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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Best of 2013, According to Me
Music | 358 views

2013 was another big year in the Christian music scene with several headliners releasing long-anticipated new albums. It was a year of comebacks and rebranding. Artists like Hawk Nelson and Audio Adrenaline came out swinging with new vocalists. Others like Skillet and Plumb returned from multi-year absences in new music. Others followed the regular bi-yearly pace of album releasing. And as always, several new faces stormed onto the scene demanding their place at the musical table. So what songs and albums shined the brightest in the year 2013? And what albums are the most exciting going into the year 2013? Well, this is my take on the matter:



 



Best Albums of 2013:



 



 



10. Hawk Nelson – Made: Longtime Hawk Nelson frontman Jason Dunn departed the band last year and the band promoted from within, appointing Jonathan Steingard to lead vocalist duties. This year, the band’s debut full-length under this new identity debuted, and it was good. While there is a very noticeable style shift and it’s arguably a lot more watered down than anything the band has done before (and it seems like lead-single “Words” has taken off so big that no other songs from the album are finding commercial appeal yet), it was an undeniable success. Maybe it’ll take an album or two before the band totally find themselves in this new style, but as an album, Made was still a roaring success.



 



9. We As Human – We As Human – We As Human made some big waves in the rock world of both Christian and mainstream markets. Opening for acts like Shinedown and finding some crossover success with rock single “Strike Back,” the band (‘discovered’ by Skillet frontman John Cooper) promises to be a future Christian rock headliner. Their debut album showed potential that will hopefully be fully realized on subsequent albums.



 



8. Anberlin – Devotion: The only re-release on this list, and likely the only re-release that will ever land on my list for the foreseeable future. This album was an example of what re-releases should (and could) be. More than just a simple money-grab like most re-releases, this one came with discs worth of new content from a Live album, to b-sides, to remixes, to a DVD. Not to mention new artwork and a brand new title. If anything, the new material is so great that the fact that it is a re-release is almost a disservice to it. With little tweaking, it could’ve had a much stronger and standalone musical identity if it had not tried to be “Vital Special Edition” and instead included the remaining few b-sides from Anberlin’s Universal Republic days to form a super ‘extra goodies’ project. Instead, it will sort of stand in the shadows of Vital, a better edition of a terrific album (and my No. 1 last year) instead of the completely epic collection of goodies that it could’ve been. Still, it’s hard to fault this album for what it’s not. It’s still one of the best re-releases you ever will see and probably one of only a small handful possibly worth your money. So for what is, it’s still cracking my Top 10 of the year.



 



7. Silverline – Lights Out: Silverline is a strange case of a band. They seem to have a fair deal of success on Christian Rock radio, garnering several No. 1 hits. Yet they still seem to be lesser recognized than their other chart-topping peers. But this album proves that they have a sound that commands to be heard and appreciated more. With potential hit after potential hit, Lights Out was an unquestionable home run of an album. And to be fair, “Vicious” did find some success. Hopefully their follow-up album will get the attention it deserves.



 



6. Red – Release The Panic – By now, Red is solidly viewed as among the top acts in Christian rock, up there with TFK and Skillet. Their 4th album was seen as a mixed bag by many fans. Some experimentation didn’t pay off, but a lot of the songs that had the ‘Red sound’ still resonated with listeners. “Glass Houses” and “If We Only” promise to be quintessential Red songs. While it perhaps isn’t as amazing as it could have been, it was still one of the best things in music this year.



 



5. Audio Adrenaline – Kings & Queens – Let’s be real. This isn’t your big brother’s Audio Adrenaline. Coming out of retirement with a non-vocalist lead singer and hiring an otherwise all-new band with an iconic singer of another famous 90’s act does not constitute a reunion. But it was still a recipe for a must-hear album. Start to finish, there are pop/rock tunes that demand radio airplay throughout and “Believer” sounds like something that should command just about every music chart out there. So regardless of the bit of false advertising that is calling this group ‘Audio Adrenaline,’ their comeback release was still one of the best releases of the year.



