Hiss Golden Messenger, Lateness of Dancers: I have a vision of the future every now and again. It’s hazy, but I have faith in it. Someday, the clubbers and sorority girls will no longer dance to electronic music or hip-hop. Such over-produced tripe will have faded away along with the con artists who peddle it to the masses. No, in this future I see, the people will dance to folk music, glorious folk music. They will rediscover the instruments that first brought them music: the hallowed guitar and the sacred piano, accompanied by a chorus of percussive instruments. Yes, folk dance music is the future. FDM, we’ll call it. And Lateness of Dancers is the first of many heralds.
Lecrae, Anomaly: So far, Lecrae is the most well-known Christian rapper to the general public, and we should thank God it’s him for a lot of reasons. His albums consistently present the gospel clearly and passionately while remaining accessible and relatable to unbelievers. He’s on the forefront of the music side of things, drawing from his hip-hop heroes but constantly forging his own path ahead, refusing to submit to the whims of the industry. And he hangs out with mainstream rappers; this may be the most important reason of all, because it’s a template for how people who don’t rap for a living should treat their own lives. Lecrae has gotten flak for spending time around people like Kendrick Lamar or Big K.R.I.T. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that Jesus had the same charges brought against him for spending time around sinners. Anomaly is one more step on the narrow path God has for Lecrae, and he’s walking on it brilliantly.
Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams: It can be hard to draw a through-line from one Ryan Adams album to the next. His chameleonic nature has drawn accusations of fakery and phoniness for almost his entire career. I’m sure his marriage to a pop singer like Mandy Moore does nothing for his reputation among indie purists. But, for what it’s worth, my personal experience with Ryan Adams has been with his quieter, folk-rock side, and in that light, his new, self-titled album is his most purely rocking album to date. That’s not including the unfortunate metal EP Adams also released last month, but for my purposes Ryan Adams is the kind of classicized rock music only a dynamic personality like Adams could make.
Robert Plant, Lullaby and…The Ceaseless Roar: Like, Robert Plant was in this band, Led Zeppelin, back in the day. And, like, they made real rock music. But he’s, like, so totally over making real rock music, because, like, rock music doesn’t really get at the heart of what music is really about, you know? So he did, like, folk music for a while, but it wasn’t real enough for him? So he’s exploring world music now, and I think he’s really found himself, like, in ways that you just can’t in rock music or music with that lady from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. He’s expanding his horizons, man, and, well, I don’t really get it, but it’s just because he’s on a whole other level, you know? Because he’s Robert Plant? You know?
U2, Songs of Innocence: I can’t defend them anymore. You could argue that their early catalog is justification enough for their misguided latter days, and you’d be right. But in the here and now, as far removed from Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby as we are, U2 are insufferable. I’m not yet to the point where I want to barf when I think of Bono and his sunglasses, but something in my stomach definitely stirs. There are moments on Songs of Innocence with hints of the great music of their past, and there are other moments with only hints of music. None of it is worth what you have to pay for it. (Yes, I know.)
Under the Radar
Hazakim, Son of Man: This may not be the most high-profile Christian rap release of September, but Son of Man isn’t messing around. Hazakim is a duo of brothers with a background in the Messianic Jewish movement, and the Jewish influence is apparent in strong focus on the Old Testament and several songs that make use of Hebrew. (Or Yiddish. I freely admit I don’t know the difference.) They also fall under the tradition of their label, Lamp Mode Recordings, filled with artists with a bent toward intellectual hip-hop that seeks to explicate Scripture. Shai Linne is the most well-known of their artists, but Hazakim deserve their place alongside him.
Joan Shelley, Electric Ursa: Electric Ursa is the definition of “under the radar”. A slight album that threatens to float away if you don’t pay enough attention to it, Ursa is folk music at its most gorgeous. There seems to be this idea that folk music is all acoustic instruments and simple lyrics, that “folk” is a costume you can put on. Shelley’s music calls bullshit on that with the heavy layers in her production and her haunting, evocative lyrics. This is the perfect record for the onset of autumn.