It's Christmastime again! Yes, Thanksgiving is over, so for those of you who wait until the turkey is fully digested to even think about jingling bells, the time is here.
If you're like us--and especially, me--you've already dusted off some Christmas records or plopped a batch of Christmas favorites onto your mp3 device to start getting into the holiday season again. And each year, there's new Christmas music that tosses their proverbial hats into the ring in hopes to join your annual rotation of holiday favorites.
But what albums do you return to each year?
SOME STAFF FAVORITES
A couple of the JFH staff rounded up a list together of standout albums that we turn to each Christmas season from artists in the Christian music realm. Here are just a few of them:
Of course, many artists just do a song or two, and for me, ones that come to mind are Switchfoot's "Evergreen" and "Old Borego," Audio Adrenaline's "Little Drummer Boy," Supertones' "Joy To The World," Five Iron Frenzy's "You Gotta Get Up," NEEDTOBREATHE's "Go Tell It On The Mountain," PFR's "Wonderful Christmastime," Charmaine's "Angels We Have Heard On High," Seven Day Jesus' "O Holy Night, Joy Williams' (before The Civil Wars) "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Plumb's "It's Christmastime," and TobyMac's "Christmas This Year (feat. Leigh Nash)," among others.
NEW IN 2013
If you're looking for NEW music that's released this year in 2013, several projects have been released including (but not limited to):
Singles: Group 1 Crew ("Holly Jolly Christmas") [iTunes], Britt Nicole ("O Come All Ye Faithful") [iTunes], and Love & The Outcome ("Emmanuel") [iTunes].
Full-length Albums: Brandon Heath (Christmas Is Here), Dave Barnes (A December To Remember), Sidewalk Prophets (Merry Christmas To You), and Paul Baloche (Christmas Worship), John Schlitt (The Christmas Project), among others.
EPs: Citizens, (Repeat The Sounding Joy), Meredith Andrews (Behold The Savior), for King and Country (Into The Silent Night), Future of Forestry (Advent Christmas, Vol. 3), and The Rocket Summer (Christmas Madness).
So there's really quite a bit to choose from -- what are YOU spinning this holiday season?
Favorite Band/Artist: Switchfoot Featured Fan:Drew North Location: St. Louis, MO When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken: 9/20/13: First night of the Fading West tour at Missouri Baptist! What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: Switchfoot go against the grain as far as spiritual music is concerned. While they do get typecast as a Christian band, I love the quote Jon said about who the band really is: "For us, it's a faith, not a genre. We've always been very open and honest about where the songs are coming from. For us, these songs are for everyone. Calling us `Christian rock' tends to be a box that closes some people out and excludes them. And that's not what we're trying to do. Music has always opened my mind -- and that's what we want." Every single album they have changed it up and gotten more progressive in terms of music and lyrics. Jon and Tim Foreman have some incredible ways to get points out that no one has even dreamed of doing before. From the Legend of Chin up to Fading West coming out in January, this band is one of my all time favorites and still continue to overwhelm and inspire me and after seeing Fading West the movie, I have found a new love and respect for the guys (especially after meeting them). They truly are the real deal. Favorite Album by This Artist: I do like all of them, but all time i'd either go with The Beautiful Letdown or Vice Verses (so far)
Favorite Song by This Artist: "Where I Belong"
Favorite Live Show Experience: First night of the Fading West tour, we were the first crowd of people to see the documentary and witness how the band was going to approach the tour in terms of it being something new for them which turned out to be a neat and unforgettable experience.
Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 2
Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Fading West VIP laminate and exclusive poster signed by the band.
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Let's face it; music just isn't the same as it was 20, 30, even just 10 years ago. Thanks to the digital age (err... mp3s and such, not the band), not only can we carry our music collection around in our pockets (which previously would have not only looked ridiculous -- be it CDs, vinyl, tapes, 8-tracks, etc -- but it's actually physically impossible), but we can easily go to any digital retailer (like iTunes or AmazonMP3) and literally shop for songs like you would hunt-and-peck for eats at a buffet.
"I'll take a song or two from Skillet, maybe a single from RED, how about most of the songs off this Lecrae record, and this new Switchfoot single."
To do that before, you... would have had to buy each album entirely.
I remember buying a CD--which shall remain anonymous--years ago because of a music video I saw for a song off that album. It was a weird video but the song was quite catchy. The rest of the album though? Nothing like that single! The rest of the album was quite bizarre and eccentric (kind of like the music video itself was, but not the song in the video). In today's music world, I could have just purchased that song alone and thus saved myself money to buy other songs or a full album from another artist.
But let me ask you this -- How many times have you purchased a full album -- be it a CD, vinyl or mp3s -- because of one song and you discover "Oh my goodness! I love the whole album!!" IMAGINE if you had only bought that one song by itself and never heard those other songs?
So with people buying songs a la carte a lot these days, the music industry has had to rethink the album model. Labels want artists who can fill an album full of singles. This alone raises another question though - how many times have one of your favorite songs been one of those kinds of songs that would NEVER be played on radio as a single? Kind of scary, huh? That'd be like Jars of Clay's self-titled debut album not having a song like "Worlds Apart" on it. You can assume that pretty much your favorite ballad (or really hard song...or lyrically deep song) on any given album from a band who otherwise gets airplay would not exist.
And so, many bands and labels are looking at releasing more singles and EPs. EPs are those little 4-song (or sometimes a few songs more) samplers that, at one time, would usually accompany a full-length album. However, they've kind of just become appetizers and cheap ways to release less music it seems. [Some argue that it's less music but released more often, but it seems most artists don't adhere to that idea. I once heard, many years ago now, a record company employee say that EPs were the future; that labels would release an EP from an artist and then fans would get EPs every 6 months from that artist... Thankfully, that hasn't exactly become the norm.]
