back to back. #newtunes

Counterparts / Private Room

Metal is going through an interesting revival where industrial soundscapes and death metal from the 1990’s and the metalcore renaissance of the early to mid 2000’s are soldering into abrasive sonic murals that bands like Code Orange, Turnstiles, and Knocked Loose are simultaneously resurrecting and reanimating into (even mainstream) popularity. The latter of those styles are worn on Counterparts’ sleeve like a badge of honor that tips hats to the Trustkill and Ferret Records roster that includes Terror, Poison the Well, and Misery Signals. Cultivating turn of the millenia melodic hardcore roots, Private Room is another bullet in the chamber that Counterparts have locked and loaded as some of their best work to date.

37405900_10155686077021989_1216969255220674560_n
Private Room EP – Out now on Pure Noise Records

It’s kind of funny to see the hyperbole in YouTube comments that read things like, “Lol, these throw away songs are other band’s best ones!” Lead singer, Brendan Murphy, foreshadowed this EP in a podcast with Tim Cayem, saying that at the time of You’re Not You Anymore’s release, they were negotiating a 7-inch release of these songs with Pure Noise Records (their current California based label) because he said these songs were good, but still warranted being benched from the final track listing on YNYA. This under seven minute affair packs enough punches that would hit as hard as an EP near double in length with melodically technical riffs, thickset bass tones, relentless percussion, and Brendan Murphy’s unforgiving vocal performance. Also, they wrote a song in a major key… that’s pretty neat.

 

Bon Iver / Blood Bank

If you’ve ever seen House M.D. you know that Hugh Laurie fits like a glove playing a narcissistic genius and that the show touts a high caliber soundtrack. On it, is re:stacks, one of Bon Iver’s most emotionally devastating and beautiful songs that ends his debut, For Emma Forever Ago in a melancholic lullaby about loss. Upon discovering this album, I was immediately hooked on its rainy day couch cushion vibes and organic production. To this day, I herald Bon Ever as one of my favorite folk acts for the way that Vernon’s deft song writing skills have an unparalleled ability to sing you to happiness in one breath and then tears in the next. One year later upon For Emma’s release came, Blood Bank. A step forward from its predecessor, Blood bank simultaneously finds Justin Vernon in rare form and sonically surveys new territory that would foreshadow his second record, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Electronic and auto-tune flourishes on Woods, Vernon’s hushed falsetto and the dobro parts on Beach Baby, the multilayered vocal and instrumental catharsis on the title track, and lush piano parts on Babys all coalesce into a musical kaleidoscope that wraps around you like a warm blanket in the middle of winter.

23120217_10156111066229416_3392899206676211800_o
Justin Vernon performing live.

 

Advertisements

fit for a king – dark skies // review

I remember the ominous droning interlude fading into a blaring siren that signaled impending chaos as the house lights shifted and the floor around us all circled in fury. As I jumped in the pit, I was realizing the excitement of getting to see Fit For a King open for August Burns Red a few years back. While I slipped on spilled beer over the hardwood floors of the venue and accidentally crashed into a kid in front of me, the band’s live performance of Slave to Nothing was otherwise ferocious.

43400838_658407734553120_5561713633043415040_n
“I know these words won’t hold any weight, but please don’t turn away from me…” FFAK performing Skin & Bones on tour with In Heart’s Wake

Since then (2014), I’ve gotten to see FFAK live a few times, each show representing significant mile markers in sobriety, celebrations of friendship, and opportunities where I’ve seen the love of Jesus show up and be expressed through prayers lifted in the pit between sets. With the band’s new album released on Solid State Records, my excitement is spilling over in type form, hoping this review serves as a sampler for what the band represents, has become, and how they occupy an all -time favorite in my arsenal of metal.

As previously inferred, I hopped on board the FFAK train on Slave to Nothing. The record’s thematic ode to sobriety resonated with me at a time in life where I needed that encouragement, but it also helped that the songwriting was sharp and that it boasted so many banging riffs. Even though the production felt tame and the clean vocals were a bit underdeveloped, these were easily compensated by the band’s burgeoning strengths. When I was living in Winona, those same roommates brought me backwards in the timeline to the band’s genesis, Creation/Destruction – showcasing bone crushing guitar tones and every bit of promise. But, as they progressed to Slave to Nothing, it was by no means a step backwards, but that forward motion lacked a full measure of confidence when heel hit the pavement.

Their response was Deathgrip. The singles, Dead Memory and Cold Room, were high watermarks as they brought a musical palate that harkened back to their origins, showcased Will Putney’s signature tones, and even stepped into new territories of style, but if I’m honest, I had some reservations. Despite the impel of moments like Cold Room’s lead riff and the last breakdown in Pissed Off, I felt like Deathgrip was a compositional regression that traded the power of the whole for the curation of well executed parts put together in a 36-minute runaway freight train. Despite the critique, this album does have its well executed moments that are worth highlighting. These songs were enveloped well with gross sounding guitar and bass tones, the integration of electronic soundscapes and glitch editing in the breakdowns accented the sonic drubbing that these songs deliver, and the clean vocals sounded the best they ever have. All the aforementioned were glimmers and flashes in the pan that proved FFAK still had gusto. Deathgrip was like a favorite student unexpectedly underperforming to their natural abilities, so if it sounds like I am hard on this record, it’s because FFAK were and are capable of A list material.

