Listen to the new album from City Psalms!
Listen to the new album from City Psalms!

JFH Staff Blog | ...where the staff speak their minds

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Grace by Jemimah Paine


Hebrews 4:16 says: 'Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.'

God is an immovable God. He loves us deeply and generously lavishes His love and grace on us. The key part in this Bible verse for me is 'let us draw near.' When God created the universe He already loved us before we were even born. Loving and following God is a choice that we have to make. God never stops loving us and never leaves us. We need to choose to draw near to our Father and let Him heal us and restore us to how He created us to be.

I wrote 'Grace' a couple of years ago from an outflow of realising how deeply kind and loving God is. There is a very simple structure to my song: only two verses and a chorus, because I wanted this song to communicate the emotion through the instrumentation and allow time for people to reflect upon and receive God's love and Grace. God never moves away from us. It’s us that move from Him because of our choice to follow the ways of the world and get stuck in sin. We can think that God is distant but we are the ones that push ourselves away. God is always there to pick us up when we fall down. When we fully realise His unrelenting grace, it changes us completely. Despite all the wrong things we have done in this life, God still chooses to love us. There is nothing we can do to that would make Him love us any less. 

Romans 5:8 'But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.'

I want to focus on Verse 2 of 'Grace' as I really resonate with the meaning behind it. God knows the depths of my sin, yet He cleanses and heals me so deeply. These ideas came out of Romans 5:8 with God's love being revealed through the cross. God did not have to sacrifice His son for me but because He loves me, He made that sacrifice. God will not go back on His word. I know that when I call on His name, He will pull me out of deep water and restore me. When I grew to know this truth, it deeply impacted my life, specifically in my identity and my songwriting. I know that my singing and songwriting is an overflow of God's grace upon my life. 

Every song I write is a thank you to my saviour who loves me with an everlasting love.


By Jemimah Paine 

Note: Download Jemimah Paine's song "Grace" for free on the Free Indies Page.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Remind Me by Adam LaVerdiere

Sometimes, we just need a reminder.

Growing up in a Christian home and attending a Christian school, I heard the many truths from Scripture at an early age. I recited memory verses and quoted various passages of Scripture, committing as much as I could to memory. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen so many of these verses become a reality in my life, using Scripture to get me through a multitude of situations and trials.

However, even though we have Scripture to guide us through anything we may face, it seems as though the “right” answer is sometimes the last thing we want to hear when we’re in the middle of something difficult. “God has a plan,” “God is with you,” “He’s fighting for you,” and on and on. As believers, we know these things, but it can be so challenging to accept and believe them as truth in the moment.

I recently had the opportunity to record an album, and one of the songs, called “Remind Me”, is an honest, broken cry to God. As you listen through the song, you’ll hear about struggle, the hard and difficult ground we walk and the heavy cross we carry, and you’ll hear the cry, “I know You’d never leave, but why do I keep forgetting that You’re walking with me still?”

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t hear you? Like He’s left you to fend for yourself for a while? He hasn’t. But again, that’s sometimes not what we want to hear.

This song was actually inspired by some conversations with people in my church, and it’s amazing how God has used it already. After we get through the verses and choruses of the song (the pain and struggle), we arrive at the bridge, a declaration of our new-found strength and encouragement.

I won’t look back; I know you’re right here with me

I won’t give in; I know You’ve gone before

Come what may come; You crumble mountains for me

I won’t turn back; I know You’re holding me up

Whenever you find yourself wondering or asking where God is, listen to this song and be encouraged. He’s closer than you know. And He’s holding you.

by Adam LaVerdiere

Note: Download Adam LaVerdiere's song "Remind Me" for free on the Free Indies Page.


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Taking Off My Grave Clothes: From Meth Addict to Worship Leader by Stephen McWhirter

Addiction is a thief and liar! It is like grave clothes wrapping us in death, and keeping us from moving towards the voice of God. My heart is broken over all who are deceived and tricked into giving up their destinies. The voice of the enemy tells us to escape, but it traps us in a never ending blur of trying to fill a hole that is bottomless. We long to feel good but the allure of addiction is a counterfeit good. God is the only source of good, because it’s His name and nature. If you’ve ever desired good, you’ve longed for Him. Without Him, we are stuck a perpetual cycle of seeking something we can never find. For some, the battle ends in an overdose or prison. For others, they hear the voice of the Lord calling them out of the tomb, to take off their grave clothes and put on the resurrected Life of Christ.

I was in addiction for years. At thirteen, I started down a path of heavy rebellion with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana. At fifteen, I turned to cocaine, pills, and selling drugs. By seventeen, I was a full fledged crystal meth addict, using almost every day for more than five years. To make matters worse, I was the guy who hated Christianity! I would have cussed you out at the mention of the name Jesus. Ultimately, someone gave me a book about Jesus, and that I accepted it without an incident, was a miracle unto itself! One night, around 3am, As I set in my bed, with drugs next to me on the side table, I encountered the Presence of the Living God! We begin to have an internal dialogue that went something like this, “Stephen, I’m real, good, and have a purpose for your life. What are you gonna do about it?” I remember crying out, in response, “God! I want to give You my life! I want to leave behind the life of addiction, depression, despair, and darkness, I’ve known for so long, but I can’t do it!” Suddenly, the Holy Spirit spoke something into me that changed my life. He said, “Stephen, you won’t do it. I’ll do it!” Immediately, I took God at His word, and fell to my knees and gave my life to Jesus. I went from addiction to redemption, from meth addict to worship, because I heard the voice of Life call me out of the tomb. He beckoned me to His resurrection, so I shed my Grave Clothes, the old and dead things that had defined my life too long. Who would have ever imagined what I thought would mark my life with shame would actually mark it with God’s glory!

Today, I am walking out Gods good and beautiful plan for my life, because I responded to the sound of His voice and power, all those years ago. However, many of my friends from those dark days, are either dead or in jail. This has sparked a fire in me to see as many as possibly come to Christ. I believe something is happening in the earth, right now! There is a revival of redemption from addiction, and at the same time there is an escalation of addiction. Right now, stop and respond to God’s voice! He is calling you out of the tomb, to shed your grave clothes and put on His resurrection, put on the fullness of life, which is your Kingdom destiny!

by Stephen McWhirter

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Unfall Track-By-Track Behind The Song by Chase Tremaine

When I was asked to write a track-by-track breakdown blog post about my new album, Unfall, my reaction wasn't, "Oh gosh, what can I say?" but rather, "Oh sheesh, how do I narrow it down?" If you've read my reviews or heard me on the JFH Podcast, you've probably noticed that I can be quite... verbose. Sometimes, I honestly think I could pen an entire book about this album. But I realized that I would love to take this opportunity to hone in on one specific topic: Unfall's relationship to Christianity.

If you've listened already, you potentially thought, "Is this really a Christian album?" You never heard the name of Jesus sung, and the two passing references to "God" seem kind of cynical. To be forthright -- no, it's not exactly a Christian album. As in, I did not create this album to be Christian music for Christian listeners. I created it for my friends, my family, my church, the Nashville emo/pop-punk scene, the readers of (my favorite secular music site), and myself. Each one of those groups includes a mix of believers and non-believers, and I didn't necessarily want to "preach" to them with this record. (Also, I do not mean to give "preaching" a negative connotation there.) However, because I am a Christian, everything I do is informed by my faith.

So this post will be a deep-dive into the ways that the Christian worldview plays into each song on Unfall. I hope you will find this post interesting, illuminating, and informative, and may God be glorified through everything a Christian does or makes, whether that thing seems explicitly, marketably "Christian" or not.


The chorus of the opening track transitions from listing things that don't truly "matter," in the grand scheme of things, to that which matters eternally: people, one another, you. But why is this true? Because I want it to be? Because I say so? Am I speaking this truth into existence or imbuing you with value because I decided that you are valuable?

No. You matter because you were created by God in the image of God and are loved by God. I could have used the instrumental bridge of the song to write more lyrics and to suss this idea out -- this is, by the way, the album's shortest and simplest set of lyrics -- but I don't think that was necessary. Generally speaking, you rarely have to prove this to people. Scripture helps us understand why this is true, but without God's revelation, we still tend to know and feel how true it is. Romans 1 tells us that some basic truths, such as the existence of God, were built into the universe. It's why, with some sad exceptions, a mother doesn't need to be taught that the baby in her arms is a more important collection of molecules than the wood in the stove or the rocking chair she's sitting on. It's why the drafters of the Declaration of Independence had the bravura to assert, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Undoubtedly, the lyrics to "Matter" have a romantic/marital slant to them, but so much about healthy family, friend, church, and romantic relationships is about learning to value and treat others with the worth they were given by God. Also, while our worth might not need to be factually proven to one another, there's a difference between knowing something and feeling what you know to be true. I wanted to write this song because it's so easy to not feel like we matter, to forget the objective worth we have in the sight of God and the relative worth we have in the eyes of one another. Often, we struggle with feeling this truth because we are forced to face with our brokenness; but even our brokenness can teach us of our worth when we remember that "while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). It reminds me of a line I love from the modern hymn "My Worth Is Not in What I Own": "Two wonders here that I confess / My worth and my unworthiness / My value fixed - my ransom paid / At the cross."

Search for Myself

This is one of two songs on the album (the other being "Honest Tree") that truly deal with Christian ideas in explicit, focused fashion. The gist of "Search for Myself" is that modern psychology, be it prescription medicine or personality tests or therapy/counseling, will never be enough to give us the sort of self-knowledge we're looking for. In recent years, I've been troubled by the ways a "know-thyself" mentality has permeated social media and popular art, as if the solution to all of our problems is to grow in self-knowledge and to be true to ourselves. Yet not only can this type of knowledge come exclusively from our creator, but we are also too broken and too limited to truly understand it. Instead, we should find our identity in Christ, the savior of the world, through whom and for whom all things exist.

In a sense, this song runs parallel to popular songs like Housefires's "Good, Good Father" and Lauren Daigle's "You Say," about finding our identity in what God says about us. However, in another sense, this song is saying the opposite; I sing here that we should take the focus off of the ever-shifting sand that is our self-identity and focus instead on the never-changing character of God. In this life, we will be constantly changing, in ways that are good, bad, productive, sinful, neutral, etc. God will sanctify us, life will challenge us, and sin cannot be completely removed from our mortal bodies, as they continue to break down by aging, sickness, and cancer. So when we look at ourselves honestly, what is there to learn except for our very real, desperate, moment-to-moment need for a God who's actually there with us? What we think we know about our un-glorified (pre-glorified?) selves will not stay true forever, but the knowledge of God is a firm foundation.

Worth the Wait

"Worth the Wait" is chiefly about the difficulties of walking away from our past sins. Will we ever be able to forgive ourselves for our mistakes? Will other people be able to look at me the way God sees me through Christ -- with grace and forgiveness -- or will the knowledge of my past forever skew how I'm seen and treated?

Without removing your ability to interpret these lyrics differently, I wrote this song to investigate these hard questions through the lens of someone sharing his sexual history with the woman he's hoping to marry. The narrator is measuring himself up to God's standard, seeing how he's fallen short, realizing that he would've been better off living the way God tells us to, and recognizing there's nothing he can do except hope that his beloved will have grace toward him.

I think this concept is truly important in today's modern era. The #metoo movement brought about many wonderful and necessary things, but in some aspects, the pendulum has swung too far to the other side. Now, instead of merely punishing the men who are proven to have committed sexual misconduct, many are being ostracized and villainized at the first sign of sin, with zero hope for redemption. But redemption is exactly what they need. And while some sins absolutely justify criminal punishment, there is simultaneously no crime too heinous to be forgiven through the blood of the cross.

Programming the Soul

1 Corinthians 15:26 says, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death," and later in verse 54, "Death is swallowed up in victory.” When my former pastor was preaching on this passage, he said something like, "Death swallowed me whole, but then Christ swallowed death whole." That essentially became the first line of this song (with lyrics that were also inspired by podcast episodes from The Briefing with Albert Mohler and Reel World Theology), which is the first of a handful of highly conceptual tracks on the album. Boiled down, this song is a critique of moral relativism.

Here, our narrator has been told that his conscience will not lead him astray, that whatever he feels is right is right. But what if he loves hating? What if, to him, murder is not only acceptable, but even good? The conscience is a good thing, for sure, yet the conscience is not infallible. God's Word, God's law, is infallible. Good, evil, right, wrong -- these are not ideas that society gets to invent for itself. Absolutely morality is based on God's absolute character and the ways in which he chose to create our universe.

Throughout the song, the narrator is faced with the dilemma of people telling him that he can decide what's true for himself, while those same people turn around and hate him for doing what he loves. So which is it? At the end, he asks a very valid set of questions: "Who am I to decide what's good and what's evil? / But who are you to tell me that I'm wrong?" We do have a duty to teach others, to correct and rebuke and discipline, but we do not arrive at this authority by voting to see whose idea of morality is most popular. We appeal to the highest authority: our Creator.