Gone seem to be the days when a band crafts an honest-to-goodness ALBUM. An album where every song works together in a seemingly common goal or theme. Instead, we have more EPs that just feel like short little bursts of new goodness that kind of tease you and leave you hanging and seldom feel complete.
So what are YOUR thoughts? Are you an "album" buyer? Do you like and prefer EP's? Or do you like your songs more a la carte? (i.e. You just pick and choose your favorite songs from album to album) Me? I do prefer a good, solid album... But what about you?
Earlier today, a famed band by the name of PFR (JFH artist page) closed the door on its much anticipated Kickstarter launch and on its triumphant return to the music industry. And the saddest thing is you have probably never heard of them. And, if they were current, you probably wouldn't listen to them. Music has changed so much over the last two decades and it's hardly debatable if it's for the worse.
So let me explain the last twenty years to you from the perspective of a huge PFR fan and what they have meant to me. In the early 90's, when I was first being introduced to "Christian music," there were several groups I was exposed to: Petra (much to my parents chagrin) and Carman. At this point in life, I was just about to embark on my high school journey. I came across PFR thanks to Cory Edwards. His show Signal Exchange introduced me to awesome bands like Audio Adrenaline, dc talk, Big Tent Revival, Hokus Pick Maneuver, Iona and Whiteheart. But out of all of them, PFR has been the one band over the last twenty years that has remained timeless.
So, from 1992-1994, this band released three studio records: their self titled debut, Goldie's Last Day and Great Lengths. Goldie's Last Day (the song and the record) had and still has some of the finest musicianship and some of the most incredible harmonies I've ever heard. I wore that album out so much over the years. Let me quick explain something about reviewing music to everyone; it gets old quick, especially if you don't enjoy what you're listening to. But to do a proper criticism, you have to immerse yourself in the music. I did that for twenty years with this album and it has never gotten old.
So skip ahead to a year later, and they released Great Lengths just after Christmas in 1994. I remember buying that at a home school convention booth in Hershey, PA after my parents decided to start home schooling my siblings. I must have walked past that booth 100 times wishing I had the money to buy it. "Wonder Why" is still one of the best songs to sing at the top of your lungs. Their next record, Them, released in 1996, was harder, darker and sadder than anything else they'd done prior. Perhaps it's from the years of perspective looking back on what was to be their final project in 1996 that makes it feel gloomy. The next year they released three new tracks on The Late Great PFR that almost make me weep when I hear them to this day.
Skip ahead four years and think of Christian music during that time. Bands are breaking up left and right. These are bands that had large influences in my life and bands that showed so much promise: Church of Rhythm, Seven Day Jesus, Reality Check, johnny Q. public all came and went. Then the compilation Roaring Lambs is announced. And what appears on the track list but a brand new song by PFR (and Steve Taylor!) and I'm so excited. "Maybe the fact they're coming out with this song, 'Kingdom Come,' means they'll make more music??" And lo and behold, the following year they returned with Disappear (on Steve Taylor's own label, Squint), and that's what they did (vanish, that is) for another three years until they released The Bookhouse Recordings. And you know what, I don't care that it was commissioned by Family Christian Stores and recorded in a couple days' time; it was great. "In the Middle" is a great song.
Skip ahead 7 years (ask Crowder if that was a coincidence) and they announce a tour to coincide with their 20-year anniversary and a StageIt.com performance. I dragged my wife to John's house to see that. After they announced their Kickstarter project this month, I was counting my money and getting ready to blow my budget. And then the band announces today on their Facebook page that they are officially over and done.
PFR totally encapsulates the notion of less is more. Joel Hanson and Patrick Andrew's vocals complement each other so well, so much so that it may compete with Michael and Kevin from dc Talk. Three guys who once said that they never took a break from each other, just music, are taking a permanent break. (And they are one of the only bands John DiBiase will sing out loud too in the car. After every show we go to together, we inevitably end up talking about PFR at some point). They are the only "spiritual" or "Christian" link that my blood brother, who claims to be an atheist, share anymore. They are the light to which all other trios are held to and they were such a blessing to me over the last two decades.
You're probably asking yourself, "why all the fanboy loving on this band?" Or you maybe you don't really care. Jordan Taylor said in one of Blimey Cow's "Messy Monday" videos that the older music is always better than the newer music, and he's so right. Music that I grew up on will always be better than the new music. Whether that is perspective speaking or is actually true is for you to decide. In 20 years, will what you listen to currently be better than what will be brand new then? I hope not. Will you still have such an appreciation for the bands that you berate and harass people over after they've come and gone (and come and go) again? Or will you forget their last record when the new one hits street? Are the bands you've grown up on making you appreciate music more? -- Whether it was or is Relient K, or a new combo of a powerhouse corporate megaband, or the small local artist who works his tail off because he loves what he does?
I don't know why PFR called it quits. I have my theories, sure, but they're just for me and close friends to ponder. All I can say is "Thank you" to Joel, Patrick and Mark for the best Merry Go Round ever.
No doubt 2003 was a great year for music; along with well-received releases from several great bands across the board, one of Christian and secular music’s most sought-after and prominent rock bands released their biggest (and one of the biggest of that year) album. That record just happens to be called The Beautiful Letdown, and that band just happens to be San Diego’s own Switchfoot.
Switchfoot was already on the rise before The Beautiful Letdown dropped, with three records released before it, each getting more acclaim and recognition than the previous. With spots on film soundtracks like A Walk To Remember and Model Behavior, the alternative rockers were building a solid following. With The Beautiful Letdown, there are songs on that record that pushed Switchfoot into the mainstream world, while launching them to permanent headliner status in the Christian market. Songs such as “Meant To Live” and “Dare You To Move” were top 20 hits, and the album became a staple on the Billboard 200 list for some time. It eventually went double platinum in the U.S. and Billboard featured it on their list of Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums of the Decade. Along with racking up awards and attention in the secular market, it was a grand slam in the Christian market as well, winning over six Dove Awards throughout the album’s tenure. This record marked a special time for Switchfoot, and gave the then-young band an excellent start to their inspiring and successful career.
