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Fuck you, shipping and handling! (a review of Hello Fascination)

I feel like a real album reviewer right now. Whether it was done due to error or as a reward to those of us who went for the fanciest pre-order package for Hello Fascination, the new Breathe Carolina album, I know not, but the fact of the matter is that while the album hits shelves today, I’ve had my copy since Friday. I suspect it was through error though, since when I stuck the CD in my computer on Friday, eagerly ripping it to my itunes library, itunes had no idea what I’d put in to my computer and I had to add all the album information by hand.

four days in advance! wicked!

four days in advance! wicked!

Excuse me while I open up wikipedia. Now search keywords “Breathe Carolina”. Ah, there we go.

Breathe Carolina, who hail from Denver, Colorado, started as a myspace band in 2007, which is to say, they made music with no intention of playing it live, purely existing on myspace and through digital release. The music that the at the time two-piece (Kyle Even and David Schmitt, not exactly “rock star” names) was a sort of electro-pop club sound with a hardcore influence. Yes. A hardcore influence. Much like the bizarre “cybergrind” genre, Breathe Carolina ambitiously attempted to put to fuse electronica and screamo (which is a definite improvement over cybergrind’s attempts to fuse electronica and grindcore) in a way that would be equally appealing to a raver or a hardcore fan. This somewhat unique sound was not what grabbed my attention, though. What made me turn my head was the fact that Breathe Carolina’s widely praised debut album It’s Classy, Not Classic (no, I don’t get the title) was recorded entirely in a bedroom with Apple’s standard package music software, Garage Band, which is more than a little impressive

Seriously, change your names to like, Kyle Awesome and David Schwing or something, I dont know

Seriously, change your names to like, Kyle Awesome and David Schwing or something, I don't know

It’s Classy, Not Classic was truly a breath of fresh air in a scene grown far too stale. While somewhat similar artists such as the dreadful BrokeNCyde (fuck those guys, seriously), only manage to make the genres they fuse more cliched, Breathe Carolina was able to take the cliche and make it interesting again. The melodic, swirling synths, largely vocoded vocals, and pounding beats, combined with the the occasional burst of screaming made for an album that had no trouble getting your attention. The album felt poppy and familiar in a good way, like listening to your a playlist of nostalgiac dance tracks. While the screaming isn’t for everyone it takes the album from a level where it might be easily forgotten to a place where it stays stuck in your mind. While at first I wasn’t terribly impressed, the album was infectious (especially “The Bird and The Bees” as well as “Diamonds” and after a while it became hard to listen to anything else. Simply put, it was an album of parties and one night stands, an album of dancing all night and living with no regrets, an album of pouring your heart out, from your tenderist moments to your most frustrated. Okay, that wasn’t simply put at all, but I can’t help myself, it was a good album.

While far from my favourite album from last year (maybe a top # albums of ’08 is n order while there’s still some ’09 left?) it was good enough that I decided to pre-order Breathe Carolina’s second album. The price was right, the pre-order package came with t-shirt, sticker, signed poster and CD for 24 dollars, which I would honestly pay for just a t-shirt. Of course, once you add in the absurd 10 dollar shipping and handling (WHAT THE FUCK?) it’s not quite so attractive, but still, it was worth it to me. Seriously, fuck you, shipping and handling, ten dollars is absurd. Even with all the stuff if in this package it still wasn’t any larger than a fucking vhs tape. RAAAAAGE. AND THAT WAS THE CHEAPEST S&H AVAILABLE. RAAAAAAAAAGE.

Sorry.

Musically, the album steps in to new territory, with a much more full and diverse instrumental section. This is due to, in large part, the addition of three new bandmates. Kyle Even and David Schmidtt (names guys, I’m gonna say it again), still do all the primary song writing according to the liner notes, but clearly these musicians are contributing to the writing process at some stage, since this album, unlike its predecessor, features guitar work. The instrumentation is probably the biggest improvement over the last album it’s fun and dancy, but also holds up to close listening. The album opens strongly with the title track, “Hello Fascination”, a which follows up perfectly on the sound of It’s Classy… but builds upon it at the same time with the addition of guitar. It doesn’t take long to notice how much more polished the music is. The instrumental parts are more distinct, the vocals sound really well-produced, and the beats sound infinitely cripser, but besides that and the guitar the song doesn’t tread a lot of new territory. The lyrics are a little more ambiguous and less party-oriented, but still fun lyrics about the confusion of romance. The whole song sounds vaguely Family Force 5-esque, which you couldn’t say as much about the old songs, but even this doesn’t significantly set it apart from the first album.

The second song, however, definitely crosses in to new territory, even just witht he length of its title. “I’m The Type of Person to Take it Personal” has more words in the title than any song on their previous outing, not sure what this means, but it’s a good song title none-the-less. And it’s a great song, the sound is somewhat reminisicent of Innerpartysystem, which is an awesome thing to be compared to. This song sets the tone for the album, int hat it explores a much darker harder sound, and sets a standard of covering new ground that the album will continue to follow.

