Veridia It has almost become routine: a new female-fronted rock band shows up on the scene and almost immediately people are comparing them to other female-fronted rock bands, either to attack their originality...
Sumerlin It's always great to see new bands and new record labels get a foot in the door of the often very exclusive club that is Christian music. One of the latest labels making more and more of an impact...
Jake With a commanding rock voice that would sound at home on many a rock album, Jake Hamilton has opted to start 2014 with a release that offers quite the eclectic smorgasbord of musical styles.
The Bravest Experiment | Posted August-16-2013 When Falling Up announced that their latest offering, The Machine De Ella Project, would be two albums (a soundtrack to an audio book and another new album), I imagine fans were speculating on how the two would sound. I personally expected this album to be more in the tradition of Your Sparkling Death Cometh, while I expected Hours to be very much tied to the story. And while it certainly was tied to the story, it actually ended up being the logical sonic follow-up to Your Sparkling Death. But did that mean that this album would sound just like it?
Early previews of these songs made it clear that the answer was a resounding "no." In fact, Midnight on Earthship is arguably the biggest curveball yet from Falling Up.
Apparently, before the album's release, Falling Up had promised that this would be a worship album that didn't sound anything like other worship albums. And that's actually a pretty good summary of what this album sounds like. While Hours seemed to be everything that we expect from Falling Up, Midnight seems to sidestep almost all of it (save for Ribordy's soothing vocals, of course).
Make no mistake: this still sounds like Falling Up. But even a glance at the titles of the songs gives you an idea that this will be quite a different album. For one, many of the titles seem to avoid the perplexing and almost absurd phrasing that most of their songs have. Songs like "Who We Are,""Down Here," and "Summer Song" are the last titles you'd expect to see on a Falling Up album. Songs like "Sky Circles" and "Tomorrows" keep the mysterious titles alive somewhat, but even they seem more subdued, especially compared to the lion's share of titles from their other albums. And to add to all of it, most of these titles actually make sense as titles for the songs, even appearing in some of the choruses. It all seems to play a lot closer to the "rules" of music.
Despite how surprising the straightforward titles are (and how much they sound more like a pop album than a Falling Up album), the biggest change here is the music. Falling Up is no stranger to quiet songs and ballads, but they've yet to release an album composed almost entirely of these songs. While Hours unapologetically follows the experimental rock tradition Falling Up has established for themselves, Midnight on Earthship is even farther in the other direction. Perhaps that is why Hours feels like it rocks even longer than previous efforts, as Falling Up was intentionally keeping the two sides of their sound somewhat separate. And thus, this album is a lot more subdued than we've ever heard Falling Up before.
So how is the music? Quite great, actually. "Sky Circles" was a smart choice to open the album as it feels familiar enough to let us know that we have the right band. The chorus is soothing and uplifting, although the song is overall a sober one admitting brokenness. Maybe I am reading a bit too much into what the second verse talks about, but the image I am getting is quite dark and there doesn't seem to be a satisfactory resolution. This leads well into "Home," which even features some acoustic guitar. A lot of the songs are quite stripped down to almost border on acoustic.
Songs like "Bruise" keep some of the Falling Up ambiguity alive, but songs like "Greying Morning" and "Who You Are" are more direct than anything Falling Up has done before. The latter is an encouraging love note from God, proclaiming, "Who you are is golden / Who you are has always been enough / Who you are is such a miracle / You're such a miracle." Fine lyrics indeed, but not something you'd typically expect from a band fond of mysterious phrases and abstract ideas.
"Down Here" continues this trend with some truly fine poetry: "All that I have / To all that you gave / Is laboring breathing / To blood in my veins / And gold like the blood / That had to be suffered / So I could spend it away." The track's simple acoustic guitar backing is so unlike the band, and yet Ribordy sells it completely.
"Summer Song" and "Rooftops" follow in a similar mellow feel with uplifting moments sprinkled in. "Voices" strikes a nice balance between the abstract and the straightforward, such as with "Just cause I'm free it doesn't mean I'm not bound to love / I'm bound to grace so desperate / We're all a people of an injured heart / But that's what makes it perfect." The song carries a beautifully haunting melody with some light violin backing at times that gives it a soothing and somber veneer that feels like vintage Falling Up while still feeling at home in this uncannily soft approach to the album.
"Tomorrows" has a beautiful bridge to close out the album, and it's a perfect summary of the album and features the band's most direct and worshipful lyrics yet: "Oh Lord Jesus / I'm still trying / Wait for me / I stay today / And I'll run tomorrow / But I know you wait for me." It's a beautiful thought to close out the album, and the music rises to the occasion as well. The final ambient notes remind you one last time who you're listening to. And as they fade out, you get the feeling that you've just heard a band take a big sonic risk and totally pull it off.
Closing Thoughts: The album art and title of this album feel totally right for Falling Up, and yet it's so different. There's enough here to make this feel right for the band, but the stripped back and straightforward approach most songs take is a welcome change. While the album might drift a tad too far into the mellow at times, it's a breathtaking musical venture. And as the second half of The Machine De Ella Project, it's a perfect complement to Hours.
Song to Download Now: “Who You Are” (Get it on iTunes here.)
Falling Into Hours | Posted August-16-2013 Falling Up has proven that bands that have "broken up" aren't necessarily gone for good. It's easy to forget that shortly after they released Fangs in 2009 and departed their label home at BEC Records, we officially said goodbye to the experimental rockers. And yet, within a year, they were among the first of what would be many Christian acts to start a Kickstarter to fund a new album. This produced one of their most critically acclaimed bodies of work in the fascinating musical masterpiece that was Your Sparkling Death Cometh.
