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Followers of the Vancouver music scene will need to give this album its due this summer, because Brocken Spectre just levelled up. The release of Grand Kids EP is exactly what fans would want: right-on-target studio takes of songs they’ve heard live. The band calls its own offerings avant-pop; It’s Neapolitan in flavour: hopefully it’s the sort of freshness that will save us from the deeply adulterated indie-as-a-genre phase. Stripped down, it’s drum kit, guitar and bass, occasional robotic synths, and a stirring voice.
Either they arranged with Mario and Luigi for a shipment of golden mushrooms this year, or it could have something to do with more live performance experience; gains in confidence for the band reveal themselves in brave explorations of their musical territory. Colin Ablitt traverses the upper and lower (rock bottom) limits of his range, while Colin Campbell (drummer) teaches floor toms the greatness they were destined for.
Exploration is a word that could describe this album. The second EP produced by the band, it is mostly the translation of live songs into studio ones, and that’s pretty satisfying. Sonically it contains strong pieces; some parts are catchy as a fishhook.
All parts played by this four-piece from Burnaby/Coquitlam fuse together to produce the slightly dark oft-performed “Marionette King”, with Ablitt’s strong melody lines and Nic Campbell’s crisp guitar work that make the song stand out.
Opening song “Frost”, a fan favourite at shows, translates nicely into studio with the sense of the drums not being lost, the harmonies of the song resolving as usual from minor-keyed trisyllabics into a full-hearted rouser. “Steam Hands” jungle-drum opening glides unexpectedly into blissful alternative rock a la The Decembrists and reveals some strengths of the band.
Repulsed by redundancy, it’s an album of surprises. Sometimes the vocals have a folksy colour to them and sometimes they’re alt-pop. Spectre is good at locking into a groove and equally skilled at recreating it. Andrew Cleasby’s bass keeps the tracks anchored while Colin Campbell drums interesting and cleverly-placed rhythms.
It’s this final, somewhat-Fleet-Foxes-inspired “Corlioghost” that is most striking. Opening with its three-part harmonies and plodding synths, the track develops awestruck lyrics like: “I’ve been fascinating on you for some time now…lion, come and catch me”. It packs a punch in its diversity, changing and fading only after a drum, bass and guitar interlude that is a concert staple for the band.
“Anteros & I” is unexpected. This grungy piece explores the gravel floor of Ablitt’s vocals and drags a little, but the song upshifts gears and becomes incredibly enjoyable after he takes a turn for his more familiar upper reaches. Tight stick work from Campbell drives it forward; indeed, it contains some of the most memorable harmonies and rhythms on the whole album.
With the release of this EP, new material is to be expected from the band, and as mentioned in my last interview with them, a possible entry into Vancouver’s prestigious Peak Performance Project. In the meantime, enjoy the places Brocken Spectre has explored on this EP.
Typically, unless you’re Pitchfork or Rolling Stone, no-one cares about your Top 25.
But for those hungry for great music, I’m serving bite size portions from last decade’s best independent music.
These artists, who are writing from a faith perspective, are not in the “Gospel & Religious” category assigned by the music industry. Many of them would rather not be associated with that category at all. They’re artists who produce authentic material in their own right, while not neglecting the deeper dimensions of the human experience.
1/ Misty Edwards – Relentless
Misty Edwards’ 2007 release “Relentless” absolutely rocks. It’s passionate faith sung with sonorous beauty, married with masterful guitar riffs and basslines. The quieter side of the album is just as powerful. The album comes as a double disc, with the second featuring acoustic material.
2/ Shad – TSOL
One of Canada’s best rappers, witty and eloquent emcee Shad is Rwandan-born and Ontario-raised. He articulates plenty of his spiritual insights within his clever and humorous lines of social commentary.
3/ Kye Kye – Young Love
Kye Kye’s Young Love is a gorgeous rippling indie glitch-pop wonder that’s equally performed in clubs and sanctuaries.