Seeing this band live a few times during the touring cycle of Deathgrip still left me sore and winded every time as they crawled across the continent in between studio sessions. I had a lot of hope, because as they continued getting on stage they were only getting tighter, heavier, better balanced, and more confident, so I was excited to see how the effort in their off season would translate to their next record. Their first sampling was Tower of Pain. The rumbling tone and pacing of this song, the technical death metal influenced songwriting, infectious chorus, and even greater vocal improvement made this feel like a rabid beast foaming at the mouth waiting for its break off the chain. I had this thought that perhaps this record would be the tour de force I have been waiting for, because not only did their musicianship demonstrate maturity, but the proof in the pudding showed behind the scenes in the shrewd tactics in promotion of this album. Rather than letting a couple singles on a ten-track album do the manpower in the deep breath in before the record release, Solid State progressively released half this album in singles, letting streams on platforms like Spotify, bandcamp, and Apple Music generate the excitement amongst the fan base, and give a stylistic sampler of what would be FFAK’s fifth album, Dark Skies. In a world where traditional release cycles have been trojan horsed by the evolving landscape of music streaming and unfiltered accessibility of the internet, FFAK’s strategy worked to their advantage. Tower of Pain was one cog in a wheel that proved to be well oiled and juiced up in a lineup with other singles, The Price of Agony, Backbreaker, When Everything Means Nothing, and Oblivion.

If this reads like a long-winded exposition of background before the actual review, it’s because there’s a lot of landscape to survey before exploring this new territory. So, with that said, I’m stoked to write that Dark Skies is the calling card for this band’s collective ability across the board. They’ve truly captured the distinct personalities of their previous records and pulled them inwards, anchoring their identity as a band. Dark Skies boasts the best sound/production to date; their sharpest, most avant-garde songwriting; the most improved and compelling vocal performances; and their most thematically compelling record since, Slave to Nothing. In addition, the unreleased tracks that made their reveal upon release make the experience of Dark Skies, a rout of all killer, no filler.

36266058_10155664825319607_4024029909880930304_o
Dark Skies. Out on Solid State Records

I want to begin examining the details, by emphasizing the aforementioned point of songwriting on Dark Skies. As I said earlier, Tower of Pain harnesses an energy that feels like an echo of Deathgrip’s finer moments with Slave to Nothing’s composition and the flourishes of more technical minded influences (The Black Dahlia Murder meets Fit For an Autopsy). The Price of Agony has probably one of the catchiest riffs that is described by the band as the most mainstream they’ve stylistically ventured; Youth|Division takes a creative bend with interesting vocal editing in the introduction and then drifting left in a key change at the bridge; Shattered Glass is a crowbar, touting some of the heaviest stop/start rhythms, blast beats, and Ryan Kirby’s nastiest sounding vocals to date; The Debts of Life is a callback to Skin and Bones on Creation/Destruction that pedestals some of the best executed melody the band has offered and coalesces it into Oblivion. Oblivion is wholesale one of the most important moments for the band. The curtain closes with a song that lyrically chronicles the most honest reflections of their Christianity, ballasting the melodic and aggressive into an emotional portrait.

According to the band’s studio updates, the construction of Deathgrip’s structure was penultimate to aesthetic. During this recording cycle, choruses and song structures were autopsied, studied, and reanimated as a group, laying concrete foundations that give Dark Skies solid ground to build these songs on. Producer, Drew Fulk, has an impressive catalog of recently done records for bands that are catching second winds in their sails that include new records released from Emmure, Chelsea Grin, The Plot in You, and As I Lay Dying. The same energy harnessed through those bands latest albums translates to Dark Skies in the best way possible, as Fulk has played a heavy hand in realizing and bringing out Fit For a King’s aptitude.

Towards the beginning of this review, I touched on Slave to Nothing’s lyrical prowess. The thematic underpinnings of that record deeply resonated as a soundtrack to sobriety and they continue to be. Every time they play Slave to Nothing live, it feels like every bit of a war cry that it was three years ago when I scream along. The rest of FFAK’s discography has their moments of cogent lyricism, particularly on songs like Skin and Bones, Deathgrip’s title track, and Dead Memory, but even the band says Dark Skies pulls from the deepest inwards parts that personify the intimacy of their struggles, like on Tower of Pain…  I hear the whisper of death in my ear, hell awaits for those who still fear, twenty six years, being told I’m a slave, trading desire away. But, I think the most compelling moments belong to lines on Backbreaker that narrate Ryan Kirby’s struggle with anxiety… I can’t find the strength within myself, The weight of life has pushed me to a living hell,Endless misery, lack of sympathy, I don’t trust the voice inside of me (inside of me),I always put myself out there, But it always ends the same. Oblivion takes on some of the most spiritually vulnerable lyrics that narrate the forgiveness of God, centered around a fan story, and is the best way to close this record – with an abundance of heavy and heart…

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I’ve made my mistakes and I’m the only one to blame, Help me, I need to feel your grace, And I’ve been, waiting, waiting in the darkest place! 