Ten years later, Switchfoot is still at the top of their game, releasing four records between The Beautiful Letdown and now, each being well received, but none quite matching the success of their celebrated opus. They received a GRAMMY award in 2011 for Hello Hurricane, after being nominated once before in 2001 for Learning to Breathe. More recently, Switchfoot released an EP for their forthcoming album, Fading West. The Fading West EP is a small assembly of songs that will also be released on their LP in 2014. These songs all stand well alone, but I’m sure they will shine once listened to in context of the album. The unique thing about Fading West is that Switchfoot is also releasing an eponymous documentary film in December of this year, and it's been said that the album will be used as a soundtrack for the film. As far as style comparisons, the three new tunes sound like Switchfoot, but they show evolution and adaptation as well. There's a little more synth is applied to these three tracks than what they used on The Beautiful Letdown, but nothing too out there to alienate their longtime fans.
Their music has always carried that soul and raw passion, while challenging the listener to think about life, God, relationships, and the world around them. I think one of the reasons why Switchfoot has been able to stay at the level they’re at is because of their ability to change and grow as a band, while taking on topics that aren’t always talked about in modern music, and nailing them on the head. Throughout their career they’ve shown this ability to write music for thinking people, and everyone in general, while remaining honest and maintaining their values as a band and as people. The Beautiful Letdown will always have a special place in Switchfoot’s history, and many of the songs on that record have inspired this generation, and will continue to inspire others as time progresses. Cheers to The Beautiful Letdown; it is the farthest thing from a letdown, but is still quite beautiful, even after all this time.
1998 was probably my first real experience with witnessing the shuffling around of lead singers in a favorite band of mine. It was the time when, mysteriously, Newsboys front man John James had quietly stepped down as the lead vocalist for the Newsboys and drummer/vocalist/co-founder Peter Furler literally stepped up to the microphone. It was something that the band decided to highlight as well, even naming their first all-Peter-fronted album Step Up To The Microphone. It was a good album, too, but it was only a so-so successor to the far superior 1996 album Take Me To Your Leader.
While it was a major disappointment to be losing the eccentric presence of John James from the band's live shows, Furler was already a founding member and a frequent lead singer (You can see him singing "I Cannot Get You Out of My System" on their video from their 1992 album Not Ashamed). It wasn't as much of a shock to the proverbial system, as, say, replacing the road-weary Furler with DC Talk's Michael Tait in 2009, but fans still had to get used to percussionist Duncan Phillips moving over to drums and the absence of James' unmistakable stage presence.
While I can think of several vocalist changes in recent years, from Audio Adrenaline to Flyleaf, Further Seems Forever to Underoath, and beyond, the most recent vocalist retirement brings to mind the exact same situation that Newsboys fans faced in 1998:
Family Force 5.
On Monday of this week, the band made the shocking announcement that original vocalist, Solomon "Soul Glow Activatur" Olds, was not only stepping down, but he had already played what was his final show as lead vocalist just two days prior without a single formal announcement. During that show, the band primed their new vocalist and drummer, much to the surprise of fans who, like me, just thought it was something special for their live show (until they told us after the show that night).
Photo of Jacob "Crouton" Olds taking over the mic from Solomon's final live performance on Saturday at Uprise Fest. Jacob sang a new song called "Dance Like Nobody's Watching"
Photos by Jesusfreakhideout.com's John DiBiase
So, as with Newsboys, original drummer, co-founder, and occasional lead singer Jacob "Crouton" Olds has been announced as the band's new lead vocalist. Jacob has a much more unassuming presence than the wild persona of "Soul Glow Activatur," but from his performance of a brand new song on Saturday, there was evidence that it would be completely different, but nothing short of still being very much "Family Force 5."
Still, the whole change is a shock to fans. And I, admittedly, have been a fan of Family Force 5 since seeing them perform at GMA Week in Nashville in 2005 before their debut Business Up Front, Party In The Back would release almost a full year later. They have one of the most energetic and fun live shows around, but one can easily argue that with success, many changes have happened in their music and live shows that haven't always sat well with fans.
So where do they go from here?
A clean slate is obviously on the table, but it's also clear that the band doesn't want to alienate their fans. Just from the snippet of new song "Glow In The Dark" that can be heard on Solomon's exit video, or the catchy and very danceable "Dance Like Nobody's Watching" that fans will be able to hear live from now on, Family Force 5 is retaining the spirit of what it is about them that won over fans eight to nine years ago.
Fan response has already been mixed, but I don't think it'd be fair to count the guys out just yet. While I will miss Solomon's infectious and outrageous stage presence, I'm still looking forward to supporting these guys and seeing them live again very soon.
-- John DiBiase
Photo from Solomon's final live performance on Saturday at Uprise Fest.
Photo by Jesusfreakhideout.com's John DiBiase
Favorite Band/Artist: Family Force 5 Featured Fan:Elena Frye Location: Waseca, MN When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:April 27th 1013 in Rochester, MN What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: I love FF5 because they encourage us to have fun, dance, and go crazy for Jesus! "God is fun. There is going to be a party in heaven. There are going to be people in heaven who are going to be suprised that Jesus Christ can break dance with the best of them down here" - Joshua "Fatty" OldsFavorite Album by This Artist: Business Up Front, Party In The Back Favorite Song by This Artist: Oh my...I can't pick just one favorite!! Favorite Live Show Experience: Working security for them 2 days in a row. And getting to dance on stage with them during their dance party at Sonshine Fest 2013. Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 12 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Hmm probably my Keep The Party Alive shirt that I made into a tank. (I also have 2other shirts, 5 buttons, 4 wristbands, 2 lanyards, 3 setlists, 8 cds, 3 posters, and I'm sure I forgot something! ha) Website: https://twitter.com/SKloverElena Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here!