4/ Gungor – Beautiful Things
The album title refers to the beautiful things that God creates, but in a way it is self-referential; this is a truly stunning album. Lyrically, it is a celebration of many central and tender tensions in the Christian faith. The vision of this album seems equally inspired by the beauty of God’s works and the realization that there is yet much restoration to take place. Doubt, faith, joy and solemnity are all given their due as the listener makes his or her way through the tracklist. The heart and mind come away nourished.
This is Christian music at its finest. Gungor employ a multiplicity of styles and master them. What Gungor presents to their listeners with this release is an album that is sophisticated but unpretentious, deeply refreshing and reflective with meditation. It expresses the band’s growing understanding of a grander God and it dares the listener to open their mind.
5/ John Mark McMillan – The Medicine
For all of his lyrical and musical prowess, John Mark McMillan is not the sort of musician to produce just any song. He wrote on his blog at the time of his second album’s release, “the world has enough songs… if you have to write a song, write something that no-one’s said before”. He puts his money where his mouth is with this album as he paints rich allegory over stunning blues-rock backdrops.
6/ United Pursuit Band – Found
7/ Amber Brooks – Still I Rise
Amber’s debut album, Still I Rise, is passionate, beautiful, and a cry of the heart, personally and collectively. Find a love story in the lyrics about the mutual divine pursuit. Read my interview with her here.
8/ Audra Lynn (Hartke) – Vow
Imagine what ambient progressive instrumental music would be if it was inspired by God, then find it in listening to Sacred Mountain.
10/ John Mark McMillan – The Song Inside The Sounds of Breaking Down
The album with the song that took the world by storm, “How He Loves Us”, is filled with all kinds of good stuff. McMillan is a poet of rare calibre.
11/ The Listening – The Listening LP
With the experience of former band Rock ‘n’ Roll Worship Circus behind them, musicians Gabriel Wilson, Josiah Sherman, Chris Greely, and Eric Lemiere return as The Listening to release this creative and beautiful debut album.
Confident musicianship (You’ll hear them play in 3, 4, 5, and 7 time) paired with yearning lyrics fills The Listening LP and highlights not just the bands’ musical and lyrical maturity but their very passions and dreams. The album is filled with diverse sounds, melodies, and textures, revisiting the same echoes which could be heard in The Worship Circus’ music – Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Doves, Radiohead, and more. Each song is fresh and different, yet there is an unmistakable unity to the album. Each part articulate yet seamlessly woven together with the others; the work compliments the artistic sensitivity behind it and reminds this author of Paul’s demand of the church in 1 Corinthians 12. Whether it is the delightful metamorphosis of sound on “Triple Fascination” and “Be In Your Eyes” or the haunting musical narrative of “Lovely Red Lights”, each piece contributes to a greater vision, a vision the band has laid open to their listeners, an inspired message of hope. The Listening weave a musical story rich with contemporary insights as well as biblical allusion indicative of their spiritual convictions. One song on the album, “The Factory”, is a parable that, like the parables of Jesus two thousand years ago, followers do not always grasp immediately without explanation.
The innovative sound, honest lyrics, and oftentimes unusual instrumentation on The Listening LP blows a fresh breeze into the alternative rock world as well the sphere of Christian contemporary music. Overall, a fantastic record on multiple levels and should appeal to a wide audience.
12/ Brock Human – Come Away
Returning to the States from a trip with Iris Ministries in Mozambique and with the intention to record an album, Brock Human had a puzzling fall into depression and a complete creative block. With his desperate need for God to be real, God spoke to him in a dream. Brock writes, “in six days he showed me greater love than I could have imagined”. Within a week six songs were complete and the album was finished.
