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November 2010 Monthly Music Guide #9
12/03/10 at 04:32 AM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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


Artist: Josh Ehrmann
Album: Stone's Throw (November 20, 2010)
Style: Reflective indie-rock songwriter

This young musician sounds perfectly at home with his acoustic guitar in this small collection of simply crafted songs. Offering honest reflections on surrender, silence, and unity, Josh writes with a wisdom more in line with his influences than his peers, whether he's singing softly or shouting passionately. His sound is most reminiscent of the softer side of As Cities Burn (whose Cody and Aaron helped produce the album, and they make a few musical appearances). Timbre's harp and harmonies provide additional aural beauty. It's a shame some of the songs are so short, and sometimes I wish he'd let the precious grooves linger, but the humble songwriter is fast growing in experience and confidence. This is his first official release, and I hope it's not the last.

Standout Lyric: I see so many words on blank pages
I hear the most when no one speaks
And all the noise that I fill my days with
It's getting old. I love the silence in between…
Oh, God, if I ever say too much, just cut me off
Standout Lyric II: Well I wasted all my energy just staring at a computer screen
And now I'd love to fall asleep in my bed so I can dream
of doing all the things I should have done while I was awake…
So would you take all of my apathy and turn it into unending passion
In Case It Interests You: Josh Ehrmann is known as a Christian.
STREAM SOME TRACKS: myspace.com/joshsounds
If You Only Have 3 Minutes: Check out "Twenty"


Artist: The Chariot
Album: Long Live (November 23, 2010)
Style: Experimental hardcore

Despite switching labels as the latest band to abandon their T&N roots, Long Live picks up right where Wars And Rumors Of Wars left off with The Chariot's unique brand of controlled chaos. There's no such thing as a verse or chorus here: guitars feedback in harmony or conspire with the pounding drums and crashing cymbals to weave in and out of Josh Scogin's emotive vocal delivery of his lines of grace and revolution. The rushing rhythms abruptly break over each other like colossal waves, periodically pausing on the intervening outbreaks of a harp (yep, Timbre again), accordion, beat poetry, or a rousing choral expression. Some of the tracks are randomly named for devoted fans - just another example of The Chariot's expectedly unexpected creativity and community spirit. If you can get past the abrasive edges, don't neglect to dive into this inspirational intensity.

Standout Lyric: They can take away one man / And they can take away his mic
But they cannot take us all /
No, they can't dig a hole the right size to fit all of our dreams /
...Oh we stand hand in hand we walk without fear /
This is a revolution!
In Case It Interests You: The members of The Chariot are known as Christians.
LISTEN TO MOST OF THE ALBUM: myspace.com/thechariot
If You Only Have 4 Minutes: Check out the "David De La Hoz" music video - shot in one take


Artist: Underoath
Album: Disambiguation (November 9, 2010)
Style: Polished hardcore

By now everyone knows that Aaron Gillespie left Underoath to fully pursue his solo worshippy stuff. But the band carries on. Frontman Spencer confidently takes all of the vocals; clearly years of screaming have done nothing to compromise his incredible clean voice. When he sings "I'm not the same anymore" as the band exudes a masterful groove behind him - including the percussive work of the new ex-Norma-Jean drummer - it feels like this band has lost none of its energy or passion. Chris's keyboards feel a little more prominent with his ambient synths, but for the most part this is the same band as before, crafting the thick atmosphere of another world you can envelope yourself in. Some say it's an even darker world, no doubt thinking of lines like "Someone has clawed out my eyes" or "Feel them crawling through my skin." But overall the lyrics are not so much random disturbing tales as they are the passioned efforts of someone caught in darkness desperately searching for the light of freedom. "Come on man I swear you can do this / I break free from this room they built for me," Spencer declares in "Illuminator." As the journey progresses from "In Divison" to "In Completion," the music packs enough layered variety to maintain engagement (including some grouped background vocals), although there are plenty of fans who don't like the loss of Aaron's poppy influence, and plenty of other fans who think this album feels too much like one or both of the last two. But if this is the sort of thing you like, Underoath pulls it off masterfully.

