Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top 20 Albums of 2007

20. Lifehouse-Who We Are (Geffen)
After two mediocre follow up albums to follow their impressive debut, Lifehouse returns with their fourth studio album and redeem themselves with some pretty strong tracks. There are still a number of missteps and Lifehouse doesn’t quite escape the generic radio single shadow, but they do stretch themselves musically and lyrically, and Jason Wade’s vocals rise above droning wails.
As always, Lifehouse is strongest when their lyrics are more in depth and honest, instead of a vague clichéd collection of words that contain some trace of spirituality. Whether it be worshipful tracks like “learn you inside out” or the honest cry of “broken”, Lifehouse proves that they can mature and break out of the radio machine. Hopefully they will stray away from tracks like “First time” and “Whatever it takes” that weigh album down and prevent a good album from being a great album.
Standout Track: “Storm”- The album closes with a vulnerable confession of fear and insecurity but ultimately leads to a proclamation of faith. The understated music serves a a perfect companion and allows the lyrics to speak for themselves.

19. Deas Vail-All The Houses Look the Same (Brave New World)
This new band delivers a fresh take on indie pop which includes soft vocals combined with beautifully constructed piano melodies. The lyrics are poetic and thought provoking, traveling through an array of emotions throughout the album.
From the upbeat “Light as Air” to the reflective opening and closer, Deas Vail successfully deals with relationship issues as well as addressing their faith in a number of songs. Although they could have used a little more variation throughout the record, Deas Vail is at a great place for a young band to be. They have a solid foundation and I am thoroughly impressed with this album.
Standout Track: “Shoreline”-this breathtaking lullaby-esque track highlights the strength of the vocals as well as showcasing one of the most captivating piano-driven melodies you will find.

18. Fall Out Boy-Infinity On High (Island)
In the past two years, Fall Out Boy have invaded the radio airwaves in such a way that you will unlikely go an hour without hearing one of their songs. Most radio sensations throw away talent in favor of marketability, but the boys from Fall Out Boy continue to travel down new and exciting avenues while producing some of the dang catchiest radio hits you will ever hear.
Whether it be the heartfelt ode to fans “Thriller” or the painful lyrics of “Golden”, FOB continues to explore different outlets, instead of just constantly singing guy girl songs. Tracks like “Hum Hallelujah” and the ambitious first single “This Ain’t a Scene..” prove that FOB refuses to be pigeon holed using one type of pop punk formula. While the second half of the album isn’t nearly as good as the first, there are still enough gems to compel one to take a chance on these guys.
Standout Track: “This Ain’t A Scene…”- While there are quite a few stand alone songs that I really enjoy on this album, I am continually impressed with the structure of this one. On one hand, the lyrics take a playful look at the band’s success, reminding us that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but the music proves that these guys really are talented and willing to take a risk.

17. Jon Foreman-Fall EP (Credential)
Although only released as a digital EP, this collection of six songs deserved a place on the list of the best. I normally exclude EPs, but Foreman has too much to say to go unnoticed. These are the songs that I knew he could write and show so much more depth than your average Switchfoot song.
Rather than spit out another album full of songs on materialism and “the search for more”, Foreman provides open and honest lyrics that serves as confessionals and dire recognitions of our fallen nature. Not only are these lyrics more openly spiritual, but the music speaks more than just another rock song, most of the tracks taking on an acoustic, stripped down feel.
Standout Track: “Equally Skilled”- this song is a journey of our realization that we deserve harsh judgment and that God is amazing for sparing us. With poetic lyrics and beautifully composed lyrics, this is Foreman at his most vulnerable…and coincidentally, also at his best.

16. The Almost-Southern Weather (Tooth and Nail)
Aaron Gilespie of Underoath spreads his wings on this new project where he takes center stage as lead singer. Their more accessible and melodic sound made them a shoe-in with the MTV crowd, but there is truly a healthy amount of substance on this album.
While this album’s biggest downfall is the times when the music doesn’t deliver and sounds too much like the rest of the “scene”, but Gilespie (who wrote pretty much all the music himself) doesn’t allow that to happen too often. From the aggressive riffs that define songs like the hit single “Say This Sooner” or the title track, to the soft spoken moments like “Amazing Because It Is” which even broke into “Amazing Grace” during the chorus. This is a well rounded album that manages to connect with a mainstream crowd while at the same time, paying homage to something deeper.
Standout Track: “Dirty and Left Out”- While it’s apparent that this song sounds like almost nothing else on the CD, its lyrics are so open and honest with a great sampling of the old Bill Gaither song “There’s Just Something About Your Name”. It is one of the most deeply moving songs about redemption and adoration to be released this year.

15. Kanye West-Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)
As one of the most innovative names in hip hop, Kayne continues to revive a genre that is too cluttered with mindless lyrics that glorify drugs and violence while degrading women. Unfortunately on songs like “The Good Life” (which is bearable) and “Drunk and Hot Girls” (which is unbearable) West stoops low and brings down the overall quality of the album.
However, it’s the raw honesty of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and the nostalgia of “homecoming” (featuring a great appearance by Coldplay’s Chris Martin) that truly make this album worth your time. With infectious beats and thoughtful rhymes, Kanye continues to prove that he is a true artist. He even humbles himself (if you can believe it) on the song “Everything I Am” while giving praise to those who paved the way for him in “Big Brother”. Ego aside, this album is another chance for West to delve into her personal struggles, offer some interesting thoughts and even provide a glimpse of his spirituality.
Standout Track: “Stronger”- this radio hit showcases the best of both worlds. Featuring probably the great beat of the year and a great Daft Punk sampling, West reminds us that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and it’s a message that will play in your head all day.