The album comprises simple, profound statements of faith and truth set against the backdrop of sweeping guitars, rich piano, and pulsing African drumbeats. The middle tracks are an encouragement of God`s good plans for each life, and a commitment to wait on the Lord. The album closes with a sung Apostles` creed and an instrumental progression. Let Me In is a flowing album filled with the real hope and inspiration of a real God. It is a true testament to the words of Jesus in Luke 18:27, “What is impossible with man is possible with God”.
13/ Matt Gilman & Cory Asbury – Holy
Two virtuoso voices come together to create one astounding album rich in scriptural allusion and prophetic insight.
14/ Will Reagan & United Pursuit Band – In The Night Season
Honest and unpretentious; this album set up the United Pursuit Band to become an influential force in contemporary worship music.
15/ Branches – Everything You’ve Ever Done Has Been Beautiful
Electronica wizard Jonny Hughes’ fantastic side-project called BRANCHES is ambient electronica that is peaceful and phantasmagorical all in one, well-fit for soaking (listening/meditative) prayer. This, his sophomore EP has been called a “heavenly slice of electro indie-pop” and described thus by XLR8R: “Throughout the instrumental affair, Hughes implements a bath of ethereal synths and arpeggios which is built upon using a seemingly endless supply of delicate melodies with interlocking rhythms that precisely play off each other. The first blown-out drum loop enters the procession just after the one minute marker, eventually disappearing only to pop up again in short spurts between a number of incredibly melody-washed breakdowns. In customary electro-pop fashion, the biggest burst of energy is saved for the track’s climax, where giant, glitched kicks and snares fire at will as Hughes’ melodies soar above, unscathed by the tumultuous sounds below.”
16/ Josh Garrels – Jacaranda
Sublime lyricist and instrumentalist Josh Garrels’ breakbeat folk album weaves lyrical poetic tapestries that challenge and clarify.
17/ Jon Foreman – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter EPs
Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot)’s solo project brought forth an EP for every season, and did not shy away from allowing us to peer into his own wonderings and wanderings.
18/ Extol – The Blueprint Dives
Extol’s technical musicianship earned the band a Spellemannsprisen nomination for best metal album of 2005. The progressive extreme metal band writes music in subgenres including death metal and thrash.
19/ Jason Upton – Between Earth And Sky
Have you ever heard an angel sing? At the recording of Jason Upton’s album “Remember”, there were full grown men on their faces on the ground. Between Earth And Sky contains live versions with a studio quality of some of Jason’s most powerful songs.
20/ Jesus Culture – Your Love Never Fails
Jesus Culture’s 2008 CD/DVD release featuring Kim Walker, Chris Quilala and Melissa How (Wise) helped bring fresh spirit-led worship to the forefront of CCM by using material from the likes of Misty Edwards, Sarah McMillan, Chris McClarney, and others.
21/ Nina Landis – Fly
Nina’s clarion call to the church carries the urgency of a modern prophet, calling us back to our senses and to God’s heart. It’s incredible how strong the responses one album can provoke. “Fly” is as likely to have you weep on the floor of your bedroom as to rock out in your car.
22/ Phil Wickham – Cannons
The song “Beautiful” of this album is a diamond in a field of gems.
23/ Jeremy Enigk – World Waits
Jeremy Enigk, one of the founding fathers of 90’s melodic punk, became a Christian during his time as lead singer of the Seattle emocore band Sunny Day Real Estate and made a bold move in the punk community by opening up about how he had come to love Jesus and wanted to sing about him. His conversion to Christianity was met with mixed reactions and Enigk’s faith journey continued to be a point of contention in his fanbase. He has since released a handful of albums, carrying a change of tone from his old songs with Sunny Day Real Estate. A biographical account can be found here: http://www.explorefaith.org/music/enigk.html
24/ MewithoutYou – Brother, Sister
Masters of the modern parable.
25/ Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus – A Beautiful Glow
Pioneers of Christian indie music, the Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus’ bizarre name clues you in to the fact that they weren’t afraid to be different. Speaking powerfully of hope for humanity, A Beautiful Glow radiates joy via Moog Synth. Rock n’ Roll Worship Circus now exists as music collective The Listening.
