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March 2011 Monthly Music Guide #12
04/02/11 at 09:15 AM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Hawk Nelson
Album: Crazy Love (February 8, 2011)
Style: Energetic pop punk

Hawk Nelson is one of those kinda cheesy bands I feel like I outgrew a long time ago, so when I decided to give their new album a chance I was surprised by how much I liked it. Right from the get-go with "Tally-Ho" it's full of energy, speed and classic Hawk bass lines. The title track tries to follow the Newsboys into modern synth-pop-rock, but it's mostly good ol' MxPx-FMStatic-channeled pop punk. "My Next Breath" is a classic Hawk ballad harking back to the days of "From Underneath" or "Everything You Ever Wanted." Strong, catchy melodies overshadow the occasionally trite lyrics, which are pretty upfront and spiritual ("Your Love Is A Mystery") when they're not charmingly pining for love ("Joanna") or expressing a distaste for airports ("LAX"). There's a few surprises scattered throughout, and if you stick around for the extra acoustic tracks, you'll hear a Glee-like a cappella rendition of the old hit "California."

Standout Lyric: They say it sounds insane
We say that we've been changed by the power of crazy love…
We're the ones gonna put it all in reverse
Gonna die to ourselves, gonna live to serve
In Case It Interests You: The members of Hawk Nelson are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/hawknelson

Artist: Hillsong United
Album: Aftermath (February 15, 2011)
Style: Post-rock worship

Everyone knows that Hillsong United churns out boring cliché worship power ballads year after year, right? Wrong! Aftermath is the New Zealand group's second non-live release, and the well-built tracks are less power-chord Jesus chants and more patiently developed grooves following the road of Explosions In The Sky or The Ember Days - but still with that electric United youth-group-ready oomph. It starts off full of delayed guitar picking, rat-a-tat snares, deep toms, and layers of vocals, strings, and experimental atmospheres - relaxing and/or driving worship at its finest, although the whole album isn't quite that delicate. The multiple talents of the likes of Joel Houston, Marty Sampson, and Brooke Fraser continue to find fresh lyrics to express hearts crying out in surrender and devotion, and this may be the act's best release since 2006's All of the Above.

Standout Lyric: And I find myself here on my knees again
Caught up in grace like an avalanche
Nothing compares to this love, love, love
In Case It Interests You: The musicians that make up Hillsong United are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/hillsongunited

Artist: Danielson
Album: The Best of Gloucester County (February 22, 2011)
Style: Very indie prog rock?

It's hard to find truly unique music these days, but Danielson comes pretty close, if only for his persistently yappy vocals. The reviews say it's the most accessible release yet for the under-appreciated Christian indie trailblazer, but the music and lyrics are still complimentarily quirky, and it seems that Sufjan Stevens still comes back to play the banjo. The musical structures and instrumentations pile on the charm in the first half, as do the lyrics, whether Daniel's waxing metaphoric about provision ("This Day Is A Loaf") or musing about settling down, if ever so slightly ("Grow Up"). The second half is more reserved and experimental, sometimes flittering instruments around with no discernible rhythm. Through it all we get the delightful sounds of a wise and joyous heart.

Standout Lyric: Silly string and streamers,
A nature walk for seniors,
Our disc jockey will rock the house real neat,
Let us move this shindig to the street.
Standout Lyric II: A voice says "Cry out"
I say "Oh what should I cry?"
"All men are like grass"
We all wither, but you stand.
In Case It Interests You: Daniel and his band members are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/danielson

Artist: Eisley
Album: The Valley (March 1, 2011)
Style: Female-fronted indie pop rock

The three sisters are out with a new collection of tracks that mostly explore their feelings and responses to deep relationship struggles and heartbreaks. If you've never listened to them before, their music isn't "indie" like, say, Danielson or Sufjan, but "indie" like the kind of stuff you might hear randomly playing on 89.1 instead of the regular pop stations - accessible and catchy but with more personal songwriting, sort of A Fine Frenzy with more electric guitar, or sort of (dare I say it?) Paramore with less. (You almost wonder if some of the rhythms weren't inspired by one of the sister's husband, Mute Math's Darren King.) The lyrics explore a variety of heartache, regret, wishing, and hoping.

Standout Lyric: So be very kind
Don't let the world fall on your shoulders
If so, oh, hopefully
I would find, I would find you
Standout Lyric II: I need an ambulance
I took, I took the worst of the blow
Send me a redeemer
Let me know if I'm gonna be alright
In Case It Interests You: The members of Eisley are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/eisley

Artist: Francesca Battistelli
Album: Hundred More Years (March 1, 2011)
Style: Bouncy, acoustic CCM

When Francesca first came on the scene I remember some labeling her a "Christian Sara Bareilles," but I would compare this one at least more to Colbie Caillat, from the ukulele she plays on the catchy opener (they're so in right now!) to the strong but endearing vocals that run through the album. A few of the tracks (like "Angel By Your Side") slip into the sort of inspirational power ballad that some may find beautiful, though I find them cliché and predictable (cue the drums on verse 2). "Emily (It's Love)" goes for a more syncopated Bublé-type energy, and "Don't Miss It" almost feels like an old Kelly Clarkson jam. For the most part this is just catchy pop music created by someone who - as far as I can tell - writes her own songs and plays a stringed instrument or two. Lyrical themes abound with encouragement to praise God and find hope through the paths of this temporary life, and the closing title track is my favorite - more of a singer/songwriter ballad in the vein of Andrew Peterson or JJ Heller, exploring the joys and hopes of a life of marriage.