Taking a trip back in time (going a little McFly here) to life in 2003. I was about to turn 10, CDs were still the standard for music buyers, Myspace was still number one in Social Media, and a little band known as Relient K was getting ready to release their third studio album. Relient K had been active in the scene for a few years prior to this release, with their eponymous debut released on Gotee Records. With The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, the Canton boys started to garner mainstream success, with headlining tours and exclusive interest from clothing brands. When Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do dropped on March 11, 2003, the album was welcomed with open arms by fans and critics alike, even earning them a Grammy nomination as well. The album showed growth musically, while still maintaining the witty yet poignant lyrics that they’re famous for. With quintessential teenage anthems like “Mood Rings” and “College Kids,” to earnest conversations with God, “Getting Into You” and “Am I Understood?” Relient K was proving their staying power while keeping things fresh. Of course, it wouldn’t be Relient K without some of the goofiness as well, and songs like “Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry,” “Gibberish” and the delightful hidden track, take care of that void (even if Matt Thiessen is the worst freestyle rapper ever). Two Lefts was undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2003, and marked a new era for the quirky pop rockers.
Fast forward to 2013, and Relient K is still touring and making music, although not as much as they did in their earlier years. With considerable band member and musical style changes, Relient K finally bestows upon their fans a new record. It’s been over four years since they’ve released any original material (there was a covers album that was released in 2011), and the anticipation for some fresh music has been extremely high. The RK boys stated that they initially wanted to release the record in 2012, which then got pushed to January 2013, then pushed to April, and finally settled on July 2013 as their release date for Collapsible Lung, their seventh (including K Is For Karaoke) studio album.
Looking at Two Lefts and Collapsible Lung side-by-side, there are considerable differences and some similarities. With Two Lefts, you get that youthful, yet thoughtful punch and dorky charm that trademarked Relient K in their earlier years, and with Collapsible Lung, you get a more pensive yet laid back vibe while giving it a spin (or a click through your playlist). Both albums give a good look into where the band, especially wordsmith and frontman Matt Thiessen, is in life, while wrapping their stories up nice and tightly in clever hooks and catchy riffs. As far as which is better than the other, I’ll leave that to the reader to decide. Both serve as a part of Relient K’s journey and career, and both leave the listener with different things to think about after the last track plays.
Over the years, Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do has been hailed as Relient K’s “best” by some, although it sometimes gets overshadowed by their 2004 release, MMHMM, when discussing Relient K’s library. The record was definitely a step in the right direction for these pop punkers, with it taking a more straight up rock approach while still keeping some of the goofiness and all of the wit found on previous records. Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right, But Three Do is a classic Relient K album, and still remains as one of the best releases in their genre to this day. Happy belated birthday, Two Lefts, you still look and sound as good as you did ten years ago!
Soon after I had turned six, a tragedy occurred that I could not comprehend until I became older. It was a tragedy that robbed the world of one of the most incredible musicians that ever lived. On September 19th, 1997, a rolling Jeep ended the life of Rich Mullins. As an artist, he was incredible. As a human being, he was remarkable. As a man of faith, he was unshakable.
His was the first music I ever remember hearing, and thanks to my efforts to emulate my brother, he became my first favorite musician. His death passed my notice once it happened, but I remember being disheartened upon hearing the news (but not nearly as much as seeing Mufasa's death the first time; ah, the values of the post-toddler). Since then, Mullins and his music has been an integral part of my life, from his genre-bending "Awesome God" (the first worship song I ever learned) to his timeless words of "Sometimes By Step," from the delectably catchy "Screen Door" to the brazen beauty of "The Color Green." His is a brand of music that never gets dated, and never grows old. He's one of the best instrumentalists and songwriters of his time, and there is no doubt he would have stood even taller in our time. He made the hammered dulcimer and Irish tin whistle stand front stage in front of music fans who had their ears trained on synthesizers. He ingrained the words of the Nicene Creed in the minds of even the most historically ignorant. And, indeed, perhaps more than any artist since Larry Norman, he changed the landscape of Christian Music as we know it (maybe barring Amy Grant, whose performance of the Mullins-penned "Sing Your Praise To The Lord" gave him his big break, AND improved Grant's popularity).
But as a man, you could hardly imagine someone more fascinating. His humility was unbounded, to the point that he decided to finish his college education at the peak of his career, attending Friends University on a trombone scholarship. His charity was immense, to the point that he lived on $24,000 a year by the time of his death, giving everything else away. He lived the larger part of his last several years on an Indian Reservation in his effort to share God's love. He was a vagabond who ruffled the feathers of the Evangelical culture whenever he spoke, not caring what others thought about himself as long as he was serving God with everything he had. He was a scholar whose depth of biblical knowledge was profound, and a teacher who could mesmerize child and adult alike. And he was a wanderer who needed no more than a trailer home in New Mexico as a "permanent" residence.
Now more than ever, a man like Rich Mullins is sorely missed on the CCM scene. While the spirit of his music is captured by artists like Andrew Peterson, his creative expression and aura of magnificence that his music evoked, as well as his faultless expression of God's beauty, is significantly lacking. Even if he were still around, I don't know if he could deal with the way the music scene has changed (and mind you, not for the better). Ask yourself, what in the world would today's music industry do with a man who gave away almost everything and moved onto an Indian reservation? But I digress.
You turn on the radio one too many times. You hear one-too-many generic worship albums. One-too-many of your favorite artists degenerates into just another pop act. You heard one-too-many new artists that sound like Nickelback. Who knows what might set you off, but the time comes when you are just fed up. You cannot stand the direction that music is going and you decide that you need to remember what “real” music is.