For one year, I met with a biblical counselor every week. If you just read the blurb for "Search for Myself," you might have assumed that I'd be opposed to or cynical toward counseling. (Ironically, even my performance of this song makes it sound like the counselor-character, with his onslaught of questions during the verses, is the "bad guy.") Specifically, I'm opposed to any claims of the full sufficiency of counseling. In practice, I think counseling is part of a pastor's job description, and I'm very grateful for the year that I had with my counselor.

That said, I composed the original version of this song the day before I'd be meeting with my counselor for the last time. What I was hoping to accomplish through writing this song was to set in stone some of the things I'd learned through my years of appointments: to have his questions and insights memorialized, for me to keep reminding myself of for years to come. And much of this comes down to the interrogation of our desires: What do you want? Why do you want it? Does this conflict with something else you want? Which desire is better? The chorus of this song is reminiscent of Romans 7, where Paul states, "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

The life of a Christian, saved by grace and filled with the Holy Spirit, is one of growth, struggle, repentance, and sanctification, as God transforms us "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Corinthians 3:18). We have a new self that is at war with the old self (Romans 7 & 8 are an excellent exposition of the battle between flesh and spirit), and often the desires of the old will beat out the desires of the new. However, by the power of Christ, there is always the possibility for the new self to win, for the spirit to beat the flesh; as Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." In the meantime, as we continue to fail and fall short and require forgiveness from both God and one another, may we remember that we aren't alone, that we're in this together, that God is close, and that love covers a multitude of sins.

Lonely Saints

I am not married. I hope to be one day. God has not promised me a wife, and if he does bless me with one, he also has not promised me an easy marriage. Martin Luther referred to marriage as the "school for character" -- the relationship/ministry in which you shall be tested and stretched to your core. As we are taught quite counter-culturally in Ephesians 5, marriage is not about finding our soulmates, fulfilling our romantic/emotional/physical needs, or even about creating the best habitat for procreation; marriage is about picturing the gospel and proclaiming the love of Christ to the world. It's less about two people being super in-love or super-compatible and more about choosing to lay our lives down for one another, even when that's hardest to do.

"Lonely Saints" (which, fun fact, was written on the same day as "Counsel") is a projection into the future: a cautionary tale about what my hypothetical future marriage could look like if I were to stop caring, stop serving, stop laying down my life. It's a portrait of how my own selfishness could tear my wife and me apart, without even leading to divorce -- a galaxy apart while living in the same house. And that's exactly where the original version of the song ended, with the husband mourning the loss of the days when he still cared.

However, when I was looking at my demos for the album and discerning which ones needed to rewritten, I realized this song needed a new ending, because the wife we see in the second verse is a wife who prays, a wife who cries, a wife who hasn't given up. And what is the gospel if not the story of a God who continues to offer grace and mercy to "hopeless" cases? So while I don't mean to suggest that spouses should always stick it out, regardless of how unhealthy or dangerous a marriage becomes, I did decide that I wanted to end the song with a picture of a Christlike wife, who loves as much as she ever has, even when she's being loved less than ever before.


Of all the songs on the album, especially the more conceptual ones, "Humanizer" is the candidate most likely to be interpreted in a manner that doesn't seem to align with mainstream/traditional Christianity. That's because, in this song, a male vocalist is wrestling with the flirtations of a male character, trying to discern whether his intentions are good or evil. What's more is, in the final version of the lyrics, I decided to leave it completely up for interpretation as to who or what the "he" is (a male suitor? a predator? God? Satan?), whereas the original version revealed explicitly that he was an anthropomorphized metaphor for the future.

What I really wanted to explore and examine in this track was something called the "male gaze," concerning how male desire and pursuit often starts with his eyes, where he will stare after the object of his desire in a way which, for the person on the receiving end, is at best awkward or uncomfortable while at worst predatory and downright terrifying. This is a serious problem, one which reveals how all lustful sin is predatory by nature, and I wanted the final version of the song to honor the anxiety-inducing reality of being objectified in such a manner, while also still allowing for metaphorical interpretations.

Crafting a song where the "he" could be Jesus or Satan or a man or just an idea was certainly an arduous task. I don't totally know whether I accomplished it. But for those who don't yet know Jesus, his pursuits can be undesired and scary, just as much as the tricks and temptations of demons can seem charming and attractive. When a woman notices a man looking at her from across a room, how is she to discern whether welcoming his pursuit will lead to a loving marriage or a destructive disaster? Intentions are hard to read, and the perplexities therein are clear.


Do any of you remember Sanctus Real's album We Need Each Other? I loved that album back in the day, and it's still my favorite SR release. The title track, though, was an uneasy listen for me initially. We don't really need each other, do we? All I need is Jesus, right? It took me a while to wrestle with this and realize that I was wrong: we do need each other. Why? Is Christ insufficient? Emphatically, no! He's not. But we need each other because that's exactly how God designed it to be.

I had bought into the lie of American pseudo-Christian individualism, when in fact, nothing in Scripture is about God saving self-made go-getter loners with a "me+Jesus" mentality. The redemptive story we see in Scripture is one of God saving a people for himself, of Christ building a church that, at the end of time, God the Father will present to his Son as a bride. And even better, we don't lose our individual selves by being part of the church; to the contrary, we discover more about ourselves and who God made us to be by being part of the body, the church, the bride.

That said, "Cave" presents the exact opposite, with a narrator who has started to live life all by himself, inside his "cave," while we watch him fall further into his descent of self-delusion as he becomes convinced that, not only is he fine by himself, he's actually better off being alone. This is one of the greatest lies we can believe or practice. Even if we're using our solitude in a good-natured attempt to better follow God, like the medieval monks, this is a perfect recipe for becoming susceptible to warped beliefs, selfish practices, and problematic interpretations of Scripture that could easily be amended through being in tune with community, church history, and loving accountability.

Honest Tree

We've reached the album's second and final track that I would consider to be explicitly faith-based. "Honest Tree" finds its greatest inspiration in a regular practice that my home church promotes. We call it "Walking in the Light," based on 1 John 1:7, where we take dedicated time to gather into small groups of the same gender, confess sin to one another, and prayer for each other. Whatever sin you confess to that brother or sister gets immediately prayed for... and that's it. You won't be given advice or recommendations or unrequested accountability. We take it to the Lord, then we bury it; and we don't bring it up again unless you ask us to, simple as that. As far as we know, in the church's decade-plus history, the sanctity of this confidentiality has never been broken. And there have been powerful prayers and profound healing in these instances of stepping into the light, for "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."

The lyrics of "Honest Tree," then, detail how necessary yet how difficult this level of honesty can be. Wouldn't it be easier to continue living within the fiction of everything being okay -- "How are you?" "Good." -- rather than dealing with the reality of our weaknesses, shortcomings, failures, and needs? Yes. It would be easier. But following God and doing what's right has never been synonymous with doing what's easiest. And what we risk by not being honest with one another is, ultimately, finishing life having never been honest with ourselves or with God. This is the lifestyle and heart posture that can lead someone who thinks they've been serving Christ all along to approach the throne and be told, "Depart from me. I never knew you."

So where is our assurance? Where lies our confidence that we know Christ and that Christ knows us? It's not found in our strict adherence to tradition, in our record of good-works, or even in our zeal for expressions of worship. In a manner that is confounding and comforting all at once, one of the greatest assurances we can have of our salvation is not that we never sin but rather that we mourn when we do keep sinning -- that our sins sadden and anger us, make us want to pray for forgiveness, stir within us a desire to confess and repent. As James 5:16 tells us, "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed."


A very careful thing that I've attempted to do in small spurts throughout the album, without directly teaching or preaching to people, is helping provide them with the tools of how to discern truth and how to analyze the world correctly. Even though this song is primarily (as the title suggests) about falling in love, and how hopeless it can be in the search for someone to fall in love with you, too, the second verse of this song is dedicated to deconstructing a logical fallacy: that one single shred of evidence falsifies a "never"-based argument. We can ignore the evidence, or try to pretend that the evidence is just an exception to the rule, but if we want to be honest, truthful, and consistent, then we must accept when a "never" statement gets disproven.

Paul deals with this exact type of logic in his letter to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 says, "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." I've seen this logical error come to play in evangelism, as well. Recently, a pair of unitarians visited my best friend, hoping to convince him that God is only one person and that Christ cannot also be God. As part of their argument, they shared the easily disproven (yet oddly popular) misconception that no one believed in the Trinity until the Council of Nicea in AD 325. So my friend pulled out some books and showed them historical, indisputable documentation of early church fathers speaking in trinitarian terms, prior to the year 300. After the duo admitted that what they were looking at was trinitarian belief prior to Nicea, my friend asked them, "So now that you've seen this, do you realize that, if you ever tell someone the Trinity was invented at Nicea again, you'll be lying?"

The hope I'm trying to offer in this closing track of the album is that, if someone has ever loved you, you can no longer say that you are unlovable or that you have never been loved. You don't get to believe that falsehood any longer. For the sake of thematic consistency, I kept the song limited to the romantic potential between only two people (the narrator and the person being sung to), but in an earlier draft of the lyrics, I had a line about how the ultimate thing that destroys the lie that you are unlovable is that God loves you. And better yet, he set his love upon you long before you could have done anything to earn his love -- which means that you can't do anything to lose his love, either. So while I unfortunately needed to cut that line from this song, the fact remains true: "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

by Chase Tremaine 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

About 'Unto Us,' by (the autumn)'s Chris Shalter

A goal that I've always had as a songwriter has been to write an original Christmas song. I feel like writing a Christmas song in some ways can be more difficult than writing a "typical" worship song; I think this is in part because there are already so many established Christmas standards that it’s a little intimidating. I mean, how often do artists just opt to put new spins on the songs we already know? But we felt we had our own story to tell and were eager to get it down and share it!

Verse 1 and the first part of Verse 2 come from John 1, as Jesus is the light of all mankind and the glory of the Father. One of the goals of this song was to point out specific characteristics about some of the “characters” of the Christmas story, such as in the second part of Verse 2 with the shepherds (Luke 2) and how their place in society was described as being lowly.

In verse 3, in talking about the kingdoms bracing against the siege, that’s in reference to King Herod (Matthew 2). And I love how Matthew describes Herod as being “disturbed” by what he knew was the coming and one true Kingdom through of the birth of Jesus. And so he sends out these magi who were considered to be full of wisdom and mystical and are even referenced as types of kings themselves to find Jesus and report to Herod where he is so he can worship him - which we know is not really what Herod was going to do. But yet when they find Jesus, these wise Magi realize they are in the presence of the King of Glory and they bow to him.

So you have these two sets of characters, the shepherds and the magi, coming from two very different standpoints in society finding themselves in unity together in one common purpose and that’s to worship at the feet of Jesus. And then in Verse 4 the focus shifts to more on the prophecy of what Jesus came to do, which was to become the savior for all of mankind creating a new establishment and the singular way to eternal life (Isaiah 53).

And then there’s the chorus, with the first part as a call to all of heaven and the angels rejoicing and lifting a cry of praise at this  (Luke 2:10-14) and the second part of mankind beholding the coming victory through Jesus (Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:7-8).

Overall, we were so happy with how the sound came together and our prayer is this song resonates with the listener, and points them to the truth of love, Grace, mercy, joy, power, and hope that is only found in Jesus!

-- (the autumn)'s Chris Shalter

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Still Place by Jamie Pritchard

‘25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?’ Matthew 6:25-27 (NLT)

Do not worry… I don’t know about you but so often I find that my desire is to live out these words. To live free from worry, free from anxiety, and yet so often that freedom is not what I feel. But the words in this scripture are exactly that… freedom.

My song ‘Still Place’ was written at a time when there seemed to be a lot of reasons to worry, my brother and sister in law were waiting to hear whether a visa would be granted for my brother in law, the future seemed unclear. The worldly reasons to worry, to be anxious seemed high, and yet I was reminded of the beautiful words from Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God’. That truth felt so important to declare over that situation and the words “He is God and He’s on the move’ followed as I began to speak to my soul through this song. When the burden feels heavy on our shoulders and it seems like we are carrying the weight of the world, we can know that is not from God. It is in His power and His strength that we are called to live. He is after all the ‘Waymaker’ He is the one making our way, the weight is not on our shoulders, but rather on our God’s. HIs yoke is easy and His burden is light..

I have throughout my life had a tendency to fall into worry, to forget that I am a child of my Heavenly Father, that my life is of enormous value to Him. I take enormous encouragement from the Psalms, that David would acknowledge where he was at but speak to his own soul, bringing it into line with Gods truth.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.’ Psalm 43:5 (NIV)

‘Still Place’ is a song of myself speaking to my soul, telling it to come into alignment with what I know to be true, a song to be declared over the lives of others. We seem to be at a time when anxiety is prevelant in so many, yet we know that in His presence these things fade away. I pray that this song brings people into a place of stillness and trust in God similar to a great song that came before it…

‘Fix your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of the world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace'

by Jamie Pritchard


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

'90s Christian Music Kids Unite!