Standout Lyric: All those dreams and now they're finally here
She's so young and he's so perfect
They waited for love and it was worth it
She wants to feel like this for a hundred years
In Case It Interests You: Francesca is known as a Christian.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/francescabattistelli
Tags: hawk nelson, hillsong united, danielson, eisley, franscesca battistelli
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February 2011 Monthly Music Guide #11
02/25/11 at 05:58 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

Looking for something new? There's a lot of music coming out already this year and I'm trying to keep up. Here's what I've been listening to lately...

Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Album: Chamber Music Society (August 17, 2010)
Style: Wailing jazz

When she won New Artist of the Year last week at the Grammy's, this prodigy managed to anger millions of Bieber fans while catapulting her album sales into record territory for contemporary jazz, but just who is she? Even though most of us had never heard of her before, she's been becoming quite a sensation in the high-brow jazz community, playing at Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies and the like (Thanks, Wikipedia). And you'll sure feel cultured listening to this group explore their jazzy rhythms (Esperanza herself rocks the upright bass). Esperanza's vocals dance with the strings over a shifting foundation of piano and percussion - sometimes light and feathery, sometimes rhythmic and rousing. Her occasional warbling high notes may be disjointing for the uninitiated, but there are also plenty of accessible, relaxing, chill jazz numbers. So give this a stream and pretend like you're hanging out with dignitaries or cleaning your mansion.

STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/esperanzaspalding

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The King Is Dead (January 14, 2011)
Style: Folk rock

I'm not familiar with previous Decemberists work, and apparently this one is a little less unconventional or something, but to me it simply sounds pleasant. From the opening harmonica riff to the later accompanying accordion, the band's got a solid folk rock sound with plenty of fiddle. There's even a bit of a campfire acoustic punk feel that occasionally is reminiscent of say, old Green Day or the ballad side of Dropkick Murphy's. Basically this album is a nice accessible acoustic folk rock jam with poetic songs about life, nature, and the passing seasons.

Standout Lyric: Let the yoke fall from our shoulders
Don't carry it all, don't carry it all
We are all our hands and holders
Beneath this bold and brilliant sun
Standout Lyric II: And you won't make a dime
On this gray granite mountain mine
Of dirt you're made, of dirt you will return
So while we're living here
Let's get this little one thing clear
There's plenty of men to die, don't jump your turn
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/thedecemberists

Artist: Brandon Heath
Album: Leaving Eden (January 18, 2011)
Style: Polished CCM

I decided to give the modern CCM scene a shot with Brandon Heath's new album, and it was more creative and varied than I was expecting. Sure, most of the songs have that kind of safe driving ballad feel, but they're no worse than the stuff on regular radio, and there's some cool vocal layers and echoes sprinkled around. "Might Just Save Your Life" has some kind of Black Eyed Peas hybrid influence, and "It's No Good To Be Alone" channels last year's pop somewhere between Hey Soul Sister and Teenage Dream with the bouncing ukulele and melodic lines… although we could really do without the group vocal A! chants on the bridge. Cue the symphonic string loops on the driving "Now More Than Ever." Lyrically, Heath mostly concerns himself with the hurting in our fallen world and how we can bring them hope.

Standout Lyric: If I hear one more widow crying
'Cause there's no one by her side
And if I see one more family breaking
It's one too many
If there's one thing that I'm sure of
If there's one thing that I know
You could be one in a sea of faces
Or you could be one more chance for hope
In Case It Interests You: Brandon Heath is known as a Christian.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/brandonheath

Artist: Red
Album: Until We Have Faces (February 1, 2011)
Style: Driving rock with some strings

RED continues to make a name for themselves with their latest rock offering, becoming only the fourth act in history from the Christian industry to land at #2 in sales on opening week. To me it sounds pretty similar to their previous material, and that just means if you liked the other stuff you'll probably like this one, chock full of driving guitars, string highlights, soaring vocals, and general lyrical themes of veiled anger searching for hope in the midst of struggle. Some of the heavy power ballads remind me of things I've heard from Seventh Day Slumber or Disciple, and the more energetic stuff draws valid comparisons to Linkin Park and Breaking Benjamin and the like. A lot of the tracks kind of run together for me and the melodies keep reminding me of each other or of other band's songs, and it's not quite my thing, but it's solid production and definitely worth a shot if you're into this kind of music.

Standout Lyric: How did we let go
How did we forget
That we don't have to hide
We won't believe the lies again
We won't be paralyzed
In Case It Interests You: The members of Red are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/dropofred

Artist: The Civil Wars
Album: Barton Hollow (February 1, 2011)
Style: Lovely, melodramatic, singer-songwriter harmonies

Oh my goodness, I haven't seen this much unfathomable gushing from the independent community over a singer-songwriter duo since, I don't know, the Once soundtrack? Imagine my astonishment at discovering that the female part of this duo is the same Joy Williams who used to release power pop to CCM radio (and got tired of it), and imagine my slight disappointment that the male part of this duo is not her husband (who helped produce it). The acoustic guitar picks a nice riff and then the glorious harmonizing voices come in… and don't forget about the tinkling piano or the vibrating cello. Joy's warm voice reminds me of the Ember Days girl, and some of John Paul's guitar work reminds me of Jon Foreman's solo stuff). Some of the lyrics are a little too melodramatic for me with their explorations of complicated relationships (it's not quite as determined in some of its melancholy as The Swell Season - "I can't help falling out of love with you" - but still full of depth and honesty). This one's gonna be showing up on a lot of best-of lists come December…

Standout Lyric: Oh how I miss you but I haven't met you
Oh but I want to / Oh how I want to
Dear whoever you might be / I'm still waiting patiently
Standout Lyric II: Dancing with a ball and chain /
But through it all we still remain
In Case It Interests You: Joy Williams is known as a Christian; I don't know anything either way about the other guy.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/thecivilwars
Tags: esperanza spalding, the decemberists, brandon heath, red, the civil wars
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Jaunary 2011 Monthly Music Guide #10
02/05/11 at 09:43 AM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

Looking for something new? There's been a lot of new music in 2011 already but first I've been catching up on what I missed in 2010. Here's what I've been listening to lately...

