News – posting reviews for IndieVisionMusic.com

Indie Vision Music

 

There’s a bit of news.  I’ve been accepted as a contributor over at Indie Vision Music, a site that just happens to cover many of the bands I dearly love.  There I will be posting album reviews, news, and potentially interviews covering a variety of alternative Christian artists.  I’ve been following closely since early 2010, and I have discovered a ton of great music that I otherwise never would have heard of.  It’s an honor to  have the opportunity to give back something to a community that has enriched my life so much.

That being said, most of my future album reviews will appear there, though I will still continue to do Throwback Thursdays, book reviews, deep thoughts, and other typical fare for the blog.  I may occasionally post links to reviews I’ve done there, but I’ll keep that to a minimum.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the news.  I’ve been out of the country on a mission trip, but regular posts will continue soon.

Review – “The Hurry and the Harm” by City and Colour

The Hurry and The Harm by City and Colour

City and Colour is definitely a band I use to find common ground with others.  Few can complain about the delicate vocals of Dallas Green, and the more recent efforts have tinged toward more of a classic sound.  The Hurry and the Harm is no exception.  Coming almost two years to the date after the release of Little Hell, the new release picks up right where it left off.

I’ll start by saying that there’s really nothing to complain about in this album.  There were no huge surprises stylistically, and everything from the performance to the production quality is excellent.  At the same time, I didn’t really find anything that connected with me or got me excited.  There are good songs, to be sure, but there are also songs that don’t stand out to me in any way because they sound like music that’s all been made before.  It’s still distinctively City and Colour, but traces remind me of bygone eras.  Fans of artists that gravitate toward sounds of the past will find lots to like on this album, while those hoping for something more modern or innovative may only find other aspects to appreciate.

Most of the songs implement a full-band sound similar to something one might hear in the mid-seventies.  Relatively simple acoustic guitar foundations support bass, electric guitar, and less-than-tight-sounding drums, all while the breathy vocals of Dallas float on top.  As stated, the performances are nearly flawless, but that comes as no surprise.  I believe Green is one of the premier male vocalists of our generation.  Some songs feature a simpler sound with only acoustic guitars and vocals, which come as a welcome break, in my opinion.  Finger-picking sections make up for the somewhat simple-sounding chords that are used elsewhere.  I miss the rich, even dissonant guitar work that characterized City and Colour’s earlier work, but the full-band composition adds complexity and dynamics in a different way.

If I had to choose one thing that I truly enjoyed about the album, it would be the lyrics.  Dallas Green has always had a knack for exploring serious topics.  I’ve always appreciated his ponderings even though I’m relatively certain we hold different world views.  Words like those from the title track exemplify his style of reflective songwriting:

But why are we so worried
More about the hurry
And less about the harm?

Always trying to conquer
That which does not offer
Anything more than a broken heart
Oh, what a cost for love

Other songs similarly explore questions of the human condition.  Personally, I didn’t find as much of a balance between concrete, heart-rending lyrics and deep questioning as in previous records, but I’m an emo-kid at heart; it will be hard to top Sometimes in my eyes.  Still, I applaud them for exploring their artistry and making the music they want to.  I always admire that more than a band that repeatedly churns out whatever sells.

In conclusion, I give The Hurry and the Harm three out of five stars.  It’s certainly a well-executed album, but I didn’t find anything to particularly love.  It will be a nice addition to a mix of City and Colour songs, and some standout tracks such as “The Lonely Life” and “The Golden State” could grow on me over time.  For anyone who is a fan of Dallas Green, it’s an easy decision to go ahead and pick it up.

You can find The Hurry and the Harm on Spotify and Amazon.

Review – “Seasons” by Nate Hale

Seasons by Nate Hale

Last year, local Nashville artist and acquaintance Nate Hale posted a Kickstarter to record a new full-length.  Because I enjoyed some of his former work, and I know him to be a talented, humble musician, I contributed to get the digital download when the album was complete.  Seasons was released on April 10th, and I promptly got my copy via Bandcamp.