It wouldn't have been a surprise to fans if that were the last we'd heard of them. But then they came out with a quasi-remix EP of sorts in Mnemos. The band continued to prove that being independent (and semi-sorta inactive) didn't mean squat when it comes to their ability to deliver new music to fans. Late last year, the band announced The Machine De Ella Project, which was essentially a dual-album release that the band would incrementally deliver song by song to those who pre-ordered, with plans for a later physical release.
Several months after all of the songs had been premiered, we finally have the street release. The two albums are Midnight on Earthship and what was said to be a soundtrack to an audiobook, Hours. These titles sound very much like Falling Up's signature brand of mysterious ambient rock, and thus fans were left with much to anticipate.
Given that Falling Up seems to have settled into releasing concept albums in recent years, having an album be a companion to an audiobook seemed a logical direction to go, especially considering the stories in the albums could often be vague and hard to comprehend. Taken by itself, one could probably go through Hours several times without picking up on any story or realizing that it's meant as a soundtrack. The audiobook is not reviewed here, so this review is focused purely on the music.
From the very first notes of "The Contract," this feels exactly like what we've come to expect from Falling Up– a title with seemingly little connection to the lyrics, lyrics that can border on beautiful nonsense to casual listeners but which relay much deeper (and often spiritual) meanings to those who devote the time to dig, and a haunting and somewhat electronic ambient rock sound backing Jessy Ribordy's instantly recognizable vocals.
"The Climb" continues on the eerie feeling and opens with the familiar "float by open windows" line that opened an earlier album, Captiva. Falling Up has always tied the world of their songs together by reusing lyrics, and there are several instances of that trend here. "Finn Hatches A Plan" follows with another solid tune.
"The Rest Will Soon Follow" opens with an almost music-box feel that drives the ballad. It creates a whimsical atmosphere that is easy to get caught up in. The chorus is simple and yet intriguing with the almost heavenly repetition of "it carries us / it guides us to earth." "Aeva and the Waving World" brings back the rock with a fierce beat and electronic backing. Lyrically, the story seems to continue the story and the theme of being strangers on earth. It has both relevance to the sci-fi story and yet still some symbolic meaning as Christians.
"On Growing Things" proves to be a surprisingly epic track, slow-building to a near-screaming finish. Thematically, it's actually one of the more comprehensive cuts on the album. Its chorus has a lot of spiritual lyrical meat to chew on: "Like a light that they've cast far away / We will use what they have thrown / Then they'll finally see / And fall to their knees / We were born to always grow." It's another good examples of how the band's story songs can still provide lots of thought-provoking spiritual themes, even if they require several listens and some deep digging to unearth at times.
The pounding beat of "Intro to the Radio Room" instantly grabs your attention and the song never lets it go. The song ends up being one of the most emotional and memorable entries yet. It's very cinematic in it's approach, with an extended (but fitting and never feeling extraneous) instrumental outro.
Then comes "The Outsider" with a total 180 in its vibe. The foot-tapping beat of the intro feels totally fresh and unexpected. It carries an almost defiant feel fitting of the title. Maybe it's just me, but I also get a tad of a Western mood from it, but in a very subtle way, and all the while remaining unmistakably Falling Up.
"Blue Ruins" opens with an edgy rock riff reminiscent of something we'd have heard from the band in their early albums. This song boasts another beautifully melodic chorus that take Ribordy's vocals to new heights. "Transmission" proves itself a worthy rock track with an insanely catchy rock chorus with lots of surprisingly poppy hooks scattered throughout.
And of course, it all fits in perfectly. One thing that's clear by now is that Falling Up is more than capable of taking just about any musical element a song needs and making it fit in while still keeping their unique experimental sound. "Prillicians" continues with the rock edge, a nice change from the recent trend of Falling Up albums to slow down a bit in the latter quarter. But the rock energy is as strong as ever at this point.
"In Echoes Forever" breaks straight into the vocals and somehow feels very familiar, and yet still very fresh. Perhaps it's because the song's structure is similar to a lot of the songs on their last album. And maybe it's just me, but I keep hearing the song's title in the post-chorus hook. It's almost as if those bars were arranged to shout out that title. The song itself presents a complex man vs. self conflict in its rocking chorus: "So you want deliverance that fourteen years couldn't bring / Or you want to bury all the evidence so far down / Or your dreams are always coming true / Either way you still find you take a life for a life for life." Musically, it's a fine way to close out the album.
Getting back to the fact that this is the soundtrack for an audiobook, it's actually amazingly enjoyable as a standalone. While I am sure a lot of the lyrical ambiguities and abstractions will make a little more sense in the context of the story they go with, they still are great food for thought here. As albums go, Your Sparkling Death Cometh was definitely better at balancing accessibility and musical artistry (this one, like Fangs, seems to be skewed a bit too far towards the latter, although this is a lot closer to accessibility than Fangs was), but this is without a doubt a standout release of this year and a definite musical experience well worth your time. It's one half of what could be one of the most unique projects released this year. Falling Up has done it again, and hopefully, they'll continue to pop out of their retirement to bring us great music every few years.
Bonus tidbit: I ran the text on the front through Google translator (my exposure to some traditional elements of Christianity made me recognize it as Latin right away) and while some of it is a bit nonsensical and incoherent, here is the loose translation I got: But it is not easy to speak unto you I was listening to, because it was already dead years ago. That's when flashlights dim, flicker and die. Ryan, if the idea of getting food, Max goes out to try to hide in the barn clover.They quickly went to the man who greatly delights enemy because there is a place where she has lost more than his bike. Is safe, and we do not say crossed the lagoon, so that it does not attract even more violent with his teeth, the flip over us, thou something. If the medium is the same that it is for the first time that there is no consideration of the second is to the absolute.
Song to Download Now: "On Growing Things" (Get it on iTunes here.)