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I made my mistakes but you forgave me! You forgave me!

Bringing this to conclusion, FFAK is already a prominent band that are sizeable, influential, and Dark Skies has all the sparks that can make them torchbearers and a flagship collective for this scene going forward. Regardless of the band’s trajectory, the college kid in me will always feel that simultaneous spike in my pulse and heartstrings pulled when I play their records. Furthermore, I will always remember that Fit For A King are a band that propels me to be a participant in the scene as an ambassador of the Gospel.

 

another music update.

They Will Know Another – Thy Art Is Murder

I used to work at a fifties restaurant back home in junior college. As I worked my way into the kitchen as a short order cook in my last several months, one of my coworkers offered up a blood caked musical platter of black metal bands by way of Immolation and Dark Funeral to plug into our small jam box. He would crank this stuff in the kitchen during long weekend shifts to keep the energy running when orders poured in by the time the clock struck 5 pm on Friday nights. Keep in mind that black metal has never been a palettable genre on account of its overt Satanic cloitering, so even if the music is well written, it still doesn’t strike anything with me by association of the message it generally promotes. Given Paul’s exhortation that while we were sinners, Christ died for us, this is not meant to be a critique of its people or my coworker for that matter. Even corpse paint and anti Christian imagery doesn’t take away from its forerunners being image bearers of God when the amps turn off.

Having said that, Thy Art Is Murder have come the closest that any other band has (and probably ever will) to tipping a hand at this genre in a manner that made my ears pique and it’s not via meta messaging in its lyrics. It has everything to do with how guitarists Andy Marsh and Sean Price took a style of metal they already excelled at and then injected a shot of blackened tremolo minor chords synthesized from core influences like, Behemoth, forging their contribution to a three way split between Fit For An Autopsy and The Acacia Strain into a true ripper of a song.

The band’s subtle changes in style and uncharacteristically slowed pace gives They Will Know Another an apocalyptic ambiance with a full charge of blast beats, menacing vocals from CJ McMahon, and impressive production, hitting you with blunt force trauma when you crank it on a good sound system. Lyrically, They Will Know Another, traps the listener in an echo chamber with the social, economic, and environmental shockwaves captured in the music video’s lowlight reel shows between studio clips of the band with FFAA’s lead guitarist Will Putney at the controls (which is not for the faint-hearted, either). Far from hopeful, aggressively bemoaning, and altogether intoxicating. This is one of the most standout, uncompromising tracks I’ve heard in a while, especially since it’s had such high replay value since its release last July and it’s a promising direction for Thy Art Is Murder if this is what they choose to march on with on their next full length.

 

Of Dirt and Grace – Hillsong United

When I bought Relient K’s alt rock opus, Forget and Not Slow Down, five years ago in my hometown’s record shop, I immediately gravitated towards one single, excessively playing I Don’t Need A Soul until all the other tracks became muted against the canvas of Thiessen’s proclamation of contentment all-la Foo Fighter Counting Crows 90’s rock instrumentals (the good kind). Eventually, I moved onto other songs as a way to take a break between that song, repeating the process of being hooked on one track until I sojourned the whole record from cover to cover. It remains one of my favorites to this day as a result of the journey.

This is my parallel experience with Hillsong United’s Of Dirt and Grace.

Coalescing the on site significance behind these songs and well executed performances (with little rehearsal), these acoustic renditions of Empires and Zion showcased on Of Dirt and Grace breathe a different spectrum of life that is palpable. Though their original recordings primed record sales and waves of congregations to pick up these spirit charged bridges on Sunday mornings, there’s something special about hearing Scandal of Grace recorded outside the empty tomb or Prince of Peace sung overlooking the dome of the rock outside the old city walls and on the side of a destroyed Abrams tank from the 6 day Israeli-Palestinian war. The visual accompaniments let already well-crafted songs take flight. I can picture myself stopping dead center in reflection on the Via Dolorosa and taking in the rich, melodic reverb of Street Called Mercy as I ponder Jesus carrying a Roman cross bar up a half mile through congested city streets to Golgotha. I can almost feel the soft breeze between my fingertips and cattails brushing on my skin on the mount where Jesus delivered the beatitudes when I hear the acoustic plumes in, Say the Word. Much like Explosions In the Sky did with specific visual correspondence in each song, I think Hillsong brilliantly does with Of Dirt and Grace, because it showcases a depth of care and detail put into the theology behind the tapestry and that matters, a lot!

Returning to my allegory about FANSD, Touch the Sky was the only song I really liked for a while, because I first enjoyed its original studio recording. As I traversed through other songs like Here Now and Empires, I really began to chip away at Dirt and Grace, binging on every minute detail of these songs until I made my way through a full listen of this album and as a result, I have a newfound appreciation for it! Though these are acoustic versions of their original songs, they are still dense with layers of reverb, keys, and acoustic subtleties. In addition, and probably most importantly, the vocal performances on this record are astounding! Everyone in United is bountifully talented and delivers passionate performances, bringing encouraging lyrics with just as much depth as their aesthetic to full bloom. This is up there will We Will Not Be Shaken as one of my favorite worship records and I have found a lot of spiritual resonance in these songs!