‘90s Christian Music Kids Unite!

By: Josh Balogh 

I'm sure we're all biased to the era of music that we heard in our formative years, so I am well aware that many would disagree with my claim that the '90s was the best overall decade of Christian music. I think an argument could be made for the ten years between 1994-2004, but that's a discussion for another time. With this post, I wanted to highlight 50 artists in Christian music that I think was heard by everyone, the cream of the crop, or criminally underrated. I decided to break them up into three categories, which may or may not be helpful, but I thought it a fun way to reminisce and highlight some fantastic artistry. I recognize that some may still be trying to "recover" from their musical past, while others like me are not wanting to ever let it go, so with all that in mind here are my categories and picks for 1. The Essentials (the ones everyone was listening to…aka aka Youth Group Kids) 2. The Deeper Cuts (aka for CCM nerds) 3. The Deepest Cuts (aka The Chrindie Kids) Feel free to comment on which category of CCM fan you would have been in the '90s, or detail where you think I got it wrong. Just be nice about it! For the record, I fell squarely in the combo of Youth Group Kid/CCM Nerd at the time, though I have since learned to love many of the Chrindie's as well. Away we go!

The Essentials
(aka Youth Group Kids):

These were the artists that nearly everyone would have known, or at the very least heard. Think iconic songs like "Big House," "Jesus Freak," "Shine," "Flood," "Consuming Fire," "Basic Instructions," "Stomp," "Baby Baby" "Dive," "Awesome God," "Deeper," and "Testify To Love." Remember when ska and swing were a thing for a few years? It was 1997-2000 timeframe for me, where I joyously skanked to the sounds of the O.C. Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, and proclaimed that "you are the devil, and the devil is bad" while listening to The W's. Chances are your youth group was listening to many or all of these artists. Which of these were youth group staples? What did I miss?

Audio Adrenaline
The Newsboys
Jars of Clay
Third Day
Five Iron Frenzy
Burlap to Cashmere
Smalltown Poets
Allstar United
Kirk Franklin
Michael W. Smith
Steven Curtis Chapman
Rich Mullins
Point of Grace
Amy Grant

The Deeper Cuts (aka CCM Nerds):

If you were listening to many of these artists you probably also had a subscription to CCM Magazine, joined Sound & Spirit Music Club (or a music club like it), and spent countless hours at your local Christian bookstore listening to album demos. In many cases, you may have been the persistent collector who persistently asked store workers to open a cd so I could listen to it to discover your next favorite artist. You could have heard many of these artists on Christian radio, but you had to be paying a little closer attention to have gotten the best of some of them. Songs like, "Look At Me," "All Fall Down," "Possessed By Love," "Two Sets Of Joneses," "Jumping In The House Of God," "Are You The Walrus?" "No One Knows My Heart," "Take My Hand," "New Way To Be Human," "Lovely Day," "Great Lengths," and "Stranded."

The Waiting
Jon Gibson
Big Tent Revival
World Wide Message Tribe
Susan Ashton
Out of The Grey
Eric Champion
The Kry
Out of Eden
Sixpence None The Richer

The Deepest Cuts
(aka Chrindie Kids):

Unfortunately for me, aside from Driver 8's criminally underappreciated song "Waiting For Godot," I was unfamiliar with all of these artists until long after the '90s ended. In my endless pursuit of the perfect 90's Christian music collection, I have spent countless hours reading about, listening to, and discussing many of these bands, with nearly all of them now being favorites. Some of these were one-album wonders (Driver 8, Noisy Little Sunbeams), or bands that had an appreciative, though smaller underground following (Black Eyed Sceva, Dimestore Prophets, Mark Heard, Go Fluffy, Go, Breakfast With Amy). Some were ahead of their time (The Prayer Chain, Mark Heard), some of them fell victim to creative differences, while others are still making music to this day (The Choir, 77's, Starflyer 59). Songs like "Crawl," "Sentimental Love Song," "Nail Holes," "Hitler's Girlfriend," "Banquet At The World's End," "Waiting For Godot," "Where Were All Of You," and "Blue Collar Love," are just some of the cream of the indie alternative/rock of the era that probably missed.

The Prayer Chain
The Choir
Black Eyed Sceva
Dimestore Prophets
Daniel Amos
Go, Fluffy Go
Breakfast with Amy
Noisy Little Sunbeams
Driver 8
Mark Heard
Adam Again
Starflyer 59
Poor Old Lu
Hoi Polloi

Okay, so that's my take…what do you think? Happy listening!





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Friday, July 19, 2019

Quiet The Noise- The Story Behind the Song by Trevor Kleinmeyer

Two years ago my mind was spinning. I was in an intense season with my job, my relationships and almost every aspect of my life! I felt like I was on a fast track collision with burnout. I remember coming home late one night after leading worship. I collapsed into my bed emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted. Ever been there? 

Now is a good time to mention that I brought most of the exhaustion on myself. I have a tendency to do that. You see I have a really hard time saying no to things, especially good things. I love spending time with friends, leading worship, making music (yep I’m a seven on the enneagram) but one too many yesses had left me feeling spent. 

As I collapsed in my bed staring at the ceiling, my brain was spinning. I thought to myself, “I just need a break. I need a time of rest with no agenda, no texts, no lists, no social media, just time spent alone with Jesus.” A simple phrase kept repeating in my mind, it gave words to how I was feeling: “quiet the noise,” That is what my heart longed for. I longed for stillness, for the noise in my life to cease and to find rest in the One who fills me. That night I grabbed my guitar and started writing the chorus to the song “Quiet the Noise.” 

“Quiet the noise til all that I’m hearing

Is Your voice Jesus surround me

You’re life to me

You’re the air I breathe”

As I started writing, I began searching scripture for instances where people quieted the noise in their life. One of the first stories I stumbled on was the story of Daniel. 

I picked up the story in Daniel chapter 6. Let me set the scene.

Daniel had quickly grown to be one of the most popular and favored people in the kingdom of Babylon, specifically in the eyes of King Darius. In fact, it says he so distinguished himself, King Darius planned to set Daniel over all of Babylon.

Daniel wasn’t just favored because of his gifting, although that was certainly a part of it. He was favored because of his character and trustworthiness. How do we know this? Because the other rulers became so jealous of him, they attempted to destroy his reputation. But they couldn’t do it because they couldn’t find any corruption or flaw in his character. Daniel wasn’t just well liked, he had integrity to back it up. 

These officials eventually gave up on trying to ruin his integrity and instead shifted their focus to his faith. In their jealousy these officials proposed a decree to King Darius that stated that anyone who prayed to any god or human beside King Darius within the next thirty days would be thrown into the lion’s den.

This is where the story gets amazing! It says Daniel “learned that the decree had been published.” I want to pause here because this part of the story is crucial. Daniel knew about the decree, he knew that a den of hungry lions awaited him if he was caught praying to God. Daniel was faced with the decision: intimacy with God or fame, power and platform. His response is staggering.  

 “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows were opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” 

-Daniel 6:10

So not only does Daniel continue to pray, he prays three times a day with the windows of his house wide open!! Doesn’t that fire you up? Talk about strength. Talk about courage. Talk about incredible faith.

What a powerful declaration of where Daniel’s priorities stood and where he placed his trust. In the pressure of his greatest adversity, Daniel chose to quiet the noise of his life and get alone with God.

His actions declared what he treasured most. It wasn’t fame, it wasn’t power and it wasn’t his influence. His biggest priority was his intimacy with God. Daniel understood that God gave him his platform and without Him, he had nothing.

I’ve been so challenged by this passage in this season of life. While I may not be facing oppressive legislation, imprisonment or a den of hungry lions, there are plenty of things that are fighting for my intimacy with God.

I am constantly bombarded by all the things the world says will make me happy, give me worth and bring me ultimate fulfillment. These things get in the way of my intimacy with God. Before long they can drown out His voice altogether and get in the way of my relationship with Him. Whether it’s comparison to others, how much money I make, the fear of not measuring up, the number of followers I have on social media, there is a war raging against my soul and my intimacy with God.

I’m so inspired by Daniel. In the wake of all the noise, all the resistance, and in the face of death he remembered where his help came from. He chose to lean into his relationship with God when it would “make sense” to just follow the law and forget about God altogether. He remembered what truly mattered.

It’s my prayer that in the midst of the noise of my life, I would have the same courage and faith that Daniel had. I pray that I would run to the only One who gives me identity, the only One who’s approval really matters and only the One who will ultimately satisfy me. Jesus.

What are the things that are fighting for your intimacy with God today?

You can listen to Trevor ‘s new single “Quiet the Noise,” at this link

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Relient K's Top 20 Songs Ranked

There’s many reasons why Relient K will always be a band favorite, but suffice it to say, they write fantastic, and relatable songs. I’ve already ranked their albums in a previous post, and now I thought I would give it a go to whittle down their deep catalogue to what I consider to be their twenty greatest songs. It’s highly subjective, and I’ve love to hear your favorites in the comments below. So without further ado…



20. “Pressing On” Anatomy Of Tongue In Cheek

Fast and loose punk rock with an ounce of maturity, this is a fun one that features a nice vocal breakdown to slow the pace before racing to its end. It’s a great opener for the follow up Anatomy Of Tongue In Cheek from the fun and charmingly sloppy self-titled debut.

19. “Sahara” Forget And Not Slow Down

A great rocker from the “breakup album” Forget And Not Slow Down. It’s intense and bombastic in all the right ways. The heartfelt plea “Don’t ever turn me loose, even when I turn my back” is a well said, and deeply relatable line from an album full of good ones.

18. “Let It All Out” Mmhmm

Piano ballad, this one is tender and a perfect follow up to the track before it on Mmhmm, “Which To Bury, Us Or The Hatchet.” His rage all expended, Theissen turns his thoughts inward as he hears from God, “You said I know that this will hurt/but if I don’t break your heart/things will just get worse/when the burden seems too much to bear/remember the end will justify/the pain it took/too get us there.” Wow. That’s lyrical masterclass as far as I’m concerned.

17. “Softer To Me” – Relient K

There are certainly other worthy songs from the debut for this list (“Hello Mcfly,” “Charles In Charge,” “My Girlfriend”) but the blood curdling screams of “Softer To Me” following the guitar breakdown has always stuck with me. Great use of dynamics utilized and a fantastic contrast to break up typical punk rock fare.

16. “Savannah”Forget And Not Slow Down

As a whole, I wasn’t in a season of life where Forget And Not Slow Down really resonated with me at first, but it grew on me over the years. “Savanah” is just one of many well done songs from the album. I dig the acoustic guitar accents and the rhythm used in the song, and I detect a certain 90's alternative vibe of which I’m always a fan. It’s a good simmering mid-tempo song to break up what is predominately a rock record.

15. “Forward Motion” – Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do

Straight ahead punk with a great riff and catchy “whoa” part, this has been a long time favorite. “I struggle with forward motion…” Don’t we all. It’s just a fun song to sing along to in concert or in the car.

14. “Local Construction” – Air For Free

Piano pop at its finest, with Theissen’s typical lyrical turn of phrase on clear display, this is both contemplative and clever. I like that it’s observational, relatable, and universally true. This is just one of an entire album of absolute gems on album Air For Free, which I’m hoping is not the last we hear from the fellas.

13. “Forget And Not Slow Down” Forget And Not Slow Down

Acoustic guitar features here again as a set up to what is really a driving alt/rock song. The sentiment is an important one, and they say it in just an off kilter way to keep it fresh. “I’d rather forget and not slow down/than gather regret for the things I can’t change now.” Indeed. This is about a breakup, but it’s easily applicable to any mistake we could make.

12. “Sadie Hawkins Dance”Anatomy Of Tongue In Cheek

Perhaps, THE song they are best known for, I realize some will come after me for it being so low on the list, but it’s just a testament to how many killer songs that are in the band discography. It’s fun, it’s catchy, and it now spans generations. Youth Pastors the world over should make this a staple in my opinion. “Do you like my sweater?”

11. “Marigold” Air For Free

This buoyant, whimsical song is a delight, and then achingly sad at the same time. Some may call it corny, but it strikes the right balance for me. Piano driven, until a mid-song Beach Boys vocal break transitions it to a more driving feel through to the end. The gorgeous harmonies would make it worthy of inclusion on this list alone. This song is only kept out of the top ten for me by the slimmest of margins.

10. “Be My Escape”Mmhmm

This song brought with it a breakthrough into the mainstream music world and it may have the best ending of any of their songs. So. Good. The first twenty seconds would lead you to believe it’s punk Relient K, until it gives way to a piano?! Yes, and it works well the give further layers and depth to their songs moving forward. “All I was trying to do was save my own skin/but so were You/So were You.”

9. “For The Moments I Feel Faint”Anatomy of Tongue In Cheek

Acoustic guitar, strings, and desperately dependent lyrics like “never underestimate my Jesus/You’re telling me there’s no hope/I’m telling you you’re wrong.” Pure worship from a punk band, and a big step up in maturity this one has always meant a lot to me. Vocals are another strong point as well.