The City Harmonic has been making a name for themselves in the CCM arena with popular radio hits such as "Manifesto" and "Mountaintop." Their signature harmonic sound has poised them to become a major player in the industry, and just another hit or two could easily launch them into the top tier of their genre. Their latest release, Heart, definitely comes full of such potential hits.
One thing you'll instantly notice about The City Harmonic is that their big appeal is explained in their name. On paper, the band seems like any other straightforward contemporary Christian pop act. Everything from the songwriting to the melodies could easily give you the impression that these songs could be sung by just about anybody in the business. Yet, when you actually hear how the band does it, you begin to understand the uniqueness this band brings to the musical table.
After a brief piano interlude, the first track "Here and There" kicks into a rousing orchestral anthem. The song balances delicate quiet moments in its beginning with the soaring instrumental and choral segments that come in later to form an excellent opener that grabs your attention and prepares you for the album that is to follow. And so we see the "harmonic" part of the band's name accurately describes the music. Not only are there spine-tingling vocal harmonies throughout this song (and the entire album), but the music seems to harmonize both a light rock sound, an orchestral anthemic sound, and a softer ballad sound. Together, it creates quite a unique and powerful listening experience.
"Praise The Lord" continues this pattern, and the result is an inspiring worship track that benefits from the big sound the band has crafted and stands out a lot more than comparable tracks in the genre. "Strong" has an emotional piano intro to a song that from the first verse promises to be a standout track. With a great balance between an inspiring chorus and beat-driven verses, this is an excellent option for radio. Definitely another potential hit here and I'm hoping it sees radio play down the road. Born out of band member Eric Fusilier's struggle with cancer, the song is a passionate and heartfelt reminder of how "when I am weak / You're strong." The message itself is one we're used to in CCM, but the heartfelt story behind this gives it a new layer of depth.
"Take Heart" and "Alive, Alive" both continue the soaring potential hits and keep the album's momentum speeding along. "Love Heal Me" and the borderline interlude "Songs of Longing, Joy, and Peace" offer a nice slowdown to the big sounds with a more acoustic sound driving each. However, there's still enough of the harmonies to keep this "breather" interesting. The latter leads into the surprisingly peppy "Glory." The tune's chorus has the band's signature harmonized vocals displayed to perfection and, coupled with the pep of the verses, it makes another standout track worthy of radio. This is something I could've seen The Newsboys doing back in the day.
Lead single "A City on a Hill" follows with lyrics inspired by The Beatitudes and is a fine example of everything there is to love about The City Harmonic, making it a great single choice. As the chorus proclaims, "Like a city on a hill / Lighting up the way / For the glory of the lord / Rise and shine," one can't help but feel that theme radiating throughout much of Heart, the theme of lighting up the way for the glory of Christ, who lights our way. This one is easy to picture on the radio while still feeling fresh and passionate.
"Long Walk Home" and "Brand New" return to the stripped-down sound and show that The City Harmonic is perfectly capable of excelling at a slowed down approach as well. The songs offer a more intimate portrait of Christ's presence in our lives.
Lastly, "My Jesus, I Love Thee" wraps things up fairly quietly, with a piano intro and a softer ballad approach to the song, the signature harmonies returning once more towards the end to properly conclude the album. As a simple moment of praise to Our Lord and Savior, the song excels and helps wrap the "heart" of the message up nicely, serving as one last reminder of where ours hearts should be always focused: on knowing, loving, and serving Christ.
With many potential hits and an uninterrupted inspirational feel, Heart may prove to be one of the strongest contemporary Christian albums released in the second half of the year. The band seems to know who they are and what they want to do, and this shows in how well they do the music. Heart excels where it's supposed to and reinvigorates the promise this band has shown in the past.
Offering an Alternative | Posted July-19-2013
I won't profess to be an expert on the current mainstream pop market, but what I do hear is awfully discouraging. There seems to be an overabundance of both musical and lyrical garbage. That makes it exceptionally refreshing when a Christian artist offers a sound that is accessible to young people who may be drawn to secular pop while also being able to garner parental approval and offer some more healthy messages. Former Superchick singer Tricia is here with her first solo pop effort to give young girls just such a record.
Radiate hits all the right notes and has songs that can bring some fresh tunes to Christian pop radio, and even a few with crossover potential. Opening track "Everything As Loss" has "radio hit" written all over it. The song is a strong introduction to the record musically and lyrically it's got some draw also, as evidenced in the chorus: "What could hold a candle / what could come close / what could overshadow all you are? / Let my life prove that compared to what you finished on that cross / I count everything as loss."
The first half of the record continues the streak of positive electronic-beat pop hits. "Enough" and the title track are fast-paced standouts that could definitely give Tricia quite the launching pad for building up a following. "Good to be a Girl" and "Daughter of the King" are "girl" songs offering encouragement to young ladies. Ultimately, while the first half of the record is pretty safe and accessible, it's still solid and arguably does everything that it needs to.
"Love Will Not Let Go" slows things down (in a positive way) with a powerful and moving ballad. The piano-driven song reminds us of the endurance of love and is a definite album highlight. "Different" continues the pop trend of the first half of the record. In the standout lyric "you can't make a difference without being different" it offers an important truth for modern youth to learn.
"Adding Up To A Miracle" is one of the album's catchiest numbers, offering a terrific chorus with enormous hit potential. "Without You" is a strong ballad speaking of how aimless life is without Christ. There's no potential "Jesus or my significant other" interpretation to this one as the chorus turns this into an unashamed praise song.
"What I Know" is a worthy follow-up, offering a strong and emotional ballad. "Little Rose" is a touching bonus track, a loving lullaby to Tricia's young daughter.
