Jackie Hill Perry, The Art of Joy: Humble Beast’s (home of Propaganda and Beautiful Eulogy) big release of November was highly anticipated. Sadly, the main reason was because the release was from a female artist. Female Christian rap artists aren’t nearly as common (or, just maybe, aren’t nearly as celebrated) as they should be, but if Perry’s album catches fire, hopefully we’ll see way more women in the scene. Perry’s Art of Joy is full of sparks, a bold collection of songs that feel more like personal statements than comments on her gender. When you know her story, sexuality and gender roles become inextricably linked with the album’s arc, and Art of Joy becomes more than a great album by a woman- it’s a great album period.
One Direction, Four: When I first started listening to Four, at the beginning of its first song, “Steal My Girl”, I thought to myself, “This is exactly the kind of music I hate.” But thinking and feeling are two different things, and what I was feeling was, curiously, elation. As the first wave of unbeatable, radio-demolishing pop songs hit my ears, the excitement kept building. It was similar to the high I felt while listening to T-Swift’s 1989, which is equally indebted to ‘80s power chords. These albums are starting to make me feel less and less guilty for liking them, and they’re sounding more and more like pure pleasures.
TV on the Radio, Seeds: When for the majority of your existence the genre most ascribed to your music is called “art-rock”, your fans probably expect a little unconventionality from your work. TV on the Radio’s last album, Nine Types of Light, was the most conventional thing they’d produced, and it was consequently their most boring album yet. Seeds is actually just as conventional as Light, with one striking difference: they wrote hooks for this one. While the band may have left behind the endlessly interesting production and uncouth harmonies that earmarked their first three full-length records, they seem to have rediscovered their songwriting skills. Seeds may sound like a mainstream pop-rock record, but the songs are exceptional.
Various Artists, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 Soundtrack: Last year’s Catching Fire soundtrack was a disappointment after the first installment’s rousing, dark Americana success. They made a good decision with Mockingjay Pt. 1 by handing the reins to Lorde and allowing her to curate the soundtrack. She’s assembled a who’s who of artists in the Lorde genre: singer-songwriter with an electronic bent. CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, and Tinashe all make appearances on the up-and-coming side of things, while Bat for Lashes and The Chemical Brothers fill out the veteran end of the roster. I’m sure this will appeal to a lot of people, but it left me cold; after the best song (Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat”, which plays over the movie’s credits), all I wanted was to listen to Lorde’s next album.
Under the Radar
Citizens & Saints, Join the Triumph: Listening to Join the Triumph can sometimes feel like you’re hearing a group that’s not from this world. That’s not to say that they sound science-fiction-y or that Citizens & Saints is a prog-rock or math-rock group. What I mean is that they’re a worship group that uses synths in unprecedented ways to enhance their songs beyond the genre’s inherent simplicity. So, in that way, they sound like aliens. They’d probably have no problem with that either, since one message they seem intent on getting across is that we Christians don’t belong to this world.
Dillon Chase, BDFFRNT: As annoying as the styling of Chase’s album title might be, he makes up for it by turning in a completely sincere effort. I didn’t include this because Chase is from Oklahoma (my current home) or lives in the Dallas area (my former home). I included BDFFRNT because of the exciting boom we’re seeing in Christian rap this year from all corners, and BDFFRNT is a great example of the non-Reach/Humble Beast records that can be found out there. BDFFRNT’s production is generally more atmospheric and loose than most Christian rap albums, but the wordplay and themes in his lyrics could slide right in next to the best. In the end, you forget the absence of vowels in the name and focus on what it means instead.
Stephen the Levite, Can I Be Honest?: Speaking of the Christian rap boom (which is more of an uptick in quality, not media attention, though certainly Lecrae has increased that as well), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lamp Mode Recordings, which is second to none in pushing its artists’ work online apart from the status quo. Releases from Shai Linne and Hazakim have taken their own paths, disregarding the single-to-radio-to-sales format entirely and presenting their albums as whole products. Stephen the Levite is another success story from this Philadelphia-based label, bringing a West Coast style to the mix. STL comes on strong, mentioning masturbation, marital sex, and rape directly in the span of a three songs in the middle of his record. He carries on the bold Lamp Mode tradition of addressing life as it is through the lens of what life in Jesus will be.
Off the Grid
Bob Dylan & the Band, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: I wasn’t able to listen to the 150+ tracks on this collection in the allotted Nov. 1-31 span. I am so sorry.