Artist: Andy Hunter
Album: Collide (December 7, 2010)
Style: Techno and stuff

Andy Hunter, maybe the only not-completely-underground guy doing Christian techno stuff, released some new music last month for the first time in years, and it was better than I was expecting. The various sounds skitter across the five tracks as the synths and beats come to life (I'm a sucker for random piano riffs), and the thirty-five minute EP leaves you wanting more rather than mushing your brain with mind-numbing bass. Every now and then a lyrical phrase bubbles forth to add to the atmosphere, but for the most part this is just well-crafted electronica.

Standout Lyric: Heaven and earth collide, a beautiful alliance / together two worlds are tied, a powerful presence
Standout Lyric II: Smash it, break it, shake it... Annihilate
In Case It Interests You: Andy Hunter is known as a Christian
STREAM THE WHOLE EP: myspace.com/andyhunter (last 5 songs on the main page player… from "Raining Sunshine" to "Collide")

Artist: Brooke Fraser
Album: Flags (October 12, 2010)
Style: Bouncy female indie pop

Brooke Fraser is mostly known for her soothing contributions to the Hillsong United worship repertoire, but the New Zealand star's third solo release is a full-fledged indie pop album in the vein of A Fine Frenzy or Feist with a dash of Imogen Heap. We have a bouncy love song dripping with catchiness, a mournful ballad about a struggling, committed relationship, and several songs telling stories or offering encouragement to a variety of characters. “Crows + Locusts” depicts our spiritual needs through a brutal metaphor of a bleak and plagued harvest, while the title track references both Ecclesiastes and the Beatitudes in a sweeping saga that can’t explain worldly injustices but soars on promised hope. It's all tied together with Fraser's strong and soothing vocals, and she calls on driving percussion, vocal choruses, horns, strings, or whatever else is necessary to accompany the guiding guitar or piano. It may be everything you'd expect form an indie pop album, but it's strongly executed with solid production, backed by deep, clever songwriting, and every time through I like it more.

Standout Lyric: You got your secrets / You’ve got your regrets / Darling, we all do.
Standout Lyric II: This beautiful tangle that’s bruising us blue / Is the beautiful knot that we just can’t undo… Real love is hard love.
In Case It Interests You: Brooke Fraser is known as a Christian.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: brookefraser.com

Artist: Mumford & Sons
Album: Sigh No More (February 16, 2010)
Style: Big banjo indie folk anthems

They've taken the UK by storm, and the album still regularly appears in the Billboard top 10 almost a year after its US release. This band soars on full-sized folk anthems with a big spotlight on the speedy banjo, and they're supported by strong melodies that seem instantly familiar. If the infectious celebrations of the first half become a little too familiar, make your way to the second half of the disc for some slow-simmering beauties. The profound lyrics tie it all together. (Think there's no way to be original about love anymore? Hear the lyric below and see if your heart doesn't swell.) Don't miss out on these banjo-riffic grooves.

Standout Lyric: Love. It will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
Standout Lyric II: I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears
But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
In Case It Interests You: The members of Mumford & Sons seem to be known as Christians.
In Case It Bothers You: The song "Little Lion Man" contains the line "I really f***ed it up this time"
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/mumfordandsons

Artist: Listener
Album: Wooden Heart (July 2010)
Style: Talk music

It's not singing. It's not rap. It's not poetry. It's talk music. It's poetic lyrics spinning metaphors of struggle and hope, delivered in Dan Smith's unique and emotionally charged verbal style and backed by a musical progression that falls somewhere in between mewithoutYou and Bradley Hathaway - but with less of the former's quirkiness and less of the latter's melodramatic angst. At times the wordy paths seem to wander in the midst of their enumerations of life's lessons, but there's no mistaking the passion or the purpose. It's surprisingly accessible, yet probably unlike anything you've ever heard.

Standout Lyric: I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores
so come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
Standout Lyric II: and we’re not just islands lying beside each others shorelines
we’re all bound with veins and hopes, we are not each others ghosts
our hearts are abridged, let's build bridges to each other
so this river won’t take us under
In Case It Interests You: Dan Smith is known as a Christian.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: listener.bandcamp.com

Artist: Deepspace 5
Album: The Future Ain't What It Used To Be (April 27, 2010)
Style: Multi-layered throwback hip-hop

I didn't listen to this enough to write a snazzy paragraph about it, but I enjoyed the whole thing. It's a group of rappers/DJs/emcees (including the aforementioned Dan Smith) who collaborate to craft a natural-sounding hip-hop that reminded me of Flobots. From what I could tell the lyrics were pretty good too although I couldn't find any written out online.

