Looking for something new? Here's what I've been listening to lately...
Artist: Timbre Album:Little Flowers (May 2010) Style: Beautiful harp music dipped in a collection of lovely voices and instruments
From the opening notes of the harmonizing choir, you know you're in for a treat. Timbre and her harp give us another round of lofty lullabies, but she finds a few more major chords this time around. Here she invites us to join her and her family and friends in a chorus of celebration complete with bells, toy pianos, strings, and a variety of percussion that occasionally shift into moving grooves more reminiscent of her friends mewithoutYou. The "little flowers" are a metaphor for our own fragile but slowly strengthening selves, and this is a garden you'll want to visit this summer. Standout Lyric: But pain can be beautiful, my dear / Roots that are deep do not fear winter / And spring has more joy when you've felt / The remnants of cold sorrows melt Standout Lyric II: Watching the frail stems / Put forth their brand new leaves / and I find a love for them / In their honest weakness / And maybe you feel the same for me too In Case It Interests You: Timbre is known as a Christian. STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM:timbre.bandcamp.com
Artist: As I Lay Dying Album:The Powerless Rise (May 11, 2010) Style: Powerful charges and challenges from modern metalcore's finest
They're not the only ones that rock the double-bass, the harmonic guitar riffs, or the screaming/singing combo, but these musicians fuse into a tight sound that's simply intense, from the solo-worthy guitar action that hides under the verses to the diverse styles and emotions of Tim Lambesis's vocal gruffs. Meanwhile, Tim's lyrics continue to powerfully express his worldview in a way that is evident to anyone paying attention, yet without bashing it over anyone's head. Whether it's a perspective of suffering, a challenge against apathy, or a caution that freedom to one's impulses is really slavery, this band is practically theological philosophy set to pounding metalcore. Nothing disappointing here. Standout Lyric: We've focused so long on ideals of freedom / That it is this very belief that oppresses us / We all want to be free / Yet we find ways to forfeit liberty / To our own impulses / To our own consumption Standout Lyric II: Simplicity is not a curse where strength is humbled / And the powerless rise / This is a kingdom born upside-down / This is a kingdom where the broken are crowned In Case It Interests You: The members of As I Lay Dying are known as Christians. STREAM SOME TRACKS:myspace.com/asilaydying
Artist: Deas Vail Album:Birds & Cages (October 23, 2009) Style: Piano pop and pretty vocals maturing into its own complete sound
The charming quintet builds upon their successes while stretching even farther, adding more of Laura's touching harmonies to Wes's "soaring vocals," and even throwing in some background strings that don't crowd out the other musicians. The songwriting also improves, and their lyrics have never felt stronger or more purposeful in their soft presentations of hope and freedom. Deas Vail continues to hit that dynamic sweet spot with songs that are light and lovingly catchy on the surface while springing from complex, talented compositions underneath… they weave in and out of offbeat time signatures so smoothly that if you don't watch out you'll simply be swept away as this beautiful bird takes flight. Standout Lyric: What is life kept to ourselves? / Careful words composed / It's a book upon the shelf / A story never told Standout Lyric II: How can it be that we’re saved / Just to live with such shame / It’s all in my head / So follow the hope that is there if you’ll listen / Take your place under the hands / Of the the great physician In Case It Interests You: The members of Deas Vail are known as Christians. STREAM SOME TRACKS:myspace.com/deasvail
Artist: Band of Horses Album:Infinite Arms (May 18, 2010) Style: Lazy back-porch atmospheric sonnets
I haven't listened to a lot of Band of Horses, but they're pretty unmistakeable: the invariable lilting harmonies, the lush delayed guitar notes, the album covers of celestial objects in the outdoors at night… Some include "country" in their label, in a folky late-night back-porch kind of way, but for the most part these guys are all about soothing simplicity - although it's not all slow dances, either. But there's not really much else to say: To some it's a beautiful thing, and to others it's a campsite that gets pretty old pretty fast. Take your pick... Standout Lyric: The elevator in the hotel lobby has a lazy door / The man inside is going to a hotel room… / It's temporary, this place I'm in / I permanently won't do this again STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM:myspace.com/bandofhorses
Aaron Sprinkle is an icon as far as Christian album producers go, but he likes to throw himself into the mix of regular musicians from time to time. His band here is a throwback to the clean rock of a decade ago with today's cleaner production, and it feels like a cross between the poppier side of pre-worship-craze CCM radio and the peppy little Christian rock bands that made it into the Extreme Days soundtrack but are practically forgotten today, all seasoned with some Anberlin-esque lyrical angst. Starring the piano and electronic keyboards, sometimes it's old Newsboys meets the Myriad and sometimes it's a male version of A Fine Frenzy, but I can't really remember how any of the songs went once it's over. Standout Lyric: If I'm happy / There's a good chance I'm lying through my teeth In Case It Interests You: Aaron Sprinkle is known as a Christian. STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM:myspace.com/fair