Lyrically, the album treads territory covered by many before, but it still feels fresh and relevant to the issues that young girls face every day. It should definitely meet with the Christian parental "seal of approval" while still being relevant and catchy enough to appeal to its target audience.
With techno-pop beats that could rival anything on mainstream radio and solid, Christ-centered, encouraging messages relatable to the youth of today, Radiate is a worthy late-summer release that should meet with family-wide approval. While it's not offering anything that will shake up the state of the genre, it holds its own and presents well what is expected from a pop album. The album is overall a solid entry with several potential hits that could help establish Tricia's solo career as one to watch in the CCM scene.
Song to Download Now:
"Enough" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Michael W. Smith is arguably one of the faces of CCM from its early years straight through to today. His name is well known in both the mainstream and Christian markets. He's got enough chart-topping hits to fill several compilations and still have some hits left over.
It all started with his first CD, The Michael W. Smith Project, in 1983. The album produced some of Smitty’s classic hits in "Great is the Lord" and "Friends." It was the start of what would be a long and exciting career in music that is still going strong today. However, there was an album that came about a year after his debut that is often overlooked.
Michael W. Smith 2 has a simple title and is arguably a sequel to his successful debut. Perhaps it being viewed as a bit of a sequel is partly to blame for its lack of recognition, as well as the success of hits that came from the next album. But whatever the reason, the songs on this album are likely to be the least known to the more casual Smitty fans, for the most part.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hits in here. "A Way" is a strong enough opener that likely has some name recognition. "I Am Sure" is arguably the biggest hit from the record, if only for its inclusion on his hits compilation from his first decade of music. The song is definitely among the better tracks on the album, boasting a memorable chorus: "I am sure there will be a day/But it will not be like the nations say/The Lord will come when this life is through/And His deep desire is to be with you/Hearts will fly when the new world starts/And joy will rise like the morning star/God will meet every cry of the heart/And it's my prayer/I want you to be there." The song, as a whole, has one of the more classic melodies heard on the album.
"Hosanna" is another well-known classic from this release, arguably a worthy successor to the aforementioned "Great is the Lord" from his debut. Both songs are very choir-driven worship anthems closing an album, and both have that classic Smitty feel to them.
A collaborative ballad with Amy Grant comes in "Restless Heart." Needless to say, this would hardly be the last time these two CCM legends would collaborate. Two instrumental tracks, "Musical Instruments" and "Wings of the Wind," offer some interesting moments, but on an already slim 10-track listing they make the record feel a tad too short.
There's still everything you love about Smitty here. For diehard fans, this is definitely one to check out.
How Has It Held Up?
The album definitely comes with a dated feel. The guitars, the production, the synths, all of it carries a definite 80s feel. Especially compared with Smitty's later hits, this one shows its age a bit more, even on the hits, than most of his other releases.
What is Smitty doing now?
Check out the interview he did for NewReleaseTuesday to see what Smitty’s been up to as of late (find it on YouTube here).
There's a good deal of worthy material here that is at least worth a listen. While Smitty’s best work was obviously ahead of him and his debut project was arguably stronger, this is a satisfactory sophomore release. Perhaps it deserves a little more love and a more recognized place on your Smitty playlist.
Trust Meece to Provide a Dynamic Experience | Posted July-19-2013
David Meece was one of the greats in early CCM, having some notable success from the 70s through the early 2000s. He's still playing music, although he hasn't had a new studio release in over a decade and he seems to have been largely forgotten by the CCM crowd. Which is a real shame, because his music, while obviously quite dated now, is still one of the most intense listening experiences early CCM ever gave us.
David was trained in classical music from a young age and was performing in symphonies as a teenager. As a result, his music is an unmatched fusion of an 80s pop/rock sound and classical pieces.
Learning To Trust was released right at the end of the 80s, when CCM/Rock was just beginning to come into its own as a serious music genre. The album starts with a brief prelude that leads into the 80s rocker "When I Was Seventeen." The song is a good opener and helps get the listener used to Meece's voice before throwing them full fledged into Meece's signature sound. The title track is next and is a classic Meece ballad, not surprisingly about learning to give up the need to control things and trust in God.
"To Know Him" gives us the first taste of what Meece can really do. The song is a rousing anthem about knowing Christ with a memorable chorus. "The Man With The Nail Scars" is a passionate and emotional ballad, with simple lyrics about following Christ.
Meece's true musical power is best displayed on 3 tracks that are definite classics. "To The Glory of God" has Meece at the top of his game vocally. "The Rest of My Life" comes with a children's choir that helps add even more power to what was already a fantastic song to close out the album. But Meece's talents are best displayed in the musical masterpiece "This Time." Meece's classical training is on full display in the song that blends classical piano melodies against a passionate rock song.
An interlude of Chopin's "Etude in C Minor Op. 10 No. 12" proves that this guy can really play. Meece has told about how this piece always used to trip him up as a student, but it's flawless on the album and helps make this song one of the best of his career. The theme about not living in the past but living for Christ in the present is a timely theme that still rings true today: "And when regret closes in / I don't see what might have been / I see grace and I know whatever comes, He'll make a way / This time / this is what counts / this is what our life is about." If you check out no other songs from this album, give this one a listen.
Several songs from this album are definite Meece classics. While the tracklist comes up a bit short with two of them being interludes, there's definitely enough here to enjoy and make this one worthy of a listen.
David Meece was already pretty established when he made this album. But I think it marked a definite progression of his sound that helped him make the jump to a whole new level of musical greatness. This album has several of Meece's strongest cuts, which stand among the better contributions to classic CCM. If you're looking for a throwback listen that goes beyond what you'd expect for the genre, or if you're just curious to see how the fusion of 80s pop/rock and classical music sounds, definitely give David Meece a listen. And if you decide to check him out, Learning To Trust is a great place to start.
