new : tunes

Red Rocks Worship | The Rooftop EP

Placing roots just outside the mile high city, Red Rocks Worship is a collective of musicians who are on the worship team for Red Rocks Church in Littleton, Colorado. One of my roommates found a link a mutual friend of ours shared of the group’s latest EP recorded in a single session from a rooftop in downtown Denver. He started playing the last song, All I Want, and all of us were hooked. The finger plucked chord progression that transitions into stellar vocal performances, a surprisingly thick bass line, and well balanced percussion drew me into this record, because it brings worship into an inviting, intimate atmosphere. At this point in my life I can enjoy a big crowd with bombastic instrumentation in a packed sanctuary, but I’ve found that sense of the organic in times of worship with a few friends with nothing more than an acoustic guitar become some of the most memorable moments. The project starts out with Fill This Place, which begins dimly with bells, piano, and a guitar that sounds like it was recorded on a rainy day with Joshua Radin or The Weepies, but strong bass drums, and a robust set of musicians built this up into a release in electric guitars and powerful vocals. One Great Passion is the stylistic middle ground between the two, keeping a mid paced tempo and putting a foot in both poles on this album – ranging from the soft and acoustic to the big and booming. In the times I’ve reviewed worship music on this blog, I’ve always had to tag on a disclaimer that discusses my sentiments about worship music being corporatized and 12321567_1567863050129930_7679414217313514340_n ergo reduced to radio “hits” that carry little artistic merit. I still hold those assumptions to a certain degree, but the truth is that there is some well crafted worship music that’s been resuscitated by groups like Hillsong and Bethel. You just have to go looking for it. Other groups like The Dust of Men, Rivers and Robots, and Gungor have made prolific worship albums that are honest and heart filled. This is another one of those records that I can honestly say is convincing. Now that I’m in a spot where I’ve experienced some legitimately powerful times of worship, this kind of music is really starting to grow on me. Lyrically, this EP treads waters that are pretty familiar to most worship albums, musing through the sovereignty of God in difficult times and praise, but the highlight for me is a line in All I Want – “steal away my selfish gain, bringing Glory to Your name.” Being someone who wrestles with pride as part of my process of recovery, this line resonated well, especially when it’s back dropped against well-written music. The production quality reminds me of how well Bethel’s last album, We Will Not Be Shaken (everyone and their mother who likes worship music must listen to that album…. Even if you’re not into it that much, it will rock you), was done for it being a live record. After gaining insight from a good friend of mine about the engineering process behind live albums like such that involves additional synths to thicken the ambiance, the finished product can only be as good as the heart and soul of the original takes. My point is that this was recorded on a rooftop in a downtown district, which means the acoustics are not going to provide the same control as a studio environment, but they’re still stellar! Overall, this is a really diverse EP that has tunes good for a range of moods, environments, and moments of worship. I would definitely give this one a listen and an add to any worship playlist!

Oh, and honorable mention goes to a live version of Pursue (<—- LINK!) that’s mashed up with All I Need Is You from Hillsong Young & Free. I can only find it on Youtube and I have to give a shout out to my roommates for playing this!

 

Explosions In the Sky | Disintegration Anxiety

Aside from a few soundtracks written for a couple of Sundance films and Lone Survivor, I have been enduring radio silence from my favorite band for five years since they released, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care. After dwindling patience, quintessential instrumental rock outfit from Austin, Texas, Explosions In the Sky,12509094_10150599760549987_5072979378544854382_n.jpg have released a new single from their forthcoming record in April, The Wilderness. I’ve heard it said that post rock is limping from a lack of ingenuity since the late 1990’s and early 2000’s – basically that the genre is running dry on fresh ideas that are now being lathered, rinsed, and repeated nearly two decades since its prime. While, bands like Mogwai, If These Trees Could Talk, Godspeed You Black Emperor are maybe falling back on certain formulas that gained them notoriety, other groups like The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m No Longer Afraid to Die (say that one five times fast) and Foxing are soldering post rock with emo and even punk to inject it with a shot of adrenaline. Now, Explosions, one of the premiere groups in this genre is turning it upside down… with electronica? I was honestly expecting the familiarity of shimmering guitar tones back dropped against field snare percussion, and bombastic crecendos, but instead Disintegration Anxiety begins with thick electronic sampling that combusts into a chaotic flurry of guitars and bass that remind me a lot of Kasabian and even some of the new Switchfoot. Dare I say it’s a bit of a head banger and I actually like this direction that the band is taking with this song that seems to go against the grain of the monotony of originality. It’s stylistically shedding skin without sacrificing any of the ambiance and build up that these guys are Jedi Masters at. I look forward to the rest of their album in April! Listen to it. It’s good. Like… really good.