 



4. Newsboys – Restart – Continuing to prove that the DC Talk members are still the most influential artists in the biz, the Newsboys roared into their 3rd full-length album with Michael Tait as lead-vocalist. While the Newsboys of today are not the Newsboys of years past, they still are one of the most commanding presences in Christian music. Taking a step into a more dance-oriented album, Restart proved to be quite the igniting blend of pop, rock, and industrial beats. Unquestionably a highlight of a crowded year in music.



 



3. Everfound – Everfound – The biggest surprise on my list no doubt. It surprises me too. I never saw myself ever putting a band like Everfound on my list at all, yet alone so high. They have all the ingredients of a likeable enough pop/rock band that have been coming out in the biz at a good 1-per-year pace (ie. Rush of Fools, Tenth Avenue North, Mikeschair) and definitely seem like a band I’d listen to singles from. But to actually have me liking their album from start to finish is quite an accomplishment. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about Everfound that resonates so much, but it’s undeniable. The melodies and rock beats, the passionate arena vocals, and the tight and emotional lyrics, they all work together to create a true class act that I am eager to hear more from in the coming years.



 



2. Plumb – Need You Now – Plumb hadn’t released a full-length album in nearly 6 years, and it’d been even longer since it was a proper non-lullaby Plumb album. Delayed a good a two or so years and retitled in honor of last year’s tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, it felt like Need You Now would be forever in limbo. But through all the sporadic single releases, name changes, and delays, the album finally dropped in February of this year. And what an album Need You Now was. Even at the end of the year, it still has one of the most powerful collections of songs this year. The powerful “Need You Now,” the peppy “One Drop,” the heartbreaking “I Want You Here,” the encouraging “Drifting,” this album had it all. Plumb took everything you loved about her and mixed it into one of the most satisfying final products she’s ever put out. And so it’s a no-brainer that she’s so high up on my year-end list, and many others as well.



 



1. Skillet – Rise – This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my review of the album here on NRT. (Hint: It was the only release I gave 5 stars to all year.) To put it simply, this album was from start the finish the most memorable and challenging piece of music released this year for me (with a 1-song exception I try hard to forget about). When a collection of music moves me all this time later and forced me to go out and snatch up the deluxe edition on Day 1, not simply as a fan but because it is simply a must-hear record, it’s a rare thing. There’s simply no competition this year. Rise rose to the top on Day 1, and it stayed there all year.



 



Just missed it: Marc Martel’s Prelude EP was a satisfying and memorable solo debut from Marc Martel. The only reason I didn’t include it here is because it’s a bit unfair to compare EPs and full albums, and I didn’t have any many other EPs to include this year.



Jars of Clay – Inland – This is a popular favorite among many year-end lists I’ve seen. I get it. JoC is a class act and a legendary presence in Christian music. There’s not been a truly bad album released from them. I suppose, for me, Inland just wasn’t the memorable piece of art it was for others.



 



The Afters – Life is Beautiful – I honestly could see myself swapping this and my No. 10 choice over time. I found myself considering including it several times as I enjoyed several cuts from it. So this is a definite honorable mention in my book.



 



The Best Songs of 2013:



 



Here are the individual songs released this year (so that excludes songs like Need You Now that came out last year) that, for me, have earned their place at this exclusive year-end table. While still limiting myself to 1 slot per artist, I’ve decided to let some artists have 2 songs in their slot if I feel they had 2 songs among their ‘best’ this year. So without further ado:



 



10. The Letter Black – “The Only One”/”Found” – Emotional and powerful rock ballads are where this band excels and these two are them at the top of their game.



 



  9. Mikeschair – “People Like Me” – A personal ballad about overcoming struggles through Christ, this song promises good things for Mikeschair’s next album.



8. Plumb – “I Don’t Deserve You” – Whether sung to God or a loved one, this song about being loved despite being broken is a powerful and relevant message in a time where it seems feelings of abandonment are all too common.



