Check it out! I haven’t completely given up on this monthly music roundup thing yet. I’m so proud of me!
It’s been a good month for Christian music. There were a few highly anticipated albums due in February, and they all delivered. It’s always nice when that happens. I get so nervous when I get my hopes up, because I know I’m just setting the bar that much higher for a band.
Anyway, enough preamble. Here are my picks for the month:
Aaron Strumpel – Bright Star
I don’t usually like to sit down and listen to worship music. Don’t get me wrong – I love playing it in church, and I love listening to it at church. But if I’m going to sit down with an album, worship is a genre I typically stay away from. It’s hard to find something that resonates with me when I’m not standing with arms high and heart abandoned.
Enter Aaron Strumpel.
Lyrically, his music has always been exactly the sort of stuff you’d expect to hear on Sunday morning, but until now the musical style could best be described as artfully chaotic folk. In Bright Star, we find Strumpel at his most accessible. The quirky songwriting and arranging are still there, but the cacophony of eclectic instruments has been replaced by the familiar droning guitar swells and riffs that define the sound of more popular worship acts like Jesus Culture and Hillsong United. Fortunately, there are still hints here and there of the wild instrumentation that characterized his earlier work, and that’s what lifts this album above the pack. It’s grown on me with every listen, and manages to walk that narrow line between uniqueness and weirdness.
Clemency’s new EP is a concept album, which automatically earns it about a billion brownie points for me. They published the album alongside six music videos to correspond with each song and help tell the story. You’ve Got the Fire is about a girl who meets a boy who has “the fire.” As she gets to know him, she gains the fire as well, and together they spread that fire to other people. Then (Spoiler alert? Do concept albums need spoiler alerts?) the guy gives up his life to save his small group of fire people from some nasty folks who don’t have the fire. Because of his sacrifice, the people who don’t have the fire then get that fire, and their lives are changed. I think the whole thing is a metaphor for something, but I don’t know what. Too hard to tell.
Clemency describes their sound as “really hard soft rock,” which is pretty accurate. Imagine taking the vocals of Ben Folds and layering them over the musical child of Mae and early Snow Patrol. Yeah. Infinitely listenable.
I’ve seen The Brilliance described as a “contemplative liturgical worship band,” and I don’t think I could sum them up better in such a small amount of space. While much of Christian music is written to explore a specific truth about God or the Christian life, The Brilliance writes lyrics that invite the listener into a conversation. With repeated, thought-provoking phrases, it seems clear enough that The Brilliance is more interested in encouraging their listeners to think about different issues themselves than they are in providing any sort of thesis statement. Musically, Brother features beautiful arrangements of acoustic guitars, strings, and percussion. The Brilliance’s lead singer David Gungor is the brother of Michael Gungor, who fronts one of my favorite bands in Gungor. No word on how David feels about Michael getting to use the awesome family name for his band. I like to think they arm wrestled for the rights. Check the video below for an awesome interview on The Brilliance’s thoughts on Christian music and what they wanted to accomplish with Brother.
I almost hesitated to include this album on my list this month. The new RED album has been surrounded by so much hype. The band themselves have claimed multiple times it’s the best album they’ve ever made. Reviewers with early access to the project have been falling all over each other to say that RED was not messing around with a claim like that. Before I sat down with this album, I figured that, no matter how good it was, it would be a waste of space for me to sit down and write something anyone could’ve read about somewhere else on the web a week ago. Then I listened to the album.
I’ve never been a big RED fan. I mean, I enjoy hearing their stuff, and I never really disliked them. They just weren’t my thing. But this album makes me want to use all the superlatives at the same time, even though I realize that’s probably bad writing. If you gave up on RED after they headed more in a straight up hard rock direction instead of the string-based orchestrated rock they started out with…give this album a listen. The strings and piano drive the songs, working perfectly with the heavy guitars, and Michael Barnes puts on what just might be one of the best vocal performances in modern rock music.
Jesiah is a collaboration between two people with totally boring and normal-sounding names. DJSiah handles the lead vocals, synths, and guitars, while Babsteez holds down all the drums and percussion elements. They’d previously gone by DJSiah, and I’m guessing the name change is meant to reflect a shift in style. As DJSiah, the duo was more of an electropop/EDM outfit, while Jesiah takes the sound in more of an indie pop/rock direction. Lyrically, the new project isn’t quite as up front with spiritual messages as DJSiah was, but the two closing tracks In The River and Closer to You provide enough context to see where they’re coming from on the rest of the album. This project is just a blast to listen to. Sunny, synthy indie pop with a few gorgeous acoustic tracks in the perfect spots to change the pace. Definitely give it a listen if you enjoy groups like fun. and Fitz and the Tantrums.
And those are my picks for the month. In the interest of space, I limited this list to five albums. That means some great stuff got left out, but that’s where you come in. What were your favorite albums of February? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook.