4 (more) records for fall.

I’m distracting myself from the paper I’m writing for adolescent psychology by putting the finishing touches on this compilation. Everyone needs a study break, right? Hope you enjoy tunes that supply the soundtrack to your next procrastination session!

Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street | Beach Slang

I found this band via Spotify on a summer playlist put together by Hundredth (a band I reviewed on my summer anthem compilation). I was only familiar with bands like Neon Indian and Best Coast before listening to it, but was pleasantly surprised by the range of showcased genres packed into a little over an hour. It starts off with Dirty Cigarettes, the first song off Philadelphia native Beach beach-slang-cheap-thrills-on-a-dead-end-street-520x520Slang’s 2014 EP, Cheap Thrills On a Dead End Street armed with a grungy, surf rock aesthetic and raw, gravely vocals (non Chad Kroger/Scott Stapp-ish and therefore good). I kept listening to this song’s infectious riff and was captivated by its unpolished sound in a culture of sterilized modern rock. I explored the rest of this EP a couple weeks ago and was surprised by how it kept my attention. All Fuzzed Out sticks to the same formula as Dirty Cigarettes, but still keeps itself on the tip of your tongue throughout this listen. American Girls and French Kisses slows the pace down towards the end of this EP and ends on a frenetic note with We Are Nothing. It’s been a surprisingly potent listen because of how it feels atmospherically throwback to older rock.

Into the Sun | Sons of the East

I reviewed this Australian singer songwriter collective’s debut eponymous EP early this year. I was drawn into this band’s rootsy, native flourishes that reared its thick Americana, Bob Dylan influences. I still enjoy it after all this time. This band released a new single two weeks ago and was curious to see how they would expand on an already robust sound.12030546_894121457339096_3428452690508436221_o Into the Sun begins with a piano intro and transitions into a nimble acoustic guitar part that sustains for the rest of the track. It continues to stack on the original layer of instrumentation with heavy reverberating electric guitar and a stripped down percussion section. The vocals are a sweet balance between tenor and baritone voices from Nic Johnson and Jack Rollins. It’s a very somber sounding listen, but still has a bright disposition. I’ve had it on repeat in the last two weeks and I’m loving the new material! They are dropping a new EP in November called, Already Gone… expect that to come up on this blog.

Doris | Earl Sweatshirt

I haven’t reviewed much rap on this channel. There’s a time and a place for bling (the time is hardly ever if that, the places are few and far between), but I don’t like compromising lyrical substance for brainless club bangers. I’m picky with rap. With that said, Earl is worth the discussion. Originally a member of the nefarious Odd Future hip-hop collective from Los Angeles, earl-sweatshirt-doris-600x600Earl Sweatshirt has set himself apart form the rest of the group on this record with visceral talent, unmatched wordplay, choices in hazy beats, and an overall despondent vibe. Earl is an introspective kid who likes to use music as an outlet to depict his unorthodox personality. Doris is his debut solo record after being shipped off to a camp for troubled youth for an extended stay. This record is dark, has lurid production, and trudges through its own run. Throughout Doris, you hear tracks like Chum that showcase Earl’s reflective side, the abstractness of Hive, and even the comical with Whoa featuring Tyler, the Creator. Hoarse is my highlight with a haunting beat, a sluggish flow from Earl, and an atmospheric delivery. With all that, this album is vulgar at points, so you might have to stomach some explicit dialogue, but the kid has undeniable skills.

Somewhere Under Wonderland | Counting Crows

Known to be a household name in 90’s rock, Counting Crows have built a career over the last 25 years over a familiar formula of dyadic rock that still keeps its 90’s influences. I’ve grown up with singles like Accidentally in Love, Big Yellow Taxi, and A Murder of One, but never got into much of anything else. Until I started to revisit some of these singles again, I never listened to anything else from the band. I saw they released this new album last year, unbeknownst to me that the group had survived the early 2000’s. Somewhere Under Wonderland. counting-crows-somewhere-under-wonderland1This album reeks of the 1990’s… in the surprisingly good ways. Palisades Park is a great way to begin this record with a hazy, trumpet solo that takes off into a driving piano and a contemporary jazz vibe. As with the rest of this record, the lyrics take on abstract poetry reminiscent of artists like Iron & Wine that take interesting turns of phrase and go with the flow of the instrumentals. Elvis Went to Hollywood showcases the funky alt rock aesthetic of this album, Cover Up the Sun is a fun, folky head bopper that feels infectious, and Possibility Days is a calm way to end the record with acoustic piano and acoustic guitar to lead the listener to the finish line. This album doesn’t musically reinvent the wheel (and it doesn’t have to), but manages to stay on the tip of this decade’s tongue with diverse instrumentation and an easygoing flow.