 

Fit For an Autopsy | Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell

Hailing from the Jersey Shore and signed to eOne Music’s menacing roster, Fit For an Autopsy sank their teeth into deathcore when it first became a divisive sensation amongst metal fans in the mid 2000’s. Regardless of the particular subgenre’s fidelity, Fit For an Autopsy established themselves as heavy hitters to be reckoned with on the back of their slamming debut – The Process of Human Extermination (talk about family friendly title). While I was never into this band even during my most scathing phases of musical interest, they managed to weave their way through the underpinnings of some of my favorite heavier metal acts, like Whitechapel. Many of the bands I used to really be into all cite Fit For an Autopsy as a common denominator influence, so in a sense, I have to tip my hat to these Jersey boys for having a musical hand in a core section of my catalog during high school. What tipped me off to their new album, Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell is lead guitarist, Will Putney. Armed to the teeth with prolific production ability 12063694_1010270315670338_8148475741185813042_nand a crafty ear for catchy hooks with a lot of grit, Putney has been the man at the helm for some of my favorite bands, including Counterparts and Hundredth. In fact, I got the chance to talk to one of my favorite bands For Today‘s lead guitarist, Ryan Leitru, last October at their show in Minneapolis about what it was like for them to have Will Putney produce their new record. Leitru had nothing but good things to say, so it peaked my curiosity to see how he handled it with his own band. All of that talent dimly shines through an otherwise dark and visceral record. Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell undoubtedly lives up to the second half of its title with a calculated, down tuned storm of guitars, pummeling percussion, and a powerful vocal delivery from Joe Badolato. With plenty of breakdowns to go around for 40 minutes, this band has not completely shed the skin of their deathcore roots, but they make up for that with shrewd creativity and melodic tendencies on songs like Ghosts In the River, Out to Sea, and Swing the Axe. Other tracks like Wither and False Positive put the record in fourth gear and crank the intensity to warp ten with black metal influenced savagery. Lyrically, this dives face first into recycled, nihilistic themes of hatred and corruption, so I don’t connect with anything. For what it’s worth, this record tickles nostalgic tendencies from late high school and junior college when I was able to stomach bigger doses of it. Though I don’t find anything to resonate or leave a long lasting impression, it’s a brutal listen, written well, and has some earworm guitar licks. Check it out if you want to mosh with your friends in a living room (Trust me, it’s fun).

 

Sons of the East | Already Gone EP

Back with a set of new songs packed for a journey through a half hour of nimble acoustic/folk, Aussie trio Sons of the East have been slowly leaving musical footprints around the other corner of the world with old school folk flourishes and even a touch of their roots with indigenous instrumentation that will make you stomp your foot to the kick drum beat of songs like, Miramere. Acoustic/folk reminds me of hip-hop. A lot of contemporary artists within the genre can trace their sounds and influences to a handful of game changers who wrote catalytic and memorable music that still leaves their fingerprints in the thank you sections of records. Acoustic/folk is very similar. It lives in a house that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash built with mainstream success and 1374964_940893175995257_729486520242907147_n.jpg was given a renovation/facelift with modern artists like John Mayer and James Morrison. Though Sons of the East doesn’t join such prolific mainstream ranks of anyone previously mentioned, they for sure have the former to thank for paving the way for their style. Sons of the East definitely tip their hats and guitar picks to the legends that proceed them with the trademark elongated enunciated vocals of Bob Dylan from Nic Johnson and garnish their rootsy sound with the likes of Fleetwood Mac. Already Gone takes a lot of what really made me like them on their previous release and then reaches out in some different directions that still make for a cohesive listen. Songs like Into the Sun showcase the use of electric guitars and let Jack Rollins have a crack at the drivers seat leading vocals, which is a really nice change in pace. The title track is an upbeat ballad that begins with the tenor of Gregory Alan Isakov and includes some old key organ parts in the bridge that throws the song back to the 1960’s. The project continues in lineage of songs from their previous EP on tracks like Head For Home and Jacaranda Tree, both of which are packed with rich sounding tones and beautiful complimentary pianos. The Farmer speeds up the pace by the end of the album with a lively toe tapper reminiscent of anything from Mumford & Sons first two albums. This EP is a lot better produced and has more scope to it. It sounds fuller and the best part is that it doesn’t take away from the sense of the organic. Overall, I really enjoy this EP and the experimentation taken from the last release. I would highly recommend this album for anyone who wants some good acoustic tunes for coffee shops, windows down in the summer, or… yeah. Pretty much anything.

 

 

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Explosions In the Sky – The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place: Music Review

Bio

Known for being a genre figurehead and quintessential listen for fans, Explosions In the Sky has spent the last 16 years crafting a brand of instrumental post rock that has enraptured listeners. With emotional live performances, dynamic songwriting, and a near perfected formula, this band has proved their staying power and solidified a niche base of loyal fans.

Background

I first became familiar with this band when I saw Friday Night Lights in the 8th grade with my dad. They wrote the entire soundtrack to that film, using a combination of demos for songs that are currently on records and originals written for the movie. After hearing the demo version of Your Hand In Mine at the end of the movie before credits roll, I was dying to figure out who played this music. Rather than waiting for the credits to show who played it like I should have, I slaved looking through every nook and cranny of iTunes for almost a year.

The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place album cover.
The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place album cover.

