the earth is not a cold dead place.

Last year, I wrote a music review for The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions In the Sky. It’s my favorite album of all time by a mile ahead of any others that I put in the category of “favorites.” The emotion harbored within the textured guitar tones and crecendos make me feel everything within the spectrum of human emotion when I listen to it. The title of the album continues to peak my interest, because every time I read a headline about the upcoming election or ISIS ravaging the Middle East, and see where our culture has gone I think about how that title kind of falls on deaf ears. I think the answer lies deep in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a harrowing narrative (supposedly) written by King Solomon as a plea to evaluate one’s life with a fine toothcomb. The author’s conclusion is that a life lived without observing God as the giver of all things is translated as “meaningless“, “vanity“, and, “chasing after the wind.” Throughout the book, there are glimmers of hope and contentment laced within twelve chapters of what is otherwise a bit of a depressing read. Passages like chapter 3 verses 13 and 14 beautifully contrast a chapter that talks about there being “a time for everything” – “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.” Verses like that make me believe that The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place is actually a fitting title when we step back from the chaos in our lives and take time to give thanks for even the smallest joys – keeping everything in perspective. Yesterday, I turned 23 years old and I look forward to the year ahead of me. 22 (insert T.Swift – thanks for the assist, Erik) brought its challenges and a few rough patches, but after reflecting on the last year over the last few days, here are some of the ways I remember why the earth is not a cold dead place…

God refining me through campus ministry.

Guy weekends filled with trap shooting, basketball, Frisbee, flat iron steaks, and Mario Party.

Family gatherings in Green Bay.

Having the blessing of seeing multiple friends get married and being part of a few more weddings this year.

Seeing local band in LaCrosse with a buddy of mine from Winona State.

Having project groups last spring with the most amusing, hardworking, and enjoyable members I could have asked for.

Being blessed with inspirational professors that pushed me to work harder and produce work I never thought I was capable of.

Sunny, summer days spent on ladders and rooftops cleaning windows with an amazing crew.

Being reunited with guys from a Bible study from three years ago over games of tee in our friend’s pool.

A weekend spent on the lake with my home churches college ministry.

Spending new years swing dancing in Minneapolis with good friends from back home.

Interning in a place and working alongside lively people who challenge me, and allow me to use this time as an opportunity where new experiences can shape, sharpen, and develop my abilities.

Seeing good friends in the recovery ministry gain custody of kids, hold down full time jobs, stay clean, sober, and grow in the Lord.

Cheering on the Navy with family and a belly full of homemade nachos.

Being a part of a step group with the most courageous and headstrong people I know.

Having spontaneous, deep conversations with good friends over Madden Football, coffee, and cheesy potatoes about college and life afterwards, relationships, goals in ministry, fears, and puns made in MTV shows.

Sharing meals and taking in wisdom from my friend/mentor and his family.

Festively suffering through CrossFit workouts with my pastor and a friend from the intern program throughout the week as we swap workout tips, programming, and throw down challenges.

Living in a house with supportive roommates whom I can be vulnerable, share the subtleties of life, laugh, crank music, and pray with.

A night spent on impromptu snowball fights, conversations about our beginnings in Winona, and geeking out about Coldplay.

Being part of the surprise birthday celebrations for two friends here in Winona.

Phone calls, text messages, emails, and Facebook inboxes from family and close friends who are far way from me.

Meeting three of my favorite bands backstage (and being star struck).

Picking up and learning the guitar.

Being optimistic about the future.

I’ve grown deeper in faith, absorbed scripture, and spent time in prayer. I look forward to more of those.

By God’s grace, I’ve now experienced sobriety for the first time in my life.

I graduated from college.

Visiting family in Arizona over Christmas.

Spending this birthday playing fish bowl, spoons, and eating an awesome meal with great friends.

Spending another summer in Winona.

I have more concerts to rage my face off to – Coldplay and August Burns Red to name a couple.

I’m looking forward and praying into what God has for me in the remainder of this internship.

Setting new goals.

Read more books and take in new music…. and eating more bacon.

Continuing to invest in the people I care about and make new friends.

Taking risks.

Being bolder.

 

 

 

Dealer – Foxing: Music Review

Bio

Five-piece Saint Louis, Missouri rock conglomerate, Foxing planted their flag in indie circles with their debut album, The Albatross, early last year which was considered an underground success. Stylistically in lineage of bands like Pianos Become the Teeth and The World Is a Beautiful Place and I’m Not Afraid to Die, The Albatross was heralded for its amalgamation of post rock, ambient, emo, and punk rock. Furthermore, this record’s buzz is fueled by their bombastic, emotional performance that translates well from record to on stage. Now with extensive national touring along legendary acts like mewithoutyou, and unfortunate events surrounding their gear being stolen in Atlanta, we have their highly anticipated sophomore release, Dealer, out on Triple Crown Records.