In Case It Interests You: The cast of Deepspace 5 are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/deepspace5
Tags: andy hunter, brooke fraser, mumford and sons, listener, deepspace5
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My Favorite Records of 2010
12/28/10 at 05:05 AM by thepianominstre
Originally posted on thegracenotes.net

My Favorite EPs
I felt like I heard more EPs this year than in all my previous years combined, due to both the dwindling resources within the music industry and my continued personal trending toward less established musicians. But, seriously, man, everyone from hardcore The Devil Wears Prada to electronica Andy Hunter put out an EP this year. I also listened to a lot of music from the non-profit, ministry-minded Come&Live, whose artists come up with their own resources through fans. I will always prefer the length and completeness of the album format, and I hope it doesn't go away, but frankly, four or five song recordings are way easier, quicker, and cheaper than full albums, and as long as record sales continue to plummet, I think the EP is here to stay.
Honorable Mentions: Bradley Hathaway - A Thousand Angry Panthers, Andy Hunter - Collide

5. Oh Brother - The Death of Day
Moving progressive post-rock or whatever

4. Josh Ehrmann - Stone's Throw
Reflective indie songwriter

3. Enlou - Body of Water, Body of Friends
Indie rock or whatever

2. Lovelite - Nearness
Euro-synth-pop lounge worship


1. The Ember Days - Finger Painting
Fantastic worship disguised as a lush, ambient, soft pillow that is mostly instrumental. This EP would be top 10 if I mixed it in with the full albums. With a strong execution of Explosions-In-The-Sky-type guitars topped with strings and light vocals, every second of its thirty-one minutes is ripe for quiet worship, prayer, or simple rest and refreshment. And it's free off ComeAndLive.com, although it's totally worth a donation.

My Favorite Albums
A lot of people seemed to think that 2010 was one of the best years for music in a long time, but I didn't feel like I found as many outstanding albums this year as I have in the past. A lot of my favorite bands put out new music that I really liked but not on the same "classic" level as their previous one or two releases. That being said, the year was still full of enjoyment and surprises. I continued to expand my palate, from the little Christian self-publishers that no one's heard of (#17, #4) to more "mainstream indie" fare (#20, #15, #10) to metal (#13) and even hip-hop (#12, #5). There are plenty of musicians making quality music today - some seeking to glorify the Creator, some unknowingly exposing deep truths about the human condition, and some doing a little of both. Read on, my friend, and thank you for your time...
Honorable Mentions: Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz, Abel - Lesser Men, Men As Trees Walking - 1518

20. Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away
Layered indie folk storytelling searching for peace and purpose. It's seasoned with a little too much doubt and cynicism for me to truly identify with, but it's simple and honest.

19. Lakes - The Agreement
Soft acoustic pop with creative instrumentation and lyrics that express earnest desires and ambitions to take risks, keep commitments, and drive bikes into the city.

18. Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave
So what if he's been gone since 2003? These previously unreleased songs from the legend's final days are simple, moving covers about death and the afterlife.

17. Insomniac Folklore - LP
A delightful cacophony of acoustic guitars, accordions, honesty, satire, minor chords, and fascinatingly deep bass vocals.

16. My Epic - Yet
Moving progressive post-rock or whatever with lyrical themes about keeping the value of this world in perspective.

15. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
This pretty much set the new standard for epic indie folk rock. Check out that banjo!
Watch the music video for "The Cave"

14. Jars of Clay - The Shelter
Collaborative power anthems about worship and community. My "CCM" album of the year.
Listen to "Shelter"
My full review for The Shelter

13. Living Sacrifice - The Infinite Order
The pioneers of Christian metal release a new album. Need I say more?

12. Flobots - Survival Story
I don't quite share their political worldview (and they use a few words that I don't), but I strongly admire Flobots' passionate pursuit of justice and truth, and their longing to heal the world's brokenness. Challenging lyrical flow with real instruments: violin rap for the win!
Listen to "Airplane Mode"

11. House of Heroes - Suburba
It's not as clever or sweeping as the last one, but it's another collection of catchy tunes and soaring harmonies.
Listen to "Burn Me Down"

10. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
It's the indie album that everyone got crazy about this year, and it's full of jaded yet insightful reflections on the pace of modern society.
Listen to "Suburban War"

9. Showbread - Who Can Know It?
The Raw Rock Ballad is a new leaf even for Showbread, abandoning the screams (and the business model) of their Tooth & Nail past to give away slow but well-developed tunes about (what else?) failings, forgiveness, and freedom.
Watch the music video for "You're Like A Taxi"
My full review for Who Can Know It?

8. Underoath - Disambiguation
Spencer Chamberlain takes full lead of this powerful crew as they craft the thick atmosphere of another world you can envelope yourself in, painting the heavy themes of someone caught in darkness desperately searching for the light of freedom.
Watch the music video for "In Divison"

7. Lecrae - Rehab
Bringing Christian rap to new heights, Lecrae trades the big beats of Rebel for a larger variety of sounds and relaxing pop grooves, all with the trademark, uncompromising lyrical devotion.
Watch the music video for "Background"
My full review for Rehab

6. As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise
It may have been impossible to top their 2007 album that got me into metal, but this follow-up is no disappointment; it's not groundbreaking, just superbly executed. With Lambesis's lyrics, this is basically philosophy and theology set to metalcore. I'll take it.
Watch the music video for "Parallels"

5. The Chariot - Long Live
Hardcore isn't all screams and feedback. Throw in some horns, harps, beat poetry, and old radio station jingles, and what's not to like? But it's not all random accessorizing either; the churning, chaotic rhythms connect the guitars, drums, and vocals with impeccable precision, and it sounds better and better each time through.
Watch the music video for "David De La Hoz"
Or listen to "The Heavens" which feels like the trailer for an epic warrior movie

4. The Skies Revolt - Plastic Revolution
Wow, this was definitely my surprise album of the year. I thought this energetic party of shouts, synths, and cymbal crashes would only be enjoyable live, but each song has its own flavor and I kept listening to it all year long. Topped off with some quirky yet introspective lyrics, this might be the most unique wholesome fun you've ever had.
Listen to "False Glory And Praise"