14. Ruth-Secondhand Dreaming (Tooth and Nail)
Probably the sleeper album of the year, this is not a band that probably made very many best of hits although they did receive a well-deserved opening slot for Relient K and Switchfoot this past fall. While they were unfairly represented by two mediocre CCM singles (“Cross the Line” “You Are”) which fail to offer a true sense of who this band really is, the rest of the album is chock full of acoustic and at times folksy pop gems that should not be overlooked.
While simplicity is really the key to making this album work, Ruth manages to create some musical masterpieces and develop truly poignant moments while adding the finishing touches through truly moving lyrics. This is a band that can offer openly spiritual lyrics without ever sounding cliché or fake. Through their music, their genuine devotion is apparent and these songs will speak to you.
Standout Track: “Mr. Turner”- this melancholy look at death reminds us of our faith regarding life on the other side. From a generally acoustic point to an effective build up used in the bridge, this song is sure to hit just about anyone hard.

13. Jimmy Eat World-Chase This Light (Tiny Evil)
Some of the songs will hit you right away, and others will take a while to sink in, but this album really is another collection of gems from a great and seasoned band that has withstood time. From the rousing first single “Big Casino” to the reflective title track, Jimmy Eat World understands how to write songs that will move and connect with the listener.
Songs like “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” remind us of why we fell in love with this band in the first place-they are not afraid to take risks and go in directions we don’t expect. “Electable” is a politically minded song with tasteful lyrics that don’t come off as propaganda while “Always Be” and “Dizzy” remind as that Jimmy Eat World first and foremost will excel at writing honest lyrics about relationships.
Standout Track: “Chase This Light”- this is one of those moments on the album where the artist seems to be sitting in the room with you and just opening up about their lives. With a positive tone, this song serves as a boost for everyone who has let themselves down.

12. Yellowcard-Paper Walls (Capitol)
Although it didn’t have quite the impact on me that Ocean Avenue did, this album did showcase a true return to form for these guys and this CD fits a great chapter in their evolution. This great collection of songs features Yellowcard at their most aggressive (“Fighting” “The Takedown”) while still revealing their emotional side (“Dear Bobbie”, “Keeper”).
The variety of songs works very well for these guys and this album will have something to speak to just about everyone. “Light up the Sky” was a great first single that never got the push it deserved with “Shadows and Regrets” serves a great spring board for nostalgia. Just as they did with Ocean Avenue these guys are great at using their signature sound to connect with their audience on a personal level.
Standout Track: “Five Becomes Four”-While Ryan Key may be the real reason that everyone keeps leaving the band, this song serves a great ode to yet another wayward members and I must say, it has got to be one of the catchiest and most well constructed songs on the cds-with smart lyrics to boot.

11. Paramore-Riot! (Fueled by Ramen)
A couple years ago, Paramore released a phenomenal debut album entitled All We Know is Falling and with their follow up, they weren’t quite able to eclipse that success, but they did garner plenty of mainstream success, so that’s a plus. In all reality though, this is the obvious next step for the girl-fronted rock band, adding more aggressive tones while at the same time, getting gutsy with some heartfelt ballads.
Haley’s vocals are dead on as usual with sick guitar riffs that hit singles are made out of. From the breakout hit “Misery Business” to the poignant moments of “When It Rains”, it’s great to see these young musicians take some chances and come out on top.
Standout Track: “Misery Business”- while I don’t necessarily condone all of the lyrics in the song, I must say they are smartly written and the music is so dead on its no wonder this song is getting so much radio attention.

10. Vanessa Carlton-Heroes and Thieves (Motown)
While she started out as kind of a guilty pleasure and then transformed into an artist that showed potential, Carlton has turned into someone that I will take some ridicule for and admit that I absolutely love this album. She has grown so much as lyricists and the piano riffs are so much more than happy pop songs at this point.
While Vanessa Carlton’s music is not unrecognizable from her “Thousand Miles” roots, it’s so much more mature and evolved at this point. The lyrics, aside from a few weak moments, are also so much stronger and don’t feel like they were stripped from a teenager girl’s diary. There is some haunting and dark moments mixed in with the pleasant pop tunes this time, and there isn’t really a low point on the disc.
Standout Track: “Home”-this reflective, somewhat melancholy, glance at the search everyone embarks on to find happiness leads to a grand finale that can’t be missed. Aside from great lyrics, this has got to be her best piano work to date.