Background

I actually have my good friend Andrew back home for introducing me to this band. I went with him to mewithoutyou’s reunion tour in Minneapolis this summer as a favor to him. As heretical as it 11959987_885679408135923_2638874728401495756_n sounds, I wasn’t and am still not really a fan of mewithoutyou  (only for the fact that it’s not my taste), but I went with Andrew because he suffered through August Burns Red with me that February. Foxing was the opener and I had never heard of them until that evening. Both of us were blown away! To the point, in fact, where I bought a physical copy of The Albatross at the show and I’ve been following ever since. I was really excited to hear what this new album had to bring to the table, especially since their first singles leaned more heavily into their respective musical influences.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

Pitchfork said it best when introducing the tone of this record in their review of it… “Dealer is not an easy listen. It sounds like it was very difficult to make, and reliving it is going to be even harder.” The band confirmed this on their Facebook page when promoting their new record, saying it’s a record about loss. Loss is the best way to describe the aura of this album. The instrumentals and vocals are enveloped by this idea of coping with losing innocence and a sense of self like a warm blanket trying to treat hypothermia after lead singer Connor Murphy had been drowning in the cold of lost religion, bassist John Coll serving in Afghanistan, and navigating the fallout from broken relationships. Foxing’s first record still packed an emotional punch, but this sophomore release is the feeling of recovering from a mugging by comparison. As with most if not all post rock – Explosions In the Sky, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, and The Sleep Design, the instrumentals on album drip with atmosphere as it runs its course. Synthesizing emo and ambient influences like American Football and Hammock on top of the aforementioned pool of post rock, this album fuses these genres into a unique and cohesive listening experience that reminds me of how Sufjan Stevens built a melancholic self-portrait on Carrie & Lowell.

Track Reviews

Weave opens this record with a bright, reverb heavy guitar tone (that makes for one of the catchier, more memorable songs on this album) and drums that build up to its climax and explode into foxing1the final minute and a half. Connor Murphy’s vocals don’t sound nearly as ravenously emo like he did on The Albatross, which works well with this song, but in the parts where you expect him to throw caution to the airwaves and let it out, he chooses not to and reserves himself. Though this element turns the dimmer down on this band’s light switch, the raw emotion is still retained. Night Channels is by far my favorite song on Dealer. Building on a cavernous sounding grand piano and Murphy’s softer vocals that serenade the ghosts of his troubled relationships, this song transitions into a shimmery guitar tone that compliments the piano line and dims to an emotional end. At the half way point, Winding Cloth brings an instrumental tracks drenched in orchestral chaos and ambient piano. Redwoods is one of the most somber tracks on this record with ambient keyboards and violinist, Emma Tiemann, soprano voice back dropped behind the hollowed guitar and Murphy’s most nimble vocals. By the halfway mark, the drums climb this mountain top into a war drum pound that calms, climbs, and comes back down to end the track.

Lyricism

Pitchfork had it right when they said that this didn’t sound like an easy record to make. Throughout many other reviews and interviews I’ve seen about and with the band, lead singer, Connor Murphy, seems to be going through a phase of lamenting years of life spent entangled with a sense of religion lost to foxing_mitchwojcik_2015_wide-3971dd7db209911c2dfbb2202a1621dcd8760e9f-s1100-c15the lingering guilt of sexuality on songs like The Magdalene and Glass Coughs. Not only that but John Coll’s song about serving in Afghanistan on Indica haunt the listener with a visceral ballad about the atrocities of war on the human psyche. As I said in the introduction, this record is definitely about loss. Though the topicality is despondent, it feels human. Natural. Convincing. Listenable. These songs have a lot of replay value even with such depressing lyricism.

Production

This album is produced like most post rock – polished guitars, big, booming percussion, and a lot of ambiance laced into each track. I think that the production style’s more unilateral approach to its genres actually makes this a stronger listen. The punk has been for the most part shelved, so the rawness is otherwise supplemented in other areas… and done well. One of this album’s strengths is the piano parts. It sounds like you’re sitting in an empty concert hall listening to tracks like Night Channels and Redwoods. With that said, Dealer does have balance between those elements. It adds to a cohesive narrative.

Conclusion

Between well-composed songs with thoughtful instrumentation, flow, and emotionally charged vignettes, Dealer is the best response to The Albatross Foxing could have written, and it’s been one of my favorite records this year that I enjoy even more with every listen. I highly recommend this record to anyone who is… ah what am I talking about. ANYONE.

 

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

Bring Me the Horizon – Drown: Music Review

Bio

After over a decade of injecting the scene with a cutting edge brand of extreme metal since 2006, British rockers Bring Me the Horizon have climbed the totem pole after massive touring, internet buzz, and being musical chameleons. Originally starting out as a deathcore band (a moniker for the fusion of traditional death metal riffs, hardcore breakdowns, and growling vocals), BMTH clawed their way to the digital forefront of internet buzz and controversy with their image, music, and frontman, Oliver “Oli” Sykes. Evolving over their career, the band has transcended deathcore, exploring the territories of metalcore and progressive metal with their last two albums. Now, that 2014 has come to a close, BMTH once again reinvents their sound.

