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Owl City's New Direction... | Posted September-05-2012
Owl City seems to be one of the most popular acts in all of music – period. Ever since “Fireflies” hit radio stations, Adam Young’s dreamy pop rock has been featured on both Christian and mainstream radio. Last year, he brought his sophomore Universal Records’ project All Things Bright and Beautiful, which had more of a Christian hint to it than his debut, Ocean Eyes. The sophomore project featured several chart-topping singles including “Alligator Sky” and “Galaxies,” not to mention the many fan favorites (which would be the whole album). Then, back in June, Adam released the four-song Shooting Star EP, a sneak-peek into his third Universal Records’ album, The Midsummer Station, which is finally here!
Many Owl City fans will immediately notice that the album takes on more of a definitive pop sound. Also, instead of his dreamy lyrics, it is fairly easy to follow the meaning of the songs off The Midsummer Station. Personally, I find this aspect to make Owl City’s music on this new album even more of a hit for me. And, though his new sound did take a little getting used to, I think Adam Young is headed in the right direction. The Midsummer Station has the ability to make the listener instantly happy with his upbeat and contagious music. 
The Midsummer Station kicks off with “Dreams and Disasters.” It’s a bit weak at first, but has cool electronic effects to it and finally blends into the booming drums, as heard in “Fireflies” and Owl City’s other recognizable hits. The lyrics themselves speak of enjoying our life, no matter what comes our way: “Follow the light through the dreams and disasters/ follow the light to the edge and the after/ we won’t turn around/ we will not slow down/ follow the light through the dreams and disasters.” I also love the choppy effects placed on Adam’s fun vocals in this song, and many of the others on the album. 
Next comes, “Shooting Star,” “Gold,” and “Dementia” (which features Mark Hoppus), all from the Shooting Star EP. Personally, these three tracks are my favorite on the album, so I am a bit surprised that all these songs were featured on the preview EP. “Shooting Star” actually seems to be based on Matthew 5, encouraging the listener to shine no matter where they are, but especially in the dark places. “Gold,” my favorite of this set of songs because of its noticeable booming drums, speaks directly to someone, telling them that they are pure gold. The choppy vocal effects in this song make it a GREAT sing-along! “Dementia” sounds the most of any song on this album like the All Things Bright and Beautiful CD, simply stating, “Dementia, you’re driving me crazy!” Not surprisingly, it’s a really fun song. 
With deep guitars and a swingy-pop feel, “I’m Coming After You” is a relationship track, and one of the lesser tracks on the album, in my opinion. It does, however, have cool lyrics that compare love to “a high speed chase racing down the street.” In addition, Adam’s higher vocal background effects are an awesome backup. Stealing what should have been the title of the previous track, “Speed of Love” has the same type of message, only this time, Adam’s vocals are deeper, as he sings: “Don’t you go, no don’t you go…” and later in the chorus, “Rev your engine up, everyone’s racing at the speed of love.” I love the galaxy feel of these two tracks, which is unique to Adam’s music. He just has the ability to make the listener feel instantly happy!
The album’s lead single, “Good Time” features Carly Rae Jepsen, and fits in perfectly with Adam’s message of enjoying life and relationships. I did think the children’s choir at the end was a little annoying and I wasn’t too fond of Carly’s supportive vocals; I think the track would have been much better without her. Next, with “Embers,” which is at first mellow, but builds nicely by the chorus, Owl City again shares the message of burning your light in a dark world: “’Cause we’re burning bright as we all unite/ and when it’s all said and done/ we’ll shine like the sun, so don’t let the fire die.” I love this message, and I also love how Adam Young puts messages like this in his albums that reach both Christian and mainstream audiences. 
“Silhouettes” is an album standout in that it is piano-based and mellow. Adam’s vocals are very soft, and the melody is haunting (fitting the downbeat lyrics), making it a stunning track, one I immediately repeated after my first listen. I hope Adam makes more tracks like this! 
Adam Young “left his heart in Metropolis,” he states through “Metropolis,” a moderately upbeat track. It transitions the album nicely to the album’s closer, “Take It All Away,” another track previewed on the Shooting Star EP. Adam’s vocals are overlapped in this track with both high and lower vocals, making it great to sing along to! And, oddly, even though the track speaks of a terrible break up, (“You gotta know that you tear me up when you say you wanna take it all away”) the track has a happy feel to it, even though it does have a dark tone as well. It makes for a wonderful closing to The Midsummer Station album. 
In summary, I can see why certain Owl City fans are disappointed with the new sound of the Shooting Star EP and this album. It isn’t quite as dreamy as much as it is inspirational and upbeat, and it has more of a definitive pop feel to it. However, that being said, I, as a big fan of Owl City’s All Things Bright and Beautiful CD, think that this is a step in the right direction. Granted, the ATBAB CD may be more dreamy and futuristic, but Owl City has a powerful message of shining your light in a dark world, which is scattered throughout his relationship tracks presented on this album. The Midsummer Station, in my opinion, is a fantastic album. I do say that ATBAB is probably his best project to date, but this album is a wonderful project as well. 

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TobyMac: Eye On It Review | Posted August-28-2012
As one third of the dcTalk trio, TobyMac is certainly one of Christian music’s most well known names. With his solo career of over ten years, Toby has delivered several chart-topping albums as well as three remixed albums and a Christmas CD. His singles include “City On Our Knees,” “Diverse City,” “Burn For You,” and the single that made him popular in the CCM world, “Made to Love.” And now, with his lead single “Me Without You,” TobyMac is back with his latest full-length project Eye On It
Eye On It deviates from TobyMac’s well-known hip-hop style very much, which may be a disappointment for fans of his Welcome to Diverse City album (unarguably his best project to date). However, as electronic dance/pop becomes more of a hit, Toby adapts his style to fit what his fans want to hear. Mixed with the message of refusing to quit and pressing on for the prize, Eye On It is an album that actually surprised me by how amazing it was from start to finish. 
“Me Without You,” TobyMac’s latest single, opens the album with that dance pop sound, speaking of how desperate we really are for God. Toby shares that without God, “I’d be packing my bags when I need to stay/ I’d be chasing every breeze that comes my way/ I’d be building my kingdom just to watch it fade.” Next comes “Steal My Show,” surprisingly on the slower side of things. It’s a very laid-back track that shares a day-in-the-life-of-TobyMac. At the same time, it shows how focused Toby’s heart is on his Savior, and how he desires to please God in everything He does: “Need You to steal my show/ Can’t wait to watch you go/ so take it away.” Therefore, even though it’s a touch of a letdown musically (or maybe just comes a bit too early in the album), it’s a fantastic track that really breathes God’s presence. 
After hearing the title track, I am really glad that the album was titled Eye On It. With tons of bass and exciting background effects, plus a slightly haunting melody and a techno rhythm – even a bit of dubstep, it speaks of keeping your eyes on the prize and running the race of faith. In this track, Toby actually raps quite a bit, which is another reason I picked this track as my personal favorite off the album. In addition, Britt Nicole’s dynamic vocals can be heard in the background. They aren’t predominant at all, but sure are a superb addition. There is not a single bad element about this amazing track!!
Finally, TobyMac has teamed up with Lecrae! “Forgiveness” is the result, a slower track melodically, but it does have a booming drumbeat nevertheless. It speaks of needing and being unafraid to ask for forgiveness – “No matter how lost/hurt/wrong/who you are/ you’re not that far/ you’re not too far for forgiveness/ ask for forgiveness.” On the same note musically comes another fantastic track, “Speak Life.” Totally Scriptural and having catchy lyrics, it commands the listener to use your mouth to bring life into your life: “Speak life, speak life to the dead and darkest night/ speak life, speak life, when the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why…/ watch it come alive as soon as you speak hope, you speak love, you speak life.” This was my personal favorite at first listen for its powerful message, but it’s too hard to pick a favorite from this album!
An anthemic song, “UnStoppable” features Blanca Callahan from Group1Crew with her powerful vocals, as the duet sings about being dangerous and refusing to quit. Toby’s rap is a highlight of the track, as is the Blanca’s powerful singing of the bridge: “To live is Christ, to die is gain/ so break the noise -- we’re not afraid!” 
At first, “Lose Myself” sounds like a piano ballad, but it’s not. As it goes, it adds booming drums and progressive bass to the nice piano sound, as the strong track speaks of counting all as loss to know God – “I want to lose myself, lose myself to find You!” Clearly, Toby has stepped his lyrics up a couple notches with this album. With “Family,” his sings of fighting to keep a family together in one piece – it may be difficult, but it is definitely worth it. This track was a bit of a let down, because although it has great lyrics, it interjects the amazing line of upbeat and powerful tracks. 
“Thankful For You” has a funky tone to it, and is autobiographical, as TobyMac shares how “it’s never been my dream to see my face in magazines/ it’s always been about the music, hoping God would use it to set some people free…” but how God has opened so many doors, and how he is thankful for God and his blessing on Toby’s music. It’s fun listening to Toby share how God has brought his music ministry thus far, as is the funky melody of the track. Through “Made For Me,” which has a Jamaican tone to it, Toby sings of how he met his wife and how, though they are total opposites, they were made perfectly for each other. It’s a sweet song for that reason. 
As for TruDog’s return, his voice now sounds almost identical to TobyMac’s! It’s a little strange believing that it is actually TruDog, but the track sounds amazing as he sings about how he desperately needs a Mac so he can make beats of his own. I definitely think this is his best appearance to date, and it makes me think that he would do wonderfully as a solo artist. The standard Eye On It album closes with the funky “Favorite Song,” featuring Jamie Grace. I think this was one of Jamie’s best appearances, as the song does what it sings about: “Like a lyric to my favorite song/ You stick with me all day long/ when I reach the end, I wanna hear it again.” It definitely makes me want to listen to the whole album over again! 