 

Neurotic – Hundredth

Do you remember this polarizing phenomenon when Linkin Park dropped Minutes to Midnight in 2009? Long time fans of the band’s cornerstone nu-metal records unhinged at the sound of singles like Shadow of the Day. When you put their entire catalog on a timeline and take in Chester Peddington’s commentary on the matter, Minutes to Midnight was Linkin Park’s reaction to their disdain of the looking glass self they felt like fans and the record label were wanting to see in the mirror. At this point, they weren’t all the way there in a full turn around, but Minutes was a shocking 90 that culminated in the 180 that was, A Thousand Suns.

Much like Slipknot, Linkin Park, is a fascinating case study of musical evolution for my generation. Autobiographical programs like VH1’s Behind the Music (#nostalgia #bringbacktrl) chronicle bands with long careers proving a certain acumen and then shifting their musical tectonics in another direction to parallel their maturity as human beings and artists. Just like James Hetfield of Metallica is no longer a teenaged mullet rocker committed to sleeping on UHaul blankets in the pursuit of pure thrash and Chester Peddington/crew didn’t want to write another three carbon copies of Meteora, front man Chadwick Johnson has expressed in multiple interviews that Hundredth is a far cry from the 18 year old Carolinians who wrote When Will We Surrender in 2010. Evidence shows through their new single, Neurotic, teased from the band’s forthcoming record, Rare. The band has commented that through their double EP and their last full length, Hundredth wanted to stylistically reach in new directions while still keeping their core sound rooted in a comfortable niche that didn’t alienate the original fan base which heralds When Will We Surrender and Let Go. If the former releases didn’t at least challenge that notion, then Rare definitely will, if Neurotic is any indication of their new direction.

Abandoning all traces of their melodic hardcore grit, Neurotic trades in driving, up-beat rhythms and breakdowns for a shoegaze/punk vibe that puts Chad Johnson on guitar for the first time in the band’s history and trading in anthemic yells for filtered clean singing that compliments the distorted, electronic undertow. Speaking as someone who compliments Let Go as one of the first real hardcore records that ever captivated me, I anticipate the potential for this band charting new musical territory, because Neurotic is a convincing listen that showcases Hundredth’s aptitude. Don’t get me wrong though, this song is aggressive (though its lyrics don’t speak for that much), but it’s expressed in a more subtle way that gets you bit by bit when you study the subtleties of this song after multiple listens. To be honest, the aforementioned is my favorite quality about Neurotic. Rather than letting you take it full force on impact like much of their discography, Neurotic calculates it into a more intelligent delivery that still has an edge to it. Bottom line is that I’m stoked for Rare if this is what I’m in for!

a conversation with Zach.

I got together for a conversation yesterday afternoon with my buddy, singer-songwriter, Zach Zurn about his roots, songwriting inspirations, faith, and politics. We enjoyed good, organic talk at his home studio in Rochester with a couple sparkling waters and dreary mid winter overcast conditions.

Check out Zach’s music!

http://www.zzurn.com/

https://www.facebook.com/zachzurnmusic/

https://soundcloud.com/zach-zurn-275903268/white-christmas

 

 

 

 

christmas tunes.

I’m currently on a mini vacation, away from the bitter cold, and staring at the base of the Catalina Mountain range south of Tucson from my dad’s back porch. In between the couple days off of spending time with family, I’ve taken time up in the air en route to soak in some Christmas music a little late into the season, but with the intent of doing a short review of some old and newer favorite tunes to play this week (or into the new year if that’s your preference).

 

Someday At Christmas – Jack Johnson

The acoustic plumes of Jack Johnson drip with nostalgia in high school when In Between Dreams was a sleeper indie sensation that sweetly rocked my closet romantic Mr. Hyde to an otherwise aggressive Jekyll that was getting into bands like The Black Dahlia Murder and Whitechapel. I’ve always enjoyed Johnson’s hushed vocal delivery painted in similar brushstrokes like Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Sufjan Stevens. But more than that, I like the instrumental gamut ran between unplugged and subdued ballads like Angel to swingers like Red Wine, Mistakes, Mythology that remind me of John Mayer’s Robert Johnson cover on Battle Studies. Though I have not listened to much beyond 2010’s To the Sea, I can confidently say that I still like Jack Johnson if not for that same aforementioned nostalgic factor. On the opening kickoff to an indie Christmas compilation from 2008, Jack Johnson returns his track Someday at Christmas with a satisfyingly nimble presentation that captures the insouciance of earlier work that earned him mainstream success. A simple chord progression carries Johnson through a brief lyrical sojourn wishing for a literal peace on Earth between nations, races, and even gender. It feels timely in our political climate, but surprisingly doesn’t fall to its own clichés on such subject matter. I like the catchiness of Johnson’s vocal melodies and the warmth in its tone. Compared to others on this list, Someday at Christmas is a nice change in pace that puts my feet up in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night.

 

Good King Wenceslas – Westminster Chorale

Shifting gears to a more traditional drivetrain, I’ve always had a thing for older hymns and gospel songs penned by forefathers of my faith in Europe during the reformation of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their lyrical complexity, theological depth, and thought put in by the writers makes songs like Come Thou Fount (spoiler alert to later down the list). And, that is especially the case with Christmas songs like Good King Wenceslas. Originally written by an English hymnist in the mid 1800’s, this song dives into old Czech folklore about a king who rescues a peasant outside his castle during a winter storm during the Christmas holiday. With this peasant unable to return to his home through the storm, the king braves the weather and provides him with food and shelter. There’s something about the humanity demonstrated and symbolism in this song that makes it appealing to me. If you look into teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, this song draws parallels in the snow with stanzas such as this… Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing (James 2:14-17). Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is how my family used to play it as part of a compilation on an old 45 record that showcased a traditional choir in Westminster Abbey. Hearing such rich, diverse, and impeccable tone from a large choir gives this song an even more timeless feel and brings me back to decorating the house in my formative years.

 

Hosanna – Josh Garrels

I grew up liturgically rooted in those same hymns like the ones aforementioned in the previous song. My upbringing in the Episcopal church meant we were well versed in red leather hymnals and having a long-established service structure in corporate worship. Though my faith has evolved since and serve in a different denomination, I can still remember many of those old hymns when played anywhere, and that’s how Josh Garrels’ cover of Hosanna made it on this list. Garrels vocal style listens like an amalgam of Chad Gardner’s (King’s Kaleidoscope) soul, a dash of Bear Rinehart’s (Needtobreathe) grit, and the intricate restraint of Michael Gungor. It makes for a heartfelt listen with enough passion coming through to keep your attention yet with enough gentleness to cradle you through the experience. Though I haven’t successfully traversed a whole listen of his new Christmas album, The Light Came Down, I’ve been hooked on songs like The Boar’s Head and Hosanna. Before taking communion, the presiding reverend would walk us through the story of the last supper from one of the Gospels, bless the bread and wine, and would lead us in a chorus of Hosanna. The orchestral flourishes and subtle percussion behind Josh’s acoustic guitar gives this song a lot of character. As the song progresses, it builds in a way that preserves its mellowness but still has enough flavor to keep on the tip of your tongue. In fact, I think the profound lyrical content of celebration contrasted against such a comparatively tempered instrumental delivery makes the song even more spiritually powerful. It’s not a “Christmas” song, but it belongs on his Christmas album and it’s good, so I’m still counting it.

 

I Had A Heart – Real Friends

Pop punk has never been accused of taking itself seriously. Part of the culture in this subgenre is characterized by preserving a sense of wonder and rebellion that’s pined after through heartbreak and fumbling through adulthood. And, judging from Real Friends’ contribution to Punk Goes Christmas from 2013, that same attitude still sits at the Christmas table of dysfunctional family dynamics with enough angst to go around. I Had a Heart is the musical equivalent of watching a Hallmark Christmas movie that revolves around a hopelessly romantic young adult, alone during the holidays, and with a turbulent family dynamic. It’s emotionally bombastic and a bit cheesy, but the thing about those movies and this song…

I like them both.

This song comically captures a cynical side to the holiday season where people can become annoyed by extended family and wallow in singleness. I think it’s actually a clever cultural critique about what we place as important during the Christmas season and jokingly offers an opposite perspective to tidings of comfort and joy. Acoustic, punk instrumentals and a vocally austere performance from lead singer, Dan Lambton, fit this song’s message of teenage angst that is undeniable. I Had a Heart is not one to take as seriously or with as much conviction than the predecessors on this list, but I still think it’s fun and shakes up my Christmas playlist in the best way possible.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

Carol of the Bells – I Declare War.

If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase, you’ll understand half the jokes littered between death metal vocals and aggressively rendered instrumentals.

Come Thou Fount (Synonym) – Penny & Sparrow

Come Thou Fount is one of my favorite worship songs on account of the narrative behind its writer Robert Robinson. It’s a tragic, yet beautiful story and there’s a modern reenactment of it on Youtube. Acoustic duo Penny & Sparrow capture this song with effortless charm, great vocal performances, and really hazy production.

Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot: Music Review

As a kid, my parents used to screen the music I bought, but at the time I thought it was a torture tactic that deprived me of an inhibition to listen to heavy music instead of seeing it as a necessary filter on my developing mind. In the end, it did prevent me from latching onto legitimately bad music (shouts out to mom and dad). When I was in fourth grade, I petitioned for Linkin Park’s Meteora – an album that toed the line of hard and maybe a little dark for me at the time, so instead I was given a supposedly underwhelming alternative that I had no idea would leave such a long lasting impression – Switchfoot’s, The Beautiful Letdown. Released in 2003 as the band’s major label debut on Vanguard records, it rode the wave of early 2000’s pop rock/post grunge revival that crashed on the shores of MTV, Vh1, most mainstream radio stations, and for me – summers at Trout Lake Camps. The band’s edgy, lo-fi production style soldered with industrial sampling, and a message of honesty against a culture of excess made The Beautiful Letdown and their subsequent album, Nothing Is Sound, game changers for the band as they continued to refine their style.

Admittedly, I abandoned Switchfoot after Oh! Gravity and pre Hello Hurricane after leaving the tall pines and cold lake water of church camp behind me in high school. At the time, their music didn’t have an impact outside of being a memento to that epoch of life. Instead, I traded in grungy earworm melodies for meaner music. However, that changed after going to Winona State and moving in with a few guys my senior year – both of whom are die hard fans that stuck  with Switchfoot the whole course up to their last record, Fading West. I would hear random tracks from some of these albums here and there when my roommates cooked dinner with their Spotify playlists on, and over time I began to appreciate the direction that Switchfoot took at the break in the yellow wood. Now, that I have rekindled a liking for this California surf rock quintet, saw them live a couple years ago, and am now sinking my teeth into this new record, I’ve come to the conclusion that Switchfoot are a band that ages well. These guys are married, have children, trying to balance a career, writing from the heart, and becoming aware of their mortality (ahem, Where I Belong). Yet, in that, they manage to let their hopeful and inspiring message be the period at the end of each album cycle, after each tour, heck, after each track.

Fading West was by far the band’s most ambitious release in which Oh! Gravity’s most experimental junctures pale by comparison. I reviewed it briefly in a summer playlist post last year, noting that the channeling of all-la-Kasabian alt rock with distorted synthesizers, intriguing and energetic soundscapes, and textured production made Fading West a prolific milestone in the band’s career. I was curious in the lead up to Where the Light Shines Through what direction the band would go after the success of the former’s alternative sound…

The result on Where the Light Shines Through is telling about how the band is continuing to age, maybe a bit nostalgic, and still wanting to try on new, musically. Foreman and crew are on their tenth album.13178934_10154832778271679_6040195207218796408_n They are more mature as human beings, fathers, husbands, and musicians who have traveled the world a few times over. I will go out on a limb in saying that Where the Light Shines through is Switchfoot’s most subdued presentation, yet the most energetic, inspirational, moving, and balanced record they have released yet.

Where the Light Shines Through is a collection of introspective epistles that belong in a spectrum much like a dimmer on a light switch. There’s a whole range that reach cathartic heights on songs like the opening track Holy Water and Healer of Souls, the funky Red Hot Chili Pepper flourishes of Float, the experimental curve ball on Looking For America, and to the other end of the dimmer with arena ballads like I Won’t Let You Go, Live It Well, and Hope Is the Anthem. It reminds me of how The World Is A Thorn allowed Demon Hunter to be more frenetic, yet more hushed than ever before on the exact same record. Everything in between is some kind of fusion between the two poles that brings the listener back to homeostasis.

When I listen to Where the Light Shines Through cover to cover, I have these flashbacks to moments on all other releases. Electronic samplings, energetic rhythms, and driving funk on Bull In A China Shop and Holy Water bring me back to the experimental jive on Fading West; the driving, hopeful pace of If the House Burns Down Tonight is reminiscent of Hello Hurricane’s title track; and Live It Well’s anthemic melodies remind me of songs like Restless off Vice Verses. The best part is that within those nostalgic filigrees, Where the Light Shines Through still maintains its own identity with new flavors – particularly Lecrae’s feature on Looking For America. Point being, there is a little something for every fan from every mile marker within ten records. Some of the subtleties in production like the static in the channels of speakers, plugging instruments into amps, and rehearsal moments within the recording process that are left in these songs actually give Where the Light Shines Through a lot of character. For me, the passion soaked in inspirational sounding melodic leads, a bombastic bridge section, and Foreman’s falsetto vocals make I Won’t Let You Go this record’s most passionate delivery and one of my favorite songs. Also, Healer of Souls gritty, lo-fi tone and bouncing rhythm takes my eardrums down memory lane to Remember the Titans when the Alexandria high school football team sojourns to Gettysburg by tune of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In the Sky… therefore, I like it.

Lyrically, this record touches on Biblical themes of us being strong in our weaknesses, embracing adversity, and reflecting on faith with lines like, So let’s go there, to that place where we sing these broken prayers, where the light shines through. The wound is where the light shines through. Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through.” Though, Switchfoot’s catalog proves they’re not foreign to such subject matter, I think this album is more unapologetic – Foreman is upfront and honest about it in ways I haven’t heard since The Beautiful Letdown. In that sense, it lives up to the social media hype that the band created about how this is one of the deepest albums they’ve written with some of Foreman’s favorite lyrics he’s penned so far in his career. The title track and The Day of Found God are highlights that bring the band the closest to living out the message of hope they always sing about in perfect matrimony.

Ultimately, Where the Light Shines Through is an album that is the result of ten albums, twenty years, and all their influences being pulled more inwards to a balanced release. It’s one of their most believable performances that I look forward to taking in more and more. Though this album is not my favorite in their discography (congrats Fading West), it’s still worthwhile and pleases the fourth grader in me who bought that copy of The Beautiful Letdown with allowance money.

take a listen.