8. “Mood Rings”Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right…But Three Do

Essential listening for all dudes, especially the youth group aged ones. I kid, but only partially as I believe Theissen is on to a win win for everyone here. I’ve always admired his ability to cleverly turn a phrase, or add a double meaning to common phrases. And to add pop cultural references to boot? C’mon! “She’s so pretty but she doesn’t always act that way/her moods out swinging on the swing set almost everyday.” Classic. (P.S. all in fun here, tongue firmly planted in cheek if you will ;)

7. “In Love With The 80’s (Pink Tux to the Prom)"Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right…But Three Do

This song makes me smile, I can’t hear it or sing it, and be in a bad mood, impossible. “Do do do do do/pink tux to the prom.” With its chugging 80’s riff, combined with Relient K’s punk stylings and Theissen singing about the breakfast club and tears for fears… what else could you want?!

6. “Deathbed” Five Score And Seven Years Ago

Sprawling story song. Eleven minutes long. Matt Theissen lyrics. Multiple song styles within a song. Jon Foreman. Epic. Enough said.

5. “Collapsible Lung”Collapsible Lung

Easily the best of three good songs (“Don’t Blink” and “Lost Boy”) from the most disappointing Relient K album. “Collapsible Lung” redeems the whole thing from being a wasted effort. I mean, I get the story being told, it was just so un-Theissen like lyrically that the musical direction couldn’t be compensated for. The song is classic Relient K though, “Between the miles of open road/I lost sight of what might matter the most…” A song to wrap an album where he searched for God in every wrong thing, he ultimately and hopefully states, “And I'm feelin' backwards when I'm tryin' the most/And I hope I haven't heard the last words from the Holy Ghost.” It’s a Heartbreaking and hopeful sentiment that we should all be able to relate to.

4. “I Need You”Five Score And Seven Years Ago

Maybe I have this too high on my list, but nevertheless this is an excellent song much deserving of top twenty Relient K status. One of the harder rocking songs they ever did. In it he recognized his need for a Savior and that his prayers have been heard and answered as well. “I have not been abandoned/No, I have not been deserted/And I have not been forgotten.”

3. “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been”Mmhmm

“So sorry for the person I became/So sorry that it took so long for me to change/I'm ready to be sure to become that way again/'Cause who I am hates who I've been.” It’s quintessential Relient K and speaks for itself. Great song.

2. “Getting Into You”Two Left’s Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do

I love this song because it so clearly articulates the beauty of grace, and more specifically the gospel. Surely God can’t want the trade of me, a messed up human, for his perfection? And yet, it is so. For this reason, He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise. Yes, He knowns exactly what He’s getting and He wants it all the same. “I've been a liar and I'll never amount to/The kind of person you deserve to worship you/You say you will not dwell on what I did but rather what I do you say/I love you and that's what you are getting yourself into.” Well said sir, well said.

1. “I So Hate Consequences” - Mmhmm

How can you possible go about choosing a clear favorite song from a longtime favorite band? It wasn’t easy, but he combo of lyrics and music make “I So Hate Consequences” the choice. If “Getting Into You” preceding it on album and on this list is such a great picture of the gospel, then so is this…only it ups the ante. Punk rock. Screams. Piano. A Realization. An unearnable offer from God. “When I got tired of running from you/I stopped right there to catch my breath/There your words they caught my ears/You said, "I miss you son. Come home."/And my sins, they watched me leave/And in my heart I so believed/The love you felt for me was mine/The love I'd wished for all this time/And when the doors were closed/I heard no I told so's/I said the words I knew you knew/Oh God, Oh God I needed you/God all this time I needed you, I needed you.

Hope you enjoyed reading, please leave your comments, and rankings below!





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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ranking Relient K

Band Relient K will always hold a special place in my heart as I stumbled upon them at the beginning of my college years. I have many memories connected to several of their songs as they helped me through school, and then transition to “adulting.” Lead singer, and main lyricist Matt Thiessen, has always had a way with words, and his sharp wit paired with power pop/punk has always connected with me. Many times he sang of frustrations and topics that I was struggling with, and could say, “me too!” Here is my attempt to rank their catalogue of eight full length non-Christmas or b-side albums beginning with my least liked, though near anything Relient K has produced is gold. Here goes...


8. Collapsible Lung

Like most longtime fans, I was disappointed with this one. I think I get the overall story that it was trying to tell of a believer gone astray...searching for love in all the wrong places. It just didn’t feel like true Relient K, and the reason was most songs were written, or co-written with mainstream pop hit makers. As such they lack a certain “Theisseness,” and except for songs “Don’t Blink,” “Lost Boy,” and “Collapsible Lung” I rarely revisit this one. However, all this said, "Collapible Lung" is a terrific tune sure to make any of my favorite Relient K playlists. 


7. Relient K

The first Label release for the Ohio natives brings many pop culture references and raucous power punk. I still listen to this one semi-often, though it’s a little rough around the edges. It maintains a certain amount of charm and nostalgia for me. “Softer to Me” is a highlight song, as are “Hello Mcfly,” and “Wake Up Call.”


6. Five Score And Seven Years Ago

This one came along in 2007 as I was starting to lose interest in the band and my music taste was expanding. Five Score reignighted my love for the band as they began using more piano and heading down a more pop/punk direction sound wise. Songs “I Need You,” “Up and Up,” and “Deathbed” are my favorites here.


5. Forget And Not Slow Down

I was slow to warm to this album as I just wasn’t in a place to receive what is largely a break up album topic wise. It’s one I bought and listened to then ironically forgot about for awhile only to re-listen later and really started to appreciate it. Songs “Forget And Not Slow Down,” “I Don’t Need A Soul,” “Candlelight,” “Sahara,” and “Savannah” are the cream of the crop.


4. The Anatomy Of The Tongue In Cheek

This one is just plain fun and the one I probably listen to in the car with wife and kids most often. The kids of course love “Sadie Hawkins Dance” and I still rock songs “Pressing On,” and “Maybe It’s Maybeline.” This is also the bands first foray into some really good ballads like “Those Words Are Not Enough,” “For The Moments I Feel Faint,” and “Less is More.” A more mature (but not too mature) second offering that shows some good growth musically and lyrically.


3. Air For Free

Now we reach the very close top three of their discography. In fact these last three albums were so close that at one point I had each of them in the top spot before settling here. Album Air For Free is a triumphant return for them as they had taken nearly 3 years between releases. It felt even longer because Collapsible Lung was so unlike their previous output, and ultimately their weakest overall album in my opinion. This one released in 2016, and it is chock full of bouncy piano based pop rock songs. Overall it’s probably their most balanced, and mature work. “Marigold” is my favorite tune, but I also enjoy “Local Construction,” “Cat,” “Mrs. Hippopatomuses” “Empty House,” “Flower,” and “Prodigal.”


2. Mmhmm

This one cemented my love for the band as it hit me right where I was, and with what I needed at the time. It felt like Thiessen had access to my journal and I could totally identify with what was saying. Songs like “The One I’m Waiting For,” “Be My Escape,” “High of 75,” “I So Hate Consequences,” “Let It All Out,” and “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” still resonate to this day. Shockingly, I realized just a few days ago that this one wasn’t my favorite album by them anymore. It had held that title since its release over 10 years ago but it has lost the title of my overall favorite to...


1. Two Lefts Don’t Make A Right...But Three Do

It was a tough call but ultimately there are just too many great songs on Two keep it from the top of the Relient K heap. “Chapstick...” “Mood Rings,” “Falling Out,” “Forward Morion,” “In Love with the 80’s,” “I Am Understood?” and “Getting Into You,” among others, make this album a classic that I listen to often. This is the album I’ve heard most, and the one I return to again and again.


Well, what about you? Did I get it right? How would you rank then differently? I’d love to hear from you. Leave your ranking in the comments below! 

Happy Listening!

Josh Balogh


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Monday, April 22, 2019

The Mad Exchange, by Illijam

Madness. A peculiar madness has infected all mankind, warping the heart and setting it aflame with an insane addiction to worthless, lethal lovers and a disastrous disdain for precious, life-giving realities.

And yet, astoundingly, we have no doubts. We are so certain of our ability to determine something’s worth, trading what we deem worthless for what we deem worthwhile, showing what we consider trash & what treasure. It is a tragic irony how our default disposition is to happily exchange what can heal & satisfy us for the fleeting highs that only further sicken, parch, & slay us.

It would depend who you ask, though. The vast majority would say Christianity is a laughable waste: “Obey & surrender your life to some god? Let your reality be shaped by what some ancient book of fairy tales says? Give up what feels so good? Forego what your heart is telling you? And all for nothing. Insanity — a fool’s trade.”

The Christian responds to this mindset with grieved compassion: “Will you not give up the passing pleasures of sin in exchange for the lasting pleasure of knowing your Creator & Savior? Will you white-knuckle clench what won’t last and can’t satisfy to your soul’s doom rather than repent, embrace Jesus, and live forever? That is insanity.”

And you can wake-up too late. The day will come when the trade we’ve habitually made our entire lives will be eternally final.

Jesus asks us, “What good is it to gain the world, if in the end you lose your soul?”

We all have a choice to make. 

But an ultimate mad exchange occurred once that made it possible for us to even have hope.

God Himself, seeing that humankind had wickedly rebelled against Him, looked down from Heaven. His justice demanded that evil be punished; His great love devised a way to redeem. Exchanging the power, pleasure, & privileges of being God in Heaven, Jesus Christ came down to enter into our troubled, painful world in the form of a human baby —still fully God, but now wrapped in human flesh. Though our Creator, He became like His creatures, experiencing all that we do in order to sympathize with us. And yet, very unlike us, He was perfect.  God planned to make a mad exchange: the eternal Hell & Death we deserved for our sins would be suffered by Jesus; the eternal Heaven & Life only He deserved would be gifted to us.  Our estrangement from God would be suffered by Jesus; reconciliation & Jesus’s sweet closeness with God would be gifted to us.The moral filthiness we possessed would be placed on Jesus; His moral perfection would be gifted to us. God the Father exchanged His precious Son Jesus to ransom sinners like us.

And all that remains for us now is to make the most logical exchange in the universe, with God’s help. By putting our faith in Jesus, who died & rose from the dead to accomplish salvation, we renounce everything and joyfully forsake all others for God. We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus.

His mad exchange affords us the chance to make the only sane one.  Will we?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

“Raising a Monument” by Jenna Badeker of Wild Harbors

Almost two years ago now, I felt stuck.

My husband Chris and I had worked hard to carve out freedom for our life. We were out of debt, we lived in an apartment that had become a month-to-month lease, and we didn’t have children yet. We had jobs that supported a modest lifestyle. With nothing major to hold us down, we could make any changes we wanted to.

We could move to a new city. We could buy a house. We could try to start having children. We could change jobs. We could do anything... And honestly, having so many possibilities available paralyzed me. It was so much to think about that I did nothing about it. I just kept waking up and following the same old routines.

Questions and nudges would come up from time to time. I knew when I had started my job eleven years ago that it wasn’t what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life. Over the years, one or two invitations to try something else presented themselves, and I overthought and hemmed and hawed until the decision eventually faded from my mind. Fear of the unknown and how all the variables would work together tricked me into thinking that not deciding was an escape route, when in fact, it was a decision of its own - a decision not to act and not to trust God in his invitations.

Meanwhile, our music career was slowly growing. We kept getting invitations to perform, and we kept saying yes. We wrote songs more frequently. When it came time to make a new record, we started exploring our options while juggling our other careers and commitments.

We learned that Andrew Osenga was willing to produce the project, and for that to happen, we would need to spend a month in Nashville - eleven hours away from our home in Maryland. My job did not allow for that kind of flexibility. Faced with leaving behind the safety and security of a salaried career, I confessed to Chris that I couldn't come up with the justification needed to do so. It felt crazy. All I could think of were reasons not to do it. Amazed, he asked if I remembered how I had turned to him in so many electric, God-filled moments of our last tour and literally said, "This is why we do this." Conversations with listeners, connections between their lives and our songs, holy moments of the show… I stared back at him, and half-laughed and said, “No.” There were plenty of reasons to try, plenty of moments when God had spoken and made His purposes clear to us. But when I was looking at fear and the unknown of the future, those moments were the furthest thing from my mind.

When we shared this conversation with a friend, she said, "That's why the Israelites built monuments. They were a forgetful people, and they needed physical reminders of what God had done so they could return and remember." Chris looked at me and whispered, "THAT'S the song we need to write. Let's get home."

