Article: Gettin’ High On Music

The BeatlesOver the past year or two, as a music critic, I have expanded the amount of music I listen to, and ultimately, my music collection. I’ve been listening to a little bit of everything over the years, but now I can especially say that I have listened to a lot of what this world has to offer, music-wise. There is still a lot that I haven’t discovered, but something I’ve begun to really dive into is the earlier decades of music, primarily listening to a lot of The Beatles, Ryan Adams (and the Cardinals), Nirvana, and others. Rather than write reviews of these artists and their many albums, I decided I would write a bit on what their music has meant to me in the past few years. Continue reading

Review: Dead By Sunrise, “Out Of Ashes”

Dead By Sunrise, "Out Of Ashes"While some of us have been eagerly awaiting the next installment to the Linkin Park saga, vocalist Chester Bennington has been playing gigs on the side with his new side-project Dead By Sunrise. Some may be familiar with Julien-K, an industrial/electronic band that got recognized on the first Transformers soundtrack a couple years ago. Basically, Dead By Sunrise is what Julien-K becomes when Chester sings lead vocals with the rest of the band. While working diligently on the next LP recording, Bennington and the boys put together their first album, titled Out of Ashes. Continue reading

Review: Paramore, “Brand New Eyes”

Paramore, "Brand New Eyes"Two years ago, a little band called Paramore took the airwaves and teenagers’ iPods by storm with their second album, the breakout hit Riot!. After the immense success died down, they released a live record to the ever-eager fans, who of course bought it up and brought back the success even more. Now, through rough member disputes and a near break up towards the end of the tour last year, the band is ready to release their new album, Brand New Eyes. The new album is a compilation of all the arguments, fights, and hatred that was going within the band, put into 11 songs fresh off the production board. An interesting idea, and a good way to come up with material.

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Review: Oh, Sleeper “Son Of The Morning”

Oh, Sleeper "Son Of The Morning"

Hardcore act Oh, Sleeper debuted to an unhealthy amount of controversy over their first album, When I Am God. Sadly, many critics and Christian groups found the album title alone blasphemous and wouldn’t give the band a chance at anything. But if you actually sit down and listen to the lyrical content and the music, you will see the exact opposite. Oh, Sleeper proves to have some of the best metaphorical content ever seen in a Christian hardcore band, and the music is just as impressive. This summer, they released their anticipated follow-up, Son Of The Morning. The album continues a concept that was introduced with their debut. This time around, the concept of the album is explained in the history of the symbol that is on the cover. The cover boasts a pentagram, which is usually used in reference to satanic practices, but it is missing the top half of the star, which gives the idea of God having victory over Satan.

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Review: Thousand Foot Krutch, “Welcome To The Masquerade”

TFK, Welcome To The MasqueradeThousand Foot Krutch has made a decent name for themselves within the CCM industry, and also within the rock scene in general. Nearly all their albums since the ever-popular Phenomenon back in 2003 have garnered stadium and arena-size hits, and despite lead vocalist Trevor McNevan’s constant schedule, the band continues to release albums at a steady rate, and to decent acclaim. Their latest venture, Welcome To The Masquerade has been promised by the band as some of their best material ever, but does it quite live up to that claim?

With a seemingly useless introduction titled “The Invitation”, the album gives off a feel right from the beginning that we’re about to venture into something new for TFK. What results is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the rock group, but the band takes their sound to a new level. While it’s clear on many tracks that this is the same band we’ve been listening to for years, there are better melodies, more thought-provoking lyrical content, and risks taken more than usual. Production is tighter on all the heavier tracks as well, such as “E For Extinction” where Trevor harkens back to some of the fast lyrical delivery that made TFK stand out way back when. Other tracks, like catchy title track, and arena-ready “Fire It Up” are certain TFK staples, while the band doesn’t fail at bringing in slow tracks.

Songs like “Watching Over Me” explore a man reaching out to God after he’s seemingly tried everything else, and “Look Away” will remind fans of something that could have been featured on an FM Static album. Trevor’s vocals have improved even more on the TFK ballads, which make for a much better listening experience this time around. “Forward Motion” is a solid piano-driven rock track, which is a step in a new direction for the band, and it definitely works on many levels. “Outta Control” is one of the band’s heaviest tracks in a long time, and is sure to be a fan favorite. Overall, TFK has proved they can bring the rock back, especially in a time when many other bands they share the radio stations and stage with are turning to a more pop feel. Welcome To The Masquerade is the better of a few of the new Christian rock albums this fall, and is one you shouldn’t pass up.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Review: Skillet, “Awake”

Skillet, AwakeIn the past, Skillet hasn’t been the biggest force to come from the Christian music scene, but in the last few years that has quickly changed. After five albums and some member changes, the band put out the album that brought them the most success, Comatose. Previous albums proved that despite the band changing and evolving their sound worked, going from a simple three piece garage band to an electro/rock five-piece, and landing on a pop/hard rock driven entity with Comatose. Collide, the band’s fifth album is probably the hardest material they have ever released, bordering on grunge at points. But with Comatose, they kept some of the rock edge while making popular songs with poignant lyrics that anyone (but particularly teenagers) could identify with. Three years of touring and a re-release with acoustics and an extra song later, the band returns with Awake.

