If you like Bon Iver and the like - or just good music in general - you should definitely and unequivocally head over to http://huntingbears1.bandcamp.com/ where you can listen to ‘So Long’, the new EP by Leeds band Hunting Bears.
You could even download it, and choose how much you think it’s worth. Clearly an exciting moment.
Beautiful songs, beautiful music.
So it’s couple of months since Bon Iver released his much-anticipated new album.
There’s not a great deal to say about it, other than the fact that it is simply awesome. Listened to on good speakers a must.
Standout tracks for me are ‘Holocene’, ‘Calgary’ and the amazing, 80s-eqsue final track ‘Beth/Rest’.
At the end of 2010, this wonderful 4-track EP by Josh Flowers was released. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy by a friend - which included some spectacular limited edition artwork and liner notes - and ever since, this captivating 13 minutes of folk-influenced songs of stories, journeys and everyday life have provided much enjoyment and satisfaction in my world of listening.
Josh is a Leeds lad, now in London, and is making moves in the music world with Radio 2 airplay and festival appearances to come.
Islands is his debut release, and is a fantastic little collection of songs. For starters, it sounds great. Produced by Luke Smith, each song builds and falls with great dynamism, and is grounded by strong acoustic guitar work. Tasteful and interesting arrangements with cellos, trumpets, double bass and keys add the perfect accompaniment to well-written, thought-through pieces of song-smithery, providing the EP with movement, direction and a sense of journeying, even in 4 songs.
‘Broken Lullaby’ kicks the EP off with a catchy and singalong-able 6/8 folk number which really works as an opener. The shimmery guitar intro is great, and overall, the song is musically very interesting. The opening line of the chorus…”I’m starting to think that there’s no solution, to all of this beautiful brainwave pollution”, perfectly captures the mood and theme of the song, showing off Josh’s ability to write thoughtful lyrics as well.
Next up, ‘Grace’ is an upbeat song with trumpets and an intriguing rhythm part adding to the general good-natured feel of the song. Title track ‘Islands’ follows, a thoughtful and reflective song about the journeys that people are on, which is short, simple and centres on a strong picked guitar line.
‘Hibernation’ closes the EP with yet more interesting lyrics, superb arranging and musicianship, bringing the EP to a powerful, driving, rhythmic close, creating a sense of unfinished business, and hinting at a closeness of relationship which provides meaning and grounding with the final beautiful line…”in my battered sails you are the wind”.
Last week, Hillsong United released their latest and much-anticipated new album, ‘Aftermath’. The build-up to this album has been long drawn out, originally planned as the second section of a two-part project, following up ‘Across The Earth: Tear Down The Walls’. After that was abandoned, it was announced that the next collection of songs from United would be called ‘Aftermath’, and in preparation for the release of this album, a website containing what turns out to contain some of the album sleeve artwork was unveiled.
This latest album seems to have been produced with a strong conceptual theme, which in the context of an album being more than just a few songs hastily thrown together, is a refreshing change from what can sometimes appear to be an album release for the sake of it.
Of the new project, Worship Leader & Creative Director, Joel Houston says this: ”There is a real sense of perseverance within our team, not performance. In 2011 we are pushing the boundaries and stretching ourselves; musically, lyrically and believing that God is going to do things He has never done before.”
Cynical, as I have been known to be, I have to say that for once, I can see beyond the new-album-release-hyperbole that labels, churches, “artists” and reviewers tend to shroud a new project with. To my ears, ‘Aftermath’ is a genuinely interesting and intriguing listen; one, which I have listened to extensively for over a week (not a common occurrence, I assure you!).
I’m so bored with hearing people describe new music as being “fresh”. What on earth does that mean anyway? Different to what has come before? Well…great. Why just simply do something that has been done before? No supermarket encourages you to buy mouldy fruit and veg. In the same way, no label would ever proclaim a new project as ‘bland; musically-unimaginative, lyrically-inept and generally pretty poor’.
So you could say I approach things such as this with a certain degree of skepticism. However, as Joel continues: ”The message of Jesus Christ is eternal, yet He continues to reveal Himself in new ways… giving us what we need to be followers and disciples of Christ for this time in history. Life with God is fun, its an adventure, it is grace, freedom, peace and everything in between”. I like this. It strikes something of a harmonious chord in me.
Having spent some time with this record over the last week, I’ve found that this is a refreshingly different approach to a Hillsong United album, where complexity of arrangements, style and sound meet a pervading simplicity that serves to give the album a strong sense of ‘wholeness’ - not just a collection of radio-friendly, obviously-arranged “hits” which have ‘gone down well’ in church. Seeping out from each song, comes the impression that creativity and newness has genuinely been sought out and grafted for, in search of finding this ‘wholeness’ - in itself, a wonderful picture of the whole-life discipleship which surely God desires us to pursue.
Listen to the album for the next ‘Mighty To Save’, ‘One Way’ or ‘Fire Fall Down’ and I’m willing to bet you won’t find it. Even the classic second verse octave jump and the every-worship-song-must-have-“Woah-Woah’s” technique of the last few years, only makes an appearance towards the end of the album on ‘Light Will Shine’. Budding guitarists won’t need to head towards Ultimate Tabs for this album.