 



7. John Elefante – “This Time” – This powerful song speaking about how Elefante’s adopted daughter was saved from abortion is a truly powerful message and could serve as a new anthem for being Pro-Life. These days, it’s tough to imagine an evil that needs more addressing in Christian culture than this. Elefante proves courageous in not falling into a quasi-acceptance of the horrid practice.



 



6. Everfound – “God of the Impossible”/”Torch” – Everfound was arguably the best new artist this year and these songs are some of the best off of their debut.



 



5. Anberlin – “IJSW” – Anberlin gave us 3 new tracks with Devotion, and IJSW is arguably the most mysterious and infectious of the bunch. Seemingly random nonsense at times, it somehow still manages to be beautiful and meaningful. Sometimes called “I Just Sang Whatever” because Stephen Christian just went into the studio and recorded the demo without writing it first, the song proves that a true artist can make even spontaneous offerings resound with relevance.



 



4. Audio Adrenaline – “Believer” – A passionate pop anthem that can stand up to anything on mainstream Top 40 without question.



 



3. Red – “Glass House” – It’s got strings, a passionate chorus, a rocking bed, and Mike Barnes’ signature vocals. In other words, it’s a quintessential Red hit.



 



2. Marc Martel – “No More Hurting People” – Written in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing (and the youngest victim, Martin Richard in particular), this powerful anthem is a rallying cry to work to bring Christ to the world so that, one day, it’s title might become reality.



 



1. Skillet – “Not Gonna Die” (HM: “Rise”) – Two of the best songs of Rise were ones that followed the tried and true Skillet formula. Strings, duet between John and Jen, and crunchy rock music. It’s the best treat of the year and the kind of music I can listen to on repeat for hours and not be bored. The operatic interlude to NGD is alone enough to warrant it’s placement at the top of this list.

 



 



HM: Newsboys – “We Believe,” Silverline – “Lights Out,” We As Human – “Zombie,” Jonathan Thulin “Dead Come To Life,” *(Technically released last year but was released as a single and exploded to the tops of the charts this year)



 



Christmas Corner: There seemed to be a lot of Christmas releases this year that offered some memorable potential classics. John Schlitt released a Kickstarter-funded Christmas project that was solid from start to finish and offered us here at NRT an outlet to get our rockstar groove on for our Christmas card. For King & Country released one of the strongest Christmas EPs by any artist in years. And several others such as Brandon Heath and Sidewalk Prophets at least gave us some memorable Christmas original hits (ie. “Just A Girl” and “What A Glorious Night” respectively) that I could surely see standing the test of time. With quality like this, it should definitely have enough power to carry us over to next year’s release. The funny thing about Christmas releases is that we almost never know who will be recording Christmas songs for next year. I suppose it leaves the speculation field all the more interesting.



 



Random Corner:



 



Best Music Videos: Jonathan Thulin: “Bombs Away”/“Dead Come To Life”



 



John Elefante: “This Time”



 



Biggest “What Ever Happened To?” Act: Ivoryline



 



Most Anticipated Albums of 2014:



 



For King & Country – Untitled – They had one of the best albums of 2012 and are poised for a follow-up next year. If it’s anything like their first, it’ll definitely be one to top year-end charts come this time next year.





Marc Martel – Untitled Full Length – I’ve been looking forward to this album since before Downhere even semi-retired last year. And given that Martel’s tended to drop new music without much notice, I am expecting this album at any time now. I’m eager to see what a full-length record from the famed Mercury-soundalike will do. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too far into the new year to find out.



Anberlin – Untitled – There’s no confirmation of a new Anberlin studio album yet but they haven’t missed their 2-year schedule yet and I am hoping they don’t start now. (Although the label change and release of Devotion could delay this until 2015…) Either way, their next album is sure to dazzle. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is because I honestly don’t know for sure if it’s even coming out this year.



Switchfoot – Fading West – I love Switchfoot. I do. I suppose I just don’t love them quite as much as everyone else to give them the automatic top place on my list of anticipated albums. Still, I am excited to finally hear the much-anticipated soundtrack to their documentary.



