Artist: Joy Williams Album: Front Porch Year: 2019 Grade: B-
In Brief: This is pleasant enough, as purist folk records go. But it feels a bit lacking in the personality department. Williams attempting this style on her own invites unfavorable comparisons to her stint in The Civil Wars, and I had been hoping after Venus that she was trying to move away from that sound as a solo artist.
Artist: Billie Eilish Album: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Year: 2019 Grade: B+
In Brief: Billie’s full-length debut rather boldly defies my expectations of what a pop album, whether indie or mainstream, should sound like in 2019. She also busts some of my stereotypes about teenage singer/songwriters in general, and how they can communicate both lyrically and sonically in a way that comes across as authentic while still drawing in a huge and diverse audience. I didn’t expect to like this album nearly as much as I did, and now I can’t stop listening to it.
If you’ve never heard of Gungor at all, and your first question upon hearing a song of theirs is, “Is this a Christian band?”, then my answer is: Yes. No. Kinda.
Normally in this monthly column, I’m going to be writing about bands that are defunct, or at the very least have stopped recording and touring for the foreseeable future. Gungor is a curious exception, because there are literally days to go in the band’s farewell tour. A week or so from when I publish this, Gungor as a distinct musical entity will be considered a thing of the past. Its two members, Michael and Lisa Gungor, certainly have plans to continue making music, just not under that name. I’m intrigued to see what these two might cook up with all past constraints and preconceived notions completely gone. I feel like they’ve already done a bang-up job of challenging our assumptions, not just about the kind of music they make but about the parameters that define the Christian faith ourselves, over the years. It seems like now’s as good a time as any to honor the end of an era, and take a (shorter than my usual) walk down memory lane to revisit my favorite songs that the duo have put out in the eight years I’ve considered myself a fan.
You know you’re a huge fan of a band when a friend asks you how many times you’ve seen them live, and you realize you’ve lost count. It’s funny, because I haven’t really considered myself a massive Switchfoot fan for quite a while, probably since the mid-2000s when The Beautiful Letdown hit it big, and was admirably followed up by Nothing Is Sound and Oh! Gravity. Paradoxically, that’s my favorite era of Switchfoot’s discography, and yet I got to the point where I became downright sick of the most well-known songs from those albums being must-plays in their setlists. It’s probably because I saw them live several times that decade, and when I see a band live multiple times, I prefer to hear them play stuff from their newer albums, or if they’re gonna play old stuff, I’d like to hear a few I’ve never heard live before. The Beautiful Letdown is my favorite Switchfoot album (an area where I’d guess I’m agreement with the majority of their fans), but I’d be perfectly fine never hearing that album’s heavy-hitters “Dare You to Move”, “This Is Your Life”, or “Meant to Live”, from them ever again. I love those songs. A ton of other people do too, and I guess I can’t fault someone who shows up, never having seen the band before, for wanting the trip down memory lane. It was because of this (and a string of less than impressive albums in the late 2000s/early 2010s) that I cooled off on seeing them live for a while after witnessing a just-OK live set on their tour for Vice Verses in 2011. (Even then, there were a couple of Fiction Family shows in between, and the Jon Foreman solo show I went to this time last year, because he is simply one of my favorite people in the entire universe.) This year’s Native Tongue isn’t really one of my favorite albums of theirs, either, but 2016’s When the Light Shines Through was a pleasant surprise that seemed a bit underrated among the fanbase, and I kicked myself for missing out on their tour with Relient K that year (who themselves had just put out the startlingly excellent Air For Free). When they announced a tour with Colony House slated for this spring, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
In Brief: Eh… it’s another Switchfoot album. A little heavier on the ballads and programming than I would like, but it’s not terrible. Every now and then, the band tries something inventive here that updates their sound just enough to not seem like it’s old hat. But a lot of it is Switchfoot by the numbers, which admittedly is kind of a tricky thing for them to avoid now that they’re 11 albums deep into their career.
If I could write songs like anyone in the world, I’d want to write like Vienna Teng does.
I’m sure I’ve echoed this sentiment many times in all of the reviews I’ve written of Vienna’s music over the years. And while there quite a lot of songwriters I’ve admired enough to consider them influential over the years, she seems to be the one I come back to the most consistently and remain in awe of, somehow still finding interesting little nuances I hadn’t considered before in songs of hers that I’ve loved for nearly two decades now. I knew pretty early on that I had stumbled across something special when I first heard her music – all it took was two songs performed on solo piano at an intimate live show way back in the spring of 2003 for me to first feel that tug deep within me, telling me I wanted to write something that communicated such powerful imagery wrapped in curious metaphor, and yet she was so intimidatingly good at it that I was pretty sure I’d never be able to come anywhere near it. But perhaps that’s the point. Vienna is such a restlessly creative individual who constantly challenges her own status quo. So maybe the best way to be inspired by her is to not try to mimic her at all. And therein lies the paradox.
In Brief: Not a strong showing for Thrice on their second album post-hiatus. It’s about a third “Hey look, we can still rock hard!”, about a third middle-of-the-road balladeering, and about a third experimental… and honestly, at this point, I’m only really here for the experimental stuff. I’m OK with Thrice making more of a “genre roulette” album in the same spirit as Beggars, rather than forcing themselves to always have a focused sound… but on Palms, the quality from song to song really suffers due to the lack of cohesion, without much of a theme to bridge it all together.