5. “Matt & Toby”
4 stars out of 5
Hardcore rock band Emery, known for its unique beats and breakdowns, surprised its fan base when they announced they would be releasing not one but two albums in 2012, one acoustic and one with its traditional hardcore style. Although Emery pushed its next LP to 2013, two of its members teamed up to record a project that shows off their ability to create stripped down but catchy ballads.
Both Matt and Toby have amazing voices and harmonies that have previously been weaved into the screamo anthems of Emery. Their self-titled first album is a unique collection of songs that are at times nostalgic, thought-provoking, and uniquely arranged. Most of the songs on the backend of the album are decidedly Christian, and still others tell stories of heartbreak, whether it be the death of a spouse, or the more traditional romantic breakups.
“Life of the Party” is a ridiculously catchy, very nostalgic anthem that shows off the pair’s vocal range (minus outright screaming), layered with “whoa”s and background sounds. “What Plays in My Head” is a heart-wrenching tale of a man losing his wife in a car crash and the aftermath. “Good Boys” features some electronic elements, while “Lord, Take Me in Your Hands” and “The Last One” are notably strong tracks written from a Christian’s perspective.
Bottomline: This debut album from Matt and Toby of Emery is a solid release, complete with catchy harmonies and heartfelt lyrics, leaving the listener craving more.
4 stars out of 5
Following the release of their third full-length album “Vagabonds,” alternative rock band The Classic Crime decided to cut ties with their label Tooth & Nail and produce their fourth LP independently. Using the Kickstarter website, they set a goal of raising $30,000 over a period of 30 days in order to produce and distribute “Phoenix” in hopes that they would still be able to make music. Within 24 hours, The Classic Crime fanbase had supplied the band the funds they needed, and the band set out to craft their most epic album to date. They didn’t disappoint.
“Phoenix” is a grandiose 13-track, 53-minute epic journey through gritty guitar riffs, soaring full-band chants, and even a dash of electronic and orchestral elements that help contribute to the album’s daring feel. Though there is a certain amount of plodding along through the first half of the album, “Let Me Die” kicks the second half into high gear, aptly realizing the idea of rising from the ashes of apathy, declaring “So I’ll go pressing on through the wind and the waves. If I drown, let me go so that you can be saved. It don’t matter if people remember my name. I have lived, so let me die.”
The album is sharply crafted, with both its intro and outro tracks (“One Man Army” and “I Will Wait”) bracketing the project in its theme of rising above past failures and personal vices to live life as it was meant to be lived. Frontman Matt MacDonald admits, “I’ve been unalive, been sleeping for days in this comatose state. I’ve been unalive, prone to hide from the messes that I’ve made.”
“Glass Houses” quickly became a fan favorite with its epic chants, but “The Precipice” and “City of Orphans” are soul-searching offerings that help diversify the album and show off TCC’s acoustic, softer side, both wondering at the meaningless of living for oneself alone. Fans of “Albatross” will be pleased at the fast-paced nature of “Dead Rose,” “Young Again,” and “Painted Dreams,” all of which are solid and catchy rock anthems. “What I’d Give Up” is very autobiographical with its bold declaration from MacDonald: “I don’t need it anymore! All I want to do is build a home, because you’ve got my heart and my soul!”
Bottomline: Though not as exciting as “Albatross” and nowhere near the masterpiece that is “The Silver Cord,” “Phoenix” is nevertheless more focused and satisfying than “Vagabonds.” Any release by The Classic Crime is a good one, and the success of “Phoenix” guarantees that they can continue to make music.
4.5 stars out of 5
Owl City’s Adam Young continues to push his sound into uncharted territory with a universe of synths, dynamic sounds, and mind-blowing beats that are a far cry from “Fireflies” and “Ocean Eyes.” With his previous album, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” Young showed that he was setting out to craft more upbeat songs that show off his vocal range and ability to craft ear candy sugar highs.
Now, with “The Midsummer Station,” Owl City has truly found its groove. Each song is an infectious, head-bobbing good time, a dance party in your ears. The hit song “Good Time” may actually be the weakest of the album, especially lyrically, but you’ll ride the out-of-this-world sound waves through “Dreams and Disasters” at the “Speed of Love.”
The cascades of auditory sensations only intensifies with the incredibly catchy “I’m Coming After You,” and the inspirational pair “Shooting Star” and “Gold.” Adam Young is not afraid to try new things, and both “Embers” and “Dementia” feature guitar riffs that add to the epic rush of this album, only slowing down for the introspective “Silhouette.” However, my favorite track is “Metropolis” because of how it builds the epic sound and soaring romantic lyrics.