I’ll be the first to admit that the music on Seasons isn’t quite my normal fare, at least stylistically.  The instrumentation ranges from acoustic guitar to ukulele and beyond, and the tracks span several genres, all while remaining distinctly Hale.  There are even some acapella-inspired vocal harmonies.  Perhaps because of the genres I frequent, I wasn’t used to hearing such a diversity of instrumentation and styles all in one place, but it works well.  The best way I can describe the music is this:  imagine if Jon Foreman and Jack Johnson had a baby, or at least collaborated on an album.  The folk sensibilities and deeper perspective of Foreman would meld with the laid-back feel and subtle vocals of Johnson to create something like Seasons.

Thematically, the album takes on a few topics, though it largely focuses on relationships.  Don’t let that description fool you; this is far from a collection of emo tunes or sappy love songs.  The thing I most enjoy about Nate is that he manages to put a more profound twist into songs which the typical songwriter may leave at surface level.  In many cases, he begins exploring familiar topics, for example drawing the listener in with poetic lines about love, before turning to ponder the true meaning of the word.  Most of the songs stay relatively upbeat and happy, meaning there is ample opportunity to gain listeners who enjoy accessible music, but also want something deeper.  At the same time, tracks like “Dear Alcohol” and “Lullaby” take a more down-tempo approach.

The production is nothing short of professional, and as one who funded the Kickstarter, it’s very satisfying to hear how well it turned out.  Hale and co-producer Cheyenne Medders definitely took their time with these songs, paying attention to the smallest detail to get everything just right.  I’m sure Nate is very proud of what he was able to release, and it surely captures the visions he had for these songs.

Overall, this is a great album for summertime with a mix of upbeat and reflective songs.  Fans of Jon Foreman, Jack Johnson, and the like will find lots of things to love in these eleven tracks.

You can find the meticulously-crafted independent songs of Seasons on Bandcamp or Amazon.

Review – “The Glory EP” by Animal Giant

The Glory EP by Animal Giant

When I first heard that John LaRussa of Inhale-Exhale (and formerly Narcissus) was going to release a solo EP, I was pretty excited.  While I’ve only heard his work in Inhale-Exhale, I always thought he had some of the more interesting riffs in the genre, and certainly some of the most unique guitar tones.  I assumed he would recruit other musicians to help record the album, but it turns out he didn’t have to.

All five tracks on The Glory EP were produced and performed entirely by LaRussa.  While one may assume a guitarist knows only part of what it takes to write great songs, his long and intimate relationship with heavy music immediately shines through.  From the opening track and throughout, the songs aren’t simply a backdrop for inventive guitar work, though there is certainly plenty of that.  Some of his signature guitar tones make appearances, and the sounds vary from fast tremolo picking to grungy riffs to thick chugging.  He really does cover the full range of techniques for heavy guitar, including some dissonant squeals here and there.  The drums take a featured spot in the mix, as one would expect from a metal-influenced style, but they don’t steal the show.  Blast beats and punk beats ensure that listeners will be tapping their feet and banging their heads all along the way.  Bass holds it all together and only takes the spotlight for the occasional slide.  One thing which I really appreciate is the way LaRussa uses instrumental breaks in several places to build tension before plunging back into the fury.  That’s something I haven’t heard lately, but it’s very powerful.

Production-wise, the album is truly top-notch.  It’s incredible what one man can create in a studio by himself anymore.  The mixes are well-balanced with powerful drums, a solid bottom end, and plenty of room for the guitar and vocals.  Sonically, this is definitely an album that deserves the full-volume car stereo treatment.  Studio effects are used judiciously, and a couple of longer, noisy intros give the five tracks some room to breathe.  The stereo imaging is very well done, including some well-timed hard panning of guitars.  I applaud him for finding a good balance between raw energy and production.  Some may have preferred less of a tight and clean sound, but I’m glad for the polish he added.

