Archives For Music Reviews

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from John Calvin in his commentary on Exodus:

calvin-quote

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top November additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Song of Deliverance’, Zac Williams

Zac Williams is more country-rock than cliché CCM. That’s why ‘Song of Deliverance’ stands out. I haven’t had the chance to listen closer to Zac’s other work, but if that reflects the huge effort found here, then it’s worth a closer look. The lyrical content alone, pushes this song above and beyond any mainstream contemporary country. I’m fond of the ‘Chain Breaker’ theme, the slide guitar and the careful placement of the harmonica.

“Get behind me satan; no more fear and no more shame; My debts been paid I am no longer your slave” – Amen..

2. ‘Great Night’, Need To Breathe

As I strongly implied in October’s A-list, outside Lacey Sturm and Toby Mac, Need to Breathe take the standard for Christians in the music industry higher. I’m still listening to ‘Hard Love’ and consider tracks 2,3,7,9,10,11,12. on the album to be some of the best work I’ve heard from a band born in the wilds of the Christian Contemporary Music scene. ‘Great Night’ is a fun song. It has a great riff, has a beat that would pass off as electronic; rides a solid melody and sits on the back of guitar work (that in my biased opinion) makes listening to this like watching a fireworks spectacular. There’s not much more to it than that.

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3.’Lazarus’, Bellarive

Bellarive were a surprise find. There’s something unique in the mix and it’s the uniqueness that gives me reason to add it to the November A-List. I’ve listened to some of their other work, but consider ‘Lazarus’ to be their best. In all fairness, I haven’t had the time to give them the full attention they deserve. The list of qualities in ‘Lazarus’ hinge on its dynamics. Starting with the piano, rising with the lyrics and finishing with the full rock compliment, the song is carried to it’s quiet conclusion with precision. I’m a fan of the video work. What really wins me, though, is the depth of theology at work in the simplicity of the song. I hear myself praying the words and only wish I had room to link all of them.

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“So, take a breath and break the night
Stranger to the Light
Wind of God, dig up the graves
And breathe into the slain”

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4. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’, Sin Shake Sin

Sin Shake Sin drive thoughtfulness. The whole album exploits this artistic edge with pointed lyrics matched by a catchy melody. They aren’t from the CCM scene and I doubt that they’d share the same perspective as many who are. Sin Shake Sin is a band that I’d expect to hear playing as a musical bed for TV shows like Chuck or Suits. There’s a crisp coolness to the blunt challenge in each song that, lyrically anyway, reminds me of Guns n’ Roses. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’ showcases what this band is about and what this band is capable of.

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5. ‘Heroes’, Zayde WØlf

Surprisingly, some of the best music of recent years comes from the video game and TV/movie soundtrack scene. Assassins Creed, Halo and Skyrim stand out as quintessential examples of this. ‘Ezio’s Theme’ or ‘Past to Present‘ have engraved a standard that is tough to beat. ‘Heroes’ meets this. The song has a strong presence. Like Lazarus, the real strength of ‘Heroes’ is in its dynamics. From quiet to loud; verse to chorus each line is complimented with inspiring lyrics that follow a clear theme. In addition, the cinematic soundtrack feel that echoes a Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky-esk orchestra and electronic baritone minor adds some real weight.

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Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Calvin. J Commentary on Exodus

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or post these songs.

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from Ludwig Von Mises:

‘a [creative] genius is precisely a man or a woman who defies all schools and rules, who deviates from the traditional roads of routine and opens up new paths through land inaccessible before.’ [ii]

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top October additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Hard Love’, Need to Breathe

Need to Breathe hadn’t really caught me ear beyond a song or two. Hard Love did. The song, also the album’s namesake, overtakes most tunes in the CCM market at the moment. Toby Mac’s album, ‘This is Not a Test’ still holds first place and if that’s the new standard by which artists within the Christian contemporary music arena are measured, then Need To Breathe nail it.

2. ‘Rot’, Lacey Sturm

Lacey and her husband, Josh, team up on an album that makes my top five albums of 2016. Lacey has the ability to communicate God’s message of grace through an art filled with scars, mostly visible only to those who wear the same, or similar. What’s important about this is that the past doesn’t dominate. Jesus is Victor and that’s exactly what is pierced into each well-considered lyric. For those who just hear and rock to the music, the guitar work is mostly rhythmic, the bass line strong and the drums consistent. What I like about ‘Rot’ (and the album in general) is that Josh’s guitar work is on par with Lacey’s vocals. The former compliments the latter.