So you turn off everything. You get your MP3 player or your stereo or your computer or your record player (etc.), and you put on some artist that never fails. And instantly, you forget all your frustrations with music. You remember how beautiful it can sound. You forget all that generic, sound-alike, unoriginal music that has been crammed into your ears, and are completely taken up with ethereal, emotional, pristine perfection which now graces them. Maybe they are simply your favorite artists. Maybe you have a more emotional or nostalgic connection to them. Maybe you like it for its lyrical substance, or it unfailingly points you toward Our Creator of All Things. Or maybe some artist really does create the most beautiful music you have ever heard. But whatever the case, you simply are indebted to those artists for making such incredible music.
Here are six artists (in no particular order) that I often turn to in those situations (although this list of by no means exhaustive)…
· -Steven Curtis Chapman: I fell in love with SCC’s music at the age of nine when I discovered that he mentioned my (at the time) favorite TV show in the first verse of his song “Live Out Loud” (don’t chuckle, I’m sure your first impression of artists were just as shallow when you were nine). Eventually, I developed a more solid foundation for my fandom, which has only solidified more as years went on. Honest, heartfelt, often emotional, well-written lyrics paired with music that is both irresistibly accessible and of a sound artistic integrity. And the nostalgic value of his music puts it over the top.
· -John Reuben: I was late to the John Reuben bandwagon, but I quickly made up for lost time when, after reading the JFH reviews on all six of his albums, I made an impulse order on Amazon of four of them despite the fact that I had never heard any song of his. At first, I didn’t know quite what to make of him with his stereotypical “white-man raps” and blend of the silly and serious, and I wondered if I had been too hasty in my purchase. But after latching onto a few of his more lyrically biting songs and slowly coming to the realization of how unique his craft was, my respect and admiration for him grew immensely. Thought-provoking, honest, innovative, and just plain fun, this is definitely one impulse purchase I don’t regret.
· -Propaganda: Before I listened to Propaganda’s album Excellent, I was not a hip hop fan. After I listened to the album, I was. Need I say more?
· -Adam Young: Before The Midsummer Station, there was a shy, wide-eyed, Minnesotan insomniac who played around on his computer and who, in comparision to most sugar-infested pop music out there, served up a veritable gourmet meal of delicious treats that it was hard to believe was actually healthy. Indeed, no matter which musical project Adam Young tacked (most notably his indietronica project Owl City, but also his more acoustically-based project Sky Sailing, and others), you could expect a creative explosion of dreamy charm and wit that would drive away frustrations like the plague. I just pray that Adam Young can steal his music back from being just another pop act in an ocean of pop acts.
· -Charmaine: Who makes the best pop music in the CCM industry? I believe that if her 2010 album Love Reality is any indication, it is, without a doubt, Charmaine. Aside from having one of the most captivating voices I’ve ever heard, her brand of orchestral symphonic pop is the most excellently executed and unhinderingly appealing sounds I have ever head. In a span of 10 songs and 40 minutes, I doubt you’ll find any more perfect pop music for the music lover.
· -Iona: For this one, I need to give a shout-out to my fellow staff reviewer “Tincan” Caldwell. Sometime last year, I was sifting through the reviews index looking for some promising music I can check out, and I saw a Mr. Caldwell’s review for Iona’s album Another Realm (rated 4.5 stars), whose genre was listed as “Irish Folk Rock.” I was intrigued and read the review to discover that it was a 95-minute double concept album, and that Iona had been making music for over twenty years. I was more intrigued. After finding a couple of their songs on Youtube, I was no longer intrigued; I was dumbfounded. Breathtaking vocals, mind-numbing guitars, wicked saxophones, ethereal flutes, swirling bagpipes, explosive drums, countless other impeccably played instruments, and beauty all around. I thought then, and still think to this day, that Iona makes the best music I have ever heard.
So who do you guys turn to when you are facing musical depression?
I’m not a musician. I played bassoon in high school band and took four years of piano lessons, but that is the absolute extent of my musical career. Well, I guess I did technically write a song in 6th grade (as a school assignment). I called it “Mark’s First Symphony,” and it was a 45-second long ditty on the piano (that I was unable to play).
But that doesn’t stop me from making mental masterpieces. Every once in a while, I feel a particular moment of inspiration, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to make an album like (insert whatever my inspiration was)?” Sometimes I even wish I could climb up on top of a mountain and scream out whatever my idea was in the hopes that some talented musician with a like mind could see the genius to the idea and carry it out. But I digress…
My most recent masterpiece was inspired by CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which I read earlier this month. Amazingly, I had managed to survive for these twenty-something years of my life without having ever read it before, but even that made me appreciate the book more. As I was reading it, the thought crossed my mind, “You know, as much as I love Heath McNease’s gorgeous CS Lewis-inspired The Weight of Glory album, he really needed MUCH more than one song dedicated to Screwtape.” Indeed, even one CD would not be enough. No, it would need to be a double-album, with one song dedicated to each of Screwtape’s 31 letters. What type of music? Well, I can’t really say. It would really depend on the tone of the specific letter. Hard rock seems the most appropriate seeing as we’re dealing with dark and serious subject matter. I’m sure metal could sneak in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the letters would demand a heavily electronic, hip hop/rap, or even light acoustic treatment. In any event, the music would have to be progressive. In keeping with the spirit of the book, the song titles would simply be the same as the chapter titles in the book, and possibly a short subtitle to hint at the general theme of the letter (“Letter 1: Art of Distraction,” “Letter 2: Using Christianity,” etc…). Much of the lyrics would probably be direct quotes, and such quotes would probably be presented in a spoken-word style similar to meWithoutYou, but it would also have to have sung verses too (most songs would probably be absent a chorus). There would need to be no fewer than three vocalists, I think; one male, one female, and one rough vocalist. And if Wormwood were to ever speak/sing, he would need to be a child.
