tune lead to a couple of worship albums that were to follow.
It's the combining of fun and encouraging radio songs like "Million Pieces (Kissing Your Cares Away)" and "Thrive" with oddball, but endearing lyrics that this version of the Newsboys shined most. The goodwill produced by a string of albums like Thrive no doubt helped the fellows survive the lineup and music industry changes that were just around the corner.
I became a Christian in the year 2000. Before that, I didn't know that Christians had their own music. My favorite band at the time was (don't judge me) Limp Bizkit. Yes, rapcore was cool once (honestly, I'd be down for some right now). As I became introduced to this whole new world of Christian music, one band that caught my ear was a western Kansas band called Pillar. And this happened: "Wow, these guys are like the Christian Limp Bizkit!" I've since realized that we don't need that kinda stuff, but at the time, I was new to this thing.
ANYWAY, two years later, Pillar released what is easily their best album: Fireproof. Who can forget the anthemic chorus of the title track? "I know where I stand and what'll happen if you try it, I AM FIREPROOF!" (Apparently I did, cause I had to look up the lyrics just now) And how about the repeating of "In God we trust! In God we trust!" in "Indivisible." And of course, the album's ballads were something to write home about; "A Shame" and "Further From Myself" were highlights that made you think and worship in the middle of a rock fest. Yes, these guys had what my rapcore-loving, new Christian heart longed for. Fireproof even tied with P.O.D. for most number of weeks for a Christian rock single to be at number one on Christian rock radio (eleven weeks; not sure if that record has been broken since then). This is also the album that first got Pillar mainstream exposure, with a re-release of Fireproof on Geffen Records and mainstream servicing with their next album, Where Do We Go From Here. While that album had some good songs and plenty of solid moments, it's safe to say that Fireproof, while pretty dated by today's standards, was the best work of their career. With the band currently on an indefinite hiatus, and lead vocalist Rob Beckley working on a solo project and a new label called idefimusic, it's unknown whether they'll ever attempt to best themselves. But as the band had changed dramatically since Fireproof, I suppose anything is possible! Go listen to this again for a fun blast from the past. You know you want to.....right?
Today's hardcore fanatics, whether Christian or not, are most likely familiar with (and in love with) both Norma Jean and The Chariot. Of course, those who have followed the bands since their respective roots know that, before forming The Chariot, vocalist Josh Scogin was the frontman of Norma Jean. And it was ten years ago that Norma Jean made its first successful impact on the music scene with Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child. While quite easily my least favorite Norma Jean album (I'm a late bloomer, so what?), there's no denying that Bless the Martyr is what began Norma Jean's rise to fame. "Face:Face" and "Memphis Will Be Laid To Waste" - more-so the latter - are still requested at Norma Jean shows today, and the current line-up is more than okay with performing those songs. It's a testament to the album's staying power. If you're into either band, and you've never listened to Bless the Martyr, Kiss the Child, you owe it to yourself as a fan to dig into it. Don't let my comment about it being my least favorite album sway you in the other direction. Go check it out, then go listen to the newest from both Norma Jean and The Chariot (Meridional and One Wing, respectively) and admire the growth that's taken place over the last decade.
With the release of Wait For the Siren on the horizon, let’s take a look in the rearview at one of Project 86’s best records to date, Truthless Heroes.The band’s third album found them in a dark place lyrically and offered no sort of hope or encouragement to their listeners.What it did offer, however, was an impressive expedition of hard rock.Each track was an all-out assault of “angry” hard rock music and the band never relented.
The record attacked the media, big business, and entertainment and did its best to expose the grisly truth and hypocrisy behind them.In doing so, Andrew Schwab “told the story” of a fictional character that was neglected as a child and attempted to pursue greatness through fame, fortune, and lust.Schwab warned back then that the album didn’t necessarily have a happy ending.
Though lyrically dark, as a whole it was a hard-hitting record.Not only has Truthless Heroes reigned supreme as my personal favorite P86 album of all time, it is also one of their most accessible to date.The tracks that really make this such a memorable album have to be “Little Green Men”, “Salem’s Suburbs”, “Team Black”, and “Another Boredom Movement”.While there isn’t a track that misses, “Another Boredom Movement” is probably the album’s best as it calls out the music and entertainment industry in audacious fashion.