David Meece's 1993 follow-up to Learning To Trust offered another helping of Meece's signature brand of classically inspired pop/rock. Sometimes considered the lesser younger brother of the aforementioned album, Once In A Lifetime has enough merit to stand on its own two legs as a worthy entry into Meece's catalog.
The album opens up with a pair of quintessential Meece songs in "Inside Out" and "Over You." These songs are exactly what you'd expect from Meece given his previous discography. "Going Home" is musically reminiscent of "The Man With The Nail Scared Hands" from Meece's previous album, but it's different enough to merit its inclusion here.
The album kicks up quite a bit in the second half. "Early in the Morning" is an exciting and energetic anthem celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. It's an Easter classic that can appeal to all ages with a passionate and rocking delivery but faithful and praising lyrics glorifying the risen King. It's one of the finer songs of Meece's career and is an immediate highlight of the album.
Next up is what is perhaps Meece's most personal and vulnerable song ever, "My Father's Chair." Meece often gives an extended testimony about his troubled relationship with his father in concert before this song. He has the testimony on CD and on his website, I believe. It's truly an amazing and riveting story, delivered intensely by Meece. While it's not short on humor, the monologue is as intense a spoken word delivery as I've ever heard. I first heard it when I was probably not much younger than Meece was when his father told him that he was worthless, and that moment in the speech has stayed in my mind ever since. Meece's journey to forgiveness is a powerful testament to what Christ's presence in our lives can do.
The song uses the image of a chair to discuss three kinds of fathers in Meece's life: his earthly father, the kind of father he hopes his children will see him as, and his heavenly Father. The brilliant and touching comparisons combined with the emotional piano-driven melody help to make this ballad one of the most memorable songs Meece has done yet. The paralleling lyrics are haunting, so much so that I cannot possibly include any of them here without using them all. The lyrics form such a powerful story that you simply have to sit, listen, and be amazed at what Meece has accomplished.
The title track follows and is a classic Meece hit, standing up well next to other hits such as "The Rest of My Life" from previous releases. The album closes strong with "Living in the Shadows." After the 3 previous masterpieces, this one feels a bit of a letdown, but it's definitely a strong track and a good way to close out a fine album.
Like with his last release, the 9-song track list makes for a fairly short album, leaving the listener wanting a lot more. Still, the quality of the music is top-notch. There's very little to not be happy with.
Meece has crafted another fine album of personal and memorable tunes. While the album's highlights shine so bright that some of the other songs may get overlooked, this is from start to finish a solid release well worth digging up for a few listens.
Song to Download Now:
"Early in the Morning" (get it on iTunes here) and "My Father's Chair" (get it on iTunes here).
David Meece Takes Us On His Odyssey | Posted July-19-2013
With the exception of a release in 2002 and another compilation a few years later, this was the final official release from David Meece. It’s a "hits" compilation of sorts, but it misses a little too much to be considered a "greatest" hits collection. Indeed, with the exception of 1 radio edit from each of his previous 2 albums, they aren't represented here at all. Instead, this collection seems to toss a bunch of Meece's older hits into one collection. While this might make the flow a lot more jarring, it's a definite comprehensive collection of the best Meece had to offer prior to Learning to Trust.
The album's hits include the Mozart-inspired "Falling Down," the Bach-inspired "You Can Go," the passionate "Higher Ground," and the Good Friday ballad "Forgiven." All of these are fine examples of Meece's fine songwriting. The Christmas classic "One Small Child" finally gets an official release on a Meece album. Meece wrote this song when he was a teenager, I believe, and it became a classic covered by many other artists. It's almost ironic that Meece's recording of his own song isn't better known. The classical influence is on powerful display here, and despite it being a Christmas tune, it fits right in thematically and musically is a treasure of an inclusion.
The classic rock "Tumblin' Down" provides a higher-energy moment on the album and is an excellent example of Meece’s ability to shake things up. "His Love Was Reaching" is another classic Meece ballad. But Meece's signature ballad that has been covered many, many times and is arguably his most well known song is the powerful declaration of Christ's love for us "We Are The Reason." This one can also double as a Christmas song, and often does in many covers. With its profound chorus, it's truly a lyrical gem: "We are the reason that He gave his life / we are the reason that He suffered and died / to a world that was lost, He gave all He could give / to show us the reason to live."
The new song from Meece’s previous compilation returns here and is a great inclusion. Truly "Seventy Times Seven" is probably one of Meece's better-known songs. Rightfully so due to its intense, rocking delivery and timeless theme of Christ's famous teaching on how often we are to forgive, and how we need Christ to forgive us. With a piano-driven melody with a splash of Latin flare, the song is one of Meece's most unique, but the pre-chorus establishes the song as a Meece classic. Lyrically, it’s also one of the stronger offerings on an already deep album, with profound and personal words such as "This prison has no walls / This bondage has no chains / My memories have no mercy / There's no one left to blame/Wish I could force back / The hands of time / And right every wrong / Grant me just this one last chance / Before it's gone, gone, gone."
As great as all of these hits are, the greatest inclusion on this album is arguably the album's sole original cut, the opening track "God’s Promise/Rainbows in the Night." Following in the tradition of Meece songs being inspired by a classical piece, this song is built around what is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of classical music today, Pachelbel's Canon.
The song is a dynamic and breathtaking roller coaster ride, balancing the soft and loud to perfection. The chorus singing of God's promises to us is one of the most memorable in Christian music history: "God's promises are rainbows in the night / Shining hope inside when shadows cloud my eyes / His promises are rainbows in the night / Guiding through the darkest times / God's promises are rainbows in the night." If you listen to nothing else in Meece's catalogue, check this one out. That will be harder as this is one album of his that isn't available for download, to my knowledge. But this song is a true underrated treasure of Christian music.
