Well, here we are again. With August done, we’re officially two-thirds of the way through 2016, which is just bonkers. We’re starting to hit that time of year when I need to start thinking about my top albums of the year, but not quite yet. Today, I’m just going to tell you my top albums of August. Here they are:
NYVES – Pressure
In a world where movies get announced years before their release dates and even Super Bowl commercials get trailers, it’s kind of refreshing when something awesome happens without a lot of hype. The new EP from NYVES is one of those things. A simple announcement went up on the band’s Facebook page in late July, and three weeks later, Pressure dropped.
For the uninitiated, NYVES is a darkwave band made up of Demon Hunter frontman Ryan Clark and former Project 86 guitarist/keyboardist Randy Torres. The new EP picks up where their debut Anxiety left off: with Clark’s deep, brooding vocals, layers of synths and programmed drums, and a strong sense of melody. Pressure focuses on the more aggressive and gritty side of NYVES’s sound, with punchy beats and noisy synths to lend some edge to the otherwise hyper-melodic and heavily layered compositions. There’s a lot of attention paid to texture and how everything blends in the mix, and it makes for an incredibly rich and compelling listen.
Technically, it’s still summer until late September, but let’s be honest. The school year has started, the football machine is gearing up, and unnecessarily pumpkin-spiced things are popping up on shelves everywhere. It’s basically fall.
And since it’s basically fall, now is the perfect time for one last album to say goodbye to summer. Unspoken’s Follow Through is that album. Bouncy electric keys, brass section blasts, and an energetic vocal performance all pull together an album that’s almost impossible not to tap your foot to.
In my book, Heath McNease is one of the most underrated artists in Christian hip hop. The dude is a content machine, releasing albums left and right, and what’s even more impressive is that his music is consistently good. Despite his clear talent and devoted following, he never seems to come up in conversations about the top names in the genre.
Who Knows? Who Cares? is just the latest example of Heath’s abilities, and it’s one of his best albums yet. All of his strongest skills are on full display here. There are the heartfelt, thought-provoking lyrics packed with complex and creative rhymes. There’s the ability to use evocative melodies in exactly the right places. There’s the seamless use of samples. And, as always, there are his unreal rapping chops. Heath’s ability to write and his ability to perform would each be impressive on their own, but the fact that he can do both as well as he does sets him head and shoulders above the vast majority of artists today.
Once upon a time, Skillet was this obscure Christian band with an industrial edge that set them apart from the mass of pop punk acts that were showing up all over the place in the mid-90’s to early 2000’s. They’ve since become a hard rock staple, both in the Christian world and outside of it. They’ve made soaring rock anthems supported by strings a signature sound, and it’s served them well.
As excited as I was to see Skillet see such success and – at least from what I could tell – hold on to their faith and ministry mindset, I still missed the days of the industrial rock. With Unleashed, we have Skillet’s strongest nod to their past yet. In fact, string-led rock anthems are rarities on this latest project. Most of the songs are a blend of New Skillet’s radio-ready hard rock sensibilities and Old Skillet’s penchant for synth sounds. The resulting project is a breath of fresh air in the veteran rockers’ catalog.
I almost didn’t finish listening to this album. After all, the very first line of the very first song talks about getting drunk and burning down a church. Not exactly family-friendly and uplifting stuff there. Still, for whatever reason, I stuck around…and I’m glad I did.
Fold begins in some dark territory, but what follows is – as best I can tell – the story of a man who leaves the Church and eventually finds his way back. Much of the narrative is summed up in the second-to-last song, The Only Fire, which opens with a few lines that may sound familiar to anyone who grew up in a legalistic church: Taught to fear my God / Then that fear became a cancer / And I took medicine / To destroy my sin / But in the end it’s only killing me. The song shifts to a moving chorus, where the songwriter declares: With my heart in my hands / I am ready again / I am a broken man, I am / Cause I’ve come to accept / That the blood that you bled / It was bled and sent for the likes of me.
A couple disclaimers are in order here. One, while the members of Motherfolk have been pretty open about their faith in interviews, they’ve shied away from the label of “Christian band.” Of course, an album with lyrics like those will have a hard time shaking the “Christian” label for me.
The second disclaimer is that, in talking about walking away from the church and the bitterness involved, Motherfolk does use some harsh language, with a handful of d–‘s and h–‘s sprinkled throughout. They aren’t used often, but they are there, so if that’s something that will upset you, I’d recommend you stay away.
However, if that doesn’t faze you, I highly recommend you check out this album.
So there you go. Another month, another five albums. As always, if you’d like to hear more, feel free to check out my Spotify playlist. I usually add a handful of new tracks every week, and I’m closing in on 100 songs from 100 bands, just for 2016. You can listen here.
What are you digging right now? Let me know in the comments!