Project’s newest album, Wait For the Siren (releasing August 21st), definitely has shades of their 2002 release.Much of the angst in the vocals from Heroes is revisited, but lyrically it’s more uplifting.Not one song from 2002 holds a flame to the hope that’s in Siren’s almost worshipful “Blood Moon”.While there are definite and direct comparisons between Truthless Heroes and Wait For the Siren they are completely different albums all around.I like the way our own John DiBiase put it: "It’s a fresh album for P86, but with just enough Heroes, Bridges, and Picket Fence to have the best of both worlds."
It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Truthless Heroes hit the market, and maybe even a little harder to believe that Project 86 has been around for nearly seventeen years.Schwab is the only remaining original member, but does anything else really matter that much?Schwab has always surrounded himself with capable musicians and his song writing is always top notch.One listen to Wait For the Siren will take you back to the Truthless Heroes days of “angry” P86 music.While the newest effort isn’t dark like its predecessor from ten years prior, it may have just unseeded Truthless Heroes from my top spot.Do yourself a favor and do some listening to Truthless Heroes before delving into the new material.
It’s been 10 long years since 12 Stones hit the scene with Wind-Up Records, who seemed to be snatching up and signing every band who sounded even remotely similar to Creed. The band whose early sound mimicked Creed’s began an interesting path when they signed to Wind-Up -- one in which they would be severely overlooked and under-appreciated by their label. While they saw moderate success, especially in the Christian market, they had trouble breaking out into to mainstream with any real success. Yes, they were featured in soundtracks like The Scorpion King and Electra, and Paul did win a Grammy one year after their self-titled debut release for his role in Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” but it seemed as if 12 Stones went mostly unnoticed by major media outlets.
12 Stones are now preparing to release their fourth full-length album, Beneath The Scars, and their first away from Wind-Up Records. The new album feels a little rawer in general, but the production has been stepped up a notch. While early 12 Stones drew comparisons to Creed, the new record will surely draw comparisons to Skillet. Paul’s voice has grown a little raspier over the years and Eric’s guitar playing, or at least writing, has seemingly improved. And while their self-titled debut was more open about faith related issues, their new album still holds onto some spiritual themes.
Though the comparisons between 12 Stones first and latest albums aren’t really direct, it feels that they are finally starting to get where they’ve always wanted to go with their music. While there were most definitely some gems on the debut record, it doesn’t hold a flame to the overall sound of their newest project. No matter your feelings on 12 Stones over the years (many fans lost interest after Potter’s Field), thinking of their new album can’t help but take you back 10 years to what was one the band’s shining moments and arguably their best record overall. That is, until now. Though there were faults throughout the debut album, sit back and listen to tracks like “Crash,” “Broken,” “The Way I Feel,” and “My Life” if you don’t remember how much potential they had back then. Not many bands are still releasing music after 10 years, but it’s good to see 12 Stones is back and as strong as ever.
In today's world, Solid State Records sees a lot of strong bands come through their part of town, but a lot of them seem to fade out after one or two albums (Once Nothing, The Famine, Twelve Gauge Valentine, etc.). But one band has been going strong for a decade now, and has recently released a monster of a sixth album called True Defiance. That band is Demon Hunter, and it's been ten years since we were introduced to them on Solid State. They started as kind of an enigma with a mystery line-up, though it was rumored (and later confirmed) that Demon Hunter had formed from the remnants of former Solid State group Training For Utopia.
When DH unleashed their self-titled debut, it was an instant attention-grabber. The album's biggest single, "Infected," was a perfect introduction to a sound that would continue to be used album after album, but improved upon constantly: vocalist Ryan Clark screamed his way through the verses accompanied by solid metal guitar riffs and tight drumming. But oh wait, what's this? Singing in the chorus? Melodies?? It may not have been a completely original idea, but it's one that Demon Hunter perfected and made into one of their signatures. Though the metalheads in all of us fell in love with "Infected," as well as other heavy tracks like "Through the Black," "Turn Your Back and Run" and "As We Wept," these same metalheads couldn't help but fall in love with the seemingly out-of-place (but oh-so-wonderful) rock ballads "My Throat Is An Open Grave" and "The Gauntlet." Even with the clean vocals admist a sea of screams and growls, they just seemed right. Demon Hunter has grown with each new album, and gotten significantly better and tighter (even with several line-up changes), but let's not forget where they started: with a stellar debut album that people just couldn't get enough of.
