Friday, 20 November 2009



So just to say at the outset, this is going to be more a review of some of the new albums that I've got my mitts on recently-
Tune in again soon for an update on everything else happening in life....on which there is much to update, but I have a nice little window of an hour or so to talk about music, and it's not big enough to talk about everything else.
Suffice it to say everything is brilliant- happy, safe, challenged, encouraged, pressed and pressing on, blessed beyond what I deserve, ask or imagine.

So, many people will wonder why I bother to actually review music, as I have done in the past.
Well, not only do I think that music is incredibly powerful, but I also think that putting into words what I think about an album helps me make sense of it.
So, if you want to come along for the ride, feel free.
I think it makes sense to go chronologically, because ranking in order of favourites is probably pretty fruitless.

I love this time of year, because there is usually a few solid offerings coming out after a long summer of not very much. One of the things that there was a lot of excitement from pretty early on in our uni lives was the new Muse album.
The Resistance had a lot of pressure on it from Russ, Cal and myself.
On the first few hearings, I was a bit worried that they hadn't managed to keep any handle on the reigns of rationale and quality control.

However, here we have a perfect example of 'a grower'. I still don't think it's their strongest offering- not by a long stretch.
Perhaps I'm stuck in the area between Origin and Absolution, where it was all about the rock, and that's the sound I'm still yearning for.
However, whatever made me react badly to it at first has subsided enough for me to appreciate it properly now.
Whilst people will wax lyrical about the Exogenesis symphony, calling it the jewel in the crown of the album, I can't help but think that 'symphony' is a strong word to use- a moving, if slightly zany, composition for sure- but when you reach this 12 minute orchestrafest at the end of the album, the tone has been set to such epic, bombastic, ridiculous-but-it-totally-works levels, that I want it to be even bigger, even longer, even more genre busting.
And this is something that Muse have done with this album. People are sandwiching words together all the time to try and pin what 'their sound' is...emopera, epic space psychedelic mega rock.

Pick your favourite, but none of them cover all the bases.

Undisclosed Desires is a worrying foray into electronic, drum looped R & B, United States of Eurasia is a homage to Freddie Mercury and I Belong To You sounds so French that you're not really surprised when Matt Bellamy actually breaks into French half way through.

The highlights of the album, for me, are the most 'vintage Muse', which is unsurprising- so 'Resistance', 'Unnatural Selection' and 'MK Ultra' are the tracks with the most plays so far.

As for the lyrics, some are straightforward love songs, others are love songs with tinges of conspiracy and political unrest, some explore conspiracies and theories so unconventional that only a select portion of the Internet dwelling community could pass comment on them. (See the lyrics of the Exogenesis symphony)

So, it's typically opaque in some areas, tender in thing is always sure, it's fun and even when dealing with the aliens stuff, they don't seem to take themselves that seriously, which is a redeeming feature. I don't think I'd listen to the whole thing straight through very often, but I am realising that I am no better placed to try and pin down their 'sound' more than anyone else.
It's good, bordering on great. Fun to the point of silly.
But I'd point you without qualm to their first three albums first before this one.

Second is Relient K's new album- 'Forget and Not Slow Down.'
The first impression of the album is how much these guys have matured.
Sure, their first few albums were funny, and Matt Thiessen's lyrics knotted the tongues of Christian teenagers everywhere, but the music was raw pop punk.
This album has grown in the direction that their MASSIVE EP (13 tracks!) was pointing them in this time last year.

The sound is more layered rock, the lyrics are not just phonetically and spiritually brilliant, but Thiessen has worked a recurring metaphor of Deserts, Savannahs, Lions and Oases throughout the album that is clever, subtle, and brimming with humility and hope.

It is almost impossible pick highlights, because it is such a smoothly running album- from the fast paced title track which opener, to the folky-pop 'Candlelight', all the way back to straight up rock in 'Savannah', this too represents a wide spectrum of styles.

However, one thing that can be said is that the album works even better than the sum of its parts. It's not a concept album as such, but it feels like a story, a journey, an adventure, held together by the recurring metaphor, and a series of connecting interludes, which act as the glue between different themes and styles.

It is silly in places...thankfully maturity doesn't mean boring, and Thiessen's rhyming is impeccable and cheeky as ever.

The overriding feeling is that these guys have figured out what they want to play, and they have the talent and creativity to have crafted a very solid album that encapsulates all of these things.

If I say top marks now, that leaves no scope to raise the bar higher later on, but this is feel-good pop-rock that makes rainy days seem summery, and is a great example of how Christians in bands are successfully straddling both the 'Christian' and secular markets, keeping truth, integrity and focus, but also being enjoyable, relevant and non-preachy.
Yes..get it!

'Newday 2009- No shout too loud' is the live album from this year's event that I covered in detail last time.