9. The Wedding-Polarity (Word)
This band breaks out of its shell so much on this album that it’s just insane. Their debut was enjoyable, but nothing to get too excited about apart from some standout moments. This album is a different story, constantly taking the music in different directions from some unexpectedly heavy moments to a few piano driven ballads thrown in.
Their lyrics have also improved as they boldly tackle subjects that some Christian artists may shy away from. They also write about everything from life on the road to the fear to the dangerous life of a soldier, while reflecting back on blissful wedding days and tearful divorces they witnessed as children. This album is relevant to believers and non believers alike, and it goes places musically that more Christian artists should be willing to go.
Standout Track: “I-540”-They’re all really good so it’s hard to choose, but this one usually gets me every time. Maybe it’s the brief appearance by Bleach’s Davy Baysinger or the vulnerability of the lyrics, but this one always stands out to me.

8. Dashboard Confessional-The Shade of Poison Trees (Vagrant)
Dashboard combines elements of all their releases, reigniting the personal acoustic feel of the first few albums with the maturity that has been reached on the last few albums. No longer is this a whiny emo band, but they also aren’t writing top 40 hits that will only get plays on VH1.
While Carabba continues to pen songs that tend to deal with relationships, he is able to write for his age instead of trying to recapture the tone he had in his youth. And the obvious influences from all different eras of Dashboard makes for an impressive sound.
Standout Track: “Where There’s Gold”- this great warning against adultery and materialism is also the catchiest and wittiest track on the album.

7. The Rocket Summer-Do You Feel? (Island)
Bryce Avary is a masterful young musician who continues to improve upon his sound with infectious pop melodies and amazing hooks that hit you from all angles. This album continues in the same addition that begins with dance-y “Break it Out” and ends with the reflective “So, In This Hour.”
While there are a few weak tracks (“Waiting” Hold It Up”), it still has plenty of instances of improvement. What is great is that Avary can switch seamlessly between great pop songs like “So Much Love” to social commentary on “High Life Scenery” and even worshipful moments such as “Run to You.”
Standout Track: “So, In This Hour”- In the end, this is the most impressive moment on this album. A beautiful depiction of the struggles of a believer trying to get a better grip on faith while discovering his purpose in life.

6. Falling Up-Captiva (BEC)
With their third album, Falling Up matures their sound and improves upon their winning formula with some challenging lyrics and brave musical choices. Rather than just churning out an album full of ready to radio songs (which they seemed to do with Dawn Escapes), Falling Up does their best to create a unique sound, which is why I fell in love with them in the first place.
Although it has more melancholy moments than any of their other work and certainly keeps a slower pace, it has some brilliant moments and some unexpected twists. While “Goodnight Gravity” contains that recognizable energy we’ve come to associate with these guys, I never expected something as captivating as “The Dark Side of Indoor Track Meets” to make its way onto a Falling Up album. Standout Track: “How They Made Cameras”- this is an indefinite choice because the best thing about this album is that there aren’t a few good tracks packed in with a bunch of “ok” ones, they’re all solid. But this song has some of the most beautiful lyrics that really highlight the desperation of man without a savior.

5. Relient K-Five Score and Seven Years Ago (Capitol/Gotee)
While I was vocally let down by this album on many levels because it didn’t live up to the standard set by MmHmm, these songs really grew on me with repeated listens. After seeing how far Relient K can go, there are strong tracks such as “I Need You” that I feel could have been even stronger, but the material is still solid and enjoyable.
This is probably the most varied collection of Relient K songs, as “Give” serves as a prayerful CCM style songs and “Devastation and Reform” showcases their harder side and “Must Have Done Something Right” proved to be a great pop single. There are plenty of great Relient K moments and they continue stretch their boundaries and take their music in different directions.
Standout Track: “Deathbed”- this is honestly probably the greatest song of the year. This dark yet beautiful tale of a man’s life full of failures and eventual redemption includes so many awe-inspiring moments and Relient K takes their music to new depths, taking risk after risk and composing a true epic in the end.

4. Linkin Park-Minutes to Midnight (Warner Bros.)
This album was different than anything Linkin Park had ever released before and I’ve ultimately decided that it’s my favorite album of theirs yet. Aside from their unfortunate decision to now include some strong profanity in a few songs, the rest of the lyrics are solid, showing new depth and transparency than anything they’ve ever released before.
They can their disagreement with the war in “Hands Held High” without sounding like pretentious whiny rockers (even if they are misguided) or search for redemption in “What I’ve Done” without sounding clichéd. This disc has some tragic moments, some angry moments but also includes “Bleed It Out” which is one of the most fun tracks of the year.
Standout Track: “Shadow of the Day”-I love the new level of honesty and vulnerability that is evident on so many of this songs and this song truly captures that feeling of loss and grief. It’s beautifully composed and one of those rare moments where the music and vocals are absolutely perfect together.

3. The Fold-Secrets Keep You Sick (Tooth and Nail)
This album was unbelievable because of the simple fact that it was a great summer album full of great, fun, carefree tracks that you could blare with your windows down, but it also tackled issues of death, regret and fear. It never tiptoed around issues that some Christian artists decide to sugarcoat and the blatant honesty worked incredibly well.
While this CD did not receive the praise I think it deserved, I think some of that is due to the fact that the Christian music industry embraces great music that speaks of those issues that we wrestle with regarding our faith. But this album is not all doom and gloom, “Hey Rebekah” and “Down in Doubt” are confidence boosting encouraging tracks, and “Medicine” begins the album by telling everyone to get to their feet. There is a wide range of topics address in album that keeps that perfect balance between tons of fun and incredibly bold.
Standout Track: The death of lead singer, Dan Castady’s, mother was an inspiration for a couple of these tracks, but this song which is written from the viewpoint of his father on the day of her funeral was just beautifully composed. Although tragic and sometimes hard to listen to, the music and lyrics are so beautiful. This song is a bittersweet love song that is fleshed out through mentions of old memories and the end result is absolutely amazing. This kind of open expression is what music was made for.