Looking at the album with a critical eye, I can find only a couple of soft spots.  While the vocals are strong and never strained, there isn’t a lot of variety.  John’s throaty scream is at the front of every track with only a couple of sections where toned-down melodic singing is used for effect.  The other point which could have been different in my opinion are the lyrics, though I understand that is highly subjective.  When it comes to heavy music, I’m a fan of themes that are more grand and philosophical.  Many of the lines on The Glory EP are personal and directed at the second person (or possibly one’s self), such as those in the title track:  “I want to hear your story / Always falling short of glory.”  I would love to know more of the background of the songs to grasp his intent, but sometimes the beauty of art is in the mystery.

In the end, this is a very solid EP if you enjoy heavy music in general and LaRussa’s work in particular.  It is well worth the current asking price of $4 on Bandcamp, and fans can appreciate the fact that they’re paying the artist directly.  This album is a fresh and creative offering in a genre where it is very difficult to sound original.  You can follow Animal Giant on Facebook and download The Glory EP on Bandcamp.

Review – “With Roots Above And Branches Below” by The Devil Wears Prada

When I first picked up “Dear Love – A Beautiful Discord” from The Devil Wears Prada in summer of ’07, I was only marginally impressed. They were an up-and-coming metalcore band out of Dayton with comparisons to the rise of Norma Jean in the intensity of their live show. I bought their album on a whim one boring night as I strolled through Best Buy in the midst of my summer internship simply because I thought I had heard the name. What I wrote in my review of that album held true. It was very raw and immature sounding, but there was a glimmer of potential, and I could see some great things from them depending on how they chose to develop. TDWP’s last LP was a step in the right direction, and I think they’ve hit the sweet spot with this release. Also, before I continue, know that they (and I) have already heard all the jokes about their name and the movie. Just go with it.

I’m still not a fan of their nonsensical song titles. (There aren’t any deep meanings to titles like “Wapakalypse” or “Assistant to the Regional Manager,” so don’t hurt yourself trying to find them. I heard them state that in an interview once). I think if you’re going to create such a piece of art with a meaningful album name that relates to the topic of many of its lyrics, you should at least title songs appropriately. I’d even take the stereotypical full-sentence hardcore titles like “Sometimes It’s Our Mistakes That Make For the Greatest Ideas” over “I Hate Buffering.” That’s just my opinion. I’m a big fan of albums congealing as a whole thematically in all aspects, but by now the random titles are a sort of trademark for them, so I suppose they’ll stick with it.

What their previous efforts may have been lacking in “tightness” or melodic appeal, this album seems to make up for it. Not that I’m a fan of more traditional and repetitive song structures, but the riffs and segments judiciously repeated within some of the songs have really helped to get some of them stuck in my head. There are a few passages in particular that I’ve walked around humming, such as the opening riff to “Danger: Wildman.” Their drummer has improved immensely since “Plagues,” even if it may be more about production quality and tone than talent. Some of Jeremy’s vocals still sound auto-tuned and electronic (which bothers me), but I think that’s also a trademark of their studio work now. And for some reason I’ve noticed the bass work a lot more on this offering than their past two. Again it may be attributed to the incredible production quality and mixing, but maybe his parts are just that much better written. The electronic and synth elements come to the forefront at just the right times, which is something I hoped they would do when I first heard them. Mike’s scream usually sounds pretty strong, but there are some places where it’s a little breathy-sounding. Then again, who sits around and critiques metalcore scream styles?

Also, the lyrics are cryptic as usual. Had I not heard an interview where Mike said a lot of it is largely a critique of the Church today (as in we’ve forgotten our roots), I would have no clue what most of the songs were discussing. There’s always a fine line between being deep and understandable, I suppose. Knowing the topical content makes me a little more lenient, and I can listen along and still gain a sense of meaning from the organized chaos.