Artist: O'Brother Album:The Death of Day (May 5, 2009) Style: Dirty deliberate grooves with earnest and unclear expression
What do you get when you combine the grunginess of Thrice, the subtle emotion of As Cities Burn, the rhythmic grooves of mewithoutYou, and the atmosphere of Explosions In the Sky? Throw in some bells and strings and you've got an engaging mold that's just begging to be played live in a small, seedy venue, although the passion is not totally lost on the recordings. I haven't seen them yet, but they've toured with Thrice, are touring with Deas Vail, and are good friends of Timbre - and when they're associated with some of my favorite artists from a variety of genres, you know they must be striking a proverbial chord somewhere. Some of their lyrics are mysteriously obscure, or even possibly irreverent (think Manchester Orchestra), but there's plenty of potential poetry here too. Is there a full album in the works? Standout Lyric: If pride is a kingly crown / Then on my head it's overturned / I hear the simple swells of grace / Falling down like rain In Case It Interests You: The band O'Brother seems to associate with a lot of Christian musicians but I do not know what the members profess to believe. STREAM THE EP:myspace.com/obrothermusic
Number One. Deas Vail - All The Houses Look The Same (March 6, 2007)
It started out just like any other band. I read the blurb about them in CCM Magazine (which I used to receive monthly). Two keyboard-playing vocalists, one a girl and the other classically trained, produced by Mark Lee Townsend (who once played bass for dc Talk) on a new Christian record label -- it sounded interesting. I looked them up online, liked the MySpace tracks and even found a place that was streaming the whole album. I decided it was worth buying, found out that Wal-Mart actually had it, and bought it.
While I liked All The Houses Look the Same from the get-go, I probably wouldn't have foreseen naming it my most important album of the decade --- I didn't even name it one of my top albums for 2007, although I did call them my favorite debut artist for the year (I think I somewhat unimpressed by the vague phrasery of much of the lyrics). But as time passed and I kept playing the album over and over without growing tired of it, I began to realize there was something special about it.
There are two reasons I love the sound of this album. First, the album has that rare character of sounding very pleasant and catchy while still showcasing talented musicians. Second, I'm just a sucker for piano rock. Each member does a wonderful job bringing their instrument to the mix without creating a sound that is too busy. And, of course, I have to mention the upper-range vocals of Wes Blaylock, who is still the only man whose voice I unashamedly call "pretty" (also known as "the voice of a thousand angels") without at all mocking his manliness (he's married to the other keyboardist, after all). Deas Vail creates a wonderfully soothing and peaceful sound that still has enough energy that it doesn't put you to sleep -- it's more like a relaxing boat ride down a slowly winding river on a beautiful sunny day.
Since when did the first release from a new band on a new record label sound so professional and just downright good? I didn't think it was fair that music this good was so unknown, and I introduced them to almost everyone I know. Almost everyone really liked it, too -- backing up my idealistic belief that the work of truly good musicians can be enjoyed by almost anyone if they are simply fortunate enough to be exposed to it. My roommates, my friends, most of my family -- I'm pretty sure I was the source point for at least a dozen people who became fans, and who knows how many people they have further spread the word to (pardon that dangling participle). This album, and the reception of it by those around me, fulfilled my hopes and dreams about the way good music can be disseminated.
My desire to increase the exposure of Deas Vail also led to a personal connection. On May 1, 2008, I saw a post on AbsolutePunk about Deas Vail tour dates, and some of the dates just said "TBA (Help Book)." They were playing Springfield, MO on May 11 and somewhere in Illinois on the 13th, and wanted to play somewhere in between on the 12th. In the span of eleven days, through some extraordinary combination of friendship, timing, and the favor of God, I contacted the band through MySpace, confirmed location availability at Sam's church, announced and promoted the show, and got fifty people to show up. Then my parents allowed them to stay at our house for the night, and my generous father took us and them all out to dinner after the show to IHOP. Months later, Justin still remembered our grandma's name ("Say hi to Louise for me"), and at their show with Mae just a few months ago, Andy came up to [u]me[/i] (not the other way around) to exchange pleasantries and talk about the new album. They've gotten a little bit bigger by now, but they're still very down-to-earth and friendly, and I hope this upcoming sold-out tour with Owl City ends up being the best thing that ever happened to them. (Two years ago the prospect of them playing at The Pageant was sheer fantasy.)
Deas Vail is made up of excellent musicians who simply created a sound that I really enjoyed. It was a sound that I was able to share with everyone around me, helping other people enjoy it too. And finally, I got to meet the musicians themselves, and they still remember me. There is no greater joy in music than finding something you like, sharing it with friends, and interacting with the ones that made it all possible. That's why All The Houses Look The Same was my most important album of the decade. Thanks, guys.