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Albums

“Hearts On Fire EP” by FMLYBND Review

Feisty vocal stylings paired with larger-than-life soundscapes make Hearts on Fire an aggressively happy electronic EP. Born in Isla Vista, FMLYBND (pronounced “family band”) blends the textures of real and virtual instruments to immerse the listener in a live concert experience.

Setting themselves apart from the majority of electronic groups, FMLYBND incorporates an alternative rock feel into their tracks, producing an electro-grunge sensation easy to lose yourself in. For example, in Gold Necklace vocalist Mac Montgomery’s sassy lyrical delivery is layered over a driving dirty 80’s moog bass and brassy synths to generate a track that is dirty in all the right ways. But that’s not all. He, along with the effortlessly nonchalant Brae Montgomery create memorable hooks through pitch-bending high harmonies dripping with reverb. Completing the family are Ethan Davis (drums) and Erik Mason (keys/synth/electronic dopeness), who provide each song with its own distinctive identity.

The group is devoted to whatever feature makes each track unique- in Phoenix it’s repetitive syncopation, in Land of the Rising Sun it’s a continually pulsing synth. The relentlessness of rhythm in tracks like these make it hard to sit still; you want get up, you want to move. Cue Hearts on Fire and Space and Time. They’re dance-y, they’re filled with stabs that make us think of the good old Euro House days. Added to the concoction are syrupy vocals, sometimes muffled to showcase the beat, but it doesn’t really matter. Once you buy into the goodness the EP provides, you’re hooked. And that’s not a bad thing.

In addition to offering singles for streaming on their SoundCloud page, the group is traveling the West Coast this month for their Make America Dance Again Tour. Check out their most recent single, “OH” here: https://soundcloud.com/fmlybnd/oh1.


Buy “Hearts On Fire” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hearts-on-fire-ep/id1058699564

To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.


 

Albums

“To The Hills” by Graham Lloyd Stewart Review

In To the Hills, Graham Lloyd Stewart artistically condenses a 3 year journey in songwriting into one album. Though his songs are tastefully crafted and his instrumentation well-done, it’s his unique power of fusing genres that stands out. Self-described as folk-rock, Stewart is not exclusively committed to one genre. In the album, he’ll hint at hard rock with a wailing guitar (He’s Alive), but will do it ever so gently. He’ll use an acoustic piano to establish an indie-folk sound but supplement it with electronic components (If I Could See). It’s in this musical borrowing that we’re presented an approachable, easy-to-listen-to album, cohesive to itself and altogether unique.  

What feels good about the album is the perfect amount of tension Stewart allows. His percussionist, Aaron Brown is almost late to every downbeat in Waiting, an effect that holds the listener’s ear throughout. Will the song collapse on itself? We don’t know, and that’s why we listen all the more carefully. Added to the mix are Stewart’s slow-moving vocals juxtaposed over continual banjo picking. It’s a carefully sculpted decision that works.  This simultaneous presence of drive and restraint continues in the instrumental section If I Could See with the quiet precision of a snare/tambourine/hi-hat combo paired with a slower pad/piano duo. Though the style of these two songs is familiar (think Ascend the Hill), Stewart makes it his own. It’s what keeps us listening.

We caught a glimpse of Stewart’s folksy side in By the Grace, but in the ending title song To the Hills he goes all out. The song carries everything a quintessential camp-meetin’ tune should have: straight-forward, hopeful lyrics, banjo-picking, and a sauntering down-home rhythm. It’s a departure from how he started the album- Intro featured crackly, close-knit acapella vocals one would imagine coming from an old dusty record player. But by the end, Stewart’s work is vibrant, bubbling over, fresh, living. It gives the listener an optimistic view of what’s to come, which is hopefully another album.


Buy “To The Hills” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/to-the-hills/id1090010189

To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.

Albums

Review of “End Where You Begin” by Ian Randall Thornton

Part Prophet, part poet, Ian Randall Thornton presents story through song in his debut EP End Where You Begin. Curated as a song cycle, the EP provides six tracks of profound lyrical insight into the realms of love, death and the passage of time.