Bring Me the Horizon (2014). Photo Credit: HeavyBlogIsHeavy.com
Bring Me the Horizon (2014). Photo Credit: HeavyBlogIsHeavy.com

Background:

I used to despise this band. I know, harsh. I remember my junior year of high school when I was first getting into metal and this band was all the rage at the time. Their record, Suicide Season, was a lighting rod for polarizing feelings about the band’s style, image, and their fan base. While the music was “intense”, I wasn’t too big on it because it felt forced. While my opinion of that hasn’t necessarily changed, I can acknowledge the fact that this band was one of the figureheads of a subgenre. Oli’s antics for drug abuse and sheer debauchery didn’t help their case either. With all things I considered about their fan base (which was unreasonable) and Oli’s character, my opinion of this band was low. Album cycles came and went, singles flooded iTunes, and then Sempiternal dropped in 2013. Me being unreasonably cynical (in retrospect *spoiler) about this band, I ignored it, until one of my best friends from back home implored me to listen to this album.

Sempitneral (2011). Photo Credit: BE SURE TO FILL THIS IN
Sempitneral (2013). Photo Credit: car-memes.com

Eventually, I decided out of inkling curiosity to put the headphones in and finally give this band a chance… I was… actually surprised. That album actually did some genre bending. Elements of instrumental post rock, electronica, metalcore, and hardcore punk could be found in that album. Sempiternal was decorated with originality, is exploratory, and broke stereotypes that many, including myself, had with this band. With that said, I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan, so I let the album saturate. Oli also spent a month in rehab for Ketamine, which made him much more of a likable front man and allowed the band to write this album.Then the end of 2014 gave us this new single, Drown.

Instrumentation/Songwriting:

Considering this is a single, this section will provide all content otherwise covered in my track reviews (for future reference). Drown is another sonic departure from the previous album cycle and a jump over the Grand Canyon compared to their first records. With atmospheric like keyboards wrapped around the guitar, bass, and an organic sounding percussion section, this song’s style is in lineage of bands like A Day to Remember. With pop-punk like swagger and the ethereal DNA of post rock, this song offers dynamism and tasteful layers that don’t feel overbearing. For me, the drum work in this song helps give the verses build up and aid in the musical crescendo that leads into the chorus. It’s perhaps one of the strongest elements of this track and something I appreciate for this style of rock (which is usually something I see lacking in this sub genre of rock music). As previously stated, the keyboards give this song life. Along with guitar work reminiscent of This Will Destroy You, the keyboards gives the song depth and dimension. Vocals. There is no screaming in this song. Wait, what? A deathcore band at its roots not screaming? Believe it, people. For the first time in BMTH’s eleven year career as a band, this is the first song that features Oli singing through three minutes and forty one seconds.

Bring Me the Horizon Live. Photo Credit: BE SURE TO FILL THIS IN
Bring Me the Horizon Live.
Photo Credit: MCK Photography

After listening to Sempiternal, I caught a glimpse of Oli’s singing voice, which is naturally guttural, passionate, and suitable for the genre the band is in. On this track, Oli ranges from a gentle lullaby in the verses and the bridge to a seemingly tormented plea through his higher range of harsher melodies. Drown showcases Oli’s tremendous ability as a vocalist, especially when you contrast it against older work off Suicide Season, like Pray For Plagues. This potpourri of elements give Drown an emo lie vibe that could join the ranks of Senses Fail and The Used.

Lyrics:

In my opinion, Scene and Emo rock (mostly in the stages of the genre’s decline in the mid 2000’s, before its recent revival) have a tendency to be slaves to plastic and melodramatic lyrical content. Not true of the whole, but the moments where front men whine over the instrumentals irk me, because they push the boundary of anguish to a point where it’s not believable. Drown is an epistle soaked in desperation for understanding and absolution in a person’s life seemingly affected by depression. Depression can be a difficult subject to write about because of the condition’s intricacy and the fact that it affects people so differently. With that said, the lyrics actually paint a good picture of reaching rock bottom and pleading for a turning point. Not only that, but the chorus’ catchy melody is sure to incite sing-alongs live. Though the lyrics are not the most original or novel, they are relative and grasp a feeling that many have in that position.

Production:

With the instrumental depth of this song, there are a lot of elements to balance. Thankfully, this song’s dynamic layers don’t overpower one another – they actually compliment each other in a tactful manner that feels easy and accessible to listen to. For me, the way that the guitar reverb is captured, especially in the parts where the lines transition into the delicate pick in the verses and the bridge are highlights in the production. It gives this song much more of an aesthetic quality. I also liked that for such well complimented drum work, the kit sounds very organic.

Conclusion:

With a new album set to release this year, Bring Me the Horizon have set Drown at the tip of their spear to potentially shatter more musical boundaries. Though this song feels radio friendly and ultra accessible, strong instrumentals and using this as a contrast to their previous work give Drown novelty. Seeing it as a point of exploration for the band, this song is catchy, infectious, and has execution that makes this a good for a band like BMTH. While this song (nor listening to Sempitneral for that matter) does not make me an automatic fan of this band, I can appreciate the effort. I can say however, that my disdain for this group is no longer there after giving this band a chance.

Score: 88/100