(Related post: Review: ‘The Reason’, Lacey Sturm)

3. ‘Die Tezte Fahrt (The Last Ride)’, Santiano

I’ve listened to some European folk bands before, but among them German band, Santiano rules all. My German is rudimentary and needs improving. What better way to do that than with one of the coolest songs of the genre. The Last Ride reminds me of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s weighty, reflective and melodic. The violin solo, baritone harmonies and solid chorus make this song. Of special note is the chorus and it’s final two sentences:

“Die letzte Fahrt Du bleibst uns Freund und Kamerad”
(The last ride. You will stay with us friend and comrade)

4. ‘Phoenix’ – Unikron Remix, We Are Leo

We Are Leo seem to have a better run with remixes than they do with their conventional songs. Two things make this song and the band itself appealing. First, the lyrics, melody and depth of imagery. Second, is the fact that the band isn’t afraid to expand on what they’ve already created. The remix of Phoenix is reminiscent of the synth keys used by Styx and Rush. The song itself lends to the early Christian use of the Phoenix as a symbol of the resurrection and future hope that the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings.

5. ‘The River’,  Jordan Feliz

For a Gospel song, or Gospel music in general, it’s difficult to break free from the standard Christian Radio friendly status quo that streams out from CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). Worship music is blurred together in sound and repetitive lyrics are wrapped in bad theology with a beat. Jordan Feliz clears that Charybdis. Following in the footsteps of Crowder, vocally, Feliz stands out. The style could easily find an ear on mainstream secular radio as it would in a church. In that light, Feliz stands among the many who cross borders with their art. I like everything about this song.

6. ‘Karate’,  Baby Metal

Rock/metal opera is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream airplay, if any. It’s likely that you haven’t heard of Baby Metal, outside social media. That the band comes from Japan makes their art and music all the more intriguing, it also adds a great deal to their appeal. The music is outstanding, highly professional, and not overly produced. One of the stands outs are the vocals. Lyrically, the theme of ‘Karate’ is played out in the video, and has my vote. This said, as for the rest of the album, I’m still trying to figure it out.

7. ‘Higher’,  Unspoken

This isn’t in my usual taste, as far a musical style goes, but I like the rhythm. Musically, the bass is alive. The harmonies are okay, and the keys light everything else up. Lyrically it’s full of hope and points to a far greater source of hope than anything we as humans can conjure up or invent. I’m a fan of lyrics that speak of this as a lived reality.

8. ‘Bizzare’, Michael Sweet

Quite simply, the vocals, lyrics, tempo, and bass-line are spectacular. All those good things, though, pale in comparison to the precision of the lead guitar. Along side some of Oz Fox’s recent work on the newer Stryper albums, Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, gives one of the best melodic lead parts for guitar I’ve heard in recent years. All we need now is a Slash and Sweet collaboration.


Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Mises, L. 1945, Bureaucracy Stellar Books, 2014

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or present these songs.

New Music: I Am They

January 11, 2016 — 1 Comment

I Am TheyPutting together a compilation of songs for a homeschool field trip is always a good reason to look for new music. This also gives me time to introduce the kids to older tunes and tune into what they’ve taken an interest in.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that music appreciation finds no small place in the heart of our home schooling. 

For example, during our morning’s devotional time I introduced them to the theatrics of AC/DC. There is no better song to illustrate the late-modernist attitude towards God, grace, His Word and human life, than “Aka Daka’s” simple mockery of that attitude in ‘Highway to Hell.’ The discernment sharpened on this anvil is priceless. (For the record, the song was not included in our road trip playlist. We did, however, make note of an advertisement about their Australian tour at the time.)

Which brings me to: ‘I Am They‘. I came across this band in October of last year. Since then, their song ‘From The Day‘ has been played repeatedly.