Mikeschair – All or Nothing – I’ve always liked Mikeschair and felt that they transcended much of the blandness that dominated much of AC radio. Their third full-length is poised to drop early next year and I can’t wait to get a look at it based on the high quality of the initial songs I’ve heard from it.



Kutless – Glory – It seems the Kutless of Hearts of the Innocent and To Know That You’re Alive is officially in hibernation. Kutless seems to have embraced their worship side almost fully now. Their last outing, Believer, offered a respectable balance between their two sides. And hopefully their follow-up, Glory, will keep that going and not veer too far from the rock side of Kutless.



Daniel Kirkley – Limitless EP – Daniel Kirkley has the voice to make just about anything he sings sound good. Some describe his voice as Josh Groban meets Billy Joel. After over 6 years in the business, Daniel has felt God calling him back into the career path he initially was going to choose, medicine. Which means his music is likely to at least take a back seat in the near future. This makes the release of his already-planned EP all the more special. And it makes me all the more eager to hear it. It’s set for an early-January release. Here’s hoping whether it’s a grand musical sendoff or just an intermission, it’s as truly satisfying as everything else Kirkley has done.



The Classic Crime – What Was Done Vol. 1 – This Kickstarter Acoustic Anniversary Project was funded fully within a few hours: Reason 1 to be excited about this. It’s The Classic Crime: Reason 2.



Sumerlin – Runaways – Sumerlin is a new name that is slowly creeping onto folks’ radars. And many notice their stylistic resemblance to early Anberlin. Given that I am such an Anberlin junkie, I suppose it’s a no-brainer that I am more than a little excited to see what their new release has in store.



Nine Lashes – From Water To War – I liked a good deal of songs from their debut and am curious to see what their follow-up looks like. Hopefully it doesn’t fall into what is becoming a fairly dreaded curse of second albums from T&N bands being finales.



 



Closing Thoughts: So there you have it, the best in Christian music this year, according to me. Here’s hoping that next year is even better, despite 2013 being a fairly tough act to follow. Who (if anyone) will get the coveted 5-star reviews? Who will surprise with an unexpected (or early) release? Who will make a comeback? Who will break hearts with departures? Who will disappoint with below-average quality? Who will do something nobody is even thinking about right now? It’s full-speed ahead to what is sure to be another fantastic year in Christian music. As cliché as it is, recent history proves that literally anything can happen.




Sunday, August 25, 2013

Find Amusement for Your Family at Knoebels
Life | 276 views


Summer time is filled with various fun traditions that aim to capture the joys of the season and turn them into photo album memories. Whether it is the family pool, a trip to a beach, or a night camping outdoors, many priceless snapshots of childhood and family are taken from these vacation staples. Perhaps one of the most popular and flexible offerings for fun is the amusement park. Whether one is a thrill seeker chasing a rush of adrenaline on a high-speed coaster or a one who enjoys the view from atop a large Ferris wheel, the amusement park tends to have a little something for everyone. But this often proves to be the most expensive venture for families as corporately-owned amusement parks become the norm and admission prices per person climbs and climbs. While season passes might make the deal a little sweeter, the modernizing of amusement parks with the latest and greatest in terrifying and body-spinning attractions can sort of rob the nostalgic magic of the classic amusement park. But fear not, there are still some remnants of the classic family-friendly amusement park remaining.



For those who live in or near the Delaware-Lehigh valley and are willing to make the long ride to the mountainous Elysburg, PA, Knoebels is a fantastic and varied option for a memorable family outing. Founded in 1926, Knoebels is still run by the Knoebel family and still carries a very “throwback” feel to it due to its isolated location.