The Eye On It deluxe edition features six extra songs, all remixes. Five of them are off this album, whereas there is also an extra remix of TruDog’s “LoudNClear” off the Tonight album. I thought it was a bit strange that this was the only track from another album featured, but the remixes themselves are excellent, containing more dubstep sounds for the most part. I enjoyed hearing Jack Shocklee’s (Beckah Shae’s husband/producer) take on “Steal My Show,” (the best deluxe edition remix, in my opinion) as well as the Capital Light’s take on “Lose Myself.” My only criticism of the deluxe edition is that it features three versions of the “Me Without You” single, which I think is a bit excessive. Fans of TobyMac’s will most likely love the extra tracks featured on the bonus edition of this album however. 
As stated before, I was blown away by how awesome TobyMac’s latest album is. I don’t think Toby will ever be able to top his Welcome to Diverse City album, but Eye On It, in my book, comes as a close second. He has stepped up his deep lyrics a few notches as well as delivered some energetic pop tracks that feature amazing guest vocalists. TobyMac fans, pick this album up!

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Mandisa: Get Movin' Review | Posted August-14-2012
Over the past few years, American Idol finalist Mandisa has been making a name for herself with her three Sparrow Records albums. With her greatest release to date, What If We Were Real?, Mandisa explored the struggles we as humans face, and delivered several chart-topping singles, "Stronger" and her latest, "Good Morning" featuring TobyMac. 
Now that the album has been out for a while and has been dove-nominated, Mandisa is back with her first ever remixed EP, titled Get Movin'. The EP, exclusive to digital download sites, features five of Mandisa's radio hits remixed in an exercise-friendly way. They are songs that are great for listening to while hitting the tread mill or when going for a run down the road. 
"Good Morning" is easily the best remixed track off the EP. It has an Owl City sentiment to it, with it's strong electronic dance pop. Mandisa's vocals are untouched for this track, but TobyMac's vocals are affected a bit by the change. I was unsettled about the strange beat added over Toby's rap, especially because it didn't match the melody of the track. Overall, however, this was a fantastic remake, and most likely better than the original radio single. 
With "Stronger," while the overall dance pop remake fits the track, Mandisa's sped up vocals are a little annoying. If they had kept her vocals intact, it definitely would have been much better. This was my least favorite off the EP for that reason. 
"Only the World" and "Shackles," both from her True Beauty release, are given the "Switch Remix" subtitle, sounding much more powerful, fun, and bubbly. "Shackles" is a little bit too fast, in my opinion, but will definitely make for a great exercise track, nevertheless!
"My Deliverer" already had a slight Latino beat, so making it much more strong with Latino piano works great. I thoroughly enjoyed this remake, and it fits Mandisa's style very well. It ends the Get Movin' EP in a way that will make the listener want to listen to it all over again.
So if you are a Mandisa fan and are thinking about checking out this EP, you will probably be thrilled with it. It would be a solid sixteen-minute workout filled with great, dance pop tracks that glorify the Lord! There are a few quirks, but fans of the electronic genre will most likely find this to be a great offering from one of Christian music's most beloved female vocalists. 

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An Epic, No Less: Echo of Love Review | Posted August-11-2012
An Epic, No Less has been a band since 2009. But ever since their signing to BEC Recordings earlier this year and the release of their radio single and companion music video for “Mercy Light,” the band has finally been receiving the recognition they’ve deserved. Their BEC Recordings’ debut Echo of Love is a great example of how worship doesn’t have to be slow and mellow – it can be fun, as in catchy, electronic, dance pop that celebrates the goodness of God!
Tranquil electronic drums and a gentle xylophone open up the album with “We Need You.” The track soon blasts into a powerful track, full of electric guitars, beautiful harmonies, and poetic lyrics. Lyrically, this track is my personal favorite off the album, especially for the chorus: “If You’re hope for the broken, we are shattered glass/ if You’re peace for the lost and the weight that’s on our back/ if You’re love for the faithless, come save us at last/ cause we need You, oh we need You…”  With electronic effects (even the lead singer’s vocals are filtered), “Caught Up In This Moment” is a little more on the contemporary side, but has a wonderful message of being absolutely enthralled with the Lord: “I’m so caught up in this moment/ standing here with You…” Because of the simplicity of their lyrics, yet the rhymes and stunning harmonies, An Epic, No Less has great sing-along songs!
A light dance/pop track, “One Word” uses the thought-pondering statement, “If I only had one word that I could say, it would be Your name.” Some may find the lyrics a bit mundane, but the excellent electro elements of the track make it an alternative to Owl City (even Todd’s vocals sound comparable to Adam Young’s!) Another outstanding element of this track is the overlapping of the chorus with the bridge of Psalm 23. It definitely is a very happy worship track!
