Tree63 – Land
Tree63 is one of those bands who seems to disappear for long stretches of time and then resurface. I haven’t really been into them since their first few records way back in the early 2000s, when I still had a decent tolerance for foreign-accented worship bands that clearly wanted to be the next Delirious? by way of sounding like U2 a lot. But to Tree63’s credit, they’ve been unhappy about getting pigeonholed as “that band that did the really good cover of that Matt Redman song” and they do try to mix a lot of more “conversational” material in with the praise choruses. Land seems to continue that trend – some really solid rockers, a few interesting genre twists I didn’t see coming, some meditative, ambient stuff that will probably go over the heads of listeners looking for those simple praise choruses, and… I’ll be honest, some of it’s the same boring adult contemporary stuff that makes Tree63 more of a “singles band” than an “album band” in my book.
Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks
On an album that is thankfully not all about the gory details of Ritter’s personal life, and thankfully features him doing more than just strumming an acoustic guitar for 13 tracks, he takes aim at modern American Christian culture, and well, kind of turns a lot of the “holy roller” language on its head. There’s probably some witty social commentary in here. Iron & Wine’s probably said similar stuff, albeit more cryptically, but I appreciate the attempt all the same. What’s most notable is how rock and country influences mold a lot of these songs into very different shapes, sometimes twisting them mid-song into something you wouldn’t have expected based on how it started out. I prefer variety when it comes to Josh Ritter albums, so this fits my bill way better than The Beast in Its Tracks ever could have.
Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars
Another year, another Beach House album. Wait… they released the last one only two months ago? I was going to say, “Way to follow up a non-event with another non-event, guys”, but the truth is, I’m warming to this one a little more easily than Depression Cherry. Amidst the dreary gloom that pervades a lot of the material here, there’s actually a little more variance in tempo and texture than I would have expected from the band. Sometimes they’re still up to their old tricks (check out “Common Girl”; it’s pretty much the same keyboard melody from “On the Sea”, except not nearly as interesting), and their rather uninspired insistence on using canned drums isn’t doing them any favors, but I dare say that a few of these songs are eerily romantic.
Jon Foreman – The Wonderlands: Dawn
Foreman’s suite of one song for each hour of the day (though he actually ended up giving us 25, so one to grow on, I guess) finishes up beautifully with this song that finds the darkness from the previous EP slowly giving way to daylight. Some of his most striking scriptural songs can be found here, as well as a bit of quirky commentary on his own utter lack of even coming close to deserving grace on the standout “Mercy’s War”. For me it’s the album closer “Before Our Time” that really takes the cake – it’s another collaboration with Sara Watkins, but this time she gets to tear it up on the violin and the result is a true sense of joy. I expected mostly mellow and kinda samey output from Foreman’s solo work, so I think he really stepped up his game by wrangling a different producer for each track and making a solid effort to ensure that the songs would all stand out. Now… I wonder how that whole “play 25 shows in 24 hours” project is going for him?
Jars of Clay – The Long Fall Back to Earth (Deluxe Edition)
I normally don’t get that hyped about re-releases, but the good folks at Jarchives have been really excited for this one, and with good reason – there’s a generous helping of bonus tracks tacked on to the end of it, turning what was already Jars of Clay’s longest album at 14 tracks into 20. Three of the “overcuts”, which apparently were recorded during the album sessions back in 2009, are quirky, up-tempo pop/rock, sort of in the same overall style as The Long Fall proper except that they deviate just enough to where you can see why they didn’t quite fit the album. They’re strong material nonetheless, especially “Love Won’t Let Us” with its surprisingly aggressive guitar attack, which is unlike anything Jars of Clay has done in the “rock out just for the heck of it” department. The other three tracks are remixes of beloved album cuts that I’ve known every single word and note of for six years now, so changing up their sounds, and often their melodies is a risky proposition. But the “Headphones” and “Heaven” remixes are really good, y’all. They almost rival the album versions, and yet they’re quite a departure genre-wise. The “Heart” remix at the end might be a bridge too far, as was a lot of the bizarro material on Inlandia, but having all three of these done by Jeff Savage (who apparently only likes song titles that start with “Hea”) does help to give them a more unified feel. If not for that and the strength of the “overcuts”, this release could have felt like a desperate clearing of the vaults for some quick cash.