Our friend was right, of course. In Joshua 4, God has just led his people across the Jordan River on dry ground - just as he did at the Red Sea. This is miraculous! Can you imagine witnessing such a sight?? Feeling the dry riverbed under your feet? Hearing the water rush to the Dead Sea that had been blocking your path? In the moment, it would feel like something you could never forget. And yet, God said, “2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’” Joshua understood and commanded the men to do so, saying, “6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

We know the continuation of the story. We know that the Israelites were headed into the promised land, but that it needed to be conquered. It would be hard. They would forget God. They would stray from the promises they made and beg for earthly kings to rule them instead of a God they could not see. God knew the character of his people, and He helped them continue the process of making monuments to physically, visibly remember the places He moved and spoke. They named places to memorialize what happened there so that they and their children could look back to the signposts along the way. He invited them to use these monuments to fix their eyes upon Him and rehearse his faithfulness to draw them back to Himself.

In the end, we chose to trust God and follow where He was leading. I left my job, we made the record, and I started life as a full-time independent musician. Parts of it have been amazing. And honestly, parts of it have been really lonely and discouraging.

As the journey has gotten longer and harder, Chris and I desperately need the reminder to stake a claim on the moments when we are certain, moments when the cloud of doubt lifts. We pick up stones from significant walks with God. We take pictures of places we’ve seen Him move. We record Spirit-filled conversations and encouragements in our journals or on post-its on the wall. We screenshot texts and posts we never would have dreamed of getting two years ago. Chris even designed a necklace that I wear and that we offer to others who need reminders like I do. We do this because it is clear that if we don’t, we will forget all of it when we get scared. When that happens, we are in danger of straying from the path set before us. We need a tangible, visible way back to those places to remember what God has said and done.

We need to raise monuments, and we will work hard to do so. We hope you’ll do the same.


Said goodbye to house and home

Set off for the great unknown

Didn't we hear that voice

That sent our spirits reeling

Trembling before the choice

but couldn't shake the feeling

This is the moment when everything's clear

We know who we are, we know why we're here

Before all we have are feathers caught in the wind

We'll raise a monument


Mountaintops that called our name

looming closer day by day

Didn't they seem so small

when standing at a distance?

Looking back I can't recall

A path of worse resistance


One day we say we've come alive

The next we think we've lost our minds

Are we crazy, are we doing well?

It's getting harder and harder and harder to tell

It's getting harder and harder and harder to tell

It's getting harder and harder and harder to tell


Write it all down in stone

I know this won't last long

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Josh Balogh's Top 20 Switchfoot Songs Ranked

The music nerd in me loves to compile music lists and rankings, yet I labor and often give up before finishing when it comes to favorite bands. How do you decide? So many songs have had tremendous impact in various seasons of my life. Anyway, here’s my best try at one of my all time favorite bands that I feel like I have literally grown up with from age sixteen on. And so it begins…


1. “Dare you To Move”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

It had to be this one, or the close second “Meant To Live” for me…This is Switchfoot at the top of their game. Best and favorite lyrics come from the bridge, “maybe redemption has stories to tell. Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can can you run to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Salvation is here!” Classic. Don’t ever seeing this one supplanted at number one.


2. “Meant To Live”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

They chased the sound and success of this one on Nothing Is Sound, and though “Stars” and “Lonely Nation” are both great, they’ll never measure up to this grungy anti-materialism anthem.


3. “Mess of Me”Hello Hurricane (2009)

Another in a long line of anti-materialism, everything-apart-from-Christ-is-meaningless songs, this rocker nearly usurps the throne that is the “Dare You To Move,” “Meant To Live” combo, but not quite. It’s a terrific song nonetheless.


4. “Let That Be Enough”New Way To Be Human (1999)

It’s my favorite Switchfoot ballad, full of earnest coming of age realization. Worshipful. Ecclesiastical and yet hopeful. “Let me know that you hear me, let me know your touch. Let me know that you love me, and let that be enough.” Superb.


5. “Where I Belong”Vice Verses (2011)

Foreman revised familiar territory lyrically as he proclaims that this world is not his home, while yearning for eternity. Rarely did he say it better than “Where I Belong” though. This one is a concert staple, and the right way to end a live show.


6. “If The House Burns Down Tonight”Where The Light Shines Through (2016)

It’s frantic in all the right ways as he states, “you possess your possessions or they possess you. If the house burns down tonight, I’ve got everything I need when I got you by my side.” It works as a rocking romantic sentiment, as well as a reminder of what should be important in our lives. People over things.


7. “24”The Beautiful Letdown (2003)

This is a favorite to belt out loud in my car, as well as sing along with the wife. Very hymn-like when sung in concert.


8. “New Way To Be Human”New Way To Be Human (1999)

I’ve been listening to this one for a long time, though I vacillated about including it in my top ten. It’s worthy though…still smile every time I hear the three chimes near the beginning of the song. Also, a great book by Charlie Peacock was what inspired the song, so a bonus reading recommendation too!


9. “Dirty Second Hands”Oh! Gravity (2006)

A prime example of experimental Switchfoot I love the timing in this one, how it changes and seems unreliable…just like the tech that we “need” can begin to steal our time/life. A rant against technology? A rank against technology that ultimately blames us, not the machine? Yeah, there’s layers worth digging into, but it’s also just a fun song.


10. “Gone” – The Beautiful Letdown – (2003)

This one is so fun! It’s the playful and fun side of Switchfoot that shows up less and less after this one, but previously on their debut, and two albums after it. Love the jumpy nature of the song, and the gang vocal harmony approach. They did a more stripped down version in concert that emphasized drawing out the vocals more that still stands out in my mind 15 years later.


11. “Only Hope”New Way To Be Human (1999)

Sung beautifully by Mandy Moore for the A Walk to Remember soundtrack this one also helped launch them into the ear canals of mainstream audiences. Deservedly so.


12. “Chem 6A”Legend of Chin (1997)

This was likely the first Switchfoot song I ever heard unless it was “Underwater.” Memory has faded on that one, I do know I heard them first on one of those 1.99 or free music samplers that were popular for awhile. Simply Fabulous album with hippie color looking cover? Chunky, sloppy, garage band guitar riffs won me over from the start, and I’ve been a fan ever since.


13. “Your Love Is A Song”Hello Hurricane (2009)

This one would fit nicely thematically on their soon to be released Native Tongues album. Lyrics like, “Your love is a symphony, All around me, Running through me…” Lead the way for this solid ballad.


14. “Oh! Gravity”Oh! Gravity (2006)

Some decry this album as one of their worst…and I know why, but I disagree. The title track has always been a favorite strictly due to the out of tune piano mash and it’s frenetic pacing. Some hate it, I for one, love it.


15. “Learning To Breathe”Learning To Breathe (2000)

“Hello good morning how you do? What makes your rising sun so new?” Love this tune! Definitely my favorite from that album as I wouldn’t come to appreciate “Dare You To Move” until later.


16. “Daylight To Break”Eastern Hymns For Western Shores EP (2010)

I can’t remember when I first heard this song, it had to have been shortly after Oh! Gravity era songs…regardless it’s a fantastic Beach Boys inspired surf rock song that I’d loved to have a physical copy. It’s my Switchfoot unicorn song. Hopefully I’ll snag it from a used shop to complete my Switchfoot collection one day.


17. “Stars”Nothing Is Sound (2005)

Switchfoot grungy with a wall of guitars and a killer hook, it wasn’t the first song I loved from Nothing Is Sound, (that would be “Lonely Nation”) but it’s the one that’s had the best staging power.


18. “Company Car”New Way To Be Human (1999)

This is just Switchfoot having fun, and it’s been a longtime favorite…probably top 5 of my most sung Switchfoot songs. Another tune decrying materialism, this was a warm up to their smash hit “Meant To Live.”


19. “Vice Verses”Vice Verses (2011)

First written during their previous album Hello Hurricane, “Vice Verses” plays with the idea of polarity. I love the contrast in the lyrics, and it’s the kind of acoustic guitar based tune that I’ve always loved from Switchfoot.


20. “Love Alone Is Worth The Fight”Fading West (2014)

I could have also gone with the bass heavy “Ba55” here too,  but the joy oozing from “Love Along Is Worth The Fight” sticks out as the one with the longest staying power from my least favorite Switchfoot album overall.


Bonus: Two songs from the upcoming Native Tongues that I think have potential to crack my top twenty ranking someday…

"Let It Happen”

"Dig New Streams”


How about you? What are your favorite Switchfoot songs? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy listening!




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Saturday, January 5, 2019

John Underdown's Top 10 Albums and Songs of 2018

What a crazy year 2018 turned out to be! I spent most of the year stressed and wrestling with life as I re-evaluated what I considered important and navigated my first full year as a father. As such, the music that stood out to me as the best of the year tends to lean into the messy areas of life and faith. How do we keep relationships with others and God vibrant? How do I navigate doubt? What should I do with my life? These albums and songs stood out for the way they came alongside me in my journey and even administered comfort and wisdom.

Top 10 Albums

1.       The Choir—Bloodshot

What a beautifully heartbreaking album! It sounds like what The Choir has been putting out in recent years and yet different. There’s a rawness running through it that hooks the listener and won’t let go as it navigates the ups and downs of a marriage falling to pieces. For me it serves as a cautionary tale of what to avoid in my own marriage and areas of weakness to be aware of. Its angst also mirrored my own with life outside of marriage and that aspect connected deeply with me. It may not be a “fun” album to sit down and chill for an afternoon, but if you’re feeling moody it’s a perfect companion.

2.       Matthew Perryman Jones--The Waking Hours

Ever since his masterpiece album Land of the Living, I’ve been in love with Jones’ knack for beautiful song craft and storytelling. The Waking Hours effectively serves as an answer to his previous Cold Answer EP. Wherein that EP saw a relationship on the rocks, his latest album shows a concerted effort at reconciliation. The songs work well together and the music leaves you with a haunted feeling. It’s not his new masterpiece, but it’s a great work in its own right.

3.       Sandra McCracken--Songs from the Valley

This short collection has given me much to think about. Is it about a divorce? Or is it simply about the messiness of life? No matter how you spin it, no one interpretation sticks to it perfectly. The songs feel ethereal in sound and weighty in message and the listener feels like he/she is peeking in on McCracken’s personal diary. Also probably not to be considered for its “fun” factor, but it is artistic and thoughtful and worthy of more attention than what it’s received.

4.       Stryper--Gosh Dern Evil

Yes, this album is controversial with its title (and title track), but it is also a rollicking good throw-back rock record. Once Stryper hits the gas, they don’t let up making for an exhilarating experience. The songs have timely messages and overall the band feels like they’re playing with more purpose than they’ve had in a while.

5.       Jason Upton--A Table Full of Strangers Vol. 2

I checked this one out after reading JFH’s Alex Caldwell’s glowing review. The album did not disappoint! Jason Upton’s soothing vocals and melodies, mixed with their encouraging messages, brought much peace to a troubled mind through various stressful circumstances. Throughout the year different parts of the album stood out and showed their relevance. It’s meditative and worshipful in a way that many praise bands these days only dream about producing.

6.       Cameron Moore—Alpenglow

This album was perhaps the biggest surprise for me this year. The layered music and lyrics struck me at a time when I could relate to its complexity. The story it tells of moving through a “dark night of the soul” is compelling, nuanced, and hopeful with fleshed out imagery and metaphors running the length of the album. It may not be the greatest at what it’s striving for, but the ambition is noteworthy.

7.       Adam Watts--When a Heart Wakes Up

Another album I checked out thanks to buzz it received on JFH and also did not disappoint. The way Watts crafts interesting music to backdrop honest lyrics is mesmerizing. Each song has its own flavor and keeps things fresh from start to finish. Watts’ years of experience in the music industry shines through the tracks and his heartfelt lyricism gives the listener an emotional touchstone.

8.       Andrew Peterson--Rez Letters: Prologue

I find that I enjoy Andrew Peterson’s music more when he explores the darker side of life and so I think that’s why Resurrection Letters: Prologue stood out to me over Vol. 1. The full album is good in its own right, but the EP is a thing of beauty. Its quiet reflections on Jesus’ death and what that means for Christians gives a fresh spin on meditating on Good Friday. But even beyond the Easter season, this EP is good to listen to all year round.

9.       Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes--Wind Up Bird

Thiessen’s first solo effort in some ways feels like a natural extension of Relient K’s last album, Air for Free, and, considering I enjoyed that record, it’s no surprise that this one made it on my list. Thiessen seems to be wrestling with what it means to grow up and be an adult while still pursuing creative avenues. I can relate to that. The music also keeps things loose without letting anyone get too despondent. It’s a strong debut and makes me wish for more from this corner of Theissen’s mind.

10.    The Gray Havens--She Waits

I struggled with which album should take the tenth spot. Though I was largely disappointed with the Gray Havens’ latest album, I can’t deny that it was thoroughly and artfully crafted. They may be heading in a musical/lyrical direction that I don’t care for as much, but they still do it well. Repeat listens generally raise the record in my mind some. Perhaps a few more listens and I’ll be won over to their new path.

Top 10 Songs

1.       "Coming Back to Me," Matthew Perryman Jones

This song encapsulates much of this year for me. It’s been a lot of thinking about life and having old values and feelings “come back to me”. It’s also a beautifully poetic tune, perfect for self-reflection.

