What Am I Listening To? – December 2015

Truth be told, I’ve had way less time this month to take in new music due to all the time I’ve been spending going over candidates for this year’s favorites for list-making purposes, so none of these records have really been given the time they deserve just yet. I’ll probably manage to get some more cohesive thoughts gathered about all of these in early 2016, but for now, here are my usual ill-informed first impressions.

2015_Coldplay_AHeadFullofDreamsColdplay – A Head Full of Dreams
Man, who releases a new album in December? I guess we knew that a follow-up to Ghost Stories was right around the corner, and I’m grateful for the much more upbeat and colorful approach taken here after that sleepy downer of an album (which wasn’t terrible, but which definitely didn’t live up to its potential). Coldplay’s gone almost too happy on a lot of these songs, and I don’t know why Chris Martin is so fascinated with trying to turn out the perfect club track with crooners like Beyonce and Tove Lo at his side, but as we found out on Mylo Xyloto and the Ghost Stories single “A Sky Full of Stars”, sometimes Coldplay does danceable pop music extremely well. That’s true in a few cases on this record, though generally when they get down to ballad speed, it’s a bit too gloppy and sentimental for me to handle.

2015_FiveIronFrenzy_BetweenPacementandStarsEPFive Iron Frenzy – Between Pavement and Stars EP
This one seems to be an odds-and-ends collection of stuff leftover from the Engine of a Million Plots sessions, and some of it’s fun, but most of it doesn’t stand out to me that nearly the way every track on that album did. Most of it’s a bit rough around the edges and melodically the hooks just aren’t as strong, with the exception of “Blizzards and Bygones (All Frost and No Thaw)”, a mellower re-interpretation of Engine‘s chilling closer, this time actually sung by its writer, Scott Kerr. Elsewhere, the gloves come off on “God Hates Flags”, which is right up there with “Zen and the Art of Xenophobia” in the “political statements we couldn’t have made on a CCM label” department, and things get downright silly on the pirate-themed “To Astoria!” I would say it’s a mixed bag, but then apparently they actually put out a sequel to Cheeses of Nazareth not too long ago, so I guess I’ll count my blessings.

2015_LeighNash_TheStateImInLeigh Nash – The State I’m In
After two decades and change of making glum alt-rock and slowly morphing into middle-of-the-road pop (in a mostly good way) as the lead singer of Sixpence None the Richer, Leigh has finally decided to embrace her Texas roots and go full-on country for her second solo album. My reactions range from “Hmmm, she’s pretty good at this even though it’s a bit too traditional for my tastes” (a lot of the ballads) to “Hey, this is kind of fun and quirky” (the inherent pun in the title track) to “LOL WUT?!” (yeah, “High Is Better” is about that kind of high.) I doubt I’ll go back to it a whole lot, but it’s nice to hear a different side of a long-time favorite vocalist.

2015_AndrewPeterson_TheBurningEdgeofDawnAndrew Peterson – The Burning Edge of Dawn
I was a huge Andrew Peterson fan in the early days, then I lapsed a bit as his music went from bright and mostly uncomplicated Rich Mullins-esque folk music to more middle-of-the-road pop. 2012’s Light for the Lost Boy really brought me back, and while this record isn’t as ambitious musically, it’s more soul-baring lyrically than I expected, even from a heart-on-sleeve songwriter like Peterson. He was really going through some stuff when he wrote this, and that leads to songs in which he admits he has a hard time seeing the bright side just as much as it leads to songs where he finds new meaning in old Christian-ese cliches like the word “Rejoice!” that perhaps we’ve repeated so much, we’ve forgotten to really think about their definitions. It’s a good “dark night of the soul” sort of record that is honest without being overly depressing, and I can see myself coming back to this one a lot in the months ahead.

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