The instrumentation is simple- guitar, drums, piano at times, strings here and there, electric guitar, bass, perhaps a guest appearance from a ukulele-but varies ever so slightly with each song, providing the listener a delightful smattering of the folk style without being overbearing. Together with producer Ryan Meadows, Thornton gives the listener a very personal experience, a testament to his prolificacy in house shows over the past two years. In So When I Die, he steps back from the mic to include the sound of the room in the recording; we hear footsteps in I’ve Been Told, as if he is taking the stage before our very ears. It’s all very nostalgic, his loving look at the style of the 60’s American folk music revival, but Thornton’s feet are firmly planted in the present. Suffer Not offers a more modern take on the genre with sweeping strings and soft cymbal swells.

“Love doesn’t grow on trees like something you pick for free. Love is a choice you make, to give rather than take.”

Throughout it all, Thornton remains steady- completely and thoroughly himself. His style is like an old hat found by a teenager rummaging around his parent’s attic- timeless, unique, yet very, very chic when paired with a contemporary wardrobe. It is easy to see flavors of early Bob Dylan in the conviction of his lyrics, influences of Sufjan Stevens in his guitar stylings, and similarities to Iron and Wine artist Sam Beam’s approach to folk.

Love Doesn’t Die It Grows from Micah Lindstrom on Vimeo.

Each song holds a punch line, a moral of the story- so common in folk music- without being formulaic. Wise beyond his years, Thornton muses poetically about love in its selflessness (Down in the Meadow), timelessness (I Was Made to Change), and humanity (I’ve Been Told). His earthy baritone voice bears realness, a strength rooted in brotherhood with man and friendship with God.  

End Where You Begin, though Thornton’s first solo recording project, delivers not only in meticulously crafted lyrics, but also in efficacy of overall song series form. With such honest artistry paired with the quality of writing he’s produced, Thornton’s appeal is undeniable and certainly worth following.


Buy “End Where You Begin” here: https://itun.es/us/C02t9

Book Ian for a house show at ianrandallthornton@gmail.com, and hear his other singles on his Bandcamp page. To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.

Albums

“Time Stands Still” by Tanner Hotckiss Review

With a voice as clear and fresh as the Alaskan air he grew up in, Tanner Hotchkiss is a worthy artist to add to your devotional playlist.

Time Stands Still appears to be only a smooth, easy-listening experience at first listen until you realize the impact of the words you’re casually singing along with. Hotchkiss isn’t in a hurry to reach a climax nor is he squeezing the drama out of the lyrically power-packed portions of his songs. Instead, he systematically builds and layers intensity to create a swell, lifting the listener to the ecstasy of redemptive truth. His 7 song album is filled with gentle declarations, the kind which hook themselves in the walls of the soul, sweetly murmuring long after you unplug your headphones.

Tanner’s God is displayed as a being worthy of devotion, a beating heart of sweetness that fills the deepest woundings of the soul. His song Leaves reveals a heart fully romanced and fully healed by the restorative love of the Father. Set in a simple 6/8 time, it exhibits healing’s wooing call, something frequently forgotten in the fast-paced drive of American Christianity.

Be Still stands, simple and clear in the artist’s revelation of God’s love. Tanner turns his back to the emotional overload songs about love tend to rush into and instead faithfully mulls over, almost to himself, the gentle reminders that have held him steadfast through the years. Whether through a song of victory (It is Written), desire (Glory to Glory), or faith (All Good Things) the album offers intimate and personal pieces of Tanner’s heart-conversations with his Creator.

The Mayo Clinic states that the normal resting heart rate for an average adult is anywhere from 60-100 bpm (beats per minute), noting a lower resting heart rate indicates a more efficient cardiovascular system. Time Stands Still averages 60 bpm as a whole, its pulses creating an atmosphere conducive to rest. It’s hard to be in a rush while listening to Tanner’s artistry; he beckons the listener into a meditative state, establishing a safety with steady piano and guitar accompaniment. After 45 minutes, the listener emerges, hopeful, inspired, reborn.

Don’t expect to hear any risks in the 45 minute album- it has been carefully constructed to be free of disruption and surprise. Tanner sticks with what he knows, providing a capable and solid musical foundation as a ring setting for the gem that is his voice. And it works; nothing sticks out and we’re left with a timeless piece of musical jewelry, full of light and beauty.


Buy “Time Stands Still” here: https://itun.es/us/C02t9

To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.

Albums

“Neverland” by Emily Cole Review

Welcome to the world of Emily Catherine Cole. Her first album, Neverland, invites those who listen into a whimsical world of shadowy tunes born from a journey of self-exploration. Keeping in the style of her EP, Chasing Fireflies, Neverland reveals a darker, more intimate side of the artist.