Standout Lyric: Someone please turn on the lights
I’m not fine I’m not fine
How can I find my way from this little cellar they call life…
I make peace with the parasites I live among
Paralyzed I watch them colonize as I sit here and just fall apart…
Its time to restart / Reassemble what’s left of my body
Its time to restart / Pick me up and walk away…
Uproot the anchor… Uproot the anchor… / Walk right out the door…
In Case It Interests You: The members of Underoath are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/underoath (Includes some techno remixes at the end)


Artist: Abel
Album: Lesser Men (November 16, 2010)
Style:

Another month, another surprisingly solid band out of Come&Live! This time it's Abel, a delightful four-piece who sounds something like a couple guys from House of Heroes mixed with Deas Vail's drummer all recording in Thrice's studio. Sometimes slow and thoughtfully post-rock (as on the cymbal-tapping opener), sometimes energetic and passionately pop-rock (as on the punchy-bass track that follows), these guys have the creative musical structuring and the catchy melodies for a wide appeal. The lyrics are strong, offering prayerful calls of surrender, although occasionally they sound a little cheesy and/or derivative: "Take the wheel from my hands or I'll drive off the road." But even the ballads are well done, and overall the album is a smart cross between indie deliberation and poppy accessibility. And it's free (or donations), so give it a shot!

Standout Lyric: And you are my sunshine, my only sunshine
Choruses sung when my blue skies are turning gray
And you paid the price for lesser men
When I can't believe that I could ever act this way
We are all the same, we just want love
Standout Lyric II:
In Case It Interests You: The members of Abel are known as Christians.
FREELY DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE ALBUM: comeandlive.com
If You Only Have 4 Miuntes: Listen to "Saints"



Artist: Showbread
Album: Who Can Know It? (November 16, 2010)
Style: Raw Rock Ballad

The new Showbread comes without the screams, keytar, and raucous ruckus, but it's not fair to compare this to previous works. The plain synth and guitar chords allow the almost monotonic vocals to clearly speak the classic Showbread themes of falling and forgiveness. Calm vocal harmonies help light up the occasionally bland landscape that stretches across lullaby-like piano lines and varying ambient atmospheres. I still think Josh's vocals just don't sound as good when he limits himself like this, but the apparently catchy melodies continue to grow on me, and there's no faulting the boys' unrelenting desire to bring the message of hope and give it away for free. As Showbread tears down more boxes of expectations to make whatever art they feel like, some are even calling it their best album to date, while others say it's their worst… but what's new?

Standout Lyric: When I die, whatever you might say, don’t say I’m gone / Gone is not the word for someone who finally found his way back home
Standout Lyric II: I hear when Jesus tells me that I need to bite my tongue / and my teeth, they try to cage it, but the prison comes undone.
In Case It Interests You: The members of Showbread are known as Christians.
FREELY DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE ALBUM: comeandlive.com
If You Only Have 5 Minutes: Listen to "You're Like A Taxi"


Artist: Lecrae
Album: Rehab (September 28, 2010)
Style: Spirit-filled hip-hop

At first impression, Rehab doesn't seem to indulge quite as much in the big beats and super-fast lyrical flow of the last album, but it's got a distinct flavor all its own, from "Background" with its sugary hip-pop to "Just Like You" with its minor pensive strings and horns (think the new Batman film soundtracks). Once again, Lecrae features a colorful array of rappers, singers, and background chatterers in an album loosely themed around drug abuse recovery as a metaphor for God's redemption from all things destructive, from the opening "Check In" to the closing "Release Date." There's still a handful of energetic beats, but "High" is far weaker than the highlights of Rebel. While the reggae-inspired, Sonny-featured "Children of the Light" is the most fun, the album really shines on the chiller tracks like the throwback acoustic "Boasting" or the bonus "I Love You" (a committal shout-out to his wife). It's an album that grows with repeated listens, as you sink past the catchy rhythms and begin to recognize all the little layerings of vocals and percussion hits and other sounds while the challenging lyrics sink into your spirit. Lecrae's uncompromising calls of surrender to God's will in exchange for all the trappings of the world would get old if I didn't constantly need it.