3. Children 18:3 - Rain's A' Comin'
The three siblings' mind-blowing debut is still my #1 from '08, and while this one is less energetic and too short (only 9 full new songs), it's still got catchy jams that show these homeschooled punk kids maturing both musically and lyrically. Hop on now!
Listen to "Oh, Bravo" and try not to tear up on the bridge
My full review for Rain's A' Comin'

2. Flatfoot 56 - Black Thorn
Easily their strongest recording to date, these Chicago punk rockers manage to capture the energy of their crowded live shows while also throwing in some beautiful ballads to help us catch our breaths. As always, the bagpipe and mandolin give an extra kick to the uplifting experience.
Listen to "We Grow Stronger"
My full review for Black Thorn


1. Timbre - Little Flowers
Known primarily for being featured on everybody else's albums (see albums #4 and #5, EPs #4 and #5, and the last 2 mewithoutYou records), this Nashville harpist leaves the melancholy Winter of her last album for a lush, gorgeous spring. With a friendly array of vocals, bells, strings, and more, you don't want to miss this rejuvenating garden of patience, perspective, and joy.
Listen to the instrumental track "Fireflies"
My full review for Little Flowers
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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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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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September 2010 Monthly Music Guide #7
09/26/10 at 02:18 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Anberlin
Album: Dark Is The Way, Light Is A Place (September 7, 2010)
Style: Moody, anthemic rock

Anberlin is back with a vengeance, and from the opening guitar riffs you know they're knocking the socks off of anyone who thought New Surrender was boring. Overall the music is strong and dark with lots of driving guitar (think Cities) and even a smattering of piano, organ, and acoustic riffs. Stephen Christian's voice resonates clearly, but unfortunately it's mostly just resonating angst. New Surrender showed some attempts at broader songwriting, but pretty much every song here is an emotional pity-party begging her to stay or scowling at her for leaving - does the world really need another song with lyrics like "who needs enemies when we've got friends like you"? Ultimately, this is another solid album from Anberlin that is sure to satisfy old fans. But as much as I respect Christian and his craft - see this great interview - the lyrics here are too much for me to recommend.

Standout Lyric:Because of you, I'll never write another love song. /
Was I the greatest in your arsenal? /
Or just the latest in your art of war?
In Case It Interests You: The members of Anberlin are generally known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/anberlin

Artist: Lakes
Album: The Agreement (September 3, 2010)
Style: Soft acoustic pop with nice instrumentation

Lakes carries a Snow Patrol vibe that's maybe a little bouncier with an abundant use of keys and even some organ and a bit of accordion, not to mention the acoustic picking that I'm pretty sure is a banjo. If somebody put them in a movie soundtrack, "Oh Lovely" would go in the fireworks part of the relationship, while "The Feeling" would fit perfectly in the part where everything starts to break. Some of the slower anthems are both lush and rough, punctuated by the occasional minor chord that might be what Thrice would sound like if they wrote pop ballads ("Lifting Me Up" is like a 3/4 Jeremy Camp single with less gruff vocals). Sometimes the resonating drum pounding and vocalizing sound more like a Phil-Collins-African-jungle-ride (especially on "When We Were Younger"). Regardless, Lakes keeps things fresh and interesting from beginning to end, and they're a pleasant surprise waiting just for you.

Standout Lyric: We could go out / We could stay in /
We've got this beautiful day /
We could just sing / We could just dance /
We've got this beautiful day /
In Case It Interests You: As far as I know the members of Lakes are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: absolutepunk.net/lakes

Artist: The Ember Days
Album: Finger Painting EP (September 7, 2010)
Style: Worship disguised as a lush, ambient, soft pillow that is mostly instrumental

On this latest release these New Zealand worshippers sound like Explosions In The Sky infused with a bit of Jesus, complete with those constant, dripping, echoing guitar riffs and those soothing build-ups fueled by those rat-a-tat snare rhythms and lazy cymbal rolls. When they add in the lead girl's vocals, as on the loosely hymn-inspired "It Is Well," the atmospheric quality is reminiscent of Brooke Fraser singing with Hillsong United. While there's not much to distinguish the instrumental tracks from each other except that some build up farther than others, the closer "Simple Song" is a little more varied, packing some energy that includes a giant choir repeatedly singing "Hallelujah we praise You, Hallelujah." Since Ember Days is with the ministry-oriented Come&Live, giving away these five tracks for free, they probably just want you to use this to quietly worship or pray while relaxing (or falling asleep) in God's presence, and for that it is more than sufficient.

Standout Lyric: I am but a child in the hands of my Lord /
He carries me through rushing rivers, takes me home /
When I cannot see, will my faith sustain? /
I will find my strength in your love, oh, in your love /
In Case It Interests You: The members of The Ember Days are known as Christians.
DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE EP: comeandlive.com

Artist: For Today
Album: Breaker (August 31, 2010)
Style: Charismatic metal

For Today excels at the standards of metal music, what with the carefully arrayed breakdowns and chugs and growls. What's much less standard is their affinity with charismatic Christianity, as they use the intensity of the music to channel their messages of breakthrough and healing and that kind of power stuff. In fact, at times they almost sound like a metal version of Kirk Franklin, what with the gang vocal choir shouting refrains ("Finally I surrender") mixed in with the lead guy's embellishing phrases ("All to you, I give it all to you!"). Not for the faint of heart - unless it's a faint heart in search of strength - For Today seeks to deliver spiritual freedom along with some physical sweat.