I was very glad to hear An Epic, No Less address the atrocity of human trafficking through their debut single, “Mercy Light.” I was immediately drawn to this song and band after watching the music video, not only for the excellent message of the track of the love of God that finds us just where we are, but also for the superb vocals, electronic effects, and great lyrics: “All I ask is, don’t hide Yourself from me!” All around, “Mercy Light” is a phenomenal song!
“We Believe” is just a touch on the mellow side, speaking of how we receive the free gift of God just by believing in Him. But to keep the track from being repetitive, there is a powerful bridge where choirs help enforce the line: “You paid it all and we believe.” In addition, the emphatic drumbeat helps keep the interest of the listener. 
The title track isn’t the most upbeat track on the record, but it definitely is a powerhouse! With background choirs, “Echo of Love” speaks both of how we are ambassadors of Christ to this dark world, and how Jesus Christ will always be there in our time of weakness. In a way, it’s the gospel summed up in a heart-captivating way. Very melodic with nice and light piano, “Come to the Cross” is an invitation for the listener to lay their burdens at the feet of Jesus. It could also very well be an altar call at their live shows as it is very touching. 
A plea for God to rescue us from the bitter cold nights, “Rescue Me” follows nicely, while “Bright White Light” again taps into An Epic, No Less’ poetic lyrics. It almost sounds like a hymn, except for its synthetic drumbeat, as it speaks of singing praise to God for all eternity and shining your light to the world. It also builds as it goes, almost surprisingly, as it is the last upbeat track on the record. “Your Love is Louder” is the only track that is mostly piano-based on this Echo of Love CD, and is also the only track where the band’s female singer Hannah takes the preeminence in the vocals. With wonderful background vocals, the track speaks of coming home to the sound of God’s voice – a very breathtaking track and a great closing track. 
It is surprising to me that this is An Epic, No Less’ debut. Sure, they’ve been an independent band for a few years now, but this BEC Recordings’ debut definitely shows that they know what they are doing! In Echo of Love, the band mixes together heart-felt worship with catchy tunes, either dance pop or other forms of contagious rock. I will definitely be awaiting a sophomore project from these guys. Echo of Love is just that great – the band can only get better from here!

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House of Heroes' Best Project to Date: | Posted July-09-2012
Just about two years ago, Gotee Record’s polished rock band, House of Heroes, released their third album, Suburba, with the label. Featuring the singles “Elevator” and “Constant,” this Dove-nominated album drew me into the hard rock this band had to offer. Other songs, including “God Save the Foolish Kings” and “Independence Day for A Petty Thief” were inviting with their haunting, somewhat futuristic effects. 
Now, two years later, House of Heroes is back with their fourth Gotee Records’ project, Cold Hard Want. Though the band admits the project is more simple than previous efforts musically and more definitive lyrically, Cold Hard Want simply is, in all ways, a step up from their previous album. The album title reflects going through the fire and coming out gold. Through the tough times economically, the band decided who they were and what their goal was with their music, and they are clearly unafraid to show it through this album. 
The album-opener “A Man Who’s Not Afraid” is rather surprising. An acepella track only about a minute long, the harmonies are breathtaking, but surprising for a rock band like House of Heroes. The outcome, however, is absolutely fantastic. 
The rock n’ roll kicks off with “Out My Way,” beginning the roll of tracks that speak of going out to battle and being determined: “If you’ve got shots you wanna take, better hope it buries me, hey hey hey/ if I go out then so it be/ you know I’m going out my way.” Tim Skipper’s vocals, and the choirs for the fill-in parts, sound better than ever, especially when Tim’s vocals reflect urgency. “Dance (Blow it All Away)” has a sentiment similar to “God Save the Foolish Kings” from their previous album, and the predominant lead guitar is superb. And never underestimate House of Heroes, because as this song says, “Dance, we can dance, we can rage or blow it all away! We war, we are a catastrophe!” “Remember the Empire” follows on this same note of battle anthems, only this comes a little more upbeat with more fill-ins. Surely this song will be a favorite to hear the band play live!
“We Were Giants” begins with a synthetic drumbeat and is composed mostly of light acoustic guitar, for the first of slower tracks off the Cold Hard Want album. This track is very solid, and definitely one of my personal favorites off the album, as it contemplates what we used to be and a desire to get back to that place. “The Cop” surprisingly is even slower, with only relaxed acoustic guitar that makes walkups and helps sing a depressing love-song of sorts. Although I did find this track a bit hard to follow, it does have some Biblical elements to it, especially the line: “The rain falls on the blessed ones and the damned.”  
“Comfort Trap” begins the road back up to the rock anthems we love from House of Heroes. Personally, I found the vocals to be a bit irritating in this track, as they were muffled as if the singer were putting his mouth right up to the microphone and not speaking clearly. It does get better when he begins screaming the lyrics of the trappings of the American dream, or of wanting to stay within your comfort zone, even if it means better things can be had by stepping outside of it. 