The album is also strong. It follows a consistent format that keeps to a particular sound. Their brilliant use of harmony stands them out from The Rend Collective and Mumford and Sons. Although they fall into that zone, within the hipster/folk rock category (if hipster-folk is even a genre?), I Am They are their own. If the band can resist solely residing in the safe harbour of the CCM industry and steer clear of being boxed into a “worship music only” label, I Am They will go far.


 

Official site: I Am They

OzMikeThe latter part of 2015 is shaping up  to make it a big year for new music. October 16th, saw Stryper release their new album, ‘Fallen.’

Alongside Guardian, listening to any new content of theirs is like sitting down in earnest to hear new stories from old friends.

Both bands top the list of hard-rock musicians who aren’t concerned about the potential negative impacts that sharing their Christian faith and thought, through their music, might have on their popularity. While numbers are important to the business, these guys rock for the love of it, they also just happen to infuse their art with the Christian faith and thought that empowers it.

Stryper hold a special place in my twenty-year old, CD & Vinyl music collection. In the late 1990’s, just trying to get a Stryper CD, let alone an LP, was difficult because they were rare and expensive. Due perhaps to Stryper’s decade long hiatus.

The band has it’s flaws and they know it. These only serve to show that Stryper is no studio produced C.C.M,  American evangelical “boy-band.” They are in the wilderness, doing what they can with the grace afforded to them. What every new Stryper album in the past decade has proven time and time again is that Robert, Michael, Oz, and Tim  know how to communicate their talent with humility.

The guitars and vocals are edgier, but it would be a mistake to consider this Stryper v.2.0. Dropping some of the hyper-staged theatrics from the 80’s glam-rock era, as a brand Stryper has matured, not aged.  Though, the yellow and black “spandex” is gone, the yellow and black guitars are not.  Risky move, but the decision appears to have paid off. Their fan base is still loyal and long. Showing that the band has earnt the respect that serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously, deserve.

In this new album, Stryper lift the bar on most of their previous albums,  ‘To Hell With The Devil’ is even outshone by the lyrical depth and harmonies of ‘Yahweh’. Highlights include ‘Big Screen Lies’, ‘Yahweh’, ‘Let There Be Light’, and the brilliant riff that coincides with Sweet’s vocals on, ‘Pride‘.

Like their success and the flawed journey through it, Stryper still stand as examples of how Christians can be ‘in the world, but not of it.’ They walk the fine line between fitting in and standing out. As Christians they remain ambassadors for contextual mission to the younger generation; a balanced movement that reaches out in a real way, with the zeal of a sinner-saved-by-grace, over-against the self-righteous and self-important fanaticism of the Pharisee.

In the end, what ‘Fallen’ does as an album is prove that Stryper can still rock.


Source:

Image: featuring guitarists and lead vocalist Oz Fox & Michael Sweet

Official: Stryper.com

Stryper, 2015 ‘Yahweh’ from the album, ‘Fallen’

P.O.D released ‘Satellite’ in September of 2001. In my opinion, the album is their most definitive work and one the band hasn’t quite yet equalled or outdone.

Much the same as D.C Talk, excluding the style and label ‘Christian Band’, P.O.D, aren’t just innovative Christian musicians, they beat out a theme song to a grass-roots, organic, Christian revolution.

Fourteen years later, with standout albums and songs in between, such as the 2006, 2012 release, ‘Testify’ and ‘Murdered Love’, and songs like, ‘Sleeping Awake’ and ‘Will You,’ Daniels, Bernardo, Curiel and Sandoval, are set to release one more.

P.O.D

With the pre-release track, ‘This Goes Out To You’ sounding so promising, it seems that P.O.D are returning to the stronger lyrical content, passionate riffs, and tight melodic flow that made ‘Satellite’ what it is.

‘The Awakening’ is set for release in August this year.

Header African Childrens Chior

If you’ve never had the chance to see the African Children’s Choir perform, the next time that they’re in town, chase down the venue.

Not only will you be supporting the children, you’ll also be supporting a Christian charity. A charity that is seeing solid outcomes in the work it is doing among young children from Uganda up to South Sudan.

The African Children’s Choir began in 1984 and it’s been going ever since. By providing education, the ACC seeks to deliver as much opportunity as possible for those unable to provide for themselves.

As we heard from those men and women who have been empowered by it, ACC is a testimony to the warmth of God’s smile and the grasp of His loving and just, grace. Over against tragedy, loss and oppression.