2.       "Survival," Sanctus Real

In talking about where we were at in life, my wife and I concluded we were merely surviving. We realized that wasn’t healthy and started striving to rectify that. This anthem wrestles with similar thoughts and also became something of a theme song for 2018.

3.       "Three Birds in Babylon," The Gray Havens

Undoubtedly the best song of She Waits, in my opinion. It tells a story on a haunting backdrop full of rich truth. It’s what the Gray Havens do best.

4.       "Liberated," Zealand

It’s good to be reminded of the gospel and this song does it in a fresh, energetic way. Sometimes you just need truth spoken to you in a firm manner and Zealand does just that with this tune.

5.       "Bridges Burn," NEEDTOBREATHE

Another song that reflected some of my feelings about this year. There are things in life—whether good or bad—that you must move on from in order to move forward. This song encapsulates that sentiment perfectly.

6.       "God Rested," Andrew Peterson

A song stands out in my mind when it takes something I’ve heard a million times and presents it in a unique way I never considered before. “God Rested” combines the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath with Jesus’ burial in a way that surprised me. The concept is backed by brilliant lyrics and contemplative music.

7.       "Only a Holy God," Here Be Lions

Most worship songs I hear tend to flit in and out of my brain without leaving anything tangible to chew on. This lesser-known tune was different. It combines theology with emotion in a manner where neither is trampled. This song should be bigger than it is for it could easily play in any church context.

8.       "Kindness," Sandra McCracken

I initially thought this was a metaphorical song to God. I may be able to see it that way, but it’s actually about friendship. As this year closes out, I’m realizing in a new way the value of kind friends and how refreshing such people are.

9.       "Mountain to Valley," Jason Upton

“I don’t know what steps to take/And I don’t know what moves to make.” So begins the song. Such thoughts often run parallel in my mind. But as Upton sings in the bridge, “What a journey walking with You, God!” Life with God is an up and down adventure, and I’m slowly learning the lesson.

10.   "Like Your Father Does," Rhett Walker Band

I’m a father now and I’m a sucker for songs like this one. The way Rhett Walker blends together his love for his child and God’s love for His children is sweet and the melody is memorable.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

14 Lesser Known (But Still Excellent!) Switchfoot Songs

Switchfoot, originally known by the name Chin Up, is about to enter their 23rd year as a band. Thankfully, they changed their name, but haven’t changed in their consistent artistry through the years. Now, about to release album number eleven, January 18, 2019, I thought I’d share my fourteen favorite lesser known songs from their catalogue. These span the years, and are no means exhaustive, just the ones I’ve connected with to varying degrees. Hope you discover a new (old) favorite, or enjoy being reminded of a tune once forgotten! In no particular order...



Evergreen” - Happy Christmas Vol. 1 (1998)


A Switchfoot Christmas song! I hear shades of rawness, a la their debut, and pieces of what was coming in their follow up New Way To Be Human. Terrific song.


Spirit” - Listen Louder Compilation (1999)


A worship song if there ever was one, this is Switchfoot in a way rarely seen since, as their mission expanded to include more mainstream listeners. A perfect companion to songs like “Let That Be Enough” and “Only Hope” from the same period.



C’mon C’mon” - Oh! EP (2006)


A steady acoustic guitar strum and Foreman Pastorally encouraging listeners to not live in the past, but press forward into the future. Nothing super special here, though still a solid tune.


The Sound In My Mouth” - Oh! EP (2006)


Definitely a Oh! Gravity-ish song, this one is Jon calling himself out on the truth from Proverbs that, “the power of life and death is in the tongue.” They must have been on a Rolling Stones listening kick, because I hear their influence all over this upbeat one.


Connect With The Spine” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)


Musically this seems like it would have fit perfectly on the Oh! Gravity album. I like the gentle beginning and the swirling strings paired with Jon’s yelping “yeahs” to end the song. This one should have made an album somewhere along the way in my opinion.


Overflow” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)


A mid-tempo song with ominous tones about overthrowing your own wicked heart before pointing fingers asking for an overthrow of the government. Perhaps more apropos now than ever we need this reminder in our polarized nation.


Slow Down My Heartbeat” - Edge Of The Earth EP - (2014)


Perhaps the most “known” of the lesser known Switchfoot catalogue, I picked this one as it’s pretty deeply buried on the companion EP to the Fading West album. The song itself starts slowly with an electronic beat, and slowly builds as he sings “slow down my heartbeat,” with beeps and blips aiding an otherworldly sound until it collapses into musical chaos, only to slowly conclude. Much of the song reminds me of what Radiohead has done well for many years.


Good Night Punk” - Nothing Is Sound B-Side (2005)


A short (and sarcastic?) piano based song from the Nothing Is Sound era. This one playfully takes to task those that mistakenly claim punk as a genre versus an attitude. Never fear Jon, I think you’re “punk enough.”


Another Christmas (Old Borego)” -  Nothing Is Sound B-Side (2005)


A Christmas based loved song to a significant other, and a city? Seemingly, Foreman is broke but in love with both regardless. Favorite line, “this town is a thirty-five Ford in a bad mood.” Another song from the Nothing Is Sound timeframe.


Daylight To Break” - Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)


Easily my favorite from the Eastern Hymns...EP, and perhaps my favorite Switchfoot rarity/B-side ever. Its Beach Boys harmonies and surf rock guitar vibes make it a perfect summer song for the car.


We Are Bound” - “Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)


Anchored by a chiming guitar time similar to hit song “Dare You To Move,” this one is somewhat dark sounding. The ending is my favorite part, though I don’t revisit this song much.


Rebuild” - Independently Released (2007)


A Co-penned Jon Foreman and Matt Thiessen tune featuring both on vocals, and Ruth leader singer on harmonica? Yup, and it’s catchy goodness written to garner more support for organization Habitat For Humanity.



Light & Heavy” - Where The Light Shines Through (Deluxe Edition)(2016)


A song using Greek mythology (Icarus, Daedalus, Ariadne) to try and make sense of seemingly senseless death from Daedalus’ perspective; this might be my second favorite Switchfoot rarity. The bass guitar sets the meandering groove, as the heavy drums join a lightly strummed guitar, all delivering a satisfying juxtaposition.


Stitches” - Hello Hurricane Deluxe Edition(2009)/Eastern Hymns For Western Shores (2010)


Short on lyrics but that doesn’t mean there aren’t depths to explore. What are the stitches that he’s trying to escape from? I have my thoughts, but I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions. Though released later (2009/2010) the guitar and music remind me of late Nothing Is Sound or Oh! Gravity 2005-2008, and it’s likely when beginning stages of the song we’re birthed, though I could be wrong.


So there it is! Which did you already know, and what did you just discover? What did I miss?


Happy Listening!





Sunday, December 30, 2018

Scott Fryberger's Top Albums of 2018

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect for our average top ten this year. A lot of the JFH staff gravitated toward different albums all year, while others didn’t find much to like about the same album. But every album on that list makes sense as far as staff approval. Most of these albums were heavily recommended by and to one another, and it’s a solid list, even if I don’t personally love all of the albums represented. 

My list was up in the air until almost the last minute. But I finally settled on my top ten favorite Christian albums of the year, some of which weren’t shared by anyone else. But, for what it’s worth, and if you’re interested, here’s my top ten and why.

Levi the Poet - CataractsTwenty One Pilots, Trench

I’ve followed Levi for about seven years now, and have never really been let down by any of his releases; singles, EPs, albums, with or without music, I’ve dug it all. But Cataracts is on another level. Teaming up once again with Alex Sugg (Glowhouse), Levi delivered a beautiful, raw, painful, doubtful, reverent work of art. An album that explores the darkest parts of man’s insecurity, and it’s both scary and comforting how relatable it is. The central theme - keep forgiving - is an important one, and Levi’s insistence on it throughout all the doubt, fear, anxiety, and pain is a beautiful reminder that God is still working in our lives, working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. This was the bar for the rest of 2018.

The Bell Jar - I Infest, Therefore I Am

It’s probably not any kind of a secret whatsoever that I love Showbread. I was sad when they released their final album in 2016, but it made sense. But I’m really happy with the first reincarnation of the band in The Bell Jar. Their debut is weird and somehow rocks hard without a single six-string guitar to be found. It’s tracks like “Suck Abyss, Succubus!” and “The Fall of Dubai” that really suck you in and make you wanna kick a hole through the wall, then climb through and belt out to “Suddenly, Seymour” while your friends decide they don’t want to invite you over anymore. Yeah, it’s that kind of album.

mewithoutYou - [untitled]

So, this one is a bit tricky. Personally, I haven’t really connected with a mewithoutYou album since 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright. That includes their untitled work from this year. However, it’s a very clearly well-written and well-executed album that I feel captures the spirit of the band. There’s a rumor out there that this will be their final album; I don’t remember where I heard that and I don’t know if it’s true. But if it is, it may be the best way to make their grand exit. The album even almost seems to mirror their discography, starting with intense screaming and guitars, moving into slower, melodic tracks, and finishing one of their slowest, quietest songs to date, a song that ends with the words “Someday I’ll find You.” What a beautiful piece.

Andy Mineo - I: The Arrow EP

I spent a lot of 2018 taking in new music. Some of that was only new in the sense that I hadn’t actually listened to it before (a lot of old school stuff), and some of it was giving some time to artists I hadn’t previously spent time with or maybe didn’t even really care for. Andy Mineo falls into the last category. Having not been much of a fan of his previous work, I was surprised when I listened to The Arrow and loved it. Thematically, it’s quite similar to Levi the Poet’s album, exploring themes of doubt and anxiety, much of which had stemmed from people in the Church not being very Christlike. Though I found myself questioning some of the theological content (you can read the review I wrote for more on that), there wasn’t much to disagree with, and I actually ended up relating to it more than anything. In a time in our culture where mental issues are a huge focus, it’s easy to forget that Christ can heal that, too. So it’s good that this album is ultimately redemptive in that regard, pointing the listener to Jesus and ending on a hopeful note.

Oh yeah, and the music is dope, too. Listen to “I Ain’t Done” and “...Lost” and I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Van Deusen - (I Am) Origami, Pt. 2: Every Power Wide AwakeJohn Van Deusen

This one came out of nowhere. I had never even heard of Van Deusen until late this past summer when I was putting together our latest free music sampler. I polled some of the staff for more ideas for artists to contact, and fellow writer Josh Balogh brought Van Deusen to my attention. And then I was hooked. Every Power Wide Awake is kind of hard to describe in such a short space, but it sounds great from start to finish, with a cacophony of sounds ranging from rock to indie to acoustic; think Simon & Garfunkel mixed with mewithoutYou mixed with John Mark McMillan. If that doesn’t help, check out songs like “All Shall Be Well,” “Calling All Cowards,” and “How Long Will You Wander, My Wayward Daughter?”

Must Build Jacuzzi - Last Place

Okay, I fully expected to be the only person with this album on my list, and I get it, but it’s still a bit disappointing. MBJ is the resident skacore band signed to Indie Vision Music. After their last release, the Chugz & Nugz EP, I had little to no expectations for them, but Last Place really caught me by surprise. This is a solid album filled with fun, humor, faith, and lots of growing up. It’s also a mixed bag of genres, with ska at the center and punk, hard rock, and hardcore around the edges. “Smoke Rings” is a great example of this genre-transcending style. I revisited this album multiple times throughout the year and enjoyed it each and every time. It’s not something for everyone, but I highly recommend checking this out if you’ve got 40 minutes or so to spare.

Peabod - Healthy Snacks

Another album that took me by surprise. We got this album from Centricity after it came out, but with not even a whisper of his name before that. I took a chance on Peabod and was very pleasantly surprised. A singer/songwriter at heart, Peabod’s first hip hop endeavor is full of life, joy, and good times. He’s even won over some of my friends and family that don’t usually listen to hip hop, which is great news for me. It’s very accessible and poppy, but is great for repeat listens and for bringing you out of a funk. Even the album’s sad song, “Ok,” is hopeful at its core. Peabod has since dropped two singles, both of which have gotten multiple listens from me, and whatever he does in the future will definitely be on my radar.

NEEDTOBREATHE - Acoustic Live, Vol. 1

I hesitated to put this on my list based on the fact that it’s not a studio album and contains no new material from the band (save for a cover song or two). In the end, I decided to run with it, because it truly is an album I enjoyed a lot this year. NEEDTOBREATHE’s song transition into an acoustic setting perfectly, the band sounds amazing live, and the recording and production is clear and perfect. One of the best parts of a live album is hearing the band talk with the audience and engage in a little banter between songs, and it was nice to hear some of that here. Here’s hoping that more of this is coming down the pipeline (and that their next studio album revisits the southern rock sound a little more and the pop a little less).