First and foremost, the park’s appeal comes in its affordable admission. Park admission and parking in the vast, lush, grassy lot are both completely free. Yes, you heard that right – free. How can that be? Well, while most parks charge a fairly inflated admission rate per person, Knoebels instead charges per ride. Ah yes, that’s the catch, right? Well, not as much as you might expect. While state fairs and carnivals might charge as much as 4 dollars in tickets for most rides, Knoebels is considerably cheaper. The park’s most thrilling rides are well under 3 dollars a ride, and most in the park are well under 2 dollars. And if you plan to stick around all day, you can always purchase a pass to ride all day. This might rival admission to other parks, but here it’s merely a choice. Most families likely have that member who doesn’t particularly like riding the rides, and this is one place where you don’t have to shell out admission price for them anyway. I think you’ll find that you’ll quickly end up paying less per head at Knoebels than you will most anywhere else for a single day’s fun.


So how good are these rides? Well, while they aren’t typically your most cutting edge of steel contraptions that you might find at a Six Flags apartment, they are still plenty fun, with more than enough for all ages to stay entertained. There are all the park staples: plenty of kiddie rides, a Ferris wheel, two carousels (with rich history all their own), and a train ride. The latter is unique in that it takes rides out of the park and into the woods surrounding the park, where you get a glimpse of the vast campground the park also offers (more on that later). But the park isn’t short on the fun rides either. While they went nearly fifty years without a wooden roller coaster (at one time being the country’s largest park not to have one), in the ‘80’s, Knoebels made a risky transfer of a wooden coaster from another park down South. And so came The Phoenix, the most iconic of Knoebels rides and consistently rated among the Top 10 (and often the Top 3) wooden roller coasters in the country. The ride stands as one of the most consistent attractions of the park. Then in the late ‘90’s, Knoebels had another wooden coaster built on-site. While the Phoenix offered lots of hills and “airtime,” Twister would offer lots of thrilling twists and an overall more intense ride. The part also has several water slides, a log flume, and the Skloosh – a ride with a single drop that will absolutely drench you as it looks like you’re going through a waterfall (and if there is a spot on you left dry, stand on the bridge as the next boat comes down and you will get wetter than you did on the ride itself). Recent entries include the park’s tallest ride, Stratosfear, which features a sudden drop, and the indoor coaster-esque Black Diamond, a dark, haunted coal mine-themed ride. The park has also been working on a third wooden coaster since 2006, Knoebels Flying Turns. Plagued by delays and operation issues, the ride has kept visitors waiting and waiting. But word is that “finishing touches” are finally being put on the ride, and it could very well open very shortly. When it finally does open, it’d be the only wooden bobsled coaster in the country in current operation. And with so many other rides around every turn, there’s plenty to keep you occupied.


In addition to all of this, there’s a large pool in the park. Like everything else, you pay per person. But if you’re making a vacation of it, it’s an excellent option for a day of fun. There are also several arcades in the park and lots of other little attractions to catch your eye. (ie the constantly icy “north pole” outside the Christmas shop.)


In terms of shopping, there are plenty of unique options. In addition to the obligatory “kid stores” and a store selling the typical kind of souvenirs with Knoebels logos, there’s the aforementioned Christmas store. Selling various kinds of Christmas collectables, the store is a great way to preview the holiday season and get in a little bit of early shopping. There’s also an on-site mill with various wood-based options from lawn ornaments to benches. As shopping goes, this park definitely can hold it’s own.


This brings us to the food – the award winning food. Yes, for 14 years straight, the park’s food was rated the best by the Golden Ticket awards, and with good reason. From the varied International Food Court, to the fast food of Phoenix Junction, to the cafeteria style Oasis Café, there are so many options for good food here. And of course, there are lots of dessert and snack stands, from kettle corn to funnel cakes. But none of this compares to the real gem of the park: a full-service sit-down restaurant. Yes, in the middle of an amusement park, you can have a nice restaurant-quality dinner. The Alamo is a great option for a hearty dinner in the midst of what would typically be greasy junk food. The food and prices here are about what you’d expect from a diner. The restaurant is air-conditioned and offers a nice, relaxing break from the rush of the park.


If you are planning to spend a few days, there is a vast campground owned by the park, with cabins and room for more traditional camping. There’s a mini-golf not far from the park. And not to mention the scenery is top-notch. Tucked away in a valley that sits on the border of Northumberland and Columbia counties in PA, you truly get a great look at the beauty of the Pennsylvania Mountains. After all of these years, there’s still so much more for me to see. I’ve yet to do even half of it yet, mainly due to time constraints.


If you’re looking for a more affordable vacation that is truly a getaway, Knoebels is one of the country’s best options. It’s consistently rated among the best family amusement parks in the country, and with good reason. With fun options for the whole family and an inviting, clear atmosphere, you’d be hard pressed to find a better vacation spot anywhere in the area.



Sunday, June 09, 2013

JJ's Movie Reviews: Little Red Wagon
Movies Television | 503 views

 Little Red Wagon Shows That Anybody Can Make A Difference

 


Little Red Wagon is a small little indie film that you probably haven’t heard of unless you happened to have stumbled upon it at your local Walmart (it’s apparently a “Walmart exclusive” even though it’s not advertised as such in the store) or at a digital movie rental of some sort, such as Amazon. Indeed, I had read a little bit about it during production but was surprised to find out earlier this year that it had quietly released with little fanfare. The movie is a wholesome and lighthearted option for families everywhere with a young protagonist demonstrating that even somebody from a humble background can make a difference in the lives of others.


Based on a true story, Little Red Wagon tells the story of young Zach Bonner, who began delivering essential goods to people left homeless by Hurricane Charlie. Not content to end his helpful endeavors here, Zach sets out to do more and winds up starting his own nonprofit charity foundation. Zach collects money to fill backpacks with food, toys, and basic hygienic supplies for homeless youth. Homeless youth become a personal cause for him, and he eventually gets the idea to start walking the nearly 300 mile trek from his home to the state capital for them to raise public awareness about the problem of child homelessness. (The movie also mentions how the real-life Zach did this and moved on to walking to Atlanta, to DC, and eventually across the county.)


The movie also follows the story of the recently widowed Margaret Craig and her son who quickly find themselves among the homeless. The movie interspaces their story with Zach’s and it sort of gives evidence to everything Zach is fighting to help. From having their belongings taken at a homeless shelter, to rummaging through garbage, to being forced to stealing food to survive, the audience gets a good look at the trials facing the homeless families. And due to the nature of the movie, it’s no surprise when one of Zach’s backpacks eventually reaches Margaret and her son and their fortunes soon begin to turn around. (Not necessarily due to the backpack, but receiving the backpack marks the point in which their luck begins to turn around.)


The movie keeps things fairly grounded throughout. There’s plenty of drama in both storylines, but the scales are much more balanced towards the positive. Zach is faced with some obstacles along the way such as the paperwork needed to start a charity and the challenges of meeting his financial goals for his projects, but these are resolved quickly and without too much drama. There’s more drama surrounding Zach’s mother and sister clashes at various points due to the impact of Zach’s cause on their lives. This sometimes feels like it gets a bit too much focus, but isn’t too much a presence to serve as a real foil to the movie.


Zach is played by Chandler Canterbury (Knowing, The Host) in what is a solid performance start to finish. The script is low-key enough that all of the performances are grounded and solid and rarely veer into melodrama. Canterbury is convincing as the philanthropic Zach Bonner and captures both the innocence and drive of a boy who wants to go above and beyond to make a difference to homeless children. While the sentimentality of the script might make it a bit hard to stomach for some, there’s always a realistic veneer to the occurrences that keeps the movie at a roughly appropriate balance of saccharine and compelling. The script isn’t aiming to be a ‘Best Picture’ contender and so the film never feels a disappointment.


While Christ or faith has little to no mention in the movie at all, Zach’s selfless service to others (especially during his walk, which the movie shows the difficulty of completing) is a picture of Christian charity. It’s a great message to kids that even a kid without much money can still make a difference by serving others. It’s a great message and one that helps elevate the film to above-average.


It might not rank among the greatest film on any list and may be little more than a watchable lesson in charity, but Little Red Wagon seems to achieve everything it aspires to be. With solid acting all around and strong moral lessons on helping the poor, this is one family movie that has a little something for everybody.


