Much like Lecrae’s Anomaly, I was waiting and looking forward to Rise. Trip Lee released an enjoyable record with The Good Life but I just knew that there was going to be something special about Rise. From beats to wordplay to album structure, Rise is near perfect! The hooks on Lights On, Shweet, You Don’t Know, and All Rise Up showcase a maturity as an artist. The transition from drum machine to real drums on You Don’t Know creates a depth musically that makes me smile. The wordplay between Lee and Lecrae on Manolo is vicious! There isn’t a moment on Rise where I find myself uninterested or hearing Lee repeat things he did previously. Reach Record has released all gold this year! 5 out of 5 Stars!
At some point in the last five years you’ve heard a Taylor Swift song and enjoyed it. It’s ok to admit it. I think Fearless has a bunch of great songs! And State Of Grace, the opener on Red, is perfection! But I don’t think anyone was prepared for 1989. T-Swift’s first full fledge pop endeavor (although I’d argue she’s always been a pop artist) is a masterpiece. Even the moments on the album that don’t seem to fit, listened to out of context, are earwigs that you can’t help but like a little bit. From the upbeat opener of Welcome To New York to the records first single, Blank Space, to the down-tempo Style, each song has something different but each is catchy and three songs into the record, I was hooked! I couldn’t help but admit that I like Taylor Swift. It’s that damn good! As a whole, the record is enjoyable. But there are songs where you go, meh. The super 80’s Out Of The Woods is catchy and when the hook comes in I get it more, but the verses don’t have the super lush vibe that the rest of the record has had up to this point. It’s like an extra instrumentation was needed to thicken the sound up just a hair. Shake It Off is the ear worm above al ear worms and when it’s on the radio I’m going to stop and listen and sing at the top of my lungs. But when it comes on in the context of the record, it sounds weird and out of place and doesn’t jive with the feel of the rest of the album. Yes, Taylor has released some of the greatest songs of her career on 1989, but as a whole album, it doesn’t hold up as “great” from start to finish. 4 out of 5 Stars.
When I reviewed Phoenix I said I wasn’t a fan of The Classic Crime. A fine band, but not my cup of tea and even though there are songs that I like, I’ve never felt compelled to listen to the band. But when the band teamed up with Bad Christian and the BC Podcast sampled the bands acoustic retrospective, I found myself thinking I might enjoy the acoustic take more than what I’d heard previously from The Classic Crime. And there is a new charm to these songs. The stripped down versions with the addition of the string section add something new and dynamic that I never felt about The Classic Crime’s music. The ballads lend themselves perfectly to the stripped down nature of the record. The strings add a level of emotion that compliments the acoustic guitars and Matt MacDonald’s vocals. Songs like Salt In The Snow, Who Needs Air, Headlights, and The Fight are all songs and moments that I truly enjoy. Even the more upbeat Vagabonds is a great rendition. But the other upbeat songs like You and Me Both, The Coldest Heart, and God and Drugs are nice but at various moments in the songs, it just doesn’t feel right. The two new tracks, Selfish and Where Did You Go are both excellent and two of the best songs on the record. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.
Revivalist teamed up with On The Attack Records and HM Magazine to offer their debut ep, Brother, for free. And because it’s free, you should make sure you pick it up! Not just because it’s free. But because it’s a really good hardcore record. Paradise opens the record up with a bang! Tough guy is alive and well! The ending hook is catchy and along with the chugging chords and the circle pit breakdown, 90’s hardcore fans will drool all over this track. The album then rips into Jeremiah with a vicious riff!Brother features Josiah Lyle from Mouth of the South and keeps the punishing pace. But juxtapose that with the melodic hardcore sound on Vanity and Free and you see depth in Revivalist’s writing. It’s not just play a lot of chugging chords and moshy parts. The band can write and play with the heavy hitting tough guy crews but would blend well with bands like Your Memorial and Misery Signals. This is a great ep and I’m looking forward to more from Revivalist. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.
So… At some point KJ-52 became a legit hip-hop artist. I know people will argue that KJ’s always been great and his album’s are worth listening to, but… KJ’s been this bubble christian artist. But listening to tracks on KJ’s last record, Dangerous, I heard something different. And Mental is a whole new ballgame. KJ manages to balance two audiences on Mental. It has it’s super hype, dub step inspired, Family Force Five esque beats, that young kids and youth groupers will instantly be drawn to and love. But having guest appearances from Lecrae, Tedashii, Propaganda, KB, Social Club, SPZRKT all instantly raises the credibility of what KJ is doing. That those guys want to work with KJ says a lot. To be fair, Lecrae’s track (Fight Music) is a remixed version of They Like Me, but that fact that Lecrae was a head of curve…It speaks volumes to what KJ is doing. Island of Misfit Toy (featuring Social Club and SPZRKT) is one of KJ’s best tracks ever! Tonight is bit old school Toby Mac, but I still really like the song. Gameface has two editions. Each similar but differences that even though you can tell it’s the same song, it’s still enjoyable. The second half edition is better than the first. Brand New Day is a full on power pop beat and it’s a great party song that closes the record! KJ-52 isn’t my favorite record, but Mental is a fun record. Sure, it has it’s flaws, but it’s better than anything I’ve previously from KJ. 4 out of 5 Stars.