The single that House of Heroes already released a music video for, “Touch This Light” follows next, and is still my personal favorite off Cold Hard Want, speaking of wanting to reach out and touch the light of God’s love: “I can see You there in a rain of fire, reaching out for me/ I can touch it/ I can hear Your voice calling out my name/ I wanna touch this light.” 
“Angels of Night” appropriately has a country feel to it, with it’s descriptive lyrics of driving through a country village. Mixed in with Tim’s higher vocals in this song, we hear of the hardships of  choosing to love again after feeling the rejection of a broken relationship. The track builds as it goes, but escalading guitars help the listener to imagine the things being described, which is beautiful! Very melodic and half-upbeat, “Stay With Me” keeps the relationship aspect going on: “Stay, stay, stay/ or don’t come back if you walk away/ I can’t go on like it’s all the same/ so stay…” I really enjoy the inviting sing-along feel that many of House of Heroes’ songs have, such as this one. 
Rather hard to describe for its many awesome elements, “Suspect” is accurately titled, a detective track of sorts (”It’s suspect/ the truth hides in the lies/ I expect it all to be denied/ I’m left to sirens singing ooooh”). It has electronic effects when it’s not rocking the lead guitar or Tim’s flexible vocals throughout. 
House of Heroes again experiments with the acapella tracks as they did with the opening track. “Curtains” is the second to last track on the album, again only a minute long as it simply states “Shine it on, shine it on/ we can still get home/ everybody pull the curtains to the window of your soul.” The album pulls itself to a close through “I Am A Symbol,” an, at-first, mellow track, but one that explodes into strong guitars as it goes along. It speaks of choosing to raise your voice and not be silent. At one point, it mentions: “One voice in the crowd is small, but if he speaks the truth, then he speaks for all…” and then later, “I will sing for truth/ I will sing for light/ when I’m gone the flame keeps burning…”   
Cold Hard Want is, no doubt, a step up from House of Heroes’ Suburba album. Though there are a few tracks that are hard to follow or a few elements that are hard to appreciate, the band presents a strong message of fighting with all your might for what you believe in and refusing to give up, even if that means death. With several extreme rock tracks, a few mellow and downbeat tracks, and two Queen-like acapella tracks, Cold Hard Want is a solid album, and is definitely House of Heroes’ best project to date!

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Super powerful and worshipful album | Posted July-09-2012
It’s not often that you can find a worship project that speaks directly to the heart with passionate and relatable anthems. Even if you can, it often seems that such albums revolve more around making money or writing amazing songs, rather than encouraging the listener in their walk with the Lord. However, let me introduce you to Heather Clark, releasing her debut project Overcome through Jesus Culture Music. 
I was immediately drawn to Heather Clark’s deep music. As many have stated, her music will definitely be enjoyed by fans of Kim Walker-Smith’s (from Jesus Culture), Kari Jobe’s, or Darlene Zschech’s. “Come In,” with nice guitars that keep the song from being mundane, has a powerful message of letting the King of Kings come in through, and opening the door of our hearts to Him, obviously taken directly from the Psalms. However, the title track follows, definitely overpowering all other tracks off the album and is therefore appropriately the title track. Very melodic, the title track is a cry to God to burn away the dross in our lives through the fire of His Spirit. I was especially blown away by the opening line, “I’ve walked by this fire so many times, but now I’m coming in.” It also borrows elements from Isaiah 6 and Matthew 3, very Scriptural and extremely powerful!
“Undivided” is a simple, heavenly song of surrender, while “Kisses of His Mouth” was one of the lesser tracks on the album, in my opinion. I did, however, enjoy the predominant bridge: “Take me away with You/ let the King bring me into His chamber,” very personal, and describing the love of God in a wonderful way. 
Speaking again of preparing the way for the King, “Dwell” follows on the slow note, but things become the most upbeat they have yet in “Shadow of Your Wings,” almost entirely pulled from the Psalms again. As I have found with most deep worship projects, the bridge is again the highlight, where Heather repeats in her higher vocals, “I will rejoice!” followed by a nice lead guitar instrumental. 
“I’m Still Thirsty,” which features noticeable audience participation (as the project is recorded live), speaks more of desperation than it does freedom, but it also recognizes that Jesus Christ is the answer for our soul’s hunger and thirst.” Speaking to those who feel worthless, “I Know I’m Loved,” which has really nice laid-back lead guitar work, ensures every listener that, because of what Jesus has done for us, we can be sure that we are loved and have a purpose. Praise God!
Very steady, “Show Us Your Glory” speaks of wanting to see God’s fullness, while “Lamb of God” is breathtaking – very heavenly and melodic, with timeless lyrics, stating that “the Lamb of God makes me clean.” The album Overcome ends with Heather’s cover of “How Great Thou Art,” which is a perfect ending to the album. Also, hearing the audience sing out the hymn at the top of their lungs was timeless.
