Fireflight, Unbreakable

Quality: 4

Clean: 5

Genre: Rock

Fireflight could be compared to Flyleaf. Both sound a little hard-core, both have female singers, and both start with the letter F. Fireflight however, is softer sounding. I wouldn’t even call them metal like I did Flyleaf. They are more in the style of hard-rock. I hesitate to use that designation because it brings to mind those classic-rock radio stations that play Led Zeppelin and other 70’s and 80’s music. I could call them pop-metal, or post-grunge and be comfortable. They stay within the realm of guitar, heavy percussion and emotive singing.

Unbreakable has become my current go-to album. I find myself listening to it when I can’t think of what else I feel like listening to. They are catchy, fun and positive. Their music is accessible; not too hard core. They have choruses that are easy to sing along with but just when I think I’m on a track that is generic and getting close to the cheesy line, they throw in an unexpected hook or bridge that keeps me interested. Brand New Day, for example is a slower track, sort of like a ballad but not really. Its chorus is a little too easy for me, it could be on the easy listening radio station. But then at the end of the song, there is a bridge in minor key with a surprising sound of yearning, genuine emotion, and hope. This bridge brings the entire song to life. It makes the chorus sound more genuine, not just a silly sweet song. Its about how we only feel at home in the Lord and even though we are with the Lord now and have our home in him now, we still long for our heavenly home. There are other places like this in the CD. Choruses are sung with layered voices as if a crowd is shouting (but in a musical way), or a harpsichord plays a few notes to bring a sweetness to a harder song.I also like the way the music ties in to the lyrics. When the song is about something sad or happy, the music is sad or happy. The band isn’t breaking boundaries but they do what they do very well. They don’t sacrifice quality in order to be musically accessible.

Different from Flyleaf in another way, Fireflight is way more obvious about being a Christian band. Their lyrics are overtly positive and sing about the Lord as the answer. The theme of the album lyrically would have to be the emotional turmoils we go through in life and that giving ourselves to the Lord, even when we don’t feel like it, is the best and only way out. I like that Fireflight sings about the the different pains, self-inflicted agonies, depressions and hungers that span the emotional spectrum. They also urge the listener to give their angst to the Lord in order to get out of the destructive cycle and heal. Some of the songs are about the individual but a couple are about relationships. Having the courage to get out of bad relationships and healing other relationships by giving up on pride and selfishness are both topics that are explored.

My favorite songs are Unbreakable, and Brand New Day. Unbreakable states the theme of the album well. Healing and rising to strength given from the Lord. Its a powerful song, yet also makes one want to to rock out.



Jem, Down to Earth

Quality: 3

Clean: 3

Genre: Pop

Jem, Jem, Jem. She let me down again. Its Amazing, her first single off of Down to Earth, was uplifting, poppy and fun. It promised more than the album delivered. While musically more mature than her first album, It All Starts Here, her new endeavor is still more on the average side of the spectrum: not exciting, not exceptional, not what I had hoped.

As an album Down to Earth, has a clear theme, which not all pop albums have. The fact that there even is a theme shows forethought and creative direction. The theme itself however is sort of “we are the world”-“why can’t we get along”-“we are all goddesses”, which I find naive and tired. It’s Amazing, sounded good when it was a single, but Down to Earth, Keep on Walking, You Will Make it, and Got it Good all have similar messages, and it blends in with the rest of them. One way that Jem pushes her theme is singing in different languages and using different styles of instruments throughout the album: Japanese, South African and Spanish lyrics as well as influences from Latin, Brazilian, Gospel, piano, electronics, and different types of guitar. Jem’s crunchy, poppy, flavorful texture is a bit like Nelly Furtado or Natasha Bedingfield.

Overall musically, the album is well done, but on the average side of quality. The songs flow well together, draw from a diversity of references yet also have unity. Unfortunately, it lacks a certain pizazz. I give it a 3 for Quality.

Although they contain similar messages, I don’t want to discount that Jem has a number of inspirational or uplifting tracks on this album. The message from It’s Amazing, is repeated and expanded in other songs. Got It Good, summarizes the message well:

Got a soul, got a mind, got a heart that meats in time.You’ve got a smile, got a voice, got the gift of love. You’ve got it good, don’t forget how lucky you are. Darling, darling. Use it to connect with everyone.

She urges her listeners to stop their foolishness and use their talents for the good, to appreciate people for who they are, and to keep on walking.