Kings Kaleidoscope do worship music differently. And I LOVE that! It’s nice when a band isn’t afraid to take risks, especially in a genre in which convention is king. But Kings Kaleidoscope isn’t worried about fitting in. The music comes from a heart of worship and creativity, not trying to have their songs played every week in every church in America. From instrumentation to arrangement, there’s nothing boring or normal about what Kings K is bring to the table. From gated key riffs to a horn solo, to varying drum patterns, Felix Culpa is the perfect song for anyone interested in what you might be hearing when spinning Becoming Who We Are. I described the band’s last ep as jazzy, marching band indie rock. Becoming Who We Are still has that feel in a lot of spots, but it’s matured and more electronic in spots. All the while still feeling very organic and live. The strings are a beautiful layer on the album’s opener, Glorious. But the synth line the flutters in and out in the background create an odd interplay, while the drums kind of sound like a well produced 90’s church kit (does that even make any sense?). It’s a mixture of super well produced, computer tricks, and underproduced that creates interesting layers. Over all this Chad Gardner’s beautiful voice belts his heart out in complete worship. Seek Your Kingdom as a huge guitar riff that gives way to flutes and strings on the chorus. Kings Kaleidoscope isn’t afraid of doing things differently and it pays off. I Know has a very electronic/computer vibe. It’s upbeat and you wouldn’t be surprised if the song has a rap breakdown… Until the harp plays. Nothing is off limits. The band’s take on All Creatures is another hymn that Kings K has deconstructed and made their own, updating a great song! Dreams and Redemption in Motion both have an R&B ballad feel, without fully committing to the genre. How Deep is another cover that just sounds like a modern twist on a classic, without actually sounding updated. It’s like members of the high school marching bad were invited to play at your church in 2000. I just can’t say enough about this record. 5 out of Stars!
Island of My Soul is interesting. I enjoy it because you get a wide glimpse at what Jason Barrows wants to do musically. I have a hard time following because the record is such a wide spectrum of sound and ideas that at times it doesn’t even sound like the same artist. Voyagers opens the album with a very spacey singer/songwriter vibe with surfer undertones… But floating through space. It’s actually really great! If Denison Witmer wrote a song inspired by Slowdive. That’s in the ballpark of what Voyagers sounds like. Children of Light is also very shoegazer, but more on the side of M83. Very Kim and Jesse. It’s easily my favorite track on the record. Golden Light is way less shoegaze and a whole lot of Coldplay influence. Promise Land is more standard singer/songwriter with a hint of atmosphere. License to Kill is more of a rock song in the vein of John Mark McMillan. Up From The Sea ups the rock and roll and it’s more akin to the Foo Fighters. Heart On Fire is again, back to more of the standard singer/songwriter vibe, but the ambience and background guitars make it feel like a classic LN track. All of these things I like and I love listening to Island of My Soul. Jason Barrows delivered a musical odyssey. But it feels a tad disjointed at time. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.
I heard about Dominic Balli because Sonny from P.O.D. was on his last record, American Dream. I enjoyed American Dream. American Dream had some bite to it. It wasn’t a hard hitting album but there was some push back. It was a great reggae record. Not For Sale has no bite. It’s more of a surfer/reggae inspired singer/songwriter record. The album is upbeat and happy. It’s easy listening. It’s a completely different feel and it’s a little hard to believe that the same artist recorded both albums. From piano ballads to r&b slow jams, Balli shows a different side on Not For Sale. Sure, Balli’s reggae side comes out on Love Is The Final Fight and Not For Sale, which, no surprise, are my favorite tracks on the record. There are some nice moments on Not For Sale, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. 3 out of 5 Stars.
Having never been a huge fan of Jennifer Knapp before her coming out, I loved Letting Go! There was an attitude and freedom about the record that resonated with me. And I was excited for Set Me Free! Set Me Free is a little more of a mixed bag for me than Letting Go was. But the songs that are great, are top notch. The album opener, Remedy, is a rip roaring rock and roll song with a great hook. Set Me Free is a fine song but nothing that knocks my socks off. Why Wait is one of the more upbeat songs we’ve heard from Knapp in two records. The strings on Neosho are fantastic but the rest of the song is a little weird to me. Pseudo country western without ever fully committing. The main guitar theme on Mercy’s Tree is excellent. So Happy is a bit of a downer musically, but it’s one of the best tracks on the record. Almost classic Jennifer Knapp… If classic Jennifer Knapp wrote more downer, sad music. Set Me Free doesn’t move me the way Letting Go did. But it’s still has some great songs. 3.5 out of 5 Stars.