5. Phil Wickham - Response
Maybe I'm just biased because I have personal connections with this guy and his producer, but Phil Wickham is one of the best current Christian recording artists out right now. Not only are his lyrics unbelievably poetic and deep, but the music is well thought out, well orchestrated, and well produced. His self titled debut and the follow up "Cannons" both boasted more of a Euro-rock/ indie folk sound but with his 3rd project "Heaven and Earth" we were surprised with a synth and beat heavy record. Going for more ethereal and retro in sound, "Heaven and Earth" quickly became one of my all time favorite Christian music records. I have only heard about 4 or 5 of the new tracks from "Response", but it sounds as if Phil is experimenting again, revisiting the piano and incorporating more of an 80's rock vibe.
-"Response" releases sometime this August. Follow Phil on facebook for updates on the release.
4. Mat Kearney - Young Love
Ever since his label debut "Nothing Left to Lose", Mat Kearney has been constantly growing, gaining an impressive following. "Nothing Left to Lose" was catchy, featuring Kearney's chill Chris Martin sounding vocals in a style that was part folk, part pop, and yes, part hip-hop. Indeed, the latter is what initially attracted my ear to his music... Not only can Kearney sing, he can rap! The follow up "City of Black and White" was amazing, well produced and well written, but was curiously devoid of any hip-hop or pop elements. While this helped him to break into the singer-songwriter territory of Nashville ( scary shark infested waters in the music industry, if you ask me), it left the fans that put Kearney on the map to begin with a bit let down, but hopeful that he would return to the sound we fell in love with. And if "Hey Mama"- his first single off the new record - is any indication, Kearney just might have returned to his best musical area. Add to that the eye-catching neon artwork, and "Young Love" is looking to be anything but boring....
-"Young Love" releases on August 2nd.
3. Switchfoot - Vice Verses
When Switchfoot first burst onto the mainstream music scene with "The Beautiful Letdown", they quickly became synonimous with high-energy music, massive arena rock (think of the song "Meant to Live", "Stars" etc) and sold out live shows. Since then Switchfoot has released 3 other full length records, "Nothing is Sound", "Oh! Gravity" and "Hello Hurricane"; as well as a greatest hits cd. "Nothing is Sound" continued the band's development in writing and rocking out, and while many thought "Oh! Gravity" was a mistep for the band, I rather liked it. Following this record Jon Foreman released 4 solo ep's and a collaboration with Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek) called "Fiction Family". These were more experimental musically and much more potent lyrically. Now we arrive at "Hello Hurricane".
While being incredibly well produced, with some standout tracks - "Needle and Haystack Life", "Mess of Me", the title track- this album felt more like a giant experimentation binge. And in a sense it was. Over 80 songs had been written and recorded before being narrowed down to the 12 that made up the record. There was a LOT going on in the music, yet it never felt BIG - like "Nothing is Sound"did. The lyrics were amazing, the orchestrations were good... yet "Hello Hurricane" just didn't feel quite like Switchfoot! So now we arrive to 2011 and the arrival of the much-anticipated "Vice Verses". Early reports and releases from the label say that this album is darker and feels much bigger with much less going on. It has been compared to U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head". "Vice Verses" is also being heralded as an "arena rock album". Looks like Switchfoot is returning to form! I look forward to this release. The first single "Dark Horses" will be released sometime in August.
-"Vice Verses" is slated to be released on September 27th.
2. MUTEMATH - Odd Soul
Mutemath is a band that doesn't play around. After winning a lawsuit over the distribution of their first full length record - simply called "MUTEMATH" - Mutemath tore onto the live music scene. Their band is in fact one of the few bands that you MUST see live before you die. Hailing from New Orleans, Mutemath incorporates so many different unique musical elements into their music that there truly is no one that sounds like them. So how does one create a worthy successor to a critically acclaimed debut? Mutemaths' sophomore release "Armistice" seemed to be created with a live show in mind. The heavy synths and unbelievably complex drum and bass hooks make this one cd that I literally have worn out from overplaying! "Armistice" feels almost like a band's 3rd record, as it's departure in sound from the debut is so apparent. In truth it technically is, as the band completely scrapped the initial follow up record and almost broke up due to creative differences in band direction.
Even though they survived, the stress that this near-falling-out caused on the band left its mark. A few months ago Mutemath announced on their website that their guitarist Greg Hill had left the band and that their new record had been completed as a trio. Apparently Hill needed a break from music because of the intensity of Mutemath's career in the past few years. At first sight this might seem like bad news, but Mutemaths' first ep "Reset" was recorded as a trio before Hill ever joined. The new record "Odd Soul" has only been hinted at in short Youtube previews, but it sounds as if the boys are back with a crazy new sound. If any band can prove that raw musical talent is all one needs to succeed, it's Mutemath. Despite the lack of Hill, "Odd Soul" seems to be shaping up to be one of the best records of 2011.
-"Odd Soul" releases on October 4th.
1. Coldplay - (Untitled 5th LP)
Drumroll please! If any one band can drive someone crazy with suspense for a new record, it is Brit rock band Coldplay. For years they have filled stadiums worldwide with their signature sound. After creating the "Parachutes", "A Rush of Blood to the Head" and "X&Y", their space-rock masterpiece, Coldplay decided to pursue a new direction musically. These 3 records had been intended to be a music trilogy of sorts, showcasing a progression in their writing and style. 2008's Grammy winner "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" (and it's companion ep, "Prospekt's March") replaced the reverb, falsetto and synth with a more organic sound. This new direction utilized hammered dulcimer, acoustic guitar, strings, and syncopated world rhythms (particularly on "Lovers in Japan" and "Strawberry Swing") as well as showcasing the range of lead singer Chris Martin's voice. Brian Eno's production still gave it an overall airiness, but newcomer to the Coldplay scene Markus Dravs brought an earthiness and classical element to Coldplay's sound. Dravs is the producer responsible for Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" (which won the Best Album Grammy in 2011) and Mumford and Sons' debut album. As one would expect, Coldplay announced that their follow up would most likely be more earthy and acoustic, possibly an concept album and be released at the end of 2010 to celebrate their 10 year anniversary.
Except 2010 came and went and the only new music we heard from Coldplay was the single "Christmas Lights". While it was a beautiful track, it really didn't give any indication as to what happened to the new record. According to interviews in early 2011 the acoustic concept album had been completely scrapped and Coldplay had been writing new music inspired by New York City graffiti and the White Rose Movement- a philosophical uprising against Nazi Germany. Last month Coldplay released new photos of the band, using bright neon colors and a 90's vibe, then released the first single from the as-yet-untitled new record, titled "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall". Instead of acoustic, Coldplay has ventured into new territory- 80's pop/synth. This track, along with the songs "Major Minus", "Moving to Mars", "Hurts Like Heaven", and "Cartoon Hearts" were debuted at the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany on June 4th and indicate a bold new direction for the band. Without compromising Coldplay's signature sound, these songs are much more experimental with the instruments and rhythms that they use. While "Every Teardrop" is more pop heavy, "Major Minus" seems to be almost like a guitar-driven accompaniment to Chris Martin's Kanye West collaboration "Homecoming". On the otherhand "Moving to Mars" goes retro, with a good ole' 70's beat and a spacy sound that could almost be found on "X&Y". Whatever this new record is going to be, it is going to be the album to top of 2011. I expect much critical acclaim and might I predict a Grammy for Coldplay in 2012?
-Coldplay's new record still has no name or release date, but is expected to drop this fall.