2. Eisley-Combinations (Reprise)
In so many ways, this record is way different than Room Noises and for that reason I didn’t like it right away. In fact, I kind of ignored for a couple months after the first few listens. Since then, it has become practically an obsession and I can rarely make a playlist that doesn’t include at least one of these songs.
From the folk influence to their harder edge tracks and especially on the softer moments of the album, this band is full of young musical geniuses who know how to create divine melodies and complement them with beautiful lyrics. Although Eisley tends to use lots of metaphors and stories to express themselves, somehow the songs always speaks for itself and you know just what they mean. I cannot praise this album enough, nor can I find words to really define it, but I must urge that you all check it out.
Standout Track: “Come Clean”- Again, this is a hard choice because it’s hard for me to choose just one song that stands out above the rest. This song, however, always catches my attention with such vivid imagery and a breathtaking bridge, it’s just very memorable.

1. Anberlin-Cities (Tooth and Nail)
After two great releases, Anberlin returns with a nearly flawless effort that is absolutely amazing from start to finish. With some of the most aggressive moments partnered with some stripped down tracks, Cities is a wonderful collection of songs that tackles important issues while speaking truth about life’s biggest dilemmas.
Whether it be relationships or social justice causes, Stephen Christian continues to pen moving and memorable lyrics. “Unwinding Cable Car” is a stunning proclamation to someone who has lost their faith while “Godspeed” is an aggressive dark tale of those who choose sex and drugs and their lifestyle. “Hello Alone” speaks boldly about the desperation on third world countries (even offending a CD reviewer on who can’t appreciate vivid language in songs, apparently) and “Reclusion” paints a picture of the daily battle against of flesh.
The continual growth of this band continues to impress me and I wish them all the success. It is great to see such intelligent and thought provoking lyrics from a band of strong faith and convictions. They are not ashamed of their beliefs, but they are not looking to fit in any bubble, but rather make great art that can connect with an audience, and they succeed. They are bold enough to include a Psalm inspired song like “A Whisper and a Clamor” but also explore some dark corners of humanity that sometimes CCM would rather ignore. They end up with what I believe the best album to be released this year.
Standout Track: “Fin”- the album ends with a nearly 9 minute long epic that is as haunting and convicting as I think they intended it to be. While it is musically very beautiful, Christian’s vocals and lyrics are bold speaking about the church’s duty to serve the broken and starving people of this world. It is a song that conjures up images of those suffering in Darfur and the Sudan, and hopefully stirs up a passion inside all of those who are in earshot of Christian’s passionate

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

the Best in Worship

Worship music to me is something that is kind of on a different playing field than your average album. Secular music can focus on a broad range of topics, at times being very insightful and positive, while Christian music usually contains a ton of Christ-centered themes and a small share of worshipful moments, but there is something to be said for music that created solely for the purpose of bringing worship to God.
It is for this reason that I’ve decided to just list 5 worship albums of the past year that I would encourage everyone to check out apart from the Top 20 album list I’ll be releasing on Wednesday. Worship music is designed solely to bring glory to God and to turn all of our focus towards the Creator, and I don’t know who I can just look at it on a solely artistic standpoint and place it on a list next to Linkin Park and Relient K.
On the other hand, from the Psalms to many of the classic hymns, worship music has been some of the most artistic and awe-inspiring works that mankind has ever conceived. It is not a genre that should be that business that it is today in which artists simply throw a shallow Jesus love song together without really putting any depth and purpose behind their words.
These five albums are great examples of what worship music could and should be. As the genre continues to be watered down by less than impressive acts, it is encouraging to see others taking worship to a great new place creatively and artistically and discovering new ways with which to praise our savior.

1. The Glorious Unseen-Tonight the Stars Speak (Tooth and Nail/BEC)
Such a great collection of songs here, from the deeply personal cries of “Hear Our Prayers” and “Burn in Me” to more accessible songs such as the beautiful cover of the Crowder classic “O Praise Him” and the awe-filled ballad “Tonight the Stars Speak”
The lyrics are honest and heartfelt, and it is musically, soft spoken wonder. It doesn’t take too many artistic risks, but TGU still develop an original sound that sets them apart for some acts.
Some of their songs, including the excellent track “Forever Holy”, “Meet Us Here” and “Where Your Glory Dwells” would work well in a congregational setting, while the hit single and poignant closer “Close to Your Heart” and well as many other tracks work better for personal reflection.

2. David Crowder Band-Remedy (Sparrow) David Crowder Band has proved time and time again to be pioneers in the genre of worship music. Whether its producing fresh new music that is compatible for churches all across America or tackling an innovative and epic project like A Collision, they continue to find new ways to lead us in worship.
Remedy is not the risky endeavor that A Collision was, but its simplicity is really its charm. Not that DCB doesn’t continually stretch themselves as a band and incorporate a million creative elements throughout this album, but it definitely has a more accessible sound.
From the breathtaking and hard hitting opening “The Glory of it All”, to the aggressive/synth heavy “Can You Feel It?” there is a wide spectrum of ground covered on this album. The lyrics continued to inspired and passionate. Crowder’s love for God continues to be apparent, and through his music, it becomes contagious.