 


Content Information:

From start to finish, the film is about as unobjectionable as you could really hope for. Sexual content is essentially nonexistent. There is only some brief minor language (d-word, and maybe a few more minor words. Nothing I heard was particularly alarming at all.). There are some upsetting depictions of homeless life. A boy is shown with a minor bloody scrape on his arm after taking a fall. Zach is shown throwing up after a tough stretch of his walk to the state capital. But all in all, this is about as family friendly as you can get.


 


Bonus Features:


There were several short featurettes given background info on the movie and real-life foundation it’s based on. Most revolved around meeting the real-life Zach Bonner. There was a featurette about him visiting the set of the movie and others detailing his homeschooling, how the “Zach Packs” are put together, and his walk across America. The bonus features weren’t mind-blowing but they did succeed in offering a nice supplement to the movie’s story by showing how everything that Zach did was real and that helping people isn’t just something for people in the movies.


 


Closing Thoughts:


If you happen upon this movie, I highly recommend it. It might not be the most riveting thing you’ve seen this year, but it’s a good reminder for any of us that we’re called to service of our brothers and sisters and Christ. If a lower middle class boy like Zach could do all that he did, imagine how much the rest of us could do.



Watch the Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uy7nf4EGDEM

Crowd Reviews at Heartland Film Festival:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzVSXLNsS8U&feature=player_embedded

Check out the Little Red Wagon Foundation: http://www.littleredwagonfoundation.com/home.html



Monday, December 31, 2012

Year-End Thoughts
Music | 450 views

It's been quite a year in just about every area, and Christian music is no exception. In my first full year as a staff reviewer ay NewReleaseTuesday, I got a considerably larger view of the Christian music landscape than I have in previous years. So I am even more confident than I usually am in my "Best of" picks--confident enough to write a little article about it. It's been a great year to be part of the NRT team and I'm looking forward to all the surprises that wait next year.

 

So here are my "Best of 2012" picks in Christian music, starting with No. 10 and going to No. 1. Some choices might not surprise you given my reviews, and some just might.



Best Albums of 2012

 

10. Anchor and Braille - The Quiet Life

While not something I can listen to regularly, this side project of Anberlin frontman Stephen Christian was truly a surprising summer treat. It was more upbeat and accessible than the debut album and helped define Christian as one of the more versatile musicians in the industry today.

 

9. Fireflight - Now

Fireflight returned with another release of radio-ready rock this year. The title track and lead single "Stay Close" were all solid tracks. Although given the quality Fireflight is known for, I do wish I could put them a little higher.

 

8. Sent By Ravens - Mean What You Say

Sent By Ravens released their sophomore album this year, and then said goodbye. Talk about bittersweet. On one hand, they released a very solid rock album with promise to make them one of the big names in the industry, and then they break up. It's tough being a music fan in today's day and age…

 

7. Thousand Foot Krutch - The End is Where We Begin

TFK left their longtime home at Tooth and Nail records and started a Kickstarter to pay for this album. Luckily for fans, the quality remained top-notch TFK. Bringing back some of the older rap sound but keeping the accessible rock sounds of their other recent releases made for a satisfying balance and a slew of new classic TFK rock tracks like "War of Change" and "Let the Sparks Fly."

 

6.  Kutless - Believer 

Kutless has always put out solid albums, and this release was no exception. While it seemed to be missing a truly memorable rock anthem, it did well at blending the rock and worship sides of Kutless into an accessible album with a lot of tunes ready to be hits. The Eastertide song "This is Love" and the emotional "Carry On" are definite highlights.

 

5. Capital Lights - Rhythm N' Moves

While so many other bands were breaking up, Capital Lights finally got back together just long enough to release a second album on Tooth and Nail records. Fans who feared that they might never hear any more of the band's signature rock sound were gifted with exactly what we'd expect from another Capital Lights record. While that left surprises few, it was just nice to finally get more music from the CL boys.