From total dance hits like “Take Me To Infinity” and “Welcome to Savannah”, to genre pushers like “I Have To Return Some Videotapes” (probably the album’s best song), the album rarely misses a beat. One thing I have mixed feelings about, however, are the vocals. There are a lot more clean vocals (no vocoding/auto-tuning or screaming) than on the previous effort, which is a definite improvement, but some of the unique vocal flares of the previous album such as harmonic backing vocals that featured so prominently on tracks like “No Vacancy” on It’s Classy, Not Classic. While these unique features aren’t gone entirely, they are less present and are definitely missed. The problem comes down to the fact that, in polishing their sound they’ve managed to over-produce in places, which is a an understandable problem for a band that went through the transition that they went through. In going from having nothing at their fingertips, to having a pretty amazing array of resources they’ve managed to go a bit too crazy in places, losing some of the features that made their first album so remarkable. I imagine that as they continue to put out music they will probably realize this and get in to a comfortable groove with their music where it’s neither overproduced nor underproduced. A good example of this starting to happen is the song “Can I Take You Home?” which is a real return to form for the band and stands out as being one of the highlights of the album.

Not every song on the album lives up to the overall progress, either. “Tripped And Fell In Portland” could have easily been the best track on the album with it’s anthemic guitar and hardcore vocals juxtaposed next to off kilter electronic sections that serve to perfectly break things up and keep it from being a straight rock song, but is ruined by the terrible hyper-typical pop-punk chorus. The only thing the chorus has done right is to include some swirling snyths that don’t fit the pop-punk style, but aside from that it sounds like any other song out there and completely fails to be interesting. The last song on the album, “Rescue” also fails to deliver anything interesting, and as soon as I reach it, try as I might to make it through the song, I usually end up going back to the beginning without listening to it all the way through.

Pop is a funny word. For some reason there is a prejudice against pop, and I’m not exactly sure where this prejudice comes from. It seems as though as soon as music becomes fun it stops being cool in a lot of circles. While I can understand a certain amount of the pop hate that goes on out there, there is certainly a place for pop in this world, and in my heart for that matter. While older reviews that I’ve done tended to be more focused on reviewing obscure acts, often highly experimental in nature, lately I find that I enjoy listening to and reviewing pop music. Not all pop is worthy of my listening (most isn’t) but I do try to give it more of a chance now than I did in the past. While your average pop album has less musical complexity than just one song by, say, Tool, there’s something to be said for music that can make people want to dance. There’s something magical in dancing, in letting a song move you and just being a part of the moment. Breathe Carolina have not released anything near a perfect album, but they have released something that makes you want to dance, and maybe that’s good enough for a sophomore album. Perfect or no, I would recommend this album to anyone, and have no regrets with my purchase of the album.

That said, I think I’m going to review something weirder next just to shake things up lest these pop reviews become too much of a habit.

HelloLion some how got a hold of access to the project groupthink dashboard and he refuses to relinquish control! You can follow us on twitter @pgtblog (which he also has the ability to update, sneaky devil).

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Seven Bands That Redeem Christian Music

There are a lot of Christians out there, and there are a lot of musicians out there, and like any good Venn Diagram these two groups must, at some point, overlap. And they do; many, many musicians admit to Christianity being their faith of choice. This is not a problem, in general most people who find a band they like, like that band regardless of who’s producing the music what whether they worship Jesus or Allah. However, while it is okay for individual artists to admit to being Christian, when a whole band declares themselves Christian people get uneasy. Tell someone you want them to listen to this new band you discovered, and they’ll be glad to sit down and listen, but ask them to sit down and listen to this new Christian band you discovered and they start to act uncomfortable, regardless of their faith. This is not necessarily due to the content of the lyrics (read as: Jesus), but is due to the fact that, quite simply a lot of Christian bands…well…suck.

Below: what most people think of when they think of Christian music (more or less).

For one of the groups most responsible for the evolution of music into a form of high art, the Christians sure have managed to take music to new lows in the past fifty years or so. It’s no wonder so many people have a bad view of Christian music; what was once meant to inspire now just panders to a mass of people who will buy anything that says “I love Jesus” enough times in the lyrics. Somewhere along the way someone figured out that there was an easy profit to be made in Christian music and ran with it, leaving artists with musical and spiritual integrity in the dust.

To prove that all is not lost, I have searched high and low through Christian music and assembled a slate of seven bands that prove that not every band that calls themselves Christian deserves your scorn. Many of these bands have struggled to make names for themselves, equally being bashed for being “too Christian” by some and “not Christian enough” by others, but one thing that can’t be argued is that  these bands are making some damn good music.

1. The Devil Wears Prada


The Devil Wears Prada is a Christian metalcore band hailing from Dayton, Ohio, who gets more “Christian or not” arguing than most of the bands on this list, in spite of having a music video that centers on someone giving their life to Jesus. While the music may not be for everyone (as I said, metalcore), it’s hard to deny that these guys are indeed, quite talented. They are far from the only Christian metal band out there, but they are, in my opinion, the best and most listenable one I’ve ever heard. The Christian undertones of the lyrics are actually quite refreshing and, in some instances, truly insiring and thought provoking. In spite of (or perhaps caused by) all the controversy regarding their status as a Christian band, they’ve come a long ways, even going so far as to be featured on Warped Tour’s main stage this year. Plus, their strong anti-materialistic values are pretty awesome, as you don’t see a lot of that in modern music.