We never thought we'd see it happen. We all thought that the Denver, Colorado ska octet Five Iron Frenzy had gone to the grave, never to resurrect. But November 22, 2011 proved to be a glorious day for those fans who had a part of themselves die as well, for Five Iron Frenzy had returned, announcing plans for a brand new album in 2013 (with a few line up changes). I was pumped, and have been listening to a lot of their music lately, mostly the 2001 jewel of an album, Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo.
What's interesting about this album is its almost complete lack of ska. Sure you have "Plan B," but the majority of Electric Boogaloo is like a punk/rock album with some ska influence. This is definitely their heaviest material (other than "Mind For Treason" on Cheeses of Nazareth, of course), with perhaps some early glimpses of what we would get when Roper put out their one and only album. "Pre-Ex-Girlfriend" comes out of the gate quickly, with other rocking tracks like "Farsighted" and "The Day We Killed." There was some songwriting on display from saxophonist Leanor "Jeff the Girl" Ortega in "Car," plenty of traditional Five Iron satire in "Vultures" and humble lyrics from Reese in "Blue Mix" and "Eulogy." Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo stands out to me as one of their best albums. Some may agree, some may disagree, but I personally feel it's one of their strongest releases. Regardless, you should check it out. November 2011 marked the ten year anniversary for this album, but it doesn't feel like it's been that long. It still sounds terrific even today... a decade later.
I still remember walking around the electronics section of Wal-Mart at the age of 17 with the money from my part time minimum wage job burning a hole in my pocket. At that time in my life, I was really just starting to build my massive collection of albums (which is now 2,000+ strong). I stumbled across four dorky looking dudes in tracksuits jumping hurdles in the Christian section; the band name was the same of a crummy Dodge car… Relient K. The CD had a sticker on it that read something like, "For fans of MxPx". Being that MxPx was (and still is) my favorite band, I blindly made the purchase. The album was entertaining, but nothing too great. It was, however, good enough for me to keep my eyes open a year later when their next album came out.
The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek made the purchase of the so-so, self-titled debut worth it. The growth they showed between the two albums was high. If I only knew then the path of growth and maturity these guys had truly embarked on. I loved, and still do, the quirky nature of the band. Even though their newer albums hardly resemble their old, they still carry a sense of dorkiness with them.
Anatomy is packed full of both funny songs like "Sadie Hawkins Dance" or "May the Horse Be With You" and serious songs like "Those Words Are Not Enough" and "For the Moments I Feel Faint", which remain favorites to this day. The album made these guys Christian music superstars. During the tour for this album, I saw Anberlin and Relient K together. I actually ran into them pre-show at a burger joint just down from the venue. The guys were completely cool and signed the only thing I had… a napkin. The crowd at the show was your normal crowd for a Christian punk show. The next time I saw them, with MxPx, the screams of 14-year-old girls nearly drove me crazy. The last time I saw them was at Rock the Universe in 2008. My wife and I left the show because of middle school girls (ha ha!). I was a dorky guy that played guitar in high school, why didn't I have that effect on the opposite sex? Regardless of the crowd, I have seen Relient K around 6 times and they never disappoint.
While Two Lefts Don't Make a Right… But Three Do and Mmhmm are my favorite Relient K albums and I enjoy the maturity of Five Score and Seven Years Ago and Forget and Not Slow Down, there will always be a special place in my heart for The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek. This year Relient K is treading into new territory. They released, in typical Relient K fashion, the K is for Karaoke EP in June with the full-length covers album, K is For Karaoke, to follow in October. While cover songs are a staple of the Relient K live experience, they are recording them for the consumer for the first time. If Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" and Weezer's "Surf Was America" are any indications, K For Karaoke should be a success. As you sit back and think of music from a decade ago, The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek should not be forgotten.
The next installment of ‘10 Years Later,’ features P.O.D.’s Satellite.Not many remember, but this album was released on one of the saddest and most tragic days in American history, September 11, 2001.It was a terrible first week to get album sales, but the perfect timing for an inspirational song like “Alive.”When all of America was grieving, “Alive” was ruling airwaves as a sign of hope despite recent events.The track was even the first rock tune to reach the number one position on MTV’s Total Request Live.