3. Hillsong United-All of the Above (Hillsong)
This band continues to impress, creating the best corporate worship music that you can find available today. From the mission-minded tracks “Solution” and “Point of Difference” to some of the most beautiful worship songs of the years (“Lead Me to the Cross” “Hosanna”), this album proves their continued evolution.
While they are not the likely to try anything to experimental, their sound continues to be fresh and original, standing ahead the rest of the pack.
You should definitely check out their EP, In a Valley by the Sea that they released later in the year as well.

4. Desperation Band-Everybody Overcome (New Life Worship) Another worship band that tends to release a ton of great original material, Desperation Band’s latest album has become one of my latest favorites.
While they succeed greatly on upbeat anthems such as “Light of Salvation” and “I Know”, the worship filled moments such as the ones experienced on the title track lead us all into a great place.
While they are more likely to include a clichéd lyric than any other band on this list, they are still a fresh voice in worship music that continues to think of new ones to express our love for God.

5. Hillsong Live-Mighty to Save (Hillsong) The title track alone makes this a worthy investment. The lyrics of “Mighty to Save” are so bold and passionate, creating an anthem of sorts for believers.
Although this collection was actually released in 2006, I didn’t discover until this year and it features such a great list of songs from Hillsong and Hillsong United that I had to recommend it.
Tracks like “Oceans Will Part” and “At the Cross” are especially beautiful, as is yet another great rendition of “From the Inside Out.” This album will absolutely lead you into a great time of worship.

Liberty University Campus Praise Band-Uncover
While they only included 2 original songs in this collection, the campus praise band at Liberty University features a wide variety of songs on this album that range from “Come Thou Fount” to “Holy Moment” and a fantastic version of “In Christ Alone.” This is a group of truly talented musicians who are leading a campus of 10,000 into worship on a weekly basis, and doing a great job.

This Week on TV....

Thoughts on this week’s TV

CSI-Cockroaches (CBS)
Aside from some rather excessive sexuality, this episode of CSI featured some more evidence of great writing that I’ve been able to see that last few weeks on this show.
While the murder investigation held my interest enough, Warrick’s continued breakdown was delivered the emotional punch it deserved. It was great to see CSI spend a fair amount of time on character development, without compromising the show’s formula.
The trippy feel that lasted this entire episode only helped to increase our awareness of Warrick’s drug problem and Gary Dourdan’s top notch performance reeled us in for good.

Friday Night Lights-The Confession (NBC)

While certainly not my favorite episode of this season, this episode did have some strong moments. It was great to see Landry’s storyline get a resolution as it has been a bumpy ride getting here. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing, I don’t hate it as much as everyone else, but I am glad to see it taken care of.
The real star of this episode was Jason Street whose storyline about meeting a girl online who’s interested in guys in wheelchairs delivered some great comedic moments. It was also great to see him move out of his parents house and start to give some thought towards his future.
There were also some pretty strong scenes between Buddy Garrity and Santiago. Buddy doesn’t quite know how to deal with Santiago and those two characters are playing off of each other quite well.

Scrubs-My #1 Doctor (NBC)

While not my favorite episode of the season, it was certainly entertaining watching Dr. Cox and Turk compete to be the hospital’s number one doctor. When J.D. turned out to be number one, it was hilarious to watch Todd calling himself Dr. Dorian and repulsing women so that they would lower J.D.’s score
However, the majority of the laughs and the endearing moments were between Janitor and his new girlfriend, Lady. Once Carla discovers that he’s acting like acting like a completely different person in front of her, she insists that he reveals the real him. Lady’s reaction is less than favorable so Janitor says it’s a joke and Carla tells him to reveal his crazy little by little. This storyline served as a means for many laughs, and kind of a sad moment when we realize that Lady is probably never gonna accept Janitor for himself.
The other storyline involving Elliot and a patient that wants to kill herself because she is dying was poignant and well done. Elliot’s moral struggle was realistic and one of the more heart wrenching storylines Scrubs has included in a while.

Aliens in America-Church (CW)
After Raja notes to Mrs. Tolchuck that their weekly trip to a Wal-Mart type store is kind of like their church because it makes them feel better and they leave 10% of their income there, Mrs. Tolchuck decides that it is time to expose Raja to the family’s deep spirituality.
This album contains some pretty edgy moments and probably stretched past the point of good taste, but it still hit quite a few nails on the head. It provided an outlet for this show to do what it does best, offer great satire and some thought provoking moments.
Raja, a deeply religious Muslim is thrilled to discuss the difference and his and the Tolchuck’s theology, but Justin is more concerned about praying for frivolous things (including sex with a girl at schoo), Claire is more concerned about making out with the guy playing Joseph in the Christmas play, while Mr. Tolchuck is more concerned with buying collectible apostle plates from the church’s gift shop.
In the midst of some hilarious, if somewhat irreverent, moments, Aliens manages to showcase some of the more ridiculous customs in the Church of America, but also manage to remind us why we need church in the first place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Best of Christmas Music

So there are a lot of Christmas tunes to choose from. Here are some of my favorite choices.CDS

Relient K-Let It Snow, Let it Reindeer (Gotee/Capitol)
This has gotta be my favorite Christmas CD. With a mix of some great light hearted moments (“Santa Clause is Thumbing…” “I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas”), the remakes of Christmas favorites (I love the new rendition of “Sleigh Ride”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) and of course the worshipful moments (the beautifully composed “I Celebrate the Day” and Narnia inspired “In Like a Lion”). Aside from the new track “Boxing Day” which has some strong lyrics but is kind of a downer, this album is pretty solid from beginning to end.