Hearing it back made me realise the quality of the songs that were new this year; how Phatfish's funky pop does actually work in a worship song, and how no matter how many songs are written, you can't escape the quality of hymns.
How Great Thou Art is a welcome inclusion.
It's one of the best Newday albums ever, a bit short, but an accurate picture of the quality and intimacy of the worship we can experience not just at big events, but everywhere, everyday.
Good stuff.

But here is the moment I've been waiting for.

After nearly three years of waiting HELLO HURRICANE landed on the doormat on a fateful day in early November.
I have never been more excited, nor been so apprehensive, about an album before.

Switchfoot have grown in popularity so much in the past few years, and after going independent and Jon doing some side projects, I wondered if any quality or direction would be lost in the void.

Whilst the bonus DVD makes it clear that the album has been a real labour of love, I am so relieved to say that I have never had such misplaced anxiousness.
My admiration of this band is well documented, so trying to put into words how brilliant it is will be difficult.
I put it to you that this is one of the most complete, solid, truth-packed, honest and hopeful albums you will hear.
Yes, Joe is predictably saying that the new Switchfoot album is one of the best. ever.
Big whoop.

But let me say why (I definitely wouldn't say that of their last one).
One of the best criteria to use is to see how the track makes you feel.
I am moved and enthused by each one.

Most albums have that one or two that you always skip- not filler per se, but just not as good as the rest.
There is no room on this album for that.
In Jon's own words; 'the pre-requisite for a song making this album was 'if the song doesn't make you cry, why are you singing it?' and Chad Butler added 'The decision process became about choosing the songs we felt like we could play for the rest of our lives'.

There is no fat, no gimmicks.
Switchfoot have toned every muscle, and this is a rippling display of musical perfection.

Needle and Haystack Life explodes the album into life with hectic drumming . Mess of Me and The Sound are almost Zeppelin-like, Bullet Soul is so passionate that there are cries of determination in the final chorus.
Hello Hurricane is a great fulcrum that the whole album rests on, driven by something sounding suspiciously like a ukulele and the bass drum. Go figure.
These are balanced by the slower and reflective, which range from the fragile and vulnerable 'Yet' (reminiscent of their earlier albums) to the initially dark and eventually crescendoing-in-hope 'Sing it out'. 'Your Love is a song' is beautiful. 'Enough to let me go' is achingly honest. 'Always' is a great worship song. 'Free' has some great snare work and guitars crunch over Jon's heartfelt plea for help. 'Red Eyes' is a slow poppy number, which closes the whole thing perfectly with a culmination of what can only be deemed as 'Christmassy noise'.

It's a delightful offering that I am pleased to be so gushing about.
It is brilliant on every level.

Get it. And then get it for your friends.

I think after the surpassing of all expectations thus far, John Mayer had a high bar to reach.
I've spoken a bit about him before- 'Continuum' and 'Where the light is' are remarkable albums, and Mayer was aware of that.
He's tried to 'step to the side of the success of those albums rather than pursue a similar direction.'

The result of this is quite baffling, and I'm still trying to get my head around it.

Because it's not bad.

Undoubtedly, he's a brilliant musician, as are Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, who were in the JM Trio with him and have helped on this album too.

But in moving away from the fabulous rock-blues that dominated my playlists for months, an album without much direction or punch has come out.

It's pretty much all airy, mellow, medium paced love songs.

This, again, is not a bad thing in itself, but my expectations were so different that I'm still thinking that it could have been so much more.
There are a few redeeming features- on the closing track, 'Friends, Lovers or Nothing', there are glimpses of the guitar we all know he's capable of, but the majority of the album I only find myself able to listen to after midnight when I am winding down, because the lyrical content is uninspiring too.

Whilst he's written deeply in the past, this seems to be almost all about 'love' (inverted commas intentional).
Alas, it seems he still hasn't got a very clear idea of what love is, which I think is what gives the album its lack of direction.

For me, this manifests itself most ironically when Taylor Swift shows up to duet.
I wouldn't be too upset if Kanye West interrupted to be honest...

One song completely out of place which cements my disappointment is his cover of 'Crossroads'. It's so laid back it's almost horizontal.
The guitar solo is nice to listen to, but if you listen to this and then the Cream version afterwards, you'll notice what it COULD have been.
That pretty much sums up the album.
It's nice, I suppose, but could be so much better.

With the other four albums I reviewed being out at around the same time, this one is unlikely to have much play-time because it's mostly OK, boring at worst.
A big disappointment that I hope he will recover from.

With all of the great music that's emerged lately, I thought it would be an insurmountable task to get me to listen to something else around this time, but I didn't factor in hearing the title track from OneRepublic's upcoming album 'Waking Up'.

I don't want to spoil it for people, and when the full thing comes out, I'll probably review it then. But let's just say that an instrumental part spoke more to me than all the lyrics on Mayer and Muses' albums put together.
If it carries on in that vein, it's bound to be something quite remarkable.
That will do for now.
Until next time, be cool compadres.

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