They are a much-needed, humbling reminder to the West, about the power of prayer, God’s emancipating “Yes”, the importance of faith and the significance of gratitude.

The event was held in an upmarket theatre which included testimonies, worship, dance and song.

We weren’t completely sure what to expect, yet, we felt welcomed and left ultimately hopeful for Africa, and our own land. Which is a far cry from the way we’re left feeling when we hear narratives based on popular beliefs about Africa, or when we are sold politicised images that masks the hope behind its Peoples potential.

Overall,  the most striking thing about the African Children’s Choir and their chaperones, was their authenticity, and joy. Clearly expressed, even after sharing stories which illustrated so much sorrow.

As the children told us about their dreams to build on what little, if anything, was left to them, we were amazed by their joy. Warmed by their smiles, and strengthened by their courage.We walked away with a feeling of hope.

This was more than just entertainment. It was intimate and dignified; Holy ground. Where between the Holiness of God and the brokenness of humanity, we were led to an encounter with the totality of His joy in Jesus Christ, through smile, song and drum.

Because it was an event we had planned for home school, as part of a follow-up to it, I asked our home schoolers for a review.

They responded and together we concluded the following:

“Energetic…couldn’t get enough”
– T.

ACC_Drums 28th May 2015 Port Macquarie

“Visually stunning!”
– C.

ACC_25th May 2015 Port Macq 2

“An exciting performance”
– J

African Childrens Choir_May 27th 2015 Port Macq

“Happy time for all…!”
– D

ACC3 27th May 2015 Port Macq

 “Boogie fever…Ugandan style!”
– A

IMG_2895

 

ACC4 27th May 2015 Port Macq

 


* For the evening photographs were permitted, film wasn’t. 

The past week witnessed the debut of ‘Neon Steeple’. David Crowder’s first solo release.

In a post to his official Facebook page yesterday, Crowder explained the albums origins stating that:

‘Neon Steeple is a collection of songs and sounds looking forward to the past and counting the present as sacred. It is a search for home. It is a collection of choruses that believe this is not all there is. It is displacement and tension and the forward lean anticipating the resolution.’
(Source: CrowderMusicOfficial)

The melody, rhythm, Neon Steepletone, lyrical content and structure are all representative of Crowder’s signature vocals, theological insight and song writing abilities. All are present, even when placed outside the genius of his old band (now known as ‘The Digital Age’).

‘Neon Steeple’ delivers a pleasant, yet strange familiarity. This is not a country gospel album, yet songs like ‘Jesus is calling’, ‘This I know’ and ‘My Sweet Lord’ along with the consistent coupling of banjo and beat indicate that this album has country roots.

Highlights include ‘My Beloved’, ‘Come Alive’ and the classy bluegrass driven ‘Lift your head weary sinner (chains)‘. With track 7, ‘Hands of Love’,  Crowder sneaks in a clever fusion between the much older American Spiritual ”He’s got the whole world in his hands” with an electronic riff. Making a clear departure and return, away from and back towards the musical styles that form the backbone of this album.

Musically, ‘Neon Steeple’ is where ambition meets ability. From a ministry perspective it thunders forth, marching to a beat Crowder hears and communicates well. This is an album of melodic proclamation. It looks forward with anticipation and recollection. Calling to memory God’s fulfilment of His promise. One we come to hear, see and own in the texts which testify about Old Testament Israel and Jesus Christ.

In Crowder’s words:

‘Neon Steeple is both a critique and a hope. A narrative of  innocence lost, of displacement, of misplaced affections and misplaced people. It is the search for belonging and home and forgiveness and reconciliation, the tension of death and life leaning toward resolution, the promised land of what it means to come to life. The story is not about making bad people good, it is about making dead people alive. This is Promised Land. This is Redemption. This is Reorientation. This is Resolution.’
(Source: CrowderMusicOfficial)

As disappointing as it was to hear that the David Crowder*Band were closing a chapter on their collaboration, there are no audible creative strains that might suggest Crowder, or the Digital Age for that matter, are worse off for having parted ways.

Both have now proven without a doubt that they are the musical and liturgical heavy weights, most of their admirers know them to be.

 

{No payment of any kind was exchanged for this review}