Looking for something new? Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…
Calling the band’s current lineup “newsboys” is about as legitimate as saying Paul McCartney’s latest album was by “The Beatles,” but Michael Tait replaces iconic bald man Furler (who was the only remaining original member) for the band’s fourteenth studio album, boldly marching deeper into modern pop territory. This is not your quirky lite-pop 90’s Newsboys. These are tobyMac grooves with Red guitars, Black Eyed Peas beats, and Capital Lights melodies. These are Casting Crowns power ballad chord progressions with Lifehouse power ballad vocals and a little bit of Taylor Swift power ballad country guitar. This is everything that is pop in the new millennium, from the layered synth beats and autotune dance sessions to the softer cell-phone-waving sing-along choruses and everything between. I’m not sure if you’ll like it – hey, I’m not sure if I like it – but I am sure it’s not what you’re expecting – musically, that is; you won’t find many original rhyme schemes here. But there must be some reason the first-week album sales were the highest for the “band” in their 22-year career…
Standout Lyric: Oh the way we build our empires /
Hoping to impress our friends /
We’ve forgotten how to inspire /
Those who fall to rise again
In Case It Interests You: The members of Newsboys are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/newsboys
I indulged in the Top 40 hip-hop scene for a little while once before I got sick of the destructive lyrics and mind-numbing beats. Lecrae fils that void and then some. His lyrics aren’t just non-destructive; they’re a powerful, uncompromising, and inspiring challenge to surrender your life completely to Christ, whether in mocking the gangsta’ obsession with money (“Got Paper”), encouraging imperfect Christians to be patient with other imperfect Christians (“The Bride”), or resisting the devastation of temptation (“Indwelling Sin”). The musical production is top-notch as well; cheesy Christian rap this is not. The beats wind and flow under the music as the layers give and take in an exquisite fashion, rarely making it through any of the long verses without tinkering with something to keep the sound fresh. There’s a lot of featuring, response, and background vocals, including some females, and it’s not uncommon to have three vocal tracks running through at the same time. There’s enough variety to keep this non-hip-hop fan engaged for the hour-long experience, from the slower-rolling Li’l John crunk stuff to the Matisyahu-esque guitar riffing to the ridiculously fast double-bass-supported lyrical flow of I don’t know who. Lecrae wields the name of Jesus in a way that might be over-the-top for some, but that’s precisely his point: without Him, nothing else matters.
Standout Lyric: Money! Dough! Cash! Paper! /
If it was a woman I promise I used to date her /
Now that we broke up, she be callin’ ya boy a hater /
Cause all I do is use her for glorifying my Maker /
…You got money / You got paper /
You got money / You got paper /
… So what? Who cares?
Standout Lyric II: People living life for a job / make a lil money start living for a car
get em a house a wife kids and a dog / when they retire they living high on the hog
but guess what they didn’t ever really live at all / to live is Christ yeah that’s Paul I recall
to die is gain so for Christ we give it all / he is the treasure you’ll never find in a mall
Your money, your singleness, marriage, talent and time
they were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine
that’s why it’s Christ in my rhymes / That’s why it’s Christ all the time
my whole world is built around him / He’s the life in my lines
In Case It Interests You: If you can’t tell Lecrae is known as a Christian you’re not paying attention.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/lecrae
This four-piece’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed The End Is Not The End is less epic in scope but no less heartfelt or energetic. With a brilliant balance, the turbocharged tracks race with young ambition through the neighborhoods of life, carefully navigating around the well-trimmed hedges of society and all of its expectations. It tells of the conflict between securing love and securing finances (“Love Is For The Middle Class”); it tells the stories of late-night schoolyard fights (“God Save The Foolish Kings”); but mostly it tells the stories of restless boys growing up and trying to avoid succumbing to the monotony of adult life. I was afraid I would quickly tire of the super-catchy Beatles-Relient-K-Ludo vibe with the big harmony choruses, but so far it’s only grown on me. With a few fluid ballads thrown in for flavor, this is a recipe that goes down easy, leaving you satisfied yet eager for more.
Standout Lyric: All the kings and pawns off to work for their perfect lawns /
But me, I’m still dreamin’ of Sandy /
Maybe I’ll spin out to her side of town /
….Our faith is small but it is strong /
Enough to carry on /
Though we are poor we shall not want /
Standout Lyric II: Oh, I wouldn’t mind it if we nickel and we dime it
Just to be together in the end /
Maybe just a little till we make it to the middle /
And they’re takin’ half of every cent /
…I said I better make the cash /
Love is for the middle class
In Case It Interests You: The members of House of Heroes are known as Christians.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: absolutepunk.net
Are you still an “indie” band when your album hits #1 on Billboard’s sales chart? Does it really matter? Like the similarly titled House of Heroes album that released on the same day, Arcade Fire explores what it means to grow up in our modern culture, but it feels older and more jaded. The simple, well-crafted rock shuffles along with the occasional U2 croon and hints of various other influences as it reflects on the “Modern Man” settling into the sprawling suburbs and what happens under fraying friendships, abandoned ideals, and luxurious loneliness. The songwriting is full and intricate, referencing an overly ornate historical art form to mock today’s showy empty trends (“Rococo”), or making a metaphor of the computer built to beat a chess champion (“Deep Blue”). Sometimes the song titles alone speak volumes: “We Used to Wait.” The amount of hope you take from this album may depend on your own perspective, but it’s a valuable work worthy of some attention.
Standout Lyric: You never trust a millionaire /
Quoting the sermon on the mount /
I used to think I was not like them /
But I’m beginning to have my doubts /
My doubts about it /
….Do you think your righteousness /
Can pay the interest on your debt? /
I have my doubts about it
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: myspace.com/arcadefireofficial
One of the most mysterious men making music today, Sufjan Stevens suddenly reappears after a five-year absence with a 60-minute body of work called an “EP” that includes an 11-minute opener and a 17-minute closer and six mostly shorter tracks in between. This eclectic darling of Christian hippies and indie snobs alike offers another collection of awkward joy and melancholy with the usual assortment of folky, small-town orchestras and charming, childlike choirs. The lyrics are full of substance and storytelling but, as usual, I’m still never sure what he’s ever really talking about. If you’ve enjoyed anything from him in the past, the $5 click offers pretty good mileage, and the tracks even come with embedded lyrics.
Standout Lyric: Oh! I love you a lot /
Oh! I love you from the top of my heart /
And what difference does it make? /
I still love you a lot
Standout Lyric II: Go on! Little sister! Go on!
For your world is yours /
All the wilderness of the world is yours to enjoy
In Case It Interests You: Sufjan Stevens is generally known as a Christian.
In Case It Bothers You: Sufjan Stevens has a penchant for being slightly creepy, especially when his soft voice sings such lines as “You probably should but I won’t let you run away this time” or “I was sleeping in the room with you, you little boy”, and he still occasionally sounds vaguely lustful or otherwise awkward when I can’t figure out his mysterious metaphors and allusions. If you’re familiar with his previous work you won’t notice anything different.
STREAM THE WHOLE ALBUM: sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com