 

4. House of Heroes - Cold Hard Want

It's pretty much a given that any time House of Heroes releases a new album nowadays, it's going to end up all over the "best of" lists at the end of the year. This new album is no exception. While it still falls a bit short of their classic The End is not the End album, it's got more than enough signature rock tunes to make a great and memorable release. 

 

3. The Classic Crime - Phoenix

Another band who exited Tooth and Nail and successfully funded a Kickstarter. The band's previous albums set the bar pretty high in terms of musical quality but their new indie status seems to have only helped them raise it again. In short, this album is amazing. It's the same deep, in-your-face lyrics the band has always been known for, but this time the music sounds even better. (Yes, that's possible.) Highlights include the contemplative "Beautiful Darkside" and the epic masterpiece of "The Precipice." 

 

2. For King & Country - Crave

The only debut on this list, and what a debut it is. If you ask me, this goes down next to classics like Jars of Clay's self-titled and Leeland's Sound of Melodies as far as classic debut albums go. While the Australian duo (and brothers of Christian music icon, Rebecca St. James) had put out an EP or two before (some under their former name, Joel and Luke), this was their first national full-length, and they wasted no time packing it with their best. I was first introduced to them on the Winter Jam 2012 Tour and I was immediately won over. From start to finish, be it a rousing anthem or a contemplative ballad, there isn't a wasted note here. Why isn't this band the next big thing being played all day on pop radio both Christian and mainstream? I have no idea. Hopefully 2013 will change that.

 

1. Anberlin - Vital

To anyone who has read my review for this album, this should come as no surprise and I do not need to even explain this choice. In short, this is a mind-blowing, epic, amazing, absolutely terrific masterpiece of an album. Anberlin had struggled to produce such a record since their last such album, Cities, dropped in early 2007. Well, I think it's finally safe to say that they've (finally) succeeded, and captured the spot of my Number 1 album of 2012. 

 

Best Songs:

I'm also including a list of the best songs of this year (without explanations). Well, almost the best songs. If I really included only (what I think are) the best, I probably wouldn't get past my first 2 or 3 album selections, and that wouldn't be a very interesting list. Therefore I am limiting myself to absolutely 1 song from each artist – no exceptions. So I suppose it's the best songs of the best artists, in a way? I don't know. I'll just give you the list and let you judge what you think. In order:

 

"Modern Age" - Anberlin

"The Proof of Your Love" - For King & Country

"The Precipice" – The Classic Crime

"Need You Now (How Many Times)" - Plumb

"Dead Flowers" - Demon Hunter

"Remember The Empire" - House of Heroes

"Save The Last Dance" - Capital Lights

"Up in the Air" - Marc Martel

"This Is Love" – Kutless

"Before I Start Dreaming" – Anchor & Braille

 

Best Christmas Songs:

"Baby Boy" - For King and Country

"Christmas is Coming" - Jason Gray

"Shining" - Sanctus Real

 

Random Lists:

Saddest band "breakup" – Downhere

 

Biggest CCM surprise of the year – Audio Adrenaline sort of comes out of retirement, with an almost entire new lineup, and Kevin Max as the lead singer.

 

Best "new" band – For King & Country (technically not "new" to this year but I'll list them as such since this is the year they released their debut full-length)

 

Most disappointing delay of an expected release – New album by Skillet

 

Most anticipated albums of 2013:

Skillet – Untitled

Plumb – Need You Now

Marc Martel – Untitled EP

Switchfoot – Fading West

The Letter Black – Untitled

Red – Release The Panic

Sanctus Real – Run

Silverline – Lights Out

Seabird – Untitled

Hawk Nelson – Made 

 

I am sure there is much more I could include in such a list, but I'd be here all day if I attempted that. So for 2012, that's my own personal "Best of" list. Here's to a great 2013 that is already promising to be another great year in music. What new artists will thrill us? What artists will surprise us with an amazing comeback? Who will we say goodbye to? Will highly anticipated new releases meet their massive expectations? I suppose by this time next year, we'll know the answers to these questions. Until then, let's sit back and enjoy the ride that will be music in 2013.




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