When I ordered the CD on Amazon, I read a few reviews and I rememer one reviewer said he didn’t appreciate the cynical nature of many songs. I was curious but not put off enough to not order. There is indeed a cynical element to some of the songs. I Always Knew is about how Jem won’t let anything get in her way of getting to the top, including people making fun of her. Its the negative side of Keep on Walking– sometimes in order to keep on walking one must develop some calluses and toughen up. She insists she won’t go so far as to become a *ahem* and the toughening she does is all in the name of music but I’m sure there is also an aspect of pride.

Along with about three semi-swear words on the album, there is other questionable content. One song, I Want You To… is about meeting someone on the dance floor and what you want to do with them. Another song Aciiid!, probably the most dancable and radio-friendly song, is about a woman proudly inviting men to lust after her.

As an average (4 for her inspirational songs, 2 for the two questionable songs) I give the album a 3 for Clean. I also don’t recommend it for those who are looking for an album with zero offences

Cold Play, Viva la Vida or Death and all his Friends

Quality: 4.5

Clean: 4

Genre: Rock

I’ve had this album in my hands for some time now. I’ve also been putting off writing a review because this album is hard for me to analyze. I feel like after listening to it I should have something profound to say, but I don’t.

Musically, the word soundscape comes to mind. The first time I listened to the whole album I was driving for 2 hours across the farmlands of Idaho. The gold, honey and rust colored fields of grain, the wild, rugged sage brush hills of public lands and the kooky wooden barns falling over were perfect visual accompaniment to the album. There is a variety of instrumentation, organic and electronic: piano, strings, rock guitar, organ, drums, a lyre? and more. The music brings to mind urgent emotions such as regret, yearning, resignation, hope, and frustration. I can hear a variety of influences on this album such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire, Air, and of course U2. One interesting aspect of the album is that many of the songs have two distinct parts, almost like the movements of a sonata. If you’ve ever been to a classical orchestra concert, the movements sound like different “songs” but they are part of a whole, and you aren’t supposed to clap between them even though the orchestra pauses for a second. Yes, for example, sounds like a completely new song at about the 4 minute mark, but when you look at the track listing, surprise! its still track 6.

The album, and Coldplay themselves, have been criticized for being too universally palatable. They are definitely polite and don’t venture too far into harsh or experimental sounds. What they do, they do skillfully however. If the listener takes them on their own terms, they are marvelous. On their myspace page, they describe themselves as “very heavy soft rock,” so we must keep in mind, they think of themselves as soft, not hard. The album is lush and brings together a variety of influences and sounds. The variety continues in that some tracks are slow and some are upbeat. The album is cohesive as a whole despite this variety and is knit together with highly skilled hands. It doesn’t break new ground however, and for this it gets a 4.5 for Quality instead of a 5.

Lyrically the songs are interesting and thought provoking. Several songs mention the name of God, death, heaven and the church. I’m always interested at what people have to say about those topics so I listened closely…hmmm I couldn’t really tell what was being said. Some of the songs seem like they are making political references, or perhaps they are literary or historical…I’m not sure. On first listen I thought the words were deep with meaning, hinting at wars and rumors of wars. But on 2, 3 and 4 listens through, it seems the meanings don’t go beyond hints. The title, Viva la Vida, or Live the Life, is perhaps a reference to a play about the life if Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter known for her self portraits depicting the deep suffering of her life. I couldn’t find any information on this however reference however…maybe I’m wrong and its just a nice phrase for an album title. The album cover is a Eugene Delacroix painting of the French Revolution. Another war reference. Maybe its just a theme and hints are all they are meant to be? Its confusing and I leave the record wanting more data instead of being happy to interpret whatever I want. Rolling Stone says what I am feeling nicely:

Coldplay’s desire to unite fans around the world with an entertainment they can all relate to is the band’s strength, and a worthy goal. But on Viva la Vida, a record that wants to make strong statements, it’s also a weakness. Sometimes, to say what needs to be said, you need to risk pissing people off.

I was particular interested in the two songs entitled Lost! and Lost? For my background the titles evoke a religious/salvation idea going about. The interesting thing is that on first listen, the first one (Lost!) sounds almost triumphant, as it to say “I’m lost but I don’t want saving,” and the second (Lost?) evokes more of a weary, humble giving up. The lyrics are the same but the key and tempos are different.

My other favorite song is probably Death and all his Friends because it has a nice instrumental part in the middle, and the lyrics hint at the desire for peace yet not being able to achieve it. It reminds of how humans often yearn for things we cannot have like that verse in Ecclesiastes, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” There is also a second movement to this song which like.

The only song with barely questionable lyrics is, Yes. It is about unrequited lust, yet is amazingly appropriate. It also gets to heart of the problem and reveals the danger involved in acting on lust. The chorus sings: “But I’m just so tired of this loneliness,” but the first verse warns, “my back’s on the line, my back’s on the ropes…night makes a fool of us in daylight.”

For Yes and the ambiguity in general, the album should get a 3 for Clean. The hints at redemption, religion, and the heaviness of live can’t be ignored however. These would give the album a 5. As an average I give it a 4.

Links: pitchfork review, rolling stone review

Flyleaf; Flyleaf

Clean: 5

Quality: 4

Genre: Metal

I ran across the band Flyleaf on one of my student’s iLike page (a Facebook application that enables you to share what music you like). Flyleaf would be categorized as a metal band. I’m not especially into metal music– I looved Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life when it was on the radio back in 2003 but that’s as far as my metal lineage goes.  I like to see what music my Facebook friends like so I checked out the band–even though I was skeptical. I cruised over to Myspace where I like to listen to band’s music streaming while I do other things on the internet. Alot of times when I check out a new band on myspace it doesn’t last long. One song and then I get sick of the generic sound, or offended by the lyrics. I found myself surprised when I listened to all of the songs without either occurring. In face I enjoyed the music. I then scooted over to the band’s website and read their bio. check this out:

Heavy music and pained lyrics go together like cake and ice cream, and Belton, Texas quintet, Flyleaf, aren’t about to break with tradition. But while many loud rockers reopen old wounds by singing about their broken homes and broken hearts, Flyleaf confront past traumas to heal old scars and prove in the process that hope shines brighter than despair.
‘I used to be in a really negative band, and that seemed to almost fuel my emptiness because that’s what the songs were about,” says charismatic singer Lacey Mosley. “That’s why I think what we’re doing is important because there needs to be something heavy out there that has a positive message so people see that it’s possible to get through the worst situations.’

While Flyleaf gets alot of Evanescence comparisons basically because it is metal and has a female singer, I won’t do that because I know so little about metal music I don’t want to embarrass myself. While their music is definitely skilled and masterful, they do sound similar to other metal bands with female singers. But their positive lyrics set them apart as a band in this genre trying to make a positive difference.

See my post entitled “Is Rap Inherently Evil” to see how I view stereotypically negative music genres. Flyleaf truly identifies with the powerful emotions of pain, confusion and disorientation many feel. The difference with Flyleaf is that they do not glorify these emotions not do they present them in an end to themselves. The band instead points to hope at end of the tunnel. Indeed often we need to go through horrific experiences before we can get to this hope.

The topics Flyleaf sings about in their self titled debut album (2005), range from what saying ‘I’m Sorry’ means, shame, moving on to a new life, emptiness, selfishness, and a song about the girl Cassie who was killed in the Columbine massacre. The lyrics use powerful imagery to depict emotions that effect our bodies and our thoughts. They lyrics sort of channel the energy in these emotions to a positive end, but without ignoring where they came from. Though rich with symbols, sometimes I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, like in the song Sorrow. There could be many possible meanings and interpretations, perhaps even the band wants us to find our own meaning (as many bands do) or perhaps they just weren’t specific in that song. Many of the songs’ lyrics resonate so much with the experience of being a born again Christian I did a little hunting and discovered the the lead singer Lacey Mosley is indeed a Christian. The band shakes off the title of “Christian” however and says what they sing about comes from who they are. Indeed few “Christian” bands so unabashedly walk this line of being broken yet strong.

Generation X members will recognize and appreciate the 90’s grunge influences. But Flyleaf does not sound like a grunge band; they definitely know when to rock out screaming and when to slow it down for affect. If you don’t like metal I think you could still like this band although if you get a copy of the CD, the first song, I’m So Sick, starts out right away with actual screaming. Better to first listen to more palatable (and my favorite) tracks Fully Alive and All Around Me.

Flyleaf recently (2007) put out a short EP, Much Like Falling. I haven’t checked it out but if you like to keep your music current you might want to listen to this first before this 2005 album.