Standout Lyric: Life is like an elevator, a lot of ups and downs
People pushin' your buttons and gettin' jerked around
Standout Lyric II: Lust, pride, hate, death running through our blood
Need a blood donor, need a transfusion
He's over hanging on the cross for your substitution
So in conclusion, only one solution
Trust divine intervention as your resolution
In Case It Interests You: Lecrae is known as a Christian.
STREAM SOME TRACKS: myspace.com/lecrae
If You Only Have 3 Minutes: Listen to "Children of the Light"
Tags: josh ehrmann, the chariot, underoath, abel, showbread, lecrae
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August 2010 Monthly Music Guide #6
08/27/10 at 08:52 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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


Artist: Newsboys
Album: Born Again (July 13, 2010)
Style: Modern power pop rock swagger

Calling the band's current lineup "newsboys" is about as legitimate as saying Paul McCartney's latest album was by "The Beatles," but Michael Tait replaces iconic bald man Furler (who was the only remaining original member) for the band's fourteenth studio album, boldly marching deeper into modern pop territory. This is not your quirky lite-pop 90's Newsboys. These are tobyMac grooves with Red guitars, Black Eyed Peas beats, and Capital Lights melodies. These are Casting Crowns power ballad chord progressions with Lifehouse power ballad vocals and a little bit of Taylor Swift power ballad country guitar. This is everything that is pop in the new millennium, from the layered synth beats and autotune dance sessions to the softer cell-phone-waving sing-along choruses and everything between. I'm not sure if you'll like it - hey, I'm not sure if I like it - but I am sure it's not what you're expecting - musically, that is; you won't find many original rhyme schemes here. But there must be some reason the first-week album sales were the highest for the "band" in their 22-year career...

Standout Lyric: Oh the way we build our empires /
Hoping to impress our friends /
We've forgotten how to inspire /
Those who fall to rise again
In Case It Interests You: The members of Newsboys are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/newsboys


Artist: Lecrae
Album: Rebel (September 30, 2008)
Style: Fast-flowing hip-hop beats with solid, challenging lyrics

I indulged in the Top 40 hip-hop scene for a little while once before I got sick of the destructive lyrics and mind-numbing beats. Lecrae fils that void and then some. His lyrics aren't just non-destructive; they're a powerful, uncompromising, and inspiring challenge to surrender your life completely to Christ, whether in mocking the gangsta' obsession with money ("Got Paper"), encouraging imperfect Christians to be patient with other imperfect Christians ("The Bride"), or resisting the devastation of temptation ("Indwelling Sin"). The musical production is top-notch as well; cheesy Christian rap this is not. The beats wind and flow under the music as the layers give and take in an exquisite fashion, rarely making it through any of the long verses without tinkering with something to keep the sound fresh. There's a lot of featuring, response, and background vocals, including some females, and it's not uncommon to have three vocal tracks running through at the same time. There's enough variety to keep this non-hip-hop fan engaged for the hour-long experience, from the slower-rolling Li'l John crunk stuff to the Matisyahu-esque guitar riffing to the ridiculously fast double-bass-supported lyrical flow of I don't know who. Lecrae wields the name of Jesus in a way that might be over-the-top for some, but that's precisely his point: without Him, nothing else matters.

Standout Lyric: Money! Dough! Cash! Paper! /
If it was a woman I promise I used to date her /
Now that we broke up, she be callin' ya boy a hater /
Cause all I do is use her for glorifying my Maker /
…You got money / You got paper /
You got money / You got paper /
… So what? Who cares?
Standout Lyric II: People living life for a job / make a lil money start living for a car
get em a house a wife kids and a dog / when they retire they living high on the hog
but guess what they didn't ever really live at all / to live is Christ yeah that's Paul I recall
to die is gain so for Christ we give it all / he is the treasure you'll never find in a mall
Your money, your singleness, marriage, talent and time
they were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine
that's why it's Christ in my rhymes / That's why it's Christ all the time
my whole world is built around him / He's the life in my lines
In Case It Interests You: If you can't tell Lecrae is known as a Christian you're not paying attention.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/lecrae


Artist: House of Heroes
Album: Suburba (August 3, 2010)
Style: Super-catchy pop-rock, thrusters on full

This four-piece's follow-up to the highly acclaimed The End Is Not The End is less epic in scope but no less heartfelt or energetic. With a brilliant balance, the turbocharged tracks race with young ambition through the neighborhoods of life, carefully navigating around the well-trimmed hedges of society and all of its expectations. It tells of the conflict between securing love and securing finances ("Love Is For The Middle Class"); it tells the stories of late-night schoolyard fights ("God Save The Foolish Kings"); but mostly it tells the stories of restless boys growing up and trying to avoid succumbing to the monotony of adult life. I was afraid I would quickly tire of the super-catchy Beatles-Relient-K-Ludo vibe with the big harmony choruses, but so far it's only grown on me. With a few fluid ballads thrown in for flavor, this is a recipe that goes down easy, leaving you satisfied yet eager for more.

Standout Lyric: All the kings and pawns off to work for their perfect lawns /
But me, I'm still dreamin' of Sandy /
Maybe I'll spin out to her side of town /
….Our faith is small but it is strong /
Enough to carry on /
Though we are poor we shall not want /
Standout Lyric II: Oh, I wouldn't mind it if we nickel and we dime it
Just to be together in the end /
Maybe just a little till we make it to the middle /
And they're takin' half of every cent /
…I said I better make the cash /
Love is for the middle class
In Case It Interests You: The members of House of Heroes are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM:absolutepunk.net


Artist: Arcade Fire
Album: The Suburbs (August 3, 2010)
Style: Laid-back rock shuffle reflections

Are you still an "indie" band when your album hits #1 on Billboard's sales chart? Does it really matter? Like the similarly titled House of Heroes album that released on the same day, Arcade Fire explores what it means to grow up in our modern culture, but it feels older and more jaded. The simple, well-crafted rock shuffles along with the occasional U2 croon and hints of various other influences as it reflects on the "Modern Man" settling into the sprawling suburbs and what happens under fraying friendships, abandoned ideals, and luxurious loneliness. The songwriting is full and intricate, referencing an overly ornate historical art form to mock today's showy empty trends ("Rococo"), or making a metaphor of the computer built to beat a chess champion ("Deep Blue"). Sometimes the song titles alone speak volumes: "We Used to Wait." The amount of hope you take from this album may depend on your own perspective, but it's a valuable work worthy of some attention.

Standout Lyric: You never trust a millionaire /
Quoting the sermon on the mount /
I used to think I was not like them /
But I'm beginning to have my doubts /
My doubts about it /
….Do you think your righteousness /
Can pay the interest on your debt? /
I have my doubts about it
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/arcadefireofficial


Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: All Delighted People EP (August 20, 2010)
Style: Quirky, charming, awkward, and delighted to meet you

One of the most mysterious men making music today, Sufjan Stevens suddenly reappears after a five-year absence with a 60-minute body of work called an "EP" that includes an 11-minute opener and a 17-minute closer and six mostly shorter tracks in between. This eclectic darling of Christian hippies and indie snobs alike offers another collection of awkward joy and melancholy with the usual assortment of folky, small-town orchestras and charming, childlike choirs. The lyrics are full of substance and storytelling but, as usual, I'm still never sure what he's ever really talking about. If you've enjoyed anything from him in the past, the $5 click offers pretty good mileage, and the tracks even come with embedded lyrics.

Standout Lyric: Oh! I love you a lot /
Oh! I love you from the top of my heart /
And what difference does it make? /
I still love you a lot
Standout Lyric II: Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For your world is yours /
All the wilderness of the world is yours to enjoy
In Case It Interests You: Sufjan Stevens is generally known as a Christian.
In Case It Bothers You: Sufjan Stevens has a penchant for being slightly creepy, especially when his soft voice sings such lines as "You probably should but I won't let you run away this time" or "I was sleeping in the room with you, you little boy", and he still occasionally sounds vaguely lustful or otherwise awkward when I can't figure out his mysterious metaphors and allusions. If you're familiar with his previous work you won't notice anything different.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com
Tags: newsboys, lecrae, house of heroes, arcade fire, sufjan stevens
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