Heather Clark’s Overcome album is very personal, worshipful, and deep. She takes Scriptures and puts it into powerful worship anthems in a very relatable way. I hope to see Heather’s songs used in the church the way that Jesus Culture’s and Hillsong’s have. Fans of those worship groups will definitely want to check out this album.

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Bellarive: The Heartbeat review | Posted July-09-2012
Bellarive (meaning "Beautiful River") has been an independent band for a few years now, but now they have released their debut project with Sparrow Records. The new album The Heartbeat features several of the songs off their independent release The Being Human Project...Start Listening, as it talks about knowing God and wanting heaven to come down on earth. 
Immediately, with the album-opener "Heartbeat," the vocals sound comparable to Adam Young's (AKA Owl City). The band speaks of wanting to bask in the presence of God ("I just want to stay here"), and also speaks of "bearing the mark of our Creator." This opening track is very powerful with nice choirs and their acoustic, organic worship, making Bellarive comparable to David Crowder* Band, Rend Collective, or Benjamin Dunn.
"Love Has Found Us" follows, celebrating the love of God that alone can satisfy our heart: "It's so beautiful how only You can satisfy this heart for You will always be the life I need." The track builds very nicely after the chorus, stating elsewhere: "Breathe in deep this love" -- a wonderful message! 
"Hope is Calling" is the first of several songs that speaks of how grace is the rhythm that makes our heart beat, followed nicely by the single "Taste of Eternity." It has a nice acoustic feel to it and is therefore very relaxing, as it speaks of how we have a taste of eternity when believers sing together in unity! I agree whole-heartedly with this track's lyrics. 
Nice harmonies provide a perfect backing for "Measures of Rest," were we learn that true rest comes from the arms of Christ. I enjoyed how the track comes from the opposite point of view, however, stating "My heart needs to settle down," speaking of the times of stress and anxiety where it is hard to find Jesus' peace that is always waiting for us. An instrumental, simply titled "Sing" concludes "part one" of this album, having a futuristic feel, complete with guitars and glockenspiels. 
Part two of Bellarive's debut begins with "The Father's Heart," and "Here We Are," which both speak about finding God's heartbeat and beating along with it. The first is very upbeat with pounding drums, while the latter has a nice piano background and an enjoyable irregular drumbeat. 
"Tendons" was honestly my very least favorite track on the whole album. It is repetitious and slow, and then features sermon-like talking for the second half of the track. It seemed to rudely interrupt the prayer for God to open our eyes and let us see. This track lost my interest, and I wasn't sure if I was going to appreciate the rest of the album because of it. Thankfully, the last three tracks on the album were good songs. 
A gentle prayer that God would shine His light on us, "Shine On" is definitely better than the preceding track, stating: "I've been beaten and bruised/ I've forgotten love/ but Your sunrise glory remains/ we will arise." Really nice harmonies accentuate this section of the song, very glorious (as the song states.)
"I Know You" has beautiful piano, and the album closes with "Stories," an eight-minute track. Speaking of the stories we read of Christ in the Bible and wanting a piece of heaven on earth, the track has a clever line: "Could heaven come down to make room for the least of these?" Some listeners may be annoyed with the duration of the track, but it isn't repetitious and does have many interesting elements that kept my attention throughout the whole thing. 
I have to admit, I wasn't very thrilled with Bellarive's The Heartbeat  the first listen through. I had read many rave reviews myself and looked forward to something better than what I heard. The second time through, I found many enjoyable elements, particularly the album's predominant message of calling heaven down to earth, living in God's presence at every minute of every day, as well knowing Him so well that we hear His heartbeat and beat along with it. The Heartbeat may not be my favorite release of the year, but it's a great album to add to your collection if you're a fan of the organic worship projects we've been hearing lately from Benjamin Dunn, DCB, Rend Collective Experiment, and the likes.

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One of the best worship projects of 2011! | Posted July-09-2012
It’s been less than a year since the release of Hillsong’s successful A Beautiful Exchange project, but this summer, the church worship group gives us another awesome worship project through God Is Able, their twentieth release. This new project from Hillsong gives a clear, cut, and dry reminder that God is able, even when there seems like there is no hope in this world. Through eleven powerful worship songs, Hillsong delivers their best project yet, with a strong reminder and brand new tracks that are sure to leave you singing along and praising God to this wonderful music. 
“Rise” begins the album strongly, with booming drums, though it is not a necessarily fast-paced track. This six-minute track led by Joel Houston speaks of rising and praising God on that day when we see Him as He is. The timeless “You’re With Us,” led by the very-talented Jad Gillies, speaks of how Jesus is always with us, based on Romans 8: “There’s no end to Your love/ You’re with us/ You’re with us/ There’s nothing in this world that could take You away/ You’re with us/ You’re with us!” As with many Hillsong worship songs, the powerful bridge was a huge enjoyment about this track. 