Standout Lyric: To the ones with broken dreams /
And to the lost and hopeless… /
Come meet your King! /
God I declare over my generation: restoration!
In Case It Interests You: The members of For Today are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/fortoday

Artist: Insomniac Folklore
Album: LP (2010)
Style: Likable indie folk with subtle punk roots and clever songwriting

Self-described as "tantrum folk," these musicians from Portland create a delightful cacophony of acoustic guitars and accordions, sounding sort of like a local version of mewithoutYou playing in your basement. As this indie folk party effortlessly dances through songs that are seriously satirical, songs that are outrageously silly, and songs that may be doing both things at once (see "Kill A Baby, Save A Tree"), you almost wonder if someone like Reese Roper is involved. But this is mostly the brainchild of Tyler Hentschel, whose fascinatingly deep bass vocals wander the somber minor chords with a resonating reverence. Ultimately, though, this is just a group of friends who want to drive to your town, see some good shows, and jump around.

Standout Lyric: We play our anthems on beat up guitars
We sing songs and worship under the stars /
Singing, Thank you Lord / It's been a good life
It's been pretty good / It's been pretty good
Standout Lyric II: We all need something to worship /
Hey look, what's on TV?
In Case It Interests You: The members of Insomniac Folklore are known as Christians.
LISTEN TO SOME SONGS: myspace.com/insomniacfolklore
Tags: Anberlin, Lakes, The Ember Days, For Today, Insomniac Folklore
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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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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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June 2010 Monthly Music Guide #4
06/27/10 at 08:57 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Josh Ritter
Album: So Runs the World Away (April 23, 2010)
Style: Songwriter guy?

Yes, here's that genre I've found rather irresistible these days… somewhere between folk and indie and rock, it's that quiet guitar picking that slowly layers instruments as it carefully builds a soothing sonic groove that bobs your head as it calms your soul… as long as it's tied together with a memorable melody and lasting lyrics, it's guaranteed gold. And with many fans hailing Mr. Ritter as one of the greatest songwriters of the decade, what else should I expect but lyrical storytelling that spans massive maritime travels and small town communities alike (and… a mummy/archaelologist love story…?). The album could do with a little more of the eulogic and hymn-like (despite its name) "Folk Bloodbath" and a little less of the angry ranting "Rattling Locks," but for the most part it's an engaging excursion that's sure to satisfy with smiles, borrowing spiritual language at times but mostly telling stories of simple folk seeking their ways in a weary world.

Standout Lyric: I am assured yes I am assured yes /
I am assured that peace will come to me /
A peace that can yes surpass the speed yes /
Of my understanding and my need
Standout Lyric II:Where the thistles eat the thorns, and the roses have no chance /
and it ain't no wonder that the babies come out crying in advance… /
I'll need light from my lantern, light from my lantern tonight /
Be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: joshritter.com

Artist: The Skies Revolt
Album: Plastic Revolution (June 2010)
Style: Dance-core with gang vocals

A few minutes into this rowdy album you get the impression that it's more fitting for a live show (good thing the band signed up for no less than six slots at Cornerstone next week), but after acquiring a taste, the disc is enjoyable on its own. For the most part, this is a straight-forward but unique two-layer cake: synthesized keys and banging drums on the bottom, and group vocals on the top. This dancing and yelling probably isn't for everyone - something like the flavor of Jonezetta meets the mischievousness of Five Iron Frenzy meets the raucousness of The Chariot - but it offers some fun if you give it a chance. The lyrics reach interesting depths, and even when they veer cryptically you feel like there's opaque meaning lurking somewhere in the tangential current.

Standout Lyric: My lips are sore from the healing process. /
I'm not considered a whore because I ask forgiveness… /
Take my soul and perforate it like paper /
for quicker detachment later
In Case It Interests You: Based on their lyrics and associates I would assume the members of The Skies Revolt are known as Christians, but I don't personally know what they profess.
FREELY DOWNLOAD THE WHOLE ALBUM: theskiesrevolt.bandcamp.com

Artist: The Gaslight Anthem
Album: American Slang (June 15, 2010)
Style: "rock and roll"?

Wielding somewhat punkier Snow Patrol grooves with the vocal drawl of the guy from the Killers, these guys serve up worthy rhythms and nostalgic lyrics about old records and the radio, although I haven't listened to it enough for any of it to really stand out or be memorable.

Standout Lyric: And don't sing me your songs about the good times /
Those days are gone and you should just let them go
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/thegaslightanthem

Artist: MyChildren MyBride
Album: Lost Boy (June 8, 2010)
Style: That genre of spunky metal kids I like to call metalscenecore

Trendy metal heavy on the gang vocals and cymbal crashes but hardly any guitar solos, screaming that's energetic but unfocused and occasionally sounds like vomiting, buffering the generally Christian themes with clichéd chants like "What goes around comes around" or "No pain, no gain." It all comes off as rather gimmicky to me, and maybe it's just because my little brother is more into this kind of stuff than I am but I always feel like they're geared toward a slightly younger demographic than mine. My least favorite part about these types of bands is that when they finally get to a differentiated track that sounds like the beginning of a sweet groove, it ends up being the one-minute instrumental filler that stops before it goes anywhere. If you like Burden Of A Day To Remember or any of those other type bands you'll probably dig this, but it's just not my brand of metal.

Standout Lyric: Look me in the hollow eyes and hear me say: /
"When you think your only release is a lonely exit, I’ll be there to tell you that there’s another way... "
In Case It Interests You: The members of MyChildren MyBride are known as Christians and they are with Tooth & Nail.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/mychildrenmybride

Artist: Blitzen Trapper
Album: Destroyer of the Void (June 8, 2010)
Style: Some kind of retro rock

Folk rock? Classic rock? Something from my dad's record collection? It's acoustic guitar picking here, Queen-ish piano chords there, with harmonies and harmonicas, littered with lyrics of women, railroad tracks, and the summer rain. Hmm.