This in itself, says enough. ’Aftermath’ sounds like United; yet, doesn’t really sound anything like what they’ve done before. There’s a much greater mix of tempo’s. It’s dynamically less up and down, more consistent, and more musical as a result. The arrangements are thoughtful, interesting, and diverse. The use of synths and keys to fill out the sound have a greater musical depth than the oft-used technique of simply ‘filling out the sound’.
Melodically, I found myself being jealous. Usually a good sign. ’Like An Avalanche’ is a really beautiful piece of music, while the large amount of space and musical interludes afforded on opener ‘Take Heart’, ‘Rhythms Of Grace’ and ‘Bones’ allow the excellent string arrangements space to breathe, and in my mind, help accentuate the theme of wholeness and the adventure of doing life with God.
‘Search My Heart’ is clearly the most singable and congregational of the songs on this album, which is presumably why there is a radio edit, as well as a longer album version. I wasn’t massively enamoured with their arrangement of Tomlin’s ‘Awakening’ - a song I’m not that keen on either - but that aside, I found ‘Aftermath’ a really interesting, and enjoyable listen.
The title track best describes the mood of what they are trying to convey. That life is found in Jesus. All that we do is done in the glorious aftermath of what He has done for us.
And in that moment of glorious surrender
You were broken for all the world to see
Lifted out of the ashes
I am found in the aftermath
Next week sees not just the release of the Soul Survivor & New Day 2010 Live Albums, but also new studio albums from Brenton Brown & Chris Tomlin. The following week Jesus Culture release their 5th full-length release, whilst Tim Hughes has spent much of the summer recording his 4th, presumably due for release in the new year. Add this to Christmas albums produced this year by Phil Wickham, Hillsong & North Point, and there is a clear wave of new material coming all at once from what we might be tempted to call “the big players”.
Which is all very nice. Don’t get me wrong - these have been pre-ordered in my basket for a while, and I’m excited to hear the songs. But it does raise some interesting questions in my mind:
- How often should we expect projects such as these to be released?
- Is there more of a process to it, other than simply writing songs for the local church which then somehow morph themselves into something of a cohesive album?
- Is there an alternative way of distributing what could undoubtedly be massively powerful and significant songs around the world, so that God may be glorified, and the church edified?
- Should Christian music follow the “secular” scene in moving towards a greater distribution of music for free, a la Spotify?
- From a theological perspective - should the “sacred/secular” divide even exist? Doesn’t the New Testament reject a theology based on dualism?
…to raise a few. All big questions. To which, I’m afraid I have essentially no clear-cut answers! This could easily be a thesis.
For most artists/bands in the “secular” scene, I’d say there’s usually a process along these lines - play some gigs, make an album, go and tour the album. Write some new songs along the way, make a new album, and tour that one. And round we go again. For as long as you want to/ keep selling enough copies of the album to make it profitable.
In the US CCM industry, that might be possible. But in the UK worship scene it’s a slightly different story. ”Touring” your new worship album is a slightly ridiculous concept, and doomed to economic failure (if that’s even a motive!). However, touring/gigging/playing live aside, the process of recording an album every couple of years (if not every year) seems to be very prevalent on all sides of the ‘pond’. For me, the question remains: is this out of a genuine desire to write songs to be used in worship in a local or global sense, no matter what the cost, or have pressures surrounding markets and bottom-lines forced Christian labels to adopt an approach of relying on such “big-names” to secure financial security in an economically volatile time? And is this consistent with a Biblical approach to having faith and trust in God?
In no way am I seeking to judge or pillory people with this. It truly must be very tough as a Christian to be involved in such an industry. But God calls us to be perfect as He is perfect. To reflect Him in all we say and do. To be good stewards of all He has given to us, and to live faithfully and obediently to His Word.
I’m wrestling with these issues, and whether I simply perpetuate it by not only buying the albums, but pre-ordering them in my excitement at hearing new material from the “big guys”.
Maybe my actions answer my questions!
Anyone else got any thoughts? I’m very happy to totally shot-down/rebuked on this!
After a fair old while (i.e. March was quite a while ago!), I’ve finally managed to put some of the songs I’d been working on over 2009 together, and now put them on a site where anyone - should they want to - can listen to them.
I’m aware that the recordings aren’t amazing quality - I did it all myself through Garageband. However, the point was to get some of the songs down and try to be creative with arrangements and sounds, and to experiment with writing “God-focused” songs in other styles and genres than the generic, Coldplay-worship sound.
Some of these songs have been around since as long ago as 2007, and it’s great to be able to get them out of my head, and into “sound”! We’ve used a few of them in church, or at other related events.
I’ve avoided making them available for download, as I don’t think the quality is good enough for that. However, should you want a copy, do email me and I’d be more than happy to share it.
To have a listen, pop over to simwalker.bandcamp.com
Thanks to Chris Sayburn and James Tomba for your help with some of the songs, and also to Giles Smith for the hurriedly-assembled artwork!