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dances with wolves.

This week, I drove to Minneapolis with a couple buddies of mine from college and church to see a bunch of metal and hardcore bands on a nationwide album release tour. For Today (one of all our all-time favorites) was headlining. We actually bought VIP tickets, which included a meet and greet with the band, a couple souvenirs, and early entry into the venue. It was fun to pick the rhythm guitarist’s brain about certain musical influences that manifest on their new record, the writing process, and touring life. One of my friends with me knew the lead singer from childhood, so they were able to catch up after many years. The show was awesome, the bands went hard, we were drenched in sweat, and sang/screamed our hearts out. There was; however, something about all these bands that stood out, but I’ll get to that soon.

Last Sunday, our senior pastor used an analogy of the 4×100 relay in track and field to describe the race that Paul talks about in 1st Corinthians 9 and Hebrews 12…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1st Corinthians 9:24-27

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2.

In the context of these verses and what pastor Brandon was talking about, the underlying definition of this race is rooted in Mathew 28:18 or what is known as, “The Great Commission” – to go forth and make disciples. In order for us as individuals and as a body of believers to run that race, Hebrews tells us to strip off “weights” (which translates into sins or burdens) that hinder us effectively being able to do so. Brandon challenged us as believers to understand what the “race” is. What is our race? How do we run it? What weights do we need to strip off in order to do so? Whom are we called to serve? How can we hold each other accountable and encourage each other as believers?

We spend our whole lives figuring out what God has in store for us, to where and whom we are called to, discovering how we use our spiritual gifts etc. Those are subject change. God may call us to move jobs or even to another state or continent. We may take those transitions in rough seas, but God ultimately delivers through those storms of change. The flip side of that coin is that we first have to pick up our crosses, lace up, and run the race. We learn those aspects of our calling along the way as we continue to seek first His kingdom. So, this passage does not deliver a static, one-and-done application, but it begins by approaching the starting line.

When I was sitting down with Brandon and developing small group questions on this topic last week, he let me in on something fascinating before this aforementioned passage in 1st Corinthians. This whole letter is Paul dictating a dialogue to the church in Corinth about the vagrancies in their doctrine – divisions, marriage, personal disputes etc. In chapter 9, verses 19-23, Paul discusses how he uses his freedom…

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Reading this passage made me think of how those bands from Tuesday night separate themselves from the pack… or run alongside them, so to say.

The lead singer of Phineas took a moment before their set ended to say, “If you’ve ever been judged, told you don’t belong in our church, or don’t belong, we are truly sorry.” Silent Planet sold a shirt at their merch table in the back that read on the back, “Forgive us for our racism, sexism, homophobia, war, religion.” They sang songs that narrated tales about the woman at the well and a Russian missionary executed for her work. Mattie took a couple minutes in between songs to speak about why they do what they do. It all pointed back to the redemption and experience of Jesus. One of the greatest reminders was when he said (and I got it on video), “The Bible makes a couple promises – one is that all who come in the name of the Lord will be saved and I will never turn away anyone who comes to me. I think that has happened in the mainstream church is that you have to get your life together in order to come to Jesus. You can’t come to Jesus if you have tattoos. You can’t come to Jesus if you’re gay, if you deal with cutting, if you deal with suicide… that couldn’t be further from the truth.” It’s a cross country race these bands run on tour, taking music they believe in and write inspired by their experiences with God, giving a message and hope to an uncomfortable place that was understandable. They became like one of “them” – frustrated by the establishment, impassioned, and eccentric to show them the love and grace of God. They used their platform to show people on the fringes of mainline culture that there is something greater to live for. It’s like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, when he becomes like the Lakota. He gets to know them and lives among them. It’s kind of like we do. Though we are called to be in the world, not of it, we are given the gift of being able to relate to people and walk a mile in their shoes.

What are those weights we need to strip? How can we encourage each other and be accountable for one another? Let’s take time in prayer to discover how we can relate to those around us. How can we act in a way that shows Christ? So lets put on our racing shoes, lace them up tight, run alongside each other, and let Christ be our coach.

4 records for fall.

Over the last couple of moths of interning, school, and spending time with family and friends, I’ve been absorbing a lot of good new music. Now that midterms are over and I have a moment to catch my breath, I thought I would share some of my favorites from this season.