Jackie Hill Perry - Crescendo

My anticipation for Crescendo was through the roof. It had been four years since Perry’s last album and I was counting down the days for the follow up. After a number of listens, I had the same experience I had with mewithoutYou’s album; I recognized how excellent it is without connecting to it personally. So it’s actually a little difficult to write about. But there is a lot to like about it. Crescendo presents us with a Jackie Hill Perry who seems to be going through a rough season of life. A lot of the songs sound weary and maybe even slightly lamenting on occasion. However, the despair is combatted with hymns scattered throughout the tracklist. There’s also never a single moment where the Lordship of Jesus Christ is forgotten. My personal favorite track is “Hymn,” which features a slew of legends of the CHH world: The Ambassador, shai linne, da TRUTH, and Braille. This is a terrific follow up to The Art of Joy and is more than worth your time if you enjoy hip hop.

The Gray Havens - She Waits

Every time Dave and Licia Redford release new music, it takes some time before I really appreciate it. Fire and Stone took me a good long while, and it was only near the end of 2015 that I realized I had spent so much time with it and enjoyed it all. She Waits hasn’t hit me in quite the same way, but it’s a terrific indie pop album that’s filled to the brim with the hope of Jesus. The title track alone paints a beautiful picture of the bride of Christ patiently waiting for her bridegroom to return. I also really took to “Storehouse” and the somewhat out-of-character “High Enough.” The album is also full of beautiful melodies and music that feels really good to the soul. Again, it’s a bit of a grower, but it’s well worth the time it takes to fall in love with it.

Honorable mentions:Twenty One Pilots, Trench

The Choir - Bloodshot
Dens - No Small Tempest EP
Ethan Luck - Let It Burn
Fit For A King - Dark Skies
Future of Forestry - Union
Josh White & Josh Garrels - Josh White & Josh Garrels EP
Matthew Thiessen and the Earthquakes - Wind-Up Bird
Off Road Minivan - Spiral Gaze EP
Sleeping Giant - I Am
Twenty One Pilots - Trench

-- Scott Fryberger, JFH Staff Writer


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Friday, December 21, 2018

Songs For When You Feel The World Is Broken: Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell’s Top Albums Of 2018

2017 (almost two year ago now) was a pretty tough year for me in that I had a work-life setback that threw me for a loop. Though the details are decidedly mundane and ordinary, it threw me into a funk that represented the lowest I’ve felt in my adult life. Looking back I understand where the depression came from, like looking back at a play in slow motion on a football broadcast. I had just graduated from a literature grad school program (with honors, thank you very much) and finished up a dream job as a worship leader at a summer camp (complete with a lakeside cabin for the family!). Then a crazy series of setbacks professionally sent me reeling into the fall. That season is magical here in New England, but I felt as dull and lifeless as a New Hampshire February. I was stuck and falling fast, and in a despondency I’ve not really encountered before. (I have a fairly “up” personality, and that has brought me through a few downtimes.)

Thankfully my close family and Church family rallied around me, and supported me in a way that I wish every person could experience. Systems of support are critical, and the joy that I have in thinking about these people, and their role in my life is a blessing that I’ll carry with me always. 
Thankfully 2018 has been much better. I feel resurrected, with new energy and focus. Part of this is due to a friend who insisted I exercise with him, and gradually rounding into shape was a needed thing. Also, my lovely wife and I took a second (or third?) honeymoon to a spectacular local that recharged my batteries. There were a few professional steps forward, and it’s the kind of year I’ll take. There was even a major car accident in there that didn’t throw me. (Woe to me if that had happened a year earlier!)
And so, when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s masterful Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (including the completely necessary prologue), I rejoice that resurrection both occurred in an epic, historic fashion to save my soul, and that personal resurrection is constantly happening in my own life. It’s the grace of God that put wonderful people in my life (a “three-fold chord is not easily broken") and brought my feet out of the pit (out of the mirey clay). Peterson captures both the brokenness of this world and the light that Christ brought by both entering into it along side of us (at his birth, celebrated at Christmastime) and ultimately his death and resurrection for the sins of the world. Peterson has now made a full cycle celebrating the life of Jesus in his classic Christmas project Behold The Lamb and now this three-part meditation on the events of the crucifixion. 
This is what I wrote in my review:
Not since Star Wars Episode 1 has a prequel taken so long to arrive, and unlike that abomination of a film, Andrew Peterson's Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 (and the prologue of songs that starts the action off) was utterly worth the wait. Ten years after Vol. 2 was released, this walk-through of the death and resurrection of Christ in epic song form matches Peterson's beloved work on Christmas, Behold The Lamb, with its nuanced storytelling and artful and epic songwriting. Kicking off with the haunting "Last Words (Tenebrae)", Peterson layers the seven last statements of Christ in a rhythmic and repeating melodic pattern that circles around and demonstrates Peterson's masterful touch with a phrase and a melody. Walking through the death of Christ on the cross and the heavy atmosphere of that day, the prologue deftly sets the stage for the triumphal following act. "His Heart Beats" leads the resurrection portion of the main album with a celebratory tune that ranks with Peterson's finest moment of songwriting. "Remember Me" (based on the words of the penitent thief on one side of Christ) and "I've Seen Too Much" show Peterson spinning well-known sections of scripture (Like St. Peter's confession of who Jesus truly was) into something new, with fresh angles and deep insight. With echoes of such classic songwriters as David Gray, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, Peterson's musical pallet is growing wider every time out of the gate. Andrew Peterson is so much more than just a songwriter at this point. With four novels, a thriving blog and a film to his credit (along with ten-plus fantastic albums), he's approaching C.S. Lewis territory with his poetic and beautiful exploration of faith and the human condition. Listening to both volumes of Resurrection Letters is to listen to a master at the height of his craft, diving into the most important and epic rescue story ever told. 
Lauren Daigle’s Look Up Child (my favorite album title of the year) likewise spoke to hope. The title track is a call to heed the Psalmist’s advice and “look up to the hills” in times of trouble (the ancient Psalms would often use the geography of Israel as metaphors for the Lord.).
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
The title track is perhaps the best song here, and serves as a pulsating anthem of hope. Again referencing the Psalms, with the instructions to "look up" in times of trouble; the lyrics are poetically rendered in a way that gives hope without being cloying or speaking down to the listener. That might be Daigle's greatest strength on Look Up Child, the relentless, encouraging, positive drive in the music and lyrics. The theme of hope can be handled in hackneyed fashion in much of Christian music, but Daigle takes her calling seriously, and handles the theme deftly. Ending with the old hymn, "Turn Your Eyes On Jesus," is a great way to bring the album's theme full circle. There may be a few too many slow-rise ballads here, but Look Up Child is a very good follow-up album, and in terms of sheer quality and sophistication, it's also one of the year's best and most mature work.
Remedy Drive wove hopefulness into their dynamite album North Star. The title itself is a reference for the star that runaway southern slaves would look to for guidance on their journeys north to freedom. 
Here’s what I wrote about this album:
Dealing with huge themes (human trafficking, militarism, nationalism, consumerism, war mongering) within a Christian context is rarely done this well, and this tunefully. Remedy Drive's sonic template here suggests a slightly lower budget Coldplay or Radiohead, but the combination of a powerhouse message against the backdrop of gorgeous and urgent songwriting makes The North Star a contender for best album of the year. There is a vital need for Old Testament style 'speaking truth to power' in these confusing times, and Remedy Drive has crafted an epic, challenging and heart-breaking record to do just that.
Matthew Perryman Jones (who had my favorite album cover of the year) wrote about waking up from a long period of slumber (the metaphorical kind) on The Waking Hours and seeing the world anew. This resonated with me too.
Here’s a piece of my review for that album:
With a strong theme of waking up to what is truly important, and taking the time to examine your life, The Waking Hours is as introspective and searching as it is beautiful. It's the rare form of music that captures the feeling of looking at a sunset in a beautiful place and letting the scene spur something deeper inside you. Art, at its best, hints at another world than this one, and Matthew Perryman Jones continues to exceed in writing the sort of evocative tunes that call for scenery and deeper thought. The Waking Hours is perhaps aptly named, in that its songs are mostly of the sleepy kind (for truly upbeat MPJ, check out Land Of The Living). But they serve the album's theme well. It's a record that's perfect for the winter months of contemplation and introspection and you'd be hard pressed to hear a more gorgeous slice of sadness and hope this year.
No band does the theme of “joy” any better right now than Rend Collective. But on Good News, the band added some needed lament to their manic energy, and released their best, most cohesive album. It’s one that brings into the light all of the emotions and experiences of life:
Joy is an elusive thing. Happiness comes and goes like the ocean tide, but true joy--the deep-down, foundational kind--is a quality to be celebrated and cultivated. And no band does ‘joy’ like the Irish quintet, Rend Collective. And their new album, Good News, is a masterful and rowdy celebration of what brings true joy to a soul, the Gospel message. Gospel is an old English world for “good news” (‘good’ plus “spell“, which was a phrase for news before it came to mean something magical, as in the old-timey phrase “sit a spell“.) Similar to the phrase “Godspeed” (both words have little to do with the Lord, the “god” in both cases was a shortening of ‘good”), Gospel has come to mean a host of different things in the modern day, like the genre of music or a kind of church denomination. But the core idea has remained. Followers of Christ have responded to the best kind of news, that through Christ and his death and resurrection, we can be restored to fellowship with the divine. But too often, that good news can get lost or swamped by the paranoia of times. After a rough 2016 and ‘17 (particularly here in the U.S.), Rend Collective has decided to unabashedly shine a light, and not just curse at the darkness. And the great thing about Good News is that they have widened their musical palette while still cranking up the energy and rowdiness of their past albums.
The Choir’s Bloodshot was the most emotionally devastating album I heard this year, with main lyricist (and friend of mine) Steve Hindalong tracing the path of his divorce, and the ramifications of seeing a longtime marriage end. But there was hope there too:
You aren't likely to hear a heartbreaking subject like divorce treated with this level of transparency from a standpoint of faith in many places. Bloodshot is a heartbreaking and moving listen, with a veteran band's level of attention to detail. The music fits the theme just right, and while it might be a tough listen for many, it is an important conversation that The Choir puts to music beautifully. With the depth of a fine film, this veteran band keeps moving forward through all the mine fields that life in our fallen world has to offer.
Audrey Assad’s Evergreen had a title and theme that I could get behind. Here in dear old New England, the evergreen trees are what’s left after the glorious fall colors have left the deciduous trees barren. Assad’s use of this metaphor for survival (and thriving) in harsh conditions hit home for me. The album is as lush and full as the pine forests in my beloved home state of Maine, and my newfound home here in New Hampshire.
Mat Kearney’s musings on relationships (CRAZYTALK), Plumb’s continued focus on healing (Beautifully Broken) and Blanca’s theme of recovery and healing (in the wake of her mother’s terminal illness) on Shattered all resonated with me too.
In the final analysis, it’s difficult to call these albums the “best” of the year. But I can easily call them my favorite. Music is a gift from above, a way to parse the events of your life and give them a soundtrack that resonates in years to come. In a year where the sun came back out again, these were the songs that brought that theme to the surface and cause me to thank the Lord for continued resurrection.

--- Alex 'Tin Can' Caldwell




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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Josh Balogh's Top 10 Albums of 2018

 Another year of music is in the books, which is hard to believe as it seems the years fly by faster and faster. This was a different year for me, as I felt that a lot of the mainstream Christian music scene failed to deliver on my expectations. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe I’ve just been around far too long, but I felt a little let down by several highly anticipated albums. It seems as though a good majority of Christian music is in a rut. So, I endeavored to look to the fringes and independent music more than I typically would. Not all of my “finds” could make this list, but I will highlight a few honorable mentions at the end. In the meantime, here are the ten albums, and ten songs that I returned to the most often this year. I’d also love to hear where you agree or disagree, and what your favorites from the year were. Happy listening friends!


1.     John Van Deusen – With Every Power Wide Awake

John Van Deusen 

I have been effusive in my praise of this one since it first captured my attention in January of this year, and for good reason. It’s easily more most listened to album of the year at more than fifty times through in various formats. The album sounds great on all of them, and would be the rare album worth owning on vinyl is my opinion. Heartfelt, earnest, worshipful, and moving, John Van Deusen has crafted my favorite album of the year, and it wasn’t even in doubt. Favorite overall track is “Calling All Cowards,” but you need to make the time to soak in the title track, letting the message wash over you. It’s epic in all the right ways. Other highlights are “None Other,” and “I Will Praise You Name, Yahweh.” Lyrically deep, without being inaccessible, and musically interesting without falling into common worship music pitfalls, this one is highly recommended. If you didn’t happen to catch this one, check out my further thoughts on the album in the indie review section, as I go into more detail on why I loved it so much.


2.     Twenty One PilotsTrench

Twenty One Pilots, Trench 

There is much that I could say about the backstory of the album, but suffice it to say, I think that Tyler Joseph is a master artist. If you’ve dug into the layers of this one you know what I mean. Not only is their incredible attention to detail in the lyrics and music, but a vast story that you can spend hours dissecting. Or, if you prefer, as my kids do, just bop along to some catchy tunes. Also, these fellas know how to do a live show, proving that the fan and critical praise heaped on them is more than justified. There’s a strong reliance on hip-hop on Trench and it makes for a cohesive listen, which was greatly assisted by Paul Meany of Mutemath with his co-producing credits. The bass heavy “Jumpsuit” is my overall favorite, but the trip along hip-hop of “Chlorine,” the eerie statement song “Neon Gravestones,” and the reggae influenced “Nico And The Niners” are all terrific as well. Also, don’t miss the weary, yet hopeful closing song “Leave The City.”


