Music At The Moment (2016 Review, Part 1)

What a crazy year it’s been! From anticipated releases to unexpected surprises, 2016 shaped-up to be quite the year in music. Now there’s plenty of people on the Internet praising Bon Iver’s new album and analyzing Life of Pablo, so I don’t feel the need to do that here. Instead, I’ll be focusing specifically on artists I’ve been passionately following for years. And might I begin by saying: all these albums this year walk a line of tension between staying true to the artist’s signature sound and venturing into new territory. Some stay too safe, others stray too far, and some find the balance in-between. So without further adieu, let’s begin.

One Wild Life: Spirit & Body by Gungor

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Recommended Songs: “Magic,” “Wonder,” “Lovely Broken.”

Ever since Gungor revamped themselves in 2010 with their hit album Beautiful Things, their track-record has been pretty flawless. Every album has a distinct theme and aesthetic to it; and after last year’s first installment of the One Wild Life Trilogy: Soul, I greatly anticipated the follow-ups. And while both Spirit and Body maintain unique aesthetics within the Gungor discography, I found it to be their weakest efforts yet. Not bad, just weak. What were once intriguing themes of doubt and mysticism in 2013’s I Am Mountain have now become menantenous and redundant. And when they do give answers, they are merely generic statements such as “look within” “be the love” and “everyone is God.” As a follow of Jesus, it just seems trite and empty without context (which I know is the exact opposite of what they are going for). I do appreciate their honesty in some songs (“Breath Within the Breath”); but nothing is as edgy as it tries to be. It also hurts to hear one of my favorite bands resorting to tired metaphors of love being like a hurricane (I was in a hurricane this year and believe me, this is a terrible metaphor that we need to stop using). Musically I miss the drums and it sounds way too over-stuffed with electronics, though the orchestrations remain quite beautiful. If you like it, then that’s great, but for me, it doesn’t hold a candle to the brilliance of GUTE, IAM, and OWL:SOUL. 5/10

Chasing Shadows by Angels & Airwaves

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Recommended Songs: “Voyager,” “Chasing Shadows”

After reeling from one disapointment, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Angels & Airwaves’ newest EP Chasing Shadows. And how does it hold up? It’s okay, even pretty good at times. Though it starts off with a questionable 30-second intro, it evolves into a sonic landscape that masterfully blends his AVA and Blink-182 sound together. Though at moments redundant (“Artillery”) this EP gave me perhaps their most epic song since “Tunnels”: “Chasing Shadows.” From it’s soaring guitars to Delonge’s passionate singing, this title track reminds me of why I love this band so much. Although my frustration at Tom Delonge’s current prospects is apparent, I still enjoy this release. Is it a masterpiece? No, but it does make me wonder if more time was put into it how much better it could’ve been. Here’s to hoping he returns to music full-time in the near future! 7/10

Ghost of a King by The Gray Havens

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Recommended Songs: “Shadows of the Dawn,” “Take This Slowly,” “A Living Hope.”

Easily my favorite band I discovered in 2015, The Gray Havens once again provide a sold entry with their follow-up to last year’s Fire and Stone. Though not as memorable as that album, this one continues to develop their folksy-art sound by adding synths in song such as “Diamonds and Gold” and “A Living Hope,” while still maintaining their signature style in songs such as “Band of Gold.” Although I do appreciate how it’s a little darker, overall it doesn’t take the bold leaps I know this group is capable of making. There is no “Train station” or “Jack and Jill Pt.2” in terms of creative word-play and metaphors. Ghost of a King is good, but safe. But their as-always insightful lyrics more than make up for that. All in all a solid, but slightly forgettable, release. 6/10

California by Blink-182

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Recommended Songs: “Cynical,” “Los Angeles,” “Left Alone”

Okay, let’s get this over with. Yes, I don’t like this album. This is one of the worst albums by a band I really love that I’ve ever heard. Now here’s where it gets weird: I still think technically speaking as an album it’s quite competent. It’s mixed and produced well, it flows very smoothly, and it successfully recaptures that old-school pop-punk sound that brought Blink-182 into the mainstream. But like many of these releases, it’s all a matter of taste. And quite frankly, Blink-182 without Tom Delonge is simply not Blink-182 to me, no matter how many times they try to convince me with their joke songs (“Built This Pool,” “Brohemian Rhapsody.”) or their throwback sound (“The Only Thing That Matters.”). Without Delonge’s boundary-pushing songwriting and distinct vocals, this sounds like a bland supergroup with members from Blink and Alkaline Trio (I would probably like this album more if it wasn’t under the Blink banner). And that’s my biggest problem with this album: it’s safe, way too safe. It sounds like it was produced with the question in mind: “How can we recapture the old Blink-182” instead of asking how they can push the genre forward while making a great album (as they did in 2003’s Blink-182). What’s worse, as someone from California, I looked forward to an album that connected with that theme. And while some songs do it very well (“Los Angeles,” “San Diego”) songs like the title track have the most generic lyrics (“Living in the perfect weather, spending time inside together”) and sound like a reject from a live-action Disney TV movie. Hearing Hoppus and Skiba singing about girls and getting sober at their age just sounds like forced pandering. All in all, this album is pop without the punk. There are no risks, no edginess, just safe blandness for the mainstream masses and the radio stations. It reeks of desperate fan approval after questionable responses since they reunited in 2009. And while Travis’s drums are still king (“Cynical” perhaps being one of his best ever songs) they cannot save this disappointment. And yes, I know I’m in the minority; I liked Neighborhoods more than this. Is that album perfect? No, but at least it took risks and tried new things. The closest this album comes to a risk is Skiba’s songwriting in “Los Angeles.” Don’t get me wrong, their are song I like, but they are few and far between. 4/10

Beyond Control by King’s Kaleidoscope

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Recommended Songs: “Enchanted,” “Dust,” “Gone,” “A Prayer,” “Trackless Sea”

So as you may have gathered by now, this year started off quite disappointing for me. But this is where things began to turn around. This is the album I needed after a mediocre year thus far. Beyond Control only gets better and better with each listen. It does successfully what Gungor’s OWL Trilogy failed to achieve: create an experience that captures the various degrees of emotions we experience in life. Whether it’s joy (“Enchanted”), beauty (“Lost?”), doubt (“A Prayer”) or resolution (“A Trackless Sea”) this album takes you on an emotional journey as you struggle with the writer to let go, realizing that many things in life are beyond our control. This album is what worship music in churches should be striving towards instead of poppy praise songs about storms and whatnot. There is nothing cliche or trite about this work of art. All of it feels very genuine and intentionally crafted. And even with the controversial Explicit Content label, it tastefully uses swear words as an uncompromised insight into the writer’s real-life struggle. It does not come off gimmicky like Gungor’s references to “alien apes” does. Since the album is mostly quite upbeat, when this dark abode of “A Prayer” arrives, it feels intentional, and thus the ending of “A Trackless Sea” feels like an earned finale. All in all, while not as good as their debut album, Beyond Control is an absolute work of genius and artistry that we as the Church need right now. 9/10

To Be Continued…

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