Jars of Clay-Christmas Song (Gray Matters)
Although it’s got some pretty bizarre moments (“Winter Skin”, “Hibernation Day”), Jars of Clay has put together a pretty nice collection of songs. Their renditions of “Wonderful Christmastime” and “I Heard the Bells” add a great touch to a couple of classic and their selection of original material (especially standout track “Love Came Down at Christmas”) are just more reasons to pick this up.

Kevin Max-Holy Night (Infinity)
Kevin Max’s unique voice adds a great touch to a collection of traditional Christmas hymns. “Silent Night” “The First Noel” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”…This collection has all the Christmas classic that one would want. The cool thing is that he doesn’t do much to change the songs, they are pretty traditionally arranged, but that timeless qualities are what make this album so great.

Happy Christmas Vol. 1-4 (Tooth and Nail)
Always great and fun. Check ‘em out.

I’ve also gotten pretty addicted to downloading Christmas songs this year, here are 10 that I would highly recommend.

Carol of the Bells by Thrice- Their rendition is probably my favorite. Such a great song only made better by a great band.

If You Were Born Today by Jimmy Eat World-Although it’s a pretty dismal little tune, the words hit hard and are definitely thought provoking.

Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer by Family Force 5-There’s a few Christmas songs you can find out there by these guys, but this one is them at their holiday best.

What’s This? By Fall Out Boy-This great cover of a Nightmare Before Christmas classic was executed perfectly here.

Forget December by Something Corporate-Such a great song is you have a breakup before Christmas, but regardless, it’s just dang catchy.

Noel by Eve 6-This rock out version of this song is so obnoxious, but I can’t help but like it.
Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls-From their Let Love In album, this song is beautifully written and perfectly reflects our hearts at this time of year (and possibly brings a message that should last year round)

The Hanukah Song by Adam Sandler-Yeah, I’m not Jewish, but this song is always funny.

The Lights and Buzz by Jacks Mannequin-Ah, Christmas in California. It sounds like it could have been a b-side for Everything in Transit but with that great holiday cheer.

O Holy Night by Brand New-such a great rendition by a such a solid band. Something everyone should add to their Christmas list.

Oh, and for the music lovers out there, my picks for the Top Albums of 2007 will be posted on December 13th. Don't miss a few fun music posts before then.

Latest thoughts on TV

Heroes-Powerless (NBC)
In the episode that may serve as the season finale if the strike doesn’t close soon, we saw some great showdowns, watched a few twists, and were left with an ultimately satisfying conclusion that will keep us in anticipation until the series returns.
Most importantly, we saw the death of two characters before the end of the hour. Nikki was killed in an explosion in an effort to save Micah’s cousin (I couldn’t stand Nikki, but she was my girlfriend’s favorite character so I can’t be too happy) and then we saw Nathan shot just before he went public with the truth about his abilities and the company.
It’s still unclear who to trust and what’s really going on with the company, but the ending revealed that Mrs. Petrelli has ordered her son’s assassination. It will also be interesting to see if Elle rebels from the company, now that she’s beginning to see Bob for who he really is.
The best moment was at Primatech paper as Nathan convinced Peter that Adam couldn’t be trusted (only after Peter had spent a few minutes bringing great pain upon poor Hiro). This led to Hiro eventually avenging his father’s death by burying Adam alive, quite an awful fate for an immortal.
There was also some great scenes with Sylar and Suresh as Sylar demanded the cure for the Shanti virus, and Maya found out that he killed her brother. This whole storyline created some tense moments and some of the best scenes from this season.
While there was a fair share of disappointments in this half season of Heroes, they are back on track with plenty of potential for the next volume. I think they will work out their pacing issues a little more as the series continues and I expect some great things in the future.

Friday Night Lights-Seeing Other People (NBC)
Quick thoughts on last week’s episode:Landry/Tyra/Lyla: This storyline has finally led to the inevitable confession and while it’s probably the most unpopular storyline in FNF history, I think they’ve done a great job with it. The scene between Lyla and Landry was written perfectly and shows how this series continues to realistically bring faith into the story in an impressive way.Coach Taylor and the Mrs.: The performance of Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton only improve every week and there were, yet again, a million very real moments between them. The arrival of the new baby and his long absence with the college coaching job really brought some stress into the marriage, but their love is apparent and perfectly apparent to the audience even in the worst moments. This is, thankfully, not a story of a marriage failing apart but just trying times during an authentic picture of marriage.

