Music At The Moment (2016 Review, Part 2)

Continued from last post

Where The Light Shines Through by Switchfoot

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Recommended Songs: “I Won’t Let You Go,” “The House Burns Down Tonight,” “Bull In A China Shop.”

Switchfoot has never really put out a bad album, some are just better than others. Where The Light Shines Through definitely ranks pretty high up in their in the better. Although still unable to top their 2009 masterpiece Hello Hurricane, this album includes some of their finest work since then. The groovy “Float” and Americana sound of the title track deliver some upbeat joy. But the album really kicks into high gear by the fourth track, “I Won’t Let You Go.” Perhaps their best ballad yet, this painfully honest but beautiful song about God’s commitment to us is brilliantly executed, with the crescendoing last minute being my favorite moment off the album. This follows with the catchy but profoundly deep rocker “When The House Burns Down Tonight.” Although some of the album sounds like Fading West rejects (“Shake This Feeling”) or Christian radio pandering (“Live It Well”), the strangest moment of all is the interlude of “Looking For America” with Lecrae. Although a great song, it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, and kind of interrupts the brilliant flow of songs about light shining out of darkness. Personally, I think it should’ve been released as a single so it could’ve gotten the attention it deserves while standing on its own. But nonetheless, Switchfoot’s 10th album proves to be one their most formidable yet. 4/5

Air For Free by Relient K

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Recommended Songs: “Local Construction,” “Man,” “God,” “Flower,” “Marigold,” “Runnin.”

Not only did these 2 bands tour together this year, they also both put out stellar albums. Air For Free is the comeback album many fans like myself have been waiting for after the passable Collapsible Lung in 2013. But unlike other bands trying to capitalize on nostalgia (I’m looking at you Blink-182), Relient K evolves their sound from pop/punk into indie pop/rock. Matt Thiessen retains his catchy yet profoundly deep witty lyrics while allowing the piano to take the center-stage over guitars this time around. The result: the ever-building “Local Construction” (in which the song builds musically while singing about inner-construction) and the tempo-changing “Man” (a song that references past Relient K songs such as “This Is The End”). It was also nice to hear them singing about their faith for the first time in years (“God,” “Prodigal”). Other themes of maturity, change, and self-reflection dominate the album, and the album sequencing reflects that. One case is in the heart-breaking song “Flower” in which Thiessen sings about lost love while the next song, “Marigold,” is about his own shortcomings. But the album’s crowning achievement comes in the prequel to the beloved opus “Deathbed.” “Runnin” summarizes everything that makes Relient K great, from their punk rock flare, to their witty melancholy lyrics, and their profound storytelling. It is a nearly flawless execution in both redefining the band and making a triumphant comeback. AFF is an appealingly random collection of songs, strung together by a few common themes and a wonderful asthetic; it is Relient K’s strongest work to date, and is personally one of my favorite albums of all time. 5/5

ACT V: Hymns With the Devil in Confessional by The Dear Hunter

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Recommended Songs: “Cascades,” “Mr. Usher,” “The Haves Have Naught,” “Light,” “Gloria,” “The Fire Remains.”

After the release of ACT IV (my favorite album that year) the Dear Hunter surprised fans with the next chapter of their acclaimed Acts series. This was the best surprise of the year for me! With each subsequent Act, this band gets stronger and stronger. So how does ACT V hold up? It’s about on par with ACT IV, and that’s very good. The best way to think of these two albums (since they were made at the same time) is that ACT IV is the day, very bright and optimistic, full of hope and opportunity, while ACT V is the night, dark, cynical, and hopeless. For example, ACT IV opens up with the hopeful “Rebirth” while ACT V’s opening song is the remorseful “Regress.” Then from “The Moon Awake” on, you are entrenched in a bitter tale of despair and one man’s need for redemption. This album is the climax of what this story has been building to for 10 years, and it ends the narrative fittingly while hinting at things to come in ACT VI. Although filled with nods and countless references to past albums, ACT V manages to stand on its own with great tracks like “Cascade” and “The March.” It is ranged with songs that are haunting (“The Most Cursed of Hands”), joyous (“The Revival”), and beautiful (“Melpomene”). But the album really hits its stride with the run of “Mr. Usher,” “The Haves Have Naught,” “Light,” and “Gloria.” These 4 songs showcase the cinematic potential of this story; it would be criminal if this was not at least adapted into a play somehow. I can go on and on about this masterpiece, but if you are tired of safe and simplistically formulaic songwriting, then I highly recommend this album to you. 5/5

Revolution Radio by Green Day

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Recommended songs: “Somewhere Now,” “Outlaws,” “Still Breathing.”

I was cautiously optimistic of this album. Although I was not at all a fan of UNO, DOS, TRE, I held out hope that the band would slim down their songwriting and focus their efforts on a smaller batch of songs, making them the best they can be. And I am happy to say that this is exactly what happened here. First of all, Green Day is one of the few political bands I enjoy, so it was nice to essentially have some American Idiot level commentary here on modern issues such as police violence and social media celebrities. Musically the album is very raw and stripped down to the barebones instruments of guitar, bass, and drums. Although I loved the production-heavy 21st Century Breakdown, this was a nice change of pace. They managed to make songs sound really grand with just the three of them. And my goodness, it’s nice to hear an album that just rocks. From the title track to the classic rock musings of “Somewhere Now,” this album is all around loads of fun. The more serious moments such as “Still Breathing” and “Ordinary World” shine well also. And hats off to Green Day for finally providing some solutions to the problems they address. “Outlaws” is my favorite, taking influence from his album with Norah Jones, it’s a welcome change for the band. This is how you do a comeback album! 4/5

Soundtracks by Various Artists

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Recommended Songs: “The Hands Dealt,” “Ancient History,” “The Master of the Mystic.”

Every year I take some time to mention some movie soundtracks I really enjoyed. First, although I didn’t really enjoy the movie, Suicide Squad had a couple decent songs such as Twenty One Pilot’s “Heathens” and Kehlani’s “Gangsta.” The controversial Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had an incredible score. Zimmer gives Batman an appropriately gothic but BA theme, while Superman gets something more reflective and hopeful, and of course the Wonder Woman theme (“Is She With You”) which is probably the best superhero theme in any movie. But all in all, my favorite soundtrack this year would have to be Michael Giachinno’s score for Doctor Strange. It’s the first MCU film to get scored in such a way that it adds to the film. From the haunting “The Hands Dealt” to the triumphantly psychedelic “The Master of the Mystic,” the hero’s theme is built up and feels earned by the time the credits roll. The use of the harpsichord and sitar is also a nice touch, giving the movie a more worldly feel to it. Nothing is overdone and it all feels quite tasteful.

So there you have it, my review of some music from this year. What did you think of these releases? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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