Satellite kicks off with the adrenaline filled “Set it Off” and never really backs down until the end with the Grammy-nominated “Portrait.”The album captures many of P.O.D.’s influences from Bad Brains, Santana, Bob Marley, and others.They also refused to back down from their Christian stance and message even after the hugely successful Southtown.Satellite were nominated for an unprecedented (for a hard rock band) six MTV Video Music Awards in 2002, a single Grammy nomination in 2002, and two Grammy nominations in 2003.This is by far their most successful, and most popular, release of their career and it is currently certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
Though the album was a departure from their original hardcore sound found on Snuff the Punk and Brown and more melodic than the smash hit Fundamental Elements of Southtown, P.O.D. scored big with Satellite.The album showed they could be diverse and do something beside thrash, scream, and rap.The album has several great sing-a-long tracks.“Alive,” “Boom,” “Youth of the Nation,” and “Satellite” are easily favorites.Tracks like “Without Jah, Nothing” capture a sliver of their former hardcore selves, while “Ridiculous” shows off their reggae roots and “Masterpiece Conspiracy” is a flashback to Southtown.
Though there really isn’t any current P.O.D. music to compare Satellite to (When Angels and Serpents Dance is over 3 years old now), hopefully there is some on the horizon.Fans are hoping to have a new P.O.D. album coming by year’s end.An album at the end of the year would be a perfect way to lead into the band’s 20th anniversary in 2012.If you haven’t listened to Satellite in years, then there is no better time to pop it in or upload it to your MP3 player than now.Get ready to enjoy some amazing music from years past.
Sadly, few bands can celebrate being around for 10 years let alone it being ten years since the release of their FIFTH studio album. In 2001, Third Day released Come Together, the follow-up to their first worship album, Offerings, which followed the southern flavored and folksy Time from 1999. Last year, 14 years since the national release of their self-titled album, Third Day released their latest studio recording, Move. Move was more of a return to the spirit of Time (even down to the short, single-word title) as the band continues to strive to make music that they (and their fans) love and believe in.
Still very much a five piece when it released, Come Together seemed to be a chapter during the band's sort-of soul searching period, musically. Decidedly more pop with electronic accents (like an electronic drum beat for parts of "My Heart" and "I Got You"), I often remember this album as much less the band we know Third Day as now than most of their other albums (except for maybe the popular but disappointing contemporary feel of Wherever You Are). As a pop album, Come Together offers some memorable songs, but it's clearly not the band's best or most "true" effort.
So in comparison to Move, their latest project is more raw in production and contains a few songs edgier than anything that can be found on Come Together. The only thing that the band seems to have carried over from the Come Together season in their career is the overlapping circles logo. When listening to how the songs on Come Together compare to Move, the latter just feels considerably more comfortable than the 2001 record. Lyrically, the project is still very positive and worshipful, but perhaps a bit more day-time radio friendly (and altogether "CCM"). Songs like "Show Me Your Glory" and "Nothing Compares" are still great worship songs that don't feel quite as paint-by-number as some of the most popular songs sung on Sunday mornings these days, and the heart behind them is pure and the passion is infectious. These tracks were mixed in with the rockier "Get On" and the soulful southern rock of "Still Listening" (the former seems to work and hold up better over the past decade than the latter), along with the signature Third Day ballads were also present in "It's Alright," "I Don't Know" and "When The Rain Comes." And while I loved the electronic exploration in "My Heart" and "I Got You" when this album came out, it's a sound that, now, sounds more dated than most of the rest of the record and didn't really "fit" the band quite as well (or naturally).
Come Together was not their best effort in 2001 and after five more full-length albums (and two live albums), the band has proven that this record seemed outside of their comfort zone. The songs with more production sound the most dated, but fans of the softer side of Third Day may still want to check out this record if they haven't yet. Songs like the title track, "Show Me Your Glory" and "Nothing Compares" are still great songs even ten years later.
So, my original concept idea for this blog was to pit a release from 10 years ago with a new release from the same artist 10 years later (so, it'd be like, for example, Steven Curtis Chapman's 2001 Declaration album versus his announced new release for sometime this year... which hopefully I'll actually write about at some point this year). Unfortunately, that idea really limits where this blog can go, so as exemplified in the previous blog by looking at Audio Adrenaline's 2001 best-of album, Hit Parade, we're going to take a look now at Skillet's Alien Youth album from 2001... and of course see how it stacks up against their latest album, their most current album, their 2009 release, Awake.
When I was a teenager, Skillet released their self-titled debut in 1996 (shortly after I started JFH actually... yeah, I just really dated myself). So, needless to say, I've followed Skilet closely since Ardent and Forefront put out the Bleach/Skillet sampler disc in the summer of '96 (which, incidentally was Eddie DeGarmo, who ran Forefront, and Dana Key, who ran Ardent, having a wee little friendly competition with their artists... since Bleach was on Forefront and Skillet on Ardent). Skllet began as more of a grunge rock three-piece before shifting to electronic rock with their 1998 sophomore project, then going even more electronic for their 2000 album Invincible (when they became a four-piece and frontman John Cooper's wife Korey first joined). Their late summer release, Alien Youth, in 2001 took the sound more into the realm of industrial rock as current guitarist Ben Kasica made his debut in the band and Lori Peters entered as the Skillet's first female drummer. Technically, Alien Youth could probably be considered an pivotal point of the band's evolution into who they are today.
It's no secret that Skillet has grown into quite the commercial success these days. Their live shows are big and rather epic, their songs are relatable and their music is catchy. But in 2001, Skillet was still exclusively a Christian market band and the most notable difference about their songs on Alien Youth is the subject matter. While Awake continues more of the relationship-oriented themes that were explored on Collide and even more so on Comatose, Alien Youth was a sort of call-to-arms for the young Christian generation. Where dc Talk created a mult-generational anthem with their 1995 song "Jesus Freak," "Alien Youth," the song and the album, gave young believers (particularly who are also fans of accessible industrial rock) an anthem. While I would probably be more inclined to listen to Alien Youth before Awake on any given day (my initial thoughts and feelings of disappoint that I shared in 2009 have not changed), I must admit that Awake does bear a more professional sound and feel. However, for the most part, it feels emptier in comparison when it comes to lyrics and themes. While I would probably regard "Hero" as the best track on Awake, there are several tracks on Alien Youth that impacted me ten years ago and that I would still consider to be inspiring today.
The first of these tracks is "The Thirst Is Taking Over" (lyrics). It's moody, pensive, and features a great building from the atmospheric and haunting intro until it's large climactic finish. It bears a distinct worship feel in the lyrics that doesn't succomb to the over-used and stale sound of most of corporate worship. In other words, it's unofficially "worship" without being genre-specific.
You alone are what my soul needs,
You know the thirst is taking over.
Hardly breathe, I'm in urgent need.
You know the thirst is taking over.
I want to taste it, I need to taste it
Deep in the Savior's arms.
It would be really hard for Skillet to have lyrics like these on an album today (given their mainstream appeal), but I have to admit it's one aspect of the band that I do miss. Thankfully, they're still open and unashamed to talk about their faith today.
Another song highlight is in "Will You Be There" (lyrics), a lovely five-minute ballad that definitely feels more dated in 2011, but is a nice duet between John and Korey. Lyrically, the pair sing out doubts in a prayerful way to their Savior, asking Him if He really will be reliable and present in the dark and difficult times.
Will You be there as I grow cold?
Will You be there when I'm falling down?
Will You be there?
When I'm in retreat,
Can I run to you?
Will my pain release
At Your mercy seat?
Are You saying so?
Oh, I gotta believe it.
Are You saying 'yeah?'
When Your love comes down, I can rest my eyes.
Feel Your grace and power flood into my life.
As my brokenness and Your strength collide.
When Your love comes down, falling down.
Of course, not all of Alien Youth is quite as memorable or impacting. Cooper's response to a live show experience from Marilyn Manson in "Ripping Me Off" is pretty corny (despite having an important message) while "Stronger" uses quirky vocal effects and a frenetic approach that doesn't work as well as the rest of the album. In addition to the aforementioned tracks, two rocker stand-outs on here have to be mentioned. "Eating Me Away" is a sweet rock track about conversing with God about our struggle with our sinfulness and humanity, and the appropriate follow-up to it, the aggressive "Kill Me Heal Me." Skillet had the incredible ability to package spiritually meaty songs in a musical packaging that listeners who wouldn't normally listen to contemporary Christian radio could still get some musical food for their soul. It's projects like this that spoke to me personally as a teenager and an early-twenty-something (when this released in 2001) that seems so scarce to find in today's Christian rock. Alien Youth rocked really hard when it rocked and then stripped things way down to just a piano with the closing ballad, "Come My Way" - which was sort of the "ugly duckling" of the album. It doesn't really fit in musically and leaves the listener with an almost-lullaby after such an energetic album, but lyrically it's a beauty as John and Korey ask God to come to them so that they might be healed.