The slower “Unending Love,” led by Jad Gillies and Annie Garratt, is sure to be the next “Mighty to Save” from Hillsong, with timeless, but absolutely powerful lyrics! “Now all I am I lay at Your feet/ I’m humbled by the wonder of Your majesty/ One thing I know, I find all I need/ In Your unending love/ in Your unending love.” For me, this hymn-like track was the standout from the whole God is Able project, and definitely a track I recommend every praise and worship fan check out! “The Lost Are Found” is a bit on the slower side of things as well, led this time by Ben Fielding. Borrowing its lyrics from Matthew 11:4-5, the powerful chorus is echoed by the millions of people singing along at the top of their lungs: “The lost are found/ the blind will see/ the lame will walk/ the dead will live/ and You, our God, forever You will reign!” 
“The Lost are Found” blends perfectly into the title track with a very cool lead guitar intro and booming drums, speaking of how God has overcome the grave and given us the power to overcome: “Lifted up/ He defeated the grave/ Raised to life/ Our God is able/ In His name we overcome/ For the Lord our God is able.” Once again, the amazing bridge and congregation participation was so inspirational. It seems only natural that Jonathan Douglass (JD) lead “The Difference” sounding more Hillsong United like than Hillsong, with an energetic tempo and fist-throwing-provoking lyrics: “We are found/ there’s nothing that can hold us down/ with anything against us/ we know You’re love will be the difference/ You give and take/ still we will go Your way/ all our fear is in the distance/ we know Your love will be the difference.” 
We hear Darlene Zschech for the first time on “Alive In Us,” a simple track following the lyrics of “The Lost Are Found”: “You rose from death to victory/ You reign in life, oh Majesty!/ Your name be high and lifted up/ Jesus, Jesus alive in us.” “You are More” reminds the listener that no matter what they are going through, they will get through the season of life, because Jesus is more than we need: “You are more than my words could ever say/ You are Lord over all my days/ I will see the season through/ I will fix my eyes on You/ only You.” 
“Narrow Road,” still on the slower side of things but very powerful, has very creative lyrics, speaking of the narrow road that we walk on as Christians: “Love will shine before us on our path/ To guide our every step within the dark/ to know You is our only cry…” Ben Fielding leads the closing live track, “My Heart is Overwhelmed,” a beautiful and serene worship song speaking of how Jesus has set us free, and serves as a song of thanks to Him for what He has done. God is Able ends with “Cry of the Broken,” a solo track by Darlene Zschech. Featuring gorgeous strings, piano, and acoustic guitar, “Cry of the Broken” is based largely on Isaiah 53. Darlene’s angelic vocals fit the song perfectly, speaking of how Christ was wounded to bring us healing from sin, brokenness, pain, shame, and grief. It put an amazing end to God is Able and was definitely a highlight from the project as a whole. 
Hillsong is only getting better with each release they put out. Now, with God is Able, their twentieth album, they deliver a project full of songs that are sure to make their way to church songbooks and be sung by millions around the world. Featuring the definite hit “Unending Love,” to the upbeat “The Difference,” to the powerful “Alive In Us,” “With Us,” and “Cry of the Broken,” Hillsong’s God is Able is a worship project you will not want to miss, and most certainly one of the best worship projects of the year! 

Review written 7/14/11

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Hillsong: Born Is the King EP Review | Posted July-09-2012
Since Christmas is the season to be jolly, and what better way to get into the Christmas mood than through Christmas music from Hillsong? Born is the King is Hillsong’s third Christmas project, featuring eight songs both original and traditional. 
Cheery bells open up the EP in “The Westward Procession,” followed by “Joy to the World.” You’ve heard plenty of renditions of this carol, but banjos and ebullient vocals help give this track a new spin. The angelic vocals are also excellent for this Christmas carol. The title track, “Born is the King (It’s Christmas)” almost doesn’t even sound like Hillsong! It’s an upbeat pop track with strong guitars and a fun message of rejoicing in the day the Lord has made – Christmas! 
As soon as I heard “Emmanuel” from God He Reigns, I thought it was a perfect Christmas carol, and Darlene Zschech offers an all-new, more acoustic rendition of it for Born is the King. This original is definitely welcome, celebrating the fact that Emmanuel will never let go of us. “We Three Kings” is also mostly acoustic, altering the melody slightly, but delivering the well-known tale of the three kings of Orient following the Star to the newborn King. 
“O Come Let Us Adore Him” is a modification of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” focusing on the last line of the carol and building nicely for its arrival, while “O Holy Night” appears very angelic with triple harmonies and a serene backing. And lastly, the serene “Silent Night” concludes the Born is the King EP, very traditional and peaceful. 
