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July 2010 Monthly Music Guide #5
07/30/10 at 04:16 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

Looking for something new? Here's what I've been listening to lately...

Artist: Children 18:3
Album: Rain's A' Comin' (June 29, 2010)
Style: Energetic power-punk-rock-pop

It’s been over two years since Children 18:3 took the punk world by storm with their Tooth & Nail debut, but their follow-up is not a disappointment. Besides the blistering "Cover Your Eyes," the album doesn't feel as fast or energetic as the first one, downshifting just a notch into brisk rock numbers with big intense sounds, but it's full of catchy sing-along heartwarming choruses, loads of homeschooled talent, and of course the trademark vocal tradeoff between siblings David and Lee Marie. The album's shorter than we'd have liked, but it tries some new things and assures us that Children 18:3 is in it for the long haul as they admonish us to stand our ground and remain courageous in the face of uncertainty… cuz Rain's A Comin'!

Standout Lyric: Oh honestly, if you try to find a problem here, you probably will… /
I don't have the big plan, just small glances /
And every now and then I'm still unsure /
Standout Lyric II: I just want to go home and tell my teddy bear, "I failed, I failed!" /
I turned around the corner just to hear my daddy say /
Oh bravo, You're the best / You're my only one
Oh bravo / That will always be enough
In Case It Interests You: The members of Children 18:3 are known as Christians and consider their band to be a ministry.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/children183

Artist: Brooke Waggoner
Album: Fresh Pair Of Eyes (July 3, 2007)
Style: Singing-songwriting piano gal's indie pop with a classical foundation

Brooke Waggoner reminds me of everything I used to like about the nearly-extinct Christian radio female songwriters of a decade ago - all of the enchanting melodies and soothing strings with none of the flashy power pop beats. Waggoner's classical piano background guides her well, and just because a song starts softly doesn't mean it won't suddenly crescendo and pick up the tempo before the coda. With six songs that cover twenty-seven minutes of play, this is no skimpy EP, and with lyrics that express confidence in spite of insecurity and contentment in spite of want, it's delightful enough that I'm looking forward to getting her full-length albums from 2008 and 2009.

Standout Lyric: I tried my best alone /
But it got me nowhere /
And I can't do it on my own
Standout Lyric II: He helped me unload my piano /
And then I played him oh a favorite concerto /
He yelled profundo while I played allegro /
And then he tip-tap-toed through my accelerandos /
In Case It Interests You: As far as I know Brooke Waggoner is known as a Christian.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/brookewaggoner

Artist: My Epic
Album: Yet (July 6, 2010)
Style: Post-rock or whatever with good lyrics

I never know if I should compare this kind of music to Explosions In The Sky with periods of Thrice-like distortion, or something like As Cities Burn, or what, but I think people are calling it post-rock these days…. it's that calm electric guitar riff that's moving along with the driving percussion (often in 3/4), suddenly exploding into a cacophony of emotion and sound right in the same rhythmic groove, and just as suddenly back down again; whether it's quiet or loud, it's always moving, always intentional, always passionate. And unlike some of the angsty or vague lyrics that sometimes accompany this genre, these guys have some pretty cool themes, reminding us to keep perspective about this world. Despite the potentially pretentious name, My Epic does a great job presenting reservedness and intensity all at the same time.

Standout Lyric: Look, now He's kneeling, He's washing their feet! /
Though they're all filthy fisherman, traitors, and thieves. /
Now He's pouring his heart out and they're falling asleep /
but He has to go lower still. /
Standout Lyric: I'm still a young man so I think very little of death… /
but death is just a hook behind the door /
where I'll leave my dirty clothes....
In Case It Interests You: Based on their lyrics, I assume the members of My Epic are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/myepic

Artist: Men As Trees Walking
Album: 1518 (2010)
Style: Declarative worship that includes Middle Eastern instruments, ambient chillwave, lounge jazz, and reggae

These charismatic folks call themselves a prophetic worship band, and they have everything you'd expect from one (if you know what to expect, that is): lyrics about feeling God's presence, the use of Hebrew words in song titles and a fondness for the Psalms, male and female vocalists… the whole shebang (Kent Henry, anyone? Brian and Jenn Johnson? Misty Edwards? Know what I mean?). But these folks are also pleasantly unexpected, from their steampunk performance get-up to their diverse array of influences and styles. Reggae offbeats guide a couple songs; others use ambient synths; and still others have a light almost-elevator-music jazz feel. Through all the heavy reverb and bountiful percussion they create an intriguing, enveloping atmosphere, inviting us to worship with them before the throne.

Standout Lyric: I love to live in your house, O Lord /
And give to you the praise I bring... /
Cause here in your house I find your embrace /
You place on my head a garment of praise
In Case It Interests You: The members of Men As Trees Walking are known as Christians and they are associated with the ministry-oriented Come&Live!
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: menastreeswalking.net

Artist: The Roots
Album: How I Got Over (June 22, 2010)
Style: Classic hip-hop with piano-infused R&B-soul-ness

From what I'd heard about these guys I was expecting some old-school hip-hop, so I surprised to hear it kick off with an awesome Imogen-Heap-like vocal harmony session. They don't waste much time getting into their key craft, though. Part Flobots, part MuteMath - though they've been around longer than either - this is classic verse set to a bluesy piano and drum set. The rappers take turns dropping the verses and singing the hooks, and it's an intriguing fusion of hip-hop and gospel influences that prays to God because no one gives a f*** all in the same sentence. The keys and drums sprinkle light and tight rhythms as the lyricists search for truth and hope in a fallen world. I'm not familiar enough with their career or the hip-hop scene in general to tell you original this album is, but I respect their earnestness and craft.

