monthly guides, music

February 2011 Monthly Music Guide #11

Looking for something new? There’s a lot of music coming out already this year and I’m trying to keep up. Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

Esperanza Spalding - Chamber Music Society
Esperanza Spalding
Album: Chamber Music Society (August 17, 2010)
Style: Wailing jazz

When she won New Artist of the Year last week at the Grammy’s, this prodigy managed to anger millions of Bieber fans while catapulting her album sales into record territory for contemporary jazz, but just who is she? Even though most of us had never heard of her before, she’s been becoming quite a sensation in the high-brow jazz community, playing at Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies and the like (Thanks, Wikipedia). And you’ll sure feel cultured listening to this group explore their jazzy rhythms (Esperanza herself rocks the upright bass). Esperanza’s vocals dance with the strings over a shifting foundation of piano and percussion – sometimes light and feathery, sometimes rhythmic and rousing. Her occasional warbling high notes may be disjointing for the uninitiated, but there are also plenty of accessible, relaxing, chill jazz numbers. So give this a stream and pretend like you’re hanging out with dignitaries or cleaning your mansion.

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
The Decemberists
Album: The King Is Dead (January 14, 2011)
Style: Folk rock

I’m not familiar with previous Decemberists work, and apparently this one is a little less unconventional or something, but to me it simply sounds pleasant. From the opening harmonica riff to the later accompanying accordion, the band’s got a solid folk rock sound with plenty of fiddle. There’s even a bit of a campfire acoustic punk feel that occasionally is reminiscent of say, old Green Day or the ballad side of Dropkick Murphy’s. Basically this album is a nice accessible acoustic folk rock jam with poetic songs about life, nature, and the passing seasons.

Standout Lyric: Let the yoke fall from our shoulders
Don’t carry it all, don’t carry it all
We are all our hands and holders
Beneath this bold and brilliant sun
Standout Lyric II: And you won’t make a dime
On this gray granite mountain mine
Of dirt you’re made, of dirt you will return
So while we’re living here
Let’s get this little one thing clear
There’s plenty of men to die, don’t jump your turn

Brandon Heath - Leaving Eden
Brandon Heath
Album: Leaving Eden (January 18, 2011)
Style: Polished CCM

I decided to give the modern CCM scene a shot with Brandon Heath’s new album, and it was more creative and varied than I was expecting. Sure, most of the songs have that kind of safe driving ballad feel, but they’re no worse than the stuff on regular radio, and there’s some cool vocal layers and echoes sprinkled around. “Might Just Save Your Life” has some kind of Black Eyed Peas hybrid influence, and “It’s No Good To Be Alone” channels last year’s pop somewhere between Hey Soul Sister and Teenage Dream with the bouncing ukulele and melodic lines… although we could really do without the group vocal A! chants on the bridge. Cue the symphonic string loops on the driving “Now More Than Ever.” Lyrically, Heath mostly concerns himself with the hurting in our fallen world and how we can bring them hope.

Standout Lyric: If I hear one more widow crying
‘Cause there’s no one by her side
And if I see one more family breaking
It’s one too many
If there’s one thing that I’m sure of
If there’s one thing that I know
You could be one in a sea of faces
Or you could be one more chance for hope
In Case It Interests You: Brandon Heath is known as a Christian.

Red - Until We Have Faces - Cover
Album: Until We Have Faces (February 1, 2011)
Style: Driving rock with some strings

RED continues to make a name for themselves with their latest rock offering, becoming only the fourth act in history from the Christian industry to land at #2 in sales on opening week. To me it sounds pretty similar to their previous material, and that just means if you liked the other stuff you’ll probably like this one, chock full of driving guitars, string highlights, soaring vocals, and general lyrical themes of veiled anger searching for hope in the midst of struggle. Some of the heavy power ballads remind me of things I’ve heard from Seventh Day Slumber or Disciple, and the more energetic stuff draws valid comparisons to Linkin Park and Breaking Benjamin and the like. A lot of the tracks kind of run together for me and the melodies keep reminding me of each other or of other band’s songs, and it’s not quite my thing, but it’s solid production and definitely worth a shot if you’re into this kind of music.

Standout Lyric: How did we let go
How did we forget
That we don’t have to hide
We won’t believe the lies again
We won’t be paralyzed
In Case It Interests You: The members of Red are known as Christians.

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow - Cover
The Civil Wars
Album: Barton Hollow (February 1, 2011)
Style: Lovely, melodramatic, singer-songwriter harmonies

Oh my goodness, I haven’t seen this much unfathomable gushing from the independent community over a singer-songwriter duo since, I don’t know, the Once soundtrack? Imagine my astonishment at discovering that the female part of this duo is the same Joy Williams who used to release power pop to CCM radio (and got tired of it), and imagine my slight disappointment that the male part of this duo is not her husband (who helped produce it). The acoustic guitar picks a nice riff and then the glorious harmonizing voices come in… and don’t forget about the tinkling piano or the vibrating cello. Joy’s warm voice reminds me of the Ember Days girl, and some of John Paul’s guitar work reminds me of Jon Foreman’s solo stuff). Some of the lyrics are a little too melodramatic for me with their explorations of complicated relationships (it’s not quite as determined in some of its melancholy as The Swell Season – “I can’t help falling out of love with you” – but still full of depth and honesty). This one’s gonna be showing up on a lot of best-of lists come December…

Standout Lyric: Oh how I miss you but I haven’t met you
Oh but I want to / Oh how I want to
Dear whoever you might be / I’m still waiting patiently
Standout Lyric II: Dancing with a ball and chain /
But through it all we still remain
In Case It Interests You: Joy Williams is known as a Christian; I don’t know anything either way about the other guy.