How Does The Music Hold Up?
All of Meece's music is arguably quite dated, taking many influences from the times it was released in. Yet, it also speaks to timely themes and thus should have lots of relevance to us today. The classical elements likely make the music more "timeless" than dated, as they’d always sound a tad out-of-place. Some of the ballads still hold up terrifically as well. So it's a bit of a mixed bag. Many of these songs could definitely still fit in with today's music, many are pleasant throwbacks, and many are just grand pieces of music that transcend musical trends. Meece is a fine musician and his music still offers much for us today.
What's Meece Up To Since?
Meece still writes and plays a decent amount of shows. He hasn't released an album since 2002, but I’ve heard he's hoping to release more music with the songs he's written lately. He might not be on the frontlines of CCM anymore, but he's still there on the outskirts of the industry poised to hopefully deliver more classic tunes.
As greatest hits albums go, this is a worthy collection. While it misses most of the previous two albums (which should be bought on their own anyway), it covers most of Meece's biggest hits and its new song is one of the best Meece ever penned. Odyssey is one hits collection worth checking out.
Song to Download Now:
I don't believe this is available for download but if you can somehow find it one day: "God's Promises/Rainbows in the Night"
Skillet Rises Higher than Ever with the Best Rock Music of the Year | Posted July-16-2013
There aren't many bands left that can be called true powerhouse headliners, but Skillet is one of the few and by far one of the most memorable. Their signature symphonic rock sound is arguably one of the most defining and legendary sounds of this Christian rock era. Furthermore, their live show is increasingly stronger with every passing year. Their sound has been one of the driving influences of the Christian rock genre.
With a growing rabid fanbase of "panheads," Skillet, coming off their first platinum album with Awake, is finally ready to release another genre-defining album in Rise.
It's been almost four years since Awake graced our ears and met with a fairly mixed response. While it was by far Skillet's most successful endeavor ever (solidified by the aforementioned Platinum status, plus a slew of smash hit singles on mainstream rock radio), it was also the one that met with the most backlash from critics and some longtime fans for sounding too generic and too much like a Comatose sequel.
While I never subscribed to those views, I did have high hopes that Skillet would alleviate any worries with their follow-up record. And now that it's finally with us, I can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that not only does Skillet still have it, but they're bigger and better than ever.
The album opens with the gritty and powerful title track, "Rise," which is a call to action for us today as we struggle to survive "in a world gone mad." The song sets the tone perfectly for the theme that permeates the entire album. Rise stands as Skillet's first concept album about a teen growing up in our modern, troubled world. This title track perfectly sets up the conflict and gives hope that we can fight back against it.
It's almost spooky knowing that this song, and the others, were largely written before the tragedies in Sandy Hook and Boston reminded us that evil is alive in our culture. It's so easy to take tomorrow for granted, but so often "yesterday is gone, faster than the blast of a car bomb." The lyrics have proven themselves very relevant for our time given the events that have unfolded in recent years, or even since the song was initially written.
Musically, the song is a great balance between the orchestral rock and edgy rock sounds the band is known for, and an appearance of a children's choir really makes it impossible to define the song as anything but epic. The song ends in a transitional track consisting of audio snippets of a 9-1-1 call, news of economic decline, and a parent verbally abusing their child.
This leads perfectly into lead single, "Sick of It." The song is a great rocker about standing up to all the negative influences in our lives. With the return of Cooper's screams and Skillet's old industrial influences, this track should be pleasing to longtime fans.
Crossover anthem "Good To Be Alive" follows next and is another fine track that reminded me a bit of previous hits "The Older I Get" and "One Day Too Late." There are some pop melodies that really helped make the song a standout for me.
A haunting interlude with a girl singing quickly escalates into a full-on adult operatic choir. (Yeah, you read that right: Skillet's gone opera on us.) After what is an awesome kind of over-the-top intro, "Not Gonna Die" bursts forth in all of its orchestral rock glory. This song is essentially the picture of the kind of music Skillet has made its signature, with dual male/female vocals, strings, and a wicked guitar solo. The emotional chorus is also one of the strongest on the album. All of this makes this song an instant Skillet classic.
The edgy "Circus for a Psycho" is next and proves to be another hit for the band. With gritty vocals, excellent guitar work throughout by Skillet's newest member—Seth Morrison—and a soaring chorus, this is another great cut on the album. If you haven't figured it out by now, there are a lot of those. This song transitions into the power anthem and CHR single, "American Noise," which would feel right at home at any patriotic outdoor concert.
"Madness in Me" brings back the rock for what could be the most intense rocker on the album, complete with some throwback electro-industrial flare (which hasn't been seen much since Alien Youth, but which is subtly there on several tracks here).
Following is the album's final interlude, the Coopers' daughter, Alex, provides a powerful reading from Isaiah, leading into what is being defined as the climax of the album's story, "Salvation." The song is when the main protagonist finally discovers Christ. It starts off dark, haunting and subdued, but unexpectedly escalates into a powerful rocker. This song also marks the first time in Skillet history that Jen Ledger takes the lead on a song. John's still a big presence on the song, particularly on the chorus, but Jen takes the verses and pulls this off like a champ. There is actually quite a bit of Ledger vocals on a good half of the album's cuts. They fit in perfectly.
"Fire and Fury" follows in what could open up a new kind of classification for Skillet, an epic ballad of sorts. This song starts off fairly restrained but you can tell that it's just begging to burst forth, and in the second half, it does. John and Jen's vocals are intense and passionate and help make this a standout cut. Lyrically, it feels like the natural follow-up to "Salvation," with both songs confessing a burning passion for Christ.
