monthly guides, music

March 2011 Monthly Music Guide #12

Wow, I’ve kept at this thing for a whole year now! Not too bad. Looking for something new? Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

Hawk Nelson - Crazy Love
Hawk Nelson
Album: Crazy Love (February 8, 2011)
Style: Energetic pop punk

Hawk Nelson is one of those kinda cheesy bands I feel like I outgrew a long time ago, so when I decided to give their new album a chance I was surprised by how much I liked it. Right from the get-go with “Tally-Ho” it’s full of energy, speed and classic Hawk bass lines. The title track tries to follow the Newsboys into modern synth-pop-rock, but it’s mostly good ol’ MxPx-FMStatic-channeled pop punk. “My Next Breath” is a classic Hawk ballad harking back to the days of “From Underneath” or “Everything You Ever Wanted.” Strong, catchy melodies overshadow the occasionally trite lyrics, which are pretty upfront and spiritual (“Your Love Is A Mystery”) when they’re not charmingly pining for love (“Joanna”) or expressing a distaste for airports (“LAX”). There’s a few surprises scattered throughout, and if you stick around for the extra acoustic tracks, you’ll hear a Glee-like a cappella rendition of the old hit “California.”

Standout Lyric: They say it sounds insane
We say that we’ve been changed by the power of crazy love…
We’re the ones gonna put it all in reverse
Gonna die to ourselves, gonna live to serve
In Case It Interests You: The members of Hawk Nelson are known as Christians.

Hillsong United - Aftermath - Cover
Hillsong United
Album: Aftermath (February 15, 2011)
Style: Post-rock worship

Everyone knows that Hillsong United churns out boring cliché worship power ballads year after year, right? Wrong! Aftermath is the New Zealand group’s second non-live release, and the well-built tracks are less power-chord Jesus chants and more patiently developed grooves following the road of Explosions In The Sky or The Ember Days – but still with that electric United youth-group-ready oomph. It starts off full of delayed guitar picking, rat-a-tat snares, deep toms, and layers of vocals, strings, and experimental atmospheres – relaxing and/or driving worship at its finest, although the whole album isn’t quite that delicate. The multiple talents of the likes of Joel Houston, Marty Sampson, and Brooke Fraser continue to find fresh lyrics to express hearts crying out in surrender and devotion, and this may be the act’s best release since 2006’s All of the Above.

Standout Lyric: And I find myself here on my knees again
Caught up in grace like an avalanche
Nothing compares to this love, love, love
In Case It Interests You: The musicians that make up Hillsong United are known as Christians.

Danielson - Best of Gloucester County - Cover
Album: The Best of Gloucester County (February 22, 2011)
Style: Very indie prog rock?

It’s hard to find truly unique music these days, but Danielson comes pretty close, if only for his persistently yappy vocals. The reviews say it’s the most accessible release yet for the under-appreciated Christian indie trailblazer, but the music and lyrics are still complimentarily quirky, and it seems that Sufjan Stevens still comes back to play the banjo. The musical structures and instrumentations pile on the charm in the first half, as do the lyrics, whether Daniel’s waxing metaphoric about provision (“This Day Is A Loaf”) or musing about settling down, if ever so slightly (“Grow Up”). The second half is more reserved and experimental, sometimes flittering instruments around with no discernible rhythm. Through it all we get the delightful sounds of a wise and joyous heart.

Standout Lyric: Silly string and streamers,
A nature walk for seniors,
Our disc jockey will rock the house real neat,
Let us move this shindig to the street.
Standout Lyric II: A voice says “Cry out”
I say “Oh what should I cry?”
“All men are like grass”
We all wither, but you stand.
In Case It Interests You: Daniel and his band members are known as Christians.

Eisley - The Valley - Cover
Album: The Valley (March 1, 2011)
Style: Female-fronted indie pop rock

The three sisters are out with a new collection of tracks that mostly explore their feelings and responses to deep relationship struggles and heartbreaks. If you’ve never listened to them before, their music isn’t “indie” like, say, Danielson or Sufjan, but “indie” like the kind of stuff you might hear randomly playing on 89.1 instead of the regular pop stations – accessible and catchy but with more personal songwriting, sort of A Fine Frenzy with more electric guitar, or sort of (dare I say it?) Paramore with less. (You almost wonder if some of the rhythms weren’t inspired by one of the sister’s husband, Mute Math’s Darren King.) The lyrics explore a variety of heartache, regret, wishing, and hoping.

Standout Lyric: So be very kind
Don’t let the world fall on your shoulders
If so, oh, hopefully
I would find, I would find you
Standout Lyric II: I need an ambulance
I took, I took the worst of the blow
Send me a redeemer
Let me know if I’m gonna be alright
In Case It Interests You: The members of Eisley are known as Christians.

Francesca Battistelli - Hundred More Years - Cover
Francesca Battistelli
Album: Hundred More Years (March 1, 2011)
Style: Bouncy, acoustic CCM

When Francesca first came on the scene I remember some labeling her a “Christian Sara Bareilles,” but I would compare this one at least more to Colbie Caillat, from the ukulele she plays on the catchy opener (they’re so in right now!) to the strong but endearing vocals that run through the album. A few of the tracks (like “Angel By Your Side”) slip into the sort of inspirational power ballad that some may find beautiful, though I find them cliché and predictable (cue the drums on verse 2). “Emily (It’s Love)” goes for a more syncopated Bublé-type energy, and “Don’t Miss It” almost feels like an old Kelly Clarkson jam. For the most part this is just catchy pop music created by someone who – as far as I can tell – writes her own songs and plays a stringed instrument or two. Lyrical themes abound with encouragement to praise God and find hope through the paths of this temporary life, and the closing title track is my favorite – more of a singer/songwriter ballad in the vein of Andrew Peterson or JJ Heller, exploring the joys and hopes of a life of marriage.

Standout Lyric: All those dreams and now they’re finally here
She’s so young and he’s so perfect
They waited for love and it was worth it
She wants to feel like this for a hundred years
In Case It Interests You: Francesca is known as a Christian.