Switchfoot – Interrobang: Are we doomed to disagreeā€½

Artist: Switchfoot
Album: Interrobang
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: This might be the first Switchfoot album that I remember more for the lyrics than the music. Not to say that the music is unmemorable, or that they didn’t write good songs in the past… It’s more that Interrobang is an introverted record where Switchfoot often goes small in places where they might otherwise be tempted to go big. The result is a more personal record about navigating conflict and ideological division in our society, that resists the temptation to come up with big, sweeping, feel-good answers to the urgent questions that inspired it.

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Future of Forestry – Remember: Highly Forgettable

Artist: Future of Forestry
Album: Remember
Year: 2021
Grade: C

In Brief: A disappointingly limp and meager offering from a long-time favorite artist of mine. This is the first time in Future of Forestry’s 15-year existence that I’ve been truly disappointed, not because a sudden genre shift was difficult to adjust to, but because it seemed like a repetition of old patterns with a distinct lack of anything evocative or imaginative to say. These 8 songs are all immaculately arranged, and performed with the most heartfelt of emotions, but I think FoF has finally reached the tipping point where its sound is too darn professional for its own good.

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Jon Foreman – Departures: I’m sure you’ve got your reasons, but I have my doubts.

Artist: Jon Foreman
Album: Departures
Year: 2021
Grade: B-

In Brief: While it’s always nice to hear what’s on Foreman’s mind, the lack of an obvious theme on his third solo release makes it a little more difficult to track with some of the individual songs or understand how they fit into the overall picture. The mostly low-key, folksy style gets a little monotonous as the album wears on, but there are some instrumental surprises as well as a few guest vocalists and producers to help add color to the sound here and there. Departures is a good record with lots of insightful songwriting, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the potential realized on his seasonal EPs and The Wonderlands.

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Five Iron Frenzy – Until This Shakes Apart: Why is grace now civil disobedience?

Artist: Five Iron Frenzy
Album: Until This Shakes Apart
Year: 2021
Grade: B

In Brief: If you can forgive some awkward wordplay and some self-effacing humor that doesn’t quite tickle the funny bone, the celebrated ska/punk outfit actually has quite a bit to say that’s worth hearing on this album. More of it seems to be devoted to politics and social justice this time around, but the message is very much in keeping with their past material in this vein. It’s not quite the home run that Engine of a Million Plots was, but since this is now two albums past the point where we never thought we’d hear from Five Iron again, I really can’t complain too much.

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John Reuben: Greatest Christian Rapper Ever?

Artist: John Reuben
Album: John Reuben
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: Smart as always, but a bit more scattered musically than Reubonic. It’s interesting for Reuben to drop a self-titled album this late into his career, and the broad array of sounds and moods on the rapper’s eighth full-length album certainly sounds like an amalgamation of who he is as a person. But this might be his most schizophrenic record – at least, out of the ones that aren’t that way by design.

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Colony House – Leave What’s Lost Behind: I want to be original material (?) for once.

Artist: Colony House
Album: Leave What’s Lost Behind
Year: 2020
Grade: B-

In Brief: The young band’s third album finds them taking risks and stretching their musical horizons, but not always putting their best foot forward. They established themselves as such great entertainers with the boisterous live band sound of Only the Lonely that it’s kind of a bummer to hear them backing off from it a bit here.

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And then I will be something perfect in your eyes: My Top 20 Falling Up Songs

Here’s an absolutely awful pitch for a band you’re trying to get someone into: “Hey, these guys were childhood friends of another band that you hate with every fiber of your being!” It’s no small miracle that I became a fan of Falling Up in the first place, given how much that little fun fact was bandied about in their promotional details and by Christian radio deejays when the band first debuted. Even for a Christian rock band that was trying to do something more creative and conceptual than their own marketing gave them credit for at the time, I definitely couldn’t have predicted that these guys would have gone on to become one of my favorite bands. Or that they would break up not once, but twice, both times right after delivering one of their weirdest and most wonderful records. Strange as it may seem, the more niche this band’s audience became, the better off they were.

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Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view: My Top 20 Caedmon’s Call Songs

The mid-to-late 1990s seemed like an absolutely fantastic time for just about any Christian rock band with an acoustic guitar. At least that’s how it looked to me, a college kid eager to broaden his musical horizons, who at the time still limited himself to only Christian music, but who was hungry for more “alternative” forms of it than the straight-up pop/rock he had mostly gotten into at that point. While Jars of Clay was definitely the band that kicked off my fascination with more folk-influenced forms of alternative pop and rock, another band soon followed, with a huge folk/rock sound driven by no less than three lead vocalists and a formidable rhythm section, and some incredibly thoughtful and literate lyrics, and they managed to almost as big of a household name within the CCM world. That band was Caedmon’s Call.

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Kings Kaleidoscope – Zeal: Jumping From Jaded Heights

Artist: Kings Kaleidoscope
Album: Zeal
Year: 2019
Grade: B-

In Brief: Kings Kaleidoscope is pretty unique among “worship bands” in that they appear to be doing it for the art. While the sampling and heavy layering of disparate sounds can be distracting and overbearing at times, and the vocal melodies can be a bit clunky, occasionally being more shouted than sung, there’s an authenticity to their songwriting progress that draws me back to this record despite its glaring flaws. There’s a progression from doubt and disinterest, through deconstruction, and finally back to devotion on this record that I find refreshing in comparison to other worship bands whose songs make lofty, unattainable promises of constant piety.


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All Heaven Is Ringing: My Top 20 David Crowder Band Songs

You’ve probably observed by this point that most of the bands I’ve covered in this monthly Top 20 series have some relationship, whether direct or tangential, to the world of Contemporary Christian Music. While my musical tastes are much more diverse today, I’m open to hearing a variety of viewpoints beyond my own, and most of the artists I currently listen to who are Christians tend to operate largely outside the confines of the CCM industry, I can’t hide the fact that Christian rock is in my DNA, and a lot of my longest-running favorite bands came from that world. Most of these bands were known for at least trying to challenge the status quo in ways that sometimes made their religious audiences uncomfortable, and that I applauded them for. But the David Crowder Band might be the lone exception on this list, since they’ve always belonged to the niche-within-a-niche known as “praise and worship”, and I don’t think anyone’s ever felt the need to put a qualifier on it when describing them as “Christian rock”. What makes the David Crowder Band unique in my personal pantheon of favorite bands is that they managed to beat the odds and win me over despite being a worship band at a time when I was really starting to get cynical about the whole idea of worship bands in general.

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