Bottomline: Whether this is Owl City’s best album to date is up for debate, but Adam Young’s music has definitely never been catchier, more polished, or more innovative. The poetic lyrics are still a treat for the mind’s eye and uplifting as ever. It’s a one-of-a-kind album, full of grand and exciting artistry.
5 stars out of 5
Sufjan Stevens has always been an unusual musical talent. His sound is almost unexplainable. His first few albums, (most notably “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!”), were driven by his acoustic and lyrical brilliance, accented by trumpets, keys, and background choruses. This unpredictable style, that was injected into the 42-track, five-volume “Songs for Christmas” release, was abandoned for a more electronic, edgy style with the debut of “The Age of Adz.” Though some fans were disappointed in this choice, the possibilities for Stevens now seemed endless. He declared that he was abandoning traditional constructs of songs (the verse-chorus structure) and setting out for new musical territory.
So it comes as no surprise that Sufjan’s second Christmas release is even more expansive than his first. Volumes Six through Ten of his “Songs for Christmas” project includes 58 tracks, bringing the total number of Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs to 100. “Silver & Gold” cannot be properly explained with words alone, for it must be experienced. It includes trippy and convicting masterpieces like “The Christmas Unicorn,” and completely brilliant arrangements of Christmas classics. Sufjan’s version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” is without a doubt my favorite rendition ever.
Bottomline: Likely to be the most unique, expansive collection of Christmas songs you will ever hear. If you are eager for different, or if you dig Sufjan’s no-rules style, you’ll love this 58-song masterpiece that includes impressive original offerings and fresh spins on Christmas favorites.
4.5 stars out of 5
The sophomore effort from the indie/alternative From Indian Lakes is as honest, heart-wrenching, and soul-searching as their debut album “The Man with Wooden Legs.” The band is still not signed to a label, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting out some of the most poignant and pertinent music I’ve ever heard. “Able Bodies” continues to build on the band’s stripped-down, heart-on-their-sleeve, in-your-face style with bone-breaking drum beats and incredibly intricate guitar progressions, underscoring their sometimes erratic and remarkably unpredictable style.
Frontman Joey Vannucchi displays incredible vocal versatility, filling the space of a single song with whispers and screams, biting off lyrics with furious intensity in the high-energy “Below,” or belting out what might as well be a heart-stirring cry to Heaven in the live acoustic “Your Son.” Complex metaphorical language fills each song, obligating the listener to ponder each line of lyrics.
Like so many of the band’s songs, “We Are Sick” asks introspective questions couched in self-examination: “I walk around but I don’t breathe out. I stumble like a child and I fall to the ground. Will I be there for a long time? Did my thoughts only make me numb? Did I pretend to be normal, making sure I was keeping in line? Loving you was never hard to do, but I’m sick and they’re coming to get me soon.”
In songs like “Breaking My Bones,” the intensity of the vocals often correlates with the meaning of the lyrics. Vannucchi croons his way through the first verse, then unexpectedly screams out, “But I’ve been breaking my bones, breaking my bones, breaking my bones! And if I find another bone to break, I hope it’s only my own! I feel love but it never shows and walls around me grow. My fingertips are callused but I’d never try to scale these walls again.”
“I Don’t Know You” slows down enough to give the listener a breather, admitting “The photographs I’ve taken only blur the faces out, and my mind can’t seem to hold onto anyone. If I hold my hand out to the people that I’ve met, do they hesitate to touch me? Is it all just in my head? I don’t think so, but i don’t think at all.” There are no weak links on the entire album. Each song is original and important, both lyrically and musically.
However, the final track of the album is truly a masterpiece. “Til I Can Walk” builds and builds, wondering “Have I suddenly decided my life is important, my love not so much? I meant to be lovely. I wanted to make the world proud. Where is my happy song? Where has my patience gone? Did they take it away or did I make it leave on my own?”
For better or worse “Able Bodies” is much more polished than their debut album, featuring more of Vannucchi’s distinctive crooning, some background vocals, and perhaps tighter, more radio-friendly tracks. There is no denying that “Able Bodies” is an enjoyable, gem-filled journey that exceeds expectations.
Bottomline: Thought-provoking and spiritually relevant, “Able Bodies” proves that From Indian Lakes is a force to be reckoned with, a staple of originality in the indie/rock vein.