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

I was sitting at Culver’s with my roommate one night and I told him that I have this habit of hopping on the bandwagon of good music, late. As a result, I kick myself for a moment, thinking, “What have I been missing out on??” I say this, because I am catching onto The Lumineers kind of late… what have I been missing out on??! They’ve been a functioning band for the better part of a decade, using personal tragedy to write affectionate vingiettes that culminate in their debut self-titled album. Though I didn’t get too much into it aside form songs like Slow It Down, I appreciated The Lumineers knack for artful folk music. I heard a lot of buzz about their forthcoming sophomore LP, Cleopatra, so after hearing singles like Ophelia and the title track at my favorite coffee shop in Winona played on repeat, I intentionally sought this one out upon release.

Cleopatra is an effluent indie affair, buoyed by a sort of timeless soul that brings you back to smoky bars and rootsy Americana imagery strapped to leather boots, rumbling piano registers, and Wesley Schultz’ throaty vocals. This is a fun record and its accessibility gives a lot of replay value. I can’t stop nodding my head or wanting to belt out the chorus to Angela, bounce along to the dizzying piano arpeggio in Ophelia, and clap along to the stomp of the title track.12654337_10153292167941332_5061469366406380348_n Other songs like Gale Song, My Eyes, and Long Way From Home express a more musically stoic side to the band, settling for hollowed out lo-fi guitar tones that draw you into an intimate experience. Patience gently closes the record with a piano instrumental that fades into soft keys. I can best describe The Lumineers as an emotional storm in a teacup. Though, their songs have a lot of musical build up and strong lyrical imagery, it never reaches the point of being melodramatic. Overall, I feel this album is more subdued in its presentation than its predecessor and therefore makes it a more convincing and enjoyable listen for me. All of this is bolstered by effective production that captures the heart and soul of a sound that the band is aiming for. The echo chamber sounding vocals, subtle string accompaniments, and organic guitar tones make this record shine.

Though Cleopatra retreads recycled lyrical themes of young love, women, and relationships, the band finds a refreshingly innocent twist to such subject matter. They weave really dark narratives in between them, like on the title track. It’s almost like I’m watching film noir at the Sundance Film Festival.

Bottom line, go listen to this album if you need to feed the softer side to our musical soul. It’s an easy listen that I’m still sinking my teeth into.

 

Invent Animate – Stillworld

Modern, progressive metal is running out of original ideas. I hate saying it, but evidence of this is quantified by the new wave of records released from this subgenre this year. Though many of those albums are enjoyable and I actually like a lot of them, I’ve come to this conclusion that most of it is beginning to live in a shadow cast by its forerunners from the late 2000’s. But, if there is any sort of dying artistic breath from this renegade platoon of metal bands (other than Architects or Shokran), Invent, Animate does not go gentle into that goodnight.

I reviewed their debut album from Tragic Hero Records, Everchanger, last year. I especially liked how that album soldered ambient overtures from the likes of Helios with a Singularity era Northlane vibe and I still enjoy that album a lot. The good news is that their anticipated and well-received sophomore record, Stillworld, expands on a familiar formula from Everchanger that is further honed and perfected.13240590_1291634440857984_1190591693122597874_n Many, if not all of the same elements from Everchanger carry over to Stillworld, making this like a software update with a few tweaks to an already solid platform. Indigo kicks off this record…. absolutely insane! It touts some of the catchiest riffing, flows well between the soft and harsh passages, and in my opinion does the best job of stratifying Invent, Animate’s mission statement. Other tracks like Darkbloom and Soul Sleep showcase this juxtaposition from the insanely heavy to the suddenly calm and atmospheric, and White Wolf has by far the catchiest and most forward chorus/clean singing the band has written yet.

Lyrically, this album muses familiar territory from Everchanger – abstract allegories of faith, doubt, finding purpose, etc, but with that said, they’re written well and have some legitimately awesome lines to scream along to. Furthermore, I think this is a very well produced record and balanced record. The bass rumbles behind chugging guitars, the clean chromatic tapping comfortably coalesces with the rhythm, the drums are crisp, and the vocals are well placed.

I’m still head banging and power stomping my way through breakdowns and sweeping passages on this album and don’t anticipate putting it down any time soon!

 

King’s Kaleidoscope – Beyond Control

In my musical mind, King’s Kaleidoscope fit comfortably into a category of Contemporary Christian that follows in the lineage of Michael & Lisa Gungor, Rivers & Robots, Citizens & Saints, and Dustin Kensrue of Thrice – artists positioning themselves on the fringe of their own genre who craft honest, thoughtful, and transparent music reflective of their trials and triumphs in faith. If you’ve read this blog before, you might understand the stance I have on “Christian” music, but for the purpose of a good album like this, I don’t feel like that commentary is warranted.

Enter Kings Kaleidoscope.