I realize this is quite the lengthy examination of Skillet's fourth full-length studio album (and comparing who they were then with their career today), but it's enjoyable to revisit some older and often forgotten releases like this one. Panheads who don't own this one should check it out, while those feeling a little empty about some of today's rock music - and won't mind a slightly dated early-2000's electronic rock release - should also check this one out. Not all of Alien Youth holds up as well today, but it still offers some true diamonds in the rough.
For some time now, I've debated on launching this new blog section that will take aim at revisiting music that released ten years ago. It's interesting to see how much things can change in the world and in life in just a decade and music is a good example of that.
For "10 Years Later...," we hope to look at some records that released 10 years ago, re-evaluate them, highlight them as something worth checking out still today, or even compare them to the current release from the same artist.
The first project I want to look at myself is Audio Adrenaline's March, 2001 best-of release, Hit Parade. While Audio Adrenaline is no longer around today, two of their founding members, Will McGinniss (bass) and Mark Stuart (vocals) can be found heading up a new worship endeavor called Know Hope Collective. That group of worshippers are set to release their self-titled debut album on Integrity Music March 1st. As many Christian music fans know, Audio A disbanded in 2007, releasing one final hits album during the previous fall, titled Adios. To me, as a longtime fan of the band's work, the 2001 collection, Hit Parade (review), really seemed to highlight the band's glory days. Stuart's voice was starting to get a little rough, but he still handled most of the lead vocals and the band was still filling venues and rocking festivals like few could.
I'm sure there are more songs on Hit Parade that will sound dated to young ears than found on Adios, but both projects offered 17 tracks with Parade containing two solid brand new songs that were worth the price of the collection alone, "Will Not Fade" and "One Like You" (Adios also offered two new songs, with one of those being a cover song and another being a farewell anthem. The Special Edition release offered a third new recording, also a cover song). But for 2001, the band had just enough records that a 17-song hits project represented their best and most memorable songs really well. It was to the point that Adios had to include cuts from an additional three studio albums that it made it too easy to exclude some crucial songs from the band's catalog.
Now that Audio Adrenaline's catalog of music has officially wrapped up, Hit Parade stands out as the strongest collection of 90s rock hits from the band's career (I'd be tempted to re-rate the project with a perfect 5 stars today). The only thing that would be missing to make this record stronger would be a couple cuts from their fall 2001 studio album Lift (particularly "Glory" and "Tremble"). Still, as a collection of 90's pop rock highlights, Hit Parade represents Audio A very well ten years later. This band is truly missed!
This Friday, August 23
Pat Barrett Canvas and Clay (Live) [Bowyer & Bow / Capitol]
Vince Gill Okie [MCA Nashville]
Andy Mineo Work In Progress [Reach]
Gene Moore Tunnel Vision [Motown Gospel]
North Point En Espanol Mucho Mas - Single [Centricity]
The Porter's Gate Nothing To Fear (feat. Audrey Assad) - Single [Integrity]
Random Hero Tension [Rockfest]
TobyMac The St. Nemele Collab Sessions (Digital Only) [Forefront/Capitol]
Next Friday, August 30
Aaron Cole Not By Chance [Gotee]
Jeff & Sheri Easter You Are Loved [Capitol/Gaither]
Elevation Worship At Midnight (independent)
David Leonard The Wait: Silence the Noise (Live) [Integrity]
Paul and Hannah McClure The Way Home [Bethel]
Maranatha! Music Heart Of Worship - Tremble [Maranatha!]
North Point Inside Out Abundantly More EP [Centricity]
Sanctus Real Unstoppable God [Framework/Fair Trade]
Various Artists SOZO Playlists: Top Christian Hits [Capitol/Sparrow]