Love Is Patient is her new release. Available on iTunes and noisetrade, I’d recommend this album for its masterful lyrics and exquisite music – the whole album is very rich in texture, depth, and style. Brianna and her band team capture the art of a song that’s listenable and innovative. They appear not to settle for the redundancies of mainstream pop, and yet learn from it, allowing it to inform the music. Tracks “Stepping Stones” and “Let It Go” are great examples here, as Brianna’s thoughtful lyrics reflect upon coming home or freeing oneself from anxieties or negativity, but are offered in a musical package that is highly accessible and even radio-friendly. She reminds me a little of Ingrid Michaelson and Maria Taylor (who are each impressive in their own right).
Other things an audiophile will enjoy on this album are the fantastic harmonies (for example, on “Let It Go”, “Harvest Moon”, and “Find You”), and the use of piano as well as orchestral tones to enrich the soundscape, as well as the the spotlight placed on the lyrics, purposefully elevated sonically above the music to really stand out.
Opening track “Find You” is a song about waiting for someone special – but it’s not one of “those” saccharine songs about the perfect person. She asks, “Will you be true when I find you? Will you still be you?” When we meet that person, they’re going to be real! Will we allow and encourage them to be themselves, or will we try to turn them into our own selves? Listen to this track at Spirit, Ocean, Dust, Life and enjoy its lush textures and its surprises; this song is incredibly catchy and yet so distinct from the typical indie-pop hook.
That’s just one track. As the album opens up, Brianna shows us she’s not a one-style composer. “Harvest Moon” and “Home” are powerful ballads that can’t prevent me from thinking of Michael Buble or Josh Groban. And although I’ve personally not been a big fan of either of them, the fact that I hear them in those ballads is not a bad thing, because I’m making a connection to their talent and eminence in their genres, and the power that lies behind the contemporary ballad. “Home” could easily find itself on a wedding playlist.
The last two songs on the album also surprised me very pleasantly. Rich in metaphor and reflective upon the most important things in life, you’re really going to have to listen to tracks for yourself, because the message here is a tad ineffable.
Hip-Hop, Seattle, WA
At the turn of the millennium, Blue Scholars pioneered hip-hop in Seattle, a city known for grunge and indie rock. After more than a decade of their melodic stylistics and honest verse, Geo (rapper) and Sabzi (DJ) have a veteran’s perspective on Seattle’s now-fruitful hip-hop culture and mix in plenty of pithy local nostalgia.
Cinémetropolis is noteworthy for unconventional and creative backing tracks that are a far cry from your standard mainstream beats. Marketing this album largely independently via Bandcamp, Blue Scholars continue to evolve with the times and are currently working on side projects in New York, California, and elsewhere. Embracing the concept of “reverse soundtracks”, Geo and Sabzi encourage you to make music videos inspired by tracks on this album.
United Pursuit Band
Producing music out of their home studio on Bank Street in Knoxville, TN, the United Pursuit Band was birthed out of a common desire to seek God and enjoy expressing worship to him through music. More of a collective than a band with a set lineup of musicians, the United Pursuit Band has a large number of members whose involvement is fluid.
The concept behind Radiance is creative and unusual; different members of the band take turns leading and directing particular songs, so the album is highly textured. Each track is stylistically distinct whilst they share commonalities in terms of theme, tone, and instrumentation.
The opening track `Even Now` begins hushed and almost forlorn, before a surreptitious swell, metamorphosing into a truly rocking chorus filled with anthemic lyrics of passionate surrender inspired by God`s goodness.
The message of this album is what unites it. The title says it all: pursuit. Rather, it is a double pursuit; God pursuing us and us pursuing God. Joy and honesty characterize this album. Whether it is in the delicately plucked strings of `Waterfall` or the driving rhythms of `Fill Me Up`, the fact that these kids believe what they`re crying out is tangible.