Here we are once again. Another month has come and gone, and I’ve gone through another month’s releases. There weren’t a lot of surprises for me these last few weeks. The albums I expected to be great were, for the most part, pretty great. There were a few artists who hadn’t been on my radar that popped up with some stuff I really enjoyed, but not as many as in past months.
Anyway, let’s get to the recommendations:
Abandon Kansas – alligator
First of all, can we talk about how awesome this cover is? Bear in mind that I have exactly zero sense of visual aesthetic (I once fooled my high school art teacher into thinking I spilled paint on my canvas simply by trying my hardest) but this thing is just about perfect. It’s messy and chaotic, there’s a ton to process, but there’s still an element of playful quirkiness to it. Most importantly, all those things could be said about the new Abandon Kansas album as a whole. Frontman Jeremy Spring has never been one to keep his feelings under wraps, but alligator is his most personal project to date. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this project to absolutely everyone. Spring goes to some dark places here, from relationship difficulties, to depression, to addiction. But what will REALLY bug people is that there are a couple naughty words on here.
Some may question what place lyrics and themes like these have on a Christian album, but I would argue that Christians have just as much business – if not more – writing about the difficult things in life. We have a God who didn’t sit back and observe our pain remotely. We have a God who became one of us and walked into our chaos and set things right. We have a religion that tells us pain is not an illusion and that there is something deeply wrong with the world, but it doesn’t stop there. Our religion offers hope of restoration. And Spring does point to that hope here and there in alligator. Just be warned that there are no easy answers or pretty bows tied around these issues. I happen to like it better that way, but that’s just me.
Buy alligator on iTunes here
Nick Powell – Unsettled
Metal makes me tired. It’s not that I particularly dislike the genre. It’s just that all that energy and emotion exhausts me. It would seem I’m not the only one, either. When a member of a metal band starts his solo project, there’s always a pretty good chance the project will be an acoustic one. Nick Powell is no exception. I mean, he hasn’t said anything to this effect, but I feel like the only reason his solo project is acoustic is that he’s exhausted. Unsettled is a great collection of dark, brooding folk songs. Each track is understated, with little instrumentation beyond guitar and strings, and Powell’s voice works well for the sound. He’s reminiscent of Marcus Mumford, but not to the point of being a ripoff.
Buy Unsettled on iTunes here
Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands: Sunlight
I’m about ninety percent sure I read an interview once where Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman said he writes a song a day, just to practice his craft and keep his creative juices flowing. Some of the songs end up being awful, but when you’re writing that much, you eventually pump out a couple good tunes by accident. Anyway, one of the fruits of this prolific output has been Jon’s solo career – songs that don’t fit the Switchfoot brand, but are still great songs worth singing. In 2008, he wrapped up his Seasons project, releasing an EP to correspond with every season of the year. Seven years later, he’s back with a new project. The Wonderlands is a series of four EPs, each corresponding to a different part of the day. Each album will have 6 songs, so by the end we’ll have 24: one song for each hour of the day.
Sound-wise, if you liked Seasons, you’ll dig Sunlight. Jon’s sense of melody is strong as ever, and his voice pairs really well with acoustic arrangements. While still featuring the stripped-down feel of his earlier EPs, Sunlight has a deeper, richer sound than past releases.
Buy Sunlight on iTunes here
Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface
Twenty One Pilots probably wouldn’t call themselves a Christian band. From what I can tell, both members are Christians, and drummer Josh Dun even played with House of Heroes briefly in 2010. However, what I appreciated about the band’s 2013 release was the way songwriter Tyler Joseph wrote about intellect and the life of the mind in a way that wasn’t overtly spiritual but – at least to me – was still undeniably Christian. The new album Blurryface does something similar. While there aren’t a lot of overtly spiritual lyrics, Joseph digs into his approach to art in a way that’s very in keeping with a Christian worldview. Probably the best example of this would be Fairly Local, a track that paraphrases Romans 7, but in the context of Joseph’s musical career. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, to say the least, but I think it shows what a spiritual experience the act of creation can be for Christian artists. I don’t have a clue if that’s what Joseph was going for, but it’s what I got.
Stylistically, Blurryface takes the band’s signature indie pop/hip hop blend and expands on it. Songs like Tear In My Heart or The Judge sound like they could have been B-sides on Vessel, but then you have new sounds, like the dark synths of Fairly Local or the reggae cadences of Ride. Blurryface is a long, almost disjointed project, but it’s definitely worth the listen.
Buy Blurryface on iTunes here
Copeland – Ixora Twin
Usually, “Hey guys! We released a remix/acoustic album!” is just band code for “Hey guys! We wanted to stay on your radar so we slapped some stuff together that’s not really all that new!” There are a few really good acoustic and remix albums out there, but the vast majority feel like they haven’t seen a lot of effort.
Copeland’s Ixora Twin is not one of these albums.
First of all, it’s not just a remix or acoustic album. There are some remixes, some acoustic versions, and even a few songs with entirely new instrumentations and melodies. But what makes this a really unique album is that it is designed to be played at the exact same time as their 2014 release Ixora. The alternate melodies on Twin harmonize with the original vocals, the new instrumental parts play off the original arrangements, and occasionally the entire feel of a song is changed. It’s an awesome concept, and so well executed that at times I wonder if this was the plan all along. Ixora was in my top 10 favorite albums last year (see the full list here), so naturally I was pumped when I realized what this album was. Even if you don’t want to go through all the work of playing both albums simultaneously, Ixora Twin stands on its own just fine.
(Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any videos with Twin audio from official sources, so here’s Copeland’s new music video from regular Ixora.)
Buy Ixora Twin on iTunes here
And that’s all I’ve got for you. I’ll be back with more in a few weeks! Be sure to let me know what your favorite releases of May were in the comments.