2. As Cities Burn


As I mentioned previously, The Devil Wears Prada is far from the only Christian metal band out there, and as I alluded to, a lot of them suck. Before the release of 2008’s Hell or High Water, I would have simply lumped As Cities Burn into the “suck” category of Christian metal, but in 2008  As Cities Burn release a much more progressive album that, while being far from the best album of 2008, was also quite a long stretch away from the worst. Once again, the music isn’t for everone, but most people would have to admit that it’s pretty damn listenable. The Christian overtones of the album slide nicely into place without feeling obtrusive, and I’ve found the album to be very easily enjoyed by non-Christians and Christians alike in this regard.

3. MuteMath


MuteMath is a particularly sneaky Christian band. Somewhere along the way, MuteMath soaked up enough indie-cred to find their way onto a lot of people’s ipods (my own included), without anyone figuring out that they were listening to what is, all in all, a pretty Christian band. I greatly enjoy MuteMath (who have a  new album out in just four days), and their Christian-overtones have never once put me off. The only thing bad I have to say about this band is that one of their songs was featured in Twilight, but I’ll overlook it because the music video for the song I just posted is totally killer.

4. mewithoutYou

mewithoutYou is another Christian band that managed to pick up a lot of indie-cred with their music, even going so far as to share a stage with The Dear Hunter this year at several shows. mewithoutYou’s lyrics are intimidating works of art, that are Christian in the same sense that the Lord of the Rings is about World War II; if you don’t know what you’re looking for you’re going to miss most of it. The lyrics, purely as works of poetry, are quite lovely, even to someone who isn’t exactly a biblical scholar, and the music is pretty intriguing. You have to give them this; they’ve really brought indie style to Christianity in a much stronger way than any other band to date.

5. Kaddisfly

Sounding more like J-pop than Christian rock from the Pacific Northwest, Kaddisfly is an impressive band indeed. While many argue that they aren’t a Christian band, I would argue that they are, the overtones of their lyrics are quite spiritual, and with an obvious flavor of Christianity at that. The main reason against calling this band “Christian Music” is that they don’t fall into the stereotypes of what is commonly perceived as “Christian Music”, proving that the bitter taste left in people’s mouths by all that “praise Jesus, play powerchords” garbage makes it so that if a good band comes along with Christian themes in their music we don’t even want to call them Christian just so others will take them seriously.

While I didn’t feel like I could make a seperate space for this, the members of Kaddisfly minus the member who left last year started a new band in the wake of losing their fifth member to take their music in a new direction. Check it out; it’s good stuff.

6. Family Force 5

Other bands on this list have had their status as “Christian” called into question from time to time, but Family Force 5’s electro-crunk-rock-metal-pop-dance music has managed to offend the sensibilities of so many Christians that they don’t want to claim this band as one of their own, no matter how much they plug Jesus. Or maybe the issue is that, although at shows and in their materials Family Force 5 claim a strong Christian morale, their music is mostly about dancing and love and parties and other stuff that’s awesome. The tragedy here it that there’s a belief in a lot of right wing Christianity that dancing and having fun aren’t spiritually healthy things to do. Family Force 5 is out to turn that on its head. To quote Soul Glow Activatur (Famly Force 5’s lead singer), “To me, and pretty much anybody that’s under my age, most Christian music is a turnoff. I don’t want to be affiliated with that. I want to be affiliated with something that is great music.”

7. Sufjan Stevens

Of everyone on this list, this is the artist you’re most like to have heard or have heard of. Everyone saw Little Miss Sunshine, everyone has heard the song Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, but nobody knows the guy is actually pretty damn Christian. In case you honestly don’t know who he is Sufjan Stevens is an indie/folk musician from Illinois who makes music that is quite near divine even without the Christian overtones. While not all of his songs are about God the ones that are don’t make any attempt to hide it. Like his many friends on this list, his music has been attacked for not being Christian enough, to which he has responded that his music is about all aspects of his life, his Christianity being just one of the many things he might choose to write about. He has written quite a few songs related to his faith, some of them (including Casimir Pulaski Day, the song I’ve posted here), being quite interesting from a spiritual perspective. Sufjan Stevens is particularly unusual in that he makes music that doesn’t just praise God, but also questions God, and sounds totally awesome while doing so. Maybe if more artists took the example of Sufjan Stevens in this regard, Christian music would be seen as a valid art form by the outside world instead of the laughing stock it is now.

Or they could at least take a tip from modern Quaker music; we long ago perfect the art of awesome music.

HelloLion is a dedicated wordsmith, spending his time of manditory indentured blogging here at ProjectGroupThink. You WILL follow us on twitter @pgtblog. OBEY!

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