Matt Saracen: While he seems kind of simple and goofy, his character is pretty complex. When Colletta first entered the picture, she seemed like she was just gonna be some fling for Matt, but he’s actually falling in love. It was enough to scare him, but at the same time, make him brave enough to walk away from the obvious choice and into the more complicated relationship.

Smash: His scenes on the college recruiting trip were priceless. His storyline about choosing the right college has seamlessly switched between dead serious and incredibly hilarious.

Julie: That teacher is so trying to get with her. Her mom was right to yell at him and I’m really sick of Julie. She’s has got to be the most overly emotional character in TV history. Not a shot at Teegarden’s performance, but I just do not like the actual character of Julie these days. Her mom should slap her again.

Scrubs-My Growing Pains (NBC)
While the final season of Scrubs is off to a strong start (aside from that “green week” inspired episode “My Inconvenient Truth”), this has got to be the strongest episode of the season to date.
As J.D. decides to give up pranks now that he’s a father, this episode teaches us the valuable lesson that we don’t have to give up having fun just to be responsible. This has been an ongoing journey this season as J.D. is trying to figure out that balance.
But the comedy was the real star of the show. There is nothing funnier than J.D. doing Sam’s voice admiring all the baby girls at the park. Not to mention the return of Hooch and some of the best janitor moments that we’ve seen in a while.
I’m hardly ever let down by this show, but it’s just great to see the final season continuing in that great tradition and still pulling out some out such a strong episode.

CSI: “Goodbye and Good Luck” and “You Kill Me” (CBS)
To be quite honest, this season of CSI has been full of disappointments. From drawn out and unexciting season premiere to wasted episodes about possible demon possession (“Go To Hell”) and murder on the set of horror film (“The Chick Chop Flick Shop”) and the dreadful crossover event with Without a Trace (“Who and What”), I was beginning to wonder if CSI was worth my time.
While eight seasons may be wearing out its welcome, CSI has bounced back with two great episodes and I can only hope that this is direction it travels for the rest of the season.
“Goodbye and Good Luck” was the heartfelt farewell for Sarah Sidle which brought back some familiar faces, including the creepiest little girl you’ll ever see. It was a great throw back to a great old episode, and Jorja Fox did a fine job portraying the moments ultimately leading up to Sarah’s decision to leave. Although we all know that in real life, Fox is just moving on, the writers certainly did a good job making the story work well in the show. The ending with Grissom reading her letter was top notch.
“You Kill Me” completely switched gears and offered what I suppose that horror movie episode was aiming at, a great tongue in cheek episode. With Hodges running the show and creating fake scenarios in the lab for the labbies to solve themselves, we were able to see some hilarious scene in an episode that was very much like something The X-Files may have done back in the day. It also served as a great launching pad for a little character development.
While CSI has never been one to spend much time on character development, we really care enough about these characters at this point that it definitely needs to stay a constant. And the cases need to be as intriguing as “Goodbye….” For this show to continue to stay relevant.

Bones- The Santa in the Slush (FOX)
And reason #1 why CSI needs to stay relevant. While it may have seemed like just another crime show when it started, Bones has quickly become one of the most smartly written shows on tv, and this episode is a fine example.
Of course the heartfelt moments between Booth and Bones happened to be the driving point of this episode, especially the great scene at the end where he sets up a tree outside the fence of the prison where she’s having Christmas with her imprisoned father and brother.
There was also that great case of the murder of Kris Kringle himself. Not only did it garner a guest appearance from Carl Winslow himself, but it was entertaining and lighthearted enough to work in this festive episode.
And I must commend the series for officially adding John Francis Daley to the cast. He is hilarious as Dr. “Sweets” and offers a great new dimension to the show.

Other notes…
Life (NBC)- just a smart and entertaining show. The cases are almost intriguing and the characters are very memorable. Very glad it got it’s full season pick up.

Aliens in America (CW)-just a truly hilarious show. Yeah, it’s tucked away on the CW for no one to find, but this show is so great of finding that great balance between heartwarming family comedy and politically incorrect hilarity.

Chuck (NBC)-What can I say? I’m hooked on this show. It continues to produce great episodes and Adam Baldwin is the man. Pushing Daisies (ABC)- I’m gonna do my full review on this show soon, but in the midst of all of its quirks, this show is still worth rooting for.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Veronica Mars-Season 1