Let me say: I am a Skillet fan. They have impressed me with each record and Comatose was brilliant in many ways. It got excessively overplayed due to the local radio stations, but it still has the bite of a good Skillet record. Awake is the first time in the band’s career that the members have stuck very, very close to what the last record was. Rather than reinventing themselves, the record is simply a rehashing of what Comatose was, albeit with much watered down lyrics and less forceful rock tracks. I’ll start with the good first though. The lead single, “Hero” is likely the best track here, as it likens to “Rebirthing” from the last record, acting as a good intro and rock track for the band. Rather than Korey, John Cooper’s wife, providing extra and back up vocals, the newest drummer for the band, Jen Ledger is singing with John. She proves to be a good vocalist, particular for this song.

The best I can say is that Skillet has a great formula for what will prove to sell. Sadly, each track on Awake can be another version of a song from Comatose. The first ballad on the album, “Don’t Wake Me” is nearly the same stylistically and sometimes lyrically as “Yours To Hold”. Fast-paced rocker “It’s Not Me It’s You” is “Those Nights” again, but with a slightly different message. More songs this time around focus on relationships, which will get them more radio time guaranteed. The harder tracks have been toned down even more from the Comatose times, and Cooper’s vocals tend to come across as flat on tracks like “Never Surrender”. On previous albums, the front-man/bass player would stretch his vocals live (and in studio) more than any band I’ve ever listened to, but now it seems like they’ve switched that out for bland singing.

Lyrically, songs all across the album have very sing-song friendly tones, like “Never Surrender”: “I don’t wanna feel like this tomorrow / I don’t wanna live like this today / make me feel better / I wanna feel better / stay with me here / and never surrender”. “Monster” proves to be more monotonous than most, with the same chorus sung continuously before the song ends with a distorted “monster” voice. With three years of touring and chances to write great songs like the ones that have been thrown through their catalog in the past, this just isn’t the return I would have expected from such a seasoned veteran. Awake is quite possibly going to be one of their best selling records because fans want more of what they got last time around, but to a longtime fan, these songs are less than mediocre. Pass this one by if you’re looking for more innovation in your music.

Star Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Review: Mute Math, “Armistice”

Mute Math, "Armistice"Well this one has been long overdue. After nearly three years in and out of the studio and performing to countless crowds at numerous venues, Mute Math is back with what many would call their third album. In all technical terms, this is only their second album, with their debut EP being only seven tracks. But who cares, it’s Mute Math. I’ve been a fan of Paul Meany’s work since well before Mute Math, starting with a slightly obscure Christian band from the early 2000s called Earthsuit. But Earthsuit is long gone and over time what has grown out of the few members is quite different, yet fantastic in and of itself.

Now I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy the self-titled record as much as it seems everyone else did, mainly because the album didn’t feel like a full album of Mute Math songs. Every other track was an instrumental and acted as an interlude to the next. While these instrumentals assured the talent of the band, the tracks just felt thrown in and not really a part of the overall album. On Armistice, each track is a full song, incorporating vocals and sounds all the way through, making it appear (and sound) like an overall more cohesive effort. The album is chock full of solid rock tracks, and highlights like the opener “The Nerve” and catchy “Backfire” prove that the band can write a hit. But it’s also impressive to see songs like “Clipping” and the soft ballad “Pins and Needles” that have elements of violin and strings to compliment the electronic synth sounds mixed with rock. A few tracks can get a bit monotonous, such as the rocker “Goodbye” has a chorus that is not much more than simply “if you say goodbye / if you say goodbye” repeated. Another bright spot on the album is the title track, which incorporates horns and other instruments to bring a very unique sound, which isn’t new for such a band as Mute Math. The band stretches their talents more than ever, and it proves to be an enjoyable sonic ride. The other ballad on the album, “Lost Year” can even be acceptable in a worship sense, slow and melody driven.

The already-hit “Spotlight” is here as well, and a very upbeat “Electrify” make for more highlights on this stellar album, and the record finishes with a nine minute epic entitled “Burden”. The song incorporates Mute Math’s signature instrumentals through a good portion of the song, and serves as a fitting bookend for the album. With Armisitice, Mute Math has beaten themselves, and this is the return that fans will likely embrace fully, and the band is sure to pick up new fans as well. Welcome back Mute Math, you’ve surely been missed.

Star Rating: 4½ out of 5

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