The album opens with its title track, a prelude reminiscent of Dario Marianelli’s score to the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice. The charm continues in the dark lullaby Land of White, which contains forlorn melodies paired with a glowy music box heavy on reverb. Emily’s voice is feminine and attractive, filled with girlish wonder that proves hard to resist. There’s a sweetness in her voice, highlighted by songs like Change and Falling, which feature tight harmonies. Adding to the allure of her vocal stylings is producer Seth Yates, guitarist/ukulele wonder. Although his guitar playing provides a necessary foundation for her soaring voice in Love is Washing and Rain, it is the affectionate musicality of his ukulele accompaniment that proves to be magnetic. This is seen in the “everything’s gonna be okay” delight Change.

Throughout the album, Emily does reassure her audience that everything will indeed be alright. But what makes her real, what makes her authentic is her unique ability to venture to the dreary places and still emerge optimistic. She brings legitimacy to negative feelings without losing positivity; she brings normalcy to the gloom everyone seems to occasionally feel without losing sight of the dawn of a better tomorrow. Her music is like the kind of person who will sit next to you and empathize when you are feeling despondent rather than demanding you to change. Her words stand as a candle in a cave, allowing the darkness to remain, but uncompromising in identity. She’s not there to “make everything better”, but rather to journey through the pain with you.

With these kind of relatable lyrics, a charming voice and distinctive style, Emily Cole is an artist to watch. It is probable that her music will grow and evolve through different genres, but there is no doubt that like Neverland, her songs will satisfy your musical palate while whetting your appetite for more.


Buy Emily’s album, “Neverland” here: https://itun.es/us/B8oW8

To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.

Musicianaries

Jake Mason Feature

Let me introduce Jake Mason to you.

I meet him and his wife at a quirky coffee shop in Huntington Beach, CA where he lives and works with Circuit Riders, a team of radical missionaries known for their creative talent and passion for evangelism. He strolls in, wearing causally cool jean shorts and a sweatshirt. Super chill and friendly, Jake embodies the effortless “cool kid” persona we all once aspired to have in high school. Which is a great thing, actually, because he’s also a worship leader with One Voice Student Missions, an organization devoted to introducing high schoolers to Jesus. After niceties and a couple pictures, we sit down to get to know him, his heart for ministry and his recently recorded album, So Much More.

Jake’s ministry started in the skate parks of Kona, HI, boarding with a group of middle/high schoolers over the summer and after school. His involvement there with YWAM allowed him the opportunity to help staff a summer youth camp, a ministry that he found himself leading within three years.Jake and his wife Katherine at Huntington Beach Pier. Photo taken by Bailey Webster. “I thought I was just going to be really nervous and not really know what to do, but it just came naturally to be in front of younger people,” Jake shared. At 23, Jake took on the ministry himself. It was in it he discovered music, teaching himself guitar. When asked if he had any guidance in his musical process, Jake shrugged, “I don’t think [I had any]. My playing is always from a place of risk. To me risk really equals faith. You just believe, ‘Wow, God really created me to sing crazy stuff and challenge the norm.’ And that’s how my music’s always been.” His wife, Katherine shares, “…a lot of the times where he grew was when there was just a need for someone who knew how to hold a key and strum a guitar to lead a room, and he was risky enough to take it.” 

Jake reminisces one night leading worship where he and the students erupted in a spontaneous chant: The Lord is my light, and my salvation. Whom shall I fear, whom shall I fear. A chant that even five years later, his wife and friends join in on. “I was a high schooler in that specific year,” his friend Chip remembers, “and we were going ballistic, like something in our souls…awakened. It was so wild, so crazy.”

We would later talk with another of Jake’s friends, Brian Barcelona of One Voice Student Missions, who would agree wholeheartedly:

“Jake has probably one of the most unique sounds I have ever heard, and he’s able to do something that I’ve not seen any other worship leader be able to do, and that’s totally engage a dead room- not by just leading worship, but he engages that room and gets students to do things that they would never do, like singing along, even singing songs over each other. I’ve never seen anything like that…he just carries something special.”