Standout Lyric: All I'm trying to do is live life to the fullest /
They sent my daddy to you in a barrage of bullets /
Why is the world ugly when you made it in your image? /
And why is livin' life such a fight to the finish?
Standout Lyric II: My preacher man told me it could always be worse /
Even the three-legged dog still got three good legs to lose /
So you can stop and refresh the rules /
Breathe in, breathe out, let it heal all your exit wounds /
Something inside said that's the move /
and made it today, I'll restart fresh and new
In Case It Bothers You: There is a fair amount of explicit language on this album, as well as the use of that six-letter word which some members of a certain race call themselves but which other races may not call them. There is also an "Edited" version of the album.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/theroots

Artist: Norma Jean
Album: Meridional (July 13, 2010)
Style: Nauseating hardcore

Norma Jean's latest pushes that chaotic hardcore similar to The Chariot's latest but perhaps without as much rhythmic differentiation. Their characteristic sound, with its constant distortion and pitched screaming, produces an unsteady landscape that is, quite frankly, nauseating to me when taken in all but the smallest doses. There is the occasional experimental acoustic guitar or background choir, but not enough to keep their core sound from all running together to me. However, it's being hailed by many as one of their strongest albums to date, so whether you preferred Bless the Martyr or The Anti-Mother be sure to give this one a chance.

Standout Lyric: Do you really think all the saints are just lying...
just lying...
just lying in their graves?
In Case It Interests You: The members of Norma Jean used to be associated with Tooth & Nail and still thank Jesus in their liner notes.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/normajean
Tags: children 18:3, brooke waggoner, my epic, men as trees walking, the roots, norma jean
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My Releases Of The Decade: Honorable Mentions
10/19/09 at 08:44 PM by thepianominstre
(If you missed it: The Ridiculously Long Prelude)

#14. Once: Music From The Motion Picture (2007)

A friend practically dragged John and I to see this movie, and we're both still glad that she did. I saw it as I was moving away from radio influences, and the natural musical about two musicians and their interactions resonated with me deeply. The film did not hide from desire, but examined it in the light of true love and commitment, and this was so attractive after my year or so of the radio and its increasingly distasteful lust. Glen Hansard's earnestness and Marketa Irglova's vulnerability combine to form a sound that is, quite simply, beautiful, and anyone who appreciates the inescapably woven threads of life, love, and music simply must see the film.

Why It's Not Top 10: While I enjoy the entire album, there aren't a lot of strong tracks beyond the first half, and, removed from the emotion of the film, they amount to little more than Hansard strumming fiercely and belting loudly. Still has a place in my heart, though.

#13. Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer by Jon Foreman (2007-2008)
Jon Foreman, lead singer of my (sometimes) favorite band Switchfoot, took a conceptual solo jaunt about the time I started to dip into the indie scene. (I'm sure his work is too polished for true "indie" purists, but it's stripped-down and acoustic enough for me.) Foreman released six songs every couple of months as the seasons turned, and he did a good job of expressing the different moods through his guitar picking and a varying array of instruments - trumpet, clarinet, cello, harmonica… I was also pleasantly surprised to hear this more vulnerable version of Foreman expressing his faith more openly - each season has an incredible song adapted directly from a Scripture passage (Micah 6, Psalm 51, Matthew 6, and Psalm 23).

Why It's Not Top 10: The best songs rank among my favorites, but the worse songs are more forgettable and almost like filler. There are a few successes among the songs about love and life and home… but if you want really good love songs from a solo member of a formerly popular Christian band, check out Tyler Burkum. Now.

#12. MuteMath (2006)

I accidentally discovered Earthsuit from a hidden track on a CCM hits disc (WOW 2001), but it took me longer than it should have to fully embrace Paul Meany's rebirth as MuteMath. The energy that this band puts into their craft is remarkable (I will be confirming the tales of their live shows this weekend). They really have a mastery of rhythm, through the vocals and the keys but especially through Darren King's organic percussion madness. They're one of three bands that I say can get into a groove that sounds so good that I wouldn't care if they vamped the same thing for five straight minutes (Coldplay's another, and the third is higher on the list). The self-titled debut also has nuggets of truths in the lyrics that still jump out at me: "You stay true when my world is false… It's a beautiful surrender… Maybe we don't need to know anymore than we have to…."

Why It's Not Top 10: I don't really have any complaints about this album, although I suppose I see the points of those who complain it's a little long and indulgent… perhaps there's a bit of dragging in the 63 minutes. But really, as much as I love this album, it doesn't match the importance to me of everything that's farther up.

#11. Children 18:3 (2008)

Stephen thought this would be Top 5, and for good reason. The album is practically flawless. It is the epitome of everything I'm looking for in music these days: incredibly talented musicians, incredibly catchy and well-produced music, and a unique sound and personality, all supported by a smashing live show. The energetic elements of these homeschooled punk rockers still bring a smile to my face after so many listens, whether it's Lee Marie's piercing vocal resonance and powerful bass lines, Seth's forceful drumming, or David's infectious riffs and sharp vocal inflections. Easily my favorite Tooth & Nail signing in the last five years.

SO WHY ISN'T IT TOP 10? The album is truly a work of art, but I didn't discover it in a vacuum. If my last decade has been a musical journey through an intriguing forest, Children 18:3 is one of the most exciting things I discovered once I came into the beautiful clearing. They represent the apex of my musical journey… the next ten releases are about how I got there.
Tags: once, glen hansard, marketa irglova, jon foreman, mutemath, children 18:3
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