"My Religion" is probably one of my most frustrating songs in the history of my music listening experience. Stuck between two highly emotional songs, this quirky attempt at a Southern sound is quite the 180 for the musical momentum. Lyrically, I have some issues with it, which is rare for a Skillet song. And while I can't deny its catchiness, I can't help but think that it'd have been much better served as a bonus track, perhaps swapped with one of the songs that ultimately did get the cut. (More on those later.) Still, this song will undeniably have a lot of fans too, and so I can forgive it and understand why they went with it.
"Hard to Find" has an emotional piano opener (with stringed backing) that sounds ripped from a dramatic movie trailer. Again, the emotional relevance is undeniable as Cooper sings "turned on the TV yesterday, so much pain bleeding through, I had to look away." But the chorus proudly declares that Christ gives us faith, even "when faith is hard to find." There aren't many genuine power ballads on Rise, but this one is so strong that it alone can fill the entire emotional quota of several.
"What I Believe" closes out the "regular edition" in grand fashion. While you might expect another slow song based on the title, the classic epic strings of Jonathan Chu and Tate Olsen promise one more trip down the rock-and-roll road on Rise, and that's exactly what we get. While the chorus is the most pop-driven of the rockers, it's still rock. The song proudly concludes the journey through the album as Christ is declared to be what the protagonist of the story believes, and that he or she will live and die for Him. And this is a declaration all Christians can join in singing. He's our light in the darkness; our hope in a hopeless world. The music conveys this upbeat tone so well while still keeping the rock coming. The strings are a fantastic way to send the album off and truly leave you wanting more. And it just so happens, Skillet's prepared for that.
If Skillet had just given us the songs featured on the regular edition, it'd be a stellar album by any standards. But, as they did with Awake, there's also a Deluxe Edition of the album releasing the same day. (It also comes with a live DVD of their 2012 Winter Jam set that isn't reviewed here.) And this one comes jam-packed with three additional songs.
While some B-sides in general are treats that understandably didn't make the cut, every so often a B-side will be so good that you wonder how it could possibly be banished to a lesser-known deluxe edition. And to no surprise, Skillet's B-sides fall into the latter category.
"Battle Cry" is the first of these. It opens up with a brief harp-intro that is almost heavenly. Then the bass picks up and the verse builds to a powerful rock chorus. The song stands as one of the best crossover songs Skillet's ever done, perfectly balancing an energetic rock sound with accessible pop melodies and "ohs" that will make this song destined to be a fan-favorite, despite not being on the regular album. Thematically, it fits right into the story, as it sings standing strong against the world and all it can throw at you, because the world "can't take us down, if we stand our ground. If we live, if we die, we will shout out, our battle cry." It's truly a standout on what was already an album of epic proportions. And as the song fades out, there are still two more bonuses to go.
"Everything Goes Black" might make you think of a head-banging rocker from the title, but it's actually quite a lot more restrained. In fact, the song starts with soft strings and keys and softer, melancholy vocals from John that are a lot quieter than just about anything we've seen from Skillet in several albums.
The song picks up a bit after the first chorus and ends up being a dark and emotional rock ballad. The song's lyrics are among the darkest and most personal on the album, speaking of how empty and painful life is when Christ, the Light of the world, isn't in our lives. John and Jen's dueling vocals return and complement each other to perfection. When John sings, "Whenever you're gone away, the darkness hides the day / whenever you're gone, the bleeding won't stop / it hurts 'til you come back / everything goes black," you can feel the honesty and emotion. The song's softness and simple melody allow the lyrics to truly resonate. One can easily see this being played acoustically and I hope its status as a bonus track doesn't cause it to get overlooked.
The bonus tracks come to a close in the unique rocker, "Freak Show." Opening with an announcer welcoming a crowd to the "freak show," this rocker proves to be an album highlight. The electronic influences are on full display here but there's still Skillet's fierce edge and guitar goodness driving the song.
Thematically, the song plays on the classic "not of this world" theme (literally quoted in the intro) and harkens back memories of Alien Youth both in theme and sound. "Welcome to the freak show / this is where the freaks go / this is the place that they can never take away," might come off as a tad cheesy, but I bet you'll find yourself singing along to it all day long.
When Cooper sings "I'm a freak naturally, it's how I wanna be / you're a freak, just like me," it's a truly relevant and rousing moment and a great thought to leave us with as Rise (Deluxe Edition) comes to a close. It's an overall satisfying entry and completes the trio of delectable bonus offerings that each could've felt right at home on the album.
Those who miss Skillet's lyrically bolder days should find this album refreshing. While the lyrics are still largely what we've come to expect since Collide, this is arguably their boldest faith-based release since Alien Youth, with everything from "Salvation" on being undeniably Christ-centric, and even outright worship. Any basis for Skillet selling out that there was (which wasn't really strong to begin with) is totally washed away with this release.
Deluxe Edition DVD:
In addition to the bonus tracks, the Deluxe Edition of the album comes with a DVD full of goodies. While many might expect some of the behind-the-scenes featurettes that are here, the Awake and Live DVD is actually focused on a live concert captured from a Michigan stop of the 2012 Winter Jam that Skillet headlined.
The set list is only 9 songs, making it noticeably shorter than previous live album, Comatose Comes Alive. Yet that was to be expected, as this is just a bonus on a regular CD release. The Winter Jam set was an ideal one to pick though, as it hits what are arguably the strongest and most memorable cuts from Comatose and Awake. Also included are John Cooper's powerful speeches leading into "Awake and Alive" and "The Last Night." It's great to finally have a professional quality "war for your soul" monologue. My only regret is that Skillet didn't give the powerful story behind "Lucy" during this tour, as it would've been a timely inclusion. But what's here is sufficient.