Bring Me the Horizon | That’s the Spirit

One of the first reviews I did for this blog was BMTH’s Drown – a single released late last year with little to no communication from the band about a forthcoming record at the time. Reviewing this band was unexpected for me in the first place, because up until now, I considered Bring Me the Horizon the lowest in the caste system of modern metal. I surprisingly enjoyed Drown for it’s sonic departure from their metalcore roots and this new album is BMTH’s new genesis. It has some heavy tones, a lot of thick synths, good vocal delivery from Oli, and lots of earworm choruses that will energize some big crowds. 11667398_10153458448228658_6545309317039567619_n

Songs like Avalanche bring novelty with Oli doing falsetto vocals and Throne relies on synths for the melody – as do most tracks on this record (Drown did end up on this record after all). Doomed bends genres the most with hip hop/electronica programming, filtered vocals, and a progressive structure. This band has brought something new to their discography, but not to the table in the grand scheme of things. I feel like this album has been done before. Having said that, you must consider Bring Me the Horizon’s starting point and where they are now. That’s the Spirit reflects maturity and a willingness to shed skin. For what it’s worth, I’m really enjoying this record! If you like chorus heavy, radio friendly, modern rock music with a lot of melody, then check this album out.

Ben Rector | Brand New

I’d like to thank my friend, Nick, in Winona for this one. #spotifycreeping. I’ve heard of Ben Rector before, but never gave him a listen until recently. Brand New is a collection of introspective ballads and music hall bangers bolstered by stellar piano playing from Rector and well layered back up instrumentation. What I like the most is that all three of these songs showcased have their own personalities that make them stand apart from each other. Yes, there are a lot of similarities in instrumentation, but all they stand on their own two musical feet with distinct differences in pace and atmosphere. ben-rectorThe Men that Drive Me Places is probably my favorite with a minimalist sonic approach, thoughtful lyrics about taxi drivers, and a memorable chorus. Paris has more of a big band with lots of finger plucking guitar and bouncing piano to accompany swinging vocals. This ends with the title track, which hits this sampler’s musical climax with crescendoing verses, an energetic boom-clap chorus, and a sing-along vibe. So far, this has been a solid introduction to Ben Rector. This sampler is a diversified listen that will have something for everyone’s musical palate. I look forward to hearing the rest of the record!

Rend Collective | As Family We Go

Irish born and bred folk group, Red Collective, are primarily known for their popularity in Christian circles, but I think it’s their swagger that separates them from the pack. Throughout their entire discography, Rend writes music that preserves this organic energy the musicians put into it that translates live and on record. Not only is their material well written and instrumentally diverse, it’s actually pretty fun! Listening to songs like their rendition of Be Thou My Vision get me out of my set! Musically, their new album, As Family We Go, takes the road less traveled at the yellow wood. It’s as if Rend went on a binge of Echosmith’s rend-collective-press-photo-2015-billboard-650Talking Dreams and then bumped into Mumford and Sons while recording Wilder Mind. I think the mix of 80’s pop, alt rock, and indie folk works really well for Rend on this record.  It does have a lot of familiar elements that fans have come to appreciate over the course of four albums. You Will Never Run and Celebrate encapsulate how Rend lives up to their lively stage presence and energy (watch the music video). Other songs like Never Walk Alone and Your Royal Blood slow down to a comfortable speed but keeps the album on the tip of your tongue. Lyrically, this follows suit of many topics on previous records, which includes worship and taking joy in the small blessings. It’s been an enjoyable listen since its release! If you want something upbeat and more mainline by comparison to modern alt rock, I would recommend this record.

Counterparts | The Difference Between Hell and Home

Counterparts are a Canadian-based post hardcore outfit that fits comfortably in the niche of modern melodic hardcore with complex compositions and song structure, brighter tones, and an aggressively calculated delivery. Their third album, The Difference Between Hell and Home received universal acclaim for setting itself as the tip of the spear for a newer generation of hardcore fans. 960103_10151493958756989_2125198251_n It has something for everyone and is pretty well balanced. Between the winding song structure, switches in time signatures, a recurring, bright melodic riff coupled with a down and dirty breakdown, and believably bemoaning lyrics, tracks like Outlier are just over three minutes of everything I like about this genre of music. Decay follows suit of bands like Being As An Ocean and Hotel Books by musically putting the car back into third gear and having spoken word vocals over the track. Compass is probably the most frenetic passage of on an already aggressive record. Fit For an Autopsy guitarist, Will Putney (For Today, Thy Art Is Murder), took the helm on this record’s production. As with most modern metal and hardcore, it’s buffed to a bit of a high gloss, but manages to cage the raw energy on record. I would recommend this album for anyone who likes heavy, melodic music with some teeth.