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November 2010 Monthly Music Guide #9
12/03/10 at 05:32 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)

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.
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.
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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My Releases Of The Decade: Number 2
12/27/09 at 01:57 PM by thepianominstre
(If you missed it:
The Ridiculously Long Prelude
Honorable Mentions
10. Lord Of The Rings
9. How To Save A Life
8. The Beautiful Letdown
7. Awakened
5. The Alchemy Index
4. A Collision
3. Brother, Sister)

Number Two. Underoath - Define the Great Line (June 20, 2006)

There was a time in my life when I didn't understand the idea of screaming to music; I loved music for its beauty, and I saw nothing beautiful in growling or yelling to a beat. Jacob urged me to listen to this band called Underoath and their album The Changing Of Times, and eventually I put on the first track "When The Sun Sleeps." To my surprise, the music sounded really cool if I tuned out the screaming. At any rate, the screaming wasn't just a violent bray; it was actual lyrics! (This was quite an epiphany for me.) The band mixed in some singing vocals as well, and I realized there might be more to this "screamo" thing than I had originally thought.

Jacob again urged me to check out their new tracks that were previewed on their MySpace, and I liked those even better. I asked for their new album for my eighteenth birthday along with the new Kutless CD. Well, one album I couldn't get into no matter how much I tried, and the other I couldn't put down. The Times were indeed Changing, and I was finally ready for Underoath to Define The Great Line between predictable, unimaginative "rock" and the true art of heavy music.

I found the music to be incredible. This album came into my life when I was becoming jaded with the radio scene and how the most uninspired four-chord ballads became instant successes simply because of their national airtime. I tried to play along with some of the Underoath songs and discovered that many of them were hardly even in a discernible key! And yet it didn't sound like chaos, either… it was an intense sound, but it was a very deliberate and polished intense sound. The different instruments shot off in different directions, painting the landscape of a whole new mysterious and ethereal world (the four-minute instrumental intro to "Casting Such A Thin Shadow" is strikingly beautiful).

As I became accustomed to this new world, I got to where I could understand the screaming without the lyric sheet. I still loved the singing the most, though. Aaron Gillespie as a simultaneous hardcore drummer and vocalist was pretty impressive. I most loved the drawn-out closing song, "To Whom It May Concern," with its encouraging lyrics laid over an exquisite build-up of calm to turbulence and back to calm again. I learned later that music like this was too "poppy" and not harsh enough for hardcore purists, but for me it was the perfect balance between screams and melody, between chaos and control, between intensity and peace, between what I knew I loved and what I used to not understand --- allowing me to better appreciate both. It felt so much more powerful than the popular rock music that I was getting tired of, but the power was harnessed and presented in a controlled manner that was more appealing than I could ever have imagined.

It was like a gateway had been opened to a whole new world of heavier music, and I began delving farther inside. (I learned that hardcore music had its own generic players, thanks to my short honeymoon with Inhale Exhale.) The following year I got As I Lay Dying's album An Ocean Between Us and began to understand the more metal aspects of the scene. I also gained a better appreciation of shared rhythm between multiple instruments with the stark double-bass/guitar combo. I stretched even farther to Norma Jean and thought maybe I had finally gone too far… just a little too much dissonance and not enough melody. I settled into a nice groove with Becoming the Archetype and their hard-hitting lyrics, but I finally bought The Chariot's new CD just last week --- although I can't say how long I'll stay there and whether or not I'll venture even farther out… after all, melody is still the fundamental aspect of music for me.

So I am forever beholden to Underoath for opening my eyes to an entire scene of music, for changing my mind about the coarser aspects and allowing me to appreciate the talent, creativity, beauty, and inherent intensity and passion that sets hardcore, or whatever you want to call it, apart from other genres. I thank them for encouraging me to never be afraid of expanding my horizons to discover beauty in places I thought it could not be found, and that's why Define The Great Line sits at Number Two.
Tags: underoath, define the great line, hardcore
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