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October 2010 Monthly Music Guide #8
10/31/10 at 02:17 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Jars of Clay
Album: The Shelter (October 5, 2010)
Style: Encouraging anthemic pop rock ballads about community

The latest addition to Jars of Clay’s legacy is a more worshipful project focused on community that involves collaborations with other artists on (almost) every song. We are treated to more pleasant anthems of The Long Fall variety, with those clean guitar strums and bright piano melodies. The lyrical theme is evident from the get-go as the singers exclaim, "We will never walk alone again." Meanwhile, the bells and crazy vocal interweaving sound like they were lifted off a Sufjan record. The collaborations are remarkably subtle (well, except for Mac Powell’s drawl), often hiding in harmonies that you don’t discover until the third or fourth listen. Even with an exciting array of vocal choirs there’s only so much you can do with clean-driving anthemic-pop-rock, and my intense excitement for at least the first three tracks tends to turn into mild ambivalence by the end. Still, it's some of the most enjoyable stuff (for me) coming out of the strict CCM market these days.

Standout Lyric: I’ll go when You call me, I run when You tell me where to go /
We are desert walkers under shady clouds…
Let our idols fail, vanity subside
Standout Lyric II: It’s a well worn path so how on earth can we feel alone?
…Look around / Lay it down.
In Case It Interests You: The members of Jars of Clay are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/jarsofclay

Artist: Destroy Nate Allen
Album: Until My Ankle's Better (August 2010)
Style: Sing-along folk-punk

After kicking off with an a capella gospel homage from Nate’s mother, Until My Ankle’s Better quickly delves into the duo’s trademark quirky acoustic jams full of passion, vulnerability, and joy. You’re going to be disappointed if you listen to these tracks expecting something aesthetically beautiful or mindblowingly original, but if these songs of life and love don’t make you smile, you’re probably missing the point, as the short tracks are really just trying to become the grown-up version of your favorite childhood sing-alongs. Their faith is a combination of the traditional and not-so-traditional, but it’s always seasoned with understanding and sincerity. Tessa adds tambourine and affectionate harmony to Nate’s acoustic guitar and bleating vocals. Instruments like kazoos and organs dot the landscape along with the vocal oh‘s and doot-doo‘s. By the time the album closes, you almost feel like you’ve gotten to know this simple, charming couple who travels the country playing basement shows and trusting in God’s provision.

Standout Lyric: I need to take the trash out / from the middle of the floor /
cuz when the trash is taken out / it won’t smell no more
Standout Lyric II: Put your head on my shoulder, and we’ll wake up one day older,
just you and I, you and I
In Case It Interests You: Nate and Tessa Allen are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: destroynateallen.bandcamp.com

Artist: Geology
Album: Three Birds EP (July 2010)
Style: Banjo-riffic indie folk

Well, what do you know, mewithoutYou's bassist Greg has a little side project. These five tracks offer a pleasant indie sound that sounds a little more like mewithoutYou when the electric guitars are driving and a little more like Sufjan when the banjo and bells are carrying the lead. Greg's voice isn't exceptional on its own but it isn't bad, either. Some of the lyrics reference Scripture stories and parables, and it caps off with a Wilco cover. It's a nice surprise for the mewithoutYou fan who wants something new.

Standout Lyric: Our hearts burned within us / This man was the I Am
In Case It Interests You: It would seem that Greg is known as a Christian.
DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE EP: geology.bandcamp.com

Artist: Lovelite
Album: The Nearness
Style: Euro-synth-pop lounge worship

I think this husband and wife team likes Europe. Usually when I name-drop Coldplay it's to illustrate that large, shiny rock anthem sound that they've been disseminating lately, but Lovelite reminds me at times of that older, softer almost-jazzy Coldplay with its slow, lush guitar riffs. Andrew Polfer's vocals, while still in the upper ranges, are less lofty falsetto and more like a Bono/Muse wailing. Yet when he rings out a literary, worshippy line like "You cannot be moved, eclipsing all of time," maybe it feels more like Delirious. But, hey, that's still all from Europe, right? Next throw in some crazy modulating synths and ambiance along with the various percussive highlights and you've got some weird, unconventional instrumentation. It's not my favorite cup of tea, but it's not at all unpleasant. The ethereal layered worship could recall The Glorious Unseen but it doesn't feel quite as heavy. Jen's vocals add dimension to the harmonies and you realize that maybe no one else is doing worship quite like this. At the very least it's further proof of Come&Live's commitment to ministry as opposed to any specific kind of sound.

Standout Lyric: You, the only true God / Who fashioned the world
The invisible one / With visible love
In Case It Interests You: The members of Lovelite are known as Christians.

Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: The Age of Adz (October 12, 2010)
Style: Indie folk attacked by a strong layer of electronics

His first full-length album in five years kicks off with a fairly normal acoustical, vulnerable, pleasant track. The strange analog electronics and synths start knocking things over in the second track, although with no loss to the classic Sufjan array of vocals, horns, strings, and sleigh bells. The lyrics get more intentionally cryptic as the album continues, and supposedly have to do with an obscure painter from the previous century and his schizophrenic visions of an alien-induced apocalypse. Of course there may be more to Sufjan's lines than that, but I'm not the right person for taking the time to dissect and appreciate them. I actually found the electronic knobs and whirs and arcade-like sound effects to add an interesting flavor to Sufjan's already interesting indie instrumentation, but as always, some will love it and some will not.

Standout Lyric: And when you play guitar / I listen to the strings buzz
The metal vibrates underneath your fingers
And when you crochet / I feel mesmerized and proud
In Case It Interests You: Sufjan Stevens is generally thought to be a Christian.
In Case It Bothers You: Similar to previous material, Sufjan has some vaguely creepy and/or lustful lines. He also repeats the line "I'm not f***ing around" several times on the track "I Want To Be Well."
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com
Tags: jars of clay, destroy nate allen, lovelite, geology, sufjan stevens
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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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