Finally having professional video of the revamped set intro to "Whispers in the Dark" and the intro/outro to "Rebirthing" alone made this a winner for me. For just nine songs, this one is one of the tightest set lists Skillet's ever had. (Pre-Rise, at least.)
The sound and video quality are more than satisfactory. There are times when the sound feels a bit overproduced and the audience's responses aren't always audible. The video gets up close and personal with the band's performance, which helps you get a much closer view of what's going on than you otherwise would in a sold-out stadium. Perhaps there'd be reason to expect more if this was a full-length live release, but for a Deluxe bonus, this live DVD is exceptional and quite the enjoyable treat. It definitely elevates this Deluxe Edition worlds above Awake's. For once, it doesn't just feel like a cheap gimmick to get you to spend extra money for bonus songs. This one actually feels deluxe.
There are three behind-the-scenes featurettes scattered throughout the concert showing things such as backstage and photo shoots for Rise. These are all very interesting but would've probably been better in the bonus material to avoid interrupting the flow of the concert. There's also a "Making of Rise" featurette. It's more of what you'd expect from such a DVD, but it's still a worthy inclusion. It's always interesting to see the process of what goes into the making of an album and there are several little nuggets of info that are interesting. (There also are glimpses of artwork Jen drew that had previously not been released.) It's a great way to top off a fine Deluxe package.
Rise is the picture of a legendary album. The music is epic and memorable, with every song a classic in the making. It's a thematic renaissance for Skillet as well as a musical one. There's the best of everything Skillet here: the strings, the rock focus, the gritty and dueling rock vocals, the industrial influence and lots of new surprises.
Even in all of these, I can't accurately describe how great this album is. There are so many layers and intricate details that you will discover upon subsequent listens—even after many listens. Add to that a fine Deluxe package, and you have one magnificent album. (The Deluxe looks amazing in it's Digipak packaging, by the way. It felt really good to go and buy it. Just from how cool it looked, I knew I was holding something special. The lyric booklet with poster on back, the artwork, it all contributes to the amped up look.)
The Skillet gold standard has been met, and raised once more. Rise is the quintessential album of the year and one destined to go down in the history books. In short, Skillet is back, better than ever, and ready to send shockwaves through the rock world yet again.
Jen Ledger did the artwork for the album and the album cover. While John Cooper wrote the songs thinking about a boy, Jen drew a collection of artwork inspired by the songs featuring a young girl. The artwork on this record is actually very creative and memorable. Major props to Jen for a job well done.
A few months back, Thousand Foot Krutch showed off how well some of their songs from The End Is Where We Begin translated to a remix with their Metamorphosiz EP, The End Remixes Vol. 1. In an age where remix albums seem to be growing ever more popular, TFK showed that their music could hang with the best of the techno and dubstep kings.
It was pretty clear by the "Volume I" designation that a follow-up wouldn't be too far off, and that bring us to Metamorphosiz II - The End Remixes, Vol. 2, featuring more hits from their most recent studio album making the jump to remix.
"Fly On The Wall (The Robbie Bronnimann Mix)" opens up the EP and is an exciting transformation from the original. While the original was an emotional mid-level rock number, the remix version sounds great as an electro-dance number. The song's emotional depth remains and McNevan's vocals gain even more nuances set to this electro beat.
The theme of speaking to our vices through the context of a dream and declaring that we're ready to move on remains solid and perhaps takes on new meaning in the new setting.
"The End Is Where We Begin (Solomon Olds Remix)" is Family Force 5 frontman Soul Glow Activatur's faster-paced take on the title track. It's a clever transition and helps to add a new layer of excitement to the song.
"Courtesy Call (Rui Da Silva Remix)" is next and opens with the strings similar to the album version plus some of the album's memorable creepy voice introduction. The song was always perhaps a logical candidate to be remixed as it sounded much like a club song the first time around. And a lot of rock elements are still present, with electronic elements added in between and over these elements.
Unsurprisingly, this one turns out really well and feels like one of the more natural remixes on the collection. "The mark you make is up to you" is also a great message to bookend the song. Of all the songs, this one feels the most like it could've passed as the original.
"Down (Andy Hunter Remix)" is an appealing take on the rap number and the electronic beats actually work out pretty well, perhaps better than the original. The song about standing up to critics who put you down offers a positive message and the new coating of paint makes it a positive club-ready tune.
"Be Somebody (The Robbie Bronnimann Mix)" offers a bit of a slower electro beat, appropriate for a slower song. The original album version was one of TFK's most emotional singles yet. The beat adds some welcome eeriness and tension to the chorus, and some delectable piano hooks add an intriguing kick to the track that I really like. The emotional power of the original is mostly present here. While this isn't likely to replace the original on TFK playlists, it's good enough to merit it's own space there.
"So Far Gone (Joshua Silverberg Remix)" has a more ambient take on the track than the stripped-down original. This approach offers a different angle on the intimacy of the song. Some of the electro elements, restrained though they are compared to the others, could use to be dialed back even more. The piano and synth backing was enough to add a different take to the song—although the electro beat does make for a fun bridge. Still, the track is a definite success as a remix and is a great way to close out the album.
As a rock fan, I'll still probably always prefer the originals for the large majority of these remixes, as I do with most remixes. But as one who isn't generally a fan of remix projects, this EP was a pleasant surprise and offered some fun and memorable takes on the originals. Whether they are an improvement or not will depend on individual tastes, but I'll at least be giving these some playback in the future.
This is a great second half to TFK's remix EPs. There are new facets of depth revealed through these remixes. It's a satisfactory holdover until the next full-length TFK project. Whether you like remixes projects or not, it's definitely worth your time at least giving a few listens to.
Song to Download Now:
"Courtesy Call (Rui Da Silva Remix)" (Get it on iTunes here.)