You’re probably thinking, “It sounds like you don’t like this album. Or at least you’ve given a lot of reasons you normally wouldn’t,” and you’d be partially right. There are a lot of reasons I normally wouldn’t find such an album appealing (mostly from a message standpoint), but for whatever reason, I love it. I’ve driven around multiple times already just blaring it with the windows down and reveling in the jarring breakdowns, precise double bass, and (dare I say) catchy riffs. I have this unspoken metric for determining how good a metal(core) album is. If I walk around tapping the drum beats on my chest without realizing it, it’s a winner. I’ve caught myself doing that quite a bit with this album in the couple of weeks I’ve owned it. The raw talent, incredible production quality, and inventive melodious metal style (with amazing rhythmic foundation) make it a must-own for anyone with even a slight taste for harder music. Overall, I give it a 4/5.

And here are some related links for consumption:
The album on Amazon
The Devil Wears Prada song interpretations

Review – “In Shallow Seas We Sail” by Emery

It’s been a long time since I’ve pre-ordered an album. I’ve noticed lately that retailers carry almost no CDs these days, and I understand it’s because of the trend toward iTunes, but I just can’t justify paying full price for music that’s not full quality. But that’s another discussion. At any rate, I pre-ordered “In Shallow Seas We Sail” by Emery. Emery’s first two albums were some of my favorite ever, and their 2004 release, “The Weak’s End,” was a particularly amazing work of art. They took some chances with a different creative direction for “I Am Only a Man,” their last full-length, and I wasn’t a fan. When I heard some of the tunes on this forthcoming release, however, I could tell they had gotten back to their roots. Who can say exactly why they made the move back to their screamo foundation? No matter the reason, I’m glad to see them back atop their game.

This release is not for the faint of heart or anyone who can’t appreciate the artistic use of screaming, or for anyone who doesn’t like dynamic shifts on the order of 3-4 per song. There are quite a bit more screaming breakdowns with dissonant wreckage as the soundscape than any of their previous releases, but seemingly just as many synth-laced quiet interludes. Beautiful and poignant harmonies often carry the listener up to a ferocious breakdown, or perhaps a furious dual-vocal exchange (as in the end of “Cutthroat Collapse.”) I never get tired of complexity. To me, it’s a wonderful attribute for any music to have, giving staying power. I’ve listened to “Shallow Seas” about three times now, and every time I notice something new in almost every song. Whether it’s the complimentary piano part leading to the bridge in “Butcher’s Mouth,” or the layered vocals in “Piggy Bank Lies,” Emery are certainly good studio musicians with attention to detail. Some of it is reminiscent of “The Weak’s End,” but the guitar work doesn’t seem to be as intricate as that release (which makes sense since they since lost a bassist and now share responsibilities for that instrument). As always, the tag team of Toby and Devin on vocals both keeps things interesting and, at times, lends to the storytelling perspective. Dave even throws in some foundational double bass in the verse of “Butcher’s Mouth,” which is just the kind of innovation I love.

Topically, the album deals very much with heartbreak, relationships, and the messes that can come of them. That seems to be something I can always appreciate, even if I’m not in the midst of it. There are lots of concrete references to deception and broken promises, as well as poetic references such as “Red lights fading out/ As you drive back to your house,” painting the picture of the protagonist watching his former love drive away. It’s what Emery does best, and this album showcases their ability to capture such the gamut of emotions. “Ships don’t sink if they have wind in their sails/ But if the wind fails is there hope?”

Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5. At times the songs can seem to harp on the same subject even a little too much for me, and two of the 13 tracks were from their previous EP, but still there are those moments that inspire me like few albums have for awhile. Furthermore, sometimes I think God drops music in front of me at just the right time. I don’t want to stretch it too far, but I’ve been needing some music like this lately for myriad reasons – processing the past and garnering inspiration, among other things. Similarly to how “Cosmos” by The Send seemed to come at just the right time, this release has spoken to me. While understanding it probably only appeals to a small demographic, I wholeheartedly recommend “In Shallow Seas We Sail,” and it will find a place somewhere in my top 20 or so albums for awhile.