Standout Lyric: For there ain’t no road but the road to home /
And there ain’t no crops but the ones you’ve sown /
And if you learn one thing from me /
You better guide your tongue like your enemy
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/blitzentrapper
Tags: josh ritter, skies revolt, gaslight anthem, mychildren mybride, blitzen trapper
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May 2010 Monthly Music Guide #3
05/29/10 at 09:41 AM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Fair
Album: Disappearing World (February 9, 2010)
Style: Peppy clean rock.

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
Tags: timbre, as i lay dying, deas vail, band of horses, fair, o'brother
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April 2010 Monthly Music Guide #2
05/01/10 at 07:54 AM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

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

Artist: Matisyahu
Album: LIGHT (August 25, 2009)
Style: A Hasidic Jewish reggae rapper… enough said.
Less pure reggae than his previous album, Youth, Matisyahu stirs up a potent mix of indulgent pop hooks, hip-hop beats, beatboxing, and alt-rock guitar solos, tying it all together with his (uplifting) lyrical flow. Part Shakira, part Mat Kearney, part Bob Marley - this practicing Jew takes the prized elements of today's pop and hip-hop and strips them of their insolent identities while infusing them with an intelligent and irresistible iridescence that reflects on selflessness, peace, and mortality.
Standout Lyric: Like fire and water be strong with compassion / In the morning we're born everlasting / ...Will you rise like a lion in the morning sun? / Or will you just lay there bleeding?
Standout Lyric II: Evacuate the premises / You're your own nemesis / The premise is / We're born in blood and leave the world penniless
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/matisyahu

Artist: Imogen Heap
Album: Ellipse (August 25, 2009)
Style: Intricate pop

Imogen Heap starts with her voice, looping it with self-harmonizing vocals and surrounding it with strings and bells and other careful layerings that bounce around like a symphonic score set to the story of the lyrics. The lyrics explore hope and fatalism and everything in between, occasionally buffered by a "da-dum, dah, day-o" but always lightly and delicately moving forward, like the swift feet of someone running through open fields.
Standout Lyric: Everybody says that time heals everything / But of the wretched hollow / The endless in between? / Are we just going to wait it out?
Standout Lyric II: Baby behave we'll make it work, Baby behave we'll make it work, Baby behave we'll make it work…. You're only what you give back, You're only what you give back, You're only what you give back…
In Case It Bothers You: There is one curse word in "Bad Body Double," and a couple songs with lines that could be interpreted lustfully
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/imogenheap

Artist: Sent By Ravens
Album: Our Graceful Words (April 20, 2010)
Style: Tooth & Nail rock

The latest artist to pop out of Tooth & Nail sounds a lot like Emery, or maybe Classic Crime, or maybe Kutless, or maybe…. Daughtry? If all of Tooth & Nail were compressed into a single band, this is what it might sound like. Cue the power chords and guitar licks, cue the vocal style, cue the occasional scream. I sound critical, but I confess that I like it more now than when I first listened to it. It does what it does well, the crisp modern production is present and the lyrics are strong.
Standout Lyric: This house is starting to feel like my home / So lets make it beautiful, lets make it beautiful
In Case It Interests You: The musicians in Sent By Ravens are known as Christians and are on the Tooth & Nail label
STREAM SOME TRACKS: myspace.com/sentbyravens

Artist: Bleach
Album: Astronomy (March 1, 2003)
Style: Old-school "Christian" rock, with less head-banging and moshing and more smiling and foot-tapping

In light of their reappearance for Cornerstone 2010, I'm trying to rediscover a band I mostly passed on in my younger days. Take a trip back before the days of complicated, layered production or before the heavy, driving head-banging rock took over and it was just a few guys writing simple lyrics to simple melodies who didn't care if their harmonies were occasionally wobbly.
Standout Lyric: Don't get jaded now / The sun will rise / Don't get jaded now / We are alive
In Case It Interests You: The musicians in Bleach are known as Christians and were on the Tooth & Nail label

Artist: Aqualung
Album: Magnetic North (April 20, 2010)
Style: Pleasant Piano pop.

I've always had a soft spot for piano bands, and this one's got a slight jazz feel that makes you feel like you're walking around downtown while the sun's out and everything is beautiful. There are sadder ballads, too (think Augustana), and at the very least they don't deserve to be any less popular than The Fray or Keane or any of the other Coldplay chasers. If you want a pleasant pop piano summer album, it's right here.
Standout Lyric: Say hello to my new friend / From my head to my toes / He is filling me up with all the things he knows / Can you hear him singing along?
In Case It Bothers You: I could not find any written lyrics online yet for this album, so I can't verify the lyrical content, but I did not notice anything specific
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/aqualung

Artist: MONO
Album: Hymn To The Immortal Wind (March 24, 2009)
Style: That long instrumental build-up thing apparently known as post-rock.