This is just one of the ideas I’ve had, and not even one of the more ambitious ones. Once, I conceived of making a band with some Greek name that I can’t remember (something to the effect of “Theology,” only in Greek), which would make a trio of album trilogies, one trilogy theme around the events of the bible, one themed around the history of Christianity, and one around famous theologians (and heretics). But all that aside, I know I can’t be the only one who has ever mentally conceived an ambitious musical masterpiece with no means of making it a reality.
So let’s hear it! If you could make any musical project, what would you make?
Favorite Band/Artist: We As Human Featured Fan:Jon Rink Location: Columbus, OH When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:Spirit Song 2013 What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: They aren't afraid to go out of the comfort zone that most rock bands nowadays are producing music in. They aren't ashamed of their faith and don't hide it in their lyrics. Favorite Album by This Artist: We As Human Favorite Song by This Artist: "Dead Man', "Sever", "I Stand" or "Zombie" Favorite Live Show Experience: When they played "Dead Man" at Spirit Song Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 1 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: An autographed copy of "We As Human" signed by Justin Website: N/A Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here
The other day, I was doing some reflecting. Specifically, I was reflecting about the album which our very own Roger Gelwicks declared was "set to frustrate, enthrall, and polarize in 2013." Even more specifically, I was reflecting on the highly combative response to this website's published thoughts on said record.
Yes, I was reflecting on Skillet's Rise.
In particular, there was one commenter that stood out among the dozens of people that voiced their... thoughts... on the record and on the two reviews. I perused all of the comments and saw that this person had asked the same question no fewer than five times in his various posts and comments, in defense of the criticisms against an album that he obviously held in a much higher esteem than the reviews did.
"What were people supposed to expect?"
That got me thinking; how much do our expectations shape what our thoughts of an album are? I could expand the question to encompass even more of the philosophical landscape of life beyond music, but for sake of simplicity and length, I'll leave it at that. Take Skillet as the prime example: to most fans, Rise was either the third or fourth (or, if they were really late to the bandwagon, only the second) Skillet album that they had heard. They knew Skillet as a modern symphonic rock band geared mostly towards difficult problems and life situations of youths and comforting them with nostalgia and encouragement, sometimes even directing their worries and fears towards God. So, of course, they would expect Rise to sound like that! And since they became fans during that era of Skillet's life, they were obviously fans of that "sound" for one reason or another, and so their excitement was directed towards a Skillet album that had generally similar themes (which Rise did). So the final result is an album that, with a little variance here and there and without doing anything too unexpected, satiated the appetites of their biggest fan base (much to the chagrin of the "original panheads" that grumbled about Skillet retreading old ground from Collide and Comatose in Awake and Rise).
But what if Skillet would have made some drastic changes? What if they felt that they wanted to stretch themselves musically and personally? What if they went against all expectations to make the piece of art that they truly felt led to make? What if they would have made a Project 86-like hard rock album instead? Or, what if they made an Anberlin-like alt-rock album? Or they went the Relient K route and made a random pop album? Or a rap album? Or metal? Or folk? That would have surely put a damper in the expectations of those fans, wouldn't it? Especially if their voyage into new territory resulted in floundering. Would any fans buy that album? Would they even still be a fan? Well, many might, but I think most would feel like they had been "betrayed" and leave the bandwagon.
But here is the kicker: what if Skillet had made drastic changes and the resulting album was simply phenomenal? Profound lyrics (if there were any at all). Completely original. Impeccable musicianship. A complete masterpiece in every respect, and far superior to anything they had ever done before. But would the fan reaction be any different?
Of course not.
Maybe some critics would recognize that album for what it is, but the critics have their expectations too. They can feel betrayed too. Same with record labels and others in the music business. The fans and critics and businessmen that recognize the brilliance of the album will stay. The rest will probably move on to things that are more... profitable... in some way, shape, or form. It doesn't matter in the end what the final product is if expectations are not met. In the music business, it is dangerous not to meet them, and can even mean financial suicide. It is the reason why people like Adam Young can take his dazzling project Owl City and turn it into just another pop act. Or why artists like Sanctus Real and Hawk Nelson are now inevitably pigeonholed into one melting pot of contemporary sound. Or even, conversely, why so many more artists nowadays are leaving record labels and record deals and going independent.
So what do we expect bands like Skillet to do?
Make an album that the fans are satisfied with. That is the bottom line. In many cases, particularly with a band as popular as Skillet, it is even the only line. The fact is that so much of music criticism nowadays is simply judging how well a band or album or song met, exceeded, or failed to live up to expectations. I'm guilty of it, and I doubt there is even one person on the JFH staff that also isn't at one time or another.
But it ought not to be this way. The fans don't own the music. Record labels don't make the music. The artists are fully accountable for what they make. There is a reason musicians are called "artists" in the first place; they make art. Art does not include expectations. Expectations are what originally caused Stryper to lose popularity and break up. Art does not include money. Rich Mullins' worldly possessions after he died fit into 80 cubic feet. Good art has a value far beyond money or expectations. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. Mozart died penniless and was buried in an unmarked mass grave. Larry Norman didn't even have an audience for his music!
At JFH, we try to make it our sole expectation of the artists we review to make great art with creative integrity. We therefore judge and critique music in that light. We believe that by making great art for God, the artists are giving greater glory to God than by simply making something that is merely marketed to glorify God. Yes, these artists are making their living through music. Yes, the songs can potentially be ministry tools, or help someone personally get closer to God. We don't judge that. We can't judge that. If we expect anything else from the artists we review, we will not be fair to the artistic integrity of either that particular artist or other artists.
So what do we expect Skillet to do? Or Relient K? Or Casting Crowns? Or Chris Tomlin? Or For Today? Or (insert your favorite artist name here)? We expect them to make great art with creative integrity, whatever that may look like for that particular artist. And if we don't think they did, it will be adequately reflected as such.
We recently released the staff's 15 most anticipated music releases from July till the end of the year, and it got me thinking about my own anticipated list for the entirety of 2013 and YOURS as well.
Because it's tough to predict what will come out later in the year, last year we split the "Highlighting" yearly feature into 2 parts -- the first half of the year and the second half. But it's still tough to tell what will come out in which month because releases are always shifting, being delayed, etc.
I decided to personally compile a list of 15 of this year's releases in order from most anticipated (No. 1) on down to the least--but still anticipated, mind you (No. 15). I know many of these are out already, so I went back to the lists I compiled earlier this year when we were voting for the feature -- and before hearing most of them -- and did a quick adjusting of my level of anticipation (meaning: I had two separate lists, so I combined them).
This list does NOT reflect what I thought of how the end product turned out, but it ultimately reflects how much I was/am still looking forward to each release this year.
Please feel free to join in and post YOUR 15 in order in the comments below! :)
#01 = most anticipated
01. Jars of Clay - Inland
02. Switchfoot - Fading West
03. Needtobreathe - untitled
04. Steven Curtis Chapman - The Glorious Unfolding
05. Seabird - Troubled Days
06. Five Iron Frenzy - untitled
07. Guardian - Almost Home
08. Plumb - Need You Now
09. Tal & Acacia - Black & White
10. Eisley - Currents
11. The Fold - Moving Past
12. Audio Adrenaline - Kings and Queens
13. Skillet - Rise
14. Relient K - Collapsible Lung
15. Fiction Family - Family Reunion
Favorite Band/Artist: Manic Drive Featured Fan:Jaycee Cooper Location: Phoenix, AZ When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:June 16 2013 at the Discover Tour What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: I absolutely love all of their music and the energy they have on stage! They inspire me to not be ashamed of the gospel and you can see that in every lyric. They also sound just as good on stage as they do on the radio. And they are absolutely hilarious, I was laughing throughout the whole show! God has definitely blessed Shawn, Anthony, and Micheal! I really hope to see them again! Favorite Album by This Artist: Epic Favorite Song by This Artist: "Money" or "Good Times" Favorite Live Show Experience: When I got to ask them a question at the Q&A, I was sitting right in front of them and they joked around with me when they answered my question! But every minute of it was amazing! Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 1 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Signed poster Website: N/A Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here
Texas’ Green River Ordinance is a band with compelling music and an equally compelling story. Signed by Virgin Records and releasing an album of well received and tuneful pop-rock a few years ago, the band walked away from the deal to go out on their own and call the shots, including embracing issues like human trafficking and the recovery of the Gulf Coast from the BP oil spill. All of this would just be an interesting side note if the music on Under Fire were not compelling, and (spoiler alert) it is. A long (by industry standards) and satisfying slice of guitar rock and southern harmonies, Under Fire is worth every penny, and a worthy addition to your playlist for this upcomming summer and any road trips you might have planned. Recommended highly for fans of Needtobreathe's southern harmonies and Switchfoot's epic and thoughtful guitar rock.
- Alex Caldwell
Our synopsis: "Funding the record themselves through Kickstarter allowed Green River Ordinance to throw everything into the skillet over the course of fifteen songs; the country music influences, the modern guitar rock, the worship element and cook up a gumbo that is just right...and that makes for a great story indeed.." (Recommended by JFH's Alex "Tincan" Caldwell) Song Highlights: "The epic title track "Under Fire", the worshipful and gosple-choir backed "Resting Hour", the romantic "Heart Of Me" and the encouraging "New Day"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the albumUnder Fire? Do you recommend it? If so, why?
Favorite Band/Artist: Audio Adrenaline/Kevin Max Featured Fan: Adam Wilson Location: Pineville, Louisiana When/Where Was The Above Photo Taken:May 2, 2013. Lake Charles, LA, Kings And Queens Tour What About This Artist's Music Speaks To You: Audio A's music has always reminded me to remain strong in my faith even when others may disagree. And also to always have fun! I have been a huge fan of Kevin Max for years -- Solo music and with dcTalk! Favorite Album by This Artist: Audio Adrenaline: Kings and Queens; Kevin Max: The Imposter Favorite Song by This Artist: Audio Adrenaline: "Ocean Floor;" Kevin Max: "The Royal Path of Life" Favorite Live Show Experience: VIP tickets to the King And Queens Tour. We were right on the front row! Number of Times Seen This Artist Live: 1 Favorite Piece Of Merch/Item You Own From This Artist: Audio Adrenaline K&Q Tour shirt Website: N/A Submit your photo and reasons why YOU'RE a fan for a chance to be featured here
Every true music fan can probably relate to the feeling of anticipation when there's new music from your favorite band on the horizon. There was once a time when we absolutely had to wait until a specific date for the new music to hit stores in the form of a tape or CD (and for others, vinyl, 8 track, etc). Some of us even had to hunt down a copy – travel from store to store to track down that exciting new album. Then we either listened to it for the first time on the drive home, or had to wait till we were back at home or at a friend’s house to free the album from its shrink-wrapped bonds and finally get to enjoy the sweet (and sometimes not-so-sweet) new sounds. Today, we can wait till midnight and download the album’s music at our computers or onto our phones and portable listening devices, or – for the less honest of you – download it illegally from some unauthorized, unapproved source who has leaked it, and get to listen to it even sooner (But that’s not what this blog is about).
What do we do once we’ve spun the album several times and listen to it for a few days (or weeks or months)? We wonder what’s next. When will the new album be out? How about an EP? A live album? A remix album? A Christmas album? An acoustic album? A covers album? A worship album? A worship covers album? A live worship album? A b-sides album? Cool. What next? A follow-up to that last album that was awesome/OK/had a couple good songs/disappointing/too short/too long/impossible to find/a really expensive drink coaster?
