monthly guides, music

October 2010 Monthly Music Guide #8

Looking for something new? Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter
Jars of Clay
Album: The Shelter (October 5, 2010)
Style: Encouraging anthemic pop rock ballads about community

The latest addition to Jars of Clay’s legacy is a more worshipful project focused on community that involves collaborations with other artists on (almost) every song. We are treated to more pleasant anthems of The Long Fall variety, with those clean guitar strums and bright piano melodies. The lyrical theme is evident from the get-go as the singers exclaim, “We will never walk alone again.” Meanwhile, the bells and crazy vocal interweaving sound like they were lifted off a Sufjan record. The collaborations are remarkably subtle (well, except for Mac Powell’s drawl), often hiding in harmonies that you don’t discover until the third or fourth listen. Even with an exciting array of vocal choirs there’s only so much you can do with clean-driving anthemic-pop-rock, and my intense excitement for at least the first three tracks tends to turn into mild ambivalence by the end. Still, it’s some of the most enjoyable stuff (for me) coming out of the strict CCM market these days.

Standout Lyric: I’ll go when You call me, I run when You tell me where to go /
We are desert walkers under shady clouds…
Let our idols fail, vanity subside
Standout Lyric II: It’s a well worn path so how on earth can we feel alone?
…Look around / Lay it down.
In Case It Interests You: The members of Jars of Clay are known as Christians.

Destroy Nate Allen - Until My Ankle's Better
Destroy Nate Allen
Album: Until My Ankle’s Better (August 2010)
Style: Sing-along folk-punk

After kicking off with an a capella gospel homage from Nate’s mother, Until My Ankle’s Better quickly delves into the duo’s trademark quirky acoustic jams full of passion, vulnerability, and joy. You’re going to be disappointed if you listen to these tracks expecting something aesthetically beautiful or mindblowingly original, but if these songs of life and love don’t make you smile, you’re probably missing the point, as the short tracks are really just trying to become the grown-up version of your favorite childhood sing-alongs. Their faith is a combination of the traditional and not-so-traditional, but it’s always seasoned with understanding and sincerity. Tessa adds tambourine and affectionate harmony to Nate’s acoustic guitar and bleating vocals. Instruments like kazoos and organs dot the landscape along with the vocal oh‘s and doot-doo‘s. By the time the album closes, you almost feel like you’ve gotten to know this simple, charming couple who travels the country playing basement shows and trusting in God’s provision.

Standout Lyric: I need to take the trash out / from the middle of the floor /
cuz when the trash is taken out / it won’t smell no more
Standout Lyric II: Put your head on my shoulder, and we’ll wake up one day older,
just you and I, you and I
In Case It Interests You: Nate and Tessa Allen are known as Christians.

Destroy Nate Allen - Until My Ankle's Better
Album: Three Birds EP (July 2010)
Style: Banjo-riffic indie folk

Well, what do you know, mewithoutYou’s bassist Greg has a little side project. These five tracks offer a pleasant indie sound that sounds a little more like mewithoutYou when the electric guitars are driving and a little more like Sufjan when the banjo and bells are carrying the lead. Greg’s voice isn’t exceptional on its own but it isn’t bad, either. Some of the lyrics reference Scripture stories and parables, and it caps off with a Wilco cover. It’s a nice surprise for the mewithoutYou fan who wants something new.

Standout Lyric: Our hearts burned within us / This man was the I Am
In Case It Interests You: It would seem that Greg is known as a Christian.

Lovelite - Nearness
Album: Nearness (October 5, 2010)
Style: Euro-synth-pop lounge worship

I think this husband and wife team likes Europe. Usually when I name-drop Coldplay it’s to illustrate that large, shiny rock anthem sound that they’ve been disseminating lately, but Lovelite reminds me at times of that older, softer almost-jazzy Coldplay with its slow, lush guitar riffs. Andrew Polfer’s vocals, while still in the upper ranges, are less lofty falsetto and more like a Bono/Muse wailing. Yet when he rings out a literary, worshippy line like “You cannot be moved, eclipsing all of time,” maybe it feels more like Delirious. But, hey, that’s still all from Europe, right? Next throw in some crazy modulating synths and ambiance along with the various percussive highlights and you’ve got some weird, unconventional instrumentation. It’s not my favorite cup of tea, but it’s not at all unpleasant. The ethereal layered worship could recall The Glorious Unseen but it doesn’t feel quite as heavy. Jen’s vocals add dimension to the harmonies and you realize that maybe no one else is doing worship quite like this. At the very least it’s further proof of Come&Live’s commitment to ministry as opposed to any specific kind of sound.

Standout Lyric: You, the only true God / Who fashioned the world
The invisible one / With visible love
In Case It Interests You: The members of Lovelite are known as Christians.

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Sufjan Stevens
Album: The Age of Adz (October 12, 2010)
Style: Indie folk attacked by a strong layer of electronics

His first full-length album in five years kicks off with a fairly normal acoustical, vulnerable, pleasant track. The strange analog electronics and synths start knocking things over in the second track, although with no loss to the classic Sufjan array of vocals, horns, strings, and sleigh bells. The lyrics get more intentionally cryptic as the album continues, and supposedly have to do with an obscure painter from the previous century and his schizophrenic visions of an alien-induced apocalypse. Of course there may be more to Sufjan’s lines than that, but I’m not the right person for taking the time to dissect and appreciate them. I actually found the electronic knobs and whirs and arcade-like sound effects to add an interesting flavor to Sufjan’s already interesting indie instrumentation, but as always, some will love it and some will not.

Standout Lyric: And when you play guitar / I listen to the strings buzz
The metal vibrates underneath your fingers
And when you crochet / I feel mesmerized and proud
In Case It Interests You: Sufjan Stevens is generally thought to be a Christian.
In Case It Bothers You: Similar to previous material, Sufjan has some vaguely creepy and/or lustful lines. He also repeats the line “I’m not f***ing around” several times on the track “I Want To Be Well.”