3.     The Gray Havens - She Waits

 The Gray Havens, She Waits

I quickly became a fan of indie husband and wife duo The Gray Havens after being introduced to their album Fire & Stone from 2015. I enjoy their narrative folk/pop approach to making music, and had high hopes of this one prior to its release. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Fans of their previous folk sound may not love the new pop/hip hop vibes that it employs, but I for one enjoyed the musical direction. I think that “Three Birds In Babylon” is a fantastic song, and I claim it as my overall favorite song from the year. I spent much time examining the lyrics to figure out the meaning of the song, and though I was ultimately wrong in my interpretation, it made for a rewarding experience not ruining the song for me at all. If you enjoy lyrics that may require some study, this one may just be your jam. Along with “Three Birds In Babylon,” “She Waits,” “High Enough,” Storehouse,” and “Forever,” are my favorite songs. It is a short, but sweet listen that kept me coming back again, and again.


4.     Rivers & RobotsDiscovery


Silky smooth vocals, worshipful lyrics, ambient tones, and a combo of organic and electronic music, make this a match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. There’s an occasional Mutemath vibe, mixed with an Explosions in the sky guitar tones that hits the spot. Some would call it sleepy, or perhaps boring, but as far as worship music goes, I think this is near the top of the best of the year. “Author And Protector,” “Burn For You,” “Overflow,” and epic closing track “Forevermore” make up my favorite songs. Great background music to absorb at work, or chill to with a cup of coffee.


5.     Lauren DaigleLook Up, Child

She’s been all over the mainstream market this year, and deservedly so, as Look Up, Child is a step up from her stellar debut How Can It Be. Adele comparisons aside, there is plenty here to like from Lauren. Yes, vocally she does sound like the aforementioned songstress, but she also can just flat out sing. The first half of the record is the most immediately accessible, but she takes some artistic chances on the back half, so I encourage listeners to hang longer there. “You Say” is as strong of a pop song that’s come along in a while, and its worlds better than much than the mainstream pop world is producing message wise. As I mentioned, the second half of the album is worth extra attention starting with the soaring “Love Like This,” continuing with the smoky “Losing My Religion,” and ultimately culminating with a Lauryn Hill-like cover of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Everything on this album is bigger, and grander sounding, which does not always equal better, but ultimately Look Up, Child is a step forward for Daigle, and deserving of all the praise heaped on it.


6.     Andrew PetersonResurrection Letters Vol. 1


Full disclosure, this album would have likely made my top ten of the year for the songs “His Heart Beats” and “Is He Worthy?” alone, but there are plenty of things to like about Peterson’s labor of love project Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1. With a few electronic flourishes in the percussion, this plays less like his folky beginning, though it retains enough of that sound that longtime fans will still find much to enjoy. I could see this album being utilized to great effect for Easter services all over the world in 2019, and I surely hope that the call and response of “Is He Worhty,” makes a few services at the very least. The joyous “Maybe Next Year” and the earnestly hopeful “Rise Up” are two additional highlights worth checking out. All in all, this is one of my favorite Peterson Releases, and I’m grateful that he endeavored to make it.


7.     MAEMultisensory Aesthetic Experience


Another band that I haven’t spent much time with since their classic The Everglow album in 2005. I have no real excuse, but since hearing this one I’ve gone into their back catalogue and it’s all fantastic. For Multisensory Aesthetic Experience, I enjoy it most with my earbuds in. I spent several late nights listening to and loving songs like “Sing,” “5 Light Years,” “No Promises (10001001100) and “Let It Die.” With each listen I found a different musical nuance to appreciate, and this is an album I would say I can “feel” more than understand if that makes any sense. I’m not totally certain why I like it, but I know that I do.


8.     Matthew Thiessen & The EarthquakesWind Up Bird


I was insanely curious to hear what Thiessen would come up with after the more than ten years of teasing a side project. I was expecting more piano based pop, but I was pleasantly surprised to get more guitar driven songs. “Forest” is easily my favorite song, with its playful tone and Ellie Schmidly’s charming guest vocals. But “Man of Stone,” “Wind Up Bird,” and “Climb” are also ones I return to often. Though it ultimately took me by surprise the musical direction he took, I’m not mad at all, and I hope that there ends up being more of Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes. Just not at the expense of new Relient K please!


9.     Kevin MaxAWOL


At first listen, I wasn’t sure I could follow Kmax into the 80’s new wave musical direction, but over repeat listens it only grew on me more. That is always the sign of a great record. He was born to make an album like this, which includes odes to his heroes from the era, without aping any one of them fully. I tend to revisit the back half of the album most, with tracks like “Brand New Hit,” “AWOL,” “Irish Blood Up,” and “Cornucopia Of The Soul,” but “Melissa” is a fine opening song, and “Prodigal” is a highlight as well. Very cohesive and artfully crafted, AWOL might not be for everyone, but it should be.


10. Mewithoutyou Untitled


Okay, so I have to admit that Mewithoutyou isn’t a band that I’ve kept up with well. I enjoyed 2006’s Brother, Sister and haven’t checked in on them until several JFH staffers recommended checking this one out. I went into it with no expectations, and left highly impressed. This one was teetering on the cusp of being replaced by a few other albums, but I ultimately decided to include it in my top ten because of the musical intensity. Typically I need to dig into lyrics to really enjoy an album, but for whatever reason I’ve suspended that requirement for this album and just allowed the sheer force of the musicality alone to draw me in. Favorite song is “Julia (or ‘Holy To The Lord On the Bells of Horses’) and though the middle of the album starts to lull, it’s the right amount of calm before the fiery conclusion of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” and the calm of “Break On Through (To the Other Side) {Part 2}.” This one needs to be close to your ears in headphones to fully immerse yourself in the rage-quiet-rage dynamic that they pull off flawlessly throughout the album. 


Honorable Mentions: 


1. Matthew Perryman Jones - The Waking Hours

2. Chris Renzema - I'll Be The Branches

3. Future of Forestry - The Union

4. For King & Country - Burn The Ships

5. Adam Watts - When A Heart Wakes Up



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Monday, December 10, 2018

Operation: Liquid Exorcist - By Rusty Shipp

Back in April, I (Russ T. Shipp) went on my annual retreat to a monastery, but unlike years before when I retreated in pursuit of realigning myself with my life's purpose, this year I had a new objective: create the concept for a musical project that was more ambitious and creative than "Mortal Ghost." This goal was made more challenging by the fact that my band Rusty Shipp's previous release, "Mortal Ghost," had just been named #2 album of 2017 in all Christian music by and then went on to win the award for Album Of The Year in the 2018 JFH Awards, among other prestigious accolades. But after 3 days of silent meditation, writing every Nautical Rock 'n' Roll idea I could muster, it was in the very last hour before I had to go back to Nashville that the concept I was looking for suddenly struck me:
"Liquid Exorcist."

To live up to the goal of making something more ambitious and creative than our last album, we decided to make our first full-on concept record with all the tracks painting a picture of a chronological story. The story of Liquid Exorcist follows an evil organization that has laced the ocean with a hundred sea mines, causing war with their enemies and innocent sea-dwellers alike. Long after the war, some mines remain adrift in the ocean awaiting collision with innocent passersby. 

This underwater setting of the story is where the term "liquid" comes into play, and the sea mines are like a kind of "exorcist"--explosively casting out the spirits of anyone who collides with them. This metaphor of "exorcism," i.e., the casting out of a spirit from the body, is a theme that appears in every song on this record, reflecting the different experiences of the souls affected by this marine warfare. 

For this new EP we're really drawing out the ingredients of our staple "Nautical Rock 'n' Roll" sound in bold and experimental ways to tell the story of Liquid Exorcist. While progressing the sounds of this new genre, we're also channeling our roots to give homage to our collective influences, such as doing a Chris Cornell tribute song and songs that are an obvious nod to 60's surf rock, prog rock, and Nirvana-esque grunge pop.

Since we're an independent band without a record label we'll need to cover all the recording costs ourselves, so we're giving people the option of preordering the record and some special, exclusive merch in an attempt to fund the recording expenses. We're selling things like band equipment, exclusive t-shirts and stickers, hand-written lyrics, a Skype session with the band, a video of us performing ANY song of your choice, and also the opportunity for us to come play a private show for you! ALSO, everyone who contributes ANY amount will immediately get a private link to our brand new music video that has not yet been released to the public! There's less than a week left to preorder from our Indiegogo page HERE:

We in Rusty Shipp want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the staff and followers of, who single-handedly catapulted our music onto the global stage! After becoming the first independent artist to ever win Artist of the Year and Album of the Year in the JFH Awards, many doors of opportunity have been opened to us and continue opening to this day! Even last week I (Russ T.) had one of the greatest experiences of my life when I was invited by my favorite singer, Kevin Max from dc Talk (who we barely beat out for Artist of the Year, I might add!), to be the only guest vocalist at his annual Christmas concert and sing a duet with him!  Amazing, providential things are happening almost daily for us and we're excited to experience them with all of you! 


~Russ T. Shipp, AJ Newton, Elijah Apperson, and Andrew "Speedy" Speed

*The guys talking about their new project*


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Friday, November 9, 2018

Josh Balogh’s Christian Music Wish List

The following list is simply one long time Christian music fans eighteen wishes regarding Christian music. It’s a just-for-fun list of the things I’m hoping for, or that I’d like to see happen. I realize that outside of an actual time machine some are impossible, but hey, one can dream right?! Here we go...

1. I wish my favorite band Jars of Clay would release some new music. Even one original song would do! I miss them 😢.
2. I wish that people criticizing Christian musicians like Lauren Daigle/Lecrae for appearing on talk shows would chill, and be happy that their influence is expanding.
3. I wish Dctalk would figure this out and do a stadium tour already. Please!?! (A new album with Paul Meany or Rick Rubin producing would be welcome too.)
4. I wish that the music industry didn’t chew up and spit out so many of their artists contributing to many deconstructing and/or leaving their faith. (And that the church/Christians didn’t kick them while they’re down.)
5. I wish Caedmon’s Call was still making music.
6. I wish that Christian radio would get brave and include a better balance of artistry even if it cost them some money.
7. I wish that Relient K would do a follow up to their Air For Free album.
8. I wish every live music fan could see Twenty One Pilots in concert at least once.
9. I wish Mac Powell and David Nasser would make another Glory Revealed album.
10. I wish there was a radio station that played a mix of all fifty years of Christian music’s history.
11. I wish that Switchfoot’s Native Tongue album was already out. I am impatient to hear it!
12. I wish that Needtobreathe would get on a new full length album, and it would be full on rock & roll with guitars galore.
13. I wish I had been able to see Rich Mullins and Keith Green in concert.
14. I wish that we could reclassify “Christian Music” to church music (for corporate church use) and then everything else join the mainstream market. Sink or swim time!
15. I wish more people knew and appreciated bands/artists like Future of Forestry, Rivers & Robots, John Van Deusen, Chris Renzema, Jetty Rae, The Gray Havens, and Matthew Perryman Jones.
16. I wish I could travel back in time to attend the cornerstone music festival during the 90’s.
17. I wish that I had seen the following bands in concert in their prime at least once...Burlap to Cashmere, All Star United, Smalltown Poets, Big Tent Revival, The Waiting, Seven Day Jesus, and Sixpence None The Richer.
18. I wish that I could say that I don’t still own multiple Carman albums. Haha, just kidding, I can’t help myself. I still know all the words to “Soap Song” and “Step of Faith,” among others. “Who’s in the house” anyone?! I mean who?

Well, there you have grown up Christmas...uhhh...Christian Music (wish) list. I’d love to hear yours. Leave them in the comments below! 

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This Friday, February 28, 2020
Paul Baloche Behold Him [Integrity]
Tina Boonstra Out of My Depth - Single [7 Core]
The Classic Crime Patterns in the Static (independent?)
Rob Graves Solstice (independent?)
Neon Feather Do or Die - Single [Centricity]
John Schlitt Go [Girder]

This Saturday, February 29, 2020
20 lb Sledge Divine Battery [Roxx]
The Thomas Thompson Earth Project Dreamland Lovecraft [Roxx]

Next Friday, March 6, 2020
Apollo LTD You - Single [Centricity]
Dens Taming Tongues [Facedown]
Earth Groans Prettiest Of Things EP [Solid State]
Phil King All Glory [Gateway]
Love & The Outcome Alive & Breathing (Album) [Provident]
Matt Maher You Got This - EP [Curb / Word]
Passion Roar (Live From Passion 2020) (Digital) [Sixsteps]
John Tibbs untitled EP (independent)

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