As a last ditch effort, I browsed Amazon for the soundtrack and was referred to Explosions when I was a freshman in high school. Afterwards, I began to explore their discography with albums like How Strange, Innocence and The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. Through the last eight years, I have fallen in and out of certain bands, but have always managed to return to Explosions as I further listened to them. I will go into this further, but for me, it’s the lasting effect that this band has had since I was a freshman in high school that has caused me to have a love affair with this music.

Track Reviews

Normally, I pick a few songs out of an album and give a sampler in these reviews. This album is only five songs long, but average out to about 8 and a half minutes a piece. Though they are separate tracks on paper, they are anything but on record. For the purposes of length, I will pick my two favorites from this record.

The Only Moment We Were Alone is the second song on this album and was the first track on Explosions set list when I saw them live in 2011. The first 4 minutes build on this graceful, soaring melody that loops and builds on the other guitar player, bass, and drums build up until it suddenly slows at 7 minutes. A few seconds of brief silence is truly the calm before the storm when the song blasts into this epic catharsis at the 8 and a half minute mark. For the rest of this song you absorb this maelstrom of distortion, tenacity, and that same melody holding on.

I would be so tempted to pick Your hand In Mine, but I will instead discuss Six Days At the Bottom Of the Ocean, because of its polarizing feel. I could go on for hours about how the first 4 and a half minutes make me want to burst into tears from the melancholy lead and dynamically layered instrumentation. All of a sudden, the song takes a turn through a few second period of psychedelic reverb. The song then turns into this slow moving part totally unrelated to the first act of this track. It builds up, but never goes quite to the caliber of The Only Moment… it keeps you guessing. With a crazy snare part to go along with it, the song wraps up like you’ve gone through a journey.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

As you can gather from the previous section, these songs are much more classically composed; in movements and flow from one ending to the beginning of another. Historically, post rock was born as a counter to hard rock and heavy metal’s lack of emotion in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Explosions In the Sky. Photo Credit: Apesontape.com
Explosions In the Sky. Photo Credit: Apesontape.com

With pioneering bands drawing influence from as early as psychedelic acts like The Velvet Underground, the progressive philosophy of underground rock propelled groups like Tortoise to become Godfathers of American post rock. The writing style is underpinned by relying on the instrumentation to provide an all-inclusive experience for the listener. Rather than siphoning the emotional charge between the vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation, the instruments provide one central source for all cathartic feels in their music. What this provides is a deeper and intricate experience throughout the course of a record. What I believe this also does is it allows the listener to openly interpret the art form. It’s been commonly said by many artists that lyrical content is open to interpretation. While that may be true, it never allows the listener to fully embrace the imagery and their own translation. By having no lyricism, it’s less distracting and paints more vivid pictures for the listener. I think that’s what makes this music so emotionally potent. Through all of the songs on this record, there is hardly a dull moment. I don’t think that even the longer periods of transition count as dull, especially when they build up to these ultimate crescendos.

Everything is purposeful. When you watch live shows of this band, they flow with the music and let themselves be one with it. They allow themselves to be immersed in their art. By doing so, live and on record, you get to hear something that is genuine and organic. Interestingly, this album is described by the band as their, “best attempt at love songs.” The fact that you even have an idea of what was going through the band members’ minds when they wrote this record makes it feel more personal. I remember watching Friday Night Lights and remembering how moody the film felt with this kind of music back dropped behind very emotional scenes. The film would have otherwise had an unfitting tone. Yet, I was able to feel so differently when I listened to those tracks in another situation. I think it speaks volumes about the versatility of these songs and how there is never one mood or time or place for it. Overall, I think this is some of the most keen songwriting in rock music that tugs at heartstrings.

Concert poster for Explosions in the Sky in Minneapolis. I was at that concert and an a proud owner of these posters. Photo credit: dkngstudios.com
Concert poster for Explosions in the Sky in Minneapolis. I was at that concert and an a proud owner of these posters. Photo credit: dkngstudios.com

Production

When looking at most modern post rock production, atmosphere is key. Instrumentation tends to be more diverse throughout the scene. In Europe, bands like Mogwai and Sigur Ros are more inclusive of instruments that fall into a folk and ambient category. Naturally, those differences are reflected in the production of the album, but in the case of Explosions, it’s guitars, bass, and drums. Nothing too unfamiliar. The way this is packaged puts ambiance on a silver platter for us to dig into. I think the glimmering and hollowed guitar tone has trademarked Explosions for their entire career. Especially when compared to other records, the nimble passages are perfect for this kind of tone. The prominent bass lines provide a well-rounded sound in the parts where the music explodes (no pun intended), though there are more parts in this album where it’s absent. It’s absent to showcase the delicate guitar parts. The drums follow more of a kettledrum-like cadence with a snare and kick drum that protrude through. This makes for a good balance between the frenetic pace and the chill passages.

Conclusion

I don’t give perfect scores to many albums. I have to like it that much. My reviews are as objective as possible, though it reflects my taste. With that said, I find this record to be flawless. It’s beautiful, it moves, and has been in the forefront of my library. It’s wonderfully nostalgic, always puts a smile on my face and is a record I can get lost in.

Score: perfect. 100/100