Overall, it doesn’t totally sound like a Hillsong album, but it’s a great Christmas project nevertheless. There’s a nice mix of traditional carols with originals, as well as a playful set, too!

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Hillsong: Cornerstone Review | Posted July-09-2012
You’ve almost definitely heard some of Hillsong’s powerful worship anthems over the past two decades. “Mighty to Save,” “Forever Reign,” “Shout to the Lord,” “Hosanna,” “Lead Me to the Cross,” and plenty more of their songs have made it to churches all over the world’s worship song lists. And that is what Hillsong’s music exists for – to provide resources for the church to worship the Lord. 
But with Cornerstone, Hillsong’s twenty-first album, it was a tragedy in Norway that inspired the album. Reuben Morgan shared that this tragedy, in which seventy innocent people (mostly children) were murdered, caused him to pick up his guitar in worship. As the body of Christ, when one member suffers, we all suffer with it. We also have a firm foundation we can stand on in time of tragedy – our cornerstone is Jesus Christ. That is the inspiration for Cornerstone, another powerful worship project from Hillsong. 
Cornerstone kicks off with “Endless Light,” a somewhat upbeat track that simply celebrates the unending and powerful love of God. It is great to hear Jad Gillies leading this opening track, which is fun sounding and full of freedom. Written by Brooke Fraser Ligertwood and her husband Scott, “Beneath The Waters (I will Rise) follows as a very melodic track. Annie Garratt leads this celebratory track very well, as the worship track powerfully contemplates what happens at baptism – we are raised from the water a new creation. I really enjoyed that Hillsong would right a song like this, especially since I haven’t heard others like it. 
The title track, led by Dave Ware, follows on a mellower note; nevertheless, it is certainly not a lesser track. Borrowing lyrics from “The Solid Rock” hymn, “Cornerstone” causes the listener to remember that when all else fails, we can stand on Jesus and on His Word. The track, which builds at certain parts and weakens at other moments, leads into the slower “I Surrender,” written and led by Matt Crocker. Lyrically, the track is simple – reckless abandon to our Creator Who gave up everything for us – but melodically, it is complex with accentuated drums. 
“Hope of the World,” the first radio single off Cornerstone follows nicely. In this track we hear both Reuben and Annie, but it is cool to hear the congregation take over – almost even louder than the worship leaders themselves! Because it is a radio single, the studio version also follows at the end of the standard edition of this album, as a bonus track, only that version is led by Ben Fielding instead. Also noteworthy about this single is the absolutely beautiful and powerful bridge, stating: “All we need is You,” which leads back in to the bridge excellently. I am sure we will see this song readily accepted by churches in America just as much as the rest of Hillsong’s worship anthems have been. 
“All My Hope” and “Grace Abounds” both continue the slower, worshipful side of things. “All My Hope” is led again by Annie and has a slower African feel to it and a simple message of giving God every ounce of trust and energy we have, while “Grace Abounds” is lead by Dean Ussher (with supportive backing vocals from Darlene Zschech) and celebrates the free gift of grace that was given to us at the cross (“Your grace abounds to me/ Jesus, in You I find all that I need”). The pure simplicity yet heart-gripping lyrics that Hillsong has to offer is amazing. 
“Running” and “Children of the Light” are both led by Jonathan Douglass and Joel Houston, so therefore they take on a definitive Hillsong United upbeat feel. “Running” will have the listener singing along in no time as it speaks of running and chasing after all of God, while “Children of the Light” has pounding drums and speaks of our role in the kingdom of God as His children. 
The album’s last three songs are all significantly less upbeat, but do not refrain from offering powerful messages. “Stand In Awe” confesses that God is better than anything this world has to offer, while “Love Knows No End” has a slight Latino beat to it and contemplates God’s indescribable love for His children. The slowest of them all, “Greater Than All” has a beautiful melody, remembering the wonderful things that the Lord has done for His children. These tracks which close the Cornerstone standard edition are lead by Ben, Dave, and Jad, respectively. 
The deluxe edition of Cornerstone features more most-have worship anthems, including “Love So High,” sounding much like a hymn, the piano-based “I Desire Jesus,” (the only track off this album that is led by Darlene Zschech) and the Hillsong United sound-alike “Praise Jesus,” which, besides having the audience screaming out “Whoa!” has a slight disco rhythm to it. The deluxe edition also includes a few other studio editions of the songs that were already presented in live fashion. 
In summary, Cornerstone is another heart-felt and powerful worship album! Though I wouldn’t say that this is Hillsong’s best worship album to date (I still think For All You’ve Done and A Beautiful Exchange are) it is impossible to deny that Hillsong offers the best worship songs around. They are easy to sing-along to, minister healing in times of brokenness, and offer soundtracks to the times of live when we just can’t help but shout praises to our King of Kings! If you are a long-time fan of Hillsong, you won’t be disappointed by this project.

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