I can imagine that the question about a new album for an artist is much like that those that a young couple might get after they get together. Soon, a person sporting a goofy grin inquires, “Soooo… when you two crazy kids getting’ married?” And then, on their wedding day they ask, “Soooo… when can we expect a little one running around?” And not a few seconds after said little one pops out and takes its first breath, the same creepy person Tweets you, “Soooo… when can we expect number two??”
I think it all boils down to— music fans are never satisfied. Till the day the artist is planted six feet under, there will be at least one person on God’s green earth expecting new music from that artist. As an aging music fan myself, I often will revisit some of my favorite Christian music releases in the 90s with very fond memories and listen to them because, well, I love them. And to me, they sound good. I could care less if there’s some kind of ‘cool’ factor I’m desecrating by indulging in what, to me, are some of the most enjoyable things my ears have heard. Who cares what other people think you should listen to. Listen to what you like. The end. But, alas, I digress…
Back to the topic: So, my thoughts often drift to… “I wonder what ____ is up to these days?” “Wouldn’t it be great if _____ [got back together and] put out a new album?” And the funniest thing is, if and when said artist does put out new music, we fans are excited and just have to wonder (and often wonder aloud) “So what’s next?” That has to be frustrating for the artist. I mean, this isn’t limited to just music either. Yesterday, Iron Man 3 hit theaters and everyone’s asking about Iron Man 4 or Avengers 2. And as a movie fan as well, I have to admit I’ve had the same thoughts. But I actually can relate, on some level, to the artist and what they must feel when fans are just plain insatiable. JFH has put out 2 free compilations now and it hasn’t been long after each before people ask about the next volume. And, as a site, we’re frequently asked about what’s new that we’re doing. What’s next? And, beyond JFH and music, I could work on a new drawing of something and show it to people and a lot of people have their ideas of what I should do next (sometimes a list! Ha).
So what point am I trying to make? I guess this is just something I’ve been thinking about recently after listening to some of my favorite music and wondering when we might have new material from them soon (or if ever). I suppose I just want us, collectively as music fans and listeners to be mindful of this demanding nature and to perhaps even count what we DO have as blessings and truly enjoy it, because, at the end of the day, we might be all too focused on what’s next; how about we be grateful for what we’ve been given before and presently! I know it’s something I can work better on myself.
2003 was the year I turned 12 years old. I was just starting to like music, and even then it couldn't hold my attention for long... unless I REALLY liked it. But thanks to then-recent massive hits like Dive and Live Out Loud,Steven Curtis Chapman was one of those artists I REALLY liked. Granted, I wasn't that interested in his slower, more serious, or more intimate songs because I was... well... 12. As such, the first time I heard SCC's 2003 album All About Love, which was an album chock-full songs pertaining to the most serious and intimate subject possible (which, for those that didn't catch the title, is love), it didn't pique my interest much. I remember thinking at the time that the album's only redeeming quality was the opening title track, which reminded me of his other aforementioned hits. And as the years passed and the album continued to collect dust, this remained my opinion of the album. Until I listened to it again about six years later; after a revision and complete overhaul of my opinion, this album can only be described as one of SCC's best works.
In an award-winning career spanning over a quarter-decade, there are few times that Steven Curtis Chapman has ever been as personal as this (and that is saying something). In its whopping 16-song body (12 originals, two covers, a reinterpretation, and a song from his previous album), Chapman managed to create not only a fully engaging, entertaining, and creative sound, but put them to lyrics that were 100% honest sincerity and 0% cliché-ism or cheesiness (which alone would have been a feat in and of itself). Ever since the day that I picked the album up and listened to it once again, I realized the lasting value andpower of these songs. Love is a timeless topic and Chapman's music on this album is a timeless collection of sounds, expertly utilizing guitar (both acoustic and electric), piano, orchestrations, keys, and accordions, that still hold up to this day (and undoubtedly will hold up for years to come). For fans of radio hits, it is difficult to beat the title-track in terms of legitimate substance and non-generic music. Those that dig deeper into the tracklisting will uncover such gems as How Do I Love Her?, the intimate We Will Dance, the awe-inspiring Holding a Mystery, the soaring A Moment Made For Worshipping, and even rescuing from the depths the 1988 Proclaimers hit I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). But to say that there are weaker tracks on the album would be an injustice to its overall quality and thematic cohesiveness.
10 yearslater now, has Chapman just put out an equally delightful and thematic release in his bluegrass-gospel tinged hymn/acoustic hits album Deep Roots. How do they compare? Well, if you'll forgive the cliché, it's like apples to oranges; one is contemporary pop and the other is roots music, and both are geared for specific (and, for the most part, separate) audiences. But if you compare quality, neither can lose any points in that regard. Suffice it to say that Chapman has not lost his ability to put out beautiful thematic experiences in the last decade. But in any event, revisiting All About Love is just as much a treasure now as it was a treat in 2003.
One album that was very much worth getting excited about in 2012 was Paper Route's sophomore effort, The Peace of Wild Things. Its electronic soundscape bore a distinct 80s flavor that didn't sound dated, but instead utilized a retro feel that helped take the music in the appropriate emotional directions. Born out of terrible heartache, there's a sense of searching and healing that is contained within The Peace of Wild Things. Songs like "Glass Heart Hymn" are poetic yet familiar to a lot of listeners, as vocalist/songwriter JT Daly sends up a lamenting prayer. It's an album that sounds poppy and accessible at times but is surprisingly deeper than most music in the genre. Check out The Peace of Wild Things and see Paper Route on tour with Anberlin this spring!
Our synopsis: "Electronic pop at its finest. A heartbreaking yet rewarding listen for fans of modern and retro electronic pop." (Recommended by JFH's John DiBiase) Song Highlights: "You and I," "Better Life," "Sugar," "Glass Heart Hymn," "Letting You Let Go," "Rabbit Holes"
So, what are your thoughts on and experiences with the album The Peace of Wild Things? Do you recommend it? If so, why?