I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge of this band outside of their former affiliation with Mars Hill Church in Seattle and (what I’m going to term as) their “dope-tastic” cover of In Christ Alone, but that was until I was tipped off to their new record, Beyond Control. My shotgun consensus…

Weird, but really good.

Upon first impression, this album feels like a B-side of experimental mastered material tossed into obscure cloud files and then sold as an extended play, but when you pay attention to the subtleties, Beyond Control is decorated with textured layers of soundscapes and shifts in style that still fit within a cohesive musical narrative. This album gives itself a lot of room to take some risks and because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 13344507_1278219798878738_7414307795631577230_nthe band pulls off every stunt well. Out of the gate, A Resting Place sounds like organized orchestral chaos that I would find on the local classical station, but transitions into Enchanted, which sounds a bit like A Head Full of Dreams era Coldplay coalesced with the eccentric funk of John Mark McMillan’s Borderlands. Other songs like Lost? Strip away layers for a more simplified experience with acoustic guitars and orchestral synthesizers filling out the sound. Dust is a neo-jazz banger with an accompanying choir arrangement behind the chorus that captures the soul of traditional gospel music. In This Ocean Part 1 follows suit but has what I think are the catchiest melodies on this entire record. I think that speaks to the production of Beyond Control, because it is dense but not bloated. Even when this album reaches these bombastic moments in the arrangements, there’s enough variety and creativity in it all to make it justified.

Surprisingly, Friendship, is my highlight on Beyond Control. It’s a near three-minute instrumental interlude that’s led by piano, drums, and a French horn that swing you back and forth in a jazzy daze. Not only is the instrumental awesome, but throughout the track you hear members of the band commenting on cool licks made by the horn player, cracking jokes, laughing, and casually singing along with the melody. It’s playful. It’s a fun break in between what is otherwise a lyrically powerful (albeit vulgar at one point on A Prayer) sojourn through doubt, triumph and even social dejection from social media as discussed on Enchanted.

If you want to look up some wildly creative worship tunes that you can have some fun to, look no further… to quote the band from a moment in Friendship, “Whoah! That was sick!”

 

Explosions In the Sky – The Wilderness

People who know me best understand the love I have for this band and their ability to create moving, emotional oceans of nimble guitars, cathartically executed kettle drums, and crecendos reminiscent of classical movements that take you on a musical journey. If you’ve read this blog, then you’ve probably figured out why a record like The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place really needs no introduction. It will forever be a musical triumph that sits on my catalog’s throne. Now, their last full length album before The Wilderness was shockingly disappointing to me and in such a way that made me not even give that album a full listen. Maybe I’m being too hard on it and maybe it has to do with the fact that I place some of their earlier work with such high esteem, but it sounded like they were exhausting ideas and trying to pull you inwards to a more intimate atmosphere than before. In between albums, they have since written a few soundtracks, all of which showcased Explosions branching off into different soundscapes and experimentation all while still signing and sealing them with signature and familiar elements I know and love. I reviewed the first single, Disintegration Anxiety that showed off a distorted flurry of warped guitar tones and electronic sampling that caught me off guard at first, but was something I warmed up to over time. It felt like a breath of fresh air that I haven’t heard from a band in this genre in a while… and that’s the best way I can describe The Wilderness.

Fresh, but familiar.

Disintegration Anxiety is an appropriate sounding appetizer for an album laced with electronic filigrees, glitchy percussion, and a palate of different soundscapes. One of the best features of The Wilderness is that the band released a collection of still images captured by members and crew over the course of 17 years worth of writing, recording, and touring that inspired each of the nine tracks. Listening to these songs and pairing them with the images gives a more intimate view into the band’s imagination. For example, the opening track, Wilderness, is drawn from an image taken late night at an airport concourse in Europe with a focus on the gate sign reading, Austin. The band wrote about how it was a reminder that after being on tour, they were almost home. You can almost hear that sense of longing to return to their 12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_nroots when you reach the end of the track and hear a twinkling guitar loop that fades out to the end, reminiscent of their early work. Rather than crafting something with the flow of a classical piece like the rest of their discography, they wrote something more straightforward and spliced that still retains the same musical meta-narrative – much like different scenes in a film. Logic of a Dream reaches the most cathartic heights with these orchestral crecendos that sound like something off Hans Zimmer’s work in Interstellar, and Landing Cliffs ends the record hushed and spacey with atmospheric synths cradling gentle guitar chords.

This album had to grow on me, because it’s a sonic departure from albums that I’ve loved from the band. However, this new style they’ve embraced is in some ways even more emotional than other work. I don’t know how else to describe this, but I’ll end with a quote from Pitchfork writer, Brandon Stousy, about his thoughts on The Wilderness…

Because the group has done so much soundtracking, it’s difficult when listening to The Wilderness not to think of images that could go with these songs. Instead of making music for dramatic moments in football games, we’re getting sunsets you’ll remember a decade later, stumbling first kisses, half-heard car alarms during a comforting dream, that horribly unreal and frozen moment when you first hear a friend has died, walks alone at dusk, laying on your back and watching the constellations with the person you want to grow old with, the calm of seeing a loved one sleep. These songs feel personal. They tug at important moments.”