One of the things I enjoy most about writing this column is covering bands who haven’t quite broken through yet. In a music scene where it’s easier than ever to release a CD, it’s become harder than ever to get noticed. I like finding guys who are making great music but not getting the coverage that the household names are. Most of the time, I end up enjoying the fresh sounds more than the established ones, too.
But then a month like July of 2016 happens.
Several high-profile bands released new albums this month, and every single one of them delivered. So, as much as I want to highlight the little indie bands that could, I have to go with my five favorite albums. That’s always been what this column was. Not five albums I’m telling you about so you’ll think I’m so cool for finding all these hidden gems – my five favorite albums of the month.
Four of these are going to be from names you’ve probably heard, and that’s okay, because it’s also a great feat to make great music after being in the game this long. So here’s to veteran rockers getting it done. Here are my picks for the month.
Switchfoot – Where The Light Shines Through
Switchfoot has become a band that’s easy to take for granted. Their first album released nearly twenty years ago, and it seems like they’ve never had a slow moment in their career. There may have been albums along the way that didn’t live up to expectations, but taken as a whole, their discography doesn’t have any real duds – which is impressive considering they have ten full lengths and ten more EPs to their name.
Where The Light Shines Through felt especially appropriate in its release, coming amid a time of violence and fear in America and the world. This is an album about hope, but not cheap hope. It’s about the hope that you find and hold onto somehow, when everything around you seems dark and chaotic. Sonically, Switchfoot is both pushing forward and reaching back. Their sound continues to develop, but then there are also moments, particularly in songs like “Bull In A China Shop,” that recall their early career. Simply put, this is a lyrically profound, musically rich album that’s a must-listen for fans of quirky alt rock.
Also, definitely go for the deluxe edition. The three extra songs are absolutely worth two more dollars.
Download Where The Light Shines Through on iTunes here
House of Heroes may not have quite the name recognition of some of the other artists in this particular roundup, but anyone who’s been following Christian rock since the mid-2000s should recognize the name. Their 2008 masterpiece The End Is Not The End put them on the map, and they’ve been making high quality blue collar rock and roll ever since.
Colors is the first full-length studio album from House of Heroes since they went independent, and they haven’t missed a beat. They’ve only continued to hone their sound and songwriting. This is the most aggressive-sounding House of Heroes release to date, but there’s still a strong sense of melody, and, of course, those signature House of Heroes harmonies. The album is also a full-on concept album, telling a story from start to finish, which makes this Electric Light Orchestra fan’s heart supremely happy.
If you’re more observant than I am, you may recognize Kody Gautier as one of the members of alt-worship band Seeker & Servant. I, of course, had to be informed by another blog of the connection.
In my defense, The Prevailing doesn’t just sound like another iteration of Seeker & Servant. While there are powerful, Christ-centered lyrics, it’s mostly an instrumental album. Many songs don’t have any lyrics at all, and the ones that do only use them sparingly. While Gautier’s voice is fantastic, the star of the show is his ability to craft intricate and powerful arrangements.
The sound of The Prevailing is big, brooding, and cinematic. It shifts naturally between calm, Sigur Ros-esque sections into huge, edgy post-rock anthems. Because of the lack of lyrics, it makes great background “focus music,” but there’s also enough depth and complexity that sitting down with a nice pair of headphones and giving it your full attention is an incredibly rewarding listen.
When you listen to the latest release from Needtobreathe, it’s clear from the very first note that you’re in for something new. This isn’t the same old folk-leaning rock sound of past albums. Modulated voices, electric keyboards, and a dark synth drone send the message loud and clear that H A R D L O V E is a change in direction for the veteran rockers. It is by far the most poppy installment in their catalog, with arrangements more reminiscent of OneRepublic than Tom Petty.
That said, this album is still, at its heart, a Needtobreathe album. They may be using different tools, but the melodic sensibilities are still there. The thoughtful – yet not preachy – songwriting is still there.
Maybe it’s just because I have some pop-leaning tendencies in my own tastes, but if you ask me, this is the best Needtobreathe has ever sounded.
Relient K may be down to only two full-time members, but it doesn’t show. Air For Free is a full-strength album that oozes fun. Though there are nods to their roots, this latest release finds them continuing their growth away from the straightforward pop-punk of their early years as they explore new ground and fresh textures. Matt Thiessen and Matt Hoopes play with a variety of instruments throughout the 16-song project, but the common thread is fun.
Underneath the bouncy pianos and playful strings, though, are some of Relient K’s best lyrics to date. Matt Thiessen has always been a witty songwriter, and while the wit is on full display here, Air For Free features some profound musings on growing up, staying young, falling in and out of love, and keeping the faith.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll be back in a few weeks with five more albums. If you’d like to hear more of what I’m digging, feel free to follow my Spotify playlist. I usually add a handful of new tracks every week, and you’ll never find the same band twice. You can listen here.
What are you digging right now? Let me know in the comments!