This is defintely the best the show that you're too cool to watch. I had never had any interest in this show due to the fact that it was a)on UPN and b) the name of the show and advertisements for it did nothing to strike my interest. Despite many great reviews and the fact that the online tv community has been buzzing about this show since it premiered, i ignored it. Now, 3 seasons and a cancellation later, I have finally decided to give this show a chance....and I'm really glad I did.
One of the most intriguing things to me about this show was that many people claimed that anyone who was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would defintely enjoy this show as well. Considering there was no supernatural elements, I didn't understand why someone would make that statement other than the fact that both shows have blonde female leads. But I quickly realized that everything from the storytelling, the dialogue, the pacing and even the characters paralled the Buffyverse.
Veronica obviously is much like Buffy in the fact that she's the lead female protagonist who is able to get a team of friends around her to help her do her job as she continually makes witty quips throughout every situation. Logan is a lot like Spike, he's defintely viewed as a bad guy but we see the transformation in him throughout this season, much as we did with Spike throughout the 7 seasons of Buffy, and Duncan reminds me of Angel, a really kind and good person who is continually tortured by this horrible act in his past. I guess you could say that Wallace is kind of like a less dorky version of Xander, most of the 09ers would represent Cordelia, but Keith Mars is far from filling the shoes of Giles. Giles was cool, but not this cool.
To be honest, I don't have any real complaints about the first season of this show. It was a really well constructed TV show, so I will highlight a few things that I especially enjoyed.
  • The Veronica/Keith Mars chemistry- this father/daughter relationship is ultimately the anchor of this show and have developed these characters into two very real people who play off eachother perfectly. Their dialogue is always sharp and full of wit, and its always interesting to see Keith's who demeanor change when he goes into full dad mode. In the midst of her mom running out on her, him being fired, and her best friend being murdered, this relationship was the glue of the show that made it all work.
  • The Pacing- I have never in my life see a "big picture" unfold quite as well as this one did. The season begins with the murder of Lily Kane, Veronica's best friend, Duncan's sister, and Logan's girlfriend, so we immediately see how these characters all connect. Other storylines, of course, wrap into this one as well and many smaller revelations continue to feed our hunger to find out who the killer is by the end of the season. Shows like Prison Break and Buffy have also done this well, building their whole season upon a big finale, but the even those shows faltered at times, having some episodes that just seemed designed to drag the whole thing out a little longer. That was not the case with this debut season of Mars, as they included the right amount of twists and turns and added new unexpected layers to the story along the way.
  • The "stunt" Casing- Usually when shows bring in some recognizable faces, its due to the fact that Sweeps is going on, and most of the times they struggle to make a real use for these people. Scrubs is one of the rare exceptions, always seeming to make great use of their guest stars. Veronica Mars also did this, not throwing away good opportunities. Johnathan Taylor Thomas probably had his strongest role today as an undercover FBI agent sent to stop a possible threat at the high school, Anthony Anderson was great as a violent rap mogul who belived his daugther was kidnapped, and Tina Majorino and Aaron Ashmore were both put to great use in their recurring roles. Even the bizarre choice to use Paris Hilton in one episode panned out ok as they got her to play some stuck up shallow blonde...which didn't seem to be too much of a stretch. It was also great to see Buffy's Alyson Hanigan show up as Logan's a role that is probably the polar opposite of Willow.
  • The ending-Sometimes shows build up all season and this fail us at the end. This is absolutely not the case here. The last few episodes of the season are one tense moments after another, eventually leading to the shocking revelation of who really killed Lily Kane. The great thing is that it didn't have a whole bunch of twists just to be shocking, they all made sense and flowed together perfectly, even if they hit like a ton of bricks.

    I'm really excited to begin the second season and can't recommend this show enough. Much more than some lame teen show, much like Joss Whedon did with Buffy, Rob Thomas has created an incredible community full of monsters and demons...only this time they look just like you and me. Whedon is probably the strongest storyteller in tv, and this show is so remiscent of his work, but at the same time creating its own very unique identity. Definetely not the teen fluff it was advertised as Veronica Mars takes us to some very dark places, but the art of character development and great storytelling makes this one of the most addicting and satisfying shows you'll likely come by.

Jon Foreman-Fall EP

Music: 4
Lyrics: 4
Spiritual Content: 4

At a time of the year where music releases are really starting to slow down, it's great to have a nice suprise by way of the first of four solo EPs being released by Switchfoot lead singer, Jon Foreman. Each EP will coincide with the four season, the first being the Fall EP which is being released today through all digital outlets. In early 2008, the fall and winter EP will be sold together in traditional stores. These are more personal and introspective songs than your average Switchfoot song which is why Foreman decided to release them as solo projects, however the band still has a new album slated to hit stores before the end of 2008.
So how does this solo album hold up? Incredibly well, actually. Although there is more of a folk feel than I am usually a fan of, the chill acoustic sound of the album is kind of refreshing. The lyrics are deep and honest, reminiscent of some of the best switchfoot songs such as "let that be enough" or "24".
The album shines the brightest with one of darkest tracks, "Equally Skilled" is kind of dread look at humanity and all its fallness, but reminds us that God's hands are skilled when it comes to redeeming His people. Which also brings to the point that somes of these songs are some of the most openly spiritual tracks that we've heard penned by Foreman in a while. "Lord, Save Me From Myself" is another great example of Foreman just laying it all out all the table in a very personal account of his struggles.
Considering most of the album leans more towards an indie/acoustic feel than folk, most switchfoot fans will be able to enjoy this album, seeing as it's not drastically different than switchfoot, but a song like "southbound train" which includes a large number of folk influences might be harder for them to get used to. However, it works well, as does the heartfelt closer "My Love Goes Free" which is probably the most cryptic song on the album, while at the same time it has a very vulnerable edge.
Although Nothing is Sound and Oh Gravity! had some great moments, Switchfoot has been growing slightly stale as of late, especially when it comes to reusing similar themes over and over in their lyrics. This EP is breath of fresh air and true testament of what Foreman is actually capable of. I hope that the EPs to follow are just as strong as this one and that it spills over to his work with switchfoot.