These dudes from Japan construct lush ten-minute-long instrumental wonders that are a little less sleepy than Explosions In The Sky but maybe not that interesting depending on how much you're paying attention. The free stream linked below has some live clapping at the end of the tracks which kind of detracts from the background music / soundtrack / immersion feel of the music, but I can't tell if the actual album is like that, and they have other albums as well.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: absoluntepunk.net link
Tags: matisyahu, imogen heap, sent by ravens, bleach, aqualung, mono
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March 2010 Monthly Music Guide
03/26/10 at 10:04 PM by thepianominstre
(Originally posted on thegracenotes.net)

Artist: Flobots
Album: Survival Story (March 16, 2010)
Style: Genuine lyrical flow backed by genuine instruments

The follow-up to Fight With Tools is just as strong. Flobots brings the kind of non-computerized and non-derogatory rap that I can get into, with genuine instruments (including a viola!) providing the backdrop for fast-flowing intelligent lyrics. As a conservative I don't agree with their whole worldview, but I love their attitude within it, their passion for justice and hope for improvement. The album's themes also include the power of unity, looking back on hardships as blessings in disguise, and the importance of personal responsibility - even if I believe they put too much hope in man's ability to do good on his own.
Standout Lyric: Who’s this coulda-been-Rhodes’-Scholar-centerfold / Everyday's a resource to be sure….
But I feel guilty like the flight went down /
And my cell phone wasn't on airplane mode
Standout Lyric II: Appetite has grown fools / Empire has sown rules
Let’s throw out craving and things with no use
People dropping jewels / Gems cant shine like our light
To air is human / So the sky is our birthright
In Case It Bothers You: About half a dozen curse words are sprinkled throughout the album
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/flobots

Artist: Poema
Album: Sing It Now (EP) (March 23, 2010)
Style: Teenage girls on guitar and piano; a less commercialized Taylor Swift

These 17- and 19-year-old sisters are an oddity on Tooth & Nail's electric-guitar-dominated lineup, but it's hard not to be charmed by their earnestness. Unfortunately their boy-crazy fairy tales have a limited demographic, and I'm afraid of them coming off as a Christian-lite version of Taylor Swift. But I liked their songs before I got tired of them, and I'll be keeping an eye on them as they grow into their full potential.
Standout Lyric: You were on my mind all day, the next day, and the next...
I think it's safe to say now that I love you
Remember everyday I'm thinking of you
In Case It Interests You: The Puckett sisters are known as Christians and are on the Tooth & Nail label
STREAM SONGS: myspace.com/poemaofficial

Artist: Flatfoot 56
Album: Black Thorn (March 30, 2010)
Style: Celtic punk rock with bagpipes, mandolins, and a dose of Christian joy

I still say the recorded discs can't capture the euphoric atmosphere of a Flatfoot live show, but they keep getting closer. Their newest album is a lot of fun and it comes in clearer than ever. The drums pound, the guitars chug, the mandolin twangs, and the bagpipe shrieks in this impossible-not-to-smile-as-you-move-in-rhythm punk-fest. They're even kind enough to throw in a couple beautiful stripped-down acoustic numbers to give us a chance to catch our breaths.
Standout Lyric: House of straw! House of sticks! Can't shake this house of bricks! House of straw! House of sticks! Can't shake this house of bricks!
Standout Lyric II: Woah-oh! It's through our weakness we grow stronger! Woah-oh! It's through our weakness we grow stronger!
In Case It Interests You: The Flatfoot guys are known as Christians and love to encourage their fans to spread God's love and build each other up instead of trying to go it alone.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: absolutepunk.net/flatfoot56

Artist: She & Him
Album: Volume Two (March 23, 2010)
Style: Indie duo in the vein of folky classic-soft-rock country or somethin'

Even the grammatical structure of the group's title is sort of endearing and self-consciously quirky, and their simple sounds (especially her soft vocals and his picking electric guitar) hearken back to under-appreciated genres of half a century ago. There's enough reverb or whatever on the tracks to fill the room and make me claustrophobic, but otherwise it's refreshingly pleasant. The lyrics tell stories and her voice begs to carry you away.
Standout Lyric: Remember last summer when we had the chance / 
To find each other, start making romance /
But it didn't come off because you found another / 
Without one hand of a clock, what good is the other?
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/sheandhim
Or just watch a music video: "In The Sun"

Artist: Demon Hunter
Album: The World Is A Thorn (March 9, 2010)
Style: Accessible metalcore with engaging melodies and even some synth

Demon Hunter's fifth studio album fits safely within the confines of hard-hitting yet still accessible metalcore. It completely submerges in solid metal elements while continually coming up for air with engaging melodies that for some reason remind me of Kutless or those popular alt-rock singles of the early 2000's (but without those tired four chords). It gives that kind of music a fresh feel, but as far as metal goes it doesn't really add much to my existing collection. For alt-rock accessibility, skip to "Driving Nails." For a metal submersion, skip to "The World Is A Thorn."
Standout Lyric: This is what you try to sell me. / Subjective nothingness. / Pull your sickness from my throat. / Let me breathe the truth. / Let me breathe the truth.
In Case It Interests You: The musicians in Demon Hunter are known as Christians and are on the Tooth & Nail label
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/demonhunter
Or just watch a music video: "Collapsing"

Artist: Portugal. The Man.
Album: American Ghetto (March 2, 2010)
Style: Fun indie-synth-pop bordering on intentional nonsense that's easily forgotten

These prolific musicians have released an album every year since 2006. There's nothing that I particularly dislike about this one; I just have a hard time remembering any of it after I've listened to it. The band's art, lyrics, synths, and vocals create a vaguely pleasant vibe, like a foggy memory of childhood or a silly dream. But the nonsense is tauntingly deliberate, hinting that there might be a deeper purpose.
Standout Lyric: "deeper in and deeper still / the belly was the bank / the lion holds the mouth we feed / still died at forty-five"
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/portugaltheman
Tags: flobots, poema, flatfoot 56, demon hunter, she & him, portugal. the man
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My Releases Of The Decade: Number 1
01/04/10 at 09:08 AM 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
2. Define the Great Line)

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.
Tags: deas vail, all the houses look the same
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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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