It seems like everyone has come to the same conclusion: there’s something quite special about this guy when he takes the stage. As he continues to talk, Jake reveals his secret to capturing an entire room:

“The young people can just smell you out, you know? I’d rather just be authentic and bare my heart for young people to see and show them like ‘Hey, this is really me and I can’t make you do anything. I’m just going show you the truth and let you see it. I’m going let you see who Jesus is, let you see what freedom is, and you can take it if you want. I’m not going to force you into it.'”

Jake continues to reveal his history with worship leading. There was no mentor, no instruction manual, just a man and his guitar in the secret place. “I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know the rules to worship and people asked me to lead and so I was like ‘I don’t know what you want but this is what the Lord has taught me.’ So a lot of the stuff was not normal, I guess. But I didn’t know any other way.” Jake teaching at a high school retreat. Photo taken by One Voice Student Missions.From that place, we see the unique voice and musical stylings of an artist learning to lead on the go. Jake explains that the learning curve was steep, but being around hungry Jesus-lovers in worship allowed him to find his own sound. “There was a time where at camps we weren’t allowed amplified sound. So that’s all you got is a guitar. The voices overpower the guitar so quickly. I think it helps people engage when there’s not a lot of music cause then they can really just focus on singing. I feel like when you hear other people sing, you realize that’s what worship is.”

And that’s what he releases in high schools with One Voice Student Missions. When asked about the future he says, “I think high schoolers are the future and right now they’re just hurting so bad. They need better dads, they need better role models.  I definitely am too young to be a father to a high schooler, but any way I can point them to Jesus, to my father in heaven, it’s well worth it…When God says to do something, we’re obedient and do it with excellence and intensity. I think I need to milk everything I can: all the gifts that I have, all the risks I can take, because I don’t want to get to a place and have any regret in life, like ‘Could I have done more?’ Regret is a real thing, and I don’t want to have any of it in my life. If that’s music, sweet, if that’s video series in the future, or if that’s vlogs or teachings or whatnot, I’m just going to keep pushing the envelope and see what can be done. So this is definitely a fun envelope to push. I’m excited to see where it goes.”


Buy his new album, “So Much More” here: https://itun.es/us/BLXCbb

Check out our album review here. To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.

Albums

“So Much More” by Jake Mason

Filled with rock ballads and driving anthems, So Much More stands out with a refreshingly raw and authentic style not found in typical Top 10 Christian albums. Singer/Songwriter Jake Mason offers a lighter musical fare for those who don’t take themselves too seriously. Though the songs are short (the album is only 25 minutes), they are direct and their message is clear.

The album opens with its title track, energetic, filled with drive and promise of good things to come. And what follows does not disappoint. Jake’s background leading campfuls of students every summer is evident in the way the songs lend themselves to the ease of singing. In To the River, Jake fuses old school camp meeting spirituals with his own modern style to produce a happy, optimistic track with smoky-voiced Sherryl Bako. The good vibes overflow into No Height, perfect for that lazy Saturday morning playlist.

Wanna Get Home serves as a charming and rowdy love song based on the artist’s desire to see his wife after a long day. Featured on the Mumford & Sons style track is Jake’s real life love, Katherine Mason. If Jake’s voice is distressed denim and leather, Katherine’s is all things white and pure. Together, the two provide a feel-good romantic song, something not frequently heard on Christian albums.

In Deeper We Go, Jake throws off all restraint to reveal a country voice that is twangy and lazy in all the good ways. The 12/8 old school rock ballad evokes the feelings one would have on a road trip along Historic Route 66. It is on this track that Jake’s guitarist and producer Seth Yates shines with effortless blues riffs and melodies. It is quite a bold choice to go with a style so frequently made cliché, but the track is found effective, catchy and enjoyable.  

Returning to the anthem-style found in the beginning, Crossbeam reminds us that at his core, Jake Mason is a worshipper. Lifting the listener above his own style and artistry, he finishes the album with a display of a God worthy of highest praise.

Rather than construct an album centered on one theme or message, Jake compiles songs from his experience. His first recording project exposes himself as a man, simple and open. His endeavor to document songs from all corners of his life diverts any attention from the desire to create chart-topping trendy choruses and focuses on the realness and simplicity of life.


Buy Jake’s new album, “So Much More”: https://itun.es/us/BLXCbb

To read about Jake and the ministries he is a part of, access his feature article here. To read more about this site and our vision behind this project, access our “About Us” page or subscribe to our blog on the sidebar to your right.